Monday, November 23, 2009

Non-stop Glam

This weekend I got to hang out with my adorable nephew, which meant we spent about 40 minutes watching Spongebob Squarepants, half an hour eating peanuts and spinning around (which led to puking for some of us), an hour running up and down the driveway, and about half an hour encouraging the parroting of humorous, non-age-appropriate phrases.

I particularly enjoyed the commercials on Nickelodeon. Since we usually watch the Food Network (which, if their commercials are any indicator, caters to childless old people with dogs), I'm not hip to the cool toys these days.

Here's one I was really excited to see: the Barbie Glamour Camper. Well, I wasn't so much excited to about the product as I was about its pitch, which entailed shots of Barbie and her sisters enjoying the perks of 'camping' while the chipper song playing in the background exclaimed, "Non-stop, non-stop, non-stop glam!!"

Several times.

Okay.

Barbie, Mattel, ad whizzes hired by Mattel, let me break it to you gently. Camping is not about non-stop, non-stop, non-stop glam. Camping is about washing your hands with moist towelettes for three days. Camping is about hammering stakes into the ground and clipping vinyl tablecloths to dusty, wobbly picnic tables and dogs that won't stop barking in every campsite next to yours.
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Camping has nothing to do with flushing toilets (unless you ride your bike two miles there and back, wearing a headlamp).
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Camping has so much more to do with you pooping in some shrubs behind the tent at the inconvenient hour of 11 pm because you're too afraid to make the trek to the pit toilet (or you're simply too afraid of the pit toilet, period), and then your boyfriend discovers the turd and makes you impale it with a stick and throw it farther into the woods.
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And then you are forced to wash your hands with a moist towelette.
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Non-stop, non-stop, non-stop glam!
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Camping is not about flat-panel TVs on swivel arms.
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Camping is about drinking cheap beer, throwing the empty cans into the campfire, and watching them melt. That's your entertainment right there, folks. And if you breathe deeply, probably a secondary source of inebriation.
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Camping is not about functional kitchens with garbage disposals and sanitary practices.

Camping is about picking charred hot dogs out of your alumi-fire and eating them with hands so filthy they'd make a chimney sweep blush.
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Camping is not about actual beds and pillows and blankets.

Camping is about damp sleeping bags on air mattresses that will never remain consistently inflated, but will instead deflate beneath your buttocks until you are folded in half, in which position you shall remain until four a.m., when the first birds start singing and/or it begins to storm.
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If your idea of camping involves a television set, microwave, electricity, comfort, or a chandelier in the screen tent, you are not camping. Also, you should be swiftly kicked in the ass.
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Anyway, in this economy, it's more likely that Barbie and Ken will be stuck with the hand-me-down Barbie Country Camper when they go to Jellystone.



(PS: my favorite comments about this commercial from YouTube: "I have this camper! My uncle found it in a dump!" and "My older sister had this and I rode it like a car and broke it.")

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GCC Presents: Marilyn Brant

I am so, so behind on my GCC posts! I have three new books to tell you about, and I'll kick things off with Marilyn Brant, whose debut novel ACCORDING TO JANE was released last month to great fanfare. A Family Circle reviewer called it "charming," and Barnes & Noble Review selected ACCORDING TO JANE for "The Long List" in mid-October, dubbing book "Fresh, original, and lots of fun." (And what a gorgeous cover!)

About the book: It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet "tsk" of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author's ghost has taken up residence in Ellie's mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go--sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane's counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.
Still, everyone has something to learn about love--perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie's head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. . .

About the author: As a former teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer for Romantic Times, Marilyn has spent much of her life lost in literature. She received her M.A. in educational psychology from Loyola University Chicago, dabbled in both fiction and art at Northwestern University, studied the works of Austen at Oxford University and is an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her debut novel According to Jane won RWA's prestigious Golden Heart Award® in 2007.

The interview:

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine? I have far less time to actually write! That has been one of the biggest challenges for me. I now have to split my true writing time with promotion and publicity. In some ways, it’s helped me use the real writing time more efficiently--I don’t have a half hour to web surf for just the perfect name for some character’s pet, I need to get to the heart of the narrative much faster and save some of the detail hunting for later.

2) Do you listen to music while you write? No. I wish I could. I LOVE music, but it’s wildly distracting to me while I’m writing. (Probably because I love it so much and am too often inspired to sing along. :) I reference songs quite a bit, however, in the narrative itself, so I listen to a lot of music while I’m working on a story--just not when I’m actually sitting at the computer and typing. My favorite way is to go on walks with my iPod and think about scenes, testing out different songs to see if they provide the right musical subtext. For According to Jane I have an entire soundtrack of ‘80s tunes amassed. (I put a bunch of these song titles on the “Extras” page of my website.)

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and storytelling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?' Sure. I think this is a natural result of studying any craft deeply. I remember reading the book Ice Castles as a kid, not long after the movie came out, and there was this one scene where the teen ice skater was trying to recapture her feeling of freedom on the ice. She used to skate with her eyes closed, just dancing across the frozen pond. But, after her strict training, she’d forgotten how to skate naturally. Though she was now blind, she could no longer just close her eyes and skate. She was too aware of her posture and her positioning; she couldn’t forget her lessons... I’ve felt that way about all aspects of storytelling. When I reread books I used to enjoy, I find myself pointing out flaws in the structure, noting sloppy characterizations or being annoyed by certain writer tics that I’d simply skimmed over before back when I used to be able to read just for “story.” On the one hand, that’s a loss. I was able to LOVE a lot more books back then! On the other hand, these craft skills were hard won, and the awareness they’ve given me is necessary if I want my writing to keep improving.

