Sunday
Apr152007

Mega Meta

The internet is a lovely thing sometimes. I did a Google search this morning to find a copy of my first book (sadly, out of print) to give as a gift, and I found a girl on Zaadz who listed it as her favorite book. Her favorite book. To this bibliophiliac, that is weighty indeed.


My initial reaction to this was, "Sweetie, have you read To Kill a Mockingbird or Gone With the Wind? Or A Wrinkle in Time or The Diamond in the Window?"

But my initial reactions are often exactly this ungracious, a habit of mind I have resolved to reprogram. I am therefore now trying to convince myself to be enormously complimented that something I wrote resonated with this person more than anything else she's encountered thus far in her admittedly short life. So, Sara, thank you. You lifted my spirits on this monsoony morning.

Much more on my own writing. This week I've had some good breakthroughs working on one of my novels-in-progress, ZF-360. In the process, I've discovered a quirky thing about the way I write. (Many of you might wish to stop reading here to avoid utter boredom; click on to your next favorite blog. What follows will be the electronic equivalent of thinking out loud.)

I started writing ZF more than a year ago. I used the first chapter as part of my application to Readercon's Writing Workshop, then found out that the workshop's leader required a synopsis to be turned in as well. I cranked one out and proceeded to have a marvelous time at said workshop.

ZF progressed a bit more when I got home, but felt my interest in the story slipping away like sand from yesterday's castle. No matter, I thought; I've got a million ideas where that one came from; I'll work on something else for a while. I turned to a ripping ghost story-in-embryo called The Holly Place, about which I could get obsessed to the degree required for me to have decent writing momentum. I worked on THP for a while, but then Patrick begged me to go back to ZF.

"I'm in a good groove right now with THP," I protested.

"But I want to know what happens in ZF," he persisted. (He had read the first two chapters, but refused to read the synopsis.) "Please?"

Well, he is my patron, as it were, if you will. I went back to ZF, but it has been a chore lo these many months, I tell you. I couldn't understand this for a long time. I mean, it's a good story.

I have finally figured out why. I don't like knowing how my books are going to end. Or really, even how the middle is going to go before I get there. In the ZF world inside my brain, the story has already happened; therefore it is much less interesting to me.

It's like the way I read. It's also the way I see a movie. I want to know as little as possible about it before I go. I usually don't read movie reviews, and I usually only read non-fiction book reviews. I want surprise and delight. I write for the same reasons. Partly for the sheer sensual joy of bathing in language. But mostly for pure escape, more of that yummy agony as I race to find out what happens next.

I will often re-read favorite books, but nothing compares with falling in love with great characters for the first time and then watching how Scout/Scarlett/Frodo/Christian handles what's been thrown at her/her/him/him. It's a delicious suspense, far more addictive for me than chocolate. Which is a lot.

A genius blogger recently polled his readers, asking whether there would be any takers for an opportunity to travel 500 years into the future: one-way, solo flight. I replied off-handedly, "No thanks; I'd rather read about it." I realized later how true that was.

I do love my actual, real, day-to-day life; it's pretty near perfect. But the worlds in books and inside my head are sometimes so much more interesting and appealing--and I can walk away from them if they get too intense--I know those of you still reading know what I'm talking about.

This synopsis-killing-the-story thing has happened to me once before. My Senior Project in college was to do all the background research for a fantasy novel, including character sketches, a lengthy world-building exercise, and a very detailed plot synopsis. My Project sits bound in leather on a shelf, its gold-stamped title winking at me as I work. As much as I love the world, characters, and story I created therein, I don't know that I'll ever actually write that book. (Oh, calm down, honey. I probably will at some point.)

Shannon's Mirror, the above-mentioned favorite book of Arkansas's own Sara, was almost entirely unplotted when I started it. I began it by asking, "What if...," which is how all of my good ideas get rolling. I vaguely suspected it would end one way, but one of the most thrilling writerly moments of my life was jolting awake one night and realizing something else entirely was going to happen.

I wrote that book in three weeks. Of course, it's very short. And it's YA. And I only had one three-month old child at the time, and a husband who worked 18 hours a day, six days a week. And it was a bitter cold February in which no sane Manhattanite ventured outside (except my husband). In other words, the distractions were minimal. But still. Three weeks.

