11 Feb

Progress, not perfection

My brain is not waking up this morning. Last night, I took an over-the-counter sleeping pill, because I’d had a couple sleepless nights in a row and knew I was over-tired, yet still wasn’t falling asleep. It was no big thing — I think night-time Tylenol, which I bought because it was on sale and regular Tylenol wasn’t, and generally speaking, if I’m driven to take a painkiller, I’m just fine with going to sleep. I avoid painkillers. Most of the time when I go look for one, it’s expired several months ago. Anyway, night-time Tylenol. Wow. Stuff works. I slept until 7:45, which is basically unthinkable for me, and it’s now 8:45 and I’m staring at the computer as if it is a mysterious technology never seen before.

Sleepless night #1 was B’s fault. Both dogs sulked when they came home from the vet. Z took a solid 24 hours to forgive me which is a very long time for her. But B spent that night alternately whimpering and making throwing-up noises, that familiar hack, hack, hack that means you should rush to get the animal off the carpet or furniture. He did not throw up once. He just kept making the noise. Ugh.

Sleepless night #2 was even more sleepless, but with less cause. At 1AM, I finally got out of bed and made myself a snack. I was starting to get annoyed at the dogs for breathing in the same room as me. It was a classic toss-and-turn sleepless night — couldn’t get the blankets right, couldn’t get the temperature right, thirsty, not thirsty, need to pee, brain in overdrive — totally maddening. Sleeplessness really would be a fast route to insanity. I was still awake, no sleep at all, at 3AM and then got up at my normal 6:30. But not as a happy camper.

I have been very determined to finish writing Grace. I told myself the other day that I wouldn’t leave the house until I finished writing the entire book. If I started running low on groceries, maybe I’d find starvation motivating. Since then I’ve gone for a walk with a friend, gone to yoga, gone to a friend’s house to write, gone to a writer’s group dinner meeting — so yeah, I haven’t stuck to that at all. But I have been really trying to write at all hours of the day.

I don’t think I mentioned when I started over again last week, probably because it was just too embarrassing. How many times can I write the same book? But I am about 15K words into the latest version and about to enter a stage where I think I can re-use a lot of what I’ve already written, so I’m hoping for a couple days where my word count looks amazing. Meanwhile, Z is being yearning and trying to slide her head under my fingers on the keyboard, so I should probably walk her first. And maybe eat some breakfast.

Getting my fingers working does not seem to have removed this hazy mental fog — I still feel like I’m just as likely to close my eyes and nap at the keyboard as write anything worth reading, but maybe a walk and some food will get me there. It’s going to have to because I am, I am, I am going to finish writing this book. Well, not today. But today I’m going to make great progress. Rachel Aaron wrote a book called something like 2K to 10K — I haven’t managed to take any of her advice and I mostly am mournful about the fact that 2K sounds like a great day to me, but today I aspire to be in that range, with words that are good and usable. For some reason my fingers really insisted on typing unusable there — I hope that’s not foreshadowing.

08 Feb

Cold Monday

The dogs are at the vet today getting their teeth cleaned. My house feels very quiet.

The vet tech had to drag Bartleby away. I tried to help by walking him to the door, but then had to give him a shove with my foot to get him through the door. I’m belatedly hoping it didn’t look like a kick. It wasn’t — it was a very gentle push under his tail — and it’s probably pretty obvious from my dogs’ lap-dog levels of clinginess that I don’t mistreat them, but still. The tech then carried Zelda away and her desperate eyes over his shoulder as she tried to scramble to get back to me were heart-rending. I have to keep reminding myself of how happy she was after she recovered from the first time she had her teeth cleaned. That wasn’t exactly a “cleaning” — she had teeth extracted, too, — but I’d been thinking she was getting old and slow, and she reverted to puppyhood once her teeth were fixed. I know it’s worth doing. It’s still hard.

Our morning got really messed up, too. I went outside planning a ten minute walk before we had to leave, but my car was frosted over! So strange to see the patterns of ice on the windshield. I wound up using most of that ten minutes warming up the car and getting it drivable and so the poor dogs didn’t get much of a walk. Minimal walk, no breakfast, abandoned at the vet. Poor puppies.

Yesterday was a hard writing day. I wrote words, some of them good, but I felt this great resistance. I finally realized that I’d headed in the wrong direction. I liked what I had too much to want to change it, but I needed to change it because it was slowing the story down for no good reason. I have been ruthless with this book. So many good words wasted! It’s a terrible way to write a book and I really wonder whether it’s worth it. But I think I’ll go make myself a cup of coffee and get back to work and skip the stage of bogging myself down in a morass of self-doubt today.

