Curing the Crankies

I am a grouch this morning. There’s no other word for it. I didn’t sleep well because my knee was hurting and I have this restless leg thing happening after the surgery that’s quite annoying, and I don’t FEEL like doing my work, but there’s a lot piling up and it needs to be tackled.

Also, there are about 27 jillion errands that must be run. My mail has gone missing in this weird little Twilight IMG_7361Zone transfer of addresses and I can’t seem to get it straightened out, so my poor daughter in law has to keep forwarding it to me. Then it gets sent back to her. Rinse and repeat. There’s a box with books for my eldest son that’s been sitting here since Christmas. I spent the weekend running around doing fun things, but then I got super tired and haven’t recovered. Yesterday I forced myself to go swim because I need to get my aerobic capacity back after six months of doing almost nothing to take care of that. (Also, my core strength is not what I’d like and that needs work, too.)

I’m still healing from getting my legs chopped in half then put back together again, and it’s a long road. It’s a good road, but like any long journey, there are times you stop, weary of the same landscape, wish for rescue by helicopter. There’s no helicopter here. Just me and my precious body, on the road toward feeling better.

This morning, I should be writing, but I can tell you right now that’s probably not going to happen. I’m tired and resentful of life roaring back at me so hard, and I’m not quite ready to leap in with such intensity. Because I am a writer and I set my own hours, I do have a certain amount of freedom to step back.

Instead of coming into my office to write, as I planned, I moved things around. The new bottle of gesso I bought last Friday found its way into my hand and I found a brush in the other and I glossed some paper with it, just to play. Some little something started to breathe in the midst of all that irritability. As the paper dries, I pull out a photo of a tomato that I want to paint, and look for the right paper, the right size and weight, and I’m starting to draw. Later, I’ll add a little bit to the small journal of watercolor pages that seems to be a long, long love letter to my darling girl. I miss her terribly, and this is helping. Last week, we had a long, rambling, cheerful chat via Facetime, the first time she’s been really engaged, and she didn’t want me to “leave her house,” and showed me thing and blew raspberries and laughed when I kissed her. At one point, she said, “Nana’s stuck inside the iPad,” which has been haunting me slightly ever since.

All of this inner drama is why I haven’t been writing blogs as I promised. This morning I realized that is dishonest. I’m not always cheerful—far from it, actually. My life doesn’t always flow smoothly, and things show up in clusters—the urgent need to replace my knees, my parents’ ill health the past year, my beloved granddaughter and her wonderful parents moving 800 miles away—and I struggle to keep an upbeat attitude.

I have no wisdom today except that I’m going to take some pleasure in this little cabinet I bought to keep art supplies more orderly:

I’m 1454626_819401144817143_7649465128040458001_ngoing to paint and write something on those gessoed pages. I’m going to listen to music and see if it will speak to me about this book, and I will take a long nap. I am tired. I am healing. I am human. That is what I need today.

What do you do to cure the grouchies? 


Wild Fertility

A writing blog today…..

camille pissarro

I’m in the midst of an enormously fertile period. I’m writing in several genres, including a non-fiction project. This morning I awakened to write the next scene in a book that will eventually become a Barbara O’Neal book. There is soup and a lost child and dogs, but the underpinnings of this work have been very dark and hard to digest.  It suddenly seems ready, however, so that was where I poured my energies this morning.

I’m also working on a non-fiction book for a British publisher (to be distributed through MacMillan in the US) on writing romantic fiction.  The offer came out of the blue, but as I’d been in teaching mode through the spring, it was exactly the right project for me to write on the side, coalescing some of my ideas into a form that can be digested more easily than my exuberant but scattered blogs here.

There is also the matter of Lark, who keeps coming up with new ideas and concepts for her ongoing work in two arenas, The Otherlands and Going the Distance.  Look for more on both of those series in the near future (the 1st installment of The Otherlands will be published sometime in January, an exact date to be determined when I clear the decks and finally finish the line edits.)

