Thursday, August 30, 2007

All About Perspective

I love The Onion. They made my day today with their take on pregnancy. Warning: whether it was intended or not, those with strong pro-life sentiments may find a few paragraphs not quite so amusing. Strike that, those with strong pro-life sentiments might find the whole thing offensive. When I read the article as a mother with a somewhat bumpy pregnancy and recovery, though, I can't take offense at all. I laughed heartily.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Border State

Living in central Arizona, we do see quite a few Border Patrol vehicles, but we don't usually see them in action. The Casa Grande Border Patrol station is actually here because they can't set up a station on reservation land, and Casa Grande has the closest access to a large stretch of reservation lands that are popular for illegal aliens making their way up to Phoenix on foot.

So I was somewhat surprised to see three highway patrol cars and one border patrol SUV surrounding a Jeep (all vehicles appeared to be empty of their drivers and riders) on a patch of dirt by the on-ramp we use to get on the interstate. A couple of miles off into the desert, there was a helicopter circling around a particular spot of ground. So the chase was likely over or coming to its close. Given the condition of the Jeep (looked pretty new and spiffy), I'm fairly certain that the perp was either a border drug runner or a coyote (what the smugglers who lead the aliens across the border get called here; these lovely people are known to take a group of aliens into a fairly remote part of inhospitable Arizona desert in high summer, point in a vague northerly direction and say "Phoenix, four hours walk," and leave).

It's one thing to know that the Border Patrol exists. It's another thing to see that in action. And it's something else entirely to think about the lives and moments that intersect to precipitate that action. That last is not an obvious train of thought for those not involved, but I think it's the most important.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bit o' Stress*

Last week Operation Find New Job (Part Deux) took its toll on the household. Beginnings of depressions, bruised egos, flaring tempers, insomnia. The Works. The goal for this week is to try and fold in this piece of insanity a bit better so we can function as a family to support each other through it. Blogging may continue to be sparse to non-existent.

*Likely because I needed a touch of happy ridiculousness today, thinking up this title reminded me of that god-awful candy Bit 0' Honey. (I would say it's a refreshingly true product name except for the fact that they don't tell you that the bit of honey is mixed in with sawdust.) This icky concoction is (or was; hopefully he's come to his senses) the fave sweet of former Fighting Irish Coach Lou Holtz. A group of friends in our brother dorm were Lou Holtz Fanboys to the Extreme!!! They made it a point every year (no matter that our freshman year was the man's last year coaching the Irish) to write him and ask if he, in his Magnificience, would be so kind as to watch an away game with their humble selves in their meager dorm rec room or if we would deign to come and impart his Noble Wisdom to their ignorant dormmates, or somesuch. They always had a bowl of Bit O' Honey candies (and Diet Coke, another reported fave) on hand just in case His Worthy might drop in unannounced despite sending very polite and often personalized "Thanks but no thanks" responses to all of their requests. I think one day he did drop in for a quick visit. If one of the group ever reads this, I'm sure I'll be labeled a heretic or blasphemer for not remembering the details of this visit down to the way he had his shoes tied.

Monday, August 20, 2007

You Must Choose, But Choose Wisely

Drew's mealtimes have improved significantly by giving him a choice of menu options. Except for breakfast. The Boy rarely eats a good breakfast these days. But give him a choice of pizza or PB&J sandwich at lunch, and he'll enthusiastically pick one and eat more of the selection than he's eaten before. I can't believe it took me this long to figure this out. We've been having him make his snack selections from the pantry for a while now (supervised, of course), and one of those moments hit me like a ton of bricks. Of course Drew would enjoy having a choice of meals as well.

On the matter of what he wears, though, Drew didn't even try to put up with denying his say in things. Starting a couple of weeks ago, he refused to wear whatever we pulled out for him, morning or night, opened the dresser himself and dragged out what he wanted to wear. This has resulted in night-time outfits of pants with no top and day-time outfits of the same sleeping pants with a shirt. He does have a couple of favorite outfits: the bright orange shirt with a pirate shark on it, the beach rompers in bright blues and greens featuring frogs, and a pair of beige shorts that amazingly still fit him despite being intended for 9 month old babies to wear.

