Wednesday, April 30, 2014

French Twist Dare: The Engagement Ring

One of my favorite parts of French Twist is the scene that I wrote when Sydney finally gets her engagement ring.  Not the costume ring that she purchased before she proposed to Louis, but the gorgeous ring that he had made as an exact replica of the costume ring she had picked out.

Louis came back into the bedroom to find me sitting in the same spot on the floor.
“Who was that?” I asked, refusing to meet his eyes.
"Sydney, please look at me."
I grudgingly looked up at his face.  He had the nerve to be grinning from ear to ear.  My annoyance was reaching a dangerous level.  I was sure that I didn't have the friendliest look on my face at that moment.  
His smile did not waver.  “It was a special delivery.”
Now it was my turn to be bewildered.  “Special delivery?”
He sat down next to me on the floor and handed me a square black velvet box.
I looked over at him with my tearstained face.  “What is this?”
His voice was very soft.  “Why don’t you open it and find out?”
Well, it probably wouldn’t make things any worse.  Opening the box took a little effort because my hands were still shaking, but when I finally got it open, the contents took my breath away.
            I looked up at Louis.  “When did you do this?”
            “During one of your many wedding planning sessions with Kate and Maya.  Do you like it?”
            I was speechless.  Nestled in this little black velvet box was an exact replica of the costume engagement ring that I had purchased at Nordstrom.  It was absolutely beautiful.
            Tears filled my eyes.  “I love it.”  I sobbed.  “And I love you.”
            I put my arms around his neck and started to cry.
            “Why are you crying, mon coeur?”  He started to chuckle.
            “I don’t know.”  I continued to sob.
            He pulled me out of the embrace and stroked my face.  “Why don’t you try on your ring?”
            My face lit up and I held out my trembling fingers.  He removed the costume ring from my finger and replaced it with the ring he had had made for me. It fit perfectly.  He looked into my eyes and smiled. 
            “Happy Birthday, Syd.”  He kissed me tenderly on the lips.
            I buried my face in this chest.  “Thank you, Bluey.”
            He cleared his throat.  “Now, I am sure that you are in need of some food.  Any interest in the chocolate cake that is currently in the refrigerator?”
            I grinned at him.  “Is that a trick question?”

            He pulled me up to my feet and carried me into the kitchen.  I giggled the whole way and was immensely thankful that my birthday had vastly improved.  We then sat at the dining room table and ate cake out of the box.  It was the best birthday cake I had ever had.

(Excerpt from French Twist by Glynis Astie, Copyright 2013.)

While I would love to be able to say that this is exactly how it happened, the reality was far less glamorous.  I did, as you know, propose to my husband with a costume engagement ring, but we had very little money at the time, so my actual ring was purchased in pieces - first the setting, then the diamond.  Thankfully, we purchased it before my husband (then fiance) met my family for the first time - since I can only imagine what my father would have said about the absence of a ring - and I have been the blissfully happy owner of it ever since.  If you are like me and LOVE to see people's engagement rings, I have just the photo for you.  

The Bottomless Inbox

Back when I had a job in corporate America, one of my bosses told me that my inbox would never be empty.  I remember being horrified at this realization, because I was the kind of person who loved to finish every last thing on her to-do list (and I might have been a major brown noser just out of college).  She was simply trying to point out to me that I should not be stressed that I would never be “done” with all of my tasks (since new ones are always being added), but I made it my personal mission to make it there just once.  Yeah…that never happened. During the entire FIFTEEN years I spent in the work force.

When I decided to stay at home following the birth of my second son, I thought that I would finally be able to get to the bottom of that inbox.  I mean, I only had to take care of two kids, my husband and the house.  It’s not like I had a REAL job anymore.  How hard could it be?  Please excuse me while I laugh my ASS off at my own naiveté.  (HA!  HA!  HA!)  If anything, I have gotten further away from the bottom.

How is that possible?  Well, let’s see.  When I was working, I had the money to pay someone to clean my house. I also had just one child (and he actually slept) and therefore a lot more energy.  My second son is charming, intelligent and fun loving.  He is also short-tempered, mischievous and stubborn.  It feels like he requires more than two times the energy that my older son required.  But that may have something to do with the fact that my older son was in daycare five days a week.  It is a lot easier to have energy when you only have to be a responsible parent for two full days a week, with just mornings and evenings for the remaining five days.  My lack of energy may also have something to do with the fact that I am MUCH older now and my body is falling apart.

But I digress.  My inbox became quite full when managing my three boys (yes, I include my husband in that group) and the household.  Thankfully, I had the good sense to put my younger son in preschool a few days a week, since many tasks are simply not possible when he is in the house.  (He has far too keen an interest in cleaning supplies for my taste. And why does he insist on cleaning the FLOOR with the duster?)  So now that I had a whole twelve hours to myself during the week, I was going to get the inbox under control, right?

