Saturday, December 31, 2005

My Year in Review

It's New Year's Eve again, and time for my "employee review." I was just re-reading my review from last year, and I kind of blew it.

My main resolutions were to get fit and to get my house in order, and sadly, I'm in worse shape now than I was then, and my house is an even bigger mess. I did manage to stick to my resolution of not dating just because I felt obligated (go me!), but to be honest, I don't recall even having the option of turning someone down, unless it was one of those really subtle situations where I managed to sidestep it entirely by giving off "not interested" vibes.

I did live up to my goal of selling another book -- two of them, in fact -- but they were both in this same series instead of being something different. On the other hand, I did get spots in three entirely unrelated anthologies, so that sort of counts. I never got around to the voice lessons or studying German.

But it's not as though this year was any kind of failure. It was a wild and crazy roller-coaster ride of a year. My book came out, and I had the thrill of getting lots of rave reviews not only from critics but also from fans (and I now have a backlog of fan mail I need to answer). The book did well enough to go into a second printing and for the publisher to buy two more in the series, and I have to remind myself of that when I let myself be disappointed by not becoming a surprise bestseller.

I got to walk the red carpet at a real Hollywood premiere. I made two trips to New York. I had a number of speaking engagements. I took an airline bump and ended up spending an extra night in a hotel with no luggage. I read a lot of books.

On the down side, I didn't spend nearly as much time as I would have liked with friends, mostly because I got so sidetracked by all the other wacky stuff that was going on. I lost several people who were close to me to cancer. I suppose that's like any year -- you're going to have good stuff and bad stuff.

So now for the year ahead. Maybe this will be the year I live up to all my ambitions.

I keep my resolutions lifestyle-oriented, which means they're more about making habitual changes rather than achieving something. And I'm going to make the same ones as always.
1. Get Fit.
Really. This time I may try to do it more gradually instead of starting all gung-ho and then losing interest. I've already been trying to take at least a fifteen-minute walk every day (may as well take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather). When that becomes a habit, I can intensify it.
2. Get My House in Order.
Really. Again, I think I'm going to start with minor changes and build on them. Last year I didn't bother to straighten up because I was planning to do a major overhaul. I think this year I'll start with straightening in small increments, and then do a gradual overhaul. I really want to streamline my life and get rid of the excess stuff.

And some new ones:
3. Get Out More.
Or maybe I should make that "reach out more." I've got a number of people in my life who might be considered contextual friends. I'm friends with them in the context of whatever it was that brought us together, like belonging to the same organization. We may hang out together at meetings and events, but the relationship doesn't extend beyond those boundaries. I need to be better about cultivating those friendships that show promise instead of just retreating back to my cave. If I get my house in order, then I could even (gasp!) invite people over.
4. Wear Shoes More Often.
That may sound weird, but I've noticed that just about every time I've had to be out and about for an extended period, I'm complaining about my feet hurting. Then I started thinking and realized that I've been working at home since 2000. I never go totally barefoot, but I do tend to wear flip flops in warm weather and socks or houseshoes in cold weather. That means my feet aren't used to being in shoes, so it stands to reason that if I'm in a situation where I have to wear shoes for more than a few hours, it's going to hurt. I'm not going to start wearing heels to sit around and write, but even if I just wear sneakers, it may help, and it also makes me more likely to get out and walk, which will help the fitness thing.
5. Write More Consistently.
I'm fortunate to be able to write pretty quickly, so I can get a full-length novel done in a few months, leaving me the rest of the year to do other stuff. But I've found that spending the rest of the year not writing on a regular basis makes it harder to get back into writing, so this year I'm going to try writing at least a little every day even when I'm not on deadline. That shouldn't be much of a problem for the first half of the year, as I have two books to get written, along with a couple of essays. It will be harder once the next book comes out and I'm doing so much promo for it.

I can't really think of any specific goals that aren't actually steps in the plans to achieve my resolutions, so I'm going to skip that this year.

Now for the things I already know I have to look forward to this year:
1. The Rose Bowl! UT is playing for the national championship. I already have the makings for chili con queso, so I'm set for the game.
2. In January I'll be going to Chicago for Rosa's memorial. It's a sad occasion, but it's also a chance to reconnect with friends, so it's bittersweet.
3. My agent is coming to town for a conference in late March, so I'll get to hang out with her on my turf.
4. Once Upon Stilettos comes out at the end of May, along with the Desperate Housewives book I have an essay in, so there's everything that goes along with all that -- reviews, booksignings, hearing from readers, etc.

I'm sure more will be added to this list as the year progresses. I don't know of any particular books or movies that I'll be counting down to yet. I seem to have a very bad case of tunnel vision, only seeing a few months ahead of me at a time.

I'm staying in this evening, just relaxing and (hopefully!) writing. I did go out with friends for a couple of years, and that's fun, but I also enjoy a quiet evening at home alone. The party I really wanted to go to this year is sponsored by my Radio for People who Remember WWII station, with big band dancing, but while I often socialize with the Greatest Generation, I wasn't sure I wanted to go to something like that alone. With a group of friends in my age range it could be a blast. Maybe I can scare up some people to go with next year.

Happy New Year!!! May it be a magical one.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Andi Buchanan

I'm having a rather lazy day. I'm still in my pajamas, violating my own "get dressed and get to work!" rule. I blame, in part, the Infamous Noisy Neighbor, who's up to her old tricks, only worse. Or maybe I just notice it more because I've got Book Brain and therefore am going to bed later and not sleeping as deeply. At any rate, the radio from next door has been waking me up all week at five in the morning, in spite of my earplugs. The station she uses is mostly talk, so I tend to wake up with the panicked feeling that there's someone in my house, but with the occasional song. And it's loud enough that through the wall and with earplugs I can identify individual songs (at 5:52 it was "You and Me" by Lifehouse). As a result of the unwanted clock radio, my sleep is disturbed, I tend to fall asleep again, then oversleep after having weird dreams, and I'm groggy until after noon. Ugh.

Before I get to today's Girlfriends Cyber Circuit interview, I bring you a snippet from an author's glamorous life:
I recently had to order a bunch of my own books because I keep needing them for promo purposes and for the various subrights agents (fortunately, there's a bookstore that lets authors order their own books at a huge discount). According to UPS, the books were to be delivered today. But yesterday afternoon I was heading out to take a pre-writing walk, and I opened my front door to find myself face-to-face with the UPS guy, who had a box propped on his shoulder (very manly!) and his other hand raised to ring the doorbell. I tend to startle easily, and opening my front door to step outside and almost running into someone I wasn't expecting to see hit all my startle buttons. I screamed and jumped. I think the UPS guy was also a little startled to have someone open the front door a split second before he rang the doorbell because he jumped a little, too. Eventually, I settled down enough to sign for the box. It was, indeed, my books, fifty copies of Enchanted, Inc. From what I can tell, they're all still first edition. I haven't seen any signs of the reprint hitting the streets yet. Now I'm almost dreading the return visit of UPS next week when I get my latest B&N order delivered. The poor guy is probably going to ring the doorbell and run so he doesn't have to face the scary lady again.

Andrea J. Buchanan, my latest Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest, is a Philadelphia writer (and former concert pianist) who focuses on motherhood. She's the author of Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It and editor of the recently released It's a Boy and the very, very soon to be released Literary Mama.

How did you get the idea to write/edit books about motherhood?
Becoming a mother and finding plenty of instructive/didactic stuff on the practical aspects of parenting but precious little on the incredible social, cultural, and personal changes that take place when a person becomes a mother was powerful inspiration. I didn't want to read more articles on "10 Ways to Lose the Baby Weight," I wanted to read things about the profound identity shift that takes place in early motherhood, I wanted to read things about the dark side of mothering, about the ways in which sleep deprivation and hormonal changes and the incredible fact of caring for a helpless little person change you as a woman and as a human being. I wrote my first book, Mother Shock, about the culture shock of new motherhood, because I didn't find what I wanted out there already, so I wrote the book I wanted to read.

