A writing escape

As you may have guessed, I’ve gone slightly underground to finish the book-in-progress, 100 Breakfasts, which is due in six short weeks.  Last weekend, I spent three days in Pasadena, mostly holed up with the manuscript, combing and combing, unbraiding and reweaving.   In the spirit of my friend Anne Stuart, who often keeps track of her writing marathons, I logged my progress, and thought you might be interested in the back-scenes process.

First, a little background.  While I was in Australia last year, the Langham Hotel in Melbourne was giving away B&B packages around the world, one each day, in honor of the Olympics. They have six hotels, two in the US, and to my great delight and amazement, I won a package.  To Pasadena, where my eldest son had just moved for a year-long clerkship.  The hotel was approximately a mile and a half from the hotel.  

Serendipitous on so many levels.  There is the weird and obvious benefit of landing within walking distance of my child, from a hotel halfway around the world.  I also really was ready for some immersion time in the book, and in fact timed the trip so I could do this work for three days without any phone or other dogs distractions.  Oh, and sleep.  I had the Colorado Plague for nearly two weeks and still haven’t quite kicked the dregs of it. 

So, last weekend, I packed up the laptop, some good walking shoes, and a notebook and headed to the Pasadena Langham Hotel, which used to be the Ritz-Carlton.  It sits in the midst of well tended, California Craftsmans and Frank Lloyd Wright style homes on zillion dollar lots. There are gardens and courtyards and a Painted Bridge that was created in 1932.  In those days, it spanned a gulch.  Today it gracefully leads to the cottages between the swimming pool and the garden pools that tumble down the hill.

Anyway, this is my writing log for the weekend.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Noonish
I just had a very nice breakfast with Ian and then he took me to Trader Joe’s (the original TJ) so I could lay in some supplies–cashews and apples and a giant pile of very sweet grape tomatoes and cheese.

 

Pasadena is a beautiful place, and this is a gorgeous hotel, and I must confess I’d really rather do something besides work. Ian is working but I could take a long walk.  But I am here to work and I do need to do that. Write pages, THEN for a walk. 

 

 

2:15
Walk was very nice, rejuvenating. I am making some hot water for tea and will work now until 4:15, at which time I can take the long walk around the neighborhood that I’m dying to do, and come back to eat my very simple supper of apples, cheese and nuts. And I have to work again after that.

3 pm Edited two more scenes. Pretty sleepy. Will nap for a quick minute.

4 pm. Napped 15 minutes, read through the dinner scene and it still sucks but I don’t know what the fix is yet. Still missing information. Going for a long walk now, clear my head. Will work some more later.

So far: edited/read 80 pages.

6 pm
Had a good long walk, an hour or more, around the neighborhood, ate leftover pizza and read a little bit of Alice Hoffman.

I’ve been rewriting all day.  Which is fine. That’s writing, too.  I’m still not happy with a couple of spots, and there are  some quality problems with [one scene in particular] but I can fix them later.    [Deleted spoiler details here. ]

The Amazing Race comes on in an hour, so I’m going to work until then.

6:50
Added another scene, worked through some of the trouble.  Finished with edited 100+ pageds and about 1500 new words.  REALLY tired now.

Monday, March 30, 2009
It’s 9:50 am. I had a really good night’s sleep.  I had a shower then a nice breakfast at the Terrace restaurant, and sat with my notebook for a little while.  One character is not coming through on the page as well as I’dThe old hotel looked as if we could go back in time at any second like.  I let her talk through my pen and she gave me enough insight that I have a place to start.

11 am
Scene from Vita POV.  Dozed for ten minutes and they’re doing something with noisy, noisy machines, so I’m going to go write by hand in the garden. Give the computer a chance to cool, too. It really gets hot if it stays up all day.

Oh, hmm. Now the machine is off. Maybe I can just stay here.

12:00
So, got the bread scene moving. Feeling kind of restless now. Maybe I’ll go write by hand in the garden simply because I would enjoy it. Have done five pages this morning so far. That’s slow, but I’ll live with it.

5 pm
Wrote by hand and then read awhile. Typed in the pages and feel much better about the scene. Not meeting Ian until 8 or so, and I’ll walk up to the shopping center in a little while, have some supper, get the cobwebs out of my head. Maybe come back and write a little more. We’ll see. 

