Thursday, December 27, 2007

As 2007 Ends...

A good friend forwarded to me these TOP TEN THOUGHTS FOR THE NEW YEAR. Apparently, it first made the Internet rounds last year, but it still seems pretty relevant. For those who haven't seen it, I hope you'll laugh, too.
As the New Year begins, here are a few points to ponder:
Number 10 - Life is sexually transmitted.
Number 9 - Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.
Number 8 - Men have two emotions: Hungry and Horny. If you see him without an erection, make him a sandwich.
Number 7 - Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day; teach a person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks.
Number 6 - Some people are like a Slinky … not really good for anything, but you still can’t help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.
Number 5 - Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.
Number 4 - All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
Number 3 - Why does a slight tax increase cost you $200 and a substantial tax cut saves you 30 cents?
Number 2 - In the 60s, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal.
We know exactly where one cow with mad-cow-disease is located among the millions and millions of cows in America but we haven’t got a clue as to where thousands of illegal immigrants and terrorists are located. Maybe we should put the Department of Agriculture in charge of immigration…

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eat, Drink & Be Wary

You probably had to have gone through the Weight Watchers thing at least once to appreciate this but, for those of us more familiar with "Points," "Optional Calories" and "Fat Grams" than we'd like to be, the hilarity of Wendy McClure's book The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan will undoubtedly leave you giggling, too. (And, oh, thank you E. for telling me about this!)

Wendy's done a brilliant thing: She's compiled a stack of actual Weight Watchers recipe cards from the 1970s and written short captions next to the food titles and photos. I know. It doesn't sound like the stroke of genius that it is, but that's only because the humor defies description.

Take, for example, the recipe for W.W.'s supposedly "worldwide favorite" Stuffed Apples Ganges. Wendy displays the truly horrific picture of card #21 and writes: "I feel for the Hindu souls who were reincarnated as these shrimps. But then you have to wonder what they did in their past lives to deserve being reborn as the garnish for fake Indian food. I mean, it must have been really bad."

Or, under the category "salads hot and cold" is the #7 recipe card for Cucumber "Cream" Salad. Wendy comments: "You know, I don't think I want to know why the cream is in quotes."

And then the fabulous "soup and stews" #20 card for Swiss Stew. Wendy says: "Um Heidi? I have some bad news. It's about your goats."

But, hey, don't take my word for it. Check out the link for the recipe cards http://www.candyboots.com/wwcards.html and Wendy's other website http://www.poundy.com/ . Seriously. Go read these. Now.

Because you'll laugh until you cry. And the holiday season--with all its craziness and food indulgences--needs more of that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Humming To Myself

This morning was filled with post-ice-storm errands. A visit to my son's elementary school. The YMCA. Walgreen's and Target. A few other stops on the local circuit for household items and necessities. And playing relentlessly in ALL of these places were Christmas carols...not to mention on my car stereo as I drove between locations.

Here's the good news: I was HAPPY about this. I actually LOVE Christmas carols, even more than Christmas rum balls, if that's possible. I was singing along (well, okay, humming under my breath while in public, but singing in earnest while in the car), tapping my toes, jiggling a little to the beat. Essentially, getting into the holiday spirit finally. Nice, right?

Here's the bad news: I've been trying for two hours to write a scene for a book--a scene that takes place in April, mind you--and I can't get these songs out of my head. From fun favorites like "Let It Snow" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" to classic ones like "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night." From Michael W. Smith belting out "Emmanuel" to Rob Thomas singing "A New York City Christmas." From the crooning of Neil Diamond and Amy Grant to the powerhouse vocals of Bon Jovi and the Boss, I'm being bombarded by distinctively sung carols. And none of them are allowing me to daydream about my characters frolicking around in springtime.

So, I'm just giving into it for today. I can't purge "Holly Jolly Christmas" from my consciousness no matter how hard I try. What about all of you? Which carols are stuck in your head this week?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...

Chaos. Everywhere I go.

At least in my house. Cue the Christmas carols, the "Holiday Season" is here.

We've got presents in various states of wrap and unwrap. We've got snow and ice in the driveway with radio talk of a blizzard later tonight. We've got boxes of decorations waiting anxiously for me to unpack them. I, of course, have to (1) take down our Thanksgiving window clings, (2) put away the ghosts/pumpkins/cornucopias of fall still littering our living room and (3) drink some spiked eggnog to work up the motivation to (4) actually face those over-stuffed boxes of December cheer. Is there any way we could just jump right to Valentine's?

And my husband is talking about getting another real tree this year. After LAST year, when I thought I'd succeeded in convincing him that the pine needles we kept finding in the carpet (until mid-April) REALLY made the whole venture not worth it, and that there was something very pleasant to be said about small, fake, easy-to-manage trees that don't require constant watering or vacumming...

He smiles and tells me, "Aw, c'mon! It's not the same." And he's right, of course. It's not.

So, what can I do? Get over my momentary Grinch-ness. Turn up "Winter Wonderland" on the CD player and remember all the things I love about the Season (hot chocolate, gingerbread, colored lights, "the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser"). Dive into those cheery red and green boxes. Have the vacuum cleaner on standby and, yes, Step Into Chaos...I mean, Christmas.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Playing Tag

I was tagged with this Random Meme from Dona Sarkar-Mishra over at Dona!=Real Work. She's got a novel coming out soon--How to Salsa in a Sari--which I'm very much looking forward to reading!! Check out her blog at http://donasarkar.blogspot.com/.