The other choice Drewbie regularly makes is to wear socks. Given the 100+ heat outside, I find this choice surprising. But he does seem to be very into socks at the moment.

I'm taking this as good practice for the teenage years. If I can tolerate his wacky choices of wardrobe now, I just might be able to stomach the even crazier ones in the next decade. Maybe.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

We're Following the Leader, the Leader, the Leader, Following the Leader Wherever He May Go

Jacquandor is very lucky that I was looking for something to blog about today (the two topics I had been considering being not quite ready for public consumption) and, also, procrastinating. I've got a new chapter of THUMB to start, and my darling muse has yet to let the bits of flotsom and jetsam gel into anything coherent for this chapter. Yes, he is very lucky that I am in fact responding to his "Seven Things" Internet Meme tag, as my first instinct is to pretend I never saw the tag* and risk exploding the internet just as I risk unraveling the fabric of space time whenever I delete a "Forward this or [insert dire consequence here]!!!" email, usually sight unseen.

So, here it is. Seven things you may or may not know me, the Crazy Relationship Edition. (My earlier iteration of this meme listed seven things about me in seven categories. I'm not going that route this time.)

1. I was once propositioned twice in the same night by two townies in a bar in South Bend. This was during the course of a Girls Night Out, and I was pissed to have to deal with Male Horomones at all, so I left the bar in a huff, asking loudly, "What, am I wearing Eau de Slut perfume?" The next day, I went to Claire's a bought a $5 ring that, in the dark of the bar, could double as an engagement ring. I wore said ring every other time I went out with the girls that summer. It didn't help.

2. For a very brief moment in the seventh grade, I dated the most popular guy in school, who happened to be black. Our relationship was instigated primarily by a friend we had in common for unknown reasons. It was the shortest relationship I've ever had, lasting less than twenty-four hours, only three of which we actually spent together. During those three hours (the course of a junior high dance), we shared several slow dances. We also held hands while surrounded by his friends (a pretty thoroughly mixed race group) who looked at me as if I had green skin and some antenna. I think this was because my only known asset (other than that I wasn't fugly) was that I was smart, not because I was white. We kissed each other on the cheek at the end of the dance. The next day, one of us called the other and we both agreed without any hesitation that it just wasn't Meant To Be, heaved simultaneous sighs of relief, and went about our lives.

3. I played the whole "let's just be friends" card with a boyfriend in junior high. We had been friends before we dated, and dating for quite a number of months, IIRC. I missed the friendship uncomplicated by the relationship (mostly because the relationship had led to much cruel teasing by some of the In-girl crowd and I let it get to me). He took the break-up hard. So hard that he had a friend of his slip an add for bust enhancement cream in my locker. So hard that he told all of his friends that I was a lesbian, which I found out about much later and actually laughed at the news. We've since reconciled and are pretty good friends.

4. The guy who gave me my first kiss was eager to ignore me when he realized a kiss was all he was going to get out of me. So eager, in fact, that when he tried to excuse his avoidance of me by saying he had mono, he couldn't understand why I might get a little freaked out about that. I had to say, "Remember? You kissed me?" And he did this little, "OH. Yeah. That." Later that day or that week, he was kissing someone else. Ah, l'amour.

5. As I was on my way to ask the guy I liked to escort me to the Junior/Senior prom my junior year, I was intercepted by a senior drama buddy of mine. And he asked me to the prom. I felt awful, but I had to say no and explain that I was actually seconds away from asking someone else to go with me. He was more frustrated and embarrassed than heartbroken as I was the third girl he had asked. I still feel bad about that, but the guy I asked said yes, and we ended up dating for the rest of high school, with a minor hiccup of a month during senior year.

6. The first "boyfriend" that I can remember having was in the first grade. I think our relationship was characterized by sitting together at lunch and playing together on the playground. Occasionally, he gave me rings that I'm pretty sure he had stolen from his older sister.

7. One of my last boyfriends broke up with me via a seven-page long email, during which he said it was my fault he had to lie to me, told me I had no right be upset about my parents' divorce because of some variant of the "there are starving children in China" argument, and (in rebuttal to my WTF? response) whined about how much time I spent studying. Then, three days later, he sent me flowers and made "maybe we shouldn't have stopped dating" noises.

