In a Mood

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?

Oh, what tangled webs

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.

Oh, and in Book News: Did I mention that Potential Energy released last week?

I can get satisfaction

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.

Best-laid plans

I’m planning travel.

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.

And when I go, I’ll share photos.

Vacation photos

My husband and I just returned from a week-long cruise in Mexico. Yes, I was sad to get off the ship, and yes, it still feels as if the ground is rocking beneath me.

Our first stop was in Cabo San Lucas. I’ve been there a few times before. The sunsets are beautiful.

Then we went to Mazatlan, where we did a walking tour. It’s a really charming place. I especially loved the bright buildings in the old town. And there are cliff divers!

After Mazatlan we went to Puerto Vallarta. Beautiful beach and lovely views. We walked up a lot of steps.

Maybe it’s the tile roofs and ocean views, but Puerto Vallarta reminds me a little of Dubrovnik, one of my favorite cities.

Of course, since it was a cruise, we ate well. And I wrote in perfect comfort.

And now it’s back to real life and all the work I didn’t do for a week. But I’m feeling infinitely more relaxed.

The Valley

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.

Stress relief

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

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.

All because my dean had to spend money fast.

Yarns

Once upon a time, I used to do a lot of crafts. I was especially fond of knitting, and because I’m a wee bit obsessive, I accumulated an impressive yarn stash.

And then things happened. I had one kid and then another. Work got busier. I traveled more. I started writing–first fanfic, then original fiction. And something had to go. Sadly, that something was crafting, including knitting. My yarn and other supplies languished, gathering dust in the guest room.

Well, now my kids are grown. And I recently had a hankering (see what I did there?) to pick up my needles again. Also, the guest room was a minor disaster, especially the Closet of Doom. So I’ve spent the past couple of weeks gradually tackling that disaster, which means getting rid of a LOT of stuff I finally admitted I’ll never use. It also means organizing the yarn I want to keep. Here are the results.

Nice, huh? Sorted by weight and type (second from the top left is sock yarn. I have a lot of sock yarn). I also have four hanks of yarn spun from the shed fur of my now long-since departed Saint Bernards. It knits up like angora.

Unfortunately, I’ve now been through the entire room and can’t find my yarn ball winder or–far worse–the handsewn case that contains all of my double-point needles as well as my nicest single-points. I can’t find those things anywhere. I’ve asked my kids, who claim ignorance. I’m starting to fear those items may somehow have exited the house when my younger kid did a Great Purge of her bedroom last summer before leaving for college. The very thought makes me want to cry.

There is a small silver lining. Today I spent a good bit of time hand-winding yarn (I did find my swift, which helps a lot). And it turns out that my Apple Watch counts that as steps, so I gained an extra mile and half today. Woohoo!

I think this week I’ll attempt to begin a scarf–if Niki the cat allows me.

Canceled

I was supposed to be on a cruise ship in Central America right now. I’m not. I’m in my kitchen, catching up on work for the day job and feeling cranky about it even though I know millions of other people have suffered much, much worse during the pandemic.

Travel used to be a huge part of my life. In 2019, I went somewhere literally at least once a month. Then there was the trauma of multiple cancellations in 2020, beginning with a trip to France scuttled in mid-March, a couple of days before I was supposed to leave. And although I was lucky enough to do some road trips in 2020, the cancellations still aren’t, well, canceled.

I’m still hoping, however. My dreams this year include Paris, Lisbon, Zagreb, and Port Townsend. And a replacement cruise. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Being around the house more has had me noticing how cluttered it is. We’ve lived here for almost 20 years and there’s lots of… stuff. Today I was working on the closet in our guest room/craft room, and I came across this historical artifact. Makes me wonder what else I’m going to find!