I want to tell you a story. It’s about ugly.
Once upon a long, long time ago, I had an idea. I was lying in bed in my attic bedroom in the old farmhouse we lived in when I was a kid. I was probably about eleven. My feet were down by the window, and my head was under the slanted eaves, the roof only an inch or two above my nose. I stared up in delight. I’d woken up early with this idea and my brain had started whirring (I still do this, quite often).
I was an artist.
It was suddenly clear to me. I’d never been one before, but that morning, at eleven years old, I knew I was an artist. I could feel the urge in my fingertips, the tingle in the palms of my hands. My whole body wanted to draw, and the image of what I’d draw first was perfectly encased in my mind’s eye.
It was a dachshund. (Come to think of it, it was a low, fluffy, wide dachshund who looked a lot like Harriet.)
In my mind, still lying in bed, I could see the outline of this dachshund so clearly. I was astonished. I’d never thought too much about being an artist outside coloring books and FashionPlates, but it was immensely exciting to know that I'd acquired overnight the talent required to be good.
I imagined it, over and over again, so that when I got up and found my colored pencils, I’d have it right. Yes, I could see it, there was the curve on the nose, there was the soft underbelly. There was the flag of a jaunty tail.
I couldn’t wait to draw it. Everyone would be impressed. I would draw dogs for my sisters upon request, and after a while, I would branch out. Cats, horses, crickets. Beach scenes! I could probably sell them to someone!
Unable to keep my excitement or my artistic bent under the sheets a minute longer, I got up, went to my desk, and pulled out the old ledger book I kept notes in (I’d found dozens of them in the attic when we’d moved in, huge red business ledgers. I longed to fill their cunning boxes with numbers, and sometimes I did unnecessary math, just to make the pages pretty).
I sharpened my pencil.
I drew the first line.
It was wrong.
The very first LINE was wrong.
I took a deep breath. I erased it and did it again.
I drew that dog, and friends, it looked like a portobello mushroom. The dog’s face looked like a droopy question mark.
It was awful.
It was worse than awful, it was UGLY.
I was a terrible artist. I could see the truth, and anyone who looked at it would see the same thing.
I gave up drawing for the next thirty or so years. Then I suddenly said, I’d like to draw something! I painted Clementine tangled in the jasmine vines, as she is wont to do. (Funny, that I drew a dog, after all that.)
And you know what? I wasn’t attached to the outcome that day. I just wanted to draw for the feeling of it, for the colors. When I forgot to worry if it would be good or bad, it kind of came out awesome. And I know this: some might call that painting ugly.
Many might, in fact. But I love it.
The painting bug hasn't stuck, and I haven't done much since. But I feel the echo of that moment in my writing, when I slap ugly words on the page and smile at them. I'll make them pretty, or I'll throw them out, no worries. Their ugly doesn't scare me. In fact, the ugly does the opposite. It makes me happy, proving I really am an artist. (This doesn't take away the fear. The fear never goes away. That's fine, too.)
My friend Kim wrote a whole book about embracing the ugly. No, not not-minding-ugly. That’s different. One day, while overwhelmed with doubts, she embraced ugly in a big way. And it changed her life.
Her book about this? It’s nutballs awesome. People, I underlined. I did exercises. I folded corners down. The book is chock full of her no-nonsense voice and her super inspiring
approach to creativity.
If you are creative, you need this book.
If you want to be creative? You needed this yesterday. I seriously love it. I would read a page or two and then launch myself off my couch to Do Something Awesome.
Her publisher is giving one away to one lucky commenter (tell me about something you made, pretty, ugly, or in between) and I’m giving another copy away to someone randomly drawn from my mailing list. (Blog comment winner will be drawn on Sunday the 12th.)
**ETA - I forgot! I'm mentioned in the book! Kim interviewed ME! I forgot when I was reading, too, and she started talking about a writer, and I sat up when I saw my name!
I've got a class! You should come to it!
More than 19 lectures and 80 minutes of video -- this is the class I looked for when I was trying to claw back my writing mojo. This is everything I know about how to write a book. Plus a clip of Ira Glass! Plus a clip of Nora Roberts! Plus me making LOTS of funny faces on accident!
This class is for you if:
You've always wanted to write.
You used to write but you've been stalled.
You're scared of writer's block.
You're not sure how to fit writing in to your already too-busy life.
(And for YOU, my darling readers, take 50% off for a limited time by clicking this link for the code.)
1. The first rain came, and with it, joy. There's nothing like that first downpour to make me feel that going-back-to-school fall feeling, that crisp exhileration, that feeling that THIS is what I've been waiting for. It almost makes up for the fact that it only rained for like twenty minutes, and the whole time it was as muggy as Hawaii with none of the beach time. Fall is coming, though. I can feel it. Soon I'll wear tights and sweaters and mittens and be WAY too hot but, hopefully, adorably clad.
2. I made Greek yogurt! I'm WAY TOO EXCITED ABOUT THIS. I'm all out of my first batch (except for starter reserve), and last night I literally dreamed about eating it. See, my mom always made it. Once a month or more, the oven was full of jars keeping warm and she was yelling at us not to run through the house or we'd ruin it (I researched -- this is true! Too much jostling can destroy the bonds being formed in the souring process!). Bless her. It was pretty gross. She liked things runnier than most people do. Scrambled eggs? Soft as pudding. Yogurt? Thin and kinda watery. I was pretty sure I'd never make it myself.
But then I read an amazing thing: Greek yogurt is just yogurt, strained. That's it. The water (a lot of it whey) has been drained out, and you're left with the delicious firm byproduct. People, I was IN. Since New Zealand, I've been fiending for fresh, amazing yogurt, and I wasn't finding it in the stores. Fage came close with their Greek honey yogurt, but not close enough.
So I made it. I'm going to tell you how because I had a hard time cobbling together recipes from online. You don't need a pressure cooker to do this, but if you have one, it's nice. Two ingredients! That's all!
Rachael's Super Easy Greek Yogurt
Bring half a gallon of milk (whole is nice! but not necessary) just to the boil. Turn off heat, let it rest, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until you can hold your finger to the side of the metal comfortably for 10 seconds. Add 4 tbs of plain yogurt with live cultures that you've bought at the store (later you'll use your own, but you have to start somewhere) and whisk away for a little while, till mixed. Cover and keep warm* for about 6-8 hours. (Start checking after about 5 hours. Stop when you feel like it. This isn't rocket science.) Line a big colander with a very clean tea towel or cheesecloth or paper filters, put that into a bigger bowl, and dump the yogurt in. Let drain for 2-12 hours in the fridge (dump the whey or reserve it for smoothies/soups, etc, if you feel like it).
* To keep warm, I used the yogurt setting on my pressure cooker. My mother would preheat the oven to warm, turn it off, and put the yogurt inside with the light on. Some people like to wrap the pot/container in towels to preserve the heat. You're keeping it at warm (not hot) bathtub temperature. You could survive in it, think about it that way. It shouldn't burn you to touch the metal inside the stove.
SEE? SO EASY. Could not be easier. Add a little homemade granola and a dribble of honey and you're IN HEAVEN.
3. I finished the revisions on Splinters of Light, due out in March, and I'm so proud of it. I've also worked about a millionty hours at the day job in the last four weeks since we got back from vacation (more than 90 hours/week on average) so when I'm off-shift and not writing I'm basically lying on the floor acting like the yogurt in the pot. Staying warm. Gurgling a little.
4. Honestly, I've maintained vacation brain, and I think it's due to the fact that I really am ignoring the internet when I'm not at work. Email can wait. Twitter can be put off. I'm reading a ton. It's really nice. What are YOU up to as fall approaches? (Or spring, for those of you standing on your heads?)
I've been working on writing more about the book tour, but I've been a bit stumped. See, I've been LOVING not being online so much.
While we were gone, I checked Twitter and email once or twice a day, when I could. I made sure there were no publishing fires (or fires of any other kind for that matter) and I responded only to the things that needed a response.
Know what? There weren't that many emails that REALLY needed a response. And I loved that feeling that I had more time for life. Because I did have more time. It was great.
Since I've been home, I've found myself dealing with a bit of resentment for all the time it took me to stay on top of everything online. Then I started wondering if I could put myself back on vacation-time albeit without outdoor tubs or crocodile sightings.
