Saturday, February 27, 2010

Book Party

Okay, so we don't look so cute.

But it was pretty late by this point and we were kind of tired. I really don't know WHAT was going on with my hair.

By the time Allison picked up the kids from day care and her husband came home, it was coming up on 7pm. Starving, ready to get to our little celebration, we bolted out the door.

It didn't even occur to me to pop open the suitcase and, say, run a brush through my hair.

This tells you where my head was. I wouldn't even post this pic, but we look far worse this morning.

But we had fun. Allison drank about nine diet cokes -- I told the waitress just to keep 'em coming, I'm generous like that -- and I downed plenty of Chardonnay. We stuffed ourselves with enough food to feed a small country and brought home enough leftovers to last through another Snowmageddon.

It's one of those things, that by the time you sign the book contract, it's not all that exciting anymore. We toasted her success -- three-book contract with Pocket, if you hadn't seen the previous posts -- and then spent the rest of the time talking plots for the next two books and strategizing how she'll promote them.

We had fun being together and talking real time, instead of our usual non-simultaneous gig.

Next time we're together, at RWA National, we'll take far more glam photos, I promise.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Riding the Ego Wave

This is a stained-glass window in the Albert & Victoria Inn, where I'm staying one more night.

Isn't it pretty? Apropos of nothing at all.

I thought about trying to wind it into a theme, but mostly I'm thinking about ego today and I'm not seeing how an antique rose window fits into that.

The problem is, I have a lot of complicated thoughts about ego right now. Probably a long essay's worth, maybe even a whole book's worth. So I clearly can't write a succinct blog post about it.

But this is the core of what I'm thinking: A bloated ego leads to insanity.

By this I mean that, when the ego grows, it limits a person's ability to see the world in a rational way. The larger the ego, the more distorted the person's world view becomes until they reach a point where they cannot interact with other people in a sane way.

When people wonder how Tiger Woods thought no one would notice he was sending out for women to tend to his needs? Ego. He thought the rules didn't apply to him.

How on earth did John Edwards think he could disappear, blithely mention backpacking in South America and that no one, not the national media would check? Ego. He said it, therefore it was true.

How can writers rant at criticism of their books, accusing the reviewer of everything from sour grapes to being fat and unattractive? How can they rant on their blogs about how people read their books wrong, because the books themselves are perfect? How can a writer blast contest judges for giving them a low score, saying that it's just plain mean and they'll get revenge?

Ego. Ego. Ego.

I'm not linking to all examples of this stuff, because, really, it's enough for a PhD thesis.

The thing about ego is, it starts small. I'm thinking of a writer who just published her first book. It was snagged from the slushpile by an agent, sold to a publisher, movie rights sold. The book is doing well. I read it. It's decent. A good read that I enjoyed. I think there are some serious flaws, but there it is.

The thing is, this writer is dispensing advice on how to get published. Offering up the rules. "If your book is good enough, it will get sold." She's proud of her achievement, as she should be, but I'm alarmed by her total lack of disregard for serendipity. Her book was EXACTLY the right theme at the right moment. I bet that two years ago, even one year ago, no one would have looked twice at it. A year from now it will be over. Great timing, super good luck for her -- how can she not see it?


The ego leads us to believe we do all this ourselves. "*I* am great and wonderful!" screams the ego. "Look at all I've done!"

I'm thinking that's the moment you start to lose touch with reality, when the I is greater than the world around you. When a person doesn't see how the world is working.

For example, it's well understood in the publishing world that a writer simply cannot write to market. Even if you're fast, by the time you draft the novel, revise, sell it, edit, and put it through the publishing calendar, the idea that was so hot and fresh when you started is now last year's news, at best. What will be hot when the book hits the shelves? An entire industry wishes they could predict it and they can't. It's luck. That's the deal.

So there are my rambling thoughts on ego for the day. I probably haven't done it justice and will undoubtedly return now and again. Likely I'll repeat myself. Possibly mumble in a vague way, from time to time.

Just remind me to give myself credit for the hard work I do, give thanks for the random blessings the universe bestows -- and the sanity to know the difference.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fancy Hill

Tonight I'm in Abingdon, Virginia.

You know! Home of the Barter Theater?

No? Well, okay. Well, we were promised this would be the jewel of our work trip. The shops are cute. But the town? I'm not quite getting the buzz.

But, we're staying at the Victoria & Albert Inn (that's my room), and I'm sitting by that selfsame fireplace, only lit, while snow falls outside and my mahogany bed awaits. It's pretty damn wonderful. The website is lacking, but don't let that dissuade you: the Inn is possibly the best B&B I've ever stayed at. Very romantic and cozy.

Too bad David isn't here...

Overall? I liked the town of Lexington better. Maybe I'm just a college-town kind of gal. But, as we were leaving, we took Route 11 south out of town to connect with the interstate, at the advice of our innkeeper there at the Llewellyn Lodge. I would be remiss if I didn't note that our two nights there were lovely, comfortable and I slept like a log. And ate breakfast with cardinals. Birds, not priests. They have a gorgeous song, did you know? The birds, that is. Anyway, as we were headed out Route 11, we passed several horse farms and a number of beautiful homes, the oldest and most gorgeous of which had been slapped with a highway sign that said "Fancy Hill."

And my colleague noted that everything around here falls into two categories, hillbilly or fancy.

I think Val has a point, actually. I like that way of looking at things, that if you've gotten your act together, you get to be "fancy." If not, well, at least you're wholesome and charming. I think I'll adopt this as my approach to life now.

Hell, I even feel fancy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lexington, Virginia

I've been working in Lexington, Virginia yesterday and today.

The town is quaint and lovely, with streets way too narrow for the SUV boat the rental car company made us take. It's sleepy, in a winter-in-the-South kind of way.

