Sunday, December 16, 2012

Updates and changes and interesting things are a-coming.

Or I hope interesting things are a-coming.  Oh, do I ever hope!

First of all, I'll be launching a web site soon.  Actually, I'll be launching four web sites soon.

One, a dedicated dot-com for this pen name, with the ability to purchase books directly from the site rather than having to follow links all over the Interwebs, as well as this blog and some other fun stuff.

Two, the same for the other pen name, which, after gathering and assessing much reader feedback over the past year of using it, will be changing very slightly.  Just enough to maximize the name's effectiveness as a marketing tool. 

Three, a site for the press I am starting, an LLC which will function as an umbrella for the two pen names and will also, eventually, offer certain services to other indie authors and to small presses.  If I'm going to go all indie on this book stuff, I'm going to do it right, with a company name and a real presence in the book world, with something of value to other authors.  I love the give-back atmosphere of the indie community, and I want to be a bigger part of it.

Four, something I can't talk about yet because it's in such early developmental stages.  Well, I can say this:  I'm starting a podcast.  I won't be the only one involved, either.  More details to come as I hammer them out, but I'm really looking forward to this bit.  I think it will be so much fun, not only for me and the friends who will be working on it with me, but for listeners.  I hate Twitter, I am not that fond of Facebook; I want a more effective, more entertaining, more multi-media way to let readers get to know me.  I think this is the answer.  We'll see.

And then there's this other thing that's going on with my independent book stuff...something I really can't talk about just yet, but is perhaps one of the most exciting things that can happen to a book fan-turned-creative type.  Something that involves a fan letter I wrote when I was nine, and never sent.  My hope is that this other thing will lead to a booming business -- maybe one that will let me quit the day job sooner than I'd planned -- but even if it doesn't, even if it leads to nothing, it is so cool I just can't get over it.

So how's that for vagueness?  I hope to have the web sites up and running by the end of the month, and with luck the Mystery Project/Podcast Thing will be going around the first part of January.  Stay tuned, my droogs.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Missed the interview?

Here it is!  Plus, in the comments section I elaborate on my thoughts on the current state of the publishing industry...and there's more blogging on that topic to come.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winter white

You came into the kitchen as I made my coffee, walking like a ghost, drifting and tenuous.  All your angles were softened by sleep.  White t-shirt (stained), white longjohns, and, for no reason I could tell, your black dress socks pulled up to your knees.  Your limbs are as thin and stark now as a bird's legs.  This has been a wet winter, not snowy, thank god, and the constant cloud has leeched away all your warm golden hues.  In your newly pale skin your eyes are bluer than feathers, scribed all around by the same faint lines I noticed on my own face when I turned thirty.  We are watching each other get older, get paler, get lighter, fainter.  You apologized sheepishly for the stain on your shirt.  I laughed and poured the creamer into my coffee, smiled down at your bird feet on the tiles, and when I kissed your pale face I could smell on your skin the last warmth of fall going, going.  When I come home tonight I will fall asleep without you, and the room will be cold.  Some time in the night I will wake and your arms will be around me, brooding me against your pigeon chest.  I will be warm and soft as caramel in the sun, and my feet will be tangled in yours like a sparrow's in birdlime.  What a beautiful, happy trap you have laid for me.  I am glad each time it catches me.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lady writer on the TV radio

I'll be doing an interview tomorrow on the radio show Ask An Atheist, broadcasting out of Tacoma.  We'll be talking about Baptism for the Dead (my novel, not the Mormon practice) as well as the general topic of atheism in literature.  3 p.m. PST on Sunday.  You can stream the program from the show's website (link above) if you're not in the south Puget Sound area, and the show is also archived as a podcast if you have other plans on Sunday afternoon.

It's my first spoken interview about one of my books, so I'm a little nervous and a lot curious and I plan on drinking lots of coffee before and lots of wine after.

There is also a post-show get-together at the Overtime Bar in Tacoma.  If you're in the area, stop in and say hi to me and the whole AAA crew. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012


With my schedule so disrupted I haven't been able to write for weeks, though I have tried.  Mostly I set up my laptop and then wander around the apartment, or through the stacks of the library, feeling lost, at a loose end.  I know these changes are positive -- my life is heading in a good direction now, our finances will be secure, I will be writing full-time in barely more than ten months.  And this is all good.  Why is it that when everything goes well for me the words all dry up?

The last time this happened, I had met you, and I was so happy, so relieved to find happiness, that every concern seemed of no consequence.  I felt light every day, filled with joy, buoyed on a perfect, peaceful blue sea.  And I could not write.  I would kiss you and think, "I'll never write again; not with him around.  I am too happy here.  I have nothing to fuel it."

And now here we are, happy again, now that all the money concerns are finally over.  We have everything to look forward to.  And I cannot write.  I blame it on the new job and the rapid changes but I know the truth: it's you, Bluebird.  You make me so glad to be alive that I can't feel the anger anymore, the cynicism, the fear, the injustice.  All I can feel is good.  Good makes for terrible fiction.

Last night I thought perhaps there is some spell at work here, some magic that siphons all the words out of me and holds them somewhere, some place I can't get to.  While you slept I touched you, as if I might find some trick in your skin, some way to reverse what you've done and get it all back.  I ran my hand over your chest, felt the frankness of your bones, the tiny twin ridges where your ribs join, the cleft below your sternum.  I felt your heart below, the original drum.  Your hand lay across your stomach and I traced your arm with my fingers, felt the shape of everything inside you, the long strong bones that angled at wrist, cabochons of carpus, sharp peaks of knuckle.  And all at once the words released and fled through my fingers and back into me, a burst and a rattle like a flock of starlings, and I kept touching, kept touching until you rolled away and protested in your sleep.  And even then I didn't stop.  I pressed myself to your back and my lips to your neck, and everywhere our skin connected, warm and vivid, the rush of words shuddered in.  You had locked them all away down in your bones.  I imagined the dark of your marrow a jumble of letters, Times New Roman twelve-point font, the curls of lowercase As and the light elegance of Ls and Ts and the sibilants and the consonants and the vowels, compressed, black, and vital.  And all I have to do to get them back is touch you.

When we made love I rocked back against you and howled, and later you said, "I never heard you moan like that."  But it wasn't only you that filled me.  It was the words.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hey, kid.

The story once working-titled
"John Muir Fucks a Robot."
Spoiler alert!
Want some short stories?  They'll make you feel gooooood.

First one's free.  (But only on your Kindle, and only until the 5th.)

I'm giving KDP Selects a try with one of my short stories to see whether it helps drive sales toward my other stuff.  The other shorts are still available on other platforms, and I will rotate this one out and put a different one up as an Amazon exclusive, so Nook, etc. readers have a chance to get it, too.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nothing to see here, folks.

I am just hammering away at revisions on The Crook and Flail, and really liking how the book is turning out. I like it so much that Lavender got a little high with Hatshepsut.

I'm sure I'll be back soon with some kind of weepy/pretentious journal entry or something similar.  For now, I am busy writing.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Flogging the revisions, some short stories, and also I hate the sound of chewing.

I have been trying so hard to get the next historical novel revised and published by the end of October, but it's just not going to happen.  Depression has been a real problem for the past several weeks, and it has interfered with my writing tremendously, as have all the a-holes at the library who have no manners.  You see, I've found that if I expect myself to write while I'm at home I never write anything at all.  I find all kinds of excuses to avoid writing, such as doing laundry, starting new and exciting crafts, or taking a nap.  And while laundry, sleep, and making spooky ghosts out of cheesecloth and starch are all very important, so is my writing.  So when it's time to write, I really need to remove myself to someplace else to get the work done.

My place of choice is the public library.  The one in my town is usually excellent and quiet and it's open seven days a week (albeit with short hours on the weekends) so I can plan to write every day, no matter what my work schedule is like.  I'm transitioning to a new, better-paying day job next week and I will probably not be able to make much use of the library then.  We're looking into some options to keep me writing.  Renting some tiny, shoebox-sized office space might work out.  The books are selling well enough that we could probably justify the expense, although not so well yet that we can just take office-space rental for granted without having to really justify it.  I'd be more comfortable waiting on that until the money isn't an issue.

