Saying No to Say Yes

Ah, I’ve been in my writing cave again and haven’t been blogging here at A Writer Afoot.  I do keep trying! Meanwhile, I have my regular monthly gig at Writer Unboxed, the 4th Wednesday of the month. This is November’s column:

Colorful India India is on my mind this morning. Forgive me for dreaming a little of the faraway, but I am at the end of nearly two solid months of extreme writing. I’ve barely been to the grocery store, much less anywhere interesting.

For a couple of days, I considered writing about how I organized the writing marathon, but India has presented itself, alluring and exotic and beautiful, the place I’ve had on my travel bucket list for longer than any other, and it does have relevance to the marathon, to writing, to our writing lives.

I’ve been saying I wanted to visit India for a long, long time. Decades. The reasons I have not committed to a trip are myriad—it’s a long way, and no one in my circle is at all interested in going, and it will be expensive and it will not be like going to England or Spain. It will be way beyond my comfort zone sometimes. It frightens and calls to me in equal measure. Beauty, sacred sites, ancientness, elephants, color, history. Crowds, heat, poverty. What if I go and hate it? What if I don’t and keep this dream of India forever, pristine and lovely, like the woman in Staten Island who collected all things Tibetan and never went. I loved the museum, but felt such sadness for the woman herself. Why didn’t she go?


Listening to the Prompts

All creative people devise ways to communicate with the mysterious place where ideas come from. A scientific person might call it the right side of the brain. A more mystical one (that would be me) probably calls it the universe or Spirit. Whatever the name, we all learn over time to trust the whispering prompts that nudge us into a particular direction.

Detail-from-JMW-Turners-B-007I’ve had some weird communications going on with the universe over painter JMW Turner, an Englishman I’d honestly never heard of until three months ago. I don’t know how I missed him now, since he is one of the most highly regarded of all English painters, and his style was a forerunner of the Impressionists, whom I adore with heart and soul, but there’s the truth. I had never heard of him or seen his work until I needed a painter for Brilliant. Jess gives Tyler a biography of a painter for Christmas, so I googled watercolorists and Turner came up. He was an eccentric who did things his own way and he fit the bill, so I ran with it. (Deadlines make a writer practical. Yep, works, toss it in there, move on.)

Afterward, Turner kept coming up—everywhere. At first, I put it down to simply awareness. You never notice how many cars of a certain model there are until you start driving one, then they are everywhere. Or you learn a new word and then see it in twenty places the next few weeks. I’m studying watercolors a bit, so reading in that world, and he’s a master. Of course I would see his name.

But it kept going and going. An article in a magazine I rarely read. A comment about the new movie. (Me: “There’s a movie?”)  

On the road

imageI promised blogs every week, but must say the Internet access was not great in many of our stops the past ten days. Here are a couple of photos to keep you company for a few days. We are on our way home and I’ll post later this week about foggy weather, venison stew, windows as studies, and my weird conversation with the universe about the English painter Turner.

Meanwhile, enjoy one of the windows, from a rambling country house in Devon on a cold winter morning.


Upcoming workshops and appearances

Have settled the summer schedule:

June 15, 3013:
Missouri Romance Writers
“The Heroine’s Journey”
Booksigning: 12:30
Maryland Heights Centre, 2344 McKelvey Road, Maryland Heights, MO

July 16-20, 2013
Romance Writers of American National Conference
Panel on Romantic Women’s Fiction
Friday 2-3 pm
Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta GA

July 28-August 3, 2013
Antioch Summer Writing Institute
Writing Commericial Fiction workshop
Mornings, all week
Antioch University, Santa Barbara

All My Bags Are Packed

And we’re ready to go. The cats have been camping on my suitcase, and Jack is following me around everywhere. The long, long list of Get Ready for Christmas, Have Christmas, Go to New Zealand Two Days Later List is pretty much all checked off.   Despite the sad fact that my eldest was felled by food poisoning over the weekend, we had a great visit, and I especially loved Christmas breakfast, which involved orange-frosted cinnamon rolls, both vegan and Pillsbury, and bacon, both regular and tempeh.

This is Ian’s recipe for tempeh bacon, which is so good that I had to scold CR–who is a bacon fanatic— and make him stop eating it.  (You might also remember Ian’s One Ingredient Ice Cream.)

Easy Tempeh Bacon

1 pckg tempeh, sliced very, very thinly
1/4 to 1/2 cup Maple syrup , depending on how much maple flavor you want
Soy sauce to cover

Place the tempeh in a glass dish and pour the maple syrup over it. Add soy sauce to cover.  Cover and marinate in the fridge for one hour to overnight.

