Thursday, September 30, 2010

Money and Respect

I took this during our photography class break last night at Santa Fe Community College. I love living here because everywhere you look, it's lovely.

There's been bruhaha the last couple of weeks over tussles between agents and writers. This is mainly turning up on blogs and the comments to them. This guy gives a good summary of recent events. I've never read his blog before and I don't know him. I don't really like his tone and attitude, but the links are all there. It's also a good insight into how some writers are feeling about agents these days. What's most notable is Michelle Wolfson's response in the comments.

Michelle is an agent I chat with from time to time on Twitter. She's amusing and provides intelligent insight to the business. Plus, she doesn't really handle the kind of thing I write these days, so I can chat with her without feeling like I'm, well, kissing up.

At any rate, Michelle was annoyed about all this on Twitter yesterday and asked where this feeling is coming from, that all these writers think agents don't respect them.

I told her I think it's part of an overall trend.

Sure, we can look at social media, the intimacy of the publishing world and other familiarities that breed this closeness. Writers have to believe we've written the most fabulous book in the world, or we'd never finish writing it, much less withstand the grueling process of trying to get it published. Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with us on that conviction. When a decision is made based on whether it will make money, and the rejection is handed down, people feel hurt.

When people feel hurt, they lose all sense of humor and perspective. We all know this.

But that's not my point.

I'm seeing this kind of thing all over. Something about the economic downturn has created an environment where people are wanting everyone to know just how hard their jobs are. One flight attendant I used to follow, both on her blog and on Twitter, finally turned me off because she kept posting about how little respect flight attendants receive, how difficult their jobs are and how much money they don't make.

I can see, to a point, wanting people to have a realistic view of your profession, that it's not riches and glamor, but after that point, it gets tiresome. We all struggle with difficulties in our jobs. That's why they pay us to do them: because we wouldn't put up with the grief otherwise. I don't know many people who say that they get paid plenty enough. It's human nature to dream about what you could do with more money.

It's also human nature to complain when you don't have everything you want.

I'm not sure what the ranting does for people, except maybe provide a vent. It reminds me of bitch sessions I've heard where people try to top each other with how badly their spouse behaves. People say they're fighting for respect, but really what they want is validation and admiration. These writers complain that they don't like agents who don't show respect for writers. I think what they don't like is agents who don't think their book is the Next Big Thing.

It's notable that the writers who are represented by agents don't seem to they're so awful. And no, I really don't believe it's because they're cowed into silence.

So many people now looking at writers like Stephenie Meyer and thinking it should be them. Silly stories and easy money. We all want that job. More, a lot of people feel entitled to it.

The trouble is, none of us are really entitled to anything at all. And all the blog posts and tweets in the world won't change that.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Smoke in the Valley

There was a controlled burn yesterday in the Santa Fe National Forest. We could see smoke billowing up to the east of us all day. They're good here, though - they put up highway signs and send tweets telling us that's the case. Over night, the smoke all settled down into the valley.

It smells like a campfire today. Only without the marshmallows.

I've been having different dreams the last couple of nights. Unusual images. Monday night I dreamed that David and I were driving over a bridge, the kind of high, arching white ones that span the waters between the mainland and barrier islands. David was driving. I looked down to see that there were whales teeming in the water below. Great blue whales, hundreds of them. They raised their heads out of the water, splashed their tails, rubbed noses, feeding and frolicking. David asked me if I wanted to pull over to take pictures and I said yes. As I was walking back to the car to change lenses (I know - look at me, even dreaming about changing lenses now!) I saw David talking to our daughter Lauren, her guy Damion and our grandson, Tobiah. I was surprised to see them there, to see there were tons of people there now, and Lauren said, oh yes, people were coming from all over to see the whales, such an extraordinary event.

Last night, the dream seemed more like my usual quest dream. I think we were running around saving kidnapped people. There were Russians involved and a maximum security prison. Your dreams are like this, too, right? Anyway, at the end of the dream, David reached into his bag and pulled out this enormous black frog. From this drawing you should conclude that, yes, my MS Paint skills suck, and that it looked like no real frog on earth. It was glossy and turgid, like one of those balloons you can get at the grocery store.

The frog looked unhappy, so I told David to put it in the sink and fill the basin with water. The frog lay submerged in the water, watching us with crystal blue eyes and smiling.

Yes. Frogs can smile. Especially the big, black ones.

At any rate, I'm taking this as things welling up from my subconscious. Amazing creatures, joyfulness and restoration, emerging from dark and hidden places.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Though I'm willing to entertain other interpretations?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Best Seller Within

The countdown has begun.

Marcella Burnard's first book Enemy Within comes out November 2! What's more, she's already has her first review.

RT Book Reviews gave Enemy Within 4.5 stars and called the book a top pick. Unfortunately they won't let you look at the review itself unless you have a subscription.

But let me liberally quote from the text:

"...smoking-hot new talent Burnard."

"Burnard does a stellar job with the action and pacing..."

"[the genre] just got a major infusion of talent!"

Pretty fab, yes?

Marcella is laboring under a deadline to finish revisions to the sequel, Enemy Games, so I get to be the bearer of this great news today. Since Marcella's not available, I can provide some little-known trivia:

No, the plot is not the same as the Star Trek episode where Kirk gets split in the transporter. This was actually the first question I asked Marcella when she told me the title of her book. She frantically looked up the episode and reported back in relief that her novel was nothing like that. She'd had no idea the title had been used before. Apparently not everyone memorized all the titles of the episodes in the original Star Trek series.

Go figure.

Instead it's about this:

After a stint in an alien prison torpedoes her military career, Captain Ari Idylle has to wonder why she even bothered to survive. Stripped of her command and banished to her father's scientific expedition to finish a PhD she doesn't want, Ari never planned to languish quietly behind a desk. But when pirates commandeer her father's ship, Ari once again becomes a prisoner.