All this work! You would think I’d be going crazy, feeling overworked and overwhelmed, but quite the opposite is true.  I have not been so in love with work in many years, and as I was sitting in my chair yesterday, watching it snow and doing some research reading into foster children, I did pause for a moment to realize I feel like I moved to a new land.  I’d been chiseling work out of the hard granite, chipping away a nugget at a time, and it took a lot of hard work and time to do it.

Suddenly, and I do mean suddenly—at the very end of May—I have moved to a completely different place. This is delta bottom farmland, rich with silt and sunlight and the perfect conditions for growing hearty fields of crops.  My mind feels utterly engaged, my heart excited.  I get up and go to work every morning at 4:30 without complaint, even with eager intention. My daily production rates have tripled and show signs of quadrupling.  I’m back to the younger me who wanted the world to go away and leave her alone so she could write more, more, more.

It’s glorious.

And I don’t really know why it happened. Was it the switch to getting up early? I think that has helped.  I am enormously productive during that 90-120 minute block.  It’s as if I’m giving myself an extra work day, every work day.   My evenings were never, are never particularly productive.  I watch television. I might read, but am often too tired to do any serious reading. I putter around after dinner, and for ages I’ve been ready to go to bed around 8, but would hang on for whatever reason. For about a year, I’ve been practicing the early work, but it really took root when CR decided he wanted to try swimming in the early morning.  Now we both want to be asleep early and get up early together, and on days we decide not to get up so early, we get those extra zzz’s. Healthy.

The other thing that I’ve done is give myself permission to totally play in my work, take chances, see what happens. I’ve done some novellas, purely for me, playing with the form, seeing what I like.  I’ve made a big return to romance in the new adult and young adult series, but the books are very different from each other.  The young adult is soft science fiction, highly romantic and with epic adventure undertones.  The new adult is very sexy and lots of fun, but has a serious undertone, too: Jess has to find out who she is—and that means making mistakes, discovering her history and deciding what things matter most to her.  It’s also set in part in New Zealand, which you all know I’ve fallen in love with.   The Otherlands is deeply rooted in my love for the sff genre and I carried it around with me for ages before I realized that I could just….go ahead and write it.  I also have an entire 5 (6?) book series planned as a tie-in/continuation of the St. Ives historicals, all growing out of our travels to England and New Zealand.

And don’t forget the women’s fiction. I love it a lot.  My new book, The All You Can Dream Buffet, is one of my favorites so far. I  love the characters and the setting of a lavender farm, and these women who have all had life challenges.  It was engrossing and required a huge amount of research and recipe testing, and it went back and for the between my editor and I several times, but the end result is one I am very pleased with. I hope you will be, too.

I believe this fertile, wild productivity is the result of me giving myself permission to do that play.  I can do it because of indie publishing, and I don’t have to worry that I’ll starve or that I’ll flop at a new publishing house.  I can take big chances, play in a lot of different arenas. Because I’m the one taking the risks, and I don’t need to sell 50,000 books to break even. Because I am more in charge of everything, I don’t feel that creeping anxiety that plagues all working writers over how many books are selling here and there and everywhere.  I am much freer to write the books arriving today.  I am very deeply enjoying the balance between my work for traditional publishing and my own publishing, a luxury that I couldn’t have imagined even five years ago.

This is not everyone’s ideal scene, I get that.  I have friends who need and like to focus on one book for a couple of years at a time. I also have others who like writing lots of books, but mostly in the same arena. That’s fine.  My brain has always loved variety and mix-ups and new challenges.  Sometimes I’ll fall on my face, but that’s fine, too.  So far, the fields are growing very well, producing a good many crops. I hope I will be wise enough to recognize when/if winter arrives and asks me to rest.

Do you like to write in many arenas or focus on one?  Do you find there are wildly productive periods in your life, and less productive ones?  

PS I’m pulling away from blogging so much elsewhere and will be spending more time here.  Hope you’ll join in the conversation.

