Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thank you

I'm writing to you from my husband's hometown of Dunedin - at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand, where looking out to sea there's nothing between us and the South Pole - to thank you. Thank you for reading my blog over the last five months. Thank you for 3,005 hits from all over the world. Thank you for having a quiet laugh at my posts and for reading bits of my manuscript. Thank you for becoming a follower and for writing comments. Thank you for trying to become a follower but running into technical problems. Thank you for voting on potential book titles and potential publicity shots and for generally making me feel like one day I will have a title and a publicity shot and a book on a shelf in a bookstore. Your support has filled me with optimism and inspiration. I don't have the words to thank you for that. And it's not often that someone like me remains speechless.

Happy holidays to everyone. Tanti auguri! May you be showered with support, inspiration and champagne. I so look forward to the new year with you. I feel great things await us!

Friday, December 17, 2010

An exercise in vanity

I recently read that it’s a good idea for writers to have a publicity shot on hand. This is because, apparently, things start to roll quite quickly in the publishing world and before you know it, your editor is asking you for a picture of yourself to publicize your new book. And he wants it the next morning.

So I realize I desperately need a good portrait of myself, not the blurred ones where the left side of my face is obscured by my toddler’s head and my hair looks like a flock of pigeons just stormed through it. I need a professional publicity shot. Never mind that I don’t have an agent, or even one requesting to read my manuscript. I prefer the term “optimistic” to “delusional”.

But what makes a good publicity shot? Authors always seem to be pictured surrounded by other authors’ books. Books are a bit like glasses – you can’t take the credit for creating them yourself but they still make you look incredibly smart.

Fortunately for me, my sister-in-law wears glasses and is also a very talented photographer. She agreed to help me. I told her that for my publicity shot I wanted to pose with as many books as possible. Leaning against a tower of books as tall as me (that shouldn’t take too many volumes), or balancing a stack of books on my head, or lying in a bathtub full of books. Something like that which would make me look really smart. But I also wanted to look funny, a bit pixie-like and whimsical. Oh, and beautiful. You know, like I’m an undiscovered top model among writers, passed over only because I’m just a tad too old. “Can you do that?” I asked.

To keep the pressure off, I added that this was my last opportunity ever in my entire life to have my portrait taken. Because next year I’ll be forty and then it’s all over. No more close-ups will be permitted, only fuzzy group shots at Christmas dinner.

Our shoot went something like this. We take a pile of my husband’s collection of classics out onto the lawn. I assume he won’t mind. First, it’s just my eyes showing from behind a book. “Look up far to your right,” my photographer says.

“But if I do that, my Goodrich brow looks so Neanderthal.”

“But if you look straight ahead, I get no light reflecting in your eyes and then your expression is just blank. Vacant.”

“Gee, thanks.” I feel much more at ease when my whole face is showing as I lie among the daisies reading a book. “How’s my hair? I forgot to brush it.”

“Get your fingers out of it,” she says. “It looks good.”

“Hey, wait. Is this book upside down?”

Then she allows me to lean on a stack of books and look straight into the camera. It’s disconcerting. “You can see my pimple, can’t you?”

“Don’t worry, I can touch it up later.”

“Can you whiten my teeth too?”

“How about not smiling in this shot.”

I breathe out like I’m preparing for a sprint. “I’ll try.” I’m still smiling. After a while, I say, “This is impossible.” But then somehow, magically, I manage to transfer the joy from my mouth to my eyes: I’m smiling with my eyes. I’m smizing! Tyra, you’d be so proud of me.

“Now your mouth looks like a cat’s a**,” my photographer says, putting me instantly at ease. “Let’s try something else.”

The next thing you know I’m lying half-naked on the grass. “You don’t mind, do you?” she checks.

“Of course not. I gave birth. I have no shame. But you can crop out the flabby bits, can’t you?”

In any case, even if the neighbors could see, opened books are discreetly placed over my chest. Poor Huckleberry Finn. I look up at the tree branches above me. “Do you think we’re getting any good pictures?”

