Book Party

Okay, so we don’t look so cute.

But it was pretty late by this point and we were kind of tired. I really don’t know WHAT was going on with my hair.

By the time Allison picked up the kids from day care and her husband came home, it was coming up on 7pm. Starving, ready to get to our little celebration, we bolted out the door.

It didn’t even occur to me to pop open the suitcase and, say, run a brush through my hair.

This tells you where my head was. I wouldn’t even post this pic, but we look far worse this morning.

But we had fun. Allison drank about nine diet cokes — I told the waitress just to keep ’em coming, I’m generous like that — and I downed plenty of Chardonnay. We stuffed ourselves with enough food to feed a small country and brought home enough leftovers to last through another Snowmageddon.

It’s one of those things, that by the time you sign the book contract, it’s not all that exciting anymore. We toasted her success — three-book contract with Pocket, if you hadn’t seen the previous posts — and then spent the rest of the time talking plots for the next two books and strategizing how she’ll promote them.

We had fun being together and talking real time, instead of our usual non-simultaneous gig.

Next time we’re together, at RWA National, we’ll take far more glam photos, I promise.

Riding the Ego Wave

This is a stained-glass window in the Albert & Victoria Inn, where I’m staying one more night.

Isn’t it pretty? Apropos of nothing at all.

I thought about trying to wind it into a theme, but mostly I’m thinking about ego today and I’m not seeing how an antique rose window fits into that.

The problem is, I have a lot of complicated thoughts about ego right now. Probably a long essay’s worth, maybe even a whole book’s worth. So I clearly can’t write a succinct blog post about it.

But this is the core of what I’m thinking: A bloated ego leads to insanity.

By this I mean that, when the ego grows, it limits a person’s ability to see the world in a rational way. The larger the ego, the more distorted the person’s world view becomes until they reach a point where they cannot interact with other people in a sane way.

When people wonder how Tiger Woods thought no one would notice he was sending out for women to tend to his needs? Ego. He thought the rules didn’t apply to him.

How on earth did John Edwards think he could disappear, blithely mention backpacking in South America and that no one, not the national media would check? Ego. He said it, therefore it was true.

How can writers rant at criticism of their books, accusing the reviewer of everything from sour grapes to being fat and unattractive? How can they rant on their blogs about how people read their books wrong, because the books themselves are perfect? How can a writer blast contest judges for giving them a low score, saying that it’s just plain mean and they’ll get revenge?

Ego. Ego. Ego.

I’m not linking to all examples of this stuff, because, really, it’s enough for a PhD thesis.

The thing about ego is, it starts small. I’m thinking of a writer who just published her first book. It was snagged from the slushpile by an agent, sold to a publisher, movie rights sold. The book is doing well. I read it. It’s decent. A good read that I enjoyed. I think there are some serious flaws, but there it is.

The thing is, this writer is dispensing advice on how to get published. Offering up the rules. “If your book is good enough, it will get sold.” She’s proud of her achievement, as she should be, but I’m alarmed by her total lack of disregard for serendipity. Her book was EXACTLY the right theme at the right moment. I bet that two years ago, even one year ago, no one would have looked twice at it. A year from now it will be over. Great timing, super good luck for her — how can she not see it?


The ego leads us to believe we do all this ourselves. “*I* am great and wonderful!” screams the ego. “Look at all I’ve done!”

I’m thinking that’s the moment you start to lose touch with reality, when the I is greater than the world around you. When a person doesn’t see how the world is working.

For example, it’s well understood in the publishing world that a writer simply cannot write to market. Even if you’re fast, by the time you draft the novel, revise, sell it, edit, and put it through the publishing calendar, the idea that was so hot and fresh when you started is now last year’s news, at best. What will be hot when the book hits the shelves? An entire industry wishes they could predict it and they can’t. It’s luck. That’s the deal.

So there are my rambling thoughts on ego for the day. I probably haven’t done it justice and will undoubtedly return now and again. Likely I’ll repeat myself. Possibly mumble in a vague way, from time to time.

Just remind me to give myself credit for the hard work I do, give thanks for the random blessings the universe bestows — and the sanity to know the difference.

Fancy Hill

Tonight I’m in Abingdon, Virginia.

