Monday, March 30, 2015

New Followers!

Wanted to say hi and thanks to the most recent followers here at the blog - Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli and Colin, friends from the community at Janet Reid's blog, and Gabriela Salvador, of Pour La Victoire.

Thank you for coming!

Oh, and - Colin - happy late birthday! With the way I shy off of Janet's flash fiction contests, I completely failed to give you many happy returns - hope it's been a good start to a smashing year!

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Geez, I skip reading The History Blog for a few days, and look what I missed!

... and </scene> on Richard III (for now ... ?). The History Blog's post - and, of course, well-chosen links on the funeral last week.

Talk about VINTAGE jewelry - turns out we've been adorning ourselves since Neanderthal days. 130,000-year-old baubles!

And more treasures - two cels from What's Opera Doc? will go on the auction block on April 9. I'm not sure these aren't just as culturally important as the Neanderthal adornments; talk about a treasure!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Effective Professional Communication: The Approach

To all the people who have to make endless calls, trying to get on executives’ calendars – look, I get it. We all have our scripts to follow. Mine is “time is at an extreme premium” when you call me – and that is not a joke. Yours is “I’d just like to get a few minutes with him to introduce him to our company and what we can do for yours.” You have to do this over and over again with the same unresponsive people, and if you think I don’t know that, you underestimate my ability to recognize your phone number on my caller ID. I know exactly when you call, I know you do it on a repeating schedule. I GET it.

Most of you recognize that I am The Gatekeeper, and you behave accordingly, attempting to schmooze me (pointless) or tell me “He said he’d meet with us” (it worked ONE time, when I was new, and man do I have those guys’ numbers – and they will never, ever get in with my boss, ever) or actually behaving with friendly professionalism (the only viable approach). I entertain these varying gambits with exactly the responses they deserve, always professional, but pretty much hermetically sealed against the jerks who try to get one over on me, and impervious to anything but friendly professionalism. The ones who recognize, we’ve all got our scripts to follow: that, basically, we’re all in this together.

Make it unpleasant for me, and I will return the favor by making “progress” outright impossible for you.

So don’t refuse to speak with me when, instead of asking you “would you like to go to voice mail?” I say “Is there anything I may do for you?”

Don’t fail to realize that, if you want calendar time, I’m the person to ask for it; not my boss.

Don’t try to bypass me by snubbing me with a “Just put me in voicemail” and then leaving a message for my boss which (a) starts out with about twenty seconds of egregiously badly recorded music and (b) then segues into “I am so and so and I am FIGHTING to get a meeting with you.”

It turns out that the music was the Fighting Illini fight song – actually a commendable-ish piece of personalization, not that it actually changes the calendar any – and the “fighting” message was an allusion to that. So, okay, so he didn’t intend to make me look bad.

But this guy has been calling for a long time now, and my boss and I both recognize the number when it comes in now, and he’s never tried to talk with me, never left a message, and – cute as the personalization is – it doesn’t TELL US ANYTHING.

If he’d ever once actually attempted to speak with me like a all-growed-up professional, he could have introduced his company and himself, he could have gotten some information to me (and, that way, possibly to my boss – or, perhaps, even someone else more relevant to his needs), he might conceivably have made some sort of progress. Instead, what we have is enough weeks of calls from the same number that my boss and I both know a number is endlessly pinging us – and nothing else. No skin off of us, but it doesn’t make a GOOD first impression. And zero net effect for our fighting friend.

Who, to be honest, isn’t fighting all that hard, and who is strategizing his battle not. at. all.

It’s impossible not to be brought to mind of querying and trying to get an agent.

We all have our scripts to follow, and whether I personalize or not goes by the wayside if I make a lot of noise, without ever conveying the least bit of information ABOUT MY NOVEL. Or even that it is a novel. Or why I think it’s relevant to Agent X, Y, or Z. Or even make it clear that what I am attempting to do is to query something.

I called myself The Gatekeeper above, and would imagine most of my readers who are writers or agents (they do crop up!) would agree, the gatekeeper analogy in querying/publishing does nobody any favors.

But querying is a professional communication, we all agree on that. And to conduct professional communication in the way my fighting foe above has done would be unthinkable.

(Even now, I suspect Janet Reid, Jessica Faust, and hundreds of other agents are/would have to disagree – they probably do get EXACTLY this approach, from geniuses who’ve found the office number, and wish to treat agents to their honeyed words directly, bypassing slush with their pristine and special snowflakes. We’ve heard about it, and there are countless agency sites exhorting that authors NOT call them directly for a reason.)

It is for ME, and for all my wise and wonderful authorial readers, this would be unthinkable. Of course.

It seems so basic to me – yet I have worked in a fairly stereotypical office setting or another for nearly thirty years. Not all authors do, nor could stand to. And so baseline assumptions for effective professional communications are not there. And, given the creative nature of our product, we may think a creative approach is best in getting it out there.

