Saturday, December 18, 2010

Congrats to the Winner of the CSN Stores Gift Certificate

Random.org selected comment 52, which was from Shellie & Brutus. Congrats!

CSN also gave me a gift certificate that I used toward the purchase of this Wildon Home sheet set. I have a tall mattress, and a stupid propensity for picking fitted sheets that shrink, so lately, the fitted sheet and I have been having a knock-down battle every time I change the linens. Three corners I can manage, but that damn fourth corner turns me into a red-faced, panting, sweating person who hollers, "Come on! Get on there! You jerk!" and hopes nobody ever walks in and sees me in this condition.

So you can see that I was due for some new sheets. Anyway, I've never owned 600 thread count sheets as far as I'm aware-- I mostly pick up whatever's on sale-- and I wanted to see if I could feel the difference. I couldn't. I would fail the Princess and the Pea test, too. But that's okay. They were totally comfortable, but I didn't really get the "ohhh, so this is what it feels like to be on really good sheets" kind of epiphany I hoped for.

These sheets look nice (white, but not too white), feel nice, have a true deep pocket, and are affordable. Thumbs up.


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Monday, December 13, 2010

On Searching for Validation

The thing about writing is that there's no multiple-choice exam you can take to find out if you're doing it right. You know if you're good at math because either you get into the honors classes or you don't... you pass the finals or you fail. With writing, the closest barometer you get in school is to see what kind of grade you get in English class-- or if you're lucky enough to be in a school where "creative writing" is offered (mine didn't offer that), you can check out your grade in that. But it's not objective the way math or science are. Your grade is largely dependent on a single teacher's taste.

A competent teacher can tell you if your grammar stinks, if your writing is full of holes or redundancies, or if you're making common errors-- but there are many areas that teachers can't reliably grade. Your writing style, primarily. Like what I did just there. "Your writing style, primarily" is a fragment, and an English teacher might have red-pencilled it and tried to beat it out of me if I kept writing in fragments. She might have succeeded. Then I would have learned to write in a standard style to please that teacher, but it would have removed some of the flavor from my writing. Sure, fragments aren't technically correct, but that doesn't mean you can't use them in your writing. Plenty of "incorrect" things can be used effectively in your (non-academic) writing.

Some people get so giddy over that fact that they wind up overusing these devices, which is why we have a current crisis of over-perioded sentences, such as:

Best. Day. Ever.

and

I. Am. Not. Going.

We're just rebelling against our English teachers, see. Someone did it first, and we saw it and thought, "That's so rebellious! Cool! I'm going to try it, too!" And then we all did it, and then it got old, but people kept doing it anyway, and here we are today.

*Tangent: I have just discovered Pandora Radio. Heart!*

Anyway, so we all leave school having only the vaguest notion of whether or not we can actually write, and then we write a short story or an article or novel or some other thing and we try to get it published.

We mostly get a resounding lack of response. We sit by the computer and play stupid games on Facebook to distract us from the fact that 624 editors have managed to utterly ignore that our brilliant masterpiece is sitting right there in their inboxes at this very minute. Putzes.

Then we get some rejections, and we realize maybe we aren't the Best Undiscovered Writers on the Planet, but by golly, someone is going to recognize our wonderful just-shy-of-perfect masterpiece. Right?

And maybe there's a small success along the way to keep us going-- a website that wants to publish something we wrote, or a literary magazine, or whatever. See? we say. We are brilliant after all. By two weeks later, though, we are dirt again. No one notices our success. It was probably a stupid website anyway, one that no one reads.

Maybe we have been deluded about this talent. Maybe we really and truly stink, and those form letter rejections that say patronizing things like "Doesn't fit out list at this time, but this is no reflection on your writing talent" are really written just so the sender doesn't have to feel responsible if you toss yourself off your roof because that was the last straw. Which, maybe, does mean that your writing stinks that much that the editor is afraid you're going to off yourself when you realize it.

Here is where there's a divide. You may then go all anti-establishment and decide you're going to self-publish and prove to those big NY houses what a great thing they missed-- at which point, you'll run off with your trumpet and toot away until you realize that, no, you're not going to be the exception, and the 75 people who buy your book will all be people who are related to you or who work with you. (Cue: despair.)

Or you keep at it and keep at it and eventually find a publisher, get giddy with excitement (see? GENIUS!), sign a bunch of contracts you vaguely understand, while being completely convinced that this publisher thinks you are very special and your book is very special and it's going to be on the New York Times Bestseller List, of course.

Then, 3 months before your book comes out, you realize you don't even know your publicist's name, and shouldn't you know your publicist's name? So you find out, and you e-mail her, and she says enthusiastic things like, "Hello!" and "I'm so eager to work with you!" You love her! Within the next six months, you will hate her. You will think she is probably spending all day painting her nails and talking to her boyfriend on the phone when she's supposed to be out there pitching your special, special book! Does she not like having a job? Surely someone will soon fire her for incompetence, no?

Your book is released and you and your family run all over town to take pictures of it on real live bookstore shelves. Only it's not on a lot of them. You tell the bookstore manager that you wrote this here book and you'd be happy to do a signing here and autograph as many copies as he likes, and he hands you a Sharpie and tells you to sign just two, in case he needs to return the rest. Ouch.

Where is your book tour? Where is your Oprah appearance? The personal driver? The private jet?

Feh. No matter. You will move on, because you are a survivor, and if this book helps just one person...

Oh, who are you kidding? If only one person likes your book, you're going to be devastated. You want thousands of people to like your book. But the professional reviews are... well, where are they, anyway? You lucked out and got one. Didn't that lazy publicist send out your galleys to the others?

She did? Oh. Well, she probably forgot the cover sheet, then.

And you wait for your Amazon reviews, which do come in, but much slower than you expected, and even though they're pretty good, they don't seem to do a whole lot for your sales numbers, which are less than what you had hoped.

And so you're right back to where you started, wondering if you're any good at this writing thing after all. Because if it's a great book, shouldn't people be reading it? Shouldn't they be telling others about it? Shouldn't it naturally rise to the bestseller lists based on merit?

Kinda. And kinda not. There really and truly are great books that don't even get published, let alone make it to bestseller lists. Which is not to say that it's total anarchy out there and the odds are random. No, publishing is still skewed toward those who actually do write good books, thank heavens, but it's not perfect. Some writers get lucky and their books, for whatever reason, wind up attracting lots of media attention. Others remain just as talented but largely invisible.

So it is that you never really know if you're any good. Even the bestselling writers don't know for sure. Many of the top sellers are regularly insulted by writers in the trenches-- partly out of jealousy, of course, but also partly because sometimes popular writing isn't the pinnacle of beautiful writing.

And maybe you hang in there long enough that one day, it no longer matters if you know for sure where your talent lies on the overall scale. Maybe you keep improving and learning and wind up with a loyal following, and you get book deals that make you happy, and you get to spend your career doing something you love and not eating Ramen noodles exclusively. Maybe you learn that you love what you write, and that's enough, too.

All of the things that seem very important for validation when you're at the start of your career will continue to matter to you down the line, too-- but they won't seem so life-or-death anymore. Reviews and appearances and awards and all those things are still meaningful to me because they influence my career options, but that's what they are now: they're part of a much bigger picture. My "forest for the trees" is that I want to have a writing career for the rest of my life, and my ego is fairly irrelevant to achieving that. Do the best work you can. Do work you care about. Find good people to work with. There will be disappointments along the way, but there will also be joys. Cultivate the latter and forget the former. Validate yourself. And not in a dirty way, either. (Perv.)


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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An Open Letter to the Twitter Agents (And Writers)

I have pissed off the Twitter agents. It all started when one was lamenting the fact that writers sometimes accept offers of representation without checking in with the other agents they've submitted to first, and I responded with my view on why writers might do that. Ugliness ensued. And because I can't adequately respond in 140 characters or less, I figured I'd respond in an open letter here. (I was in the middle of a completely different post for writers, but that'll have to wait a bit. It'll be awesome, I promise.)

This is the actual exchange:

literaticat: For the third time this week, somebody has accepted representation from another agent without giving me the chance to respond. Grr.

