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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The sofa monster will READ TO YOU! Oh noes!

New blog entry:
The sofa monster, or “The magic of books”

Li’l D stopped dead when he saw covers shifting on the couch this morning. “Daddy?” he asked, confusion clear in his sweet, high toddler’s voice. He’d just seen Daddy crashed out on his own bed, after all. How could Daddy be in two places at once?

A face emerged from under the covers. Li’l D hid between my legs. Even when the familiar voice of Auntie Sarah greeted him, he stayed firmly locked to my legs.

Two minutes later, he brought Auntie Sarah Eight Chanukah Lights for her to read to him. “Not until you’ve got your pants on!” she chided. I changed his “pants” and returned him to Auntie Sarah, who engaged in the greatest bonding act known to my Li’l D: readingtogether.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Willful characters!

New blog entry:
I'm the boss, guys.

Abigail: yo, u there?
Jacob: I’m here. If I weren’t, my status would show it. UNLIKE YOU.
Abigail: whatevs. i got bigger things to think about. UNLIKE YOU.
Jacob: My soul! You’ve crushed it!
Abigail: suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuure
Abigail: anyway i have a favor
Abigail: u free tom.?
Jacob: Tom? Who’s Tom?
Abigail: haha. u suck. but i need a fave, k?
Jacob: Your wish is my command, if it’s both reasonable and practical.
Abigail: can u take me to eugene tom.? and a friend?
Jacob: Take you to Eugene, then to a friend’s? Sure.
Abigail: omg. stfu noob. can u take me n a friend to eugene tom.? pretty pls?
Jacob: You make wanting to do you favors so enticing.

Monday, March 28, 2011

On spacemen, strippers, pregnancy and Twitter

New blog entry:
140 characters: a little . . . or a lot?

  • I gotta deliver something to Mordor. Anyone bored enough to join me? Pro: hot elf chick action likely! Con: burnination likely. #sauronsucks

  • Hate my life. Hate the Capital. Hate the Hunger Games. Hate the thought of sister in the Games above all. #fuvmcapital #iwillcutyou #diehard

  • I'll freeze and/or starve and/or soak in a bikini for a month. On national TV. It won't be fun, but #amilliondollarsisalotofmoney, haters.

  • Don't give them water. Don't feed them after midnight. Look, I'm telling you this for a reason. TWO SIMPLE RULES, K THX. #dontcomecryingtome

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Don't give your villains times for pedicures!

New blog entry:
Villains & pedicures--and editing!

If you’re anything like me, you love reading a good internal monologue in the middle of an action sequence.

Wait. I don’t love that. At all. As far as I can recall, I didn’t love it six years ago, either. So why the heck did I write so much of it back then?

Ginny slammed the stake through his heart and cried, “See ya, sucka!” She then wondered sadly if it was right of her to celebrate the end of a life. But if he’d already died a long time ago, was this death really death? Or was she just freeing him, rather than killing him? He was a monster, after all, or she wouldn’t have been forced to toastify him in the first place. It was his fault she’d had to do it, for the good of humankind, even if he had a mother, and sisters and brothers and children before he’d been vampified. She considered these weighty matters mournfully for several pages.

Meanwhile, Mr. Toast’s companion got a pedicure and read some Jane Eyre while waiting for her to make peace with her inner monsters, which were at least as ghastly as said companion. When he wasn’t getting a pedicure.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Outlining, shmoutlining

When I wrote The Monster's daughter (and its sequels) many moons ago in Japan, my entire "outline" was as follows:
Girl has vampire dad.

Plot? Nope. Character sketches? Nope. Character names? You guessed it: Nope.

In contrast, I had a plan for the YA urban fantasy novel I'm writing now. I wrote it down, tweaked it, thought on it, tweaked it some more and started writing.

The first thousand or so words totally cooperated with my outline. Everything was I envisioned it. After that, however, things started breaking down. My characters almost immediately began clawing and gnawing their way out of the boxes I'd neatly fit them into, so that by 5,000 words, I found myself frustrated by their orneriness. Newsflash, characters: I'm writing the story. Not you!

One of the things especially frustrating to me was how quickly the perspective I'd envisioned fell away. The way things were shaping up at 5,000 words left me feeling like I was being unfair to one of the key players in the story. So I asked my buddy Mack, am I being unfair? And, furthermore, how the heck do I fix this?

