Friday, March 31, 2006

Why Transitions Blow

I hate chapters three and four. Actually, let me clarify: I have no problem with these chapters when reading a book, but when I'm writing one, I'd rather stand on my head naked in a crowded public place and recite "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" from memory than work my way through this particular spot. (Well, OK, maybe not the naked part. That would be tacky. And gross. Stupid stretch marks.) Part of the reason for my animosity toward chapters three and four is that this is pretty much the area where a writer launches her characters from their ordinary, hum-drum world into the meat of the story--what Christopher Vogler calls the "Special World." So these chapters often function as a transition point, and I hate transitions. I just want to go from event to event to event using the shortest route possible, but chapters three and four don't let me do that. I HAVE to explain here what happened to Maggie Reyes in the past and why she's hiding from a Louisiana-based serial killer in California. I HAVE to figure out a way to get wary, intelligent Emma Jensen Reese to help the tall, dark, and confused stranger who keeps showing up at her door without knowing how he got there there. I HAVE to make Homicide Special Detective Daniel Rodriguez convince the ex-girlfriend who hates his guts that she's in terrible danger and only he can protect her from it.

Right now, I'm trying to figure out a way to force a search-and-rescue tracker and her arch-nemesis police detective together to work on a missing persons case, but the problem is, they have a painful history and would rather lick pigeons than work with each other. But rather than worry about how to explain said history without driving a reader nuts with incidental details and accidentally slipping into a coma myself from boredom, I'm ready to reach into my computer, knock their heads together, and scream, "Because I said so. Now MOVE!"

I'm one of those weird writers who loves the middle, and I also like writing the ending, but I LOATHE the beginning--especially chapters three and four, which to me always feel like they have the pacing of a funeral dirge, no matter how quickly I try to push things along. I wish I could just teleport the characters into the story and have readers take my word for it that they got there, there's a good reason for them being there, they're together and hating it, now let's go--game on. But that would be self-indulgent and confusing, and my editor would probably frown on that, so I refrain.

Another related reason that I hate chapters three and four is because this is invariably the point where I decide that I suck as a writer, all my flat-as-a-pancake characters do is blink, smile, and stare, and I'm never going to be able to write a halfway decent book again, not even if Stephen King's Annie Wilkes walked into my office and held her hobbling mallet to my ankles. I'm at that point now--it blows. And no, I promise, I'm not asking for sympathy or fishing for "No, Tracy, you're a fine writer" compliments. I've been told that I do this every time I write a book.

To which I usually respond, "Yeah, but this time I really, really DO suck."

I've been told I say THAT every time, too. Which I find strangely comforting, actually. Not that I believe a word of it, because this time, I really, truly do suck and I've apparently lost any and all ability to write a coherent sentence.

My daughter Maggie seems to have inherited a Fear of Transitions from me. Although instead of hating them while writing a novel (She's only two, after all. She's only up to quantum physics and Mozart on the violin), she just hates change, period--probably because in the first two years of her life, we jacked up her comfortable infant routine several times by flying back and forth from Korea to the US (and New Zealand and Hawaii) a few times, moving to the US (and a whole new time zone), shuttling back and forth between family and hotels for two months while our house in Florida was being built (long story), moving into said house and having her daddy sent to Iraq for six months, putting her in part-time day care so I could continue to work and bring in a much-needed paycheck that will eventually pay for her college, having Uncle Troy move in for the summer to play with her while I worked, saying goodbye to Uncle Troy who for some odd reason decided to go back to college rather than living with us forever and ever, going through three different teachers at the day care during her first four months, and having a baby sister move in and start usurping the affections of her parents (although I have to say, she's been great with Marin). So. Now she hates change.

As tempting as it is to follow her example and just lie down on the floor, roll around a bit, and shriek my fool head off over how much I hate chapters three and four, I'm trying to set a more civilized example by simply whining about it here. And then I will close my Internet connection, open up my file, and finish chapter three and my synopsis TODAY. Because I've been hanging onto this partial long enough, and it has to GO.

Wish me luck.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Frankenshoe Rising

Just received word that the Frankenshoe is not totalled and can be resurrected for a mere $5,682.37, to be collected from Ms. Dumber-than-a-bag-of-hair's insurance company, if said insurance company actually exists. Our insurance rep said he's having a hard time getting someone at ... ahem ... Dairyland Insurance to actually answer the freaking phone.


She probably bought her insurance at the county fair, or from some guy standing on a street corner in an overcoat going, "Psssst. Come here." Whatever. This woman messed with the 'Shoe. She is going to pay to repair it if I have to go to her house and squeeze her head to get her "insurance" to cough up some money.

My brother Tom will probably be upset at this news, as he has been all over me about getting the "pimp" interior lights available for the Scion XB if I were to get a new one. (Two blue light bars under the dash and blue cup-holder illumination. My life has been barren without it.) And Jose is worried that the car won't be as safe for our girls now that it's been mangled once.

I'm worried about the safety factor, too. But, as we can't afford to get a Mercedes or some other expensive car with a through-the-roof safety rating, the resurrected 'Shoe will have to do. I'm hoping that the mechanics can reassure me after I talk with them. If not, perhaps I'll have to suck up the money lost and trade it in for a new 'Shoe. Or perhaps a military-issue amphibious assault vehicle--at least until we leave Florida. Having bullet-proof armored plating and a cannon might be a good thing for the next two years....

That Four Things Thing

I was tagged by Mary awhile back and have been saving this for a day when I felt lazy. I still feel lazy, so Maggie, my two-year-old decided to answer these for me.

Four movies you would watch over and over: Finding Nemo. Finding Nemo again. Finding Nemo yet again. And one more time, Finding Nemo.

Four places you have lived: Seoul, Korea; at Grandma's house in Wisconsin; bouncing between the BOQ and the Navy Lodge in Florida while our house was being built; our house in Florida.

