Showing posts from 2008

On Word Counts: Shorter is Harder

After 10 years, I'm finally realizing that I have a comfort zone when it comes to word counts. At least when it comes to magazine articles. I'd much rather write 1200-1500 words than anything much longer or shorter. When an editor wants me to write front-of-the-book type stuff-- 400 to 800 words or so-- I cringe a little. I know it's going to be just about as much work as the longer stuff, for less pay. I'm still going to have to do interviews, I'm still going to transcribe them, I'm still going to write the same meat of the article... and then I'm going to struggle like crazy to trim it down to what almost always seems like too small a space for the topic. Worse, though, is that there seem to be many editors who cannot grasp that 400 words is not enough to pack in everything they ask for in their brief. "Please write the entire history of the the automotive industry, and a sidebar about bicycles" is just not do-able. So then I do the mental equiva

"Thank you for the songs."

We go to a "Mommy and Me" group, where Sarina and I hang out and do a craft, play, have a snack, sing and dance, listen to a story, and learn about numbers and letters. Sarina is very proud of her crafts-- almost as proud as I am. She likes to show people and say, "I made this!" Truth is I wouldn't have realized she was ready for that kind of stuff. I saw the glue and foam and glitter on the craft table and thought, "Yeah, right." But then Sarina began sticking on sequins and calling for green glitter like a little craft diva. As we left this week, I prompted Sarina to say thank you to the owners. She did, then paused and added, "Thank you for the songs." It snowed here today, all puffy and slushy. She wasn't here. I miss the heck out of her. I think if my life circumstances were different, I would have been an Angelina Jolie type, with 7 kids. These days, I visit "waiting children" sites, where they show pictures and short prof

Other Sorts of Firsts

I remember reading an article in a parenting magazine about less-popular "firsts": sure, we all notice the first step, the first word, and the first tooth, but this writer mentioned the first time her toddler picked up the phone and said, "Hewo?" I'm not sure if Sarina had even been born at the time, or if I was still pregnant, but I remember thinking how toddlerhood was a far way off. Tonight I had one of those sorts of firsts. I had cleverly hidden her Christmas gifts in my closet-- which I do a good job of keeping closed-- but my parents came over today to help me install a ceiling fan, and apparently they left the closet door open. Later, when I was cleaning up dinner, Sarina walked off for a moment... and returned with three items: Mr. Potato Head, a Doodlebops book, and her "big" gift: the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse play set. I ain't exactly rich this year (I know, who is?), so it's not like I can just go out and buy more toys to replace the

Mickey Mouse is invading my child's brain

Have to say, I'm not a big fan of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse series, but my daughter is, so... yeah. We have a bunch of the books. In them, Mickey Mouse and friends call on Toodles to come bring them their Mouseketools when they have a problem that needs fixing. Our latest book describes a machine. When it works, it makes the noise "chugga-chugga-chug-chug," and when it's broken, it makes the noise "chugga-chugga-squeak!" Okay, that was background information. Now I can tell you what happened. Sarina was trying on Mommy's shoes again, as she does several times a day. She toddled around in my shoes until she stumbled and fell on her bottom behind my exercise bike (which makes a great clothes hanger). "Do you need help?" I asked. "Yes," came the reply. "I need a Mouseketool." The next day, we visited my parents, and Sarina tried to get water from their water machine. She doesn't know how to use it, though. The hot water bu

The best excuse I've ever received...

...for why an interviewee will have to postpone our talk for a little while: "He can't come to the phone right now because he's in a tree with a rifle." (That would be hotelier Tim Dixon. Quite a character.)

Freelancers Union: Worst of the Worst

Freelancers Union, also known as Working Today, offers freelancers health insurance in 31 states. I signed up with them two or three years ago, when the National Writers Union lost its health insurance provider. It seemed like a good idea-- an organization for freelancers, by freelancers, to negotiate good health insurance rates for the group. Ha! I began experiencing trouble with their customer service right away. It was clear that the organization's president, Sara Horowitz, used lots of nice words that had no actual meaning. She wrote to us about their commitment to better customer service and how glad she was that people kept them accountable... then did nothing to improve anything, and ignored our letters. To be more specific, I'll use my current example. They made a math error on my August bill. I had overpaid for two months, and they owed me a refund. Instead, they charged me again. I began politely e-mailing; they refused to acknowledge the problem. They told me to call

No autographs, please!