04 Feb

Friends and food

A friend dropped by the other day around eleven and we walked the dogs together. When we got back, I invited her in and offered her lunch. She did that polite demurral thing, but when I said, “Really, I’ve got plenty,” she accepted. I made us salads — mixed greens topped with chicken apple sausage, sautéed onion, apple, and toasted pecans. And on mine, a little goat cheese. She doesn’t eat dairy. Plus, balsamic vinegar. That’s a normal lunch for me, and it was no big deal to make more, but she raved about how delicious and healthy it was.

That evening, another friend stopped by to show off his new purchase — the batmobile of motorcycles, a Victory motorcycle, I’m going to say this one. It was gorgeous. I’d been in the middle of cooking dinner, so I invited him in. He said, “Are you sure you have enough?” and I said, “You might have to eat something more later, but I’ve got extra.” He came in and I chopped up some more squash and made salads that I hadn’t been planning to make, so we had steelhead trout marinated in soy sauce (gluten-free), sriracha, and lime juice and sautéed, with yellow squash sautéed with ginger, plus a salad of mixed greens, celery, radishes, and a peach honey mustard vinaigrette. He said it was probably the first salad he’d eaten in a month and the best meal he’d had in a while.

Yesterday, my same dog-walking friend came by early and walked the dogs with me again — she likes the exercise and B is much, much better at walking when there are two of us for some reason. Maybe because I can really leave him behind when someone else is holding his leash and so then he hurries to keep up? But I had coffee already made, so invited her in and made us breakfast. (She again said, “Oh, no, you don’t have to do that,” to which I answered, “I have bacon.” :)) We had eggs, scrambled with onion, spinach, cilantro, and avocado and cooked in coconut oil (to avoid the dairy), with the bacon on the side. The eggs were actually seriously delicious. Great combination of flavors, and the coconut oil worked really well. It’s a different flavor than butter would give, but a tasty flavor.

Anyway, that day — well, or 24-hour period, since it was really one day to the next — that day was once my fantasy. When I started learning how to cook, it was mostly so that I could feed myself, but there was also a wistful daydream associated with it of being able have someone drop by and whip up a meal for them in the kitchen like it was no big deal. To have a friend over and feed them without having to plan, without having to run to the grocery store or buy ingredients. To open the refrigerator and say, “what can I make with what I’ve got?” and have the meal turn out as delicious and interesting as if I was in a restaurant.

It’s taken me seventeen years or so, but I wish I could go back in time to my younger self, the me that was going through a divorce, alone in a dive-y apartment with a three year old, feeling overwhelmed and grief-stricken and angry, angry, angry, and thank her. The decision she (I) made to learn to cook was made out of frustration and financial insecurity and loneliness. I knew that if I was ever going to be the parent that R deserved, I needed to be able to feed him more than pasta and fruit. But what a good decision it was.

Edited to add: my friend Tim congratulated me on this moment by saying, “Congrats on adulting to the extreme,” which made me laugh. It is the perfect summation of how I feel.

01 Feb

A new month

I wrote every day during the month of January. Thirty-one days in a row, some words on Grace every single one of them. I want to take a moment to pat myself on the back and say, “good job, self, good job,” but instead, my brain demands to know how in the world I have not finished writing this book yet. Not yet 7AM, still dark, and I have already spent twenty minutes or so beating myself up.

It’s not like I’m trying to write the great American novel or anything deep and literary. I’m not worrying about symbolism or all those poetic terms I can’t remember the names of. It’s just a fun romantic ghost story. I’m not even obsessed with editing perfection! I let sentences end in prepositions. I use fragments and run-ons! I even, horror of horrors, put multiple exclamation points on the same page yesterday!! (They belong there, though. Or at least I was pretty sure yesterday that they belonged there. I might change my mind this morning.)

I suspect my big mistake of several years ago was in starting to read about writing. I wanted to improve. That was part of my million word goal, to get better and better and at the end of writing a million words, decide whether or not I wanted to try to write for a living. But I think the more I learned about writing — not grammar and punctuation, of course, but about telling a story and building characters and creating a good plot, the harder it got for me to write. All that reading is where my story-telling went wrong.

Many years ago, I had a co-worker who would remind us that it wasn’t brain surgery, “it” being whatever work thing had us stressed out. The point wasn’t that our work was easy in comparison (although it was, obviously), but that no lives depended on what we were doing. I should make that one of my imaginary inspirational posters and remind myself of it steadily. No lives depend on me getting the story right.

