Monday, January 29, 2007

the mind/body problem

I'm getting over a cold. My roommate said to me, as I was standing in our kitchen brewing myself some tea and sniffling, "Aimee, you always seem to get sick after you finish writing." And she's right. Last Monday, I had an intense deadline -- I had to pass over to my editor everything I'd written on my new novel so far, which turned out to be about 13o pages, plus a detailed outline of the rest of the book. I crashed a lot of that over several very draining days in a row (because I work full-time as an editor -- a job I love -- I try to take time off here and there to really focus in on writing), and by Wednesday of that week, I was exhausted and had an earache, and by Thursday afternoon I was under the covers with tissues and the first season DVD of VERONICA MARS (so good, by the way). And I gave myself strict "doctor's" orders: no more writing. At least not until I felt 100% better.

It's funny how writing isn't really physical labor, but it can drain our bodies as much as it saps our minds. I guess all those late nights and unhealthy dinners (Chinese take-out gulped down in front of my laptop), those early mornings spent fighting for a spot at my neighborhood Starbucks and sucking down lattes, the general work-work-work stress that drums through my head when I'm doing anything BUT all adds up. And takes its toll. I wish I could lead a healthier writer's life: go to bed by 11, wake up at dawn, do yoga, maybe go for a run, steam myself some vegetables. Of course, when I envision this life, I also see myself living in some lakeside cabin, not in the cramped Manhattan apartment where I now reside. It's a lovely fantasy, but it also isn't ME. I love getting away to the mountains and the lake for a cleansing vacation, but could I LIVE there? I don't think so. I'm a city girl through and through (and that's what I'm writing about now --city girls who move to the mountains). As much as the energy and noise and dirt of the city exhaust me, the same elements give me energy and inspiration, drive me forward.

I suppose we need to work so hard that we expend ourselves -- so that we can recharge and start again (are people really so much like batteries?). I think my getting sick now was my body's -- or mind's? -- way of telling me: STOP. Take a break. Spend a weekend lolling about, eating hot chicken soup and NOT writing for once. And hopefully now that I've done this, I will be refreshed and revived. Because another deadline is looming. But maybe this time, I'll drink some orange juice with my Chinese takeout, and take vitamins each morning. Maybe I'll even try a little yoga, if I can squeeze it in. It's like that great line from The Princess Bride, delivered by one villain to another : "If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oh Baby, It's Cold Outside!

You know how you know you're not a kid anymore? You hate snow! Kids love snow--they throw it, roll in it, build snowmen with it, even eat it. And most of all they hope it will keep them out of school. Not me. Those first few flakes start falling and all I can think about is how cold and wet I'll feel when I have to walk the dog.

On the other hand, snow is kind of pretty when it falls. And it does make you feel all cozy--when you're inside looking at it through the window. It makes you want to make some hot chocolate and put Joni Mitchell on the stereo. (Must be something about her being from Canada.) Besides, the dog kind of likes it--he prances instead of just walking, as the flakes fall around him. And you know what--I'm even kind of disappointed when it stops before sticking.

I guess there's a part of me that will always be a kid. . .Thank goodness!

Happy New Year all!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Playing Tour Guide

I'm a little late with my blog this month, because I've been playing tour guide to winter visitors, friends and family. This is the first morning in a week that I haven't been running somewhere -- to birdwatch, hike, or just see the attractions. You see, I live in Tucson, Arizona, a city that swells with visitors in the winter and empties quite a bit in the summer. (Why doesn't anyone want to visit us when it's 110 degrees in the shade?) The irony is that this winter we're in an El Nino, and it's actually been warmer back east than here. Okay, the recent cold front, which started here, has now swept east, but it's still rainy and cold in Tucson. Atypical for the desert.

Actually I love playing tour guide, and it allows me to revisit many of the places that attracted us to this area. Like the old mining town of Bisbee and the beautiful mission at San Javier del Bac. I never forget that Tucson is one of the premier destinations for avid birdwatchers, which describes my brother and his fiance. I'm no good at telling whether that feathered streak was a wigeon or a pigeon, but I do know where the birds hang out. The one bird everyone wants to see is one of the most elusive -- the roadrunner. Oh, they're big enough to see at 26-30 inches, but they're dashing through the cactus, not conveniently sitting in a tree. When you spot a stealthy roadrunner, you're amazed at how they move exactly like those velociraptors in Jurassic Park. They're meat-eating predators with a strong beak and deadly claws, and you can easily believe the current theory that birds are descended from dinosaurs.

