Yearly Archives: 2006

Trying to Keep Cool

DEEEEEP BREATH.

OKAY.

Much better today. Whipped the first 100 pages into shape–like a ringmaster cracking it over the elephants’ backs at the circus. (ooh, bad metaphor.) But it was like, book, stay! Behave! Roll over!

I spent the weekend at my parents’ house in Pasadena because I accidentally broke the air conditioning unit in our condo, and it’s like, 900 degrees in L.A. right now. Okay, it’s only 95, but man, it’s hot! I accidentally pushed the switch from "cool" all the way to "heat" and the pipe burst. Mike tells me it’s because it’s an old unit, and it wasn’t really my fault (don’t I have a nice husband?) but I still feel guilty.

I loooove air-conditioning. Growing up in Manila, air-conditioning is like God. It’s so hot and humid in Manila, when you step out of your air-conditioned car or home, you IMMEDIATELY start sweating. It’s like New York in July, or Florida, but SO MUCH WORSE.

In seventh grade, the thing to do was to carry around an Evian spray bottle that we would spray our faces with, and also a little Chinese fan. When I was little one of my earliest memories is how I would climb up on the dresser and turn on that lovely air-conditioner in mine and my sister’s room.

Electricity was so expensive (even for the wealthy) that my parents had a rule that we could only turn on the A/C right before we went to bed, and we had to turn it off right when we woke up. None of the houses had central-air back then, so each room had its own air-conditoner. When the economy tanked, right before we moved to the States, my whole family slept in the master bedroom so that we only had to run one A/C.

So of course, having been brought up to loooove air-conditioning, the first thing I did when ours broke was to run home, where the A/C was working.

Except, on Friday night. It stopped. My parents have central air in the house, except for the new addition, which has its own unit. (Wow is this blog really boring? It’s all about our A/C problems!) And the central unit just stopped blowing cold air. My parents are away in Napa for a wedding, so they are going to be really upset when they come back. They love A/C as much as I do.

I have cursed all the air-conditioning units I have touched! Eeeek. So right now I’m writing in the addition, with the fan blowing.

The good thing about having been here for the last couple of days is that I am literally, just locked in with the book. There is nothing for me to do, but write.

(Although I did sneak in some reading. Scott Spencer’s A Ship Made of Paper and Michael Crichton’s Prey. Both were entertaining. Mike asks me why I read cheesy pretentious crap like "A Ship Made of Paper" –Oh, the humanity of it! The ship that will sink! Clutch chest, beat at heart, wail at the tragedy of it all! But I explained that I enjoy reading these novels because they are so different from my own, and so unlike anything that I will ever write, or attempt to write, that it is relaxing for me. Prey was good, riveting, but totally unrealistic at the end, which is not a surprise. Crichton always devolves into bad movie moments in his books, but the research and the ideas that propel the novel are always so interesting you kind of forgive him for the flaws of it later.)

But it was great to get some writing done. And writing is the only solution for yesterday’s problem. Banging head against the wall? Not so helpful.

So the immediate goal is to get this book done this week so I can start rewriting it next week so I can turn it in next Friday. And so I can go back to finishing BB2 which has been on the backburner while I get Angels into shape.

After I turn in Angels and BB2 I am going on vacation to Saint-Tropez, where my next book, SOCIAL LIFE is set. I’m soooo excited to start Social Life. It’s going to be so fun, fun, fun and scandalous and sexy and yummy.

I like writing BB2 and Angels, both of which are a little darker and moodier than what I’m used to writing, but writing books like SOCIAL LIFE is like coming home. Not to mention, I get to go to Saint-Tropez for "research". Hee!

Anyway, I should go since my parents will be back soon and will find out about the great A/C disaster that is awaiting them. Why, why do I still feel like I’m 14?? Because I gotta hide the keg in the living room! LOL.

xoxo
Mel

Angels Angst

Arrrrrgh! That is the sound of one writer pounding her head against the wall. The. book. is. not. going. well. Did I say it was? I did, didn’t I? I was all cocky and confident that I would be done by the end of the week. I know the book will be done (I really have no choice, I NEED to turn this in by June 15th and I will, but god, it’s going to be a Herculean climb up the mountain to finish it.)

