Fire

I’m sure everyone has heard by now about the devastating fires that are raging in southern Australia, in the state of Victoria. As a Californian, I know a little bit about the damage that dry grass, high temperatures and strong winds can cause. It’s a problem every single year in California, most notably in Southern California, where the Santa Ana winds blow unabated for a good part of the fall and winter. When we were in college, Kim, who lived in Orange County, used to talk about how intolerable it was in her apartment, which didn’t have air conditioning, and because of the Santa Anas (also the cause of the heat) and the fires she couldn’t open her windows unless she wanted everything to be covered with soot and ash.

When I was a junior in college, the Cedar Fire literally tore through San Diego, and several of my friends’ families lost their houses. Last summer, Northern California (where my parents live) and Central California were covered in both human-caused and dry lightning strike-caused fires. It’s no joke. It wasn’t until I moved to California that I really started to fear fire because I grew up in a wetter climate, where a fire might spread house to house but it’s not going to spread county to county in the blink of an eye.

Although, I do remember there being a fire on the block next to ours and the fire department doing a tour of it, I guess to impress the necessity of fire safety, and my mother taking us (I must’ve been about eight, because I think my sister was with us in a stroller). It was terrifying. Everything was charred and black and unrecognizable, and while I hadn’t known the family who lived in the house (everyone survived, thankfully), the houses in our subdivision were really just three different layouts and then their mirror images, so this house looked exactly like the houses of several of our friends in the neighborhood. But that was just one house. Imagine thousands of houses, basically turned into blackened rubble in a matter of hours.

All Unquiet Things begins at the end of a hot, windy, dusty summer, where everything is bone dry and you’re waiting for either the rain to come and take away the danger or a fire to start and turn the whole place into an inferno. It’s a precarious time in California. So I can imagine the fear and the sadness people in Australia are experiencing right now. They’re saying that some of the fires can probably be attributed to arson, which floors me. I can’t imagine any reason why someone would start a fire at all, let alone during the windiest, driest season in a country full of brush that’s just ready to burn.

Anyway, this is all to say please keep these people in your thoughts and, if you can, donate to the Red Cross.

Advertisements

Highlights from my trip to California

When my family first moved to California eight and a half (oh God, really?) years ago, I volleyed between despondent and massively pissed off. I was a senior in high school and had lived practically my entire life in one house in Chicago’s north suburbs, fifteen minutes away from my aunt and cousins and half an hour away from my grandmother. I had lots of friends at my giant, award-winning, nationally respected high school, I was on a very hardcore swim team and a State-winning water polo team, and I was taking all these advanced classes. Then we moved to the Tri-Valley, clear halfway across the country, where I was enrolled in a tiny (by my standards) public school with no water polo team and only a handful of AP classes. I basically resigned myself to just pushing through that last year; I didn’t really feel confident about making friends or forgiving my parents for depositing me unceremoniously in that hell hole, so I figured I’d just get through it as best I could and then go back to Chicago for college.

As with many preconceived notions, mine were dashed when I met probably the most important people in my life besides my family. I ended up making some amazing friends that year, and these girls are not only still my best friends in the whole wide universe, they’re pretty much my sisters. Anyway, usually my family goes to Chicago for Christmas for about two weeks, but this year my mother, who has been doing a lot of international traveling for her job, pretty much said “Enough planes already!’ and instead of all of us convening in Chicago, I flew out to the Bay Area for Christmas. Lucky for me, my best friends (whose families also still live in the Tri-Valley) were there as well, and we spent ten days hanging out, during which a lot of really fun stuff happened. Here is a partial list:

  • Christmas Eve brunch: I went out for breakfast with my friend Kim, her sister Jennifer, Jennifer’s boyfriend (of like five or six years who for some reason I’d never met) Steve, my friend Cambria, and my brother JJ. IHOP (I know, we so classy) was really crowded, so we went to this ancient breakfast place that I’d never actually been to and ate our fill of greasy food. The best part of that morning was going to our old high school (where my sister’s still a student), which is being razed to the ground and rebuilt. It was like exploring the ruins of Rome, except not as pretty–seriously, there were walls torn down and we saw a mural that we’d never seen before in our collective nine years of attending school there because it was in the teacher’s lounge. The new building was sleek and cool and we were all super jealous because we had to attend class in dark, cramped buildings from the seventies.
  • Christmas Eve: My mom cooked a full Wigilia dinner (delish!) and we opened presents. It was fun and low-key and I wore a kick-ass Blair Waldorf flower headband but I seem to have misplaced my camera and so the only pictures are on my parents’ ancient digital, good luck to me getting a hold of them. That’s actually the theme of this whole vacation–ten days and I have no pictures to show for it.
  • Town Dive Bars: We spent many of our nights exploring the limited number of bars in the valley, because we usually just go to one and, fun as it is, we thought we might have a better time at the others. Pretty much they were all let-downs, because let’s be honest: this is a suburb, and we all live in real cities. Still, the Bud Light is dirt cheap and the company was amazing.
  • Jenny’s birthday/mustache party: Jenny had been talking about having a mustache party for her birthday ever since she came to New York in October, probably, or at least since Th4nkSgiving. Anywiz, as luck would have it I received stylish mustaches in the office White Elephant game, so we wore them to one of the aforementioned dive bars one night. Let me tell you, it was amazing. Cambria’s mustache made her look just like her father, which pretty much creeped us all out. There were a couple of guys with us, but they were all clean-shaven, which made it all the funnier. These pictures are so hilarious, you guys, and if I ever get them I will defs share them on the blog (knowing Jenny and her current lack of any sort of computorial apparatus, it may be a while…possibly June). The best part of the whole night, though, happened before the party, at my parents’ house while my brother and I were getting ready to go out. My mother saw the mustaches on the kitchen table and asked, “What are those for?” I told her about the plan–wear the mustaches to the bar–and she gave me a huge hug and said, “I’m so glad I’m not young anymore.”
  • Harry Potter Clue: At the risk of sounding like a huge nerd here, Harry Potter Clue is THE MOST AMAZING GAME ON THE PLANET. It’s SO MUCH BETTER than regular Clue, which I find sort of boring. The board MOVES, with secret passages appearing and disappearing and doors opening and closing. Also, there are spells and Dark Marks and the whole thing is a Harry Potter fan’s dream. I even won once! I almost never win at games, and since Cambria has been playing Clue ever since she was a small child, and Kim is a veteran board gamer, I was pretty proud of myself to have beaten them. Oddly, we didn’t play Apples to Apples or Phase 10 this time, which are our staple games. (Someday I’ll blog about how Phase 10 is the answer to life, the universe and everything. It really is.)
  • Eating: Time at home with friends is usually our excuse to pig out. There’s a lot of great restaurants in the Yay* that we just don’t have in New York and even San Diego, so we try to do a nice sampler any time we’re home together. I went to Pasta Pomodoro, Jack in the Box, Red Robin, In ‘N Out, Zachary’s, and Fuzio, and the only reason that list isn’t longer is that I had of lot of dinners at home with my family, on purpose, because I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.
  • Santa Clara: While I was home I went out to Mountain View to visit Carmen, my best friend from college. We had dinner at this lovely Mexican restaurant in the Pruneyard, El Burro, where the service was terrible but the food was delicious, and I saw an old acquaintance from college, Celeste, who was the editor of our literary review, the Santa Clara Review, when I was the fiction editor.** On our way back to Carmen’s house, where my car was parked, I asked her to drive us past Santa Clara, and I oohed and ahhed at the new fancy business school (Carmen was an accounting major, so she’s impressed by/slightly bitter about it) and the BRAND! NEW! BIG! LIBRARY! Because even though there was a whole article about it in the alumni magazine I inexplicably receive at work, there were no pictures, which is the dumbest thing ever. Anyway, our old library was a HOLE, totally inconsistent with the gorgeous mission-style architecture of the school, dark and ugly and pretty useless. They destroyed that monstrosity and put up this stucco-and-glass beauty. Direct quote from me: “Maybe if that had been the library when we were going to school, I would’ve used it more than once or twice a year.” On the way home I got slightly lost and ended up going past Santa Clara again (because I knew how to get home from there, curse the badly marked 101/237 junction), taking the long way to gaze at it one more time. Nostalgia has such a powerful influence on me; I sort of miss that place, and I can’t believe that my life now isn’t one long summer vacation and that I’ll never go back for another year there. Sad.
  • New Year’s Eve: Actually, this was sort of a weird night for me. Not bad, really, but I did end up going to sleep on the floor, freezing cold***, stone sober, at around five thirty in the morning, far after everybody else went to sleep, so…weird.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Kim and I went to see this film super late one night, and let me tell you, I thought it was great. Anyone who knows me knows I couldn’t care less about Brad Pitt, but I loved the movie. It was long, yes, but the pace was leisurely rather than plodding, which added to the supple Southern feel, the story was beautiful and heartbreaking, and the CGI was terrif (I don’t agree with some reviews that it veers into the territory of the Uncanny Valley, because these weren’t CGI people, they were live actors)–I mean, when Cate Blanchett was supposed to be eighteen, she looked eighteen. I really thought for the longest time that they’d found a young girl who looked exactly like Cate Blanchett before realizing they’d done fancy computer stuff to her face. I cried about eighty-five times. People are complaining about how the plot has very little to do with Fitzgerald’s short story, which, come ON! You really couldn’t film that short story; the premise is great, but it’s ripe for a tragic love story and you don’t get that from Fitzgerald.

