Monday, November 30, 2009

The Breakup

Dear Novel,

I am afraid that we can no longer see each other. There, I said it. I am putting you down. Phew. That wasn’t easy. Breaking up is awkward. Uncomfortable. I am sorry that I have to do this, but you left me no choice.

Please don’t take this separation personally. It’s not you. Well, okay, maybe it is you. But I take responsibility, too. We are just not right for each other. Yes, I had high hopes when we first got together. Perhaps too high. You were so handsome on that shelf, with your flashy cover art. And the text on your book jacket really pulled me in. At that first meeting I was filled with enthusiasm and anticipation. I talked to my friends about my high hopes for you. And really, you are fine in your own way. But to be honest, after one hundred pages, well, I find you to be a little wordy. I could probably deal with this if you weren’t so slow. This is a bad combo for me. And where is the tension? Sure, I felt it at the beginning, during our first chapter together. But after that, the chemistry evaporated. Again, this is probably just me. I’m sure your slow pace and low tension would be fine for lots of other readers. Really.

Is another novel involved? Um, well, to be honest, yes. Actually, there are many novels. Please don’t think badly of me. Frankly, there are not enough hours in the day. Which is part of the reason why I have to let you go. Of course I feel guilty about putting you down. I made a commitment and now I’m backing out of it. But life is short. Please know that I’ve given this decision a lot of thought. There are many other readers out there who will probably appreciate you more than I have.

So this is goodbye. Good luck to you. I hope there are no hard feelings. No, I won’t trash you on Goodreads.com or on Twitter. I do respect you, even if we’re not right for each other.

Very truly yours,

Cynthia

Friday, November 27, 2009

Gift List Time

Hello, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when the traditional holiday shopping season kicks off. For the next month, parking will be my version of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The “be of good cheer” holiday music will not be reflected on the faces of the typical stressed-out shoppers. Ironic? I think so.

Although I will NOT be going out to shop on this Black Friday, I am starting to consider gift ideas.

Books are always great presents, right? It’s almost hard to believe that there is not a book out there for every person on a gift list. Someone doesn’t like to read novels much? What about a tabletop book filled with gorgeous photos? Or a travel book, cookbook, or volume of poems. Shoot, even a blank book is great for note taking, journal writing, addresses and lists of things to remember and to do. Truly I would love to spend my shopping time in stores picking out the perfect book for each person on my list.

Book lights are wonderful inventions, I think. Ingenious, really. Want to read while others are sleeping? Or dive into a novel while others are watching some lame movie (with the lights out)? A book light is the answer.

Fun writing pens are the best. I really hope that I’m not the only one who thinks so, but, writing, editing, and revising is ten times more fun with a really cool pen or (best of all) set of pens. I'm guessing this not just a writer thing.

Fun paper such as sticky notes in all shapes and sizes, playful pads, pages in wild colors, or (my personal favorite) graph paper. Pair funky paper with some great pens for a fabulous gift for the right person.

Write on, wipe of mugs are, in my opinion, a must have. What could be better than being able to scribble lists, reminders, notes to self, and the like onto a big, fat mug holding coffee, tea, hot chocolate or some other needed sustenance?

Okay, that's all I've got so far. Feel free to add to this list. ‘Tis the time of year!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving



The year has turned its circle,

The seasons come and go.


The harvest all is gathered in


And chilly north winds blow.


Orchards have shared their treasures,


The fields, their yellow grain,


So open wide the doorway~


Thanksgiving comes again! 


~Old Rhyme

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pies and the Power of Story

The other afternoon I was in the grocery store to pick up pecans, pie crusts, and all the sugary stuff I needed to bake a pecan pie for Thanksgiving Day. I have to be honest: my head was not filled with visions of roasting turkeys, fruity and nutty pies, Thanksgiving Day parades, or football. No, ideas for my latest novel in progress were swirling inside my cranium. I had just been reading about the power of story and this notion had its hooks in me. I kept muttering to myself: “In what ways is my latest story powerful?”