Random Meme Rules:
1. Link to the person’s blog who tagged you.
2. Post these rules on your blog.
3. Don't drink anything over the keyboard while reading this meme on other pages.
4. List seven random and/or weird facts about yourself.
5. Tag seven random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
6. Stretch.
7. Let each person know that they have been tagged by posting a comment on their blog.

Seven random Marilyn-isms:
1. I used to be a member of this dance group in college. We spent a summer touring Europe and performing a bunch of American style dances at folk festivals (like the Jitterbug, the Charleston, Appalachian mountain clogging, some mildly dangerous Hawaiian dances with sticks, etc.). I met lots of cute international guys, and I still have my clogs.
2. I hate celery.
3. My parents wanted me to become a pharmacist when I grew up. Don't ask.
4. Although I happily married a man with a different name, I couldn't seem to get away from guys called "Steve" in high school and college. I dated far too many of them.
5. I will eat almost anything if it comes drenched in a chocolate sauce. Bugs and celery are two of my primary exceptions.
6. Admittedly, I go overboard on the use of this product, but I'm really fond of hand sanitizer.
7. When it comes to issues of safety, I generally follow rules--not so much with chain letters, recipe exchanges or even random memes. As a big believer in free choice, I invite anyone who visits here to play the next round of this game, if you so choose. Please consider yourself "tagged," if you want to do it...or not, if you don't :-).

P.S. Hope everyone had a fun Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Party Girl Envy

I suspect I'm just not much of a Party Girl, no matter how I try to overcome or camouflage it. This lack of enthusiasm for wild celebrations feels like a kind of personality defect or, at least, my very extraverted son would probably think so if he could put his confusion into words. As it is, he looks at me amidst the chaos of some social gathering, his head tilted slightly to the left, his expression utterly perplexed, and he says things like, "Mommy, aren't you having fun?"

No. Fun would not be the right word.

I say this having (almost) recovered from an enormous (for me) birthday party in which 17 (mostly well-behaved) children ran around a gymnastics center as if they were zoo animals released into the Serengeti. Five days later, the memory of this event still lingers, much like the smears of bright orange and red cupcake frosting I keep finding on my son's clothing.

It's not that I'm antisocial. I really love talking to people. Individually. Or in very small groups. Frequently with coffee standing by. This is nice. This is fun. This is the kind of "party" I enjoy and appreciate.

But, somehow, I don't think my son will want to go to Starbucks with me and a couple of my good friends for his next birthday party. Pity...

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tastes Change

Under the unofficial heading of How Small Things Can Sometimes Symbolize Big Things, I was reflecting on my pizza toppings this afternoon.

I've always loved a multicolored veggie pizza. Still do. Mushrooms, black olives, green (and/or red) peppers, a little onion, tomato chunks, the occasional dash of spinach...it's all good. So, I ordered one of those for lunch today at my favorite local coffee/sandwich shop, and it was terrific. Really. Only problem? It wasn't what I had a taste for.

Mentally, I'd been so sure of myself going into this lunch. So certain of my dining preferences. I'd seen someone else order this very same entree just a few days ago, and it'd been on my mind ever since as "the next thing I'd get." But I must not have been listening to my little internal voice today because I dismissed the impulse telling me to order the chicken panini or, maybe, the mango salad instead. And, so, I went with an old standby that wasn't a bad choice, it just wasn't the right one...

Can't help but think I've done something similar far more often than I should've lately.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloweeeeeen!

Just a quick wish that anyone reading this will enjoy a fun night of pretense and chocolate. (Because, really, what could be a better combination?)

For me, the evening's festivities will provide a much-needed break from the chaos that's been my life these past few weeks. Yes, in part because of the writing challenge (which I'm still in the midst of), but also because of other family-related factors that've kept me well occupied. Sometimes, though, just being able to stop and smell the Snickers miniatures is the way to go, and tonight I'll get to do that...alongside my little 8-year-old "Phantom."

Wishing you all as much fun as he'll have!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Balancing Act

I've been having difficulties with this lately--staying balanced. In attempting to allocate my time to everything and everybody requiring it, I've been (to use my mother's circa-1970s phrase) "spreading myself too thin."

It's not intentional. I'm not going out of my way to try to be a Super Achiever. (I would, in fact, prefer to be an Unambitious Slug this week.) But I think this is the state of most 21st century women's lives: Really, really busy...almost all of the time.

So, if I volunteer an hour in my son's classroom today, do I also have time to make something for the school bake sale tomorrow? If I'm working on a newspaper essay due this week, when will I get my required novel writing done for the 70 Day Challenge? If I go to the gym to workout tonight, when will I do the laundry? (Or--she asks hopefully--does that mean I get to skip the laundry?! :-)

Anyway, I know I'm not alone in this. Just about everyone I've talked to this week (month...year...) has said something similar. There are simply too few hours in the day for all the things we're expected to do, so we need to make choices. My choice tonight? To read a novel or to clean the kitchen... Any guesses which one I'll pick?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Writing Challenge

Last night, I visited the website of author Elizabeth Gilbert, whose wonderful memoir Eat, Pray, Love has inspired so many. It is, in fact, a book I happen to be in the midst of reading this very week. On her site, Gilbert has a page up with "Some Thoughts on Writing," which, for anyone who's ever pursued a creative art, rings wise and true. Here's the link: http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/writing.htm .

