"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Saturday, October 26, 2013


The first time I heard someone say "NaNoWriMo," I said "gesundheit."  Or pictured a Pokemon character.  Or thought they were having a stroke.  I don’t honestly remember the exact form my confusion took—I just know I had no idea what they were talking about.

So I found out.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.  And that month happens to be November.

Every November, thousands of people of all ages challenge themselves to write a novel (or at least 50,000 words of it) in 30 days.  It’s free to sign up, and if you do, you become inducted into a club of sorts, a community of writers all striving toward the same goal.  There are online forums in which to discuss issues, in-person workshops to attend in cities all over the country, and various tools, apps, and reminders to help you along the way.

Or so I’ve heard.  I wouldn’t know (yet) because I have never done it.  Until now.

The purpose of this blog post is to announce that, come November 1st, I will be diving into the world of NaNoWriMo. 

My writing table
For better or for worse, this November I’ve decided to tackle the young adult novel that’s been swimming around in my head for two years.  Even though I’m going out of town twice during the month.  Even though the longest thing I’ve written this month is a 3,000-word short story.  Even though the task of putting-my-butt-in-a-chair-and-writing THAT MUCH scares me a little.  Or maybe because it does.

I haven’t done much so far.  I’ve signed up, I’ve entered the name of my novel (the working title is No Pause Button) and I’ve posted a synopsis and excerpt, all of which you can read here.  Since then I have received a steady stream of emails which have succeeded in making me feel behind in something that hasn’t even truly started yet. 

[Side note:  It reminds me of when my husband and I were planning our wedding.  He proposed to me, and we promptly set a wedding date for six months away.  Then, a week later, we bought a wedding planner, and inside was a list of things I needed to do six months in advance, and seven months in advance, and eight months in advance, and nine months in advance… I’m pretty sure that’s when I had my first wedding-related panic attack.  The next one was in a movie theater during a showing of New Moon (the second movie in the Twilight Saga), but that’s another story.]

This could be a problem.
Anyway, one of these anxiety-inducing emails said, “Keep your friends and family apprised of your progress,” and encouraged me to “establish an inner circle.”  Well, welcome to the inner circle, people.  By reading this blog post, you have agreed to support me, cheer me, hound me, and (anytime you see me Facebook-ing, rearranging my bookcase, or walking the dog more than twice a day) yell at me to get back to work.  However, in order to ensure that we’re still friends after this is over, you should alternate the yelling with the sending of coffee, chocolate, and pictures of kittens dangling from trees with captions like “Hang in there.” 

So… that’s pretty much it.  I am embarking on a literary journey.  If anyone out there wants to participate with me, please let me know!  We can procrastinate together…er, I mean WORK together.  Work hard.

Wish me luck!

[Note:  This blog post is 592 words long, which means in November I just have to do this 84 times and everything will be fine.  !!!]

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Duped Again: The Next Ten Books of 2013

I love getting lost in a good book.  But sometimes I get a little too lost.  More than once I have read an entire book only to find out after the fact that I was wrong about something big.  I don’t mean like who the killer was or how to pronounce Hermione.  I mean something BIG.  Like whether it was fiction or nonfiction.  And each time it happens I feel so betrayed.

The books I’ve read so far in 2013 have been particularly sneaky.  Jan Reid, the author of Let the People In: The Life and Time of Ann Richards, confused me because I thought he was a woman, so I read most of the book via a female voice in my head.  (Luckily, I figured out my mistake before I met him at my book club meeting, though I do think I would have been able to stop myself from saying, “Dude, I totally thought you were a woman.”)  Pat Barker, author of Regeneration, did the same thing to me.  Pat is a she.  However, I listened to the audio version of the novel, and it was read by a man, so it was not until I finished the book and looked up her other work when I realized my mistake.  Put your photo on your book jackets, people!

Regeneration duped me twice though, because it also falls into the category of books I have read whose characters are based off of real people.  Real people who I (sadly) knew nothing about.  Other books in that category include The Chaperone (about Louise Brooks) and Homer and Langley (about the real Homer and Langley, two men in New York City famous for their crazy eccentricity).  In Regeneration, I knew that Sassoon was a real person (though I knew nothing about him) but did not realize until after the fact that Graves and Rivers and Owen and others were also historical figures.