Four TV shows you love to watch: Little Einsteins or Dora the Explorer. These are the only two--I have discriminating taste.

Four places you have been on vacation: Honolulu, Hawaii; New Zealand (North Island); Disneyworld; Grandma and Grandpa's house.

Four websites you visit daily: Powells Books, CNN or the Washington Post, The Happy Feminist, and Salon.

Four of your favorite foods: Pizza, macaroni and cheese, fruit gummies, and noodles.

Four places you would rather be right now: At the pool. Frolicking in the park in Wellington where Peter Jackson filmed Rivendell. On a swingset. In the teacups at Disneyworld.

(Mommy interjects: "Actually, considering where we are, Mags--the idiot driver capital of the free world--this question is almost too simple. I personally would rather be in Waldo, WI. I would rather be taking the garbage to the dump with my dad. I would rather be running on a treadmill in that sweaty, creepy gym on the sub base in WA. I would rather be standing next to the smelly cheese factory in Random Lake. I would rather be on a sticky, uncomfortable hike up something steep with a stupid view at the top. I could go on, but I'll stop now. Still bitter over my car.")

Four friends you are tagging that you think will respond: None of my friends are blogging yet. I'll let you know when we get to that in school.

Tracy's Seven Days to a Less-Scatterbrained Me Update: That's it. I give up.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Few Things

I'm overjoyed to report that Chris over at the Scribbling Goddesses and Mary at the Bandwagon both finaled in the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart contest. Basically, this is THE contest to win as a pre-publication author--you get lots of attention, an extra look from agents and editors, a ribbon for your RWA conference badge to flap in the faces of people who may have rejected your work, and, if you win, a cute gold necklace. Good luck, you two!

Mariann just informed me that she's switching domains, so no one has probably been able to find the Thin Mints link on her blog that I posted a few days ago, as it is AWOL at the moment. If you want the recipe, go here. I'll update Mariann's link on the left as soon as I know where she is.

And finally, Peter over at Melrose St. has developed a habit of posting some rather clever limericks about the American Idol contestants hither and yon. He buried this one about Kellie Pickler in the comments of another blog, and as it's worthy of a wider distribution, here it is:

From trailer to Idol came Kellie,
who itched and scratched at her belly.
She never stopped talking,
and dressed for street walking.
Post-season she'll work at a deli.

Seven Days to a Less-Scatterbrained Me Update: Darnit! I completely forgot to brush my teeth with the wrong hand and shower with my eyes closed. This is starting to feel slightly hopeless....

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cover Me

To my eternal chagrin, TV-Holic recently pointed out the fact that American Idol contestant Chris Daughtry's "new arrangement" of Johnny Cash's "Walk the Line" was not, as Chris had claimed, an original, but a nearly note-for-note mimicry of the band Live's version. Ready to throw down on TV-Holic for unjustly maligning my favorite Idol, I downloaded the Live version off of iTunes, and sadly, he was right. Chris changed the key and rocked out the end a little, but it was pretty much the same.

Jose and I are now taking bets as to how long it's going to take Chris to dump his wife after he gets a) really famous and b) groupies. Because if he'd lie about re-creating a song.... Sigh.

Anyway, my attempt to forget the whole sorry mess led me to start mentally scanning my CD library and iTunes list for some of my favorite song covers (I told you all I was random.). To make my personal list, the artists had to come up with a different instrumental arrangement and riff on the original melody to create something entirely new. (Like I THOUGHT Chris D. had done to "Walk the Line." Still bitter.)

Here's my list. Feel free to add some of yours, if any.

1) "32 Flavors" (Original by Ani DiFranco, covered by Alana Davis): This was the song that had me running to the nearest music store, ready to snarf up every CD in Davis's discography. (Fortunately for my budget, that was only three.) Though Davis's version is still recognizable, she uses her jazzy purr of a voice to color up the melody with a few subtle riffs and runs (no Mariah-like screeching), and consequently she owns this song. Beautiful.

2) "The Reaper" (Original by Blue Oyster Cult, covered by Alana Davis): Yeah, she's here twice. Love her. Davis slows it down and turns the Cult classic into acoustic brilliance, which makes me want to grab my guitar and forget all about Suzanne Vega every time. (Except that, oh, my guitar-playing SUCKS.) I adore this version, despite the fact that there's no cowbell. ("I've got a FEVER, and the only cure is more cowbell.")

3) "Guantanamera" (Originally who knows who the heck recorded this Cuban classic? Covered by Celia Cruz, with Tito Puente.) Man, I miss Celia. That growl, that energy, that singular voice, punctuating every song with her trademark "Azucar!" Celia had a way of making every song she sang brand new, even one I had considered somewhat tired. You cannot hear Celia sing "Guantanamera" without dancing. (I used to have it on a workout CD, and I once nearly got sucked under a treadmill a la George Jetson because I started throwing a salsa step into my run.) Plus, my husband was born in Guantanamo, so we both have a little extra affection for Celia's cover. (If you listen to it, I have to warn you that La India comes in out of nowhere and starts bleating in the middle. Fortunately, this blemish on an otherwise perfect cover does not last long.)

4) "Saltwater" (Original entitled "Theme from Harry's Game" by Clannad. Reimagined by Chicane featuring Maire Brennan): Is it a cover if you're using the same singer? Whatever the case, I love Clannad, and I love the way Chicane ripped the Harry's Game version apart, sped it up, and put it back together to a trance beat. Is it sampling? Is it a cover? Is it something new altogether? I have no clue, but I like it.

5) "Dust in the Wind" (Original by Kansas, covered by Daughter Darling.) I've always loved the original, but Daughter Darling's acoustic version--which I found on someone else's cover list on iTunes--made it a favorite of mine for those days when I feel like taking out my guitar and torturing the neighbors with my singing.

