My secret: I don’t live up to my writing

Happy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. Details and signup here. This month’s optional question is: Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work?

I struggled to come up with an IWSG post this month. Usually I have one done by no later than Monday, and I’m usually pretty happy with it, but not this month. As much as I try to shut out the outside world and focus on my writing and my day job and my family, it’s been hard these last few days. So much pain and brutality.

It’s a bit ironic, I suppose, because I tend to write about pain and brutality. My first novel (still stuck in the hell of interminable revision) features a character who was brutalized by an abusive husband–and that dude is intent on brutalizing her again, right into a cemetery plot. My second novel (for which I have a messy first draft from last year’s NaNo) features a villain who rapes and murders kids. The main character of the short story I’m working on accidentally shoots a kid. And the short story I wrote last year that won an award features the meditations of a fed-up wife who… well, one day I’ll post the story online, and you can find out for yourself.

So what’s my secret? Am I a closet psychopath? Have I done time for murder one? Spent my youth working as an assassin for a foreign government? Nope, nope, and nope. My secret is this: I’m an almost stereotypical mild-mannered librarian. I read. I garden. I knit. And my heart breaks at accounts of real violence. There are news stories I don’t read, even though they would make good fodder for future stories. Videos I don’t watch. Movies I don’t watch. I used to love 80s slasher flicks–Jason and Freddie and Michael Myers mowing down teenagers with various sharp objects. Now that I’m not a teenager–and now that I’m a mom–I find myself actually sympathizing with… the teenagers. Sixteen-year-old me would be mortified.

And so, though I write about murder and mayhem with glorious abandon, I cannot abide the real thing. And that’s why I struggled to come up with a post and why I’ve struggled to write or concentrate these last few days. My heart breaks for the family of George Floyd, whose loved one was murdered–slowly–in front of an audience on a public street. My heart breaks for every person of color who has grown up in a racist culture, oppressed by racist systems that limit opportunity, damage bodies and souls, and sometimes kill. I am sickened by the actions of some of our police officers and the statements of some people I considered friends. And yet I am safe from the murder and mayhem. Safe to write about violence and brutality in my nice white lady world. Safe in my rural neighborhood. Safe in my white skin.

And that, my friends, is my secret. And more and more, I find it a shameful one.

#SoCS: chirurgie

This is my first time participating in the Stream of Consciousness Saturday blog hop. Linda Hill posts a prompt every Friday; see https://lindaghill.com/2020/05/22/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-23-2020. This week’s prompt: base a post on a word beginning with ch.

I contemplated a few ch words: child and chair immediately came to mind. Then, from nowhere came chirurgie, the French word for surgery. Do I speak French? Non. Not a word. Well, except for merde, because I’m full of it, and one ought to be able to describe oneself in at least two languages, am I right?

So why chirurgie, which I cannot spell without looking it up and am copying and pasting each time I use it in this post? Because it reminded me of the summer of 1991. I was home in Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with the infinitely cooler Vancouver, BC) between years of library school and landed a job at Oregon Health & Science University doing two things: working the reference desk and cataloging books in the history of medicine collection. There were quite a few French books in that collection, many of which included some variation of chirurgie in the title. And for some reason, that word and its variants stuck in my mind, even though to this day I cannot pronounce it (but I can pronounce merde just fine – thanks to the wonderful Outlander audiobooks).

There was something magical about that summer, sitting in the musty History of Medicine Room, smelling decaying leather (and possibly decaying other things – I heard rumors that we had at least one book bound in human skin, though I was never able to verify that fact) and poring over title pages of books at least a century old–like this one:

L0005170 Title page”Traite des operations de chirurgie” Garengeot Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Amputation: 18th Century 18th Century Traite des operations de chirurgie Garengeot, R.J.C. de Published: 1731 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

I remember lots of herbals–herbal medicine was big, especially in the days when medicine didn’t have much else to offer–and cringe-worthy gynecology texts from the 19th century. Let me tell you, people with female organs, if you ever want to feel grateful that you live in *this* time, take a look at a 19th century gynecology textbook. Or, worse, 19th century gynecological instruments. We had some of those too.

And I think I’ll leave this post with that happy thought. I love to reminisce about the past, but I also try to be thankful for the current moment, whatever and wherever it is. Have a wonderful weekend, dear readers, and keep safe.

