White River Junction

It’s interesting being in New England, in such a different landscape from my home. As soon as I landed in Manchester yesterday evening, I smelled the ocean. Not the sun-warmed southern California surf, but the damp spring brine of the northeast sea coast.

There is SO much water here.

I’m staying in White River Junction, which is at the meeting of the Connecticut and White Rivers. They’re celebrating their 250 year anniversary this year – which seems funny to me after Santa Fe’s 400th. But it seems old to me here. Quiet at night, industrial on the edges, renovating nicely.

I took a walk this evening and saw these neat lofts with lovely glass balconies that overlook the river.
Neat sculpture in the Veteran’s Memorial park along the White River.
Road bridge crossing the river. I love how these staid little New England churches have been repurposed – this one into a Zen studio.
The White River itself.
This is a railroad town from way back and the Welcome Center is in the old depot.

Very pretty weather, but all this damp makes me feel chilled!

Let’s Go Fly a Kite

People fly these enormous kites on the beach around Mission Bay. Really neat to see them. Like fantasy creatures in the sky.

Vacations are kind of unreal anyway. We sleep until we wake up and then do things I don’t normally do, like walk across the street to Starbucks while the surf pounds in the background. Even though I spent some of my mornings checking in with work (big proposal going out) and keeping up with other email, I didn’t track twitter, or the blogs I usually read, or the comics, etc., in my dailies bookmark folder.

It felt good to be out of that swim for a bit.

Instead, we walked the boardwalk, paddled in the surf. We enjoyed long wine-filled lunches with fresh seafood and lolled by the pool. We did crazy, non-real-life things like toured an $8 million beachfront house. My normally full days emptied out. I didn’t work on any writing projects. I read several books. Emotional tension over things I’d been worrying about bled away.

The ocean is good for that.

The coming back, though, that’s always the bite. Even in the car I started revising my To-Do list. I received an email from my editor during the drive with line-edits on Sapphire. Meanwhile I still haven’t finished the two Revise & Resubmits I’m working on. The big proposal is still teetering on the edge of going out and now I’m being sent on a two-week jaunt through New Hampshire and Vermont starting next Sunday.

Yesterday was crazy full, jam-packed.

It’s tempting, sometimes, to think that it’s better not to do vacay at all. So I don’t notice the contrast. I also know this is the opposite solution to the problem.

Instead, I need to find ways to let every day have a breezy feel. To let the emotional tension, the relentless drive for more, bleed away. I want long walks and bird song. Less multi-tasking and more reading.

Maybe I need to fly more kites.

Fantasies and Determinations

When I submitted my first novel to an agent, I spun this whole fantasy around it.

Yeah, you publishing types out there are rolling your eyes and you writers are cringing and nodding in sympathy.

You know the kind of fantasy I mean. The agent calls you up, all thrilled and excited to have discovered you. I’m embarrassed to admit, part of my little fantasy was that not only would they offer me a lovely advance, but that they’d ask me how much more I needed to quit my day job and write the sequel as fast as possible.

Yes, you can laugh now.

I wasn’t all that naive, either, relatively speaking. I’d had my essay collection published with a university press, which meant no advance, small print run. I’d published in magazines for ten years. I had a pretty decent idea how publishing worked.

This still did not prevent me from imagining they’d go into a frenzy, exclaiming “She’s the next Stephenie Meyer – we must pay this woman to write!”

It could happen…

At any rate, it didn’t. I got the polite thanks, but no thanks. David took me to the bar and bought me a margarita. Since then I’ve had more rejections and some maybes and some lovely yeses. But no one is begging me to quit my day job.

One of the things I’ve come to realize, in my newfound maturity, is that no one ever will.

At RT I noticed how many authors referenced their day jobs. Even award-winning, best-selling authors with name-recognition and sizzling cache. Courtney Milan, for example, still works full-time as a lawyer. A lot of us would like our books to be doing as well as hers. A number of other authors have a spouse who pulls in a decent salary, so the writing money is gravy on top of that.

The reality of it is, a day job provides a number of things that advances and even decent royalties do not. Things like health insurance, 401Ks, and a reliable salary. Advances are finite. You get a chunk of money and you might not get another for six months or a year. An author doing really well might get a $10,000, but if you compare that to half your annual salary at your day job, not counting benefits, it’s not so much. Royalties fluctuate and are impossible to predict. In order to rely on writing income, you have to have enough of an established backlist – books that keep selling more or less on their own at a steady rate.

