Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Life Management & Surprises

I'm having lunch today with my awesome friend Biology Girl! I thought we'd made plans for yesterday, so there I was sitting outside the restaurant for half an hour, playing with my iPhone, trying to look cool (because in Harvard Square there's a lot of attempted cool) and wondering what had happened.

Turns out, I'd written down the wrong date (see all my attempted cool evaporating into the atmosphere...) I'm still a little out of it in terms of knowing if it's Monday or Wednesday...part of diving into a novel all day and creating this whole alternative world. But if the only downside to my scheduling snafu was soaking up some quality sunshine on what might have been the most beautiful fall day ever (seriously--the sky was that shade of blue they use in travel posters to try and get you to fly to Greece) and four quarters spent on parking, I'm okay with that.

Today, we'll try again.

Part of what I love about hanging out with Biology Girl is that it reminds me that friendship isn't like Match.com--it doesn't always come from having the most in common. She and I are totally different: she's a PhD in science; I took bio pass/fail in college so it wouldn't mess up my GPA. She's a locavore/chef who loves being thrown in the kitchen with an hour to make a meal out of figs, sweet potato, and a leftover onion; the best meal I cooked last week was Saltines & Campbell's chicken noodle soup when I thought Steve & I might be getting a cold. We both love books but read different genres. We both love clothes but wear different styles. In truth, there's no outwardly discernible reason why we love hanging out together. We just do.

I like it when people surprise me and things can't be sorted out and neatly catagorized. Life is more interesting when it's a little unpredictable and messy.

There you have it, my philosophical musings for the day. Now, into the shower!

Friday, October 23, 2009

A book fest!

Attention Boston-area writers/readers: The Boston Book Fest is this weekend!!! You'll want to go. I want to go. So let's meet there! I have the whole itinerary mapped out and highlighted with the authors I'm excited to see: Richard Russo, Tom Perrotta, Elinor Lipman, the Anitas (Diamant & Shreve), Andre Dubus III, Amy MacKinnon... My plan is to tote my piggy bank downtown, dump it open on the Porter Square Books table, and see how many books those pennies will buy.

And after that, since I'll be way too awed to know which book to read first, the plan is to finally go see Julie & Julia. With movies, I can't even pretend to be on the cutting edge. But eventually, I get there.

Finally...a fashion lesson. Learned today, the hard way: If you new shoes at Marshalls/TJMaxx, check the soles before you leave the house. Otherwise the entire world will know you got your new clogs for $39.99.

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In happier news...

Mary Kay has a new lip gloss named after my new favorite fictional character, Fancy Nancy! (Because any girl knows that the right lip gloss is a key component to any extraordinary adventure!). And...

The Snuggie has competition! Behold: The Slanket! My nominee for second-worst product name ever (see below for #1) but the options make this site worth checking out. Sofa Safari leopard print? Walk The Slank skull & crossbones? I so want a job where I'd get to make stuff like this up, because you know the branding department at Slanket, Inc. is among the world's funnest places to work.

And finally, in terms of terribly named pleasant surprises, The Nook! I'm not in the market for an e-reader, but in terms of gadgets, this one captured my attention in the way none of the others have. I dig the touch screen, and the design, and the blatant way they've copied all that is good from Apple. (I've always thought the Kindle looked like a diagnostic tool my dentist would use to determine new ways to hurt me). But I'm not jumping in just yet.

When I was in the fourth grade and wanted to get my ears pierced, my mom wanted me to think it over carefully. So she made me name some incredibly high number of people who had pierced ears (and this was before cable TV, so my exposure to celebrities was limited to her hour of One Life To Live, the local news, and whoever was wrestling wildlife into submission on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom). It took me several weeks of staring obsessively at women's ears, but eventually I hit my number, and mom took me to adorn my lobes with tiny gold stars (see: Fancy Nancy, above).

My mom is a wise woman. So I'll apply her approach to The Nook: If I can come up with twenty five books I want to own, but wouldn't care that I didn't have them on the shelf...AND I sell another book that I've written that others to load onto their Nooks (now you see, that just sounds terrible. What were they thinking with this name?) then perhaps I'll become a Nook owner myself.

How about you? If you had a Nook, what books would make the cut?
And what new, bizarre product options have I missed that are stirring your imagination?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Grim research, new strategy

As I mentioned a few days ago, I've been doing research for my novel. Not my favorite part of the process, but necessary. (It could be worse: my friend Amy's book Tethered had her researching how bodies are embalmed...)

