Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oxygen Masks

The cholla are both flowering and fruiting now - a brilliant combination of yellow and this purple-pink that can look scarlet from a distance.

Quite the show.

Last night Kerry and I were talking about how making progress on the writing can make or break your day. I know I've mentioned this before, but it can be astonishing how much of a difference getting the writing in can make.

She had slunk home from a grueling day at work. Her job involves people in crisis, so it's more emotionally demanding than, say, mine. She said she was in a mood of deepest blue, but had to try to work on her revisions anyway. I gave her the virtual pep talk and she disappeared for a while.

When she came back a bit later, having hit her page goal, her mood had entirely shifted. Everything suddenly looked better. She felt ready to go spend time with family who needed her emotional support.

"I use the analogy with my patients of the airplane, where you put on your own oxygen mask before assisting another," she told me.

Sometimes I think this is mainly true of writers. I also saw this guest blog post by D.J. Morel yesterday. (This is a bit of a departure for the Pimp My Novel blog, which is usually about the marketing end of publishing and well worth following. Clearly I liked this guest post, too.) He talks about choosing the day job that allows you to write. This line struck me:

When I realized that I was screaming at the walls of my house for a half hour after coming home each night, I knew it was enough. I quit, and didn't come to understand how unhappy it all had made me until many months down the road. If you are indeed a writer, you can run away from writing, but it'll only come and find you.

But one of my favorite quotes for a very long time now is this one by Mark Rutherford:

There is in each of us an upwelling spring of life, energy, love, whatever you like to call it. If a course is not cut for it, it turns the ground around it into a swamp.
(It turns out I quoted this before on the blog, but it was back in January '09, so I hope you'll forgive me the repeat.)

He very carefully does not ascribe this phenomenon only to writers, though he was a novelist. I suspect we all have this, the upwelling spring that keeps us alive, engaged and vital. The Buddhists say each of us has one thing that we do better than anyone else in existence and that life is a journey to discover what that is.

Unfortunately it's all too easy not to cut a course for the upwelling spring. Daily life piles up, gradually blocking the way. Often we don't notice until there's a flood and we're standing in a boggy mess as far as the eye can see.

What to do then?

Put on your oxygen mask and take a deep breath. The rest will sort itself out.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I couldn't decide today between earth and sky, so you get both. Shades of blue.

If I haven't mentioned, writing fiction is really fun.

(Well, except when it's miserable, but that's a whole other set of issues.)

Really I mean that writing fiction is fun compared to nonfiction. I started out as an essayist because that kind of voice came naturally to me. And there's satisfaction in telling those kinds of stories. True stories about life and people, the things we experience. Once this new novel is complete, I might spend a little time writing or revising some essays, just to get my hand in again.

Then again, I might not. Because writing fiction is really run.

It's fun like reading is fun. You know that feeling you get, when you're reading a book you love, and your mind is sunk in that story, that world, that voice? I get that writing fiction. When its going right, my mind returns to the story and the characters over and over through the day and I would absolutely stay up all night to finish reading it.

If only I'd finished writing it, that is.

It's an odd sensation, because that aspect of writing feels more like self-love, like navel-gazing, than any other. Like I'm so in love with the sound of my own voice that I want to listen to it all the time. Perhaps this is why so many writers like to ascribe their inspiration to muses or other outside storytellers.

"It's not me, I just write down the story as it comes to me."

Loving Calliope or Erato feels more wholesome than loving the sound of one's own voice. Besides, as we all know, that way leads to insanity for writers. Ego is the eternal danger.

Amusingly, the last time I used the "insanity" label on this blog, I accidentally typed my heroine's name when I logged in that morning, instead of my password. Which is exactly what I did today.

At least I'm consistent in the way my thoughts run?

Just so long as it's not a foolish consistency, which leads to hobgoblins and all manner of obnoxious creatures. I'm pretty sure hobgoblins are not the new zombies, which were the new angels, which were the new vampires.

I know, it's hard to keep up.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Yvonne's Lover

Isabel outside my office window again, this time having a stand-off with a bunny who came up to nibble on bird leavings.

She loves to watch the rabbits, but isn't entirely sure what they are. They look like prey. Awfully big prey.

They stared at each other, motionless, for easily ten minutes. Then the bunny hopped away again.

We went to a little neighborhood party yesterday afternoon. Part social, part neighborhood watch. This gal who's originally from the east coast organizes it for the whole community. It's a funny thing to me because she's methodical and deliberate about creating what to me is a natural relationship. Meet your neighbors, she says. Get to know them. Be friendly.

Um, okay.

We lived in a small town for 20 years. She asked me if we had neighborhood watch programs. I said no, we were just all in each others' faces all the time.

The other day, on our morning run, we saw an odd car parked on the road in front of Dick & Yvonne's mailbox. Nobody parks on the roads here. The driveways are long, often with circular elements, so people pull into each others' driveways. Then there was the placement of the car - smack dab in front of the mailbox. So, when we got home, I emailed our neighborhood watch block captain with the description and plate, just in case it was "bad actors" in neighborhood watch lingo and not just an inconsiderate guest.

There is a pattern of break-ins here. Almost always between 8 and Noon on weekdays. Apparently thieves park and watch people leave for work and slip in. They always take the same things: flat-screen TVs, jewelry, guns, laptops. So we're suppose to watch for unusual vehicles in the neighborhood.

