Friday, December 26, 2008


8: books received by me from me

1: linen-silk coat received by me from me

12: inches of snow on Christmas Day

16: people fed at my house on Christmas Eve

4: chairs borrowed to seat people on Christmas Eve

7:30 a.m.: hour we allowed children out of their rooms on Christmas Day

2: children who had to be woken up at that hour (not the teenagers--it was the little ones who were sleepy)

4: presents my husband cheated and bought me after telling me to buy my own gifts

2: presents I cheated and bought my husband (3 if you count the DVDs that were for both of us)

16: Christmas Days as husband and wife

1: incredibly surprised and happy 15-year-old, the newest owner of a cell phone (not my idea)

2874: calories burned on December 24th--I usually work out between 45-60 minutes to burn between 2100-2200 calories a day--apparently, all I need to go each day is get up at 7:00 a.m. to shop and go to breakfast, then spend the rest of the day cooking, cleaning, and wrapping gifts--who knew?

12: days until my husband and I leave for Maui

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


My friend, Amy, gave me a wonderful idea for a post--list my fictional crushes. (So my husband can blame her for what follows--I'm just doing what she suggested.)

Where do I begin . . .With Frank and Joe Hardy solving crimes? Gilbert Blyth holding fast to his love for Anne? Austen's Mr. Darcy or Bronte's Mr. Rochester or du Maurier's Maxim de Winter?

In ascending order, here are my Top Five Entirely Fictional Crushes, loved from words alone and the stories they live in.

5. This was the hardest spot to fill, but after long and careful thought I had to go with Faramir, Captain of Gondor (THE LORD OF THE RINGS/J.R.R. Tolkien)

In the film versions of Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is far and away my man, but before the films were the books and in the books, first read when I was 17, Faramir has my heart. What to make of a man who can resist the One Ring? Who fights for a father who torments him? Who falls in love with Eowyn . . . (I'll get to her in another post--Fictional Women I Wish I Could Be). So Faramir it is.

4. Francis Crawford of Lymond, once Master of Culter, later Comte de Sevigny (THE LYMOND CHRONICLES/Dorothy Dunnett)

I think I'd love him for his titles alone--there aren't a lot of great titles in today's world. The first time I read the six books in the Lymond Chronicles, it took me to the end of the third book to fall for Francis Crawford. He's the epitome of a riddle wrapped in an enigma, something the author perpetuates by only very rarely using his point of view. He's a Renaissance man in the Tudor era, who can fight and love and deceive in multiple languages and across continents. He's charming, clever, athletic, cruel, loyal, dangerous, and vulnerable. And he recognizes a good woman when he meets one--even though Philippa is only ten years old the first time she crosses his path.

3. Peter Wimsey (The Wimsey Novels/Dorothy L. Sayers)

Younger son of a Duke, army captain in WWI who "had a bad war", collector of rare books and solver of mysteries in 1920s and 30s England. He babbles about anything and everything, sings like a professional, and has beautiful hands. He also has the good taste to fall head over heels for a mystery novelist the first time he sees her, as she's standing trial for her life. It's Harriet Vane who makes Peter human and crushable--I re-read the Peter/Harriet stories more often than the Peter stand-alones, just to imagine what it would be like to have a rich, titled man in love with me.

2. John Tregarth (The Vicky Bliss Novels/Elizabeth Peters)

I fell in love with John the first time he ran away from a gun in THE STREET OF THE FIVE MOONS. Art thief and avowed coward, John is bound to break into bad jokes at the most inopportune moments. He also has a bad habit of leaving Vicky to pay the bills and, although she never knows when he'll show up, she does know that he'll bring trouble with him. But she can't resist his insane sense of humor and his esoteric knowledge of English poetry--until he shows up with a pretty little wife and in the company of dangerous men in NIGHT TRAIN TO MEMPHIS. I defy anyone (okay, any woman) to read that book and not fall for John.

1. Ramses Emerson (The Amelia Peabody Novels/Elizabeth Peters--what can I say? Clearly Elizabeth Peters and I have the same ideas of what makes an irresistible man)

Although I generally love seeing books made into films, just to see the beautiful settings brought to life, I hope I never see Ramses Emerson caught in flesh. That way, I can continue to worship him through the pages of books alone. Ramses is the son of Egyptologist parents in the early 20th century and is himself a brilliant scholar and linguist. But it's his actions that make him crushable--from disguising himself as an Egyptian nationalist to working undercover as a spy during WWI to scaling the sheer wall of a cliff-side dwelling to get to the woman he loves . . . Sigh. And when that love, Nefret, marries another man in a fit of pique, the crush is absolute. Ramses Rules. End of story.

So what can you learn about my psyche from this list?

First, that I'm an Anglophile. Barring Faramir, each of this men is British (and I think a point can be made for Faramir--at least his author is British.) True, Francis Crawford is loyal Scots through and through, but British is British, whether he wants to admit that or not.

Second, that I'm a sucker for other times and other worlds. Except for John Tregarth, none of these books or men are contemporary. What can I say? I like swords and battles and chivalry.

Third, that each of these men has something in common besides the British accent: principles. As a character says of Peter Wimsey in GAUDY NIGHT: "That is a man able to subdue himself to his own ends. I feel sorry for anyone who comes up against his principles, whatever they may be."

The principles of an art thief may not seem to have anything in common with those of a Tudor soldier or an Egyptologist. But each of these men, in their own stories and their own circumstances and their own ways, comes up against a choice to break those principles. And they don't.

Peter Wimsey lays out the facts of an Oxford poison pen even when he believes it will destroy any chance he has with Harriet. John walks away from Vicky, allowing her and even pushing her to think the worst of him, in order to save her life. Francis Crawford sacrifices every single personal love to protect his country and his family's honor. Faramir sends Frodo away with the One Ring even though he knows his father will never forgive him for not taking it.

And Ramses? He will do anything to ensure Nefret's happiness, even when it appears to take her away from him. And he will endure any pain, mental or physical, to save others. And he will drive himself to the point of illness in order to do his duty to his family and country.

And the women they love? Eowyn, Philippa, Harriet, Vicky, and Nefret are independent and stubborn. They go their own way and they make their own choices, some of them stupid.

And the men wouldn't have it any other way.

In GAUDY NIGHT (it's the one I've most recently re-read), Harriet says that she almost wishes Peter would interfere instead of leaving her to make up her own mind about their relationship. And someone tells her: "He will never do that. That's his weakness. He'll never make up your mind for you. You'll have to make your own decisions. You needn't be afraid of losing your independence; he will always force it back on you."

Here's where I make up to my husband for this post: he doesn't have a sword, or a long list of hereditary titles, or a desert cliff to climb.

But he has principles. He has never broken them.

And he has always, since we were 17 years old, forced my independence back on me.

That's not a crush.

That's love.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


My daughter likes to read. A lot. Every night around here it's "Hey! Turn off your light and go to bed!"

But last night was a new one.

While I blow-dried her hair, she kept reading. Had to use both hands to keep the pages from being blown over, but she didn't falter.

Could she be any more my child?

Monday, December 08, 2008


I finally finished my November Books post. Scroll down a few posts if you're interested.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I love Christmas.

I love the music and the lights and the gift-giving and the food.

And I love decorating my house.

My Five Favorite Christmas Decorations:

1. Christmas Trees. Plural.

One in the front room, with white lights and lots of silver ornaments but with splashes of cool colors (blues, greens, pinks.) Icily elegant.

One in the family room, with colored lights and sentimental ornaments--from the collections of kids' ornaments brought home from school over the years to olive wood ornaments my husband brought back from Jerusalem to my personal favorites, the stuffed felt ornaments my grandmother made that hung on my childhood Christmas trees. Brightly nostalgic.

2. Nativity.

I have several, including a cornstalk one I bought in Kenya last year, but my favorite will always be the white matte porcelain Nativity that my parents gave us the Christmas that we got enaged. It has been through multiple moves and not a piece has broken, including the oh-so-delicate shepherd's staff. I especially love that Joseph has his arm around Mary while they look down together at Jesus in her arms.

3. Stockings.

I made them. Enough said.

