Thursday, September 17, 2009

Change of Address


HESE are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.

-Emily Dickinson

I have moved this blog, all of its posts and pictures and comments, to a new and improved and not at all secret WordPress location. I've enjoyed using Blogger these past three years, but it was time for a change. WordPress has so many more options and allows me to do things I've been wanting to do with my online presence.

I hope you'll come visit me at the new place!

It's here:  Katherine James

Monday, September 07, 2009

Time to do blog crafts!

Okay, I need advice. Now that life has calmed down somewhat, I need to do something about this blog. I'm going to be creating a WordPress blog with multiple pages, one that will look more like a serious writer-person website and will also, I hope, appeal to readers.

But I suspect the reasons I visit certain websites are different from the reasons non-writers enjoy (or dislike) particular sites. And since those of you who read this blog are avid readers as well as some of the smartest people I know, I thought I'd ask you:

  • What do you like/dislike about author websites? What features do you enjoy and which just irritate the heck out of you? 
  • What keeps you coming back? What makes you visit the site of a writer you've never heard of?
  • Any suggestions for things you think might help me attract new readers (without being annoying)? For instance, I'm thinking about featuring a quarterly email newsletter (with news, duh, but also maybe short stories or an on-going series, perhaps even pictures?) and urging subscribers to share it with friends -- do you subscribe to author newsletters and, if so, what do you enjoy/dislike about that? 
  • Is it useful if an author provides sidebar links, do you ever click on them and which ones? 
  • Do you find it entertaining when authors have guest bloggers and why/why not?
  • What am I not considering that I should?

I realize what you probably want most is to know when the book is coming out, and I'm working on that. But I also need to do this and I want to do a good job of it.

Feel free to post links to author sites you particularly love and I'll go look at them (if you don't give me a link, I might not be able to find it).

I recently read this blog post by author Ann Aguirre addressing the topic and she covers quite a few of the basics, with more feedback provided in the comments.

And that's very helpful. But I want to know what you all think. I can promise there won't be music or things that flash. Or pink. Beyond that, I'm open to suggestions.

Enjoy the word verifications while they last . . .

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What I Did During My Summer Vacation

Okay, fine, it wasn't an entire summer, just a long four-day weekend (with a good portion of two of those days spent getting there and back) but I felt lucky to have had even that much time off. We traveled to Minneapolis for my niece's wedding a week ago -- my daughter, her boyfriend and I -- and since pictures were taken (mostly by others), I decided to share a few (with thanks to those others).

BTW, I have discovered a new strategy for defending myself against people who aim cameras at me: scowl ferociously and keep moving at all times. Consequently, none of the pictures worth looking at were of me. Really. Not one.

The kids wanted to see the sights, so Saturday we drove around Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, where we stopped and walked for a while.

The weather could not have been more perfect -- 78 degrees with low humidity, a light breeze and clear blue skies.

They also wanted to see the U of M campus. No idea how we ended up downtown instead [ahem], but they were delighted by the ingenious practicality of the vast skyway system and my slight detour was mercilessly mocked graciously forgiven.

We eventually made it to campus, where we saw the brand new stadium and then ate lunch at Stub & Herbs, one of my favourite hangouts back when I was in college there, and I discovered that my ability to park in a space smaller than an actual car has not improved with time.

The rehearsal dinner Saturday night was at the Walker Art Center. I didn't take pictures, but here is one I stole from this site http://bit.ly/2nQ9g2 

We were in the room looking out that top window and the upper angle of the window made it seem like the entire room was on a slant and you expected your dinner, which was fittingly artistic as well as delicious, might slide off the table at any moment. It didn't.

Sunday morning I had brunch with one of my imaginary internet friends who lives in the area (I don't normally consider a place two hours away via car to be "in the area," but I've learned imaginary friends have an odd determination about things like that). There were no pictures, just indelible moments of friendship and conversation.

Late Sunday afternoon, the wedding and dinner reception were held in my older sister's back yard. Her house is on Lake Minnetonka, which is a very large lake. It's a very large house. Her back yard is, hands down, one of my absolute favourite places to sit quietly and enjoy the beauty of Minnesota.

The front yard isn't bad either, and that evening it featured a string quartet serenading the Dancing Hares (or so it seemed) while we enjoyed post-wedding/pre-dinner cocktails.

Here are some pics of the back yard, including the chuppah -- the canopy under which the bride and groom stand during a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony.

Everything was so beautiful. Even the cake.

And the hanging balloon-like lanterns.

And as if there weren't enough beauty outside, there were ornate flowers inside as well.