We wondered at the quiet. Of course, most people here are still traumatized by the Snowpocalypse that became Snowmaggedon. They're staying inside. Mounds of snow still frown from the ends of parking lots, warning the complacent. People ask us, did you hear we got a lot of snow?

I finally told one guy, that's the beauty of you guys living on the East Coast -- you can just assume the rest of the country knows your news. For a week, all I heard about was Snowpocalypse.

Then they sheepishly ask if us Westerners laugh at them. I had to say, yes, yes we do. But I added that we also understand that they're ill-equipped. I guess that makes it a sympathy laugh?

The town is nearly silent, both day and night, but Lexington is home to both Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, so it seems this little hamlet should be teeming with young people, dashing about, doing their higher ed thing. My colleague and I decided that the VMI kids probably don't get to dash about doing frivolous things. We finally glimpsed them today: the track teams out, running the sidewalks in earnest muscularity. One trio of young men ran past the snowbanks in shorts, flashing their sculpted thighs. My colleague sardonically commented that some people can have legs like that just by being young, much less by running.

I just enjoyed the scenery. Is that so wrong?

Turns out it's Washington Break at WLU, which explains their lack of presence in the community. No, no -- it totally doesn't matter that they have their own self-named break. Amusingly, the school is named for both George Washington, who gave the original bequest to the school, and for Robert E. Lee, who was president of it. Revolutionary and Civil wars come together.

I'm wondering when Lee Break is. Fall, right?

Yes, we drove around and read the informative historical signs, since the sun was out and we finished meetings while we could see the town in natural light. We did not go see, despite the urgings of a surprising number of people, the gravesite of Stonewall Jackson's horse.

But I like to think this funky balcony support is a tribute to that brave steed.

Besides, my favorite time of year is Horse Break!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Glass Jellyfish, Italians and Time

Dale Chihuly glass jelly fish swimming through the atrium at O'Hare.

Usually, I don't have time to notice stuff at Chicago's O'Hare "You might have a ticket but you can never leave" airport. But yesterday, I was there for a 3.5 hour layover, watching the rain turn to snow and fervently praying it wouldn't turn into an overnight or, worse, days of layover. It could have happened, too. My Roanoke, Virginia flight took off on time, but many D.C. flights were canceled.

According to the cell conversations of the people around me, which I consider to be a more reliable indicator than most.

It seems like one usually gets either 30 minutes or hours at O'Hare. This time I opted for hours. Because I really hate missing connections. And more, I really hate missing them there. In fact, I go to great lengths to avoid connecting through O'Hare. In double-fact, I've been so successful in this resolve that I apparently have not been there in so long that I totally forgot where I like to eat there.

This might sound stupid to you, but I've spent enough time in airports that I know pretty much where I'll eat at each one. Sometimes even what I'll order. Are you thinking this is not adventurous? Then you'd be correct. Someone who spends a lot of her time in airports shudders at the thought of adventure. She wants reliable, relaxing and reasonably nutritious.

Trust me.

I'll even, all things being equal, choose connections through airports that I have places where I like to eat. And shop. And sit in pretty white rocking chairs to watch planes and write.

So, I had lots of time to kill at O'Hare. I wasn't trapped to the singing underground tunnel between B & C concourses, nor to the claustrophobic Y of the E&F concourse hell. Instead I wandered over to the Europe of O'Hare and found concourses G, H & K.

Where the beautiful people live.

It was pretty there. And serene. Brushed steel, wood panels and soft foreign voices. Oh, and a Macaroni Grill, where I could sit and pretend to be having a lovely dinner out instead of being trapped behind airport security. A couple of incredibly gay Italian boys sat at the two-top next to me, loving the hot bread, thinking the espresso too weak. They argued about the time difference between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and whether you could fly directly from Long Beach, I told them to pile their stuff on the bench opposite me, as long as they said hello to my invisible friend, which they cheerfully did.

I enjoyed their semi-anonymous company.

Which is good, because not long before that I composed a tweet in my head: "Where do all of the people in airports come from? I like most people I meet. But in airports, I hate them all."

People behave badly in airports, I think. No one wants to be there -- they all want to be either where they're coming from or going to. Maybe people just can't be human in a place they don't want to be. Maybe they can't help being hateful.

And maybe the secret, like all of life, is to find the quiet, serene pockets where people are where they want to be, doing what they want to do.

Also, to look up and see the glass starfish someone hung for you, just in case you weren't running too fast to see.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wiley Coyote

This is our patio, for those who don't know. We keep the feeder stocked and lots of birds come in. Ground feeders visit, too, packrats, mice and bunnies gleaning the spilled seed.

David has a night-vision camera with a motion detector. He hangs it on the near portal post.

This is what the area under the feeder looks like at night.

And here's a bunny coming to visit.

In the classic cycle of nature, where there's prey, predators follow. (Note coyote tail disappearing into the brush.)

After a suitable amount of time, the bunny returns.

What? You didn't believe me before about the coyote? Couldn't see him?

Here he is!

Wondering what that clicking sound is.

He hunts through the night. Leaving with dawn and the stirring of our household.

These two are from another night, but I like the sequence.

Last clear shot at 4 am.

And our dog, Zip, investigating the invisible evidence.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I take a lot of photographs, to get the one I want.

This is something I learned a long time ago, from professional photographers. Back then, I thought, well this is something I'll never do, because film and developing were expensive and was a kid. Seriously. I remember being disappointed in my photos from Girl Scout camp because I could never really capture how things looked. So, I had no funds to devote to getting the right picture and when I did have funds, I still didn't care enough.

I'm an impatient person. My greatest flaw perhaps? David thinks so. Or at any rate, if he could change one thing about me, that would be it.

