Tuesday, May 24, 2011

don't think twice (it's alright)

I remember the very first time I thought about a story I was writing when I heard a piece of music. I was writing one of my many, many "bad boy" stories. This one was called "Wrapped," and was my very first published story (1992, if memory serves).

A couple dozen cassette tapes had followed me across the country and up the west coast, and now they were stored haphazardly in a large gold tin that had originally held fancy Christmas cookies. There were the usual suspects: bootleg Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Johnny Cash. But mostly, the tapes were Dylan. Dylan and the Dead, Blonde on Blonde, Freewheelin', and several compilations claiming to be his "best."

One tape ended up in the sometimes-working player of my Subaru wagon more than the others. It was a tape of unknown origin, any one of a half-dozen bad boyfriends of my past could have left it behind. All the greatest tunes whined scratchily from its film as it blared out my dashboard speakers: Lay, Lady, Lay; Knockin' On Heaven's Door; Tangled Up In Blue; Isis; When the Ship Comes In, and my all-time favorite, Don't Think Twice, It's Alright.

That song would come on and I could see Robert Zimmerman, (and all the drunk, no good boys of my youth), slinking down the other side of the street to escape entanglements of the heart, and blaming the woman for not being kind enough or some line of crap. And yet. I felt sorry for the fellows. Sure, they were cads, but there was a longing in that song that I knew lurked in the heart of any boy I'd ever, uh, kissed. A boy wanting a girl to envelop him with love and acceptance.

Well, I wrote this story, and I'd invented a composite bad boy boyfriend I named Pirate, and the next time I drove somewhere long and pressed the play button and Bob's gravelly voice and passionate harmonica churned the air, my story played in my head like a movie. The whole thing: a composition accompanied by Dylan's ambivalent shuffle off down the road. And this amazing thing happened. Instead of being the girl in the story, I morphed into the boy. I became the fragile soul posing, for all the world, as a stud who was on to the next conquest, or bend in the road--ungettable, untamable, free. In other words, the song made me think twice, and offered me purchase to another point of view, another way in to the story I'd written. So I went home, and rewrote it. I made Pirate more complex. Gave him a wee bit of backstory.

Anyway, I thought about this today, for the first time in a long time--it being Dylan's 70th birthday and all. I'm sure lots of you have Dylan song stories, right?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Actually, not chicken. COW. The winner of a brand new signed copy of Chronology of Water is...that overachiever, Sherri Hoffman! Sherri, send me your address (suzy@suzyvitello.com), and I'll put your prize in the mail.

Second place winner gets a most fabulous set of fun sort of water-themed coasters (see pic) -- and that prize goes to Jennifer Bennett! Yay, Jen! (Are you still on Neil?)

And just for fun ('cause random number generator is so awesome) I picked up this very soothing bath salt for ErikaM! (Erika, need your address in order to send you your prize.

This was fun! Thanks everyone for the tweets, re-posts, Facebooks and blog adds.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chronology of Water Giveaway

The getting people to follow your blog via giveaway is a trend right now. Particularly amongst the YA set. And, I have to say, I've found it to be distracting, annoying, and ickily self-referrential. And now, I find myself doing it too!

Okay, remember that Sunday night movie years and years ago, that was followed up by the regular movie that I think Sandra Bullock was in (amy g, help me out you cinemaphile, you). The conceit was a reporter doing an exposé on the inner workings of a Miss America contest, or some such. And in the midst of the participant observation, the reporter becomes "one of them." Remember? From the inside, she gets caught up, and finds that she's not as cynical as she thought? Maybe I'm misremembering. But I think she wins and she's really happy and all that.

You follow?

So, a couple of weeks ago I entered two author blog "win a book" contests. Social Media giveaways. And guess what? I won them both! Back-to-back priority mail envelopes in my mailbox replete with ... books! I was giddy. I was like a kid at a carnival who got the ping pong ball in the fishbowl. Like Sandra Bullock (or whoever) with the tiara. Damn, I loved seeing my name and the word "winner" next to it on those blog posts.

So I'm having my own giveaway. And, because my book is still a manuscript, it's not for my arc or reviewer's copy or anything, but I do want to generate some more followers for this and my Empress Chronicles blog, plus crow about a book affectionately called COW. So, I'm giving away a signed copy of the best book I've read this year. Which (full disclosure) happens to be written my good friend and workshop mate, Lidia Yuknavitch.

Here's a little bit about this fabulous book:

Chuck Palahniuk writes,
I've read this book cover to cover a dozen times. I am still reading it. And will, most likely, return to it for inspiration and ideas, and out of sheer admiration for the rest of my life.
Jeremy Russell says,

Reading Lidia Yuknavitch is like watching someone marking a map of America with black dots on all the toxic waste dump sites. You aren't quite sure how she knew to mark those particular spots, but know only that her aim is unerring.
So, here's what you need to do, to win a COW:
A. Tweet about this blog post
B. Facebook about this blog post
C. Become a "follower" of this or my Empress Blog or both
D. Add this blog, or my Empress blog to your blog sidebar
E. Comment below (which you HAVE to do to be eligible). Before you comment, add up your "entry points" based on how many of the things above you did.

1. Add up your entries and list them in the comments section (along with email address):
-> comment only = 1 entry point
-> follower = 1 extra entry point per blog follow
-> tweet or facebook = 2 extra entry points
-> blog or sidebar = 3 extra entry points

2. The contest will last until 9pm PST on Wednesday, May 18th. At that point, I'm going to assign all entry points a number, then spin the "random number generator" wheel. Winner of the COW will be announced on Thursday. I'll also be drawing runners up who will get swag gift packs! (I'm not sure yet what they'll be, but they'll be cool!)