And now I'll blow your mind (unless you're a published author, in which case you may already know this scenario). There I was in Barnes & Noble the other day. My book The Marilyn Monroe Treasures has just come out, and I happened to be across the street with my mom, so I suggested we stop in and take a look at it in all its glory. I already knew it was selling pretty well at that store, because a friend of mine had seen 16 copies on an endcap, then my mom went in two days later and there were 12, and when we walked in this time, there were 5. So at least 11 copies had sold that week. I felt good about that. Since it was an impromptu stop, I didn't have a Sharpie on me. I went to the customer service desk to borrow one. "Hi," I said. "I'm the author of The Marilyn Monroe Treasures , which you have in stock up front. I'd love to sign the copies you have if you can lend me a Sharpie." The clerk actually looked upset. She referred me to a woman

Halloween 2008


Our First Grammatical Debate

Sarina's new favorite song is "When the Lights Go Out" by the Doodlebops, which is lucky for me, because I really like the song, too. But she believes that the correct wording should be "When the Lights Go Down." We argued about it for a bit. I told her that she was indeed right that it could be "When the Lights Go Down," but that in this case, the song lyric was "When the Lights Go Out," which was also acceptable. She would have none of it. "Of course, 'When the Lights Go Down,'" she told me. She made me put on the music video again, and I thought this would settle the debate, but instead, I believe she was making me watch it so I could see just how very, very wrong DeeDee Doodlebug was. Perhaps she wanted me to write a letter of protest to make them change the title. Or perhaps she was just stalling bedtime again. Here she is singing the Sesame Street theme song. 19 months old. Here she is singing the ABCs. And here she i

A message from Sarina

Our friend Lisa and her sister-in-law sent over a ton of fall and winter clothes for Sarina. Sarina has been modeling in front of the mirror for two days now, and exclaiming, "Cute!" about everything (her favorite is the Wiggles hat, which she's wearing at totally inappropriate times). She has a message for Lisa:

She wrote a song

This just can't be normal. Are 18-month-olds supposed to make up their own songs? Her first one went something like this: We go shopping And we buy white socks And purple socks, too She serenaded me with it while she ate dinner tonight. Then I realized she stuck purple socks into the cart, in the wrong size. You know how it feels silly to go back to a store to exchange one pair of socks? So you wind up keeping them for five years until finally realizing that, no, you're never going to meet someone who needs this particular pair of size 3-4 1/2 purple socks, so you stick them in a donation bag? Is that just me? Anyway, this week has been all about questions. Sarina is asking whatever's on her mind now-- "What's that noise?" "Is something wrong?" "Aunt Pat, what are you doing with the saw?" "How 'bout pancakes?" She also has shown her first fear: the door. When someone walks in the door without knocking or ringing the bell, she

Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive

Diapers and I are not friends, in general. I've never found a brand and type that really works for Sarina, who apparently has an unusual body type for a toddler. (She's tall and thin, so the leg holes are always... insufficient.) But as the months go on, I've switched brands and types a few times, because different types have worked better for her at different ages. What started it all were the Pampers Swaddlers, which I kept her in as long as possible. And now they've introduced Pampers Swaddlers Sensitive, which is a nice step up. Pampers sent me a pack to review-- hey, thanks, Pampers-- but since Sarina is beyond the "Swaddlers" sizes (which go up to only size 2), I can't give a tried-and-tested review, only a review of my observations. What got me excited about this diaper (yes, moms DO get excited about these sorts of things) was the "wetness indicator." The PR person emphasized this, but I was surprised to see that it wasn't at all high

Excuse my bumbling background erasing skills

but this is one of my favorite pics ever. Also, the other day, I bought Sarina a toy guitar at a garage sale, and there were no batteries in it. Sarina spotted the guitar and tried pressing its buttons. "It broke," she told me. "It just needs batteries," I said. She walked into the living room, pulled out the television remotes, and removed the batteries from them. "Got the batteries!" she announced. 17 months old. I love this kid. P.S. I'm getting divorced. It's not something I want to talk/post about, but it's something that's awkward having people not know about for so long. So there it is.

