Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Clockin' the Ho's

I’m feeling scattered lately. It’s probably because I don’t do yoga, but who needs one more thing to feel outraged about?

It’s tax season. It’s also grant deadline season and contractors-working-on-the-house-with-the-back-door-cracked-open-so-they-can-run-
the-bandsaw season. (Is your furnace constantly running? Better go catch it!)

In an effort to relax I’ve found a new thing to worry about. I enjoy a nice glass of Red Truck wine after work, but turns out this wine has a screw cap. If I cared anything about the planet I’d be drinking wine stopped with a REAL cork, because that would support old-growth cork forest and a traditional way of life in Portugal.

My furnace not sucking the grid dry would probably help the planet, too.

Anyone interested in buying a two year-old water heater? We just bought a newfangled tankless one because the current (but efficient and well-appointed!) model is improperly vented. These are the kinds of things that happen when good sense takes the last shuttle to Schenectady and you decide to re-roof and re-side your house in January after you install a new driveway and build a garage.

Remodeling. It is my destiny.

Also, there are new cowsuckers to report! Witness:

You too can assemble this attractive objet d'art for display in your driveway! Read on for details.

An aerial view shot from a very small helicopter.

This is a grand experiment called “winter sowing,” in which I try to save money and cheat seedling death by potting up hundreds of seeds in dirt-stuffed milk jugs with drain holes. See, the theory is this: the seeds sprout in spring, and you have what at first glance appears to be a deformed Chia pet convention at a recycling center. But it’s not. It’s really a bunch of plants in jugs. Amazing, isn’t it? Then, when the time is right, perhaps when you realize you’ve squandered another winter opportunity to get your cellulite under control before shorts season, you plant your cute little Hunks Of Seedlings, or HO’S.

I’ve already identified which beds these cheap HO’S will wind up in. Until then, they’re just going to have to loiter in the gutter.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Not very Vitaminimal

Because I’m secretly an 88 year-old trapped in the body of a semi-childish "adult" raised on MTV, I receive in the mail, from time to time, packages the sender intends for folks who have retired. Folks with arthritis or a need for sure-footing in the tub. Folks who use the word “Folks.” So I wasn’t surprised when I recently received a wholesale vitamin catalog chock full of helpful and possibly contaminated pills.

Perhaps the company felt that I and the thousands of other folks on their mailing list were lacking in religious experiences and could benefit from a product called “Holy Basil.” Or maybe they felt my household was almost out of Guggulbolic or Strontium, which “promotes healthy osteoblast activity.”

What about some Nattokinase 100 mg? Or how about Sytrinol 150 mg? Vitex Agnus-Castus with 800 mg per serving? Do you have a need for “Tribulus Terretris” extract? How about Branched Chain Amino Acids, which the body cannot naturally produce? I’m well-stocked with Non-branching chains, but learning that I may be undersupplied in the branching department, well…that’s the kind of news that can send you into an emotional tailspin.

Funky colon? Your options are almost limitless! There’s Natural Balance Ultra Colon Clenz, NSI Healthy Colon, Fiber Drink, Acid ReDux (did you catch that wordplay? Oh, clever vitamin pushers!), Super Cleanse, and Friendly Fiber, which sounds safe and fun, don’t you think? Much better than A-hole Fiber. Which, unfortunately, is not a real product. But now that I think about it, may not be a bad name for a laxative juice mix! Talk about getting the benefit of the product up front and center.

I almost placed an order for some Quantum Migrelief (save 46% off the retail price!) because I’ve really been suffering from some painful Migs lately. And who could be without Phosphatidylserine Complex (1,000 mg per serving), which “maintains the integrity of cell membranes and youthful synaptic plasticity.” (For people fond of rubber bands.)

Here are two products that caught my eye: “Chem-Defense” and “Gaba Calm, “Gaba,” or “Gaba Calm Orange Sublingual.” I want defense against chems! I want to be so calm I’m incapable of uttering anything other than “Gaba," just like one of the Ramones!

