Tag: writing

Extra Luncheon Meats for ALL!


You never know when you might need a lot of luncheon “meat”. Especially corned beef. One is always at risk of requiring a shit-ton of corned beef and then not being able to find any. AMIRIGHT?!

Happy Armistice Day

I’ve got a kitten lounging on my shoulder like a tiny leopard in a tree. I’ve got Scrivener open and 179 words laid down so far. No work today and this weekend I get to go pick up an O’Keefe and Merritt stove in working condition. The one we got for free is still not functioning and I realized that not everything needs to be a project in my life. It’s perfectly acceptable to buy something that doesn’t need immediate fixing. So we found my dream stove in good condition. It will probably need some finessing at some point, but what doesn’t?

The only blight on today was my mom bursting into my office to announce that she needs to go to the doctor ASAP because she has a weird skin thing that’s probably cancer. This is not an infrequent conclusion she comes to when anything mysterious is going on with her body. So far (knocking hard on wood here) it has never actually been cancer. Then there are all the times when something really is wrong  but she believes it’s nothing and won’t go to the doctor because it’s too much trouble or she’s convinced that though it’s probably cancer, it will magically resolve itself if she ignores it.

I can make fun of her all I want, but the truth is, I’m pretty much the same way.

Providing my mom doesn’t come home with an awful cancer announcement, life is still good. Remember when I posted a few days ago that it was good and you know how often I post how good things are going and then they all fall apart and the next time you hear from me I’m pretty much a mess of depression and crisis? Yeah, that’s often how it plays out.

I’m listening music all inspired by the Lux Aeterna mass. I’ve also just named the coffee shop/bookstore my fictional character works in “Lux Aeterna”. The person responsible for this inspiration is Thalassa Therese. Thank you! Your bower is ever littered with beautiful objects and music!

I also just had a revelation about my current wip: segments of it will be in letter form. I’m wary of using letters as a way of telling a story just for the novelty of it, it can be so hackneyed and irritating. I’ve always wanted to write a novel based on letters but no story (until now) naturally lent itself to the use of letters. It has to be organic to the story. I just realized that using letters in Suicide for Beginners might be the only way to tell this story naturally. Either that or it will have to be in first person for at least part or most of it.

I realize that those who have read Cricket and Grey would love for me to finish book 2. I believe only a couple of people who’ve read it have not said something about that. With a year and a half of writer’s block under my belt at this point I’m just working on whatever comes to me. Right now book 2 is not where the energy is. It might take another lifetime to get to the rest of the series, or maybe I’ll die before I ever do. OR maybe I’ll simply decide to leave it where it is. I can do that because I’m the decider of the books I write.

Maybe Suicide for Beginners is calling more loudly because it must be written before I die and my time is coming to a close. This is one of those things we can not know for sure. I DO know that if I don’t get another book written before I die I will probably end up sticking around as a disgruntled ghost and ride the minds of other writers spurring them desperately on to write through every night and day until their books are finished even if it ends up being the thing that kills them.

That was darker than I intended it to sound.

It’s time for me to shower and eat. There may be a haircut for me today as well because my hair is making me feeling mega-frumpy with its long straggliness.

I hope you all cease-fire today!

Update: My mom’s skin thingie is NOT cancerous. In case you’re all worried now. Doc says it’s just a thingie.


The Garden Wins The Morning


I’m hypnotizing myself with this pretty rose picture. This is the first Abraham D’Arby bud that popped out this year. Now the bush is covered with them. In fact, I need to get out there and deadhead.

There are so many things vying for my attention right now I don’t know what to turn to. It’s time to get vegetables into the garden and some flowers I’ve been waiting to put in (penstamon is one) but to put the veg in I need to get a ton of compost first. If I get a ton of compost then I’m going to have to distribute it first. But to do that I have to do some cleanup first.

I also need to be working on my products so that when I have labels I can take new photographs and load them up on my site and start promoting my business so that I can get some income and not have to look for work.

But I’ve had a great writing week and I want to keep the energy going. So I thought I should map out the rest of the chapter I started on Thursday and THEN do garden stuff or business stuff. But it’s cool outside right now so I should probably get outside FIRST before it’s too warm. But if I –

See what I mean? How about a couple more garden pics first?


They’re much bigger now. This pic was just a few weeks ago.


Now there are several of these babies in bloom. You know, I really can’t tolerate much sun and warmth so I think I’m going to suit up right now and get my ass outside.


