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.

The Magic Figs

12022329_933572046733385_9056047089503414338_oI absolutely adore figs. I don’t think I’d ever eaten one until I was an adult, and it was the most delightful revelation, all that sweetness and texture and flavor–oh!  They don’t travel particularly well, so the only times to eat them are the short seasons in late spring and early fall when they are finally available in the produce section of the local high-end markets. They don’t grow in Colorado, so they are not even at farmer’s markets.

So I got it into my head to grow a couple of fig trees. I read that you could bring them in to overwinter, so I ordered a couple and put them in pots and–you know, despite all the challenges, they’re doing all right. Kind of scruffy looking–every year, they start leafing out too early in the basement and I have to bring them up into the full light, where then they have to have an adjustment period outside, and drop a bunch of leaves. But I keep trying.

It has been three summers and these two lovely figs are the first harvest off my little hard-scrabble trees. Aren’t they the loveliest figs you’ve ever seen? My friend Mel Scott, fellow painter friend, suggested they should be immortalized in watercolor, and so they should.

Christopher Robin teases me about how much time, money, water, and energy I spend on things I can buy at the grocery store for usually much, much less. But when I cook a pot of new potatoes that I just carried in from the garden, the feeling in my heart is so much bigger and happier than the same new potatoes I picked up at the farmer’s market. They’re all delicious. Mine are just that tiny bit better. The heads of garlic I carry upstairs in January from the cool place in the basement where I set the to cure are imbued with love and sunlight I know, and water I poured on them. They’re local and organic in the most satisfying possible way.  My ears of corn are much smaller than the ones I could buy at the store, but they make me so happy.

This is one of those things gardeners share that others scratch their heads over, but, oh, aren’t they just so very very beautiful?

 

What I Love 3/365: The Smell of Cat Fur

Looking for a cuddle
Looking for a cuddle

One of the great things about living with cats is that moment when one of them comes in from outside and wants some attention and leaps up on a lap or the bed or a sink while you’re washing your hands and head butts you and you bend over and bury your nose in their fur, that thick soft place right over her shoulder blades. It is one of the freshest, sweetest scents in the universe, made of sunshine and breezes and the brush of cosmo leaves and the thorough attentions of both this cat and her compatriots who must spend approximately twenty-two of of every twenty-four hours on grooming themselves and each other.

 

That Apartment in Brooklyn

3DAllYouCanDream1-216x300By now, most of you must know I have a new book out, The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O’Neal.  It’s one of my favorite books so far, a tale of four food bloggers who gather at a lavender farm in Yamhill Co, Oregon, which has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. (It is no secret that I adore lavender and it was a delight to do the research, let me tell you.)

One of the things I did to support the release of the book was travel to New York for a class discussion at Fordham with my editor, and while I was there, I went to brooklyn & cassandraBrooklyn for a signing. (Waving to Cassandra Mariano, from Staten Island, who came in with her mother. So much fun to meet Facebook friends in new cities!)  My friend Therese Walsh, author of The Moon Sisters, had rented an apartment close to the bookstore where we were signing together.

It was a sweet little place, big by NYC standards, a fifth floor walk-up with essentially one big room and a well-appointed little kitchen with a big window and plenty of  space. The bathroom was a triangle barely large enough to stand in front of the sink, but who cares with a kitchen like that? A pile of New Yorker magazines were stacked by the couch, and spying them, I felt time shift abruptly and intensely. No longer was I standing there, too hot in my scarf and waiting for everyone to go downstairs. Instead I was instantly transported into my twenty-year-old self, who was a very hungry and ambitious writer who dreamed of having exactly that life–the one I would live in this apartment. I would have some not-very-thrilling job in the city and take the train back home, dragging my stuff up all those narrow flights of stairs to the apartment at the back, with three windows and turquoise appointments on the walls, and books everywhere and a curtain dividing my day life from my night.  For an iridescent moment, I floated there with Twenty, being both my selves, each image overlaying the other.  Now and then.

