Yahoo! Avatars

No, not THAT one.

Though we did see the movie the other night and I get why everyone is raving. The story is stirring as any great fable should be. But the visual imagery is what gets you, sweeps you up and rolls you over. All night phosphorescent blue giants strode through my dreams and I find myself with a slight jones to see them again.

Pandora seduced us all.

I think I’m spoiling nothing here, but if you’re one who wants to know nothing about a movie before you see it, stop reading now. The reason why it’s called “Avatar” is because humans have their consciousness downloaded to an empty alien body, so they can move around on the alien planet and mingle with them as nearly the same creature.

I remember the first time I encountered this particular use of the word “avatar.” It was when Yahoo Instant Messenger first came on big. I use Yahoo IM extensively. My work team is scattered all over the country. We use Yahoo IM as a way of shouting over the cubicle wall, as it were. I also use it to communicate with friends family. From early on, Yahoo allowed you to design an “avatar,” an online representation of yourself, which you could make accurate or not, as you chose.

Okay, okay — for all you gamers out there. I know the usage came from that first. I just had no experience with it.

The thing is, “avatar” is a Sanskrit word that specifically refers to the descent of a deity to earth in an incarnate form. It’s from Hindu mythology, but really every mythology and religion has a form of this concept. Even Jesus Christ is an example of this: god made into man.

So, you can see why this makes me squirm a bit.

Sure, the analogy is a good one. A human from a spaceship descends into an alien body and uses it like a puppet. A gamer manipulates her online character, controls her destiny.

Godlike, indeed.

People make fun of the Mormons for this kind of thinking. That they, okay, the men, get a whole planet to be god of when they die. To populate with their wives and children. Sounds like a little much to some.

There’s an idea that when god “made man in his image” that this is a way of conveying that we all have a piece of divinity in us. Christ, Prana, what have you. This is what raises us up from the animal. That this is what we must strive to nuture and bring to full flower. Some think of it as trying to reach Enlightenment, Nirvana, to become one with god.

Of course, what no one can agree on is how to get there.

I’m thinking though, that taking on godlike qualities can get one in trouble. With great power comes great responsibility, and all that.

So even as I fantasize about walking a world like Pandora, with a beautiful blue Amazonian body, I can help thinking about the thoughtful sequel. In which we discover we’re not gods, after all.

Which is a good thing.

Joyous Hogmanay

I’m working this week.

Which is significant, because many of you are not and I’m beginning to feel like it’s against nature to be working now.

And no, it’s not a Christian thing. It’s a pagan thing, really.

When we visited Scotland a few years ago, we discovered the joy of hogmanay. We left the US on Christmas day and arrived on the morning after in Scotland. Boxing Day in the UK. Because we’d entered the zone that is Hogmanay, we discovered that many shops, galleries and what have you, were not open for most of our ten-day visit. Because Scotland pretty much shuts down business and parties through the dark days of the turning of the year.

“It’s Hogmanay,” people would say with a shrug, then offer us another drink.

When I asked what it meant, people would inevitably reply “New Year,” which was clearly not the case. They used it to mean the whole stretch of time from before Christmas to just after the New Year. And when I pressed them for which languague “hogmanay” came from and how it meant “New Year,” they couldn’t say.

So I looked it up.

There are many theories about the derivation of the word “Hogmanay”. The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was “Hoggo-nott” while the Flemish words (many have come into Scots) “hoog min dag” means “great love day”. Hogmanay could also be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon, Haleg monath, Holy Month, or the Gaelic, oge maidne, new morning. But the most likely source seems to be the French. “Homme est né” or “Man is born” while in France the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged was “aguillaneuf” while in Normandy presents given at that time were “hoguignetes”. Take your pick! (From the Rampant Scotland website, which is really great.)

What it really means? “The time of year when you don’t work, you hang at home and eat and drink a whole bunch.” There’s an unabashed laziness to Hogmanay in Scotland that becomes joyous.

