We Photograph Light

If I was organized, I’d keep a list of which photos I’ve used on the blog before.

In fact, feeling a surge of organizational enthusiasm, I just started a spreadsheet to track them. I know you’re relieved. Though we walk through the Valley of Chaos, we fear no disorganization, for Excel is by my side.

Okay, yeah, I had fun at the photography class last night.

After I reluctantly dragged myself to it. Working from home, I’ve developed a disconcerting tendency to not want to leave the house. Not to mention in the evening, after a full day of writing and day job. Somehow it feels like so much effort.

Which I know is lame and pathetic.

Fabulous class, really. One thing I should remember about myself is that I’m an auditory learner. My reading comprehension is decent, but there’s nothing like having someone EXPLAIN something to me. Also this guy, Steven Walenta, clearly teaches this Digital Photography class for the Continuing Education end of Santa Fe Community College quite a lot. He had clear, informative slides, took his time and showed patience for all questions.

One of my favorite things he said: We photograph light.

Of course, we kind of know this already, right? We only “see” objects because of the photons bouncing off of them and back to our eyes. So we don’t photograph the rain chain, for example, but rather the light bouncing off the rain chain. This changes how you make decisions about your camera settings.

Suddenly it all makes sense to me.

Oddly, I was the youngest person in the class, with the possible exception of a woman with some kind of Scandinavian accent. She also had gorgeous Scandinavian skin, so I’m not positive of her age bracket. The rest of the ladies – yes, all women taking this class – were more in their 50s and 60s. Do the younger people all understand their cameras already? One of my twitter friends, Chudney, suggested that many people don’t pursue their interests until later in life and I’m ahead of the game. Which is a lovely spin.

But why no men in the class?

In my previous snarky literary circles, and yes, they were famous for being snarky – that’s how you could tell they were literary – authors would bitch about “all the middle-aged ladies” taking writing workshops. Oh, I’ve seen and heard the most disdainful remarks about how these women have money and nothing to do with themselves. Some of these “vacation-type” writers workshops you see now and again that look obscenely expensive? Yes, targeting this type of student.

The implication, of course, is that these are lesser humans, who will never achieve what the teacher has. But we’ll take their money, anyway.

Instead, I find them admirable. They’re dragging themselves out to an evening class to learn something new and intimidating. I think I’m overwhelmed by my new camera? How about the lady in her late 60s/early 70s who’s never downloaded a photograph to a computer?

I watched Steven move around the room, helping people find the settings on their cameras. Never impatient, never disdainful, even though he must have explained pixels ten-thousand times before, he showed a gift for teaching what he knew. And a pleasure in his subject.

The literary snarks could learn something from this.


What are you going to be for Halloween?

A friend of mine mentioned on Twitter the other day that it was already time to start thinking about Halloween costumes. I knew she meant for her daughter, but she and I have been friends since 1st grade. So, I replied, “What are you going to be for Halloween this year?”

The question echoes through all our years of growing up. There was a time in all our lives when that was a crucial question. A major decision. Should I be a cat or a witch?

Once you made your choice for the year, you had to live with it. It defined that time. That was the year I was a Hula Girl. Remember the year I wanted to be a hatching chick and Leo made me the papier-mache egg costume?

Of course, school made it a big deal, what with the parades and parties. Halloween night in Denver tended to be a bit of a bust, since it usually snowed, forcing us to cover our costumes with parkas and scarves. But we were better off than some places who didn’t allow trick-or-treating at all.

I recall how reluctantly we gave up the costumes and the childhood attachment to what we would “be.” In middle school our parents informed us we were too old to go trick-or-treating. Sure we could have parties, but costumes were often out. A new sense had emerged that dressing up for Halloween was uncool. Costumes were silly. Even today, there are adults who flatly refuse to wear costumes for anything at all. Too much effort. Too embarrassing. Inside them, I know there must be children who pondered with enthusiasm and excitement just which fabulous creature to be for Halloween.

The question was an echo, also, of the one every adult asked us: What are you going to be when you grow up?

To which we were often handed a pre-established list of choices. The eternal round of doctor, fireman, teacher, nurse. The Halloween question we asked each other and the answers were infinite. Never mind how many Mutant Ninja Turtles there were in the heyday. Every princess became a unique snowflake. Every pirate had a particular style. In our imaginations, we became beautiful and valiant, terrifying and strong.

We became more than what we were.

What would it be like, I wonder, if we carried that tradition all our lives? I would love to hear adults turning to each other in September and asking, what will you be for Halloween? Recall the childhood rules: you can’t repeat a costume, cuz that’s lame. You can’t be the same thing as your sister or your friend, unless it’s a group theme.

Most important: have fun and let your imagination run wild.

The Sparks Fly Upward

Hi all – Please welcome my dear friend, Laura Bickle to today’s blog!

I’m privileged to host the debut of her second book in the Anya Kalinczyk series: SPARKS. Anya is an arson investigator with a most unusual familiar.

Let me tell you, you’ll never think about fire salamanders in the same way.

Please welcome Laura and make her feel at home. I just love the post she wrote for us today. As a special treat, I’m giving my own copy of Sparks to a random commenter who says what being in love means to them.

Welcome Laura!

Writing a book is a lot like being in love – good and bad.

Initially, there’s infatuation. The flush and excitement of a new idea. This is the easy part – words flow effortlessly. I can spend hours researching or daydreaming about how fabulous the idea is. I make notes, sketches, maps, cut clippings from magazines – I’ve met my characters, and am deliriously in love with everything they say. The project is, I believe, invincible.

It brings me flowers. I glow.

Then, somewhere around the 30,000 word mark, the infatuation fades. I begin to see the flaws, the inconsistencies, the cracks in the foundation of plot. I’m rolling over in the morning and staring at a book with bad breath that snores. It chews with its mouth open and forgets to say “excuse me” when it farts. It doesn’t bring me flowers anymore. It’s comfortable. Maybe too comfortable.

I sit in bed, staring at the book, wondering what to do. Should I abandon it for a newer, sexier idea? They’re always dancing around in my periphery, seductively whispering: “Choose me.”

But I know that it would be the same. I can choose another idea, but in a few weeks, I’ll be at the same place, the shiny newness and rose petals replaced by snores and scratching.

At this time, I’ve got to decide to be committed to the project, to see it through — even though my story is showing me its scraggly, unwashed underbelly. The challenge is to fall into a routine of writing that isn’t new or exhilarating — it’s to focus on the entirety of the work, good and bad, and love it enough to finish.

There are moments that test my patience. A character proves utterly useless around 50,000 words and is savagely eliminated. A timeline problem emerges that requires my heroine to be in two places at once. A loose plot thread dangles with no end in sight. But we get through it.

There are moments that are sublime. Keystrokes fly by through the last chapter. Edits clean the story up nicely, and all of a sudden, my story is standing before me. It’s shaved, holding a bouquet of flowers.

I feel the old love for it again. Not the infatuation of the beginning. But deep affection, knowing that we’ve weathered the writing process and have come out the other side of it victorious.

I straighten its tie, kiss it on the cheek, and send it out into the world. I hope that others will love it as much as I do.

-Laura Bickle has worked in the unholy trinity of politics, criminology, and technology for several years. She and her chief muse live in the Midwest, owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. More information on her urban fantasy novels is available at www.salamanderstales.com.


If the light is right, even an ant casts a long shadow.

This is very deep, I know, for a Monday. But isn’t it cool how the ant-shadow has more visual substance than the ant itself?

I feel certain this means something.

It’s funny to me that, after seriously pursuing writing for about 14 years now, I’m still discovering new things about my process. It shouldn’t surprise me, because that is one way to define an art over a craft or simple production. An art should evolve and change over time, growing as the artist grows. Craft or production is simply producing the same thing over and over.

The martial artists talk about this. In simple exercise, you might engage in the same routine over and over. A martial art, such as Tai Chi or Pakua, should change over time as the practitioner’s understanding changes, as new aspects are discovered and old ones discarded as no longer useful.

I’ve never been much of a reviser. I produce pretty clean drafts, which has always enabled me to skate by with the revising.

Yeah, I’m lazy.

But this new novel, The Body Gift, I knew I’d have to revise. It’s complex, with many layers. I also think it’s pretty good and I want it to really shine. As soon as I finished, I planned to turn around and revise.

And I just could not do it.

This surprised me, because when I have revised stuff before, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Print out. Read out loud. Proof read. Incorporate reader comments. Bim bam boom. Not like it was rocket science or anything.

It was worse. Which is saying something because I am not an engineer by any stretch.

I found that I’d really drained my well and had nothing left to work with. I had no choice but to put the manuscript in the proverbial drawer. My readers had it anyway. I had other things to do. Fine then.

Now I’ve discovered that, after spending a month in the dark drawer, the book is ready for revising. I have perspective on it that I lacked before. Gone are all the swirly, lovely, pleased feelings I swam in while writing. Like wine fermented in the bottle, the book had ripened into something of its own. Something I can work with.

Kind of neat, actually.

All from just a different change in the light.

Scaredy Cat

Something frightened Isabel last night.

It was one of those nights anyway, when all the animals are on the move, inexplicably to humans. I could hazard guesses why. We had a good rain the night before, for the first time in quite a while. The rain brought welcome relief, dampening the dust and refreshing all the grasses and shrubs that had been curing for days and days in the relentless dry breezes. Not unlike a convection oven. Makes for pleasant weather for people, not so great for the natural world. Also, we’re at the new moon, so the night was dark and cool.

We noticed the animal activity in the evening. On our walk, we saw a young bull snake lying in the road, soaking up the heat. We gently chased it off the road, so it wouldn’t get run over by the people zooming home from work. Then, walking back up a different road, on the other side of the greenbelt, we saw an identical bull snake, also lying in the road. When a nest of snakes hatches, the young tend to radiate out in all directions, scattering to maximize survival of at least a few. We coaxed that one off the road also. Finally, we saw a Jerusalem cricket on the blacktop path. If you’ve never seen one, they’re seriously funky. I didn’t have my camera, but here’s a pic from bugguide.net. That’s about the size of my palm, by the way.

Bizarre creature, no?

The evening passed without further incident, until I woke sometime around three in the morning to an odd scrabbling sound. I thought the kitties had brought a mouse in from the garage, via the cat door. It was a lot of loud scrabbling and I realized Teddy was curled up next to me on the bed, so I finally got up to investigate. But no, Isabel was sound asleep on the back of the chair in the living room. Following the sounds, I discovered that the dog, Zip, had trapped himself in my shower, where he goes when he’s frightened. By “trapped” I mean that he was behind the shower curtain, circling in an endless frenzy. Fortunately I had the power to sweep aside the silk curtain and free him.

Not always the brightest dog.

I get back in bed and may have fallen asleep. David and I both heard coyotes howling, which isn’t unusual. Then Isabel leapt on the bed, which isn’t unusual either, except that she wouldn’t lay down and vibrated with tension. She leapt off again. I heard her throwing up and figured her for hairballs. She jumped on the bed again, acting frantic and had some moisture on her, then dashed off again.

Half asleep – by now it’s four in the morning – I get visions of Isabel being ill and puking up blood. I finally get up again and search the house for her. I find where she threw up a bunch of water. No hairballs in sight. I finally find her in my bathroom (clearly the place to be last night), standing on her hind legs on my sink counter with her head under the little half-curtain that screens the window. When she looks at me, her pupils are so dilated the black swallows up all the color in her eyes.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

So I sat on the floor and she crawled onto my lap finally, curled up and purring. She settled somewhat, though the nictating membrane was covering her eyes to protect them from the bathroom light, since her pupils were still so dilated.

My best guess is she saw a pack of coyotes. She’s seen one at a time before. We know because we’ve taken photos of them on the porch. I love the one on top because I think it captures him throwing his head back to howl. And it reminds me of that scene from Jacob’s Ladder (which I know is a really old movie now, but it freaked me out at the time). Here’s a more clear shot of him.

Isabel finally settled down. We all went back to sleep, though David and I are a bit groggy this morning. I’m actually contemplating driving into town for a Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Latte. Probably a 45-minute round-trip. How desperate am I? Hmm…

Frankly, though I hated to see her so frightened, I’m not sorry that Isabel got a scare. She needs to be afraid of the predators. She tends to think she is a predator and forgets she can be prey, too.

Sometimes a little fear can be educational.

Red Moon and Good Dreams

Full moon rising over the harbor at Newport.

Because it was in August, it was the Red Moon. Aptly named. I’d had an idea that I’d try to blog all the full moons for the next year, but then I went and missed the first one due to vacation lassitude. I’ll make it up with the September moon.

You’ll see.

I had the best dream last night. One of those dreams that are so lovely, I’m still riding on the happy wave of it.

And, oh yeah, it was total wish-fulfillment.

I dreamed the agent that I mailed my first 100 pages to the other day called me and said she wanted to visit me to talk about my book. She came to my house and I had to pull the book from the library that had her critique notes in it. She told me they were in the Ignatius volume.

(Um, no, I have no idea what any of that means. It was a dream, okay?)

She pronounced it Ignashus and I thought maybe it should be Ignateeus, since it was Latin, but I didn’t say anything. She had me also read my synopsis to her, which I’d written on lettuce leaves. (Doesn’t everyone?) That one, I think could be related to the fact that she tweets about lunch a fair amount.

At any rate, it was wonderful, validating and everything I hope will happen. I knew that my book would be published and published well. I woke up feeling happy about it.

I’m still happy.

Even though I only mailed it on Tuesday, so I know it’s all wishing, even if it comes from the heart.

Still, Snow White is dancing around and singing, cartoon bluebirds flitting about.

Lovely day.


A new sighting on the wildlife camera! The rare literary lava iguana, also known as a LEEZard.

Yeah, okay, it’s a running joke.

The difficult thing about inside jokes is, they evolve over time and are thus difficult to explain to those who weren’t part of the (often punchy) process. And then, when you do explain, it’s usually not funny anyway.

But I’ll try. Because *I* think it’s funny.

It started when I first moved to Santa Fe a year ago. David got a night-vision camera and set it up to see what all wildlife was coming up on our porch at night. I was messing with him by putting up my little purple iguana beanie doll that Val brought me from Australia in front of the camera as a “sighting.” I thought I was SUPER DUPER funny and he erased the picture. I blogged about it, of course.

At this same time, I was spending morning writing time in the FFP water cooler – an online chat room where we gather to write. We write for an hour or half-hour and check in to compare word counts, cheer or commiserate. In this odd pattern, my internet would tank regularly sometime around 9 am, every damn morning, kicking me out of the chatroom. My critique partner KAK speculated that it was the lizard.

Really – it got to be very funny.

But it all peaked one night when KAK and I were IMing feedback to each other about our current novels. I told her I didn’t care if her heroine did have lizard-like scales, the biologist in me didn’t buy that she could swim in lava and not be affected. It turned out that she wasn’t lizardy at all, but more feline and I’d completely misinterpreted the descriptions. KAK accused me of lizard bias. I pointed out that felines were even LESS likely to survive a lava-swim. She told me I needed to tell the reader how to pronounce some of my bizarre words, which I find it awkward to do without breaking that fourth wall.

Hey reader! You pronounce it like this! You see my point?

But just then I saw an excerpt from someone’s published novel where the hero, Gunnar, tells the heroine, in his husky bedroom voice as he stalks towards her, gleaming and naked, “you pronounce it GOOnar.”

I know, right?

Oh, GOOnar, take me!

I shared, KAK started in on LEEzards… it was silly and punchy and might not be funny to you at all.

But she sent me a LEEzard for my recent birthday. It’s been out, running around and chewing up the internet lines.

Thanks KAK!

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Our neighbors down the valley had a party Saturday night.

You can see the lights, here, glowing in the deepening evening, backed by the sunset. It was perfect weather – warm and still. Ideal for sitting outside, which David and I did. We sat on our patio for hours. The way sound carries here, we could hear the party like we could see the lights, glowing in the distance, a happy tumble of voices. Then someone played guitar and sang, his lovely tenor voice carrying up to us. Our own personal concert.

Sunday morning, our other neighbors made themselves heard and not in such a pleasant way. They’re new, renting the house closest to us that didn’t sell after over a year on the market. Of course, the owner won’t drop the price, so he moved away and left it to renters instead. They haven’t moved in a lot of furniture and these houses all have adobe walls and tile floors, which makes for good acoustics.

I don’t know exactly what the fight was about, but I have a good idea. He didn’t like how she’d behaved the night before. Really didn’t like it. “What did you do?!?” was a frequent refrain. Shouted at the top of his lungs. At first I wasn’t sure if he was yelling at a woman or a child, until I heard bits of her protests. The loudest part was when he shouted, over and over, “Do you want to be in my life or not?”

We haven’t met them yet. Now I’m not dying to.

I’m not much for fighting. I’m especially not for yelling. When I hear those angry voices, something in me cringes. I feel injured and attacked, even as a bystander. I couldn’t be that person, standing so close to the yelling, having it hurled at me.

I wanted to tell her that the answer should be “No.” Don’t be in that angry man’s life.

It’s not my business. There was no reason to think the abuse escalated to physical. I’ve only ever called the cops on a domestic disturbance once before and I’m not sure it was the right thing. It didn’t change anything and they knew it was me who called. They didn’t thank me for it, as you can imagine. I know I can’t save the world.

So I went to the back patio and sat under the grape arbor. Their fight ended and they were quiet the rest of the weekend.

I said my prayer of thanks, for a peaceful and happy life.

Come Blow Your Horn

A while back, I did a guest post on Elizabeth Flora Ross’s blog about defending your writing time.

I’m militant on the topic. I truly believe that if you want time to write, you have to build a fence around it, possibly with razor wire, and defend it at all costs. No ifs, ands or buts. Otherwise the time will get eaten away in nibbles and bites by everything else in your life.

Over time, it gets easier. Everyone else in your life becomes accustomed to you being unavailable at certain times. And, most importantly, it becomes a habit to sit and write. Defending the time means defending the habit.

In the last year, I’ve gotten really good at this. I drafted The Body Gift in half the time it took me to write Obsidian, plus it’s a much tighter draft. I also wrote Petals and Thorns on an efficient schedule. I’ve been working on revising and tightening The Body Gift and got a good chunk into a new novella.

Then I went on vacation.

I thought I might work on the book some, on long rainy Oregon coast days at the B&B. But my Jeffe Sunshine Magic (TM) kicked into effect and we had gorgeous weather. I didn’t sweat it. I knew I needed to relax, refresh and refill the well after my big push to finish The Body Gift. Vacation can be from all my jobs, I decided.

And so it was.

When I came back, however, relaxed, refreshed, ready to get back to work, I found my fence was in a shambles. Like Little Boy Blue, I’d allowed the cows into the meadow and the sheep into the corn. It’s taken me all week to get back into the habit.

Kerry’s book, Swimming North, is about dragons and dragon-slaying. She often draws a parallel between her day job and slaying dragons. But, last night, she agreed that cows were in her meadow, too.

Screw the dragons – it’s the freaking cows that are our problem!

“Mad cows. Complacent cows,” she says, “all of them are trouble.”

Sometimes you have to look closer to home, for the simple solution.

If you need me, I’ll be out building fences.

Bugs and Olives

Last night, as we were having cocktails on the patio, David told me that a stinkbug was trying to climb up the iron leg of the patio chair to get me.

David and I, both children of the West, call them stinkbugs, although we’re apparently supposed to call them pinnacate or darkling beetles. At any rate, they’re these guys. They’re also the same beetles that I mentioned seem compelled to drown themselves despite my efforts to provide climbing platforms out of the rain catchments. The stinkbugs are drawn to everything moist. The day after a rain, they scuttle about everywhere, following sedate and determined paths.

I’m quite fond of them.

So when David says that the stinkbug that hard marched across the patio, to visit me, I claimed, was now trying to climb my chair leg, I thought he was making fun of me for that old story, about the cockroaches climbing the brass bed and how I did one of the worst things I’ve ever done.

Turns out he’d never heard that story.

It’s an old story, from my college days. I think it came to mind because I’ve been reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. It’s really an amazing book, kind of a novel formed of sequential stories. We come to have ideas about Olive from the stories of other characters. They talk about Olive, or encounter her in various ways. We don’t really see into Olive’s mind until a story about her son’s wedding reception, when Olive overhears her new daughter-in-law saying how awful Olive is and what a difficult mother she’d been to her son.

It’s brilliantly done. The daughter-in-law is talking softly to a friend, in a place they shouldn’t be overheard. She’s not catty or cruel, but Olive is deeply hurt. And enraged.


The cockroach story is like this. It started with one of my college roommates being freaked out by cockroaches in our apartment. They were waterbugs, it turns out, but that’s no never mind. Only she and I were home. She melted down to the point where she refused to sleep on her mattress on the floor or my futon, for fear the cockroaches would get her in the night. Around 2 in the morning, I convinced her to sleep in our other roommate’s brass bed, even though the fearful one declared that she’d be able to hear the cockroaches trying to climb the brass legs all night.

See? I told you there was a connection.

I told our other roommates the story when they returned in the next day or so. It was a very funny story. And I can milk a story. I would culminate with making scratching noises on a piece of metal, to imitate the cockroach legs. Other friends heard references and begged to be told the full story, which took 15-20 minutes to tell.

I admit it: I loved telling this story. There’s nothing like having a roomful of people laughing so hard they can’t stand.

Well, one night, we had a 4th of July gathering at our apartment. The roommate in question was working. Ten or twelve of us, including my visiting mother, sat around the dining table — which was a piece of painted plywood on blue-painted cinder blocks — talking and drinking beer.

Well, yes, someone asked me to tell the story.

You know what’s coming. I demurred, since I was normally very careful not to tell it anywhere my friend could hear. but I didn’t take much convincing. I had just gotten to the part where I’m clicking my nails on the beer bottle when that cold silence fell over the room.

Of course, she was standing in the doorway behind me, having come in through the kitchen door to the alley.

She slammed off to her bedroom and the party broke up. Everyone was horrified. I felt awful.

What’s funny is, she and I never talked about it. I’ve never known how much of the story she heard. She was the type to yell at you if she was mad. This she never said a word about, which made me think I truly hurt her.

She reads this blog from time to time, so if you see this: I truly apologize for that. I should have said so sooner.

So that’s my second in a series about careless words. Funny how certain themes rise up, for no particular reason. Old stories come to mind.

Life lessons, all of them, I suppose.