Feels better, though. That’s a good thing. I’m really in the belly of the book now, and the only thing to do is just be with it.  I’m tired. I’ve been working and working and working!

11 pm
I walked over to the shops and had a very nice combination of salads at the local Corner Bakery. It was absolutely delicious and made me realize there are ten million things you can do with salad that I never think about. I love salads and don’t make them very often enough. Met Ian at his apartment and spent a couple of hours with him and his cats, then he brought me back to the hotel. 

Enough. I am very, very tired tonight. It might not have seemed as if I accomplished a lot, but I was at it the whole weekend, taking time only for walks and Ian. That’s all a person can do.

Ready for bed now.

Tuesday evening, home again.

6 pm
Something broke free in all that work, because the minute I arrived at the LA airport, I started writing in my notebook, scene after scene after scene, and wrote all the way home.  (Until the horrific turbulence–it was scary horrible, and I’m not a nervous flyer.)   A very productive three days and I feel quite well rested, too.

But of course, the best part was seeing Ian. Hanging out. Being able to give him a big hug and feed him the lovely breakfast at the Langham. 

(I notice that I cat-napped a lot during this telling, and almost deleted it, but chose to be faithful to my true process. Anyone else cat nap a lot?)

Writing is lonely work sometimes, that’s the truth. What do the girls want?  Maybe a nice walk around the grounds, or just over to the bridge.

Stop being so cerebral, the girls say.  Just go write the next part.  Rewrite the scene with Natalie and Tessa, then maybe have a little nap and a walk around the grounds and come back and do another scene. I can do a lot of work here. I’m here to work and I love my job so let’s just get to it.

1:15
Okay, I dozed for a little while, wrote the scene with photos, and the computer is really hot, so I’m going to take a walk around the grounds and look at the bridge and come back.

The Full Catastrophe

I really really loved this review.  From an Adelaide publication.  (Newsletter, maybe?)  
http://www.galaxyguides.com/newsletters/newsletter8_1.09.html#lostrecipe

My favorite part is that she quoted Zorba.  One of my favorite movies of all time.  (When I was pregnant, my fabulous sister took me to the play, and Anthony Quinn was playing his signature role. )  Anyway…..

 THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS
Barbara O’Neal
Published by Harper Collins Publisher Australia, P/B $32.99

This is shameless ’chick lit ’ and it’s pretty unlikely that any male
chef (or for that matter male) is going to get into it unless they are
a bit pissed (or stoned) and sentimental and/or have been recently
dumped by a tough female chef in love with nothing but her food. Girls
will get it, especially kick arse female chefs who make it to the top
and stay there because they have earned and gained the respect of
their male colleagues by being their better, tougher, stronger and
more talented. The Lost Recipe for Happiness does make the connection
between the kitchen that really works, the one that understands it
takes a team and the better the team, regardless of how competitive it
is, the better it works. Punters will probably not get half of this
book, the sickening opening night that goes completely wrong, a
kitchen half staffed with illegal immigrants, drunks and addicts, the
jealousies the love, the family that is the mystical group of cripples
who share a peculiar love for each other and run the best kitchens;
basically the full catastrophe.

O’Neal even gets most of the kitchen bits right apart from the notion
of dying the tamale husks with food colouring ddd…! It just wouldn’t
happen in a good kitchen. There is a lot in this book for Anthony
Bourdain’s ’kitchen bitches’ to relate to, right to the crippling
agonising pain of a broken back, the exhausted limping which was a bit
too close to home.

This could have been yet another dreary hash of sickeningly sweet
books like Mostly Martha, but somehow manages to scrape in with just
enough toughness to have some sense of truth. At least there is a lot
of hot and steamy sex, just like every normal kitchen, that ends up
condoning complicated incestuous trysts because no has the time or
energy to go looking for a relationship after a 16 hour a day. These
cynical personalities are mainly driven by their love of food and
cooking, but deep down most long for someone to love who will love
them back without asking them to give up their passions.