So I'll probably have to figure out a means of making the library work, or hit a library for a few hours on the way home that's closer to the new job.  I am hoping that I can continue to use this one -- it's USUALLY so peaceful, except on days like today when people sit right next to me chewing gum with their mouths open and I have to get up and frantically search for a more secluded seat that also has a place to plug in my laptop, where I can hide in my personal bubble and not listen to nausea-inducing sounds of smacking and chewing.  Seriously, adults have no reason to chew with their mouths open.  Especially not in a public place.  This is the kind of totally unacceptable behavior, indicative of willful social cluelessness and/or apathy, that ends marriages.  In fact if it were socially acceptable for me to kick the noisy gum-chewer in the face, I would have done that instead of scarpering to my corner.

Anyway, how about some short fiction?  Kindle, Nook.  The Kindle version of Finnegan's Pig should be up soon; I am in the process of convincing Amazon that publishing rights for that story reverted to me back in 2010.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Friendly Atheist does what it says on the tin.

I recently approached Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist with a few ideas for how I might get Baptism for the Dead to appear on his blog.  (He's got quite a wide audience, in case you are a non-believer who lives under a rock.)  I didn't really expect much of a response, since bloggers and other media personalities are still largely in the "so what; not impressed" phase when dealing with self-published authors.  But dang, Hemant was just so friendly.  I guess that should not surprise me.  He suggested posting an excerpt, and by Jingo, there it is.

Thank you, Hemant, and welcome and hello to new readers of my own humble blog, who found it via the link at The Friendly Atheist.  I hope you stick around; I hope you enjoy Baptism for the Dead.


In our kayaks we crept around the edges of Lake Ballinger, counting and identifying species.  The day was cold -- "The day is cold," Dan said aloud, composing the nature-writing report he would later create, the reason we were there.  "The day is chilly.  The day is chill.  No.  The day is cold."

The day was cold.  Fall at last, after our short, fitful, insistent summer.  The day was dim and cold and the sky low and gray, a mist of earthbound cloud sighing and sagging to the shore, falling among the blooms of the asters and dampening their electric purple color.  October was still on my mind, the beginning of the end of the year.

I cut my paddles deep into the black water and pulled and exed them above my head in a blur, and felt the droplets of lake water fall on my face like rain, but no matter how hard I paddled, wherever I looked at the water it moved in an even reticulation of silver and black, and gave me the illusion of sitting absolutely still.  I made myself dizzy, watching the water hold me immobile, and then glancing up at the shoreline to see alders and the spent stands of sweet flag speeding by, dead brown leaves above a quiet core of hopeful green stem.  I would speed away and reach out and brace my knee against the rib of the boat, and stab my paddle deep into the unmoving water, and, fighting my boat's keel, turn in a ponderous circle back toward Dan, paddle back into the range of his words.  "...alder grows thick on the shoreline.  Alder grows in profusion on the shoreline."  Paddle away again, stillness and motion, turn.  "...leaves of lilies, golden with the change of season."  "That's good," I told him, and paddled away again, and turned.

Finally I grew tired and simply sat on the surface of the lake, out where all was silent.  The cold surface rippled here and there, gases from the decaying layer rising in slow bubbles.  The gentle movement seemed to me the visual equivalent of a room full of soft voices, faceless speakers murmuring, mouth to ear, to loved ones, words inaudible to me, but the fact of words all around me.

There was a tickle in my sleeve.  I laid my paddles across my lap and probed into the sleeve, and drew out a caddisfly, long-bodied, delicate, its veined wings half-folded.  I laid it on my spray skirt, where its threads of legs folded before its head, a posture of absolute exhaustion, like a man fainting into sleep at the supper table, head on folded forearms.  Its body was silvery-blue, cold blue, and the powder bloom along its length put me in mind of blueberries, and then all at once I remembered Mel's mother, the cake she made that summer, an American flag with strawberries and whipped cream for stripes, a field of blueberries for the stars.  She had loved rough collies, and her home was beautiful and warm, and now she was gone, and so was my friendship with Mel.  I thought perhaps her voice was one of those speaking on the surface of the lake, rippling it, leaning her mouth to her daughter's ear, and I could feel the warmth of her words even if I could not hear the sound of them.

I picked the caddisfly up gently, held it on my fingertip until it composed itself, righted its wings, and flew away.

Last night I dreamed of the curved ribs of boats, of Paul's body holding mine against the boat's wood, of the water speaking against the hull.  I dreamed that Mel drifted in distracted thought past a doorway, and I saw her go from left to right, looking away, carrying a baby girl in her arms.  I dreamed of wings over water.  The day was cold.  The leaves of the lilies had turned golden with the change of season.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


With you away, I have plenty of time to think.  About time, about the nature of love, what little I understand of that nature.  Fully half my lifetime has elapsed since then, but I still stick sometimes in the mire of sixteen, an awful place where I came to understand that I would never be good enough, that sooner or later I would always be passed over for a more appealing girl, prettier, quieter, not so terrifyingly tall.  A girl more conventionally feminine, not driven by applause, not wielding with relish her ferocious word-power.  Even though I know that this was half my lifetime ago, even though I know that boys back then were boys, and men are different, I am still braced.

I remember how it was at first, when we had afternoons when we let all our plans go in favor of spending our time staring into each other's eyes, or simply touching one another's skin -- I will never tire of the shape of your shoulders, or the feel of your woolly knees.  There will never be a morning when I will see you dressing, see the light fall upon your knees, and I will not want to rub my lips against them just to feel the soft hairs brush my mouth.  And yet we don't do these things anymore.

I wonder if it's better now, the deeper familiarity, the confidence in mutual presence.  Sometimes I fear that, in the natural progression of love, in its firming-up, we have lost something precious.  I remember watching you pack in that hotel room -- I was so tired, and yet I couldn't sleep, because my eyes refused to close; I had to watch you.  I physically had to; I could look nowhere else but at your solemn movements, your hands folding the shirts you had recently stenciled with your blood type, your broad mouth in a quiet, pale line.  I remember thinking, This is only a chemical in my brain.  This is a chemical reaction stimulated by all the sex.  I am on a fantastic drug -- hormones, just hormones.  But I still couldn't look anywhere but at you.

I fear the loss of that chemical reaction. I didn't ever want to come down from the high.  But on nights when you are away, even in the hazy margins of sleep I realize how often at night you clutch me to you, even now, when we both have found more productive ways to spend our afternoons, how often you tangle your warm legs with mine, breathe onto my shoulder a warm coin of breath that heats and recedes with the rhythm of your sleep.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Delicious, delicious pie. And looking back. At pie.

Not looking back at pie; looking back at what I wrote about self-publishing 15 months ago.

But you guys, I made the most epic pie yesterday.  I bought eight pounds of concord grapes for making jelly, and with the leftovers I made a pie.  I did not expect this pie to change how I looked at all other pies forever -- to change, in fact, how I looked at life.  And then I made this pork loin roast that was to die for, and I didn't follow a recipe.  It involved gorgeous halved pears, roasted right alongside the pork, atop a bed of red onion wedges, oh god, oh god.  The fat on the top of the roast formed, with the sea salt and cracked pepper and rosemary I sprinkled there, a crunchy crust, and when you took a bite of pear with a bite of pork the experience was transcendent.

I think I am actually getting really good at cooking.

Don't worry; I don't intend to turn this into a food blog or anything like that, but this particular blog does double as my personal journal (as evidenced by all the eye-rollingly sappy things I write here about my dude) so maybe once in a while I might have to share some of my culinary conquests with you.  I promise to make them all very writerly*.  It will be as if James Joyce started a food blog.

Over at Lavender's blog, I looked back at my opinions and expectations re: self-publishing The Sekhmet Bed, and I declare myself a hardcore indie from now on.  Viva la 70% royalty rate!

