Thursday, December 10, 2009

Projects and Pictures

Yesterday during my writing time, my mind wandered. It didn't want to work on the jinni book. It wasn't being lazy (I did ask myself if that's what was wrong). The problem was that I had a new idea. A wonderful, exciting story that popped up during a nap last week and hasn't left me alone. I decided I would outline it for a short story and then get back to my novel, but that didn't happen. Before I knew it, I had a two-and-a-half page synopsis and a character description---for a short story. Clearly, this was developing into something more. A novella? I did a quick google search for YA short stories and novellas. Nada. I mean, there have been some published, but the chanced of me getting something of that length published is even less than me getting a novel published (and we know how hard that is).

Just as I opened up another document to start writing prose, though, Henry woke up from his nap an hour early. So it had to wait until after the kids were in bed and the house was picked up. My husband comes home late most night nowadays because he has finals next week (last night, he crawled into bed after 3 a.m.!), so I was all alone and ready to write. But first, I called my dad.

Why? I have no idea. Well, besides the fact that he had called earlier when the kids were in the bath and I can barely manage keeping them from drowning each other with two hands, so I ignored the ring. Also, I had just watched Glee for the first time ever (OMG I loved it) and my mind was still buzzing and not ready to sit down and focus.

So. My dad. I nonchalantly told him my new story idea and for the first time ever he offered up ideas and asked me questions and was interested. While we were brainstorming plot, story arc, theme, and the final resonance the book should have (it suddenly became a novel), I remembered, all of a sudden, that my dad was a fabulous story teller. He used to put us to bed while mom cleaned up and he would tell us the most wonderful, imaginative stories ever. The stories would continue on for months, some even years, until he moved on to another theme/idea. He's not a writer, but he is a story teller. I've always been jealous of his ability to tell a story verbally. He used the right phrasing, tone, and withholds certain elements until just the right time. When I tell a story, my mind hops around too much and I confuse everyone.

He is also that annoying guy in the movie theater who calls out what's going to happen next, before it happens. He's rarely pleased with the plot of a story...he likes the ones he cannot predict.

And I think there's a relationship here. If you are the kind of person who can come up with plots that are intriguing, fresh, and well, work, then you are probably the person who can see through other plots that aren't as well-done or are predictable and stale.

Plotting is my biggest problem. Which is probably why I'm nearly always fine with a book when I read it, and I rarely critique the plot. Although...I'm starting to "get it." Maybe it's all the practice I've been doing. Maybe it's the plotting books I've been studying. Maybe it's the sheer volume of books I've read, accumulating knowledge.

Now the conundrum: do I continue on with this mess of a novel (the jinni one) or start planning and writing this new idea, the one that is Super Interesting Right Now??

Tell me what you think.

And, finally, a picture:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ah, Self-Publication

Some writers want their books to be self-published because they can control the publishing process. Or maybe they only want a few books out that they can hand out to friends and family.

But there are others out there that are publishing books with, apparently, the sole reason being to give me a good, hard laugh.

Anyone want to read this 96-page picture book?

I want to be nice. I am sure that if I met Aunt Grace in person, I would find her lovely. And I would certainly read the book if she handed it to me. But I must say that I cannot spend $30 on a picture book about a groundhog searching for enlightenment. Even if Aunt Grace has the best author description EVER. Um, not in this economy, at any rate.

What are your thoughts? Am I being mean? Snarky? I mean, heck, a published book is a published book, right? At least Aunt Grace is published. I, on the other hand, am not. (Yet.) So which of us is the greater fool?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Reason for Warning Labels

I had the night of misery last night. But it's ok, because I survived! And so did my daughter! Let me tell you all about it...

Both kiddies were asleep before 8 p.m., and I had already written 1700 words, so I celebrated by scouring crafting blogs and sites looking for something to make for my relatives that I will now be visiting for Christmas (yay me). I should have gone to sleep, instead. I should have known that something was amiss. No parent gets THAT lucky by 8 p.m. (At least, not me, ever.)

12:30 a.m.: I wake to screaming, terrified baby. I rush in to his room, comfort him, and take him downstairs to warm up his bottle. *Baby screams as if I am a monster* I change his diaper. *Baby continues screaming and I wonder if I AM a monster* He drinks his milk. The bottle empties and he wants more. *SCREAM SCREAM SCREAM*

12:40 a.m.: My 3 year old, on the other side of the room that is divided by a curtain, wakes up, crying for me. I tell her I'll get to her when the baby gets back to sleep. *Girl cries* *Boy cries* I rush downstairs and make another bottle, wishing I still breastfed (it was easier).

12:45 a.m.: Son is finishing bottle the second time. Daughter is whining (and she's a pro). I plop baby into crib, he gets angry, but I go to daughter b/c I can't stand the whining (and she knows it).


1 a.m.: Husband comes to rescue. He puts baby back to sleep, after much crying and fussing.

1:10 a.m.: Daughter decides she doesn't want to go to sleep and her nose is stuffy. I administer children's nasal decongestant, even though the bottle says not to use on children under the age of four*. So I give her half the dose, just in case.

1:20 a.m.: Daughter wants me to read to her. I do. Then I tell her I'm going to sleep. She has to go potty.

1:25 a.m.: I convince daughter to come to our bed, to make sure she doesn't wake up the baby with her chattering.

1:30 a.m.: Husband returns to bed, victorious in his parenting skillz.

1:35 a.m.: Husband kicks daughter out of bed because she is squirming and kicking and won't shut up. She goes to her own bed, turns on her reading light, and reads. I pass out.

1:50 a.m.: She is at my side, whining about how she's "not happy with Luke** because he pushes me." (He pushed her, accidentally, two months ago.) I tell her to go back to bed.

2:15 a.m.: "Mommy, I'm really not happy with Luke." "What, is he here?" I go with her to her bed, lie down in it, and fall asleep.

2:17 a.m.: Daughter doesn't want me to sleep in her bed, after all. She wants me to leave. I flee.

3:00 a.m.: "Mommy, I told you I'm not happy with Luke." "WHAT? WHY? GO. TO. BED." She insists on me finding her a pad of paper and a pen. She wants to write about her feelings and how Luke annoys her. I want think about how I'll blog later about how she annoys me. I stagger to her room, find an old coloring book, and place it on her lap. She wants a book underneath for support. She wants to sit at this exact spot on the edge of her bed. I find a purple ballpoint and shove it in her hand. I somehow manage to find my bed.