If you don't want me to even have the chance to be your agent WHY ARE YOU WASTING MY TIME & FILLING MY INBOX IN THE FIRST PLACE?

I'm not MAD, just, why not give yourself options? Get an offer, tell the other agents - chances are one of them might be interested too.

Me (GhostwriterJG): Hope this isn't rude considering circumstances, but if my #1 pick said yes, I wouldn't feel the need to wait for other answers.

Plus, it feels mean to tell an agent who's loving you and offering rep, "Great! Let me see what your competitors say first."

Without rehashing all the responses, there was a resounding POUNCE! sound, and comments such as that writers like me have no basic business sense, are being dumb, that I've rebuked a smart agent's advice, and "when I see an experienced agent trying to educate people and being slapped down for it online, it pisses me off."

To give this context, I'm primarily a ghostwriter, working in adult nonfiction. I've just signed my 20th book publishing contract. You can see many of my books over there in the sidebar. ---> I don't work with one agent exclusively at this point. I used to, when I was mostly writing my own books, but now, several agents refer their clients to me when they're looking for ghostwriters. (And several editors call on me directly.) There's plenty more in my background about the massive amount of time over the years I've spent helping to educate writers. You can find that out if you care to do basic research.

But back to the current issue. I do sometimes take on clients who don't yet have agents, and I help them with that process, so I've been through the agent search many times for many people. This is approximately how it works:

Client and I are working on a book proposal in the self-help genre. I prepare a list of all the agents I can think of who might be a good fit. To do this, I search (a) the acknowledgments sections of self-help books that are similar, or that I know sold very well; (b) www.PublishersMarketplace.com, where I do searches by genre to see who's sold what; and (c) www.AgentQuery.com, where I can also do genre searches.

As I go along, I narrow my list. My priorities look like this:

1. Track record in the genre: Has this agent made many sales in this genre? Does PublishersMarketplace list them as "nice" sales (low advances), or does the agent have any big deals?

2. Overall track record: Has the agent been in business for long? If not, does the agent have other significant experience-- such as editing for a major publisher?

3. Client recommendations: Does the agent's clients rave about him or her?

4. Personal instincts: Sometimes, you can just feel that an agent would be a good fit for the book based on things like the agent's writing style, personal hobbies or causes, or other factors.

At this point, I probably have a list of less than 10 agents who I feel would be a good match for the book. Among those, one or two are probably my "dream agents" for this project-- agents who've made multiple big deals in my genre, and whose clients love them.

So I send out the proposal. Now that I'm an experienced writer, I may only send it to one or two at a time because I have personal relationships with agents and try to give the ones I love first-look opportunities. Even when I don't know the agents, though, I know that I have the clout to get an answer quickly and that my proposals almost always sell. But when I was newer, I would have sent my query to all of those under-ten agents at once, because it doesn't make sense to wait and wait for individual answers to queries, further slowing down the already slow pace of the publishing industry.

Let's say that I query nine agents, and four ask to see the proposal. Mentioning that it's a simultaneous submission, I send to all four and try not to chew my nails off waiting for responses. I work on something else in the meantime.

A week later, I get a call. It's my dream agent, bubbling over with enthusiasm about my project. "I love it and I can sell it," he tells me. We have a great chat and I feel confident that he has the contacts and experience to back up his words.

This ends my search. I write to the other three agents and say, "Thank you so much for your interest in my work. I'm writing to let you know that I've accepted another offer of representation."

This, to me, is the most decent and sensible approach. If I already know that my top pick said yes, I don't want to waste anyone's time by having them read my proposal while I know I'm not going to accept their offer if they say yes anyway. And I want to give that top pick the respect he or she deserves by being definitive about my answer.

"But what if another agent were more enthusiastic about your work? You'd never know!" Enthusiasm-- while terrific-- is not the main factor for me. Agents with no credits at all can be very enthusiastic, but their enthusiasm will not sell the proposal. So it's track record first, enthusiasm second. (I want both, of course.)

If there is no clear frontrunner among my four interested agents (or if I wasn't utterly positive that my first-responder really "got" my book or my goals), then I'd say to that agent, "Thank you so much! I have a few other agents reading it at the moment. Can you give me a week to respond?" Then I'd write to those other agents and tell them, "I've been offered representation, but I'd like to hear back from you before I accept it. Do you think you could read my proposal and get back to me by Friday?"

Then I'd hear out any offers, go back to my list of priorities, and try to determine which one I think might be the best match for me or my client.

This is the process that has worked for me, and I have long-standing relationships with many terrific agents and editors, so I don't plan on changing it. I also know that agents and editors are not the only people who know anything about publishing. Indeed, there are plenty of smart writers out there whose advice should be considered as well. I don't accept that I should not dare to question or offer another viewpoint because I am not an agent.

Searching for an agent is a different process from searching for a publisher, which I think is obvious enough that I'm not going to bother defending myself against the "how would you like it if your agent accepted the first publishing offer that came along" comparison.

It bothers me that it seems even agents can get caught up in "groupthink." And that the nastiness I received to my response (which was not in any way "rebuking" or disrespecting anyone) has distracted me from my real work today. So I'm going to get back to it now.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Great Holiday Gifts for Preschoolers

'Tis that time again, and I have to admit, I'm really excited to see the look on Sarina's face when she opens up her gifts this year. This is the first time she was able to make a "list" for Santa, so I know I've done right with most of the things I've bought her. For those of you who are looking for ideas for a preschooler, I thought I'd share with you some of the best toys and games we already own or I've already tested out:

1. Mobigo

Sarina has owned the Mobigo since last summer, and it's been a steadfast companion whenever we have downtime. It's a terrific little handheld gaming/learning system for young kids (they suggest 3-8, and I agree). Simple to use, with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, and the game it comes with is very good quality. My daughter has just one other game so far, and it's kept her entertained for months. Every time she finishes a game, she rushes over with excitement to show me her new score.


2. FurReal Friends Lulu



The same size and softness as a real cat, this one's the next best thing. It purrs, it rolls over to have its belly pet, it meows, it blinks... it can sense when you walk by or wave your hand in front of it (it meows for your attention). In short, it's a great option if you have a child who loves cats, but can't have one due to allergies or other reasons. Or in my case, a child who wants another cat, but Momma really doesn't. About the only negative is that you can hear a mechanical noise as it moves around, which does take away a bit of the mystique.


3. Pillow Pets



This was the first item on my daughter's Christmas list this year, and I knew it was going to be one of the "hot" toys, so I bought it way early in case it sold out. Well, it hasn't sold out by any means, so you can still grab one if you like. It's a stuffed animal that doubles as a pillow when you "un-Velcro" the bottom. My only issue was that the unicorn my daughter wanted has inconsistent quality-- many of them have fur "growing over" their eyes, to the point where you can barely see any eyes at all. But I took my chances with the scissors, and found that a good haircut was all that was needed. These Pillow Pets are a good size (unlike some smaller knock-offs), soft, and very kid-approved.


4. Step2 Deluxe Canyon Road Train Table



One of my best purchases-- I bought this before Sarina was even 2 years old, and it's still going strong. What's so great about this train table is that it's all built in-- there are no little parts to lose. It's molded plastic, so you don't have to worry about it falling apart. It's very durable, and good for playdates for both boys and girls. You can use Thomas or other trains in it, as well.



5. Baby Alive 1st For Me



Although it's marketed for babies, this "first doll" is also perfectly appropriate to preschool girls who are going through a mothering phase. Right now, my daughter is all about taking care of babies, and this one is a wonderful pick. It makes appropriate cooing and giggling noises, and there's a fabric bottle attached to her hand that you can use to "feed" her-- there's also a sensor, so the baby makes sucking noises during feedings.


6. Monster Feet


The price varies on these on Amazon. I bought mine for under $10. Pretty self-explanatory: they're plastic "monster feet" steppers with rope handles to hang on to. Like mini-stilts. They're recommended for kids age 5-8, but I think a coordinated 3 or 4 year old would do fine with them, too. I'm presenting them to Sarina as dinosaur feet, so she can clomp around the house while singing Laurie Berkner's "We Are the Dinosaurs."


