Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Thank you

Deep thanks to everyone who has emailed and left supportive comments about Shiloh. It's wonderful to know you're out there sending your love. Tonight my parents and Alexandra are coming over to get their last cuddles and to eat a breakfast dinner of pancakes and fruit, and to feed Shiloh (and Leroy too, of course) treats. Each day that has passed has made me more certain this is the right decision, but it still very surreal. For those of you who have been through this, thank you for sharing your own stories. It helps.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

When it's time

Yesterday morning, I called our veterinarian to schedule Shiloh's euthanasia. [breathe. breathe.] While I was on the phone, crying, Shiloh turned to look at me and I felt like I was summoning the executioner. I told myself the whole time that it's days away, that I could change my mind, but there's a part of me that knows it shouldn't be days away. It should probably have been days ago. But how are you supposed to decide that? My God. I know people go through this all the time, but that's a meaningless thought next to the sight of my dog looking at me with her old cloudy eyes.

I know it's time. Her essential Shilo-ness is gone. Has been for a while now. It's been months since she "talked" in her Chewbaca voice, sounding absolutely flummoxed that one would dare stop petting her belly. She was so bossy! She can barely walk now. My back kind of hurts from leaning over and supporting her 80 pounds as her legs slip out from under her across the treacherous kitchen floor. Damn floor -- I almost feel like it's the floor's fault. She's okay on carpet and outside on the patio, but she obstinately continues to seek out any scrap of bare floor she can find. And then she can't get up on her own. I'm up three or four times in the night, down the stairs to help her move, hearing her nails scrabble as she tries to get up, or roll over. She must be so uncomfortable.

Age hit her fast. I haven't had an old dog. . . ever. When I was a kid we had a big Alaskan malamute named Anouk, but after we moved overseas and she didn't take well to apartment living, my parents found a malamute breeder in Belgium to sell her to. She really did go to live on a farm. I swear. There were even pictures of her with her puppies. But my mother's heart broke when she had to trick Anouk onto a train with a stranger, and there were no more family dogs after that. Scroungy cats, yes. And cats live a blessedly long time.

In my early 20s I adopted a black lab mix from the pound and named him Milo. I had him for a year, a long, fraught year. He was a biter, as it turned out. He nipped a kid who ran past on a busy street, and then when the kid's dad tried to shield him, he bit the dad's watch off his wrist. He chased a horse and rider in the Oakland Hills and I couldn't catch him, and I thought there would be a terrible accident and I was frantic, and scrambling, and I could not catch him for some of the longest minutes of my life. Then he bit a paramedic on duty, bad, and that was it. We had done several obedience courses. There was nothing for it. Milo had to be euthanized. It was horrible, and I didn't plan to get another dog. And I didn't get another dog. My parents did. Shiloh.

She was a year old, a perfect specimen of a Siberian husky, at the good old Human Society. The reason she was given up? Cuz she scapes. [sic]. We used to joke about that family that had her before and we called Shiloh the "scaper." Those poor spellers were right, though. She did escape. Did she ever. Huskies are known for it, their independence and wizardly ways of getting out of yards. Oh, and their demonic speed. Ever try catching a year-old husky with the fierce joy of freedom in her eyes? Well, let's just say it's good exercise for you and you don't stand a chance unless it's really hot out and she's driven home by thirst.

My parents were living in Marin County then, the wedge of land that the north toe of the Golden Gate bridge sets down on. They were far north, toward Wine Country, out by the Petaluma River surrounded by wetlands and scrub oaks, and when I moved back in with them for a few months to save money for art school, Shiloh and I fell in love. She used to come and put her chin on the bed and I would wake up staring into her slightly crazed mismatched eyes, one blue and one brown, and we'd go walking or jogging on the levees and in the woods. Long, long walks. Sometimes I'd let her off leash, but I knew if I did I wouldn't see her until she got thirsty enough, many hours later, to give up her precious wildness. Then she'd find her way home from chasing foxes and deer and sleep like the dead for hours. Man, was she fast.

When I moved out, she moved with me. I absconded with my parents' dog. Jim and I met right away, and in a year we moved in together and Shiloh was our dog, but not really. She was always mine. She's never been cuddly or needy, never tried to win anyone over. For years now we've referred to her as our "downstairs neighbor" because even when she could still go up the steps to where we were working in our studio, she wouldn't. And last fall she got old, like age fell out of a tree while she was walking under it and it just clobbered her. Never having had an aging dog before, I had no idea it could happen like that. When we decided to do the radiation for her cancer, I thought we were looking at the inevitability of the tumor coming back in 8 to 12 months, that we would have to decide what to do then. It never occurred to me her legs would essentially stop working in four months, that her personality would be lost to befuddlement, that she could become a creature just existing, not living, in such a short time.

So. Shiloh's vet is coming here on thursday. I don't think I'll be leaving the house much this week.

[Here is an article I found on pet euthanasia that helped me think things out a bit.]

A few months ago, with her sweet step-brother, Leroy:

When she was young:

and I was young too, and my mom's old tomcat was still alive:

with her Auntie Em:

Predator in action (when Jim fed her a teddy bear that was a gift from an old boyfriend):

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Chronicles of Avery Dry Who Put Her Soul In The Collection Plate. . .

