Google, in all their wisdom, has decided to shut down iGoogle, saying it's not used for much. All I do on my page is store my favorite writing quotes, so I guess they might have something there. I was casting about in my mind: WHERE WILL I KEEP THE QUOTES? when I realized I have a place! Right here!
At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you. GOETHE
(This is my favorite quote of all. The week I dedicated myself to writing every day, to really doing it even on the days I had to get up at 3:30am to get the work done, I got my agent. Coincidence? Probably. I'd already written the book, after all. But this quote was large in my mind. The universe does conspire to help you, and it knows when you're finally truly serious.)
Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else. GLORIA STEINEM
For most of my life I felt like this. Now I write so much that now when I'm hanging out with loved ones, or watching Scandal and knitting, I feel just fine, thanks.
Write about it by day, and dream about it by night. E.B. WHITE
I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult. E. B. WHITE
I think me and ole Elwyn would have gotten along well.
I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have. THOMAS EDISON
In fiction, veracity is nice...but believability is all that you're really required to provide and all that your audience has a right to expect. ROBERT MASELLO - Robert's Rules of Writing
Anybody who shifts gears when he writes for children is likely to wind up stripping his gears. E.B. WHITE
Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. LOUIS L'AMOUR
I’m like a big old hen. I can’t cluck too long about the egg I’ve just laid because I’ve got five more inside me pushing to get out. LOUIS L'AMOUR
Don't you just love this man?
Don’t get it right, just get it written. JAMES THURBER
I have so little control over the act of writing that it's all I can do to remain conscious. DAVID RAKOFF
I die over this line.
No one ever said it would be easy. ANNIE DILLARD
I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. TRUMAN CAPOTE
When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself. ISAK DINESEN
Writing is when we make the words. Editing is when we make the words not shitty. CHUCK WENDIG
How much a character cares about his/her goals is in direct proportion to how much the reader will care. LAURA DEVRIES
Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it. MADELEINE L’ENGLE
You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a river. MARGARET ATWOOD
I saw her speak recently. She remains my hero. A smarter, classier, funnier woman I think there never was.
As for discipline—it's important, but sort of overrated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you. ELIZABETH GILBERT
Nulla dies sine linea. Let that be their motto. And let their work be to them as is his common work to the common labourer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,—as men have sat, or said that they have sat. More than nine-tenths of my literary work has been done in the last twenty years, and during twelve of those years I followed another profession. I have never been a slave to this work, giving due time, if not more than due time, to the amusements I have loved. But I have been constant,—and constancy in labour will conquer all difficulties. Gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo. - Trollope
Someday, the first line of this will be a tattoo.
If I waited until I felt like writing, I'd never write at all. ANNE TYLER
Talent is cheap. What matters is discipline. ANDRÉ DUBUS
My first writing teacher, Al Landwehr, told me this many, many years ago. He told me I had the first, wasn't sure if I had the second. I was SO MAD, mostly because I knew he was right. So I went about proving him wrong about the latter. (Not about the former.)
I write pieces and move them around. The fun of it is watching the truthful parts slide together. What is false won't fit. ELIZABETH STROUT
Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject. JOYCE CAROL OATES
The tradition I was born into was essentially nomadic, a herdsmen tradition, following animals across the earth. The bookshops are a form of ranching; instead of herding cattle, I herd books. Writing is a form of herding, too; I herd words into little paragraphlike clusters. LARRY McMURTRY
I am the border collie of active verbs!
Easy reading is damned hard writing. NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
This is why I am pleased instead of insulted every time anyone says my books are easy to read.
Writing is driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make whole trip that way. E.L. DOCTOROW
Writing makes no noise, except groans, and it can be done everywhere, and it is done alone. URSULA K. LEGUIN
Every time I hear writers talk about “the muse,” I just want to bitch-slap them. It’s a job. Do your job. NORA ROBERTS
"Sister Mary Responsibility kicks the Muse's ass every single day." Nora Roberts, great video HERE.
All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath. F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand. HENRY MILLER
I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork. PETER DE VRIES
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives… ANNIE DILLARD
I had a postcard with this phrase on my refrigerator. I looked at it daily during the ten years I wasn't really writing. It didn't feel good to think about. Then I started Really Writing, and this is true: I lost the postcard. I know how I'm spending my life.
Humor is what happens when we're told the truth quicker and more directly than we're used to. ANN PATCHETT
Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor. JOYCE CAROL OATES
The first 8 drafts are terrible. MALCOLM GLADWELL
Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving. NEIL GAIMAN
Take the time to write. You can do your life's work in half an hour a day. ROBERT HASS
You run it through your mind until your tuning fork is still. MARTIN AMIS
If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you. BILLY WILDER
An overflow of creative urges is the reward for indulging in the new. JULIA CAMERON
I think the hardest part about writing is writing. NORA EPHRON
All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. E. B. WHITE
Be obscure clearly. E.B. WHITE
Scenery is fine, but human nature is finer. JOHN KEATS
A word after a word after a word is power. MARGARET ATWOOD
The only way to become a better writer is to become a better person. BRENDA UELAND
The writer must wade into life as into the sea, but only up to the navel. GUSTAVE FLAUBERT
There are techniques and skills to be learned for writing as in any profession or trade. All the stories fall into certain patterns of behavior that we call plots. Plots are nothing but a constantly recurring human situation, patterns of behavior. It’s my belief that 90% of all fiction is based on just 12 to 18 plots, and you can find them in any metropolitan newspaper in any given week. The same plots used by the ancient Greek dramatists were also used by Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens. Nobody “invents” a plot. LOUIS L’AMOUR
Writing is the hardest work in the world not involving heavy lifting. PETE HAMILL
Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine. MARGARET ATWOOD
No whiners. This rule can be broken if you're talking to your writing partners. Then whine with élan.
I don’t grasp it very readily at all, the “it” being whatever I’m trying to do. ALICE MUNRO
If I’m going slow I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them. RAYMOND CHANDLER
This is my biggest sign that I'm going the wrong direction--the words just don't come. It feels like block, but it's only that I haven't found the right door yet. If I feel around the room blindly, I eventually find the handle.
We have to accept ourselves in order to write. Now none of us does that fully: few of us do it even halfway. Don’t wait for one hundred percent acceptance of yourself before you write, or even eight percent acceptance. Just write. The process of writing is an activity that teaches us about acceptance. NATALIE GOLDBERG
I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don't know what I did before that. Just loafed, I suppose. P.G. Wodehouse
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. Robert Frost
Once you’re into a story everything seems to apply ... Wherever you go, you meet part of your story. Eudora Welty
What keeps me writing is that I can only know through writing—my major sense organ is apparently a pencil.
I know, two posts in one week! Alert the media! (Wait. Am I part of the media? I might be, tangentially, now that I think of it. Okay, consider me alerted.)
I had dental work today and I'm almost recovered from the meds I took this morning. I can't talk (ow) but it's raining and I'm drinking tea. I was supposed to record a podcast for TapGurlKnits, but it wouldn't be kind to anyone involved, including the listener. Holly Cole is playing on the stereo (tell me you love her, too) and I'm not being sad about Digit.
That's the thing.
I can't be sad about Digit. (See two posts below, if you're not sure what I mean.)
Here I would be drawn to insert that standard, expected apologetic clause (I know, he was just a cat, not like a person, not my child, but it still hurts, etc.) but I don't have to apologize to YOU, darling reader, because you are smart enough to know that sometimes animals are more important than people. Period.
That's not my point.
My point is that I do a weird thing with grief that I've beaten myself up over in the past, and it's not only time for me to let it go, but it's normal and it's worth writing about, in case you or someone else you know does it, too.
I go numb after someone I loves dies.
