Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

November 30, 2012

Spring cleaning

When Thornton Wilder finished writing his novel Theophilus North, he told friends: “So I finished the plagued book. I’m accustomed to turn my back on a piece of work once it’s finished– but it’s something new for me to feel empty-handed and deflated– to wake up each morning without that sense of the task waiting for me on my desk. Daily writing is a habit– and a crutch and a support; and for the first time I feel cast adrift and roofless without it. I hate this and am going to get back into a harness as soon as I can.”

I couldn’t have said it better. It is amazing how sad and purposeless and lost you feel after finishing a manuscript, even when that manuscript still has many steps to go through before publication. I handed the fourth Velva Jean novel (American Blonde) over to my editor in mid-September. Soon, she will send it back to me with her first round of notes and we will go back and forth till the novel is ready.

There is a mountain of other writerly work to be done. Even without American Blonde on my desk, I am as busy as ever. However, I still feel like Dickens’s Miss Havisham, wandering around my office, bereft and lonely, still dressed in my writing clothes, searching for the next idea. I have many, many, many of them, but until I’ve settled on one and am lost inside it, that feeling of being adrift and roofless will linger.

Usually, there is only one thing to do. Clear away the cobwebs and clean the office.

To offer some perspective, the only time I ever feel like cleaning is when I finish a book. I am not someone who vacuums to relax (like my best friend), or who scrubs the refrigerator shelves when she’s angry (like another friend of mine). Growing up, you couldn’t even tell that I had a floor because every inch of my carpet was covered in clothing, books, and records.

But to make ready for whatever comes next, I need to clean my office. Not just dusting and straightening– we’re talking some sort of overhaul. I need to clear away some of the clutter, reorganize bookshelves and closet, move my desk, reconfigure the furniture and general layout. In short, new book, new office. It happens every time.

Soon enough, I’ll be happily back in that harness, and I might as well be ready for it.

November 26, 2012

George and the office supplies

Years ago, I was lucky enough to have a fluffy, white dirtball of a cat named George (and his pristinely gorgeous brother, Percy). George was truly the most remarkable cat I’ve ever known. He was a real man’s man cat. Even guys who thought cats were silly, guys who claimed they only liked dogs and real dogs– not baby, stupid ones– liked George. For one thing, he was dirty. He didn’t believe in grooming. He was like a Marlboro kitty. He swaggered when he walked, sometimes pulling out his back hair as he sauntered, spitting it aside like a cowboy chewing tobacco. He was naturally gorgeous, but his hair stood up in patches from the mats that he refused to tend to, and his feet were always dirty from walking in dirt during his supervised trips outside.

His voice was gruff and impatient. When the TV was too loud or I was talking too raucously, George gave me an earful. He didn’t like you to be loud. I had to always keep the television on volume 12. One notch higher, and George would chirp a blue streak.

You could carry on conversations with him. The two of us used to sit outside together under the cherry tree in our front yard and talk. I would talk, and he would answer. He would say something, and I would reply. Sometimes I said stupid things, and he would give me a withering look. He had a knack for making me feel stupid. He was the smartest creature I have ever met, feline, human, or otherwise.

When he was six, he was diagnosed with a heart condition by the man who invented animal cardiology. George was given six months to live, but he lasted– in true, stubborn George fashion– till fourteen with a heart three times its normal size. Teams of doctors studied him. He was a medical marvel.

For a while now, I’ve been collecting stories for a George book about his many, many lives. Here is one of my favorites…

Life Number Four– The Cat Bell

By the time George was three, I was a graduate student at the American Film Institute, where I was studying screenwriting. On May 12, 1995, it was my turn to deliver my first full-length script to my writing class, and I had all seven copies, including one for the teacher, ready and waiting by the front door. As I walked through the living room to the door, I passed by George, who was hunched up on the floor, wheezing like a bellows. Percy sat next to him looking concerned and faintly annoyed, and every now and then, he leaned over and licked George vigorously on the head. This only made George wheeze harder.

My first thought was: Dear God. What has he eaten now?

I watched him a minute to make sure this was really something and not just a false alarm, like the time I had skipped class to take George to the vet because he was limping. I had rushed him there, breaking all kinds of speed limits and making the clinic in record time, and when we arrived, the limp had disappeared.

When I was sure that this was in fact legitimate—that he really and truly couldn’t breathe—I called my friend and classmate Annie and told her I was having an emergency. She said, “What did George eat this time?” I laughed politely before hanging up the phone, then I wrapped George in a towel (since the age of two, he had refused to ride in a cat carrier), grabbed my purse, and ran to my car.