6) "Blue Monday" (Original by New Order, covered by Flunk.) OK, all of you purists are going to hate this one, especially since the lead singer sounds like the woman who sang "Unpack Your Adjectives" from Schoolhouse Rock. But I like this slightly Bjork-ish, slowed down, acoustic version.

7) "The Man Who Sold the World" (Original by David Bowie, covered by Jordis Unga.) Jordis was a contestant on last year's Rock Star: INXS, which my brother Troy and I watched religiously despite the fact that whatshername the useless host and the Paula Abdul-esque Dave Navarro contributed way too many minutes of utter insipidness to the show. Anyway, before Jordis lost her confidence and choked, she delivered a poignant, powerful version of the Bowie original that had both of us raving for weeks. Definitely worth a download.

8) "Personal Jesus" (Original by Depeche Mode, covered by Pat McDonald.) McDonald takes this new wave classic and turns it into acoustic funk. Love it.

9) "Time After Time" (Original by Cyndi Lauper, covered by Eva Cassidy.) Another artist taken from us too soon, Eva Cassidy had a way of re-creating a song that made you forget all about the original. The way her clear, lovely voice could run in and out and all around the original melody was absolute magic. Since Eva did mainly covers, I could fill up another ten spots on this list with her song reworkings. But this one will always be my favorite, just for the sheer beauty of it.

10) "Uncle John's Band" (Original by the Grateful Dead, covered by the Indigo Girls.) Covering this Dead song in their trademark two-part-harmony style, the Indigo Girls arguably improved upon the original. I never get tired of hearing this one.

And a short list of covers that grossly insulted the original artists:

1) "Landslide" (Original by Fleetwood Mac, made blase' by the Dixie Chicks). I like the Dixie Chicks, but girls, don't mess with Stevie and the band.

2) "My Prerogative" (Original by Bobby Brown, butchered by Britney Spears.) Now, I am no Bobby Brown fan (poor, poor Bobby Christina), but with a voice like that, Brit, you don't want to give people the chance to compare you to anyone else.

3) "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Original by Nirvana, messed up royally by Tori Amos.) Tori, don't you ever, EVER, touch Nirvana again. Ever. And stay away from Pearl Jam.

4) "It's the End of the World As We Know It" (Original by REM, turned into a complete horror show by No Doubt.) I don't know if there are extant copies of this cover anywhere, but if there are, they should be destroyed immediately and promptly forgotten. It was New Year's Eve, 1999, and MTV had invited No Doubt to come perform this song on their New Year's special. They came, they saw, they royally sucked. Actually, the band was fine, but Gwen not only stood in one place to lean over and squint at the cue cards like a nerd who'd broken her glasses, but she completely butchered the lyrics. It went something like this:

GWEN: "That's great, it starts with an earth! ... Quake! ... Birds and snakes! .......And ehhhhhhhh, Lenny Beeeeeehhhh is mehhh mehhhhhhhhhhh. Eye of a weeehhhhhhhhh wehhhh meeehhhh mehhhh, wehhhhhhhh, ... Airplanes! ... It's the end of the world as we know it, and I! Feel! Meeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."

Worst. Cover. EVAH.

And you know, if Melissa McGhee was booted off American Idol for forgetting Stevie Wonder's lyrics, shouldn't Gwen have at least been publicly humiliated? Tom says she ran off the stage and cried afterward, to which I say, "You should have!" I mean, didn't the trip over in the Lear Jet and the scads of money MTV paid you give you enough time and incentive to memorize your words like a big girl and not grossly insult one of the greatest alternative bands of all time? Sheesh.

Thanks to my brother Tom for reminding me of this aural travesty. I've been wanting to publicly vent about that for six years.

"Seven Days to a Less-Scatterbrained Me" update: Brushed teeth with wrong hand without incident, though I suspect that if the dentist had given me one of those little red chewable pills afterwards that show the plaque you left behind, I would have looked like I'd just eaten someone. Forgot to close eyes in shower until I was just about to get out. Drat! Will redo tomorrow.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

RIP, Frankenshoe

It's 3 am (and I must be LONElyyyyyyyy), and I can't sleep. I got into the most BONEHEADED car accident earlier this evening, which was totally, 100 percent NOT my fault, and I keep reliving it and tomorrow's inevitable Day of Insurance Inconvenience in my head to the point where I had to give up on sleeping. (Yes, I know, it's 3 am, so tomorrow is actually today, but you know what I mean.) Tell me, how, when I've been going straight for the equivalent of a city block, on a flat road with no trees or other obstacles, with a car directly in front of and behind me, does someone coming out of a large, open parking lot on the right NOT SEE ME and run RIGHT THE CRUNK INTO ME?!?! Isn't the whole look both ways thing the most rudimentary basic of driving? Don't people do this anymore?

I saw her coming, had time to lean on my horn and swerve onto the curb on the other side of the road, and if Ms. Dumber-than-a-bag-of-hair had had the TINIEST of avoidance reactions, we would have missed each other. But no, she had to be wholly and utterly committed to the Stupidest Left Turn EVER, and as a result my poor, brand-new Scion XB(which I called the "Frankenshoe" because it looks like Frankenstein's shoe. I know, I'm weird.) is now sitting at a tow truck place waiting for me to wade through tons of insurance red tape to get it to a repair shop that will most likely pronounce it totaled. (Dent in the front fender, bigass dent in the passenger side front door, dent in the passenger side back door, possible slight frame damage, and my right front wheel is so tilted inward, my car is almost sitting on the hubcap.)