A good time was had by all. The bride was gorgeous, the groom handsome and both were glowing with happiness. There was much visiting and catching up with relatives and long-time friends, enough laughter and talking to make your brain explode er, to last until the next momentous occasion brings us together again.

Which I sincerely hope will not occur in the midst of a Minnesota winter.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The power of words

Of all the possible combinations of words in the English language, right now I can't think of one that is more wonderful than "not malignant." Nor can I think of a better text message than the one I sent to my kids today: NOT CANCER.

What about you? Got any personal favourite phrases you want to share?

Don't mind me. I'll just be over here in the corner, floating near the ceiling, giddy with relief.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Monday, Bloody Monday

So, today was fun. I spent the first half of it mostly naked and hooked up to complicated beeping machinery, laying on a gurney in a brightly lit room full of strangers whom I had given permission to wield sharp instruments in my vicinity. And you thought your Monday was rough.

Clearly, I have lived in The South too long if I am willing to discuss medical conditions in public. But maybe doing so will convince someone else secretly harboring a strange lump or bump or monster under the bed to go get it checked out.

WARNING: Graphic pictures below. 

[As if that's going to turn anyone away.]

My lump is on my neck. No, I'm not talking about my head. Specifically, my lump is on my thyroid. Highly scientific internet research informs me the thyroid is shaped like a butterfly. Here is mine -- the lump is small, you might not be able to see it:

A few months ago when I first noticed the lump, my self-diagnosis involved jumping to the worst possible conclusion. I was sure the tight achy slightly swollen area must be esophageal cancer run rampant and I worried about the best way to inform people of my imminent demise. I have since learned that the wildest part of the imagination is indeed located in the thyroid gland. Who knew?

After having been seen by at least a dozen medical professionals in as many weeks (if you count the blood-letters and ultrasound techs, which I do), the most dire prediction I could get out of any of them was a cheerful, "It's highly unlikely that it's cancerous, but if you have to get cancer, this is the kind to get. It's highly treatable." They all took great pains to reassure me that it's PROBABLY NOT CANCER.

Still. There is that slight chance.

So today, after weeks of waiting -- not that I mind waiting, I'm a very patient person [ahem] -- I had a fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA) of the lump, which they do with just a local anesthetic. Why yes, I am going to tell you about it, thanks for asking. In preparation, a nurse called last week to ask me a bunch of medical history type questions. The answers to which were almost unanimously, "No." She seemed happy about that and said I was a good risk. At one point she asked whether I had any religious objection to any procedure they might perform on me. Which gave me pause. Because, you know, it depends on what they had in mind.

She neglected to mention that shortly after checking me in today, they'd be poking holes at random intervals and inserting tubes in my veins while simultaneously monitoring my pulse rate and blood pressure. "Oh, I see your BP is a bit high today." No kidding. I swear, those machines are specifically designed to make it go straight through the roof. Here I am being stoically irreligious:

They kept emphasizing they'd be using a "very small needle" for the aspiration procedure. I assumed this meant it would be of sufficiently immense diameter they could use it to suck out my tonsils with no trouble at all, if they hadn't already been removed when I was six. Why else would they tell me I'd have to stick around for "at least an hour" afterward to make sure I'd stopped bleeding? I was right:

I informed the doctor I was going to tell everyone I'd been the victim of a vampire attack and that he should make it look good. He laughed. Apparently he thought I was kidding. I'd show you a pic of the actual procedure, but it was gory and unsuitable for family viewing. Especially the part where they sort of gouge around in there, vigorously sawing the needle back and forth in the neck to get a good tissue sample. Four different times. Blood lesson: Never settle for one sample when you can get four. I didn't feel a thing. Well, okay, I was awake, obviously I felt something. But no pain. Everyone said it went well. Here I am, almost completely recovered within mere minutes:

I HAD planned to go in to work afterward. Really. Never mind that the nurses looked a bit alarmed when I mentioned it. In fact, they all kept asking whether anyone was there to drive me home. I assured them I'd be fine. But by the time I got five minutes away from the hospital the local anesthetic had worn off and my neck hurt like hell. So I went home and spent the rest of the day reclining on the couch with an ice pack on my wound -- 20 minutes on/20 minutes off, as instructed. You know, there are some parts of your body you really don't mind having a cold heavy weight pressing down on, even when they're injured. The neck is not one of them.

I know, you're probably thinking at least the hard part is over. Not so. The real torture will be waiting another week for the results. But it's better than not knowing. Seriously, if you have a lump you're ignoring-- stop it. Go get it checked out.