If you’re into kitchen reality you should probably tear out the last
20 pages before you start reading and throw them in the bin, but if
you feel like a lot of unbelievable happiness and in need of a good
weep the end will kill you. After all the title says it all! If they
make this book into a movie, which is more than likely, there are
bound to be girls in cloggs attending the mid afternoon sessions,
weeping noisily and wishing their love affairs had half such happy
endings. It’s a soft, mushie, tragic, sad, a story of ghosts and
kitchens, love and redemption and for some inexplicable reason
impossible to put down.

Lost Recipe arrives today in Australia

 

  

The Lost Recipe for Happiness debuts in Australia today (February 1).  I just heard that it’s on the cover of Good Reading magazine, and  I’m absolutely delighted by the wonderful reviews I’ve been getting from Down Under. 

Meanwhile, the US edition is going to a 5th printing next week.  (This is me falling over in a faint.)  THANK you, my friends!

I’m so jazzed about this Australian release.  (You can read about snow and cool off. ) I’d love to hear about any sightings.  New Zealand, too, of course.

 

 

A class-y fundraiser

This just in:

Bronwyn Jameson and Anne Gracie are offering a 4 week on-line romance writing course to raise money to help pay the massive hospital bills fellow author Jo Leigh is facing after her husband died of cancer earlier this year. A place in the course will cost US$100 –we are hoping to raise $1000.

The course description: Start the New Year with a gift to yourself, honing your story idea or draft with Anne Gracie (Berkley Historicals) and Bronwyn Jameson (Silhouette Desire.) Anne and Bronwyn are award-winning authors and multiple RITA finalists, much in demand as writing presenters down-under. Presented on-line over the month of January, the course will include lectures, exercises and workshopping. Topics include: mining your premise for gold, exploring your theme, delivering on emotion, creating page-turning tension, structuring memorable scenes, and more. Restricted to 10 participants.
To secure a place in this course bid here: http://tinyurl.com/5axhdq
To read more about the fund-raiser: http://pbackwriter.blogspot.com/2008/06/auction-for-jo-leigh.html

————–

This might be a great gift to yourself for the new year.  Anne and Bronwyn are both wonderful teachers–and lots of fun, too.  

Today’s deals–more good news for Lost Recipe

Good news for THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS:

FOREIGN RIGHTS: FICTION

Foreign rights to Barbara O’Neal’s THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS, the story of a female chef, her dog, and the family they fall in love with, to Goldmann in Germany, at auction, by Peggy Gordijn at Jane Rotrosen Agency, in association with Thomas Schlueck Agency;

To Lindhardt & Ringhof in Denmark, by Licht & Licht, on behalf of the agency.

AUDIO RIGHTS
Barbara O’Neal’s THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS, the story of a female chef, her dog, and the family they fall in love with, to Books on Tape, by Peggy Gordijn at Jane Rotrosen Agency.

My Aussie friends, check out GOOD READS for a sneak peek: http://www.goodreadingmagazine.com.au/book_details.cfm?book=8687

And you can see the Australian cover there, too, since this computer is being stubborn about me uploading any photos today.

US Readers: 45 days and counting to release date.   I’m working on a new website and will have a contest, and I have five ARCs that need to go somewhere (to chatty types, with big audiences online) so if you have an idea, let me know.

It’s been forever!! 

 

Australia Wrap Up

I posed some expectations and questions about Australia before I left.  Now that roar of travel has settled back into normal life, I can take a look from this side.  How were my expectations met or not, shifted or not?  With travel, there are the things you think you know, and the things you don’t even know you don’t know.

In the realm of total surprises: The Reef

In the latter category was swimming in the ocean.  We took a ferry out to Green Island and walked down the white sand beach to the beach, I was stunned by how clear the water was.  My experience with oceans is mainly California, where the water is muddy and often thick with seaweed, and you certainly have no idea what that…thing…might be brushing against your leg.  It is also cold.  Freezing cold.  I don’t go into the ocean in any significant way.   I like to sit on the beach.  I like to watch the waves and the birds and all that.  But swim in it?  Not in this lifetime.

