Friday, December 31, 2010

Sea Change

Our big storm finally released its grip, with roaring winds all night, leaving the sky clear and frigid this morning.

So, here we are, saying good-bye to 2010 already. Tomorrow the decorations come down. I'll clean the house and start the year a new. Fresh slate, carrying forward the best of last year and none of the worst.

I'll try, anyway.

I talked yesterday about the temptation to make plans for big changes in the new year. It feels like a natural demarcation between old and new. And, hell, everyone else is doing it, right?

I'm starting one new thing for the new year. Tomorrow will see the launch of a new blog I'm participating in, The Word Whores. Our credo comes from Moliere:

"Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money."

I'm delighted to be in such amazing company, with six other smart, witty, imaginative and supportive women - all of whom I count as friends, as well as sister writers. Believe me, we all want to do it for money.

But this is a small change in the pattern of my life. I'm adding one blog-post a week. Finite, simple. I cringe when I see people resolving to lose weight, exercise more, write more and fix their love life. Yes, these are all wonderful things to do, but it's TOO MUCH. The goals are vague. What does more mean? How much weight? What does a good love life consist of?

The problem is, if the goals are vague, then they're doomed to failure. Because you can never reach "more." There's always "more" out there. It's like always jam tomorrow.

The success gurus will tell you to keep your goals specific and attainable. There are good reasons for that.

I've long been a fan of tesseract theory. No - you don't have to know math for this. It's the idea that the pattern of large things reflects the pattern of its components. Thus the shape of a mountain range echoes the shape of a piece of gravel. A grown person reflects the shape of an embryo. If I want my life to look a particular way, then I try to make each day reflect those priorities. It occurred to me a few years ago that if I wanted my life to be writer's life, then I might need to spend more than five percent of my day writing.

(Of course, we all turn out to be champion sleepers in the end, but that's to be expected.)

This kind of change didn't happen between 12/31 and 1/1. The pattern of my days has morphed gradually over the years, a slow and creeping conversion. A sea change, if you will.

The term "sea change" comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest (one of my favorites), from Ariel's song to Ferdinand:

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
For those not well-versed in translating Bard-speak, Ariel is describing Ferdinand's father's corpse lying on the bottom of the ocean, slowly accreting the minerals of the water, until his skeleton becomes part of the coral.

The sea changes things, takes them in and makes them its own over time.

I borrowed this rant on the phrase from The Word Detective:

Unfortunately, as "sea change" has gained more popularity lately, its meaning has often been diluted and trivialized ("Gavin believes that this update indicates a sea change for the software and web applications...," In the ultimate insult to the Bard, "sea change" has been harnessed as bizspeak ("Business is in the midst of a sea change when it comes to staffing and retaining superior talent," New York Times), and I'm sure that somewhere out there right now a trucking company is promising a "sea change in package delivery." Full fathom five them all, I say.

To me, this reflects our modern philosophy of get it done yesterday. A "sea change" is no longer a long, slow conversion. It happens overnight, according to the business types. Thus we expect our lives to change as quickly.

I know this is one of my periodic rants and I won't bring it up again for a while, but this is my plea. Yes, absolutely, make those positive changes in your life. You can do that. You can make your life what you want it to be.

But take your time. Make small changes. Take baby steps. Allow for things to happen in their own time. Cast your grains of sand into the ocean and let them become pearls.

Start small. The universe will make it big for you. That's how it works.

Happy 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Life Resolutions

A brief clearing this morning in the storm. I love when part of the valley has sunshine while another is shadowed. Seems metaphorical to me.

Last night I caught up on blog-reading. I follow a lot of blogs - more than the ones I list on the blogroll to the side there. Those are my favorites. Some blogs I follow just to be supportive. I've never unfollowed, but I do stop reading if the blog doesn't sing for me. Some I think are hit or miss.

Normally I use Blogger Dashboard to read recent posts. It shows me all the blogs I follow that have new posts, in chronological order. Most days I scroll through those to see what's new. Some I read every new one. Others only if that particular post looks interesting. I confess - some that annoyed me, I hid from my feed.

Because I was catching up though, this time I clicked on each blog, which then shows me a list of their recent posts. It ended up being a good year-end clean-up because a surprising number hadn't posted in 6 months, 9 months, even a full year. Several of those were blogs where the writer posted once or twice and never again.

This time of year, everyone is talking about New Year's resolutions. People are making plans for 2011, citing what they're determined to do. More than a few that I've seen mention posting to their blogs more often. I know a few more people than that who really angst over getting blog posts up.

It reminds me of the gym, really.

I've been a regular exerciser for about four years now. As in, going to the gym to work out, exercising. Before that I was in Kung Fu classes nearly every night, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. But a few years ago, several things came together - quitting Kung Fu, my middle age, a physical condition that was not, erm, lean. So I became Morning Gym Girl.

No, this was not natural to me by any stretch. I exercise first thing in the morning because I'm too sleepy to think up excuses not to. There it is.

At any rate, David and I noticed the classic New Year pattern. After January 1, the gym was filled to bursting with enthusiastic exercisers. There would be the overweight middle-aged guy, accustomed to success, determinedly jogging endless laps on his first visit, face crimson. He'd show once or twice and never again. There were the high school girls in their pajamas, who started showing later and later, then not at all. Some persisted, yes, but usually by March the gym was back to the normal numbers.

There's this whole thing about "don't start what you can't finish" or, worse, "you must finish what you start." I'm not saying that. Making a change, starting a new blog or a new exercise program is a big thing. We try all kinds of ways to make it not seem quite so daunting, but few of us have empty space in our lives just waiting to be filled by a new task. Usually something else has to go. Usually that's the painful part.

When new exercisers ask me how long it'll be until they stop hating going to the gym, I tell them it took me six months. Six very long months before I stopped hating it and started to enjoy it. Some days I still hate it.

But it's important to me. So I keep doing it. Day after day.

