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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Words and Muffin Tops

We've all seen them...bellies hanging over pants that are a few sizes too small. I've even done it myself when I needed to wear dress pants that I'd bought when I was 10 pounds lighter. I camouflaged it with a "blousey" shirt, but it was underneath. Ready to make an appearance if I sat the wrong way or the wind blew too hard. I first heard the term "muffin top" come out of my husband's mouth several years ago after a trip that took him through the Miami Airport. I'd never heard it, but laughed at the preciseness of what it described. When you see muffin top on the street or in the grocery store or at the beach, you tend to see only that. The person might have a blinding smile or the darkest red hair you've ever seen or the sweetest eyes, but you miss the beauty and uniqueness of them because you can focus only on the muffin top.

I love words. When I read a poetic phrase in a novel, I re-read it. Letting the words sit on my tongue. I savor them. And hope that my work rises to that level some day. But no matter how beautiful prose is or thought-provoking or moving, there can be too much. As a reader, you find yourself tripping over the author and losing focus on the story. This is true in everyone's daily lives--not just readers and writers. We often say too much and want to take it back. Or push away someone who was so close because we didn't stop talking when we should have. Just one extra word can negate an entire conversation.

I've posted a few chapters of my new novel on Goodreads. If you do me the honor of checking it out, please let me know if you spy muffin top.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Daddy

My daddy is a quiet soul. A righteous man. Growing up in Alabama, he taught me grace, humility, and patience. In my 40 years, I've never heard him yell. He will be 70 this year, which amazes me. In my mind, he'll always be that guy that I ran with up and down our driveway. Who I planted daffodils with in the yard. Who took us to the beach and held me on a float while I rocked the waves. Who knocked the crab off my back that grabbed skin and held on. Who taught me how to drive. Who helped me pack my stuff in a truck and drive down I-95 in traffic to dump the few things I owned into a 400-square-foot room on South Beach when I was 24-years-old to start my life as an attorney. Because he believed in me. He trusted my judgment. And although it killed him, which as a parent I can now finally appreciate, he let go. He trusted that what he'd sunk his heart and soul and life into for 20 years would stick. And that I would be okay.
On this Father's Day, I'm not going to tie the blog into my writing journey. Instead, I'm going to take the time to honor the man who has never, ever disappointed me and has always been my biggest cheerleader. He is the best dad. In. The. World. For those of you who know him, you know what he's been through. My older brother was in a car accident that left him paralyzed on one side. My dad stood beside him through painful and endless rehab. My little brother accidentally overdosed at 30. And my Mama lives in a nursing home dying of a horrible, degenerative brain disease. But my sweet daddy remains, and will always be, my hero. For his strength. And humility. And faith. And unconditional love.
I love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bama Football and Haters

In Alabama, there are many religions. One of the biggest is college football. You see, in other states, professional teams pull money and loyalty away from college sports. When I moved to Pennsylvania seven years ago, I heard about Penn State. But I heard more about the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies and Fliers. The car tags, flags adorning front doors, and jerseys worn in grocery stores all showed allegiance to the professional teams. What you see depends on the season. In the fall, you see Eagles and Steelers jerseys. In the winter, the Fliers orange and black abounds. And in spring, the Phillies red and white is on every cap and t-shirt.
We don't have that down South. In Alabama, there are no professional football, baseball, or hockey teams. There's just Auburn and Alabama football. (If my friend, Jason Mitchell reads this, he'll note the obvious mention of Auburn before Alabama--War Eagle.) Because of this, the line in the sand runs deep and wide. There are no other teams to distract your loyalty. So on the day of the Iron Bowl (the annual Auburn-Alabama game), the streets go quiet because everyone is somewhere watching the game.
Then, something happened to bridge the divide. On April 27th, a series of tornados tore through the South causing unimaginable damage. At least 350 people were killed, homes were destroyed, and thousands were injured. In Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama, a mile-wide tornado laid an unbelievable path of destruction. Within days, Toomer's for Tuscaloosa was born. "Toomer's" is short for Toomer's Corner in Auburn, the heart of campus. Days after the storm, a few Auburn fans gathered to help their rivals, but brethren, in T-town. They utilized Twitter and Facebook to cry out to their neighbors to help thousands. If there was a need, someone would tweet or Facebook Toomer's for Tuscaloosa and boots were on the ground within hours. The help ranged from water to diapers to food to debris removal. As the movement expanded, clothing, furniture, and mobile homes were added to the list of things delivered. This grassroots effort provided miracles to people all over the state who were affected, and it was done so by volunteers.
As donations and help poured in, the founders of Toomer's--who are all volunteers--began the process of creating a non-profit to handle the donations and deal with the paperwork. But its number one priority was to field requests for help. To this day, they work tirelessly into the night to answer emails and dispatch donation trucks and clean-up crews.
But as with anything, there are haters. Their Facebook page has been peppered with people spreading rumors about the propriety of their work and where the money is going. The (volunteer) administrators have tried their best to field the questions and provide answers--all while continuing to dispatch resources and respond to cries for help. Yet, still there are the haters.
This illustrates a very important lesson for me. No matter who you are, what you do, or how altruistic your intentions, certain people will find a reason to criticize you. To be cliche: you can't please all of the people all of the time. I refuse to compare my manuscript with the mighty work being done by Toomer's for Tuscaloosa. But it reminds me that people will hate my work. They will read, "The Beauty of Grace" and say I'm anti-motherhood. Anti-faith. That I advocate suicide and vanity. But they will be wrong. Just as most haters are.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why the query process is a bit like "The Deadliest Catch"

