Saturday, March 31, 2007

Spring Flowers

One of the best things about spring hereabouts is the week when there is a carpet of tiny blue flowers along the street behind ours. Whole yards are filled with them. They pop up almost over night, linger a few days, then the grass overtakes them and they disappear for another year.

Every year I swear I'm going to take their photo. And every year until now I haven't managed. But today I went out between rainstorms and captured them.

Now maybe I can send their picture to the ag extension office and ask what they are. No one here seems to know -- and we have avid gardeners in this neighborhood. I'd think they'd know, but they don't.

The rest of spring is not far behind. Three days ago the first leaves on the lilacs opened just a smidgen. The daffodils are halfway up, their yellow heads, though, are still pretty tightly closed. Another week and they'll be splashes of bright color. They almost always coincide with my oldest son's birthday. His flower, we used to tell him when he was little.

This time of year, the still mostly bare trees with buds growing larger every day, the muddy ground with shoots just poking up, the grass just turning more green than brown reminds me of a first draft. There are hints of what is to come. There is promise, potential. There is also the chance of a killing frost.

Flynn and Sara had their killing frost last week when I threw out a quarter of the book. Well, really all the book that wasn't totally rough. But that's because they couldn't survive the way they were. They'd been a hothouse plant over the winter, coddled and pampered for months. But when they had to stand up out in the cool windy world, they didn't make it. Not the way they were. It happens.

The stronger plants -- like the stronger stories -- survive. I'm thinking this one is going to make it. I just hope it's blooming by the first of May!

Keep your fingers crossed. Send showers (not cloudbursts) and warm (not baking) temps our way. And hope that my life this month is not full of distractions.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Just A Little Inspiration -- Paperback Hero

As far as romantic comedies go, this Hugh Jackman - Claudia Karvan production (written and directed by Antony Bowman) is chock full of inspiration. I wrote about Paperback Hero on the Pink Heart blog this week. So check it out there, too.

This fanvideo from YouTube is a great compilation of fun bits from the film. If you've seen it you'll remember. If you haven't, there are a few "spoilers" but they're worth it! Besides, you know how it's going to end.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

No pigeonholes

On the other side of the wall, Sara has finally come to life. She's been like this wooden (or some days, granite) statue who just stood there and said, "I'm a nurse because I couldn't be a doctor." And I thought, yes, of course, that makes sense.

But in fact, it didn't. Sara isn't a nurse. She doesn't have the temperament to be a nurse. Neither do I. I don't have the temperament to be a doctor, either. I don't know if she does or not -- and we will never know -- because motherhood intervened.

So she's not a nurse. What is she? A Certified Public Accountant.

Go figure. Who'd a thunk it?

Certainly not me. But learning it made me smile because I thought, she's finally become real. By which I mean, she's finally unpredictable.

It's been that sort of day. I had conversations with half the world today (and got damn all done in the way of writing, but it was worth it). Two of the conversations I had were with a couple of my sons.

With one I was discussing methods of learning and in particular learning math. This was a boy who hated math. His eyes glazed over at the very thought. He quit taking it as soon as he could. And now he is doing long range financial analysis and commercial property analysis and learning the ins and outs of real estate tax law -- and loving it.

With the other son I had a conversation about computers. He has discovered they exist. Not only that, they have the potential to make his life more rewarding financially as well as more interesting. So he is building a website and compiling content and calling me up every few hours to tell me stuff that I should be doing with mine. And he's no doubt right.

And I rejoice in all of it -- my two sons and Sara and all the rest of the people in my life who do not fit neatly into pigeonholes of expectation, but who confound and amaze and delight me by proving that they are so much more and enjoy so much more and can do so much more than they (or I) ever imagined.

Love it when those walls come down!

Monday, March 26, 2007

On the other side of the wall

This is what it looks like on the other side of the wall.

Vast. Exciting. Full of promise.

I'm there now, making maps and sticking sticky notes all over the place, writing like mad and finding that Flynn and Sara are much happier now.

Believe me, so am I.

Getting up to face them in the morning is not the struggle it was only three days ago. I think we might make it. Of course it's early days yet. You'll probably hear me whining sometime in the not too distant future.

But maybe not.