What is it about being a mother that you find most inspiring for your writing?
Most of my writing work is focused on a crucial transition in a woman's life—becoming a mother. My aim is to explore with honesty, insight, and compassion a subject that is all too often treated with condescension or sanctimony, with "expert" advice or sentimentality. The goal is two-fold: to reflect the experience of actual mothers, and to help writing about motherhood be taken seriously. The basic story arc of motherhood is one of transformation. In fact, it might surprise those who insist on the narrowness of motherhood as a non-universal, exclusively "feminine" experience to recognize in that arc the classic hero's journey of literature: separation (the physical alteration of the pregnant body marking a gestating woman as different from other women), initiation (giving birth, the identity-shift of motherhood), and return (rejoining society as a mother, with all the cultural expectations that status carries). In my work, I explore, celebrate, and investigate that journey, and I encourage other women to do the same.

Tell us a little about your life as a mother/writer. How do these roles fit together (or compete!)?
Some days those roles fit, some days they compete. I think even if I wasn't a writer, I would still face the chronic state of being that has defined motherhood for me, which is that I am perpetually in two places at once: divided between my children and myself. Being a writer brings that duality to the forefront, especially since my writing is about motherhood and what I'm learning on this journey. Mothering and the creative impulse are both immediate and demanding, but when it comes right down to it, my children's needs are necessarily more important and more pressing than the need of whatever spark of inspiration demands itself be translated into words. I've had to learn a different kind of discipline, since mothering takes precedence at this time in my life, and learn how to sustain the kind of creative impulse that before I'd be able to address in the moment, capturing the immediacy and momentum and getting it all down on paper. Now I have to work in small moments, and not always when I want to, so I have to find ways to hold onto those bursts of creative energy and use them when I can, not only when they present themselves to me.

It's difficult sometimes, and I do wonder how much gets lost in the waiting for a spare moment to actually work. But at the same time, motherhood really made me a writer, in a sense, really transformed me from a person who wrote to a published writer -- it wasn't until *after* I'd given birth without an epidural that I realized the pain of a rejection letter probably wasn't going to be so horrible -- so it's been an incredible license to become what I've always intended to be, while at the same time a restrictive factor in how much I'm able to accomplish. It's been good in that way, forcing me to be more creative about how and when I work -- and really forcing me to get over myself and get things done. I wrote my first book in about 9 weeks, in three hours a day, five days a week -- because that was the only time I had. If I hadn't had a child, if I'd had all day to work on it, I never would have gotten it done. I would have talked myself out of it. I would have had the luxury of all that time. I think now about all the time I wasted trying to write before I had kids, the luxury of being able to be "stuck," to become mired in self-doubt, to procrastinate -- I'm much more productive now, simply out of necessity. (I still get stuck, procrastinate, and doubt myself, but it's all speeded up now -- I give myself a time limit, and then it's on to whatever I have to get done before my time runs out!)

Do you have any particular writing habits or rituals?
I work around my kids' schedule, so right now I have three kid-free hours a day, when my youngest is in preschool (my older child is in first grade, so she goes all day). That's when I get it all done. (And also now, in the dead of night -- it's 12:45 a.m. as I work on these questions!)

What are you working on now?
I am writing a novel called "The Hidden Music" -- a chapter was excerpted this summer in the online literary magazine VerbSap ( ). I'm also working on a few short stories, and thinking about what my next nonfiction will be. I'm managing editor of , so that's another project I'm working on, along with Mother Talk, a series of literary salons featuring mother-writers talking with women about books and motherhood. And of course I'm working to promote "It's a Boy," "Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined," and the upcoming "It's a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters."

For more info on Andi, visit her website at or her blog at

And now to wake myself up and get back to work. I'm midway through chapter nine, and I even know what's going to happen next! Tomorrow: My year in review.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Year in Review: Entertainment

I've learned that one of the best ways to force myself to be productive is to use my need to write as an excuse/reason for not doing something else. Then I feel obligated to get some writing done so I won't have lied to myself or anyone else. I skipped choir practice last night because I felt like I really needed to get past the roadblock that had developed in chapter eight, and the longer I delayed making myself work on that part of the book, the harder it would be to get past it. Sure enough, I finally worked through the trouble scene, and I think it came out even better than I hoped, with all sorts of fun little nuances that appeared as I wrote. And I did finish the chapter. Getting past the trouble spot also seems to have unclogged my brain a bit, because as I fell asleep last night, my brain was already working on the next scenes, playing them out in my head. I think that was my problem before -- my brain was refusing to play out that one scene, which made it very hard to write.

If I can keep up this momentum, I may actually get halfway through the book before the end of the year!

As the new year approaches, I thought I ought to do a little "year in review" rundown. Today I'll focus on what I enjoyed from the entertainment industry, and later I'll get into my life this year.

I'm going to have to shoulder a lot of the blame for sagging box office numbers this year because I didn't get out to too many movies. Part of that was because I was too busy. Part of it was because there weren't a lot of things that had me saying, "Ooh, I must see that!" Part of it was because the oversaturation of celebrity coverage has dramatically increased the list of people I refuse to pay money to see because I just want them to go away and I figure not supporting them at the box office is a good first step toward their fall to obscurity. And then there's the increasing cost and hassle of going to movies, including the fact that I don't remember the last movie I saw during which someone's cell phone didn't ring. Most of the time, the person actually answers and talks. Given my lack of enthusiasm for most of the movies that have come out recently, I've generally decided to wait until most of them hit HBO.

My favorite movie of the year was Serenity, and I think I'd say that even if I hadn't already been a Firefly fan. It had all the things I go to movies to see and offered a satisfying emotional experience. Although I've always been a Star Wars fan and did enjoy Episode 3, it was kind of anticlimactic. It didn't help that ever since Lucas hinted at the backstory of Darth Vader and the whole volcano battle, I've been picturing it in my head, and I think I like my version better. As for romantic comedies (my other favorite genre), I was pleasantly surprised by Just Like Heaven and will likely add it to my DVD library for rainy days. I enjoyed the latest Harry Potter installment, but it didn't really stick in my brain.

The biggest surprise for me this year was Battlestar Galactica. I hadn't seen the original series and hadn't paid much attention to discussion about the remake. Then I caught the miniseries repeat on NBC (I didn't have the Sci Fi Channel when it originally ran) and was captivated. The series itself has blown me away. It's a pity it gets classified in the science fiction ghetto where a lot of narrow-minded people who consider themselves above such things will never see it because it's possibly the best human drama on TV.

The other big surprise for me was My Name is Earl. I'd been watching The Office from the start because of the workplace comedy angle, and I'd loved it enough to tape it when it was on opposite House. But when Fox went on their baseball hiatus and I could watch The Office live, I ended up watching Earl, as well. Initially, I'd had no interest in My Name is Earl because I'm not a fan of redneck comedy. But this is possibly the most philosophically profound series on television, exploring issues like atonement, repentance and the far-reaching consequences of even the smallest of actions -- all wrapped up in comedy so funny it makes your sides hurt from laughing. I'm glad both shows are no longer going to be on opposite House.

Those three series were the only "new" shows I picked up this calendar year. I dropped some, though. It may be blasphemy, but I gave up on Lost when I came to the conclusion that I didn't care where these people were from or what happened to them. If it were on another night, I might have kept watching as one of those shows that makes good background noise, but I'm usually out on Wednesdays, which means setting the VCR and watching later, and I kept reaching the point where "later" never came so I quit taping. I also finally gave up on ER due to the same lack of caring about those people. This should translate into more time to write (I hope!).

It's hard for me to do a good year in review report on books because my reading seems to fall outside the normal calendar. Either I'm catching up on books that were published a while back or I'm reading advance copies of books that haven't been published yet. I do read a lot, so it's also hard to single out any particular books without forgetting something or without a long list. So, here are some 2005 books that stood out for me:
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke -- a really fun twist on the fantasy genre. I got this from the library and plan to buy a copy so I can really delve into it instead of rushing through it so it won't be overdue. I've always loved the Regency era in fiction, and it was refreshing to read a fantasy that didn't take place in the standard quasi-medieval fantasy world.
gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson -- I laughed most of the way through, then cried at the end, which is probably my favorite kind of reading experience. A wonderful Southern novel. And her blog is also hysterically funny.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling -- I haven't re-read it yet, but I think this may become my favorite of the series (so far). It was essentially a coming-of-age story showing the transition between childhood and adulthood. Oh, and there was magic, too.

