House Woman

No, I didn’t take that picture. I wish!

I pulled it from here and I’m hoping no one will mind. Once I snap a picture of our own little house wren, I’ll swap it out.

He or she – apparently the males and females look much the same – has been busily building a nest inside the cow skull hanging outside our front door. She goes in the top, (we’ll just decide it’s a she), through the cannula where the spinal cord would exit and has stuff the brain cavity with hair, grass and bits of floss pulled from the seams of the patio chair cushions.

Pretty styling actually.

At first I thought this was a bad idea. Disaster waiting to happen. But it turns out she knows what she’s doing. House wrens will steal other birds’ nests. She’s tiny, but she’s aggressive. She doesn’t mind us coming and going and she tells Isabel off if she gets too close.

I like a bird who takes care of herself.

I finished and sent in my line edits for Petals and Thorns last night. That was the third and final editing pass. Publication date is July 13, if I haven’t mentioned. When we first discussed the editing process, I made a joke to my Loose Id editor that it was amusing to me to contemplate editing on a BDSM novella. Like, would the hero’s motivation be to tie her hands with rope at this point or would he use cuffs?

I thought it was funny.

But no. She didn’t even bite. So I mentioned it to Allison, who didn’t get why I thought it was funny, either. Now I know why. That’s exactly what the editing process was like. Was it one breast or both, which means it should be plural. If he’s busy with the one hand then he’s only holding one shoulder so he can’t release her shoulders. I swear – even UNM Press and Redbook didn’t line edit this exhaustively.

Or maybe that’s the beauty of getting galley proofs instead of a document marked with track changes. I miss my blissful ignorance.

Amusingly, many of the commas my content editor inserted, the copy editor removed. Comma placement comes down to a matter of opinion most of the time. Some people have very strong opinions on the topic. Me? Not so much.

At any rate, there I am, working my little tasks while the wren works outside my window. Bit by bit, adding to our creations.

Maybe I’m styling, too.

One-Eye Blind

I didn’t notice, until I went to take this photo of the pretty flowers, that St. Francis is now blind in one eye.

Apparently some sort of insect has built a cocoon or egg sack in the cavity and sealed it over. I can’t decide if St. Francis’ love of all animals extends to insects. You don’t really see him depicted with, say, a preying mantis on an outstretched arm. Still, life is life and I’m inclined to let whatever it is develop as it will.

That tends to be my philosophy on most everything. And not just because I’m lazy.

I think that’s why Taoism fits me well: just let it flow, swim with the tide, ride that wave into the shore.

It’s how I write, too. I usually have just a general idea of what happens, but not exactly. For example, right now my characters are visiting this sacred altar. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to get to, being secret and sacred and all, but I wasn’t sure what the tricks and traps would be. I found out as my characters went along. Now that they’re there, I’m not sure exactly who or what occupies the altar. It hasn’t jumped out yet, either, which gets kind of frustrating.

I’m really not sure what I think about this kind of thing. Robin McKinley, who I just love, and who writes this nearly incoherent, stream-of-consciousness blog that I can only sometimes bear to read, writes here about why there’s no sequel to Sunshine, a book well-loved and which clearly ended begging for a sequel. She does the thing some authors do, saying that the stories come to her and she can’t make it happen. Other authors talk about their characters talking to them. The pre-plotters brainstorm it all out ahead of time and then, depending on their technique, either write it exactly that way or let the story wind around that structure.

I don’t know if I believe in the “stories are given to me thing,” though it fits within my Taoist inclinations. I don’t know that I think it all up myself, either.

I do know that the answers don’t come to me unless I’m writing what’s happening to the characters. Or letting the scene play in my head – that sometimes works. I think sometimes that it’s a combination of both, like most things. I point the imagining part of my brain in a particular direction and let it run. The neurons pull the energy from wherever they do and spin the story. Part of me can see it and part is blind.

Quite remarkable really.


This weekend was hot.

Santa Fe broke the record high on Saturday by hitting 100. So, yeah, not so bad. And it’s a dry heat. Believe me – I lived in St. Louis for a while. Lack of humidity makes all the difference in the world.

We have nice cross-currents for air flow in our house and ceiling fans, so we never felt like we had to turn on the air conditioning. But we stayed pretty still. Even Isabel stayed inside. She’s gone from being the toddler-cat who has to be dragged in from playing, kicking and screaming, then immediately falling asleep, to teenager-cat. Friday night she spent the entire hot, still night in the garage hunting mice. Then on Saturday morning she slept in, got up to eat breakfast and went back to her kitty condo – the cat equivalent of partying all night and watching TV in the darkened den all day.