She replied with a complex, brilliant assessment, which included two core points:
(1) Roughly, "Keep writing, silly, because you'll never get this sorted out if you sit around agonizing over it!"
(2) Exactly, "I think it's because you said merpeople that I'm thinking in these particular terms, but the best example I can think of is the film of HELLBOY, which I'm sure you've seen. The story's about Hellboy, we see the world through the lens of his experience, and it doesn't diminish the fish-dude any (okay, it's maybe diminishing that I don't remember his name) that he doesn't get equal screen time. Because if he did, it would be boring. It would be like, 'And Hellboy could've DIED, srsly! And then that fish-guy sat around and read a book. And then Hellboy jumped off a building and had emo lovelorn angst! And the fish-guy said something funny. For an equal amount of time.'"

Mack, Mack, Mack, where would I ever be without you?

In addition to answering the specific question in a way that made me laugh and move on, her response enabled me to see the question wasn't just about perspective. It's about control. It's about me deciding I want things to go one way and forcing them to go that way, even if--with very good reason--they don't want to.

Getting around this mental hurdle took likening it to my work life. In the IT world, a project manager addresses a specific problem by identifying its components and finding, then implementing, a solution that corrects that problem. Even with copious planning at the front end, that project manager is going to find new facts along the way that will change how she has to implement her solution to a problem. (Often this will come from one of the project's resources going, "Wait, what? No, what we needed is x.03, not x.031! It's right here in this email . . . oh, um, I meant to include in the email, anyway!" Pretty please see here for a giggle-inspiring, totally accurate visual about project management.) She still has a mostly viable sketch of her solution's implementation. The solution itself remains mostly unchanged though the path to reach it now includes a few hurdles and at least one pit of rattlesnakes that must be safely passed over to reach the project's successful conclusion.

It's unrealistic to assume that any project--whether IT, writing-related or personal--won't change at all while it's underway. Life is full of moving parts. If the project manager is doing things right, she'll see what's changing and respond to them sooner than later rather than trying to sledgehammer her initial solution into fitting new facts. If a project manager's stuck in an old paradigm, she'll probably ending up throwing her hands up in the air, ditching the project and going to start a new one, after having a bunch of beers.

Writing, it turns out, is like project management, which is like life. If you start out with a plan you're willing to constantly revisit and tweak based on new facts, you might find a different end result than you first anticipated . . . but you'll get where you're going, eventually. And maybe, just maybe, like in the movie Threesome, the detours and asides you took to get there will be the best parts of all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One for all, and all for all

Over the last several days, I've heard the question, "Why aren't folks in Japan looting?" I dismissed the question without realizing that's what I was doing: Because it's Japan, duh.

What, that answer's not illuminating?

The comments on this blog got me wondering, why is that my answer? What is it about Japan that makes it so unsurprising to me there's no crime spree o' opportunism? If you'd like the short form of my novella below, look for Maje's answer among the comments.

As I mentioned in yesterday's entry, the answer came to me in the form of a picture. I searched and searched but couldn't find that picture, which showed progressively smaller rings of Japanese students standing on each others' shoulders to form a tower of kids several adults high. The first time I saw a group of kids doing this on Sports Day, I shook my head in amazement and told the teacher next to me, "This wouldn't happen in America. I see this, and all I see is potential lawsuits!"

After time, things like this came to seem ordinary to me. My students' parents not only didn't object to the sometimes dangerous team efforts of Sports Day, they encouraged them. How, after all, are kids supposed to learn the importance of teamwork and togetherness if their efforts are short-lived or superficial?

To me, the answer to the looting question isn't: "Because they're good patriots and they love their country!" The answer is simpler than that. They don't loot or harm each other opportunistically for this straightforward reason:

They cultivate togetherness.

Togetherness isn't something that just happens magically because you put classmates together once for a project. It's the product of active, concerted effort to teach children--and the adults they become--to pull others into the fold and to see the welfare of each individual as intrinsic to the welfare of the whole. That's not to say everything is kindness and smiles. One disconcerting aspect of this facilitated cohesiveness is that errant behavior is singled out and amplified. One of my coworkers was routinely called things like "pig-face" and "fatty." These words, for the most part, weren't spoken with hostility. They were just reminders that she deviated from the norm, and that such deviation made it hard to promote an image of "rightness" in young students' minds, for there is, after all, a right and a wrong of things. How else was she to know, if folks didn't remind her?

