Can Authors Have Brands?

Last week, I listened to author Lisa See talk about branding, courtesy of Susan McBeth’s Authorpreneurs program. (Note to all authors: if you’re coming through San Diego ever or would like to, contact Susan’s Adventures by the Book and see if you can set up an event with her. She runs fabulous events).

lisa see by Susan McBeth

Authors have “brands.” Did you know that? I did, but it always awfully smacked of “selling out to the man” or something. We’re artistes! We write what we feel driven to write.

I have always written about what I wanted to write about, without thought of which category my writing fit into or trying to shoehorn it into a certain genre. Not that I did it on purpose, exactly; it’s just how things worked out. I had stories I wanted to tell and the genres came after.

My second book won an American Library Association Award for Best Women’s Fiction, so I think we can somewhat objectively say it wasn’t poorly written. However, that book didn’t sell nearly as well as my first book.  Hmmm. Is it because the subject matter was different? Maybe that people didn’t connect with a potential downer of a storyline (character with a grave illness). I did go back to writing a Japanese theme for this third book because I found something I really really wanted to write about, a warrior woman associated with my mother’s family tree.

Is writing about half-Japanese people my brand, then? Or is my brand “family relationship dramas?” What is an “author brand,” anyway?

Basically, it’s what people expect from you when they pick up a book of yours. This expectation stems from whatever book you wrote that sold the best. See’s brand would be historical novels containing a secret, with Chinese or Chinese-American characters.

But what if she wanted to write about non-Chinese characters?

Sure, she could. She could in the sense that this is America and you can write whatever you like. Nobody’s going to take her laptop away and throw her into the gulag if she writes something different. HOWEVER, the publisher might not publish it.

On one level, I feel like this may be unfair to Lisa See. When I read a Lisa See novel, I know I will get a beautifully written, exhaustively researched novel with some historical flair. The style of writing would not change, just the subject matter. What does subject matter have to do with style?

Then as she continued the talk and my mind (with its long synapses, a quality of an introvert) digested all of this, I had an epiphany.

I think what turned me off so much before about “branding” was the fact that the word “branding” was used. However, try substituting the word “style,” perhaps combined with “subject matter.” I think about different visual artists and the themes they explore, I can certainly tell their styles apart, and the artwork is mostly thematically cohesive.

If you look at, for example, a Picasso painting, you know it’s a Picasso painting and not,say, a Jackson Pollock. For the most part.

Here’s Woman with Mandolin, by Picasso.

Woman with Mandolin

Here’s Blue Poles by Pollock.

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock

But both men had different styles (or brands, if you will) early in their careers. You could even say that the early Pollock looks a bit like the later Picasso.

The Old Fisherman, Picasso, 1895

early picasso

Naked Man with a Knife, c. 1938, Jackson Pollock

Naked Man with Knife c.1938-40 by Jackson Pollock 1912-1956

Another distinctive artist is Diane Arbus, known for her photographs of those on the fringes of society. Both the subject matter and style are hers. But she and her husband did start out as fashion photographers for magazines like Vogue.

Do these and other artists have the ability to work in different styles competently? Yes.  But were they known for working in all of them? No. They developed a distinctive style, or voice, or brand.

This is true for musicians as well. I was watching The Voice the other night. A guy sang “Pretty Woman.” He sounded exactly like Roy Orbison, like a Roy Orbison impressionist, in fact. Nobody turned their chair for him, and all the judges said that he sounded too much like Orbison. They wanted somebody with his own sound that sounds like nobody else on the planet.
Your style (or your brand) is what nobody else has. A different take. As the writer Anna Quindlen said, “Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had.”

So, all this was going through my head during See’s discussion. And I wondered, is it really unreasonable for me to have a style and subject matter that I am known for? That is pretty much the only new thing I’m bringing to the table, right? That is my brand—or whatever you want to call it.

Maybe the “brand” isn’t totally dependent on the author. Maybe your brand is just what the market (your readership) decides for you. Maybe your readers will follow you no matter what you write about, maybe they won’t.

I think you have to write about what moves you, and your brand will follow. After all, there are never any failproof guarantees about bestseller-dom or awards; if there were, publishers would have figured it out. Perhaps you already know what you want to do, or perhaps it will take a few books (another issue: are authors even allowed the time to develop a brand these days?) just as it took some time for these artists to develop their distinctive styles.