Okay, not quite enough said. I only made the stockings for the children. Cross-stitched: 3 different Santa versions for the boys and 1 Angel for the girl. Each child added to the family was progressively older before they got their handmade stocking. By the time I'd finished the third stocking (she was 6 at the time) I just couldn't face starting one more for the youngest. So I took the one I'd made for my husband, carefully unpicked his name off the top, and put the baby's name on it. Voila! I'm an amazing mom :)

Oh, and Chris and I have plain velvet stockings from Target. I'm over the whole handmade thing.

4. My gilded pinecone. You'd have to be me to understand--or have a good knowledge of the most recent STEPFORD WIVES film.

5. Pictures with Santa.

We didn't quite begin this tradition early enough--the first picture we have is when our oldest was 2--but we've been going steady ever since. We're starting to run out of room to display them. But nothing makes me happier than seeing the progression of our children through the years. We're off this Saturday morning for the annual picture and breakfast. Maybe I'll post it when we have it. For now, enjoy the photo at the top, the first one which has all four of our children, taken in 2001.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


On December 3 . . .

1986: Chris and I had our first date.

1991: Chris and I got engaged.

2007: Our 11-year-old son stays home from school with a headache. Last night he told me, "If I wake up tomorrow with a headache, promise you'll take me straight to the emergency room." (He went to school just fine today, thank goodness.)

The things we don't anticipate when we're 17 or 22.

I'm glad we were together for the unanticipated, my love. Happy Anniversary.

Monday, December 01, 2008


GAUDY NIGHT/Dorothy L. Sayers/A+
Possibly my favorite mystery ever, I re-read this every few years. This time it was for book club. Sayers was a Golden Age mystery writer, sharing the British stage with Josephine Tey and Agatha Christie. Lord Peter Wimsey is something of a crush of mine and I've wanted to be Harriet Vane since I first read this. In this outing of the series, set in the late 1930s, Harriet returns to her Oxford college and winds up investigating a Poison Pen who is vandalizing the college. Peter drops in and out of the story while he and Harriet work out their personal life, but the book is redolent of Oxford and scholarship and the pull between professional ethics and personal concerns. Every time I read this book, I wish that I had gone to Oxford.

The story of Venice in the 1990s, the book opens with the burning of the Fenice Opera House. Berendt uses the investigation and rebuilding, with all their Venetian twists and turns, to frame his look at the city and its inhabitants. Definitely made me want to visit and possibly own a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Time for me to start reading books that lead to less expensive dreams.

After re-reading GAUDY NIGHT, I was moved to look at some of Sayers non-fiction. She was well-known as a Christian writer, friends with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but she also had an obvious interest in the role of women in society. The first book here contains two short essays that scathingly and satirically deal with the concept of women as actual humans rather than a separate species from men. The second book was more difficult but also more rewarding--a Catholic artist's attempt to explain the concept of the Trinity using human creativity as a model. It was challenging but rewarding.

UGLIES and PRETTIES and SPECIALS/Scott Westerfield/B+
A trilogy of YA books set in in a utopian future where the Rusties (us) have died out after destroying much of nature and where society is now strictly kept within various city limits. But the driving force is the surgery that is done when a teenager is 16, one that takes them from Uglies to Pretties. Tally, just short of her 16th birthday, can't wait for the surgery and to join her friends in New Pretty Town. But then she meets Shay, and learns about The Smoke--a place where people have never had the surgery and live together in the wild. Tally has been sent by Special Circumstances to locate The Smoke and betray them, but then she meets a boy . . . An excellent concept but also a fairly compelling story. I definitely read them quickly to see what would happen. Although it's billed as a trilogy, the author just released a new one this year, EXTRAS. I'll get back to you.

Made into a film by Spike Lee this summer, I found this an intriguing book. A little too, hmmm, spare? underwritten? for me. It's a story of a group of Buffalo Soldiers (the Negro regiments) caught behind enemy lines in Italy. They wind up protecting an Italian child who witnessed a massacare at the church of St. Anna and they take refuge with a village while they wait for help. For such a slim book, I did learn a lot--points of view include the child, the various soldiers, a villager who is hiding rabbits under his bedroom floor, and a legendary Italian partisan. It's not by any means a cheerful book, despite the title, but curiously satisfying nonetheless.

BROTHER, I'M DYING/Edwige Danticat/A
Danticat is a well-known Haitian-American writer. This is a memoir of sorts, about her two fathers--the one who brought his wife to the U.S., leaving Edwige and her brother behind in Haiti for years, and her Uncle Joseph, her father's brother, who raised her and her brother until her parents were able to bring them to New York. You see the differences between the brother who left and the brother who stayed, but both of whom loved their families and their homeland. The crux of the story is her Uncle Joseph's death while in the hands of U.S. Immigration in Miami. A brief and easy-t0-read book that's full of emotional layers. Highly recommended even if you've never been to Haiti.

CHECKMATE/Dorothy Dunnet/A+
The last in the Lymond Chronicles, that I began re-reading last month. What can I say? I have a definite crush on Francis Crawford of Lymond and I want to be Philippa Somerville, his border-English wife. In this last novel, they have to resolve their very complicated marriage while Francis is leading the French army and Philippa is trying to chase down the truth of his birth. Seriously, if you are at all interested in historical fiction--pick up The Lymond Chronicles!

Except, of course, that it isn't. The end. There may be a writer in this world who writes impeccable first drafts--I just haven't met any of them. And if you are one, please don't tell me. I want to keep my will to live.

In the comments, Amy asked "What do you do now?"

Ah. I face the fact that the jumpy, disconnected, with-occasional-flashes-of-brilliance manuscript labeled Kieran 1 must now be turned into an actual story. With a beginning and an end (those aren't a problem) and a middle (problem).

But I actually don't mind that work so much. Rewriting and revising have never been as difficult for me as getting down the first draft. (Of course, I've never managed to revise to the point that a professional wants to read the entire manuscript--but I digress.)

I start with Chapter 1, taking out some of the historionics; then rework Chapter 2, making sure I have accurate information for Kieran to discover about the Langlies and that we get a good peek at her coping-with-stress mechanisms; then Chapter 3, where I change her locale for getting into the past . . .

I think that's as far as I'm willing to think today.

Rejoice with me. I slightly exceeded my goal of 1500 words a day, I wrote every single day in November, and I have a first draft that, at the very least, makes sense to me.

And most of all--I proved to myself that I can still write.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Today's word count: 2266

Total word count: 70,983

Tomorrow's plan: return to the real world

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Today's word count: 1686

Total word count: 68,713

Tomorrow's plan: FINISH

Friday, November 28, 2008

Today's word count: 1551

Total word count: 67,025

Tomorrow's plan: Lucas and Jerrot

Woo-hoo! Two days and 2975 words to meet my goal--I'm going to make it! More importantly, I'm rocking my ending. Nothing feels better :)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Today's word count: 1572

Total word count: 65,466

Tomorrow's plan: confront Lucas, Gemma in trouble
Yesterday's word count: 1155

Total word count: 63,892

Today's plan: Thanksgiving--need I say more? All right, I do plan to get Colin and Kieran back into his time

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


1. Put your iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must write that song name down no matter how silly it makes you look.
4. Title this email what the answer to your last question is.
5. Good luck and have fun!

To the Rescue—Nighmare Before Christmas (I don't know who's doing the rescuing--it isn't me!)

A Gaelic Blessing—Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Can I switch that to Celtic blessing? The Scots and Welsh blood protests)

Encore of One Day More—Les Miserables (Oh, yeah--always one day more)

Loved Ones and Leaving—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (I only wish they would leave--why do schools think we want our children around on holidays?)

Something to Sing About—Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Ah, yes, join with me: "Life's a show and we all play a part, And when the music starts, We open up our hearts")

The Shadow of the Past—Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Almost 40 years' worth of past)

Something Dark is Coming—Battlestar Galactica (turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, rolls, pie, pie, pie . . . and here come the calories)

Fall for You—Secondhand Serenade (if only he were coming with me to see them in concert tonight)

Many Meetings—Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (meetings are great--goodbyes not so much)

Stay Close, Don’t Go—Secondhand Serenade (except when I'm reading)

Blonde Over Blue—Billy Joel (good thing my wedding is in the past, because this song would never fly with the brown over hazel woman that I am)

Rest in Peace—Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Perfect--Katie, see to it. I want the undead vampire Spike to sing at my funeral)

Remorse—The Mission soundtrack (can't top that single word)

Whatsername—Green Day (not even going to touch this one)

Stone the Crows—Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (I suppose it could have been worse)


I Don’t Think Now is the Best Time—Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (now is always the best time to put off writing my 1500 words)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Today's word count: 1559

Total word count: 62,735

Tomorrow's plan: Kieran and Colin work out their return to Sorrows Court

Am I the only person in the world who suffers from teeth dreams? Apparently not, since I found it pretty easily on dream interpretation sites. I've just never met anyone else who told me they had dreams about their teeth literally falling to pieces in their mouths. Leaving wiggly pieces in sockets. Yes, these are very vivid dreams. I'm always glad when I wake up and run my tongue over my teeth to find them all (root canals and crowns and all) firmly attached to my gums.

