Book Review: Spring Forward: The annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. by Michael Downing

This will be a short review since it’s non-fiction and since, well, it was so darn confusing reading it.

I just recently started listening to another writer’s podcast called Writer’s Voice. In early March, they had author Michael Downing on their program discussing his latest book which dealt with the whole confusing mess of Daylight Saving Time, and it sounded so interesting that I ran out to the library and got it right away. Frankly, I was hoping it would tell me why the heck Daylight Saving Time was moved up several weeks to March instead of it’s usual time in April. Then I started wondering why the heck we do it at all? It wasn’t something I usually thought about, at least, not until I had Daniel and it started screwing with his sleep schedule.

springforwardDaylight Saving Time (and it’s Saving, not Savings, like people are wont to say) was actually a concept that was bandied about since the early 1800s, when snobbish morning people, realizing that most common folk still slept and the markets were closed when the sun rose, proposed setting the clocks forward so they could get the maximum benefit of sunlight. Despite its name, it wasn’t really about saving daylight or energy. Downing claims that the blame was eventually put on farmers for wanting it, although I never heard farmers mentioned whenever someone complained about DST (in fact, I don’t think anyone I knew every really complained about it–we just go along with it like mindless sheep. Move our clocks in the spring and fall? Oh yeah. That makes perfect sense.)

I was surprised to read (or maybe I shouldn’t have been) that DST was actually pushed more by corporate America so they could have an extra hour of daylight in the afternoon to play golf, as well as retail stores and the oil companies, who depended on consumers to use that hour of daylight to spend more money. Now that makes more sense. In fact, when they talk about energy being saved as far as less electricity being used in the afternoon, studies have shown that a piddling 2% of energy is saved. In fact, we consume more–by spending more money doing outdoors stuff, using gas to drive, etc.

Downing’s book is interesting in that we get the whole sordid history of DST, and time being measured in general. It goes into the jumbled mess of time zones, in how back in the 1900s, everyone basically kept their own time, no matter where they were. Time zones didn’t become standardized until after World War II, and many people actually objected strongly to pushing their clocks forward. My favorite quote from the book comes a Indianapolis ranter to the New York Times:

“A child gets up in the morning under daylight time and cries because he has just lost an hour of sleep. A parent has to whip him to get him to go to school. Maybe has had breakfast and maybe not. He whines all day. When he comes home, his parents give him an aspirin. We are living in a drug age. The schoolchildren are so busted that they have to have drugs. Then when Communism comes along, what are we going to do?”

Come to think of it, Indiana’s pretty screwed up anyway.

New York was the only city to truly welcome it–something to do with being able to do trading with England for an extra hour before the markets closed in Europe. At some point, there were different time zones within the same city: Chicago’s banks would run on DST while everywhere else didn’t. It truly was a mess, and the more you read Downing’s book, the more confusing it gets.

The book does have witty parts. It starts off really interesting, but then it gets rather scrawled towards the end. I’m still unsure about Nixon’s role–if he was for DST or against it? (Downing seems to feel the same.) I never did come away from it wondering if we ever figured it out. Downing kind of stops when the world reaches millennium time, with the implication that DST is still being debated.

Afterwards, I went to this website that explains the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Seems that Bush signed this act that officially changed the date for the start of DST to March. Why? I believe it is an experiment being done by the Secretary of Energy, who plans to report the findings to Congress to see if energy really is saved. If not, then it will get pushed back down to April.

Uh, okay. To be really honest, I got no complaints about DST. I’ve really been enjoying having daylight still about when it’s 6pm. But really, if that’s the case, why not just have DST all year round? Or why try to fool ourselves that we got an extra hour of time, when really we’re just doing things an hour later than usual?

Feh. Not gonna think about it anymore. This book gets two clocks out of five for all the confusion, but check it out anyway. At least I learned that when it comes to time, money still rules over it.


Don’t Blame the Weather (or a life without Daniel, at least for two days)

Friday Night

It’s icky outside. A dark drizzle mists the world and we need to drive through it at the height of rush hour to get Daniel to his Nana’s. There’s a buildup on the I-290 extension that’s really a slowdown before you get to the real mess on I-55. Visibility is poor and tempers are high. I decide, Nuts to this–it’s quicker to take side streets. But the weather messes with my sense of direction. All I want to do is get to York Rd and take that to 294, which I know is nice and clear. But my windowshield is not. We make a couple turns through unfamiliar streets, and before I know it, we’re back on 290, but going the opposite way. Ironically, as I shout “Oh, no!”, They Might Be Giants “No!” starts playing on the CD player. Daniel is taking great delight in my frustration. “No, Mommy! No!”