The problem is I have a beginning and an ending but no middle. I need to slow down the action, expand the characters, keep the mystery going. And I’m going to do all that. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I am going to whip the first 150 pages into shape, so that the second 100 pages will just write itself.

Today I am going to bang my head against the wall and curse myself for even wanting to write this book in the first place.

What is Angels on Sunset Boulevard about?

-Rockstars

-The Internet

-Los Angeles

-Skaters

-Popularity

-Cults

-Cult brands

-Why some people always seem to be having more fun at a party than you are.

Doesn’t that sound like a good book? I thought so. But I have so many storylines and subplots and the book is a mess right now. I know that in two weeks it will be fine, that I will have a decent first draft. I have been here before and I know I can pull this book out of my psyche like I have done before with my other books. But right now I’m just suffering…

Arrgh!

God, I’m whining…

xoxo

Mel

Vanity Kills

Today while I was having breakfast, I tuned in, like I always do, to The View. The View is one of my guilty pleasures, I despise this program, and yet I can’t help watching it. Like a car accident. I used to curl my lip at Reeege and Kelly as well, but now I have come around…after all, it’s just entertainment. Kelly’s kind of cute, she has a good stylist. Mike, however, cannot stand either of these shows, so we have to breakfast separately.

Anyway, I happened to catch the segment on “Tanoxerics” and they had an 18 year old woman who was a self-professed tanning salon addict, and another lady who used to suffer from tanorexia. (They actually used this word as if it were a REAL disease and not a trendy word made up by lifestyle journalists.) They even had a dermatologist who was all grave and serious about the consequences of this disease. And what did the orange-skinned 18 year old have to say? Simply that she feels good when she has a tan, because of all the compliments she gets, so she “can’t stop”. THAT’S IT.

It was seriously so asinine. I’m so sick of everything being labeled a “disease” when it is a lifestyle CHOICE. This woman is not suffering – she is simply VAIN. And if she looks like a leathery Mulberry handbag in twenty years, whose fault is it but hers?

How can anyone take their looks so seriously? I have never understood this. I like to look good, and dress nicely, and get compliments as much as the next girl. But in the end, I also really like to be comfortable. There has to be a balance. I dress up when the occasion calls for it, but most of the time I just slouch around in my sweats and oversize t-shirts, since I’m just writing in front of my computer at home.

Lately I have been missing my hectic New York social life, I have been a little cooped up like a hermit with my books due, I haven’t had a mani/pedi in weeks, my eyebrows are grown in, and I just don’t feel like myself. But I don’t feel ugly either.

I also don’t understand when the culture bashes women’s magazines for making women feel inadequate. Huh? How can a magazine make you feel inadequate? As Eleanor Roosevelt said, the only person who can make you feel inadequate is yourself. (I’m paraphrasing here.) Magazines are fun and filled with fantasy. And beauty is to be admired and respected, but so is intelligence, diligence, and perseverance. All good qualities.

Anyway, what really got me was Elizabeth on the View taking the 18 year old tanorexic’s hand and saying that they are “there” for her and “she is beautiful” with crocodile tears in her eyes. Bleccch. I almost choked on my cereal.

I guess I should stop watching The View.

Yesterday I wrote twenty pages of ANGELS. I’m pretty confident I can finish the book by the end of next week, and then I’ve given myself a week to go in and rewrite it before I turn in the first draft to my editor. The fun thing about writing is that as you get into it, you discover all these new twists that can happen, which I didn’t even have in my outline. (I’ve kind of chucked the outline out the window, although I’m still hitting all the major plot points.)

The funny thing is some days, I really HATE my book and think it just SUCKS because it is ruining my life. All I do is worry about it. And then some days, I really enjoy it, and I’m having so much fun writing it, and it’s really cool to have that experience. Which makes the bad days worth it.

Does anyone else read this blog? She’s a crime writer, and she is soo cranky! I love it, it’s so funny. I love that she’s so honest about how miserable writing is most of the time.

