Eh? Sonny? Speak up.

The older I get, the older I get.

This is mostly most apparent to me when I try to figure out how to do something on la computadora.

Right now, I’m attempting to put a “FEEDJIT” thingie on here…it says “Paste into sidebar on your blog.”

I don’t see no sidebar. Where’s there a sidebar? Sidebar? Is it on my homepage?

I also suspect that if I set my children up with an old computer, free time, and some basic computer programming skills, they would be hacking into supercomputers in no time. But, I don’t know how programming even works. I remember in 7th grade, we took “Computers” and we made programs that created floating boxes and things like that, but what program do you do that in? It’s a mystery.

Once upon a time, I knew HTML. It’s not hard. It’s like doing taxes– it’s annoying and you have a reference table and if you have a typo you’ll end up owing millions to the IRS. Once upon a time, I wrote BLUETOOTH FOR DUMMIES. But I can’t take credit for that at ALL, because all I did was go around asking the actual engineers how things worked, and they were kind enough to explain it all.

Sigh.

Off on my sidebar search again.

When Things Could Be Even Worse

The beginning of 2009 started auspiciously.  Cadillac had gotten a new job, running the LA office of a NY broker-dealer that was set to open.  Finally, we thought, finally the last 8 years or so of hard, underpaid work was going to pay off.  Yay!

The firm’s main investment product was going to be this one offered by an established firm. The product had been sold before, unregistered, and now they were going to offer it as an approved item.

Then Cadillac got a call.  The product guy was getting investigated by FINRA.  At first, they thought this was good.  Once FINRA approved the product, it would be good to go.  So his boss told Cadillac that he would get paid, but that the office had been delayed.  Cadillac thought it would be all right, as long as the guy fixed the stuff Cadillac pointed out was wrong.

Fast-forward six weeks.  FINRA said no; apparently there were too many problems.  Cadillac got laid off.

This sucks, we thought.  What sucked even more: the NY company said they were gonna pay Cadillac thru the end of February and then did not.  Then unemployment messed up Cadillac’s Social Security number, and being the vast government bureacracy they are, are slow to take action.  Therefore we, family of five, have not had an income since mid-February.

But then, THEN, my friends, I got this emailed to me:

A Sherman Oaks money manager accused of spending millions of his investors’ dollars on a lavish lifestyle and high-profile charitable contributions agreed Tuesday to let a court-appointed receiver manage his companies’ assets.

The man? Bruce Friedman. The company? The same one that was working closely with the one that had hired Cadillac.

Sometimes things really could be worse.

Another benefit of our new poverty: we applied to SDG&E for an Energy Efficiency Makeover. Our utility bill, they said, was unusually high. With no income, we suddenly qualify. Someone’s coming to our home and installing new lamps, sealants, insulation(!), inspecting the heater, and maybe even giving us a new fridge (!!)

The Fuschia Hummingbird

Cadillac and I walked around Lake Murray the other day, me having the “idea” that I would “run.”  The sad part is that my running=Cadillac’s walking.

The lake is a large natural man-made lake.  By large, I don’t mean Great Lakes large; I mean it’s large for San Diego, which means in other regions it might be more pond-ish.  You can fish and take non-big boats out there to toodle around.  There’s also a large contigent of wildlife, like ducks who live off breadcrumbs; mean geese; and swans that people keep dumping that get promptly eaten by coyotes.

Anyway, we happened by a bush when a flash of pink caught my eye.  My zoom wasn’t good enough to capture it, but there was a hummingbird hanging out.  Its back was astonishingly fuschia, like 80s Day-Glo fuschia.

I love hummingbirds.  They were my mom’s favorite bird, and it’s always amazing to me to watch them, not just when their wings are beating fast, but when they sit and sit, because that’s the last thing you expect them to do.

hummingbird
hummingbird

Oh, Dear

Eldest daughter was sick on Weds, if you count being sick as having a runny nose and crawling around on the floor playing imaginary Harry Potter games with the stuffed animals.  Today Son stayed home, though he wanted to go to school; he’s coughing but in general good spirits, watching a GODZILLA DVD over and over and playing Katamari Damacy on his PS2.  If you have never played Katamari, you should.  It’s a trippy Japanese game in which you’re a tiny alien Prince who rolls around a Katamari ball, which collects objects like a giant wad of gum.  Eventually, it gets so large that it sucks up the earth.  It’s awesome.

Anyway, Little Girl fell asleep on the couch this morning and except for a trip to the bathroom (thank goodness), she has been sleeping.  She’s hot, but she always gets hot when she sleeps.  I’m hoping she’s cocooning and she’ll be better tomorrow.

