I Have Been Remiss (Book Launch Edition)

Hey there!  Remember me?

I’ve spent the past week neck-deep in non-writing book work — you know, the type of thing they warn you about when you decide to self-publish books.  I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say, I have forced Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, AND iBooks to bend to my will.  (Insert evil laugh.)  And I have a *damn* fine spreadsheet to maintain the data I’ve been generating.

All of which makes me happy, but adds up to my being a pretty boring person for the past seven days.  And probably for the next seven too.

But!  But wait!  But I have exciting news to share!  And I’m only a week late in the sharing!

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My friend, Deborah Blake, is celebrating the release of her second novel, WICKEDLY WONDERFUL, the second volume in her series about Baba Yaga.  Or *a* Baba Yaga.  If you read the book, you’ll know what I mean.

Here’s the scoop:

Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…

Though she looks like a typical California surfer girl, Beka Yancy is in fact a powerful yet inexperienced witch who’s struggling with her duties as a Baba Yaga. Luckily she has her faithful dragon-turned-dog for moral support, especially when faced with her biggest job yet…

A mysterious toxin is driving the Selkie and Mer from their homes deep in the trenches of Monterey Bay. To investigate, Beka buys her way onto the boat of Marcus Dermott, a battle-scarred former U.S. Marine, and his ailing fisherman father.

While diving for clues, Beka drives Marcus crazy with her flaky New Age ideas and dazzling blue eyes. She thinks he’s rigid and cranky (and way too attractive). Meanwhile, a charming Selkie prince has plans that include Beka. Only by trusting her powers can Beka save the underwater races, pick the right man, and choose the path she’ll follow for the rest of her life…

You can get your very own copy wherever books are sold.  But just to get you started, here’s a link to Amazon, to Barnes & Noble, and to Indiebound.

So?  What are you waiting for?  You know you want to escape the holiday chaos and get some *fun* reading done!  Get to work!

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Mourning Meg Patterson

Yesterday morning, I learned via Facebook that Meg Patterson died.  I first met Meg over thirty years ago.  I hadn’t seen her in twenty-five years.  And yet, her death (from metastatic breast cancer) still shocked and surprised me.

I met Meg my freshman year of college, at an informational meeting hosted by Princeton’s Program of Theater and Dance.  Meg was directing David Rudkin’s play ASHES (about a couple’s attempts to bring a child into their family.)  She needed a stage manager, and I’d stage managed plays in high school.  In short order, Meg had convinced me to stage manage her production.

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Meg was a magical being to me.  She was an upperclassman, while I was a mere freshman.  She lived in alternative university housing, a hippie-like communal home, where the residents did all their own cooking, managed all their own household disputes (on a campus where the *vast* majority of the student body either ate in university cafeterias or in fraternity-like eating clubs.  She followed the rules that made sense to her and broke the ones that didn’t, and she always, always, always was true to herself.

A handful of stories about Meg ring crystal clear in my memory.  She traveled to Ireland before her junior year (at a university and a time where no one took a junior year abroad.)  She and her boyfriend, David, supported themselves busking on the streets.  Meg told me that she’d brew a pot of tea in the morning by throwing a fistful of tea leaves into the teapot and adding hot water.  Throughout the day, she’d add more hot water but no more tea — she was on a strict budget.  By bedtime, she was drinking pure hot water, without caffeine to keep her awake.  Meg knew it was time to come back to the States when the cup of orange juice she’d set on the window sill to keep cool overnight was frozen solid in the morning.

When Meg and I had our first meeting about my stage managing ASHES, she invited me to dinner at her co-op house.  I asked what I could bring (feeling so very grown-up), and she said, “A bottle of wine.”  I was under age and had never bought any alcohol before, but I traipsed up to the liquor store in Palmer Square, and I bought a bottle of Blue Nun, because that was what I’d seen advertised on TV.  Meg made stir-fried vegetables that night. As she held the container of coarse-ground black pepper over the wok, the cap came undone, and the entire contents of the jar spilled into the vegetables. We laughed, and I waited for Meg to toss out the ruined food and start again, but she shrugged, took a spoon, and ladled out most of the pepper.  We weren’t about to waste a perfectly good wok-full of veggies.