My son has an associate’s degree!

Celebrate blog hopThis week’s post for the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop celebrates a not-so-small thing: my son is almost done with his 2-year associate’s degree! There’s no graduation ceremony this year (thanks, Microbe That Must Not Be Named), but he got a lovely box in the mail yesterday from his campus, with his class of 2020 tassel and membership card for the alumni association. My baby is an alumnus!

In the fall he’ll move on to a 4-year university, but for now, we’re celebrating this milestone with him.

And congrats to all the graduates out there! I’m sorry you don’t get to have big parties and ceremonies this year. I hope your schools find a way to celebrate you once it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, celebrate yourself! Be proud of the grit and determination it took to finish.

My writing ritual (warning: it ain’t pretty)

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeHappy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. Details and signup here. This month’s optional question is: Do you have any rituals that you use when you need help getting into the zone?

I hope my fellow IWSG-ers have some great responses to this question. I need all the ideas I can get, because right now my ritual for getting in the zone is pretty simple: sit my butt down in front of my computer and get to work. I wrote about that process in a post last December.

Part of why I don’t employ much in the way of writing rituals is that I have so little time to write. There are tons of rituals that I think (and sometimes know) would help me:

  • Freewriting, like the morning pages Julia Cameron writes about in The Artist’s Way
  • Exercise. Aerobic exercise in particular tends to fuel my creativity.
  • Meditation, wonderful for clearing the mind and tapping into the subconscious.

In fact, my ideal writing ritual would go something like this:

  1. Get up around sunrise. Eat and caffeinate while writing morning pages.
  2. Go for a “run.” “Run” is in quotation marks, because I would be running for less than half the time. But some running is better than no running, right?
  3. Meditate for 5 or 10 minutes.
  4. Shower.
  5. Write.

My actual writing ritual looks more like this:

  1. Sleep later than I planned, because I stayed up too late. Again.
  2. Grab some cereal and a Diet Coke. Check my watch. Crap. Less than an hour till I have to start work (and before corona, it was, Crap. I have to leave for work in 15 minutes.)
  3. Sit down, shovel Frosted Mini-Wheats into my food hole, swig my magic elixir of caffeine and aspartame, and agonize about what to work on: the paid writing gig (boring but $$), the novel I’m editing, the novel I’m writing, the short story I’m editing, the short story I’m writing, or the blog post I’ve been putting off for a week and oh crap tomorrow is IWSG Day and what the hell am I going to say to a worldwide audience of fellow writers when I can’t even figure out a decent writing routine…
  4. Pick whichever one I think will most likely entice my muse (the drunken floozy) to put down the tequila bottle and grace me with her inebriated and slightly stinky presence.
  5. Write. Get into the zone. And realize it’s time to start my day job.

Yes, I could get my sh*t together, get up an hour earlier, and go through the ideal routine (and the once or twice in 6 years that I did it, it felt great). Or I can accept that I am the way I am and that any method that lets me get the work done is the right method for me.

How about y’all? Have you found a routine that works for you? Or is your “process” as messy as mine?

Celebrate the Small Things!

Celebrate blog hopI have just joined the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop. The rules are simple: each Friday, post about something you want to celebrate achieving/doing that week.

This week I’m celebrating the fact that I submitted a short story to an online magazine. Big deal, right? But for me it is. Until about a year ago, I’d never shown anyone my fiction. Since then, I’ve joined a critique group, entered (and won!) a literary contest, and, just this year, submitted two pieces for publication. Will my two submissions get published? Maybe, maybe not. In both cases, I submitted to markets that are a little out of my league, but then I thought the literary contest was out of my league, too. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and see what happens.

Happy Friday!

Photo safari through a historic Flagstaff neighborhood

2020-04-24 12.10.15.jpgMy first novel, Vanishing, Inc., is set in a fictional mountain town in Arizona called Ponderosa. I live in Flagstaff, a not-so-fictional mountain town in Arizona that makes an appearance in my story, but since I’m writing a paranormal romance (a time travel romance, to be specific), I wanted the freedom of a fictional setting. I don’t want some overly-literal reader leaving me a one-star review because there are, in fact, no time portals in Flagstaff.

Hey, you know it could happen. I’m sure plenty of tourists have walked through standing stones in Scotland and become very grumpy because they did not immediately find themselves in the arms of a lusty Scottish outlaw. BTW, how cheap are airline tickets to Scotland these days? Asking for a friend…

But I digress.

