Monday, February 29, 2016

I'd like to thank the Academy

. . . for raising my consciousness and increasing my awareness last night.  Because I would never do that on my own.

Gah.  What a dreary, self-important bloated event that was!  The irony is that my politics are definitely progressive.  But guess what.  I seriously resent being lectured to.  I also want my Oscars to be a party, not a rally.

And if I never EVER see gravity-defying breasts I'll be happy.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Special Super Power

Can you think of a moment in your life when you felt thoroughly validated?

Here's mine:  I was getting ready to park in front of our house (we don't have off-street parking) when I noticed a car behind me.  I'd have to park quickly, I knew, so I did the parallel parking thing and NAILED IT.

As the car passed me, the driver--a teenage boy--gave me two thumbs up because yeah.  I won't lie.  I was impressive and we both knew it.

That's my special super power--parallel parking.  As one of my boys said, "Mom is oddly good at that."

What's YOUR special super power?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Writing historical fiction

There are two kinds of writers who write historical fiction.

The first kind is the writer who LOVES history for history's sake.  She adores research.  He pores over primary and secondary sources.  She pins maps on her bulletin board.  He travels to see and smell and hear the places he's writing about.

The second kind of writer has a more utilitarian view of history.  If the setting works for the story, she'll use it.  As for as the research part, he'll do the absolute minimum--gathering just enough of the facts (ma'am) to get by.

Which is the more common type of historical fiction writer?  I suspect the first kind.  Generally speaking, writers (and readers!) who love history are naturally drawn to the genre.

Why am I even talking about this?  Because I had lunch with a writer friend yesterday who is researching turn-of-the-century Utah in order to write a mystery.  And, in fact, he has a lot of the plot worked out.  But here's the thing.  He often avoids the actual writing part, because he worries about getting the historical details right.

Here's what I told him.  STOP RESEARCHING.  He has enough to write the story.  And if he gets stuck, he can connect the historical dots later.  As important as the research is, it shouldn't get in the way of writing the story itself.  It shouldn't be a diversion.

Why do I know this?  Because I am the second kind of historical fiction writer.  I don't love research because it feels like HOMEWORK, duh.  And when I wrote Charlotte's Rose, I got some of the details wrong.  For sure.  But at least the story got written.

I know.  I'm a genius.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What I've been reading lately

I just finished The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell and thought it was kind of a mess, frankly.  Too sprawling.  Too many threads left hanging--and not in a good, artistic way.  I've been despairing of late over disappointing mysteries and thrillers.  Part of the problem is that they're just too damn long.  It's hard for a 500-plus page thriller to hold up under its own weight.  The payoff with most of them just isn't there.  What's wrong with a tidy slim novel ala Agatha Christie?

I also just finished The Swans of Fifth Avenue, which really captivated me.  It's maybe overwritten in some places--especially toward the end.  But the imagined lives of Truman Capote and his swans--Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, C. Z. Guest, et. al.--packed a real emotional punch.

Friday, February 19, 2016

RIP Harper Lee

Even though I was an irritating child, the Coach never seemed particularly irritated with me--so the moments that he clearly WAS irritated with me stand out in my memory with a special clarity.  One of those moments occurred over the Thanksgiving break of my 8th grade year.

Ugh.  Eighth grade.

Anyway, I was in the middle of reading To Kill a Mockingbird when we had to meet up with aunts and uncles and cousins in Pleasant Grove for Thanksgiving dinner, which we held in some sort of recreational hall--maybe even a church?--because my dad had thirteen siblings and I had a boatload of cousins.  No mere home could contain us all.

Well, I didn't want to go.  I wanted to stay home and read because I was love, love, love, McLoving that book so much.  But my parents forced me to go with them.  WHAT IS WRONG WITH PARENTS?  So I took along my book and skulked outside and hid myself and read in the freezing cold away from cousins.

The Coach apparently noticed I was MIA.  So he came looking for me.  And when he found me reading instead of socializing he was peeved, which surprised me.  At the time I wondered if he was mad at me for being a dork.  I was often mad at myself in those days for being a dork.  I'm still not sure why he was so bothered, although now that I'm a LOT older than he was at the time, I suspect it had something to do with tricky family dynamics.  Because families have dynamics.  That are tricky.


I turned on the TV just now and heard the news that Harper Lee passed away.  And the idea occurred to me that I'd like to write a column about how much To Kill a Mockingbird has meant to people.

