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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Days 100 & 101: The Creepy Crawlies

Days 100 & 101:  The Creepy Crawlies


TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 3

# of pages written (now that my novel is done, I’m just working on short stories and other projects, not that I actually got anything accomplished today, but that’s the plan): 0

 

Just in time for Halloween, I have the creepiest/coolest health ailment!

It started about a week ago. I noticed that the skin around my left eye was dry and scaly. And every morning when I woke up, my eyes were especially crusty. But I did my usual thing, which is to ignore the problem and wait for it to go away. But as the days went by, the skin around both eyes started getting really itchy and burning, and when I woke up every morning it felt like my eyelids were glued together.

Nikki, being the good nurse that she is, gave me some surgical ointment to soothe my itchiness and encouraged me to go to the doctor’s.

I made an appointment, but I felt silly. I figured the doctor was going to tell me one of two things:
1. It’s just dry skin, dumbass. Use some super gentle lotion.
2. This is what happens when you get old, dumbass. Your eyes get scaly and crusty. Get over it.

What the doctor said instead was surprising and, to me, exciting. Apparently, I have blepharitis. This is an inflammation in the eyelash follicles. What happened was that the mites living in my eyelashes somehow burrowed deep down into the roots of my eyelashes and are now snuggled down in there multiplying rapidly, causing infection and all of my dry, itchy, crusty symptoms.

“You know, we all have mites living on our faces,” the doctor told me. She seemed worried that this would upset me.

“Oh, I know!” I said, smiling and nodding eagerly. “So my little mites did this to me? They’re so wily!”

“Yes,” she said. “The mites did this.”

I love learning about the microbes that live in and on my body. Of course, I’m a little frustrated with my little eyelash mites right now, but apparently a few days of washing my eyes with baby shampoo and getting all new eye make-up will set them straight.

As I was driving home from the doctor’s, my eyes started to itch, and I imagined the itsy bitsy mites, tunneling around inside my eyelash follicles. Those crazy kids! I got home and washed my eyes with diluted baby shampoo. Then I did some research about eyelash mites.

Apparently, they are quite adorable little eight-legged creatures, only about 0.4 millimeters long and covered in scales. They feast, not only on dead skin cells, but also hormones and some juicy stuff call the sebum which accumulates inside the hair follicles. So that’s why they wanted to burrow on down there – it’s where the food comes from!

Now, here’s the really crazy part. Male and female eyelash mites have sex, and then the female mite lays up to twenty eggs on one eyelash. It takes a few days for the eggs to hatch, and the little mite babies enjoy a week of childhood before they develop into full-grown adults and start having sex themselves.

Think about that. At this very moment, your eyelash mites are having sex on your face! Right now, a baby mite is being born on one of your eyelashes! As you read this, a dear old mite is breathing his last breath and coming to the end of his three-week life.

Perhaps you find this creepy, but I actually find it quite exciting. It means that even when I feel like nothing much is going on, or, for example, like today, when I haven’t been very productive, I’m happy to know that actually, there is always something exciting happening, right here on my very face!

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Days 98 & 99: A Scary Story for Sandy: The Cat Lady

Days 98 & 99:  A Scary Story for Sandy:  The Cat Lady

TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

Well, once again, the earth is trying to expunge us with a bout of violent weather. Nothing much is happening here (yet) except that the trees are stripping off their leaves eagerly in the wind while waving their arms back and forth like wild concert-goers.

In weather like this, especially so close to Halloween, there’s really nothing better than reading a scary story. So I decided to write one for you all. I decided to set it in this very house and make myself the main character. Nikki and Nate refuse to read it because they’re afraid it will scare them. I do hope it scares you all.

I also hope everyone is safe from Hurricane Sandy.

 

The Cat Lady

There was a year in my life when I felt I needed to get away from the bustle of the world, and so I went to live with two friends of mine – Nikki and Nate – in a little gray house on that little curl of land that stretches into the Atlantic Ocean known as Cape Cod.
On the day I moved in, Nikki and Nate told me how they had gotten the house for a very good price.

