Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dichotomy Bites

After thirty (mumble) years, I’ve finally figured out what my problem is <insert drum roll>.  I have a split personality.  Completely not qualified to go all psychoanalytical here (though I had such an awesome Psychology professor in college, I almost switched majors).  But the whole theory explains a lot in my life. So for kicks (clearly my life is not very exciting), I’ve decided to name both of them and talk in third person (my husband is thrilled, of course).  I’ve got a friend who’s doing it too. We’ve even discovered one of his alter egos is a female. How’s that for enlightenment?  I dare you to try it when you’re in the mood for some introspection (like after a high school reunion).  Hey, you might even determine you have more than two.  Write them down.  Writing is always a good thing.  Let me introduce you to the two Suzi’s (for the record, my co-blogger Suzy is completely innocent in my lunacy).  Here’s my example:  
Susan— can count to three and have her children snap to obedience (most of the time), is a “what you see is what you get” kind of girl and wishes more people were the same, listens to Contemporary Christian music, impatient but has learned how to fake it, a slightly cynical realist, sarcastic, likes to use big words (especially Latin derivatives) just to watch people fake like they understand what she says, tends to be a bit self-righteous, is quite skilled in emotionally abusing herself for the things she’s done wrong, and believes true love exists but is jaded enough to know that happily ever after isn’t a sure thing.
Suzi—perpetual hopeless romantic 17 year old who has wanted to be nothing other than a writer since the age of 12, puts her heart before her head which has been known to get her into trouble, likes her music loud, played by real instruments, and preferably sung by guys who had long hair and leather pants, billowy open shirt optional though highly recommended, loses her train of thought easily, wait, don’t forget the black boots on the guy with long hair, um what was I saying? Oh, yeah maintains a list of guidelines for a perfect kiss (available upon request), favorite expression is “it’s not fair”, thinks happy endings should be required by law, believes with every cell in her body that true love absolutely, positively exists and is worth waiting for, LOVES to talk…well ramble really, gets her feelings hurt easily and cries without effort, laughs loudly and has been known on occasion to snort if the person she is with is particularly funny, especially her brother, and when she gives her heart to you, she gives it for life.
Oh, alright.  No new concepts here, right?  Bit of id and ego with a splash of superego.  Yay, Freud.  Even Biblically speaking, we are told we are at war with our flesh.  Clearly Susan is the mind and Suzi is the heart and flesh.  And even though they often end up on the floor punching each other like siblings for control, they can’t exist without each other. 
It’s that way for all of us, depending on our location and company.  At work, we show whichever alter ego conveys responsibility.  At our place of worship, whichever is moral.  In front of our children we are authoritative yet loving, an opportunity for a coordination of our different selves.  And lying in the arms of true love, we can hopefully be all of our selves, completely vulnerable and whole.    
So, make your list.  I dare you.  My hat’s off to you if you find more than two personalities.  Two is all I can possibly handle. Please be more original with your names.  And you absolutely must talk in third person.  Just don’t be surprised when your kids start doing it too.  J
          -Suzi Ryan

Monday, December 20, 2010

Power of Prayer

As the holidays approach for many, the upcoming days are usually a great time of reflection and prayer.  Whether the prayers you offer are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or any other faith you adhere to, an inherent belief is needed to give the prayers meaning. 
A common Muslim phrase that is often repeated before embarking on any task is “’id’eelee” which essentially means “pray for me” in Arabic.  Asking others to pray for you is common across religions and cultures and shows the power of prayer to transcend religious boundaries that may otherwise seem insurmountable. 
Recently, a professional acquaintance sent me a link to preview his blurb book of inspirational quotes, images, and stories.  One story in particular caught my attention since I had just been asked by my Christian friend to pray for her, even though my Muslim prayers were probably very different from hers.  The following story struck a chord that showed it’s often the intention of prayer that matters more than how, when, or in what way you offer those prayers.  I hope this story is as stirring for you as it was for me.  Reprinted with permission from Fahim Munshi (     
“A ship was wrecked during a storm at sea and only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small desert-like island. The two survivors, not knowing what else to do, agreed that they had no other recourse but to pray to God for help.  To find out whose prayer was more powerful, they decided to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.

The first thing they prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the island, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man's parcel of land remained barren.  After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife. The next day, there was another ship wreck, and the only survivor was a woman who swam to his side of the island. On the other side of the island, there still was nothing.
Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, and more food. The next day, like magic, all of these things were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing.  Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked on his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God's blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered.

As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven boom out, "Why are you leaving your companion on the island?"

"My blessings are mine alone, since I was the one who prayed for them," the first man answered. "His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything."

"You are mistaken!" the voice rebuked him. "He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings."

"Tell me," the first man asked the voice, "what did he pray for that I should owe him anything?"

"He prayed that all your prayers would be answered."

Pray as we might for ourselves, it’s often the unselfish prayers of others for us that are most likely to be answered.  This holiday season be sure to repeat the mantra of “id’eelee” in whatever language you speak to anyone who believes in the power of prayer.  If we all pray for each other, the prayers of the world are bound to be answered one by one.  May all your prayers be answered this season and happy holidays to all!
          -Suzy Ismail


Friday, December 17, 2010

Ho Ho…No?