From the time Japanese individuals are very young, they walk together in pre-organized groups to school. They go to school together, eat together, play together, and learn about the world together. They gather frequently in and out of schools and feel the goodness of being bound together.

"Together." This is the operative word. The Japanese cultivate this togetherness so that, in prosperous times and hard ones, it is an intrinsic part of how they relate to the world.

If you're like me, you were often forced into a team for "group work" at school. The group work ended up, more often than not, being one overachieving student telling everyone else what to do. As little time as possible was spent actually working on things together before the group concluded its project and--in most cases--never worked together in that particular formation of kids again. The next time, there'd be a different group of students for a different project in a different class. "Accountability" in this kind of teamwork setting means something very different than the kind of accountability you are held to--personally and by others--when you work with the same people over and over again, from a very young age, and learn to see their needs as interwoven with your own.

I love my country. I am proud to be an American. As I read news about how women are treated in other countries, I think, I'm pretty damn blessed to live in a country where I can openly criticize my government without fear of retribution. I am afforded so many freedoms simply for having been born in the United States of America! One of those freedoms is, of course, the freedom to single-mindedly pursue my own liberty and happiness, which I do with great fervor. By and large, the folks around me also pursue these things enthusiastically. Each of us knows that if something bad befalls us because of another person's slip-up, we've got access to a thousand lawyers happy to represent us for a cut of any settlement or judgment. This knowledge is born of and contributes to the individualism that made me look on Sports Day activities that first day and go, "Lawsuit. Other lawsuit. Other lawsuit. OMG, they're letting that happen?! That's the biggest lawsuit of all!"

Folks in Japan aren't avoiding looting and crime in the wake of last week's disaster because they're patriots, or because they have different--or better--hearts than Americans do. They're not doing those things because to do them would be inconceivably inconsistent with the principle of togetherness they are taught and teach each other to strive toward from almost the moment they can walk. That principle isn't always perfectly realized, but it's the driving force in almost every decision, every day.

How will what I'm doing impact the people around me? How will they look on me at the end of the day if I do this horrible thing?

In the United States, the land of the free to do whatever the hell we want--beautiful or conniving--as long as no one's looking, it's hard to imagine these questions being determinative in virtually our every single decision, in an ordinary day or a day of catastrophe. Here, I feel like we're more inclined to ask the question, If making decisions that improve Harry and Lou's well being means I'm out a million bucks, do I really favor their well being more than I care about my million Washingtons?

In Japan, by contrast, the question would more likely look like this: Do I want to spend a lifetime knowing Harry and Lou, and their kids, and their grandchildren, lost out because I wanted a little more money, or screen time, or booty?

When we're asking such different questions--when, indeed, we're trained to ask such different questions based on our assessments of the import of self versus others--can it be any wonder we come up with such different answers, and such different end results in practice?

Again, I love my country. I love that I've been encouraged to do and be whatever I dreamed, and that I have so many tools to help get me there. But I love, too, the land of Japan, and its peoples' attentiveness to the needs of other people. I cherish each memory--and there are so many!--of strangers offering me rides, umbrellas, or money for the train when I found I didn't have enough; of strangers walking me a half-hour to where I needed to go because I couldn't understand their directions; of people around me seeing me in times of distress and ushering me through them. I was blessed countless times that each of these beautiful strangers and friends felt it more important to see me to where I needed to be than to catch their own train on time, or meet their friends, or . . . there are dozens of "ors" here, one for each individual who took the time out to help me.

It was jarring to come back to the states and see the way people thoughtlessly disregarded others: not paying attention in a parking lot because they expect others to stop for them, not bothering with an "excuse me" after bumping into someone else (shouldn't they be watching where they're going?), not stopping their kid from kicking someone else's airplane seat because it was their kid's God-given right to do whatever he wanted as long as it didn't involve cutting off someone's arm. This thoughtlessness, I saw, was seldom born of malevolence, but rather of a distinct, cultivated weighing of someone else's needs as less important than one's own.

Now, if I can take a step out of the way to avoid someone else having to go eighteen steps out of the way, I try to take that step. I don't always get it right, but thanks to what I saw in Japan, I at least try to be mindful of others. Small demonstrations of care are often greeted with large amounts of gratitude, after all, and that's something I see more often thanks to my time in Japan. We're all interconnected, after all, whether or not we can see it at the moment.

