Friday, July 23, 2010

Save the Date

I've always lamented that I don't really know any local writers or writing groups in my area. No conferences, no workshops. I did go to a meet and greet at the library last year but I couldn't make myself heard over the Elvis impersonator. (No, really.) Well, now I've discovered that the Nevada chapter of the SCBWI is having a craft workshop here on September 18, with MG historical ficiton writer Chris Eboch as special guest. There will be peer critiques and (for a fee) an individualized critique as well. A year ago this would have been impossible for me. I've always been extremely private about my writing. I had to drag myself kicking and screaming down the blog road and even to go to the library thing last year. So the fact that I'm looking forward to this more than I'm dreading it -- in fact, I'm kicking myself now for not going for the individualized critique when I filled out the registration form -- means I've grown. I know a lot of you out there have done the conference thing before and I'm looking forward to joining you.

Monday, July 19, 2010

In Which the Title of this Blog Becomes True

7/19/10 7:20 AM PDT Temp: 96 F
I know one thing: there must always be iced tea in the refrigerator. When there is an interruption in the iced-tea cycle (as occured over the weekend, when it was discovered that my husband bought a new bag of sugar but didn't bring it home from the store), hoarding breaks out.
Heatwave eating tips: good meals -- pasta salad, potato salad, hummus; best meal - leftover birthday cake.
Ordinary car air conditioners can't deal with this. They blow cold air on your arms while crystal drops of sweat roll down your temples. Ordinary home a/c blows and blows all night and makes sleep just barely possible. When I turn on the shower I have to let the water run to cool off. At the outdoor pools children swim in hot water.
Through it all clouds form and come and go, first white, then gray, but not yet stormy and black. Something is lacking. It could be as prosaic as moisture in the upper atmosphere, but I prefer to think of it as energy or will, something personal that makes the clouds stir and show their hands, to prove that they are capable of producing rain but won't do it just to please you.
Maybe next week. It will happen (won't it?) and then for each person in Las Vegas the rain will be personal and different: huge grasshopper drops leaping off the back patio; jolts of thunder and lightning that bring shoppers out of Petsmart to view the parking lot, awash; drops that fall so slowly you can count each one as it fades into the sidewalk.
Then the bonus of August nights: rattling storms in the mountains; the hope inspired by the weather service's beep-beep-beep; the backyard in the morning wet and smelling, for once, like a garden should.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


When I began to get bad headaches about 10 years I resisted the idea that they might be migraines because I'd heard that people who had migraines "saw things." Alas, I discovered that is it possible to have very ordinary and painful migraines without "seeing things" at all. (These are known as common rather than classic migraines.)

Then one day in the gym I sat up from doing crunches and noticed that what I had taken for an afterimage of the ceiling tiles was still in front of my left eye. It was a series of small boxes, composed of boxes within boxes within boxes, like an optical illusion, that made an arc across my vision. It just hung there, shaking and shimmering, transparent, and yet not, and I didn't know what to think until I remembered that I'd seen a similar picture in a book about migraines. Oh my, I thought, so this is a migraine aura. I guess I was a little excited: even as I made my way out of the gym I couldn't help telling people I met about it. Just as I was wondering how I was going to drive home, the boxes began to fade.

That was three years ago. Last week it happened again. It started as a little blurry spot in the middle of my vision, which made it somewhat hard to read a computer screen. I ignored it. The spot became a series of little intersecting lines, like a Cubist painting, and then bloomed into a set of jagged teeth, bent double upon itself. There was nothing to do but sit and wait for it to pass, which it did after about 10 minutes. Interestingly enough, neither this time nor the last time did I get a real full-blown migraine, just a slight headache-y feeling.

A lot of books and articles have been written about migraine aura, many of which speculate that people in the past who claimed to have visions were actually experiencing aura instead. I can accept this in some cases, I suppose, but it's also kind of disappointing. As I understand it, when I see aura, there's something going on my brain: a message is being sent. But the message is inscrutable and random. Why boxes and lines?

