Wednesday, February 29, 2012

So You're a Writer Now?

Some of you have heard I wrote (or, depending on your definition, am writing) a novel. I get asked questions about it all the time so just thought I would share some details. Don’t worry I won’t subject you to any excerpts. 

Here’s the list of FAQ (Mom, that means Frequently Asked Questions) I get asked about my novel:

1) What’s the title?

It’s tentatively titled Unbreak My Heart. I will keep that unless I get convinced it’s stupid and come up with something better. Yes, I am aware it is a Toni Braxton song title.

2) What’s it about?

It’s a straight-up contemporary romance novel. There’s no heaving bosoms or Fabio. Nor any vampires or werewolves. It is not sexually graphic nor is it set in the Victorian Era (all questions I have been asked).  

Contemporary romance novels tend to be formulaic, mine is no different. The pattern:

Boy meets girl.

Boy does something stupid that hurts girl in some way.

Boy spends rest of book winning back girl’s trust and love and helping her combat adversaries (which can in the form of a person or other things: nature/a corporation/the past /fears).

Girl learns to believe in herself.

Boy and girl get together and live happily ever after.

In my book, boy’s “something stupid” was leaving her alone after their brief relationship together when they were younger (unaware he was leaving her in an abusive situation). The “adversaries” in my book are girl’s abusive step-father and her lack of education.

3) Is the book autobiographical?

Surprisingly, I get asked this all the time. No, the book is not autobiographical in any sense of the word. Except for my abusive stepfather and lack of education.*

4) What are the main characters names?

Again, a very popular question. My main characters are named Lakeesha and Tyrone. Got a problem with that?**

5) You say your book is 60,000 words. How long is that in real-people terms? 

What 60,000 words looks like
It’s an average sized paperback romance novel - about 250 pages, at an average of 250 words per page.  (If I print my book on regular paper one-sided, it is 215 double-spaced pages in Times New Roman 12-point font with 1-inch margins.)

6) When, why, how did you write it?

Towards the end of October 2011, a previous student posted on Facebook about something called National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, which occurs every November. Basically, it is a world-wide support group for getting a book FINISHED in one month (not perfect, just finished – with an entire story arc: beginning, middle, and end). I have to say I love NaNoWriMo and how it is organized – and I am sure I will blog more about that at a later date.

With my husband’s support (& his agreement to watch and feed our four kids for most of the month of November) I dove in, in my typical FULL-ON STUPID  fashion: writing an average of 1,667 words (about 7 pages) each day in November.

Because I hadn’t even heard of NaNoWriMo until just a couple days before November 1st  when the writing starts, I did not have time to flesh out an entire new book, so I used an idea from a story I had started in 2008, but had never gotten through more than the first three chapters. I must admit, this is not the story I would’ve written if I had time to get something else ready, but I didn’t, so I wrote it.  And Unbreak My Heart was born.

7) Is it any good? What’s your plan for it?

Honestly, trying to figure that out is where I’m stuck right now. I’ve written it, then gone back and done a full editing to make sure everything makes sense and the story is complete. Now I have to decide how much more effort it is worth. Do I want to continue to work and polish it until it is possibly publishable? Or on the other end of the spectrum, do I want to just say, hey, I wrote a novel in a month, isn’t that cool? and just let it die unread?

I think my next step is to find some beta readers (besides my mother) who can give me basic, honest feedback about whether to continue revisions/edits it or just chalk it up to an experience and use what I’ve learned in my next NaNoWriMo adventure.

8) So are you a writer now? 

I wish I could put an audio file on here to give you the actual disparaging tone a distant family member used when asking me that question. I think what she meant was if I plan to make this my full-time profession and go on book tours and stuff. 

Am I quitting my day job to pursue writing full time? No. 

Am I published novelist? No. 

Do I plan to ever submit a novel to a publisher? Hopefully.

Is Unbreak My Heart a novel I will submit to a publisher? I truly do not know at this time. 

