Wandering In

My cat is sitting on my feet as I type from my cozy bed, where I’ve retreated because it’s cold as heck, today.  Not even 15 degrees at nearly 11 am, and the sun is shining. In self defense, I wrapped up in sweater and quilts.

Every December, I go through the accomplishments and failures and recognitions of the year. As I do so now, I see that it’s been a challenging year in many ways, marked by the loss of a friend, a dearly loved relative, and….at last, and as we knew was coming, my beloved Jack on the last day of summer.  His death was as good as one could ask for a 14 year old dog–he had a stroke at lunchtime and it was plain I had to let him go. I was able to hold him and tell him I loved him as he departed, which is the great blessing we have with pets.  It was less kind for my uncle, but he, too, traveled with grace and peace to the other side.  It was sudden, which means it takes a bit to encompass, but I know he wouldn’t want me wallowing, so I won’t.  In time, I hope I can write something that does his life and influence in my life the justice it deserves. In the meantime, I’ll focus on joy.

The joy is in writing, and in teaching; the joy is in granddaughters, and the joy is in the anticipation of a big trip coming up in the spring. The joy is in you, in painting and in the art in the world.  Joy is in the first snowfall and the last leaf falling on my head.  The joy is in this photo of Jo and I at Uluru seven or eight years ago. 11334232_880057308751526_7369459254625975255_o

The joy is in many things, if only we look.

Where’s the joy in your life?

Wordless Rest

FullSizeRender-4This is an in-progress drawing that’s been living on my desk the past week. It was a thin watercolor sketch from a photo I shot last summer, which I decided at the time didn’t appeal much. Somehow, I found it and started messing around with some excellent pens I found last summer when Mel Scott and I wandered around (one of) the gigantic Blick’s stores in New York.  It’s not meant to be great art; I’m posting it to show you how my creative process is evolving.

As I posted last week, I’ve been working with great focus on the Restoration project, Whi
tehall,** set in the court of Charles II of England, one of the most fascinating characters to ever hold the throne. I love everything about this era–the people and the clothes and the world hurtling from the old into the new. It was a time of burgeoning knowledge in the sciences, particularly “natural philosophy” an early term for the observation and recording of the natural world, in all arenas from medicine to botany, for which Charles also had a passion.The Royal Society, one of the world’s most revered scientific communities, had its first meetings at this time.

And who could help but love the brilliant, rakish, doomed John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester?

When I agreed last summer to do the project, I had a thimble-full of history about the era, which has meant fervid immersion in all things Restoration, which is a lot of intense mental work. Which is one of the reasons I became a writer, frankly–there’s nothing I love more than learning all about something–but it’s hard work. Tiring. I have to take breaks, look away, change both my mental focus and my visual focus.

So I’ve been painting and drawing more. I write/research for an hour, then spent ten or fifteen or twenty minutes drawing, painting, scribbling. Something. It moves my brain into a completely different mode, entirely non-verbal but also laser focused. Every molecule of my attention goes into the shape of a line, a petal, a shadow, this very minute portion of the work. Which is like writing in a way, of course–you can only write the sentence at hand.

But behind each sentence in a novel are dozens, maybe hundreds, of bits of information. Fifth grade grammar class and the research from how gardens were arranged and where they were located to the shoes of the characters and her undergarments and how her hair was curled and what how the fabric moved and the relative positions of the players and what I wrote in the former scene and what’s coming later. It’s a lot of heavy lifting.

A line is particular, but it is particular to itself and this drawing or painting. I am only interested in how it shapes this page. I suppose there is a lot behind that line I draw, the colors I choose, other studies I’ve made, classes I’ve taken, but it’s not words. For this writer, I suppose that’s the thing. There are no words in painting. I love to read and I love to write, but sometimes that part of my brain just gets very tired. That’s why I cook. That’s why I garden. And now, that’s why I paint and draw.

If you work with words, what are your tricks for resting your brain? If you work in other ways, do you need a different kind of rest? 

**The first episode of Whitehall will be released in mid-May. Sign up for my newsletter if you want to be sure to be reminded when it begins.

Makers and Flippers

4040456368_8bf09758c3_mA friend of mine has started a business flipping houses. We live in a lucrative market for this kind of thing, and she’s a very practical banker sort who has systems in place to make renovations fairly standard–the kind of kitchen needed for most houses, the flooring that’s attractive and yet not too expensive, the bathroom upgrades people need.  She’s a business woman.

