Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Moon over China

I've been kind of mad at the Chinese lately.

I know this isn't a reasonable thing to say. I also I'm not alone in my sentiment.

China, their products and philosophy about them have become a huge part of our lives. Individual, corporate or government decisions to add poisonous supplements have affected even our beloved pets. A lot of this comes down to the Chinese having a very different perspective on the world. Many of their values are simply not the same. I know this.

There's a Chinese philosophy called Hei-Ho. It's a martial strategy, really. Basically the idea is that however you can win is fair to do. Whatever gives you and edge over your opponent is good. Ethics don't apply. I think this kind of idea underlies a lot of Chinese choices we don't understand, like adding poisonous melamine to spike the apparent protein content in a food. If it sells the food, then good, and too bad for the person you've tricked.

Then, yesterday, I read this article, which made me want to get on a plane and go feed a few zoo managers to the tigers. Basically a mass grave of 40 rare and endangered animals was found at a Chinese zoo. Financially strapped, the managers decided to feed the big cats bean cakes instead of the more expensive meat. It sounds absurd, but I know how they were thinking. I worked with a bunch of Chinese grad students for a while, and one asked David to look at her fish, because it seemed sick. He took one look and said it was malnourished. She said that couldn't be, she fed it everyday. When he asked what, she said noodles. Good noodles like she makes for her family. David explained that the fish needed protein. She argued. If noodles were good enough for her family, they were good enough for her fish. This gal was a PhD student in Engineering.

If people can live on bean cakes, so can tigers. Meat is a luxury.

So I was angry about this yesterday. Grieving for the beautiful animals so dependent on people who are foolish at best and cruel at worst.

In the late afternoon I set up my new patio furniture. Which is, of course, made in China.

It came in boxes, in pieces, for me to assemble. Each piece was wrapped, first in careful origami-like folded paper, then in bubble wrap, then taped into cardboard pieces to protect it. Two pieces were joined together with a tie for stability, but the knot was set up so I only had to pull one end and it slipped apart with simple elegance.

I started thinking about the person who tied that knot for me. Who took such meticulous pride in wrapping the paper around the metal arms, so they wouldn't be scratched. I'm thinking it was probably one of those country folks we read about. The ones who go work in the city and see their families maybe once a year, if there's a spot on a crowded train. People like the employees at the zoo who told reporters still more animals are close to death, but who have no choice but to feed them what they're told to.

We went to Scotland a few years ago, at the height of worldwide anti-American sentiment. We were nervous that people would say mean things to us. But no one did. People did ask us about American politics, but they always put it in terms of what our government was doing. It's possible the Scots understand better than most that the government isn't the people, but we were grateful that they took for granted that what Bush & Cheney said didn't necessarily reflect how we saw the world.

I suppose that's why it's ridiculous for me to be mad at the Chinese. Being part of the world means connecting person by person, not in great swaths of judgment.

Thank you, unknown Chinese person - I really like my new patio furniture.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Luscious Luddites

If the Harvest Moon rises like a big pumpkin, then the Worm Moon sets like a peach. The April moon is the Pink Moon. We'll have to see if it's any pinker than this.

I wasn't on the internet much over the weekend. Not really on purpose. On Saturday I did my writing and booked out fairly early for a day of power-shopping for patio furniture with a friend, along with lunch at the Guadalupe Cafe. It involved a lot of back-and-forthing and comparisoning. By the time I got home, with an enormous box of pool lounger wedged into the back of the convertible, I was tired. We did cocktails and movie-watching.

Never did turn on the laptop again.

Then Sunday was for grocery-shopping and the purchase of the rest of the patio furniture that I hadn't wanted to go back and buy on Saturday, because it would have meant leaving the aforementioned enormous box in my convertible in the parking lot. Then there was yet another trip back and forth, attempting to wedge more enormous boxes into too-small vehicles.

After that I spent the afternoon assembling patio furniture, hanging outdoor art and cleaning up the yard. It felt good to be outside in the sun. I learned how to drill through stucco. I did not do anything on my electronic To-Do list.

And it was good.

Someone mentioned on Twitter the other day that people had noted conversations were slow these days. Being my flip self, I asked if she meant the people or the medium. She said both. Then offered that perhaps, with the warming weather, people were spending more time outside.

That's okay, I think. It's good to walk away from the internet and spend some time in the sun.

I've received a lot of interesting feedback on Saturday's post about Kindle vs. iPad. The comments on the post give good insight to the mind of the reader. On Twitter, one techie blogger said that I might be the first person to fault the iPad for allowing me to multitask, but also called my post an "intelligent article." So I didn't say that I can hardly be the first to think so, I just might be one of the first to publicly complain about it.

I was surprised though, how many people contacted me to say they agreed - that for them reading is the last refuge from multi-input activities. It's a time to settle and concentrate on one thing.

It should be noted these are all readers. People who love to read and want to enjoy it.

RoseMarie sent me this really interesting study that she thought would shed some light on the real market for the iPad. She's right: they want the universities. The study tested out what would become the Kindle DX in several college classes. This is an interesting finding:

During the time of the study, the retail price of the Kindle DX was $489. Other eReader pricing varied from $199 to $859.13 When students were asked if they would purchase a Kindle DX (or other dedicated eReader) for academic use, they indicated that the price would need to drop dramatically –– to less than $100 –– in order for them to seriously consider purchasing one. However, many students suggested that they would be willing to spend considerably more for a multi-function device, such as a tablet or netbook, if it eliminated the need to own a laptop (and if it were as comfortable as an eReader for prolonged reading).
Multi-function device, eh? And a very juicy market.

A couple of other things to note from the study are that students found they concentrated better with an eReader that removed the temptation to check email or surf the web and that some of the students noted that they didn't experience eyestrain reading on the computer. That's notable to me because Kev has argued with me that it's a generational thing, that the younger people don't mind reading on the computer. I think eye strain is eye strain and they're just still too young to really feel the impact. But we shall see.

What's becoming clear to me is that the recreational reader isn't really on the marketing radar here.