But am I a writer (said without disparaging tone)? Yes. Writers write

“Novels are written by everyday people who give themselves permission to write novels” – Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo

*Yeah, I don’t have any stepfather, abusive or otherwise. And I arguably have too much education.
**Actually my main characters’ names are Amanda and David

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Showdown: AFI vs. IMDb Battle (#95)

#95: The Last Picture Show vs. Metropolis
I’m not going to spend too much time on this discussion mostly because the Oscars are on tonight and I need to finish watching Moneyball before then. But also because this week’s showdown was a no-brainer for me.
Metropolis wins. Hands down. (If you haven’t seen it, just know it’s a silent film, about man vs. machine/elite class vs. working class, made in 1927, and has a highly stylized, surrealist feel. You probably have seen at least parts of it. Here’s the trailer:

Metropolis. Beyonce.
Metropolis was visionary, it was amazing, it influenced motion pictures in general, and science fiction movies in particular, for the last… well, it’s still influencing them. Not to mention pop culture: Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Lady Gaga…
Let’s all just agree the movie is iconic. The fact that it’s not on the AFI list at all honestly makes me skeptical of the entire American Film Institute.
The Last Picture Show was just… okay in comparison. I thought the film did a great job of using landscape and camera angles to echo the bleakness of a dying Texas town in the 1950s. The movie was shot in black and white, which fits the mood but pretty much annoyed me. Acting was good, story was gloomy – there was nothing wrong with the film, just nothing to suggest why it would be on the top 100.
So this week, IMDb finally makes a bit of a comeback:

AFI’s Top 100
IMDB’s Top 100 (as of 1/1/12)

The Last Picture Show (1971)
Metropolis (1927)
Do The Right Thing (1989)
The Sting (1973)
Blade Runner (1982)
Gladiator (2000)
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Toy Story (1995)
Unforgiven (1992)
Ben Hur (1959)
The Elephant Man (1980)

Next week, Pulp Fiction vs. Gran Torino. I love Gran Torino but seriously does anything beat “Royale with Cheese”?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Junk Miles

As I’ve mentioned before, I love to run, but it wasn’t always that way. I never ran a day in my life before February 2010.  Since then I’ve run all sorts of distances: 5k’s, 10k’s, a few half-marathons, and even a marathon in January 2011.
When I first started running I hated training plans. Because here’s how basically every training plan starts:
“Warm up with 1-2 miles.”

Maybe a 1-2 mile warm-up isn't so bad

I’m sure there were other sentences that followed that one, but I never read them because “warm up for 1-2 miles???” Seriously? 1-2 miles was half or sometimes even three-quarters of my ENTIRE run.  “1-2 mile warm up.” Yeah right.
To be honest, I’m not sure I ever ran a 1-2 mile “warm-up” even when I increased my mileage for half-marathon or marathon training. I’m not a big training-plan person, especially the really complicated plans.
But as I’ve become a more established runner I’ve had to acknowledge what training plans are attempting to eliminate from a running schedule: JUNK MILES. Junk miles are miles you run that don’t actually improve your fitness or challenge you in any particular way.
When I first started running, there were no junk miles. Every mile improved my fitness or challenged me. But now, many miles later, I have to be careful not to get lazy in my running. I have a limited number of running hours each week: how will I use them? Will I push myself with speedwork or hills or distance? Or will I just run along at a pace and route that doesn’t really challenge me?  It’s something I face every run: Am I going to put in my full effort or am I just going drift along?
What I’ve come to realize is there are junk miles everywhere, not just in running.
There are junk miles in my job: Am I just going to just assign a grade or take the time to help this student understand the issue?
In yoga: Am I really going to engage all my muscles or just stand there holding a pose?
In my writing: Am I actually going to work on my book or just blog and Twitter all day?
Even in how I interact with my children: I’m sitting with them, but am I actually listening to them?
Junk miles can be everywhere and if we’re not careful they can become the norm instead of the exception. 
So in this season when people are giving up things, I am going to attempt to give up something permanently: junk miles. Even in running.
I have a limited number of hours this week. How will I use them?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Showdown: AFI vs. IMDb (#96)