Not a little bit numb. A lot numb. I've teared up a couple of times, but I haven't cried since the day Digit died.
When my little mama died? I cried, yes, that day. I cried a lot that night. Then I went totally numb, and that terrifying feeling lasted for days. It broke at the funeral, and then it came back and lasted for not weeks but months.
It made me wonder if I'd actually loved her.
I thought I had. I thought I'd loved her more than anything. Why, then, could I talk about her death with nothing more in my heart than a vague unease? I made jokes. "My mother died, let me have the last piece of bacon." I could even think about her being dead, and I only felt a dull throb of cotton-padded nothing.
But this: it's normal. It's part of grief. It just IS. That's what I didn't know then.
The day after Digit died, Lala texted me to say she'd left a little treat for me in the freezer. I texted back, "IS IT DIGIT?" And I laughed about it (because come on, that's funny).
I laughed because I'd already moved firmly into the numbness.
I've been happy to realize that he was the one peeing over the lip of the cat box, requiring me to clean up after it constantly. I don't have to do that now! I'm pleased we won't have to buy the expensive cat food that I've shelled out for for more than a decade. When my mom died, there was more than a little part of me relieved that I'd never have to see her in a nursing home. (What is THAT?) And now there's a strange amount of relief that after I get through this loss, I won't have to go through it again (good god, I've already grieved this cat once. It's already annoying I have to do it again.)
And that's the problem. I'm goal-oriented. I would like to feel the pain now and move through it. I can handle pain. I know what to do with it. This numbness, as normal as it is? It's dumb. I hate it. I want to cry and I can't, and that pisses me off, almost as much as Digit used to when he would climb the leg of my jeans to get to my egg plate. (This morning, I had a second of feeling sad when I ate my eggs without him, and I leaned into. Maybe I'll cry now! But nope. I had nothin'.)
But hell. This is me accepting it. Accepting that I am NOT callous and mean and small-spirited and unable to love. Although it feels counterintuitive, this stubborn numbness is proof that I am the opposite.
I loved that jerk. And he knew it. Tears don't prove anything, but even with all this said, I'm looking forward to when I find them again.
The Night of Writing Dangerously is Prom for writers. (And it funds the Youth Writing Program for NaNoWriMo, what could be better?)
It really is.
It's six HOURS of writing, fueled by: caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. If at any point you feel weak, change your consumption order and write some more. If your hands get tired, stretch your fingers and write some more. Just. Keep. Writing.
Okay, that's what you SHOULD do, but I also tend to be a Flitter. I flit from bar to table to bathroom to photo area and back to table. Even with all the flitting I did, though, I still got two chapters written (3000 words), so huzzah for productivity!
It is, literally, my favorite night of the year. It's heaven. And this year, some of my favorite people of ALL came.
This is me and Bethany grinning at our fairy godmother, whoever she is. Thank you for giving this to us. I feel like I still have my wings on, and my glass slippers never even got too tight! (When I took them off at home? Ouch. Another matter.)
I love this shot of Veronica. Seriously, she's as smokin' hot in light drag like this as she is in a little black dress.
Bethany looks on approvingly as I selfie.
Oh, my god, this. Every writer got a short story from a 4th grader. This was mine. It says, "A boy who got lost in the woods. He tumbles on a secret passage to another world. Then he has to fight a villan who is trying to hipnotize the bay area."
THAT'S A GOOD STORY, YO.
Gigi's card, though? She had an amazing one. From memory, it said something very close to: "I don't know what I'm going to write. I don't know how it ends. I'm going to put in a lot of action."
That's my current work-in-progress, summed up right there.
I'm still kind of floating on air today. I'm the luckiest writer in the world, I really, really am. (And dearest Fairy Godmother, you might like to know that I heard through the NaNo grapevine that someone got wind of what you did and sent someone else who couldn't have gone otherwise, so your kindness to us is making ripples out there. xoxox.)
Digit was the worst cat ever. He arrived as a tiny little jerk.
Even in that picture, he’s probably about to scratch me.
He fell in love with me, though, instantly. I was mama, since he was too young to leave his own who’d abandoned him under a house in San Francisco, but he was never my “fur baby.” I didn’t call him my son. No offense to those who call their pets that—it’s lovely. It just wasn’t the way we rolled. We were bachelors together in that little mother-in-law hovel that clung to the hill in east Oakland. We both went out at night and came back tore up. I’d have careless cigarette burns in my clothing, and he’d have foxtails and other cats’ claws stuck in his.
We bunked together. Happily. He nuzzled under my chin and shoved his paw in mine, using his claws to get closer if he needed to. He attacked visitors with creativity and enthusiasm, clawing his way up their jeans and over their shoulders to the sound of their curses. He drew blood first and often. I told visitors, “Don’t touch the cat, I mean it.” Then if they did that silly, “Oh, all cats love me, watch,” I never felt sorry for them and handed out bandages.
My neighbors, when we moved to a tonier section of Oakland, hated my emeffing cat. They demanded recompense for Digit chasing their cat into their house and beating the hell out of her—and I was about to pay their vet bill until I saw their cat beat the hell out of Digit in my yard, so we agreed to pay our own bills.
Digit saw me through six relationships. He didn’t care for most of the people I dated, but he loved Lala. Hated her dogs, though. Hated. He spent years thinking about ways to decapitate Harriet in her sleep, but Harriet could hold her own. He also hated me for a while, for introducing such low-bred animals into my life. He forgave all, however, when we got Clementine, a pit bull of his very own. For at least the first year that Clementine lived with us, all Digit had to do was breathe to make Clementine cower. Digit loved it. Nothing was better than punching Clementine and making her cry. It was fucking Disneyland.
He cost me at least fifteen thousand dollars over the years, and that’s not including the five thousand the knitters raised for his care after he returned from the dead (first, he died. Then, three months later, I got schmittens. Then he came back from the dead. After that, there was a raffle that put him back together again. If you haven't read that story here or in my memoir, I'll let you have a minute).
Fourteen years ago, I had him de-manned entirely, removing his penis because of a life-threatening disease. Last year, a vet told me soberly that, in fact, the cat I thought was male was actually female. I laughed my way out and I remain impressed with the remarkable job the first vet did.
Because that cat was all male. He stood up to pee, his beer farts were terrible, and when he lost at poker we had to eat ramen for weeks. And he was my guy. I was his girl. We were each other's. We’ve been each other's since the very first moment. It was love at first sight for both of us, and tonight, as I held his paw as he drifted off, there was no one else in the whole world but him.
Today's decision to let him go was the right decision. It was a terrible day, deciding. Lala called me at work this morning, and I was able to take vacation for the rest of the day.
I spent almost seven hours in bed today holding him as he slept like this.
By the time we got to the vet, he was almost all the way checked out, not even able to purr. Strangely, it was a relief to let him go.
He was a jerk. A real, complete asshole. And he was MINE.
My face hurts and my head aches. My eyes are almost swollen shut. I miss the hell out of that beast already and it’s gonna get worse, I bet, before it gets better. We have a lot of animals, yes. We still have three dogs and two cats left. And you know what? I like them all. I even love them.
But I loved no one and nothing like I loved Digit. We came as a package deal, and for the first time in seventeen years, he’s not yelling at me, and I’m not yelling back.
Lala has said for a while that his first name is Fuck Off. This is because of how many times a day one or the other of us said, “Fuck off, Digit.” Because he was a ridiculous, demanding jerk who tried to eat the food off our plates constantly. But he’s dying, I’d joke.
Not a joke, I guess.
Tonight, after we said our goodbyes, before the vet pushed the needle, I said, “Fuck off, Digit.”
Lala said, “Fuck right off.”
As we left, we saw the vet petting his body.
Some cat. Fucking love of my life.
