Monday, June 29, 2009

GCC Presents: Sheila Curran

It's time again to showcase another talented member of the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit: Sheila Curran, author of the newly released novel Everyone She Loved. I was lucky enough to snag an advanced review copy, and I can't wait to read it on my trip to Victoria.

I love the premise of this novel, and I'll let Sheila herself tell you about her book's backstory:

"Books are born in strange places. This one was conceived in the front seat of a car.

No, not that kind of conception. My friend Julianna was driving. Our daughters were chatting in the back seat. I was talking about an article I’d written for McCall’s about two young girls in Arizona whose parents had died within months of each other. “Did you know that in some states, if there isn’t a will, the kids can be sent to foster care?”

The girls in my story weren’t so unfortunate. Their mother had named her best friends, another pair of sisters, as the children’s guardians. ”Just make sure you chose someone to take over if something happens to you.”

From there we talked about difficult it would be to chose which couple among one’s siblings and friends would best be suited for the job. Where did one couple’s permissiveness slide into overindulgence, another’s consistency into unbearable strictness? The idea of dying was hard enough, but figuring out which couple would most love your kids in your absence? Impossible.

We paused in our conversation just long enough for my brain to settle on yet another catastrophic possibility. “You know what would be worse?” I asked. “What if I died and John (my husband) married someone awful? I’d have no control at all!”

Another pause. “Unless,” I continued. “I could get him to agree that if he remarried, my sisters and friends would check out the bride. Make sure she wasn’t some kind of wicked stepmother.”

And thus was hatched the idea of EVERYONE SHE LOVED, a novel that explores the faith one woman placed in her dearest friends, the care she took to protect her family, and the many ways in which romantic entanglements will confound and confuse even the most determined of planners."
See? Doesn't that sound fantastic? She's also garnered some great endorsements from authors I adore:
“EVERYONE SHE LOVED is peopled with women of strong appetites---for love, for sex, for food---and Sheila Curran has amazing insight into the love-hate relationship that women have with each other and their own bodies. Curran is a beautiful writer, both witty and evocative, and she knows how to keep a reader riveted. I was up way past my bedtime, unable to stop turning pages." -- Joshylin Jackson, author of THE GIRL WHO STOPPED SWIMMING and GODS IN ALABAMA
"It isn't so much that Curran has found her greatest muse in the unbreakable bonds between women, but that the unbreakable bonds between women have have found their greatest writer in Sheila Curran." -- Julianna Baggott (Bridget Asher), author of THE PRETEND WIFE and MY HUSBANDS SWEETHEARTS
For a few insights into Sheila's writing process, check out her answers to my interview questions:
1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine? Not much of anything has changed. I still go through the same difficulty trying to get started with a new book, still have days where I’m sure I was never meant to be a writer, days where I’m sure I’ll never be published again.

2) Do you listen to music while you write? No, I wish but I get distracted.

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?' Oh absolutely!

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer? Hmnn. I think I’d like to spend some time in New England because I’d very much like to write about my father’s family’s roots there. Since my mom and siblings live there, I won’t have to pay for hotel, but getting time to do the research will the be the stretch.

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences? Years ago, I was working on a story about two-uber hip couples who leave New York City to renovate an old hotel on a lake in New Hampshire. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but in the first chapter, my heroine got up early in the morning, wandered downstairs to go to the bathroom. She’s foggy with sleep, lost in thought, and she walks directly into a pair of feet. A strange woman has hung herself in their bathroom. Two weeks later, my sister, who lives in New Hampshire, got a call from a young teenager who worked for her. The child had just found her mother, hanging from the ceiling. They lived on the very lake where I’d pictured my novel unfolding. That spooked me.
Thanks, Sheila! Best of luck with your sophomore release.
I'll be back with another post Wednesday, perhaps with some answers to the questions that have been keeping me up at night: why are the leaves on my birch turning yellow? Why is my yard infested with earwigs? Who owns the orange and white cat that hangs out in my flower beds? When will the construction workers return to finish our street?
I'm beginning to fear the answer to the last question is "When Michael Bay directs a sensitive, well-acted, well-written drama with nary a single explosion."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blame it on the Heat

Are you just dying in this heat wave? It's been in the nineties in Wisconsin this week. My house is so hot it feels locked in a car parked on John Goodman's taint. On the sun.

I'm sitting here waiting for a breeze, wearing a nice, gorilla sheen.

First, a bit of news: passport success! After waiting three hours in the line to get into the line that waits for the line to speak with a passport agent. We leave for Canada next Friday. Our luggage will be leaving with us, but with three layovers, it may not be arriving with us.

After we left the passport office we met my brother for a late lunch in downtown Chicago. After three hours in line at a Federal office, the ladies' room in the restaurant seemed like a good place to start. Shortly after I entered the empty bathroom, a woman came in and took the stall next to me. She immediately blasted a thunderous, tile-shaking fart that lasted at least five seconds.