Here are the things I'm experimenting with:
1. No push notifications on phone. I don't need to know if anyone has emailed/Twittered/Facebooked me. I don't. If someone really needs me, they'll call me (and my ringer will be off as it always is, and I'll see the missed call two hours later, but that's another story). Related: no pop-up notifications on the computer.
2. No Twitter app open on my computer. I'm checking it once or twice a day on my phone, skimming through quickly, sending articles I might want to read to Pocket (a great app) for offline reading when I have the time/inclination. As a Twitter addict, this is the hardest part so far.
3. No Facebook open ever. (This is easy. I post things to Facebook from Hootsuite but I almost never go to the site itself because I abhor it as a platform.)
4. EMAIL CLOSED. What? This is the biggest, hardest thing so far (I take back that part about Twitter being the hardest. I was wrong). The other night I was lying in bed, thinking about all the time I lose online, and I thought with a tiny flash of rage about the fact that emails were always coming in, and I never got to ignore them like I did while on vacation. After all, my email inbox needed to be open at all times on my computer, and I'm on or near my computer for most hours of most days (either at the day job or at the writing job).
Then I had this stunning realization. I could close the email window. I swear to all that is holy, this had never occurred to me as an option. What do you do when you restart your computer? Start email, right? It's always there in the background. I couldn't even begin to guess how many times a day I glanced at it.
Now: I'm checking email when I wake up and clearing it to zero (with the judicious use of Sanebox, which I use to send emails to future dates and times -- they land in my inbox again and I deal with them then -- I use this a LOT. It might be fake zero inbox, but it works for me.) Then I'm checking again around 1pm, near the close of the business day in the New York publishing world, and once at night (and neither of those times do I try to clear the inbox, I'm just making sure there's nothing that needs immediate response).
5. Being okay with dropping things. I take it back! THIS is the hardest thing so far! I'm working on not feeling guilty for putting things off. While I was gone, I did miss one thing that was kind of important, and you know what? The person who needed the info emailed me again saying, "Hey, did you get my email?" It spurred me into action, and no one was harmed in the process. I cleaned up my email when I got home from almost a month away, and there was only one thing I really needed to apologize for not doing. So I did. And it was done.
Dude, I work 911. I have for fifteen years. I think I have this knee-jerk OH MY GOD IT'S AN EMERGENCY DO IT NOW reaction for, well, just about everything. Laundry not done? How will we go on? Dinner not planned? Lord help us all! Emails stacking up? CODE RED CODE RED!
I'm dumping that attitude. Right now.
In the free time I have, I hereby pledge to: write, knit, spin (oh, I'm spinning some Anna Gratton merino fiber that is so amazing I could just die), walk, play, and rest.
In delicious irony, I give to you a great video -- I loved the song already, and I adored the video when I saw it this morning (after following a link from Twitter. Hey. No one's perfect).
Passenger, Scare Away the Dark
All of the above I've only been doing for about 24 hours. I'm no success story, and I may break and go back to normal in another hour. But I don't think so. Stripping it down like this feels good so far. It feels right.
What about you? Any time saving get-off-the-internet-and-have-a-life tips? Keeping in mind that we all, actually, have to be on the internet sometimes?
Hi! *waves frantically* I haven't been around because I've been vacationing like a real, grownup vacationer. Apart from book release stuff (of which, admittedly, there was a lot), I did not work AT ALL. I wrote no words other than hastily penned emails putting out only the fires that really needed to be put out.
This is what I learned about grownup vacation:
1. Stay offline as much as you can. Nothing's really on fire (unless it is, in which case call 911, or 000 (Australia!), or 111 (New Zealand)). Banking emergencies aside (apparently you need a steady flow of money when you're on the road, whoops!), I didn't need to be online. I popped up to throw pictures around most days, but that was only when I could. Nothing happened that required my assistance. Dude, I work 911, and they don't need me when I'm not at work. I write books, and in that, I'm my own boss. It was a really good reminder that it's okay to step away. (Digital sabbatical once a week? Here I come.)
2. You'll spend more money than you think you will. Especially if you're in Sydney, yo. Twenty-five dollar scrambled eggs and toast? You'll pay it because if you eat one more Kind bar you might die of sunflower seed poisoning.
3. Number of Kind bars I needed to get through two countries in 24 days while staying gluten-free to avoid migraines: 15. Number of glasses of wine I could have a day to stay migraine-free: 0.VERY SAD, PEOPLE. Lala sampled amazing wines. I smelled them. They smelled delicious. Sigh.
4. Everything is worth it. Do it. Find it. BE THERE for it. There were a lot of times I just put away my phone so I could be present, and it's telling that our favorite thing we did (the caving in Waitomo, NZ) was completely sans-camera. No cameras allowed, or we for SURE would have whipped them out while rappeling 300 feet into the mist. And we would have dropped them. Instead, we were there. Falling slowly through the air. Completely engaged.
Some Things, and Later I'll Post Some More
Aug 4: We arrived in Port Douglas, Australia, after 30 hours of traveling, planning to have three days of down time in the small coastal town on the Great Barrier reef before the whirlwind started. It was a great way to get over our jet lag, and we stayed at the amazing Pink Flamingo hotel which had an outdoor bathtub under the stands of bamboo. Ridiculous-sounding birds (one sounded like multicolored bubbles) sang insane songs at us as we reclined in the tub, and it was, pretty much, heaven. From my journal, "The mozzy coil is burning, and the three-story bamboo clanks over our head like men throwing timber." You wouldn't think the sound of timber being thrown would be relaxing, but it was.
There was a hammock for reading in. There were bright colors and a pool and lotus flowers. There was heat and humidity and and mangroves and warm rain. The air smelled like sugar. We rode bikes around town! We ate prawns and oysters! I will not, for your sake, post the picture of the thirteen-foot female crocodile we saw IN THE WILD, because she just kinda looked like a log. But we saw her. And she could have eaten us.
Bathtub, no crocs
Lotus, right outside our room
Ow. I did break out in hives about two days after we got to Australia, but I think that was all the passionfruit I was eating. I did not get stung by a jelly, not even once.
We had some fancy dinners. You have to sometimes. You could see the ocean from our chairs (Harrison's).
Then we went to the Great Barrier reef! This is something I also won't show because I'm sure you can imagine it--the coral, the fish, the three hour boat ride on 5.5 meter seas, the seasickness that ensued... Lala, not me. Poor La. She was a dang trooper. I would not have been so graceful. She just wished for death and held on. (Omg, at one point, I really thought she was dying. I knew we had to get her to hospital after we got back to land, just from the way her eyes looked. It turned out the pink dye in her hair, which had run all over her face in the waves and rain, had dyed her contacts, so she looked positively rabid.)
But the snorkeling was GREAT and we were with the fishies (I love that distinctive scraping noise they make as they nibble the algae off the coral). I have to admit, I even loved being on the boat on the stormy seas. Instead of making me sick, it made me kind of giddy with happiness--a wild, joyful ecstasy that made me think my forebears really did live on ships. This kind of joy is something one must really hide from one's hurling spouse, so I tried to tamp it down as much as possible.
More soon, from Sydney!
|The newest Cypress Hollow novel, Fiona's Flame, is out!
Amazon* | Kobo | B&N | iBooks | GooglePlay
In Australia and New Zealand it looks like this:
As the owner of the Cypress Hollow gas station and garage, Fiona Lynde is not one for pretty dresses or fussy make-up. In fact, most days she forgets to brush her hair. But she does have one guilty little secret--she's been in love with Abe Atwell for over ten years.
The only problem? Abe-the town's handsome harbormaster-barely knows she exists.
But then Fiona petitions the council to demolish a deserted old lighthouse, just as Abe is equally determined to preserve the local landmark.
Why does Fiona want to tear down the building that was once her childhood home? And why is Abe, whose father drowned in the lighthouse's shadow, so desperate to save it?
Battle lines are drawn-just as the spark between them is finally ignited...
Oh! And the audio version will soon be available! Keep your eye on this space! (Cora's Heart* is now available in audio, and I just LOVE my narrator, Barbara Edelman, who's a Real Knitter herself, and gets all the pronunciation right!)
