Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Peeking from the Grant Weeds

After one of the most unpredictable grant seasons ever, I am busier than ever at work--hence the silence on this trusty old blog. I am making serious hay while the sun shines. I do miss the novel I started last summer, but I've been adding to the tidbit folder. Ideas are percolating. Other developments:
  • We're considering remodeling our kitchen and downstairs bathroom this summer, after which we will have fully renovated our entire house. A human being can only take so much toilet so close to the kitchen for so long. Developing story, stay tuned ...
  • I've started my seedlings! Far too early, it seems. Every so often you can hear a soft, wistful sigh coming from beneath the grow lights ... it can only be the kale, looking longingly out the window.

  • We have something new to yell at in the house! It has one eye and watches us whenever we enter the living room. "XBox, turn! On!" "Xbox, go home!" "Xbox, choose this person! Off. TURN OFF!" We've named it Hal (because 2001 and utter lack of imagination), and it's only a matter of time before it develops self-awareness and kills us in our sleep.
  • I met with my Dad's freshman comp students two weeks ago after they read Driving Sideways as part of their required coursework (Teehee! Nepotism!) I also got a sneak peek at their response papers after my visit. Here are three of my favorite excerpts:
"After finishing up Driving Sideways, I thought it was an overall good book. It is a book more on the ladies side, but once you start reading there's no turning back (and it's required)."

"When Jess walked in the classroom, she was nothing as I pictured her to be. She was so pretty, nice and open about everything.* I thought she was going to be a little stuck up because she was an author but I was completely wrong" ... "I already told my mom she needs to read this book over the summer."

"Jokes like this are exactly my type of humor. The other day I was gibing a man for his hair style. I looked at my friends and said, 'Look, it's ChangesoneBowie.' I swear he looked exactly like David Bowie, but no one understood the reference. Leigh and I would have shared a laugh at that one."

"I just never knew of anyone that was an author ... and Jess seemed almost too human, too regular to be writing a book."