Anyway, in relaying her feelings during the writing of her #1 New York Times bestseller, Gilbert tells us about one of those writing days, a day when she agonized over how terrible she thought her prose sounded. Then, as she explains, she realized this wasn't her problem. She says, "I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write. So I put my head down and sweated through it, as per my vows."

I absolutely loved this. Because I think she's nailed it.

And so, with her wisdom in mind, I signed up to be part of a writing challenge that begins next Monday: 70 Days of Sweat (see link: http://70daysofsweat.com/wordpress/archives/71). It couldn't have been more aptly named, nor, for me, could it have come at a better time. Thanks to the sponsors of this event (and to "Sven," our hunky personal trainer :), and best of luck to all the participants!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hold That Thought

It's October. A beautiful, fall, Midwestern day. The leaves outside are beginning to turn to flame. The sky is the gorgeous blue of a silk scarf, and the clouds dance around in it like cotton balls. I know this because I've been staring out my window for hours today. Why just stare? Why not go out into it and become "one" with the autumn?

Because I've been making those necessary but irritating phone calls--with the health insurance company, the credit card company, the car insurance company and the credit card company again--and they all put me on hold.

And on hold some more.

And on hold again, while some demonic person played a bizarre, jazzed-up, Musak version of the Titanic theme song "My Heart Will Go On." (No, I'm not kidding.)

My heart might go on but, let me tell you, my patience is limited.

If, according to to the writers of that fabulous new CW comedy Reaper, "hell on earth" is a place like the local DMV, then I say purgatory must be the state of being on hold while some insurance agent claims to need "just a minute" to check their files...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Timeless TV

It's funny what you remember from your childhood.

Thanks to our library's fabulous DVD collection, I've enjoyed watching some favorite old TV shows lately: MacGyver, Remington Steele, Northern Exposure and, yes, even Hart To Hart. (I'm hoping they'll order Moonlighting soon.) What's fun, of course, is getting to see with adult eyes the programs I used to look forward to as a kid or a teen...shows that helped form my notions of storytelling structure, character development and romantic comedy.

Some episodes hold up remarkably well to the scrutiny of time and maturity. Others, not so much.

The curious thing is that when an old program I'm watching now (some two or more decades after it first aired) strikes an emotional chord in me, I have to work much harder to think like a writer. The very timelessness of certain scenes pulls me into the show and makes me forget to analyze the pacing, the character arc, the dialogue exchange, the plot escalation or whatever. (I give writerly reasons like this for allowing myself the luxury of DVD procrastination. I'm working. Really.)

And, yes, just as often I'm thrown off by some woefully out-of-date pop-culture reference or by some really terrible hair or clothing style (i.e., Teri Hatcher guest-starred on MacGyver once and, oh, the huge, dreadful earrings!), but I'm still shocked by how many times the writers and directors of those now-old TV shows got the human drama just right. How they pinpointed the most universal social dynamics and the all-too-common fears men and women have about being in relationships with each other--be they work, family, friendship or love. How, even though I know about the inevitable demise of these characters, the aging of the real-life actors, the replacement of these programs with others several seasons over, I can still return immediately to their lives, and to a time when they lived out my earliest ideas of what constituted "funny, romantic, smart and interesting." And I'm so glad we have the DVD technology to bring them back...if only for a few hours.

Anyone out there have some favorites, too?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Persistence in Action

I recently celebrated a big birthday (and, no, I'm not publicly stating the number). As a result of the festivities, I'd dined out all week and consumed far more desserts than absolutely necessary (and, no, I'm not stating that number either). After several such days of overindulgence, however, I found myself at the nearby high school track, attempting to walk off a few of the pounds I'd gained.

That's where I saw my inspiration.

Male or female, I'm not sure (I don't really know my snapping turtles well), but I thought of him as a "he," and I studied him with unfailing fascination as I took my laps on the cushy blacktop surrounding the football field. The track is enclosed by a metal chainlinked fence and successfully keeps out most children and many adults. I happened to find one of the gates unlocked, so I slipped inside. Mr. Turtle was already in there, halfway around the track, up against the fence on the grass. He proved to be the only other living thing (besides a swarm of mosquitoes) that I encountered on my walk. Like me, he was getting his exercise. Unlike me, he clearly wanted to do it elsewhere.

Mr. Turtle kept trying to get out, but that fence created problem after problem for him. His shell was too large for him to slip beneath the chains. His body was too short to boost himself over. His legs were too stubby and lacking in dexterity to click open the gate. It seemed a hopeless business.

But, boy, did he keep at it. I watched him, continually amazed, as he plodded up and then down the linked boundary. After some 17 laps (mine), I could tell he'd inched to within striking distance of his goal (a large gap under one of the locked gates with enough space to allow him to pass beneath it, shell and all). And I could also tell that he didn't realize how near he was to succeeding. He didn't know to make a beeline for the magic spot. He didn't know his struggles would be over the moment he got another few yards down the path. Instead, he kept checking the fence every foot or so, sticking his neck through the chainlinked holes, stretching his chunky body to its fullest in an attempt to reach above his obstacle, taking additional steps forward when this didn't lead to freedom. Trying again, and again, and again.