It's long, so don't bother to read it.

Now I am going to go have a big fat slice of that concord grape pie for breakfast.  How bitterly I regret my jelly; I should have made eight pounds of pie filling and frozen it so I could have this again.  Maybe the fruit stand still has some concords left.  WHY must they be so fleeting a fruit?

*not an actual promise.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


I slipped into bed just after 2:00 a.m., weary from the day's traumas, the deaths, the constant need for my black humor, the buoy that keeps our terrible little boat on its course.  The sheets were warm, as always, and sweet-smelling from your body.  Mostly asleep, you said, Hey, babe.  How was work?

Awful, I said.  And September is over.  It's gone.  I never even realized it was going.  Where did it go?

You didn't know what to say to that.  You mumbled something into your pillow.

Life is going by too fast, I said.

The door to another apartment opened, the teacher downstairs letting her cat in or out.  The change in air pressure rocked our blinds, clattered them gently against the window pane, a lonely, fast sound.

Don't worry, you said.

I'm not worried.  I'm just disappointed.  My life is just passing by me.  Our life.  I want to live forever.

Babe, you said.  You can't.

I pulled the quilt up to my chin and shivered.  I couldn't tell you, asleep as you were, that what I wanted was forever with you, forever getting into this bed and feeling your welcoming heat, forever knowing I would always be able to draw the scent of your skin out of your side, that it would always be replenished.  There will come a day when one of us leaves the other, I know it.  It will probably be you who leaves first.  Statistically.  Scientifically.  Damn my skeptical mind.  Fuck my inability to suspend disbelief, to even imagine an eternity with you.  What good is it, to be so rational?  October settling all over me.  Sweater weather.  The tail end of a too-brief year, petering out into a dark winter, the way my life will stumble to a close one day, too soon, years without you.  But not, I hope, decades.

Well, I want to.  I want us to live forever, you and me.  I want to remember everything.

You rolled over in the blue darkness to gather me into your arms, smiling at my small, unimportant wretchedness.  The color blue flashed off your teeth, off those big beautiful teeth you hate so much but which are the happiest sight in the world to me.  I made a concession to inevitability: I'm just going to remember one amazing thing every day, I said.  I'm not going to let a single day go by without making some good memory, somewhere.

Okay, you said.  That's a good plan.  Now go to sleep.

I'm not good at this yet.  I've tried for four days, but the thing that's stayed with me is that exact shade of blue shining in your big, unlovely, perfect mouth.  It's hard for any single moment in my ordinary life to compete with something so distinct and beautiful.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Get Baptism for the Dead for your Kindle!

Baptism for the Dead is now available on Kindle.  Hopefully the formatting translated properly!  I am going to give it a test drive on my own Kindle today to be sure.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Baptism for the Dead

Now available.  All ebook formats over at Smashwords, and the Kindle Direct version is currently stewing somewhere in PendingLand.  I anticipate it will be live on Amazon by the time I wake up tomorrow morning, and then I anticipate another round of fiddling with its formatting to get it just right.  The Smashwords version is as close to "just right" as I have ever managed to get an ebook (I can't wait for the day when I'll be able to afford professional formatting!) and looks good enough to read now.  You might want to hold off on the Kindle Direct copy until, oh, October 1st or so.  Just to be sure I have plenty of time to futz with it.

Enjoy!  Please remember to leave your honest review on Goodreads, Amazon, your blog...anywhere you typically review books.  Word of mouth sells books, and lordy do I ever need the money.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Working, working.

Today and tomorrow I hope to finish revisions for Baptism for the Dead so I can tackle formatting next week.  We'll see how it goes.  I have a few scenes to add to demystify X, or make him less annoying, depending on your point of view.

Meanwhile, over at the other pen name's blog, I've done an interview with independent author Jeff Foltz about why Norwegians should not eat potatoes.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tell us why you do this

We sat in a ring on the stage.  The green velvet curtains, heavy with age, were pulled back and waiting to left and right in their neat long vertical pleats.  The house lights, cheap and fluorescent, mismatched in color, raised a skin of dust over the curtains that makes them in the light of memory silvery, glowing, enchanted, though rational recollection tells me they were in fact dirty and poor and striving for a little too much.  We were going into our fourth musical of the school year.  We were burnt out, but too young to know what burnout feels like.  We were listless, depressed, angry.  Bruce and Doc sat in their rolling wood chairs at the opposite apex of the circle from where I slumped on the black floor.

The musical was terrible.  No one had any more to give.  We had two weeks until dress and it was not coming together like it should.  This was to be the kind of moment I'd later hear called a "come to Jesus."  Since that day, age sixteen and burnt out, dried up of all the song and dance and Rodgers and Hammerstein I had to give, I've thought of it as a "come to Bruce."

"Tell us why you do this," Bruce said, demanding an answer.  The house lights cast long regular reflections on his bald head.  I thought wearily how much I loved him, how I'd do anything for him, the best teacher I'd ever had, how I only wanted to earn his approval and then I'd finally know what achievement was.

My schoolmates reached into a grab-bag of answers and offered each one up tenuously, hoping they'd found the right one.  Approval, approval.  Give it to us, please, god.  Let us guess the right answer and then we'll know we've done well and we can stop wondering what it takes to succeed.

"Tell us why you get up on stage and do this."

It's fun.  It's creative expression.  The chance to be somebody else for a while.  It's an education in the arts. All these little hopeful offerings in the dozens of young hands.

Doc frowned.  He always frowned, but his frown grew more intense.

No one had produced the right answer.  And so I decided to offer my own.  And honest one, though it was not the one my teachers wanted to hear, and I knew if I said it aloud the whole school would look askance at me.  I'd be the one who was doing it for the wrong reasons.

"I do it because I love the applause."

It was like ice inside me, to say it.  Such an awful chill, knowing I'd been honest and knowing that it was wrong.  No one is supposed to do art for the applause.

Bruce looked at me. He nodded.  And Doc.  He nodded, too.

"Libbie.  Is anybody going to applaud for the job you're doing now?"


"How are you going to earn that applause?  How are all of you going to earn it?"

Somebody else said, "We're going to do better.  We're going to put everything into this.  We still have two weeks; we can do better."

But Bruce kept looking at me, so I came out with more honesty.  It had worked the first time.  It had been the only right answer.

"I'm going to be so good they can't not applaud."

"Good," Bruce said.  "Do it."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The unfairness of perspective

When you roll onto your back and turn your face away I am caught by how beautiful you are, and staring, I cannot help but think what a joke reality plays, that we can't see ourselves from these tender angles, in this blue light, with the setting sun winking through the eyes of the blinds.  Asleep you are even less aware of the metered, measured poems that sing along your lines, the simplicity of your ankles crossed, the narrow longness of your feet.  Beyond the frank ridge of ribs the soft convexity of your stomach rises, edged by its thin line of fine fur, and the whole of your body gently jogs to the pulse just beneath your skin.  My hand rises to touch you, to smooth the spike of hair at your navel, to brush the angle of your hip.  Instead I put my fingers into my mouth and bite them, and let you sleep.

I wonder if you ever watch me sleeping.  And if you do, have I ever looked half so lovely?

Friday, July 27, 2012

9.5 miles in the mountains

Hoped to make it 11, but had to turn back due to ice.  By the time I got back down to the bottom of the ridge my feet were screaming in pain and my head was full of ideas.  There were some places where I stumbled on the trail, one scramble over a down tree that almost sent me off the side of the mountain.  My hands grabbed the trunk, snap like a mousetrap, bent back my thumbnail on the bark, fingers sticking to my trekking poles from the pitch.  My hands smelled fresh and green the whole rest of the day.  It's time for new hiking boots.  The soles are coming right off the old ones.  They'll stick in the mud somewhere and I'll walk on without them.

I feel a lot better.

I am going to kick a hole in the sky.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Confident (possibly without reason, but to hell with the play, see what I mean?)