My husband, Jamie, and I love to watch "The Deadliest Catch." Why? Neither one of us fish. Or venture to Dutch Harbour, Alaska. Or suck on cigarettes at 2 am while sliding across a slimy deck. But there's just something about it that pulls us in. It's an hour of watching young men get thrown around a sloshing ship deck. Hauling gear. Setting bait. Swearing, smoking, reeling lines. In the abstract, the idea is boring. We watch these guys stick stinking fish guts into fish carcasses, climb into steel crab pots, and string it up. We watch them laboriously haul these pots overboard, one after the other, in the middle of the night. An endless, dark sky above them. Freezing water rushing over the deck and soaking them. Yet they continue to dump the pots, sling out the buoys, and stuff fresh bait. Over and over and over again. Hoping something bites. Praying that when they return to their pots, there will be crab. They dump all their gear into a bottomless ocean, then tuck themselves into bed with a prayer on their lips that their work won't be in vain. Because you see, with Alaska crab fishing, if nothing bites, you don't get paid.
I'm sure the metaphor is obvious, but such is the query process. You research your fishing grounds, making sure that you narrow where you throw your pots (query letters) to the most fertile grounds--agents who represent the type of novel you write. Then you work tirelessly to stuff your bait (craft your query letter) and sweat into the wee hours throwing it into a dark, bottomless chasm (cyberspace) hoping that something (an agent) will bite. You work, you sweat, then you climb into bed and dream that when you wake, you'll have a bite. Because if you don't, your blood, sweat, and tears were meaningless. Which means that the book I've poured my heart, soul, and little free time into, sinks to the bottom of the ocean and comes up empty. Making all the icy spray (rejections) I've felt along the way in vain. Yet still I must fish.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Confession and Bieber Fever

I have a confession to make. I love Justin Bieber. So most of you are closing the blog window now, BUT WAIT. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I love him not because of his hair or his stupid backwards cap, but because of his commitment to his dream. I finally saw "Never Say Never." Yes, it was filled with a plethera of pre-pubescent girls screaming, but it also was full of love and dedication to his dream. This kid was born to a teen-aged Mom who nurtured his talent and allowed him to be himself. He drummed on chairs and sang on street corners and crooned into the abyss of YouTube. And now, whether you like it or not, he is an icon. At 17. Many of the boy bands of the 90's were manufactured, like N'Sync. But at its heart was Justin Timberlake, who has gone on to became a Grammy-award winning artist, an actor, and an hysterical comedian (his Saturday Night Live skits will make you pee in your pants). I'm not saying Justin Bieber is the next Michael Jackson, but the kid has mad skills and will be around for a while.
As I watched his movie with my kids, I found myself singing along. Caught up in the giddiness that is the naivety of chasing dreams. But it reminded me of a quote I read recently on one of the writers' websites: "The difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is perseverance."
This, and a baby-faced kid from Canada, makes me think that if I work hard enough and never give up....

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chihuahuas and ChiWowWows

My 11-year-old has a four-pound Teacup Chihuahua. People see her and ask, "Is she a puppy?" At this point, she's usually growling, with fur up, assuming the spirit of a Bull Mastiff. "No," we say. "She's fully grown." But don't tell her what they said. She is four pounds of Tuffff. One "f" for every pound. A salesperson who knocked on our door once confused her for a squirrel. A beloved friend calls her a rodent. Another "The Rat Dog." But make no mistake. She is beautiful and tough and the biggest personality in our house of seven. Friends ask, "Doesn't she get underfoot and stepped on a lot?" "No," I reply. "She knows how to dodge the people who carelessly fail to see her."
Pursuing a writing career often makes me feel like Chloe, our four-pound ChiWowWow. Small, overlooked, but full of spunk and value if given a second look. Except I don't bite. Usually.