[All kidding aside, everyone at Duke Raleigh Hospital -- and I do mean everyone, even the harried receptionist -- was extremely nice and went out of their way to make sure the entire process was as pleasant and pain free as possible. They even numbed the back of my hand before they inserted the saline drip. Plus they gave me a very nice ice pack that doesn't leak once the ice melts. Even so, I hope I never see any of them again.] <-- notice the Duke blue, a small tribute


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Talking at midnight

My daughter called me late Friday night. She's at the beach for a few days and without internet connection. Sounds like paradise to me. No idea why she'd call her mother. I sure as hell wouldn't have when I was 21. But she did.

Of course, I thought something was wrong. "Hey, are you alright?"

"I'm fine. Why?"

Mothers don't need a reason. "It's kind of late."

"Oh, I knew you'd be up."

Well, okay, but still. I'd been thinking about going to bed. With the week I've had, I should have been in bed.

"Mom," she said, "can you check my email for me?"

Yes dear, right after I don my cape and right all the wrongs in the universe. "Um, yeah, sure. How do I do that?"

"Go to webmail.xxx.edu and log in as me."

Right. Of course. I'm completely familiar with this level of trust. "And your log in and password are?"

She had an impressively full inbox. There were several messages from people who had friended her on Facebook. "Who's Mc Dots? Is that a person or a fast food menu item?"

"Oh, he's a basketball player," she said, laughing. "Did he friend me?"

"Yep." Made sense, in a way that mothers worry about. You're 5'9" and gorgeous, basketball players will want to be your friend.

She asked what else was in there so I read her the sender names and subject lines. A couple she groaned about and said she'd read later. There was one from a law school touting the difficulties of attending said law school (difficulties I presume she will dismiss as insignificant) and the one she was looking for -- more information about a voluntary "special project," from the environmental law professor with whom she's doing a summer internship.

I read the details to her and she said, "Mom, I need you to go to blackboard and check messages."

Sure, no problem, seeing as how I'm still awake and all. "Okay, and where exactly is the blackboard in education these days? Will I need chalk?"

"Mom, don't be weird."

Got it. No weirdness. At least not on my part.

So I logged in and she walked me through the many confusing layers of blackboard until I got to the pertinent section. Where I discovered how awkward it is to read extracts of environmental case law over the phone. At midnight. I'm telling you, writing four-syllable words is entirely different from verbalizing lengthy paragraphs full of them.

Then she said, "Mom, you need to post a message from me."

"What? No. I thought you said not to be weird."

"No really, it's fine. Just type what I tell you to type."

So I did. It was painful. "Are you sure you want to use an exclamation point there? You just used one three sentences ago."

"Mom. It's not a thesis. Everyone talks like that on blackboard." And so it went. Me, impersonating a college student on the intertubes.

If I can do it, anyone can. Keep that in mind.

We finished up with me informing her fellow volunteers which case she'd be examining and why. And let everyone know that, despite the lack of easy internet access, she'd send all the information about her case by early afternoon Saturday. So they could compile things and give their professor all the information he needed. So he could present it, before the Saturday evening deadline as requested, to his colleague. Who is serving as special counsel to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The one holding hearings next week about the newest appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yeah. That one. I understand they'll be looking at a lengthy and complex history of decisions, summarized for them by a variety of sources.

Have I mentioned lately how very cool I think my daughter is? Even when she calls me at midnight.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Creativity, Laughter and the Element of Surprise

Two weeks into My Great Twitter Adventure and I've made some surprising discoveries. The first of which is how openly friendly and just plain nice most people are to strangers. Didn't their mothers teach them basic safety rules? I know, it shouldn't have surprised me, especially since I'm mostly talking to other writers, but it did.

I was equally surprised by the concern expressed by my "imaginary friends" about my time spent twittering. I found this ironic coming from a community of friends with whom I have chatted away VAST amounts of time in blogland. A part of me acknowledges their point: time spent twittering is time not spent writing fiction. And they’ve been hounding steadfastly cheering me on all along, wanting me to finish the damn book already. So they can buy it. And read it. Certainly can't fault them for that. I love my imaginary friends; they're completely awesome even when they mistakenly think I still have a curfew.

But the biggest surprise, and the reason I will continue to twitter, is the effect it has had on my creativity and productivity. I expected twittering to be awkward and confusing. It is. I expected some people to ignore me. They have. I expected it to be a chore I would quickly grow to despise and then abandon. Instead, it has become a source of laughter and camaraderie. Also information overload, but that's another post.

