Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Baby Showers and the Childless Chick

Hola, dear blog readers, and thank you for visiting again even though I’ve left you hanging since last Friday. I do have a couple of excuses, the first being hurricane Ernesto which threatened to hit our shores over the weekend but thankfully did not (southeastern Cuba and Florida weren’t so lucky…). The second one is work related (as in way too much of it for my liking) but you don’t want to hear about that, right? Good, because I’d rather not talk about it. Onwards…

… It’s rare that we here in the Cayman Islands are subject to the social phenomena and general going-ons of the world at large, mostly because we’re a sleepy little island of 50,000 people and don't have much by way of civilization beyond banks, churches, and cruise ships. We get up, go to work, drink ourselves silly out of boredom, pass out on the beach from time to time, and then do the same thing all over again the next day.

But one phenomenon has managed to infiltrate our blissfully uneventful social landscape…the baby craze. Or baby madness, if you prefer to call it (I know I do). Is it just me, or are babies, pregnant bellies, Lexus-level luxury strollers and goofy new dads taking over the world as we know it? In the interests of full disclosure, I confess that I’ve stubbornly resisted all calls to the state of motherhood from nosy family, well-meaning friends, and crushing social pressure. So while you could call me biased, I think once you look at the evidence, from the proliferation of fancy-pants baby showers to the tabloid-fueled Hollywood baby frenzy, you may just agree…

Exhibit A: I attended a baby shower just this weekend. My second of the baby season, and probably not my last. The sex of the yet-unborn child was unknown, so yellow duckies and green froggies abounded. As did the carb-laden pastries, cakes and quiches, but not so much as one ounce of a sour apple martini to take the edge off for the non-expecting amongst us (like, say, yours truly). That same night, I came across a chapter in Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed where Rachel, the main character was subjected to one such social ritual, and where the sex of the baby was also unknown and where yellow abounded as a result… coincidence? I think not.

Exhibit B: The September issue of Glamour ran a feature article about the disproportionate media focus on Hollywood pregnancies and the effect this has on women with fertility problems and those who simply don’t want kids. Enlightening and timely.

Emily Giffin (Baby Proof) and Wendy French (After the Rice) are two authors I’ve read who delved into what it’s like to be a perfectly happy twosome (or onesome) in a world obsessed with threesome-plus families. And I for one, couldn’t be more grateful. (Actually,if you check out the Amazon reviews for these books, you'll find much vitriolic diatribe aimed not at the books' merits or flaws, but at the LIFE CHOICES of the characters...amazing).

Now, I’m not saying I don’t ever want children – under the right circumstances I might – but just as once upon a time the pendulum swung in favor of the fabulousness of Singletondom and its (implied) carefreeness, maybe these days it’s swinging a little too far the other way. Maybe we as a society need to get on celebrating individual choice as opposed magnifying social trends so as to make it seem like ‘everyone’s doing it so why not you?’

And this, to me, is what makes chick lit so very fabulous – that more than any other popular genre out there, it has celebrated freedom of choice for the average chick and explored all kinds of avenues to pursue that freedom.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

This Is SO Cool...

You Are Noon

You are upbeat, ambitious, and never at loss for energy.
You have a lot that drives you in life. The desire to be the best, and a secret hope of fame and power.
And while you definitely have a Type A personality, you are still fun to be around.
You have a ton of charisma and a genuine interest in others. You are adored by many.

Hey Diana, looks like we're both 'noon'. I think Noon rocks. When I first started reading the description I thought my time sounded more like sunrise, but then again, in what universe would a night owl, someone who is consistently late-beyond-redemption and considers sleeping in until 11 am on weekends perfectly normal (what - don't you?) be 'sunrise'? Noon... now that makes sense. And Midnight sounds cool. I wouldn't mind being midnight either... give myself an air of mystery. Then again,who am I kidding?

So, what time of day are you? Tell me tell me tell me!!!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Of Mice and Writers

One of the things I would hear writers say way back when I was as green (in publishing terms) as a Kate Spade store carrier bag was: when you get published, be prepared to have everyone confess from your old high school teacher to the neighborhood paperboy, that they too, given XYZ would have loved to write a novel.

Ha! I scoffed. I’m not sure the people I hang out with enjoy reading anything beyond Yahoo headlines, let alone writing. And of course, like most sound writerly advice I received over the years and ignored, time and experience proved me wrong.

The funniest incident of someone telling me they always wanted to write was an old boss… and not just any boss, my friends, but the boss’s boss… He was in charge of 'exit' interviews and I was, well, exiting. This wasn’t an exchange I was particularly looking forward to, so when the next question out of his mouth after “have you handed in your company pass?” was: “so, is it true you’ve written a book?” I was very relieved. And then very shocked. This pointy-haired (sans the pointy hair) boss didn’t look like he had one creative bone in his entire body (we’re in the stuffy finance world here).

