Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Just One More Thing...

and then I'm done ranting about politics for a while.  I just feel compelled to point out that, contrary to what he may have said before his recent LOSSES, Rick Santorum is obviously not opposed to education.  Because at some point, every kid asks his or her parents what "antidisestablishmentarianism" means, but how many parents take the time and trouble to provide a concrete example of it?  Not many, is my guess.  So let's give credit where it's due.  And why not be magnanimous toward the guy after his LOSSES???  In fact, I've given him a new name.  Sanctum Santorum.  And now I'm done.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Can I Count on Your Support?

I don't usually post at 7 a.m., but today, I feel I must.  I've made a decision.  If the GOP primary race hasn't been wrapped up after the vote count tonight, I'm throwing my hat into the ring.  How do I stand out from the rest of the field, you ask?  It's fairly simple.  They are wimps and asswipes; I am a bold visionary. As president, I will not merely do away with the separation between church and state.  Oh, no, no no. The entire so-called "Bill of Rights:"  gone with one stroke of the pen.  Only two provisions will survive: freedom of religion (Christians only), and the right to bear arms (ditto).  Are you with me? Because if you're not with me 100%, then you're against me, and make no mistake: I will know exactly who you are.  Off the record: I also plan to bring back witch-hunts and burning heretics at the stake, but I know, I know...  not mainstream enough for right now, my campaign advisors tell me. And I'm not allowed to even mention the plans to clone Senator McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover, although my team has samples of their DNA ready and waiting. None of these missions can be presented as planks of my actual campaign platform; they must remain long-term goals.  Fine.  I understand the political game.  America isn't quite ready for the full breadth of my vision.  YET.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mood: Indigo

Not the best week I've ever had, on a personal level.  Last Sunday my father-in-law was admitted to the hospital, and he wasn't discharged until today.  On Tuesday I found out that my friend Michele's mother passed away.  Yesterday my mother fell in her apartment and wasn't able to get up by herself.  Life is short, my friends.  Art is long.
     Oh, and - totally inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, of course - on Thursday I found out that my submission to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest didn't even make the first cut.  I had a feeling that they were looking for edgy, which I'm not, but...  wow.  Not even the first cut.  Why am I getting the feeling that time is not on my side?
     My daughter is watching the Oscars now, and wants me to poke my head into the living room from time to time, but do I really want to see how old Billy Crystal has gotten?  I suspect it won't cheer me up.  At what point will the man acknowledge reality and start calling himself Bill?  I thought one of the few perks of the aging process is that it's supposed to lend you a bit of dignity.
     Maybe I will poke my head in for a few minutes, though.  The Oscars have become a public spectacle on the verge of crossing over into a religious obligation.  And for that, I'd like to thank the Academy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Two Months and Counting!

