Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Year of Reading

Although I am all caught up on my Harry Potter, my list has fallen short of last year's tally. I don't believe I will finish another today so here it is. Currently in the works are Old School by Tobias Wolff, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and After This by Alice McDermott. I suspect the only book I will complete today is Russell the Sheep, which will be my fourth reading of it this week. Happy New Year!

2006 Reading List
1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close By Jonathan Safran Foer
2. The Final Solution By Michael Chabon
3. Dear Zoe By Philip Beard
4. Drives Like a Dream by Porter Shreve
5. She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel
6. Parched by Heather King
7. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
8. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
9. A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
10. The Tender Bar
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
12. The Beans of Egypt, Maine
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
14. Stink and the Incredible Supergalatic Jawbreaker
15. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
16. The Reader by Bernard Schlink
17. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
18. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
19. The Miracluous Journey of Edward Tulane
20. Ella Enchanted
21. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
22. A Widow for One Year by John Irving
23. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
24. Blister by Susan Shreve
25. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
26. A Single Shard
27. 84 Charing Cross by Helen Hanff
28. Wait for Me by Susan Shreve
29. A Man Called Cash
30. The Stolen Child
31. Ordinary Love and Good Will by Jane Smiley
32. Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
33. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
34. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
35. Fun Home
36. The Three Martini Playdate
37. The Body by Stephen King
38. The Frequency of Souls by Mary Kay Zuravleff
39. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
40. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
41. Everyman by Philip Roth
42. Miss American Pie
43. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
44. The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas 2006

Kooky kids with their cousins

Monday, December 18, 2006

Top Five Books for 2006

Everyone (Washington Post, NYT) is doing their list so I will do mine. Here are my five favorite books from what I read this year.

1. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
2. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
3. Miss American Pie by Margaret Sartor
4. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
5. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

Friday, December 01, 2006

Number 8

Andrew in his VT lacrosse garb. He reports that he will get to wear No. 8 this season, which was his number in high school. Lacrosse season doesn't begin until spring but they are already practicing and playing in scrimmages.

Friday, November 17, 2006

It's Over

The first pass of the book is done. I turned it in on November 8. It has already been read by my classmates and is currently being read by a few friends. It was a wonderful experience having people talk about my book and the characters like it was a real book. Especially after so many weeks of writing alone. Art was extremely helpful that last week and took on things so I could have the time to do a quick proof and come up with an ending. It is still riddled with errors, but I am at least a revision away from worrying about that.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ghoulish Night

My stylist will be wearing this fashionable vampire costume tonight. Garrett will be a ninja...again. He saves us lots of money in the costume department. Andrew, well, he will likely be a some college party. Or studying for an exam. Or both.

Thought for Today:

“There are three rules for writing the novel.
Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

—Somerset Maugham

Rest in Peace

My electric pencil sharpener has died. I don't think my family realizes how serious a loss this is. They don't appreciate the beauty of a finely turned pencil point. Only a writer or editor could do that. I tried my trusty Target for a new one, but their selection did not match the quality I was used to. So I will head to Office Depot or a similar spot.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Touching Sharks and Other Pursuits of Happiness

As part of our mad dash to Philadelphia this weekend to see Aunt Noreen and the rest of the clan, we went to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, right over the bridge. Who knew this place existed?

I can't believe we haven't gone before. We literally closed the place. Garrett (Mr. Short Arms) made three runs at the sand sharks that they let you pet. He still says he didn't touch Jake, the younger shark, but we are pretty sure he did. The best thing was the shark tunnel in which you are surrounded by water and sharks on this one walkway. Garrett did not want to go to the haunted prison. We are still holding that against him.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More Than Halfway

Yes, we are more than halfway through the novel. As of Tuesday night, we were at 24,208 words. At 40,000 words, we must type the words The End and duplicate it for the professor and the lucky people in our noveling group.

We have also found that noveling or writing in general for large amounts of time can make you feel insane. When you figure out something about your novel or the characters in your novel, you become very excited and want to share the news--which you really can't...because novels are not about REAL PEOPLE so even if you discover that he was secretly in love with her and has been for all this time, NO ONE CARES because he is not a real person. He is an imaginary person who ONLY YOU KNOW. So go back to your room and write.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Most Novelists Look Like This

See the happy woman typing away. That's what it is like to write a book. You just sit in a well-lit place in your perky author outfit and type and type and type until one of your arms cramps up (usually the right one).

She doesn't even need a glass of red wine to accompany her noveling. Or to make a date with her husband just to have a little adult interaction. She's an amazing novel-writing machine.

