Monday, January 23, 2012

Things You Find Out When You Think About Things You Wouldn't Be Thinking About If You Had Other Things To Think About

For some reason this afternoon I started thinking about the first names of the presidents of the United States.

I wasn't even thinking about Mitt or Newt. Honest. I try not to think about them every chance I get.

No, I think I was thinking about Franklin Pierce, although I have no idea why, since I doubt I've ever thought about him except maybe in 11th grade history, taught by the worst and most memorable teacher I ever had, Big Mrs. White. Although to be honest about it, probably the only thing I remember from 11th grade history was Big Mrs. White (I'm told Little Mrs. White was an excellent teacher).

Back to Franklin Pierce. I thought about him and how ironic it was that there was another president named Franklin, and then I started thinking about all the different first names presidents of the United States have had, and the next thing I knew, I was off to Wikipedia, making a list.

It turns out (thank you Wikipedia) that there have been 43 guys who at some point or another were presidents of you know where. Out of these 43 guys, 20 of them had names unique unto themselves. And it would be 22, or more than half, if Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson weren't both named Thomas.

In case you're wondering, James is the most common first name, with a big bouncing 6 and then there's John with 4 and George and William tied with 3, and Thomas and Andrew and of course Franklin at 2.

We've had more presidents named Millard than we've had named Matthew, Mark, Luke, Peter, Paul or Mary. One Grover (elected twice) but no Robert. Yes to Dwight, no to David. Hooray for Harry, but hisses for Henry (unless you think of William Henry Harrison as having two first names and I don't). Hello Chester, goodbye Charlie.

Heck. Even if Ulysses Grant got elected president under his original first name, Hiram, he'd still be the only Simon. No Harolds or Harveys.

(We will not discuss the lack of Marys and Lindas and Susans and Hilarys, or why there's a Gerald but no Geraldine, since I choose not to screech in public).

Because of my intellectual curiosity (a friend of mine told me I had that, and I've been enchanted by the thought ever since), I decided to figure out if this quirky name business was more a recent development (in my admittedly lengthy life, there've been 7 presidents with names all their own, and 4 that had to share, of which, sadly, 2 were George). So I whipped out my cute little calculator (kept by the desk so I can determine how much of my money goes to me and how much to my agent), and I subtracted 1789 (our first George) from 2012 (the one and only Barack). I got 223 (I know because I just did again to make sure). I divided it by 2, which is 111.5, in case you're too lazy to get your own calculator.

Now comes the truly terrifying part. I subtracted that 111.5 from 2012, and discovered that the United States Of America reached the halfway mark in presidents in 1900.

I know the Declaration of Independence was 1776, and if you use that as a starting off point, then the halfway mark is securely in the 19th century, where it belongs. But if you scoff at the Revolution and those silly Articles of Confederation, which I never actually learned about because Big Mrs. White didn't teach us that stuff, then the halfway mark is 1900, the very start of the very century at least one of us was born in.

A little more than half (11 to be accurate about it) of the independently named presidents postdate 1900, so it's not all that decisive a factor. Let's hear it for Zachary and Rutherford and Grover.

My guess is there's a reason why so many presidents have had quirky first names. There's certainly a reason why so many have had boring last ones, but that moves me too close to screeching territory.

Hmmm. Now that I think about it, the other most important elected position in the United States, American Idol, has also had its share of unique names. From memory (which I couldn't do with presidents, because I can never remember Rutherford B. Hayes), they are Kelly, Ruben, Fantasia, Carrie, Taylor, Jordin,
David, Kris, Lee, and Scotty.

Forget Mitt and Newt (and how I wish I could). Let's hear it for President Fantasia!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Does Anyone Have A Good Cure For Insomnia?

Or a bad cure, for that matter. I'm not fussy.

As you know, because I tell you everything, I'm weaning my way off my beloved sleeping pills, trying to use them only when I have insomnia. My insurance company, my doctor and I all think this is a good idea.