Pirate leader Cullin Seaghdh may not be who he pretends to be but as far as Cullin is concerned, the same goes for Ari. Her past imprisonment puts her dead center in Cullin's sights and if she hasn't been brainwashed and returned as a spy, then he's convinced she must be part of a traitorous alliance endangering billions of lives. Cullin can't afford the desire she fires within him and he'll stop at nothing, including destroying her, to uncover the truth.

Finally, Marcella said I could confirm the rumors that she posed for the cover. I've actually seen that outfit, as she wears it on her sailboat from time to time. She keeps the blasters locked up, however, so the cats won't get into them.

And yes, she really is that stacked.

Here's the draft cover from her modeling session before they retouched it.

Congrats Marcella!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lamy Llamas & Falling Stars

Yesterday we took a little drive down the road to explore and enjoy the pretty day. There's a town nearby called Lamy we'd been meaning to see. Not a whole lot there, but this llama seemed quite proud of his domain.

Last Friday, I wrote a post about popularity and how I was a dorky child. My mom worries when I write posts like these, because she thinks it means she was a bad mother. For the record: she was and is a wonderful mother. From cross-comparing with other people, I suspect I drew one of the best mothers out there. It's probably because she's such a good mother that she worries about it.

At any rate, she asked me why I never talked to her about feeling like I was such a dork. I said that my great dorkiness seemed so self-evident that it wasn't worth discussing. It would have been like saying "I have a nose."

More - I think that the world of children tends to be a place adults can't quite access.

Literary Agent Nathan Bransford wrote a blog post about dead or absent parents in children's literature. As he notes, there are sometimes complaints that to have a child or young person's parents be dead or absent is lazy writing. It allows the writer to skip huge chunks of family dynamics. Bransford argues that it exposes the young person to the world and forces them to be their own hero. He has an interesting point.

But I think it's more than that.

Just as in the Peanuts cartoons, where the adult voices were a series of nonsensical wah-wah-wah burbles, the world of children excludes adults. Not deliberately, but because what matters to children and what matters to adults diverges wildly. No young person explains to their parents the complex and volatile politics of the playground, largely because it makes no sense in any other context. The small resonance of a lunch shared or stolen means nothing to people dealing with corporate takeovers.

Children's literature simply creates the analogy by removing the parents. The echoing, insular world of children is replicated emotionally by having the adults be absent or even cruel. Then, when mentors appear, they take on even greater stature, for being the only figure in an empty landscape.

Our parents want to protect us from the cruelties of the world, which is their job. And, as parents, we want to believe we know our children and what they face. But the truth is, we all ultimately face our demons alone. For all the love, the advice and support, the mentoring, it still comes down to the face in the mirror.

Stories simply relate that truth.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Catch a Falling Star and Put It in Your Pocket

We sit up on a hill, with Galisteo Basin and the densest part of Santa Fe below us. The dramatic reverse of heavy rain after weeks of baking sun, leads to fog the following morning. It flowed in rose-tinted waves at sunrise, up and out, back into the vast sky that brought it.

Apparently I'm in a poetic mood this morning.

I get that way sometimes, where I feel an upwelling of something inside, something sweet and bubbly, and I want to send it out into the world. It can take an odd form, depending on where I'm at.

I remember when I was young - maybe 8 or 9? - and we were on a field trip for school. This makes me think I was 8, because in 3rd grade I was in this experimental class where we spent a whole bunch of time traveling around Colorado learning history. I think it was intended to give us hands on stimulation. That was a strange time for me, because there were only two other 3rd graders in this class, a few 4th graders and a whole slew of 5th & 6th graders. We'd all been flagged as gifted or talented or perhaps just oddball. On bus trips, our teachers would have long division contests and kids who got the right answers received prizes. I always put up my hand and guessed answers, even though I had yet to learn multiplication tables, much less division. I always figured I had a shot of getting it right which, of course, I never did. This practice had the additional bonus of annoying the other kids, making me more of a social outcast than ever. In an odd way, though I knew this, it didn't really bother me.

But that's all beside the point.

On this particular trip, the teacher announced that this particular girl - older, pretty, very popular - was moving away. Tomorrow would be her last day at the school and we should all be sure to say good-bye and wish her well. She was one of those people who are inexplicably liked by everyone, as if she carried a bit of sunshine with her and people just liked to bask in it. She was likely 11 or 12, but to my 8, she looks like Bo Derek or Farrah Fawcett in my memory.

I went home from school, put Perry Como on my 8-track player (which would cycle endlessly) and set up my little folding table. I made clay animals for this girl whose name I can't remember. I made probably a dozen of them. Into each one, I poured my admiration for this girl everyone liked so much.

I dried them in the oven, painted them and put them in a little box to take to school the next day. When my mom asked who they were for and I told her, she said she'd never heard this girl's name before and didn't know she was my friend.

My mother clearly didn't understand that a young goddess like this wouldn't be my actual friend.

You can imagine the scene. I marched up to her at school and gave her this fairly extravagant gift of a box full of little clay animals. I was reasonably good at it and she was surprised that I'd made them. That I'd made them for her. I still remember the surprise and confusion on her face. The discomfort, because what I'd done was clearly weird. But she was a nice person and thanked me.

Still, I understood that this had been over the line.

Looking back, I think what I was giving her was more of a tribute. Perhaps I hoped for some of her charm to rain on me. Frankly, I hadn't really noticed her much until I saw everyone gathered around her to say how sad they were to see her go. I wanted that in a way I hadn't known to before.

I still admire those with the gift of popularity. I can see how their natural charm, their sunny attractiveness draw people to them. Sometimes I try to emulate it. But I still have enough of that weird kid in me, the one who can listen to the same favorite soundtrack twenty times in a row, that I can't quite get there.

(A boyfriend once cited the same tape loop in my car as one of the reasons for break-up - I'm not kidding. I mean, I would have changed it if he'd asked. It just happened to be my favorite album at the time and I wasn't done obsessing over it and, well, yeah...)