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah–Ponderosa, Arizona, which exists only in my manuscript. But you’ll love it, I promise. Especially since it involves a lusty Arizona outlaw.

It also involves the unique landscape of the Northern Arizona mountains, which I’ve been lucky enough to call home for the last 6 years. Now that my world has shrunk to the size of my yard (thanks, Microbe that Must not be Named), my explorations have been a bit limited. But last week I got to take a trip! Go on a journey! Where did I go, you ask?

I took my husband to the dentist.

It’s a thrill a minute around here, I tell ya.

His dentist’s office is in one of Flagstaff’s historic neighborhoods, so I took myself on a mini photo safari while he got his tooth fixed. The primary setting in Vanishing, Inc. is a stone cottage built in 1890, so I paid particular attention to old stone houses. Like this one:

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I’ve been fascinated by stone houses since I was a kid. I suppose they remind me of the fairy tales I read over and over in elementary school. We have a lot of rocks around here, so old stone houses are fairly common,  but I still find them magical. Look at that texture! At the contrast of textures! And can’t you just picture that house with a time portal in the basement? C’mon, use your imagination…

Take away the modern windows and modern roof, and this one would make a great location for a time portal:

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I love how the stone makes the house fit into the landscape like it’s always been there.

Besides writing, I’m obsessed with gardening, so I took lots of pictures of plants and yards, especially where there were contrasting textures. Like this:

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And this:

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And my favorite picture of the day. Look at that wonderful old stone wall! and those red buds popping out of the shade! I can picture my main character stumbling over that wall in 1910, on her way to even more trouble.

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And it’s spring, so I couldn’t resist the flowers. Here’s forsythia:

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And sand cherry blossoms:

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trek into my world, both real and fictional. I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful, magical place, but beauty and magic can be found anywhere. I hope you’ll take the time to find some of your own.

Q is for Quotes (#AtoZChallenge)

Back when I started this month-long challenge, I said the theme would be discovery, and I would write about the the things I’ve discovered during coronavirus lockdown. I’m always discovering stuff. When I was a kid, I did what most kids do: find random stuff and bring it home and hoard it like Blackbeard’s treasure. I don’t collect stuff now (unless we’re talking about plants…), but I do collect random bits of information and save it in my journal. One of my favorite things to save this way is quotes. I have pages and pages of quotes I’ve copied down. Each one spoke to me at the moment I found it, and many of them still speak to me each time I reread them. Here are a few of my favorites that I discovered this year:

“Endings are about emotion, and logic is emotion’s enemy. It’s the writer’s job to disarm the reader of his logic, to just make the reader feel”–Ethan Canin, “Rehearsals for Death” (published in  Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process)

“No matter what anybody tells you about writing, you can do whatever the fuck you want”–Neil Gaiman, “Random Joy” (published in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process)

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life”–Laurence Kasdan (quoted in Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us)

“Saying no can be the ultimate self-care”–Claudia Black (quoted in The Artist’s Way)

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”–Anais Nin (quoted in The Artist’s Way)

How about y’all? What are some of your favorite quotes?

On the LITA blog: Strategies for Surviving a Staffing Crisis

Every now and then, I blog about library-related stuff. Today I contributed a guest post to the LITA (Library Information Technology Association) Blog, titled Strategies for Surviving a Staffing Crisis. The post is library-focused, but much of the advice would apply to other settings as well. Hop on over and give it a read if you’re so inclined.

 

P is for Patience and Persistence (#AtoZChallenge)

P2020

I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in California, where every November and December, a layer of tule fog settles in. Sometimes it lifts during the day, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s so thick you can barely see the end of your car hood. That’s when you hope the road you’re on has those little raised bumps along the shoulder, so you can ride on them to guide you. We called that driving by Braille. 0/10 Do Not Recommend.

Dense Tule fog in Bakersfield
Dense Tule fog in Bakersfield is from Wikipedia and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

What I do recommend is walking in the fog, especially at night. There was something magical about a walk on a foggy night, when I could barely see 30 feet in front of me. But it was also easy to get disoriented, easy to lose my way. However, if I started in the right direction and put one foot in front of the other, my destination would emerge out of the fog like an apparition. It was difficult–and scary–to keep walking forward toward a destination I could not see, even though I knew it was there. I was always tempted to veer off to the side to see if I could find a familiar landmark, or to turn back and wait until my path was clearer. If I wanted to reach my destination, though, I needed to keep moving forward. Slowly. Carefully. But forward.

