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    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    The Conference Part 2

    Holly the Hood Ornament

    If Kim Woodhouse were Batman, Holly would be Robin. Holly lives with Kim, does cool stunts, says funny things, and, I suspect, looks good in tights. I love hanging out with Holly, and she made our road trip even more memorable. She and I bonded over loading and unloading the car carriers. Holly would climb on top of Kim’s gargantuan Expedition and then bravely scale the mountain of luggage like a scrappy mountain goat while I waited on the ground to catch the flying suitcases.

    When we arrived at the hotel in Minnesota, Holly and I got an unpleasant surprise as we tackled the luggage carriers. Holly started undoing straps, and we both squealed as all the bug carcasses who met their maker on our drive came raining down from the folds of the carrier fabric. I’m sure any observers got a laugh out of the two of us girling it up while trying to avoid insect remains.

    I have the feeling that Holly’s presence contributed to the motivation of many a helpful male we encountered. After all, this girl is every junior high, high school, and college guy’s dream come true. She’s adorable, hilarious, and fun to be with—all in all, a secret weapon worth taking on any road trip.

    The Chocolate Cake Nazi

    When you’re sleep-deprived, excited, and stressed-out, chocolate becomes, well, essential. I probably gained five pounds over the conference from a little too much chocolate dependence. But one individual enforced a well-balanced diet with an iron fist. The Chocolate Cake Nazi saw to it that no one received their dessert before demonstrating clear effort on their meal. Her crusade was somewhat less than appreciated, and Kim and I like to think we had something to do with the overthrow of her tyrannical regime.

    It happened Friday at lunch. We sat in a huge atrium room, ten people to a table, eating and talking. With lunch winding down, plates were cleared and trays of chocolate cake distributed throughout the room. We finished our entrees, thanked our elderly waitress when she took our plates, and waited expectantly for the cake we knew was coming.

    We didn’t get it. We waited a little longer. Someone set a big tray of scrumptious slices of cake near our table. We smiled. “Can’t be long now.”

    No cake.

    Murmers. Whispers. Disgruntled sighs. The mood at our table darkened.

    Finally, we snagged the golden-yeared server and asked for our cake. That’s when Grandma Food Service went dictator. We were told that no one at our table would get any cake until everyone finished their meal. We glanced around our table to see who was holding up the works. Only two people were still eating and Kim and I had places to be, things to do, but The Cake Nazi wouldn’t relent. We were left to stare at the luscious cake only feet away from us.

    Mutiny burbled beneath the surface of our polite conversation. Just as we pondered the punishment for fetching our own cake, the last plates were cleared from our table and our long-awaited dessert finally arrived. By some strange coincidence (Hmmmm?!) Kim was chosen to write a comment on the noon meal. I’m not sure what she said, but for the rest of the conference, we arrived at tables already bearing dessert.

    It’s nice to know that little people can affect change where it is most needed. Let them eat cake!

    There’s just too many little things that were hilarious and loads of fun along the way. Mom brought the most irritating (and entertaining) travel game that had us frantically searching for “someone working in a field” “a red two-door car” “a doughnut shop.” Inevitably, we spotted all those things when we were NOT playing the game.

    Kim and I discovered that each of us brings a separate bag for our shoes. I felt bad about my little addiction because we were trying to keep the luggage down to a minimum. But when I saw Kim’s footwear suitcase, my guilty conscience flew out the window. And returned when poor Holly had to finagle the cases from atop the car.

    We should have video-taped our trip for posterity. The giant windmill blades being transported to every breezy spot in the U.S., the Stephen King rest stop in Nebraska with all the cats, that horrid, horrid smell in Des Moines—I wish I could preserve all of it (well, not the smell) to re-experience on a boring, winter day.

    I guess maybe I’ll have to put it in a book someday. Oh, and I’ll be inviting myself along the next time the Woodhouses hit the road.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    Clothes, Conference, and Connections

    I’m happy to say many goals were met during my Minnesota trip. Not the least of which was Monkey’s continued state of cover-up. In fact, as far as I know, everyone involved in the whole experience managed to keep their clothes on. You may think this isn’t exactly a noteworthy accomplishment. I say, aim low and you won’t be disappointed. So congratulations to everyone out there who, for the last six days, has remained properly clothed. I’m proud of you, and so is your mom!

    I did have a phone conversation in the car on the way home (somewhere in the state of Iowa I’m guessing, judging by the smell of things) that caused me some alarm. It went like this—

    Monkey: “We went hiking, Mom.”
    Me: “Oh, that sounds like fun.”
    Monkey: “We saw a rattle snake.”
    Me: “You saw a what?!”
    Monkey: “Daddy threw a rock at the snake and hit it.”