Then this storm rolled in, creating a dramatic sunset and dropping cooling rain. All of us parched people, animals and plants drank it gratefully.

I’m making steady progress on Sterling. Allison called me “quietly enthusiastic” about it. I said that’s because I’m trying not to be obnoxious. I never thought I’d be one to agree with the write-every-day thing. When I was first working at being a writer and attending every workshop I could, almost every singled writer gave that advice.

Write every day.

Write at the same time every day.

Some would shrug, apologize and say they knew it wasn’t easy, but that it was the only thing that worked for them.

I felt like that was impossible for me. At the time I was finishing my graduate thesis, working full time and taking and teaching martial arts classes most nights of the week. Even if I wrote every day, it couldn’t possibly be at the same time, because every day was different.

So I wrote when I could. Usually in sporadic chunks. I was writing essays then, so I could write an entire essay over the course of a few hours and that worked for me. My first publications came out of that time and my first book. We’d have to agree that worked just fine.

But other things still took precedence. Even gardening and quilting tended to edge out writing time. I would bemoan my lack of writing time, but there it was.

All that changed when I went to writing novels. Obviously I couldn’t bang out a novel in a few hours. I found I had to work incrementally, building the story piece by piece over the course of months, holding the ideas in my head over that time.

It took me nine months to write Obsidian. No, I didn’t work on it every day. I had several long stretches where I worked on it only a little or not at all. Sterling will take five months. And I’ve really only hit the smooth rhythm in the last two months.

But I do have to write every day. At pretty much the same time. Shockingly enough, it works. That approach also requires that the writing time is my core schedule and I work everything else in around that, even the day job (unless I just can’t make that happen, which can occur).

Some people draft faster, then revise. For me, when I’m done by mid-July, the novel will be reasonably polished.

And I keep thinking that it might be really good.

Which is this lovely bubbling feeling.

My quietly enthusiastic.


My mom is getting ready to sell her house.

This is the one she bought in 1972, just before my sixth birthday. She married my stepfather, Leo, a year later and they lived there until he died a few years ago.

When she remarried, my new stepfather sold his house in Denver and bought a house in Tucson. They’ve been dividing their time between my mom’s house in Denver for the summer and his house in Tucson for the winter.

Only the “winter” in Tucson has grown to be eight months or longer. And she just doesn’t enjoy her time in the Denver house anymore. It’s become a kind of museum of our family and not a living home. Also, the house is getting older and being left unmaintained for eight months at a time is too hard on it, especially during Colorado winters.

So, when my mom and Dave passed through here a few weeks ago on their annual migration north, and I could see how much she was dreading facing the house, I told her that, if my vote counted, that I’m fine with her selling the house.

I don’t think my vote should count, but she knows I have issues. Or did. I used to dream that she sold the house without telling me and I would come home to an empty shell. This is probably due to my dad dying when I was young and I had other issues about trying to hold onto stuff. But I’ve gotten much better about this kind of thing, as I mentioned the other day. Elizabeth Ryann commented that it’s like building a muscle – an image I just love.

So, the other day my mom updated me on the work they’re doing to fix up the house to sell and she mentioned that the park light on the front walk is gone now. It was broken and couldn’t be fixed. And it’s a bit funky for a house sale. I think she and Leo bought it in Taos or Santa Fe when they took out the old park lights and replaced them with new.

I was a bit taken aback – so much for my brave, deleting phase, and my mom replied “I know. I’m trying not to think about it.” So, I really did try not to write about it, I did, but I just had to.

Especially because I was telling David about it and how my mom thought we’d wired up the one broken arm at some point, which I don’t remember doing. He doesn’t either. But, it turns out, he has NO idea what light I’m talking about.

“The 12-foot tall iron lamp you have to pass to walk in the front door?” I say “With the four big arms with globes and another on top? The one that’s been there for 35 years and has formed the backdrop for 27,000 family photos??”

I might have been growing a bit shrill at this point, because he ducked his way out of the conversation. I might have sulked a little bit.

I’ve reached the midpoint of Sterling and I’m working at building the romance between the hero and heroine. Actually, I’ve been building it and now I want some delivery from them. One of the classic ways to show that their love is real and true is for the man to understand things about the woman that no one else does. He would, for example, know how she felt about the freaking park light on the front walk of her childhood home.

But real love doesn’t work that way and I know it.

Come January, David and I will have been together for twenty years. He does understand things about me. And when we go up to Denver, he’ll almost certainly remember that conversation and look at where the park light was and say something like “Oh, that light! I just didn’t know what you meant by ‘park light.'”

