Bookshelf Porn and Winter’s Little Pleasures

This is my kind of porn!

Lately, I’ve been thinking alot about pleasuring myself. And not in a “Debbie Does Dallas” kind of way. I’m talking about porn in the bigger sense of anything that revs up your pleasure centers.

Winter is coming, and I’m planning ahead to beat the blues with my own brand of porn. For example, bookshelves at right? I plan to add books to the colorful display. Books as art installation–love it!

The truth is, I’m prone to depression, so S.A.D. is about the last thing I need. To this end, I’m preparing like the squirrels who gather nuts for the winter. I’m gathering my nuts: my little pleasures for the cold weather. These include flannel sheets and Mexican sipping chocolate with cinnamon.

And prowling around with my new DSLR camera. Writing is what I do. Photography is my hobby, and I’ve neglected it for the past few years.

And finding new cafes in which to people watch and write. It also includes visiting my usual haunts and chatting with my coffeehouse friends.

And festooning my place with seasonal decorations — grinning jack-o-lantern gourds and spider candles at the moment — from now through the New Year.

And experimenting with new ways to wake up my creativity because winter can wreak havoc on my writing. For example, I bought a gynormous roll of signage paper. This morning I unrolled a section and went crazy clustering a short story idea. It was, simply put, fun.

And keeping a steady supply of (organic!) almonds for the squirrel that visits me each morning. She now takes them directly from my hand. She’s incredibly gentle about it too.

And coordinating new outfits with which I can wear my brightly colored knee-high and thigh-high socks.

And stocking up on red wine. I rarely drink alone, which is why I don’t keep much alcohol in the house, but seeing the bottles comforts me. Like that song by UB40, a holdover from my bad-ass partying days. (Yes, I had them: New York friends, you reading this?)

And buying L’Occitane lavender foaming bath and verbena foaming bath.

And many obvious things like maintaining an exercise routine and my social life…but, hey, on the grayest days it’s sometimes the tiniest pleasures that elevate a so-so day to a good day.

So, what little pleasures help you get through the winter?

If you’re interested in bookshelf porn, check out I loves me some books on shelves, all kinds of shelves!

(And if you like my bookshelves, check out Design Within Reach at

FLOUNDERING | Indecisiveness Bringing Me Down

Which way should I go?

If decisiveness is the hallmark of a great leader, then I’m letting myself down in Writingland. I’m sitting here at my computer procrastinating — talk about being the queen of social networking. This kind of queenliness isn’t good for my fiction. This morning I handed over my sceptre to my flaky coregent, who should have abdicated long ago. Today, she reigns supreme first on Facebook, then on various fictionista blogs such as Murderati, The Lipstick Chronicles, and Jungle Red, and now, here, on my blog.

I simply can’t take her seriously at the moment. Off with her head!

Here’s what’s going on in the bigger picture of my fiction pseudo-career: For awhile now I’ve considered self-publishing because I’m getting no joy from the traditional route. I’ve been working hard (between one major bout of depression, one major bout of economic hardship, not to mention the day-job), folks, since 1999.

In the spring, I told myself to give the agent-hunting thing one more heavy push, and if nothing comes of it — that’s it, self-publish. I’ve revised my favorite unpublished novel, and I continue the agent process…

Meanwhile, here I am in Writingland, also known as the Land of Indecision, having handed over my power to the Queen of Procrastination. I take responsibility. I’m being foolish. I need to make a decision about what to work on RIGHT NOW.

I’ve been here before. My ailment is called between-project-itis. It’s an inflammation of the brain that causes me to flounder around for a few days — hopefully only for a few days — while I get my head around the notion of beginning something new. Picture me flopping around, like, say, that time in Hawaii when a wave floated me over a pretty coral bed, then retreated to leave me stranded atop said coral, frantic and splashing while my friends laughed at me (until they saw my bloody wounds — I still have scars on my legs)…

That’s me, flipping, flopping around in berserk fashion. I feel a pull in two directions at once, hence, my indecisiveness. It feels like I need to make a decision based on a career strategy, or some such thing, or else trust my gut…

1. Start a new novel that I developed last year. I’ve got the  major plot points, I’ve got the major characters. Will require what all first drafts require: tears and toil.

2. Revise an existing novel that I still feel has oodles of commercial potential. I now know how to revise it to amplify the potential. Will require major historical research.

I’m leaning toward the second option. I figure there’s no reason not to self-publish this novel while pursuing the traditional route with the other one. Right? Right. Did I just make a decision? (I can’t tell…honestly.)

BOUCHERCON | A Tale of Yearning from the Land of “If”

Who knows, maybe this guy will make it to Bouchercon someday.