    Once I quit using words like “venomous beast” and “innocent babies” and “clueless man,” I realized that Kory was actually protecting not only our kids, but other hikers on the trail by convincing Mr. Rattles to slither elsewhere.

    Okay, enough about the misadventures of Monkey, Chunky, and Rattle Snake Kory. Time to talk about the conference.

    I find it necessary to verb a noun in order to describe the experience. You see, everywhere we went, we entouraged. I attended the conference with two rather famous people, Donita K. Paul and Kimberly Woodhouse. Now, neither of these lovely ladies will toot their own horn. But, as you might suspect, I have no problem tooting.

    Donita K. Paul, who happens to be my mother, not only writes great stories that everyone wants to read, but she also has a knack for encouraging other writers, especially young ones. To say she draws people is like saying a black hole has a mild pull.

    The Woodhouse family, as you probably know, was on Extreme Home Makeover last year. But even if folks didn’t have the “Haven’t I seen you somewhere? Oh, yeah!” response, Kim would attract people like bees to a flower. She just has one of those personalities that makes you feel accepted and valued even if you’ve only known her for the space of a three floor elevator ride.

    So I spent the weekend in the company of greatness, but I’m not just talking about Mom and Kim. I met many gifted authors, a couple friendly and approachable editors, and some psyched-up newbies like myself. I got to pretend to be Susan May Warren for a few minutes at the Mall of America book signing. I got to listen to fantastic teachers like Angela Hunt, John Olson, Janice Thompson, and Randy Ingermanson. And, yes, I managed to coherently pitch Brandy and The Vine despite my tendency to freeze up whenever someone asked about my novel. My proposal will be going out, but I already feel successful and blessed.

    I’m back to Mommy in jeans and sandals now. The laundry pile is huge, the kitchen is a mess, and Monkey’s excitement over my homecoming prompted a few outbursts at school that got him in big trouble. But whenever I have a spare second, my mind slips into an inspiration hangover, and I feel ready to tackle my next book project and the next phone call from Monkey’s teacher.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Not Your Average Jitters

    Tomorrow I leave for the ACFW conference in Minneapolis where I will meet writers, editors, and agents, take classes on writing, and, hopefully, drum up some interest in my novel, Brandy and The Vine.

    ACFW (Association of Christian Fiction Writers) has a special e-mail loop for newbie conference attendees like me with some seasoned authors offering advice and helpful tips. The loop has discussed everything from pitching your book to an editor to the accessibility of the hotel coffee shop. Many of my fellow newbies are nervous about their first conference and understandably so.

    You might be curious about the state of my nerves tonight. Am I afraid of meeting a big wig from a publishing company and suddenly experiencing noodle tongue? Am I worried that my specially-engineered shaping undergarments will give up their will to fight in the middle of a lecture? Am I concerned that the snores of my roommate will make it impossible for me to sleep, and I will wander about the conference with luggage under my eyes?

    No. Not really. Maybe it’s just where I am in life, but worry over appearing professional isn’t what’s making me bite my nails. What am I concerned about?

    Public nudity.

    Rest assured, I plan to keep my clothing on for the duration of the conference so it’s not my modesty in question. No. It’s my boys’.

    See, the last (and only) time I was away from home for an extended period of time (this being a little over 24 hours) my husband and boys had, well, an adventure at McDonalds.

    Kory, being an engineer and thus sometimes clueless about life outside a cubicle, took Monkey and Chunky to McDonalds for the only sustenance a man knows how to procure—fast food.

    When Monkey said he had to go to the bathroom, my husband let him go. (Yes, I chewed him up one side and down the other for letting our son go potty alone.) Kory waited with Chunky in the play area, but when Monkey didn’t come back, he got curious. So Kory went to search the men’s bathroom. No Monkey. He was standing outside of the restrooms, wondering where Monkey was when a woman came out of the ladies and gave him an odd look.

    “Are you looking for a little boy?” she asked.

    Kory answered yes.

    “He’s in there,” she indicated the women’s restroom. “And he doesn’t have any clothes on.”

    Kory went into the ladies bathroom, retrieved our bare little boy and his clothes and hauled him into the men’s room.

    If the situation had been reversed (and it has been), I would’ve just put Monkey’s clothes on in the men’s room and let any guys who happened along just deal with the reality of a woman in the men’s bathroom. I mean really, is the world gonna end?

    So there it is. Some moms worry that their kids will eat only junk food while their away. Some worry that the house will be trashed and the homework go undone. Not me. As long as they keep their clothes on, I’m good.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Friday, September 12, 2008

    Congratulations! You've been Gothed.