Here in the real world: The novel has passed 12,000 words, but I am behind on my word count so far this week. Thanks goodness they haven't started showing new episodes of Medium yet. Phew. I am supposed to have 16,000 words by Wednesday. By October 4, I will at 20,000--that's the half way point.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

I'd Rather Be...Noveling?

What you have heard is true. I did sign up for a class called "Writing Short Novels." Yes, I will need to have completed a short novel by
Thanksgiving. Yes, it is a completely new project for me. I recently sat down with myself (the reporter) to discuss the project.

Me: So, how long is this novel supposed to be?

Me: 40,000 words, which is kind of short. We are to write 4,000 words a week--and the teacher checks it. After 10 weeks, we should have 40,000 or more.

Me: The teacher checks it?

Me: Yep, part of the syllabus is that you keep your novel backed up on a flash drive. I already had a flash drive. Now I have an excuse to wear it. Our teacher, the novelist Mary Kay Zuravleff, even brought in beads and silk cords to decorate the drives. I used my own beads from home. She wants to make sure no one falls behind or no one's dog eats their novel.

Me: So you started a whole new book?

Me: Yes, actually I was really torn. I actually have three ideas that are vying for my attention. Four even. I settled on this one for superstitious reasons, which I will keep to myself until it is done.

Me: Is there anything that you can tell us about it?

Me: Well, it is set in 1978. That was something Mary Kay suggested to another student, but it intrigued me. So I have been stocking up my iTunes with music from the 1970s: Old Springsteen, Heart, Van Halen, Fleetwood Mac... I haven't been able to located any Benatar on CD yet.

Me: How's the writing going?

Me: Surprisingly well. The novel is only about 25 pages long so far so it hasn't had the opportunity to spin out of control yet.

Me: Can we check back with you in the future?

Me: I would be insulted if you didn't.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Our cousin Jorja is in town for a visit and the kids are very excited to see her. The first day of school went well, except Garrett decided he would rather pack his lunch today. Not a big fan of the school cafeteria. He did say that the chocolate milk wasn't bad. The best part of yesterday was that it was a "free" day, which apparently means they weren't expected to learn a thing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

First Day of School

Everyone got off to school ok despite the constant rain. The bus driver was late so we had lots of time to ponder what the new day was going to be like. Garrett seemed very calm, but admitted to one of our neighbors at the bus stop that he was still scared. We took pictures inside. We will try to get a shot of the group when the weather improves.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

One Poor Correspondent

I had wanted to load more photos, but I am not having any luck. Breaking news...Garrett lost another tooth, but still doesn't want to let the tooth fairy take it. Claudia is looking forward to her big end of the summer field trip. On August 30, her group at camp is going to Water Country USA. They are very excited. We are busy getting ready for school and for Garrett's belated birthday party. Garrett's fervent wish was for a fishing birthday. His dad said that when he is middle-aged he can go fishing with his buddies for his birthday. Garrett couldn't wait that long so it will be happening on Saturday. Worms are involved, but fortunately since the fishermen are so young, we don't need licenses.

This guy won't be coming with us, but the setting will be similar.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dressed to Drill

Home improvements are cranking at our house. The finished basement has to be ready for football season or so we hear. As a result, we have increased our supply of bandages. They are going like hotcakes.

Down on the Farm

Claudia did not need to touch the goat yesterday, but she did seem interested in milking a cow today. We will see how it goes. She is looking forward to the hayride and playing in the creek later this week. They are also making dream catchers, which we hope Claudia will in turn show the family how to do.

Tonight: We are determined to go to the pool. Last night was yet another weeknight we were turned away for thunder they allegedly heard. We are showing up again tonight. Life guards and storm clouds, beware.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Goat Milking?

Claudia is down on the farm this week. Today: Goat milking. She made a slight face when she heard what today's festivities included, but she cheered up when she heard they would be making their own ice cream to eat this afternoon (not with the goat's milk). We will see how our chic daughter fares on the farm.

Toothless on Meath Drive

That old tooth fairy is back. Garrett has jumped into the tooth-losing game and received a dollar for his efforts. It took him three days to be willing to give the tooth up for potential profit. The fairy left a dollar--on time this time, but alas she was still a little sloppy on the delivery. Garrett insists he heard something and saw her wings. Hopefully she will improve as Mr. G has another loose tooth and Claudia has two loose front teeth. It is getting costly.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Cute as a Bug's Ear

This is Claudia and two of her classmates before their big musical presentation on Friday. What you see here are two butterflies and a ladybug. Garrett also graduated on Friday, but we have no photos of that as Colleen messed up the digital camera.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Devil's Day

Garrett turned six on 06-06-06 and it went ok. I did get one e-mail warning suggesting that I avoid balconies that day, but his birthday went off with a hitch. We got some GREAT presents. From his Aunt Amy and Uncle Ashley, he got a pop up dinosaur book and this foam rocket launcher. They spent a good part of last night launching rockets in the yard...which of course kept getting caught in the many that kept the Dad busy too.