And more than a little pagan.

We stumbled upon the torchlight parade in Ediborough. Enthusiastic marchers thrust torches into our hands and we walked from Edinborough castle all the way to the Burns monument where they, I kid you not, set fire to wicker effigies of what appeared to be a Viking ship and a bear/dragon. (If you scroll down on the link above, you’ll see another pic of the parade, much like ours.) This site at least freely acknowledges that these are pagan festivities, though the Scots we asked tended to fob it off or deny it.

Scotland is dark this time of year. This is sunrise at 9am precisely. If you’re looking at, say ruins, you’ll want to wrap that up by 3pm or so, or you won’t see a damn thing.

Fortunately, there’s always a warm and cheerful pub nearby, with someone to hand you a drink and a cheerful urging to just enjoy Hogmanay.

Winter Supplies

I’ve gone on record as saying I believe that New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure by their very nature.

Occasionally I launch projects in the new year, but I do think the pressure and the expectations make keeping the resolve more difficult. Besides, January often feels like a bad time to start stuff. The holidays are all over, so you feel kind of let down. The light and seasons may be turning around, but it’s still a dead time of year, with a ways to go until actual rebirth.

I’m more likely to start — and stick with — new projects in the Fall. This is probably because I’ve spent most of my life either part of, or living in a town shaped by, the academic calendar. I met David in January, which ended up being a very successful project. It might be a good time to start a new book, since there’s not much else to do. Otherwise?

For Christmas, David received a gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited, which really is a wonderful franchise, and our local store is particularly pleasant. They encouraged David to get one of these jay wreaths, which you fill with peanuts. Jays eat peanuts — who knew?? Plus it keeps them off the other feeders, so the smaller birds have a shot.

You wouldn’t believe the jay party that resulted here. You can see one jay below, waiting on the yucca, while another proudly brandishes his newly acquired peanut. They were returning so quickly, it didn’t seem possible that they were taking time to eat them.

They had the entire wreath emptied inside of an hour.

David refilled it and it’s partially full still this morning, though they’ve been working at it. Either they were seriously hungry and now are eating more slowly, or they’ve realized that the peanut supply is here to stay and they don’t have to pack it all off to wherever they put all those peanuts.

That’s the trick, I think, to sticking with new projects: finding a way to make them a part of your life, rather than a big New Thing. The way you treat the New Thing is not how you treat a daily habit. I think that’s why I’m reluctant to do things like writing challenges or fast drafts or what have you. Every writer has to find a way to make writing a part of her daily life. And by that I don’t necessarily mean writing every day, though some swear by it.

It’s more like knowing where the peanuts are when you need them.

Merry Christmas

I’m glad it’s not just me.

This morning the family left again and tonight I caught up on the interwebs. My favorite blogs? All posted last on December 22. (Of course, my last was December 19, but Sunday is usually my day off and then Monday was crazyish. Then my routine went to hell with all the rest of us unfashionable types who still celebrate Christmas.)

Amusingly enough, even a Jewish blogger I like, who last posted to the ‘net a reminder of the things she hates to hear during Christmas, last blogged on December 22.

When I was a little girl, I totally bought the Christmas schtick.

Of course, I also believed in fairies and unicorns and, really, on certain levels, still do. Look, here I am writing novels about them. I believed that Christmas was a magical night. A night of peace an joy. It’s a sign of my naivete, perhaps, or just of my blissful upbringing, that I was thoroughly and completely shocked to discover that, not only did not everyone in the world experience peace and joy on Christmas, that even bad things could happen on that day.

And, no, it had nothing to do with Jesus for me. Really.

My Jewish blogger says that it’s nonsense to say that Christmas isn’t a religious holiday, because only Christians celebrate it.