I don't want to become yet another person proclaiming the death of publishing, but I think this approaches the core of the issues with books and readers. The people who sell stuff, the black-magic marketers, want to simplify books into a commodity. That's their job. Sell the product they want to sell for the price they want. But books don't fall neatly into the commodity-niche. They are essentially immaterial - a story, a feeling, a time in a different head or a different world.

Reading is, in the end, solitary and intimate.

Maybe I'm naive, but I'm not sure I believe you can sell that.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Guerilla Marketing

This morning, when I signed onto my laptop, an incorrect password error message flashed -- and I realized I'd typed in my main character's name from the New Novel, instead of my password.

I'm taking this as a positive sign. Or at least, a sign of the right kind of writerly craziness.

It feels good, actually, once you reach that level of immersion in the novel. That's the point where it starts to feel more like it's writing itself instead of you eking out each word, begging it to move forward. Forcing things to happen. Once the momentum kicks in, it seems things begin to happen on their own and you're just there explaining it to the reader.

Which is fun.

Not so fun is this phenomenon I'm witnessing about the iPad, which is supposed to be the new tech toy. I've being seeing lots of stuff like this. Note that the headline is "iPad Killed Kindelnomics." Then remember that, oh wait, iPad hasn't been released yet. And then note that this a guy's blog. This "article" is no different than me proclaiming that no one is buying chocolate ice cream anymore because everyone likes this new flavor of pistachio better. Never mind that very few people have even tasted the new flavor.

A lot of these sorts of these have been circulating through Twitter and various publishing venues. Some even have these graphs that supposedly show how Kindle users are giving up their Kindles and buying iPads. The statistics behind them are indecipherable. I'm starting to wonder if they're not completely fictional.

Maybe everyone knows this but me, but I think Apple has been encouraging an army of tech bloggers to push public opinion in favor of the iPad. It keeps hitting me wrong because I have a Kindle 2, which I love. I have absolutely no desire to acquire an iPad. Actually I have no interest in it at all. I have a laptop (two, actually, one for work and one for personal), a Blackberry, a Kindle and an iPod. Their overlapping functionality more than fulfill all of my tech needs.

What I love most about my Kindle is it feels more like reading a book instead of being forever on the computer. I love that the screen is not backlit, so I can read for hours without eye-strain. I love that using my Kindle is only about reading, not multitasking.

Wasn't that the point?

I mean, a few years back, I remember answering surveys about an ebook reader and what would it take me to convert from paper to electronic. Those were the major points that it seemed all readers offered. And Amazon developed the Kindle exactly along those lines. Everyone I know with a Kindle loves it. One person, a prominent blogger, doesn't like the lack of organization of the books on it - which is an issue I don't get because I can always find what I want.

So, the always-evolving, always-competing tech world wants to convince me that what I wanted most in an ereader isn't what I wanted at all, that I'm not satisfied. Despite their creative representation of the world, I don't think the techies will convince most readers either. The editors and agents may want greater ability to annotate, but the mass of people out there who just READ, who love BOOKS and not computers, don't think this way.

Of course, none of them read techie blogs, either.

It seems to me to be the one thing forever being left out of the equation: the reader. Which is ironic, since we all started out that way. Writers may love to use the saw "I wrote my first book when I was seven in purple crayon," but they should really mention when they read their first book. Or when it was read to them.

My mom used to read to me, every night. She stopped when I started reading over her shoulder and correcting her when she missed words. She finally handed me the book - I remember it being Charlotte's Web, but that seems awfully pat - and said I was ready to fly the reading nest.

That opened the world of books to me. Any book would fall before me. I could consume it at will, yanked away only for meals and school.

Isn't that where we all started? Nose buried in a book.

Don't offer me a better way to multitask. I just want to read.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Cleaning

No, it's sunny and warm today. This pic is from a few days ago.

Sometime soon, this weekend maybe, I'm going to cut off those seed pods. The gillia need tending also. And the whole secret garden needs clearing out. Time to clear the way for the new.

So, yesterday, I held to my ritual and I did not turn on my phone until after I finished my wordcount. Then I turned on the Blackberry and watched the email messages stack up. And then, wow! A voice mail!

I confess I felt a thrill, dialing in waiting for the voice of RWA to tell me that I'm a special unique snowflake.

But no.


Yes, the office supply place that has never, ever called me before, calling to warn me that my order had been delayed until 3/25. For those keeping track at home, yesterday was 3/25.

Just a little cruel jab from the universe, mocking my little dreams.

And apparently the universe couldn't get enough of the joke: I received two more calls yesterday morning, both from numbers I didn't recognize, one being a wrong number and the other being Staples, AGAIN. This from a cell phone that doesn't ring for days.

The great lottery goes on. Allison didn't final either, with the manuscript that just snagged her an agent and a three-book deal, so that gives you an idea of how well a contest like this predicts publishability. Amusingly, blogger doesn't believe that's a word.

An agent who has my manuscript Tweeted from the Bologna Book Fair that what's "in" are angels, zombies and dystopias. None of which are in Obsidian. I envision that all across Twitterville, writers were brainstorming post-Apocalyptic landscapes with zombie angels.

Nothing new under the sun. Chasing after the wind. Don't call me angel of the morning.

Staples called me one more time in the late afternoon, asking if my order had arrived. I said, why no, but I was in no hurry. He asked me what time it was for me and I said 4:09. He told me the driver had until 5 to deliver the package. Okay, I said, though did I mention I don't care. He tells me that by law he's required to make sure it gets delivered by 5.

I'm wondering if this is part of the Health Care Reform.

After all this? No, my printer ink never arrived. Not that I care, since I'm all set right now and was planning ahead for when the ink in the printer runs out. I imagine that, when I turn on my phone, I'll have a voice mail from them.

I'm thinking about submitting my manuscript to Staples. At least I can be sure they'll call.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


It's a Major Award.

Today is an exciting day in the romancey community. RWA is a well-oiled machine, as you have to be for a major advocacy group with over 10,000 members. Today is the day RWA announces the finalists for the Golden Heart Awards for unpublished writers and the Rita Awards for published writers.

There are multiple categories such as single-title contemporary (that would be your standard Nora Roberts/Linda Howard novel), or series (such as Harlequin), or paranormal, or romantic suspense and so forth.

