Mother's DayMay 11, 2014

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!) 

 

HildaMay 7, 2014

I got a bike. 

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I’m in love. You might have seen me tweeting or Facebooking about it. I can’t stop thinking about it. 

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, 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. 

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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

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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. 

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Taco truck. 

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Mural. 

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Can you see me next to the elephant's leg? 

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And I remembered this: There’s nothing like going down a hill as fast as you can. Nothing. 

Alice's EmbraceApril 27, 2014

Hi, friends. 

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.) 

Mom in SF - the look

Alice, saying, "Well, are you coming or not?!" 

From Diane's site: 

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. 

 

Money, Honey. April 16, 2014

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.  

The Gods of Second ChancesApril 9, 2014

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.

Amazon* | Indiebound | B&N | Kobo

 I got a chance to interview Dan Berne, and Forest Avenue Press will give away a copy to someone who comments! 

TGOSC by Dan Berne cover 2014So 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.

About Dan: 
 
DB__web3Dan Berne grew up in a working-class family in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked in his way through college, with jobs in drugstores, warehouses, U-bolt factories, and cement plants. He moved to the west coast in 1979, settling in the Portland area in 1990. He has been an active member of a select writing workshop led by author Karen Karbo for ten years. His short stories and poetry have been published in literary magazines and he has won a literary award from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Dan owns a market strategy consultancy and is currently writing a book on market transformation. He lives with his wife Aliza in Portland, Oregon. The Gods of Second Chances is his debut novel. More can be found at his website danberne.com.
 
For a chance to win a copy of this gorgeous book, please leave a comment. I'll draw on 4/15. Any comment will do, but if you want to tell us the last book you loved, that would be swelligent, as well. 

 *Amazon associate link

Things I LikeApril 3, 2014

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.) 

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(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

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(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...

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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:

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(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. 

Book Tour So Far March 23, 2014

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. 

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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). 

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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. 

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I took a picture of my face as I explored the room last night. This is how I felt: 

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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. 

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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! 

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 (Not pictured: The Two Kates!)

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. 

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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. 

Book TourMarch 15, 2014

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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.

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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!). 

BOOK TOUR: 

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* 

Please follow me on FB or Twitter to hear me babbling about how much MORE freaked out I will no doubt become. 

(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.) 

Pack Up the Moon (sneak peek!) March 4, 2014

Hello, you!  

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.  



 

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Indiebound

 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.)

EXCERPT: 

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.

______________________________________


BOOK TOUR - Please come if you can!

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

The Learned Owl Book Shop, Hudson OH
Saturday March 22, 1pm

Ben McNally Books, Toronto ON
Monday March 24, 6pm

 
Do swing by and chat with me onTwitter or Facebook

Thank you, again, for reading and believing in me, and especially in this book, the book of my heart. It means the world. 

Stitches and What it MeantFebruary 26, 2014

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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. 

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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?" 

"911." 

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*

Lucky Greg Update and Winner! February 18, 2014

Sorry it's been quiet 'round these parts. I'm in triage mode of launching a book and turning in a new book (to be published next year), and if it's not spurting arterial blood from my To Do list, I'm having to pass things by with longing looks.

But some things are important. You remember Lucky Greg, the chihuahua who was hit by two cars? I'm babysitting him while his adoring forever family is out of town, and OH MY GOD. For the first time, I understand the appeal of a lap dog. I kind of want this cuddly, happy, leaping, spinning crazy nutjob of a dog in my lap all the time, wherever I am. (I kind of already have two lap dogs who live here, Miss Idaho and Clementine. But Lucky is so FIERCELY cuddly.) 

The intro to the girls went as well as it could. All three of our female dogs have checked him, and the leg-humping is finally subsiding. Thank god. Kira K was over last night, and said, "I've been conditioned so long to think of a male's aggressive sexual advance as wrong that I want him to stop that! Right now!" 

Here he is, being submissive (finally) to Clementine, and what I love is Clementine's WHAT THE HELL IS THIS NOISE look. 

 

He really is the most darling boy, and he slept like a CHAMP last night in his crate. 

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(Driving home from the dentist earlier today I saw a wee dead dog at the side of the road near where I found Lucky and I was SO SAD and so angry at all the people who let their dogs run around in our busy area. We have two neighbors who let their dogs out every morning and every evening to run in the streets so they can do their business. We've talked to them--they're unwilling to walk their dogs on leashes. They told Lala, "Don't worry, they're fast." Those dogs won't last long. GRRRR SO MAD.) 

On to happier things: 

Did I mention I finished a sweater? I did. 

It's Amy Herzog's CustomFit (take your measurements, make your sweater any way you like!) and I don't have any great photos of it, but here's one I just shot, with a Clara cameo. 

Photo on 2-18-14 at 10.21 AM #4

Ravelry post HERE

Oh! Let's draw a winner for Larissa Brown's BEAUTIFUL WRECK (which you have to read - check those comments, already full of people who read it and loved it). Winner: Maureen! I've emailed you. 

And I just counted the days till PACK UP THE MOON launches.  FOURTEEN DAYS FROM NOW.

*hyperventilates* *pant* *pant*

I have a BUNCH of places I'm going to be reading, and I'm going to be at Stitches West (not with MOON, sadly, since it won't be out yet, but I'll have Cora's Heart and Eliza's Home to sign) in the Verb booth, so come grab me and give me a hug! 

BOOK TOUR 2014

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, 7pm 

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

The Learned Owl Book Shop, Hudson OH
Saturday March 22, 1pm

Ben McNally Books, Toronto ON
Monday March 24, 6pm

Best Book I've Read in SO LONGFebruary 7, 2014

I've been dying to share this one with you, friends. It's a Viking time-travel love story, and it's AMAZING. Larrissa Brown is a knitter and a designer (especiall of lace) and she knows Iceland. This gorgeous, gorgeous book is what made me really want to go there (we will, next year!) It's stunningly well written, the plot is perfect, and the heat level--let's just say this, I haven't been dying for a first kiss like that since I was the one getting kissed. 

More than that, it's an amazing and impeccably researched look at a  community of women, and about a woman coming into herself while inside it. This was my quote for the book (I was lucky enough to read it early): “With a plot as exciting as it is bold, and with characters as real and important as family, Larissa Brown’s BEAUTIFUL WRECK weaves an intensely gripping tale about the strength of women and the love they carry. This is the story we’ve been waiting for.”

I mean it. You want to read this. 

Today (Friday) you can grab the Kindle copy for $2.99 AND get free knitting patterns with it! See THIS post for details. Tomorrow the e-book will go back to $7.99, and it's worth every damn penny. Big and long and sprawling, you'll be irritated every time you have to put it down to go back to real life. 

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I got to interview Larissa so I could share her answers with you. And hey, I get to give a copy to someone lucky in the comments below! Keep reading! 


1. Why Iceland? 

For those who are not time travel romance readers, most of them are set in Scotland and involve men in kilts. I have to be different. So I set out to find a place and time where a Viking man might settle down and fall in love. What I learned was that settlement-era Iceland had a lot going for it romance-wise. Iceland has always been a place of rugged beauty, and – in its early years – of a kind of natural abundance that does not exist today. It was culturally isolated, with lots of room for creativity about day to day life and the developing Icelandic language. It was a time when the Christian values that drive most historical romances did not hold sway. And Iceland has some key romantic elements like lots of natural hot baths and angelica flowers to make mouthwash. I’ve always had a little trouble believing in the Medieval England time travel romances, y’know?


2. I know you traveled to Iceland for research for your book - what was the most startling thing you learned that you didn't know before you went?

I was stunned by how romantic the real Viking farm felt. When I began writing this book, I knew nothing about a Viking house except that it was covered in grass. So to imagine Ginn’s place, I loosely based it on a real Viking farm that was discovered in Iceland called Stöng. Much like my character, I studied that farm on a screen, wishing I could climb inside and see the real thing. I imagined it would be a stark place, where it would take the sheer force of a thousand years of love to make anyone want to stay.

