Artifacts

We recently became the proud owners of a turntable. Shopping for it consisted of asking has anything changed in the last twenty years, and hearing in response well…this one has a USB port. Which was more or less perfect for my level of interest in discussing technology.

We immediately rescued the lonely vinyl relegated to the basements and attics of relatives. What followed was complete and utter memory overload. Smell may be the shortcut to the past, but music has to come in not far behind. While I could have bought many of the albums on CD, or downloaded them, there is something about the nature of vinyl that cannot be recaptured. (Yes, I know I’ve argued the same point with books. Let’s slap that Luddite label on me and move on.)

When I listen to these old records, it’s not just the music that reaches me. It’s the tick of scratches that my mind waits for when I hear the same song in some superior undamaged form. It’s the physical nature: the shape, the weight, the sound translated into grooves that can be traced with a fingertip. There’s an intimacy required in the choosing, the placing, even in the removing from the sleeve.

But the thing that I’m thinking about today, as I sit here listening, is how CDs stole something I never noticed: patience. When I was a kid, setting the needle on a record made me nervous. I didn’t like the sound of it touching down. As a result, I tended to listen through a whole side, which made the experience of hearing the songs I loved that much sweeter. They weren’t fragments; they were part of a broader landscape. Years of listening to CDs has accustomed me to getting what I want and moving on.

What does this all mean? Perhaps nothing more than that today I’m little lost in nostalgia.

The writing on the wall

This is what hangs on my bedroom wall, my side of the bed:

Hope

It arrived there one gray afternoon, courtesy of my daughter, who knows the power of words. (She also knows the limits of her mother’s ability to decorate any space; the collage on the other wall speaks to that.) It is the first thing I see many mornings, and what I stare at when the writing doesn’t want to come.

I think a lot about hope. It may be my age. While I plan to have decades still to go, I don’t retain that sense that all choices remain open to me. It may be my mental health, because buoyancy has never been one of my traits, and hope has always been a necessary lifeline. Whatever the reason, it’s on my mind most days, in some form or another.

Last year I read something that stuck with me. Unfortunately, the source has not, because…well, I’ll explain that in a minute. Let me first say that it’s possible that it came from this interview in The Sun. As I cannot locate my copy of the entire interview, I can’t confirm anything, but in the interest of trying to give credit where credit is due, I’m suggesting that it may be the source.

Back to my actual point: in an interview I read last year (that one or another), there was a comment about hope, about the possibility of living a fulfilling life without hope. At the time, it made me angry, which is why I don’t have a reference at hand. Yes, it made me so angry that I stopped reading and erased it from my mind. Hope is HOPE. Life without hope means…giving up. Right? Isn’t hope what gets us out of bed in the morning? Makes us try to do things?

Hold that thought for a moment. We’ll come back to it.

My dog Callie is very old. We thought last year would be her final year. It wasn’t. This year may be it, or she may choose to continue on even longer. The future is not ours to know. What we can know is that there is no recovery from old age, no miracle cure for arthritis, nothing that will make her heart or her kidneys those of a young dog. Our goal is simply to keep her as pain free as possible while respecting her life. A dog’s life, after all, is very in the moment. If the moments are all pain, or all deeply drugged oblivion…those are not places we seek to strand her.

My first experience with death was unexpected and terrible. I’ve spent much of my life since then afraid of it, afraid of loss and pain, afraid of fear itself. The kind of thing that hope is, ultimately, an meaningless buffer against, because death waits for all things.

In this place of no hope for endless life or returned youth, Callie is happy. She climbs up on the couch more and more often, with less and less apology when we find her there. She occasionally will run stiff-legged across the yard, laughing at the end. She’s taken to insisting on an extra meal before bed most nights, which we give her. She’ll often prance at the door and shake her head at us–Calliespeak for Hurry up slowpokes, I’ve things to do. Even when it feels as though Death sits beside her on her bed, she continues with life.

Which brings me back to that article…I’ve thought about it a lot over the last year. I’ve talked with people about it. I’ve written a story about it, because writing is my research lab, the place where I manipulate variables until I understand something.

