Thursday, December 29, 2005


At the VC res, one of the questions asked of new advisors is whether we want to be reimbursed for printing, mail, etc. I told my students no. My theory was that they're already paying enough, so I just jokingly said that they were welcome to send me chocolates at the end of the semester instead. One of my students, AB, did! Gorgeous, delicious dark chocolates from Vermont (which is not her home state). I was wowed!

In other news, my cousin is here from NYC. We had brunch today at the South Congress Cafe, shopped at Uncommon Objects, hit the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on South Lamar (best theater in the U.S. for 2005 according to "Entertainment Weekly") to see "Narnia" (my second time, her first). What marks it above the competition, I think, is the pacing and how much the young heroes grow and change. Right now, we're taking a siesta, and then we're off to dinner at Green Pastures.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Christmas Eve and Day were quiet and lovely. GLS and I watched "The Year Without A Santa Claus" and "Teen Witch." We enjoyed quite a lot of seafood, cheese, apples, and a traditional turkey dinner with the healthier of the trimmings.

Along with some smaller items, I gave GLS an electric train and he gave me an iPOD, which is a lot easier to use when I'm walking the treadmill than my CD player. It's also less perilous if I drop it.

We had lunch yesterday with SA and her charming teacher-sis at Eastside Cafe and then dinner and crit group in Travis Peak at TC's log cabin overlooking the lake. Everyone seemed pleased with progress on my wip, especially D's dry voice, the sparking romance, etc. They advised narrowing the fantasy world, which will heighten the focus on D&T, and that makes sense.

Tonight, I look forward to the arrival of my cousin and her boyfriend. She's from Antler's, Oklahoma, by way of NYC. Post blogging, I'll be finishing my thank-you cards and tidying up the house for their arrival.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Tea Embassy

I'm officially high-speed Cyn. Perhaps you're thinking, wow, Cyn, don't you run a huge children's/YA Web site? How can you possibly have been on dial-up all this time? And the answer, my friend, is best discussed at another time. Let's just say Cyn's tech life is rosier these days.

Also, I went shopping with FH this afternoon, and we visited shops on West Lynn and, for the first time, The Tea Embassy at 9th and Rio Grande. I was enchanted. My fellow Austinites, don't miss this urban Oasis!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Before Christmas Gifts

When I was a little girl, I was absolutely enchanted by Christmas and could hardly wait to open my presents. (I'm sure you're surprised).

So my grandparents (see In My Grandmother's House) began the before-Christmas-gift tradition, which I insist on continuing to this day, by which I mean this day. GLS gave me a desk lamp from Pottery Barn, and I gave him a cheese platter inspired by an artist's palette and brush from the shop at the Art Institute in Chicago.

Comic of the Week: Birds of Prey #89; here's to finally telling Commissioner Gordon that Barbara is Batgirl/Oracle, even if he did know the first part.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Solstice, Angel, Photo Archive, Therapy

I spent a good part of the morning working on my upcoming speech for the VC winter residency:

You like me! You really like me!"--Protagonist Likeability: Does it matter? Why or why not? How to achieve it? And what to do when it's (hopefully) not possible.

I've got a good outline that addresses the major points, and I'm planning on finding examples from various books that illustrate those points. I'm going to talk it over with GLS tonight after dinner and then maybe throw out some questions for insights from the CB (collective brain), especially to those authors whose books I plan to feature.

Then I took a few hours to fiddle with the plot for my WIP. I had a couple of epiphanies, including one that came with that much-treasured, yet always elusive I'm-a-genius-the-best-writer-ever-the-world-should-bow-before-me glee. I also picked out a name for a backstory character who dies before the novel begins. Sometimes, names just come to me, but this one I had to ponder a bit. It needed to be a name that would fit a child of a certain age, certain generation, so I did a little research on popular names and one just popped out at me, based on the thematic fit.