When it comes to multi-vitamins, your options are only limited by your imagination. Here is a sampling of those with the most disturbing or catchy names:

  • Greentastic (Look! We’ve cleverly modified the word “fantastic” by dropping the “fan” and inserting “green!” Doesn’t it imply health and mania?!?!)
  • Buried Treasure Liquid Vitamins (Side effects: Inability to stop saying, "Aaarrgghhh, matey!")
  • Peter Gillham Natural Vitality Liquid Organic Life Vitamins (Well, if it’s good enough for Peter Gillham, it’s good enough for me.)
  • Synergy Max Multi-vitamin, Version 3 (if this isn’t cutting it, you’ve also got Synergy PLATINUM Multi-Vitamin, Version 3, or how about Synergy ENERGY Multi-Vitamin, Version 2. This doesn’t include the 21 Synergy products I failed to mention.)
  • Jarrow Formulas Jarr-Dophilis EPS (Missing tagline: "What Jar-Jar Binks would take if he were a real creature")
  • American Health More than a Multiple (It's more than a multiple; It's also a washing machine/iPod.)
  • Grobust ("We must … we must … we must increase our --")
  • Maxi-Multi (Release the disturbing connotations and horrible mental images! )

I do know that I will be weeping should I ever ingest Country Life “Maxine Multi-Vitamin for Women,” because whose soul hasn’t been crushed by the omnipresent, funny-the-first-time-scary-the-hundredth crusty old Maxine character thrust upon us in the mid-nineties by Hallmark?

This catalog has it all: products for weight management, eye support, female or male “enhancement,” gluten-free, green foods, garlic, fish oils, immune-boosters, memory support, senior health, sleep and mood, bones and joints, cardiovascular, antioxidants, and enough vitamins to overflow 8,395,742 ball bins in pizzatainment joints worldwide.

And then we enter the realm of pet vitamins with cutesy names: American Biosciences DGP Dog-Gone PainDancing Paws 'Breath-a-Licious'Vita-TreatArthripower for Pets. What I want to know is why no one has come up with Breath-a-Licious for people? And I too might enjoy something called “Vita-Treat.” It would certainly make the bushel of vitamins I ingest every day a little more palatable and entertaining.

At the other end of the spectrum, the makers of “Dirty Me Bubble Bath” and “It Doesn’t Hurt Hair Detangler” just seemed to give up when it came to naming their products.

Finally, just guess what Goliath Labs “Ejaculoid” is intended to “volumize.” Here’s a hint: it’s not your hair.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Part Three on Writing: Things They Won't Tell you in Famous Writer School

And finally, as promised on Wednesday, Part Three in my Three-Part Series on Riding the Gravy Train to Fame, Fortune, and a Lifetime of Neuroses by Becoming a Best-Selling Author. It's probably in your best-interests to ignore most of this, because as I mentioned on Wednesday, my book isn't even out yet. So what do I know? But let's continue:

Step EIGHT: The magical day has arrived! An agent wants to sell your book. Unfortunately, in the course of your research, you’ve learned that he is a former felon and can’t even vote in 13 states. He also has several pending lawsuits against him and wants you to pay him $5,000 for a detailed critique. Despite this, consider signing his contract anyway. In a fit of reason, tear up the contract. Feel relieved when you learn he has been sentenced to prison for tax evasion, fraud, and first-degree murder. He is now out of your hair.

Step NINE: An even more magical day arrives! A reputable agent claims to love your book and wants to represent you. Manage to work your elation into a fit of neurotic panic. Grow convinced that friends and foes alike will now eye you with suspicion. It’s hard to be successful.

Step TEN: Fall on the floor and clutch your heart, because your agent has managed to interest not one, not two, but as many as three editors in your book! Enlarge the front door so your head can fit through. Scream loudly and often.

Step ELEVEN: The offer comes. You sign a contract. It is for less than you imagined, but it will be enough to do some remodeling. You can not quit your day job, but this is okay because this entire experience may give you a heart condition, and it’s good to have health coverage.

Step TWELVE: Begin obsessing about promotion. Have your author photo taken and feel self-conscious about your muffin-top the whole time. Based on your editor’s suggestions, make many changes to the manuscript. Realize that your first version contained some pretty gagtastic scenes that contributed nothing to the overall story. Feel relieved that despite this, people saw potential in you.

Step THIRTEEN: Learn your editor is changing publishing houses and realize that you are this close to becoming what you’ve read about in the how-to books, what you’ve heard spoken of in hushed tones at conferences: an orphaned author.

Step FOURTEEN: Something swoops in to save the day. This something is the wonderful agent you signed with. Send her and her assistant handmade soap and chocolate for Christmas.

Step FIFTEEN: Begin fielding questions about how to publish a book. Answer with confidence, though you are an expert on nothing. Grow comfortable with public speaking if “grow comfortable” = learn to suppress a jackrabbit heart, red face, sweaty pits, and sheer terror when the situation demands.