See? I know him, too.

I think the real love is in him letting me get a little shrill and sulky and letting it go. I suspect he knows this won’t be the last of the upheaval until the house is sold. There will be much deciding in the coming weeks of what to keep and what to let go of.

I know I can trust him to be by my side through all of it.

That’s the really difficult part to capture in a novel. I’m lucky to have it in real life.


Today’s Exhibit A is an anti-nature example.

About a week back, some kids dropped a trail of gummi worms on the bike/walking path. You know the kind I mean – the gel-type candy with the neon colors never found in nature.

Like this:

They seem to have been deposited on purpose, at regular intervals, decorating the path from the shopping center down past the school. It’s possibly an experiment. I know I’m sorry I haven’t taken daily photos to document the course of their non-decomposition.

I should note that we live in a fairly rural area. We’ve had coyotes and bobcats on our porch, along with various other kinds of wildlife. There’s a pretty vital cycle of life here, predation, scavenging and insectile clean-up. Nothing organic lasts long.

Yeah, you know where I’m going with this.

At first, nothing seemed to change. They glistened in the hot sun on the asphalt path for a couple of days. To all appearances ready to be plucked up and eaten.

Only nothing was eating them.

Gradually the color leached away. Apparently even those neon dyes aren’t forever. But they were still recognizably gummi worms.

Now you can see they’ve shrunk into what’s probably their original, cylindrical core. Not unlike those plastic plugs you keep in your junk drawer, not knowing what their real purpose is.

After a couple of hot days, they finally appear to be melting somewhat, though not enough to lose their distinctive shape. The ants occasionally nose at them, but carry nothing away.

The now leached worm cores melt and recongeal. Sometimes a bicycle tire swoop carries a bit away.

I fully expect them to become one with the asphalt.

Nothing to Fear but Deleting Itself

David calls these horsetail grasses. I don’t know that the name is right, but I won’t argue. I just like how they look when they flutter in the breeze.

The yucca are about to bloom, too. The birds land on the heavy buds now, checking for progress. Or perhaps just for bugs on the buds. Hard to say.

This was one of four photographs I took, trying to get the right angle, so you could see how the grasses catch the light. I pulled the four off of my camera, picked the one I liked best, saved it and permanently deleted the rest.

I’ve gotten much better at deleting, I’ve found.

When I was younger, I saved everything. Albeit, with non-digital photographs, you kind of had to save them, along with the negatives. But I wouldn’t throw away even the blurry ones. Or the ones I accidentally snapped of my foot while loading the film. I saved the box from my Snoopy watch, notes from my friends, love letters from high school. In graduate school, I spent hours Xeroxing articles until I had stacks of them in my office.

Through it all ran a sneaking fear that I’d throw away something important. Something crucial, even.

Young writers do this, too. I certainly did. You just hate to delete the least precious word, much less sentences or paragraphs. Sometimes you’ll be persuaded to remove the prose and you carefully excise it and place it in a safe Outtakes file. After all, those words are singular creation that must be preserved lest it never come again.

Which is nonsense.

There’s an idea that, as we grow older, we’ll discover that the world is not as abundant as we thought. That we’re not immortal, that money really doesn’t grow on trees and that opportunity, having knocked, skeedaddles to someone else, never to be seen again.

Instead you discover that this isn’t true at all. Or rather, not in such a limited way. We’re not immortal, but life goes past your twenties, in a most satisfying way. Money comes and goes and there are many ways to come by it. Opportunities may be lost, but others turn up.

Words and pictures are plentiful. I can delete pages now without a qualm. There will always be more words, ones that don’t need deleting. Photographs that don’t completely satisfy can be discarded in favor of those that do.

I give away books, knowing that if I really want to see one again, I can always find it. I don’t worry so much about covering every little point of research – a general idea is fine and, if I need to know more, I can always find out.

There’s a relaxation to this way of thinking. Perhaps an absence of fear.

Now I really need to go through those old photographs, scrapbook the good ones and destroy the rest.

Except for that one of my foot. I’m kind of sentimental about that one.

How Not to Write a Series

We didn’t go anywhere this weekend.

Lots of people did – packing up their camping gear or party supplies. David and I tossed it around, but we weren’t feeling the need to get away. Plus he’s still trying to get in the groove of the new semester, especially after the big Caribbean vacay. I’m back in the swing of writing, so we decided to hang at home.

And I decided to try something new: an at-home beach party.