Full disclosure: Yes, I come from an Irish Catholic family. I consider this part of my racial heritage. I know those ideas shape me. I also know that my ancestry is full of pagan witches who reconfigured their celebrations to fall under the Church’s radar. I know what I believe in, my spiritual convictions and my private rituals. I’ve studied Catholicism. Along with Judaism, Islam, Taoism, many and varied other philosophies, mystical and shamanic practices.

Please: do not tell me what my religion is.

Yes. I celebrate Christmas. Unfashionably, I love Christmas. I’m sorry that so many people feel it’s foisted upon them. That it’s not their holiday. That it’s materialistic, shallow, meaningless, creates unrealizable expectations and grinds down everyone who can’t possibly meet some ideal.

I hate that the Christmas season becomes that to anyone.

I suppose, in my idealistic heart, in that place that still has room for unicorns and fairies, that I wish there could be one night that we all celebrate joy and love.

I know — it sounds stupid.

That’s what it is for me. For the days around Christmas, I drop it all. I decorate. Anything that’s bright and sparkly is good. I make food for feasting. I buy gifts for the people I love. For me, it’s all about finding something special for them. Something to show I know who they are and what they enjoy.

This year, it was all about the table. Laurie and I spotted the concept in Princeton; I took a photo; she sent me some of the basics. The table was truly beautiful.

If I could make it beautiful for everyone, I would.

I know I can’t.

All I ask? Just let me love it a little longer.

Broken Wings

I have a collection of fairies that hang over my desk.

I like fairies, so some of these I’ve had for a long time. And I write about them recently, so I’ve begun to gather more.

One of my favorites is a glass fairy Dave, my stepfather, gave me a couple of years ago. I even used pictures of her on my website.

Before I even got her home from Christmas in Tucson, one of her wings had broken. I couldn’t get it glued back on, so I took her to a jeweler and he fixed her.

During the move, though, the same wing came off again. I was able to glue it but, before I got her hung up, it came off again.

Last night I tried again with the gluing. In the process the other wing came off.

Now she’s a pitiful flightless creature and I find myself wondering why I keep trying. It comes down to that I like her and I want her the way she’s supposed to be.

It’s one of my great beefs with the universe, that things break.

Fie on you entropy!

I suppose I’ve chosen to be one of those who won’t go gently into the dark night of entropy. I rage against the breakage, the loss.

And, what happened to all of those little glassblower booths that used to fill the malls?

The Art of Keena

Please welcome one of my favorite people, Keena Kincaid, with a little Guest Blog. She has a new book out — her third! — maybe too late for Hanukkah, but there’s several December gift-giving occasions left!

If you write Romance inevitably you hear: “Why do you write that fluff? It’s all happy endings. You could do better.”

I always laugh it off and say, “Well, I started out writing a murder mystery, but then my hero met the heroine.”

Despite my cheerful reply, though, the implication that writing happy endings somehow requires less effort or less talent grates on me like stop-and-go traffic. I can’t speak for every author, but sometimes finding a HEA that is believable and true to the characters is a huge, exciting challenge.

For example, my current book TIES THAT BIND could just as easily been a tragedy.

The hero, AEDAN ap OWEN, idles at angry, tends to act-out rather than think through his actions, and misuses his magical abilities for his own gain. Each time he fails to think through his actions, the reactions pull him deeper into a quagmire of treason and murder. I wasn’t sure that even I—the author—had the ability to save him.

My heroine, TESS, LADY of BRIDSWELL, also makes choices that put her on the divide between gain and loss, happiness and heartache.

And it’s this divide—the knowledge that the story could go either way—that makes writing romance such a challenge and so much fun. Because the Happy Ever After has to make sense, it must come from the characters and the plot in a natural, logical way. Otherwise, readers hurl the book against the wall.

The happy ever after in TIES THAT BIND happened because my characters managed to grow and change. The story’s tension is created by mistakes, thoughtless actions and genuine personality differences. It’s not obvious how the conflict will be resolved—and it shouldn’t be.