"Chronicles" -- now there’s a word with some power. Put it with some other words and see what happens: The Absinthe Chronicles. Chronicles of a Barefoot Vampire. The Tiptoe Chronicles. The Living in Sin in the Trunk of a Car Chronicles. The Chronicles of Smitty, Who Nobody Loved (Except One Blind Ferret). The Chronicles of Beelzebub, Who Wets the Bed in Hell. The Red Licorice Chronicles. The Brimstone Chronicles. The Cupcake Chronicles.

You put the word “chronicle” with some other words, and it’s like a magic trick: it suggests a whole mysterious history there, stuff that had to be dug up. You know, by globe-trotting historians who keep a vampire stake in one pocket and a pistol loaded with silver bullets in the other! It’s a dry word with juicy secrets. I want to be part of a chronicle. What kind? A weird family of witches? What if I already do come from a weird family of witches and you just don’t know it? What if. . .

Isn’t every family like a beehive of scandal, with some folks desperate to keep secrets snug and others like bears trying to claw them open and gobble up all the honey? I wonder at all the things I don’t know about, all the wrong love and the gambling and the vicious tempers, all the bastards and ghosts and the magic kept bottled up like Prohibition bourbon. It shouldn’t have been kept stoppered; it’s the devil that does that, puts his cork in folks’ souls. Not God.

The magic should’ve been let out. Maybe Plum would still be alive, then, and I’d still have my soul in my chest to keep me warm on nights like these.

Plum was the only one who didn’t go to Grandpa -- her baby brother -- and beg him not to marry Angelina. She had to know it wouldn’t matter. There was that look in his eye of love or sorcery and there’s no arguing a man out of either. It wasn’t because Angelina was a war widow from the scorched toe of Italy with three stunted kids and a scar round her neck like she’d been hung and forgot to die. That’s not why the family hated her so much. It was because she was a witch. And not the good kind.

But Plum was a witch too, and good or bad, she’d have been a powerful one and she’d have won, I bet, but for all those years of having her knuckles whacked in school, of her daddy’s beatings and her mama’s shame and the preacher’s wickedness and thinking those were angels whispering in his ear and not his own damn spite. Every preacher I ever knew mistook his own nasty thoughts for the whispers of God. I think if God whispered, he’d of said to damn well leave Plum alone and let her fix things and heal folks, let her make the orchard grow up fast, natural or not. Let her use the talent she was born with and quit whacking her knuckles, you dark-minded children of disruption!

But God didn’t whisper down and Plum got whacked until her magic was as stunted as Angelina’s kids. I’d tell the whole story but it’s not what I sat down to think about. Plum died a long time ago, and Angelina had Grandpa’s babies and my mama was one of them. That makes Angelina my grandma, I know, but it’s hard to call her that, except I got the witch from both sides, her and Plum, the good and the bad, and the preacher tried to drown it out of me, too. That’s how it all happened, how the preacher died and I lost my soul. Teach him to talk God with his mouth full of hate. Teach him manners. I’m not afraid. Like I said, I got the bad witch in me too.

Here we go. It’s a long story and it’ll get under your fingernails but nothing a good toothpick won't fix. I’m calling it the Chronicles of Avery Dry, Who Put Her Soul In The Collection Plate and Then Turned Indian-Giver And Tried To Grab It Back. And She Hopes God Isn’t Mad. I know it’s a long title. Get out your red pencil if you want. I’m not afraid of you.

(of course, that’s all. That was fun. I like that Avery Dry who just came out of nowhere. Thanks, Sunday Scribblings!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

some new products!

New: Laini's Ladies fans and notecards! What fun. Forthcoming this season we also have Laini's Ladies bath salts, a very cool thing, as they are produced by a wonderful Chicago-based nonprofit called The Enterprising Kitchen. Their mission statement is to provide workforce development for women working toward self-sufficiency and economic independence. They're a member of the Fair Trade Federation and use all-natural ingredients.

I'm really glad to be able to use products made in the USA, especially by such a great company. Being a new artist just starting out in licensing, it's really not an option to go all Made in the USA, but I hope to find more opportunities like this one with The Enterprising Kitchen.

I recently explained a bit about "licensing" in an interview, and I thought I might do so here as well, since I myself didn't really know what it was even as I was trying to get my toe in its door. A simple definition of licensing, without the legalese, is giving limited permission to a company to use one's artwork or brand in the manufacture of a product. So, in my case, I grant a company called Bottman Design the right to make Laini's Ladies. I create the artwork and they have the right to use it on agreed-upon products, for a limited term, and in return I receive royalties, while they do the manufacturing, promotion, and distribution. This is a GREAT arrangement for me, since I have no interest in the day-to-day businessy things, and they have been wonderful to work with. To other artists sellling their work to companies, I would recommend you be very cautious in licensing contracts and absolutely have a lawyer read everything; not all companies are great like Bottman!

But back to the products pictured above: fans! How cool is that? Fans totally make me think of being a kid overseas, and begging my parents for lacy Spanish fans in the marketplace in Palma de Mallorca -- the same marketplace where my five-year-old sister went missing for several terrifying hours until my poor parents were certain she'd been kidnapped by slavers. Fortunately we found her, calmly eating ice cream with some gypsies in a market stall. On this same trip, my brother, then eleven, fell to fiercely coveting a sword he saw in a shop and went on a hunger strike for it! My parents actually bought it for him, only to discover when we checked out of our hotel that he'd actually been eating mini-pizzas hand over fist and charging them to room service! Ah, Alex. We also got to see a joust in a medieval castle, ride mules into the hills, and see German tourists playing topless volleyball at the beach. Where we lived, in Southern Italy, people didn't go topless at the beach, so that was memorable. Especially in motion like that. So, fans. Memories. Love how memories are like that, chains that lead one to the next.