"Instead of selling this novel back to the school at the end of the semester, I plan on keeping it to offer to others for a fantastic read."**

~~~~~
So that's the news from Yawn City. Back to the Grant Cave for me. Got to chase the million-dollar donuts...see you in June, kids!

*I love that student!!!

**I have signed the same book multiple times, because some students sell their inscribed books back at the end of the semester. Yeah.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Gifts for Writers. (Hint: They're Not Books This Year)

Posting with the Girlfriends today, on gifts for writers and cutting-edge technologies. (Note: this no longer includes the Neo Alphasmart. Sounds like a fun learning toy for intelligent kids, right?) Stop by and tell us what you write on, what you want for Christmas, what you're giving the writers on your list: Skin-thickening cream, a unique little personal crisis (for inspiration), Famous for a Day treatment (it's like a spa day but far more entertaining).

"My name ... is Neo."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cat in a Cold Stone Cistern

(Which is really the opposite of a Hot Tin Roof.)

My parents live in an old farmhouse they bought at a real estate auction in the early eighties for a song. What song, I don't know--maybe it was that old favorite, "You Will Never Stop Remodeling This House (and one day your son's friends will Saran Wrap a dead possum to the porch)."

Anyway, it's a farmstead, which means it came with a garage, outbuildings, and an actual barn with hay and Official Farm StinkTM in the actual barn. At the time, a local farmer still housed his cows there and pastured them in adjacent fields; the fence that ran the eastern length of our front lawn was electrified. An electric fence, oh what fun! I still have an eye twitch from that game.

Because it's a farm, there are lots of cats roaming around. This is just how it is. They're not pampered indoor cats with immunizations, sterilizations, toys, and fully functional limbs. Nope. It's a rough life for a farm cat--at least it used to be. I can't tell you how many abandoned litters I tried to hand-raise when I was a kid, only to have most of them ultimately crawl behind major appliances to die, which is a memorable day in any eleven-year-old's life.

"This kitty smells funny!"
Anyway, there is now a fairly stable herd of cats at my parents' homestead. (I don't know what you call a large group of cats--a flock? Gang? Audience?) And most of them get along just fine. My mother nurses the sick ones as best she can, taking them to the local vet as needed. The latest to need such treatment was an adorable kitten named Molly, who was originally named "Malcolm McDowell," after the actor in A Clockwork Orange. I'll let you digest that for a moment.

After Molly's visit to the vet, she was allowed to recuperate in the basement. Recently, my mother went down to feed Molly, but the kitten was nowhere to be found; beyond some disembodied meowing, she could have vanished into thin air. Turned out Molly had gone exploring and gotten trapped in the old cistern adjacent to the basement. (What's a cistern? A kind of well where old timey folks stored rain water. A good place to bury the bodies in modern times.) My mother cobbled together a kind of stick/fishing line device to try and rescue the kitten, but the entire contraption fell into the cistern.

(Hang on ... I'm having a Baby Jessica flashback ...)

"I was so heartbroken," my mother continued. "I was ready to crawl into the hole to rescue her, but I wouldn't fit. You could hear the kitty just meowing and meowing, and it was so sad. Dad said it would probably take four days to die of thirst down there. I was too depressed to even listen to Garden Talk on Saturday morning."

Well, there's no way my mother was going to endure four days of progressively sadder / softer meowing and another week without Garden Talk, so my parents called A Guy (we all know A Guy, right?) who helped secure their barn's foundation and is good at "lifting rocks and things." The plan was to strategically remove a few of the rocks cemented into the wall between the old cistern and the basement so my mother could crawl in and retrieve the lost kitty, but it turned out that would put the entire house's foundation at risk.

Plan B: cut a hole in the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen, which covers the cistern. So The Guy strategically cut into the tile floor, and there was the kitty! My mother lowered an old sheet into the hole, hoping the kitten would claw its way up, but instead it just rubbed its head on the end of the sheet. So, The Guy made a tiny ladder from some wood scraps, and the kitten eventually clambered up.

"The bad news is, there's a hole in the kitchen floor," my mother added. "The good news is, Dad's going to make the hole bigger--"

(I interrupted here with an outburst of laughter.)

"--and turn the old cistern into a root cellar, with a trap door in the floor to get in."

Jesus, this is getting long. I don't really have a good way to end this story, other than to say: a) the cat made it--yaay!; and b) let's hope a small child doesn't fall down the hole before the trap door is installed.

THE END.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Is Your Husband Trying to Tell You Something?



From time to time, J comes home from work with a box of “product.” It’s a perk of the job. These freebies have included cases of paper towels, toilet paper, dinner napkins, full-sized boxed tissues, travel-sized tissues, disposable hand towels, and pre-moistened “cleansing wipes” when you have a sticky poo. 

It’s a little like Christmas any time he comes home with a giant bag o’goodies. What will it be today? What’s in the box? Will it be anti-viral tissues in Hanukah-themed boxes? Paper towels that smell like cinnamon and pork? Now, I don’t mean to humble-brag, but last night J brought home 24 bottles of feminine wash.
 #feelingblessed! #Parabenfree!

He introduced the day’s haul by eloquently saying, “I don’t know what you’re going to do with it, but it’s wash for your coochie. I guess you squirt it in your hand and just kind of wipe it on?”

#soromantic! #justkindof!

Ladies, has your husband ever come home from work with 24 bottles of feminine wash? I know I let personal hygiene slide from time to time when I work from home, but this is more than a hint.  This is like signing your scurvy-riddled cousin up for the citrus fruit of the month club. This is like mailing your ex-boyfriend a case of extra-small condoms and a tube of Abreva. Or like offering a coworker with severe halitosis a stick of gum, bottle of Scope, package of floss, sample-sized toothpaste, gift certificate for a SonicCare toothbrush, and full-color, framed caricature of him or her walking through a car wash with his or her mouth wide open.

I started to make a list of things a person might do with 24 bottles of cooch cleanser, but this is all I could come up with:

1) Offend every woman on my Christmas gift list.
2) Start a hilarious new chain letter.

I guess I’ll have to research the ingredients. Can I wash dishes with this stuff? Do laundry? Give my dog a bath with it? (She’s already endured many indignities as a pet in the Riley household, what’s one more?)   

While I’m figuring out what to do with 24 bottles of cooch cleanser, I have a grant proposal to finish. Also, All the Lonely People will be re-launched NEXT WEEK with a new cover, special sale, and a giveaway. 

And if you would like to give an autographed paperback copy of any of my three novels to a reader on your holiday gift list, please email me. Ten bucks for each signed book, including postage (Sorry, U.S. addresses only.) I'll get the signed copies to you ASAP!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Pearls of Wit and Wisdom from Our Nation's Future

The other day I was digging through some old files and I stumbled across some old anonymous journal excerpts from my Dad's college students. They're freshmen, and one of their assignments is to maintain a journal about their first year in college. Some of the things they write are hilarious, insightful, sometimes heartbreaking, cringe-inducing, and utterly (and perhaps unfortunately) relatable. I picked a few gems to share below. Enjoy!

 ~~~~~

"I went tanning today and burned the shit out of my skin. Gotta love it. Go skin cancer!"

"I think my roommate hates me. Almost everyone hates me. At least my boyfriend kind of likes me at times."

"God, I feel so fat. Damn the fucking freshman 15. What is that shit all about? I still need to lose about 10 pounds. I want to be either a 7 or a 9. I haven't been that since the 7th grade."

"The Brewers are in the playoffs. Yay! I had a good/terrible weekend. I dumped Dustin early Sat. morning. I have never cried so hard in my life."