Maybe it was just finding the right meadow -- a new way into the world beyond. And no, it doesn't look much like Ireland -- but you've got to start somewhere.

I'm rejoicing in the possibilities!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Saga of the Shirt . . . or knowing one's children

A few days ago I posted this READ poster which featured my daughter and granddaughter (aka Glowkid) which was a follow-up to Glowkid's book review of Matilda for her local library.

Why her mom was included has something to do with where she teaches, not because she reviewed any books. She reads books galore -- and faster than the wind -- but I haven't see a book review out of her since, well, maybe 6th grade.

But she got to bask in Glowkid's accomplishment because she's her mom. Not, apparently, that she knew this ahead of time. Or maybe she did, but she leads a very busy life and ended up having to ferry Glowkid to the photographer in the middle of a practicum with her students.

A practicum with students -- she's an athletic trainer -- requires a basic uniform of t-shirt and shorts.

You can't get your picture taken for a READ poster wearing a t-shirt and shorts. It just isn't done.

But there was no time to go home and get changed. There was only 'show up,' 'get the pic taken' and 'get back to work.'

"I don't need to be in the photo," she said.

"Oh, but you do," said the photographer or The Powers That Be or someone with authority.

"Fine," said my daughter. Did I mention how accommodating she is? (Just like her mother)

"Right," said my daughter. Brief pause. "Lend me your shirt."

It is fortunate that the photographer was a woman, that she was as accommodating as my daughter, and that she was wearing a tank top under her shirt.

So she did. She took off the shirt (a lovely shirt as you can see, but absolutely unlike any shirt my daughter has ever possessed). My daughter put it on. She and Glowkid posed. The photographer snapped. They exchanged shirts.

Simple. Effective. Efficient.

We were told there was a READ poster. We weren't told the backstory. But I must admit we know her very well. When the poster was put up on the website she told us to go look at it and admire Glowkid. "I'm in the picture, too," she said, in case we might not notice.

We went. We looked. We noticed.

And we all came back and called her up and said, "Great pic. Whose shirt?"

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Writing with Bricks

At some point in every one of my books -- and frequently several points in my books -- I am faced with a brick wall.

It is, conservatively, about 50 feet high and longer than I can see in either direction. There are, as you might imagine, a lot of bricks in it.

Where I need to get to in my book is on the other side of that wall.

Somewhere in the wall there is -- usually -- one loose brick. Sometimes the brick is intuitively obvious. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes I spend an inordinate amount of time wiggling bricks, trying to find the loose one, trying to get it loose, trying to find the hole that will get me to the other side.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes I chip away at a particularly enticing brick for hours, days, weeks, months. Yes, really. And all for naught. The brick isn't going anywhere. The story is still on the other side. And I'm still here.

That's when I need to start thinking about other ways around. And that's what I've been doing lately. Brilliant Harlequin Presents writer Michelle Reid describes that as "writer's block." (or perhaps, in my case, "writer's brick?). But I don't see it as the writer being blocked. It's not that I can't write. It's that there is something in the story that is blocked -- and I have to find a way to get at it.

Today I decided that the only way to do it was to change the parameters entirely. If I couldn't find a loose brick, so be it. I'd build a ladder and climb over.

So I did. I'm on the other side now. There are a lot of bricks back there that I'm never going to even use. Interesting bricks, but apparently not a part of this story.

The ladder worked. At least so far.

Cross your fingers.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Signs of Spring

You can always tell it's spring here, not by the daffodils or the crocuses or the robins -- though they are handy indicators of the change in seasons -- but mostly by the amount of mud the dogs track in.

We have three dogs.

Every time they go outside in the spring -- when the world, as e. e. cummings said, is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful -- they come in bringing lots of it with them.

It isn't that they intend to. In fact they take some pains to avoid it by walking carefully around the perimeter of the yard where it is less, um, squishy. But that doesn't always work.

Partly it doesn't work because when they get on the far side of the yard and climb the steep slope at the back to check out Emma, the springer spaniel who lives beyond the fence, they are so enamored that their brain cells atrophy (they're males after all) and they forget that they need to walk around the perimeter on their return trip to the back door.

So in great bursts of enthusiasm, the dog equivalent of "Hey, mom, she likes me! She really likes me!" -- they race madly across the middle of the yard, in the process plastering themselves with mud-on-the-undercarriage and jamming it between their toes.