WRONG.  The hours that the little one is in school were spent cleaning and running necessary errands that he simply could not withstand.  (Ever had a three-year-old accompany you to your annual GYN appointment?  I do NOT recommend it.)  The frustration mounts, but I continue make my lists and have high hopes that I will get everything done while he is in school.  When will I ever learn? 

Usually the days when both of my sons are in school go something like this.  I debate about whether or not to go to the gym because I could really benefit from the stress relief, not to mention the calorie burning, but eventually head home instead because the house is so dirty that I embarrassed to have any of my friends over.  I reluctantly pull out my cleaning supplies, put on some music and start the process of making my house habitable.  This process always begins with the upstairs bathrooms.  I am in constant awe of how quickly my three boys are able to make the bathroom look like it hasn’t been cleaned in a month.  Let’s see, I clean every week, and they destroy it within 3 days, so… Sigh…

Then the phone rings.  My husband absolutely has to talk to me about some electronic device that he is thinking of buying and even though he will not listen to my opinion, he insists on going through EVERY single detail with me.  And since my shoulder is still recovering from a mishap at the gym, I cannot cradle the phone with my shoulder and get some cleaning done while he goes on and on and ON.  So, I continue to listen, torn between enjoying at least the sound of his voice (we don’t get much time together during the week) and being resentful of the fact that he is effectively holding me hostage while he debates with himself. Maybe I need to put him on speakerphone…

Eventually, his decision is made and I return to my cleaning.  I then remember that I have not put the clothes that I washed last night into the dryer.  This means that they have been sitting overnight and probably smell, so I will have to rewash them and hope that I remember to put them in the dryer this time.  After I have gone downstairs and remedied my washing debacle, I walk by the kitchen and see the toys that my sons left on the floor and swear as I pick them up and put them away.  How many times did I remind them to put the toys away before they went to school???  As I walk back towards the staircase, I remember that I have to empty the dishwasher so that I can put the dirty dishes that are in the sink into the dishwasher so that I can clean the damn sink.  I take a deep breath, execute this task and return to cleaning upstairs.  In a desperate attempt for levity, I put Prince on my iPod and sing, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.”  True to my friend Kelly’s mantra, there really is nothing that a little Prince can’t fix.  At least for the moment.

By the time that my older son comes home from school, the house is in reasonable condition, but I have not run the errands that I had planned for the day because, let’s face it, cleaning is a never ending pit of despair.  No matter how much you clean, the house still feels messy.  Then your happy little masters of destruction come home and ruin any progress that you have made.  And just wait until the BIG master comes home.  That’s right!  My husband is just as bad as my kids.  But don’t tell him that I said that.  (He is kind of sensitive. And hopefully never reads my blog.)

All of this is more than enough to keep a fairly intelligent woman on her toes.  (I honestly think that my intelligence is waning, but that is a topic for another blog.)  Even though I was beyond busy every minute of the day and had absolutely no hope of seeing anything close to the bottom of my inbox, I realized that something was missing from my life.  I needed to add something that was creatively fulfilling to me.  I then made the somewhat questionable decision to become an author.  Because that shouldn’t add too much to my inbox, right?  There isn’t that much work involved in being a successful author, is there?  You just write a funny story, slap on a cute cover and make millions, RIGHT?  (Anyone have a spare straightjacket?)

Pardon my momentary outburst.  Back to our story…I was lucky enough to be able to write my first two books while my little one napped.  It was often difficult to parcel out the time – since I did not always have inspiration when I had actual quiet time.  Now that my son is older, more mobile and MUCH more vocal, things have gotten a little more complicated.  Not to mention the effects of the massive social media addiction that I detailed in my last blog.  My situation has now become completely hopeless as far as I can tell.  The bottom of the box will never be seen in my lifetime.

Well, it certainly feels that way.  OFTEN.  Simple tasks such as answering emails or phone calls take weeks.  Permission slips for school trips get lost.  It takes ten email exchanges to set up play dates for my sons – and given how long it takes me to respond to emails, you know that this is not a quick process.  I forget to make my regular hair appointment and make it obvious to the world that even though I am only forty years old I am almost COMPLETELY gray.  I then realize that I haven’t spoken to some of my closest friends in months, but feel a bit less guilty since none of them have called me either.  I happen to look over at my husband and wonder when we last had a date.  A real, honest to God date, where you actually hire a babysitter, leave the house in something other than sweats and have an adult conversation that does not involve our children.  Hmm…

Despite all of the chaos, I somehow manage to make it to the end of each day, running on fumes.  After the boys are finally in bed, my husband and I sit next to each other, both engrossed in our laptops, trying to fit in a few last tasks before bed.  The thought doesn’t seem to occur to either one of us to turn off all of our screens and have a focused conversation, because we have the need to cross just ONE more thing off our lists.  It is kind of funny that we think that this one item is going to make a difference, but we do. 