Our block captain passed it along. I considered my duty, if slightly paranoid, done.

But no.

At the meeting, this gal castigates me for not doing more.

Did you call Yvonne? she asks.

No, I did not, because it was 6:30 in the morning, I say.

You should have called the police and Yvonne, she says. For all you know she was being burgled right then.

Yvonne, who is easily in her mid-eighties calls out, Jeffe - I'm glad you didn't call, because that was my lover and I wouldn't have wanted Dick to find out.

She's a hoot.

Later she asks me more about it - nothing happened, but they also didn't know - and I tell her it was a fairly decrepit vehicle and that she needs to upgrade in lovers, if that's the case.

She thinks it was likely a young guy they have doing the yard work now, which is what David and I had speculated. We'd see the young guy out in front with Dick, working on the yard.

He's the live-in boyfriend, Yvonne says, of the daughter half of the mother/daughter team who cleans her house. They all make $25 an hour, but are very sweet and a giggly bunch, Yvonne says. Expensive, she says, but worth it. They just can't do everything around the house by themselves any more. Having help keeps them living out here.

That $300 a month keeps them out of the retirement home, she says.

She and Dick just finished designing and painting a set for a new production at the children's theater. She figures if they moved to a retirement home, they wouldn't do that kind of thing any more.

Next time, she says, go ahead and call at 6:30. She can always find a new lover.

Friday, June 25, 2010

And Also Patience, Play and Naps

I spotted this blossoming prickly pear by accident.

I happened to look down from the bedroom window and the spot of butter yellow caught my eye. It was blooming away under a bushel, or rather, a sagebrush. It took a bit of clearing to get the photo. Now I feel like I need a special path around to the back of the house, so people can be sure to see it.

But, seen or not, appreciated or ignored, it blooms anyway.

A number of people commented on yesterday's post. Tara Lain told a great story about koi and cats and suggested we add the word "patient."

And, in the infinitely frustrating world of blog commenting, Kerry tried to comment, but was denied. She wanted to remind me that cats also know when to play silly games and when to take a nap.

That might seem self-evident, but it's easy to forget.

So as we finish out our Fridays, it's good to revisit what weekends are about. For many of us, the weekends are full of tasks. I know my To-Do List is long. I try to do laundry every-other weekend and clean the house on the intervening weekends. Last weekend, though, I was gone, so now I have three weeks of laundry to catch up on the same weekend as house-cleaning. We have guests coming next weekend, so there's no fudging that part. The garden is crying for attention. I have some publicity stuff to do for Petals & Thorns, coming out July 13.

And about 35K to write on the novel.

No, no, no - I know I won't do that. But it does hover pretty high on my mental To-Do list.

The things that don't end up on the list? Games, naps, nonsense. Even if we don't work corporate jobs, our families and friends often do. Weekends should be for play, too, not just catching up.

Or running in place.

Or bailing the sinking boat.

Wherever you might be with stuff.

Here's hoping you get to do something silly, catnip optional, and that you indulge in a nice nap.

I'm adding them to my list.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


This is Isabel outside my office window, watching the Bewick's wren nest.

I originally thought it was a house wren, but the song and behavior has me now convinced that it's a Bewick's wren. Apparently they're easily confused. And, sadly, the house wrens are driving out the Bewick's wrens, so much so that they're pretty much gone from the eastern half of the country.

The males go around building several nests in cavities, like inside the cow skull on our front porch, and the female chooses her favorite. Our male worked away to build the nest and sings his heart out. But I'm not convinced he has found a mate, much less that there's anything going on in that nest.

Isabel, however, is certain there is.

She spends her days watching that nest. With unwavering intensity. She never tires of it. It's the same method she employs to catch mice or lizards. They hide and she sits and waits. For hours. Until they finally come out and she catches them.

Part of the reason felines sleep so much is because they're such efficient hunters that they can. Among all predators, cats spend the least amount of time actively hunting. Part of this though, is that persistence. They never forget or lose interest. Isabel's been watching that nest for two weeks now without much reward. If there ever are chicks, I'll have to keep her inside, because she won't rest until she gets them.

Writers talk about persistence all the time. Persistence to finish the book in the first place, to see it through the tough spots, in the face of ongoing rejection, to write the next book even as everyone apparently hates the one you're trying to shop. People throw around phrases like "thick skin" and "hanging on to your dream" and "never give up," which all sounds so grueling.

I wonder if it shouldn't be more like a cat hunting. Work on it every day, never lose interest, always check the nest. For Isabel, watching the nest is just as fun as finding something in it.

For her, it's not grueling. It's just what she does.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Blooming Right Along

The cholla are fulfilling their early promise and have burst into full bloom.

Some cholla more than others, which I never quite understand. It's the same with our desert four o'clocks out front. Ours are big and lush, but haven't bloomed while smaller (and larger) clumps unattended out in the desert are blooming away. There's almost certainly a reason, but I don't know it. In my solipsistic universe, that's pretty much the same thing.

In a similarly random bit of selection, my photos are up on the contest site, but one didn't make it, oddly enough. I'm to give them 48 hours, then we'll see.