The downside of research is that it doesn't always turn out to be helpful. Over the weekend, I read (okay, skimmed) three books on various psychological disorders, trying to figure out how to craft an evil--but interesting--bad guy. I read about sociopaths and narcissists, mostly, but dabbled a bit in disassociative identity disorder and something else I can't remember the name of. At the end of the day, here's what I'd learned:

1. Sociopaths/psychopaths aren't all like Ted Bundy. Mostly they're normal people who lack a conscience, and so go through life without thinking about how their actions or behavior could affect other people. They won't ever notice your feelings, because it doesn't occur to them. Life is all about them, all the time.

2. Narcissists are like sociopath-lites...but not by much. They know their actions affect others, but they're so self involved (and filled with shame) that they don't/can't care. They spend their entire lives manipulating others, insisting that everything go their way, isolating themselves from anyone or anything who might stand up to them or get too close to who they really are inside. They're loaners who see other people as pawns in their game.

3. Grim realization #1: Sociopaths/narcissists don't change. Ever. I didn't know there were any diagnostic catagories of people psychologists had just given up on, but the overall message of these books was that if you're involved in any way with someone like this, run. It's not ever going to change, it won't get any better. Your only hope is to get away.

4. Grim realization #2 (the author perspective): Unless your sociopath/narcissist does something specular with his/her life (Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright) or truly depraved (Ted Bundy)...they're REALLY boring to read about. They're simply mean, dull people that most healthy folks try to get away from. They manipulate, they have control issues, they throw fits and make unreasonable demands. But unless they're brilliant (and most aren't) they're not interesting in a way that will keep a reader turning pages.

So... it's back to the drawing board for me with my bad guy. I'm mulling over something Donald Miller just quoted from Robert McKee on Twitter:

"A character is revealed by the decisions they make under pressure."

I think this is true in real life as well as fiction. So today as I write, I'm going to turn up the heat on my bad guy, to see how he reacts.

Navigating these uncharted territories is a stretch, but a good one. And it's certainly never dull :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

I am ecstatic!

Ridiculously fun weekend. We had two delicious dinners with friends, each of which had a special entertaining highlight:

At A&J's, we read the most fabulous children's book to their two adorable kids. How is it possible that I'm just now learning of Fancy Nancy and the Posh Pup??? I'm a fan of any book where the first line is, "I am ecstatic!" But this entire story is filled with two of my favorite things: wonderful words and SPARKLES. So much fun, even before we had the great dinner with the grownups. What's not to love about a sparkly girl who loves dogs? I'm asking for the entire Fancy Nancy oeuvre for Christmas.

Then, the next night, at D&J's...D convinced us to play Rock Band. Now I have to say, I am (and have always been) terrible at video games. From Tetris to Pac-Man right on through to Wii Archery last month at my sister's house. Terrible. And Rock Band was no exception. But holy guacamole, playing the drums along with the faux Foo-Fighters? SO. MUCH. FUN. It had me wondering if I could just get the drum set and a pair of ear phones to use as a reward/de-stressor for when I'm writing (and if so, whether it would count as a business expense...)

Sunday morning we helped out with the kids program at church for the first time. Twenty 6 year olds, learning about Daniel from the Old Testament, and how he fasted from certain foods for a season because he wanted to honor and grow closer to God. When asked to think of things they might fast from to honor and grow closer to God, the wee one's ideas were quite creative:
"My brother!"

Made me wonder what Fancy Nancy would say... :)

Happy Monday all!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Currently Reading...and Writing

I'm working on the novel (just hit 50 pages) and doing research...which means I have the CRAZIEST pile of books on my desk right now. I could be wrong, but I'd venture a guess that I'm the only person in America reading The Sociopath Next Door and Catechism of the Catholic Church at the same time.

I'm reading the books for separate characters, but because I'm writing both at the same time, I'm jumping back and forth. In both areas, I'm finding all sorts of things I didn't expect, almost bonus information: explanations for things I'd wondered about, and answers to questions I'd been afraid to ask. Fascinating stuff.

And in the midst of this, I'm loving these thoughts from Junot Diaz on his attitude towards writing after five years of struggle:

"Five years of my life and the dream that I had of myself, all down the tubes....I wasn't even interested in a Great American Novel. I would have been elated with the eminently forgettable NJ novel.... It took two more years of heartbreak, of being utterly, dismayingly lost before the novel I had dreamed about for all those years finally started revealing itself. And another three years after that before I could look up from my desk and say the word I'd wanted to say for more than a decade: done."