Ultimately it comes back to that I'm still the one who will put up her hand and ask the uncomfortable question. Sometimes I impulsively give gifts that are too much. too out of the blue. I'm very bad about saying things I shouldn't. Every once in a while, I envy those with the crowds of admirers. I think it must be pretty neat.

I remember that embarrassed girl, with her box of clay animals. I'm still her.

And that's okay.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Corn Moon

I know a lot of people are calling this the Super Harvest Moon, but it's traditionally the Corn Moon in September.

This full moon coincided with the autumn equinox, with the moon rising as the sun set - thus the "super" part. I'm not sure who coined that term. It smacks a bit of "super-size-me," and I kind of doubt the Native Americans of North America, who coined the full-moon names had the concept of "super," but I could be wrong.

"Ho, Little Elk, did the Great Spirit reward your hunting?"

"Yes, Red Eagle, the Great Spirit sent me a Super-buck deer. We shall eat well tonight."

See what I mean?

At any rate, this photo of the corn moon is not from last night, but from the night before. We were reliably forecast for rain to come in yesterday, to the tune of 80%. The forecasting types could apparently see this one coming from a long ways off - a long chain of heavy-bellied clouds working like a conveyor belt to bring gulf moisture up to us.

So I took the photo the night before, just in case. Which was a good thing because we had pouring rain all afternoon and night. We never saw the sun, much less the set and the moonrise.

Which was perfectly fine because we hadn't had any moisture for weeks and weeks. Everything had become dusty, cracking dry.

The calendar shows the full moon on one day, but really it's full for about three days. Depending on how far off of full, you might see it slightly gibbous, with a slight shaving off of one side. It's not always easy to pinpoint, that exact moment of perfect fullness, when the waxing stops and the waning starts. We're back to my pendulum now.

I take comfort in that concept, that nothing in nature is ever a fixed point. Instead, our universe is a dynamic system, in constant change.

What appears to be still is simply a snapshot.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Look at This!

I'm a pretty upbeat person.

No, really, I am! I believe in positive thinking, in realizing your dreams, in doing whatever it takes for any of us to make our lives the most wonderful and fulfilling as they can be. I believe doing what I can to support other people in their efforts.

But I just hate inspirational shit.

You know what I mean. The kind of thing some determinedly cheerful person would slap on the photo above that's meant to draw our attention to beauty and joy and the angels singing.

No no no.

This is possibly tied up with my issues about being nice. I've just never been very good at it. At the same time, lately people have been telling me how helpful I've been to them. I can see that, because sometimes being helpful means that you can't be nice. The Taoists say that you have to be very careful about helping people because it's difficult to know what people really need. Sometimes people need something really terrible to happen to wake them up to their real dreams. Like the proverbial story of the business man who ignores all but his career until the devastating event, after which he quits his job, sells everything and becomes a painter.

None of us wants to be the devastating event. Fortunately the universe generally takes care of that.

So, most people resort to the cheerleader method of helping. The rah rah, you can do it! variety of helping. It's innocuous. You can't really lead anyone astray doing that, not like saying "you should really quit your job, sell everything and become a painter." We all love hearing our supporters cheer us on and it feels good to cheer for other people. It's all good until someone decides to start making money off it.

This is where the life-coach types come in.

Yeah, the life-coach types bug me like inspirational posters bug me. And lately they're infiltrating twitter. It's like a termite invasion, where first you see one, then two, then the walls are covered with them.

Clearly someone pointed out to the life-coach types that twitter is a great place to market themselves. They can post pithy 140-character inspirational sayings (along with a link to their site). They can RT each other and convince us we need them. There's more of them, too, as people seek careers that will bring income without being dependent on a corporate structure.

What bugs me most - and obviously I have issues here - is that they use command language. Think about this! Be happy and productive! Where you or I might slap the gorgeous sunset pic on twitter and say "gorgeous sunset in Santa Fe last night" they'll say, Look up more often! See what you are missing??

Oh yeah, I unfollow them. But then people I do follow retweet them, because they think it's just a happy, positive thing.

It should be a happy, positive thing, but somehow it's not. It smacks of intrusiveness to me. Of manipulation. At worst, of playing god in other people's lives. Nobody else can "coach" us into following the path we need to follow. That's part of the deal: we have to find it for ourselves.

The best we can do is give other people help when they ask for it.

And cheering. Lots of cheering.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


There's this woman who works at the gym we go to. She's there pretty much every morning starting at 5. Every once in a while someone else is working, but it's usually this gal. She's in her 60s, most likely, and looks great with it.

And she's a talker. She loves noise.

Full disclosure: while I'm a reasonably social person under most circumstances, I'm not so much at 6 in the morning. My brain isn't firing all neurons yet - only those needed to get me out of bed and to the gym. When I'm lifting weights, I like to concentrate on that. I don't want to chat.

She does.

I know a lot of people do like to socialize at the gym. I see them standing around and talking for 1/2 hour or more. Me - I want to be there and gone in 1/2 hour.

I'm grumpy that way.

I'm grumpy enough that if she comes over to where I'm working out, I won't really engage in her conversational gambits. I'll smile, nod, give her the huh, go figure. David, being much nicer, will talk to her, which just encourages her. Then he grumbles to me later.

Today she went over to where a client was working with a personal trainer, saying something about dancing at nightclubs. I heard the client gal say in a joking voice "hey, you're distracting my trainer - go away!"

Nicely done, I thought.

But then Chatty Sue came over to us, where David and I were working on neighboring machines.

"Today is the last day of summer!" she announced.

David said, "Oh, is it?"

"Yes! Isn't that terrible!"

I couldn't help myself. "It's the autumnal equinox," I said, "it's a day of balance."

"Yeah - I hate to see summer go," she complained. And proceeded to tell us about her tomatoes which, incidentally, she'd told us about before.

I didn't try again.

To think of today as the last day of summer is silly to me. For some of us, the weather lingers hot, for others, snow has already fallen and summer is long gone. The division of the seasons is a mark on the calendar. But the equinox is about the balance of light and dark. Exactly poised. It's a moment of equilibrium, the pause, the imperceptible hesitation of the pendulum before it swings back the other direction.