But this water was clear! As clear as a swimming pool. Jo dived right in, and said, “Come on in. It’s nice.”  So, warily, I crept in.  And it wasn’t exactly hot water, but it was bearable.  I love to swim and it really was possible to see the entire floor of sand beneath my feet, so I gave it a shot–and ACK!  I COULD FLOAT!  Like do nothing, and FLOAT in that salty, salty, beautiful water.  I spied something out of the corner of my eye and whirled (freaked!) to see two little tropical fish, silvery things with blue stripes, swimming nonchalantly right along with me.   It was like being in an aquarium.  We only had an hour, but I’m telling you, I so get it now, why everyone likes tropical waters.  (Though not at Cairns for six months of the year, where there is a deadly, deadly jelly fish that fills the place.  Box jellyfish.)   CR said he’d go if we went to the Great Barrier Reef, and we can snorkle or even, if we’re feeling brave, scuba dive.  I’m so there.

Because here’s the other thing: The Great Barrier Reef is indescribable.  Incredible. We took a semisubmersible trip down and were blown away by all the life, teeming and teeming in that clear water, all the things you see so clearly.

And then, quite by accident, I saw it from the air as we flew down the coast.  I never thought to ask if I could have a seat on that side of the plane.  I didn’t know enough to realize it would be so magnificent.  I happened to look out just as we started flying, and there was the reef, plainly visible in all the swirling turquoise and aqua and sandy patterns it makes, hundreds of miles of reef and teeming, teaming life.  I could see the shape of islands emerging, and the patterns of the water, a vast, jeweled science experiment, and I was knocked right out of my head, dazzled and humbled, my brain set afire.

I didn’t know.  I didn’t even known I didn’t know.  Which makes me wonder what else there is to discover in the world? This giant, incredible planet!

Things you think you know

I didn’t expect Melbourne to be so cosmopolitan in spirit.  I thought it would be sort like an Australian version of Chicago or Denver, slightly not as hip as the big glitzy neighbor.   Not so.  It has a continental, elegant feeling, a vibe all of its own.  In the way the men wear such formal suits and the women in their business attire, it felt like London, and maybe that sensibility is carried through to the feeling in some of the bookstores and food shops and takeaways.  I did find (to my great joy) that British tea is everywhere, but so is very, very good coffee.

It was hard to get much of a look at Sydney, of course, since the rain was pouring down like it was.  My my editor was stunningly hip in red boots and cropped blonde hair and a coat I’d probably recognize if I were more fashionable.

Expectations
Things I am pretty sure of:
–that I will like the Australian sensibility. I am expecting it to be somewhere between the US and Britain, with a hefty helping of its ownself, which remains to be discovered.

Someone in the comment asked why I would expect that inbetween place. It wasn’t that I expected Australia to be a stepchild of either the US or Britain, but since I’ve traveled to Britain several times (and I’m living with a Englishman after all), and I am a native of the US, I was wondering where Australia would be on the continuum.   New Zealand felt quite British to me, in so many ways, even the houses and the bakeries and certain sensibilities of entertaining.  Not much like the US, or at least Colorado.

Which is a long winded way of saying we all catalog experiences and ideas according to what we already know.  It’s the way the brain works.

Given that, I found Australia to be entirely itself.  Yes, there was that slight Britishness here and there, in the tea and the suits and the take-aways, and in the bookstore, in particular, I saw similarities.  But I didn’t think it felt at all American, though of course there is a television bleed and music and movies.  And 7-Eleven!  It is both a more formal and more straightforward culture (which is a big fat generalization of both American and Australian culture, since both are such huge countries, but you can’t write a blog like this without an opinion of some kind).  Americans typically take a lot of care in choosing words, trying not to offend or get to far into someone’s space.   While Aussies do seem to have the same big body space needs Americans (especially Westerners) tend to really like, the straightforwardness of statements can be a little startling, just as it is in England.

–that I will not feel like the Valkyrie from some opera, as I do sometimes in France and Italy, where I am sometimes bigger than the guys, never mind the women.

I did not feel like a Valyrie.  In fact, I met more than a handful of women who were well over six feet tall.  Also, really sturdy men.  Good looking men.  I said to a woman next to me at a meal that I’d been startled, walking around Melbourne, at just how many very good looking men I saw.   “Well, we are known for that,” she said.