So, I suppose I got what I deserved when a white-haired woman twice my age and half my size hip-checked me out of her way in order to grab the last bag of pecan halves. Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t taunt me with “You snooze, you lose, sucker,” as she took off. Because I deserved this. Grocery shopping around the holidays should never be taken lightly. I should have known better.

But now what? No pecans meant no pecan pie. So, I eyed the shelves for inspiration (also keeping a lookout for any of pecan lady’s friends). That’s when my eyes found the jars of mincemeat pie filling. I instantly recalled the story of how one Thanksgiving many years ago, when my mom’s mother was preparing pies for Thanksgiving Day, my five-year-old mother inquired about the filling of mincemeat pies. She loved them, so this was a reasonable question. For those of you not in the know, mincemeat is a preserve typically made up of small pieces of apple, raisons, other dried fruits, and spices. It is dark brown and lumpy. Anyway, before my grandmother could deliver the right explanation, my grandfather stepped in. Always the prankster, he told my mother that minces were furry little animals that lived along riverbanks. Every year, people caught these minces to chop them up for the mincemeat pies. Okay, this sounds pretty ghastly, but if you knew my grandfather, you’d know he delivered this with a twinkle in his eyes and a playful expression.

Still…

My mother didn’t eat mincemeat pies for a good twenty plus years. Even after she was assured again and again that her dad was teasing her and that mincemeat is made of dried fruits and spices.

“Now, that’s the power of story,” I muttered to myself as I pulled my hand back from a jar of mincemeat pie filling.

And as I climbed back into my car to go searching for pecan halves at another grocery store, I was indeed picturing cute little furry critters--minces--scampering about on the bank of a river.

Yes, the power of story.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Sweet Distractions

My dictionary defines distraction as "...that which divides the attention, or prevents concentration." Today, I'm defining it as three adorable Siamese cats, a gorgeous and unseasonably warm day, and a thirteen-year-old dog who honestly thinks that he is still a puppy (and as a result might give himself--or me--a heart attack).

I say this as I am sitting at my desk trying to write, while our newest Siamese addition, Sake, playfully leaps and throws himself around my office and the hallway. Why? He has a mouse--a pumpkin-orange mouse with a velvet tail and ears. It is, I'm pretty sure, based on his acrobatics, the greatest mouse ever. Much, much better than anything that lives outside and actually has legs. He has tossed it at me four times already. Probably on purpose since I pick it up and throw it for him. How could I resist when he grabs it and brings it back to me? I mean, really, this is too cute to be ignored. If you don't believe me, I can only assume that you have not met Sake. He is pure adorable in a Siamese suit.

It doesn't take long before his antics entice his best buddy, Chai, to join in the mouse fun. This quickly transforms into freestyle wrestling--under and over my feet. Which leads to chasing, which gets even the oldest Siamese involved. I now have what sounds like a herd of elephants racing through the house, slamming into furniture and banging through doorways.

All this chaos wakes up the dog. Given the beautiful day, he decides to pester
the only one with opposable thumbs--convenient for opening a door to the outside world. Never mind that I should be using these thumbs to type.

Sure enough, as soon as dog-face steps outside, he finds his tennis ball, picks it up and turns to me with an expression that pleads. Of course I give in to a few rounds of throw the ball. Here's the problem, though: J.D. (said dog) is a Snoodle-that's a schnauzer crossed with a poodle. There is nothing even close to a retriever in J's biological makeup, which is painfully apparent when someone throws a ball for him. He takes forever to find it. And once he does, he runs laps around the house with it clamped between his teeth. I think this is a Snoodle victory dance.

So, maybe distraction is better defined as that which isirresistible and divides the attention, or prevents concentration. Or, maybe I need to learn to shut my office door when I am writing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Good Day

For me, a good day starts wide open, meaning I've got a full day to focus on what I want to work on. For me, this would be writing and revising something.