The new products will be available in the next couple of months, in stores, and here I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

May dragons eat my toes. . .

That's my new motivating self-curse; It's for when I'm sitting staring at the computer screen, tempted to rearrange a paragraph one more time out of fear of writing a new scene instead. My new mantra shall be: I will write the next scene, or may dragons eat my toes. It worked last night. I wrote a perfectly awful 6 pages before the awfulness finally ate into my brain and I slumped over unconscious with the horror of it. But no dragons ate my toes, so that's good. I believe the dread of that happening will wear off shortly -- I mean, I do have some sense of reality, thank you. I do actually know that there aren't any dragons in the world. Oh wait, what's this? Eek!

Don't let him near my toes, please. (And to think that in my last post I referred to Komodo dragons as one of the world's greatest hits!)

I made oatmeal for dinner the last two nights in a row, so you can see I'm really straining myself. I'm wearing two pairs of socks, and a sweatshirt with a big cowl that I can pull up over my face if I get cold, and I'm sitting Indian-style. I have a bad habit of treating my knees like I'm still a teenager, and then when I get up I hobble. I have to unfurl myself often from the writing desk (or writing sofa as the case may be) to help Shiloh get up -- sometimes she can manage on her own, but she needs a lot of tush-boosting now as she's gotten very rickety very fast. She sleeps with her tongue poking out; it's cute but sad. My poor old dog baby.

There are big stacks of books on the coffee table that we brought home from ALA. How fun was it to walk around picking up free books? Pretty dang fun, I tell you, but also heavy. Librarians are strong! It's tempting to just sit and read, but I remind myself what would most certainly happen if I were to do that. That's right: dragons would definitely eat my toes. With soy sauce, and chopsticks.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fantasy & Escapism -- & my first book signing!!!

My first book signing! Jim and I just got back from the ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter Conference in Seattle, where I got to meet my editor in person for the first time, talk to lots of librarians, sign advance copies of my book AND fill in on a panel at the last minute for Mercedes Lackey, who couldn't make it. Wow! It was SUCH FUN. The panel topic was: the rise in popularity of sci-fi and fantasy in the post-9/11 world, and the other writers on the panel were R. A. Salvatore and Timothy Zahn, both seasoned sci-fi/fantasy writers and wonderfully nice guys! Here we all are:

A big "hello" to everyone I met yesterday, and if you're one of the people who got a copy of Blackbringer, I hope you enjoy it! It's so exciting for me to know you're out there in the world with my book in your hands and I would love to hear from you when you've read it! I said I would post the text of my talk, so here it is:

I wish a dragon egg would hatch at my feet. I wish I would grow wings, and maybe even a tail. I wish I could study magic at Hogwarts, and ride an armored polar bear across the arctic tundra. I want to fight Thread in the skies of Pern, and I want to hunt devils with a gang of crows. I wish a tree could tell me everything it knows, and I wish that I could distill moonlight into a liquor that helps you remember your dreams. I wish people wore hooded cloaks, and strapped knives to their thighs. A part of me even kind of wishes vampires were real. Just a small part. Faeries definitely though. Right now, at this moment, I idly wish and want these things. I whimsically want them. But there are times when I’m under the spell of fantasy that I really WANT them, that I want to climb inside a book and live in it, and when that book ends and the spell begins to evaporate, my heart aches a little.

I read fantasy and I write fantasy because it’s the funnest thing there is. I don’t know why everybody doesn’t do it. There are certain things in life I can’t get my mind around. One of them is why people don’t paint their houses brighter colors, and another is why more people don’t read fantasy. (I secretly suspect these might be the same people.)

Sometimes these people use the term “escapism” and there can be a note of disdain in that, as if there’s something wrong with wanting to hightail it to another world for a while. I certainly want to. I mean, I adore this earth that has brought us miracles like mangoes and snow and silkmoths and Komodo dragons, just to name some of its greatest hits, but it’s a terrible world too, going through a terrible time, a highly televised terrible time. War and hatred and doom seem to be rolling toward us like thunderheads, and the news teams are there to show us all the bloody details, and instruct us on the newest and best things to be afraid of.

I said I read and write fantasy because it’s fun, but there’s more to it than that. I grew up between wars, if you don’t count the Cold War, which was an easy kind of war for a kid to ignore. I was a Navy brat and I heard things. I always knew that in Vietnam my father had killed people, and that my mother’s first fiance had sent her home polaroids of all his marine buddies and later, when he came home, had gone through the stack pointing out dead, dead, dead, dead, to just about everyone in them.

I knew my way around a ship as a kid, how to go up and down the ladders like a monkey. One of my favorite things to do was watch horror movies in the officer’s mess, and once when I was ten I was held at gunpoint for minutes because I wandered off during a security drill and the guard didn’t know what to do with me. And when the marine barracks in Beirut were bombed in 1983, my father’s ship was one of the first sent to Lebanon in response. My highschool in Belgium had an army guard who walked down the aisle of every incoming schoolbus with a machine gun. We had bomb threats and were told not to wear our school letter jackets into town because anti-American sentiment was too high. Later, when the wars of my lifetime -- so far -- really kicked off, I watched on TV, knowing my father was there.