I suspect those qualities - the ones that keep the person blogging day after day, writing their novels, sending their queries - those are what make the successful author.

Not a New Year's Resolution, but a New Life Resolution.

We're in it for the long term.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Strangeness and Dreamthink

A quietly intense sunset last night. A storm is coming our way that's meant to last several days. No more clear skies for a while.

Because it's to get snowy and blustery, David and I went out to dinner last night. On New Year's Eve we'll stay home. That probably makes us sound like fuddy-duddies. But I really wanted some time to walk around the Santa Fe Plaza to see the lights. This is not nearly so much fun in bad weather. We had drinks at one of our favorite bars and then dinner at Luminaria. This way we got to indulge in their really wonderful menu and not be limited to the New Year's Eve prix fixe menus everyone does, which never seem to be as good. And we didn't have to worry about road stops or drunk drivers. Friday night we'll do our little tradition of lots of hors d'oeuvres and non-stop movies.

We're simple souls, I suppose.

Yesterday I mentioned that I hadn't even thought about any of my now-several works in progress. Marcella (who I see hasn't posted to her own blog since November 9, but her first book just came out, so she can be forgiven) asked me what it was like for me, getting back into it.

Specifically, she asked me if it looked a bit strange at first. Which was funny to me because it really did.

I opened up Sapphire, read the first line, which I'd last read - and edited - just a week before, and it was like I'd never seen it before in my life.

I went back and read the revise and resubmit email from the editor who'd read it, to reground myself in the changes she's looking for. I don't know that I needed to, because a big piece of me was nodding, saying "yeah yeah yeah." Okay, I'd read it a bunch of times before and had already started the revision.

Still I didn't quite have my head where it had been.

So I started reading. I figured the edits would come, which they did.

The advantage of having that time away is it does create a very useful distance. I could read the story more like a reader would, which helps me see what information I'm giving or withholding. When I write the story, it's playing out in my head. I'm seeing through the characters' eyes and describing what's happening to them. This kind of thing makes it easy to leave out important information. Sure, I feel what they do, but do I describe it so someone else understands?

The downside is I miss the dreamthink (which I've talked about before here and here). The dreamthink allows me to swim in the story and not have to, well, work at it so hard. I dream at night about my characters. I wake up in the morning with the story spinning in my head. Ideas for it pop into my head throughout my work day. It's kind of like part of me is running a subroutine.

Unfortunately, to extend the analogy, that subroutine absorbs a lot of disk space. I find that when I'm heavy into dreamthink, I don't have a lot of brain power for much else. Sometimes I think that I'm so weighted in right-brain, hey-we-got-no-rules, wow-man, everything-is-beautiful activity that the left brain stuff gets rusty. Pulling out my logic and math feels more difficult. Also employing those extrovert skills.

I can't really be in dreamthink and be around people. Not counting David, of course. Though he'll occasionally point out I haven't spoken aloud in hours. That's why, when on a family visit, I don't even try.

So yes, Sapphire did look strange. But, like picking up a book you started a while ago and set down, after a few pages the story drew me in again. I'm about 10% through the revision now.

It feels good to get in the swim again.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wonderful Christmas

So, my stepsister, Hope, told me that they tell the boys if they don't behave, they'll turn up on my blog.

I think that makes me the Bloggyman.

But no one is bad on Christmas. Therefore, here is everyone on Christmas morning, enjoying Santa's bounty. Except for Hope and Galen, who were in the kitchen making mimosas, like the lovely hosts they are. And David, who must have been standing next to me, always by my side.

Christmas was lovely and wonderful. I cooked and baked a whole bunch. We saw family we rarely see and met little Tabitha for the first time.
Time flew by and I can't really tell you what I filled it with. I wasn't on the interwebs much and, after a couple of days, didn't turn on my computer at all. It feels like a slow unwind from my usual life of keeping up. My days are full the way I like them to be, but I run a pretty good pace to do it. To get the blog post done, to get my writing done, to do my day job, to read the blogs and books I try to keep pace with.

At first, it's hard to relax, to let go of the keeping up. Then, when I do, I let go of everything it seems. One world falls away and only the immediate becomes real.

We writers talk about living in our heads, in other worlds. A lot of the time I'm thinking about what I'm writing, about ideas for the blog or dream-thinking about whatever story I'm immersed in. Over Christmas, I didn't at all. I think this is as much a part of the writers life as any other - the letting go of it for a space of time.

Now I'm back and trying to keep the ramp-up slow and gentle. There go the important emails answered. Bank accounts checked and reconciled. Here's a blog post. Now I'll work on Sapphire. Later I'll cruise the information galaxies of Facebook, Twitter and the Blogosphere.

But for now I'll pour another cup of tea from the fabulous cat teapot Hope gave me and gaze out the window.

Happy Holidays, indeed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh Frabjious Day!

Another view of yesterday's sunrise. This morning's was also lovely, but I was on a business call, alas, and could not immortalize it.

You'll have to imagine it.

Today is also a banner day for Petals and Thorns. I received my monthly author statement of royalties earned from Loose Id. I've now made enough to qualify for their Published Author Network (PAN) status. Nice threshold to cross for me.

Earlier this month I posted my statistics for Petals & Thorns so far. So you might look at that first, since I'm just adding to the summary here. Let's play Old Spice man - go look at that graph.

Now look at this one.

Now look at that one.

The source of the amazing jump in December? Fictionwise sales.

Right - who knew?

Fictionwise sales accounted for 86% of my December reported sales. Amazon showed up for the first time, too, with 10% of sales. Sony was another first-time show with 3% of sales. Loose Id only produced 2% of sales.

(Yeah, I know that's 101% - I rounded, okay?)

Those of you keeping score at home will note that last month's big seller, All-Romance ebooks, did not have any sales this month. I suspect that this has to do with when they report sales, rather than real-time sales statistics. I'm betting the big surge in Fictionwise represents sales over possibly the last six months.