     Yesterday was my two-month blogiversary.  The number of people reading my posts is creeping up, and I've acquired a follower (okay, it's my son, but I'm totally counting it).  So in order to celebrate, I'm going to do something it seems I haven't done for a while, which is to write about young-adult books.      Some months ago my daughter (age almost 16) asked me to order her some John Green novels, saying that her friends had been talking about this author.  I'd never heard of him, so I googled him and liked what I read.  I ordered "Looking for Alaska" and "Paper Towns," and then I read "Paper Towns" while she was still working her way through "Alaska," and then over the next month or so, while she was watching TV or playing video games, I read "Alaska" too.  Then when "The Fault in Our Stars" came out last month and got fabulous reviews, I ordered it too, and since my daughter is still reading "Paper Towns," I read "Stars," and finished it yesterday.  So here's my take on John Green.  He's a very gifted writer with an uncanny ear for dialogue and a killer instinct for the descriptive phrase.  But I think there are two John Greens locked inside the same body and brain, and they're constantly engaged in a pitched battle with each other.  There's the John Green who wants to be writing novels, and there's the one who wants to be creating roleplaying video games.  I think that conflict between the two is probably part of what draws teenagers to him, but for an old fart like me, it creates a whiff of disconnection.  In the world of John Green novels, events which are presented as reality could not in fact occur in  reality, at least not in any reality I have ever experienced, and I have to say that in my years on Earth I've experienced a wide range of them.  Also, in his novels, randomly encountered nurses and stewardesses and cabdrivers are often only one or two levels less witty and insightful than the main characters, and sadly, that has not been part of my life experience either.  I sometimes get the sense, reading his novels, that the people in them are fully interactive, in the way that characters in a really brilliantly-designed video game can be interactive, but that they're not actually interacting, in the way that flesh-and-blood human beings do.   And I believe that might be because both John Greens are about 35 years old and, while they are extraordinarily high-functioning (if attention-impaired) 35-year-olds, they still have a lot to learn about life, and they also need to finish working through their issues about falling helplessly in love with a larger-than-life person who, voluntarily or involuntarily, ends up leaving.  Both of which I have no doubt the John Greens will do, and move on to explore other equally life-altering kinds of experiences, and then they will be truly awesome in every way.
     Happy Presidents' Day.  Washington was an exceptionally skilled CEO, but Lincoln was The Man.  And here is my blogiversary present to you.  Follow this link and you won't be sorry:   Enjoy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012


     I wonder whether you noticed the ROMAN numerals in the title, because Lupercalia was a ROMAN holiday?  Sometimes my cleverness is just too much to bear.  So anyway, last night I told my son about Lupercal, including some new, choice details I had just learned yesterday through further research, like that the celebrants didn't just stroll through town thwacking people with the bloody goat hides, they RAN full tilt, and that while doing so they were either naked or clad only in goatskins, and that being swatted with the thongs ensured not only marriage, but fertility too, which is why at the beginning of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Caesar tells Antony to make sure and peg Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, on his run, so that she can then conceive and bear him lots of Little Caesars. And who can forget Antony's all-too-soon funeral oration: "You all did see that on the Lupercal, I thrice [III] did offer him the kingly crown, which he did thrice refuse?"  Yeah, THAT Lupercal.  Who knew about the goats?  All well and good, but then I had to break the sad news to my son that this excellent annual thong-thwacking frolic had come to an end by the fifth century A.D., thanks to some stupid antipagan killjoys.  At which point, Nathan got a very determined look on his face, and said, "That's it.  We have to bring it back."  I was all for the idea, of course, but I suggested we start small, by limiting our new venture at first just to the United States, and when he asked why, I had to gently tell him that it was just the two of us, after all, on this quest, and that America is a big place.  To which he replied with dismay, "Oh.  Didn't know that.  That changes everything."  And all the spirit just kind of went out of him, right then and there.
     It wouldn't be the first Mommy&Nathie enterprise we'd planned, but I have to admit that most of them seem to encounter serious obstacles fairly soon, and never quite make it off the ground.  Take, for example, Mommy&Nathie Practice Brain Surgery In The Garage.  Brilliant, right?  What better way to earn a little pocket money without even leaving home?  But then, pretty quickly, reality set in.  We realized that it would require quite a bit of capital outlay right up front.  Tools, for instance.  Oh, we have the hammers, the pliers, the what-have-you, but it started looking like we would actually need some more specialized equipment, and that's where you get into the big bucks.  Not to mention, of course, that we would have to invest in some serious training before we could even begin experimenting on friends and family.  And let me tell you, high-quality training manuals, with LOTS of illustrations, do not come cheap.  So that vision of ours, unfortunately, became a nonstarter.
     Perhaps our most promising plan was the one I like to call Mommy&Nathie Parachute-Drop Into Belize [a country which, as everyone knows or should know, has no standing army], Spend a Couple of Days Snorkeling, and Then Take Over the Country.  Such a great idea in so many ways, but then, sure enough - problems.  Like, where would we find a third partner who not only knew how to fly a helicopter (or, at least, would be willing to try), but could be completely trusted to not shoot off his/her mouth during the planning stages?  Because there was no way around it - our success did seem to hinge, at least in part, on the element of surprise.  But as soon as our plans had to start expanding beyond the tight-knit Mommy&Nathie circle of leadership, we knew that danger lurked.
     Bottom line: I can't make any promises at this juncture about restoring Lupercal to its rightful place in the calendar.  The jury remains out.  But I will absolutely keep you posted on future developments.
     And, by the way - my son and fellow idiot, Nathan, just got his first law school letter today, from a school he really likes, and it was an acceptance!  So, please don't tell anyone I'm doing this (I can trust you, right?), but - WOOOO HOOOO!!!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bits and Pieces