I'm sure there was other stuff, but either it's not jumping out at me at the moment or I'm not sure when, exactly, it was published and I'm too lazy to go look at copyright dates. If it jumped out at me as I was reading it, I've probably already mentioned it here.

Now it's time to tackle chapter nine.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Office Parties

I ended up re-reading (and doing a little editing on) the entire book so far yesterday, and I think I may be reaching the point where I kind of sort of maybe almost like it. I've worked in such fits and starts that I don't have a good sense of the pacing, but reading it straight through like that helped. I was almost surprised to find that stuff was consistently happening. Go figure.

Now I might even have some enthusiasm and momentum for plunging forward. I'd be almost tempted to skip choir practice tonight and work if I wasn't planning to skip next week because of the Rose Bowl (your university in the national championship is a good excuse, I'd think). Hmm, the church web site schedule hasn't been updated, so I'm not even sure we're having practice tonight.

It's not really my ideal writing weather. We desperately need the rain (especially given the number of wildfires yesterday). But it is cooler and a bit cloudy, which might help awaken the old brain.

I realized yesterday that I never got around to having my office Christmas party. In spite of the fact that I have a company of one, I usually try to designate a day to kick back and celebrate. Since I'm in the middle of a book (and running behind schedule), I can't really do that. I did have lunch with my editor, drinks with my agent and lunch with a freelance client, so I guess that should count. Instead this year, I may have an end of first draft party, or maybe I'll combine it with my laze around at home New Year's celebration.

But it would be appropriate for me to do something, considering the company holiday party plays a pretty big role in Once Upon Stilettos (I'm not saying what, naturally). I've had some really crazy parties in past jobs, so I had more than enough inspiration. When I worked for an ad agency, they prided themselves on doing "different" parties. One year there was the murder mystery dinner, which doesn't quite work in a small company where you know everyone and their dates/spouses. The professional players were rather obvious as the people we didn't know (and theatrical stage makeup for sitting around a dinner table in a hotel ballroom was another clue). Then there was the Christmas costume party at the wax museum. Try finding good costumes around that time of year when all the Halloween shops have closed. And then there was the flashback prom, where I did get credit for actually being able to still wear my prom dress from high school. The consistent factor in all of these parties was the boss getting wasted and stupid (if you've seen The Office on NBC, my boss was very much like that one).

At another job, we tended to have delayed parties after the holidays, when it was easier to book places and get everyone together (at least, that was the excuse. Procrastination could have been a factor). One year we had a square dance and barbecue at a dude ranch type place. They brought up the staff from the Austin and Houston offices to join us, only one of those freak Texas cold fronts hit in the middle of that day, dropping temperatures from the 60s that morning to the 20s by the afternoon of the party, and the out-of-towners hadn't packed for the temperature shift, which made the hayride from the bus parking lot to the "saloon" where the party was a little unpleasant for them (I watch the weather forecast, so I'd brought a heavy coat). The next year we were in transition between bosses, so we ended up with a true procrastination party in late January. Then the economy went downhill, so we got a potluck at someone's house.

I think I like my usual drink cocoa, eat cookies and read holiday parties better. There's no forced socialization with people I get enough of during the week, and I don't have to scramble to find a date. But I have to finish the book before I get that, so I'd better get to work.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My Pet Cactus Loves Me

When I got home yesterday after spending the holiday weekend with the parents, my pet Christmas cactus greeted me by being in full bloom. When I left, it had just started blooming, but when I got home it was a riot of color. This one has pinkish/coral blooms, and it's gorgeous. I'd take a picture, but I don't have a digital camera, and I'd have to start with a new roll of film, which means that unless I travel, it could be months or even a year before I get the pictures back. I may have an old picture of the cactus in bloom somewhere. I've had this cactus since 1992, so we've been through a few blooming seasons together.

Now that I've taken some time off, I really have to get to work. I'd told my agent that I'd have a draft of this book to her right after the holidays, and I don't think that's going to happen unless I have a burst of inspiration and creativity and write like a madwoman for the next week. I don't have to have the final draft to the publisher until April, so I have some breathing room, assuming I'm more punctual about revisions than I was on the last book. I think I'm past the worst of the emotional upheaval, except for the random things that will bring on tears. I should be able to write without getting too messy. I have to remind myself that I don't do drama.

It would help if the weather would cooperate. I work best in cool, grey conditions, when I can make a pot of tea and lose myself in the cocoon of my imaginary world. Instead, it's sunny and about 80 degrees. It's also very, very dry and quite windy, yet idiots are still throwing cigarette butts out car windows and setting off grass fires. We need the rain, and not just for my creativity (though my creativity would appreciate it).

So now I'd better get to work, a full hour ahead of schedule (go, me!). I think I'm going to have to re-read the last few chapters to warm up and get back into the world. And then let's hope for a burst of inspiration and creativity that will get me some momentum.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

I've just realized that I posted two highly emotional and dramatic entries in a row, and then promptly disappeared. I hope no one got too worried. I just got busy, and it was my usual problem of underestimating the amount of time it would take to get things done. Wednesday I had to finish a writing project and bake bread while getting my laundry done, and then there was the epic quest to find a copy of the Serenity DVD (I had to go to three stores to find one in stock!). Then Thursday I headed to the parents' house, and yesterday we went to visit my uncle, cousins and cousins' kids and grandkids.

In spite of the amount of time it took me to get ready to leave town, I still managed to forget my toothbrush and didn't discover this until I was getting ready for bed, after my parents were already in bed. My mom's guest bathroom is better stocked than most luxury hotels. It has multiple kinds of shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and body wash; shaving gel; antacids; packets of razors; styling gel; toothpaste; and a full sewing kit. But no toothbrushes. I improvised by flossing well, then scrubbing on toothpaste with Q-tips. Then I found out in the morning that there were, in fact, some travel toothbrushes from airline courtesy kits in the bathroom, the kind of toothbrushes that are cleverly disguised as anything but a toothbrush (because God forbid someone think that you're the kind of person who brushes their teeth, I guess). I thought those toothbrushes were part of the hair dryer. I bet on my next visit there will be a stash of new toothbrushes in one of the drawers in that bathroom.

The newspaper here doesn't publish on Christmas day, so we got tomorrow's newspaper today (hey, that might make an interesting TV show). More accurately, we got all the post-Christmas sale ads today. I think our society may have reached the materialism saturation point, given that apparently the must-have gift of this year (according to the newspaper ad inserts and TV commercials ever since Thanksgiving) is a chocolate fountain.

I'm not sure what you'd do with a chocolate fountain. I would say "other than lie underneath it with your mouth open," but they don't seem designed with that in mind. I've been to two events in my life where a chocolate fountain was involved. One was my junior prom, where lying underneath it with my mouth open might have mitigated the misery of the evening. The other was the Serenity premiere, where I did not partake because attempting to eat food dipped in liquid chocolate while in the middle of a room full of movie stars would have been asking for disaster (on the other hand, I might have inspired a sitcom). I suppose if you have a lot of parties, you might use a chocolate fountain, but then after the first time, it wouldn't be cool, fresh or special anymore. I can picture the guests on the way to a party, saying to each other, "I hope they don't drag out that stupid chocolate fountain again." I'm sensing that this year's hot holiday gift will be this spring's hot garage sale buy.

Then, also in the "gifts for people who already have everything useful" category, there's the hot cocoa maker. The ad copy claimed that it made hot, delicious cocoa from a mix. The idea of hot cocoa mix is that it's easy and that it doesn't require a specialized appliance. It takes a teakettle, a mug and a spoon. It's almost enough to make me want to move into a cabin in the mountains to live simply (as long as I've got a high-speed Internet connection there).

Pretty soon we'll be getting ready for Christmas Eve service and then a quiet evening at home with cookies and mulled wine. I may even sneak some writing in because I think I've finally figured out the scene that's been bothering me.

