Pearls Before Swine

So. The news from the agent isn’t good.

It’s sad. Not so terrible. But heartfelt and sad.

Dear Jeffe,

Well, this is an unpleasant letter to write. I really do feel that OBSIDIAN is hugely improved with your revisions. You’ve done an enormous amount of work, and I felt that, especially with the ending, the changes were dramatically clear. However, I still have significant reservations about the manuscript, and I honestly don’t know if they can be addressed in yet another edit. Some of this just has to do with your natural way of telling a story, the way that it feels right for you to be telling it. The prose problems that I had in the draft of last spring have persisted. It’s your writing style, and though I know you worked hard on nailing down the nuanced edits I had suggested, you ultimately need to be the writer that you ARE. And who am I to change that in you? Unfortunately, agents tend to have that effect and it’s not always a good thing, certainly isn’t a fair thing. The fact is that we’re just not connecting as reader and writer, you and I, and it’s not something you can change any further from here, I think. Objectively, I can tell you that the manuscript is 200% better now with your revisions– you haven’t wasted time, and I think you can agree with me there. Do you feel that it’s greatly improved? I do believe that. But I’m sorry, I don’t feel confident enough to offer you representation. I don’t personally connect to it enough to think I could sell it effectively. I need that deep passion before I take something on. I do hope that you find it in another agent, and I hope that if and when our paths cross in the future, I will be able to congratulate you on landing a terrific agent

Yeah, I wept a few tears. And I think I’m over it. She’s right: I believe the book is MUCH better and that I likely can’t change my prose style, even if I wanted to.

There it is.

So, Allison is all about me switching to the sci fi/fantasy agents instead of the romancey ones. The great irony will be that she’s signed (pretty much) with a quintessential paranormal romance agent and she doesn’t really read romance. She digs that my book is full-on fantasy (with big dollops of sex). At least she says so, because she’s sweet to me. 😉

I threw Pearl on here, in tribute to that side of me. That I was the sci fi/fantasy girl from way back. The girl who read Dragonflight long before she read Indigo Nights.

Can I help it that I long for Indigo Dragon Nights?

Pearl, for those who don’t know (which is a lot of people) is my first pubbed speculative fiction story. From Aeon Magazine, Spring 2008. I loved the image they came up with for the story. I like her wistfulness, the hope for something more than her world currently holds. It’s very her.

And yes, it’s very sci fi — with great dollops of sex.

December 1. Never a lucky day for me, the first of the month. Or rather, it’s a day of change.

Which also means opportunity, right?

If I’m a Prick, Do I Not Still Bleed?

David is studying acupuncture and oriental medicine, as some of you may or may not know.

The upshot of this is, there’s all these diagrams around the house for identifying various characteristics or the location of acupuncture points and meridians, etc. What’s funny is they all have this look that I find particularly creepy. It’s kind of like attack of the zombie patients.

I think it’s because the drawings are meant to represent people realistically, but without ethnic characteristics or any kind of emotional color.

Which, of course, isn’t realistic at all.

So you get this curious combination of something meant to look human, that isn’t human at all.

People have been sending me notes, concerned that my blog posts show that I’m under pressure or overloaded. And I start to think about how can I edit them so as not to put that so much on display. I suppose that’s my first instinct — to try to gloss that over. Then I wonder why I feel like no one knows when I need support. Therefore, I’m making a concerted effort not to gloss and to ask for support when I need it.

After all, it’s the human thing to do.

(Today is the official last day for the label “Ruthless Revision” — it is DONE! I’m lousy at keeping secrets.)

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Flesh

So, the last few days turned out to be crazy.

Par for the course in my life, you say? Yeah yeah yeah.

There’s this idea that the more something is worth doing, the more difficult it is. That the universe makes you pay for what you want, in sweat and pain. The old idea of blood sacrifice: if you truly want something you have to sacrifice your life blood to it. Sacrifice, of course, derived partially from the word for blood, for you word whores out there.

The idea is that if you are trying to do something, the universe will throw obstacles in your path, to see if you can be distracted.

If you can be? Alas, you are unworthy.

I’m not sure I believe this. But I’m so close to finishing the Ruthless Revision. Within ten pages, I think. And every time I think I’m there something happens to stop me.

So Jeffe, you ask, why are you writing this blog post instead of those ten pages?

