Saturday, September 29, 2012

Undecided Voters and My Mother-in-Law

There's a new post on November Surprises, Lucy's political blog. To read about undecided voters, and Lucy's crazy week with her mother-in-law, click here.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Songs to Inspire


I’ve always been a huge geek when it comes to music. When I was growing up I listened to show tunes. Cats. Evita. A Chorus Line. Les Miserable. I had every single song from these musicals memorized. I could probably still sing most of the songs, if I could sing, that is.

When I got to college and found that a bunch of the other theater majors also loved show tunes (we even played them at parties) it was a relief to know there were others like me. Over the years my music tastes have changed, and as my devotion to the theater has diminished, so has my obsession with some of these soundtracks. Even still, most of the music I listen to tells a story. I’m one of those people who will actually download a song that I like after hearing it during an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve found some of my favorite songs that way.

I guess it makes sense then, that for me, there’s a huge connection between music and writing. When I was writing Starring in the Movie of My Life there were two songs that really inspired me. The first is by The Killers: “When You Were Young.” The message of the song is there’s this guy who is basically perfect, and he reminds you of your youth. But underneath it all there are flaws, because nobody can completely save anyone else. That song is perfect for Samantha, who is looking for Nate to be perfect and to save her from herself.

The other song is Brandi Carlile’s “My Song.” This song is about someone who is young but bitter, strong but damaged. I love how the narrator is so self-aware. She knows that she should be a nicer person, but she just can’t make herself be. That song is totally appropriate for Melody, who has it in her to be a good person, but life and circumstance isn’t on her side.

A couple of years ago I took a writing class, and the instructor recommended putting together a song list to play while working, to inspire my story. I tried, but it didn’t work so well because it was too soon. I didn’t yet know enough about the plot and characters to choose songs for them. There’s a lot of discovery that comes with writing a novel. It doesn’t always go the way I think it’s going to, and sometimes my characters act in ways that surprise me. I think I need to find the songs accidentally, and let them influence me however they may.

Music can be so full of emotion, and its power lies in being to express so much through so little. Think about it. A three minute song can tell us just as much about the world as an entire, 300 page novel can, if it’s done well. So I guess what I’m going for with my novels, is to have them communicate as much as a song.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mitt Romney, Richard Nixon, and Me

There is a new post on November Surprises, Lucy's political blog. To read about legendary political gaffes, daycare crises, and Lucy's mother-in-law, click here. Also, don't forget to enter the November Surprise blog tour giveaway. Just look to the side bar for more information!

Friday, September 21, 2012

My Life as a Movie

I watch a lot of movies. I like drama, suspense, political thrillers, and comedy the best. Just recently I saw Contagion, and I had to ask myself, “What is it about watching a bunch of people die from a deadly virus that I enjoy?” It even took place in my home town of Minneapolis, which made the whole scenario seem that much more realistic.

            In any movie there’s going to be conflict; without it, there’s no story. But while some movies we watch for escape – pretty people doing fairytale like actions, other movies, like Contagion, we watch so we can be horrified without being at risk ourselves. It’s the equivalent to riding a scary rollercoaster: all the thrills, minus the danger.

            So I ask myself, if my life was a movie, what sort of movie would it be? It could be a gritty urban high school drama, like Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers, because the high school where I teach has a high poverty rate, and also a lot of minority students. But I’m not nearly as inspirational as Michelle Pheiffer or Hillary Swank, and when I watch those movies I laugh cynically at how unrealistic they are.

            Besides, while I have my fair share of trials and tribulations, I’m pretty lucky when it comes right down to it. I have a wonderful husband, two beautiful, healthy children, my parents are still kicking around and doing great, and there are no nasty people stalking us or threatening our livelihood. That rules out both drama and suspense. In addition, there are no ghosts, spirits, or demons inhabiting our house (that I know of), and we’ve never been visited by aliens, although my seven-year-old son still claims that he is one. Still, I think I also need to rule out horror and science-fiction.

            I’m not nearly important enough to be the center of a political thriller.

            And while I’m happily married, I’ve been married for ten years, and I’m no Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, or Jennifer Anniston. So I’m pretty sure my life wouldn’t qualify as a romance.