Of course, if I got to pick, I'd probably have him be ready to go on time, so there's a lesson there. Draw your own conclusions.

Still, I'm just not patient with doing one thing multiple times. If I can get away with doing it right the first time, I will. If I can get away with doing it mostly right, or close enough the first time, I will.

The beauty of the digital camera is, I can take lots of photos and easily review and delete them. The downside is, I'm accumulating images. The sunset pic from last night is one of eight I ended up keeping. I had a hard time deciding which to show you.

I don't like rewriting, either. It feels like retread to me. Back when I typed my papers for college on my Brother Correctronic, I did just that: composed as I typed. One time through and I was done. In my perfect world, I'd write a novel that way, too -- beginning to end, one time through.

I know, I know. It's not a perfect world and I'm not queen of it. Much to my chagrin, I assure you.

So, the New Novel is coming right along, but I'm feeling aggravated with it from time to time because it keeps wriggling and changing under my hands. I thought I was molding one story and it keeps mutating into other things. This is okay, I know. The other writers keep telling me to go with it, let it be what it wants to be, this is magic and so forth.

But what annoys me is: I'm going to have to revise the beginning. Probably multiple times. Gah!

At least I don't have to do it on paper. Small mercies for an impatient writer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Happiest Person You Know

An old flame got in touch with me the other day.

I hadn't seen or talked to him in over 20 years. And neither had anyone else that I asked. Contrary to my fears, he hadn't self-destructed. He'd done AA, married, had some kids and fishes a lot.

"I'm the happiest person you know," he said.

Well, you know me -- I want to quibble that two Facebook messages after 20 years doesn't really count as "knowing" someone. And his happiness is self-reported. I have no way of knowing if he is representing his life accurately or if those things truly make him happy.

But I'm happy for him.

Penelope Trunk posted the other day the culmination of her research on happy lives versus interesting ones. She even has a little quiz to rate your own life. I came out -1, which puts me as "suspiciously well balanced." Or lacking a self-identity. I've never had self-identity issues, but I always come out on this stuff as well-balanced. I'm halfway between right-brain and left-brain, halfway between Type A and Type B. It's why I call myself a fence-sitter -- I'm always on the line in-between.

I could never say that I'm the happiest person you know. Though I am a very happy person. I also think I have an interesting life.

Yesterday, David went for his physical exam. This is a new primary care physician, since we moved here only six months ago. He picked her partly because she has a reputation for being friendly to natural medicine approaches. She, like many people involved in natural medicine and new age spirituality, is very much against alcohol consumption. She told David he should give up alcohol since he's pre-hypertension (his blood pressure was 124/84 and she feels anything over 120 is too high). David says he enjoys our cocktail hour; enjoys having a drink with dinner and he's unwilling to give that up. She asked if he needs to drink (don't they always ask that?) and he said no, but he likes it. Then she said that, since David practices Tai Chi, he should understand that you don't need alcohol and that you can lift your consciousness through Tai Chi and that's what Tai Chi is all about. And David said, no, Tai Chi is about moderation. It's about the middle path.

Sure, we knew plenty of people in our years of training in the Taoist arts who gave up alcohol. David gave up alcohol for two years. I gave it up for weeks and months, doing various purifying gigs. People also totally gave up things like refined sugar, meat, sex. Sometimes you have to give stuff up. Sometimes you're allergic or addicted and it can't be in your life because it becomes a poison.

But it's interesting how people gravitate towards the idea that anything that gives you pleasure is somehow interfering with spiritual development. Is simply bad and wrong.

In the long term, though, it's hard to say what will contribute most to your life. You might give up all the food and liquor that give you pleasure and live into an ascetic extended old age, but what have you really gained? And what if you get hit by a bus?

As I said, I'm a middle path kind of gal. I gravitate to the health choices that make immediate impacts. Eating right and exercising are not only good for my long-term health, but they make me feel good now. Those choices improve my quality of life. I love a good glass of wine and the occasional brownie, too. Those also contribute to my enjoyment of life.

The happiest people I know? They're not the ones laboring to give up all bad influences, trying to live forever and become wiser than everyone else. And neither are they the most interesting people I know.

The happy and interesting people are the ones savoring every moment of their lives. Pursuing their passions and savoring the pleasures.

I raise a toast to that!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Breathing Water

This is from Valentine's Day. Love this dramatic window of sunset. There's probably better ways of photographing the sun dead on like this, but clearly that knowledge is not mine.

Alas. Still on my list to take a photography class.

Not more important than writing my novel at this time, however.

So, after two days of being full-time writer girl, I haven't written more than I would on a normal day. I figure if I write about 1,000 words in two hours on a normal day when I also work the day job eight hours, then with six hours of writing time, I should be able to write 5,000 words.

Yes, yes -- I know the math comes out to 3,000 words, but I have this dream that the block time will make the word count expand in this glorious exponential way. See, if I could write 5,000 words a day, then a five-day work week would give me 25,000 words, which means I could draft a 100K novel in a month. Give me another month to revise and that would be excellent productivity.

What? You already knew I was a dreamer!

Anyway, I'm not coming close to 3K words, much less 5K. But I am finding that the New Novel is coming together in my head in this most marvelous way.

See, I've been bemoaning (mostly to myself) that I haven't yet written the truly complex novel I want to write. I want to have written Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Avatar (which means I would have written Kushiel's Dart and Kushiel's Chosen, too, then brilliantly capped the trilogy with Avatar). I want to have written A.S. Byatt's Possession or Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye or Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game & Speaker for the Dead.

And I have this idea that, in order to write books like that, you have to be able to dreamthink them for long periods of time. Like diving into the lake and living underwater in the mermaid city until you learn to breathe there.

At any rate, that's what's happening for me now. Though I spend a fair amount of time staring at the screen and not typing, I am learning to breathe. And this novel is taking shape.