Or if Emma is not out and there is no one to be impressed with their manly canine attributes, they remember to come carefully along the top of the wall (which you can see Micah standing on here at the height of summer -- green grass, no mud). They don't get their feet dirty that way.

But when they get to the side by the door, they have to jump off -- into the mud. The impact of seventy five pounds of dog jumping four feet down has the ability to thrust an amazing amount of mud between furry toes.

Times four paws. Times three dogs.

So we wash paws quite a few times a day. Twelve paws per outing. Maybe eight times out a day. Our dogs like being out, but it's hard to lie in the mud so they come in again. And then go out again. And then come in again. You get the idea. At this time of year we have a fair number of "96 dog foot days."

We also have a designated "animal foot bath." It says so right on the lid of the container. I wrote it myself so we wouldn't inadvertently put the leftover spaghetti in it some night thinking it was that kind of container.

The dogs are not enthralled with their foot bath. They think it is an imposition. They would much prefer to be allowed to track vast amounts of mud into the house and across the kitchen floor. They don't mind wiping their paws on the dining room rug. It gets the mud out, after all.

I've told them this is not acceptable. They aren't thrilled. But they endure. So do I. But it takes a considerable amount of time to wash all those dog feet.

I wonder if my editor would accept that as a reason if Flynn is late.

* * * * * * * * * * *

One of the other signs of spring (besides mud) is that Kate Walker's hedgehogs have awakened. You may remember the Heck family, as I christened them last autumn when I got to watch them in Kate's back garden. They were quite impressive, coming right up to the back door for their ration of cat food. But like bears, apparently the Hecks hiberate through the winter.

Now, it seems, they think it's spring. They are out in search of slugs in the lawn. The slugs apparently don't think it's spring yet (too much ice and mud in the grass) so they haven't reappeared yet. The hogs, however, are hungry. So Kate, because she is kind and because she doesn't have to wipe their feet, is now taking the cat food to them so they don't have to slog across the ice floe that is her garden.

Room service for hedgehogs? Foot baths for dogs?

Who's running this world, anyway?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


A week or so ago my granddaughter wrote a review of the book Matilda for her local library. I published it here with her picture and the book.

She now has a poster for her efforts which includes her, Matilda, and her mom (also a reader).

Inasmuch as I am writing (And writing. And writing), I'm not blogging. So I'm using the poster to urge you to READ!

And if you're very good (and my daughter lets me) I will tell you the story of the shirt she is wearing in the poster. If not, make one up and write your own story!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Nose to the Grindstone

It's 's that time of the book again -- when all the prelim stuff is sorted and the story makes sense (I hope) and it's just a matter of putting in the hours.

And hours. And hours.

This is when my sons, who think it matters to us where we live, would be surprised to discover that I, for one, have no idea where I am most of the time, much less what goes on outside my door.

I'm pretty much locked in, grappling with Flynn and Sara, trying to channel their story -- and then fix it so it sounds like a real story and not a couple of talking heads.

To use a sculpting metaphor, I've got the marble in place; I have the general shape of things to come; I'm working on the large muscle groups at the moment. The book is taking shape. But it's got a long way to go before it becomes anything anyone but me would want to read. I'm not even sure I do. But I must. Even though I know it isn't going to ever be quite the quality of David over there.

Periodically I take the dogs for a walk and flip through the catalogues that land in the mailbox -- so I can tell what season is coming up.

And every now and then I mess with my Friday Night Film Night piece for the Pink Heart bunch. It will be posted March 30. So stay tuned. It's my "recreation" -- my respite from Flynn and Sara.

Sorry if it gets boring around here. I've been hoping Theo will come back and post again. He has promised when he gets a free moment, he will. Last time I saw him he was muttering something about "community service."

Ah, what a man will do for love!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Soda Bread Experience

Okay, here's what we started with:

Ballyvolane House Brown Soda Bread
(Makes 2 Loaves)
1 1/2 lbs. wholemeal flour
1 handful wheat bran
2 handfuls wheat germ
2 1/4 lbs. pinhead oatmeal (aka chunky-grade)
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sieved baking soda
1 liter buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease bread tins with butter.

