Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bad Apples

This is a post about frustration. 

Which is something everyone experiences from time-to-time.  Child 1 recently started expressing her frustration with me and life by taking huge bites of the apples I bought to fill my indoor planter.  I bought this planter a couple of years ago because I thought it was pretty.  Since that time I've struggled in my search for something good to put in it.  The obvious solution would be to put a plant in it, but (as previously illustrated) all my houseplants end up looking sad and wilted.  Then I hit on apples.  It was the perfect solution-inexpensive, attractive and long-lasting.

Okay, so now back to the frustration part of the post.  Child 1 thinks the perfect way to vent her frustration is to take a bite of an apple that has been sitting in my planter since September.  They are soft, slightly-withered and disgusting to eat (although still pretty enough for planter filler).  Each time she takes a bite of one of those apples I struggle not to laugh.  I don't want to make her more frustrated but I'm not entirely sure why biting those apples is supposed to make up for whatever injustice she feels she's suffered. 

Real or metaphorical-don't eat these!
 Then I started thinking about it as a metaphor.  How many times do we take out our frustrations with life by biting into a bad apple?  I know I've spent sleepless nights being mad about something I'm powerless to change.  I've also snapped at people I love, given myself headaches and made myself generally miserable all in the name of frustration or anger.  I end up punishing myself for the very thing that I'm furious or frustrated about.  If that's not a slice of poisonous apple than I don't know what is.  Next time she bites into these apples I'm going to use it as a reminder that life is hard enough.  There's no need to take bites of bad apples. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Twitter Take Two

Some of you may remember my generalized anxiety about Twitter discussed here http://www.johannagarth.com/2011/04/twitter-me-worried.html

I got some great Twittering advice from that post but then decided to ignore it all.  Despite the fact that normally I love to try anything new for some reason I was being a stick in the mud about Twitter.  I couldn't/wouldn't/didn't want to Tweet.  And then something happened.

Alison Deluca who is a friend, writer and all-around inspirational person wrote a fantastic blog column about Twitter.  You can read it here:  http://alisondeluca.blogspot.com/2011/05/social-media-for-authors-pt-1-new-star.html

I took a deep breathe, followed her step-by-step instructions and now I'm tweeting!  Today I'm going to try to do the #FF Follow Friday she discusses.  I'm also going to tell myself that by putting a "the" in front of #FF I didn't just sound exactly like my mom when she tells me she needs to research something on "the web".

Wish me luck, or better yet, Tweet me!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Calling all Shaman

This must be my week to, ever-so-gently, make fun of the texts my friends send me.  Earlier this week I received the following text:

"Do you know any good shaman?"

Now, while I know a good pediatrician, dentist, pizza place, homeopath, hairstylist and yoga teacher, I don't know any good shamans.  In fact, I realized as I stared at my phone and wondered (a) why my friend needed a shaman and (b) whether a good shaman was something a reasonably intelligent person *should* know about; that I wasn't precisely sure what a shaman is or does. 

According to http://www.crystalinks.com/ shamans are spiritual beings with the ability to heal, work with energies and 'see' visions.  The essential characteristics of shaman are mastery of energy and fire as a medium of transformation.  The website had a lot more to say about shaman, you can check it out if you are so inclined, but the thing that really caught my attention was the reference to the weather.

Shaman have been credited with the ability to control the weather.  This might seem like a small thing to you but here in Oregon we have been living under semi-cloudy skies since October.  Six months is a long time to go with only occasional sunbreaks.  As I stared out the window at the grey skies that plague us here and thought about my friends in the midwest and south who are literally going underground to escape the tornadoes I realized my friend was right.  We all need a good shaman.  If you have any references you can leave them here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Resurrection

Last night I had a moment that felt like it was right out of a book, my own book actually.  Here's what happened. 

Last summer I bought a pomegranate bush.  I didn't buy it because of the ties between the myth of Persephone and pomegranates and the fact that I happen to be writing a story loosely based on that myth.  Nope, I just picked it up because it had beautiful foliage and a couple of tiny pomegranates growing on its branches.  I also had an empty blue pot and I knew the pomegranate would look really good in that pot.

I don't think it's going to make it.
I feel compelled to add that empty pots are not all that unusual at my house.  Here are the contents of one of my soon to be emptied pots.  Potted plants HATE me but I ignore all their signals and keep buying them anyway.