Deep breath.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Me Time

I made the mistake of showing my mother my writing schedule last night.

As I mentioned, I'm practicing being full-time writer this week. I have vacation from the day job and need to get the New Novel underway. It's a good opportunity to see how I'd set up a professional work schedule without co-workers or daily hours expectations.

One of the main things I'm trying to do is make sure I don't dink on the internet all day. So I'm allowing myself online windows to check email, talk to people on IM, catch-up on Twitter and Facebook, read blogs and articles, etc. Which is why my mom asked, so she'd know when my online windows are. I pasted her my schedule into IM and she freaked.

Now, granted, people are often taken aback by my spreadsheets. I try to explain it's that little wedge of Virgo peeking through all the Leo. When I was a grad student, there was a blackboard over my desk that I would draw the semester's calendar on. I filled it in with all of my classes, office hours, and so forth. One professor, glimpsing it, said it looked like displacement activity to him. Some of it might be. But the practice helps me to get my head around what I want to do.

That's the key to me: this is all about making sure I'm doing what's most important to me.

One writer friend, Jeri Smith-Ready, announced on twitter recently that she created a screensaver that scrolled the message: "Is what you're doing right now more important than writing your novel?"

My mom thought my schedule sounded sad, lacked joy and human contact. She wanted me to show it to David, so he could weigh in on whether I'm crazy. He looked at it and said, "She just doesn't understand what you're trying to do."

Which she confirmed this morning, apologizing via IM during my online window.

I suspect a lot of the full-time writers out there would look at this and say I'm still spending too much time online. I wonder if I'd whittle that down over time.

But then, while I told my mom that David counts as human contact, my online time is the bulk of my social life these days. Quite deliberately so. When we moved, I decided not to join any organizations yet. Which I'm wont to do. I love to join. Then I inevitably end up volunteering to be in charge of stuff and suddenly I'm spending my non-work time on planning charity balls and not writing my novel.

When we moved, I sold my sewing machine and all the fabric I'd stored up, because when I'm quilting, I'm not writing my novel.

I can see how this sounds joyless. But for me it's about making deliberate choices to do everything I can to get to the point of being a full-time writer. Once there, I can judiciously add back in all of those other things.

It's difficult for people to understand, I think, the need writers have to build fences around the writing time. I suspect it's because a person writing looks like they're doing nothing that can't be interrupted. Just a quick question. Can you do this one thing. The non-writers don't know how long it takes to get the flow going and how the voice breaking in totally disrupts it. Soon to be published writer Allison Pang is facing this now. She'll be doing revisions on her current novel, plus outlining and drafting the next two, plus working on a totally different story that she loves. All this while working her full-time job and raising two young children with a husband whose job takes him away from the house a lot. I keep telling her she's going to have to get mean (not in her nature), carve out that writing time and fence it off. That probably sounds joyless, too.

What it comes down to is, when you want the big prize, you have to sacrifice to get it. Not a lamb or a pound of flesh. What you sacrifice is some of the other things that you decide aren't as important as writing your novel right now. What will those things be? Individual and carefully chosen.

It's the question wanna-be writers ask all the time: how do I find the time to write? The short answer is, you don't. You have to scratch and claw it out of all the other things in your life that compete. You make what other people see as joyless choices.

Fortunately, in the end, the writing itself is a surpassing joy.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I like this, when the sun is rising opposite the Sandias and first hits the peaks, highlighting them with gold on snow.

Lately I've been doing a new thing in the mornings. Not on purpose. In the last few years, since we started getting up early to exercise, and since we haven't been exhausted and sleep-deprived, I sometimes awake before the alarm.

This is unusual for me. I mentioned before that I'm not a morning person and really had to train myself to wake up early to write. When I was younger, I'd sleep through the alarm clock. I'd sleep through phone calls. I had to be dragged from sleep and it took forever for my brain to engage.

So, for me to awake before the alarm - sometimes as much as 45 minutes before - is a new experience for me. I lie there in bed savoring the warmth, the comfort, David's sleeping form next to me, and dreamthink.

This is how I'm thinking of it. My mind wanders through the story I'm working on and I kind of dream about it, kind of fantasize. It's probably Stage 1 or 2 sleep. I'm betting if we hooked me up to an EEG then, it would show spindle waves. Which is appropos of nothing.

What is neat for me, is this has become plotting time, in a lovely, effortless way.

When I wrote Obsidian, I started kind of from this state. It was a rainy Saturday morning in April. David had gotten up early to attend a seminar I blissfully did not have go to. I slept a long time after he left, as this was back in the exhausted & sleep-deprived days. When I finally awoke, maybe around 10:30, I laid there and thought about the long, vivid dream I had. Then I went upstairs and wrote it down. I wrote for hours while the rain fell on the skylights.

Some think creativity comes from the subconscious, welling up from deep within. And the subconscious can only really be heard when the conscious mind, with all her lists and timetables, is quieted.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wuv. Twue Wuv

David and I have been talking about the nature of love, lately.

I think I've mentioned it, in reference to other conversations. But this, of course, is the WEEKEND OF LOVE, what with Valentine's Day and all. The mentions of it have become truly relentless.

Two of the gals David goes to school with asked him what he's doing for me for Valentine's. Another took him aside to ask what she should get for her guy that he would like. It's funny: at 50, David is everyone's father figure. He gave her good advice though. He suggested some things I'd done for him that he liked and she was pleased.

I told David, though, that I don't really want anything for Valentine's this year. It just seems silly. (Plus, I hadn't been thinking about getting him anything!) David said he'd tried to explain that to the gals who asked, that doing something for each other on a particular day seems kind of false after so many years together. Whereas last week I was feeling sad and friendless (woe is me) and had a little crying jag at bedtime. And he was sweet to me and comforted me. That meant the world. More than flowers and candy on the designated day.