Last night I went out with (as I think of her) my Young Writer friend. My favorite barista at my beloved but now defunct cafe, she has stars in her eyes about writing, and is applying to MFA programs all over the country. We ate sushi and talked about writing, and I remembered myself in her.
When I was 25--her age--I packed up my tiny Ford Festiva with its roller-skate wheels and headed to Mills for my MFA. I was going to light the world on fire with my prose. Or at least, I was going to write. And I lit a lot of things on fire, namely the cigarettes I was still smoking back then. I was giving myself two years in the ivory tower, two years to really focus on craft.
Then, for those two years, I avoided writing as much as possible. I did the bare minimum, because that's what we do sometimes, when it comes to what we love most, right?
Artists don't draw. Musicians don't play. Writers don't write. If we write, we fail (because when we're learning something, DOING anything at all, we fail. Just part of the process). And as artists, we strive for perfection and failing is really not ideal.
So we don't write. I managed my 150 pages of a terrible novel for my thesis. I took an amazing dialogue class in which we read a book famous for dialogue every week and then wrote a three page scene in the voice of that writer (that did more for my skill with dialogue than anything else). I took a poetry class which almost killed me.
Then I graduated and spent the next ten years also avoiding failure by not writing. Not writing = safe! Not writing = dreaming about the perfect words you'd string together if you just had time.
What I didn't realize was this:
Not writing was the biggest failure of all.
No matter how spectacularly I screwed up in the writing itself (which I did! Still do! Spectacularly!), when I finally started to write everyday (thanks, NaNoWriMo 2006), I was succeeding!
And seven years (JEESH!) later, I'm still writing, all the time. Every day. Even when I fail, I win.
The job has gotten harder the more I learn. A rank amateur says LOOK I WROTE A BOOK YOU SHOULD READ IT OMG -- a writer who's spent years actively learning how to craft emotion out of words says, Well, you don't have to read it. It's the best I could do but it's still not as good as Murakami. Maybe someday. *kicks rock* (Also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.*)
I've been both of those people. (Admission: I've been both of those people this WEEK.)
But I've changed my website a little bit because I want y'all to see that book up there to the left with its quotes and overview and all that because I'm proud of it and I'm excited for it.
Pack Up the Moon. It's literally the book of my heart, and it's available for preorder right now. I'll be releasing excerpts and reasons for you to preorder (gifts! prizes! kisses on the mouth if I see you IRL and you want one!) but the real truth is this: It's a good book. It will make you cry, and then--I hope--it will help heal you a little bit.
I love the stars in my Young Writer friend's eyes. The funny thing is I still have them, too.
* "The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average . . . Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding."
THANK YOU for the book reviews! I love that y'all like Cora's Heart as much as you do. The reviews and the emails are amazing and when I get one, I do a little spin in my chair. My chair is almost spun out, I'm telling you. Might need a new chair.
Randomly drawn winner of $50 book certificate: Anna, who's been reading me for ages and is always the first person to ask me "When is it coming out in the UK?" (I love it when long-time readers win things. Don't forget to sign up for my mailing list to be on the random win list! Sometimes I just send a book I like to a random winner! I'll probably do that again next week!)
What I've Been Reading:
Amazon links for convenience but check your local shop
Everyday Hero: A Darling Bay Short Story - If you like my writing, you might like Lila Ashe's -- she writes small-town California firefighters, set in a place called Darling Bay which reminds me very much of Cypress Hollow. (Firefighter romance is funny to me because I see firefighters as loud little boys who never got over their fixation on fire engines. Lila seems to know them, though.) This was a funny very short story (free on most platforms!) that introduces the town a bit... (There's one whole book about a dispatcher! Oooh!)
The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty - I'm about 70% done with this, and I love it. It hits all my buttons -- a slow, intent look at family life, a secret that blows up, and female characters fully explored and realized... I'm reading slowly to make this Australian gem last.
Love on Main Street - A bunch of people I know - It's possible that I and my friends made up a fictional mountain town called Snow Creek and wrote a whack of interconnected stories set at the holidays. It's also quite possible I chose to write about the yarn store owner. As I do. It turned out even more darling than I thought it would, and I had high hopes. I have talented friends, yo.
Human Remains - Elizabeth Haynes - You know that when I talk about books, I like to present a wide variety. This is nothing like anything above dark, and it's incredibly gory (I even had to skip over a section when I was eating a gyro, and I'm a dispatcher and not much grosses me out--I can listen to people vomiting while eating oatmeal). (Oh, my god, was that too much? Maybe. Okay, if it was too much, though, don't read this book. Otherwise:) and SO GOOD. If you like Gillian Flynn (which I do, Gone Girl not as much as Sharp Objects), you'll like this British serial killer novel.
I feel like I have a new toy. I really do. (And it's not the fact that I'm now a New Zealand citizen, although that is AWESOME, too! I am sure my first sheep is on its way from the consulate. RIGHT?) This whole meditation thing has clicked, and it's because I'm using guided meditation, which--for me--has been the ultimate way to learn to do it.
Doesn't guided meditation sound so woo-woo? Like you're going to lie on your back and someone will talk to you about imagining a field of lilies while really you're just trying desperately to keep from thinking about lunch? Or maybe you'll have to chant something at the end or pretzel your limbs into a position that you haven't been able to get into for fifteen years before drinking some tea that smells like feet?
What I've been doing is a meditation class. (I have no reason or motivation to pimp this except that it's Something Rachael Loves.) Andy Puddicombe, lovely man, talks to you as sit upright in your chair with your hands on your lap. This is something you can do at your desk if no one minds you closing your eyes for ten minutes. Or at the kitchen table. Or on the couch. (I have a low settee in my office that I use.)
Then you listen to him talk you through things for a few minutes. If you've been reading my blog a while, you know that I have energy to spare. I don't sit still, ever, unless I'm sick. But during these sessions? I just rest. My mind rests, and my body rests.
It's amazing to find that stillness. And it's even nicer to learn how to not worry about finding that stillness. It's there, you just go visit it, you don't have to do anything but show up. You don't have to make anything work. You just sit and breathe. (Before, when I'd tried, I'd always thought meditation was so much work.)
The program starts with a free 10 day 10-minute course, and then if you like it, you can advance to a subscription, and the next course is 15 days of 15 minutes a day. Then you get 20 days of 20 minutes a day. I'm ten days into the 20 minute course, and I can tell you this: This section has blown my MIND.
OMG I AM SO CALIFORNIA HIPPIE RIGHT NOW but dude, if you're reading this, so are you, so light up that nag champa and sit next to me on my locally-sourced hemp chair. (Just kidding. I freaking hate the smell of nag champa. Too many drunk nights as a college student with those sticks burning. Burn some sage instead.)
Today I learned this: Permission. I think this may be a thing you have to learn on your own and I'm sure I've read it a million times as people chronicle their own discovery, but to me, that's what this mindfulness is all about. Giving yourself permission. You allow thoughts, feelings, and sensations* to arise and fall.
Today, in the middle of the practice, I got a TERRIBLE itch in my eye. I mean, it was the rub-it-till-it-bleeds kind of itch. I thought, Oh, no! How am I going to resist this? How am I going to ignore it? How will I stay in the meditation, following my breath?
I thought about what I'd learned in the last month or so and just gave my eye permission to itch. I kind of rested there. Go ahead. Itch. I don't mind. And I just went on breathing.
My eye still itched. It's not like it went away. But I didn't care. It was just a thing. Eventually my eye watered and the itch died, and then later, I noticed it was gone.
THIS IS HUGE, PEOPLE. I IGNORED SOMETHING. I didn't twitch, scratch, fret, or tic. When I sit and write, I can get 2500 words/hour and still fix my hair into three different buns in sixty seconds. I move.