I was so wrong. When I finally did arrive there, my small group of traveling companions and I walked around and simply came upon the most romantic spot in the world – a clear pool fed by two tiny waterfalls that turned into a stream and then joined a river that extended across the farm. I thought, no matter how hard life was here, someone cared about loveliness. Placing the house right there – that was poetry.


3. You're an accomplished knitter and knitwear designer, and I love your Viking collection, My Viking Love Song, six shawls and wraps. I've found in my own novels (which include patterns) that knitting a project while writing the connected piece makes each stronger. Were you working on the patterns while also writing the book? 

Thank you for your compliments on my knitting work! Yes, I did create the book and the shawl collection at the same time. The shawls are inspired by my fictional farm, and not at all what a real person – or even one of my characters – would have worn. The designs are a second, different way of expressing some of my story’s themes. I designed and published the shawl collection as a series over about a year, and when I started, I had only a vague plan of what the six designs would be. They changed as I continued developing who Ginn is and what her farm is like.

NOW. Rush. Go buy this book. Tell me you love it, because I KNOW you will. Leave a comment below if you'd like to be entered to win a copy, too. I'll draw a winner next week! 

ONE MONTH TO GO!February 4, 2014

OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS! 


I just realized it's only 4 WEEKS (just 28 days!) until PACK UP THE MOON is out! Don't forget, a preorder gets you a free signed bookplate! Email me at yarnagogo at gmail and tell me you bought it and give me your address. I'll get it right in the mail (even if you order electronically). 


Amazon: http:///TUUxzdFYX9
iBooks: https://t.co/aNvhzn9qqE
Indiebound: http://t.co/TeM7219zBb
B&N: http://t.co/SI52mrh52j

 

In other news, I'm DYING for Vietnamese or Thai food today, and specifically, I want to make it. Any ideas for a good starter recipe? 

Who Cares?January 28, 2014

I just realized something big about my writing process. 

This is why I hate a first draft: It's the Who Cares? draft. 

When I'm about 50,000 words into a 100,000 novel, you know what I start hearing in my head? WHO CARES? Who cares about these people? Do I? Not really, not that much. I've invested enough in them now (because by this point I've written 80k and thrown out 30k) that I do care a little. But I don't know the end of their story yet. That's the whole problem. 

Until I know what breaks--and then fixes--my characters, I can't care all the way. They aren't totally alive. At the midpoint of a first draft, each and every one of the characters could turn around on the page, flip me off, and walk out of the book and my life. 

When I write The End, though, I care so much it hurts. That's why, to me, revision is divine. I get to go in and play God, moving parts around and upping the stakes so that they really matter. So that the reader really cares. When I make myself cry at the computer (never during a first draft!) I know I'm getting closer. 

It strikes me that maybe that's why it took me so long to actually finish a whole novel. I had three incomplete novels under the bed that I gave up on when I couldn't silence the Who Cares? I had no idea that was normal for me.

Maybe it's normal for you. Keep pushing, keep writing your way all the way through it, even if, for a large part of that time, you just don't care. 

I bet you will. 

Winners and a Recipe! January 21, 2014

Because who doesn't love a crock pot recipe? If you don't have a slow cooker, you should get one because there is nothing better than coming home after a long day and the house smells like it's been cooking for you while you've been gone. AMAZEBALLS. Also, they're like fifteen bucks if you catch a sale. And they don't heat up the kitchen. But you knew that already, probably. 

But first: the lucky winners of the PACK UP THE MOON advanced reader's copy have been emailed and they are...

Pat L and Snow! <--- from comments

K. Barry, D. Hunt, and Shelda! <---- from my subscription list

Thanks for entering, y'all, and don't forget, you can still enter to win one of twenty-five copies over at Goodreads

Speaking of Lucky-AKA-Greg, that wee chihuahua from two posts ago? He's doing really well in his hopefully-forever home. He's such a cuddlebug. 

Much like Clementine and Clara are world-champion cuddlers: 

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Yes, though Clementine is the cuddliest dog in the world, she often looks  that worried. You know what she's worried about? She's worried we won't give her roast beef in the next five minutes, because that's what she believes should happen. Cooked crab would do, too. Or prime rib! Shrimp! Or pineapple pork al pastor! 

Oh, that last? THAT IS THE MOST AMAZING AND EASY PORK IN THE WORLD

Pineapple Pork al Pastor for Taco Night!

(A friend modified a recipe which I then threw around the kitchen, and I honestly have no idea where it originated, forgive me. But now it's yours. Don't let the pineapple throw you off -- the dish isn't overly sweet or tangy -- the pineapple containes bromelain which breaks down the pork and makes it soft and juicy. It's also fun to say. Bromelain. Try it.) 

Ingredients:

3-4 lbs pork shoulder, bone removed

One half to a whole pineapple, diced (it's not hard) or use a can or two if you don't have fresh (I use the whole pineapple)

1 jalapeño, diced

couple of cloves of garlic, chopped

1 white onion, diced

healthy dash of chili powder

4 tbs of cumin 

salt to taste

some canned chipotle peppers, mashed, with their sauce (I use about half the can)

1/2 cup water 

1/4 cup OJ or white vinegar

Throw it all in the crock pot before you leave the house! Turn it on low all day! Come home and warm some corn tortillas (or just put your fillings on a plate because you can't be bothered with the tortilla, that works too). Fill your soft tacos with this heavenly pork, avocado, a little chopped red cabbage, a bit of sriracha mayo or cheese or both, and DIE of bliss. Okay, don't die. But enjoy. 

ARC Giveaway!January 15, 2014

Penultimate is one of my favorite words, mostly because the only reason it exists is because someone like me said, "You know what I love? Not just the thing itself, but I love the thing right before that last part." 

I love the wedding rehearsal. That's when I cry. I love dress rehearsal, too, for the insane jitters and excitement. I loved my practice marathon even more than the real thing, even though both were 26.2 miles. 

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And I love getting the advanced readers copies of my new books in the mail. It's even more exciting that the actual real copies themselves. (If you have any interest in watching how freaking crazy I freaked right the freak out when I saw my first ARCs, you can click here.) 

ARCs are Not For Sale. They are often not pretty, being wrapped in plain paper. They have typos, sometimes brand new ones! But they are you, when you wake up in the morning, unshowered, no makeup, really YOU, so incredibly gorgeous with those flaws in that fragile human body.

I feel so tenderly toward my ARCs, especially this one, the book of my heart. I'm sending Kate, such a flawed mother, out into the world. Nolan, sweet, broken Nolan, will be seen by the public. And their daughter Pree . . . *falls to the ground wailing*  My babies!  *clutches books to breast*

I'm giving my last five away, randomly drawn in seven days on Tuesday the 21st. Two will go to people who comment on this post and three will go to people drawn from my mailing list. Take care of them if you get them, would you? For me? 

RestJanuary 10, 2014

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY!

My publisher is giving away 25 copies of Pack Up the Moon! Make sure you're entered! WOOOO! 

In other news: 

Holy crap, y'all. My new word REST? Is working so well. I mean, I'm jumping the gun and all since it's only ten days into the new year, but consciously thinking "I have to rest today" means I'm kind of getting it done, even though I've been insanely productive, also. I've taken to flopping. I flop onto the couch, the floor, onto my back on the bed. Then I just lie there for a while. It's REALLY nice. Who knew? (Oh, well, I should have listened to you. Story of my life.) 

Anyway, welcome to the newly designed Yarnagogo digs. I wanted a static home page with my newest book on it, so that's where you might have landed first. For the seven of you left reading RSS feeds, you might have to redirect your pointer here. I still use a reader, too, but I swear I forget it exists for months at a time (thanks for NOTHIN', Google Reader. RIP). The blog is not dead! It might be on life-support, though. I still love my blog a LOT, though. *pats blog*

Right now, I'm listening to Passenger's "Let Her Go" while the dogs bark at the workers outside. We're getting a new gate! And our fence reinforced! We have new neighbors, very nice ones, who have ENORMOUS dogs and Clementine would love nothing more than to get under our fence at them. Can't let that happen! 