Step SIXTEEN: Somehow, you’re moving with your editor to her new home. Nearly vomit with relief. Your book won’t be released for another 16 months, but feel dim relief because that equals 16 more months during which you won’t have to speak in public. It also means 16 months in which your book hasn’t yet received any scathing criticism from reviewers and readers.

Step SEVENTEEN: Start writing the next book. Continue reading and taking notes on funny things friends and family say. Blog about people for cheap laughs, but get permission first. Don’t blog about your spouse much because you don’t want to lose half your stuff. Or your spouse, of course. They've been a saint to put up with you through all of this, and that kind of tolerance is hard to find.

Some of this is true, much of it is not. I don’t yet know the next steps in the process, so I’m stopping here for now. I left out the part about building a solid portfolio of magazine features, articles, short stories, poetry, or other related writing, because this post is about the fast-track to success, and nobody wants to hear the hard-work one. Also, I left out the part about writing contests because I got bored with my own post.

Disclaimer: book publishing experiences may vary. Riley’s Ramblings assumes no responsibility for fits of rage, panic, annoyance, or despair that result from reading this. Void in Delaware.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Part Two on Writing: The Seamy Underbelly

As promised on Monday, here is Part Two in my Three-Part Series on Riding the Gravy Train to Fame, Fortune, and a Lifetime of Neuroses by Becoming a Best-Selling Author, as written by an author whose book is not even out yet. (This is my way of saying, "Believe me at your own risk.")

Step ONE: Write a book. Make sure it has interesting and sympathetic characters, fast pacing and snappy, realistic dialogue, a coherent plot that not only makes sense but manages to somehow transform your characters by imparting a universal message, vivid and original description, brilliant insights into human nature, and action. (This action doesn’t have to involve kick-boxing or guns, but it helps if it does.) It has to have a theme we can all relate to, like nosy grocery clerks are annoying, or terminal illness is no fun at all. The writing must be clear and concise; if other writers tell you they love it, you can go ahead and buy that cape, crown, and yacht; the “royalty” checks will be rolling in shortly. Get it? Also, avoid using puns in your writing. And finally, make sure it’s nothing like books that have already been published, but sort of the same. You can probably accomplish this by having a talking monkey that appears when your protagonist wears a pair of special blue shoes. Name the monkey Neil Cavuto.

Step TWO: Tell everyone you know that you are writing a book. Talk about it incessantly. This way, someone will be bound to ask you how the writing career is coming along the day you receive your latest rejection letter. This is invaluable tool for thickening your skin, along with ongoing use of a tanning bed.

Step THREE: Got that book finished? Great! Invite the cruelest person you know to read it. This won’t give you much valuable input into the content or writing of your story, but it will give you something new to write about for book #2.

Step FOUR: Send query letters to lots of agents. Be sure to use colored paper and stuff your envelopes with glitter. This way, it will be like a party in their office when they open your letter! Try to handwrite your query if you can, maybe spray it with perfume, and tell the agent that your grandmother read and loved your book. Include a sample first page where a small boy wakes up to a ringing alarm clock and a last page that ends, “And he woke up to realize it was all a dream!” Do this even if your story is nothing like this.

Step FIVE: When an agent finally asks to see your manuscript, immediately send it to them in a giant, styrofoam peanut-stuffed box. Use an entire roll of packing tape to make sure your future best-seller makes it to the agent safely. Then, throw a party! Invite fifty of your closest friends. You are just minutes away from stardom. Later, grow despondent when you notice that you’ve gotten the color adopted by a particular street gang wrong in chapter four. Overnight a “correction page” to the agent with a profusely apologetic cover letter. Agents love to be interrupted by this kind of attention to detail.

Step SIX: Read your potential agent’s blog and learn that their office receives 20,000 query letters per year and only signs 8 new clients in that same timeframe. Begin receiving bushels of rejection letters. Consider burning your manuscript and getting a job washing dishes at a research station in Antarctica. If you drink, do it heavily. Otherwise eat lots of foods containing trans-fats.

Step SEVEN: Read everything you can about writing and publishing fiction. Become bitterly convinced that there really is a secret to success, and it has little to do with sitting in a chair and writing every day, even when American Idol is on. Especially then. Grow obsessed with having an agent. Fantasize about the moment when your agent calls you and says breathlessly, “Are you sitting down?” Then fantasize about running into your ex in the grocery store. He or she will be wearing stained sweatpants and you’ll be wearing a gold crown that reads “Best-selling novelist.” In your fantasy, generously sign an autograph on their sweaty child’s forehead.