I've become very Silas Marnerish about the pills, taking pride in the not using of them. But then insomnia pops in, and I lie in bed and fantasize about taking just a little half a pill and falling asleep, and the next thing I know, twenty minutes have passed, and I give up, get out of bed, and take the darn half pill (and by golly, fall right asleep).

I know the following things about insomnia. It doesn't kill you (at least not directly). It's very boring. It's usually stress based (but not this time, since this is an extremely non-stress time in my life, except for the insomnia). It has an element (at least in my case) of self-fulling prophecy. And it's very boring (well worth mentioning again).

I have no idea how many people read this blog, or who any of you are (except for Marci), but I figure there are enough of you out there that it can't hurt to ask for insomnia (or lack thereof) advice.

So what do you suggest for warding off insomnia? I may already be trying some of your possible suggestions (going to bed at a reasonable and regular time, winding down before then, reading a little, deep breathing), but I could use some help, and who better to turn to than you?

Let me thank you in advance, and please know I'm going to read each and every one of your comments (and I hope there's at least one), and I'll try the ones that might work for my jolly sleep loving personality!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Return Of Susan The Clipping Queen

I come from a family of newspaper readers, and my mother was always fabulous about f sending clippings of articles she knew you'd enjoy.

The Internet provides a universe of article clipping possibilities. So get your linking fingers ready, because here are a few things I think you might find interesting.

For starters, YARN with Figment has posted the winner of the Family Gatherings Essay Contest that I helped judge. This essay was my first choice, and I'm very pleased it won.

I really really really liked this article from the New York Times about what themes and endings in movies leave the audience most satisfied. Parts of it resonated with me and the choices I made writing Life As We Knew It:

What this suggested to her is that "the accomplishment the audience values most is not when the heroine saves the day or the hero defeats his opponent. Instead, she said, "the accomplishment the audience values most is resilience."

I got a letter recently from some middle school students who asked me, "Why did you make the meteor hit the moon instead of a planet?"

I replied that the moon got hit because I thought that could cause more damage than hitting Mars. Well, what did I know? It turns out this very planet of ours recently got hit by meteorites from Earth's Red Planet neighbor.

Those rocks should only have hit one of those nasty astronomers who maligned my sweet darling Pluto, the solar system's cutest onetime planet.

I think I liked this story about finding Charles Darwin's missing fossils because of everything I found when I cleaned out my file cabinet. There's gold in them thar files, if you're willing to look for it.

I'm off to read today's New York Times in search of even more interesting things to clip!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Now Is The Winter Of Our Content

This has been the easiest, and therefore most pleasant, winter I can remember.

Of course much of that is weather based. We've had a grand total of one snowstorm, and that was in October. Now I like snow (a lot actually, since it always reminds me of snowdays and I loved snowdays), but it's a real pleasure not to have to crawl over mounds of dirty frozen deadsnow, to get to my dirty frozen deadsnow car.

My parking lot is black ice capital, but not this winter. No snow and also no sleet, and above freezing temperatures practically every day. I've worn my winter coat and gloves four times (I'm giving the winter jacket I bought for Buxtehude a lot of wear), and I've scraped ice off my windshield maybe twice.

Now I know this easy weather isn't going to last, but neither will winter. Last winter, which was a long nasty one, started freezing over in December and didn't melt until March. So even if the snows start falling (and nothing serious is expected in the ten day forecast), the messy part will be over in six weeks or less.

I love this winter. I really do.

Everything else is going smooth and easy as well. I'm reteaching myself the joys of living on a budget, with the help of websites like Hot Flash Financial. I'm reading a lot (I started The Secret Life Of Houdini yesterday, and as part of my joys of budget, took it out of the library). I'm plowing my way through my backlog of DVDs (last night, Philadelphia, tonight The History Boys),weaning myself off my beloved sleeping pills, and I've even lost a couple of pounds. Friday evenings I write down five things I'm grateful for, and so far it hasn't been a struggle to find things to write down.

Oh, and thanks to owning a new computer, I've won 100% of my FreeCell games. How's that for an ego boost.

