Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In the Stars

So, I admit it - I read my horoscope every day. I'm a Gemini, which if you are to believe the zodiac powers that be, I'm schizophrenic, creative, flighty and don't know when to shut up.

The funny thing I find about horoscopes is that it always seems like I'm living more of a life of adventure on the astral plane than this one.

Today's forecast says:
Do countries abroad represent real opportunities for you, Gemini? This is a question that you will soon have to answer. Could it be that the dream of working abroad is a convenient explanation for the dissatisfaction that you feel at work? It is important that you solve this riddle, as you will soon be making some key decisions that depend upon your answer.

My horoscope makes it sound like I'm considering moving to Zimbabwe, when the only real trip I'm going to make today is the Starbucks around the corner. I sometimes wish I was the person in my horoscope. Then, I'd always have a new love interest, significant new financial gains and I'd always be jetting off to exotic locales.

I wish the zodiac could give you really useful information that would say, help you avoid food poisoning. "Gemini: You will want to ask for mayo on that sandwich. Don't. They left it out for 9 hours." Or, even better, help you avoid fashion disasters: "Gemini: You will go to Gap and try on some jeans. Don't buy them. They are granny jeans and make your butt look like a billboard for Geritol."

Anyway, here's hoping for useful information. But, you know, I'll keep reading them anyway.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

My Man Vs. Nature

So, this weekend, we had an uninvited guest: a squirrel. He got in by pushing his way in through a loosened screen on an open window, and effectively terrorized my husband for three hours Saturday afternoon.

First of all, let me set the stage for you. I'm out shopping with Mom on Michigan Avenue. We're in Filene's Basement looking at some fantastic bargains, when my mobile rings.

Husband: (sounding panicked): There's a squirrel in the house.
Me: There's a what?
Husband: SQUIRREL! Oh GOD! ACK! He's big. Did I tell you he's big? I mean, he's REALLY BIG.
ME: What's happening?
Husband: He's jumping on our furniture. He's running over everything, and he's totally not scared of me at all. What do I do? Should I call 911? Oh my God! He's coming for me! Agggh!

Now, my husband is 6'1" and weighs 195 pounds. The squirrel was eight inches long and probably weighed four pounds. Now, let me give you a bit of history on my husband. He is a pacifist. He doesn't even like to squish bugs, and when we had a mouse problem some time back, we spent some time arguing about whose job it was to throw away the glue trap that had caught Speedy Gonzales. My husband likes to say, "Why do I have to do it just because I'm a guy? That's reverse sexism."

So standing in Filene's and not wanting to leave the Fendi scarves I've just found on sale for $14, I give my husband a "pep talk" or what he calls my "Be a Man" speech. I tell him he ought to a) close the door to contain the squirrel; b) open our patio door; c) try to shoo it out with a broom.

"Uh, yeah, right," my husband says. "I don't think you realize how big this squirrel is. It's BIG."

I hang up and suddenly start thinking that maybe my husband needs back-up. After all, there was the time he killed a tiny spider in our apartment by emptying an ENTIRE can of Raid on the bug in front of our air conditioner, so our entire apartment smelled like insecticide for a week. I have images of the squirrel wrecking havoc all over my living room and decide to go home to help.

When Mom and I arrive at my place, we find no squirrel, but we do find my husband, dressed in "squirrel fighting gear" which includes his snowboots, his leather jacket, a tennis raquet and a broom. "I've taken care of him," he says, sounding proud.

"What are you wearing?" I ask, wondering if his strategy was to convince the squirrel he was insane by wearing snowboots in August.

"I had on flip flops and shorts," he says. "You couldn't expect me to fight a squirrel wearing flip flops and shorts."

Apparently, my husband spent an hour chasing the squirrel around the house wearing everything but a catcher's mask and hockey pads. According to him, he was throwing up his arms and making all kinds of racket, shouting “Get outta here squirrel! Go away.” The squirrel, however, was entirely unfazed, just like me when he tells me I ought not to spend so much at Nordstrom's. Mr. Squirrel, apparently, literally ran circles around his legs to taunt him.

