Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good-bye 2009

It is almost time to say good-bye to 2009. I don’t like good-byes. They can feel too final. And I’m not great with final. Handing a manuscript to my editor, knowing I can’t fuss with it again before it goes to print is ridiculously difficult for me. But I digress.

Like it or not, 2009 is about to be history. I hope you enjoyed a year of good times and rich memories. I hope you smile as you think back on the last 365 days. I will remember 2009 as the year BUCK FEVER came out into the world in hardcover and DOG GONE stepped out in paperback. An exciting book year, in my world. A year that culminated with wonderful reviews, blog posts that I am oh-so grateful for, and heart-swelling emails and letters from people who read the novels. These things made 2009 special and happy.

Beyond the books, 2009 was also the year that we adopted Sake the Siamese, the year my stepdaughter became engaged, and the year my beloved niece left home to attend the University of Vermont. Yes, in many ways, 2009 was a year of happy beginnings.

So, cheers to 2009 and a big, fat welcome to 2010. Let’s hope that the coming year is filled with lots of happiness, wonder, peace, and prosperity for all.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


A new year is fast approaching. I keep hearing people whisper about resolutions. I like resolutions, but putting them off until a new year has never worked for me. There is too much pressure or something like it. And I’m impatient. If I know I need to make a change or adjustment in my life, I’m anxious to make it. Get it over with. Why wait? I do this in my writing, as well. If I am working on a first draft, for example, and pick up on something that isn’t working, I tackle the problem right away, before I continue on with the draft.

So, the minute our holiday guests left this morning, I resolved to stop inhaling sugar like a vacuum cleaner gone amuck. The minute the suitcases rolled out the door, I began the struggle back to my pre-holiday discipline. Goodbye pies. Adios cookies. See you later, sneaky little candies acting so tiny and innocent. Why wait?

This doesn’t mean that I don’t harbor hopes for 2010. Hopes are different than resolutions. I might make an in the moment resolution to try some new yoga move, for example, but I hope that some time during 2010 I will get to the point where I can execute that move without feeling like my spine is going to come apart. I might make a resolution to devote more time to reading, to reach the bottom of my pile of “waiting to be read” books sooner rather than later, but I hope to find a way to sleep less in 2010 so that I can accomplish this. And, I hope (probably irrationally) to finish my new work in progress by this time next year (never mind that I just started it).

But enough about me. What are your resolutions and hopes for 2010?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

On this day before Christmas, I wanted to share one of my favorite Christmas poems. A classic. I hope you enjoy it as much as I always have.

The Night Before Christmas

By Clement C. Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!


To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,


Monday, December 21, 2009


The time has come to wrap presents. Sigh. After years of wrap denial, I’ve finally come to accept myself as who I am—a horrible wrapper. No, I’m not exaggerating. I don’t know what my problem is, but my packages always look like they’ve gone through the laundry (that would be the washer and the dryer) after I’ve taken great care to dress them in bright and shiny holiday paper, ribbon, and bows. Unfortunately, I happen to be stubborn enough to keep trying. Every gift-giving occasion.

My stepdaughter has even given me lessons. The girl was born with a gift. She could wrap a live elephant and not end up with a crinkle or a wrinkle, a tear or an obvious strip of tape anywhere. I truly don’t understand how she accomplishes this. I watch her with my jaw hanging open, amazed at how easy she makes the whole, ghastly procedure seem. And yet, even after her patient lessons and guidance, my boxes still come out looking like they need medical attention. Immediately.

Apparently my love of cutting, pasting and trimming text has zero correlation to cutting, pasting and trimming pretty paper and adornments. So be it. At least I can still bake a mean batch of cookies.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Favorite Things

While sitting in a cafe yesterday, working on a new novel and sipping a latte, the classic song “My Favorite Things” wafted through hidden speakers and over to my ears. Okay, to be honest, this song is not on my ipod (apologies, Julie Andrews). I, frankly, prefer something more Stevie Ray Vaughn, Southside Johnny (I grew up in New Jersey), or U2. Still, given that I was engaged in two of my favorite things (writing and sipping a latte), plus the fact that I was feeling a wee bit holiday sentimental, the lyrics snagged my attention. In case you don’t know all of them, here they are:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

These are a few of my favorite things!