In the dream interpretation sites, I found that teeth-falling-out dreams have to do with anxiety. It could be as specific as anxiety about one's personal appearance (Duh! having your teeth falling out while you talk to someone would definitely be a bad way to impress them with your elegance!) Or it might just be generalized anxiety.

When I woke up at 4:30, counting my teeth with my tongue, I realized that teeth dreams will always have a subtext for me now. Considering that December 18th is the one-year mark of the day my then 11-year-old had 3 teeth pulled and the dentist told me, "There's something unusual going on. I sent a tissue sample to the lab for identification."

So I'd say my teeth dreams might now be evolving into anxiety-about-scans-and-possible-relapse-and-also-my-mind's-way-of-dealing-with-past-trauma.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to brush and floss. Twice.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three posts in one day? Must be a record.

Tonight I picked up my son and his friends from the high school play. On the way home, heard Paramore's new song from the Twilight soundtrack. As I was thinking about that book, I was also thinking about mine and how to create the greatest possible drama for the ending.

A good rule for drama is to know what the character wants most and then force them to make a choice between that and something equally powerful. I've been fooling around for days, trying to pinpoint what Kieran wants most so I could create a powerful ending. Home, family . . . a lot of vague and unsatisfying generalities floated around in my head.

But tonight, I got it, released somehow by Paramore's music.

By the time Kieran comes to the choice, what she wants most--what she's worked hardest for over the course of the book--is to change the past so that Colin doesn't die.

So now she's going to have to choose--save Colin or save someone else.


(Also known as What Would Buffy Do, courtesy of Supernatural.)

My style, that is.

Remember how I searched through Tim Gunn's book to identify my style? Well, on Saturday I discovered the store Anthropologie.

It might as well have been called This Store is For You, Laura--Come In and Swoon.

Swoon I did. And not just from the price tags. (What's a little matter of cost when it comes to defining style?) I was awed. I was amazed. I was giddy. I was in my own personal style heaven.

This is how Anthropologie describes itself: "Offers clothing and decorative home items inspired by other cultures, travel, flea market finds, and antiques."

I love other cultures! I love travel! I love antiques! I can learn to love flea markets!

Seriously, though, I walked through this store in something of a daze. This is going to sound either completely sappy or completely mad, but I felt as though I'd come home. Finally, someone got me. Even the parts of me that I didn't recognize until I saw them fashioned into clothing or designed in dishware. Like the brown wool coat dress with the full skirt and embroidered hem. Or the butterfly china. Or the brown felt cloche hat that made me long to live in a time and place where I could wear such a hat.

Being the dreamer that I am, I dreamed of a possible future where I am a writer who travels to conferences and book tours wearing silk wool trousers or a 1920s inspired shift dress. And then returns home, to the London flat with wood floors and open spaces filled with bright prints and subtle pen-and-ink designs.

I bet in that future, I can wear a cloche hat and get away with it.

If you want to take a peek into my psyche, visit:

Today's word count: 1718

Total word count: 61,174

Tomorrow's plan: delve into the depths of Colin's and Kieran's psyches :)

Today, I did a quick outline that goes backward from the end to where I am now. (Quick as in a couple of incomplete sentences--did I mention I'm not an outliner?) But it's given me a handle on how I see the important confrontations and resolutions. Here's hoping I can make it work.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Today's word count: 1552

Total word count: 59,454

Tomorrow's plan: Hooray! I didn't get Colin shot, but I did get him stabbed. Now he's in Kieran's time and won't that be fun :)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Today's word count: 1059

Total word count: 57,900

Tomorrow's plan: Colin remains unshot, so that's number one on tomorrow's list

I'm pretty happy at what I did today, considering the many hours of power shopping I put in first--only one pair of shoes, but I did get a purple velvet jacket to die for (Ginger, that one's all your fault!)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Today's word count: 1178

Total word count: 56,839

Tomorrow's plan: buy shoes, lots and lots of shoes
Oops--that's my plan. The story's plan once shoe shopping is accomplished . . .get Colin shot. (I love this job--in what other job could I write "get Colin shot" on my to-do list and not fear going to prison?)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Today's word count: 1938

Total word count: 55,657

Tomorrow's plan: today I did the romance, so tomorrow comes the tragedy
Whoops! My emotions got all over the place last night and I forgot to post my writing.

Yesterday's word count: 1525

Total word count: 53,717

Today's plan: wouldn't we all like to know?

I left everyone at the ball--I know that equal parts romance and tragedy have to happen tonight--and I've got to set up well the next day so Colin ends up shot and Kieran has to drag him to her present . . .

Now I'm just babbling. Do you think I could sell a YA historical written in stream-of-consciousness?

Probably not. Sigh. Time to go work out my babblings into something approaching a story.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Okay, I just finished my other post and I don't wish to take anything back, because it's all true.

But it also sounds, well, distant. Detached. One of those moving, sentimental, what-I-learned sermons that always make me wonder if the person writing it had any actual human emotions.

So here's some undetached, unvarnished, unrevised truths.

I'm still scared. I'm scared that the rhabdo could be growing right now and I won't know it until scans at the end of January. I'm scared that he'll relapse and we'll have to do it all over again, only worse, with more toxic drugs and longer treatment cycles.

I've cried more since he went off treatment than in any given period during treatment. Part of it is the aforementioned fear. Part of it is relief--finally being able to let go in the deepest parts of me that I couldn't allow out earlier because if I started I might not stop and I had to be able to stop so I could take care of everyone. And part of it is the recognition of how we have all been changed, soul-deep, by this experience.

I worry that this year derailed my dreams, that somehow I lost my chance because I had to do other things for a time. Don't get me wrong--I wouldn't change that. I did what I needed and wanted to do. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't ache if I've somehow wandered off the writing path I love and can't get back.

So there you have it--messy emotions all over the place.

At least you can't say I'm not human.

I've tried hard this year to keep my personal life separate from this blog. Well, not all of my personal life, just the parts that can't be tied into writing somehow. That's the purpose of Jacob's Journey--to chronicle my son's journey through cancer.

But now that we've reached the end of treatment and have been launched into the wide world of what-the-heck-happens-next-and-how-do-I-keep-the-cancer-from-coming-back-without-weekly-chemo, I find that my life, all of it, needs to be knitted back together.

To keep from randomly weeping all over my keyboard, I've decided to use the nice, tidy structure of a list to share a few things that come to mind.

1. There is no good way to do cancer. This might seem so obvious as to not need stating, but it was a mantra that got me through self-pity. Whatever the differences of age and treatment and personality--something is always going to suck.

2. And something is always going to be funny. And if it isn't, then make something up. Laughter goes a long way.

3. So does friendship. I do not understand the impulse of some cancer mothers I encountered this year to shut out everyone except those few in their same situation. Yes, having a child with cancer is terrible. So is divorce and infertility and financial stresses and mental illness and dying parents. I needed my friends this year. They saved me. I only hope I can do the same for them when needed.

4. A lesson learned from a high school friend whose daughter has leukemia: "Kids are resilient. Parents, not so much." I saw that over and over this year, every time we'd come home from an overnight chemo and my son would be up and playing computer games with his friends by dinnertime while all I wanted was to sleep.

5. Moms and dads do things differently. Thank goodness for my neighbor and dear friend whose 3-year-old was diagnosed with cancer one month after my son. From sharing stories of our kids and marriages, we realized that a) we are not crazy and b) our husbands are not heartless.

6. That being able to choose what to do with my time is a gift. My biggest fear this year (other than the obvious mother-fear of death) was that I would not be able to do it. I am, by nature, selfish. It is my least favorite thing about me. I was afraid that I would spend this year in a welter of resentment because of the demands on my time and emotions and not being able to do the things I like to do.