It's a day of possibility.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Continuous Partial Attention

This is a Colorado short-horned walking stick.

It lives in New Mexico, however. They normally stay camouflaged during the day and move around at night. This one was on our glass front door on Saturday morning. It never moved, even when we transferred it to a piece of paper. It embodies still stick-ness. Even looking at it in real life, it looks like a twig and not an animal.

So many variations in the world.

This weekend I cranked on The Body Gift. I managed to get myself in a bit of a bind: I'd queried a new agent on Friday, just to keep the ball rolling, and she emailed me back within the hour to request the full manuscript.

See, that just never happens.

Okay, clearly not "never," but very rarely. Usually they ask for something like the first 30 pages or the first three chapters or, if they're really interested, the first 100 pages. And really, no one else has answered me that fast.

So, while The Body Gift is finished (or I never would have queried otherwise, since it's a real no-no to query a book that isn't finished, since finishing a novel is never to be assumed), I was in the midst of rewriting the middle section. My work obviously cut out for me, I spent the weekend writing about 40 pages (a little over 8,000 words).

No, I don't think I could do this every day.

Well - maybe I could, if I wasn't working full-time. It would be interesting to see.

At any rate, my online community rallied 'round, sending me Facebook Mojo (which seems to work equally well for writing output as for white-blood cell count). Kerry was fortunately available to read for me as I went and Marcella, also revising, helped me brainstorm through some sticky spots. I pretty much parked myself under the grape arbor all weekend.

When my mom asked me, via instant messenger, how it was going, I said that just then Marcella was helping me brainstorm. My mom asked where she was. I said on her sailboat, but parked in the harbor, or she wouldn't have internet. My mom thought maybe Marcella was sailing and talking to me on the phone.

Absurd thought.

No, we don't talk on the phone. We're all about non-simultaneous conversations, which allows us to have continuous partial attention. My mom was terribly amused and requested that be today's blog post.

I live to serve.

And no, I didn't make up that phrase. Someone else did and I thought for sure I'd blogged about it before. But I looked through the blog and I can't find it. Turns out a casual Google search shows quite a few hits, so I'll let you do your own research, if you're fired up. Really, I think "they" all view it as a bad thing, because one never puts their full attention on one thing. For me it means that I have tools at hand that allow me to dip in and out of resources as I need to.

In return, I can be more easily "dipped into," because helping someone else doesn't require that I drop what I'm doing.

I realize this way of operating sounds appalling to some people. It has its benefits and drawbacks.

So many variations in the world.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Face vs. Ass

Yeah, this is me, from my sorority pic in college. You know - the array of photos that shows all the gals in the sorority. It's called a composite, in case that's a detail you ever need.

And yes, that's my natural hair color.

I started to clean it up, but I need to be writing, not photo-shopping. And I just wanted to show it to you, my dear blog-gobblers, because of how young I look.

I've reached the age where photographs of my younger self look distinctly different than my self of today. That wasn't true for a very long time. Suddenly I'm noticing that dewy complexion and perfectly taut skin that just isn't quite so much so these days. Not that I think I look old by any stretch.

But I don't look dewy, either.

I don't know if it's apocryphal or not, but there's supposedly a French saying that as a woman ages she must choose between her face and her ass.

This is a succinct way of saying that you either get to be skinny or have a youthful face, not both. That's because subcutaneous fat - that luscious layer under the skin - is what makes us look young. In some ways I like my face of today better, because I always minded the chubbiness of my cheeks then. Suddenly I have cheekbones. And yet I weigh overall, significantly more than I did then.

Ah, to reclaim my 20-year old behind.

It how we age, that we lose fat in our faces first. A woman who viciously diets to maintain that tiny posterior raids the fat in her face. You wonder why the Hollywood actresses are forever getting "plumpers" (lips, cheeks, foreheads), while you're thinking that plumping injections would be about #50 on your plastic surgery wish list? That's why. They've worked so hard to have the super-skinny, no-fat bodies, that their faces get that weird, dry look. It's really just skin over bone at that point.

Not a youthful look.

So my point, and I do have one, is that choosing the face isn't such a bad thing. After all, there's lots of ways to drape the ass. When I occasionally fret that I'm not as skinny as I could be, I give thanks for the elasticity of my skin, for the fat under my skin that keeps it smooth and vital.

It might not be dewy, but it's not parchment either. I'll take it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We Photograph Light

If I was organized, I'd keep a list of which photos I've used on the blog before.

In fact, feeling a surge of organizational enthusiasm, I just started a spreadsheet to track them. I know you're relieved. Though we walk through the Valley of Chaos, we fear no disorganization, for Excel is by my side.

Okay, yeah, I had fun at the photography class last night.

After I reluctantly dragged myself to it. Working from home, I've developed a disconcerting tendency to not want to leave the house. Not to mention in the evening, after a full day of writing and day job. Somehow it feels like so much effort.

Which I know is lame and pathetic.

Fabulous class, really. One thing I should remember about myself is that I'm an auditory learner. My reading comprehension is decent, but there's nothing like having someone EXPLAIN something to me. Also this guy, Steven Walenta, clearly teaches this Digital Photography class for the Continuing Education end of Santa Fe Community College quite a lot. He had clear, informative slides, took his time and showed patience for all questions.

One of my favorite things he said: We photograph light.

Of course, we kind of know this already, right? We only "see" objects because of the photons bouncing off of them and back to our eyes. So we don't photograph the rain chain, for example, but rather the light bouncing off the rain chain. This changes how you make decisions about your camera settings.

Suddenly it all makes sense to me.

Oddly, I was the youngest person in the class, with the possible exception of a woman with some kind of Scandinavian accent. She also had gorgeous Scandinavian skin, so I'm not positive of her age bracket. The rest of the ladies - yes, all women taking this class - were more in their 50s and 60s. Do the younger people all understand their cameras already? One of my twitter friends, Chudney, suggested that many people don't pursue their interests until later in life and I'm ahead of the game. Which is a lovely spin.

