Independence Day and NYC Trip Report

Hazelnut Tart at wd-50
Hazelnut Tart at wd-50

Happy Fourth of July!

Some good news to share: Starting next month I’ll be joining the ranks of the (fully and gainfully) employed. I’ve accepted an offer from a federal government agency and will be going back into my old line of work as a program analyst (subject, of course, to background checks and paperwork, etc. etc.) So, this Independence Day I am lucky enough to celebrate the prospect of going back into public service and also being a little more financially independent. I’m excited about the job, which is going to involve research, interviewing, writing, and analysis on all kinds of interesting topics, and even some travel.

And now, of course, all the usual disclaimers and caveats will apply: this blog isn’t and won’t be intended in any way to reflect the views of my new employer.

Thanks so much to everyone who encouraged me and kindly  passed on opportunities, tips, advice, and references during my job hunt. I can admit now that it was slightly scary to be looking for work in the middle of such a difficult economy, and all that kindness and encouragement helped me keep my chin up.

Since I wrote last, a whole adventuresome weekend trip to NYC came and went. Two weeks ago Amandine and I went on a road to trip up to Westchester County, north of New York City, to see my little sister graduate from her medical residency program.

Google maps said it would take five hours to get there, which I thought might just be doable with an almost-three-year-old in the back seat. Of course, I didn’t count on being stuck on the DC beltway for an hour in traffic on the way out, or missing the turnoff to the Jersey turnpike and getting totally lost driving around small towns in rural New Jersey … or getting stuck on the Washington Bridge on the way through NYC at 11:30 at night for 45 minutes during which Amandine woke up and cried nonstop … yeah, so in the end, seven hours give or take. And not a very fun seven hours.

But the Westchester Marriott, where we stayed with my parents, was nice, with a tasty steak and eggs breakfast the next morning. We spent the day visiting Sleepy Hollow (of headless horseman fame), the Rockefeller mansion called Kykuit, and Phillipsburg Manor. I don’t recommend trying to tour the inside of the mansion with an almost-three-year-old, but Amandine had a great time playing outside in the fountains and wandering around the gardens, which are full of cool modern scultures.

Then in the evening was the big graduation ceremony for my sister at another hotel, with dinner and dancing afterward. To everyone’s surprise, after Amandine had spent the whole day yawning and being cranky, as soon as the DJ started the dance music, she grabbed my hand, pulled me out into the middle of the ballroom, and started tearing up the dance floor. I’ll post the video on Facebook. Meanwhile, this will at least give you the flavor of it:

The next day my sister and parents went to a Broadway Show in the afternoon, while Amandine and I meandered down to Central Park. It was really hot and miserable, but they had sort of a splashpark section in the middle of it, with sprinklers and waterslides, so even though we weren’t prepared with swimsuits, I let Amandine splash around in it to cool off a little. I wish we’d gone to the Met or something more air-conditioned instead.

Then in the evening we went to a restaurant called wd-50, which looks like a hole-in-the-wall, but is actually on a list of the top 50 restaurants in the world. The chef’s name is Wylie Dufresne, and I think this constituted my first brush with the so-called molecular gastronomy style of cuisine. I had a beautiful red cocktail that involved lychee and rose flavors, and in the spirit of adventure ordered the smoked eel appetizer. For a main dish I had the skate (fish) with salsify (obscure vegetable), wild rice, and butternut squash.

It was certainly all very inventive and clever and wonderfully presented, and some of the flavors were intense and pleasing … but somehow, the dishes I had just didn’t, well, taste all that amazing. I mean, it was okay, and goodness knows, it certainly wasn’t bad. But with the smoked eel it mainly tasted like, well, chunks of smoked fish. Which is not a bad taste by any means, but you know, it’s smoked fish. And the skate was actually kind of rubbery. I’ve never had skate before, so maybe that was how it’s supposed to be. Maybe all the subtleties were just lost on me.