The Japanese people struck by disaster aren't looting and/or beating each other up because they know--more intrinsically than do we in the United Sates, with our very different history and set of values--that the health and safety of each individual is necessary to the health and safety of the whole. That whole, in the end, is comprised of all the individuals who will raise their arms to shield you from the rain as you walk through trials that might very well overwhelm you . . . if you were forced to walk them alone.

Mad worksheet skillz

So why aren’t Japanese earthquake victims looting, anyway? I’m totally not answering that question here, though this entry originated from that question.

Specifically, Ba.D. and I were discussing the question when I said, “You know, my answer to that question can be summed up in a single photograph.” I rummaged through my photo albums for the picture I had in mind, but I wasn’t able to find it quickly; when I do find it, I’ll post it here.

What I did find were a bunch of worksheets I made during my ALT (“Assistant Language Teacher”) days. Casting melancholy aside, I freed myself to giggle and remember all the joy I felt in class with my genki students. The first such worksheet was this:

The real question is, when is Josh NOT fishing?

One of the junior high’s English lessons was about the question, “What’s the matter?” My role as ALT was to “bring the fun in” (a la Buffy). In this case, I used the doodles from my worksheet at the elementary school. You’ll probably recall that I taught my elementary school students eight different ways to respond to the question, “How are you?” After the fifth and sixth grade classes mastered those eight responses, I taught a slightly more complete conversation using my cards from the junior high:
Student 1: How are you?
Student 2: I’m sick!
Student 1: What’s the matter?
Student 1: I have a _____!

Behold my fabulous stick figure artistry! (The kids, of course, didn’t care how artsy anything I drew was. As long as my hand-puppet “Mr. Shark” helped to present the content, they were happy.)

Further down, I found another worksheet for my junior high elective class, which might or might not have been altered to protect the innocent:

My brother’s sole response to this worksheet:
“I do not like tacos, Deb.”

These worksheets are so much more powerful than words or even pictures to evoke the memory of who I was in Japan. Each of these scanned pages recalls so many moments I spent hunched over my desk, giggling while I chatted with my coworkers and daydreamed. I’ll never be Deborah-sensei in rural Japan again, but these silly worksheets remind me that a piece of my heart belongs to Japan still.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Where we came from

Every so often, I wonder, "What was I doing this time fifteen years ago? Ten years ago?" Thanks to my copious documentation, I'm able to actually go back and answer these questions.

The answer to the former question is still generally "something really embarrassing." I usually have a red face all the way through reading entries that correspond to a time where my age ended with "-teen." Occasionally I'm able to find a not-embarrassing entry, such as this "Public Journal" (blog) entry from February 8, 1996:

I'm looking for a new place to live - imagine that! This godawful place in the middle of the boonies with crazy people that practise when they like, inconsiderate of their roommates. I have found one place - quiet, downtown, and vegan that sounds just 'bout perfect for me.

I'm fighting the urge to quit school for a while. I've been going straight through for three years, college and up until last June high school, I'm only seventeen and damnit, I need to play! I just have too much to worry about.

To combat some of it I bought myself grade-school Valentines.

This time ten years ago, I was teaching English in Korea. I wrote this in a March 31, 2001 Public Journal entry:

I feel like an adolescent again, everything new and strange and out of my control. Truthfully, I'm not even sure who I am. I guess that's part of why I came. I don't want to have a breakdown and have to skip out on my life when I'm 43 because I never took the time to figure out who I was when I was younger. Sometimes I feel like a collection of conflicting thoughts, something it might be interesting to read but is pretty pointless just sitting up in my head. I have passions, but they don't burn - or maybe it just seems that way because I'm starting to calm down but still expect that intense response to any given situation. Even during the harsh moments, I think it's good that I'm here - I can't exactly up and run. I just have to sit and let it be. I'm certainly learning a lesson in patience and I know that's good. I've always been so restless and uncertain, wondering what else (and better) awaited me in that great big world. There's nothing beyond the moment, though, is there? Like Nora Perry's poem, "Too Late," none of us can live in the world of could-have-been or might-have been. This is where I am. Isn't that unique? Isn't that amazing? Here might very well be the best place to be - here in the sense of time, not of space. I'm not intending on moving to Korea at this point in my life. :)

I used to be mortified at the thought of my journals, public or otherwise. Did I really need to document all that crap? I'd wonder, imagining entries about eleventy billion times worse than the ones I'd actually written. On September 23, 2010, I revisited the question and was surprised to find it was actually really good to read through two decades worth of journals:

