Tuesday, October 23, 2007

When it's all gone in an instant

I'm supposed to be in heavy revision on Wild Iris today. But, instead of revising, I'm revisiting. I grew up in Southern California, where wildfires are an ever-present threat in the fall. Here it is, fall, and SoCal is on fire again.

My mother's house was deep in a canyon, surrounded by foothills, every piece of earth covered with dry brush and oak trees. My father's house was high in the San Bernardino Mountains, tucked into a pocket called Cedar Glen. I've been evacuated from both places, more than once. Evacuation is a tricky business. What do you take? How much time do you have?

At my father's house the danger was being too leisurely and getting cut off. There are only so many ways off a mountain, you know. He was a confirmed bachelor so trying to decide what to take was easy. Hunting riffles, fishing poles and photo albums. The second-hand dishes and cheap appliances could burn. At my mother's house evacuation had a logical order. Every car was loaded, precisely and efficiently, with a pre-determined list of items. We prioritized based on the distance of the flames. Close? Ourselves and photos. On a high ridge? Silver, paintings, books, photos, jewelry. With some time to kill? Anything not nailed down. We never bothered with clothes. Those can be easily replaced. Except prom dresses – those were always included.

We were lucky. At least, for a long time. The Old Fire in 2003 finally claimed my dad's cabin. He'd passed away in 1996, but the cabin had been in our family for over thirty years. Both my sister and I lived in Atlanta by then - our only connection to the terror of fire came through long buried memory as we watched CNN. The fires were horrifying - filling every ridge, every foothill, and every valley - all across Southern California. You can't imagine it unless you've seen it. I think I know what the end of the world might look like.

We knew the fire was raging through Lake Arrowhead and Cedar Glen. We could only hope it didn’t reach Hook Creek Road. Then, the truly unthinkable happened. Right before our eyes, CNN brought us an image of our beloved cabin burning. There is nothing quite so surreal as seeing a place of memory and love destroyed on national television. Just one more "structure" lost."

The fires this year are bringing up all those images. Just a while ago my sister found a still shot of the cabin burning. A Riverside County newspaper had old photos up in a sort of horrid retrospective of infernos through the years.

Nothing you own safely belongs to you once you've faced evacuation and loss. I'm going to write about it. Someday.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Modern Mother

I’ve given birth to a Puritan. My daughter cries and grows upset at any hint of anything sexy. We went to a nice Italian restaurant on a street that is known for three things: Italian restaurants (authentic ones – you’re sure the waiter is packing heat and the guy in the corner with the slicked back hair is taking a “meeting”), upscale antiques stores, and strip clubs. It’s a wild mix, but hey, that’s life in the city. She saw a billboard advertising "Naked Ladies!!" and proceeded to cry for two hours. I dug out my art books and showed her how the female form has been celebrated and depicted since the dawn of mankind. “See that little stone statue, that’s the Venus of Willendorf. See how she’s naked and has breasts – like all women?” More tears.

She’s very bent out of shape that I write books she can’t read. Not even over my shoulder. As she did attempt once. My bad luck that it was a love scene and she reads well and quickly for a third-grader. More tears.

Until I had children, I always thought they were hedonistic little things. Maybe some are. Not my darling. I adore her, of course, and would never do anything to upset her equilibrium. Like cutting my hair, which I am not allowed to do. Or, heaven forbid, dying it red. Which I wanted to do for my fortieth birthday. I had to be satisfied with a trim. Not the life-changing event I had planned.

I wanted children. Even in my twenties I tried. I thought I’d be a young mother. But ex-husbands and personal story arc’s sometimes go wobbly. I was thirty-one when she was born and thirty-four when her younger brother came along. That’s long enough to have lived. A lot. And now I find myself having to put on a persona I never imagined to be the restrictive falsehood it is. I’m a MOTHER.

My babies nursed at a tattooed breast. I swung a hammer restoring our beat up old Victorian while gestating. I’ve drag raced driving a Jaguar, a Corvette and a Plymouth Valiant. I know how to speed shift in a Karmen Ghia. I’ve been married twice. I’ve had love affairs that were mind-blowing, multi-continent and terribly illicit. I’ve drunk many a man under the table – including her father. I’ve spent enough time on construction sites to be able to use every bad word in a single sentence.

