Thursday, November 29, 2012

Little Bribes

How do you trick yourself into getting your words done? Because we all do that, right? I don't believe there's a writer out there who doesn't sit down each day with a frisson or soupcon or smidge or enormous steaming cauldron of dread, convinced this is the day when the magic ends, the inspiration runs dry.

But you either make yourself do it or you don't.

Lots of us choose the latter route, sometimes for years. It's been a while since I discussed the six-year (!!!) dry spell I had, when I did more whining than writing. But yeah, that happened.

Eventually we figure out how to force ourselves to roll that boulder up the hill, and I'm convinced most of us use little bribes. Some of you may know I'm a big fan of 45/15s (so simple - you write for 45 solid minutes and then you have 15 minutes to do whatever you want) because they have a built-in reward. But I have scores of others.

Lunch is a big one. I'm so lunch-motivated, it's pathetic. I'll do just about anything for a handful of Fritos. But if I tell myself it's 1500 words before lunch, well, then it's 1500. I don't cheat. I'm a bitch of a boss.

Lying on the floor with Dog is good (or, in the summer when the kids are home, lying on the floor with Junior, who's always up for it). I've also convinced myself that it's good for you. After all, it unrolls that spine that's been all bent while you've been working.

Getting the mail, seeing what's on offer at, looking at Jonathan Hayes' photos (especially the private collection ones!), and texting Nicole Peeler when she is in the middle of a lecture are all treats.

But you need something bigger for finishing up for the day. I mean, every time you finish your words, (or your editing, if that's where you're at) - that's a huge victory, right? You proved you were a real author for another day, and that's - wow, that's so big I can't think of the right word for it. It's everything.

I'm sure you have your own idea of what's called for. I imagine TR Pearson popping a top on a Pabst, sitting on the porch and throwing pork rinds at the hound, for instance. I imagine Elizabeth George doing a little yoga and listening to Ted talks podcasts. Whatever floats one's boat.

Here are a few of my favorites:
  • going to Home Depot and putting paint chips in my purse for that shoplift-y thrill
  • going to Sephora and spraying a dozen different perfumes all over myself
  • eating dinner at a dive in Chinatown while reading a book
  • walking to the top of Mountainview cemetery at sunset and watch the city turn on its sparkle
  • ...and, of course, that perennial favorite - a Grand Avenue nail shop

Lordy do I ever need a manicure

Would love to know what you all do to get through the words, especially if it's an idea I can steal...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Back from the East

Last week, I went out East with Junior to look at colleges. She'll be graduating from high school in the spring, then catapulting herself headlong into the future, hungry for adventure. She's more than ready - I, as you might imagine, am not.

This storefront in Philadelphia pretty much represents what I want in a school for my child. Sorry about the picture quality - but the sign reads "Precious babies Learning Academy - WELCOME TO OUR SCHOOL!!" I wish you could see their logo: it's a kindly octopus holding eight swaddled babies in its eight arms, looking down on them fondly while they snooze.

That is what I want for my own precious baby: to be coddled somewhere safe. Naturally, it's the last thing she wants, so off we went to look at alternatives up and down the east coast.

We did manage to squeeze in some sightseeing on the way. This one's for you, Gigi - a pug-dog gargoyle? - near the Columbia campus.

 In DC, we hit the constitution museum...

...where we chatted with the framers at this sort of bronzed cocktail party exhibit.

That's my girl!!  (You'll be voting for her in a few years, just FYI :)

Visiting the world war II memorial had special significance to me this time because of all the research I did for GARDEN OF STONES. 

I was so happy to see lots of East coast relatives. Somehow, in between the non-stop talking and maybe a glass or two of wine, I forgot to get a picture of my cousins Maureen and Bryan. But here I am with my cousins Kaili and Praveen, who have the best guest room ever.

Junior in a cousin sandwich :)

Thanksgiving dinner at my brother's house!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with my brother and his family in Boston this year. But I wasn't about to skip cooking Thanksgiving dinner, a tradition I've missed only once or twice in twenty-five years. I just did it a week early! I made all the dishes that I always do, which was a bit of a challenge in my pint-sized kitchen. But my sister brought dessert (homemade pies) and everyone else brought low expectations and high enthusiasm and it turned out great.

I started the day by watching football, which if you know me at all, you'll realize is quite a rare event. Once or twice a year, watching sports seems like just the thing - it puts me in the Thanksgiving spirit.