It takes us 2 hours to get to my mother’s place whereas it normally takes 45 minutes.

Daniel loves his Nana. Dropping him off is easy. It’s like daycare. “Goodbye, Daniel!”
“Briana! (garbled) Nana…Auntie Krissee….(something, something) T.T!” Translation: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Beat it already. I’m gonna hang with Briana for a bit, then let Nana spoil me good and rotten. If I can work my charms on Auntie Krissee, I got it made. Then tomorrow, Auntie T.T. comes and it’s gonna be nothin’ but fun! fun! fun! It’s late, I don’t plan to go to sleep until 2am, and I don’t want you around because you’ll start crimpin’ my style, so get lost. Take your time comin’ back, here?

By the time we leave my Mother’s, sans Daniel, fog has rolled in and cut visibility down to a small patch in front and behind us. My hubby this time takes the wheel while I pass out for a bit in the passenger seat. I wake up later on to see the exit we should’ve taken pass right by us.

“Hey, uh…”
“Yeah. I think we missed our exit.”

Seeing that the next exit is not for ten miles, we wind up taking a huuuge detour. I’m in a waking dream, watching signs and cars emerge out of nothingness, a reverse dissolving, growing real until dematerializing back into misty gray. There are no landmarks; the fog has gobbled it up.

Behind us, the back seat is empty. The booster seat that normally takes up the center space is gone, currently squatting in my mother’s car. The emptiness that replaces it is a bit disturbing.


When I had arranged this weekend for Daniel to go to his grandmother’s, my mind was rife with possibilities, most of them on the romantic side. We were going to go to a wedding reception that evening, so we would spend the full day taking advantage of us being a couple again. Lounging on the couch, watching movies, eating strawberries and cream, catching up on my reading, snuggling, sleeping. Sleeping. Sleeping…

My hubby had other plans.

We cleaned out Daniel’s room. Stripped his crib and washed his sheets. Picked up the books off the floor. Collected all the “Voyagers” lying around the house and put them in the dishwasher and/or silverware drawer. Got an oil change for the car.

We did manage to get a few romantic things in. But I ain’t gonna tell. It’s cloudy outside, but at least it’s a little warmer.

Saturday Night

The wedding reception is small, hosted by a band of Lithuanian women. I eat kugelis for the first time, as well as shredded beets and lots of pastries. There is lots of food, lots of wine and lots of drama. Everything that’s needed for a wedding reception. I’m glad we left Daniel at my mother’s. We would’ve spend the entire evening chasing him down, keeping him from getting obnoxious. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on other things.

Driving to and from the reception, I got Phil Keaggy’s Sunday’s Child playing on the CD player. One of my favorite songs is “Blessed be the Ties”:

Out of the single life into the family way,
So many scripted lines, so many roles to play.
Ever a pressure pressing, ever an undertow.
Why do the ties you’ve chosen slowly pull you low?

Over the things we love into the still unknown.
I had a dream last night I was finally left alone.
Nothing to tie me down, no one to kiss goodnight,
Never again to feel your whisper pull me to your side.

And oh, an emotion cries….
Oh, sing blessed be the ties….”

I want to play it over and over, making it into a prayer for for a friend of mine who had it rough tonight.

It’s late when we get back home, but I still want to catch up on a movie, so hubby and I watch “Sideways”. I loved being in wine country when I was in California, and I wanted an idyllic movie to put that feeling of driving past vineyards and picnicking and cruising into artistic context.

This movie is not that. It’s not idyllic. It’s not artistic. It sucks. Whoever said it was the best comedy of the year should get their own clothes robbed and they get dumped in the middle of the street, in broad daylight. Yuck.


At church, a friend brings her 3-month-old cousin. I had looked forward to spending the morning trying to experience how life was pee-Daniel. But I can’t remember. Then my eyes fall upon this little girl, and all my maternal instincts rise up enforce, startling me with their intensity. I spend the time after church holding the girl, sitting crosslegged on the floor, watching her suck on a bottle while her slate eyes regard me. I remember that gaze from two years ago.

I keenly want to experience it again. Which is strange. Have I forgotten how miserable I was? The late nights? The little sleep? The feelings of inadequacy and absolute uselessness? Am I nuts for wanting it again? The girl sighs in my arms. Her fist grips my finger tightly. She won’t let go.