7. Shake 'n' Go Buzz Lightyear

The simplest racecar I've ever seen. All you do is shake it up, then put it on the ground, and it goes. The longer you shake it, the further it drives (up to 20 feet). Great for little ones who haven't mastered the motor skills needed for fancier remote controlled cars. It also makes engine sounds and says a few of Buzz's favorite phrases.

Happy shopping!



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Friday, November 26, 2010

Win a $40 Gift Certificate to CSN Stores

Happy Thanksgiving, readers! I'm thankful for you. And for stuffing. Mmmm, stuffing.

Just in time for the holidays, CSN Stores has done it again-- they're offering one of my super readers a gift certificate that you can use in any of their stores. And those stores are mighty diverse. You can get just about anything there, from a stool to a bed.

To win, all you have to do is leave a comment here telling me something that's made you happy this week.

For extra entries, you can do any of these things (leave me a separate comment for each thing you do):

1. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GhostwriterJG

2. Follow my blog on Google Friend Connect. (Look over there in the right sidebar for the follow button ---> )

3. Tweet about this contest. Use whatever wording you want, but here's one example: Win a $40 GC to CSN Stores from @GhostwriterJG at http://jennaglatzer.blogspot.com/.

4. Review any of my books on Amazon, Goodreads , BN.com, or your own blog for 5 extra entries. (Leave 5 separate comments to tell me you've done so.) (You can find a list of my books over there on the right or on http://www.jennaglatzer.com/ to see if you've read any of them.)

Contest closes on December 13 at 11:59 ET and I'll announce a winner on December 14. Make sure I have a way to contact you if you win-- either have your e-mail address visible in your profile or leave your e-mail address here.

Good luck!


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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Spirit of Les Miserables

My mom called last week to tell me that there would be a one-night-only showing at my local movie theatre of the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables at the O2 Theatre, and she asked if I wanted to go. Of course I did; I lost count of how many times I saw Les Mis on Broadway, but it was approximately 8, sheerly because I could not afford to go every weekend. All but the last were spectacular. (The last one was an off-Broadway revival, and it was pathetic.)

The first time I saw it was around 1987, which made me either 11 or 12. Colm Wilkinson was starring. The dynamics of the show are a big part of its magic-- from the booming, rousing group songs to the pin-drop moments between phrases of "Bring Him Home." I am convinced that anyone who isn't moved by that song is clinically deceased.

Tonight's showing was sold out, and my parents, brother, and I had to sit separately from one another (though close enough for me to lean forward and tap two of them, at least).

Nick Jonas played Marius, the young male lead. Turns out that about 1/4 of the audience were girls who squealed every time he made a pained expression and complained bitterly when he kissed Cosette. And that was fine. It was even sort of endearing. But it was the rest of the audience who created the atmosphere that made me want to envelop all of them and take them home with me and beg them to create a commune with me, and...

Sorry, I'll back up. It's that all of us-- ALL OF US-- were singing every word, politely, quietly, because we couldn't help ourselves. We breathed together. I got chills right to the top of my scalp. At the end of every song, we applauded, though there were no actors there to receive our applause. It didn't matter-- we had to applaud anyway, or our heads would pop off from trying to bottle it up.

The man next to my mom was mentally challenged, and couldn't quiet his excitement. He sang every word, spoke the actors' names aloud, and sobbed so hard that he choked and sputtered at every emotional moment. When it came time to introduce the writers, the lyricist, the producer, he shouted enthusiastically, "Look! He's here, too!" He knew every one of their names, and the names of each of the members of several different productions.

There were teenagers there who had done Les Mis in their high school productions. There were parents and grandparents and couples and singles.

I sat there in this theatre feeling very at home for the first time in a long time. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE. After all these years of being away from performing, there is still nowhere on earth I can remember feeling as near to God as in a theatre. There are moments when everything else falls away except for that perfect note, that silhouetted spotlight, the echo of the orchestra. Moments when I forget to breathe.

The end of the concert came, and the cast bowed. Then they showed the two London casts. Then came a sign on the screen that said, "Original 1985 Cast." Out came the performers-- a dozen? Two dozen? I was too excited to pay close attention. I giggled with joy and tapped my dad. "Oh my God! They're all there!" It was like seeing old friends, all in one place again.

We both leaned forward in our seats, just loving this moment, getting to see the original cast up there on stage with their younger counterparts, smiling and waving. There was wild applause until it petered out. A moment of silence. And then it happened.

The opening notes sounded out on the piano.

It's happening. He's going to... it can't be true. It is. He is!

It was that moment when you know that a wonderful thing is about to happen-- it's really going to happen, and you can't even stop it if you wanted to, but why would you want to? He stood in front of the microphone.

God... on... high...

Colm Wilkinson, 25 years later, in the role he created. There were gasps. There were sobs. A good portion of them were mine. I didn't even bother trying to stop the tears as this man rang out in perfect falsetto one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Others joined him, but I tried to block them out (sorry, others). For me, it was an awakening of a part of me I'd forgotten even existed. A spiritual part.

...in my need, you have always been there...




"If I had known that was going to happen," my dad said, "I would have flown to London."

Thank you, everyone involved with Les Miserables through all these years, and thank you, audience, for an extraordinary night.


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Monday, November 15, 2010

Dropping Out of the "Mompetition"

For the past 20 minutes or so, I've been inwardly huffing and puffing about a post I read where a non-parent denounced child harnesses (usually cute backpacks with "leashes"), calling them cruel. She insisted that parents who use them are lazy and that the kids will grow up to be rebellious, drunken teens who can't wait to get away from their parents.

First, I don't use a harness on Sarina. But I do know something about the absolute terror of having your little child outrun you at an amusement park, resurfacing at the top of a ride she didn't belong on. I would never judge someone for using a harness. Others who do just can't get past the "leash" imagery, but you know what? It's less restrictive than holding a child's hand firmly or placing a child in a stroller or baby carrier. Where are all the insulting outcries about how children are being oppressed because they're in strollers? A harness gives the child some range of movement, some autonomy. It shouldn't be used as an excuse for inattentiveness or lazy parenting, but it also shouldn't be discouraged because some adults will tsk tsk and snoot all over the parents who use them.

Which brings me, of course, to the "Mommy Wars" and the "Mompetition." That's when moms negatively judge other moms' decisions and preferences, playing a game of one-upmanship about whose methods are the "right" ones. It's ugly, and it starts before a child is even born-- did you get a flu shot while pregnant? Then you're either probably injecting your child with poison with unknown long-term effects or being irresponsible for putting your child at risk of brain damage when you get the flu. Are you eating peanut butter? Then you're either doing a great job to lower your child's risk of getting a peanut allergy, or you're so damn selfish that you won't even avoid peanut butter for 9 months to lower your child's risk of a peanut allergy. (That's right. The experts have flip-flopped.) Are you getting an epidural? A c-section? A homebirth? Well, do you even KNOW how much you're abusing your unborn child by getting him stoned/doing an unneccesary procedure/not being in reach of emergency medical personnel?


(Funny video about the Mompetition)

It's not even limited to moms-- women who don't have kids will often start their judgmental nonsense with, "I'm not a mom, but I've been a [babysitter, aunt, teacher, nanny]." Sorry, not the same. Not the same.

Once the baby is out, it's like a fountain of new things for moms to get all mompetitive about. Circumcision and breastfeeding are just the most obvious ones. Then there's cosleeping, babywearing, canned vs. homemade baby food, pacifiers vs. thumb-sucking, developmental milestones, vaccines, whether or not to ban all television, whether it okay to go back to work and when it's okay, and so on.

You have the OMG! You gave your child a french fry? moms, and the Kids today need more discipline! moms. The ones who say, "Boys will be boys" and the ones who say, "If your child pulls my child's hair, I will sue you."