But why no men in the class?

In my previous snarky literary circles, and yes, they were famous for being snarky - that's how you could tell they were literary - authors would bitch about "all the middle-aged ladies" taking writing workshops. Oh, I've seen and heard the most disdainful remarks about how these women have money and nothing to do with themselves. Some of these "vacation-type" writers workshops you see now and again that look obscenely expensive? Yes, targeting this type of student.

The implication, of course, is that these are lesser humans, who will never achieve what the teacher has. But we'll take their money, anyway.

Instead, I find them admirable. They're dragging themselves out to an evening class to learn something new and intimidating. I think I'm overwhelmed by my new camera? How about the lady in her late 60s/early 70s who's never downloaded a photograph to a computer?

I watched Steven move around the room, helping people find the settings on their cameras. Never impatient, never disdainful, even though he must have explained pixels ten-thousand times before, he showed a gift for teaching what he knew. And a pleasure in his subject.

The literary snarks could learn something from this.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


What are you going to be for Halloween?

A friend of mine mentioned on Twitter the other day that it was already time to start thinking about Halloween costumes. I knew she meant for her daughter, but she and I have been friends since 1st grade. So, I replied, "What are you going to be for Halloween this year?"

The question echoes through all our years of growing up. There was a time in all our lives when that was a crucial question. A major decision. Should I be a cat or a witch?

Once you made your choice for the year, you had to live with it. It defined that time. That was the year I was a Hula Girl. Remember the year I wanted to be a hatching chick and Leo made me the papier-mache egg costume?

Of course, school made it a big deal, what with the parades and parties. Halloween night in Denver tended to be a bit of a bust, since it usually snowed, forcing us to cover our costumes with parkas and scarves. But we were better off than some places who didn't allow trick-or-treating at all.

I recall how reluctantly we gave up the costumes and the childhood attachment to what we would "be." In middle school our parents informed us we were too old to go trick-or-treating. Sure we could have parties, but costumes were often out. A new sense had emerged that dressing up for Halloween was uncool. Costumes were silly. Even today, there are adults who flatly refuse to wear costumes for anything at all. Too much effort. Too embarrassing. Inside them, I know there must be children who pondered with enthusiasm and excitement just which fabulous creature to be for Halloween.

The question was an echo, also, of the one every adult asked us: What are you going to be when you grow up?

To which we were often handed a pre-established list of choices. The eternal round of doctor, fireman, teacher, nurse. The Halloween question we asked each other and the answers were infinite. Never mind how many Mutant Ninja Turtles there were in the heyday. Every princess became a unique snowflake. Every pirate had a particular style. In our imaginations, we became beautiful and valiant, terrifying and strong.

We became more than what we were.

What would it be like, I wonder, if we carried that tradition all our lives? I would love to hear adults turning to each other in September and asking, what will you be for Halloween? Recall the childhood rules: you can't repeat a costume, cuz that's lame. You can't be the same thing as your sister or your friend, unless it's a group theme.

Most important: have fun and let your imagination run wild.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Sparks Fly Upward

Hi all - Please welcome my dear friend, Laura Bickle to today's blog!

I'm privileged to host the debut of her second book in the Anya Kalinczyk series: SPARKS. Anya is an arson investigator with a most unusual familiar.

Let me tell you, you'll never think about fire salamanders in the same way.

Please welcome Laura and make her feel at home. I just love the post she wrote for us today. As a special treat, I'm giving my own copy of Sparks to a random commenter who says what being in love means to them.

Welcome Laura!

Writing a book is a lot like being in love - good and bad.

Initially, there's infatuation. The flush and excitement of a new idea. This is the easy part - words flow effortlessly. I can spend hours researching or daydreaming about how fabulous the idea is. I make notes, sketches, maps, cut clippings from magazines - I've met my characters, and am deliriously in love with everything they say. The project is, I believe, invincible.

It brings me flowers. I glow.

Then, somewhere around the 30,000 word mark, the infatuation fades. I begin to see the flaws, the inconsistencies, the cracks in the foundation of plot. I'm rolling over in the morning and staring at a book with bad breath that snores. It chews with its mouth open and forgets to say "excuse me" when it farts. It doesn't bring me flowers anymore. It's comfortable. Maybe too comfortable.

I sit in bed, staring at the book, wondering what to do. Should I abandon it for a newer, sexier idea? They're always dancing around in my periphery, seductively whispering: "Choose me."

But I know that it would be the same. I can choose another idea, but in a few weeks, I'll be at the same place, the shiny newness and rose petals replaced by snores and scratching.

At this time, I've got to decide to be committed to the project, to see it through -- even though my story is showing me its scraggly, unwashed underbelly. The challenge is to fall into a routine of writing that isn't new or exhilarating -- it's to focus on the entirety of the work, good and bad, and love it enough to finish.

There are moments that test my patience. A character proves utterly useless around 50,000 words and is savagely eliminated. A timeline problem emerges that requires my heroine to be in two places at once. A loose plot thread dangles with no end in sight. But we get through it.

There are moments that are sublime. Keystrokes fly by through the last chapter. Edits clean the story up nicely, and all of a sudden, my story is standing before me. It's shaved, holding a bouquet of flowers.

I feel the old love for it again. Not the infatuation of the beginning. But deep affection, knowing that we've weathered the writing process and have come out the other side of it victorious.

I straighten its tie, kiss it on the cheek, and send it out into the world. I hope that others will love it as much as I do.

-Laura Bickle has worked in the unholy trinity of politics, criminology, and technology for several years. She and her chief muse live in the Midwest, owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. More information on her urban fantasy novels is available at


If the light is right, even an ant casts a long shadow.

This is very deep, I know, for a Monday. But isn't it cool how the ant-shadow has more visual substance than the ant itself?

I feel certain this means something.