The weather is gorgeous. Blue skies. Low 70s. We go out afterwards to eat at Noodles & Company. We sit outside for the first time this year. The breeze is gentle–it keeps tugging a loc of hair into my eyes. I brush aside, then realize that this is the first time I had to do that with my hair for the longest time, ever since I went natural. It feels wonderful, that I can shake my head and feel my locs bounce about. I wonder how long they will be by this time next year.

I’m already planning my day for tomorrow, where it supposed to be in the upper 70s. Going without Daniel for the weekend is nice, but I want to see him run around in the grass. Take him to a park. Let him yell and scream.

He screams, all right, when we drive back to my mother’s. What? The fun is over?! NOOOOOOOOO!!!

Later, we drive back. The expressways are clear. The night is dark. I’m driving, since hubby needs to get up in the morning. Daniel is knocked out in the back seat–all the fun he had finally caught up with him. But then, my hubby puts on Dr. Demento, and Daniel’s head pops up. “Bridge!” he says as he points to an overpass. I glance behind me to see his dark eyes shining, wide awake and amused. It’s nice to see him back there again.

Yeah, it’s nice to have him back. Even when we finally get home and he starts shrieking in rage because he has to go to bed.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part (Or the Response Time Blues…)

First of all, like the new layout? I’m impressed by it. I’m trying out a new theme and it’s a lot cleaner than the old one. I think I’ll keep this one for a while.

I found it while I was at a loss on what to do after I checked my email. I’ve been in an email checking frenzy as of late. Normally, I’m pretty good with checking email just three times a day–I usually just download it all at once than just letting it trickle in every 15 minutes or so. Deal with all of it at one time. That was my philosophy.

But ever since I’ve been sending manuscripts out, I find myself checking my emails more than three times a day. Sometimes five times, six. I think yesterday, I checked it a total of twelve times. It’s not that I’m reading all the emails that come in. Most of it is from my email lists, which you can check out on the blogroll. No, I’m looking for email to come in on my gmail account.

That’s the account that I send my manuscripts out on.

The writing experts say to give your submission time. To not send a follow-up email immediately after, saying “Did you get my story yet? Huh? Did you? Did you? I haven’t heard from you in ten minutes. Please? Just let me know if you got my story. And if you did, did you like it? Did you like it?” Of course you don’t do that. Not only does that show your lack of experience in submitting manuscripts, but that’s also guaranteed to have your precious story of yours automatically deleted.

(Hold on…”Channel Z” by B52s is playing on WXRT. Gotta dance for a moment…)

But there’s the opposite end of the scope. You send a story and wait…and wait…and wait…Soon, the expected response time the market had posted on its website had come and gone, and you’re still waiting to hear back from them. Did they like it? Are they agonizing over it? Is it still buried at the bottom of the slush pile? Did they even get it, or did it get lost in cyberspace somewhere? I don’t like the image of being a housebound wallflower sitting nervously by the phone, wringing her hands and muttering, “Why doesn’t he call? I gave him my number a week ago. Does he like me? Does he care? Why won’t he call me? Why? Why?”

Whoa…actually, now that I think about it, I was that housebound wallflower many, many times…I didn’t think that I would have to deal with that unpleasantness again now that I’m married. (Why haven’t they gotten back to me? I sent my story over three months ago. Didn’t they like it? Don’t they care? Why haven’t they gotten back to me?! Why?! WHY?!)

Writing experts tell you to keep yourself busy so you don’t spaz over waiting for a manuscript. The only way to cure watching email closely is to get more stories out there. To work on another project. And it does work. It spurs me on to get more of my work out there. It’s just that for me, working on projects is so slow! I want to get my work out there right now! I don’t want to revise and tweak until it’s perfect. I don’t want to wait for feedback from readers. I want to get an idea, write it out, spellcheck and BOOM! Send it out. I want get my stuff out NOW! NOW! NOW!

Yeah, that’s another form of story suicide.

Being a writer certainly teaches one about patience. It takes time to get a story written. I know many writers who can crank stories out every week. I’m not one of those writers (at least, not yet). When I write a story, I want to make sure that it is at its best form when I send it out. If it means that I spend extra time on it, then so be it. (On the flip side, you can tweak and tweak and tweak a story and never send it out. I need to work on that. It’s all about balance, you know.)