I made the mistake of jumping from my writing onto the treadmill without a pen and Post-It notes, so once the blood was pumping and the ideas were popping, I had to either get off (thus lowering my heart rate) or chant code words so I could remember the concepts. I elected for the latter: "solstice, angel, photo archive, therapy." It worked! I was able to keep them all in my mind for the 45 minutes until I jumped off.

What else? I got a lovely query from someone interested in reprinting "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate," which appears this fall in Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005). She seemed to really *get* it, which is always so validating. I referred her to my agent.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Creative Fire

"You will be a dragon of creative fire this week. "Watch your aim."
--fortune in Greg's cookie tonight at Suzi's South

"Your ability for accomplishment will follow with success."
--fortune in my cookie tonight at Suzi's South

"Hey, can I trade?"
--me to GLS

I don't know that I either demonstrated an ability for accomplishment or aimed any creative fire, though the latter sounds more, well, fiery, but I did manage to pound out a new scene of my WIP today and got a few more ideas about where the story is headed. It felt good to write after having been so long swamped with events and grading.

I look forward to the VC residency, but I also look forward to settling in after that and really focusing on my own writing. The ideas are flowing, flowing, flowing. I need to get fiercer about protecting my own writing time. Roar!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fall Under Her Spell

"Fall under her spell."
--tagline for "Teen Witch," now available on DVD

Not enough people appreciate the cheeseball genius of "Teen Witch" (1989), which is worth renting for the rap number (it's a musical) and casting of Zelda Rubinstein ("Poltergeist") as Louise's mentor, Madame Serena, and Dick Sargent ("Bewitched") as her dad. I watched it probably a million times on HBO as a teenager, but until this week could only find it on video with Spanish subtitles (okay, that was kind of fun). But now, now, it's on DVD--can't top that!

Lunch today at Green Pastures (looks gorgeous decorated for the holidays) with DT, who brought GLS and I portraits of ourselves and (to date) mystery gift. Peahen sightings: 2!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It's Good To Be Queen

"It's Good To Be Queen!"
--printed on a mug TLS sent me this week

I've finished grading my last VC packet and keying out the semester evaluations. All zoom away tomorrow morning. Indulging in that happy post-finals feeling. Ahhh!

Still Busy

Yesterday, I answered some fan mail from third graders in San Diego, shopped and autographed stock at BookPeople, started importing my online lesson plans into various teacher guide sites, had dinner at Musashino, and had cocoa at the Four Seasons lobby lounge.

I'm hopeful to finish grading my last VC packet, which is supposed to arrive today, so I can have some time off over the holidays. But at the moment, I'm hopping on the treadmill.

Book I'm Reading: The Misadventures of Maude March by Audrey Couloumbis (Random House, 2005).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Last night, GLS and I had dinner at Uchi and saw "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" at the Alamo Draft House Cinema on South Lamar (much we like with did with "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" last weekend).

I haven't read the book but found the latest Harry Potter installment an enjoyable film. No one grew or changed except Dumbledore, but the Hogwarts faculty and Hermione were well developed as was the external arc, despite the pacing. I'm assuming that the fantasy elements, like the winged horses, that were extraneous in the film play a role in the books, which tempts me to try reading them again. I'm curious as to where the magic comes from. It's energy, yes? So, what is its price? Though clearly perilous, none of the users seemed tired by invoking it. My only quibble is with the use (in this case overuse) of eavesdropping as a plot device, though perhaps that too can be excused because the invisibility cloak is apparently one of Harry's tools.

In any case, I recommend seeing the movie at the theater because the effects were first rate, though if you're on a budget and must pick between it and "Narnia," by all means, go to "Narnia."

I'm spending the weekend finishing grading my VC students' last packets.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What Would Aslan Do?

"What would Aslan do?"
--spotted on a T-shirt at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
South Lamar, Austin, TX

What a wonderful weekend! GLS and I had original planned to vacation in Savannah this month, but that fell through, so we decided to vacation locally for a couple of days instead.

Right after Thanksgiving, we tried to get reservations at the Hotel San Jose on South Congress only to find it already booked solid for the month. So, after some reflection, we elected the Omni Hotel downtown instead. It was just up the hill from The State Theater, which was our Friday night destination.