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels

Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles

Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings

These are a few of my favorite things!

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes

Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eye lashes

Silver white winters that melt into spring

These are a few of my favorite things!

When the dog bites, when the bee stings

When I'm feeling sad,

I simply remember

my favorite things

and then I don't feel so bad!

So, what are your favorite things? What cheers you when a dog bites or a bee stings, when you’re bummed or feeling rotten? For me, my three Siamese (ears to tail, not just their whiskers) Boo the black cat, and our very old dog, J.D. (cataracts and all).

Also, pretty much any color or color combo of pony or horse, great friends full of fun and laughter, great books, and, of course, writing time. But please don’t ask me to sing about these. This would not be anyone’s favorite thing. Believe me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Holiday Story Recommendation

Raise your hand if you have never read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. If you’ve got your hand in the air, I am here to recommend that you go get yourself a copy of this story. Right this minute. Seriously. It is a classic for more than a few very good reasons. Not only is it a fabulous ghost story, but it is a tale of redemption and second chances. Frankly, by this time of year, I’m all for redemption and second chances.

Also, I’ve always loved the writing of Charles Dickens. I’ve read most of his books, but I’ve revisited A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities more times than I can remember. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of movie and play versions of these stories, too, but nothing comes close, in my opinion, to the experience of reading the original Dickens. Here’s how A Christmas Carol begins:

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. . .”

How is that for a fine opening?

Scrooge, of course, is one of the most famous of curmudgeonly misers. And I really do think he comes through most vividly thanks to the words and phrases of Dickens. When I’m initially reading about old Ebenezer, it’s hard for me to be sympathetic with “… a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” A man “… secret, self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” But soon enough, the first spirit educates me about the sad and neglected past of this character and the events that came to harden him.

When the second spirit visits, I get the message along with Mr. Scrooge about the virtues and rewards of living in the present and the importance of gratitude. By the time the final and scariest ghost draws attention to how people influence the lives of others, in the short and long terms, I am as enlightened as Ebenezer when he says to the final ghost: “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I shall not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

Three impressive spirits, a character transformation from grumpy, snarly and mean to considerate, generous, and kind, lessons learned and potential tragedies turned to triumphs. For me, this is why A Christmas Carol is the perfect holiday story. And that’s no humbug.

Happy reading!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thank you, Charlie Brown

I love watching certain holiday shows. They take me back to my kitten-hood. A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of my favorites. Here are some moments I particularly like:

Lucy says to Charlie, with a cartoon leer: You DO think I'm beautiful, don't you, Charlie Brown"

Poor, foolish Charlie pauses. In that moment, he’s dead. We all know it. We all cringe. And yet this is hilarious, because who hasn’t been there--paused for a second too long?

Of course Lucy, being Lucy, lets fly: You didn't answer me right away. You had to think about it first, didn't you? If you really had thought I was beautiful, you would've spoken right up. I know when I've been insulted. I KNOW WHEN I'VE BEEN INSULTED.”

To which Charlie Brown replies: “Good grief.”

Exactly. I so relate to this. Something tells me that I’m not alone, either.

Or, how about when Linus says: “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

This is why I adore Linus. So sweet. So insightful. So sensitive.

I also applaud the sarcastic, snarky side of Charlie Brown:

[Charlie] “Thanks for the Christmas card you sent me, Violet.”

[Violet] “I didn't send you a Christmas card, Charlie Brown.”

[Charlie] “Don't you know sarcasm when you hear it?”

This cracks me up every time.

These days, I also appreciate some of the dialogue much more than when I was a kid. For example, when Lucy is talking about Christmas gifts:

“. . .I never get what I really want. I always get a lot of stupid toys or a bicycle or clothes or something like that.”

Which prompts Charlie Brown to ask: “What is it you want?

