2009 in review

2009 was one of the best years of my life.

I gave up poetry at the beginning of the decade because let's face it, there's no money in it (but I still write poems. I can't help it!). I turned to fiction and wrote my first novel in 2002. It's a raunchy book about a consensual sexual relationship between a young woman and her step-father. The woman eventually murders her mother so she can be with the step-father. No wonder no one would touch it! Since then I've written another book and a collection of stories, but no luck with publishing outside of lit journals. Until summer of 2009!

I'm a realist, though, and I know this: I lucked out considerably. First, I wrote a zombie novel at a time when zombies suddenly became hot again--especially in literature. When I started the book, there weren't many novels about the living dead, just those darn sexy vampires. My book went for sale right about when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was selling well. That was just serendipity. Nothing to do with me.

My other stroke of luck was snagging Janet Reid as an agent. Not only did she sell the book, but she made it better! Plus she knows what's hot, and zombies were heating up.

This year I also received an Arkansas Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship--which came with a nice chunk of cash. This was for short fiction and was awarded on the basis of my short story, Stuck on a Truck, which is still looking for a home. Hint, hint.

What was so good about all this was I've spent years writing--and nothing came of it but rejection, rejection, and more rejection. I'm not gonna lie: I was getting to the point where I was wondering if I should just give up and watch CSI full time. Or drink all day. Or take up golf. Or have a baby. But I didn't.

Bottom line: I feel extremely lucky and grateful. And if you're in the boat I was in for the last decade, don't despair. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you!
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Last night I was sitting on the couch eating a red velvet cupcake and sipping a delicious booze-soaked eggnog. A cologne commercial came on featuring some guy with insane abs. I mean, this dude needed a new body cuz his old one was ripped. He was so cut hugging him would result in multiple lacerations. He didn't look human.

And then I realized: That's a five-hour-a-day body. That's a body built on working out like a madman. That's a body built on denial. Like Brittany Murphy, skinny to death. Like Kate Moss, who recently said, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."

Forget it. I want my red velvet cupcake!
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Crafty Christmas

There's no reason to spend a lot of money on presents during this recession, especially if you're crafty.

Full disclosure: I'm not particularly crafty, not nearly as crafty as my friend Julee. She's really good. But I never let lack of mastery stop me. For example, I'm no Slash, but I still play guitar in front of people, and I enjoy it immensely.

Here are a few gift ideas for the craft- and wallet-challenged.

My husband is a gar expert and a lot better at the visual arts than I am. This year he made a batch of gar-art or gart. He cut up a bunch of wood he had lying around, bought a few tubes of paint and viola. You don't have to paint fish! Paint whatever you love.

One year we went to a party where everyone had to bring an ornament. We made ours out of an old spark plug that we cleaned up and added tinsel to. The part you hang it with is just a twist-tie. It looks great and was cheap too--and anyone could do it.

This one is for the advanced crafters. My brother-in-law is a painter, a real painter of landscapes. Last year he made everyone in the family these tiny paintings of mossy rocks.

This next one has a naughty word so if you're easily offended, stop reading! A few years ago a dear friend of mine made me this needlepoint. I put it out every year, but sometimes I hide it when someone sensitive comes to call.

And don't forget, there's always jams, cookies and breads. This year I made a batch of homemade rocky road chocolates for my father-in-law. No photo though, because we already ate the ones we didn't send.

Don't let capitalism rule your holiday! Go make something.
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Jersey Shore

I grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey. Even though some call it America's armpit, I liked it, mainly because it was close to Manhattan. The bus I took to high school was an NYC commuter bus and sometimes I didn't get off at school, but went in to the city and got a different sort of education. In fact, my school was so close to Washington Heights that the stoners would make "city runs" during lunch, crossing the George Washington Bridge to score pot and beer.

And New Yorkers hated us. Bridge and tunnel people, they called us. New Jersey was--and I assume still is--the butt of countless jokes. But I never understood why city dwellers felt the need to deride Jersey so much. New Yorkers live in one of the greatest cities in the world, so why bother putting down their neighbors? Why prove or assert superiority? It's like the big bully in school picking on the skinny nerd.

Anyway, when I was growing up, we went to the shore every summer. My grandmother lived in Tom's River so we stayed with her and went to Seaside Heights. Which just happens to be the setting of the new MTV reality show, Jersey Shore.

Full disclaimer: I've only seen about 30 minutes of the show. But that was enough. Fuller disclaimer: As a kid, I loved Seaside Heights. The beach was kinda dirty and cops patrolled the boardwalk, but my brother, sister and I went on the rides while my parents played the games of chance. We always came home with stuffed animals, a new toaster oven and cartons of cigarettes.

Critics say the characters on Jersey Shore are ethnic stereotypes, that they defame Italian Americans, er, guidos, I mean. That's probably true--but that's what all reality tv shows do. Duh! Plus, these people exist. I went to high school with them. Some of them are even my relatives--by marriage. MTV didn't make them up.

Even way back in the eighties when guido was an epithet, the Italian Americans of Hackensack (and especially South Hackensack) were proud of their hair and hair-care products--keeping combs in the back pockets of their Sergio Valentes to maintain their feathered coif. And they were proud of their muscles and muscle T-shirts and smooth olive skin that looked pretty awesome with a tan. They were proud to wear their gold Italian horn necklaces. Looks like they're proud to be on television too.
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Here's the cover for my novel Brains! Due out May 25, 2010. Scream for it by name. You know you want...Brains!!

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Holiday Cheer

I tried to link to this Christmas zombie movie on my last post, but I failed. Sorry about that! Here it is again.
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I'm almost finished with Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex. I've wanted to read it for a few years, and tried about two years ago but gave up. I can't remember why or what I was thinking because it's a great read.

What really gets me is the scope of the novel. Eugenides starts a few generations back, showing how his gal/guy Cal wound up a hermaphrodite (genetically). In fact, he maybe spends too much time on back story! I'm on the last twenty pages of the 500-something page book, and Cal's self-discovery and acceptance seem truncated. Hard to believe but I want more.

I found Eugenides' ambition inspiring and am actively stealing, er borrowing, from the book. Not content! But my WIP is also about a girl/woman with unusual characteristics--and, because of Middlesex, I decided to write the whole ding-dang back story, from birth on. She's born under a toxic cloud in Hackensack, NJ, thus giving rise to her supernatural powers.

Stylistically I don't write at all like Eugenides but his willingness to go big, broad and tangential is liberating. Sometimes I try too hard to be tight, concise and poetic. My mantra is typically less is more.

But why not be like Whitman? Long lines and sentences and biographies and histories spilling everywhere. Dag-blabbit: This first draft is gonna be sloppy-big!
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Brains on sale now!

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