We'll stop here for now to give your eyes a rest and keep the irritation you may be feeling to a minimum. Part Three will be up on Friday.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wha to Expect When You're Expecting a Book: Part One of my Writing-Related Trilogy

When I tell people I’ve written a novel that will be published by a heretofore yet undecided imprint of Random House in 2008, I receive many interesting responses. They have included:

1) A blank stare, followed by a clumsy steering of the conversation back to a topic they are more comfortable / familiar with. This is usually anything about themselves.

2) The comment, “I’ve always wanted to write a book, too. But I never had the time.” Well my friends, I’m happy to tell you that not only is publishing a book super-easy, you can actually find that missing time behind the couch cushions, along with about $1.46 in loose change!

3) Family and friends will be relieved that you’ve managed to avoid bringing shame and dishonor to the family name by say, landing in prison. Don’t worry; they may not have read your book yet at this point. There will be plenty of time for shame and dishonor when they do.

4) The comment, “I could never write a book.” Come on now, don’t sell yourself short! Can you write a grocery list? Next time you do, substitute humorous items here and there. Once you’ve got 300 of these suckers, you’ve almost got a book!

5) The question, “How much did you have to pay to get it published?” Other than the cost of my soul, it was really cheap. In fact, they actually paid ME! But now that this little secret’s out, I’m sure someone in the accounting department will be contacting me for a refund.

6) The question, “How does one get a book published anyway?” Ah, the question we’ve all been waiting for. Well, have you ever swum across the Atlantic Ocean? Trying to get a book published is a lot like that, only without the constant threat of drowning. But you should feel drawn to endurance-type activities. This Wednesday and Friday I will tell you exactly how one gets a book published with my posts: how you too can ride the gravy train to fame, fortune, and a lifetime supply of neuroses by becoming a best-selling author.

Yes, I know I said I was only blogging once a week, but I believe in mixing it up a little now and then. It's part of my new anti-aging strategy. Spontaneity keeping the brain cells challenged and all.

In the meantime, please stop by the talented and determined Stephanie Elliot's blog to congratulate her on signing with an agent. She’s on her way!

For real answers to writing-related questions, visit Diana Peterfreund, J.A. Konrath, Jen Weiner, or Allison Winn Scotch.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Well, it wasn't a dance-dance-revolution

So I had one of those weekends…you know, where you begin Saturday with your devout grandmother and end up in a gay bar around 1:49 a.m. doing the Cabbage Patch, Running Man, the Shopping Cart, and other assorted seizures (did I say seizures? I mean DANCE MOVES) from that recent era of neon annoyance. (My grandmother was no longer with me by that point. If she had been, now THAT would have been a blog entry.)

One of my favorite conversations from the night took place between me and a man that made my week by telling me and my friends that our presence was like a traveling party. (But when you have a boyfriend like his, QVC probably looks like a disco inferno.)

Me, shamelessly trotting out my forthcoming novel again (surprise, surprise): “I wrote a book! It’s coming out next year.”

Him: “Really? You’re a writer? Ohmygosh! What’s your book about?”

Me, boiling it down to the barest of bones: “A girl has a kidney transplant and takes a wacky roadtrip.” (Here’s the part I left out: “There are tears! There are chuckles! There is an inflatable Jesus doll and a mechanical bull, but sadly, not in the same scene!”)

Him, looking as if I just told him I’d adopted a physically deformed child: “Awwww! I love those kinds of stories. I watch Lifetime all the time!”

Me, thinking that I wasn’t really going for a Lifetimey mood with the book, cackling like a crazy woman: “Can I write a blog entry about you?”

Him: “Why not?”

So there you have it. In other news, I've actually written 80 pages so far for Book Number Two.

But here’s where things go to sh*t in a shopping cart. Work is about to steal the milk money from and beat the living snot out of all of my free time. Which is the norm with deadline-driven jobs. Just ask your tax preparer.

So it is with a heavy heart that I must bid you adieu for a few months, new characters who were just getting interesting; do something crazy while I’m gone. I’ll write about it later. Oh, and if you could develop yourselves a bit more, that would be great.

(The blog will maintain its weekly updates, more often if something interesting happens.)