Through the casement on the stairs I saw a small impetuous ghost slip through the shrubs; a silvery dot in the dark -- hub of bicycle wheel -- moved, shivered, and she was gone.
 It so happened that the car was spending the night in a repair shop downtown.  I had no other alternative than to pursue on foot the winged fugitive.  Even now, after more than three years have heaved and elapsed, I cannot visualize that spring-night street, that already so leafy street, without a gasp of panic.  Before their lighted porch Miss Lester was promenading Miss Fabian's dropsical dackel.  Mr. Hyde almost knocked it over.  Walk three steps and run three.  A tepid rain started to drum on the chestnut leaves.  At the next corner, pressing Lolita against an iron railing, a blurred youth held and kissed -- no, not her, mistake.  My talons still tingling, I flew on.

Half a mile or so east of number fourteen, Thayer Street tangles with a private lane and a cross street; the latter leads to the town proper; in front of the first drugstore, I saw -- with what melody of relief! -- Lolita's fair bicycle waiting for her.  I pushed instead of pulling, pulled, pushed, pulled, and entered.  Look out!  Some ten paces away Lolita, through the glass of a telephone booth (membranous god still with us), cupping the tube, confidently hunched over it, slit her eyes at me, turned away with her treasure, hurriedly hung up, and walked out with a flourish.

"Tried to reach you at home," she said brightly.  "A great decision has been made.  But first buy me a drink, dad."

...And in the meantime the rain had become a voluptuous shower.

"Look," she said as she rode the bike beside me, one foot scraping the darkly glistening sidewalk, "look, I've decided something.  I want to leave school.  I hate that school.  I hate the play, I really do!  Never go back.  Find another.  Leave at once.  Go for a long trip again.  But this time we'll go wherever I want, won't we?"

I nodded.  My Lolita.

"I choose?  C'est entendu?" she asked wobbling a little beside me.  Used French only when she was a very good little girl.

"Okay.  Entendu.  Now hop-hop-hop, Lenore, or you'll get soaked."  (A storm of sobs was filling my chest.)

She bared her teeth and after her adorable school-girl fashion, leaned forward, and away she sped, my bird.

-Lolita, pp. 206 - 207

Going on a long day hike tomorrow.  Going to do some thinking and some planning.

Monday, July 23, 2012


This is not a surprise anymore, but somehow this one feels the worst of all of them, because I went out on a limb this time, I tried something different, I allowed myself to hope, just a tiny bit.

I digested what I could of it, and when the full weight of it settled in me I cried, the first I've cried over any specific, nameable event throughout this entire awful, pointless process.  Yes, I've cried over the general frustration and futility of it many times over many months, but never before has one single strike merited more than a frown and a grunt and updating my spreadsheet with another R.  I guess if there is anything to be proud of here it's the fact that I made it to 79 before crying over a single one.

I said aloud, wailed, "I still believe in this book."  In disbelief at my own stupidity for still believing, in astonishment that after being told seventy-nine times that this book isn't any good, I still know it is.  In self-loathing, because as long as I fail to listen to those seventy-nine I will continue to do the same repetitive, slashing, stupid, fruitless thing to myself, and I will continue to hurt.

You came home shortly after, and stopped me in the middle of my distracted laundry because you could tell something was wrong.  I told you with my slow, stupid, tripping tongue -- how I hate my worthless mouth and my artless voice.  If I could have sat you down beside me and written it, I could have made you see how this is a knife inside me, twisting to get in or out, I can't tell which and the difference doesn't matter.  Instead I held onto you and frantically felt the shape of you, breathed the warm air around your neck, finding solace in the fact of you, who I haven't seen for a week and without you I know I will fracture along seventy-nine cracks and be nothing but sharp-edged pieces.

You made me lie down beside you until it was time for me to go to work.  I couldn't sleep, but feeling you sleeping calmed me.  When I left I told you a storm was coming.  I drove to work with one eye on the lowering mass of cloud in my rearview mirror, crossing the sky as a bar crosses a door, a deep and awful stab of ultramarine blue.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


What do you do with a book nobody wants?  Is it even worth self-publishing it at this point? 

Monday, July 16, 2012


For once, you are up with the alarm.  No flipping your ancient phone open and setting the snooze function by feel with still-sleeping fingers.  Our window with blinds down is a soft glowbox of morning blue.  The timid light turns your undershirt the color of ice, but when I, barely awake myself, lay my fingers against your back you are as warm as always.  Your face, a black profile against the morning, shows the sharp, frank curve of your beak of a nose, the tracery of your glasses.  My hand slides down your spine.  Pilled cotton, old shirt, familiar shape.  And, Sorry, babe, you say, and the bed beside me is empty.  This is all I will see of you for two weeks.  Unless that was really you in your uniform bending over me, smiling, to kiss me when I opened one eye just for a moment and fell back to sleep.  I am not sure I wasn't dreaming.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Heat Lightning

After ten hours on the mic, using every tool we had -- humor, innuendo, confession, statistic -- to inspire our fans to give money to this most crucial of causes, a few of us took a break and wandered outside.  The studio had grown stuffy, packed as it was with supporters and platters of food and Sam's homebrew kegs standing straight and shiny and quiet in the corner like a pair of robotic butlers in sleep cycle.  My first few steps were stiff and staggering.  The tendons in my ankles refused to give fully, and my joints cracked as I moved.  My abdomen burned; I'd had to hold myself perched on the edge of the stool to reach the mic at just the right angle to be heard.  Hours of talking amounted to the best core workout I'd ever done.

In the parking lot and alley we reveled quietly in the pleasure of standing.  We stretched and breathed the clear air; Mike showed me his new tattoo and I slapped it and called it perfect.  The sun was just past setting.  In an isolated patch of western sky it flamed neon pink beneath an anvil of cloud, delineating in dark purple lines the upper ragged edges.  We talked of things that didn't matter.  Train after train passed, just yards away so that each time the people still in the studio watching the blog-a-thon live had to scramble to shut the doors so the sound wouldn't interfere with the feed.  And each time a train passed, we would wander, hypnotized, to the edge of the lot and stand looking down at its progress through the dusk.  The slowblink flash of the crossing lights lulled us.

"I love trains," I said, a little shy, a confession.  "I don't know why."

Becky, smart and efficient as always, proposed a reason or two.  I said, "I think I love them for a dumber reason.  I love them for some kind of awful pretentious literary-writer metaphor reason, but I haven't quite figured out what it is yet."

But I have.  I am just bad at articulation.  I love their contradictory nature.  At rest they are mute and obliging, seeming as tame as oxen.  In motion they are ferocious, unstoppable, with nothing to hold them to their implausibly tiny rails but the force of their own momentum.  And the sound of their horns -- that great, double-note, open-throated blaring.  I spent half my childhood in a town where the freight trains could be heard always, moaning in the background, the mood music of happiness, adolescent heartbreak, the suspended moment of consciousness before sleep.  I slept, as a girl, with my bedroom window open no matter what the season so that I could better hear the distant trains crying, even in my dreams.

Becky undid a little of their magic -- in this time and place, at least -- by telling us that the white shed beside the tracks was actually a huge sound system, and it played the train's horn for it so that the wealthier neighborhoods just south of us wouldn't be disturbed.  "You can tell it's a recording because there's no Doppler effect."  It made me sad to think of muzzled trains, trains with their tongues cut out.  Made even muter and ever more obsolete.  But one, the only engine headed southbound, did bend its call around us, moving so slowly the effect was barely noticeable.  "Ha," I said, to Becky, to the white shed.

