Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Patry Francis--Helping her hold her own

Me and Patry Francis at BookSmart, March 2007.

The truth is, I'm good at forgetting things. Good at erasing images from my mind. Good at pretending, as Jamie called it. After seventeen years of marriage to the master, how could I be otherwise. But this time I could not allow myself the easy way out. I had to talk to someone, and Gavin was the only one I had. Of course, I knew he would not want to discuss it. I had seen his face when someone had shown him the score that ended the concert and caused me to faint. It was obvious from the sudden darkening I read on his familiar features that he, too, had immediately been drawn to the top of the page. The words PARADISE SUITE had been crossed out and replaced with a new title: dEaTH SWeeT. And the name of the composer had been changed from A.C. Mather to SLaY-hER.

The best introduction I can give you to Patry Francis, author, generous human being, fellow sufferer on this planet, sage, mother, wife, loyal friend, is through her own words. The above passage is from her novel The Liar's Diary, just out in paperback--lucky for you if you missed the extremely good boat last year when it came out in hardcover.

I was racking my brains trying to remember when I first "met" Patry online. I only know that one day her blog Simply Wait became a part of my daily reading, and I grew antsy when she hadn't yet posted anew. Then, somehow, we became blog pals--she'd comment here, I'd comment there. I participated in her Third Day Book Club online for a brief stint...but I still can't remember who introduced me to her, or how I came to know her. It's almost as if Patry was always a friend--someone I could talk life and writing with over coffee in a little cafe. Yet as she lives on the east coast, and I, on the west, I've just reconciled myself to the fact that some people feel like old friends because they're purely, truly themselves.

Patry writes about life, love, disappointment, joy, writing and waittressing--her former career before selling her novel. And now she writes about her endeavor with cancer, as beautifully as before, though sharpened by the clarity of pain and the threat of loss. I call it an endeavor, not a "struggle" or a "challenge" because it has become evident to me and anyone who follows Patry's blog, that she has tackled her healing with a sense of purpose and discipline no less serious than what she brings to her writing.

As with all endeavors it takes a lot of time and energy. It's hard to be your own healer, as well as a writer and a publicist. Yet now, more than ever, Patry needs attention for her fabulous book, excerpted at top.

Here is what she says about her book in a recent post:

"Though my novel deals with murder, betrayal, and the even more lethal crimes of the heart, the real subjects of THE LIAR'S DIARY are music, love, friendship, self-sacrifice and courage. The darkness is only there for contrast; it's only there to make us realize how bright the light can be. I'm sure that most writers whose work does not flinch from the exploration of evil feel the same."

I met Patry in person last year, when, on her west coast book tour, and in particular, an exhausting run in the bay area, she came to BookSmart where I coordinate events. Because she already felt like an old friend, I knew we'd get along. I knew I would like her. I knew she was the generous, funny, wry, talented person you'll hear about all over the blogosphere today. What I also learned was, girlfriend can hold her own! The word "tough" is utterly wrong to describe Patry. She doesn't come off as street or truck-stop tough in the slightest. But she's solidly herself. You can't waittress for two decades without learning how to deal with the whining, insensitive world in a firm and competent manner.

And when, in the gathered crowd at the bookstore, someone began to pontificate and draw the conversation away from the hearty discussion that followed her reading, Patry elegantly, but firmly, took control, shutting off the slightly hysterical tangent without shutting the person down.

I don't know about you, but I like that in a person. What's more, it comes through in her characters.

So here is my exhortation to those of you who visit today. Buy a copy of Patry's suspense novel, The Liar's Diary, for yourself, a friend or a family member, and post a comment here saying you have done so.

Then email me your mailing address, and I will send you a free hardcover copy of my book Make a Scene, or a surprise novel. Email me at: jordansmuse(at)gmail(dot)com. Offer good for the first 8 commenters.