“So are you guys all ready for Santa?”  the well meaning Target clerk stoops down to ask my children.  My son replies plainly, “Santa isn’t for real.”  The woman’s eyes turn to saucers and I have to explain, once again, that we don’t do Santa.  For us, it’s just a Jesus thing.  The woman looks over each of my little ones sadly and then returns her disapproving eyes to me as if she’s just caught me beating my children. 
So, here it is:  we don’t do Santa…or the Easter Bunny…or Halloween…heck, we don’t even do the tooth fairy.  Wait!  Put down the phone.  Before you report us, let me explain our reasoning.  Good.  Now slowly step away from the phone, nice and easy.  Here is why:
Jesus was born at the North Pole in a stable because there was no room for him in Santa’s toy shop.  Yeah, not really.  But the duality of Christmas can get confusing, especially for the little ones.  I mean, my kids have always been taught there is no Santa, but my daughter, who is four, is still not sure because she overhears other children talking. The influence of peers is evident already.  And let’s be honest.  Which is more appealing?  An imaginary guy who brings you lots of toys or the birthday of some guy you’ve never met. 
Okay, hear me all the way out for this next part.  I try very hard to always tell my children the truth.  Yeah, I admit I’ve been known to say, “Yes, I ate my peas in the kitchen while I was cooking dinner.  Now eat yours.”  But I try very hard to keep my fibs to vegetables.  As a Christian, I’ve been handed the mammoth task of leading my kids into a relationship with the God of the whole universe.  A God they can’t see or touch.  And I have this reoccurring nightmare of a teenaged version of one of my kids, screaming in my face because he or she doesn’t want to go to church—accusing me of lying to them about Santa and the tooth fairy and how dare I expect him/her to believe in an imaginary God.  When I tell my kids about God, I don’t ever want to give them reason to doubt me. 
For the record, I am not a Santa hater.  I don’t turn off Santa Christmas music if it comes on and I don’t turn off Dora or Olivia at the mere mention of the fat guy.  We have a tree and we have presents.  What’s a birthday party without presents?  It’s just my kids know exactly who the presents come from.
And so, nice Target check out lady, may we please reach an agreement?  I will do my best to teach my children not to spoil the secret for yours.  I will not look down on you or judge you because you chose to include Santa in your Christmas.  I acknowledge that your comment to my children was meant as a friendly gesture and I am not offended by it in the least.  In exchange, please don’t look down on me for following my own, personal convictions.  Let’s respect each other.  And for the love of God, please put the slip of paper with the DYFS hotline number back in your drawer.  J
Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Happy Hanukkah/Shalom/Peace on Earth/Happy Birthday, Jesus
          -Suzi Ryan

Thursday, December 9, 2010

One Good Gig

When I was younger, my favorite scene in Mary Poppins was when the proper British kids head over to the house of laughs with their magical nanny.  The high-flying fun that results at the ceiling tea party always made me wonder if laughing super-hard could really set your feet a-flyin’.  Mary Poppins wasn’t the only movie to firmly plant the seeds of this notion in my seven or eight year-old mind.  After all, Peter Pan clearly told Wendy, Michael, and John that they could fly to Neverland just by thinking happy thoughts.  And didn’t Chitty Chitty Bang Bang stay afloat with the help of delightful laugh-inducing tales?
Speaking of laughter, as elementary school flew by and the days of naively believing in flying feet passed with them, my own laughter seemed to decrease each day.  Sitting down to dinner awhile back, my oldest daughter cleared her throat as if she had a big announcement to make.  Over the giggles of her siblings who were competing in making mountains and molehills out of their mashed potatoes, she used her best ‘grown-up’ voice to command everyone’s attention.  “I need to read the back of my Snapple cap, now.” 
Dutifully, we all put down our forks, stopped making designs out of the rivers of gravy atop the mashed potatoes (my husband, not the kids), and waited for the profound Snapple wisdom to come our way.  “Children laugh about 400 times a day while adults only laugh 15 times a day.”
The Snapple sage had spoken and I was awestruck at the truth in those words.  Her announcement was followed by another eruption of giggles from the younger two, but barely a smile from anyone else. 
In that moment, I saw my first-born growing up.  It wasn’t the adult teeth that had somehow stolen into her smile while we were all sleeping.  Nor was it the proper way she held her dinner knife to cut through the over-done steak.  It was the realization that she was slowly winding down that path of only sharing “necessary” laughter.  The unabashed mirth of just a few months ago had been replaced by a much more “grown-up” seriousness.  As her younger siblings cracked up at everything and anything, her solemn nine year-old eyes just stared them down with a new-found knowledge.
I quickly calculated the age in my head when I stopped believing in the flying power of laughter and realized that it was right about the age of my daughter.  I decided I would have to count my laughter for the next few days just to prove the darn Snapple bottle wrong.   But, I couldn’t do it.  Every day I counted and found that I was barely making it to the 15 genuine laugh marks on my barometer.  That’s when I knew it was of the utmost importance that I reverse the trend.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long for a solution for this laughter deficiency to come my way.  My hubby and I had been planning a weekend in the city for ages which we finally followed through with.  On the agenda was a trip to a comedy show with Jim Gaffigan.  Reluctantly, I went along with the plan, sure that I would hate the show.  Surprisingly, I found myself laughing for a full hour way past the 400 mark with side-splitting belly-aching mirth that would have made my six year-old proud.
On coming home to tell the kids all about it, I realized that I couldn’t remember a single joke, but only the feel-good sensation of long latent laughter.  As I giggled absurdly with my little ones while botching up joke after joke, I saw my nine year-old break out into a grin.  Slowly, the smile with the out of place teeth widened even more and began to turn into a laugh.  The laughter was contagious.  Before I knew it we were all shouting out silly knock-knock jokes and ridiculous riddles while rolling on the floor with laughter. 
It wasn’t a ceiling tea party, but it was probably just as fun.  We were flying, but with our feet planted firmly on the floor.  In a final burst of funny, my oldest daughter suddenly shouted out Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”  The room silenced in awe at the magic of the word and then the uncontrollable giggling began again. 
I probably hit a thousand laughs that day.  Every heartfelt chuckle took me a little higher up and a little closer to Neverland.  Snapple was wrong.  Adults can definitely rival kids in the laugh quota if they want to.  But in the end, who’s counting anyway? 
"Knock knock"
         "Who's there?"
         "Boo who?"
"Oh, don't cry, it's only a joke!"  J
          -Suzy Ismail