The anvil of cloud had expanded and stretched, spreading arms to span the fundus of Puget Sound.  It was a looming purple face in the twilight, but directly above us the sky was still clear, though starless in the lightshadow of Tacoma.  The air smelled of warmth and sea water, of ions and old steel.  Soon lightning strikes fell to the south, great forks leaping from ground to sky; and in one particular patch of cloud across the water a persistent air current threw, every few seconds and for a half hour or more, great flickers of citrus-bright light, deep within the heart of the thunderhead, an illumination as regular and vital as a pulse.  We watched it in silence, exhausted from our long day, weighed with the near-futility of our cause, charged and pulsing with the imperative we all felt, to succeed, to make right, to make a difference.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

High and Tight

It's almost time again for inspection, and so I go with you to the pier.  The barber shop beside the exchange is close and muggy.  When the clippers turn on with their canned muted hum you close your eyes and I am free to watch you without that twinge of shyness I get when I stare at you for too long and you catch me looking.

I still fear sometimes that if I look too often I'll finally see what I see on other men's faces, the faint reproach, the flicker of resignation.  I know I am not much on the surface but there is more to me, not buried very deep.  You uncovered it that day you stood with the Puget Sound up to your knees, laughing.  I doubt you even remember the day.  I do.

The woman with the clippers is efficient, as all base barbers are.  I don't have much time to look.  Your hands lying on the armrests curl in their unconsciousness.  The hard angular apple of your throat gives your neck a crooked appearance, echoes the angle of the constellation of tiny moles below your jaw.  My eyes stay on the shape of your mouth, wide and long and tipped up at the ends, so even as you sit relaxed and unaware you seem to be smiling.  Your hair falls down in great soft tufts of ash.  The barber shop on the pier is a terrible place to tell you how much I love you, and anyway you've heard it all before.

Too soon she's brushing stray hairs from the back of your neck; I drop my eyes again to my reading so you won't know how long I stared.  Outside the wide orange bellies of the ice breakers lean over us and settle against their moorings, and seem to pull the pier into their familiar hulls the way you pull my body to yours, your arm a strong line around my shoulders.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

All Artists Go Crazy

I helped clean out Uncle Al's house before the bank could change the locks.  Big Larry, just beginning to stoop in his old age but still an intimidating tower of a man, informed me in his usual bellow that first priority was the old furniture from Germany and Austria.  Second was the art.  Third, the tools.  And finally, whatever household items could fit into storage when the rest was safely put away.

For a moment I was excited that art was involved.  Paul had mentioned something about Uncle Al being a skilled woodworker and that he painted, too, but I hadn't paid much mind.  Who didn't have an aunt or an uncle who was an artist of unrivaled ability?  Such family stories of the painter cousin or the sculptor auntie always fired up my internal smirk.  The dabblings of these family members never impressed me much.  It's hard to find even a little cozy affection for the amateur hour when you're part of a family whose skin and bones are soaked through with Idaho light, whose palms dragged casually across a wet canvas can bring a mountain range or a table loaded with fruit and flowers to brilliant, undeniable life.  My dad joked about the difference between Us and Them all the time.  "My aunt paints," he would famously scoff, and the rest of us all knew what he was talking about, and we'd smile and feel superior.  Yes, we're art snobs in my family, every one of us.  We're all the worst kind of assholes.  But god damn, are we good artists, and those of us who have minimal skill with a brush or a sculpting loop or words on paper are at least discerning critics.

So I was not expecting much from Uncle Al's house, but the mention of art did give me a little chill.  Maybe there would be something special here.  Inside the dim house smelling of old, old cigarettes I was left, without discussion, in charge of Priority Two: Art.  Because I am an artist's daughter, I suppose, the task naturally fell to me to determine what should be packed and sorted for the second haul to the storage unit.  I walked through the house -- a large one -- mentally cataloging what I saw.  What I saw immediately was that Uncle Al was not your average painting uncle.  His work lacked refinement, maybe, but he had a good grasp of composition and color, and he could handle a brush with more skill than most.

His work even fell into two distinct genres.

One, particularly revolting to my taste but skillfully done all the same, involved bust after bust of nightmare hippie golems, first hacked roughly out of blocks of cedar (the roughs of several new sculptures stood in a row on the upstairs hearth), then finely detailed to bring out grotesquely emphasized lips, architectural ears, unnatural curvature of the neck, huge, unseeing, almond eyes.  Watching them mistrustfully, I wondered what momentous event in the 1970s had lodged in Uncle Al's mind, given significance to these dated, distinctive faces, possessed him for decades so that he felt compelled to carve and carve and carve these weird distortions into perfectly lovely wood.  The more I looked at them, and as I handled them, sorting them into boxes, the more I saw how they resembled the art of the Amarna period, Akhenaten and Nefertiti and their brood of six with their elongated skulls and sharp-edged lips, long eyes and thin necks, bent into strange postures of worship.  Akhenaten was either mad or a visionary, depending on which Egyptologist you ask.  He could have been both, couldn't he?

The other theme was portraits of Coast Natives, painted with a limited palette, luminous and accusatory and everywhere, everywhere; especially one particular sharp-eyed man, reproduced all over the house, staring out from closets, above windows, in Warhol brights repeated along the edge of the ceiling.  I found The Staring Man etched on mirrors and sketched in charcoal, on canvas in acrylic and oil, in books of half-used pastel paper.  I found the contours of his face cut out of flimsy copper sheets nailed to cedar shakes in the shop.  He was everywhere, in every room, another significant flash of some meaningful moment of Uncle Al's life, the feedback loop in his brain, decaying now while his body still lives on as vital and strong as ever.  I gathered up every iteration of The Staring Man I could find.  I figured this might be the last fragment of his self Uncle Al may hold onto.  And if he ever comes out of the nursing home, or if he doesn't, I'll open the box and sit with him, a stranger as everybody is, and watch something come back to life in his eyes.  A memory that deep doesn't leave even the most degraded mind.  I hope it's true.

When the boys drove the truck to the storage unit, loaded with the old European furniture, I sat on the floor with Su and looked through a box of family photographs while she practiced her English as a Second Language on me.  She's getting good.  Good enough to tell me to read the canister of Almond Roca.  "Okay we eat?  No expire?"  I told her it was okay to eat.  She dug in gratefully, "yummy yummy," and insisted I take a few.  As I am now considered officially a part of the family, it is also assumed that I, like everybody else in the family, adore Almond Roca, even though (cliche) it has always reminded me of cat turds in a litter box, though the cat excrement would be more flavorful.  Christmases are veritable orgy of Almond Roca consumption.  I look with horror at the wrapped cylinders under Auntie Angie's tree and know that soon the foil wrappers will be flying and everybody will be stuffing cat turds into my mouth.

I love all the family ferociously, but there are some things about me they'll just have to accept.  I am willing to become one of them only so far, I said to myself, chewing a morose mouthful of Roca.  Part of that resistance will be, I decided, to maintain the asshole art critic inside me.  I can look at boxes full of bizarre wood carvings and stacks of the same Staring Man and I can appreciate the level of skill that produced them, but I can still say that none of it is as good as Dad's.  And I can savor the fact that of all the family, I am the only one, the newcomer, the one who's legitimately a stranger to Uncle Al and to everyone but Paul -- the only one who can read the story in the art, the two threads entangling between The Staring Man and the LSD Amarna busts.  I am the only one who sees that here and here Al's mind caught and snagged, held and repeated.  Here and here are the moments of greatest significance to one person we all call family.  If only there was enough of him left to explain those moments to me.  I would harness the smirking critic and rein her in and listen respectfully to the dual stories of a single life.  If I could.

I found a picture of Al in the stack I flipped through.  A whole series of pictures of him as a young man, sulky and intense in his Army uniform, a familiar blush of fierce feeling around the eyes, as dangerously attractive a man as I'd ever seen.  That young man in the Army uniform had not yet seen The Staring Man, I was sure.