4:00 a.m.: "Mommy, I can't go to sleep. I need to read. Can you get me a book? MOMMY!!!!!!!!" I go in there, shove several books on her lap, give her more paper to write on (she has scribbled lines and lines of cursive gibberish all over what I had given her an hour earlier). I return to bed and feel like I will faint.

7:00 a.m.: Husband wakes me up. I moan.

* Apparently, Children's Sudafed is concerned that parents of children under the age of four will sue them for the #1 Side Effect: A Wired Child in the Witching Hour.
** Luke is not his real name. I am concerned that his parents will sue me if I use it. Not that they even know I have a blog.

And now, the girl-child is at preschool. The boy-child-baby is at the YMCA childcare for a few hours. I am at Panera and am now ready to work on my jinn book. Even though I may pass out in public and drool on my keyboard.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poetry Friday: Khalil Gibran

For several years now, I've had a little book with a worn cover. It's The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran. I've never read it. It usually sits in a row with other tiny, pocket-sized books. (Although at the moment, I think it's in a box with most of my books.) Yesterday, however, I decided to google Khalil Gibran's poetry and I came across an astounding poem (well, quite a few, actually). This one has a lot to do with the feeling of my WIP, so I wanted to post it here for you to get a taste. Khalil was a master, mind you. I'm not putting myself in his camp, but I'd sure like to be there some day!

The Song of the Soul

In the depth of my soul there is

A wordless song - a song that lives

In the seed of my heart.

It refuses to melt with ink on

Parchment; it engulfs my affection

In a transparent cloak and flows,

But not upon my lips.

How can I sigh it? I fear it may

Mingle with earthly ether;

To whom shall I sing it? It dwells

In the house of my soul, in fear of

Harsh ears.

When I look into my inner eyes

I see the shadow of its shadow;

When I touch my fingertips

I feel its vibrations.

The deeds of my hands heed its

Presence as a lake must reflect

The glittering stars; my tears

Reveal it, as bright drops of dew

Reveal the secret of a withering rose.

It is a song composed by contemplation,

And published by silence,

And shunned by clamor,

And folded by truth,

And repeated by dreams,

And understood by love,

And hidden by awakening,

And sung by the soul.

It is the song of love;

What Cain or Esau could sing it?

It is more fragrant than jasmine;

What voice could enslave it?

It is heartbound, as a virgin’s secret;

What string could quiver it?

Who dares unite the roar of the sea

And the singing of the nightingale?

Who dares compare the shrieking tempest

To the sigh of an infant?

Who dares speak aloud the words

Intended for the heart to speak?

What human dares sing in voice

The song of God?

Khalil Gibran

I think I might go find that little book this weekend and start reading it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

In Which I Brag About My Daughter

First, I want to mention that I am at Panera. It is rare that I ever get away, sans kiddos. Elizabeth is usually at preschool during this hour, but Henry is always with me. But not today!!! I snuck him in to the Y for their 3-hour drop off program. It only costs $12. This is way cheaper than a babysitter (babysitters run $10/hour*).

So I am at this moment taking a writing break. I pounded out some good (sorta) dialogue and noticed something: I don't have a single chapter break yet. I don't even know where I would put one. Is this bad, or a sign that I've got a page-turner? We will eventually find out, I suppose.

Yesterday on our way home from preschool, Elizabeth asked, out of the blue,
"Mom, you sometimes work, right?"
"Yes," I said. "Do you know what my work is?"
I beamed. She knows. She understands.
"When I grow bigger can I read your books?"
I beamed brighter.
"Of course."
"But I can't read yet."
"You will soon." She doesn't know all of her letters yet, but she's working on it. She wants so much to read and write. (She has filled adult-sized journals with squiggly lines that look like a cross between 19th c. English penmanship and Hebrew.)

Then, after Henry was asleep, Elizabeth wanted to sit on my lap and be with me. I wanted to fix something on my computer. Or maybe I was reading some news story. I can't remember---it was after 7 p.m. and my brain is fried by then. Anyway, I asked her if she wanted to have me read the first part of my story, and she said "yes!" So I did. We only lasted half the page, but I read it slower, more storytelling-like, was wonderful! (Not the writing...the reading of my own story to my daughter.)

I am getting jittery from thinking about the day when, I hope, Elizabeth goes to the bookshelf and pulls off a copy of one of my novels and then curls up on the couch with it. Or maybe I'm jittery from the coffee.

*Why didn't I make this much babysitting?!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Negative Talk and Positive Dreams

Last night I had a dream in which I gave up writing my jinni book and began writing about a depressed teenager. I can't remember now what it was that made me fall in love with the new story, but I wrote about fifteen pages of it in my sleep. (Too bad I can't count it for my NaNo stats.)

I do know, however, what made me fall out of love with my jinni book. It's hard. It's starting to feel like meaningless "fluff." I am grasping at straws, trying to figure out what should happen next. I have no idea how I'm going to fill out the next 40k words---in 2.5 weeks!

I spent most of Tuesday writing, which made me
feel accomplished and, well, optimistic. I must have out-written myself, because yesterday I think I might have written 200 words. It was as if my writing brain ran a half-marathon on Tuesday and couldn't get out of bed yesterday. And not only could it not get out of bed, but it bemoaned the future and everything it had written the day before. "It's silly," my writing brain said. "No one will take you seriously if they read this." The day drudged on with me unable to get through an "exciting, adventurous" scene. I wanted depth, and meaning, and where are depth and meaning in a fight with a sea monster?*

Images of well-known editors flashed across my mind, all of them smoking long cigarettes and shaking their heads at my frivolous jinni book.

By then, I despised my little book. And I yearned, desperately, for a reincarnation of my first novel, ROHANA. I wanted to fix that one. I had figured out the plot problems. ROHANA is a deep, meaningful book** and has "literary merit." As I finally slipped off to sleep, I realized that fixing ROHANA is a daydream because it's just easier to revise than to actually write a first draft.

So what would that make me? A Reviser? Surely not a writer.