This year I do feel sorry for the visitors who have been looking forward to sunning by the pool in their hotel instead of trekking to Tombstone. That just means more sightseeing for me. At least we saw a coyote yesterday -- the roadrunner has to be nearby.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Very Important People

You know THOSE people. The ones who think that they are more important than YOU, simply because they are...well, THEM? I met a few of 'em at Disney World last weekend. They were right behind me in the line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. If you've ever stood in lines at Disney, you know how they work—they're usually long, and wind through various rooms so you can't see how far it is to the front. However, the lines generally move quickly, because the Disney cast members (they're not employees, they're cast members) load the rides with precision. They've got everyone for the next ride lined up before the empty one comes back so there's no downtime. The ride designers usually put amusing stuff on the walls so you have something to look at while you're waiting, and—for the rides with the longest lines—there's often a sign at the entrance to the ride letting you know how long you might expect to wait. If the line's a long enough one, you get to know the people in line with you and chat about what other rides and parks they've visited. So it's not such a bad experience to wait.

But these girls in line for Pirates? Let's say I was simply stunned by their brilliance as they waited to sit in a boat and see Johnny Depp automatons. I'll delete their names to protect their VIP identities:

Girl A, to the others: Just shove up along the side. These people are walking too slow.

Girl B, pointing with the straw to her smoothie: No, no, I'll trip on that kid up there. Go the other way.

Girl A: Huh?

Girl D: What kid? Gawd, they're everywhere.

Girl C: If people would just push the line would go faster. I swear! Look at that space up there!

Girl C then proceeds to sidestep a kid who's very patiently waiting in line next to his parents. Girls A, B, and D follow.

I step sideways to body block them. Subtly. I realize they're more important than anyone who might be standing in line in front of them and that this may send me to Disney Hell, but the parent of the kid in front of me looks at the floor and grins.

Girl A rolls her eyes. Girls B, C, and D let out loud, exasperated sighs.

BTW, must share another great line from line-hopping VIPs this weekend: "Omigod. Did you SEE what she said?"

I swear, VIPs like this were simply put on Earth for my personal entertainment.

Have you ever had a close encounter with a VIP? What did you do? Do you find VIPs entertaining? Annoying? Or are YOU a VIP? (C'mon. 'fess up.)

Me, I'm sure I've NEVER been guilty of such behavior

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back to the basics...

...As in, back to school for the winter residency at Vermont College.
My parents and friends are predictably confused by the structure of this program. It's low-residency, which means that for two weeks out of the semester I'm on-campus, participating in nonstop workshops, lectures, readings, and more.

This is my first residency, and therefore my first step back into academia (save for a few writing classes here and there). I have to admit, when the residency paperwork came in the mail, I had a moment of overwhelming doubt. Bibliographies? Required reading? Critical essays? All I wanted to do was to learn to write!

I arrived at the Montpelier campus on Monday the 8th and was instantly thrown into the mix. Think: name tags, ice breaking games, and assigned seating. By Tuesday morning I was having my first nervous breakdown.

Fortunately, it was followed quickly by my first workshop, where my professors were insightful, encouraging, and very constructive. Their comments on my work were extremely helpful. And soon I got to the point where I knew people's names all on my own, without even looking at their name tags (which is probably for the best, since I lost mine by the middle of the week).

Yes, it feels as though it's been forever since I had cable tv in my bedroom (it's been eight days). But it also feels like yesterday that I arrived, vaguely prepared and mostly exhausted, to a program that I'm pretty sure is going to turn out to be one of the best decisions I've made in a long while.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Romantic Comedy EVENT!!!

We're still a month away from the big day, but I wanted to make sure this is on all New York area readers' calendars:

The first-ever (I think?) Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy multi-author signing event!

When: 6:30-8 pm on February 12, 2007 (a pre-Valentines Day treat)
Where: Barnes & Noble Park Slope, 267 7th Ave., Brooklyn!
Who: Me (Erin Downing), Niki Burnham, Aimee Friedman, Nancy Krulik, Micol Ostow, and Suzanne Weyn!

More info to come - and, of course, we will remind you about the event in a few weeks. Hope to see many readers there!


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Dressing the part

I've never met my editor, Michelle, but I’ve heard she has great shoes. Lots of the Simon Pulse Ro-Com authors are based in New York City, and I picture them all doing lunch with Michelle every Friday, wearing designer pantsuits and great shoes. Micol brings her dog in a purse.

It’s probably just as well that I live in Alabama and can’t do lunch in NYC, because I don’t have great shoes. Or if I did, I wouldn’t know it. They would have been an accidental purchase at DSW.

Actually I thought myself quite the fashion plate in high school in the 80s. A typical outfit would be an oversized Generra shirt from the boy’s department, oversized Esprit pants tucked into one pair of socks that matched the color in the shirt and a second pair of socks that matched the color in the pants, white Converse high-top tennis shoes decorated in Crayola marker, one very large dangly earring that matched the color in the shirt, and another large dangly earring from a different pair that matched nothing at all. If it was below 50 degrees (typically for one week in January), I might wear my denim trenchcoat.