I just got home from the 911 job, and now I'm going to get some writing done before my darling friend Stacey Jay comes over to take home a wee chihuahua I found hit by two cars earlier this week. Story HERE.

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He's such a darling cuddly boy, and I wish I could keep him, but we can't. Three dogs is enough. And Stacey's been wanting a chihuahua! Her husband said, though, that she could only have one if she, like, found one that had been hit by car or something. Ha! Take that, universe! I knew once he started throwing names out there, they were SUNK. Hopefully he'll get along well with kids (the chihuahua, not her husband) but we won't know that till she takes him home. Otherwise, I'll take the little dude back and foster him till we find a home.

Back at the words. And maybe a satsuma! And later, rest!

UPDATED TO ADD: 

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Meeting Stacey. He loved her immediately. 

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*fingers crossed!* 

2013 in ReviewDecember 31, 2013

January: 

We went to New Orleans! We saw the dog parade! We had SO MUCH FUN.

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I sewed a lot of dresses because I wasn't feeling the knitting mojo much. I wrote. I think--if I'm not wrong--I was working on Cypress Hollow #5, FIONA'S FLAME, which will be coming out in October(ish). I really like that one. I'd been trying to write Fiona's story forEVER. 

February: 

Got bronchitis! Fun times. Worked too much. 

March: 

I went to Italy with my little sister. HOW LUCKY AM I? 

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And I'll say it again: traveling with the kiddo is like traveling by myself only with someone interesting to talk to. It's pretty perfect. (Want to go here? Nah. Want to go there? Sure! See you later? Okay! Wine? Hell, yes!)

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I was in my favorite city, Venice. I miss it right NOW.

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Isn't that photo ridiculous? Like a painting! From an iPhone 4! We live in the future, people. I say it every day, but it's true.

April: 

We built a kitchen island from my old Formica table and salvaged kitchen cabinets.

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 Yes, we still feel very clever for this. 

I wrote a lot, judging by my calendar. I also worked a lot (too much) and volunteered quite a bit. Not much time in there for much else. THIS NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED IN 2014, PEOPLE. 

May: 

Penguin bought PACK UP THE MOON! 

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I'm still over it. The moon, that is, not the book. (I love this early review I got from Larissa Brown, whose own gorgeous book I'm totally going to pimp at you soon because it is AMAZING. Viking time travel love story. You will love it.)

Bookbookbookbook. So soon now! 

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And my marvelous and sweet agent sent me these earrings for Christmas. All packed up in a box. *sigh of delight*

June: 

We celebrated Lala's birthday in Mendocino. Lots of baths, eating, drinking, drawing, knitting, and sleeping. Pretty much perfect. 

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Prop 8/DOMA! We were still married! 

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July:

 RWA in Atlanta, dressed by Modcloth most of the month. My favorite dress of the year: 

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 And I tried to make a lot of time for this: 

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but honestly, for most of July, I worked too much.

August: 

I got a Vitamix!! 

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 Life changing, y'all. I use it up to three times a day, not only to blend green smoothies but to chop onions, make soup, etc. 

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Also in August, I realized why I couldn't eat much more than green smoothies. My gallbladder threw a fit and had to be taken out, and I spent three nights in the hospital. Here's to never having to dispatch my own ambulance to myself ever again! Or ever having to take off my clothes at work so coworkers can hook a 12-lead heart monitor to my chest! 

Up side: lots of time while recovering for this: 

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September: 

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This was the year Lala fell in love with opera. I think our favorite was The Barber of Seville. I don't love opera, but I do like it. Also, we get to dress up, so bring it. 

There was some knitting while I was recovering, too. 

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Juliet Blackwell and Sophie Littlefield.

My favorite writing cafe closed, but I discovered that I LOVE writing at Mills College, where I got my MFA. 

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There is something thrilling about getting PAID to write at the tea shop where I paid so much money to get that degree. I also love with an unreasonable passion my alumna parking sticker. 

October: 

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Cora's Heart came out, the fourth in the Cypress Hollow series. YAY! 

November: 

Lost Digit.

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Still don't really want to talk about it. But you know what? Remember when he came back from the dead and I said he needed a CalTrans vest to safely cross freeways? My friend Tash made him one. 

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Right? Right. 

Also: NaNo! The most fun one in a number of years. 

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Also: Boise for Thanksgiving, to the in-laws! We had a GREAT time there (we always do) and spent time with the neph. Good looks run in the family: 

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December: 

Really, December was about working a HELL of a lot at both jobs and knitting a HELL of a lot. 

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2014: May we all rest as comfortably as Clementine does on her chair:

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Last year's word was NOW. I learned about meditation and sitting in one spot. I learned how to lie down and sink into the bed, turning my brain off. That was good, and needed. 

2014's word? REST. I think I proved to myself and everyone around me this year that working too hard just lands you in the hospital. I'm bad at balance, though, always have been. I work hard and then I rest hard. I'd like this year to bring more regular, planned rest. Fun rest. Chosen rest. Not enforced recovery. 

What about you? What's your chosen word or theme this coming year? 

Thanks, friends. I'm so glad and thankful for YOU. 

A Merry OctopusDecember 24, 2013

Lala loves octopuses. (This is the correct pluralization. Did you know that? Actually, if one were going to pluralize it with its Greek base, it would be octopodes, not octopi -- that would be correct if it were Latinate in origin, which it is not.) 

I do not love octopuses. I think they are creepy and way too smart and will someday rule the earth. If your neurons are big enough to play jacks with, they are too big. (Now, THAT was creepy.) And I know a LOT about octopuses, since Lala talks about them almost non-stop. For example, I know that their eye-slits are horizontal, no matter the position of their bodies. Ick. 

But I do love Lala. Lots. So I made this for her Christmas present. 

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I believe she was surprised. 

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I tell you, making those suckers and THAT EYE was weird. And the pattern (Embrace) was written in only one size, so I had to do a lot of math and gauge-guessing. But it fits her perfectly. 

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She looks terribly good-looking in it, doesn't she? 

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We've had a FANTASTIC Christmas so far (we're celebrating today, since I work Xmas proper and Boxing Day) and I got a ton of wonderful things like speakers and jewelry and a NEW SWIFT AND BALL WINDER because mine have been broken for literally years and years. 

Now we're going to the Legion of Honor to see the Anders Zorn exhibit and then we're going to go to a dark bar and play Quiddler and then we're going to eat whatever we want at whatever restaurant we pick. I REALLY like today. And Lala. As my Cari Luna says, "When someone knits an octopus sweater for you, there is absolutely no need to question how much you're loved."

Yep. Merry whatever you celebrate to you and yours. xoxo

Doing It Is Better Than NotDecember 20, 2013

I'm still thinking a lot about this whole meditation thing. I'm not willing to go all religious about it, but it sure has been nice to practice it every day. (I'll reiterate again with no paid compensation, etc -- I'm using Headspace to learn how to meditate. It's been ideal, making it simple. Simple doesn't preclude educational, and I've learned SO MUCH.)

This just in  -  Meditation is like writing is like knitting.

1. If you just do it, it gets done. So simple, right? The secret of everything. Right here. And yet sometimes, SO HARD.

2. A little bit every day adds up. Meditating every day has made all the difference. Even if I'm just doing it at the end of the day to help myself drift off, it's taught me how to relax. I've never, ever known how to do that before. (Oh, holy cow. I just checked in with myself, and I was literally holding my breath as I typed that, hunched into a ball over the computer. I often do that. Most of the time I don't notice it. But just now I relaxed. I let my muscles unknot and my facial expression soften and WOW, in the time it took me to type that last sentence, my shoulders knotted up and I had to relax them again. This relaxing could be a full-time job. Wait. How do I get that job?) 

