Busy brain

Apparently this spring will come to be known as The Time In Which Jen Forgot All The Things She Was Supposed To Remember And Many Other Things It Would Have Been Nice To Remember. Yes, it’s that bad. I consider it a monumental accomplishment that our taxes made it in on time. It’s not that I need more calendars or reminders that go beep. I think the underlying issue is that I need time off. I need the chance to flush my brain out completely and start it up again, clean and shiny. There’s something in this getting older business that isn’t kind to brains.

Which also means I’ve forgotten to point out that I’ll be at the West Hartford Public Library in Connecticut tomorrow at 1:00, talking about books and publishing journeys with Carrie Firestone, Karen Fortunati, and Rebecca Podos. This afternoon I really should make some notecards to remember what to talk about. (Sample card: Main character is BLUE RILEY. Looking for her sister, CASS. Carries GUITAR. SPEAK UP JENNIFER.)

Aside from that? The birds are returning. Phoebes first, making it clear that the shed and the power line belong to them. The other day we drove past a deer and a turkey waiting by the side of the road together, most likely for Totoro’s Cat Bus. That same morning a bobcat bounded across the road by the beaver pond. Things are getting busy here.

Adventures in illness

It snowed last Monday. There were thunderstorms last Wednesday night. It was 20 degrees and windy on Saturday night while my son slept in the woods with his outdoors class. Spring is a challenging adolescence in Massachusetts, this year even more than most.

WARNING: hospital stories involving bodily functions follow. Proceed at your own risk.

Things have been equally tempestuous around here. Dear Spouse spent six weeks tangling with pneumonia. Six weeks of a cough that would not end, and not sleeping, and, eventually, codeine and lots of antibiotics. Right about when he returned to good health, and just in time for my daughter’s birthday, I developed a kidney stone looking for a way out.

Glamorous, right? We can add kidney stones to the short list of things I never bothered to worry about before but will now think about regularly. I’m one of those people with very high tolerance to pain, yet somehow I found myself crawling on the floor of the ER public restroom when confronted with the agony my kidney created for me. As luck would have it, the ER was packed the day we went in. I spent my time in the waiting room next to a man with blood trickling from beneath the bandages swaddling his head. Occasionally a nurse would come out and ask if he was feeling dizzy or confused.

You know, the usual ER good times.

As luck would have it, a bed eventually opened up in the hall. After changing into a johnny and lounging for a bit with the other hall dwellers, I was whisked away for my first ever CAT scan. Thanks to House, M.D., I knew that I was very likely to die while being scanned, but at that point it was preferable to surviving. The very cheerful technician who introduced me to the machine explained that I would hear a voice telling me to hold my breath, at which point I should…hold my breath. Or, if I couldn’t hold my breath long enough, I could try small shallow breaths.

After laying there for a bit with my arms over my head, I started to think that perhaps I’d missed the voice. Or maybe the speaker was broken. I started to worry about this to the point that I tried to hold my breath a bit, only that didn’t work. Instead, I took the shallowest breaths I could and hoped for the best. I did that up until the point that a voice came from nowhere and told me to hold my breath. Apparently the speakers did work.

Also, I didn’t die during the scan.

I did, however, have to vomit immediately afterward, for approximately the thousandth time since I’d woken up that morning. The cheerful technician, a middle-aged man with a shaved head, stood beside me and patted my shoulder with tiny birdwing taps, a kindness for which I am eternally grateful. And then he told me I should jump back in my traveling hall bed so that they could find my nurse and give me drugs.

I am not a enthusiastic user of pharmaceuticals. I may have had several cavities filled long ago without Novocain. By choice. It’s simply who I am. However, I also found out that I’m someone who will lie in a hall in a johnny for as long as it takes to be given morphine when passing a kidney stone. Even when it requires four tries to hit a vein sufficient for an IV, thanks to my level of dehydration. I will even almost suggest that we skip the anti-nausea meds and go straight to the morphine when the nurse appears with her multiple syringes full of drugs.

