Blog

The tomato vine…the Maltese Falcon…the process…

Desk

A check-in is long overdue! Summer, recently filled with eerie orange skies and hot nights, devastating California fires and Texas floods, a personal call to action and unanticipated foray into gardening, lots of exercising and even more revising, is (thank goodness!) almost over. But before the bluebird flies and my favorite season arrives, what news do I have for you…?

IMG_9161First, in very old news, I’m trying a new creative experiment: associating specific creative ideas & projects with specific scents. The goal…? Twofold. First, I often can’t sit down and write when I’d like to…namely, mornings, when instead I’m heading off to work. And when I do have time to write, I don’t feel like it. So just maybe, in those moments, if the story had a certain scent…like yummy vanilla sugar…and I took a deep inhale, the urge to write might be rekindled. Second, I’d like to successfully work on more than one project. It’s not always easy to shift between worlds and characters, so I thought perhaps if I had a trigger…tomato vine for this mystery, coffee for that short story, etc…I might be able to jump in and out of multiple worlds more easily. As I say, it’s an experiment…so I’ll keep you posted.

Second, in not-quite-as-old news, as you can see from my new favorite glass above, I recently went on a walking tour of Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco, organized by the Northern California Sisters in Crime and conducted by Don Herron, who’s been leading these tours for 40 years…since the year I was born! Don describes the nature of the tour best on his website:

Shadow Sam Spade in his quest for the fabulous figurine of a mysterious black bird. Prowl the back alleys where the Continental Op, Hammett’s longest-running detective, faced down the opposition over the barrel of his blazing .38. Follow Hammett himself as he works for the Pinkerton Detective Agency on the infamous Fatty Arbuckle case. See the spot where Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, with a smile on his mug and his pistol buttoned away under his overcoat, met swift death in the night-fog.

It’s always a joy to see a familiar place in a new way…and I certainly saw San Francisco cast in thrilling, noir shadows that revealed places and things I’d never noticed but passed by many times. Just a few photos of some of my favorite parts…

 

(And if you don’t know who Dashiell Hammett or Sam Spade are, or what the Maltese Falcon is…get thee to a bookstore now!)

Lastly, the latest news. I’ve remembered to enjoy the process! I owe this reminder to my husband…photographer, musician, and all around creative-being-extradonaire! I watch him spend hours at his arts…chasing tone, crafting songs, creating images…for the mere pleasure of it. The joy and energy he radiates after spending an evening on one guitar lick or one portrait should be bottled up and prescribed to overwrought, cynical artists of all types. Being around him has reminded me that if you’re not having fun doing what you’re doing, then you’re either missing the point or aren’t doing what you really love. (That said, I’ve also observed that by following his bliss he has courted success and opportunity…new band mates, music gigs, photography assignments…proving Julia Cameron’s point that the Universe loves happy artists and wants to help them!)

And that’s it for this summer. I’ll leave you in the pub with a cold beer listening to my inspiring husband…

IMG_4958

 

 

 

Advertisements

Like a good French cheese…

FullSizeRender 2Has anyone been to the Berkeley Hills? I was there Thursday night for the first time…somewhere off Grizzly Peak Road amidst beautiful homes, a sunset and stars, and a small host of writers & readers gathered in one of those beautiful homes to hear Susan Shea and Cara Black discuss their latest books. I carried in a caramelized onion and mushroom quiche and was transported to France, where Susan’s new series is set in a small fictional Burgundian town and Cara’s long-running Aimée Leduc series is set in Paris (with New York best-selling results, I might add).

The event also helped me to see how I’ve matured…like a good French cheese. (Sorry…too good to resist!) What I mean by this is that I am finally appreciating spiritually what I’ve always known logically…that it isn’t the destination that brings the greatest reward, but the journey. In the past I would have gone to such an event with some aim in mind…to network, to make an impression, to get somewhere or get something. And I would have left feeling icky, unsatisfied, and unsuccessful. And I understand now it was because I was so focused on my expected outcomes that I was closed off to the magic and synchronicity that might have unfolded naturally…I was so focused on the results, that I missed the joys offered by the process.

