Friday, November 27, 2015

To give and what the heck to give.. that is the question!

It's the time of year for merry-making, candle lighting, tree lighting, holiday eating and gift giving. If there's one question we ask ourselves over and over as the turkey starts to wear off and holiday looms large in front of us it's "what in the world should I get so-and-so?" Now, so-and-so might be your best friend, your parents, your love, the love of your goals, your sibling, a favorite teacher or who knows who. I am not here to judge who all you want and need to gift this holiday season. But, I am here to make suggestions and lighten your anxiety.

Family Gifts Suggestions: When it comes to family, it's the thought that counts every time, so be creative and use what you know to make it a special holiday moment. Great options, include:
  • Inscribed books: head to the thrift store or used book store and carefully select a book for each member of your family based on their interests, maybe a bass fishing guide for dad, a history book for mom and for each of your sisters a steamy YA romance. Inside each book inscribe a message about why you selected this particular book for the receiver. Make it heart felt and the value of your gift will sky rocket.
  • Photo albums: mini-albums packed with memory-inducing photos and fun little messages inscribed on cards is a great way to go.  Check the dollar bins at your local stores or even make your own using duct tape and cardboard.
  • Service coupons: create fun mini-coupons to promise to do chores, give massages, help siblings with homework or a cook a meal. These little acts of service will go along way with parents, especially.
Friend Gift Suggestions: Friends give so much of themselves when you're having a hard day and need a shoulder to cry on or someone to stand guard while you make mischief. After all the laughter you've shared consider these awesome gift ideas to help you friends feel your appreciation.

  • Cheer box: collect items that you know will make your friends smile, fun little notebooks, pens or pencils, erasers or post-it-notes in funny shapes and favorite candies and place in a decorated box intended to bring cheer to your friend. Consider adding small notes with funny sayings, quotes or silly questions intended to make your friend laugh. This one is good for friends who are going through a hard time, too, not just as a holiday gift.
  •  Theme box: consider a box of movies or music with matched snacks or a box of cooking items for the friend who loves to cook or soccer items for the friend from the team. The sky's the limit with these boxes. Let your imagination roam free.
  • Concert tickets: Look at the local listings for little known bands that are just starting out. Check out their websites and if you like their sound buy tickets for you and your friends on the cheap, since they aren't well known yet, and make it a group outing to go and see the show. 
Special Someone Suggestions: If you're dating this holiday season, the pressure is on to find the perfect gift. Depending on how long you have been together it's hard to know what to buy and how much is too much. Sometimes it helps to set a limit with each other in terms of how much you will spend. That takes some the stress of whether you'll go to far or not far enough off, but also could act as a way to force creativity, especially if the amount is low or even that you will make each other gifts. Any of the friend ideas are good to consider, but here are a few more specially tailored to a special relationship.

  • Jewelry: depending on your finances and how long you've been together, you might choose a simple ring or necklace, or a basic watch. Something you can personalize with initials or engraving is always a nice touch.
  • Mix CD: in the old days we made mix tapes, but today you could create a playlist and copy it to a CD. Make it special by adding voice overs in-between songs sharing why you selected that song for inclusion and what it means to you.
  • Website: Make your love a website that celebrates the two of you together. Free sites are easy to put together using services like Weebly. Add pictures and video and share what you love about this person. You can use privacy settings to keep it just between the two of you or, with their later permission, share it with the world.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Book Review: Becoming Jinn

It's been a while since I've posted a book review, but I'm excited to share this one. I picked up Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein when I visited her website during Brenda Drake's #pitchwar contest this year. While I waited to learn whether I would win a mentor in the contest (I didn't, but you can read about that in my last post), I kept thinking about the premise of Lori's book, which stood out among all the mentor blogs I'd read. I downloaded it just before heading out on an airplane trip and I kept reading it nonstop until I finished.

There's a lot to love about this book. Here are five reasons I loved it:
  1. Azra, the main character, is from a family of Jinn, which is something like a genie but without the bottles. Her ability to do magic, her place in the human world and the demands to fulfill wishes to chosen people or face the consequences are at turns fun and scary. 
  2. The reasons Azra fights her magic, her friends and her place in the world are connected to a loss that is easy to relate to and the more you learn about what happened the more you can't help but cheer Azra on just a little bit more.
  3. The sisterhood friendship piece is complicated, multi-faceted and focused on more than just gabbing about boys. These girls have history, baggage, hopes, dreams and connections that weave the fabric of this story. 
  4. Between the boy next door and the hot lifeguard she works with, the romance angle is present and sizzling, just the way I like it!
  5.  The intrigue sneaks up on you through the story, a little bit of mystery, a few questions left unanswered, by the time you piece it all together at the end your jaw drops a little and you definitely want to read more!

I can't wait for her next book to come out!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Freaking out, second-guessing and the lesson I learned from #pitchwars 2015

I've been hard at work over the last year on a new book, which is really where all my time and energy should be going at this moment. But, I'm still kind of in love with the last book I wrote and I'm stubborn. Very stubborn. 

So, every once in a while I send it out into the world yet again in hopes someone will sweep it up and publish it or at least represent it. The book has gotten requests, but it hasn't been anybody's perfect fit. So, I decided the thing to do this year was to take it-- in all it's workshopped, critiqued, written and rewritten glory-- into #pitchwars, an amazing contest run annually by Brenda Drake (whose books you should run out and buy right now, by the way because this women gives back to the writing community so much). 

The problem was, at the very last minute, as I was submitting the thing I started a little freak out. My first chapter was just all wrong. I kept rereading it. Clearly too much back story. Clearly too much introduction to the normal life. The thing to do, I told myself, in second-guessing style, was to submit Chapter Two as Chapter One. Problem solved. I hit submit. 

I regretted it. 

But, too late. Problem so not solved.

