Friday, March 27, 2009


Last night my 12-year-old son went to a school play with some neighbors. He came home and faithfully reported the following conversation to me. (Backstory: Teen was arguing with his mom on the drive home.)

Son: Why do you argue with your mom? I never argue. When my mom snaps 'No', we listen.

Teen: That's because your mom is scary.

There you go. Listen and remember.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


January started with two major revisions in my life: 1) the personal trainer and 2) the second draft of my new novel.

I've realized over the last couple weeks that the process is remarkably similar for both. Pain, inertia, pain, stubbornness, pain, mental blocks, pain, endurance.

And pain.

Revising a manuscript has given me insight into revising my body, and vice versa. Here's what I've learned.

1. Take the Long View
I'm a Biggest Loser fan. Wonderful show. But it is frustrating to watch them drop anywhere from 5-15 pounds a week while my scale stays stubbornly on the same number. Maybe if I was only checking in on my body once a week, I'd see the changes, but since I live in my body, I have to remind myself daily changes are subtle. Too subtle to see most of the time. Just like a page of revisions or rewriting at a time seems miniscule when compared to the 200+ pages still to go, but each page adds up. So does each squat or push-up or bicep curl.

2. Take Your Rewards Where You Can Find Them
Write a particularly good bit of dialogue? Discover a hidden motivation in a character? Solve a particularly thorny plot issue? Giggle and do the Snoopy dance to celebrate. Last 15 seconds longer on a side plank hold? Do 5 sets of tricep dips without crying? Run a complete mile without pause? Same thing. (Well, maybe not the Snoopy dance--unless you want your muscles to give way.)

3. Use Frustration as Fuel
When jealousy, despair, cravings, and/or sheer I'm-so-tired-of-doing-this set in, channel it. Don't let it derail the process. Dougnuts will not--repeat, WILL NOT--make you feel better. Neither will playing solitaire or reading email for three hours while you avoid opening your novel file. Of course you don't want to start exercising/writing. Who does? But I promise, from personal experience, once you've done it, you'll feel so much better.

4. The Only Failure is to Quit
Will I ever get below 30% body fat or lose these even-more-stubborn-than-me 15 pounds? Not if I quit now. Will I ever sign with an agent/sell my novel to the highest bidder/become even more famous than Stephenie Meyer? Not if I quit now. I control what I can--the exercising, eating right, writing, and submitting said writing. Will it pay off? I don't know. But I do know that if I quit, then it's over.

5. Love Revising for its Own Sake
Body or soul, mind or manuscript, you have to love the process. That doesn't mean you enjoy every single weight lifted or mile run or chapters scratched and started from nothing . . . but it does mean you have to enjoy the process as a whole. I exercise now because it makes me feel good--stronger, healthier, happier. Do I want to get skinnier? Yes. Will I keep exercising when/if I reach my weight goal? Yes. And writing--well, whole books are written about writers and their devotion to an exceedingly difficult and irritating art form. Do I want to be published? Yes. Would I quit writing if I get published? Absolutely not. So why would I quit before?

Onward and upward--I have twenty more minutes of cardio to do and Chapter 13 to revise.

Wish me well :)

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Anyone surprised?

On Facebook, some of my friends have taken this challenge: Out of the BBC Booklist's Top 100 Novels, how many of you read?

(Note on the list--I've seen several different lists. I actually marked two--the one from Facebook and the official BBC Big Read List from 2003. I decided to post the Facebook list since I'd read more of them--probably because the Facebook list seems to have more novels that an American audience would recognize.)

The estimate is that any given average person (is there such a thing) will have read 6 out these 100 novels. Are you as geeky as me? Check it out.

The ones I've read are bolded.

And if you're interested only in the bottom line, I've read 68 out of 100.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchel
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Monday, March 02, 2009


Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire has had some bad weeks recently. He's still recovering from the tragic end of his last case. And he needs a new deputy. And winter is coming. So he's annoyed when a former sheriff claims that a death in a nursing home is murder. Turns out the former sheriff was once married to the woman in question, a member of the Basque community, and said woman has quite a large estate to leave. Did someone kill her for her money? Or do the roots of this crime go further back? I adore Walt Longmire and this was a wonderful story. Now on to the third book in the series.