Heat canola oil or other high heat oil over medium heat and add the tempeh slices carefully, turning often. They burn quickly! It takes a little practice to get just the right caramelization on the slices, but it just takes tending.  Serve.

Next post will be from NZ….stay tuned.

The Age of Aquarius–a time of balance

Happily, the end of the world has not yet arrived, and we’re all here to begin the long awaited Age of Aquarius, which some say begins this year.  It is meant to be a time of spiritual growth for society, and to me, it  does feel like the dawn of a new age.  I’d like to think so.

I’m thinking about change and balance myself, and a few things have come together to insist that I begin to consider exactly what I want each day to contain, how I want to live, what changes I’d like to make.  In October and November, I was pulling my usual deadline marathon, finishing the new book, Flavor of a Blue Moon, which will be out in early 2014.  (Sorry, I know that will be a disappointment to some of you, but the truth is, it just took more time to research and write than some other books.  I think you’re going to fall in love with Lavender and Ginny and all the adventures they have.  In the meantime, I promise to have some novellas up this year, just for you.)

Back to the deadline marathon.  It was exhausting.  Way more exhausting than it ever has been.  By the time I emailed it to my editor and agent, I felt like a zombie, and looked like one, too: my eyes were bloodshot constantly, and my skin was the color of wax, to compliment the smeared-cinders look of the circles under my eyes.  The last week of the deadline, I realized that I had a sinus infection and dashed over to the local urgent care to get some antibiotics.

There I discovered that one reason I felt so crappy was that my  blood pressure, which I’d been trying to control with diet and exercise, had gone way too high, and my heart was murmuring and all sorts of alarms went off and I was hustled to this doctor and that and had tests and Serious Conversations and–well, the bottom line is,

Upcoming New Zealand

I haven’t been on a long journey since the splendiferous trip to England and Spain in 2010, when I walked a part of the Camino de Santiago (which showed up emphatically in The Garden of Happy Endings).  In a couple of weeks, Christopher Robin and I are headed off to New Zealand for a month, to visit family and wander and recharge the batteries and celebrate a certain important birthday for CR.  I’ll be blogging and posting photos, of course, and I know some of you like these journeys a lot.

We leave Dec 27.  On the schedule are penguins and the earthquake-savaged Christchurch, Mitford Sound and Queenstown. I can’t wait to see those savagely beautiful mountains.  I hope we’ll be able to sea kayak (even if I’ll be nervous).  Everyone has insisted glow worms are really a treat.   I once visited the 90-mile beach in the far northlands and saw a wild horse laughing on a hill, and picked up a purple shell and held my breath over such long stretches of beach so unpopulated, so I want to take CR there.

The rest…who knows?  Bookshops and grocery stores.  Cookies and nephews.  That crazy accent and calla lilies and greenery.  Also, long long flights, which I admit I sort of love.  Time to read, to think, to be away from ordinary life.

Any tips? Anything you’ve seen I must not miss?  What are the best trips you’ve made? 

Writing in Buena Vista

This morning, I’m sitting at Bongo Billy’s coffee shop in Buena Vista, looking straight at Mt Princeton, which is one of the most gorgeous 14ers in a state packed with them. I’ve just posted the pages I wrote early this morning in my cabin overlooking Cottonwood Creek. Had to come to town to get a wifi signal. Doing it made me feel a bit of a city-slicker, but when you fall in love with a story, it goes with you. It’s one of the great things about being a writer.

I am madly in love with Bartholomew and Alia and the world they are revealing to me. I love having the the little deadline every few days so I can write some pages, and stick with it, but I also love that I’m writing it for me. I always write for myself, of course, but the artistic freedom in doing whatever I want for pure, total fun is rejuvenating in a way I hadn’t expected.

Now I’m off to soak in the hot springs and put together a vision board for the new year.

If you want to follow along, go to

In the meantime, hope you are all having a day as fine as mine.

Feasting and friendship in New Mexico

It is a lusciously gloomy morning here in Colorado, and despite the long list of tasks that are calling me (the tamales, the wrapping of gifts, walking the dog), I find myself drawn here, to write.  The subject almost doesn’t matter—the desire is simply to be here and put some words on the page, capture something.

Last week, my friend Heather and I went to Chimayo. It’s a tiny strip of settlement along a two lane highway leading into the mountains from Espanola. You may remember the mention of these places from The Lost Recipe for Happiness, and I will say that it was oddly disorienting to see again all the places that inspired the book—the elaborate descansos, some now lovingly decorated for Christmas, the arroyo that saved Elena from bleeding to death; the wide open field behind the Santuario where I imagined her companions bidding her farewell.   It was like visiting another part of my life, a me I once was.

