I have a confession to make: I haven’t done any writing for over a month.
That’s actually a bit of an exaggeration. I have written things, and I’ve also edited things. But in May I got about two-thirds through a holiday story before life stalled me, and I haven’t revisited it yet.
I also haven’t written any novels this year (I wrote four last year!), although I have written a couple of novellas and a short.
I have reasons for this. The day job has been especially demanding. There’s lots of other stuff going on in my life. I’m very close to being an empty-nester, so I’ve been trying to spend extra time with my kids. I’ve been traveling again too–I was in Europe for two weeks in May and am currently in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest; in July I have trips planned to the San Francisco Bay Area, Europe again, and the Sierras.
So, yeah. Reasons. But I still feel guilty. I’ve stranded a human and a fairy mid-story, I have a 10th Bureau book eager to be written, and I have an entire herd of plot bunnies pounding on my door.
Anyway, the words are waiting for me, and I’ll return to them soon. In the meantime, I have a nice long novel due out in August, The Taste of Desert Green.
My husband and I just got back from two wonderful weeks in Europe. I had a day job conference in Paris, so we spent a week there, and then we took the train to Florence. If you want to see a lot of photos, check out my Instagram posts.
A really weird thing happened in Paris. I woke up at 3:00 one morning with a tragic gothic ballad almost complete in my head. I’ve never written a ballad before, and poetry has never been my thing. I went back to sleep. But later that morning, as I sat in my conference trying desperately to grasp some of the French, the ballad was still there. So I wrote it down. My editor has it now, and if she thinks it’s not awful I’ll share it.
Now, the creative process is always mysterious. I fully understand why the ancient Greeks believed in muses, because often ideas just seem to appear from nowhere. So we can speculate about the source of my ballad. But here’s something interesting: I was staying in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a very literary neighborhood. Sartre and de Beauvoir hung out in the cafes, as did Hemingway, Richard Wright, and Camus. Oscar Wilde died in that neighborhood, about two blocks from where I was sleeping.
There’s the view from my tiny hotel room, where there was a big window.
If you care to believe in such things, maybe the spirit of one of the neighborhood writers visited with my muse as I slept. Knowing her, she’d be delighted at the opportunity. And maybe, just maybe, the spirit and the muse cooked up a spooky little ballad to amuse me in the morning.
I’ve been in a very grouchy mood this past week, mostly due to the day job. That’s been making it hard to work on my WIP, which is a light and fluffy holiday tale. I’m just not in the right mindset for light and fluffy–I want darkness and despair (with a happy ending, probably).
I don’t know to what extent this is true for other writers, but for me, the overall tone or mood of a story is as important as the characters and plot. In my head, I don’t just hear and see what’s going on–I feel it. My best writing happens when I become full immersed in the story’s world, so that I’m sort of a ghost experiencing events along with the characters and recording those events as they occur.
I find some moods especially easy to immerse myself in, such as mid-century West Coast noir (as you may have noticed from the Bureau series). Sometimes moods are influenced by my location. I’m likely to write a different kind of story while sitting on a balcony in a cruise ship, for example, than I would while sitting in a coffeeshop in the Loop in Chicago. Weather also plays a part–it can be a struggle to write a Christmas story when it’s the middle of summer and 110F outside. And of course the things happening elsewhere in my life can bleed over into the tone of the story. Like now, when my day job is frustrating me.
I don’t mind writing dark stories when I’m in a dark mood. In fact, I think it’s a little therapeutic in that it helps me express those feelings in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone (except my poor fictional characters). I often like reading darker stories for the same reason. And hey, if we can pull off an HEA or at least an HFN after the gloom and doom, even better.
But for now I need to finish the light and fluffy. We’re talking fairies, magical coffee houses, and holiday cheer. I’ll get there. Sigh. Maybe more caffeine will help?
After allowing my yarn stash to sit dormant (and mocking me) for a decade or so, I’ve finally returned to it. I made a scarf/shawl thing that I really like. And last week I finally finished the Century Afghan!
The real name of this pattern is Lizard Ridge. But I knitted those many squares over a decade ago and picked them up again recently. It took another zillion years to join them and then knit on the million miles of I-cord edging. So I think of it as the Century Afghan. I blocked it yesterday and thanks to warmish, windy weather it’s almost completely dry this morning. I love the way it looks and I am so happy to have finally completed it!
I decided on socks for my next project. I have a lot of sock yarn. Unfortunately, the particular skein of yarn I choose was done up poorly by the original dyer and spent the last decade tangling itself into oblivion. Despite help from a swift and my patient husband, it was a knotted disaster that took hours to deal with. Niki helped too, toward the end.
As you can imagine, she was extremely helpful. But we finally have the yarn wound into submission, and today I can cast on the socks.
You know how sometimes very small things can be supremely satisfying?
I just drove my younger kid back to her college in Portland. It’s the same college I attended, a very, very long time ago. I haven’t lived in Portland since I graduated, but my family is up that way so I do visit. But here’s the satisfying thing–I remembered exactly which lanes I needed to be in for the somewhat convoluted route between the college and my parents’ house. I felt very competent.
Here’s another satisfying thing. I always feel slightly cheated when I see those signs on the highway warning of wildlife, but then don’t see the actual wildlife. Today, though, there was an elk sign–and a mile or two later, there was a herd of elk. Exactly where they were supposed to be! Clever animals.