3. On the days it's bad, it's still pretty damn good. On bad meditation days, your brain goes WHAT THE HELL IS THAT WHAT IS THAT NOISE DID THE CAT JUST THROW UP OMG DOG STOP BARKING I HAVE AN ITCH ON MY EYEBROW I MIGHT DIE WHO ARE YOU WHEN DO I GET TO STOP. But you know what? Afterward, you'll feel better, even if only incrementally. On bad knitting days, the yarn balks and you swear at it and you end up with twenty percent fewer stitches than you had at the beginning. But you've still touched something that no one else could make. And on bad writing days, you write the worst words in the world, words that are pure dreck or worse, words that are the scummy film that grows on dreck under rotting porches. 

But this fact remains: The days that you relax and sit in the now for a few minutes, the days that you touch something you're physically bringing into existence, and the days that you get your thoughts onto a page are way better than the days you don't. 

Reading: 

I'm reading a FANTASTIC book right now called Zen Confidential: Confessions of a Wayward Monk. It's the memoir of a Zen monk who writes from where reality lives, not from a soft tussock on a blessed mountain. I have no interest in pursuing Zen Buddhism, because I'm not that hardcore (aughhh -- those very words inspire this response inside me ---> YES I AM WATCH ME) but I'm fascinated by this guy and his essays. The memoirs I love (and the one I tried to write) are the ones that say something simple and obvious but then wade neck-deep into the embarrassment and shame that come from being human on any given Tuesday. I like watching memoirists hold up the darkest parts of themselves and own them. Shame is the most interesting human feeling, I think, and it's unique in that upon airing in public, it disappears. Shozen Jack Haubner goes there, and then he crawls underneath and inside of there and rolls around in ecstatic agony. It's wonderful. 

Here's a taste of it for you, from the section in which he goes home to his parents' house for his once-yearly vacation from the monastery: 

I dine. I dine again. I dine thrice. Then, pleasantly nauseated, I collapse on the leather La-Z-Boy and flick on a flat-screen TV the width of an RV windshield. Naturally, it is tuned to Fox News. My parents are the Fox News constituency. They voted for G.W. Bush, had four years to think about it, and then went ahead and voted for him again. 

Just hearing the voices of the Fox telegogues makes my skin crawl. My father, not content with leaving work at the shop, has hung guns from every wall in the house--ancient guns, modern guns, guns for dropping rhinoceroses or a fleeing Navajo squaw at a hundred yards. I consider pulling one down and silencing forever this TV, which is as large and loud as a helipad, its sound waves rippling my cheeks like air blast from propeller blades. 

My father enters the room. I am sitting in his chair, which fact I am reminded of by his shadow as he hovers over me silently. I repair to the couch as Dad navigates our TV watching from Fox to a dramatic medical reenactment and then roots for a seventeen-inch tapeworm as it makes its dramatically reenacted black-and-white exit from the tastefully blurred behind of the woman offscreen, who is shrieking "Ain' no one told me my mama's home cookin' gonna lead to this!" her voice competing with the one ricocheting throughout my skull: Why-in-the-HELL did I come back home again?!

The whole book is like this. I highly recommend it, though I'm only half-way through.

I'm also reading The Light Between Oceans. I'm DYING, it's so good. I'm in my favorite reading spot, which is smack-dab in the middle of reading a great memoir and a great novel. I'm also smack-dab in the middle of writing my next novel, which is ALSO my favorite place to be, though it's not quite as much fun as lying in the tub reading someone else's hard work. (Okay, I'm lying. It's way more fun.) 

ExcerptDecember 12, 2013

Just for you, a little excerpt from Pack Up the Moon to tempt your palate:

 

            Once Nolan was back on the couch, he just did one more thing before he closed the laptop for the night. Google Maps came up, and he typed in the address on Ronada Avenue. He switched to street view. For twenty, maybe thirty seconds he let his eyes rest on the house he still thought of as his sometimes, before he remembered he’d been removed from the deed. The front door, almost but not quite hidden by the deep garden, was antique solid-core mahogany, intricately carved. He’d found it at the overpriced salvage yard in the industrial west end of Berkeley, and Kate—only ever frugal on accident—had been shocked at the price.

            “It’s just a door. It has to be able to stand up to a knock. Why on earth would we pay that for a door? Let’s take a trip or something instead.”

            But for once, he hadn’t justified it. Kate had done the bulk of the interior design at their house, even though he was the one who maintained it, picking up behind her as she spun through the rooms as if she were the wind. He’d only balked once, when she wanted to paint the ceilings in the rooms different colors. Reds, oranges, yellows—that was one thing when they were on the walls. A green ceiling was where he drew the line. But everything else she could have. She could choose.

            The door, though, was for him. It made the house sturdy. It stood as protection. Fortification. Not from anything, not really. Just sound. Safe. They were the only people on their street, probably in all of the East Bay who didn’t have an iron security door. Why would he get one of those? It would take a battering ram to splinter theirs.

            And it was still there. At least, in the most recent satellite images, it was. And Kate’s  green Saab still sitting there in the driveway.

            He zoomed in one more notch. Right now, Kate was in that house. Ten miles away. Somewhere in there, maybe in the living room, reading… A second later, he felt like a stalker, as if at any moment he’d see Kate as she put the can on the curb—it was Sunday, trash came on Monday. Nolan wondered idly how many times Kate had forgotten to take the trash out since he’d been gone. Twenty times? Thirty? Once he’d stopped putting the can out on the street entirely just to see if she’d notice. “This is so damn full. How can we have made so much trash in a week?” she’d said, trying to smash the kitchen bag into the big bin. She said it for three weeks in a row until a raccoon found its way in the open top. Nolan had spent an hour on the front lawn, picking up old meat wrappers and used Kleenex as his penance. It was nice, to have that fight. To fight about something that, in the end, didn’t matter in the slightest.

            He’d have sold the house if he were her. Apart from that door—and her—there was nothing at that address he needed anymore.

            Nolan shut the computer and closed his eyes. When they’d had Robin, after he’d realized the depth of the love he possessed for his beautiful blue-eyed boy, he’d forgotten the first rule of corporate finance, the mantra he’d repeated to his clients: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When it smashes, it’s a fucking nightmare.

 

Preorder links to the left. Preorder and get a free bookplate, just email me!  <----

Bookplates! December 3, 2013

An exhausting day with many, many words written, some of which I will probably end up keeping, woot! I love these late fall days, where the cold is actually a thing, and every time you step outside, you can smell woodsmoke, even in a metropolis like Oakland where it's mostly illegal to burn wood (I say mostly because NO ONE polices that. Go ahead. I won't tell on you. I want to sniff it). 

I would like, someday, to be in the snow. In a cabin, or a snug house, watching snow drift down while I knitted or wrote. (I've been reading May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude, and it shows.) Preferably Lala would be in the kitchen cooking for me or, even better, drawing while our snow-cabana boy cooked for both of us! Doesn't that sound wonderful? 

In my exhausted snowless day, though, I had a really good mail day that you should know about. 

I got this scarf WHICH I LOVE: 

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It's from Storiarts, and it's from Little Women, a book I could probably read backward, sentence by sentence, and still love. (The artist makes Anne ones! But I'm just as fond of Jo.) Also, it's not knitted out of wool, which means maybe I'll be able to wear it in this temperate clime.

And I got BOOKPLATES! (Writers, I told you I would report back on this. I am. You should do this.) 

They're awesome. 

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Signed Bookplates

The tan one on the left is for the American version of Pack Up the Moon, and the green one goes with the Australia/New Zealand version. And you can have either signed (or both! because I'm nice) just for preordering a copy of it (see left sidebar for links). Just shoot me an email at yarnagogo at gmail telling me you've preordered, with your mailing address, and I'll get it to you! You'll probably get several bookmarks, too, because I've got LOTS of those.