This wasn’t the only time people told me how they too, would love to sit down and write a novel. Which makes me wonder… why didn’t they? What’s the difference between them and us? What makes a person decide to pursue something like writing seriously? I’d say determination, a need to overachieve and a high IQ, but mustn’t my aforementioned boss have all these traits if he managed to get to his position? And he did go into what sort of book he’d like to write, so I assume he read a fair bit as well…

Is it only that our priorities are different, or are we more deluded about our chances of publication, and therefore more likely to take on this crazy idea? There was a great article in the RWR a few months back (maybe years… time stands still on the crazy island) about this experiment about mice swimming towards some island in the middle of a tank of water (bear with me here…there is a point, I promise). It seems that those mice that had been conditioned to believe there was a dry surface somewhere in that tank kept on swimming, while those mice that were never conditioned to believe there was a dry surface for them to swim to just gave up after a while and stopped swimming. And then sank (I wonder if the researchers managed to rescue them in the nick of time…)

… does this make those of us who try and break into the publishing world, armed only with only our fervent desire to succeed, more delusional that society at large?

Alisa has a great post up on her blog about the attributes of gifted people and how they do things that seem nutty to everyone else… like say not only wishing they could write a book, but actually going out and doing it.

What do you think? What separates us actually-writing writers from the just-talking-about-writing masses? What made you do it?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On Lebanon, Bias, and Opinionated Chicks

I wondered about this way back when the idea of a blog was but a spark in my frontal lobes (I don’t want any brainacky science people calling me on my possibly inaccurate use of the term ‘frontal lobe’ okay?)

‘This’ being how much of yourself do you put out there given that we are (most of us anyway) writers and/or readers of humorous fiction aimed at young or young-at-heart women. I decided that, really, no one needs to know how I feel about certain political topics, seeing as many consider chick lit escapist literature and who wants a political debate when you know people would rather read about finding your calling in life/the perfect shoes-and-handbag combo/soulmate who also happens to be a major stud and who you can bring home to your mother…

But then I though about what chick lit means to me, why it struck such a deep chord, and why I continue to seek out quality chick lit even though the genre abounds with less-than-sparkling offerings (given, of course, that what rocks my boat may not do so for the next girl…).

I dig chick lit so much because it’s real. I don’t believe it’s all escapist… just hopeful. Optimistic as opposed to downtrodden. And easy to relate to. On some level, I am Bridget, Becky Bloomwood, or Rachel Walsh even though I’m not British (or thirty), have never sent pleading letters to my banker, nor have I ever ended up in rehab. I’m also not Latina, but Dirty Girls’ Social Club by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez had just the same effect on me with the added bonus that I learned so much about the nuances of a culture that surrounds us and yet, somehow still eludes many of us. With her groundbreaking novel, Alisa put that culture within our reach and she did this by exploring a topic close to her heart and mind, one she was in a good position to write about. Her blog is a perfect reflection of that voice that made Dirty Girls’ climb the bestseller charts. Alisa is in-your-face and not necessarily nice about telling you just how wrong you are, but she’s smart and relevant, and ultimately, how do you broaden your mind, develop your critical thinking and find out just a little more about the different people who populate the world around you if you don’t listen to writers like Alisa? You don’t have to agree with her, but she speaks out about real issues that affect not only chicas but chicks as well and it behooves us to listen.

Now, this still wasn’t enough to motivate me to put myself out there, subject to every vitriolic stalker (check out Alisa’s Miami stalker who has a whole website dedicated to his hatred of her) who might take offense to my Arab-ness

However, recent world developments conspired against my desire to keep politics out of what is really a blog about writing (or how I’m not writing… oh the shame).

Many of you know I was born in Lebanon. Some of you know that I have family still living in my ancestral home in Beirut, that my Canadian family was on their annual vacation there when the bombs started dropping, after a decade-long hiatus and the kind of rebuilding that would lead a normal, thinking person to believe that the war was indeed over. Some of you might even know that I had considered joining my family in Beirut just weeks before Israel invaded, and that I chose to go to Europe instead.

In reality, I was too cheap to fork over the $2,000 for a high-season ticket, and that I didn’t feel like flying for 18 hours. I figured Beirut would still be there in the spring, when airfare would dip to a more manageable $1000.

To quote a line from the article I’ve linked to, it’s amazing that you can go to sleep in peace and wake up in war.