Everyone submitted their books or manuscripts back in December and now all the judging is in (from fellow RWA members). Finalists are notified today and the winners will be announced at the big awards ceremony at the RWA National Convention in July.

That's when you get to see Nora in her Ferragamos accepting her trophies.

All across the internet, there are blog parties today. People chime in when they've heard that they finalled and others comment to congratulate. The people you don't hear from are the ones still clutching their cell phones, waiting for it to ring.

A lot of hope out there today, swirling through the interwebs.

Which means there will also be disappointment. A lot of phones won't ring.

Golden Heart, particularly, can be held up by the unpubbed writers as the pinnacle of success. It's a particularly nice deal in that, if you are a finalist, you get first pick of the agent and editor pitch appointments at the convention. Theoretically they'll take you more seriously, having been vetted by your colleagues.

But that only points up that the Golden Heart is only an intermediate step to the REAL prize: publication. Which is the whole point, after all. At least for the upubs. Clearly all those Rita finalists are hoping for another level of validation, likely just as crucial to them. Maybe more so.

I've seen several "studies" - bloggers doing informal surveys of Golden Heart winners - to see if there was a correlation between winning or finalling and publication. The answer, as always, is yes and no. It looks to me like it helps, but it's far from a sinecure.

Like all contests, it can be wonderful validation from your peers, but it really doesn't put your book before readers' eyes. Readers who will pay you to eat so you can keep giving them stories, much less readers who will give you enough money to buy Ferragamos.

I don't know if I'll check into the blog parties or not. I'm keeping my phone off until my writing is done. That part must remain sacred, as it's the core of it all.

It's hard to wait. Hard to rest your hopes on whether someone gave you a score of 7 or 9, or even an 8.8. You take a little piece of your heart and lay it on the marble slab under the judges critical eye.

But, in the end, an award is only what it means to you. Even a Major Award.

Even if it's Italian.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Slow Growth

Agents often seem to admonish writers to be patient.

It's one of their core themes of advice to aspiring writers and, I feel sure, to the authors they've signed to work with. The industry moves slowly, they say. Give them time to work.

This advice is, naturally, also self-serving. It's a nice way of saying "don't bug me." Fair enough. Agents and editors juggle a lot of balls and reading takes time.

What they don't think about, it seems to me, is that we've already exercised tremendous patience.

If slow and steady wins the race, then the writers are trailing over the finish line well after the tortoise is in the club bar celebrating. Writing is an incremental craft. It's like building stalagmites with the water of your soul. You flood the page with words and hope a few stick. Day by day, you watch the wordcount gradually increase. Then you see something formed wrong and you knock off a chunk, and let the words accrete again.

Once your pillar of salts has grown large enough and seems done, you polish and carve. It feels like you're using your fingernails to do it.

Then, after all of those hours alone with your creation, you package it up and send it out into the world, to find out if anyone else thinks it's neat enough to pay you for it.

And they tell you to learn patience.

All you can do in the end, really, is not bug them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Flower Arranging Fail

This is kind of a "fat guy in a little coat" joke of a bouquet.

(See the clip from Tommy Boy, if you don't know what I mean.)

But I love how daffodils look in this blue vase. How was I to know the blooms at the new house would be way too short for my favorite daffy vase? I suppose I could have predicted it, since the length of the flower stem from a bulb plant is directly proportional to the amount of time it's been frozen. Thus in Laramie we had "leggy" tulips; in Santa Fe, the daffys are short.

These are, however, the first daffodils of the season and thus to be celebrated.

And, yes, I'll go dig out another vase for them. The color contrast won't be as good, but they won't look quite so swallowed up. One has to trade off, now and again, to get the best possible result.

Writers often debate balancing dialogue with narrative, the advantages and disadvantages of first person vs. third. Everyone wants to find the magic formula. Over time, one discovers that there's no such thing. There are no rules, only general guidelines. And even those guidelines can lead you astray.

Unpublished writers tend to be much harsher critics as contest judges than published ones are. They're much more likely to cite a raft of "thou shalt nots" and rank a manuscript low if commit the sin of transgression. Published writers more often focus on the story itself, and whether it works. They're more likely to understand that you're really going for the yellow and blue contrast. They might point out the vase is too large, but if the whole thing is pretty, who cares?

Sometimes, it makes the joke.

Monday, March 22, 2010


It's amazing the results you can get, when you give something what it needs.

The trick is, figuring out what that is.

This little Madagascar Palm is our Exhibit A for flourishing in our new environment. The picture on the left is one I took this morning and the one on the right was from last summer. Yes, I did repot it into a much bigger planter (which was free with Bunny Bucks from Jackalope - woo hoo! love this town!), but the palm demanded repotting within a few weeks of our moving here, it was growing so large, so fast.

I should also mention that the picture on the right is pretty much how that palm looked for something like 15 years. I kid you not. In the early years of our relationship, when we had practically no money, David and I would take road trips for spring break. We'd head to the desert Southwest to get as warm as possible as quickly as possible. Often we'd end up somewhere in Nevada where the casinos provided very cheap lodging. (Harrah's in Laughlin for $19 per night - ah, sweet nostalgia.)

We would also buy cactus.

It sounds funny now. I don't know why we liked to buy cactus. Except that they were unusual plants that we didn't see in Laramie. And they were inexpensive and fun. We bought quite a few over the years and most died. The Madagascar Palm hung on, but now I suspect it was kind of in stasis. The palm version of cryogenic freezing, in hopes of being awakened in a better future.

Several people made interesting comments on my last post, about changing the physicality of writing when you get stuck.

Keena said she does as Marin suggested, and actually does move to paper and writing out longhand. Marin mentioned a writer who always writes longhand because it slows him down, causing him to be more careful. This is a diametrically opposite approach to the "fast draft" or "shitty first draft" method that many writers like to use today.

I suppose the point is that sometimes you have to mix it up. Try new things and see how they work.

You never know what might make you really flourish.

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's Not Easy Deleting

Yesterday I started off my writing day by deleting all but nine of the words I'd written the day before.

Now, this isn't as bad as it sounds, since I'd only written 339 words the day before. Each one extracted like a bad tooth and laboriously typed. Over something like two hours. It just was not working.