I hope everyone out there has a wonderful holiday weekend, whichever holiday you celebrate. And if you get a chocolate fountain, invite me over and I'll bring a bib.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Thanks to everyone for your condolences. Not to make this about myself, but this is a pretty difficult time for me. I also lost two aunts this summer, and I think I'm getting the cumulative effects of all that grief hitting me at once. I'm not normally one to cry over real life. Movies, books, the theater (I seldom stay dry-eyed during a live stage performance), Kodak commercials and the like leave me sobbing in hysterics, but I generally go all stoic and dry-eyed for funerals. This time, though, I've been crying for real, probably catching up on all those dry-eyed funerals. I'm also feeling a little abandoned and alone. First one of my closest friends had to move away for work a few years ago, then another just announced she was moving away after the holidays, and now I've lost another good friend in a more permanent way. Being paid to have lots of cool imaginary friends is nice, but real-world friends are also important.

Yesterday I baked chocolate cookies, and then I decided to put up those Christmas decorations I'd thought I'd just wait and deal with next year. There's no guarantee there will be a next Christmas, so I might as well go for it and take all the joy I can. The lights and garlands around my loft and stair railings make me happy. They're also the decorations I can see from my office. Then I started re-reading one of my favorite Wendy Holden books that I know will make me laugh. The heroine will overcome all the awful people in her life to get her just reward, and the rich, obnoxious witch will get what's coming to her. Life generally doesn't work like that, but it's very satisfying when it happens in books.

I promise not to spend the rest of the week being all moody, but indulge me for one more day. We were asked to share memories for a scrapbook that's being put together, and I decided I might as well share these openly while I'm writing them.

So, things I remember about my friend Rosa:
1. She loved clothes and shoes, possibly even more than I do, and she loved dressing up. That meant if I was at a party with her, I could dress up as much as I wanted to without worrying about being overdressed because at least one other person would also be dressed up. When we went to Austin together, we actually counted to see which one of us brought the most pairs of shoes. I just had to throw things in the trunk of my car, but she'd flown from Chicago to Dallas and still matched me. When I went to Chicago for the Browncoat Ball and she just had to throw things in the car, I really got to see how she could pack for an occasion.

2. She also loved finding pretty things on eBay, and if it turned out that the sizing for an item wasn't quite as advertised, I think she got as much joy out of giving it to someone it did fit as she would have out of wearing it herself. Because of this, I have a pretty red floral silk ruffled blouse in my closet. I'll have to find a book-related event to wear it to next year so she can be there with me in spirit.

3. She didn't sleep nearly as much as I do, so when we roomed together, she'd be up hours later than me, but then also be up much earlier in the morning. During the Browncoat Ball, one morning she couldn't sleep, so she got up and ran into a bunch of other early risers at the nearby Dunkin Donuts. Just as I was waking up and preparing to face the day, she came back to the hotel room with a donut for me for breakfast so I wouldn't have to go out in search of food.

4. When we went to Austin, she wanted to get postcards for the people who weren't able to go to that gathering, so one afternoon when I was giving her the grand tour of UT, we went up and down the Drag looking for good postcards. We finally found an interesting selection at the Barnes & Noble. Then in spite of the fact that I helped her pick out cards, let her use my B&N card to buy them at a slight discount, she wrote and addressed the cards in our hotel room and finished them in my living room, and then she mailed them from my neighborhood post office, with me being the one to put them in the box (since it was on the driver's side of the car), she still managed to surprise me by sending one of the cards to me.

5. She didn't drink, but she still was usually the happiest, giggliest, bounciest person at any party, no matter how much anyone else drank.

And now I'm going to bake more cookies to bring to my family for Christmas (yes, I'll get to the bread tomorrow, Mom, but that's just for us. The cookies are for the cousins.). My Christmas cactus is now blooming, like it does every year. Life goes on.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Farewell, My Friend

I learned this morning that I've lost someone very important to me in my personal and writing life. I know a lot of my friends who read this journal knew her too and have already heard the news, but even my readers who came here because they read my book might know of my friend Rosa if they read the dedication page of Enchanted, Inc..

I don't know how many people are lucky enough to come across someone they just click with. You might come from different parts of the country and from entirely different backgrounds, and may even have entirely different personalities, but you find that you see the world in much the same way and share tastes in so many things that you can just start talking about a favorite book, TV show or movie without bothering to check if the other person knows about it because you know she will. That was the way Rosa and I were.

We met online by discussing Firefly, first discovering we had similar perspectives on the plots and characters, and then starting to gradually discover we had so many other things in common. We met for the first time in person in the Philadelphia airport when she met my plane as we were both on our way to Wildwood, NJ, for a Firefly Shindig. I knew who she was right away, and it never felt like this was someone I'd just met. We'd read so many of the same books, had the same favorite authors, liked the same quirky old movies, knew all the same Broadway musicals. She's about the only other person I know of under the age of 75 with whom I wouldn't feel at all self-conscious about having my car radio set to the oldies/big band station (Radio for People Who Remember World War II!). In fact, we ended up listening to that station almost exclusively as we drove across Texas, when we weren't singing along with musicals. She became my stand-by roommate for any kind of get-together or gathering, and there generally wasn't a lot of sleeping because we'd discover yet another book we both loved, and we'd be up half the night talking about it.

But she was also critical to my writing life. In fact, I'm not sure Enchanted, Inc. would have come to life if it hadn't been for her. I was really doubting myself and my writing after a flurry of rejections on anything I tried to write. I finally sat down and wrote three chapters of this quirky idea I had. Mom liked them, but she's Mom. I knew Rosa had my taste in books, and she was about the only person I knew who was a big fan of both chick lit and fantasy, so I asked her if she wanted to read this thing I'd started. She was willing, so I e-mailed it to her, and it was largely her enthusiasm that gave me the courage to submit that proposal to an editor. Then she wanted to know the rest of the story, so I kept writing, sending her a chapter at a time as I wrote. She gave me feedback when something wasn't quite clear, but more important, she was excited about it, and that kept me excited enough to keep writing.

When I landed an agent for that book, she sent me a box of Godiva chocolates (want to know how to land on a book's dedication page? That works). When the book sold, she said she wasn't surprised at all. She'd had total faith that it would sell. When the book came out, she and her friends bought out the entire stock at one Borders store. We repeated the process as I wrote Once Upon Stilettos, though now I wish I'd sent her the final version instead of making her wait for it in book form. She's the only person I ever told how I planned to end the series and what the real story with Owen is, and now I'm very glad I told her because at least she got to know that much. We brainstormed ideas in Internet chats and in phone calls.

She was diagnosed with cancer in October, but every time I talked to her, she remained her chipper self, like this was only a minor inconvenience she had to deal with before getting on with her life, and she'd much rather be talking about books, movies and how cute Sean Maher's smile was. I guess because of that I didn't realize quite how serious it was (one of the hazards of long-distance friendship) and I kept thinking there would be time in the future to really catch up. For now, she had to concentrate on resting and getting well. I sent her a postcard from New York a little more than a week ago, with a picture from a setting for a scene in the new book and a tease about how she'd be seeing how that played out soon enough. But yesterday her pain and suffering came to an end, cutting short a vibrant life.

I'm swinging wildly between tears and numbness. I'm not sure I can bring myself to write today. Then again, writing is about the greatest tribute I can think of for Rosa, and she'd be the first to tell me to finish the story right away.

So, now you know the story behind the Rosa the book was dedicated to. I'm going to miss her a lot, and I won't be able to write about Owen without thinking of her (she claimed to have first dibs on him).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lessons Learned

I seemed to have turned the corner on the cold. I can feel myself getting better, though I actually seem to sound worse. I'm hoping to be able to get back to work for real today. Yesterday I was too woozy to think straight, but last night I had a couple of book insights as I was falling asleep, so I may be ready to go. I can pick up my prints from my New York trip photos today, and I'm sure that will inspire me.

Speaking of New York, I had a number of not-necessarily work-related insights occur to me while I was there:

1. It's very difficult for me to have a conversation in a bookstore or any other room filled with books (like my editor's office). I try to focus on the person I'm talking to, but my eyes keep straying to look at the titles, and I have to fight the urge to stop in mid-sentence and pick up a book to look at it. It's even worse when I've got Book Brain and mix in the occasional moments of spacing out because something that was said or something I saw or even something I thought about sparked an idea.