The ladies behind the front desk spotted us pulling into the parking lot and immediately readied our room for us before I had even reached the door. George and I were ushered back to the examination room and his wheezing grew worse. He looked at me as if asking why in the hell I wasn’t doing something about it. I talked to him, telling him everything would be okay, and that whatever he had swallowed or done to himself would soon be fixed.

George’s vet appeared. He was blond and handsome and looked exactly like Bjorn Borg. He frowned and studied George, then he ran his hands over George’s body, felt his chest, listened to his heart. “He appears to have eaten something he shouldn’t have,” he said. “I’m going to take some X-rays to see if we can figure out exactly what that something is.”

When he left the room with George, I sank onto a chair and resisted the urge to put my head in my hands and cry. How much would this visit cost? The adoption fees at Foster Friends for Pets had been $40 each for George and Percy. That had included neutering and shots and a free month’s supply of Science Diet dry food. I had thought it was such a bargain.

I looked at the anatomical and skeletal charts on the walls. I looked at the pictures that hung next to them—photos of smiling dogs and neatly posing cats. Their expressions seemed to say the same thing: “We are so well behaved. We are so normal. We have all our lives. We are not at all expensive. The people at Santa Monica Vet love us because we never put ourselves or our human parents in mental, emotional, or financial peril.”

Dr. Borg returned momentarily and set George down on the examining table. “I’ll be back,” he said.

George and I waited. “I just want you to know,” I said to George, “that I am not talking to you.” George’s wheezing was quieter. He picked up one dirty paw, pulled a remnant of a pink foam toy ball out from between his toes, and ate it. I didn’t even attempt to stop him.

Dr. Borg came back into the room, tanned and pony-tailed, and waved his hand. “Come with me,” he said, “and bring him with you.”

I picked up George and followed Dr. Borg into the next room where he slid the X-ray into a machine on the wall. He flipped the switch and the fluorescent lights came on, illuminating George’s tiny skeleton. There were his ribs, his spine, his lungs, his heart, and a mass of other objects I couldn’t recognize.

“Oh,” I said. “He is so cute. Look how little everything is.”

Dr. Borg frowned at me and then at the X-ray. “He has apparently eaten a cat bell,” he said. I thought immediately of Percy’s favorite toy—a white fluffy blob stuffed with cotton and a thin tail. A tail that used to have a bell. Dr. Borg pointed to the cat bell, which sat, quite clearly, in the middle of George’s stomach.

“Wow,” I said. “It really is clear as… well, as a bell.”

George squirmed and I tightened my hold on him. Please be good, I thought. Please do not shame me more than you already have. Especially not in front of this man who looks just like Bjorn Borg.

Dr. Borg moved his pen pointer away from the bell and toward the strange, indiscernible mass. “I don’t, however, think the bell has done as much damage as the rubber bands.”

Rubber bands?!

“How many are in there?” I said. I tried to sound as if we were talking about something ordinary, like the weather.

“I can’t quite tell. But that’s not all.”

“It’s not?”

“No.” He pointed just left of the mass. “Paper.” He pointed again. “Paper clips.” And pointed again. “Thumbtacks.”

The entire contents of my home office supply drawer were inside George’s stomach.

“I am afraid,” Dr. Borg said, his voice grave, “that your cat is orally fixated.” He made it sound shameful and frightening. The way he said it made a shiver run down my spine. Orally fixated. By his tone, I knew I should be mortified for both George and myself.

The front desk staff let me borrow the phone. I stood at the counter, George under one arm, and dialed my mother, who lived in another state. “George has eaten a bell,” I said. “And some office supplies. The doctor said he is orally fixated.” I whispered this last part, terrified that someone might hear me.

“Is he all right?” My mother’s voice was concerned.

“He will be. They can remove the thumbtacks and the paper clips, but they can’t do a full-fledged operation because of the rubber bands, so they said he will have to pass the bell himself. His body will either absorb the other things or not.”

“How much is it going to cost?”

“Eight hundred and sixty-eight dollars.” It was an amount that I, a poor graduate student living on student loans, could not afford, and an amount that I knew my mom could not afford either.

On her end of the line, I heard a shuffling of papers. I waited. “Well,” she said finally, her voice bright and positive. “There’s not enough on the emergency Visa, but there should be enough on the Optima card. You just tell George this is an advance on his Christmas present.”