"To his credit, he was completely hammered."

"Maybe it's me, but I can't stand it sometimes."

"To make a long story short, we started kissing, kissing turned to touching, and touching turned to penetration. I regret that night, but regrets are just reminders of our mistakes. I don't think anything like that will ever happen again. I was a thief. She was a virgin."

"I really want to be either an author, interior designer, coach, wedding planner, or a photographer, it's hard to tell."

"I'm starting to realize that a lot of college girls are quite slutty. Not that I'm complaining, but yes, even I get sick of the one night stands. I really hope I can find just one decent girl on campus."

"Can someone tell me why I attract the ugly girls. I was at this party this weekend and I was talking to this group of girls, most of them very good looking, when a girl comes up and starts grabbing my nuts. I don't know her at all. I was scared and she wasn't good looking at all."

"I sit there, literally sit there with my thumb up my ass."

"Today is Nate and I's one year and nine month anniversary."

"I called my teacher for alcohol class. Wow, does he seem like an asshole! What do you expect, though, he's there to punish us for what we've done and 'educate' us about our 'problem.' How about this: I don't have a 'problem.' I drink for fun!"

"I have a 5-7 page research paper coming up. I'm doing it on Charles Manson and his awesomely fucked-up life. Hope it goes well."

"I had breakfast for the second time since I've been here. Then I had gay as fuck Biology."

"I have no idea who I am even. Oh yeah, I got my belly pierced today!"

"Studying seems to pay off."

"Mom picked me up and on the way to Clarks she told me she might have lung cancer...She's not trying hard enough to quit smoking....Anyway Halloween was good. I was a cereal killer."

"So I met this girl the other day. She's alright, nothing really spectacular, kind of just someone to fuck around with until something better comes along."

"I was just thinking today about one way that I changed since I've been in college. I don't hate gay people anymore. Most women like gay guys so they can hook you up fairly easily."

"As of right now I have a boyfriend. I HATE that word & I hate the fact that I do have one. It seems once I get what I want, I want something else. I just like the chase, I think. I just don't know what to do about all of this."

"College would be much better if an education wasn't involved."

"This is going to be my first weekend not drinking since I've been here, and I'm more excited for the weekend than I've ever been."

"Journal assignment: What am I passionate about? I am passionate about sex. I have had sex with 33 girls now and I just love it."

"I feel like I have to be the mom in this situation. My own mother is being childish and ridiculous. She is only thinking about herself. Why would she find someone else to bring into this fucked up family? Part of me wants to warn the guy and run a million miles the opposite way of my mom. I don't even know this guy and I'm trying to protect him."

"Today I just felt like getting in a fight with my boyfriend Justin, so I did."

"My roommate found her phone. THANK GOD!!!!!"

"It's amazing how much we don't know."

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Gnomes, Fairies, and General Mayhem

We had such a fabulous response to Samantha Stroh Bailey's giveaway! Congrats to Ananda. When I say "Check's in the mail!" it means "Ebook's in your inbox!" Let's make that a thing, k? This will be a regular feature on the blog, so stay tuned for more cringetastic author teen memories and giveaways in the future.

In other news, OnMilwaukee gave me one of my favorite interviews ever, and you can read it here. There are still ten days to win one of FIVE signed copies of Mandatory Release: just "like" my Facebook author page here. I don't post that often, usually to highlight a friend's book release, link to an interesting article now and then, the odd excerpt or recipe, that sort of thing. Nothing too spammy.  Zero photos of politician peen, guaranteed. Random drawing from all the "likers" on August 11.

Also, if there are two things I've learned in life, it's that my nose will run any time I jog on a treadmill, and also that my dad will wear a T-shirt completely at odds with his activity du jour. Case in point, last weekend he wore a tee featuring a screenprinted picture of Charles Bukowski above the quote, "It's not that I hate people. I just feel better when they're not around." to the crowded Fairy and Gnome Festival at Bookworm Children's Garden in Sheboygan.

Truly, it was a festive day, as evidenced by this photo of my niece and nephew.

The happiest children on earth.
Auntie Jess nearly derailed the day when, like a total idiot, she removed the straw from a juice box before her niece could do it herself. Luckily, ingenious Grandma stuck the straw back on the box with some chewed gum, restoring darling niece's desired DIY opportunity for straw/juice box detachment, and calm again pervaded the universe.

Happy ten-year anniversary to my patient, supportive, best-sport-ever husband; I still can't believe you've put up with me for this long.
Showing off my non-manicure and weirdly highlighting the Nike swoosh.

 I *am* working on a new book, but at my current rate, it won't be out until 2023. Not to mention that reading other books outside is much more fun than writing them in my dumb house. Here Daisy joins me, looking in my direction only because there's a squirrel on the fence behind me. She typically has her back to me, which is Terrier for "I Show You My B-Hole Because You Can't Tell Me What to Do...also, I'm still ashamed from when you clipped dingleberries from my hinder."
It's hard to look you in the eye...

