Wednesday, November 30, 2011

YA Highway: Road Trip Wednesday #2

This week's YA Highway road trip question is: What's the best book you read in November?

I had to choose two, because one was the best book I read as a reader, and one the best I read as a writer.

(Image courtesy of TamaraWarren)
I read Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby because my work in progress is a YA thriller/horror novel, and I wanted to check out one of the classics to see how it’s done best. My favorite scary movies are from the 60s and 70s—The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, Jaws, Alien, The Exorcist, and The Stepford Wives (another Levin book, incidentally).  Having loved the movie, I figured it’d be helpful to check out the book. The most useful thing I took away from the novel was how subtle the disturbing parts are.  The evil in the plot is established early on, and the bad stuff that happens is foreshadowed, but Levin surrounds the supernatural with so much normalcy. Of course, that’s the point—the contrast between the two heightens the impact of the horror.  I don’t think I can wholly apply this idea to my WIP, because the commune setting is inherently a couple clicks away from normal for most readers.  But I’m really trying to create a contrast, a sense of the everyday life, normal to most of the characters, that gets shattered. 

(Image courtesy of

As a reader, my favorite was Holly Black’s Red Glove. I love the Curse Workers series so much. I think there’s only going to be one more, but I wish it could be like the Sookie Stackhouse series—an endless flood of books that lets you continually live with your favorite characters.  The world is so well established, all of the characters (even the minor ones) are interesting, and the inner struggle between the flaws and of the main character, Cassell Sharpe, is fascinating.  If I ruled the world, I would decree that Curse Workers immediately become a TV series (with the creator’s blessing, natch). Wouldn’t Patricia Clarkson be perfect as the mom? If you haven’t read Red Glove, or the previous book, White Cat, I highly recommend them.                        

Programming Note: Christmas!

(Image courtesy of La Mama Naturale')  

You know how every December when you were a kid, you got an Advent calendar? (Maybe not every “you,” and maybe not every December, but bear with me here).   

(Image via of Making This Home)
Opening every little door of that beautiful rectangle led you one day closer to Christmas.  

Even though the chocolate candy inside was suspiciously stale and neutral in taste, it was exciting to see the shape the candy was molded into. 

Bird? Reindeer? Trumpet? Indecipherable amorphous blob?

Being a hopeless nostalgic, I’m doing a blog Advent calendar. No chocolate will emerge from your screen after the jump, sadly. But there will be something behind the picture “door," every day between December 1 and Christmas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

New to Me: Rebecca Martinez

I'm a big fan of art that makes me feel uncomfortable (Sally Mann, for one). I discovered Rebecca Martinez today, via this article, and had to share: her photographs featuring Reborn dolls are amazing.

If you're feeling crafty this holiday season, there's a frightening amount of information out there about how to make your own Reborn doll, though I have a feeling most of us won't be able to use one to create art as cool as Rebecca Martinez has.

Finally, free association takes me to P.D. James' novel Children of Men (yes, the movie was better but the book has its moments). There's a scene in the book where childless couples bring kittens and dolls to church to baptize them. I'm calling it now: when the apocalypse of infertility comes, we'll all be clutching our own little Reborn.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Cranky Divorcee: Black Friday Edition

As we endure the plague known as Black Friday that has descended across the land, The Cranky Divorcee answers questions from couples whose relationships have been altered by the question of commerce.

Last week’s couples were Jo March and Professor Bhaer, followed by Daughter of Smoke and Bone’s Karou and her eternally homicidal angel lover, whose name I can’t be bothered to remember.

Let’s begin.

Dear Miss Cranky Divorcee,
I rescued my crush’s sister from a sacrificial death at the hands of my people, but I’m not sure whether she likes me or not. She definitely runs hot and cold. We made out that one time, and she offered to again, but now I’m not sure where we stand.   She’s always criticizing me, and before I rescued her sister, she mostly acted like she hated me. Except for that time she beat the shit out of the other girl I had a crush on—is that a sign that she likes me?  I’m just worried that she’ll never see me as a normal guy.