Here's to the eminently forgettable NJ novel! It seems like that's working out pretty well for him :)

On that note, I'm going to get back to work. I'll leave you with this hard-won tip: If you feel the urge to research sociopathic behavior for any reason (curiousity; your own eminently forgettable name-your-state novel), check it out; it's interesting stuff...Just don't do so right before bed!!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Making A Bad Guy Bearable

In my novel, one of the main characters is bad. Not in a nuanced, complex, a-few-nice-traits-that-are-difficult-to-reconcile-with-the-rest-of-his-life kind of way. He's just a monster, who happens to look like the rest of us (think Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley). No matter how I try I can't find any softer qualities that might make him multi-faceted or interesting. He just goes after what he wants and won't stop for anything or anyone.

He's only part of the story, but I'm wrestling with how to write him so that he's at least interesting enough to keep the story moving. I'm realizing that this is one of the challenges of writing fiction: As the author, I know that the characters around him either don't know he's a dangerously self-centered creep, or are choosing for their own reasons not to notice. But they don't know. I feel like a spectator, wondering how the story will unfold, even though I've already laid out the major plot points. And every word I write about this guy gives me the shivers.

This is where you come in: I need inspiration for how to do this well! Can you think of books or movies you really love where one character is just awful? Where even the seemingly good things s/he might say or do are tinged with ulterior motive?

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's the Question?

You guys are amazing with the great ideas for my character! I never know what will make it through to a book's final draft, but I suspect that many of you will flip to a page and read something and think, "Hey--I thought of that!" Thank you!

In this spirit, I need more help. I have a couple of cool authors to interview in the next few weeks, and I must confess that I'm not always the best at dreaming up questions. (I wonder things like "What do you wear when you work at home? Have you convinced yourself (as I have) that if you're walking the dog in sweatpants at 3:00 in the afternoon, the neighbors think it's because you're SUCH a diligent worker, as opposed to a total couch potato?") But I hope we all have more interesting things to share with one another...

So here's my request: Think of someone in your life you'd love to know more about...if you could ask them ANYTHING, what would it be?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Character building

I'm making up a character. She's a newlywed, and she's Italian. That's all I know so far.

Want to help me dream her up? Tell me something about her:

What's her favorite food, dream job, hobby, most embarrassing memory?
Where was she born?
Does she have siblings?
What does she want most in life?
What is she afraid of?

I think her name is Juliana, if that helps.

Thanks in advance :)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Focus on the three

Three things I'm excited about today:

1. I went running and did not keel over or throw up. This felt like such HUGE progress towards a newer, fitter me that I came home and asked my husband to hide the salt shakers from me once again. He rolled his eyes, sent me upstairs, and (I'm guessing) tucked them behind THAT DOG's toy stash in the corner.

2. We have Red Sox playoff tickets!!! This is extra exciting because we missed most of the season due to the move, and because in our group ticket split, we usually only get one ticket to big games. Fenway Park, I've missed you!!!

3. Most of our clothing is unpacked and it's now possible for me to put together a complete outfit from garments found in one room of the house. (Unless there's a wedding...fancy dresses are still in a bin somewhere...) Of course, as I'm typing this, I realize that in all my unpacking, I never saw my Red Sox t-shirt, which I'll need long before the fancy dresses. ARGH. Progress, not perfection...

And in a bonus bit of excitement (to make up for the quasi-fail of #3): I went for both a walk with THAT DOG and a run today. It rained hard before and after each excursion...but not during. Love Indian Summer :)

What are your big three for the day? Do your shoes match? Did you brush your teeth this morning? Let's celebrate!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Gospel, Coen Brothers Style

(The Twitterverse is aflutter with tweets about the implications of the FTC ruling regarding blog giveaways. But I have a $975,000 law degree that rarely gets put to use, so I figure I'll dust it off and persevere...But just so you know, the book below was FREE. A publicist sent it to me. But I'm blogging about it because I adore the author and think she's one of the most creatively interesting people I know. And because the book will help me hold my own in movie-based cocktail party conversation for years to come...)

Let me start with a confession: I like movies. Some quite a lot. But I don't retain lines from movies in the way that some folks do. No matter how hard I laugh or cry, the words characters say at those pivotal moments rarely sear themselves into my memory. This might be my husband's single biggest disappointment in me as a wife. I try, but it just doesn't happen.

