19 July 2011

Dispatches from the Beach

Hey! My computer is letting me post! I tried the other day, and it wouldn't let me do it. Before we left for vacation, I got all fancy schmancy and took my iPhone to the Ninth Circle of Hell--otherwise known as The Verizon Store--and had them turn it into a personal hotspot. I knew this ridiculously expensive house didn't have wi-fi, and I can't very well disconnect myself from the virtual world for TWO WEEKS, so it seemed like the perfect solution. Until it didn't let me post.

In reality, my personal hotspot has been used by my children, so they can access Moshi Monsters, their latest online game. I'm sure I'm paying some ridiculous overages, because I don't know how 2GB translates to real world usage. I'm fairly certain that posting to my blog uses far less memory, so I think I might steal it back from them. You know what would use even less memory? Writing my book, because that's just in my hard drive. Just sitting there, waiting for me to visit. And you know what, I'd actually like to go there and say hi to Clay and Sibby. It's lovely in Montana this time of year. Which is, coincidentally, the time and setting of the book. Hmmm, maybe I'll stop writing this post, and go over and visit.

Well, that seemed like a good idea, until I remembered that Boy Five is passed out upstairs, after suffering an allergic reaction to, we believe, too much chlorine, which made him break out in hives. I gave him an antihistamine, and then lightly smeared Benadryl gel on the really itchy parts, which means he should wake up around midnight, and keep me up until dawn. Also, I'm pretty sure Four is wandering around eating an apple, having traded in lunch for pool time, which did not make him sick. Booyah.

But either way, I have to go find him, because there are many adults here, but they're not always watching my children. Because they have their own kids. And I really only have the two I have to worry about, because the teenagers are almost self-sufficient. Not in the way that I would like, but they do manage to get up, feed themselves something, get in their bathing suits, and go. It's lovely.

We are all enjoying the space, the pool, and the time together. Or apart, because you can really hide away in the nooks and crannies here. This post is proof, because they haven't found me yet. But I really can't go write the book, because I'd have to hide for even longer, and that would be irresponsible. Maybe next week, when the Captain is here, I can get some work done. Because I really am itching to write. Remarkably, rambling, boring posts like this one are not satisfying my writing jones. Huh. Who'd a thunk it? I actually want to finish the manuscript!

It's 5:18 PM, and Two just came out with his lunch. I thought you'd find that amusing.

Until next time, when I promise to be more profound. Or lyrical. Or poignant. Or....maybe I'll just post pictures.

15 July 2011

Memory Boxes

We leave for vacation tomorrow. We are barely packed, and the house is a disaster, but somehow I'll get it done, and we'll make it there. We haven't missed vacation yet, so I doubt this will be the year it all goes wrong. Did I just jinx myself?

As you can imagine, we have to schlep a whole lot of stuff to move our  family of seven into a different house for two weeks. Rentals at the Jersey Shore provide pillows and blankets, but no other linens. So, over the years, I've amassed a trunkful of sheets and towels to fill that void. Each year I sort through it, in a type of archaeological dig through our history.

"Look, those are the twin sheets from One and Two's first beds. Oh, and the camo ones from  Two and Three's room. Remember we had to throw the other one out because it was so stained from that horrendous bloody nose? It looked like a crime scene in there."

Queen sheets from the bed the Captain and I slept in for the first ten years of our marriage. Towels gifted at my bridal shower, frayed enough now that it might be time to retire them. Blue coverlets from the first set of bunk beds.

The trunk of machine-washable memories gets loaded in the van, and then I box up the "shore fun." Battleship, Uno, Candy Land, Mancala, Trouble, Monopoly. The boys used to have epic Monopoly games with Pappou that would go on for days. Last year the craze was Rummikub. Personally, I'm hoping someone will teach me how to play Backgammon again, because that was my favorite beach game when I was young.

This may be the last year we do a giant family beach vacation. We promised One we would go to Yellowstone next year, and after that, who knows? The boys are getting older. Jobs, cars, girlfriends and graduations loom on the horizon. Attention will be divided, interests will diverge.