That can work. But even the most unexpected innovations in getting our work out there, in the successful cases, still maintains essential professional respect. It doesn’t involve stalking agents to find out their alma mater and subjecting their voicemail to extreme lo-fi (do the kids know what low-fidelity means anymore, by the way … ?) fight songs. It involves getting attention without demanding it personally and invasively. Maybe by canny support in service of self-published work that stands the test of marketing success and the expectation of future revenue etc. Maybe in the unique voice of an unexpected character, translated into a simple, ordinary query. Maybe in a hundred ways I can’t think of because I am stodgy and dowdy and doing things the old way.

Not by calling incessantly for weeks, with no message.

Not by FIGHTING for time un-earned, while providing no reason it should be given.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

If I Had My Druthers

Please accept my apologies for a late post from Monday ...

Monday mornings that start off rolling are the best beginning for a work week. I had a mental note or two coming in, only a minor glitch or two firing up, and a good, solid four hours of steady work to keep me going in the a.m. There were also two fresh new rejections (both of them expected, so the sting was minor); one on a query sent only yesterday, and one only a couple or three weeks old.


I honestly wonder, as I consider shelving (as distinct from “drawering”, which would imply entirely giving up hope) Ax____, whether it is right or wrong to do so. It’s hard to be open to the possibility of putting away a work I know is GOOD, even if I have begun to consider that it may not be the work that can launch my second career, but I am trying to allow the idea to be … okay. At the same time, yes, querying is a numbers game and this could just be my origin myth, the tale of the super-author in the making, the cred that makes my own arc as worthwhile as (insert respected/much-rejected author’s name here) – and as Clovis’ own.

That latter is tempting, and honestly I would hardly stop to think about “quitting” (for NOW) on Ax, except that … I feel like I’ve run out of lists to plunder, research resources to take advantage of. Options. I feel like I’ve queried every agent who even mentions histfic without dotting their eyes with little Regency romance hearts or … yeah, mentioning that it’d be nice to see something other than some white European king for a change.

Hilary Mantel did spectacularly well with Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies, but … Hilary Mantel also wasn’t a debut novelist in the first place, and was writing and publishing on a different continent from my own in the second place. She had twenty years’ catalog of performance behind her. She also found a way to write about the perennially-blockbuster Tudors without quite treading old ground. And now she also has TWO Man-Booker prizes to her credit.

Not a platform I can claim to stand on. Though I’ve got a story that not only doesn’t tread old ground, but illuminates a huge swath of the history of the West *and* even some of the very reasons #WeNeedDiverseBooks today, it isn’t. Diverse. And nobody’s heard of Clovis I on this side of The Pond (a *selling* point that gets in its own way, Catch-22 style [an appropriate problem for an author named Major?]). It’s not MG, YA, or NA; there isn’t a single dragon, pneumatic beauty, or magically-engendered neurosis in it. Game of Thrones readers might dig it, but I’m not comping that and don’t have compelling plans to garner that audience nor proof I could.

And but.

And but.

And but.

Ten years I’ve spent with this novel, now. Learning from it and LOVING it, though that may not shine through given my dry and pragmatic statements about killing darlings and it being a product and oh-so-professional detachment. I LOVE Ax and the Vase, it has been both one hell of a good story to be part of, and iet means the world to me. It is a manifestation of something my dad talked about all his life (“somebody should write a book” was a stock phrase in my house growing up), and he died before I ever began to write. I have no doubt he’s rooting for it, and there is a minor, sentimental strain in wishing I could publish a book I know he’d probably have enjoyed immensely on its own merits … and been inexperessibly proud to know I wrote. (Heck, at that, half the dead folks in my family would probably like this book; those who have gone before me gave me the very voice in which it’s expressed, after all.)

I am to this day entranced by the story, to the point that actually feeling it’s ready, it’s finished, is still exciting – just to know I have done this thing, that I made it, I have something to do with something this great.

I’m proud of my work.

Even if I let it go for now, there’s no doubt I’d try to get it out there as a follow up. (It is a prequel of sorts to the WIP; they are as unalike as they are inextricably linked.)

Lord, just thinking and writing about it, I gnash and resist with a fury the idea there’s no agent out there who could (… who would …) do anything with this book. It’s a bloody good read, it’s a ripping yarn.

If only I could find some hidden stash, somewhere else to turn.

In the meantime, I must turn to the WIP. If I have missed some dozens of agents who would do my work proud, somehow or other I’ll find ‘em – and beware, agents.

This isn’t quitting. I’m just turning slightly to one side … for the moment …

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Indignant Otter

Now I need a Quizzical Puppy Face and an Affronted Puddy Face to complete my set!

Image courtesy of Mojourner.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Today *Would* Be the Day ...

... to find a bunch of agent interviews, blogs, and agency site exhortations saying "DON'T GIVE UP!"


Highly-Critical Mass

Okay, ironic beard boys. When Kevin Spacey is making fun of you in an E-Trade commercial featuring a nice looking woman walking with her bearded boyfriend, suddenly finding herself eyeing the clean-shaven fella stepping out of a doorway?

Your little ironic beards are done. Leave 'em to the men who wear their faces that way for reasons that have nothing to do with proving their coolness, or being fashionable. Please.