It will be interesting to see.

I realized in writing yesterday's post that I consider post-winter solstice to be the start of the new year. Probably my pagan ancestors whispering in my ear.

At any rate, this feels like a fine start to the new year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Long Night Moon

Last night was the solstice moon, the Long Night Moon. And you also likely knew, unless you live under a rock, that there was a full lunar eclipse also.

No, I didn't get any photos of the eclipse. We had a fair amount of cloud cover last night. I got up at 12:45 to see, but to no avail. It's funny here - the clouds will lay low and flat over the top of us, but the horizons will be more or less clear.

So I caught the moon here, rising full on the longest night of the year.

And here she is again, over fourteen hours later, after a long, leisurely stroll across the sky and through the earth's shadow, to set into the pink of sunrise.

The long night is over. Now we turn our eyes to the east, and the first day in our steps towards summer again.

Looks pretty glorious to me.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fast Times

We're closing in on the final stretch of Christmas here. Presents have been acquired and wrapped. Today we'll ship the final lot - and just to Front Range folks, so don't panic. The big party went swimmingly Saturday night.

Both kitties love to hang out under the Christmas tree. And maybe chew on the ribbons a little bit. They consider themselves a gift to us.

So, today is the last fast day before the major feast. When I posted about our weekly fasts back in October, in the comments conversation that followed, I promised to report back in another eight weeks. I'm a bit past that now, but it's been a busy blogging time.

I look forward to the fast days at this point. It sounds bizarre, most likely, but the break is such a welcome resetting of my system that I get excited for how good I'll feel. For example, the treat onslaught has started. Last Wednesday the first food package arrived. I've had peppermint brownies and homemade candies. I made sugar cookies.

(They turned out so pretty I have to immortalize them here.)

Saturday night I drank champagne and nibbled on all sorts of lovely things. David and I woke up early Sunday starving and went out to breakfast. Country ham with a biscuit and gravy was just the thing for my mild hangover. We ended up eating lunch out, too, since we were in town shopping. Margaritas, live music and prime rib sandwich made it very fun.

Now I know I'm entering the uber-party. We're meeting friends for drinks and dinner tomorrow night. Then pre-Christmas Eve dinner out at a lovely restaurant, Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Day dinner and Boxing Day tea. It will all be wonderful and I intend to completely indulge. Then next Monday, we'll fast again. Cleanse our systems and return to baseline.

It's interesting to me how many religions and philosophies incorporate an element of fasting. And usually the fasting precedes the feast. For some it's a sacrifice in honor of ancestors who suffered. Sometimes it's meant to be a deliberate discomfort, to remind you to think about philosophical questions. It can also be a symbolic preparation for the feast. Part of what makes a feast such a joy is the contrast to starvation and suffering.

So I'm fasting today. I'll take some time to reflect on how full and rich my life is.

And the cookies will still be there tomorrow.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Snowfall and Sapphire

Did I say I wanted snow?


Okay, so the highways are closed. David has two finals today and we have no idea how the school will handle that. Considering that our rather long driveway is knee-deep to hip-deep in snow, I doubt David would be going anywhere even if they open the highways.

Yeah, you can say it now: Be careful what you wish for.

I received happy news last night that Sapphire made a bit of a conquest. The editor I sent the story to really loves it. She had a few issues with it and invited me to revise and resubmit, though she understood if I didn't want to. These kinds of requests can go both ways. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I've revised before, to no avail. This is a different opportunity because she sent me a very detailed description of what she'd like to see revised. Better, they're all really good suggestions. I really love getting to work with a sharp, effective editor.

A really excellent editor brings out the very best in your writing. Conversely, a bad editor can crush the life out of your work. By the way this gal zeroed in on the important aspects of the story and deftly picked out the weak spots, I'm thinking she could be one of the best editors I've worked with.

Not to mention that this is a very desirable press.

So, of course I'll revise. It shouldn't be too difficult. And when I wrote to say so, she replied that she's delighted to hear it. All kinds of joy in Mudville.

The big question for me now is, do I set the new novel aside to do this, or work on both? I wrote a post for the FFP blog the other day, comparing writing a novel to raising a child. The new novel is just a toddler and requires a lot of daily attention. But now my teenager has her first big job opportunity. She needs new clothes, a haircut, pumps and hose! Kerry suggested that I give the toddler just enough attention to keep Child Protection Services off my back.

It's an interesting problem, how to balance multiple works. When I started out writing, I wrote essays, usually in one sitting. I could hold the essay from beginning to end in my head and set it down on the screen. When I transitioned to longer works, I had to find a different way to see the story, because I couldn't hold the whole thing in my head. At least, not in my conscious mind. I think I've gotten better at letting the entire story, including sequels, play out in my subconscious mind where I can look in on various scenes, to write them down. This requires a certain amount of immersion in the story for me.

To move two stories forward at once feels like another level of challenge. I know a couple of people who do this. Some alternate days or weeks on particular projects. Writers with contracts are often saying how they had to set aside a manuscript at the best part because edits arrived from their editor on another project with a one-week deadline.

I might try doing both at once, just to see if I can.

Heck - there's not much else to do in January, is there?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Deadlines, Lifelines and the Test of Personality

"Still Life: Snow on Luminarias"


It's snowing!!!

Okay, I know a lot of you out there have had way more than enough of the stuff, or have been drowning in rain, but we've had an unseasonably mild and dry winter so far. I'm a Colorado girl from way back and I like a little snow with my Christmas. We might even get heavy snow.

We're snow-globe socked-in and I'm chortling with glee.

Perhaps I should break out into a little mash-up of snow songs. Don't worry - I'll lip synch.