I would love flipping houses. The great project of my thirties was saving a house build in 1912. It was a mess when we bought it for a song and sweat equity, and I do mean a mess–almost everything had to be redone: the crumbling plaster ceilings, the electricity, the plumbing, the floors, the crooked windows.  Even over the course of the nearly twenty years I spent there, not all of it was finished, but I saved that beautiful old house. We fixed her bones and her bricks, sanded the splintering pine floors, replaced all the wiring and 90% of the plumbing.

I’d love to do more of that–saving old houses, taking out the old ugly things and replacing them with more beautiful stuff.  My friend knows this, but when it came to partners for this kind of business, she went to a couple of her more practical friends.

As she should have. She’s a flipper.

I’m a maker. I don’t want the practical pods of the usual kitchen makeover. I want to enter each kitchen and gauge the light and imagine what woods would compliment the era and what might make it the most beautiful kitchen ever. I would never do it for the money, because I make things. Books, of course. Now my paintings and drawings. Gardens. Food. My goal in flipping a house would be to make it into something I would live in happily forever–and that would be a sure way to lose money.

The thing is, makers have to learn to be business people, too, especially in the current world. It’s great that I want to write (and cook and paint and garden) but I also have to live in the real world. I have to eat. I don’t have a patron, though husbands kind of count, since they share the load and make loans upon request. Being a maker, I want to make things all the time, all day long–and luckily, it doesn’t matter what it is. I’m happy painting. I’m happy writing (writing a blog or a novel or a letter). I’m happy digging in the earth to plant seeds to make my garden.  The trick of my day is to keep the money-making aspects of making, the commercial fiction, occupy the most vigorous part of my day. Thus, I’m writing this morning. When I’ve done my words, I’ll make a loaf of pumpkin bread for a friend who is mourning. Later this afternoon, I hope to have some time to work on my drawing.

A lot of my friends are makers, and I bet a lot of you are, too.  Tell me about your projects of the moment. If you’re a flipper like my friend, I’d love to hear about that, too.

Bright and Dark

My old dog is pacing this morning as he often does these days. He’s a thirteen year old chow mix who has arthritis in his hips IMG_8636and shoulders (not helped by the leap he took from a second story window as a young pup, or the time he went through a plate glass window in terror over fireworks on New Year’s Eve and ran like hell for miles, only limping home at four in the morning with a sheepish expression). He’s not completely deaf, but not far off.  He sometimes stops now in the middle of the room with a bewildered expression, and I know he forgot what he was doing.  Since I’m familiar with this, I tell him to go back where he started and his purpose for going to the kitchen will come back to him.

The point is, he’s old and getting really old right before my eyes. The pacing started recently, just a restless, endless circling of whatever floor we’re on. He can’t get comfortable. He has all the supplements and the painkillers and a special drug for Cushings and….well, none of it is going to keep him alive forever.

12705453_10153418938840893_4732546385600136097_nOn the other hand, I have a new granddaughter.

January Reads

128409807_d7047ebeea_zOne of my friends (Marie, looking at you) keeps a book log every year. I used to keep one all the time and I’m going to keep track this year. I don’t promise to make long commentary about all of them, but will add a word or two about each one so you can tell if it would be something you’d like to sink into.  My tastes are very broad and almost no one is going to read all the same things I enjoy.  Without further ado, the January list:

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. Upmarket fiction. This book has made many best of the year lists and it is on mine, too. Every sentence is true and unflinching. Not a single false note anywhere, and I am a major WWII buff. Really, one of the best books I’ve read in ages and I highly recommend it.

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. Literary. This is a bleak book. I loved a lot of it, and read to the end, but it has many dark literary turns. Be warned.

The Shameless Hour, Sarina Bowen. New Adult, very sexy. Well-written, intelligent, with a hot Latino hero who is a really good guy.

One Plus One, JoJo Moyes. Women’s Fiction. Addictive, romantic. Set in England. Fast becoming one of my favorite writers.

Winter Light

16659679817_c417f03b88_bBirches in Winter by Mayfield Parrish, from Flickr Creative Commons.

One of my goals as I get back to blogging is to celebrate beauty in as many forms as I can. Books, food, animals, writing, love. And paintings. This one is by Mayfield Parrish. He’s a favorite of mine because of the way he used light and especially the way he captured the light of the mountains, the strange, rosy look of it.

This one is appropriate for a snowy winter day. That mountain could easily be Pikes Peak. It makes me feel calm. As if all is well and maybe I should go cook dinner.

I’ve just learned this afternoon that his work is unique and he belongs to no particular school. He created his own process of glazing thin layers of oil alternating with varnish. Until just now, I didn’t know that some of his paintings hang in the Broadmoor, an old luxury hotel here in Colorado Springs. I should go have a look at them.