My sister Kristen brought her amazing cherry pie. Kristen *hates* it when I put her on my blog :)

Dog got a bath for the occasion (she is wet and not very happy in this picture).

My son brought a hearty appetite...

Wishing all the best to you and your families!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Live from Thrillerfest...

While I was at Thrillerfest a few months ago, I sat down with Jeff Rutherford for a nice long chat.  lf you've been hankering for a glimpse inside my head, this interview is as good a place to start as any. Jeff and I talked about all of my current projects, as well as the writing process and the journey to publication. Lots of shout-outs to friends and colleagues!

Thanks to Jeff,  and to the Reading and Writing Podcast.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I'll Miss You, Tish

I was saddened to read that Letitia Baldridge, etiquette doyenne, died last week.

Twenty years ago, as I planned my wedding, I was so incensed with the tradition of addressing married women by their husband's name ("Mrs. Robert Smith") that I wrote a letter to Ms. Baldridge demanding to know how she could possibly condone the practice. She was kind enough to write me back, believe it or not. The letter was dictated (some of you may remember the old notation indicating that a letter had been typed by someone other than the author), but signed by the great lady herself.

I wish I'd saved that letter, but I can tell you that it was gracious, well-reasoned, and concluded with her sincere best wishes - none of which I could claim for my own letter.

The worst part is that I gave her short shrift: Ms. Baldridge was a true feminist. Just an extraordinarily polite one. As this New York Times article says, "Her brand of feminism was subversive; it wore a good dress."

Also, I believe she was brave. It takes courage to take a stand against any powerful institution - but doing it in the 60s as a female must have been daunting. Recently, Baldridge offered advice for the White House's new social secretary, a position she herself held: "The West Wing is the men's've got to be strong and say no."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Was Part of the Solution

You know that old saying, that you can be part of the problem or part of the solution?  I've been guilty of the former my share of the time, but I'm trying to address that. I'm the least political member of a fairly idealistic and opinionated family, and I've avoided politics because of an aversion to the dinner-table warfare conversation that many people seem to enjoy. So while I've voted in every presidential election since I've been eligible, I've often taken a pass on the more minor races.

Three things happened to change that. First, we moved to California, where every citizen in the state is invited to decide dozens of issues every go-round through propositions and initiatives. Fellow Easterners, it's crazy - they send you a booklet the size of a Sears catalog in the weeks leading up to the election describing each one with purple and often misleading language supplied by lobbyists and zealots from each side, and then it's up to you to sleuth around and figure out what the heck is really going on. Like there might be Proposition 32 to Not Kill Puppies and then you find out you're really voting to put high-test lines through your neighbor's backyard.

Second, i somehow raised a daughter who passionately wants to change everything for the better, and is willing to run for office and serve to make it happen. She spent much of the last few months campaigning for a young, idealistic candidate in our neck of the woods. How can I let her down by not paying attention?

And third, I moved to Oakland. Enough said!

Last night I helped out in the returns center in a school in the middle of Oakland. From 8pm until after 11pm, about 20 of us waited in a dark parking lot for cars bearing clerks and inspectors from our precincts to drive up. I was the clipboard person - my job was to get them to sign that they had brought their ballots and equipment. We all pitched in to unload the duffle bags and boxes full of printers, scanners, tape, extra ballots, and so forth onto a waiting truck, and then volunteers drove the ballots to the courthouse. I talked to everyone. Early in the evening when it became clear that Obama had won, there was such an expression of joy that I felt lifted to be part of it. In the blocks around us, we could hear shouting and fireworks going off. Cars would drive by and holler out "Obamaaaaaaaa!!!!!" at us. There was exactly one grumpy person the whole evening, and we all felt sorry for her.

I drove a young woman home who wants to be a journalist. We had a good talk. Turns out we were both there for the same reason: we wanted to understand how the process worked and be a roll-up-your-sleeves part of it. I'll definitely do it again next time.

images courtesy of Oakland Local and The Oakland Press.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Win the entire AFTERTIME trilogy!

I was invited to do a post at Book Chick City for their "Thirty Shades of Zombie" feature. I thought their graphic was pretty slick, and I appreciated their suggestion that I write about a fresh aspect of zombie-dom . You can check out my essay - and enter to win all three books - here.

Meanwhile, I know I've been kind of lurking lately. Sorry about that. I did manage to get out this weekend for a Sisters in Crime event with a bunch of friends. Here's a photo of me, Juliet Blackwell, and Gigi Pandian at Books Inc. (photo courtesy of Gigi, who also read from her new book Artifact).