But for now, for the next two weeks, we'll all be together. Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, friends, eating, laughing, and playing together. Making box loads of memories, to be unpacked again and again.

14 July 2011

One Goes Solo

We sent One to the beach last Saturday, to vacation with Nonni, Aunt Jen, and his young cousins. Grandpa and Uncle Sean were there for the weekend, but then they had to return home for work. So, my graduate has been the man of the house.

Usually, we all travel down together, and One is Nonni's co-pilot. He's generally unflappable, which has proven to be invaluable when driving with her through excessive traffic, or raging thunderstorms. Last year, her car broke down, and he rubbed her leg while they waited in the Shop-Rite parking lot for the tow truck. This year, however, Nonni was joining Jen and Sean a full week prior to our vacation, which meant no co-pilot. She was understandably disappointed, so I suggested she just take One with her.

We all had initial concerns, because One is lacking life skills. I take full responsibility for my failure in this area, and routinely beat myself up about it. He's made progress over the years, but I knew there was no way he'd be evenly applying sunscreen all over his body, or cooking his own dinner, which added to Aunt Jen's responsibilities. Fortunately, Aunt Jen is One's Godmother, and, next to his parents, his staunchest supporter.  God save the unfortunate soul that speaks ill of her nephew. Aunt Jen is an Italian-American woman who loves Jesus, but is slow to forgive.

I told One the two rules he had to follow while at the shore: he could only go in the ocean directly in front of the lifeguard stand, and he had to help Aunt Jen and Nonni with the children. Judging by the updates I've received, he is performing admirably on both counts. The little ones have been thrilled to have their eldest boy cousin with them. He's kept a vigilant eye on them in the water, and they've made iPad movies with him at night. And I think it's been a nice change of pace for One to be the big man of the house. At home, he has to live with Two and Three, who know more about the world than he does, and will reach many of life's milestones before him.

But One is easy-going, and these things don't seem to bother him. Every so often he likes to remind his brothers of the pecking order, which is his right. I'm glad he's had this time away from us, to just be himself, with people who love him. When we arrive on Saturday, I'm not certain he'll willingly move into the giant Victorian with us! But I do know that when we leave, Nonni will have her co-pilot, and One will have his memories of the summer he went on vacation "alone."

12 July 2011

Teenage Dreams

Three and I were driving home today, and he turned on the radio. Pat Benatar was singing "We Belong." I reached to change the station, because we all tend to prefer current music, but he stopped me.

"No, I like this song."
"How do you even know it?" I asked.
"I think it was in 'Napoleon Dynamite'," he answered.
"You do know that I listened to this song when I was a teenager, right? Well, I think I was, even though I'm pretty sure I was going to bars."
"Yeah, it's pretty old."

That's the truth. "We Belong" was released in 1984. I turned twenty in December of that year. I was in my first semester at Rutgers, having transferred from my community college. I probably wasn't listening to Pat Benatar at that point, because I was busy cultivating my alt/punk image. And I was most definitely going to bars. But the memory of Pat is strong, because she was tough and cool, she wore sexy clothes, and made awesome girl-power videos. Three asked if she was popular.

"Yes; she was very successful."
"Like, Britney Spears popular?"
"Yes, but like Britney crossed with Pink, 'cause she was a tough chick."

He nodded like he understood the comparison. I got out of the van, struck by how strong the memories of my teenage years remain. A song easily transports me back to high school or college, and all the tumultuous emotions of that time in my life. I remember how awful middle school was, and how I didn't stop feeling awkward until sophomore year. I remember the drama and the laughter, and how life was better when I became part of a close circle of girlfriends. I remember boyfriends, and band, cheerleading, and proms. I could go into staggering detail, if I thought long enough. And depending on my mood, those recollections would be either tragic or triumphant.

I watch Two as he breezes through his life, popular and engaged, and I wonder if he feels the same things I did as a fifteen year-old. The rollercoaster of emotions, the pressure. Every so often, he lets a detail slip about his own internal landscape, and I get a glimpse of that long-ago world of mine. But he doesn't share much without direct interrogation, so mostly I just hope he's okay.