I'm not going to tag anybody for this meme except to say that anyone who reads this and needs a blog entry and is at a loss for words or simply needs further means of procrastination, feel free to consider yourself tagged.

*This is the last meme I did, and it was practically perfect in every way.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Stardust Needs You!

I caught Stardust at 10AM last Sunday along with about fifty other people. It felt strange to be watching a movie so early on a weekend in the theater, but the movie was well worth that minor discomfort. Hell, Robert de Niro's performance alone was worth both the price of admission and the snacks I bought, with the Dead Prince Peanut Gallery making up for any loose change that de Niro might not have covered.

It was such a beautiful film filled with gratuitous witchery and prince-death, Stupid Hero Tricks, and enough darkness to remind you when you might forget that, no, this isn't a Disney Fairy Tale. Alas, though, it didn't perform nearly well enough in its opening weekend to have it stick around in theaters. So if you want to catch it on the big screen, it would behoove you to do so this weekend. And bring some friends, maybe see about turning the box office numbers around.

I thought about why Stardust didn't do better. I mean, c'mon, it's friggin Neil Gaiman. If he can't draw a big crowd, then there's no hope of any of the rest of us SFers making a big splash in Hollywood. My yet-to-be-published novels are already sad about this. The only possible explanation I could muster was that the male SF community was mad for Rush Hour 3 (or, to be more generous to the other sex, The Bourne Ultimatum) instead. Then I remembered that Flash Gordon was having its season premiere on SciFi that Friday as well. Yet another draw for the SF community. Then I actually watched that premier during one of its re-airs and figured anyone who had watched that in favor of even Rush Hour 3 wad no doubt kicking themselves all the way to the theater the next night. I never quite got in synch with the characters' reactions to what was happening, and then there was the problem that No Female Shall Be Anything Other Than Brunette. With Similar Facial Features and Body Type. At least they messed around with their hairstyles. This phenomenon, though, was especially problematic when they tossed one of the women in a harem, also full of brunettes who looked nearly identical, even in height.

Anyway, if you haven't yet seen Stardust, you should really go see it. If not for yourself, do it for the future of quality SF books getting made into movies.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

Found out yesterday that Mark's company is up and moving to California come October. He was given the option of moving with the company or being out of a job come the end of September, with the company's sincerest regrets and best efforts to recommend the hell out of him. It didn't take us very long to go with the latter option. While Mark has really enjoyed this company and the science he gets to do there, even he can't muster the faith that the move is going to do anything for this company's viability. That's saying something.

We've got six weeks to get him a new job without losing any of our savings, but our savings have been intentionally plumped these past few months specifically for this eventuality, so we should be OK for a few months after that should the job search not go well.

Sigh. Where's my multimillion dollar publishing contract when it's needed?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Process Examination #6: I'm Kellie Hazell, Reminding You to Help Control the Pet Population. Spay or Neuter Your Plot Bunnies Today.

Oy, the perils of the first three chapters. The brain is supplying ideas, various routes to get you from Point A to Point B, various morsels of character info that ratchet up conflict and promise for a big pay off. Beware the lure of the plot bunny.

I have not been successful in fighting the plot bunny temptation in my previous novels (and, no, I don't consider it an accomplishment to reach for the kitchen sink, pause, then decide against tossing it into the first act of the novel). Those bunnies are just so darn cute. You pick up a pair: protag and antag. And you examine their coats and decide they are perfect for the novel. You will enjoy watching these two square off, detailing their triumphs, their failures, their every single nose twitch and tail wiggle. Every hop will have significance, every nibble of the carrot. Then you step away for a moment, your attention on finding just the right novelty item to put in the cage with them to enhance their surroundings. Only when you turn back to the bunny cage, you find that there are suddenly quite a bit more than 2 bunnies in there. But you can tell how they sprang into existance, what traits of the parents they kept, how they provide so much more context and conflict and depth to the story.