But I don’t remember ever really being afraid, then. I didn’t develop my current sense of doom until the last few years. I’ve always loved to escape into fantasy, but that escape didn’t have the same urgency of wishfulness that it has now. Even though I know myself to be a rational adult and a skeptic, I still catch myself wishing fiercely for impossible things. Not expecting my wishes will come true, but feeling a surge of wretchedness at the injustice of it, nonetheless. When I saw the recent Superman movie, there was a scene in which an earthquake had rippled through Manhattan and Superman zipped around, catching window-washers as they fell off their platforms, rescuing people willy nilly, and I felt a kind of despair that there wasn’t someone to catch real people.

My despair was perhaps a tiny version of the despair that gave rise to Superman in the first place, a genesis that Michael Chabon explored so beautifully in Kavalier & Clay, in which he imagines what might prompt two young Jewish men to dream up a savior in the early years of WWII. Batman, and Captain America came out of those years, too; and Spiderman, the Hulk, and the X-Men were born during Vietnam. And it’s not just superheroes. I've known for a long time that Tolkien fought in World War I, but I only just found out he was in the front lines at the Somme, a hellish four-and-a-half month battle in which the British lost 20,000 men on the first day alone, which remains a one-day casualty record even now, ninety years later. Part of the battle’s strategic purpose was to draw German power away from Verdun where the French were suffering terrible losses, and the great tragedy is that at the Somme many more lives ended up being lost than even at Verdun. All told over 600,000 men died there -- a staggering number, and Tolkien walked among those bodies. And when I think of Aragorn and the soldiers of Gondor fighting an impossible war to draw the enemy’s attention away from Frodo and Sam, I can’t help but think of Tolkien at the Somme, and the loyalty and bravery of the characters in The Lord of the Rings are that much more heartbreaking. When I remember how Gandalf showed up with the exiled Rohirrim to save the day at Helm’s Deep, I can’t help but think of all the young men nobody saved in the French mud in those months. I can’t help but think of all the people, every single day, in wars all over the world, who nobody saves.

There’s nothing silly about “escapism.” It’s rooted in a deep and penetrating feeling of powerlessness, like Joseph Kavalier dreaming up the Escapist while his own family is trapped in Czechoslovakia. It’s important to remember that when readers escape into fantasy fiction, they’re not going into peaceful meadows to braid daisy chains with unicorns. They’re going to fight battles and fulfill destinies. Those other worlds are war-torn too, haunted by grave evil, and threatened with doom. The difference is that in those worlds the reader is not powerless. The reader gets to live in the characters’ skin, and ride in with Gandalf on Shadowfax to save Helm’s Deep. The reader gets to rescue the kidnapped kids from Bolvanger. The reader gets to save the world.

What could be more satisfying than that?

Fantasy readers also get to exist for a time in a place where the big, huge, beautiful human things like honor, sacrifice, loyalty, and deep, undying, soul-to-soul love, still exist. These big things seem kind of silly in mainstream fiction -- they have a tinge of unreality and even ridiculousness, like the modern world is “too cool” for honor and true love. They’re not “believable.” But in the context of fantasy, they can be. And people still want to believe in those things, so it’s lovely to create a framework within which they can exist and thrive.

I don’t know if fantasy has become more popular since September 11. As a hermit writer I have very little contact with the outside world. I don’t know if sales are up, but I suspect they are, and I think they would have been even if September 11 hadn’t happened. The snowball was already rolling down that hill -- the Harry Potter phenomenon was well underway; the first Lord of the Rings movie was eagerly awaited; Spiderman was in production and the landslide of other superhero movies had begun.

But I do think that there is a growing sense of doom, tied to environmental devastation and global warming, the feeling that we’re destroying our planet, and the sense of vulnerability that comes of knowing our country is hated so deeply, that war in the Middle East is on track to escalate to massive proportions, that our economy is losing its grip on the world, that our place in the scheme of things isn’t so assured as maybe we once thought. I have a terrible feeling that our golden age as Americans and as humans is in the past; I’m not sure exactly when it was, but I have a really hard time imagining that it’s in our future.

In my book, faeries have been on the far side of their own golden age for many, many, many years and the future isn’t looking too bright for them either. Their world is literally unraveling from neglect and misuse. The dragons are extinct, the faerie champions are long dead, magic is a sad shadow of what it once was, that pest species humans is cutting down the forests and fouling the rivers, and now devils are escaping from their ancient prisons. The world is, to quote myself, “sliding down the far slope of nothing back into the nothing that was before.” It seems a hopeless case.

But I have the extraordinarily great job, as a writer, of dreaming up hope, of cooking up a new golden age and the ones who will usher it in -- a golden age that still lies ahead of us, not behind. I get to save the world -- and so does everyone who reads my book.

That is certainly escapism, and I highly recommend it.

(for more thoughts on "fantasy" see Sunday Scribblings.)

More pictures:

And I loved this -- after I said I wished people wore hooded cloaks, a woman from the audience came up to say hi -- in her hooded cloak!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Snow is SUCH a good idea! Thank you, snow! Looky looky! Doesn't our house look like it's out in the country? Yay Yay Yay! We've been hoping to get snowed in this year, and to tell you the truth this isn't the best timing ever, but we'll take it. It's perfect powder, and lots of it. Took the dogs for a couple of walks. Threw some snowballs. Our neighbors built an igloo tall enough to stand up in. It's so beautiful. I love snow! Aside from playing outside, I've been updating my website a little bit. It's still in progress, but there's some new stuff to see, if you want to check it out. Cheers!