But the dessert. Now the dessert blew me away. It was a little disk of hazelnut torte, with thin layers of cool, silky, intensely rich coconut cream and chocolate ganache. The idea of combining coconut and hazelnut was very original, I thought, and worked beautifully. But the kicker, the truly mind- and palate-blowing bit, was a slightly bittersweet chicory foam on the side. I mean, if that didn’t beat all. You know, chicory. A bitter vegetable. With a superrich, tiny, cold hazelnut tart. And it was delicious. The delicate hint of frothy bitterness was the perfect thing to compliment the cold chocolatty nuttiness. It was genius. So that saved the dinner for me, and saved wd-50’s reputation in my mind.

On the drive back, I took a different route to avoid NYC and that terrible bridge, through Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This only took five hours, but when we were still two hours from home the air conditioning in the car stopped working, and it was 92 degrees outside. So again, that was not too fun.  But it was worth it to see my sister and have a little adventure.

Before I go, a few quick movie reviews:


Thankfully, this was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. I actually thought the first movie in the series was surprisingly well done. And then New Moon was such a disappointment, full of every imaginable cliche and silliness, complete with a flash forward of Bella running in slo-mo through a field of flowers in a flowy dress with syrupy music playing. It was so bad it was laughable. So I was wary about Eclipse, but thought I’d give it a chance. And they did better this time. Bella was less annoyingly grim, it was funnier (the scene with Bella telling her dad she’s still a virgin was priceless), and the Edward-Jake tensions and rivalry were funny, too.

Letters to Juliet

This is another one I had low expectations for. It looked totally sappy and brainless in the trailers. But I ended up enjoying it. Of course, the film’s contention that people who love each should want to spend every waking moment together was silly, and personally I wouldn’t have complained about traveling through Italy eating cheese and truffles and going to wine tastings with Gael Garcia Bernal. But the whole film was easy on the eyes (both scenery and people), and kind of refreshing in the way it managed to sneak in bits of intelligent dialogue and characterization in between the typical by-the-numbers rom-com moments.

Good Dick(on DVD)

I know, what a name! I fear it’s going to attract the totally wrong sort of traffic to this blog. But I had to mention it because this was a great, great little film. It’s about a guy who works in a video shop, his fellow misfit coworkers, and a mysterious, reclusive young woman who comes in every afternoon and rents an armload of softcore porn videos. The story is moving, funny, and original, and the acting was well-done. (Although, Mormon friends, I don’t think this is one for you, unless you are on the far-liberal end of the spectrum.)

AIW Conference

American Independent WritersYesterday American Independent Writers (AIW)* had their annual conference in DC. I didn’t go to the whole conference, because for someone like me who writes mainly as a hobby, these things get quite pricey when you have to hire a babysitter for the whole day on top of paying the registration fees. But I’ve really been wanting to meet other writers lately, as it’s fun to talk shop about writing, and yet easy to bore non-writers to death by doing it. So I just went to the conference’s evening networking reception. That was really fun, and I met a bunch of nice writer folks, a couple of whom are now on my blog roll. Next year I think I’m going to send my daughter Amandine to stay with her dad and make sure I get to go to the whole thing.

Meanwhile, I also went on the Absolute Write forums a while back and found a few other writers to trade novel critiques with, and that has been great. I’ve received some extremely helpful criticism, and a couple of the manuscripts I’ve read or am in the process of reading and critiquing have been a real pleasure to go through. I’d definitely recommend it to other would-be novelists who are looking for feedback on their manuscript.

The critique trade-offs, plus working on my revisions, plus my continuing job hunt, plus working part-time, plus being a mom, are all combining to make life very busy. But a happy kind of busy, for the most part.

*Formerly Washington Independent Writers

Happy 101 Sweet Friends

A shiny new bag
A Shiny New Bag

Chanson of Letters from a Broad has memed me. I am flattered to be memed, plus meming people back is much easier than thinking of a blog post on my own, so here goes. (For opaque reasons, the meme is called “Happy 101 Sweet Friends,” hence the title of my post.)