*Amazon affiliate link
Popping in to say:
- 4 hours of sleep a night isn't enough. I hate insomnia. But I'm working on it. (The problem I have with insomnia is that it isn't something I can tackle with sheer grit and determination, or I would have solved it years ago. The harder I try, the harder it gets. But I will get it.)
- I'm going to nap today. That's a promise. If you get a chance, you should, too.
- I love the book I'm finishing (Splinters of Light, out next year from Penguin, HOLY PREORDER BUTTON, that's early!).
- I also adore the book that's coming out on August 1st, Fiona's Flame, the newest Cypress Hollow novel, and HEY, while you're thinking about it, you should add it to your Goodreads list (and enter the giveaway!). (US version*.)
Okay, I'm going back to my imaginary beach to work on more words, and when I've scooped up enough of them and have made a couple of fantasy sandcastles, I'm going to stare off into space, because I'm actively trying to waste some time now and again (see last blog post).
Next week: Texas, for RWA National! The week after that, Australia and New Zealand! MEEEEEP.
* Oh! To answer a frequently asked question, yep, I'm self-publishing this in US/CAN, as I did with Cora's Heart. The books were contracted and professionally edited by my awesome editor at Random House Australia, and while my old American publisher (HarperCollins) offered to bring them out here in the US, they could only support doing so in digital form. So last year, I decided that if my books were only going to come out in e-format, I could do the same thing myself and make more money (while keeping the book price lower for you). And because I do it myself, I can actually offer the print form, which a lot of you, my dear readers, still like better. That's why there's no preorder link for the book, and also why you should be on my mailing list so you never miss any of the good stuff!
I’ve been beating myself up lately. I figured I’d just do it here publicly because you know what? I often admit things here, to you, and then I end up feeling better. I realize I’m normal. I’ve shown you depression, and despair, and grief, and debt. And after I do, I always feel better, because the black thing that claws at our souls is shame, and it can’t live in the light. Just speaking it aloud rips it apart into tiny jagged bloody pieces that shrivel up and then, mercifully, blow away.
So here I go.
I’ve been beating myself up for not getting enough work done.
Yes, I work all the time, both at the day job and the writing job. But I still--always--have more to do, and worse: more that I planned to do. That’s the hardest part for me. Right now I’m writing this blog because I thought of the piece I’m supposed to finish writing, and I was exhausted by the very idea of facing it again. The reason I’m exhausted by thinking about it is because I haven’t had enough sleep. And the reason for that is because of the work. A dear friend told me, “It’s okay just to put one foot in front of the other. You don’t have to do two jobs at the same time.” That felt right, and good, and it made that tight place between my shoulder blades drop an inch or two.
It’s like meditation. You’re here now. (No. Hi. *waggles fingers* I’m talking to you. YOU are here now (and your hair looks great, by the way). Your eyes are reading my words and because of that, because my fingers are moving, catching my thoughts, the thoughts you’re reading this very second, we have a connection. So I’m telling you, you don’t have to do anything right now but read. And breathe. Feel the air go into your lungs, and then let the air out. There. Wasn’t that nice? Let’s hang out like this more often.)
It’s okay to put one foot in front of the other. And more: it's okay to stop moving entirely. All living things need rest (and if this isn't true, if some scary cephalapod that lives on the ocean floor and changes skin to look like a different scary sea creature to protect itself doesn't actually need rest, please don't tell me, because I don't want to know). YOU need rest (this I know).
All those other things I’m beating myself up for not doing (building the garden, eating the right things, sleeping enough, having a tidy-enough house), they’re all just an offshoot of Not Getting Enough Done.
It's said you can’t ever have enough money (oh, but I’d like to give it a shot!). It's true of time, too. You never have enough time to do it all. Obviously, this is true in the tragic sense: young lives lost too early, old lives lost with yet more living to do; but it’s also true in the Today sense. I can’t (ever) do everything on my To Do list. JEEBUZ CHRISTO, I wish I could. On my ideal day I'd write five thousand words, have lunch with friends, walk the dogs, take a nap, tidy something, make a great meal, and do a craft of some sort. In the evening, I’d go on a date, see family and friends, host a dinner, and go to a movie, all the while getting to bed in time for eight hours of sleep.
Put that way? It’s ludicrous. Of course we don’t have enough time. So let’s pare it down again. We have now. Your butt is planted exactly where it’s seated right now, unless you’re reading this on a bus or train, in which case you’re probably standing and your butt is swaying in front of someone’s newspaper (don't think about that). But you’re there, where you are. Right now. I’m here, in my chair. My fingers are warm, my toes are cold, and the smell of my garlic sweet potato fries is in the air.
I’ve got time for THIS. For you. And apparently, you have a bit of time for me. That’s a very nice thing, indeed.
Two dogs Not Getting Much Done At All
Let’s stop beating ourselves up. We won’t--because we can’t--get it all done today. I hereby give you permission to get less done than you wanted or planned to. And I hope that gives you the space to have something (a nap! a hug! an ice cream cone!) unexpected happen. Tell me about it if it does?
Okay, so you know I love to share things I adore. I have two things (wait! Three! More?) to share today.
1. Frugal Cell Phone Service
I've been ALL about the frugality lately, so much so that I'm selling things I don't need and not buying more of the same. Seriously, I want to retire young and happy and healthy, and I want Lala to be able to do the same, so we're really cutting back on everything we can in order to make that happen. Yes, it's fun to buy things we want! But it's even more fun to DO what we want.
To that end: phone bill! We were paying Verizon $180/month for two phones with unlimited plans. That is a lot, and with our iPhones, there was no way to bring that plan down. That was their cheapest plan available for us (and I tried like heck to finagle things to lower it).
Enter Republic Wireless. They have wireless plans for $5, $10, and $25/month. When I heard about them, I didn't think it could possibly be true and work well, which is why I've used it for a month before reporting back.
But it's true. Because I chose the $10/month plan, I have an amazing phone, unlimited talk and text, and unlimited data whenever I'm on a WiFi system (which I am 95% of the time). To talk, it uses Sprint with Verizon as a backup when the Sprint coverage fails (which is good because in the Bay Area, Verizon is great everywhere, Sprint not so much). All of my calls have been crystal clear. Last week, when I was sick with the stomach flu, I watched Netflix and Hulu nonstop on my big Moto X screen, and it was phenomenal.
And on Friday, when Lala and I were Official Tweeters for the San Francisco Opera's dress rehearsal of Show Boat (right??), I knew I might not be on WiFi, so I changed to the $25 plan so I could have unlimited data, too. You can change twice a month on the plan, with days prorated as you go.
Dude. This is SO CHEAP. And SO AWESOME.
You do need a phone on their system (Moto G for $149 or Moto X for $299), which was a major stopper for me until I realized I could sell my iPhone for the same price as the Moto X, so it was basically like getting a free phone. Even with the $300 charge from Verizon to break my plan early, even with Lala not wanting to leave Verizon (or her iPhone) yet, we'll break even in three months and then save $110 a MONTH after that (I got her on a $60/month single phone plan).
It's not too good to be true. Check it out:
2. Bath Bombs
I do the research for you, aren't you happy? There's really nothing I love more than being up in the middle of the night, doing internet research on wacky things (luggage reviews on Amazon! My idea of heaven). And you reap the benefits of my research here, darlings.
Lala and I love Lush bath products. They're gorgeous, they work great, and they smell wonderful. That said, one bath bomb runs $5 or $6 each. Even quartering them with a knife, that's a pricey bathing experience.
So for Lala's birthday (WHICH IS TODAY!), I decided to try to make some really good ones. And I DID IT. These are fizzing, skin-softening bombs that even Lushophiles will love.
I combined a couple of recipes, but my main inspiration was taken from Brenda Sharpe's great method, found archived here.
Sift together in large bowl:
1 c. baking soda
1/2 c. citric acid
1/2 c. cornstarch
With whisk, add in:
1/3 c. epsom salts
In small shakeable container, combine:
2.5 tbsp light oil (almond/canola/sunflower)
3/4 tbsp water
1/4 tsp Vitamin E oil
1/4 tsp borax (an emulsifier)
Several drops food color
Several drops your favorite essential oil for fragrance
Shake it like it's your moneymaker!