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tangled, a movie review

5 out of 5 stars  (Contains no spoilers)
“Mommy, can we please, please go see Rapunzel?  She’s a princess.” My daughter looked up at me with large, imploring eyes.  And in a flash I was back at the old Landis Theater in Vineland, NJ  with my mom, my own little grade school self staring wide-eyed at Sleeping Beauty on the big screen.  Back to the present, my daughter bounced on the balls of her feet like a baby robin as I thought to myself…a new Disney princess movie?  I’m so there.  Time to keep the tradition going.  I raised my hand to my daughter and she slapped me a high five.    
Far from an original concept, Tangled is the age old story of boy meets girl (an equation I shall never tire of, so long as I live).  In this particular story, the boy is a scoundrel and the girl is a princess  (Han and Leia minus the Millennium Falcon).  Again, not a unique idea.  However, this movie was executed so brilliantly, with perfect pacing, that no one will remotely care that this is a recycled plot (or that it’s a cartoon, for that matter).  
From the previews, I was pumped up for some good old-fashioned slap stick humor.  Figured even my boys would get a chuckle.  And Tangled certainly did not disappoint.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard.  That was what I had come for.  That was what I was prepared for.  I was NOT prepared to cry.  Yeah, I cried at a Disney movie (not a first by the way—I got a bit choked up when Belle leaned over the Beast and whispered ‘I love you’).  But this?  Tears were streaming down my face.  I had a “please don’t let my husband see this or I am so going to get teased” moment.
And it wasn’t just me.  At a certain scene (you’ll know it when you see it), the entire theater, made up of mostly children, fell silent except for sniffling.  And then a sweet, little voice rose from amongst the crowd and asked, “Mommy, why are you crying?”  And then we all laughed.  I was not the only lachrymose mommy. 
What did I love about this movie?  
Finally, a strong heroine I can enthusiastically cheer for! As a reader of Young Adult fiction, I’ve been so frustrated lately with the lack of good, strong female leads.  And I finally found one.  Ironically, a cartoon character.  Don’t get me wrong.  Rapunzel is sheltered and sweet, but she’s not one to cower in a corner and wait for the guy to save her.  No, a number of times, she saves him.  Refreshing!
It’s a redemption story.  I am a complete and utter sucker for a story of personal restoration.  I mean, come on, we’ve got a scoundrel here.  Of course he needs to be redeemed.  And it was done so magnificently.  Amongst the sea of predictable plots of Disney movies, there’s a part in Tangled where I turned to my husband, with my mouth agape and said, “I didn’t see that coming.”  And my highly intelligent husband admitted he didn’t either.  I LOVE THAT! 
Bottom line:  There is nothing I disliked about this movie.  Nothing.  I cannot say this strongly enough:  Go see this movie.  GO NOW.  Run like the dragon form of Maleficent is chasing you down.  You can thank me later.  Oh, but whatever you do…do not forget to tuck a tissue in your pocket.  J
          -Suzi Ryan

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Battling the Deluge

I recently picked up a book at the library that I’d been eyeing over my past several visits.  Glancing through the text quickly as I settled down for my usual late night laptop date, I decided to read the first few pages.  The reading of the first few pages turned into a devouring of the entire book within the next few hours.   Upon turning the last page, I sighed in contentment and knew that this would be an oft-revisited work whose ripples would probably stay with me forever.
Surprisingly, this amazing work was not my usual romantic fluff reading of choice—far from it, actually.  It was a narrative nonfiction tale titled “Zeitoun” written by award-winning journalist Dave Eggers.  From the first few lines, the reader is swept away by the lyrical writing style that Eggers employs in describing a typical Louisiana family.  Okay—maybe not typical to everyone, but amazingly familiar to me.  The Zeitouns who Eggers portrays in the book are a Muslim family living in New Orleans around the time of Hurricane Katrina. 
Their lives immediately struck me as incredibly similar to the lives of the average Muslim community members that I know and count myself a part of.  A respected member of New Orleans society, Zeitoun decides to stay behind to help his neighbors and friends battle the devastation of Katrina even as his wife, Kathy, and four children flee the area to stay with family in another town.  Yet, in his altruistic and selfless concern for others, Zeitoun is rounded up and thrown into a makeshift prison as an assumed Al-Qaeda member in the wake of the government’s intended “clean-up” after Katrina.  The harrowing tale that follows showcases the disintegration of a classic American city and a classic American dream as the fa├žade of liberty and freedom are stripped away from the citizens of New Orleans.
As the story beautifully interweaves a picture of human heartache amidst the devastation of broken levees and a forgotten people, the reader is gripped by the reality of what happened in New Orleans and what can happen amidst an atmosphere of fear and destruction.  The same methods of lawlessness that we as a nation tend to denigrate others for was clearly displayed in the aftermath of Katrina as fingers were pointed and blame cast every which way. 
Eggers offers no excuses nor pleas for sympathy in his journalistic writing style.  Instead, his book evokes insane emotions alternating between outrage, love, and fear for the incredible people he uncovers in his story.  Neither fantasy demons nor vampires can compare to the true demons of hate, prejudice, and inhumanity that rule reality.  As nice as it is to sometimes insulate ourselves with that warm cup of coffee and a great romantic fiction read, it’s just as important, if not more so, to force the flood gates of fact open and let our senses experience the inspiring tales of truth that surround us every day.  Rather than drowning in a deluge of fantasy, let’s come up for air once in awhile with a serious dose of reality.
          -Suzy Ismail

