I am so sorry about this. If you have received an imperfect copy, please let me know so that I can complain (further and even more vociferously than I already have). If you ordered it through CreateSpace, here's a link that will let you order a replacement copy. If you ordered it through Amazon, click here to get a new copy sent to you.
Drum roll, please! My cookbook Comfortably Yum: Food for Body and Spirit is now available at an e-store near you! It will show up on Amazon sometime in the next week, but this link is working fine.
It's gratifying to hold a copy of it in my hands after so many months of work. Looking through it, I think it's a pretty great collection of recipes, and I'm very excited that all my favorites are now in one place. If you're new to my blog and wonder what kind of stuff you might find in the cookbook, click on any of the posts tagged Delicious Dish.
I owe big thanks to many people on Planet Blog for their generous support; all my readers are wonderful, but a few stand out. Deb Barshafsky and Charrette for coming up with the book's title. Kymburlee, Brillig, Annette Lyon, and Anne Bradshaw have been fabulous angels of generosity.
Now I think I'll go make something from Comfortably Yum to celebrate. Hmm...Sticky Toffee Pudding? Stuffed Mushrooms? Tuscan Chicken? Dulce de Leche Squares? So many choices....
**UPDATE** CreateSpace (the company I used to publish my book) DOES ship orders internationally. Those of you in Canada, Europe, and the U.K. should not have any problem using the link above to purchase my book.
Manhattanites often refer to children as "delicious." I never really understood this until I had kids of my own; now I totally get it. All of the adjectives I normally reserve for food--scrumptious, piquant, choice, and so on--perfectly describe the way I feel about interacting with my children.
Daniel was particularly delicious this morning as he crept downstairs at the crack of dawn, a huge grin on his face. He's five today, and our years together have been savory indeed. Here's to many more happy returns of the day!
At this time on this day one year ago, I was undergoing a Caesarean section. It wasn't much fun, but the result was more than worth the trouble and pain. Happy Birthday, sweet Anne!
My mom is important to our family and this community because...I got a call from the Lions Club last week informing me that Tess had nominated me, and that we were invited to a special dinner at The Plumbush Inn. So tonight, Tess and I got dressed up and went, not really knowing what to expect.
She is kind. She helps our family stay healthy. There are six children in my family. My mom helps us learn and she cares for all of us. My mom is also an author and we like her books. She is helpful to our family. She makes us healthy food, she never leaves us alone. I know she is a good mother and always loves us. She is sweet, too. She is always good and helpful and sweet and kind. We love her and she loves us. When she has a hard time cleaning, we will help her. When mom wants us to get Anne to sleep, we did it kindly. When my mom is alone, we cheer her up by taking flowers to her.
It turns out there were four divisions in the contest: Kindergarten through 3rd Grade; Fourth through Eighth; High School; and Over 18. The Lion's Club members read all the letters without knowing who had written them and selected a winner in each category.
After we ate a lovely dinner with the Lions Club members and the other mothers and children, Tess read her entry aloud to the entire group. I received a beautiful bouquet of roses and a plaque naming me Mother of the Year, K-3 Division. The other three winning moms and I and our children had our photo taken for the local paper; here's one I asked someone to take of Tess and me.Personally, I really think it should have been a "Daughter of the Year" award; my darling girl made me feel so special and loved. Thanks, sweetie!
How patient you have been! My cookbook Comfortably Yum should be available on Amazon any day now. Check back here in a day or two, and I'll give you all the details. (Click on the image above for a larger view of the adorable cover designed by Gary Brown, my uber-talented brother-in-law.)
"Oh, no," some of you are thinking. "I've heard those words before. I know what they mean." And you're partly right.
I've just gotten back from a ten-day trip Out West. I'm still re-adjusting to Eastern Daylight Time, not eating in restaurants at least once per day, and being a mom to more than one child. As I do so, I'm mulling over all I learned.
David Farland's Professional Writers' Workshop was worth every penny and minute invested. Dave is a guru, coach, talespinner, and incisive yet kind critic. I acquired much information that will improve both the quality of my storytelling and the quantity of my output. I got to know a group of writers whose skill sets, needs, and goals are very similar to mine, and I look forward to extensive interaction with them in the future. I left Saint George burning to closet myself and write, write, write. But of course, things are more complicated than that.
The garden needs to be planted (and weeded, oh yes, my precious). Baseball and lacrosse seasons are in full swing. We have concerts and recitals and birthdays, oh my! In other words, my real life is full and runneth over. How to fit in a bit more fiction writing time?
It's time for another round of streamlining of my daily schedule. Clearly I can't cut back on kid time or Patrick time or scriptures or exercise. The calling and the yard won't tolerate much skimping, either.
That leaves you, dear blogosphere. Both my reading and my posting have been erratic since Anne was born, so you've already gotten used to much less of my time and attention. I won't be gone forever, but don't expect a whole lot in the near future. This will be easier for you than it will be for me, I'm sure. I'm betting you won't even really notice.
by George Herbert
Awake, sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns;
Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth;
Unfold thy forehead gathered into frowns:
Thy Savior comes, and with him mirth:
And with a thankful heart his comforts take.