I’m sure I’ve missed some things, but those are the highlights. I really wish I had pictures of that mustache party. I think y’all would really enjoy them. Sigh. Someday. Related: I should find my camera before my birthday party on Saturday night. That I’m sure I’ll want pictures of.

*You’ve got to check out the Urban Dictionary page for “Yay.” It’s fantastic.

**Actually, that day was what I’m calling the Day of Randoms. I went to the mall with my mom and sister and we ended up seeing the mother of one of my sister’s friends, a family that my sister used to carpool to school with, my friends Kim and Jenny, and a girl my sister goes to high school with. Then we went to another mall and we saw our dentist. Then I saw Celeste. It was so so weird. I didn’t run into a single other random person while I was there. Curious.

***Actually, I was cold the whole time I was home. I don’t think I was ever really warm once. I didn’t bring a coat because I’m an idiot and ended up having to wear my old high school letterman’s jacket just so I didn’t freeze to death outside. People, listen to me: Just because it’s California doesn’t mean it’s going to be warm in January. Take it from me. I should’ve known better, I’ve lived through those winters. I thought all I would need was a rain coat. I was dead wrong.

365 days…

That’s how many days until next Christmas. Next Christmas, I swear I will be prepared. I will have my presents bought by the end of November and Christmas cards (imagine!) written out before Thanksgiving. I will do it! Next year, I will be an adult!

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m the biggest procrastinator, next year I will write the exact same post I wrote below, about how I didn’t get anything done until the last minute, what a slacker I am, goals for the NEXT Christmas, etc. Well, at least I’m consistent.

So how was everybody’s holiday? Mine was spectacular. I thought I would be sad because this would be the first Christmas I didn’t spend in Chicago, and it was in a way, I missed my aunt and uncle and cousins and grandmother something awful, but also it was a very low-key holiday, just me and my siblings and my parents, and we were relaxed and happy and the food was still totally delicious. My mother, upon my request, made a full Wigilia dinner on Christmas Eve and then we opened presents and ate cookies and then they even let me get away with putting the kibosh on Pasterka (we went this morning instead) because I was so super jet lagged. This morning after Mass we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, which my brother bought me for Christmas, and ate the Giordano’s pizza my aunt and uncle had sent to us from Chicago (dinner at Giordano’s is a Christmas tradition for the Molzabs). I’ve had plenty of time to read (right now I’m devouring East of Eden) and I even was able to fix my iPod because my sister generously donated the use of her new MacBook Pro for the cause. I had a long chat with my cousin Emma tonight, Jenny and I drove around Dublin/San Ramon looking at Christmas lights, and tomorrow I’m going with my mom to the outlets, I think. Sigh. This is the life. I feel so happy and relaxed; California is good for my soul.

One thing I didn’t do is send my manuscript to my editor, because I keep thinking up new things to do with it; sometimes it’s stuff that I should’ve fixed but slipped my mind (there’s one or two of these) and sometimes it’s a desire to make sure everything is absolutely right before I send it on, but I do intend to fix everything I can and get it in my editor’s inbox by the 31st, which is my deadline.

Anyway, I’m just really content right now. I feel like I’m really getting the break I needed, nothing is stressing me out. I’ve never had that experience before during the holidays. I’m thankful for that. Happy Holidays, everybody!

Funtivities

I’m very, very excited for the upcoming holiday season. I have so many plans! I mean, I also have so much to do, but there is so much fun to look forward to. First things first, the stuff that has already happened.

On Wednesday, I got a bouquet of flowers delivered to my office:

3048197888_03bcd47c70

This is them, sitting on my desk at work. They’re from my parents, and they came with a sweet note telling me how proud they are of me and how much they’ve always believed in me. They sent them to me because, drum roll, my contracts are finally ready!