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer? A grand European tour. I’ve done that with my husband, but it was before I became a novelist. Now, I think I’d appreciate the whirlwind sightseeing, the different regional dishes and the quirky characters a traveler encounters on a long trip even more than I did then…and I enjoyed them all quite a lot at the time!

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences? Well, I’m a debut author so--for good or bad--I haven’t had too many strange or quirky author experiences yet. I’ve been “found” online by a few people from my past, and that’s surprised me. But, so far, these haven’t been unwelcome reunions. Oh, wait! There was one thing. Someone from high school sent me a letter (and this was a couple of years before I sold my first novel) saying she wanted me to help her publish a children’s book she and I had jointly written as sophomores. She figured my “connections” in publishing would make that easy. When I wrote her back and gently explained that, while I remembered doing that project when we were 16, it probably would be difficult to have something that we dashed off in an evening or two hold up to the rigorous standards of today’s children’s book market (plus my writing area was contemporary women’s fiction not children’s lit), she never responded. So, yeah, okay--THAT was strange.
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Thanks Marilyn! Best of luck with your debut. Next up, Jessica Brody and Melissa Senate.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

One of Those Truly Weird Nights

Is it the cooler fall weather that's making me a sluggish blogger? Is my attention span that short? (Hey, look! A squirrel!) Well, I finally have some new blogworthy material to share with you.

Last night J and I (and my parents) attended a stimulating debate hosted by UW-Oshkosh as part of their ongoing speaker series: The Great Porn Debate...Horny vs. Holy. Ron Jeremy vs. Craig Gross.

I know.

Turnout was incredible, with 200 kids stuffed into an overflow room to watch online. Now, if just the thought of attending such an event with your parents makes you break out in a cold sweat, imagine if your mother, polite to a fault, tried making small talk with you prior to the event by asking, "So....do you watch a lot of porn?"

You know, it just occurred to me that I never did answer her! Let's leave it at: "None. None at all."

The debate was spirited, and each side made some valid and thoughtful points. It was a colorful and interesting change of pace.

But let me back up a bit...

Earlier in the evening an elderly woman knocked on my front door by mistake. She was looking for her friend Bea's party: "I'm sorry I'm late!" Then, as her predicament began to dawn on her: "Where is everybody?" I felt absolutely horrible for her when I responded with a gentle, "May I ask who you're looking for?" I invited her in while I looked her friend up in the phone book...apparently, this poor, confused, very lost 84 year-old had been driving around for an hour trying to find her friend's place, and she landed on my porch, just ONE BLOCK from her destination. J came home to find this unfamiliar old lady sitting at our kitchen table, chatting away with Bea on her cell phone, her giant boat of a Cadillac parked in our driveway.

While I walked Helen out she told me that getting old was no picnic. "Would you believe I used to be a professional ice skater?"

"It's a good thing we wrapped this up now," I replied. "We've got to go see a porn star speak on campus."

I'm totally kidding about that. I actually replied, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

No, no, of course I didn't say that. I smiled and laughed and listened to her talk about growing up a few blocks from me and moving to Florida. It kind of broke my heart that she told me the bit about ice skating...it was important to her that I didn't just see her as a confused older woman who came to my house by mistake, but that I know she too was once vibrant and young. I don't look forward to that. To the feeling that you have to prove your value, justify your continued worth as you lose your independence, health, and even dignity in dribs and drabs every day.

I'll say this--she may have been confused, she may have been a bit shaky on the stairs, but if I'm still in good spirits, resilient in the face of adversity, tooling around going to parties with my friends fifty years from now, I'll consider myself unfathomably lucky.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Tick or Teat!

I threw a smallish Halloween party this weekend, which is partially why I have been so quiet lately. I had decorating! I had pumpkin carving! I had savory autumn leaf pies to make, bishes! And let me tell you. Those bastards sucked a chunk from my life that shall never be returned. (They were delicious, but their wee, sassy leaf shapes shall never grace my kitchen again. Because of the time suckage factor.)

An hour before trick-or-treating (and three hours before the first guests were to arrive), Daisy peed on the back rug for the second time in 24 hours, so I had to make an emergency run to Target to buy a new one. And more candy (because we kept eating it) and pint glasses (because we kept breaking them) and ice (because…well, because we wanted to get all fancy with beverages in a galvanized metal tub). The melted water from said cubes would later lead to a toilet overflow emergency at 1 in the morning. But what’s a Halloween party without the toilet overflowing at least once??

We only had 55 trick-or-treaters this year. I almost typed “tick,” and wouldn’t it be funny if you had a kid actually come to the door and ask,“tick or teat?” Because what kind of choice would THAT be? Anyway, that’s kind of a poor turnout, so we have lots of candy left. My FUPA is happy about this, but I most certainly am not.

On Sunday I hit my Halloween wall and did a major tear-down of all the seasonal holiday crap festooning our house: spider webs, lights, wall d├ęcor, even black poster board bats we cut out while watching NBC all night last Thursday.

I learned a few new things at our party. For example, I learned that my friend L is also a vegetarian. And that only one of the party attendees was a parent. And that cheese really does have magical powers, especially if it’s infused with the flavor of buffalo wings.