But the worst of it is that my two-year-old and four-month-old were THIS CLOSE to having been in the car with me. Thank goodness they weren't. The car wasn't crunched enough that they would have been hit by a caved in door or flying parts, but I can't think that that kind of jolt would have been good for their tiny bodies. Had they been in the car, I probably would have actually given in to my immediate impulse of kicking the driver in the head a few times. I've never been a flexible sort of person, but for her, in that situation, I just might have managed it, despite the fact that I generally believe in nonviolence.

My fair city is locally notorious for its bad drivers, and I have to say, though I've driven in Boston, Los Angeles, and Seoul (where the buses and taxis play chicken all day with drivers and NEVER GIVE IN), this place is the worst. The drivers here are not aggressive, fast, or agressive AND fast like the three aforementioned cities--they're idiots. Until I gave up on reading the "Law & Disorder" section of our local paper as a sanity preserving measure, I noticed that just about every day, there was at least one blip about someone randomly driving into a barrier or light post--generally on the highway, though often on city streets, and often not even in inclement weather. It made me wonder whether there was some alien ship hovering over my city sending subliminal messages to the weakminded to "Drive into the curb. Hit that light post at 60 mph. Wrench the wheel--it'll be fun! Everyone's doing it!" Or, perhaps it's all a Vast, Right-wing Conspiracy....

And then there are the vindictive drivers here. There's a doctor (A doctor! The do-no-harm kind of doctor!) who will be on trial soon for pulling a road rage maneuver that resulted in a mother of very young children getting into a fatal accident in her car. Basically, she did something to tick him off, so he pulled in front of her and slammed on the brakes, causing her to lose control of her car. I had this happen to me in a rainstorm when I changed lanes (to the right) in front of a car that was speeding, and therefore caught up to me a lot sooner than he should have. Again, the kids weren't in the car, but these and other events and the stories I've heard (I have more, but I'll spare you) about local driving have actually made me terrified to drive them anywhere. I do, because you can't let fear control your life, but every time I'm in the car with them, the fact that some dummy could run into us is always on my mind. I just hope that won't happen and that in a year and a half when Jose is through with his job here, I can get him to quickly agree to go elsewhere. Anywhere elsewhere. I'd suffer through a lifetime of Midwestern winters and zero access to a beach and bad hairdressers to leave here.

So now Jose is suggesting that I get an SUV, despite the fact that I would rather rollerskate everywhere than drive something that gets terrible gas mileage and can only parallel park into a spot the size of a cruise ship berth. He thinks they are safer, even though I've been sending him info about studies that say they are not. When we started having this argument, the Scion was already a done deal, but now, if it's totaled? Oh, I'll win this argument, because it's my car and my car loan, but the thought of going through this again gives me a headache. (Oh, wait, I already had one. THANKS, Ms. Dumber-than-a-bag-of-hair.)

And, just because I'm feeling random, here's another thing that annoys me: No way in hell did Kellie Pickler not know what "ballsy" meant. Now she's just messing with us. And I don't like it.

"Seven Days to a Less Scatterbrained Me" Update: The last thing I need is to fall in the shower or jam a toothbrush through my cheek. Day 1 will have to wait until later.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Some interesting links I've come across recently:

* Author Kathy Carmichael has an automatic "Pitch Generator" up on her website that is kind of fun to play with. My resulting pitch blew, but that's no fault of Kathy's. I can't blurb to save my life.

* Mariann has a link to a recipe for Thin Mints up on her blog. Must try those since I missed the Girl Scouts this year.

* Crooked Trails, an eco-travel company that organizes cultural exchange trips around the world, has a new trip to Kenya listed on their site. The great thing about Crooked Trails is that they work hard to ensure that you have a chance to truly get to know the Thai Hill People, or the Quechua in Peru, or the Maasai in Kenya--rather than just tramping through villages and taking pictures of "those people" like the stereotypical clueless traveler. You stay with local people, eat with local people, hang out and work side-by-side with local people, and, unless you're a big jerk, you'll leave with a group of new friends from your host country after your 2-to-3-week stay is up. In the spirit of leaving a vacation spot better than you found it, Crooked Trails travel groups generally work with locals on various projects, from making bricks for a school to mapping hiking trails for future travelers to building solar showers. Plus, there's plenty of time for sight-seeing: the Peru trip includes a trek up a portion of the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, and the Kenya trip includes a visit with Maasai trackers to a wildlife preserve. I've been dreaming of going on both trips, but the Kenya one has captured my imagination at the moment. Unfortunately, I both lack the funds and the ability to leave my kids for two weeks at present, but maybe someday when Jose and I find a pile of money.... Crooked Trails was highly recommended by a friend who went on their Thailand trip a couple of years ago, and I've been impressed by the owners when I've talked with them (for a couple of articles I've written).

"Seven Days to a 40-percent Less Scatterbrained Me" Update: Utterly forgot to brush teeth with wrong hand and close eyes in shower. (Sigh.) Will attempt to do better tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Losing My Mind

I just called the guy who mowed the lawn while Jose was gone Jason. Problem is, his name is Jeremy.

Here's why this sucks: I used to be good with names. Scary good. As long as I heard someone's name twice, I would remember it, her face, what she was wearing when I met her, and the conversation we had, without fail, for many, many years hence. I remembered people after the most insignificant meetings and LONG after they'd forgotten me, a fact which has once or twice led to embarrassed explanations that no, I'm not a stalker, and no, you're not that famous--I'm just frighteningly good with names. Then I had two kids, and I don't care what the studies say, somehow, in between having Maggie and Marin, I lost brain cells. Many, many brain cells.

Consequently, I can't remember names or faces as well anymore, and it's driving me insane. After having kids, Diana Gabaldon claims she can still keep every single tiny fact, from eye colors to family trees, in her 1000-plus-page books straight without notes or some sort of guide. And I can't remember the name of the nice man who trimmed the lawn? Horrors. I can only hope that Diana's mental gymnastics are a sign that somehow, someday, my poor little moth-eaten brain will rejuvenate itself.

