January Reads

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Light

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

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

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

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

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

Rave Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flexibility and Growth as an Artist

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

The Dangers of Typecasting

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

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

That’s the visible stuff.

Intimacy and Privacy in a Public Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I made a change.

Being Still

The first Monday of the new year, and once again, I am not home. This is the fourth January in a row that I have not been home. This year, I am in San Antonio, awaiting the birth of my second grandchild who is in no rush at all, though everyone else is. Her sister said plaintively, “Can I see my baby sister, please?” expressing how all of us feel.

Last year, it was a wake for Christopher Robin’s mother, a gathering with the New Zealand arm of the family. The year before was her sudden death and the need to attend to all the duties that entails, and her funeral. (We were very glad we’d made the trip to see her the September before.) And the year before that was a long trip to New Zealand to see the family there, and tour the South Island, which is still one of my favorite trips ever.

This year, it’s quiet. I have been playing many games of Minnie Mouse Concentration, and a matching game called Hiss, and Candyland. The girl has gone off to school and we are in the puddles of quiet left behind. I miss her chirping little voice, but I do have to work and I need a good long walk. A trailhead beckons from not far away.  In the summertime, it would be too hot and I’d be afraid of the ants that seem to attack my feet when I come to Texas, but in the winter, the snakes will be sleeping and if I wear shoes, the ants won’t annoy me.

My American-school trained self wants to START FRESH this Monday morning, wants to start writing something meaningful on the clean chalkboard of the new year. And yet, the universe has been arranging something else for me the past few years. Instead of getting busy, getting back to work, I have been dropped into situations where my access to actual writing is blocked, and instead, I read a lot–in cars, on planes, in the long evenings. I stare out the windows to landscapes that are not my own, and I see something new, a bird, a tree, a sky. On Saturday, it rained all day, just a slow gentle drizzle, but all day. That happened a lot in England two years ago. It does not happen in Colorado.

Instead of getting busy, I’m getting filled up. Which might be just the right way to spend a week or two at the start of a busy year.

Later this week, I’ll write about my favorite books and binge watching in 2015. For now, what are you all up to this fresh Monday of the fresh new year? 

The Quiet Middle Week

Here it is, that week between Christmas and New Year. This is when many businesses are shut down or only operating on half-staff. There’s nothing much to take care of, all the shopping is done. As a girl, out of school and often stuck inside because of snow and cold, I would read and read and read.  As I got older, I often started planning the upcoming year–things I wanted to do, see, accomplish.

This year, I’m in San Antonio with my son and daughter-in-law and the mighty Amara. We are waiting for the New Baby, due in six days. I’m here to help the family with practical things like cooking, picking up, smoothing the transition when baby sister actually arrives. I’m here to spend time with my darling girl, too, of course. I’m so relieved to realize that last year, I was afraid our relationship would become frayed with distance, and it turns out it has not.  I’m lucky enough to be able to have the resources to fly down here regularly, a job that is flexible enough that I can take the time off, and an agreeable son & DIL.

I’m thinking about the new year and what I’d like to accomplish. I have an ambitious schedule of writing for both Barbara and Lark (I know my Barbara readers have been sad about the long delay between titles) and some other things brewing.  I’ve made some changes in my work life to give myself more time to exercise and see IRL friends now and then, but mainly, this year is focused on the writing.  SO many exciting things are happening, including the really fun project I’m doing with Serial Box publishing. (More as I know actual release dates.)

A marketing person said to me, “Sounds like your spirit social media is blogging,” and she was right, so that’s on agenda, too. I’m handing off some of the stuff I don’t like and spending more time here. I hope you’ll join me for talk about writing, books, life. Painting. Probably cats. Here is a cat for today:

Looking for a cuddle
Looking for a cuddle

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?


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?