Refilling the Well

I finished THE FIERY CITADEL, book two in my Forgotten Empires trilogy with St. Martins Press, sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE. Yeah, it doesn’t come out until 2020 – maybe summer? we don’t know – but I completed the first draft and sent it in to Editor Jennie. There will be more work to come, but that’s the big milestone to pass.

I promised myself this time that I’d take some time off before heading into the next project. More than the weekend. As a full-time author, I write five days a week, going for 3,000 – 3,500 words per day. It takes me an average of 3 – 4 hours to get that, with an overall elapsed time of about 6 hours, including breaks. I usually have a pretty tightly packed schedule, so finishing one book has meant diving right into the next. But I track my productivity pretty carefully – I can’t control my creative process, but I can learn all there is to know about it and plan accordingly (which is part of owning your process) – and I’ve discovered that the week after I finish writing a book draft tends to be unproductive.

Even when I schedule myself for my usual work week, the writing tends to feel like pulling teeth. My word counts are low, I screw around a lot, and I don’t really refill the well.

So this week I’ve been not writing. Yesterday I tackled the garage. We have this one corner with a built in workbench and set of shelves. When we moved in (lo, these ten years ago – sheesh), we stuffed a lot of stuff back in those shelves, especially the lower ones, and back in the deep corner where they form an L. The original plan was one side of the L (the long one) would be for David’s tools and the short side would be my garden bench. My husband, however, while possessing many sterling qualities, is almost pathologically incapable of organizing his stuff. So his workbench has been a mess since day one. In fact, it’s a more ancient mess than that, as he pretty much threw the existing mess of his workbench and garage stuff into bins when we moved and dumped it out here.

I keep a hammer and a few screwdrivers in my office, just so I can find them when I need one.

Not only is his workbench a nightmare, when he has no place to put anything – which is always – he’d stack it on my garden bench. It got so I couldn’t even get to my gardening stuff. So I ceded the field of battle. I moved the baker’s rack from our front patio around to the secret garden and put everything there that can safely weather outside. I’ve also pulled most everything out of that space – discovering numerous rodent nests in the process – and now I’ll organize it for him. I kept a lower shelf for my garden stuff that needs to be out of the weather, but otherwise my garden bench is now for his fishing supplies. I’m kind of excited to do the thing where you hang up the tools and draw Sharpie marker outlines to designate where they go. We’ll see if it works and how long that lasts…

Anyway, it’s been good to disengage my brain and simply lift and organize. I’ve been rearranging the patio and garden, too, and things are looking pretty. Plus, I found some cool garden ornaments I shoved back in that corner and forgot I had! Watch for pics of those as I get them put out.

Nourishing Creativity – an Ode to Polton Elementary School and My Mother

BGtv6rUCUAEdv_PWith the Phantom book finished, I spent time in the garden this weekend. Most restorative to work with my hands and body, to clear away the old detritus, coax the perennials into shape and plant new flowers. And clean up the gargoyle. She’s watching over the pansies for me.

And, as of yesterday, I started in on developmental edits for Rogue’s Possession. For those who aren’t familiar with the lingo, those are the first round of edits. My editor just sends me an email describing some global changes she’s looking for. Add tension to the beginning, tighten the ending. Here are some suggestions. That sort of thing. Some of you may recall she’d originally asked for April 3 on those (dies laughing), but now we’re trying for April 15. I think I can do that.

My mom complains that I make my childhood sound awful when I reflect on my growing up. I suspect this is because our painful experiences are the ones that really spur us to change – or, at least, that’s how we remember it.

Yesterday one of my crit partners sent me the TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on the creative spark. You might remember it from early 2009, when it was really making the rounds on the internet. My friend, however, must have been under a rock at the time and missed it. The talk really resonated with her – as it did for many of us – and I watched it again, to be able to discuss some of the finer points. Surprising to me: I heard very different things in it this time, after dedicating so much of the last four years to my own writing.

My friend had come across the talk because I’d sent her this one, by Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity. One story he tells is about Gillian Lynne, who was failing out of school at age 8 – until her principal recognized that she was a natural dancer. Her mother sent her to dance school instead, and Gillian became a success instead of an academic failure. My friend asked me if I thought my schooling had killed or nurtured my creativity.

Something I’d never once thought about.

I mean, I’ve mentioned my early schooling from time to time. How I went to an experimental school in the early 70s, with team teaching, no desks and open space classrooms. Mostly I have made fun of it (Magic Circle where we shared our feelings) or criticized it (the famous ordeal of my stepfather having to teach me the multiplication tables because I’d been pulled out into a special program and then plunged back into long division without knowing how to multiply). My stepfather was a vice-principal in a neighboring school district that was not experimental and he often complained about the gaps in my traditional education. 

But thinking back now… wow.

