Friday, 4 January 2013

The Fame Game

"Mommy, because you sell books, does that mean you're famous?" my 5-year-old asked the other day.  "No sweetheart."  I smiled faintly with a look that said, if I had the energy I'd reach over and pat you affectionately on the head.  Then she made a noise that surprised me.  A disappointed one.  My barely school-aged child was disappointed that her mother isn't famous.  Why?  Where does our obsession with fame come from (and for heaven's sake, why is the fame bug infecting 5-year-olds)?

I have no desire to be famous and, tbh, I have no clue why people do.  I can understand if you're passionate about your craft (whether it be acting, singing, writing, whatever) and your fame is a byproduct of great success, but to crave fame for its own sake?  No thanks.  I read recently that Jennifer Lawrence regularly calls her mother in tears because she finds it so difficult being in the public eye.  No kidding.  The idea of life in a fishbowl, millions of eyes pressed to the glass, is wholly unappealing.  People slag off the Kardashians and their ilk for being fame whores, but at least they seem to handle the attention exceptionally well.  They don't appear to be ticking time bombs or crumbling under the pressure like other celebs.  Famous people and rehab go hand-in-hand for a reason.  Imagine feeling like you can't have a bad hair day or can't leave the house without full makeup (which I pretty much do every day).  Imagine never having a natural facial expression outside of your house for fear of being caught on camera in a grimace or an unflattering pose.  It sounds like an invisible prison to me.  I'll have my tantrums in complete anonymity, thanks.    

So while I hope to sell loads more books in the future, I hope I am never recognized on the street, unless it's by Hugh Dancy (move over, Clare Danes, yee of the Homeland crazy eyes) or any les desirables from the cast of True Blood.  In that case, I'll take my chances on being caught laughing with food in my mouth.                   

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Where There's Smoke...

We had a fire in our house this week.  A serious, middle-of-the-night, smoke-filled, smoke-alarm-did-not-go-off, emergency.  As I think I mentioned in my previous post, I've had bronchitis (going on 2 months now) and have had trouble sleeping.  Usually my disrupted sleep is due to the pitter patter of tiny footsteps coming to tell me that 'my covers are twisted' or 'I have a bad cough' and then I start coughing and can't go back to sleep.  Out of desperation and for the first time in our four-and-a-half years in this house, I decided to sleep on the pull-out sofa downstairs, which everyone else insists is dreadfully uncomfortable.  Naturally, one of my last thoughts before drifting off to sleep was 'Holy shit, I am so freaking comfortable right now.'  It didn't last, though.  At about one o'clock in the morning, I awoke, as usual, to a noise.  I called out with my eyes closed to see who answered.  No one.  I opened my eyes and thought, 'why is the house foggy?'  I automatically got up and went to the kitchen.  Subconsciously, I think my brain knew that the kitchen was the source of the sound, even though I assumed it was a family member.  I pushed open the door and could not see for black smoke.  I ran upstairs to my wake my husband and then went to the children's rooms, which are side by side.  My husband ran into the kitchen as the dishwasher went ablaze.*  He apparently did what you are advised not to do in an electrical fire and threw the water from the washing-up bowl onto it.  Since he didn't have time to think, he did what he had to do and, thankfully for us, water did the trick.  I had closed the children's doors and put towels at the base of the doors and we went around opening all the windows.  The children slept through the entire incident.  The first time both kids have slept through the night in months, half the reason I was sleeping downstairs in the first place.  We stood there looking at each other, realizing how fortunate we'd been, and then debated what to do next.  Call the fire dept?  The fire was out.  Call an ambulance?  We were sooty, but didn't seem to be suffering from smoke inhalation.  So I called my dad, a retired building inspector who used to go to building sites after a blaze and determine whether they were safe to reenter.  He told us what else we could do until morning when we'd need to call our insurance company.  My husband took a shower and went back to bed.  I couldn't sleep.  I stayed downstairs, periodically checking the melted dishwasher for signs of reigniting.  I watched an episode of Vampire Diaries.  I called my sister.  I called my best friend.  (Thank goodness for time differences.)  I didn't get upset about my filthy, black-stained floors and walls.  Or my destroyed kitchen.  My family was safe; we still had a roof over our heads.  Nothing else mattered.

The insurance assessor comes on Monday morning and we need to leave everything 'as is' as much as possible and we obviously can't use our kitchen, so living here, we look like a family of chimney sweeps, all with blackened fingernails and constant smudges on our faces.  I hope the cleaners can come sooner after because I don't how long my high-on-life attitude will last.  It's only a matter of time before the stinky walls and trail of soot will be my mental undoing.  I like a clean house.  I like a house with a useable kitchen, but in the meantime, I'll keep my reminding myself how much I love my family and how glad I am to have bronchitis.  If I hadn't slept downstairs that night, I don't think I'd be sitting here typing this blog now.                      