I have the same sense of urgency with The Holly Place, which keeps pushing its way onto the stage in my brain even as I plug away on ZF. How is Cathy going to help Blake? What will happen to Richard? What about Cathy's mom--how will she react when she finds out the truth about her new husband? It's calling to me. But I think I'm nearly done with ZF. And I do think it's going to be good, even though I'm turning up my nose at it right this minute.

I also know that I work very well with deadlines, so here's what I'm doing, web-friends. I'm telling you all right now that 30 days from today--May 15th--I'll be ready to send that puppy out the door. Or at least let my patron read it. Hold me to it; knowing that you are keeping accounts will get me through the doldrums.

Caveat to would-be writers: Nearly everyone in a position of authority says you should write synopses. So don't go by what works for me. Do your own thing.

Thursday
Apr122007

It's a gray day for the green queen.*

So I thought I'd cheer myself up and play a fun game I saw over at The Electronic Replicant. It involves mucho technology, and you all know that I, like Kip Dynamite, love technology.

Here's how to play, according to Erik: "If you load your music player with your entire collection, then set it for random play, it will somehow predict the soundtrack for an imaginary upcoming film about your life."

Well, my entire collection won't fit on my iPod, so I went with what was there. (Note to self: it's probably time for some purging in that arena.)

I find the results of this little experiment very interesting--some might say spooky. I don't think I would say that. But some might.

Opening Credits: Renee Fleming, "Ombra mai fu" from Handel's Xerxes
Hmm, yes, suitably somber and ethereal for an aerial shot of our darling little village nestled on the edge of the mighty Hudson. It's good that nothing a cappella-boys' choirish came up first, because then we'd know it was going to be a horror flick.

Waking Up: London Symphony Orchestra, Vaughan Williams's "Fantasia on Christmas Carols"
Oh, goody! It's going to be a Christmas movie! If you set at least part of your film at Christmastime (The Family Man, It's a Wonderful Life), you pretty much guarantee that I'll like it. And no movie of my life would be complete without a little RVW.

First Day of School: Queen, "Somebody to Love"
Pretty perfect for summing up not just my first day of school, but also my entire school experience. Melodramatic, yet with a strong 6/8 beat; that call-and-response bridge full of irony. Yes. We can work with this.

Falling in Love: Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, "Heartbreakin' Old Achin' Blues"
This plucky bluegrass ditty is a perfect foil for all the bitter, unrequited crushes of teenagerdom.

First Song: The Police, "Message in a Bottle"
My iPod is a mind-reading genius. More irony, folks.

The first time I saw the Police in concert (CA State Fair at CalExpo, 1982), I was 15. My boyfriend David held me on his shoulders so that I could have an unobstructed view of my tripartite obsession: Andy, Stewart, and the lovely Sting. Heavenly memory, marred only by this: on the way home, we got into a fight because David was jealous of Sting. I rubbed salt in his wound by laughing incredulously when he admitted this fact and saying something like, "Dude, that's like a streetlight being jealous of the moon--totally pointless." We broke up pretty soon after that.

Anything by the Police also serves well to underscore the crucial scene in the movie where, bored out of my mind in Senior Civics class, I indulge in an endless daydream about flying to Montserrat so that I can more efficiently stalk said Sting.

Breaking Up: Rush, "Closer to the Heart"
Uncanny, since the above-mentioned David was obsessed with Rush.

Prom: Bryn Terfel, "Younger than Springtime"
Ahhh, Bryn. Would that you had been my prom date. If you had, perhaps I wouldn't have had that nearly fatal asthma attack that landed me in the emergency room for the better part of the night. The incredibly kind male nurse pinned my gardenia corsage to my hospital gown. Come to think of it, he looked a bit like you, Bryn, though he had neither your darling Welsh accent nor your swoonworthy baritone voice. Ironic coincidence: that night was the first time I'd ever heard The Police's song "Every Breath You Take."

Driving: Sister Sledge, "We Are Family"
Baby, not only do I have this song on my iPod, it's the extended play version--what we used to call a 12-Inch Disco Mix. It's a good driving song, especially because many of my best road trips have been either with my fab sisters or with really good girlfriends. Love it.