One of my favorite vacations is hanging by the beach or pool (or a Tucson patio), reading and having drinks. So, once I hit my writing goals for the morning, I established myself out on our gravel “deck” with my Kindle and some wine. I finished some critique, got a bit of a tan and got to read Ilona Andrews’ new book Magic Bleeds. I’m loving the new installment, Book 4 in the series, and more, I’m really impressed by how they’re handling the series.

Much has been discussed lately about authors with faltering series. There’s a number of factors at play here. First both publishers and authors love a successful series because it’s good bread and butter work. An established series gathers a guaranteed audience. It’s fun for the author because she gets to really explore her world and characters. Readers love them for that same reason: tell me more, more, more.

But a few things can go awry:

1) The author never planned for the story to be a series. She can maybe eke the original idea into a couple more books, but then she’s spinning out of nothing. Sometimes there’s simply not enough depth in the original concept to carry the story that far.

2) Publishing pressure crushes the creativity. When an author is working on revisions for Book 1, on deadline to deliver a draft of Book 2 and a 10-page outline of Book 3, this can create unbearable pressure. Stories don’t always lay down and behave, which can lead an author to force it. And the story can suffer.

3) The author loses interest. I wonder sometimes about authors who are on the 30th book in the series. How can it possibly remain fresh, exciting and fun to write? But, by the 30th book, I imagine you’d have your pattern pretty established. Add these elements and tap it out. Doesn’t always make for as wonderful of a story though.

4) The cow is dry and the author keeps milking. Sometimes a series runs its course. It’s no longer fresh, new and full of juice. Everyone can think of television series that have done this. Sometimes a plot decision takes the story to its natural end and nothing can resuscitate it. Sometimes it just didn’t have that much juice to begin with. Sales decline, no publisher wants to pick up the next book. Time to move on to a new story.

5) As the overall story increases in length, less happens in each book. If you’re going to keep the series going and you’re committed to two books a year, which keeps you clothed, fed and with respectable shelf-space, it would be tempting to slow down the overall plot line. Instead of each book covering years in the characters lives, the pace slows to weeks and days. Sometimes over excruciatingly slow hours.

Anything that I missed here? I’d be interested in other observations of what can go so, so wrong.

Magic Bleeds is surprising me. This fourth book is possibly the best of the series so far, gaining in depth and resonance. I’m sure you can think of examples for each situation above. I’m thinking of one or more specifics for each, but not naming names. I love it when I find examples of a series that actually improves with age. So kudos to Ilona and Gordon, the husband/wife writing team that is Ilona Andrews — a fact that I think only increases the marvel and wonder of what they’re accomplishing.

(How do they not kill each other?)

Memory Bin

Our garbage collection here is once a week, on Monday mornings. The trucks come quite early, usually before 7 am, lumbering down the street, seizing the standardized bins with the automatic claws.

We go running early, so we usually drag our bin out on Monday morning. But many of our neighbors do this on Sunday, often early in the afternoon. It’s an unmistakable rumble, the sound of the two-wheeled plastic bin being dragged up a long gravel driveway. Sound carries here. Despite the distances between houses, we can hear the grinding drag from the next street over. Some people even put their bins out on Saturday, just to be sure.

Our immediate next-door neighbor puts his out on Sunday before noon. He’s a vague kind of guy who may have done a little bit too much acid in his younger days. It might be a big remembering thing for him, to get that bin out there. So, much so, that he put his bin out yesterday. So did our neighbor on the other side.

“There won’t be garbage collection tomorrow, will there?” I asked David.

“I wouldn’t think so since it’s a national holiday.”

And yet, there were the sprinkles of garbage bins dutifully drug out to the road. This morning I peeked in one to ascertain that, indeed, it had not been emptied.

“For some of these people,” David said, “I think garbage collection day is the only thing that distinguishes Monday from the rest of the week.”

I can see that. Our neighborhood is full of artists and retirees. Week days, weekends, holidays – there’s no real distinction if you’re not working a typical corporate work week. Remembering something like when to put out the garbage can take on great significance.

I’ll probably hit 20,000 hits on my blog today. I’m at 19,989 right now. It’s kind of like watching for the car odometer to roll over to a round number. You watch for days and even weeks, reminding yourself to look. I almost always forget at the pertinent time. I’m sure that will happen with this. The next time I look, the numbers will have rolled over. It’s just kind of nifty, though, nothing very important.

A lot of people stress the importance of remembering. Today is a day for remembering, the memorial. I’ve seen a number of messages on the social networks reminding people that today is to honor those fallen in service, not active duty personnel, because there’s other days for them. Keep to the correct day for the correct observance seems to be the message.