This is totally different from the legitimate reasons to be judgmental. If you smoke around your kids, I am going to judge the hell out of you, because you are full of suck. If you leave your kid in front of the television for hours so you can gossip on the phone with your cousin, I will judge you. If you leave your baby to "cry it out," I will judge you, because it is proven to harm children, period, full stop. If you hit your kids or verbally abuse your kids, I will hope you land in the hottest corner of hell. Oh, and I'll judge you. Oh yes, I will judge you.

But all those hoity-toities who like to give sharp glances because they see a child having a tantrum, or a mother who gives in and buys the candy at the checkout line, those people can bite me. Other moms' decisions don't have to match up with ours, and we do not know how we would act were we in someone else's life. I don't know what it's like to have five kids. Maybe you don't know what it's like to be a single mom. There are things about each of our lives that affect our decisions. As long as we're all offering a lot of love and attention to our kids, and not purposely putting our kids in harm's way, then there's no reason to get into the mompetition. It's stressful enough being responsible for a child without all the added bitchery by fellow moms who should be our friends and confidantes.

So I'm dropping out of the mompetition. Don't try to drag me back in, either. I'm going to make the best decisions I can for my child, and I'll expect you to do the same, and we can send each other nothing but the best wishes. Okay?


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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Amazon Boycott: The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure

I love Amazon... or at least, I did, until today.

Today, Amazon took a stand! For pedophilia!

Uh... huh?

No, seriously. Amazon is selling this in their Kindle store: The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure. (UPDATE: as of Nov. 11, the page is down. I've captured screenshots of what the listing looked like, and you can view them as a .pdf file here.)



This is the author's description:


"This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter [sic] sentences should they ever be caught."


Now, anyone can publish anything on Amazon's self-publishing platform, mind you. I don't blame Amazon for not catching it immediately. What I DO blame them for is their deplorable response to the situation once they were made aware of it... over and over and over.

Amazon has received complaints about this book for at least the past few days. I found out about it this morning, as did thousands of others, who flooded their customer service phone lines, e-mail support, reviews, and alerted the media.

I called Amazon twice and got nowhere-- the first (outsourced in India) support person who answered told me he couldn't do anything because their systems were down and I should call back later. I told him I didn't need anything in their "systems." I just wanted to voice my concern that they were stocking this book. He acted confused and told me there was nothing he could do while their systems were down. So I called back later and the second support person "accidentally" disconnected me when I mentioned the Pedophile's Guide and asked if they were planning to remove it.

I've since e-mailed and used the "feedback" form, to no avail. Others have gotten this response:

As a retailer, our goal is to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any item they might be seeking. That selection includes some items which many people may find objectionable. Therefore, the items offered on our website represent a wide spectrum of opinions on a variety of topics.

Let me assure you that Amazon.com does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts; we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.

Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable. Therefore, we'll continue to make controversial works available in the United States and everywhere else, except where they're
prohibited by law. We also allow readers, authors, and publishers to express their views freely about these titles and other products we offer on our website.

However, Amazon.com doesn't endorse opinions expressed by individual authors, musical artists, or filmmakers.



Several problems with this statement.

1. "As a retailer, our goal is to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any item they might be seeking."

And that includes books on pedophilia. Thank you so much, Amazon, for this noble goal of yours to make it easier for pedophiles to find the how-to guide they might be seeking.

2. "Let me assure you that Amazon.com does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts."

In fact, Amazon, you do. You are supporting a criminal act against children-- and even promoting it-- by advertising and selling this book. No one is forcing you to carry this book. You are doing it. You are encouraging people to buy this guide and learn how to be a better pedophile.

3. Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable.

That's not in any way censorship. Amazon is a private company and can choose what to stock and what not to stock.

4. We also allow readers, authors, and publishers to express their views freely about these titles and other products we offer on our website.

Liars. Dozens of people complained that their reviews were removed when they posted negative reviews this morning. When I first looked, there were only about 12 reviews-- despite others saying there were more than 100 earlier. Now there are more than 500, so it appears Amazon has either lost its grip on deleting all the reviews as they come in, or are rethinking this strategy. But, if you're going to call "censorship," THAT is much closer to the definition. Removing negative responses to a book while claiming to allow open reviews is censoring.

Free speech doesn't apply here, either. It was this creep's right to write and publish the book, but that doesn't mean that anyone has to sell it. Choosing to do so implies that either (1) you actively support pedophilia and would like to encourage others to try it, or (b) you don't give a shit and just want to make money. Or both.

Jeff Bezos, I thought better of you.

When writers self-publish on the Kindle, they also have to agree to the Terms of Service that says, among other things, that their book is not pornographic. So let's get this straight: pornographic material featuring consenting adults is not okay, but manuals about how to rape or molest children and get away with it are A-OK!

I have never boycotted anything, ever. Today begins my Amazon boycott. That hurts me... I shop at Amazon every week, I have a Prime membership, and I get terrific bargains for my family. But I can't support a company that is actively helping teach people how to molest my daughter... and defending their right to do so.

If you agree, here are some ways to make yourself heard:


  • Use the blue "Feedback" box on the bottom of the book's page to report it.

  • Amazon customer service: 1-800-201-7575 (or 1-206-266-2992 from outside the U.S.)

  • Kindle support: 1-866-321-8851 (or 1-206-266-0927 from outside the U.S.)

  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: jeff@amazon.com

  • "Community help" e-mail: community-help@amazon.com

  • Call and write to your local media: newspapers, magazines, television news programs, and radio.

  • Boycott Amazon until they remove this book.

My own book links (on the right sidebar and elsewhere) point to Amazon. I'm not removing those links yet because it would be very tedious to take them all down and put them back up if Amazon does the right thing-- which I very much hope they will do, quickly. But I will ask that if you do buy my books, please buy them from BN.com or elsewhere in the meantime.

I am a rape survivor. I was 10, and I was asleep in my own home, and so were my parents. If you think pedophiles can't strike you or your kids, think again. This isn't just something that happens to "other people." It happens to us.



UPDATE: 11:55 p.m. Nov. 10

My friend Foinah Jameson called customer service and wrote, "They assured me that this item would definitely be removed within the next few hours. The rep I spoke with said that there had been hundreds of tickets logged regarding this matter in the last hour -- he had personally done ten himself. He was horrified by this book. Take a moment to call customer service. It's worth it."

I was very glad, and called customer service again. Their response to me was the opposite: that Amazon would NOT stop selling the book, but that they would put up details in 24-48 hours stating that they don't endorse or promote its content. They don't believe in censorship. And they hoped I would be happy.

The service rep got an earful from me. She remained perky and unconcerned as I explained that selling an item IS endorsing it and promoting it, and that I am amazed that Amazon would take such a stance against its own customers-- alienating most of the human race for what? To stand up for a pedophile's "right" to teach others how to rape children?

She said, "If you honestly feel that way, then I'm sorry, but we don't believe in censorship."

If I honestly feel that way? No, I'm just kidding about it, lady. I'm just acting all mad, but I really think pedophilia sounds fun. Let's all try it!

This is not about censorship. It is not censorship to choose not to sell an item. If it were, then every other store on the planet could be accused of censorship, as none of them attempt to sell "everything." Corporate buyers make decisions about what to stock and what not to stock. Amazon can choose not to stock this, without having anything to do with the Constitution, the right to free speech, or censorship! It's just a simple business decision.

That decision should have been made much easier by the fact that Amazon's customers are speaking loud and clear about how much this is angering us. You just don't piss off the majority of your customers and expect to keep going with business as usual.

Until now, Amazon has had a clear lead in online sales of not only books, but just about everything. Were I a shareholder, I'd be very nervous right now. I really think today will have long-standing consequences.

Even if they pull the book now, I know my opinion of Amazon has changed permanently.

They've censored my reviews before (and yes, I do mean "censored"), but this is the book they're going to bat for. This is the one they're standing behind, willing to lose thousands of loyal customers, willing to spit in the faces of every one of us who's ever been affected by a pedophile.

CBS and CNN have run stories on this now, and the book's link temporarily went down during those broadcasts. The link and book are back now. And I'm more disgusted by Amazon every second.



UPDATE 12:36 a.m. Nov. 11

Here's a link to Amazon's own self-publishing guidelines:
http://forums.digitaltextplatform.com/dtpforums/entry.jspa?externalID=122&categoryID=27
(Thanks, Celina Summers!)