The instructions are: List 10 things that make your day & then give this award to 10 bloggers.

Okay, then, ten things that make my day, in no particular order of preference:

1. My daughter. Yes, I realize that is not very original, but really, honestly, I absolutely am monkey-bananas crazy about being a mom, and the great thing about it is that there is no social disapprobation there, the way there might be with other things I like such as eating warmed-up Spaghetti-os with meatballs from the can, or enjoying Stephenie Meyer novels. It’s rare for me to have a day that is not made far more awesome by having my daughter in it. (Although yesterday, when we had a long plane ride which began with her peeing on the seat, yesterday may have been one of those rare days …)

2. Badger sightings. There is this badger who lives in the neighborhood, and every now and then, I catch sight of him gamboling on the grassy hill between my row of townhouses and the one facing it. As sort of a city girl by nature who grew up in the desert, it never fails to astonish me that I am seeing an actual badger, live, in the flesh, right before my very eyes.

3. A shiny new bag. I get a good, old-fashioned, girly thrill from stalking a potential new purse for weeks online, drooling over it in private, mentally calculating how much I need to save up to afford it, fretting over other things I could buy instead of it, finally just breaking down and ordering it, and then wearing it everywhere even with outfits it doesn’t remotely match. Same goes for shoes.

4. Catching an obscure literary reference. It is so deeply satisfying when someone tosses off a phrase like “young Werther, here” in conversation (see the movie (500) Days of Summer), or has a quote in Classical Greek up on their Facebook page, or somebody refers to something as Proustian, and you’re all like, “Ah, yes, of course, so Proustian, that!” or “Ha, he is just like young Werther!” or “True—as they say, meden agan.” And you are suddenly filled with the happy sense that your many painful years of over-education may not have been a total waste.

5. Getting a piece of writing accepted for publication. This has happened to me a handful of times now, and it always feels like winning ten thousand dollars in the lottery, even though the most I’ve ever been paid for a piece is … oh, never mind … and even though I know from the start only my friends and family are ever going to read it.

6. Hearing about new, mind-blowing scientific research. Example: a philosophy prof friend told me about this book The Imprinted Brain, and it sounded so interesting I checked it out of the library and started reading it. So interesting, although I won’t bother trying to explain it here—read my friend’s review instead; the author has this mind-blowing theory involving the relationship between autism and psychosis and male vs. female brain characteristics and genetic expression. And then there was that great piece in the Atlantic on the orchid vs. dandelion genes a while back. Anyway, I just love stuff like that.

7. Communiqués from long-lost siblings. I love all my family to pieces, but certain siblings who shall not be named often go for weeks or months without calling or writing, which makes hearing from them extra exciting. Maybe that is all part of their devious plan, to be more appreciated as a sibling by being mysterious and rarely seen or heard from, but if so, I totally fall for it.

8. Seeing a large body of water. As mentioned previously, I grew up in the desert, so I still get a little frisson whenever I first catch sight of a river or lake or ocean or beach. All that blue, all at once. Heck, I even get excited about the creek in the park behind our neighborhood.

9.Participating in the pop-cultural zeitgeist. By this I mean those times when there’s something everybody is excited about—the new Harry Potter film, or the latest Battlestar Galactica episode, for example—and I am also excited about that same thing. I feel all swept up in the cultural  moment and one with the rest of humanity.

10. Offers of babysitting. Much as I love being a mom (see #1, above), the occasional break from motherhood is also very nice.

Here are my 10 blogs—again, in no particular order of preference. It was kind of hard to come up with this list because I don’t have too many friends who are really into blogging, at least not that I know of. I realize not everyone is into being memed, and for some of you the meme would not fit into the theme of your blog at all. So I will not be offended if you don’t meme back, no worries.