Meditation is being still. Being present. Giving yourself permission. Holy crap.
If you're like me, a person who can't rest, you might want to give Get Some Headspace a try.
And for the knitters who are still patiently reading, a bonus photo:
My gorgeous friends, Juliet Blackwell and Sophie Littlefield in their new shawls. I rarely knit for family, and even more rarely for friends, but after my surgery last month -- even then -- I couldn't sit still. So I knitted a lot. (Super easy pattern, Shaelyn. I'm knitting my third now. It's addictive.) I love the look of delight on their faces in this shot.
* My least favorite sensation I get during meditation is something that I've had happen in yoga classes, too. With my eyes closed, I feel as if my head is turned, looking over my left shoulder. IT IS NOT. It's dizzy-making and I hate it. Today it happened, too, and I said, All right. Then it went away. DUDE.
Cora's Heart, available for the last few months in Australia and New Zealand, is now available in the US, Canada, and the UK in e-book form.
See, I love this book. I really do. Wiith this book, I could actually feel my writing craft developing. I felt the characters grow under my fingertips, and I cared about them SO MUCH. I love Cora. She's neurotic and worried and likes to make contigency plans for everything. When the Big One hits, she'll be the one who will have her go-bag in the car, and she'll be carrying Advil and bandages for everyone.
You can read an excerpt HERE if you'd like to, and I really, really hope you enjoy this visit to Cypress Hollow.
Paperback to come SOON! (Make sure you're on my mailing list so you don't miss the news!)
The gist of the above video, if you don't have time to watch me and Digit perform: leave a review for any of my books on a book review site (not in the comments), and be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice. (Doesn't have to be a good review, just an honest one. Want to leave more reviews? Each review counts as one entry. If you're looking to read one of my books for the first time, might I recommend my newest one? Cora's Heart? Drop me an email at yarnagogo at gmail to tell me you reviewed something, and I'll enter you in the drawing. I'll draw on Halloween. SPOOKY, right?)
And thank you, SO much.
Also: WHY DO I NEVER REMEMBER TO BRUSH MY HAIR BEFORE I MAKE THESE MOVIES! Gah. At least my lipstick was on relatively straight.
The Revolution of Every Day goes to Amber D! I've emailed you privately, and thanks for entering, all! (And for those of you who want the personalized touch on your copy of Cari's book, I happen to know she'll mail you a bookplate -- email her at cari at cariluna dot com.)
And now: I'm rushing back to get a project done by a completely arbitrary and therefore exciting deadline. I leave you with a look at how Clementine relaxes, with her ears straight out.
Well, I suppose that's the safest way to sleep. Otherwise, you end up with sad, deflated ears and Digit vulturing you:
And to increase your happiness level today, two songs from the new (perfect) Moby album, Innocents:
With Inyang Bassey -- that VOICE.
And this next one! With Cold Specks! Oh, this album is wonderful. Don't miss this:
Many (many!) years ago, there was blog called Dogs Steal Yarn. The writer, Cari Luna, was a knitter. She was smart and funny, and she liked me, too. We fell in, you know, as you do. I had a permanent room at their Brooklyn brownstone (until they had kids, WHATEVER) and even now, if I showed up on their doorstep on the other side of the nation, bedraggled from the Portland rain, Cari would hug me till she was as damp as I was, then she'd wrap me in handknits from the top of my head to the tip of my toes while she dried my clothes. She'd put tea in my hands, and she'd talk with that incredible voice of hers, and she would listen, and everything would be okay even if nothing was okay.
I learn from her. All the time. She's my best friend. (Who has a best friend at 41? Me! Lucky me!)
Cari is one of the most gorgeous writers I've ever had the luck to read. Me, I'm a good writer (I'm not putting myself down or pumping myself up -- this is just true. I'm solidly, pretty reliably good at writing). Cari is one of those Great Writers. In terms of greatness, I admire Andre Dubus (Sr.) and Alice Munro and her.
I read almost every draft of her debut novel, which just came out from the prestigious Tin House Press. Every time I read it, the book touched me more deeply. It's one of the two books in my life that, at times while reading, I HEARD out loud. I heard that incredible last chapter.
The book is about squatters in New York City in the 90s, when the city came to evict people who were both living their lives and making a difference. The book, however, is even bigger than this ambitious plot. Sitting here in the cafe, thinking about Amelia and Gerrit and Steve and Anne, I miss them.
I love this book. Obviously, I love Cari, but I would love this book if I didn't know her and then I'd be all fan-girl when I met her and I would freak out when I found out she was a knitter, and it would be ugly. (She's getting great reviews all over the publishing world, from BUST to Kirkus.)
Cari will send a personally inscribed copy to a randomly drawn commenter on this post. Personally, I think you should just buy it. You'll love it.
And please enjoy this excerpt, and the book trailer at the end.
Back at the house, Gerrit hefts his bike up onto his shoulder, thumbs his key in the lock, and slips inside. He’s greeted by that good honest smell of fresh lumber and plaster, and also the more worrisome smell of must and wood rot. Over the years they’ve rebuilt most of the joists, replaced crumbling plaster ceilings with drywall, fixed the roof. But there’s still so much they haven’t had time or money to do, like the rear facade. It’s not watertight; it needs repointing. Until they can get that done, water will keep finding its way in, softening the wood around the windows, compromising the building’s structure. Already the weather is too cold to work with mortar. If they can hold on until spring, they’ll do it then.
Suzie is on the folding chair by the front door, dog-eared paperback in hand. “Nothing?” she says.
“Quiet. Here, too?”
Footsteps on the stairs, Ben headed down to relieve Suzie. He has a deck of cards in hand, and a thermos tucked under his arm. “Hey, man. Want to play?”
“No, I’m headed up to bed.”
Marlowe emerges from his first-floor apartment, coat on, ready for his shift. He’s wearing the green scarf Amelia made for him a while back. Amelia said he cried when she gave it to him.
Her knitting is like magic. She’ll take a huge old sweater bought for a dollar at the Salvation Army, unravel it, wash the wool, and knit two smaller sweaters, a hat, and maybe some mittens from it. Gerrit’s got a drawer full of warm socks she’s knitted for him from recycled yarn, a scarf, two watch caps, three sweaters. She has no idea that when you slip on that hat or scarf or sweater she’s made for you, you feel the work of her hands in it. You feel her love for you. That was why Marlowe cried. Gerrit gets it. He feels the same way every time he pulls one of those hand-knit sweaters over his head. The girl thinks she’s invisible. She has no idea, the impact she has on people. Seven years he’s been trying to get her to see it. Maybe she never will.
OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK. Leave a comment for a chance to win.
Remember last November when I said I was suffering from depression? That was a brutally honest post, and I can't even tell you how big (and wonderful) a reaction I got from people. I just realized that some of you might wonder how I'm doing now.
I'm doing great.
Yep, I'm still on the medication at a low dose. I have absolutely zero side effects. And I still feel completely normal, like I finally did when I wrote that post. I have regular day-to-day highs and lows (I got a royalty check! The cat puked on the couch!) and I'm myself. I'm still singing along to songs in the car and in the kitchen. I laugh a lot. My productivity is high.
Taking care of myself last year was really the best thing I could have done for myself.
Other Health Areas
(Sleeping is the most exciting part. Skip to the end if you want to get to that.)
Food: I'm still eating almost as well as I have been for more than a year now: only meat, eggs, vegetables and fruit (a modified anti-inflammatory diet). I try to eat no grains, beans, dairy, or processed foods, although I've fallen off the sugar wagon since my gallbladder surgery. Augh. Such a hard wagon to get back up on. Speaking of wagons, my wine consumption is way down (I realized this was all sugar, and it was messing with my moods, big time). I've also given up caffeine again, but I don't expect this one to stick because I hella heart a great big coffee with cream. Oh, now I'm yearning.
