MizB at shouldbereading.wordpress.com had an interesting trio of questions that she asks her readers. And now I’d like to ask you. To play along, just answer the following three questions:

• What are you currently reading?

• What did you recently finish reading?

• What do you think you’ll read next?

Leave your answers in a comment box, and then check back here to see what others are reading. Feel free to recommend or warn, whichever may be the case.

Sex, slugs, and accordions a surprisingly good mix

Last Wednesday I had a pleasantly unique experience at The Marsh in Berkeley. Jet Black Pearl doesn’t fit easily into a category: she is a singer, songwriter, comedian, and musician. The promotional literature describes her as “a cabaret gypsy party where Nina Hagen, Edith Piaf and Kurt Weill meet.” Her show “Sex, Slugs & Accordion” did indeed include all of the above.

She came out wearing a skirt made entirely of neckties and sang a song in French about four people in love with each other. (Or that’s what I managed to glean with my rusty French.) Trilingual, she sang another French tune with a little Dutch thrown in, but most of the performance was in English.

Charming and funny, she had a great rapport with the audience.  Her incredible range allowed her to go from low, sultry vixen to a high-pitched girly voice, depending on the mood she wanted to invoke. Deftly making use of a loop station with the touch of her foot, she harmonized with herself and provided her own background percussion. Truly a one-woman band, she not only played a mean accordion, but proved herself to be a versatile if unorthodox musician on both the flute and a toy piano.

Her material included a love song for her accordion (named Antonio), a whimsical tune about a woman with feathers for toes who falls for a man with butterflies for hands, and a sensual tale of a hermaphroditic slug. The one cover she did was Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” but this was not like any other version you’ve ever seen. Who’d have thought that this seminal ’80s dance song worked so well on the accordion?

I wish I’d seen this show earlier, so I could let people know about it before it closed. Unfortunately Wednesday was her last performance. But if she comes around again, make an effort to see this unusual talent. You won’t be sorry. She’s truly one of a kind.

Barbara Kingsolver still shines

I’m already a huge Barbara Kingsolver fan, so seeing her at Book Passage yesterday in Corte Madera really only confirmed that she continues to be worthy of my adoration.

Although the reading was scheduled to begin at 1:00, I arrived at 12:20, thinking I would be early enough to get a seat in the front section of the audience. I should have known when the parking lot was full that I was not the only Barbara Kingsolver fan able to attend one of her readings on a Thursday afternoon. The checkout line at the front was a bit long, but being an experienced Book Passage customer, I wound my way to the back register to purchase her new book there. You see, in order to receive a ticket to the event and snag a seat, one must buy the book on the premises.

After I made my purchase, I proceeded to the reading area, which was roped off and guarded by a young man who was checking for tickets. He directed me to Molly, who was handing out the golden seat reservation slips that hold your spot while you either browse or get something at their cafe.

I could see a few people scattered among the front 100 or so seats, but it still looked pretty open. That is, until I reached the front and turned around. I saw a sea of golden squares holding hostage every single folding chair in the front section. Dejected, I headed for the back forty, where tables of children’s books had been pushed aside to make room for several more rows—the seats I’d assumed were kindly set up for those who wanted to see Barbara Kingsolver but didn’t want to buy the book in order to get a good seat. Apparently these were chairs for the Kingsolver devotees who couldn’t show up at 11:30 when they began handing out the coveted seat reservation tags.

But I had an idea. I found Molly again and asked if I could sit on the side where there is a sort of carpeted shelf-like bench built into the wall beneath the windows where I know people sit during popular, crowded readings. She said she wasn’t sure if they were going to open up that area yet. I pleaded with my eyes and explained that I’d much rather sit there on the uncomfortable makeshift window seat, only a few feet away from one of my favorite authors of all times, than way back where she would only be a speck in the middle of any photo I could take with my iPhone. I think she saw the literary devotion in my eyes and told me I could reserve a spot under the window.

I walked proudly past all the cushioned folding chairs and taped my golden square to the carpeted step adjacent to the front row.

Then I walked back around to the cafe where the line was snaking out of the eating area and into the book store proper. I stood in line for ten minutes to order but realized that by the time I got my food I wouldn’t have time to eat it before the reading started. So I left the line and went back to claim my little stretch of industrial carpet, hungry but happy. I could always eat later.

Kingsolver began by thanking us because we were Californians, who she sees as leading the way in exploring solutions for many of the world’s current predicaments. Then deftly holding her book in one hand and a microphone in the other, she read the opening and a selected portion from her brand new novel Flight Behavior, which is set in her home territory of Appalachia and deals with a topic she feels is the most important issue of modern times—climate change. (I’ll review the book in a later post after I’ve had time to read it.)

She answered a wide array of questions that covered her career as a writer and her love of reading. She shared with us the very first word she ever read—orange—and the thrill she felt at unlocking its mystery. She was reading chapter books before she ever started school and she wrote her first novel when she was 13, which she claims was awful.

When one audience member thanked her for her wonderful body of work, Kingsolver graciously responded by thanking us all as readers, quipping that she just writes the book—but it’s all of us who keep independent book stores alive by buying and reading the books.

I’d say it was a team effort, and one I’m happy to participate in.