    You know your friends are weird when they show up at your house on a normal Thursday afternoon, looking like this.

    Actually, these, er, lovely ladies were celebrating the completion of my book, Brandy and The Vine and helping me get psyched about my upcoming writer's conference. In case you’re wondering, “Why Goth?” my novel is about a Goth girl who has an identity crisis and ends up with more of a makeover than she bargained for.

    I’m a newbie writer, but how could I not feel pumped about my first ACFW conference with this kind of support behind me? I plan on showing these pictures to any and all editors or agents I run into. Don’t you think that’ll get their attention? Just kidding. But I did feel incredibly special when the self-proclaimed first members of my fan club showed up on my doorstep like over enthusiastic trick-or-treators a month early. And for those of you out there (you know who you are) wishing you’d gotten the memo about this impromptu send-off, if Brandy and The Vine ever gets published, you’ll get your chance to don black clothes and dark make-up. My book launch party will definitely be a “costumes encouraged” event.

    Naturally, my friends (known to the world as Stevie, Goldie, and The Young One) convinced me to Goth-it-up a bit for some photos. We had a great time trying to look scary and failing completely.

    All weirdness aside—as if that were even possible—everyone should feel so blessed. When your friends are willing to scour Goodwill for chunky black boots, tear holes in their clothing, and paint their skin just to show their support of your creative strangeness, you’re either the struggling lead singer of a metal band, or you’re me—the luckiest budding writer on the planet.

    Wednesday, September 3, 2008

    Pedicure Panic Attack

    While I enjoy being a girl, I sometimes don’t have time for the higher pursuits of feminine beauty. I have two energetic boys at home, several writing projects going on, a house to run, a mom to take to Walgreens, and a husband to have fun with. Not to mention friends, church, work outs, and unexpected trips to the store for squeeze cheese. I’m a busy gal.

    So I let things slide. I don’t shave my legs until I spot park rangers scouting for elk herds on my shins. I don’t pluck my brows until they’re no longer plural, but singular. I put off my haircut until my clips groan with the effort of holding up my mop. I go for weeks forgetting the existence of eye shadow, earrings, and conditioner.

    My feet are probably my most neglected body parts. And unlike, say, my eyelids which pretty much stay the same whether I put eye shadow on them or not, my feet can get pretty, well, repulsive I guess is the word. When I do go in for my annual pedicure, the experience is nothing short of humiliating. Of course I can’t say for sure, but I imagine the conversation of the technicians, if translated, would go something like this:

    “Holy French Tips, Tiffany, this woman has the most hideous feet I’ve ever seen!”

    “Nah, Dianna. I’ve seen some stuff, girlfriend. Hers can’t be that ba—oh my great-grandmother! Those calluses are thicker than the Great Wall.”

    “I told you, honey. I’m gonna be here for an hour.”

    “Better you than me is all I can say.”

    “You would say that.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “I know you want to get out of here early.”

    “Oh, yeah? What makes you think that?”

    “I saw you out with Stuart last week.”

    “No, girlfriend. Wasn’t me.”

    “Yes it was. You had on the Gucci heels. I saw you.”

    “What Gucci heels, honey?”

    “The red ones. You gonna wear them on your date tonight?”

    “I’m not dat—wait a minute. What just fell off her foot?”

    “I think it might be a raisin.”

    “It was probably still a grape when she stepped on it. You better get out the gloves, honey. Who knows what else you’ll find.”

    Does anyone else have these translated dialogues going on in their brains while the pre-law student working on your feet chats with her co-worker? Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but today as I sat in the ambiguously massaging chair with my dead skin flying around the very determined looking woman attacking my feet, I was sure she was judging my pitiful self-care habits.

    Maybe it was the, “You come back. You come back often,” accompanied by the bead of sweat on her forehead as she battered and buffed my feet. Maybe it was the color of the water which started out blue but left the basin a murky, swamp-green color. Maybe it was the way the other employees of Lilac Nails gathered around to watch, slack-jawed, as my feet went from abominations to appendages over the course of an hour. I don’t know. But whatever the reason, I think I’m going to have to change to bi-annual pedicures if I’m to ever escape being labeled “That chubby woman with the disgusting feet.”

    Anybody ever see that Adam Sandler movie where one of his feet is black from frostbite? Mr. Deeds. I can just see Winona Ryder’s face crinkle with disgust at the sight of his foot even as she pounds on the ice trapping her. I’d probably get the same reaction were I to offer my revolting foot as a means of rescue to someone stuck in a frozen lake. “Hmmm, on the one hand there’s a frigid, excruciating death. On the other, grabbing that gruesome foot. Let me think.”

    More mani-pedi fun.