Dribble the wet slowly into the dry, using a wooden spoon to mix. If it fizzes, you're going too quickly. When you're done mixing, it should resemble almost-dry sand. Pack into your mold of choice (I used this meatballer). Dry for a couple of days if possible before packaging, but they're definitely good for use that very night. (Pro tip: Pack tightly in meatballer, squeeze together, then use finger to push through top hole while opening the meatballer, then turn over and do the same on other side.)
Indulge with a long soak and good book.
3. Speaking of Good Books!
Feralknitter Janine gave me a wonderful book called The Big Tiny. About a woman who changes her life from top to bottom as she builds herself a tiny house, it's exactly the kind of confessional memoir I love. If you like sitting on the porch swing and reading about minimalism more than actually cleaning out closets, this book is for you.
Dee Williams’s life changed in an instant, with a near-death experience in the aisle of her local grocery store. Diagnosed with a heart condition at age forty-one, she was all too suddenly reminded that life is short, time is precious, and she wanted to be spending hers with the people and things she truly loved. That included the beautiful sprawling house in the Pacific Northwest she had painstakingly restored—but, increasingly, it did not include the mortgage payments, constant repairs, and general time-suck of home ownership. A new sense of clarity began to take hold: Just what was all this stuff for? Multiple extra rooms, a kitchen stocked with rarely used appliances, were things that couldn’t compare with the financial freedom and the ultimate luxury—time—that would come with downsizing.
I keep adding things! Woohoo! Hey, I have a new thing. Once a month, I give away a book to someone on my mailing list. The only way you'll know you've won is if you are told within the email itself, so make sure you're entered. This time I'm TOTALLY giving away a copy of The Big Tiny to some lucky someone.
*Disclaimer: Some above links are affiliate links, because dude, I'm saving money!
We have two more entries in the giveaway: Make an Alice's Embrace lap blanket/shawl for an Alzheimer's patient (full instructions here) and enter for a chance to win one of these THREE shawls! The first two were made and donated by Christian, and they're blocked and so gorgeous:
I made this next one, and it's not blocked, but it's very warm and squooshy.
Make a simple (quick!) blanket or shawl using Diane's instructions, mail it to her, let me know, and you're entered. Good odds. GREAT cause.
This is ridiculous. I'm not getting over this bike bug I have. I made a pledge to do all my errands by bike for the month of May (once a week, I allow myself to take the car to get things like dog food and pick up big packages at the mailbox). And I have done it. A couple of times I thought I wouldn't (going from our house in East Oakland to the Grand Lake area takes about an hour each way), but then I made myself and loved it. Once I took bike-to-BART to attend the Oakland Museum food truck half-price-entry night, which was great, and I can see myself doing that a lot more. How fun to think about going to San Francisco on a bike! I will do that soon. Things I carried on one trip this week have included: A zucchini plant, a burrito (naturally), a food processor blade, and my computer. I love its versatility, and let's face it, my SmartCar isn't THAT much bigger.
Right now, though, I'm a still a little scared of night riding. I have ALL THE LIGHTS:
but our neighborhood is not ideal for night rides. Friends of a friend (male and female riding together) got mugged at gunpoint the other night not too far away, and that freaks me out. I like to be brave and daring! I like to pretend I'm not frightened of anything and then, eventually, I'm not. Some folks would be nervous to ride in our area during the day, but I've gotten over that, and now, while I ride quickly past the sketchier stuff (drug deals in progress and hookers at work in cars while pimps stand guard), I've gained a whole new appreciation for the beautiful things in our neighborhood (small produce stands, fresh tortillas, kids playing basketball in the street, saying hello to people).
But night makes the scary folks that much more scary (click on Christian's link, above, to read a terrifying night ride experience in Sacramento) and I'm not sure I'm ready for that. That sucks, because night riding sounds awesome. I would like to ride and look up at the stars. I'd like to go see friends and have dinner and get home under my own power. I'm just not ready to do so yet. I might never be, not here, anyway. I might change my mind, and I'm sure I'd feel better riding with a group (but not just one other person, see above mugging story).
That's okay, though. It's almost summer, there are plenty of daytime riding hours, and now that Lala's bike is fixed (she's the original cyclist in the family - remember when she rode to LA on the AIDS ride?), I predict a lot of summer rides to the movies and, of course, to ice cream.
For years now I've put together a Mother's Day drinks party at a local Oakland pub. The only ones invited are people who've lost their mothers, and we call it Dead Mother's Day. It's a place to go to be bitter about all the spam emails we've received ("Don't forget Mom!" As if we could.) It's fun, it's a bit more raucous than you'd think, and the bartender knows us now, knows why we're there year after year.
This year I don't want to do it. I'm officially Unorganizing it. For the first time, I'm okay not being angry at the day. I'm still sad, mind you. I'll never not be that.
But I'm not furious with Hallmark for promoting a day of shopping that serves to do nothing but rub my face in the fact that I'm motherless. I'm not as wildly jealous this year of those who send flowers to the mothers they still have.
I'm just thankful I got the one I was dealt because she was the best, and I was lucky to have her.
The way I honor her (every day--not just today because that's ridiculous) is that every book I write ends up being about mothers.
My most recent book, Pack Up the Moon, is about a woman with a complicated history with her own mother.
Kate checked her cell. Stared at it. Clicked the button and scrolled right. Left. She pulled up the entry for Mom and pushed Call. It rang once, then the recording said, as it always did, “You’ve reached a number that has been disconnected or changed. If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again.” Once upon a time Kate could call her. In the year since her mother had died, Kate called the number at least twice a week.
Kate pushed the disconnect button and stopped the recording. Someday someone would answer the phone and she’d know that the number wasn’t hers to call anymore, but until then, it was.
Kate loses her child (no spoilers; all this loss happens before the book starts), and with it, she loses the ability to mother. Then she finds the child she gave up for adoption, the girl who was adopted by two women. Was it really an accident that so many years ago Kate gave her own daughter double the number of mothers a girl usually has?
Kate poured Pree the first cup, and then waited until there was enough to pour for herself. Pree pushed a blue-black curl out of her eye and then stared into her coffee cup as if she were having a hard time deciding whether or not to take the first sip. She was so beautiful. Young. Gorgeous in her casually-worn luminous skin. Alive. For one second Kate allowed herself to bask in this feeling of pride in a person she’d helped create. It had been a long time. She’d almost forgotten what it felt like.
What if, on the very small chance, Pree was here because she wanted to talk? What if she wanted something from a mother she’d never had, a mother she didn’t know?
Sternly, she reminded herself a child with two mothers doesn’t lack for maternal advice. But oh, God, if she did... There weren’t words in the English language to describe how she’d feel. The color didn’t exist that would paint the happiness it would bring.
To be a mother. That’s what Pree’s mothers had had, this whole time. Kate hadn’t been a mother in three years, and the urge to be one was almost overwhelming. The urge to touch Pree (to smooth the hair back off her face, to touch the tip of her perfect nose) burned in her knuckles and made her fingers twitch. It was ridiculous, not to mention socially and morally unacceptable. And still it was there, inside her, a feeling that might knock her down, physically, all the way to the ground.
It's a bit odd, the knowledge that I'll write about mothers and daughters for the rest of my writing career. You'd think it could be exhausted after a few books, but I've barely tapped what I know of it (wait till you read the next book, if you thought this one was mother-centric! Is this a good time to make sure you're on my mailing list so you don't miss it?).
The love of a mother blazes with the sheer fury and wattage of the sun. A daughter radiates in it; she absorbs it. If she's lucky, the warmth is enough to sustain her her whole life, even when the sun goes out.
I wish you a Happy Mother's Day, most especially to those of you shivering in that kind of cold. There are many of us who know how you're feeling today. Love to you.
(Thanks, RedEnvelope, for inviting me to participate in the Mother's Day blog tour!)
I got a bike.
Lala thought I wasn’t a big bicycle person. After all, when she's talked about how great bikes are, my eyes have glazed over. During our ten years together, I’ve only owned a bike once. When I bought that last bike, I rode it approximately five times. I eventually got so tired of it taking up space that I gave it to the neighbor girl next door.
In my head, I thought I wasn’t a big bike person. If I were, I’d have been riding that bike, right?