An Early Spring Challenge

greenhouse--my happy placeFinally, there is real spring in the air. You can feel it burning off the cold by eight-thirty, and a brilliance of light makes everything stretch and awaken.  My poppies are up, green and thick, and the daffodils—a bit scrawny so far—and the tulips, looking sturdy.  I’m surprised by a crop of garlic that must be leftover from last year, and not at all sure that the wisteria that’s supposed to overwinter is actually going to do anything.

We shall see.

In the meantime, I have a new experiment.  I’m madly in love with a chubby Spanish pepper called pimento de padron.  I must have had them in Spain when we walked the Camino, but it was later that I started to love them so madly—they’re often served as a tapas plate in Spanish restaurants, and prepared very simply, pan grilled in olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt.

That’s it, but every bite is heaven. They are mostly not very hot, but part of the pleasure is in finding the one in ten that has a bite—it explodes in your mouth, spice and heat and salt and oil, and it makes me laugh, every time.

The thing is, we have peppers of every variety you can imagine here.  I could buy habaneros and jalapenos and Anaheims (which we call Pueblo chiles here) and cayennes; I can grow all of those and more from bedding plants sold at the grocery store.

Padrons are not common. I had to search hard to find a place that would ship me some last fall, and they were $17 a pound, plus shipping.  Worth it, but at that price, not something I’d do very often.

Naturally I decided to see if I could grow some.  Logical,  yes?

Problem #1: getting the seeds. I did find some, and ordered from three sources, to see which ones grow best.

Problem #2: peppers need a long growing season, which I do not have.  They also need a very hot bed to germinate, and my greenhouse is not heated.

This was not the easiest challenge.  I bought some heated mats, but they said they kept the temperatures of the soil about 10-15 degrees higher than the room. Not really enough.  I fretted and considered one solution after another.  I bought a space heater, but when it arrived I realized that even if I hung it from the rafters of the greenhouse (not ideal), I’d worry about it melting the walls.  I put it aside for my real greenhouse (which I vow to you I will have by this summer’s end) and went back to brainstorming and combing the web.

Turns out, many people use jugs of water, painted black, but I didn’t have time for that. Another solution is oil heaters, which I happened to have in the basement. I lugged it outside, but it was too tall for the spot it needed to go, and the slope was too much for it to stay stable—another bust.

I finally decided that maybe I was putting too much effort into what is, after all, an experiment with seeds, a little hobby play.  Keep things in perspective, I said. Let’s just see what happens.

I planted the seeds, along with some celery.  One of the leaflets in the padron seeds suggested putting a ¼ inch of water in the bottom of the trays to what will be padron peppershelp conduct heat, so I did. I also made a special trip to Lowe’s to find seedling greenhouse covers, to help keep the heat and water in.  I tucked some potato starts in a black potato bag and put it on the south end, by the tables, hoping it would hold and conduct heat, too.

Then I closed everything up and waited for the storm. (Oh, I didn’t mention that? Yes, a storm came through over the weekend and dropped the temperatures to below freezing.)  The cats slithered in below the plastic and slept in there, so I figured it had to be sort of warm.

By the time the storm passed, I’d stealed myself to find everything inside frozen—but when I opened the window flap to peek in, a rush of warm—not hot, but definitely warm—air poofed out.  Everything was fine!

Nothing is sprouting yet, but I’ll keep you posted.


A Tough Year For The Garden

Some sage English gardener said, “It takes 50 years to create a beautiful garden.”

An allium from my garden, before the hail, heat, and smoke.

It comforts me.

Last year, you may remember, we started the Great Suburban Back Yard Overhaul. Tore out the decrepit wooden deck, rototilled half the lawn, put in new fences, and built a new garden bed with seven areas and pathways. I was half drunk with the glory of planting last year—lilacs and a peach tree, vegetables and perennial flowers, roses and herbs. I had a few disappointments: the onions kept being eaten by some tiny worm (which happened again this year—help!). The only rose that made it was in the mini-greenhouse I erected. The peach tree nearly died of a fungus until I figured it out.