I have a dry sarcastic sense of humour that, even in person, is easily misinterpreted and can come across as . . . something less than amusing. I've experienced the pitfalls of this in both email and blog comments. I figured the potential for disaster when limited to 140 characters was almost unavoidable. Really, I've lost track of the number of times I've offended people who took me seriously when I was kidding.

So I don't think of myself as someone who is funny. But a few fellow twitterers seem to think I am. I mentioned this oddity to my daughter, who said, "Of course you're funny." She then informed me that she sometimes reads my emails to her friends, who all think I'm hysterical. Not sure what I think about that. The last email I sent her pretty much said, "Be Careful Whitewater Rafting This Weekend."

The point of this long rambling post is that I've realized that making people laugh, and more generally evoking an emotional response, is my own personal crack cocaine. Using words, twisting them and playing with them, is my favourite game. If things get a bit risqué, even better. Finding people who appreciate that game and will play along in the spirit of light-hearted fun is invigorating.

So for now at least, Twitter has become my place to play. I'd forgotten how much I need that, how imperative playfulness is to imagination. At a time when I have been floundering and frustrated with my writing, re-discovering the ability to use words to evoke a response from and connect with people who don't know me has sparked my creativity. I have made more progress on my ms in the past two weeks than I had in the past two months.

Some writers need doom and gloom and angst and despair to inspire their writing, using misery as their muse. I'm not writing comedy but I've discovered that I need laughter, my own and that of others. Twitter is still at times awkward and confusing, some people still ignore me and I'm sure many more will (the wise ones, at any rate), but it is fueling my creativity like nothing else has in a very long time. And that surprised the hell out of me.

What feeds your creativity? We're all creative in some way. Do you know what does it for you? Laughter, music, solitude, open spaces? Fritos?

Oh, and if you haven't watched the TED talk given by Sir Ken Robinson about creativity, you should. It's excellent and can be found here


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Connecting on the dark side

Has it been a month since I posted? Gasp. Well, I've been busy. Mostly up to no good.

Yes, the rumours are true: I've lost my mind and gone over to the dark side. I've entered the Twitterverse. An evil scary place with glowing green faces and random beeping sounds and constant updates 24/7. Just what a pressed-for-time, easily distracted writer needs, right? Um, yes actually.

Twitter has become a significant part of what is called "social media." The persistent buzz in publishing lately -- where is that flyswatter when you need it? -- is that writers need a presence in social media arenas. Publishers and agents increasingly expect writers to find their own "fans" and market themselves and their books, not just after publication, but before they're even under contract. Before they're even done writing the damn book.

One agent went so far as to comment recently that she was seriously considering not reading submissions of any writer who did not already have a significant social media presence. I'm not going to get into how short-sighted I think that is, because this does seem to be the current reality for writers. Especially those as-yet unpublished. A fiscal sign of the times.

So I researched the likely alternatives: MySpace and Facebook. By "research" I mean I asked my 21-year-old daughter whether she'd "friend" me if I had a Facebook page. Her answer was an emphatic NO. Then she warned me about the dangers of MySpace and how no one even goes there anymore.

So I'm Twittering. I feel foolish just typing that. The tweeting itself isn't time consuming. I'm having fun with that. It's the following that's going to kill me. There are an awful lot of funny and informative Twitterers out there, linking to articles or people I'd never have found on my own. I did stop following one person, not because he wasn't interesting, but because he updated EVERY TWO MINUTES and I couldn't keep up. I have limits. Really. Trouble is, I could easily wander around, lost in information intake mode, for days.

But the really odd thing, which I'm having trouble reconciling, is my dual, er, triple identity. My Twitter ID is "BCB_" because it's short (plus I've kind of grown attached to it) and my name over there is "w/a Katherine James" (w/a = writing as), which will be my pseudonym once published. But I'm following people I know and who know me only by my "real" name. A couple of them are now following me in return and I have no idea whether they know that I'm, well, me. It's weird. But my real name is reserved for the day job, the one where I'm a responsible adult in charge of other people's money. I don't want the two linked, and certainly not out here on the intertubes.

It's a dilemma. Because it leaves me feeling somehow fraudulent. Yeah, I know, I'll get over it eventually. And really, I guess it's just another instance of being a writer, making stuff up and hoping people enjoy it.

So, want to follow me into the darkness?


Monday, May 25, 2009

Take a moment, give something back

Take a moment today, Memorial Day, to remember the sacrifices others have made on your behalf. Even if -- maybe especially if -- you disagree with the decisions that led to so many deaths.