And thanks to all the emails about Blue Bloods!! I’m sorry the second book isn’t out till next year. I’m actually still writing it now. It’s really fun and has tons of surprises!

xoxo
Mel

Blue Bloods iMix!

Remember mix tapes?? I know everyone does mix CDs or iTunes playlists now, but I still think mix tapes were the best… since CDs can hold SO much information, it’s not really a mix but more of a list of all the songs (who really listens to 4 or 5 hour mixes??)… But when I was a teen, those 60-minute mix tapes meant that for a certain specified time, you could control the songlist. In college, making a mix tape for a friend was the HEIGHT of sealing a friendship…and to make one for a crush, or to receive one from a cute boy, the HEIGHT of love.

My friends always laughed at me because I made the WORST mix tapes. I would put two or three songs from the same artist (usually Madonna) in a row, which was AGAINST THE RULES of mixes…we always aimed for a high/low aesthetic–Color Me Badd and then Elvis Costello, Lou Reed segueing into Pump Up the Jam.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned from my friends at Columbia was to cultivate a sincere appreciation for highbrow and lowbrow culture. To say you only listened to opera and classical music made you a stuck-up nerd, but to only listen to Top 40 meant you were kind of brainless. We all aspired to a fun-loving sophistication. Mahler one day, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch the next.

Our mix tapes reflected this ideal– we would put in Mozart’s Concerto No 19 and then play The Connells right after it. I even have a mix tape with the Hallelujah chorus that fades into Like A Virgin.

Anyway, because I am kind of mix-tape handicapped, when I put together the iMix for Blue Bloods, I asked my husband Mike to help me. Mike was a college radio station DJ in his youth, (one of the inspirations for ANGELS, which is partly set at a college radio station) so he has to take the credit (or the blame) for the iMix.

You can access the iMix through this link which will launch iTunes on your computer.

You can also search for it– it’s called Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz Book Soundtrack!

And if you don’t have iTunes, here are the list of songs on the mix that you can get from any other online store I believe. Or maybe you even own these songs already…And don’t worry, there is no classical music on this, but there is a nice instrumental piece.

All these songs inspired/inspire Blue Bloods…

1. Muse: Time is Running Out – Jack and Schuyler’s Theme
2. Love and Rockets: Haunted When the Minutes Drag – Michael and Gabrielle’s Theme
3. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness: I Want to Die in the Hot Summer – The band’s name sounds like something Mimi would say
4. Jelly Roll Morton: Blue Blood Blues – Is there any other kind?
5. Death Cab for Cutie: I Will Follow You Into the Dark – Bliss and Dylan’s Theme
6. Stellastarr*: Love and Longing – The Blue Blood Anthem
7. The Crimea: Lottery Winners on Acid – Oliver’s Song for Schuyler
8. My Bloody Valentine: Sometimes – A Gothic Love Song
9. Run Run Run: Fade Into You – Schuyler’s Wish
10. M83 : Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun – A Conspiracy Tune

Enjoy! As we used to say, “chair-dance” away….

xoxo
Mel

PS-I will also be putting up an Au Pairs iMix very soon!

Literary Crushes

Rivers Cuomo is graduating from Harvard next week! How cute is that. And he even lived in the dorms. Read the story here. When I was writing Sun-Kissed, I had to think of three new hot guys, and one of the guys I always had a crush on in college was Rivers, so he was the inspiration for Ben Defever, the cute guy with glasses who is one of Jacqui’s three boyfriends this summer. I gave him Warren Defever from His Name is Alive’s last name because I wanted a rockstar last name, and His Name is Alive is one of Mike’s all-time favorite bands, so it fit.

I was so excited to see Ryan Perry from the Au Pairs made the list of this reader’s Top 20 literary crushes. I get SO much email about Ryan, and I have to admit I have a bit of a crush on him too… he’s just so adorable isn’t he? I was happy to find a couple of my literary crushes on the list too. Jaime Lannister and Jon Snow from the Song of Fire and Ice Series, Will from His Dark Materials. I should add Paul Atreides from Dune, Laurie Lawrence from Little Women, Aragorn from LOTR.