10 Menu Planning Tips for Busy Moms

Or Busy Dads! It goes without saying (because I use the word Mom sometimes as a universal word for Parent, the same way you might use the word “he” to signify all of humanity. I.e. “He who laughs last best.” “Moms who plan meals laugh last.” See?).

This might seem like a kind of un-glamorous post (honestly, where are all my posts about high-falutin book parties and designer dresses, hmmm? I thought that’s what I was signing up for when I became a writer!) but it’s completely necessary. And, when looking at my Facebook feed I see I am far from the only parent with this problem, no matter what the job is.

Because those darn kids just INSIST on eating every single day. Who knew this would happen? For eighteen years, times three?

I work (yeah, I know it doesn’t seem like it. Pre-order SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW now! You don’t have to pay until April!) but because I work from home, the menu planning always falls on me. As it should, because if it fell on Cadillac I do believe we’d be eating hamburgers or cereal every night of our lives. (And because you would laugh, seriously, if I told you all the stuff he does around here. Meals are my one job besides picking up kids from school, and he does 99% of everything else).

Yet I struggled, because I don’t like to plan stuff. I like to sit around doing my creative thing and being eccentric and making Art (art with a capital A!). Why don’t I have a personal chef? Where is my delivered meal service? I’m so thwarted, dude.

However, I finally pulled my head out and came up with a system (as opposed to doing nothing and then begging Cadillac to pick something up on the way home).

First, I bought me some chalkboard magnets.

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I really wanted whiteboard magnets, but couldn’t find any. I was going to make some, but I kind of forgot. Then I was at Target and saw these on clearance.

Why magnets?

I wanted to write down all the meals, then be able to either erase them or switch them around in case something didn’t work out.

You don’t have to use magnets. You could use a calendar or just check Pinterest for millions of other cute ideas.

I wrote the weekdays on the refrigerator. Who cares about weekends? You might– if you do, include them.

Inventory

Then, over the weekend, I take an inventory of my fridge and cupboards. What needs using? What’s in the freezer?

This week, I saw that I had ONE PACKAGE OF FROZEN CHICKEN BREASTS. This is enough for one stir-fry meal, but not enough to eat if we’re just eating chicken breasts on their own. Also: ONE 1.33 POUND PACKAGE OF GROUND BEEF (organic grassfed, worth the extra money in my opinion because the non-organic was giving me tummy aches).

That’s it.

Then I asked Cadillac what he wants to eat this week, or if he cared. Fish, he said.

The only fish everyone likes is wild salmon. Ever since my son learned that farmed salmon have artificial color and junk in them, he won’t eat it at all. But no big deal– I like wild salmon better too. I wrote that on the list.

I then looked at my calendar to see what we have going on this week. Workwise, I have my middle grade book edits. My first-pass pages for SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW arrive on Tuesday, and I have a 1-week deadline for those. For my other obligations, I have scheduled Pilates, a museum morning with a friend, and a meeting with a HS English teacher to plan our creative writing club.

I decided I will have time to get veggies and other gap-fillers on Monday. The salmon will be easy– the kids like it with a simple honey-mustard sauce (basically Dijon, soy sauce or gluten-free tamari, and honey mixed together, all of which we have).

Simplicity in Meal Planning

When planning, use the KISS Method: Keep It Simple, Stupid. This will make it more likely that you’ll actually be able to enact your menu. I usually don’t troll for recipes because they take too much time and usually involve buying more stuff that I may not use again. And then it’s intimidating! “Buy GOOD EVOO!” What the heck is good EVOO? What is EVOO??? (Extra virgin olive oil). What? No. I mean, sure, if I see something that looks delicious I might try it. But my favorite thing to do is look and see what I have, then make something based on that– it doesn’t always work, but it’s very fun, a la Top Chef. However, planning ahead is more practical when you have five hungry mouths.

I also like to keep staples on hand: chicken broth, tomato sauce, rice, pasta– that I buy in bulk when I can. For example, I like to buy my gluten free pasta at Trader Joe’s, but I rarely make it there. When I do go, I buy quite a few packages.

Your meal should hit all the good food groups: a simple protein, with lots of vegetables and a whole grain or starch.