Garrett also got a Lego Batmobile that we have already assembled. That was the Mom's job. She is going to add Lego assembly to her resume.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Summer Reading

In spite of the fact that I did not teach this spring, my reading list has not grown. Perhaps it was those four dissertations I edited. Hmmm. Regardless, here it is...

2006 Reading List
1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close By Jonathan Safran Foer
2. The Final Solution By Michael Chabon
3. Dear Zoe By Philip Beard
4. Drives Like a Dream by Porter Shreve
5. She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel
6. Parched by Heather King
7. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
8. The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
9. A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
10. The Tender Bar
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
12. The Beans of Egypt, Maine
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
14. Stink and the Incredible Supergalatic Jawbreaker
15. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
16. The Reader by Bernard Schlink
17. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
18. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
19. The Miraclous Journey of Edward Tulane

As you can see I'm all caught up on my Harry Potter. The last book is supposed to be out July 7, 2007. A whole year to go.

Also, the list does not reflect the HUGE number of Magic Treehouse books I've read with Garrett this year. We also read the whole Mr. Putter and Tabby series.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Andrew has been playing lacrosse for Virginia Tech this year. They are having a very successful season so far.

March Madness, April Gladness

You may have heard about the George Mason University Patriots and their NCAA run. Sports were big in the month of March at the Rich household. In fact, the children are still playing basketball just about every day.

Claudia celebrated her 7th birthday last night with a game of Sorry. She is expecting a rematch tonight.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Why I Won't Be Nominated for an Oscar This Year

When I was in college, I made a film. It wasn’t the kind of film you might be thinking of, but it is equally embarrassing. Called "Beginnings," it was a mercifully short "relationship" film. I have a video copy of it, presented to me by the director/producer/screenwriter. It sits on a shelf with my other videos, including one of my own short films. All are collecting dust.

I really don't remember how I came to meet filmmaker David ______. I think he may have placed an ad looking for actors. I don't know that you could honestly call him a filmmaker then; he was a guy with big dreams, a couple lights, some rented equipment, and a really awful script.

I didn't have to audition. A quick summary of my acting credits over the phone seemed to suffice. The first time that I met David on campus at Virginia Commonwealth University, he gave me a copy of the script. At our second meeting I told him it was awful. After that, we began meeting regularly in a lounge area on the second floor of the library, where I would give him my “notes.” I had scribbled all over the manuscript and rewritten many of the lines. One whole scene, I told him, simply had to go.

"It just doesn't make sense," I said. "I've reread it a couple times and I can't make heads or tails out of their gibberish."

"They have their own code, their own shorthand, their own language," he replied somewhat shyly.

"Their own language?" I asked.

"It is something an old girlfriend and I used to do," he said. "We would talk in code so no one else could follow our conversation."

"Hmmm. Well, the audience isn't going to be able to follow it either," I said. "If I can't pick up the code when reading it, how is an audience going to catch it in a scene that runs a minute and a half?"

See, I was already becoming a prima donna. There is just something about the whole genre that makes people act strangely. But David willingly made the changes, including adding some scenes that I suggested to replace the ones I found unworkable. One thing that remained was the stuffed animal that is prominent in several scenes. If the animal was meant to be some kind of metaphor for the relationship, its message was lost on me. David was never able to clearly explain to me the significance of the brown bear.

Even then, years before my MFA in fiction, I understood that if you were going to place something before the viewer--and call attention to it--it should contribute to the story. These subtleties were lost on David. We went through several more revisions before the script was something I was willing to say aloud and give up my weekends to shoot.

In my pre-production meetings with David, I found out a great deal about him, definitely more than I needed, or wanted, to know. At least 10 years my senior, he had studied engineering at UVA before graduating and discovering that he wasn't an engineer. Deep down inside, he was actually…well, Francis Ford Coppola. Or so he hoped. He had black hair and a full beard that was only starting to become salted. He always wore a navy Greek fisherman's cap and a jean jacket.

I believe that I met him relatively early in his cinematic journey. His lack of knowledge about certain films in particular and the genre in general startled and often annoyed me.

"The film will have piano music in the background," he told me at one of our meetings. "Something soft and random. Like the music in Ordinary People."

"That's a classical piece," I said.