In contrast, I've seen Three struggle these past two years, as he lost touch with what had been his close friends, and fell in with an entirely different group. He looks like one type of kid on the outside-athletic, funny, confident- but inside I think he's a little nervous and goofy. He's muddling through, trying to define himself, and I think that's what resonated with me as we listened to a song that had traveled across time to unite us.

I am still defining myself.  The difference is that I have a lifetime of experience that has proven who I am at my core. Now, it's more like I'm revising, or clarifying, that person. My teen years, in all their tear-stained, smeared glory, created me. Maybe that's why that time is still so vibrantly alive inside me. Because it was so important. And as much as I would love to spare my children their own pain, I know it's necessary. We all need our teenage dreams, and nightmares, to help forge our adult reality. I wouldn't change a moment. Would you?

10 July 2011

Sunday Snapshots

It was a busy Saturday, and I don't have that many snapshots, but in light of Derek Jeter (the other "Captain") surpassing the 3,000 hits mark, I present Yankee Stadium::

I found out after I signed up for the Romance Writers of America conference that Curious Miss Kris, a fellow Betty otherwise known as Kristel from Australia, would be in New York at the same time. She wanted to see a baseball game, so the Captain and I took her to Yankee Stadium. It was a beautiful night, and I felt like I was on a movie set. The grass was so green, the sky clear and blue, and the apartment buildings in the distance looked like quaint backdrops.

My sister Erin came along, and we were joined at the stadium by my good friend, June, who introduced me to the Betties. It was fun to explain the game to Kris, who is adventurous and kind. I wanted to introduce her as my younger sister, because we're both rocking the awesome spectacles, but you know, I'm old enough to be her mother.
Megan, Kris, and Erin outside the beautiful new stadium.

And Megan and Kris inside the stadium, looking for Derek Jeter.

June and Kris enjoying the New York subway. Doesn't everyone?

The Captain, Erin, and June all had to hop off a few stations before me, in order to catch their trains home. I still had a few days left at the conference, and Kris had a few more days to spend in New York before heading back to Australia. I hugged her good-bye outside my hotel, and watched her walk toward hers. Even though I was away from my boys, I felt motherly. I don't know if we'll ever be together again, so I was grateful to spend a few hours in her company.  

I suppose we should feel that way about everyone in our lives.

Have a lovely Sunday, my friends.

08 July 2011

Quantifying the Smut

I am writing a romance novel. It is, more specifically, a single-title, contemporary romance, with a hint of women's fiction. And series/spin-off potential. Confused? If you aren't an editor or agent, you should be. I could ramble on about the latest ways to distinguish between "romance" and "women's fiction," or how my novel incorporates elements of both genres, because of its unique voice. At conferences, there is always a lot of interest in the "unique voice." But instead, I'm going to answer the more important question: is the sex hot?

One of my most enjoyable evenings at the Romance Writers of America conference was spent at The Perfect Pint with Kimberly Savage, Ellen Price, and Serena Bell. It's an Irish pub located near Times Square, with yummy food, good prices, and, according to Serena, delicious wheat beer. Over dinner, we discussed how the editor and agent appointments had gone for Ellen and Serena, which led to more in-depth discussion of the details in our stories. We all write romance, so naturally, the conversation turned to sex. Well, sex scenes in novels, anyway.

Ellen declared that sex scenes are Serena's superpower. I think I might choose something less time-intensive, like laser-beam shooting eyes, or super-strength. But Serena's power should not be underestimated. Imagine how the bad guys might be distracted by the sudden appearance of a smoking hot sex scene. Maybe she could magically implant the audio version in their brain, and as a velvety-voiced narrator read it aloud, the other superheroes could swoop in and snare the  paralyzed perverts. Not that reading, or writing, sex scenes is perverted. Mostly, it's just hard. I mean difficult.

Ellen writes cozy romance, which apparently does not contain sex scenes. It might be intimated, but it isn't described. Ellen uttered the funniest line of the night, when she said she thinks "hot sex is icky. I mean, I like it in real life, just not in my books. I mean, the books I write!"  Well, of course everyone likes hot sex in real life!