Photo of Arlington National Cemetery by Bruce Dale, published in National Geographic, June 2007.

A Google team has created a new website, just unveiled this weekend, called Map the Fallen. From Sean, its creator:

"This Memorial Day I would like to share with you a personal project of mine that uses Google Earth to honor the more than 5,700 American and Coalition servicemen and women that have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have created a map for Google Earth that will connect you with each of their stories—you can see photos, learn about how they died, visit memorial websites with comments from friends and families, and explore the places they called home and where they died." 


While I am somewhat disturbed by the invasion of privacy caused by all this high-tech satellite imagery, this application of it serves to remind us that those who died had names and faces and individual life stories, and they grew up in hometowns all across our country before facing death halfway around the world.

Go take a look. It's worth the hassle of installing the newest version of Google Earth.

And then go read this CNN article that states, in part:

". . . a recent study conducted by the RAND Corporation estimates more than 320,000 service members returned home with traumatic brain injury, and 300,000 suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. That is nearly one in five who have deployed."

Those who died are deserving of a day of national remembrance. But perhaps we can also take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices of those who did not die, but who are suffering daily under our nation's dubious care and respect.

They deserve more than one day of showy parades and solemn speeches, more than one moment out of our happy busy normal lives. They deserve the commitment of our effort and resources, the acknowledgment that we have a responsibility to take action and make sacrifices on their behalf, as they did on ours.

Go HERE and make a difference. I did.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rainy day in spring

It is dark and raining here this morning. The kind of hard heavy steady rain that says, pay attention, and no matter what you thought you were going to do, you stop and listen instead. Too many drops to count, yet you can hear the rhythm of each one. The small steady slap of it on the roof and leaves and street, the music of it running fast through eaves and downspouts, in the fleeting splash of a car driving by.

A quick gust of wind waves dense leafy branches through the flow, disrupting the steady downward path, diverting drops like a hand testing the temperature of a shower. The gust moves on and the thick drops fall harder, crowding together in a pale gray sheet.

The back door is open and the smell of wet comes through the screen. Sodden chlorophyll and damp ground, giving up the hot sweat of the past week's growth, rinsing off leaves and bark and blades of grass to run down the slope of the next yard to the creek, filling the air with the ripe earthy scent.

The torrent is timeless and ageless, full of significance yet devoid of meaning. The rain is all there is. No crackle of lightning or rumble of thunder. Nothing moves under the onslaught, there are no other sounds, only the steady soaking drum of the rain. And you are still, listening.

The gloom lifts slowly as the rain tapers off, the symphony ending not with a crescendo but a soft reprise as a cool damp breeze gently teases small drops down in a light patter from the high branches where they linger. There is movement in an upstairs bedroom and you recall the tasks at hand.

Soon the air is redolent with the smell of freshly sliced melon and frying bacon. Outside, the birds resume their springtime songs.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New week, same old brown bag lunch

I finished the week with mixed results on reaching my goals. Somewhat disappointing, but change takes time.

I did so-so with bringing my lunch: three days out of five. I've learned this is something I have to prepare and pack up the night before, otherwise it's just not happening. But I did buy a salad the other two days, so that's good. I did NOT eat the cookies or brownies or cake that showed up at work. Not even the chocolate covered glazed KK doughnuts. Though I might have inhaled a time or two.

The pushups were going great. Until I woke up Friday morning and my neck was sore. Except it didn't really hurt so much as it just felt weird. Like I had pulled something. The inside of my throat wasn't sore, no cough or anything, my neck just felt tight and achy. So after a full day of worrying that I had some dreadly neck disease that might necessitate removal of my entire head, I realized I'd probably pulled something doing those oh-so-strenuous pushups. What a wimp. So, no pushups Friday or Saturday and by Sunday my neck felt much better. As a result, this week I'm taking a break from pushups and have dusted off the treadmill instead. Going to start with a minimum of ten minutes every day this week, even on Monday. More if I can stand the boredom. Because I've been a complete slug for the past four months and that has to stop.  [Did 10 on Saturday, Sunday 12.]

Trying to write every day has been . . . interesting. Not sure I'll ever be a do-it-every-day type of writer, but I'm going to keep at it for now. Even though it takes it all out of me, mentally, to do this on workdays. I need to finish. Some of what I've written has been truly awful. Some, very minimal. And Friday? Zip. Sat there looking at the screen and-- nothing. But knowing I'm going to have to at least try has made me think about it during the day. I'm pretty sure my boss noticed me staring intently off into space a couple times. That's okay. Might be good for him to wonder what I'm plotting. But I made some significant progress over the weekend with a couple scenes that had been giving me trouble. That felt good.