Oh, she just got up in good spirits! Maybe it was just the time change; she’s been operating on like 8 hrs of sleep a night for the past week (used to be 12).

Here is a Katamari Video.

To All the Blogs I’ve Never Loved Before

I’m a bad mother.  I’ve orphaned more blogs than I can remember the passwords to.  A trail of broken words, one post here, another post deleted.

This has got to stop.

My husband, Cadillac, doesn’t understand blogging.  Facebook, with its stalkerish “XXX is now commenting on So & So’s page” freaks him out.  “Why do people need to know about this stuff?” he asks.

Well, they don’t.  But I like telling them.  I’m a writer, and writing frees all the niggling little tummy aches that otherwise rear up in the middle of the night.

Besides, ever since people found out I sold a book, people have been popping out of nowhere to ask how I did it.  Instead of answering every email, I figured it’d be easier to put it here.  I’m going to write down the type of things about the business of writing that I was Googling a year ago.

So read, or not. But as long as you’ve read to the end of this post, you might as well stay.

On Writing: Tenacity

“It makes me nervous when I see the evidence of how many other people want to be writers.  I don’t talk to many strangers or get letters from many who don’t plan to write a book someday.  You don’t hear people in their 50s and 60s saying they want to do brain surgery when they retire or argue a case before the Supreme Court but a lot of them say they want to write a book- just as soon as they have time. Time, they feel, is all they need.”– Andy Rooney.

I used to not tell people I was a writer for this very reason.  Everyone in the world, practically, is writing a book or wants to write a book or has a portion of a book written somewhere.  If I told people, “I am a writer,” it prompted head-patting and a “Good for you!” I wrote; I’d written for a newspaper, I’d written for websites; I’d even written a couple of plays that got produced locally.  But could I really call myself a writer?  For me, no, not until I sold fiction, the type of writing I love and which scared me the most.

So I disguised myself under my other more than full time job: popping out kids.  A modest number, three; yet for me that number is more than enough.  Octo-Mom I am not.

About 7 years ago, I got laid off from my job while I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my second child, and ended up never going  back to a 9-to-5 job.  There was a recession (somehow my husband and I always get smacked with recessions and depressions and have yet to take advantage of an up cycle) and childcare eats up what I could make.  Instead, I decided, I would devote myself to writing.  I already had a book under my belt, BLUETOOTH FOR DUMMIES.

Unfortunately, the market for Bluetooth at the time was non-existent and the book got canceled.  Darn me.

I then got to work on a screenplay, a directionless love story,and a novel.  Upon taking my one chapter novel draft to the SDSU Writer’s Conference in San Diego one year, I signed up for a read and critique with a local “famous” author.  It could be anonymous, so I submitted my word and listened in horror as she read it.

“Cliche!” she pronounced on reading one line.  I slid under my desk, wanting to run out of the room, except that would reveal me as the author.   “Not bad,” she grudgingly admired on yet another as the group laughed, unassisted.

The laughter provided me with hope.  People liked my writing.

I worked on it some more to spite this witch and brought it to the conference the following year.  The screenplay love story had transmogrified into a humorous romantic novel about a pop star running away with an Army Ranger.  At a dinner, I pitched my story to an agent.  She lost interest and turned away from me in the middle of my sentence.  An editor told me that it was a terrible idea and would never ever sell.

Finally, I had a one on one with another agent.  She laughed aloud at my first sentence.  “Send me the first 30 pages,” she said.

Bob Mayer, author, former Green Beret, and teacher was at the conference, too.  “When they ask for part of it, send the whole thing,” he advised a big group of us.  “The worst that can happen is that they’ll read the whole thing.”

“Don’t do it,” a writer friend warned.  “Don’t do anything to piss of the agents.”

But I took Mayer’s advice anyway.  It worked.  I got signed.

Something else Mayer said niggled at me.  “You probably won’t sell your first.  You’ll figure out how to write and sell your second.”

This wouldn’t be me, I said to myself.  Not me.

My first agent helped me tremendously with the draft because she loved my style.  Yet after several drafts, she was still unsatisfied.  “I’m sending you to a professional editor.  Don’t worry.  Even seasoned writers use them.”

Lucky for me, my editor was Jane Cavolina.  Jane’s got this gift where she looks at what you said, knows what you MEANT to say, and tells you what it is you meant to say.  My writing improved.

When it was finally ready to send out to publishers, I was practically counting the green that was gonna be rolling in.  My agent sent me update after update.  No.  No.  No.  She exhausted all the big houses, all the little houses, all the independent houses, all the tiny presses, and nothing doing.