The tension, conflict and unknown are what make a good book good.

So with each book, I set myself a challenge. Make the conflict deeper, the stakes higher, the HEA more impossible—and then find a way to get my characters there in a natural, logical way that makes everyone happy.

Back of book blurb:
A druid who denies himself nothing desires the only woman who believes magic and love don’t mix.

Out of place in the Plantagenet court, minstrel AEDAN ap OWEN misuses his Sidhe gifts for the king’s dark business. Sent north to investigate rumors of treason and dispatch the troublemakers, Aedan discovers someone is murdering monks and stealing saints’ relics. And all clues point to Carlisle.

TESS, LADY of BRIDSWELL, refuses to rekindle her relationship with Aedan. She knows his reputation as a secret stealer—and she has a secret that must be kept. But her resolve falters when her uncle promises her hand to a man she despises and Aedan hounds her steps.

A would-be king uses the stolen relics to amplify his power, wielding it like a weapon. Meeting the traitor’s magic with magic will prevent war, but it will also destroy Aedan’s chance to show Tess he has at last mastered the temptation of the ancient wisdom. Can Aedan renounce his magic to win Tess’ heart anew or will he choose magic over love?


It was a single word, four letters, yet Aedan somehow imbued her name with the importance of a royal decree. He knows words, she reminded herself, quickening her steps. Life in the king’s court had no doubt honed to perfection his raw talent for finding the phrase to start a quarrel or arouse passion. By now, he could likely start a war — or stop one — with a single syllable.
Chilled by the thought, she turned into a niche in the wall and discovered escape ended at an oak door as wide as she was tall. She fumbled for a latch. Finding only smooth boards beneath her hand, she pressed her palm against the door, prayed it would miraculously open. The steps behind her stopped. She closed her eyes. He had bathed. He smelled of Saracen soap, spicy and exotic, mixed with the brisk, earthy scent of old trees that had clung to her for days after he’d left.
A tremor ran down her spine. Saints, she still loved the way he said her name. Rather than giving it a shortened, clipped feel like everyone else, he elongated it, adding depth and weight as if it were her true name.
“Tess, look at me.”
Unable to move forward or backward, she pressed her forehead against the door. Go away. Just go away, she prayed, and then hands, warm and steady, settled on her shoulders.

Deck the Halls With… What Exactly?

You know, I’m such a creature of habit.

Perhaps, a believer in ritual. Which sounds ever so much better.

But, I’ve discovered, just tonight, that part of my blockage on Christmas decoration stems from not knowing where stuff GOES. My friend, amazing author Keena Kincaid, who will be guest blogging here tomorrow, is a gypsy. She forever moves from place to place, so getting out her Christmas decorations becomes a common thread.

For me, I find myself paralyzed that I can’t hang the stockings on the kiva. What do I do?? Perhaps if I had less OTHER stuff to do, I’d feel more creative.

What it comes to is, I can’t do the decorating by rote.

I can’t simply recreate what I’ve done before and have done. Some of the things just flat out don’t match. At least I’ve made piles now, of what does match and what doesn’t.

I know, I know — it sounds nuts and you wonder why I care.

I can’t explain why I care. It has to do with blending. With art. With being part of the landscape and the season and the feeling. I have something in me that wants to become part of a place. That longs to be in harmony, perhaps.

Speaking of which, I’ve learned that “luminarias” are little bonfires and the candles in bags are “farolitas.” If you have the fake-y farolitas, with electricity like we do, they’re “electrolitas.” Which I feel certain is not a traditional word.

I’m getting there. The poinsettia lights look lovely over the kiva mantle. I’ve a pile of outside lights in amber and gold, to match the farolitas.

I have an idea for hanging the stockings, too.

Hmm. Is that the stirrings of creativity I feel? Welcome! Welcome and, dare I say, gods bless us, every one.

The Kennedy Lending Library

Did I mention?