I'm confessing right now: I didn't end up using any of the ones suggested to me, though they were all in the pot. I started out with over 30 finalists and culled down to 12. I didn't use the cholla blossom, because there are so many other similar and better photos. I didn't use the Isabel at the horse trough because it wasn't signature New Mexico scenery. I doubt I'll come close to winning anything, especially because I have no intention of asking anyone to vote. I really hate the trolling for votes thing. Soon it will cease to be the thing - can't wait for that day. Swing, pendulum, swing!

Sterling is coming right along. I think I have a real working title now, though I might run it through a few more people. I have one no vote and several enthusiastic yeses so far. I'm reliably hitting 1.5K now. A bit of rest always helps build endurance.

Love these full-bloom days.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Solstice Calendar

Yesterday was Summer Solstice.

The longest day of the year, somehow both Midsummer and First Day of Summer. Thus do science and tradition collide.

For the last couple of days, the setting sun has come squarely in our western bedroom window and cast long rays right on the fireplace screen on the living room kiva. Our own Solstice calendar it seems.

Our builder was Norwegian and I wonder if he aligned it that way on purpose.

The new novel, Sterling, has been hurtling towards a Midsummer Solstice festival since the beginning. Maybe hurtling is the wrong word. Creeping slowly towards. Reluctantly, but with fascination. Now my own reality has gone past the moment in the book. Which should mean nothing, except I can't quite shake the feeling that I'm having to catch up now.

I worried about not writing while I was at my mom's. I knew I wouldn't get to and I thought the hiatus might knock me out of my rhythm. Instead, it turned out to be a good break. I wrote yesterday with a sense of the well being full and cool. It helped that I had hours of driving while David studied, to mull over the plot. I know now the sequence of remaining events. Though I woke up this morning realizing I hadn't accounted for one plot thread.

It's in my head now, though.

I passed 70K yesterday, which means I'm between about 60% and 80% done. By my feel of the story left to write, I think it's closer to the 60% end, but we'll see, won't we? I'll know the end when I get there.

It's always tempting to see Summer Solstice and 4th of July weekend as the Summer being half over. Which is funny because most of us in the US anyway think of Summer as June, July and August - partly due to growing season, partly due to school calendars. By that measure, Solstice is neither the beginning of Summer, nor the middle, but somewhere just shy of the first third.

Demarcations and divisions to measure the progress of the year.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Remnants and Goodbyes

All in all, it wasn't so bad.

My mom and I went through everything and decided on keep, save or store. She'd already culled quite a bit, which made it all easier. We purged all of Leo's things years ago, after he died. Then more when my mom married her David and she made space for him to move in.

The hardest part was the jewelry. For both of us.

For every pair of earrings, for every ring and necklace, there was a story and a memory. Who gave it whom on what occasion. Some pieces were from the 60s, gifts from my dad. Some had belonged to my grandmother. We ruthlessly categorized - some I took, some she's keeping, some goes to be appraised and sold, some for my aunt to look through.

The jewelry is when we cried.

But at least we got to do this together.

My mom and I have had a long-standing joke, whenever she brought home a great new piece of art and I said I liked it, she'd answer "good, because it will be yours someday." Sometimes it gave me a thrill, thinking of the day I'd get to have that painting or sculpture. Until I remembered that would mean my mom would be gone.

I walked myself through it from time to time. How she'd have passed away and weeks later I'd go through the house and decide what to keep or sell.

I never could get myself through it.

Now I don't have to. I brought home some of my favorite things now, the ones that won't work in the Tucson house. Others I'll take after the house sells. It feels good to have everything accounted for.

I'm giving my old dollhouse to Lauren, for our granddaughter to be born in October. The carpet above were pieces I'd cut for the dollhouse and carefully stored. Yes, they were remnants from our own house. The yellow was in my bedroom, the tile in the kitchen and the green throughout the rest.
My mom wants you all to know that she had that carpet out of there by the 80s. We were just stunned at how bright it is. Didn't seem like it at the time.

I'm also lucky that way. I have friends whose parents never did redecorate since the 70s. One mother had a house with a different color for every room: purple living room, red rec room, green kitchen, yellow bedroom - and didn't want to change a thing to sell it.
It turned out to be a pleasant weekend. We got a great deal accomplished and spent some time together on the patio, where we spent so many family occasions.

The twinsie shirts, by the way, were a coincidence, but I think we shouldn't let them live it down.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Over the River and Through the Woods

Turns out cholla do more than produce burrs.

This photo might seem silly soon, because when I foraged out to get a photo of this rare blossom, I saw that the entire cholla is covered in buds. So there might be photos of cholla in full bloom soon.

But for now, this is the first, and therefore special.

I'm off to Denver today, to my mom's house, to help clean it out for the Big Sell. She and her David have been crazy busy fixing the place up to put it on the market at the beginning of July. Stepfather David instructed me to bring the biggest car we own. Or to borrow a bigger one. He's big on getting rid of stuff.

Most will go into storage right now, until my mom buys a "little jewel box of a condo" to house her art. That's the most important part.

People are predicting that this will be emotional, but I think we're ready. It helps that my David and I purged last year when we moved. The house was the first my mom bought, and therefore special, but it's not the last.