I’m obviously not the first person to point that out. But it recently occurred to me that this is much like the scenario laid out by people like Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame. You gradually build your passive income – money from investments that pay out without you having to actively work on them, e.g., already published books vs. writing new books – until you reach a level of comfort. For many of us, this level of comfort includes being able to pay for health insurance and save for the future.

It’s back to the whole “slow and steady wins the race thing.” It’s not the glamorous fantasy, no. It’s good to have those dreams, I think. They keep us revved and excited. It’s also good to recognize the reality, and plan accordingly.

Wait! Is that the phone?

What Did He Use to Do?

Every morning while I’m in Tucson, I get up early and walk the circuit of the 9-hole golf course, before the golfers get going.

I miss going to the gym first thing, but the walk takes 45 minutes and makes up in length what it lacks in intensity. Plus there are bunnies and quail everywhere. Birds sing. This morning I saw an owl. I also saw a spot where it looked like an owl had gotten a dove. Feathers scattered everywhere told the tale of a midnight scuffle.

Every morning, too, I see the same two guys, prepping the golf course for the day. This fellow does the raking of the sand traps and grooms the grass with his Zamboni-ish machine that creates those long stripes. He looks African to me, both in his face and the way he doesn’t look at me when I walk by. The other guy always says hello. He’s tall with silver hair and a golf course jacket. His job involves testing the putting greens and tees. Or tamping. Perhaps he both tests and tamps.

I wonder if working at a golf course is a good living. Probably it’s a better deal to be the tester/tamper than the raker/rider. Like most jobs, though, you likely have to start out as raker/rider guy.

It’s funny because so many people in this neighborhood are retired. Sometimes, when they talk about their friends, my folks will mention what people used to do. “Oh, she was a lawyer, you know. And he held political office.” At this time, though, they have no uniform that tips you off. They carry no briefcases, have no tell-tale packets of real-estate sell sheets. At the Starbucks, the retirees and vacationers stand out easily from the people heading to jobs.

I had a friend from Madrid many years ago and she commented on how odd she found it that Americans always ask each other what they do. She’s right – it’s among the first things people ask each other when first meeting. She thought it indicated that Americans define themselves by what they do for a living, where for the Spanish it means so little that they often have no idea what a person does for money.

So many of us writers have a dual answer to that question of what do we do. We say oh, my day job is ex, but I’m also an aspiring/freelance/well-published author. Sometimes we specify the day job, other times we leave it vague. It takes a while to fess up the writer part, too.

I like to think my raker/rider guy who never looks up is deep in thoughts about his painting or his poetry. The Zen of the golf course gives him time to think. He works early hours, then composes in the afternoons.

Or perhaps he hangs with his kids. Or has two other jobs. Maybe he breeds horses.

I’ll just make up my own story for him.


I snapped this picture over ten years ago, as you can see. The date stamp is on because I was doing field work in Bernalillo, near Albuquerque. Sandia Ridge looked so unearthly perfect, I had to take this photo, too, and I kept it all these years, over many laptops.

It’s funny to me that today I live just on the other side of this mountain. I’m heading down to Albuquerque for a day of meetings. This has been a week of disrupted schedules and this feels like one more thing.

And yet, how lucky am I?

I might wish my day job – which is a career-type job that my colleagues devote all their energy to – intruded less on the writing. But it’s a great job with terrific people. I’m counting my blessings.

See you on the other side of Sandia!

Back In My Day…

I read a fair number of blogs about writing, reading and the publishing industry.

No surprise there.

If you read a lot of these blogs, you’ll notice that there are certain themes people like to return to. One of the favorite ones is how unlikely you are to make money as a writer. I wanted to add the phrase “especially lately.” It’s true that the economic downturn has people focused on money and lack thereof, but I’ve been hearing this lecture since I started writing back in the late 90s.

Exhibit A: http://pimpmynovel.blogspot.com/2010/07/you-aint-in-it-for-money.html. I generally like this guy’s blog, but what he’s saying about keeping the day job is pretty standard. You might make some money, but not enough to live on, is the message. At the same time, the big news last week was that Janet Evanovitch, author of the wildly successful Stephanie Plum series, now up to 16 books, asked for $50 million for her next four books. Well, her agent, who is also her son, asked for it. Same thing? I was shocked by this number until an editor on Twitter told me Evanovitch got $40 million for the previous four.