Sure, I was also in a sorority and I know how to write a thank you note for any occasion. I understand cutlery and can set a table for a six course meal. I can brew tea for thirty and make finger sandwiches out of delicate little bits of this and that. What can I say - I’m a brassy renaissance woman.

And that’s the problem. This whole mother-as-sole-identity thing might have worked in the fifties. Maybe even in the sixties. But what happens to those of us born after the sexual revolution? How do you stop being who you are so you can successfully raise a happy Puritan?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Good News Is . . .

I didn't come in last in the Maggie Award for Excellence at this weekend's Moonlight and Magnolia's conference. My long contemporary, The Glenn, came in fourth with a lovely Honorable Mention certificate.

Can I say I was thrilled to death? No, not really. But after reading the critiques I received from the very generous published authors who served as first round judges I can say I was not surprised. (look at all those wases!). Like I told some chapter buddies, I feel like I got invited to the prom and whether or not the date worked out is ancillary. Being a Maggie finalist is the closest I'll ever come to being a rock star. People gave me that "I envy you" look and perfect strangers expressed good wishes for my success. I met some wonderful fellow writers and had an altogether great time. So, what's not to love?

I also had a great pitch session with an agent on my top five wish list and she did ask for a partial - enthusiastically no less.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Renewing My Contract

We used an unusual method to locate where we'd make our home. Way back in 1995 we came to Atlanta for a job fair and somehow the city seemed like home. I could find my way anywhere in what is a sometimes perplexing maze of unmarked streets. We decided to move to Atlanta after the first day. Our spiral bound map book on my lap as we drove around offered up page 52 as the page we wanted to live on. And we did. Our first apartment, scene of some pretty lean salad and cereal days, was on Charles Allen in midtown. This was before midtown really went through a resurgence. We could walk to The Clermont Lounge to see Blondie perform her poetry strip tease. When we had fights I took refuge at The Majestic Dinner.

Our second place was a one bedroom bungalow in a sketchy part of town known as the Old Fourth Ward. India Critendon lived next door and before she died we listened to her stories about life as the best friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mother. Her funeral at Ebenezer Baptist Church honored her and left us feeling like part of the history of the city – in a very small way. We loved that house.

But a big Victorian in East Atlanta beckoned. Utterly destroyed by time and trouble not much was left except some smooth gliding pocket doors and a hint of character. We actually camped inside the house for the first six months. I can’t say bringing a house back from the brink of demolition is not for every relationship, but our was cemented in a mighty firm way, mostly through the use of 27 cases of White Lightening caulk. We were married on the front porch and partied in the back yard on September 23rd, 2000.

So, for our seventh anniversary my husband rented a suit on the 17th floor of the Georgian Terrace. We stood on the balcony and looked out over the city. From our vantage point we could see every neighborhood we’ve lived in and landmarks we’ve come to love. Viewing the progression of your life from on high is something everyone should do. We’ve had our rough patches and our ups and downs in thirteen years together and our moves across the city have brought some turmoil and some beauty. But bless my husband for the suite and that bird’s eye view of our life together. I think I’ll renew my contract with him for another year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Research in the Age of Google

So, when the descendant of a Scottish immigrant dies in Buckhead - which church do you pick for the funeral?

1. Figure out which denominations of Christianity are prevalent in Scotland
2. Decide to go with Presbyterian to play it safe
3. Discover that Peachtree Presbyterian has virtually NO pictures online and with only seven days to go a trip to look at churches in Buckhead is not gonna happen
4. Decide that the closest thing to the Church of Scotland is Episcopalian
5. Base decision on the nice people at Cathedral of St. Phillip because they provide a virtual tour of their nave
6. AND they provide an online guide to their funeral services (held at 10 am in the winter, 11 am in the summer and 2 pm any time of the year)
7. Breathe heavy sigh of relief and proceed to bury demised character

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Strut Day

I grew up in a rural area - granted, it was Southern California so rural is a relative term. We didn't have festivals and street fairs and art shows, etc. Today is my neighborhood's annual Village Strut. I'm getting some writing time in this morning and then I'm heading out for the parade and general debauchery. The main drag through our village - Flat Shoals Ave - closes for the day and the tents go up. Last year I found a great tee shirt for my husband to wear on his favorite holiday - Talk Like A Pirate Day. Bands will gear up and play well into the night, children will run around painted up like butterflies and bats, beer will run in rivers down the street and it will be beautiful.