However, none of these book betrayals can compare to the humiliation I felt after reading Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning back in 2007.  The book is about eleven American tourists who mysteriously disappear in Burma after sailing off on a cruise, and it is told from the first person perspective of the tour leader who dies at the beginning of the book but continues to watch over the eleven tourists in spirit form, and I thought it was true.

Let me back up. 

I did not believe the story was actually written by a ghost.  I didn’t believe that the story itself was true.  After all (spoiler alert here) the tourists never make it back.  So how are we to know their story?  But I believed that the event—the disappearance of these American tourists in Burma—was real.  I believed Amy Tan had taken a nonfiction event and spun a fictional story about what might have happened to them. 

After I finished the book (which I loved) I started Googling, hoping to find out more about the real-life people and what happened to them.  And, strangely enough, every website that popped up linked me right back to this book.  This novel by Amy Tan.

I gotta tell you, it took me a long time to get over that one.

Despite the fact that books continue to deceive me, I continue to read them, and love them, and let myself be deceived.  So with that in mind, here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

What I’ve Been Reading:  Books #31-40 of 2013

(Books are rated using the Goodreads method, out of 5 stars.)


31. You Are Here: A Memoir of Arrival, by Wesley Gibson – * *

This is a strange book.  I didn’t love it, but I couldn’t put it down.  There were beautiful and powerful passages, but overall, much of it seemed directionless.  For my full review on Goodreads, click here

32. The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White - * * *

I don’t know if I’m alone here or not, but I thought this classic book about grammar and writing style was hilarious.  It was helpful at times and extremely unhelpful at others, but it made me grin all the way through.  Whether you agree with the strict rules of Strunk and White or not, you’ve got to admire them for their passion.  To read my full review of this book, click here

Entry from Elements of Style.  

33. And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini -  * *

I have already posted my review of this book.  It was not a favorite.  I thought my opinions about it might soften over time, but so far they have not.  Here’s a link to the full review, but beware—it gives away the ending. 

34. Call and Response: New Poems, by Margie McCreless Roe - * * * 

My review of this book is of a personal nature, and I want to share the whole thing here:

I met Margie McCreless Roe at BookPeople in Austin, Texas, in December of 2008. We were both there to read our poems from the 2009 Texas Poetry Calendar. My poem, an eight-line rhyme called "Harvest Moon", was my first published poem ever, and I was a bundle of nerves and excitement the entire evening. About twenty poets read that night, and though I tried to take it all in and remember everything, that proved impossible. In the end, a few people stood out, and one of them one Ms. Roe.

One of the reasons her poem "South Texas, Fall" caught my attention was because it shared the same page with my little poem, an honor for me. But I am certain that this poet would have remained in my memory even without that coincidence. I loved hearing her read her work aloud, and when she read her poem "God Eats Cafe" about a diner with an unfortunate misspelling on its sign, I knew I wanted to read more of her work. My parents gave me her book, Call and Response for Christmas a couple of weeks later.

You may wonder why it took me four and a half years to read it.

This is what I do with poetry books. I buy them (or receive them as gifts-- there is no better gift than poetry) and flip through them, reading a poem here and there, too excited about the volume as a whole to sit down and be still and read it properly. Then it sits on my bookshelf for a while (sometimes a long while) and I admire its spine and pull it out now and then to read another random poem. And then, one day, out of the blue, I decide it's time. I pick it up, I start on page one, and I read the whole thing through. This can still take quite a bit of time, even for a short collection. Poetry cannot be digested in large bites; it has to be nibbled on.

I have finally nibbled all the way through Call and Response, and it was a pleasure. Ms. Roe's poems combine the simple everyday of life with the infinite. They dip in and out of nature and religion and childhood and old age, like a bird swooping for insects. Not all of these poems were my taste, but I wouldn't expect them all to be. I rarely find a poetry collection that satisfies completely, and I doubt that one exists that could quench every appetite. But there were many in this book that made me pause or smile or blink back a tear. After reading it, I am more honored than ever that my first published poem shared a page with this poet.