It's been some time since I linked any updates on Richard III's exhumation and reburial and so on, so here's The History Blog's latest on this week's upcoming (Thursday, 3/26) ceremonies for those who've also been somewhat sporadic in keeping up. As always, good links included, and nice details.

Medieval People of Color looks at (please pardon the pun) a different kind of diversity in this post, with well-known paintings recreated for the blind . This is the sort of idea that begs the question, "How come we never did this before? Have we done this before ... ?" And it's true - sometimes the fascination and beauty in art are in the small details. An interesting exhibit not only for the visually-challenged; looking at classics in a new way.

The British Museum (and its blog) examines nudes in ancient Greek art "as an expression of social, moral, and political values." Today, it's covering nudity that perhaps most reflects my country's and culture's social, moral, and political values ...

Kim Rendfield hosts Marina Julia Neary, who tells us about life behind the rusting curtain, and whose title alone, "Saved by the Bang" (for a novel touching on Chernobyl) has me itching to see just how much I can balance on the TBR pile ... Oh dear! Side note, the discussion of spelling of her given name is a neat look into

Passion of Former Days has French kisses (vintage (not scandalous!) French postcards). With original notes, as sent at the time. Ooh la la!

Keep an eye peeled in 100 days for Tom Williams' next outing, Burke at Waterloo!


There may be five stages of grief - but many of us linger on one stage or another. Denial is popular, Anger is overwhelming, Bargaining is a cruel temptation ... Depression may be more powerful, even, than anger. Acceptance is the elusive one.

I'm considering it right now.

The Ax and the Vase is a great novel.

It's been my teacher and my child, something that ushered me into the world of an author, as opposed to a writer. I'm proud of it, and it's a hell of a read.

But. It doesn't seem to be a a viable product.

It's been a couple of months now since any agent even requested a read, and - good as it is - frankly, I just believe it's got an uphill battle in store in publishing, and ... if my plan is to be published, I have to provide the best possible material.

Ax is ITS best possible self, but it is not a market mover right now.

I haven't entirely decided to retire it; the fact that there are more agents to query is either a problem or a tempation.

But work on the WIP has become compelling, and though my faith in what Ax IS is unshakeable, if I'm not realistic about the industry, I'm not its best steward. And that's what I want to be. So I'm thinking it may be best to concentrate elsewhere. I'm opening myself to that possibility.

Anyone who's read me much knows I'm not very precious about my darling, special work, but they also know how much it means to me to have this consideration on my mind. My commitment to Ax is not minimal, nor is my confidence. But the odds are speaking to me, and I can't pretend not to hear. That would not serve Ax and would also hobble the WIP and the rest of my works.

This way of thinking has come on me a little suddenly - but, thank heavens, it's also coming at a time when my excitement about the WIP is building. I can't say there's no intentional connection there, either. If I have the WIP to sustain my hope, letting go of Ax would be ... not less difficult. But possible.

And so - I am considering possibilities. Feedback welcome, but most of my readers here at the blog have not been beta readers of the novel itself, so I understand if the comments stay quiet or theoretical. :)


Wednesday, March 18, 2015


In an abbreviated collection of one, this link is for all my Star Wars fans out there - and most especially for Cute Shoes. Again courtesy of Jed, and so funny my dog was hilariously transfixed, watching me watch the clip. OSUM.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Even on a good day, her strength is enough my back is strained holding on. But today - today, she's been good. And the light has leached out of the sky silently, soft and easy, colorless moment left behind. Twilight is truly over, but either night is paused delicately or I can't believe it's here, and the trees still reach up, and out, and are the only shapes that matter.

Other than the yellow girl, the smudge of muscle and light just ahead. Tugging, but gently.

Tonight wasn't a night I talked with her a lot. Just taking in our neighborhood, our route, our walk, our evening exercise.

The tap of her toenails on the pavement. It really isn't honestly dark out; headlights and black silhouettes notwithstanding. Muzzy, garish red light of the signal up ahead; too much, but beacon of home.

Early in our circuit, on the way down the hill, the breezes were dying as we descended below them a little, and the sun had left enough behind I saw the message on the asphalt THE END IS NEAR. Not a trashy grafito, and amusingly accurate as to its own longevity; some kid had sprayed it right on the road. Funnier than threatening, I arc my body to read it as we go. And then we just go.

Signal growing closer, and the house is rising, dark against the light of busier places to the north, and there is my maple. It reaches up - maples never shrug, never sag and reach down or bow to the ground. They twist a bit, in my neighborhood; a local peculiarity, the slightest screw-turn in their trunks. Why they grow that way around here - never have understood. I may be the only person left in this state who even knows it, and therefore makes a point of seeing it.

My big branches - this beauty, and the kitchen, they sold this house. Fifteen years in a few months. Hard to believe. And more than half the mortgage, thanks to the magic of refi. The maple really is mine now, in some file cabinet - or file drive - somewhere those things matter.

The new neighbors have put out candy-colored playthings for the kids in the yard. It's beautiful. That holly is gone, away from the front porch, now naked and open. The St. Patrick's flag in the nighttime breeze.