Heather and I were there to make vision boards, which is simply a poster-sized collection of words and images to represent goals and desires for the coming year. We wanted someplace quiet—and got it.  The Rancho de Chimayo hacienda is an old inn, with the rooms built around an internal courtyard in traditional hacienda style. A friendly white cat with black patches on her ears and paws visited us.  We had no television. No radio.  And horror of horrors: my iPhone did not work. No texts. No phone calls. No compulsive checking of emails every ten minutes.  It was wildly uncomfortable at first, and then we both grew into the quiet.

The first night, the only restaurants in town were already closed and the B&B had nothing, so we traveled back down the road to a convenience store where two tall blonds stood out like bright yellow lights among the small dark men.  Sometimes I’ve felt slightly afraid in Espanola, but not that night. The clerk was friendly, and one of his customers joked with us about our purchases—bottles of water and a can of prepared tuna salad and guacamole chips.   I had tucked away some good cheese and bottles of beer and Izze sodas for the trip, so we had those, too, and it was a decent supper. We cut out photos and started arranging our vision boards in the utter silence, and went to bed early.

In the morning, we both we ready to leap for more civilization. Breakfasts both mornings were very good, carried to our room on trays, with tiny oatmeal muffins and juice and pretty fruit the first day, a giant blueberry muffin and good yogurt the next.

That first morning visited the Santuario, which is one of only a handful of pilgrimage sites in North America. (You can read the story here.) It was only a few hundred yards up the road, and there we mulled spiritual things. I found small gifts for my Catholic son and friends who would appreciate the holy dirt. I shot photos and then spent a long quiet time in the chapel.   I found Heather, who is the queen of animal charmers (and believe me, that takes some doing in my world) making friends with a dog and a horse.

And then, like the city women we are, we bolted for Santa Fe. Heather had never been and I was delighted to show her around, thinking we could eat at my favorite diner, The Plaza.  First, we wandered around the La Fonda hotel, which is a very old, sprawling hotel with a beautiful restaurant in the middle.  Heather asked if we were eating here, and I realized I’d never tried it—I always eat elsewhere in Santa Fe.  “Another time,” I told her, and we headed for The Plaza.

To my dismay, it was closed under renovations.  Not only was I disappointed that we couldn’t eat there, but even more that the restaurant I loved would not exactly be there the next time I visit. No more the kitschy little booths, the old diner style in red and turquoise, the spirit of Route 66 lingering in the old tiles on the floor.   While I recognize things cannot always stay the same, I’m hoping that they’ll preserve the spirit of the old restaurant.

So we ended up at the La Fonda restaurant after all.  We sat by the fountain and I shot photos of the handpainted window panes thatgive the room its unique beauty. Light floods into the room. The menu had some northern New Mexico dishes, but my eye was captured by a spinach tart, puff pastry over sweet potato puree and topped with spinach and goat cheese. It is an elegantly balanced dish, and I’m sure a person who likes beets would have found even that note charming.  I left with the resolve to recreate the dish, and to have traditional northern New Mexico food at dinner.

We wandered the shops in the mild afternoon. I noticed again that Santa Fe is genuinely graying—far more people in their sixties than their twenties or thirties. I also remembered that love Santa Fe style architecture and decoration, the color and splashy details, the coexistence of buildings to earth and sky.  I should live in a Santa Fe style house someday.

Back in Chimayo, we had an indifferent meal at the local restaurant. Nothing was terrible, but nothing was particularly interesting, either.  Back in our room, we rigged up music through my iPad (and discovered we do not have the same tastes in music at all—since she likes mainly modern country and that might be the only form of music I don’t really know very well).  In the morning we made a second visit to the Santuario. I talked with the old priest, a tiny very old man with a Catalan accent, who told me he was “95 years old, soon to be 100!”   I bought Chimayo red chile, and a rosary made of turquoise and silver.

Our last meal was on our way home through Santa Fe to catch I-25, at Café Pasqual, and it was the best of the trip.  A chile relleno that might be the best I’ve ever eaten, delicate and not overwhelmingly cheesey, and a black bean and roasted corn tamale, that inspired me to give this version a try. I don’t even like black beans, and have an aversion to corn in things, and it was marvelous. We took a picture to remember the day, and drove home in a blustery day, across the vast, empty landscape with its harsh mesas and faraway mountains, talking and talking and talking and talking, which is what one does on a road trip.