Last year I attended Bouchercon, the mystery convention. But not this year. I thought I was okay with my decision until I popped into annoying Facebook — why oh why did I bother? — and noted how much fun everyone was having. I don’t know many of the publishing novelists having all the fun, yet I regressed to the mindset of a ten-year-old not invited to the popular girl’s sleepover.

This, even though I wasn’t a girl who pined for sleepovers. So I ask you, what the hell was my angst all about anyhow? Could I have been more immature, more childish, more silly?

The truth is that I yearn to be a member of the wider community of crime writers and known by at least a few of them for my writing. “Oh, Lisa Alber, yes,” Deborah Crombie might say. “Her debut novel is excellent.” Or from, say, Laura Lippman, “She got some buzz at BEA.” Or, from Louise Penny, “Haven’t read her novel yet, but it’s on my nightstand.”

That I don’t feel part of the larger community says too much about me, I guess. (Maybe I should look into therapy?) I’ve always strived for “As” — which is to say, external acknowledgment in return for my efforts. I don’t need much, but a few gnawed-on bones thrown in my direction would be nice; writing to the accolades of my inner critic and my friends and family isn’t enough.

Yesterday, I attended a lecture given by The Oregonian‘s book critic. On the return drive, a writer friend and I spoke about our futures in terms of “when,” not “if.” When we sell our first novels, when we have to start promoting ourselves…when, when, when…I felt fine (no Facebook!), and then…

My childishness resurfaced this morning as I peeked at a few fictionista blogs. There I went, bobbing back into the land of “if.” As in, “if only I went to the sleepover…,” as in “if only the damn novel would sell already…” One and all, the novelists who posted and who had attended Bouchercon professed to post-conference exhaustion. A good kind of exhausted, I’m sure. I remember boozing it up in the bar along with everyone else last year, watching the well-known authors greet each other with hugs. I eavesdropped on many a conversation about book tours, publication dates, agents, and publishers. Oh the fun! Even for me, the authorial voyeur. And man, I was exhausted just from absorbing it all.

I do love the writing process, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that my ten-year-old girl self won’t shut up. She still wants to be invited to the popular-girl sleepover (with boys, always with boys). This yearning of mine helps keep me motivated on the worst days. I don’t banish my ten-year-old self; I say to her, Hey, you, let’s keep chugging.

You never know, maybe next year I’ll show up  at Bouchercon with a book sale under my belt. A girl can yearn.

Plastic Surgery, Novel Style

Industrious bee...if only revision were as bloodless

I completed the most gruesomely delicious month of manuscript revision. I’d received feedback from an interested agent — the most simple and straightforward, beginner-ish feedback that I’d heard in a loooong time. Little did I know that I needed to hear it.

The agent said, I felt the manuscript slowed in the two chapters before the murder and got muddled. I also felt like I lost the voice a little bit, which was so strong in the earlier parts…I think if a scene or dialogue doesn’t serve to move the story forward, you should cut.

I read the two specified chapters while attempting to inhabit her point of view. Which is to say, with pure objectivity. Lo and behold, something clicked. A big ol’ whopping, humiliating, painful, Homer-head-slap DOHing, light flashing, baseball-bat wielding CLICK.

I ended up cutting half the text and combining the chapters, the whole time pondering the weirdness of the brain, or maybe my brain. I can’t tell you how many times I’d ransacked the manuscript. But it took a near stranger with an interest in sales potential over all else to inspire a fundamental shift.

With the fundamental shift in place, I cut, sliced and hacked the entire beloved but aggravating thing. In the process of carving away the fat, a couple of muscular plot ideas appeared, lean and mean and there all along. It was like magic, sharp-edged magic, but magic all the same.

Poor thing needs to heal for a week before I pull out my bloody revision implements once again. Maybe all it will need is a punch here and there. That would be good. Bruises heal faster than cuts…

Then we’ll see what wounds the agent has in store for it. Once the plastic surgery starts, does it ever end?

Saturday Night Date

I dressed up for my date tonight — a black top, funky skirt, vintage black cowboy boots, and shimmery lipstick. The Barbera is plummy and dense, yummy. My date is patient, forever waiting on me, ready when I’m ready, even when I’m not.

Yes, it’s Saturday night, and I’m on a date with my manuscript. We’ve been in a long-term, off-and-on again relationship since the year 2000. After the initial infatuation that turned into an all-consuming affair for over a year, we faltered. Frankly, I lost interest. I thought it wasn’t the one for me. Another manuscript came along, and I cheated. It was time to move on. Time to ditch the lost cause.

These many years later, I noticed myself feeling nostalgic. Was that the manuscript that got away? I decided to go into counseling with the manuscript; my readers have helped me tremendously. Sometimes, you just need a new perspective. And let’s be honest, it’s not the manuscript’s fault it didn’t meet my expectations.