God, I was so proud of him.

And, even though I didn't get to stay long enough to watch the glorious moment when he made his escape, I had utter faith that he would. Soon. And I appreciated his silent but powerful reminder.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Gelato is Coming to Town!

Is it wrong to get so excited by this?

Yesterday, I made a quick stop at our local Piggly Wiggly. (I love them for their soft bakery cookies, their thin-sliced Angus garlic roast beef and their "lite" chocolate soy milk, not so much for their questionable mushrooms or their inedible specimens of zucchini, though...) As I parked the car, I saw a sign on the building next door that nearly made my heart stop: A gelato shop! Coming soon!

Oh, YES!!!!!

Now, I love ice cream. I really love it. I also love frozen yogurt, frozen custard, sherbet, flavored Cool Whip and even Tofutti. I'm not that picky. If it's sweet and it's frozen, I'm a fan. But gelato--the ultra-smooth, Italian variety of flavor-infused ice-creaminess--is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite.

When I was in Italy, I was known to order up a large gelato cone three times per day (at bare minimum). The chocolate-orange cone I had in Florence one summer remains a highlight of that trip, on par with my first viewing of Michelangelo's "David." I took a ten-week Italian language class for the lone purpose of learning how to order gelati (the plural of gelato) while abroad. I was that dedicated.

So, is it too presumptuous of me to ask the manager of this new shop if they'll be carrying my favorite flavors? Or, to loiter around the entrance in hopes of snagging one of the newly hired workers and pressing him/her into telling me the exact date of the Grand Opening? Or, to whip all of my friends into a frenzy of anticipation over this delightful gastronomic addition to our little city?


I think not...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back To School

The long, hot, lazy days of summer are coming to an end. Soon, children everywhere will be back at school and the whirl of homework and extracurricular activities will catch us into its frenetic spin again. Soon, the lush leaves will change color and all foliage in the neighborhood will be brown and crunchy and, more often than not, unquestionably dead. Soon, the Midwestern air will cool our indecisive climate to its pre-wintertime chill and we'll grow certain in the knowledge that snow, hail and icestorms are as inevitable as high heating bills. And, today, the only thing I can say about all of that is...


If I never see another mosquito, I'll still have had enough bites--after just this summer--to last my lifetime. I want my writing time back, and my discussions with my friends, too--uninterrupted by our darling children's questions. I want to finally be able to wear a sweater again, and to not have to set foot in our community's public swimming pool for at least nine months. I want to throw out my flip-flops, my insect repellent and my nearly empty sunscreen bottles. I want to have a bonfire of summer-reading lists and Tastee-Freez coupons

I will, of course, desperately want all of these things back come January. But, for now, I'm heartily glad that tomorrow is "School Supply Drop-Off Day" and that the new school year begins this week.

So, so glad.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Plea for Elbow Room

This seemed to be my weekend for dealing with "personal space" issues. Or, you know, simply observing them...which, for a writer, is essentially the same thing.

My fabulous brother took me to a rockin' country concert on Saturday night--an awesome Kenny Chesney show with Sugarland and Pat Green opening--but much as I enjoyed the performances, I kept getting distracted by the crowd and the problems certain individuals had with other individuals. (I should point out that several of these aforementioned individuals, having consumed too many beers and hurricanes in tailgating mayhem prior to the concert, were approaching a fall-over-drunk stage before the lead guitarist even strummed the first note.)

With 30,000 adoring yet occasionally self-centered fans on the lawn, there was much scuttling over blanket space and jockeying for elbow room. There were arguments ranging in volume from nasty hisses to bellowing threats. There were men pulling their girlfriends away from face-offs with other women, and women dragging their husbands by the shirttails away from guys with raised fists. Wholly entertaining--if somewhat irritating--stuff.

And then came Sunday at the community swimming pool. Wow. Let me just point out that women don't have the monopoly on cat fights. There's nothing like sitting under the big blue poolside umbrella, trying to keep an eye on my splashing son and simultaneously read my book in the shade, while the two grown men in the row ahead shout at each other for ten long minutes over the occupancy of cheap plastic deck chairs.


Just makes me want to tell everyone: Take a deep breath and step away from the other mammals, please. We're all trying to coexist on the same planet...any chance we could do that respectfully?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Becoming Jane...Or, First Impressions of a New Film

Well, I caved. I couldn't take the suspense anymore. I had to go see the new fine arts film "Becoming Jane"--a purported biopic of Jane Austen's life. Or, more specifically, of her love life.

Now, I should clarify my position upon entering the movie theater. Everyone who knows me--and I mean this literally: EVERYONE--knows what an Austen fan I am. Some would insist I'm freakish in my devotion to the witty author of Pride and Prejudice. I neither confirm nor deny this claim, though I will point (silently, but with raised brows) to the quote underneath my photo on this page (look left) and will mention that the full title of my Golden Heart winning manuscript is...wait for it...According To Jane: A Novel About Pride, Prejudice & the Pursuit of the Perfect Guy.

Yeah. The prosecution rests its case.