Still, she says, that’s a raise of $2.5 million per book, which is asking a lot in this economy.

So, I’m going to leave alone the concept that someone who’s already received $40 million could then want another $50 million. This is a world I don’t live in. I understand this gets to be like movie stars, where prestige rests on the price tag. I just keep thinking that once I buy the beach house in the Caribbean, what would I do with the rest of the money?

But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m wondering where the middle is?

There must be something besides “you won’t make enough to live on” and “I need $12.5 million per book.” The zone gets fuzzy because everyone thinks they need a different amount of money to live on, but still…

For most writers, the goal is to make enough money to ditch the day job and write full time. This seems like a reasonable ambition. After all, nobody practices law on the side while working as a checker at the grocery store. Nobody tells you when you go into environmental consulting that you should really plan on just enjoying it as a hobby that supplements your real income.

I’m beginning to suspect this is a bit of a “stay away” gambit. Well-meaning, perhaps, but I think a lot of these writers are seeing their pool glutted. Especially the ones who aren’t making enough money to live on. I’ve never heard Nora Roberts or Janet Evanovitch give this cautionary tale. In fact, I once heard Anne Rice announce that she was getting something like $1 million for her next book (I know – Janet was giggling) and that if she could do it, anyone could.

The upshot is: I’m tired of this particular saw and I don’t intend to listen anymore.

Our finances are good. I pay attention to where my money comes from and where it goes. We have no appreciable debt beyond our mortgage, which is solid because we bought at the bottom of the market. I know what I need to live on and what’s gravy. I think that’s just being financially savvy. We should all know where we stand and what we need. From there it’s perfectly reasonable to set income goals from our writing.

It’s not magic; it’s just being smart.

Sunsets and Priorities

A sunset photo seems appropriate to end our week. The end, at least, for those of us still working the day jobs.

I feel like the day job ate my brain this week. I’m happy to have this project to work on, and it’s interesting, but it’s taken a lot of thought and decision-making.

There’s that saying “No one pays you to think.” Except they actually do. Not always an easy thing to deliver.

So my wordcounts have gone down as the week progressed:

Monday 1808
Tuesday 1647
Wednesday 1503
Thursday 526

Yeah – worked late Wednesday getting something done before a Thursday morning meeting. It shows.

And yes, I hear you all out there telling me to ease back the pressure on myself. I’ve passed 91K now. My original goal was 90K, but the story has become longer than I thought. It will probably take another 10K or so to finish the story and I’m trying not to rush it.

Actually – it occurs to me writing this that I’m worried the end isn’t moving fast enough when the worst thing for me as a reader is a rushed ending. That may be key.

At any rate, I’ll work on it this weekend, I think. I had planned to go to the LERA meeting tomorrow and go shopping for clothes for the National convention after, but I’ve decided to stay home. It’s easy to put focus on things like outfits for pitch sessions and costumes for the Steampunk Ball, but the most important thing is this novel I’d like to sell.

Meanwhile my childhood home is officially on the market. If you click on the panoramic link, you can see the tour. (Hey – it’s a Friday. What else are you going to do?) My mom and her David have done an amazing job of getting the house ready. It’s a lovely house, too, if you know anyone looking in Denver. I walked to elementary school out those back doors and through the park.

The worst thing that ever happened to me was when Chris Rieber stole my tap shoe and dropped it through the ice in the creek.

May the next people to live in that house love it as much as we have all these years.

Oxygen Masks

The cholla are both flowering and fruiting now – a brilliant combination of yellow and this purple-pink that can look scarlet from a distance.

Quite the show.

Last night Kerry and I were talking about how making progress on the writing can make or break your day. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it can be astonishing how much of a difference getting the writing in can make.

She had slunk home from a grueling day at work. Her job involves people in crisis, so it’s more emotionally demanding than, say, mine. She said she was in a mood of deepest blue, but had to try to work on her revisions anyway. I gave her the virtual pep talk and she disappeared for a while.

When she came back a bit later, having hit her page goal, her mood had entirely shifted. Everything suddenly looked better. She felt ready to go spend time with family who needed her emotional support.

“I use the analogy with my patients of the airplane, where you put on your own oxygen mask before assisting another,” she told me.

