My Excuse

antique bookpile    Writers are famous for complaining about their jobs.
I don’t have a job.  I have an excuse.  Writing is an excuse.
See, being a writer gives you special license to do all sorts of things that normal people might want to do, but just can’t quite come up with a justification for.  With writing, I already have that justification.  It’s built in.  I’m working on a book.  I need to do research, and it is truly amazing all the categories research can cover.
Because I’m writing, I can travel to odd, off-the-map places.  You never know, I might want to set a book there.  I can go into every little, tiny local museum I can find and engage all the docents in long, detailed conversations about the house and the artifacts.  I mean, I might find a fantastic idea in there.  You never know.
I can spend hours looking at how things are made.  I can poke.  I can prod.  I can climb over and crawl under.  I can delve.  I can meet the raised eyebrows of all kinds of people and say “Oh, sorry.  I’m working on a book, and I was wondering…”
I can and have sat under cliff faces, or sit in the back in the dark of whatever theater I happen to be in, or in the shadows of a busy restaurant and watch the people who don’t notice me go past.   I can linger in the food court in the mall, or in the park.  I can eavesdrop.  I can stare.
I can take up new hobbies, go to new concerts, try new foods and spend entire afternoons at new classes and lectures.  You never know.  I might learn something that will lead to new ideas.
I can go into every single old used book store, every single cardboard box at every single garage sale, every single library sale and buy any book on any obscure point of history, technology, science or geography that catches my restless eye.  I might need it one day.  You never know.
Those may be the three most dangerous words in the writer’s arsenal.  I used to think the most dangerous words were “What if…” because those are the words that give birth to every single novel on every single shelf or in every single eReader.  But “you never know,” are at the heart of the writer’s working life.  You never know what you’ll need.  You never know what will happen next.  You never know what you’ll see, or discover; whether it’s in the pages of a new book, or on the road, or in the mall.  It’s exhausting.  It’s exciting.  It can be frightening and sometimes a little depressing, because it never stops.  As a writer, you never do know and you have to live there whether always you want to or not.  You never do know, but you want to.  It’s uncertainty and curiosity together make for creativity.  You never do know, but you want to.  So, you go and find out what you can, and you make up the rest.  The more you find out, the more you can make up, and the more you do make up and the more you make up the more you wonder about what you do know and the more you have to go find out.
So you have to go out again, and do, and listen, and see, and read.  I have to.  I’m a writer and I’m working on a book.
I have an excuse.

My Snowpocalypse

A confession.  I like winter.

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I like bare tree branches, stark, dark and complex against the grey, or with the silver light from moon and street light shining through them.  I like the angled, tangled complexity of their reach and strength that gets hidden by summer’s gaudier dress.

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I like how snow picks out the details, showing the normal to be entirely new.


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I like the sound of sparrows, hidden in an evergreen shrub, shouting to each other “Stay in!  Stay close!  Something’s coming!  It’s here!  It’s here!”

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These are things absent from summer.  I like winter.

Letter to a Cynical Writer

CynicismI’ve been reading for research lately.  This has led me into the realm of the Published Rant.  Which has in turn, led to the following:
By Anne Author
Dear M. Writer:
I understand that you are Cynical.  I understand that you have seen much of the world and that you are wearied and angered by it all.  I understand that beside you I am a Babe in the Woods.  After all, who am I?  A mere provincial Romantic who still might take things at face value, and who might still enjoy what is nice, pleasant, charming or, well, Romantic.  I understand that you are here to open my eyes, to save me from the evils of trust and romanticism and, most of all, to show me the Truth.  And the Truth is going to be unpleasant.  You know this because you have seen it and that is why you are Cynical.
However, M. Writer, if you are going to tell me the Truth, and are going to make the scales fall from my eyes, there are several things you are going to have to do first.
If you wish to shock me out of my nievete, you are going to have to show me something new.  Contrary to what you may believe, I have heard coarse language.  As a resident of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, I have been exposed to bodily fluids and know several homonyms for them.  Showing them to me with unusual backdrops does not shock me.  It might, however, lead me to mistake you for a frat boy rather than a cynic, and have me wondering if the fart references are coming next.  Further, I am aware that people get drunk and behave badly in public, especially if they are rich and/or famous.  Informing me that this happens produces no revelation, but may induce a discreet eye-roll in your direction.
I am likewise acquainted with several of the common, or garden-variety, forms of hypocracy and greed.  Telling me they exist, especially among the rich and famous (or the service industries) likewise fails to cause a blanch to fall over my delicate complexion.  I am likewise unmoved by graphic violence or invocations of Hitler or Stalin.  I am also aware that advertising frequently disguises the slip-shod and/or unhealthy and that corporations do not have my best interests at heart.  Merely declaring the aforementioned conditions to be so without naming names, citing specific incidents, refering to interviews with participants or experts does not enlighten, or, more importantly, shock.
If you are writing in the non-fiction vein and seek to convince me of the superiority of your view, of your experience, of the Truth of which you speak, you must impart actual information.  You cannot simply inform me, for example, you hate your job, and then go on, and on, and on, about how “it” is all a racket without proving to me that you also know something about the history of the racket, of the world you are so sorry you inhabit, and that perhaps, you have talked to some of the people your are talking about.  Otherwise it might appear that you are simply reporting the worst forms of gossip in order to reinforce your own view.  You might also wish to give me some background on the people you are complaing about, and detail to me the claims they make which you are debunking so that I know how badly they are attempting to lead me astray.
Further, you must learn to organize your information.  Just because you are vivisecting a subject and/or person that’s no reason to take a hatchet to it.  Concise, deliberate cuts will produce an adequate amount of exasanguination and will be much easier for me, the unenlightened reader to follow.  A mastery of basic essay style will assist you here.  I cannot be properly shocked by what you are telling me if you do not follow through on your thoughts, or present me a theme with at least a modicum of follow-through so I can see the strength of your arguments.
If you are writing in the fictional mode, please keep in mind all of the above, but in addition, be aware that while as a reader, I must be made to care.  I cannot simply be faced with a list of woes and warbling off-key angst about the inequities of the world.  If my Romanticism has persisted this far, it will take the strongest of arguments to shake me out of it.  It will take a thoughtful character, a new presentation, a tightly-focused insight.  It will take an author who has read widely as well as lived widely and can present the triumph so the ultimate failure, which is the province of the Cynical Writer, can reach me all the more deeply.