     I forgot to mention last week that I submitted Chapter 1 of my book (#3 of course) to a new agent.  I can't wait around forever for the formerly besotted agent to read my revisions (which I sent to her in November) and get back to me.  Besides, she actively encouraged me to offer it around, and suggested no timeframe in which I might expect to hear from her, so it was starting to feel kind of foolish for me to keep that candle burning in the window.      In case you read my blog every so often, but are starting to get a little tired of so much me, me, me - and Lord knows, I'm starting to get tired of it - I decided to start interviewing fellow unpublished, or published but unfamous, writers.  For one thing, I don't know any famous writers to interview, and for another thing, if you like reading my blog, then you must be at least a little interested in what it's like to be a struggling author.  So, keep watching for the interviews to start trickling in.
     And one other thing.  Valentine's Day.  Today at work I posited the theory that it's a holiday invented from whole cloth by Hallmark, but my friend then sent me a link to prove me wrong.  So, in case you were wondering: there may or may not have ever been a St. Valentine - there are at least three mutually exclusive legends about such a person - but if he did exist, boy was he a romantic.  But even more interesting, to my warped mind, is the fact that, going back to Roman times, the middle of February marked the Lupercal.  This lovely festival was celebrated by priests called Luperci slaughtering a goat, cutting its hide into strips, dipping the strips into its blood, and then going around town carrying these bloody strips and playfully whacking young, nubile maidens with them.  So, you are probably wondering, did the maidens go into hiding as Lupercal approached and the festivities began?  Au contraire, my friend.  Evidently, they just couldn't get enough of being whacked with bloody goat hide, because, you see, being the lucky recipient meant that you were going to get married within the coming year.  Oh, those crazy, crazy Romans!  What a party crowd, huh?  I am not making up one single word of this.  If you don't believe me, look it up.  And then, focus on the bright side: no matter how lousy your Valentine's Day might be, at least (I sincerely hope) no one is doing you a favor by assaulting you with the insides of a dead goat.  See?  Didn't that brighten your day?  XXXXOOXOXOX