My pondering and my experiments and my life have brought me round to a new place. I’m no longer angry at the idea that life without hope may be enough. Hope is a bridge. Hope has gotten me over chasms that my depression told me were impossible to traverse. When my mind has insisted I stop, hope has suggested I look around the corner first, just to see what might be coming.

But I don’t need a bridge through my whole life. I need to spend most of my time with my feet on the ground, with the grass brushing my legs, or the snow chilling them, or the water washing them clean. There is still much to be said for a life in which I will never be depression free, in which Callie will eventually reach her end. There are still moments of snow drifting free of the trees in a sudden shimmer, of laughter over a ridiculous joke. There are still extra dinners to be had before bed.

It is enough.

Tuesday Books 1/26/16

Did you know Tuesdays are the convention when it comes to days of the week on which to release new books? No? Me neither, at least not until some point last year, when I started to look at release calendars. You know what else I didn’t realize until recently? (Aside from the fact that I really can’t type and eat pancakes in bed at the same time? Yes, it’s true, I can’t do both things, and I am eating pancakes in bed, but it’s entirely my kids’ fault.) I didn’t understand quite how hard it is for new authors and their new books to be found by their readers.

Because of that, and because I’m reading a lot of ARCs (advance reader copies) this year, I thought I’d occasionally devote space on Tuesdays to highlight new releases I’ve read. And because there really is nothing better than connecting a reader and a book.

For this inaugural event, we have Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace, a well established writer of SFF short stories. You can check out her full list of stories here.

Shallow Graves was not what I expected, in all the best ways. I’m always appreciative at how much craft there is to good horror (and suspense). For the tension to be there, the characters have to involve the reader, and

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780062366207

Sounds like a whisper

Some songs shouldn’t be timeless because we, the collective we, should be able to learn and move forward. But that is obviously not the case, at least not in this country. So why not give it another (tenth, fiftieth, thousandth…) listen.

Sign here

This time last week, I was in the car, on my way to Boston for ALA Midwinter. Before I go further, shall I share a few key secrets? Yes? Excellent. Nothing I like more than admitting things publicly.

1. I have never been to a book conference.
1a. I haven’t been to any other kind of conference for…maybe ten years? And that last conference? It was on midwifery and had well under one hundred participants and was held on a farm AND I was called to a birth before I had been there an hour.

2. Other things I have never been to: book launches, book signings, theme parks.
2a. I have been to precisely one reading. It was roughly twenty years ago, and it was a writer whose work I loved. She read from her book about being struck by lightning and what happened after that. When she finished reading, she took a few questions. One was less a question than it was a wish to lead the writer to say the words the asker wanted to hear. The other? “Do you write about horses?”
2b. Why haven’t I been to other readings? There is an intimacy in listening to someone read their own words that I find a little intense. No matter what those words are. I was once in a play in high school that required I perform lots of monologues, some within hand-holding distance of the audience. In the final one, as I sat on a stool and spoke, a friend’s mother reached out and patted me on the knee. That’s how close readings feel to me. Also, I’m afraid of being the person who stands up and asks do you write about horses?

3. I have no books in my collection that have been signed by their author. A few that have inscriptions from the giver. One or two that came to me through used book channels and have loving inscriptions from people I have never known and will never meet.

4. I have both a loooong name and a squiggly signature.

Stepping back out of the confessional, shall I continue? Rainy Sunday, drive to Boston, remembering something new I’ve forgotten to pack every five minutes. Nice beeswax lip balm? At home. Sundry things that help me cope with anxiety? On the counter.

Luckily, my beloved spouse is driving me, because he is exactly the sort of person who will spend his Sunday keeping me company on the road. And then sitting on a bench for several hours and waiting for me with great patience. And then driving me home. He’s the best. Ever.

We arrive at the right time. We leave our warm cozy car and get on a bus. We leave the bus and enter the giant conference center. (It is about as unlike a midwifery conference on a farm as you can get.) I meet my lovely and thoughtful editor, who leads me around to look at things. What is this like? Well, imagine a giant trade show, only the vendors are mainly publishers of books, and the freebies are not things like key chains made of machine parts, or bags of water quality sampling gear, but books. Many many books, in a room roughly the size of a football field. And I am afraid to take any. One does not merely take books from stacks and walk away with them. It is a reality unfamiliar to me, and it is only thanks to my editor’s gentle encouragement that I end up with any.