IV in, morphine in, anti-nausea drugs in…at the point it seemed ideal to nap. For hours. At some point I was moved to a room, possibly by flights of tiny winged unicorns. It made no difference to me. It may have made a difference to Dear Spouse, who no longer had to stand by my bed in the hall, but could sit and stare at a wall in the room.

The things about kidney stones is that they just have to come out, and mine was small enough that it would come out on its own, so I was sent home with some drugs. Or rather, I was sent to the pharmacy with some prescriptions and lots of bruises and bandaids from all the IV attempts, only to discover that the doctor had an invalid DEA number. Back to the hospital, joining many of the same people in the waiting room, to wait for a new script from a new doctor.

The rest of the story? Not very exciting. The stone that eventually passed was exceptionally small and unimpressive. It only took 24 hours to escape. And then life was back to normal. As normal as this spring has allowed.

Traveling, traveling

For those of you who like to to join me in my occasional voyages across the internet, today I am at Adventures in YA Publishing, discussing how to write correctly. (Spoiler: I don’t really have an answer.)

In other news, it has been warm, then cold, then warm, then cold here. It’s a race to see if we can feed out the last of the birdseed before the bears appear. The daffodils have been growing off and on all winter, while the chickadees have been telling us it’s spring for about a month now. I picked a fine year to try snow tires for the first time ever.

Be well. Tell me something happy–I would dearly love to hear it.

More housekeeping

Guildtop

Lovely, isn’t she? A 1968 Guild, used to woo me many years ago, and still full of music. She’s the inspiration behind Blue Riley’s guitar companion as Blue travels the country in search of her sister.

It’s been a busy week for Devil And The Bluebird. On Monday, the first trade review came through: a starred review from Publishers Weekly. That was followed by a Kirkus review today, also starred. Rather heady stuff.

My attempt at celebration this weekend involved, as is so often the case, a husband with pneumonia AND a reaction to his antibiotics, an attempt at buying myself a cake (because baking my own cake seemed so everyday) that ended with congratulations written in the brownest of brown frostings, and watching movies with the kids. It is an odd but charmed life, is it not?

The small screen life

First, a housekeeping note. If you are a U.S. Goodreads user and wish to do so, you may enter an ARC giveaway for DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD. Ten copies are available; March 17 is the closing date for entries. There will be two future (non-Goodreads) giveaways for a finished copy available internationally. One is for Twitter users, but I believe the other is entirely blog-based. I’ll point them out when the time is right.

We’re supposed to have a new schedule in our lives which includes going to many more movies. That has not actually worked so far, thanks to illness and weather. This weekend, I stuck to home viewings instead. First up was What We Do In The Shadows. By Jermaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi, it’s a mockumentary about vampires, which includes such pearls as hanging out in downtown Wellington at night, trying to get an invitation to cross the threshold of a club. There’s a fair amount of mock blood as well, so perhaps not appealing to anyone offended by such things, but I enjoyed it.

Then came Eden, which was my son’s choice. I’ve never been to a rave (let’s be honest: raves have never existed anywhere on my mental geography), or even to a club, and I definitely know nothing about the rave/club scene of Paris in the Nineties or any other time. Almost nothing. My son’s interest convinced me to read up on it a bit.

Eden covers several decades in the life of a French DJ, from aspiring to successful to failing, in a dreamy haze of music and drugs. Not, however, in the usual American style, filled with scenes of intense drama and a need for resolution and forgiveness. I’m a bit tempted to watch it again before returning it. I’m easily fascinated by things I know little about, doubly so with things involving creation of some sort. Watching a brief scene of two DJs discussing the qualities of electronic beats actually is something I enjoy.

As the current cinematic offerings leave kind of a lot to be desired, I may be looking at many more weeks of home viewings before we start our new movie schedule. It’s okay. If I can actually remember to return Netflix DVDs, we should survive. If you have a viewing suggestion, please toss it my way.

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.

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