Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas Lights

I know I'm going to sound a bit Scroogish in this post, so let me start by saying, I'm not a Christmas hater. I like Christmas just fine.

In December.

I had to run a couple of errands after the sun set this evening, and I saw several of my neighbors had put up their Christmas lights. I was in the car by myself, and I think I said out loud, "Are you freaking kidding me?"

I don't know why I'm surprised. The Christmas commercials have been running on TV for a week or more. A local radio station is already playing Christmas music. Wal-Mart had their Christmas merchandise out the day after Halloween.

I hate this trend. Seriously. I really, really HATE this trend.

The Christmas lights actually soured my mood which is, I'm pretty sure, the exact opposite of what they're supposed to do. My reaction bears examination. Why should I care if somebody else wants to celebrate the season for more than a month? It's their electric bill after all.

I went shopping this morning for my Thanksgiving meal. My dad and stepmom are coming to stay with us for the long weekend, and I'm looking forward to it. We'll cook together, eat, lay around watching football and movies. We'll spend hours just catching up with all the little details we don't get around to sharing on Facebook or the phone. My stepmom and I will do some shopping on Friday at a reasonable hour. While I'm not a Black Friday fanatic, I'm not stupid. The sales are good, and it's my only opportunity to shop with Patricia. We won't be getting up at the crack of dawn and waiting in a cold line. All in all, we'll have a laid back family THANKSGIVING weekend.

Pushing Christmas on me when I'm thinking about Thanksgiving just pisses me off. Let me enjoy this holiday without feeling like I'm already behind on the next one.

Stretching the season out so long takes something away from it. Scarcity gives anything value. An overabundance of a resource makes it cheap. Holidays are special because they come once a year. Stretching the Christmas season to 5-6 weeks means you are spending more than 10% of the year celebrating.

We won't put up our decorations until two weeks before Christmas, and my boys will be certain we are the last people in the world to put up a tree. Maybe, but who cares? I will be ready to look at that tree and appreciate it until Christmas day. Any earlier and I'll be completely sick of vacuuming needles, and I'll start to resent it. I won't put any presents under the tree until a week out, maybe less. That really makes my boys crazy, but when the presents do appear, it will be special. Remember when you had to WAIT for Christmas? My teenagers will be 5 years old again, and that's a gift you can't buy.

To my friends out there already celebrating Christmas, I'm not bashing you. Have at it. I just won't be joining you for a few weeks. When I do, I'll be the life of the party because I won't have holiday fatigue.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I just closed the pages of Neal Shusterman's Unwind. Usually, I like to think about a book a little...let it simmer...before I blog about it. This one had me heading straight for the computer.

I picked up Unwind at the urging of a couple of my students. Science fiction is not normally my genre of choice, but their book talks were intriguing. Unwind is a young adult novel, but that label is misleading. There is nothing lightweight or juvenile about this book.

The book takes place in the not-too-distant future after the second Civil War. Called the Heartland War, the fight was started by militant factions of the pro-life and pro-choice movements. Peace was finally achieved when the Bill of Life was signed. The Bill states that a child cannot be harmed between the moment of conception and its thirteenth birthday, at which time a parent can choose to retroactively abort their child by having it unwound. Unwinding is a process in which the child is harvested for body parts. Every single part is used, so the child is considered to still be "alive." Once a person reaches the age of eighteen, they are a legal adult and can no longer be signed over to the state for unwinding.

The premise is simultaneously intriguing and horrifying. I had not previously read any of Shusterman's work, and I feared the book might become a shrill political statement on the abortion issue, although I was uncertain on which side of the issue he would fall. Here's the interesting thing...I've read the book, and I still don't know. I have not yet gone in search of that information out here on the information super-highway, and I'm thinking I won't. I kind of like not knowing.

The novel follows three teens, Connor, Risa, and Lev, who have been signed over for unwinding. Connor, 16, suffers from impulse control and a hair-trigger temper. Throughout the novel, he struggles to think beyond the first thought that enters his head to the second, usually wiser, thought. In this respect, he resembles almost every teenage boy I know. His parents get tired of dealing with his poor choices and sign him over to be unwound. He runs away and is thrown together with Risa, 15, and Lev, 13. Risa has been a ward of the state, unwanted since birth. The budget for the overcrowded state homes is tight, so any ward without a talent that justifies the cost of their care is signed over for unwinding. Lev is a "tithe." His religious-fundamentalist parents take the call to tithe 10% of their possessions seriously. Lev is the 10th child. He is prepared from birth (read brainwashed) to be unwound when he turns 13.

The three meet other Unwinds on the run. Each story is more awful than the one before it. Hayden's parents signed him over for unwinding as the culminating act of spite in a bitter divorce. Each parent would see him unwound before allowing the other to have custody. Embry's parents died and left him money, so his greedy aunt signed him over. As I read, I thought, "Okay, Shusterman is pro-life. He's making the point that these parents make horrible rationalizations to justify terminating the life of their child."