It occurs to me that Valentine's Day meant much more to me when I didn't have a special someone. I recall the agonies in school, wondering if I would get a carnation from someone besides my best friend. I'd watch the cheerleaders walk around with their buckets of tributes and wonder when someone would love me. Later, in college and grad school, when I was more often single than not, I would be fine with what I was doing, until Valentine's Day rolled around to remind me that I was alone.

Otherwise I never felt alone.

Now that I have David, who is so central to my life, I don't find that Valentine's Day validates anything. In some ways, it's just for show. Send me flowers so I can prove to the world that I'm loved.

The funny thing is, when you love and are truly loved in return? You don't have to demonstrate it to anyone.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Playing House

Kind of a playful sunrise, with all the little swirlies.

It's the common wisdom that the young of all species learn through play. Right? We know this. Kids play house and doctor. They play war and cops & robbers. You can watch kittens stalk imaginary prey. Puppies nip and wrestle for dominance. All of the developmental types love to do studies on this: how play develops the mental and physical structure we need to be effective in the world.

For the next week, I'm going to play Full-Time Writer.

Believe me, this is the funnest game ever! I hope so, anyway.

Things are slow at work. Predictably slow. as we're in the doldrums between the crashing waves of last year's projects winding up and just before the long voyage that will be this year's projects. One advantage of my super-busyness last Fall is I've got a fair amount of vacation and unused holidays built up. Our company is really great that way -- you can work on a holiday if you're pressed and save it for another time.

This is that time.

Don't worry -- I'll go on real vacation later this Spring, when David gets his two-week break from school and we'll go to VIRGIN GORDA! Did I mention we're going to VIRGIN GORDA?? Well, we are. (Thanks to Guavaberry Spring Bay for the pic!)

But for now, I want to use the uninterrupted time to get the scaffolding up on the new novel I've been noodling on. I need to think up a way to refer to it. I don't really have a title. I know how *I* think of it, but I don't want to put it out there in the world just yet. I'm feeling protective of her young and tender self. And you know I hate the term "WIP."

Hell, I guess it'll just have to be New Novel.

Once I did a writers retreat, at Ucross Foundation. An incredible experience that went a long way toward making me feel like a "real" writer in my early days. For two solid weeks I had a room, a writing studio and an actual staff that fed me. (And some other artists, too.) At midday they would creep up and leave a gourmet sack lunch outside your studio door, so they wouldn't disturb the incredibly important work going on inside.

Of course, being a writer, I would long for the interruption. Listening for the lunch elves so I could quit agonizing and have a legitimate reason to stop writing. I don't know what it is about writing that, once you have large blocks of time to do it, it becomes overwhelming. But, over the two weeks, I got better at it. There was no clock in my room and I didn't bring one, so I tended to wake when the sun hit my pillow, around 7. The only scheduled event in my day was dinner with the other artists every night.

When I returned, a friend asked me if I'd found my "perfect calendar." After a moment of thought, I said yes. Yes, that was a perfect schedule for me.

I've done the "at home" writers retreat once or twice before. But at those times, my writing habits were less solidified and my life was crazier. I ended up spending that time writing very little and napping a lot. Or catching up on other stuff.

This time though, I want to really test out what it's like. I want to set up my perfect calendar as a full-time writer and practice for when it's real.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Great Backyard Bird and Coyote Watch

All the animals are out and about now.

Spring may not begin until March -- which I quibbled about previously, so I won't reiterate my arguments, much as I enjoy reiterating my favorite peeves -- but the wildlife around Santa Fe is gearing up for warm weather.

Tuesday evening, as dusk fell, a couple of bunnies came out to hit up the game bird block out front. And a jumping mouse hopped by. Then, yesterday morning, I awoke to fog outside the window -- and a coyote walking by. Last night, a bobcat came up on the porch to nose around. And sniff around the game bird block.

Predators following prey in the eternal cycle.

The flickers have been diligently hammering on the house. If you've never heard a woodpecker at work on your house, well it sounds like the roofing crew showed up again. Maybe just the finish crew. But you could swear someone's out there pounding nails. If you look behind the suet feeder in this photo, you can see the fresh hole in the portal post that this selfsame bird drilled into it.

I assume that's her, anyway. She refused to give her name.

Being a woman, I decided food was the answer. The gal at the local Wild Birds Unlimited was dubious.

"Are you sure they're not looking to carve out a nest?"

"It's about the size of a quarter," I say. "If so, they've got a ways to go."

I'd walked in and asked for the Woodpecker's Friend. Which makes sense to me, but I apparently live in my own delusional world. I'm at peace with that. At any rate, the thing I thought I saw at Christmastime wasn't what I thought it was and it wasn't called that anyway. The upshot? I have to be my own woodpecker's friend. So I got the basic suet frame and the recommended suet and made David install it all over the hole, so the flickers would eat the suet and not the portal.

Right, he thought I was nuts, too.

And for a while, all we got on there were the bushtits. Which turned out to be really neat because they hadn't visited us other wise.

Then, a couple of days ago: the flickers found the suet. They've been happily cracking away on it -- and no other part of the house -- ever since. I know. I am totally vindicated. I *am* the Woodpecker's Friend. One day all you people learn not to scoff.

The Great Backyard Bird Count starts on Saturday. No qualifications required to participate. This year, if you tweet, you can use the hashtag #gbbc to report bird sightings. Hey, it does NOT get more fun than that people!

Nobody seems to sponsor the Great Backyard Coyote Count. But we caught one on the night-vision camera last night. It's actually an amusing sequence as he and the bunnies visit throughout the night. Tonight we'll see if we can't snap one of the bobcat and maybe I'll post the whole sequence tomorrow.