*Yes, the dishwasher actually burst into flames.  Dishwashers can catch fire - who knew?  (Well, Bosch, apparently, as our model was recalled last year due to this 'low risk' of fire.  We didn't buy the dishwasher; it's more than five years old and came with our house so we didn't have any product registration information.  Consider us informed.)  

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Right Now

In case you're wondering if I still write, nay, if I'm still alive, the answer is a resounding yes.  Yepper.  Yesiree.  You see, for the last couple of months I have been...ahem...working.  At a job.  A job that is not in my house.  Not only do I go to an office, but it's a four hour commute roundtrip and I've come down with bronchitis AND bronchitis-induced asthma.  Man, I am getting old.  So not much chance for proper writing at the moment.  It will change, though.  Breathe easy (easier than me, anyway), it's only a temporary lawyer gig.  Gotta keep those skills sharp.

I'm not letting you down, though.  I've been outlining two books whenever I can.  The first, of course, is The Yawning Void, the final Universe Unbound book.  That outline is dunzo and I have even started the actual writing.  The second is a YA contemporary novel in the vein of Clueless, Some Kind of Wonderful and Legally Blonde.  Yes, I realize those are all movies rather than books but, hey, I'm a visual person.  So rest assured that come January, I will once again be devoted to writing.  I'm already itching to get started, but good things come to those who wait.  Or so I've heard.

Quote of My Week:  'What if the new baby doesn't love me?'  - my son's reaction to the impending birth of my niece.  Not freakin' possible, li'l dude.     

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Free copies of In the Land of the Sapphire Sea and Winterborne

So I'm giving in to the juggernaut that is Amazon for a 3-month trial run for two of my books.  This allows me to offer Kindle users free copies on certain days during that period.  And today, readers, is your lucky day because my middle grade fantasy adventure novel In the Land of the Sapphire Sea is FREE today, tomorrow and Tuesday.  Spread the word, tweet it, whatever you do, so as many readers as possible will be able to download their free copies.   Winterborne's free days will be coming soon.  I'll definitely keep you posted.  You're welcome.  

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Book Nook Canadian style

I'm highlighting my middle grade novel In the Land of the Sapphire Sea over on Darlene' s Book Nook today.  Please check out her blog and if you know any tweens who like fantasy adventure, I won't object if you send them a link to my book!

And fyi, I'm back from my annual siesta in America so will get back to the business of writing and blogging soon. 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

D-47: A Short Story

As an apology for being utter rubbish at blogging, I hereby make an offering of peace.  An original short story just for you.  Others to come.  I hope you enjoy it.


            She is on the phone with him now.  I try to listen through the door, but the only noise I can hear is a muffled, low-pitch grumble.  My father's usual voice.  I imagine how she sounds to him, probably using her official phone voice - the one she normally reserves for business calls.  I know he has the monitor off so he does not have to look at her when they speak.  She won't have to see him either. 
            When I realize my eavesdropping is fruitless, I take a walk outside.  My typical walk consists of a stroll down around Ridley's Curb and back through the McCarter's sprawling yard.  Adelai McCarter doesn't believe in fencing in Nature so I never encounter trouble passing through the wild flowers and brambles.  Adelai McCarter doesn't believe in inhibiting Nature either.   The Chess Man is seated at Ridley's Curb same as always.  He has a small table in front of him with a manual chess board on top.  Despite the proper pieces on the board, I have never witnessed him actually playing chess.  Mostly, he stares at the cars passing by on Ridley Street.  I wonder if he has ever won a game.  He always notices me walking by, but I refuse to acknowledge his stare.  The Chess Man wears the same overalls every single day but with varying plaid flannels underneath, even on the hottest summer day.  Today I ignore the Chess Man as usual and carry on down Ridley Street.  I don't feel like taking the shortcut through McCarter's yard.  I can’t help but wonder why she called.
            My mother left us two months ago.  She blamed her departure on a lot of things but mostly my father's inattentiveness.  He works day and night, but he must.  As a scientist, people depend on him for life-saving treatments.  I call him the mad scientist.  My mother just calls him mad.  Unlike her, I am proud of what he does.  In fact, my father is the one who influenced me to become a doctor.  I have a lot of years before I get there, but because of him I know how I want to spend my life.  Thanks to my mother, I know I don't want a constant partner. 
            They were together for twenty years, a long time in this day and age for people to stay as partners.  My mother told me that her parents were actually married, but that only lasted ten years.  Her parents were one of the last divorce cases in the country.  It even made the InterNews.  My mother would often remark on "poor Uncle Joe."  He's dead now, but back then he was a divorce lawyer and eventually had to find a new line of work.
            I wish I could have heard through the door.  It's been a month since they last spoke as far as I know.  They were very angry.  My father won't even let me mention her in the house.  He turned off all of our holograms of her and even sent our cat to live with her because it was her idea to get a pet.  He says he can't understand how his job has interfered any more now than before.  He has always, since before my birth, been devoted to his lab work.  When the Company assigned him to D-47, it was a big breakthrough for him.  Disease 47 is a very old disease that only infects humans.  He started working on a cure one month prior to meeting my mother.  In fact, they met at a charity event for victims of D-47.  My mother's organization supports a lot of causes and D-47 is still a popular one for charities.  My father told me that it used to have a special name many years ago, before they began the numerical classification system.  I can't imagine naming diseases like you would name a pet or even a person.  It seems so personal.