The worst part is, of course, that it’s actually a whole lot easier to write fast and to not revise. I constantly have to go back and version check while I’m writing — have I said this in this version? Is this how this works this time around? It’s taken me so long that I forget what I wrote and even more, I forget what changes I’ve made.

But enough whining. February goal: to write every day, to write a lot every day, to finish this book and start the next one. A friend read A Lonely Magic last night and was messaging me until late in the night. She wants the sequel and I’d really like to write it — for her, for me, for the other people who cared. I also was asked last week about an audio version of Ghosts, so I want to create that. I also want to finish Grace, do my taxes, go to yoga three times a week, paint my bathroom, walk the dogs every day, eat healthily, and win the lottery. The only one of those things that’s impossible is the last. (I never buy lottery tickets. Too cheap!)

Apparently February 1 is the new New Year’s for me. Filled with resolutions and resolve! But onward and upward, right?

28 Jan


I have an impulse today to redesign my blog. This is a bad impulse. This is the kind of impulse that happens when I want to pretend that I’m accomplishing something but really I’m not.

Fortunately, I know exactly why I’m having this impulse. Grace has been going well–in fact, by my standards, remarkably well. I’m not even going to worry about jinxing myself with that statement. I’ve been having fun writing and I’ve been writing fun stuff. What could be better? But I blithely said that I was at 50K words yesterday, because I knew that I was just going to take the next 20K of words, already written for version 2, and add it to my 30K words of version 3. I knew I was going to do that. I was sure I was going to do that.

I was positive!

Yeah, I’m not going to do that.

This chapter–for those who read the last draft–is the one that takes place at the bistro, where Grace and Noah see the kids. It’s fun and entertaining, mostly Grace and Noah flirting with a bunch of Kenzi and the twins just for the fun of it. There’s nothing wrong with it. But I can’t help thinking that it’d be a lot more fun if the stakes were higher. And also, the current version of Grace and Noah have… well, I won’t spoil that. But their dynamics have changed and I can make the chapter better if I rewrite it.

I am such an impractical writer. Ugh. Well, no, I’m an impractical publisher. As a writer, I don’t care about being practical. That’s not the point. But my publisher self really, really wants my writer self to shape up and get it together and stop being so impulsive. Fortunately for Grace, the writer side still wins.

But I am going to ignore the impulse to redesign my blog. Also the impulse to browse stock photos looking at cover images. Also the impulse to take a slight break and write The Wedding Ghosts, aka Rose’s point-of-view on the wedding, which I’ve intended to write for months and months but only after I finish all the other things I have in mind, and of course, that day never comes. Hmm, I wonder if I did something like establishing that I will write that story when The Wedding Guests gets X number of reviews, whether that would be motivating to me? Eh, but I’m not in control of reviews, so that probably won’t help my motivation. I was imagining it the other day, though, and I really do like Toby. Plus, I was thinking that writing it might establish some stuff about Rose’s abilities that would help me with the ending of Grace. Argh! But no, I am not going to follow that impulse, either. I am going to go back to writing Grace. Right now!

25 Jan


I did laundry this weekend and actually washed ALL the things. Sheets, towels, tablecloths, clothing — by the end of the weekend, all the fabric in my house was clean. Go, me!

Except it turned out to be a terrible idea. I was also freezing all weekend long, wondering whether my heater was broken. I didn’t have two feet of snow, but the temperature was down in the 30’s and 40’s, which for us is cold. It was only on my last load of laundry that I realized that my thermostat is on the wall outside the laundry room. With the dryer running all weekend, the thermostat thought the house was lovely and warm. In my bedroom, I thought socks under the covers were barely enough to get by. Grr… or maybe I should be saying Brr…?

Post all the laundry, I needed fresh towels in my bathroom. I went looking for my favorites, the ones that belong in there. They’re blue, soft and thick, and big. Bath sheets, really, not towels. I’ve got plenty of towels, of course, but those two are the best. I couldn’t find them. I checked all the places towels might remotely hide. The other bathroom, the cupboard, the linen closet, my closet… no towels. I hadn’t seen them for a while but I’d just been assuming that they were somewhere — in a laundry basket or in the laundry room — but no.

And then I remembered — before R went back to school, he asked if he could take towels with him.

I told him, sure, of course.

He asked whether it mattered which ones he took.

I told him to take whichever ones he liked.

He pushed, said, “Are you sure? Any of them?”

I said, “Yeah, we’ve got plenty of towels. Take the ones you want.”