But thou dost still lament, and pine and cry;
And feel his death, but not his victory.
Arise sad heart, if thou dost not withstand,
Christ’s resurrection thine may be:
Do not by hanging down break from the hand
Which as it riseth, raiseth thee:
Arise, arise: And with his burial-linen dry thine eyes:
Christ left his grave-clothes, that we might, when grief
Draws tears, or blood, not want an handkerchief.
Patrick and I have been invited to Passover Dinner by our friends the Leibowitzes every year we've been married, and we've never missed it; last night was my 19th seder with them. (It was Patrick's 21st; he and David have been friends since college.) Passover is always a lovely event, marked by memorable conversation, beautiful and symbolic readings from the family's tattered haggadahs, and delicious food.
When I realized that Passover fell during the kids' spring break this year, I decided to make a day of it. I haven't taken the whole group for an outing in the City since last August, so we were definitely due. My plan was that we would first go to the American Museum of Natural History, have lunch at Shake Shack, then spend the afternoon at the playgrounds and small zoos in Central Park. Last, we'd buy flowers and meet Patrick at the home of our host and hostess.
The weather was brisk and partly cloudy; the kids were quickly glad I'd insisted on bringing their coats. They had forgotten how exposed you are when getting around in the City, but I had not.Our plan went off with only a couple of tiny hitches. When we pulled into parking at the museum, I realized that there were tons of school groups there and that the place would be packed. I polled everyone for their top three spots other than the special Climate Change exhibit we knew we wanted to see (because you could easily spend an entire day investigating all of the halls and exhibits); we came up with "space," "the bug room," and "the whale room."
The Climate Change exhibit is fantastic, but I'll take the big kids back and spend more time there when the museum is less crowded. Here are the kids ogling an ancient TRS-80 computer. I told them, "That's the computer we used in my first programming class when I was 14." I think they got a bit of a clue as to just how old I am. Since we know the museum's layout by heart, we got to our other favorite spots and had a satisfying visit.
Shake Shack did not disappoint. Anne had her first (and second through tenth at least) french fry.After lunch, we drove to the East Side and parked the car in the Leibowitzes' building. We then made our way to Central Park. The contrast between my City-raised kids and my country kids was entertaining. Tess still can't get over her amazement at elevators and subways, and Daniel took it as a personal affront that the dogs were so public about their "business."
Daniel has also decided he doesn't like "exercise" (walking), because it makes his legs "feel not good." Note, however, that whenever we stopped at a playground, he ran around like the happy, energetic young sprout that he is.Central Park Zoo was also a hit with everyone. Christian, James, and Hope waxed nostalgic, while Daniel and Tess discussed at great length the dramatic license taken by the makers of the film Madagascar. It's always great to be at the zoo when they feed the sea lions; Daniel announced that we need to get one of our own. "It will live in your bathtub," he declared.
We stopped at the Tisch Children's Zoo on the way back uptown:
On the way back to our friends' building, Daniel was definitely flagging. Pep talks and Skittles weren't as effective anymore, and I wondered whether we should pack it in and hail a cab. But no; Christian scooped up his little brother and carried him cheerfully on his shoulders for the last mile. My kids are amazing.
All in all, we walked just a few steps (284 to be exact, Jenna) shy of ten miles. The kids were pleasantly tired during the Seder, and we had a great time with our old friends. Oy, the chopped liver was to die for, and the brisket? Like buttah, dahling. The event would have been perfect if Tess hadn't suddenly come down with the stomach bug her sister had had the day before, but she handled herself with grace and a minimum of drama.
On the way home, I mentioned to Patrick that the day would have been perfect if he had been with us on our pre-dinner outings. He expressed the hope that our three-week trip to France in August will be a string of such days. I share that hope. Days like yesterday are the gems in the crown of life: precious, brilliant, and forever shining.
I finally got to it, and it was so worth it. My big boys and I snuggled up with the laptop tonight and watched all eleven webisodes--that's all there are so far--of the new webcast series The Book of Jer3miah. It sounds like a marathon, but it wasn't; each webisode is only about five minutes long.
I'm always up for a good conspiracy theory, and Jer3miah does not disappoint. It's alternately sad, suspenseful, creepy, and funny (hint: I love the elven-dressed, RPG-playing next-door neighbor and his secret-combination-obsessed roommate). After the first three episodes, it stops going "all Cloverfield" (as Christian put it) with the handheld camera and settles down into some pretty cool cinematography.
If you find yourself wanting more (and each webisode manages to leave its audience hanging over a cliff), there are two ancillary websites offering extra clues to the mysteries surrounding Jeremiah Whitney and his fate. The Davenport Papers looks like a social networking site, and zoobynews.com is the reporting outlet set up by one of Jer3miah's characters.