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankfulness is a Choice

Curled up on my personal side of our leather sectional with my laptop perched upon my lap, my iPhone 4 at my hip, I glanced over to my husband, on his side of the sectional, his laptop perched on the back of the couch.  He started complaining about his job which somehow led to both of us whining about all the leaves in our yard and the excessive amount we pay each month for the rental of a storage unit.  All while our children laughed as they ran through the house as we yelled for them to keep it down.  Standard stuff.  A normal day.  Until we got the call…
My good friend’s toddler had just been hit by a car and killed.  He was only nineteen months old.   And everything seemed to freeze as the air was sucked out of the room.
Medical staff told my friend when she was pregnant that her baby boy might not survive. This was a baby who was born with a congenital heart defect, requiring two open heart surgeries. Then they said he may never walk.  But walk he did.  From there he ran, and not silently either.  Oh no.  He laughed and squealed while he ran, as if to say to the doctors and experts, “I’ll show you.”
And so the little boy who was not supposed to make it, not only survived but happily thrived in the care and love of his mother, family, friends, and dedicated medical professionals, charming all he met with his exuberant smile.  A precious, tiny life who touched all who knew him.  Gone much too soon. 
Here we are at Thanksgiving and I find myself humbled.  I have a home and a job that if I quit tomorrow, no one would go hungry.  My husband at least has a job to complain about when so many have lost theirs.  We have a bothersome amount of leaves in our yard but we are both healthy enough to go out and rake them up.  And we have so much “stuff” that we have to rent out a storage space to contain it.  My children are healthy and happy.  And I still have a God who is good, even when I don’t understand all that happens in the world, even when I rarely have the answer to the question “Why?”
So this Thanksgiving I’m going to quit my whining about all the things I wish had, the things my heart longs for, the things that I most likely will never have.  I chose to be thankful.  And yeah, it’s a choice.  Being thankful doesn’t come naturally to humans.  It’s a learned trait.  Anyone who’s brought up kids under the age of five knows exactly what I’m saying.  We teach our children to say “thank you.”
I’m thankful for so many things but I am especially thankful for the little boy who touched so many lives in his brief life.  No matter what complications he faced, no matter how many surgeries, doctor appointments, physical therapy treatments, he always faced it with a smile.  There’s a lesson in there for me.  In my faith, I believe I will see baby Riley again.  And I have complete confidence that when I do…he’ll be smiling. 
We miss you, Smiley Riley.  You will always be in our hearts. 
Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate.
            -Suzi Ryan

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hitting the Target

A few days ago I entered my local Target store with literally one item on my shopping list.  Within two minutes of entering the money pit, I was completely distracted and had a shopping-cart full of items that I really had no good use for.  Trailing behind me, my three kids were up to their usual “ooohhhing” and “aaahhing” about the mercantile wonders of the superstore.  Suddenly, my six year-old dropped the red-tagged, toothbrush-shaped back scratcher that he’d been arduously trying to convince me to purchase and stopped me in my tracks.  There, in the middle of Aisle 16, between men’s shoes and kids’ underwear, my son gave me a wake-up call. 
“Mom… you have to FOCUS!  Remember the important things!”  There I was; comparing a clearance priced generic bath bubbles’ set with the full priced name-brand one, when I realized that we barely even use bubbles in the bath!  My son’s comment snapped me out of my crazed consumerism moment, catching me off-guard with its simple truth.
A mental epiphany followed the amazing revelation that just as my Target trips usually lack focus and often deviate from their initial purpose, so does much of my own scatter-brained race through the aisles of life.  Suddenly, it dawned on me that when a spill happens in Aisle 33, it’s a lot harder to get there in good time when you’re still stuck in Aisle 4.
In that moment, I found myself wondering whether or not having a life that compared to Target in its messiness and hodge-podge aisles was really a good thing.  Wouldn’t it be better to focus on just one specialty, like a handbag boutique that only sells really pricey, high quality bags instead of cramming all sorts of knick-knacks under one roof?
Within seconds, the answer to my mental question was abruptly delivered by my nine-year old.  “Mom, look!  Here’s the poster-paper I need for my science project.”  The comment was quickly followed by my two year old jumping up and down with a bag of crackers shouting “Goal-fish! Goal-fish!  I love Goal-fish!”
I glanced at my over-flowing cart, threw in the poster paper and the Goldfish crackers and whispered a fervent “Thank you” to God and to Target for saving me from having to make another stop. 
So, even if you lose your focus or change your purpose while meandering through the aisles of life, I’ve come to conclude that it’s better to be gifted with the fullness of choices than to be limited by only one specific product.  As nice as that Prada bag might be, I’d much rather pick up some crackers, some poster paper, and a useless back scratcher all in one shot. 
We left Target that pivotal day without the bubble bath but with a shared feeling of contentment… even though we forgot to pick up the item we’d initially gone in for.  I guess tomorrow could always be another Target day. J
                -Suzy Ismail