For example, grilled or baked chicken is easy– you can marinate with Italian salad dressing or top it with BBQ sauce. You can sprinkle it with cheese if you’re crazy. Have it with a microwave baked potato or rice.

Consider using meat as an accent, like in a stir-fry. You can also choose to make extra meat– grill up a whole pack of Costco chicken breasts– and freeze it or use the rest in another meal a few days later. For example, you could cook up all of your ground beef and use some in spaghetti sauce, and save some for tacos this weekend.


Take Your Schedule into Account

I used to forget this part and just randomly schedule a meal that took 1 hour to bake on a water polo game night. Um, NO.

After looking at my calendar, I decided to buy skinless boneless chicken thighs (2-3 meals), wild salmon (1 meal), and some pre-cooked foods at Costco (the sausage). I already had pasta, marinara sauce, and ground beef for spaghetti with meat sauce. I’ll add veggies to the sauce to make it a one-pot meal. Or we could have a salad with it.

The Ten Tips

Here’s the simplified break-down, if you didn’t want to read my oh-so-interesting thought process.

1. Decide and purchase your menu planning method– from a simple calendar to a cute bulletin board.
2. Over the weekend, or even during the previous week if you’re ambitious, take an inventory of cupboards and freezer. While you’re in there, also do an inventory of school lunches and snacks.
3. Decide what meals you can make using your inventory.
4. Look at your calendar and determine what days will be super-busy around dinner time. On those days, plan for a Crock-Pot meal, a pre-cooked meal, or eating out. Or, if someone else will cook for you, ALL THE BETTER.
5. Look at your calendar and determine when you will have time to go grocery shopping. If you don’t have time to go until Tuesday, plan Monday’s dinner with stuff you already own.
6. Make a grocery store list. I go to Costco and a local farmers market-type place for veggies and sometimes Albertson’s to fill in the gaps. A lot of people I know also swear by home delivery services, like the kind Von’s provides. They often have coupons or free codes to try the service. The time saved may well be worth the delivery fee.
7. Write down your menu.
8. After you grocery shop, freeze what you’re not going to use in another couple of days. Take out and put into the refrigerator those items you will use in the next two days. Repeat every couple of days.
9. Make your food every evening.
10. If anybody complains, they have to make dinner the next night.

This rule comes from Cadillac’s house and it’s only been broken once or twice here. I am NOT THE ONE when it comes to me doing all this work and cooking. We also feel like this is important in terms of manners when you go to someone else’s house– if you complain about the food at your friend’s, you ain’t getting invited back.

I find that having a menu takes a little bit of time to plan, but actually saves more time than the planning takes. No more do I have to wonder what we’re going to do for dinner. And, when it’s written down, if I find myself tired or sick or whatever, I can ask Cadillac to make it and he will, because it’s all spelled out already.

End of Summer

It’s the end of summer!

(Hums BORN FREE, runs around the house in birthday suit)

Here are my end-of-summer bullet points/impressions.

1. We got A/C, which made things a LOT more pleasant. It also made our electric bill excruciatingly high.
2. We are now underway to get solar with the maximum number of kilowatt hours, so we will be home-free next year.
3. My kids, having grown accustomed to having a pool and now having A/C, did not swim as much as they did last year.
4. They spent a lot of time indoors on “screentime” but I have a hard time telling them to stop. Why?
a. My son wants to be a programmer and he seems to notice things about games and programs that I sure don’t.
b. My youngest is writing a book and most of her time on the computer is spent doing that, so how I can tell her to get off the computer?
c. There are no kids around to play with and each playdate must be pre-planned,so I can’t really shove them out the door.
d. My eldest watched BUFFY and I could not bring myself to tell her to not watch so much TV because BUFFY.
e. Cadillac made them run, 2 laps without stopping, in some evenings.
5. Each kid did a camp of their choice if they wished to do so. We apprised one kid of a camp and she said, “Meh.” Then later she asked why we hadn’t sent her because MY GOD SHE SO WANTED TO GO.
a. A camp that ends at noon that takes 35 minutes to get to is not worth the time. All day camp or nothing.
6. My son grew 2.5 inches or so and is now just 2 3/4 inches below me.
7. I learned that THE GRAPES OF WRATH takes a long time to annotate.
8. I’m going to put doors on this room before next summer. Every time somebody comes through to go to the backyard or garage, they say, “HI MOM!” Even if I just saw them 2 seconds ago. This is cute and friendly but if you’re actually working, it is not.
9. Sometimes I just want to be alone when I clean the house.
10. Grass is impossible to keep alive during a drought. It was either the grass or the pool.
11. Sand is super-difficult to get out of Gatsby’s hair.
12. I need more Moms’ Night Outs in the summer than I do in the school year.
13. This summer was the easiest one yet.