I hit a personal best on the treadmill this morning: 1.45 miles in 20 minutes. Yeah, all the athletic people just snickered. I know it's not much. But going that fast pushed my heart rate up over 170, which is pretty high. I'll have to stay at this level for a while to try to condition it down. I'd like to get up to 2 miles in 20 minutes, which is the military conditioning threshold. We'll see. As I've likely mentioned before, running is not my forte.

But I've been working hard at it, gradually improving, shedding body fat by incremental percentages. When I realized I would cross this barrier while running this morning, something odd popped into my head. Something about the thought that it's taken me a couple of years to get my conditioning at least this good made me remember a conversation with a friend about writing.

She had done what a surprising number of people do: decided to write a book, sell it and become a successful author. She'd quit her job and given herself one year to succeed.

This also falls under the "after all, it's only genre-writing, it's not like it's hard" umbrella.

When she had not sold in the year - indeed, when she hadn't really completed a full manuscript, instead constantly revisiting the first three chapters in response to critique - she asked me how long I'd given myself.

The question surprised me. It had never occurred to me to impose a deadline on my work that way. In some ways, it would be like me saying that if I can't run 2 miles in 20 minutes by next December, I'll quit running. I suppose at some point in the future I'll be too decrepit to make that goal. Though that image is kind of amusing to contemplate.

"Just help me out of this wheelchair and onto the treadmill - I'll be fine!"

For those who know me, this is actually a plausible scenario.

At any rate, unlike ballerinas and football players, writers have no natural retirement age. If we keep our minds sharp, we can keep writing on our deathbeds. Many have.

My friend was shocked when I said that I gave myself as long as it takes. But then, she and I have very different ways of looking at the world.

The subject of personality has been making the rounds of our online community lately. Patrick Alan summed it up yesterday on his blog. It's fun to look at our astrological influences or the slightly more scientific personality assessment of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), which is interestingly built on Jungian theory.

I come out as an INTJ, which is apparently a small group. It means I'm an Introvert, Intuitive, Thinker, Judger. The other ends of these are extrovert, sensing, feeling and perceiving. It's apparently unusual for a person who prefers intuition to rely on thinking instead of feeling. And it's odd for an introvert to use judgment instead of perception, because it focuses on outer instead of inner.

That's me: an odd duck.

But it's useful to me to look at the summation for INTJ:

For INTJs the dominant force in their lives is their attention to the inner world of possibilities, symbols, abstractions, images, and thoughts. Insight in conjunction with logical analysis is the essence of their approach to the world; they think systemically. Ideas are the substance of life for INTJs and they have a driving need to understand, to know, and to demonstrate competence in their areas of interest. INTJs inherently trust their insights, and with their task-orientation will work intensely to make their visions into realities.
In some ways, it was a revelation to me to read this. "A driving need to understand, to know, and to demonstrate competence in their areas of interest" is where I live. Why do I want to succeed as a novelist when I've arguably already succeeded as a writer, particularly as an essayist? Because I have a driving need to demonstrate competence in my area of interest. For me, the rider on this is that it really doesn't matter to me how long it takes.

I don't know that I'd call running on the treadmill an area of interest, but this undoubtedly plays in there, too. My vision of me, sleek as a gazelle running, if not like the wind, then like a brisk breeze.

Remember I've got that rich inner world going here.

Apparently most of us writers tend to be introverts, which is why we're happy sitting alone, writing, in the first place. Patrick Alan says he's an ENFP, which makes me wonder how he does it. I notice that, though we're opposites in three of four categories, we're both intuitives. I suspect most writers are.

So, do you know your MBTI? And has it helped you understand anything about the way you work?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Lovely Are Thy Branches

Last night I decorated the Christmas tree.

And by "I," I do mean me. David helps me get the tree and get it in the stand, but that's really all. This year I didn't mind at all.

When I was young, the Christmas tree was a huge part of our holiday. Acquiring the tree usually involved traipsing to multiple lots to find the perfect tree, often in bitter cold, followed by Mexican food. Leo would set up the tree and put on the lights. It was always his job, though my mom often complained he didn't do it right. Then he'd fix them and go watch TV. And she fixed them again.

Then my mom and I decorated the tree. Since I was a baby, she's given me an ornament every year. The first is a clay Santa my dad made me before he died. After that, they're all from her. I have the dates marked on them and it's always been part of the ritual to unwrap them and lay them out in order. I put the Santa from my dad at the top and spiral down the tree.

I have so many images over the years of doing this. When I was very young, there were only a few, but it felt like a pile of treasure. I remember the years I received each one and added it to its place of honor in the center of the tree. There's the Betsy Ross ornament from 1976, followed by a pink polka-dotted cat the next year, to commemorate the loss of the family cat that had been older than I.

It's become like the name game over the years. You know the ice-breaker, where one person says their name, and the next person says the first person's name plus their own, and so on. The game wraps around to the first person who has to recite them all in order. The names from early on are easiest, because they've been repeated so many times; it's the later ones that stump you.

Now I'm up to somewhere around 60 ornaments. (No, I'm not that old - a lot of them are pairs). The ones from my early years are so familiar. I have forty overlapping images of unwrapping them every year. The newer ones carry less emotional weight. A couple have not stood the test of time. One got chewed on by our border collie. Another I keep gluing and it insists on coming apart.

It used to be that I tried to make David help me trim the tree. Or worse, I tried to get him to enjoy it. In our early years together, I would cry because he so clearly didn't care. He'd help, but the act held no romance for him. All those little ornaments carried no weight for him. He looks at them, nods and smiles. But it's just a Christmas tree ornament to him. My stepkids, too, never got into decorating the tree. They were just as happy to see it done without them.

David and I enjoy a lot of harmony, so it's marked that I got a bit snarly every year that he didn't share this with me. This year, though, he's deep in finals. I really wanted to get the tree done last night and he has two finals today. So I decorated the tree while he studied.

I also drank champagne, which adds to any occasion.

I felt my usual nostalgia, unwrapping the ornaments. I hate that the one got chewed up. (Yes, I keep it with the others.) I had to glue a couple. One might be finally and irretrievably beyond gluing, but he's part of a pair, so there's another to represent that year.