When my hubby, exhausted from his show of brute force, took a break to go looking for a phone book to call animal control, he looked up to see that the squirrel had - of its own accord - gone back out the open window, and was sitting there on the outer window sill, as he says, "mocking him." In a heroic leap, though, he threw himself into the room and slammed down the window, just as the squirrel was planning on coming "back on the offensive."

Squirrel: 0
Squirrelly Husband: 1

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Calories Schmalories

So, after learning this week margaritas have 740 calories a serving, you would think I would wisely switch to something less fattening, like say, vodka straight from the bottle.

But, what do I do Tuesday night? I go out and have two giant margaritas - basically in punch bowls with stems.

But, come on, let's face facts. I grew up in Texas. I've had a taste for a good margaritas, well, ever since Mom would make us "virgin margaritas" with limeade and Sprite. There's really no turning back at this point. I'm pretty much committed to having them, so I'd better just buy bigger pants.

That said, you can also blame the Punch Bowl Margaritas for the fact that I didn't write on Wednesday. The second one was all tequila with a splash of lime juice, and by splash, I mean a single drop. When I woke up this morning I was pretty sure I'd lost the few remaining brain cells I have that can do math. I know this as a fact because even making coffee was confusing (one tablespoon per one six ounce glass of water - argh! my head!).

But, I am back. Mom is up visiting this weekend, so I may be AWOL for a few days. Mom and I have serious shopping to do. Not for anything in particular, but because we are both marathon shoppers. Mom is up for shopping just about any day except the Friday after Thanksgiving. That's when "the amateurs" go out, she says.

So, this might be a good time to buy stock in Ann Taylor or Pottery Barn, or any outlet mall shop, because we'll probably be single-handedly doubling their quarterly earnings this weekend.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

It's Amazing I Don't Weigh 500 Pounds

Okay, I just got some very disturbing news. No, Tom Cruise didn't announce that he's going to make Scientology membership a requirement for seeing all of his future movies. It's much worse.

Margaritas - perhaps one of the best inventions known to mankind next to penicillin - is REALLY FATTENING. I realize, this is probably obvious to most of you. And I know I didn't think drinking 'ritas was like chugging a Slimfast for obvious reasons, but I also didn't realize it had 740 calories.

Forbes ranked it as the second fattest cocktail next to Long Island Iced Teas. This means I'll have to find a new favorite cocktail, I suppose, given that I'm fond of having more than one at a sitting.

By the way, for anyone interested in weight loss in general (not myself, obviously, since I had no idea cocktails could have more calories than Snickers' bars) should read the very candid and very funny memoir "I'm Not the New Me" by Wendy McClure. She's a fellow Chicagoian, but I don't know her, so it's not like she's promised me fat-free margaritas or anything as a bribe.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Paperclip, Why Do You Mock Me?

I know many of you (who are probably much smarter than me) have figured out how to turn off the Word Paperclip - probably by buying software that is newer than the original Windows/Dos version, which is basically the last time I upgraded Windows. My version comes with free Saloon Whiskey and Deadwood-style shoot-outs, so I know it's old.

Today, Word Paperclip was particularly annoying. After typing what I thought was a particularly good passage, I look up and see him snoring. That's right - he's sleeping. Apparently, my prose puts cartoon paperclips to sleep. It felt like the last straw.

This was after I'd tolerated hours of the "blank stare." He's just there, blinking at me. I don't need that kind of pressure. I've got advances and deadlines to meet, so I don't need to be in a staring contest with an animated paperclip on top of everything else, thank you.

I guess the bottom line is that I've spent entirely too much time on my computer today. I guess all work and no play makes Cara.... obsessed with Word Paperclip? Guess it's not quite as creepy as Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Although, I'm pretty sure the Word Paperclip probably had something to do with him turning into an axe-weilding maniac.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

You, Me and Everyone I Know

Okay, since P Diddy dropped the "P" in his name, I think it's only fitting that I tell you all that I think the "Lockwood" is getting between me and my "fans" - so you guys can just call me Cara. Or if you are feeling really creative, you can call me C. Liddy or even Liddy, but I'm not guaranteeing that I'll respond to any of those.