There are two schools of thought on what this kind of wall means: either you've taken a wrong turn and the work is telling you by resisting or that you're up against something really important and you have to punch through to the other side.

There lies the conundrum.

How do you know how long to keep chipping at the wall, looking for that little glimpse of Shangri-La on the other side? At some point you're no longer making progress, you're just banging your head against a brick wall and the only thing chipping is your skull.

Eventually I gave up at my pitiful 339 words. After all, I do have a day job. I looked at it the next morning and couldn't bear to try to make that scene work any more. Made my head hurt just to look at it. So I deleted everything up to the previous scene. Kalayna Price, who's a supportive friend, as well as a terrific writer, said she hoped that the nine words I saved were at least really good ones. (I, of course, had to tweet my ignominious beginning.) It's a nice thought, but I don't know -- they must have been incidental edits to the previous scene.

This is a bit of a cheat, to delete before I officially start for the day. I figure my wordcount on a daily and weekly basis. (Have I ever mentioned I love spreadsheets?) At the start of my writing day, I put in the current wordcount of my manuscript. Then, as I write, I can watch the wordcount go up until I reach my target. This is why drafting can be more rewarding than editing -- I hate negative wordcounts. So I deleted before I began, so I wouldn't have to overcome the negative 330 to make my daily goal. It'll show up in the weekly goal, but there it is.

Marin, who has a knitting blog that's actually about knitting today, because she made this super-cool alligator sweater, responded that knitters call what I'd done "frogging." Why? Because you rip-it, rip-it, rip-it.

Those knitters are a wild and crazy crowd, I tell you.

But I love this analogy, the physicality of it. I don't knit, but I do quilt. I know that moment when you look at the thing in your hands and you realize that it's gone wrong. You made a mistake a ways back and the only way to get to it is to rip out everything from that point forward. At least in writing, thanks to the blessings of word processing, you can cut the scene and stick it in a little folder, just in case.

(And, every once in a while, you get to raid the outtakes and pop them back into the document, which makes the wordcount zoom up in a tremendously gratifying way. Okay - it's not an exciting lifestyle.)

When a thing is physical, when you can look at the rows of loops and stitches, you can see where the error is. With a novel that arguably exists only in your head, it's harder to discern where the mistake lies. Or even that it really is a mistake.

At some point, you just have to go with your gut.

And hit the frogging with as much grace as you can muster.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


LaTessa commented on my Spring Snow post that she'd recently flown over New Mexico -- on her way from Memphis to Vegas.

(Of course, her main point was that she couldn't figure out what all the white stuff on the ground was, but we won't go there. The woman is stressed and suffers from various delusions. We all just look the other way.)

But I think a lot of people fly over northern New Mexico. The contrails at sunset are spectacular. This is a bit like noting that increased pollution makes sunsets more dramatic, and that a nuclear blast would REALLY liven up the skies. It makes for a happier life to just enjoy the pretty. Whether the condensation trails from airplanes have a serious impact on global climate change is just one more thing I can't think about. I'm already scrutinizing all of my plastics to see if the (frequently illegible) number on the bottom makes it recyclable or not.

It makes sense, though that there are so many planes flying over our piece of the world -- we are on a direct route to Las Vegas and most of southern California, as well as Mexico to all points northerly. There's a phrase, even - "the flyover states" - coined by the people who fly from, say, New York City to Los Angeles. Oh yes, it's a a term of contempt, lumping together all the people who don't live in the major, urban coastal cities and who therefore develop unsophisticated ideas.

It doesn't help that there are a lot of people in those states with poorly reasoned ideas. Not that there aren't a few in those coastal, urban centers, too.

It's easy to fly over and forget what the experience on the ground is like. We forget that other people's lives aren't exactly like our own. We might know it, in our heads, but our hearts forget. We get caught up in the tumult of our own lives, the daily concerns, sorting the plastic recyclables, admire the sunset and hope the contrails aren't really such a bad thing.

Every once in a while, we notice that someone else has snow.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Emerging Writers

I saw yesterday that my alma mater is holding a special event celebrating emerging writers in the creative writing MFA program.

This is likely code for "these are three people who'll be graduating in May and trying to hack it in the real world, so let's give 'em a bit of a boost."

The thing is -- and I know I read and watch way too much sci fi, so this could be just me -- the term "emerging writer" always sounds vaguely insectile to me. Kind like pod-people covered in weird mucus-stuff. I know I'm likely meant to envision the beautiful butterfly, but I tend to fret about the cocoon itself. If a writer "emerges," where were they before that?

Sealed in muck, wrapped in a protective package?

Maybe they have a point.

The word "emerge" comes from the root mergere, which meant to dip, sink or dive. So "emerge" originally meant (according to the Oxford English Dictionary, my bible in all things etymological, if not entomological) "to rise by virtue of buoyancy from or out of a liquid."

See? There we are, right back in the mucus, the nutrient bath. I suppose there could be something to the metaphor. Many writers talk about the act of writing being like swimming. Annie Dillard said that it's like diving underwater and not knowing where your head will pop up. But that idea implies that the diving and emerging is a regular event, part of a writer's daily life. In that scenario, a writer would emerge by virtue of some unspecified form of buoyancy, only to deliberately dive again.

Which makes sense to me.

It's one of the great truths of being a writer that you are never there. You never get to dry your wing membranes and fly off to giddily pollinate flowers. Which is probably a good thing, since a butterfly's life is cruelly brief.

Only by diving back down again, can we find the buoyancy to emerge, over and over.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ides and Flowers

The Ides of March at least produced the first blossom of Spring.

I know. I know. It's one flower component of an an entire hyacinth. But, hey, the journey of 10,000 leagues begins with that single step, right?

Besides, I'm tickled to have actual flowers by mid-March.

It's long been the tradition of my Irish-Catholic family to plant sweet-peas on St. Patrick's Day. We soak them in buttermilk the night before. Living in Laramie for over twenty years disabused me of that notion. I used to try for Easter instead. Then I just gave up on a date and waited for the ground to thaw.