Maybe because I could let go of David participating, I enjoyed it more this time. It occurred to me, as I was gluing, that some of these ornaments were never intended to last forty years. And that it's okay to let them go. Things change. I like decorating the tree and it's okay to enjoy it by myself. The ornaments are not a museum collection that must be preserved at all costs. They mean something to me and really no one else but my mother and that's okay.

I'm told I'm not good at letting things go. And that it's likely because my father died when I was so young. I tend to cling to things that represent the past, wanting them to last forever.

I think I'm getting better at this. Letting go feels good.

And the tree is so beautiful, just the way it is.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays - Day Seven

This is how we feel, getting to the final day of Calorie-Free Christmas. I did a little recap yesterday, if you need one.

And before we get much farther, I've also posted today at the FFP Blog about loving your baby novel and fretting about its future.

But now, with no further ado:

#7 Theater - full surround experience

You could argue that yesterday's topic, the books of Christmas, involve every sense because the imagination kicks in. But there's something about the TV shows of our youth, the Christmas movies, the ballets and concerts that just wrap you up and transport you.

My mom commented yesterday that my stepdad's family loves A Christmas Story. In honor of that family, who are taking me and David in for Christmas this year, I've put Ralphie at the top. It's one of those brilliantly funny movie that you can watch every year and laugh hysterically at all the same parts. We know it so well, we start giggling even before the gag plays out.

Then there's the other end of the spectrum - the gloriously divine. My grandmother used to take me to see the Nutcracker Ballet at Christmas. We'd go down to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, have lunch and shop around Larimer Square. There's something about the ballet, too, that just glistens. All those flowing tutus and graceful swaying. It feels like peace, love and joy.

This picture is from the University of the Pacific's production, which is sadly already over. Isn't it lovely, though? Most communities stage some version of the Nutcracker or a concert of The Messiah.

Then there's always the old TV shows. If you're like me, you remember the TV line-up leading up to Christmas. When would they broadcast Rudolf? Or the Peanuts Christmas Special? Sometimes you lucked into seeing a favorite, other times you missed them. But having them reappear felt like family members coming to visit after a year away and kissing you on the cheek.

So I'll leave you with a big hug and a grumpy Merry Christmas from my favorite curmudgeonly uncle, the Heat Miser.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays - Day Six

We're down to our last two days of adventures in celebrating Christmas that don't involve chowing down.

To recap, last Monday we explored the world of scent with #1 Body Butter: all the scent with none of the fat.

Tuesday, Day 2 added flavor to scent with Tea: warm, sweet, spicy and good for you.

On Day 3, we added in emotion, with the joyful anticipation of an advent calendar.

Day 4 was all about the visual, with the indulgence in the pretty and shiny and the week finished out with Day 5, the sounds of music.

So, here we are, a new week, Day 6 and onto one of my very most favorite topics.

#6 Books: a world of pleasure.

Like with the music, I have my collection of Christmas-themed books that I put away with the decorations. Every year I bring them out again, like old friends.

One of my favorites is A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. I have this very version, in fact, though mine has a few more thumbprints. My high-school drama teacher used to read this aloud every year, often on the last day of class before break. If you've never read it, it's well worth it. Written in 1954, it hearkens even farther back to the poet's childhood, with a lyrical, nostalgic retelling of a simpler, less-commercial time. Here's a taste:

All the Christmases roll down toward the
two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon
bundling down the sky that was our street;
and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged,
fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the
snow and bring out whatever I can find.
In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued
ball of holidays resting at the rim of the
carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero
and the firemen.
If you prefer something funny, another old favorite is Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Because it's about a church Christmas pageant, it's considerably more church-y, but it's also tears-running-down-your-cheeks funny with all the things that go wrong. In the end the message is about hypocrisy and play-acting compared to truly generous acts. I remember my stepdad, Leo, reading this aloud to us and how he'd have to stop to just laugh. It's a good memory.

I should give you a taste of that, too. This is how it opens:

The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker's old broken-down toolhouse.

The toolhouse burned right down to the ground, and I think that surprised the Herdmans. They set fire to things all the time, but that was the first time they managed to burn down a whole building.

There are other books, of course. A Christmas Carol is standard, but the story has been replicated in so many ways that it sometimes feels tired to me. Still, it's worth it to read the original tale if you never have.

So now I'm curious - what am I missing? Any wonderful Christmas books that are part of your holiday tradition?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays - Day Five

Okay, you know what's coming today, our fifth day of exploring ways to celebrate the holidays that don't necessarily involve pumping on the calories.

#5 Music: there's more out there than Rudolf and chestnuts

Yeah I know - the music thing is a double-edged thing this time of year. We're shopping for Halloween costumes and some squeaky children's chorus is singing Frosty the Snowman. Whoever decided that what we all most want at Christmas time is to listen to children not our own sing songs designed to go with cartoons, well... if it weren't the season of peace and joy, we'd have to kill them.

The music is another way to make this season special. I keep my Christmas cds in the storage bins with the decorations, so they come out together. Now I have a Christmas playlist on my iPod that I have unchecked for most of the year - with 233 songs in it.

I like to seek out the unusual, the old songs. One of my favorites is Dido's Christmas Day. I embedded it here, in case you'd like to listen while you read.

Some of my favorite albums are The Chieftains' Bells of Dublin, which has some great old song like The Wren in the Furze, and Christmas in Rome, which is, not surprisingly, considerably more Catholic. I love Enya's Silent Night Christmas EP, but didn't know about the album I posted here until I searched for the EP (to no avail). I immediately downloaded And Winter Came - lovely. Annie Lennox also just came out with a Christmas Cornucopia, which bears her inimitable style.