“How could we not? You’re so gorgeous, sis!”

This sends me into a hysterical fit of laughter with my arms flailing about. My photographer snaps away and then concludes, “Your armpit looks odd.”

“I know, I have big upper arms for my size. It’s like all the cheese I eat ends up there.”

“Don’t worry, I can crop out all the cheese later.”

And so she did, in every sense. My sister-in-law did a fabulous job. She didn’t make me look like a goofy, flabby Neanderthal. She made me look smart, funny and – dare I say it? – a little bit beautiful. After she showed me the finished pictures, I gasped, “I don’t look like this at all in real life. Thank you so much!”

Please help me by voting for your favorite. The top two photographs will become my new blog photos and, one day, publicity shots for my book launch.

Deepest gratitude from an eternal optimist.

#1 - Hmm, this book makes me pause to think whimsical thoughts

#2 - This is exceedingly comfortable

#3 -  The stack of books I read this morning at breakfast

 #4 - A toothpaste ad

 #5 - A head shot

#6 - With a head this smart, who needs a body?

To see Sharon Chambers' portfolio, go to

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cool new phrases to drop casually into conversation

Over time every family or group of friends develops its own insider vocabulary, expressions rich in meaning that are only understood by those initiated into that intimate circle. Eventually, though, almost all of these cryptic yet delightful phrases will disappear with the family or group, never to be uttered again by following generations. And even though our official language is absorbing new terms every day, the chances that one of these exclusive terms will ever be used widely enough to be included in a dictionary are about the same as an unpublished English teacher landing a publishing contract for her 464-page memoir about getting dumped by her ex.

Selfishly, however, I can’t help but hope that the unique vocabulary of my own family and close friends will spread to a wider audience and perhaps one day allow us to achieve immortality by leaving behind, if nothing else, our linguistic mark on the world. And you can help make this happen.

How? Take a look at some of the nifty phrases below. Choose your favourites and then try dropping them casually into conversation with your friends. If you receive any raised eyebrows, you can calmly explain the meaning with a faintly condescending tone, as if to say, “You’ve seriously never heard that word before?” Before you know it, the phrases will spread across the whole English-speaking world. Which means they will take over the universe.

And if that doesn’t help me and my people become immortal, at the very least it will make you sound pretty cool.

the Planet Salt(proper noun) the planet of origin of individuals who are known to add salt to corn chips, sausages and Spanish olives. Natives of the Planet Salt are easily identified by a tendency to use a salt jar instead of a saltshaker, a consistent rejection of lollipops and cream puffs, and fanatical statements such as “I’d rather skip breakfast than eat toast with unsalted butter.” Apparently scattered randomly across the Earth, there may be evidence of a genetic component to their distribution. My dad was undoubtedly from the Planet Salt: is it merely a coincidence that I am too? And I have grave fears for my son, who at not yet two and a half, spits out mesculin salad after sucking off the vinaigrette and calls his aunt’s pasta salad “ucky” before bursting into tears and blubbering “Mamma, sale!” Thank goodness he doesn’t salt the healthy snacks I provide him with: capers, salami and edamame in soy sauce.

abstract fussiness(noun) the complex of fiddly delays which prevent a person from leaving the house in a timely fashion. In the morning on the way to work, this may include obstacles such as looking for the car keys, needing to change your top for the third time, forgetting to pack your leftover curry chicken for lunch, or even simply being stalled by a nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something essential. The ensuing lateness to your destination ranges from five to twenty-five minutes. (Anything longer indicates that your fussiness was not entirely abstract.) Parents commonly shift the blame for their abstract fussiness to others: someone has misplaced your sunglasses, your kid has done a last-minute poo in his diaper, etc. But ultimately, the world will be a better place if we each take responsibility for our own abstract fussiness.