But it's supposed to hit the 60s tomorrow. I think I'll buy some seeds and buttermilk this evening, along with the eggs and Earl Grey on the list. Work is quiet, so I'll take a little time to plant my seeds. I don't know how well sweet peas will do here, but it's worth the experiment to find out.

I'm a believer in planting seeds. In the incremental approach. I'm not the first gardener to note that planting seeds is an act of supreme faith, in the universe, in the rhythm of nature. I'm not the first writer to go about putting down words little by little. Sometimes you have no idea what exactly is coming next in the story, but you take the seeds that fall into your hand and lay them into the fertile soil with love and precision.

By the end, you hope you'll have something beautiful.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring Snow

We left the palm trees and hot sunshine of Tucson and came home to a wet Spring snowstorm.

We didn't hit snow until north of Albuquerque, but then it hit us with a vengeance, making us crawl home. Someone in Santa Fe tweeted that it had been tea on the patio sunny, then a rainstorm, then all the snow. The forecasters had said snow after midnight, but this hit well before sunset.

Springtime in the Rockies!

The Spring storms are hard on the wildlife, too. A little bird, who had clearly gotten far too wet, pressed up on our threshold, savoring the warmth from our glass door. David captured it and we put it in a box last night to warm up. Now that the sun is warming and the snow shriveling before it, I set it loose to join its brethren at the seed-fest out front.

It looks rumpled enough that I can tell it from the others, but it should be okay.

Yesterday, before we hit the road, we stopped at Starbucks for breakfast. In Tucson there are these roving packs of bikers. The bicycle kind, not the motorcycle kind. They wear matching outfits, with the tight shorts, windbreakers and helmets. They zoom about the city in fleet groups and stop at Starbucks to sit in the sun and treat themselves.

There were several ladies of this ilk waiting for their lattes as we were, of that indistinguishable badly preserved 50s/well preserved 60s age. A very young girl also waited. She was maybe 18. I would have guessed younger, but she wore a short black satin skirt, a black satin top with big rhinestones and very high heels. Heading to a job at a nearby casino perhaps. Not your usual Sunday-morning garb. She looked gorgeous, with the long slim legs only teenage girls seem to have. Her pretty face smiled sweet and open.

The women glared at her and I saw her physically flinch and look away, some of her happiness dimmed. I wondered if she even understood what their problem was. She didn't seem to notice the weathered columns of their thighs, pressed into wrinkles by the tight Lycra. I wanted to tell the ladies to stuff their nasty looks, to give the girl a break.

Let her enjoy her Spring, I wanted to say. There's plenty of Winter to go around. We should celebrate the sunshine wherever we find it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sunshine, Beer and Palm Trees

So, when I was feeling sad, the last couple of days, my stalwart friends suggested that it was okay for me to take a little time. Not to worry about wordcount. Hot baths, candles, wine and reading were suggested.

The fact that so many people took time to offer me ideas to soothe myself meant more than any steps I might take.

I mentioned that I was off to Tucson to see my mom. And for sunshine, beer and palm trees. So, here you are.

It's amazing what some good conversation, fun meals and hanging out can do to improve your frame of mind.

Not to mention sunshine, beer and palm trees. My new mantra.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Frogs in My Driveway

It's been a funny weather year for everyone.

Certainly a wet one. It's hard to say, after all the spectacular drought if all the snow and rain is unusual, or just not drought.

One of my Facebook friends, a distinguished Southern gentleman I work with, commented yesterday that they've had so much rain that he had frogs in his driveway. I said that sounded like a metaphor for something. He replied that he'd be proud for me to put it in my blog.

Someone else pointed out that it's a toad, not a frog. He said he could live with that, too.

Yesterday ended up being a sad day. I wrote about Karol, as I really wanted to do, and then people replied. It was wonderful and gratifying, to see the various comments and read the emails. But it made each new contact freshened the grief. I suppose that's good, the catharsis of it. At times, though, I felt like I was drowning.

I find deaths and funerals to elicit strange reactions from people. In the first place, people in general don't know how to deal with grief. No one knows what to say to the ones grieving most. Largely because there's nothing to say. And then there's a level of competition, of who knew the person best, who loved her most, who's the most affected.

For me, Karol was far from being a central part of my life. There was a time we were in almost daily contact, but that had long-since changed. And yet, her disappearance from the world feels pivotal to me. I'm sure my issues play in, my own mortality, facing the ways in which that very fun and fertile era is over.

That's how it is for all of us. A death is rarely about the person who died; it becomes about the people left behind. After all, the person who died doesn't care about any of it.

Not so far as we know, anyway.

Perhaps that's why elegies always become autobiographies. People stand up at memorials and funerals to speak about the dead and almost always spend the whole time talking about themselves. They don't intend it that way, but the thoughts always wend towards how that person made them feel.

Nothing wrong with that, really.

Rain is just rain. It falls without reason, without emotion. We are the ones who assign meaning to it.

We're the ones who notice there are now frogs in the driveway.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Fair warning: today's post is sad.

I found out yesterday that my friend, Karol Griffin, has died.

Yes, it's a shock because she was my same age. And because she didn't tell me she had Hepatitis C. I didn't know she was waiting for a liver transplant.

But then, we'd fallen into a pattern of only emailing every once in a while. Actually, I should say that we'd taken up that pattern after falling out of touch for a number of years.

I met Karol sometime around 1996. I know this because that's always the year I cite when people ask me how long I've been writing. Those were the days of shiny exuberance. I'd joined a writers group and was producing real work that people liked and gave substantial feedback on. It was the beginning of what would become the Silver Sage Writers Alliance. We were a serious critique group that we eventually capped at 12 members. Most of us went on to publish in admirable places, several of us with books.

I remember when Karol joined the group, though I forget on whose recommendation. She was kind of wild, with her Betty Page sensuality and her full-sleeve tattoos. Her essays ran raw and sexy. One of our middle-aged members tried to turn a critique session into a counseling session, which Karol would have none of.

To my admiration.

Another one of our members once wondered if Karol wrote about her crazy life, or led a crazy life to have things to write about. She was fascinated by the idea of the outlaw -- both in the sense of the Mythic West and in our personal lives. When her book, Skin Deep: Tattoos, the Disappearing West, Very Bad Men, and My Deep Love for Them All, was published to the biggest advance any of us got, her outlaw life seemed vindicated. It's a wonderful book, too.