3047359587_68d0840dce

Photo’s blurry, but nobody needs to read them except me, anyway. But they exist! They were sitting right on my kitchen table last night, and I signed them with my special pen. This may seem terribly boring, but it was the result of a couple of months of waiting for me (probably way less than other people experience, and I’m lucky that the process went so quickly for me, and I am grateful, but anyway), so I’m completely thrilled about it. So thrilled I had my roommate take a picture of me signing the contracts:

3048196940_af3692b1c6

My hair’s not looking so great in this picture because I’d just finished swimming laps at the gym, but still. Thrilling! AND I’m getting my revision letter from my editor today, AND I’m going to see Twilight tonight…so many things to look forward to. Not to mention the Giving of the Thanks, which I will be spending in sunny San Diego with all of my best friends, whom I dearly love. And then once I get back, BAM!, AUT revisions. Hopefully I’ll finish MB revisions this weekend and then not have to think about it again for a little while.

Take me home, California roads

So I was trying to think of things that could liven it up around here, since I’ve been sort of maudlin and boring recently. One of my ideas was to ask a friend to interview me, with mostly inane questions to which I can give hilarious, apropos-of-nothing answers but also talk a little bit about the book, since I can guess what people are interested in but might be wrong. Katie volunteered to help me out, so that’s on its way, perhaps next week. Y’all are free to make suggestions or ask questions in the comments (which are woefully empty most of the time, but I think there are some people out there, so this is an open invitation) or via email (anna {dot} jarzab {at} gmail {dot} com).

Anyway, I was having a conversation with my mother the other day, and she asked me what I was working on. At this point, I am “working on” about four different novels, although in truth I’m only doing real work on one–MB. The thing that ties all of these books together is that they’re all set in California, albeit different parts of California, and I thought I could talk a little bit about why I chose the setting I did for AUT, since it’s something I didn’t plan and cannot fully explain. When I can start talking about MB more, I’ll do another post about the setting for that book, which was way more deliberate.

2798121573_cb0c6502eb

I know this means nothing to most people now, but this view
of Dublin and San Ramon is the inspiration for the overlook in AUT.

The first time I wrote All Unquiet Things, it was set in the Chicago suburbs. This is because my family had moved from Chicago to California two years beforehand and, even though I was going to college in California, I really missed it. The problem with that was that, even in my head, the landscape of the town the events took place in looked nothing like anything you would find in Chicago. There were large foothills, for starters. Basically, I was writing the book to take place in California, but calling it Chicago because I was too bitter about the move still to admit I was being influenced by where I was living.

In the second version of AUT, I did away with the Chicago suburbs farce and just set the novel in a fictional town which is basically an amalgam of Dublin, Pleasanton, and San Ramon, CA, with a little bit of unincorporated Castro Valley thrown in. The town’s name, Empire Valley, is completely fictional, but there are a lot of “Valley” names in the state, because there are a lot of valleys, and there’s a town called Inland Empire as well. All of these towns, and Empire Valley as well, are in the East Bay Area, outside of Oakland and on the cusp of agricultural country.

mt-diablo

I used this area partly because it’s very familiar to me. I could take bits and pieces of each town (for instance, I moved Castlewood, a fancy schmancy Pleasanton foothills neighborhood, and used them to replace the Dublin foothills–less schmancy, but still pretty nice–are because I needed the ritziest houses but geographically EV looks more like Dublin) and mix them up and still know what the heck I was talking about.

atthefootofmtdiablo_020903_2560x1920

But also I think I chose the Dublin-Pleasanton area because the foothills make it feel isolated even though a lot of people live there, the towns feel small even though they’re sprawling and expanding. I need that feeling of exclusiveness and isolation, because geographically the town represents what the main characters are feeling internally, this sense of being trapped, emotionally and socially. That location, with so many highways nearby, feels escapable but isn’t. You can leave, but where do you go?

It’s too bad I’m such a bad photographer and have such a crappy camera, because the San Ramon Valley is really very stunning, especially at night. AUT takes place in the fall, so the town looks more like the first, which I took, with the brown grass that looks like sand. The abrasiveness of the way the town looks is key to the sense of isolation and entrapment–it looks like a desert, it’s sizzling hot, and there’s no relief. Neily, my main character, starts out the novel by fantasizing about what it’s going to look like in the spring, after the rains come, because the summer is that oppressive to him. That’s exactly what it’s like to live in that area when you don’t particularly want to: you chafe against the summer and fall, with the miserable heat and dust, but in the spring it’s like the Garden of Eden.