Sometimes, as we all know, it’s about timing. The timing feels good now. I’m in a better place craft-wise, and now I get the manuscript. It may need a massive restructuring, it may still cause me woe, but I’m going to give it another go.

So, I’m here in this chic bistro with my wine, ready to iron out an issue that I didn’t know was brewing until my readers pointed out one of my manuscript’s many flaws. Don’t you hate it when your friends, with the best of intentions, only notice the weaknesses? Here you are, trying to love on a manuscript, and you’ve got these nay-sayers giving you grief. The problem is, when they’re right, they’re right.

So, manuscript and I, we’re going to have a little discussion. Sometimes wine helps.

Reapplying the Bum Glue

My fiction shall not go the way of these African violets!

It’s not that I haven’t written since the economy tanked and my financial situation turned precarious and the contract work I found took over my life in an incredibly stressful way…It’s that I haven’t truly been writing either. Know what I mean?

There’s a self-discipline to sitting down to the writing. There’s also a self-discipline to clearing life-stuff out of the way so I can sit down to the writing. I’m out of practice with both.

So, this morning, I gave myself a lecture:

  1. Whatever you do, do NOT roll over for the return journey to slumberland. It’s your own blasted fault you accidentally read until 1:oo a.m.!
  2. One hour, just one hour, of writing is a-okay. Self-sabotage alert: my all-or-nothing mindset is not working! Look at Michael Robertson, who spoke at the writers conference a few weekends past; he mentioned that given his day job, he writes in 45-minute chunks. A little before work, a little at lunch hour, a little after work.
  3. Turn on the computer and. just. WALK. AWAY. Do not pass go, do not collect stressors from the email queue and distractions from Facebook! However, do open the manuscript so that it greets me when I return with my coffee.
  4. For a change of pace, maybe I can relax with my coffee for 15 minutes before starting the computer hunchback routine. Maybe I can open a novel by an author I admire, turn to any page, and read to get my juices flowing.

Happily, I achieved the written word today. It’s still not enough — there goes Little Miss All-Or-Nothing again — but it’s what I can do right now.

The truth is, I wrote for one and a half hours. The truth is, if I can wiggle past the daily distractions and day-job triggers, the one hour often turns into more.

The Through-Line

My beloved nephews are dogsitting Luna.

I’m in Corte Madera, California, at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference. Here in my hotel room, all is quiet. Traffic is a tide over on
I-5, and my brain is saturated from the past three days of authorial
info-dumping. At a conference, this is a good thing. I want the author faculty members to info-dump all over me.

Many craft terms have been bandied about, but I heard a new one (to me) yesterday in a plotting lecture given by Robert Dugoni and Cara Black: the through-line. What is the overall question of the story?

Of course, me being me, after a day with writers, and then an evening of conversation, food, and two great Zinfandels, I returned to this here hotel room, exhausted but unable to sleep. I got to thinking: What is my through-line? I’ve had a cantankerous, broody relationship with fiction these past few years. I haven’t been writing. Not really. I’ve developed three new novel ideas, and set them all aside, uninterested. Somewhere along the way I lost my way, no longer following my personal yellow brick road…

Which is why I decided to attend this conference: to step onto the writing road again. So here I am, on this page at least, attempting to write my way back to my through-line, which, in the end, is the simple fact that I can’t let the fiction go. I don’t know what’s going to become of me. I’m not saving for retirement, for example. I work as a contractor and as little as possible so I’ll have time for fiction. I don’t have a supportive husband to help me through the financially tough times.

But that’s okay. I do feel inspired again, and I thought I’d put that out there on this humble, much-neglected blog. I do want get back to the honest and difficult work of writing first drafts and then revising the you-know-what out of them.

One of the story ideas that I set aside…I got to talking about it with a new Canadian writer friend last night. The truth is, it’s not such a bad idea, after all…

I Could Use a Man About Now

What the heck is this, and can I throw it away?

There comes a time in every single girl’s self-sufficient existence when a man would be the best accoutrement in the world…

I’m sitting here in my office surrounded by cords and other technological gew-gaws whose purposes elude me. I wish I had a man around to tell me what to do with this junk. I sent a friend a picture of a couple of cords that are apparently cat5 cords, that I might need in my new place, so I’d better keep them, and he’ll help me network myself, and…huh?

He lost me at “cat5.”

Don’t men always want to save all the cords? Frankly, I don’t know what to think about these cat5s, but I’ll keep them for now.

The funniest thing about my life is that I earn most of my money as a technical writer and editor, but I’m clueless when it comes to technology. I’ve still got my ancient laptop because it’s the one from which I can print, and that’s because my printer is so old (but so good still!) that my newer laptop doesn’t have an in slot — or whatever you call it — for the printer cord.