I will leave you with my favorite poem from Call and Response by Margie McCreless Roe.

The Box

I have found a box for you.
A big one.
It will hold a good number of things
from the drawer in your room.

In the night after you were born
I dreamed of a small box
where I could put you
to keep you warm and safe.

A brave thing I do today--
handing you a perfect, empty box
and my blessing.

35. Anything But Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin - * * * *

I really enjoyed this young adult book told from the perspective of a boy with autism.  I recommend it for parents and children alike.  Here is my full review

36. Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards, by Jan Reid - *** 

This book (which is written by a man) is about a  very interesting and very influential Texas woman, former Governor Ann Richards.  I rarely read biographies, especially those of a political nature, so this book took me out of my comfort zone, but I learned a lot about Texas politics and the people who shaped the great city of Austin, and ended up really enjoying the lesson.  It was also a pleasure meeting the author, who spoke to my book club about writing this book about a woman who he knew personally. 

37. My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults, by Pat Mora - * * *

 A lovely book of poems.  Pat Mora captures the diversity of her background in her work and succeeds in showing us both the struggles and the beauty that come from belonging to two worlds.  To see my full review of her book, click here

38. The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton - * * * *

One point for Carie!  I figured out the twist to this story early on, allowing me to experience a rare and much-appreciated victory over these books that are always trying to trick me.  To see my review of The Secret Keeper, click here.


39. Regeneration, by Pat Barker - * * * *

The back cover of my copy of Regeneration says, “It is a war saga in which not a shot is fired.”  I think that’s what I enjoyed about this book.  It is a beautifully-written account of the horrors of WWI, but it plants those horrors in the readers’ hearts while still keeping them, for the most part, out of the trenches.  The book mostly takes place in the Craiglockhart War Hospital, where Sassoon (a famous poet and war hero) is sent for being “mentally unsound” after he publicly protests the war.

I also want to point out that this is the first book I have ever read via audio book.  I listened to it for eight hours in the car to and from Dallas, and it passed the time quite well.  It was interesting to note, while discussing the novel at book club, how the inflection given to certain passages can change the mood between characters dramatically.  There were certain parts of the book that seemed defensive and defiant to other readers, but which came off to me (via the voice of Peter Firth in my car speakers) as passive and nonchalant.

40. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott - * * *

I liked Bird by Bird, but even giving it three stars seems blasphemous, because I was told by so many people that I would love it.  While there was a lot of good writing advice within its pages and some inspirational passages, I did not feel as motivated or as eager to get back to the keyboard as I did when I read Stephen King’s On Writing or Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.  To see my full review of Bird By Bird, click here

Counting Down…

Eighty-one days left in 2013 and ten more books to finish to reach my goal.  I think I can do it.  I’ll see you again in December for my final book blog of the year, but I’ll be posting reviews along the way.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I Cleaned My Bathroom with Cheese (And Other Recent Mistakes)


Since the posting of this piece earlier this afternoon, more mistakes have been made. Skip to the bottom for the new developments.

This is one of those “kids, don’t try this at home” types of posts.

I’m fairly clumsy and fairly easily distracted.  It’s not a great combination.  I could write a daily post about the things I’ve bumped into and the things I’ve accidentally thrown in the trash can and the things I’ve mistyped in a text message.  (See below for examples of recent texts to my husband.)  But that would not be news.  Lately, though, my errors in judgment and/or attention have risen to an entirely new level. 

Cheese is the New Vinegar

For instance, yesterday I was cleaning my house.  I usually clean my house on Mondays.  It gives me a concrete purpose for the beginning of my week and provides a mostly-sanitary, temporarily-pet-hair-free(ish) space in which to work.  During a break from cleaning, I sat down at the table to have a snack.  Rather than using a plate, I put my cheese cubes and crackers on a paper towel.  (Once you’ve cleaned your kitchen it is blasphemy to place a dirty dish in the sink without a damn good reason and cheese does not qualify as a damn good reason.  In extreme cases, it is also acceptable to drink straight from the faucet so as to not use a glass.)  When I was finished with my hearty snack, it was time to clean the bathroom.  Now, I know that I threw a paper towel in the trash can and tore a new one off the roll to wipe down the bathroom counter.  What I am unclear about is the order in which I did those things.  All I know for sure is that a couple of minutes later, I was smearing my bathroom counter with a mixture of Clorox and cheddar.   Combining bleach and cheese does not produce any dangerous chemical reactions, but it does create a memorable aroma and leaves a waxy finish on surfaces.  I don’t recommend it.