And it's time to let it go.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Thousand Words

The desert four o'clocks are in full bloom, lighting up the landscape with their intense purple.

Turns out that the New Mexico Tourism Department is running a photo contest. I think I'll enter, just for kicks. (No, not with this photo.) I can enter five, so if any of you have opinions on the pics you like best, let me know! I put all my best photos on the blog here, so I'll likely pick from those.

I don't expect you to troll through the entire blog archive, unless you're really excited to to it. The New Mexico photos start almost exactly one year ago, which is a serendipitous coincidence, with I'm Just Wild About Harry in June 2009.

After that week, you'd have to skip into July, for the house-hunting trip beginning with Our Eight Lovely Finalists (which are only pictures of houses). Then it's to August and Dances with Quail.

Yeah, I got sucked into reading those old posts. Such with the navel-gazing.

You'd be well-advised just to look through the photos. Or not. BUT, if someone suggests a photo and it wins anything, I'll give you a prize. A gift-certificate to Ten Thousand Waves or to the indie bookstore of your choice.

See? It's not always about writing.

Although, I can't help but notice that the saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I write at least a thousand words a day. That means one photograph is the same as writing my 1K?

Yeah, not so much.

We need to reevaluate that saying.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Write Fatgirl Write!

So, I might have overtrained.

Yesterday I crashed a bit. I could tell when I started that I wasn't up to par. Some days I can just feel it, that the words aren't going to flow.

I don't want it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, so I make myself write anyway. But I'm not sure that's best.

For some reason, Tuesdays are often like that for me. I'm kind of considering taking Tuesdays off from writing, if they're all going to turn out like that.

I didn't make my 1.85 K. I wrote 1270 new words and deleted a whole bunch of stuff. Frogging again. I kind of hit a blind pocket in the story and, in brainstorming with KAK, realized I had to go back and redirect an earlier scene, which meant deleting an entire scene that now never occurs.

The upshot is I ended up 200 words down. Alas.

Now I have to stop there and acknowledge that writing 1270 new words is really good. A step up from my 1K. So not bad for a "bad" day.

Elizabeth Ryann asked me in the comments yesterday if it helps that I have a definite time to stop writing, because I switch to the day job and I cavalierly said yes. Which is true, it normally does.

However, yesterday was such a grueling day with so little accomplished, that I had Sterling up on my personal laptop for most of the day, trying to add a little more when time allowed, trying to hit that finish line.

Finally I realized I was doing the equivalent of Simon Pegg in Run Fatboy Run, dragging myself along in the middle of the night, long after the marathon has ended.

There's something to be said for pushing yourself, for holding yourself accountable to meet the goal. But there's also a time to realize that you're only exhausting yourself.

And likely only putting down words that will have to be deleted anyway.

So, I'm still going for my 1.85K each day. But I'm holding myself to my stop time. If I'm feeling it and I need to, I might do another hour or so at the end of the day.

Feel the burn!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Creative Conditioning

The moon and Venus last night, from our bedroom window, with the lights of Santa Fe below.

Not perfectly crisp, but close.

I'm feeling creaky today. On Sunday I engaged in a major weed-pulling effort. I reaped the reward of all the laziness I sowed the last few weekends, which means it took me a few hours. Of bending and pulling. Only a little sore in my muscles yesterday, I didn't give it another thought.

Today I'm feeling it.

In college, I briefly dated a ballet dancer. Beautiful body, but unfortunately quite wooden in bed. At any rate, he told me that they'd learned that it takes a full night and day before you feel the physiological effects of something. So he'd feel a grueling dance workout, not the next morning, but the following one. Same for eating heavily or lightly. It's an interesting tidbit of information, but it probably says something that that's what I remember best about him...

Yesterday, my 1.85 K was more difficult than Sunday's.

Sometimes I think writing can be like working out. On a given day, it's not hard to stretch yourself and go the extra mile, do a bunch of yardwork, add some weight to the machine. You might not even really feel it the next morning. But after two days of it, I'm feeling a little tired in my brain. It doesn't make sense to me that I'd have only so much writing energy, but I keep running up against that.

It would probably make more sense to gradually add words, like I gradually increase the weight I lift or the distance I run. Mental conditioning, as it were. Or Creative Conditioning. An extra 50 words a day and soon I'm staying up all night writing Interview with the Vampire in less than a week.

(Though I'm fairly convinced cocaine was heavily involved in that particular effort.)

So, here I am, warming up, stretching my muscles. Bouncing up and down a little to juice up those ligaments.

It will feel good when I'm done.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Single Step.

These yellow columbine are growing with crazed bushiness right now. I'm thinking I need to plant some rose bushes behind them, in the corner just there.

Pink ones.

Maybe a climber with a trellis. I still haven't put up any of the trellises I brought from the old house. Now I must be more ready to deal because I'm thinking about them and about climbing roses.

You know I'm big on the one-step-at-a-time thing. I can't deal with everything at once, but I can get things set up one by one.

The journey of 10,000 miles and all that.

This weekend I went to the LERA meeting (Land of Enchantment Romance Authors) and Gabi Stevens confessed immediately "I always read your blog, but I never comment. I feel really bad about it."

Which made me laugh. (Hi Gabi!)