And there’s patience in waiting for a market to get back to you. I like to think that when my work sails into a market, it comes in on winged clouds with the spotlight of God right on it accompanied by a heavenly angel choir singing, “This is the greatest story in the Woooooorld…” Yeah, reality’s not that kind. Nowadays, markets are swamped, completely swamped with stories that come in every day. A market could receive up to 300 stories on one day alone. So that’s why they say to wait for them to get back to you. And if they don’t, sometimes they can be swamped. I usually wait an extra week to a month, depending on the market, to send a follow up email.

And so far, it’s good. I get a polite email back saying that they’ll get back to me soon. Please be patient. I only had one place say, “Story? What story? We didn’t get a story from you.” And I had one other place who didn’t respond at all. I did my first story withdrawal yesterday with that one.

Patience is the key. Yeah, I hate saying it, even hate hearing it, but that’s the fact. Be patient. Give the story time. Markets will get back to me. And, in a sense, this is preparing me for when I send out Willow. 1-3 month response times aren’t nothing when compared to book publishers, where those can take an entire year to respond.

So I guess I’ll keep on writing. Keep sending stuff out. And hanging in there. Writing stuff and sending it out is easy. It’s the waiting that’s the hardest part.

Where’s my Disney black princess? Oh…here she is!

(Mickey Mouse straightens his bowtie, spruces up the bouquet of flowers, takes a deep breath, then knocks on the door.)

Mickey Mouse: LaShawn? It’s me. Open up.

(LaShawn peers out the window.)

LaShawn (from behind the window): Go away!

Mickey Mouse: But I have something very important to tell you!

LS: Beat it! Scram!

MM: Really! I do! Please, open the door.

(After a minute, there’s a sound of locks sliding back and the door opens. Mickey takes a step forward but halts when he sees LaShawn standing at the door holding a bazooka.)

LS: You got five seconds.

MM: Whoa! Hold up! You don’t have to get violent–

LS: Four…

MM: Let me explain–

LS: ThreeTwoOne…


LS: What?

MM: BLACK PRINCESS! We’re doing a black princess! Please don’t hurt me–

LS (lowering the bazooka slightly): What’s this? Some new trick to get me to watch more of the Disney Channel? I’ve already relented to let Daniel watch HiggleyTown Heroes. This better not be no scheme.

MM: No! Honest and for true! We really are doing a movie with a black princess. I can tell you all about it but please…please lower that thing…

(LaShawn thinks a moment then sets down the gun.)

LS: Okay, but if this is a trick, you gonna be talking much higher than you do now. Talk.

MM (nervously mopping his forehead with the bouquet of flowers): I know that we’ve let you down a number of times. We didn’t mean to. We were just on a roll. I can understand your hatred for us.

LS: ‘Hate’ is such a strong word. Tone it down to despise.

MM: You didn’t use to despise us. You actually enjoyed us for a while there, didn’t you?

LS: Well, yeah, I did like Little Mermaid when it came out. And I enjoyed Aladdin too. It’s when you started doing the Princess thing that I began to wonder why there wasn’t any black princesses…

MM: Too true, too true…

LS: And then you had to get my hopes up with Lion King, setting it in Africa and all. I really thought a black princess would come out of that. But instead, you gave us animals. Nothing but stinking, farting animals…and a score by Elton John…grrrrr…how DARE YOU!

MM: I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I know. But this time, we really mean it! We are going to do a black princess. We’re calling it “The Frog Princess”.

LS (voice going back to normal): “The Frog Princess”?

MM: We’re billing it as an “American fairy tale”.

LS: That so? MM: We’re gonna release it in 2009. I even have a picture, if you wanna see it.

LS (shrugging): Allright. Let me see it.

(Mickey Mouse pulls out a photo and carefully hands it to LaShablack Disney princesswn. She peruses it for a bit.)

LS: Hey. She’s pretty. She’s even sporting an Afro of sorts.

MM: Like it?

LS (suspiciously) What’s her name?

MM: Maddy.

LS: Huh…my grandma’s name was Mattie. Not bad…not bad. Where’s it set?

MM: It’s gonna be in New Orleans.

LS (raising her eyebrows): Is that so? Well that’s timely. I like that. It will bring some good publicity to the place. What’s it gonna be about?

MM: I can’t really tell you just yet, but I know you’ll like it. It’s directed by the same people who wrote Aladdin and Little Mermaid. Didn’t you say you liked those movies?

LS: Yeah, I did, didn’t I? Huh. I guess I can’t despise you all that much anymore.

MM: Oh, you’ll like it. Really, you will. Trust me.

LS: You realize that everyone will be buzzing about it. The pressure is gonna be on you for it to be good.