What you don't realize when you live in a more suburban/rural area is that a big city is made up of many small neighborhoods, each with a different flavor or vibe. A few weeks ago Grant Park had their big shindig, The Summer Shade Festival, and soon Cabbage Town will host the Stomp and Chomp. Atlanta is a great festival city with something nearly every month to showcase a neighborhood or a park.

So, I'll head down and have a beer (or three) listen to some music, buy some handmade something-or-other and enjoy life in the city.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Story of a Girl and a Dress

So, I'm a Maggie finalist. I've been walking around repeating that randomly for the past month. Everyone is sick of me by now. However, Nicki told me this week I needed a dress worth being in the company of editors and agents - and now I've gone over the edge (my husband has started calling me Jeff Lewis - the guy from Flipping Out). I want something sophisticated, sleek, not black and not matronly. Oh, and it would be nice if it fit. That last requirement is the one that makes me throw my hands up in defeat. I'm tall, and let's face it, rather more fleshy than I would like. Try finding a dress with all that in mind. Impossible.

So, on Tuesday night my marvelous neighbor, otherwise known as coutier Charles Joseph, came over and helped me make a pattern. I have slopers and I sew - which is another topic entirely - so the process was not as painful as it sounds. We came up with something I adore and then he gave me a swatch book from a New York fabric supplier. So, yesterday I spent several hours ordering my four ply silk in gunmetal, some zippers, a little boning, thread - etc. etc. The picture is one of my inspirations for the dress - the actual dress will be longer and in a more formal fabric.
And, even better, Charles Joseph (I just call him Chuck) will sew it up for me if it gets too close to Moonlight and Magnolias and I haven't gotten it done.
So, any thoughts? What do you do when you are faced with an event where you might be in the spotlight? How important is it to present a pulled together appearance when you're trying to find an agent or editor? (Or, should I be spending my time actually finishing the ms that finaled? Wait, don't answer that - I might go Jeff Lewis on your ass).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

In The City

After twelve years of living in an urban environment you’d think I would have picked up a little common sense. Things like – don’t take a long walk on trash pick up day. But, alas, when I set out on my morning walk I didn’t look at the calendar. What does Atlanta smell like? Not magnolias.

I was walking and trying to contemplate where I’m heading in my current WIP, Wild Iris. Deciding the ultimate fate of a secondary character requires both voodoo and logic. The character’s life hangs in the balance and I have ultimate power. (imagine maniacal laugh) So, I’m powerwalking along trying not to breath too deeply while singing along with Britney Spears “Toxic” and what do I almost stumble into?

A dead cat. Which makes me unbearably sad. And, since it’s a voodoo and not logic kind of day, it also presages the ultimate fate of my character. He’ll be pushing up daisies instead of smelling roses. Or trash.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Getting Through the Big Black Moment

The nice thing about romance novels is knowing that the big black moment is coming, and the characters will sail right through it and find some kind of resolution. That's why we read these things, after all, isn't it? Because in real life the big black moments come sort of willy nilly and you just can't guarantee yourself a happy resolution.

I like all the "with age comes wisdom" crap - maybe when you're 70 the BBM is just a blip, but I'm finding that this summer my BBM's are coming with startling regularity. And I havne't been finding much resolution - or even much wisdom. Whoever is writing this story I'm living has obviously developed a sadistic streak.

I've tried all my usual tricks - when in doubt pull a tarot card. When in serious doubt - get out the chocolate stash. When in complete doubt - start a new diet.

What I've finally settled on is music. I'm just going to put on some Yeah Yeah Yeahs and hope whatever is at the root of my personal BBM's will be driven away by the raucous beat and winding guitars.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Sounds of Silence

I took my daughter and my niece to see the IMAX film The Alps at Fernbank last week. Sitting in an air conditioned theater was nice. Sitting in an air conditioned theater watching a film about a snow-covered mountain was BLISS.