Also, you might notice that my blog looks a little different. I changed servers and the old theme is not available here. But theoretically I’ll have more capabilities to do stuff with the blog. Theoretically. It might take me another year or so to figure it out, but I’ll do it eventually.

Saturday Night

Tonight is Saturday night. Tonight I wrestled down a copse of dead trees standing between us and the neighbors. I’m sitting here with a hair full of bark and glasses full of sawdust. I’m not sure what kind of trees they were. They were tall, providing privacy; now they’re just branches sticking into the earth. So easy to push over that all I had to do was wedge myself between the fence and the trees and give it a good nudge. Boom. Timber! Then I sawed the branches with an electric reciprocating sawinto manageable pieces, until my hands tired and I feared I’d cut off my leg. Cadillac was impressed with my brute force and said I should have taken a photo, but my camera was upstairs and I was too dirty to traipse across the house.

Meanwhile, Cadillac is replacing the garbage disposal. He’s handy, that Cadillac. He comes from a line of men who work with their hands. His grandpa was a carpenter, who built many of the houses around here after he emigrated from England in the 1940s, after the war. His dad was an electrical/mechanical engineer, an executive at power companies, but still did and does as much of his own car/yard/house work as possible. When Cadillac’s dad was young, he and Cadillac’s grandpa built a boat in their backyard– a seaworthy vessel that, for all anybody knows, is still moored someplace. So Grandpa passed this do-it-yourself ethic to his son who passed it to his own sons. Thus, even if we had loads of money, Cadillac would likely do most of this kind of work himself, because he can and it’s almost anathema to him to let somebody else do it.

I was thinking about his grandpa. About how he fought in WWII and Cadillac’s dad didn’t see him for six years, except for a few periods of leave. About how he and his little family just chugged on over from England and made a new life here. About my paternal grandfather, how he was a coal miner who lost a leg and had seven children in a tiny two-bedroom townhouse. About how the struggles we face today pretty much pale in comparison to the struggles our grandparents had. About how lucky we are to live where we live, instead of being born in a country full of Ebola or constant civil war or drug cartels trying to kill us. How much of this life is out of our control, and how generous the universe was to my family, I think. I must be grateful for what I have.

So some people might think I’m having a crappy Saturday night, full of chores. I’m really not. I’m pleased to have trees I can chop down, because they’re MY trees now. I’m glad to have a reciprocating saw, instead of chopping the trees by hand like Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m grateful to have a garbage disposal to install, because we can afford to buy a new garbage disposal without worrying about it.

This mantra of gratitude has come grudgingly to me in the past. Don’t we all think, Oh, I should be out doing THIS and THAT, I should be actively worrying about a thousand things that are actually not in my sphere of influence. I’m getting better at letting all that go. Perhaps this is how one can be happy.

After Cadillac’s done installing the disposal, we’ll sit on the couch in my office/grown-up hideaway and drink gin and lemonades and maybe watch a movie on Netflix. And then I’ll go to bed, my muscles sore for once from actual labor, and hope that I sleep soundly.

Writing Wednesday: How to Write a Query for a Memoir

While I was at BlogHer doing the Path to Publishing workshop– in the MIDDLE of Path to Publishing, actually– it came to my attention that neither I nor my co-leader knew how to write a query for  memoir. I thought it was nonfiction and therefore out of my area, so I hadn’t even looked it up.

I tried to find out on ze Internets, and got conflicting results. No one concrete answer.

In nonfiction, you have a proposal, sample chapters and perhaps an outline. And some articles said that’s how you sell a memoir, too. But other (also reliable) sources said memoir is sold like fiction and you need the whole thing.

Thus I sent out the Batsignal on Facebook, and emailed my agent, Dan Lazar, to ask.

This is what I found out:

  • It all depends.

Is that concrete enough for you?