MM: LaShawn, name one movie that Disney done that flopped.

LS: Atlantis (scammed off of Nadia BlueWater), Treasure Planet, Emperor’s New Groove–

MM: That’s more than one. And I thought you liked New Groove…

LS: Box office didn’t. Hercules, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, that one with all the birds…

MM: It was a British crossover! And Chicken Little did well at the box office.

LS: Yeah, well it still sucked. And let’s not forget the brouhaha over “Song of the South…”

MM: You’re never going to let me live that down, huh?

LS: I’m just saying that compared to all that, “The Frog Princess” is gonna get a lot of pressure. But, from the looks of this, it looks like you’re actually coming back to traditional animation, so I guess that gets a plus in my book.

MM: So we can be friends now? You’ll stop despising me?

LS: We’ll see. (Smiling) I guess if you’re gonna be serious in putting out a black princess, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll forgive you.

MM: Oh, good. (Holding out the flowers, now wilted in his grip) Then let’s declare a truce for now.

LS (taking the flowers): All right. (Pausing, looking down at the picture) By the way, who’s this playing the piano under Maddy’s picture?

MM (sweatdropping): Haha…yes…funny thing that…you see…

LS (holding the picture very close): Wait a minute…I recognize that guy…

MM (suddenly making a break for it): That’s the guy who’s doing the score gotta get going now BYE BYE–

LS (shrieking): RANDY NEWMAN?!?!?!

(There’s a sudden boom and the silhouette of a mouse is soon tumbling head over heels across the blue sky…)

Snow Day? No Way! Give me a *Warm* Day!

Exactly four weeks ago, I had just settled down after fighting to get Daniel to daycare. It wasn’t because of his usual reticence that takes place upon me waking him up to when we actually get out the door; it was the fact that the air was laced with tiny particles of snow almost too small to see until they hit the ground and started piling up. Snow showers like that usually shut everything down, but my hubby had called work and they said, “Nope, come on in.” So, the trooper that he was, he went off to work, and I decided that I couldn’t call a Snow Day either, not since I already work at home. So it was “Bye-bye Daniel”, chugging back through the snow, and settling down for a morning of writing.

Suddenly, I heard the garage door open. I peeked out the window to see the image of my husband’s car, white-laden with snow, trundle in. A minute later, he showed up in our bedroom. “School’s canceled. Looks like I get a snow day.”


Being a stay at home mother and writer has its plusses, but that day showed me a big fat disadvantage. There’s no such thing as a “Snow Day” for me. I can’t call into work and hear, “Oh, the weather’s awful today. Why don’t you stay home?” Nope. Snow days are rendered useless for a stay-at-home mother. In fact, snow days become even more troublesome, because now you’re trying to work with the kids running about the house (I assume, at least. Seeing that I only have one son that’s not even in preschool yet, I’m letting my imagination jump ahead of itself), running out in the snow, yelling for cocoa, leaving wet boots and coats everywhere, and poor Mama is grinding her teeth because for the kids (and Daddy), a Snow Day is akin to a “Get out of Jail Free Card”. No work, no worries. Just play, play, play. Whoopee!

So that night, I grumbled to my hubby, “Man, when is my Snow Day?” At which point, my hubby gave me a look and said, “I was home! You could’ve gone to Panera’s and written all day. Why didn’t you?” I scuffed my feet and whined, “Drive in all that snow? Are you crazy?” And he gave me a look that said, I spent two hours driving in the wee hours of the morning to school only to learn there that they canceled it and I had to drive two hours back. Don’t talk to me about driving. Wait. He actually said that. Oh yeah.

I’m bringing up all my grumbling about snow days because today, exactly a month later, I woke up and the weather had been forecasted to be 73 degrees.

You gotta love Chicago. Snowstorms one week, springtime the next.

I walked Daniel to daycare and tried to settle to do some writing, but I couldn’t concentrate. The smell of wet earth was in the air, not the cold, clammy smell, but a good smell, a warm, balmy, gentle breeze smell that ached to waft into our house. I threw open the windows and the doors and the spring breeze swept in, getting rid of the winter doldrums and sweeping my mind clean of the two rejections from magazines I received yesterday. Looking out, I thought, “Nuts to this. I’m going outside!”

Kids and working folks can have snow days. It’s an unexpected time of relaxation and fun. But for stay at home workers, we need to instill a “Warm” day into our work ethic. Because when springtime rears its head, ain’t nothing you can do to ignore it’s call. Except maybe work in a building that have no windows.