“The previous owner was a hoarder,” Nate explained. “She was this old woman who never threw anything away. Not even her trash. The house was full of old newspapers and empty glass bottles and moldy books. You name it. The place was a wreck when we bought it – piled to the ceiling with boxes of junk. And it smelled terrible. We had to rip out some of the walls that had started to rot, and the bathroom was…well, let’s just say she’d been living without plumbing for awhile. That’s why we got such a good deal.”

Nikki nodded. “Supposedly she’d had about fifty cats living with her, and I guess when the neighbor finally found her, she’d been dead for a week, and the cats had eaten off her face.”

“In the room where you’ll be staying they found a bunch of disintegrating cat bodies,” Nate added. “I guess she didn’t bury them when they died – she just threw them in there and shut the door.”

Nikki must have seen the look on my face because she added, “it’s been deep cleaned and renovated since then, so don’t worry.”

“I’m not worried.” I looked around, trying to imagine the small house teeming with stacks of trash and mobs of hungry cats. It was hard to do. Everything was very clean and neat. The kitchen table was clear, the living room furniture sparse. The hardwood floors gleamed.

“Everything looks great,” I said as Nikki showed me to my room. “It’s hard to imagine this place being a wreck.”

At yet, that night, when I laid down in bed, I thought I smelled a faint whiff of cat urine just before drifting off to sleep.

The Cat Lady?

Life with Nikki and Nate was quiet, especially after Labor Day when the tourist season ended and many of the homes nearby turned dark and empty. As it was, we were quite secluded. Our house was set back from the road and surrounded on all sides by a thick woods. The closest neighbor lived on the other side of the woods, and we never had much to do with him since Nate told me he was usually drunk and surly.

The three of us didn’t really have any friends except for each other, which was strange at first since I had come from a life of dates and dinners and weekend plans with various acquaintances.

But as time went on, and I got used to living quietly in the small room in the small, gray house with Nikki and Nate, who were quiet themselves. In the mornings, Nikki crept around in the dark on her tip-toes, trying not to wake Nate, and at night Nate did the same thing, trying not to wake Nikki. On days that we weren’t working, I wrote and Nate read and Nikki cooked, and we were all content, at least somewhat, in our silence and solitude. The Cape was a good place to become a hermit.

I had been living with Nikki and Nate for several months when they made plans to go away for the weekend. It was the first time that I would have the house to myself, and I looked forward to having some alone time. I waved good-bye to them as they drove up the gravel driveway towards the main road and disappeared.

I spent the day reading and writing and watching a movie. It was the perfect day for it – overcast and cold with a strong wind that whipped the dead leaves from the tree branches and sent them skittering across the dried-out grass of our front yard. In the late afternoon, I went to the grocery store to pick up something to cook for dinner. By the time I got home, it was already dark, and I had forgotten to turn on the porch light. It had also begun to rain, and I picked my way carefully across the wet yard and up the stairs, fumbling with my keys in one hand and my bag of groceries in the other.

When I opened the door, I heard a strange noise, almost like an animal, but I thought perhaps it was just the door squeaking on its hinges.

The house was dark and cold, and as soon as I stepped inside the skin on the back of my neck began to crawl. I had the eerie feeling that I was not alone. I put my groceries down on the floor and went around the house turning on all the lights. As soon as I did so, I felt silly for wasting electricity and turned most of them off again. Then I took my groceries to the kitchen and made myself a fish fillet and spinach salad for dinner.

I sat at the table eating, and again I got the feeling that I was not alone. Across from me, the curtain-less windows were dark and reflected my own face. I imagined someone standing outside on the other side of the window, silently watching me each my dinner, and a shudder ran down my spine. I quickly stood from the table and made my way to the windows, yanking down the shades violently.

Taking a deep breath, I sat down again and took a bite of fish. Suddenly, I felt a brush of something against my leg, and my heart jumped to my throat. I looked down, but nothing was there. My arms pimpled with goosebumps.

Just then, I heard a cat giving a long, low cry. The sound seemed to be coming from the back of the house where our bedrooms were.
My heart began to pound quickly. We definitely did not own a cat.

But the sound came again. An unmistakable meow.