Mix dry ingredients well.
Add buttermilk and stir until mixed thoroughly with the dry ingredients.
Divide mixture into 2 bread tins and sprinkle with a little additional pinhead oatmeal.
Bake for 1 hour on oven upper shelf.

Of course that meant ordering the "pinhead oatmeal" from amazon (thank you, Kate Walker, for your excellent sleuthing out of a US stockist). And I was particularly pleased in this case because I belong to amazon prime and so I got 2nd day shipping as a part of my regular fee. The FOUR BAGS of pinhead oatmeal duly appeared yesterday afternoon. I think I got more than my money's worth of shipping on that parcel alone!

Anyway, today I went to get the buttermilk at the grocery store, but it turns out that everyone and their Irish relatives are baking soda bread today (apparently) as there was a run on buttermilk (when else is there ever a run on buttermilk, for heaven's sake?), so all they had was half gallons of the stuff. No, thanks. We don't love buttermilk that much.

I came home and soured a liter of milk with some lemon juice. Basically the same thing. And then I greased my pans (more of them than two because it was quite clear that I was going to need more than two). And I mixed together all the ingredients.

Adding the liter of milk was, um, interesting. I thought I had way too much liquid. But give the oats two minutes and they've sopped it all up and are begging for more. I made two loaves of regular and two with raisins (because some of the soda bread I've eaten -- probably the adulterated American version) had raisins. I draw the line at caraway seeds though. Not putting those in.

I was supervised in this project by three hopeful dogs and a kiwi tea cosy. The kiwi tea cosy was a gift from Barbara Clendon of Barbara's Books in Auckland, NZ (well, close to Auckland anyway). When The Prof and I visited NZ three years ago, Barbara and her husband kindly invited us to stay with them. We had a wonderful time seeing Auckland and visiting with the Clendons. Barbara had a kiwi tea cosy I much admired -- and a few months later one came to live with us. Barbara had brought it from a bird sanctuary they'd visited near the Coromandel peninsula, I think. The kiwi takes a great interest in everything that goes on in the kitchen. He could barely keep his beak out of the soda bread.

They baked nicely while I cleaned the living room. And then I took them out - and discovered that the trickiest bit was getting them out of the pans. In fact the roundish loaf was, I thought, permanently welded to the pot in which I baked it. The one in the tin came out best, so I think the moral of the story is "use tin" not glass baking pans.

But whatever you use, line up lots of people to help you eat it because it makes enough to feed the Irish Army (does Ireland have an army? If so, they are welcome to come and share soda bread with us). The prof was gobbling up slices of it as I came upstairs to write this. I trust there will still be plenty when I go back downstairs. It's wonderful.

Flynn approves. So does The Prof -- and the kiwi.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Thinking Green . . .

I've been busy with Flynn and Sara today.

Tomorrow (well, today actually, as it's "that time" already) I'll be making my soda bread because my FOUR BAGS of oatmeal arrived this afternoon.

I'm planning to share the process here (provided it turns out photogenically enough to do so). If it's too messy, just be comforted by the fact that you could certainly do better. My friend Nancy the cat slayer (no, not really. But we have this incriminating photo of her with Archie and a diabolical knife/earring gizmo) is making corned beef and cabbage to go with my soda bread.

I sent The Prof out for some sort of green ice cream for dessert. Between the carbs and the fat we will be waddling for days!

Stop back later if you want a play by play on the soda bread.

In the meantime, happy St Patrick's Day to all!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Happy Birthday, Janet!

Everyone has friends who touch their lives, who change them and enrich them and make them smile. One of mine is my friend Janet.

She came into my life because she's a writer, too. We had each been writing in our own solitary little rooms (or actually in the middle of busy households with four kids apiece, a dog in her case, a rabbit in mine, husbands -- one apiece which was plenty -- and assorted obligations which didn't go away because we also thought we were writers. So I guess we weren't really very solitary -- except for the brain-doing-the-writing part).

But it was the brain-doing-the-writing part, for each of us, that needed a friend, that needed some other brain that understood why we would anguish for hours about whether Joe would ask Liv to go to Vienna with him (and if she would go) and whether Shauna would let Blake stay at her bed-and-breakfast because he was clearly a Man With Issues she wanted no part of.