That’s “Ms.” to you, young man. Or rather, young man-like being.  I’m not entirely clear what you are, which has little bearing on your romantic problems, but irritates me nonetheless.   Whatever the answer may be, you’re certainly not normal, and that’s where the trouble lies.  I sense that you and this girl are destined to be friends, because once her gratitude over your heroism dies down, she’s going to focus more and more on the fact that your town pays for its good fortune by sacrificing its little kids to your people. 

Besides, your interest in her initially seemed to stem from the fact that she acted like she couldn’t stand you. It really blossomed when you realized you could save her sister. So, first you wanted her because you have low self-esteem, and then you really wanted her when you realized you could see a better version of yourself reflected through her eyes.  

You need someone who will treat you well without requiring heroic feats, which of course means you crave someone who will treat you like dirt.  She’s not good for you.  I may be exceptionally cranky today, because my inbox, online news sites, and airwaves have been invaded by those two little words I would kill to never hear again. Then again, pepper spraying people to get at the goods seems gentle in comparison to consuming small children.
Next: What's a little theft between lovers?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Divorcee Indisposed

(Image courtesy of Niklas Murray)

Unfortunately, the Cranky Divorcee is slightly indisposed, and will not be appearing as scheduled.  It is hoped that she will recover in time to deliver a Very Special Thanksgiving Edition of her advice.

If you are need of vicarious romantic experiences to judge or rejoice at (because, really, aren't we all?), consider the following:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

YA Highway: Road Trip Wednesday #1

The YA Highway does a group blogger activity on Wednesdays. But before I can talk about the activity, I have to talk about the name of the blog.  Am I the only who reads it and thinks of a road occupied only by teenagers? 

(Image courtesy of Library of Congress)
Maybe they’re walking or driving, maybe they’re on bikes or skateboards or pogo sticks, but it’s a mass army of adolescents sweeping up and down an eight lane highway.  You can hear it from four states away. Right. Okay. The YA Highway does this thing called Road Trip Wednesdays, in which they post a question and bloggers across the YA galaxy respond on their own blogs.

Today’s topic/question is: 

“In high school, teens are made to read the classics - Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens - but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?”

Hand wringing over being “made” to read the classics in high school has never really resonated for me. I was the kind of nerdy child who loved and read so much of the British classics that I still spell certain words with the British preferred spelling (grey, jewellery, etc.). 

Let’s consider the authors presented. Sure, we could probably knock Dickens off that list without losing much.  Shakespeare, while not a personal favorite, is pretty foundational.  Hawthorne and Bronte and are just awesome. But this is where the problem arises.  Taste is extremely subjective, and for “reluctant readers,” or those high schoolers who just can’t get into the diction of another time, the classics seem boring, or outdated.

To which my response is—so? Since when is what we learn in school supposed to be a non-stop carnival ride of thrills? Would history teachers present the events of World War II in a catchier, “sexier” way? Or skip the war entirely, since it’s old and boring and new stuff has happened that students would rather learn about? But I’m getting cranky, and the Cranky Divorcee is only allowed to come out to play on Mondays.

Next: A Solution

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Cranky Divorcee

Our first letter last week was from Harry Potter, husband of Ginny Weasley. Forming one of the most boring fictional couples ever, they brought out the worst advice I could give. What can I say? Boredom calls up impulsive, bad, enjoyable ideas every time.  Advice seekers: infuriate, delight, perplex and revolt me.  But for the love of the sweet baby Jesus, don’t bore me. The second advice-seeker was the persona of Zooey Deschanel. Does her perfection bore? Perhaps. But she looks too much like a mammalian infant to allow me to ever hate her.

Onto the advice.

Dear Cranky Divorcee,

I grew up next to a rather wild young man, whose wealthy grandfather helped my sisters and mother in so many ways.  The young man and I spent so much time together, that gradually we developed feelings for each other.  My older sister has married, and is quite the little wife. But I long to live a different life; my secret dream is to be a writer. I know my little scribblings may not amount to much, but my soul burns to devote myself to my work.  The young man I mentioned has just proposed to me. What shall I do?