Café au Lait with 100 Volts on the Side, Please

You know how as kids we’re always told not to cross our eyes or walk barefoot across parking lots or stick our fingers in power outlets?  Well, it turns out that last one is sound advice.  I waited until I was thirty-six years old to prove it though. 

Last week I was at my favorite coffee shop chatting about writing with a friend of mine. (I shall not mention the name of the favorite coffee shop here in case this story deters people from going there.  It shouldn’t.  I fully believe that I am the one to blame for what happened, not anything in the favorite coffee shop.)  I had my laptop plugged into one of their power strips.  When it was time to go, I tried to unplug it, but it wouldn’t come loose.  I kept pulling on it, but was not giving it my entire attention because I was also deeply engaged in conversation with my friend at the time.  Finally, thinking only of dislodging the stuck device and not what exactly the stuck device was, I slid my left index finger between the plug and the power strip to separate them.  And, predictably for anyone paying attention, I got a shock. 

It only lasted a second, but in that second my index finger felt very hot and a pulse of pain ran up my left arm to my elbow.  Then everything in that vicinity tingled and buzzed for a few minutes while my heart pounded from both the electrical jolt and the panic that I might be about to die.  My friend was kind enough not to laugh at me or scold me for my stupidity and we sat a while longer, as I calmed down and we waited to see if I had contracted any new super powers.  (Unfortunately, no.)

I survived the incident.  And now I can say from experience that our parents were right about this one.  Keep your fingers out of outlets.

In Life, We Have to Make Choices

My right shoulder is slightly damaged.  About three years ago, I slipped in the shower and injured it, and ever since, certain movements make it hurt.  My yoga teacher knows about it and helps me modify exercises in class.  One day she asked me if I had ever tried “Golden Milk”.  My response-- Um, no.  That sounds sort of gross.

Well, it’s not gross.  It’s a simple yogi recipe to help treat joint pain.  Water, milk, cardamom, turmeric, almond oil—easy to make and (in my opinion) yummy to drink.  She gave me the recipe and suggested I drink a cup each night before bed to see if it helped my shoulder.

So I did.

For a week straight, I drank my Golden Milk every night, like a good girl.  The following Monday, I made it all the way through my yoga class without any pain in my shoulder.  !  And then, to my surprise, I realized I couldn’t button my jeans.  ?  As if that were not strange enough, the bathroom scale seemed to be in on the joke too, confirming what my jeans were telling me.  In short, I was fat.

How can this be? I sobbed to myself.  What have I done?  I took a mental journey through recent dietary transgressions.  An ice cream here, a piece of chocolate there, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Why, then, had my body betrayed me like this?

I racked my brain for any recent changes in my life and came up with… the Golden Milk.  So I took a closer look at the recipe.  The water, the 1% milk, and the spices couldn’t be to blame, but what about that almond oil?  I took a look at the nutrition info.  A serving size is one tablespoon.  Calories = 130.  Calories from fat = 130.  OH.  The recipe called for two tablespoons.  And (to make matters worse and once again my fault) I had incorrectly copied the recipe onto my notecard as THREE tablespoons. 

Yep.  For seven days straight, I willingly drank 390 calories of fat right before bed.  Awesome. 

I could have reduced the amount of almond oil back to  two tablespoons.  I could have reduced the doses of Golden Milk to every few days, but I didn’t.  I just gave up the whole thing altogether.  In life, we have to make choices, and between skinny and pain-free, I choose skinny.  Maybe that makes me a shallow person, but… my jeans fit me again, so at least I am a happy, jeans-wearing shallow person.  Who cleans her bathroom with cheese.