People have often asked me if I regretted keeping journals. Up until I actually read every single journal entry I've written over the course of two decades - leading to a source mom-related entry document of 90k words - I might have replied with a hearty, "you betcha." Since reading those journals, I've had a very different feeling on the matter. This was, in part, because I was able to reclaim so many memories that'd long since fled my mind. In the pages of my journals I discovered there was a lot of joy woven through even the hardest times. In conclusion, as I touched on February 6, 2010, "These words may not bring my mom back, but they're a helluva thing to hold close to my heart as February 6, 2011 nears." Sure, there's stuff I wish I hadn't done. Alongside those things, though, are adventures I wouldn't trade for anything.

It's easy to remember only one part of history when you're not faced with the more complicated totality of it. Examining the whole, the only conclusion I can draw is this: Who I am now is a product of everything I was before--good and bad, for whatever those words are worth. I love my life now. I needed all those experiences then to get to this exact now. It's good to look back and remember this.

It's good to see where I came from, and to wonder just how far I have yet to go. Looking back on how much I have done, it's easy for me to see that there's still so much left to do, and to be.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Legos, crispy-style

These days, I have to check the oven before I turn it on. If I don't, I'm apt to bake a bag, high chair tray, child's toy or similarly not-for-cooking item my little one has decided to hide therein. It's always good to check, for a check in time saves . . . the apartment from catching on fire.

That's how the saying goes, right?

This morning, I was so excited to take my new MacBook Air for a spin at my favorite cafe. I skipped the power cord; I only had a couple of hours to write, after all!

My heart soared as I pulled Motivation from his (yes, "his"; I only buy boy computers) case. I anticipated the rush of continuing my new YA novel while sipping on an almond milk horchata latte. So much delight on so many levels!

Then I saw Jon Stewart. Yes, Jon Stewart. "No!" I commanded Motivation, urging him to cease his cruel prank. I knew I'd turned him off after watching Jon Stewart two nights ago. Hadn't I?

Lo, Jon Stewart's incredulous face continued to refute me. Motivation's low battery warning simultaneously urged me to plug in his power cord or lose my work. I wanted to plug it in. I really did. It's just that I couldn't, on account of not actually having it with me.

I turned off Motivation and walked to Vons for a notebook. All the while, I cursed Motivation. Totally his fault, this whole mess! I had nothing to do with any of it.

Even if it's his fault this time, I'll make it a point to check his battery life next time I decide to travel light and leave his power cord at home. Like searching for a CAT man in the oven before cooking, this is probably a good idea.

You know, just in case.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mortification then, overwhelming joy now

“Omigod, Mom, please, please, please do not get in that Dumpster! Not with me in the car!”

I’d wager I said these words to my mom at least dozens of times, if not hundreds. 100% of the time after I’d uttered them, my mom would stop whatever $200 car she was driving at the moment, peer into the applicable Dumpster and—if the goods there were good enough—climb on in. I’d quietly swear I was never going anywhere with her in the car, ever again, a vow I’d forget the next time I neededarightomgrightnowpleasemom. (This was more often than not the same day.)

At the time, I thought my mom did the Dumpster divin’ thing because she thought it was fun. “Oh, I can get free stuff and mortify my teenage daughter at the same time! Score!” It would be years before I really understood she was part of the “gleaning movement” of necessity. Sure, she got revved up by a good find, but mostly? The computers, televisions, stereos, often brand new clothing and furniture someone else threw out was $50 in her pocket for food, rent and dollar-theater movies.

I loved some of my mom’s Dumpster finds. I didn’t object to benefitting from them as long as I didn’t have to be there when Mom rummaged ‘em up!

Then this thing called “law school” happened. With about zero dollars to spend on furniture, I’d meander past a sofa or a dresser or a coffee table on my way home from classes and go, “I can totally get this back to my apartment!” (Years of experience hauling stuff out for my mom’s garage sale really helped with this.) Apart from my mattresses, every single piece of furniture in my apartment during my first year at UCLAw was someone else’s castaway. This wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. It was just part of a college neighborhood’s no-cost, easy recycling system.

Over the course of a half-dozen years, I went from mortification to satisfaction at scavenging good finds. Stuff for free! Yes! Good stuff for free! Yesyesyes!