What I want to know more about:

Australian history and the patterns of settlement.   The Great Barrier Reef and the history of Cairns.  The intrepid explorers who sailed all over the Indian Ocean and around the Pacific, looking for continents and new discoveries.  I get that their footprint was a disaster for native people.   But I’m smitten by the botanists and the scientists and geographers who were mapping the world, making connections, uncovering entire bodies of knowledge that had never been known by western man before.   What must that have been like?  Imagine, right now, if there was suddenly an entirely new continent discovered, with entirely different birds and animals and all manner of wondrous new things.  What would that be like?

I want to read more about the Outback, too, and the people who live there and how they live and what it’s like to inhabit such a vast landscape.

I didn’t know I would fall so in love with Australia.  That I would find myself so enchanted by everything about it and so hungry to know more.  You think you might get a place out of your system when you visit, but I just want to return and know more, explore more, dive in more deeply.

Happily, it’s only a plane ride away, and I will be going back.  Yessirree.

Thanks for going along with me.

Writerly gossip and a book discovery

This morning, I’m wondering when the box of books I sent home to myself will ever get here!  I collected a lot of books at the conference, of course, but since I was limited to that single suitcase and backpack, there was no room to carry books with me.   Two of those books are signed editions of the latest from Anna Campbell, who has a very sweet face and professorial knowledge of her period that belies her very dark and sexy Regency historicals, and Kelly Hunter (who is tall and willowy and gorgeous–also very witty and the new president of the RWofAustralia.   I hadn’t met either of them in person before, and it was a genuine pleasure to spend time with them.

I also spent time with the exceedingly intelligent and warm Stephanie Laurens, who kindly gave Jo and I a tour of her world (which is where we saw kangaroos for the first time) and her lovely, lovely home (the house that romance built!), which you can see photos of here.  It’s also meant to be on television, but I don’t have those details. We’ve all read her novels of course.  No introduction necessary to her passionate and single-minded heroes.

I did a great deal of reading, of course, on the many plane journeys.  Most of them blur now–there was a book of essays and an indifferent novel that I think I eventually left behind somewhere.  Most of the best books were mailed home (in that box that WILL be arriving soon).   But on the way out of Sydney, ambling through the small number of shops available to browse in my gate area, I found a winner:

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson, is a big, juicy novel about three young women who go to India in 1928.  There is trouble brewing, and the world is changing, and the way the three of them find their fortunes, discover love and trouble and eventually come to know who they are makes a compelling read.   I was going to post a link to the book in the US, but it doesn’t appear to have been published here (yet?), although it is a popular title in both the UK and Australia (where it was named a Great Read by Women’s Weekly).  Even if you don’t ordinarily go for India, or this time period, this is a fast, consuming read.   The narrative is flavorful, but also swift and uncluttered–you won’t find long, embroidered passages of description of clothes or scenery or poverty.  It’s like boarding a well-appointed pontoon on a big river–the view is rich and uncluttered and accessible and full of the beauty and danger and reward of such a journey.  The vision of a young girl dancing with “arms like saplings” lingers with me, and a taste of color and a world that is about to be swept away.  It was one of my favorite books this whole year and now I must find the author’s other work.

What is one of your favorite books this year?

Dusk at Ylarra

This became very long.  Sometimes, a musing requires more time.  I hope you’ll enjoy walking with me through the outback.

Since my return from Oz, the memory images that rise most insistently are about the days at Ylarra.    When I finally emptied my suitcase, the bottom was covered with a fine layer of red dust, and my black gloves and hiking boots are still covered with it.   The red dust of the outback, so fine and powdery and soft.  Astonishingly red, and I am a person used to red rocks and red landscapes and red earth.  I obsessed about the why until I think I drove poor Jo crazy–was it powdered sandstone? What made it so fine?  Until finally the cameldriver explained that it is so red because of oxidization. The red is rust.

It is important, when writing a blog like this, to be honest.   The final day we were in Ylarra, I wanted out desperately, but I wasn’t sure why.  The Outback freaked me out a little, that much is real, and there are good reasons for that.  It also took my breath away.

But I think that last day what I wanted to escape was teh claustrophobic astmosphere of the Ayer’s Rock Resort.  It’s an odd place, really, a whole little settlement that exists entirely to serve those who wish to visit Uluru.  Three hotels of descending grades, including a campsite and youth hostel.  Hideously expensive, as resorts are–even our very humble but servicable room was more than $200 AUD.   Although it’s hard to escape the industry of tourism while touring, I do make a genuine effort to do so, and it was just impossible here.   There is nothing there but the rocks (Katja is the other one, which I didn’t visit), the hotels, fleets of tour busses and an army of kids from around the world staffing the desks and bars and maid service.