For a week I told myself it would be fine. 

It wasn't.

At the appointed moment in the contest I realized I had received no requests. And no matter what you tell yourself, that just isn't a good sign. The announcement came and went. I was not selected for mentorship, which is round two of this particular contest. 

I took it as the divine sign I needed. It's time to high tail it back to my new manuscript and get it submission ready. I have about six rounds of edits to do on the thing and I need to get going with a synopsis and query letter. My goal is to enter it in this year's Golden Heart. And this year there will be no second guessing or freaking out. 

Meanwhile, today I received confirmation that my second-guessing/freak-out had not helped my pitchwars submission. My top choice mentor team graciously (and I will be forever grateful!) sent me feedback on my submission. The bottom line: they wanted to see her normal life before the moment that the story took off. I so should not have submitted Chapter Two as my Chapter One. 

Don't get me wrong, hundreds of people enter this contest and I might have not gone any further regardless of what chapter I submitted, but my last minute freak-out cost me the opportunity to be considered in a serious manner along side that competition. 

So, I'm promising to reform and trust myself from now on. Join me. Trust your work, trust yourself and trust the partners who have given you feedback along the way. The road to publication isn't turning out to be fast, or easy, or simple, but I am growing in so many ways and now I get to add another great lesson to the list. 

Next stop, Golden Heart contest. I can't wait to see what I learn next!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

On Cross-Fit, Chocolate and Shopping

Today I spent an hour trying Cross-Fit with my very fit and much younger sister. It involved lunging, squatting, something that hurts every part of your body called burpees and an instructor who didn't care much for physical limitations. After that we went to the mall with my teenaged daughters and bought pretty much everything. This activity involved standing and walking for six straight hours.

Which brings me to chocolate. Dark chocolate covered graham crackers are my newest obsession. I thought about them on off while doing the torture, I mean exercise, thing and then during the entire shopping excursion. If I exercise more I can eat more chocolate, right?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Advanced Showing: My Dope Movie Review

We're visiting College Park, Maryland this week for my daughter to compete in National History Day. While we were at Staples printing some last minute items for her display, a gentleman who was making copies ahead of us offered us a pass to see an advanced showing of the movie Dope nearby the next day. I was going to take a hard pass, since I had no idea how to get there and this whole week has been a little overwhelming the driving department, but my daughter, let's call her Stella, started begging me right away for the chance to see it.

"It's going to be a new cult classic, Mom."
"Seriously, it's going to be like the Breakfast Club of my generation."
"I saw a preview and I know your're going to love it."

So, like the high-class broads we are, we hit the Red Lobster and managed to find the IMAX Theater for this showing. We were checked with a wand at the door and warned right before the showing not to take any pictures or video during the show. The music during the wait was top-notch-- nothing beats the music of the 90s.

Then the movie started. It totally captivated me from the first scene. Malcom loves 90s hip hop, he gets straight As, he's got two great friends, a loving single mom who works a fair amount as a city bus driver and a dream to go to Harvard. He's a nerd, on the wrong side of a group of school bullies who have clearly taken his tennis shoes more than once. To avoid a gang fight on his way home from school he cuts across a street that puts him in the path of a drug dealer who takes a liking to him. That in turn puts him in front of the girl of his dreams.

One thing leads to another and Malcom and his friends find themselves in a layer of wrong turns that end up with them needing to sell Molly to survive. The scenes that follow feel like Pulp Fiction meets Super Bad meets Boys in the Hood. They're in turn heady, absurd, thought-provoking, laughter-inducing, realistic, unrealistic and touching. The deeper Malcom gets the more he changes and yet the more he stays the same. He's playing the game he needs to play to survive and in the process he becomes both more the man he wants to be and less. It's complicated and in the end so is Malcom. Malcom's race, his poverty, his circumstances and his chances are intertwined and the movie touches on these issues both subtly and not so subtly.

As a 30-something white woman with the sheen of privilege that I carry with me, I am sure I'm not able to fully appreciate or understand how the movie authentically captures these issues. But, I do know that it made me think about inequity in expectations, circumstances and opportunity and the way power and institutions support these. Of course Malcom and his friends can't take a bag of dope to the police and when Malcom calls this out the theater fills with laughter, but the injustice is real and the sentiment is true no doubt. And, though the movie deals with drugs and violence in ways that make me worry as a mother, I am also not the authority on the authentic world of the teenagers this movie depicts in any sense.

Stella loved the movie and can't wait to see it again. It got us talking about drugs like Molly, about injustice, about the important activism she has been involved with in solidarity with Black Lives Matter through our church youth group. And, I'm sure when this movie comes to theaters, my husband who grew up in LA will want to go and see it. And Stella and I will be happy to pay for our tickets and see it one more time. Actually, Stella just told me she prefers to see it with her friends next time.


Monday, June 1, 2015

When all else fails... read Harry Potter

My stack of books to read is higher than a mountain. It towers over my bed, casting shadows over my dreaming, sleeping form. Ann Brasheres. Zoe Sugg. Gillian Flynn. And more. Many more. Stories I want to weave into my mind. Characters I'm dying to meet. Plus I haven't read my book club book for this week. Some sort of horror or something. I've blocked it out. That one I'm avoiding.

But reading a new book takes time. It sucks me in and makes me ignore my to-do list, my obligations, my stressors. Such a sweet, sweet addiction. So not in the cards at the moment with the presses of time. And yet, I still really need a story to read in stolen moments. One where I won't stay up all night to finish. Which means I must read something I have read before.

Nothing beats Harry Potter books for this purpose. I open the page to anywhere, slip into a warm bath, a lover's embrace, a moment of pure happiness. I'm definitely reading the Zoe Sugg next. But until that lovely day comes I'll just pick up my wand and magic myself to Harry's world.