Choosing the Happy

This hawk was in the tree across the road. Love my new telephoto lens!

David and I were talking yesterday about the value of happiness and making choices to be happy. Now, not everyone really values happiness as a top priority. Sure – people say they want to be happy, but often they value other things above that. Being admired or respected, making our families happy, fitting in with the crowd. If we look critically at our daily choices, we can see that we often choose to do something that doesn’t make us happy because we think the other thing is more important.

For example, a lot of us woke up this morning earlier than we wanted to. It might have made us happy to sleep longer, but maybe there are children who need to be cared for and that’s more important. Or we have to get to that job on time, so we can be paid, which can be a factor in long-term happiness. So, sometimes we make a considered choice to put someone else’s needs above our own happiness or we sacrifice the short term in favor of the long term.

But we can also get in the habit of capitulating to the “shoulds.” All those things that we think we should do, whether they make us happy or not. It’s easy to fall into that pattern of all the little responsibilities and debts that drive our daily decisions.

David mentioned it because he’s been reading Anthony de Mello, who made a deliberate decision to be happy. That’s what he wanted out of life. For every choice he encountered, he weighed whether it would lead to happiness.

This is harder than it sounds. For instance, he ultimately told his best friend they could no longer spend time together, because the friend didn’t make him happy. It’s a hard, strong line to draw and many of us would flinch at such a decision because of all the voices whispering that it’s selfish. Choosing one’s own happiness over someone else’s will always be labeled selfish. It’s up to us to decide which we value more: being happy or being thought an unselfish person.

It got me thinking though, that it doesn’t always have to be huge, life-changing decisions. In everything I do all day, I can choose those things that lead to happiness for me. Throughout my day, there are many opportunities to read rants and encounter unpleasant news and thoughts. I don’t have to look at them. I can focus instead on those things that I believe do make me happy. I can create a tesseract of happiness.

By little, incremental choices, I think I can find ways to have a happy life. Which I do think is the most important thing for me.

Now I’m picturing what a tesseract of happiness would look like.

Cross-Marketing Miscalculations

Yesterday I talked about filling out the art fact sheet so Carina can design the cover for Rogue’s Pawn. After I finished the blog post, I got serious and finished the fact sheet. (And yes, I totally included the talon pic – make of that what you will, cover artist!) I included a bunch of other images, too, trying to select the ones I thought would convey the right feel.

When I described my heroine, I pulled some text from the story, but I also mentioned she frequently wears this black Ann Taylor cocktail dress, because it’s what she had on when she was accidentally transported to Faerie. It becomes her sorceress dress. I toyed with sending an image of it – even got so far as opening the Ann Taylor website (always dangerous) – and changed my mind.

Not that I don’t know exactly what the dress looks like. I do. I have this dress.

See, when I first started writing this book years ago, for the opening cocktail party scene, I dressed my heroine in my favorite outfit at the time. Yeah, it was a shortcut, but I’d also been writing nonfiction for so long that it was easier for me to ground the story in real life elements. Then the dress became kind of a shtick in the story and I started spinning all these writer fantasies about it, you know how we do.

I had this idea that I would wear the dress to signings and panels. I imagined how people would recognize it from the book and be pleased and entertained. There may have been even a few improbable scenarios where the Ann Taylor people called me up and proposed glamorous cross-marketing campaigns that involved giving me lots of free clothes.

Hey, a girl can dream.

Never mind if my concept of cross-marketing more closely resembles self-aggrandizement.

The problem, besides being a highly unlikely idea, is that the dress in question is now sadly out of style. So far out of style that I actually haven’t worn it in probably three years. My mother is rolling her eyes at me for having it in my closet still. I should probably get rid of it, but I’ve kept it all this time, for when the book would be published, like a talisman.

And now, the book is entering the world and the dress needs to be retired. My heroine is wearing a different dress, one that you all will imagine when you read it. I’m not going to tell you what it used to look like. Instead of being a past dress, it will become a present and future dress.

There’s something magical about that.

Obssessing Over Book Covers

We’re pretty sure this is a Western scrub jay. He likes to hang out in the tree in our back yard. Apparently he likes to eat small animals and large insects. Check out these wicked talons:


I’ve been working on my art fact sheet for Rogue’s Pawn, so images are on my brain. Carina has a great system for developing covers. They send us this very detailed fact sheet to fill out, that the cover artist will then use. They ask for things like mood, visual hook, main character descriptions, major visual elements. You can also attach images to give the artist a feel.