I spent the last couple of weekends finishing going through the moving boxes and bins. Oh yes, I totally mentioned this, in light of my darling man’s bin o’bullets.

So, it was really last Sunday, this Saturday and part of this Sunday. That I spent dealing with the garage and all in it. But I’ve now been through every box and bin, extracted what I wanted, bookshelved the books that need to be out in the world and re-stored the rest.

Thus I restored the deserving to the shelves and re-stored the rest.

Hey, at least I amuse myself.

Why, you ask, was this so important, what with Christmas shopping, decorating, tree-trimming, menu-planning and baking to conduct?

I was tired of empty bookshelves.

It’s a whole-house thing. People are coming to stay for Christmas and my house wasn’t yet totally together. Right: because my bookshelves were empty.

So I got them all out. Sorted all my books into piles. By priority of love. By author. And I decided who I needed to have out, readily available and who could live in boxes in the garage. Yes, for those of you who like to give me grief about my lists, I’m making a database, with box numbers, for the books in storage. Just a few short, sweet steps away.

See, in the old house, I had a full wall of built-in bookshelves. Plus a bookshelf in my office, one in David’s office and one in the basement. The Annex, doncha know. I also kept a literal wooden chest in the dressing room that was my TBR pile. It was my TBR treasure chest.

Did I mention the new house has no storage?

No basement. No attic. Just an oversized two-car garage with shelves. We have one “small” built-in bookshelf and three portable bookshelves we moved, including the annex bookshelf. They absorbed more than I thought.

At a guesstimate, two-thirds of our books are “out.” Which isn’t bad.

How I chose ended up being like love. Oh yes, I first I tried to be methodical: which books do I regularly reference? Which topics will I be writing about, mulling over, nostagically wanting to revisit in the near future?

And what about the vistor/vanity aspect? I found myself evaluating which books might be on the shelves that would say something about me. Which led to which books might I mention, over dinner, say, that someone would want to borrow?

In the end, as love always does, it came down to what I like having near. I don’t care what anyone else might think. Even though I might not re-read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight series in the near future (make no mistake: I’m now seriously contemplating it), I have it on the shelf. As I have had since I was, oh, twelve, thirteen, something like that. And because I couldn’t let any of her other books feel bad, they’re all out, too.

Yes, I have everything she’s ever written.

Which is also true of my other great loves. A.S. Byatt, Ann Patchett. Orson Scott Card, Mercedes Lackey, Jacqueline Carey, Diana Gabaldon, Margaret Atwood. They all have their space on my limited shelves.

It’s a kind of homage, really.

And maybe that’s what I realized, in doing this. That the likelihood of my opening and referencing the book has nothing to do with it. I like seeing them there. Just like I like to see the art on the walls, hear the music on the cd player and watch the sun set outside.

It’s enough to set my juices humming.

Magic Bunny Ears of Fire

When I saw the contrails light up with sunset fire the other night, I knew then what I would call the blog post for it.

Various things (read: deadlines, phone calls and meetings) conspired to keep me from posting this for a couple of days. But I’d been turning the phrase over in my head. Magic bunny ears of fire. I don’t know why. I liked the cadence of it and the image. The whimsy. It entertained me to wind the words around.

This, more than anything else, is the way in which writers are crazy.

When a writer has that far-off fuzzy look? Never ask what she’s thinking, because she’ll say something like: I’m thinking about the phrase “magic bunny ears of fire.” Which I suspect would be a conversation-killer.

Of course, if we’re in a sensible frame of mind, we won’t answer that way. My standard is something like: oh, I’m just noodling over what I’m going to write on my blog.

Magic bunny ears of fire!

And, in another way that I suspect most writers do, this phrase matched up in my head with a song lyric from They Might Be Giants: Sapphire bullets of pure love.

I’m thinking of a story now, surreal and whimsical, where sapphire bullets of pure love rain through the magic bunny ears of fire.