Because I’ve got to be at full power to wind everything up in the elegant way I envision and the meter is running low today.

After a few days in New Jersey and another day downtown working with new clients, I thought I was in striking distance of finishing. And then a big DC muckety-muck had to call a state muckety-muck and I had to be called in. All very exciting and now people are sending glowing emails about how admirable I am.

It’s great to have the career validation. It truly is. And I’m not just saying that because I know my boss reads this blog.

The invidious thing is, nobody asks if I’ve finished the book yet. At least, not because they need it and are anxiously waiting for me to deliver it.

I’m really the only one who cares that I haven’t.

I’ve talked about this before, haven’t I?

At any rate, Allison has had a crazy few days also, with an offer of a book contract and four agents now circling her juicy self. It’s a great problem to have, no doubt, but she’s overwhelmed, sorting details and doing her best to make the best decision, not just for now, but for her foreseeable career.

Which brings me back to something I’ve also said before, that the most rewarding part of writing really occurs between you and your work. That’s the most uncomplicated thrill. It’s intimate and lovely.

Maybe I’ll finish tomorrow and keep it a secret.

A Time to Every Purpose, Heaven or No

It’s coming up on that time of year.

No, not Christmas, despite the rumored store displays. Fortunately I haven’t been to a Target or like store recently, so I haven’t been bombarded yet. I’m a strict holiday-orderist (yes, I just made that up). All holidays in their proper order. No Christmas activity of any kind until after Thanksgiving. No Thanksgiving discussions until after Halloween, All Saints Day, Day of the Dead.

Part of moving to a new place is learning the new rhythms.

It’s been odd to me that I haven’t wanted to get the Halloween decs out yet. Some of that is where my focus is, on finishing this revision. I haven’t done a number of things I normally spend my time doing. And being out of my normal patterns, feeling like this is a vacation house and not my usual life at all.

But a huge part of it is the weather, too. The leaves are starting to turn on a few trees now, but we haven’t hard a hard freeze. Certainly no snow. David and I are out on the patio in the evenings, having cocktails and watching the sunset, which would just NOT have happened in Laramie.

So, part of me — the Denver girl who had to wear a parka over her hula dancer costume one year (I wised up and picked WARM costumes after that) and the Laramie girl who associates high chilled winds whipping dead leaves around with Halloween — thinks it’s still summertime. After all, the flowers are still blooming.

But now I’m starting to feel it. Like a whisper in the air. The veil is thinning. The restless dead are teeming in the wings.

The coyotes yipping at night could be the first yelps of the Hunt.


Yesterday, David told me the Dutch word for editor.

He wrote it down for me in class, because he figured I’d be amused, given how I’m spending my life editing lately.

No, he’s not studying Dutch. He’s learning basic Chinese for his acupuncture certification and the teacher happens to be Dutch. Which makes for an interesting class, David says. Added to this that among the other students are a guy from Liverpool and a gal from Texas, with their associated thick accents, plus gals who are native Japanese and Portuguese speakers. The interchange of language leads to all sorts of back and forth. At any rate, the teacher told the class yesterday that he was very nitpicky about the pictograms, because that’s what an editor, mierenneuker, means in Dutch.

The literal translation? “Ant-f**ker.”

What an image.

That’s partly the copy-editing idea. But even with a substantive revision, there’s a fair amount of ant-f**king going on. Back and forth over the tiny details. I’ve rounded a corner on mine and I think I have things stacked up so the rest will fall into place. Birds flying high? You know how I feel.

All the while I’m doing this, I’ve been following the tweets of a Famous Author. She has been working to complete her book by a deadline. She tweets and blogs about it quite profusely — it’s interesting to have a window into her angst. She’s been working with increasing frenzy, churning out 10-20 pages in a sitting. She stayed up all night to finish, went to bed at 5am, slept four hours, got up and finished the book by the end of the day.

She’s exhausted and triumphant. Happy to have sent the book off.

That’s right. She sent it off already.

Now, this Famous Author is one who has openly declared that no one edits her anymore. She’s one of those, like Anne Rice, who has reached a level of fame and money-making that she believes she doesn’t need an editor. The publishing house doesn’t care, because they make money anyway.

Oh yeah, I personally stopped buying her books some time ago because they got so truly terrible.