I'll leave you with a quote I took from Patry when I profiled her for Writer's Digest magazine in 2007:

“If you don’t write because you love to and take pleasure in it, because it is such a risky business, what’s the point?”

**For more goodies, including an audio clip and a video trailer, as well as a list of the over 300 people who are blogging online today on Patry's behalf, visit Susan Henderson's LitPark for the deets.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Teaching by Telephone

Saturday I taught a workshop on revision for the Redwood Writer's Club. "Taught" might be a bit over-stretching it..."presented" perhaps? At any rate, I had a lot of fun doing it. I haven't yet figured out the magic formula that makes me able to be "on" for some gigs, and totally out of body for others. I find that the great ones feel natural--like I'm being myself, but at the same time it's a more outgoing, chatty, knowledgable part of myself than I usually have access to. It also seems that when I over-prepare, but then sort of leave my notes off to the side and don't really use them, I have a more fluid style of delivering the info. I mean, trust me, there were flaws and I even got a few gentle suggestions from folks after the fact, but it was truly a fun and wonderful time.

What I find so interesting is what the participants glean from what I say. Someone might say, "Back when you were talking about X"...and I have to stop and think, Did I really say that? But no, learning is very much like a game of telephone. The teacher talks, the students hear what they hear, as filtered through experience and practice and a whole lot more, I'm sure. I received a slew of emails, too, that suggested that human experience is vastly wide and differing--that all 40 people in that room probably received a slightly different lecture :)

Don't forget that tomorrow is a day that much of the blogosphere will be devoted to talking about Patry Francis, author of the Liar's Diary. Be sure to stop on by here, too. I'll be giving away some free books!


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gettin' Real with George Pelecanos

My word we're having another storm here in CA. I have to laugh at California's relationship with weather. Though, contrary to popular belief we do actually get cold, and even snow here, it's true that we have nothing to complain about in comparison to say, oh, three-quarters of the United States and much of the rest of the world. Yet anytime we get a big storm it not only makes the news--we get "Storm Tracker". . .you'd think we were having volcanic eruptions! Blizzards! We take our rain very seriously out here, yessirree.

* * *

Anyway, that's not the point of this post. Yesterday I interviewed George Pelecanos. Depending on where you spend more time, you either know him as the gritty crime novelist whose books are all set in D.C., or as one of the writers/producers of HBO's series The Wire. I like interviewing authors in general, but the ones I like best are those for whom fame was a kind of happy accident, who didn't start out with their egos heavily invested in the process. Pelecanos has lived his whole life in Washington D.C. where he's absorbed the local color and culture. He listens to people talking around him; he observes. He may be a Greek boy, but he has an uncanny ability to write as if he comes from the streets of D.C. where gangs and hoods and cops tangle, too.

He didn't study writing in college, or go through an MFA program. He's well-read and likes film and books a great deal, but he's first and foremost just a guy. You know what I mean? He's not high-falutin'. He doesn't work in fancy words or drop vaguely foreign sounding terms into general conversation. He's real. He's honest. I like real.

For fun, here's a snippet of dialogue between characters from his novel Drama City. Lorenzo is an ex-con whose "straight" now and works as "dog police." But a friend of his has been stabbed and he's gone back to an old drug pal to try to settle the score. They're trying to get a car out of the fellow with the rotweiler:

Lorenzo stabbed the fork into the T-bone on the grill, lifted it, shook it loose, and let it fall to the ground in front of the rot. The dog's nub of tail wiggled furiously as he took the steak in his teeth...

Nigel chuckled. "You ain't lost nothing'."

"Some shit just stay natural," said Lorenzo.

"Thought you was gonna break a beer bottle off. Or maybe take one of those loose bricks and throw it through the window of the Impala."

"I thought of that. Car that nice, I just couldn't fuck with it."

"You made do with that fork, though."

Duke came out of the garage and handed Nigel a piece of paper...

"Nah," said Duke. "Nah, uh-uh." He had noticed Champ getting down on the T-bone. "Why'd you have to go and do that to a man, too?"