It's funny to me that, after seriously pursuing writing for about 14 years now, I'm still discovering new things about my process. It shouldn't surprise me, because that is one way to define an art over a craft or simple production. An art should evolve and change over time, growing as the artist grows. Craft or production is simply producing the same thing over and over.

The martial artists talk about this. In simple exercise, you might engage in the same routine over and over. A martial art, such as Tai Chi or Pakua, should change over time as the practitioner's understanding changes, as new aspects are discovered and old ones discarded as no longer useful.

I've never been much of a reviser. I produce pretty clean drafts, which has always enabled me to skate by with the revising.

Yeah, I'm lazy.

But this new novel, The Body Gift, I knew I'd have to revise. It's complex, with many layers. I also think it's pretty good and I want it to really shine. As soon as I finished, I planned to turn around and revise.

And I just could not do it.

This surprised me, because when I have revised stuff before, it wasn't that big of a deal. Print out. Read out loud. Proof read. Incorporate reader comments. Bim bam boom. Not like it was rocket science or anything.

It was worse. Which is saying something because I am not an engineer by any stretch.

I found that I'd really drained my well and had nothing left to work with. I had no choice but to put the manuscript in the proverbial drawer. My readers had it anyway. I had other things to do. Fine then.

Now I've discovered that, after spending a month in the dark drawer, the book is ready for revising. I have perspective on it that I lacked before. Gone are all the swirly, lovely, pleased feelings I swam in while writing. Like wine fermented in the bottle, the book had ripened into something of its own. Something I can work with.

Kind of neat, actually.

All from just a different change in the light.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scaredy Cat

Something frightened Isabel last night.

It was one of those nights anyway, when all the animals are on the move, inexplicably to humans. I could hazard guesses why. We had a good rain the night before, for the first time in quite a while. The rain brought welcome relief, dampening the dust and refreshing all the grasses and shrubs that had been curing for days and days in the relentless dry breezes. Not unlike a convection oven. Makes for pleasant weather for people, not so great for the natural world. Also, we're at the new moon, so the night was dark and cool.

We noticed the animal activity in the evening. On our walk, we saw a young bull snake lying in the road, soaking up the heat. We gently chased it off the road, so it wouldn't get run over by the people zooming home from work. Then, walking back up a different road, on the other side of the greenbelt, we saw an identical bull snake, also lying in the road. When a nest of snakes hatches, the young tend to radiate out in all directions, scattering to maximize survival of at least a few. We coaxed that one off the road also. Finally, we saw a Jerusalem cricket on the blacktop path. If you've never seen one, they're seriously funky. I didn't have my camera, but here's a pic from That's about the size of my palm, by the way.

Bizarre creature, no?

The evening passed without further incident, until I woke sometime around three in the morning to an odd scrabbling sound. I thought the kitties had brought a mouse in from the garage, via the cat door. It was a lot of loud scrabbling and I realized Teddy was curled up next to me on the bed, so I finally got up to investigate. But no, Isabel was sound asleep on the back of the chair in the living room. Following the sounds, I discovered that the dog, Zip, had trapped himself in my shower, where he goes when he's frightened. By "trapped" I mean that he was behind the shower curtain, circling in an endless frenzy. Fortunately I had the power to sweep aside the silk curtain and free him.

Not always the brightest dog.

I get back in bed and may have fallen asleep. David and I both heard coyotes howling, which isn't unusual. Then Isabel leapt on the bed, which isn't unusual either, except that she wouldn't lay down and vibrated with tension. She leapt off again. I heard her throwing up and figured her for hairballs. She jumped on the bed again, acting frantic and had some moisture on her, then dashed off again.

Half asleep - by now it's four in the morning - I get visions of Isabel being ill and puking up blood. I finally get up again and search the house for her. I find where she threw up a bunch of water. No hairballs in sight. I finally find her in my bathroom (clearly the place to be last night), standing on her hind legs on my sink counter with her head under the little half-curtain that screens the window. When she looks at me, her pupils are so dilated the black swallows up all the color in her eyes.

I've never seen anything like it.

So I sat on the floor and she crawled onto my lap finally, curled up and purring. She settled somewhat, though the nictating membrane was covering her eyes to protect them from the bathroom light, since her pupils were still so dilated.

My best guess is she saw a pack of coyotes. She's seen one at a time before. We know because we've taken photos of them on the porch. I love the one on top because I think it captures him throwing his head back to howl. And it reminds me of that scene from Jacob's Ladder (which I know is a really old movie now, but it freaked me out at the time). Here's a more clear shot of him.

Isabel finally settled down. We all went back to sleep, though David and I are a bit groggy this morning. I'm actually contemplating driving into town for a Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte. Probably a 45-minute round-trip. How desperate am I? Hmm...

Frankly, though I hated to see her so frightened, I'm not sorry that Isabel got a scare. She needs to be afraid of the predators. She tends to think she is a predator and forgets she can be prey, too.

Sometimes a little fear can be educational.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Red Moon and Good Dreams

Full moon rising over the harbor at Newport.

Because it was in August, it was the Red Moon. Aptly named. I'd had an idea that I'd try to blog all the full moons for the next year, but then I went and missed the first one due to vacation lassitude. I'll make it up with the September moon.

You'll see.

I had the best dream last night. One of those dreams that are so lovely, I’m still riding on the happy wave of it.

And, oh yeah, it was total wish-fulfillment.

I dreamed the agent that I mailed my first 100 pages to the other day called me and said she wanted to visit me to talk about my book. She came to my house and I had to pull the book from the library that had her critique notes in it. She told me they were in the Ignatius volume.

(Um, no, I have no idea what any of that means. It was a dream, okay?)

She pronounced it Ignashus and I thought maybe it should be Ignateeus, since it was Latin, but I didn’t say anything. She had me also read my synopsis to her, which I’d written on lettuce leaves. (Doesn’t everyone?) That one, I think could be related to the fact that she tweets about lunch a fair amount.