Is there a painter who captures your part of the world especially well?

Rave Review

This kind of review is why writers stick with it. Thanks, Puppitypup.

from Amazon
5.0 out of 5 starsFiction/Romance –
So Much Deeper than I Expected
By puppitypup

The Lost Recipe for Happiness.
I was blown away by this novel. Somehow I was expecting lighthearted, chick-lit fluff.

What I got was story that broke my heart and stole my breath and brought tears to my eyes.

Ms. O’Neal has a gift for describing the nuance of a moment, making the novel so real that it hurts. This is a book I will not soon forget.

It is a sensual novel, one that will hold great appeal for anyone who loves to cook. The spice and texture and taste of Elena’s creations fairly jump off the page.

Ms. O’Neal also brought that elusive ingredient, without which I will never give 5 stars.

Flexibility and Growth as an Artist

Hiromi Masuda: Let's play the Glass 2I am a fan of Gretchen Rubin, whose books on happiness and habits offer a lot of insight into how we can live the best life for ourselves. (She doesn’t get the Rebel personality, but I forgive her for that.) This morning, her Facebook post let me to this blog:

The Dangers of Typecasting

As most of you know, I made a choice a couple of years ago to explore the world of New Adult romance. I had written straight romances, contemporary and historical, in the past, but hadn’t done if for nearly ten years when I was mobbed by a new idea. By a character, Jess Donovan, age 19, poor and struggling and trying to make her way.  She awakened me one morning in mud season in Breckenridge and by the end of the day, I had mapped out the entire book.  In my world, we call that a “gift book” and foolish indeed is the writer who ignores such an offering from the gods.

However, It was a risky choice, and I knew it–women’s fiction readers don’t like to be lumped with romance readers (although many are both) and my romance readers might not want to go with me into this much younger world. To keep things branded cleanly, I knew I would have to take a pen name, and that meant starting from ground zero–not always the easiest thing for a writer with an audience gained over ten years.

That’s the visible stuff.

Intimacy and Privacy in a Public Age

FullSizeRenderLately, I’ve been reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn to help create an authentic world for the Restoration drama I’m working on for Serial Box. (It is so much fun! You’re going to love this series!)

Reading the diaries makes me aware of my own diary habit. I’ve been keeping a journal since the fourth grade. The first one was blue, with a lock and key, and I wrote sporadically, always telling the absolute truth, no matter how boring, and most of my life was pretty boring–or so I thought. When I look back, it is surprising how much detail I managed to capture in those looping cursive letters. “Today I went to Grandma’s house. Merry and I played with Anne. She is going to have puppies,” I wrote, and I remember the husky who had such a cheerful smile. I remember the puppies tumbling over my lap.

Just as I remember my life, Pepys creates the world of his times in daily, ordinary details. The days and days of rain that ended up flooding his main floor–and gives me the detail of a dreary stretch of weeks when the Portuguese queen had just arrived in England and lends atmosphere.

Some might say that blogs and social media are creating the same sort of record of our lives, and it is partially true. But social media tends to be fragmented and scattered, often a recounting of things others liked or didn’t like, and details out of context–a meal eaten in a restaurant you will never visit, the new chair of someone you’ve never met.

Journals and diaries contain the context of the diarist and her times, her viewpoint, a record of opinions as they rise and fall and twist. Journals are more powerful because they are deeply personal. They’re not meant to be art or even to be shared–and therein lies the pleasure. They are private, and that means the writer is entirely free.

The rules of my journals have been fluid, but fairly consistent. I don’t have to write every day, though I like to see at least one or two a week at a minimum. There is no attempt to write well, particularly–I’m not writing for others in those pages, only myself. I never embroider the facts, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily an accurate record. I only have my own viewpoint, after all. I can only write my own interpretation of events. We’ve had to be aware, in our writing of Fierce Artifice, of the fact of Pepys’ crush on Barbara Villiers. It colors every paragraph he writes about her. He also hears a lot in gossipy sessions at the local pub and interprets the tidbits of fact in his own way. But it is his accurate record of his own thoughts.

That’s my goal, too. Showing up. Writing “In the moment….” when I’m getting too far off track.  Sometimes I write only on the computer. Sometimes in notebooks, by hand. Sometimes, often when I’ve gone through a difficult period, I’ve binged on fancy, beautiful journals and written endless, repetitive journals in them. They’re not terribly readable, those particular ones–they are mainly therapy, me writing my way to the center of something.  And like thereapy, I often write my way to truth, as when I found myself writing, “How many times will I write this exact same journal before I actually make a change?”

And then I made a change.