I remember helping her come up with the title. I know I had input and, not surprisingly, argued strenuously for my take at the time -- and now I don't remember which part I liked or didn't. It was Karol's book and full of all her deep love.

That was the thing about Karol. She was larger than life. Another one of our group said Karol reminded her of Marilyn Monroe.

Beauty, charisma and a smidge of tragedy.

Eventually things went bad for her. Those who know her, know what went down. Those who don't -- well, her writing tells you most of it, and tells it well.

We fell out of touch and I think it was because she wanted it that way. It was something she went through on her own. I always had the impression she didn't want witnesses. And that was part of her, too. Karol always did things her own way.

A couple of years ago I was at a book festival at one of Wyoming's community colleges. To my surprise, Karol was also on the program. After a couple of diligent hours at my table, I enlisted someone else to watch my books. I worried that she wouldn't be happy to see me, but her face lit up in her characteristic radiant smile when I walked up.

We talked a bit -- there wasn't much time -- but we started emailing again after that. She was teaching at the college. She'd met a man that she said met all the delicious criteria of a "Very Bad Man," but without the other stuff. She had custody of her son, Sam. She sent me the wedding photograph.

I was really happy for her.

I know there's no morality to death. I know that a person's liver doesn't care whether a person cleaned up their act and practiced a healthier lifestyle. Or whether she had a son who needed her. Or whether she had a lot to offer the world.

I suppose that all I can offer is my grief.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

See? I'm Smiling!

I had this teacher in high school who had a mean temper. He taught math and the newly introduced computer science. We learned DOS programming and how to create graphics by designating pixel ranges on Apple computers.

You now know exactly how old I am.

He would become aggravated with us. Especially if a student questioned his authoritae. His anger would be palpable as he reacted, but he would assure us he wasn't angry. "See?" he would say, "I'm smiling!" as he bared his teeth to us in a rictus of a grin.

Looking back, I suspect he'd had some sort of anger-management training where they counseled him to smile through the rage. It came out creepy, however, and many cartoons were circulated of him with a lizard head and that awful smile.

A book blogger I like brought up an interesting discussion yesterday, about an author who has been exhorting her fan base to buy her new release in a particular way at a particular time, so that she can hit the bestseller lists. What people have been responding to is less that she's asking this of her readers, than the tone she's using. One example from Twitter:

“One more time people: now..cough..FRAKKING LISTEN. I’ve said it 1000 times in the past 2 wks, ONLINE sales DON’T COUNT. Don’t help me at all”

The comments on the blog are interesting to read, as various authors are chiming in with their takes -- many of them saying they're happy for any and all sales and readers. The author in question has a number of champions coming to her defense accusing people of misinterpreting the woman's intent because body language can't be read through the internet and that she's a really sweet, funny person and people are just being mean to her.

Well, okay.

There's lots said about how the internet, whether it be emails, Facebook posts, Twitter, lead to miscommunication. (Amusingly, Blogger doesn't think that's a word.) I think that can certainly occur, especially with Twitter, where the responses can be staggered and so what appears to be an answer to one thing was actually to an older tweet.

But I think that often the communication is very clear. Perhaps more clear than people would like. Sometimes the intent is laid more baldly without the in-person wink-wink, nudge-nudge. A friendly smile might diffuse the exhortation that you must "FRAKKING LISTEN!" But does it change the intent?

A friend of mine is a big believer in "truth in jest." That people often cloak honest responses as sarcasm or jokes. The "oh, ha, ha, you're such a wench about doing dishes - just kidding." I suspect that we all become reliant upon using personal charm to smooth over awkward social situations. An opportunity the internet doesn't really provide.

A person might later cry "out of context!" or "I meant to be funny and was misread!"

The thing about the internet and social media is that they really do expose you to your audience. Warts and all. It's about connecting with other people, which means it can be really difficult to control what they see in you. It might be that people see who we are more clearly than we'd like through our random little posts.

Baring our teeth and assuring people that it's a smile won't always work.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Death and Taxes

Quite the thunderstorm rolled through here yesterday.

After quiet snowfall since December, the fury of the storm startled us. Lighting whipped out booming thunder. Rain and hail pounded on the roof and skylights with equal fury. In the way of Spring, the squalls passed through, ominous dark giving way to sunshine, until the next row of boomers passed over.

Yesterday a well-known, and generally regarded as successful, literary agent was tweeting that she needs a second job. She said that people don't understand how literary agents do and don't make money because the association rules forbid that transparency. But she asserted that agents in their first five years don't make any money.

I wouldn't know.

But I do know she works for a large literary firm that theoretically should pay her some kind of salary or wage. I suspect they also work for commission and that, over time, those commissions are where agents really start bringing in the bigger dollars. I suppose it's possible that her agency doesn't pay her a living wage. New York City is certainly massively expensive to live in, so a "living wage" means something totally different there.

The thing is, when people start talking about how much money they need to live, that could mean anything at all.

I follow this one blog from time to time, called Debt Kid. It used to be all about the one guy, who tanked himself financially doing day-trading and how he turned his life around and climbed out of truly enormous debt ($300K+).

(As a total aside, I don't like the blog nearly as much now. He brought in other people to blog about their out-of-debt journeys. I don't "like" all of them. Their voices and stories don't speak to me. I only bring this up because I notice this with group blogs -- I don't really like it when the blog I visit isn't the person I like to "hear." Something to keep in mind, anyway.)

At any rate, sometimes there's still interesting stuff and he recently posted about how where you live affects your spending habits more than anything else. Not the city, but the neighborhood. There was an article out at about the same time on tax breaks and discussing how people making upwards of $500K/year can complain that they can't possibly afford to take a greater tax hit. Those people truly believe that. Of course, their expenses are high. And if all of their neighbors are making $1 million/year, then they are the poor folk of the neighborhood.

It's an interesting thing to me: how much money is enough. The Tony Robbins money-making movement is based on the idea that if you're not making more money this year than last year, then you are essentially dying. In that view of the world, a person either grows or dies. And once the trajectory moves downward, it's very difficult to reverse, if not impossible. A personal and financial death spiral.