So, let's just say I wasn't indifferent to the content of this new picture. I watched it with an intensity befitting an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (which I am). And I enjoyed it, as one enjoys a film on a slightly soggy summer afternoon in an overly air conditioned theater surrounded by older ladies chomping loudly on their buttered popcorn and with the fervor of toddlers afraid their treat tubs might be snatched from them by an evil usher at any moment.

Ambiance issues aside, it wasn't a bad movie. Anne Hathaway is just so fun, so lovely, and her English accent was, well...nearly believable. Maggie Smith made a notable, if somewhat predictable appearance. And the men cast in the film's important roles were also interesting to watch onscreen, a couple of whom were especially compelling. (Who, might I ask, was that actor playing Jane's brother "Henry"? What a hottie.) The plot itself was, by turns, entertaining and filled with well-directed cinematic moments, which were dramatized to an utterly appropriate soundtrack. And, despite the odd tendency to have Jane's most obnoxious P&P book characters scripted as direct derivatives of her "real" family members, many of the family's professional details fit with what's known about her background. So, you'd think I'd be essentially pleased, and yet...

Yet, the problem for me was obvious. It didn't rest with the film itself, which was a lovely work of fiction (my point, actually), but with its subversive message: That this picture in any way depicted the true life of Jane Austen. Because, while I know the writers took heavy creative license with her "biography" (due largely to the fact that so much of Jane's real life is unknown but her book characters are so familiar and beloved), people unfamiliar with Jane's letters and her more-accurately recorded history could easily be persuaded to believe these events are true representations of what really occurred in her love life. And while there is some truth to it, the overall impression given by the film was, I strongly believe, a false one.

So, I'm a bit unsettled tonight. And, though not at all craving popcorn or glacial air, I kind of wish I could return to that theater and watch this movie again--but played out this time to my specifications, ones in sync with my vision of Jane's life--based on what is surely an equally inaccurate picture of her daily existence and her most cherished romantic relationships.


I guess it's true. We all just really want to direct.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter Reincarnated

We went out of town for a few days to visit family and, while away, happened upon a little girl with dark hair and round glasses, age three. No, she's not British. No, she's not living with some horrible Dursley-esque family. And, no, she clearly isn't anything (physically) like the scarred, young male hero J.K. Rowling made famous. But I watched her playing outside on slides and such for nearly an hour, and I wouldn't be surprised if she were a bit magical.


Well, perhaps I'm a bit sensitive to the big-eyed-child-lost-in-a-confusing-and-often-hostile-world theme these days. I am, after all, rereading Harry Potter from Book One onward to my son (although I'll confess to not yet having finished the entire series myself--a result of too much required reading, not lack of interest). And, as I try to use voices to charm my little boy into the story, I find myself being enchanted yet again, right along with him. Feeling the curse of mismatch between a person's spirit and his environment. The sting of human cruelty. The unparalleled amazement of eventually finding a truer sense of "home" than the one previously known.

Many of us have experienced these things and have lived long enough to tell the tale. (Or several tales, for those of us who are novelists. :) But the little girl I saw playing outside was just beginning on this journey--one that I sensed wouldn't always be kind to her. Nevertheless, she approached the playground "monsters" with eager eyes and a willing heart. It was as if she believed magic were somewhere to be found to help her--behind a tree, underneath a piece of play equipment, alongside another child, within herself... As if she believed her hopefulness and openness would be enough to inspire the same in others and to combat anything that turned its evil eye on those she loved.

And the wondrous, magical part for me is that she reminded me in an instant of how much I wish the same, how much I want to believe it, too, right along with her.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Golden Evening

This past Saturday--July 14th--was the annual Awards Ceremony for the Romance Writers of America at which the 2007 finalists for the RITA (RWA's version of the Oscar for published novels) and the Golden Heart (the award for unpublished manuscripts) were honored and the winners announced.

It was fantastically fun.

And, okay, kind of stressful--in an exciting, nervous-energy kind of way. Because it took place in Dallas, it was a fairly long way from home for me and for most of the other attendees...which created its own kind of community, one that had vibrations of giddiness paired with exhaustion, of chaos amidst strict timetables, of introductions to strangers and reunions with old friends.

As a GH finalist this year for my manuscript According To Jane, I was privileged to meet some outstanding writers, a number of whom were fellow finalists in my category--Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements. Here's a shout out to a few of those wonderful women: Maureen McGowan (http://www.maureenmcgowan.com/ and http://www.drunkwritertalk.blogspot.com/), Laura Martello (http://www.la-mitchell.com/), Beth Watson, and Kimberley Howe (http://www.kjhowe.com/ and http://www.romancebandits.blogspot.com/)! Check out their websites/blogs when you have a chance :-).

Despite my good friends from the Chicago-North Chapter of RWA insisting that I write an acceptance speech, I'll confess to not taking this task at all seriously until two days before the conference, when I typed a few notes on an index card. I didn't practice it until, well, an hour before getting dressed for the Ceremony (just ask my mystified but very supportive roommate!) because I have a tendency to turn an unhealthy shade of chartreuse when even thinking about being onstage...let alone being onstage in front of an audience of 2,000 writers, literary agents and editors. So, hearing my name called as the winner that night was a shock, a delight, an honor and a moment of sheer terror all rolled into one. It was also a humbling and joyous experience impossible to forget. Thanks to everyone who shared this event with me!