It is usually at this point that I start humming the hamster dance song.  Do you remember that?  This adorable website went viral in the late nineties and caused millions of people to hum an unforgettably happy tune.  How could you not be amused by rows of cartoon hamsters shaking their booties while singing, “Dee dee dee da dee da dee da do do, dee da dee da do!!!”  Back in my corporate days, I used to watch it at my desk in my lonely little cubicle, sing along and bop my head.  It always made the day a little easier to take.

And why is it that in the middle of this insanity that I am thinking of the hamster dance, of all things?  The answer is so very simple.  The best way that I can think of to describe the bottomless inbox that is my life is that I am a hamster running on a wheel.  I have a series of tasks that must be completed over and over again and instead of feeling like I am actually moving forward once I complete them, I feel like I am stuck on a hamster wheel.  It may seem silly, but the analogy works for me – and makes me laugh, which is an added bonus.

It seems to be pretty clear to me that now that I split my time between writing and being a stay at home mom, I will never see the bottom of the box.  But that’s OK.  I am going to embrace my status as a hamster.  Hamsters are cute!  And happy!  And dumb enough to be totally content with running their cute little tushies off without actually making any progress.  That is something to celebrate!

So now there is really only one thing left to say.  Wait for it…hamster dance, anyone?  Come on, follow the link above and sing it with me!  “Dee dee dee da dee da dee da do do…”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

French Twist Truth: The Fart

I don't know about you, but in the beginning of relationships, I always try to hide rather, um, unsavory habits from my partner.  Farting is at the top of that list.  This scene from French Twist, in which Sydney farts for the first time in front of Louis, her brand new fiance, is an exact account of how everything went down between me and my husband.  Oh, the embarrassment!  But it made a really funny scene, didn't it?

Unfortunately for me, that evening was my turn to be the source of a scent faux pas.   Louis and I were sitting on the couch after dinner enjoying some mind numbing TV when I felt some rumbling in my abdomen.   Uh oh.  I had been able to hide the fact that I fart from Louis for the duration of our relationship, though once we started living together it had become much more complicated.  I had made more than a few spontaneous trips to the balcony for “a breath of fresh air.”  I was sure that Louis was on to me, but I wasn’t ready to give up the illusion yet.
            I started to extract myself from the couch for a trip to the balcony, when Louis tugged on my hand. 
            “Where are you going, mon coeur?  You are so snuggly.  I don’t want you to get up.”  He tried to pull me back onto the couch.
            I laughed nervously.  “I just need a little air.  I will be right back.”  I tried to pull my hand away.
            He held onto my hand and looked at me.  “Is that really what this is about?”  He was trying hard not to smile.
            As I was about to answer him, a foreign sound escaped my body.  I had finally farted in front of Louis.  I knew that I was blushing from the humiliation.  And I haven’t even told you the worst part.  It was smelly, loud and, oddly enough, musical.  That’s right!  It came out as a high pitched note that is hard to describe.  It almost sounded like... “Plew!”

            Louis laughed so hard that he fell off of the couch.  He had tears of laughter streaming down his face.  I just stood there looking at him completely torn between laughing with him and being really annoyed with him.  I finally joined him on the floor and started to laugh.  Every couple of minutes he would stop laughing, look at me and sing, “Plew!”  Then he would start laughing all over again.  I decided that my days of hiding farts from him were over.  Although I doubt that he would find it this funny every time...

(Excerpt from French Twist by Glynis Astie, Copyright 2013.)

Many thanks to my son's preschool teacher for the suggestion for this week's post.  I don't think that I would have chosen the scene had it not been specifically asked about. :)

My Name is Glynis and I am a Social Media Addict

Last week was one of the worst I have experienced in a very long time.  The germs in my sons’ schools spun completely out of control and though every other member of my household ended up with only a mild cold, I fell victim to the mother of all flus.  Each day I was graced with a new symptom and a new body temperature.  Every morning I would stagger to the bathroom, avert my eyes from the frightening image in the mirror, pull out the thermometer and perform a quick assessment of my symptoms.  As I pushed the power button on the thermometer, I felt like I was pulling the lever of a slot machine.  I swear I could almost hear the gears fall into place, sealing my fate for the day as either passable or quarantined.

During my ridiculously long recovery period (SEVEN days!!!), I discovered something rather concerning about myself.  Not that I have homicidal tendencies or a bizarre fetish, but in my book, it's still pretty scary.  Being trapped in a prostrate position with extremely diminished mental capacity forced me to acknowledge something I hadn't been able to admit to myself yet.  My blood ran cold as I realized that I have a very serious social media addiction. 