There was excellent people watching available–Japanese boy rockers carefully coifed and costumed, weary backpackers from Europe and the US; families from everywhere, literally.   The food was all right, and one could choose to barbeque emu or kangaroo or croc, but I was weary of so much meat and tried to have some vegetarian days there.  But really–it was as gaudily touristy in its way as Times Square.

And yet… what comes back to me now is none of that.  I remember walking the first night we arrived through the big field between our hotel and the little camp grocery.   The air was quiet and still and cool as the sun started to get low, turning the sky that soft purple of evening.   Beneath our feet was the powdery red sand and all those exotic things growing, so much more vegetation than I expected, and in ways, very like the landscapes I know in southern Colorado.   Tough plants adapted to the arid lands–trees with all their networks below the earth, and tiny leaves on slender stalks.  Low scrubby bushes and needlely grasses.

And yet, so very different, too.  Strange leaves and strange patterns and harsh beauty.   At sunset, the desert awakes, and you could feel those rustlings.  A cluster of people topped the viewpoint, cameras in hand to try to catch the sunset, everyone longing for a more personal experience–and yet, there we all were, all of us come a very long way to stand there and have the honor of looking at the iconic Uluru.

I think, too, of the dawn ride on camels.  The camels themselves lined up in the dark, the predawn air still very cold.  The cameldriver herself, lean and tough and scrappy, with her cropped hair and good boots.  The thrill of riding up so high above the desert and seeing it so clearly–and safely away from anything scary that might crawl or leap or slither across an unsuspecting foot.  Again, I was enveloped by the deceptive quiet, the depth of time and history, the vastness spreading out all around.

That red earth.  So much of it.

When we returned to the stables that morning, to eat beer bread and vegemite and drink strong tea, I asked the woman for her email address so I might interview her for something.   She intrigued me.  How do you come to be leading camels through the desert?  How much do you love them?  A lot.

That day was overcast and threatening rain all day, so when I arrived to walk around the base of Uluru, it was possible to leave the tourists behind within just a couple of kilometers, and so I had it to myself.  Me and the rock and the desert and the signs warning tourists not to take photos.  Which I respected, as I respected their strong desire that no one climb the rock. Ever.  Though people still do.

A word on this: do not go to Uluru and climb it. I’m saying that very directly because I couldn’t tell, before I left, what was expected or allowed or even legal.   I like climbing things, and it would have been a big delight for me to climb this very well-known rock and see the world from there.   Before I left, I read that the climb was no longer open, so I put it out of my mind.

When I arrived, the tourist office had a sign that said, “The climb is open.”  And I said, “wait a minute. You can climb up there?”  She–being about 23–looked over my middle aged self and said, “well, you can, depending on your fitness.”  So I thought it would be cool and sort of planned on it.

But it turned out that the original inhabitants, the local natives or aborigines, do NOT WANT YOU TO CLIMB THE ROCK.  And as it is sacred to them and not to me, it’s a perfectly obvious thing to respect.  Catholics wouldn’t want people to go scale Notre Dame just to say they did.

I walked around the base, which is abound six miles, and that is worth doing.  A long, solitary, peaceful walk in beautiful country.  Probably not enjoyable in high summer, but in late winter, with plenty of water, it was fantastic, one of the great walks I’ve done.

Not, I will add, particularly holy.  Or rather, I suppose, no more than any other long and meditative walk.  The rock is beautiful and ancient and you do want to stop and admire it, and the sky and the clouds going over (our cameldriver spoke of how incredible it was in the rain, so I prayed for rain–I was prepared for it).   I did commune with my own spirituality.  I had (another) good cry over Leo, because he came walking with me.  I thought of the women who had their sacred rituals there and sometimes I made up stories about the formations–there were a lot that looked like screaming mouths, complete with teeth, a slightly disturbing that could get a little eerie after awhile.   What were they screaming?  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Halfway around, the sun came out and I passed a pair of men who climbed up on the rock from the other side.  Tsk, tsk.  By then, I was fully into my walking meditation and my musings will stay private, though I will say the colors of red and sage and blue sky are powerfully nourishing.  I understood this landscape, even if it is a half a world from my own.  It nourished me.