"He deserves a steak, way you mistreat him," said Lorenzo. "And don't even think of beating that animal 'cause I can see by the way he cringes that you do."

"Who the fuck are y'all?" said Duke.

"We ain't nobody you ever seen or met," said Nigel. "You understand?"

It is no surprise to me that not only have his books (I think he's published 14 now) become immensely well-selling, but that he has been tapped to write for quality TV programs, and that his books have been optioned by Hollywood. I am sorry it took me this long to check him out.

My interview with him will appear in a summer issue of Writer's Digest magazine, though a podcast version may go up sooner. Until then, check him out for yourself.

The beauty of a good club

I don't know about you, but when I was younger and far more impressionable, I got sucked into a few of those music-a-month clubs (back when they were only selling cassette tapes). There was something endless about those little fliers, those pressing requests to select another damn tape (Depeche Mode...or Wham, the choice was agonizing!) or else they would send you something of their own choosing, like Neil Diamond's greatest hits (as an 80's teen, this was like death to me). After awhile, I always quit--usually after I had been sent to collections because, without having read the fine print, I didn't know that I was legally bound to buy a new one every month or they'd charge me anyway!

The reason I tell you that sad story is not to ward you off all mail-order clubs, but for contrast. In my wiser, adult years I did join a mail-order club that has benefitted me immensely--The Writer's Digest Book Club. There's no hard sell, you only have to buy a few books after they send you a bunch for a ridiculously low price. And as many writers know, there is nothing like having a collection of valuable writing books on your shelf to turn to in a pinch (or perhaps carry in a back pocket).

As you probably guessed, this post is slightly self-serving, too. My book Make a Scene is the book club selection for Writer's Digest book club members right now. Not only that--it's the fancy hardcover edition, which I have to tell you, is be-yoo-tiful.

Seriously. That bathroom-tile photo does not do it justice.

Plus it has me ever so enigmatic author photo in the back :)

Its beauty (or handsomeness if you prefer a male-sounding designation, and believe me--it swings both ways) is all due to the talent of Claudean Wheeler of F& W Publications' design team. I get compliments on the cover all the time.

If you're not already a member, and have any interest in joining, I recommend it. I can look over at my shelf right now and count more than 10 of my all-time most turned to writing books. They are almost all Writer's Digest books. It's the main reason I sought them out as my publisher--I wanted to be where the best writing guides are.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Energize Your Creative Life with Write Free, the book.

More than two years ago, Rebecca Lawton and I, newly acquainted writers who'd been slouching toward success in fits and starts (check out Rebecca's amazing book of essays, Reading Water), found our writing lives changing in dramatic ways after we began getting together and working on drawing more of what we wanted to us (unknowingly, at first).

The work we were doing together led us to hold a retreat we called "Creating Space" for writers, an inspiring and life-changing weekend in gorgeous, bucolic Philo, CA, which led to the book we co-wrote, Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life.

Publishing is a notoriously slow process, however, and this book was no exception. Yet somehow time has managed to compress and disappear, and the book is finally published--and it's beautiful! Our publisher, Arthur Dawson of Kulupi Publishing, which is devoted to "A sense of place" created a new imprint under which our book is the first: BeijaFlor Books--for "creative journeys." "Kulupi "and "BeijaFlor" are Native American, and Brazilian words for "hummingbird" respectively.

Our launch party, held in Becca's neck of the woods--Sonoma--on the 17th was a truly wonderful event. The response was shockingly good to the book, and people were full of excitement and kindness.

The books will be shipping out to the distributor, and thus to bookstores, in the coming weeks via our publisher, but meanwhile you can purchase copies through us, and through Kulupi Publishing directly.

Meanwhile, if you're not yet a subscriber to the FREE E-newsletter, Write Free, based on the ideas behind our book, please consider subscribing today!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mistress of Suspense

My interview with one of my all time favorite suspense writers, Tess Gerritsen, is online now at Writer's Digest. The interview is also still on stands in the February, 2008 issue of the magazine.