Inasmuch as Joe and Liv and Blake and Shauna weren't "real" no one else cared what they did. And talking about them made everyone else's eyes roll into the back of his (or her) head. But Janet's didn't roll. Janet stayed wide awake. She even considered Joe and Liv's travel plans (or lack of them) a fair topic of conversation. Janet cared for Joe and Liv, and I cared for Blake and Shauna -- and our writing lives took on a social dimension. Someone cared. We had support! Hallelujah!

It was wonderful. This was way before the internet and, in fact, before RWA had got itself out of Texas and opened its doors to the rest of the world. It was a time when we were really isolated and such things as blogs and emails and instant messages were someone's pipe dream. So a friend who wrote was a rare and cherished being.

The friendship went beyond writing. Pretty soon she was providing moral support not only for Joe and Liv (and subsequent heroes and heroines) but also for me as my oldest kids became teenagers (hers had been there, done that -- all except the last one).

Janet was the first person I called when I sold my first book. And I was incredibly annoyed when she wasn't home! How could she NOT be home?!!! So I tried again and again and again. All day. She was NEVER gone all day. Where was she? And how could she NOT be there that day of all days?

Well, about 6 pm I discovered she was. Had been home all day. In my excitement, I'd spent the day calling the wrong number.

She forgave me -- and that night she and her husband came over to celebrate with us, bringing a bottle of champagne!

Later that year we went to our first RWA conference together in Detroit back in the stone age. I had just sold, she was still writing Blake and Shauna and doing freelance non-fiction pieces. We were both more than a little overwhelmed by all the hoopla at a national conference (and that one had only 600 or so attendees). The Canadians were celebrating whatever it is they celebrate on July 1 (Dominion day?) and there were amazing fireworks across the river. It was unforgettable.

On our way home (it was a long day's drive from Detroit -- a very long day's drive) we talked imaginary people again, both lapsing into silences that went on for miles as she contemplated what her characters might be doing, and I wrestled with Susan, the sportwriter, who was soon going to be complicating Miles's life.

No one else would have put up with those lengthy silences. No one else -- except another writer -- would have been perfectly content to do the same. And then to happily start discussing again when one of us reached a conclusion and needed to "try it out" by talking about it.

It was a terrible blow when Janet turned up on my doorstep one morning a few years later and said they were moving away. It felt like someone had died. I suspect it was like this when people joined the wagon trains and went west and you never knew if you were going to see them again.

Yes, I know there are phones. And we used them. And yes, she did only move a couple of hours away, and yes, I still did get to see her. She didn't get ambushed on the trail! And even though now she has moved even farther away -- to Minnesota, God forbid! -- I still see her once or twice a year (with luck). But I will always miss having her near. There is nothing like sitting down with a cup of tea and visiting with a dear friend, and Janet is one of the dearest.

Happy birthday, Janet. Thank you for being such a wonderful part of my life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Abby Green . . . on the Tango

Ask and you shall receive, right?

Yesterday I said here that I'd love to have Presents author Abby Green come visit and write a "guest blog." This afternoon what do I get in my email? Abby's guest blog!

So, without further ado, here's Abby -- teaching you all about the tango.

Thanks to Anne McAllister who is letting me leech off her blog! I’m going to talk about tango…tango dancing. To me, it embodies the very essence of what Presents books are all about, the intense passion, aching melancholy and the subtle, eye wateringly sensuous steps as the man and woman do more than just dance together. They communicate on a level that seems so private and
personal that watching two dancers sometimes seems indecent, or voyeuristic.

In the words of a Tanguero here in Dublin who wrote a little booklet on
Tango etiquette: Tango is a dance, the music a melancholy, the embrace a hope…how beautiful and evocative is that?!

I’ve been learning how to dance Tango for about two years and as yet am nowhere near the level of being able to evoke those emotions in onlookers. It’s enough to try and remember the steps, to avoid going arse over tit!

And, to make it even more challenging, it’s not choreographed. You learn the
steps and then learn how to follow where the man leads. The only Tango that is choreographed is the dance you might see at a show Tango event.

beauty of the dance is in learning how to be led. Which can be very
difficult for headstrong independent women! I know one woman who had to give
up simply because she felt as if she was giving all her control away. But..if you persevere, you discover that while it’s about being led, it’s also about the way the woman entices her partner to follow her.