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Angels Among Us

Headlines read: 
  • Red haired mermaid falls in love with the handsome prince she rescues from drowning. 
  • Bibliophilic beauty falls in love with a grouchy, unrefined beast. 
Like it or not, Disney has us adults and the next generation of girls all set to repeatedly swoon for stories of forbidden love.  I just had the pleasure of spending an evening with a literary agent and editor where the question was raised—when will the paranormal bubble burst?  For the record, I predict no time soon. 
Because the last two books I reviewed were both on fallen angels, my good friend/co-blogger Suzy asked me what my thoughts were as a Christian about humans getting physical with fallen angels.  The question made me crack open my Bible.
Upon examination of the Old Testament, in the very first book of the Bible, I found an account of angels, who came to earth and took human wives and impregnated them.  Now obviously these were not the cute, chubby cherub angels you see in the form of resin knick knacks in the Hallmark store. These were clearly man-like beings, equipped with all the parts necessary for getting intimate, if you know what I mean (wink wink).    
Lauren Kate and Becca Fitzpatrick did not need look far for their inspiration for angels who fell for/lusted after human girls.  I’m sure there are many Christians who would be offended by such use of fiction.  I am not among them for I (drumroll please) am a lover of make-believe. 
Disney princesses aside, my journey began when I was four years old, perched upon the armrest of a movie theater seat, my neck craned and my mouth agape in bedazzlement at the wonders of X-wing fighters and light sabers.  Next came my mother’s reading to me about the shire and a race of little people with big hairy feet and a dragon who could talk.  I knew fantasy would be my genre of choice for the rest of my life.  Ah, and then came the human Aragorn who loved an elf named Arwen.  I suppose from that moment on I was destined to be weak in the knees over the love between a human and a non-human. 
And whether it be the attraction between a clumsy human girl and a hundred year old vampire, a longing between a human/fairy hybrid of the Summer Court with one of the Winter Court fey, a werewolf boy, watching a girl from the woods longing to turn human again, or an angel who left the wonders of Heaven to be together with his earth-bound desire, I guess I’m just a sucker for forbidden love. Impossible love.  A love many would disapprove of.  A love that never should have been in the first place…but was nonetheless (sigh). 
And so the trend in paranormal fiction trudges on.  Move over, you books on vampires—you’ve been bled dry.  And all the glamour in the world can’t stop the fall of the books on fey.  Leash up your werewolves and put them out with some puppy chow.  And so I say enthusiastically: Open up the floodgates of Heaven and let the angels descend! (Fictionally speaking, of course).  You just never know—one might choose you over glory.    J

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Holidays All Around—

I always find it amazing to look around my neighborhood every year and find the multitude of overlapping holidays that tend to fall around the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa time.  It’s also pleasantly amazing to see that almost every year another holiday from across the globe seems to be added to the growing list of holidays celebrated around this time.
 A few days ago the five-day Hindu festival of Diwali, a celebration of lights and the Indian New Year, just wrapped up.  Following closely after this festival comes the Muslim holiday of Eid Ul-Adha— not as well known as Ramadan, but still quite a big deal in my faith.  Since Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the date of our holidays change each year, which was always difficult to explain to teachers back in middle-school and high-school when we were pleading for a day off to celebrate.
While Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, celebrates a month of fasting, patience, and prayer, Eid ul-Adha marks the end of Hajj (the ritual pilgrimage to Makah in Saudi Arabia that Muslims must undertake once in their lifetime if they are able to).  Pictures of the Hajj often flash on the news channels around the time of this holiday where throngs of people dressed in white appear to nearly mesh into one another as they circumvent the Kabah (a black square structure at the heart of Makah believed to be built by Prophet Abraham and his son way back when).  The purpose of the pilgrimage is essentially to reenact what the Prophet is believed to have done years ago and to stand shoulder to shoulder with other Muslims from around the world with no dividers of age, race, wealth, or status.  Whether or not you complete the Hajj, every year Eid ul-Adha marks a great celebration to the end of the 8-day pilgrimage and is viewed as the Feast of Sacrifice, where everyone who is financially able to should provide meat and food to those who are in need. 
Eid Ul-Adha falls on November 16th this year and we’ve already planned the family festivities.  In order to give our children a sense of the holiday, we usually make projects related to the Hajj, do our own little reenactment play with family and friends, teach our kids about giving charity and food to those who are less fortunate and really just appreciate the quality time we can spend with those we love.  Substitute lamb for the turkey, a mini-Kabah for the decorations, and detract Santa, Black Friday madness, and the Christmas tree and you’ve essentially got the formula for a very similar holiday. 
Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Eid ul-Adha or any other holiday this season, the main ingredients are still the same.  It’s all about the family, the friends, and the remembrance that whichever faith you choose to follow—it is always worth being celebrated. 
Happy Holidays to All-- wherever your holiday may fall!  J
          -Suzy Ismail