  1. Self-Portrait as
  2. Chocolate & Garlic
  3. Dan-Dee-Lyun
  4. The Post-Pessemist Association
  5. The Snarr Zoo
  6. The Sundance Burtons
  7. LDS Food Critic
  9. Yopping
  10. Abdul Ali

More on the Great (Ex)Mormon Novel

Large Polygamist Family
Polygamist Family Photo by Stephanie Sinclair

Back in January, I wrote a bit about the question of whether the Great (Ex)Mormon Novel had been or would be written, and what it might look like. And now just recently, Slate has an article by the poetry editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought that explores some similar questions and reviews a possible candidate for the title, Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist.

The book sounds good, but I find it interesting that many Mormonism-themed books that have been floated as contenders deal with Mormonism’s polygamous past rather than its plain vanilla present. American polygamy clearly has a lot of intrinsic novelistic drama to it, and so is a natural subject for fiction (not to mention nonfiction, like Jon Krakauer’s brilliant Under the Banner of Heaven). And clearly, also, this is the aspect of Mormonism that tends to capture the popular imagination, as witnessed by the continuing popularity of HBO’s Big Love and by yesterday’s Doonesbury cartoon. Books like Virginia Sorenson’s The Evening and the Morning, Levi Peterson’s The Backslider, David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife, Carol Lynch Williams’s young adult novel The Chosen One, as well as less well known contributions like C.L. Hanson’s Exmormon all deal with polygamy to some degree or another.

The problem with this is that for your average Mormon on the street, especially once you get outside of Utah, polygamy is not a going concern or something you think about very often. At least, it wasn’t for me growing up and during my churchgoing years in Arizona and elsewhere. What I want to know is, where is the “Mormon” novel that isn’t about the freak show that is polygamy? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Well, *modest cough*, come to think of it, I’ve written one. I wonder if anyone will want to read a Mormonism-themed novel in which there is no mention whatever of polygamy …

Anyways, for some interesting discussions of the Slate article on other blogs, see also here and here.

Postcard from Columbus, OH: Blind Spots

Columbus, OHAmandine and I are in Columbus, OH, this weekend visiting friends. It has been a pretty low-key visit so far, mostly just hanging out, chasing Amandine around, eating, and reading. I figured I might as well take advantage of not having a job yet to get a little traveling in before I start work.

The most exciting thing we’ve done so far was the Columbus Race for the Cure yesterday morning—it was fun to walk around the downtown area (my friend and I were both pushing strollers, so it was definitely a walk, not a run) and see all the buildings, hear the bands play, and get high-fives from all the biker-dudes and -dudettes who parked their motorcycles on the sidewalks and revved their engines for the last stretch. Afterward we had brunch at a place called the Northstar Cafe, which I really liked.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about some of the similarities between writing and parenting. The friend I’ve been staying with was a single mom for several years, and so is full of constructive tips and advice about how to manage. In general, as a parent, one gets all kinds of advice from all directions, sometimes conflicting or contradictory. Be more laid back. Be less laid back. Be stricter. Don’t hover, or your child will be too dependent on you. Do hover, or your child will end up kidnapped.

Likewise with writing. You have your anti-adverb people, your show-don’t-tell obsessives, your pro-purple prose people, and so on. There are people who profess to love your writing, and people who, given half a chance, will stab at your pages bloodthirstily* till your manuscript is soaked with red ink.

The trouble is, with both writing and parenting, I have blind spots where I need advice. There are places in my manuscript where I know that I don’t know whether or not there’s something deeply wrong with it. The only way to get a better sense of the major flaws is to get input from other people. It’s frustrating, because often when I look at other people’s writing, their mistakes stand out glaringly to me, and these turn out to be the same mistakes I’m making with my writing.

And with my daughter, I have a sense of where my faults as a parent lie (tendency to be a pushover, absent-mindedness), but it’s hard know the best ways to counterbalance them so as to make sure I don’t accidentally ruin her life and render her forever socially inept. Having so little experience at parenting, sometimes it’s hard to gauge when your countermeasures go too far (e.g., being extra strict to balance one’s pushover tendencies, or being extra attentive to make up for one’s absent-mindedness).