2. I think I'm finally mastering the New York subway system. I don't have to consult the route map nearly as often, and I've learned how to get my suitcase through the turnstiles while barely breaking stride. My real accomplishment on this trip was knowing the station layouts well enough that I knew which car I should get on in order to be closest to the exit I needed at the destination station. I still have a little problem with the express vs. local issue. My "home" station is Union Square, and everything stops there, so I have to remember if an express will stop at the station where I need to get off. I haven't found that an express makes that much of a time difference within Manhattan. It does make a difference if the first train to come along is an express and I need to know whether I should board it or wait for the next local.

3. Charming Italian waiters make a meal more enjoyable. They don't even have to be young and cute. In fact, I think I enjoy it more from charming older men when I can be sure they're just being charming instead of hoping to pick me up.

4. I missed my chance to be on a reality TV show (darn). I was going to drop in on my favorite coffee shop, but they had a sign outside the door saying that they were filming for an MTV Lisa Loeb reality show, and entering the coffee shop meant you were agreeing to be filmed. I didn't care one way or another about being filmed, but it looked crowded and hectic in there, and one peek through the windows was enough to confirm the location detail I needed, so I skipped going inside. Only later did I realize that I might have been able to play up the Dallas connection (Lisa Loeb went to high school in Dallas) and maybe get some book publicity, but I was really tired and hungry and didn't want to deal with it at the time.

I was sure I had more than that, but I guess my brain is still fuzzy.

If anyone's wondered where the regular Thursday Out of the Blogosphere posts went, we're re-tooling that project and will re-launch in a different way next year. In the meantime, if you're looking for new paranormal releases, the info is still being posted regularly to the Out of the Blogosphere group blog.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I think I've uncovered the cause of my holiday ennui: I've come down with a cold. It's been creeping up on me for a few days and hit in full force last night, so that pre-cold run-down feeling could explain why I was feeling so blah about the holiday season. In a way, it's a relief, not because I like being sick, but because I'd rather be sick in body than sick in soul. Getting sick was probably inevitable, given the travel (being trapped in a metal cylinder with recycled air and a lot of other people) and the drastic temperature extremes. There was the frigid outdoors/tropical indoors situation in New York, and weather-wise we went from 89 degrees here Saturday to 15 degrees on Thursday.

I've decided to go the easy, yet thematic, route and bring some Dutch cheese on my Delft cheese board to the party this weekend. It's appropriate because my book is out now in Dutch and is apparently doing pretty well in the Netherlands.

I also did most of my Christmas shopping yesterday and I think I've found some good gifts, which makes me feel better about that side of things.

Meanwhile, I'm back to work on the book. I spent yesterday inserting my location details in chapters one through five. Today, if I can come out of the cold haze, I hope to re-write the dreaded chapter six, the one most dependent on Christmas in New York settings and one in which I need to adjust the other stuff that's going on.

But first, I think it's time to crawl under the blankets and take a nap. I took Nyquil last night because I pretty much had their entire list of symptoms and I especially needed the "so you can rest" part of the equation, but instead it really seemed to disturb my sleep. I think Baz Luhrmann was directing my dreams because they were full of weird angles and short, flashy cuts to the point of sensory overload. I didn't remember Nyquil being that hallucinogenic.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bah Humbug

I finally got my Christmas tree up last night. I'd been hoping to get my house straightened up first, but then I realized if I was waiting to have the place look ready for a magazine photo shoot, then I'd be waiting a while. I'm afraid I have a case of the Scrooges, or maybe it's more like a case of the Charlie Browns, but I'm not really in the mood for Christmas. Part of it may be that I've got holiday fatigue -- I've been writing Christmas stuff in the book for a while, I'm in choir so we've been singing Christmas music for a while, and I'm already done with Christmas and am into January for the radio health scripts I write. In my brain, Christmas is already over. While I was in New York I felt properly Christmassy, but now it's hitting me in that Charlie Brown "Christmas is too commercial" lament (ironically, I watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on TV while I was in New York). Yeah, all those window displays are pretty, but they're also kind of excessive, and the practical part of me wonders if they really bring in that much additional business to justify the expense, and aren't there more useful ways to spend all that money?

I haven't yet decorated beyond the Christmas tree, and I'm not sure if I'm going to. Maybe I need a break and can get into it all next year. Maybe I need a new decorating scheme. I've been decorating the house pretty much the same way since I moved in about eight years ago, and I've decorated my tree the same way for about five years. When I was a kid, I thought my parents were weird when they acted like putting up the Christmas tree was a chore, but this year I kind of feel that way.

So while I'm going on with the holiday angst, I thought I'd share some of the things I'm worrying about at this time of year:

1. Fruitcake
All jokes about fruitcake aside, I like fruitcake -- the good kind, not the really dense kind full of that hard candied fruit rind. Fruitcake has always been a big holiday tradition for my family. My parents go to Corsicana every year to buy one of the famous Collin Street Bakery fruitcakes, which are to die for. They ship all over the world, but at the bakery they have an outlet shop where you can get the imperfect cakes -- with dented sides or maybe the pecans and cherries on top in the wrong arrangement -- without the fancy tins. I don't angst about the fruitcake itself. If others don't like it, then there's more for me! What I do worry about is the general impression that fruitcake is a sucky, awful gift, the kind of thing you give to people you don't care about.

You see, when I was a little kid, I didn't know that I wasn't supposed to like fruitcake. If I had a teacher I really loved, I'd insist on giving her a fruitcake. It was a sacrifice, because that meant we had less on hand for me to enjoy. Only as an adult did I learn that other people might not have felt the same way about fruitcake as I did. Now, every year when the fruitcake jokes start, I get a pang of guilt because I worry that those teachers thought it was just another crappy teacher gift and didn't realize that I was paying them the highest possible compliment. So, if any of my former teachers are reading this, if you got a fruitcake, it meant I loved you. Only my favorite teachers got fruitcakes.

2. Potluck parties
Every year, a group of my friends from church has a party where the hosts provide the main course and everyone else brings either an appetizer or a dessert. I always bring cookies. Cookies are my "thing," something I do well. I have this one particular kind of cookie that I make every year. It's a family recipe that I have fond associations with. It's not really Christmas to me until I've made those cookies. I've made them so many times I know they'll come out well, so that's usually what I bring to these parties. Well, year before last, someone commented, "Oh, you brought your cookies again." I got all paranoid because I couldn't tell if they meant it in the sense of, "I love those and look forward to them all year," or if they meant it in the sense of, "Geeze, can't you make anything else? Do you just put the leftovers in the freezer and bring the same batch of cookies every year?" So last year I still brought cookies, but it was an entirely different kind.

This year, there's a different kind of angst. We're only supposed to bring an appetizer dish, so I suspect it's going to be more of a cocktail party/snackfest type thing, and I have no idea what to bring. I'm not really an appetizer person. Plus, of all the appetizers I know how to make, there are people who I know always bring those dishes as their "things." (And if I comment on that, I'll be sure to say so in an unambiguous "I'm so glad you brought that!" way.) I may get lazy and get a round of Gouda or Edam and bring it on my Delft cheese board I got on my last trip to the Netherlands, along with a basket of crackers. I know I've brought that to some party in the past, but I don't think it was with this group. I've toyed with the idea of making a fancy molded, seasoned cheese spread thing I saw on Rachel Ray, but I have no idea if it will work, or if I'll have the time or energy.

3. My own mortality and family situation
Most of the time, I'm totally okay with being single, and I think I could remain that way for the rest of my life without being too depressed about it. Then the holidays come around, and I can't help but think about where I'll be as I get older and I no longer have my parents around to spend the holidays with. The other night, a group of us went Christmas caroling to nursing homes, and I nearly had a panic attack while we were singing as I watched the residents. I had a vivid mental image of myself as the lonely old woman with nobody to visit her because she has no family.

I've learned not to accept set ups and not to start relationships during the holiday season because I tend to act out of fear of ending up alone, and that clouds my judgment. It's like a moratorium on dating from Halloween until after the new year (though my dateless streak extends far further back than Halloween).