He started explaining to me how he really didn’t like the towels he had, because they weren’t absorbent enough and they didn’t dry fast enough and he liked softer towels, and I, frankly, tuned him out, because a) towels, not the most interesting subject, and b) I was in the middle of getting ready to have people over and thinking about food and cleaning.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have paid more attention.

There’s a part of me that’s annoyed — if I had not thought that MY towels were safely in my bathroom or laundry, I would not have told him he could take whichever towels he wanted. But mostly, I feel a mix of pleasure — I have raised a boy who is aware of the importance of quality linens, ha — and amusement — that teaches me to not pay attention when R is talking! He might even have specifically asked about the blue towels when he was telling me why the towels he had at school were not good enough. Oh, well. I do have plenty of towels, so I’ll survive.

Have I mentioned how much B loves the blow dryer? I don’t usually use a blow dryer but I’d gotten it out recently when I had to leave the house and it was cold and my hair was wet. B danced with delight. Up on his back legs, which he does not usually do, to tell me how excited he was. He knew exactly what it was and he loves it. Since then, I’ve been blowing him dry after his bath. It’s his favorite thing. Z watches us from two feet away, a little jealous of the doting attention that B’s getting but also really reluctant to come near the thing that makes noise. She’s not fond of noisemakers that might be vacuum cleaners.

Anyway, the other day we went for a walk in the rain. Typically, B refuses to walk in the rain. That day, he thought about it at the door and decided to come with us. I was surprised, but when we got home, he went straight to the spot where I’ve blown him dry (a floor outlet) and sat down. It was a very clear demand. My dogs have me so well trained.

21 Jan


I decided today that it was time to tackle the filing that I have let pile up for… ahem. A while. (I have no idea how long, but if I ever make it to the bottom of the pile, I will probably be embarrassed by the answer.)

It was a strategic decision: when everything needs to be done and cleaning is feeling overwhelming, start with one corner, then move on.

I got maybe halfway through. Maybe. Could be closer to 1/3 through. Then I decided that I needed to go do something else for a while, because it was causing sensations of impending doom. Do you have ever that feeling that life is completely out of your control and that your feeble attempt to keep track of stuff is throwing rocks at the incoming tide? Yeah, not my favorite feeling. And the reality is, who cares if the filing is done? I could take that entire pile of stuff and pitch it in the trash right now, today, and nobody would ever notice or care. Except maybe me when it came time to do my taxes and I didn’t have any receipts.

I just wrote a long ramble about things that pile up and then deleted it because it was possibly the most boring thing I have ever written. That’s a tough bar to reach, frankly, because I have written some boring stuff in my day. I used to write press releases and while one tries, of course, to make every word scintillating, a press release is only interesting if you have some intrinsic reason to care about the topic. For most people, they’re barely skimmable. My thoughts on dog hair (as a substance that really piles up amazingly) were about the same. But writing a blog post is my current justification for not returning to that pile of filing.

In my other writing, I seem to have gone colon and semi-colon crazy lately. I’m blaming Uprooted — I noticed on my third reading that Naomi Novik was quite profligate with her punctuation and it did not in any way impair my reading enjoyment, so I guess maybe it rubbed off. My run-on sentences are all my own fault, though.

*sigh. This is the kind of post that involves much staring into space and the eventual realization that I’m just procrastinating. There are so many useful things that I need to be doing — laundry and dog walking and yes, filing — that I might as well get on with them. But I think I need to reward myself. No food rewards and nothing healthy pretending to be a reward … Ah, I know. But I need help!

What movie/television show, preferably on Netflix or Amazon Prime, should I watch as deserved entertainment when I finish the filing?



18 Jan

Eleven years old

The electric company let me know that there was a power outage in my area. Wasn’t that kind of them? Then they let me know when it was scheduled to be fixed. Then they let me know that it was fixed! So supportive, so helpful, such great information.

Seriously, I might have appreciated it if the texts hadn’t come in all before 6:15AM. And/or if I’d had the ringer on my phone turned off, which I often do. As it is, I’m trying to not let it affect my attitude toward the week ahead. Or even toward the day ahead.

So far, I have not made it to yoga a single time in 2016. I would like today to be the day. But between the phone calls and the weather, I haven’t walked the dogs yet and in my current state of health, I probably don’t have the energy to both walk the dogs and go to yoga. I’m caught in the trap of being sick and wanting comfort food and not being able to get healthy because I keep eating comfort food. Alas. It’s a bad trap for me. I can know that I feel crappy because I ate food that I shouldn’t eat but at the same time, I don’t feel well enough to put the effort into eating the way I should.