As we headed down the stairs, I smiled to myself, because in a way it has all come true, my writing life, born when I lived in a second floor apartment in an old house on a busy street in a city where cars drove by all night long and I had stacks of New Yorkers and piles of books everywhere, and a big kitchen where I never cooked anything because I was working and studying and partying all the time.  I read from The All You Can Dream Buffet and went to dinner with Therese and a couple other literary friends (all of us from Writer Unboxed) and we talked about what we’d done to make our dreams come true, to capture for ourselves a literary life.  I drank wine in Brooklyn and thought of that girl, who was waiting for it all to happen.  When I got back to Chelsea (taking not the train but a cab even if was expensive because I’d been on the go all day to meetings and lunch and then a long, long evening and maybe the train at 11 pm was more than I really wanted to deal with–plus one of the gifts of being Not Twenty is the liquidity to take a cab when one wishes), I walked out into the night to take one last look at the silvery finger of the Empire State Building sticking up into the dark sky. I walked to the store in the mild night and bought water and milk for my coffee. Twenty was pleased, and so was I, walking back on the quiet street, with the smell of garbage somewhere in a can not quite closed, and voices in an apartment, and a glimpse of a classroom in the school.

Have you ever encountered a younger self in the street somewhere? 

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.

Ta da! A surprise and a revelation….

If you follow me on Facebook, you already know about this, but here’s a little background.

You may have noticed that I’ve been scarce this summer. So much has been happening behind the scenes!  It all started when I went to Breckenridge with Christopher Robin in late May to have a long weekend for my birthday. It snowed. A lot. Which meant we didn’t do any hiking or kayaking as we’d planned, but read and napped and ate and rested. Also good.

On the second morning, the Girls woke me up at 4 am with a book idea. I told them to go away and turned over. They insisted I need to get up and write this down. Like, now. So I got up and made a cup of tea, and by the time CR woke up, I had an entire book outline. Characters, plot, story, romance.  All of it.

Every now and then, I get a gift book. I don’t remember one coming to me so fully fleshed. Bemused, I set it aside and hung out with CR for breakfast. By afternoon, the book was bothering me again. I decided to take my notebook to the local Starbucks (which is so adorable and has amazing views).  I realized halfway down the hill that I’d forgotten a pen. It’s not that easy to find something like that in Breckenridge and I really didn’t want to walk all the way back to the hotel.  I was about to give up when the Girls said, “Oh, no you don’t. Go ask that boarder in the t-shirt shop if he has one you can borrow.” So I did. And he was like, “Sure, dude.”  I said, “I’ll bring it back.” He waved me away. “No worries.”

I went to Starbucks. I ordered a coffee. An hour later, I had 67 scenes, in order. Basically, uh, the whole book.

I’m no idiot. A book shows up like that, I’m going to show up, too, and write.  So write I did. The entire book over the summer. My fingers couldn’t keep up.  I had no interest in doing anything but showing up for the book. It was like living in a movie for the summer. It is the most fun I’ve had writing in about 100 years, and you know me, I love writing!

The thing is, this is not my usual realm. It’s not even Young Adult, which I’ve been writing on the side for awhile.  (More on that in a few weeks…yes, the OtherLands are finally going to be published.)  This attack book is New Adult, a genre I’ve been reading but really had had no plans to write until this 19-year-old girl showed up. To keep the branding straight for those of you who want my women’s fiction–that’s still Barbara O’Neal.  If you like the romances, that’s Barbara Samuel.  If you want New Adult and Young Adult, come see me as Lark O’Neal.

Here is her first book.  It will be out November 12, with book #2 to follow in the spring, 2014 and #3 in the summer, 2014.  You can pre-order now at Amazon and Apple.  Subscribe to Lark’s newsletter. Follow her on Facebook  and Twitter. Check out the website.