For those curious, they're from Moo. They're the rectangular stickers, and they make great, high quality inexpensive bookplates. I just created the images in Photoshop and dragged and dropped them in. ("Just!" As if learning Photoshop has been easy! It hasn't! But don't I sound cool?) 

Okay. I'm going to drink a glass of wine and cook some pork chops for Lala because she'll be home soon and we have neither cabana boy nor snow. But we have fun. 

(And THANK YOU, those of you who already love the Eliza Carpenter story (see prior post). I'm thrilled and seriously, honestly humbled by your reaction.) 

(OMG! I forgot to tell you about my new Ravelry group! You want to be in it! Because we hang out and chat! It's fun!) 

* Holy wow. Just heard from Mandy: "I preordered pack up the moon awhile back when you first posted, but here's the rub! It's a kindle version because I read those a bunch! So a bookplate is a pretty waste of postage for me! But I would LOVE if you would use the postage on a Christmas card for a soldier in honor of my brother in law who deployedyesterday!"

Link: American Red Cross Holiday Mail

I will do this, instead, if you don't want the bookplate because you're preordering in e-version. What a lovely thing. 

Eliza's HomeDecember 1, 2013

I wrote Eliza Carpenter's love story. 

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This novella is really special to me. Eliza Carpenter has been present in all the Cypress Hollow novels, but I had to travel back to 1940s Cypress Hollow to find out how she met Joshua. 

Eliza is much smarter than I am. She always has been. Those quotes at the top of the chapters? If they don't come from Eliza,  I have no idea where they come from, because half the time when I reread them I have no memory of writing them. 

It was a total joy to hang out with her. (Her story, truthfully, surprised me. I didn't know her backstory until she told me, and I'm glad I get to tell you.) 

ELIZA'S HOME is available here:

Paper | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks

UK: Paper | Kindle

AU/NZ:  Paper | Kindle 
(with a darling different cover -- don't both of the covers look a little Anne-ish?)

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 (If a link above is not live, then it's coming within a day or two -- some vendors are slower than others to catch up.) 

(Oh, my gosh, I'm SO EXCITED!) 

On GriefNovember 19, 2013

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.) 

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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. 

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2013 Night of Writing DangerouslyNovember 18, 2013

The Night of Writing Dangerously is Prom for writers. (And it funds the Youth Writing Program for NaNoWriMo, what could be better?) 

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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. 

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Veronica Wolff, sister Bethany, me, Kristin Miller, AJ Larrieu, Gigi Pandian, and Shannon Monroe

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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.) 

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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. 

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Bethany looks on approvingly as I selfie. 

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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, Actually Dead This TimeNovember 8, 2013

Digit was the worst cat ever. He arrived as a tiny little jerk. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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Some cat. Fucking love of my life. 

StarsNovember 7, 2013

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."

Winner! And Book Recommendations!November 2, 2013

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 


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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!)

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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. 

My Favorite Writing QuotesOctober 27, 2013

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
Whew.

 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
Like knitting!

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
Word.

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.
KAY RYAN

The whole process of writing a novel is having this great, beautiful idea and then spoiling it.
DIANE JOHNSON

I never think when I write; nobody can do two things at the same time and do them well.
DON MARQUIS

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!
HENRY DAVID THOREAU

One of the things I had to learn as a writer was to trust the act of writing. —E. L. Doctorow

I write because I want more than one life; I insist on a wider selection. It’s greed, plain and simple. -- ANNE TYLER

There are only two things to write about: life and death. -- EDWARD ALBEE

I write pieces, and move them around. And the fun of it is watching the truthful parts slide together. What is false won't fit. -- ELIZ. STROUT

I have always kept notebooks and I go back to them over and over. They are my compost pile of ideas.—Louise Erdrich

I always begin with a character, or characters, and then try to think up as much action for them as possible.  -- JOHN IRVING

The imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering. --BRENDA UELAND

When I finish a 1st draft, it's always just as much of a mess as it's always been. I still make the same mistakes every time. - MICHAEL CHABON

The process of rewriting is enjoyable, because you’re not in that existential panic when you don’t have a novel at all. - ROSE TREMAIN

Writing is the action of thinking, just as drawing is the action of seeing and composing music is the action of hearing. - BRENDA UELAND

Go looking for an idea and it'll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough. - IRA GLASS

It just requires so much of you, and most of the time you feel dumb.- SALMAN RUSHDIE

MindfulnessOctober 22, 2013

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: 

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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. 

 

Blatant BriberyOctober 17, 2013

 

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. 

Cora's HeartOctober 8, 2013

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It's here! It's finally here

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. 

It's not out yet in paperback, for those of you who love the feel of a real book (I do, too) -- it should be coming very soon, hopefully within the month. I was thisclose to not telling you all about the ebook versions until the paperback version was out, too, but I COULDN'T STAND IT. I had to tell you. 

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. 

Of course, there are no contingency plans for love, especially when a large-animal vet named Mac comes back to Cypress Hollow. 

You can read an excerpt HERE if you'd like to, and I really, really hope you enjoy this visit to Cypress Hollow. 

xoxo
Rachael who is so excited she can't STAND it. 


Available here:

Amazon
Amazon UK
Kobo
iBookstore
Nook

Paperback to come SOON! (Make sure you're on my mailing list so you don't miss the news!) 

Winner! October 1, 2013

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. 

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Well, I suppose that's the safest way to sleep. Otherwise, you end up with sad, deflated ears and Digit vulturing you: 

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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: 

 

 

Giveaway! You Will Love This BookSeptember 25, 2013

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!) 

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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. 

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell's / Indiebound

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?”
            She nods.
            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. 

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell's / Indiebound

Happiness UpdateSeptember 16, 2013

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? 

Planning or Pansting Webinar September 11, 2013

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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.) 

Also: 

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. 

love,

Rachael 

(who, two hours after posting this, now knows she'll be wearing wings to the Ball. Thank you, darling fairy godmother. love love love.) 

Easy, Cool Dinner PartySeptember 8, 2013

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. 

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Copyright Williams-Sonoma

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. 

 

Some GallAugust 28, 2013

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. 

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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? 

 

Cover Reveal! August 19, 2013

Y'all, I think this is my most gorgeous cover ever

PACK UP THE MOON is the book coming out in March (available for preorder now at Amazon, B&N, and Powells). 

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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 cover, too.
 
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. 

I Love a ListAugust 9, 2013

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. 

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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.)

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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). 

* I use minced garlic and chopped ginger because I'm lazy. Here's the red curry paste I like. I only use 1 tbs in this recipe because I'm sensitive to heat, and this stuff is spicy. 

Guest Post - Gigi PandianAugust 6, 2013

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.

 

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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!

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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!)

 4. Learning to cook. It’s so much easier than I thought it would be! Over the course of a year, small steps added up into being someone who cooks delicious homemade meals every day. Gigi3

 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.  

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 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! 

9Receiving 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.

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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/

RWA 2013July 24, 2013

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): 

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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. 

BIG NEWS: 

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: 

Amazon, Powells (other vendors will be added as I find them)

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. 

RWA 2013

. . . 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.

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(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. 

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My gorgeous darlins: Sophie Littlefield, AJ Larrieu, and Vanessa Kier. (And wedged in there, moi, still wearing my badge because I used it as my purse. I am straight klassy-with-a-K.) 

The Only Two Things You Must To Do To Be a WriterJuly 11, 2013

There are only two things you must do if you really, truly want to be a writer. 

1. Write. 

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. 

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I seriously hit PhotoBooth instead of WriteOrDie (the logos look similar) and I shot this snap before I knew what I was doing. This is writing. It isn't pretty. 

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, Sophie B'Con - webres
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! 

41July 7, 2013

We went out of town for my birthday.