"What is?"

"The music in Ordinary People. It is a classical piece called Canon in D."

"Oh. Well, this is going to be original," he said. "My brother is going to write it. He plays the keyboards."

We had many conversations that went just this way. I found a number of them exasperating. Although I was only a college sophomore, I had already spent years watching and analyzing plays and movies. I had written major college papers on Elia Kazan and Paul Schrader. I could even tell you who won Best Picture in 1965.

I always wanted to go to film school, but didn't have the guts or the resources. Filmmaking costs a lot of money. The one 8mm film that sits on my shelf collecting dust cost more than $75 to produce and is only about 10 minutes long.

To be a journalism major, you just needed a typewriter and some paper. So journalism is what I majored in. But I was careful when choosing a college to find one that also had an art school offering filmmaking so that I could take classes.

David wasn't technically in film school either. He was "dabbling," taking the classes he thought he needed--a film class here, a directing class there. He was getting credit for the movie we were making as an independent study.

My leading man in "Beginnings" was a guy named Wade who was pursuing graduate studies in theater. Like David he was also already experiencing a "career" change. Having majored in something else as an undergraduate, he was, at the time I knew him, giving acting his very best shot. He had an agent and would do just about anything to add line to his resume, including print advertising and dancing the polka in the beer garden at Busch Gardens. I am fairly certain he was never embarrassed by "Beginnings."

We shot most of the film in Wade's apartment, and I was shocked by how much time it took to accomplish so little. I had learned in high school that I really wasn't cut out for stage work. After weeks of rehearsals, I was pretty much sick of the play I was in by the time we made it through opening night. I thought acting in a film would be more creative. It actually requires an enormous amount of patience. There is lighting to contend with, problems with setting the camera's depth of field, and actors who can't seem to remember their lines.

This is why Hollywood uses stand-ins. These stand-ins are the people who are tortured for minutes, sometimes hours, on end while the million dollar stars relax their trailers. Walk here. Now stop, mark the floor. Go back, and walk it again. It is mind-numbingly tedious.

Because of David's inexperience--and the fact that we were the cast and the crew--it probably took longer than it normally should have. As for Wade's inability to learn his lines, let's just say that graduate acting classes at VCU must've been pretty time consuming. There are places in the film where I have far more camera time than I should have simply because Wade is reading from his script off camera. By the fourth or fifth take, he would've mastered some of the lines simply out of repetition and David was able to finally reset the lights to get him on camera "acting" the lines.

By the time we finally “wrapped” filming, David was already talking about another collaboration. This time he wanted me to write the script, which was to be based on some of my fiction. I can still remember a disagreement we had about the content.

"It is a little bit Saturday Night Fever, a little bit Diner," I told him.

"What?" he said. "Saturday Night Fever is a movie about disco music."

"No, it's not. Have you ever seen it?" I'm sure my facial expression conveyed my disgust.

Despite our creative differences, David had big plans for the film--he was working on a budget and looking for a full-time job so that he could pull together the funds to shoot the film. He expected me to spend the summer hashing out a script. We would have monthly critiques, but this time it would be me making the revisions.

It was spring, the end of the semester, and I was feeling a lot of pressure to plan the rest of my year around this yet unnamed, unwritten project. I was also very eager to see Beginnings. So I attended the screening that David set up for his instructor. I even took along my boyfriend, figuring he deserved to see how I'd spent all those Saturdays.

I'm not sure what I was expecting. I know that I wasn't expecting it to be brilliant. The script was weak at best. I guess I was hoping to see that David did indeed have a gift--maybe a way with lighting, a unique visual perspective.

The instructor, who I had also taken a film class with, gave a running commentary in the dark, which didn't help matters. "Oh, that's a nice shot…. I like the angle of that…. Oh, now that shot, that was really awful."

When it was over, his instructor was confused. She turned to David. "I don't understand who the other woman was. How does she tie in?"

"There's only one woman in the film," said David.

She pondered this for a second. "Just one woman," she repeated.

I needed to get out of there and fast. "Beginnings" was truly the right name for it. It was a beginner film, a practice film. Have people walk and talk, set up lights, pan left, zoom in--there you go, a movie. It was probably good practice for all of us. But I knew that I couldn't do another film with him. I couldn't invest myself and devote more time to a project than I had with this one, and risk a similar outcome.

David sensed my disappointment. He tried to assure me that the next one would be different, but even he didn't seem convinced. Ultimately it was fairly easy to extricate myself from the new project.

I ran into him on campus that fall and he told me he had just received great news: "Beginnings" had been accepted into a film festival in Ann Arbor. That's great, I told him, and wished him well. Then I went to the pay phone across the street and called my mother long distance with my calling card.