The two guys in my new book ANGELS are pretty crush-worthy as well. Although Nick Huntington, the male protagonist, is a bit different from the other guys I have written. He’s the type of guy, like Ryan Perry, who always got everything he ever wanted, he’s handsome, rich, and popular, who’s always kind of cruised by on life but then something happens and he’s shaken out of his contented life and he has to make some interesting choices…The other guy, Johnny Silver, with ‘platinum hair and violet eyes’ is kind of a “ghost” in the book, he’s in the first and last chapter, but his influence is felt throughout the novel. Anyway, I should probably stop talking about these characters and start finishing their story!

xoxo
Mel

My First Starred Review!

Just wanted to share that the Booklist review, which I have posted on my blog previously, was printed in the Booklist magazine with a STAR and in its own BOX! This is very, very special. I have NEVER gotten a starred review before! And I have always dreamed of having one! And now I do. Hee!

You can check out the full content of the Booklist review on my site and click on the “Press” page.

There are many new additions to my home page, in “Photos” you can see MORE photos of the fab launch party, and under “Publication Schedule” you can see what books I have coming out in the next year. I also added a few new links to some friends’ websites in “Links”.

Yesterday we went to see X-Men 3. It was just OK. We were pretty excited for the movie (Dark Phoenix! Whoo!) but in the end, it was just like a Justice League cartoon. Enjoyable, but eminently forgetttable. I guess we’ll all just have to reread the comics and be satisfied with that. We also saw The Da Vinci Code the other day, which was SO boring. The book kept me up until 3AM, and the movie was such a snore. We knew we were going to be disappointed and yet we saw it anyway. We also saw Mission Impossible 3, which was just Alright for me, dog, as Randy on American Idol says. Mike and I love summer blockbuster movies, but I think after this round we’re going to go see some quirky independent or foreign movies now. Although our hopes are high for Superman Returns. (Or as Mike calls it, “Superman Returns…His Blockbuster Video!” “Superman Returns…His Library Book!”)

Today I’m going over the first 100 pages of Angels and figuring out if the pacing and story are working. I was a little worried it was moving too slowly, but now I think it’s moving too fast. You gotta get it *just right*. 🙂

Have a great Memorial Day everyone!
xoxo
Mel

Great VOYA review of Blue Bloods!

Got a GREAT review in VOYA today…

“Schuyler, Mimi, Bliss, and Jack live the good life in New York City. Young, beautiful, and rich, they are members of the exclusive philanthropic society known as The Committee. More than just a charitable board, The Committee guards an ancient secret that the blue-blood members of the American upper class are actually Blue Bloods, a four-hundred-member ancient race of vampires that might not be as invincible as it believes. Combining historical references to the lost colony of Roanoke with high-fashion name-dropping and the threat of an evil hunting the Blue Bloods, de la Cruz takes her trademark brand of high-society chick-lit and turns it into a fresh and engaging vampire tale. The four main characters develop from character types to believable teens struggling with the realities of being both young and undead. To be sure, most teens do not get modeling contracts in the hallway of their high schools, but many deal with distant, ill, or embarrassing parents, much like these teens. With tongue-in-cheek explanations for everything from how the no-sun or garlic myths began, to vampirism being the reason that these elite girls can eat their weight in cupcakes without gaining an ounce, de la Cruz opens the vampire genre to readers who cannot get enough glimpses into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Recommend this title along with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (Little, Brown, 2005/VOYA October 2005) as a delicious reading feast and be prepared to be asked when the next Blue Bloods book is due. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High,defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Hyperion, 256p., Ages 11 to 18.”

-VOYA – Vikki C. Terrile

Yay!!!! Thanks Vikki! VOYA rocks!!!

By the way, a “4Q” is a really high ‘writing’ rating for VOYA. I’ve hardly ever seen 5Q’s. Although I did get a 4Q and a 5P “Most YAs were dying to read it yesterday” – the highest appeal rating — for The Au Pairs.

Part of me is still a kid who loves getting good grades. Hee.

One of the things that is so hard about adulthood is that there are no progress reports. I was one of those kids who derived a lot of my self-esteem from my report cards. Yes, I know, I was a big nerd. But I didn’t have a social life back then, so I had to find happiness SOMEWHERE.