Anyway, the kids and I watched the tiny pomegranates grow.  This plant was an exception to my general relationship with potted plants.  It was thriving.  It was gorgeous.  The tiny pomegranates were becoming enormous and we couldn't wait to try our back yard harvest.  Then along came an early frost.  The pomegranate lost all its leaves, the fruit shriveled up and fell off and I was pretty sure the plant was dead.  I left it in its pot and it's been sitting there all spring making me sad every time I look at it.

Then something happened!  Last night I was out in my back yard and this is what I saw.  Can you see it?  Tiny little leaves!  The pomegranate lives!! 

I feel like the unexpected rebirth of my pomegranate is some type of lifesize foreshadowing.  What is the pomegranate telling me?  Potted plants no longer hate me.  Not to give up hope.  I have to say the writer in me loves the way the pomegranate and its message of hope tie back to my struggles as a writer and specifically to the problems that Persey Campbell (the heroine of Losing Beauty and Losing Hope) encounters.

But is that too obvious?  Maybe.  It's entirely possible we never know what our own examples of foreshadowing are trying to tell us.  What do you think?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vadge Magic

This is (word-for-word) the text that popped up on my phone last week.

"Got the Vadge Magic,"  followed immediately by another text that said, "OMG!  Badge Magic!  Although my vaj is magic too ;)" 

Lots of Badge Magic went into this vest.
 Here's the backstory.  I am the mother of a Girl Scout.  However, just because my daughter is a Girl Scout doesn't mean I have any innate Girl Scouting abilities (like the ability to sew triangular shaped patches onto a vest).  The Girl Scout organization, in its ultimate wisdom, recognizes this may be a common problem and came up with something called "Badge Magic."  Badge Magic is a super sticky substance precut in the shapes of Girl Scout badges.  You stick the badge on to the Badge Magic, pull it off, stick it on to the vest and you're done.  Voila, Badge Magic!

The girls in my daughter's troop attended their annual overnight camp this past weekend which, of course, meant I needed to get all those badges I'd been ignoring onto my daughter's Brownie vest.  I was out of Badge Magic but fortunately my friend Rach came to my rescue with her own personal stash.  After we stopped laughing about her text message we started talking about other types of Vadge Magic-sorry guy readers of my blog.  You might want to opt out today.

These two definitely qualify as VM!
  First, there was the bikini wax.  This seems like an obvious choice of Vadge Magic-at least that would get most of our husband's votes.  There was also the discussion of thong underwear but the vote is still out on that one.  But then I started wondering if the term Vadge Magic shouldn't be more broadly applied.  Does the act of getting seven badges onto a Brownie vest while publicizing a book, writing a new one, organizing an end of the year classroom gift and making dinner fall into it's own category of Vadge Magic.  I think it does!  In fact, if we expand the definition I think most of us have quite a bit of Vadge Magic.  Take a minute and tell me about yours.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Book of Lost Things

This weekend I had an unexpected treat-the time to sit down and finish a whole book in under 24 hours.  I know there are lots of people who can tear through three times that many books in the same amount of time, and once upon a time I could do that too.  But now life has other ideas and these kinds of opportunities are few and far between.

The book I read in record-breaking time is the title of this post and there is a reason I read it so quickly.  I loved it!  It's been awhile since I've read a book that I loved this much.  It was the perfect combination of favorite childhood stories retold with a grisly spin, lost children, fantasy (without any new langauges, worlds or names with dubious pronounciations) and a satisfying heart-warming story without plot holes or pieces that didn't make sense.  When I turned to the last page and read John Connolly's perfect ending I was almost annoyed that I hadn't exercised more self-restraint and made the book last longer.

I won't rehash the plot here but if you buy it and read it or have already read it, let me know!  I'm dying to talk about it with someone.  As a writer it's good to write but sometimes it's even better to read!   

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Nitty Gritty

I received a nice little note of congratulations from my publisher yesterday with a reminder to blog about the book.  What?  Trains and labor pain analogies aren't the same as blogging about the book?? 

You see, my publisher is a very practical man.  There are many things I am, but (said the girl with electric blue toe nails) I'm not particularly practical.

So today's post is going to be sweet, short and PRACTICAL. 

First, the book is out.  But duh, you guys already knew that.  If you like it you can tell your friends who might tell their friends.  You can also tell them it's at both Kindle and Barnes & Noble online.  When they go there they will find it costs a little less than their favorite drink at Starbucks.  Whether you love it or hate it, at least the financial stakes are relatively small. 

