Back to the well of optimism

I really appreciated hearing from all of you about the absurd farce that is the health care/insurance system in America. To summarize the solution: Register. Learn about the candidates. Vote for change. Hold the elected officials accountable.

(Why do I think I will be ranting about this again?)

Yesterday I got up close and personal with the health care system as I spent all day and part of the night with my mom as she went through various and sundry procedures in an attempt to make blood flow through her body. It was a hard day for her and she rocked it. She kept her sense of humor and when they finally let her eat, she ate enough for three linebackers. Best of all, she did not die. Good work, Mom! She was treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. I was very impressed with every single person there; from the guy who pushed her stretcher to all of the nurses on 5-2. Thank you all very much!

Today was mostly spent recovering from yesterday. Tomorrow: back to work.

Other good news: I bought new running shoes today!!! Woot!!!! In related news, there might be hope for me after all. And even more good news, we’re having sushi for dinner. Must go make fire-breathing wasabi.

A Mad Woman Rants

My health insurance company, Aetna, sent me a letter on Thursday. It was polite, up until the point where they raised our monthly premium 25%. On the same day, Aetna announced a 16% jump in their second-quarter earnings.

I have been an Aetna customer for years. They took good care of us. But we officially cannot afford them anymore. My husband is a self-employed carpenter. I am a self-employed writer. That means we don’t have any companies helping to pay our premiums. (The policies offered by SCBWI and the Author’s Guild do not extend to where I live. Think long and hard about this, friends, before leaving your day job to become an author.)

With the rate hike, we are looking at paying $18,000 next year just in premiums – for two people. (We do not have any dental or vision coverage, but we do have a decent prescription plan.) We cannot afford to basically spend an entire salary on health insurance.

Now don’t go feeling sorry for me. We will find other coverage. BH spent half of yesterday working the phones and we have a couple of different options. The next insurance company that we go to will be expensive, but not out-of-reach. The other option is that one of us could get a job that offers benefits. If any local colleges want to hire me to teach, I’d do it for a minimal salary as long as I could have benefits. Regardless, we will find a way to make this work.

But you know what really makes me mad? Makes me want to scream and hurl spears? Makes me want to chain myself to the Washington Monument or wear a sandwich board that says SHAME while walking back and forth in front of the homes of health insurance execs like UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire, who made $125 million in 2005?

Too many people don’t have the choices I have. In my country, which I dearly love, having a job with benefits can mean the difference between life or death. About 18,000 people died last year because they didn’t have insurance. Fifty-four million people were uninsured at one point or another in 2006. Fifty-four million – this is an obscenity.

Our local newspaper is always announcing a spaghetti dinner or a pancake breakfast or a bake sale to raise money for someone’s surgery or chemotherapy. This is an abomination.

I am not the only person who has snapped about this. In a recent poll, health care was the second-most important issue that voters wanted to hear presidential candidates discuss, behind only the Iraq War. I don’t want them to talk about it. I want them to be leaders and make a change for the good.

If you are lucky enough to be covered and to have premiums that you can afford (this could change tomorrow), I ask you to do me a favor. Spend a little time figuring out what it would cost you if your employer dropped your coverage. After you pick yourself up off the floor, please write a letter to your congressional representatives and demand that they quit sucking up to the health insurance lobby.

I’m really tired of letting the bad guys win.

Taking stock, answering questions, counting to 100

I am feeling an enormous, cranky rant coming on, but I was raised to believe that before you complain about something, you should take stock about what is working in your life. So today, I am digging for the good stuff. (But I swear I will rant tomorrow.)

To start with, the ALAN online chat was a blast. It was like a giant IM session with everyone able to see all posts. At one point, so many people were trying to get on the board, the server crashed and we were all booted off. That was a pain, but also kind of cool. Thank-you to everyone who participated, and David Gill and CJ Bott who set it up. I think there will be a transcript of the discussion at some point. When I hear about it, I’ll let you know.

One of the participants kindly sent me a few of his questions about TWISTED that I didn’t have time to answer.

Q: did you intend the eroticism that i and my friends found pretty prevelant in the first part of the book? (mostly in repeatedly describing how well built tyler is, and ongoing comments about his erections) my gay/bi friends and i loved it on that level and on the deeper more significant levels as well.