Flashback: Mariah Carey, "Joy to the World"
Poor Mariah. Such gifts, yet such a mess. But she does know how to put together a darn fine Christmas album. This is a great one to put on when doing Christmas party prep chores. The brilliance of pairing this standard carol with the chorus of "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog" is alone worth the price of the CD.

Starting a New Relationship: Natasha Bedingfield, "Unwritten"
My dear sis Steph introduced me to this fine pop anthem on a recent road trip. Can't get enough of it. It's a perfect metaphor for shaking off the chains of old hurts and being willing to jump into love again--of course this time (in the movie, as in life) with my peerless husband.

Wedding: Ben Harper, "Church House Steps"
Hmm. Though I adore that delicious Ben Harper, at first listen this would appear to be a bad omen foreshadowing problems for our young couple. But when the Blind Boys of Alabama start crooning the bridge, "If these wings should fail me/Meet me with another pair," I take it to mean that the young lovers will triumph over any challenges by meeting them together, clear-eyed and hand in hand.

Birth of a Child: "In the Merry Old Land of Oz"
"Ha, ha, ha; ho, ho, ho/And a couple of tra-la-las...." All that false joviality rising to an unbearable crescendo, only to be interrupted by the Wicked Witch of the West sky-writing "Surrender, Dorothy" in the air above the Emerald City--what portent can this hold for the poor new baby?

Final Battle: Hem, "Betting on Trains"
It's good to have some Hem in my movie. Because when Hem goes to see it, they'll realize that as lovely and talented as Sally Ellyson is, I should really be their lead singer instead.

This song works for a battle scene only if it's one ripped off from the end of The House of Flying Daggers. Come to think of it, I should have been in that movie, too. Maybe the American remake is in my future....

Death Scene: The Wailin' Jennys, "Firecracker"
Oh, so perfect. Those Jennys, with their tight harmonies and artless melancholy. The lyrics work, too: "It's late night getting into morning...." Come to the light, baby.

Funeral Song: Alison Krauss and Union Station, "The Road is a Lover"
And we restate the trope of bouncy bluegrass as counterpoint to deep mourning. Symmetry: me likey.

End Credits: Willie Nelson, "Shall We Gather at the River"
Good, good. Contemplative, but not beating us over the head with it. If I had been in charge instead of Apple's random number selection subroutine, I would have chosen Michael Andrews's cover of "Mad World." Oh, wait--that's Donnie Darko, not my movie.

Well, random is as random does. I was disappointed when none of my beloved uber-geeks (They Might Be Giants, Cake, Elvis Costello) made the cut. Same goes for those obscure Celtic folk (Niamh Parsons, Danu) I love, and for all the punk/metal/Goth I have in running mixes with titles like "T-Shirt of Pain" and "Endorphin Junkies." But no movie can be an accurate portrait; they always have to leave some stuff out. And you can't expect decent coverage when you are looking at 16 songs out of 2,060.

Thanks, Erik! I'm feeling much better about my day now.

*We do love Nick Sharratt at our house.

Wednesday
Apr112007

Drive-By Linking

If you want to read some bloggity brilliance (and why wouldn't you?), go over to Bub and Pie's and read this post. That woman floors me, as you'll see if you read my frothing-at-the-mouth comment at the end.

Tuesday
Apr102007

Tess of the Perkinses

Tess-Tess, the Tester, our own Tesseract, my little Tesla Girl. Here she is in a photo I took last fall; it captured a rare moment of stillness for our sweet cyclone--raincoat, Tinkerbell tutu, and all.

Tess is as smart as a whip and has near-perfect musical pitch. She is incredibly kind, with a gift for empathy that belies her tender years. She is the happiest child I've ever seen, almost always with a 500-watt smile on her face. She will swing and jump and spin until the cows come home. I don't know whether 'whirling dervish' is a politically correct way to describe her, but it certainly seems accurate. Capricious? Volatile? Precious? Maddening? After almost six years, it seems like I am finally understanding Tess.