Writers finish their work. They tackle the gooey hodgepodge of words they have strung together and pad it out with more gooey words. They brave the possibility that someone might see the mess and exclaim that their true destiny is... joining a circus. They finish their manuscripts because if they don't, it will keep poking them in the head, begging to be fleshed out. Nashwa, my main character, would be both insulted and aggravated if I gave up on her. She would slip into my dreams and force me to face her. (And she's a soul stealer and wise in the art of jinn magic, so I would have a hard time putting her back in a corner.)

From now on (or at least for the next two hours), I will put my pride aside and write crap. When the crap dries, I will pull out my Revision Dremel and grind it down into something more presentable. Then I will add more crap, grind it back infinitum. (Well, not forever, hopefully.)
Nashwa, as I see her

One other thing: I will not look at published authors' websites today and worry that I am not successful because a) I was not 17 when I wrote my first novel, b) I don't have a beautiful writing cottage with a magic window, and c) I don't have thousands/hundreds/a couple of snarky followers.

* A wise woman told me today that even "fluff" books have meaning---if it makes a child fall in love with reading, then it has meaning.
**Or so I like to think. I mean, it's my first book-baby, after all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Originally uploaded by Nad
John Green and the Nerdfighters posted a link to this picture on Twitter and it made me laugh over and over. (I'm still laughing.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Write it for me

Someone needs to write a YA novel on this, because I want to read it and don't have time to write it myself: Who Killed Jane Doe?

Saturday, October 31, 2009


I just signed up for NaNoWriMo. Dude, I must be crazy. November is always the month of insanity for me, so why add to it?

On Thursday, I am flying to Washington for the Western Washington SCBWI's Writing Retreat program (wheeeeeeee!) and will be tired, busy, brain-drained, and happy when I come home. How will I write 2k words a day in my NaNo novel? I have no earthly idea. My goal this month is to try.

November is also Henry's birth month, so his first birthday is coming up.

And Thanksgiving.

And Jim's final long stretch before the end of the semester, which means lots more studying, grading, and homework which will keep him away.

But if I write (even pure unadulterated crap) at any moment I get, then it should benefit my writing career. Right?

Oh. I am focusing on improving my plotting abilities this month, too, and characterization.

And I am sort of cheating. I know, we're not supposed to cheat. And we shouldn't admit to it publicly on our blogs, but I feel like I have to. I won't include any prose I've already written, but I am going to re-write the first portion of one of my novels. So it's an edge. I know my characters, have sketched them out (and printed off "photos"), and am working on plot. I am hoping that NaNo will get my first draft in gear.

December can be all about rewriting and perfection.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Super Secret WIP

Jacqui Robbins gave me a great idea yesterday to keep myself writing every day, even if I don't feel like working on my "out in the open" projects. I tried her suggestions (demands, really) and discovered that my internal editor was penned in. She didn't feel like chirping up because it would have been a waste of her time. After all, this is a novel no one will ever see.

Brilliant, really.

I'll keep you posted on word count, just because I like to brag, but you won't have a clue what it's all about. Tee hee.

In other words, I just discovered a musician that apparently everyone had already heard about but I had not, having been in a daze the past few years. I am in love. With Regina Spektor. She comes very, very close to Tori Amos. If I weren't so nostalgic about Tori....(who, by the way, singlehandedly supported me through high school).

Oh! Oh! Oh! I cannot forget: I won. I won the jody call contest at Sara Lewis Holmes' site. And I get a prize! (A signed copy of OPERATION YES! delivered by a person in uniform.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Novel Wordles!

This is a wordle of ROHANA, my first novel. Isn't it beautiful? You can see which words I overused, but you can also see what's at the heart of the novel. Matioro is the primary antagonist and Rohana is the main character.

Here's one of my current YA Work-in-Progress:

And here's one from my MG WIP:

Can you tell I've had too much coffee and sugar this morning??


OPERATION YES! Author Sara Lewis Holmes is having a jody-call contest until midnight tonight! Enter or be...chicken.

Here's my entry, for you all to read and snicker at:

I don’t know but I’ve been told
green eggs and ham all smell like mold
I do not like them so I say
Now let me be and run away!

I do not like them here or there
I do not like them, so beware
Green eggs and ham are strange to me
The color’s off and they’re slimy!

Green eggs (and ham!)
Green eggs (and ham!)
Don’t make me eat them
Uncle Sam!

You serve them in the dining hall
To eat, be strong, and grow real tall
Ok, one taste--just go away
Don’t come again another day

Say! (Hey!) Say! (Hey!)
Green eggs and ham are on my tray
And in my mouth and down the hatch
These eggs and ham are quite a catch!

Yum! (Yum!) Yum (Yum!) Green eggs and ham
Please give me more, chef Uncle Sam!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Color

I will probably increase the contrast, but for now, I'm happy. I love raspberry.


The National Book Award committee has chosen a brilliant, amazing, beautiful book as one of its Young People's Literature finalists.

Laini has a talent for turning the English language into something that has passed through markets in Morocco, simmered in Indian chai, and braved the icy drafts of the Russian steppes. The stories in LIPS TOUCH don't all take place there, but as you read, you know that the words have come together after traveling every alley, every leaf, and every cooking pot in the world.

Jim Di Bartolo, the illustrator, has an equally amazing gift. His drawings are real, and yet ethereal. At the very least, they're gorgeous. And the colors! Wow! To see a book put together like this is a prize, and I truly hope it wins the award.

Now, go read it!

(I started reading it last night, coincidentally, so was pleased to hear the news. Goblin Fruit, the first story in LIPS TOUCH, haunted my dreams all night, and I woke up hungering for apricot toast.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Contest for ICE!

The next hit book by Sarah Beth Durst, author of Into the Wild

This book is based in modern times, up in Alaska and the arctic. Cassie lives with her father and their team at a research station in the middle of the ice-desert. Cassie's grandmother often told Cassie the story of how her mother was promised to the Polar bear king by her father the North Wind, but then she fell in love with a human man and the Polar Bear King(love him!) agreed to protect her from the North Wind's wrath, on the condition that their first-born daughter be his wife. But North Wind found her anyway blew her to the edge of the earth to be with the trolls.

Now it's Cassie's 18th birthday, and the Polar Bear King has come for her.

Enna Isilee ranted and raved about the awesomeness of this book over at her blog, and now she's offering anyone an opportunity to own it.