And home. Tugging home.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Today in American (Not Necessarily United States) History

Many American readers will have heard of the Native American called “Squanto” (Tisquantum – or the rage of manitou: an encompassing spiritual rage, something like “divine wrath”), but may not be able to tell any of his story. Fewer will know the name Samoset – and, possibly, fewer still may be familiar with Massaoit. Yet these three men make up a seminal part of the history of Native and European relations in our country, and the history is not always what we think.

On March 16, 1621, a lone man came unarmed into the village of the Europeans, and greeted them in their English language …

This piece is LONG, but it may be the most excellent *storytelling* link I have put up in ages. This is what makes history exciting, frustrating, beautiful and awful, and endlessly intriguing. Give it the time. It is worth the read, if only to learn what invasive species can do even beyond fell intent.

Side note … Even Smithsonian Magazine still can’t seem to bring ourselves to describe Native history in its own terms or on them (watch for anachronistic terms like “suburban” and, of course, New England, in the discussion of ancient settlement in the region), but the history is still tantalizing and should be considered, even if we’re still at it by faulty methods. (It does, for a while, call the region Dawnland, a translation for its natives’ name for their land, and includes good information about local lifestyle and politics, though still necessarily from European sources.) Side side note … there’s a bit about handkerchiefs I know my brother will appreciate. Heh.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Be Where Tides of March

A few random thoughts is my favorite new online crack addiction. Today's special? A whole slew of puns and in-jokes about some guy named Gaius. In a word - OSUM.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


There is a movement in publishing which has gathered a great deal of momentum just in the past six months, and which is gratifying to see - and which I have DECIDEDLY failed (with The Ax and the Vase, that is) to participate in. Ax is not only about a royal white dude, but it's self-absorbedly told in first person POV, *and* includes a long and inextricable subplot about, essentially, hating and punishing homosexual behavior.

I've talked about it before, and don't defend these things in their essence. Ax is the story that made me tell it, and (failings and all) it still captivates me, and it's a great novel. I didn't think, when falling into the story, about its demographics, and have wrestled with my own culpability as an author since.

The WIP happens once again to be about a royal princess, but (a) this novel will be told, at least, from the point of view of a woman, and (b) takes place in world by far more cosmopolitan than an ancient Frankish stockade. At least two major characters are people of color, and the issue of how one of these must die is one I am dealing with at great mental length these days, because it echoes, for me, the insensitivity of a White Dude King killing off the gay man in his ranks, and there is concern not only for my ethical expectations, but also the genuineness of the world. I shy away from political correctness in dealing with any story, and yet there is a definite need to "redeem" myself from some of the constraints my original first-person novel brings with it, no matter how good it is.

There is also the concern of my being a white person of undoubted privilege and freedom, and the extent to which I exoticize diversity, as opposed to presenting it properly. I couldn't even bring myself to add to the community response at Janet Reid's recent post about diversity; they do too good a job there for me to improve on it. I just know I want to participate in #WeNeedDiverseBooks - in the right way for who I am and what we all want to accomplish.

How to do that ...

  • Avoid exoticization - turning someone's entire culture into a Hallowe'en costume (or, even worse, a sexy Hallowe'en costume) to dress up my book.
  • Avoid appropriation - imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery; sometimes, it's just a reductive presumption, and can lead to a loss of perspective. Not good for writing about something.
  • Don't impose myself on a character or a culture - researching a world to build it, without demolition in order to reface it. Storytelling is not a wasteful home design show out to impose a fresh new face on an old house, it's an exploration of structure and style which should be true to intent. I don't jam 21st-century feminists into my works, and I don't fetishize the worlds into which I want to bring my readers.
  • Follow the story. If the characters are allowed "their own truth" so to speak, everything will work better. I love to be led, as an author.
  • Keep #WeNeedDiverseBooks and the great diversity and voices *in tune* all the time. I find inspiration in Twitter all the time for this, connections and perspectives not only keeping me honest about my privilege, but affecting the way I live and write, and how I think about approaching everything.
  • FIND THE HISTORY. There are more and more people every day seeking to illuminate sources beyond the powerful white men. Researchers are amazing people, and they share - it would be madness not to take advantage of that, as a writer.

The WIP is bringing with it, every day, more exciting opportunities in its story, its research - its *characters*.

Wish me luck ...


Mark Chappelle, one of my first friends on Twitter, has some thoughts on being a packrat ... and being an emotional packrat ...

History Extra looks at the crucial components of the phrase and the concept of being "better equipped than ever before" to study the royal dead in England, but the questions the whole idea raises reach well beyond the U. K.

Heard about that skull found still inside its ancient Geek helm at Marathon? Gary Corby takes a good look at the facts.

Finally, a quote for the day:

I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process.
--Benjamin Harrison

A Simpler Time

I’ve reached that age where, with a certain chauvinism and privilege, the memory of youth and childhood appear to me “a simpler time.” This isn’t couched in the presumption that my childhood was better than YOUR childhood, if you are of a different age – nor that my childhood could beat up your childhood on the playground. It’s not even a reflection of technology and so on. It probably IS the result of responsibility; we all think in those terms, I think. And (assuming I have gained any), there is the influence of increased knowledge, and emotional experience, always mucking up the works in life.