In one scene of ASHES, the husband is carrying dishes offstage, and he drops them, shattering them. Meg wanted the realistic sound of pottery shattering each night, so she encouraged me to raid the scrap heap from the University’s sculpture classes.  Sure enough, there were lots of discards there, and we collected enough plates, vases, and bowls to smash up for the run of the play.  One one of those scrap-scrounging trips, I found a glazed bowl the size of my palm; it still holds paper clips and assorted oddments on my desk, and I think of Meg every time I look at it.

Meg and I were vastly different people. We remained friends after ASHES, working on a couple of other shows, hanging out in the lobby of the Theater and Dance building, eating Thomas Sweet’s ice cream from next door. I helped her with some statistics classes she needed to complete in order to earn her sociology degree, way back in the days when we did batch computer processing and needed to retrieve printouts from the distant computer center on campus.

After Meg graduated, we fell out of touch.  We saw each other at the wedding of her former boyfriend, a guy I’d dated for about thirty-seven seconds while they were on a break. I occasionally caught hints of her professional theater career on the west coast.

While I considered a professional career in stage management *very* briefly, I knew fairly early on that I would not pursue that course.  Instead, I used what I learned as a stage manager in other aspects of my life.  I still carry Band-aids and a sewing kit in my purse at all times, and I always have pen and paper. Actors and traveling troupes are featured in nearly every series I’ve ever written, and I made Kira a stage manager in Act One, Wish One.  Habits I built with Meg live on in my bones.

She friended me on Facebook a few years ago as she was grappling with her diagnosis of breast cancer, and I read her updates on a regular basis.  She was a vehement supporter of all efforts to lead clean, chemical-free lives, and she despised all pink-ribbon awareness campaigns.

I wasn’t surprised when I read that she had died Sunday morning; she’d been in hospice for several days. She died surrounded by family and friends. She was a different person than the Meg I knew thirty years ago, but in all the key ways, she was the same person.  I’ll lift a glass (of something better than Blue Nun!) and remember her…

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Why Retreat When You Can Write Full Time?

Last week, I drove two hours north to the Pennsylvania woods, where I rented a cabin with Maria V. Snyder for a week-long writing retreat.

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I suspect some of you are wondering why I’d do something crazy like that.  I mean, I have the luxury (and the responsibility) of writing full time.  Why spend a total of four hours in the car to go to a place where I need to carry in bedding and pots and pans and food, all to write, just like I write at home?  (For reference, I’ve written an article about writing retreats — how to set them up and why do do them — here.)

Short answer:  It’s not just like at home.

For one thing, I’ve driven two hours to get there, and I’ll drive two hours to get home, so there’s a time cost to going there.  Far more importantly, there’s a family cost to going there — I’ve left behind my husband and our cats, upsetting human and feline schedules alike.  I’ve turned my world and the world of those I love upside down.

So I damn well better be productive while I’m there.

In an ordinary week, when I’m writing at full speed, I produce 15,000 words of solid first draft.  Those words aren’t perfect, and there will likely be fairly substantial revisions in specific language, but the plot is set and the general sequence of events and the backbone of the writing.

In the four full days of the retreat (Monday through Thursday, plus a few hours on Sunday after I arrived), I drafted almost 30,000 words.  That’s one third of the new Jane Madison novel, JOY OF WITCHCRAFT.  Those words are more likely to survive editing than my usual words because they were written quickly, in close proximity to each other.  (I find that I do my best writing fast.)

In addition to drafting all those words, I also built a Scrivener file that contains all the Jane novels in one large project.  That file makes my writing vastly more efficient — I can search one file to see if I’ve used a name before, or to track down the characteristics of a crystal or an herb,  or to recall the name of a spell.  It took  me a few hours to do the work (see, Sunday evening), but the labor will benefit me for all the Jane novels to come.