Migraines: (I knock wood when I write this) GONE. Gone! I haven't had a migraine I couldn't trace directly to gluten since the beginning of the year. Anytime I accidentally eat gluten? (Like when I was at a friend's house and ate her couscous because I thought it was rice-based?) I get smacked with a migraine within hours. If I stay away from it, I never even get the threat of a migraine.
Confession: This makes me feel like a great big hipster tool. *Nose in the air in the bakery* Do you have anything gluten-free? But avoiding gluten has changed my life and has removed an enormous amount of uncontrollable pain. So I do still go all hipster about it, and try not to mind the eye rolls sent my direction.
Meditation: OH MY GOD, I'm SO going to be a hipster tool right now. Maybe I should just accept that's what I am. Deep breath. Okay, that's done. Adjusts fedora.
So, I found this meditation app. I warned you. It's AMAZING. It's called Headspace, and they have a free Take-10 ten day trial, and then you subscribe if you like it (which I did, immediately). The subscription gives you 365 daily meditations. They're led by a British guy called Andy Puddicombe, ex-monk and circus performer (his TED talk here), whose voice and attitude everyone universally loves.
I'm learning the basics, all over again. That meditation takes actual practice, and that you can't sit down and just be good at it (which is good because I was always so BAD at it). That you can't get upset about what your brain is doing, because that just ups your anxiety level. Andy gives you things to do, and you do them, and in the process, you find yourself in the moment and not-doing. I expect at the end of the year he'll tell me to rob a bank and send him the cash, but until he does, I'm going to listen to this guy.
The best part so far? The free sleeping meditation I found on their site!
Sleep: See, I have trouble sleeping because of my crazy shift work. Because of my job, my going-to-bed time varies from 6pm to 2am. Every single day it varies, and I can't change that. That's a lot of stress on the body. I try not to take sleeping aids other than valerian/melatonin, etc, but every once in a while I'll get a bottle of Ambien from my doctor and I GO TO TOWN. The two addictions that I will always struggle with are cigarettes (I haven't had even a puff in eleven years but I still want one) and Ambien. If that stuff's in the house, I can't not take it. I so desperately crave sleep, and that blessed pill knocks me out so deeply that the next night I MUST HAVE IT AGAIN SO GOOD YES PLEASE.
So yeah. I asked for Ambien for the three nights I was at the hospital, and they gave it to me (helped wonders for sleeping in pain). Then I got my Rx filled and took it every night during my recovery. That's fine. It helped. The problem comes when I stop taking it. Usually I can't sleep for a week, and it's awful and painful and I always swear I won't get any more refills and then I dooooo, but that's another story. (I know it's scary stuff, I've read all the you-will-die reports -- they don't help. I want it.)
The first night I was off Ambien this week, I didn't sleep. At all.
The second night, I found the above linked meditation to listen to (and I've listened to LOTS of them, they never work). I'm going to spoil it a little for you, so stop reading if you want to be surprised (?), but first Andy walks you through turning off your muscles. I've tried this on my own approximately eleventy million times, and have never succeeding. In fact (this is true), last month when I couldn't sleep, I managed to pull a butt muscle trying to turn off my muscles. It hurt for a week. But when Andy explained it to me? I could do it.
Then? He said to count backwards from one thousand. My brain stalled. One THOUSAND? I count backward from a hundred often, and it always PISSES ME OFF because I get to one and then I'm all like WHAT NOW BEEYOTCH? If I count sheep, they get all interesting and wooly, just like my thoughts. But counting backward from a thousand? I supposed I could give it a try.
I fell asleep somewhere around 300. And stayed asleep.
Last night, I only got to 829. (I remember because I kept drifting away. 830! Ooh, pleasant feeling... 830, 829... ooh, this feels nice! 829... 829, um, 829...)
And again, I stayed asleep. (When I say I stayed asleep, that means I only woke six or seven times before falling right back asleep. That great sleep for me.)
You should try it. Now my darling chickens, this has been all about me. What about YOU?
Attention, all writers that hang out here at Chez Yarnagogo!
I'm going to be doing a live webinar with the NaNoWriMo people (Chris Baty, Grant Faulkner, and Tavia Stewart-Streit) next Tuesday, and you can play along! You can ask questions! You can stand on your head (we'll be able to seeeee you!).
And don't worry if you're not a Wrimo -- we'll be talking not so much about NaNoWriMo (which is the insane fun of writing a novel in a month) as much as HOW TO GET YOUR WRITING DONE. In particular, what are the different ways of gearing up to writing, and then how to keep doing it. Are you a planner like me? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants? (Also called "discovery writing") Or do you just stare at the screen and go, "awhp?"
I wrote about the webinar over at their site, and I really hope you'll consider joining us (you'll get a recording if you can't be there with us on Tuesday). It'll be 90 minutes of goofy good stuff, with LOTS of useful information. And it would be fun to hang out. (Don't tell them, but I'm planning to knit during the session. It sure would be nice to have a few others doing the same in the audience.)
Dear Fairy Godmother,
The Night of Writing Dangerously is coming up. YOU DON'T HAVE TO SEND ME AND MY SISTER AGAIN. You really don't. We don't expect you to.
But if you want to, I'll wear fairy wings that night in your honor.
(who, two hours after posting this, now knows she'll be wearing wings to the Ball. Thank you, darling fairy godmother. love love love.)
Last night, we hosted THE EASIEST HOT NIGHT DINNER PARTY EVER. I wanted to share the recipes with you in case you wanted to host a party that would look like it came out of Sunset magazine, even if you're still recovering from surgery and maybe should have gone a little easier on yourself. (Do they even sell Sunset anyplace but California? Is this a West Coast reference only? If so, it's a cutural reference for grown-up, interesting nights out on patios that don't look real, nights no one really has. Except for last night.)
First of all, I'd been planning on making red thai curry but by ten A. M. it was almost ninety degrees out. Lala mentioned maybe I should make something like gazpacho. Or possibly just ice cubes. Lots of ice cubes. The party got more complex as I had to figure out how to keep everyone out of the house, which holds on to heat like pills on cheap cashmere. We have a nice porch, but there's no big table out there, so guests would be balancing food on their knees.
But that made me think. See, I took the plunge a few weeks ago and bought a Vitamix (right about the time I got the gallbladder problems -- IS THERE A CONNECTION?). Yep. I bought one. I really did. I wrapped all my change that I'd saved for years (this is true) and by the time a good friend got me an amazing deal, it was pretty much paid for. (Best part about a Vitamix? It cleans itself. And how.)
So yesterday, I thought, cold soup! In the Vitamix! A little bit of Googling took me to this cucumber-dill soup recipe which turned out to be freaking amazing. I served it in lowball glasses, which made lap-balancing a non-issue.
That soup? Completely made ahead and refrigerated. Perfect and chilled. Also, I didn't wear pants in the kitchen while I made it because I didn't have to. People - stay cool, at any cost! Heat is dangerous! Take off your pants! T-shirt and underwear is plenty hygienic for a kitchen! (It is, right? I mean, I'd just be wearing a skirt anyway, which is basically the same thing . . . oh, whatever. Let's just forget about this conversation. Hydrate, people.)
Main course? We fell back on our favorite chicken recipe. Basically, this really is the best grilled chicken on salad you will ever, ever have. People freak out about this chicken. You brine it early, so that's chilling in the fridge, too. Basically, when people come over, all you have to do is rub on the spice mix (premade, also while standing in front of the fan while not wearing pants), and give it to the Grill Person (Lala) to cook. While she's doing that, put spring mix and (pre)chopped green onions on guests' plates. Add the lemon juice and oil to the OTHER spice mix you (pre)made for the Moroccan Dipping Sauce (same recipe page). Chicken's done? Chop one breast per person, perch on salad, drizzle with dipping sauce, and there! A knee-balance dinner that is gobsmackingly delicious.