But an inaugural year is always sweet, isn’t it?

This has been a very unkind year for gardens in my world. There was the late spring, then an early and endless and destructive hailstorm just as I managed to get all the seedlings planted. Then came the extreme heat (102 degrees in Colorado Springs is weird indeed), which coupled with the altitude of 7000 feet scorched and exhausted the June plants.

Before the heat broke, fire began to rage in the mountains. The Waldo Canyon Fire pumped tons of ash and particulates into the air, thus further smothering my poor babies. It was too hot and smoky to do any weeding, though I still did my best to keep up in the evenings. Weeds don’t care about smoke or heat or hail. There is a particular little succulent weed that thrives on all of that and they have made themselves very much at home.

Finally, the fire is out (or at least contained). Even better, the monsoon season has arrived. It has rained a lot the past week, and there is more rain to come, nearly every afternoon over the upcoming week. The plants are THRILLED. The corn has gone from a pathetic ankle high to thigh high in six days. The potatoes have started flowering. The peas have croaked, but that’s normal this time of year. I’ll plant some more in a month or so.

The only things that just are not going to thrive this year are the tomatoes. They’re puny and overwhelmed. The watermelon plants were demolished in the hail storm and have not recovered, but they were a looooonnnnnnggggg shot from the start. I’ve left them, anyway. You never know.

Clearly, I am behind on my weeding and mulching, but it all burst into glory in about three days flat.

This morning I sat in my swing beneath the Ponderosa pine in my garden and admired the returned vigor of the lupines and the beans, the rose that has begun to bloom again and the snapdragons that add a corner of zest. I don’t know if I’ll get peaches, in the end. They were battered badly by the hail, and the tree still looks bedraggled. But there are a lot of them. They haven’t dropped off. They might be unbeautiful, but maybe I’ll get some jam.

Gardens, books, and children, I suppose. You don’t know how it will all turn out for a long time. In the meantime, you show up and do the work—writing pages or pulling weeds or driving them to violin lessons—and try to be present for what is, and trust that things work out.

How is your garden faring this summer? How are your other long term projects—books, children, remodeling? Does anyone know how to organically rid the soil of those annoying little worms eating my onions? 

Cool off with In The Midnight Rain

On special this week at Amazon:  IN THE MIDNIGHT RAIN:

Ellie Connor is looking for answers when she arrives in Gideon, Texas to stay in the guest house of Internet pal Blue Reynard.  She’s researching a book about the mysterious disappearance of a woman blues singer in the 1950’s, but she’s also seeking answers to a great mystery in her own life.  When she arrives in Gideon with her dog April, she has no idea she’s about to upturn her life and the lives of many of the residents of the small east Texas town–and none more than Blue himself.

This was my first women’s fiction, a book that haunted me for months, showing up when I opened up the oven, following me around like an  annoying child, nagging me to finish it.  It had been a “Sunday book,” a book I write as an experiment on the weekends around other projects, but it finally became quite insistent that I should finish it and submit it.

It was a life-changer, this one.  I found my current agent with this material, and that was the year I started writing women’s fiction almost exclusively.  I had very powerful feedback on the book, from so many segments of society, that it has long been one of my favorites. Please take a look at this sample chapter–maybe you’ll love it, too.


Turning off the computer and the lamp, Ellie slipped on a pair of thongs and headed up the hill. The house glowed with lights, and as she started out, Blue turned on an outside light that made it easier, but it was still very dark, a kind of dark she’d forgotten existed. Crickets whirred in the grass, and cicadas answered from the trees, the only sounds for miles and miles, and the air was thick and soft against her face, smelling of earth and river and sky. She inhaled it deeply, pausing to catch the moment close to herself.