Walking slowly through the living room towards the sound, I told myself it was nothing to be scared of. Maybe there was a cat outside in the back yard, that’s all.

I flipped the hallway light-switch, but the light came on for only a moment before plunging back into darkness. The bulb had just burned out.

I heard the cat crying again, long and pitiful, and it sounded as if it was coming from my bedroom. The hallway was now pitch black, and I moved towards my room, feeling my way with my hand along the wall.

I reached the door to my room and stood there for a moment with my hand on the knob, my heart clenching inside my chest.
It’s just a cat, I told myself. Somehow a cat had gotten into the house. That was all.

I pushed open the door and flipped on the light.

But there was nothing there.

“Here, kitty-kitty,” I whispered. My voice sounded hoarse and strange in the silence of the house. I moved towards my closet and looked inside, but there was nothing there except my laundry basket and a pile of shoes.

The only place it could be hiding was under my bed. I got down on my hands and knees. Feeling exposed, my neck began to prickle. Quickly, I lifted up the covers and peered under the bed, bracing myself for the glowing stare of yellow cat eyes. But there was nothing under the bed except for dust and an old sock.

I moved to my window and peered out through the slated shades. The wind had picked up, and the trees tossed their limbs to and fro. I squinted into the darkness. Was there at a little cat out there somewhere, crying in the cold and rain? I waited and listened, but the only noise now was the whoosh of wind.

I went back to the kitchen and finished up my dinner, washed the dishes. Then I put on my pajamas, brushed my teeth, and got into bed, planning to read for awhile, cozy in my bed while the wind rattled against my windows. But I must have been tired, because I quickly drifted off to sleep with my lamp still on and the paperback between my fingers.

I had strange dreams in which I was in our little gray house, but it was darker and more cluttered. Instead of living with Nikki and Nate, I lived with an old woman who had one glass eye. She fed her cats cans of tuna and bowls of whole milk so that their fur turned sleek and glossy and their sharp teeth shone a brilliant white when they yawned.

I was awakened from this dream suddenly by the feeling that something had jumped onto the foot of my bed. My heart jolted, and I lay paralyzed under the covers with my eyes still closed. Something was moving at the foot of my bed. And then I heard the throbbing sound of a cat purring.

My whole body was tense as I slowly opened my eyes and sat up. There was a large cat pawing my bed, its claws digging into the comforter. I threw my book towards it, but I missed, and the book went flying over its head and crashed into the wall. “Get out of here!” I shouted.

The cat turned its head towards me slowly, and its eyes glowed blood red. I kicked at it, my feet still under the covers. “Get out of here!”It leaped off the bed and ran out of my room and down the dark hall.

Trembling, I got out of bed, flipped on the overhead light, and shut my door tightly. Then I jumped back under the covers and hugged a pillow to my chest, desperately trying to make sense of what I’d just seen. Surely, I thought, it had been a dream.  Maybe I was dreaming still.

But then, from the hallway outside my room I heard a meow, and then another, and then another, until there was a chorus of cats crying outside my bedroom door.

“Go away,” I said, my voice trembling. “Go away!”

But they continued to meow, and then they began to scratch their claws on the door. The scratching and meowing grew louder and more insistent.

I was nearly paralyzed with fear when I heard the sound of cat claws scratching the metal of the door knob. I watched as the knob jiggled, and I wished my room had a lock. But it didn’t.

They’re just cats, I told myself. I wondered if I should call animal control, or Nikki and Nate. I glanced at the clock. It was ten after midnight. I suddenly wished I had my neighbor’s phone number. But I didn’t. I didn’t know anyone in this entire town.

The knob jiggled again, and the cat cries grew louder and more shrill. Suddenly, the knob turned and the door burst open. Cats poured into the room, all of their eyes glowing red. They jumped onto my bed, opening their mouths, their needle-sharp teeth sinking into the skin of my face and neck.

I screamed and screamed as loud as I could, but just like the old woman before me, no one could hear my cries.

*   *   *
When Nikki and Nate came home the following evening, they found me lying in my bed, and at first they thought I was only asleep. It wasn’t until they shook me and I didn’t respond that they realized I was dead.