And, of course, I told her there's absolutely no onus to comment. It's always fun to get comments, but I must admit, one of my blog-reading peeves are posts that are clearly set up only to elicit comments. You know the ones, little more than a remark and a question. To me, that's less like writing and more like soliciting.

Gabi, whose first book, The Wish List, came out from Tor in May, with two more to follow (I know - sweet deal), said well, yes, but she's trying to get better at the social media thing and she knows commenting is part of that and that's her next step.

Fair enough.

(I offered to help her figure it out, so let's see if she comments with a link to her site. If not, we need to nag her.)

I returned from the meeting feeling fired up to finish Sterling, which is all one can really ask for from a writers meeting. Matt McDuffie, who teaches screenwriting at University of New Mexico, and apparently has little internet presence, gave an energizing presentation on story structure. Nothing I didn't know before, but still stimulating. Listening to him talk, I could trace my story with it and feel where the next steps are going. I know I'm coming up on the crisis, the Act II climax, though it's taking a bit longer to get there than I thought. The way it's looking now, what I thought would be a 90K book looks like it'll come out around 113K, which is fine. I'm on track for that.

Which is good, because KAK came back from her meeting (lots of RWA groups meet on the second Saturday of the month - kind of an odd synchronicity), where Bob Mayer, who does the whole warrior-writer thing and has and exhaustive internet presence, got her fired up about accountability and goals.

And it turns out he's a fan of spreadsheets, too. So there.

So between KAK wanting to synchronize our goals and my screenwriting induced re-evaluation of my story arc, I discovered I had to up my daily wordcount goal if I'm going to make it by mid-July.

So no more 1K/day. I'm upping to 1850/day. I made it yesterday, pretty easily. We'll see if I can sustain it during the work week, too. The story is moving faster now, so that helps. Less time staring at the screen wondering what happens next. If I'm writing well, I can write about 1K/hour, so this should be doable.

One day at a time.

Friday, June 11, 2010


She grabbed the microphone back and started clarifying that she really, really, really is a brand and brands are awesome . . . and the more she went on, the more I thought: I am not a brand. I wanted to whisper it, but that would have been creepy.

That quote is from Maureen Johnson's most excellent blog post on how she feels about social media.

She says something I've tried to say several times here, only she says it far better. If I could get away with it, I'd just post what she says here and point at it. So, that's essentially what I'm doing. I'm assuming you all clicked and went to read it already.

Though I confess my favorite part is when she wants to whisper to herself that she's not a brand, but decides it would be creepy.

The interwebs have their decidedly creepy aspect. People behave in odd ways, act aggressive or just plain nutty sometimes. Enough so that I've researched a few to try to determine if they're really as nutty as they seem or if it's a communication issue. That said, I've met far more really great people, some of whom I've gone on to meet in person. Which is really the point of the whole social media thing.

I confess I started using both Facebook and Twitter to pimp my blog. I know, I know - but if I was going to write the damn thing, I wanted someone besides my mother to read it and that seemed to be the way to go. It worked, too. But, to my surprise, I found I really enjoy the communities I'm now part of. There are people I talk to every day and who miss me when I'm gone - which is always comforting in a someone-will-find-me-before-the-pets-totally-consume-my-body kind of way.

But Maureen is dead-on about the shysters, the shills, the snake-oil salesmen. One author I unfollowed after less than a day because he tweeted, in all caps, to buy his book, every hour, all day long.

No no no.

It's no fun to be friends with a brand. That's what it comes down to, really. I might like Burt's Bees, and expect a certain quality in the products that pleases me with its consistency and nice scents, but I don't expect to interact with my Beeswax Lip Balm. Beyond keeping my lips kissable, of course.

Authors are different. When we love their books, we want to talk to the people who wrote them. We have this odd tendency to feel like they're friends because we spent time wrapped in their view of the world. And man authors - certainly not all - like to interact with their readers because, well, otherwise we never really get to be part of that experience.

Storytelling is intimate. Personal. It's not like selling lip balm.

I am not a brand, she whispered quietly to herself.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Living Is Easy

Our neighbors have two tween girls, who are on school break now.

Though our houses have a good distance between them, I can hear the girls play the radio on these hot summer days. I don't mind it a bit. I think they must be sunbathing on their walled patio. From time to time, I hear their happy voices in counterpoint to the pop songs and boomingly enthusiastic DJs.

I remember that time, spent mostly at the neighborhood pool. We slathered on tanning oils and watched the older girls, relaying to each other the stories we'd heard of who those girls were tanning for. We had this pervasive sense of preparation. That if we groomed ourselves enough our lives would begin and all the excitement bubbling inside of us would have somewhere to go.

The days then lasted forever, though summer was always over before we knew it.

Some of that feeling returns to me, hearing the neighbor girls' radio. I sit at my desk, reviewing comments on EPA's proposed Geologic Sequestration Rule and time stretches out, becomes languid. Hot summer air pours in the window.

Happiness can be such a simple thing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

House Woman

No, I didn't take that picture. I wish!

I pulled it from here and I'm hoping no one will mind. Once I snap a picture of our own little house wren, I'll swap it out.