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Ultimate Test

For all you writers out there, closet and otherwise, one of the hardest transitions to make in writing is taking that scary first step towards going public.  I’m not talking about ‘publication public,’ but the steps that precede – letting someone other than yourself peek at what you’ve poured onto paper.  Putting your writing out there for someone else to read and judge is the first step in admitting and accepting the inevitable… you are a writer.  Maybe your first readers consist of the small group of people in your critique group, or your sister, your friend, your pen pal, your mother, your spouse, your dog (assuming the family pet will stick around and listen to you read) or anyone else you trust enough to allow a glimpse of the part of you that you are broadcasting to the world.
As often as published authors run anxiously to check the Amazon reviews and to grab the first issues of relevant magazines and newspapers to read those reviews, the apprehension towards reading these often anonymous or professional reviews is nothing compared to that initial anxiety when you are asking readers you actually know to pass judgment on your writing.
Assume now that you’ve made it through round one of the process and Mom’s given you the thumbs up and swears left and right to Aunt Betty, Uncle Joe and anyone else who will listen that you’re a prodigy and a true writing genius.  The next step to test Mom’s theory that you’re the next Tolstoy might be to workshop a page or two with a formal critique group or even at a first page session.
Interestingly enough, I recently attended one of these first page sessions where an agent and publisher pass judgment on the first page of your writing.  Talk about anxiety!  Possibly the most interesting thing to gain from this session is the benefit you receive from hearing someone else read your writing out loud.  It’s amazing how different your words sound when someone else reads them to a room full of listeners.  It’s a little like hearing your voice on an answering machine or watching yourself on TV (trust me, that’s weird).  All the things you thought you didn’t do come to the surface and you find yourself nodding with the critique and thinking “Wow, how did I miss that?”
So, if you’ve put some words on paper and are ready to share with the world, you might want to take a second look before you leap.  It’s definitely a hard market out there, and finding your niche is sometimes harder than the writing itself.  Sure, let Mom and company read what you’ve written, but also take it to the experts and realize that any constructive criticism can only make your writing that much better.  After all, it took Tolstoy over six years and several revisions to complete and publish “War and Peace.” If you’re still on year one or two with your first draft, then you’ve got plenty of time to spare. J  
          -Suzy Ismail

Saturday, November 6, 2010

CRESCENDO, by Becca Fitzpatrick, a book review

Patch and Nora are back for round two in Becca Fitzpatrick’s second installment of Hush, Hush.  Patch is a fallen angel who wants to be human.  In order to fulfill that desire, he must kill Nora.  But he doesn’t.  He falls in love with her instead.  So now Nora has herself a sexy guardian angel…who kisses really well. 
The good:  Quickly paced and easy to read.  Mysterious and suspenseful.  Who really killed Nora’s father?  The question is answered in this book.  Becca’s writing style is a nice balance of dialogue versus description.  And my most favorite thing about Becca?  She has a degree in Health and she writes.  Super cool.  Perhaps there’s hope for me yet.
The bad:  Where’s the love, man?  In the field of paranormal YA, Becca pulls off sexual tension like few else.  I bought it in Hush, Hush—in the beginning.  Well, technically I salivated through the first half of the book, if you must know.  But somewhere along the way, their relationship turned into true love and I confess, I missed it…especially for him. 
Now we’re into Crescendo and I still don’t see it, or more importantly feel it.  Scenes of sexual tension laced with Patch’s innuendos quickly turn into a big fight due to Patch’s inability to effectively communicate with Nora.  Plus Nora is crazy jealous (not sure as I blame her…she has a super hot boyfriend who probably can’t count the number of women or angels he’s been with over the years and he does nothing but keep secrets from her).   They don’t seem to have anything in common and cannot even have one mature, semi-adult conversation.  Becca, if your goal was to bring together two people who have absolutely nothing in common other than physical attraction, ya nailed it, sister.   But if this is supposed to be a love story, we need more in the next book.  A lot more…though there’s a nice bit at the end of this book I could count as a starter.
The Bottom line:  This book kept me going.  Tons of action and suspense and when there wasn’t? Well there was plenty of sexy.  I was not bored. I did not skip ahead. I was thoroughly engrossed.  A quick, enjoyable read.  And my hat’s off to you Becca, I didn’t see the ending coming.  I find there aren’t many surprises in YA and I confess, I was happily thrown off.  Definitely worth the read, though I suggest getting your hands on Hush, Hush to start with.
Suzi’s rating:  4 out of 5
     -Suzi Ryan