If you had asked me a few days ago which of these movies I would choose as this week’s winner, I would’ve told you The Sting, even though I hadn’t even seen it. I had seen Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and knew I didn’t like it.
Robert Redford Paul Newman
Let me start with The Sting. I thought it was great. It is just the type of film I like for a nice, relaxing evening with my DVD player: entertaining, well-acted, a few twists to keep you on your toes. Nothing that requires deep thought. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Who doesn’t love a young Robert Redford and Paul Newman?
Now: Do The Right Thing. I saw it back in the early 90s. In all the brilliance of my 19-year-old self, attending a primarily white college in a primarily white portion of North Carolina, with all my first-world country, white-girl problems, I wrote the film off as being dated and irrelevant to anything happening outside of Brooklyn, NY.
As a matter of fact, if you had asked me to describe Do the Right Thing before I re-watched it yesterday, I would’ve said it starred Flavor Flav and was about how all white people were bad.
I was wrong.
Yes, the movie has giant boomboxes and huge jewelry and really bright clothing (although no Flavor Flav). And yes, the movie is about racial tension.
But no, the movie is NOT about black people being right and white people being wrong. The movie is about doing the right thing, but how knowing what is the right thing, is rarely clear.
(As another of my many asides, the most striking part of Do the Right Thing for me personally was the Korean family attempting to persuade the mob that they were “black too” and how the mob finally agrees. As a mother with two Asian children, I wonder what racial groupings my kids will identify with most when they get older, or if they will learn to use racial groupings to their advantage in different situations as the Korean family did in the film…)
So although I wouldn’t say I really enjoyed Do the Right Thing I can definitely say I am glad I watched it again. This film epitomizes why I am going through these movie lists: to force myself to view great films that I would never otherwise watch because I think Flavor Flav is in them.
This week’s winner, because it made me think is Do the Right Thing. Hmmm… I think AFI is now officially pulling ahead.

AFI’s Top 100
IMDB’s Top 100 (as of 1/1/12)

Do The Right Thing (1989)
The Sting (1973)
Blade Runner (1982)
Gladiator (2000)
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Toy Story (1995)
Unforgiven (1992)
Ben Hur (1959)
The Elephant Man (1980)

Next week: The Last Picture Show (1971) vs. the German Expressionist classic Metropolis (1927). I’m not familiar with The Last Picture Show at all and have never seen Metropolis in its entirety, so should be interesting.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Full-On Stupid

A friend of mine posted this link recently:

My first thought:  Where can I sign up?
Why? Because it’s in Africa. Because it’s a challenge. Because it’s a desert. Because it’s beyond what I’m capable of at the present.
Because it’s stupid.
The event itself is not stupid. On the contrary, it’s an awesome event and Runwell is a fabulous charity.
It’s me, a nearly forty-year-old mother of four, who has never run more than 26.2 miles and doesn’t like the heat, wanting to sign up for a 7-day run half way around the world in the middle of a desert that’s stupid. But if there was any possible way I could do it, I would. And I would hurl myself into the training and planning.
That’s the way of what my husband has somewhat-affectionately termed THE FULL-ON STUPID. And it’s pretty much how I do a lot of things.
There are usually three facets to full-on stupidity: 
1) An event or goal that is somewhat ridiculous,  
2) A plan to achieve said event/goal that is also somewhat ridiculous,  and
3) Some sort of physical, mental and/or emotional pain in the planning, training or event itself.
So, the formula is:
(ridiculous event/goal) x (ridiculous plan to achieve event/goal) x (pain)  =  THE FULL-ON STUPID
But I’m certainly guilty of full-on stupidity quite often.   Things my husband has heard me say in the last six months:

Tough Mudder: 10,000 volt  
wires = definitely stupid

Honey, I’ve decided to do this race called the Tough Mudder that involves running through fire, climbing over 12-foot walls, swimming through ice pits, and sprinting through electrical wires. All I have to do is sign this death-waiver = FULL-ON STUPID
Honey, I’ve decided to give up all caffeine. No, I won’t be slowly reducing my caffeine intake so I don’t turn into a complete psycho.  I’m just going to give up all ten cups of coffee a day cold turkey… = FULL-ON STUPID
Honey, I’ve decided to participate in the National Novel Writing Month where you write an ENTIRE novel in one month.  So I’m planning on staying up all night at least a couple times a week all through the month of November…  = FULL-ON STUPID
If I asked my husband to add to the list, he could probably come up with half a dozen more examples immediately.  Of course, he’s also a saint because he realizes how stupid I am and yet still remains married to me.
Why the full-on stupid? Ultimately because: I know I respond best to hard deadlines. I know I’m a strong starter, and that my initial momentum will take me further than most people’s, but after that momentum is gone, whatever hasn’t been accomplished probably isn’t going to. I know I have a low tolerance for boredom and a high ability to multi-task.  And I know have little, if any, talent at pacing myself.
Maybe you're a full-on stupider too. Could we use more moderation and intelligence when planning how to achieve our goals? Well, yeah, if someone wants to put it that way. I guess we are capable of making rational goals and choices. And most of the time we do.
But sometimes tacking things full-on stupid is the only way for me to go. If I didn't, then I’d just be Jane without the Calamity. Where’s the adventure in that?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Showdown: AFI vs. IMDb (#97)

Blade Runner vs. Gladiator
Or: Ridley Scott vs. himself.
I appreciate a young Harrison Ford and a robot snake lady in a clear plastic coat being shot in the back and falling – in slow motion – through multiple planes of glass as much as the next person. And I love Sci-Fi, so I always want to like Blade Runner more than I actually do in reality.  
Really, Blade Runner is more neo-noir than anything. And like I said last week I find most film noirs to be gorgeously cynical.  Neo-noir is great too, even though there's no Bogey.
Yeah, definitely noir

There’s like seven different versions of Blade Runner now– theatrical cut, international cut, director’s cut, final cut, really-we're-serious-this-time-final final cut, etc. If you’ve got a choice, try to watch one without Harrison Ford’s narration. Blade Runner is considerably better without the Philip Marlowe-esque narration attempt, but no matter what, the story line is a bit thin and pacing is a bit slow. But you can’t beat it in terms of atmosphere. And Harrison Ford’s fingers being broken one by one… priceless.
Gladiator, on the other hand, was just plain painful for me. It started sad and violent and ended sad and violent. Fortunately, the middle was filled with sadness and violence to break it up. Sigh.  Really, these are my least favorite kinds of films, no matter how well-acted, well-written, or well-produced.  Or how buff Russell Crowe looked.
Russell Crowe
(For Megan)

Both movies were directed by Ridley Scott, and both have their own merits. My pick for this week, though, is Blade Runner, due to its cultural influence and cult favorite status, more than plot or story.

So after Week 4, score is AFI - 3, IMDb - 1.

AFI’s Top 100
IMDB’s Top 100 (as of 1/1/12)

Blade Runner (1982)
Gladiator (2000)
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Toy Story (1995)
Unforgiven (1992)
Ben Hur (1959)
The Elephant Man (1980)

Next week #96: Do the Right Thing (AFI) vs. The Sting (IMDb). So… Spike Lee vs. Robert Redford/Paul Newman. Hmmm.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Your Never Too Old

Read before you judge, grammar Nazis.
Yesterday I turned 39.  I, fortunately, still have 365 full days until my 40th birthday since this year is a leap year. That’s right, God saw fit to make 2012 a bissextile year, *just* so I could have one extra day of being in my 30s.
Really the most exciting part of my birthday yesterday was that Shane West (um, er… "he who shall not be named in the Crouch house") from Nikita fame TWEETED ME! Actually, he responded to my tweet.
I ignored the your/you’re issue, because he’s SHANE WEST, people!! He has more important things to do than knowing stupid grammar rules, like looking all beautiful and intense.  Plus, he has 90k followers on twitter but read MY tweet AND responded. And possibly filed for a restraing order.
Your/You're - whatever...