Some fun collections include the Barenaked Ladies Barenaked for the Holidays (it has a couple of lovely Hanukkah songs, too) and the Squirrel Nut Zippers Christmas Caravan. David is fond of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Christmas Time Again. For more traditional Celtic songs, check out Jean Redpath's Still the Night or Thistle & Shamrock's Christmas Ceilidh. The compilations often lead me to terrific discoveries like Stuart McLean, a Canadian radio show host. He tells stories about Dave, who owns a record store. "Dave Cooks a Turkey" and "Polly Anderson's Christmas Party" are two of the most hysterical stories I've ever heard. You'd have to get his Christmas Concert cds to hear them, but here's a shorter one, just for you (from that same album).


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays - Day Four

Yesterday we celebrated the joys of advent calendars.

(Though I noted that many of you manage to sneak in a few calories by adding chocolate to anticipation.)

Today is all about the visual.

#4 Decorations: lights, glitter, glitz and glam

Let's face it "Christmas" decorating pulls a lot more from the holiday's pagan roots than from the religious holiday. We're facing the darkest days of the year, the longest nights, the weak and slanting day time sun. Thus the lights!

The holiday provides so many opportunities to add light and sparkle to our lives. Wear something glittery. Or a lot of things glittery. Bright colors with shimmering fabrics. I'll usually get a little something special to wear for each Christmas. Maybe a new sweater with rhinestone buttons or a pretty blouse. Sometimes just a silk scarf to glam things up.

There are so many ways to use light now to decorate, too. Here in Santa Fe, the farolitas are popular. Some people call them luminarias, but those are actually small bonfires. The kind in the bags with little candles are farolitas and, if you're like me and 99% of Santa Fe, you get the electric kind, sometimes called electrolitas.

A traditional name.

I haven't regaled you with the tales of me spending four consecutive days on our roof, tying down those little fuckers. (Another traditional name.) But it's worth it. One neighbor said our house looks like a castle. Five other people have stopped me to say how great it looks. It gives me a thrill of pleasure to see the lights, to hear that other people like them, too.

My way of staving off the dark.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays - Day Three

For the last two days, we've played with scent and then scent plus flavor. For Day 3 of our adventures in calorie-free delights, I'd like to move into a more ephemeral sense. This sense is part thought, part emotion. It's what enables us as intelligent beings to plan for the future.


#3 Advent Calendars: an exercise in daily joy

Remember that feeling when we were kids, of the building excitement for Christmas? How it seemed that the days dragged by and that the clock ticked ever more slowly, that magical day seeming to grow farther away not closer. Each preparation, while fun, seemed a torment of waiting. Picking out the tree, spending an evening decorating it, helping to wrap gifts, baking cookies. Every moment filled us with just a bit more excitement, a dollop more of anticipation until, by Christmas morning, we were fair to bursting with energy.

(Could have been all the fudge and sugar cookies, too.)

I used to have paper advent calendars that my mom would tape to the glass back patio door. Every morning before school, I could open a new numbered window and see a little picture. As the month progressed, more windows stood open, showing color and a growing scene. Folding open those little cardboard tabs made every day just a bit brighter. Of course, they also made the kind with little chocolates behind the tabs, but that's *not* what we're going for here.

The modern version of the advent calendar just got a little better. My favorite electronic greeting card company, Jacquie Lawson came out with an electronic Advent Calendar this year. And yes, I got it for myself and a bunch of my friends.

Every morning the swirling snow globe appears on my desktop, waiting for me when I start up the computer. Because computers are magic, it knows what day it is and encourages me to open a new window in the village. Then a little scene with music plays.

I love this company because of their beautiful images. Also, because they're Brits, they have what to Americans is a more old-fashioned take on Christmas. It's lovely and refreshing. Here's their card of the month, if you'd like to see their stuff in action. Fair warning: if you're reading this post after December 2010, then it's likely not to be a Christmas card. But as I add this it's a tree-decorating sugar-plum fairy.

Jacquie Lawson e-cards

The calendar started on December 1, but you can always have a little catching-up orgy of fun.

Enjoy building the anticipation.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays - Day Two

Welcome to Day Two of our adventure in exploring calorie-free ways to evoke the holiday spirit.

Yesterday I talked about the realm of scent. How lotions and body scrubs can evoke that special celebratory feeling. You may have seen my old friend, Kev, asking if this really works. He's a rare person who has no sense of smell. He thought that for people who can smell, scent only makes you hungrier. This can be true. However, I've found that indulging in the scent of something delicious is satisfying in itself. Some of this might tie into breaking those habits of emotional eating, like I've described with fasting. Just because something smells desirable doesn't mean you eat it. But enjoy the lovely scents nonetheless.

So today we add a layer of taste to the mix. How to enjoy flavor without calories (or manufactured chemicals with disconcerting FDA histories)?

Tea: warm, sweet, spicy and good for you

Tea is a wonderful thing. It's warm. The range of scents and flavors vary all over the spectrum. You can drink all you like without a single calorie and, if you choose carefully, they're even good for you. The best part is, you can add in some festive glassware for that extra celebratory touch.

Let's face it - half the fun of Starbucks at holiday time is getting the festive red cup. It's silly and yet it makes us happy to see them. And those special flavors they have only for the holidays? Oh yes. I saw the ripple across twitter when people announced the pumpkin-spice lattes were out. And now those ginger-spice lattes and black-cherry mochas. It's clever marketing because having those flavors only at this time of year makes them special. That's entirely the trick of creating your own celebratory treat.

Sadly, those ginger spice lattes are not sugar-free. And for me, now that I'm staying away from milk and from caffeine - that doesn't leave much in the cup.

So, I'm indulging in tea. Pick a special mug for Christmas. Something that evokes the season for you. A few years back I gave my mom these great metallic mugs that look like Christmas tree ornaments. I still regret not getting some for myself. But there are lots of pretty mugs and fabulous tea pots. I like to brew my tea in a ceramic pot that I keep on my desk for easy refilling.