And here's some good news: one of our goldfish has survived in the pond for more than a month! Let's go celebrate by getting ice cream and later listening to me complain about how the older I get, the more lactose intolerant I become. Ciao!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Now Presenting: Samantha Stroh Bailey


I am thrilled to have on the blog today the adorable and sweet Samantha Stroh Bailey; her charming debut novel Finding Lucas was released last April, becoming a word-of-mouth sensation.

She's giving away an e-copy of Finding Lucas to one lucky reader; as always, just leave a comment with your email and you're entered to win! Entries open until Friday, August 2.

And now, on to the interrogation interview:

1) Tell us about Finding Lucas, and what inspired you to write it.

I always get my plot ideas late at night just as I'm falling asleep. So, one night, I was lying in bed and thinking about my "friends with benefits" from high school and early university. I hadn't seen or spoken to Jack in almost ten years, and I wondered where he was and how he was doing. I'd never thought of him as the one who got away, like Jamie does in Finding Lucas. But, Jack had been a big part of my life as I navigated my late teens and early twenties, and I wanted to know that he was happy. Suddenly, I realized so many people must wonder "what if" about their exes. With Facebook and Twitter, it's much easier to find them. And Finding Lucas was born.

Can you ever really go back to the past?

After five long years of living with Derek, her former bad-boy-turned-metrosexual boyfriend, Jamie Ross finally reaches her breaking point. She's had enough of his sneering disdain for her second hand wardrobe, unusual family and low-paying job as the associate producer of Chicago's sleaziest daytime talk show. When her new boss plans a segment on reuniting lost loves, Jamie remembers Lucas, her first love and the boy she'd lost ten years earlier. Spurred on by her gang of quirky friends, Jamie goes on a hilarious, disastrous and life changing hunt to track Lucas down. But are some loves best left behind?


2) What one piece of writing advice resonated most with you?

Keep writing. I've been writing for thirty years, and though it does take me a long time to finish a manuscript (I have two young kids and own a freelance writing/editing business), I never stop writing. I'm not always happy with what I write, but I keep going until I am.

3) If you had to design a menu around Finding Lucas, what three dishes would be featured?

Steak, for sure. Both Jamie and I share a love of meat, and I think a huge T-bone, medium rare, with a Caesar salad, topped with crunchy croutons and shaved parmesan is a must!

Jamie's mom, Leah, and stepmom, Katie, are both in the field of holistic wellness. So, a dish featuring quinoa, sprouts and a ton of veggies would definitely be on the menu.

Because Jamie works for a sleazy daytime talk show, another dish would have to be fast food. Unhealthy, full of grease and fat, this "dish" would represent the stories Jamie produces on "Tell It Like It Is."

4) Always feared, always entertaining: share your favorite cringe-worthy teenage memory.

This is totally cringe-worthy. Well, in high school, I wasn't the most attractive of teens. I had glasses, braces and no boobs (thankfully, those came a bit later and then promptly disappeared after I had kids). There was this guy who all of the girls were in love with. I thought I was being subtle when I stared at him in the halls, even timing the seconds between stares on my watch. Yeah, well, I wasn't as subtle as I thought. One day in the school cafeteria, filled with hundreds of students, the object of my affection stood up and yelled, "Would somebody tell that ugly girl to stop looking at me?" Before you wince too much, I did get my revenge. Years later, I saw him in a bar, and having no clue who I was, he asked for my number. I gave him the wrong one.

5) If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

This is an easy one. I'm only five feet tall. Well, okay, barely five feet tall. So, I would love the superhero power to stretch to five ten whenever I felt like it. I could finally see over people's heads in movie theaters, wear pants that I don't have to hem with duct tape (duct tape has so many uses), and people wouldn't pat me on the head anymore.
~~~
Thanks, Sam! Isn't she great? Don't forget to enter to win a copy; this one's such fun!!

Samantha Stroh Bailey has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen. In fact, she even sent her first manuscript, Freddy the Flame, to publishers when she was ten years old. After 15 years of teaching ESL to adults, including at the University of Toronto, she decided to live her dreams of being a fulltime writer and editor. Now the owner of Perfect Pen Communications, she not only gets to write novels, but also writes and edits for magazines, websites, businesses, students and other authors. Her work has appeared in Now Magazine, The Village Post, Oxford University Press, Abilities Magazine, on mommyish.com and many other publications. Samantha also has a Masters of Education in Applied Linguistics. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children. Finding Lucas is her first novel. 

You can find Samantha on her Blog, Twitter @perfectpen, Facebook, Goodreads, and her Business Website, Perfect Pen Communications. Finding Lucas is available on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Kobo.