I’ve been screwing around with it for a couple of days now, off and on. This is a slow turnaround for me. I start to spin on that perfectionistic procrastination. The cover is so important – what do I say that will get me the PERFECT COVER?? Somewhere deep in my subconscious is the idea that I can manipulate fate, like if I feed the coins into the slot machine in exactly the right order and pull the arm just so, the cherries will ring up and I’ll win the grand prize and be thin, rich, young and happy for the rest of my life.


Yeah, so – sorting through all the neurotic hopes and dreams and wild expectations is part of it. The rest is finding ways to take the images in my head and convey them to somebody else. I also know that I am not a graphic artist, nor a marketing genius, so I don’t want to inundate the people who with mountains of extraneous information and images.

I mean, wicked talons mean something to me, and are a recurring image in the book, but is this picture really relevant?

Oh yes, yes, yes, cackles that voice inside. Plus this and this and this.

See? My cover artist will hate me.

In the end, it’s always about letting go. Giving up control. Detaching from the things that simply don’t matter.

It’s one cover, for one book. Nobody will live or die by it. I know this.

Still, I think I should include the talon pic, don’t you?

Are You Really Doing It Wrong?

I love how the setting sun is exactly cradled between these two peaks of the Jemez mountain range. Useful to know, in case my calendar breaks.

So, you all know that one of the genres I write is erotica, particularly BDSM. I get asked a fair amount why I chose that brand of kink and I have to say that I didn’t. It chose me. I’ve noticed, in fact, that even when I’m not writing BDSM, the essential elements of it do creep in. Power exchange, intimacy, vulnerability, giving up control. When writers talk about voice, they often give the advice to pay attention to your themes, that your stories will tend to cluster around certain ideas. I almost always write about transformation of some kind and the elements of power and control usually play into that.

Since I’ve published some of this work, especially the more explicit BDSM, I’ve noticed that there’s a contingent of authors and readers who want to critique the writing in terms of verisimilitude. I’ve seen reviews and comments that people who aren’t “in the lifestyle” shouldn’t, or can’t, write about it. I see authors proudly discussing their participation in BDSM activities and citing these credentials. I’ve seen them criticizing other authors for not having, or not displaying, their credentials.

Now, this is not something I talk about. Just as in my stories, I’m a believer in privacy and intimacy. What goes on in my personal sex life is not relevant to my writing. I see no reason to discuss what I may have or have not done. Really, I don’t see why any of you would care. The characters in my stories are much more interesting – and look better naked.

I find it disconcerting then, to see other BDSM authors trotting out their credentials and saying that, unless an author has done these things – and is willing to openly discuss their own sex lives – they can’t write about it. This is patently absurd reasoning. By this line of thinking, only people who have been serial killers can write about those villians. Only master spies can write espionage novels. It totally screws all the historical and speculative fiction authors – we might as well eliminate those genres altogether.

Dan Savage, whose column I read faithfully and who I greatly admire, says that the BDSM community tends to be particularly bad about the You’re Doing It Wrong syndrome. He says in this column (scroll down to the second letter):

YDIW is a social-skills disorder that members of the BDSM community are at particular risk of acquiring. (Others at heightened risk: religious conservatives, sports fans, advice columnists.) BDSMers with YDIW feel they have a right to inform other BDSMers that they’re doing it wrong—whatever it might be—even if the “it” being done wrong poses no risk to the YDIW sufferer or anyone else.

I don’t know why this attitude flourishes in the community so much, but it does seem to. The most insidious part is, the YDIW finger pointers claim that they “can tell” whether someone has experienced something personally or not. This seems to fly in the face of the whole concept of becoming a good writer. If you hone your craft and are faithful to the story, the author should become invisible. There should never be a sense of the author intruding into the character’s lives. When reading A.S. Byatt’s Possession, the reader doesn’t speculate on whether the author has been a male Victorian poet. We all know that Jane Austen died a spinster and never experienced the love affairs she wrote about so compellingly.

When that invidious advice gets circulated, to “write what you know,” nobody ever means that you should write only those things you’ve directly experienced. That would pretty much pull the plug on all fiction. No, instead it means to draw on those themes you understand in your heart. Human experience is universal. We know how we feel in x situation; we can take that understanding and draw on it to imagine how another situation would feel.

This is what people refer to as art.

Otherwise we might as well just videotape our lives and send those out as stories instead.

Oh wait. People already do that.

At any rate, that’s my take. Unless an author is providing a how-to guide, a “Learn to Bake an Angel-Food Cake Just Like I Do!” guide, then it’s just not relevant to question how good their angel-food cake is. There’s a good chance the cake is just a metaphor anyway.