The autopsy revealed nothing. I had no injuries, no illnesses – it was a mystery as to how I had died. The only clue was my bedroom door. The white paint had been scratched clean off in some places, and there were deep grooves in the wood as if it had been attacked by something with sharp claws. And, of course, the bed itself was covered in cat hair. Which was strange, because when Nikki and Nate found me, there were no cats anywhere to be found.

Days 96 & 97: My Grandma Always Said, Keep Your Moles Clean!

Days 96 & 97: My Grandma Always Said, Keep Your Moles Clean!

TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 2

# of agents queried: 0

The other day I had a Skype date with my okcupid penpal who lives in Maryland. (This is the type of thing that I do because I’m weird and I like awkward situations, although actually it wasn’t awkward at all.) Today I got an email from him, and he was talking about how he had bad acne in high school. “Actually, I had a HUGE zit when we Skyped,” he wrote. “Did you see it?”

I did. It was hard to miss. But at the time I wasn’t sure whether it was a pimple or a weird, giant mole. I was relieved to hear it was just a pimple. They’re preferable to weird, giant moles, although I suppose he could have some of those elsewhere on his body.

My grandma used to say, “you can’t help what grows on you, you can only keep it clean.”

It seems like this is an out-dated expression. These days, you can help what grows on you. You can wax it or bleach it or get it surgically removed. You don’t have to settle for you.

*   *   *

Back when I was moving from New Orleans to DC, or maybe it was when I decided I didn’t want to live in DC anymore and was trying to figure out where to move to next, my mom said, “you know, there’s a saying: grow where you’re planted.”

“Ew,” I said. “I don’t like that saying. It’s boring.”

These days, you don’t have to grow where you’re planted. You can uproot yourself as many times as you want and plant yourself in all different types of foreign soil. You don’t have to settle.

*   *   *

Both of these saying might be a little outdated, but on the other hand, I think they might be even more important now that it’s so easy for us to change ourselves or our surroundings at the drop of a hat. Maybe sometimes the answer isn’t a change. Maybe sometimes the answer is to do the best with what you already have.

My mom took a picture of these pretty berries while she was here on the Cape.

Days 94 & 95: Why I’ll Never Give Up Trivia, or, Livin’ – L.I.V.I.N.

Days 94 & 95:  Why I’ll Never Give Up Trivia, or, Livin’ – L.I.V.I.N.

TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 214 (aka my entire manuscript)

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

# of agents queried: 3

Yesterday I queried three agents about my novel and was surprised to hear back from one of them right away – asking to see my full manuscript!

I had been assuming it might take weeks to hear back from agents, and I was expecting them to ask to see the first three chapters, or the first fifty pages. I’ve polished the first fifty pages of my novel. The rest of it? Not so polished.

I decided to give it another read-though/polishing before sending it to the agent. This pretty much took all day, and I wasn’t finished by the time I had to go to trivia.

Oh man, I thought. I don’t want to go to trivia. Working on my novel is more important, and the money I make from hosting trivia is so minuscule  it’s really not even worth it. Maybe I should quit.

But it was too late to cancel trivia, and I figured it would be good to take a break from sitting in front of my computer, so I packed up and headed out.

And boy am I glad I went. It was the best night of trivia ever! There were SIX teams! And several of them were GROUPS of people! And everyone was EXCITED about trivia! (You can tell from my capital letters that these are things that don’t often happen.)

Plus, of course, there were some awesomely-quirky people, as usual. Uncle Sam was back. He is the autistic man who always wears a red and white striped Cat in the Hat hat. Last night I asked him, “so, do you wear that hat just for trivia, or do you wear it all the time?”
“I wear it all the time,” he said. “Except in the shower and when I’m sleeping.”

“Wow,” I said. “Well, it looks good on you.”

“Yes,” he said. “Ninety percent of the feedback I get on this hat is positive. Today somebody shouted out their car window at me, lose the hat, but you know what? I’m not going to. I asked the people in my apartment building if they liked it. I got twelve positive responses and two negative ones, so that’s about eighty-six percent of people who like the hat. And one person just said ‘well, I don’t like it, but if you like it, what do I care?’”