Monday, November 1, 2010

To ghoul or not to ghoul…

We had been living in our new house for one month, childless at the time.  As we stepped out of our doorway, dressed to go to a good friend’s wedding, costumed children descended upon us seeking treats.  Not even aware we had stumbled into trick or treating territory, we apologized to the little darlings and proceeded to our car.  “That’s not the way to start out in this neighborhood,” our new neighbor greeted icily from the street.  Mind you, my husband was in a suit and I was donned in an ankle length velvet gown, clearly overdressed for Halloween.  Needless to say, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth that no amount of York peppermint patties could erase.
Growing up, I happily trick or treated.  Back when we all us kiddies had to do was set out at night by ourselves and the scariest thing we had to worry about was whether a razor blade had been inserted into our apples by some sick freak.  It was good, clean fun and the neighbors were excited to see us.  I don’t regret my days of Halloweening.
My husband is an ex-Jehovah’s Witness who grew up studying the less than Godly history of Halloween.  He knew things I had certainly never known.  Things I never would have thought to look up.  As our kids came along, we had to make a decision.  We chose not to celebrate.  A decision made between us and God.  A decision that is different for each Christian.  We certainly have a number of Christian friends who partake in the sugar laden festivities.  One is an ordained minister who actually used to stage a haunted house in his own home each year as an outreach to the community.    
But I certainly don’t want my kids to sit home and listen to laughing children run past our house, their bags stuffed gleefully with sugar, corn syrup, and artificial colors.  So, we leave long before our nosy neighbor is out and about and have family fun time with the kids.  This year we hit the local farm market for a hay ride and pumpkin picking.  And instead of making jack-o-lanterns, we’re going to roast up and puree those pumpkins to make pumpkin muffins.  Then we’ll toast up the seeds for a healthy snack.  And yeah, we even picked up some candy, just nothing me or my husband liked (smart thinking from the fat chick). 
So to those of you who celebrated, I hope you all had a blast.  To those of you who didn’t, have no fear.  You are not alone. 
     -Suzi Ryan

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Precipitation

“‘Twas the day before Halloween and along with their dad, the kids just kept arguing if Halloween was bad.”  My six-year old son had come home from school in quite a huff announcing that we should never “precipitate” in Halloween.  After asking a few more questions about what he meant, I found out the word he was looking for was “participate.”  Apparently, he felt very strongly that not only should he not get dressed up or trick-or-treat on Halloween, but that we also needed to put up a sign on the door explaining why Halloween was “wrong” and not pass out any candy.
Long before our children were old enough to utter “Hershey Kiss,” my husband and I made the conscious decision that we would not endorse Halloween nor do the whole “trick-or-treating” thing because of what the holiday was essentially celebrating.  Because our children are enrolled in a religious school, we found full endorsement from the kids.  The older ones whole-heartedly expressed that they had no desire to get dressed up and go door to door asking for candy when they had plenty of the good stuff at their finger tips.  It also helps that my kids are somewhat terrified of the spookier costumes and won’t even go near a party store with costumes hanging up front.
So, the debate raged on about whether or not passing out candy counted as celebrating Halloween.  My nine year old daughter saw nothing wrong with passing out candy, but my son believed that would be “precipitating” which was just as bad as celebrating.  In the past, if we happened to be home on Halloween, I’d usually pull out a bowl of candy and have the kids give some out to whoever came knocking because it seemed like the nice thing to do.  Even if we weren’t celebrating, I wanted the kids to know that if a neighbor comes to your door asking for something, then you should help (this is why we are the go-to family whenever girl scouts cookies, little league chocolates, or useless candleholders are being sold for any possible fundraiser).
                We still haven’t come to a clear resolution as to what will be done tomorrow.  Since I will be out of the house speaking at an event for most of the day, I’m going to willingly let my husband field this one.  After all, while a little “precipitation” may not be a bad thing, lots of it could lead to some pretty terrible flooding. 
For those of you who are celebrating the holiday, “Happy Halloween” and for those of you who are not, have a wonderful weekend! J    
     -Suzy Ismail

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Torment, a Fallen novel by Lauren Kate (Book Review)

The good, the bad, and the bottom line
Daniel Grigori was once a very high ranking angel until he fell (literally) for Lucinda Price.  The couple is cursed.  Lucinda (Luce) dies and is reborn every seventeen years and in each lifetime meets and falls in love with Daniel all over again with no memory of her past lives.  All while poor Daniel loses the love of his existence repeatedly, forcing him to wait for Luce to be reborn and mature, knowing he’s only going to lose her again and again. 
The good:  Premise.  Imagine you’re so amazing that an angel leaves his prestigious job in Heaven because he can’t live another day without you.  Total epic swoon fest.  Oh, and by the way, there’s also Cam, the sexy bad angel who has also been vying for your affection throughout the centuries.  Two guys fighting for you.  What’s not to love?  Decades of past lives.  The creative possibilities are endless.  This is the backdrop for (the)Fallen series.  For the record, I really liked the first book.  Daniel is complete leading man material.  Cam plays his role of foil exceptionally well.  And Luce is a decent clueless heroine (and they all start out clueless, don’t they?)  This book also contains my favorite kiss in YA history.  Two pages of well written lip smacking goodness.  That being said…
The bad:  Torment starts out so well.  Luce is hidden for safe keeping.  She gets to hang out with some nephilim in a place that promises to provide many answers to Luce’s questions.  Questions Daniel won’t answer.  Problem is, not much else actually happens here.  Torment is nothing more than a springboard for Passion, book number three.  Total Empire Strikes Back syndrome. But unlike Empire, Torment does almost nothing to advance the plot.  And I don’t even mind that so much if you’ve got awesome characters that I just want to hang out with.  I’ll put up with a bit of fluff for some three dimensional characters and awesome dialogue.  But the new characters in this one fell flat.  The highlight for me was Arrianne showing up to properly kick some bad angel butt.  But it was only one scene. 
And Luce?  She starts with a legitimate question for Daniel, such as ‘do you hook up with anyone else while you’re standing around waiting for me to be reborn?’  Total legit question to ask of one’s eternal angel boyfriend.  But as soon as Daniel shows up, she gets all swoony, he soars her up into the clouds for some beatific making out, he brings her back down to terra firma, and they fight.  I literally held the book away from myself and went “Seriously?” because that scenario is repeated throughout the book.  And I can actually buy the whole Daniel wanting to protect her and not throw too much information at her.  But dude, throw the poor girl at least one of those little dog bone treats.  She's starving.
Luce finally says ‘enough’ and sets off to find her own answers by book’s end.  Good for you, Luce baby, but it took ya long enough.
Bottom line:  Lauren Kate is a solid writer.  This series is definitely worth reading for all you paranormal romancers, adult and teen alike.  I’m glad I read it even though I never got my “rabbit hole experience” (This is the point near the end of a book where I lock myself in my bedroom to block out screaming kids as I race to the nail biting end).  But will I pre-order Passion months before its summer release date?  Yep.  The potential for greatness is still there.  I have faith in you, Lauren.  Throw us a bone.