Eight hundred and sixty-eight dollars later, George was thumbtack- and paper clip-free, and officially the most expensive cat we’d ever had. The rubber bands, Dr. Borg said, would have to stay there unless they came out of their own accord. We just had to hope that they wouldn’t wrap around any vital organs. The bell was placed too precariously near those vital organs to be moved. Dr. Borg gave George some medicine which would “encourage him to pass the bell,” and told me to check George’s litter box periodically.

I took George home and cut every bell off every toy and took the pile of them outside to the apartment complex dumpster to throw them away. I didn’t trust George not to get them out of the trash. Afterward, I locked my office supplies in a closet.

That night, George and Percy and I curled up on the couch, George on one side, Percy on the other. Percy, even though he hated being held, loved to snuggle. George did not. But that night, he put his paw on my leg and sat with me while I watched a movie. “You’re welcome,” I said.

The next day, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, head upside down, drying my hair with the blow dryer. Something shiny caught my eye. There, in the litter box at my feet, sat an eight hundred and sixty-eight dollar cat bell.

November 16, 2012

Lulu helps me research

This is the first week back at my desk in a month’s time. Now that I’ve been to Ireland for vacation and to North Carolina for the Southern leg of my book tour, I’m happily at home with my computer gathering ideas for the next story.

As many of you know, Lulu is my self-appointed Head Literary Cat– of my three wonderful kitties, she is easily the bossiest, and, after all, the two of us are always velcro-ed together.

Yesterday, I paused a documentary I was getting ready to watch because the phone rang. When I took the call, Lulu pushed a button on my keyboard and the video began playing again, and then she settled in to watch. As you can see, she was riveted. (She is deeply interested in social issues.)

October 13, 2012

Stick It

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — phoebe @ 12:00 pm

Reading, writing or researching, I am always sure to have sticky notes and a pen next to me. However I had never thought about how sticky notes came about. I found the research of such a seemingly simple object, to be quite fascinating.

First invented in 1968 by a chemist, they were unsuccessful because of their low adhesiveness. Years later in 1977 a colleague of his sold them under the name of ‘Press and Peel’. At this point they were still ineffective, however after a redesign, three years later they were launched as ‘Post it notes’. Yellow was accidentally used as the color, as the lab next to the Post it team had scraps of yellow paper. Today they are used in areas from art through to the virtual world.

Having progressed since the original yellow square, here are some unique sticky notes that can be found today.

 

September 27, 2012

The United States of Jennifer

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — jennifer @ 11:29 pm

On September 15, I handed in the manuscript for the fourth book in my Velva Jean series (Velva Jean Learns to Drive, Velva Jean Learns to Fly). On Tuesday (Sept. 25) the third book in that series was released: Becoming Clementine.

I have now crawled out from behind my desk, Gollum-like– shrunken, blinking and shuffling into the sunlight– to get ready for the publicity phase of book three. I am trading my yoga pants, yoga tank, and flip-flops for pencil skirts, red lipstick, one very Charlie’s Angels-esque black pantsuit, and suede pumps, and heading out into the world to promote Becoming Clementine. Being an author is much like being Sybil, that famous possessor of multiple personalities. At various times throughout the process of working on a book, a writer needs many different sides.

You need to have a vivid imagination, able to conjure ideas and characters often out of thin air. You need to enjoy detective work and have the patience and determination to come at your research from all angles and track down just what you’re looking for. You need to like being alone, willing and able to happily, diligently spend month after month after month hermited away by yourself as you write and edit your book. You need to have the passion and ferocity of purpose to be at your desk for all that time and see your project through, no matter what– in spite of weariness and struggle and writer’s block and life. You need to be sensitive and observant to draw real, breathing characters. You need to be a critic, able to judge what you’ve written impartially and openly. You need to be analytical and impartial so that you can ruthlessly take your words apart and put them back together again.

You need to be outgoing and at ease in the spotlight, talking to nice folks who want to ask you questions and discuss your work and host you for book events, meeting readers, signing books, doing panels and speeches and book clubs and readings. You need to be tough and resilient to read and hear what people will say about your book– this book you’ve been pouring over and bleeding into and sacrificing everything for. (As my mother says, “To be a writer, you need to have the soul of an angel and the hide of an armadillo.”) You need to have enough stamina and fortitude to come up with an idea and do it all over again.