For this, I hadn’t gone back to work.  Sure, I was a good mother to my two kids and then three; but how much of a good mother can you really be when you really actually need two incomes to pay bills?  I was devastated.

I began working on a new novel and sent it to my agent.  She didn’t understand what I was trying to do.  “You may want to find a new agent who can help you shape it better,” she suggested gently.

Just like that, I was out.

I began freelancing where ever I could, whenever I could, pulling in money for us.  See, with two kids and a mortgage, I could neither get a job that paid enough for childcare or not work.  My husband, bless his soul, had enlisted in the Army from age 26-29, and when he got out he started all over in a new career.  This is just like living with a recent college grad with two kids and one income.  Suzy Orman would have me hanged for putting my family in precarious financial straits.  Really, the correct thing to do would have been to go get a technical writing certificate or teaching credential and support my family.  But somehow we cobbled together a living.

And I continued to write.

“It’s really the only thing you’re good at,” my husband told me.  Thanks.  He’s right, I think.

After I knocked up again and thought, “Oh, shit! I better get my arse in gear!”   I worked feverishly on my new novel.  I’ve lost count of the drafts.  I got my friend Jane to read it.  Ever since she read my first book, Jane has made me feel like the second coming of Jane Austen.  Whenever I felt down, Jane was there to tell me that I had talent.  “Not everyone likes Gone with the Wind,” she reminded me by way of example.  “Never take it personally.”   She recommended some agents to send it to.  Agent after agent turned it down.

But these agents, either because they knew Jane or were nice people, actually gave me constructive criticism.  They were saying things that made sense, so I rewrote it again.  I sent it out to more agents.  More turndowns.  Until finally I got to Elaine Markson.

“Go ahead and email it to me, and I’ll tell you what I think no matter what,” she emailed me back.

I did.  The next morning, early, I got a call just as my daughter, who was then two, was taking off her diaper and looking at me with a grin.  I barely had time to register what it said on the phone: ELAINE MARKSON.

“I loved it!” Elaine said.  She said she’d read it the night before on her Kindle, meaning to read only a few chapters but finishing the entire thing. “You’re very talented.”

My daughter proceeded to pee all over the carpet.

“Great!” I said, and I got some paper towels and threw them over the pee.  I asked her to represent me.  A month later, the book had sold.

Last time, the best I could hope for was a paperback release.  But with this book, HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, Putnam bought it.  Which means it’ll come out in hardback, then in paperback by Berkeley.

In the back of my mind, I still remember my other book getting canceled.  In the back of my mind, as my wonderful editor asks me to make changes, I worry I’ll screw it up so bad that they’ll burn my contract.  But now I feel like this might actually work out.

So when people tell me, “Oh, you sold a book? I’m writing a book, but I don’t have time to finish!”  Or sometimes, “Oh, lucky you, you’re  a stay at home mom, so you don’t have to bother with a real job,” I actually want to shake them.

And still I don’t know if this hard work was worth it financially.  I hope it will.  But it was  worth it personally.  HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is basically the story of my mother, a Japanese woman who married a Navy man to get out of postwar Japan.  “My life, it make great movie,” she would often say to me as she told me her stories of childhood. If nothing else, I have an accounting of this, a tribute to the woman who never lived to see her grandchildren.

Resurrection of a Fish

the fish that lived
the fish that lived

Today I bought a Plecostomus (algae eater) for the backyard pond, having been reassured by Petco that it was indeed a cold-water fish. I stuck the bag in and noted with delight that Squirtle the Turtle had come back from his winter’s hibernation. The pond was warming up!
I returned in a few minutes and let the fish loose, where it promptly sank to a rock. I left it alone and returned 10 minutes later to find it in the same position. Gingerly, I turned it over. It lay on its back. Dead.
I went inside for the net and scooped it back into its Petco bag, planning on taking it back. Had it died due to oxygen deprivation? Was the pond too cold? Surely not; the turtle was there.
I put the plastic bag with the fish in it in the kitchen and a few minutes later decided I’d better put some water in the bag, so it wouldn’t stink. Lo and behold, the fish SPRANG back to life! I quickly got out a bowl of treated water and put the fish in there.
My husband and I discussed it. The fish had probably been in a heated tank at Petco, despite its cold water status; the shock had caused its paralysis. I admired its resilience in the face of me, poking at it.
I put it into our beta bowl, also in need of de-algae-ing, until the water outside warms up a bit more.

I let Little Girl name it, and she called it Mr. Fish. So that’s his name.