Friday, February 10, 2012

An Offer You Can, But Shouldn't, Refuse

Why don't you and I make a deal.  Your part: you read my blog, which clearly you are already doing, and if you're feeling generous, you also tell your friends to read my blog.  This gives me hits, and getting hits makes me happy.  My part: I share some of my research with you, because I think it's really interesting, and you wouldn't be reading my blog if you weren't interested in at least some of the things I find interesting.  That's the whole deal.  Frankly, I think your part is a lot easier than mine - how much work is it to read a blog post, for God's sake?  Okay.  So here we go.
     About two years ago my family spent a few days in Boston, and we drove to Salem one day and spent some time in the witch museums.  (If you're not from the U.S. and don't know why they have witch museums in Salem, google "Salem witch trials.")  In those museums, I learned that the early American concept of witches and witchcraft derived from the ancient Irish tradition of the "wise woman," who was an herbalist, midwife and healer.  A friend to all.
     This did not entirely make sense to me: how could a tradition involving a purely beneficent construct have somehow turned into the construct of an evil creature who must be burned to death?  Remember the three weird sisters in Macbeth (see my post, "Vive le Roi")?  They were products of an old European tradition, obviously, and you wouldn't want to run into them in a dark alley, would you?
     Here's what I found out recently about the old, pagan, pre-Christian, pre-Saint Patrick Irish legend of the bean feasa - literally, wise woman. The legend has been passed down through countless preliterate generations in the form of folklore, tales told and retold ad infinitum. What distinguishes this woman from her neighbors is that she has a direct connection with the spirit world, and can serve as a liaison between that world and the human one.  Then there is the other, parallel tradition of the cailleach, a word which is sometimes used interchangeably with the term bean feasa.  But here's where it gets interesting.  If you look in an Irish-English dictionary, and I just happen to have one handy (see my post, "Research = Heaven"), there are two definitions for the word cailleach.  One is "wise woman;" the other is "hag."  In fact, one of the books I'm reading refers to her as "the pre-eminent Celtic Hag Goddess."  Wow, right?
     "Hag Goddess."  It's like the old madonna/whore split view of women, but with spiritual overtones.  In some of the tales, the cailleach is a woman much like her neighbors, but possessed of special powers and knowledge, which she uses to help those around her by mediating on their behalf with the spirit world.  Often in these tales, it is the village priest, decrier of paganism, who is taught a lesson about the enduring power of unChristian forces and the need to find a way to appease them.  In the other line of tales, though, the cailleach is every bit as cruel and capricious as Nature itself; the only good cailleach is a dead cailleach.  But because she is as old as the world and has superhuman powers, in order to kill her, the hero (always a man) first has to find a way to trick her.  Fortunately, sometimes with the help of magical animals, he always succeeds.  Shrieking like the Wicked Witch of the West doused with water, another cailleach bites the dust.
     So there you have it.  The Puritans did not completely subvert the traditional European witchcraft legends; they just chose the second strand and rejected the first.  Because they could not tolerate a pagan tradition alongside their rigid form of Christianity, for them, witches could not be goddesses; they could only be dangerous, evil hags.  In fact, if I'm not mistaken, one of the "witches" executed in Salem was the Carribean-born nursemaid of one of the Puritan girls, who had allegedly taught her charge pagan rituals.
     If you've read thus far, you must have found all this interesting, perhaps in a horrifying kind of way.  But it's important to understand these things.  I've discovered that this research has cleared up a lot of mysteries for me. So now I've fulfilled my part of the bargain I made with you.  Your turn!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Susan Komen Foundation

This really doesn't even qualify as a post, but I just wanted to say how glad I am that for the last 9 years and counting, I have participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.  Except for an excess of people yelling "woo-hoo," which, after walking 26 miles in a day, can really get on a person's nerves, the Avon Walk has never embarrassed me.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mistress of the Art of Writing