Peaceful. Life was so peaceful in the country. Not the actual lives—emotions ruled people no matter where they lived, so there was always some drama or another waiting to make things chaotic—but the details were easier. She could think better without cars racing and roaring and people shouting in the apartment overhead, and even little things like televisions and radios in an unceasing undertone of constant sound. She liked smelling air, not fuel, and loved the sight of the sky overhead.

A shadow startled her, and she made a sound of surprise before Blue caught her hand. “It’s just me,” he said.

For that brief second, she let herself feel his big, strong hand, rough from his work. Impulsively, she curled her fingers around his, and said, “You have one sexy voice, Dr. Reynard.”

“Are you flirting with me, Miz Connor?”

She laughed softly. “Maybe so.”

“Good. I like that.” He walked up the path, hanging on to her. Ellie let it be. At the porch, he let her go, and gestured for her to take a chair. “I’m having bourbon, myself. What’ll be your pleasure? Other than me, of course.”

“I wouldn’t mind a bourbon, if you’ll walk me back down the hill.”

“Careful now. I might take that as an invitation.”

“You are amazingly arrogant, you know that?”

“Yes, I do. ” She heard ice clinking in a glass and the quiet flow of liquid, and he gave her a glass.

“Thank you.”

He settled on the step. “Not too many women drink straight bourbon these days.”

“I don’t very often.”

“But you got a little off balance today, didn’t you?”

She gave him a look. “So did you.”

Quietly, he said, “Yes, ma’am, that I did. Guess we both have our closets full of skeletons.”

“Most people do.”

“You think so? I don’t know. It seems like a lot of folks just get it right out of the gate. I see them in town, you know? Guys who’ve been making the right call since the day they were born, live quiet lives without a lot of turmoil, and just . . . keep it together. Never screw up their credit or forget to mow the lawn or leave a project half-done.”

Ellie sipped cold fire from her glass and listened.

“You ever notice,” he said, “that those people don’t ever seem to have big traumas, either? Like their kids never have wrecks and their houses don’t burn down. It’s like they’re protected with some big cloud of serenity”

“That’s seeing it from the outside, Blue. Nobody gets through life without sorrow and loss. It’s just part of the game.”

He turned his face toward her, and in the darkness, Ellie could see no details, but she sensed his attention. “You really believe that?”

“My grandma always says there are green seasons.” She tucked a foot up under her.


In the moment……

It is a late Friday afternoon in February.  My dog Jack is snoring on the floor behind me. My old cat Athena is comfortably sitting in the sunshine , peering out at the world. The kittens randomly leap on the back of the chair, up to the desk, over to the bookcase, hoping to get me to come open a can of food for them.   I am waiting for my son to call and say that we’re going to the hospital so that his wife can be induced, a call I have been waiting for–and THEY have been waiting for all day.  It was supposed to happen at 6 am. Then 9 am. Now 6 pm.

We are very, very ready for her to be here. Yesterday was long enough by itself, since we heard the news on Wednesday afternoon that Morgan probably needs to deliver.  But there were…electrical problems on the floor at the hospital. They had to postpone.  I would be lying if I said this didn’t make me anxious, but I am also a believer in things working together for good, so I’m focusing on the fact that it would have been worse for her to be in labor when the power snagged.

So presented with an entire day, what have I done?  A lot of Facebook.  A lot of texting with my sisters. I made a stab at writing new material for The Mirror Girl, but the first time was a bust, so I took a little nap.  I woke up and shot a bunch of photos with my new camera, mostly playing with depth of field on little tiny things (you may have noticed I love shooting very little things up close), made some lunch read more Facebook.

BORED.  I can’t really go to the gym because I had a stomach bug earlier this week and it kicked my butt, so I’m restricted from the gym for the week. Not even yoga. Yesterday, my dog was so slow on the final stretch that I got worried about him, so he got a bone instead of a walk today.