It is then time for the signing portion of the event. Things that people who ask me to sign an ARC do not know: items 1-4 from above; the extensive signing practice event I held with my family the day before, in which I practiced small talk (It’s very rainy today, isn’t it?) and answering questions (Yes, I have read that book.) and, of course, signing while doing both; and the hours I have spent trying to make my signature look less like something that happened while countless volts of electricity surged through me.

Which brings me to the takeaway lesson for anyone who has felt awkward walking up and asking for a signature in a book. While there are writers who have never experienced a moment of doubt in their blessed lives (I’m sure there are, somewhere), there are also people like me, who are smiling while thinking remember all the letters in your name: J…E…N…WHY IS MY NAME SO LONG! And more than anything, even more than the worry about whether their signature actually looks like a name and not a hairball, they are so VERY VERY grateful that you are asking for that scrawl. Or telling them that their daughter is looking forward to the book so much, or that you are so excited to have a copy. Or even just standing there, looking nervous while asking, because that writer may be thinking of all the times they have been too chicken to ask for something similar, and the fact that you’re standing there may be reminding them to be a bit braver. Don’t be afraid. You are stellar.

Those are the sorts of things that go through my mind as I sign books in the booth. That, and how awesome my editor and all the Abrams folks are, because they make this all feel so effortless. I am pure gratitude, even if my name looks a little like an unfortunate geometry accident.

And that, dear ones, is my adventure for the week. Thanks for tuning in.

The only true currency

I have never been cool.

For the most part, it’s no longer a struggle to admit that. In a coolness-obsessed society, it can be such a relief to simply step out of the race. When I was the kid dancing alone in her room in front of a poster of Michael Jackson, that wasn’t the case. Or when I was secretly listening to classic rock, knowing that it put me in the same category as the kids in baseball caps and shitkickers, a category outside the bounds of cool in our college-centric town. Or dating someone who wished I looked like the girls on the Ultimate team, and still clinging to him because I was sure no one else would ever find me interesting in any way.

Back then, my lack of coolness hurt.

I blame homeschooling for part of it, but not the part that people assume. Homeschooling didn’t make me weird. It made me honest. Homeschooling meant that I didn’t learn to compare myself to other people. There were no rules about what to like or not to like. By the time I transitioned into school, I wasn’t very malleable, but I also wasn’t very guarded. Bad combination for a kid.

In movies, the not-cool kids were either the joke, or they were swans-in-waiting. The Breakfast Club didn’t rock my world. No one loved Ally Sheedy as she was; they loved her once she was remade. And I was pretty sure that a hairband and a bit of lipstick wasn’t going to evolve me into someone who got asked to dance.

Personalities can be hard things to grow into. They’re ungainly, they never look quite the way we imagine they should, they fit funny in places. They require alterations, though never as many as the world would make us believe.

So, here I am, a lot of years later and still no cooler. Small talk is not my thing. I don’t know much about vast swathes of pop culture. I love books that no one else does, because all it takes to woo me is a line or two that resonates. Same with music. I’m not easily disturbed by bugs, or mice. I’m happiest in jeans and a tee and sneakers. Hiking boots if I’m looking to feel a little tougher.

In my own life, all this works. I am happy. I’m often not what other people want me to be, but they’re often not what I want either. I expect myself to be kind, and to listen. I’ve figured out how my personality fits. If I were going to say something to my younger self, it would be this: You are never going to be just like anyone else. The best you can do is to be wholly yourself.

The end of the year

I’ve been avoiding Driftwood. Not for any good reason, or, rather, not for any easily explainable reason. Part of it has been that I’ve been in a continual state of falling behind. Funny how hard it is to say no to things when it should be so simple.

Part, though, is that everything is changing. I started blogging for the entirely mercenary reason that it was on the list of Things That Writers Do, and I wanted to be a writer. It felt awkward and uncomfortable to stake my claim on a patch of Internet soil and hang out the laundry of my life. But this completely unexpected and truly magical thing happened: people talked to me. I started to love blogging, thanks to those of you who responded and made me feel like I was part of a neighborhood, not just out on my own. The marketing piece–the reason I’d started and the thing I’d been most uncomfortable with–became secondary. It was nothing more than talking with friends about stories that were coming out.