I honestly have no idea how this happened.  I had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into joining Facebook five years ago.  (Thanks again, Kel.)  For the first two years, I simply existed as an observer.  I was still working full-time outside the house and found very little time for anything associated with my laptop other than emails or online shopping.  When I occasionally had time to stop by my Facebook page (which was BARREN), I was baffled by the wide range of “Facebook personalities” - from the person who posted EVERYTHING (we’re talking morning grooming routines and daily menu plans) to the person who simply posted thought-provoking articles about the latest social issues.  The former was one I wanted no part of and the latter intimidated the crap out of me.  What was a girl to do?

Once I had my second child and decided to be a stay-at-home mom, I thought I would finally have time to figure out the mystery of Facebook.  Was it really worth my time?  This took another year since my younger son didn't have much of a penchant for sleep, which meant I was a sleep deprived mess.  After he decided he was no longer a vampire and I had more than two seconds to myself, I decided it was high time that I got my feet wet and joined the world of social media.

Just a couple years later, I have found myself drowning in the sea of cyber communication.  Before my days as an author, I was happy to splash around in Facebook and Instagram.  Since writing my second book, I have found my way to Twitter, Pinterest, back to LinkedIn (which used to be for just the corporate types) and a variety of book related blogs.  The amount of time one can spend posting, commenting, conversing, coaching and debating is absolutely INSANE!  So by pushing myself to keep up with the latest of modes of information exchange I now have the massive conundrum of figuring out how to share my time between social media, writing and oh, my family.  My children and husband have many needs to be met on a daily basis by Supermom.  That’s me.  Imagine that?

So now we return to present day and my insane need for the intimate connection to my cyber crew which I get through social media.  Let me paint a picture for you.  I was almost delirious with fever, sweat was pouring from my brow (and a variety of other places, thank you very much) and I was so dizzy that I could barely lift my head from the pillow.  Yet I continued to reach for my phone every time the damn thing beeped, buzzed or chirped.  And it makes some kind of noise every freakin’ two seconds.  This is completely my fault since I've set it to notify me every time I get a tweet, an email, a text, a Facebook post, a Google Plus post, a Pinterest notification or any other form of communication that currently exists.

I kept trying to ignore the myriad of sounds coming from my phone, but to no avail.  Every time my eyelids drooped and I was about to drift off to dreamland, that tell-tale beep, buzz or chirp would emanate from a table just above my head.  First, I tried moving the phone out of my reach, reasoning I was too weak to get up and check the notification.  I knew I had to keep the phone within reach since either one of my sons could have an emergency at school, but moving the phone further away from myself only meant that I was now risking falling over from my dizzy spells as I got up to retrieve the source of the notification.

On the rare days when my husband was home, I put the phone on a different floor of the house than I was on, knowing he would get the calls from the schools if I didn’t answer my cell phone, but I could still hear the calls of my notifications.  I know what you’re thinking:  Why not just turn the sound off on your cell phone and make sure that your son’s schools call on your home number?  I'm afraid that due to the nature and duration of my illness, I no longer had the mental capacity to use any form of logic.  Which leads to the next question:  Why didn’t your husband do this for you?  The answer to that, my friends, is though my husband is one of the most intelligent people I have ever come across, he can sometimes be clueless.  Sigh.

As I lay on the couch, nestled blissfully under the covers after FINALLY finding a position in which my head did not throb so badly that I wanted to rip it from my shoulders, my thoughts would wander back to my digital connections.  This would then cause me to fall into a shame spiral as to my patently obvious social media addiction.  Why did I feel the need to know exactly what everyone in my network was doing?  Why did it matter that I was missing book recommendations, priceless quotations and hilarious stories?  And the photos!!!  Why did I have to see each and every one of the photos?  What was my obsession with all of the silly animals and adorable children?  I couldn’t help it; they just did my heart good.  And not that I don’t love my own (both animals and children), but sometimes, you need a break from them and you would  just like to look at a picture of a cute kid that doesn’t suddenly make you think of the asinine thing that he/they did earlier in the day…

And clearly I couldn’t even claim that my interest was purely in my professional posts and I just happened to glance over at my personal items, you know, since I was already on Facebook and Twitter and, um,…Pinterest…  I am an author, after all (chest puffs up).  There are so many important things which I simply must do each day so that the world doesn’t forget about me.  Because people will notice if I don't post witty comments on my Facebook author page, pipe up with my sage opinion in my author chat boards, post on my blog and tweet insightful comments to my massive following.  As if!