“Exactly,” I told him. “If you like it, that’s all that matters.”

Uncle Sam did not win for craziest person of the night, though. That award went to a youthful looking man with a skinny head and sleepy eyes. He came over to ask me what song I was playing and then stood staring at me while I talked into the microphone.

Eventually he went back to his bar stool. A little while later, I looked over and he was having a very animated conversation with no one.

“Well, yeah, definitely” he was saying, talking with his hands and looking at nothing, unless you count the Big Buck arcade game in the corner. “I mean, I think that’s really important. It’s a very important thing to realize.”

He continued talking passionately. It seemed as if he really thought that there was someone standing in front of him, but I guarantee you, no one was there. I watched him for a while and even got up and walked over to see if perhaps he had a blue tooth in his ear and he was talking to someone on the phone. But no. He was just talking to his imaginary friend.

From the Meat and Taters team.

Besides Uncle Sam, I had two other veteran players. Old Gray Beard was back, as was Jimmy Joe (this time he’d brought two friends with him.) There was a new team called Meat and Taters made up of some extremely drunk dudes and their super nice goth girlfriends (or girl friends, it was unclear.) It was unclear partially because the dudes kept telling me I was sexy. They started writing it on all of their answer sheets and screaming it out when I was talking into the microphone.

“And the answer is…the Suez Canal,” I would say.

“You’re sexy!!” the boys from Meat and Taters would scream.

I also had a team of Brits called Team England. They were very excited when one of the questions was about the Beatles and would randomly scream out, “more Beatles questions!”

Old Gray-Beard surprised everyone by getting the final question right, winning his fifteen point wager, and going from fourth place to first place. At the end of the game, I went over to give him his thirty dollar gift certificate.

“Wow,” he said, grinning. “I can really drink myself into a stupor with this.”

“Well, it’s actually only good for food,” I said, pointing at the fine print.

His face fell. “But I don’t eat. I only drink.”

“Hmm,” I said. “Maybe you might want a little snack sometime? Or maybe you can give it to a friend?”

“I guess,” he said. “I’ll figure something out.”

I went over to the Meat and Taters team. They had come in last place because by the end of the game they were either forgetting to

turn in answers, or simply writing “Your sexy” without attempting to answer the question.

“Thanks for playing, everybody,” I said. “I hope you had fun. I hope you’ll all come back next Wednesday.”

“Girrrl,” the guy with the reddest face slurred. “I’ll be back if you’ll be  back. Dammmmn, you’re sexy. Look at you, girl! You’re so sexxxxy.”

One of the goth girls, the one with the black lipstick and Hello Kitty choker, smiled at me. “Sorry about him,” she said.

“Oh, no worries,” I said. “I like being told I’m sexy. I’ll see you guys next week.”

It’s true. I like being told I’m sexy. And I like interacting with crazy people. And I’ll definitely be back next week.

Anais Nin once said, “my ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.” It’s true. How could I ever give up trivia? With just two hours a week, it is supplying me with a lifetime of characters and ideas.

My mom took this picture of me a few weeks ago on the beach in Wellfleet.

Days 92 & 93: What a Rip Off!

Days 92 & 93: What a Rip Off!

TODAY’S STATS:

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

# of agents queried: 1

The other day my friend Bernard sent me twelve emails, each with an attachment of a quirky-awesome watercolor he’d done. When I gushed to him about how great they were, he was nonchalant*. “They’re just some things I did last night,” he said.

“Wait. You did all of them in one night?”

I then tried, for the umpteenth* time, to convince Bernard that he is an amazing artist. As usual, he wasn’t convinced. We’ve had conversations before on this topic.

“I don’t know,” he’ll say, “Sometimes I feel like I’m ripping off* Quentin Blake. Maybe I’m not very original.”

“So?” I always say. “Who is?”

I would put one of Bernard’s watercolors here, but he’s afraid someone might steal his idea, so here is something by Quentin Blake instead. http://www.flickr.com/photos/queenieandthedew/6996873921/sizes/m/in/photostream/

When I was in ninth grade, I used to attempt* to bond with my father over music. This seemed like a good plan since he was a musician, and I was a teenager obsessed with music.