You know what? There were a lot of demands. And I did give up a lot of things that are important to me--including writing.

And I did just fine. Because I was caring for those people that are most important to me, above all else. How could I go wrong?

Now I have a new life. I can't go back to the old one--if nothing else, taking my son for CT and MRI scans at regular intervals for the next five years will remind me that my old life is gone. But it's not the life of this year, either. I don't have to take him for chemo once a week or spend the night in hospital every third week or do radiation every single weekday for six weeks or have twice-weekly visits from the home nurse for blood draws or take him to the ER with a fever or take him for transfusion when necessary.

Now I send him out the door to 7th grade every morning, along his with high-school brother and his elementary-school sister and brother. And then I look around my empty house and say, "Now what?"

There's nothing like trauma to force you to look at what you want. Here's what I want:

1. To finish my new manuscript

2. To send it out

3. To begin a memoir of this year

4. To not be afraid of anything--because I have walked the path of every parent's greatest fear and I'm still here.

The night of my son's last chemotherapy treatment, I waited until he was asleep, nearly midnight, and then went for a walk in the halls that have become achingly familiar this year. I can point out the exact spot where my husband and I came together for the first time after hearing the diagnosis. (He had been at home with the younger children when I got the word it was cancer--I had to tell him on the phone.)

Only one thing could ever be worse than that moment, and that would be saying goodbye to a child. Short of that, there is nothing that can happen to me that can come close to that moment. So what do I have to be afraid of?

The following is from the hymn Thou Gracious God Whose Mercy Lends, words by Oliver Wendell Holmes. It's my own hymn of thanksgiving, now and forever.

For all the blessings life has brought,
for all its sorrowing hours have taught,
for all we mourn, for all we keep,
the hands we clasp, the loved that sleep.

We thank thee, Father; let thy grace
our loving circle still embrace,
thy mercy shed its heavenly store,
thy peace be with us evermore.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Today's word count: 1566

Total word count: 52,186

Tomorrow's plan: ball

Monday, November 17, 2008

Today's word count: 1563

Total word count: 50,612

Tomorrow's plan: run-up to the ball and Lucas's problems

I'm old.

I did the math--54 days until 40.

But that's not what made me feel old.

On Saturday, I took my 12-year-old son to to the university for the Scout merit badge Pow-Wow. It happens to be my alma mater. And from the moment I set foot on campus, I felt 22 again.

(I loved college. Loathed junior high, tolerated most of high school, liked my senior year of high school . . . but I loved college.)

My first jolt came in the Humanities Building. I hadn't been inside it for years. From the outside, most of it looks exactly the same (they did put an addition on one end.) So I was unprepared for the inside . . .

Presumably the walls are still in the same places, and there were still staircases that had a vague familiarity, but otherwise--zip. Zero.

I once knew that building inside out. I could point out the copy center and the various classrooms where I took Shakespeare and Linguistics and Romantic Poetry and Victorian Women's Lit and Mystery Novels. I knew the spot in the halls I preferred to sit and read between classes. I even remember where I was sitting, three months pregnant with my first and waiting to do an oral presentation on Florence Nightingale, when I heard my first labor and delivery horror stories.

Still, it wasn't all bad. It looks a lot nicer. There are benches against the walls so students don't have to sit on the floors. It was absolutely empty on Saturday morning. And I had an iPod to listen to and a notebook to write in. I coped.

But my pride had taken a crack in its foundation. What is the saying about pride and falls?

Mine was about to fall.

I spent an hour in the bookstore, which was much less changed, wandering up and down the aisles browsing like I last did, oh, fifteen or twenty years ago. I was feeling fairly secure about my appearance. I know I look younger than my age. With my new jeans (BodyBugg still working--down 15 pounds) and black ankle boots and slim-fit long-sleeved t-shirt, I thought I could pass for a grad student.

Then a man in a scout uniform asked, "You're here with your son for the Pow-Wow too?"

Ack. My prideful foundation trembled. But that's okay, I told myself, he's one of us--a father who has lots of experience picking out other parents.

I chose several books and waited to pay. The cashier asked the young man in front of me for his student ID. He gave it and received his discount.

Me? I was smugly happy to pay full price as long as I got to say breezily, "Thank you so much, but I'm no longer a student."

She didn't even ask.

Bam! There I was, in the ruins of my pride, facing the fact that I can no longer pass for a student--even of the graduate variety.

Do you suppose being in Maui for my birthday will make the pain less?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Today's word count: 1710

Total word count: 49,047

Tomorrow's plan: finish Colin and Kieran's talk, lead off the unexpected month

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Today's word count: 1677

Total word count: 47,335

Tomorrow's plan: the long night with Colin watching over Gemma

Ah! So close. I so wanted to say that, at the halfway point, I had hit my daily average of 1500 words. But as I do the math, I see I'm short of that goal by 165.

You would think I might go back and force myself to add 165 more words.

But I think I'll call it a night. I wrote an intense scene, I'm fairly happy with it, and I'm at a good starting point for tomorrow.

All is well.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Today's word count: 2180

Total word count: 45,656

Tomorrow's plan: Gemma's accident and aftermath

So I took heart from Becca's comment a few posts ago and I just wrote scenes today--I'll worry about making them a story later :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today's word count: 1037

Total word count: 43,476

Tomorrow's plan: see where the muse takes me

So today was fun. Fun is good. Fun is not necessarily chronological, or expected. But it is definitely good.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Today's word count: 1531

Total word count: 42,435

Tomorrow's plan: haven't a clue

Today is one of those I-hate-the-middle days, mixed with a generous leaven of I'm-truly-kidding-myself moods. I hate plots. Why can't I just write wonderful characters having great scenes? Why does it all have to knit together? Why does a book need a middle anyway? And why, oh why, don't I want to something else with my life, like bake great treats or run for office or go to graduate school?


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Today's word count: 1647

Total word count: 40,901

Tomorrow's plan: Kieran investigates Eliza's death

I'm 600 words behind where I should be, but feeling pretty good overall. By far my favorite scenes to write are those between Kieran and Colin--should I just give in and start writing romance novels?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Today's word count: 2112 (trying to slowly make up for my low days)

Total word count: 39,247

Tomorrow's plan: Kieran and Colin and the solution of the first murder

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Today's word count: 1505

Total word count: 37,143

Tomorrow's plan: Sandrine's suspcious of Kieran's illness, watching Lucas and Colin fence, supposed solution of first murder

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Today's word count: 378

Total word count: 35,627

Tomorrow's plan: Write More Words :)
Okay, I did do Kieran's illness today, which means her recovery tomorrow

Friday, November 07, 2008

Today's word count: 683

Total word count: 35,245

Tomorrow's plan: still Kieran's illness and recovery--today I did part of a new Chapter 2

Today was surgery day for my son--his port was removed--so I'm proud that I wrote at all :)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Today's word count: 1663

Total word count: 34,560

Not bad for a day that started without any idea of what happened next :)

Tomorrow's plan: Kieran's illness and recovery

CYBELE'S SECRET/Juliet Marillier/A-
It's not secret to anyone who knows me that I love Marillier's hsitorical fantasies. This is a sequel to WILDWOOD DANCING, a YA novel set in eastern Europe in about the 16th-century. In this outing, Paula, the middle daughter, travels with her father to Constantinople to trade and in search of a possibly mythical artifact. But the artifact proves to be all too real, as does the danger surrounding it. Of course there's a handsome man (two actually) and Paula has to learn to use both her cleverness and her courage to follow the clues being laid for her by those of the otherworld. Full of strong characters, compelling action, and wonderful setting and detail.

FINAL EXAM/Pauline Chen/B+
Chen is a liver transplant surgeon who was troubled by the difficulties the medical field had in dealing with terminal patients. This book is a collection of essays about the topic--from how it's taught (or not taught) in medical schools to dealing with individual patients and making realistic recommendations for their care. I read this for obvious reasons and found it moving and a decent insight into the doctors and nurses we've spent so much time with this year.

This is possibly my favorite book of this year. Marketed as a YA novel (presumably because of the 17-year-old protagonist), it's a wickedly clever, deadly funny, and brilliantly and unexpectedly plotted. Pessl obviously wallows in language, but she doesn't let that come at the expense of plot. Blue van Meer has spent her childhood, since her mother's death, moving around the country with her professor father. They've landed in North Carolina for her senior year of high school, a private school where Blue meets Hannah, the charismatic and mysterious Film teacher, and somehow winds up running with the cool kids. But when a man drowns in Hannah's pool during a costume party, things take a turn for the dramatic worse. Blue is an absolutely and utterly engaging narrator and when I finished the book, I thought, "Man! I've got to read that straight over again now that I know what's really going on!"