He or she - apparently the males and females look much the same - has been busily building a nest inside the cow skull hanging outside our front door. She goes in the top, (we'll just decide it's a she), through the cannula where the spinal cord would exit and has stuff the brain cavity with hair, grass and bits of floss pulled from the seams of the patio chair cushions.

Pretty styling actually.

At first I thought this was a bad idea. Disaster waiting to happen. But it turns out she knows what she's doing. House wrens will steal other birds' nests. She's tiny, but she's aggressive. She doesn't mind us coming and going and she tells Isabel off if she gets too close.

I like a bird who takes care of herself.

I finished and sent in my line edits for Petals and Thorns last night. That was the third and final editing pass. Publication date is July 13, if I haven't mentioned. When we first discussed the editing process, I made a joke to my Loose Id editor that it was amusing to me to contemplate editing on a BDSM novella. Like, would the hero's motivation be to tie her hands with rope at this point or would he use cuffs?

I thought it was funny.

But no. She didn't even bite. So I mentioned it to Allison, who didn't get why I thought it was funny, either. Now I know why. That's exactly what the editing process was like. Was it one breast or both, which means it should be plural. If he's busy with the one hand then he's only holding one shoulder so he can't release her shoulders. I swear - even UNM Press and Redbook didn't line edit this exhaustively.

Or maybe that's the beauty of getting galley proofs instead of a document marked with track changes. I miss my blissful ignorance.

Amusingly, many of the commas my content editor inserted, the copy editor removed. Comma placement comes down to a matter of opinion most of the time. Some people have very strong opinions on the topic. Me? Not so much.

At any rate, there I am, working my little tasks while the wren works outside my window. Bit by bit, adding to our creations.

Maybe I'm styling, too.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

One-Eye Blind

I didn't notice, until I went to take this photo of the pretty flowers, that St. Francis is now blind in one eye.

Apparently some sort of insect has built a cocoon or egg sack in the cavity and sealed it over. I can't decide if St. Francis' love of all animals extends to insects. You don't really see him depicted with, say, a preying mantis on an outstretched arm. Still, life is life and I'm inclined to let whatever it is develop as it will.

That tends to be my philosophy on most everything. And not just because I'm lazy.

I think that's why Taoism fits me well: just let it flow, swim with the tide, ride that wave into the shore.

It's how I write, too. I usually have just a general idea of what happens, but not exactly. For example, right now my characters are visiting this sacred altar. I knew it wouldn't be easy to get to, being secret and sacred and all, but I wasn't sure what the tricks and traps would be. I found out as my characters went along. Now that they're there, I'm not sure exactly who or what occupies the altar. It hasn't jumped out yet, either, which gets kind of frustrating.

I'm really not sure what I think about this kind of thing. Robin McKinley, who I just love, and who writes this nearly incoherent, stream-of-consciousness blog that I can only sometimes bear to read, writes here about why there's no sequel to Sunshine, a book well-loved and which clearly ended begging for a sequel. She does the thing some authors do, saying that the stories come to her and she can't make it happen. Other authors talk about their characters talking to them. The pre-plotters brainstorm it all out ahead of time and then, depending on their technique, either write it exactly that way or let the story wind around that structure.

I don't know if I believe in the "stories are given to me thing," though it fits within my Taoist inclinations. I don't know that I think it all up myself, either.

I do know that the answers don't come to me unless I'm writing what's happening to the characters. Or letting the scene play in my head - that sometimes works. I think sometimes that it's a combination of both, like most things. I point the imagining part of my brain in a particular direction and let it run. The neurons pull the energy from wherever they do and spin the story. Part of me can see it and part is blind.

Quite remarkable really.

Monday, June 7, 2010


This weekend was hot.

Santa Fe broke the record high on Saturday by hitting 100. So, yeah, not so bad. And it's a dry heat. Believe me - I lived in St. Louis for a while. Lack of humidity makes all the difference in the world.

We have nice cross-currents for air flow in our house and ceiling fans, so we never felt like we had to turn on the air conditioning. But we stayed pretty still. Even Isabel stayed inside. She's gone from being the toddler-cat who has to be dragged in from playing, kicking and screaming, then immediately falling asleep, to teenager-cat. Friday night she spent the entire hot, still night in the garage hunting mice. Then on Saturday morning she slept in, got up to eat breakfast and went back to her kitty condo - the cat equivalent of partying all night and watching TV in the darkened den all day.

Then this storm rolled in, creating a dramatic sunset and dropping cooling rain. All of us parched people, animals and plants drank it gratefully.

I'm making steady progress on Sterling. Allison called me "quietly enthusiastic" about it. I said that's because I'm trying not to be obnoxious. I never thought I'd be one to agree with the write-every-day thing. When I was first working at being a writer and attending every workshop I could, almost every singled writer gave that advice.

Write every day.

Write at the same time every day.

Some would shrug, apologize and say they knew it wasn't easy, but that it was the only thing that worked for them.

I felt like that was impossible for me. At the time I was finishing my graduate thesis, working full time and taking and teaching martial arts classes most nights of the week. Even if I wrote every day, it couldn't possibly be at the same time, because every day was different.

So I wrote when I could. Usually in sporadic chunks. I was writing essays then, so I could write an entire essay over the course of a few hours and that worked for me. My first publications came out of that time and my first book. We'd have to agree that worked just fine.