Transcendent, you should say yes and never look back. There are moments that define the path your life will take. Rejecting his proposal will lead you to move far away from home, where you will fall in love with an elderly professor whose main attraction seems to be that he’s a father figure. You’ll end up marrying this professor, and giving up your literary ambitions to help him run a boarding school for hellions. You’ll shrink into a shadow who supports her man by taking on his dreams. But that frightening future doesn’t have to be. 

Your wealthy young man, who you think you don’t love enough, will support your ambitions. In time, you’ll realize that you had what we now refer to as “daddy issues,” due to your father’s long absence while fighting in the war. Right now, you can’t see that you’re suppressing your feelings. Stop sabotaging yourself and take the easy route! If you don’t, your bratty but shrewd younger sister will snap up your suitor while he’s on the rebound from your rejection. She’ll pursue her artistic dreams, and end up with one perfect child, not a houseful of wild boys who never stop wreaking havoc.  Remember: just because choosing him is easy doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Next: Destiny vs. Death

Friday, November 11, 2011

Moving, Magazines, and the Male Gaze

(Oh-so-personally-metaphorical image courtesy of Lance Anderson)
I moved a few months ago to the awesomeness that is the Pioneer Valley, but I am still putting things in their permanent places. Yes, I am the kind of shamefully messy person who takes eons to finally unpack everything, because once I unpack the essentials, other things in my life take priority.

In further unpacking the other day, I came across this stack of magazines from the ‘90s that I bought about a year ago. I thought the project I was working on—that morphed into “The Rule of Three”—would be set in the ‘90s. It wasn’t, and isn’t. But I still have all these cool magazines around, like a copy of Sassy. I loved Sassy as a teenager, and wanted to buy a bunch, but they can be slightly expensive, so I settled on just one.

Looking through this old Sassy made me think of the Tavi Gevinson/Jane Pratt online magazine project, Rookie, which is being deemed the new Sassy. The New York Times has an interesting piece about the site.

Since I had a copy of Sassy on hand, I decided to read through it, and check out Rookie’s content of the day, to see how the two compared.

 Reading through my October ’94 copy of Sassy was a spooky trip down memory lane, simply because it reminded me there are so many things I’ve forgotten even existed, like the Columbia House music club. Did anybody ever join that? I wanted to, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I’m pretty sure it was a scam, because how many teenagers diligently remember to send back the cassette tapes (cassette tapes!) that they don’t want?

The models were bigger. I don’t to say “normal” sized, because I think it contributes to the whole idea that there’s one acceptable body type. But I will say that the models look like someone I can imagine walking down the street. The models in today’s magazines don’t. It’s shocking to see how much the acceptable body of a model has changed in 17 years. It’s shocking that I have internalized so thoroughly what a model looks like today.

There was the “Sassy Music Hotline,” where you could listen to music mentioned in the magazine. I called the hotline, but Verizon told me, unsurprisingly, that my call could not be completed as dialed. I had a moment of crazy hope that somehow, the hotline that would let me listen to tracks from Whip-Smart would still exist out there in the ether.

There were ads for stuff like the “Youth Problem Line,” that for only $2.49 a minute (?!) you could get advice about your boyfriend. As expected, your call to the “Youth Problem Line” can no longer be connected.

Next: The Contender 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quest Book: SugarPink Rose

If I ever find myself in one of those hypothetical fires where, immune to the threat of smoke inhalation, I have time to calmly take stock and decide which few, precious items to rescue—well, Sugarpink Rose will be one of my saves.

It’s a feminist children’s book, given to me by my mother’s best friend when I was little.  I didn’t think it was anything other than a cool story growing up.  But somehow, through luck, I hung on to it over the years and dozens of moves since it was given to me. I love it for nostalgic reasons, but I also love it because it’s a book that teaches kids about gender equality through a tight story and gorgeous illustrations.  Finally, I love it because I have the original, and it’s not widely available (I know, totally snobby and silly, but there you go).  

To my happy surprise, I found out that SugarPink Rose is a book that other people obsess over, and try to track down. You know, a book that you’ve loved as a child, and try to find again as an adult, but just can’t? (Incidentally, the ALA has a great YALSA listserv where librarians search their collective brain for answers to these stumpers.)  I’m dubbing these lost books Quest Books (superfluous capitalization because I can.)