Another wonderful Goodman romantic/literary suspense novel. This one is set in Italy, where Renaissance poetry teacher Rose Asher retreats after the apparent suicide of her favorite student. There are rumors that the student had stolen sonnet manuscripts from the Italian villa that hosts the college's study abroad program. But that's not her only concern--twenty years ago, Rose fled the same villa at the end of a painful affair. Now she's face to face with her lover, his wife, and their son and she's beginning to suspect that her student's death wasn't suicide. Throw in a possible identification of Shakespeare's famous "Dark Lady" and you have all the elements for a fabulous read.

I loved the first part of this book, and then it went a little flat later on. The opening is set in 1960s England in a country house that is falling down and houses three sisters--beautiful Julia, clever Finn, and odd little Maisie. Maisie narrates the first part, giving us a 13-year-old's view of her sisters and the men around them. Then we jump to 1990, when an art exhibition displays a now-famous portrait of the three sisters. It's a slow unraveling of the disasters and accidents that happened at the end of Maisie's summer account and how those disasters are only now playing out to their end. It was worth the 5 dollars I paid for it on clearance, but not more.

Danny and his best friend Evan were once partners in crime in Chicago. But when Evan wound up in prison for attempted murder, Danny went straight. Seven years later, he's shocked to find Evan out of prison. And Evan wants something from him--something Danny is afraid not to give. As the saying goes--"The more you have, the more you have to lose." A hardboiled novel, not my usual fare, but this is eloquently written and the characters are unique. But I thought Sakey's strongest element was his creation of setting and atmosphere. I felt like I was right in downtown Chicago, at night, in the dark, with winter looming and danger in every shadow.

And I re-read several of The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnet (you can find my reviews of these historical novels somewhere last year)
And I still loved them every bit as much as the first time :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Today's word count: 1550

Total word count: 32,895

Tomorrow's plan: um, yeah, we're coming up against my no-outlining problem . . . let me go away and ponder on it awhile

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Today's word count: 1599

Total word count: 31,343

Tomorrow's plan: facing off with Colin, overhearing Thompson

Monday, November 03, 2008

Today's word count: 1531

Total word count: 29,740

Tomorrow's plan: Sandrine's secret visit and Kieran's reckoning

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Today's word count: 1556

Total word count: 28,209

Tomorrow's plan: Whitby visit

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Last November, I challenged myself to write 1500 words each day for the duration of the month, aiming to complete the first draft of my absolutely endless YA historical fantasy. I didn't quite hit the absolute numbers (I believe my daily average was between 1300 and 1400) but I did finish the draft.

(As for what's happened to that draft since--don't ask. The first half is in decent shape, but after working at it during the early months of Jacob's treatments, I just couldn't go on. I do plan to return to it, but that's a story for another day.)

I have another story I want to finish this November. I began writing it after I returned from WorldCon in August, the idea sparked by a faithful writing friend and a Regency ball, as well as inspiration from Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER. Here's the query I worked out to get me started--think of it as back-cover copy on a published novel.

Seventeen-year-old Kieran Holt is visiting Yorkshire when she sees Sorrows Court for the first time.

Or is it the first time?

Kieran has disconcerting flashes of memory at Sorrows Court and finds herself drawn to the story of former owner Colin Langlie, whom history records as a traitor and killer. But when she explores an old tunnel on the night of the full moon, Kieran gets more than déjà vu and history lessons—she winds up at Sorrows Court in 1800.

It’s not all empire dresses and candlelit balls—in France, Napoleon is rising and more than alcohol is being smuggled across the sea. In this world, there are some secrets men would kill to keep, no matter who gets in the way. But Kieran holds the greatest secret of all—the date of Colin Langlie’s death.

Can she change the past? Should she? Caught between times, Kieran must choose what to believe—history or her heart.

So there you go. As of last night, I had reached 25,000 words on the first draft. Now I go on. As last year, I'll post each night my word count for the day, my total word count, and my plans for the next scene. Wish me luck!

Today's word count: 1579
Total word count: 26,649
Tomorrow: more of Rosemary Langlie's history and visit to Whitby

Thursday, October 23, 2008


I've always been a dreamer--both day and night. But it's the nighttime kind I want to discuss, because of an interesting phenomena I noticed this year.

My dreams have always been vivid, colorful, and almost entirely populated by strangers. Yes, my hsuband popped up quite a bit, and occasionally friends or my children. But more or less, my dreams were like my stories--wonderful scenes, intriguing characters, and almost no logical story to speak of. Once I began writing seriously, I would often dream about my stories and characters and even when I dreamed about something completely unrelated to what I was currently writing, I would wake up with an image or an emotion that I needed for a writing project. It was wonderful--my own version of getting drunk, I suppose, to help unleash the Muse.

And then something very odd happened. After my son was diagnosed with cancer in January, my dreams changed. It took me a good six weeks or so to realize it, but then it hit me--I was no longer dreaming about strangers.

My dreams were as vivid and colorful and disconnected as ever, but they were now populated wholly by people I know. My husband and children, my best friends . . . all of them became stars in my dreams.

It didn't take long to figure out why. Dream analysis may be beyond me, but I do know that the subconscious will throw our worries at us. Apparently, all I had to worry about before this year was my writing. But once January came . . . well, my worries were entirely about the people I love.

So I went with it. Not that I could do much else--I've heard of the concept "directed dreaming" but honestly, that just seemed mean. Why shut off my subconscious that was working so hard while I slept? Besides, for all I know, allowing my worries to express themselves at night in freeform helped keep me rational and calm during the day. Small price to pay.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because in the last week, I've noticed my dreams start to change once more. I still haven't made it through a dream (that I recall) that doesn't have at least one person I know, but strangers are starting to show up once again. Maybe my subconscious is starting to let go now that we've reached the end of treatment. Maybe it's paying attention to how hard I'm working on my new project and is trying to help me out.

Still, if it's trying to help me out in my writing, you'd think it could give me clearer direction than me meeting an astronaut who was hit by a chunk of space dust during a spacewalk and had to have her arm amputated in space and now can see her arm floating in some space debris through a really big telescope.

(To give my subconscious credit, it was a very moving dream. Full of wonderful details and amazing characters . . . I'm just trying to figure out how that's supposed to help me write about a modern teenager in 1800s England. I guess my conscious mind needs to get back into shape as well.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


After a two-day trip with my husband last week (actually, it was 44 hours from the time we dropped kids off at grandma and grandpa's to the time we pulled back into our driveway), I've discovered what stuff I can live without and what stuff I can't.

I can live without:

1. More than one brush

2. More than one choice of eyeshadow

3. Pajamas (don't go raising eyebrows there and feeling happy for my husband--it was not intentional)

4. My laptop (but I suspect my tolerance for being without that would have evaporated around hour 45)

5. A coat

I can NOT live without:

1. Multiple pairs of shoes ("I just get excitable as to choice"--Jayne speaking about weapons)

2. Multiple books (I took three)

3. My iPod

4. Workout clothes (not only did I spend an hour in the fitness room, but I took a 90-minutes Pilates class)

5. Hot water and a warm bed (we were in the mountains--at Snowbird--and we hiked and I enjoyed the outdoors and the colors and the air and that enjoyment was made all the better for knowing I could have a shower and sleep under a comforter at night, not to mention having someone make breakfast and dinner for me)

Saturday, October 04, 2008


This book was a little too, hmmm, Joss-ian for me. Joss writes wonderful standalones with twisty characters and unexpected suspense and wonderful atmosphere, but this book seemed to rely too much on those things and not as much on story. It's a creepy enough premise--a woman who killed another woman in a hit-and-run accident begins watching over the dead woman's husband as a sort of penance. There's also a backstory that comes in the form of a manuscript the dead woman was writing. The elements were there, but it just didn't gel for me. But I'm sure I'll try Joss again.