Here's an excerpt:

If Amazon Digital Services, Inc. determines that the content of a Title is prohibited, we may summarily remove or alter it without returning any fees. Amazon Digital Services, Inc. reserves the right to make judgments about whether or not content is appropriate.Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with some examples of prohibited content:


Pornography
Pornography and hard-core material that depicts graphic sexual acts.

Offensive Material
What we deem offensive is probably about what you would expect. Amazon Digital Services, Inc. reserves the right to determine the appropriateness of Titles sold on our site.

Illegal Items
Titles sold through the Digital Text Platform Program must adhere to all applicable laws. Some Titles that may not be sold include any Titles which may lead to the production of an illegal item or illegal activity.


That's right-- according to its own guidelines, the Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure should be removed immediately. Instead, it's currently the 65th best-selling Kindle title. Way to go, Amazon.


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Thursday, November 04, 2010

I invented a thing (with egg salad)

It started when my new coauthor, Paula Bloom, posted a video where this guy shows us how to peel hard-boiled eggs just by blowing on them:



By the way, he's lying about the baking soda being "key." Totally don't need it. It's just easier to peel (or, er, blow) eggs that are not very fresh, so choose eggs that have been sitting around in your fridge for a few days.

Anyway, I had to find an excuse to try this, so I decided to make egg salad. Egg salad and I have a bit of a checkered past. See, I loved it when I was a wee one. My dad proudly told me a story over and over and over (still does) about how he got the "secret recipe" from a deli owner one day. He used to frequent a Brooklyn deli and loved their egg salad, and kept bugging the owner about the recipe. He knew there was a secret ingredient, but the owner refused to tell him what it was, because then he knew my dad could make it at home and stop coming to the deli.

Well, finally, my dad was about to move to Long Island, and he went to the deli one last time and begged the owner to tell him the secret now, considering he couldn't drive to the deli for lunch anymore anyway. The guy whispered to him, "Pickle juice."

I loved this story in the first grade. Pickle juice in my egg salad! What a great secret ingredient! (About a tablespoon per sandwich, if you're curious.) And for some reason, I thought it would improve my social status if I revealed this secret ingredient to my classmates. However, at least one got it in her head that this was disgusting, and told everyone else in the class that it I was a freak, and it was the very first thing I can ever remember being teased about. Every time I opened my lunch box, that girl or her friends would make scrunched up faces and ask me if I had any gross foods with pickle juice today.

I think that ruined my taste for egg salad for years. But now I'm all evolved and stuff, so screw them!

With my eggs all boiled, I tried the blowing technique. It was a success. (Don't worry-- I'm not feeding these eggs to anyone but myself.) Then I turned to the fridge and... no pickles. Rats! What good is egg salad without pickle juice? No good, I tell you. I had to improvise.

So I decided to try the lime juice. And you know what? It's good. It's no pickle juice, mind you, but in a pinch, if you ever find yourself with a batch of egg salad and no jar of pickles, squirt a whole bunch of lime juice over it. Just don't tell your first grade classmates. You're welcome.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Where Commercialism Rears Its Head

"Funny you should ask that, Bob. As it says in my book, in chapter 4..."

That's where I roll my eyes and change the radio station or TV channel. I hate... freakin' hate... being "pitched to" in ways that are thinly veiled as something other than pitches. Free webinars that are really just teasers to try to get you to buy big packages of audio books and DVDs, free e-books that promise to tell you all the REAL secrets in the book that you have to pay for... etc.

I think I've struggled with the concept of self-promotion-- and commercialism in general-- since college, when I was an advertising major. Actually, I started as a fine art major, but by sophomore year, realized I wasn't good enough, so I switched into advertising. By the end of junior year, however, I realized I didn't want to spend my life convincing people to buy things they didn't need and couldn't afford.

It's just that it was too late for me to switch majors again without adding another year to my tuition bill, so I graduated, knowing full well I wouldn't use the degree for its intended purpose. (I did take writing classes in school, though, and college was worth it for altogether different purposes, so I'm not complaining.)

As a writer, I struggle with it on an ongoing basis. I'm just not a J.A. Konrath, though he fascinates me. And it's partly about the kinds of books I write, I think. It's not easy to get all "Tweet this!" and "Buy my book and I'll throw in a free report!" when the subject matter is, say, the murder of a 15-year-old boy (My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story).

It's even harder for Nick's mom to navigate, though. She and I have different sensibilities about promotion. She has no qualms about going up to people and asking them to buy her book, but this has also given the murderer's friends/family fuel for their vitriol. Under pseudonyms, they use it to attack her character, saying that she's making money off her son's murder.

Well, if you want to go that route, actually, I'm the one making money off her son's murder.

Susan paid her entire advance and then some to me to write the book with her. Don't think that makes me happy, either. It makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Usually, when I ghostwrite books, there's enough advance money for my client and me to split in a way that makes us both happy. Every now and then, there isn't, and then the client has to make a decision about whether to keep me, whether to go with a less experienced (cheaper) writer, or any one of several other options (self-publish, try for another offer, etc.).

Anyway, Susan kept me, mostly because money had nothing to do with why she wants this book to sell. She did this book because she needed to find a purpose to go on living. Her only child was killed over the stupidest damn thing-- a drug debt owed by his half-brother-- and Susan was in and out of mental hospitals for years, trying to kill herself every few months. Mostly pills, which would mean she'd get her stomach pumped and have pointy objects taken away for a few days, then she'd get released again and try to figure out if anything had changed... nope. Her son was still dead and she still wanted to join him.

His murder was made into a movie (Alpha Dog, which was fictionalized somewhat, but true to the main facts), and the person who pulled the trigger was sentenced to the death penalty. The person who ordered the murder, however (Jesse James Hollywood-- yes, his real name), went on the run and evaded capture for years. He impregnanted a woman in Brazil after learning that Brazil wouldn't extradite someone who fathered a child there. Luckily, when police finally did track him down, they didn't have to worry about extradition. He was there illegally, so he was simply deported, then arrested when he landed in California.

It took nearly 10 years from the time of the murder until the time when Hollywood was sentenced. He was just sentenced earlier this year-- life in prison without the possibility of parole.

When the media asked for her comments, Susan said she was writing a book.

The majority of people were very supportive. A few were nasty. One accused her of trying to get her 15 minutes of fame (because, sure, everyone wants their son to be brutally murdered so they can be famous, right?). Another basically said she was tacky and should leave the selling to the publisher.

When Susan started her work on this book, it was more like a journal, and I think it was mostly for her own therapy. Over time, it became something more. There were lessons here, insights she wanted to pass on. Part of her motive was still to share her memories about her son, so it wouldn't feel so much like he was just "gone," and part of it was to show people-- in a brutally honest way-- where things went wrong. How the family got to the point where things were so out of control, and what the aftermath was like.

It's very hard to sell earnestness, though. I wish it didn't feel so in conflict-- wanting to tell everyone, "BUY THIS BOOK! IT MATTERS! IT'LL STICK WITH YOU FOREVER!" yet knowing there's an undercurrent of "And I have a financial stake in it!"

I have to believe that we'll strike the right balance, and that most people will understand that we both worked on this book for the right reasons. Making money is a fine goal; it just wasn't the main goal for this book. I wanted to do it because it felt like an honor; Susan wanted to do it because it might just mean her son's death wasn't for nothing. Together, we wrote a damn fine book, and I'm trying to step out of my happy little shadow to make sure the world knows it.


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P.S. New review at True Crime Book Reviews-- "She is so open, so brutally honest, so personable – I spent three-fourths of this book in tears..." Thank you, Kim Cantrell.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Win a $50 Gift Certificate to CSN Stores

**CONTEST CLOSED**

Congrats to the winner, Debbie C, comment #166!