I got some good weeding done, planted my sungold tomato, and deadheaded all the roses in the front yard before I had to run back inside because it’s already too hot out there for me. That felt great, though. Maybe I won’t get as much done in the garden as I really want to this weekend but at least I got out there. Maybe I’ll get out there this evening for a bit too if I have the energy.

Now I will plan the rest of chapter 12. I tried planning it while weeding but couldn’t concentrate. My mind likes to wander when I weed. It would be cool if the energy of weeding could be harnessed to help me work out plot points for my writing but it’s also okay not to constantly multitask. In fact, I think it’s healthy to let the mind do what it wants sometimes while the body is busy.

I Set the Bar High Above the Floods

bleak pet area

Writing goal: I want the line between prose and poetry to blur while never losing sight of the story or clarity of character.

How high have you set your bar as a writer?

I want to know if my writer friends and acquaintances have specific goals for the skill level they hope to reach with their writing. Here’s how I asked it on Twitter “Writers: do you have a style or a quality of writing you’re aiming for and do you think you’ll know it when you reach it?”

Some people said that they just try to always improve their work. Some said they aim to be the most “them” they can be. Some said they weren’t sure there was such a thing as a point at which they’d feel satisfied with their skill. Some were most concerned with rhythm and voice. Others have the goal of using the least amount of words necessary to be understood.

I realized after some discussion that while I was really loving the discussion my question sparked it wasn’t quite getting at the question I really meant. My curiosity remains unsatiated and maybe it’s for the best but I’m going to elaborate here at least to explain what sparked my curiosity in the first place.

But first let me make this clear- the question isn’t “how do your goals compare to mine?”.

It’s about your personal yardstick for what you think is great writing and do you have a mark on that yardstick you’re specifically aiming for? Clearly not all writers are. This question is a lot like “Are you a plotter or a winger?”

Barbara Cartland wrote romance novels and throughout her career all her books were pretty much the same quality. I loved them when I was 12 years old for a while but her writing and story telling skills couldn’t hold a candle to those of the other authors I was reading at the time like Scott O’Dell, Margaret L’Engle, C. S. Lewis, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. She wrote bodice rippers that were extremely popular, made herself a fantastic career writing what she wrote, and maybe that’s where she set her writing bar. Maybe that was the POINT of her writing. Maybe the difference between her and the other writers is that she recognized that she could write a certain kind of book that would sell really well and make her a living without having to work as hard at it. She developed formulas for stories that she followed again and again.

But did she never long to write deeper stories? Did she never dream of writing a book that made more beautiful use of language? Did she never want to break the formula to write a story she hadn’t already told 30 times before in almost the exact same way each time?

Did she just stop trying?

Was selling books the only bar she set for herself?

Like mine, her first stories had to have been as green and rough as all first stories are. She had to develop enough skill to get to the point she settled at, but then what happened?

But to ask these questions it is necessary to acknowledge that everyone has different tastes and different ideas of what great writing is. Writing is both a skill and an art and therefore judging it is highly subjective.

Even so, none of you can tell me you don’t recognize that Barbara Cartland’s books reach a much lower bar of writing skill than Barbara Kingsolver’s books do. Even if you despised both those authors you can’t tell me it isn’t obvious that Kingsolver chooses every word carefully and takes great pains to build characters whereas Cartland pumped those romance puppies out with little regard for craft.

So there IS, in spite of the subjective nature of writing, a discernible difference in levels of quality in the published world. I wouldn’t divide quality into genres as some would because I think there are high quality writing examples in all of them, not just in “literary”.

Not everyone writes for the same reasons and it’s perfectly fine if reaching a specific bar of quality isn’t among them. There’s no such thing as an invalid or dumb writing goal. Some writers’ whole goal is to tell great stories. Which is a fantastic writing goal.

But what does that mean to them? When they say that, surely they have an idea of how much skill it will take them to write “great stories” because in their taste for reading they’ve rated some books “great” and others not as great. I won’t believe they have no examples of authors or favorite books that inspired them to write, that represent for them the level of writing they want to achieve for themselves. THAT’S the thing I wonder about.

I’m rereading the first draft of my manuscript for book two in my Cricket and Grey series and it’s disheartening as all my first drafts are. It’s a far cry from the final draft of book one. I’m proud of my first novel. I reached a new skill level in finishing that book.

But it doesn’t reach the bar I’ve set for myself. I haven’t yet become a master at my own writing style.