THE COLD DISH/Craig Johnson/A-
Walt Longmire is the sheriff of the least populous county in the U.S. (Wyoming, by the way). Stuck in a unfinished house and with a life going nowhere after the death of his wife several years earlier, Walt is jostled back into things when the body of a young man is discovered. The boy was one of four convicted of sexual assault against an Indian girl and it appears to be a revenge killing. Walt has to investigate friends and along the way starts a new relationship. But Wyoming weather is only the most obvious treachery--people aren't far behind. Very, very good and I'll definitely look for the next in the series.

I thought I would like this. I didn't so much. I can't even remember the main character's name (bad sign), but she's a 21st-century LA woman who wakes up in the body of a Regency-era woman named Jane. With a forbidding mother who threatens to send her to an insane asylum to a suitor who can't understand her change of personality, the woman is more interested in figuring out how to get back to her own life than fitting into her new one. I wouldn't bother with it.

FOUR QUEENS/Nancy Goldstone/A
Once upon a time there were four sister who each became a queen. This is history, not fairytale, and the sisters in question lived in Provence during the 13th-century. They became queens of (by sibling age) France, England, Germany, and Sicily. Disproves the common notion that women of the past did nothing but look pretty--two of the sisters went on Crusade with their husbands and gave birth in the Middle East (one while holding a besieged city after her husband was taken hostage); one used every wile to maneuver herself into political power; and the youngest schemed her way into a queenship so she wouldn't be left out. Fascinating.

Quirke is a pathologist in 1950s Dublin. When he finds his stepbrother altering the death record of Christine Falls, Quirke is drawn into a conspiracy that reaches from Irish society to a Boston convent. The atmosphere is well drawn, but the story is much too bleak for me and I even got tired of Quirke after a while. I won't go looking for the second in the series.

After surviving a school shooting, Sophie Chase heads to Capri for an archaeological expedition. While searching for scrolls in the remains of a volcano-buried villa, Sophie also has to deal with a distraught student and her old lover who has shown up after five years in a secretive cult. Sophie's story intertwines with that of a Christian slave who lived in the villa when it was destroyed. Goodman is a master at plot twists and satisfying storylines along with great characters. I loved it.

FOOLED BY RANDOMNESS/Nassim Nicholas Taleb/B+

I'm not sure I was smart enough for this study of financial markets, but there were a few concepts that caught my interest. And look . . . they've escaped my mind. Oh, here's one: history is learned backward, but flows forward. Meaning we think the past is linear, but those living it were like us, making the best decisions they could with the information available. If you're smarter than me, read it. And then come explain it to me.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Remember a few posts back, My Summer in a Minute, where I told you that my friend, Becca, is the next Stephenie Meyers (only better)?

Behold my rightness.

Becca's got a deal. Simon and Schuster, two-book deal, and an eye-rolling advance. From Publisher's Marketplace:

Becca Ajoy Fitzpatrick's HUSH, HUSH, a sexy and dangerous romance about a teenage girl who falls in love with a fallen angel with a dark agenda to get his wings back, to Emily Meehan at Simon & Schuster Children's, in a two-book deal, for publication in Spring 2010, by Catherine Drayton at InkWell Management.

I can't believe I know her. I just hope she keeps returning my emails now that she's going to be all famous.

Of course, this is a huge boost for my own motivation. I mean, it's actually happened to someone I know! Someone whose drafts I've read! Someone who has gotten better in the last five years and never, never, never quit!

Becca, you're my hero.

And you deserve every bit of it :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Fashion: from the outside

Style: from the inside

Okay, you won't find those definitions anywhere but in my own head, but it's the conclusion I've come to after reading two books last months on style. However one defines those two terms, the distinction is important when considering one's wardrobe.

Fashion is something I've never possessed, and have only rarely wanted to. There were times in adolescence when I would try to jump on the fashion bandwagon, but it was almost always too little, too late. And though I had moments of it bothering me, it never bothered me enough to make the necessary effort to be truly fashionable.

Now I realize how very enlightened I was.

Because style is entirely different. It's not about what you wear--it's about who you are and how your choices in clothing reflect who you are.

(I'm not going to get into the whole philosophical argument that people should not be judged by their clothing--that may be nice in theory, but as any mother of teenagers knows, practically speaking people will make assumptions about us based on what we wear and how we wear it. So let's just take that as a given for the remainder of this post.)

I had help defining the issue with two books that I read last month: LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF STYLE by Nina Garcia and TIM GUNN'S GUIDE TO QUALITY, TASTE, AND STYLE by, not surprisingly, Tim Gunn. Both are part of Project Runway (Nina, an editor at ELLE magazine, is a judge and Tim is the, for lack of a better word, father to the competing designers, meaning he wrinkles his brow in concern, shepherds them through crises of confidence and tells them to "Make it work!") I picked up their books for several reasons, not the least of which was an upcoming shopping trip during which, lucky me, I would need some new clothes thanks to the success of the BodyBugg.

And I wanted to buy something slightly more sophisticated than jeans and t-shirts. Maybe it's my upcoming 40th birthday. In any case, I was hungry for information and Nina and Tim provided it in clear, easy to read style (there's that word again--it pops up everywhere!)

The salient points:

1. Quality beats quantity.

2. A deal isn't a deal if you'll never wear it.

3. Try on, try on, try on. Sizes differ from one label to another and you can never know how any particular item will look without trying it on. On a related note . . .

4. Don't get hung up on numbers. Tim's book had a revealing section on American vanity sizing (how mass market clothing has changed sizes downward in the last forty years to appeal to women's vanity--a size 12 then is now an 8.) I had a revelation on this point while driving across Wyoming with my friend, Katie. We are different heights, different weights, and wear different sizes. And it wouldn't necessarily match what you would guess from looking at us. If size 10 pants make you look 10 pounds heavier and size 12 makes you look 10 pounds slimmer, which size would you rather wear? If you must, cut out the size tags, but honestly no one will ever know the size unless you tell them.

5. Both Nina and Tim talked about inspirations--not to slavishly copy but more as an outline or beginning point. I found Tim's section on inspirations particularly helpful. And I was able to find mine, mostly as a process of deduction. After all, there's no chance that I'm Italian sexy like Sophia Loren or European chic like Jackie Kennedy. I really, really wanted to be Angelina Jolie--I can't even remember what her style is called but it quickly became obvious it wasn't mine. Join my husband in his moment of mourning.

Okay, moment's over. I know you're all dying to know what style I am. Ready?


Stop laughing. The waif style is not about body type, remember? The waif style as defined by Tim is classic and feminine. Think A-line skirts, cashmere cardigans, fitted tops, boot-cut trousers, and ballet flats. Waifs are rarely seen wearing high heels--this one threw me for a moment, but then I remembered that I certainly don't wear them every day and there's always room for slight adjustments. The waif style is epitomized by actress Natalie Portman and director Sofia Coppola. (In fact, I may just have decided I'm a waif merely because I love Padme Amidala and because I was beguiled by Tim's description of Sofia walking the streets of Paris in ballet flats and a patterned skirt.)

How did this information affect my shopping? For starters, I tried everything on, including items that caught my eye but that I would initially have dismissed as too small or not my style. I bought only what I loved, not what I merely liked. I bought classics with a twist, like a kelly green trench coat.

And I didn't buy a single t-shirt. Not one.

Fashion is beyond me. Style I can embrace.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

You know what's really great . . .

Falling into a good book after a string of disappointments.

I picked up Carol Goodman's THE NIGHT VILLA today and it was like breathing a sigh of relief. I've had this book on my shelf for months--why did I wait so long, I ask? Interesting characters, a riveting first chapter . . . this is the kind of book I want to write.

I've loved Goodman's books since THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES. They all have similar protagonists and themes--academic women, Latin and other classics, remote settings that are as vibrant as the characters, a breath of the supernatural, mystery and suspense and beautiful storytelling . . .