Odd beauty trend proves that truth trumps fiction once again

Chuck Shepherd never fails with his “News of the Weird” to be just that. It’s one of the first features I turn to in the morning paper. (Yes, Virginia, newspapers still do exist.)

He reports that the latest trend in Tokyo is something called “bagel head.”

Okay, just try to imagine what that could mean. I’ll wait…

No matter what you came up with, I’m betting it’s not as weird as the truth.

Apparently there are people out there injecting saline under the skin of their foreheads causing said foreheads to swell, at which point they apply pressure to the middle to create a bagel-like hole, hence “bagel head.”

I told you it was weird.

If your curiosity gets the best of you, you can read more about this odd beauty trend at Huffington Post.

200th post looking back

I had planned to write something totally different when I sat down at my laptop this morning, but I noticed that this was my 200th post, which made me think back to when I started blogging in June of 2010.

I’d wanted to share a particular poem (written incidentally by moi) recited by this adorable little British girl. The poem was “Blue,” and at the time, I was competing to get the most views, which would have won me fame, riches, and fabulous prizes. (Or maybe it was just $50—I don’t really remember.) You can still see it at http://www.smories.com/watch/blue/

Instead of steadily cranking out blog posts on For Words, I went in another direction, excerpting the middle grade novel I’d written as a separate blog. But the blog kind of went nowhere, which is also what happened to the manuscript when I tried to sell it.

So six months later, I returned to For Words, determined to write more often than once every six months. (Apparently it’s hard to get regular readers with that kind of schedule.) And since December 7, 2010, I’ve written at least once a week with occasional prolific bursts. But reaching a big round number like 200 made me a bit nostalgic for the days when I obsessively checked my stats, so I clicked on the old dashboard button and indulged in a little statistics surfing.

Of course the numbers are confounding, which is why I no longer follow them religiously. For instance, I’ve had a total of 43, 568 views in the last two years, but 10, 712 of them were on one day, July 28, 2012. And as much as I’d like to credit my writing with such a jump, it’s just not reasonable to think that my post that day was so stupendous that an extra 10,649 people got wind of it to check it out. (My average number of views per day is more like 63.)

Where my blog goes is more interesting to me. It makes sense that most of my followers and hits are in the United States, and that I get read in other English-speaking countries, such as Canada, the U.K., and Australia. What seems strange to me is that in the last six months, I’ve gotten views from Iraq, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Botswana, Malta, Lithuania, Latvia, Bahrain, and Jersey.* (I didn’t even know Jersey was its own nation—I just thought it was the setting for a reality TV series on the east coast of this country.)

Now I’m not saying I have a big fan base in Latvia et al, but I do have a follower who lives in the United Arab Emirates. I picture someone in Abu Dhabi reading about my take on a local theater performance, and I have to wonder, what is he/she getting out of this? But maybe my style is so irresistible that it trumps relevance of content.

So this is a thank you to all my followers and anyone who has ever viewed one of my posts. I’d like to be able to invite you all over for cocktails some day, but my house wouldn’t hold the people who tuned in to my blog on July 28, and it just wouldn’t be fair to pick and choose, right?

* From Wikipedia: Jersey, officially the Bailiwick of Jersey is a British Crown Dependency just off the coast of Normandy, France. The island of Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands. Although the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey are often referred to collectively as the Channel Islands, they are not a constitutional or political unit. Jersey is a self-governing parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy, with its own financial, legal and judicial systems. It is not part of the United Kingdom, and has an international identity separate from that of the UK.

Another NaNoWriMo that I’m passing up

I really wanted to take up the NaNoWriMo  challenge. I mean, how cool would that be—to write a novel in one month? It would be such a satisfying achievement. The closer I got to November, the more I thought: I’ll do it! What a great way to make myself focus on a big writing project.

But on Monday I was up late at night working on the newsletter for my writing club. And on Tuesday I realized I needed to write up an agenda for this weekend’s board meeting and send it out. And Wednesday was Halloween, so I couldn’t put off writing my Halloween post any longer.  (Because who wants to read a Halloween post the day after Halloween?) And I do have a day job after all.

And we were out of cat food.

Okay, that last excuse was not exactly related to my ability to write a novel in one month, but it was sort of the last straw that made me realize that I may not have it in me to write a novel in a month. At least not this year. Then I got depressed.

The thing is I’ve written three books and lots of poems that I haven’t published, so maybe writing another one isn’t the most productive use of my time right now. It’s true that I already shopped around the novel I thought was most promising, and it returned to me without any takers. But the book I wrote for younger kids is just languishing on my computer. I hadn’t even thought about it until a writing colleague asked about it a few weeks ago at the SCBWI conference (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, of which I am a proud member).

Why don’t I put the effort I would have put into writing every day into polishing my little chapter book and researching the best places to submit it? And while I’m at it, I might as well take another look at my humorous little gift book and revitalize efforts to find a good home for it too. And of course my poem “Blue” that did so well as a Smory would make a great picture book…

So I’ve decided that just because a bunch of people decided that November was officially Novel Writing Month doesn’t mean that I can’t declare November as Get-Off-My-Butt-And-Submit-Like-Crazy Month.

Of course I’ll have to come up with a catchier name…