Sunday, April 29, 2012


Yesterday never got above 49 degrees Fahrenheit, the rain fell from 12:30 p.m. on, and at times was practically horizontal. Yes, I'm talking about Race Day. That most wonderful of events.  Better than, well, most things.  Short track in Richmond. Track dancing with lights.  Packed stands.

That, of course, describes a normal Richmond Nascar race. Yesterday, everything fell apart, and we bailed.  Hate to admit it, but by 5:30 p.m., with rain dripping steadily through the seams of our pop-up tent, soaked and cold, and incidentally, miserable since we don't imbibe to the point of who-cares?, we loaded up the truck and headed for the barn, expecting the race to be run Sunday afternoon.

Wrong.  The rain stopped, the engines fired, and we slept through most of the race on the TV at home, all of us wrapped in quilts, lounging by the gas logs, warm for the first time that day. Not the getting warm part, that was heavenly.  But for the first in years, we weren't in the stands in Richmond. Major bummer.

So what happens when a much-anticipated (insert your choice here) bombs? When the book you thought was stellar dies on the mid-lists? When your editor/agent doesn't like the first draft much, if at all?  When you're eagerly anticipating diving into writing the next book, and the line is cancelled?  Yikes.  Even the thought sends prickles of horror up the spines of most writers. 

Or what if, as happened to Kiana Davenport, Penguin wants its advance back, the $20,000 they paid for a novel, because you have published short stories on Amazon, the arch enemy of Legacy publishers?  (Read her blog, for more.)

You suck it up, get rid of the distractions, and get back to what matters, the writing.   And if you're a racer, you load up the truck and head for the next track, the next race, and pray for better weather.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Killing

Like most viewers, I was more than a little frustrated with the ending of last season's THE KILLING. Love,love, love the way it's shot, the acting, even the rainy gray setting. The actor playing Holder is a marvel.

If you bailed after feeling cheated, go back. The story is twisting tighter than the knotted fists of a guilty man. It's seldom that a plot line turns and twists with so many surprises, at least on television.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Girly girls

While I consider myself feminine (I'm sure my beloved is happy to know that), I don't like furbelows and ruffles and all manner of fussy adornment. A good string of pearls, a nice diamond (thank you, sweetie), and a good haircut are all I really need. Oh, and mascara. And a quality, um, unmentionable undergarment. When a lady reaches a certain age... But when my daughters and I hit the Southern Women's Show, I stumble into another world. Big clunky costume jewelry that almost tempts me. Make up do-overs. Cute shirtless fireman on a stage, dancing to rockin' tunes, all of whom I ogle shamelessly. I wonder if this lipstick is the right shade. Should I buy this wonderful dip mix? Then I return to my senses and buy some great garden snips and a saw. In pink, so my beloved won't be tempted to borrow them. I feel much better. Then I line up some window salesmen to give me bids on new windows for the house. Yes, definitely more myself. I'm almost back to normal when . . . homemade creams grab me. My dry skin says stop and try them. Almost a hundred dollars later, I think I can escape the SWS, feeling as if I've gone over the line into female overload just a bit. For a few hours, it's okay. I'm sure my daughters wonder who the heck this woman is who calls herself their mother for the short time we're traipsing the pink carpet.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


One morning a couple of weeks ago, our yard, and those of many others in our neighborhood, displayed an amazing layer of green, wiggling, inch long worms, squinching their way all over our house, our cars, and our oaks and maples.  With each successive morning, these (at first) cute creatures made our yard look like a scene from a science fiction movie.  We weren't too disturbed, initially, figuring they'd disappear in a few days.

Wrong.  They spread to the lilacs, the dogwoods in bloom, the azaleas, hostas, and ourselves.  We couldn't get out of the house without a broom to knock down the webs dropping the worms from trees like paratroopers invading enemy territory.  No one came back into the house without a partner to pluck the green, and now black and green, invaders from our backs and our hair. I used the garden hose, set on "blast," to drive them from the front of the house and our windshields. 

We couldn't get the upper hand. The worst was that all the beautiful new growth, that sparkling green in the trees, the new shoots of peonies, disappeared.  The worms grew fatter and bolder. The oaks looked as if Agent Orange had decimated them.  Azaleas resembled brown lace. My joy in the new spring plummeted.  We'd jumped from winter into late fall, with everything bare and barren once more.

I decided to rally myself mentally. If  the worms were part of a strange cycle of these bloodworts (as the newspaper said they were properly called, not "those nasty things" we had named them), I had to trust reports that the trees would recover.  Everything would bloom again.  Sure enough, only a few worms remain, and I can see that the trees are beginning to recover. Tiny buds pattern against the sky when I look upward.

This has reminded me that we can't crumple under an onslaught of the strangely incomprehensible, the ugly, and the destructive.  Criticism of our creative work, coming from our own doubts or outside "critiquers," can eat away at our new growth.  Don't let it. The nibblers that want to eat our joy in what we do, as creative people, can only ingest so much, then they'll die away, naturally. Because we will bloom again. We'll keep on growing as writers and artists, despite any attempts to stunt our growth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

No Pulitzer for Fiction?

I am not the only one who is perplexed by the lack of an award for the Pulitzer prize in fiction. The three finalists rose from a field of three hundred. The volunteers put in countless hours to come up with the three best of the class. They get no thanks except from those in the know. They do it for love of books and the honor the prize bestows on the finalists. I have no doubt the panel took its job very seriously and worked extremely hard.

