In which Idina Menzel and Patti Griffin help me flee from zombies

I talk to Naomi Alderman about writing for Zombies, Run.

The Zombies, Run! app chooses songs from whatever playlist you feed it, and in that post, I talk about how my favorite moments are the ones when something comes up that’s wildly inappropriate for the narrative.

Today’s episode was filled with those awesome moments.

First, just as a friend has gone gray (turned into a zombie) and I’m fleeing from them, my playlist urged me to “Let It Go.”

Then, just another character was revealed to have secret zombie blood inside them, I was told “Something has changed within me. Something is not the same.”

And then a traitor was unmasked to strains of, “Don’t bring me bad news, no bad news, I don’t need none of your bad news today.”

And this is why I run from zombies.

Along the way, I’m pondering the fact that said traitor’s unmasking was utterly expected, and yet nonetheless satisfying. The discovery isn’t the only thing that makes a reveal satisfying–this is a craft thing worth thinking about some more.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Michele Weber Hurwitz on Musings about Comparisons
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I have a quote taped on the wall above my computer so it's the first thing I see every morning when I sit down to write.

"Comparison is the thief of joy."

That little gem comes from some guy named Theodore Roosevelt.

What a simple, true, and startling piece of advice. The idea that comparison is a thief, and it can steal your joy, take away your happiness.

My mother had a more delicate, loving way of putting it: "Appreciate what you have, Little Miss Smarty Pants."

This, in fact, seems to be my life lesson. I wish I could have told it to my younger self.

In this photo of me at five years old, I must have received a gift (what are those? pants? pajamas?) and so did my friend. I'm the one closer to the door. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? There I was, caught in the moment, looking at what she got, not what I got. Comparing.

And as you can see, I'm not smiling.

In high school, I compared my unruly, crazy curly hair to girls with seemingly carefree, straight locks (oh, their swinging ponytails!). In my early twenties, as I struggled to find a job, I compared myself to friends whose careers were taking off.

And later on, when I went after my dream of writing a book, I compared myself to authors who secured an agent and got published easily and quickly, while I stumbled and made endless mistakes.

Let's not even talk about those early query letters. Or those early manuscripts.

Don't get me wrong. I've had many happy, non-comparing moments. And I'm sure that comparison is somewhat human nature. Heck, I bet even cave women compared their hauls when they gathered herbs and berries.

But since authors live (and write) in a world of superlatives, comparison is all too easy to fall prey to. Scroll through your Facebook news feed or your Twitter timeline or the latest Publishers Weekly. It's all there for us comparison-junkies.

Six-figure deal! Auction! Trilogy sold in 44 countries. Starred reviews. Best-seller. Award-winning, must-read, most unbelievable book ever to be published in the history of time; plus it's being made into a movie! OMG!

While I readily and happily applaud my fellow authors' successes, I know I'm not the only writer out there who sometimes feels daunted. And intimidated. And like maybe it's a better idea to spend the day under the covers.

But then I look up.


I have another quote taped next to that one: "I wish that I had duck feet."

That's the title of a favorite book I had when I was little, an early reader by Theo. LeSieg. It's the humorous and insightful story of a young boy who wishes he had various animal parts, like duck feet, a whale spout, and an elephant trunk. But as he imagines the pros and cons of life with these seemingly fun but ultimately troublesome additions, he decides that he's better off just being himself.

Good choice. That's probably my other life lesson. And perhaps, everyone's.

The ideas of comparison and being yourself are themes that run through both of my middle grade books, Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books, 2011) and my new release, The Summer I Saved the 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books, 2014).

In Calli Be Gold, Calli, the youngest child in a super-achieving "golden" family, struggles with the fact that she's a regular kid and isn't talented at sports like her siblings. She finds out what she's good at when she bonds with an awkward second grade boy in a peer helper program at school. In her own quiet way, Calli stands up to her intense, overbearing dad and makes him understand that talent comes in many forms.

In The Summer I Saved the 65 Days, the main character, Nina Ross, questions whether doing good really makes a difference. She gets inspired from her eighth-grade history teacher's parting words and spends a summer doing secret good deeds in her neighborhood and for her family, despite the fact that she knows her best friend won't understand. Nina is confused and somewhat insecure, unsure of her "group" and where she'll fit in to the overwhelming world of high school.