In Googling Sugarpink Rose, I found posts by several people who were trying to remember this book, and/or wanted to buy it.  It was a successfully answered Yahoo Question.  In the comments thread on a Guardian article about feminist children’s books, "Gr1ffe" responded: “I had that book about the elephants with the girl elephants were pink and had to live in an enclosure the boys were grey and got to play in the mud when I was little! I LOVED it - especially the bit where the girl elephants took off their pink bows and booties and jumped in the mud!  As I remember it got quite tatty after being bitten and chewed and read and reread as kids book do. I don't know what happened to my copy either but I wish I could remember what it was called or find another copy as I wanted to read it to my children when I have some!” ("Gr1ffe," check your inbox!)

Quest Books—they’re this brain itch of loss and love that can’t be scratched. Do any of you have a book that you’ve read as a child, that you’ve tried to remember the title or author of for years, and maybe even tried to research? I’ve had two Quest Books, once of which I’ve found.

The Devil's Children and An Evil Doll

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Cranky Divorcee

As was discussed in the comments, our couples last week were Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, and Cassell Sharpe and Lila Zacharov (I really do hope things work out for those two crazy kids!)  Moving on. Today we have two more anonymous advice seekers, each trapped by desire in their own way.

Dear Cranky Divorcee,

I married my school sweetheart.  We’ve had some good years, I’ll admit, but I think I made a mistake in marrying so young.  Now that the two of the kids are off to our old alma mater, we have less and less to say to each other, and things in the bedroom are even worse.  I thought I’d had enough excitement in my younger days to last me a lifetime, but I realize I’ve never had any real life experience with women. I’ve only kissed one girl besides my wife in my entire life, for god’s sake! I want to experience passion with all sorts of women, before I’m too old or dead.  But it’s not as though I can sneak around and have some delightfully sordid affair; the whole world-renowned hero thing puts a bit of a kink in it.  I don’t want a divorce, but I can’t go on like this.

Totally Famous

Most advice columnists would tell you to talk to your spouse about your feelings, and get some couples therapy. But you know what? I’m not really a fan of your spouse. She is so effing boring. So, I’m going to try and aid and abet you in doing shitty, immoral things.

I’m guessing your one of your best friends is getting just as bored with her husband. Let’s face it—opposites may attract, but they don’t make good spouses. Get together over drinks, put out a few feelers, and see how happy she is. The two of you could probably get away with things for a while, before either of your spouses caught on. Of course, that’s going to make it that much worse when they do find out, but we’re just thinking about you right now. I’d suggest the four of you could swing, but you know, the relationship between your spouses rules that out.  It’s too bad, really. The groupie route is another possibility. You must have hordes. Perhaps there’s higher risk, higher reward there? Food for thought.  

Having given you several horrible, evil suggestions, I will say that the most reasoned, ethical thing to do would be to go to your wife and ask her if you can have an open marriage. Something tells me that you, priding yourself on your honorableness, will do this, and she’ll say absolutely not. Then, you’ll find yourself back in the same place you started. Where you go from there is between the two of you and your prospective divorce attorneys.

Next: When will he find me?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Graveyard

 Here's another bit of writing from an early draft of my novel that I liked. It got the ax because I realized that my main character, Una, was actually a siren, and much more bad ass than a mermaid. So, one last look, and then it's time to start shoveling the dirt:

Once upon a time, there were mermaids. Once, people believed in such a thing. Some believed in ladies with long hair, seashell bras and tails; others believed in genetic abnormalities--freaks with fused legs and flippers for arms. Still others imagined darker things--monsters of the dark deeps, with flaking skin and rotting bone, yawning mouth and yearning hand.

Here on Nantucket, in the whaling museum, behind a pane of glass, there is a picture of the famous whaling captain Obediah Chauncey taking tea with a mermaid queen upon the tongue of a whale. Neither of them look very comfortable. This is partly because the painter was not very good.  