"Oh! Sorry!" she said, cheerfully. "Oops, I've got one more on the way!"

And she farted again--long, loud, and surprisingly musical. Here was a woman with considerable pride in her intestinal prowess.

I was dumbstruck. Usually when someone begins tooting up a storm in the stall next to you, you just quiver with quiet laughter until you rejoin your friends at the table and tell them all about it. The tooter never attempts to explain this behavior. Never attempts to make contact. Never announces the coming attractions nor apologizes for them afterwards. This was going against every rule of bathroom etiquette collectively understood by humanity.

"Uh-oh, I lied," she said, farting again. It was endless. She giggled and blithely added, "Well, if you can't do it here, where can you do it?"

"Um, yeah!" I finally answered. My stomach hurt from laughing so hard. It was easily the most disgusting, uncomfortable, and hilarious moment of my life, and I couldn't wait to tell J and my brother. Before they ate. First, I wanted to get the hell out of there. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough, and she joined me at the sinks: Frizzy gray hair shaped like a large triangle, glasses, and a giant smile.

I immediately knew which friends I wanted to share this with. Like, everyone who reads this, I guess.

Food bits: Tomorrow's CSA box will have garlic scapes, sugar snap peas, and strawberries!

Waste some time: Texts from Last Night

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not Just for Hippies and Libertarians

Yesterday I indulged my inner Off-the-Grid Homesteader when we attended the Midwest Renewable Energy Association fair. I'm not going to run off and join a compound in Idaho, but I did geek out a bit over some of the exhibits, including super-smooth bamboo flooring samples, solar ovens, straw-bale homes, and my next car--a hybrid Honda Civic.

Hey, look! This button is labeled "invisibility cloak."

I've always wanted to drive my toaster. Do you see the man in the background? The handwritten sign on his back reads, "Batteries for sale." Also, I could tell he cut his own hair, because there was a super-shaggy tuft behind his right ear.

There were, of course, plenty of electric cars and vehicles converted to run on veggie oil. So, if you've ever wanted to drive around smelling of french fries, you may want to look into this.

I also picked up a free back issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal (The Magazine of Modern Homesteading). I was attracted by the article on canning but fell in love with the black and white newsprint-y pages, chock-full of ads for miniature cattle and books like Wild Game Cookery. I also loved the suggestions sent in from readers, with headings such as "Rabbit breed corrections," "Converted mobile homes may not be insurable," and "Cheaper chicken fencing."

The pen pal pages were similarly fabulous. A young woman looking for a homesteading mentor has to specify "no felons, druggies, or freaks," which leads one to believe she's had this problem before. A homeschooled boy enjoys "music, singing, and drawing on occasions. I also enjoy talking to God." A political prisoner "seeks correspondence with others who are primitivists by choice," and a priest looking for Catholics interested in establishing a faithful, off-the-grid community invites readers to "email ... for the details of how a married, Protestant minister with four children became a Catholic priest."

The current issue features an article entitled "Swap your Lawn for an Edible Garden."

So J, can I? Also, can I have an alpaca and some chickens?

Other things I'm digging lately:

Taking Flight, run by the fabulous Raptor Education Group in Antigo, Wisconsin, is like crack to me. I check in daily to read about their feathered rehab patients' progress.

True Blood is back on HBO!

More bloodsucking entertainment: Let the Right One In, a lovely, tragic, and ultimately (strangely) hopeful indie vampire flick from Sweden. Also, it seems to take place in the early eighties. Bonus!

J and I both loved this movie. In fact, J even announced that he "wouldn't like anyone who didn't like this movie."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two Tickets to Paradise (Man, I hate that song)

Lots of things, lots of things!
We are in the midst of planning a trip to Victoria, British Columbia in early July, and because a) I am a flaming idiot -or- b) I was simply too busy to notice, our preparations have recently become more complicated.

You see, as of June 1st, you need a passport to go ANEEE-WHERE beyond the United States. We were bopping along with our birth certificates and photo IDs, blissfully unaware that the requirements had just changed...when I finally discovered this teeny obstacle last Friday, I kicked into worry-overdrive.

So we're going to Chicago on Tuesday to apply for expedited passports in person. Last night my sister called at my mother's insistence to relate a horror story about a relative attempting to get an expedited passport in Chicago (ending? Thwarted. Had to go to Chicago three times. Didn't get the passport.).

Cue additional needless worrying!

Tonight we had our passport photos taken, and a woman in line at Walgreens felt SHE had to share a passport horror story with us, urging us to clear our photos with the post office. Because a government agency that loses billions of dollars annually is your go-to source for travel clearance in and out of the country.