Which is just absurd.

I think, anyway.

Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk) was a good book and a good movie partly because it addressed the idea of stuff owning you, rather than the other way around. It also showed that you can always walk away from it. People only have to have what they think they have to have.

Seasons are cyclical. The winter gives way to the tumult of Spring. Storms hit and move on, leaving gentle sunshine behind. I don't have to make more money than I did last year. Whatever I have will be enough.

Friday, March 5, 2010


There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

~Anaïs Nin

I've always liked this quote. Amusingly, when I went to look it up, to make sure I got it exactly right, I found it on a website of quotes for gardeners. I want to write to them and say, erm, you folks *do* know this isn't really about flowers, right?

Which would be ingenuous, since it's clear they don't.

If you don't know who Anaïs Nin is, you should look her up. She was a French writer who wrote all her life, but was especially well known for her erotica. In the Preface to Delta of Venus, she tells the story of how a book collector offered her lover, Henry Miller, $100 a month to write erotica for him. They settled on a standard fee of $1 a page -- not a shabby deal in 1940. This is how Anaïs wrote the stories in that collection, and later ones. My copy of Delta of Venus was copyrighted in 1969 and belonged to my mother.

This is the IM conversation I had with my mother after yesterday's blog post about selling my erotic novella to Loose Id:

Mom: Good morning. Nice blog! So do you get $$$ for the ebook?
Me: oh yes! actually they pay 35% of every sale
Me: and thanks!
Mom: That sounds pretty good. And do people buy ebooks?
Me: yes, lots of them
Me: especially the Super-Sexy ones
Mom: and this is?
Me: yes - it's BDSM
Mom: Is there something a little weird about reading your daughter's pron?
Me: lol
Me: could be!
Me: one does not expect one's mother to read it. nor to tell her friends
Mom: hmmmm. This is a new-age dilemma! My mother would be totally wigged out!
Me: it's a new world
Me: I really did think about creating a secret identity for it, but Cynthia was really practical with her "what for?"
Mom: So one buys it online and then downloads it? Can one then print it out and read it like a "real" book?
Me: yes. or you could put it on your Kindle or other ereader
Me: or read it on the computer
Mom: gack!
Me: too fraught, on so many levels
Me: I'm amused that you picked up "pron" so quickly
Mom: Makes sense
Me: yeah, it does

She makes me laugh. Of course, it is a new world, with our youthful mothers who are active and free in a way their mothers never were. One of my Twitter friends commented yesterday that her parents were on vacation and were texting photos of their cocktails and that her mother had used the word "squee." She found it both amusing and unsettling.

I'm getting to know my new editor at Loose Id. She has an MFA in creative writing from University of New Orleans. She's asked me to make a few initial changes, to move the story along a bit, then the manuscript will be edited four times: twice by her, once by a line editor and once by a proofreader.

Whatever perception you had of ebooks, especially Super-Sexy ones, I doubt if this is it. I know it wasn't mine.

Maybe it's overreaching for me to feel a connection with Anaïs or Pauline Réage. But I do. I love their writing, and others like them. If you go to that link, you'll see that Anne Desclos (writing as Pauline) penned The Story of O to prove that a woman could, indeed, write an erotic novel.

It feels good to me to own that, to be part of all the women laying claim to our own desires, rather than hiding them away and leaving that realm to the men.

It feels good that we all have the freedom to blossom as we wish.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

World Domination: Phase II

So, I mentioned the other day that an epublisher offered to buy this erotic novella of mine.

You might have missed it, buried as it was amidst my other angst. I would not blame you if you were skimming at that point. At any rate, I'm signing the contract today and they'll publish my naughty take on Beauty and the Beast in early summer. I'll use the pen name Jennifer Paris, which is half of my pron name. And no, I didn't misspell pron. You pretty much have to use the word that way to defeat the icky-bots that crawl the web looking for that kind of thing. As it is, people search for bizarre stuff on writer's websites. Here's an example from Meljean Brook. I just love how she offers the searcher alternate scenes.

I'm sure you know, but your pron name is the name of your first pet combined with the first street you lived on. Technically I'd be Stormy Paris, but that's just a little too.

My friend Cynthia Eden gave me excellent advice on the pen name question. She said that if I want to differentiate my "Super-Sexy tales" from my other stuff, then go for the pen name, but own up to it, to take advantage of my networks, such as they are. Cynthia delights me that she refers to a BDSM story as a "Super-Sexy tale" - she's this charming combination of polite Southern lady and frankly sensual writer. Cynthia put it well when she said that, after all, these are just gradations of what we're writing. KAK also talked me out of my tree, to own this and be proud.

I'm thinking back to a time, must be over ten years ago, when I bought this ebook "Writing Pron for Fun and Profit." I never got around to reading it. It was kind of dull and the first part didn't tell me anything I didn't know. But I've always had the idea that I should try this. For fun. Profit would be nice. Then Samhain put out a call for an anthology of Red-Hot Fairy Tales. I was between novels, so I wrote up Beauty and the Beast. I always wanted to know exactly what made him so Beastly.

Samhain turned me down on the anthology. Another friend, Dawn McClure, who writes for Samhain pointed me to Loose Id. (She also pointed me to one other high-profile epublisher who turned out to be uncommunicative and unprofessional - very odd.) So far, Loose Id has been wonderful to deal with. I think it's a good fit.

And, what do you know? Their logo is a lizard, which has become the good luck emblem of our new Santa Fe lifestyle.

Must be meant to be.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Day

As I suspected it would, the sun rose again today.

When it set last night, I had a "no" from the agent. I knew it when I saw the email pop up. A lovely "no." The very best kind of "no," all of my writing buddies hasten to reassure me.

She says:

Thanks so much for sending the full manuscript of OBSIDIAN and for giving me time to read it!
I love the world you've created here and I definitely recognize your talent. Unfortunately, I am going to pass on the offer of representation. For me, I just didn't fall in love with the characters enough, or their adventures in your wonderful world. I'm sorry - I wish I had better news for you. I know you have lots of excitement going on right now with your work and I know you'll be in good hands!
Wishing you the very best in your publishing career!