If there was anything I took out of my reluctant realization of social media addiction, it was this:  the power of social media should only be wielded by healthy people.  (I'm able to make an ass out of myself while both completely healthy AND sober!  So why take the chance?)  No one is going to miss you if you duck out for a week to heal yourself.  The world will keep on turning and people will go about their lives, leaving various Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus comments in their wake.  Your voice will remain silent for the time being and that’s OK.  Your cyber posse will wish you well and will welcome you back happily upon your return.  Then it will be someone else’s turn to bow out for a while.  And so the cycle continues…

Thursday, April 10, 2014

French Twist Dare: The Proposal (Part II)

We have now arrived at our discussion of the fictitious elements of the illustrious proposal scene in French Twist. But before we get to the actual proposal, I must confess that one of my favorite scenes, just prior to the proposal, was a complete figment of my imagination.  Sydney was trying to sneak out of the apartment the morning after Louis brings up going to Las Vegas for the weekend to get married...

He stroked my back.  “I am not making fun of you.  I am just trying to lighten the mood, which is what I think you need right now.  You are just taking things far too seriously.  Whether or not you realize it, I have gotten to know you pretty well, mon coeur.  In fact, I am sure that I know you better than you think that I do.” 
“Really?  And what is it that you think that you know?”  I looked at him quizzically.
He sat up and faced me.  “You are hungry ALL OF THE TIMEYou need to be fed every two hours or there will be serious consequences.  You always want to choose the movie that we watch and then you always fall asleep and snore through it.  Romantic comedies are your favorite, but you are also addicted to murder mysteries, though you are always wrong about the identity of the murderer.  You love Italian and Mexican food, but your absolute favorite is Greek.  You love red wine and margaritas and hate white wine and all other hard liquor.  All your desserts must contain some kind of chocolate or there is no point in having dessert.  You buy yourself a new outfit every year on your birthday to make yourself feel better about getting older.  You are completely self-conscious when you are wearing anything tight or short (or are naked), though you shouldn’t be because you are absolutely gorgeous.  You put everyone else in your life first and often forget that you need things too.  The first opinion you want on anything important is Kate, followed by a close second with Maya. I have absolutely no idea where my opinion factors in, but that is not what is important right now.”  He stopped to draw breath.  “Shall I go on?” 
Wow.  I wasn’t expecting that.  I guess that he has been paying attention.
“Am I to assume from your stunned silence that you realize that I am right?  That I do know you pretty well?”  He shook me gently by the shoulders.  “I LOVE you.  I am very sorry if I scared you with my ridiculous idea to go to Vegas.”  He sighed. “But I really want you to hear me when I say this.  Nothing that you can say or do will scare me or will change how I feel about you.”
I just continued to stare at him.  For the life of me, I couldn’t think of what to say.
“Mon coeur, I have never felt this way for anyone.  It amazes and overwhelms me.  I...sometimes get carried away.  I just knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you and it came out.  I am sorry.”
I laughed.  “You’re sorry that you want to spend the rest of your life with me?”
He looked relieved.  “There she is.”  He grinned and gave me a soft tap on the nose.   “I knew that you were in there somewhere.”  

(Excerpt from French Twist by Glynis Astie, Copyright 2013.)

I am a total sucker for dramatic speeches and while my husband has indeed said these things to me before, he did not deliver his comments altogether and in such a confessional way.  The speech still gives me the shivers when I read it!

Now, back to the proposal....

The actual proposal was not as glamorous as in the scene that I wrote.  I met my husband at a bookstore after work, with the costume engagement ring tucked away in my jeans pocket.  When he sat down next to me in the open air cafe, I asked him how his day had been and after he answered, I leaned over to him and whispered in his ear, "Will you marry me?"

There was a horrible moment when I thought that his whole suggestion of going to Las Vegas to get married had been a joke, because he took WAY too long to answer my question.  But once he gave me an emphatic, "Yes!" my heart rate began to slow down.  We then perused the streets and selected a lovely Italian restaurant in which to celebrate our engagement.

It was a wonderful evening, but proposal scenes in books need a little more polish!  I hope that you enjoyed it.  I certainly had fun writing it.

How in the Heck Did I Become an Author?

This week I decided to shake things up a bit and share something a little more personal with y’all.  Sure, I am filled with stories about my crazy boys that will no doubt make you laugh, but nothing is crazier to me than the story of how I ended up writing books for a living. 

Sometimes when I tell people that I am an author, I feel like a bit of a fraud.  It may seem silly, but the truth is that when I was younger I absolutely DETESTED writing.  All through high school and college, I dreaded any type of writing assignment and term papers were the absolute bane of my existence.  I didn’t mind doing the research, but having to condense the information and organize it into a coherent argument was something that I had no desire to do.  I would sooner have requested a rousing game of bridge with my parents.

After I graduated from Northwestern with a BS in Psychological Services, I briefly pursued a career in Social Work, but found myself becoming too emotionally attached to my clients.  So I traded in Social Work for the more corporate friendly Human Resources and spent thirteen fairly enjoyable years working my way up the proverbial ladder.  I spent a lot of face time with employees and looked forward to welcoming them to the company, helping them get settled and guiding them to building their careers.  Fairly early on, I realized that I just signed myself up for a career that was riddled with writing assignments.  You wouldn’t think that HR would be a career that would require a lot of writing, but it actually does.  I had to write policies, newsletters, presentations, web page content and the dreaded disciplinary actions.  