My kid-dom in the seventies, and teen years in the eighties, weren’t an exceptionally halcyon period. I didn’t like either stage of life very much at the time, and have zero yearning to return. Yet it wasn’t bad stuff, my youth and childhood. There were bullies, but they never physically harmed me, and if they scarred me much emotionally – well, it still led to who I am now, and I like that person pretty well, so though I can remember them it’s not with feeling.

Much was forbidden, especially in the very much younger years, and I was one of those kids always griping of boredom. I didn’t love going outside to play, and though I did love reading, when I read about agents and other writers’ PASSIONS for it, devouring Proust and so on from the earliest ages – I won’t lie, a lot of what I read for a good long stretch was MAD magazine anthology books, and as much as I liked The Secret Garden and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories, I couldn’t say with any accuracy that they changed my life or have a tearfully cherished place in my heart. My reaction when given the first NOVEL I ever read, was resentment that there were no damned pictures. Seriously – it didn’t mean maturation and getting older (that attainment that meant finally gaining every privilege denied to the very young), it meant my parents were trying to bore me to death.

Then, of course, I read the book (a blue hardback with dustcover I am fairly certain I still have, and in mighty good condition – unless I gave it to my elder niece …). It was called “War Work”, which was an extremely unfortunate title to proffer to young-me. I found the very word War a complete drag (reasons I am a Trek nerd and not Star Wars – seriously), and where my parents, especially my mom, undoubtedly associated the WWII story with certain halcyon days of their own, all I heard was “this is a story about war, something that interests me precisely not at all.”

Of course, the novel was about a bunch of kids many thousands of miles and nicely protected continents removed from actual wartime, and involved playing games and the small hurts and so on of the characters and the times.

As I’ve said before here– the fact is, I generally feel like I fall short in the “passionate reader” aspect which is pretty strongly emphasized in the industry I aspire to. I don’t have moist stories to share about the first time I ever heard Charlotte’s Web read to us in school, though it certainly affected me, at least at the time. (My readerliness falls short in so many ways.) I can’t pretend I was outlining my own career nor plans as an authoress, indeed, before my mid-thirties. And we see how I have progressed there … ahem.

Back when things (and my brain) were simpler, the prevailing assumption was still that a girl child grows up and gets married, and husbands provide the breadwinning function. Yet even by the time I got to middle school and high school, that was changing. For a while, it was, “women CAN work” … and I was all, “Well, who needs THAT!?” – and then it pretty much became apparent that we were all going to have to work, aspirations or no. I was not excited by this aspect of social change, but let it be said I was never really into the whole wife-and-mother thing either. It’s just that I was an underachiever, I did LIKE boys, figured for (perhaps too long) sooner or later I’d find one who could feed me well enough, and nothing much shone forth in the firmament, leading me toward some magical calling.

Once high school had worn on for a couple of years, I began to realize the inevitable – not only that I was probably going to have to work for a living, but that the likelihood of being able to do so by simply being admired by millions and made independently wealthy thanks to my beauty and (acting) talent was vanishingly slim. I still majored in theater (or Theatre/Dance, as the also vanishingly slim department at the school I unfortunately chose as a non-launch-pad for this career) in a ditch effort to get some program to do that work for me, but knew well enough that I’d probably have to get a job.

Job, for me, meant “secretary” – and still does, though my level of commitment has arisen somewhat.

I took typing at age seventeen, in a horrible room at the back of the school filled with Selectrics and a punctilious teacher with little use for my brains and creativity (ask me about the jobs where that was the case too! not.), and managed to get out of there with the necessary skill set to feed myself if the right rockstar didn’t come along.

Of course, he did, but he ended his rock starring career in support of our marriage, which I promptly discarded. There were conversations during our bliss, as to whether we could afford toilet paper or not. I can’t even say “we were rich in love” because I was a nasty little vain shrew (back then), and money wasn’t even my problem.

Things, already, weren’t very simple anymore. And didn’t get moreso from there.

One of the biggest ways life is no longer simple lies in the fact that there is only one soul to manage the whole thing. From kitty litter scoops to mortgage payments and some sort of social life, there’s nobody to share it with. Nor, as when my childhood was so *delightfully* simple, to depend upon without thinking. Anything gets put off? That’s me without gas in the car or a slipping credit rating, or no heat because – no oil. Or hungry cute furbabies, subtly bonking around metal bowls, because mommy’s distracted. Aww. My life’s not actually all that complex, Batman – but heck if even the smallest detail can be left to somebody else.

It scarcely leaves time for the dazzling gorgeousness of Authoressial glamour, I tellya. And I am nothing if not heart-stoppingly glamorous. Just ask the cat.

So of course there’s a fantasy, that publication will somehow change things around here.

I don’t want to be Rowling, or King. Yet I’m well aware the old dreams I joked about, of “midlist glory” are frankly kind of dangerous, second-career-wise.