I guess if I get old alone, if my books are still out there I could hope that readers will write to me or maybe even visit me in the nursing home.

4. Gifts
I go through a lot of anxiety about what to buy as gifts. I keep wanting to get the perfect present that will surprise and delight someone, and I always feel I fall short. I remember one year when I was in high school I just about had a nervous breakdown because I was terrified I'd given my mom a horrible gift. I'd always given her kitchen type stuff, but then had realized that wasn't necessarily a real gift for her, so that year I'd bought her a pretty vase. It was something entirely non-practical, and it was in a color and style that reminded me of her. But once I got it home, I suddenly hated it, for some odd reason, and I kept trying to get my dad to take me back to town so I could buy something else (the downside of living in the country -- you don't get to a store unless someone takes you until you learn to drive). By Christmas, I was almost in tears. I can't recall why I was so afraid that was a bad gift, and my mom still has that vase displayed in the dining room, so it couldn't have been too bad.

I don't have quite the same teenage mood swings, but I still stress about the right gift. My dad is really hard to shop for and I still have no idea what to get him. Then there's all the worry about whether to get gifts for other people in my life -- that "are they getting me something? Do they expect something?" worry. It never fails that the person I didn't get something for because I didn't think we had that kind of relationship gives me something, or the person I give a token gift gives me something elaborate. I got the annual "I'm your newspaper carrier, here's where to send your gifts" card tucked into my newspaper this week, and I'm still not sure what to do about that, seeing as how I've had zero contact with my newspaper carrier. My subscription is renewed automatically and charged to my credit card, so I don't even see him for collection. Somehow, I don't think he wants the kind of gift I was thinking of as I was crawling in my pajamas through the holly hedge to retrieve my newspaper on a cold morning. I never see my postal carrier, either. My mail goes into a mailroom box at the end of the street, and packages are left on my doorstep, usually without the doorbell being rung, so I often don't know I have a package until the next morning when I go out to crawl through the holly bush to get my newspaper (though that's better than when he'd just leave a "pick up your package at the post office" note in my box without ringing the doorbell, so I had to go over there even though I'd been at home all day and was there to receive the package).

I have a much more personal relationship with the FedEx guy and the UPS guy, but it's kind of hard to know when they'll be around to give them anything. I send home-baked cookies to my editor and agent. This year, I also had cute frog prince pins for everyone. Of course, next year I'll be angsting over whether I can send the same kind of cookies again. I got to see first-hand the reaction to the cookies in the publisher's office, since I hand carried them this year, so I think that's something I'll stick with.

I'm not even sure what I want this year. I have so much stuff that thinking about having more stuff is overwhelming. The things I really want are things that are rather specific and that I'd have to research to know exactly what I want or need. At the same time, though, I love surprises and I love opening gifts.

5. Christmas cards
I'm not a big card person. I've never sent a lot, and I don't receive a lot. Of course, I always seem to get one from someone I didn't send one to. Then there are the ones I sometimes just wish would go away, like those syrupy newsletters (written in third-person, like they have a journalist on staff to chronicle their year) that a few people send. The ones I get are from the really overtly religious people, so the tone gets pretty sanctimonious, giving the impression that all their blessings are to reward them for being really terrific people (and with the implication that if your life isn't as fabulous as theirs, then obviously you're doing something wrong and need to get your life straightened out). One of these people even encloses a little brochure on the true meaning of Christmas every year. This is a person I met in church when we used to sit together in the church choir and go to Sunday school together. Surely she can assume I've already figured out the true meaning of Christmas. And then after having a good eyeroll and muttering about these things, I feel bad for being judgmental. Maybe these people are sincere and don't share my belief that if you know someone well enough to send them a Christmas/other holiday card, then they probably should already be aware of the high points of your life for the year. And if they aren't, they probably don't care.

But when you're essentially running your own business, you then have the whole "corporate" holiday card ritual, where you have to send greetings to the various people you do business with, and they have to be generic enough not to offend anyone, since you don't know the religious practices of most of the people you do business with. I decided to have fun this year and make up a corporate card for Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc. to send to business contacts I know have read the book.

So, that all could be part of why I sort of want to crawl into a hole and not come out until January. I'm on the verge of declaring this Christmas season a strictly religious observance, and then maybe next year I won't be in the middle of a book and I might have my life streamlined a bit so I can enjoy the festive parts of the season. I may start to feel better later in the week when I have a lot of business stuff out of the way and less to be stressed about. Then I can enjoy the service of lessons and carols on Sunday, followed by a performance of A Christmas Carol next week, and then a trip to see family for the holiday itself. Until then, just call me Ebenezer. Or Charlie.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Tamara Siler Jones

While I try to force myself back onto something resembling a normal (ha!) schedule and get my life in order, I've got another entry on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. My guest is Tamar Siler Jones, author of Threads of Malice, a blend of historical mystery and paranormal fantasy (sounds cool, huh?). This is the second mystery in her series starring Dubric Byerly. A vicious killer stalks the quiet towns of the northern reach, kidnapping and murdering boys. With a score dead and two more missing, can Dubric and his team find the killer before he strikes again? A twisted murderer may not be all Dubric is looking for...or the only evil that he will find.

So, now for the interview:

Describe your creative process.
I get a nugget of an idea – in the case of Threads of Malice it was that my main sleuth, Dubric Byerly, faced a John Wayne Gacy type of killer – research what I think I’ll likely need to know, then I start with the first sentence of Chapter One. I write straight through, chronologically, with no outline, until the story’s told. I try to do that fairly quickly. Stopping then starting up again days or weeks later seems to goof up my flow.

Every day before I start, I re-read whatever I wrote the day before. I fix whatever glaring spelling/grammar/story issues I see, then I move forward. That’s all the revision I do while composing.

Ideally, I let the finished first draft sit for awhile (not always possible) then re-read off a hard copy, marking things as I go. Manuscript marked and restructured, I’ll clean up my digital file, make it as good as I can, then send it out to my pre-readers for a critique. Some give general comments, some do line-by-line edits. When the remarks come back, I make whatever changes I think are appropriate and work with my concept of what the story should be, then I spell check and send it out to my editor and agent.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I write almost exclusively at night, from sometime after supper until I can’t stay awake any more. Music is a huge help, and is a near constant while I’m composing. I also drink quite a bit of Diet Coke (sometimes with a bit of added vanilla).

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your main characters?
Guilt. We both carry around a lot of guilt.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Milk. Dark chocolate tastes too bitter to me

What are you working on now?
My third book, Valley of the Soul. I’m in the “key in pre-readers revisions” phase.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Threads of Malice was a difficult book to write mostly because of the subject matter. It’s very, very dark and disturbing and took me places I wasn’t sure I was prepared to go. But it showed me that I do have the courage to stare into the dark and to not pull any punches. It’s a ruthless, vicious book, but it’s also savagely compelling, passionate and scary. So read it with the lights on.

For more info, visit Tamara's web site.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Trip Report

Now that I've had some sleep and some quality time with my sofa, I'm beginning to feel human again, so it's time for a trip report.

First, the results of the "stay up all night before the early-morning flight" experiment: I think it was a success. I was rather tired, but not in a way that really caused problems, and I was much less stressed and frantic than I've been in the past when rushing to get to the airport early in the morning after having a hard time getting out of bed that early. In spite of having all night, I was actually later leaving the house than I'd planned. Not late as in chasing the departing plane down the runway, but just later than planned and with not everything done that I'd hoped to accomplish. Even so, I was too early. I have learned that no matter how early your flight is, there's very little point in getting to the airport before 4:30 because that's when they actually open.

So, for the trip itself. I won't get into too many specifics because I was researching book 3 and most of you haven't read book 2 yet, so I don't want to risk accidental spoilers. I will say that the holiday season in New York really is magical. There was snow -- just enough to make things pretty, but with the streets and sidewalks clear so there were no piles of yucky gray snow around. I had no concept before this trip of just how elaborate the department store window displays were. I'd pictured maybe some figures and mannequins with lights. Instead, I got Disneyland -- with animation, art and even a musical soundtrack. For what it's worth, I was most impressed with the Saks "modern fairytale" (possibly because the heroine had long, curly brown hair) and with Lord and Taylor's fairytale windows.