A little book, written for teens, about a 9th-grader who causes a national incident when he's punished for singing the national anthem in homeroom. The novel is told entirely through diary entries, letters, phone calls, and interviews of the various participants, giving the reader the chance to see the incident through multiple eyes. As the mother of two teenage boys, it was a great reminder that most of what's going on in a teenager's head is kept hidden and I shouldn't jump to conclusions quite so fast.

Sigh--I love Adam Dalgliesh. This novel had everything I love about James--the trademark opening section which introduces us to various intriguing characters and the tensions that will bring about murder in a private plastic surgery clinic; Dalgliesh and his team moving methodically and empathetically among the witnesses and suspects; twisty plot points and most of all, humanity. There's a small but emotionally important sub-plot about Adam's fiancee, Emma, and an attack on one of her friends and the novel ends with an event I've been waiting for none too patiently--the wedding of Adam and Emma. I hope the 89-year-old Baroness James lives a long time so we can have more Dalgliesh stories.

ENDER IN EXILE/Orson Scott Card/B
A direct sequel to ENDER'S GAME, which means it fills in some of the time gap between that book and SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. Ender may have won the war, but that doesn't mean he can go home. Instead, the 14-year-old is appointed governor of the first human colony in space. He elects to stay awake during the voyage (2 years in relative time, more than 40 years in earth time) and much of the action takes place on the colony ship. I wanted to like this more than I did--Ender actually began to bug me a little bit in his perfection and I thought Card shortchanged the ending of a critical POV character (a teenage girl whose mother wants her to marry Ender). But it was still an Ender story, which means I was happy to read it.

TUTANKHAMEN/Christine El Mahdy/B-
The story of Egypt's most famous king, placing him in the historical context of his lifetime. El Mahdy spend the first two-thirds of the book recounting the discovery of his tomb and then giving us the accepted version of Tutankhamen and the pharaoh who preceded him, the controversial Akhenaten. The last third gives her account of Akhenaten, the mysterious Smenkhare who ruled briefly after him, and the teenage Tutankhamen who died too young and might never have been known if not for the magic of his treasure-filled tomb. It was a little confusing to follow in style, but it did have some interesting points and I especially loved the pictures of some of the pharaoh's artifacts.

It was a good month for series I love. In this Dalziel/Pascoe novel, Dalziel is sent to an expensive convalescent home on the Yorkshire coast to recover from his injuries and coma suffered in the last book. But of course it won't be restful--the local lady of the manor is found dead at her own hog roast. Rich, rude, and several-times married, Daphne Brereton had enemies to spare. Dalziel tries to keep out of Pascoe's way when he comes to investigate, but you can't keep a good copper down and it's Dalziel who possesses some criticial information. Filled with Hill's witty writing and unforgettable characters--I'm smiling just remembering the book.

THE FAITH CLUB/Idilby, Oliver, & Warner/B+
A book club read. After the 9/11 attacks, New York Muslim Ranya Idilby wonders what she can teach her children about being Muslim in America. She decides to write a children's book with two other mothers--one Christian, one Jewish. I don't know if the children's book was ever written--but THE FAITH CLUB has been very succesful. The three women talk honestly about their fears, their personal faith, and their preconceptions of the others' religions. It wasn't a perfect book, but it was intriguing and the friendship the three women develop is beautiful.

MYSTIC RIVER/Dennis Lehane/C
Beautifully written, impeccably rendered characters, a plot that falls into place just when it should . . . so why isn't it an A book? This is one of those times where I have to fall back on "I am not the audience for this book." The story opens with three young boys playing in the street. One of them gets in a car and vanishes for four days. Twenty-five years later, the boys are brought back together when the daughter of one is murdered. This story was bleak and there weren't enough sympathetic characters to ease the bleakness. Still, I can see why Lehane has a wide audience; he's a wonderful writer.