Here's a teaser:

"I catch Tess Gerritsen in a particularly good mood. She's between tours and has just finished printing the final page of her last draft of The Bone Garden—her newest stand-alone thriller. She considers this book a departure from the traditional thrillers her fans have come to expect. It stars the real-life doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes and is her first attempt at a serious historical murder mystery—set predominantly in the 1830s—in which she indulges some of her deepest fascinations, namely the history of medicine, grave robbers and archaeology.

Gerritsen claims to be a lot like her reserved, aloof protagonist of five of her 19 published books, Maura Isles, a New England medical examiner whose work constantly puts her at the center of compelling (and often gruesome) murder investigations. But Gerritsen is gregarious, forthcoming and candid.

What Isles and her creator share most in common is their experience in the medical field. Gerritsen earned her medical degree from Stanford in 1979 and practiced in Hawaii before her two children were born. Married to another doctor, she realized that one of them would have to take time off to stay home, so she used the opportunity to pursue her writing.

While researching Holmes for The Bone Garden, Gerritsen discovered she identified with him as well. "He started off wanting to be a writer and gained some notoriety as a poet, and then his dad said he wouldn't make a living at it so he went to medical school, and right there I knew exactly what his life was like," Gerritsen says. "I wanted to be a writer since I was seven and my dad said, 'You'll never make money at it.' There were such parallels in our lives. In later years, he went on to be a writer, though I knew about him as a doctor." Read on to learn what Gerritsen has to say about leaving her medical career and writing compelling, recurring characters.


No. Never! It's one of those things you think like, 'One of these days I'm going to direct movies,' that you never actually do. It was really a surprise. You start off at the bottom, where your goal is just to get published or to get an editor to read your book.

Also, I had published nine novels before a book hit the bestseller chart. The best way of predicting a book's success is how much money the publisher pays for it. If they pay you a big deal they're going to put their money behind promoting it.


Discipline, definitely—that goes hand-in-hand with both fields. You just can't be a multi-published novelist without being ready to sit in your seat and do your job. Maybe there were a few stories I brought with me, but otherwise they're two very different kinds of jobs that use different parts of your brain. I teach a course for doctors who want to be writers and it's hard for them. They're used to being objective and it's very hard for them to make things up.


It was a matter of convenience. I had two small kids and my husband is a doctor, too, so it was born out of a desperate plea for childcare. Sometimes we'd be on call the same night, and when you both get called in to the hospital you have to drag your kids along. When we accepted that someone had to stay home, I was thrilled to do so.


Maybe it gets back to my childhood. My mother took me to a lot of horror films when I was growing up. She's an immigrant and didn't understand English very well, so she liked these. I had a steady diet of these movies and I got accustomed to believing a thrill was part of a good story. If a situation doesn't scare me, I figure it won't scare my reader, either. I always try for the thing that's going to frighten me.

Read the rest HERE

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I Once Had a Brain

I rarely post anything truly scholarly on this blog--no reviews or in-depth analysis of books. But I've been scrolling through some of the annotations I wrote for graduate school--short analyses of the books we read--and essays and the like and I came across a few that I thought might be worthy of posting here.

Today I'll start with a condensed essay version of the 22 page lecture I wrote and then had to deliver as my parting graduate requirement while in the MFA program at Bennington. This version of the essay is only 5 pages--so don't fret, and I think it covers a topic that can be of use to some writers.

The essay was titled "Writing Towards the Buried Sun" and I'll leave that title for the essay, too:
by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

From the first moment I heard the phrase “Write what you know” I’ve despised it. It bothers me especially because I’m a fiction writer, which, I’ve always believed, gives me license to make things up from whole cloth. I even find myself offended when I hear someone ask an author, “How much of that novel is true?” The fiction writer, in my view, never has to reveal that so much of a syllable of one’s work is derived from fact.