Thanks, too, to CSN Stores, for allowing me to review one of their products. I chose the Patch Products Building Words Tabletop Pocket Chart ($15.25). It's a very cool tool for kids who are starting to learn how to read and spell. It includes pictures of simple things: a cat, a bug, a pot-- all three-letter words-- along with the cardboard letters needed to spell all those words. Kids place the cardboard letters into vinyl "sleeves" to spell out the words, and when not in use, all the letters and pictures get stored in a big pocket in back of the chart. Love it!

-----------
Hey, guess what? I have another $50 gift certificate to CSN Stores to share with you, my glorious and splendid blog readers.

CSN is a great online network of sites where you can find anything you need for your home, from nightstands to rugs.

If you'd like a chance to win, I have a bunch of ways you can do so. Leave a separate comment for each thing you do.

WAYS TO WIN

1. Leave a comment here, telling me one thing that makes you smile.

2. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GhostwriterJG

3. Follow my blog on Google Friend Connect. (Look over there in the right sidebar for the follow button ---> )

4. Tweet about this contest. Use whatever wording you want, but here's one example:
Win a $50 GC to CSN Stores from @GhostwriterJG at http://jennaglatzer.blogspot.com/.

5. Review any of my books on Amazon, Goodreads , BN.com, or your own blog for 5 extra entries. (Leave 5 separate comments to tell me you've done so.) (You can find a list of my books over there on the right or on http://www.jennaglatzer.com/ to see if you've read any of them.)

Contest closes on November 1 at 11:59 ET and I'll announce a winner on November 2. Make sure I have a way to contact you if you win-- either have your e-mail address visible in your profile or leave your e-mail address here.

Good luck!

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bullycides and the It Gets Better Project

Last week, Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington bridge. He announced that he was about to do it on his Facebook page, then he drove there, left his wallet on the bridge, and jumped.

The reason he did this was that his roommate, Dharun Ravi, secretly videotaped him "making out" with another male and announced it on Twitter... then encouraged everyone on Twitter to watch live streaming video two days later when he secretly turned on the webcam again to watch Tyler. Dharun did this from student Molly Wei's room.

First, let me show you photos of these shmucks:



What an adorable pair, no? Molly with her cross hanging from her neck...

The maximum sentence for the top count of the current charges is a 5-year prison sentence for invasion of privacy for each of them.

What I wish is that Tyler had the kind of social support he needed following this kind of cruelty. That's the intent of the It Gets Better project: http://www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject

Two gay men started this channel on YouTube as a direct result of hearing about other recent cases of teens committing suicide because of bullying about their sexuality. On this channel, gay people submit videos of themselves talking about how they had it tough as teens, but that their lives got better and that it would not always be this tough for kids going through bullying and taunting about their sexuality.

I hate that we are in a world where this still happens. Bullying is a topic so close to my heart, and I worked on Joel Haber's important book Bullyproof Your Child for Life because I wanted to contribute something to the anti-bullying efforts. I hesitate to link that here because I don't want anyone to make the leap that I'm trying to sell books on the back of a tragedy like this, but dammit, we need to do something. We need to have parents read books like this, go to seminars to learn about what's really going on with the "new brand" of bullying (through social media sites, webcams, text messages, etc.)... in my mind, it's even worse than "classic" bullying because it makes it so much easier to form an anonymous mob-- some kids who wouldn't think of being cruel to someone's face, but have no problem joining in the online laughter at someone's expense.

It's that mob feeling that makes bullying unbearable-- when you feel like a whole crowd of your peers think you're a joke.

I experienced taunting as a kid, for being nerdy. Kids called me "Jenny Gladnerd." Those kids are mostly now my Facebook friends, congratulating me on all my successes as a writer. I'm a proud nerd now. (See? It's even up top on the description of my blog.) But it was hard then. I can't imagine how hard it was for Tyler, or the huge numbers of kids who go through much worse bullying than I did. All I can do is hurt for them and their families, and try to be part of the solution.

The following links will take you to stories of other kids and young adults who've committed suicide as a result of bullying (also known as "bullycide"). Let's honor them and talk to our kids about this, to make sure they never participate in this kind of cruelty, and to make sure they know that if it happens to them, it WILL GET BETTER.

Denise Baillie, 14

Asher Brown, 13

Kristina Calco, 15

Billy Lucas, 15

Ryan Patrick Halligan, 13

Jared Benjamin High, 13

Karl Peart, 16

Phoebe Prince, 15

Oliver Sabine, 17

Seth Walsh, 13

Corinne Wilson, 13

Sian Yates, 13


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Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: Elmo's Healthy Heroes




The nice people at Sesame Street Live gave me tickets to see Elmo's Healthy Heroes with 3-year-old Sarina... ironically, I got sick just before the show. Sarina-- the little person who got me sick, mind you-- was feeling better, though, so my parents took her to see it at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY.

Nassau Coliseum is always a great place to see a show. There is so much elevation between rows that you never have to worry about seeing over people's heads-- there's always a good view. And in the case of the children's shows here, they don't take up the whole Coliseum. Maybe a third of the place. The only complaint I heard about the venue is that it was absolutely freezing.

Anyway, I sniffled and stuffled at home while those three were off having the times of their lives, apparently, because as my dear daughter came home bearing a giant Elmo balloon and two light-up whozamajigs that spin, she was bursting with energy and excitement about the show. And my parents were pretty darn jazzed about it, too.

As the show opens, Super Grover comes crashing down out of the sky (he's okay) and can't seem to fly again. The show then becomes about how Super Grover has lost his superness, and the other characters have to figure out how to get him to be super again. They figure out that Grover hasn't been eating right, sleeping right, taking care of his hygiene, or exercising, so they teach him how to turn his health around.

The show is high-energy and full of music-- including some well-known Sesame Street classics like "Somebody Come and Play" and "Doin' the Pigeon," and clever new lyrics set to familiar songs, like James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "I Hope I Get It" from A Chorus Line.

My daughter couldn't wait to show me the "Fabulous Five Cheer" that she learned-- and practiced numerous times in front of the mirror. And the next morning, she told me that she was hungry and ready for breakfast... and that she had to "eat her colors," as she learned from Elmo.

So it worked on all levels, educational and entertainment. All of your favorite characters are in this show (Big Bird, Grover, Elmo, Abby, Cookie Monster, Oscar, Telly, Zoe, Bert and Ernie, Rosita, Prairie Dawn, Grundgetta, Honker, and The Count), and they make a big entrance and interact with the audience. The sound quality was very good, and the costumes, sets, and special effects were lots of fun.

The show runs 90 minutes with an intermission. Even though I didn't get to see it personally, I will trust the delight of my family and tell you that this one's a hit. Check to see if it's coming to a venue near you at http://sesamestreetlive.com/.


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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Happiness Is...

when you emerge from the kitchen, where you've just made lunch-- Bubba Burgers, by the way, are quite delicious-- to tell your 3-year-old daughter to come on in, and the first thing you notice is that a drawer is open, and that this open drawer contains just the backing of your Cica-Care, a stupidly expensive sheet of self-adhesive silicone gel that's proven to improve the appearance of scars, and you almost didn't buy it because of the stupidly expensive cost, but in the end, your mother talked you into it because you did have major surgery, after all, and if it would cost $50 to not have a smiley face on your abdomen the rest of your life, you should do it, so you did, but now you see this backing in the open drawer and you know that it is in the hands of your darling daughter, Sarina, who may be doing any one of a number of dastardly things with it right now, and you have a monster cold, which is making you a little off your game right now and not as good at chasing her as usual, but you spot her, right there in the entranceway, moments before she is about to stick the Cica-Care on the cat.


Ahhh.





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Monday, September 13, 2010

Our Trip to Sesame Place

I've never been to Sesame Place before, and now that Sarina is 3, I had been hoping to take her there... luckily, I won four passes from MyWorkButterfly and one from Sesame Place's Twitter account, so I got to bring the whole family!

We arrived the day before our "big day" and stayed at the Radisson Hotel Philadelphia Northeast. There are a couple of hotels right in Langhorne where Sesame Place is, but they're pricier. From the reviews, it seemed like this Radisson would be a good pick-- a very reasonable price and an easy commute.