You know! Home of the Barter Theater?

No? Well, okay. Well, we were promised this would be the jewel of our work trip. The shops are cute. But the town? I’m not quite getting the buzz.

But, we’re staying at the Victoria & Albert Inn (that’s my room), and I’m sitting by that selfsame fireplace, only lit, while snow falls outside and my mahogany bed awaits. It’s pretty damn wonderful. The website is lacking, but don’t let that dissuade you: the Inn is possibly the best B&B I’ve ever stayed at. Very romantic and cozy.

Too bad David isn’t here…

Overall? I liked the town of Lexington better. Maybe I’m just a college-town kind of gal. But, as we were leaving, we took Route 11 south out of town to connect with the interstate, at the advice of our innkeeper there at the Llewellyn Lodge. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that our two nights there were lovely, comfortable and I slept like a log. And ate breakfast with cardinals. Birds, not priests. They have a gorgeous song, did you know? The birds, that is. Anyway, as we were headed out Route 11, we passed several horse farms and a number of beautiful homes, the oldest and most gorgeous of which had been slapped with a highway sign that said “Fancy Hill.”

And my colleague noted that everything around here falls into two categories, hillbilly or fancy.

I think Val has a point, actually. I like that way of looking at things, that if you’ve gotten your act together, you get to be “fancy.” If not, well, at least you’re wholesome and charming. I think I’ll adopt this as my approach to life now.

Hell, I even feel fancy!

Lexington, Virginia

I’ve been working in Lexington, Virginia yesterday and today.

The town is quaint and lovely, with streets way too narrow for the SUV boat the rental car company made us take. It’s sleepy, in a winter-in-the-South kind of way.

We wondered at the quiet. Of course, most people here are still traumatized by the Snowpocalypse that became Snowmaggedon. They’re staying inside. Mounds of snow still frown from the ends of parking lots, warning the complacent. People ask us, did you hear we got a lot of snow?

I finally told one guy, that’s the beauty of you guys living on the East Coast — you can just assume the rest of the country knows your news. For a week, all I heard about was Snowpocalypse.

Then they sheepishly ask if us Westerners laugh at them. I had to say, yes, yes we do. But I added that we also understand that they’re ill-equipped. I guess that makes it a sympathy laugh?

The town is nearly silent, both day and night, but Lexington is home to both Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, so it seems this little hamlet should be teeming with young people, dashing about, doing their higher ed thing. My colleague and I decided that the VMI kids probably don’t get to dash about doing frivolous things. We finally glimpsed them today: the track teams out, running the sidewalks in earnest muscularity. One trio of young men ran past the snowbanks in shorts, flashing their sculpted thighs. My colleague sardonically commented that some people can have legs like that just by being young, much less by running.

I just enjoyed the scenery. Is that so wrong?

Turns out it’s Washington Break at WLU, which explains their lack of presence in the community. No, no — it totally doesn’t matter that they have their own self-named break. Amusingly, the school is named for both George Washington, who gave the original bequest to the school, and for Robert E. Lee, who was president of it. Revolutionary and Civil wars come together.

I’m wondering when Lee Break is. Fall, right?

Yes, we drove around and read the informative historical signs, since the sun was out and we finished meetings while we could see the town in natural light. We did not go see, despite the urgings of a surprising number of people, the gravesite of Stonewall Jackson’s horse.

But I like to think this funky balcony support is a tribute to that brave steed.

Besides, my favorite time of year is Horse Break!

Glass Jellyfish, Italians and Time

Dale Chihuly glass jelly fish swimming through the atrium at O’Hare.

Usually, I don’t have time to notice stuff at Chicago’s O’Hare “You might have a ticket but you can never leave” airport. But yesterday, I was there for a 3.5 hour layover, watching the rain turn to snow and fervently praying it wouldn’t turn into an overnight or, worse, days of layover. It could have happened, too. My Roanoke, Virginia flight took off on time, but many D.C. flights were canceled.

According to the cell conversations of the people around me, which I consider to be a more reliable indicator than most.