Usually, I alternate writing time with breaks — taking long walks in the woods, heading down to the lake, etc.  On this retreat, alas, it rained *buckets* on Monday.  And then on Tuesday, the temperature didn’t get above 25.  (I took a short walk, but I headed back when the wind nearly blew my frozen ear lobes off my head.)  On Wednesday and Thursday, the words were flowing and the temps were still glacial, so I kept my head down and wrote, wrote, wrote.  On Friday, before we left, I did take one relatively long walk, but it was mostly a chance to say goodbye to the site.

Maria, I’ve discovered, is a great retreat-mate.  We keep very different hours.  I wake up relatively early, write a chunk in the morning, break for lunch, write a chunk in the afternoon, break for dinner, write a chunk in the evening, then go to bed around 11:00.  She wakes up much later (around my lunch time) and she works must later (till 3 or 4 in the morning.)  Therefore, we both have “alone time,” the same way that we have “together time.”  It works out well.

I have two other retreats already scheduled in the new year — mini-retreats that last a weekend and take place at the homes of writer-friends.  I’m looking forward to them, to the socializing, to the discussing business, to the short intense bursts of writing.

But I’m also already planning my next retreat in the woods.  Because I’ll have another third of a book to get drafted.  I always do.  :-)

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Not Dead Yet

Not dead.  Not carried off by the camelback crickets that insist on taking refuge on the ground level of our home (and some of them are HUGE this year!) Not king yet.

But, um, where did the past ten days go?

Let’s see…

We had houseguests visiting from Canada — the charming Julie Czerneda (in the midst of her book launch tour for A PLAY OF SHADOW) and her husband, Roger.  They arrived with flavored coffees (blueberry! maple!) in hand and a ***gorgeous*** matted photograph of a unicorn ice sculpture, taken by Roger himself.  We enjoyed long conversations about writing, books, publishing, politics, music, travel, and I don’t know what else.

Julie and Roger were in town for the World Fantasy Convention, which took place in a hotel just a couple of miles from our house.  I didn’t attend the con as a member (I’ve been publishing too little fantasy!), but I did hang out in the hotel lobby and bar for two days, visiting with friends and catching up with folks I haven’t seen in far too long.  I also had a chance to meet some Book View Cafe members for the first time in person — I’d love to have a chance to visit each of our co-op members, because communicating face-to-face adds so much more to our online chats!

With Julie and Roger in tow, we went to hear Suzanne Vega play at a small venue in DC.  Stranger to music that I am, I only knew a couple of her songs, but I loved her performance.  Stevie Wonder was playing a huge arena show just a couple of blocks away, and I think we *totally* made the right choice for the evening :-)

I’ve begun outlining my next book, JOY OF WITCHCRAFT, which will be the fifth Jane Madison book.  I’m having a wonderful time getting back into Jane’s world.  Poor librarian-witch! Nothing goes easily for her!

We went to an amazing Smithsonian lecture on Istanbul, taught by Nigel McGilchrist.  Alas, I knew very little about Istanbul prior to the talk, but I learned a great deal of history (and some information about art and food and geology and, and, and, and…)  One of the great things about Nigel’s lectures is his ability to fold together so many different disciplines as he speaks.  His slides illustrate his points beautifully, and he speaks without notes, making everything feel very real and immediate.  And now, alas, I have more travel destinations to add to my list :-)

And I’ve been preparing for a writing retreat next week.  I’ll be stealing away with Maria V. Snyder.  We’re heading off to a state park, where we’ll rent a cabin (just as the first major blast of arctic air is set to hit the region!)  I intend to get about a third of a novel written while I’m there — and to have great conversations about writing, publishing, etc.  (Maria and I keep somewhat different schedules — I wake up early and go to bed before midnight; she wakes up after noon and works until the wee hours of the morning.  That gives us both some “alone time” to get a lot of work done and some “social time” to talk.  A great arrangement!)  I’m generally very productive on retreats — I have to justify taking the time away from Mark and the cats!

So, that’s the past.  And I’ll be scarce for the next week.  But after that, I hope to be back in the usual swing of things!

What about you?  How’s the autumn treating you?  Tell me something wonderful about November!

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What a Way to Celebrate!