So, here I am, once again with the walk of shame. I gave her everything I had and it wasn't enough. I know no one knows what makes someone fall in love. And yet, we've all been in those relationships where the guy says "it's not you, it's me" -- and you know, of course it's you. There's some reason they can't see spending their life with you, popping out little baby novels.

But it means nothing in the end. It doesn't really matter if it's your annoying mother or the fact that you have a cowlick that can't be controlled or a tendency to ramble on about how much it annoys you when people speed up when they see you trying to change lanes. They don't want to buy the cow and that's all you need to know. Tasty milk, but no thank you.

So, I got back on the horse. Nudged a couple of agents with fulls and partials. Got on (Publishers Marketplace) and picked out a couple of sexy-looking possibilities. Gave 'em a wink.

The birds and Isabel say it's Springtime. Mysterious plants are coming up -- mysterious because we only moved here in August and someone else planted these spring bulbs. I'm putting my bets on Daffodils and Hyacinths, by their nubby tops.

And meanwhile a project I've been seeding for a while at work may be coming to fruition at a time we really need it. My boss is happy and loves me forever.

Also, Allison, who has the lucrative multi-book contract I covet, just received a 26-page revision letter. Single-spaced. It's like she's got the wedding all set, and just found out she's got to have radical cosmetic surgery first. She's getting over it now, though we were both shocked to read the comments at first. In the end, she'll have a much stronger book. But, oh, the pain and suffering.

I'm working on the next novel, which is winding into a dark forest of odd characters and a mixed-race little girl witch. Who knows how I'll sell this one.

The lovely thing for me is, I don't have to worry about that.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Patience Panties

A gal I talk to on Twitter, @Uppington, recently finished reading Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides, which remains one of my all-time favorite novels. There's this exquisite moment when the mother shows the children the sun setting at the exact moment the moon rises. Conroy is a master of character and setting. He weaves both together to create in the reader the magic of that moment.

I don't know if Conroy suggested it to me, but I always feel the magic of that moment. Here it's the moon setting into the valley, an ocean of fog, the quiet blues and blacks of night giving way to glimmering pinks. I turn around, and there is the sunrise, blazing into the fire of day.

Those moments between are unbearably full.

I'm waiting between things right now. Writers are often cautioned to be patient. (I've mentioned before, this is not my forte.) The romance writers often put this in terms of "putting on your patience panties." I don't know if this is because the overwhelming majority of romance writers are women and identify with the lessons of girlhood or because they're accustomed to the language of motherhood. Writers who become upset about bad contest scores or book reviews are often advised to put on their "big girl panties" and suck it up. I suppose men will tell each other to "cowboy up" or some such. It's the same thing.

So, what's happened is, an epublisher offered to buy this little erotic novella I wrote. They have a good reputation, so that will be fine. Another epublisher with a slightly better rep also has it, so I inquired with them if they were close to a decision or if I should just withdraw the novella and go with the other publisher. I got a very strange, misspelled, answer back that basically said I'd hear when I heard. The first epublisher is looking better and better all the time.

Meanwhile, this agent has my full manuscript. She requested it from a query I sent, so I've been somewhat more hopeful on this one. The other agents who've requested my full MSS are ones who met me at conferences. When agents or editors meet you in person, I think they're somewhat more inclined to ask for the full MSS, because they know you and want to give you the best opportunity they can. One of those agents also has Obsidian: The Revision. She'd passed on the original version, but agreed to read the revision. I haven't heard from her, so I'm not holding out much hope there.

But the agent reading from the query... Well, let's just say I've been to this prom before and came home without an engagement ring.

At any rate, I emailed her to ask if she cared if I entered a deal on the epubbing of the novella. I expected her to say no, but she answered and said she'd read the full right away and we could discuss then.

So, I'm waiting. Knowing she's reading it. Making a decision. Totally out of my control. I'm afraid to check my email, since that will likely be a "no." I'm carrying my cell phone out to the mailbox with me, in case she calls with a "yes."

I'm thirteen again.

At the same time, I know this day will end with the sun setting and the moon rising to replace it. Fire will give way to black and tomorrow morning it will all repeat.

And I have my own washer and dryer, so I can wash my patience panties as often as necessary.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Native Landscape

This sunset was still on the camera when I left for Virginia. I dragged it all over the country with me and now I'm not sure when I snapped the picture. I like the subtlety of the peaches, though.

I'm happy to be back in my vista.

People from the East and South complain of the open spaces here, how they feel exposed and swallowed up by the expanse of it. I recall someone telling a story about being tailed for miles on the highway on the eastern plains of Colorado or Wyoming -- I forget which -- slowing so the person could pass, though the other car never would. The driver simply clung to the back bumper. Finally the storyteller pulled over and the other car did, too. An East Coast woman tumbled out, apologizing, saying how she felt so overwhelmed by the empty sky and deserted highway that she just wanted to be near another car.

My New Hampshire boss complains that she has a difficult time judging distance here. She can't tell how fast a car is approaching or how close it is, because she feels she has nothing to reference it to.

I understand what they mean because I feel suffocated in places like Virginia. The Appalachians are pretty, yes, but they hem you in. The trees, even shed of leaves seem to block the sky. Granted, it was foggy and rainy during our visit, compounding the feeling. Even the houses, though, seem to be built to wrap around you and divide you from the outside.

Not like our house, designed to pull the vista in and fill the rooms with it.

I drove from Abingdon to the DC area, to visit Allison. Oh, said the innkeeper in Abingdon, you'll drive through the Shenandoah valley. It's so beautiful. At one point it just opens up and you can see the valley and the mountains.

Even with all this fog and rain? I asked.

Oh, he said.

It cleared enough going north that I did see some of the valley and the distant rolling hills, which I just can't quite bring myself to call mountains. Theirs is a vista of softness and blur. Eternally smoky.

Something in me relaxed to return to the crisp Western light, our slice-edged mountains. Even in a sleepy photo like this one, the outline of the peaks is crisp and defined.

I suppose it's all what you're used to. I grew up in the West and some restless part of me only settles down when I'm here. Georgia O'Keeffe came here for the light though, among countless others.

Great is the gift of being able to see.
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