More recently, while I was pregnant, I’d take my dog on walks and come across furniture folks had set out on their lawns. A few times, I saw some Really Groovy Stuff. The Mom—yes, that’s capital-m Mom—saw it and exulted, so that I’d go home and tell Ba.D., “I found this love seat we’ve gotta get!”

If I were to sum up his wordless response to this in a couple of words, it’d be a loving:
Bitch, please.

If I had a few more words to add, they’d be:
We are not exposing my future baby to some germ- and hobo-pee-saturated rubbish ‘cause you can’t pass up something free!

The love seat did not come home that day. Exactly none of the delectable freebies I found while I was pregnant came home with me.

But yesterday, after scoring a parking spot not at all far from my apartment—on my first sweep!—I found a gorgeous little rocking horse next to my car. The Mom in me went, “Oh, there is no way I am passing this up!” I swept that sucker up by a handle and felt the delight of a total score.

Wickery goodness

After I wiped it down, I let my son at it. At first, my little daredevil just wanted to surf on it. After a few gentle efforts to coax him into a sit, he got the hang of it and rocked for several minutes. His smile the whole time lit up my heart.

When Ba.D. walked in, he saw the horse and exclaimed, “Cool find, Deb!” Just like that, it was like my mom was there with me, laughing and going, “You get it now, huh?”

I really do. A score is a score is a score. Every single one I get from here on out is a link back to those now giggle-inspiring memories of my teenaged mortification . . . and to my mom’s glee every time she found something awesome to take home.

In a simple abandoned rocking horse, I found something I’ve spent the year since my mom’s death struggling toward: the blessed memory of how irrepressible my mom’s joy was when she found something—an item, a moment, a memory—worth keeping.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oh, sweet milestones!

Ba.D. and I have tried making it a point not to swear in front of our son. This was so even before he started parroting the last word of almost everything we said.

Till this morning, I've been so, so very good.

This morning, I continued my "Tattoo" listening marathon. It's the last song on Driving Disc #5, so after it played, my CD player rolled to the first song on the disc. This song just so happens to be Paul and Storm's "If Aaron Neville Were Waiting for a Parking Spot At the Mall But Someone Else Snagged It" (off the album "Gumbo Pants").

It's such a fabulous impersonation of Aaron Neville, I forgot it could be anything but G-rated. I crooned along with a smile on my face as I sang every word of the song. Including the last one.

I didn't even notice what I'd done till my son cheerfully proclaimed, "Fucker!" He waved his little green trident around emphatically and grinned at me when I cried, "Noooooooooo!"

Oh, vigilance. Why can't you be like a vacuum and just have a simple on/off switch?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just like a tattoo.

When I moved back to L.A. three years ago, I made three compilation CDs to keep me awake through the 16-hour drive. In a rush of originality, I labeled these discs Driving Disc #1, Driving Disc #2, and Driving Disc #3.

Since then, I've bought a lot more music, which has led me to make four more driving discs. (OK, I've made five, but one was produced in the throes of pregnancy-related hormone fits, and was so utterly unlistenable I tossed the disc and tried vanquishing it from memory. Shh.) I won't tell you how they're labeled, but I'm sure you'll put that puzzle together all by yourself.

This morning, I made it to the end of the fifth disc. The first strains of Jordin Sparks's "Tattoo" filled my car and--I hate to admit this--I got goosebumps.

Also from the hate-to-admit it files? I probably listened to that song a couple hundred times while I was editing The Monster's Daughter.

Listening to the song this morning, I was overwhelmed by elation. Since I last listened to it, I moved from halfheartedly editing to actually releasing the book. Sure, there's still a little work being done behind the scenes, but mostly? I did it. That satisfaction, one I couldn't feel when I listened to "Tattoo" ceaselessly before, is one I'll surely wear on my heart like a tattoo for years to come.

Heh. I know, I know. Cheesy, right? But no matter how cheesy it may be, the heart of The Monster's Daughter is captured in these lyrics:
Don't look back, got a new direction
Loved you once, needed protection
You're still a part of everything I do
You're on my heart just like a tattoo
Just like a tattoo, I'll always have you

Monday, March 7, 2011


During my (*cough*second*cough*) senior year at the University of Oregon, I had an epiphany: Slacking off isn't much good when you spend all that "slack time" worrying about whatever it is you're putting off doing. This epiphany created a paradigm shift for me. Instead of doing everything in a panicked rush at the last minute, I did everything in a panicked rush like it was the last minute . . . except that I did it as early as possible. This left me abundant time to shoot the breeze without having to worry about anything but my already crazy credit card debt.