The reviews were right: the drive was nothing, and the hotel was terrific. We stayed in a 2-room suite that was spectacular. One of the rooms was your basic size hotel room with two double beds, though a step up in terms of decor, cleanliness, and comfort (we got to try Sleep Number beds for the first time... they were interesting, though not as amazing as I'd hoped), but the other room made us feel like we were VIPs. It was huge, with a lovely living room area, in addition to a separate kitchen area and entrance, and a king-size bed. We got a discounted rate, but even without that, it's well worth the full price to get the suite if you can do it. Here are some pictures:





I'd guess that about half the people staying there were Sesame Place people. There were lots of families roaming the hotel with little kids clutching Elmo dolls, wearing Cookie Monster t-shirts, and waving Abby Cadabby wands. We met up with a couple of these families in the hotel's restaurant (good food), and they looked like they'd just seen a war.

"I have never seen anything that crowded in my entire life, and I never want to again," said one dad.

My heart sank. It was a Thursday, for crying out loud. It was that crowded on a Thursday? That didn't bode well for us, who were going on Friday at the end of the summer. I figured Friday had to be an even busier day.

"There weren't many people with the line passes," the mom told us. "If we had it to do over, I'd get those."

She was talking about the "Abby's Unlimited Magic Queue" bracelets you can buy for an extra $30 per person. Not a cheap add-on, but it means you get to cut the line at most of the attractions and even at some of the shows. We took her advice and got passes for four out of six of us, figuring not all of us needed to accompany Sarina on every ride, so we didn't all need passes.

We had been warned to get there very early, because it gets more crowded as the day goes on, but all the worry was for naught-- it was crowded, but "normal" crowded, not crazy-crowded. The line passes were nice, but on the day we went, not a necessity. The waits for the rides were not exhorbitant. On reflection, I think it had been so busy that Thursday because the few days before it had been rainy-- probably all the people who had planned to go on Monday through Wednesday had all piled up on Thursday.



About half the attractions are water-based rides-- such as a wave pool, a family tube ride, and a water slide-- and the other half are dry rides such as a carousel, flying Elmos, and a "mountain" to climb. In our one full day at Sesame Place, we didn't get to all the rides, but I'd guess we went on more than half of them. It was plenty. There are rides appropriate for the littlest ones all the way through adults (I screamed like Drew Barrymore in E.T. all the way down the family tube ride... which led to a wise-ass attendant kicking water at me every time our tube slowed down, and at least two hours of ribbing from my sister, who noted that my 3-year-old daughter was laughing while I was screaming).

But the big event of the day was our character lunch. That's the thing I'd suggest you really don't miss.

Seeing characters at the park throughout the day is very hit-and-miss, and when you do spot them, there's usually a long line to meet them (except Elmo, who has his own picture-taking spot that you can visit). We spotted The Count, Telly, and Abby roaming the park, but didn't stop to talk to them. If you're looking for a little one-on-one hugging time, you have to do a meal with the characters. Totally worth it.



Whoever plays these characters, they're great people. They really take their time at each table and do little things to make the kids feel special. Bert came over to us twice and just sat with us and invited Sarina to sit on his lap (not even complaining when I told him she was wet from the wave pool). Ernie signed "I love you" to my brother. Cookie Monster pretended to eat the cookies we offered him. They make sure that each "roaming" character makes it over to every table, in addition to doing a little dance in the middle of the cafeteria. Big Bird doesn't come around, but he sits in one spot and the kids can line up to visit with him. Elmo also stays in one spot, and a professional photographer snaps pictures with him that you can buy for a few extra bucks if you want to.

The food is passable. Nothing great, but of course, that's not the point. I was too excited to eat much, anyway. I was busy with pictures and video the whole time.







We also went to see a showing of Elmo's World Live, where somehow, Sarina managed to get into the show despite that no one had actually called her to the stage. (The two people in charge of picking volunteers looked at each other and signaled what appeared to me to be something like, "Did you call her up here?" "No. Did you?" "No." "Oh, well. She doesn't look like too much trouble. Give her a costume.") It was a fun little show where about 8 kid volunteers pretended to be fish at various parts. If you like Elmo's World on TV, this will feel a bit surreal, like you've just walked into your television set.

I had just one bad experience at Sesame Place, and it had to do with the attendants not enforcing the rules. At the pool, there's a sign that specifies that no regular diapers are allowed-- kids who wear diapers must be in swim diapers. But there was a boy, maybe 18 months old, wandering around in the pool in a saggy regular diaper. I couldn't figure out who his parents were-- he was totally unsupervised in the water-- so I went and told one of the attendants. He looked appropriately concerned, walked as if he were about to go over to the little boy, then changed his mind and went to talk to the other attendant. Together, they did... nothing.

A few minutes later, the little boy went out of the pool, then right back into it. As we walked along the edge, we spotted the probable reason: a poop, sitting right out at the edge of the pool. This time, I went to the other attendant and told him that there was a giant pile of poop right at the edge of the pool and a little boy in a regular diaper still in the pool. As I walked away, the attendant called to the baby. "Hey, buddy," he said.

Uh, yeah, right. Hey, buddy? An 18-month old is going to understand that and come right over? Of course, he didn't. I watched from he side for another couple of minutes and saw that once again, the attendant did nothing, and Diaper Boy kept frolicking freely. But at least someone came over with a broom and swept the poop away.

I was sufficiently grossed out and we left the pool, but what bugged me more was that that same water is recirculated throughout the park. There are always health dangers that come along with water rides, but this was too much. Those two young attendants should have had the power and inclination to enforce the rules.

After that... interesting... experience, we went to the parade. Get there early and put down a towel if you want to stake out a good spot. We had a good view and the crowd was very nice-- parents and kids weren't jockeying for position and pushing each other out of the way like I expected. It's a good show, with floats and music and dancing, and characters giving out high-fives and handshakes along the way. The parade runs twice a day.



No matter what your kids are into-- bouncing, climbing, watching shows, spinning, or tubing, you'll find plenty of fun here. We're already looking forward to going back next year.


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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Five Lessons Every Kid Should Learn

1. How to stand up to a bully. Even though Sarina's just 3, we've already had a couple of encounters with older girl bullies. One, just the other day, tried to take my daughter's bracelets. I asked Sarina if she wanted the girl to take her bracelets, or if she wanted them back. When she affirmed she wanted them back, I suggested that she tell the girl, "I'm sorry, but those are my bracelets and I would like them back now." She did, and when the girl fiddled with the last one, Sarina said, "That one is mine, too." I was very proud!

2. How to be a real friend. Sometimes, the bully isn't targeting you, but someone else-- someone weaker, who needs help. It's so difficult and so important to provide other kids with emotional support so they can be stronger, too, even if it means risking becoming the bully's next target.

3. Who to trust. This is a lifelong lesson that adults struggle with, too. As a kid, it can be even tougher to figure out people's motivations. It's hard watching our kids get hurt when they try to befriend the "wrong" person, but it's also a necessary part of the process, so they'll learn when to be open with people and when to keep their guard up.

4. How to love learning. Kids have natural curiosity that can be squashed when adults try to impose too many rules and restrictions. Fanciful questions deserve fanciful answers. So squirrels like to ride on unicorns' backs when no one is looking? Sure they do! Forcing adult logic into kid questions will make academic learning an automatic turn-off.

5. How much we can matter. When we raise kids who believe they can make a difference, we improve the world. All the good we see in humanity is because people believed their little lives might matter.


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I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms and Nanny McPhee Returns blogging program, making me eligible to get a $50 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

This is a CHILDREN'S book? What on Earth...?

Why, yes, that IS a car full of gun-toting criminals trying to outrun police that you see below. And even better, one of the criminals is actually shooting his gun at the police!



On the next page, we see that the kindly police officer-- the one who we're teaching our children to trust and go to in case they're ever lost or in trouble-- is leaning out of the car with his gun and preparing to shoot back. Clifford and Emily Elizabeth are mere feet away and likely to get killed in the crossfire, but they look pretty excited about it.




And to top off this excellent book, I noticed that Clifford's brother Nero (the rescue dog at a fire station) is helping to put out a fire at a bodega on pages 9-12. "That's weird," I thought. "In the book Clifford's Family, I'm sure that Nero also helped put out a fire in a bodega. Does this author have a thing about bodegas being on fire?"