“So, what are kids today listening to?” he’d ask me, already a hint of aggression in his voice as if he’d actually said, “what kind of crap is being passed off as music these days?”

“Well,” I’d say, happy to babble about my favorite bands, “I like Nirvana, Radiohead, Beck, Veruca Salt, Silverchair…” I’d start listing bands on my fingers. “Maybe I should just make you a mix tape.”

I did make my dad mix tapes, and I was excited for him to listen to them. But as soon as the first song would come on, he’d start getting grumpy* and saying things like, “this sounds just like so-and-so” or “they just ripped off such-in-such.”

“So?” I always said. “Who cares? I like it anyway.”

It really frustrated me that here I was trying to share something with my dad, and instead of enjoying it, he was busy trying to prove it wasn’t original.

The other night I watched the movie 21 Jump Street with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. Yeah, it’s a recycled idea stolen from the 80’s TV show with Johnny Depp. But you know what? It was really funny and I enjoyed it.

*    *   *

Today I sent this blog post by Nathan Bradford to Bernard. It basically says that originality isn’t all that important. What’s important is how (and if) you execute your idea.

This is a good thing for Bernard to keep in mind*, and also a good thing for me to think about in regards to my writing. Sometimes I worry that someone else might have already come up with the same idea as me, or that my ideas aren’t original enough.

But I shouldn’t worry so much. People like to hear the same stories over and over again. That’s why we love movie versions of fairy tales and old TV shows. That’s why there are approximately five thousand vampire romance books on the Barnes and Noble shelves right now.

In fact, you’ve probably heard it said that there are only seven basic plots:

This list from 9th grade English Class:
1 – [wo]man vs. nature

2 – [wo]man vs. man

3 – [wo]man vs. the environment

4 – [wo]man vs. machines/technology

5 – [wo]man vs. the supernatural

6 – [wo]man vs. self

7 – [wo]man vs. god/religion

This list from Christopher Booker:
1.  Overcoming the Monster
2.  Rags to Riches:
3.  The Quest:
4.  Voyage and Return:
5.  Comedies
6.  Tragedies
7.  Rebirth

So any story you tell has probably been told already. So what? If you like it, tell it anyway. Tell your version, and tell it the best you can. And Bernard, the same goes for your art! Don’t worry about whether or not it’s been done before. It’s never been done by YOU. And that’s what matters.

Don’t get so caught up on originality that you can’t enjoy the music.

 

*These are all words or phrases that I taught Sergiy this week

 

Days 90 & 91: Would You Want to Read About an Ugly Girl with Boils?

Days 90 & 91:  Would You Want to Read About an Ugly Girl with Boils?

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

# of agents queried: 0

Side Note: I have finished my first round of revisions on my novel. Huzzah! Now I think I will put it aside for a bit, work on some other things, and then go back and do another round of revisions. Also, I’m going to start querying agents as soon as I write a good query letter and do some research on agents. Scary. Advice?

 

*   *  *

 

My mom read the first three chapters of my novel the other day.  It’s a middle-grade juvenile fiction novel, set in the middle ages, and one of her comments was, “does the heroine have to be so ugly?”

It’s true that I gave Brigitta a pointy chin, thin lips, a crippled leg, and acne. Plus she’s missing a front tooth. And her hair is greasy, and she probably has lice. But come on, people, this was the middle ages! Everyone was looking pretty rough back then. I could have given her boils or a lazy eye, but I didn’t.

My mom says, “I think to be the heroine, she has to have the potential at least to be good looking.”

Is that true? Or is it true because she’s a girl?

Do we only want to read about pretty people?

 

*   *   *
As part of my research, I have been reading young adult and juvenile fiction novels. At the beginning of every novel, the author has to somehow let you know what the main character looks like, and often it’s something trite like, “I look at myself in the mirror and tuck my long, chestnut brown hair behind my ears. I glance into my sky blue eyes and notice the freckles sprinkling my nose.”