So Thursday night I had no goal but to get to those Berkeley Hills before the event started…which was no small feat with quitting time traffic that took two and half hours! But with that accomplished and people tucking into the quiche, I took a seat and let anything or nothing happen. As it is, I met some lovely people, soaked in the discussions of setting (very pertinent to my own novel) and French current events (always interesting), and let myself be dissuaded by Susan from a drastic POV revision to my manuscript. In fact, that two and half hour drive might just have saved me weeks of work!

 

 

An unapologetic era…

Good morning! As I was taking Oscar for his morning walk…(for those not following on Instagram, Oscar is on his way to becoming a bona fide “Adventure Cat” under the alias of Licorice…hence the camo vest and far-reaching gaze)…I was getting caught up on Social Media and came across this quote…

“I’ve worked too hard on my happiness to be affected by people and things that don’t understand the energy and time I’ve put into myself” ~Billy Chapata

…and it gave me pause…enough pause to sit and write a post. Why…?

Perhaps because I’ve always been a people pleaser, and part of being a people pleaser is not letting others feel uncomfortable or put out, even at your own cost. As a result, we people pleasers apologize for our unique beauty, greatness, accomplishments…we diminish ourselves so others don’t have to feel less than. What many of us fail to understand before too much time has gone by or before it’s too late is that everyone’s greatness and beauty is individual…your accomplishments can’t diminish mine and vice versa because we each have our own gifts to give…and we each have our own spectacular beauty to fill the world with that that only we can offer. Unfortunately, some of us convince ourselves otherwise and spend too much of life apologizing, hiding, and negating ourselves.

Maybe it’s turning 40 or just a natural accumulation of life experiences which has made me intolerant of certain things…things like lies, cruelty, ignorance, and self-deprecation, just to name a few.

And so begins an unapologetic era…

FullSizeRender

And what a leap it was!…

…all the way from the New Year to mid-summer! How did that happen…?

Well, I can only describe the first few months in my new position at the college as truly grabbing hold of a moving train and hanging on for dear life. But hang on I did, and manage to scramble aboard and squeeze myself into a rattling car. And it’s still full steam ahead. Then, in February, I turned 40 which called for an impromptu, creative jaunt to my beloved City of Dreaming Spires.

I returned to spend hours in the backyard stripping paint off doors and window trim in anticipation of remodeling my office…at the same time spending precious last days with my feline magician assistants, Copperfield and Houdini, who left me in April and May, and took with them all joy for a time.

IMG_8690

After seventeen years of company on every life step, dream, and scheme, the world within and without was sad and uninspired without them. For a time I didn’t care if the office got finished or the book published or what filled my free time. Thankfully, that part of grief does pass. And though those two are forever in our hearts and missed daily, there is a new addition to the family who has infused it anew with youth and joy. Realizing that we still had love and a home to share…and that a real writer needs a cat companion to write anything worthwhile!…my husband brought this fellow home from the local animal shelter…

IMG_8794
He was introduced to us as a twelve-year-old Licorish, but we now know him as the more-like-four-year-old Oscar.

But in this long leap of time and all that transpired, did I take the “true leap” I wrote about in January…the daily leap into the life and identity of a writer, filled with wonder and writing and inspiration, despite everything else that can get in the way? The short answer is yes…and no. I did…just not as much as I should or could have.

When I was in Oxford I spent five blissful days researching an exciting new treasure hunt of a story…I just haven’t made much progress on the actual writing of it. And I have been wrestling with and pondering important revisions to Shadow of a Woman, with good results, making it a stronger manuscript…but I haven’t yet resubmitted to agents. And I made it to a Sisters-in-Crime meeting…but only one. Still, here I am, having leaped, stumbled, had a bit of a rough landing, but brushed myself off and am ready to go.