Oh, in this photo? I'm pretty sure he's looking at Isabel in the window.

She's hiding in the laundry basket today.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

In Flight Again!

I think I've mentioned before that, when I'm not sure what I'm going to write about here, I look on my camera to see what might be on there.

It's frequently a complete surprise what images I find there, which really shouldn't be the case, since most of the time it's only been a day or two since I snapped the pictures.

Short attention span much?

Except that's not really true. While my attention can be diverted, usually my problem is getting too wrapped up in stuff so that I lose track of time and forget stuff. Like, say, the tea water boiling on the stove. I wish I could say that's only happened once or twice, but I bet I've done it, oh, two dozen times at least. Now I actually set a reminder on my computer to go check it. Pitiful, I know.

In this way, the photos on the camera are like little notes to myself, to remind me of what I was thinking of or found interesting at that moment. Otherwise, I'm not one of those writers who writes notes to herself.

I saw a bit of advice the other day saying that writers should make notes with every idea or you'll forget it and lose it forever. I just don't think it's true.

Admittedly, last night, David and I were talking about something and I thought, oh, I should blog about that in the morning and now I don't remember what it was. But I'm not bothered about it because I truly believe that the thought will surface eventually, at the right time. If not, well, in the immortal words of Steve Martin, "It must not have been very important then!"

If you're radioactive, you'll remember eventually.

One thing that I do when I'm editing is I'll think, oh, I really meant to add in this phrase or this idea or feeling. I'll type it in and, two lines later? I'll find that exact phrase. One day I'll learn to read ahead and check to see if the past me already did what the present me thinks is so brilliant. One day I'll also learn to trust myself.

Rarely do I find that I left something out of a story, mostly I'm refocusing the reader's eye.

It's funny to me, to look at these photos I took the other day. On Saturday we went to the mall to find the glassblower's booth I spotted at Christmastime. Remember how I said malls didn't have them anymore? Well ours does!

And they totally fixed my glass fairy, whose broken wings I bemoaned in that same post. The guy only charged me a dollar to do it. (I gave him $5 -- not all miracles are costly.)

So, I snapped commemorative photos of the repaired fairy, for the triumphant return to flight blog post, since several people said the Broken Wings post made them sad. Witness my contract with the reader here: I'm providing you with a happy ending to the sad, sad tale of the broken fairy.

You can see, however, that I had issues with focus.

The camera kept "looking" out the window instead of at our main character, fairy reincarnated.

Some lovely nature shots there -- not to mention the fabulous rain chain! -- but the heroine is an unfortunate blur.

I finally figured out that I was too close to her and backed off. But then the secondary characters took over. Not that they each don't have their own story. Just not this story.

At any rate, I've extended this analogy until it's creaking, and you can see her at the top, in all her clarity and flightfulness.

That's my take-away today: trust yourself, things can always be fixed, and sometimes all it needs is a little refocusing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

When I'm Down and Feeling Blue

Sometimes I feel like I'm speaking to an empty room.

Maybe this is a writer thing. You write the words, they go out there and sometimes someone answers, but most of the time, not. Most of the time there's this vast silence.

Or, maybe people who become writers are people who feel like they're talking to an empty room already and writing the words down is a way to at least make them visible, if not heard.

It's a funny thing, because the reader doesn't experience this. The reader feels like they've participated in this whole conversation with the writer. You've whispered in their ear, they listened and thought about it, ordered their responses and perhaps revisited what you wrote in their minds over the course of the day. This is the part the writer never gets to hear.

And, of course, we all seem to be this chemically unstable combination of insecurity and raging egomania. Perhaps it's one of those things like running for President of the US, where only egomaniacs stand a chance of surviving the process. But, for writers, our marching melody seems necessarily threaded through with this minor harmony of doubt. I don't know -- maybe the President feels that, too, but doesn't dare show fear to the lurking wolves.

This morning, two nice things happened. A wonderful friend, who happens to be a Nebula Award-winning author and who offered to read my book to see if she could help expedite it past the slush piles, sent me a note on FaceBook, saying: "Wow! I was hooked on Obsidian by page one. You write really well."

And an email came from one of my oldest friends, saying: "I managed to get caught up on all of your blog entries that I didn’t get to while I was convalescing. They were full of lovely writing, touching sentiments, and pretty images."

Those two things? They're enough to make that empty room suddenly full of people.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

More from the Nerd Journal

I debated this morning: yet another sunset photo or yet another rain chain pic?

No worries -- you'll get the rain chain photo later this week, I feel sure. (Was that a collective sigh of relief? Thought so!)

I mentioned yesterday that I'm having fun working on this new novel. It's really quite refreshing, getting to do research and chalking it up as progress in the writing column. Part of what I've been doing involves this great big ancient Sanskrit dictionary. The book smells like university libraries. It feels good to sit in the leather chair in the sun with this heavy book in my lap. It does feel more important, as I mulled over earlier this week.

My mother (yes, that was her) castigated me in the comments of my post (probably rightly so) for saying that I sometimes feel less intelligent than I once was. Well, tracing these words reminds me of studying back in college. I feel the rush of discovery, the fascination -- I can practically feel my neurons buzzing to make new connections. I want to sit and read the dictionary all day. Which, now that I think of it, some of my high school cohorts snidely accused me of doing.

The other thing? It's relaxing. I have proof, even. This article in MarieClaire cites a study that shows even six minutes of reading reduces stress levels by 68%. And, you know, if it's in MarieClaire, it must be true. (They also helpfully translate, for the non-mathmatically inclined, that this is over two-thirds.)

The natural medicine types contend that our society is so chock-full of stress that we should be doing all we can to diffuse stress. They say that, even if we think our own lives aren't particularly stressful, that we're so surrounded by it that we cannot escape its impact on us.