By the way, an update on that postcard from WWII. I found one of George A. Paris' daughters (on Facebook, naturally) and sent it to her. She wrote back saying:
"My mother is still alive and doing quite well at 87 years old. We had a perfect childhood any person would want, there was plenty of love and laughter. The family is still very close all because of the bond they built for us."

Friday, July 9, 2010


I loved this painting, by the Symbolist artist Gustave Moreau, when I was a teenager. My father will probably deny this, but he once made me remove a poster of it from the living room because he said it was depressing. For those who don't know the story, Salome dances for her stepfather, King Herod, who promises in return to give her anything she wants. At the suggestion of her mother she asks for the head of John the Baptist on a silver charger. Herod says, "Well, I didn't mean that." But she insists and Herod has sworn an unbreakable oath, so that's the end of John the Baptist. A week or so ago, after re-reading Oscar Wilde's play Salome (banned in England for 34 years!) I found myself writing a story about her. It's historical fantasy, which is a genre I'm both attracted to but unsure about my ability to work in. For Moreau and Wilde, the point of the story of Salome is that women are lustful and evil (call me crazy, but I don't think that Wilde really has street cred on that theme.) The original Biblical story, however, doesn't mention sex at all: John the Baptist's death is a palace intrigue, no more.

I found myself writing from Salome's point of view, trying to understand a character who is willful and spoiled but not wanting to go in the women-are-evil direction. And what came out was a focus on desire for things -- luxuries, material goods that, in my story, Herod promises without being able to provide.

How should I know what I wanted? Staring off into the air he’d list things – things he’d had once maybe, or things he thought we ought to have, if our luck turned. Dishes shaped like cranes and fish; painted bowls that turned your hands blood-red while you washed them; salt from distant lands, less brittle than our local salt, with the taste of the sea, and tints of purple; little potted trees, that we might plant and see if they would thrive; the bones of ancient giants – collecting such things was a craze in Rome; all the wisdom of the ages, written by blind men on grains of rice. Also jewels, of course – but after Mama no one could be impressed with jewels – and every kind of clothing and scent and headdresses.
Herod believed in these things. If I’d named just one, he’d have found a way to manage it.
Around that time a fad took the court for a new kind of drum that had been invented to the south, in the marshlands. It was a tiny thing, stretched with ostrich skin, but played right anyone could dance to it, they said. I found this to be true. Somehow I could catch the rhythm and then I hardly knew the hours passed, even as drummer after drummer stumbled away with swollen hands.
I wanted no more than to dance for the sun, outside, in the morning and again in the evening.

I enjoyed writing it but I'm not sure what to do with the result. It needs work and I've never felt short stories to be my forte. For now I'll probably just file it away. This is the second history fantasy I've written in the past two months, when I'm supposed to be concentrating on my WIP. I'm not really sure what my brain is up to.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sidelines blogfest

Thanks for Cheree at Justified Lunacy for hosting the Sidelines blogfest, focusing on secondary characters. Go check out the others!
This is from How to See the Elephant. Background info - September 1862. Delaware. Possibility of Confederate invasion. The students at Thetis' boarding school have been taken on an excursion to the country to escape the heat. On the boat Thetis learns that her father has been wounded in battle. When they reach their destination, Thetis and Ellen, her only friend at the school, sit in a cornfield while Thetis tries to decide what she's going to do now.