A good day is probably sunny and warmish, which means that I can open the windows in my office. It also means that the kitties snuggle down for their naps around me, sort of keeping me company. A really good day brings the dog in, too. However, he generally prefers his dog bed, placed in a lovely sun spot on the first floor. I try not to take his absence personally.

A good day might also mean that I spend a few hours writing in my favorite cafe while sipping a chai latte. Mmmmm.

A good day is when either elves have run the various errands that are somehow endless or I've effectively put them out of my mind so that they are not nagging at me.

A good day usually includes a good book.

A really good day means that the ideas are flowing, as is the energy and the love of writing. A bad day is marked with blood, sweat, and a few tears, but I'll save that for another discussion.

An especially good day is when a lovely review arrives. May I share the latest for Buck Fever? Here it is, from Publishers Weekly:

"Willis's (Dog Gone) second novel nicely weaves a few familiar tropes into an entertaining and intense tale. Twelve-year-old Joey has the talent to be an amazing hunter: he's a great shot and, thanks to an ear infection that left him partially deaf, his sense of smell borders on the super-human. His father, an avid hunter, expects Joey to bring down his first buck during deer season, but Joey is more interested in playing hockey and drawing. With Joey's mother constantly out of the country on business trips, Joey struggles to tell his father that he doesn't want to shoot a deer, as well as whether to enter the art show his neighbor and mentor, Mrs. Davies, is pushing him toward. Subplots revolving around illegal hunting tactics and a creepy neighbor eventually merge into Joey's story, leading to a tense and dangerous climax. Willis avoids easy answers, clich├ęs, and moralizing, instead focusing on Joey's inner struggle and the stress his mother's absence causes. The result is a satisfying novel filled with solid characters who learn the consequences of making some hard choices. Ages 9–13. (Nov.)"

Ahhh yes, a good day indeed.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How Much Do You Know About Antlers?

This morning a beautiful buck walked casually across our back yard, solo. A little guy without much muscle tone. Probably a young dude. But, (and here's the interesting part) he had a pretty big rack of antlers. Large enough that they looked a bit out of proportion with his body, which is probably a huge drag for him. Imagine hauling around an oversized coat rack on your head. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?

Anyway, before writing Buck Fever, I might have wondered at this awkward ratio of antler to deer. Now, however, after having done lots of research for my novel, I know a few interesting tid-bits about white-tailed bucks and their antlers. How much do you know? Try the quiz below. Why not? P.S., the answers are at the bottom.

1. Do white-tailed deer grow new antlers every year or do they keep the same antlers for their entire lives?

2. What determines the size of a rack of antlers?

3. What are antlers made of?

4. What is velvet?

5. What happens to antlers after the bucks shed them?

Answers:

1. White-tail bucks grow a new set of antlers every spring and then shed those antlers the following December.
Confession: I always thought that male deer grew one set of antlers that they lived with their entire lives. Yes, I did wonder why I rarely saw deer with antlers from January through March, but never mind that.

2. The buck's age and his diet determine how big his antlers will become each year. So, apparently, the little guy strutting across my back yard was eating well. I'm guessing lots of veggies.

3. Antlers are made of bone. They grow out of the buck's frontal bone. Sometimes on a male fawn, or baby deer, you can see "buttons" where the antlers will develop.

4. Velvet is the furry skin that covers and protects the antlers while they are growing. Once the antlers are full-grown and hardened, the velvet dries up. The buck rubs it off or it simply falls off.

5. Antlers decompose or other animals eat them for the calcium (think of dog chewing on a bone). Or, sometimes, people find them, collect them.

Okay, how'd you do? Did you get all of the questions right? Well, before writing Buck Fever, I wouldn't have answered any of my questions correctly. So, as long as you enjoyed my little quiz, you get an A. Now, go out and share what you now know about antlers.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mickey Mouse Makeover? Really?

I heard on the radio this morning that The Walt Disney Company is going to be giving Mickey Mouse a makeover. I’m not sure how I feel about this. The author in me wonders how Mickey’s creator, Walt Disney, would feel about this.