But after reading all five novels by author Jean Rhys and undergoing the incisive, occasionally humiliating process of an MFA writing program, I realized something troubling: I have been writing what I know all along; I’ve just been doing it blindly, or worse, in denial.

For starters, “what you know” does not have to be synonymous with what actually happened in your life; it is rather the amalgam of your influences, artistic and realistic, and yes, your life experiences.

I like the perspective of Albert Camus who writes in the introduction to his book Lyrical and Critical Essays, “Every artist is undoubtedly pursuing his truth. If he is a great artist, each work brings him nearer to it, or at least, swings still closer toward this center, this buried sun where everything must one day burn.”

We bring what we know to our writing either intentionally or because it seeps up through the cracks. If you write by denial, your writing runs the risk of being cluttered by this unexamined material of the self.

We must get to know the contents of our creative subconscious so that it can be transformed from the slippery, unknown stuff of life into art, or at the least, entertainment.

Jean Rhys learned to be a master of this. She was up front that her fiction came directly from her life but she was also exacting about getting things artistically right—conveying a universal authenticity to people and events.

As writers, our work is very close to us, but as I learned, sometimes a lot closer than we think. My writing, I discovered, was rife with frustrated parents and their angry children who seemed to be waiting for cues on how to behave differently. I’m confident that all writers suffer from some version of this. So join me in admitting that you, too, are in denial. There is at least one, possibly a few, themes you simply can’t exorcise from your writing. If not a theme, it’s a character, an image or a setting that you can’t shake. We’re not alone; great writers suffer from this same tendency.

Critics have written that all the female protagonists in Rhys’ work form a “composite heroine.” This heroine reduced to her basic parts is a solitary underdog who is usually haunted by memories of her country of origin—which is always somewhere warm and tropical like Rhys’s own homeland in the West Indies. This heroine has, for whatever reason, transplanted herself into a cold, foreign climate, usually England or France. She, in all her incarnations, is always at the mercy of her quickly-shifting moods and dependent upon men, emotionally, as well as financially, and often quite resentful of this fact. Though these women by today’s standards would probably be clinically depressed, through Rhys’ filter, they never see themselves this way. Their misery is perhaps their only true comfort.

Rhys did not have the luxury of an MFA program, though she certainly had mentors. She was the kind of writer who taught herself the craft of novel writing by writing novels. She learned the appropriate distance a fiction writer must take on her own experiences by trial and error, five novels’ worth, before writing her Magnum Opus, Wide Sargasso Sea.

Like Rhys, I too have some composite characters. The first I call the Absent Father. He makes his debut in one of my earliest stories, written at the age of ten, called "The Valley in My Room." While this is a child’s writing, it’s also proof that my thematic preoccupations started early. In this story, the main character, Vanessa, discovers a hole in her floor that leads to a green valley below. Her mother falls into this hole and Vanessa undertakes a journey to rescue her. It's a very complicated, sophisticated story for a ten year-old if I do say so myself. By the end, after Vanessa has survived impossible trials, fought an evil "lord," and saved her mother, what becomes of her poor father, left behind?

I wrote, "Vanessa's father always had a memory of a tall woman and a dark-haired child in his mind, though he never knew why."

Dad doesn’t even so much as get an honorary set of fairy wings.

During graduate school I was frequently asked by workshop participants and teachers alike, questions of this kind: “Why does the father walk away at the crucial moment of conflict?” “What has her father done, exactly?” “The father is so flat, why don’t you just get rid of him?”

Well, I’d never given those questions deep enough thought. These fathers were just walk-ons, I thought, saying their lines, or being the object of another character’s longing or frustration, only to disappear again.

The foundation for this Absent Father was set way back in the creative landscape of my childhood, part imagination, part experience. I kept this poor Father waiting in the wings of my writing until I realized that the only rightful thing to do was to drive him off a cliff in his fast mid-life crisis car or give him his shot to prove that he was better and more than I’d allowed him.