This has pretty much been my model ever since: pick a deadline, get stuff done. Don't pick a deadline? Don't get stuff done.

I felt triumphant after writing about biting the bullet. Hot damn, I thought, imma do this thing! Except, in an administrative oversight, I forgot to set a deadline.

In the interest of accountability--oh, and let's not forget about clearing up that mental space I so desperately need--I think I'd better remedy that. Barring rabid monkeys stealing my computers, my computers becoming possessed or my actually becoming rabid myself, my deadline for editing the second book is September 1, 2011. My deadline for editing the third book is March 1, 2012.

If these dates are creeping up and you find me hinting the deadlines are perhaps a wee bit unattainable, please:
1) Smack me over the head, then
2) Point me to this post, then
3) Remind me I am merely editing already written books, for which six months apiece was probably a lot on the excessive side.

I'd simply ask you to remember that any expletive-heavy grumbling you hear at such time should be translated as, "Thank you for keeping me on track!"

Sunday, March 6, 2011


A Season in Korea and One Time, One Thing are both free on Smashwords through March 12, 2011. Many other titles--fiction and non-fiction alike--are also free or heavily discounted during this period. Smashwords has loads of different options for reading, even without an e-reader, so I'd recommend giving it a look no matter what your reading tastes are!

Speaking of reading, my friend Sarah needs to stop recommending such riveting YA books. The urge to devour them all, pronto, is making it hard for me to engage in non-reading activities. Like typing, which I've done quite enough of for this morning. I have more Will Grayson, Will Grayson to read!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Kindle pricing

One of the many pleasing things about self-publishing is that I've got the freedom to mess around with pricing in (virtually) real time.

The last few days, I've read several articles about pricing e-books. A lot of authors stressed really low pricing as key in capturing larger audiences. That combined with my musician officemate's comments about "paying dues" early in your career pushed me toward at least testing how pricing impacts sales.

I've repriced The Monster's Daughter to $1.49. (That's a royalty of roughly $0.50.) I couldn't quite bring myself to price it at $0.99, but who knows how I'll feel in a week or two? The point is, I have the freedom to play around with it, and that's a fabulous feeling!

Yesterday evening, on the other hand, I wasn't feeling fabulous. The afternoon was beautiful, and I relished every moment my son, a girlfriend and I spent in the sun at the Santa Monica pier. I made it through the one-year mark with a light heart, but my heart sank as 5:00 neared. I tried to imagine my childhood home being someone else's home. I'm excited that someone else's future--and laughter--will be tied to the place, but it felt at the time like the definitive conclusion of my childhood.

Shouldn't that have happened a little earlier than 32? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps! I have enough good humor this morning to see that. That's in part thanks to my girlfriend's lovely pictures of yesterday, which included the following:

It's uplifting, if funny, to think that I'm the mom in these pictures now.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thank you, Mom.

At 2:35pm on March 4, 2010, my mom lost her battle with cancer.

On March 4, 2011, if all goes as planned, the house she struggled to keep will pass to new owners. When I got the closing date call from the escrow agent, I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach.

A few hours helped me to see there's actually a kind of beauty to this. (Circle of life, anyone?) Instead of being the day my mom stopped breathing, this makes March 4 a celebration of my mom's resourcefulness. She fought hard to keep a house over her kids' heads, despite mental illness and other obstacles aplenty; in doing so, she left a legacy that will help pay for her grandkids' college. That this is a gift her kids will celebrate on March 4 seems as much reminder as gift.

It's also fitting because it means we, her kids, will be free--one year to the day--to remember her without having to deal with the painful practicalties of saying goodbye. FYI, folks: It turns out that no matter how much you love your siblings, it will never be easy to say goodbye to your childhood home.

Tomorrow afternoon, I'm going to remember my mom in style. I'm going to take her grandson--the first of many grandchildren, I hope!--somewhere that made her smile so crazy wide I could hardly believe it. Even wider than this:

Today, I'm gonna do my best to not watch the clock too closely, or with too heavy a heart. In the nine years since that "chin shot" was taken, I've had some really amazing adventures. I'm going to try thinking of those adventures--the kind my mom would've loved to have!--instead. I'll be thinking, for example, of kids in a small farm town in Japan, and how, because of my games, they'd understand today if I told them, "I'm sad."