Most people have been pretty sensitive to the fact that I’m from this area and so directly affected by the events. I haven’t had nearly as many questions about the politics behind the invasion as I have about my family and if they managed to escape unharmed (they did, though only just). Still, I would be shortchanging all my friends in the writing community if I didn’t give them the chance to ask someone who knows something about this conflict whatever they’ve been wondering about. It’s been said that the more news you watch, the more confused you are likely to get, especially if you rely on the same news networks to give some background on the issues. This is largely due to media bias, (and I’m not going to get into exactly which side the media is tilted to…) but since I do happen to be from this area and I do happen to hold an opinion on the subject, I think we should clarify the word ‘bias’ before we go any further.

Everybody’s biased. You know that. Everyone knows that. But if we left it at that, then there’d be no point in debating anything because both sides would be biased and therefore probably molding the truth to suit their arguments. So what we do? There is bias that is born of ignorance, and bias born of experience. It’s incumbent on us, the audience, not on the person making the argument, to try and figure out what kind of bias we’re listening to. It’s easier said than done, I’ll give you that, but unfortunately most of us are too lazy to make any effort to try to understand what’s really going on.

Gone are the days when I would snatch up any opportunity to educate people around me on topics that left them baffled… I would get the standard blank, sometimes skeptical look, followed by a ‘you’re biased’ and a shrug. I think people felt that by asking me my take on things, they’d pretty much done their duty in trying to understand ‘the other side’ and if what I said conflicted with whatever preexisting opinions they held in their heads, then my arguments were automatically relegated to the ‘biased’ bin.

It made me feel like a circus monkey whose purpose was to entertain when I thought I was being asked to educate. I also got tired of having to defend notions that could have been settled had we had an encyclopedia Britannica or access to Google handy.

I’ll say it again: there’s bias born out of ignorance, and bias born out of education. Just ask CNN anchorwoman Christiane Amanpour who, in her interview with Oprah, confessed to feeling guilty for the news media’s attempt to remain neutral when it was clear one side was right and the other was wrong.

Got an opinion? Good. Just make sure you can defend it and defend it well. I don’t care what that opinion is. And if you’re someone listening to this opinion, challenge it. Don’t just take it. You have the tools and the critical thinking needed to decide if this is an opinion worthy enough to add to your arsenal of knowledge, or if you should just listen politely and then empty your mind of that nonsense. Sound tough? Of course. But nothing worthwhile comes easily, including the quest for the truth.

…okay… sloooowly stepping off the soapbox here. But before I go, I’ll leave you with a couple of things: a link to a newspaper article that was printed here in the Cayman Islands about a girl who, like so many other people who flood Lebanon in the summer to visit relatives, went to bed in peace and woke up in war. Her story is that of the tens and tens of thousands who had to find a way out somehow.

Now you’re probably wondering just what my opinions are given this entire lengthy lecture on how much of yourself to put out there. Here’s an amazing clip which has been sending shock waves over the internet for its brutal and unwavering honesty for a few weeks now. Watch it and remember what we talked about…

… and finally, what do you think about chick lit heroines and the world that they inhabit? Do you enjoy reading about characters like those of Alisa VR, unapologetically opinionated and who call attention to racial, political and economic holes in our society (while still maintaining the voice and ‘now’ feel of classic chick lit greats of yore), or do you prefer your protagonists to err more on the side of political correctness?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Little Cayman

This is going to be a short post (with promises of more to come tomorrow... it was a long day at the office) with a quick recap of my weekend getaway to our smallest of sister islands. Remember those old Bugs Bunny cartoon where he's bound for America and sails for months and months (and narrowly misses being turned into roast rabbit) until the crew spots land? Remember what that land looks like? That's exactly what Little Cayman looks like. Size: 1 mile in width by 10 miles in length. Population: 150. This island bring a whole new meaning to the notion of 'getting away from it all'.

After landing at the 'International airport' (which also doubles as the fire station and post office), we were driven the 0.05 seconds to our hotel which turned out to be absolutely stunning (and I learned how to post pics just for this...)

Activities on the agenda? I suppose I could've gone diving but really, why bother with heavy dive equipment, getting up early, doing, you know, exercise, when I could be lying n a hammock and reading my brand new copy of See Jane Write? At least I managed to hop on a kayak and set off for Owen island where the DH and I hung out with a couple of birds.

Amount of writing done on this TV-less (not to menion friends and booze-less) getaway? Zero. Zilch. Bupkiss. Sigh.

Friday, August 18, 2006

New Blurb and Other Miscellany

I’m being a very bad, bad blogger here, breaking the number one blogging mantra I promised myself I never would: going AWOL for more than a few days for no particular reason.

Baaaaaaad Newbie Novelist.