            I decide to go back to the house and see if my father will discuss any of their conversation.  I want to know if she's ever coming home.  I wonder if she wants me to live with her, maybe just for part of the year.  There are schools with six-month terms in both areas that cater to separated partners and bicoastal partners with children, so there would be no problem there.  I'm not sure if I'd want that, though.  I like being with my father.  I like watching him work in the lab.  He wears the biggest head shield I have ever seen and special lotion on his skin so he can touch everything freely.  I have told him that he should make an antidote out of that lotion.  He always laughs but I still think it’s a sensible suggestion.
            I open the door and see my father sitting at the bottom of the lift.  His head is buried in his hands.
            "Dad," I say tentatively.
            He looks up slowly with no expression.  I have seen him depressed recently but never this devoid of emotion.
            "Your mother is moving back in," he states simply.
            I am stunned.  I wonder why he doesn't appear happier with such news.
            "You don't seem overjoyed," I tell him.
            "Sit down, Jamie."
            I sit right next to him and put my hand on his arm.
            "Are you going to be partners again?" I ask eagerly.
            He shakes his head sadly.
            "I have some bad news.  Your mother…she’s contracted D-47.  She wants me to find her a cure.  The new treatment I've been working on, she wants me to test it on her."
            I stare at him in disbelief.  D-47?  My mother?
            "Is she sure?" I asked.
            "Dr. Byron diagnosed it.  I went to school with him.  We studied the D-40's together."  He pulled at his hair.  "He is a very good doctor."
             "Is she going to die?"  I study his face for a response.  I do not want him to lie.
            "Not if I can help it."
            Without another word, I go to my room to digest this information.  Happy as I am to have my mother returning to the house, I know this will be very painful for my father.  They no longer have a good relationship, but my father is under such pressure.  Testing on humans is illegal, not to mention highly dangerous.  My mother must be very desperate, especially to call my father.  Another thought occurs to me.  What if she contracted the disease from living here?  What if my father and I are next?  After all, it is a disease.  It only discriminates in that it affects humans only.  I think so much that I feel myself falling asleep.  I do not fight it.
            When I awaken, my mother is sitting on the chair beside my bed.  Our cat, Simba, sleeps on her lap.  My mother reaches over and smoothes my matted hair.
            "Hello, precious," she greets me.
            She already looks sickly.  Her eyes are swollen but probably more from crying than disease.  She wears no second skin and I can see her real age etched in the lines of her face more clearly than ever before.  I squeeze her hand gently and sit up.
            "When did you get here?" I ask groggily.
            "Just a bit ago.  The lightening rail actually came on time today."
            "Did you bring a lot of stuff?"
            "Not today, but I'll get the rest soon enough.  I just wanted to get here as quickly as possible."
            She sounds so weak.  I want to hug her and keeping hugging her until all the illness has been drained from her body.  I have never thought of my mother as weak before.
            "I'm sorry, Mom," I tell her and she understands.
            We hug for a long time but not long enough.  When I let go, she still looks sick but at least she is smiling.  Simba meows.
            "I am so happy to see you again, Jamie," she says brightly.  "I've missed you."
            "I've missed you, too.  It gets lonely when Dad is in his lab all day."
            "Your father...yes," she pauses thoughtfully.  "It does get rather lonely.  I hadn't really thought what it might be like for you."
            She leans back in her chair and starts to cry.
            "I've been incredibly selfish, Jamie.  Can you ever forgive me?"
            I tell her that she has never acted selfishly and I don't blame her for a thing.  Loneliness isn't always a bad thing.  I get to think a lot.
            My father knocks hesitantly and opens the door.