Which is nice, because you can both have and eat a metaphorical cake. And you’re not even doing it wrong.

The Magic of teh Lurv

We’re having a special Valentine’s giveaway over on the Here Be Magic blog over the next few days. Your chance to win that most special treat for any reader: gift cards to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. (Winner’s choice.) All you have to do is comment.

The Here Be Magic group is interesting. It’s the group blog for all the Carina Press fantasy authors, with “fantasy” being loosely defined. Carina has been doing a great job of acquiring and publishing some terrific science fiction, urban fantasy, paranormal and fantasy, with and without romantic elements.

Interestingly, however, the word is that the community of sci fi and fantasy readers have been slow to adopt eBooks. This seems counter-intuitive to all of us, because those readers, I would think, would be into computers and gadgets and tech. But not for books, apparently. So we’ve been thinking of ways to reach the paper-book readers and entice them with a digital book. Any ideas are welcome.

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Introducing: Rogue’s Pawn’m thrilled to announce that The Novel Formerly Known as Obsidian has been officially retitled!

Please welcome into the world:


Rogue’s Pawn


This title is really just so perfect that I’ve been giddy with delight.

AND… even better. I have a series title, too!

Rogue’s Pawn will be the first book in


A Covenant of Thorns


I’m over the moon about having a series title and have been twirling and dancing in my head ever since.

So, join me in celebrating!  Champagne all around!!

Please Answer the Security Question

At my dayjob, I have to change my password every six months.

Such is the tyranny of IT.

And really, I understand. I do. I mean, sure, a part of me wonders what bereft soul out there truly wants to hack into my user accounts to obtain all sorts of deadly dry government reports. I can just imagine this villian. “Bwah ha ha ha! I refuse to capitulate to regular channels and FOIA this! I shall STEAL the information and then… and then… I shall HAVE it!”

This is why I don’t write espionage novels.

The thing is, I’ve been coming up with passwords for over twenty years now. Most of us have. When the whole computer thing, followed very quickly by the computer security thing, started ramping up, I had a system for passwords. I had a low-security password that I used for all sorts of non-financially related information, a medium-security one for more sensitive stuff and a high-security one for stuff that connected to money.

Yeah – I have nothing more important than money to protect.

Back then, I understood my tiering system. It was based on a coding only I understood. I easily remembered my passwords. Then they started telling me how my passwords should be. You know what I mean. More letters. Symbols. No leading or following numbers. And with complication the IT folks developed to foil hackers, the less likely they made it for me to remember all the contortions of my passwords. In fact, my passwords have gotten more consistent in many ways, because I don’t dare add my arcane spin on top of all of theirs.

And then.

The security questions started in.

Yeah, I know I’m supposed to know the answers to these things. After all, I put them in. Still, when I’m trying to transfer money in between conference calls and the computer asks me for the name of my first pet, I have to pause and think. What would have the past tense me have answered? The dog we had when I was born? The cat who was run over on the highway when I was four? The first cat that was really mine?

Or name of my paternal grandmother? Come on guys – like I have only one paternal grandmother?? We live in an age of multiply blended families. Did I pick my blood father’s mother or the mother of the stepfather who raised me? Besides, I always called her “Grandmother” – how did she spell her name again?

And don’t get me started on those first grade teacher ones. I had a team of six teachers (as I recall) and I can think of the names of about half of them. Favorite sports team? I don’t watch sports. Favorite song – are you kidding me?? When people ask me for my favorite song, book, movie, dessert, beetle or Beatle, I generally pick whichever feels shiniest to me at that moment. I don’t dare record that and hope to remember what past tense me thought she liked on any given day. As for my high school mascot, I can never remember if I think it’s singular or plural, the full name or the shortened version.

Recently, with the big Zappos hacking, I had to relinquish my low-security password. It was past time and I knew I had to do it. But it was my first password, nice and obscure, but I’ve been using it easily since 1988, I kid you not. I used it on sites like Zappos – the ones that insist I register as a customer, but with no consequences. I really didn’t care if someone ran amuck on Zappos masquerading as me, since I didn’t store any personal information on there. What were they going to do – screw up my shoe size preference?

Still, Zappos kindly sent me a warning saying that, if I used this password anywhere else, I should probably change it.

You people would not believe how many places I’ve used this one stinking password. I’m still finding them. It’s like cleaning out nearly twenty-five years of basement crap. And then examining each thing, cleaning it and slapping a brand new, infinitely more complicated password on it.

So, tell me I”m not alone in my rant. What’s the worst security question you’ve encountered?