We checked in as soon as we could--just after three o'clock and then explored the place. The Omni is a 1980s construction modern-style hotel--lots of glass, soaring atrium, pool on the roof. After changing clothes, we struck out into the city and the chilly 20-something-degree wind. We first swung by the bar at the Stephen F. Austin, a historical hotel, for a tempura sushi roll (so-so roll), and then continued onto Shoreline Grill on Lake Travis for dinner. I highly recommend the tempura lobster tail and seared sea scallops.

The main event, though, wasn't dinner but theater. We buzzed up Congress for the evening showing of "Humbug: A Christmas Carol," which has been extended through Dec. 22. The State Theater doesn't have the historic majesty of her sister, The Paramount, but it is intimate, confortable, and the tickets were a steal. The cast was small but outstanding, and I thoroughly enjoyed the production, though it did seem a tad rushed. I wonder how it might've held up for someone not familiar with the story. Next to me, a mother-and-daughter (maybe age 7) quietly whispered now and then through the production as mom answered burning questions. My favorite: "Is that a real ghost?" Mom: "Of course it is." Daughter: "Cool." Very spooky family! Anyway, the whole effect reminded me of the grandfather-grandson intermissions in "The Princess Bride." I was charmed.

Saturday brought even more fun, and the temperature graciously rose to the 50s and 60s. We had breakfast at the hotel (for better migas, try Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Boulevard), and then I indulged in a two hour "relaxation body treatment package" at the hotel spa (which is really just a tiny room on the 20th floor). It consisted of a gentle aromatherapy and jojoba oil massage and wrap, followed by an invigorating salt foot scrub, foot reflexology and soothing peppermint foot massage, followed by a Swedish massage. (A much better total treatment than my last at the Hill Country Hyatt, by the way). By the end, I felt like happy JELLO.

That afternoon, GLS and I hit the South Congress Cafe for lunch, and I enjoyed both my tomato soup with gorgonzola cheese and my shrimp cesar salad. We went from there to the U.T. Longhorns fan shop below the U.T. Club because GLS was interested in buying garb commemorating the football team going to the Rose Bowl (football fan that I am (cough), this was the first I'd heard of it). But you know, I'm happy that he's happy (and even happier that he's not the kind of guy who routinely plants himself in front of a TV and watches football).

From there, we walked to the Texas Memorial History Museum of Science and History (the one on campus as opposed the big, new Bob Bullock one near the Capitol). The exhibits could've been better designed (financing would no doubt help), but I really enjoyed myself. The building is art deco, which reminded me of the Chicago museum campus, and I'm just a sucker for a huge dinosaur skeleton. Or for that matter, for a tiny one. Though school groups zoom through fairly regularly, I'm sure, it seemed somewhat like a hidden gem. Great place to bring kids, too (not that we have any, but we're kid friendly).

Afterward, GLS and I drove back downtown to the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar at the Austin Music Hall. It was fun, and I loved the crowd, music, and excitement, but I did notice that most of the same vendors were there as last year and in mostly the same spots.

No matter, by that time, I was already psyched about our evening plans. We went back to the hotel to change and then had dinner at Uchi, which is one of the best sushi restaurants in Austin. The actual fish at Musashino's is better, and the cuts are more generous. But Uchi has an upscale (as opposed to tiki bar) atmosphere, and the sort of bells-and-whistles menu items are more inventive. I especially enjoyed the Avo Bake, though to be fair it's served at Musashino's, too, and some of the cooked fish appetizers.

But the highlight of the evening was seeing "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" at the new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on South Lamar, which is hands-down the best place on earth to see a movie. We'd pre-ordered tickets online, which was good because all but the 10 p.m. show had sold out. Imagine: you walk in a fast-moving line to the entrance of the theater, which has been reconfigured as the door to a wardrobe, make your way through hanging coats, and then a forest of Christmas trees on a floor covered in fake snow. Then you enter the theater with it's plush seats and generous arm rests, taking your place behind a long wooden table, where you are greeted by a charming and enthusiastic waitress. Ours brought us, upon request two wine glasses, a bottle of opened Pinot Noir, and a real (not cardboard) bowl of hot, fluffy, fresh popcorn, topped with real butter. We could've also ordered frome the special Narnia-related menu, but of course we'd just had dinner.