I'll leave you with some favorite quotes:

"I would rather live in a world surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind can comprehend it all."
- Harry Emerson Fosdick

"Everything is miraculous. It is miraculous that one does not melt in one's bath."
- Picasso

"You should take your mind out and dance on it. That might take some of the rigidity out of it."
- Mark Twain

Oh, and you can see more Portland snow pictures at the blog of my dear dear dear friend, Squelchy Washoogle.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Day of Dragons

(Isn't this picture fun? I don't know quite what I'm going to write in this post, but it's sure to have nothing to do with this picture.)

Spent most of the day on the couch yesterday with my computer and, I must admit, a book. More with the book than the computer. And several blankets, and multiple coffees. The book was the first Dragonriders of Pern book, which I got an urge to reread after seeing the underwhelming movie Eragon last month when my niece was in town. Bluhhh to Eragon, but Dragonflight was wonderful, if you're feeling dragony.

Other things that have been wonderful in recent days:

- The short story "Sweet Pippit" in the collection Black Juice by Margo Lanagan. I won't say too much about it but that it's narrated by heartbroken elephants and is so moving I was teary-eyed reading it. If you can get your hands on it, read it.

- Children of Men. Wow. I highly highly recommend it -- click on that link to see the trialer -- even though it's like a punch to the stomach. What a grim and terrible vision of the future, and yet a fantastic movie.

Speaking of fantastic movies, I CANNOT WAIT to see Pan's Labyrinth next week when it finally opens here!!! Seriously, if you haven't see the trailer, click that link and watch it. It's so gorgeous. Can't WAIT.

Oh, and something funny I stumbled upon the other day: I was looking up Ukrainian names on Google to come up with a character name, and this one site gave all the names' meanings, which were things like "nice" and "seagull" and "lion's son," and I happened to notice that the name Eduard supposedly means slum landlord!!! Could that possibly be true??? Oh, and Yuliya means frizzy. Ha ha ha!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hey, where'dya catch that idea?

At the SCBWI conference last year, a very funny children's book writer/illustrator named Mo Willems, who also writes for Sesame Street, brought up that old question so many writers hear: Where do you get your ideas?

Well, I've heard many responses to this question, which justly inspires sarcasm in writers, but his was the funniest. I won't be able to do it justice from memory, 6 months after the fact, but what he said essentially was that he had found a secret meadow where ideas graze like sheep, and whenever someone asks him this question he gets really suspicious, like they're going to try to find his meadow and poach his sheep!

I love that answer. Where DO ideas come from? Er, stardust and ether? Angels dreams sifting down to us from the heavens and squiggling in through our ears? Maybe we're born with a stash already inside us and we can either find them and use them or let them lie there like buried treasure forever -- in which case, would the coroner find them after we die and would he then be the absolute trove of unused ideas? Maybe he sells them on ebay. Maybe they're invisible butterflies and we have invisible nets, and they can be really elusive, or they can land right on your nose. Or maybe we're all witches and alchemists in our own right and we have to conjure them out of stones and potatoes and make something twinkling and rich out of them, like a big ewer of hot chocolate, sprinkled with gold dust. Yum.

I freaking love ideas. I love getting them and feeding them marshmallows and forcing them out of hiding. I have notebooks filled with little lovelorn ideas and grim gruesome ideas, with names of demons and lists of the kinds of moths that spin silk in the tiger preserves of Northern India. And if I find out by accident about weird wedding rites that happen there, I make note of it too. I'm a matchmaker of lonely ideas, hoping they'll meet and be soulmates and marry and have lots of little idea babies. Someone at the SCBWI (font of all writerly wisdom) said that you have to have 2 ideas to rub together to make a fire. LOVE that. So true. You can have a little fizz of an idea for years, then it can bump into this new idea and EXPLODE. Fabulous!

I get ideas from poems, fairy tales, words I find serendipitously in the dictionary when I'm looking up other words, from recipes and folk tales, from empty bottles of shampoo, from dried-out limes that got pushed to the back of the fridge. I love to pursue an idea down a dark avenue or through a labyrinth, or up into the sky on borrowed wings. I've written before about the "snick" I get when an idea settles into place -- it's euphoric. Sometimes I high-five myself, or take a little bow to myself. Or reward myself with chocolate.

The thing is, what's more fun that playing with ideas? I mean, really. There's this place where you can do anything, anything, anything. Sometimes I don't get why everyone doesn't do it, but I'm glad they don't, because it's hard enough to find a publisher as it is. Maybe I should make it seem less fun, so everyone doesn't jump into my swimming pool. Like how Northwesterners -- Oregonians and Washingtonians -- spread the doom and gloom of horrible Pacific NW weather ("It NEVER stops raining. Don't come!") just to keep Californians out. Forget everything I said above. Ideas are sly little bastards like roaches or rats, always gnawing on you. Go back to whatever you were doing before. It's nothing like a big mug of hot chocolate sprinkled with gold. Shhh. Keep your voice down. Scram.

More Sunday Scribblings here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I am amazingly stylish!

(but not this stylish.)