The other thing I enjoyed was the Christmas markets all over the city. They reminded me of the Christkindlesmarkts in Germany, right down to the red-and-white-striped awnings on the booths. Alas, the wares were different, and there wasn't a Lebkuchen to be had (I'll have to hit a World Market to satisfy that longing). Still, it was quite festive to wander through the huge market at Union Square while sipping hot cider with real apples in it that I'd bought at the greenmarket.

Oddly enough, I didn't end up buying much of anything while I was in New York. I wasn't really in a shopping mood, and I was a bit overwhelmed by all the choices. It was almost too much to take in and process so I could decide what I wanted, and then there was the issue of getting it back home, considering how crowded my suitcase was already. I just wandered through stores and markets to soak up the atmosphere. The only things I bought were a postcard and a couple of tops. I bought the tops at H&M mostly because I needed a dressing room. I could feel a blister forming on my heel from too much walking, and I had some blister bandages in my purse, but I was wearing tights under my jeans for warmth, so I had to pretty much undress completely to get the bandage on. So I went into a store that we don't have in Dallas that has reasonably priced things, took some things into the dressing room, then promptly peeled off my jeans and tights to put on the bandages. Then I tried on the tops and bought them. They did have the black trumpet skirt I've been looking for, but not in my size, of course (I think it was a little longer than I wanted, anyway).

I've often found that when I write about a place before visiting it, the actual location once I go there is eerily similar to what I'd imagined. This time, that wasn't the case. I took the train up the Hudson to visit Irvington, a town that I've been planning to use as the basis for an imaginary town in the book. Given the history of the general area, I guess I'd imagined something Colonial, like you might see in Massachusetts or Connecticut, but this town was more Victorian. The main street in that town could have been the high street in an English village, and the effect was quite Dickensian. I'm going to have to adjust my mental image, but I think the reality actually fits the story better and will be more fun to play with than what I'd imagined.

While I was wandering the town, I also discovered that the home of Washington Irving was right there, so I tromped down the road to get there, only to find that it's closed on Tuesdays, the day I was there. But they didn't have a gate on the exit road, so I wandered in. The grounds were covered in snow, which was gorgeous. I think that house would be my ideal -- it's got a great view and is quiet and a little isolated, but it's got a town around it (one with a good library), and then it's a 45 minute train ride into a big city. Unfortunately, I don't think it's for rent or sale, and if it was, I couldn't afford it. I hope to make another trip out there to actually go into the house next time. My editor's husband is a weekend guide there, so she said she'd try to set something up for me. She also had all sorts of fun info on Washington Irving, which I find interesting, as I'm from Irving, Texas, and we do a lot of Washington Irving stuff here. Plus, the neighborhood where most of my characters live is around Irving Place in New York City, so I've got this whole Irving connection going on. I'd love to explore the Hudson valley, in general. I've always been a fan of the Hudson River School of art, and there were places that still looked just like those paintings. But maybe when I do that it won't be in the snow.

Wednesday was my publishing business day. I met with my editor, agent and the Ballantine publicity team to brainstorm some promotional ideas for this next book, then had lunch with my editor and agent. I also did a little "shopping" for books on the Ballantine shelves, picking up the new Flinx book by Alan Dean Foster, the most recent Sarah Bird book (that I can't believe I haven't read yet) and a few galleys for upcoming books. That evening, I had cocktails with my agent at the Algonquin Hotel (how very literary of us), and then met up with a group of writer friends who were also in town that week for dinner.

So you can kind of see why I might have come home a little tired -- and I didn't even tell everything I did. As usual with these trips, I left more than ready to be home, but still wishing I'd had the chance to do more. I did get to go to one old favorite restaurant, but there were some other favorite places I didn't manage to get to. On the other hand, I found a new (to me) restaurant near my usual hotel to enjoy, a lovely Italian restaurant, complete with charming Italian waiters who know how to make a girl feel special (and with really yummy food). I usually end these trips already mentally planning my agenda for the next trip, but I don't know when that will be.

On the plane on the way home, I did a big outline incorporating my location research info into the parts I've written and then outlining the next few chapters, so I'll buckle down to work on Monday. In the meantime, I'd like to try to get my house in reasonable order and maybe my Christmas decorations up. Plus, I've got a caroling party Sunday afternoon.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Home Again!

I'm home and I'm tired. But a good tired, mostly, other than my feet, which are very sore. I kind of overdid it on the walking, and shoes that have always been comfortable failed me, plus those blister cushion bandages don't really work very well. They tend to bunch up and slide around, giving you worse blisters, and by the end of the day they're down on the soles of your feet, where they're not very useful.

As much as I love New York, I also love being home, in spite of the fact that I got home to record-breaking cold temperatures. Seriously, it was warmer in New York than in Dallas yesterday, and there was snow on the ground in New York. Supposedly, it's warming up here, which is good. The weird thing is, one of the reasons I was glad to get home was the fact that I could sleep in a cool room once more. My hotel doesn't have individual room thermostats, and they had the furnace set to "tropical." The first night, it must have reached 85 degrees in my room -- with the windows open and temperatures outside in the 20s. I had to call to beg them to turn it down because I was seriously suffocating. The rest of the week it was better, but I still kept the windows open and I slept in silk pajama pants and a t-shirt under just a sheet. It was nice to get home and be able to snuggle up in my flannel PJs under my fluffy comforter. My ideal sleeping environment is far closer to "in an igloo under a pile of bearskins" than it is to "naked in the tropics."

I've more or less caught up on reading e-mail, though not on responding to it. And I'm sure I'll get around to something resembling a trip report sooner or later. In the meantime, I'm going to go eat popcorn and drink cocoa while watching On Demand movies. I'm hoping my brain will recover at some time during the weekend.

Someday, I swear, I'm going to visit New York and not overdo it to the point I come home utterly exhausted and sore. But if I do, I imagine I'll be obsessed with all the fun things I didn't do, all the things I didn't see. I don't know how many chances I'll get to visit the city at Christmas, and I didn't want to miss seeing anything. It was truly spectacular.

One quick bit of business: I've been asked where people can get autographed copies of Enchanted, Inc.. I got around to a few bookstores in the area, so here are some places in the general New York vicinity where you might find autographed books. Book numbers are as of this week and are, of course, subject to change.
Posman Books, Grand Central Station -- one copy
Barnes & Noble, Astor Place -- one copy
Barnes & Noble, Union Square -- two copies
Borders Books, terminal A, Newark Liberty Airport -- three copies

Of course, they're not personalized because I lack Owen's gift for precognition and didn't know who'd be showing up in the stores to buy them. You may also still be able to find autographed copies at the Borders in Uptown Dallas, the Borders in the River Oaks part of Houston and in the Barnes & Noble in Lewisville, Texas. I sincerely hope the store stock I signed in the general Dallas area in June has sold out by now.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Off We Go

I'm about to head to the airport for the big trip to New York. Because I have a godawful early flight and because I'm insane, I decided to nap most of the afternoon, then stayed up all night. When traveling with Book Brain, that's probably the best option because it can take an hour after the alarm goes off for me to drag myself out of bed. As early as my flight is, I'd have had to set the alarm for not long after the time I might have eventually actually fallen asleep. I learned during the infamous Very Long Night of the Red Shoes that it is possible to stay awake overnight and that it is less stressful to leave for the airport after having been awake than to try to get a small amount of sleep, then try to wake up and get myself together to get to the airport on time.

Based on my experiences during the Very Long Night of the Red Shoes (I'd put in the link, but hello, it's 3:30 in the morning. It's in the Live Journal archives in late September), I imagine I'll be hating myself around five in the morning when I've been sitting around in the terminal for a while and still have another half hour to go. That's when it's tough, when you want to fall asleep but don't dare. But I will still go by the guidelines and get to the airport ridiculously early because parking can be a challenge at this time of year, and at this time of day the shuttle from the parking lot to the terminal can be slow.