In other news, I am an aunt again! I haven’t blogged much about it because my sister is one of those people who likes to keep her private life private and probably finds being related to an author a bit…inconvenient sometimes. (Like when I used to post all my dad’s emails on McSweeney’s a long time ago, behind my family’s back, and um, my sister and brother got REALLY mad at me.) But my new nephew is amazing, and I just love him so much. His brother is my godson and these two boys are the light of my life.

Ok. Must. Stop. Blogging.

I have been procrastinating all morning working on ANGELS. I really need to get back to that book. My goal is to have 30 pages done by Sunday. I know I can do it, which is why I keep pushing it off. Ack.

xoxo
Mel

Girls Rule!

I’m always so surprised that I have so many great girlfriends. This might sound strange coming from the author of The Au Pairs, which is about rah-rah sistahood-boom-bah friendship, but for the longest time, I was really wary of having close relationships with women. I think it came from having attended a bitchy all-girls school, where I had no friends at all.

So for the longest time, I much preferred the company of gay men–they were my confidants, my sista-divas, my best friends.

I will always love my boys, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to deeply appreciate my close friendships with women. Girls rule!

I was just thinking about this because yesterday I hung out with two women writer friends in L.A., Anna and Celeste. It was so nice and relaxing to hang out and talk shop (we’ve all written for the same magazines and worked for some of the same editors). Women are so supportive of each other–at least, the RIGHT women.

There is definitely a competitive streak in ambitious career women, but I think it becomes muted as you mature. For me, I’ve come to the realization after a long, long time that it is not about “beating” other people in the race, it is about running your OWN race, at your OWN pace. And after all, the same wave floats all boats, and what is good for one gal is usually good for another.

I have known my best friend from college, Jennie, who is the reason I am on MySpace (she urged me to join and she puts up all my pictures) for seventeen years now. We were seventeen when we met! (And seriously, how unfair is it that Jennie still looks seventeen!) The best part of our friendship is that when we hang out, we are reduced to being seventeen again. Just smoking and giggling on the couch, even though I’m not supposed to smoke anymore since I “quit” a couple of years ago (but oh, old friends bring that out in you! And I SO look forward to hanging out with Jennie because it means I can be wicked and smoke again-wheee!) and flipping through the channels of the TV or looking through magazines together.

What I miss the most about being a teenager is how fun simply hanging out is… doing NOTHING with your friends and having a blast. When you grow up, all the fun is scheduled–dinner parties, dinners, or going to openings or going to see someone’s play or band or reading or whatever. Which is all fun too, but not quite the same.

I realize I haven’t posted in a while about what I’ve bought lately. The truth is I’ve been so nauseous I haven’t had the energy to shop, plus since I’m going to get a lot bigger in the coming months, shopping for clothes doesn’t seem that exciting right now. But I did buy some fab maternity jeans at Barneys. How much do I love that elastic waistband on my Chip and Pepper ($110 from $180) jeans? And my new prego Citizens of Humanity jeans ($100 from $150)? SO MUCH. I love how the waistband is so comfy, and with a longish top covering it, you look totally “the same” as before.

Prego jeans rule! Almost as much as hanging out with girls!

xoxo
Mel

Drinking! Drugs! Non-Explicit Sex! Huh?

Some fun stuff today… My editor at Hyperion sent over the School Library Journal review of “Blue Bloods”. I *heart* SLJ, they have been nothing but KIND to my Au Pairs books, and Fresh off the Boat, so I was totally expecting another nice review…

And here’s what I get:

“This novel constantly name-drops and is full of product placements, drinking, drugs, nonexplicit sex, and superficial characterizations, but the intriguing plot will keep teens reading. De la Cruzs explanation for the disappearance of the Colony of Roanoke is unique and the idea that models dont gain weight because they are Blue Bloods rather than anorexic is unusual.”Sharon Rawlins, NJ Library for the Blind and Handicapped, Trenton”

OOF! Bad, bad writer–name-dropping?? Product placements? Drinking? Drugs? Non-explicit Sex? (LOL! All those things teens DON’T want to read about right? 🙂

I’m just glad I had that intriguing plot up my sleeve!