My writing style and my writing skill are evolving together and I get impatient. I know exactly where I want my writing to be, what I want it to be, I’ve seen glimpses of it. I’m not setting out to write at a Pulitzer quality or even a literary one necessarily, but I want to write books that are rich with the minutiae that contribute to the best and the worst moments in life. The little details that act as shorthand in our minds to the larger events. Things like the spicy clean scent of sun-hot carnations in my mother’s garden that remind me how much easier it was to be part of my family when I stood on the outside looking in. Or like how the smell of stale sex on unwashed sheets reminds me of a friend’s slow letting go of dreams. I want to write at a skill level that my stories resonate with the minutiae but are never bogged down by it. It takes a lot of skill to use language evocatively and poetically without ending up sounding like a melodramatic word whore.

People tell me not to be hard on myself or suggest I write short stories for a while until I break free of the writer’s block I’ve experienced the whole time I’ve been working on book two. Or they say I should just let go and be free with my writing. Follow my muse.

How do you know my “muse” isn’t a dream-crushing sociopath trying to burn up all my words with a blow torch? How can you be sure she’s not a serial killer with a fetish for middle aged atheists who carry walnuts around with them everywhere they go?

I know my writer friends are trying to help me shake the burden I’ve put on myself and ease the frustration I express frequently.

But I don’t want to shake the burden.

I want to build the muscle to take it on and break it the fuck open.

One thing I’m not letting myself do is edit while I re-read the first draft because it’s not complete yet. When I get to the middle of the story where the first draft ends I have got to let myself get the rest of the first draft OUT. I know that I have to build a strong scaffolding first. Sure, the walls might be paper thin for a while but you edit that out later and build rooms with beautiful thick strong walls people can have sex behind without their children ever having to hear them in the middle of the night.

I want to become a master writer.

I think I’ve only just become a journeyman writer.

Salad, Experimentation, and Clouds


I finally cracked open one of my jars of pickled Sun Gold tomatoes. They are definitely not nice to touch or eat on their own. I’m specifically reporting this to Lila and Sean who both would really like pickled ripe cherry tomatoes. I’m sorry to say that the skin is loose and the insides are slimy. I took a chance making the recipe because the book that inspired it makes a dressing out of their pickled ripe cherry tomatoes and I thought it sounded great.

I did NOT add the sugar their recipe called for. I hate sweet pickles and I also really hate sweet dressings. Balsamic dressing being the exception – balsamic vinegar has a sweetness to it I don’t mind. Anyway – I put all of the tomatoes and about half the pickling liquid, and the clove of pickled garlic into a container. I added about a third of a cup of olive oil and then spritzed the whole thing until it got as creamy as possible.

I put it on this salad pictured above (iceberg lettuce, roasted cauliflower, croutons, and kalamata olives). It was really wonderful! Since being laid off of work we’ve been eating so much better now that I have the energy and time to cook.


While waiting for Philip to get the new labels designed I’m working on making new products to add to my line. I did a batch of cardamom vanilla lip balm that turned out really nice. Last night I worked on doing a grapefruit ginger lip balm. This did not go as well. Citrus essential oil flavor/scent seems to disappear when it hits the warm oils and wax blend. I had to add 4 times as much ginger and citrus oil as the other blends just to get the same super subtle flavor my other lip balms have. This has altered the balance of ingredients so that the balm is now too slick on the lips. I’m going to have to do it over once again and add more coconut oil and wax (the coconut oil is solid at room temp and diff than the others)

Hopefully re-batching one more time won’t weaken the flavor. Hopefully I’ll get it right the third time. It’s kind of annoying having to redo this same batch but at the same time I know I won’t be satisfied until I get it right.

That, my friends, is why you want me as your apothecary.


I’m really happy right now.

I know that my business is going to take a lot of time and a ton of work to turn it into a paying gig, so money might get stressfully tight in a month or two when our surprise cushion from getting some taxes back is gone, but I choose to believe it’s temporary. My old friends here also know that suffering from serious chronic depression means I will still struggle with that in cycles no matter how good things are. That’s just been a fact of life for as long as I know it. My medication makes these inevitable cycles so much milder than they would otherwise be for which I’m deeply thankful.

But right now, this week, the last three weeks, today, I’m simply happy.