Thanks to Brenda Coulter, I may have a cure. In a recent blog entry, Brenda pointed out an article from the Guardian Online discussing how recent UK research is claiming that doing "brain exercises" like playing Sudoku or taking a shower with your eyes closed can "make us all up to 40 percent cleverer within seven days."

Once I get over my mortification at forgetting Jeremy's name, (Not Jason! Not Jason! Mental forehead smack! Not Jason!), I may give the Guardian's program a whirl. Sure, what they've provided is probably a simplified version of the actual program followed by study participants, but hey, can't hurt; might help.

Of course, the actual program also consisted of healthy eating and sound sleep, as well as the brain exercises listed below. I try to do the former, with mixed results. As for the latter, I'm completely at the mercy of Maggie and Marin on that count. But, whatever. I'm going to go to my happy place and believe that my mind might heal itself and I'm not experiencing early-onset, pregnancy-induced dementia. Without further ado, here's the quick and dirty version of the Guardian's program to boost your cleverness by 40 percent. In seven days.

Day 1: Brush your teeth with your "wrong" hand and take a shower with your eyes closed.

Day 2: Do the crossword or Sudoku puzzle in your newspaper and take a brisk walk.

Day 3: Have oily fish for dinner, and either cycle, walk or take the bus into work.

Day 4: Select unfamiliar words from the dictionary and work them into conversations.

Day 5: Go to yoga, Pilates or a meditation class, and talk to someone you don't know.

Day 6: Take a different route to work; watch Countdown or Brainteaser.

Day 7: Avoid caffeine or alcohol; memorise your shopping list.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Where Have I Been?

I've been sorely neglecting my blog for over a week now, having popped in only once recently to post the results of my "Which Romantic Heroine are You?" quiz, which I stole from Mary's Bandwagon (Mary was Christine from The Phantom of the Opera). Anyhoo, here's where I've been the past week, in case the three people who read this are wondering why I haven't posted in ages:

* We baptized my daughter Marin last week, so my parents and brother Troy were visiting, and I suspected that they would find my ignoring them to blog rude. Above is a picture of Marin (with Troy) in her gorgeous little April Cornell baptismal gown, which I got on sale through NPR's Signals catalog. What was an April Cornell baptismal gown doing in the NPR Signals catalog? I don't know, but mine is not to question. Especially when the Signals catalog had it for less than half price. I just grabbed that discounted baby and ran.

* My mother was on vacation; therefore, she has to shop. I think it's a law somewhere. So we went to St. Augustine and shopped in the historic district, much to the chagrin of Jose and my dad, who do not like shopping unless it's for weird, useless (and probably ugly) antiques or football cards, respectively. I bought a Fresh Produce skirt (on sale) that had a cute starfish print but an unfortunately frumpy hemline, so it looks like a semi-beachy version of Alice's housekeeping uniform from The Brady Bunch. That'll teach me to not try things on because Marin's in the Bjorn.

* Marin was baptized, and interestingly enough, started suddenly sleeping for eight-hour stretches that very night. My mother speculates that the priest may have driven out a minor, insomniac demon with the Holy Water. I don't know what it is, but God bless Father Rooney. I actually feel like a real person again.

* We went back to St. Augustine so my dad could see something historic that wasn't housing a shop--in this case, the Fountain of Youth park, which marks the location where Ponce de Leon landed on Florida. Note: The water from the Fountain of Youth tastes and smells like sulfur, and none of us look any younger. Ergo, if you ever visit, don't drink the water. However, the surrounding grounds are quite pretty and make for a nice walk, despite the fact that my stretch-mark-ridden stomach still looks like Donald Sutherland's naked bum.

* My parents left on Tuesday, while Troy stayed for the full week. Troy and I kicked off the rest of his visit by watching the Cutting Edge 2. (OK, I forced him. My Tivo is nearly full of Little Einstein episodes, so I had to watch it so I could delete it so there would be room for American Idol.) It blew. Shocker.

* Troy and I went to St. Augustine for a third time to see the Ripley's Believe it or Not museum. We especially enjoyed the four-room home carved out of an old-growth tree trunk, the camera that allowed us to freeze our shadows in various James-Bond-esque poses (which is a challenge when one is carrying a baby in a Bjorn), and the shrunken head.

* We left Maggie at the day care she attends part-time while we went to the museum, because if Maggie can't climb it, smash it, draw on it, or eat it, she rarely enjoys it--and we figured that would be the case with the vast majority of the glass-enclosed museum exhibits. Upon picking her up, I learned that Maggie is being transferred from her Toddler class at the day care to the older Twaddler class (2-to-3-year-olds). Seeing as Maggie LOATHES transitions with the white-hot fiery passion of a thousand two-year-old suns (I have to spend roughly 15 minutes mentally preparing her to do things like leave the park, or go to the store with me), this should be an interesting week.

* Troy and I went to the one decent mall in my fair city and I bought a pair of size six Lucky Jeans. Yes, it was vanity sizing, and yes, they suckered me in. To which I say, whatever. Bring on more vanity sizing! The jeans actually fit better than most of the pairs hanging in my closet (which is a given for Luckys), and now I can say that I'm a size six again, even with my obvious need for a post-baby extreme stomach makeover. Oh, frabjous day!

* Troy and I also watched Elizabethtown, so I could send it back to Netflix after hoarding it for, oh, about a month now. Troy didn't mind it. I got bored and started reading Diana Gabaldon's thousand-page A Breath of Snow and Ashes about a quarter of the way through the film. It is my firm opinion that Kirsten Dunst blows. I am neutral on the subject of Orlando Bloom, unless he's wearing a blond wig and elf ears.