I bought that last bike because it was adorable. It was an automatic 3-speed (pedaling powered the computer that changed the gears). But where I live there are hills. You need a lot more than three gears. It had back brakes, you know, the kind you had when you were a kid—the kind that take pedaling backward to stop. That’s totally fine, but only if your legs are in exactly the right position at the exact time you want (or need) to stop. Add to that the fact it was the wrong size, too, way too tall for my freakishly short legs, it meant that I fell over a lot. It wasn’t fun to ride. It should have been. I wanted it to be. But it wasn’t.
That proved that I wasn’t a bike person, I thought. I had bike guilt.
But that was wrong. I just had the wrong bike.
What prompted me in this strange, new quest for a bike? I’ve been fascinated by money lately, about how to pay off debt and use it to build the life you want. Now that I know how little I knew about finances (my own included), I’ve been studying investing and interest and retirement funds and all that sexy frightening stuff. Dear blog reader K turned me on to Mr. Money Mustache, and now I can’t get enough of his blog. He retired at thirty! He tells you how to do it! (No, seriously.) One of his big tips is to ride a bike. Not only are you NOT spending fifty cents a mile on gas and wear and tear, but you’re extending your life span. That five bucks you didn’t spend on your car? Save it. Make those dollars work for YOU. I like this advice, and I suddenly found myself super attracted to getting a bike.
It was all I could think about. One weekend I went to every bike shop in the Bay Area (all forty-three thousand of them) and I fell in like with a couple of new bikes, but I didn’t want to spend five hundred dollars or more in order to save money. Then I went to the Bikery, a nonprofit in Oakland that teaches kids how to fix bikes as well as the skills needed to run a business. I test rode a red bike that was SO CUTE. It did nothing for me. Then Lala pointed out the old Peugeot stuck in a corner. It was rusting. It squeaked. And by the time I reached the corner on my test ride, we were in love. $140 later, she was mine.
I’d forgotten that feeling. I haven’t my own Bike of Love since I was ten. I wanted a ten-speed so badly I couldn’t sleep at night. My parents didn’t have the money to buy me a new bike (either that or they were teaching me the value of a dollar—either way it was good), so I babysat every spare minute I had (omg, I just yesterday heard from one of my old clients who read Pack Up the Moon. How awesome is THAT?). When I finally had the ninety-nine dollars I needed, I went to the bike store in Arroyo Grande and bought the blue Schwinn that had been calling my name for six months.
I lived on that bike. We rode the hills together, me and that Schwinn. I was free in a way I’d never felt before. This was the old days, so Mom didn’t keep track of where we were after school as long as she knew whose house we were headed to (I made friends based on whether 1) they were given sugar and 2) whether they had TV, two things we didn’t have at home). Before I had my bike, I could only get as far as I was willing to walk, maybe a mile or two. After my bike? I could go anywhere. I have a distinct memory of flying down a steep hill at least eight miles away from my parents’ house (I also have the memory of hitting the rock I’d seen too late and eating it but let’s not talk about the wipe-outs).
I rode that bike constantly. I didn’t give it up until I turned sixteen and got my first set of car wheels (an unbelievably crappy Fiat that I bought for a dollar and paid too much for), and then I turned my back on that poor bike forever.
I spent the next twenty-five years in a car (minus the time I spent on a mountain bike a boyfriend bought me, sobbing as I rode behind him in terror—don’t send me over rocks, please—and minus the time I borrowed a different boyfriend’s bike to ride to new job as a Perkins waitress and my backpack strap broke and knocked out the front wheel from in front of me and I ate it in front of a million cars and no one stopped and I had to limp into my new waitressing job and introduce my bloody self to my new coworkers and ask them for bandages). Since sixteen, it’s been me and cars. So this new(old) joy is new again and so joyful.
Taking Hilda to get fitted for panniers.
This is what I’ve learned in the last ten days:
* When you’re riding a bike, you’re traffic. Today, for the first time, I kept pace with cars who had to keep stopping at stoplights and stop signs (I did, too—I follow the rules, but I didn’t have to queue like they did). I passed them, they passed me. Repeat. It was fun. A weird, rather dangerous but addictive dance.
* You talk to people more on a bike. You say hi to pedestrians and other bicyclists. You thank drivers who stop for you, whose windows are open.
* You smell more things. Basically, I have a dog’s nose (which is why I love my convertible SmartCar). On a bike you get all the smells, too. I love that. I love smelling jasmine and barbecue and lint filters from dryer vents. I love smelling garlic and coffee and exhaust and new paint. All the smells, even the bad ones. I love them.
* You’re using your BODY. Dude, I’ve spent the last four months chained to a desk writing Splinters of Light. I needed to move. (I gave up sugar—again—and it feels good to listen to what my body wants. It wants fruits and vegetables and motion. And no more g.d. Cadbury Creme Eggs.)
This is a long enough post. Just this: I’m in love with my bike. Lala was right—she usually is about these things. It just took me a while to figure that out, that’s all. This obsession, like many of mine, might wear off, but I’m thinking this might be one of the few that sticks with me. So far, since getting Hilda (that's her name) a little more than a week ago, I've: gotten groceries twice, gone to the cafe twice and to the Mills tea shop twice. I've ridden to Alameda and gotten ice cream with my sister (ice cream is my sugar allowance, and it's low glycemic and step off if you think I shouldn't eat it--I SHOULD) and I've found a mural in Oakland that was amazing. I've accidentally found a street fair. I've gotten tacos from the taco truck and filled my panniers with a burrito as big as a baby. I've smiled at lots of people.
Can you see me next to the elephant's leg?
And I remembered this: There’s nothing like going down a hill as fast as you can. Nothing.
I've been a little quiet 'round here because I'm finishing the book that will be out next year from Penguin. I love it. (Yep, writers say that even though it's embarrassing. It's like a mom with a kid who's been playing in the mud. We don't want to admit we love our scraggly little unkempt beasts out loud, but then it just comes out. No take backs. This is after, of course, we've spent months hating it. That's probably less motherlike.)
So this next book, Splinters of Light, is about a 44-year-old woman with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. It's also about twins and sisters and motherhood and love and death and all the good stuff, but my focus of research has been on EOAD and how really badly it sucks.
So when I got an email out of the blue from Diane Lewis about the project she was starting, it felt like fate. (I truly wish I could participate in all the emails I get asking for help. I can't. I'm sorry. But I can do this.)
Alice, saying, "Well, are you coming or not?!"
Not everyone can say that their mom was their best friend, but I can. I think back to how incredibly lucky I was to have her as my mom and it makes me smile. We spoke on the phone or saw each other every day. Being with my mom was like being in the most comfortable place one can imagine. She was HOME for me. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in November of 2005. I (and my three siblings) kind of became her mom as the disease progressed. We made sure she was healthy and happy. Making her smile was always a highlight of our visits.
Alice Figueira, my beautiful mom, passed away on May 29, 2011 from Alzheimer's Disease.
While my mom was in the midst of her disease I knit her a beautiful sage green blanket. Throughout the years that blanket provided her with warmth and comfort. Countless times I would visit her and she had the blanket on her and her fingers were intertwined in the stitches. It not only provided comfort in it giving her warmth, but also keeping her hands busy. Over the years it moved from her recliner to her lap when she was in a wheelchair and then ultimately to her bed.
After Mom passed away I wanted to help others who suffer from this dreadful disease. I knew that I wanted to start an organization to gather people who knit and crochet and ask them to create lap blankets and prayer shawls.
Isn't that so heart-breakingly lovely? My mom was also my best friend (she was only lost in dementia for less than a week and I will never forget how helpless and hopeless we felt), and I want to put out the call for this.
Diane is collecting shawls and lap blankets and distributing them to others with Alzheimer's who could use something cozy and loving to hold. Not only that, but she's put out free patterns (all with their own sweet stories -- go look! I love Birds on a Wire) that are just awesome.
And darling Diane would like for us to use her free patterns (rather than a shawl pattern that was your grandmother's favorite--although that is so CUTE) because: "When I deliver them, each and every person in the memory care unit will get one so we don't want to cause hurt feelings because someone else's is lacy or more fancy." Great idea, I think.
See her site for lots of great details and patterns and yarn suggestions (wash and driable, not nubby in texture, etc).