The mermaid queen balances upon her tail, while Chauncey sits on a stool on the whale’s tongue. He holds his cup up as if he’s toasting the queen, and she looks away, at the viewer. Her expression is difficult to figure out because the painter messed up her mouth. It’s so frustrating. I can imagine Chauncey’s reaction.  Anyone can.  Whale’s tongue, the stench coming from its belly, drinking tea with a queen.  Gross but cool.  But what must the queen have felt, entertaining this human? How are queens supposed to feel?  This is what I try to figure out, from her badly painted face, because I am now a queen too.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Onward, Writing Soldiers

(Image via DJuliet at Flickr)
I’ve started querying agents on my novel, and as I wait to hear back, I’m planning about my next project.  Here are five things I’m doing differently as I work on my next novel:

                1. Outlining.  “The Rule of Three” evolved over so many years and so many different drafts, that sometimes it feels like I’ve created the Frankenstein of novels (but a really awesome, catchy, cool Frankenstein, agents-who-could-be-reading!). So, for this next project, I’m religiously mapping out the plot, chapter by chapter, in hopes that it will lead to a more efficient writing process. I still expect to throw lots of words out. I had an MFA prof who grimly told us to expect to throw out hundreds of thousands of words for every novel.That happened to me with “The Rule of Three,” but I’m hoping that I can avoid it with the next novel. Or, at the very least, whittle it down to tens of thousands of discarded words.

                2. Researching. I did tons of research with “The Rule of Three,” mainly because I love to do research.  There wasn’t that much of the information I went through that informed the novel, but I think this connects back to the fact that the novel went through so many major overhauls. I plan to research with this novel, again because I love to, but I think the research will prove more directly useful, because I’m plotting out the whole thing in advance.  I'm going to try not get side tracked into researching every possibly related topic, because too many tangential ideas are generated when I do this.

                3. Running every chapter through Style Writer. It’s shockingly expensive at $150 (at least in my world, that’s shocking) but it’s really useful, and there's a two week free trial. I bought it to copyedit “The Rule of Three,” and it helped me see individual errors, as well as figure out what kind of less-than-ideal patterns run through my writing. In other words, it helped me figure out what some of my crutches/weaknesses are. So, in my mind, it’s worth it. I’m thinking that using Style Writer with every chapter as I write it will be a great way to strengthen the overall novel as it comes together.

                4. "Teaser Tuesdays.” Hordes of people do them, and before I started blogging, I always thought, man, I’d be too scared to do that. The idea of putting relatively raw material out there freaks me out a little bit. But, I’m going to try out the meme, as a way to push myself out of my comfort zone. Who knows, it could have a positive effect on the novel, too.

               5. Write without editing. I read this post of advice from Veronica Roth addressed to NaNoWriMoers, and I really identify with the first sentence.  Trying to perfect my writing as I go along as has always been my modus operandi. So, I'm going to try to mix it up, move way away from my typical method, and try out the following:

"I am familiar with doubling back to address the draft, fixing inconsistencies as I go, tweaking sentences, and so on. I wrote my first manuscript like that, and let me tell you something, and I swear it's true: that manuscript took me a year to finish, and it required more editing than Divergent, which I wrote in less than half that time, taking the "don't look back" approach.

My plan with Divergent was this: just. Keep. Going. I would think of things I wanted to fix later and make a note of them on the document and then just plow on through. Then when I was done, I went back to address the comments, but I never even looked at them until I had written the last word."

Hey, if it worked for Veronica Roth, then I'm willing to give it a shot.

P.S. Check out the link under the picture: there's an awesome quote by Lynda Nead that accompanies this picture on Flickr.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Never to be Revisited Rant: Why I Won't Blog About My Kid

Like countless parents across the globe, I have a kid, and I have a blog.  My kid has a gender, name, and unique personality.  This kid does wonderful things I’d love to share with the world. When this child drives me crazy, the siren song of the online audience beckons me to vent.  Everybody else is “mommy blogging,” so why shouldn’t I? 

I don’t blog about my kid, because I think it’s unethical. I’m not trying to create a new hurdle that women must overcome to achieve the moral high ground of the “good mother.” I just can’t imagine ever being okay with my mother having blogged about my life, in all its shame and glory.