            "Marie, I need to see you in the lab when you get settled," he informs her, like she is a patient in his waiting room. 
            My mother nods and turns to me.
            "I was going to make food tonight.  Is there anything special you would like?" she asks me.
            I take in the dark circles under her eyes, the excess skin hanging from her delicate frame.
            "Saturday is usually our food day and I make it," I say.  "What would you like?"
            My father shakes his head at me.
            "You and I will be eating tonight, Jamie.  Your mother will have a special schedule.  That's why I need to see her in the lab - to set up a nutrient and urine schedule."
            My mother follows him out of my room and I head to the first floor to decide what my father would like best for dinner.  He eats a lot of seafood.  He grew up in the Northeast and I think he grew accustomed to catching for himself what he ate.  It made him feel close to Nature, he told me once.  My father never seemed the outdoorsy type to me.  I only ever picture him in a lab suit with beakers and tubes around him.  I suppose that is the only way I ever really see him. 
            I wonder how my mother could ever tell whether or not he was physically attractive.  The lab suit is three sizes too big and the head shield makes his eyeballs appear huge.  He must have looked really nice at that charity event.  Probably wore formal attire.  After surfing through Intermenu for a good Saturday meal, I sneak down to the lab door and listen.
            "Three times a day, John?" my mother is asking him.
            "That's what I said, Marie."
            I can tell my father is trying to remain calm.  My mother gets under his skin like no other.  He has always loved her, though.  He still loves her.  I wish she loved him too. 
            I peer through the crack in the door and see that he is laser-injecting her with a fluid. 
            My mother swears.  I have heard her swear before but not often.  Manners are very important to her.
            "How long did Dr. Byron tell you?" my father mumbles.
            My mother sucks in her breath.  "He wasn't sure.  Anytime.  That's why I had no choice but to call you."
            I can see that this comment hurts my father.  He doesn’t want to be thought of as a last resort to the woman he loves.  She notices his expression and smiles sympathetically.
            "I knew if anyone could save me, John, it would be you.  All your time spent here should result in some good."
            She smiles at him differently now, probably remembering all the times she fought with him over his time spent in the lab.  I wonder if she regrets yelling at him.  He really is her only hope.  He does not seem to be remembering anything except what he should do next.  He sits at the computer and enters data.  My mother turns and sees me in the doorway.
            "Jamie, come in here," she beckons to me.
            I do not particularly want to go in.  I would rather watch from the door.  She waits expectantly so I enter.
            "Jamie," my father says from his desk, "I don't think it's a good idea for you to witness all of this."  He stops typing for a moment.  "Some of it may be painful to watch."
            My mother shoots my father an annoyed look.  I shrug and say okay.  I don't want to sit in there anyway.  I don’t want to be part of it.
            I take a walk outside and notice our lawnmower sitting by the driveway.  My father let me ride it with him when I was younger.  I feel like riding on it now, so I start the engine and go for a spin around the yard.  The only problem is that it cuts the grass as I go, so I leave short patches of already freshly cut grass behind me.  I notice that Adelai McCarter's hybrid is nowhere in sight.  I drive up to his backyard jungle and plow right through.  I keep driving around and around in circles.  He should never let his yard get this overgrown.  There are probably animals living beneath my feet and I cannot see them.  I keep driving until I cut every wildflower and bramble down to the earth.  I have never seen it look so neat and trim.  I park the mower where I found it and walk around Ridley's Curb.  The Chess Man is out in his red flannel.  That is my favorite one of his shirts.  The blue one doesn't match his baseball hat.  He stares at me.  I keep walking, looking straight ahead.  I wonder why the Chess Man is so odd.  Ridley Street is pretty empty now so I return to the house.