As the good deeds prompt events she wasn't expecting, Nina has to decide whether or not to stay true to her plan and herself.

Creating and getting to know the characters of Calli and Nina has taught me, as an author, to appreciate the satisfaction in small moments.

While glowing reviews and awards are certainly wonderful, I've come to realize that rewards arrive in many forms, and often the best are the most heartfelt, touching, and personal.

Perhaps it's connecting with a child at a school visit, like the boy who admitted he didn't want to read Calli Be Gold because there was a girl on the cover, but now it's one of his favorite books. Or the email I received from a girl who wrote that Calli "inspires me to be open and kind to everyone. She makes me want to be myself." And the boy who was too shy to come up and have me sign his book at a recent event, and sent his friend to my table instead. When I waved to the boy, his surprised, thankful, light-up-the-room smile was absolutely perfect.

It's these moments when I nod silently to myself and think: these are the real superlatives.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Summer I Saved the 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz (Wendy Lamb, 2014) at Cynsations at Blogger. Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America. Enter here.

"Aim my smiling skull at you"
Fun things, Apr 14: giant ice cream sundae.

I earned that ice cream. Today was the Menière's treatment study enrollment day, which ate four hours of my work day with a lot of paperwork, a blood test, a hearing test, an ear exam, and more paperwork. I put on my most bright and cheerful and funny attitude, and made the study coordinator's day when I pulled up all my carefully tagged LJ/DW entries and was able to give exact dates for diagnosis and various treatments. I was the perfect patient. Then I got lunch, got ice cream, attempted to work a bit, came home, and fell over.

In four weeks I get a cold liquid injected into my ear that then turns into a gel and hangs around for a month. Four months after that, I find out whether it was the medication or the placebo. Yay science, or something.

The hearing test shows that the hearing in my right ear is the worst it's been (or at least the worst it's been on a day when I'm getting a hearing test). I've been braced for vertigo for days. I almost wish it would show up just so my hearing would improve for a few days. Only almost, though. Being hard of hearing in one ear is better than vertigo. It's just tiring having to work so hard to hear people. And today I got talked at a lot, by people with thick accents who were telling me very important things that I needed to understand fully, so there was a lot of active listening and careful hearing going on. I am so wiped.

I went up on the roof earlier to watch the lunar eclipse for a bit, but it was chilly and I was tired, so I came back in. It's nearing totality now, so I'm going to take one last look. Then I'm passing all the way out, with no alarm set.

You're welcome to comment on LJ, but I'd rather you leave a comment on the Dreamwidth version of this entry. The current comment count is comment count unavailable.

Another successful Thank God It’s Spring daffodil party

Originally published at Scott Edelman. Please leave any comments there.

Irene and I held our annual Thank God It’s Spring daffodil party a week ago Saturday, something we started doing after we moved to eight acres in West Virginia and began planting thousands of bulbs. I’ve had my brain in an as-yet-untitled new short story, which is why I haven’t previously shared how it all went down, but I thought it safe now to take a break from revisions to share.


This year, 33 guest made the trek to our place to say farewell to Winter. The weather cooperated—the sun was out all day, and the temperature hovered in the upper 50s.Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )

"everywhere i go i look for you / do you look for me where you go too?"
I've complained before about seeing a man (and it has always been a man) drive up to somewhere (usually an office building) and get out, whereupon a woman in the passenger seat also gets out and switches over to the driver's seat, and heads off as he goes inside. It is, to me, confusing behavior -- if the point is to drop the husband (or whatever status he is) off at work, why not have him passenge and avoid all the shuffling? Well, whatever.

In any case, I've now seen a new variation. This time it was not a man, but a butch woman.

(And yes, she kissed her femme before heading into work.)


Subject quote from "A Fuller Wine," Abigail Washburn.

Fun things, Apr 13: got prettied up for the Seder.

Today's outfit was entirely logic-driven:

* going to the Seder at my mom's place, so dressing up a bit
* want to wear a skirt and sandals because it's warm and breezy
* needs to be a long skirt so my mother doesn't give me the hairy eyeball over my hairy legs
* following the recent de-femming of my closet, I have precisely one long skirt, one top that goes with skirts, and one jacket that goes with that top
* oh right, girly clothes mean earrings and a necklace, I remember that
* it's warm enough to justify a straw hat


a photo of me in a long black skirt with a grey short-sleeved blazer and a pale straw fedora with a black band

(Image is a link to a larger image. Photo by [personal profile] xtina.)