[Hi everyone! First, thanks so much for all your kind wishes and words. It really means a lot. Shiloh is doing well and didn't have any more nose bleeds yesterday or any difficulty moving around. Whew, for now. Thanks again for your warmth. Shiloh thanks you too, even though she is kind of snippy and not really into attention, unlike Leroy, who is fondly known as the "Black Hole of Affection" -- no matter how much you give, he never fills up!]

Now, for something light and fluffy, a little tag from [A}ma who kind of makes me remember what it was like being 16, only she is smarter and cooler than I was, and she is 16 in Saudia Arabia (I think), which is surely very different from being 16 in 1987 in Huntington Beach, California, which, in case you don't know, is in "the O.C." (and no one calls it that). The tag is:

10 things that define my style:

1. Mismatching fleece things, such as baggy polka-dot pajama pants, pink socks, etc, as seen in previous post photo. This is my winter house-uniform (Jim goes in more for plaid, himself) and it is very stylish. In fact, I only showed my feet in the last picture because the rest is so incredibly chic I was embarrassed and didn't want you to see the decadent elegance of my daily life.

2. Tall shoes. Platformy ones, not "heels." Nothing dainty. The kind of shoes that make the earth tremble a little when you walk. I like to sound like Godzilla when I go down stairs. Mainly I like to pretend to be tall.

3. Too-long trousers to pair up with my too-tall shoes. So long they puddle on the floor when I'm barefoot. Combined with the shoes, this gives the effect of long legs. Yay.

4. Color! On clothes and jewelry, on walls outside and in, on table cloths and sofa cushions, on journal covers. I love the names paint companies give their colors, too. They remind me of the names of flower varieties like tulips, so fanciful and gorgeous-sounding: Starfighter and Swan Wings, Rococo Parrot and Kingsblood, Blue Amiable and Mata Hari and Daydream.

5. Not much makeup, and almost never lipstick, weirdly. I can never remember to put it on, and if I do it seems like it's gone in 3 seconds. Oh, and NEVER EVER EVER nail polish. That only lasts 1.5 seconds before it's chipped like I had to dig myself out of a grave. I'm not sure how I do it.

6. Dangerous pets on diamond leashes. Sometimes I take my alligator, other times my snow leopard or my wolverine. A real conversation starter!

7. Live butterflies as barettes. This takes some doing. Honestly, I spend about half my life maintaining my butterfly house so that I have a constant supply of living barettes. I also like to wear scarab beetles as lapel pins, and the occasional Madagascar hissing cockroach, depending on my mood.

8. Entourage of ghosts. Some people never leave home without a book, in case they get stuck in line at the post office or something. I prefer to take ghosts so I always have someone to talk to. They tend to have a lot to talk about, like who murdered them, and what's the devil's favorite perfume, and which angels talk in their sleep.

9. Tail jewelry. Nothing says "I'm special" like sparkly bangles on my long prehensile tail!

10. Lastly: long coats and very tall top hats -- for concealing things in, like pizzas and scimitars and bird cages full of vampire bats.

As you might have guessed, I had to make up numbers 6 through 10 because in fact I have no style. I like that [A}ma stuck to more life-y real stuff, like Islam and writing, but like I said, she's a very smart and cool 16-year-old. And I will take any opportunity to pretend to have a tail and a pet wolverine so this was perfect. Thanks, [A}ma!

P.S. this awesome photo is one Jim took of an artist model at the Gothic Art Circus last month.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Sad dog stuff

This was going to be my day today: slippers, pink soft socks, leg warmers, polka dotted fleece pants, and assorted other fleecey garments and a long double-looped pink scarf around my neck. Inside. I love scarves and leg warmers, even in my writing room. They're like little blankets. There was also a blanket involved, by the way, the lap blanket. You might get the impression our house is cold. It is, but we're used to our winter garbs and we're okay with it. The point is, after walking Shiloh (my 13-year-old Siberian husky who went through radiation a few months ago for a nasal tumor) very slowly around the block, and after showering, I was going to wear my garb for the rest of the day and not leave the house. I was going to drink candy cane truffle coffee and write. Delightful plan. But not so much.

Shiloh had a really, really awful nose bleed in the midmorning, and it finally stopped, but then I wanted to get her her favorite lunch because I don't know how many lunches she has left, so I had to take off my leg warmers and polka dot pants and put on the sort of things grownups wear out into the world to go to Safeway for a rotisserie chicken. She enjoyed it tremendously, as did Leroy her canine step-brother who must, on some level, understand Shiloh is sick. I wonder if he understands the connection to the unexpectedly luxurious lunches. Back into the polka dots and leg warmers for me. But after lunch, Shiloh had another really, really awful nose bleed. It was horrible. Called her regular vet and her oncologist, and found out there's not much to be done about it. Started her on antibiotics anyway, so I got to get respectable again to go pick those up. Talked to the vet tech about future euthanasia options (don't know how much in the future, next week, next month -- how do you know? How do you know?) and started to cry. It turns out our vet does home visits, which makes things seem a slight bit less horrible.