Here’s the scoop, as I understand it: Apparently, Mickey is being groomed to be more flexible and fun. I’m not sure what this means. Is he going to be a gymnast now? Coached by Peter Pan? Word is that Mickey Mouse needs new clothes, too. Does this imply a personal shopper? Perhaps Cinderella’s fairy godmother? Or, is she too out of touch with today’s fashions? The buzz also implies that Mickey needs to work on his personality. Who knew the mouse had issues? I, for one, have read nothing about this in The National Inquirer or In Touch magazine. But now I imagine an army of therapists and coaches (perhaps the Seven Dwarfs?) guiding Mickey on the path of becoming a better mouse. To top all this off, I thought I heard something about revamping his home life, too. Please don’t tell me that he and Mini are having relationship issues. That would be nothing short of devastating. Donald and Daisy on the rocks I can see (I couldn’t take Donald’s crankiness and temper tantrums, to be honest), but Mickey and Mini talking trash to each other is simply unacceptable.

I guess I like Mickey the way he is--playful and kindhearted, but also spunky at times with a tendancy to get into trouble. “The Sorcerer's Apprentice" in Fantasia comes to my mind. Mickey mucks things up in a big way, but then he tries like crazy to make things right. I guess I can relate to this. I kind of see myself in this cartoon mouse. Maybe this explains why I am a little wary of his upcoming makeover. Sometimes people and cartoon characters are fine the way they are, even if their idea of a fashion statement equals a pair of red shorts, yellow shoes, and white gloves.

But, what do I know?



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jury Duty Survival Techniques

Do bring food and water. Especially water. This is important. Jury room confinement can be strict. And when the mid-day break does arrive, and the gates are flung open, there is not always enough time to negotiate the mad rush and long lines at the restaurants and deli-type stores. Imagine three hundred jurors in addition to an entire courthouse unloading onto one small street at the same time, and on a tight schedule. Ugly.

Do bring a variety of reading and writing material. Otherwise, if you are anything like me, you might be cross-eyed after the seventh hour or reading the same book or editing the same manuscript. Also, in a jury waiting room, the levels of conversation tend to rise and fall, so you may need to adjust what you are reading or working on based on your ability to concentrate.

Do, if the opportunity arises, share jokes and amusing stories with fellow jurors in waiting. Here’s a snippet from a second grade teacher I was chatting with: While reading over the writing of one of her students, she said to him, “You know how to spell we, don’t you?” He looked up at her with the most innocent of expressions. “Oh yes,” he told her. “Wii.”

Don’t bring your laptop, unless you enjoy living dangerously. I brought mine only to be told that if and when I got called to show my face in a courtroom, I would have to leave my beloved laptop behind, in the jury room. Maybe for hours. With the two hundred and eighty people who did not get called into the courtroom. Um….

Finally, do remember that although doing jury duty time can be a complete drag, it really is a good thing to be a part of. Just imagine yourself accused (maybe unjustly) of some crime. Wouldn’t you want a fair and impartial panel of people to help settle matters for you? I sure would.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Rut What?

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when the white tailed deer around here are in rut. Yes, rut--when deer develop mad crushes on each other and get wild-eyed and aggressive, jumpy and high strung—totally focused on mating. Think college/university frat party. Think late night bar scene. Except that the bucks have been preparing for the rut for about eight months. By preparing, I mean that they have been growing antlers. Why? So they can slam and ram and kick other buck butt. When rut is over, those bucks will shed their antlers and mellow out. Think the day after the frat party. Think worn out after working the bars.

This whole rut business becomes kind of a big deal if you live, as I do, in an area where the majority of the population is made up of white-tailed deer. An area with so many deer that they are practically allowed to vote in local elections. Okay, I don’t know that for a fact, but it’s not a bad guess. To give you an idea: The overgrown area behind our house is home to twenty to thirty deer. Once in a while, when I get up early enough and the deer sleep in, I’ll spot them sleeping back there, all curled up and snuggled together like puppies. Adorable. It was the perfect inspiration when I was writing Buck Fever.