I found this review a little funny, because here’s SLJ’s review of The Au Pairs:

“De la Cruz name-drops and power-shops throughout, creating an entertaining vision of how “the other half” lives. The Au Pairs offers wealth, status, steamy sex, lots of heavy drinking, changing values, and juicy fun on the East Coast for fans of Zoey Dean’s “The A-List” series and Cecily von Ziegesar’s “Gossip Girl” series (both Little, Brown).”Tracy Karbel, Glenside Public Library District, Glendale Heights, IL

So the Au Pairs reviewer thinks name-dropping, power-shopping, steamy sex, status and heavy drinking are fun and entertaining and juicy… while the Blue Bloods reviewer thinks all those things are the total opposite…

Which just goes to prove that Everybody Is Entitled To Their Own Opinion.

Some people are going to like, even love, what I write, because of the fun, party-hopping, shopping, sexy stuff, and some people will hate it because of these same exact elements…

When I was a teen, I read books PRECISELY because of all the fun elements in it that I didn’t have in my own life…I really liked to fantasize that I was this jaded, cool person who knew New York like the back of my hand, and had all these awful, glamorous problems. And sordid stories were an added bonus. I’m thinking here of V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic series, Bret Easton Ellis’s Less than Zero, Jay McInerney’s Story of my Life… And all the “hot” parts in my mom’s off-limits Harold Robbins books that I read on the sly…

One thing that gets slammed a lot I notice, is the whole “product placement” angle. Why is it called product placement? I don’t get any money for mentioning brand names in my books. I know some people find it annoying, but if you do, then don’t read my books. So simple! Who needs to be annoyed all the time? Seriously. Life is too short to be annoyed by a book.

I grew up reading Stephen King, and his books are chockfull of pop culture references and product placements –Coke, Cheerios, Fords, Twinkies. But no one ever mentions him. But all us chic-lit girls get slammed because we like to write about the perfect pair of Chloe pants.

Part of this prejudice, I think, is the whole anti-fashion feeling. There’s this idea or perception that people who read are not interested in fashion, or should not be, as readers they should be “above” that. These people are scared of fashion, and think that fashion is elitist and snobby and should not be celebrated.

When I think of fashion, I think of Miguel Adrover making a cap-sleeved sweater with real NY Yankee caps for sleeves. (And of how I really should have bought it even though it was a joke, it was only $300 and I know it will be in the Costume Institute some day.) I think of creativity and humor and over-the-top outrageousness, all of which should definitely be celebrated. There’s a difference between fashion and materialism, which Karen and I stress a lot in The Fashionista Files. But some people can’t tell, or don’t care to see the difference, and they read a line like “Marni camisole” in a novel and smoke comes out of their ears. Pah!

Tess Gerritsen on her blog writes about how even twenty years later, she’s labeled as a “romance writer” and that peeling off that label is something that the media won’t allow you to do. I totally sympathize, because for the longest time, whenever anyone wrote about me, I was former “fashion writer” Melissa de la Cruz. As if the only thing I should ever write are captions for clothing layouts.

It’s so much easier to stick someone in the romance or the fashion ghetto than to acknowledge them as a writer, isn’t it?

Anyway, I got moving again on ANGELS, and wrote thirteen pages yesterday. I was sick with a cold and pregnancy nausea, but the reason I had a bit of a block was that I came upon a really nasty review of Blue Bloods on the web, which really knocked me off my game. It was just the most vitriolic, hateful, spiteful, and personally mocking “review”, with plot spoilers to boot!

When I come upon things like this, and in my ten plus years as a writer, I have encountered it before (I used to write incendiary essays for the New York Press so I know a lot about hate mail), it never ceases to bother me. I get over it after a day or two, but when someone unleashes so much hatred on your creation, you can’t help but feel stomach-punched.

But the thing is, you get up. You feel better. You realize all your dreams have come true, and that continuing to write, getting paid to write, (I am signed up for 13 books in the next three years. Isn’t that crazy?), is the best revenge…

And the nice thing is that I have read so many nice reviews of Blue Bloods everywhere else, and so many readers have been emailing me telling me how much they like it, so everything is worth it. Who cares about one rotten apple?