So you get a bigger cage for the little beasties and write away, not missing a single juicy detail. Somewhere in there are your original bunnies with their particular story to tell. You may even develop that appropriately in and around your meticulous recounting of the progeny's antics. But your reader probably isn't going to have much luck finding that thread or giving it greater weight then the rest of the stuff you've shoved on her, and she's probably not going to be able to develop a coherent story question to carry with her as she reads.

The Plot Bunny Problem crystallized the concept of the story question for me, actually. I always understood what was meant by a story question: it's what you want your reader to be asking about the story, usually by the end of the first page, definitely by the end of the first chapter. Will the hero beat the bad guy? Will the heroine and hero get together? Will the protag learn that family isn't just about bloodlines? But I didn't understand just how powerful that story question needed to be and that even directly related information and questions can dilute it, especially in those first three chapters. In order to figure that out, I had to get somebody to critique the rough, rough first three chapters. Sure enough, my critter asked a whole bunch of story questions, two of which were what he needed to be worried about in that chunk of text. But he couldn't tell that. And I really couldn't see the problem with the other questions until he gave them equal weight to the important ones.

Now for my next process dilemma: to rewrite based on that critique or to move forward? I think the first antag POV chapter will help clarify this in my mind.

Monday, August 13, 2007

His Business Traveling Days are Over (For Now)

This trip back to CO was likely the last time I bring Andrew with me. Not because he's misbehaved during the trips, far from it. He loves traveling. No, once he turns 2, I have to pay full price for his ticket. The DDJ certainly isn't going to cover it.

This trip then was a nice farewell to our unique joint business trips. Drew flew well both ways. He even took out the safety features card and read along with the safety video (the card has pretty pictures!). He slept well, though not in the crib the hotel provided. He climbed out of the thing his second night there. So I used the base of the crib (really a play pen) as a mat for him to lay on, but he didn't like that for much more than an hour or two. So he shared the king-sized bed with me for the other three nights.

He ate very poorly for me every night, too. But apparently he ate quite well at day care, which is better than nothing.

The last day of the trip, he came with me to the office. He was a big hit as always and helped me out quite well with the few bits of work I had to do.

The highlight of the trip, though, was when we went to the mall for dinner and I let him play in the kiddie area just to the side of the food court. Drew was sitting on the top of a slide, deciding whether or not he really wanted to go down the thing, when some girl behind him got impatient and kicked him. Drew slid down the slides' raised edges on his back before thunking to the ground. I shouted something (I think it was "Oh!") and bolted to him, picked him up and took him back to the table to calm him down. Only he wasn't calming down. He didn't seem hurt at all. In fact, he kept reaching back for the kiddie play area. Sure enough, as soon as I plopped him down in the play area, he stopped crying and went trotting off to play as if he hadn't just sailed five feet through the air and landed on his back.

But it's good to be back and better to know that I don't have to routinely play at being a single mom anymore. We had some fun traveling together for the DDJ, but that solution has outgrown us and its time to find a better day care option for us here in AZ for Drew when I do travel. It should be easier to manage now that the summer is over and day cares aren't flooded with kids who are back in school.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I Would Laugh If It Weren't So Creepy

Who says the TSA doesn't have a sense of humor?

I opened up my suitcase in the hotel and was surprised not to see one of those TSA cards informing me in copious boring legal terms that my bag had been opened and searched prior to being loaded on the plane. Then I took my laptop out of the bag and found the card.

Three guesses where it was.

Nope. Getting warmer. Close.

The card was nestled--yes, I said nestled, as though someone had placed it there with care and may have even thought about swaddling it--in my pair of lacy boy short underwear from Victoria Secret. Under my laptop. There is absolutely no chance it could've have arrived at that destination without someone clearly putting it there.

Even more disturbing was that the Drew Monster's Curious George stuffie was squished in next to the TSAd boyshorts underneath the laptop.

I believe I will pack nothing but white cotton briefs everytime I must check a bag in the future. To hell with panty-lines in my work pants.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Begin Radio Silence

Tomorrow morning, Drew and I head off to Colorado for the DDJ. We'll be getting back Thursday afternoon, and then Mark's aunt (Drew's godmother) will be flying in Friday. Posting may be light to non-existant until next Sunday.