Every family has a painter or a sculptor or a writer.  Usually none of them are any good.  But every family loves its artists, because they are the conduits for the madness.  They are the channels through which all the frightening energy, the keening voice, the imagination unleashed, may flow.  Housewives and slowly degrading uncles going mad so no one else has to.  Once, at the age of sixteen, dog-sitting for a weekend, I stumbled through the dark into a friend's basement and nearly fell down the last few stairs when an amateur painting on the wall of trees with their roots exposed suddenly spoke to me: HELP ME, the roots said.  I flipped on the light and stared at the painting, its thick impasto pure-white delineating the aspens' trunks with a clumsy, unskilled hand.  The words were still there, even more obvious than before, woven into the tangle of roots. HELP ME.  When my friends came home from their vacation I asked them about the painting downstairs.  "Grandma painted it," they said, and offered no more explanation.  I nodded as if that explained everything and thought with a shiver, My aunt paints.

If I can call myself an artist at all -- and that is certainly debatable -- what am I to make of being a conduit for madness?  And what must I admit about my own heritage, my family loaded with artists?  We have no gentle flow of insanity moving through one generous grandma.  We are a great genetic rush of wonderful, terrible energy, a hundred canyons scoured by flash floods.  Understanding this, I am braced now, prepared to meet my own Staring Man, unsure how to fight against him when he implants into my mind and sends me spinning in circles until I have finally gone to ashes.  I imagine one day my nieces and nephews will come to my home and find the trail markers of my own madness, the same telltale pennant waving.  A repeated phrase on paper, the same outline over and over, some image peering out from every closet and cupboard, a ghost walking my halls.  I wonder whether any of them will recognize the repetition for what it is.  At least one or two of them must.  We are of the same blood, after all.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I had never seen you in the water before.  On it, plenty -- on the old boat where you lived, walking the dock with your arms swinging in the liquid light, in pictures of you at the sticks in your uniform, laying into the engine, lifting your boat on a toe of white foam.  But never in the water.  It was an arresting realization, that I was seeing you in a context entirely new to me yet so essential to you.  Like a trespasser I stood at the edge of the pool and watched as you moved in slow motion under the surface, long and stretched and deliberate like a held breath, reaching your arms prow-like and following them beneath the buoyed rope with no effort at all, as if a current carried you.  I felt pierced by the grace of you, the simple, sure motion of your body. 

I am as pale and awkward as a crayfish in the water.  I scrabble at walls, my fingers all angles in my clumsy attempts to steady myself.  Even when I relax and lie back I sink.  We made a game of it, me skittering across the pool like a drunk muskrat in a panic, gasping with my mouth barely above the surface, and without a sound or a ripple you would overtake me, slipping around me like the water itself, only holding me up, not pulling me under.  How you can love a thing that intrudes so inelegantly into your world is a mystery to me.

The water transformed you, lightened the color of your hair and stuck it together in sharp points, a wild golden animal bristling. It shone in the shadow of your chin.  It beaded and ran from the crossed anchors tattooed over your heart.  The sun was setting, picking a few leaves out of the aspen's green crown and setting them afire.  The floor of the pool reflected the sunglow, a mobile, reticulated network of pink-orange lightning.  The lightning struck at your feet and forked over your legs.  I thought, looking at your feet and the sunset flickering over them, Some day we'll be old, but I will remember how he looked tonight, and how he moved under the water, how young and strong and beautiful he was.

I lifted you onto my back and carried you as deep as I could walk.  You said, I feel like we're kids again.

I know.  Me, too.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


I am always up before you, but this morning after only an hour I crept back into bed and lay very still, listening to you murmur in and out of sleep.  You put your warm arm across my chest and in the fog of your half-dream you noticed my chest was shivering, my breathing too measured and rigidly controlled.  What's wrong, you asked, your voice blurred with sleep, and I said, Nothing.  Just the same thing as always.  Don't be sad, you said, and staring up at the ceiling I blinked and a tear escaped.  It was hot and fast at first.  By the time it reached my hair it was sluggish and cold.

I am trying to assemble some sort of replacement future, some goal, some expectation, something that will make me feel when I reach the end of my life that I did not squander the time I had.  I am trying to find some way of mattering.  I am trying to find a mark to leave.  This is unknowable terrain, and very slow going.  Many times I have wished I could just forget the need to hack a new me out of this years-old deadwood, just disappear.  And I would have if not for the sound of you in the morning, if not for the warmth of your arm across my body and the slow but live pulse beneath your skin.  Some days it's all I'm capable of feeling.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


It is the same at the end of each quarter.  We go days without seeing one another awake.  You stay up late studying and fall asleep on the couch, and in the morning I find you with the light still on, your arms and legs crossed to fit the narrowness of the sofa, holding your breath in your sleep.  When you make it to bed I wake in the early morning to find that our limbs have entangled, our hands hold each other, and I am sweating from the heat of you.  It is during these days that my desire to know what it is like to be you overwhelms me.  I would hear, if I could, your voice in my head reciting strata and faults, composing your dear confused sentences with their awkward flourishes, your voice distorted by too much nearness, the dissatisfaction one always feels with one's own sound.  It's the loneliness that makes me want to draw so near you that nothing of you is unknown.

Your work slacks folded on the back of the chair, waiting to be ironed.  Through the familiar smells of our home the scent of your absent body rises and strikes me as clear and brief as a triangle note, and vanishes again, too busy to stay even a moment more.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A girl stood on a bucket in Pike Place Market in the rain.

She was either very young -- no more than six, if that -- or she was tiny for her age.  She wore a dirty pink parka with the hood pulled up, and her hair stood out from the hood, a patch of wiry black flowers all around her face, each pigtail decorated with colorful plastic barrettes.  The bucket was upturned and white and she stomped her feet as she sang; it gave off a muffled thud, the rhythm reined in.  Behind her, her father played an acoustic guitar, but neither could it compete with the girl's voice.  Her singing was as bright and charismatic as an entire gospel choir.  I was caught up in the press of the crowd and I couldn't push my way through to drop a dollar in her cup.  But I turned my face to watch her for as long as I could, until the crowd, eager to get out of the rain, had carried me beyond where I could see her.    She saw no one in the crowd; her eyes never left the red lit market sign and the clock far above our heads, or perhaps she looked even higher as she sang, at the grey sky, at whatever was beyond it.

Oh, I've seen fire, I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end

It has been at least ten years.  The girl would be fifteen or sixteen now, maybe a little older.  This sounds ridiculous, because I only saw her for a moment and heard a few phrases of her song, but I think of her often.  I hear the drum of her small feet against the bucket.  Each time I am at the Market I look toward the green metal staircase where I saw her and hope to see her again.  I wonder what kind of fire and rain she's seen now.  I wonder whether her voice, her confidence, have kept her from the troubles that fall on too many Black girls.  I wonder whether her talent has been worth anything to her.  I wonder whether she wears a cleaner coat now, or whether she only sings these days to put her baby to sleep.

Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.

I wish I had pushed through the crowd and given her a dollar.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I pulled up the blinds in the bedroom for the first time since we moved in so I could watch as you mowed the lawn.  It is mostly moss but you cut down the wispy grasses over in the shade of the aspen, and you finally got those dandelions you hate, though too late to stop them from going to seed.  There will be more, many more, in a few weeks.  I will watch again, leaning on the cool window sill, as you push the mower with your jaw set, the lines of the muscles of your arms flashing distinct in the sun, the warmth of the blood in your veins that stand out across the backs of your elbows where the skin is golden.

At night you fell asleep too fast and left me with nothing, but when you woke for just a moment and rolled against me, laid your arm over me, pressed your wide mouth against my bare shoulder I forgave you.  I am too in love with you to not forgive.  Under the blanket I traced with my fingers the fine, straight line of hairs down the length of your stomach, soft and light as dandelion seeds.  You spoke to me in your sleep.  I couldn't understand a word.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Torrey House Press. Are you listening?

I am officially courting you.  Yes, you, Torrey House Press.  I have a crush on you.  I want to go steady with you.  I want to writer-marry you.  You're my publishing soul-mate.  You with your mandate to protect the West, my place, my home.  You with your mission to make people love the land I came from as much as I love it. 