It seems like one usually gets either 30 minutes or hours at O’Hare. This time I opted for hours. Because I really hate missing connections. And more, I really hate missing them there. In fact, I go to great lengths to avoid connecting through O’Hare. In double-fact, I’ve been so successful in this resolve that I apparently have not been there in so long that I totally forgot where I like to eat there.

This might sound stupid to you, but I’ve spent enough time in airports that I know pretty much where I’ll eat at each one. Sometimes even what I’ll order. Are you thinking this is not adventurous? Then you’d be correct. Someone who spends a lot of her time in airports shudders at the thought of adventure. She wants reliable, relaxing and reasonably nutritious.

Trust me.

I’ll even, all things being equal, choose connections through airports that I have places where I like to eat. And shop. And sit in pretty white rocking chairs to watch planes and write.

So, I had lots of time to kill at O’Hare. I wasn’t trapped to the singing underground tunnel between B & C concourses, nor to the claustrophobic Y of the E&F concourse hell. Instead I wandered over to the Europe of O’Hare and found concourses G, H & K.

Where the beautiful people live.

It was pretty there. And serene. Brushed steel, wood panels and soft foreign voices. Oh, and a Macaroni Grill, where I could sit and pretend to be having a lovely dinner out instead of being trapped behind airport security. A couple of incredibly gay Italian boys sat at the two-top next to me, loving the hot bread, thinking the espresso too weak. They argued about the time difference between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and whether you could fly directly from Long Beach, I told them to pile their stuff on the bench opposite me, as long as they said hello to my invisible friend, which they cheerfully did.

I enjoyed their semi-anonymous company.

Which is good, because not long before that I composed a tweet in my head: “Where do all of the people in airports come from? I like most people I meet. But in airports, I hate them all.”

People behave badly in airports, I think. No one wants to be there — they all want to be either where they’re coming from or going to. Maybe people just can’t be human in a place they don’t want to be. Maybe they can’t help being hateful.

And maybe the secret, like all of life, is to find the quiet, serene pockets where people are where they want to be, doing what they want to do.

Also, to look up and see the glass starfish someone hung for you, just in case you weren’t running too fast to see.

Wiley Coyote

This is our patio, for those who don’t know. We keep the feeder stocked and lots of birds come in. Ground feeders visit, too, packrats, mice and bunnies gleaning the spilled seed.

David has a night-vision camera with a motion detector. He hangs it on the near portal post.

This is what the area under the feeder looks like at night.

And here’s a bunny coming to visit.

In the classic cycle of nature, where there’s prey, predators follow. (Note coyote tail disappearing into the brush.)

After a suitable amount of time, the bunny returns.

What? You didn’t believe me before about the coyote? Couldn’t see him?

Here he is!

Wondering what that clicking sound is.

He hunts through the night. Leaving with dawn and the stirring of our household.

These two are from another night, but I like the sequence.

Last clear shot at 4 am.

And our dog, Zip, investigating the invisible evidence.


I take a lot of photographs, to get the one I want.

This is something I learned a long time ago, from professional photographers. Back then, I thought, well this is something I’ll never do, because film and developing were expensive and was a kid. Seriously. I remember being disappointed in my photos from Girl Scout camp because I could never really capture how things looked. So, I had no funds to devote to getting the right picture and when I did have funds, I still didn’t care enough.

I’m an impatient person. My greatest flaw perhaps? David thinks so. Or at any rate, if he could change one thing about me, that would be it.

Of course, if I got to pick, I’d probably have him be ready to go on time, so there’s a lesson there. Draw your own conclusions.

Still, I’m just not patient with doing one thing multiple times. If I can get away with doing it right the first time, I will. If I can get away with doing it mostly right, or close enough the first time, I will.

The beauty of the digital camera is, I can take lots of photos and easily review and delete them. The downside is, I’m accumulating images. The sunset pic from last night is one of eight I ended up keeping. I had a hard time deciding which to show you.

I don’t like rewriting, either. It feels like retread to me. Back when I typed my papers for college on my Brother Correctronic, I did just that: composed as I typed. One time through and I was done. In my perfect world, I’d write a novel that way, too — beginning to end, one time through.

I know, I know. It’s not a perfect world and I’m not queen of it. Much to my chagrin, I assure you.