Is there another writer in the works?

This week, Daniel has been putting a different spin on our storytime before he takes his nap. Normally, I read three picturebooks to him before putting him down for his nap, but twice this week, he brought the book, “Jamberry”, to me, but wanted to read it himself. A two-year-old reading a book aloud to me. This is something I gotta see. So I said, “Go ahead.”

Jamberry(A quick synopsis for those who have no clue what Jamberry is–it’s a short rhyming tale of a little boy and a brown bear and their adventures picking berries. The pictures are gorgeous: every blueberry, every blackberry is done in detail, and the rhyming is short but addictive (“One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry./Finger and pawberry, my berry, your berry.”) If you have young ‘uns, get it. It’s cute and fun.)

Daniel opened the book and spinned a long, rambling tale about a little boy and a brown bear and their adventures picking berries. Although he knows the text of the story by heart, he throws it out the window and instead goes by the pictures, using nouns quite liberally with a smattering of verbs, and a whole bunch of other words that, quite frankly, made more sense to him than to me. (Which makes me wonder offhand–is that how he hears me when I read stories to him?) Once he finished “reading” that page, he said, “Go, Mommy!” which was my signal to turn to the next page. The story definitely sounded more interesting in his words. He even managed to get in his flavor of the month–rockets–into the story and it made somewhat sense.

It’s obvious from this that his imagination is taking off. All the childhood books and advice state that this is usually the age when it happens, when toddlers start picturing the possibilities and making up their own stories and games and such. But please, just for a moment, can you indulge a writer mama here? Good.

Could this mean that there’s the possibility of another writer in the family?

I remember being a kid in second grade, growing bored with the word lists we had to learn and memorize. I would flip ahead in our spelling book, moving on to harder and harder lists, and the way I learned them was simple. I made a long, rambling story out of each of them. You gave me a list, I used them in a story, oftentimes making it up on the spot. If I didn’t know what a word meant, I looked it up in a dictionary or got my parents to tell me. To me, it was just a fun game to make a boring class palatable, but today, I recognize the important creative skills of freewriting. Just making it up as you go, not caring how nonsensical it sounded. If you think about it, every kid playing with dolls or trains have the skill of making it up as you go. Writers take that, train it up, and use that to make cool stories.

So am I seeing a seed in Daniel of that skill? Will it be possible to nurture it, hone it into something he can use?

Oh, I’m guessing I can. And as I hear him babble nonsense while recognizing every other word, I can’t help but feel a little smug. This is my son exhibiting the same traits I showed when I was a kid, my mind crows. I could nurture it, be his teacher, bring him up in the arts of writing. And maybe, he’ll become a good writer. No, a great writer. Maybe he’ll be so good, he’ll even reach my level…or perhaps even surpass it. What if, in fact, he becomes better than me? What if he becomes the 10-figure salaried writer, popular all over the world, instead of me. He would be my rival instead of my pupil. I don’t like that. That can’t happen. There can only be ONE great writer in this family, and I’m it! Forget that! I gotta squash that writer’s instinct in him, NOW! THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!

Or…I can be just making a mountain out of a molehill. Geez, he’s only two. For all I know, the only reason why he wants to read a book himself is so he could stretch out the reading time longer than usual so he won’t get dumped into bed so soon.

So, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy him reading to me. And if I take a quick snooze while he does so, I’m sure he won’t mind. It’s a win-win situation.

Book Review: The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day

Circus in WinterI didn’t mean to post another book review so soon. I would like to try to space my reviews at least a couple of weeks apart. But what can I say? This was a good book. It’s been a while since I devoured a book within a couple of days instead of a month. I used to do that a lot more, back when I useless time to burn, like commuting or standing in line at the DMV…

The Circus in Winter is actually a collection of short stories about The Great Porter circus, which spent its winters in Lima, Indiana. The stories span time, from the early 1700s all the way to 2000, with the early 1900s being center stage, when the circus was in blossom. We don’t actually see the circus itself in action–the stories instead focus on some of the performers during downtime, and as the book reads on, people who are either directly affected, like descendents, or indirectly, like a family who buys the circus property later on. Day does a wonderful job of arranging the stories so that someone’s lifestory starts in one tale and ends in another. You actually get a sense of the stories revolving around each other like, well, like a circus.