Throughout the years, I was given more and more of the writing assignments in my department and found that the more practice I had, the easier it became.  Before I knew it, instead of feeling like a chore, writing became something that I enjoyed doing.  Imagine that?  While the subject matter of my writing was rather boring, taking information and conveying it in a way to make it easy for people to understand had somehow become a lot of fun to me.

After I had my second child, I decided to be a stay at home mom.  I had no desire to fork over my entire salary for daycare and decided to make good on my promise to stay home with my children if I could.  (I had NO idea what I was getting myself into, but that is a discussion for another time.)  Once my younger son was about a year old – and actually started to sleep - I found myself getting restless.  I needed some kind of project for myself; something that I could create.  A few months later I had a dream that I wrote a book.  It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, so I pushed it aside, dismissing the idea as an early mid-life crisis.  (Very early!)  But the idea just wouldn’t go away and one day I found myself writing down my ideas.  Before I knew it, I had outlined the entire book!  

If you have read my first book, French Twist, you already know that I elected to write about the very interesting story of how my husband, Sebastien, met and were married in six short months.  I happened to meet him in a bar, of all places, while I was living in California. He had come over from France to work on a project for his company’s US branch and within five weeks of meeting we were engaged and five months after that we were married.  Our courtship was full of highs and lows and funny little stories.  I decided take our story and turn it into what is currently termed Chick Lit.  It is one of my favorite genres to read since it is filled with relatable, charming women who take me on adventures and make me laugh.  The story of how I met my husband has all of these elements in spades, so why not write my own Chick Lit novel?

I thought it was a great way to start writing because I didn’t have to craft the story myself.  All that I had to do was tell it!  It did not take me long to realize that “just” telling the story wasn’t going to be so easy.  I quickly learned that real life contains far too many people than would be a reasonable number of characters in a book.  If I included all of the people who were actually involved in our story, the end result would have been too confusing for readers to follow. 
So, the next step was to condense the characters and the events so that the main points of the story come across.  After doing this, I had a much deeper appreciation for screenwriters who have to adapt books to the big screen.  There is just no way to keep everything!

Once I had revised my cast of characters and my plotline, I slowly began writing the first chapters.  I started sending chapters to my sister to read since she had experienced much of the content herself and she had read more Chick Lit than any person I knew.  It was an added bonus that she could write well herself.  For good measure, I had a couple of other people read my book and gratefully accepted their notes as well.  You would be surprised how easy it is to miss simple typos in material that you had not only written, but read and reread many times over.  It just boggles the mind!

The last thing that I needed was a book cover.  In addition to her talents as an editor, my sister is a gifted artist.  (I often tell her that she got all of the good genes in the family.  She; however, does not agree.)  I gave her a few ideas for the cover and she whipped it up for me in no time.   I couldn’t believe it!  I now had all of the elements of my book in place.

The interesting thing about today’s world is that if you want to publish a book, you no longer have to shop it around to various people and hope that someone will like your work – especially if you are not quite sure that you want to be a full-time author.  There are numerous websites where you can self-publish your book and even more websites that offer tips and tools to help you along your way.  I am a huge fan of Amazon, so I decided to go with the Kindle Direct Publishing Program for the eBook and CreateSpace, an Amazon Company, for the hard copy.  The entire process was user friendly:  all it took was a little bit of elbow grease, and a lot of help from my husband (he is a formatting genius), for French Twist to become a reality.

I still remember when I received the proof of French Twist from CreateSpace.  I had just come back from a beach vacation with my family - exactly one year after I had dreamt that I wrote a book.  As I held the book in my hand, I took a moment to just stand and feel the weight of my accomplishment.  Then a huge grin took over my face and I jumped around, squealing like a little girl.  Not my most dignified moment, admittedly, but I deserved it!

Even though my days are fairly chaotic as a mom of two boys, I somehow managed to write the second book in the French Twist series, French Toast.  In the second book, I delved much more into the world of fiction, taking the characters based on me and my family and putting them into completely imaginary situations.  I have to say that it was much more challenging, but also a lot more fun to write the second book.  Though I found it more difficult to create content from scratch, there is a great deal more freedom in writing fiction as opposed to non-fiction.  Especially when you can make your family members do all kinds of crazy things!