Yeah, I’ve always got typing. But typing isn’t paying for refinishing my kitchen floors, or vapor-sealing the basement. The joke about glamour – look, I picture myself talking at colleges and JRW_____ events and even churches and doing signings, hopefully. I like the idea of my bespectacled, turtlenecked nerd-chic portrait, and working to support my books. I *love* the idea of some fourteen-year-old kid falling for the story, and studying the history, then maybe turning around and telling more stories of their own – because they read me, once upon a time (har). I can’t wait to get scared that nobody showed up at that bookstore where I’m shilling, and even more scared because lots of people did.

I can’t wait for things to get MORE complicated. Unexpected. Unusual. Even frustrating, whatever the frustrations may be between advance and paying-out, another novel, and royalties. I can’t wait to cross the ocean, even if only vicariously flying on the leaves of my book, as it’s sold in Europe – and, hopefully, maybe even beyond. If I ever got to GO where I write about – Istanbul, Ravenna, the Channel Islands (oh yes, I have a third book in mind, once Ax and the WIP are out) … dang, that’ll be something neat.

And I hate flying, y’all.

Lay on the complications; childhood gave me much to be grateful for, but life’s not done yet, and I’m not persuaded my simple, safe youth and childhood are the be-all and there’s nothing left to seek. Let’s find out what sort of kinks this second job will bring on once it’s PAYING, at last.

Simple was so seventies. Show me the coming years. Show me the future …

Friday, March 13, 2015

Quick Hello

There is material waiting to get up on the blog, even a perfectly lovely post all written - however, as it would take me a few minutes to hunt down links and format and get everything done, the blog loses out, these days, to query research and other types of networking. I have some burning thoughts even still waiting for formulation, so things aren't dead around here (just ask the 400-500 bots coming to visit every single day now ... and what the heck is that? It's like the time LeVar Burton retweeted me in my stats these days, but it's all Russia and France - and who knew France was so infested with bots?). Just not prioritized. I haven't even been able to comment on Janet Reid's nor Jessica Faust's blogs lately, though I'm at least reading the posts and getting lost in increasingly arcane food in jokes.

Just wanted to say to everyone - don't forget PI DAY tomorrow! 3.14.15 - and celebrate twice, at 9:26 and 9:26, if you're feeling extra fancy. "Mmm. Pie."

Since we don't have time for a real collection post, do enjoy Two Nerdy History Girls' two recent posts: one on using shampoo safely in your own home! and another (with video!) featuring NOT Princess Leia making a new dress from an old.

Okay, ciao for now. See you all soon (bots and all - sigh).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I learned somewhat early in my career, but have also always had an innate predisposition for, archiving everything. The good news is, at some point I also learned the value of purging archives now and then, but there are things I keep forever. My journals date to 1981 or so, and there is a cache of pay statements from my dad’s career which goes to his hiring at the university where I spent some good times growing up. Those make for fascinating financial forensics or history – and, indeed, though it’s incomplete and incoherent, I’ve got similar documentation from my own hundred and fifty or so jobs past and present.

At some point within the past several months, I even came across the wooden pencil box my dad made for me when I was a kid. He built it on the same specs as the paperboard ones all my friends had – long enough for pencils and a ruler, and later on for compass and protractor. He made it when I was young enough that the inside of it is entirely coated in crayon markings, the test palette for coloring I did before I went off to grade school. Inside this box, still redolent of ancient crayon wax, is the folded archive of notebook papers of notes sent between my friends and I in high school, for which I promised to be the official recordkeeper.

One can hardly say I fell short in my duties. Some of the notes are still folded into the triangular “footballs” we used to play with, or the little rectangles with pull tabs with which it was once de regeur to fold notes in class. I haven’t looked at these in thirty years, but I did put the box away. Somewhere safe. One shudders to think what may be made of my various gripes and crushes, as shared at age fourteen, once I am dead and some poor sot gets the job of fire-bombing disposing of my possessions. By then, I expect it will be a stranger or two clearing my house for sale; this isn’t so much sad to me as it is queer (in the sense we once used, before that word took such a trip through disparagement-land and back and probably back again.

I do contemplate from time to time what to do with the journals (also neglected now for a couple decades at least). The boys I liked in 1985 or dreams of kisses never shared are perhaps best not left to my nieces in the estate, and even I don’t actually care anymore. Perhaps best to give those a read (“some time” as we are so heedlessly prone to promise ourselves) and consign them to a bin, if not to a flaming farewell, and save posterity the trouble of pondering how pretty that one curly-headed boy’s eyes were, or what so-and-so did that embarrassed me in Chemistry. I spent many years losing touch with some of the folks populating those old pages; it seems fit I should lose touch with the memories; purge the archives and make room (or just let lie fallow) what space they occupied.

At work today, I picked up one of those “I’ll manage this to-do pile some time” stacks, and had an easy few minutes sorting and actually dealing with most of it. The rest wasn’t difficult, merely lightly tedious, and there’ll be a bit more in case I get bored tomorrow. Heh.