And then, with both writing and parenting, sometimes your critics disagree with each other, and sometimes their criticisms just sound wrong. So where you have these blind spots, you end up having to do a complicated triangulation between other people’s opinions and your own instincts, paying careful attention to what’s coming from which source.

I wonder if the best writers—and the best parents—are the ones with the fewest blind spots, or if even the best ones still need outsiders’ perspectives, but have just gotten very good and quick at doing the triangulation on those outside opinions to measure them against their own judgments. In any case, I’m hoping I can improve over time both at having fewer and smaller blind spots and at making the best use of other people’s advice. I’d love to hear what others think  …

*Take that, anti-adverb people!

Bedtime Songs

Illustration by Sylvia Long
Illustration by Silvia Long, via

The morning daycare for Amandine is working out great so far. She seems to like it, and I’ve been able to get some revisions done on my book. I think the manuscript is just about ready to send out to some of my friends who’ve said they’d be willing to take a look at it. Apart from that, I’ve been filling out loads of federal job applications, some of which require the applicant to write more or less a novel-length description of their KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities). So the writing stamina I’ve developed by getting novels down on paper has stood me in good stead. You can’t say novel-writing doesn’t have its collateral benefits, even if one never gets published.

A friend lent me The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I finished that this week. I enjoyed the book as much as the movie, even already knowing the main plot points. The prose style was nice in the English translation, although obviously I can’t say how well it reflects the original Swedish. It’s kind of Ikea-style writing—clean and uncluttered lines, with function taking priority over form, but concern for pleasing design as well.

Amandine, who’s going on two-and-three-quarters now, is becoming very talkative and using complex sentences. She also makes up long, interesting songs about cats and bunnies and naps and diapers. I was particularly impressed the other day when she modified the lyrics of a lullaby that I’ve sung to her a lot. There is a children’s book by Sylvia Long with beautiful illustrations and alternative lyrics to the “Momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird” song, that go like this:

Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mommy’s gonna show you a hummingbird.
If that hummingbird should fly, Mommy’s gonna show you the evening sky.
And when the night-time shadows fall, Mommy’s gonna hear the crickets call.
As their song drifts from afar, Mommy’s gonna search for a shooting star.

The author’s idea was that the traditional lyrics are too materialistic—“I’ll buy you this, I’ll buy you that.” So instead she wanted to make the song about a mother comforting her child with the beauty of the world around them and her own love. I liked the idea, so I’ve always sung that version to Amandine as a bedtime song. The other day she was putting her favorite stuffed cat down for a nap and singing the song to the cat. Except Amandine’s version went like this:

Hush lillel baby, don’t say a wook, Mommy’s gonna show you a … cupcake.

Alas, the non-comsumerist subtext has clearly not sunk in. But at least it appears my daughter is a poet in the making. At any rate, I took the hint and made cupcakes yesterday.

Some soothing music to send you on your way:

A Hodgepodge Pastiche of Miscellany

William Boyd's "Any Human Heart"
William Boyd's "Any Human Heart"

Last night I finally finished reading William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, which I’d been working at for a while (it was one of those tragic cases where I was halfway through the book when my library renewals ran out and I had to return it, and was too sheepish to turn around and special-request it again immediately; but then I was lucky enough to come into a used copy of it, a cause for celebration). It’s a novel about the fictional life of an English writer spanning nearly the whole twentieth century. He meets everyone who’s anyone: Picasso, Hemingway, James Joyce, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, gets involved with the Bader-Meinhoff Gang, etc. It’s nicely written and the story pulls you in. After a while you feel as if this character has become a friend, and you care about his ups and downs.

The thing that really drew me to the book, though, was that it was presented in journal format. Since the second half of my own most recent novel was also in journal format, I was keen to see an example of this technique being used well, and this book was helpful for that.