Movies seen over the weekend: Children of Men. Two definite thumbs up from this household.
New recipes tried: mini-Southwestern quiches with hash brown crust. J gives it an enthusiastic endorsement--a very high honor indeed. I'm ambivalent.
Cleaning attempted: Who are we kidding?
Games played: Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble, which was given to a nine year-old me in Christmas of 1983. Realized for the first time that it was the "Large Type Edition." (Mom, you're a visionary. And practical!)
Dogs Being Naughty: One. See below.

Fed up with our snow-free winter, Daisy decides to take matters into her own paws.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I hope you’re recovered from whatever debauchery helped you ring in the new year. We celebrated the new year with good food, good friends, and a five-hour marathon of Scattergories until 3:30 in the morning, which is an assigned punishment in some military academies. Since I had consumed more high-fat food than alcohol, I actually remember some of the responses. Of course, most of my answers cataclysmically sucked, since I perform poorly under duress. You probably wouldn’t want me around in the event of a house fire or Jeopardy Lightning Round. (When I am asked to use my brain while a clock ticks down to a nerve-rattling buzzer, it basically implodes. I forget my own phone number, simple multiplication, and where babies come from.)

For those of you unacquainted with the board game Scattergories, here’s a brief description from Board Game Rating: “Name a restaurant, fruit, toy, Halloween costume, and weapon. And make sure all your answers begin with the same initial letter. If "C" is the letter, you might answer Chinese, Cantaloupe, Cap Gun, Clown, and Catapult. But be unique. If your response is the same as an opponent's, you score nothing!”

Oh, and you have three minutes to come up with twelve unique, letter-specific answers. And the game might turn every mild-mannered human being at the table into a viciously competitive, snarling animal.

Let’s begin with some highlights for the letter ‘O.’

Things you might spot on a hike:
I picked “Otters,” which seemed perfectly logical at the time. My best friend jotted down “Orange hat,” which sparked a heated debate about whether adjectives beginning with that round’s letter would count. For instance, one could just as easily see an “Outta-sight pine tree” or “Obnoxious badger” on a hike. New intellectual and interpersonal depths were scraped when people started yelling “Taffy!” for answers that were a ‘real stretch.’

For O-things found in a classroom, I picked “opportunity,” which was resoundingly denied by the rest of the players at the table. I’m still miffed.

Some fruits beginning with the letter 'P':
I drew a blank for a long time, but eventually came up with one. Was it Pineapple? No. Pears, Peaches, or Plums? No. Pomegranate, Papaya, passion fruit, pawpaws, or plaintains? No, no, no, no, and no. In a timed environment with multiple distractions I could only think of one fruit beginning with the letter ‘P:’ Persimmon.

Because they’re such a household fruit and no toddler would be without one, I guess.

Words beginning with the letter ‘L’ and having double letters:
I suppose I could have won extra points with “literally,” but the first word to leap to my battered mind was “Little.” I figured everyone else at the table would also come up with ‘Little,” so I scribbled “Leery.” I was swiftly challenged by the two teachers at the table, who were convinced it was actually spelled “leary.”

Colors beginning with the letter 'F':
Creative genius that I am, I promptly chose the same color as everyone else at the table: Fuchsia. Extra credit to my friend Leeann for coming up with “Fart brown.” And would you believe one of the categories for the letter ‘F’ was “four letter words?”

I picked “farm.”

Not really.

Things beginning with the letter ‘N’ that you find in a diner:
The guy nicknamed “Bingo” came up with “Soup.” I, playing correctly, chose “Nickels.” “Nickels” appeared earlier in the round for Things you find in the White House. When challenged, the nickel-chooser responded, “I’m sure someone in the White House has a nickel in their wallet!”

He was promptly pelted with crudités.

Things beginning with the letter ‘C’ that relate to money:
I didn’t pick “coins” or “currency,” which I can now see are appropriate answers. (Because there is no clock ticking.) What did I pick? Community Chest. When challenged by another player, I eloquently replied, “Dude! Not only does this refer to Monopoly money, but I just read about the origins of the community chest. It has something to do with money and World War II.” Opposing player, with a blank stare: “Like what?” Me, after a long pause: “Just something with World War II, okay?”

I’d make a great lawyer, don’t you think?

Beverages beginning with the letter ‘C':
“That Mexican beer.” (I’m ashamed to admit that I actually wrote that down.)

My favorite segment of the game was the last round, which featured the letter 'K' and a table full of drunk, exhausted, yet still unusually competitive players. Here are two of my answers:

Things that are black: "Koala’s a--hole"

Type of dance: "Knuckle shuffle"

And my friend Cindy’s K-word for Term of Endearment: "Keeper."

Guess what her new nickname is?