And now I wonder — are her all-night outpourings going straight to hardback? Writers talk about the virtues of the “vomit draft,” where you just pour it all onto the page. The point being that you then go back and shape it. Not pack it off for publication.

It doesn’t bear repeating that this isn’t fair. Of course the Famous Author can do this — she’s already made it. She says her sales continue to go up, so she’s not interested in her fans complaints that the books have gone downhill. Of course I can’t do this, because nobody yet knows if anyone will ever buy my books.

But I swear to this now: I will always have an editor, no matter what. Somebody has to take care of the ant-f**king!

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I had this teacher of Taoist philosophy who insisted that, if you were working with the Tao, then things would feel easy.

It’s like the joke about the Rabbi, the Priest and the Taoist approaching the raging river. The Priest kneels down and prays to God for safe passage across the river. The Rabbi divides the water and walks through. The Taoist steps into the current and gestures for it to keep going in the same direction.

Okay, it’s not a FUNNY joke.

But it does illustrate a principle that, while some religious philosophies seek to control or change the world, Taoists try to find which way things are already going and ride that wave. So, the corollary to this is, if what you’re trying to do is really difficult, you’re fighting the current. If you’ve found the current, things are easy. Just float along in your inner tube and drink your beer.

I’m not sure if I agree with this or not.

There are certainly good examples in our lives of things falling into place, not the least of which our recent serendipitous switch to moving to Santa Fe instead of Victoria. That was certainly the case of knocking on some doors and seeing which one opened. And every-damn-thing fell into place. It was truly amazing to watch.

I have long been accused of taking the easy way. Of cruising.

I was a naturally good student, so rarely studied. I read books in class because I could always answer the question the teacher’s asked, no matter how they tried to catch me out. I could get A’s without trying, so why try? In college I had to try harder, but I didn’t kill myself by any stretch, to my advisor’s dismay. My PhD advisor was even sharper in his disapproval, often castigating me for not pushing myself, for doing just enough to get by.

So, I can see it. I’m not a hard worker. I’m a grasshopper by nature and generally at peace with that.

But with this ruthless revision — the one you’re undoubtedly sick of hearing about — I’m trying really hard to take the time to do it right. I’m working HARD at it. And feeling a bit sulky about it, to tell the truth. I want to see if it’s true, that if you put in all that effort that all the theys want you to put in, will it really result in a hugely better product?

I’m at this point in the book where I got stuck when I was drafting it. It’s about 80% of the way through. I solved the problem then by jumping in the river and letting the current take me. Turns out we meandered past some neat scenery, but ended up in a stagnant pool.

So, now I’m consciously directing it. Thinking thinking thinking. With lots of second guessing. And it’s making me tired. I know that sounds silly, but I’ve been doing this writing a couple hours every day/working full-time career-type job all day deal for years now and this push is draining me. Sleeping 11 hours a night draining.

Which makes me worry that I’m fighting the current.

Maybe its my Catholic ancestors, whispering in my ear that I should confess, purge and pray. Maybe its the Pagan ones before that, telling me to sacrifice to the spirit of the river.

Maybe I should just get back to work.

Cracks in the Glass

I have this tendency to drop my right shoulder.

It’s the scoliosus, I suspect. I was diagnosed with the sideways spinal curve when I was 12. Girls develop it then quite a bit, I understand, a result of the emotional and phsyical spurts of adolescence. I am now the height I was at 12 and managed to avoid the back surgery by doing a lot of exercises and wearing a Milwaukee brace (think Judy Blume’s Deenie). My back is pretty good now, which I attribute mainly to years of Tai Chi. But I still tend to drop my right shoulder, so many of my photographs come out with a slight downward slide. I often correct them, to make the horizon level. I nearly did on this one, but decided to leave it. A stamp of who I am, flaws and all, in this photograph.

We watched The Soloist last night. At one point, Nathaniel Ayers, a mentally ill musician who bombed out of Juliard and now wanders the streets of Los Angeles with a shopping cart of precious garbage, asks the reporter, Steve Lopez, who champions him if he sees writers. Nathaniel sees Beethoven and Mozart hovering in the air, embodying the music that drives him. Steve says that he writes for a living, so it’s not like that.

I really wonder if it ever is for writers.

Where are the Shine, August Rush and The Soloist movies about writers? Are we just not crazy interesting enough?