Still got a long way to go before I reach the big goals, but at least I'm moving forward again. Little steps.

Oh, and I had a lovely Mother's Day. Hope you did too, regardless of whether anyone calls you mom.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Planning is good, doing is better

Oh, my poor sadly neglected blog. I've been off creating a bright shiny new blog for my CB friends and completely ignoring you. Here, I brought you some flowers as an apology. Pansies and snapdragons, two of my favorites:

Why, you're quite welcome. I picked them in the drive-thru lane at Chick-fil-A where I was ordering healthy grilled-not-fried chicken and substituting a questionable lovely fruit medley for fries. Really.

Okay, it's time to refocus. Lately I've been playing around and writing blog posts and comments elsewhere (I love WordPress -- can I say that over here?) and having a grand old time . . . and not accomplishing much of anything else.

In an effort to prove I can be disciplined and maintain a routine, I'm setting some simple daily goals that should help me attain some not so simple long-term goals:

1)  I have started the 100 pushup challenge. Okay, stop laughing. If you're thinking I couldn't do a real pushup to save my life, you're right. I have very little upper body strength. I can't do the "modified" version either because that involves kneeling and that just feels too submissive. Or it might have something to do with the extreme pain of kneeling on damaged knees that have no gooey stuff left between the bones. So I'm doing the wimpy wall version. NOW you can laugh. Hey, it's better than doing nothing. And I'm doubling the routine by repeating each day, so instead of three days a week, I'll do six and rest on Sunday. Since it's so arduous.

2)  I'm going to bring my lunch to work every day. You think this sounds easy, don't you? It should be, but it's not. It requires planning. And shopping. And daily washing of plastic containers. But I'm determined to do it because it will save money and I will eat healthier food. And because I'm going to have to let well-intentioned but hopelessly delusional family members take one or two pictures of me in August. Why they insist on traumatizing every get-together is beyond me.

3)  I'm going to write SOMETHING, even if it's dreck, even if it's just one page of the vilest dreck imaginable, even if it's just a weekly blog post, every single day. Except Monday. Because in general, Mondays completely suck and no one is going to want to read anything I might write on a Monday. Plus it's the only night I watch TV. I've gotten out of the habit of writing on a regular basis and that's bad. Need to regain that discipline.

So, three simple daily goals. I think I can handle it.

Anyone want to join me? There must be something you all should be doing every day, but you're not. 'Fess up.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spring

The past week has been insanely hectic and the coming weekend will be no less so. Both the kids are here and they brought friends. Hungry friends. And then asked whether they could invite more friends for Easter dinner. I said, "Sure, no problem." Because that is always the answer to that question.

So I don't really have anything to say, but thought I'd put up a couple pictures of flowering things. These two are the view from my front door:

I'm sure my neighbors won't mind that I'm putting a picture of their house on the Internet. It's at least prettier than the one on Google. The entire neighborhood looks like this, only more so. It's like driving through a fairytale, this time of year. 


And this is one I took the other night, just before the full moon, standing on the back deck looking up through the still mostly bare maple branches, waiting for The Wonder Dog to do whatever it is he does out there in the dark hour after midnight:


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

It's not every day you hear news like this . . .

I have exciting news! So, you know I finished my book last wee-- Oh, I hadn’t mentioned that? Must have slipped my mind. Yeah, the final 100 or so pages were a breeze. Don't know why people say writing fiction is difficult. Anyway, I decided to hell with this "query letter" nonsense and sent the entire ms to my Dream Agent. Well, apparently it was a very slow week (or it might have been that lovely eye-catching pink paper I printed it on) because she read it immediately. She called the next day to tell me how much she LOVED it and begged me to let her represent me. For half her usual percentage.

Of course, I agreed.

And before the ink was even dry on that contract, she was shopping the ms around to all the biggest NY publishing houses. She emailed on Monday to tell me they were engaged in a bidding war! I guess they liked it too. So anyway, we just finalized the deal last night. A seven figure contract (I'm not talking about The Seven Dwarfs here) and they want to print it in hardcover. Plus a HUGE budget for promotion. And, get this-- they want to send me on a book signing tour. Twenty-five cities in ten days. Good grief! They've stepped up production and completely rearranged their publishing schedule so the book will be out sometime early this summer.

I'm SO excited! I can't wait.

Oh, and I just got a call from Jon Stewart himself! He read an advance copy (I told you they'd really stepped up production, didn't I?) and he wants to interview me on his show next Monday. Of course, I had to tell him no, that won't work. I can't miss an episode of 24. So he's going to bump someone else and we'll do it Wednesday instead.