After the laughter subsided, we agreed that sometimes it is tricky to write sex, knowing your mother will read it. Or, worse, your mother-in-law. Kimberly said she would have to give her mother a copy with all the steamy parts redacted, hidden behind bold slashes of Sharpie. Serena asked me where my sex scenes ranked on the hotness scale. I didn't know there are actual written parameters! If I recall correctly, the categories range from "cool" to "scorching," with "warm" and "hot" in between. "Scorching" would be considered erotica, so I labelled my scenes "hot." We'll see if my future readers agree. I wouldn't mind sharing Serena's superpower.

We finished the meal with chocolaty desserts. We chose that over  post-coitus-discussion cigarettes, because New York has banned smoking in restaurants. As we left the pub, I heard the song playing on the radio. Four fearless romance writers strode out into the night to "Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw?"  I laughed, because that works as a plot point, too. As long as it's hot.

06 July 2011

Getting By With a Little Help From My Friends: RWA Continued

The Romance Writers of America national conference was a total girl-power experience. I was surrounded by so much estrogen, I'm pretty sure I pushed menopause back a good five years. I felt like I was living in my own Bizarro world, except with Wonder Woman, not Superman.

My stay in the Alternate Universe began in my  hotel room. Originally, I was going to stay with my friend June, because she lives in New York City. But my friend Deborah Blake, a fellow Betty, lost her roommate. Never to be found again. Nah, her buddy just couldn't attend, which left Deb in a bind. I considered the benefit of having a place to crash between volunteering gigs, and signed up. It was a wise decision, most notably because Deborah is a good woman, and an easy bunkmate. Wait-that didn't come out right. Although she did say she's available.

We had fun. And we learned the most important lesson of all: order one meal, and share it!

At the end of my first, long day, I was sitting in Orientation and got a text. It was an empty thought bubble. Naturally, I wanted to know who was bursting at the seams to tell me...nothing...so I wrote back. It turned out to be Colette Auclair, my fellow contest slut, who reached out to me after we finaled in the Winter Rose. Actually, I'm much more of  a 'ho than Colette, who won first place in our category. She's lovely and talented, so in the future I will know not to compete against her. I ditched the orientation in favor of food and company, and quickly hijacked the conversation, plus the chair formally occupied by her friend, Kimberly Savage. The conference provided different opportunities for each of us, so we weren't always together. But here we are, looking glamorous after the fancy schmancy Awards Ceremony.

Megan Coakley, Colette Auclair, and Kimberly Savage: Future Award Winners.

When I was in Salem for the NECRWA conference, I was determined to hand out my business card to every woman I met. The first two victims of my blitzkrieg were Serena Bell and her best friend, Ellen Price. Ellen and I kept meeting up in the restrooms, where I would invariably give her another card. Both she and Serena are dedicated and knowledgeable about their craft, supportive and helpful with their advice. Also, it's just fun to listen to them finish each other's sentences. They're like a married couple. Or sisters.

My new peeps: Serena Bell, Ellen Price, and Kimberly Savage.

That is what the conference felt like-a huge gathering of all the women in a family-mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins. Strong, independent females, striving for individual and collective success. Listen, I really want to be published. But I also want that for Colette, Kim, Serena, Ellen, Delia, Lora, and anyone else driven by the need to share their stories. The Lone Woman is surrounded by penii, but believes in the power of the vagina. If RWA is any indication, sisterhood can change the world.

Come join us. Positive attitude required. Blonde hair, not so much.

05 July 2011

Independence Day

I was going to write a little more about RWA today, but my mood changed when Two threw his dirty clothes on top of my clean hand washables in the machine, and then proceeded to run them through a second cycle, with high spin. Did I mention they were my brand new clothes from the conference? And that he washed them with his Velcro-waisted bathing suits? When I shrieked and went upstairs to tell him that it's always advisable to LOOK INSIDE THE WASHER before using it, he stared at me and then laughed.

"It's not funny, Two," I steamed. "I'm not laughing."
His facial expression changed to bewilderment, laced with a healthy dose of annoyance.
"I just threw everything in. It's not like I planned it."
I stormed out of his room.