If you want to tell me, I'm all ears.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I might quote you.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Scampering husbands

Ken Cannon, as I've indicated here, is a superior husband and superior human being.  The only way in which I am superior to his superiority--not including the part where I could give birth and he couldn't--is that I have a much better sense of time than he does.

This means that over the years I've done a fair amount of waiting for him.  Which is why whenever I have to take something to his office and he's supposed to meet me on Broadway for the handoff, I always end up illegally parked in front of his office building.  Waiting.

So today I called him before I left and said BE OUT FRONT.  And he said I'LL BE OUT FRONT.  So I left our house with confidence in his eminent out-frontness surging through my bosom.

But he wasn't there.  I had to call him on my cell and when I got him on the phone, it was clear that he'd gotten distracted and had lost track of time.  Within moments of my crisply-worded call,  I saw him scamper out of the building and toward my illegally parked car as though his life depended on it.

Which it did.

Here's the good part, though.  Seconds after Ken Cannon came scampering out of the building, another man (I didn't recognize him) came scampering out, too.  And he headed straight for the car illegally parked in front of ME being driven by a grumpy middle-aged blonde.

His wife, no doubt.

Clearly all across America, it's Scampering Husbands Day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Things that can happen in a single second

Louise has this fabulous book of writing prompts.  If I can remember to, I'll get the title from her and pass it along to you.  Anyway, one of the prompts goes like this:  "What can happen in a second?"  And here's what I rush wrote (in about five minutes).

1.  You can decide to switch lanes on the freeway and run into that car in your blindspot.

2.  You can see how much you weigh when you step on a scale.  Sad face!

3.  You can taste salted caramel gelato.

4.  You can see Donald Trump's face on the TV screen and go WTF?

5.  You can call your dog's name.

6.  You can notice that your dog chewed up the sock you knit on the way home from Texas.

7.  You can hear church bells ring outside of Louise's apartment.

8.  You can catch the scent of someone's perfume.  "Light Blue" by Dolce and Gabbana, just like Kelly used to wear.

9.  You can strike a match.

10.  You can forget the thought that was on the tip of your tongue.

Feel free to add a list of your own.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How to make a fool of yourself in a public bathroom in 25 easy steps

1.  Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.
2.  If you happen to be eating at Joe Vera's Mexican restaurant in Provo, remind yourself that the door with the "Jose" sign on it is the Men's Room.
3.  It's not short for "Josie," as in "Josie and the Pussycats."
4.  How many times have you made that mistake?
5.  But that's not the point.
6.  You recently did something else stupid in a public bathroom.
7.  You washed your hands.
8.  (That wasn't the stupid part.)
9.  Then you attempted to dry your hands.
10.  You went to the towel dispenser.
11.  You waved your hands beneath the towel dispenser.
12.  Nothing happened.
13.  You waved your hands again.
14.  You said to the woman emerging from a stall that you hate these automatic towel dispensers because they never work.
15.  Then you remember how your brother Jimmy used to tell his kids that if they didn't graduate for high school, they would have to work behind the walls of public bathrooms and flush toilets for people who believed that the toilets were automatically flushing themselves.
17.  Your brother is a lot like your dad, who used to tell you that the toilets in Winnemucca, NV were magic toilets.
18.  He was  good dad, but it must be said he used to lie to his kids about some things.
19.  But that's another story.
20.  So you wave your hands some more.
21.  Nothing happens.
22.  So then you kind of flap your arms and do a little rain dance, except it's actually a paper towel dispenser dance.
23.  That doesn't work.
24.  And then you see the knob on the side and it hits you.
25.  The paper towel dispenser is manual--not automatic.

See how easy it is to make a fool of yourself in bathrooms all over America?  You're welcome!

Friday, February 12, 2016

You're my lobster

Yesterday at the Smith's--amidst all the Valentine balloons and flowers and plants and chocolates--I saw a stuffed toy lobster holding a heart that said "You're my lobster."

I looked at this for awhile, feeling really confused.  Are lobsters a thing now like owls used to be,  I asked myself?  Do I want a lobster?  Do I want to be a lobster?  Do I want to be with a lobster? (Answer:  no and also ouch!)

Clearly this Valentine toy was a reference to something . . . but what?  Maybe I'd check out the Urban Dictionary--something I occasionally do when I write columns just so that if I drop a phrase, I know exactly what it is that I'm saying, yo.