I'm committing to knitting one, right here. I love the idea that as I bring this book to a close, I'll be helping someone now, today, struggling with an awful disease.
How about you? You in?
OH HELL, I JUST LOST MY DAMN MIND. If you knit/crochet something for this and send it to Diane, I'll enter you in a drawing for a light yellow shawl I knitted that is currently hanging on my dressmaker's dummy, never worn (or blocked, for that matter, lazybones that I am). It takes a while to do this, I know, so I'll extend the contest till the end of August. Email me with a pic when you send it (I'll trust you if you say you did it--I just greedily want to see your gorgeous shawls/lap blankets) and you'll be entered.
Mwah, lovelies. Thank you.
Howdy! My head is full of odds and ends--I've been up since 1:45am so I'm punchy, so please forgive me in advance.
First, the winner of Dan Berne's The Gods of Second Chances is Renee the First (you've been emailed!). Thanks, all, for your awesome book recommendations, and for saying that you like my taste in books. I like yours.
Second, this morning I did some math and my mind is REELING. We finally paid off an old tax bill this weekend, our last debt that wasn't a mortgage or student loan (which were acceptable debts, I thought). We're in the process of refinancing our house (yay! Fixed rate, finally!).
So our last debt, besides the house, is my student loan.
Let's talk numbers Because you know what? I'm still of the mind we don't talk about debt enough. So many of us are crippled by it, and we're not talking about it because of shame.
Screw that. Screw shame. We're all in the same rapidly leaking boat. Have I mentioned that on top of the tax bill ($25k, now paid off), we were $47,000 in credit card debt? It's all paid off, as are our cars (my goal of paying off the SmartCar in six months was met). We have three incomes and no kids, so it's a lot easier than some have it, but we weren't employed that whole time and we live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, so that's harder. We work really hard at paying off debt. And we've been doing great.
I didn't worry too much about my student loan even though it didn't really seem to be going down because everyone says, "Oh, student loans are at such a low rate and they're for a good reason." Yeah. Well. Truth?
* A low rate at a high amount is still a damn lot of interest.
* Student loans let you defer payment when you graduate, which most people do, because they're not making enough to pay them. There's a penalty, of course, and there's interest added on top of that, but that's okay, because it's a low rate and for a good reason, right?
* They make it SUPER hard to know what you're paying and what you've paid. Today I decided to figure out once and for all, why, after borrowing $40,000 for grad school and after deferring for five years and paying for seven, I still owed $50,000.
True: $40k + 5 years deferral + interest = $56,000.
True: Seven years of making payments every month= $26,000 paid toward the debt, TWENTY THOUSAND OF WHICH WAS INTEREST.
Biggest, most awful truth: Seven years and $26,000 later, I've taken $6,000 off my student loan, and I'm at $50,000. TEN THOUSAND MORE THAN WHEN I GRADUATED thirteen (fourteen?) years ago.
You know how I figured this out? You'd think I went to my loan's website and just pulled up the facts. No, I had to poke around on that site and press buttons and caress and cajole until I found a list of numbers with no totals and no information. I had to create an Excel spreadsheet and run the numbers to figure out this horrifying truth.
Seriously. I'm gobsmacked. We'd always paid the minimum because we were concentrating on the credit cards and the tax bill. And because the student loan was "acceptable" debt.
My student loans are not acceptable debt. There's nothing acceptable about a system put in place that cripples people trying to do the right thing. (And we get paid well! Don't even start me on the teachers I know who have the same debt and no way to throw money at it! Augh!)
So: This is our focus now. Get rid of that student debt.
But you know what? Today Katelyn, our dog walker who takes our dogs up into the hills to ramble for hours once a week came and picked up the dogs while I was working on these numbers. Also, Alex fixed our back deck, pressure-washing it, getting it ready to stain tomorrow. The handyman, Carlyle, came to give us a quote on getting a dishwasher because I've never lived with a real live dishwasher in my whole life. All of this, cash. We're not rich. We live frugally and we don't have piles of money in savings (if we did, I'd pay off that damn loan). But we've gotten to a place where we can do the things we want and not lose sleep over the bills. There were many, many years when I didn't sleep, and I truly think You Need A Budget, my budgeting software that I love so much, has helped us SO much in this. (Get $6 off with that link.)
Talk. Talk to me, your friends, your loved ones. They've all been there, or ARE there and are too scared to admit it. If they haven't ever been there, then tie the laces of their Kenneth Coles together and we'll all laugh as they trip gracefully to their beautifully and expensively tiled floors.
Throw money at the debt. Make coffee at home. Eat at home. Move. Sell your yarn, sell your books. Let's change the way we live. Let's talk.
You know how I love to bring you a book I love. As an author, I get asked to blurb other books. Sometimes, I can't do it (I don't love the book enough or I just don't have the time to read it). Other times, I'm quite happy to put my name on a book.
And sometimes I'm lucky enough to be thrilled to be one of the first few to read something amazing, something I can tell you about. The Gods of Second Chances is one of those.
I love the way Dan Berne writes. His voice, while matter-of-fact and succinct, is unique. For example: When you live on an island as small as Yatki, it doesn’t take long for folks to hear about the latest chapter in your life. Part of that is natural gossip and part is because we look out for each other. We have this natural contradiction of believing that people should mind their own business, but as soon as the winds shift, it seems like everyone is giving you the fish eye.
From the back of the book:
Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter with help from a multitude of gods and goddesses--not to mention rituals ad-libbed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend. But statues and otter bone ceremonies aren't enough when Ray's estranged daughter returns from prison, her search for a safe harbor threatening everything he holds sacred.
I got a chance to interview Dan Berne, and Forest Avenue Press will give away a copy to someone who comments!
So happy to have you here, Dan! What I love about your book are the characters. They're real, vital, alive, and absolutely as flawed and vulnerable as real people. Even months later, I remember small details about them.
What was your favorite scene while writing the book?
Early on in the novel, after receiving a letter from his wayward daughter, Ray goes to his local tavern and, uncharacteristically for him, gets drunk. He wakes up in the middle of the night and wanders outside his house. Still feeling the effects of the alcohol, he falls onto his back and looks up into the night sky. He imagines one of the constellations looks like his deceased wife. He pours out his longing and desire, fueled by the pain of loss. The raw emotion of that scene still gets to me every time I read it.
What was the hardest part of writing it?
The ending was the toughest. I had lost my wife to breast cancer when I was writing the first draft. I couldn't see my way through to an ending at that point and had to put the manuscript away for about six months. I think that is also what fueled the raw emotion in the scene above, which somehow was more cathartic to write.
Holy cow, I'm sorry to hear that. That explains the raw intensity, for sure. Can you tell us about your writing process?
I start with a pretty good idea of my main characters: what's motivating them, what’s getting in their way, and how I can make them human. Actually, I like to torture my characters a bit, bringing out their foibles even when their intentions are good. That being said, I am often surprised at where a character will take me. I don't outline but I do ask myself, "What ten things need to happen in this story?" Then I try to turn at least some of those upside down. For example, if I think two characters must get together romantically, I will ask myself, "Well, what if they don't?"
As I go along, I always ask myself what needs to change in the particular chapter I am working on.
I love to read other novels when I am writing. It keeps me inspired. Last, but not least, I love language. I love the sound of words. This can make me a slow writer. I will worry over a sentence and revise it several times, even during a first draft.
*Amazon associate link
about being on book tour:
1. You can stay in New Jersey with your amazing agent (and her darling kidlets!) and then take the train to Manhattan in the morning and write in a cafe just off 6th Ave, and then take an Uber to go to fancy lunch with your wicked smart editor. (There are many awesome things about that sentence, including the part during which I realized New Jersey is a state and not just a large city. If asked, I would have told you that. But I didn't really know it till this trip. I liked what I saw of you, NJ.)
(Oh! I just remembered the first time I was ever in New York as a Real Writer. I had no book deal, no agent, but I did have a book being read by S&S as a result of that contest some of you remember me entering. I just reread that entry and it made me SO happy. This is why I write this blog, y'all. For that kind of memory.)
2. Another thing I like about being on book tour is that you can stay the next night at the Jane, which is a pod hotel made from the bones of an old mariner's hotel (it's where the Titanic survivors stayed, and I've blogged about it before). It's under a hundred bucks, and you get a wee room barely bigger than the twin bed it holds
(this is the whole room. The mirror helps.)
and the size of the room doesn't matter because...