* Speaking of, now that Troy and my parents have gone, I've also figured out how to balance a large hardcover on my Boppy while nursing Marin. The Boppy both keeps the baby in place and anchors the book so it doesn't rest on poor Marin, and it serves as an extra barrier to prevent Marin from rolling off my lap. Wicked! Anyway, I can't seem to stop reading, so Marin is getting a lot more to eat than usual. The book is fab.

That was my week in a nutshell. I'll try to be more entertaining later.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Which Romantic Heroine are You?

You are Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and

. Sometimes you are too quick

to judge people. You are fairly happy with

life - you certainly love to laugh at its


What romantic heroine are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Reading Quirks

So I've eaten an ungodly amount of peanut butter M&ms today, and consequently have decided that I am a disgusting human being, and no one in his/her right mind should ever let me near a bag of chocolate candy again. It was ugly. Little bits of pastel-colored hard candy shell flying everywhere....

Anyway, while I was on this speckled Easter M&M binge and considering my blog post for the day, I started thinking about words and phrases that I hate to see in books. You know, those personal pet peeves that make you stop reading immediately so you can have a nice shudder while you wish that particular word or phrase could be banned from the English language.

So, just because I woke up with a headache and am feeling cranky, here are the top ten phrases that creep me out and that I promise never to use in my writing, with commentary. Feel free to add your own. Just don't feel picked on if you've used some of them in your own writing, because EVERY READER HAS THESE. If we all tried to avoid every reader's pet peeves, we'd be left trying to create an entire book solely with the words "the" and "puppy."

10. Once again, I just have to mention the use of the word "shapely," particularly in the male point of view to describe some attribute of the heroine's. People generally don't use "shapely" in conversation, so this word sounds antiquated and weird to me, and it always pulls me out of the story.

9. "She gave herself a mental shake." This is actually my friend and Avon author Suzanne Macpherson's pet peeve, but she called us all on it so many times while we were in a critique group together, I can't deal with it now. I keep picturing that wide-eyed, teeth-gritting little cartoon Suzanne used to draw in the margins next to any use of that phrase, generally accompanied by the question, "Did it hurt?"

8. The adjective "spunky" referring to the heroine, or any woman, for that matter. No woman wants to be described like a yappy puppy.

7. "She raised her chin in defiance." Could we make our heroine sound any more like a petulant little girl? File this one in the dictionary under "overused." If I want to defy someone, I'm going to be doing a lot more than raising my chin, that's for damn sure.

6. "Nubbin." I don't care what the context is. It is my opinion that using this word is just sick and wrong. Yes, even in that episode of Friends.

5. "Button of flesh." I KNOW what the context of this one is, and can I just say, eeeuuuuww? (Pausing here to do a brief "I'm so creeped out" dance.)

4. Anything that has the hero doing something "like a cat." I put that in my first awful, awful manuscript, and my friend and Intrigue author Sue Peterson promptly gave it the smackdown. With good cause. Your hero is not a cat. And for that, we should all be grateful, because who wants to spend the rest of her life cleaning some dude's litter box?

3. "Panties." OK, I know this one is a little ridiculous, so I acknowledge that hating this word is just a quirk of mine. It probably doesn't bother most people. But if you think "underwear" isn't feminine enough, may I suggest "pantalettes" as used by author Wendy Lewison in that classic, THE PRINCESS AND THE POTTY? (Yeah, Maggie and I are potty training right now. Sorry.)

2. "His eyes bore into hers." Sounds like he has drills coming out of his head.

And my personal, number one phrase that I promise never to use is:

1. Anything along the lines of "he wanted to fall to his knees and howl at the moon." Overdone, overwrought, and totally purple. Homeboy needs to grow up and stop being such a drama queen.

P.S. OK, it's not a word or a phrase, but I also don't get pregnant heroines who aren't the least bit body conscious. If I were in their shoes, I don't care how hot the hero is, I'd be all, "Don't touch me. Don't touch my waist. I'm a whale, don't look at me. Don't touch my waist. Am I fat? Don't touch my waist. You think I'm fat, don't you? I said don't touch my waist." Then again, I can usually deal with this one, because the book is, after all, supposed to be an escape.

Done now.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Watched the Oscars last night when I should have been sleeping--just when Marin started settling into a manageable sleep routine, she decided to forget about sleep altogether and party all night with Mommy, every night. Anyway, here's a quick list of my favorite and not-so-favorite Oscar moments of the night.

Best Oscar Moments

1) I have to preface this one by saying that Jon Stewart started out the show looking like a lion who'd lost his roar. His usual self-deprecating humor didn't have the punch it usually did, because there seemed to be an aura of genuine "I'm not worthy" feeling underneath it. And I have to say, Jon, with your political savvy and whipsmart humor, you're worth twenty film stars of the self-absorbed, prone-to-gross-material-excess sort--many of whom were sure to be in your audience. I missed the devil-may-care confidence Stewart has behind the Daily Show desk. I missed the usual bite of his usual jokes as he REALLY tried to convince the Academy that, unlike last year's host Chris Rock, he wasn't about to put a (gasp!) movie star on the wrong end one of his verbal zingers. All that said, I loved Jon Stewart as host. His monologue was a little tame, but still funny, and as the evening went on, he got his groove on, delivering some funny ad libs in his usual laid-back, throwaway style.

2) Which leads me to my second favorite moment--the Jon Stewart-and-Co.-penned faux "campaign ads," including a hilarious one where a motley assortment of British Dames claim that Dame Judi Dench is no lady, one even going so far as to accuse Dame Judi of taking her eye out in a bar brawl. Classic!

3) The bit with Tom Hanks being unceremoniously blown off the stage during his acceptance speech by the orchestra--who proceeded to play in his ear, poke him with trombone slides, bash him over the head with a viola, and finally leveling him with a tranquilizer dart shot through a clarinet. If only the Academy really did that--it would add some drama to a pretty benign evening.