            Unless I’m forgetting a genre, I believe that leaves comedy. My kids can say and do some pretty funny stuff. The same is true for my high school students. My husband has a wicked sense of humor, and I like to believe the same about me. So yeah, my life would have to be a comedy, but it wouldn’t be a slap-stick, Bridesmaids sort of a comedy. It would be more like an independent film, quietly funny, where the actors aren’t as good looking as normal, big screen stars. Think Away We Go with pregnant Maya Rudolf and John Krasinski with a beard. It’s a comedy, but it’s all about where they’re going and what they’re doing next. It makes you laugh, but there are serious moments too. Not everything is wrapped up at the end, but that’s a good thing. The soundtrack is full of artists you’ve never heard of, but maybe you’ll download it from itunes later.

            In the end, that’s a lot better than having my life be like Contagion. It may not be watched as much, and there may not be all the big-name stars. But Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t die in the beginning either. And that’s saying something.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

47% Sure that Everything Will be Fine

There's a new post on November Surprises, Lucy's political blog. To read it, or to find out where you can buy a copy of the above t-shirt, or for a full tour schedule for the November Surprise blog tour, click here.

Don't forget to enter the November Surprise blog tour giveaway for a $30 Amazon gift card!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Blogger Hop - What is Your Favorite Recent Review?

My favorite recent review is of Groom and Doom, by Theresa Braun. Not only is the novel intelligent, funny yet profound, and very unique, the author herself is super cool! I had fun getting to know her, both by interviewing and reading her book, which was semi-autobiographical. It's only $2.99 on Amazon, so check it out!

Book Blogger Hop

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Murder, Mirrors, and Money (and Jimmy Carter)

There's a new post on November Surprises, Lucy's political blog. It's highly dramatic times, and Obama's being compared to Jimmy Carter! Read about it here.
And don't forget to enter the November Surprise blog tour giveaway!

November Surprise Blog Tour Begins Today!

It's the beginning of my blog tour and I'm celebrating! Visit Andi's Book Review for my first stop by clicking here. Then come back and comment on any of my posts at Laurel's Open Page or at November Surprises - Lucy's Political Blog. Commenting will give you one to win a $30 Amazon gift card! Or, purchase your copy of November Surprises and forward me the reciept at, and you'll get ten chances to win!

Friday, September 14, 2012

More than a Novel

 I’m not good at committing to one favorite book or author; I’ve loved so many books and authors over the years, all for unique reasons. I guess I’m something of a book whore. However, when it comes to what influenced me while writing Starring in the Movie of My Life, one book comes immediately to mind.

I Know This Much is True, by Wally Lamb, is not my usual type of read. It’s a little too dark and edgy to fit my tastes. It was given to me by husband’s cousin. He used to work in publishing, so he had access to tons of free books and he strongly recommended it.

I decided to give it a whirl. Early on I wasn’t sure I would stick with it. The story was a little slow, and the characters weren’t very likeable, and it was pretty dark. Then I took my car in to be serviced and I brought it along to read.

I held it when I went to the counter to pay, and the girl who was working there commented. “Oh my God,” she said. “I Know This Much is True is one of my all-time favorite books! By the end I couldn’t put it down!”

So I’ll admit it; my reaction was a little snobby. I thought, “If the girl who works at the Saturn dealership can finish this book, I can finish this book. I do teach English, after all.”

I committed to finishing it. It took a little while, but halfway through this 891 page book I was hooked, and like the girl at the Saturn dealership, towards the end I could not put it down. This was before I had kids, and I remember coming home on a Friday afternoon, sitting on the couch and reading well into the evening. Then I resumed reading Saturday morning, and I didn’t stop until the late afternoon when I was done.

I cried at the ending: partly because of the beauty of the writing. Lamb somehow managed to incorporate all the themes and meaning of his brilliant book into one final paragraph, and he ends with the title. It’s not at all forced; instead it’s organic and complete. I can say that of all the books I’ve ever read, I Know This Much is True has the most well written, satisfying ending.

 I also cried when I finished it because it was over. You know that feeling when you’re dying to know what happens but you don’t want to be done? Lamb switched back and forth between sub-plots and created such marvelous suspense that every time I finished one chapter I was compelled to begin the next. Eventually these stories converged, and when they did, it was amazing.