Really, it's a very good thing if you don't hear from me until then. I'm making smashing good progress on THUMB, thanks in part to the RWA Tucson chapter's Book-in-a-Month challenge. It's keeping me honest and forcing me to look at every bit of free time in terms of whether or not I can get out a couple of pages. This is my word count so far:

So while I might have free time in the upcoming week, I'm going to do everything in my power to use it toward increasing that total.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to squeeze out a few pages while El Boyo Diablo is napping.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Simpsons: Best Conveniently-placed Items to Hide Nudity Montage Ever

We saw The Simpsons Movie on Tuesday. It was chock full of stuff that we'll need a couple more views and slavish attention to the commentaries to catch, but there was still plenty of fun to be had in the first viewing.

One thing I've always enjoyed about The Simpsons is that they more often than not follow up slapstick humor with something rather witty and less obvious, sometimes incorporating that into the slapstick humor itself. Sometimes they just go crazy and obscure too (I'm thinking of "I call the big one Bitey" that nearly every male fan of the show thinks is the Best Line Eva; it just doesn't do it for me). I really appreciate how the show skewers certain tropes, too. My favorite example of this is how often cars (and other conveyances) explode for no good reason--a nice "take that" to stupid big summer blockbuster action sequences that defy the laws of physics.

But they really outdid themselves with their take on the Austin Powers-esque sequence of a nude Bart skateboarding. The "interesting bits" were hidden in several clever ways for most of the scene until near the end when Bart moves behind a hedge--and everything but the interesting bits are obscured. (I'm curious as to how crudely animated male genitalia qualifies for a PG-13 rating, though. Maybe because it was, in effect, disembodied? Truly a philosophical quandry.) The cake-topper of the scene, though, was when Flanders caught sight of Bart's package in the middle of saying grace over his meal and blurted out a startled "Penis!", which his sons dutifully repeated as part of the prayer. ("Bountiful Penis" is just screaming to be made into a rock band's name, of course.)

Along the same lines as "I call the big one Bitey" was the "Spiderbig" song Homer sings that many male fans have been squeeing over. Again, it just didn't do it for me. Then they busted out with the choral version of the song later in the movie, complete with chamber orchestra trappings. That, ladies and gentlemen, is funny.

Other great bits included: "American Idiot" (Funeral Version), retinal scans of several of the mutant squirrel's eyes in order to pass security, Krusty emptying a tanker full of flop sweat into the lake, and Maggie saving Homer from gun-related violence.

We've been following the genesis of this movie on the DVD commentaries of the regular episodes for a while now, and, though I never expected fanboy squealing, Mark delivered on the anticipation by threatening me with divorce if my request that he buy popcorn before things started made him miss any part of the movie. Our marriage was saved by a late start and three trailers.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Fascinating Writing Discussion o' the Day

Elizabeth Bear compels you to compare and contrast John Denver and Gordon Lightfoot YouTube videos and then apply the results to a discussion of genre conventions. The comments are also fascinating and gave me several moments of "ow, my head hurts" and fond memories of the days when I just heard a song and liked it cuz it was catchy and all thinking stopped there (those days started to end when my grandmother wouldn't get me a Milli Vanilli tape because of the song "All or Nothing"; they breathed their last gasp when I heard "All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You" and my brain couldn't process the persistent attempts of the pop culture world to make that a sweet, mushy love song).

As for the bit about examining genre conventions, I think you can only question a certain number of them at a time. Otherwise, your novel becomes less about telling a story and more about the mechanics of telling a story. The latter are often hard to read and assigned to annoyed students for the purposes of writing long essays about the plight of the common man or somesuch.

Also, there's a certain power in writing a nothin'-here-but-us-tropes story: Everyone can access and understand it. In that case, it's up to the writer to wield the tools of theme and character development appropriately to provide depth in the construct of those facile genre conventions. But I suppose it can be argued that shallow themes and flat characters are part and parcel of certain genre conventions, so that having a layered, difficult theme and textured characters immediately means you are examining genre conventions and giving the hard answers.

D'oh! Now my logic's all twisted into a pretzel.