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We stayed at the Albion River Inn, which is much too fancy for people like us. I first went there years ago, with a girlfriend who had more expensive taste than I did, and I never forgot it. Lala and I went there for our first wedding anniversary (six years ago!). This year, I used my birthday as an excuse. 

I can't remember a more relaxing trip, ever. 

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We did nothing. Yesterday, true, we made the grueling five mile drive to Mendocino to see the craft fair (shades of hemp soap and spoon windchimes) and to eat fudge while sitting in front of the excellent Gallery Bookshop. I found yarn (Lala found it, actually -- the Mendocino Yarn Shop has moved, and is still worth seeking out). That was the extent of our out-of-hotel adventures. 

Beyond that? We moved from table to tub and back again. Y'see, in some of the rooms at this inn, the spa-tub is IN THE WINDOW (in front of private land where no one but you will walk) and you can lie in the tub and watch the ocean. (Room 17 is stunning.) 

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View from tub. 

I read a lot. (While in the tub, mostly.)

Lala drew. 

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I knitted a little.

But mostly, I sat in the tub. I sat in the tub in the morning. I sat in the tub at midnight. I sat in the tub before dinner and got our breakfast coffee in to-go cups so I could get back in the water. Yesterday afternoon, I stayed in the tub for three hours, after which I stumbled to the bed for an afternoon nap (which I don't actually remember doing. I wasn't drinking -- it just felt like I was). Last night, we lit the fire and got in the tub. We got out to do grown-up things (taxes, of course) and then while Lala slept, I got back in and listened to the waves break in the dark. 

Today, we left the hotel, sorrow in our hearts. We made it up to ourselves by wine-tasting in the Anderson Valley as we drove through it. Now, you have to know that Lala and I both enjoy four-dollar wine. Livin' high for us is wine on sale at Safeway (true! You can get a fourteen-dollar bottle of wine on sale there for seven!). We don't know what's good or what's bad, and we don't know how to taste. And neither of us have ever been financially able to go to a winery and put our noses in the air and say, "Whyyy, yes, darling, this DOES hint of palest sorrowful rose and alabaster mint grown on the steppes of inner-east temperate Yugoslavia." 

But today, we went to a few wineries on the way home, because buying a bottle or two won't break the bank (luckily). We were honest at Husch Winery, and we told Susan, "We have NO idea what we're doing." We found a few bottles we liked and brought them home, and this is a conversation we just had (word for word), a few minutes ago on the porch while our salmon cooked on the grill and while we sipped our incredible bottle of Breggo Chardonnay Reserve. 

Lala: The nose of this is...

Rachael: Nosey! 

[Falling over laughing.]

A moment later, while tasting it Very Seriously: 

Rachael: This tastes like...

Lala: Things we can't afford to eat! 

Takeaway: We are not adult enough to drink wine. 

Speaking of adults, this is how Clementine looked when we left: 

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And today:

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Things are good at Chez Hehu. I like 41 WAY better than 40. 

And apropos of nothing but I think this is lovely and I adore Dustin Hoffman more than I ever did before (which was a lot)--please watch this about how he found out he'd been brainwashed (it's worth your time):

Summer Favorites June 30, 2013

Apologies to those of you who follow me on Twitter and have heard me rhapse waxodic on these candles, but I lurve them sooo much. 

Y'see, the last time I lit a real candle in our house, Digit ran past it, lit his tail on fire, and headed for the living room curtains. I put out his tail-flame with my bare hands and then breathed into a paper bag for a while. I gave up on candles. Not worth it. But I love the way candles look -- the glow the give, the home-ness of them. I missed them. 

Then one night at work, we got a call from a citizen who saw a candle burning in a closed tchotchke shop. We sent out a fire engine. The shop was closed and locked, and there was, indeed, a candle burning inside on a table. 

We set about trying to find the responsible contact for the premise, going through PD and the alarm company -- all the normal venues. In the meantime, the fire crew had been on scene about a half-hour. And one of the guys started thinking, Maybe it's not a real candle. No, the others said. It flickers! Look, it's wavering. It's real. They stared. They studied. They weren't more than eight feet away through glass, and they could not tell. 

Finally, we got hold of the owner who verified that no, they didn't light real candles in the store, but that it was a special battery-operated candle that utilized the technology Disney uses in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

We had a good laugh. The crew cleared. And I started Googling, because if those candles were good enough to fool the firefighters, then they'd be good enough for me. 

I found them! I bought them! Even though they were exceedingly expensive! And I'm blogging this now because I just found them for hella cheap on Amazon, less than half-price, and if you want to try them, this would be the time. They look a little frumpy in their Amazon photos, so I took a little video of them in the house. (Some come with a remote -- one remote will control them all, in case you're curious.) 

 

I don't actually ever use the remote -- you can put them on a timer, and they'll "burn" for 5 hours every night before flicking off. So now when we come home at night? They're on! They run on D batteries, and we use rechargeables, so we're golden. This will absolutely be our go-to wedding/housewarming present from here on out. They look so real

Sorry! That was such a hard sell! But they make me happy, daily. 

Your reward? A Summer Plum Salad, adapted from that amazing 101 Simple Salads list the New York Times compiled four years ago. 

Brine two chicken breasts for an hour-ish or more (place in a large ziplock bag, add about 4tbs salt and some peppercorns). Grill them (the chicken breasts, not the plastic bag). Slice 4-6 plums (in season now!). (I honestly didn't even know how to do this cleanly, but god bless the Internet -- I learned how here.) Place sliced plums in large bowl, add balsamic vinegar, enough to coat and then some more. While that sits, chop some celery, toss some salted roasted almonds in food processor, chop some oregano (he says marjoram also works, but I found that too perfumy), chop a little red onion, and throw all that in the bowl. Add olive oil and salt on top, mix it up. Chop the cooked chicken, add. Serve on top of favorite greens. AMAZING. You're welcome. 

Also? Happy Pride, y'all. So happy with the Prop 8/DOMA decisions. (We went and danced in the Oakland streets that night. It was wonderful.) 

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Reading Recs With Bonus Giveaway! June 25, 2013

Oh, darlins, I've been reading SO much lately. I've been on a reading bender, overdosing on books. 

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by...Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading--that is a good life. -- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I picked up that book in 2007. I know because my Kindle told me not to buy it again last week (thanks!). I vaguely remembered starting it, and not connecting with her language, with her level of intensity. Dillard takes her job as writer very seriously, and that scared me. This time through? I'm highlighting sentences on every page. I love this book. I finished it earlier this week, hit the home button, and started it again from the beginning. I'm not sure I've ever done that before. 

Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein. Recommended by just about everyone around me, this book gripped me from the very start. Female pilots in World War Two! The Gestapo! Spies! Don't read any of the blurbs -- just jump in and read, blind, like I did. I have never cried so much while reading a book, maybe ever. (That is not a spoiler. When I heard that before I started reading it, I thought Dang, I didn't want to know that! But trust me, it's not really a spoiler.) I couldn't put this down -- one of those books you can't wait to get back to. 

Speaking of books you can't wait to get back to, I'd love to introduce you to Vanessa Kier! She's an exciting writer I was lucky enough to beta-read for, and she writes romantic thrillers. Who doesn't love a thriller? Vanessa writes what I like -- spicy hot alpha males and women who are even stronger. She gave me an interview, and she'll be giving away a copy of Vengeance - The Surgical Strike Unit Trilogy Book 1 in hard copy or e-version to a lucky commenter! 

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Hi, Vanessa! First of all, I love where he's carrying that gun. Next, What comes first for you, characters or plot? How do you marry the two?

Character usually comes first for me. For example, with Vengeance the first thing I knew about the story was that it revolved around an emotionally wounded heroine, Jenna. I knew that she’d survived a horrific attack that killed her parents and her younger siblings, and that trauma and survivor’s guilt pushed her in a direction no one who knew her up to that point would have expected. After that, I had to actually get into the writing before I even discovered who the hero was. Mark Tonelli was the original hero, until he met Jenna and was such a jerk I realized he was a secondary villain. Niko appeared to me shortly after that.