And that’s the reality of leaps, I suppose…

 

The true leap…

After ten days of glorious winter sunshine, the rains have returned. And after ten days of luxurious winter break, I must return to the real world and a new position! Somehow, despite the moments of anxiety and trepidation that have punctuated my vacation whenever I considered the leap I’m taking, quite unexpectedly, today I find myself ready for the challenge. In fact, I’m even preparing…

getting-ready-for-work

But preparations are not just about getting my notes and supplies in order, or cleaning out my bag and doing laundry…it’s also about putting things in perspective.

Meaning…no matter how I earn my keep, no matter how good I may be at my day job, no matter where my car takes me to and from Monday thru Friday…I am a writer and so “success” must be defined as something more than just fulfilling a job description and passing probation. It is being inspired throughout the day, taking the time to jot ideas down, even daydreaming a bit; having energy in the evenings for writing and revising and scheming; and keeping weekends free for adventures, my whiteboard, and research.

The true leap I’m taking…and must take every day, as fearlessly as possible…is being a writer first.

Fog…mourning doves…2017…

I awoke this morning to find the house enshrouded in mist. It was as if, while I slept, the fog which has so befuddled my creative senses these past six months seeped from my head with each sleeping snore, then out through the cracks of this drafty house, leaving my mind clear for the new year. It seemed almost too good to be true! But as I made my first cup of coffee, I noted a single mourning dove…symbol of female fertility and procreation…perched on the bare branches of the tree outside the window and I knew I was finally returning to my creative self!

So often people start the New Year by giving up things they love…drinking, smoking, perceived bad behavior. No pun intended, but I gave up that practice long ago! For me the New Year…this one more than ever…is about taking back. This year I vow to take back my creative courage, joy, and energy…and return to the path from which I strayed sometime last year, the end of which was particularly rough on my creativity.

Now the fog has burned off and the mourning dove departed, but I’ve captured their messages in my heart, which is excited, joyful, and inspired on this first day of 2017!

 

 

Reporting in from the new office…

new-office

Good morning…from my new office! Yes, it’s still in my house, but (for those of you who followed my 365 day journey around the sun) it is no longer the Blue Room, or even the dining room table. It’s a well-lit, dual-aspect, cozy bedroom off the dining room. It still needs work, as you can see, but I have French doors out to the rest of the house and a little jewel-box of a bathroom all to myself…not to mention a flat-screen tv, Playstation, sofa bed with quilts, and my faithful feline assistants. But, I assure you, writing will still get done…

Actually, I must get some writing done! I’ve been feeling quite lost as an artist…even though I’ve been working through the Artist’s Way and expressing my creativity through cooking and cross-stitching and decorating for autumn. But I haven’t been writing and I can tell my soul needs it. I even had a visit from a black widow spider, crawling across the living room floor to where I sat doing bills one evening with all the lights on! I think the message was clear…”embrace your female power, create, weave…or else!” I thanked her for her message and quickly relocated her outside. I’m worried if I don’t get writing soon she’ll visit me again.

I am pleased to report that Pitch Madness day went very well. I had multiple small publishing houses express interest, as well as one very reputable agent. I thanked the publishing houses, explaining that I would first like to seek agent-representation. As for the agent, well unfortunately (in one sense) the book is already out to one of her colleagues for consideration, and the agency has a strict no-submitting-to-multiple-agents policy. I emailed her and was honored to receive a response informing me that if her colleague didn’t express interest, she’d like to see the manuscript next. Of those first eight submissions of SHADOW OF A WOMAN to agents that went out in July, I’m still waiting to hear back – or not hear back, as the case may be – from four by the end of October. In the meantime, I have put submissions on hold, and am revisiting the manuscript. Not for major revisions to the plot, but to clean up the language even further, and increase tension where possible. A good manuscript goes through seven to eight drafts…this would put me at six, I think. And I’ve been blessed with the most unlikely of editors – my husband! He’s not read the book before, and is very good with language, so as we read it together, he’s helping to point out where I have too much description, what needs better description, and what just doesn’t make sense.