Before I Was a Mother

Before I was a mother, I thought women who said things like "My kids are my whole world" must have pretty sad lives. I thought it must be a drag to have to think of someone else's needs before your own all the time. I thought my career defined me. I didn't understand all the fuss about breastfeeding and why women would ever want to continue it for more than a year. I cared about suffering children, but I didn't physically ache every time I heard about a child who was abused, starving, suffering from a disease, or abandoned. I didn't know that spending a Friday night making stacks of paper cups and watching a toddler knock them down could be a really great night. I didn't know baby kisses could be the most memorable kisses of my life. I hated pink. Shopping really wasn't my thing. I had no idea it could be so much fun to shop for things for my child. I didn't understand that all the gross things kids do aren't gross when they're your kids. I

There Goes My Baby

On August 3, 2008, at approximately 9:30 p.m., my baby ceased being a baby. It all started last week, really, when she began talking in complete sentences. I asked, "Sarina, do you want me to open the door?" and she responded, "Mommy, open the door." Several 4-word phrases and sentences followed. She dropped a quarter in her grandparents' pool and said, "Money in the pool!" What got me the most, aside from the fact that she was 16 months old, was that she was speaking in gramatically correct terms. I was unstoppably happy, glowing with the pride of a parent who's just found out her daughter will be the valedictorian of her class at Harvard AND has paid off her schooling with the money she's made as a cover model for tasteful magazines. Then the unstoppable happiness stopped. It happened when I was preparing for Sarina's bath. She was playing in her room, and I went to her closet to check for diapers. She came up behind me and tapped me. &qu

A new kind of joy

I experienced a new joyful "first" today, and it caught me off-guard. I was reading Sarina a book, and she decided-- as she is wont to do-- that she wanted me to read her a different book. So she popped off my lap and went to her bookshelf, and brought me the book she wanted me to read. And it was a book I wrote . *Dies of happiness.*

Scott, Kimmi, and Sarina

A few months ago, my former editor at Nomad (hi, Lauri!) recommended me for a job writing a book proposal for Scott Rigsby, the first double-amputee to complete an Ironman. He was featured on NBC's 2007 Ironman special-- a great show, which you should definitely watch if it reruns again. I'm no sports person, but this was a human interest piece to the extreme. Great stories. So that's what I've been doing these past few months: working with Scott to get this book proposal ready. Slowly. (Yeah, this balancing-motherhood-with-writing stuff is still a huge challenge to me.) How lucky am I to have found a person who doesn't mind being interviewed at midnight? The proposal is just about done, and I can't wait to see where this book lands. A few publishers are already interested, just based on the pitch, but I suspect a lot more will be excited about it once they read this proposal. It's the longest one I've ever written... closing in on 60 pages. I thought it

No, Seriously, You Look Like Poop

Little in life is more disheartening than this conversation I had yesterday with an acquaintance I see every few weeks: Her: You don't look good. Me: That's because I'm not wearing makeup. Her: No, really. Your eyes are very puffy. Me: No, that's how I always look. You just normally see me with makeup. Her: You look like you've been crying. Me: I haven't. I promise. Her: You really don't look good. *Sigh.* Thanks, lady. Could you perhaps point me to the nearest bridge that I could hurl myself off? My eyes aren't aging well. The rest of me is fine, but I've always, always had a problem with big bags under my eyes, and they're only getting worse with time. I've tried dozens of products, but no success so far. I'm actually contemplating plastic surgery eventually, because it's just hard to feel good about yourself when people actually insist on a regular basis that you must not be sleeping. (I am.) Of course, I've tried the cucumber

I got a kiss!

Yaaaaaaaaaaay! Do you understand how long I've been trying to coax a kiss out of this girl? Tonight, as usual, I asked, "Sarina, can I have a kiss on the cheek?" And this time, she did it. Twice. Bartender! Smoothies for everyone, on me!