3. ...because that night you're down the street having a drink with a friend and that drink turns into WAY too many drinks, and then you're tromping through the West Village (was there singing? There might have been singing!) and you're feeling so alive and you're in New York, and then you get back to the Jane and realize that you have to get up in five hours and there's no way you're going to live through the cab ride to the airport...
4. ...but it's not so bad because by all accounts, you should be dead of both a migraine and the shame, but instead your wife has brought all your migraine medicine to meet you at the airport (because you tend to get a migraine after even one glass of wine lately; this is going to be bad, so bad) and instead, you jump off the plane with a cheery wave and say, "Let's get In'n'Out! I want animal fries!"
Book Tour Wrap Up
Honestly, there was very little not to love about Book Tour, including the fact that it's over and I can go back to being a 911-answering word slinger. I like my life as is. It doesn't need to be fancy. It often IS fancy, and I'm grateful for that. But mostly I'm glad for health, and happiness, and early (sober, headache-free) bedtimes and pile ups that happen on the couch that look like this:
(Yes, the pit bull is hiding under the chihuahua and the cat -- the thunder scared darlin' Clementine)
I'm grateful for all of it, including the fact that Lala and I just celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary (can you believe it?). We're going up the coast for a couple of days and we're going to do a lot of nothing. I'm looking forward to it. And to what comes after it, too.
I wanted to tell you about book tour, but I don't think I can. It's been too much, too wonderful, too inspiring and humbling. I'll throw a couple of things at you, but mostly I want to tell you about Niagara Falls.
I got up at 5:30am yesterday in Indianapolis. I drove to Hudson, Ohio, and had a marvellous reading/gabfest/knitting party in the early afternoon at the Learned Owl bookshop. Then I got in the car and headed toward Toronto, another long, ambitious drive.
After about ten hours in the car on a day that was already busy, I decided it wouldn't be safe to go all the way to Toronto. I called my sister Bethany (of the 18 month road trip) and asked for advice. She said: Niagara. I said where? She said, "Call you back."
She did the research, which included two main points: Get to the Canadian side, and get to the Tower Hotel. I do anything she tells me to (this is true), so in the dark, I got Niagara.
I have to confess something: My image of Niagara Falls was apparently a postcard from the fifties. I'm not sure how this got so impressed upon my brain (probably from looking at postcards from the fifties) but this is what Niagara looked like: A large waterfall. At the top of the falls, to the right, stands a twenty-room low-slung pink wooden motel. At the edge, almost ready to fall over the railing, a buxom cartoon blonde waves at the camera, her arm draped around her newly-wedded cowboy husband. In my imagination, there are maybe a couple of other little motels in the area, but that one, the little pink one right at the falls, that was the one to stay at.
Instead, I drove up to the Canadian Vegas. Neon raced across the top of skyscraper hotels! Music boomed from nightclubs! There was a casino so casino-ish I could almost put a quarter in the side of the building and pull its slot.
Overwhelmed and tired, I almost checked in at the outskirts of town. The La Quinta, or the Motel 6 - those would have been fine. Then, in the morning, I would go look at the falls and continue to Canada Proper.
But I heard Bethany's voice in my mind. "Just go look at the hotel. It'll just take a second." It was Saturday night, I told myself. Of course I can't stay at a fancy place.
I found the hotel in a warren of tall boxy hotels. It was, actually, a tower.
My heart was racing at this point. I had to stay here. The gal at the front desk bit her lip when I said she probably didn't have a room, but could she check? "Well, I do have one left, actually. But it's kind of an obstructed view. I could do…" Pause. I mentally the math that I could afford. How much would I pay for an awesome view? Two hundred? Two fifty? (In a fluke, I'd gotten two comped rooms in Indiana due to an overbooking problem. I had a little extra in my hotel budget.) "I could do $89? Would that work?" She was practically apologetic.
"I WILL TAKE THAT ROOM PLEASE," I boomed as casually as possible. "THAT WOULD BE FINE."
I room up the elevator (the rooms start at floor 27 and end at floor 29). This was what I got.
Also: there was a jacuzzi tub which also had the huge windows and the view (I had a little single malt Macallan and two Cadbury creme eggs in that magical tub).
It snowed and the falls sent up steam. At 10:30, suddenly revived again, I ran to the elevator and then outside and watched the flakes swirl and the falls steam.
I slept to their roar and woke up thinking I could hear the ocean.
I took a picture of my face as I explored the room last night. This is how I felt:
That's not what this book tour is about. This tour has truly been about connecting with readers who are also friends. (I repeat: I am the luckiest.)
Chicago: A whack of knitters and these tulips, sent by my sister Christy (which made me cry) at Women and Children First, followed by dinner with friends. Oh, happiness.
Cedar Rapids: A tiny (really lovely) store in a tiny (honestly, not that lovely) town, and in a surprise twist, a whack of NON-knitters at New Bo Books. A town that cares about literature! It was humbling. Also, yarn was delivered to me (because I'd lost my own) by Perclexed (FROM WASHINGTON STATE!) and Catherine, local. Also humbling. Dinner with darling knitters and good friends Greg and Erick (I stole them from the FeralKnitter and I'm not giving them back).
Indianapolis: A surprisingly awesome town! I really liked it. Fun reading at IndyReads which was everything I'd been scared of. Only seven people came--something I'd thought would throw me, something I thought would make me want to cry. Instead, it was intimate and SO FUN. Two of my Rachaelista street team members came!
Hudson, Ohio: I have to tell you, Jeremy and I have been friends for a long time. I hadn't met him in person, though. Until WE RAN INTO EACH OTHER AT A REST STOP ON I90.
Our "cute meet" story will always be that: that we met at a rest stop. He was on the way to my reading. For that matter, so was I. That reading at the daring Learned Owl was also intimate (seven? Eight?) and RAUCOUS. Old friends and new ones (thank you, Rachel, for the g/f brownies -- they are breakfast today), and I was so happy.
Then the Falls.
I woke this morning to wonder how I'd ever work on my necessary book revisions in this room with this view, and then I just realized, I can't. I can write to YOU, friend, but not to my book. For that I need a beige wall, and the sound of housekeeping rolling loud carts in the hallways. I need an uncomfortable chair and a view of a dumpster. Not this heaven. So I'm checking out soon, going to meet the Falls in person (there are still occasionally flurries of snow floating past the great windows--last night I thought, why is there ash floating outside? THAT'S SNOW PUT ON CLOTHES PUT THEM ON AS FAST AS YOU CAN I MIGHT MISS IT!).
I hope to see the Torontoians (?) in the house at Ben McNally on Monday night, 6pm. The rest of you I'll see on the next tour, hopefully. This is amazing. I'm the luckiest one.
I've never been on book tour before. I'm having a problem not dropping it into every conversation I have.
"Why, yes, I do like artichoke soup. I surely do hope I can find some when I'm on BOOK TOUR."
"Oh, sure, I can lend you my favorite pencil (Papermate Sharpwriter), but only if you give it back to me before my BOOK TOUR."
"The cat threw up on the couch? Again? THERE ARE NO CATS ON BOOK TOUR."
But honestly, I think I'm going to love being on book tour. <---See? I just did it again! I can't help myself.
I've already done two gigs in the Bay Area and one in San Luis Obispo, all of which were AWESOME and nerve-wracking and embarrassing because I always tell too much about myself (like how NOW I'll mention (but didn't mention then) that at the beautiful Read Books in Danville (above), I forgot to turn off my phone because it's off 95% of the time and besides that, it never rings. So when it did (luckily, far away from me), I gave the area the ring was coming from a good glare. The nerve of that person!).
I'm going around the Great Lakes, and I'm sorry in advance to those of you I won't get a chance to meet. I can't afford to do more than five stops for this book, so I chose five cities in the region I sell best in.
And I have to tell you -- I'm so excited. There's a part of me that just KNOWS I set this up because I have some revisions still to finish before I turn in my next standalone book in at the end of the month. (On the flip side, who does that? Who accidentally plans a book tour right before her next book is due? Sheesh.)