Betrayal worked slightly differently, because the plot and many of the characters flowed from Vengeance. So I already knew the hero, some of the villains and that the heroine was the daughter of the villainous Dr. Nevsky. From the moment I started thinking about Betrayal I knew that the heroine was going to be either an archaeologist or anthropologist. Susana Dias appeared very shortly after that and was a blast to write!

The plot usually flows from the characters. I often know a few key plot points and maybe the ending, but for the most part, when writing the rough draft I let the characters dictate the action.

 

What draws you to fast-paced suspense?

The simple answer is probably that I’m just hard-wired that way. I get bored if I'm not writing mayhem! :D After I finished my first full-length manuscript, a romantic suspense that took me five years to write, I was so burned out I thought I’d try to write a light contemporary romance about a woman who meets a man while on vacation. But before long there are dead bodies, her Army brother goes missing in action over seas, and the heroine becomes involved in an investigation that uncovers corruption in the army command. Then Jenna’s story popped into my head and completely overrode the other plot. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll go back and write that as a suspense, not a contemporary romance!

The more complex answer is twofold. First, I’m fascinated by the idea that if you put a character in a life or death situation, you’ll quickly see their true essence. 

Second, I’m a worrier. I think that it's cathartic for me to write down some of the worst situations I can think of, then maneuver the plot to result in a happy ending. In my books I can make sure the good guys win, which is very satisfying emotionally and something that doesn’t always happen in real life. 

 

What's your favorite part of the writing process?

The organic process of putting emotion and action on the page is my favorite part. I like sitting down to a blank page and not knowing what's going to come out as my fingers fly over the keyboard. I also love discovering new details while interviewing one of my characters. 

 

What's your least favorite?

Trying to organize all the messy scenes into a coherent whole! I’ve learned that I’m no good at following an outline. I outlined Vengeance, but as I wrote, the characters deviated so far from my outline there was no going back! After the rough draft is done I really drill down and make sure that the characters’ motivations and goals are clear and that the actions they take are logical. Sometimes I end up having to completely alter the plot because of this, which ends up in a lot of work. However, my muse is happier if there's not too much structure when I'm writing the first draft.

Also, keeping the timeline straight for the SSU trilogy was horrible, particularly since Retribution (Book 3) starts chronologically before Betrayal (Book 2). It took several iterations of tracking events on an erasable wall calendar with multiple colors of markers to make sure that the characters weren’t in two places at the same time! 

 

What's on your plate now?

Retribution_200x300I’m revising the first book in a new romantic thriller series. The series takes place in Africa and I’m drawing on my time spent living there to add authentic details. The first book is about Jane Gardiner, an international aid worker nicknamed Calamity Jane, because no matter where she goes natural disaster, disease or strife seems to strike. If this was a paranormal, she’d behaunted by the Four Horsemen! The hero isRio Martinez, an ex-Marine. Rio is Jane's former lover and the man she was forced to betray several years earlier, ending up in his imprisonment and torture. Rio has become part of a secret African organization that is part special operations, part Robin Hood’s Merry Men, with a goal of preventing violent rebel groups from throwing the region into chaos. Jane and Rio are forced to work together to locate a disk that contains data that can prevent a series of attacks against foreign embassies. There arerebels and traitors and some pretty gritty action scenes. You know, the usual fun and games! 

Thanks so much for having me here!

 

 One lucky commenter will win a copy of  Vengeance! Say whatever you'd like in your comment, but as always, it's fun if you share the latest great book you read with everyone else. - R

NowJune 20, 2013

I just got my third tattoo. Actually, it's my fourth, but one was covered up. This one is on the inside of my arm, just below my elbow. 

It's based on this drawing I made: 

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When I was a kid, I used to draw words like this. I'd write my name in cursive and then mirror it (folding, rubbing with pencil, and redrawing) and marvel that my name was unrecognizable and so beautiful, disguised that way. 

The word NOW is gorgeous in the same way. 

NowLong

See it now

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Backwards, and shiny because under saran wrap still but you get the idea.

It's kind of my own secret, since I hid it on the underside of my arm, so if my arm is against my side, you can't see it even in short sleeves. But when I write, I can glance down and read the word, in my own handwriting, in purple (like the best kind of fountain pen ink).

Now

I've been thinking a lot about that word, trying to keep it in my mind. I don't live in yesterday (though I always think it would be nice to--I have a lot of great memories in the old mental Rolodex that don't get flipped through as often as I'd like to) but I have a real problem with that whole What's happening next thing. I can be truly, deeply, and spiritually loving the bacon and eggs that Lala's fixed me in the morning and be wondering at the same time what would be good for lunch. Or worse, dinner. Instead of sitting there, enjoying the bacony goodness. 

Now is now. 

It's the silliest, most simple thing, but it's HUGE. It's all, perhaps. Where you are sitting (because I bet you're seated) right now is the only moment you're sure of. Are you comfortable? Do you, like me, have the remains of a perfect peach to your left? Is it too hot where you are? Too cold? How does your body feel? Are you listening to music? Maybe you're stealing time away from work to cruise blogs (good for you). Are you hungry? Maybe, just for a minute, look around and be amazed that you are where you are. Right now.

Me: I have the desk fan pointed on me because I'm hot (as usual). Outside, the sprinkler is going because I finally remembered to turn it on (our grass is browning). There's a kid playing in it, washing off a tennis ball. He's sweet, about five, maybe. I don't know his name, but we're pals. From the kitchen on the other side of the house, I can hear The Lone Bellow, the album I put on to make dinner to. A dog is snoring in the living room. 

Now is now. Now is pretty fucking awesome. 

I think it's hitting me more today because I just got the tattoo, but it's been joyously lovely to keep in mind. After I went to the grocery store, I was driving home in heavy, slow traffic on 580. A 50s pickup truck was broken down in the left hand shoulder. Half a mile ahead, a man walked right next to the fast lane (which I was in). The top of the SmartCar and the windows were down, so as I passed him, I said, "Want a ride?" 

You should have seen his face. When he woke up that morning, he hadn't planned on riding in SmartCar, I could tell. But how on earth was he going to cross five lanes of heavy traffic without getting smooshed like a bug? He said he'd been wondering that himself. And as I made my way to the right lane, to the exit that would take us to a gas station where I could drop him off, as we chatted about the truck (that he had just bought, poor guy), we were both kind of astounded as to where we suddenly found ourselves, I think. I'd been alone in my car a few seconds before, with no intention of picking up a stranger. He'd been trudging down the road, stuck on the wrong side of a river of traffic. 

Suddenly we were both in the car, music playing, laughing. It was a lovely, lovely moment that didn't even last three minutes. When I got back on the freeway, I entered right behind the car I'd been behind originally (that's how bad traffic was). And I hadn't helped the guy out in any substantial way -- he still had to deal with a broken-down truck on the freeway. But I'd helped for a few seconds, and we'd had fun. 

And now? Now I'm going to brine some chicken and then go sit on the porch with a glass of wine and my book. It's a gorgeous night. I hope you're enjoying the now, my ducks. Love. 

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Clara approves. 

Summer ComethJune 10, 2013

Lala and I went kayaking last week for her birthday. I'd forgotten how much fun it is, just paddling a boat. (It always makes me think of Ratty in the Wind in the Willows, "there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.") 

 Kayaking! Bday girl in the background.

I've kayaked quite a bit, always in the ride-on-top or recreational sit-in kayaks, never the strap-yourself-in scary kind. And wherever I've ended up has been as much due to luck as it was to paddling skills. It's a natural movement, after all. Give a kid a paddle, and he'll paddle with it. That was me. 