We were in a cornfield. It had been harvested and bundled but broken stalks still poked up and ears, husks and leaves were scattered everywhere. Even in the heat, flocks of blackbirds were feeding, hopping around the dead cornstalks, poking at the ears and fighting each other. At any moment some were circling up and others landing, little black dots moving and jumping, all the time going arr-arr-arr and squeaking like a whole field of rusty doors.
“Why, the poor farmer!” Ellen said. “They’re eating everything!”
“Those are just the leftovers. It’s like the husks the prodigal son fed on.”
We sat then for a long time, just watching the birds. In spite of the way they seethed and hopped and pecked I saw something peaceful in it all. It did not feel like summer was gone, but it was, and the birds were feeding for the winter ahead. And before the winter came there would be battles in fields like this. The soldiers massed south of here would lie in cornfields and shoot each other. They might be doing so now.
This thought should have frightened me. Instead, it seemed, like the silence and the river, the only real thing in the world.
Ellen said:
“My father’s going to take me to my aunt’s in Brooklyn at Christmas. Maybe you could write your father and he would let you come, too.”
“It’s kind of you to offer. I can’t though – I won’t be here.”
Ellen looked puzzled. “I didn’t know you were leaving.”
“My father’s not pulling me out, if that’s what you mean. He’s been wounded, in Kentucky. Amaryllis told me when we were on the boat. I’m going to run away, as soon as it gets dark, and go to him. I can get to Louisville tomorrow night, on the train. I’m going to start looking for him there.”
I saw her looking at me strangely and for a second I thought she wanted to come along. I nerved myself to say no. I certainly wasn’t going to drag anyone extra along, not with time of the essence.
“I don’t know how badly he’s wounded. Anything could happen, and he needs someone to take care of him. Anyway, I can’t stay at Miss Barclay’s. There’s nothing there for me. I thought I knew – I thought I wanted – ” My thoughts swirled and tumbled like bits of straw in a draft. A whole new person. The girls looking at me, during the storm.
“I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell anyone. Though it won’t matter if you do, because I’m going anyway.”
I had thought nothing in the world could ever make Ellen mad. I was wrong. She stood up, her tiny face concentrated, like a baby’s, into fury, as she pulled her sunbonnet back on.
“What do you think I am? A sneak? Do you think I’m like Jenny or something? Is that what you think of me?”
“Wasn’t I nice to you all these months? Wasn’t I? Do you think that was easy? Don’t you think I would have preferred to let you go your own way? And did you ever think of me as anything? ”
“Wait – Ellen – please wait!” I pulled at her arm, and when she would not sit down again, stood up as well. “I’m sorry. I…”
But I couldn’t explain myself. I couldn’t explain anything.
She looked at me a long time, and then she said:
“Honestly, Thetis, I think you’re crazy. You don’t even know where you’re going and you don’t know how you’re going to find your father. Anyone with any common sense would wait a few days for the situation to clear up. But I guess that’s your business and I guess I understand how you feel. I’m not going to try to talk you out of it, anyway. Or sneak on you.”
“I can’t wait a few days. The invasion might start. Or Pa might die. Besides…”
I knew she was right. But there were things I could not tell her. How I had failed to write to Pa – how Amaryllis had lied, and would keep on lying, thinking she was protecting me – but most of all how everything had turned to ashes in the past twenty-four hours, and how I could not bear to look at or think about it. I was not the cuckoo in the nest I had been in Mansfield and yet I had failed to become anyone new. All I could do was shut it all out of my mind, and run…

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Secondary Characters

Cheree at Justified Lunacy is hosting a blogfest featuring secondary characters on July 8th. I've signed up, and so should you. It was kind of hard choosing a good scene, though. I find I use secondary characters especially, though I hope not too much, for humor. They bring light and nice counterweight to many scenes. I also like the character who only appears once but does a great star turn and is vital to the plot.
I would never draw a major character entirely from a single real-life person, but with secondary characters I find it fun to do so. For instance, for the past four years I've worked with someone who is not only very talkative but who assumes that anything connected with her life, no matter how trival, is of absorbing interest to everyone around her. Were I a real writer, instead of "telling" you this, I would be "showing" you, by reproducing the classic "I saw this bag in my freezer and I thought it was mangoes but actually it was carrots" conversation, as well as the immortal "I went to get my watch fixed and it wasn't ready and they said come back in a week" drama, but around this time of day energy tends to flag. Anyway, should I complain? I wrote her into a story this weekend.