But I'm going on a trip. Alone. I'm basically giving myself a writing retreat. Even with 5-7 hours of driving a day, it's still lots more time to write than I normally have, since I'm off work for eleven days. Lots of time by myself in plain, boring hotel rooms. Nothing to do but stare at my computer (if I were smart I wouldn't pay for wifi in the hotels but I don't know if I'm ready for that level of commitment).
So if you're in or near Chicago, Cedar Rapids (in Iowa! I keep writing it wrong, even though I know where I'm going), Indianapolis, Hudson (OH), or Toronto, please come see me. (I'm having that terrible fear that at at least one of these, no one will show up. Oh, my god, that might be better than just one person showing up, because at least then I could run away and hide in my hotel room. But if only one person shows up, well... then I'll just have to take that person out for a drink. See what I'm doing here? I'm BRIBING you into being the only person who comes to one of my readings, therefore ten of you might think you're the only ones, and then BOY OH BOY you'll be there for the reading!)
So, book tour. *gibbers*
(And if you've already read Pack Up the Moon and left me a review (anywhere, not just Amazon), thank you. They are, literally, a lifeline for me right now. The book I'm working on now is at that gangly adolescent point, going through a phase of lobbing as many f-bombs at me whenever I open its door to tell it to clean its room. Knowing you loved this last book makes me feel like a writer. And seriously, if you've been on the fence about reading it? Go read some of those reviews. I sure don't always feel I deserve them all, but I sure am grateful for every one of 'em.)
It's today! My book is out TODAY! If you haven't read my books, this is the one I want you to read. If you're already a beloved reader of mine, this one is a little different. It's both heavier and lighter at the same time, a bit more intense and quite a bit more emotional. This will require more Kleenex than Cypress Hollow does, but I'm hoping it will also bring you even greater joy.
In Australia and New Zealand, it has a different gorgeous cover (I won the cover lottery for both):
(Now, to whet your appetite, let me give you a quick sample. This is at the very beginning of the book, the moment Kate's life, off-track from a great tragedy, turns and heads in a new, wonderful, frightening direction.)
A girl pushed her head in. "Can I just have a quick word with Ms. Monroe?"
Kate had seen the girl--no, the young woman--during the talk. She'd stood in the back, her spine straight, the picture of an earnest art student. She wore a black, oversized tunic with red pockets and torn black tights. Her hair was multi-colored, stripes of blue and green cascading through her black curls. Kate had looked right at her, thinking she was a pretty girl who probably didn't know how beautiful she was going to be. An idle thought, that's all it had been.
Vanessa raised her eyebrows. "Maybe in a moment? We'll be out in a--"
Kate felt something twist in her stomach, an edge of nervousness, and she said, "No, it's fine," even while she wasn't sure if it was. She held the stem of her glass more tightly.
Something was about to happen.
Vanessa gave Kate a sharp, curious look and then nodded. The door clicked behind her.
"It's me," said the girl.
With Sophie Littlefield
Diesel Books, Oakland, CA - Book Launch Party!
Thursday March 6, 7pm
Barnes & Noble, San Luis Obispo CA
Saturday March 8, 11am
With Sophie Littlefield and Gigi Pandian
Read Books, Danville CA
Thursday March 13, 6:45pm
Women and Children First, Chicago IL
Tuesday March 18, 7pm
New Bo Books, Cedar Rapids IA
Wednesday March 19, 7pm
IndyReads, Indianapolis IN
Friday March 21, 7pm
Darling KnittedWit and my favorite wee thing, F.
The thing about Stitches West is that, like all yarn conventions, it's HUGE. The first time I ever went to one was back when it was still hosted in Oakland. My sister happened to mention she thought there was a "yarn thing" happening downtown. I thought I'd swing through and poke my head into the seven or eight booths that I'd find.
Instead, I found hundreds of booths. Tens of thousands of skeins of yarn (I know this because I bought most of them). I learned to spin at that first Stitches, on a drop spindle made from a dowel and a CD (I was terrible at it).
I had no idea there was so much yarn in all the world, and there it was, in my town, in a convention center.
Knitmores! I haz them!
Fast forward to 2010. My first book was coming out TWO DAYS AFTER Stitches. I'd been heartbroken about the timing, but I made flyers to pass out. Due to illness, one of my friends couldn't use her booth, and with her permission, I totally hijacked it. I had nothing but flyers, so I laid them on every inch of table. I passed them out to everyone I saw.
From my blog post, I'm reminded I got a lot of differing reactions, including this one:
Knitter, looking at the back of the excerpt, where my picture is: "Oh, I know her. She's from LA."
Me: "I'm from Oakland."
Knitter (suspiciously): "Hmm."
But people took them, and people bought the book that Tuesday in March, 2010.
I know this because I saw them all last weekend, four years later. I can't tell you how many people said to me, "Oh! I love your books!" Or "I met you when you didn't even HAVE a book, just those flyers!"
There is nothing as gratifying as hearing "I love your books." Nothing. I daresay the words "What a gorgeous child" don't compare. It's possible that the phrase "Your child is a genius" pales next to "When are you going to write another book like that one?"
I came home all three nights completely exhausted, worn out to the bone. I perched for the weekend at the Verb booth (next to the amazing Romi) and seriously, while I wasn't tied to the booth in any way, I spent most of my time there. I was desperately scared I wouldn't be there if a reader wanted to say hello.
A READER. That's the thing, dude. I have readers. Of my books.
Pinch me. Hard. Four years and six books later, it's still not real.
The most interesting interaction I had this weekend:
A woman approached me at a high rate of speed. She dropped into a crouch next to me. "You write books."
"I do, yes."
"So how do I finish the two novels I've started?"
"You write, and keep writing till the end. It's not easy to finish, but I know you can--"
"How do I make them good enough to publish?"
"You revise. I have a blog post that might be helpful…"
"No, no. I don't have time for that."
"I hear you. I work 60 hours a week at my day job…"
A raised eyebrow. "What do you do?"
A flap of the hands. "Oh, well, yeah. My problem is that I have an INTELLECTUAL job. That's why I can't finish my books."
What I didn't say was that after I got my MFA and found out that I sucked at teaching, I sat my ass down (literally, at a burger joint) and flipped through a trade journal looking for a job that wouldn't tax my creative brain. The writer friends of mine who were teaching or tech-writing weren't doing their own writing anymore. I picked 911 (not knowing then how creative you have to be on a second-to-second basis) in order to have a job I could leave behind when I took off the headset.
Maybe this woman couldn't leave her intellectual work behind her when she got home. I could give her that with a smile.
But the interaction made me realize something: I'd chosen the right path. I'd made a really long-range goal (get a day job that will pay for the writing habit) and I'd pulled it off. Fifteen years after that decision, I was at a convention, talking to my readers. MY READERS. That woman, as much as I laughed when she walked away, did me a huge favor by reminding me of that.
I haven't "made it." In my mind, I won't have made it until I'm making enough money writing that I can give up the day job (but giving up the chance to save lives? How does a person really give that up?). And if that someday happens, I'm sure I'll have a new goal that will equal "making it." I hope so, anyway.
Because a girl has to have a dream. And I have so many.
Bonus for reading this far: Lucky and Clara video!
I love how absolutely delighted Clara looks. LOOK! This chihuahua plays with ME! (You can see Miss Idaho looking on in disgust in the background.) Lucky goes back to his forever home tomorrow, and I'm going to MISS that little bugger. He's an absolute delight.
*And yes, I bought some yarn this year, though I managed not to for most of the three days. Right at the last minute, 25 minutes before the closing bell, I fell down and swiped my debit card on my way to the floor which was padded with cashmere so I didn't really hurt anything but my budget. I have no pictures of the evidence, but I'm telling you: the find of the year was Sweet Fiber. I can't tell you how awesome this is. People. Go buy this stuff. Right now. So soft. The colors, so saturated. Damn. AMAZING.
** Also, I hired an author's assistant to pick up the pieces I tend to drop. She's a knitter, and has been a friend for years. I'd tell you who she is, but then you might take her from me. DON'T DO THAT. Oh, okay, I'll tell you. It's FishWithSticks. She's already shining up my life, for reals. I feel so FANCY.
*** T-minus-6 days till Pack Up the Moon. *eep*