All this week I’ve been rereading my manuscript for book 2 of Cricket and Grey and it’s appalling. First drafts are so appallingly bad. I’m forcing myself not to edit. Technically the stuff I’m rereading is all second draft and just as appalling as the first. But I stopped writing the first first draft in the middle of the book. So when I pick up the thread and start writing it again it will be first draft material tacked onto a second draft first half of the book. Don’t worry if that was crazy-convoluted and you don’t follow. The main point here is that I’m  preparing to work on my book again and it feels fan-fucking-tastic!

To be honest, the first draft reads like I’m coddling Cricket and Grey apologetically for making them go through all the horrible shit they went through in book one. Coddling your main characters doesn’t always do them the favors you think it does and it certainly does nothing for readers. I think I needed to get it out of my system.  If you live in a dystopian future in which you can’t afford basic medical care, the government only intervenes with self interest but lets you hang otherwise, and you can’t find a packet of Haribo gummies anywhere – there have to be some comforts like love and friendship, right? A little down time by a late winter fire and a feeling of safety…

Perhaps I’ve been hard on myself with this second book because I know I want it to be even better than the first. I’m proud of my first novel but I see SO MUCH room for tightening up my writing style, for tightening up plot, for enriching the reader’s experience of scent and sound and sight. I think that’s a separate post just on writing.

I’m off to read a little more manuscript and work on that lip balm. I hope you all have a great Thursday!




I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage in 2 1/2 weeks. I’ve been super grouchy and prickly. I haven’t wanted to be around any humans. Yesterday was a particularly thorny day. Got my feelings hurt on Facebook by a group of people that brought me to tears. I try to wear a thick skin when skating around on social media but sometimes thoughtless spears and careless conversations stab through the softer bits. Not drinking alcohol means a whole layer of protection is missing.

I’m still on a news fast. I’ve been on a news fast for almost 2 months. There’s no way I can let myself go back to reading the news while I’m not drinking. I can’t handle it. I see the headlines so I know what everyone’s getting mental wedgies over but I have clicked on no news links and watched no news programs. I miss The Daily Show a lot. The day I found out Jon Stewart is leaving the show I felt so betrayed and depressed. When the only sane voice in news gives up on us all – it’s pretty much OVER. I realize that someone else will take his place. I also realize that his team will still be there writing and producing a good show, but without him…I can’t even bear to think about it right now.

I have spent a lot of time on my couch under my favorite blanket watching Murder She Wrote. Most days that’s all I can do after I come home from work and take care of Max and do a few dishes. My days off I try to get work done on my apothecary business. But to be honest, I’m just tired all the time.

I know I’m not going to be like this all the time. I know this fog will lift. I know I’ll move forward. I know I’ll get some energy back. So I guess I’m just in a holding pattern until I can dislodge whatever has been blocking all my words and shake them loose. Every morning before work I open Scrivener and I try to get a few words out. Some mornings it’s like shoving my head into a plastic bag, other mornings I squeeze out a couple hundred words and it feels great. I try not to focus on all those times I wrote 5,000 words in a day.

I’ve found solace in quilting some evenings and have almost finished the quilt my friend Pam sent me over 6 years ago. I’ve also been finding some peace in my front garden. I don’t like my back yard. That’s where the dogs poop and we don’t keep up with scooping it up. It’s over-run with bamboo and oak. But the front garden is all mine. I can sit on the porch to enjoy it. I can do little things to it, plant just a couple of flowers, weed one bucketful, and it makes a big difference because the front is so small.

I’m excited about making more potions. I’m excited about learning to make soap which is the next skill I want to add to my arsenal. I still love living in the house we live in. I’m still incredibly happy to be in Santa Rosa. I love this place. I’m excited that Max is taller than me* and his shadow mustache is growing more distinct. I’m enjoying the last kisses on those baby-soft cheeks of his because they’re going to be rougher soon. I’ve let him mature at his own pace and it’s paying off.

Five years ago I worried so much about his eating issues and now he loves trying new foods and though he still doesn’t like much produce for its own sake, he ate fried plantains not long ago, ate coleslaw on a pulled pork slider, and eats avocado (and sometimes tomato) on hamburgers. He’s become a gourmand just as I predicted he would someday be.

My mom is doing really well. She gets stronger all the time even though she still feels tired a lot. I’m hoping this year will be surgery free for her.

I guess I’m giving all the updates today.

I’m going to pour another cup of coffee and chisel a few more words out of my brain into one of my manuscripts. Later I will be heading to the library to renew my card and find history books on San Francisco in the 1870’s if they have any, and costumes from the same period. I also might look up a book or two on typhoid for fun.