But I still need to get writing. I’ve been considering participating in NaNoWriMo this year. For those of you not familiar with this crazy writing event, it’s where writers across the world commit to writing 50,000 words in one month. And November of all months!…with Thanksgiving and family and holidays to negotiate. But it’s a wonderful way to force a first draft out. I’ve calculated that to make the quota I would need to write six pages a day, every day. What’s prevented me from making the commitment is that I just can’t decide which project I’d work on. Logic tells me that I should start the next Penzey Brighton mystery. But I also have another series I’d like to start. And then there’s my epic, historical fantasy, that will require tons of delicious research and total abandon. How to choose?!

And that’s the report from my new office. Apologies for the length. That’s what comes from being away too long. But I’m thinking that now that I’ve got an office back, I’ll be able to report in more often in style and comfort!

Woosh! The curtains open…

I’m here! I’m here! *waving from the front windows*

I know, it’s been too long! I’ve just been in a little funk. The kind of funk where you eat too many donuts and drink too much coffee, abandon exercise altogether, and can’t properly get started on a writing project even when your sanity depends on it. (All you writers out there, is there such a thing as post-first-submissions-blues…?) And I *moved* into this beautiful new virtual space, had an *open house*, then proceeded to close all the curtains and wander around aimlessly! (All you bloggers out there, is it possible to have bloggers’ block…?)

But I’m back! And I can report the following good news—I have joined Mystery Writers of America, I am signed up for a Sisters-in-Crime writers conference in San Francisco next month, I will be guest lecturing again this fall, and I’m working diligently through Julia Cameron’s “The Artist Way.” Not only that, but school has started, so the college is buzzing with contagious energy, and the first leaves have started to fall, marking the approach of my favorite season. And even though I’ve been in a funk, I haven’t been completely idle. I’ve been working on getting my new home office set-up, completed two cross-stitch projects, traveled to Washington State to visit family, and started translating my grandmother’s cookbook with my father.

“How are the submissions going?” you ask.

In the month and a half since I sent out my first eight submissions, I’ve had two rejections, two non-responses, and am still waiting to hear back from four agents who note longer response times. I’ll admit there was a crisis of faith when I wasn’t instantly offered a deal…honestly, who doesn’t fantasize it’ll happen with the first response?!…but I have regrouped, read all those articles about famous authors being rejected dozens of times before acceptance to soothe my ego, and am actually excited about the next batch of submissions I’m preparing now.

“And how are you getting out of this funk?” you ask next.

Posting this is certainly a step in the right direction! Another must, is getting up early in the mornings to write and exercise, like I did this morning. I have learned that if I don’t, I’m a complete mess the rest of the day. And finally, just reminding myself that I am a writer, showing up to the life I want, and leaving the rest to God and the universe.

Fog and toast…

It’s one of those lovely, foggy July mornings in Sonoma County…and a Saturday. Which means that, not only will the temperatures stay down today, but I can wrap myself up in socks and a sweater, have extra coffee and toast, and spend guilt-free hours in the house.

The focus of this weekend is preparing my first submissions to send out to agents. Tuesday’s the big day. My husband asked, “Why Tuesday?” First, because it takes time to make sure everything is just right, and this is one of those things you want to do absolutely right. “We’re incredibly busy people. Don’t give us an excuse to say ‘no’ with careless errors.” This is something I’ve heard from more than one agent…and I’ve listened. The second reason for Tuesday is that it’s a full moon…and I’m going for all the good energy I can get! In seriousness, I believe I’ve crafted a professional query letter, managed an intriguing yet concise synopsis, and, most importantly, written a great book! As I was finishing the final read-through and line-edits, I found myself caught up in the story and unable to stop turning pages. Since I already knew the ending, this seems promising.

Time for another John Williams’ soundtrack, more toast with homemade lemon curd, and back to those submissions.