Becoming a parent doesn’t give you the right to offer the experiences of your child up for the consumption of the entire internet. There’s a wide spectrum in the presentation of children online. From the discomforting videos of kids under the influence of laughing gas, to the seemingly benign blow-by-blow account of Child X’s first day at school, countless permutations of putting a child online exist.

I realize deeming “mommy blogging” unethical is a pretty broad statement.  Can there be situations in which blogging about your child is okay? Parents like Shannon Des Roches Rosa of Squidalicious, who blogs about her autistic son Leo, are raising awareness about a unique aspect of a child in a way that provides an invaluable resource to parents and the child-free. But even in these isolated cases, it’s tough to decide if the benefit for others justifies sharing the life of a child, when that child isn’t given a choice.

Increasingly, parents are getting paid, via sponsorships and ads from companies, to share their children’s lives online. New ways to monetize parenting, and by extension, the lives of children, are invented every day.  Even before birth, parents-to-be blog their pregnancies for a profit, as in the case of the “sponsored” nursery furniture provided to Jordan Reid of Ramshackle Glam in exchange for publicity on her blog.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Return of the Cranky Divorcee

The Cranky Divorcee is ecstatic to have rejoined the ranks of the electrified, just in time to field a new set of questions from troubled characters.

At the suggestion of fellow MFA@FLA alum Michelle Lee, poet, blogger and soon-to-be literature professor, the Divorcee has decided to conceal the identities of our lovelorn advice seekers. See if you can guess our mystery characters, and their identities will be shared next week.

Dear Cranky Divorcee,

I'm so upset, I can hardly tweet. I'm watching the interviews and articles that are covering the globe about me 24-7. I work hard to be hot. But no one appreciates how hard I work. Take my nationally televised wedding, part of my totally successful series of reality TV shows—do you know how much pressure it is to have to do a scene over and over, because Lindsay wanders into the shot, begging to do her Marilyn impression for like the thousandth time, or because the fucking producer (aka my momager) bitches me out for not using my sexy voice?

I’m crying so hard I can’t even remember why I’m writing to you. I just saw a picture online, from yesterday, of me not smiling on the red carpet. Oh my god! I just lost a fake eyelash from wiping away my tears. That’s how bad things are. So, you and everybody else know that I’m getting divorced. Again. Everybody thinks I planned this as a publicity stunt. People talking about whether it’s a publicity stunt is getting me even more publicity. My momager says it’s a win-win situation.

The thing is, I am so misunderstood. I’ve tried to tell everyone, but they just won’t listen. I knew it wasn’t going to work before we got married, but there was so much pressure to have the big televised wedding. I should have picked a sure deal, not some loser free agent whose stupid sport goes on vacation. When do I get a vacation? Believe me, there aren’t any lockouts in reality TV. Anyway, before I knew it, it was too late to back out. Cranky Divorcee, why doesn’t anyone believe me?

-It’s So Unfair

I know that somewhere buried within your character, the one piled with pounds of makeup, squeezed into tight dresses, and slipped into agonizing stilettos, there is the germ of a seed of a real human being.

God knows, I should be crankier. I should give a lecture about the fame-whoring character you play on TV, radio, the internet, and print, or the moral emptiness of a sham wedding. But sometimes, when the stars align just so, the Cranky Divorcee is inclined to be charitable. Gentle, even.

I believe you. As a professional divorcee, I know that feeling, the one that tells you something just isn’t right, and the realization that hits you sometime after the invitations have been sent and before you walk down that aisle. But you go through with it, because everyone’s flown in, the alcohol’s been ordered, and the dress is amazing.

Realize that not many people would have the strength to call off a wedding in your situation. I’d advise you to take a break from the reality rodeo, but we both know that isn’t going to happen. Time heals. In your case, in just 72 days, you’ll have been separated for as long as you were married.

Next:When Requited Love Suck

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Make Believe Monday Delayed

(Image courtesy of
The Cranky Divorcee is one of the millions affected by the widespread power outages.  Being deprived of heat for over three days has made her even crankier than usual.  Therefore, she will reserve her vitriol for the fictionally lovelorn and romantically tortured until such time that her brain has thawed.