It's time for more writing questions! My favorite kind. I get to pretend I actually know something aside from the latest Bradgelina news.

Jessica writes:

How do you come up with the characters in your novels? Are they based on real people?

My characters come from everywhere. From real life and imagination, from friends and friends of friends, basically from everyone.

I don't plunk someone into a book verbatim, though - (except for the fact that I particularly like the name Robert for bad guys since I dated a very bad Robert in high school). Honestly, most people need a little tweaking to be put into a book. Either you're too boring (like me) or you're a little too out there (crazy friends of mine, you know who you are) and you need to be toned down a bit.

That said, I have to say that the danger of writing is that everyone you know assumes you DID put them in the book, even if you weren't thinking of them at all. For instance, after I wrote "I Do" my mom was convinced she was the cold, etiquette-obsessed mom in the book. She wasn't. Not at all.

I've had friends who were completely the opposite of certain characters who thought they might be because of circumstantial evidence (where the characters ate, lived or worked).

And if it's not a friend, then everyone assumes everything that happens in my books happens to me. For the record, this is not true. I live a very, very dull life. There's hardly anything in it worth writing about, which is why I'm writing fiction. Because it's much better to make stuff up. It's far more entertaining, trust me, than writing about how I watched Oprah and then debated about whether I should shower. So no, I was never a wedding planner. I never got fired from my job. I don't have a long-standing crush on a boy from Dixie.

The great thing about writing is that you get to play act. You get to walk around in some stranger's shoes for awhile and say and do things you'd never dream of doing. And, I should mention, it's also pretty darn fun to name evil characters after poorly behaved friends, ex-boyfriends and former bosses. Revenge is a dish best served in print, for sure.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

My name is Cara Lockwood, and I am a Slacker

Yes, I admit it. I've been a total slacker. Have I posted anything here the last week? No. Have I done much writing? Um, sort of. Have I had a few Mai Tais, spent last night getting an Origins facial with my best buds, and had a pedicure? Yes, yes, and yes. By the way, thanks Jordan for the Origins facial (Jordan won facials and invited us all along - Bless her).

It's because of weeks like these that my husband is pretty skeptical of all that "pressure" I'm under to write novels and how much "hard work" it is to write. Anyhow, my apologies for slacking and leaving you hanging. I realize the "Mai Tai/facial" excuse is right up there with "let them eat cake." But it falls under the "recharge my creative batteries" clause of being a writer, in which any and all slacking, including lying on the couch and watching a Lifetime Movie marathon, can be essential to the creative process.

Speaking of finding that creative spark, Sam writes:

After buying, reading, and passing around your books, my friends and I have developed a small following for your books. Oi. Ok that sounded better in my head. Long story short, we think you're fab. Moving on...

For as long as I can remember I've wanted to write a really great book. The only problem is, I get really weirded out by people reading what I write. I was curious if that's just some weird quirk I have, or if that's common?

First of - small following! Excellent. I'll take any kind of following, I swear. Small, medium, large - whatever you've got. That is, unless you expect me to actually lead you somewhere, because I've got a lousy sense of direction. True story: when I first learned to drive, Mom asked me to take us to the grocery store, which was literally a half-mile away. I had to ask her which way I was supposed to go. Yeah, cause me so smart.

Second, it is very hard to get used to the idea of having other people read what you write. Even now, if my hubby glances over my shoulder while I'm writing, I'll pretty much freak out on him, shouting, "Don't READ it, you fool! It's not ready!" as if it's a soufflé that might deflate by breathing on it. Then again, maybe my extreme reaction might be related to the fact that he'll sometimes read something I wrote and conclude: "I don't think I'm the target audience" and leave it at that.

That being said, I have come a long way in letting my work go. Part of it came from the fact that I used to be a newspaper writer, and had some pretty brutal editors. When I was an intern, I had an editor who seriously once shouted from his cube, "Who wrote this shit? It's SHIT!" Um, that would be me? Anyhow, this toughened me up a little bit, but frankly, I'm still sensitive. A bad Amazon review makes me want to spend the day in bed.