BUT, when these beautiful animals go into rut, I get as jumpy as they do. Most people who live with deer do. Because when in rut, the bambies leap or dash out in front of cars and bolt in every direction for reasons known only to them. In just the past two weeks I’ve seen countless deer bodies along the sides of highways and roads. It’s heartbreaking, but a sign of the rut.

Yesterday, when I drove down a side street, I suddenly realized that it was lined on either side with deer of various sizes. Usually I’d slow down. Yesterday, aware of their party mentality, my car and I CRAWLED past them. I mean, a box turtle could have passed me. Because one of the deer could have leaped out at any moment. I actually know someone who had a deer leap off an embankment onto the hood of his car. No joke. Who needs the horror of (a) hitting a deer or (b) damaging a car. Been there, done that. No need to revisit past nightmares.

So, from now until about December, those of us who share space with white-tails will live in jittery, nerve wracking states while the deer party down. And come springtime, there will be wobbly-legged, spotted babies trotting beside their much more mellow parents. Ahh, nature.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Do You Mean I Have No Internet Connection?


“Really?” I snapped at my beloved Mac. “You have got to be kidding me. No, seriously, this is so not the time for you to be messing with me.”

But is there ever a good time to lose one’s connection to the outside world? I think not.

Despite yelling, threatening, begging, still the words YOU ARE NOT CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET burned into my retinas. I considered a down and out temper-tantrum, wasn’t above throwing myself onto the ground and pounding the floor while screaming, kind of like a terrible two. I’m not proud of this, but there it is.

“P-l-e-a-s-e,” I whined. “I’m in the middle of running a Dog Gone and Buck Fever give-away,” I explained to my stubborn Mac. “And I have a manuscript to finish, emails to respond to. Seriously, if I don’t tweet, I might die. #Kidlitchat is on Twitter in only three minutes!”

Nothing.

“Rats,” I snarled. Okay, maybe I uttered more than one word. Maybe those words were not as politically correct as “rats,” and flamboyantly more colorful. Maybe my husband did say that I had a potty mouth. Let’s just chalk it all off to “venting.” But I digress.

The point is this: As I spent hours with the very patient cable company customer service folks and Mac helpers (all lovely, I might add) I came to the very real and very harsh realization that I am a total slave to the Internet. There, I said it. Maybe that’s the first step in recovery…

And then again, maybe not. Who am I kidding? I’m a writer. The Internet is my connection to the world. *She sighs with a sense of acceptance.*

As it turns out, I had to apologize to my beloved Mac. Because the router was the problem. May it rest in peace.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Book Vote, Anyone?

It’s election day. Why not have a book vote? This is an activity that would work with a classroom of kids, with a book group, with a bunch of friends, or any group, really. The more the merrier. On a recent girls-night-out, for example, my pals and I launched into a spontaneous book vote at our dinner table. Each of us took a few minutes to talk about a favorite book until we decided on two novels that we were all intrigued by. Even our waiter was itching to get involved. In a few weeks, after we read the nominees, we will get together again, talk about the books and vote for a favorite. In my opinion, this is a playful diversion from the negativity of some of the real campaigns going on. Have I mentioned that I live in N.J.?

So, how, exactly, does a book vote go down? Okay, let me be more specific than the girls-night-out scenario. To begin, at least two participants should nominate a favorite book. Then, each person can give talks on why his or her book is wonderful. The person could also read a favorite passage aloud. In other words, campaign for the book. If a book vote is being held in a classroom or library, the campaigners might even make posters advertising the best qualities of the nominated books. Part of the fun really is in convincing others to read the books.

When the time comes to vote, participants can hold a secret ballot by writing the names of the books voted for on pieces of paper and then depositing them in a box (or whatever works), one vote per person, of course. Or, each person can place a check beside the book of his or her choice on a list of nominated titles.

By the end, participants have a little more information about books, people are inspired to read, and all involved might feel like voting can be fun. So why not have a book vote?

Happy Election Day!