My friend Alison Singh Gee, author of the memoir Where the Peacocks Sing responded first.

Alison wrote a proposal, which was 100 pages long, and didn’t have a full manuscript. But she had a solid, long career as a journalist/columnist.

Alison also said, “My friend Wendy Lawless initially tried to sell Chanel Bonfire in proposal form, but she says she didn’t yet have an alluring enough platform. She ended up writing the entire book, and sold it that way.”

Then Dan responded with this:

“If you’re a new author, a full manuscript helps very, very much — but honestly it’s not essential. That’s why you’re getting mixed opinions. If an author has a great title, and a great voice, and a great concept… usually a few sample chapters and a strong outline will do the trick. Most of the memoirs I’ve sold have been on proposal.”

So, to sum up:

  • The best thing to do is write the whole memoir.
  • If you haven’t written the whole memoir, write a few sample chapters and an outline and try to sell it that way.
  • If that doesn’t work, write the whole manuscript.

There you have it.

That’s the funny thing about advising people on how to get published. You talk to ten different authors and it worked differently for each. All you can offer are guideposts, what worked for you, and hope it helps.

Comic-Con 14 Recap

I went to Comic-Con this year. If you’re in publishing or another sort of media pro, you can apply for a free pro pass. I know! This year, my publisher submitted me to be considered for a panel, but I didn’t get one. They were nice and invited me to the Penguin party, but it was on Thursday! When I was still at BlogHer! The humanity! I know, embarrassment of riches, the likes of which I might not ever see again.

world’s smallest violin

This was my third time and my first time with Cadillac. Who is kind of a closet geek. That is, he lurves him some Star Wars, he is obsessed with Harry Potter, his favorite anime is Vampire Hunter D (he’s been a huge unwavering vampire supporter since before Anne Rice, even during the great Vampire Drought between Rice and Twilight). But from looking at him, could you really tell? Nope. It all adds to his complexity and mystery. Ha.

 

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The last two times were with the two older kids, which was a stress filled event for me. I am claustrophobic and don’t like crowds all that much and I’d rather just let somebody lead me around. The boy was ready to leave in 15 minutes while Eldest could have stayed all day. So, having Cadillac there was great. He pushes through crowds (people kind of bounce off him) and I just hold onto his back and jog behind. Also, he carried all our stuff. Also, he was amenable to whatever I wanted to do while suggesting things and looking at the map.

And the air conditioning worked a hell of a lot better than it did two years ago.

We went on Saturday morning, which at first wasn’t all that crowded because people were hungover from the night before and not coming in.

See? Not bad.
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Not bad.

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Still not that crowded.

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My brother was also in town for Con, as he’s been going since the 90s, and he told us some tips.

 

(The link above goes to a pic of my brother. He made Entertainment Weekly! He looks rather trustworthy with that mustache.)

He told us to take the trolley (totally correct– driving down there is mayhem). And also: If you want to get autographs or buy things at special kiosks, like the Mattel kiosk, you have to go to a drawing at like 9 am. Then if you draw correctly, you can get in line.

We didn’t much care about that, so we decided to walk around and see what we could see.

First we saw this statue of Boba Fett (which my eldest just told me was the wrong color for Boba Fett, what do you think?) Cadillac’s fave Star Wars character! Here they are getting ready to go on a romantic picnic and walk along the beach.

 

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Then we saw a big old Hobbit display, where this Smaug slowly opened and closed his eyes. Basically Comic-Con is like walking through Universal Studios or the equivalent.

 

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They also had different experiences you could…experience. Like a lab thing from Bates Motel. Or The Walking Dead experience, which we didn’t wait in line for.

 

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Our kids gave us a list of souvenirs to find. This was a surprisingly hard task, especially for our son, who wanted a “pillow shaped like Bedsmith“, a character my brother assured us was super duper obscure.

 

So we wandered up to the Pro Lounge. That’s right. While all you peons have to squat on the floor and get yelled at for leaning against walls, us Important Folk get to go into the Pro Lounge and have foot massages and brandy.

 

Actually it was lemonade and coffee. Or tea.

The coffee was really really good though.

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Then it was lunchtime, and we ventured out.

Those crazy people with the REPENT signs were all there with bullhorns telling us we are all going to die. Um, duh?