Ta-da! Here is the cover and back cover blurb:

1-random-front

Life is random…

 

19-year-old Jess Donovan knows better than most that life is random. Her mom is dead, and she’s on her own, patching together a living as a waitress when a car crashes through the restaurant where she works. In two seconds, she loses her job, watches her best friend hauled away in an ambulance…and meets Tyler Smith, one of the hottest, most fascinating—and mysterious guys she’s ever met.

 

Both for the good and the bad…

 

Within days, Jess is swept up into the mesmerizing force that is Tyler. Their every touch sizzles, every kiss dissolves them both, and the sex is…fierce. But there’s more to Tyler than his hypnotic eyes. He’s adrift, too, and his body—and his soul—are covered with scars. How can she find herself with a guy who is lost himself?

 

Until you take charge….

 

Jess is determined to find her way, and make a life that is better than the one she was given. But how?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty excited, I think you can tell. :)

Also, for those who are pursuing NaNoWriMo this year, come make me your buddy.  I’m awriterafoot.

All Is Well, even if it doesn’t seem like it

It has been a traumatic period in the history of my city.

A photo I took the Friday before last at the Arcade.
A photo I took the Friday before last at the Arcade.

Last Friday night, I watched the water pour through Manitou Springs, over the sidewalks and bridges, through the streets, through a café I love. The water is black and thick with debris and it’s wrecking things.  Things I love.  Things that feel like they define me.

Last summer it was Waldo Canyon. I know there was a lot of coverage of the loss of homes, and that was deeply tragic. But my loss was the hiking trail there. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. There was a meadow by the creek where the trails diverged at the circle point. People camped there, though I never did. I would have been too afraid of bears wandering about to get the raspberries that grew thick along the ravine.

I hiked there, though, more times than I can count.  I walked with my friend Renate, a charming German who made me laugh, and Chrysauna, a young teacher with ice blue eyes.  Once, my friend Heather and I had to take the last of the hike at a .10 of a mile an hour pace to let an old dog rest. His paws had grown raw over the hike and he was too big too carry.

Mostly, I remember early mornings in high summer, with hot blue skies and a group of cheerful companions in good boots parking their cars at the lot and tromping up the stairs to the trail, laughing and joking and feeling good about ourselves because we were going to hike.

I loved that trail.  The raspberry bushes, and the place where we stopped behind a bunch of boulders to pee, deep in the shade of Ponderosas.  The switchbacks up the long steep stretch about a third of the way through, and the spot were we always, always stopped to admire Pikes Peak in full revealed glory, one of the best views in the county.  I loved the high view of the city, hazy in the distance, and the spot where we stopped sometimes to eat a snack, on a long log that had fallen sometime ago.  Once, Chrysauna and I got lost and ended up in Crystola, and had to call Christopher Robin to come get us.

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There is some part of me that kept thinking, quite irrationally, that if I had a cheerful attitude that somehow the trail would be restored.  That somehow, some miracle would happen and—It has come home to me lately that I will never hike there again. It is gone. It only exists now in my imagination. It was burned to nothing in that big fire. We are not allowed to go there, and even if we were, I would not know it.This is not easy for me. I know it is not like losing house.  But it’s a pretty gigantic loss to me. It’s personal.

The Friday before last, I was restless from working too many hours and I texted a friend to see if she wanted to go to Adam’s Mountain Café with me. We sat on the patio by the creek and watched the creek rush by in its stony channel and ate grilled watermelon salad and a Small Planet burger and even indulged desert. Afterwards, we ambled through the arcade and I stopped to have my ritual sip of water from the ever-flowing fountain.

I have been wandering over to Manitou since I was a small child. It tugs me to its bosom when I am tired or confused or lost, allows me to dance on its streets when I’m celebrating.  It holds my life like a prism, showing now the the wild me, the young me, the weary me, the Colorado native me.  Every time I walk through that arcade, I am five again, with my father’s hand in mine, and I am looking down at the creek visible between the boards beneath my feet. I am sure I could fall through.  My father assures me I will not.