I never had to check out the Urban Dictionary, however, because last night at work, Kenneth knew the answer.  It's a line from an episode of Friends, a series I never really watched and when I did I was mostly distracted by Jennifer Aniston's hair.  But apparently Phoebe tells Ross and Rachel that they're each other's lobsters, because lobsters mate for life.

Or so Phoebe said.  I'm not an expert when it comes to the dating habits of lobsters, obv.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hail Caesar

The Coen brothers are responsible for two of my favorite movies--O Brother and Raising Arizona.  So naturally I've been looking forward to their new film, Hail, Caesar!, which Ken Cannon and I saw last night.

Thumbnail review--entertaining and agreeable without being stellar.  There were plenty of things to love--Josh Brolin's character confessing to his priest that he'd slapped a movie star, Tilda Swinton doubling as competitive gossip columnist twins, the over-the-top, homo-erotic dance number with the awesome Channing Tatum.  (I have a crush on C-Tat, it must be acknowledged.)

Still, it didn't send me to the moon.  It sent me half-way.  There were times when I actually felt a little bored.  I liked the idea of George Clooney talking to a study group of communists while wearing a toga,  for example, but the scene itself lost steam.  At least for me.

Not sorry I saw it, though.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Yup. Here's what I don't want for Valentine's Day.

You can read about it here.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about the valentines from my own elementary school childhood--how I used to scour them for hidden meanings from the boys I liked, not realizing then, of course, that boys weren't into "hidden meanings."  Or at least those kinds of hidden meanings.  "Verbal" is what I'm talking about here.

No.  If the boys in the fifth grade liked you, they just threw chestnuts at your legs when you standing together at the bus stop.

And the confusion just goes on and on . . .

Saturday, February 6, 2016

I made it home! ALIVE!

These are the kinds of conversations that ensue when I tell TRQ that I'm going hiking in the snow with my friend Kim.

TRQ:         Wait.  You're going hiking with Kim?

ME:            Yes.

TRQ:           The same Kim who lives in Park City?

ME:             Yes.

TRQ:            So that means you'll be hiking in Park City?

ME:              Yes.

TRQ:            Well.  Okay then.  Watch out for avalanches.

ME:               I will.  I'll watch out for avalanches.

TRQ:            Call me when you get home.  (darkly)  If you get home.

Okay.  I added the "if you get home" part for dramatic effect.  But the thing about TRQ is that she can foresee the worst-case scenario better than anybody else I know.  This is the reason why Ken Cannon always used to say he'd hate to have TRQ on a jury awarding damages in a personal injury case.

It's also the reason why TRQ has a much more interesting life than I do because she sees thrilling possibilities everywhere.  Honestly, she's the best.

Friday, February 5, 2016

What you might not want your bookseller to say to you on the telephone

One of my jobs at TKE is to call customers and tell them that their special orders have arrived.  It's great.  I put on my best silky smooth announcing voice--the one I used  over the PA system when I worked at Albertson's, informing shoppers that we had fresh donuts in the bakery--and let people know their books are waiting for them.

Anyway, I was calling on specials today when I suddenly forgot myself and almost ended a call with "I love you!"

Which would have been creepy, don't you agree?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Books that make me feel cold

Notice I didn't say "leave me cold."  Because that would be a totally different thing.  And these books did not leave me cold.

Anyway, I've read three books lately, all of them set in cold climates.  And they've been so vividly rendered that I CANNOT GET WARM.  Even though I'm in my house wearing the flannel housecoat I bought from the Vermont Country Store for Christmas this year because I'm an old fart named Donna Reed now.

But that's another story.

Anyway, these are the books.

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra--a collection of short stories set in old Soviet places like Chechnya, Siberia, and Moscow.  It's honestly the best thing I've read in a long, long time.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys--a young adult novel set during WWII about four refugees, trying to make it to a seaport where they will be evacuated from the eastern front by ship.  Based on a true story, this book is stellar.

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit--another young adult novel set against the backdrop of wintry WWII (why so many WWII stories for young readers these days?).  Although this book is stunning on a number of levels, I don't really see it as a book for young readers.  Or if it is, it's for kids the way The Little Prince is for kids.

I think it's interesting that I read books about winter during the winter.  You'd think I'd reach for Hot Country by Robert Olen Butler and take myself to Mexico in my head instead.  What is wrong with me?