When I cleaned out my closet, my rule was that I would keep any femme clothes that make me think "I look smashing in this", on the theory that those are the ones that really work for me rather than being about conforming to what other people think I should look like. This was my first time testing that theory and I am extremely pleased with the results. This blouse (which you really can't see at all under the jacket--it's a black sleeveless blouse with a deep v-neck) was my cleavage blouse back when I had cleavage, but I've lost so much weight since then that my chest is practically flat, which is great for menswear and gives me a fun bit of cognitive dissonance when I femme up. I also just got my hair buzzed, and gave my face a nice proper shave this morning. I didn't feel like a guy in drag, though. I just felt like me, looking and feeling good. It's nice. :) And something of a relief. I always want to have the option of girling up, even if I don't often take it.

Originally I was going to wear a women's wide-brimmed straw hat, but it didn't quite work when I put it on--too much of a muchness with the long skirt--and then I tried the straw fedora and it was far better than I expected. I think I always need something just slightly gender-dissonant like that. Even if I'm not in a particularly transgressive mood, I look better and feel better when I'm a little bit audacious.

Oh, and I think this is my first photo post since going back to wearing contact lenses! (Contacts + completely buzzed hair = my face looks naked, so when I got rid of my hair I switched to glasses.) I LOVE them. I love how I look in them, I love how much easier life is with them, love love love. I plan to stick with this hairstyle for a while--still buzzed on the sides and back, but longer on top--so I can keep wearing them.

You're welcome to comment on LJ, but I'd rather you leave a comment on the Dreamwidth version of this entry. The current comment count is comment count unavailable.

3D Beatles
I'm reluctantly selling this gorgeous vintage 3D Beatles pendant necklace. Opening bid is $50.

Tags: ,

The elusive final title of my new short story

Originally published at Scott Edelman. Please leave any comments there.

I’ve been relatively quiet here lately due to last weekend’s Spring party, which required a lot of prep and recovery time, combined with the editing of my new short story, which has been occupying most of writing mind. Because whenever I’ve been thinking of posting, I’ve then thought that if I have energy to blog, I should, since I have a story near completion, instead keep revising, revising, revising!

And so the story continues to successfully coalesce, and might even be ready to send to market in a week or two, but surprisingly, I’ve no final title yet, just many working titles which have been toyed with and then almost immediately rejected.

Which is odd for me. Usually, my titles come quickly, sometimes even before I’ve started writing the story itself. And if not that early, then definitely somewhere in the middle of my first draft. I have no doubt that the necessary title will appear from my subconscious when it’s ready, probably popping into my head the same day I finalize the text, but I do find it odd.

In any case, here are the the titles I’ve rejected so far

“Passing for Normal”

“Dead Inside”

“We All Deserved Better”

“This Impossibility, This Inevitability”

“Impossibility, Inevitability, and the Space Between”"

“Invisibility, Impossibility, Inevitability”

“Becoming Invisible, Becoming Seen”

“Objects in the Mirror Are More Normal Than They Appear”

“Bodies Do Not Lie”

“That Fear of Being Seen”

“The Presence of Absence”

Well, not all of them. There was one more working title—the first one, which was nothing more than a few words spelling out exactly what the story is about, with no obfuscation. But since I don’t want anybody to know exactly what the story is about until they sit down to read the story, I’m keeping that one to myself!

"Playing catch-up"
Fun things, Apr 6: talked about Long Hidden on the Black Girl Nerds podcast.
Apr 7: giggled on Twitter about a book that opens at a black werewolf strip joint.
Apr 8: had that absolutely splendid anniversary evening with J.
Apr 9: an excellent dinner with X and J at Blue Water Grill.
Apr 10: family dinner at home for the first time in ages.
Apr 11: wore short sleeves and sandals! Spring spring spring!
Apr 12: got haircuts with X; went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier with J.

Media log:

29) The Mummy (1999). (Movie.) Rewatch. X and I haven't had much opportunity for movie-watching lately, so it was really nice to cuddle up and knit while indulging in something familiar. It's really not bad for what it is. The cast is great, especially Rachel Weisz and Oded Fehr. The special effects are tolerable. Actual people of color are cast as people of color (other than Kevin J. O'Connor as Beni) and the Americans and Brits are cartoonish ethnic caricatures just like everyone else. The plot doesn't make a lick of sense, but you're not watching it for the plot; you're watching it for nostalgic recollection of the days when Brendan Fraser was a leading man instead of a washed-up former actor.