FREE! I mean it. The Street-Smart Writer.

The Street-Smart Writer: Self-Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World is one of the more important books I've written (co-written, actually, with publishing attorney Daniel Steven). My publisher has kindly released an ebook version totally FREE, no strings attached, through They add in a sponsor's ad in the front and back, but aside from that, it's exactly the same as the print book (which costs $16.95). Here's the link: You have to register with Wowio, but I did that a few weeks ago to make sure they wouldn't spam or do any funny business... they didn't. So NO EXCUSES! It's free, and you don't even have to leave the comfort of your computer. Please, read this book, blog about it, send the link on to all the new and new-ish writers you know, and let's help save people from becoming easy prey for scammers and schemers in the publishing world. Thanks! Here's the book's

Motherhood Photo

5 Minutes for Mom is having a photo contest , and the challenge is to find a photo that exemplifies what motherhood means to you. This one is mine. Three generations. One little girl who makes my world turn. I finally "get it," what life is all about. Boop.

She sings!

Sarina is attempting her first song. And it's Old MacDonald. A week ago or so, she started saying "E-I," which I knew was the beginning of "E-I-E-I-O." Tonight, she attempted to sing it. "E-I-YIIII... E-I-YIIII..." Four times, and she smiled, pleased with her attempt. These are the times I feel like one giant feeling. Like I'm just a big fuzzy ball of love and pride and more love. This is my daughter. My daughter sits in my lap and wants to read books and sing. She's a real little person, figuring out her likes and dislikes, letting me come along for the ride. Even when nothing else is going right, I still get to be Sarina's mother, and that's enough.

Happy birthday, Connor!

Connor is turning one, and his mom, Angela, feels just the same way about it as I did about Sarina turning one... happy and sad at the same time. Lucky and blessed and wishing time would slow down. Do you know what we did tonight for half an hour? Flopped around on the bed. She got a huge kick out of "falling" on the bed and realizing she wasn't going to get hurt, so she started flopping herself all around on the pillows, cracking up the whole time. So I joined her. And remembered something-- hey, it's fun to bounce around on a bed. Thank God for this silly little person who reminds me how to smile.

My kissyface

She now pulls out the book she wants me to read, hands it to me, then sits on my lap. Then, as I turn pages, she kisses the characters she likes. Sometimes I feel like my heart will burst. Normally, she doesn't kiss actual people yet-- though I did trick her into kissing my hand and she spontaneously kissed my arm one morning-- but she kisses pictures and clothing pretty often. Her favorite book remains Don't Be So Nosy, Posy , and she loves kissing the pig and cow in that book. She says about 30 words now; Elmo, purple, cookie, and neigh are some of the more recent ones. And she's making up some of her own sign language. One is driving me bats: she'll sign "eat," and I'll ask, "Are you hungry?" Then she'll do this very weird sign she made up-- she clasps the fingers on her right hand together and turns her hand upside down and sticks it over one eye. What in Zeus's name is that supposed to mean? I can narrow it down-- it's not cereal

A pic at the park


Good news for Marilyn

I'm very happy to say that my next book, The Marilyn Monroe Treasures (coming in October from Metro Books), is a Book of the Month Club pick, and the Spanish and Italian rights have been sold. It looks like other foreign editions will follow soon. I've seen the galleys and they look terrific. I've had just one other foreign edition before, so this is exciting to me. I'm still having a heckuva time trying to figure out how to balance motherhood and writing, though. I need to sell something huge so I can take a break until Sarina's in elementary school! Got any bestselling book ideas that you don't plan to use lying around?

Oh, the Fabulousness of it All!

Lookit! Lookit who's a "Best Eyes" finalist! She does have fabulous lashes, I must say. I'd sure love it if you'd go over there and vote for Sarina. Winner gets a $50 gift certificate to their shop and a blanket.