“Heretics!” I shouted at them. I’m sure they would have been aghast, had they not been so glassy-eyed.

I used Yelp to find a sushi place. Which we found with a sign saying WELCOME COMIC-CON!And the hours (should be open).

But it was closed.

Then we found another sushi place (being in the mood) where they had a menu with like 4 rolls on it. None of which were my favorites. The lady said they were a pop-up just open for the Con. I did not like that.

Then we went to a Mexican place, which had no air. I immediately stuck grossly to the seat so we left.

Finally, we ended up at Seersucker, where we sat at the bar. They gave us the brunch menus though it was after 1.

Before we were done eating, the bartender would tell the other patrons they were out of sandwiches.

 

Out of sandwiches. Can you believe it?

Lots of different shows/films decorated the buildings. Here’s one for the show Ascension.

 

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Then we headed to stand in line for the Grimm panel. It’s in Hall 20, which hosts various panels all day. They don’t clear the room so people get in early and sit. Sit. Sit. Waiting for Vampire Diaries.

We were almost in and then we had to be stopped just before this hallway, across from the ballroom.

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Finally we got in and found the first available seats next to a family of wildebeests who were waiting for…you guessed it…Vampire Diaries. Which meant that they just freakin yakked it up.

 

We were sitting quite far back, so we mostly watched the monitors. The program said they’d be showing a preview of the new season, but alas, they did not. Cadillac said the only actor he liked was the guy who plays Monroe and the rest were funny. Like not funny ha ha. “Having seen who they are in real life will greatly diminish my enjoyment of the show, ” he said. (Actually, he intoned. You know Cadillac. And yes, he talks like that).WP_20140726_15_16_55_Pro

After that panel, we stayed for Vampire Diaries simply so we could talk through the whole thing and ruin it for those people. (not really. I thought about it and Cadillac said he was game, but I didn’t care that much).

Then we were trudging through the sales floor looking for Bedsmith again when the backdoor opened and men in suits shouted, “Make way! Two minutes! Back up, please!”

And Josh Brolin, Jessica Alba and Rosario Dawson (and Frank Miller, presumably, but who cares about him? He’s just a writer and director and artist. Totally boring!) came through for their Sin City panel.

I whipped out my phone and managed to snag this somewhat blurry pic. Alba is holding up her phone taking a picture of the crowd. Dawson’s behind her.

 

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They were tiny, like actors tend to be. Small like pro ballerinas. Alba is very very pretty. I didn’t recognize Dawson until later.

Brolin has a huge rectangular head that looks like somebody chiseled it out of a rock. Also a good feature for an actor.

“Who are those people?” Cadillac asked.

I told him. “You’ve seen stuff they were in.”

“I haven’t.”

I told him Sin City and he said, “Wasn’t Mickey Rourke in that? Was he there?”

We are going to be such annoying old people, he and I.

Then, up on a pedestal, we saw the girl from The Descendants and that hot guy whom Mary killed with her lethal lady-bits in Downton Abbey (seriously, every man she sleeps with dies. Her new suitors ought to be concerned). I actually looked up and just noticed Theo James and thought, “That’s that really hot guy from Downton Abbey! Who’s that girl?” because Woodley is a really great actress but looks like a regular girl. Which is refreshing, because all the actresses look the same these days. But she looked really tired. Who knows what they had her doing. I couldn’t get a pic because people (guards) were moving us along.

Who else did we see? The cast of Constantine, outside. And possibly Harry Potter. And a cosplay convention goer lady who was pretty much nekkid except for some cyborg pasties over her breasts, and cyborg hands. She had almost as big of a crowd as Divergent gawking around her.

Skunks and Other Minor Annoyances

This was just a banner week in terms of annoyances. It started off on Sunday with a fire that torched the mountain across the way from our house. I smelled smoke and asked my family, “Does anyone else smell that?”

“Nope,” they said. “It’s your imagination.”

I looked out the window later and saw smoke starting to go up and the first thing (I know it’s bad) the FIRST thing I yelled was, “I TOLD you I smelled smoke! The hill is on fire!” The theory is that someone threw his cigarette out their car window, a theory borne out by the fact that a bunch of people saw a dude throw his cigarette out the window, and the subsequent fire.