I wish I had a magic bullet to making the weirdness of having other people read your stuff go away. The only thing I can say is that if you do let someone read it, and they genuinely love it, that's the best high in the world. It's completely worth risking the rejection. If you never take the risk, then you'll never know.

My best advice is work on something for awhile; get it into the shape you like. If you feel confident it's good, chances are it is! Give it to someone you trust to read it, and don’t watch them read it. You don't want to be there if they don't laugh at the right parts, or worse - they laugh at the wrong parts. Trust me on that one. Not to mention, staring at them hopefully will probably make them nervous, unless they’re like my husband and immune to peer pressure.

If for some reason some fool thinks it's anything less than fabulous, then I recommend the company of good friends, some Mai Tais and a facial -- they pretty much cure almost anything that ails you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Creative Writing 101

Okay, so now that I've admitted to actually writing, I've gotten some writing-related questions. This is the thing I'm supposed to know about (even though I think my real expertise is in celebrity gossip, because I have no shame. Did I watch 'the Fabulous Life of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline' last night? Yes, I did. I found out that the difference between their wardrobes and truck drivers' wardrobes, is that theirs cost $7,000).

But, back to writing. A faithful blog reader, Terri B. writes:

"...The aspiring writer in me has questions. And since you are my idol... :o)
Do you become attached to your characters, making it hard to end the story? About how many pages long is your first draft usually?"

First off, I'm not sure how I'm going to handle being someone's idol (it's a lot of pressure), but that being said...flattery, my dear, will get you everywhere, which in this case means being the subject of a blog entry.

Do I get attached to my characters? I do, sometimes. I was very attached to Jane, the main character of "Pink Slip Party". But most of the time, by the time I've spent nearly a year living inside a character's head, I'm usually pretty tired of them. It's like a roommate that simply has no concept of personal boundaries. After awhile, you just want a little quiet time. I'll love them again after a few months' break, but I definitely need the break.

In terms of the length of a draft, it varies quite a bit. I wish I was like J.K. Rowling, who just seems to be able to write longer and longer with little effort. I suspect her next book will be 1500 pages long, but I've found my books getting shorter. My first "I Do" draft came in about 325 pages, and "Pink Slip Party" had about 290, and then "Dixieland Sushi" had about 270. At this rate, "I Did (But I Wouldn't Now)" is going to be a short story.

The length of drafts really varies depending on the pace of your story and what you're trying to accomplish. Each story has its own perfect length, it's just finding it that can be difficult. Sometimes this means flushing out the story with more pages, and sometimes it means taking a weed whacker to your prose because it's simply too long.

When I was writing "I Do" I would celebrate after writing every chapter, because every time I added a page, it became The Longest Thing I'd Ever Written. My college thesis was about 45 pages, so after I passed that mark, I would stack each new chapter on top of the last on my coffee table and just stare at it. I guess it's sort of like what marathon runners feel like when they keep breaking new distance records, except that I didn't have to sweat or lose control of my bodily functions. It's one of the many reasons I write for a living and don't run.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

On Walden Pond

Okay, so I have, at long last, finished a draft of "I Did (But I Wouldn't Now)." I am now frantically trying to figure out how to make the book better because I fear it totally stinks in its current form. My husband tells me this is a good sign, because I typically feel terrible about all my drafts, which is what causes me to spend time revising. Revising, by the way, is completely key to any sort of creative writing endeavor. Thank god for the cut/paste functions of Word.

Someone asked me the other day if I would ever want to go to a cabin and write my novel on a typewriter. I guess this is the romantic view of writers, or something, but to me it sounds god awful. First off, I don't do well in cabins. Especially those without indoor plumbing. I am not an outdoors-girl, unless by outdoors you mean an outdoor mall with a Nordstrom's and a Starbucks. First, there are bugs. Second, did I mention the bugs? Third, there's that whole going-without-a-shower-think. Um, no thanks. I'm not European.

And a typewriter - ack. I make enough typos that the drafts would be close to unreadable. Not to mention, the typewriter (unless you do the carbon copy thing) means that you have only one draft of your writing, the project that took you months to create while having only a steady diet of beans and mosquitoes. I have literally four copies of my drafts on three different computers at all times. I'm not going to end up like the professor in Wonder Boys, where my life's work goes flying off into a lake.