I've been searching for an agent to represent this book I recently completed and just haven't had the interest I expected.  For a while I thought that's because I'm a terrible writer, even though I'm no stranger to working with agents (plural!) and no stranger to rejection.  This kind of thing has never gotten to me in the past, but this revolution on the query-go-round just about did me in.  I'm not sure why.  Well -- I am sure why, and I wrote out a few paragraphs detailing why, but I deleted them because they felt too digressive and too unprofessional.  So I'll just leave it at "I'm not sure why."  Anyway, not the interest I expected from agents, and I took several days to examine why from as many angles as I could fathom, and what that means, and where I go from here.

Here's what I came up with.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Mom told me, "Your dad never wanted to paint teepees.  He hated painting teepees.  He did it because that's what all the art dealers wanted, because that's what would sell.  He called them 'tricky little paintings'.  He decided he'd paint the landscapes for himself and put the tricks in to make them sell."

I have a few of his paintings, including a few with teepees, hanging on my wall.  I had to fight to get them.  In some cases, I had to pay.  An artist never thinks he's going to die at 49 in his bed in the summer heat with the TV still on, be found when the single mom upstairs has a spider in her bathtub and sends her eight-year-old boy down to get the nice artist in the first-floor apartment to come squash it.  Still and dead in bed for three days.  That poor kid, just looking for somebody to kill the spider.  Dad didn't plan to die young, so he left nothing to my sister or to me.  We had to salvage what we could find in his filthy apartment when we came to cart his things away.  She got the best of the paintings that were in his closet, but they weren't much anyway.  All his best had been sold years and years ago, before the heroin, before the crazy.  And I didn't argue with her.  She shut me out of the apartment in the end, set bags of my father's life outside his door for me to haul to the dumpsters.  I remember the dumpsters were school-bus yellow and patched with rust.  I remember how the lid clanged every time I'd throw in another bag.

So I had to find them where I could, the bits and pieces of his life, the small legacy he left for me.  I used eBay and I sent emails to art dealers with my sob story.  I gathered a few here and there.  I found some in relatives' attics and under beds, forgotten, and took them when nobody was home.  I read up on how to strip and restore varnish so I could restore them to the way they were supposed to look, but I haven't had the guts to try it yet, and I don't have the money to hire somebody to restore them for me.  Most of them are unframed.  I won't put them in anything less than a Ricks frame, carved and gilded.  That's the legacy I have, and I will tend it.

A few paintings, and some with teepees, on my wall.  I look at them and it's hard to believe he hated to paint the tricks.  They fit so well into his world, the structures grouped in twos or threes, the tiny figures of men in Hudson's Bay blankets standing near smoldering morning fires.  And in the background, the part he loved, the Idaho sky, the flat dun-scented sagelands, the foothills rising pale and blue and distant.  Birch trees and herds of elk.  And in nearly all of them, the tiny angular specks of blackbirds crossing.  The tricks blend in.  And all my life I've been proud of his reputation as one of the finest painters of teepees, and all my life I never knew how he hated it, or the concessions he made to make it bearable.

I tell my mom all this, and I also tell her, "But a painting takes a few days to make.  This book took me two years.  I worked on nothing else for two years of my life.  How can I put tricks into something that takes so much out of me?  If I hate writing it, and I spend two years hating it, how can I live with myself?"

She got that, at least.  "That's true.  And also a painting doesn't take much to appreciate, for most people.  You just look at it.  A book has to be read."

"A book has to be read by agents first, and then editors, and then more editors, and then readers.  It's such a lengthy process.  I wish I could force myself to go through it with something tricky, but I'm not sure I can."

"You got this all from your dad.  I've never felt this conflicted about anything.  You're so high-strung.  But I always wished for creative kids.  I hoped you'd both be like your dad that way."

"Crippled by my own desires?  Thanks; you cursed me."

"You won't be able to stop.  You're just like him."

I was crying now.  "I want to stop.  I want to turn it off.  It's making me miserable."

"But you won't be able to.  He never could.  You just have to find the tricks."

How do I make this tricky, then?  Zombies?  Baptism for the Undead?  Fuck.  The idea has about as much appeal as cutting up all his canvasses.  I don't think there are tricks.  Not for this stuff.  Too much time invested per image.  Too many people to please to get it sold.  Too many tricks to pull.  Not even Houdini could be so tricky.

I recalled the stuff we found way at the back of his closet, the one that had the angled wall, that ran under the stairs.  They were painted with scenes of farmers in blue overalls, close up, bending over plows, old men with bent backs in broken fields.  Thick impasto paint, and bright, impressionistic, on tall canvasses.  Nothing like what he was known for.  Most of them had been slashed with a razor.  One big angry rent through the middle.

I don't see an answer here.  I know how to paint the landscapes but I don't see a way to work the teepees in.  I can't even fathom the teepees, what form they may take.  Outside my window a blackbird is clinging to a swaying fir branch and singing, singing in the sun.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


I've been neglecting to write to you.

I've been so distracted and upset, so busy looking for work.  Writing anything has become a chore and so I've put it all off, but I should never put this off, telling you these things.  I can't tell you any other way.  I'm bad at talk and you're awkward and embarrassed when I try.  No matter how much it pains me to write I can't put this off.

The moon is immense tonight, forcefully present, as colored as a street light.  I left the party and sang to the moon as I drove.  I remembered the night we lay in the field.  I hoped you would kiss me.  You talked about the stars, nervous, about navigation by starlight, about the constellations in Cuba.  I let my hand fall into the coolness of the field and plucked the first stem my fingers touched.  I twirled it between my fingers as you talked, felt its ridged frail form, the way it bumped unevenly as it spun.  I repeated in my head, "Sedges have edges.  Sedges have edges."  Just to keep myself quiet.  I liked the sound of your stories.  The moon rose over the pines on the ridge.  It was as large as this moon, but white, not golden.  When it came up I interrupted you.  "The moon," I said, as if you couldn't see it too.  But that's how bad I am at talk.  I meant to say, This is a singular moment.  We will never see this moon rise again.  You smiled and held your breath and it pulled itself up, away from the tips of the trees as we tilted toward it slowly on an Earth that would never be the same again as it was that night.

Tonight the moon lights the sky with a green light, eerie and lovely, crisp.  I am watching it move like a moored boat across the highway, slow and resigned, confined to its orbit.  Hit the line at the end of its orbit and rock back across the earth again, slow, in another month, when everything will be different and everything will be the same.  That green light.  There was a green curtain hung across the hatch on your boat, lit from behind by the backcast glow of the Locks.  In that pale light your skin was as golden as the moon.  I kissed you.  The bell at the Locks rang like neon in the rain.

Come home soon.  I want to stand on the deck with you and watch the moon, before it falls behind the trees, cushes into its fenders, creaks against its lines.


Blogger's new format can suck my ovaries.

Have not been having a good time of things lately. Several attempts to find work that pays better have ended in bait-and-switch interviews, where the job that's advertised, the job I'm told they want me for, is not the one they interview me for. Do you know how hard it is to maintain a professional demeanor in the middle of an interview when they tell you you're actually here to interview for something minimum-wage? When they tell you you shorted your already limited sleep by several hours for nothing?

On top of that, querying is not going as well as I'd hoped it would. I've looked into some small presses and have been compiling a list of ones that seem worth submitting to. I like that small presses take more risks and publish more art rather than just more of what we've already seen before. I have great respect for small presses and their forward-thinking authors. what I don't like is that small presses don't have capital, so I can expect nothing as an advance, and I can also expect a wait of up to two years before the book is published and before royalties start to come in. Two years is a distressingly bleak span of time to face when you already can't keep your head above water. I'm not foolish enough to think I could have expected anything major for this book from a Big Six publisher, but a simple advance of maybe $10,000 seemed like a reasonable hope. Even $5,000 in the bank would have kept us from panicking, would keep us from losing our home and our minds for another year or more. The money situation is so dire. We're both stretched so thin. And I see shit like Twilight fanfiction getting big money, while I will count myself lucky if I see a few hundred bucks from two years' worth of work...two years from now.

Everybody tells me not to get discouraged, to just start on the next book. Why? It will be just as impossible to sell as the others. It will bring me more years of torment and nothing in the bank. What's the point?