But I’ve got something good for you… a new blurb from the lovely and fabulous (and just as petite as yours truly) Michelle Cunnah (whose website rocks… – I don’t care what anyone says about pink, it still rules, as do flower and martini glass cartoons):

Fashionably Late is a wonderful story of East meets West. Aline Hallaby, a young Canadian-Lebanese woman, navigates the waters between her overprotective family and their traditional values, and what she really wants for herself in life. I read it in one sitting! – Michelle Cunnah, award-winning author of 32AA

Somebody pinch me.

In other news, just picked up my copy of See Jane Write by fellow Montrealer chick Sarah Mlynowski and editor Farrin Jacobs and IT LOOKS SO COOL! How could a writing how-to manual with chapter headings like “How Writing Chick Lit is Like Therapy” and “What I like About Me: Creating Your Main Character” fail to be cool? If only this kind of book was around when I was trying to figure out how to write in a genre that, by its very nature, breaks all the genre rules and yet isn’t quite mainstream… I’d read writing advice like “but no one will like your character if she swears/drinks herself silly/sleeps with her best friend’s fiancĂ©…” and I’d think: but what about Samantha of Sex and the City, or Rachel of Something Borrowed or the infamous Bridget? And the best part about this book? No more trying to figure out exactly how Tolstoy’s characterization methods can be applied to your humble chef d’oeuvre… all examples are pulled from some of the most popular chick lit out there. So yay Sarah and Farrin for writing this! Next month I’ll be picking up Cathy Yardly’s chick lit writing how-to and I’ll be happy to tell you a bit about that too.

Last but not least in my list of miscellany… flying to Little Cayman tomorrow on an impromptu weekend getaway!!! I’ve been living in Grand Cayman for four years now and I have yet to hop over to our tiniest of sister islands. I did happen to be on a commuter plane once that stopped there to let off some passengers on its way to Cayman Brac (the ‘middle’ island in terms of size out of the three) and we landed in a field. A field with a tractor-buggy thing not three feet away from the propeller. (Yes, it was a Kodak moment that was duly captured.) I’ll be staying at the reportedly blissful Southern Cross Club, and will post pics just as soon as I figure out how. Just to give you an idea, Grand Cayman is, as the name would suggest, the biggest of the three Cayman islands. At its widest point, GC is 8 by 22 miles…now can you picture Little Cay?...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

First Blurbs!!

For those of you new or unfamiliar to the publishing process, a blurb is that snappy one (or two) liner recommendation from another author, usually one that writes in the same genre or style as the novel in question. Getting these 'blurbs' was another one of those responsibility that I was pretty shocked to find out falls squarely on the author's shoulders (sometimes editors and agents can help, and if your book is a lead title then the marketing department of the house will certainly help, but that's not the case for most of us!)

... So when both my agent and editor began educating me on just how important blurbs are to the promotion of your novel and then sent me off with a 'go get'em tiger!' look in their eyes,I felt a little deer-in-the-headlights-ish to say the least. That's when I really understood the power of networking and getting involved in the writing world. I went to my first conference before I had even finished my first novel. I joined Chick Lit Writers of the World and was pretty active on the posting board (until last year anyway...). So, lessons learned: be nice, genuinely nice, to your fellow writers whether unpubbed or not. If you read a novel you really enjoy, don't be shy to write the author and tell her/him - they're generally thrilled to hear from their normal, well-adjusted fans (as opposed to the ones writing from jail with marriage proposals. Sadly, I'm not kidding). Go to conferences if time/budget allows. Get involved in your chapter (if you're part of an organization).And this bears repeating, BE NICE. I'm sure most of you out there are, but hey, the writing world is no different from any other world. I've worked in a Big Four accounting firm and several world-class banks and office politics that feel like they belong on a soap opera or a high school classroom continue to floor me. People don't change all that much I guess... So resist the urge to join the 'clique' or to be catty in any way. Because when that day you've been waiting for all your life comes along you'll need all the help you can get, trust me... Plus isn't being nice its own reward??

Okay,without further ado, here are my first two blurbs from two AMAZING writers (and if you haven't read Hot Tamara and Adventures of A Salsa Goddess yet,RUN, don't walk, to your bookstore... Hot Tamara lives up to its title and just sizzles with sexual tension btw Tamara and Will while Adventures of A Salsa Goddess captures the world of Salsa clubs in North America so well that if you've ever been to one you'll laugh with recognition on every page, and if not, you'll want to get a piece of that action you've been missing out on).

"From the chic boutiques of Montreal to the sultry nightlife of Cuba, Fashionably Late sparkles with wit and humor. You will fall in love with Dajani's engaging Lebanese-Canadian heroine" - JoAnn Hornak, author of Adventures of a Salsa Goddess

"A compelling read for women who find themselves at the crossroads. It's a must-have for the most fashionable of book bags" - Mary Castillo, author of Hot Tamara

Yaaayyyyy!!!!! This is so exciting I could DIE.