Becoming aware of my recurring character did not magically subtract him from my fiction. In some instances, his absences just gained complexity. I attempted to trick myself that if he was absent in new ways, or for longer periods of time, or for more unique reasons, his absence would contribute something meaningful. Eventually I had to resort to actually deepening these fathers.

But just when I had gotten a grip on the fact that my fathers were absent, in working with my final graduate mentor, writer Alice Mattison, I discovered a whole other blind spot. Alice wrote the following to me in a letter about my thesis collection:

“After I read two or three [of your stories] I thought, “Well, she can give the book the title “Bad Mothers”…Most of these mothers are unrelieved: they aren’t complex, they are just awful. I don’t mind that sort of horrible character in general—I don’t think every single character needs to be complex—but so many bad characters…with no good traits…of the same category makes the work add up to a scream of rage about mothers…”

Though she quickly went on to reassure me that she would not extrapolate this out into my own unresolved personal issues and was sure I had a very nice mother, I was nailed. I’d been hiding behind my Absent Fathers only to learn the hard way that I’d let my Bad Mothers get completely out of control.

Later, Alice wrote,

“What you need is for your reader to be able to take each story on its own terms instead of being so struck by the pervasiveness of the bad mothers that they become a theme instead of just being part of the subject matter.”

Alice was right. In order for the writer to get to the place where the stories stand on their own terms and don’t rest on their thematic laurels, a lot of close scrutiny at the work as a whole is necessary. There is powerful energy in the themes and characters that compel us as writers, but that energy can just as likely clutter our work as empower it.

Fortunately writing is not heart surgery, though on bad days, it can feel like it. A writer has the option of returning to the work and taking the path not taken.

So, though I am no more inclined now to strictly write about present fathers and good mothers any more than Rhys was to write about happy women who find love and return to their tropical paradises, I confess that these fathers and mothers have been unfairly under-explored and it turns out that they have feelings too, and quirks and longings and unfulfilled desires. In doing this, I’ve come to an intersection between what I know, and what I can imagine. Now when they appear these characters are just road signs pointing, “Go deeper here; don’t give up there.”

For those of us haunted or compelled by a particular theme or character that simply won’t go away, by diving directly into that material and being brutally honest with what we find there, we have the opportunity to strengthen it or be free from it, to get to know what it is we do really know, aesthetically, artistically, and write from the center of ourselves, toward Camus’ “buried sun”—our own unique, creative truths.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

It's either sex or politics...

This is a writing blog, a personal blog, but most definitely not a political blog. I'm not usually interested in playing lightning rod to the opinions that inevitably fly when you do write about policits. Yet here as the primaries are underway and the nation's eyes are back on the theater of the absurd and zealotry that is politics, I have been feeling inclined to write something.

I don't think it's any great secret that I'm a Democrat even if I never said those words before, and that in a parallel universe where idealism could actually lead to reality, I would probably be a Green Party member. And we Dems are faced with a very complex choice right now. Vote the Big Lady whose words are more polished and who obviously has the connections and the experience to back it up, and who appeals to our desire to finally see a woman in office. Vote the Hip Young Guy who stands to unite Black and White America, as well as the young, the jaded and the just plain tired of the same old (and who didn't vote for the war!). Or vote the Slick but Strangely Sincere Lawyer, who appeals to middle class workers and unions. Behind that decision is the old "but who has the best chance" strategy of reasoning. I've been walking slowly toward my decision now for as long as a year, but in the last month it has finally coalesced.

Since I'm never very articulate about my own reasons for making these choices, I was pleased to read one of my favorite authors, Michelle Richmond's blog post today, which so articulately and clearly sums up my feelings almost exactly (and will tell you who I favor). I recommend you read it.