But we took a class, because Lala wanted to. And what do you know? There is SO MUCH to know about kayaking! I learned what my body was supposed to do (if you're doing it "right," you're using your feet and your core as much as your arms). I learned how to turn in place (turning of any sort had always been a mystery to me) and how to paddle backwards.

 Action shot of @smartyboots

The class took us through the estuary at Jack London to Alameda, where we boated around the marinas, and then wound up at the Grand Street marina for lunch, and then we paddled back. 

It made me think about the summer fast approaching. I realized that not only is it almost here, it's almost too late to start planning. Gah. I went through our calendar and we really only have one free weekend available for a camping trip, and when I went online to reserve something, it was all booked. Of course it is. I've been saying for months I should get on it, but didn't. 

So are there places you can go camp that aren't campgrounds? That's a weird question. But you know what I mean. Anyone used AirB&B? (I just looked at their site and couldn't find camping-friendly things, just rooms in houses. Maybe I'm using it wrong.) 

What other ideas do you have for summer close-to-home? I'm thinking a campout in the backyard might actually be fun. Campgrounds have quiet hours, and they make you stop playing music by 10pm. Our backyard? We have cool neighbors on one side and none at all on the other, so we could play all night! 

I'd love to hear what you do in the summer for unconventional fun. (Or any kind of fun, really.) 

Do the MathMay 27, 2013

I'm on deadline, and I've just hit the point in revising the book at which I finally believe it will probably be good. Up till this point, it's been the WORST book ever written, but since this is my seventh book, I know that I feel that way every single time. 

When I reach the point at which I love the book, right when I fall in love with it, I send it away to my editor. She, in turn, will find areas I can make better, and I'll hate the book briefly and viciously again. Then I'll revise again, and it will be the BEST book ever written. 

What's nice to realize is that neither of these things are true. They're just feelings. I haven't ever written the worst, or the best, book in the world. Nor will I ever do so (thank god). 

All that matters is doing the math. Isn't that funny? That writing comes down to numbers? But it does, for me. 

My books are about 90,000 words long. I write first drafts more slowly than I revise. I can reliably write 2-3k words of new stuff in a day before my brain fizzles. I can reliably revise 6-8k words in a day. 

I look at my calendar and I map it all out. Every day that I'm not at the day-job gets a word count goal (thanks, Google Calendar!). If I have thirty days available to write a first draft, then I need to write 3,000 words each day. I keep a chart for every book, so I can tell you exactly how long it took to write any given book. Somehow, it's comforting to me to look at the numbers. 

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Click to biggify

You can see that I'm doing this revision quickly, much more quickly than it took me to write the first draft. (And yes, you can tell by the above math that I didn't write the ending the first time through. I never know how my books end until I've written them at least twice. It's not ideal, but it's the way I work.) 

This method works, by the way, for writers not on deadline. How long do YOU want it to take to write a book? Do your math. Say you can manage to write a page a day (only 250 words! You can do that in fifteen minutes!) on your work days and you can up that amount to 1000 words/day on your weekends. That's 90,000 / (5 x 250) + (2 x 1000) = 28 weeks, or about seven months. That's seven months to a first draft while working full time. Not too shabby, my friend. (Seriously, I love doing math like this. It's like doing our budget, which I also love doing, now that I use YNAB*.) 

And if you're an average-paced writer, you can pull this off while only writing 3.25 hours/week (1000wds/hour). That's nothing! Everyone can find that in their week (unless you're the mother of newborn twins, in which case, good lord, you just get a hug from me along with my eternal respect. We'll see you in eighteen years).

And what do you with all that time you're not writing or fretting about not writing? That's when you're planning! Sitting down to write words every day only works when you know where you're going (I say that lightly but plotting is the hardest thing, to me). Do THAT instead of doodling in meetings. Plan the next scene while you're in the shower. Then plan the next one. Make notes on your phone or on your hand. If you're bored thinking about a scene, nix it. Don't write it. Only write the exciting parts, the parts you love. I recently found myself--literally--writing a city council meeting. I bored myself. When I woke up from my little chair-nap, I made someone take off all his clothes at the meeting (Elbert Romo, if you remember him from earlier Cypress Hollow novels). Do what you have to do.

And remember the most comforting thing of all: Your voice is your voice is your voice. The words that came so painfully last Tuesday will just read like all the others when you look at them next month. The book you hate today will be the one you love later.

Do some more math. 

Then write some more words. 

* $6 off coupon HERE for YNAB, which stands for You Need a Budget, and it's the best thing we've done this year. We're actually saving money now, and we know what the money is for. PLANNING AHEAD. Who knew we could do this? Highly recommended, and I think they have a 30 day free trial. I've actually learned where our money goes, which was something I literally had no clue about until this year. Perhaps I'm growing up. PROBABLY NOT THOUGH.

** I got some mail! Real mail! Seriously, so exciting. I'm going to try to write back to each one. And yes, this trick (see previous post) got me to the post office. 

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*** We also prettified the porch. I'm in love with being out there. Yay spring! 

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MailboxMay 17, 2013

Y'all, look at what Rena set up for the Boston Love Blanket(s)! A Facebook page with photos

RESUME: 

I have many skills, y'all. I am a rice whisperer--my rice (sushi rice, white, brown, jasmine, even cauliflower rice!) always turns out amazing. I can make grumpy people laugh. I can tell a joke well even if I've forgotten the punch line. I can sew a dress and knit a sweater without a pattern. I write books, from Once Upon a Time all the way through to The End. 

But hey-zeus, I can't get to the post office. 

I owe books from the last drawing.  I swear, that must have been a month ago. The books are still on my porch, sending me evil glares every time I walk past them. If I owe you a book, I haven't forgotten you, nor did I ask for your home address just so I could come watch TV with you some random afternoon (although if you're watching Nashville, scoot over, I'm watching with you*). 

I do not know what my hang-up is. It's true, I hate the post office. That's a given. My post office is one of the scariest places I've ever been. The line stretches around the block, there's only ever one employee who obviously bitterly hates all of humanity, and the bullet-proof glass is dented as if it's been tested more than once. 

But I have a rental mailbox! You know, at one of those fancy Not A Post Office places! I have it expressly so I can get deliveries that are important (because my mailman comes up my walk with the slip that says Sorry You Weren't Home pre-filled out . . . when I am home). My mailbox store is a lovely place, staffed by a smiling man whose name I always forget and Jean, whose smile could split timber. I love going there! 

So why can't I just get the books into the post? Why can't I take them to Jean? I have no idea. This blog entry is by way of apology, a huge blanket mea culpa, to everyone to whom I owe stuff. Please forgive me. I can't explain it. I'll get there someday, I promise. 

(Oooh! I swear I didn't start this post with this idea, but I just had it, and I JUST FIGURED IT OUT. Write to me! Send me a letter! Oh, my gosh, I'd LOVE a letter! A real letter! From someone who is not selling me anything! Oooooh! I haven't received a proper letter in, like, years.  I will TOTALLY go to the mailbox if I think something might be there. I'm freaking out right now with excitement. My mailing address: Rachael Herron, 3542 Fruitvale Ave #135, Oakland, CA 94602.) 

Oooh! Oooooh!

*Because, oh, my. Nashville's Deacon Claiborne. I mean. Damn. He's totally the imaginary hero of the book I'm writing right now. Here's an inspiring screenshot for you. You're welcome. 

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ETA Snowgoddess's wonderful comment: Dear Ms. Herron, Thank you for you continued patronage of our fancy Not a Post Office place. We strive to continue to offer you new and fancier Not a Post Office place services. We would like to introduce you to our newest employee Deacon Claiborne, formerly of Nashville, (actually on hiatus) currently researching a part for his next film, Let Me Do That For You, a lustful romance comedy drama about a fancy Not a Post Office place employee who lusts for a stunning writer wrapped in handknits with seemingly endless amount of packages to be mailed. Oh, and he will supply the strapping tape. We hope to see you soon. Your nearest fancy Not a Post Office Place

Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.

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