And while I know that getting back to yoga would be really good for me, today is Zelda’s birthday. Eleven years old! (I know I’m getting the year right, but I admit to a slight possibility that the day is wrong. I know exactly how I could find out for sure, but it would involve moving a bunch of stuff to get at a scrapbook and I am currently too lazy.) Anyway, it seems really unfair to not walk the dog on her birthday. In years past, I would have gotten pizza and ice cream and shared both with her. I’m sort of tempted to do that this year, too — I’m sick anyway, so what difference does it make? — but I am quite sure that Zelda, both long-term and short, would prefer that I had the energy to go for long walks with her. There is nothing she likes better than a really long walk. Even swimming wouldn’t beat it. Unless it was walking and swimming at the beach, which would probably be her ultimate doggie fantasy birthday!

So, okay, decision made. No yoga, dog walking instead. And making healthy eating choices so that maybe I can make it to yoga on Wednesday instead!

Zelda at the beach

Zelda’s a great beach dog. Well-behaved off-leash and loves the water

16 Jan

Writing Joy

Last night, I was trying to sleep but actually lying awake, staring at the ceiling, wishing I hadn’t drunk coffee in the afternoon, when a scene began to scroll before my eyes. Like watching a movie or having a dream, the characters were so vivid, so real, and their conversation so charming. I sat up, turned on the light, pulled my Chromebook over, and scribbled down rough notes about the dialog I’d just imagined. And then I turned the lights off and tried to go to sleep again.

This morning, I was in the shower, washing my hair, when the same characters popped back into my head and started flirting again. I could see them at Maggie’s diner. I could hear the conversation they were having. And I knew exactly what happened next. I barely dried myself off before I was at the computer, typing madly, trying not to drip on the keyboard.

Such a fun, fun, fun feeling. And such a pity that the words and the characters and the scenes are NOT from the book I am working on. ARGH!

The good news (maybe?) is that these characters are clearly in the sequel to the book that I am writing. There’s no way I can reach their story until I make it through Grace’s story, because until Grace and Noah have their happy ending, Noah’s brother will not be visiting Tassamara. And he can not be happy-go-lucky flirting with a random girl in Maggie’s Bistro until he gets there. So back to Grace I go. But oh, inspiration is so delightful.

I don’t know when I’ll get to write this book and I don’t know what its name is and everything about it might change dramatically between now and then, but: Heather Allen is on the run, carrying with her a secret of life-shattering proportions.

Someday I will get to tell her story!

14 Jan

Book review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

Book Description from Goodreads:

In the Shadow of Blackbirds, by Cat Winters:

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

I’m never going to write historical fiction. The closest I will ever come is fantasy in a historical setting so that when people tell me all the things I got wrong, I can shrug and say, “Fantasy, remember?”

I suppose technically this author could say the same thing, because she’s writing a book where ghosts exist. But I was the PITA reader seriously bugged by the details. She has her main character describe as scene as surreal. In 1918? The surrealists didn’t start painting until the 1930s. Before then, the word didn’t exist. She excuses a sneeze as allergies. That term was invented in 1906 in Europe, so pretty unlikely to have been in widespread use in 1918 Portland.

Most troublesome to me was that she paints the flu epidemic in San Diego as being apocalyptic in scope, with corpses lying in the street. A quick internet search reveals that 202 people total died of the flu in San Diego out of over 3000 who fell sick in a city of over 70,000 people. That’s … a somewhat unexciting apocalypse.

I did keep reading, but I definitely never became immersed. Instead, I kept leaving the book and looking up random facts on the internet. I guess that makes it an educational read!

The flu epidemic information was the most bothersome — we now know that the pandemic was incredibly devastating and killed millions of people, but people didn’t know that at the time. The epidemic is historically fascinating (to me) not because of the widespread destruction but because in so many places, people were so innocent — newspapers buried the stories about it, people scoffed at the recommendations to wear masks, and by the time they really started to understand the severity, it was almost over. The second burst of the flu, where most of the deaths occurred, actually only lasted for a couple months. Imagine the AIDS epidemic in ultra high speed. I feel like the flu pandemic is actually a lot more interesting than the stereotype of a pandemic in this story, but the story was really more about spiritualism and photography and WWI, so I’m probably being overly picky.

The story overall — lots of vivid smells and tastes, interesting research and information despite inaccuracies, a classic “not like other girls” heroine, a grim mystery with an ending that I did not see coming, and I finished it despite my regular departures to the internet to question the historical accuracy of the details. (The internet failed to tell me when children began being told to share their toys but I really, truly, seriously doubt whether it was much before the 1950s.)

Read via Overdrive.

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