This giveaway is awesome and easy, head here to enter the drawing and to get more information (open to US residents only).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Secret Middle-Grade Novel

Shhhh. Don't tell anyone else, but I've got a secret crush. And my YA jinn novel is not going to like it. I started a new book today, and it's going really well---already at 2200 words. It's a middle-grade novel, and it might be the biggest waste of time ever. Or not.

But it's oh so fun!

P.S. I wanted to add that my mom just read it and said it's hysterical. Phew! As we all know, our mothers are the best, unbiased critics out there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nerves of Jello

I just sent out my first portion of my work-in-progress to my agent and am now all shaky. What if she doesn't like it?


Ok. Back to writing. Hey, you---get back to your projects, too. Shoo!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Books by Friends and Mini Sewing Projects

Look at what came in the mail today!

Lips Touch, by Laini Taylor and illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo; Silksinger, also by Laini Taylor and illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo; and Operation: YES, by Sara Lewis Holmes.

I have been eagerly awaiting for these books. Laini and Sara are my friends, so of course I wanted to support them, but I really just wanted the books because I know they are going to be awesome reads! I got a chance to read Silksinger in an earlier rendition and add comments to it (Laini surprised me by sending it to me---I have no idea if my comments were helpful or not, but I hope so). I can't wait to see what is the same and what has changed! Sara's book is going to be thoughtful and funny, and guess what? She agreed to do an interview on this very humble blog! (So I have to read it, like, NOW.)

Yay for getting friends' books in the mail!

I was in such a good mood that even though I only got three hours of sleep last night due to sleepless children, and had an early morning appointment that required me to bring both kids along and get their blood tested, resulting in much dramatic wailing, I finished a sewing project! (How's that for a caffeinated sentence?) I took a look at my beautiful new machine,

And thought, I should get out that ridiculously adorable flannel and make some baby washcloths!

Since we use cloth diapers, we also use cloth wipes, and these will come in handy. Plus, they're super cute and I made them.

Now, I should go take a nap while the baby is napping, but I've had too much coffee. I will most likely collapse in the midst of the bedtime routine, likely folded over a picture book or two. Elizabeth will have to prod me out of her bed and tuck herself in, all alone. Poor child. Guess she shouldn't have woken me up at 4 a.m.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

M.T. Anderson

I am going to write my darndest to catch up to him. He is the writer I most want to emulate.

(Reading The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traiter to the Nation, Vol 2., Kingdom on the Waves and LOVING it. Mr. Anderson is a verifiable genius.)

The only downside to reading his books is that they tend to run long, run deep, and keep me from writing whilst I'm reading them.

Friday, September 25, 2009


If you handed a box of tissues to a chimpanzee, would she start pulling the tissues out? Would a parrot try it too? Or is this a uniquely human (specifically a wee human) trait?

Henry, my ten-month old walking/climbing/giggling son.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Other projects

I just finished my first 50 pages in my work-in-progress! Yay! 11,000 words. Phew. I have written it in first-person present-tense, third-person omniscient, and finally settled on my usual: first-person near-past-tense. I've twisted the plot around and around. I've threaded, unravelled, and re-threaded the words. And now I can say I'm on my way. I have a sense of who my characters are and where they are going.

To celebrate, I got a new sewing machine (THIS ONE!) and finally made Elizabeth a dress-and-backpack combo. She had picked out the pattern and fabric a month ago, and I finally did it. Apparently, I can sew! It wasn't me, it was my old, unworking sewing machine that was the problem before.

Taking pictures (or "catching Elizabeth on film") is nearly as difficult as sewing, by the way. (It also helps to have the camera on the right setting, apparently.) Here ya go:


Thursday, September 10, 2009

So did I succeed? And guess who peed?

The house is clean. The kids are in bed. Dinner was cooked and was delicious. Peace and Quiet are now here to spend the evening with me.

During Henry's awake times, when I could not do much around the house, we played outside in the back yard. A family of deer visit us often, and I was happy to see this time that one of the babies no longer limps. (Unless it's a different set of deer.)

This is our tiny garden, by the way. We've got broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and tomatoes. We have no idea if we'll get anything before it frosts. Henry thinks that's fine, and says that the dirt it quiet edible.

Henry thought the deer were awesome, as is apparent in his wide grin.

Our yard is terraced. The top level is where the garden and the fence are, and then there's the middle level, which is where we have our compost pile, and then the bottom level, which is a beautiful, serene garden beneath a sequoia and a walnut tree. The deer like to nibble the soft grass and lounge there. (The deer seem really tiny in this picture.)

And in case you've never seen this...

Yes, mama deer always pees before meandering back into the woods. Guess that's like saying, "Hey, other deer, this is my spot."


Considering my house has sneezed in every room and corner possible, the book is long from being even half-done, the baby is not napping (or apparently close), I have a lot to accomplish today. So the plan is to do it. All of it. Every nook and cranny must be organized and cleaned. Every cheerio picked up off the floor (yes, the house sneezed that badly). All the diapers washed and hung out in the sun to dry. The pictures finally hung on the walls. The pile of papers stacked and shoved to the side for Jim to sift through (I refuse). The clothes washed, dried, and--gasp--put away neatly in their drawers.

Then, when the house is comfortable and unsickly, I will be able to breathe calmly and write.

If Henry allows it. He is, after all, the Demanding One now that his big sister is at preschool all day.

If only he'd take a NAP! Shhh. Go to sleep, baby, go to sleep. You're so very, very tired.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


BalladThis is a teaser from Maggie Stiefvater's BALLAD, a novel involving homicidal faeries and kissing that's coming out October 1st.

He turned towards me. For a long moment, he stood facing me. I was held, anchored to the ground – not by his music, which still called and pushed against the music already in my head and said grow rise follow – but by his strangeness. By his fingers, spread over the ground, holding something into the earth, by his shoulders, squared in a way that spoke of strength and unknowability, and most of all, by the great, thorny antlers that grew from his head, spanning the sky like branches.

Then he was gone, and I missed his going in the instant that the sun fell off the edge of the hill, abandoning the world to twilight.

Buy it here. Enter the contest at Maggie's blog here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Originally uploaded by ambotchka
In honor of OPERATION YES, by Sara Holmes, here's a photo of me way "back in the day." No, I don't really smoke, but we were having fun and taking pictures and generally feeling very cavalier, and this is what happens in such moments.