Dessert? No problem. Fire up the grill once more for a few minutes, scrape off that char, and make
Grilled Peaches and Vanilla Ice Cream with Balsamic Vinegar Glaze.
Confession: we own a chocolate balsamic vinegar (which is to die for) that I use for this. But you can use any good quality balsamic for the same intensely wonderful results.
Halve (good quality, firm but ripe) peaches, one half per person. Set face down in a plate of balsamic vinegar so that the cut sides absorb the deliciousness. Let rest for ten minutes. Turn over on plate, dust each cut side with a bit of brown sugar. You'll know how much. Grill on low, 2 minutes(ish) on each side. Hope for those lovely grill marks.
Serve with a little scoop of good vanilla ice cream. At the last minute, have the genius idea of drizzling a little of that brown-sugar vinegar glaze that was still lying sad and abandoned on the original plate over the ice cream -- just a little trickle. Then watch your guests go dreamy and fuzzy around the edges as they eat, melting into their chairs in happiness.
Let me repeat, I did not overheat having this dinner party. There was very little sweat on my part (a MIRACLE -- I hate hot days). And I spent 95% of my time on the porch in the warm (but not hot) air, with my friends, talking. Not scurrying around the kitchen.
And that, really, was the best part. The talking. That was the Sunset moment. White twinkle lights shone through the flowers along the porch rail, and up in the deep blue night sky we could see the flashing lights of passing planes. Chris and Wendy rocked on the swing, threatening to steal our dog, Clementine. Grant and Heather told stories of the viciousness of the PTA. Lala was charming and funny and a great griller. And I got to bask in the fact that this was my life. Those intense in-the-moment feelings of gratitude, those are the moments that mean everything. What a gift.
And then, there are peaches. Damn, how lucky I am.
I had to call 911 on myself. If you follow me on FB or twitter, you already know this, but I'm still not quite over it. I've had six surgeries in my life, and multiple weird emergency room-type problems. But the very last thing a dispatcher/firefighter/cop ever wants is to be transported to the hospital by his/her peers.
So when I say that last Thursday, I called down the hall to get my firefighters to come check on me, I was BEYOND HORRIFIED. I had terrible abdomen and chest pains, and I was pale, sweating, and shaking. The only thing I wanted to do was lie down and let it pass. But I was scared. Mostly, I don't get scared over physical problems, even when I should. But this one frightened me.
After the rookiest-of-the-rookies (he only has 2 weeks on) hooked up the 12-lead to my chest (over my best bra, THANK GOD -- it also happens to be my most comfortable, which is why I wear it on 48-hour shifts), the crew said they needed to take me to the hospital. I started crying, and it was only partially from fear and pain. Mostly, it was because I was getting put in the ambulance I send to people. I send it. I don't ride it.
The guys were good. They were reassuring. I'm proud to work with them, because I know they treat everyone as kindly as they treated me, even though they let the rookie put in my IV (he did fine.) They also gave me morphine, for which I will always love them.
Turns out I was having a gallbladder attack. Very prosaic. Happens all the time. The ER sent me home to watch and wait, surgery scheduled for two weeks out (it's the most common surgical procedure in the States).
I only made it two days before my gallbladder started getting infected, and holy helen, was I sick. I spent three days in the hospital, and while I know logically that hospitals are terrible places to be, it was another thing altogether to learn it firsthand. The nurses are trying their best, but they are overwhelmed. It was frustrating and nerve-wracking, and it made me grateful for every kindness they showed me. They didn't have to be nice. But they were.
The surgery was done on Sunday, and I was home by Monday night. I'm lucky in that I already had vacation scheduled (to go to Yosemite to the Strawberry Festival, which was then cancelled due to the Rim Fire, which is good, because if I can't go, NO ONE CAN GO), so I don't feel guilt about putting out my coworkers.
(Also: can we just talk about belly buttons for a minute? This is the THIRD surgery I've had which required the belly button to be what was basically a door flap in my tummy. I hate that everyone is like, "Oooh! Take a peek in here! Easy access!" I need a better lock on that thing. Maybe an alarm. Belly button alarm!)
Now I'm overjoyed to be at the place I love to be. Home. This is where I belong, fighting to keep cats off my abdomen and listening to dogs bark at people who dare to breathe outside.
But I took a break from all that to open this text box to write to you, my darling reader. I wanted to tell you funny things about being in the hospital, silly things about how much I loved swapping lipstick advice with the nurses. But really, I just wanted to say hi. This enforced slow-down? The fact that I can't just get up and run hard all day as I usually do kind of freaks me out. It's good for me, though. It reminds me to say hello to YOU.
I always say that I want a stay-cation even though it's almost beyond my powers to actually lie low. Now I have one. I'm doing my best to enjoy it. I just made the biggest spinach smoothie EVER and drank it all. I'm listening to Vespers (Tell Your Mama). Next, I'm going to watch a movie or two. Maybe back to back. And knit. I also, of course, have three or four books cued up on my e-reader, and I'm going to read till the words wobble.
Tomorrow, more of the same (though I might write. I can't promise I won't).
For your enjoyment, here's a taste of Vespers, a 4-person family band. Who doesn't love a family band?
Y'all, I think this is my most gorgeous cover ever.
I mean, really, could you just DIE? This is the book that should come with a box of Kleenex (I'm working on making that happen) and I could almost cry just looking at it. I love this book.
And in other big news, CORA'S HEART, the fourth book in the Cypress Hollow series, will be available to US/UK/Canada readers next month (exact date to follow, but it will be in September for sure -- make sure you get my newsletter!). I like its
Eeeeeeee. This is a really exciting time, folks. I have the best two jobs in the world. I'm actually not sure which makes my heart beat faster, writing The End, or saying, "911, what's the address of your emergency?"
Okay, I do know. Writing The End is a big more exciting. I've been doing the 911 thing long enough my heart only races if a child is involved in the call (isn't that odd? True, though. Most cops/firefighters/dispatchers all react the same way -- help is just help, everyone moves as fast as they can until it's a kid, and then it's GO GO GO GO FASTER THAN YOU POSSIBLY EVER COULD!)
Also: I'm working on the synopsis for the next Kleenex book, and I swear, just writing my ideas in Excel made me cry in the cafe. It's GONNA BE GOOD.
Yay. Just yay.
1. A Dream I Had (NO! Come back! Please?)
In the dream, I am walking past a payphone. It rings. I answer. My (deceased) little mama is on the other end.
"What's it like where you are?" I ask, when I get over my shock.
"It's nice," she says. "It's not anything like you'd imagine, though. I like it."
"Can you see me all the time?" Thinking, oh, crap.
"Well, I guess I could if I needed to, but I don't."
Whew. I hand the phone to a passerby. "Hey, can you hear anyone on this line?"
Guy listens. "Yeah," he says, handing it back. "It's your mom."
"Mom!" I say. "You're really there! Why don't you ever call me?"
She answers in exasperation, "Landline, Rachael. We can only call on landlines, and you got rid of yours."
It was really a sweet dream. And I was happy to know she likes where she is. (And yes, we got rid of our landline. As a 911 dispatcher who preaches that you should always have one, and always call from it for faster and more accurate service, I was pretty unhappy when California shut off the thing that allowed all landlines to call 911, with or without service. Now it's $25/month just to have service to call 911 and nothing else. I'm not paying $300 a year for a service I can call on my cell phone (with, granted, a delay).)