I never have.

The Friday before last with my friend, I resisted buying salt water taffy from Patty’s, and instead bought a copper bracelet to see if it would heal my wrist. I shot Instagram photos of the old-timey signs. I thought, with gratitude, of how much I love the place. The hot sun burning my head. The arcade, the restaurant, the twisting streets.  The hippies, the homeless kids, the tourists, the old timers with their grizzled long hair, the dogs.

Last Friday afternoon, an inch of rain fell on the Waldo Canyon burn scar.  In a half hour, the water came roaring down the canyon, washing over a highway, sweeping cars ahead of its raging force.  Houses were torn off their foundations, 40 cars were swept away. One man died, a woman is still missing. It’s chaotic.

This has all happened before, the fires and the floods.  It will happen again. All of it.  I understand—intellectually—that it’s a normal, natural process.  Emotionally, I feel grief and exhaustion.  Emotionally, I wonder what can really possibly be done to really stop the floods from destroying Manitou. That might seem unnecessarily negative, but those bold facts stand there, staring.  The burn scar is naked and enormous.  There are three canyons that feed into the town. There is no place for the water to go.

Eventually, maybe levees will be built. Eventually, there will be even more ideas that are better than that.  In the meantime, every time there are thunderstorms over the scar, we are collectively looking at Manitou.

When the fires licked so close to the skirts of the town, I chanted under my breath, please not Manitou, please not Manitou, please not Manitou.  And it was spared.  What does not seem plain is how it will fare under this new threat.

The good news is, we are toward the end of the summer.  The monsoons will slow.  And we have all learned, in our beautiful city, that life is more precious than we realized. Things can change in an instant, when a spark ignites a forest. When a rainstorm arrives, as always, on a summer afternoon.

That’s the thing. Life is always random. We just pretend that it is not. Fire brings it home. Floods remind us. But it’s always like this.  Ultimately, life is dangerous and unpredictable.

It is also so unbearably perfect.  I am lucky enough to have the shady, fragrant trails of the Waldo Canyon trail in my mind, living and breathing in my imagination. As long as I live, it will live with me.  Manitou, as it is right now and perhaps always will be, also lives.

Once again, I remember: be here now. What we have is today.  This moment. In my world it is sunny and summer, cool enough with a breeze coming in through the window that I thought about putting on sleeves.  My old cat is sleeping her box.  A big fly is in the window. Clothes are washing.

Be here now.  What is your here and now?

A dog, a ball, and a lake

Over at REINVENTING FABULOUS today….

My brother had a dog named Loki, a black springer spaniel mutt, who loved the water and loved chasing balls. If you combined the two, say a lake and a 1012181_481787078578553_1501958219_nball, he would chase that baby for hours.  Hours.  Until his legs were shaking. Until the sun was setting. Until my brother had to leash him to make him stop.

That’s what exercise should feel like.  Believe it or not, there is an exercise out there that will feel that good to you. Our bodies were designed to move and every single one of us has something that will feel like that spaniel and the ball in the lake

As I’ve said before, I was the anti-PE girl.  And I’m still so uncoordinated that I wouldn’t dare pick up a tennis racket or try to throw a baseball. But this afternoon, I headed out to the garden.  I kept thinking I should go swimming because I’ve been doing it a lot and my massage therapist said that my back looks great, and many of us are headed out to the national RWA conference next week, so I wanted something to keep looking good. Calves and back, that’s what I’ve got. (And forearms, baby. Let me flex my forearms for you sometime. Please?) Everything else is showing its age.

