View From the Writer’s Desk

Kale: stir fry with ginger, soy, and garlic?

View: a little on the “meh” side this week.

I spent so much time staring out the window that I rearranged the physical view in hopes that my mental view would change. All week long I faced my laptop, but nothing much happened. I’m not sure why. No excuses here, but it got me wondering why it is that some weeks my output flows, and then others it fizzles to a barely discernable trickle.

It’s the weirdest thing. Nothing changed this week. No stressors. Ah, but perhaps that’s it. No stressors! Through last week I was gung-ho to finish a revision for an agent. I was PUMPED. The revision was a beautiful thing, and I knew to the core of my physical being that I was improving the manuscript. It just felt good, you know what I mean? I sent it off one week ago.

Then, this week — fizzle-city. I re-read where I’d left off on another revision, and after the headiness of my previous effort, this revision felt flat. Good news: I think I figured out what’s not right about it, thus far, which is a huge part of the battle. And I did get words down on paper — I did. Just not so much is all.

But, okay, in a fit of frustration I did buy the decorative kale you see in the image, and I did set piggy beside that sickly lily, poor thing. I kept pondering how to cook up kale, however. I like kale okay, but, come on now, not that much.

As a friend wrote in an email message this morning about her own window-staring: Taking a break, it seems.

Apparently, the brain wants what it wants at times, and no amount of striving and self-flaggelation on my part is going to change its stubborn mind. Hey, Brain, vacation’s over come Monday! Uhm, okay, pretty please?

BOUCHERCON 2010 | Books and Booze by the Bay

Free books. Paradise!

If you haven’t heard of Bouchercon, it’s the annual trade show for mystery writers and their fans. This year it was held in San Francisco, the land of noir.

How could I not love riding the elevator with Laurie R. King and receiving a kind word in response to my desperate attempt at chit-chat? As I recall, I mentioned that I knew her long-time editor way back when.

Or Hank Phillippi Ryan. For a long while I’d only known of her through the Jungle Red group blog. In real life, she was gorgeous, and she was gracious with everyone, famous or not. I almost followed her around in true stalker fashion. I’m not kidding.

Or Heather Graham. Not quite knowing who she was, I babbled something inane (much alcohol consumed, very little sleep…you get it). She was perfectly nice in response. But why oh why was I going on about that old Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy”?

Or sitting with Bryan Gruley in the bar and thinking, This dude is such a cool dude. Anyone could comfortably put back a beer with him without realizing he’s a fabulous writer. (And he’s good-looking too.)

Or running into Gayle Lynds in the bathroom while she was primping. I asked her if I should know who she was — faux pas anyone? She responded with a twinkly little squint so I pretended to recognize her name when she said it. Here’s the thing: Now that I know Lynd’s name, I’ll look for her books.

Or chatting with nice-as-pie Harley Jane Kozak about her agent, whom I also used to know back in the day. Or introducing myself to Dana Stabenow because we were in that Elizabeth George anthology together…

Here’s the only “however”: I participated as an agent-less novelist, with no published novels under my belt. I noticed that a few attendees ceased to be interested in me when they discovered my lowly publishing status. Sad to see the networking gleam fade from their eyes.

BUT, here’s the “however” to the “however”: Librarians and other fans are the best! I don’t know how many nonwriters I met who were enthused to hear about my novel, who wanted to see me in print, who asked for my business card.

As an exercise in extroversion and schmooze-practice, I give myself a 3.2 out of 5.0, and most of that is for effort rather than execution. It’s all good, and I made a bunch of new friends, discovered dozens of new authors, and lookee here: I’m so enthused, have I started blogging again?

The Autumn of My Discontent, Revised

Autumn Leaves

Addendum: For the first time, I’m revising one of my blog posts. It struck me a few hours after writing this post (now cut drastically) that I’ve had a tough year. If I’m a little down, well, okay. Well, not really okay, but all-righty then. I do know that I haven’t accomplished much fiction this year. I’m heartsick about this, true, and I’ve been up-and-down all year, but am I certifiably depressed? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just a mid-life crisis. I can live with that. For now.

I’m here, but not here. Writing, but not really. Keeping it together, but barely. Fighting off the gray weight takes a lot of energy. I only have so much energy to go around, so when I’m struggling mightily on that front, I, simply put, write less.