Three or four years ago, when my family was away on vacation, my husband, who loves to troll our library's discarded-books shelf for treasures, reached into his suitcase and handed me a book he thought I'd like.  It was called "Mistress of the Art of Death: a Novel," by someone named Ariana Franklin, and the cover illustration was of a woman's clasped hands resting comfortably on a skull.  I don't often read mysteries, but I figured I'd give this one a try.  WHOOMPH!! It wasn't a book, it was a time machine!  Before I knew what had hit me, I was sucked into 12th-century England, when King Henry II, a man centuries ahead of his time, decided that he needed to borrow the finest scientific/medical mind in Europe to solve a desperate puzzle.  Alas, that mind turned out to belong to a woman, Adelia Aguilar, a young graduate of the University of Salerno, the only school in the civilized world that would have admitted her.  Adelia was a mistress of the art of death - or, as one would call someone like her today, a pathologist.  She couldn't have existed in the midst of the Dark Ages, not even with a devoted Arab eunuch manservant to shadow her and converse with her in Arabic and perpetuate the ruse that he was the real doctor, and she merely his assistant.  But, here on the pages I couldn't stop turning, she was as real as anyone I'd ever met, and so were most of the other people in her utterly credible world.  The murder mystery itself was, to me, the least interesting part of the book.  I couldn't get enough of Adelia, a cranky, brilliant, rude, impossible 21st-century woman born 900 years too soon, or of the uncanny feeling of having been bodily transported to her setting.  It didn't hurt, either, that somewhere during the course of the book Adelia angrily discovered that she and the dashing Rowland Picot were falling madly in love.
     I didn't have a laptop with me on vacation, but when I got home I googled Ariana Franklin and discovered that she didn't exist either.  It was a pen name for Diana Norman, a Brit who had dropped out of school at 15, become a reporter for a local paper at 17, and then, at 20, the youngest reporter on Fleet Street.  She married Barry Norman, a fellow journalist turned film critic, and stayed in the biz until after their two daughters were born, after which she produced 11 historical novels and three nonfiction books under her own name.  Then, in 2006, at the age of 70 or so, she switched gears.  She began to write historical mysteries, and she became Ariana Franklin for that purpose.
     I learned, to my joy, that there was a sequel: "The Serpent's Tale," which of course I immediately ordered.  Now Adelia was a single mother, and things with Rowland had gotten very complicated (not least by the fact that the king had appointed him a bishop), but of course there was a new serial killer for Adelia to track down by, as the villagers would say, speaking with the dead.  Having become a fullblown Adelia addict, I had to wait impatiently for the third book, "Grave Goods," to come out, and then I had to preorder and wait for "A Murderous Procession."  But the wait was bearable, almost pleasurable in a way, because I knew that Ariana Franklin seemed to manage to produce one book in the series each year.  So even though this fourth book left Adelia and Rowland in perhaps their direst straits yet, I knew that they would find their way out, only to wind up back in some other delightfully scary kind of trouble.
     I kept checking periodically for the next installment, and that was how I found out that on January 27, 2011, Diana Norman and Ariana Franklin had both died.  I felt shock, grief, rage.  How could she (they) have just left Adelia hanging like this?  How could I deal with never knowing what would become of her?  For about eight seconds, I had the insane idea that I would take over where Ariana had left off, continue the series for her, bring Adelia and Rowland and the rest of the crew back to vivid, turbulent life.  But of course, then I realized that I couldn't.  I'm not a genius.  I'm not Ariana Franklin.  Now, no one is.  All I can do is try to honor her, on this slightly belated yahrzeit, and hope that by writing about her, I can create a few more Adelia addicts in the world.  Maybe they'll have it easier than I did, knowing from the start that there will never be a fifth book.  I love you, Ariana Franklin.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Keeping On Keeping On

So, at this conference last weekend, as at every children's writing conference I've gone to recently, the message - when it's not about writing "high-concept" novels that are "edgy" and have provocative "hooks" and fit snugly within some marketplace niche - is about having a social media presence.  Makes sense, I guess.  I'm sure my daughter and her friends can barely remember a time before Facebook and instant messaging.  But it does lead me to wonder how some very private writers would have fared if modern social media demands had been placed on them.
 Emily Dickinson's blog:

I sewed a button - on my glove.
I made a pot - of tea,
Then locked myself up - in my room -
This day - exhausted me -

Edgy, right?  (Oh, lighten up, Emily.  It was funny.)  But what about those of us who truly want to write for kids but don't think in high-concept terms?  For whom creating a blog, much like this one, marks a thrilling leap forward into the worlds of technology & social interaction?  Why am I asking this question when I already know the answer?  We are destined to either not get published at all, or, if we're lucky, to join the ranks of midlist authors marching off into genteel obscurity.
     Sorry.  I don't mean to be all gloom-and-doom.  But maybe I'm just being realistic.  Maybe the generational divide between writers like me and readers like my daughter is just too wide and deep to cross.  But thinking that way gets me nowhere.  I have to keep on taking that same leap of faith that I took when I started this blog.  There's a chance that what I write will get read, and I can never let go of that chance.  And neither can you.