In my 20s in grad school, I didn’t have the money to keep up with fashion, but I thought I knew what was going on because I taught college English to 18-year-olds, which kept me withit. Any time I wanted to get back in the fashion game, I was back in like that. *snap* Then came one fateful day when, armed with my 27th birthday money from Granddaddy, I wandered into The Buckle at the mall. The Buckle is a juniors store that happened to be run that day by a gorgeous and sophisticated 15-year-old named Beige. Much to my chagrin and certainly to Beige’s, I found that I had lost it. I did NOT know what was going on fashion-wise. I had no idea what shirts went with what pants anymore, and forget the shoes. Since then, I have included a character named Beige in several of my novels. Actually I wanted my pen name to be Beige Racy but my agent wouldn’t let me.

Nowadays I have the money to keep up with fashion, but it’s a lost cause. I watch What Not to Wear and look for those “pieces” when I “build a wardrobe,” but it’s difficult when you’re five-foot-two. For some reason, the petites department is geared toward the elderly. Tall people get INC and Juicy. Short people get Sag Harbor and Koret. In addition, whenever I do go shopping, I now have a five-year-old boy pulling on me. Occasionally he detaches himself in order to entertain the other shoppers with a Taylor Hicks-like dance in the aisles, punctuated with a move or two he picked up from That’s So Raven. This is distracting. So my wardrobe is made up mostly of things that grabbed my attention as I whisked by. Things that have birds embroidered on them, or things that are shiny or sparkly. I have the fashion sense of a crow.

How about you? Are you a fashionista or a fashion disaster, & how has this changed for you over the years?

And, Simon Pulse Ro-Com authors: Are you really going to lunch without me? *sob*

Friday, January 05, 2007

New Year's Resolution for 2007

Everybody does it, disparages doing it, or complains about others doing it. The New Year's Resolution avalanche--we all know most of them will be history by February 1 (which is one reason I avoid going to the gym the first couple of weeks in January).

I'm going to do it anyway. Make a resolution, I mean, a resolution that will last all year long. It's a simple resolution, and I've kept it so far. I'm resolving to make a to-do list every night before bed, and do at least three things on the list.

It's not a lot, I'll admit. But it fits in with my desire to focus in on making my hopes and dreams (for my books, my personal health, my family, my house, my karma) come true.

I truly believe you can do anything you can dream, in some form. But I don't believe you can do it if you can't break it down into small bits. For example, I made my dream of being a published writer come true by writing a novel, getting a critique group, sending out my work, and finding an agent.

If you're raising an eyebrow and thinking, "Yeah, tell me something I don't know." Right. I have found it is one thing for me to know a fact, and another for me to allow that fact to color my behavior. For example, I know the little things matter (little things like writing on a regular schedule...and vacuuming on a daily basis...and saying thank you). But I often overlook them while stressing about the big things.

My resolution is meant to keep me focused on the little things more often. I know I won't succeed every moment. But if I can do 90 percent focus, I'll be happy.

What's your resolution?


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

some other books o'mine

I know this blog is primarily in celebration of Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies -- and it is in fact a line of books to celebrate! -- but I thought I'd talk a little bit about my other books besides A Novel Idea. After all, my other novels are such a big part of who I am (though I will say that A Novel Idea is in many ways the book that feels most "mine," and Norah is probably my character who is most like me so far), and such an integral part of my life that to ignore them feels odd. I often compare being the author of several books to being a mom (not that I would know from first-hand experience, but...). You love all your children, of course, but some give you more grief than others, and you'd never give any of them up.

My first novel was South Beach. This book came about quite by accident, through my job as a book editor. My boss wanted to publish a teen novel set in South Beach, I had just returned from a lovely little trip there with my sister (to whom the book is dedicated!)...the stars were all aligned.Writing that book -- which tells the adventures of two former best friends on one scandalous spring break -- was probably one of the best experiences of my life. It was so freeing, so fun, and so refreshing to write juicy, delicious fiction full of bikinis and boys . I realized that's what the experience of writing SHOULD be: fun. Playful. You should be excited about your work, not come to dread it (believe me, though, after the glory days of South Beach, I'd soon discover how dreaded a task writing could be).

South Beach has two sequels: French Kiss and Hollywood Hills, which take place in, respectively, Paris and Los Angeles. The best part about writing these books was getting to TRAVEL. I always look for excuses to go away somewhere, and even though each trip was only a few days, who can complain about spending time in grand, gorgeous Paris (in drizzly, romantic March), or sun-splashed, glitzy LA (in early springtime April).

My latest book that is out now is very different from my South Beach trilogy, and A Novel Idea. It's a graphic novel called Breaking Up: A Fashion High Graphic Novel, and it's illustrated by Christine Norrie, who's an amazing artist. Writing a graphic novel was an experience unlike any other -- it's basically a script, consisting of dialogue, and directions to the artist. Now that graphic novels and manga are growing so much in popularity, I recommend writing graphic novels to all my author friends. Hmm...perhaps a line of Romantic Comedy Graphic Novels? I can see it! Why not? :)

I'd love to hear back from readers who've read my other books, who've read A Novel Idea, are curious about my books, or any combination thereof. In the meantime, Happy New Year...and happy reading!