Bestselling author, fellow Cherry writer and past-RITA winner, Alesia Holliday (aka Alyssa Day), posted photos of the Dessert Reception, which followed the Awards Ceremony, on her blog. Take a look at her pics, which are at: http://warriorsofposeidon.blogspot.com/ .(I'm the one on the right, dressed in blue, still looking dazed.)

There are additional photos and mini recaps of the speeches that were live-blogged by the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels at: http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/C39/ under their RWA National--Dallas 2007 archives.

Finally, The Knight Agency has a couple of pictures up on the agency blog as well. They're at: http://knightagency.blogspot.com/. My picture was taken by my friend Julie (who has her own great blog: http://strategerie.wordpress.com/2007/07/17/dallas-its-a-wrap-people/#respond) and it features my good friends Erica, Karen and Simone.

Fun, fun, fun...but now it's back to writing and to my regularly scheduled "normal" life...

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Lucky Day

Due to a mild touch of superstition (an odd personality quirk, according to my logical husband), I find myself irrationally believing in things like the wisdom of fortune cookies, the judicious avoidance of walking beneath ladders and the positive cosmic alignment of "auspicious days"...which is why I waited until today (07-07-07) to do my first blog of the month and my first ever about the RWA National Conference.

Hey, it's the week before the big event--a conference that boasts 2,000 romance/women's fiction writers from around the globe, literary agents from N.Y. to L.A. and editors from publishing houses large and small. I need all the good luck I can get. And if the conference were held in Las Vegas or Atlantic City this year instead of Dallas, I'd consider the date an especially good sign and might even try my hand at a few slot machines. (Who else is betting that gambling reaches an all-time high today?)

Nevertheless, today's the day I've chosen to begin the serious prep for my conference--by blogging about it, by finalizing travel plans, by packing. The unofficial prep, of course, began months ago on a date not nearly so numerically balanced. I booked hotel rooms and airline tickets, found out that my 5th novel was a finalist in the Golden Heart (RWA highest award for not-yet-published manuscripts), bought long dresses and small index cards...all on days that were positively ordinary in the numeric sense.

Yet, good things still happened.

So, I'm sure everything would turn out just fine if I decided to lounge around today watching old episodes of The X-Files and, instead, do all of my trip finalizing and organizational packing stuff tomorrow or the next day. Right?

Right... But why chance it?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Blog, Baby, Blog

Being that I just went live with my website (please stop by--I'm at http://www.marilynbrant.com/) and more public with my blog, helpful friends have taken to emailing me jokes, anecdotes and/or links to provokative topics, all sent under the header "Let's Give Her Something To Blog About." And, yes, one witty friend actually used those exact words as her subject line. Gotta love her.

Make no mistake, I'm grateful for all the assistance and, I suspect, my neighbors will be relieved to have my attention diverted from them for a few days. (Only for few days, however. You should see what they're up to in the cul-de-sac now...) But it did lead me to wonder, what is blog-worthy?

The things that interest me (i.e., the curious behavior of convenience-store shoppers, the waitress at my favorite breakfast place who clearly has a secret crush on the oblivious-but-rather-hot Russian waiter, the merits of smooth, dark Swiss chocolate vs. English-made, milk chocolate Cadburys, etc.) might not be to everyone's taste. It's not something I'm overly concerned about. It's my page, I'll blog what I want to.

But, being that I'm also interested in what fascinates those of you in Bloggerworld, I'd love to know: Of all the blog posts you've read, which one (or two) had a topic that was most memorable to you?

Here's mine: I read a post once on significantly changing your appearance after marriage (i.e., a wife cutting her long hair or coloring it very differently, a husband getting an obvious piercing or tattoo, either one gaining lots of weight, etc.) and whether making a change like this without the other spouse's permission was "fair"... Lots of arguing ensued and no definitive conclusions were reached but, boy, did that topic stick with me and make me think twice before going to the hair salon.

So, what were some of your favorites?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Solstice

So, I'm told it's the longest day of the year...
Tell me about it.

Today, we had house painters everywhere...until the rain came.
We had summer school classes to drive to in the morning.
We had a pool visit in between the afternoon showers.
We had a gym visit after the pool.
We had grocery shopping to do.
We also had pet clean-up to do, which included the dreaded vacuuming.
We had a variety of meals to prepare, eat and wash dishes as a result of preparing and eating.
And then, after all of this, we had mosquitoes to kill.
And kill.
And kill.
Because they are invading our house, stalking us, waiting until we let down our guard so they can strike and suck our blood, the evil little vampires. I HATE them and want them to DIE.

And you know why? Because after waiting for this Midwestern summer to appear for, literally, months (and dealing with endless snow, sleet, hail and slush in the meantime), those damn insects almost make me wish for winter's return. And that is just plain WRONG.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Chocolate Lounge

We no longer need to meet up with friends at a bar, a movie theater, a burger joint or any such primitive or passe location. A brilliant company finally came up with the perfect alternative: The Chocolate Lounge.

Yes, it's REALLY true.

The foresight of the good folks at Ethel's astounds me. So much so that I'm tempted to purchase stock in this wonderful company...and, let me tell you, I rarely get such an urge.