Michelle's post begins like this:
In October of 2002, Hillary Clinton voted for the resolution authorizing George W. Bush to take military action in Iraq. I want to get past it, but I can’t. And this is one huge reason that I feel myself feeling passionately about Barack Obama, who showed courage that few others did by opposing the war from the beginning. I have no doubt that Clinton would be an able president. I believe she genuinely cares about issues that I care about personally–health care and education. Her insider knowledge of how Washington works and her political savvy might give her a real advantage in terms of getting things done.

But I worry that the same political savvy that might make Hillary Clinton a force to contend with in the White House is what caused her to vote for going to war with Iraq in the first place. It was a short-sighted vote, one which calls into question the strength of her convictions. Maybe she thought it was necessary, in the aftermath of 9/11, with the presidential campaign looming in her future, to take a “tough stand” against terrorism.

Read the rest of Michelle's post HERE:

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I've talked to my mom twice this week and learned about two deaths and the decline of a third old family friend. Today she called to tell me about the wake for James--husband of Bonnie, father to Sarah and Simone (my childhood playmates). From date of diagnosis to death was about four months. A week or so before that she told me that Ray Jacobsen, a well known Sonoma artist and familiar face from my youngest years, had died.

These people are old, old family friends--the kind that I saw a lot when I was a child but not so much as an adult. In all the old hippie photos of my parents--these are among those featured. The gangly men in worn out jeans and turtlenecks, hair to their shoulders, mustaches wide and brimming with health. The women svelte and high-cheeked, vamping in halter dresses and platform sandals.

Today she also told me she'd spoken to my "godmother"--one of my mom's oldest friends with whom I also used to be incredibly close for most of my life. "G" had childhood cancer that required radiation treatment. They warned her even then that due to the radiation to cure that cancer, she could expect to face cancer again as an adult. Decades later it turned up in one breast and nodes, which she had removed, and some parts of her colon. Over the years, due to a complex network of issues that I just don't feel like going into here today, our relationship became strained and eventually I stopped being in touch with her and her husband because it was too hard to skirt what was unresolved. I'm not good at sitting with proverbial elephants in the living room. But today my mom tells me she's now bedridden, and has lost weight, which is impossible to imagine as she was very thin before. She said, "I didn't even recognize her voice." And though she is still at home for now, the outlook isn't good.

So what do I feel? What am I even trying to get at in this post? When someone approaches death and you have complex feelings for them, how do you handle this? My intuition is to say something, to refer back to the years when I was close with them, when I did love and feel loved by them, and tell her that those years were important to me. I even, I admit, feel like visiting them, though I fear it will be awkward and uncomfortable. I guess what I'm feeling is an overwhelming urge to forgive, whether or not that was earned.

As I muse on loss, then, it was well timed to discover this Question of the Week over at LitPark, combined with an unusal contest on loss. I invite you all to investigate both Sue's great site, and this unusal opportunity.

Also, while you're at it, scroll down to read about Patry Francis (or just visit her breathtaking blog). She too is tackling illness (with grace and energy) and as a result, the blogosphere is coming together to help promote the paperback release of her fabulous novel The Liar's Diary--including Jordan's Muse--on January 29th.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Autonomy vs. Inefficiency, OR
Life of the self-employed

Since January 1st, which marks my third complete year of working full-time for myself as a freelance writer and editor, I've been looking at both the pros and cons of the gig. The pros are obvious: working in your pajamas; a ten-step commute; no irritating co-workers and a genuinely good feeling that comes from creating and fulfilling your own work demands. For me personally I add: the fact that other than very part time work such as I do for BookSmart, the indie book store, I cannot sustain the energy it takes to work on someone else's agenda for very long. I'm a hard worker when I'm motivated, and an utter slacker when not. The beauty is that working on articles and clients' manuscripts feels aligned with my own work, and therefore it rarely feels like "other people's" work. The hard part of it is realizing that in the end, you're still stuck with yourself. And without those irritating, but sometimes nice co-workers, the commute time, and other people's agendas, you also have way too much time to spend with your own thoughts. To fret and worry and get overwhelmed and be bogged down by meaningless anxieties. And maybe sometimes this is not such a good thing.