Go watch it! You can get caught up in inside of an hour--less time than it takes to watch an episode of Lost or 24. You can bet the boys and I will be tuning in every Friday from now on.
Q: Has there ever been a more handsome Friedrich in musical theater history?
Our oldest son, Christian, was absolutely adorable (don't kill me, hon) in his high school's terrific production of The Sound of Music last weekend. Stay tuned; I'm hoping to upload a video of him as "The Lonely Goatherd" as soon as technology will allow. Thanks for the photos, Mary!
**UPDATED** Here it is (the sound problems resolve themselves after a few seconds):
My short story "Truck Stop" appears in the latest issue of the new webzine Noctober. I must tell you: it's in excellent company. The other stories are really good; they tell of all sorts of creepy shenanigans involving coffee, ponds, paintings, carpets, and ivy. My favorites are "The Water Lily Room" and "The Garden Keeps His Confidences." Let me know what you think!
Fueled by tonight's success, he's decided to make a Lemon Curd Pavlova with Mixed Berries for Easter. Don't think I'm limiting him to one recipe trial per month; he's just getting going.
Here he is with his masterpiece; we cut it and had a slice about 30 seconds after this photo was taken, and it was delicious. So no, the fruit hasn't fallen far from the tree. And this tree couldn't be prouder.
I've mentioned before that one of the great perqs of Patrick's job is that we often get invited to the openings of Broadway shows. Last night was such an occasion: we saw the much-herald revival of West Side Story.
I had high hopes; Bernstein's brilliant score and Sondheim's genius lyrics are some of my favorite in all of the musical theater repertoire. I adore the tragic story (Arthur Laurents's retelling of Romeo and Juliet) and its gritty setting (mid-1950s Manhattan). Jerome Robbins's choreography is iconic, as are the rival gangs the Sharks and the Jets. I wanted to love everything about this production.
The show had some truly great moments. Laurents, who directed, took some inspired liberties with his 52-year-old book. He had most of the Puerto Rican characters' dialogue translated into Spanish; "I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That" were also sung in Spanish. This worked beautifully (with the help of some fabulous body language), giving the Sharks and their women both dignity and irony; the characters are more fully human now.
Josefina Scaglione was so lovely and convincing as Maria that I found myself thinking, "Natalie who?" Karen Oliva was nothing short of smoking hot as Anita; she went from sardonic to sexy to tragic with incredible ease and grace. I wish I could sit and watch her fantastico "América" over and over again. All of the Sharks were delicious to watch--whether they were mamboing or rumbling--ai, caramba!
Would that the Jets had fared as well. Matt Cavanaugh's Tony was my most bitter Broadway disappointment in many a moon. I could have forgiven how mousily unattractive he was (though you know it's bad when Chino, Maria's intended husband, is miles more handsome than her star-crossed lover is).
I have no such mercy in me for his wobbly, nasal singing or his brick-like delivery. I had hoped that "Something's Coming" or "Maria" would make me weep; instead I cringed as Cavanaugh dog-paddled through each of Bernstein's treacherous intervals and modulations. Bernstein's music is horrendously difficult, but you never want performers to make it sound harder than it is. The last thing the audience should be thinking at the end of the show is "Maria, honey, you can do better," but there it is.
Almost all of Tony's gang buddies were also lacking in charisma. Only three of "los Américanos" came through: as the tomboy Anybodys, Tro Shaw may have been channeling Susan Oakes (who played the character in the 1961 movie), but she chanelled well. Curtis Holbrook brought a 21st-century hyperactive viciousness to his portrayal of Action; he transformed "Gee, Officer Krupke" from slapstick to harrowing social commentary. Finally, as Kiddo, Nicholas Barasch sang "Somewhere" so angelically that the tears I'd been saving for Tony welled up unbidden.
To sum up, large portions of the show were thrilling; unfortunately, that meant that the awkward and flat moments stood out in greater relief. This revival wasn't the triumph I had hoped for, but maybe I've just gotten too picky.
Speaking of which, after nearly 15 years of opening nights in London and New York, we are now so jaded that being invited to the cast party after the show is no longer a thrill; we opted to drive straight home afterwards instead. But that didn't stop us from reaping one of our richest crops of celebrity sightings in a long while. Among those present in the theater last night were Christie Brinkley, Kathleen Turner, Vanessa Williams, Taye Diggs, Spike Lee, and Keith Carradine; celebrity couples Phil Donohue & Marlo Thomas and Diane Sawyer & Mike Nichols; and Sondheim and Laurents themselves.
I'm a lucky, lucky girl, I mused as we drove in the dark up the Palisades Parkway on the way home. I fully realize what a luxury it is to attend such events on the arm of a handsome man who loves me. I'll try to get over my guilt at not being able to pronounce the evening an unqualified success.
In the spring of 2007, back when I was a fresh, young blogger, I dug into the latest issue of the delicious ezine Knitty, as I do every quarter. Doing so, I found this lovely article. Go read it; I'll wait.