So today is the day I’m instructed to remember my father, the man who died in the fiery wreckage of his F-4 fighter jet when I was three years old.

I’ve written about this before, so forgive me those of you who might grow tired of it. My father’s death is one of the watershed events of my life, of my mother’s life. It changed the course of what happened after, of who we grew up to be. We observe the quiet anniversaries of his life throughout the year, his birthday, their wedding anniversary, the day he died. We don’t do anything; we just remember.

We can’t not remember him.

So, though I’m writing about it on this day, Memorial Day isn’t special for me. I don’t care at all who gets thanked or remembered today. I’m not shuffling my memories and my grief out to the curb, so it can be collected on time.

I plan to spend some time in the sun, enjoying the life I know my dad would have wanted me to have.

The Morning After

Stormy day yesterday. Now our rain catchments are all full and the birds singing crazy symphonies.

Last night Marcella IM’d me quite late to report that she’d gone from 87K to 91.6K that day and her new book is almost done, except for a few connecting scenes.

Her first book, Enemy Within, is coming out in November and she’s supposed to deliver the sequel, Enemy Games, to her agent today. So, I dutifully told her how terribly hot she is and what a triumphant blaze of glory this is to get her book done and how she can send it off to her agent and relax and party all weekend.

Marcella replied that she was far more likely to collapse in a cold, stinking pile of exhaustion.

Which is always the way of it, isn’t it?

I remember when my first lover, my high school boyfriend, Kev, and I first contrived to spend a night together.

(This is the time to stop reading if you have a low TMI threshold. And Mom – I’m not sure you know this story, but it’s been about 25 years so I figure the statute of limitations is up on this.)

My folks were out of town, so Kev came over to spend the night. I had many things I wanted to try at that tender age of exploration, most of them romantic. So we spread blankets in front of the fireplace in the living room (which required shifting furniture). I’d read somewhere that safflower oil made the best massage oil. Kev had never had alcohol, so we drank a bottle of champagne. (Why, yes, I am an evil corrupting influence.)

We had a lovely, giddy, very hot and sexy time with each other.

We romantically fell asleep in each other’s arms. And awoke somewhere around two in the morning, cold, sticky and miserable with pounding headaches.

It was a good welcome-to-adulthood lesson. For every blaze of glory, there’s an ashy pile of debris to clean up afterwards. It became a running joke with me and Kev, especially if anyone mentioned romantic fireplace settings or massage oil. Our cautionary tale.

It’s the way of the world, that for every sexy evening, there’s a morning after. For every great artistic push, there’s a time of whimpering recovery.

At least now we know to plan for it.

There Is No "I" in Book

A bit of Spring sunset tumult from last night. As with many things, it brewed up to be a big deal, but really produced very little.

Allison and I were talking about self-absorption yesterday. Self-involvement. Narcissism.

These terms get tossed at writers quite often. And usually, I think, by the people who want the writer to be paying attention to them, rather than to what they’re writing. I ended up telling Allison that she’d been necessarily self-involved in completing her Revisions from Hell in record time.

Then I realized, that’s not true at all.

She hasn’t been self-involved; she’s been absorbed in her work. Writers drew the unlucky straw of doing an awful lot of their work in their heads, in dreamy states that are arguably other planes of existence. It tends to make them unavailable for paying attention to the people around them, which can lead to rancor.

Blogging and memoir-writing – often the same thing – are also targets for the self-involvement critics. “Navel-gazing” they love to call it. If that’s so, would going back and reading one’s own blog posts be navel-gazing at navel-gazing?

I say no.

Once you produce the writing, it becomes something outside yourself. It’s art. A painting is not the artist’s self. A symphony is not the musician’s self. An elegant bit of code is not the programmer’s self. All of these things, to varying degrees, do reflect the person who created them.

It’s an interesting thing to me, as I’ve mentioned before here, to go back and read my older blog posts. I particularly like playing “this time, last year.” The May 27 post from last year is full of sadness about getting a “no” from the agent I really had set my hopes on. Quite a bit has changed for me in that time – my strategy, how I’m going about things.

What non-writers may not realize is, reading your own work rarely feels like a familiar thing. I’m often surprised by what I’ve written before. People have quoted my work to me and I failed to recognize it – which irritates them. I understand why it would, but it’s lovely that they’re quoting something I wrote. It just no longer sounds like a piece of me. It has its own life.

So, Allison, I take it back. You haven’t been self-involved at all. You’ve been involved in your book.

And that’s an admirable thing.