06x36mountdiablo

Drive by

Still in California, enjoying lazy days of doing exactly nothing. Not much news here, except I got a haircut! Oh, and also, I finished MB! Like, really finished it, typed the last sentence, which I’ve had scribbled on a Post-It note on my cork board for MONTHS. You will note that the MB Rough Draft word counter in the left sidebar has been updated to reflect this. You will also note that there is a third word counter now, for the looming MB First Draft revisions. Blurgh.

I usually write in individual Word documents by chapter first, which helps me with pacing, but I revise in one full MS document, so today I copy/pasted the prologue, epilogue, and all the chapters together in one document and am now going through doing a casual read and adding “*  *  *” section breaks, which I need but never seem to put in during the original draft. After I’m done with that, I am going to send it to my sister and my cousin for a content read (I count on them, as seventeen-year-olds, to answer really big picture questions: are the characters sympathetic, is the story interesting, did it end satisfactorily, etc.) and let it sit for about a month and a half while I do some prep work for GR (character manifestos, compile the soundtrack, synopsis, etc.) and enjoy the relative calm of submission season. Or maybe it won’t be calm at all, I have no idea because I’ve never done it before. I’ll let you know.

My vacation reading project

If you will refer to the calendar in the right sidebar, you’ll see that I have a vacation coming up! Okay, “vacation” is a stretch–I’m just going to my parents’ house in Northern California for a couple of days, during which my mother will probably nag me, as she has every time I’ve been home since I moved out two years ago, to go through the stuff in my room and get rid of it. Little does she know that I have no intention of doing that! (JAY KAY, Mom, if you’re reading this, but please don’t make me because I really don’t want to.) I have my own plans for those few blissful days of California sun and gourmet meals (a.k.a. air conditioning I don’t have to pay for and my mother’s cooking). They are as follows:

1. See Shannel and play with her puppy. Possibly steal the puppy.

2. Finish MB.

3. Read a crapload of books.

I have had so little time to read recently. I’ve been stuck on Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty and Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit for so long now. I have to admit, I find myself confused by A Great and Terrible Beauty. I either have to try harder, or put it aside to tackle another time when I have the energy to try harder. Either way, both these books are staying in New York. My new favorite thing to do is consider all the books I’m going to drag with me to California, for six-hour plane rides and long leisurely days sprawled out on the couch.

So far, I’ve definitely decided to bring Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa and Jasper Fforde’s First Among Sequels. I love love love Carol Goodman’s books. They’re sort of hard to describe, but I would call them literary, mysterious pseudo-thrillers with a dash of the supernatural. How do you like that subgenre! Anyway, I’m really excited about this one. Fforde, not so much. I mean, I love the Thursday Next books as much as the next (ha!) literature aficionado, but I must be honest in saying that this series has kind of spiraled out of control since The Well of Lost Plots and is now so full of convoluted twists and literary references so obscure that I don’t even get them that it’s hard to maintain interest for long enough to actually finish one. I limped through Something Rotten, and when I opened First Among Sequels just to see if I wanted to start it right then (this was a month ago or so) I immediately closed it again, and I swear to God this was my actual thought: THERE ARE SO MANY WORDS ON THAT PAGE. I know, how ridiculous, right? Except that between the very long, very absurd epigraphs from fake books in the Nextosphere that begin every single chapter, the actual text of the novel and the footnotes, it’s a jungle in there! So, I don’t think it’s something I can casually read a few pages of at night. It’s going to have to be a project. That’s what vacation is for.

I’m also thinking about bringing Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster just to round out the nonfiction. I’ve wanted to read this book for a while, because I used to have an obscene handbag fetish and I think the fact that it’s faded has more to do with my lack of disposable income than my burgeoning understanding of just how stupid and grotesque the luxury goods market is. I need a good punch in the kisser w/r/t the whole industry surrounding designer what-have-yous.

I feel like I should bring some YA, too. I’m considering taking Robin Benway’s Audrey, Wait! and Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It with me. I also have the sequel to LAWKI, the dead and the gone, but you KNOW I’m not bringing a hardcover with me on vacation.

Am I being ridiculous? Is that too many books for a five-day trip? Even if I’ll be spending much of it on planes? I don’t think so. But how much do you want to bet that I’ll conk out on the plane, show up at my parents’ house, sit down in front of the TV and watch the Olympics the whole time, barely cracking a book?