     -Suzi Ryan

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Life As We Know It (movie review)

I had the very unusual, not-often-does-it-happen, chance to watch another non-kids’ movie last week.  The movie was “Life as We Know It” and the rating from my end, at least, was definitely two thumbs up.  Completely contradictory to the critic reviews online, the movie was pleasant enough, leaving me with a warm and fuzzy after-feeling like one of those must-cuddle-with-Snuggie-and-cup-of-coffee-in-hand holiday movies.  Not to mention the cute actor who could easily turn quite a few heads (I’m talking about the baby in the movie—although the leading man wasn’t half-bad either).    
So, what gave this movie with the same ole’ romcom storyline a compelling enough hook?  The entire premise of the movie is based on the idea of countering unexpected change.  Change, when you don’t see it coming, can be scary, but often leads you towards paths you never dreamed you’d follow.  Deviating from the usual and the expected course, whether you want to or not, can be incredibly cathartic and literally life changing.  With a little divine intervention, the unexpected can be the exact track you were meant to follow in your life.
I don’t want to fill this post with spoilers in case you decide to check this movie out, but suffice to say that one of the most compelling aspects of the movie is the message that good things often come after tragedy--- even if it takes you awhile to figure that out.  There is a common Muslim saying:   “With hardship, comes ease.”  It’s a little like the grey cloud/silver lining proverb but takes that concept a step further by mandating that you need to look for the ease in order to identify it.
The nicest part of the movie, without a doubt, lay in its predictability-- even though it was ironically all about change.  There is still something to be said about finding comfort in familiarity bred by a movie that sticks to the winning formula of “guy gets girl” or “girl gets guy” after quite a few travails that are overcome by love, patience, and acceptance.  Now that’s one nice feel-good Hollywood ideal not in need of any changing at this particular moment. J   
     -Suzy Ismail

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ever have one of those dreams where…

You feel yourself slipping back into consciousness and a part of you screams and tries to claw your way back into the fantasy because it was just that good.  You open your eyes with a groan and stare at the ceiling.  Not wanting to forget, unable to let go, the blu-ray of your brain replays the scenes over and over again, committing them to memory.  Stumbling through the necessary activities of the day, the dream whispers in the back of your mind, haunting you.    
It happened to me over a year and a half ago.  Finally, out of desperation to get the images out of my head, I did the only thing I knew to do.  I flew to CVS to purchase my first Mead notebook since college and with a possessed fervency, I scribbled down everything I could remember, and interestingly, the few new scenes that my brain had conjured up.  And again, I did what I always did, I tucked the notebook away, random scenes and an unfinished story. 
And then I rediscovered my love for reading (see post Thank you Stephenie Meyer).  I looked up Stephenie Meyer’s webpage, amazed that authors had these things now.  I read about how she came up with Twilight.  She was a stay at home mom of three kids who woke up one morning with a dream stuck in her head that she couldn’t get out.  And after not writing for a really long time, amongst all the mommy things she had to do, she sat down and wrote Twilight.  As I read her story, tears ran down my face. It was exactly what had happened to me.     
So, for the first time, I opened Word 2007 on the laptop my husband had bought me for Christmas, the absolute best gift of my entire life (though I’m sure if he knew what a nut his wife would turn into, he’d never have bought it for me in the first place) and I did something I swore I’d never do: I wrote by typing.  I had always been an old fashioned pen and notebook kind of girl.  But it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the click click click of the keys…the speed at which my words could flow… the ease of erasing a “what drugs was I on when I wrote that?” moment.  I wrote like a woman possessed.  And I have probably written almost every single day since then. 
I even took a dream I had had back when I was nineteen, one that had stayed in my brain all these years, and I completed my first book in three months.  Just like Stephenie.  The first three chapters of that book currently sit with an editor and the waiting game is on to see if a full submission request will be made.  And I am now back, working on book based on the dream that started it all.  A book that may have remained a few random scenes, jotted down on a notebook, tucked in the top of my closet, if I had never looked up Stephenie Meyer’s website.  And so for the second time in my life I say, thank you Stephenie Meyer.  If I am ever blessed enough to be published, I owe you a huge thank you note, perhaps one with a field of wildflowers on it…   
   -Suzi Ryan