At any rate, it was wonderful, validating and everything I hope will happen. I knew that my book would be published and published well. I woke up feeling happy about it.

I’m still happy.

Even though I only mailed it on Tuesday, so I know it’s all wishing, even if it comes from the heart.

Still, Snow White is dancing around and singing, cartoon bluebirds flitting about.

Lovely day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


A new sighting on the wildlife camera! The rare literary lava iguana, also known as a LEEZard.

Yeah, okay, it's a running joke.

The difficult thing about inside jokes is, they evolve over time and are thus difficult to explain to those who weren't part of the (often punchy) process. And then, when you do explain, it's usually not funny anyway.

But I'll try. Because *I* think it's funny.

It started when I first moved to Santa Fe a year ago. David got a night-vision camera and set it up to see what all wildlife was coming up on our porch at night. I was messing with him by putting up my little purple iguana beanie doll that Val brought me from Australia in front of the camera as a "sighting." I thought I was SUPER DUPER funny and he erased the picture. I blogged about it, of course.

At this same time, I was spending morning writing time in the FFP water cooler - an online chat room where we gather to write. We write for an hour or half-hour and check in to compare word counts, cheer or commiserate. In this odd pattern, my internet would tank regularly sometime around 9 am, every damn morning, kicking me out of the chatroom. My critique partner KAK speculated that it was the lizard.

Really - it got to be very funny.

But it all peaked one night when KAK and I were IMing feedback to each other about our current novels. I told her I didn't care if her heroine did have lizard-like scales, the biologist in me didn't buy that she could swim in lava and not be affected. It turned out that she wasn't lizardy at all, but more feline and I'd completely misinterpreted the descriptions. KAK accused me of lizard bias. I pointed out that felines were even LESS likely to survive a lava-swim. She told me I needed to tell the reader how to pronounce some of my bizarre words, which I find it awkward to do without breaking that fourth wall.

Hey reader! You pronounce it like this! You see my point?

But just then I saw an excerpt from someone's published novel where the hero, Gunnar, tells the heroine, in his husky bedroom voice as he stalks towards her, gleaming and naked, "you pronounce it GOOnar."

I know, right?

Oh, GOOnar, take me!

I shared, KAK started in on LEEzards... it was silly and punchy and might not be funny to you at all.

But she sent me a LEEzard for my recent birthday. It's been out, running around and chewing up the internet lines.

Thanks KAK!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Our neighbors down the valley had a party Saturday night.

You can see the lights, here, glowing in the deepening evening, backed by the sunset. It was perfect weather - warm and still. Ideal for sitting outside, which David and I did. We sat on our patio for hours. The way sound carries here, we could hear the party like we could see the lights, glowing in the distance, a happy tumble of voices. Then someone played guitar and sang, his lovely tenor voice carrying up to us. Our own personal concert.

Sunday morning, our other neighbors made themselves heard and not in such a pleasant way. They're new, renting the house closest to us that didn't sell after over a year on the market. Of course, the owner won't drop the price, so he moved away and left it to renters instead. They haven't moved in a lot of furniture and these houses all have adobe walls and tile floors, which makes for good acoustics.

I don't know exactly what the fight was about, but I have a good idea. He didn't like how she'd behaved the night before. Really didn't like it. "What did you do?!?" was a frequent refrain. Shouted at the top of his lungs. At first I wasn't sure if he was yelling at a woman or a child, until I heard bits of her protests. The loudest part was when he shouted, over and over, "Do you want to be in my life or not?"

We haven't met them yet. Now I'm not dying to.

I'm not much for fighting. I'm especially not for yelling. When I hear those angry voices, something in me cringes. I feel injured and attacked, even as a bystander. I couldn't be that person, standing so close to the yelling, having it hurled at me.

I wanted to tell her that the answer should be "No." Don't be in that angry man's life.

It's not my business. There was no reason to think the abuse escalated to physical. I've only ever called the cops on a domestic disturbance once before and I'm not sure it was the right thing. It didn't change anything and they knew it was me who called. They didn't thank me for it, as you can imagine. I know I can't save the world.

So I went to the back patio and sat under the grape arbor. Their fight ended and they were quiet the rest of the weekend.

I said my prayer of thanks, for a peaceful and happy life.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Come Blow Your Horn

A while back, I did a guest post on Elizabeth Flora Ross's blog about defending your writing time.

I'm militant on the topic. I truly believe that if you want time to write, you have to build a fence around it, possibly with razor wire, and defend it at all costs. No ifs, ands or buts. Otherwise the time will get eaten away in nibbles and bites by everything else in your life.

Over time, it gets easier. Everyone else in your life becomes accustomed to you being unavailable at certain times. And, most importantly, it becomes a habit to sit and write. Defending the time means defending the habit.

In the last year, I've gotten really good at this. I drafted The Body Gift in half the time it took me to write Obsidian, plus it's a much tighter draft. I also wrote Petals and Thorns on an efficient schedule. I've been working on revising and tightening The Body Gift and got a good chunk into a new novella.

Then I went on vacation.

I thought I might work on the book some, on long rainy Oregon coast days at the B&B. But my Jeffe Sunshine Magic (TM) kicked into effect and we had gorgeous weather. I didn't sweat it. I knew I needed to relax, refresh and refill the well after my big push to finish The Body Gift. Vacation can be from all my jobs, I decided.

And so it was.

When I came back, however, relaxed, refreshed, ready to get back to work, I found my fence was in a shambles. Like Little Boy Blue, I'd allowed the cows into the meadow and the sheep into the corn. It's taken me all week to get back into the habit.

Kerry's book, Swimming North, is about dragons and dragon-slaying. She often draws a parallel between her day job and slaying dragons. But, last night, she agreed that cows were in her meadow, too.

Screw the dragons - it's the freaking cows that are our problem!

"Mad cows. Complacent cows," she says, "all of them are trouble."

Sometimes you have to look closer to home, for the simple solution.