While shopping with my mom and Hope, I discovered Teavana. Fair warning: Teavana is quite "too." The tea is expensive and it comes with specific instructions on what temperature to steep it at and for exactly how long. This is so not me. I boil the water. I throw the tea in an infuser, throw it all in the tea pot and it sits on my desk that way all morning. No doubt the lovely and precise sales lady who explained the instructions to me would be wringing her perfectly manicured hands in anguish.

I'm just saying - don't let that stop you.

They got me on this blend of White Ayurvedic Chai and Samurai Chai Mate. The latter does have caffeine, but I can control the amount by how much I add to the infuser. Ah, the scent, the warm sweet taste. It's like being in a tea house in Europe with an antique book while snow falls outside.

Or at least, how I imagine that would be.

There's lots of easy tea choices. The site that provided the picture above seems to have good information. And Damn Fine Tea, which is run by some friends of mine, has a special holiday blend this year. (No, they didn't give me tea to say this, but they should!) It's also as simple, though, as plucking a box of tea off the grocery store shelf. Peppermint, cinnamon, cloves. Pick the spice that makes you feel special. Cozy up to your festive mug and sip. Let the brew transport you.

There's a reason writers love tea.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays - Day One

Today marks a bit of a departure from theme.

Okay - who am I kidding? Here in the land of cats and New Mexico weather, I'm forever departing from theme. Call me eclectic, if you're feeling generous.

So, as you may or may not know, I used to write essays for magazines a fair amount. I didn't consciously stop doing it, but I started writing novels and got, well, fatally distracted. Then, about a week ago, I had a great idea for a magazine article, but I no longer have any of my old contacts. Besides, print magazines plan issues about six months in advance. I thought maybe I could find an online magazine that runs stuff faster, but they don't really like internet submissions, so they make it difficult.

I decided just to run my article here:

Seven Calorie-Free Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

And by holidays, I mean Christmas. I'm sorry if you don't celebrate Christmas - it's what I know. That's what this is about, too. Christmas tends to be a time of excess. Lots of feasting and treats. I've blogged before about Emotional Eating. Traditional holidays can be terrible for emotional eating because a huge part of the fun is the food, the special treats, parties, alluringly decorated sweets and savory dishes. All singing the siren song of enjoy, celebrate, indulge.

As of today, I'm still ten more pounds than the upper limit of my BMI. I need to lose this weight for my health. I so cannot afford to go the other direction with my weight, after all of the hard work that let me lose twenty pounds of body fat so far.

No, I’m not going to offer tips on healthy holiday eating. I’m not sure such a thing exists. And the whole “eat before you go to the party” advice is all well and good, but not much for, well, partying.

After all, where is the fun in that?

Instead, I’m offering celebratory alternatives. The holidays offer so many ways to indulge ourselves, to enjoy the scents, sights and sounds of the season – all completely calorie-free. Here's one of my favorite ways to make that emotional connection to celebrating the holiday:

#1 Body Butter: all the scent with none of the fat

So much of the joy of holiday treats reaches out on the scent. Pies fresh from the oven, the warm redolence of a cinnamon roll, the sweet allure of a ginger spice latte. It's well-documented that smell is the most certain way to evoke a memory also. Those warm and happy childhood memories of biting the head off a gingerbread man? They ride in on those lovely spicy smells. A good bath oil, body scrub or lotion can give you the same delighted feeling. One of my favorites is The Body Shop’s Body Butter. If you don't want to put butter in your body, try putting it on your body. They have seasonal scents like Spiced Vanilla and Pumpkin Pie. Bath and Body Works also has a nice Warm Vanilla Sugar scent. I’ll often buy a matching scrub and butter set to use just during the holiday season. All day long I can smell those lovely scents and enjoy my secret celebration.

I wanted to include pretty pictures, but The Body Shop seems to have gone minimalist.

Tune in tomorrow for Day #2. What could it be???

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lying Tweets

Kind of a quiet sunset last night, slowly shading into salmon and violet. Quite lovely.

Something not quite so lovely occurred on Twitter the other day. But it was also kind of quiet. Once of those things where people get into conversations with certain expectations that lead them into assumptions. Let me explain. It might be convoluted because I don't want to name names.

(Though if you know me and want to email to ask, I'll tell you who it is.)

So there's this agent who's been on Twitter for a while. We'll call him Tom. He seemed pleasant, said interesting things, didn't seem to rep what I write. I didn't follow him all that closely, but we exchanged comments a couple of times. About e-publishing, now that I think of it.

Well, then he turns up the other day - same avatar, which is the little picture that appears next to the words, in this case a headshot - but a different "handle. Where he used to be AgentTom, now he's eTom. My friend, Kerry, pointed out to me what was going on. He was holding forth on Twitter bashing traditional publishing and even agenting.

He said a lot of stuff. How agents and traditional publishers only want authors with huge platforms - like celebrities and that chick from Jersey Shore. Thousands and thousand of Twitter followers, he says. A couple of writer-friends of ours had engaged him in conversation at this point. What caught Kerry's attention was when he said:

Don Maass is not going to take anyone on unless he can make a buck from their work. No platform, no Don.

When several people mentioned that Donald Maass, who is a very well respected agent, has recently offered representation to friends, he said:

He might be taking them on but that doesn't mean they will be published or if they are, it won't be big time.

followed by

Jen Jackson runs Don Maass Literary. I don't think Don is that active anymore. Don't know for sure tho.

So, Kerry mentioned that we have a good friend who is recently represented by the very active Don, she has fewer than 200 followers on Twitter and is doing quite well with her series. This is a warning flag, when someone in the industry is saying things you know aren't true. Doesn't matter who he is.

Which he pretty much ignored. Because by this point, after he'd painted this very grim picture, he got to his actual point: the beauty, the glamor, the sheer profitability of E-PUBLISHING.