[I was deployed to both CAMP VICTORY and CAMP SLAYER, Iraq, from July 2004 to March 2005.]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


And on a lighter note, here's my cutie:

It's a double-brag because I created the child and my mother created the outfit. We took this picture on her 3rd birthday, which was earlier this month.

Gosh, I can't believe my baby is three! And Jim and I have been married for four years now. Wow. (Incidentally, Elizabeth was born the day before our first anniversary. It was not the way I had imagined spending that day, but it wasn't too bad. Just a little exhausted and in a little bit of pain. Definitely felt lightning-struck, though.)

City of Thieves

I just finished reading a fantastic novel about the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). How many of you know that during WWII, Leningrad was under siege for 900 days? Can you imagine? People were so hungry that they boiled the glue from book bindings down and made "Library Candy." I knew about the siege, I even visited the memorial in St. Petersburg when I was there in 2001, but I didn't understand, not fully, what had happened. It had been so black-and-white before. I knew the facts, two-dimensionally imagined the horrors and tragedies that transpired, but I didn't feel it. It wasn't until I read this book that I died a little inside. The book, City of Thieves, by David Benioff, is dark, humorous, and beautiful (not to mention horrific and tense).

It is everything I want my first novel, Rohana, to be like. It is the first novel I have read since I began writing Rohana that showed me exactly what I wanted to achieve, exactly how I wanted to affect my readers. In my book, Rohana, the main character, witnesses horror to a degree most of us cannot even imagine, just as the people of Leningrad (and, well, most of Europe) experienced during WWII.

I lay in bed last night, trying to fall asleep, trying to banish the image of the last scene I had just read--and yet, I didn't want to forget it. The scene was so brutal, so inhuman, that I wanted to see it and feel it just as the main character, Lev, did. I wanted to be there for him, to help him get through it. Does that make any sense? Lev (and the other characters) became real enough for me that I wanted to absorb as much of the horror as I could so that he could be protected.

I want my readers to feel that way about Rohana. I want them to care for her and see both the brutality and the beauty of humanity through her eyes. I want my readers to want to see more, and yet want to put blinders on her so that she won't see more.

One thing about David Benioff's writing that I'd like everyone to experience is the lyricism, the poetry. The descriptions truly put you there, then.

Rohana needs a massive amount of revision to get it even close to City of Thieves.

(BTW, this is easily my favorite book of the year.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New York, How I Love Thee

Yes, it's true. I love New York. I love Syracuse. The streets are lines with greenery, flowers abound, the neighbors are kind and interesting, and we have a large porch that I can sit on and write late into the evening (with a massing number of mosquitos).

We are not yet unpacked, but things are getting situated. Jim is nearly ready to start school, and Elizabeth is excited about starting preschool. Henry is just excited to be alive (plus, he's taking steps now, and believes he should be walking already). I am settling down and getting ready to start writing FOR REAL. I've got to finish this first draft or else!

Tonight was my first night back at work. I made myself some coffee, escaped to the front porch with my laptop, a bowl of mint ice cream, and a notebook, and sketched out plot ideas. I couldn't get right back into the story at first, since it had been ages since I'd taken a peek, but I was able to wrap my mind about it a little. No actual writing was completed tonight, but I'm getting ready to jump back into that soon. SOON.

I'm also thinking about applying for Syracuse University's MFA in Creative Writing program for next year. If I got accepted, I think it includes a TA position, which would mean a small stipend and a waiving of tuition, so it'd be like making a tiny salary while getting my MFA. Better than working at Starbucks to help out with our bills, right? Mostly, I just might learn a little bit more about writing. Maybe. But I'm a little apprehensive---what if they're too high-brow? What if they're too literary? My writing style is a bit literary, but it's not snooty (I hope). I do, afterall, want to get gasp! published.

Ok. The mosquitos are taking over the porch. I must retreat now or find myself a blood donor.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Wow, this one-a-day blog has turned out to be more of a once-a-month post-it. Sorry about that. If you knew what my life was like, you'd understand.

But just to say quickly, we're moving in two days to New York. (Not the city; to Syracuse.) The packers are here, the house is boxed up, and I am severely sleep deprived.

I shall post new pictures when I take them, once we're unpacked and settled. Maybe I'll even start posting again...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Long Time

I haven't been blogging in a very long time because we've been traveling and I've had some post-partum depression. Things are improving, however, which is good. I'll post some cute pics of our trip to Disney World later...

I was going to write up a lengthy post, but I wanted you to watch this video so you can hear the woman crying out for help, in Iran, and then I've got to get off the computer. Human brutality makes me sick to my stomach--no matter what side is being injusticed.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Zombie Cakes, Resurrected

I hosted a friend's baby shower this past weekend, and I decided to show off my novice baking skills by baking her a cake from scratch. After spending way too much time deciding on what to bake, exactly, I found two recipes that seemed perfect for my giant cupcake pan--a white cake and nearly-professional buttercream icing.

So, at 7 p.m., I began baking.

I made two of these tops because, as it turns out, "non-stick" pans aren't truly non-stick. Having a crumbled cake did give me a chance to taste the goods before presentation, so it wasn't all bad. Jim said I could served the broken bits as "Baby Vomit," on par for the theme. (He was immediately banished from the kitchen for that comment.)

While the second top was baking, I started frosting the bottom half, trying to keep it together since it had broken when removed from the pan.

Then, on a whim, I decided to layer it with strawberries. I made the sauce, slathered it on the bottom half of the cake, and then watched in horror as it bled down the sides. I was nearly frantic. How does one present a bloody mushroom cake to a pregnant woman?

Quickly, I tossed on the almost-cool top and iced it with a color I had just mixed together.

As you can see, it was dreadful. At this point, I wondered how much it would cost to convince the baker to make a cake the morning of the party...but I kept at it, icing it more, making a new batch of icing, getting the piping done, and then I resurrected the zombie cake:

It looked like a circus tent, and less like a mushroom, which made me happy. Plus, I had some cute little cupcakes. I put it in the fridge, went to bed (it was 1 a.m. at this point), and dreamed of bleeding cakes. (Totally unsuitable for baby showers, btw.) When I was awakened by Monster Child #1 at 5:30 a.m., I ran downstairs and fully expected the cake to have fallen apart, or the strawberries to have leaked the bottom, but it was perfectly fine. And tasty, too. It was just too cute and I was so proud of myself.