When I wrote Kid Power, my extremely good editor, Jeanne Vestal, taught me several things, one of which is characters can't have things completely easy. They have to have problems to solve, woes to feel. So I don't want you to think everything in my life is jim dandy. I have serious vacuum cleaner and toilet issues. One won't start and the other won't stop.

But I'll take that over sleet and freezing rain any day!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Return Of Harry The Sofa King

I spent much of last week clearing out and organizing my file cabinet (a January kind of job). I went through every file of every book I've written, including a few I got paid for but the book never got published.

It turned out my favorite things to discover were reversion of rights forms, when my book hadn't sold enough copies for the publisher to want to have anything to do with it, so back all the rights came to me. I'm sure every time it happened, I felt, if not depressed, then at least saddened, but now I look at those pretty little letters and say, I can put this book on Kindle! Or Nook! Or anyplace else I want, once I learn how!

Learning how is among my January jobs, although with January flying by so fast (thanks to the incredible warm sunny weather we've been having all winter), it may end up being a February job. But it's definitely on the to do list, and should I ever succeed in doing so, you'll be the first to know.

I found a lot of other things in my files, but one of the things that made me happiest to locate was a copy of my manuscript, Harry The Sofa King. I told you all about it quite a while ago, but for those of you who don't commit my blog entries to memory (and shame on you if you don't), here's a link to the entry where I mentioned it (and a few other things).

I really truly loved Harry The Sofa King, but the last time I mentioned it to my agent, she said there was no market whatsoever for it. None. Nary a one.

I trust her to know these things, but that doesn't keep me from true love. So what I figured I'd do is type out the entire manuscript right here and right now, so anyone who stumbles by can read it. It was meant to be a picture book, so you'll have to imagine the illustrations.

All right. Here goes. Harry The Sofa King by Susan Beth Pfeffer Herself.

Once there was a small country with a king named Harry. Harry was very lonely for a king.

Harry knew why he was so lonely. He could never invite people to his castle because it was full of sofas. There were wall to wall sofas, sofas floor to ceiling.

When Harry wanted to take a bath, he had to carry seven sofas out of the bathtub.

No wonder Harry had no friends.

One day Harry had a great idea. The best thing about being a king is you got to order people around.

And now Harry knew just what he wanted to order people to do.

King Harry sent word throughout his land that every man, woman, and child in the kingdom had to come to his castle and bring all their money.

Soon all the people in the kingdom had lined up with their money. King Harry took their money from them and gave each of them lots of sofas.

By the end of the day, King Harry had a big pile of money and an empty castle.

It was wonderful to see his floors and walls again. King Harry found two rubber bands, five paper clips, and a sour ball.

He also saw his cat had had kittens.

Harry found a mop, a bucket, and some soap. He scrubbed the entire castle until it gleamed.

Then he took a long long bath.

Without any sofas, the castle looked kind of empty. But King Harry was sure once he made friends, the castle would be full and busy.

Harry stood at his window looking outside. But nobody came to visit him in his nice clean castle.

Harry spent every day cleaning his castle and taking baths. Sometimes he played with the kittens. But he grew lonelier and lonelier.

One afternoon, after taking his bath, Harry got dressed and went outside. He took some of his money with him, so he could buy an ice cream cone.

Harry walked over to the ice cream stand. On his walk, he saw people carrying sofas.

The man at the ice cream stand looked very nice. He smiled at King Harry.

"I'd like a vanilla cone please," King Harry said.

"That will be four sofas," the ice cream man said.

"I don't have any sofas on me," King Harry said. "Just money."

"I'll give you a cone this time," the ice cream man said. "But you'd better go home and get some sofas if you want to buy anything else."

King Harry went back to his castle and searched for sofas. But all he found were rubber bands and kittens.

The ice cream man had to be wrong, King Harry decided. He'd walk around his kingdom and find out just what was going on.

First he went to the supermarket.

"Here's your change," the grocery clerk said. "Two plaid sofas and a loveseat."

A street vendor was selling jewelry. "Ten sofas for this watch!" he shouted. "Twenty at a store."