Not to mention, I don't know how you do revisions with the typewriter thing. You write them out by hand? You retype the ENTIRE thing? Even thinking about it gives me a headache. I may hate the Word Paperclip Guy, but I'd take him over White Out any day.

So, speaking of revisions, I ought to get back to them. If you have any outlandish requests for an ending for the main character ("Send her to Thailand!" "Make her discover her long dormant magical powers!" "Have her last words after kissing her soulmate to be: 'I'm going to Disneyland!'" I'm open to suggestions at this point. I realize you have no idea what the story is about, or what the characters are like, but you shouldn't let that stop you. Besides, I suspect my editor would probably take out anything too outlandish, she's pretty much a stickler for practicality that way.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Third Acts, and Other Conundrums

I'm sure many of you might be thinking that my kitchen contractor has killed me. Given his shoddy track record with power tools, it really wouldn't be a stretch.

It's been nearly a whole week and I've been atrocious about posting, and I apologize to each and every one of my 10 fans, because the last post frankly wasn't that funny and didn't deserve a whole week of being out there, on the front page, just begging to disappoint you.

I hate to say it too loudly because I don't want to jinx myself, but I've actually been writing. It's a shock, I know. I'll give you a moment or two to let the thought of me actually working sink it. I should also warn you that the fact that I'm actually talking about writing on a blog that supposed to be writing-related instead of blathering on about Tom Cruise, my Russian Kitchen Friend or and my July 4 hangover, might also be one of the seven signs of the Apocolypse. I'm just warning you now in case I get lawsuits after the end of the world.

I'm finishing up the new book, "I Did (But I Wouldn't Now)," which is not, as my husband says is what I said after I got food poisoning from The Catfish Shack on one of our drives through Texarcana. It's the spin-off to "I Do (But I Don't)." Think "Joey" but funny.

I'm in the process of writing the ending, and it's tricky. I always find endings the hardest part of a book to write, namely because it means that if the previous 270 pages sucked, it's highly unlikely that the last 25 are going to make up for it. On the other hand, if you've got 270 outstanding pages and you blow everything in the last 25, then your entire book will still suck. No pressure or anything.

Also, I don't like endings because they mean that I'm supposed to know what the hell happens, and typically at this stage, I don't know. Does my main character get married at the end or does she fall off a cliff? Does she find the love of her life or does she end up guest starring on Fear Factor? Who knows? It's a mystery. I guess I'll just have to buy the book to figure out how it all ends.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Extreme Kitchen Makeover

As some of you know, I'm having my kitchen redone. All of my friends know all about The Money Pit, as I've affectionately started to call it. I feel like I've just been pouring money into a hole in the floor where my sink used to be for about three months.

My friends are tired of me ranting about it. There's really only so often you can hear the Board Like Bullet story. They all get that glazed look when I start talking about it, because, let's face it, you can only regale your friends with dicey contractor stories for so long before they start to wonder if maybe they should get you some psychiatric help.

It's my fault, really. It's a bad idea to do major home renovations when you WORK FROM HOME. Somehow, this fact sort of escaped me. I think I've been watching Extreme Home Makeover too much. I mean, they can build an entire house in seven days, but apparently my 9' by 11' kitchen takes 75 days.

I also know why Ty uses that bullhorn to get the workers motivated. I wish I had a bullhorn when I came home Friday and found two tile workers sitting on in my kitchen taking an extended smoking break. Now, in addition to dust being everywhere, my place also smells like Marlboro Reds. I can't imagine why Yankee Candle doesn't package up that scent.

But, on the bright side, I don't have a terminal illness, which I think is a prerequisite to be a contestant on Extreme Home Makeover. Not that I'm knocking it. I cry like a baby every time I watch it, even though my husband says it's just one long commercial for ABC and Sears.

I also know someone who knows Ed Sanders, another great reason to tune into the show. And if you think I'm name-dropping, you are so right. What is the point of knowing celebrities (or people who know them) if you can't brag about it? I mean, really.