A: Wow, I never thought of it as eroticism; I felt it was an accurate reflection of the kinds of things teenage guys think about. If anything, I toned it down. I don’t see how anyone can write about older teens without working in some mention of sexuality. It’s a core component of their existence. They don’t have to act on it, but they think about making themselves attractive to people that they find attractive. A lot. That’s part of being 17 going on 18.

Q: this may make me sound stupid, but what was the point of the duct tape on yoda’s ass? just to pull hairs when he had to remove it?

A: You are describing the very ugly locker room scene in which a secondary male character is attacked. I don’t know that there a deep significance other than the removal of the duct tape will cause more pain and shame. This kind of assault is way too common. I want to help make it go away.

Q: will bethany’s family ever level out? will bethany become more selfconfident/less slutastic as time goes on? will chip realize that he doesnt have to be an ass to have “friends?”

A: There would have to be a massive internal earthquake to change anything in that family. They are very unhappy people, despite all the expensive trimmings in their life, and they have no clue how to change things. My heart goes out to them. (“Slutastic” is a wonderful word, btw.)

OK, what else am I grateful for today? That local libraries have air conditioning (we don’t and fans can only do so much). Our kids are all healthy; that is a blessing. My knee, which has been acting up so much I’ve had to take a break from running, is responding to time on the elliptical machine. Blueberries still in season. I have eaten so many my mouth might be permanently stained. JK Rowling seems to be getting her life back; that’s nice. (Thanks for the link, Shelf Life.) That I finished HP Book 7 without being exposed to any spoilers. That people are talking about Robert Heinlein, whom I still grok.

And I got these drawings from fans of THANK YOU, SARAH in the mail.

Talking about TWISTED

I got the greatest fan letter on my MySpace the other day! The guy who wrote it has set his account so that I cannot directly respond to him, so I thought I’d repost it.

Here goes. The Subject line reads: “Dude…. I loved your book.”

“Alright so there I was, vacant as can be, in Books a Million, and I saw this bright red thing poking out amongst the other books. It turned out to be some creepy pencil, and I thought the book was going to be some sadistic story about a random kid, but then it turns out that it was the most (awesome) accurate book I’ve ever read that was in first person of a high-school boy. And it wasn’t one of those crappy ones that are all generic and stuff.

Anyways, I recomended it to all my friends, and so far everyones loved it (‘specially the dudes).

Oh, um… is the game that Tyler was playing real? If so it’d be so freakin’ aweomse to play. 😀

Keep up the great writing. And God Bless. XP”

I don’t know if he’s going to read this, but here is my answer: Dude, you totally made my whole month. Thanks for taking the time to write to me. Keep reading and looking for weird book covers.

::contented sigh:: You see, this is why I love writing for teenagers.

Lots more writing for me today, and doing stuff for my mom, and sending out even more mail, and getting ready for tonight. “What’s tonight?” you ask. I will be participating in the ALAN Online Book Chat at 9pm (EST). Join us!!!!!!!

P.S. The game played in TWISTED is not real, but if anyone wants to buy the development rights…..

Weekend photos

As promised, here is evidence of what a great weekend I had.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Friday night at the river’s end bookstore (Oswego, NY) Harry Potter party. It was PACKED. My favorite part of the night was listening to the end of Book 6 being read aloud while bouncing up and down on my toes and compulsively checking the time, begging Midnight to hurry along.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic And it finally came! Here is happy daughter Meredith holding one of our three copies. (I had to pick up one for my dad, who is one of J.K. Rowling’s biggest 80-year-old fans).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic The Nearly-Headless Nick is actually Bill, who owns the store. It was an excellent costume. After we left the store, we met up with BH and friends at a quiet bar. I was the designated driver so I sat under a light and started the book instead of drinking beer.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Didn’t get much sleep Friday night and read most of Saturday. Finished the book Sunday morning, then headed out to the Ren Faire with another wave of our kids and their friends. Here I am with my husband, the hot pirate, and daughter Jessica.

The rest of the week has been/will be pondering the very strange ideas I am having for my next YA. I’m having fun and am terrified at the same time which is usually a good sign.

If you have TWISTED questions, join us in the ALAN chat tomorrow night at 9pm.