I’ve written about this before. The difference between being an artist like a musician and being a writer. With music, there’s a vast learning curve involved in being able to read, play and eventually create music. With writing, we all learn to create a sentence in school. After that, anyone can write and it becomes a matter of opinion, to some extent, whether or not you’re good enough. I suppose that can be also true for the garage-band approach to music. Strum a few chords and see if anyone will pay to listen.

Maybe this is the same for all artists: it’s so hard to know when you’ve done enough.

I’m in the midst of this ruthless revision of my novel (which I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about). I revised the first third, and a bit more, according to some detailed notes from an agent. Then I moved, which vaporized everything in my life not involved with moving for nearly two months. Coming back to the book, I ended up revising the beginning twice more.

I can’t seem to stop.

And yet, each time I feel closer. I feel like I’m weaving in the things I need to have there.

I told Allison that I wanted this book to be brilliant. And she didn’t laugh at me, which I appreciated. Though I suspect this may be a character flaw in myself. Another agent told me the book was a page-turner and exactly what she was looking for, but that she wasn’t quite obsessed with it, as she needed to be.

I want my readers to be obsessed.

Maybe I don’t see Jane Austen and William Shakespeare floating in the air, but I have shaken books by Ann Patchett, A.S. Byatt and Jacqueline Carey in my hands and shrieked “I want this to be MY book!”

See? We writers can make for crazy drama too.

It’s just that the soundtracks aren’t nearly so compelling.

First Time’s a Charm

Scaled quail, in case you were wondering.

Not an amazing shot. I probably need a better camera. Or better skills, more likely. It’s not like I’m not taking several shots and picking the best one. Really, I am.
What’s funny is: usually my first one is the best.
I use the wizards on the camera, which I love. I almost always start with “Landscape” which serves me well. I love “Available Light,” too. Which we used almost exclusively during Christmas in Scotland.
Remember how in school the ubiquitous “they” would always tell us to check over our test answers at the end. This was supposed to be good test-taking technique. Save some time for the end and review your answers. Thing was, when I changed my answers, I invariably changed them wrong. My first instinct was almost always correct. It got so that, by college, it was a near superstition for me never to change my first answer. I wouldn’t even look, so I couldn’t be tempted.
I’ve never see the show, but that whole “is that your final answer?” thing gives me the heebie jeebies. My first answer is my final answer. For nearly anything. I’m decisive like that. If it’s a bad decision, I’ll do what it takes to fix it. But indecision? Makes my skin crawl.
So how about that manuscript I’m revising?
Yeah. About that.
It’s not the same. And I don’t know why. Revising isn’t all that hard for me either. (Right, well, once I got over myself, that is.) Maybe because it’s a whole ‘nother round of decision making.
Wow – great!
Ack – must go!
It’s Duck, Duck, Goose all over again. Only I get to be the one walking the circle, tapping heads, controlling who may sit and who must desperately run.
Hmm… a theme emerges.
I’m tweaking the themes in Obsidian. Thinking a lot about love, power and control.
Who makes the decisions has the power. Thus the game goes to the quick and the ruthless.
Is that your final answer?

Now, Where Did I Pack My Writing Career?

I hoped to get a shot of our covey of quail for you today, but I missed them.

Instead you get Teddy watching the sunset. Or maybe looking for quail in the chamisa.

It could have been that it was sunnier and brighter today. The last two days they all trooped by and pecked around in the gravel around 9:15. You can hear them coming, snooting around in the juniper to the west of the house. They chuckle amongst themselves as they approach. Then they scurry into sight from around the yucca plants.

They don’t stay long. Maybe ten minutes, before they head off in a line again, heading farther east. Sometimes I see them come back through in the evening.

Today dawned bright and clear, however, so they might have started their perambulations earlier. Not like the cool misty mornings of the last two days. I, too, am resuming my schedule. As mine solidifies, I should better learn theirs.

We’ve gone running the last two mornings, though we’re not back to getting up at 5:30. I’ve been productive at the day job. And now I’m going to work on my book revision. A file that has not been open since July 19, over a month ago. And I’m reasonably certain, by the timing of that date, that it was only to send it to an agent I met at RWA National. The outtakes file is dated June 2.

A sinking feeling tells me I haven’t worked on it since June.