Overall, writing has been a wonderful experience for me for so many reasons.  First and foremost, it provides the flexibility that I need in order to take care of my children.  Perhaps flexibility is a strong word.  Pliability? Contortionability?  Is that even a word?  Let’s just say that there have been many occasions when I have time to write, but inspiration just will not strike.  Or I have fabulous ideas that are dying to get out and this is the absolute moment that my son HAS to have me help complete his tenth Angry Birds puzzle of the day.  It can be very frustrating.  Ideas will come to me when I least expect it, so I am constantly writing things down and then leaving pieces of paper all over the house.  I just have to hope that my mischievous three-year old will not find them and destroy them.  (He is very big on destruction; it’s his thing.)  It is high time that I switched over to a new method.  I’m fairly certain that there is a Dictaphone buried in my attic…

I am still not entirely sure how I got here, but I am glad that I did.  I plan to write the third and final book in the French Twist series, French Fry, and then the sky is the limit!  I can only hope to continue to peak your interest with my colorful stories.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

French Twist Truth: The Proposal (Part I)

         As it is well known at this point that French Twist is based on the true story of how I met and married my husband in a rather, um, short period of time, I am often asked about the illustrious proposal scene.  Unfortunately, in this case I cannot simply tell you truth or dare. :)  The scene in which Sydney proposes to Louis is a multifaceted collection of both truths and lies.  We will have to take our time on this one.  

Since this week I am revealing something true, I will reveal all true elements of the proposal.  Are you ready?  Here they are:

1) My husband did suggest going to Vegas for the weekend to get married, but never actually asked me to marry him.

2) I proposed to my husband after knowing him for five weeks. (Yes, I know I wrote six in the book, but close enough!)

3) I did give him a costume engagement ring to put on my finger after he accepted.

4) He did look at it in amazement and tell me that we might have to buy something a bit smaller. 

The whole scene pretty much played out like this:

I had planned this whole beautiful speech about how much I loved him, how special he made me feel, how sure I felt about his feelings for me - with or without the crazy - and that he had come along at a time when I thought that I would be alone for the rest of my life.  As these thoughts swirled around in my mind, I looked at him and realized two things.  One, I would never get through all of that without either crying or saying something stupid.  And two...he already knew all of that.  Louis was a man that did not need to hear all of these things again.  There was just one thing that he needed to hear.
I took both of his hands in mine, gazed into those achingly beautiful blue eyes that I loved so much and whispered, “Will you marry me?”
The look of shock on his face spooked me for a minute, but his face quickly morphed into the hugest smile I have ever seen on a person’s face.  He picked me up, squeezed me within an inch of my life and twirled me around for what seemed like ten minutes. 
When he finally put me down, he held my face in his hands and kissed me gently on the lips.  He then leaned his forehead against mine and ran his hands down my back.
“You have made me the happiest man in the entire world.”  He was breathless and could not stop smiling.  It was absolutely adorable.
“Well, are you going to answer my question?”  I grinned at him.
He laughed.  “Yes! Yes! Yes!  I will marry you.”  He picked me up and twirled me around again.
When he put me down, I reached into my bag and pulled out the ring.  “OK, then.  You will need to put this on my finger to make it official.”
He took the ring from me and looked at it.  He then cocked his head to the side and looked at me.  I laughed nervously.  “It is just a prototype.  I wanted to have something on hand for this evening.”  Maybe this was a stupid idea...
“A prototype?”
“You know, just a model of a ring that I might like....” I trailed off, wondering if I had totally ruined this.
He looked at me again.  “It’s fairly large.  Is this what you want me to buy for you?”
My hands flew to my face.  “I’m so sorry!  There isn’t a lot of choice when it comes to costume engagement rings.  All of the ones that I found were about this size.  I just chose the shape and general style that I liked.”
He laughed and pulled my hands down from my face.  “Syd, I was just kidding.  Though I think that we will have to go a bit smaller than this.  French companies don’t pay as much as American companies.”
I smiled and looked up at him.  “I don’t care how big it is.  I am just happy that you said yes.”  So that was MOSTLY true.  We could always upgrade later....

(Excerpt from French Twist by Glynis Astie, Copyright 2013.)

As for the elements of the proposal that were fictitious, tune in next week for further details!

Why You Should "Get Down" When You're Down

There are just some days when you feel like you should not have gotten out of bed.  You know, the kind of day when every SINGLE thing goes wrong?  You wake up exhausted, burn breakfast, forget to send your child’s lunch with him/her to school, drop every item that you pick up and cannot manage to accomplish any task that you undertake.  Try as you might, you are not able to escape the impending cloud of doom that is hanging over your head and the inevitable result is that you are in a mood so foul that the slightest provocation will result in serious injury to innocent bystanders.

So, what do you do?  What could possibly tame the insane shrew that you have become?  And most importantly, how do you save your poor innocent children from your fiery wrath?  The answer is pure and simple:  it’s time to “get down.”  When I realize that my inner Hulk is about to emerge, I quickly grab my cell phone, hook it up to the kitchen speakers and choose a song that will kick my cranky ass out of its funk.