When I started teaching them, they knew only one answer to the question, "How are you?" "I'm fine, thank you, how are you?" By the time I left, they could tell me if they were fine, happy, sad, cold, hot, hungry, sleepy or angry. This was in part thanks to lots of games played with my mood slap cards:

It was also in part thanks to my repeatedly overacting each mood. As the kids grew more comfortable with the different moods, they, too, would throw themselves into dramatic response.

When I look at my mood cards now, I remember the joy I felt the first time a student ran up to my apartment door, jumped up and down with a grin and proclaimed, "I'm happy!"

These are memories for smiles. They're also memories I wouldn't have had but for my mom's faith I could be anything I dreamed.

So what if she later told me I should just think of what I wanted to be and marry someone who did that instead? The foundation was already laid. I believed, thanks to her, I could do just about anything.

Instead of sorrow, I choose to hold gratitude for that faith close to my heart today.

Gratitude . . . and love.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Monster's Daughter, circa November 1992

I turned 14 a few days before I started working on the handwritten story that'd later become The Monster's Daughter. I just pulled out all 120 pages of that handwritten early draft. I've only read the first page, but it makes me giggle.

Here's a touching excerpt:

"So, have you decided yet? Will you go out with me?"

"Rob, I knew a long time ago that I did not want to go out with you. And I told you so, too."

He gave me a look that said, "I know you're just too embarrassed to go out with me. You might feel too inferior." Egomaniacal. And that's only one of the many reasons I won't go out with him.

"Anyway, Rob, even if I did want to go out with you--and I don't--my dad wouldn't let me." Bullshit my dad wouldn't let me. I could skip school for a week, go have a vacation with forty guys and pay for it all with money I took from him and he wouldn't care. "Bye, Rob," I said as I pushed myself away from the table. If I didn't pick up my tray, one of the table monitors would get it eventually.

Oh, 14-year-old Deb, you were adorable! I could just tickle you, if I didn't think you'd punch me in the face for trying.

Do I have the courage to read on? I'd love to remember the story my 14-year-old self meant to tell, but doing so means foregoing my Jellicoe Road reading time! That's even apart from the fact reading all those pages requires actually, well, reading all those pages and thus seeing into my 14-year-old brain. Do I dare? Do I dare, especially remembering the very unfortunate meeting between Rob and Ari's dad?


I'd appreciate it if one of y'all could bust out a fortitude buff!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Biting the bullet

You want to know what's less fun than editing one book written in a week? Editing three books that were written in roughly a week apiece. (Such books don't start out especially, um, coherent.) Unlike the pleasure:fun ratio described in a familiar bubble gum ditty, triple the pleasure is not triple the fun!

When I wrote The Monster's Daughter six years ago, I wrote it as a trilogy. I wanted the first book to stand alone in case I got lazy. Which, turns out, I did! I've waffled on editing the latter books pretty much since they were written.

Rather than bore you with an epic narrative of the pros and cons of tackling all three books, I'll boil it down to one determinative factor: a conversation (let's call it "To Emergency Room or Not to Emergency Room") I had with Ba.D. after our son cut his face on a toy a few months ago. The conversation--as I recall it*--went roughly as follows:

Ba.D.: We should take him to the emergency room. That's an awful lot of blood.
Me: Face wounds bleed a lot.
Ba.D.: True. But it's so much!
Me: We could get some stuff from Rite Aid and try our hand at it.
Ba.D.: We could. But what if it's not enough? WHAT HAVE WE DONE TO OUR BABY?!
Me: Do you think we should go to the emergency room?
Ba.D.: I don't know. Maybe we can handle it? But what if we can't?
Me: Are you driving or am I?

There's a point in dialogue--with yourself or others--where you go, "Do I want to keep having this conversation?" In the end, that question swayed me. It's time to stop that do-I-do-I-not dialogue and just freakin' tackle those other books already. If I don't, that irritating question's gonna keep running circles around my mind.

I'd rather just have it done, clear up that brain space already and focus on other projects. I could plow forward with the non-fiction project I'm 12k words into. Or start the YA urban fantasy I'm going to set in Florence, OR, like Florence could ever really qualify as "urban." ;)

Enough waffling already. I'm cracking my knuckles and doing this thing! Now if only those first drafts were a tiny bit more readable . . . .

* I'm just putting this caveat in here preemptively to appease Ba.D.