Two storylines really stood out to me: the Jungle Goolah Boy tells the story of a black man who’s main job was to act like a wild man during the sideshows. I never knew that black people were involved with circuses back then, and Day’s stories that centered around two black families that worked with the Porter Circus made me want to learn more. It was also sad, seeing them act out the stereotypical ‘African Jungle Wildman”, and it was equally sad to see that to them, it was a job. It paid well. Nothing more.

The other storyline actually spans several tales, but is about a woman whose father was a clown in the circus and whose grandfather was murdered by an elephant. Her story, how she feels trapped in the town, has the best understated dialogue exchange with her mother I have read in a long time.

Day’s writing is wonderful; she uses different styles, from articles and journal entries, to straight storytelling, to interviews, and in one case, a child’s essay. There is one story that seems to be a stretch to fit in with the circus motif, but towards the end of the book, you can see why she included it. As you read, the stories show not just circus culture, but the need to get out and travel from place to place, the wanderlust that shows up in people, the fierce need to wake up in a town that’s not your own. And the final story in her book, told from the point of view of the daughter of the woman mentioned in the previous paragraph, wraps that up very, very well.

In a way, I wish there were more stories in the book. We really don’t know Porter’s fate; well, we do, in the end, but not how he got there. But the show has to end at some point, and I for one was very glad to experience it. This gets a rating of 5 elephants out of 5, and I can’t wait for Daniel to be old enough to go to the circus. Both he and I will see it with new eyes.

Aftermath of a Deadline

You’ll have to excuse the minimum posting I did last week. In addition to all the hospital visits I was doing, I was also finishing up a story to send in for an anthology which deadline was March 1.

Deadlines. The pitchfork for writers’ behinds.

What made this deadline so insidious was that the story I was working on was my first ever science fiction story. Now, let’s get one thing straight. Science fiction is not fantasy. Yes, bookstores just love to lump the two together on bookshelves, and there are magazines out there that showcase the two together. But you can’t write a fantasy story and say, “Oh, I think I’ll pitch it as science fiction.” Doesn’t work.

Fantasy involves faith of a sort. Something inexplicable happens and people wave their hands, saying, “It’s maaaaagic!” Why is that cup hovering over the table like that? Magic. Where did Brian go? He was just here a minute ago? Magic. You can pull weird shaped beasts out of your butt and screaming, talking bird from the stuff of the sky, and in fantasy, it’s not just normal, it’s expected. No explanation is needed. It’s mysterious, it’s magical, it doesn’t really require you to think. In a way, it’s a lot like an English class. There are rules, but they’re so bendable and flexible, if you know what you’re doing, then fantasy can appear to have no rules at all.

Not so with science fiction. Dammit, there better be an explanation for why stuff is happening, and it must make scientific sense. That cup hovering over there, it’s because of the magnetic forcefield that only affect ceramics. Brian disappearing? He’s phased out of the time continuum and his molecules refuses to cohere. Science fiction is like a mathematics class. It’s rules are rigid, precise. 2+2=4, and don’t let any fantasy namby-pamby try to make it 5 with their maaaaagic. You’ll have the science geeks screaming “Foul!” so quickly, your website will shut down from all the comments of the science geeks proving that 5 is so not the answer, it will always be 4, and by the way, you suck.

(To all you science fiction geeks out there…yes, I know 2+2=4 and not 5. Please don’t flame me.)

So what’s a fantasy writer to do when she writes a science fiction story for the first time and haven’t the faintest clue of what she’s doing? She goes to her hubby, of course, especially if that hubby is a geek who reads Wired and Stephen Hawkings: The Universe in a Nutshell for fun. Who hosts free ‘geek’ nights, where guys come over with their laptops and they watch fanfic Star trek parodies. Come on, he’s got my two-year-old singing the theme song to Voyager.

(And to my hubby, yes, I also read Wired and I really enjoyed the Star Wreck movie, which makes me as much of a geek as you. Please don’t flame me.)

Anyway, my hubby helped me out with the story, ensuring that technological mumbo-jumbo sounded just right. This meant going over draft after draft, nailing down what exactly my character was supposed to be doing and making it gel right with the literary aspects of the story. It actually was a lot of fun–it’s pretty neat to get my hubby involved in a project like that, but due to the time crunch, it was also pretty intense. The night before the deadline, Daddy had to take care of Daniel while I sat in the bedroom with the door closed, hashing out another draft to make sure it was absolutely *perfect*. With this deadline, I only stayed up to midnight. Not bad.