To see if a C.L. might be coming to a location near you, or simply to ogle photos of the luscious treats, take a look at this link: http://www.ethelschocolate.com/jump.jsp?itemID=0&itemType=HOME_PAGE

And, I must add, my delirioiusly heartfelt thanks goes out to S.P.J. for bringing such day-brightening news to my attention!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Didn't Cheat On You, Honey, My Avatar Did...

I read an intriguing article recently. (Yes, I'm addicted to MSN.com, why do you ask?) It was on the subject of "Virtual Infidelity," a concept guaranteed to make my eyes widen and my curiosity pique. But the writer wasn't talking about chat rooms, Internet sex or online dating. Nor was the article about typical affair situations where real people are interacting with potential love interests as themselves, or even as some slightly-idealized-to-highly-exaggerated version of themselves. No. Instead, it was about online gamers playing out relationship dramas as their characters from their virtual videogames.

Blows my mind.

Now, granted. I'm not a gamer, online or off. I could barely get the hang of Pack Man when I was a kid, and Mario is lightyears out of my league, so I'm no expert here. But can people--and by that I mean living, breathing humans who are sitting at home in front of their computers--really get so into their online videogame characters (their "3-D avatars") that they fall in love, through their character, with another person's...um, character?

Since it's the vast majority of online gamers are men, we're talking about guys (yes, frequently heterosexual) who have a sexy female character as their lead player, and this female character chats with and, consequently, falls in love with another guy's character, a hunky male hero, over the course of playing their online game.

Am I the only one who finds this really, really...well, unusual? Check out this story, and you decide: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18139090/

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Good Fences

T'was a big week in the neighborhood.

Not one but two residents of our quiet, suburban cul-de-sac put up imposing wooden fences in the past four days. Quite the stir this caused, not to mention a flurry of questions. I, personally, was asked:

"Do you know the families?" (no)
"Do you know why they both did it?" (no)
"Are they mad at anybody?" (no idea)
"Do you think they planned it before and are doing it now because it's spring?" (really, no idea)
"Doesn't it block your view, it blocks ours?" (nope)
"Is this a new trend?" (you're asking me?)

What I found most intriguing wasn't the sudden increase of pine boards and posts in the neighborhood, it was the unrelenting speculation. Neighbors who vagely knew each other were now bonding over the motivational analysis of other neighbors, many of whom the analyzers hadn't bothered to talk to in months or years...if they'd ever met them at all.

Were I an attention-seeking sort, I'd be tempted to put up my own backyard fence. Might it make me a better neighbor? Maybe, maybe not. But it seems it'd make me a more interesting one.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

LP: Love & Personality (musically speaking)

I was surfing MSN.com earlier this week and stumbled upon a short article, written mostly tongue-in-cheek, about what your musical tastes say about your personality, especially in regards to relationships.

A few highlights:
Apparently, if you're a guy and you listen to heavy metal, you may have some problems with anger, as well as a tendency to be aggressive in bed (a trait your partner may find exciting...or not). Women who are fans of '70s hair bands supposedly have aging and body-image issues. The country music lovers are thought to be "good" people, often from the Heartland, who are loyal, honest...and, also, boring with a potential for prudishness. The classical music listeners are believed to be extremely intelligent. (Note: The article's author was a self-confessed classical fan.)

There was more, but those were the ones that stuck with me.

I've searched for--but couldn't find--the original post. I'll keep looking. In the meantime, here is a British (and somewhat different) take on the same theme: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article788601.ece .

Rock on.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What We Do After Nine

I had a funny online conversation with a good friend this week. She emailed me, justifiably pleased with herself, because she'd managed to nix her late-night snacking habit.

"Guess what?" she wrote, sometime around midnight. "I managed NOT to eat anything more than carrots after 9pm tonight."

I quickly typed back, "That's awesome! You're amazing! Good for you! Keep up the great work!!!!!" Then, just because she's a really good friend, I added the list of foodstuffs that I'd consumed since 9pm.

Here's a sampling:
--2 Kudos granola bars (one Snickers flavored; one M&Ms)
--a yellow cheese square, highly processed
--3 Tbsp. of a ricotta-based fruit dip (without the accompanying fruit)
--a bite of this lemon-glazed chicken and angel-hair pasta thing my husband got from the grocery store
--15 minutes later...the REST of the lemon-glazed chicken and pasta entree (not kidding)
--a handful of Corn Pops
--1 large spoonful of chocolate frosting, Betty Crocker brand, right from the container
--2 pieces of cinnamon-flavored gum, chewed only 4 minutes (until the flavor disappeared)
--a cherry Starburst fruit chew from my son's leftover Easter candy bin
--several other things I can no longer remember

Raise your hand if you'd consider this an example of "gastronomical porn"? Personally, I think it's more like a gastronomical orgy...

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Sounds Like "Buffet"

I recently came across this link and just had to share it:

It's a fairly serious piece of journalism about the science behind how/why some of us are prone to overfilling our plates and the ways we can learn to be more moderate in our food intake. The dietary advice strikes me as sound, but the real treat of the article is when the author uses expressions like "gastronomical porn" to describe a buffet. Yeah, you read right.

Gastronomical Porn!

Now tell me, who could resist repeating a phrase like that? (Clearly, not I.)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Playing Bunco, or Being Hip in the Hood

So, my friends invited me to be a substitute player in a Bunco game a couple of weekends ago. I'm still gleeful over the whole thing, having heard about these mysterious evenings for several months but having never been a part of one. Until now.