(No offense to the post office...I like you all very much. Especially when you bring me checks or garden porn.)

We have begun to knit together a back-up plan if everything goes to hell and we are denied passports in time. Seattle? Why, yes please! We can do a week in Seattle.

But if we make it to Victoria, I would like to publicly declare that I will try not to add to the sewage dumping problem.

Things I am loving lately: Tom Yum Soup, Mojitos, and my CSA (Our boxes will include fresh, hand-made ciabatta bread tomorrow!)

Also, my very first alpine strawberry, tucked between some daylilies and lavender in one of my flowerbeds:
So cute and tiny, it's perfect for a mouse who stars in a Pixar film and dreams of making soup. And strawberry shortcake.

A petunia started from a teeny seed this March, when it was just a dream no bigger than a grain of salt:
And buckets-o-blossoms:

Planted these dears bare-root three years ago. They were so forlorn and stick-like I wanted to name them Pip, Cosette, and Oliver Twist. Now when I walk to the end of my porch to retrieve my garden and food porn magazines (okay, and junk mail and bills. I mostly get those, actually.) my nose does a tiny happy-dance.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Well, it's no Tilted Kilt...

My dear bloggy friend Jules tagged me for a meme, and just in time, because I was about to post some bullshit about the weather and things I've been doing to procrastinate (weird cooking, weeding, reading, beading...just kidding about the beading). So this is the deal about the meme:

"Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they don’t tell you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from the things they just make up. If you are tagged with this Meme, lie to me. Then tag 7 other folks (one for each deadly sin) and hope they can lie."

What is your biggest contribution to the world?

Plastics. You’re familiar with them, correct? Also, the sans-serif font. That was me, too.

What do your coworkers have that you wish was yours?

Their dignity.

I simply prefer theirs to mine.

What did you eat last night?

First, I crumpled up a wad of prosciutto. Then, I wrapped it in a thick slab of bacon. Then, I stuffed it in a deep-fried guinea pig. THEN, I stuffed the meat-full guinea pig into the cavity of a greasy, plump duck. I roasted that in its own juices, and stuffed the duck into a corn and hormone-addled, genetically-engineered turkey, and finally, into the carcass of a smallish deer. It’s no Turducken, but I think the Probapiguckturdeer might catch on.

What really lights your fire?

Men who litter indiscriminately and talk about their tax bracket. Bonus points if they do this while wearing a leopard print thong and a gold anklet. I also enjoy it if they have shifty eyes, tell misogynistic jokes, and are emotionally unavailable.

What is the last thing that really pissed you off?

I was about to type “Nothing truly pisses me off” when I looked two posts down, and there it is. Evidence that something as innocuous as a large lawn pisses me off to the point that I nearly need to be physically restrained.

Name something you hoard and keep from others:

Diesel exhaust. I’ve been inhaling a lot of it lately. It’s a special little treat I wish I could keep all to myself. My own little private International Coffees / Calgon retreat moment, right there in my rapidly graying lungs. Unfortunately, the whole neighborhood is also experiencing this delicious breathing event (and yes, it is an event, I’m not ashamed to call it such), so I don’t suppose you could say I’m able to hoard this fine particulate matter. Such a pity.

What’s the laziest thing you ever did?

Well, I worked three jobs while taking 15 credits a semester my final year in college. But I totally could have done more. I could have been planning a wedding, traveling, applying for full-time jobs, writing shitty, self-indulgent prose, and moving, also.

I’ll always regret these missed opportunities.

I'm tagging Suzy, Katie, Jeff, Little Ms. Blogger, Melissa, Shelly, and Tia.

PS: My talented author pal Eileen Cook is running a fabulous contest over at her site, for a $75 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice. You have 'til July 2nd to enter, so go check it out. Tell 'er Large Marge sent ya.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

I'm Feeling a Bit ... Bookish

People have been asking me lately when the next book is coming out. Especially the fine lady on a certain reader review / book lover social networking site who felt I was excessive in my use of naughty words. Last night I had a dream just for her, in which every other line of my next novel was the word "fuck."

I tell people I am working on my next novel, and in my head, I am. But it's so damn easy to get distracted in these early stages. Particularly when you are homebound, warily watching construction workers trample your yard and tear up your street like the ugly stepchild-army of Genghis Khan and Hernan Cortes.

So to prime the pump, I shared a lovely dinner last Thursday with friend and colleague Katie Krueger, who just released a memoir of her experiences living and working in West Africa on a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship. Proceeds from Give with Gratitude are being donated to support education in Senegal, so if you're looking to merge good read/good deed, I highly suggest picking up her book, available on her website.

I spent the next several hours with the lovely Therese Fowler, currently promoting both the soft cover release of her first novel Souvenir, as well as the hard cover release of her sophomore novel, Reunion. I just adore Therese, and she's a phenomenal story teller. On page, and in-person. (I got home at 1:30 in the morning.) Have you picked up her books yet? If you haven't, WHY NOT?