Usually, if I finish a story and mail it off, there’s a bit of…oh, what’s the word I’m looking for…Emptiness? Numbness? Weariness? Maybe all three. It’s a sensation that happens when after putting all my time and energy into a story, suddenly, I don’t work on it anymore. There’s a sense of loss of a sort. A vacuum. Sure, I can always dive into another project–I usually have three or four simmering at one time. But for a day or two, I just can’t do it. And if the story I was working on had a deadline, that vacuum feels a lot worse because I usually expend a lot more time and energy into finishing up that story.

So I take a small break from writing. I sleep a lot. Over the weekend, I noticed I was extremely tired. The only writing I did was on Willow, and I didn’t even finish the chapter I was on. I need to finish it up today. I wonder if the more I write and get stories out, the less that sense of loss will come on me. I don’t know. On the one hand, I find it extremely annoying. I want to write! I just can’t sit here, vegging on the couch, watching anime. But on the other hand, I think that sense of shutdown time is needed. I need to get my energy back up so I can work on the next project, and if I need a couple of days to just veg, then so be it. It helps me to go to the next project refreshed, in a clearer state of mind.

It works. Today’s Monday. I’m finishing up this blog. Today, I jump into another story that’s been sitting on the backburner for a while, and I finish up a chapter of Willow and immediately move on to the next. All weekend, I sat like a bump on a log, but today, I feel energized, ready to take on the day. And that’s pretty rare…for a Monday.

Book Review: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Amazon Link can be found here.

When I first started this book, after reading the first few pages, I did something that’s considered taboo to readers and writers alike. I flipped to the end of the book and read that first.

I didn’t do it because I hated the book. On the contrary, I liked the storyline and the writing. I think the reason why I flipped immediately to the end because I wanted to know right away if there would be a happy ending. The pacing of the book, while intense, was also incredibly slow, and for some reason, I really had no patience to see whether or not the ending will come about satisfactorily. I guess I wanted to make sure that the time I was willing to invest in this book would be worth it. To my satisfaction, the ending worked very well, so I was able to go back to the beginning and really immerse myself in it.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a story about a doctor who delivers his own twins in a snowstorm in the 1960s. The boy comes out fine and healthy, but the girl has Downer’s Syndrome. Fearing for his wife’s well-being, the doctor gives the girl to the nurse who assisted him in the birth, telling her to take the baby girl to an institution. When his wife wakes up, he proceeds to tell her that the baby died. The nurse, however, balks at the idea and winds up keeping the baby girl for herself, moving to another city to raise her.

The book follows the two families as everyone deals with the consequences of the doctor’s actions. The doctor, burdened with the terrible knowledge of what he and the nurse did, keeping the secret from his wife, who never really gets over the fact that her daughter died. Their son grows up in a silent home, watching his parents drift apart without knowing why. In contrast, the nurse raises the girl, fights for her education, discovers love, and worries that one day the doctor will change his mind and take the girl away.

There’s a lot of contemplation in this book. The wife feeling trapped and morose, the doctor distancing himself by immersing himself in photography. We get angst from the son as he gets older. When the storyline switches to the nurse, I think Edwards wants to show deep misgivings and navel-gazing in her life, too, but it doesn’t get pulled off well. Her life seems too…well, good, in contrast to the gloom in the doctor’s household. We do get a bit of anxiety as the daughter gets older and wants to move out, but it’s more of a vague sort of anxiety.

What’s noticeably absent from the story is the daughter’s point of view. Yes, she’s a character with Down’s Syndrome. How does she view the world? We only see the girl from the nurse’s point of view, and that lowers the book, in my opinion. The slow, literary style Edward uses would have been perfect to show the girl’s voice. I finished the book disappointed that she hadn’t explored that point of view.

The others? Eh…like I said, there was a lot of unhappiness in the doctor’s family, a sensitive kind of unhappiness that felt a little weird and unrealistic reading from the doctor and the son’s point of views. It worked best coming from the wife, who deals with the emptiness inside her by throwing herself into work, alcohol and affairs. The doctor was a coward for holding the secret that their daughter was alive for so long, but in some strange way, I felt sorry for him, too. To live with the secret for so long, to know you should say something, and the self-loathing for not doing so. That must’ve been very hard to deal with.

So did I like this book? Yeah…I guess I can say so. It is beautifully written. Just don’t expect to zoom through wall-to-wall action in the book. There’s a lot of staring at snow and the nape of necks. But there is a story in here. Trust me.

I give this 2 1/2 out of 5 photos, and ladies, if your husband delivers your own babies and you have twins, stay awake to make sure they’re okay. You’ll never know if one of them might disappear right on you.