As I'm sure you noticed, Annette's bio for the piece reads as follows:
Annette Lyon’s three greatest addictions are knitting, writing, and chocolate. Her life has been run by all three for most of her life, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.Ooh, she's a writer! I thought, and immediately clicked on the link to her website. To my great delight, I then realized that not only was she a fanatical knitter, a novelist, and a chocoholic, she was also LDS. We had everything important in common; I overcame my habitual shyness and wrote her a fannish email at once.
In addition to her freelance writing and editing work, she writes novels and couldn’t resist working a character knitting socks into one of them.
Annette graciously replied, and a friendship was born. We met for lunch that summer when I was out in Utah; we had as good a time in person as we did via e-correspondence. Since then, she has provided constructive critiques on my writing, helpful advice regarding manuscript submission, and a listening ear during my ongoing search for an agent. So when she asked whether I'd like to be a stop on the blog tour for her new book, Tower of Strength, I jumped at the chance. I'm so glad I did, since it meant I got my hands on a copy before most of the rest of the world.
Annette is a gifted writer and a meticulous researcher; reading her endnotes is almost as satisfying as reading the story itself. Her characters feel like people you meet every day, natural and approachable. Annette makes her settings accessible; the reader can easily picture herself in the shoes of the main character. The main story is a classic tale of overcoming loss to find new love, and suspenseful subplots add spice and depth to the narrative.
I never give spoilers, but I'll warn you: sit close to a tissue box once you get to the last chapter. For everyone who likes a little romance with their history (or vice versa), I highly recommend Tower of Strength as well as the earlier volumes in Annette's "Temple" series.
(Knitters, a hand-knit cabled pullover makes a cameo appearance in this book; maybe one day Annette will publish a book of patterns as a companion to her novels. Pretty please, Annette?)
After reading the book, I had a few questions for the author. Here they are, along with her replies:
1) In Tower of Strength, your two main characters don't meet one another for several chapters. This is unusual, at least in my experience of reading romantic stories, and serves to build quite a bit of suspense for the reader. Was this a conscious plot device, or did the story evolve organically in this way?
For this book, the biggest challenge was doing horse research and getting the horse scenes right. Those were rewritten over and over again. I think I might have shaved a few years off my life from banging my head against the keyboard so many times over them!
6) What's your best piece of advice for a writer hoping to break into the LDS fiction market?
Thank you, Annette! It has been an honor!
There's nothing that chases away the late-winter blues like a fresh batch of good news. Here are a few items worthy of passing on:
Josi Kilpack's newest book, Lemon Tart, is the March selection for the Time Out for Women Book Club! As Josi mentions on her blog, TOFW chooses very few fiction titles, so this is indeed a huge deal. I got my own copy of Lemon Tart about a week ago; I can't wait to dive in and experience some delicious escape.
The Hunt for Dark Infinity, Book Two in James Dashner's The 13th Reality series, is shipping now via Amazon and will be in Barnes & Noble and Borders stores next week! My kids are all insane for Book One and can't wait to get their hands on this latest installment. (I love James's writing as well, so they'll be fighting me for it.)
Annette Lyon's latest Temple novel, Tower of Strength, is now available! I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy, and frankly, I can hardly wait to finish this post so that I can get back to it. Novembrance will be one of next week's stops on Annette's promotional blog tour, so check back here then to read my interview with her.
Fantasy writer Rebecca Weybright (apparently not her real name, oh the mystery) is editing a new speculative fiction webzine called Noctober. How could I not love it, with a name like that? I've read all five stories in the premiere issue, and I think they are great fun. The illustrious Kymburlee of Temporary? Insanity posted an interesting interview with Rebecca yesterday; you can bet that Noctober will be receiving a submission or two from me very soon.
Anyone who sings solos in church should own copies of the Sabbath Song collections. (Anyone who doesn't, but loves good sacred music, should buy the CDs, recorded by baritone Clayne Robison.) They contain gorgeous pieces by two of my genius songwriting collaborators, Murray Boren and D. Fletcher, as well as many more selections by other prominent LDS composers; they are well worth your time. Sadly, none of my lyrics appear; we'll hope for Volume III.
Finally, for anyone local, our very own Christian will be playing the role of Friedrich in Haldane High School's production of "The Sound of Music" at the end of this month. It will be worth the price of admission just to see Christian as the lederhosen-clad Lonely Goatherd in the musical-within-a-musical (don't worry; I'll post photos when the time comes), though the whole production promises to be highly entertaining. The show runs Friday, March 27th through Sunday, March 29th; I couldn't be prouder.
Well, that's it for me; does anyone else have something worth sharing?
Yesterday I was contemplating the bookshelves in our den, realizing it was time for a purge. Many, many books are keepers. Some I want to read again; I hope other people in our house will someday want to read them as well. Some have sentimental value, reminding me of a certain time in my life. Some are signed by author or illustrator; others are inscribed by friends or family members. In my opinion, there is no better room decoration than a shelf full of books.