Real estate,” Lucy says.

Smart girl, I think (now).

And, one of the greatest chunks of dialogue from Linus:

Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy's right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest.”

How great are these moments? Add in the Snoopy dancing, the Linus speech, and the way everyone comes together at the end around the once sad, rejected little tree, and you've got yourself a lovely little holiday treat. Thank you, Charles Schulz.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nook? Kindle? Bookstore?

My local Barnes and Noble, my home away from home because (a) the B&N CafĂ© serves amazing chai latttes (b) wonderful, talented people work in that store and (c) the atmosphere can be perfect for writing. When I’m hit broadside with a mega case of cabin fever and need to get out of my office because I’m about to suffocate or implode, I often trot off to my fave B&N (okay, I don’t trot, but you get the idea).

Today “my” Barnes and Noble is putting Nook demos on display. This going to be very dangerous. Hello temptation. If you don’t know what a Nook is, it’s an e-book reader. A new competitor up against the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader. I don’t own a Nook or Kindle or Sony Reader. I’m still carrying around mauled paperbacks, boxy hardcovers, and magazines permanently curled into periscope-like shapes. I buy books at any and all bookstores (not just “my” B&N), I borrow books from libraries and I swap novels with friends.

These days, though, the temptation to drop many greenbacks on an e-reader, each with it’s own bells and whistles, is growing. How cool would it be to download a book the moment you felt inclined to read it? How convenient to be able to slide an ultra thin e-book into a bag or case and tote it everywhere, stealing moments here and there to read. As I said: temptation.

I’ve also been told that manuscripts can be downloaded on these e-reader puppies. Whoa. Imagine being able to write and revise without papers flying in every direction. How much work could get done while in a waiting room, in a line, or on a bus? The possibilities of places to bust out the e-book seem endless. As if this isn’t fabulous enough, apparently most e-book readers can read a story to you, say while you are cooking or driving. Maybe in upgraded versions, the e-books will read aloud while actually doing the cooking or the driving or whatever. Imagine.

But I wonder if I’d miss the feel of a real book in my hands. And what about the joy of overcrowded bookshelves? The comfort of titles on spines of old, middle-aged, and new books staring out, calling to be read or read again. The delight of passing along books to others? And would I have to give up my routine of going to bookstores to peruse titles and book jackets? Or, would I still eyeball them, only to download titles on my e-book reader? So many questions.

Tell me, what are your thoughts on the e-book readers? I’m curious.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lessons From Kindergarten

The holiday hustle and bustle seems to have shifted into third gear, at least in my world. Yesterday, I took a break from writing to venture into a mega mall (apparently I’d had too much caffeine and was feeling brave). The crowds were dense and lots of people were pushing and sometimes shoving. The scene reminded me of something my sister had shared after a chaotic day with a class of kindergarteners. She’d said: “Working with a large group of five-year-olds is like herding cats. Each and every one has a mind of its own and an intent of its own.” That’s when the thought hit me that holiday shoppers (yes, I include myself in this) are kind of like kindergarteners. Or cats.

Minutes later, as I waited for a salesperson to return from retrieving an item I needed, I watched a woman in a festive Christmas sweater and a man in a crisp suit circling a salesperson already engaged with a customer. Ms. Christmas Sweater and Mr. Suit reminded me of a hungry cheetah and a famished lion sizing up a lone antelope. Big cats stalking, salivating, competing. The pounces promised to be cutthroat and anything but pretty. I pitied the antelope.

As I drove home, anxious to get back to the peace and tranquility of my writing, I thought about this great book that I read years ago: All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. And it occurred to me that at this time of year, as the stresses of the holiday season rain down on many of us like December snow on the North Pole, it might be warming, dare I say comforting, to remember some of the lessons of kindergarten. Because, really, wouldn’t the world (or at least the mega malls) be more pleasant if everyone took turns, played nicely, shared with others, said sorry when necessary, refrained from hitting, and remembered to be fair? And maybe the world would be even better if we all took time for cookies and milk and an afternoon nap. Maybe.