Second, the print version is not out yet.  But it's coming....sometime this fall.  I don't fully understand the ins and outs of distribution but I think it's safe to say if you ask your bookstore for a copy of Losing Beauty, they will have a vested interest in making sure you get it.

Third, in reading the reviews I realize I neglected to say that Losing Beauty is the first in a three part series.  The next book in the series is called Losing Hope and as of this very moment I've written 122 pages of it. 

Fourth (and most importantly), THANK YOU!!  This picture of flowers is for you, each and every one of you.  Every kind word, review, note telling me you just downloaded my book and syllable of support means more than you could ever know!



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Losing Beauty is now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

There was more content to the email I received from my publisher earlier this week but that was all I managed to absorb.  Today, as in right this very minute you can go to the Kindle or Nook store and download my book.  Of course I've known I was headed in this direction for some time.  I've been rhapsodizing about it to all my friends but when I opened up that email all I felt was a wave of cold, nervous nausea. 

In fact, the last time I can remember feeling this precise combination of dread and excitement was when I was in labor with Child 1.  All I could think as we raced toward the hospital was, "I'm stuck on a speeding train and it's too late to get off."  Except even if I could have, I wouldn't have.  It's just scary to know you're all out of options. 

Writers regularly compare their books to children.  There is the euphoria that comes when you're almost at the end of your first draft and you know exactly how everything is going to come together.  It's like seeing your child for the first time.  There are the uncomfortable moments when you go back to look at it and your masterpiece is terrible, awful, quite possibly the worst thing you've ever seen.  The equivelent parenting moment is when you hear your child say something dreadful and mean-spirited and wonder how you managed to give birth to the spawn of satan.

Then there is the post-partum depression after you finish a book.  In my house finishing the last draft is often accompanied, not by popping open a bottle of champagne, but by me dragging around in sweat pants and eating too much ice cream.

Amazon link http://tinyurl.com/5raycle
 So, I'm stuck on the speeding train and I can't get off.  I hope the baby (I mean book) is honest and well-loved because that's what everyone wants for their offspring.  Let's just hope the labor pains aren't too bad.

p.s. If you've made it all the way to the end of this post, and my talk of labor pains hasn't scared you away....please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.  You can't imagine how helpful it is to have good (oops, I meant to say honest) reviews.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Genius Hour

The thing about writing is that it's hard to turn it off.  I try, lord knows I try but sometimes I just can't do it.  On those long, long nights, because that's almost always when my involuntary writing happens, I lie motionless.  Anyone would think I'm asleep but in my mind there is a torrent of words.

What do I write?  It's all the most amazing stuff, perfect prose with a dash of wit and no typos anywhere, because you can't make typos when you're writing in your head.  The sentences are clear.  The meanings and nuances they convey are even clearer.  They are true literary masterpieces.  At 4:00 in the morning I'm certain I will remember each and every gem because they are so perfect as to be unforgettable.  Even though morning washed everything away the time before, and the time before that, I am confident this time will be different.

Sometimes I plot.  I work out all those knarly plot kinks that have been bothering me.  Everything magically connects in a symbiotic fashion at 4:00 in the morning.  The only problem is that at 7:00 when the alarm goes off it's all gone and I'm left chasing the shadows of all that perfection.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I can't help it, I'm just chatty.

A rare moment of solitude.

The title of this post is Child 2's normal response whenever he gets in trouble.  The thing is, he's right.  He's very chatty.  In fact he's turned chatting into a whole new offensive tactic in his t-ball games.  When he plays third base it doesn't matter who lands in front of him.  In under five seconds he finds a way to engage them in conversation.  It's a constant source of amusement to the parents on our team when we see the poor frustrated coach of the other team yelling at the kid standing on my son's base to, "Stop talking and run, rUN, RUN."

Okay, so the thing is, my son is not the only chatty person in our family.  He got the amazing hair from his dad but he *might* have inherited the chattiness from me.  I too love to chat.  Life is interesting and I like to hear what other people have to say about it.  It's entirely possible that I too was frequently reprimanded for talking in school and after-school sports and girl scouts and, well, you get the picture.

The point, I've come to it at last, is that here on my blog I've finally found a place to channel all that chatty energy.  I can go visit other people's blogs and read what they have to say (and comment).  I can tell you my thoughts, each and every one of them.  You can tell me your thoughts, each and every one of them.  It's chatty heaven!!  Sometimes I worry I might run out of things to say, but then I remind myself I'm going to be forty in September, and so far I've never been haunted by a loss for words.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Menu Planning Monday

I know, I know this is supposed to be a writer's blog.  But writer's have to eat too, and if you're a mother and a writer you're probably all too familiar with the sinking feeling of, "Oh no, it's Monday again....what nutritious meal can I make that my whole family will enjoy, can be made quickly enough not to interfere with soccer/swimming/softball/piano and will also provide the holy grail of eagerly anticipated leftovers." 