But other books I can let go. Several years ago I sold a bunch on eBay, but that was more trouble than it was worth. I have donated many bags full to our local library; I like to imagine these rejects eventually finding a more appreciative permanent home. But right after my contemplative moment yesterday, I happened across something new.
Apparently, the latest cool thing in the online world of books is BookCrossing. Here's how it works. First, you read a book and register it online, receiving a unique number to put in the book and writing a journal entry about it. Then you 'release' the book: leave it at a café or on an airplane or park bench; give it or mail it to a friend; or drop it off at an official BookCrossing zone.
Eventually, someone will pick up the released book and read it. When that happens, the BookCrossing folks hope that this person will visit their website and record where it was found, what he or she thought of it--using the BookCrossing ID number--and release the book again. BookCrossing hopes to "make the world a library and recycle at the same time." I envision books circling the globe and picking up an interesting history all their own as they travel. It seems like pretty good karma to me.
Today I'm making a pile of books to register; later, I'll drive around and release them as fancy strikes me: at the bakery, the hair salon, or the laundromat; or maybe on the doorsteps of a few friends. Why don't you brush the dust off your non-permanent collection and join me?
I've been reading Wondermark for quite some time, and artist David Malki never. Ever. Disappoints. Click here to see the above comic in its proper context.
I've written here and here about my amazingly successful autodidact of a grandmother. She is the reason that, when I want to learn something new, I don't sign up for a class or ask someone for advice and hands-on help. Instead, I head for the library (or, increasingly these days, look online). I'm not saying that this is the best way to acquire a new skill; it's just my instinct.
It bothers me, not knowing things. It drives me crazy that I haven't been able to identify my favorite stand of trees in the median of the Palisades Parkway near Exit 5. Are the trees less beautiful--or, for that matter, less themselves--because I don't know their human-assigned designation?
And don't even get me started on the stars visible in the Northern Hemisphere, and how few constellations I can actually recognize. Somehow, if I could name them, they'd be more mine; I have a stronger connection with both things and people when I know more about them. I'm not saying that this is rational; it's just how I feel.
When Anne was struggling with sleep issues in January, I would rock her during the wee hours, all the while vowing to myself, "I've got to re-read Ferber." Morning came, and I never had the time; Anne eventually got back in her good sleeping pattern without my reviewing a book I once found crucial to maintaining sanity.
However, that midnight rumination caused me to realize that when I am faced with a crisis, I believe that the solution is more information, or better information, or a review of information that is no longer fresh in my mind. I'm not saying that this is true; it's just what I believe.
I often reinforce this with my children. Whether they are wondering how to spell 'Mississippi,' how to find the area of a circle, who Thomas Aquinas was, or how covalence works, I encourage them to look things up for themselves. I'm not saying I never give them the answer straight out; it's just that I believe this habit helps them become more self-reliant.
Hope turns ten in two weeks; I have come to terms with the fact that it's time for the "Our Changing Bodies" talk.* The way we discussed things with the boys doesn't feel quite right for Hope, for some reason, and I've been casting about for a new approach. Sure enough, Amazon seemed to have what I needed, and I'm once more armed with knowledge.
I remember vividly a book called Where Did I Come From? My dad gave it to me when I was Hope's age and left me to read it alone while babysitting. I was thrilled, thinking it would answer all my many questions about the pre-existence.
How very shocked I was to find out otherwise. I had many bird-and-bee-related questions, but was too shy to ask them; instead, I did further research the next time I went to the library. Sadly, the messy-sounding facts I'd read in that first book seemed to be corroborated, and weren't some horrible, sick joke.
Because that shock still resounds within me, I'm consciously going against my impulse simply to hand Hope a book and send her off to the window seat. I'm not saying that I'll do a better job explaining things than the experts I've recently consulted via printed page; it's just that in this case, I'm willing to brave blushes and eye rolls to make sure my girl gets good information presented appropriately and has all of her questions answered to her (and my) satisfaction.
* Of course we have basic conversations with all of the kids when they're much younger; but now it's time for the type of crucial details pre-adolescents need to know.
One day, a package from Grandpa arrived that was much larger than usual. We found inside not the usual bottles of pills, but a double bed-sized bedspread. Grandpa explained in the accompanying note that he was worried that we would not be warm enough at night in the winter to come. He'd seen this very warm and durable bedspread on sale and had thought of us at once.
(Little did Grandpa know that nearly every night of our 11 winters in Manhattan, we slept with the bedroom window open at least a crack. Energy-conscious officials should put addressing the chronically overzealous radiator heating systems of New York City's apartment buildings near the top of their lists when looking for ways to cut consumption and costs.)
Warm? Yes. Durable? Without a doubt. But also: the most hideous thing I had ever seen? Absolutely.