The Search for the Healthy Writer

Climbing GymI don’t have pictures of this.

I am aware that I should have pictures, because that is the Way of the Interwebz, but this was already a humbling experience, and the idea of being snapped in action was just too much.

Yesterday, for the first time, I went to a climbing gym.

Let me be clear, I have absolutely no desire to actually scale cliffs in the Real World.  I am not one of nature’s mountaineers.  Mountains are much bigger than I am and generally do not have friendly staff people who are designated to make sure I don’t hurt myself.  On the other hand, I’m an author, and that means I spend my life on my rear end, and have to find time, reason and motivation to exercise.

Most week days, I’m at a co-working space, and that gives me a chance to walk from my parking spot (about a mile away) to the car and back, which is great, except when the weather is bad, or I’ve had to stay  home or…or…or…

Plus it does absolutely nothing for the upper body.  So, I decided Something Must Be Done.  But what?  Because there’s no way I’m sitting in a gym pressing weights.  Because it’s boring and looks painful, that’s why.

So, I decided to try climbing walls instead.  Emphasis on _try_.  Because I didn’t get very far, either up or sideways.  And I fell.  Kind of a lot.

And yet I had fun, and I have no real idea why.  The couple of times I was actually able to move (kind of at all), were cool.  And today I am sore, but not as sore as I thought I would be, and I want to go back.  Maybe I will fall less this time.  Wish me luck!

Oreo Hack!

What happens when you take a Double Stuff Oreo, very carefully unscrew the lid, scoop out a little well in the middle of the “stuff” and refill it with, say Biscoff spread?

Deliciousness, that’s what!

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This is also, incidently, on the list of reasons why I love my co-working space.

What am I Reading?

I’ve got a new addiction.  It’s the John Ceepak mysteries by Chris Grabenstein.

I heard about these books in a segment on NPR, which described them as police procedurals set on the Jersey Shore, but what really grabbed me was the description of the hero.  Far from creating yet another brooding cop who’d seen it all and been beaten down by it, Grabenstein created a man who had seen it all but come out on the other side determined to do and be better and to see the world not through rose colored glasses but through the lens of optomism rather than cynicism.

Intrigued, I went around the corner to pester the good folks at Aunt Agatha’s and took home the first book.

I fell in love.

These books are not exactly light, but they’re smart, they’re fun, they’re fast.  The narrator’s voice is engaging and believable and clear.  I love Danny, the partner who tells the stories and his relationship with this seaside town, and pretty much everybody in it.  I love the way Grabenstein builds his main characters and fills in the complexity of their lives.  I’ve been binging on them for the past couple of months, and I suspect I’m going to be very sad when I do finish.


Faeriecon East

Whew!  I am back from Faeriecon East, and I had a fabulous time.  So many great people to meet, including but in no way limited limited: to Charles de Lint, Jim Butcher, Melissa Marr, and Althea Kontis, not to mention all the fabulous folks who attended my workshop on writing magic systems and made it such a special event.

Away from the panels, there was dancing, there was shopping, there was music, and there were costumes.  Oh, my G*d!  Were there some truly astounding costumes.
I am not one of nature’s photographers, but here’s a tiny sample of the fairies encountered over the weekend:

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