Moon over China

I’ve been kind of mad at the Chinese lately.

I know this isn’t a reasonable thing to say. I also I’m not alone in my sentiment.

China, their products and philosophy about them have become a huge part of our lives. Individual, corporate or government decisions to add poisonous supplements have affected even our beloved pets. A lot of this comes down to the Chinese having a very different perspective on the world. Many of their values are simply not the same. I know this.

There’s a Chinese philosophy called Hei-Ho. It’s a martial strategy, really. Basically the idea is that however you can win is fair to do. Whatever gives you and edge over your opponent is good. Ethics don’t apply. I think this kind of idea underlies a lot of Chinese choices we don’t understand, like adding poisonous melamine to spike the apparent protein content in a food. If it sells the food, then good, and too bad for the person you’ve tricked.

Then, yesterday, I read this article, which made me want to get on a plane and go feed a few zoo managers to the tigers. Basically a mass grave of 40 rare and endangered animals was found at a Chinese zoo. Financially strapped, the managers decided to feed the big cats bean cakes instead of the more expensive meat. It sounds absurd, but I know how they were thinking. I worked with a bunch of Chinese grad students for a while, and one asked David to look at her fish, because it seemed sick. He took one look and said it was malnourished. She said that couldn’t be, she fed it everyday. When he asked what, she said noodles. Good noodles like she makes for her family. David explained that the fish needed protein. She argued. If noodles were good enough for her family, they were good enough for her fish. This gal was a PhD student in Engineering.

If people can live on bean cakes, so can tigers. Meat is a luxury.

So I was angry about this yesterday. Grieving for the beautiful animals so dependent on people who are foolish at best and cruel at worst.

In the late afternoon I set up my new patio furniture. Which is, of course, made in China.

It came in boxes, in pieces, for me to assemble. Each piece was wrapped, first in careful origami-like folded paper, then in bubble wrap, then taped into cardboard pieces to protect it. Two pieces were joined together with a tie for stability, but the knot was set up so I only had to pull one end and it slipped apart with simple elegance.

I started thinking about the person who tied that knot for me. Who took such meticulous pride in wrapping the paper around the metal arms, so they wouldn’t be scratched. I’m thinking it was probably one of those country folks we read about. The ones who go work in the city and see their families maybe once a year, if there’s a spot on a crowded train. People like the employees at the zoo who told reporters still more animals are close to death, but who have no choice but to feed them what they’re told to.

We went to Scotland a few years ago, at the height of worldwide anti-American sentiment. We were nervous that people would say mean things to us. But no one did. People did ask us about American politics, but they always put it in terms of what our government was doing. It’s possible the Scots understand better than most that the government isn’t the people, but we were grateful that they took for granted that what Bush & Cheney said didn’t necessarily reflect how we saw the world.

I suppose that’s why it’s ridiculous for me to be mad at the Chinese. Being part of the world means connecting person by person, not in great swaths of judgment.

Thank you, unknown Chinese person – I really like my new patio furniture.

Luscious Luddites

If the Harvest Moon rises like a big pumpkin, then the Worm Moon sets like a peach. The April moon is the Pink Moon. We’ll have to see if it’s any pinker than this.

I wasn’t on the internet much over the weekend. Not really on purpose. On Saturday I did my writing and booked out fairly early for a day of power-shopping for patio furniture with a friend, along with lunch at the Guadalupe Cafe. It involved a lot of back-and-forthing and comparisoning. By the time I got home, with an enormous box of pool lounger wedged into the back of the convertible, I was tired. We did cocktails and movie-watching.

Never did turn on the laptop again.

Then Sunday was for grocery-shopping and the purchase of the rest of the patio furniture that I hadn’t wanted to go back and buy on Saturday, because it would have meant leaving the aforementioned enormous box in my convertible in the parking lot. Then there was yet another trip back and forth, attempting to wedge more enormous boxes into too-small vehicles.

After that I spent the afternoon assembling patio furniture, hanging outdoor art and cleaning up the yard. It felt good to be outside in the sun. I learned how to drill through stucco. I did not do anything on my electronic To-Do list.

And it was good.

Someone mentioned on Twitter the other day that people had noted conversations were slow these days. Being my flip self, I asked if she meant the people or the medium. She said both. Then offered that perhaps, with the warming weather, people were spending more time outside.

That’s okay, I think. It’s good to walk away from the internet and spend some time in the sun.

I’ve received a lot of interesting feedback on Saturday’s post about Kindle vs. iPad. The comments on the post give good insight to the mind of the reader. On Twitter, one techie blogger said that I might be the first person to fault the iPad for allowing me to multitask, but also called my post an “intelligent article.” So I didn’t say that I can hardly be the first to think so, I just might be one of the first to publicly complain about it.

I was surprised though, how many people contacted me to say they agreed – that for them reading is the last refuge from multi-input activities. It’s a time to settle and concentrate on one thing.

It should be noted these are all readers. People who love to read and want to enjoy it.

RoseMarie sent me this really interesting study that she thought would shed some light on the real market for the iPad. She’s right: they want the universities. The study tested out what would become the Kindle DX in several college classes. This is an interesting finding:

During the time of the study, the retail price of the Kindle DX was $489. Other eReader pricing varied from $199 to $859.13 When students were asked if they would purchase a Kindle DX (or other dedicated eReader) for academic use, they indicated that the price would need to drop dramatically –– to less than $100 –– in order for them to seriously consider purchasing one. However, many students suggested that they would be willing to spend considerably more for a multi-function device, such as a tablet or netbook, if it eliminated the need to own a laptop (and if it were as comfortable as an eReader for prolonged reading).

Multi-function device, eh? And a very juicy market.

A couple of other things to note from the study are that students found they concentrated better with an eReader that removed the temptation to check email or surf the web and that some of the students noted that they didn’t experience eyestrain reading on the computer. That’s notable to me because Kev has argued with me that it’s a generational thing, that the younger people don’t mind reading on the computer. I think eye strain is eye strain and they’re just still too young to really feel the impact. But we shall see.

What’s becoming clear to me is that the recreational reader isn’t really on the marketing radar here.

I don’t want to become yet another person proclaiming the death of publishing, but I think this approaches the core of the issues with books and readers. The people who sell stuff, the black-magic marketers, want to simplify books into a commodity. That’s their job. Sell the product they want to sell for the price they want. But books don’t fall neatly into the commodity-niche. They are essentially immaterial – a story, a feeling, a time in a different head or a different world.

Reading is, in the end, solitary and intimate.

Maybe I’m naive, but I’m not sure I believe you can sell that.

Guerilla Marketing

This morning, when I signed onto my laptop, an incorrect password error message flashed — and I realized I’d typed in my main character’s name from the New Novel, instead of my password.

I’m taking this as a positive sign. Or at least, a sign of the right kind of writerly craziness.

It feels good, actually, once you reach that level of immersion in the novel. That’s the point where it starts to feel more like it’s writing itself instead of you eking out each word, begging it to move forward. Forcing things to happen. Once the momentum kicks in, it seems things begin to happen on their own and you’re just there explaining it to the reader.

Which is fun.

Not so fun is this phenomenon I’m witnessing about the iPad, which is supposed to be the new tech toy. I’ve being seeing lots of stuff like this. Note that the headline is “iPad Killed Kindelnomics.” Then remember that, oh wait, iPad hasn’t been released yet. And then note that this a guy’s blog. This “article” is no different than me proclaiming that no one is buying chocolate ice cream anymore because everyone likes this new flavor of pistachio better. Never mind that very few people have even tasted the new flavor.

A lot of these sorts of these have been circulating through Twitter and various publishing venues. Some even have these graphs that supposedly show how Kindle users are giving up their Kindles and buying iPads. The statistics behind them are indecipherable. I’m starting to wonder if they’re not completely fictional.

Maybe everyone knows this but me, but I think Apple has been encouraging an army of tech bloggers to push public opinion in favor of the iPad. It keeps hitting me wrong because I have a Kindle 2, which I love. I have absolutely no desire to acquire an iPad. Actually I have no interest in it at all. I have a laptop (two, actually, one for work and one for personal), a Blackberry, a Kindle and an iPod. Their overlapping functionality more than fulfill all of my tech needs.

What I love most about my Kindle is it feels more like reading a book instead of being forever on the computer. I love that the screen is not backlit, so I can read for hours without eye-strain. I love that using my Kindle is only about reading, not multitasking.

Wasn’t that the point?

I mean, a few years back, I remember answering surveys about an ebook reader and what would it take me to convert from paper to electronic. Those were the major points that it seemed all readers offered. And Amazon developed the Kindle exactly along those lines. Everyone I know with a Kindle loves it. One person, a prominent blogger, doesn’t like the lack of organization of the books on it – which is an issue I don’t get because I can always find what I want.

So, the always-evolving, always-competing tech world wants to convince me that what I wanted most in an ereader isn’t what I wanted at all, that I’m not satisfied. Despite their creative representation of the world, I don’t think the techies will convince most readers either. The editors and agents may want greater ability to annotate, but the mass of people out there who just READ, who love BOOKS and not computers, don’t think this way.

Of course, none of them read techie blogs, either.

It seems to me to be the one thing forever being left out of the equation: the reader. Which is ironic, since we all started out that way. Writers may love to use the saw “I wrote my first book when I was seven in purple crayon,” but they should really mention when they read their first book. Or when it was read to them.

My mom used to read to me, every night. She stopped when I started reading over her shoulder and correcting her when she missed words. She finally handed me the book – I remember it being Charlotte’s Web, but that seems awfully pat – and said I was ready to fly the reading nest.

That opened the world of books to me. Any book would fall before me. I could consume it at will, yanked away only for meals and school.

Isn’t that where we all started? Nose buried in a book.

Don’t offer me a better way to multitask. I just want to read.

Spring Cleaning

No, it’s sunny and warm today. This pic is from a few days ago.

Sometime soon, this weekend maybe, I’m going to cut off those seed pods. The gillia need tending also. And the whole secret garden needs clearing out. Time to clear the way for the new.

So, yesterday, I held to my ritual and I did not turn on my phone until after I finished my wordcount. Then I turned on the Blackberry and watched the email messages stack up. And then, wow! A voice mail!

I confess I felt a thrill, dialing in waiting for the voice of RWA to tell me that I’m a special unique snowflake.

But no.


Yes, the office supply place that has never, ever called me before, calling to warn me that my order had been delayed until 3/25. For those keeping track at home, yesterday was 3/25.

Just a little cruel jab from the universe, mocking my little dreams.

And apparently the universe couldn’t get enough of the joke: I received two more calls yesterday morning, both from numbers I didn’t recognize, one being a wrong number and the other being Staples, AGAIN. This from a cell phone that doesn’t ring for days.

The great lottery goes on. Allison didn’t final either, with the manuscript that just snagged her an agent and a three-book deal, so that gives you an idea of how well a contest like this predicts publishability. Amusingly, blogger doesn’t believe that’s a word.

An agent who has my manuscript Tweeted from the Bologna Book Fair that what’s “in” are angels, zombies and dystopias. None of which are in Obsidian. I envision that all across Twitterville, writers were brainstorming post-Apocalyptic landscapes with zombie angels.

Nothing new under the sun. Chasing after the wind. Don’t call me angel of the morning.

Staples called me one more time in the late afternoon, asking if my order had arrived. I said, why no, but I was in no hurry. He asked me what time it was for me and I said 4:09. He told me the driver had until 5 to deliver the package. Okay, I said, though did I mention I don’t care. He tells me that by law he’s required to make sure it gets delivered by 5.

I’m wondering if this is part of the Health Care Reform.

After all this? No, my printer ink never arrived. Not that I care, since I’m all set right now and was planning ahead for when the ink in the printer runs out. I imagine that, when I turn on my phone, I’ll have a voice mail from them.

I’m thinking about submitting my manuscript to Staples. At least I can be sure they’ll call.


It’s a Major Award.

Today is an exciting day in the romancey community. RWA is a well-oiled machine, as you have to be for a major advocacy group with over 10,000 members. Today is the day RWA announces the finalists for the Golden Heart Awards for unpublished writers and the Rita Awards for published writers.

There are multiple categories such as single-title contemporary (that would be your standard Nora Roberts/Linda Howard novel), or series (such as Harlequin), or paranormal, or romantic suspense and so forth.

Everyone submitted their books or manuscripts back in December and now all the judging is in (from fellow RWA members). Finalists are notified today and the winners will be announced at the big awards ceremony at the RWA National Convention in July.

That’s when you get to see Nora in her Ferragamos accepting her trophies.

All across the internet, there are blog parties today. People chime in when they’ve heard that they finalled and others comment to congratulate. The people you don’t hear from are the ones still clutching their cell phones, waiting for it to ring.

A lot of hope out there today, swirling through the interwebs.

Which means there will also be disappointment. A lot of phones won’t ring.

Golden Heart, particularly, can be held up by the unpubbed writers as the pinnacle of success. It’s a particularly nice deal in that, if you are a finalist, you get first pick of the agent and editor pitch appointments at the convention. Theoretically they’ll take you more seriously, having been vetted by your colleagues.

But that only points up that the Golden Heart is only an intermediate step to the REAL prize: publication. Which is the whole point, after all. At least for the upubs. Clearly all those Rita finalists are hoping for another level of validation, likely just as crucial to them. Maybe more so.

I’ve seen several “studies” – bloggers doing informal surveys of Golden Heart winners – to see if there was a correlation between winning or finalling and publication. The answer, as always, is yes and no. It looks to me like it helps, but it’s far from a sinecure.

Like all contests, it can be wonderful validation from your peers, but it really doesn’t put your book before readers’ eyes. Readers who will pay you to eat so you can keep giving them stories, much less readers who will give you enough money to buy Ferragamos.

I don’t know if I’ll check into the blog parties or not. I’m keeping my phone off until my writing is done. That part must remain sacred, as it’s the core of it all.

It’s hard to wait. Hard to rest your hopes on whether someone gave you a score of 7 or 9, or even an 8.8. You take a little piece of your heart and lay it on the marble slab under the judges critical eye.

But, in the end, an award is only what it means to you. Even a Major Award.

Even if it’s Italian.

Slow Growth

Agents often seem to admonish writers to be patient.

It’s one of their core themes of advice to aspiring writers and, I feel sure, to the authors they’ve signed to work with. The industry moves slowly, they say. Give them time to work.

This advice is, naturally, also self-serving. It’s a nice way of saying “don’t bug me.” Fair enough. Agents and editors juggle a lot of balls and reading takes time.

What they don’t think about, it seems to me, is that we’ve already exercised tremendous patience.

If slow and steady wins the race, then the writers are trailing over the finish line well after the tortoise is in the club bar celebrating. Writing is an incremental craft. It’s like building stalagmites with the water of your soul. You flood the page with words and hope a few stick. Day by day, you watch the wordcount gradually increase. Then you see something formed wrong and you knock off a chunk, and let the words accrete again.

Once your pillar of salts has grown large enough and seems done, you polish and carve. It feels like you’re using your fingernails to do it.

Then, after all of those hours alone with your creation, you package it up and send it out into the world, to find out if anyone else thinks it’s neat enough to pay you for it.

And they tell you to learn patience.

All you can do in the end, really, is not bug them.

Flower Arranging Fail

This is kind of a “fat guy in a little coat” joke of a bouquet.

(See the clip from Tommy Boy, if you don’t know what I mean.)

But I love how daffodils look in this blue vase. How was I to know the blooms at the new house would be way too short for my favorite daffy vase? I suppose I could have predicted it, since the length of the flower stem from a bulb plant is directly proportional to the amount of time it’s been frozen. Thus in Laramie we had “leggy” tulips; in Santa Fe, the daffys are short.

These are, however, the first daffodils of the season and thus to be celebrated.

And, yes, I’ll go dig out another vase for them. The color contrast won’t be as good, but they won’t look quite so swallowed up. One has to trade off, now and again, to get the best possible result.

Writers often debate balancing dialogue with narrative, the advantages and disadvantages of first person vs. third. Everyone wants to find the magic formula. Over time, one discovers that there’s no such thing. There are no rules, only general guidelines. And even those guidelines can lead you astray.

Unpublished writers tend to be much harsher critics as contest judges than published ones are. They’re much more likely to cite a raft of “thou shalt nots” and rank a manuscript low if commit the sin of transgression. Published writers more often focus on the story itself, and whether it works. They’re more likely to understand that you’re really going for the yellow and blue contrast. They might point out the vase is too large, but if the whole thing is pretty, who cares?

Sometimes, it makes the joke.


It’s amazing the results you can get, when you give something what it needs.

The trick is, figuring out what that is.

This little Madagascar Palm is our Exhibit A for flourishing in our new environment. The picture on the left is one I took this morning and the one on the right was from last summer. Yes, I did repot it into a much bigger planter (which was free with Bunny Bucks from Jackalope – woo hoo! love this town!), but the palm demanded repotting within a few weeks of our moving here, it was growing so large, so fast.

I should also mention that the picture on the right is pretty much how that palm looked for something like 15 years. I kid you not. In the early years of our relationship, when we had practically no money, David and I would take road trips for spring break. We’d head to the desert Southwest to get as warm as possible as quickly as possible. Often we’d end up somewhere in Nevada where the casinos provided very cheap lodging. (Harrah’s in Laughlin for $19 per night – ah, sweet nostalgia.)

We would also buy cactus.

It sounds funny now. I don’t know why we liked to buy cactus. Except that they were unusual plants that we didn’t see in Laramie. And they were inexpensive and fun. We bought quite a few over the years and most died. The Madagascar Palm hung on, but now I suspect it was kind of in stasis. The palm version of cryogenic freezing, in hopes of being awakened in a better future.

Several people made interesting comments on my last post, about changing the physicality of writing when you get stuck.

Keena said she does as Marin suggested, and actually does move to paper and writing out longhand. Marin mentioned a writer who always writes longhand because it slows him down, causing him to be more careful. This is a diametrically opposite approach to the “fast draft” or “shitty first draft” method that many writers like to use today.

I suppose the point is that sometimes you have to mix it up. Try new things and see how they work.

You never know what might make you really flourish.

It’s Not Easy Deleting

Yesterday I started off my writing day by deleting all but nine of the words I’d written the day before.

Now, this isn’t as bad as it sounds, since I’d only written 339 words the day before. Each one extracted like a bad tooth and laboriously typed. Over something like two hours. It just was not working.

There are two schools of thought on what this kind of wall means: either you’ve taken a wrong turn and the work is telling you by resisting or that you’re up against something really important and you have to punch through to the other side.

There lies the conundrum.

How do you know how long to keep chipping at the wall, looking for that little glimpse of Shangri-La on the other side? At some point you’re no longer making progress, you’re just banging your head against a brick wall and the only thing chipping is your skull.

Eventually I gave up at my pitiful 339 words. After all, I do have a day job. I looked at it the next morning and couldn’t bear to try to make that scene work any more. Made my head hurt just to look at it. So I deleted everything up to the previous scene. Kalayna Price, who’s a supportive friend, as well as a terrific writer, said she hoped that the nine words I saved were at least really good ones. (I, of course, had to tweet my ignominious beginning.) It’s a nice thought, but I don’t know — they must have been incidental edits to the previous scene.

This is a bit of a cheat, to delete before I officially start for the day. I figure my wordcount on a daily and weekly basis. (Have I ever mentioned I love spreadsheets?) At the start of my writing day, I put in the current wordcount of my manuscript. Then, as I write, I can watch the wordcount go up until I reach my target. This is why drafting can be more rewarding than editing — I hate negative wordcounts. So I deleted before I began, so I wouldn’t have to overcome the negative 330 to make my daily goal. It’ll show up in the weekly goal, but there it is.

Marin, who has a knitting blog that’s actually about knitting today, because she made this super-cool alligator sweater, responded that knitters call what I’d done “frogging.” Why? Because you rip-it, rip-it, rip-it.

Those knitters are a wild and crazy crowd, I tell you.

But I love this analogy, the physicality of it. I don’t knit, but I do quilt. I know that moment when you look at the thing in your hands and you realize that it’s gone wrong. You made a mistake a ways back and the only way to get to it is to rip out everything from that point forward. At least in writing, thanks to the blessings of word processing, you can cut the scene and stick it in a little folder, just in case.

(And, every once in a while, you get to raid the outtakes and pop them back into the document, which makes the wordcount zoom up in a tremendously gratifying way. Okay – it’s not an exciting lifestyle.)

When a thing is physical, when you can look at the rows of loops and stitches, you can see where the error is. With a novel that arguably exists only in your head, it’s harder to discern where the mistake lies. Or even that it really is a mistake.

At some point, you just have to go with your gut.

And hit the frogging with as much grace as you can muster.


LaTessa commented on my Spring Snow post that she’d recently flown over New Mexico — on her way from Memphis to Vegas.

(Of course, her main point was that she couldn’t figure out what all the white stuff on the ground was, but we won’t go there. The woman is stressed and suffers from various delusions. We all just look the other way.)

But I think a lot of people fly over northern New Mexico. The contrails at sunset are spectacular. This is a bit like noting that increased pollution makes sunsets more dramatic, and that a nuclear blast would REALLY liven up the skies. It makes for a happier life to just enjoy the pretty. Whether the condensation trails from airplanes have a serious impact on global climate change is just one more thing I can’t think about. I’m already scrutinizing all of my plastics to see if the (frequently illegible) number on the bottom makes it recyclable or not.

It makes sense, though that there are so many planes flying over our piece of the world — we are on a direct route to Las Vegas and most of southern California, as well as Mexico to all points northerly. There’s a phrase, even – “the flyover states” – coined by the people who fly from, say, New York City to Los Angeles. Oh yes, it’s a a term of contempt, lumping together all the people who don’t live in the major, urban coastal cities and who therefore develop unsophisticated ideas.

It doesn’t help that there are a lot of people in those states with poorly reasoned ideas. Not that there aren’t a few in those coastal, urban centers, too.

It’s easy to fly over and forget what the experience on the ground is like. We forget that other people’s lives aren’t exactly like our own. We might know it, in our heads, but our hearts forget. We get caught up in the tumult of our own lives, the daily concerns, sorting the plastic recyclables, admire the sunset and hope the contrails aren’t really such a bad thing.

Every once in a while, we notice that someone else has snow.