It's not that simple, though. Shusterman also includes the overcrowded state homes filled with unwanted babies who become unwanted, unwound teens. Then there is "storking." Storking is a law which says a parent can leave their unwanted newborn on someone else's front porch. The person who finds the child is required by law to raise it whether they want it or not...more often than not a recipe for disaster. Lev's family was storked three times, making the decision to "tithe" him easier.

Lest you think the book is one big convoluted social comment, let me assure you it's also a page-turning rollercoaster of a story. The adults are baffling, and almost universally unlikeable, but the teen protagonists are real and round and suck you in. The stakes for these kids are high, and the suspense and sense of urgency keeps you reading. The inevitable scene in which we see a character unwound left me cold with horror. I fully expect to have nightmares tonight.

In spite of possible nightmares, I don't regret reading the book. The best adjective for the experience would be "haunting." Shusterman illustrates there are no easy, pat answers to the abortion question. His views on some other social issues are clearer. Society has replaced the terms "black" and "white" with "umber" and "sienna" to describe skin color, but the underlying racism still exists. One of my favorite secondary characters, CyFy, has two dads who are m-married, and they are the sanest adults in the story. And I cackled out loud when someone asks Connor why he doesn't know more about a historical event, and he responds by saying it was the last chapter in the textbook and they couldn't get to it because of state testing.

I have two teenage sons who routinely test my mettle as a parent. They are good boys, but sometimes they make poor choices. They have made me lay awake with worry, cry, and rail at the universe, but the idea of throwing my hands in the air and disposing of them is unthinkable. I can't imagine a world where it would be routinely accepted. Shusterman can. He opens the last section of the story with a quote from Albert Einstein.

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Our school lost a good teacher today.

Questions are integral to my job, but today I fielded questions I couldn't answer. Why did this happen? She wasn't old. She didn't seem sick. She was just here in her classroom. Why?

I don't know why.

When I lost my mom to cancer, I asked the same question. Why? Seven years have passed, and I still can't answer it. I don't imagine I'll ever have the answer.

I have learned from the experience, and that's what I shared with my students. Sometimes things happen out of the blue with no rhyme or reason. We can do our bests to lead healthy lives, but sometimes genetics or plain bad luck kicks us in the teeth. Moments like today are an inevitable part of the human experience.

What do we do about it? We love each other every day. We lift each other up at every opportunity. We take a breath and reach for patience when we want to bite someone's head off. We thank the people who have gone out of their way to help us, and we apologize to the people we've hurt. We use the moments we have to do the best we can.

Our lives are short, but we have the power to extend our influence well beyond our allotted days. Hundreds of students have been changed for the better because of one good teacher. Those students have gone on to great things, and they've influenced more people...ripples in a big pond.

I don't know why this terrible thing happened. I can only strive to make my ripples...count.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Challenging Happily Ever After

A good writer is an avid reader by necessity. For emerging writers, models demonstrate the conventions of the particular form as well as appropriate tone, organization, sentence structure, and vocabulary. Models benefit more seasoned writers as well. Since I began writing fiction, I read fiction differently. I notice character development, point of view, the placement of chapter breaks, and I learn from them.

Recently, I've read several good books in my two preferred genres, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Not only were these books good reads, but they drove home the problem with my abandoned work in progress. I tried to write an urban fantasy sequel to a paranormal romance. The result is a major plot cohesion problem.

I read JR Ward's Covet and Lara Adrian's Ashes of Midnight, both paranormal romances. Last night, I finished Keri Arthur's Bound to Shadows, an urban fantasy. All three books are a lot of fun, (I especially loved JR Ward's book. She might be my new favorite author.) and all three are part of ongoing series. The major difference is that the two paranormal romances focus on new couples within the larger series. They face obstacles, solve mysteries, and find their happily ever after. The urban fantasy centers around the same female heroine in all the books in the series. There is romance and mystery, but no happily ever after. In fact, urban fantasy tends to throw a major monkey wrench into the romantic works to keep the heroine edgy and never-quite-happy.

Sapphire Sins (officially confirmed in RWA's Golden Heart Contest) is a paranormal romance...obstacles, mystery, happily ever after. The sequel I've fought with for over a year takes the same hero and heroine and challenges their happily ever after. It felt like a good plan when I started. I knew these characters. I liked them. I wanted to keep hanging out with them. The problem with challenging happily ever after is that once it's lost, it's hard to find your way back. Sometimes, there isn't a way back. Urban fantasy is okay with that. Heroines can be broken at the end of a book as long as the bad guy is defeated. As much as I enjoy reading it, I'm not ready to write it. I never meant to break my heroine, but I wrote myself into a corner. To get out of it, I betrayed my characters.