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

soccer mom from hell

I've been a soccer mom for nearly 20 years. That's two decades of orange slices, shin guards and yelling at the ref. I've loved every minute. Number 30, below, is my youngest. The kid on the right, blue jacket, is my oldest, now 24.

So, yeah, I'm a sideliner, but I'm no stranger to the perils of competition from a non-vicarious standpoint. I did the equestrian thing. Ribbons and ratings and judges. Thank God none of my kids got into horses. I remember my father once, after I was eliminated in the cross-country phase of an event, making me go over and over the jumps on my exhausted quarter horse, Sweet William. Etched into my brain is my dad's sunburned and pissed off face, contorted and shrieking from the center of the field, "You take him over that hogsback again and again until it's as smooth as butter!"

I swore I'd never put that trip on my kids. Not me. I'd be a soothing, loving mommy with a Tupperware of homemade Tollhouse cookies. Win, lose, it wouldn't make a difference.


It's an instinctual thing, the glee you get watching your kid when he's in the zone, racing down the field like a gazelle, arcing a ball over the keeper and into the upper vee of the net. And then there's the visceral reaction, when your son is pushed off the ball, cleated in the back, given a yellow card for reckless play (or in the case of my oldest, telling a ref to fuck off). Look up and down the sidelines next time you're at a youth soccer match. Watch the parents' feet shuffle as though they themselves plan on kicking the ball down the field. We can't help it, us soccer moms and dads.

So, mid-May is tryout time for club soccer. It's stressful, emotional, and in some cases just plain evil. My 12-year-old is looking at several teams. In his behalf, I've emailed coaches, queried parents of kids in other clubs, driven 20 miles in commuter hell while my son wolfed down a turkey sandwich and a piece of pie. Homework is on the back burner. The house is a wreck. Everything but jerseys and soccer shorts is filthy. Last night I brought home the crappiest Mexican food ever for dinner at 9:30, procured from a place that smelled of Mr. Clean and fryer grease.

Team A, the elite team, is interested in my son. Team B also. And Team C. He's 12! I've filled out reams of forms and waived scads of potential liability. Most afternoons the last couple weeks, I've stood at the side of various fields, like my father, hoping, in each and every session, my kid blows the other kids away. It's disgusting. And by It's I mean I'm.

So this afternoon, my son says, "I'm tired, I'm going to blow off the Team A tryout." And like the Mrs. Hitler I am I sternly pontificate, "Then how will you make an informed decision?"

He rolls his eyes. "I've made up my mind. I'm going to choose Team B."

"But what if Team B doesn't choose you?" I stammer. "You sure you want to burn your bridges?"

He has circles under his eyes, my boy. And he says, "Mom, I need a day off."

"Really? Well, okay, but you're not going to sit around watching i Carly. Finish your snack, turn off the tv and do your homework. Then take out the trash." Yup, I really said that, because in the parlance of the Timber's Army, No pity!

So then my son says, "How come whenever I don't do what you want you throw this chores stuff in my face?"

I sigh one of those long-suffering sighs. The mom version of the red-faced take him over the jumps command. Then I stomp upstairs and pour a merlot.

But in the wine-induced mellow that ensued, I realized a couple of things. My kid has figured out what he wants. He's made his mind up based on gut and experience. And, it's doubtful that the team he wants won't want him, but even if that's the case, who gives a fuck? So, chill, Mom! Enjoy the fleeting childhood of your youngest child. You got maybe six more years to scream at the refs. And then, perhaps, you'll get a little rest before it's time to be a soccer grandma.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mum's Day

My most memorable Mother's Day took place about eight years ago. I was separated from my husband, and overwhelmed with piles of stuff, a rambunctious toddler, money issues, and a garden that rivaled a rain forest for its overgrowth and canopies of thorns. To say nothing of the various critters that lurked about.

My kids planned to take me out for brunch. Reservations had been made.

The day before, in a fit of overcompensating for months of neglect, I'd purchased some compost tea at a nursery, and sprayed it on my chickweed-filled lawn. It was a rare Saturday without a soccer game, and I spent the entire day with my hands in soil--digging, weeding, clipping. I'd slapped together a sandwich mid-day, and, unbeknownst to me, the microbes from the compost tea had taken that opportunity to migrate to a willing host. Sunday morning I woke up to the lovely sound of my gut rumbling, which quickly turned into vomit spray. I spent the day between the bed and toilet. So much for brunch.

It's taken me a long time to recognize my part in the dynamic of Mother's Day Fail. Our culture tells our kids that honoring your mother means feeding her. Hauling her ass somewhere nice, where she can be fancy and drink Mimosas. I bought into this over the years, accepting invitations to swell restaurants. My daughter has been particularly valiant and sweet in providing several excursions to various eateries about town. But, because I chose to have, essentially, two generations of children, the Mother's Day brunches have typically involved the usual time management responsibility of "fitting in" being honored amidst soccer tryouts, birthday parties, and once, a trip to urgent care because the rambunctious toddler had become a rambunctious 10-year-old who'd skateboarded his way to a sprained wrist. Happy Mother's Day, indeed!

So this year, my dear husband has arranged something for me. And it will take place late in the day, and I won't have to leave my house. The older kids are coming over for dinner. I don't have to cook it or clean up after it. And, in fact, this morning he's taken the rambunctious now 12-year-old skiing (yes, skiing. we've had a crazy snowy spring in the Cascades), and I get to read, write and have the house to myself for several hours. As much as I adore my children, solitude without obligation is a precious thing. The quiet of a Sunday--a true and delicious actual day off--is the best Mother's Day gift there is.