Next time, though, I'm making a cake with just regular circular pans. None of this giant cupcake with strawberry layer mess. And I'm going to make it chocolate.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

San Diego and Hostess Cupcakes

I just went to San Diego so I could see my friend do this:

And eat some of this:

And here I am, with some of my critique group friends:

That's Kirsten, me holding a wiggly and bald-spotted Henry, Cindy, and Eveie

I am such a jet-setter. Gosh. ;-)

Seriously, though, I did just get back from a weekend San Diego in which I brought along baby Henry to my friend and critique group partner Cindy Pon's first-ever book launch. Her first novel, SILVER PHOENIX, came out a week ago--hurry, go buy it--read it--and join me in waiting for the sequel and the inevitable blockbuster soon to follow.

The flight out was a little bit of a pain considering I had a baby on my lap and was squished in the middle seat, but my neighbors were all wonderful. My first neighbor was a woman on her way home from Iraq. Thank God. She helped me out quite a lot in entertaining Henry.

My friend Kirsten, an absolutely fantastic novelist who will soon be getting a great agent, I am sure, played the Perfect Hostess for both Henry and me. She had all the baby gear, which made things super easy. Also, she brought me a tray of tea, milk, honey, and fresh strawberries to munch and sip while I got dressed on Saturday morning, plus she took care of the baby at the same time. I am forever spoiled. And now I will feel subpar if I don't treat my future guests as wonderfully as she did! I felt like a princess all weekend.

One of the unexpected* benefits of going out to San Diego was being there in person for a critique group meeting. I've been away for a year and a half, and it's been hard. Email critiques just aren't as good, you know? And I don't do critiques as thoroughly and as well as when I am going to be there for the actual meeting. Anyway, remember the 20+ pages I wrote last weekend? Well, they read them all and gave me awesome guidance. Plus they made me feel good, like the pages aren't half bad and were totally readable, even if it's a first draft and had lots of holes. They set me on my way and now I've got FOCUS. *sigh* I lurve my critique group.

I felt like I was hanging out with someone famous on Sunday when Kirsten, her husband, her adorable and smart kid, and I and Henry went to La Jolla to hang out with Cindy and her two adorable and smart kids. We had lunch and then played in the sand on the beach**. It was a gorgeous San Diego day that I will surely be missing when I'm holed up in my home come The Long Winter in Syracuse.

The flight home was easy because Henry slept the whole time (Was that my One Good Flight?). I picked up my first adult novel in years and years, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and read half of it. So far, I'm loving it.

Now I must dash off-line and clean my home. I love my husband***. He took care of Elizabeth all weekend, and the house was pretty clean when I got home, but after a day of Exhausted Mommyhood, it's messy already.

* Ok, so it wasn't unexpected. I totally knew they'd help me out. They always do.
** Henry didn't play so much as ate the sand.
*** Did I mention he went to get me a Hostess Cupcake because I was craving one? He, who made lettuce, steamed broccoli, raw carrots, and sweet potatoes for dinner? (Seriously, that's what we ate. And it was surprisingly filling. Except for leaving me with a craving for gooey, chocolate-y, cream-filled cupcake.)

Oh, and those pics? I lifted them from Cindy's blog.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The T-Rex Biting at my Heels

The weekend is nearly over, and I haven't made it to fifty pages. That T-Rex is catching up to me...

HOWEVER, I'd like to add that I'm no Sit-n-Take-It Cavewoman. I am proud of what I've accomplished this weekend, and eventually, that T-Rex will lag behind, gasping in the dust, and find some other poor soul to chase after. I, on the other hand, will finish this book because I am one bad-ass cavewoman.

Me (in theory)

If I end up at only 25 pages, I'll be ok with that because if I hadn't set out to write 50, I might not have ended up with any at all. (And so far, this is turning out to be a darned good first draft.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fifty-Page Sprint

I am about to start my fifty-page sprint. Wish me luck. I hope I can out-run that T-Rex.

I'm at Panera, and I just rode my Vespa here, since the weather was nice and I didn't have a kiddo with me. It's been so long since I rode the Vespa that Jim called out after me---"Will you be ok?!" Apparently, it's like riding a bike, so after the first twenty feet or so, I was able to zip around confidently. Ahhhhhh.

Ok. So. Really. Back to work!

Had to add: Came here without a pen. Borrowed one from a lady (she gave it to me) says "Harley-Davidson." Ironic or what?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Silver Phoenix Video

My friend Cindy Pon, who is in my critique group from San Diego (unfortunately, I participate long-distance), has a lovely book coming out next Tuesday called SILVER PHOENIX: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia.

I'd tell you a bit about it, but her video does a much better job than I ever could. So, without further ado, here it is:

Nice music, too, no?

And to show my family's enthusiasm for Cindy's book, here's E just before bedtime:

She's holding a tiny dragon, too. I did my best to get a smile. Mostly, she would just bat her eyes at the camera or sulk, so I was lucky to get what I got.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My YA Pre-schooler

Yesterday, I took E and H to the library. After running amok in the children's section, E made her way to the Young Adult section and nestled in, right away.

She's nearly through with potty training now, so she's move on. No more Mo Willems, I guess. Now she's reading...what book is that in the pic? SHELF LIFE, by Robert Corbet. I've never read it, but she really really wanted to check it out*. And she had to check it out by herself. (Of course.)

My little girl is growing up so fast! She hasn't had an accident in two days (she's in pull-ups at night time, though). So no more poopy awards for us, I hope. At least, not for two years or so.

On a completely unrelated topic, we have figured out where we'll be moving to this summer: Syracuse, NY. Anyone from Syracuse? We'll be going up in June to find a place to live, and then actually moving there at the start of August. (Sadly, no SCBWI LA for me this year.) My husband will be starting his PhD program in Physics, which will take FIVE YEARS. Yes, FIVE years. We'll be poor grad students for FIVE YEARS. (No, really, I'm fine.) So, for FIVE YEARS, we'll be living off of his TA pay, unless I get another job or somehow learn to write more books at a faster pace. Ones that sell would be nice, too. (I'm trying to be patient. I really am.) So, long snowy winters, here we come.