sleep envy(noun) the feeling a sleep-deprived person experiences when another person shamelessly flaunts what a good night’s sleep they have just had. Fortunately, this is something I never ever feel when I am woken up at five thirty in the morning by a screaming toddler, for the fourth time since midnight and – when I’m dragged out of bed in the semi-darkness to watch Pimpa cartoons on Youtube – I find my husband sleeping peacefully on the couch. I don’t even experience sleep envy when he yawns and says, “That wasn’t such a bad night, was it?” and definitely not when he says, “I was just having the most amazing flying dream.” Sleep envy is reduced to a bare minimum when he adds, “God, I slept like a log.” Because I’m a big person. Extremely magnanimous. I just look at him tenderly and say, “I’m so pleased you slept well, darling. Now you just roll over and finish that nice dream you were having, and never mind us if we start singing the Pimpa theme song at the top of our lungs, banging metal spatulas on pots and pans, and break-dancing on your head.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The worst confession

Something amazing happened to me today. I finished reading a book! Never mind that it took me two weeks and it was only 90 pages long: it’s still a book, and by a classic Italian author, Cesare Pavese, at that. But I had to build up to this mammoth accomplishment. The last reading I completed before that was a National Geographic article on royal incest in ancient Egypt. Before that, it was an online piece on cat alopecia. Before that, the most I could read was a shopping list. And I had written it myself. So you can see how far I’ve come.

I wasn’t always like this. I used to have time. Time to gaze at the breaking surf and pluck my eyebrows and make lasagna from scratch and read things like books. Or even do something outrageous like make lasagna and read a book at the same time. OK, so I was never as good at this kind of multitasking as my stepmom, who can speed-read 23 pages in the time it takes to nuke nachos, or read a novel while watching a DVD movie and afterwards be able to write a review on both. No, I don’t claim to have ever been this talented a reader, but whenever I did find a book that was too good to put down, I’d read it in bed and over breakfast and even in the car stopped at red lights. Now at red lights, I’m busy groping around in the backseat for a dropped stegosaurus or pulling sunflower seeds out of my hair.

I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself, though, because I did read two books over the summer vacation – a whole one in June and another whole one in July. But then that wasn’t real life because there were two grandmas and four cousins around, a big dog who didn’t mind being ridden like a pony, fireflies in a fenced-off garden and three cooked meals a day. Real life with a toddler at the bottom half of the globe is so much busier, even more so than life with a newborn was. Now I kick myself that I didn’t read more back then, when the little guy had to have a nap every two hours.

Oh, but I did read then and how! Fascinating books with titles like Baby Owner’s Manual and Life After Birth. Or Good Night, Sleep Tight and Sleepless in America. But not only did I not reap any pleasure from these books, I didn’t get any more sleep either. During that trying time, the one novel I read (for a book review) was no less painful than being woken up five times a night by a screaming infant. Nicholas Sparks – let me say no more.

My Italian friend has a newborn and two other children under four and she still reads books. She is my new god. So is my German friend, who belongs to a book club and reads a tome a week despite having a toddler and a puppy and being seven months pregnant. I’ve set up an altar to these women in my home.

The worst confession for a wannabe writer is that they don’t read. Writers are always pictured in their book-lined offices, looking pensively and meaningfully into the lens. If I were photographed in my office, in the background there would be unfolded laundry, a plant that desperately needs watering and yes, a few books too, desperately in need of a good dusting. Clearly I can read. I have read. Sometimes lots.

I live in the hope that one day I will be able to read again. I fantasize about lying on the sand under a palm tree reading a novel so thick I can crack coconuts with it. And once I’m done with that book, I’ll start the next one lying in bed under the mosquito net. When I’m too sleepy to keep going, I’ll call out for someone to bring me a bookmark. The maid will bring me one, along with a virgin piƱa colada and then, before leaving for the night, she’ll fluff up my pillow. Never mind – I’ll think to myself – I can finish my book in the morning, over a plate of scrambled eggs and mango slices at the breakfast buffet.