Like I always say, being annoyed by a book is the stupidest thing I have heard of. Books are a PLEASURE. They are one of the most enjoyable things around, so if you look for books that contain things that will just make you irritated, why read it?

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has emailed about Sun-Kissed! I re-read it the other night, and it cracked me up too.

I’ve also started reading On Beauty by Zadie Smith. I really really loved White Teeth. I just thought it was brilliant. I’m enjoying On Beauty a lot, although some of the dialogue of the American teens sounds off to my ears, which is bothering me. But not a lot. I’m not annoyed! Just a little confused. White Teeth was so spot-on and perfect. On Beauty is not quite White Teeth, but is very riveting and moving.

One thing that I thought was really interesting in the story is how she depicts Zora, the 19 year old precocious daughter of the protagonist. One of the plot lines has Zora really annoyed that she can’t get into this Creative Writing Seminar, and so she complains to the Dean that the professor of keeping her out because the professor had an affair with her father (another professor at the university).

So the Dean asks the professor in, and explains the situation, reminding the professor that she doesn’t want to be put in this position, (going to the Adivsory Board, a possible lawsuit, etc). Basically Zora is very manipulative. And in the end, the professor lets her into the class. (The professor is really angry, because the affair has nothing to do it, she says that Zora can’t write poetry. She has “arguments”.)

This chapter was really involving for me, because I *SO* remember going to school with all these little Zoras… manipulative, intelligent, grade-grubbers. They were the ones who bullied and argued their way from a B to an A-. They’d been so used to getting easy A’s all their lives, it was such an affront to them that anyone would give them a mere B.

And I also remember how competitive it was to get into Creative Writing Seminars in college. My friends and I all wanted to get into these Story-writing classes, along with oh, hundreds of other people… I was a freshman in a junior-level Creative Writing class, the only one in the class. And I have to proudly say, I got in because I quoted Madonna in my essay on Why I should Be in the Class. I think I quoted from “Burning Up”. Something like “I’m down on my knees, begging you please, I would do anything…” And the professor probably thought that was pretty funny, she had a good sense of humor. I thought it was quite clever myself. Back then Madonna wasn’t a thesis subject quite yet. She was still just a pop star. So it was an anti-intellectual move. Which worked.

But I also didn’t get into some other classes. I didn’t get into A.M. Homes’ class. I interviewed with her and she read my story (which was about two college girls who kill the boy who was cheating on both of them. If I ever find it I’ll post it sometime. It’s funny.) and her lip curled. And I could just tell she was one of those people who don’t like my style of writing. And I didn’t get in. Oh well. You win some, you lose some…

No grade-grubbing! Enjoy life! Read books that won’t annoy you!

xoxo,
Mel

Dignity at the Valet?

One of our good friends in L.A., Ian, a television editor, is buying a new car. Ian is from the East Coast, his parents are artists in Maine, and one of the things he is looking for in a new car is simply “dignity at the valet.”

Everywhere you go in this city, you HAVE to valet-park. It is almost impossible to find street parking, and after going round and round the block several times, paying five bucks to have a guy wearing the standard white-shirt/black vest uniform park your car is a huge relief.

Right now Ian drives an old Toyota Corolla. At valet stands, he is not immune to looks of pity, and he confessed that part of him always wants to say to them, “WHAT??? I CAN PAY FOR THE FOOD!”

He just doesn’t buy into the snobby car culture, and he’s determined not to buy a flashy, expensive car just because everyone in L.A. drives one. But he DOES want a car which WON’T engender those looks of pity. Hence, a car with “dignity at the valet.”

Most people in L.A. go for INTIMIDATION at the valet.