Speaking as
a woman, as you learn more, and get better, you learn more and more complicated steps, and embellishments. The man can lead you to do a certain move, but you can in turn block his moves, make him go another way.

your own power and dominance.

The start of a Tango dance is like the start of an intense Presents romance,
the man appears dominant, strong, unyielding. He leads the woman to perform exactly as he wants her to, to follow his steps without question. But, as the dance progresses, each step he makes is followed by a counter move from her. He blocks her foot, so she slides her own up his leg in a provocative display of dissent, before allowing him to lead her on. When he crooks his thigh under hers, she delivers a quick flick of her leg under his, as if to say, not so fast…!

One of my Argentinian teachers describes the man as the stem and the woman as the flower. The man is there to make the woman bloom, to make her look beautiful. And if you’ve ever watched Argentinian Tango being danced, you can’t help but agree.

There are moments during a Tango, even for a relative learner like me, when the music, the embrace sweeps you into another place, where with your eyes closed you simply follow the steps without even knowing what you’re doing. And when you stand apart at the end, if feels like something monumental has happened. And it has, this dance teaches a level of intimacy not encountered every day.

In the salons of Buenos Aires when a man wants to dance with a woman, he will look across the room and merely communicate his desire with his eyes. If she acknowledges him, then he will come over and ask her to dance, if she turns away, he won’t.

Within one three minute dance, you can witness a whole aching love story being played out. Enjoy!

* * * * * * * *

Check out Abby's first Harlequin Presents, Chosen As The Frenchman's Bride, an April 2007 release. Imagine the relationship between Xavier and Jane as a tango. It sizzles!

Thanks, Abby!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Working Hard

I spent last week deep in the heart of back story because somehow I couldn't go forward unless I really had a grip on what happened before (not just vaguely but totally). So now I do -- and I'm going forward.

That's why you haven't heard from me. I'm thinking of asking the granddaughter to write lots of reviews to keep everyone busy reading while I'm writing. Or maybe someone would like to volunteer to be a guest blogger.

Abby Green, how about you? Since you are currently blog-less, you could write a blog here! Practicing, of course, for when you want your own blog. You could tell us about your day job . . . hint, hint. Or if you don't want to think about your day job now that you are away from it for a while, you could tell us about your next book. I loved Chosen As The Frenchman's Bride, and I'm looking forward to lots more gorgeous Abby heroes.

Or I could perhaps invite the other Theo Savas to blog.

Back when my Theo was holding forth here, amazingly another Theo popped up as well. We've been batting emails back and forth for the last few weeks. He's a writer and editor himself. Also with Iowa connections. We keep finding odd little links -- baseball, books, similar philosophies on how kids should be allowed to grow up. We have a couple of guys named Demetrios in common, too. If this Theo turns up with a physicist brother named George who has locked himself in a lab, I'll know that truth has really become stranger than fiction!

I'm still waiting for people to share some of their keepers. I know Ally Blake is keeping Christian Bale. And I'm definitely keeping Hugh-in-a-towel (yes, Kate, I know you're sharing him!).

I've also told you some of the books, movies and other meaningful bits of my life that I go back to again and again. How about you? Surely you must have some faves you want to read, watch, experience all over again. . .

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Starting 'Em Young

I had an email from my granddaughter today. She sent me a link to a book she reviewed for her local library website. Inasmuch as I think it's a pretty darn good review -- certainly makes me want to read the book -- I thought I'd pass it on.

I told her she could review books here anytime. Her mother says she is more likely to talk about writing reviews than actually writing them . . . Guess the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree!

For those of you who remember her as a teeny preemie, the one we call Glowkid (on account of her having worn a sort of suit made of light to get rid of jaundice) grew up!

Stephanie reviews Matilda

Meet the library's newest (and youngest) guest reviewer, Stephanie.

Matilda / Roald Dahl ; illustrations by Quentin Blake/Viking Kestrel, c1988. Available @ your library:

Juvenile Fiction JF D131m

Hi. My name is Stephanie and I'm in first grade. I will be telling you about an excellent and funny book that I read. It is called Matilda.