I am also reading and LOVING: Smart Girls Like Me by Diane Vadino, with two advance reading copies on deck: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (releases in August) and Everyone She Loved by Sheila Curran, which releases on June 16, one week from today.

Sheila's a delightful member of the GCC, which brings me in a somewhat roundabout way to the point of my post...a new GCC tour for author Judi Fennell, celebrating the release of her debut novel, In Over Her Head. Publisher's Weekly dubbed it a "playful debut" with "sincere wit." I've never read a romance featuring a 'Mer man,' but Judi has definitely piqued my curiosity.

About the book: Erica Peck thought she'd never have to go into the water again. After all, there's plenty to do running her family's marina from shore without having to dive in herself. But then her unstable ex-fiance shows up with a gun and demands her help in finding a bag of rare jewels she accidentally tossed into the ocean.

Unable to find them, bleeding from a grazing gunshot wound and running out of oxygen fast, she has no choice but to give herself up to the mercy of the sea. Rescued from the water and sharks by a gorgeous merman named Reel, Erica quickly finds herself falling head over fins in love with him. And when Reel risks his life to save hers, she discovers that she doesn't want to live without him, no matter the consequences. But can they ever find a way to be together when she still can't stand the water and he can't survive on land?

(Sidenote: Reel has a brother named Rod. I love that!)

To celebrate the release of each of her books, Judi has teamed with the Atlantis Inn and Hibiscus House bed and breakfasts to give away three romantic beach getaway weekends. Visit her website for details on how to enter.

The interview:

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine?
I write more often and have to be more focused. You'll find me at Borders a lot so I can't have the distraction of the internet.

2) Do you listen to music while you write?
Classical or ocean sounds. If anything has words that I can sing to, I'm sunk. It'll pull me out of the story.

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?'
Oh definitely. And in some ways that bums me out because I can't enjoy it in my innocence.

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer?
Bermuda. It's where Atlantis is in my books and I'd love to have first-hand knowledge. Google Earth can only do so much. At least, that's my argument to Hubs.

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences?
Having a bookseller email me that she received my book as an advanced reading copy and she snagged it for a friend of hers, but opened it any way to see if it could capture her interest since she's not a romance reader. She wrote to say that she absolutely loved the book and would be buying all of my series. Surreal.

Thanks, Judi!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Lady (Not) in Red Has a Garden

First, a plea: I need a red cocktail dress, and I can't find one ANYWHERE. I went to every store at the local mall that even entertains the idea of selling decent dresses and found ONE that I feel lukewarm about. I'm going to be wearing this as the Matron of Honor at my sister's wedding. (Yes, I'm a Matron. And a Ma'am, according to every younger sales associate I encounter. Please pass the All-Bran and get off my lawn.)
So here's what I'm thinking: rayon or matte jersey, just below the knee, swingy, summery. I like halter tops and empire waistlines, but they aren't essential. All red. No prints. No black ribbon trim. No weird belts or ruffles. No bells, whistles, scratch n' sniff fabric, or Lycra, either.
I am indebted to you for any advice you can share.

In other non-dress-related news, here's what's going on in my backyard right now. (Other than dandelions and asphyxia from the clouds of diesel exhaust from the street construction.)
I got very excited a few weeks ago when a pair of robins built a nest above our garage motion light. Unfortunately, so did the local crows. Hence, the abandoned nest is now snuggled up next to one of my tomato plants.
Another abandoned nest: Northern Cardinals invested a bit of time and energy into this, but some strong spring winds convinced them a nest in a spindly arborvitae shrub may not be the best idea. I do have house finches and a house wren building nests elsewhere in the yard--I hope they aren't as flaky as the cardinals and have better luck than the robins.

Flame lettuce, spinach, and swiss chard. A few more weeks and I can just step out the back door with a pair of scissors when I feel like having a salad. Yard Food is the best.

My first rose of the season. A bumblebee was very into this bloom. He seemed a little drunk, actually.

This is the first season I've grown ground cherries. If you look closely, you can see the green little paper-lantern husks in the center of the picture. Okay, I can't really see them either. Am I just messing with you? Maybe.

I saved the best for last. Anti-blue ball crack(ers) from Yeah, that Vegan Shit. They are crack-like in nature, but I never did ask J if he feels they'd be a remedy for blue balls. (J? Want to chime in here?) If I could reinvent myself as a food blogger, I'd love a blog name like Yeah, that Vegan Shit. You know there's a story behind that one. The best I can do right now is "Pinchin' a Loaf with Jess," which may not be the best appetite stimulant. Plus, then I'd have to bake a lot of bread, and who has time for that noise?