My newer laptop is decrepit too. I need a new laptop…I need a wireless printer…I need a man for my technology like I need a man to sometimes help me with car stuff. Men always know what to do with duct tape, too. That’s cool. My duct tape sits around coated with dust.

Oh, wait, I used the duct tape on my door back in August. The door knob broke — how that’s possible, don’t ask me — and I found myself stranded in my apartment with a door knob I couldn’t turn. In true damsel in distress fashion, I started yelling off my balcony for someone to open the door from the outside. The duct tape came in handy to force the latch bolt inside the door until the repair guy arrived. (Don’t be impressed that I know the term “latch bolt”; I just Googled “door knob mechanism.”)

I’d like to see a rent-a-man service. Not for a specialist like the repair guy, but for an all-around handy guy, like in that “Sex and the City” episode in which Charlotte upgrades and fixes everything in her apartment. She fell in love with her handy guy, and maybe I would too…You never know. 

Actually, when I need man-type favors, I pay for meals and beer. That works. Men are so easy. I love that about them!

To the right of my feet sit a couple of Sony speakers that my sister gave me for Christmas a few years back. Ideally, I’d be listening to tunes from my laptop as I write this post, but I never figured out how to get the speakers to function. So, do I pack them for the move? Or donate them? Or ask for yet another man favor?

Manuscript Hoarder

In a way, I gave birth to these, didn't I?

At long last, I’m moving house next month. I have wasted too much emotional and mental energy pissed off, anxious, nonfunctional, miserable, distracted, and stressed out because of my downstairs neighbors. Life around here is like a bad movie.

I’m talking yelling, screaming, hostility. I’m talking a rotating gang of adults and children and dogs and cats and loud trucks. There’s no solution. Except to leave. Start fresh. Find myself a home that will feel like a home. I need a home so I can write.

So I’m moving, and I’m purging my belongings, which feels fabulous. Last night, however, I started in on my office and hit the hoarder wall with my precious hard-copy manuscripts. I can give up mementos from past boyfriends easily enough, but not these pages! My fiction feels like the most real part of me. The manuscripts ARE me.

Is that weird?

Maybe on a far grander scale, this is what hoarders feel about their belongings. Like they won’t exist anymore without their stuff…


I’d better watch out.

I carried the manuscripts out to the living room and turned on the boob-tube. I thought it might be easier to decide in favor of recycling if I was distracted. I turned on CSI. The episode? About a hoarder! I thought, this is a sign. I SHALL recycle these manuscripts. I SHALL NOT end up rotting under a truckload of paper.

Lisa, she lived and died for her fiction. That’s not what I want on my gravestone…On the other hand, wouldn’t it be cool to be cremated with our stories?


My future death aside, at some point today I gazed at those grocery bags full of my words, and my scribbles, and my labor, and my life, and I decided to keep the manuscripts around for awhile longer, after all.

I’m Skittish

I think Mr. Greenie is feeling a little skittish too.

I’ve been meaning to write a couple of blog posts for over a week now. I wanted to plug a local novelist, Naseem Rahka, whose debut novel, The Crying Tree, just won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association award.

I also wanted to write a post about the first annual Terroir Creative Writers Conference held in McVinnville. For non-Oregonians, McVinnville is a sweet little town in the heart of wine country, about 90 minutes from Portland. The word “terroir” is a winemaking term, not, alas, “terror” + “noir.”

Yet another novel idea preoccupies me. The air-fairy kind of preoccupation that involves a list of everything that interests me right now and a lot of nonfiction reading. Going from one topic to another, letting my mind wander in an imaginative way…Letting the subconscious juices burble…

But enough of that already. Last week I forced myself to get concrete. It’s one thing to amble around in the land of, Oh man, I’d like to write a story that incorporates x and centers around y — quite another thing to actually have a story idea.

So, last Monday, I opened a Word document. I wrote, “I want to write a story about (insert air-fairy inkling here)” and spent the week asking myself a million questions. By Friday, I had almost two pages of particulars (character names, location, central plotline, some backstory, an ending that will probably change but that’s okay).


I’m skittish. The last couple of novel ideas haven’t panned out. I almost have a complex! Second-guessing myself, perhaps, or, worse yet, trying too hard. By which I mean, trying too hard to write something that will for-sure get me published (as if there’s ever a “for-sure”).

This time around I’m trying to listen to my body for those “a-ha” moments that might indicate that I’m onto something worthwhile idea-wise. And I’m trying not to dismiss the fact that my idea seems…well…too outlandish — maybe even stupid?

But what is too outlandish these days? And what’s stupid anyhow? I don’t even know what I mean by that word when I use it. Must be my fear talking, right?