2. What Lala sends me while I'm at work in the middle of the night. I believe this is cruel and unusual.
Apparently Digit got on the couch and stared at Clementine (who was terrified of him, as usual) for ten minutes before curling up, TOUCHING her. Gah. I can't stand it. The ear! Digit is an old softie now. I barely recognize him. I have not even one healing scar right now. Who is this cat?
3. Easy Thai Red Curry.
I'm obsessed with red curry right now. Obsessed. This is a recipe I modified from somewhere (?), and it is SO EASY and SO FAST and SO GOOD. And if you make it with chickpeas instead of chicken, it's vegan! (I made it for a dinner party which needed to be gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian. No small task. Oh! Link came from Mary-Heather, that's right.)
Chop a chicken breast or two, toss in a large heavy skillet over medium heat in olive oil and some salt until it goes white and not scary-looking (but don't overcook it. Whatever that means). Set meat aside. In same pan, heat 1tbs coconut oil. Add 2 chopped leeks, a chopped red pepper, some salt and pepper. Cover and cook on medium heat until veggies have softened, maybe 5 minutes. Add 2 tsp(ish) of minced garlic (or more!) and a tsp of grated ginger (or more!).* Add 1-2 tbs of red curry paste (not powder. For this you want the paste. I like Mae Ploy). Stir to coat, cook another 5 minutes. Add half a cup chopped sugar snap peas (swoon), a 14oz can of full-fat coconut milk, and the cooked chicken. Raise heat to boil, then lower to simmer. At the end, throw in a good handful of chopped cilantro.
Serve on cauliflower rice (or normal rice, but dude, cauliflower rice doesn't get soggy and it's so good and easy. You can chop it in your food processor while the curry is cooking, and BAM. 30 minute meal).
Gigi is one of my sweetest and smartest writer friends, and I adore her. She's a member of PensFatales, and I'm more than honored to host her (and a giveaway!) today at Yarnagogo.
10 Good Things That Wouldn’t Have Happened Without A Cancer Diagnosis -- Including Having My New Book Out Today!
By Gigi Pandian
I received the news the month after my 36th birthday. Aggressive breast cancer. In the midst of a flurry of surgeries and treatments, something unexpected happened. It’s been two years and two months since my diagnosis -- and my life is even more amazing than I ever imagined before being diagnosed with cancer. And today, it’s even better still: my mystery novel, Artifact, comes out from Henery Press.
It’s crazy, but cancer has a way of making you see the things that are important in life with crystal clear precision. I’m incredibly fortunate that my cancer was caught early and my treatments were successful. But I’m also living with a very high risk of recurrence – which serves as a daily reminder to live life to the fullest.
This wasn’t how my life was supposed to go. I was hard at work writing mystery novels, was thrilled to have found a wonderful tribe of writers, and had recently gotten married and bought a house. Within one day, my worries no longer included fitting in a café writing date into my work schedule or whether I should accept a freelance design gig. Instead, my life was overwhelmed with learning about surgeons, tumors, and chemotherapy drugs, and when I left the house it wasn’t to go on a photo shoot but to go to the hospital.
As soon as the shock wore off, I knew I wasn’t doing to lie on the couch feeling sorry for myself (although watching Murder She Wrote and Matlock can be pretty damn great when recovering from a chemo session). My immune system was so shot that I couldn’t have visitors, so I was set up to work from home. When I wasn’t working, I needed a project to focus on or I knew I’d go crazy.
My agent had been pitching my first novel to publishers, but publishing moves SLOWLY. Since the book had already received accolades, I knew it was ready to be out in the world. I’d never previously considered self-publishing, but cancer showed me what I wanted out of my writing: to have fun crafting stories (done), find a circle of fantastic writer friends (done), and to share my stories with the world -- that unfulfilled last item was what I decided to pursue during my full year of cancer treatments.
As soon as I made that decision, everything fell into place. By the end of my year of treatments, I had a stronger bond with my friends and loved ones, was holding my published mystery novel in my hands, and was feeling healthier than ever. And one year later, I’m going strong and have a 3-book deal from a wonderful publisher.
I would never wish cancer on anyone, but if you’re dealt a lousy hand you might as well turn it on its head and make the best of it.
Here are 10 things that wouldn’t have happened without my diagnosis:
1. Getting my priorities straight. Friends, family, and fulfillment. I used to worry about things that now seem stupid and irrelevant. Let me tell you: it’s not worth it.
Here’s a picture of my amazing writers group, the Pens Fatales – that’s me and Rachael in the front row. We hardly ever manage to get the whole group together. The event that made everyone make the effort to get together at the same time was my cancer diagnosis. Right before this photo was taken, they took me wig shopping to make buying a chemo wig a fun rather than depressing shopping excursion!
2. Going on those trips I was putting off. London, Lisbon, Paris, and Prague. I’ve always been a traveler, but as life got busier I traveled less and less. No more. If I want to go somewhere, I’m planning and making it work. It’s not always easy, but it’s so worth it.
3. Savoring the small things. A walk through the foggy hills. A great cup of coffee. Laughing at a bad TV show with the husband. I no longer take these things for granted. (OK, maybe I occasionally forget and take things for granted, but then I slap myself and remember to savor them!)
5. Taking care of my body. Aside from a few side effects that remind me I survived breast cancer, I’m feeling healthier than ever, because I’m taking care of myself. I adore green smoothies! They’re seriously much more delicious than you’d imagine if you’ve never tried one.
6. Creating a publishing plan. I’d been a bit aimless with my writing before cancer. I’d joined writers groups and found an agent, but I hadn’t learned more about publishing itself. But if I’m going to take on a project, I’m going to do it right. Chemo was an excuse to do things slowly, but not do things poorly. Because I formed my own imprint and followed all the steps of traditional publishing, I was treated professionally and received reviews including several that compare my writing to that of my favorite author, Elizabeth Peters, and are incredibly meaningful to me. (You can read more self-publishing details here, if you’re interested in what goes into it.)
7. Holding my mystery novel in my hands. Such a thrill! I expect this would have happened someday, but because of taking action, I got to hold my book in my hands the month I was done with cancer treatments.
8. Being surrounded by dozens of friends at my book launch party. Independent bookstore A Great Good Place for Books hosted my book launch party. I served whisky from the region of the Highlands of Scotland where the Artifact takes place, and throughout the evening fifty people stopped by the cozy Oakland bookstore. I’m glad I took pictures, because the evening was such a blur -- mostly because of seeing so many friends, not the whisky!
9. Receiving book blurb from one of my all-time favorite authors. The reason this is something that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for my diagnosis is because I would never have had the courage to ask for this if I hadn’t decided to live with no fear.
I emailed mystery novelist Aaron Elkins, who I had never met but whose books I’ve loved since I was a teenager, to ask for a book blurb. I knew he rarely read books by new authors, but I figured I had nothing to lose. I was surprised that he both agreed to check out the book and gave me an amazing blurb! Before the book was out, I already felt like I’d made it. It had a cascading effect. Because I’d introduced myself, we got to know each other and I had the opportunity to step in to conduct his Lifetime Achievement Award interview at the Malice Domestic mystery convention.
10. Signing a 3-book deal for my Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery series. Because of everything I’d done to with my book, I attracted the attention of a publisher who was excited about the whole series. I’m ecstatic to have signed with such a great publisher and have more time to write.
My takeaway is to remember to live like you’re dying. Don’t put things off. Turn “someday” into today. What have you always wanted to do? Do it. Yes, it’s tough. But it’s worth it.
Leave a comment below about something you’ve always wanted to do and we’ll enter you to win a copy of Artifact.
Artifact: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery
Historian Jaya Jones discovers the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj. But she’s not the only one on the trail.