Verdict: Entirely tolerable.

For FutureKid: share, tolerate, discourage? Tolerate.

30) Hot Lead, Cold Iron by Ari Marmell. (Book.) The word I keep coming back to for this is "cute". Harry Dresden is a better Chicago supernatural PI, and Vicki Pettersson writes better 1950s slang and characters by several miles, but if you want a book with both of those things together and a tolerable flair for description, this is your book.

Verdict: Fine while it lasted and then instantly forgotten.

For FutureKid: share, tolerate, discourage? Tolerate.

31) The Double Cross by Carla Kelly. (Book.) Another Carla Kelly book about people being kind to one another. The "Double Cross" of the title is not a doublecross in the espionage sense, but a rancher's brand. It's set in colonized New Mexico in the late 1700s; the protagonists are Spanish, but Kelly manages to make them some of the most ethnically sensitive colonizers you ever did see. She doesn't pretend the race relations are all sweetness and light, though. A number of Spaniards are killed by Comanches offscreen, and the death of a young enslaved Indio girl at the hands of a cruel and senile rancher is described rather more vividly, in a way that's calculated to horrify rather than titillate. There's also matter-of-fact mention of how many of the second- and third-generation ranchers have Indio ancestry (though no mention of that coming about due to Spanish men raping native women). There is a bit too much emphasis on the contrast between the honorable magistrate hero and a "lawless" Comanche warrior who thinks nothing of killing anyone who causes him trouble, but on the whole I felt such things were handled fairly well, given Kelly's choice to put the colonizers front and center.

I'm no expert on that time or place, but it felt incredibly vividly real, actually more so than the Regency England setting of Kelly's other books. The dialogue rang very true. The characters had little complexity, being either very noble and good (of the "troubled by my sins but always striving to improve myself" variety) or very nasty and spiteful, but I don't read Kelly for complex characters. I read her because she's willing to make characters really really kind. And I weep over them, and over the ways they blossom under one another's tender care.

Verdict: Light and sweet.

For FutureKid: share, tolerate, discourage? Share, with a heads-up about the racial issues.

32) Captain America: The Winter Soldier. (Movie.) Where Iron Man 3 was the post-9/11 civilian PTSD movie, this is the soldier PTSD movie: "I went to war because I thought the battle between good and evil was simple; I came home knowing it's not; now I have no idea what to do." I continue to be impressed with Marvel's handling of sensitive and complicated social issues in movies that are ostensibly about shit getting blown up. I'm not entirely comfortable with the conclusion that a handful of superheroes are what's needed to save the world from corrupt intelligence agencies, but I'm willing to wait and see where they take it.

Also, a big giant HOORAY for a movie with male and female leads on an equal footing who don't hook up and who explicitly disclaim any interest in hooking up.

I really felt astonishingly twitchy seeing Robert Redford play a bad guy. He did it very well, no complaints, but it's just... he's so typecast in my brain from childhood imprinting on The Sting and adolescent imprinting on Sneakers that I just can't believe in him as a villain.

And now I can finally read all the spoilery things that I've been avoiding, so if you wrote a CA:TWS spoilery thing or have seen some good ones, please share links. :)

Verdict: A strong addition to the canon.

For FutureKid: share, tolerate, discourage? Share, as both a fun action flick and an excellent history lesson. These movies are perfect snapshots of 2010s American culture.

You're welcome to comment on LJ, but I'd rather you leave a comment on the Dreamwidth version of this entry. The current comment count is comment count unavailable.

"your parents smile for the camera in sienna shades of light / you're older than they were then"
Is there Passover cleaning? Yes. Yes, there is.

An extended Buzzfeed profile of Tom Lehrer. Given my mother got her doctrate from Harvard/Radcliff in the early 1960s, I was of course raised on his songs. (And Pogo comics.) (via)

It's been a while since I last linked to This to That, the best-named website for gluing advice. I should probably link it again sometime.

Reionize electrons. (via)


Subject quote from "Come On Come On," Mary Chapin Carpenter.

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