Jo went to the other rocks that afternoon and evening.  I chose to stay back and nap and rest, and so at dinner, I took my camera like all the others and went to the top of the bluff overlooking both Uluru and Katja, and waited for the dusk to fall.   And again, there were a lot of us longing for our own private show, but we shared and respectfully didn’t speak much.   The red earth grew redder.  The clouds glowed.  And the ancient, ancient rock was washed tenderly by winter sun, setting into dusk.  And it was very fine.   As I walked back on that soft, soft earth, I shot a dozen pictures of a single tree trunk, and felt drunk on the colors of the desert and that evening, I sat on the top bunk of my little room and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, about death and travel and writing and life.

As I sort through all this, I realize that the outback frightened me a little because it is so very, very vast and ancient and overwhelming on so many levels.  I don’t know how to hold it all in my mind all at once, and I don’t know how to survive in that landscape.  (Which might not matter to you, but the girl scout in the basement always needs that information to feel safe–if we got left out here overnight, what would we need to do?).

But I also see that it moved me.  Powerfully.  It also occurs to me that there is a lot more out there to explore, that it is a vast, vast place and I can visit some other entry point that is not The Times Square of The Outback.   I don’t have to hold it all in my mind at once, and in fact, that’s the opposite of what one can ever do–with a landscape or a novel or a life.

Instead, I hold the dusk of a single evening in all of time, shining on a tree trunk, lighting the clouds.  I hold a walk one afternoon around the perimeter of a rock that will outlast all of us.  I hold the delight of a camel ride and the stillness of the desert filling me, touching me, giving me rest.

Have you visited a place that unsettled you?

Australian photo tour now up on Flickr

Internet access–and time–became severely limited the final week of our long, insanely wonderful Aussie tour.   Since last Sunday, I have been on six flights, covering thousands of kilometers, visited the Outback, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, and Sydney, and now I’m typing this from my own laptop while I await Flickr to upload the photos I’ve spent the day organizing and labeling.   It is the perfect task for a jet-lagged brain, and I’ve found that I will never get it done if I don’t do it right away. 

Uploading is finished.  I’ll be doing some more organizing and shuffling over the next day or two, but you can get a good look at the photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/60255232@N00/sets/72157606862035227/

I have many thoughts to organize into categories for you. Australia turned out to be so much more than I expected, and so astonishing, and so nourishing.  I feel like the girls in the basement have been on a wild shopping binge–each one rushing out every day to gather up all the things she most likes from the environment we found ourselves in, grabbing colors or culture or accents or food or characters according to her job.  Every night, they all dumped their stuff in the Room of Creativity, collapsed overnight, the rushed out again at daybreak.   All those bags and boxes and observations are piled up in a messy tangle in the middle of the floor and it’s going to take a little time to get them all sorted.  

A couple of things I don’t want to forget, raw material from the past few days:

The Great Barrier reef knocked my eyes out of my head.  Especially from the air.  You think you know about something, and then you see it for real, from an angle you never expected, and entire universes open up.  

I learned so much 18th century history!  Again, things you sort of think you know, and there is so much more to them.

I had a very intense reaction to the Outback.  I think I expected to like it, and instead, it kind of freaked me out.  More on that as I sort it out.

In regard to those questions I posed at the beginning of the trip: many intriguing conclusions.  The first one is:  Australia is not America or Britain or Scotland or New Zealand or any other place.  It is its own separate self, very unlike anywhere I’ve been.   There is, undeniably, a strong British influence (though the food is better), but lots of other things, too.   More on that, too, as I sort it out.

THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS will be out in an Australian edition in February, so I hope you Australians will look for it on your shores.  I had dinner with my publisher and sales force on Friday night, and I’m excited to let you know that I’ll post cover art as soon as I have it.  I also came home to the news that Lost Recipe has now sold to Denmark.  Yay!  May there be many more.  I love the books to go around the world.

Enough for tonight.   Check back as I sort out the stuff the Girls brought back from Australia.  (Oh, I am both happy and sad to be back home!)