The bedspread is a denim grayish blue, one of my least favorite colors in the spectrum. It's spattered with little black and white and gray splotches, sort of Jackson Pollock-style, just not as cool. It's machine quilted with that transparent, stronger-than-the-cords-of-death nylon thread. And it's got thick black piping running all the way round the perimeter.
(Patrick would insert here that it's not that bad. He's not mistaken very often, but in this case? He's dead wrong.)
But we didn't have a bedspread, or really any substantial blanket-type bed covering, so we used it. I was grateful to have it, and don't worry: I thanked Grandpa profusely for it and his thoughtfulness on more than one occasion.
I thought we'd surely replace it after law school, one P was pulling in the big lawyer salary and we had our own bed out of storage once more (the married student housing in which we lived was furnished). But somehow in the years that followed, there were always other things we needed, and the bedspread hung around.
Once I tried to throw it out, but I discovered that my analytical husband has a bit of a sentimental streak. "It was a gift," he protested. "It was from the heart." I couldn't argue; I have hung onto plenty of stuff over the years purely because it reminds me of the giver. Then Grandpa died, and getting rid of the bedspread altogether was no longer an option.
For a long time, it lived in the linen closet and only emerged when we needed something to put on the futon when guests stayed over. Once we got the cat, though, it enjoyed both a second lease on life and a new name: The Kevlar.
Goldberry, like most cats, enjoys attacking things that move under cover--like bare, vulnerable feet, for example. Having a brain the size of a small bran muffin, Goldberry can't differentiate between feet moved in play and feet moved innocently in sleep at three o'clock in the morning. I don't think she bears us or our appendages any malice, but her claws are razor sharp, and she is very, very strong. Her midnight ambushes did little to foster bonds between owners and pet, to say the least.
I can't remember how we discovered that her claws couldn't penetrate Grandpa's gift, but once we did, the bedspread rarely left our bed. We could waggle our ankles and Goldberry could attack to her heart's content, with no one getting hurt in the process. I believe it was Patrick who, with the cat furiously biting and rabbit-footing the blanket surrounding his legs, cackled gleefully, "It's Kevlar, cat; knock yourself out."
I've contemplated recovering the Kevlar, making some sort of duvet cover for it out of fabric I actually like and wouldn't mind seeing on the bed. Doing so is low on my project list, though; it seems like I always have ten things more urgent to accomplish. Though I still find it hideous, it evokes fond memories every day when I make the bed, and it remains much-needed protection from nightly feline aggression. After nearly nineteen years, I've made my peace with the Kevlar.
We don't choose much about our lot in life; sometimes our circumstances seem unappealing indeed. But with time, we often find that those things we'd most like to change turn out to be the things that are most useful in difficult circumstances. Patience and faith can grant us a new perspective on even the ugliest of gifts, if we will only cultivate them.
William Shunn is a fabulous show-and-tell site illustrating exactly how to get your manuscript into the format that most publishing markets prefer.
Query Shark is another amazing show-and-tell site. It's the blog of prominent literary agent Janet Reid, who posts her edits of query letters submitted to her. My writer friend Melissa recently reminded me of this site, and I'm so glad she did. You can learn a ton by browsing through the archives and seeing what works (and what emphatically does not work) in a query letter. Ms. Reid doesn't call herself 'Shark' for nothing; she doesn't pull any punches. But she's always right, as far as I can see.
Scribophile touts itself as a free social networking site for writers, but I think it's more useful than that. Members can post works to be critiqued by peers and can critique the works of others in turn (there's a point system to it all). Writers can participate in forums for every interest from haiku to perfecting the art of speed pitching. Scribophile also hosts writing contests with some pretty sweet prizes. One runs the risk of spending a good bit of time vacuuming the cat here, but a motivated writer could also find a lot of help.
Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent is another blog, and that title always cracks me up (think "International Man of Mystery"). The San Francisco-based Nathan is young and looks like a surfer dude, but he's very much on the ball. He takes writing and publishing seriously, but is never self-important. Read his "Essentials" (links are halfway down on his sidebar), and you'll get a good and accurate education on the particulars of today's publishing world.
"Dave Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants" is an email series written by the phenomenally successful Dave Farland/David Wolverton. Dave is as generous as he is gifted, and that's really saying something. His goal is to remind people to write on a daily basis. He addresses all sorts of topics, often prompted by questions members of his large following send him. If you'd like to subscribe, email email@example.com and say "Kick me!"
Short Fiction Writers and Poets:
Duotrope's Digest is fantastic. It lists thousands of markets for all genres of short fiction and poetry and gives vital information on response times for each. It also has a terrific Submissions Tracker tool; I use it to keep track of where I've sent my stories. Duotrope is completely free, but if you find it useful, consider donating to the site to help keep it running.
Speculative Fiction Writers:
Whatever is the blog of science fiction writer John Scalzi. Scalzi is smart, successful, and endlessly entertaining (and his book Zoe's Tale made my 2008 Top Ten list). He hosts a regular series of interviews with other published writers called "The Big Idea"; these informative and inspiring posts outline how recently published writers came up with and developed their stories.