And on yet another unrelated topic, I'm doing something rather exciting this weekend: I'm locking myself in the guest room and writing fifty pages. I'm calling it my "50-page sprint." I told my husband he's responsible for both kids all weekend long, with the exception of feedings and night-time. Hopefully, it'll work out, he won't knock down the door, and I'll end up late Sunday night with fifty reasonably well-written first-draft pages. I'm a reviser and not a sprinter, so this is like taking a person who does long, casual, perfect-form runs and placing them in front of a ravenous T-Rex on the edge of the Grand Canyon.** Hmm. That's an idea. I shall print off a pic of a T-Rex and tape it to the wall.

* We did not check it out. Instead, I hid it and we got KNUFFLE BUNNY TOO, by Mo Willems. And we love it!!

** Not that my books are "perfect" in any way.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My First Blog Award

My electronic friend (now, he's not merely made of electronic gadgets or anything) Paul, who blogs at the Murphblog, created an award for my last post about E's potty training days.

Now, I am red in the face. I'm honored, of course, to have won anything (as usual). Thank you, Paul! You made me feel, for a day, as if I'm actually funny. Usually this blog gets no action. (Ok, so that sounded bad.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A story of my life

The Girl Who Cried, "Poop!"*

Once there was a little girl who was learning how to use the potty. She was doing very well, and had even made it through half a day without any accidents, when her mommy did a very mean thing: she put her in her room to take a nap. She wasn't allowed to get out of bed.

While her mommy was feeding her baby brother and trying to put him down for a nap, she called out, "Mommy, I pooped!" Mommy ran into the room to see what had happened, but there was no poop. And the little girl shook her head when offered a chance to go to the toilet.

Five minutes later, she called out, "Mommy, I want to poop!"

And Mommy ran into the room, leaving a wailing baby behind. But sadly, no poop.

This went on for two more times, although one time she just called out, "Mommy, I want to go to the potty."

Mommy grew angry. The baby wasn't sleeping at all. In fact, he was crying and showing the world what Mommy was really feeling.

Once again, the little girl called out, "I'm poopy! Mom! Poop!"

But this time, Mommy ignored her. Instead, Mommy twittered angrily about her annoyances of the day. Mommy fumed. Mommy wanted a nap.

Forty-five minutes later, the little girl banged on her bedroom door. "Mommy, I want out! Let me out!" Mommy, feeling guilty by now, complied.

And then she shreeked.

Poop was smeared on the walls. Poop was smeared on the carpet. And poop was wiped on the blankets.

"I said I pooped," the little girl said, smiling and fluttering her eyes.

* This is mildly gross, but if you made it to here, you probably read it already anyway and therefore this disclaimer is a waste of pixels.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A title and a new MC

I have focused on nothing but my WIP the past few days and tonight, one character pulled the flying carpet out from under my feet. In fact, she decided that I wasn't going to write the book in close-third. Instead, it's all about her and how she has completely messed up. And she wants me to write it in first person. (I actually feel relieved.)

She also gave me a blessing: a working title. Something I never truly had before. (No, not gonna tell you.)

Because I'm re-starting (for the third time? fourth time?), I have to put myself into First Draft Bootcamp and get some words on the page. I've penned in a date on the calendar in which I will do nothing for a whole weekend but write the first draft (at least 50 pages of it) and nurse the baby (because, well, no one else can do it). Jim has graciously, albeit reluctantly, agreed to the plan.

This is still the re-telling of the Arabian Nights tale, but with my own little narrative twist.

And that's all I'm going to say about it. For now.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Poetry Friday

This week, I bring you an ancient Arabian poem:

On Fatalism

Not always wealth, not always force
A splendid destiny commands;
The lordly vulture gnaws the corpse
That rots upon yon barren sands.

Nor want, nor weakness still conspires
To bind us to a sordid state;
The fly that with a touch expires
Sips honey from the royal plate.

---The Holy Imam Shafay

I like this one because it's not about love, or spring, or beauty, but about life and death. The circle of life, really.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Elijah of Buxton

Want to read a book that makes you cry a little and laugh a lot*? Christopher Paul Curtis's book, Elijah of Buxton is the perfect book. It is also the best example of a character-driven novel I can think of. It's also a wonderful example of "voice." The plot is good, don't get me wrong, but I could listen to Elijah talk about anything for another two hundred pages, if Mr. Curtis would have let me. I loved Elijah. I wanted to step right into the book Thursday Next style and meet him.

Elijah is growing up in the Canadian community of freed and runaway slaves just prior to the U.S. Civil War. He is the first free child born in the community and has a story about that and nearly everything that has happened to his town, his neighbors, and himself. He is also greatly afraid of snakes, but he will tell you all about that right off the bat.

This book isn't all laughs, though. On its deeper level, it's about freedom and slavery, good people who risk their lives and those who risk others' lives for their own.

I promise you when you crack open the book, you won't be able to put it down. And you'll want to step into the book and shake hands with Elijah. This is historical fiction at its very best. Oh yeah, and it won the Newbery Honor in 2008.

* Warning: Do not read at the gym while on the tred-mill or you will laugh yourself right off of it and land on your fanny.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Poetry Friday--with a Guest Poet!

For Poetry Friday and National Poetry Month, I am pleased to introduce you all to Courtney Hartnett! Courtney is a poet I met during a teen writing workshop I taught last August. Her first book of poetry, Eleanor's Angel, is due out April 15th from Wild Leaf Press.

I was fortunate to read some of Courtney's prose as well as her poetry and I can say she's got quite the talent. Her poems are full of voice and bring you right into moment.

Courtney grew up in the rural Northern Neck of Virginia. Her life in the country has inspired her to write since childhood. She has won awards through the international level for speaking and writing, including a national honorable mention in the 2008 Library of Congress Letters About Literature competition and first place in the 2008 United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth International Speech Contest. In her spare time, Courtney enjoys horseback riding, running with friends, painting, playing guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, and raising chickens.

Without further ado, here is an interview with Courtney:

Amber: What inspires you as a writer?

Courtney: I think one of the key aspects of the “writer personality” is that you can find inspiration in anything – as long as you’re looking. I’ve been inspired by passengers on buses and flowers in fields. I enjoy writing about animals, especially horses, who I think are really the most poetic of all.

Amber: I agree with you on horses. I'm having to study them right now for my new book. Who was your first inspiration as far as writing poetry?