I finally did write some pages on The Mirror Girl (which is almost finished, at least this first book is) and did another round of deep research on childhood leukemia, which figures into the new book for Bantam.  I sent out some emails for The Garden of Happy Endings and made a list of things to do for the release, April 17.  (I will be at several events through April and May, so be sure to check back.)

(And by the way, if you’re collecting the old titles, two more have gone up, Light of Day and A Minute to Smile.  Check out the covers–aren’t they pretty??)

But really, all I’m doing is waiting for Amara.

Here is one of the photos I shot.  I love old silver and tiny spoons and salt cellars in particular.  Have you ever had one?


What do you do when all you’re really doing is waiting?

The Otherlands Chronicles

I am quite pleased to be keeping up, posting almost every day (have had to take two days off, and I suspect there will be another this week).  More, I am having a blast discovering this world and story.  Who knew there was a magic cello?

He passed the cello over to me, and I almost felt a ripple through the body, as if it was as excited to be in my hands as I was to touch it again.  I pressed a palm against the front, and took in a breath.  Bartholomew gave me the bow.  “What would you like to play?”

“I would happily play Mary Had a Little Lamb on this beautiful instrument,” I said, nestling it closer to me. It reclined against my shoulder, the scroll close to my ear. As if it—no, she—could speak, I almost heard a whisper, a suggestion.  “Bach’s Air?”  I said.

He was very still for a long moment, then he riffled through a pile of music on the stand, and pulled out the selection.  “I have been working on it.”

We shifted, each of us bending into our instruments, finding our balance.  I mentally hummed through the first bars, sliding into the notes as if they were a suit.  He tuned the G string more finely.  Against me, the old cello vibrated very faintly.

I looked at Bartholomew, and he nodded, tapping his foot. I swayed into his lead and we began together, the long sweet notes pouring out, winding around each other. I found him in the music, and he fit himself into my playing, and we fell inside the piece, both of us.  It was melancholoy and romantic, and the profound beauty loaned by the cello took the notes to some wilder, deeper place.   It seemed to dance against me, the wood warming, glowing.  My cheeks grew hot and a trickle of sweat ran down my neck, and I closed my eyes, feeling an electric sense of tingling through my hands, up my arms, swirling through my neck, and somehow into me, into my chest and throat.



In exactly one week, Tuesday, November 1, at 3 am my time, I will have a little surprise for you.   Nothing like I’ve done before, but devoted to the spirit of play and experimentation that is changing the face of our publishing world.  Some of you will love it.  Some of you might not.  I have a feeling that I’m going to have a blast. And that’s all I’m going to say for now.  Stay tuned. Countdown


This morning I was scouring the internet for some new ideas for dishes to experiment with. There are a couple of events coming up and I’ll bring a dish, so it would be fun to try some new things.  Saveur always offers something fantastic, and I spent easily an hour wandering through their catalogue of recipes.  I want to try the Herbed Tomato Tart, but perhaps not until I can buy tomatoes for less than $4 a pound.  Instead, pears are readily available and easy, so maybe this Pear and Walnut Tart for one event, and this Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage for the vegetarian dish.  I haven’t tried gnocchi before, though I love to eat it. I wonder if it’s hard.

At one time, that would have stopped me. I would have gone on to try something a little less daunting. These days, I’ve cooked enough bad dishes that if I don’t successfully carry one off, it’s not some overwhelming disaster, but an opportunity to learn something new.  Anyone have tips for cooking gnocchi?

Also: I love this photograph, which is taken by Todd Sullivan, for Saveur Magazine. (It’s time for a new camera and the next step in lessons.  I have a lot of photos of gardens and foods coming up, and it would be fun to get a bit better at it.)  In this photo, the food looks easy and interesting and nourishing, but it’s the light that catches me, the quiet spirit of what feels like it would be a hearty simple meal.  Just off screen, I imagine, is a decanter of some pleasant table wine and a crusty loaf of bread.  A window overlooking a wild kitchen garden, dormant at the moment, but fecund in summer. What do you see?