This method is complete GENIUS as far as I’m concerned.  Think about it – how can you possibly be in a bad mood when your favorite song is on?  As soon as you hear the opening bars, you can feel the tension begin to drain from your shoulders.  A few more seconds into the song, you find the corners of your mouth tugging into a smile and before you know it, your booty can’t help but start shakin’. 

It is usually about this time when my boys peek their heads around the corner to see what their crazy mother is up to in the kitchen.  (Because of the previous appearances of Demon Mommy, they had high tailed it into the living room and sought safe haven in cartoons.)  The kitchen is where all of the serious dancing takes place in my house - most likely due to the facts that a) it is the largest open space we have and b) my work in this room is NEVER done.

Some of you may have one particular song that does the trick every time, but I have a variety of go-to songs to lighten my mood.  “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves is a definite crowd pleaser and has the added benefit of being child friendly.  The eighties train continues with “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benetar, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson and “Mickey” by Tony Basil.  But no one is bigger in my house than Billy Joel, so on a bad day, you will probably find us cranking up “Only the Good Die Young”, “Keeping the Faith” or “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”  I have yet to find another songwriter who has mastered the feel good melody as well as he has.

My wonderful boys bring a whole new level of humor to the dance party in the kitchen.  They have created the most amazing musical renditions you will ever lay eyes on.  My nine-year-old gives a jaw dropping performance of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” complete with Steven Tyleresque facial expressions and wicked dance moves.  My three-year-old opts for the Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.”  Watching the pure joy on his face as he hears those unforgettable opening chords kicks Demon Mommy to the curb.  And his little swagger as he carries around his Elmo guitar and sings is PRICELESS! 

Unfortunately for my poor boys, they have inherited their mother’s tone deaf singing, but this fact only makes us smile more.  They belt out tunes at the top of their lungs followed by peals of laughter at their vocal fortitude.  Then they beg me to take video after video of their musical masterpieces to watch later that evening with popcorn.  I smile as I imagine them forming a band of their own one day.  And I enjoy each and every moment of our dance marathon secure in the knowledge that the two toy drum sets (because one just wasn’t enough) that my husband’s mother sent are safely tucked away upstairs, far, far away from our current activities.  Nothing kills your newly found good mood like loud, erratic drum beats.  Excedrin, anyone?

The great thing about saving your sanity with music is that you can partake in this method even when outside the home, because bad mood or not, your kids have places to go and people to see.  If you’re like me, the car is one of the places where my bad mood is magnified.  On a good day, I have no tolerance for obnoxious and/or careless drivers, but when I am in the depths of despair, the level of profanity that can come out of my mouth reaches a whole new level.  And swearing like a sailor is simply not a skill that I want to teach my wee ones. (Although if my father were alive, he would remind me that this is a very important part of a child’s education.  More on that topic in a later blog.)

When in the car, I rely on the wonders of satellite radio for my musical escape.  I spend most of my time with XM’s 80s on 8 and 90s on 9.  It is rare that I do not find a well-loved tune on either one of those stations and I soon find my mind casting back through an array of memories from my youth.  “Manic Monday” by the Bangles reminds me of junior high school, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel reminds me of high school, “Shoop” by Salt-N-Pepa reminds me of college and I cannot hear “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors without remembering driving down the California coast with my older sister in her Cabriolet with the top down.  Full body dancing may not be possible in a car, but your head can bop, your shoulders can shimmy and you can sing at the top of your lungs – preferably with the windows closed so as not to scare passersby.  Five minutes of good music in the car will cure whatever ails you.  Or at least put it off for an hour or two.

Now if by some odd twist of fate, I happen to be on my own (in the car or otherwise), I turn to Prince to shake my blues away.  “Darling Nikki” and “Get Off” are two of my absolute favorites, but they are not songs that my young men need to hear.  Explaining concepts like “masturbation”, “grinding”, “getting served” and “one night stands” is just not an idea that I will entertain.  So Prince is a secret that Demon Mommy keeps to herself for those days when she is actually ALONE and can listen to something a little more provocative.  And as a very wise friend of mine once said, “There is nothing that a little Prince can’t fix.”  Amen to that, Kel.

The best part is when my husband comes home at the end of the day to find the three of us shaking our rumps all over the kitchen with huge grins on our faces.  Long forgotten is the epic tantrum that my three-year-old threw over not having the precise shade of purple crayon that his heart desired and the snark that my nine-year-old sent my way for daring to ask him to do his homework in a timely manner.  We have exorcised our black moods with the power or music (and the resulting booty shaking).  If by chance, my husband has had a bad day as well, at least he is met with a picture that is guaranteed to make him laugh.  And if that is not enough to lift his spirits, you can bet that Metallica will be up next.

I think that you will find that this brilliant stress reducing technique will work 99.999999% of the time.  For the remaining 0.000001% of the time, I find that French fries and chocolate go a long way in taking the edge off…