Now, I have nothing against e-publishing. I've published a book with an e-press and I've been pleased with the results. (I showed some yesterday.) That's not the problem.

The issue is that he's become "eTom" because he's left agenting and become an acquiring editor for an e-press. You can see this on his profile. If you go to this e-press website, you can see it's totally new, with lots of references to "us" and that it's an imprint of another press. Which sounds fairly reputable - okay, new e-imprint of an established press, there's a lot of that going around these days - until you look at the press and notice it has the same last name as Tom.

This is, in fact, entirely eTom's business. His new publishing venture and he's recruiting authors by playing on their fears, saying a traditionally published book takes three years, pays nothing and they'd never take you if you don't have a huge platform anyway.

This makes me mad because IT IS NOT TRUE.

Allison, for example. She's told her story in other places, but to recap: it was just over a year ago that the editor who read Allison's full manuscript for a contest offered her a contract. Allison was able to pick from three agents, one of whom landed her a better contract with another publisher and the book is coming out in January. That is a true story. This is her first book, she has no platform, practically no name recognition and less than a thousand twitter followers.

Maybe most of you reading this are nodding your heads and saying yeah, yeah, yeah - we know. But it alarmed both me and Kerry to see so many earnest authors engaging with eTom and swallowing his lies.

If you want to do e-publishing, great - do it! But don't sign with just anyone. Don't let them make you feel desperate. Do your research. Pay attention to their motives.

Never sell yourself short. Especially to the guy who says it's your only chance.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


One of our morning visitors.

The trio of coyotes came by again, at almost exactly the same time. Tomorrow I'll have my camera ready and try to get all three. They look like a mom and two teenage pups. Completely fearless. Beautiful and yet...

It puts me in mind of this:

Deliver my soul from the sword,
My darling from the power of the dog.

That's from Psalms, but it came to my attention as the flyleaf quote in Thomas Savage's The Power of the Dog. Really wonderful book, if you've never read it.

I like that as an analogy - the power of the dog in our lives, the shadow that lurks, that we close the doors to. We turn away and think about other things.

So, here's an other thing.

Author Jim C. Hines often interesting statistics on his blog, about his publishing history, etc. This is an fascinating one that he cross-posted to SF Novelists about the myth of the Overnight Success. If you haven't looked at it, it's well-worth the time. Inspiring, even.

In that spirit, I thought I'd share some statistics on on Petals & Thorns. (Like Jim, I'm a graph and stats geek, too. Apologies if you're not one of those.)

This shows my sales since the release day in July. As you can see, there were a lot of initial sales, which then tapered off. I pretty much expected that. The numbers were higher than I'd anticipated for a first-time author in the genre, no name-recognition, etc. These were all sales through Loose Id. When I saw my October statement, I though, eh, it's run its course.

So, what happened in November? All Romance Ebooks started selling it. Quite the sales jump there. They were kind enough to give it a top rating and a staff pick, which I'm sure helped a great deal. You can see my royalties per book aren't quite as high with the reseller - it's about 20 cents per book less - but the higher traffic is certainly worth it.

I don't know how this system works, if Loose Id typically sells a book exclusively for four months and then offers it to All Romance. My statement from Loose Id also includes columns for other resellers: Lightning Source, Fictionwise, Amazon, Sony eBooks and Barnes & Noble. It will be interesting to see if they are gradually added.

At any rate, I'm close to making RWA's criteria for published author status. Nice return for my little 26K erotic novella. And replete with irony, I know. Petals & Thorns might get me there where my essay collection and two novels have not. I'll take the promotion, however.

One thing I've learned, and as Jim Hines' graph illustrates, too - the road to our goals seldom unfolds the way we think it will. Every success is another step, another brick in building the palace.

It's only in fairy tales that wishes make palaces appear overnight.

In life, we build them through persistence and endurance. Always guarding against the power of the dog.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tao of Kitty

Bougainvillea from Thanksgiving in Tucson. No need for autumnal tradition there.

Every day my cat Isabel waits for her chance to go outside. It's her very favorite part of the day. She loves to stalk the birds, roll in the dirt sit in the sun. With these short days, she has to wait longer and longer to go out, because I won't let her until the sun is high enough that there are unlikely to be coyotes hiding in the shadows.

Fifteen minutes ago, just after 7, three coyotes trotted by. Well after sunrise, but the shadows are still long. Isabel wanders into my office, mewing with charm, coaxing me to let her out.

Not yet.

Because it's colder now, and sometimes blustery, she doesn't stay out long. She's spoilt with me working at home. Ten minutes after I let her out, she's outside my office window, asking to come in. I don't mind - it gets me out of my chair, after all. I've threatened to tweet every time I let her in and out, with cheerful encouragement to bring it on.

And they say Twitter has no real substance.

Every morning, though, Isabel seems to head out with supreme confidence and joy. Sometimes a cold gust will hit her and she'll crouch down, flattening her ears. Other mornings are still and she'll venture out with tail high, but come in sooner to warm up.

I wonder what she understands of the seasons. Does she have a sense that we're just heading into winter and that there will be a long cycle of cold before her hot summer days return? Perhaps every day is new and immediate for her. She could be expecting to walk into flowers and heat any day now.

It's likely more that she has no expectations. If animals live in the moment, then things are what they are. Yet, I know she misses us when we're gone and she remembers good hunting spots. I watch her making the rounds of places she's caught mice and gophers in the past. From the moment the alarm goes off, she's prancing around, excited to start her day. I believe she understands past and future.

Some people say you should never let cats outside at all. That if you never do, they can't miss what they've never experienced. I'm not sure I believe this. The world is the natural habitat for all of us. We retreat to shelter, for warmth, for safety, but that's not where any of us belongs, cloistered for our entire lives.

So, I wait for the sun to get bright enough - not yet, and it's almost eight now - and I watch her go embrace the world for what it is.

I try to do the same.
Related Posts with Thumbnails