I hope you all have a peaceful day!

*He thinks it bothers me that he got taller than me so don’t break it to him that I enjoy seeing him grow taller.

The One Trick Pony: I already used up all the words

Geronimo in box

(I’m feeling all boxed up)

I have today off. I decided to sit down and work on my new novel project that I’ve been so excited about for a week. I’ve written a few notes and I even wrote 900 words of the first draft. I sat down feeling so happy to finally take a couple of hours to write. I have had no energy and no time for this in much too long. I sit down and –

A half an hour later I’m still staring at my open document and nothing comes to me. I feel daunted by the project. I don’t understand why I’m trying to write a light hearted book. I don’t DO funny or light hearted. So why come up with a premise for a book that has to be taken with a grain of salt because it’s about a woman who wakes up in the middle of a really cheesy romance novel?

I thought it would be funny and interesting. But I’m not a “fun” person and I’m only funny by accident. I’ve never been able to channel humor into writing at will. So what the hell am I doing?

Then I thought, maybe I should just work on one of my other novels? I took a look at my files and nothing sounds good. None of my stories seem worth working on. All of them sound stupid to me.

Meanwhile, most of the writers I know are working on their third or fourth or even seventh novels. Writing book after book after book. Writing whole books in a couple of months. How do they complete whole novels in just a few months? Even when I was writing constantly and through the night, feverishly working on my first novel, it still took me two years to finish it. TWO YEARS. Most of these other writers have day jobs or kids or kids and day jobs, or chronic illnesses that hamper them down – and yet they are all still writing SO MANY BOOKS IN SO LITTLE TIME.

I know. I’m not supposed to compare myself to anyone else. I can’t help it. I want to know how they all write books in so little time. I want to know how everyone is doing this. I want to know why I can’t do it?

I feel drained and depressed about my writing. I want to be writing full time. But even when I have a little bit of time, all the words in the world dry up in my mouth like dead moths.

I have written and finished ONE book. One. And I can’t even get the second one in that series written. It should be EASIER than the first one. I already have so many characters written and places established.

I am going to do dishes.

Maybe I’m just a one trick pony.

Ain’t No Melon Cool Enough

straw bubbles

Sometimes I’m swimming in a lake of moulting snakes and I feel the turbid water thickening around my ankles, pulling me down. Pulling me into the deep. Pulling me into this turbulent body that’s meant to be glassy and clean, that’s meant to be a mirror. Been feeling closer to my childhood name. Been feeling closer to my natal temperament, my hot red-faced rage at things that don’t work the way they should. Remembering the water that terrified me, remembering all that outrage, held down in such small ribs with such sharp nails.

Ain’t no melon cool enough to fix this bruise. Ain’t no space safe enough to fix this bruise. Doesn’t smart now, in this late-life hour, it’s just the grave I throw my rosemary over.  Grassy and cold, ain’t no cradle big enough to make this spirit rise again.

The moment to become anything is every moment. Doesn’t have to have trumpets to announce it, doesn’t need a royal carpet to invite you to walk to the light, or to the dark, whatever calls the loudest. Doesn’t have to come with the odor of sandalwood and roses to pull you forward. Just needs your heart still attached to your arteries, just needs your sinew still holding everything together in a piece that can give voice to the moon, to the sun, to the ghost pines weeping through city alleys.

Ain’t no song rich enough to fix this break. Ain’t no basement deep enough to hide this break. Doesn’t smart now, in this late-life hour, it’s just the grave I throw my cards across. Ain’t no cradle big enough to make this spirit rise again.


Magic Happy Shrimp Sex

more desert

The only thing that has the power to make me sentimental is the late-night trifecta: beer+(the right) music + a late late hour.

Flying over endless desert made me incredibly uncomfortable on my trip to and from Colorado. The desert is my mental and emotional hell. It’s dry, hot, empty. Barren of the things that bring comfort and sustenance but is full of snakes, spiders, and scorpions. What the fuck kind of person finds their spirit calling out in such a desolate death farm?

I suppose deserts make a lot of people see, for the first time, through the wrong end of the telescope to discover how small they are and discover God in that smallness. I don’t consider myself a particularly lucky person but perhaps in this one way my life prepared me early for the fact that we’re all specks of nothing against the endless awe-inspiringly epic backdrop of a few thousand/million/trillion solar systems.

Doesn’t  mean shit to me spiritually. I’m always thinking about the spiders, snakes, and scorpions milling around just out of sight.