Because of the Book Brain, I've made tons of lists of what I need to do and need to pack, so I'm really hoping I got it all. The plants are watered, the VCR is set, and I know I have the outfit I'm planning to wear for the meeting. I hope I don't need my hair dryer because there isn't room for it.

So, I guess it's time to shut down the computer and head out. I'll see everyone on Friday!

Friday, December 02, 2005

More Book Brain

My case of Book Brain (see previous post) has become worse. I learned yesterday that it's probably not a good idea to bake when you have Book Brain, but I needed to get started on my cookie baking so I'll have a hostess gift for the party I'm going to tonight and to have goodies to present to the publishing powers that be at Random House. I also had a new recipe I wanted to try. It's a fudgy cookie (to die for! And yes, Mom, I'll make another batch to bring for Christmas) that involves melting half a bag of chocolate chips with some cooking chocolate to serve as the base for the batter, and then you mix in the rest of the chocolate chips with some nuts. I got sidetracked while baking because baking reminds me of the book and Katie's tendency to bake to clear her mind when she needs to think. That reminded me that I'd already made a mention in this book of her baking something to bring somewhere as a gift, and I realized that I'd never mentioned the gift once she got there, so I was going to have to find a place to go back and show her giving the gift, and I was figuring out how that scene would go, which gave me an idea for another scene later that would be full off all kinds of meaning and symbolism and stuff. About this time, I was dropping the batter on a cookie sheet and thinking that the batter seemed awfully thin. I shoved the cookie sheet in the oven, and as I was turning to set the timer on the adjacent counter, I saw the bag of the rest of the chocolate chips, which explained the thinnish batter. I quickly grabbed the pan out of the oven, scraped the batter back into the bowl, added the chocolate chips, washed the pan and started over.

But that wasn't the worst of the Book Brain for the day. I managed to forget to eat lunch. I'd had a late breakfast (see previous post about another effect of Book Brain), so I was a little later getting downstairs for lunch than normal. I turned on the noon news, and the entertainment report was just coming on, so instead of getting lunch, I sat on the sofa to watch it. Then the weather report came on, and I started reading the comics section of the newspaper and working the New York Times crossword, which I usually do after I eat lunch. Then it was the pet of the week segment, and it was a really cute dog that made me realize how much I want a pet, but then I had to admit that a pet would be logistically difficult for my life right now (if I can't remember to feed myself, a pet would be a bad idea). And then the news was over and I went back upstairs and to work, somehow thinking I'd had lunch sometime along the way. I guess I didn't get hungry because I was drinking tea, as I usually do while I write. The scene I was writing involved people having a big lunch. Katie even mentally comments on how it wasn't just soup and sandwiches (hmm, maybe I need to go back and say what they're having. JK Rowling says one of her reading/writing quirks is that she likes to know what the characters have at any meal that's mentioned in the story -- and now that you know this, you'll probably be like me and start noticing the menus woven throughout her books). So by the time I was ready for dinner, I wasn't hungry and I had the impression of having eaten a big lunch.

Because of that memory of a big lunch, I had a salad for dinner. It was a big salad, a warm spinach salad with apple dressing and toasted walnuts (something I learned on a cooking show last weekend), and preparing it required actual cooking, like chopping and sauteing stuff, so again I felt like I'd had a big meal. I did have one of my cookies to make sure the recipe worked (breaking my week-long ban on sweets). But then at about 10 p.m. I was suddenly starving. That was when I finally thought back on what I'd eaten during the day and understood why I was starving. It was a little late for a big meal. Macaroni and cheese or cheese and crackers would have been good, but the only cheese I had in the house was shredded parmesan. I ended up making buttered noodles with the cheese tossed in.

Today I forced myself to overcome the extreme procrastination that is another symptom of Book Brain and went out to run all my pre-weekend and pre-trip errands. The errands took about an hour longer than I planned, in large part due to stressing out at Target over whether I'd forgotten anything I might need on the trip. Then it dawned on me. HELLO!!! THEY HAVE STORES IN NEW YORK!!! It's not like I'll be trekking into the wilderness. If I need something while I'm there, there's a drugstore of some kind on every other corner, not to mention more fun type places like Sephora and Kiehl's. While at Target, I was near the Barnes & Noble, so I just had to drop in. I then remembered that I'll be visiting my publisher, where I will have large quantities of books forced upon me, so I held off buying anything. There's still a copy of Enchanted, Inc. there, looking very lost and lonely on the shelves. If you're in the Las Colinas area of Irving, Texas, please go give it a good home or send someone to get it.

It would be nice if the Book Brain actually led to more writing, but it doesn't always. It can mean that I get sidetracked by thinking about the book while I'm supposed to be writing it. I can end up staring at the computer screen, daydreaming about a scene that may come later in the book -- or even in the sequel (book four should be easy by the time I get there because I'll have written the whole thing in my head while writing book three) -- and not actually get anything written on the part I'm working on. Then later I find I can't recall what I wrote and what I just thought about, so I have to go back and re-read what I've already written so I don't have the same sentence or even scene written a couple of times in the same book.

But I've realized that all this isn't such a bad thing. Maybe Book Brain just means the subconscious is hard at work, and my subconscious is a lot smarter than I am. For instance, in that piece of fanfic I wrote to amuse myself back when I finished the first book, didn't want to leave that world but didn't want to start writing a sequel until that book sold, there was a little piece of character detail I threw in on a whim. It wasn't something meaningful or that I put a lot of thought into. That detail led to a throwaway line in Once Upon Stilettos. And that led to something I put into this book. Last night during the lying awake and daydreaming part of bedtime, it suddenly hit me that there was a good, meaningful reason for that little detail. It made total sense. It was also rather touching, and thinking about it makes me a little teary-eyed.

So I have to remind myself that this isn't a race. I just need to meet the deadline, and if my subconscious is too busy for my conscious to string words together, then I should go with it and let the subconscious work. Even mentally writing the next book isn't bad because it helps me set things up in this book.

Now I'm going to go bake Christmas cookies before my brain gets sidetracked.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Book Brain

I've had two signs in the last day or so that my head is really in this book. One is that I'm finding the fiddly little business things that I usually jump on as a way to procrastinate to be intrusive. I love answering fan mail, writing marketing plans and researching marketing targets. It's a way to feel like I'm not wasting my time when I'm not actually writing. But yesterday I caught myself grumbling about having to finish the marketing plan and get it to my agent, and I have several fan mails stacked up that I need to respond to.

I also have a bad case of what I call Book Brain. Book Brain happens when all other details of life fade away and I spend more time thinking about the story than I spend thinking about what I'm supposed to be doing at any given moment. I first noticed the bad case of Book Brain last night at choir practice when I got sidetracked if I wasn't actually singing. The director would be working with another section, and then I'd be right back in the scene I was writing in my head, so when it came time for the whole choir to sing again, I was totally lost and had no idea where we were supposed to be starting. We're doing Christmas music, so there's a lot of "Gloria in excelsis Deo" stuff repeated over and over, which means the words aren't much of a clue as to where you are in the music. I sing soprano, so when I'm in the wrong place, it often means singing a really high note that really stands out. Oops. And I might as well not have bothered with the descants. I managed to sidetrack myself while in the process of turning a page. It's a miracle I found my way home last night.

Then I experienced the second symptom of Book Brain: difficulty falling asleep. Whenever I'm not actively, physically doing something, my brain goes to work on the book. That means lying still in a dark room becomes prime thinking time. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to shut off the creativity once it gets going, and it doesn't always limit itself to the book. I may start thinking about the book, but from there my brain goes on to plan my New York trip, which leads to thinking about promotional ideas, which somehow leads to general philosophizing about story structure and characterization, which then leads to an analysis of this week's episode of House. And somehow that then leads me back to the book, starting things all over again. It didn't help that in the middle of this process last night, my feet got cold and I had to get up and find some socks, so I was back to square one when I turned the light off again. It took me more than an hour and a half after I went to bed before I actually got to sleep. That meant I then slept late, which started the process again because after I woke up my brain wanted to maximize the lying still time for daydreaming, and I finally dragged my body out of bed an hour later, groggy and late in starting the day.

Now we'll see if all that thinking actually accomplished anything, but first I need to make some tea.