Monday, August 25, 2008

Night Life and Nightlights

For weeks, I checked and rechecked the lists of what No. 2 son should take to college. So it came as quite a surprise when he insisted I take home one of the items we’d just schlepped 600 miles.

It seems that in the flurry of moving him into his dorm room, he hadn’t noticed everything I helped him unpack and put away – until later when he was hanging out in his new quarters with a group of kids he’d just met.

“Hey, I like your nightlight,” one of them reportedly said.

“Whaaaaaat?” he claims he replied.

When his new friend pointed out the simple LED apparatus I’d left plugged into the wall, my son jumped up and yanked it out. He did not share with me what he told his guests. (He hadn’t noticed before because the energy-efficient light only goes on when the room gets dark.) I’m not sure I want to know what he said but I can imagine – this is the child who chose the password “crazymom” for me.

When we arrived the next morning to take him to brunch before heading back to New Hampshire, he tossed the nightlight into my purse and said, “The nightlight thing is NOT working for me. You HAVE to take it home.”

I was confused. I told him he'd appreciate it when either he or one of his roommates came back at night and one of them was in bed. “This way no one has to turn on the overhead light and wake anyone up,” I added with my biggest Mom-knows-best smile.

He looked at me as if I had just arrived from another planet (a look I’ve become all too familiar with, I might add). Just then his older brother jumped into the fray and slapped open his cell phone. “THIS is what college students use to find their way in the dark, Mom,” explained No. 1 son. “They don’t use nightlights, they use the light from their cell phones.”


It appears that once again, college is going to be an educational experience for Mom, too. After doing the university thing with No. 1 son, I probably ought to be worrying more about night life than nightlights.

At least I've given my children one more thing to add to their list of ways I embarrass them. I wonder if they'll ever give up hope that I'll see the light. Wait a minute: I think I still have one in my purse....

Monday, August 18, 2008

Eat right and save the world

Your lunch might be causing global warming. Mine, too.

I’m not happy about this. I take the world’s climate crisis seriously. I recycle. I take a reusable bag to the grocery store. I try to find ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle. And just when I thought I was doing my part to save the planet, I find out we’re supposed to be following a low-carbon diet -- not a low-carb diet.

It seems that two slices of pizza, a salad and a couple of cookies for dessert could send more than two pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions into the atmosphere. You’re probably thinking everyone knows that kind of meal isn’t good, right? But guess what: The results are about the same with the seasonal fruit, grilled vegetables and shrimp.

I just hope we don’t have to stop eating to save the world. I’m sure the folks behind don’t want that. They manage college cafeterias across the country. Nonetheless, they say the food system is responsible for one-third of the world’s greenhouse emissions. This includes fossil fuels burned to transport and process food, agricultural processes that emit nitrous oxide, and the ruminants of the world – those cud-chewing, hoofed animals like cows, goats, and sheep.

Apparently we’re supposed to avoid, or reduce our consumption, of these ruminants and their byproducts (meat, cheese, milk, etc.) because all ruminants naturally emit methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane also is released when food goes into a landfill instead of being composted, by the way.

So what can we do? Eat less, minimize waste, and take advantage of locally grown and seasonal foods, which apparently have the lowest carbon ratings. And, according to the web site, remember: “With every meal you eat, you have the power to reduce climate change.”

Imagine that. Writers spend a lot of time thinking about the impact of their words. I guess this kind of knowledge means we all should be thinking of the impact of our eating choices -- not just on ourselves, but on the world.

If you want to get an idea of whether some of your favorite foods might be hurting the atmosphere, click on the Low Carbon Diet Calculator. It’s so much fun moving the foods in and out of the frying pan that you might forget we're supposed to be eating to save the planet. But the results may be enough to get everyone to stop obsessing about carbs and start considering carbON, too.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why don't readers attend author events?

There are millions of readers in this country who bought over $3.1 billion worth of books last year. So why don't more of them come out to their local bookstores and libraries to meet and listen to the people who wrote those books?

I was surprised there were any empty chairs at my local independent bookstore last week for readings by novelists Brunonia Barry (The Lace Reader) and Jennifer McMahon (Island of Lost Girls) because both have sold enough copies to make the New York Times Best Seller Lists. Although I once attended a Janet Evanovich event that drew 2,000 people to a casino, it seems small audiences are all too common for most writers.

I don’t understand this. Author events are such great entertainment. There’s nothing like hearing an author read his or her own work aloud, and no better opportunity to ask questions about it. Most events last only an hour and they’re always intellectually stimulating, even if you don’t agree with the author’s premise. You get to hang out in the audience with other people who like to read. You can bring a camera for a photograph with the author. The bookstore may offer you cookies, or wine and cheese. And the entire experience is free. That makes it a perfect outing—if you’ll forgive the pun—in my book.

Maybe people don’t go to author events because they don’t know what to expect or they’re afraid they’ll have to buy a book they don’t want. But I think writers would rather talk to non-buyers than empty chairs, especially since most authors tour at their own expense. Writing, by its nature, is such a solitary experience that most authors are delighted to talk about their work to anyone who will listen.

Sure, the author and the bookstore would prefer that members of the audience leave with a book. But if they don’t, they still might tell others about it who will purchase a copy. Also, publicity before and after an author event sells books. So people shouldn’t feel too guilty if they don’t buy books at every reading.