So when I learned that Cathleen Falsani was writing a fun book about the deep spiritual message in the Coen brothers' movies, I knew this book would be gold for me. My only recollection of Raising Arizona is Nicholas Cage standing in front of a mobile home looking forlorn. From O Brother Where Art Thou? I've retained only an unfortunate mental picture of George Clooney in what looked like striped pajamas. And I am mortified to admit that I've never even seen The Big Lebowski. So in addition to its deep insights of significant spiritual insight, Cathleen's new book, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers is a veritable movie culture Cliff's Notes for me.

And because Cathleen and I share a publicist, I have a copy to give to you! Here's all you have to do: Email trishryanonline AT gmail DOT com and answer this question: What movie that I probably haven't seen/don't remember should I double back and commit to memory?

You too can be part of my cinematic education :)

Addendum: Check out this cool article/interview with Cathleen in today's Boston Globe.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Win my favorite CD! (An FTC compliant contest!)

I saw Ryanhood in concert yesterday...I'd forgotten how inspiring live music is.

Their show has the distinction of being both less embarrassing than my first concert (Shaun Cassidy), and less revealing than the last big show I went to (Janet Jackson--I had an odd seat on the side of the stadium and could see backstage, where Usher--her opening act--did a, um...complete costume change). The Ryanhood guys managed to keep their clothes on AND give us one of the best live shows I've seen in a long time. They talked about all the things I wanted to ask exactly what I want to know about the musical life on the road: the creative process behind their songs, what it's like to wake up in Idaho and go to bed in CA, how they keep grounded in the middle of such an unusual life...it was like that show Behind The Music, only live & interactive.

Ryan and Cameron are friends of ours, so I was able to score some swag to give away here on the blog :) I have an autographed picture AND their new CD. To win, email trishryanonline AT gmail.com and tell me: What question have you always wanted to ask your favorite musician?

Just read this bizarre ruling by the Federal Trade Commission, and their plan to regulate these sorts of blogger giveaways. So, in the spirit of full compliance, here goes:

The CD you could win was not a freebie. I paid for it (due to a fantastic up-sell by the lovely girl running the merch table, who pointed out that if I got a CD with my T-shirt, I wouldn't need to paw through my wallet in the hopes of finding smaller bills. I want her to work for me!)

But yes, the picture was free, and I shamelessly worked my connections to get it autographed. But given that I'm pretty sure Ryan and Cameron would have signed the picture for anyone, I'm not sure this counts as "special treatment given as payment for endorsement" per the FTC.

And finally the enjoyment and inspiration I promised will come from listening to their music? It has not been substantiated by any official study, organization, or governmental oversight group.
(It could be. It just hasn't been yet...)

There. Now you know!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Life in the Circus

Around this time every year, I post my "I Love Autumn" blog. I can't help it. This time of year feels like an extended birthday party to me--all my favorite colors on the leaves outside, I get to pull out cute jeans & sweaters after months spent trying to hide some body part or another from the public eye, the urge to walk briskly down the street because this time of year is when new things start and I don't want to be late... Love it.

I really dig new beginnings, truth be told. My parents have a basement full of furniture and high quality hand-me-downs they've been saving for most of my adulthood, waiting for me to land somewhere permanent (like a house with more than 900 square feet). I've been at this grownup thing for awhile now, and it doesn't look like my life is going to be of the "4 bedroom colonial on 3 acres where they lived for 25 years" variety. And on days like today, when new things are starting and I'm excited about it all, I'm okay with that.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how life doesn't turn out the way we think it will. Or for some folks (and I'm thinking of the big brother character in Jonathan Tropper's novels: super jock in college, marries the prettiest cheerleader, goes into the family business...and then wakes up sometime in his mid-30s to realize he hates his life) everything turns out exactly as planned, only it feels unsatisfying. What do we do with this?

I have to admit that I kind of dig the adventure of things changing every few years, so long as the people in my life are constant. I can handle a high degree of circumstantial uncertainty around jobs and living spaces so long as I'm connected with people. In all my ups and downs, I've seen how human connection builds a safety net underneath you, so that no matter how fast you might be falling, you won't crash. It's terrifying when it's you in the free-fall, but when it catches you, it's an amazing thing to behold. And now I feel like a more seasoned trapeze artist, I guess: what we're trying is still pretty risky, but I have confidence that even if I mess up, something will catch me.

How do you deal with life not turning out the way you expected? Do you like it that way, or does it freak you out?