Excess brain noise fouls me up at times like this. So, when I’m sitting at my computer, page open, character ready to do her thing, somehow…I’m not sure. I have a harder time sinking into the fictional world. Each. Word. Is. Like. This. In the background, my brain-gears grind in an endless, annoying, disillusioned mutter. You know when your computer churns away on a task (you know what I’m talking about if you own a PC that’s got a virus or two or two dozen lurking within it) and slows way down? It’s like that. Kind of.

So what do I do? I keep up with as many of my writing habits as possible while dropping tasks such as housecleaning. I turn on the computer first thing in the morning. I take my laptop to coffeehouses. I think about the current project as I’m drifting to sleep and when I wake up. I remind myself that I’m a good writer and that whatever problems I’m encountering with plot or characterization or internal logic or point of view is as normal as can be, not a sign that I’m never going to get published.

(Okay, that’s more like it. Pisser of a life juncture — especially with regards to my writing progress — but I’ll hold off announcing that I’m certifiably depressed until some other time.)

Channeling Novelist Diana Abu-Jaber

Current mood: prickly
Current mood: prickly

I’m highly frustrated right now. I’m supposed to be having fun, experimenting, if you will, with a thriller-ish kind of story so I can improve my plotting and pacing skills. Well this you-know-what’s hard!

I feel like I don’t know anything anymore. Maybe I haven’t mastered as much writing craft as I thought, and I’m telling you, I’m about to throw this lousy thing out, give up, go back to wallowing in all my bad writing habits because at least I was having fun.

It’s interesting because by concentrating on plot/pacing, character automatically takes a backseat. I’m a character gal. I get all inside their heads, so looking at story from a different perspective is whacking out my brain. And I know I might receive comments that both character and plot are important. But of course — but, you see, I’m focusing on plot right now.

I’m reminded of novelist Diana Abu-Jaber. She’s one of those gorgeous, plotless writers. Her prose is full of every kind of sensory description, especially when it comes to food. Crescent is one of my favorite novels simply for its loveliness.

A few years back I heard her speak at a literary festival. She’d recently come out with a — GASP! — mystery. Yee gads. This fascinated me. I read the novel beforehand, and the gorgeous writing was still there (so it was a literary mystery), but so was the suspense. That is to say: the plot.

Here’s what she had to say about her genre switch:

“If you want to learn plot, write a thriller or a mystery.”

“I really needed to get me one to those things — a plot.”

She said she started out with a snobbish attitude, like it would be so easy — it’s just a mystery, right? She tried everything, and her editor kept sending back the manuscript with notes like, “Make it better.” She had to learn how to plant clues, build suspense, and create a great villain. She said that at one point her editor reminded her that we’re not supposed to know who the villain is until the end of the story. She said it was HARD and that now she has the utmost respect for thriller/mystery writers.

From a craft perspective, she started over. But she did it. And if she can do it, so can I. So now I’m channeling Diana Abu-Jaber in hopes that some of her patience will rub off on me. Because I am losing patience. With myself, with the process, with the story itself…sigh…

My (Little) Taste of the Big-Time

Only one more left!
Only one more left!

On Friday night, C, K, and I went to a movie. It being C’s birthday, and because this was a girly-friend custom, C picked the movie (a creepy one, also a custom), which we ambled toward after happy-hour drinks and a little shopping.

It just so happened that we passed a Barnes & Noble on our way to the theatre. C and K were too cute, wanting to check out the anthology I’ve mentioned many times already (can’t get enough of it!) in its natural habitat.

I need to practice my signature -- this is the wobbly version
I need to practice my signature -- this is the wobbly version

Admittedly, I hadn’t thought to do this yet, so their enthusiasm grabbed me up too. We perused the “New Mystery” section, but, alas, we saw no sign of the anthology. We asked the information-desk lady, and she comfirmed that they had one copy left.

But where was this lone copy of TWO OF THE DEADLIEST? Answer: Up front on the “New Fiction” table! Too cool! I probably wouldn’t have said anything because of my horrifyingly dismal shameless-self-promotion skills, but K mentioned that I was a contributor.

And here’s where the little taste of the big-time comes in: Information-desk lady let me sign that lone book, and afterwards she slapped an “Autographed Copy” sticker on it!

Is that shameless enough?
Is that shameless enough?