Oh. My. God. I've got to find something to wear. I've lost so much weight lately, nothing fits.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The rites (and wrongs) of spring

Some people have bats in their belfry. I have birds in my wall. Here's a picture of their front door:

That's the wall outside my bedroom. The hole is three feet to the right of the head of my bed. Thankyouverymuch, Mr. General Contractor Woodpecker, for marking MY territory as yours and providing low-cost housing for the neighborhood bird population.

If you've never had birds in your wall, you're probably thinking, "Oh, how sweet, you have your very own birds." Um, no. Believe me, it's not sweet. Nor is it cute.

They're loud. They thump around in there sounding like they each weigh 200 pounds, constantly pecking and scratching at the wall.  They chirp and coo and squawk. They're rude, waking me up every morning in that dark gray time of not-quite-dawn, then carry on like that for hours.

They're also pregnant. Or whatever. Yeah, I'm pretty sure they have eggs in there. Because that's what birds do this time of year. So as much as I'd love to shoo them away and plug the hole, I have to wait until the baby birds hatch. And that is when things get really noisy. What a way to start the day. Seriously, after a half hour of listening to the increasingly frantic pitiful chorus of desperate baby bird hunger, you want to bang on the wall and scream at the mother, "What are you doing? FEED them already!"

Why yes, this has happened before. This is the third happy little bird family I've hosted over the years. Without invitation.

The cat is hoping they come through the wall into the bedroom. She spends a good bit of time sitting on the nightstand, head cocked at her most intense listening angle, staring at the wall. Waiting.

Here she is, glaring back at me, daring me to tell her to Get. Down. Off. The. Furniture.

And once they're gone, it's not easy (or cheap) to find someone who is willing and able to climb three stories off the ground to replace and paint siding boards. It's a two-story house, but we're on a hill and the basement is open to the outside at that end of the house, so it's effectively three stories there. It requires a very long ladder and nerves of steel.

If I'm really lucky, these birds won't have mites like the second bird family who took up residence did . . . and I won't end up having to get my bedroom fumigated. Again.

Happy First Day of Spring, stupid damn birds.


Monday, March 09, 2009

The trouble with "should"

I have a problem. Well, several actually, but let's limit this to just one:  my personal To Do list has lost its sense of urgency. And I'm not getting anything done. Not only that, the list is expanding, growing to a size that is unwieldy and daunting.

It's all because of "should." As in, "I should write a new blog post." Okay fine, you can see I finally managed to do that. But that item has been on my list for weeks. I'm a writer. It's just not that tough to write a blog post. Except lately.

There are seemingly thousands of them, these "I should" tasks which lack immediacy or short-term consequences. No, you don't want to know what they are. They're boring and tedious. Except they really are things I SHOULD do. But they all have such an optional kind of feel to them, completely devoid of any sense of priority. An equal opportunity listing of "meh." A far cry from, "I have to sort these papers right this minute, before they burst into flame!" Or, "If I don't trim the bushes by Tuesday, the ground will crack open and spew molten lava." Or, "If these pictures aren't packed up in the next half hour, the bomb will explode and all the hostages will die!"

Not even the satisfying prospect of crossing things firmly off the list has been sufficient motivation -- and usually that works, along with the certainty that no one else is going to do this stuff and I need to just suck it up and DO IT already. Really, I'd feel so much better if I did. But lately-- [sigh] it seems I'm languishing in the land of lethargy, immobilized by inertia, sinking slowly into the depths of depression. Ahem. Sorry, just trying to manufacture a modicum of melodrama here.

I'm starting to suspect these tasks are quietly gathering strength and purpose, simmering in a dark stew of neglect, and will reach a critical mass of imperativeness ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

God help me.

I really should do something about this.

 

Monday, February 09, 2009

Work in Progress

I'm working here. Really. It just looks like I'm spending every free minute sitting on the couch watching movies. But that's only because, um, that's what I'm doing.

Seriously, I'm taking an online class this month -- learning about screenwriting techniques and how to apply them to novel writing. I've heard from other writers that this can be very helpful if you're having trouble with story structure. Which I am.

So I'm working here. And learning.

And yeah, sitting on the couch watching movies. And then writing detailed, yet concise (ha!), synopses of three-act/eight-sequence story structure, paying particular attention to elements of-- never mind. Take my word for it, this couch potato thing is not as easy as it looks.