When I was getting my MFA, I think one of my professors had a rule that our characters could not look in the mirror, or a window reflection, and comment on their own appearances. But how else can you convey what the protagonist looks like, especially with a first-person narrator? (And what do you do when your first-person narrator lives in the middle ages and doesn’t have a mirror?)

Currently I’m reading the YA novel Matched by Ally Condie, which I think has a great premise, but I’m finding it a bit cheesy and melodramatic. Here is the narrator describing herself:

The rounded lid of the compact distorts my features a little, bit it’s still me. My green eyes. My coppery-brown hair, which looks more golden in the compact than it does in real life. My straight small nose. My chin with a trace of a dimple like my grandfather’s.

So, obviously, she’s pretty. Not drop-dead gorgeous, but nice-looking and modest.

I think, in a lot of these books, the goal is to make the heroine likeable – someone young girls can relate to. So the protagonist is attractive, but not overly-so. We can’t relate to someone who’s model gorgeous. And we don’t want to relate to someone who is butt-ugly.

We want to read about a girl who is pretty, but not so much so that we hate her.

Is that true?

This is a great book.

I recently read a young adult book I really enjoyed called When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. In the book, the heroine is obsessed with the novel A Wrinkle in Time. I started thinking about Meg, the main character from A Wrinkle in Time. Ah-ha, I thought. She’s an example of a non-pretty female protagonist! I scrounged up my copy of the book and here’s what I found:

Mrs. Murray’s [beauty] seemed even more spectacular in comparison with Meg’s outrageous plainness. Meg’s hair had been passable as long as she wore it tidily in braids. When she went into high school it was cut, and now she and her mother struggled with putting it up, but one side would come out curly and the other straight, so that she looked even plainer than before.

Meg wears glasses and braces, and, in a fit of teenage angst, she calls herself repulsive, but it’s clear to me that she’s not ugly after all. She’s simply going through an awkward phase. She, as my mother said, has the potential to be good-looking.

 

*   *   *

 

One of my favorite juvenile fiction books in all the world is Holes by Louis Saacher. In the book, the hero, Stanely, is an overweight, sad-sack sort of kid, and there is definitely no indication given that he is good-looking. In fact, I think his chubbiness and lack of good looks adds a lot to his character. When he has to dig holes at the juvenile detention camp, he jumps onto his shovel and realizes with a sad sort of smile that for once his weight is an advantage. When the movie version of Holes came out, I was really annoyed that they cast a skinny boy (Shia LeBouf) as Stanely. Were they afraid that an overweight protagonist wouldn’t be likeable?

At the end of Holes, Stanely has lost weight and gotten fit from all the digging. In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg takes off her glasses and Calvin tells her she’s got “gorgeous,” “dreamboat” eyes.

It’s just like that part in the movie She’s All That when they take the glasses off the “ugly” girl, put her in a tight dress, and all of a sudden, everyone realizes that she was beautiful all along.

 

*   *   *

 

I’d like to seek out some books where the heroine is ugly. And truly ugly, not just wearing glasses and braces. I’m sure there are some out there, but I can’t think of any besides Wicked.  I wonder if my mom is right.  Does my main heroine need to have at least the potential to be attractive in order for people to care about her?

What does that say about people?

Day 89: I’m Going to Stop Trash-Talking L.A.

Day 89: I’m Going to Stop Trash-Talking L.A.

 TODAY’S STATS:

# of pages revised: 14

# of literary mags submitted to: 0

# of days left to complete 2nd draft: 57

 
I have a new penpal. He’s the guy from okcupid who sent me the intriguing article about “Codpiece” a few weeks ago. (Yes, that’s the type of thing I’m looking for in a penpal.) This week he’s at a conference in Los Angeles and emailed to tell me how much he likes LA.

My go-to sentiment whenever someone mentions Los Angeles is a groan. “Horrible traffic. Horrible smog. Horrible people,” I say automatically.

But I think I’ve been unfair.

Let’s wind the clock back to January of 2000, which is when I moved to L.A. I was nineteen, and the research I’d done prior to the move involved flipping through a few books at Barnes and Noble and emailing some sisters of friends of friends who supposedly lived in LA. I was more concerned with the cross-country drive, and I guess I thought I’d deal with figuring out LA when I got there.