Submitting to the Black Hole is another website that lists response times, but it includes speculative fiction book publishers as well as short fiction markets. Believe me, when your story has been out in some editor's slush pile for weeks upon weeks, it can help calm anxiety to visit the Black Hole and realize that you are not alone. I always report my response times to both Duotrope and the Black Hole.
Ralan's Webstravaganza lists all kinds of markets for speculative fiction and humor writers: anthologies, books, and periodicals of every form and payscale. Ralan works very hard to keep his site updated and accurate, and often has the scoop on the newest changes to markets. He also gratefully accepts donations.
LDSStorymakers is a website devoted to the growing LDS publishing market. It includes links, a calendar of events, and a market directory. LDSStorymakers hosts a writers' conference every spring; see the website for more details.
The Association for Mormon Letters boasts a market directory as well as information on regional writers' guilds and an extensive review archive. The AML also publishes the periodical Irreantum twice yearly, which devotes space both to scholarly articles and to fiction and poetry.
There you have it: the online resources I've found most useful. Do you know of any I haven't mentioned? If so, please let me know!
Annette tagged me with a photo meme, asking what the sixth picture in my sixth folder was. Here it is: James and Tess holding newly-brought-home Baby Anne back in May.
It's amazing to me how much James and Tess look alike in this photo, which is something I hadn't really considered before. I usually group James, Hope, and Anne in the 'looking like me' camp and Tess, Christian, and Daniel in the 'looking like Patrick' camp. It's fascinating how kids can look like both their parents when the parents don't resemble one another at all.
Also, Anne is huge now, and a fuzzy blonde to boot; all that dark hair she came with is gone. Oy, those kids: they're so delicious. I'd better stop, before I start crooning "Sunrise, Sunset" and weeping into my tea.
Thanks for the tag, Annette! I tag in turn Jenna, Kim, and Charrette.
Our twice-yearly visits to him usually follow this agenda: a) a movie in the car (we only use the DVD player on trips of an hour or longer); b) Tess's choice of candy from the newsstand down the street from the office; c) seeing the good doctor himself; d) getting a beany baby-like toy from his special drawer as a souvenir; e) lunch at Dallas BBQ across the street afterward; and f) a quick trip to the American Museum of Natural History on the way home. Tess loves everything about Dr. Steele (and our elaborate visiting ritual); she plans to become an eye doctor precisely so that she can join his practice in about twenty years.
Anyway, Tess was chattering about her next visit to Dr. Steele, how glad she is that he is her doctor, and how she couldn't wait to see him again, etc.
Four-year-old Daniel, clearly not wanting to be outdone, said, "I have a doctor, too."
We all looked at him; this was news to the entire family.
Daniel smiled and declared with perfect confidence, "His name is Dr. Seuss."
I had to speak in church yesterday, and while I was preparing my remarks on Saturday, I realized I had left something huge off of my 'Best of 2008' list. A couple of you have probably been shaking your heads in puzzlement over this fact. I'm going to fix my post in just a minute, but I'll tell you about it in a little bit of detail here as well.
Last January, I joined Pezmama's online challenge to read The Bible in 90 days. I read every word from Genesis to Revelation, and on March 30th, I was feeling pretty good to be one of seven of the original 30 who actually finished. The weekly check-ins, daily page count guides, and periodical posts of progress and insight by group members were all huge helps. I read the King James Version, but other group members used other translations, which added interest and variety to our online discussions.
Not wanting to lose momentum, I decided to read the rest of my church's Standard Works of scripture in the next 90 days: The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. A couple of good friends partnered up with me for this second challenge, and with their support, on June 30th I found myself reading the last verse of The Articles of Faith with a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
That happy feeling of realizing a goal was second to the joy in the journey, however. Reading at such a fast pace did not lend itself to in-depth study, but I did see things I'd never seen so clearly before: overarching patterns, recurring themes, and how prophets have echoed and underscored one another through the ages. I got a keener sense of the symmetry and beauty of God's plan, and I think I had heightened abilities to deal with the many challenges of last May as a result.
How would I rank this accomplishment? It's definitely in the Top Five; it may even rank right under my #1. Would I do it again? Definitely; I highly recommend it. I'm enjoying the topic study I'm doing at the moment, but someday soon the mood may well strike me to gear up for another sprintathon through holy writ.
I was looking for a quote on resolutions to kick off this post, but I got distracted by re-reading and snickering over my favorite 'demotivating' posters at the ever-fabulous Despair, Inc. Here I am again, and now I can't take any of the absolutely lovely sayings of Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and the like seriously any more today. Go visit Despair, and you'll see what I mean.
Though I love a good bit of snark, I'm not a cynic, especially not when it comes to goals and dreams. I have a couple of resolutions that I'm keeping to myself for the moment, but I have some writing plans that I wanted to share. Here are a few of my goals for 2009:
1) Read 100 books.