From San Francisco to London to the Highlands of Scotland, Jaya must evade a shadowy stalker as she follows hints from the hastily scrawled note of her dead lover to a remote archaeological dig. Helping her decipher the cryptic clues are her magician best friend, a devastatingly handsome art historian with something to hide, and a charming archaeologist running for his life.
More information: http://gigipandian.com/books-stories/
Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood, she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program in favor of art school. But adventurous academic characters wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series. Find Gigi online at www.gigipandian.com (or Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest …)
Sign up for Gigi’s email newsletter to receive a free, exclusive Halloween-themed short story in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series this October: http://gigipandian.com/newsletter/.
Really? I left that crazy-faced picture at the top of my blog for that long? Ouch.
Here's a better crazy face (mine, not theirs):
Twinz! Charlie! You know you're lucky if you're out with the cutest family in Atlanta. I loved being able to see Carrie and Cathy, especially as I won't be allowed to see Cathy until she's pregnant again with #3 because the only time I've ever spent with her in person was when she was pregnant with #1 and #2.
Pack Up the Moon is available for preorder! I just discovered it! I can't wait to reveal the cover to you, because it is truly the prettiest cover I think I've ever seen, but in case you're excited LIKE I AM about the book of my heart, you can preorder here:
Hey, have I mentioned it in a while? I have a newsletter which doesn't go out often, but that I'd love to send to you. I also love being on Twitter and would love to chat with you there. I <3 Twitter. Facebook -- I can only say that I am there. Sometimes.
. . . was wonderful. This was my sixth (!!) Romance Writers of America National Conference, and I learned soooo much. Publishing is changing fast, and we writers haven't been quite sure of the ground under our feet for a couple of years. The last two conventions were unnerving for many of us. This year, the mood was way more positive and upbeat.
And I was upbeat as I went to my new publisher's party (Penguin-NAL). Seriously, I can think of little I like more than walking into a professional cocktail party at which I know almost no one . . . Wait. No. I was terrified, just as I always am.
This year, though, was different in that I honestly didn't think about the terror. I literally just got dressed up and then went.
(Every dress is Modcloth. I might have a wee dress problem there. I love how this one made me feel like the Empire State Building. Every time I work overtime I treat myself to a dress. OVERTIME ON THURSDAY, YO.)
So I walked in and headed straight for the only person I did know (Carolyn Jewel) who knows everyone and introduced me to them. Then I confessed to everyone I met, "I know almost no one here." They all either confessed the same and/or introduced me to other people. Writers are a weird group--most of us want to be known, thus the extroversion which is pushing your book in which you bare your heart and soul (see above) on strangers, and we also just want to be in front of our computers/notebooks, alone, talking to no one but the imaginary friends we make up. Possibly ever again.
Oooh! And I met Deborah Cooke, whom I've known on Rav writer forums forever, but neither of us "recognized" each other (I would have, had she been wearing her Ravatar name, which we should all probably do every day). It was fine, though -- we made friends in this other atmosphere because I was nervous and she was Canadian. Those amazing Canadians are good with all the jittery folks. (Check out her knitting novel, which I just bought myself. Ooh!)
The rest of RWA I spent either writing or learning. I swear. There were hardly any pillow fights at ALL.
There are only two things you must do if you really, truly want to be a writer.
We can talk it to death (and let's do! Writers love to talk about writing and process and where and when and pens and paper and all of it), but it comes down to this: You have to write. You don't have to do it for long. I've been relearning lately that I can get 500 words written on a 15 minute break -- and if you do that four times in a day? 2000 words! Your mileage may vary, but you'll be surprised what you can do in a short amount of time. And remember, you don't have to do it well. First drafts are automatically garbage. But you do have to write.
I like to get my writing done first thing, ideally. At my day job, I write on my breaks, when I can. But on my days off from work, the first thing I do is eat two eggs for some needed word-writin' stamina, and then I get in the car and drive to the cafe for my caffeine. (I love my cafe so much. It's my office, really. I say hi to my "coworkers" (the baristas and the other patrons) and then I put in my earphones and ignore everyone, but when I come out of the writing haze, there are people to smile at, to chat with. When I leave, everyone says, "'Bye, Rachael!" It's really the nicest feeling in the world, and it's something I worked at making happen. For years I went in there and felt unseen, which was fine for a while. Then I started methodically learning every employee's name, and that expanded to the regular coffee gang. Now I'm part of that crew, and that was NOT the point I started out to make, but that's the magic of writing -- you never exactly know where you'll end up.)
Back to what I was saying: I try to write before I do anything else, because besides my family, my writing is the most important thing to me. And if I get something done, first thing, then at least no matter what happens later, the day's not a waste.
You, however, might need to write at night, or in the afternoon, or on your lunch break, hidden away in an unused cubicle. Whenever and wherever works to write is the right place, as long as you're getting it done. If you say, "I'm a night writer. I could never get up a half-hour early to write--I'm just not awake enough at that time of day," that's great if you know that.
Protip: But if you're not writing at night even though you tell yourself you will, then night ISN'T actually your ideal time, and you should stop telling yourself that. Try a different time. Sneak up on yourself. Turn off the internet before you talk yourself into checking Twitter one more time (it's not easy). For me, it helps to land at the page when I'm still a little sleepy. I feel fewer mental barriers then. Also, I usually need to get out of the house and block the internet before I write. I eventually get bored sitting in front of the computer with nothing to do, so I write. It's not a great system, but it works for me.
Just write. For every half hour you let yourself read about writing or surf publishing industry blogs, make yourself write (badly!) for fifteen minutes.
You don't have to be published to call yourself a writer. You do have to write.
As John Scalzi so succinctly said,
So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.
2. Find your circle of writer friends.
Just like at my cafe, my circle of writer friends is something I worked at. It isn't some random group I happened to trip over in the new fiction section of Books, Inc. I had to think about it. That first time I went to a local RWA meeting was one of the smartest moves I've ever made. But do you know how hard that was to do? I'm sometimes terribly shy, most of all when something really matters. I was sick to my stomach walking up those stairs at Pyramid Brewery that first Saturday morning. But from that meeting, I met some of my core friends, my staunchest supporters, the people I can turn to for just about anything.
Last night, I emailed Sophie Littlefield my notes on her newest work-in-progress (which is AMAZING, by the way--I can't wait to be able to tell you it's available). Today I emailed my beloved Cari Luna about my most recent work-in-progress. I needed a little a lot of hand-holding. She sent back, as she always does, the words that made all my hair lie down flat again.
Over the years, I've cultivated friends who are in ALL stages of the publishing/writing process. I'm dedicating my March release, Pack Up the Moon, to my favorite high school English teacher and to my favorite college English professor, both of whom are still my friends. I've kept writing friends from my writing circle in undergrad, back in the 90s, when we used papyrus to write and smoke signals to Tweet.
I know who to email when I need someone to gently but firmly nag me to keep going (again, Sophie) and I know who to email when it's bad enough I need her to meet me at the local bar for a quick drink (Juliet Blackwell). I know when a writer friend needs a phone call and not an email (the acceptance! The first bad review!). I know when to drop (literally) everything and get in the car with a bottle of champagne to toast the news that a friend (Juliet) has hit the NYT bestseller list.
Julie, Gigi Pandian, and Sophie at Bouchercon
I couldn't write without my people. Okay, that's not quite totally true. I could write for a while. I'm just not sure I could keep writing.
Our voices are small. The audience is large. We need backup. Choose that backup wisely. If you end up with a crit group that makes you feel worse every time you meet, ditch them. (And if they make you feel like the best writer in the universe every single time you hook up? You might want to think about ditching them, too.) A true writing friend both believes in you heart-and-soul and isn't afraid to bring up the parts of your book that suck. Know why? Because they truly believe you can fix it.
And you can.
* The winner for Vanessa Kier's giveaway is Mary from TN! Thanks for commenting!