            A few weeks pass.  My parents spend nearly every waking second together.  They sleep separately.  They never fight, but neither one of them ever looks happy.  The lab has become their home.  My father accepts no calls.  I notice he has turned the holograms back on after she mentioned their absence one evening.  I don't know why she expected him to keep them on.  She is very bruised with her broken veins and thin skin.  I hardly recognize her.  She answered the door when Adelai McCarter came looking for me last week.  He heard I had been spotted on the black death machine in his yard.  After seeing my mother, however, Adelai dared not speak another unkind word.  I am still surprised she would answer the door like that.  She has always been concerned about her appearance. 
            I enter my father's bedroom late tonight.  I have not spoken with him much since she returned.  He is not sleeping but sitting up in his bed staring.  I sit beside him and scratch his beard.  When I was much younger, he would laugh loudly when I scratched and then stop the moment I took my hand away.  He does not laugh tonight.  Then again, I am not so young anymore.  He looks worried.  I want to scratch his beard as hard as I can so that he will laugh as hard as he can.  Instead, I lie down beside him and fall asleep. 

            She is dead.  Only six weeks after the diagnosis, the disease has triumphed.  My father is, as he has been for more than twenty years, defeated.  I know how much he wanted to save her, to find a cure.  She was already too far along, Dr. Byron told my father.  D-47 was undiagnosed for too long and it ravaged her completely.  She never had a chance.  My father thought she did.  He is sitting beside me in the house.  There are many people here to console us.  My mother's new partner is here.  We didn’t find out about him until after she died.  He is not a welcome presence.  In fact, I detest him for coming.  He doesn’t sense this because he corners me in the kitchen.
            "I'm sorry about your mother, Jamie," he says sincerely.  "I wish I knew her longer."
            "I don't," I reply and head for the door.  I pass my father still sitting in the same chair.  His head is in his hands.  I cannot just walk by him. 
            Softly he mumbles, "I should have been able to save her."
            "You couldn't help it, Dad," I tell him.  "You've been working on this for twenty years and haven't found a cure.  Why would you find one in six weeks?"
            He looks at me hard.
            "What has my life been for?  I haven't saved a damn thing!  She was right and she proved it herself.  My work is useless."
            "That's not true!" I yell.  "Your work is going to save millions of people's lives..."
            "No," he protests, "it will only prolong their lives.  There is no such thing as saving a life.  Everyone must die."
            "You did everything you could, Dad.  She knew that."
            "She didn't love me anymore."
            I hesitate.  What can I say?
            My father shakes his head and I need to escape the house.  I cannot breathe.  I head through McCarter's yard where the wildflowers and brambles have already started to reemerge.  I cut myself on a few thorns.  Although it doesn't hurt, I cry anyway.  As I pass by Ridley Curb, the Chess Man sits in his throne.  He wears my favorite flannel.  I stand for a moment and study him as the tears flow freely down my cheeks.  He stares off into the distance as the chess pieces linger before him.  Hybrids zoom by.  I wave, but the Chess Man doesn't see me.  He reaches down, picks up the pawn, and moves it to another square.


Monday, 7 May 2012

From Hot Dogs to French Politics

My son desperately wanted a hot dog for lunch today so like a good (i.e., doormat) mother, I trotted off to the store in search of hot dogs and other 'necessities.'  In England, you don't have the option of buying all-beef hot dogs which is what I would typically buy in the US.  You also don't seem to have the option of buying grillable hot dogs.  It's boiled all the way, baby.  I chose the tin (that's right, they come in a can) that read 'American-style' hot dogs and then did something I've tried to avoid my entire life.  I read the label.  I didn't intend to read the label, but I was curious to know what they considered 'American-style.'  Turns out in England American-style means 82% chicken.  Yes, chicken.  Not very American after all.  I checked out a few more cans that were not American-style.  I found one with 63% pork and 11% machine-separated chicken (lovin' that phrase).  To top it off, my son hates chicken so I chose a glass jar (phew) with the highest pork content available.  I just wanna know which marketing execs over at the foreign hot dog company are so ill-informed that they think chicken is the main ingredient in our dogs.  Don't they know it's chemical stabilizers??

At the other end of the food spectrum, I made an important discovery this week.  Brace yourself for the most pretentious statement you've read this week -- I much prefer California avocados to South African.  There, I've said it.  Call the snob police because I am busted.

And finally, speaking of hot dogs and snobs, it's au revoir to the vertically-challenged Nicolas Sarkozy.   The French president was  defeated this week by socialist candidate Francois Hollande.   Here's the bit I really enjoy about this story, though.  In 2007, Hollande ran for the presidential nomination and was defeated by his then partner of 30 years and mother of his four children, Segolene Royal who, in turn, lost to Sarkozy.  After that election, the pair broke up allegedly because of his affair with a journalist (whom he is still with today).  Royal supported Hollande during this campaign (probably through gritted teeth).  So let's break this down into things that would never happen in US politics: (1) an unmarried mother of four wins the a major party nomination for president; (2) the lothario male partner runs in the next election and wins...with her support; (3) nobody in France raises an eyebrow.  No John Edwards-style trials, no lynch mobs.  The French don't care about your private (or, in this case, public) affairs as long as you can do your job.  And France, may I point out, is a predominantly Catholic country.  Lessons we can learn, America!    

Quote of My Week:  "It's fantastic!  Mommy, you did a great job." - My 5-year old to me after I rearranged her bedroom.