Aaaaahhhhhh. That's me being happy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


3 names I've been called
Stephanie Victoria (in my birth mother's mind)
Soeur Sudweeks (in Haiti)
J.K. Rowling (in my dreams)

3 places I've been in the last week
Hematology/Oncology Clinic at Primary Children's
Timpanogos Hospital ER
Park City Outlet Mall (definitely the most fun of the three)

3 languages I speak
Haitian Creole

3 favorite restaurant meals
Cafe Rio's fish tacos
Macaroni Grill's lobster ravioli
Porter's fresh fish pie (I don't get here often--it's near Covent Garden in London)

3 places I lived as a child
Wilmington, Delaware
Hagerstown, Maryland
Orem, Utah

3 places I've lived as an adult
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Hong Kong
Seattle, Washington

3 favorite places I've traveled
Aruba . . . oh, wait, that's more than 3

3 most-played songs on my iPod
The Reason by Hoobastank
Full of Grace by Sarah McLachlan
Good Riddance by Green Day

3 things I've done today
Bought fabric for Halloween
Spent an hour on the elliptical
Put enchiladas in the oven (note: I did not say I made them)

3 schools I've attended
Vineyard Elementary
Mountain View High School
Brigham Young University

3 favorite authors
Let's not even start

3 non-scriptural books I would take to a deserted island
THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF JANE AUSTEN (okay, if you consider that cheating, than I guess I could confine myself to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE)

3 books I'm currently reading
FOUR QUEENS by Nancy Goldstone

3 current TV shows I watch (and this is stretching to get three)
Project Runway
Battlestar Galactica
Robin Hood

3 former TV shows I watch much more often than whatever is currently airing
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The West Wing
Sports Night or Firefly or Friends . . .

3 things I'm looking forward to
The end of my son's treatment
Finishing my new YA novel
Going to Maui with my husband for my 40th birthday

Sunday, September 07, 2008


BREAKING DAWN/Stephenie Meyer/B
The finale of the TWILIGHT quartet, this novel was greeted with midnight release parties all over the place. I didn't get to it on the first day, since we were still on a boat, but I did read it in two days flat when I got home. As I said earlier, my favorite of the series is and always will be TWILIGHT, but it was a pleasure to wrap up the storyline of human Bella and her vampire boyfriend Edward. I was surprised by several twists, which is always nice, and there was a happy ending which I always like. But the happy ending was a little too easy for my taste--not enough sacrifice, too much of Bella getting everything she ever wanted without having to give up anything--and I doubt I'll re-read it. But by all means finish out the series if you've started.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped buying all the new Perry Victorian mysteries and started getting them from the library. Still, this was more enjoyable than some of the her other recent offerings, with a tighter storyline and less jarring writing. (Or maybe it's just that the storyline was strong enough for me not to notice the writing.) When a prostitute is found eviscerated in the Prince of Wales' bedroom, Thomas Pitt is called in to investigate discreetly. His maid, Gracie, goes undercover in the servants' quarters at the Palace to help and the story is a rich one of Africa, ambition, and personal loss.

I keep picking up random Rebus mysteries to see if I'll like the next one better. I haven't yet. Not that I dislike them, it's that I really need at least one strong sympathetic character in a book and John Rebus just doesn't do it for me. He drinks too much, he has no close relationships, and he lives only for the job. I find his worldview depressing and only pushed through this book because of its interesting setting. Scotland is hosting the G8 in the summer of 2005 and Rebus is drawn into several murders that threaten to disrupt the forum. I did like his brief encounter with President Bush on a bicycle, and there was real emotional power to the London bombings that occurred that week. Rankin is extremely popular and his books are well-written. They're just not for me.

This was a book I got for free at Left Coast Crime in March and didn't read forever because I thought it wasn't my type of book. But I found out it was just what I needed for a couple of days--light and funny and a good story. Helen is on the run from her ex-husband and takes a series of Dead End Jobs to survive. In this book she's working in a bridal salon in south Florida and has to deal with the mother-of-the-bride from hell. Things look bad for Helen when the vicious mother is murdered shortly after Helen was heard arguing with her. To save herself, Helen investigates the downtrodden bride, her golddigging new husband, and a host of other eccentric characters. Great for a quick and fun read.

I'm kind of glad I put off reading this first in a series, because now I can go out and get the second one straightaway. Maddie is a journalist living in Syracuse during the 1980s, with an impeccable bloodline and none of the family money to back it up. When an old murder is raked up, Maddie is drawn into investigating by the fact that her favorite cousin's dogtags were found at the scene. Great characters, fabulolus first-person voice, evocative settings both scenically and culturally, and a wonderful mystery with lots of subtext. I loved it.

The second novel by the author of THE KITE RUNNER, which I loved. I loved this one even more. It's the story of Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women who are raised very differently but end up married to the same man while the city of Kabul disintegrates around them. From the Soviets to the Taliban, one sees a country being ripped to shreds while most people try simply to live their lives. Beautiful, heartbreaking, life-changing.

I'm not going to grade these here, because this whole style issue is going to gets its own post. Soon. I promise.

And last but not least, I went on a Vicky Bliss spree, to celebrate the newest entry in the series--the first Vicky Bliss book in 14 years. So I went back and read the previous ones:
From German castles to Roman villas, Swedish islands and lost treasure and Egyptian art, these books are the best for two simple reasons: Vicky Bliss, art historian, and John Tregarth, reformed antiquities thief. And after this orgy of reading, I was totally ready for . . .

The best thing I can say about this book is that I smiled the whole way through. I had fun, and clearly so did Peters. King Tut's mummy has been stolen from its sarcophagus in the Valley of the Kings and John is the prime suspect. Vicky belives him innocent--mostly. They set out with her boss, Schmidt, to prove John's innocence but his habit of silence and his increasingly frequent disappearances make it hard to put old suspicions to rest. Would you like it if you haven't read the rest? I have no idea. But when the rest are as wonderful as they are, why not start at the beginning and go on to the end? You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Because I've left it for so long, you get only a few thoughts from the many inspired blog posts I've written in my head this summer. Think of it as the Readers Digest version.

1. BodyBugg: Working. Down 10 pounds (me, not the device). Had one woman ask me how it monitored my baby--felt a drastic drop in esteem before I realized she'd misread the label as "BabyBugg".

2. WorldCon 2008: Or, as my friend Laura calls it, GeekFest. An enormous Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention held in Denver this year. Since Katie and I could stay in the same hotel we stayed in during Left Coast Crime, we figured what the heck. Saw lots of costumes. Men in corsets (okay, it was only one man, but he wore a different corset every day). Bought corsets of our own. Dressed up for the Costume Contest (as spectators, not participants). Heard someone refer, seriously, to humans as "The people from this planet". Attended my writer friend's panel on Mountains in Fact and Fiction. Bravo, Suanne, for making it fascinating! (You can read Suanne's take on it at Spectated at the Dowager Duchess of Denver's Ball. Ate good food. Read good books. Went to bed early. Best moment of the trip--the panel "Firefly: What Would the Second Season Have Been?"

3. Stephenie Meyer: A good summer for her--THE HOST released in March and BREAKING DAWN, the last of her TWILIGHT series released in August. In writerly circles, Meyer seems to be the next Dan Brown--envied for her fabulous sucess and despised for not deserving it. I say any writer who can sell out tickets to a signing in ten minutes flat and be greeted like a rock star by screaming fans is good for all writers. Love or hate her books, she's doing something right. (Oh, and I enjoyed BREAKING DAWN, but TWILIGHT is my favorite. So sue me for having no taste.)

4. Becca Fitzpatrick: This is long and shamefully overdue (in fact, I honestly thought I'd done this post already--but apparently only in the vividness of my imagination). If you haven't checked out her blog from my links, do it now ( She's the next Stephenie Meyer, only with deeper characters and killer dialogue. Her novel, tentatively titled HUSH, got Becca signed by a real live big-time New York agent this year. Becca's in the midst of rewrites and the agent wants to start submitting to editors this autumn. We're talking bestseller lists and movie rights, people. You heard it here first.

5. Tea: Technically this doesn't fall under summer, even though it happened in August. Last week Katie and I celebrated the first full day of school for our children by having tea in Salt Lake City at Elizabeth's Bakery and Tea Shop. Technically, I shouldn't call it tea, either, since we didn't actually drink tea, but Hot Chocolate hasn't become a noun yet. Plain scones with clotted cream, ginger scones with lemon curd, and shortbread just to send my BodyBugg into a tizzy fit. Then a ramble through the London Market next door, where one can buy anything from frozen Yorkshire puddings to Marmite to Harry Potter scarves.

6. Writing: This also is technically a non-summer activity, since I began last week when school did. I've started a new project, one that sprang to mind while attending the Dowager Duchess of Denver's Ball at WorldCon (hmmm, do you think I could write that off?) I'm not talking details yet, not to anyone, but I'm actually having fun, a concept I'd begun to doubt the existence of when it came to writing. I'm 4000 words in and writing every weekday. Good on me :)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

ANSWER: I AM . . .