This is also the time of year when it’s wise to deal with personal archives – bills and so on, and particularly tax items. Lacking an office (and motivation), I had gone YEARS without filing, but having the giant desk and new, more capacious file cabinet, I took a nice fat bite out of that issue a couple months ago. More awaits (it always does, doesn’t it?), but the beast is not so terrible, and time to file is – well, upon us. And there’s a literal pay day of sorts in it for me, when I deal with that. Refund season is nice; though my dad taught us not to lend much to Uncle Sam interest free, I still seem to do it, and still carelessly let it feel like “extra” money when the funds are deposited.

‘Tis the season for spring cleaning, and shoving the couch around isn’t enough. (I have my eyes on taking a day or two off to deal with the BASEMENT. Though my mom keeps sighing that she needs to think of something to do with my grandmother’s bedroom furniture, which is down there, that small set of items is the least of my subterranean organizational concerns, and I’m happy for it to live there for the forseeable time being. Or something.)

All this, of course, will make it EASIER TO DO MY RESEARCH (which, let’s not pretend, I have done in the past on a postage-stamp desk, if I bothered with my desk at all). It’s all very writer-excusey, of course – “I’ll start my diet Monday” – but what piddling I’ve done of late on the WIP has largely been theoretical scene-smithing, not applied science. And I actually love research.

Fortunately, one good deed breeds another (or something like that), and the glow of accomplishment seems to beget more accomplishments. The office being organized and more or less lacking in lurking To-Do’s and unmanaged pieces of paper *does* make using that glorious desk for the old unpaid job all the easier. And spring is beginning to sprung in my brain (or something …).

Stay tuned. Some day, I may even come up with a title and be able to discuss something other than “The WIP.” You just stay tuned; it’s going to get right down exciting around here.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Low Self-Esteem

The one time in my life I can ever remember not only agreeing with George Will, but actually shouting in acclamation at the TV at something he said, was during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He said something along the lines of, “They say she has low self-esteem, but if anybody ever had more self-esteem than they have earned, it is Monica Lewisnky.”

One of the more stunning (and I mean that in the literal, brain-numbing sense of the term) effects of low self-esteem is that *everything* becomes about the sufferer. They are so wildly and giddily unimportant to the world, that the world positively revolves around the void. They ostentatiously and melodramatically observe their unimportance, enshrined as it is in the hearts of every person they’ve ever met. They refer to it and nothing else in any conversation, and occasionally crop up “surreptitiously” in order to ask whether their unimportance has been noted and catalogued for a random day. They go away so they can eat worms, and then React to every possible imagined hint that their absence has exacerbated the notice of others, to their unimportant detriment.

If the sufferer has an object of romantic interest, unrequited is best. That way, they can assume the extremely over-acted skittishness they display with such ostentation every time they chance to be exposed to the beloved has caused her or him to loathe the sufferer.

If the sufferer has a friend, they have the boon of a sympathetic ear to listen to the minutest and most extensive questioning regarding their every imagined shortcoming and failure – with the extra bonus round of reassurance, all of which will simultaneously confirm the sufferer’s utter centrality to the universe itself, by virtue of time and (insert giddy sigh here) attention, and have no effect whatever on the actual problem. The actual problem being, the sufferer is insufferABLE, thanks to this monomaniacal religion of self-doubt, to which all must pay homage and worship.

Another unfortunate effect of low self-esteem is that it sucks people into the vortex of this all-powerful unimportance. The void is one of personality and pleasantness, unfortunately – and yet, any soul with the slightest compassion is at risk of being bonded to the void, merely by “being there” even only once. The void knows how to attract pity and attention, and placating the void is the ultimate pitfall. Having succumbed to the impulse, the sufferer of low self-esteem will do all he or she can to exploit it and trap passersby, ultimately using this vacuum of personality and pleasantness to suck in any chance pity and attention, with the aim of transforming it into inextricable bonds.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever found yourself with a significant other in this way.

I thought so.

Ever work with one? The person about-to-be-fired every hour of every day? The one you have to escape with increasingly repetitive ruses that “I think my phone is ringing” or “Oh! Meeting in five mintues!” or the rhetorical throwing-up-of-hands that is “gosh, I wish I could say something useful” or, when turning around and typing even while they’re still looming at you, instant-messaging someone to please save you. And then pretending you just got called … um … over THERE. Somewhere. Else. Where you can’t be followed, gosh, sorry, coz it’s about that confidential, um, stuff, we’re doing. Bye.

The amount of mind time humanity is forced to spend on the terminally unimportant is staggering. We staunch the fatal flow of self-esteem with niceties, vague friendly gestures, or the dread night out with drinks, yet still the hemorrhage is unending – yet the sufferer never dies.

The true pain of it is that the empty fulcrum of the universe, sometimes, is actually attached to someone you want to like – if only it were possible to get past their overwhelming unimportance and awfulness. Sometimes, it’s possible to see the heart beyond the bleeding wound, and to honestly wish you could staunch it. Sometimes you’re just with someone so much, or related to them, or honestly think they are redeemable, and can’t give up hoping.