Well, I’m a year older now.

Okay, technically, I’m a day older than I was yesterday, and three days older than I was on October 12, my official birthday.  But you know what I mean.

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This year, we decided to take advantage of a relative’s kind offer, and we spent my birthday (and a long weekend!) at the beach — Duck, North Carolina, on the Outer Banks.  We typically go down there once or twice a year, usually in the heart of winter.  Duck is a wonderful place off season — nearly deserted, with most businesses closed up tight, with nearly no one on the beach, and with cold, bracing winds that can howl all night in classic nor’easters.

Not so much in mid-October this year!

The temps were in the 80s — I dramatically overpacked for cool weather and just got by with the T-shirts I brought (and I mourned my failure to bring shorts or sandalsl!)  On Saturday, the beach was actually *crowded*, and there were lots of folks on the sand every day.  All the businesses were open (even the Dairy Queen :-) ), and the roads were surprisingly busy.  In short, “our” Duck looked completely different from the Duck we normally encounter.

Of course, it was enjoyable, all the same.  We took walks on the sand (with surprisingly high tides and lots of waves!), and we indulged in meals at our favorite restaurants.  We got a lot of reading done, and we watched a lot of movies — binged the second half of HOMELAND, Season 3, and the BEYOND Linklater movies, and an odd, well-made little film called A SIMPLE PLAN.

All in all, a perfect birthday weekend, brightened by the Facebook posts of many, and emails from even more, and cards and phone calls and, and, and, and…  I feel well and truly spoiled!  (I also feel like I’m never going to eat anything other than salad and lean grilled meats, for the rest of my life :-) )

And that is why it’s time for me to get back to work :-)

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Frozen (And I Don’t Mean the Disney Musical)…

Well, *that* was a weekend…
Surely by now, you know that we’re fans of the Nationals around here…  So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that my Friday afternoon was spent at the ballpark, cheering on my team.  The game started at 3:00, but that was fine, because the afternoon was cloudy, so the ferocious shadows of a sunny day didn’t have a chance to compromise the game.  Alas, the Nats lost.
Saturday found us back at the park for a 5:30 game.  Alas, Friday’s clouds had been caused by a cold front that swept through Friday night.  When we arrived at the park, the sun was *brilliant*, but the weather was cool, and there was a healthy breeze blowing in the upper decks (stronger than the lovely breath of fresh air that keeps us cool up there in Section 416 on those beastly hot summer days.)
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I’ll cut to the chase.  We left the park after 18 innings of baseball, after six hours of play, after the temperatures plummeted into the low 50s and the wind chill was somewhere much below there.  The Nats lost, 2-1, after three different would-be-massive-homeruns-for-Nats died on the warning track, blown back in by the wind, and after one Giants home run cleared the fence.
The restrooms (which were heated and, obviously, out of the wind) started to look like refugee centers by the end of the game — elderly women in wheelchairs, mothers holding sleeping babies, clutches of women leaning against each other as they huddled against the walls.  About half the crowd stayed until the bitter end; in some sections (but not in hours, thankfully!) people stood for the entire game.  Most of the concession stands shut down after 9 innings, but the hot chocolate stand stayed open until the bottom of the 18th.
There’s still at least one more game to be played (this is a best-of-five series) but things look quite grim for the Nats.  I’m more than a bit astonished at how personal this whole thing feels — even though I know they didn’t win for me during the regular season and they aren’t losing for me now.  I’ve only followed baseball for about twelve years, and this feels like the first time I’ve really gotten to “know” the players on my team — maybe a side effect of going to 20 regular season games, maybe a side effect of writing the Diamond Brides, maybe a side effect of these particular guys on this particular team.
Yesterday, I felt rather hung over. Tonight, I’ll sit in front of the TV and watch them play in San Francisco. And I’ll have a cat on my lap.  And a blanket.  And a cup of hot tea if I want it.
I’ll be able to feel my toes.  But I’ll settle for teeth-chattering shivering all over again on Thursday, if they could just win tonight’s (and tomorrow’s) game and bring the series back here to DC!
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