4) Who didn't love the Three 6 Mafia's exuberant acceptance speech when they won Best Song for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp?" As Jon Stewart said, "Now THAT'S how you accept an Oscar." I also loved that they changed the word "bitches" to "witches" in the song "for the kids who were watching," even though they had the censor's approval to leave the song as is--very sweet. And finally, I loved Jordan Houston's response when asked what he thought of people who were upset that a song about a pimp got an Oscar: ''I think I'm going to pray for those people." Well said and well done.

5) I know it annoyed a lot of people, but the quiet menace of the orchestra's playing during acceptance speeches cracked me up. Now if only they'd struck up the theme to Jaws when winners started to get a little long-winded. Bum ba bum ba bum ba bum ba... BADADAAAAAAA!!!!

6) Crash won Best Picture, upsetting Brokeback Mountain in the night's biggest surprise. Now, there's not too much that's subtle about Crash, so I don't think it TRULY deserved the upset, but I was glad to see something unpredictable take place. That said, Crash is an important film with a top-notch emsemble cast and some impressive film editing, so it deserved recognition. Not to mention that giving Ang Lee Best Director was a nice way to honor both films--and their messages of tolerance.

Worst Oscar Moments

1) No worst Oscar moment list would be complete without a worst dressed commentary, and that honor goes to Rachel McAdams. What the heck was that horrid yellow thing McAdams wearing when she hosted the Science & Technology Oscars? Didn't Johnny Weir wear that during the Olympics? Someone needs to take away McAdams' Bedazzler and get her to a real designer, stat.

2) What's up with stone-faced Charlize Theron, who not only did not laugh at Jon Stewart's jokes, but glared at him from the front row like he'd just kicked her puppy? Come on, Charlize. If you have half a brain cell, Stewart is hilari-- Oh, wait.

As a matter of fact, much of the audience seemed to not really get Stewart's humor at times. Maybe we should all pool our extra IQ points and add them to next year's swag baskets, so everyone can enjoy his jokes without hurting themselves trying to puzzle out what they mean.

3) Poor Lauren Bacall. I will always adore her and her films, but Ms. Bacall and a teleprompter is a matchup that should never be made again. AWWWKward.

4) It's probably a signal that I need a life, but I get REALLY annoyed when a group of people wins for some technical category or short film, and during their two minutes of fame and recognition, ONE PERSON hogs the microphone for the entire time. It happened last night--don't remember the category, but a man and a woman came up on stage to accept their Oscar, and the guy got to the mic first. And even though the woman was politely laying a hand on the guy's back, as if to say, "Please let me say a quick hello to my kids," homeboy kept nattering on in his maddening fashion, completely oblivious that it was someone else's moment in the sun, too. Naturally, the orchestra kicked it up a notch and the microphone went dead JUST when he'd finally decided to shut the crunk up and let her have a turn. Didn't this guy go to kindergarten? I don't know if the woman is upset by this dude's inability to share like a normal person, but I wanted to reach through the TV set and kick him. Creep.

5) You know, the Worst Dressed listmakers have done such a great job of subjecting stars to public ridicule that almost no one (except the much-maligned Bjork) wears train wreck fashions to the Oscars anymore. It's gotten so bad that only has a list of "worst Oscar hair" rather than dresses this year. Shame, really. My favorite part of watching the Oscars has always been the "what was s/he thinking?" cringefest whenever someone graced the red carpet with a shockingly bad (and ridiculously expensive) outfit. This year, I had to settle for Rachel McAdam's skating-costume-turned-formalwear at the Science and Tech Oscars. Yawn. Come on, people, step it up. Where are the see-through fabrics? The Curse of the Spider Woman hair? The trolling-for-an-endorsement-deal dress made from credit cards? The cadaverous color schemes and bulge-revealing bodices? The wrap-around swans? Hey, I'd even settle for another "Kirsten-Dunst-wore-that-already" controversy, tame as that is. But no, everyone had to look basically decent, which is boring as all get out. Keep this up, and I guarantee Oscar will see his ratings steadily fall through the next decade.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ahhhh, closure

I've officially decided that I'm boring when I'm not cranky. That "My Favorite Things" post should probably have been titled "My Favorite Sleep Inducers." Not to knock on the excellence of Dagoba Chocolate or my Preserve toothbrush, but what a yawnfest. Therefore, I am kicking my new leaf to the curb and resurrecting my old, ranty one. I'm not a big fan of change anyway....

So, revisiting my post about The Cutting Edge: I just rented and watched the extras on the new Gold Medal Edition DVD, which came out last Tuesday. That killed all of 15 minutes or so, making the new Gold Medal Edition a complete ripoff if one were to purchase it in stores. The documentary was probably all of ten minutes long and consisted solely of interviews with Moira Kelly and DB Sweeney talking about how great it was making the film, and how great it was to learn to skate in three months, and how great it was to star with each other, etc., etc. Then there was a preview for the sequel, and ... wait for it ... the original trailer. Ooooh. I could barely contain myself.

HOWEVER, I am pleased to report that after fourteen years, I finally have closure, and for that alone, the DVD is worth the rental fee. I watched the preview on the DVD for The Cutting Edge 2: Going for the Gold, and it officially confirmed that Doug and Kate did win the gold medal at the Olympics thanks to their newfound love and the laws-of-physics-defying Pamchenko. It also officially confirmed that the film is pretty much going to be god-grindingly awful. And finally, it confirmed that Moira Kelly and DB Sweeney wouldn't touch this sequel with a ten-foot pole covered in a biohazard suit--their roles are played by two middling actors who don't even bother trying to recreate the mannerisms or delivery of their predecessors. And, tragically, Kate and Doug's daughter and her surfer nemesis and skating partner are not coached by the so-cute-you-could-squeeze-him Anton Pamchenko, but by Kate the Sequel. (Doug the Sequel is a sports commentator.)