It's not just the nose bleed that is freaking us out. Saturday night was a bad night. I woke up about 4 am to hear Shiloh's nails scrabbling about on the wood floor and went down to see if she needed help standing up, as she sometimes does. She did need help, but even with help this time she couldn't stay up. She couldn't walk, and it panicked her. Her heart was pounding and her legs were shaking like crazy, and when we finally got her outside to pee, which was where she was trying to go, she collapsed in the grass, in the rain, and we had to go out and help her back in. She weighs 80 pounds, so it's not so easy. When an 80 pound dog stops walking, that must be it, right? It took a while to calm her down so she would just go to sleep and not keep trying to get up, and then by morning she was okay, and she hasn't had a repeat of Saturday night so far. She's aged so quickly. For years our dogs didn't seem to change at all, and now in the space of months, it's hit her all at once. So she'll be getting plenty of rotisserie chicken, and Leroy will be reaping the benefits too, without actually having to be sick.

So I'm not really wanting to leave the house. I hate the thought of being gone and Shiloh not being able to get up, or getting a hideous nose bleed. Luckily, I'm not so into leaving the house anyway! Well, sometimes. But right now I just want to cocoon and write, so it works out fine. I would love to get snowed in, like we did a few years ago for a week. That was such a delight. It was when Shiloh was still spry enough to "escape" as is a well-known Siberian husky tendency. The streets had frozen smooth as an ice-skating rink and Shiloh managed to slip out the door and get away from us, but the driveway was so slippery she "ran" away at the slowest slippiest pace! Still, it was faster than we could go, so she had herself a little wintertime ramble about the neighborhood and then came home. She used to be so fast. When she would escape there wasn't a chance in hell of catching her. It was a very very sad day for Jim and I the first time we could catch up to her. That was a few years ago.

She's standing right here panting and looking at me kind of blankly, so I think I'd better give her some love. Hope all your pets are happy and healthy. Here's a picture of her looking unthrilled by her last bath, and then one of Leroy.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Another kissing story

I'm a sucker for kissing stories. I just am. Here's my latest. The inspiration was a line I forced myself to cut from another story I was writing. It described the world as "an overwintering spot for migratory angels." It didn't fit in that other story, but I loved it, so I gave it its own story. More Sunday Scribblings here.


sidereal -- stellar, relating to stars and constellations

Emily hiked her silver dress up around her waist to climb over the balcony railing. It was cold against her bare legs, winter cold, and she shimmied quickly along the length of her balcony and leaned way out, four stories up, reaching in the dark for the balcony next door. She knew exactly where it was; she snuck out every night. She leapt across. Cadence was waiting for her in a silver dress of her own, and together the two girls tiptoed through the apartment barefoot and out the front door, quiet as cats. They only giggled when they reached the beach and slid their toes into the cold sand.

They could have walked along the curve of the road, the frontage of the beach clubs all boarded up for the season. But from the road side the Sidereal didn’t exist. You could only get there if you walked in the sea with the icy waves up around your knees and the moon high overhead. It had to be midnight and it had to be winter. Then you’d see the lights, glimmering as figures passed before them, dancing. Then, you could go and dance, too.

Emily and Cadence, thirteen and fifteen, wish-filled and dream-heavy, soaked the hems of their silver dresses in the sea as they made their way, already dancing though they couldn’t yet hear the music. The wind danced with them, and the lights of the Sidereal shimmered into view. They went up the beach with their dresses slick against their skin and their faces hot with hope. The season was almost over. One day soon they would come at midnight and the Sidereal would have vanished, and all its winter tenants with it.

If they were to be kissed, if they were to be wrapped in vast wings and cradled, if they were going to weep with the beauty of it and feed their human tears to an angel’s soft tongue, it would have to be soon. The star path was aligning itself against the black. The angels had overwintered well, tended their wounds and unclamped their fists from their sword hilts, danced and supped and drank their honeyed drinks, and any day their migration would begin anew.

They were greeted wordlessly and swept into the dance. Sometimes cool hands held theirs. Always wingtips and feathertips brushed their arms and legs as they moved within the close sweet throng. Occasionally -- rarely, achingly rarely -- an angel clasped them in an embrace and spiraled them upward, skyward, spinning, and the sand shook from their toes as their silver dresses flared and glittered in the moonlight.

The angels always set them down again.

They were beautiful, of course. They pierced you with their beauty and made you weak. They were golden or pale or brown as earth, blue-eyed or black-eyed, long-limbed and sinuous. They were perfect, and they were as cold to the touch as a balcony railing in winter. Sometimes they held their smooth hands against the girls’ cheeks as if warming themselves at a fire.

Emily and Cadence each had a favorite they gravitated toward in the dance. Cadence’s was sky-dark and dazzling and powerful as a warrior. He could toss her into the sky like a bird and catch her as easily as a feather. Emily’s was fair and as slim as Donatello’s David, seeming almost a child like she was. But his eyes were no child’s eyes; there was infinity in them like all the others.

Emily thought she saw wistfulness in them tonight too as she found him in the crowd and took his hand. He gave her a sad smile, the kind you give from a doorway, looking back over your shoulder, and Emily knew the time had come. Tonight the Sidereal would close for the season. The sky felt huge and heavy overhead, an alien and endless sea empty of islands, with nowhere to rest and no honeyed drinks and no music. And how cold it would be! She wanted to give the angel her warmth to carry with him. She wove her fingers through his and squeezed. His eyes widened slightly in surprise, and Emily felt him squeeze back, and after, neither of them let go. They danced together hour by hour, their fingers clasped tight, until the black of the sky began to pale.