Happy birthday, my lovebug

This is a picture that, to me, sums up my daughter pretty well: That's from a couple of days ago. She has a cough, cold, double ear infection, and sore throat. You can see that one eye is more closed than the other. And still, she is so grinny and so full of love. This is today: For her one-year birthday, she decided to just talk up a storm. I'm sure I'm leaving some out, but here are the words she now says, in approximate order of when she said them: mama, baba, cat, dada, ball, girl, "bo" (almost boy), uh-oh, coat, good girl, boom (or bummmm!), moon, comb, car. She learned "comb" and "car" today. I should add, though, that she still doesn't know who "mama" is. I thought she did, but alas, then she pointed to the photo of a black 4-year-old girl and said "Mama!" Hoping it was a brief case of amnesia, I forgave her. Next she pointed to a little blond boy and declared "Mama," too. Then a turtle. I give up. She i

We are Communicating

Whoever invented baby sign language gets an A+ in my book. Sarina now tells me when she's tired or hungry. She does the sign for "sleep," and if I don't pay attention fast enough, she grabs my hand and does the sign for sleep with my hand, too. And she does the "eating" sign roughly every 3 minutes... 'cause the girl likes her snacks! She's a sign language whiz, I tell you. She knows: more, cereal, moon, stars, eating, hat, love, sleep, bib... Her first birthday is so close now (March 2). I can't believe her baby year is almost over already. I'm not going to have a baby anymore... I'm going to have a toddler! I'm not ready for that! But anyway... have some new pics. I hope they make you smile. Thanks to Amanda and and Lisa McGrath for the great lounge set! Amanda made the pants and Lisa made the shirt.

I Probably Got Whistled At

As I passed him, a man working at a booth in the mall whistled. At me. Probably at me. I mean, I'm almost certain. I was wearing my winter coat and pushing a stroller containing my exquisitely wonderful 11-month old, which made it more exciting to get whistled at. It's funny how, when you're under 30, you want to clobber the louts who wolf-whistle at you. When you're over 30, you think maybe you should give them $5 tips, those sweet gentlemen! So I walked away thinking, "Go, me. That classy mall worker thinks I'm a hot mama. It must be so! This bulky coat can't contain my explosive inner hottitude." But then I second-guessed myself. Maybe there was a gorgeous little college woman walking next to me and I didn't notice her because I was too busy cultivating my inner hottitude. Maybe that was someone else's whistle that I was taking credit for. And I briefly contemplated walking back to the mall worker and asking, "Excuse me, but was that me

Congrats, Jennifer!

Congrats to Jennifer at The Word Cellar , who won herself a copy of The Street-Smart Writer . If you haven't already, go read the comments on my giveaway post-- they're great.

She Touched a Boy on His Butt

Sarina has really never been around babies or kids. There just aren't any in my family (I'm the oldest among all the siblings and cousins, and the first to have a baby). So I brought her to Gymboree last week, in part to see how she'd react. There was only one other baby there (9 months old and petite, whereas Sarina is a giant, so they didn't look close in age). So the sweetest thing was that Sarina kept crawling her way over to the baby, trying to play. She tried to pass a ball to her, but I don't think the other baby was interested. Still, Sarina waved to her at the end of class. I nearly cried from adorable overload. I brought her back this week, and there were bunches of babies! And what she wanted to do was touch the babies. She would crawl over to a little one, then touch a leg or arm or whatever. She often tried handing them her toys-- she's REALLY into sharing. No one took her up on her offers, though. One baby boy was standing, and she used his leg to

Bloggy Giveaway: Bullyproof Your Child For Life

Hi, Bloggy Giveaways people! I've vaccuumed and set up a couple of gallons of coffee and tea and baked up some pigs in blankets in anticipation of your arrival. Oh, and some potato puffs and a veggie platter for the vegetarians among us. This is my first bloggy giveaway. Yay, me! I'm giving away one of my books-- your choice between Bullyproof Your Child for Life and The Street-Smart Writer . Bullyproof Your Child for Life is a book I co-wrote with Dr. Joel Haber ("The Bully Coach"). It teaches strategies for warding off current bullies and making your kids less attractive to bullies in the future. It covers a variety of situations: school, camp, sports, and online, with a special section for kids with special needs. Read more here . The Street-Smart Writer is a book I co-wrote with publishing attorney Daniel Steven about avoiding scams and seedy characters in the writing and publishing world, so you can publish your work without worrying about getting ripped off