As for the film itself, I'll just say that it exceeded my expectations and I can't wait to see it at the theater again. In addition to being a good retelling, well acted, the cinematography was gorgeous!

And that was basically it! We had brunch the next day at Hyde Park Bar & Grill (for a better omlette, try the previously mentioned South Congress Cafe), and now, here I am blogging it up for my spookycyn readers. This week will be a hard-working one for me, but I'm facing it all well rested and in excellent spirits!

Spooky News & Links

Speaking of "Humbug: A Christmas Carol," for those who missed my mention of it on cynsations, I'd like to mention that Esme Raji Codell's new picture book retelling, Hanukkah, Schmanukkah, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Hyperion, 2005) is one of my favorite books this winter!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Santa Knows art

Yesterday, my Dutton editor MM sent GLS and I gifs of some of the color art for our 06 pb Santa Knows. Talk about fun! The workshop is very busy in an almost RS kind of way, and the details are absolutely hysterical. We agreed that it was exactly the kind of a book that as kids we would've spent hours pouring over. As opposed to, you know, cough, now...! SB is a yuletide genius!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

White House Christmas

GLS and I watched "A White House Christmas" on HGTV last night, which reminded me of the breakfast I had there at the Second National Book Festival. One regret: I should've gotten over my star-struck shy self and introduced myself to VD.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Call Me "Sofia"

Lunch today with MS at Houston's on Anderson Lane. Finally got to try the chicken-shrimp gumbo; ask for it with brown rice ahead of time and save yourself (and the waiter) some trouble.

Bought massive Sofia-Loren-esque sunglasses at Emerald's on North Lamar (across the street from BookPeople. (If you decline a bag 10 times, they'll give you a 20 percent off discount on your next purchase).

Tomorrow, Daya. Trying to take it easy before the VC res in January.

Spooky Links

An Interview with Kinky Friedman from Bookslut.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Healthy Kitty

My bruiser Chicago alpha cat Mercury has been on a special diet because he had crystals in his bladder, which led to all kinds of unpleasantness (as well they would for anyone). But the good news today is that his follow-up ultrasound revealed that they have all dissolved.

So, the kitty is in the clear, though we'll continue the diet and monitoring, and in no immediate danger of needing scary surgery. Yahoo!

I'm especially grateful to my amazing home-visit vet, who by the way, is the daughter of PM.

In other news, I may actually have a revision concept for the pb mss I've been stuck on. I plan to talk to GLS about it tonight at dinner.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lunching Here, Lunching There...

Enjoyed lunch with GLS and LL yesterday at the new Italian cafe on South Congress next door to Vespaio, which I believe is owned by the same people. My apologies for not recalling the name. In any case, I had an excellent Cesar salad with mushrooms on the side.

And we had another lovely lunch today with JFH, KA, and a pal from San Antonio at The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center cafe. I had the Greek salad, which was quite good.

Both were outstanding for atmosphere and company.

I have FH and BY coming over later today for wine, salmon, and cheese (or in FH's case, probably tea, salmon, and cheese), but I'm going to take advantage of the time window to read more of the new release holiday picture books.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Winding Down

I'm in the process of finalizing preparation for Writing the YA Novel, a workshop I'll be leading tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. at the B&N Westlake (just outside central Austin).

Mostly I need to tweak the outline, review it with GLS, and print up the extra handouts. These things are always a tad tricky because you have absolute newbies and published folks. We'll try to offer what we can to both. I look forward to it.

That's my last event of 2005, which is thrilling. January will bring the winter residency at VC, which will be great, and then other than grading and a couple of local gigs, I'll be able to concentrate on my writing for a nice, long, (mostly) uninterrupted stretch.