It talks about an extraordinary little girl named Matilda whose parents don't care a speMatilda_1ck about her. She has a fabulous teacher named Miss Honey and a terrifying head mistress called the Trunchbull. Her best friend is a girl in her class called Lavender.

Matilda can read really well just like me! My favorite parts are when she stuffed her friend's parrot up the chimney and made her parents think they had burglars and when she put superglue in her Dad's hat. Well, that's all for now. Bye!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Joy of Keepers

I've just spent the last two nights watching Empire of the Sun. I missed it 20 years ago because I had four kids and a husband and a job and a rabbit and a life. And I didn't need to see Christian Bale at age 13 because I had my own 13 year old boy underfoot on a daily basis. I had no trouble imagining how he'd cope if the Japanese invaded our house -- and I didn't have two and a half hours to spare watching Christian do the same thing.

Now, however, I am old enough to appreciate the film. And Christian is old enough for me to have appreciated him in quite a few movies over the past year (catching up, I was), not to mention appreciating him in the title role of Max Valentine in Liz Fielding's wonderful Valentine Bride. So in the interests of research, I thought I'd go back and see him -- and appreciate him -- at 13.

He was fantastic, which I know Ally Blake could have told me. Sorry, Ally. It takes some of us a while to catch up. And I appreciated him very much.

But I was simply grabbed by the film. I was enthralled by the characters and the adversity and how their dire circumstances brought out the real essence of their characters. It was an action film, of course. But even more than that, it was a character film. The best of both worlds, really. And I loved it.

It reminded me of The Rabbit-Proof Fence, another story showing how adversity brought out the essence of character and demonstrated their resiliency and determination. Both of them face the issue of confinement -- and deal with it in completely different ways. And yet both are testimony to the determination to survive and to triumph.

I have watched The Rabbit-Proof Fence three or four times now. I'll be doing the same with Empire of the Sun. And as I realized I'd put it in that category, I started thinking about what made a book or a film or anything else you might think of, a keeper.

I'm working up to writing a piece for the Pink Heart Society blog on their Friday Night Film page in a couple of weeks (March 30th actually, so 3 weeks). And I've picked my film. I watched it the first time about 6 or 7 years ago. And then I watched it again and again. It was definitely a keeper for me.

My familiarity with the story didn't make it less appealing. In fact, while the first time through was wonderful, delightful and fun, all my subsequent viewings were, if possible, even better -- because I could anticipate what was coming.

The joy of keepers, I think, is in knowing what's coming and relishing it ahead of time, anticipating it, getting a head-start, as it were, feeling the rush and then riding the wave of emotion full on, participating in every second of it.

It works with books, rereading favorite parts or the whole thing (I go back to Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice at least once a year). I just thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of Match Me If You Can. I still delight in Laura Kinsale's Midsummer Moon and Lisa Gregory's Rainbow Season and dip into them regularly. It's the same with children's books as I posted last month -- the anticipation and delight are there every time I read them over (even if I'm reading them to kids who've heard them hundreds of times before or if they are absolutely new to the story).

It works with film (Rabbit-Proof, Father Goose, LA Confidential, the Damian Lewis version of Much Ado About Nothing). It works with art -- I have certain paintings at the Frick Museum in New York that I like to stop and visit when I'm there. They are my keepers, even though I'm only allowed to keep a postcard of them at home.

It work as well with food (which is why I always eat the fish tacos at Houlihans' even though I'm sure there are other perfectly decent items on the menu, and why when I pass through Kaycee, Wyoming I always stop in an effort to rediscover the best green chili burrito I ever had.).

It even works with scenery. I grew up in Manhattan Beach. The pier is a part of my emotional landscape. The beach to the south of it is my home base. I keep it in my heart and in my photo albums and, every time I go back, I take more pictures -- keepers. The very act brings back feelings and memories and events -- stories -- that are part of who I am.

Keepers, I think, do that for us. They are touchstones of emotional experience. They resonate with who we are. They affirm our past, our understanding, our humanity. They make us nod, or sigh, or smile. Or cry. They touch us and, in some way, they give us pieces of ourselves and help us become whole.

Our lives are richer for them -- and that is why we keep them. So we can recreate those moments. So we can feel again the connections, the memories, the promise, the ache, the hope -- whatever each of them brings to us.