It was quite fine. We agreed we will find another place for this trek next year, and make our vision boards again together.

Postscript: my vision board was not quite finished, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was waiting for.  It sat on a table in my family room for several days.  During the eclipse on the solstice, I awakened at exactly 1:48 and went outside to discover the shadowed amber moon at full eclipse.  I went inside, finished my vision board, and came back outside to see the bright white edge of blazing moon emerging from the shadows.  Magical!

Do you love Santa Fe, too, or some other place you like to go eat?  Do any of you set goals by using a vision board?

The Reward in Going Away

When I was a child, I loved going to  summer camp.  Girl Scout camp in canvas tents with wooden floors, or much more often church camp (probably because it was very inexpensive and my parents had four kids) in cabins housing 20 girls.   It was the highlight of the summer—getting ready, gathering shampoo and following the list of “recommended” items to bring.   I always brought dark green Herbal Essence shampoo, a heady smelling liquid that’s nothing like the watered down version they sell now

Camp pic, circa mid70s. Author on far left.

We were only there for a week, Sunday to Saturday, but it seemed that entire lifetimes took place during those days.  Romances and friendships built and lost, discoveries about self and place uncovered, dreams forged and reinforced.  On the last day, we all had our group photo signed, and hugged each other as if all was lost, and cried our eyes out.   In the backseat on the way home, I was silent and distant, lost in memories, crushed that it was over for another year.

Back home, it was a slam back into everything ordinary.   The ordinary green telephone on the wall.  The ordinary food.  No singing.  No long deep discussions about…well, anything.  For days, I would be lost in mourning, sure I would never, ever have a good time again.

As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate coming home to ordinariness, but I still love getting ready for a trip, making a list, checking things off, packing special totems, creating rituals.   I learned during those weeks at camp that every journey was a lifetime and I was changed by each one.  Sitting in the meadow at La Foret Camp (which is, ironically, only about a ten minute drive from my current home—it wasn’t even very far away in those days), I dreamed a life for myself.  I learned to connect to other travelers—my fellow campers—and I learned to think outside of the box, challenged by counselors to make us do just that.  (I also learned just about every folk and bible and church song known to modern woman—and you would think that my fellow pilgrims would have appreciated that on the Camino.  Somehow, they liked listening to Bethany, the trained professional opera singer better.)


Before I left for Europe in June, my creative well was very low indeed.  I wouldn’t say dry, but a voice shouting down into it would echo for a long time before hitting water.  It’s a normal part of the process, and probably because of the loss of my Sasha and the long months nursing her, I was a little more weary than usual.  I also had that nagging knee injury, which is not terrible, but is sort of…annoying, you know?

Whatever the reason, I was empty and sick of working by June. The great luxury of a writing life is the time

to go wandering.  I went to camp, first with CR to England and then with a group of women on the Camino, and I still wasn’t finished, because then we went to Orlando, where I spent the first half with my dearest writing buddies, and the second half with CR, playing at Disneyland.

Not only did I wander and chat and think about life in small and large ways, I read like a junkie, popping one book after another in a wild lust for story.  Australian writers, English writers, a bunch of Americans.  Fiction and non-fiction.  Adult and young adult.  Spanish and English. Reading, reading, reading, reading.

What I did not do is write.  I kept a journal, as always, and I wrote the odd blog post or Facebook missive, but other than that, nothing. I didn’t think much about writing, either, and when ideas started pushing into my imagination, auditioning for the next spot, I shoved them away.  Once in awhile, I took a note or two on my phone. Once in awhile, I woke up and thought, “Hmm, that has some merit.”

Mostly, I ignored every single one of them.

The result?

The well is overflowing.  I’ve been in a working frenzy, sometimes working on two different things in a single day because when I’ve reached the end of the juiciness on one project, I find there is energy and excitement left for another bout, so I change locations and start work on the other one.   One morning, an idea I’ve been shoving away for about two years awakened me and dragged me to the computer and didn’t let me go until well after lunch.

It’s lovely.  It’s like going to camp and getting the good stuff afterward, too.  Filling the well is always, always worth it, and I haven’t been taking enough time to do that.  Not at all interested in travel for a little while, you understand, but I am going to go to movies a couple of times a month, and play with my collages (which I realized recently don’t have to be about books all the time) and water color pencils.  I’m taking cello lessons.

It’s all material, right?

Did you go to camp as a child?  Do you fill the well with travel or by some other means?  What hobbies give you that sense of exuberance, whether or not you are a writer?