For instance, in the workplace, you can commiserate and also take chat breaks. You are all in it together on some level, even if you're not really. You can pretend you are. You can gossip. At home, I can instant message my husband at work and call one of two friends I have in this town, but my contact with the outside world is otherwise pretty limited.

At home, I operate on a pretty formulaic schedule when it comes to my work:

--Say YES with delight to new assignments (or pitch/ seek new ones eagerly)
--Efficiently write all assignments on my trusty white board, with due dates and word counts, etc.
--Feel as though there is nothing but time in the world, so why start now?
--Slowly but surely begin to panic as procrastination meets real-time demands.
--Enter a state of cranky overwhelm
--Stop wanting to return emails or call friends
--Work madly and frenzied until all is done.
--Start panicking about getting new work.

It's a cycle I've had for a long time and I know it's not the most healthy--but I seem to work best under pressure. Since there is no boss cracking his whip and no coworkers to remind me that I better get stuff done or else, I have to create the pressure for myself--and the only way I have successfully figured out how to do this is to procrastinate.

(Note to clients and editors: I do manage get everything done on time ultimately!).

The even more ironic part of working for myself is that I did about five times as much when I had a day job. I wrote fiction in the wee hours, freelance work after hours, led reading salons or my radio show, participated in monthly writing groups and classes, went to graduate school, wrote novels and leapt tall buildings with ease. So even though I am happier, less stressed, generally a nicer person and making a decent enough income, I sometimes wonder if I've also become inefficient as a result.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rocketgirls a-go-go

You've heard a bit about Rocketgirls here. In fact, in November, you read excerpts and interview with the three of them--Jody Gehrman, Terena Scott, and Kim Green. Rocketgirls is a fancy name for a group of women writers--four of us total at present--who've started a blog and website (with quite possibly the coolest launch sound ever) to share our collective wisdom, and invite other writers into the conversation.

Each month we collectively blog on a different topic. This month: "I wanna be a rockstar." Today
my post is UP at our "grog" or group blog.

Here's the opening graph:

"After many long years of lusting after fame as a writer, I’m finally taking a look at exactly why I would ever want such a thing. I’m not sure where I ever got the idea that writing a book could translate to the luxury and privilege that only high denizens of our culture ever seem to earn, but somehow as a little girl that idea came in like dust on a hot breeze and fastened itself inside my brain. It’s likely the fault of TV that those seeds were planted, because who gets famous in this culture? That’s easy, right? Movie/TV stars, athletes, and girls who flash their boobs at anonymous cameramen (or maybe the latter is infamy, a topic for another day). . .

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Kickin' the New Year in the Ass

I make resolutions for myself all the time--sometimes daily, so to make one or more specifically for the New Year rarely occurs to me. If I could ask the Big Maker to make one on my behalf, it would be to rid me of the inevitable blues that strike sometime between the dropping of the shiny ball in NY and the deconstruction of the Christmas tree.

This year I can't even blame my blues on anything specific in my life. My life is really good, with some exciting and major changes in it, good friends, security, and, most importantly, a deep and lasting love the likes of which I only dreamed of having as a child. Oh, and the skies are even sunny and blue! So my only answer is that it's just old detritus from the early years that kicks on like some forgotten timer that I don't know how to turn off. In fact, just yesterday I had a fantastic day and was in a superior mood. So clearly, overnight, that little timer turned on and the damper went down without any warning (maybe that's why I dreamt I was trapped in the house of the worst years of my childhood).

So I've got to find the flippin' override switch. That's my resolution. To kick the blues in the ass.

I think perhaps the best method for this is to write more fiction. So friends, it's time. I've procrastinated long enough. There are fantastical worlds to be made up from the crazy ether of my mind. I mean it. They may be unfit for public consumption, but they'll probably keep me sane.