Been there, done that. I've been a judge in several genre contests, and it takes over your life. Your own work suffers because you don't want any of the voices from these contest books bleeding into your own work. You agonize and reread as many of the books as you feel need it. Lists dominate your desk, as you enumerate good points and bad for every entrant. It's work, and hard work at that. If the final judges in the contests in which I was involved hadn't picked a winner, I would have been royally, and loudly, upset.

I hope everyone buys the books that finaled for the Pulitzer fiction prize, and that they discuss which they liked best. Vote with your pocketbook. Don't let the Pulitzer committee get away with being so. . .namby pamby.(Is that still a word, or words?)

I hope next year the judges do the job they were chosen to do. The first round judges did. I applaud them and wish them the best.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Right Brain, Left Brain

I have never subscribed to the belief that if you're creative, you're a mess with business, numbers, and the like.  Creative people, more than all others, need to have an analytical side that can keep them out of trouble. Think of all those rock stars and actors who get robbed blind by business managers. It's not that they can't take care of their own business, they just don't want to.

Anyone can keep track of their accounts and contracts, if they care about it. And we all should. We who live in our imaginations need to be even more vigilant, because it's so easy to let that non-fun side of our writing careers slide into Scarlett O'Hara territory - I'll think about it tomorrow.  Not good enough.  If you're smart -if you're creative, you're plenty smart - you'll pay attention to your accounts, your investments, your contracts, and ride herd on the people you hire to keep you out of the IRS's clutches.

That's not to say I'm perfect. But I'm not afraid of a column of figures or filling out forms.  Contracts, which I happen to like because most of them are written in the most obscure legalese imaginable and they're like puzzles to me, need a professional to review them.  I've signed my share of bad contracts (Avalon Books being a prime example) but back in the day, I just wanted my westerns out in the world, and westerns have been a dying breed for a very long time. Lame excuse, I know. And I've learned my lesson well.

But at least I did the damage myself. I didn't hand over my business to anyone else to mess up.  Same with all my other business decisions. When they're a success, I gloat. When they're in the ditch, I figure it's time to move on.

But I'll never pretend I don't understand the business side of writing because I'm an artist.  That's the best reason in the world to educate myself about what's what.


Friday, April 06, 2012

Is everything in a novel real?

I've heard that all authors write about their own lives. That every story is, in its heart, autobiographical. Maybe, it's just that we writers live in our stories so deeply, they become our lives. That's what I think. No, what I know.

If I can't live in the book, see the characters, hear them talking to one another, it's doomed. Both as a reader and as an author, I long for that immersion. When it happens, I want to shout out loud to everyone I know, even to strangers, that they MUST read this book. It doesn't happen often. Themes of courage, honor, perseverance in the face of astounding adversity, when done even half-well, suck me in. When we live in someone else's skin through a book, we become them for the space of those words on the page. We are blessed by that experience.

I suppose that's why I decided in eighth grade to become a lawyer. (Despite my English teacher's lecture that women couldn't be lawyers.) Reading To Kill a Mockingbird showed me the power of an honorable lawyer, willing to take a case that wasn't, even in its best light, winnable. I took that lesson to heart.

Many years later, new law degree in hand, I was appointed, as young lawyers were in those days, to represent an indigent mentally handicapped woman that the state wanted to sterilize. Law school hadn't taught me about the difference between the purity of the law it taught and the real practice of law. The system in Virginia had been sterilizing mentally challenged
people for years. I'd never heard of such a thing, and was shocked by the proceedings. I was there just to keep up appearances. I wasn't expected to even say anything, I was informed.

It never happened again. I had plenty to say whenever I was appointed by the court again to some small proceeding. I can't say it made any difference, but I had to be truthful to my inner Atticus.

I just wished I'd been able to effect change. Time took care of most of it.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Right to Peaceful Assembly

Recently, nonviolent protestors publically voiced their objections to the travesty that is the Virginia Assembly's vote to force women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound. They stood on the steps of the Virginia Capitol. They waved signs. And they were attacked and arrested by police in riot gear. This is old news.

Last Sunday, members of several churches marched down Monument Avenue, an old, venerated street lined with massive statues of Confederate generals and Matthew Maurey (look him up, he's cool), and one weird bronze of Arthur Ashe batting at grasping children with his tennis racket. They joined to commemorate Palm Sunday, and waving palm branches, they gave voice to their religious beliefs. They had no permit that I am aware of. Police in riot gear were nowhere in sight.

So you can proclaim your religion on a public street, but you can't protest a new law in the making on state property. I guess mainstream religion is okay, politics that aren't popular aren't.

I wonder what would have happened if Wiccans had marched down Monument Avenue to celebrate the Summer solistice?

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


I confess, patience is not my forte'. I've been sitting on my tush at the Toyota dealer while the computer in my Prius tries to converse with the computer in my remote control. I don't know if one is speaking Japanese and the other, English, but it's not a quick process. I'm trying to chill, but . . . .

I've learned the hard way to be patient with a book. If it's not flowing, I have a bag of tricks to figure out the problem. Re-reading from the first page will usually reveal the plot problem that's stopping the story in its tracks. Sometimes I have the wrong hero, the wrong setting, or the voice isn't right. If none of those are the problem, I keep on writing. I don't worry about the words or what's on the page, because somewhere along the line, I'll start hitting it out of the park. Those pesky story-stoppers can try to make me lose my mind, but they won't win.

Because keeping at it is the only way to work through the hard days at the keyboard.

Now, if only my remote would speak to the computer in my Prius.