What I did instead of swim was drift out to the garden.  READ MORE  >>>>>

Possibilities

I haven’t had enough artist’s dates recently.  Every time I imagine taking the afternoon off to enjoy something–a friend, a meander through a bookstore, a movie–I start fretting about what I’ll have to give up to get that. Work or exercise mainly.  I won’t give up the afternoons with Amara, which are artist’s dates in many ways, and there is a garden to put in now that the ground is warming.  Gardening can be an artist’s date, of course, especially a little later in the season when I’m buried in flowers and emerging vegetables.

Hilary, the wild-mind, tattooed bad girl who does most of the heavy lifting, has been rebelling as a result of this neglect. I realized it over the weekend and made a resolve to do more for her–let her direct us to shoot photos in the morning before we start writing, arrange some flowers, spend an afternoon a week out doing something like wandering the shops on the westside or having tapas with a friend or…whatever.

Yesterday, I went to Pueblo to see my parents.  It’s been way, way, way too long since I’ve seen them–another example of my neglect of the rest of my life–and we went to lunch on the Riverwalk (actually, we ate at Angelos, which is the site of a pinnacle scene in The Garden of Happy Endings), then meandered back to the car along Union Avenue.  There is a massive and wonderful antique shop there.  We stopped.  All of us look at different things, though at first my mother and I look at each other’s stuff, then we wander into our own worlds.  I never know what will catch my eye, if anything.  I’m pretty ruthless about bringing too much stuff into my house.

Almost as soon as I walked in yesterday, this caught my eye.

IMG_4792

 

A window. The screen is still intact, and despite the worn look of the paint, it’s quite solid, $25, with 20% off, making it $20. I was smitten, but forced myself to walk away until I’d gone through the whole place.  When I circled back, I still wanted it, my mind offering possibilities–it could be a mini greenhouse. I could put a light inside and photos on the windows and hang it in my dark basement.  It could form the structure for a collage.  It could even be a backdrop for photos, studio-like, if I set it up right.

Whatever. I thought about whether it would even fit in my Mini, especially since my mom was riding in the backseat. Maybe not–but I could always have my father bring it to me.  I just knew that it would be one of those things I’d think about later, wishing I’d given myself permission to play.  Check out the chain.

So I paid a whopping $20. It fit just fine in the back of the Mini, especially once I dropped my parents off and could put the seats down.

And I’ve been happy about it ever since.  I might paint it a very light aqua and cream or just clean it up and distress it.  Or put shelves in.  Whatever. Hilary is happy and occupied, playing with ideas and possibilities. Giving her this little present is exactly what she deserves.

Oh, I also bought some charming little bottles for flower vases, but wordpress is not letting me post a photo.  Who knows why.

A great artist’s date–and I spent time with my parents, too!

 

The end of one cycle…the beginning of the next

We are working on a new title for my next book. I’m nearly finished with the copy edits, and cover discussions have begun.  That means it’s time for me to think about what’s next.

I’ve started working on ideas for new books. This is–by far–the most enjoyable stage of the process until I have a finished book to hold in my hands, and one of the pleasures is in building collages.  Tonight, I’ve been leafing through some of my favorites, tearing out pictures and simply enjoying the quiet, restful pleasure of looking at beautiful photos, leafing through magazines, letting images and ideas rise.

One of my favorites, Artful Blogging, actually provided the seed for the new book.  In its pages, I read story after story of women whose lives had been transformed by the act of starting and keeping up with a blog.  Some were artists, some chefs or bakers, some quilters or photographers, but over and over again, they said the same thing: “Blogging changed my life.”

I kept wondering what that would be like, to live somewhere isolated, and decide to begin this journey.  And what might my character discover? And where would it take her? And so the book was born, four food bloggers who support and encourage each other, and finally meet on the blue moon at a lavender farm….

Anyway, tonight I was leafing through all these beautiful magazines and thought of all of you. If you have not ever picked up Stampington.com‘s artful magazines, I hearby order you to go look around the site and click through a few.  And remember that little things can change your life, too.

Do you collage or quilt or make art in some way? Do you have favorite art blogs to share with us?