Tess is the fourth of our five children. When we found out I was pregnant with her, we realized we could no longer make life in Manhattan work. We lived in a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment; the five of us did okay, but we knew another baby would bring us to critical mass. For one thing, we wouldn't all fit in a taxi anymore. We found our lovely house in the Hudson Highlands and began preparations to move.

During my pregnancy with Tess, I had amazing help in the form of several angelic humans, but there was still a lot of work to do. Was it the stress of moving? The packing, sorting, and lifting? Or just a timetable other than my own? Whatever the cause, and despite midwife-mandated bedrest (with three little kids? really?), I went into labor with Tess five weeks early.

We hoped that at 35 weeks, her lungs would be past the critical point. However, Tess ended up having to stay in the NICU at St. Luke's-Roosevelt for 10 long days. I couldn't hold her for the first week of her life; even my touch through the incubator gloves seemed to distress her. After what seemed like forever, she was disconnected from her breathing tube and all of her IVs, and she came home to a relieved and grateful family.

Tess was a great nurser, and I wore her in my sling almost constantly. She quickly gained weight and thrived, but she was much more difficult to soothe than our other three kids had been. Through trial and error, I discovered the best way to calm her: a) firmly wrap her up in a receiving blanket, burrito-style; b) hold her tightly and vertically against my chest, with one hand cradling her neck and head; and c) bounce hard, sitting on the corner of our bed, for as long as my thighs could stand it.

When she was about 18 months old, we realized she was having some vision problems, and Tess embarked on a long course of patch therapy and glasses. When she was 3 1/2, surgery on the muscles of her eyes was necessary; she came through it like a trouper.

It wasn't until last year that I finally admitted to myself that perhaps Tess's dramatic mood swings--from wild joy to prostrate frustration--were a little off the normal scale. I confided my fears to just the right person; my dear friend's son had just been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, and this friend suggested I look into it.

I bought and read a book called The Out-of-Sync Child, instantly recognizing Tess in its pages. There are several subcategories of SPD; Tess is hyposensitive. This subcategory is also called 'sensory-seeking.' She has three challenges: her vestibular and proprioceptive senses both need extra stimulation (thus the constant spinning, swinging, hugging, etc.), and she has a hard time self-regulating when it comes time to make a transition (going to school, leaving school; starting an activity, stopping an activity; any change is hard). Tess is on the mild end of the SPD spectrum (her OT diagnosis at school was at the low end of the normal range), but SPD can also occur concurrently with ADD/ADHD or autism.

What a relief it was for me to have a framework for our experience. And how great it is that Tess's condition is entirely treatable. We are very blessed to live a half-mile away from a skilled and intuitive dance therapist named Suzi Tortora. Suzi wrote a book outlining her highly successful method called Dancing Dialogue. Her work with Tess and the things she has taught us to do at home have helped us tremendously.

I'm not a big fan of bringing more 'stuff' into the house, but tools are an exception. We've found a few things that help Tess be more aware of her body in space: we already have a tire swing and are looking into getting a trampoline. Rocking horses are also a safe outlet for kids who crave motion. Chewy tubes and weighted vests like the ones at Pocket Full of Therapy help calm sensory seekers as well. (A chewy tube is worth its weight in gold; our pen and pencil supply is now safe from constant munching and mangling.) Suzi also recently recommended that we get Tess something called a Body Sock; it looks like so much fun that I'm sure the other kids will beg to borrow it.

Toys and tools aside, Tess is not too big for me to roll into a blanket and hold on my lap like a big, smiling burrito; this helps us both take a moment and calm down. Tess's future is bright; her fondest dream is to become a pediatric ophthalmologist, so that she can work next door to her beloved Dr. Steele. She certainly has both the brain and the energy to become anything she wants to be.

Which reminds me: we saw Dr. Steele last week and determined that Tess needs another round of surgery on her eyes; this will take place on April 19th, and your prayers on her behalf are very welcome.

Thursday
Apr052007

Tea and Madeleines


I think I've come up with a solution for reading Proust together: a new blog! Here it is, in all its newborn bloggy splendor. If you'd like to join as a reader/writer, please email me: luisa at novembrance dot org. Christie, Kara, (hopefully) Shannon, and I would love to have you along.