I have to admit, for the longest time (ever since we moved) I have aspired to this level of car nirvana. In fact, as anyone who has spent anytime with me knows, I am OBSESSED with buying a Range Rover. I tell everyone that I can’t wait until the lease on my car runs out so I can buy the baddest, coolest, most pimped-out Rover there is on the market. I have become a broken record about this. I have made this car out to be the most awesome car in the world, and that owning it would definitely change my life…

See, the problem is, when we moved to L.A., Mike and I still thought like New Yorkers. And to New Yorkers, ANY car is awesome, because no one OWNS a car in Manhattan, it’s such a bonus luxury. (In fact, our friends back in NY still marvel at the fact that we own TWO cars. They think we live a life of total indulgence.) So, we bought New York-value cars, as in, practical, dependable, not-flashy. Back in NY, the few of our friends who do own wheels are proud owners of Toyota Camrys, (the quintessential Park Slope car I am told), Subaru stationwagons, Kias.

We bought a Honda Element for Mike, who loved the car’s design, and practicality, and it’s a Honda–it’s SO dependable. It’s very “architect” he said. (He also said that some guy at his old firm who drove a Mercedes was roundly scorned.) And we leased a VW Passat for me, since it was “on sale” the week we leased it–it’s so cheap it’s the same amount I pay our cleaning lady every month. I like my Passat, it drives really well, it’s nice-looking, and it’s one of the safest cars out there.

But it has no WOW factor at the valet. It’s a bit of a stodgy family car. And as we got acclamated to L.A., I realized, your car is like your handbag. And you know how I feel about handbags! I felt like I was rocking the Kate Spade of cars. Or maybe even a leather Coach bag. It was nice, it had a bit of style, but it wasn’t terribly expensive or cutting-edge. And I DON’T own any Kate Spade or Coach.

Whereas, you know, the Range Rover, now that’s like a Chanel handbag. Classic. Must-have.

But now that I’ve talked about this to anyone who would listen to me whine, I realize I’ve changed my mind. Status-symbol cars just aren’t going to do it for me anymore. I got grossed out by my rampant materialism, and remembered how when I was in college at Columbia, we were all youthful idealists who all agreed owning a statusy car was the epitome of disgusting bourgeouis values. (And this from a girl who grew up being chauffered in a Mercedes!)

And that’s the word I was looking for–idealism. When did I trade in my tie-dye values for logo aspiration? Now don’t get me wrong, I still love a great car–when Mike and I have the money, we are going to ask our neighbor, who restores vintage cars (he drives a vintage Citroen that I gave to Mitzi Goober in Skinny-Dipping), to restore one for us. (They are really expensive, around 100-200k.) And we call our IRA the “Lamborghini Fund” –we’re going to spend our retirement money on an Italian sportscar!

I think dreaming about cars just runs in the family. My dad, for instance, has for years been talking about buying a Porsche Carrera. He’s visted the dealer so many times, they know him by his first name when he walks in. And yet, even though he can afford it, he’s never bought it. Because although Pop likes to talk about how great the Porsche is, and how wonderful it will be to own it, Pop REALLY loves driving his ten-year old Plymouth Voyager minivan. He can’t seem to part with it, which is why he can’t bring himself to buy the Porsche. It would feel like a betrayal to his down-to-earth values. (The other car is a Mercedes but Mom drives it.)

In fact, when I bought my Passat, Pop always kidded me by saying I should have at least leased a BMW. When I told him how cheap it was, he said, “That’s not the point!” But then Mike and I counter by reminding him he drives a Voyager. Ha.

When I was a kid, my dad always talked about buying things, a bigger TV, a bigger house, a more expensive car… but he also always seemed perfectly happy with what he had. But he REALLY liked to dream and to fantasize about how life would be different “if”… But now I realize that what Pop was subconsciously telling us all along, was that even if you can afford the Porsche, or whatever it is you want, the pleasure really comes from THINKING about it, and not owning it.

Once it’s yours, the dream is gone.. and it just becomes some THING that you have…which is not that exciting.

I think, in the end, I’m really my dad’s daughter. Because as much as I have complained about my car being so “boring” I find I really can’t stomach the thought of being the kind of person who needs an expensive car just to have self-esteem. Mike told me that William Gibson, the awesome sci-fi writer, just drives a Jetta. And Neil Gaiman drives a Mini. Of course, Danielle Steele drives a Bentley…Mmmm….

But hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?