Courtney: The first poem I remember writing was when I was about seven. It was about a sled dog who was pulling a crate of medicine to children who were snowbound in Nome, Alaska. I was really fascinated with sled dogs when I was little; I read Gary Paulsen books about them and watched Balto. It was really ironic that the poem rhymed, because now all I write is free verse.

Amber: I have a hard time with rhyming, as well. How does your poetry describe you?

Courtney: I think my poetry parallels my personality – I’m somewhat quiet, and I notice a lot. My poems are like that; they aren’t in-your-face, loud writing, but they’re perceptive. I like to write about little things we pass over in our day-to-day lives – the things we’d think about if we only had more time.

Amber: What do you hope the reader walks away with after reading your first book of poetry?

Courtney: I hope, most of all, that everyone who reads Eleanor’s Angel will keep reading poetry. Most contemporary people dismiss poetry as too esoteric and utterly academic to be a relaxing read. The book’s style is easier to read and relies primarily on rhythm and imagery – not obscure language, bizarre syntax, and barely perceptible allusions. I don’t want my readers to have to dig for a deeper meaning. I want the meaning to be right there, in front of them, so they can truly understand it, absorb it, and make it their own.

Amber: I write with loads of imagery, as well. It brings beauty and truth to the story/poem, I like to think. Your poems are like mine, except, well, much better! What are your strengths and weaknesses as a poet, if any?

Courtney: I think my greatest strength as a writer is my imagery. When Claudia Emerson judged my poems in a contest, she told me that my poems have strong, believable imagery. I also feel that my work has rhythm to it, which poetry really needs. My greatest weakness are my cop-out endings. You don’t see a lot of them in the book because I find them and edit them, but all too often, I can’t think of a good last line and I’m about to get off the bus or switch classes or go do something else, and I scribble down whatever comes to mind. Rushed endings really kill a poem’s momentum and leave a bitter aftertaste. I’m trying my best to stop writing them.

Amber: I think most writers, no matter whether it's poetry or prose, have that problem. You get to the end and you want to be done. Did you find any unusual hurdles in the publishing business since you aren't exactly an aged poet?

Courtney: To be honest, publishing a first book, especially poetry, is difficult whether you’re young or old. I worried that my publisher might have second thoughts when she realized I was 17, but all we had to do was add my mom as a co-signer on the contract because I won’t be 18 til July. Most of all, I try to put my best foot forward with all my poetry submissions. There’s a stereotype of the teen poet; most people think of the kid dressed in black who sits in her room and writes sing-song-y love poetry and morose, badly written breakup songs. I do my best to be sure people realize I’m not that stereotype.

Amber: I am guilty of having been that kind of teenage poet, except for dressing in black. My poems are too depressing, and I wasn't even "depressed." Your poems are true-to-life, like perfect snapshots of moments in time. Ok, now, the most important question of all: What's your favorite ice cream flavor?

Courtney: My favorite ice cream is coconut-chocolate-almond. I tried it once at an ice cream shop in Tappahannock, and it was absolutely delicious! It tastes like an Almond Joy bar as an ice cream cone. I also am a fan of pistachio ice cream; I thought it would taste odd, but it was really quite good.

Amber: My God-o'-Desserts, that sounds awesome. Thank you for visiting my blog, Courtney. I don't think people will read your poems and think, "that was written by a teenager." People will read your poems and realize they're just going to be reading your poems for many years to come. Besides, poets are Old Souls.

Ok, everyone, here’s the publishing info on the book: The publisher is Wild Leaf Press, a small poetry/short fiction press in New Haven, CT. The book can be pre-ordered by visiting the WLP site and clicking “forthcoming.” Please visit the Wild Leaf Press website and check out Courtney's poems! (I'd post one here, but I think it'd be better if you went to the website and looked around, so go! I'm sending you on a mini scavenger hunt for choice words!)

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Our dog, Silver, died yesterday.

She was a beautiful, happy dog and had always been so gentle with the kids. The day before she died, she was perfectly fine, and on Sunday, she got to run around outside with the other dogs.

She died suddenly of a hidden tumor that filled her heart with fluid, which caused the rest of her body to shut down over the course of the day. By early afternoon, she died, in Jim's arms at the vet office. It was very sad and very shocking.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Poetry Friday

My first poetry friday post:

The Cicada

Pure of heart and therefore hungry,
All night long you have sung in vain –
Oh, this final broken indrawn breath
Among the green indifferent trees!
Yes, I have gone like a piece of driftwood,
I have let my garden fill with weeds....
I bless you for your true advice
To live as pure a life as yours.

by Li Shangyin, in the 9th Century

(discovered this in today's research)

Writing, out and about

I'm at Panera and on my new macbook! This is so much fun. Both kids are in daycare, which was just too easy. I mean, dropping E off at preschool isn't difficult, but I'd never dropped H off before. He seemed happy enough and the ladies were assuring. They didn't complain about the breast milk bottles (which I'd heard people say daycare providers do sometimes) and they were just happy they got a kid whose name they could pronounce. (What other names do they get?? I'm sure there aren't a lot of Aleksandrs around. Aren't all the boys named Jack?) I'm going back in exactly three hours to pick him up, but then I'm leaving E there and having hubby pick her up when he gets off work. (It's so she doesn't miss nap time there.)

So. Now I am here, ready to work. I best get off. Oh, here's a pic of me, right now:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Slow Progress

There's a bit of Arabian horse racing in my work-in-progress, so I've been doing some research and doing the usual... You know, pretending to be a young Arabian prince.

So now I have to study charts, like this:

And I have to imagine myself here, dressed like this:

(Yes, I have to imagine myself a young man atop a fringed horse.)

It's nice to know that my year and a half in Bahrain and my seven months in Baghdad will come in handy. At least in Bahrain, I rode horses for six months, and they were Arabian at that. (My favorite was Clyde, a brown gelding. Cleopatra, an old mare, stepped on my foot on purpose, so she will be immortalized in my book.) In Baghdad, I only rode helicopters, which wouldn't be in my book. But wait...hmm...

Other things to research:
1. mythological creatures from the Arabian Nights
2. 9th century oceanic travel
3. 9th century music
4. how to Twitter for gold and rainbows*

*Ok, not really. There's my one attempt at celebrating St. Patty's Day. But did you notice, oh Twitter fans, how Twitter seems to deliver anything you desire? It's like a...oh, that thing in Star Trek that generates any food item you wish.