"There are people laughing at me in Ann Arbor," I cried.

"They're not laughing at you," she said, but that's her job.

I guess I had hoped the film would disappear. And it did, just not as quickly as I had hoped. In the last 20 years, I have only watched "Beginnings" a handful of times. The last time was because my husband wanted to see it. I told him he could, if he could handle the rules:

Rule #1--No sound. I can't bear to hear it, especially not my own voice.

Rule #2--I hold the remote and get to forward through any scenes that are unbearable to me (about three).

Rule #3--Viewers must endure my running commentary: "Look at how thin I was, and blonde…. I still have that coat…and that stuffed animal."

In 1993 David won a special jury award at the Sundance Film Festival for a film called Lillian. In 1999, Roger Ebert was so taken by his film Thirteen at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville that he devoted an entire column to David. This attention led to David winning the fifth annual Movado Someone to Watch Award, which comes with a $20,000 prize, also in 1999. He is known for using non-actors.

When I began writing this piece, I got online to find the last name of the film teacher I only remembered as Joan. I found it and she is still teaching at VCU. Much to my surprise, so is David who after years of dabbling earned his M.F.A. in film at VCU.

In the intervening years, I've been a newspaper reporter, an advertising manager, a magazine editor, and a fiction writer. David is still making films, one at a time, doing the best he can. For the film that so dazzled Ebert, David is listed as director, writer, and cinematographer. Oh, yeah, and his brother is still writing his musical scores.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Big Weekend at the Rich Ranch

It was a big weekend at our house. Garrett has started taking karate and earned his white belt over the weekend. He is very excited and took it to school with him today.

Also, Andrew played in his first Virginia Tech lacrosse game this weekend. It was at Clemson and we are still waiting to hear the results. This weekend he heads out to La Jolla, California, for three games.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Can you hear me now?

Well, I guess not. At the Rich ranch, we are still dealing with the flu blues. Art had a major relapse over the weekend and now has two perforated ear drums. The house is in disarray. Garrett is on a major Max and Ruby bender. But Claudia did really well with her first book report. I am hoping we will be able to a light at the end of the tunnel this weekend.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

La La Lacrosse

Andrew tried to come home this weekend to Flu House, but wasn't able to get a ride. That was probably our last chance to see him this semester and he has begun conditioning for lacrosse. Almost all the games are away games this spring, including spring break in California. We hope to catch Andrew in that VT uniform about the end of March.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I Heart Valentines, Not

Both kids missed their valentine parties at school. And we've concluded that no one really loves Andrew. His lame mother did not even send him a candy care package. Slacker!

Flu Blues

Boy, have we've been sick. In true Olympic fashion, we have categorized the symptoms. Claudia takes the gold in the fever category with a high of 104.1. No one chose to compete with Garrett is the vomiting category although we all have felt pretty nauseated. I myself had to walk out of a family room screening of Rugrats in Paris. Those kids are just gross. My stomach is rolling just thinking about it.

No one has had much of an appetite, but potato chips and bottled water are going like hot cakes.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Funny but Sad

I really enjoyed Haven Kimmel's sequel to A Girl Named Zippy. This family is hilarious, but I was left wondering about the neglect. There is one line in the memoir where she says that she doesn't blame her mom for not washing her clothes or doing other things because they didn't have any running water etc. (and of course that was her dad's fault), but I blame her mom. She should've gotten up off the couch before it was time to go to class.

Royal Person of the Week

Garrett is the royal person of the week in his class. It is kind of like King for the Day. He prepared a poster and put his brother Andrew in two categories: under Friends and Family. The cat also received prominent display.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Fa la la la Oh I'm Sorry That's All We Have Time For

Reasons to Take Down That Christmas Tree on Jan. 1

1. You already got your money's worth out of the $90 Blue Spruce
2. The pitter patter of needles dropping in the night is keeping you awake.
3. The kids look under the tree every morning just in case there was something they overlooked on The Day.
4. A gangle of squirrels has gathered on the porch eyeballing the tree as it is the only tree on the property they haven't built a nest in.
5. Everyone else already dragged their tree to the curb

6. You are just dying to crack open those boxes of Martin Luther King decorations.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I love gift cards--giving them and getting them. But I want to know what the person used the gift card for, especially if it is a Barnes and Noble or Borders gift card. It always makes me think.

Andrew used his Borders gift card to buy a book on physics and promptly plopped down to enjoy it. It is a book I wouldn't have thought to get him. Borders should have a gift registry like Penney's and Target does.