I felt like a teeny, tiny star on the fiction horizon as C and K pulled out their cell phones to snap pictures of me and the book. We giggled like fiends, and the security guard watched us with a knowing smile. He’d lent me the pen I used to sign my story. I’m sure he’s seen local authors before, but this was a first for me!

Later, in the theatre’s bathroom, I called over the stalls to C and K: “If that isn’t enough to inspire me to get on with the next project, I don’t know what is.”

Maybe, just maybe, stuff’s starting to percolate again. Maybe, just maybe.

Life’s Progress — Or Not

Eighteen months ago
Eighteen months ago

Can someone tell me what’s going on with me, myself, and my life? The chaos has been piling up — that slow python-like coiling that you don’t notice until, well, you suddenly do. This morning I had to laugh when I took stock of my nightstand situation. How did that happen? And this tells you what a lousy housekeeper I am, too, vacuuming around the piles without thought. At least I’ve been reading, right? And reading does the fiction-writing brain good, right?

This morning
This morning

River Life


And I’m back from the McKenzie River, and I most emphatically did not bring work with me. No laptop. No manuscript that I’m reading for a friend. No notebooks. Just a library book, the latest Laura Lippman.

I did drink red wine. I did eat too much yummy camp food. I did read and nap. I did get on the river. I did socialize with my hosts and their river friends. That’s about it. These images say it all, don’t they?

Three thoughts:

First, old friends are comfortable like p.j.s. I hadn’t seen much of my hostess in 15 years, yet when I arrived it was like old times. No big deal. We’re both a little wider, with a few wrinkles around the eyes, and we lead very different lives, but, as the saying goes: Whatever.

Second, I need more breaks like this, because even though I came back to a work-grind, I feel semi-detached from it, as if my brain regained some of its space — room for creative thoughts to slip in and stick.


Speaking of which, third, an idea did occur to me while in the woods, and it hasn’t fallen into the nothing-hood void that I mentioned in my last post.

Day-job tasks beckon, but first I’m going on a dog-walk, then hitting a coffeehouse, then fooling around on Facebook because I haven’t visited that virtual realm in awhile, and THEN blasting through a little work. That’s my kind of prioritizing!


And Luna settled right in too!
And Luna settled right in too!

Blowing Out My Synapses

You don’t even get a photo today, that’s how out of touch with my creativity I’ve been lately: no photography, no fiction, much less any ideas at all. Every once in awhile something sparks and then dies back to nothing-hood. Did I have an idea, huh, what was that flitting across my synapses? It was unusual, it felt great, but where did that spark go?

Last week I had a routine physical. My doctor asked about my nutritional supplement intake. I mentioned my daily 100mg. of 5-HTP. If you don’t know, 5-HTP is a brain chemical that helps with seratonin production (layman’s definition only), and we all know that seratonin is a depression-factor thingamajig. But, I’ve heard many people say this supplement doesn’t do anything for them, or it makes them feel weird.

Not me. I’m a basketcase without my 5-HTP. Skip it for a few days, and I’m practically nonfunctional. So I asked my doctor what that was all about. She looked at me in that piercing way of hers, and said, “You blow out your synapses, yes?” to which I responded, “Yes?” and she said, “Yes. You think too much, always in your head, everything circling around and around — you’re blowing out your synapses.”


Basically I gotta get a life, learn how to relax and live more in the moment, give up a little control. This last befuddles me. If I were a control freak wouldn’t my home be spotless, wouldn’t my clothes be pet-hair free, wouldn’t I be freshly bathed everyday?

And here’s another question: If I’m overtaxing my brain so much, what exactly is it I’m thinking about? Besides day-job stuff, what’s taking up all the space, squashing out story ideas? Can someone please tell me?

Ah well, this was supposed to be a quick note to check in because I’m heading out of town. Please refer to my last blog post, to the comment left by Liz. Talk about coming at the perfect time! She’s a high-school buddy, and the last time I saw her was at a high-school reunion. I didn’t know she was reading my blog, which is cool. I’m about to head out to the McKenzie River — no wireless, sporadic cell phone service — for a few days. Feels like an experiment — no technology? — I might as well be going to the moon.