Sometimes I think this is mainly true of writers. I also saw this guest blog post by D.J. Morel yesterday. (This is a bit of a departure for the Pimp My Novel blog, which is usually about the marketing end of publishing and well worth following. Clearly I liked this guest post, too.) He talks about choosing the day job that allows you to write. This line struck me:

When I realized that I was screaming at the walls of my house for a half hour after coming home each night, I knew it was enough. I quit, and didn’t come to understand how unhappy it all had made me until many months down the road. If you are indeed a writer, you can run away from writing, but it’ll only come and find you.

But one of my favorite quotes for a very long time now is this one by Mark Rutherford:

There is in each of us an upwelling spring of life, energy, love, whatever you like to call it. If a course is not cut for it, it turns the ground around it into a swamp.

(It turns out I quoted this before on the blog, but it was back in January ’09, so I hope you’ll forgive me the repeat.)

He very carefully does not ascribe this phenomenon only to writers, though he was a novelist. I suspect we all have this, the upwelling spring that keeps us alive, engaged and vital. The Buddhists say each of us has one thing that we do better than anyone else in existence and that life is a journey to discover what that is.

Unfortunately it’s all too easy not to cut a course for the upwelling spring. Daily life piles up, gradually blocking the way. Often we don’t notice until there’s a flood and we’re standing in a boggy mess as far as the eye can see.

What to do then?

Put on your oxygen mask and take a deep breath. The rest will sort itself out.

A Noble Effort

When we awoke this morning, Isabel greeted us with a series of excited chirping meows and significant looks at the big leather armchair. This can mean only one thing.

She caught a mouse. Oh, and it had escaped, by the way, and she needed help moving the chair.

Good morning to you, too.

See, in this new house, we’re on all one level with no basement, no cellar, no crawlspace. Thus, none of my typical kitty box locations. So, David installed an insulated kitty door in the human door to the garage and I stuck the boxes out there. This makes for great nocturnal fun, what with chasing mice in the garage all night.

Then bringing them into the house.

Teddy was interested, too, but in a more academic way, since it was Isabel’s prize. We lifted the chair, Isabel nabbed the mouse, David took it from her and released it back to the wild. Now Isabel is back in the garage, looking for more.

I had lunch with one of my Boston colleagues yesterday and we talked about how people feel about their jobs. She feels disheartened at times, she said, working with people who seem to care more about what time they get to go home than about the work itself. That their jobs seem to be entirely about working their flex schedules than what they’re trying to accomplish. Worse, despite their focus on getting away from the job, some seem to not have any particular passion outside of it, either.

We’re at a funny place with our company, so it’s on her mind, what the ideal career would be. Projects are getting canceled; people are shifting around. In some ways, what project we move to is governed entirely by where the money is. But we were asking each other what we’d like to be working on anyway.

She knows I want to be a full-time writer, of course, but she wondered what in the company I’d most like to be doing. To some extent, I don’t care so much. The project I worked on for so long was one I fell into. I became an expert on the subject, but not out of any kind of passion. I like learning new fields, so really any project will do for that. I finally said I wished the company would use me more as a writer. I think it’s foolish that they don’t, but there it is.

When I returned the question to her, she said she really didn’t know. She didn’t know in college; she didn’t know when she got her Masters in International Relations, an admittedly vague field. I asked her what she’d envisioned and she thought maybe working for an NGO (non-government organization) or something.

“Ah,” I said, “something noble.”

“Yes,” she laughed, shaking her head. “That’s it – something noble.”

The question of what we all do with ourselves has a unique answer for each of us. Some of us have day jobs of varying interest to pay the bills while we indulge our true passions in slices on either side of the work day. Some of us work at whatever and live for our families. Others of us live for our careers and care for nothing else.

I think what my colleague is getting at is that she’d like to be doing something that contributes to the betterment of the world. The exact method isn’t important to her. I think that’s part of why many of us write, with the idea of giving back stories to the world.

But really, in the end, most of the things we choose to do, we do because we like doing it. Whether that’s having a job that lets you leave at 3:30 so you can pick up the kids, or having a job that gives you a thrill that you’ve saved a life.

Many writers note that the business end of it is no fun at all. I might have a noble idea of sharing my stories with the world, but the real reason I do is because I like to.

Isabel isn’t catching mice to rid our garage of rodents. She does it because it’s fun.