We all have dreams. We all have goals. We all have destinations we desperately want to reach but that seem so far distant, so shrouded in the fog of uncertainty, that we aren’t even sure they are there. I want to publish a novel. You might want to run a marathon or finish college or buy a house. None of those things are easy. None are short-term. All require setting yourself on a path and putting one foot in front of the other day after week after month after year, even when the destination seems hopelessly distant. Even when you’ve lost sight of it entirely.

And now we have a global pandemic that keeps us in our houses, keeps us afraid, and keeps us wondering if we’ll ever have a chance to do more than get up and get through. How long till marathons are a thing again? Till college classes can happen in person? Till we’ll recover economically enough to buy anything, let alone a house?

I don’t know. You don’t know. None of us knows. 

But here’s what I do know: those dreams, those destinations? They still exist. Never mind walking through fog. It feels like we are sailing through a hurricane, and many of us have been blown off-course.That professional editor I wanted to hire to help me prep my first novel for querying? Gonna have to wait on that, because I may get furloughed, and raises will be canceled, and…

But on the other side of the huge waves and hulking clouds and sheeting rain, our destinations await us.

For now, though, we exist in an in-between time, between the familiar, the old normal, and whatever will come after. And right now, that new normal is shrouded in some pretty thick fog.

That phrase, in-between time, reminds me of a lovely novella by Diana Gabaldon called The Space Between. It’s set in the Outlander world and tells the story of Michael Murray and Joan MacKimmie, Jamie Fraser’s nephew and stepdaughter. Michael is grieving the death of his wife and recounts the advice he got from his brother Ian:

“That’s how ye do it,” his brother Ian had told him, as they leant together on the rail of their mother’s sheep pen, the winter’s wind cold on their faces, waiting for their da to find his way through dying. “Ye find a way to live for that one more minute. And then another. And another.” Ian had lost a wife, too, and knew.

He’d wiped his face—he could weep before Ian, while he couldn’t with his elder brother or the girls, certainly not in front of his mother—and asked, “And it gets better after a time, is that what ye’re telling me?” His brother had looked at him straight on, the quiet in his eyes showing through the outlandish Mohawk tattoos. “No,” he’d said softly. “But after a time, ye find ye’re in a different place than ye were. A different person than ye were. And then ye look about and see what’s there with ye. Ye’ll maybe find a use for yourself. That helps.”

“Ye look about and see what’s there with ye. Ye’ll maybe find a use for yourself.”

That line has stuck with me since the first time I read this story, and it’s come back to me many times since the coronavirus lock-down started. And many times since it started, I’ve looked around to see what’s here with me, and usually I can find a use for myself. Each day I can take one step, however small, toward my dream. I hope you can, too.

O is for Outside (#AtoZChallenge)

O2020After four weeks of quarantine, I’ve learned a bit about what helps keep me mentally healthy in lockdown, and exactly none of it is a surprise: adequate sleep, nutritious food (apparently woman does not live by Doritos alone, though heaven knows I’ve tried), meaningful work, exercise, and fresh air. Spring in Flagstaff is wind season, so getting outside without being blown into the next ZIP code is challenging. Usually the best opportunity is before nine AM, which is why I’ve been outside gardening at 7 AM. Yes, I know that is sick and wrong, but one does what one must.

I could write a long, not-so-eloquent essay on the beauty of nature and the spirituality of watching the garden come back to life after its winter sleep, but really, that’s been done way too many times by writers way more talented than I am. Instead, I’ll post a few pictures to share the beauty of my surroundings with you. It’s still early spring here, so there’s nothing too dramatic happening outside (except for the occasional gale-force winds), but the beauty is in the details.

In my last post, I talked about how life in quarantine is like seeing the world through a macro lens. Here’s what my macro lens (OK, the macro lens on my Nikon glorified point and shoot) captured over the weekend:

Apple blossoms

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Peach blossoms

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Daffodils

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In twenty or thirty years, when the young ‘uns ask me how we survived being stuck at home for so long, I’ll tell them I looked for beauty in the small things all around me.