Book four will boomerang back to me sometime in the fall with my editor’s changes/notes/edits/suggestions/cuts, but for now it’s all about Becoming Clementine. It’s that time in a book’s life when I’m making the rounds, doing interviews, gathering reviews, answering questions, going on tour, etc. I love this part of it, even though it also carries its own degree of stress: reviews, feedback, sales. But I’m planning to enjoy it. After all, soon enough it will be time to pull on the yoga pants and retreat into the cave once again.

September 24, 2012

Interviews and reviews and articles, oh my!

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , — jennifer @ 3:21 pm

Here are a few places to find Becoming Clementine (and me) on the web right now:

A Writer of History interview

So Much So Many So Few review and interview

Wilmington Star News review

Musings on Route 66 article

Romantic Times “Top Pick” review

And there will be more to come this week, including a live interview on Starstyle: Be the Star You Are, Thursday, September 27 at 3:00 pm (PT) on World Talk Radio.

September 18, 2012

Rumi on my desk

Rumi was named for the Persian poet and mystic, famous for his poems of love, which is very fitting since Rumi the cat is the most loving creature I know. His purr runs all day and night– he doesn’t even turn it off at the vet. He’s been keeping me company at my desk since he was a kitten, and has seen me through every Velva Jean book. So with Becoming Clementine due to come out one week from today, here’s a little tribute to the sweetest literary kitty of all.

September 12, 2012

iLiterature

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — phoebe @ 12:50 am

In the midst of Apple’s reveal today here is a list of the best writing and reading apps for your iPhones and iPads.

1. 3D Classic Literature Collection –  World’s first 3D book flipping held in your hands.

2. Collected Works – Classic literary pieces, from Alice in Wonderland to War and Peace, available right from your iPhone

3. Evernote – Organise notes, and basically anything else. Available on and offline and syncs between all your devices. Great for college students!

4. British Library 19th Century Collection – 100 free available titles.

5. Red Laser Barcode Scanner – Scan a barcode of a book and find the closest library, purchase online, or near by store.

6. iBooks, Kindle and Nook App – For reading on the go!

7. ElectricLit – A quarterly release of some of the best writers and their short stories.

8. Wattpad – The Youtube for readers and writers. Share and discover stories.

 

September 4, 2012

Literary Snacking

For me, reading, writing and snacking just simply go hand in hand. Here are this weeks sweet and savory snacks to help keep you focused and energised for your next sit down session.

Parmesan Popped Popcorn

½ cup popped popcorn kernels (popped using favorite method)

¼ cup melted butter

2 tbs parmesan cheese

1tbs garlic powder

⅛ tsp black pepper

1. Toss popcorn with melted butter. Add the remaining ingredients and toss until all mixed through.

 

Brain Booster Smoothie

1 cup apple juice

1 banana

1 ½ cups frozen blueberries

½ cup frozen raspberries (these berries can be substituted for alternate berries)

¼ cup raw walnuts

1. Blend all ingredients together until smooth.

August 31, 2012

A library gift shop. I have gone to heaven.

My recurring fantasy about libraries is that at night, after everyone goes home, , the books come to life and mingle in a fabulous cocktail party. — Neal Wyatt

A perfect Saturday: a trip downtown to the vast and gorgeous Los Angeles Central Library to do book-related research. Before leaving, browse (and shop) their Library Store (more on that in a minute). Then walk a few blocks over to the Grand Central Market, most specifically to market vendor MF Gourmet, for the most decadent grilled cheese you’ve ever eaten. Then skip around the corner to the historic Million Dollar Theater to see a screening of a classic black and white film…

But back to that Library Store.

I’m a writer, of course, and a voracious reader, and so I completely and rather scarily nerd out over anything that has to do with writing and reading. I also love gift shops. LOVE them! And I’m not a girl who generally enjoys shopping just for shopping’s sake. So you can imagine the way my head spins when I merely step inside the Library Store, which is one of the most fun and creative gift shops I’ve ever seen– and it’s in a library! The store has everything from Reading is Sexy mugs and bumper stickers (I’m a longtime fan of the artist, Sarah Utter) to literary coasters to some swanky knee-high bookworm socks to typewriter placemats to a Personal Library Kit, which I would have done just about anything for as a little girl because– it may not surprise anyone– I used to love playing “Library” almost as much as “Charlie’s Angels.” Because I’m an only child, I would make my mother, cats, friends, and, on rare occasion, my father check out my books, which, at the time, were things like Little Bear’s Visit and The World of Christopher Robin. I loved saying, “Those will be due a week from tomorrow.”

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