But other things still took precedence. Even gardening and quilting tended to edge out writing time. I would bemoan my lack of writing time, but there it was.

All that changed when I went to writing novels. Obviously I couldn't bang out a novel in a few hours. I found I had to work incrementally, building the story piece by piece over the course of months, holding the ideas in my head over that time.

It took me nine months to write Obsidian. No, I didn't work on it every day. I had several long stretches where I worked on it only a little or not at all. Sterling will take five months. And I've really only hit the smooth rhythm in the last two months.

But I do have to write every day. At pretty much the same time. Shockingly enough, it works. That approach also requires that the writing time is my core schedule and I work everything else in around that, even the day job (unless I just can't make that happen, which can occur).

Some people draft faster, then revise. For me, when I'm done by mid-July, the novel will be reasonably polished.

And I keep thinking that it might be really good.

Which is this lovely bubbling feeling.

My quietly enthusiastic.

Friday, June 4, 2010


My mom is getting ready to sell her house.

This is the one she bought in 1972, just before my sixth birthday. She married my stepfather, Leo, a year later and they lived there until he died a few years ago.

When she remarried, my new stepfather sold his house in Denver and bought a house in Tucson. They've been dividing their time between my mom's house in Denver for the summer and his house in Tucson for the winter.

Only the "winter" in Tucson has grown to be eight months or longer. And she just doesn't enjoy her time in the Denver house anymore. It's become a kind of museum of our family and not a living home. Also, the house is getting older and being left unmaintained for eight months at a time is too hard on it, especially during Colorado winters.

So, when my mom and Dave passed through here a few weeks ago on their annual migration north, and I could see how much she was dreading facing the house, I told her that, if my vote counted, that I'm fine with her selling the house.

I don't think my vote should count, but she knows I have issues. Or did. I used to dream that she sold the house without telling me and I would come home to an empty shell. This is probably due to my dad dying when I was young and I had other issues about trying to hold onto stuff. But I've gotten much better about this kind of thing, as I mentioned the other day. Elizabeth Ryann commented that it's like building a muscle - an image I just love.

So, the other day my mom updated me on the work they're doing to fix up the house to sell and she mentioned that the park light on the front walk is gone now. It was broken and couldn't be fixed. And it's a bit funky for a house sale. I think she and Leo bought it in Taos or Santa Fe when they took out the old park lights and replaced them with new.

I was a bit taken aback - so much for my brave, deleting phase, and my mom replied "I know. I'm trying not to think about it." So, I really did try not to write about it, I did, but I just had to.

Especially because I was telling David about it and how my mom thought we'd wired up the one broken arm at some point, which I don't remember doing. He doesn't either. But, it turns out, he has NO idea what light I'm talking about.

"The 12-foot tall iron lamp you have to pass to walk in the front door?" I say "With the four big arms with globes and another on top? The one that's been there for 35 years and has formed the backdrop for 27,000 family photos??"

I might have been growing a bit shrill at this point, because he ducked his way out of the conversation. I might have sulked a little bit.

I've reached the midpoint of Sterling and I'm working at building the romance between the hero and heroine. Actually, I've been building it and now I want some delivery from them. One of the classic ways to show that their love is real and true is for the man to understand things about the woman that no one else does. He would, for example, know how she felt about the freaking park light on the front walk of her childhood home.

But real love doesn't work that way and I know it.

Come January, David and I will have been together for twenty years. He does understand things about me. And when we go up to Denver, he'll almost certainly remember that conversation and look at where the park light was and say something like "Oh, that light! I just didn't know what you meant by 'park light.'"

See? I know him, too.

I think the real love is in him letting me get a little shrill and sulky and letting it go. I suspect he knows this won't be the last of the upheaval until the house is sold. There will be much deciding in the coming weeks of what to keep and what to let go of.

I know I can trust him to be by my side through all of it.

That's the really difficult part to capture in a novel. I'm lucky to have it in real life.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Today's Exhibit A is an anti-nature example.

About a week back, some kids dropped a trail of gummi worms on the bike/walking path. You know the kind I mean - the gel-type candy with the neon colors never found in nature.

Like this:

They seem to have been deposited on purpose, at regular intervals, decorating the path from the shopping center down past the school. It's possibly an experiment. I know I'm sorry I haven't taken daily photos to document the course of their non-decomposition.

I should note that we live in a fairly rural area. We've had coyotes and bobcats on our porch, along with various other kinds of wildlife. There's a pretty vital cycle of life here, predation, scavenging and insectile clean-up. Nothing organic lasts long.

Yeah, you know where I'm going with this.

At first, nothing seemed to change. They glistened in the hot sun on the asphalt path for a couple of days. To all appearances ready to be plucked up and eaten.

Only nothing was eating them.

Gradually the color leached away. Apparently even those neon dyes aren't forever. But they were still recognizably gummi worms.

Now you can see they've shrunk into what's probably their original, cylindrical core. Not unlike those plastic plugs you keep in your junk drawer, not knowing what their real purpose is.

After a couple of hot days, they finally appear to be melting somewhat, though not enough to lose their distinctive shape. The ants occasionally nose at them, but carry nothing away.

The now leached worm cores melt and recongeal. Sometimes a bicycle tire swoop carries a bit away.