More mistakes have been made.  Cause seems to be genetics.

I posted this piece to my blog at 2:ooPM.  By 2:15PM, I was being pulled over by a policeman.  It seems that I have been driving around with an expired inspection sticker for two months.  The cop gave me a ticket.  By 2:45PM, I was dutifully pulling into a service shop to get my car inspected.  By 3:00PM, I was learning that my car could not pass inspection because I have my husband's insurance in my glove compartment and he (apparently) has mine in his.  I am very very grateful to Officer S. for not noticing that fact when he looked at my insurance.  Whew!

While I was wasting time waiting for an inspection that wasn't happening, I received an email from my dad, who had read my blog post.  He first expressed his deep concern at my having been shocked.  Then he proceeded to describe to me in detail all the times he has electrocuted himself.  Then he went on to tell me about the time he accidentally mopped the floor of a cafe with parmesan cheese because he mistook the green can for Comet.  I'm not sure if I felt more relief or embarrassment to learn that I am not the first member of my family to try to clean something with cheese.  ?

Looking forward to a better tomorrow.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

We, the Poets

One year ago this weekend, I participated in the Texas Poetry Calendar reading at the Georgetown Poetry Festival, held in the beautiful Georgetown Public Library.  Just before the reading began, I was in the restroom, washing my hands and trying to calm my nerves.  (Reading my poems aloud in public still gives me a tinge of fear and excitement, and I am grateful for that.)  The restroom was crowded, and somehow I got into a conversation at the sink with a woman in her sixties.  I asked if she was going to the poetry reading and she said no, she didn’t know about it, and I told her where it was and what it was for.  She wished me luck and then turned to go.

Almost to the door, she stopped, turned and said, “It really caught me off guard when my mother died…” (pause) “…and I found some poetry that she wrote.”  Then she told me the story.  She never knew her mother wrote poetry; she’d never shared it with anyone.  But after her mother’s death, she found a beautiful poem her mom had written about her life.  She said, “We had it read at her funeral.  But it needed an ending and I tried and tried to think of what it should be.  Then one night at 2 a.m. God gave me the ending and I had to get up right then and write it down so I wouldn’t forget it.”

I heard a lot of beautiful poetry that day, but nothing as beautiful as the story I heard from a stranger in the restroom.

This picture of the Georgetown library
does not do justice to how gorgeous it is inside.

Today, I was back at the Georgetown Public Library for this year’s Texas Poetry Calendar reading, and I found myself thinking about the woman I met last year and her mother.

I don’t know anymore what people think of when they picture poets.  I’m fairly certain that the idea of berets and snapping fingers has started to fade by now, but I can’t be sure.   Now that I have joined ranks with the poet world, I no longer even remember what I used to imagine when I heard that word.  Poet.  All I know is that, whatever it was, I was wrong. 

If any specific and clear-cut image comes to mind when you picture poets, then you can be sure that you’re wrong too, at least a little bit.   Because the only one-word description that aptly fits the poet community is people.  Poets are people.  They are everyone.

When I typed "poet" into Google,
this is the first image that popped up

Today, I listened to over twenty poets read their work.  They were young; they were not-so-young.  They were grandmothers; they were single men.  They wore shorts and t-shirts; they wore dresses and had tattoos.  They read poems about cancer and teen suicide; they read poems about mermaids and cold showers.  They read poems in Spanish and poems about Indian monsoons and poems about cows in tiny Texas towns.  Halfway through the reading, Mike Gullickson, who organizes the Georgetown Poetry Festival with his wife Joyce, stepped up to the microphone and brought the audience’s attention to the tables that had been brought into the room for the luncheon following the reading.  He pointed out how they had been delivered in such silence that no one even noticed their arrival.  He said, “I thanked the guy who brought them for being so careful and quiet, and he said, ‘It was too beautiful to interrupt.’”  Mike’s voice choked with emotion when he spoke.

I don’t know what you think of when you picture poets.  But I’m here to tell you that you might be surprised to find out who we really are.  That woman I met in the restroom last year certainly was.