Now I’m beginning another chapter-by-chapter read-off between Wolf Hall, A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and a nonfiction compendium of fairy lore originally published in 1880 (lent to me by a writer friend who, incidentally, just had a lovely short story published involving alligators). This is going to be a pretty fierce competition, I think.

I’m tempted, though, to drop them all and read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My last moms’ night out with Ms. Connect-the-Dots and friends, we went to see the movie version. It was a bit violent for me, and I definitely do not (!!) recommend it to any of my Mormon friends.* But apart from the violence, it was well-done, exciting, and suspenseful and made me want to read all the books.

Productive literary activity (e.g. revising my novel, drafting anything new) has sadly been at a standstill this month due to the stresses of job hunting, etc. But next week my daughter (the one who swears like a sailor) will be starting daycare three mornings a week, so that she can gradually get used to it before I actually start a new job and also so that I’ll have a reliable place for her to stay if I get called in for any interviews (fingers crossed). So I’m hoping I can go off and work in my usual neighborhood coffee shop and get something done that way. Even without job hunting, making time to write has gotten a lot harder since my daughter stopped taking regular naps. I’ve only had evenings for relatively-less-interrupted work, and at the end of a day of chasing Amandine around, I am often so kaputt that I just don’t have energy for anything but collapsing in a heap. So this daycare thing is sort of an exciting development if it works out. We’ll see how it goes.

In gastronomic news, I had a girls’ night out with some non-mom friends and we went (sans Amandine) to a restaurant called Dino in Cleveland Park. It was great, just my sort of place, fresh and sophisticated Italian, pretty presentations but not too fussy, and—my favorite part—a focus on seasonal, local, sustainably-grown ingredients. The owner and his wife both popped by to say hello. I highly recommend this place. Also in gastronomic news: A friend of mine from college, a sweet, bright, and wonderful guy, turns out to be in the restaurant business these days and has started a fun blog called LDSFoodCritic.

And I already told all my Facebook friends, but one more piece of news is that I’ve had another essay accepted for publication. The title is “The Economy of Souls,” and it will appear in the Summer 2010 issue of Jabberwock Review. I am happy to have found such a good home for this piece, for one thing because the essay is long at 10K words, and I was worried that the length would be prohibitive for getting it published. But more importantly, because it’s the most ambitious writing project I’ve taken on so far. It actually took longer to write than either of my novels, so it will be quite a thing for me to see it in print.

That’s all for today, Amandine and I are off to a brunch/playdate at the house of a Finnish friend to celebrate a Finnish holiday called Vappu. (It’s the Finns’ version of Walpurgis Night. Who knew?)

(Stolen from here.)

*And for everyone else, if you do go see the movie, I recommend closing your eyes, sticking your fingers in your ears, and singing “La la la la” during the awful parts.

Is Your Toddler Swearing Like A Sailor?

Sailor Baby

If, like me, you’ve got a child who’s learning to talk, you may occasionally hear some shocking things coming out of his or her mouth. Rest assured, these are not what they sound like. Here is a handy decoder chart to set your mind at ease:

Sounds Like Means
THE F-WORD “Fork.” Or maybe “Frog.”
POON No, your child is not a PUA discussing the results of a night of sarging. This means “spoon.”
ASS “Ask” or “asked.” As in “I ass Mommy fo’ chockit” (I asked Mommy for chocolate).
THE S-WORD “Sit.” As in “Mommy – I sh**ting on a tair!” (Mommy, I’m sitting on a chair!)
THE D-WORD Okay, this just means Mommy has been swearing too much and really needs to start watching her language better.

Job Hunting

Working 9 to 5I’m not going to do a real post this week, because as my title suggests I am pretty busy at the moment looking for a (paying) full-time job. Not that being a stay-at-home mom/wannabe novelist isn’t full of its own kind of benefits, but circumstances dictate that I will be needing a salary of my own fairly soon …

So, that said, if anyone might be interested in hiring me, or if you know anyone who might be interested in hiring me, please do get in touch and I will be happy to send a resume. You can also read a little about my professional background here. Thanks!