I've got to go to a friend's birthday party. He's one of those friends who always tells me what a great writer I am, yet he's never read anything I've written. I hate being treated that way by the people I love. I know they mean well so I never call them out on it, but I hate to hear those words from them. They're just patting me on the head, just smiling and nodding at this little hobby of mine. Libbie likes to write books; isn't that cute.

Dad used to hate it when he'd set up his French easel and paint en plein air, and hikers and tourists would come up to him and say, "Hey, my aunt paints!" He hated it when people told him that, hated it. Because they couldn't see the difference between the awful crap their amateur aunts painted and the beautiful, nuanced, skilled things he made. It made him feel like it was pointless. Why keep painting at all, if every painting was the equivalent of aunt-painting?

So these people who love me, they mean well and they want to support me, but I'm just playing to them. I'm just a hobbyist with no real potential beyond that. Shit, they're not even interested enough in my "hobby" to READ what I write. They tell me it's good and think I won't notice that they've never even tried to find out whether it is.  It doesn't occur to them that maybe I'm doing something worth more than Twilight fanfiction, so they pat me on my head and say, "You're a good writer, Libbie. Don't worry. You'll get published."

My aunt paints.

This friend -- he just got his acceptance letter to the university he wants to attend. I'm so happy for him. He's worked so hard, and he and his wife have both sacrificed so much so that he can achieve this goal. And I love them both like crazy. They're the best people. But now I've got to pull my shit together and go celebrate with them. His life is coming together. Mine is stagnant. I am thirty-two. When I was younger I thought of my thirties as that decade when I'd have my life on its track, when I'd be writing full-time and maybe not making great money at it, but getting by.

So I guess now the conventional wisdom is that I start the next book. For whatever good that may do me. I can't muster any enthusiasm for it. I don't see the point in trying to make something good and real when that doesn't matter to publishers anymore.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Querying update.

It's going well. I'm sending out a couple new queries each day and have been steadily for over two weeks now. I am getting some nibbles here and there. I am feeling hopeful about this book. It's definitely not a "sure thing" kind of book (if there is such a thing at all) -- I know it will require a lot of luck to find the absolutely correct agent for it, and to hit him or her at just the right time. And then it will require the same amount of fortuitous timing (and agent savvy) to find precisely the right editor. And then that editor will have to convince Acquisitions to actually buy it. So I'm expecting a lengthy process, but I am feeling hope.

More news when something becomes news.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


I am currently in Query Hell. It's good to be back. I feel I'm not getting nearly enough responses (rejection or otherwise) compared to how many queries I've sent out, but maybe the process is different with agents who focus on literary fiction and not genre fiction, as was the case with my last visit to Q.H. Plus I went after the upper crust of agencies only, so perhaps their backlogs of emails are larger. Probably.

Doing my written test for 911 dispatching today. First step in a long process. But it will be a good backup if my book never sells and I wither up in shame and die unpublished, surrounded by angry cats, with a bunch of brilliant manuscripts rotting in my sock drawer which my niece and nephew will discover long after I'm gone, posthumously publish, and make the millions I should have earned off my own genius. You're welcome, Henry and Agatha. Auntie loves you.

Also looking at taking a second job, working on my three days off a week. Doesn't that sound fun.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pre-emptively setting the record straight

So...when I wrote my query letter and then submitted it for critique at Absolute Write, I expected a few people to object to the general content of my book. Vladimir Nabokov once said that there were three taboos in American publishing: incest, interracial marriage, and "the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106."

Happily, interracial marriage is no longer the taboo it was in the 1950s. Incest will always remain a taboo -- or at least I predict it will remain taboo in my lifetime. Who knows what the future might hold. As for the third publishing taboo, obviously Nabokov was being hyperbolic when he described that scenario. A book about a happy, useful person who never has any troubles and dies in his sleep is boring, and boring will always be verboten in publishing. But the point he was trying to make was sound, and unlike interracial marriage, a book which portrays atheism as a solution to a problem, or at least as something that's okay, something that doesn't need to be fixed, is still going to have a tough time getting off the ground.

That doesn't mean I think my book is doomed. It merely needs to meet the right agent and editor, and I then I think it has quite a good shot of selling well. But finding the right people to work with this book may be difficult, and my experience with my query letter on AW points out why.

Friday, March 16, 2012


54,474 words. First draft, anyway. There are a lot of scenes I intend to work back into what I've already written. I still think the final version will come in somewhere around 60K.

But after two years and a lot of setbacks, Baptism for the Dead has reached "The End."

I feel relieved. Now I'm going to have some wine.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


46,000 words. Past a major turning point in the book. Heading toward the final conflict and the resolution. Looking like it might top off at 60K, which is short, but not absurdly so. I hope.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


I'm making good headway on Baptism. I am very relieved and happy to report this. In the past three days I've written over 5000 words, which is more than I've written over the past eight months or so. Long story short: One of my biggest stressors seems to be all wrapped up and as out of my life as it's ever going to be, and the psychological effect on me has been incredible. I feel awesome.

I've set a goal for myself to finish the first draft by the end of February. After that, revisions should come together swiftly, since I've actually been doing a lot of revising as I've worked on the first draft. I am planning to start searching for a new agent by mid-March. I've already got my first one targeted, researched, and ready to query.

Let's sell this goddamn book already!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Universe is trying to tell me something...

Just kidding; I don't believe in a higher power that tries to tell anybody anything. But I do have an amusing anecdote for you, if you still read this blog.

With Mitt Romney maintaining a baffling hold on the competition (such as it is) for the Republican candidacy, and with the well-deserved success of the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, and with the internet being positively bombarded with those obnoxious "I'm A Mormon!" banner ads, the stars all seem perfectly aligned to assist me in selling Baptism the moment it's finished. (Not that I'll be surprised if it fails to sell anyway. I've been at this novel-selling game for almost three years now, and I am a hardened cynic with regards to the publishing industry. It's almost enough to make me drink whiskey and write poems about drinking whiskey, Bukowski-like.) I know the timing is as good as it will ever be for this novel, so I've been wringing every drop of writing energy out of myself through my fog of depression.

(I am happy to report that I did finally find a job -- a permanent, full-time job with benefits, which is something I haven't had in nearly six years -- and as I've adjusted to the working life once more my writey feeling has increased daily. I think I will soon be back on a regular schedule of writing, and Baptism will come together quickly once I am. Hooray!)

Anyway, along with Mormons being everywhere in the zeitgeist just now, a funny coincidence happened a few days ago that has zapped me in the butt like a cattle prod and has made me leap back toward this book with renewed focus.

I got a call from my ex-husband the other day. "The Mormons came looking for you," he said.


"Yeah, two guys knocked on the door and asked for Melissa Ricks." Melissa Ricks was my legal name back when I was a member of the Church -- I have since legally changed both my first and last names, but not to evade the Mormons. "I told them you don't live here anymore and asked them what they wanted with you. They said, 'We're from her church.' I said, 'She doesn't have a church.' And they said, 'Well, she's in our records.'"

We had a good laugh over it, and I told him it must be God trying to tell me to hurry up and finish Baptism for the Dead because He's not going to keep the circumstances favorable for my publication and the birth of my career for much longer.

I truly don't believe in signs, or "things happening for a reason," or anything vaguely mystical or "cosmic" in the hippie sense of the word. It's all just confirmation bias, which is a fascinating enough psychological phenomenon on its own that I think it's rather insulting to our magnificent brains to assign some kind of winking, nodding, knowing significance to everyday coincidence. But I have to admit to being entertained by this particular coincidence -- the Mormons haven't sought me out for twelve years. Why now, when I'm working on a novel that explores Mormon culture?

It gave me a good laugh, and it's stoked the fire under my ass, and that's all I can ask from the universe.

So yes, I am still working on Baptism, and I am feeling extremely cheerful about its potential. Thank you, Elders, for showing up at my ex-husband's door!