Of course, the hope is theyll be so intrigued by the author’s presentation that not only will they purchase a book, they’ll want the writer to autograph it afterward. They can even justify the purchase as an investment. Some bookstores offer “signings” where the writer sits at a table and signs books, but doesn’t read from the work. When an author becomes a literary superstar (or president), collectors and eBay will clamor for signed editions. Although an autographed book is said to be more valuable without a personal message, I think an individual inscription turns a book into a wonderful gift to give yourself or someone else. (But I’m not complaining that Barack Obama only signed his name to The Audacity of Hope during his first visit to NH – some booksellers are asking almost $2,000 for autographed early first editions.)

For those who don't know, there are many ways to find out about author events. Check the local newspaper. Bookstores and libraries list events on their web sites and in e-mail and print newsletters. Authors post touring schedules on their own web sites and an outfit called BookTour will even send you an e-mail about events in your area. Literary genre conventions, like the fabulous New England Crime Bake for mystery writers and fans in November, also offer great opportunities to hear from authors and get signed books (Harlan Coben is this year's guest of honor).

For those still reading today's lengthy post....
I believe an autographed book can be a wonderful souvenir from an interesting encounter with an author. I’m still amazed by Brunonia Barry’s publishing story. She said she and her husband self-published 2,000 copies of the novel it took her seven years to complete. Two months later, thanks to an incredible stroke of good fortune, The Lace Reader sold to William Morrow. Although she can't divulge the amount, the book sold for a reported $2 million. As of last Tuesday, 24 other countries had bought the rights to publish this fictional account of women in Salem, Mass., who can see the future through lace.

Island of Lost Girls is Jennifer McMahon’s second suspense novel after Promise Not to Tell and is the chilling tale of a present day abduction of a young girl from a small Vermont town and another little girl’s disappearance years earlier from the same community. I can’t wait to read it after I finish The Lace Reader.

As you might imagine, a downside to author events is your stack of books that are waiting to be read might grow too high. My independent bookstore, RiverRun, hosts so many wonderful author events that I could be down there almost every night of the week, which is not a good thing for someone trying to finish her own novel!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lessons from Emma

My minor role in fulfilling this tiny girl's dream of wearing a flower girl dress is so insignificant compared to what 21 cyclists did this past weekend to try to save her life.

When I look at this photograph of Emma, who doesn’t realize cancer may have been in her beautiful little head forever, I am reminded of many things -- but especially of how much heavier are the burdens of others.

I could grouse this morning about the computer virus that ruined my weekend writing plans, or my struggles to get No. 2 son to focus on his approaching departure for college, or any number of irritations in my life.

But I can’t stop thinking about Emma, the 21 members of "Team Emma's Enchantment" or all those 5,000-plus other people riding bicycles through the hills of Massachusetts to try to help her and other cancer victims survive. Every cent raised from pedaling hundreds of miles in the Pan-Mass Challenge goes directly to the Dana Farber Cancer Center for treatment and research that could find a way to stop Emma's tumor. The money raised by Emma's team will go toward unraveling the mystery of low grade astrocytomas like hers.

Emma doesn’t fully understand that she has cancer, or that she is in the midst of nearly a year of chemotherapy. She only knows “headache seeds” make her feel yucky sometimes, that she can’t always go to school when she wants, and at 6, she weighs less than 40 pounds – the magic number that would free her from the car seat like her younger brother. I suspect that's enough to make her suspect that life isn't always fair.

I first heard about Emma a year ago. It was at a wake for my friend's mother. My friend introduced me to a second cousin from across the state, who blurted out. “If you know anyone looking for a flower girl, will you please let me know? My daughter desperately wants to be one.”

“Sure,” I said with a smile, although thinking the conversation had taken an odd turn. My friend later told me about Emma's tumor, that she loves princesses and her greatest desire to be a flower girl was not the type of request the Make-a-Wish Foundation could fulfill.

I enjoy challenges, but I didn’t know anyone getting married. I called churches. No luck. Frustrated, I shared Emma’s story with my co-workers. One suggested a bridal show might still provide an opportunity to be a "flower girl." She game me the name of the organizer of a show scheduled the following weekend.

“Do you still need models for your bridal show?” I asked over the telephone. The woman quickly replied that all slots were filled. “I'm not asking for me,” I persisted, “but for a little girl with cancer.” That was enough to set things in motion. My small part in Emma's fairy tale was over.

Emma’s mother later sent me this picture of that happy day. I keep it to remind myself of many things, including:
· The importance of perspective – not just the obvious conclusion that those who love Emma are dealing with issues of such magnitude that my problems pale in comparison, but also that Emma’s friends and family truly understand how precious every day is on this earth.
· There are more kind and generous people in the world who want to help others than those who do not. My co-worker and Ashley at Occasions Bridal and Tuxedoes responded without hesitation, which brings me to the next point.
· If we really want something, we may have to find the courage to ask for help to get it -- whether it be from a stranger at a wake, or friends, neighbors, co-workers and even family. It can be something as relatively minor as needing assistance to keep the house clean or as welcome as finding time to work on a novel. Or it can be as monumental as doing everything possible to make dreams come true for someone you love.

To contribute to “Team Emma’s Enchantment” PMC fund-raising efforts, click here. To donate to the Seacoast Young PMC TEam, click here.