So, the New Novel is coming right along, but I’m feeling aggravated with it from time to time because it keeps wriggling and changing under my hands. I thought I was molding one story and it keeps mutating into other things. This is okay, I know. The other writers keep telling me to go with it, let it be what it wants to be, this is magic and so forth.

But what annoys me is: I’m going to have to revise the beginning. Probably multiple times. Gah!

At least I don’t have to do it on paper. Small mercies for an impatient writer.

The Happiest Person You Know

An old flame got in touch with me the other day.

I hadn’t seen or talked to him in over 20 years. And neither had anyone else that I asked. Contrary to my fears, he hadn’t self-destructed. He’d done AA, married, had some kids and fishes a lot.

“I’m the happiest person you know,” he said.

Well, you know me — I want to quibble that two Facebook messages after 20 years doesn’t really count as “knowing” someone. And his happiness is self-reported. I have no way of knowing if he is representing his life accurately or if those things truly make him happy.

But I’m happy for him.

Penelope Trunk posted the other day the culmination of her research on happy lives versus interesting ones. She even has a little quiz to rate your own life. I came out -1, which puts me as “suspiciously well balanced.” Or lacking a self-identity. I’ve never had self-identity issues, but I always come out on this stuff as well-balanced. I’m halfway between right-brain and left-brain, halfway between Type A and Type B. It’s why I call myself a fence-sitter — I’m always on the line in-between.

I could never say that I’m the happiest person you know. Though I am a very happy person. I also think I have an interesting life.

Yesterday, David went for his physical exam. This is a new primary care physician, since we moved here only six months ago. He picked her partly because she has a reputation for being friendly to natural medicine approaches. She, like many people involved in natural medicine and new age spirituality, is very much against alcohol consumption. She told David he should give up alcohol since he’s pre-hypertension (his blood pressure was 124/84 and she feels anything over 120 is too high). David says he enjoys our cocktail hour; enjoys having a drink with dinner and he’s unwilling to give that up. She asked if he needs to drink (don’t they always ask that?) and he said no, but he likes it. Then she said that, since David practices Tai Chi, he should understand that you don’t need alcohol and that you can lift your consciousness through Tai Chi and that’s what Tai Chi is all about. And David said, no, Tai Chi is about moderation. It’s about the middle path.

Sure, we knew plenty of people in our years of training in the Taoist arts who gave up alcohol. David gave up alcohol for two years. I gave it up for weeks and months, doing various purifying gigs. People also totally gave up things like refined sugar, meat, sex. Sometimes you have to give stuff up. Sometimes you’re allergic or addicted and it can’t be in your life because it becomes a poison.

But it’s interesting how people gravitate towards the idea that anything that gives you pleasure is somehow interfering with spiritual development. Is simply bad and wrong.

In the long term, though, it’s hard to say what will contribute most to your life. You might give up all the food and liquor that give you pleasure and live into an ascetic extended old age, but what have you really gained? And what if you get hit by a bus?

As I said, I’m a middle path kind of gal. I gravitate to the health choices that make immediate impacts. Eating right and exercising are not only good for my long-term health, but they make me feel good now. Those choices improve my quality of life. I love a good glass of wine and the occasional brownie, too. Those also contribute to my enjoyment of life.

The happiest people I know? They’re not the ones laboring to give up all bad influences, trying to live forever and become wiser than everyone else. And neither are they the most interesting people I know.

The happy and interesting people are the ones savoring every moment of their lives. Pursuing their passions and savoring the pleasures.

I raise a toast to that!

Breathing Water

This is from Valentine’s Day. Love this dramatic window of sunset. There’s probably better ways of photographing the sun dead on like this, but clearly that knowledge is not mine.

Alas. Still on my list to take a photography class.

Not more important than writing my novel at this time, however.

So, after two days of being full-time writer girl, I haven’t written more than I would on a normal day. I figure if I write about 1,000 words in two hours on a normal day when I also work the day job eight hours, then with six hours of writing time, I should be able to write 5,000 words.

Yes, yes — I know the math comes out to 3,000 words, but I have this dream that the block time will make the word count expand in this glorious exponential way. See, if I could write 5,000 words a day, then a five-day work week would give me 25,000 words, which means I could draft a 100K novel in a month. Give me another month to revise and that would be excellent productivity.

What? You already knew I was a dreamer!

Anyway, I’m not coming close to 3K words, much less 5K. But I am finding that the New Novel is coming together in my head in this most marvelous way.

See, I’ve been bemoaning (mostly to myself) that I haven’t yet written the truly complex novel I want to write. I want to have written Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Avatar (which means I would have written Kushiel’s Dart and Kushiel’s Chosen, too, then brilliantly capped the trilogy with Avatar). I want to have written A.S. Byatt’s Possession or Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game & Speaker for the Dead.

And I have this idea that, in order to write books like that, you have to be able to dreamthink them for long periods of time. Like diving into the lake and living underwater in the mermaid city until you learn to breathe there.

At any rate, that’s what’s happening for me now. Though I spend a fair amount of time staring at the screen and not typing, I am learning to breathe. And this novel is taking shape.

Deep breath.

Me Time

I made the mistake of showing my mother my writing schedule last night.

As I mentioned, I’m practicing being full-time writer this week. I have vacation from the day job and need to get the New Novel underway. It’s a good opportunity to see how I’d set up a professional work schedule without co-workers or daily hours expectations.

One of the main things I’m trying to do is make sure I don’t dink on the internet all day. So I’m allowing myself online windows to check email, talk to people on IM, catch-up on Twitter and Facebook, read blogs and articles, etc. Which is why my mom asked, so she’d know when my online windows are. I pasted her my schedule into IM and she freaked.

Now, granted, people are often taken aback by my spreadsheets. I try to explain it’s that little wedge of Virgo peeking through all the Leo. When I was a grad student, there was a blackboard over my desk that I would draw the semester’s calendar on. I filled it in with all of my classes, office hours, and so forth. One professor, glimpsing it, said it looked like displacement activity to him. Some of it might be. But the practice helps me to get my head around what I want to do.

That’s the key to me: this is all about making sure I’m doing what’s most important to me.

One writer friend, Jeri Smith-Ready, announced on twitter recently that she created a screensaver that scrolled the message: “Is what you’re doing right now more important than writing your novel?”

My mom thought my schedule sounded sad, lacked joy and human contact. She wanted me to show it to David, so he could weigh in on whether I’m crazy. He looked at it and said, “She just doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do.”

Which she confirmed this morning, apologizing via IM during my online window.

I suspect a lot of the full-time writers out there would look at this and say I’m still spending too much time online. I wonder if I’d whittle that down over time.

But then, while I told my mom that David counts as human contact, my online time is the bulk of my social life these days. Quite deliberately so. When we moved, I decided not to join any organizations yet. Which I’m wont to do. I love to join. Then I inevitably end up volunteering to be in charge of stuff and suddenly I’m spending my non-work time on planning charity balls and not writing my novel.

When we moved, I sold my sewing machine and all the fabric I’d stored up, because when I’m quilting, I’m not writing my novel.

I can see how this sounds joyless. But for me it’s about making deliberate choices to do everything I can to get to the point of being a full-time writer. Once there, I can judiciously add back in all of those other things.

It’s difficult for people to understand, I think, the need writers have to build fences around the writing time. I suspect it’s because a person writing looks like they’re doing nothing that can’t be interrupted. Just a quick question. Can you do this one thing. The non-writers don’t know how long it takes to get the flow going and how the voice breaking in totally disrupts it. Soon to be published writer Allison Pang is facing this now. She’ll be doing revisions on her current novel, plus outlining and drafting the next two, plus working on a totally different story that she loves. All this while working her full-time job and raising two young children with a husband whose job takes him away from the house a lot. I keep telling her she’s going to have to get mean (not in her nature), carve out that writing time and fence it off. That probably sounds joyless, too.

What it comes down to is, when you want the big prize, you have to sacrifice to get it. Not a lamb or a pound of flesh. What you sacrifice is some of the other things that you decide aren’t as important as writing your novel right now. What will those things be? Individual and carefully chosen.

It’s the question wanna-be writers ask all the time: how do I find the time to write? The short answer is, you don’t. You have to scratch and claw it out of all the other things in your life that compete. You make what other people see as joyless choices.

Fortunately, in the end, the writing itself is a surpassing joy.