I fully expect them to become one with the asphalt.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Nothing to Fear but Deleting Itself

David calls these horsetail grasses. I don't know that the name is right, but I won't argue. I just like how they look when they flutter in the breeze.

The yucca are about to bloom, too. The birds land on the heavy buds now, checking for progress. Or perhaps just for bugs on the buds. Hard to say.

This was one of four photographs I took, trying to get the right angle, so you could see how the grasses catch the light. I pulled the four off of my camera, picked the one I liked best, saved it and permanently deleted the rest.

I've gotten much better at deleting, I've found.

When I was younger, I saved everything. Albeit, with non-digital photographs, you kind of had to save them, along with the negatives. But I wouldn't throw away even the blurry ones. Or the ones I accidentally snapped of my foot while loading the film. I saved the box from my Snoopy watch, notes from my friends, love letters from high school. In graduate school, I spent hours Xeroxing articles until I had stacks of them in my office.

Through it all ran a sneaking fear that I'd throw away something important. Something crucial, even.

Young writers do this, too. I certainly did. You just hate to delete the least precious word, much less sentences or paragraphs. Sometimes you'll be persuaded to remove the prose and you carefully excise it and place it in a safe Outtakes file. After all, those words are singular creation that must be preserved lest it never come again.

Which is nonsense.

There's an idea that, as we grow older, we'll discover that the world is not as abundant as we thought. That we're not immortal, that money really doesn't grow on trees and that opportunity, having knocked, skeedaddles to someone else, never to be seen again.

Instead you discover that this isn't true at all. Or rather, not in such a limited way. We're not immortal, but life goes past your twenties, in a most satisfying way. Money comes and goes and there are many ways to come by it. Opportunities may be lost, but others turn up.

Words and pictures are plentiful. I can delete pages now without a qualm. There will always be more words, ones that don't need deleting. Photographs that don't completely satisfy can be discarded in favor of those that do.

I give away books, knowing that if I really want to see one again, I can always find it. I don't worry so much about covering every little point of research - a general idea is fine and, if I need to know more, I can always find out.

There's a relaxation to this way of thinking. Perhaps an absence of fear.

Now I really need to go through those old photographs, scrapbook the good ones and destroy the rest.

Except for that one of my foot. I'm kind of sentimental about that one.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How Not to Write a Series

We didn't go anywhere this weekend.

Lots of people did - packing up their camping gear or party supplies. David and I tossed it around, but we weren't feeling the need to get away. Plus he's still trying to get in the groove of the new semester, especially after the big Caribbean vacay. I'm back in the swing of writing, so we decided to hang at home.

And I decided to try something new: an at-home beach party.

One of my favorite vacations is hanging by the beach or pool (or a Tucson patio), reading and having drinks. So, once I hit my writing goals for the morning, I established myself out on our gravel "deck" with my Kindle and some wine. I finished some critique, got a bit of a tan and got to read Ilona Andrews' new book Magic Bleeds. I'm loving the new installment, Book 4 in the series, and more, I'm really impressed by how they're handling the series.

Much has been discussed lately about authors with faltering series. There's a number of factors at play here. First both publishers and authors love a successful series because it's good bread and butter work. An established series gathers a guaranteed audience. It's fun for the author because she gets to really explore her world and characters. Readers love them for that same reason: tell me more, more, more.

But a few things can go awry:

1) The author never planned for the story to be a series. She can maybe eke the original idea into a couple more books, but then she's spinning out of nothing. Sometimes there's simply not enough depth in the original concept to carry the story that far.

2) Publishing pressure crushes the creativity. When an author is working on revisions for Book 1, on deadline to deliver a draft of Book 2 and a 10-page outline of Book 3, this can create unbearable pressure. Stories don't always lay down and behave, which can lead an author to force it. And the story can suffer.

3) The author loses interest. I wonder sometimes about authors who are on the 30th book in the series. How can it possibly remain fresh, exciting and fun to write? But, by the 30th book, I imagine you'd have your pattern pretty established. Add these elements and tap it out. Doesn't always make for as wonderful of a story though.

4) The cow is dry and the author keeps milking. Sometimes a series runs its course. It's no longer fresh, new and full of juice. Everyone can think of television series that have done this. Sometimes a plot decision takes the story to its natural end and nothing can resuscitate it. Sometimes it just didn't have that much juice to begin with. Sales decline, no publisher wants to pick up the next book. Time to move on to a new story.

5) As the overall story increases in length, less happens in each book. If you're going to keep the series going and you're committed to two books a year, which keeps you clothed, fed and with respectable shelf-space, it would be tempting to slow down the overall plot line. Instead of each book covering years in the characters lives, the pace slows to weeks and days. Sometimes over excruciatingly slow hours.

Anything that I missed here? I'd be interested in other observations of what can go so, so wrong.

Magic Bleeds is surprising me. This fourth book is possibly the best of the series so far, gaining in depth and resonance. I'm sure you can think of examples for each situation above. I'm thinking of one or more specifics for each, but not naming names. I love it when I find examples of a series that actually improves with age. So kudos to Ilona and Gordon, the husband/wife writing team that is Ilona Andrews -- a fact that I think only increases the marvel and wonder of what they're accomplishing.

(How do they not kill each other?)
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