Wearing striped socks distracts me from the vastness of the universe.

Just before I come home from work every day I have this moment when I hear all the things I need to write, when I feel the elusive words slipping down from the attic that I was grasping for when I was sitting in front of my screen on my day off. I try to hold onto them in the last hour before I head home hoping that I can run inside and transcribe them all like gospels. But the second I walk through the door all the clear strong words evaporate like morning fog, immaterial, barely relevant compared to my son’s immediate need for food.

I forget to settle back into the minutiae. You think the story is in the wide heroic actions, but I always find it in the pancake batter crusted on the fork left in the sink, hard as plaster and as appetizing as eviscerated trash. I don’t care about the large gestures as much as I care about the way a room smells the moment your heart shatters, or all the moments a lover isn’t thinking about sex, or the last onion frying in the pan.

I’m struggling hard to reconcile my day job with my family obligations and the obligation I have to my writing. I came here to my blog tonight because I remembered just in time that this is the chronicle of it all. Of everything. The good, the bad, the ugly.

I have come to treat it as the place I shed my political skin. The place I shed my socially conscious skin. The place I shed my spiritual skin, such as it is. I have made a bad habit of forgetting the real purpose of this virtual space of mine. This is an ongoing letter of sorts, a ceaseless note to self.


The Wilson verdict in Fergason is depressing, predictable, and despicable. I stand with the protesters for justice in Fergason in spirit and in belief. I know I’m white and as such I’m part of the epic problem in this nation, at least symbolically. But in reality I am always going to stand up with my fellow humans of all races, nationalities, sexual orientations, and genders for equality, for civil rights. And I’m not afraid to get hurt doing it if that’s what’s called for from me.

The desert makes me feel parched of hope and vision.

The only reason I am able to travel by plane at all is thanks to my anxiety medications.


Last time I flew without the aid of SSRIs I nearly disintegrated into a feral puddle of claustrophobic panic and disorder. I was certain the flight attendants were withholding water from me on purpose and trying to kill me with cookies loaded with enough thirst-inducing sugar to fuel a rocket.

I can’t choose between “Cracked Actor” and “Loving the Alien” tonight.

I’ve already listened to Miley Cyrus while writing this so please feel free to judge me harshly for being – I don’t know what – a philistine? A music junkie? A person without taste?


Listening to “Loving the Alien”  makes me smell “Paris” perfume and hear the purr of Mercedes Benz motors stretching down the highway through Marin County.

Listening to “Win” reminds me of wool “Willi Smith” trousers, socks printed with Chinese characters that probably spelled things like “Magic Happy Shrimp Sex” and “You Dumb Americans Will Buy Anything”. It reminds me of discovering San Francisco as a 15 year old. Let loose while my mom went to job interviews, I remember the fog and the smell of Macy’s. I remember feeling like I was HOME for the first time in years. The same way I felt when I arrived in Scotland.

Scotland and San Francisco are still the only two places that have made me feel that visceral sensation of being HOME. Being where I simply AM.

I love Santa Rosa and I feel at home here and I hope I never  need to move away again. It feels like home now, but not in the same visceral way as San Francisco and Scotland always feel.

I don’t regret moving out of SF. Not after the 200 rounds of ammunition were shot out a block from my last apartment there. And other shootouts. And other violent noises and daily city aggressions.

This post feels like one long slow bleed. It’s because I’ve written so little in so long.

“Five Years” is the perfect way to end this night.

The only thing I miss about my youth is how brilliantly I wore vintage men’s suits.

Beta Reading is Making Me a Better Writer

cemetary dumpster

(Imagine all the words and redundancies in your novel being tossed into the bin. Yep, that’s how this image is relevant to this post.)

I’m in the middle of beta reading a novel for a writer friend Olivia Foust. It’s my first time doing it and as I’m reading and taking notes I find myself thinking about my own writing and how to make it stronger based on the kind of things I’m telling her about her novel.

The first thing I did when I agreed to beta-read my friend’s novel is to find out what she was looking for with regards to critiquing. Did she primarily want an edit for grammar and typos or did she want me to look for plot holes and/or character issues? With the first beta read of my own novel I definitely wasn’t ready to hear about typos or every little grammatical issue. I was much more concerned with plot issues. My friend said she was interested in knowing about any plot issues or inconsistencies.