I usually read close to 80 (and I do keep lists), but last year's unique circumstances only allowed me to get through about 40. Life's too short for numbers that low; assuming I live another 50 years, if I only average 40 books per year for the rest of my life, I will have only read another 2,000 books.
Depressing: I'm sure I could go on Amazon and find close to that 2,000 that look appealing right this very minute, and that doesn't take into account all of the treasures to be published in years to come. I like the number 5,000 much, much better. We'll see how it goes.
I believe very strongly that a writer must read as much as possible. The more you read, the better you'll write. Patrick, when reading this, will want to interject something here. Be patient, honey; "wait for it" (sorry--inside joke).
2) Sell a novel. I really don't mind which one.
On this very day one year ago, I mailed out ten query packages to agents and publishing houses. Over the next several months, I received eight rejections and had two non-responses; I still expect to hear from one of those, since the slush pile at that house is roughly 12 months deep, but the other I have written off completely. Flaky agent.
Then Anne came along, and I decided to concentrate on short stories for a while. I have enjoyed developing a new side of my talent; more on that farther down the post. But now I feel ready to get my books out to people again. The fact that David Farland/Wolverton has accepted me into his novel-writing workshop--to be held this April--has refueled my long-form-writing fires. I can't wait to go!
3) Have 5 short stories published.
I've already submitted two to new venues in the past couple of days. Both have been rejected elsewhere, but I have confidence in them and am sure that both will eventually find homes. More of their siblings will follow suit. I'm using Patrick's parking philosophy as I market them.
When I park my car, I generally look towards the emptier end of the lot or street, but Patrick gets as close to the door of his destination as possible, then circles outward. Though his approach runs counter to my instincts, it does tend to get results. So instead of starting at the bottom of the the short story food chain, I'm starting at the top.
For my short stories, I have a list of the SFWA-approved markets. To qualify for membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), one must either publish a novel with a company on their approved list, or publish three short stories with periodicals on a similarly exclusive list. It's a short list, my friends, made up of the top-tier magazines in my chosen field. I've started there and am now circling outward. I covet SFWA membership and am doing all I can to get it.
4) Keep Tuesday nights and Fridays as sacred as possible.
I can usually sneak an hour or so of writing in any given day, but larger chunks of time for writing are as rare as hen's teeth given my current situation in life. I do have Tuesday nights and Fridays from 9:30 to 3:30, though. It's not much time, but I am very grateful to have it.
I will resist the temptation to do other things on Tuesday nights and Fridays, fun things like visiting with friends or watching movies. Instead, I will write. Why? Because a writer writes. If you're thinking about writing or talking about writing or doing something else that isn't writing, you're not a writer.
Do you have any goals for 2009? If so, I'd love to know that I'm not the only one; let me know, and we'll keep each other accountable.
Oh, and just in case you didn't recognize this post's title, here's one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
For my 'Best of 2007' list, click here.
Life just keeps getting better, though this year was more about quality than quantity. I didn't read nearly as many books, see as many movies, or eat at as many fabulous restaurants in 2008 as I did in previous years. I bought very little new music and saw almost no live theater. I didn't leave the the East Coast--let alone the country--except for two funerals. Despite all that, I count last year as the richest and fullest of my life.
Top Five Eating Experiences
1) Thomas Henkelman, Greenwich, CT
2) Petrossian, New York, NY
3) Grifone, New York, NY
4) Ocean House, Croton-on-Hudson, NY
5) Café Gray, New York, NY
Top Five Movies Seen
2) Quantum of Solace
3) Iron Man
4) The Dark Knight
5) Kung Fu Panda
Top Ten Books Read
1) The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
2) Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman
3) The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett
4) Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link
5) Duma Key, by Stephen King
6) In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan
7) Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi
8) Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
9) Making Money, by Terry Pratchett
10) Last Year's Apocalypse, by Douglas Lain
Top Five Aesthetic Inspirations
Best Birthday Present
Barack Obama being elected the 44th President of the United States
1) Producing the utterly delicious Anne Catherine Perkins, born 13 May
2) Reading through The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price by June 30th.
3) Running yet another rewarding (if streamlined) edition of Perkins Summer School
4) Successfully completing a two-year service mission leading the local women's group of my church's 12-step Addiction Recovery Program
5) Writing my cookbook Comfortably Yum, available in mere days(!) through Lulu.com
6) Querying agents and publishing houses regarding two of my novels
7) Surviving rejection and/or non-response from all parties queried
8) Writing my first-since-high-school short stories and submitting them for publication
9) Having my short story "Dodmen and the Holophusikon" produced as a podcast
10) Outdoing Patrick for the first time ever in our Christmas gift exchange
11) Putting up three fantastic batches of jam: pear, red raspberry, and peach-white raspberry
12) Creating my online Advent Calendar
Thanks to all my readers: both family and friends, lurkers and commenters. You were one of the main reasons 2008 was so fantastic. Happy New Year! Let's make sure 2009 continues the upward trend.