Time flies when you’re losing your mind.

I had a little crisis this morning. My friend, Leanna Renee Hieber, celebrated the release of her first book yesterday, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. In fact, several friends had releases in the last few days. I tried not to be too envious. But then I also received my “royalty statement” from UNM Press for Wyo Trucks, which shows that the book is really dead to the world at this point. Never mind that I haven’t been putting in ANY effort to sell it lately.

Nor into my revision of Obsidian.

Nor into writing anything new.

Thus: my crisis.

But my friend Allison was on the other other end of the IM with the perfect pep talk. She made me realize that all this means is that I have my head above water again, that I’m even thinking about my writing career again, instead of what box my frying pan might be in. It makes me think of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, a model that has served me well all my life. Basically the idea is that, if a lower tier on the pyramid isn’t handled, you can’t possibly reach a higher tier. What sucks for us artist types? Creativity is the very top piece. Which basically means you have to have everything else in your life handled first.

So unfair.

But I have my manuscript open. I’ve got some great ideas from Allison on working my way back in.

Wonder-Twin Power? Self-Actualize!


I’ve mentioned before, my life lately is all about the cutting away.

I spent the weekend getting rid of stuff. If you haven’t been following along, we have to clear out the house by August 13. Next Thursday, for the calendar-challenged among you. Yes, we have time. But I can tell you, this particular stone has accumulated a serious amount of moss over the past 21 years. In an arid climate, too.

My moves before this were either as a young woman who owned practically nothing (18-22) or within the same small town over a few blocks. I’ve lived a lot of places within Laramie, but only two in the last 16 years.

When David and I moved out of the (much smaller) house we’d shared for 11 years, it went okay until we hit the basement. Time slowed as we dug out the sedimentary layers of toys and obsolete computer parts. Things we’d moved into the house and never used were in the far back corners, whispering quietly to themselves in the dank dark.

In this house, it’s the attic.

My (wonderful) Aunt Karen drove up from Montrose, Colo. (read: a long way) to help for two days and drive home again. She felt like she didn’t make much of a dent, but she helped me clear the attic spaces. Even though she had to ask for a flashlight to get back into the dark, “scary parts.” Dark, scary parts filled with decades of obnoxious roofing dust from when they ripped off the roof last fall to replace it. Second only in sinus-yuck factor to coal dust from when David and I remodeled the old coal bin in the previous house. Blew black snot for days. Looking into the blackened tissues, I thought of my Kennedy grandfather who died of black lung.

The attic is now clear. I rid myself of a thirty-year collection of fabric. I know. It’s a disease. I even had fabric I took from my other aunt when she had to build a separate shed to house HER fabric collection. You’d think it would have been a cautionary tale. No no no.

But I’m free now.

Gone is the sewing machine and all the fabric. No more quilting until I’m making a living as a writer. Tobiah’s baby quilt was the last, which is somehow fitting.

Gone are the Breyer model horses I’ve saved from childhood. Into the arms of a little girl in a sparkly purple body suit, who spun around and carried the box back to her mother’s Suburban, where her brothers impatiently waited.

I’m good with that. Gone also are the old bean bag chairs, the boom box with tape-to-tape record, the four-drawer filing cabinet and the boxes of overhead transparencies. All via Freecycle. I love Freecycle. You send an email to the loop with an offer and people respond. They come and take it away with happy smiles.

One of my friends who left Laramie a year ago asked how I’m managing the good-byes, since we completely blew having a going-away party. She did it well, arranging carefully sequenced farewell drinks and meals.

No such grace from me.

I’m using the serendipity method. Which is a nice way of saying I’m not arranging it at all. People have stopped by, knowing we’re packing. With all the fraught-ness that word entails. Ann offered to bring us sandwiches, which was one of the nicest things anyone could offer.

And I’m meeting the new arrivals in Laramie. The ones who are moving in for the new semester and love to have our ratty old sunroom couch. The girls from Texas, filling up their five-room house in Tie Siding with Freecycle finds while their boyfriends go to school at Wyo Tech. After that, they’ll go back to Texas, they assure us. We don’t know what they’ll do with all the stuff. And the mother of the little girl in the sparkly purple top, who asked me where to buy plants that would thrive so well in Laramie.

Blessings and good fortune in this little town to them all.