I keep laughing at myself as I tell Olivia “I want more physical descriptions” which was something my friend Taj told me when she read an early version of my book. I think my two other early beta readers, Emma and Lucy, said the same things. “I want to know what the landscape they’re in looks like, but without going into a great exposition” and I’m remembering how hard I found it to describe the rooms my characters were inhabiting in a way that was natural and didn’t break up the flow but added richness to the reader’s experience. It’s so easy to say that and so much harder to achieve it. My strength as a writer is in creating atmosphere and writing the emotional lives of characters. Some writers can describe landscape exquisitely (Mary Stewart, for example) but draw characters a little more broadly. Some can write action scenes but have trouble letting readers inside their characters’ heads.

I don’t suck at description but it’s something I have to consciously work on.

I worked hard at adding more physical description to my next major edit and my whole book is so much stronger for it. Now I’m saying the same thing to Olivia because she’s created an interesting world and I’m hungry to know more about the clothes her characters are wearing, the animals they’re hunting, the climate, and the colors around them.

I have pointed out what I think are issues with character motivation and then when I started re-reading my own WIP I found similar issues that I’m seeing more sharply because of seeing it in Olivia’s work. Beta reading for Olivia is sharpening my insight into my own story’s issues. I wasn’t really expecting this benefit.

Beta reading for someone is, I see now, a real privilege. When a writer asks you into their process they are trusting you to behave respectfully like you would in a surgeon’s operating room. You have to be careful not to move the furniture around too much or to clog the toilet. Your level of involvement will vary from writer to writer, I’m sure,  but one thing is for certain, a beta reader is not an editor and it’s not their job to rewrite the material. You’re there to strengthen, to be a fresh pair of eyes, to give perspective.

Olivia assures me (so far) that I haven’t been too harsh or too nit-picky. My constant fear is that, in trying to be helpful, I will go too far and give discouragement where I mean to be giving encouragement. I write copious notes and then try to whittle them down to actionable suggestions or thoughts. I also note things I enjoyed or parts I think are strong.

Having a couple of people read your novel before you send it out to an agent or hit “publish” is the best thing you can do for your work. But if you’re a writer and have never beta-read someone else’s novel, I highly recommend it as a way to see the strengths and weaknesses in your own work more clearly.

This Evil Bitch Commie Is Full Of Ideas

my street at night

This past couple of weeks have been pretty intense. What with High School starting for Max (and he’s begun growing a shadow mustache!) and the events in Ferguson Missouri and us suddenly having higher rent to pay that is not affordable requiring me to concentrate hard on how to revamp my Etsy shop and make extra income and finding out my mom probably needs another surgery and my step mother* commenting on my blog (deleted), and of course the middle east situation continuing, and people everywhere being complete and utter assholes to each other.

I have a lot of thoughts about the situation in Ferguson. I’ve heard some really disgusting racist things being spewed and people showing just how sick inside they really are.

I was called an evil bitch commie because I confronted a man who doesn’t think black people are even human beings. I know, if someone is saying something like that they are already so far down the crazy-shoot there’s no retrieving their reason, I shouldn’t have commented. But it’s really hard to stand by and say nothing when people say such awful things.

The trick is to speak up in situations where it will actually help someone out or be useful in some way and to avoid engaging with people who are already diseased in their body and soul.

I’m going to say right now that I think if you are a police officer you are never in the right shooting an unarmed person of any race. I don’t give a shit if they’re 8 feet tall and charge you. Your job is to deal with dangerous people on a daily basis in the least harmful way possible. It doesn’t matter what a suspect’s character is, what matters is that you, as a police officer, have the tools to diffuse aggression without lethal force. If you are too scared to deal with people bigger than you and more aggressive than you – you without shooting them – you do not belong in a police uniform.

I will also say that police departments are quite possibly failing in their training if officers believe that the merest threat of harm to them warrants firing their gun.

Of those things I am absolutely clear.

I get that if someone open fires on a police officer that the officer may need to fire back to protect themselves and bystanders. But there have been plenty of instances where people fired on cops and the cops did not fire back. Happened in my own city more than once. Instances where an officer with a gun pointed at them apprehended the person pointing the weapon and took them into custody without firing so much as a single shot. That’s good policing.

So this whole Michael Brown killing was bad from the start to finish. If Michael Brown accosted Wilson physically, as is claimed, and then ran away – Wilson did not need to shoot him. He should have run after him and used his skills to take him down and cuff him.  He should have called for back up and run after him. Brown had no weapon. NO WEAPON. And once Brown was running away, Wilson was not in danger anymore. No fatal force needed.