I just hate that. Responsible smokers clean up their butts. They don’t leave them on the ground or throw them out the window into the pile of dry tinder known as San Diego from April through October. And the next day I saw someone throw a cigarette out the window near the mountain and I swear I came thisclose to ramming them with my trusty mini-van (So THAT’S how your bumper got knocked ajar, eh, Margaret?)

Then on Wednesday night, I was asleep when another smell awoke me. It was chokingly awful, like a mixture of rotted onions, eggs, rancid pot, and a paint thinner all thrown together.

I went downstairs to see Cadillac washing his hands. “I let him out and he got into something. He’s foaming at the mouth.”

“It’s skunk. Can’t you smell that?”

So I fired up the Internet and found the skunk potion: baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and water mixed together, and Cadillac, cursing like the dad from A Christmas Story, turned on the bathtub.

I opened all the windows and blasted the A/C and oh mah goodness. It still stank. I could taste it. It permeated the air.

It took a long time to go back to sleep.

The next morning I was totally knackered (British word, right? I like it! We need to use it here and it begins RIGHT NOW) and I had to take los animales to the vet for their shots. Gatsby still stank. Then I had the brilliant idea to just drop him off at the groomer’s, and after calling around found one that had time to take him and do the de-skunk treatment. It worked on about 80% of the stench. Four days later, he still stinks quite a bit.

Yesterday evening, Cadillac opened the garage door. We have an extra fridge in there, and a litter box for Richard Parker, that semi-feral cat. We leave the door cracked for him. The skunk was using the litterbox. It ran under the car and peered up at Cadillac, unperturbed mostly. We theorize it had appeared for what we call hard rubbin’s. This is the firm petting that our animals get from Cadillac on their backs. He kind of, I don’t know, smashes their backs down, but the animals love it. Like, if I pet an animal they will abandon me to go get petted by him. I am a poor substitute in terms of pettings.

Now we have to trap Richard Parker in the garage at night.

On Friday, Cadillac had to go to Pasadena to do an audit for work and he took us with him to go to the Huntington Library afterwards. It was all going super until I walked into the gardens and felt like I needed to vomit, cry, and lie down all at the same time.

On the way up we made a pit stop at the same Carl’s Junior we’d stopped at on the way to Tahoe, where I got the same food without incident. I was hungry and had only eaten a small bowl of almond milk and puffed rice. I got a breakfast that had scrambled eggs (whole eggs + citric acid!) and a biscuit and tater tots and sausage and bacon. I only ate the eggs and gave the rest to my son.

I think the eggs were bad. Approximately 3.5 hours later, the GI distress hit.

Not to get into many gory details, but I had to stay near a bathroom. The guards were looking at me sideways, no doubt thinking, What is this lady up to? Is she doing drugs in the Huntington Library bathrooms? but I was prepared to tell them the truth.

Cadillac took the kids to a couple of the gardens and we looked at the library and then I said I needed to go. We stopped and got Tums and I basically slept the whole way home, whereupon it really hit me.

See, that’s always my biggest fear when I’m traveling. Getting sick like that and having to ride 2 or 3 hours back in a car. And what if I chaperon something and I get sick? What happens to the kids? How the fuck would I be able to drive home? I would never make it. Is it just me or when you have a vague anxiety about something that finally HAPPENS, do you feel a sense of triumph, like the I TOLD YOU SO phenomenon? That’s probably a personality defect.

So that was my trifecta of sorta bad things.

Of course it could have been worse. I could have been hit with a GI plague so bad the car would have been totaled. The fire could have jumped the road and burned down our subdivision. The skunk could have sprayed me in the face instead of the dog, who was valiantly protecting the homestead. And of course there are far worse tragedies happening in the world right now which I will not mention because I figure you don’t come here for that kind of talk, right?

Hopefully, this week will be better. BlogHer and Comic-Con!

 

The Accidental Skin Cream Spokesperson

So this is kind of interesting.

I sometimes use a site called YouBeauty, and one day they emailed me and said I’d signed up to be a beauty panelist (or something like that, I truly don’t remember, I think I signed up for it a few years back) and would I like to try a sample of something called Resveratrol?

Sure, I said.

I tried it and it actually worked very well, so well that I wrote a review of it. It actually worked so well that I regretted it working so well– good skin hydration, fewer lines– because the stuff is kind of expensive.

Then the SkinCeuticals folks saw that review and asked if they could edit it for use in an email blast.