Are you with me here? Turns out reading is healthy! Just like exercising and eating veggies!

I feel so vindicated.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What's Your Game Now - Can Anybody Play?

I really should scan in some of my photographs, so I don't have to borrow pictures of my friends' kids when I'm talking about my own childhood.

Though I love this pic of the red-headed urchin child born to one of my sorority sisters. I see a lot of my friend in this little girl's face. Which is a lovely thing, I think.

So, I'm changing up my process again a little bit. As you may or may not recall, when I wrote Obsidian, that was a major writing transition for me. I had formed my writing habits around essays. That was a very natural way of working for me. I worked four ten-hour days at my job, then took Fridays off to write. I could generally write a full essay in that one day. Start to finish, I could hold the full idea in my head and get it all on the page.

When I went to write a longer work, which at first were a couple of narrative nonfiction books, I found this didn't work. I obviously couldn't write the entire thing in one day, I couldn't quite hold the whole thing in my head and, if I wrote only one day a week, I would lose too much of it in between.

Eventually I gave in to the "write every day" crowd. At first it was quite painful. The other demands of my life didn't lend themselves to writing at any other time than early morning. And I am *so* not a morning person. At that time of my life, though, I took or taught classes every night from when I finished work until sometimes 1 am.

Mornings it had to be.

Now it's my pattern and it works for me. I get up early, exercise and write before starting work. Sometimes I have early meetings and that interferes, but in general, I get my words in every day. I've learned how to write a long work in increments, though I did it as I write essays: knowing my starting and ending point and letting the writing process wend me through it.

For a while now I've been wedded to that idea, that the true art of writing is letting the story emerge that way.

Several things have come together in the last week or so to change my mind. Allison is dealing with contract stuff and negotiating deadlines for her (very exciting!) three-book deal. She writes like I do, yet she's expected to provide detailed synopses of Books 2 & 3, neither of which are written yet. The thought makes *me* nervous. I've realized that, not only is Allison going to have to change her process, now that writing is her job (albeit a second one), if I get a contract like this, which I want and I'm working towards, I will have to do the same thing.

I might as well start now, without the pressure of deadlines.

I mentioned at the beginning of the week that I'm taking this time to figure out what I'm working on next. I tried writing on my various projects, just to see which one wanted to flow. A new urban fantasy novel stepped forward and she's going to be my dance partner for the next little while. I've been feeling like I should plot it out, but dreading that process. And maybe feeling like that's an insincere way to approach a story

The other thing that happened was I ran across a quote at some point. I think someone tweeted it and I regret that I didn't take note of who it was. But when I read it, I didn't realize it would stick with me the way it did.

I thought it was Jung, so I Googled him and some of the words I recalled and found it on this site, which has a lot of really great quotes on this topic. This is the quote that caught the edge of my attention, attached itself and like a burr finally buried its way in enough to prick me:

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.
Heraclitus, Greek philosopher, 535-475 BCE

On the way, I also saw this one:

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.
Carl Jung, Swiss psychoanalyst, 1875-1961

That quote by Heraclitus reminded me of my childhood games with Linda Ceriello. We would create these elaborate games with stuffed animals and model horses, such as boarding school. We spent hours and hours in prep, giving each animal a name and sometimes a family history. We created course curricula and interpersonal conflicts. In fact, we rarely ended up playing the actual game for very long because we spent so much time on the set-up.

You're probably way ahead of me here, but it hit me (sun breaking through the clouds, angels singing) that this was PLOTTING. Something about remembering the seriousness of our play and how gloriously fun it was, showed me that I have been plotting stories all my life. I just didn't know I was doing it.

And see? Jung wasn't the correct source, but he has something to serendipitously add: that new things are created through play, not intellect.

This means something to me because lately I've been feeling like I'm not as intelligent as I once was -- no, I don't know why I feel this way -- and I'm wondering if I even can create a complex world like I have in mind for this novel. Knowing that I can do what I did as a child liberated me and now I've been writing up this world, plotting it out.

I still seem to need the process of writing, but I'm just describing things, characters, religions, history. I throw in snippets of dialogue here and there, bits of pertinent interpersonal relationships.

The best part: it's really fun. Thanks for those days, Linda!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Old Wyoming Home

I don't think about the old house much.

Which is kind of odd, because it once meant so much to me. Last week, when David and I went to Ten Thousand Waves to celebrate our anniversary by soaking in a private tub, he asked me if I thought the new people were using the hot tub much.

I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

"Our hot tub?" he says. "The people who bought our house -- do you think they use the hot tub?"

Ohhhh. The hot tub we used to sit in pretty much every night for five years. In the house we bought for love. For jts beauty and the sunlight. I just hadn't thought about it. "They're from California and it's been a cold winter -- I hope they're using it!"

And then I started thinking more about how they were doing. If they figured out how to set up the pond heater so the koi in the pond will overwinter. The upstairs gets cold when it's really chilly -- I should have left a note telling them of my trick of closing the downstairs heating vents and turning on the upstairs ceiling fan and heating from the top down on those super-frosty days.

Last night I dreamed that we snuck into the old house. The person we were with -- maybe a real estate agent? -- knew they were out of town. So we went in to look around and all the windows were shaded so no light came in! Enraged, I went around opening shades and doors. I heard voices behind one door and there was a woman inside, reading to a little girl who was sick.


So I fled. Fortunately she didn't see me. (How she couldn't when I opened the door to the bedroom is silly, but that's the great thing about dreams.)

Anyway, I think I'm connecting with the timing. It was one year ago now that we put our house on the market. I started to say good-bye then. I wasn't sure of the date until I checked this blog post. Amazing to me how our subconscious notes and commemorates anniversaries, even if we consciously don't.