And then I got to my hotel (the drive is 700 miles, so a bit much for one person in one day) and I was hungry. I had a Grubhub gift certificate. I was in the mood for something different from what I usually eat. And lo and behold–empanadas! And with tip and fees, my order came in almost exactly at the gift certificate amount.
Of course, major things satisfy too. Like the release of a new book. Potential Energy is available in a couple of days–April 5–and I’m ridiculously excited about it.
Yeah, I know. I just got back from a trip. But I do love to go places, and if the world keeps on turning properly, I’ll be going lots of places in the next 7 months. Oregon. Paris. Florence. Washington state. Canada? Lisbon. Zagreb? San Francisco. Virginia.
In the Time Before, this wasn’t an unusual number of trips for me. In 2019, for example, I had an overnight trip at least once a month. Not only does travel inspire a lot of my writing, but it’s important for my emotional health. It refreshes me and gives me new perspectives.
Now, of course, everything is weird. Not only has the pandemic messed everything up, but there’s so much political and economic instability. Planning travel feels uncertain and actually doing it feels risky. I also have some guilt feelings about enjoying gallivanting around while so many people are suffering.
I guess the best I can do is try to make positive contributions to the world, do a lot of Plan B and Plan C and Plan D preparation in case things fall through or disaster strikes, and cross my fingers. And when things work out well and I do get to go somewhere, I can enjoy and appreciate every damn minute.
I live in California’s San Joaquin Valley. If you’re from anywhere else in the world, I need to tell you that this area isn’t the California you think you know. No beaches here (we’re a couple hours inland). A few famous people came from this area–George Lucas, Jeremy Renner, James Marsters, and Timothy Olyphant all grew up around here–but none of them stuck around here. The politics in this area tend to be pretty far to the right of my own. We have lots of dairy farms; almond ranches; vineyards; and fields with corn, beans, and melons.
There are some good points about living here. It’s affordable by California standards. We have access to lots of fresh produce and excellent Mexican food. With a two hour drive we can be at the beach, in San Francisco, or in the mountains. Traffic isn’t usually too awful.
But there are downsides. Our summers are beastly hot. And yes, it’s a dry heat, but that’s not much solace when temps can top 100F for days or weeks on end. Our air quality is awful, partly due to pollution from local agriculture and partly because pollution from the Bay Area and smoke from wildfires get trapped here in the valley. And then there are the allergens.
I took this photo this morning, about three blocks from my house. Almond trees. They’re lovely in bloom, aren’t they? And I can smell them as soon as I step outside; they have a very pleasant aroma. Unfortunately, they make me cough and sneeze and give me headaches.
So excuse me while I go grab a new package of tissues.
This last week was a rough one. It was the first week of classes, which is always a little crazy anyway. But two years of pandemic has been incredibly stressful to everyone in education (and elsewhere!), resulting in excessive amounts of… difficulty. Not so much from the students this week as from administrators and faculty. Patience is a virtue I need to work on anyway, and I had plenty of practice doing that last week.
So I’ve been dealing with the frustration and anxiety in my usual ways. Okay, I may have added in some bonus chocolate and tequila, but I’m doing two of my favorite things: writing and dreaming about travel.
Writing-wise, I’m nearly finished with book 9 in the Bureau series. I love writing in that world. This one takes place in the 1970s, mostly in California’s Sierra Mountains. Ralph Crespo plays a small part in this one, but the main focus is on two new guys. One of whom is not entirely human. 🙂
As for travel, it’s hard to get too emotionally invested after two years of cancelations. But if all goes well, this year I may be looking at a cruise to Mexico (to make up for last month’s canceled Caribbean cruise), plus trips to Paris, Lisbon, Portland, Port Townsend, and Austin. At the moment, the cruise is sounding the most appealing because I’m picturing myself sipping margaritas and working on a novel while overlooking the Sea of Cortez.
Here’s a fun memory from my last trip to Paris, in 2019: me looking dorky as I hold one of my books, which I found for sale at Les Mots a la Bouche, a great bookstore in Le Marais.
Serendipity: luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for. (Merriam-Webster).
It’s one of my favorite words–and one of my favorite things. It’s just such an amazing thing when the planets unexpectedly align in your favor and the universe hands you a surprise gift.
Perhaps my best serendipitous event happened when my dean sent me an email with this subject line: Do you have a valid passport? As someone who adores travel, that certainly got my attention! It turns out that she had some funds that had to be spent on something international-related by the end of the semester–which was in three weeks (they’d been earmarked for something else that was cancelled). She’d done a Fulbright in Zagreb not too long before, during which she’d met a criminologist at the university. She thought maybe my department and the Croatian professor’s might be able to work out some research partnerships.
So, a couple weeks later, I was on a plane to Zagreb! I’d never really given Croatia much thought, although my grandfather was born about 200 km from Zagreb, in Trieste. Well, I landed, and within a day I was thinking, I could live here. I don’t know why, but Zagreb just fit me.
I spent a week there during that visit. Not long after returning home, I applied for a Fulbright myself–and got it. I lived there for a semester, and it was amazing. Later I did another, shorter Fulbright. I’ve visited several other times as well. I have done research with Croatian colleagues and made friends there. It’s one of my favorite places in the world.