As we waited for the film to start I took the chance to do a little people watching. I'm not out in public much because, really, who wants to drag kids around in our Saharan heat, so when I get the chance I really soak it in. I like my moments of silent contemplation, but I noticed something really disturbing as I checked out my fellow IMAX goers. So many of them were sitting there fiddling with cell phones, PDA's, game boys, etc. Their moment of silence was totally taken up with little bitty screens and bright colored blips.

Has contemplation just for the sake of stillness gone entirely out of fashion? Can't anyone amuse themselves with the contents of their own brain anymore?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Have Laptop, Will Travel

This week we scooped all the kids in the family and headed to Hilton Head. With five children in tow, the minivan was full of things like skateboards, books, fishing poles, a guitar and oodles of doll clothes. You’d think, with all that stuff, the children would be entirely occupied. I imagined we’d arrive at grandma’s house and they would immediately be entirely out of my hair and in the pool. Ha! I hadn’t counted on the fact that we’re a fair skinned bunch of folks and after the second day all the children were so sunburned that indoor activities were called for.

However, we're a family of entrepreneurs which means the house is also packed with six adults, each with their own laptop and cell phone, all trying to run businesses, maintain distant servers, create complicated software help systems, market restaurants, design cabinets and sell real estate. As the writer of the family my work brings in the least amount of income – read nothing – so somehow I get elected to deal with the extraneous details of life. Like feeding and amusing five bored children.

Have laptop. Will travel. Will never get to open laptop. Sigh.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Burning Down the House

I have a deadline, self-imposed, but a deadline nonetheless. So, no more hemming and hawing. My BICHOK. (Butt in chair, hands on keyboard). I produced somewhere around 4k words yesterday. And surprised myself. You see, I burned down The Glenn. I had no idea it was going to happen. I was every bit as startled and devastated as my hero and heroine. The name of this ms is The Glenn for goodness sake - it's practically the main character. So, as I wrote about its demise I felt the wound myself. I've never made myself cry while writing (not counting the poems I wrote in a drunken stupor in college) and it's a pretty unique experience. So, today's challenge is to sift through the ashes. Which gives me plenty of material to help face the Black Moment. And, I made it past the half-way mark. Yeah! I'm going to make my deadline. More than just The Glenn is going to burn, baby, burn this month!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Got My PRO Pin!

At yesterday's GRW meeting I finally received my long-anticipated PRO pin. Yeah! I'll try to post a picture of me wearing it. Today is rainy and dismal in Georgia. I'm trying to crank out Chapter 9. I have a bet going with one of my friends. She's an amazing artist - if she had a web site I'd link to it - and she's been avoiding painting some birds for about six months now. She's got all the heart and talent she needs, maybe the universe has just not been ready. So, if she finishes her birds by March 1st and I finish my rough draft of The Glenn by March 1st, we are taking each other out to a fine, fine dinner. However, if one of us doesn't finish then the loser covers the whole bill. Did I mention we've all developed a taste for fine champagne lately? I'm finishing that ms come hell, high water or lack of chocolate.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

You catch your breath and winter starts again.

That's from a Dar Williams song. I set my media player on repeat to cycle through all of her CD's when I'm trying to write. Trying is the operative word today. I felt so fabulous having finished ms #1 way back in July. The agent I met at Nationals did end up rejecting it - however, what she sent back was fully edited and commented on. From what I understand that's extremely exciting. Okay. I'm excited to be rejected yet again.

I started ms #2 as soon as the kids went back to school in August and things were going really well. Then, for some reason, in October I just . . . stopped. Now I find myself 50% of the way through and the path is covered with snow. So, as winter finally arrives in the South I need to really think about how my plotting and planning has let me down. While ice storms threaten it's time for me to tromp on through the snow and rediscover the path I know is there.

Trying to Find Myself

I felt I needed a picture to go with my identity in cyberspace. However, trying to find one of just me by myself was next to impossible. Most of the pictures of me taken in the past eight years are either a) bad, and by that I mean I look fat, or b) include one or both of my children. I have more pictures than one might imagine of myself nursing the number two child. Probably because he was breastfed for, um, two years. And he was an every two hour kinda baby.
So, this is the only one I found. A friend took it while I was trimming my hedges. If you look closely you can see I'm wearing my ubiquitous overalls. And I needed a little touching up on the ol' color. Oh well. When I'm a big name author I'm sure I can afford plenty of professionally retouched photos.