Believe me, it lived up to all the hype: Suburban women gathered around a table tossing dice. Gossip. Snacks. Lots of strongly mixed margaritas. More gossip. The occasional handful of M&Ms. Really, now that I know firsthand what goes on behind those quiet, white Colonial doors, I'd be hard pressed to come up with an entertainment idea for neighborhood moms that had this much potential for hipness.

The wonderful friend who issued the invitation has been part of this established, 12-member Bunco group for four years now. I hadn't thought about it before that night, but the changes that can take place in that amount of time are staggering. Of the original members (formed in my friend's subdivision, mostly on my friend's street), several have moved to other cities, a couple have divorced or separated from their spouses, a bunch of them have had a new baby or two, many have changed jobs and, interestingly, some of them don't seem all that crazy about each other anymore. Yet they still get together once a month to play.

When my friends first told me about The Bunco Experience, they insisted that I'd love it. That it'd give me lots to write about. That I shouldn't miss out on giving it a try. I was initially dubious. I mean, suburban women playing some kind of bizarre drinking game while talking about their husbands and kids for, like, four straight hours...could this really be fun?

Why, yes, it could and it was.

Wildly so, although I have no intention of going into the more embarrassing personal details here, and no one better post a picture of me wearing that hat... But already I can't wait to do it again. And soon, I hope. Very soon.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Monday, Monday

It's not as though I'm a huge fan of that '60s Mamas & Papas song, but I can't help but hear its bopping sounds in my brain nearly every Monday as I struggle to begin the week. Its relentlessness is crazy-making, and I can only deal with it by forcing myself to hum another Monday song... Which is why I find myself eventually turning to the Carpenters' classic "Rainy Days and Mondays" (plus, after an hour or more of "Monday, Monday," I desperately need a change of decade). Then, finally, when I can tolerate the '70s no longer, my mental soundtrack transitions to the Boomtown Rats '80-something anthem "I Don't Like Mondays."

After that, I stop cold.

Are there '90s songs--or currently popular ones--that have a Monday theme? I don't know of any, and today, at least, this musical ignorance bothers me. I find myself wondering, WHY aren't there more modern Monday songs? Did Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins or some other hot group of the time write one and I completely missed it because I was, oh, too busy being a new mom in the '90s? Or, worse, have musicians decided that there's no good reason for composing songs about simple things like a typically depressing day of the week when, instead, they could be writing about sex or drugs or "new shoes" (like that way-too-cheerful Italian singer I keep seeing on VH1)?

So, if anyone out there knows of a good, post-'80s Monday song, please shout out. I need to modernize my mental soundtrack before insanity sets in. Seriously, folks. Hurry.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Ides of April

Okay, so I'm a month off on the "Ides" thing (or just two days, if you're into technicalities of the Roman calendar). Regardless, I feel as though I've been running behind on everything lately. My workload is endless, and the Midwestern weather hasn't helped matters. The snow has finally (almost) melted from the blizzard that hit us last week (that's right, a snowstorm in April--thank you global warming) and the neighbors have begun emerging from their homes, dragging their rakes, garden shovels and a variety of noisy lawn tools with them in a frenzied attempt to catch up on missed days of yardwork. Ah, the delights of springtime.

I realize I could find things to complain about to suit each and every season (mosquito swarms in summer, frozen pipes in winter, those annoying-as-hell leaf blowers in fall and, yes, the return of hibernating neighbors to my consciousness in spring...), but I vowed I'd be "more positive" this year. Having some trouble with that today.

I mean, I'm inside, trying to concentrate, and it's just irritating: kids wacking tree trunks and bushes with sticks, their parents bellowing commands across the cul-de-sac, dogs barking furiously at wayward squirrels, trucks making those loud beeping noises as they back up, whatever is currently breaking the suburban silence when I open my window hoping only for fresh air. And, yet, it isn't as though I want to leave here. I like our subdivision (mostly) and even like (most of) the neighbors. I definitely like our Chicago suburb. And I have no choice but to like our Midwestern habitat because I grew up with it, I understand it, it's home and we're not moving.

But days like today remind me that I need a place to retreat to when the sounds of the outside world begin to color my attitude gray. And that place of retreat might be--ironically--outside. Away from the noisemaking neighbors, certainly, but on a serene bike path not too far away. I want to whiz by anyone chattering in place, clouding my thoughts with theirs. I want to feel the wind sweeping against me, offering limited resistance to my sense of movement. I want to keep the danger of discontent at bay because I know it won't take much to send my feebly positive attitude back into hiding.

So, I'm leaving the safe seclusion of my office and venturing out into springtime soon. Within the hour, for sure. Who knows what annoyances I'll encounter there--which suburban perils, risks or uncertainties lie in wait on that path--but I'm willing to take my chances. I've rolled my dice, and I'm crossing my river. And when I return (hopefully alive, well and refreshed), then I might have a prayer of getting some real work done.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


I've been waiting for the right day to launch this blog...and, regardless of whether (or not) the planets are in perfect alignment, whether (or not) I'm at my goal weight, and whether (or not) the near future holds a multi-book contract...today simply feels like the RIGHT day.

So, welcome. Thanks for being here with me, whether (or not) you begin following my journey today or at some later time. It's great to share the adventure with you.