Lots of people were buying his watches.

"Mommy, mommy, can I have a sofa?" a little boy cried. "I want to buy some gum."

Things were really busy at the bank.

All throughout the kingdom King Harry saw people with sofas piled on their heads.

They all seemed to have headaches as well.

King Harry wanted the people of his kingdom to be happy. So he sent out word that everyone in the kingdom should come back to the castle and bring all their sofas.

This time King Harry took the sofas and gave everyone back their money.

People smiled and laughed.

King Harry scattered all the sofas in the backyard of his castle. He put big signs up in the kingdom next door.

DISCOUNT SOFAS!!! the signs all said.

Harry put a large neon sign in his yard. it said SOFAS R US!!!
All the people from the kingdom next door bought the discount sofas.

King Harry kept two sofas for himself. One he kept in his living room for himself and his cats.

And he put a plaid sofa bed in the den for when his friend, the ice cream man, slept over.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Not Everyone Spends A Year Reading Shakespeare And Samuel Johnson

I certainly didn't.

Actually, my primary reading matter in 2011 was showbiz biographies/memoirs.

In case you don't believe me, here's the list of books I read from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2011. When necessary (i.e. when I feel like it), I'll add a note or two.

Death and the Virgin Queen- Chris Skidmore
Jane Addams- Louise W. Knight
Never Let Me Go- Kazuo Shiguro*
Cage Of Stars- Jacquelyn Mitchard
A Student of Living Things- Susan Richards Shreve
The Blind Side- Michael Lewis
Duplicate Keys- Jane Smiley
American Rose- Karen Abbott
Cain- Roy Hoopes**
The Killer of Little Shepherds- Douglas Starr
This Laugh Is On Me- Phil Silvers
And The Show Goes On- Sheldon Leonard
Unsolved- Richard Glyn Jones ed. (The only book I read all summer)
Dick Van Dyke- Dick Van Dyke
The Descent- Fritz Peters
Mary Tudor- Anna Whitclock
Funny Woman- Barbara W. Grossman
Hide And Go Seek- Andrew Garve
The Lennon Sisters- A. H. Parr (Marci, knowing my taste, gave it to me)
USA- John Dos Passos (reread; I read it in high school)
Ladies Man- Paul Henreid
Snips And Snails-Louise Baker (also read in high school)
From Sawdust To Stardust- Terry Lee Rioux
Iron House- John Hart
Sybil Exposed- Debbie Nathan
A Skating Life- Dorothy Hamill (also given to me by Marci)
That's Not All Folks- Mel Blanc
The Litigators- John Grisham
The Silver Seven- Rita Ritchie (another Marci gift)***
The Garner Files- James Garner****
Spencer Tracy- James Curtis (very long and very entertaining)
Star Trek A Choice of Catastrophes- Michael Schuster and Steve Mollmann*****
Wandering Stars- Jack Dann ed.
Lost In Shangri-La- Mitchell Zurkoff (tied for my favorite book of the year)
Robert Ryan- Franklin Jarlett (missing 20 pages, but I'm claiming it anyway)
A Quite Remarkable Father- Leslie Ruth Howard******
Dark Tide: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919- Stephen Puleo
Who Killed Mr. Crittenden- Kenneth Lamott
Hedy's Folly- Richard Rhodes
11/22/63- Stephen King (really really really long)
Cold Heaven- Brian Moore (reread)
Destiny of the Republic- Candice Millard (my other favorite book of the year)

* I don't read a lot of fiction, but this one was really stupid.
** It has the best line of the year. James Cain wrote of one of his books,"It must have been a saga, because it sagged all over the place."
*** And don't you wish Marci was your friend also!
**** James Garner doesn't mention it, but he was rumored to have had an affair with Lauren Bacall and you have no idea how long it took me to confirm that fact via Google.
***** Now this is what I call great fiction.
****** I bought this book in high school and have carried it around with me ever since. When I realized it was coming up on the 50 year test, I figured I'd better actually read it, since I'd hate to have moved it from place to place over so many decades without having bothered to.