It’s been good.

However, there’s a world of difference between announcing a new short story and trying to market a book. DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD, known as Crossroads to anyone who’s been around to hear Blue’s story, will be out May 17, 2016. In order to do my part for it, I have to be louder than I am by nature. After thinking things through, I decided I don’t want to lose the quiet of this place, where I go to talk about hummingbirds and trees and how it feels to write and live. So, I’ve created some other online spaces for DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD and my promotional efforts.

If you want to see what I’m doing elsewhere online, you can find me in the following places:

My website (thanks to my little brother and Websight Studios);

my Tumblr (most of what I put there is reblogged content that touches on themes from Blue’s story: music, homelessness, loss, hope, though also some book updates);

Twitter;

and Goodreads (where my profile is minimal and my list of books is often not a reflection on reality).

That doesn’t mean I’ll never say anything about the book here. Rather, I’d like to be able to treat it as something I talk about as part of writing, not the reason to talk about writing.

Enough of that. It has finally snowed here…a bit. We left our Solstice offerings in the rain this year, and turkeys and chickadees came out to thank us. Now I’m off for a walk and some fresh air. If any of you are in Boston for ALA Midwinter in January, I’ll be signing ARCS at 11:00 am on the 10th. And if you would like something from my secret stash of swag–postcards and stickers at this point, with guitar picks to come–drop me a line. I’m happy to share.

May the coming year be exactly the one you need. Blessings, everyone.

ARCs!

Rather than describe them, I’ll just use some pretty pictures.

Outside:
20151030_181313

Inside:
20151030_181823

I don’t want to use this blog as a means to hard sell DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD (more on that to come), but I feel like this space has been such a big part of the journey that I want to show off the results.

October 8, 2015

The sky is spotless blue. The maple in the front yard has turned red, more or less overnight. The windows are closed, leaving our noses with reminders to clean the litter boxes and check the bin of onions for bad ones.

Summer is gone.

For all our work canning–peach jam, tomatoes, salsa, grape jelly from the feral grapes in the woods–we do not have enough to make it through the winter, because the winter is always longer and harder than we plan for.

Yesterday, I was given something to eat by my son and two friends. A little nub of a flower–Spilanthes, though I didn’t know it at the time. Eat it, go ahead, it’s not poisonous, they said. I did eat it, and trusted that the not-quite-burning sensation that followed would fade, and it did. Eventually. Once that feeling ended, I was left with my mouth, only something slightly difference than before, my tongue exploring the corners, everything awake, alive. But there had been that moment, that almost-burning place where I had to remind myself that it would end, trust that what I had been told was true and it would not last forever.

Winter won’t last forever either. No, it’s not here yet, but the red in my yard tells me that the trees will be bare all too soon. We are transitioning from flowers beneath the windows and hummingbirds to moons glimpsed through barren branches and owls.

In the meantime, there are pumpkins to roast. There are turkeys in the yard daily, and in the road, and roosting in the trees at night. There are autumn olives for picking along the borders of fields. There are wool socks, and knitting to take out, and patches of sunlight to sit in. There are books to read, and, hopefully, books to write.

The season of home begins, for everything on this land, in these woods. Burrows and berries and acorns and sleep. It is time.

A bit of shameless promotion

(Really, that title is a total lie. All promotion feels at least a little shameful to me. I’m too old school Yankee: Take nothing from no one; be beholding to none. Blame my forebearers.)

Anyway, a bit of book news! DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD is now available for pre-order on Amazon. I’ll admit to not being a big Amazon user, and this book doesn’t actually come out for another eight months, but if you like the idea of ordering a book and receiving it months later, after you’ve forgotten about ordering it, when it feels like a surprise gift rather than a planned purchase, then head on over here.

Beyond that, I have little to say today. I’m busy wondering about the 1-2 inches of rain predicted for tomorrow, and the sections of my house wall swaddled in plastic as it waits to be finished, and how those things might interact. We need rain, but after weeks of none, I could have gone just a few more days…

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