I vow that I shall do nothing except read, sleep, drink red wine, read, sleep, jump in the river, read, sleep, take walks, read, sleep, socialize…Wish me luck, though, because I already know that I’m going to pack a friend’s manuscript that I was supposed to have read months ago. I’m thinking I can get something done while I’m at the river, yes?

Me thinks this is exactly what my doctor meant about my poor brain, and exactly what she would not order…

Bark of a Pine

Tree Bark 2In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation…even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.            Great Law of the Iroquois

This morning a dear friend called me. She was concerned because yesterday I’d e-mailed her in angry, ventful fashion. I’m fine today — well, not fine, but okay, rallying, that kind of thing — but yesterday I was  bummed out but forced to set the emotions aside because of  j.o.b. deadlines.

This post isn’t actually about the rejection I received.

This post is about how funny life is sometimes.

The reason I vented in that particular moment was because my friend had sent me an e-mail first. I might not have vented at all, otherwise. In her e-mail she’d written,

Nice, eh?


That’s it. I had no clue what she was referring to, except I noticed the Iroquois quote at the bottom of the message, and having never noticed this quote before, or maybe having noticed but forgotten it so that it was new all over again, I thought she was making a point about the bark of a pine and being a writer.

Seemed logical to me, given my mood.  And apt, the thick-skinned thing, of which I need to grow me some, and what with the perfect timing of the message, reading it right after the rejection…You can see why I replied back in a verbal purge.

Okay, that was that. I went back to work. Then, this morning my friend called partially to check on me, partially to verify: Hadn’t I received a royalty check for my Elizabeth George anthology story? (My friend also wrote a story for the anthology.)


I was so preoccupied, I’d forgotten to fetch the mail! And indeed, the check awaited me. Yesterday, receiving the check might have balanced out my mood. Receiving the check today, I laughed.

INSANITY | My Poor Thesaurus

I murdered my thesaurus.

I just sent a message to a few friends. What I want, of course, is for them to reply that I’m not really insane. That this kind of thing is normal and happens to the best of us. I won’t believe them.

Thought I’d share it with you too, because, hey, this is my life as a writer at the moment. The other side of the coin when the writing’s not going well, when indeed you’re wondering: What’s the point of my life?

What I wrote:

I think I’m going insane. Yesterday, I accidentally overwrote all my work on a course module, then started it again, then watched myself (in a fog of something) click NO to saving the changes, and lost it again. I had a complete and total meltdown – the kind in which you pace and cry and scream and want to kill something and you even look at the dog for a millesecond before you throw your beloved thesaurus (not the pocket-sized kind) across the room hard enough to break it in half down the spine. I think in psychiatry they call this “devolving.”

And then today, I couldn’t get stuff on the laptop to work right (or maybe myself to work right) while in a coffeehouse for my supposed lunch hour, and I turned into one of those crazies you sometimes see muttering to themselves and swearing under their breaths and making loony-tune faces.

AND THEN: I somehow forgot that I was on a teleconference call, UNmuted, and proceeded to throw a fit at my computer complete with the f-bomb, and I was pretty darned audible. And it was a childish fit – completely mortifying and I can’t stop obsessing about my mortification. My cheeks are still burning up two hours later.

Something’s seriously wrong with me these days.

So maybe you’re thinking that my subconsious is telling me something. As if I didn’t already know that I’m veering off my best path! Yesterday as I was coming off my meltdown I ruminated as follows: I need money, and I’m only technical-writing for the money. Well then, if I’m going to work for the money, why don’t I attempt to write a romance or a paranormal or a suspense novel? I mean, if I’m working for money wouldn’t writing any type of fiction be better than what I’m currently doing?

Last night, I had to laugh (maybe there’s hope for me yet), however. I’m reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and I happened to read this passage: …and I’ll spend my declining years in a grimy bed-sit, with my teeth falling out one by one. Oh, I can see it all now: No one will buy my books, and I’ll ply Sidney (read: editor/agent) with tattered, illegible manuscripts, which he’ll pretend to publish out of pity. Doddering and muttering, I’ll wander the streets carrying my pathetic turnips in a string bag (picture my beloved thesaurus), with newspaper tucked into my shoes…Oh God. This way lies insanity.

That’s exactly how I felt, how I have been feeling.

P.S. Later: Just discovered the teleconference session was recorded, and my fit of pique — to put it quaintly — is out there for all the muckety-mucks to hear — again.