That special program that caused me to miss multiplication? (Which, by the way, took less than a week for me to make up.) I spent that third grade year with fourth, fifth and sixth graders, traveling around Colorado and learning about western history. Now I realize how much that year opened my mind to the range of human experience. Women like Baby Doe Tabor and Molly Brown became larger than life to me. That time instilled in me an appreciation for the concept of the frontier, of struggle, of the desire for wealth and success and the crushing effects of defeat.

My teachers were good to me at that school. They let me read in class when I was bored with the assignment. They gave me special projects to work on. Instead of smacking me down for being a smart ass (because, oh yes, I was one even then), they encouraged me to channel that energy. I found it funny, often, that they were always concerned that I not get bored, but now I see – I was never bored. My teachers found ways to challenge, stimulate and open my mind.

And my creativity.

I sometimes joke that I have such an eclectic approach to life. In college I double-majored in biology and religious studies, with enough credits to minor in theater. I ended up in grad school for neurophysiology, work as an environmental consultant and now write fantasy and romance novels.

I’m realizing now that this is their gift to me. That my early schooling did nourish my creativity. My mom bought a house near this school so I could go there and it made an amazing difference for me.

What a wonderful gift this was.

Anger Management

This is a Cinco de Mayo rose. I just love the subtle lavenders in with the brighter shades. I bought this rose at Santa Fe Gardens, which is the local bricks & mortar presence of High Country Gardens. If we weren’t on water restrictions that forbid new plantings, I’d go every weekend and pick out just one new friend to take home.

It feels good to me to garden again. To spend some time with the earth and the plants.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on Word Whores about how I’ve given up so many hobbies, to make time for writing. I don’t regret that choice, by any stretch. The last couple of years have been very productive for me. You folks out there might not be able to tell, because it’s mostly going to yucca juice right now, but I’ve been writing these fabulous novels that will be published ANY SECOND NOW. I’ve got a good root system of several series going. When I look at my portfolio, it feels good.

Hell, I feel sexy just saying I have a portfolio.

Yesterday, I mentioned to the fabulous author Laura Bickle that I’m trying not to be angry that I’m going to RWA this year with the same novel I pitched last year. She told me she thought I should be angry. That it’s healthy to express that anger, rather than tamping it down and seething over it.

She’s right.

I am angry and that feels good, too. It makes me mad that no one has fallen in love with this novel like I feel it deserves. It pisses me off that so many agents tell me they love it, the premise, the writing, the characters – and ask me to send them the very next thing I write. I’m angry and that fires me up.

Yes, I know I could self-publish. Or submit to a press directly. I’m choosing not to at this point.

I see so much dithering in the publishing world right now. So many of the industry professionals are hunkered down waiting to see what will happen. I hear many editors have been instructed not to acquire anything at all. I see agents making what seem to be desperation moves, selling clients’ work to epresses with no track record. Established authors are turning down NYC deals to self-publish. (Courtney Milan is the latest news that way.)

We all want to make the thing happen. To get the stories to the readers, to make a living doing what we love. Everyone seems desperate to get rich and terrified of going under.

So, I’m coming back to the idea of balance. I’m spending more time in the garden, hand-watering and adding mulch to retain moisture.

I let myself be angry and it felt good, too.

It’s good to want things.

Settling In

Yes, we are.
To answer all who’ve been asking.
There’s been particular concern over the kitties. It’s true: kitties have a major rep for hysterics over this kind of thing.
Not ours.
Yes, the three-day stop-over at my mother’s was traumatic. Ted and Isabel stayed at her house in Denver from Thursday to Sunday morning. A plan intended to avoid the more intense kitty trauma of having to See Furniture Being Moved. But they hated being separated from us and were apparently convinced we’d abandoned them forever.
But within hours of arriving here, they’d already established patterns. Teddy has her morning nap room and evening nap room. And Isabel is LOVING the secret garden. Here she is, crashed out after a morning of leaping after bugs and spinning among the flowers as the hummingbirds dart overhead.
We have been similarly finding our patterns. Cocktails on the patio watching the sunset is a no-brainer. We’ve managed to have five meals at home in a row — that were not pre-prepared in any way.
And the food is so good.
If you haven’t lived in a rural, dare I say, underserved, community, you don’t know what I mean. I remember when my writer/photographer friend, RoseMarie moved from New York, she had a fit because she couldn’t get lettuce that wasn’t wilted. She even bullied the Safeway produce manager into telling her when the produce truck would arrive, so she could be there to get her lettuce fresh off the truck. “It ARRIVED wilted!” she wailed to me.
You get inured over time. Accustomed to making do. To buying one of the two varieties available. You don’t expect much. No one up the highway from you expects more, so the good stuff never comes into towns like that.
Not so here. Last night I made Shrimp Newburg. The shrimp were succulent and tasty. The skim milk was organic, fresh and came in an adorable bottle. They have spelt sandwich bread! Am I sounding silly?
That’s the thing about low expectations: it makes the new world that much brighter and tastier.
Having a wonderful time — Wish you were here!