I've told you some of my keepers. I'd love to know some of yours. Please share.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


I like to read. A lot. It's rare that I don't have a book going -- or two or three.

Some writers, when they are in the middle of a book, don't read because they fear being influenced by whoever they are reading at the time. I, on the other hand, generally want to be influenced. Often when I read, I'm thinking through my own story and my own characters, imagining how they would act in similar circumstances, trying to decide if what works in this book might be something I'd like to use.

That said, rest assured that I am not looking to copy someone else's book. On the contrary, I already have a book and characters in mind. But I am generally open to anything that might further complicate their lives -- and other books are fraught with complications. That's what makes them so enjoyable.

Since Christmas I've read quite a few enjoyable books. I'm not going to mention them all here because I didn't keep a list. But I did keep some of the books. They are in my JUST BEEN READ pile (JBR) and for the moment and for the foreseeable future, they are very definitely keepers.

Here they are in no particular order:

Susan Elizabeth Phillips's latest book, Natural Born Charmer, is a delight. I wasn't sure about it when I read the first bit as a "preview" in her earlier book. It seemed, well, a little forced. But I have thought that about SEP's inciting incidents before, and I've almost always been grabbed and pulled into the book. Natural Born Charmer was, I'm happy to report, no exception.

If you've read other SEP books, you've met Dean Robillard, he of the over-sized ego and unstoppable charm, already. But like other SEP characters, there is more to Dean than meets the eye. He has a backstory that would give the tabloids a field day, if only they knew what it was. But Dean isn't letting anyone in. At least not until he meet Blue Bailey, who has a backstory of her own.

Take two wounded yet determined people who have done their best to move beyond their pasts, throw them together and then throw their pasts back in their laps so they have to come to terms with things -- and each other -- and you have a terrific book. I loved Dean and Blue. I loved the secondary characters.

The only thing I didn't love was SEP saying this was absolutely her last Chicago Stars book. C'mon, Susan, there have to be a few more guys waiting on the bench!

Because I enjoyed it so much, I actually went back and re-read Match Me If You Can, which I had read last year. I liked it then, but I think I liked it even more this time around. Annabelle was fun. Heath was wonderful -- just so sure of himself that I could hardly wait for him to get his comeuppance. I lugged it around Ireland with me, figuring that if I got tired of carrying it, I could leave it for someone else to read. In fact I brought it home with me. It's a keeper. I'll read it again next year.

Have you read Hester Browne yet? I read her first book The Little Lady Agency shortly after Christmas. It made me laugh -- and it made me cringe because while Melissa Romney-Jones's family were caricatures, they were caricatures I know very well. And how Melissa copes with them and finds herself (and her talents and her strengths) is a delightful tale.

Because she continues the story of Melissa and her alter-ego, Honey, in a second book, Little Lady, Big Apple, you won't find the "resolution" you might be hoping for in her first book. This isn't a romance as much as it is Melissa's journey to self-realization and maturity. While she might start off with a host of insecurities, it isn't long before you realize she's more mature than just about everyone else in her life. And as Melissa grows in confidence, watching her deal with New York, with her career and with the various men in her life will amuse and delight.

A third installment, The Little Lady and the Prince, is coming this autumn. I can hardly wait.

On the way home from Ireland, I read Jill Mansell's latest book, Thinking of You, which I bribed Kate into bringing to Dublin for me. Inasmuch as she had a very tightly controlled weight limit for her baggage, not to mention a disgruntled cat when he discovered he wasn't going to be part of that baggage, I feel fortunate indeed that Jill got to come. In hardback no less!

I always enjoy Jill's books -- her wonderful assorted casts of characters, their predicaments, their machinations and the way they always seem to be tripping over each other coincidentally as the good guys get rewarded and the bad guys (well, as bad as Jill Mansell bad guy can be) get exactly what they deserve. Thinking of You was no exception. It was a wonderful fun read. I wish more of her books were available in the US. It seems a shame that I always have to go to England to get them.

I've read a few others as well. But if you're looking for fun books with snappy dialogue, intriguing characters and a little bit of escapism, you can't go wrong with Susan, Hester and Jill.

I'm using them as inspiration for Flynn and Sara. Keep your fingers crossed that it works.