Later, when he had collected his clothes from the dryer, where they'd been pitched after I angrily sorted them from my twisted delicates, I told him to meet me for a discussion. He asked if I would drive him to meet his friends to watch the fireworks. Seriously. I told him to sit down, make eye contact with me, and listen, because that is how one shows courtesy and respect.

I explained that I was sure he hadn't deliberately ruined my clothes, but when I came to him, the proper response would have been to apologize first, and make excuses later. Similarly, when he was on vacation in Florida the whole previous week, it would have been courteous and respectful to contact one or more of his parents, via text or phone call, to let them know he was alive.

Eye-rolling, followed by an exasperated sigh, and the disclaimer that I hadn't asked him to do that.

I did not lose my mind. I know; you're shocked, aren't you? I actually paused to marvel at how the teaching opportunities never end. I wondered how many more years I would be so lucky.

What followed was a long, somewhat emotional discussion, regarding giving his parents what we want. I emphasized how this important lesson would translate to all aspects of his life, as he attended high school and  college, and later in his personal and work relationships. ANTICIPATE WHAT I WANT, AND GIVE IT TO ME. I DON'T CARE IF YOU WANT TO OR NOT.

Did this mean he would live a life of servitude? No. Could he share his thoughts and feelings? Yes. Was he still beholden to us until he moved out? Absolutely.

Angry tears welled in his eyes. At that moment, I realized he was a true teenager. And it made me sad. I had such high hopes for him. I thought we had a nice rapport that would help us navigate these next few years with only a few minor bumps and bruises. Now, it appears there's no guarantee we won't crash and end up in the ER.

I drove Two to meet his friends. Before he got out of the car, I hugged him.

"Two," I said, "you're a fifteen year-old boy. You're going to hate me over the next few years. Try to give me what I want, and I'll do the same for you. Let's keep talking, and see how it all works out. I love you."

He hugged me back, hopped out, and ran off to celebrate Independence Day.

04 July 2011

Of Lint and Literacy: RWA, Day One

Last week I attended the Romance Writers of America national conference in New York City. Yes, I had to drive all the way through the Lincoln Tunnel to get there! Actually, I commuted in with the Captain on Tuesday, and he gallantly dragged my overstuffed suitcase up Broadway to the Marriott Marquis Hotel, located in the middle of Times Square. For those of you abroad, here is a bit of what it looks like in the middle of the night.

I had to be to the hotel early because I had volunteered to register incoming attendees. This wasn't my year to pitch my manuscript to agents, so I decided I would meet as many people as possible by working the various events. That first day I spent three hours welcoming writers, agents, and editors, unaware of the relative celebrity of most of them. It worked to my advantage, as I was less intimidated than some of my deskmates. Everyone was lovely, especially the women from RWA, who coordinate the whole massive undertaking.

I had lunch that afternoon with the Captain, who works three blocks from the hotel. I brought all the books from my swag bag and gave them to his friend Michelle, who is a voracious reader, and unlike myself, recognized most of the author names. I invited her to come back to the hotel for the charity autographing event, which benefits literacy programs across the nation. I had volunteered for that as well.

At 5:00 I donned a red apron and started working. My job was to keep the authors hydrated, and to answer any customer questions. The room filled quickly with enthusiastic readers, and stayed that way for three hours. The authors were gracious, albeit parched, and there was no end to smiling faces. I think the doors could have remained open all night, and there would have been no shortage of fans. It was a lovely testament to the power of the written word, and the continuing appreciation of those that transport us outside our own lives.

I took full advantage of my apron-wearing status to jump the line of my favorite author. I asked her to autograph several books, including one for the woman who had introduced me to her novels, which then inspired me to become a writer. She said, "That's the way it works, doesn't it?" and signed away. We all need inspiration, and the support of our friends and family to achieve our dreams.

When I finally got to my room around midnight, I peeled off the knit shirt I'd been wearing all day. My torso was dotted with black lint, adhered to the remnants of surgical glue used to seal me up after my surgery. I stared in the mirror and thought about all the people that had helped me get to that hotel, to attend that conference, so I could pursue my dream. I left the lint, as a reminder of their love.

The Lone Woman meets her Favorite Author and Inspiration: Jennifer Crusie.