I've been lost in the trees. I knew I had a cohesion problem, but I haven't been able to get to the bottom of it. My reading these last few weeks has helped me see the forest. I can actually pinpoint the exact place in the text I went wrong. Now I have roughly 90,000 words I don't know what to do with. Being the queen of avoidance, I've set those words aside and started writing new ones. New characters, new world, new plot...a romance. As much as I love the dark, I need the promise of the light at the end.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Facebook Rant

Social Networking can be a beautiful thing. Facebook, Twitter, blogging are all great ways to meet like-minded folks and stay in touch with long distance friends and family. I check in with Facebook and Twitter every day. I roll through all the blogs I follow at least every other day or so depending on how hectic things are.

I've chosen to break my social networks into categories. My friends on Facebook are people I actually know in real life. Now granted, I haven't seen some of my Facebook friends in over 20 years, but we really did know each other once upon a time. The people I follow on Twitter are mostly book people. I follow agents, editors, authors, book reviewers, book publicists, etc. (Okay...and Ellen Degeneres and Ryan Secrest, I admit it.) Reading Twitter keeps me up to date on what's going on in that world. I've discovered the most interesting tidbits from my Twitter people.

Here's the thing though. Some folks use their social networks for purposes that don't mesh with my own, and I'm in a quandary as to what to do about it. Blocking Twitter followers is no big thing. I don't know those people, and they don't know me. If they become tiresome, I just stop following. Facebook is another matter. Linda's daughter, Mallory, informed us that blocking a Facebook friend is just not done. is apparently the worst kind of social networking faux pas.

But what if they are really pissing me off?? Am I obligated to keep listening to them? Mallory tells me to hide them from my news feed so I won't see their status updates. Okay...but that seems dishonest to me.

While the occasional political or religious status update on Facebook is fine, I'm not interested in having our online friendship serve as a platform for your political or religious point of view. Would you spew the vitriolic political rhetoric to me in person that you're forcing me to read online? I think not because I KNOW you in person. I avoid political hate-mongers in all other forms of media. I surely don't want to read it on Facebook. Nor do I want to read hellfire and damnation scripture references every day. I'm good spiritually, so thanks but no thanks.

Facebook is for sharing fun bits of your day...or the struggles of your day because maybe I can help. Tell me the funny thing your kid did or that great restaurant you tried. Tell a joke...wish me luck...tell me about a good book. I like seeing your quiz results even when I think you must have lied to get that result. :) I can even live with your mafia wars and farmville updates even though I will continue to ignore your invitations to whack Vinny or raise chickens.

Comments about politics and religion should be made online in the same way you would make them in person. And if you throw them in my face online, I will treat you the same way I would in person. I will leave. I'm probably going to offend some folks, but if I do they would be the same folks who are offending me on a regular basis.

If you really have a point of view you are dying to express, create a blog. You will probably find like-minded people, and I can say, "Why don't you just blog about it."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This is It!

I saw Michael Jackson's This is It today. Wow. Forget any opinion you have about Michael Jackson, the man. This movie is all about Michael Jackson, the artist, and he was an incredible artist.

The creative process is fascinating to me. My favorite blogs are writers' blogs where they talk about process. I love Top Chef and Project Runway for the same reason. You see creative people thinking out loud. This is It is a feast for anyone interested in the creative process. You get a behind the scenes look at everything from the dancers' auditions, to musical rehearsals, to the making of the short films that accompany every song in the show.

Michael surrounded himself with amazing talent, and he was generous in showcasing it. He let his dancers shine. He reveled in his musicians ability to jam. He let one of his back-up singers have the spotlight when they sang "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." And it was obvious the dancers, singers, and musicians wanted to live up to Michael's high standards.

The dancers all had stars in their eyes. Several of them broke down in tears in interviews between rehearsals. This break was career-making for them. You couldn't help but feel their joy or smile at the "holy crap, I'm dancing with Michael Jackson" expression on their faces.

The musicians had nothing but respect for Michael. One grizzled old guitar player said, "So many pop artists don't know music. Michael knows music, and no one understands his music like he does. We're creating genius stuff here." Watching Michael work, you believe it.

My favorite thing about the movie was watching Michael turn every song into a story and weave a narrative between the songs. He understood pacing. He knew the moments between the beats were as important as the beats themselves. He stopped the whole production when he felt the opening to "Smooth Criminal" was moving too fast. "We have to let it simmer," he said. Later in the show, he insisted silence would be more dramatic than than the rumbling noise the director wanted to use. He was right.

As much as I loved the movie, it left me a little sad. Michael came alive when he performed. Early on, you could see the joy in his face when he sang and danced. The music lived in him. In the later footage, Michael was tired, almost haggard. In a full dress rehearsal for "Thriller," he needed a crew member's help to keep his footing on the hydraulic stage. You never quite forget you are watching him put together a show that will never be fully realized.

I recommend the movie to anyone who appreciates the creative process. Even more, I recommend the movie to anyone who loves Michael's music. The soundtrack to this movie is the soundtrack of my high school and college years. I could have closed my eyes and remembered specific events in my life as I listened. Except I couldn't close my eyes.

It would have been a great show.