When Good Authors Write Bad Sentences

Alessandro Nivola and Audrey Tautou in "Coco Before Chanel"
Alessandro Nivola and Audrey Tautou in "Coco Before Chanel" (via

A 5-hour plane ride with a two-and-a-half-year-old, if you’ve never tried it, is kind of an Olympics-level parenting event, and I’m still recovering. So forgive me if this post lacks the normal verve and panache due to mental and physical exhaustion.

The orgy of cultural consumption has continued unabated since my last post. I read The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta, a middle grade novel called When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage and also saw the movie Coco Before Chanel. Phew!

So, I think Tom Perotta is well on his way to becoming a favorite author for me.  The Abstinence Teacher is about a high school female sex ed teacher forced to teach an abstinence-only curriculum and a recovering drug addict who’s been saved by his conversation to evangelical Christianity. It’s a great story with a lot of compassion, heart, and humor. You get the sense Perotta is coming from a secular point of view, but in this novel wanted to experiment with putting himself in the shoes of someone who thinks in a way that’s entirely opposite to his worldview. This strikes me as an extremely worthwhile thing to do, both as a writer and as a human being.

The book did have a few sentences near the beginning, though, that were so clunky I almost stopped reading. E.g., this one:

Defying the Sex and the City stereotype of randy, uninhibited single gals dishing colorful secrets to their friends, the three women rarely spoke about anything but work and movies.

Or is it just me? Am I the only one who thinks this sentence is horrible? If this had been a new author to me, I might have given up on him then and there. But since I’d enjoyed Little Children so much, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, and am glad I did, because things picked up after that. And that bad sentence was balanced by a wonderful one later on:

With three soccer-age kids, John spent his Saturdays rushing maniacally from one field to the next, driving like he had a freshly harvested liver packed in a cooler on the front seat.

*blissful sigh*

Now there’s a sentence. But Mr. Perotta, if you’re reading this, next time be sure to let me take a look at your manuscript before it goes to press so we can make sure we don’t have any horrible clunker sentences like that “defying the Sex and the City stereotype” one making it past your editor again. Thank you. Incidentally, this all goes to prove my point that no detail in writing fiction is too small to sweat over. One out-of-place comma can ruin a sentence, one poor word choice can spoil a paragraph, and one ugly sentence can alienate a reader forever.

The Rebecca Stead book was okay. I’ll talk about Committed next week, because I’m going to a book club meeting on it tomorrow and maybe will have interesting comments from other people to report on.

I liked Coco Before Chanel a lot—it’s about the life of famous fashion designer Coco Chanel before she became famous. The two major relationships she has in the film with men are both really interesting (and I must admit, I thought the one with Alessandro Nivola was totally hot). But perhaps most interesting of all was the way Audrey Tautou, the actress who plays Chanel, almost never smiles. It becomes exhausting to watch her, because you keep waiting for her to break down and smile, but she keeps up the serious expression all through. Somehow that made the movie for me, if only because it was so unusual. It was like I was almost forced to take her and the movie seriously because of her seriousness. The Chanel character doesn’t just break down all the assumptions about femininity and ornament in dressing, but also breaks down our expectations about women as inherently responsible for being sweet and smiling and entertaining. Instead her attitude is: I am who I am, what I see matters to me, I am not just here to please you.

Sorry, words are totally failing me here. But I really liked it.

Lastly, you know how I was going on last time about character likeability, character likeability, character likeability? Well, then I came across this really interesting post by a writer who likes unlikeable characters. I have to think more about this whole likeability issue and how important it is to good writing. I won’t attempt to talk more about it right now as my brain is so muddled, but I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts.

Here are some songs to send you on your way, this week’s theme being A Few Totally Random Song I Just Happen To Like: