Sea Change

Our big storm finally released its grip, with roaring winds all night, leaving the sky clear and frigid this morning.

So, here we are, saying good-bye to 2010 already. Tomorrow the decorations come down. I’ll clean the house and start the year a new. Fresh slate, carrying forward the best of last year and none of the worst.

I’ll try, anyway.

I talked yesterday about the temptation to make plans for big changes in the new year. It feels like a natural demarcation between old and new. And, hell, everyone else is doing it, right?

I’m starting one new thing for the new year. Tomorrow will see the launch of a new blog I’m participating in, The Word Whores. Our credo comes from Moliere:

“Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.”

I’m delighted to be in such amazing company, with six other smart, witty, imaginative and supportive women – all of whom I count as friends, as well as sister writers. Believe me, we all want to do it for money.

But this is a small change in the pattern of my life. I’m adding one blog-post a week. Finite, simple. I cringe when I see people resolving to lose weight, exercise more, write more and fix their love life. Yes, these are all wonderful things to do, but it’s TOO MUCH. The goals are vague. What does more mean? How much weight? What does a good love life consist of?

The problem is, if the goals are vague, then they’re doomed to failure. Because you can never reach “more.” There’s always “more” out there. It’s like always jam tomorrow.

The success gurus will tell you to keep your goals specific and attainable. There are good reasons for that.

I’ve long been a fan of tesseract theory. No – you don’t have to know math for this. It’s the idea that the pattern of large things reflects the pattern of its components. Thus the shape of a mountain range echoes the shape of a piece of gravel. A grown person reflects the shape of an embryo. If I want my life to look a particular way, then I try to make each day reflect those priorities. It occurred to me a few years ago that if I wanted my life to be writer’s life, then I might need to spend more than five percent of my day writing.

(Of course, we all turn out to be champion sleepers in the end, but that’s to be expected.)

This kind of change didn’t happen between 12/31 and 1/1. The pattern of my days has morphed gradually over the years, a slow and creeping conversion. A sea change, if you will.

The term “sea change” comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (one of my favorites), from Ariel’s song to Ferdinand:

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

For those not well-versed in translating Bard-speak, Ariel is describing Ferdinand’s father’s corpse lying on the bottom of the ocean, slowly accreting the minerals of the water, until his skeleton becomes part of the coral.

The sea changes things, takes them in and makes them its own over time.

I borrowed this rant on the phrase from The Word Detective:

Unfortunately, as “sea change” has gained more popularity lately, its meaning has often been diluted and trivialized (“Gavin believes that this update indicates a sea change for the software and web applications…,” In the ultimate insult to the Bard, “sea change” has been harnessed as bizspeak (“Business is in the midst of a sea change when it comes to staffing and retaining superior talent,” New York Times), and I’m sure that somewhere out there right now a trucking company is promising a “sea change in package delivery.” Full fathom five them all, I say.

To me, this reflects our modern philosophy of get it done yesterday. A “sea change” is no longer a long, slow conversion. It happens overnight, according to the business types. Thus we expect our lives to change as quickly.

I know this is one of my periodic rants and I won’t bring it up again for a while, but this is my plea. Yes, absolutely, make those positive changes in your life. You can do that. You can make your life what you want it to be.

But take your time. Make small changes. Take baby steps. Allow for things to happen in their own time. Cast your grains of sand into the ocean and let them become pearls.

Start small. The universe will make it big for you. That’s how it works.

Happy 2011!

New Life Resolutions

A brief clearing this morning in the storm. I love when part of the valley has sunshine while another is shadowed. Seems metaphorical to me.

Last night I caught up on blog-reading. I follow a lot of blogs – more than the ones I list on the blogroll to the side there. Those are my favorites. Some blogs I follow just to be supportive. I’ve never unfollowed, but I do stop reading if the blog doesn’t sing for me. Some I think are hit or miss.

Normally I use Blogger Dashboard to read recent posts. It shows me all the blogs I follow that have new posts, in chronological order. Most days I scroll through those to see what’s new. Some I read every new one. Others only if that particular post looks interesting. I confess – some that annoyed me, I hid from my feed.

Because I was catching up though, this time I clicked on each blog, which then shows me a list of their recent posts. It ended up being a good year-end clean-up because a surprising number hadn’t posted in 6 months, 9 months, even a full year. Several of those were blogs where the writer posted once or twice and never again.

This time of year, everyone is talking about New Year’s resolutions. People are making plans for 2011, citing what they’re determined to do. More than a few that I’ve seen mention posting to their blogs more often. I know a few more people than that who really angst over getting blog posts up.

It reminds me of the gym, really.

I’ve been a regular exerciser for about four years now. As in, going to the gym to work out, exercising. Before that I was in Kung Fu classes nearly every night, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. But a few years ago, several things came together – quitting Kung Fu, my middle age, a physical condition that was not, erm, lean. So I became Morning Gym Girl.

No, this was not natural to me by any stretch. I exercise first thing in the morning because I’m too sleepy to think up excuses not to. There it is.

At any rate, David and I noticed the classic New Year pattern. After January 1, the gym was filled to bursting with enthusiastic exercisers. There would be the overweight middle-aged guy, accustomed to success, determinedly jogging endless laps on his first visit, face crimson. He’d show once or twice and never again. There were the high school girls in their pajamas, who started showing later and later, then not at all. Some persisted, yes, but usually by March the gym was back to the normal numbers.

There’s this whole thing about “don’t start what you can’t finish” or, worse, “you must finish what you start.” I’m not saying that. Making a change, starting a new blog or a new exercise program is a big thing. We try all kinds of ways to make it not seem quite so daunting, but few of us have empty space in our lives just waiting to be filled by a new task. Usually something else has to go. Usually that’s the painful part.

When new exercisers ask me how long it’ll be until they stop hating going to the gym, I tell them it took me six months. Six very long months before I stopped hating it and started to enjoy it. Some days I still hate it.

But it’s important to me. So I keep doing it. Day after day.

I suspect those qualities – the ones that keep the person blogging day after day, writing their novels, sending their queries – those are what make the successful author.

Not a New Year’s Resolution, but a New Life Resolution.

We’re in it for the long term.

Strangeness and Dreamthink

A quietly intense sunset last night. A storm is coming our way that’s meant to last several days. No more clear skies for a while.

Because it’s to get snowy and blustery, David and I went out to dinner last night. On New Year’s Eve we’ll stay home. That probably makes us sound like fuddy-duddies. But I really wanted some time to walk around the Santa Fe Plaza to see the lights. This is not nearly so much fun in bad weather. We had drinks at one of our favorite bars and then dinner at Luminaria. This way we got to indulge in their really wonderful menu and not be limited to the New Year’s Eve prix fixe menus everyone does, which never seem to be as good. And we didn’t have to worry about road stops or drunk drivers. Friday night we’ll do our little tradition of lots of hors d’oeuvres and non-stop movies.

We’re simple souls, I suppose.

Yesterday I mentioned that I hadn’t even thought about any of my now-several works in progress. Marcella (who I see hasn’t posted to her own blog since November 9, but her first book just came out, so she can be forgiven) asked me what it was like for me, getting back into it.

Specifically, she asked me if it looked a bit strange at first. Which was funny to me because it really did.

I opened up Sapphire, read the first line, which I’d last read – and edited – just a week before, and it was like I’d never seen it before in my life.

I went back and read the revise and resubmit email from the editor who’d read it, to reground myself in the changes she’s looking for. I don’t know that I needed to, because a big piece of me was nodding, saying “yeah yeah yeah.” Okay, I’d read it a bunch of times before and had already started the revision.

Still I didn’t quite have my head where it had been.

So I started reading. I figured the edits would come, which they did.

The advantage of having that time away is it does create a very useful distance. I could read the story more like a reader would, which helps me see what information I’m giving or withholding. When I write the story, it’s playing out in my head. I’m seeing through the characters’ eyes and describing what’s happening to them. This kind of thing makes it easy to leave out important information. Sure, I feel what they do, but do I describe it so someone else understands?

The downside is I miss the dreamthink (which I’ve talked about before here and here). The dreamthink allows me to swim in the story and not have to, well, work at it so hard. I dream at night about my characters. I wake up in the morning with the story spinning in my head. Ideas for it pop into my head throughout my work day. It’s kind of like part of me is running a subroutine.

Unfortunately, to extend the analogy, that subroutine absorbs a lot of disk space. I find that when I’m heavy into dreamthink, I don’t have a lot of brain power for much else. Sometimes I think that I’m so weighted in right-brain, hey-we-got-no-rules, wow-man, everything-is-beautiful activity that the left brain stuff gets rusty. Pulling out my logic and math feels more difficult. Also employing those extrovert skills.

I can’t really be in dreamthink and be around people. Not counting David, of course. Though he’ll occasionally point out I haven’t spoken aloud in hours. That’s why, when on a family visit, I don’t even try.

So yes, Sapphire did look strange. But, like picking up a book you started a while ago and set down, after a few pages the story drew me in again. I’m about 10% through the revision now.

It feels good to get in the swim again.

Wonderful Christmas

So, my stepsister, Hope, told me that they tell the boys if they don’t behave, they’ll turn up on my blog.

I think that makes me the Bloggyman.

But no one is bad on Christmas. Therefore, here is everyone on Christmas morning, enjoying Santa’s bounty. Except for Hope and Galen, who were in the kitchen making mimosas, like the lovely hosts they are. And David, who must have been standing next to me, always by my side.

Christmas was lovely and wonderful. I cooked and baked a whole bunch. We saw family we rarely see and met little Tabitha for the first time.
Time flew by and I can’t really tell you what I filled it with. I wasn’t on the interwebs much and, after a couple of days, didn’t turn on my computer at all. It feels like a slow unwind from my usual life of keeping up. My days are full the way I like them to be, but I run a pretty good pace to do it. To get the blog post done, to get my writing done, to do my day job, to read the blogs and books I try to keep pace with.

At first, it’s hard to relax, to let go of the keeping up. Then, when I do, I let go of everything it seems. One world falls away and only the immediate becomes real.

We writers talk about living in our heads, in other worlds. A lot of the time I’m thinking about what I’m writing, about ideas for the blog or dream-thinking about whatever story I’m immersed in. Over Christmas, I didn’t at all. I think this is as much a part of the writers life as any other – the letting go of it for a space of time.

Now I’m back and trying to keep the ramp-up slow and gentle. There go the important emails answered. Bank accounts checked and reconciled. Here’s a blog post. Now I’ll work on Sapphire. Later I’ll cruise the information galaxies of Facebook, Twitter and the Blogosphere.

But for now I’ll pour another cup of tea from the fabulous cat teapot Hope gave me and gaze out the window.

Happy Holidays, indeed.

Oh Frabjious Day!

Another view of yesterday’s sunrise. This morning’s was also lovely, but I was on a business call, alas, and could not immortalize it.

You’ll have to imagine it.

Today is also a banner day for Petals and Thorns. I received my monthly author statement of royalties earned from Loose Id. I’ve now made enough to qualify for their Published Author Network (PAN) status. Nice threshold to cross for me.

Earlier this month I posted my statistics for Petals & Thorns so far. So you might look at that first, since I’m just adding to the summary here. Let’s play Old Spice man – go look at that graph.

Now look at this one.

Now look at that one.

The source of the amazing jump in December? Fictionwise sales.

Right – who knew?

Fictionwise sales accounted for 86% of my December reported sales. Amazon showed up for the first time, too, with 10% of sales. Sony was another first-time show with 3% of sales. Loose Id only produced 2% of sales.

(Yeah, I know that’s 101% – I rounded, okay?)

Those of you keeping score at home will note that last month’s big seller, All-Romance ebooks, did not have any sales this month. I suspect that this has to do with when they report sales, rather than real-time sales statistics. I’m betting the big surge in Fictionwise represents sales over possibly the last six months.

It will be interesting to see.

I realized in writing yesterday’s post that I consider post-winter solstice to be the start of the new year. Probably my pagan ancestors whispering in my ear.

At any rate, this feels like a fine start to the new year.

Long Night Moon

Last night was the solstice moon, the Long Night Moon. And you also likely knew, unless you live under a rock, that there was a full lunar eclipse also.

No, I didn’t get any photos of the eclipse. We had a fair amount of cloud cover last night. I got up at 12:45 to see, but to no avail. It’s funny here – the clouds will lay low and flat over the top of us, but the horizons will be more or less clear.

So I caught the moon here, rising full on the longest night of the year.

And here she is again, over fourteen hours later, after a long, leisurely stroll across the sky and through the earth’s shadow, to set into the pink of sunrise.

The long night is over. Now we turn our eyes to the east, and the first day in our steps towards summer again.

Looks pretty glorious to me.

Fast Times

We’re closing in on the final stretch of Christmas here. Presents have been acquired and wrapped. Today we’ll ship the final lot – and just to Front Range folks, so don’t panic. The big party went swimmingly Saturday night.

Both kitties love to hang out under the Christmas tree. And maybe chew on the ribbons a little bit. They consider themselves a gift to us.

So, today is the last fast day before the major feast. When I posted about our weekly fasts back in October, in the comments conversation that followed, I promised to report back in another eight weeks. I’m a bit past that now, but it’s been a busy blogging time.

I look forward to the fast days at this point. It sounds bizarre, most likely, but the break is such a welcome resetting of my system that I get excited for how good I’ll feel. For example, the treat onslaught has started. Last Wednesday the first food package arrived. I’ve had peppermint brownies and homemade candies. I made sugar cookies.

(They turned out so pretty I have to immortalize them here.)

Saturday night I drank champagne and nibbled on all sorts of lovely things. David and I woke up early Sunday starving and went out to breakfast. Country ham with a biscuit and gravy was just the thing for my mild hangover. We ended up eating lunch out, too, since we were in town shopping. Margaritas, live music and prime rib sandwich made it very fun.

Now I know I’m entering the uber-party. We’re meeting friends for drinks and dinner tomorrow night. Then pre-Christmas Eve dinner out at a lovely restaurant, Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Day dinner and Boxing Day tea. It will all be wonderful and I intend to completely indulge. Then next Monday, we’ll fast again. Cleanse our systems and return to baseline.

It’s interesting to me how many religions and philosophies incorporate an element of fasting. And usually the fasting precedes the feast. For some it’s a sacrifice in honor of ancestors who suffered. Sometimes it’s meant to be a deliberate discomfort, to remind you to think about philosophical questions. It can also be a symbolic preparation for the feast. Part of what makes a feast such a joy is the contrast to starvation and suffering.

So I’m fasting today. I’ll take some time to reflect on how full and rich my life is.

And the cookies will still be there tomorrow.

Snowfall and Sapphire

Did I say I wanted snow?


Okay, so the highways are closed. David has two finals today and we have no idea how the school will handle that. Considering that our rather long driveway is knee-deep to hip-deep in snow, I doubt David would be going anywhere even if they open the highways.

Yeah, you can say it now: Be careful what you wish for.

I received happy news last night that Sapphire made a bit of a conquest. The editor I sent the story to really loves it. She had a few issues with it and invited me to revise and resubmit, though she understood if I didn’t want to. These kinds of requests can go both ways. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’ve revised before, to no avail. This is a different opportunity because she sent me a very detailed description of what she’d like to see revised. Better, they’re all really good suggestions. I really love getting to work with a sharp, effective editor.

A really excellent editor brings out the very best in your writing. Conversely, a bad editor can crush the life out of your work. By the way this gal zeroed in on the important aspects of the story and deftly picked out the weak spots, I’m thinking she could be one of the best editors I’ve worked with.

Not to mention that this is a very desirable press.

So, of course I’ll revise. It shouldn’t be too difficult. And when I wrote to say so, she replied that she’s delighted to hear it. All kinds of joy in Mudville.

The big question for me now is, do I set the new novel aside to do this, or work on both? I wrote a post for the FFP blog the other day, comparing writing a novel to raising a child. The new novel is just a toddler and requires a lot of daily attention. But now my teenager has her first big job opportunity. She needs new clothes, a haircut, pumps and hose! Kerry suggested that I give the toddler just enough attention to keep Child Protection Services off my back.

It’s an interesting problem, how to balance multiple works. When I started out writing, I wrote essays, usually in one sitting. I could hold the essay from beginning to end in my head and set it down on the screen. When I transitioned to longer works, I had to find a different way to see the story, because I couldn’t hold the whole thing in my head. At least, not in my conscious mind. I think I’ve gotten better at letting the entire story, including sequels, play out in my subconscious mind where I can look in on various scenes, to write them down. This requires a certain amount of immersion in the story for me.

To move two stories forward at once feels like another level of challenge. I know a couple of people who do this. Some alternate days or weeks on particular projects. Writers with contracts are often saying how they had to set aside a manuscript at the best part because edits arrived from their editor on another project with a one-week deadline.

I might try doing both at once, just to see if I can.

Heck – there’s not much else to do in January, is there?

Deadlines, Lifelines and the Test of Personality

“Still Life: Snow on Luminarias”


It’s snowing!!!

Okay, I know a lot of you out there have had way more than enough of the stuff, or have been drowning in rain, but we’ve had an unseasonably mild and dry winter so far. I’m a Colorado girl from way back and I like a little snow with my Christmas. We might even get heavy snow.

We’re snow-globe socked-in and I’m chortling with glee.

Perhaps I should break out into a little mash-up of snow songs. Don’t worry – I’ll lip synch.

I hit a personal best on the treadmill this morning: 1.45 miles in 20 minutes. Yeah, all the athletic people just snickered. I know it’s not much. But going that fast pushed my heart rate up over 170, which is pretty high. I’ll have to stay at this level for a while to try to condition it down. I’d like to get up to 2 miles in 20 minutes, which is the military conditioning threshold. We’ll see. As I’ve likely mentioned before, running is not my forte.

But I’ve been working hard at it, gradually improving, shedding body fat by incremental percentages. When I realized I would cross this barrier while running this morning, something odd popped into my head. Something about the thought that it’s taken me a couple of years to get my conditioning at least this good made me remember a conversation with a friend about writing.

She had done what a surprising number of people do: decided to write a book, sell it and become a successful author. She’d quit her job and given herself one year to succeed.

This also falls under the “after all, it’s only genre-writing, it’s not like it’s hard” umbrella.

When she had not sold in the year – indeed, when she hadn’t really completed a full manuscript, instead constantly revisiting the first three chapters in response to critique – she asked me how long I’d given myself.

The question surprised me. It had never occurred to me to impose a deadline on my work that way. In some ways, it would be like me saying that if I can’t run 2 miles in 20 minutes by next December, I’ll quit running. I suppose at some point in the future I’ll be too decrepit to make that goal. Though that image is kind of amusing to contemplate.

“Just help me out of this wheelchair and onto the treadmill – I’ll be fine!”

For those who know me, this is actually a plausible scenario.

At any rate, unlike ballerinas and football players, writers have no natural retirement age. If we keep our minds sharp, we can keep writing on our deathbeds. Many have.

My friend was shocked when I said that I gave myself as long as it takes. But then, she and I have very different ways of looking at the world.

The subject of personality has been making the rounds of our online community lately. Patrick Alan summed it up yesterday on his blog. It’s fun to look at our astrological influences or the slightly more scientific personality assessment of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), which is interestingly built on Jungian theory.

I come out as an INTJ, which is apparently a small group. It means I’m an Introvert, Intuitive, Thinker, Judger. The other ends of these are extrovert, sensing, feeling and perceiving. It’s apparently unusual for a person who prefers intuition to rely on thinking instead of feeling. And it’s odd for an introvert to use judgment instead of perception, because it focuses on outer instead of inner.

That’s me: an odd duck.

But it’s useful to me to look at the summation for INTJ:

For INTJs the dominant force in their lives is their attention to the inner world of possibilities, symbols, abstractions, images, and thoughts. Insight in conjunction with logical analysis is the essence of their approach to the world; they think systemically. Ideas are the substance of life for INTJs and they have a driving need to understand, to know, and to demonstrate competence in their areas of interest. INTJs inherently trust their insights, and with their task-orientation will work intensely to make their visions into realities.

In some ways, it was a revelation to me to read this. “A driving need to understand, to know, and to demonstrate competence in their areas of interest” is where I live. Why do I want to succeed as a novelist when I’ve arguably already succeeded as a writer, particularly as an essayist? Because I have a driving need to demonstrate competence in my area of interest. For me, the rider on this is that it really doesn’t matter to me how long it takes.

I don’t know that I’d call running on the treadmill an area of interest, but this undoubtedly plays in there, too. My vision of me, sleek as a gazelle running, if not like the wind, then like a brisk breeze.

Remember I’ve got that rich inner world going here.

Apparently most of us writers tend to be introverts, which is why we’re happy sitting alone, writing, in the first place. Patrick Alan says he’s an ENFP, which makes me wonder how he does it. I notice that, though we’re opposites in three of four categories, we’re both intuitives. I suspect most writers are.

So, do you know your MBTI? And has it helped you understand anything about the way you work?

How Lovely Are Thy Branches

Last night I decorated the Christmas tree.

And by “I,” I do mean me. David helps me get the tree and get it in the stand, but that’s really all. This year I didn’t mind at all.

When I was young, the Christmas tree was a huge part of our holiday. Acquiring the tree usually involved traipsing to multiple lots to find the perfect tree, often in bitter cold, followed by Mexican food. Leo would set up the tree and put on the lights. It was always his job, though my mom often complained he didn’t do it right. Then he’d fix them and go watch TV. And she fixed them again.

Then my mom and I decorated the tree. Since I was a baby, she’s given me an ornament every year. The first is a clay Santa my dad made me before he died. After that, they’re all from her. I have the dates marked on them and it’s always been part of the ritual to unwrap them and lay them out in order. I put the Santa from my dad at the top and spiral down the tree.

I have so many images over the years of doing this. When I was very young, there were only a few, but it felt like a pile of treasure. I remember the years I received each one and added it to its place of honor in the center of the tree. There’s the Betsy Ross ornament from 1976, followed by a pink polka-dotted cat the next year, to commemorate the loss of the family cat that had been older than I.

It’s become like the name game over the years. You know the ice-breaker, where one person says their name, and the next person says the first person’s name plus their own, and so on. The game wraps around to the first person who has to recite them all in order. The names from early on are easiest, because they’ve been repeated so many times; it’s the later ones that stump you.

Now I’m up to somewhere around 60 ornaments. (No, I’m not that old – a lot of them are pairs). The ones from my early years are so familiar. I have forty overlapping images of unwrapping them every year. The newer ones carry less emotional weight. A couple have not stood the test of time. One got chewed on by our border collie. Another I keep gluing and it insists on coming apart.

It used to be that I tried to make David help me trim the tree. Or worse, I tried to get him to enjoy it. In our early years together, I would cry because he so clearly didn’t care. He’d help, but the act held no romance for him. All those little ornaments carried no weight for him. He looks at them, nods and smiles. But it’s just a Christmas tree ornament to him. My stepkids, too, never got into decorating the tree. They were just as happy to see it done without them.

David and I enjoy a lot of harmony, so it’s marked that I got a bit snarly every year that he didn’t share this with me. This year, though, he’s deep in finals. I really wanted to get the tree done last night and he has two finals today. So I decorated the tree while he studied.

I also drank champagne, which adds to any occasion.

I felt my usual nostalgia, unwrapping the ornaments. I hate that the one got chewed up. (Yes, I keep it with the others.) I had to glue a couple. One might be finally and irretrievably beyond gluing, but he’s part of a pair, so there’s another to represent that year.

Maybe because I could let go of David participating, I enjoyed it more this time. It occurred to me, as I was gluing, that some of these ornaments were never intended to last forty years. And that it’s okay to let them go. Things change. I like decorating the tree and it’s okay to enjoy it by myself. The ornaments are not a museum collection that must be preserved at all costs. They mean something to me and really no one else but my mother and that’s okay.

I’m told I’m not good at letting things go. And that it’s likely because my father died when I was so young. I tend to cling to things that represent the past, wanting them to last forever.

I think I’m getting better at this. Letting go feels good.

And the tree is so beautiful, just the way it is.