[Note to any writers out there:  If you ever get a chance to take a class taught by Alex Sokoloff -- just do it. The woman is awesome.]

When was the last time you took a class? Set out to learn something different? Challenged your brain with new information?

Been a while? What are you waiting for?


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

20 Jan 09

Today brought six inches of snow and an unexpected day off from work:

And a new President:

copyright 2009 AP

It was a very good day.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Saturday night in winter

This was a day of endings and beginnings, for looking back and moving forward.

It's late now, after midnight. The football game and our team's season are over, the television and stereo silent. My son has gone to bed, his friends gone home, the echoes of good-natured shouting and cheering fading even as car doors slammed and engines revved their way to a quiet distance through the night streets.

Outside it is raining, not hard, just enough to coat the deck boards with a cold wet gloss, enough to mirror the white glitter of holiday lights still strung along the rails.

My lifting muscles are pleasantly sore, a small scrape on the back of my hand evidence of the afternoon's labour. My daughter has called three times since the last box was unloaded and I drove away into the waning rays of a winter sun painting the rain clouds on the horizon, the sound of our voices reassuring both of us as she settled into the unfamiliar campus apartment.

The day began early with caffeine and coffeecake, camaraderie and conversation, the confident direction of an experienced Board turning over heavy files and weighty responsibilities to the apprehensive yet eager vision of the new.  The pleasure and honour of two years' hard work and stewardship balanced by the guilty, almost giddy relief of finally handing it off to the care of others, knowing ours was a job well done, trusting their effort will be no less.

Now at the end of the day it is quiet. I am tired but reluctant to get up and go to bed, to shift the warm slumber of the cat snuggled against my side, disturb the utter stillness of the night. The tree in the corner seems to stand a bit taller tonight, as if it knows these are its last moments as a fragrant shining symbol of past laughter and tears, of future hopes and dreams, its lights reflecting a bit brighter on ornaments that tomorrow will return to storage to wait for their next season, the next tree.

Tomorrow there is work to be done, one more year of memories to carefully wrap and pack away, needles to vacuum, boxes to be filled. But tonight is peaceful with the quiet contentment of things accomplished, ended to make way for the future.


Monday, January 05, 2009

How time does fly

At the beginning of November, I set a goal for myself and said, "On 5 January 2009 I am going to send a submission to an agent. Even if I'm not done writing the book. And since it will kill me to send a submission of an unfinished book, it WILL be finished by then."

Well, I was mistaken. Not to mention foolish. It happens.

The book is not done. And there is no way in hell I'm sending a submission of an unfinished manuscript. A writer pretty much gets one chance to impress an agent and I hope I've learned enough about the process not to take that lightly.

So I've granted myself an extension. Hey, the published authors I know get extensions all the time.

I expected I would feel defeated and demoralized if I didn't meet this deadline and I'm rather surprised to find that is not the case. This goal-setting experiment has left me even more determined to finish. It was also educational.

I have learned that December is probably never going to be a very productive writing month for me. I'll take that into account in the future when some publisher asks me how long it will take to write the next book.

I have learned that setting a goal with a specific date really does improve my productivity. I accomplished so much more in the last two months than I would have without a goal.

I have also learned that when my daughter is home for any length of time without homework, I will watch a lot of television. Whether I want to or not. And that Prime Time is in direct conflict with Writing Time. I am now caught up on all the happenings with House, Grey's Anatomy, some other show I can't remember the name of, AAC basketball, NCAA football, NFL football, various movies (the funniest of which was Little Miss Sunshine -- watch it if you haven't), Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Planet Earth (which is awesome). My daughter has thoughtfully set reminders on my cell phone so I won't miss the new episodes of 24 and Burn Notice. Sigh.

So, new deadline.

Scientific process at work here. Really. Jupiter (my, ahem, ruling planet) enters Aquarius today, which is supposed to be good for communications. However, Mercury goes retrograde on 11 Jan and this is apparently a bad time to, among other things, submit manuscripts. I kid you not. [I hope it's a good time for college students to return to campus, because that rare astrological event happens about the same time.] A writer friend said Saturn went retrograde a few days ago and that bodes well for finishing things. Like manuscripts. There is a solar eclipse on 26 Jan and the new moon also goes retrograde. Then on 1 Feb Mercury goes direct and the dish runs away with the spoon.

I have NO IDEA what any of this means. Except that it sounds as plausible as anything else and I have decided 2 Feb is my new deadline. Because I'm supposed to give Mercury an extra day to stabilize.

Whatever. You all should watch for falling stars and things that go bump in the night sky. I'm going to be busy writing.