"I remember this from Clifford's Family," my astute 3-year-old interjected. Just to check, I pulled out the book... and found out that pages 9-12 in Clifford To The Rescue (Scholastic, 2000) are identical to pages 13-16 in Clifford's Family (Scholastic, 1984). Yes, 4 pages that have exactly the same illustrations and the same text except for a few words. WTH, Norman Bridwell? So I looked into matters a bit further and noticed on the fine print on the copyright page, Clifford to the Rescue cites nine different Clifford books that this one is copied from, and calls it a "compilation." No idea which book originally had the gun-waving police chase in it, but it appears to be from the 70s or 80s, a time when we also thought it was okay that Tom and Jerry bludgeoned each other with hammers.

I guess that makes it... better?

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Win a $60 Gift Certificate to CSN Stores

CONTEST CLOSED. WE HAVE A WINNER!

Random.org picked comment 20. Congrats to peg42, who wrote:

"The best thing that happened to me this week is that my Dad, brother & Sister in Law came over for dinner last night to help celebrate my upcoming birthday with my family & I. We had such a nice time, sitting outside & relaxing.Thanks so much."


--
The thing that's so impressive about CSN is the amazing range of products they carry. You can buy anything from a new bed to new shoes to a new wine rack... they have more than 200 online stores filled with a products in these categories: home decor, furniture, housewares, baby and kid items, outdoor, home improvement, bags and luggage, shoes, health and fitness, pets, office, and school.

The other thing that's so impressive about CSN is that they noticed this here little ol' blog. I RULE. This bodes so well for my plan to take over the Internet!

*Ahem.*

So they wrote to me and offered to give me a $60 gift certificate to award to one of my readers, which I thought was an excellent idea on their part. Go, CSN. If you win, you get to spend that $60 on whatever you want in any of their 200+ shops. There may be shipping charges or international fees, but whatever. It's still 60 free bucks.

To win this glorious aforementioned 60 bucks, here's the stuff to do:

MANDATORY
1. Comment below. In your comment, tell me the best thing that's happened to you this week. (For no good reason. I just like hearing people's good news.)

OPTIONAL
2. Follow me on Google Friend Connect. (The "follow" button is on the upper right side of this blog.)
3. Follow me on Twitter.
4. Name one book I've written.
5. Tweet anything about this blog. I totally know-- I hate tweeting about contests I'm entering because I don't want the extra competition, so you don't have to tweet about the contest. You could tweet about my general awesomeness if you like, as long as there's a link to this blog somewhere in your tweet.

If you do any of the optional things, LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT for each thing you do. Also, make sure I have a way to contact you-- either leave your e-mail address in your comment or make sure it's visible on your profile.

Giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. on August 23, and I'll announce the winner on the 24th. Good luck!

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P.S. Disclaimer: I'm not being compensated for this post. It's just cool to give away stuff.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The voices of the Wonder Pets

Ever wonder who does the voices of the Wonder Pets? Well, I did. Every time I watch it with Sarina, I mean to Google to find out the ages of the people who do the voices. And now I know:



This is sewious.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Starred review in Publishers Weekly!

This just in:



My Stolen Son
Susan Markowitz with Jenna Glatzer, Berkley, $7.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-23634-5

This poignant memoir tells the painful story of a brutal slaying that captured national attention when it became the basis of the 2007 drama Alpha Dog. In the summer of 2000, Susan Markowitz's 15-year-old son, Nicholas, was kidnapped and murdered by a local drug dealer in revenge for his brother's debts. Nicholas's death, the ensuing trials of his killers, and the international manhunt for a fourth suspect nearly tore his family apart and sent his mother on a decade-long quest for justice and sanity. Markowitz writes with candor about her grief-induced alcoholism and suicide attempts as well as the troubles that shook her family's foundation long before Nicholas's death. Her unflinching honesty makes this a deeply powerful story that will move fans of the film and anyone grieving a loved one's death by homicide or suicide. (Sept.)

Thank you, Publishers Weekly! Thank you, reviewer! This is our first published review of My Stolen Son, and it's thrilling to see that it's a starred review.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Toy Story 3

Fan-flippin'-tastic.

Who else saw it today? I'm dying to have someone to chat with about its fabulousness without spoiling it for everyone who hasn't seen it. I was even accosting people in the parking lot afterwards to ask if they'd just come out of Toy Story 3, too (they hadn't... they saw Marmaduke... WTH?) so I could have someone to gush with.

Suffice it to say that I laughed and cried (QUIT JUDGING ME) and all five of us who went together (ages 3 to 63) loved it.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Safe Sunscreens, According to the Environmental Working Group

I can't believe how much effort I'm putting into finding the perfect sunscreen this year. I want it to be chemical-free, easy to put on (I have a very squirmy little girl who hates standing still for sunscreen application, especially when there's a beach in sight!), and fragrance-free or with just a light scent (because I get migraines).

I consulted the Environmental Working Group's 2010 Cosmetics Safety Database for their sunscreen testing results (they tested more than 400 beach and sport sunscreens and recommend only 39 of them). It was hard tracking down each of the sunscreens online to find reviews and purchasing info, though. Then, once I found each of them, I found mixed reviews on all of them. There were very few with overwhelmingly positive reviews, and every one of them had some down-sides (generally that the non-chemical sunscreens are harder to apply, tacky, and leave your skin white).

Now that I've done my homework, I'll pass the links and summaries onto you in an easy-to-click list so you can save some time.

Here are some of the top beach and sport sunscreens rated by EWG:

All Terrain: Bad reviews-- see for yourself. People say it just doesn't work.

Badger: 4 stars on Amazon. Main complaints are that it's greasy and hard to apply. The link takes you to the unscented version, but there are also scented versions if you do an Amazon search for "Badger suncreen."

California Baby: 4 1/2 stars on Amazon. This is the green tea "aromatherapy" one; you can search Amazon for other types.

Caribbean Solutions: 4 1/2 stars on Amazon. Most of the people who mentioned the scent said it was a nice scent, but one said, "It soaks in fast, but has a bit of an artificial flowery smell to it."

Desert Essence Age Reversal: No reviews yet on Amazon, but I found 8 reviews on Viewpoints, where it rates 4.12 out of 5. One reviewer complains that it burned her eyes.

Episencial: 4 1/2 stars on Amazon, but only 3 reviews, so I checked Drugstore.com and got confused-- the reviews contradict each other, with some saying it's smooth and easy to rub in, and others saying the opposite; and with some saying it's water-resistant and others saying it's not.

Estion: I had a hard time tracking this one down. It seems to be out of stock most places. The link takes you to the SkinCareRx shop, where it's backordered, but has positive reviews.

Jason Sunbrellas: The two reviews on Amazon are positive, except that one reviewer says it stings if it gets in your eyes. The 10 reviews on Drugstore.com are more mixed, repeating the eye-stinging problem, but also saying it's gritty.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios: 3 1/2 stars. Reviewers say it's thick, white, and oily.

Loving Naturals: Very mixed reviews, with many saying it's greasy or oily, and some saying it doesn't work.

Soleo Organics: 3 1/2 stars on Amazon, with the most common complaint being that it's greasy.

ThinkBaby and ThinkSport: They're sold out all over at the moment. Our friends at Zrecs.com give this product a hearty thumbs-up, but as you can see in the comments, not everyone agrees.

TruKid Sunny Days: This is the only one on the list with a 5-star rating on Amazon (8 reviews). Reviewers say that, comparatively speaking,it goes on easily and has a light citrus scent.

UV Natural: Mixed reviews, with the most common complaints about poor performance and stickiness.

Vanicream Sunscreen Sport 4 1/2 stars, with the only real complaint about the fact that it goes on thickly.


For the curious, I ordered TruKid.

Edited to add: And I love it. Goes on easily, the whiteness fades quickly, and it works well. The only downside is cost-- the tube is very small and lasted us less than two weeks for just one little girl. I ordered two more tubes.


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