If you need me, I'll be out building fences.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bugs and Olives

Last night, as we were having cocktails on the patio, David told me that a stinkbug was trying to climb up the iron leg of the patio chair to get me.

David and I, both children of the West, call them stinkbugs, although we're apparently supposed to call them pinnacate or darkling beetles. At any rate, they're these guys. They're also the same beetles that I mentioned seem compelled to drown themselves despite my efforts to provide climbing platforms out of the rain catchments. The stinkbugs are drawn to everything moist. The day after a rain, they scuttle about everywhere, following sedate and determined paths.

I'm quite fond of them.

So when David says that the stinkbug that hard marched across the patio, to visit me, I claimed, was now trying to climb my chair leg, I thought he was making fun of me for that old story, about the cockroaches climbing the brass bed and how I did one of the worst things I've ever done.

Turns out he'd never heard that story.

It's an old story, from my college days. I think it came to mind because I've been reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. It's really an amazing book, kind of a novel formed of sequential stories. We come to have ideas about Olive from the stories of other characters. They talk about Olive, or encounter her in various ways. We don't really see into Olive's mind until a story about her son's wedding reception, when Olive overhears her new daughter-in-law saying how awful Olive is and what a difficult mother she'd been to her son.

It's brilliantly done. The daughter-in-law is talking softly to a friend, in a place they shouldn't be overheard. She's not catty or cruel, but Olive is deeply hurt. And enraged.


The cockroach story is like this. It started with one of my college roommates being freaked out by cockroaches in our apartment. They were waterbugs, it turns out, but that's no never mind. Only she and I were home. She melted down to the point where she refused to sleep on her mattress on the floor or my futon, for fear the cockroaches would get her in the night. Around 2 in the morning, I convinced her to sleep in our other roommate's brass bed, even though the fearful one declared that she'd be able to hear the cockroaches trying to climb the brass legs all night.

See? I told you there was a connection.

I told our other roommates the story when they returned in the next day or so. It was a very funny story. And I can milk a story. I would culminate with making scratching noises on a piece of metal, to imitate the cockroach legs. Other friends heard references and begged to be told the full story, which took 15-20 minutes to tell.

I admit it: I loved telling this story. There's nothing like having a roomful of people laughing so hard they can't stand.

Well, one night, we had a 4th of July gathering at our apartment. The roommate in question was working. Ten or twelve of us, including my visiting mother, sat around the dining table -- which was a piece of painted plywood on blue-painted cinder blocks -- talking and drinking beer.

Well, yes, someone asked me to tell the story.

You know what's coming. I demurred, since I was normally very careful not to tell it anywhere my friend could hear. but I didn't take much convincing. I had just gotten to the part where I'm clicking my nails on the beer bottle when that cold silence fell over the room.

Of course, she was standing in the doorway behind me, having come in through the kitchen door to the alley.

She slammed off to her bedroom and the party broke up. Everyone was horrified. I felt awful.

What's funny is, she and I never talked about it. I've never known how much of the story she heard. She was the type to yell at you if she was mad. This she never said a word about, which made me think I truly hurt her.

She reads this blog from time to time, so if you see this: I truly apologize for that. I should have said so sooner.

So that's my second in a series about careless words. Funny how certain themes rise up, for no particular reason. Old stories come to mind.

Life lessons, all of them, I suppose.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Herons in the Mist

Fog isn't something we get a lot of around here, so I enjoyed Oregon's coastal mists. This heron hunted the tide pools, barely visible. The telephoto got him, though.

Loving my new camera.

I remember one of the first times I saw those kinds of maritime fogs, in Davis, California at a conference.

Somehow I'd ended up on the board of our local new chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). A grant had been obtained and the group planned to send two members to a leadership conference sponsored by the national organization. However, so far only one person had stepped up to go. Hell, I said, I'll go.

For some reason this is a very hazy memory for me. I was heavy in grad school, I know. After my Great Mistake but before David, which makes it sometime between spring of '89 and winter of '91. I think it was a hard time for me. I grieved for my lost college family - never again have I been privileged to be around so many truly amazing people. I lived alone. My love life was going poorly; I pretty much hated everything about grad school (which is designed to break your spirit, anyway), especially my manic/depressive Hungarian major advisor, though I couldn't face any of that. I was in my early 20s, and most women agree it's the worst age for us.

I went to this conference with no particular goal, no strategy, except that someone offered to pay for me to go. Morning fogs burned off into bright days and all of these women scientists gave talks about their paths and what their careers had been like. Everyone was brilliantly encouraging in a way that made me feel like a blossom in the sun. No scathing frowns like those doled out daily by my crazy Hungarian advisor.

One woman gave a talk and she was a writer. I can't remember a damn thing about her - her name, face, what her career deal was. She might have gone from science career to writing? I do recall that her mother attended, which means her speaking was probably an honor and a big deal. At any rate, feeling inspired, thinking maybe this was what I really wanted to do: be a writer and write about science, not this horrible slog through the muck of research, I sat near this woman at lunch and said something along those lines.

And she was mean to me.

Mean enough that I started crying.

Oh, I tried not to show it, sucking up my shameful tears into my sandwich. But I remember the mother throwing me sympathetic looks while the writer-daughter went on about how hard is was to be a writer and all of the stupid, foolish people who thought they could just waltz into it.

Why it hit me so hard, I have no idea. I don't know if she even gave me any good advice - I was just trying not to let everyone see me cry.

I don't tell this story often. In fact, I'm not sure what made me think about it now, except for something about the heron in the fog. I couldn't say whether that incident really affected my writerly ambitions one way or another - I neither gave up at that point nor raced out to prove her wrong.

That woman maybe never realized how hard I took her words. Maybe she was frustrated at not making more money. Maybe she'd just lost an agent or a book deal. It could be she wasn't accustomed to being in that position, where someone might want to be like her.

But it's a good lesson, no matter where we are in our writing careers. We should be careful of those who look at us with shiny eyes and hopeful ambition.

We were all that girl once.
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