That’s bad training at the very least but what it definitely looks like, confirmed by the entire department’s handling of the situation, is that Wilson didn’t care about the life of Michael Brown and acted in an unconscionable way.  That’s a bad shoot.

I don’t actually believe that Police officers should be allowed to use lethal force when threatened. They are threatened all the time, depending on where they work sometimes they are threatened daily. The nature of their job is dangerous, they go into the force knowing they are taking on a dangerous job and being given weapons and the power to apprehend citizens merely on suspicion means they need to be held to a higher level of integrity than the average person.

I don’t think cops should carry guns. I think they shouldn’t carry any lethal weapons at all. But living in a country in love with lethal weapons I know that that will never happen. It’s too bad.

If I believed in God at all I would have to believe that firearms are the tools of Satan.

Those are just a few random thoughts right now. Not an organized essay on what’s going on in Ferguson. So don’t treat it like one. The situation is unbelievable from beginning to end.

That entire police force needs to go on trial for their suppression of constitutional rights of the citizens protesting and those trying to report on the events. They need to be fired and replaced and trained better to deal with both apprehending unarmed (AND ARMED) suspects and protests.

That police department has behaved shamefully.

No, I don’t think the looting that’s happened is okay. But don’t let the looters  be confused with the peaceful protesters. They are not the same people and if the police force wasn’t 100% concentrating on suppressing the citizen’s right to peaceful protest and shooting them with rubber bullets and gassing them – maybe they could have actually quelled the looting and jailed looters.

It’s been a tense two weeks. Our country is like one big castle of dry rot surrounded  by lit matches. It would take so little to destroy us right now. We spend billions of dollars arming the entire world when we should be de-arming everyone and rebuilding our economy on manufacturing and inventions. We are, in my opinion, the most evil country in the world with the way we have armed both allies and enemies with every way to kill other humans under the sun since the early eighties. We have trained the armies of dictators and then trained their enemies too while they’re not paying attention.

The United States is the single largest firearms pimp of the entire world. We stand for war, killing, aggression, invading, and weaponizing.

I want us to stand for innovation, peace, great education, quality manufactured goods, and civil rights equality for all citizens. That’s a United States I would be proud of. That’s a United States I will stand up for and whose flag I –

Nope. I’ll never be a flag flyer.

The answers to how to fix our economy and country are already there in front of us but few people are brave enough to let go of their old ways of dealing with conflict. Few are brave enough to put down their weapons. Weapons are the most cowardly way to deal with ANY conflict. Cowards shoot. Cowards swing axes. Cowards punch people.

Bravery is confronting adversaries without weapons. Being willing to come together and come up with nonviolent solutions. Bravery is knowing you will be hurt in the fight but refusing to fight back.

The weakest and most cowardly people of all are those that wear masks to hide their identity while harming others. If you belong to the Klu Klux Klan you are the weakest and most cowardly of all human beings. You are even beneath snipers who shoot from hidden vantage points and at some distance. You are the lowest of the low.

Hang on, I might be wrong about that.

Those who hide their hate and poison behind corporate law might not be as low as the KKK but they are more dangerous than little boys wearing silly dunce-cones and calling themselves “knights”.

I’m tired. I’m really tired of all the hate and the shooting and the aggression and the ugly and the wars and the rapes and the trampling of peaceful people.

I am redesigning my Etsy store right now to make it into Cricket’s world. I have my salve listed and soon I’ll be listing lip balms and first aid kits. I’m also working on other things. I hope to create a really fun and cool post apocalyptic themed shop. I need to concentrate on creating to keep my spirits up. To keep my hope going. Redesigning my shop has inspired me to dig back into book 2 of Cricket and Grey. I guess I needed a really long  break and to give myself permission to step away if I need to. To take the pressure off. Making things that Cricket and Julie might make is incredibly enjoyable.

I’m not taking my eye off of what’s happening in Ferguson – my heart is with Michael Brown’s family and community. My heart is with social justice, but my actions need to be rooted in creating and making and writing. Things that generate ideas which are what we need more than weapons in this world. Ideas.

So today I’m working on an apron made from a used men’s shirt and I’m excited. I think I’ll dig into Cricket and Grey for some light editing of the second chapter later on.

Peace. Especially to those people who don’t even know when they’re being assholes. Peace to everyone.



*The Israeli one, not the Scottish one.