Thus, my spokesmodel career was born! Er, not really. But they did send me a couple of samples.

(And they didn’t ask me to promote it on my website or anything like that.)

The Absolutely Definitive Answer to How Many Children You Should Have

The Absolutely Definitive Answer to How Many Children You Should Have

Have you been wondering how many kids you should have?

Have you read article after article telling you you’re selfish if you have one, you’re crazy if you have more than two?

Have you been spotting endless Dear Abbys and Dear Prudences asking HOW MANY SHOULD I HAVE? and then letting the whole world weigh in?

Have you just been hopin’ and waitin’ and wishin’ that somebody would just TELL YOU WHAT TO DO?

Here’s the answer.

Ready?

It’s nobody’s damn business but yours and the person with whom you’re raising the kid.

I hear you. Dilloway, you low-down dirty double-crosser. That title was nothing but click bait! Something to get you on this page! That’s no real answer! WHERE ARE MY PARENT VS NON PARENT WARS? THE LONELY ONLYS VS ONE AND DONES? All the other manufactured debates about parenting invented to get your eyeballs onto pages and to whip up froths of parenting controversy?

Okay. Let’s talk about this a bit more.

How about this?

SHOULD I EVEN HAVE A KID?

Are you a selfish person if you don’t personally experience the joys of parenthood?

Nope.

There are already too many people in this world who have kids they don’t have any interest in raising. Too many who thought, “Eh, I SHOULD have a kid b/c that’s sort of the most socially acceptable thing to do” but they really don’t want one.

However, if you don’t want a kid, then you shouldn’t be joined with someone who does. And vice-versa. That’s just not fair. If your partner says, “I never want kids,” then don’t think, “Okay, I’m going to marry this person anyway,and then change him!” NONONO. Give me your best friend’s phone number, so I can tell him or her to slap you. Lovingly.

I HAVE ONE KID, SHOULD I HAVE ANOTHER?

Having had 1 kid, do people always ask you when you’re having another? And you’re considering it, just because you think you *ought* to? Do people say stuff like, “Oh, only children are always spoiled” or “so lonely” blahblahblah?

Don’t do it.

Only have two if you really want two. If you can sustain, emotionally and financially, two.

I know lots of only children who are perfectly fine.

I HAVE TWO KIDS, SHOULD I HAVE THREE?

That is a discussion not for me but for you and your partner.

After you have two kids and they’re out of diapers, do you really want to get up all over again and do all the diapering/preschool/etc AGAIN?

Are you and your partner strong enough to take on three? Do you have enough SUPPORT? Do you have enough money?

The reason we had her is because we were always feeling like there was someone missing. I’d set the table and look at seat three and wonder, do I need to set three places? No?

I HAVE THREE KIDS, SHOULD I HAVE FOUR?

Cadillac, the youngest of four, wanted four originally. “That way we can have even numbers at Disneyland,” he said. Totally legit reason for having another human being, right? Well, that got kiboshed quickly. Me+pregnancy=not pretty. I think I might honestly die if I got pregnant again. Like, literally for real. Not just metaphorically. ]

Plus, the third did us the f in, in a big way. Like, you feel all energetic and stuff with two, and you’re in a groove, and handling things, and then THREE hits, and it’s like being flattened by a boulder. I have heard the same from others. Obviously not from everyone, because I know families with four and six and eight children who seem to have it more together.

I HAVE FOUR KIDS, SHOULD I HAVE MORE?

Again, beyond my experience. Therefore, it’s up to you. You can have as many as you like, provided that you don’t hire them out for reality TV. I think that’s a pretty good clause in the unspoken parenting contract.

The bottom line is, there are pros and cons to everything. An only child might have more chances to do more stuff because he has more resources spent on him, but a kid with siblings has different experiences. No one answer is right for every single family or person on earth.

Do what’s right for you, and don’t pay any attention to anyone who tells you how many kids you “should” have.

After I had Little Girl, I ran into a woman I knew at a preschool event. She looked at my kids and shook her head and said, “Three? You’re crazy, girl.” And let me tell you, that was an incredibly helpful statement to make after, you know, I ALREADY HAD THREE KIDS.

So the final piece of advice: if you think X should have Y number of kids, please. Keep your mouth shut about it.

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