Never had Emily so hated a dawn. Some of the angels had already stopped dancing and were walking down toward the water, stretching their wings. She gripped her angel's hand tighter. It was almost as warm now as a human hand. The music faded away. Young and ancient and sad, he shook open his wings to follow his fellows. Emily began to cry and he paused and swept her close. He curved his great white wings around her and his breath on her lips was like the breeze over the sea, cold and pure. Awkwardly Emily thrust her face forward, unable to bear the space between their lips, and like that they kissed, the chaste, cold kiss of an angel and a child. She held herself against him until her lips warmed his and then they parted. He left her standing there and took the memory of her warmth with him as he embarked on his long stellar migration.

When even the flashing white of their wings had vanished into the sky, Emily found Cadence. She was sitting in the sand, looking up at the sky with her fingers pressed against her lips and Emily knew her friend was feeling the same thing she was. “They’re so cold, poor things,” Cadence whispered, then began to sob.

Emily sobbed too, holding the memory of her first kiss against her lips with her fingers. They sat there shivering as the sun came up, forgetting to go home and slip discreetly into their beds. Their parents would be frantic and furious when they straggled home later in their sandy silver dresses. They would be punished. Extra locks would be installed. Emily and Cadence wouldn’t be slipping out again by moonlight, not any time soon. But it didn’t matter. Winter was over. The Sidereal was closed.

And somewhere in the black ether beyond their world, angels were flying, their lips still tingling from human touch.

(the end)

P.S. When I was thirteen and lived by the beach in Southern Italy, my neighbor Jennifer and I snuck out exactly as described here, though maybe not in silver dresses. Our "angels" were young men serving their obligatory time in the Italian Army by being lifeguards at the military lido of which the Navy families, American and Italian both, were members. Imagine being 13 and having huge crushes on 12 lovely boys who lived in a sparse barracks at the beach only two blocks away. And you know what? They were sweet and totally appropriate with us, like big brothers. It's been more than twenty years (ulp!) but I still remember many of their names and faces.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

And eggnog goes extinct

Boo hoo, no more eggnog in our coffee until next fall. No more Christmas tree either. The garbage men were hauling away the poor old trees today so we stripped all the ornaments off in a flash and put them in piles on the sofa and in bowls to put away later. Now the living room looks bald and sad, but the ornament piles are so pretty I had to take pictures (I love my new camera!).

Also, in praise of colorful homes, here are some pictures of my friend Maggie's house. Love that color! Imagine a whole street of house painted such dazzling, fun colors. I'd want to walk up and down it all day. If I were the type to get involved with community projects I would be spearheading a movement to make that happen somewhere. But I'm not. I'm the type who wants to stay inside my own yellow house all day and not answer the phone. So.

Happy weekend, folks. And Sunday Scribblings this week is about kissing, so if you get a whim to tell a kiss story, you are cordially invited to do so.

P.S. It is a dangerous world we live in. It hit me last night that you can be sitting right in front of the fire in your Captain Kirk-y leather chair, feet up, laptop in lap not even plugged in, and because you have wireless you can look up something on Amazon, and because Amazon knows you so well (and loves you), it will invite you to buy things without even getting up to fetch your credit card. So, you can buy books without even moving and they will arrive at your door. I think this is some kind of dark magic. I think I love this dark dangerous magic.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Devil Muse

My muse has a wicked little pitchfork. She's jabbing jabbing jabbing me. I'm not resisting; I'm writing. I'm writing every day, and loving it. But I feel such a sense of urgency as if I need to do and write and draw and design more more more. Jab jab jab. You? Does your muse use farm implements?

I'm feeling motivated and on track so far, these first few days of 2007. I've been writing every day. I've been to the gym several times. I've been to a WW meeting and feel refocused on that. But the urgency is only mounting; it makes me feel very anxious! I keep wanting to set some time aside to write about the idea of changing one's ways as an artist, because it's in the process of writing that I discover what I think about something. I want to calmly reflect on the idea of creative/personal growth, in the hopes of figuring out something essential. To what extent is it possible to overcome one's natural inclinations and neuroses? Can we really change our ways?

My specific concern is my writing affliction: perfectionism. I can't tell you how many times I've spent hours tinkering with a single paragraph. I've written about it here before. I've come up with lots of tricks to overcome this tendency (which for years kept me from finishing anything), but it's always temporary; it's an ongoing struggle and if it was a part of me I could strangle. . . well, hm. . . would I? I don't know. I'm sure that it's an integral component of my love of revising, and I know revising makes me a better writer. So I guess I wouldn't strangle it. But I wish I could control it better. I slip in and out of power. It's like me vs. perfectionism, like we're vying for the dictatorship of this tiny country. I wish my muse would turn her pitchfork on him.

Okay. Enough moaning. Instead of telling you how I spent two hours last night tinkering with a single paragraph, I'm going to take the towel turban off my head, dry my hair, and go conquer that blasted paragraph. I'll only feel better once I've gotten in a great writing day. So here's hoping!

Oh, and I found a great website and blog focusing on myth, folklore, and fairy tales: Endicott Studio. There are great links and great book and art and magazine and theater reviews. Check it out.

Also, forthcoming is a new e-newsletter called Write Free, now open for subscriptions. I'm really excited to see what Jordan and Becca put together; I love to read about writing, and write about writing, and was very pleased to be invited to "appear" in the first issue. (Especially since "writing free" is exactly what I want to be able to do!)