And THIS, my friends, is why so many of us are incapable of writing to market. Can you imagine pitching this image to an agent or editor?

No no no.

But I might write it anyway.

Otherwise the Magic Bunny Ears of Fire will never leave me alone…

Every Quail Is Sacred

I’ve been trying to explain social media to people lately.

Yeah, you laugh.

And you should, because I am more often the luddite than the gal in the know. And I’m so not the generation of social media — though I notice that mine, the Generation Jones, if you will, has cheerfully glommed onto the concept. Perhaps because we’re all so determined not to become technologically obsolete before we absolutely CANNOT keep up any more. After all, we learned computers when you had to do everything in DOS, dammit. The younger people don’t know what it was like, creating graphics designating the color for each pixel, uphill, through six feet of snow.

Okay, I’m over it now.

I do, however, go to writing conferences where they talk about online marketing. And I go to those sessions, because I’m hopeful of one day having a new book to market. And do a better job of it this time. Though, granted, I used the tools I had at the time.

So, folks in the generations before mine, the Boomers and the Silents, (They all want to be Silent Generation now, have you noticed? No one wants to be a Boomer.) ask me to explain what social media is.

I tell them, it’s about creating networks of people, primarily online, and you share information about the things you like and use. And they say, oh, advertising and I say, no, because this isn’t controlled and it isn’t full of tricks. It’s about honest communication. Stuff you happen to buy is just one part of that.

They don’t get it.

I’m probably not explaining it well.

Penelope Trunk, one of my favorite bloggers (for the record, she does not pay me to say that; she barely knows I exist), does a better job of explaining it, though I can’t find the exact post I’m thinking of. She says the younger folks, the Ys, don’t even think about this. It’s just how they are.

What I suspect is, everyone heard in the early days of social marketing how people were paid to talk to their friends about products. Doing the Oh! I’ll have a Beerweiser! I lurv the Beerweiser, don’t you? Maybe this still goes on and I just don’t know about it.

Of course, we all thought this was really icky. Like stealth advertising.

But the thing is, we all do this all the time anyway; we’re just not paid to do it. Which makes it honest. My aunt says she wants to pick my brain on MP3 players — I’ll tell what kind I bought and why. My mom asks which brand of vitamins is the most trustworthy; David has researched it and we can tell her. They don’t know it, but it’s social media.

All of this comes to mind because on yesterday’s post, I mentioned that my internet was slow and carelessly cast blame on either Qwest or Google. (Relax Qwest social media team — you already contacted me!) And, as you can see from my parenthetical comment, someone from the Qwest social media team commented on my blog post offering to check my internet line for problems.

Totally cracked me up.

And then I thought, very cool of them, that they have a team that picks up on mentions of their services and responds. How smart of them to pay attention to honest, if flip, assessments of their service.

I took them up on the offer, too. The ‘net has been slow at our abode lately. I would love for them to fix it. I like Qwest’s service either way and I don’t mind saying so. No, they don’t pay me either.

What’s more interesting to me? Both my mom and aunt reacted to the comment from Qwest as a corporate intrusion. A Big Brotherish “they’re watching you” kind of thing. My mom even said to me (on Yahoo IM, if we’re quoting brands) “Now even I have to watch what I tell you. God only knows who is listening!”

I say, hey, I threw myself, my words and opinions out there. I made my thoughts accessible to the web crawlers. They’re smart to listen. In fact, I think they’d be fools not to.

The best part of social media is it’s FUN. It’s like a big party. Those Gen Y kids knew what they were doing when they started MySpacing and Chatting and FaceBooking and we, the grown-ups, all thought they were nuts.

David asked me how the photo of our Christmas quail figured into my theme tonight and I said it hadn’t come together yet. But you know, if the quail had a way to post “found a great feeder tonight — they’ve got the BEST seed!” — wouldn’t they do it, too?

Hell, maybe they do!