The only cure for low self-esteem, of course, is healthy self-esteem. And who needs that? That places perspective on a person accustomed to the conundrum of being the most important thing in the world, by virtue (hah) of being the worst thing in it. Perspective is for boring people, people who don’t get attention, people who go through life without DRAMA and excitement – oh, and attention. Mmm, attention.

So it’s little wonder, every now and then, those swirling a vortex have happy dreams of providing some sufferer the singular attention of a sledge to the brainpan (specifically aimed at the mouth). Ah, sweet dreams.

Thank goodness for puppies and kittens. And weekends all our own.

People. Can’t live with ‘em. Can’t punch them in the neck and live without ‘em.


The generous and talented Elizabeth Chadwick had a post (with great excerpts!) wishing Henry II a happy birthday. Good reading, go enjoy ...

The Arrant Pedant is staying busy on the blog these days - today, we have another deconstruction of grammar itself, but also an extremely illuminating look at the careless use (and production of) statistics. On online grammar errors supposedly exploding by 148% in under a decade. This is an excellent look at something way beyond grammar - it's how businesses and special interests create a scare for their own benefit. We should never forget just how many sources have reason to manipulate our expectations. And anyway - Arrant Pedant makes for more good reading, so again, go enjoy ...

The History Blog's own post and, as always, its well chosen links to other articles and sources, takes a look at the stone tool found in Oregon under sixteen millennia of ash. This is the New World, y'all. Exciting! (Also featured - an archaeological selfie. Those guys really like shots of their left hands holding things ...)

Thursday, March 5, 2015


One of Penelope's more recent nicknames is Pummy. I've always called her Pen-Pen, which may or may not be the echo of someone I know whose child's name has a first syllable she doubles up in much the same way - or may just be the way human linguistics works, especially with diminutizing nicknames. So Pen-Pen, when spoken quickly, begins to sound like Pempem, which can begin to sound like pumpum ... and there you go.

Pummy was just sitting at my knee here at the couch, facing perpendicular to the front of it, chest near the end of the furniture. She turned her head round to look at me - a pretty steep angle, almost Exorcist steep, and looked up. And had her chin on the arm of the couch.

Seriously, y'all cannot imagine the levels of adorableness it is necessary to be able to tolerate, in this house. I'd have photographed her, but the true effect would have been lost. Her head pointed upward, ears at full-unfurl, a shadow over her face, but enough light on the gloss of her eyes and her shiny black lips and nose to gleam softly. And her CHIN resting on the ARM of the COUCH.

It's untenable, that's what it is. I can't ten either of 'em, and Gossamer the Editor Cat uses it *KNOWINGLY* and still it works, the crass little PR man.

And now Pen is lying down, and her chin would be on her foreleg - but NO, her ROPE TOY is there, and could that even possibly be more hilariously, more endearingly, more winsomely sweet? I ask you.

And I'll tell you, too:

No. No, it could not.

"... ... NEXT!"

I haven't been around here or Twitter a great deal lately, not only because the paying job has involved a major launch this week, of which I was a core part for several areas, but also because it's seemed to me wise to let the page enjoy a little fallow time while I have been querying again.

Not so long ago, I was thinking I might be coming to the end of a resource to find more agents to look into, but more options have cropped up, and I'm quite enjoying the process right now. More than a couple of very interesting agents indeed have bobbed up, the kind I'm surprised and/or kicking myself for not having found sooner; but the nice thing is, it's not like I'm running out of options at a point where I've got a decent head of steam going.

We've also apparently set up a regular schedule of Thursday snowstorms in these parts, and I can't help but feel a bit like Arthur Dent about the whole winter thing in this regard.
But, even coming to appreciate the unique sense of anticipation for change living in a climate with season tends to include, I seem to be hanging in there with the ongoing winter. Whatever is absent, whatever is lacking, in my life, I'm managing to cope with.

Even Thursdays.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Unexpectedly: This Happened.


I don't get specific about this a lot, but ... the man I love lives four thousand miles away. He's been gone ten and a half years, and though there are plenty of folks who think that means I should love somebody else, I've never round reason to come to this conclusion. He's been suffering depression and any number of other setbacks over the past three years (if not longer), and there is no current plan for him to come home.

He left about a year and a half after my dad died, at a period I was still in mourning.

I have a joyous array of absolutely wonderful friends. My mom is in my town, and she and I get to spend good times together, with my stepfather, whom I love. My home is cheering and more than halfway paid for, and populated by the dearest dog and cat an ageing biddy could ask for. But without Mr. X, my life is ... less. I'm no gothic heroine, I'm not Penelope to his Odysseus. But I have never known anything else to do but love him. Even though I've looked, from time to time.

I can share none of my blessings with him in any way that makes a difference to his life, and the impotence is profound. Indeed, we go through periods we don't even communicate at all, which can be giddily terrifying, on top of the helplessness.

And it was almost at the same moment he left, less than two years after dad died, that my brother took me to a James River Writers conference, and ... life got seriously different.

My life doesn't need saving, but even so writing "The Ax and the Vase" did something like it.