So that’s what I attempted to do with Starring in the Movie of My Life.  There are two storylines, Melody’s and Samantha’s, and I tried to end each chapter at a high point of interest, urging the reader to continue on until Melody and Samantha finally join together at the end of the book. I also chose to make redemption a major theme. Wally Lamb’s main character, Dominick, endures heartbreak and loss. He makes mistakes and becomes bitter. Yet by the end he finds redemption and closure, in a way where he can move on with his life. I wanted that for Melody and Samantha.

I’m not implying that Starring in the Movie of My Life is in any way equal to I Know This Much is True. Ultimately, these two books are very, very different, and I realize I have a lot to learn before I can even approach being the writer that Lamb is. However, if there is one book that has inspired me as a writer, one book I modeled my own book after, it is his.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ann Romney and Creating Spin

There's a new post on November Surprises, Lucy's political blog. To read all about spin, Lucy's daughter Abby, and Lucy's connection to Ann Romney, click here.

But Perfect is Boring

When I read something for fun, it’s important to me that the main character is easy to relate to – the sort of person I’d want as a friend. This doesn’t mean the character can’t be flawed. In fact, I find perfect people as boring in real life as I do in fiction.  So when I’m writing my own characters, I always create people who make mistakes and who have room to grow. Personal growth is always a major theme in anything I write.

            In Starring in the Movie of My Life, Samantha is far from perfect. She is probably the more likeable of the two main characters, because Melody is manipulative and calculating. Conversely, Samantha has a lot of love for all the people in her life; she’s giving and guileless. Yet I actually find both of my main characters likeable, because they both have strengths in addition to their flaws. Melody is smart and tough; she’s a survivor. She does what she has to do to get by. Samantha doesn’t have that skill. She does what she has to do to take care of others, but she’s never really learned to take care of herself.

            That’s partly because she’s never had to. Unlike Melody, Samantha was raised by conscientious parents who sheltered her from the uglier parts of life. Samantha has been able to live with a consistent safety net surrounding her, and it’s affected her relationships and her work ethic. Now she’s at a critical point; she’s going to have to finally grow up and fend for herself. The question is, will she?

            There is a lot of emphasis in my book about the difference in ages between Melody and Samantha. Melody is so much younger, but in many ways she’s a lot wiser because of everything she’s had to deal with growing up. However, while Samantha is still sort of stuck in a delayed adolescence, she has the emotional maturity that Melody lacks. Samantha can relate to her husband as an equal, while Melody can only play games and tries to control people.

            In the end, I was satisfied with the journey both characters took over the course of the book. I read an interview once with Ann Tyler, and she said she knows her books are done when her characters don’t have anywhere new to go emotionally. I felt like both Samantha and Melody reached that point by the end of Starring in the Movie of My Life. Now, it’s up to the reader to decide if they agree!



Monday, September 3, 2012

Eastwooding For Eden

There's a new post on November Surprises, Lucy's political blog. To read about the RNC, Clint Eastwood and Monty leaving for Ghana, click here.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Review - Me and You

Me and You by Niccolo Ammaniti is a book I found in the library. It's pretty short (I'd actually call it a novella) and it got rave reviews, all of which say that Ammaniti is devastatingly talented. So I thought I'd read it and see what the fuss is about.
The story is about this kid named Lorenzo, a loner who has no real desire to connect with anyone, except for his mother, and perhaps his grandmother, who is very ill. Spring break is upon him, and he gets stuck in a lie, telling his mother he's been invited on a ski trip with some classmates. She's so excited he actually has friends that he can't break her heart and tell her the truth. Instead he hides out their cellar for a week, which has a bed and other creature comforts. Everything goes great until his drug-addict half sister shows up, and she's going through withdrawl. Lorenzon is forced to finally care for someone other than himself.
I did enjoy this book, but I had a problem with the ending. I shouldn't have been surprised, because Ammaniti even states in his novel that endings shouldn't matter so much. The middle is actually more important. True, but there were a lot of questions left unanswered, and I felt like it was a cop-out. Still, if you run across it at the library I'd give it a try. It won't take longer than an afternoon to read, which is why I wouldn't pay nine bucks for it.