After reading that tweet yesterday afternoon, you might think I did crazy stuff like:
1) Giggled like a school girl
2) Tweeted that Shane West had tweeted me (but not, mind you, re-tweeting, like those two crazy strangers did. That's just weird. Seriously.)
3) Immediately texted my 11 year-old daughter to tell her Shane West tweeted me
4) Called my husband in the middle of a meeting and told him Shane West tweeted me
5) Told my father Shane West tweeted me even though he doesn’t even know who Shane West is
6) Took a screen-saver shot of said tweet
7) Printed the screen-saver shot of the tweet and put it in a scrapbook
8) Printed the screen-saver shot and framed it
9) Blogged the next day about Shane West tweeting me
You MIGHT think I did all that crazy stuff, and I probably would have on Thursday, when I was only 38.  But now I’m 39, and more mature, so I only did eight of those nine things…
On a slightly more serious note, when I turned 29, a very long ten years ago, it motivated me to jump into high gear and get my dissertation finished so I could have my Ph.D. diploma in hand before I turned 30. And I did it, with just a few weeks to spare (I graduated in December of 2002).
I do not have any lofty goals as I turn 39, but I am making a list of Five Things I Want To Do Before I Hit 40.  The list is still circling ‘round  the brain but I’m pretty sure it will involve: auditioning for a musical, taking a hot air balloon ride, submitting my book to a publisher, and being able to execute one single pull-up.
Plus my personal favorite: participating in a flash mob.
Because, you know, it's like Shane says: your never too old.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Goals & the Art of Being Un-Inspirational

I’m not good at being inspirational. You may have already figured that out if you’ve either a) known me longer than five minutes or b) spent more than five minutes looking at this blog.
There are some people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing who have gift of inspiring others. Being in their presence has caused me to run faster or write more or solve a problem more creatively. Inspiring others truly is a gift.
One I definitely don’t have.
If my dear mother would not have a heart-attack, I think I would decorate my entire house with these type posters because I think they're hilarious: (these are the “Demotivator” series from a Company called Despair, Inc.  Their motto – “Motivational products don’t work – But our Demotivators products don’t work even better” is awesome. I’m thinking of applying for a job with them.)

It's always darkest just before
it goes pitch black.


Believe in Yourself -
because the rest of us think
you're an idiot

[As an aside, in grad school one night, I snuck into the PhD computer lab and took down all the inspirational posters and put up ones just like these. You should’ve seen the brouhaha that ensued because of that little escapade. I still have the scathing letter someone taped to one of my masterpieces.  Called me very unkind words like: immature, and (gasp!)… cynical.]
Okay, so we've determined I am un-inspirational. It's an art. BUT I told you all that because I’m going to take a moment here and try to be... well, not inspiring necessarily, but at least not be uninspiring.  Bear with me, this'll probably be awkward. 
If you’re like me, you had a group of “intentions” when 2012 began. Not resolutions, mind you, because no one keeps their resolutions. But we had goals for 2012.
How are your 2012 goals going so far?
INSPIRATION ATTEMPT ALERT: Do you have a goal that has fallen by the wayside since January 1st? Well, you're in luck: today is "National Get Back on Track With Your Goals" Day. (I would call it NGBTWYG Day but that looks like some strange mix of LGBT and NKOTB)
And the even better news is, if you miss it today, tomorrow is ALSO National Get Back on Track With Your Goals day. So is EVERYDAY in February! And March! April, May, June! And so on...
So pick it up, dust it off, and makes some steps towards accomplishing your goal TODAY. Not just some random time this week, but today.
Was your goal to lose 20 lbs this year? Then walk/run one mile today. To write a book? Write 1000 words today. To be more engaged with your kids? Read them one short story. To be awesome?  Buy your wife flowers just because it’s Tuesday.
Or maybe you didn’t make any goals at the turn of the year. Then it's time to make one now. It’s not too late. And there's an extra day in February this year, so you can make up for any lost time in January.
So get out there and try not to suck! Win one for the Gipper and all that stuff. See, I told you being uninspirational is an art.