Ah, well. The sequel premieres March 12 on ABC Family, in case anyone wants to join me for what is sure to be a cringefest. (An ice skater and a surfer. Ay.)

And speaking of potential cringefests, I also watched the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice, and I have to say, it isn't as bad as I'd expected. Knightley's no Jennifer Ehle, choosing instead to play Elizabeth as brimming over with youthful exuberance and a loud, shrill laugh, rather than giving her the calm intelligence Ehle did. But you know, for all my kvetching over this casting choice, she wasn't half bad.

The only things that really bothered me about this film were: 1) They had to leave out quite a bit of the book to shove P&P into a two-hour film. 2) The actress who played Mrs. Bennett was a pale imitation of the actress who played her so hilariously in the BBC miniseries. 3) Though Darcy was cute and had a deep, accented voice that I could have listened to for hours, he didn't give Darcy the layers that Colin Firth did. 4) And finally, this version did not have a scene where Darcy goes swimming, and for that alone, the BBC version is superior.

But sadly, the latest P&P isn't worth a rant. Oh, well, Keira Knightley, I'll get you next time. Maybe I'll go rent Domino....

Thursday, March 02, 2006

My Favorite Things

A friend of mine emailed me to say that she liked my "rant" about The Cutting Edge, and because I didn't realize I was being ranty about a film I actually love, that email made me take another look at my blog entries of late. Surprise, surprise, I have been ranting a lot lately. So to inject a little variety into this thing, I figure it's time for a positive post.

In honor of my temporarily turning over a new and positive leaf, here's a list of my ten favorite things at the moment. Because if Oprah can do it, we can, too.

1) Dagoba chocolate--The name of this fabulous organic chocolate is pronounced "duh-GO-bah," not "DAAA-go-bah" like the swamp planet Yoda lived on in Empire Strikes Back. It's a Sanskrit word meaning "temple," but whatever. The chocolate is awesome, particularly the dark chocolate, which as we have all recently learned, has health benefits. My favorite are the bars, many of which are made with a surprising mix of ingredients, from the Roseberry bar, which is dark chocolate with raspberries and rosehips mixed in, to the Chai bar made with chai tea and bits of crystallized ginger, to the Lavender bar made with dried blueberries and bits of lavender. Dagoba also offers organic drinking and baking chocolate.

2) Mineral makeup. Believe it or not, the US federal government doesn't require health studies or pre-market testing on personal care products, including makeup. The safety of these products is almost exclusively looked into by an industry-controlled panel. Consequently, “89 percent of 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the [industry panel], the FDA, nor any other publicly accountable institution,” says the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG). “The absence of government oversight for this $35 billion industry leads to companies routinely marketing products with ingredients that are poorly studied, not studied at all, or worse, known to pose potentially serious health risks.”

Therefore, I wanted my makeup to be as healthy as possible, seeing as it's becoming more and more necessary as I get older. So I tried mineral makeup, which contains more natural ingredients than standard makeup products. Not only is it more natural, but for me, mineral makeup works better at evening out my complexion and hiding weird things like zits or broken capillaries. (Wow, I'm making myself sound so attractive.) At the moment, I use Sheer Cover mineral makeup (Yes, the kind that Leeza Gibbons hawks on TV. She caught me at a vulnerable moment.), but when I run out, I'll probably switch to a company listed at The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. These companies have pledged to eliminate over 400 potential toxins from their perosnal care products and to continuously work to eliminate all potential toxins.

3) Don't believe me about the toxins in your makeup and other personal care products? Enter the ingredients of one of your favorite foundations, moisturizers, or lipsticks in the chemical database at, which is run by the nonprofit Environmental Defense. If the chemical in question is a potential or known toxin, Scorecard will let you know, and it will link you to the federal organization or scientific think tank that said so.

4) Burt's Bees diaper cream. With two daughters in diapers/pull-ups, I think a good diaper creme is a must. The one offered from Burt's Bees is not only all-natural, but it works better than anything else I've tried when it comes to clearing up a bad diaper rash. If you want to avoid having putting synthetic chemicals and potential toxins on your little one's skin (see #4), Burt's Bees products are wonderful. I also like the Shampoo Bar, the Baby Bee soap and lotion, and the Baby Bee powder, made from corn starch--not toxic talc. And for me, the Avocado Hair Treatment and the Almond Milk Hand Cream are awesome.

5), a self-described “reading group that knows no boundaries,” encourages people to leave books they love in public places for others to read and enjoy. In exchange, they get to track their favorite book’s whereabouts, as well as other people’s responses to it, via the BookCrossing Web site. How it works is this: participants register a book they love with the Web site, which assigns them a BookCrossing ID number. Then, they either download a pre-printed label from the site or handwrite their own and place it inside the book. They then leave the book in a conspicious public place until serendipity strikes and someone picks it up. The recipient will find a note on the label encouraging him/her to visit and write a brief online journal reporting the book’s ID number and location, as well as any thoughts about the text itself.

6) My Preserve toothbrush from Recycline. Basically, the Preserve is just your run-of-the-mill, designed-by-dentists toothbrush--with one important exception. Recycline toothbrushes are made from recycled plastic from Stonyfield Yogurt cups. If we want to keep on having plastic, and also perhaps a PLANET, in the future, we need to buy from companies that close the waste loop like Stonyfield and Recycline do. Plus, when your toothbrush is all frayed and nasty, you can actually send it back to Recycline, and they'll recycled it again into plastic lumber. Recycline also makes recycled plastic razors, tableware, tongue cleaners, and flavored toothpicks. Hey, every little bit helps.

That's all for now. I may add more later.

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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