Last night I was sitting at my desk trying to plan around those guidelines and it hit me.  A Monday morning meme dedicated to foolproof recipes.  You can post them on my blog in the comment section, or better yet post them on your blog and let me know.  I'm hoping to mine the collective conscience of friends, fellow bloggers and writers in charge of preparing family dinner.  Of course my motives are purely selfish-I want to be free from the tyranny of meal planning! 

My first recipe is an easy make ahead from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.  My kids call it pizza soup.  The recipe makes a big batch so I make it ahead and stick the rest in the freezer to pull out whenever we need a quick healthy dinner.  Supplement it with a cheese quesadilla and it's well-balanced meal.

In the pot before it's blended.
Roasted-Tomato Basil Soup

3 lbs ripe tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons good olive oil
1Tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (sometimes I skimp because my little guy doesn't like it too spicy)
2 chopped yellow onions
6 minced garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I go light here too for the same reason)
28 oz canned plum tomatoes in their own juice
4 cups fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or dried if I'm out of fresh)
1 quart chicken stock (or water if you're a vegetarian)

Preheat the oven to 400.  Toss together the tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread the tomatoes in one layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes. 

In an 8 quart stockpot on medcium heat, saute the onions and garlic with 2T olive oil, the butter and red pepper for 10 minutes until the onions start to brown.  Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme and chicken stock.  Add the oven-roasted tomatoes and liquid on the baking sheet.  Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill and adjust seasonings.

Okay, final note-I have a hand blender that I just stick in the pot and it blends everything up.  If you like soup a hand blender is an invaluable kitchen tool that will be well worth your investment! 

Hope your family enjoys this as much as mine does and looking forward to seeing all of your great recipes!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Shell Friends

They never play these kind of games.
Let me preface this post by saying I LOVE that my children can happily occupy each other for hours.  I KNOW how lucky it is that they deeply enjoy each other's company and think nothing of spending all day playing together.  It's all bliss until I slip down the stairs on a blanket left behind from an aptly named game of sliders.  And that's where this post about the wacky games of Child 1 and 2 begins:

Two years ago they played nothing but Maddie and Jack.  Maddie and Jack were, of course, just Child 1 and 2 by different names in familiar but odd situations.  There was, "Maddie and Jack move into the garage," and "Maddie and Jack drink grass-flavored lemonade," followed by "Maddie and Jack like to spy on cats."  I know all of these names because they would announce them at the top of their lungs as in, "We'll be in the backyard playing Maddie and Jack like to spy on cats."  

I've already blogged about the Rainflorist which was shortly followed by Child 2's Stick, Rock, Leaf and Drop Shop so I don't think I need to elaborate much on that particular game-which is still going strong in case you were wondering. http://www.johannagarth.com/2011/04/weed-shop.html

The game I need to talk about today is a new one called, "Shell Friends." 
Shell Friends involves taking out every single sea shell Child 1 and 2 have ever lugged home from family vacations and distributing them around the house.  At this point all I know about the game can be summed up as follows: (1) I stepped on Grandpa Shell (who was wearing a blankie) and it hurt like hell, (2) Shell friends need to be polished with special water.  When said water is tossed in the toilet it is an occasion for tears, and (3) Last night I discovered eeny, meeny, miny and moe shells in my bed.  Guess what.  They still had sand in them.

Meet Grandpa Shell
The only thing that stops me from hiding the Shell Friends and telling the kids their shells went on vacation without them is the knowledge that, where games are concerned, Child 1 and 2 have an unlimited arsenal.

Creativity, schmeativity-I'm ready for them to watch a little television.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Things Writers Notice

I'm sure there are many, many things writers notice but here are mine. 

I notice typos.  It turns out they're everywhere, kind of like the little sugar ants that are suddenly sprinkled all over my house each April.  Of course, I don't ever notice my typos because that would be way too productive.

Conversation-it's true.  I've become the worst kind of eavesdropper.  I love to listen to people talk, the cadences, speech patterns, all of it.  When eavesdropping fails me, as it so often does, I've been known to start up conversations with complete strangers.  "How do you do that?" my husband will ask when he arrives to find me deep in conversation with someone I just met.  "Mom, please stop doing that," Child #1 will say if she happens to witness it.