Craigslist didn’t exist back then to help with apartment searching, and I don’t think I really understood the geography of LA anyway, so my roommate and I ended up getting a place in a rather sketchy area of Long Beach. It had been advertised as a two-bedroom, but the second room (which became mine) was actually a loft over the living room, which meant I had no actual privacy.

We lived down the street from Snoop Dogg’s high school and a mile from the intersection of the 91 and 710 freeways, which forms the border between Long Beach and Compton. Just using your knowledge of rap songs should help you to understand that this was not the most wholesome of neighborhoods.

Also, upon arriving in LA, my car died a quick and violent death. So the first thing I tried to figure out was the public transportation system.

That led to me standing at a bus stop in Compton at ten o’clock at night, waiting for over an hour for my bus to arrive. It never did, so I ended up walking six or seven miles home past people dealing and/or doing drugs on the street.

After that, I went to a used car dealership and spent my entire savings on a car with no air-conditioning, no radio, and terrible gas mileage.

To understand my time in LA, you have to understand that:

1. I was very young and stupid

2. I was poor

3. This was the cusp of the Internet age

And I think these circumstances tainted my experience in the City of Angels.

My Long Beach neighborhood.

In order to save money, my roommate and I shared a cell phone, which was such a terrible idea in retrospect that I don’t even want to speak of it.  We splurged on dial-up Internet, but it was pay-by-the-minute, so in another attempt to save money, we had a rule that no one could use the Internet for more than fifteen minutes a day. I would get on the morning to quickly check my email, but I didn’t have time to surf the web for cool stuff to do, or maybe a better apartment in a less ghetto neighborhood.

These were the days before facebook, before Google, before GPS. I worked as an extra, which meant that nearly every day I was going somewhere different – to one of the studios in Burbank or Studio City, or driving to an on-location shoot in Pasedena or Manhattan Beach or God-knows-where. In order to get to work, I actually looked at a map. Specifically, I consulted the Thomas Guide, which was a giant book of detailed maps of LA county and the freeway system. I had to look up the street address in the index, find it on the corresponding small map, and then plot my course on the big map.

This led to me getting horribly lost all the time.

And being lost can be scary when you’re a nineteen-year-old girl driving around LA in a crappy car. It can also be just plain annoying, especially when you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with no air-conditioning and no radio and there are some Mexicans next to you in a truck interpreting your rolled-down window as an invitation to scream dirty Spanish pick-up lines at you.

To be honest, I didn’t have much fun in LA. I was only nineteen, so I didn’t hit the club scene. I didn’t have the money or the clothes for that anyway. I can only recall eating at a restaurant twice. I worked every day that I could, and when you work on movies that means a nineteen-plus hour day, so I didn’t have a lot of free time to go check out the sights. I went to Mann’s Chinese Theater once, and sometimes I went to Redondo Beach to lay out or roller-blade. But other than that, I just worked, went to the library, and hit the 98 Cents store in my neighborhood. I never even went to Griffith Park, home of the Hollywood sign.

And this is all just the little stuff.  I suppose the big thing was that I was trying to make it in the film industry, and I didn’t really know how to do that. I started to feel lost and scared, and not just on the freeways.

My LA headshot. Taken when I was 19.

I spent a lot of my time in LA being confused, bored, or somewhat frightened. But I don’t think that was all LA’s fault. It was the situation I was in. I was young, poor, and lacking information.

I’d like to go back now, eleven years later, with a little money in my pocket and a little thing called the Internet to give me advice. I want to give LA a fair chance. I’d like to see some fun tourist destinations. I’d like to eat at a nice restaurant and check out a club or two. I’d like to walk around in some neighborhoods where I’m not fearing for my life.

I think, given the right circumstances, I could like LA.

 

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I realize that I have a habit of rejecting the place I’m living in, blaming the city for what’s wrong with my life. I did it in Williamsburg, and New Orleans, and again in DC. But I’m being unfair. It’s rarely the place itself that’s the problem. It’s the circumstances. Change the circumstances and then, perhaps, I can be happy anywhere.