Ha! You expected me to put "writer", didn't you?

After my feeling-sorry-for-myself post about writing, I had a long talk with my best friend, Katie. (Actually, friend doesn't quite cover it. She's the sister I never had. And if she doesn't like it, too bad for her!)

Katie said, "Laura, in the deepest part of your soul, you are . . ."

(I expected her to say "writer". I really did.)

Here's what she actually said: "you are a wife and mother."

The moment she said those words, I felt as though an enormous weight was lifted from me.

I am a wife and mother. That was my choice when I married and had children--and it's even more my choice today. Nothing is as important to me as my husband and the four souls God has given into our care. Nothing. Not even writing.

I hadn't realized the pressure I'd put on myself until it was gone. Me, the woman whose motto is "You should do what works for you", I had loaded myself with a basketful of shoulds where my writing is concerned.

The irony? The moment the pressure was gone, the more I wanted to write.

Because writing, indeed, is a part of who I am. It's a large part of who I am.

But it will never be the most important part.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


A Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery. Gemma is asked by an elderly neighbor to help her find out how a family treasure from Germany has ended up in a London auction house. Duncan is called into the case when a young woman from the auction house is murdered. With flashbacks to post-WWII London and the murder of a German-Jewish intellectual, this is one of the best of Crombie's novels.

A children's story about a mouse who wants to be a hero, a maid who wants to be a princess, a princess who misses her mother, a rat who hates the dark, and soup. What's not to like?

Not Hawthorne's best (I would reserve that honor for THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE), but after visiting the inspiration for the house in the title, I had to read it. A young woman from the country comes to visit relatives who have secluded themselves in a supposedly cursed house. Lots of spooky atmosphere and old crimes to be uncovered with a happier ending than Hawthorne often provides.

LOST NAMES/Richard Kim/A
Seven vignettes about the author's childhood in Japanese-occupied Korea. The title piece is a haunting account of the men of the town registering their new, required Japanese names and their subsequent trek to the town cemetery to apologize to their ancestors. I knew a little about the suppression of Korean language during the Japanese occupation, but this book brought home the full cost and humiliation. I cheered right along with the 13-year-old narrator when the Japanese surrendered and the Korean flag was brought out of hiding to be flown once more.

Sequel to THE CHOSEN that I read for book club last year, I enjoyed this one even more. Reuven is studying to become a rabbi while his friend Danny is working with mentally ill youth. Some wonderful themes here, wrapped in a heartbreaking story about an adolescent boy who becomes increasingly, dangerously ill and the extreme treatment that Danny uses to try and reach him.

THE GREAT DELUGE/Douglas Brinkley/B
An in-depth, almost hour-by-hour, account of Hurricane Katrina in the hours before and the week after it struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I was left with the burning belief that there was plenty of blame to go around as well as plenty of heroism. It took me a while to plow through it, but that says more about my ability to concentrate this year than the book itself.

I SHALL NOT WANT/Julia Spencer-Fleming/B+
Almost as eagerly anticipated as Elizabeth George's CARELESS IN RED, this book didn't work nearly so well for me as a follow-up to unexpected tragedy. The Reverend Claire Fergusson has joined the National Guard as a helicopter pilot in the wake of the death of Russ Van Alstyne's wife. They've managed to avoid each other for several months, but the death of an illegal immigrant throws them together in solving the crime. I think what I liked least about this book is that it covered an entire year--skipping over much of the grief and mourning so she could get them together at the end. Not my favorite of her books.

THE BELL JAR/Sylvia Plath/A-
Plath's famous fictional account of her own breakdown during her college years. Esther is living in New York for a month when life begins to close in on her. When she returns home, mental illness descends like a bell jar, allowing her to see the world, but not engage with it. She ends up in an upscale psychiatric hospital and gradually recovers enough to leave. Plath, of course, went on to marry English poet Ted Hughes, have two children, and finally killed herself in London after the bell jar suffocated her once more. A powerful book, especially for anyone who has suffered from mental illness or loves someone who has.

The next two Simon Serailler novels, set in a fictional English cathedral town. I loved the first one, which knocked me sideways and kept me breathless for days afterward. Of these two, I preferred the second one, which had some beautiful writing that spoke straight to me (about hospitals at night and the moments when a parent's life changes forever). But by the time I reached the third, I had to push to finish. These had less story and more character angst. Now I'm all about characters, but only when they have a story to do something in. And it's a bad sign when I detest the protagonist. By the end, I wanted to slap Simon Serailler and tell him to grow up and act his age and stop feeling sorry for himself for being so handsome and artistic and such a woman magnet. Yeah, life's hard. Move along.

THE BOOK THIEF/Marcus Zusak/A-
Ever read a book narrated by death? If not, this is the one to read. Liesl makes her first appearance as a 10-year-old girl who watches her brother die on a train. At his burial, she steals her first book, The Gravedigger's Handbook. Sent to live with foster parents to protect her from the Nazis' persecution of her Communist parents, Liesl finds solace in books. There's a Jewish boxer who hids in her cellar, a German boy who the Nazis want to train, two foster parents who are loving in their own different ways, and a mayor's wife who has never recovered from the death of her son in WWI. This is a powerful book I would recommend to everyone.

OUTLANDER/Diana Gabaldon/A+
My friend Becca has been telling me for months I would love this book. I did.

Okay, maybe I'll say a little more. Claire Randall is in the Highlands shortly after the end of WWII. Although she and Frank have been married eight years, the war kept them apart for most of that time. While Frank is busy with genealogical interests, Claire winds up on a hillside in a circle of standing stones . . . and suddenly Frank, and her world, are 200 hundred years in the future. Transported to 1743 Scotland, Claire is swept into a tangle of politics and border fights and trying to keep herself from being burned as a witch. When she meets Jamie Fraser, everything is turned upside down and Claire will have to choose between her past in the 1900s and a future with a man she never imagined. I've bought the second in the series and I'm beyond delighted that I have several more to go.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I've asked myself this question a few hundred times in the last five years. It's generally an existential one, focusing less on the undeniable fact that I am capable of forming words and putting them down on paper (or computer screen as the case may be) and more on the nature and uses of that capability.

The question usually resulted in a mindless, numbing spiral of frustration that goes something like this: Why am I writing? Should I be writing? What should I be writing? Would my time be better spent playing with my children or feeding the homeless? Is writing about something (violent murder, for instance) the moral equivalent of doing it? And what are we going to have for dinner and did I do the laundry and why, oh why, did I ever think that I could possibly write anything that anyone would ever want to read . . .

You know, just the general kind of writerly worrying.

But this year, that question has become a whole lot more practical. Am I writer or not? Let's look at the points for both sides.

1. I'm writing something at this very moment.
2. I attend writers' group--not as often, but often enough that they still remember my name.
3. I participate in my online group--again, not as often but often enough not to get locked out.
4. I submitted a piece to an anthology in March.
5. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about characters and situations.

But on the other hand . . .

Not a Writer:
1. I spend hardly any time putting my characters and situations down on paper
2. I've been working on the same novel for almost two years.
3. I've never had a fiction piece published.
4. I haven't queried agents for over two years.

And last but not least,
5. I don't see 1-4 changing any time soon.

Yes, my son has cancer. I am aware. Yes, it takes a lot of my attention and energy. Yes, my stress levels are high.

But wouldn't a writer write anyway? Wouldn't a real writer sit in the chair and type words every day regardless of the situation? Wouldn't a real writer use writing to buoy up her strength? Wouldn't a real writer be better, stronger, more committed than I am?

Okay, so maybe this is an existential question still.

Which means there really isn't an answer.

Darn it.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008




Watched someone die--NO





Been overseas--YES


Jumped out of a plane--NO

Been on a helicopter--NO

Been on a train--YES

Been on a Greyhound bus--YES

Been lost--TODAY? YES

Been on the opposite side of the country—YES, USED TO LIVE THERE

Gone to Washington, D.C.—YES, USED TO LIVE THERE :)


Cried yourself to sleep—OH, YES

Recently colored with crayons--YES



Done something you told yourself you wouldn't—DOES EATING FOOD COUNT?


Written a letter to Santa Claus—EVERY YEAR

Been kissed under the mistletoe—NO, DANG IT! I GOT TO BUY ME SOME MISTLETOE