Great coming of age story set in CT.

Observations about other authors.  I know this makes me sound slow but it didn't occur to me, until I started writing, that buried in most writer's work is some version of themselves.  Now, whenever I read a book that is coming-of-ageish, the first thing I do is flip to the "about the author section".  If it tells me the author grew up in Connecticut and the book is about a fictional person who, say for example, grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut it puts everything in a whole new light.  I spend the rest of the book wondering which moments were plucked from the author's real life.  Which isn't to say I don't enjoy it, it just puts a new spin on reading.

Plot devices and author indulgence:  Bombs (real and metaphorical) that go off with no relation to the story always leave me thinking the author wasn't sure how to move the book forward.  I also hate pages of description.  Was the desk that she trailed her fingers along made out of old-hewn walnut with inlaid marble imported from turn-of-the-century Italy?  Was the sky improbably blue with marshmallow clouds dotting it along the horizon?  Those facts need to be important to the story otherwise I will probably just skip over those words as if they were nothing but fluff.  It gets worse.  If I read too many descriptions like that I will skip them all and have no way to appreciate any of the nuances the writer wants to convey.  Maybe that's just lazy but I think it's also typical.

Like I said, this is hardly a comprehensive list.  If you're a writer tell me what kind of things you notice, and if you're a reader tell me what annoys you most when you read (here's me silently crossing my fingers that I haven't committed any of the worst sins but not feeling entirely hopeful-see typos above).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Kentucky Derby

The sun is out in the Pacific Northwest.  This may not mean much to you but after six straight months of rain, two days of sun has left me feeling ga-ga giddy!  I can't think of anything more sun-inspired to talk about than the Kentucky Derby-that fabulous spring combination of fast horses and amazing hats slated for this weekend.

My uncle used to raise race horses.  The special trip to his barns to say hello to each and every horse inside should have sealed the deal on my love affair with horses.  Except it didn't. 

Somewhere along the line, horses were forgotten and hats won the Kentucky Derby for my heart.  Honestly, who couldn't love a hat like this one even if it does make my nose twitch at the thought of all the faux pollen contained in that giant faux daisy.

Some people shy away from yellow.  I get that.  Maybe you prefer something more traditionally Kentucky Derbyesque.  I'm not sure if I could pull off the pink flamingo wearing it's own hat, but every time I look at the picture of this woman under her tangle of flowers she makes me smile.  I'm certain we would be friends.  I'm equally certain that a mint julep is in her future.

If your not a risk taker, fashionably-speaking, then it probably makes sense to play it safe(r).   But still, if you're going to go to the Kentucky Derby you might as well go big or go home, right?

Then of course there's me and my own love of hats.  Since I don't get to go to the Kentucky Derby I bust this one out every year for my Halloween witch ensemble. 

The kids used to like it but this year they mentioned  the witch routine is getting to be a little old hat-sorry just couldn't resist. 

Happy horse-racing and hat-hunting.

Monday, May 2, 2011

White Sand Beaches

Last week I got a little off-track.  I had every intention of reviewing the book I'm currently reading-didn't happen.  I also wanted to talk about Fantasy Island Book Publishing, the indie publisher that will soon be publishing my book-also didn't happen.  Oh, and my goal of 2000 words a day on Losing Hope-yeah, that didn't happen either.

But I had reasons, good reasons.  The most important one being that I'm pretty sure every single person in the picture above sent me an email last week.  And, I emailed them back.  I'm good that way.

This week is going to be different.  I can already tell.  I have my publisher's edited version of Losing Beauty sitting on my desk, it seems I'm slightly commaphobic.  A point I'm trying to deny right now, by using lots of commas.  I've even managed to proof it through chapter Thirty-Two.

Better yet, I can already feel words kind of buzzing in my fingertips.  They're ready to come out.  As soon as I get the kids off to school and answer a few emails I'm going to open up Losing Hope and get to work.  What will Persey discover in Clear Lake?  How will Haden manipulate Confess.com?  I'll definitely get those things written today.

Maybe I'll even finish editing the publisher's version of Losing Beauty and send it back to them.  And if I have time after that I'll whip up a delicious, magically nutricious, organic after-school snack, clean the top of the refrigerator, finish the laundry and......  Okay, I suppose the odds on getting all of that done are about as likely as winning a surprise trip to here
Not likely, but I can dream.