Coincidentally, I wrote about that house (okay, that part isn't a coinicidence - I write about every damn thing, like cats and New Mexico weather) and the essay appeared in Going Green.
Recently the Wyoming Library Roundup published an article on the anthology and they used a picture of our old house. (Look at page 9 - I can't seem to get it to bookmark.)

So now it's immortalized the way I liked it, for all to see. Which is a lovely by-product of writing. It doesn't really matter if they use the hot tub, if the fish survive the winter or if they close the shades.

It's their house now. Mine is in the book.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Muddying the Waters

We're in this precarious season of freeze and thaw.

It's a lovely thing, because it feels like Spring already. If we were in Wyoming, with all the snow that's fallen, we wouldn't be looking for it to thaw for months. In Santa Fe, the days warm up with gentle kindness, the birds swoop about singing with excitement and the road gets muddy as hell.

I'm talking deep ruts. That freeze at night.

But, aside from a filthy mailbox, it isn't really that bad. I'm curious to see if I'll have to wash the mailbox or if the Spring rains will take care of that. I've never washed a mailbox in my life.

I printed out my novel, Obsidian, yesterday. I can't believe I haven't used "Obsidian" as a label before, since I've prattled about it ceaselessly on this blog. What does it mean? Maybe just that I know the title could change (even though I think it's a really good one). Now that Allison is hashing out her book deal, they're discussing how to change her title. She doesn't seem to mind, since Laurell K. Hamilton already stole the title she really wanted.

At any rate, I printed the whole thing out to send to a sci fi/fantasy author friend who (with incredible generosity) offered to read it and help me bypass the slush piles of a few people she thinks might like it.

It's a huge stack of paper. Heavy.

It surprised me that I hadn't printed out the whole thing before. And it put me in mind of the days way back when I first set my writerly goals. I was working with the concepts of visualizing what I wanted, but wasn't sure what I was going to write. I knew, too, that I needed to be specific. (Be careful what you wish for!) So I visualized a manuscript, a stack of paper full of good writing.

When I printed out the final full manuscript of Wyoming Trucks to send to my editor at UNM Press, I experienced a moment of deja vu to see it looked exactly as I'd envisioned.

But with Obisidian, though I've sent out the full manuscript, I've always sent it electronically. Where paper, the post office and the mailbox used to be such a major part of my writing life -- and least the sending it out into the world part -- now it's really all via email. Which is great in many ways: cheaper, faster, more green, less resource-intensive.

It's also less weighty.

I saw this article yesterday, via the New York Times Science tweet. There have been a number of similar studies lately verifying this phenomenon of our brains, that what we think does have a physical effect on the world. This one is particularly interesting because they found that subjects assigned greater importance to things that were heavier.

You scoff? Go read the article. I'll wait.

Isn't that interesting? And you're thinking the same thing I am, right: ebooks.

After all of the bruhaha over the Amazon/MacMillan tussle over how much ebooks are worth, I wonder about how our animal brains value something that has no weight. That, in some ways, has no physical existence. The publishers insist that a book shouldn't be worth less because it's not printed on paper. But all of us know that creating a document electronically and sending it via the ether is cheaper. No matter how you spin it, all of us who no longer budget for paper, toner and postage can tell you that.

Certainly the publishers add value, through selection and refinement of the work. As do the agents who bring it to the publishers. And the booksellers who bring it to the readers. I noticed that, in all of the opinions flying around, most were from the publishers, agents and booksellers. A couple mentioned the readers. Almost no authors have spoken up. An oppressed people, we.

But, if we're to look at the core value, what people pay for is the story. Which has always been intangible. Which might be why the author's contribution to the equation tends to weigh less heavily.

I'm thinking, though, for important submissions I might invest in paper. Thick stuff with a formal feel.

I might have to wash the mailbox.

Monday, February 1, 2010

And on the Eighth Day...

Today I decide what to work on next.

It's an interesting place to be. When I was a reader only I felt this way when I finished a book. I'd turn to my always-towering TBR (to be read) pile and select what came next.

Sometimes the choice was obvious and I would dive into the next in the series. Other times I'd want to switch genres entirely. Every once in a while a book would be so powerful I'd just dream about it for the rest of the day, or a few days even, before I would be ready to move on to another.

I've realized recently that I used to identify periods in my life by what I was reading at the time. The auras of those books permeated how I thought and felt. That isn't so true anymore. Perhaps because I don't read nearly as much as I used to. Perhaps because I don't immerse in books the way I did when I was younger. But largely I think it's because I'm writing instead.

I'm noticing that my thoughts and feelings are now heavily infused with what I'm writing at the time. (I'm also noticing that I've started using "now" way too much. Allison pointed it out and it's like a freaking verbal tic that's driving me nuts. I tried to use "now" twice in the previous sentence. I need an exorcism...) I've finally moved into a place where I'm able to write longer works, by working on them every day. That means I dream about what I'm writing the rest of the time, which is really useful when it comes time to sit at the keyboard again.

But it means I don't mull over what I'm reading as much. Maybe this is a natural transition.

So, (I so want to type "now" here - argh!) here I am, between works. I finished the novella yesterday and sent it off. Obsidian is off with a couple of agents. After I finish this blog post, I'll need to work on something. One thing I've found, and I resisted this for many years when other writers gave this advice, it's really much easier if you write every day. I don't know why, but it's as if the pipe starts to crud up if you don't run water through it every day.

How to decide which project to work on next? I have no shortage of ideas and six projects in various stages of completion. If I had an agent or deadlines, I would know what project was jostling up to the front of the queue. I wouldn't have a choice, really.

So I should enjoy this freedom.

Hmmm. Maybe I'll switch genres.
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