Just a summertime picture because it's beautiful up here this time of year. We get about 6 weeks of summer, so every day is precious. Hope you're having a splendid time wherever you are.
The official re-release date for Painting in the Rain is July 12, 2016. It has a brand new gorgeous cover designed by the amazing Jordan Castillo Price. The cover deserves it's own post. Look for that here this coming Friday. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy another picture from the Oregon Coast and a bit from Gabe's perspective in Chapter Two.
This was one of those other times. Between worry about his son and disturbing thoughts about his son’s supervisor, concentration was hard to find. The thought that Trevor might get some girl pregnant made him break into a cold sweat. Like father like son. The boy might not take his advice—but maybe he’d accept a handful of condoms.
Condoms Gabe didn’t have at the moment. He’d used the last one in a crappy hotel room in Portland with a guy who smelled like whiskey and shouted when he came—a particularly mortifying trait when that had someone in the next room banging on the wall and yelling for them to shut the fuck up. That experience hadn’t exactly sent Gabe running to the drugstore to stock up on condoms.
Gabe switched a yellow feather for a red one and considered the resulting pattern. He played around with a few more changes, feeling uncharacteristically indecisive. What was he doing thinking about condoms when he should be working? Christ, that kid had been handsome. Good bone structure, his mom would say. And those eyes—lapis blue. The paper with his number seemed to throb in Gabe’s left pocket while his phone pulsed in the right. And Trevor’s words echoed around the garage—I’ll kill you. I swear I will.
Gabe turned the knob to send gas to his welding torch with a hiss. He flipped down his visor and lit the flame. He’d lay proper beads later but for tonight he wanted to tack the feathers to the wing with single dots of metal, like thumbtacks at the edge of each piece, strong enough so he could hold the wing up next to its twin and see how they fit together, but flimsy too, so he could still change things if he didn’t like the way it turned out.
Gabe snorted. Too bad that life wasn’t like that. As it was, when things changed, the whole thing could come apart and wouldn’t go back together no matter how much heat and flux and passion he poured into it.
He turned off the torch, hung up his visor, and left the piece to cool. He stood in the garage doorway and rolled his shoulders to release the tension. Trevor’s light was still on. Above the distant sound of waves, Gabe could hear the murmur of the TV. He flipped off the garage lights and rolled down the door.
He strolled to the street and stared out at the ocean, pale gray in the moonlight. A familiar empty ache opened in his chest. He’d be thirty-five in August and it felt like he’d hit the pause button on his life.
Gabe reached into his left pocket and into his right. Before he could think about it too much, he read Mike’s number by the light of his phone, punched it in and, taking a deep breath, pushed send.
He crossed the street and stood on the cliff, watching the waves crash white against the rocks below as the phone rang once, twice, three times. Was it too late to call? Maybe Mike had gone to bed and wouldn’t welcome a crazy artist waking him up. Gabe was about to cancel the call when a voice said, “Hello.”
“Um, hi. This is Gabe Thompson, Trevor’s dad?” Right, because that’s always seductive—my teenage son’s under your care.
But the “Hey” that came back at him was warm and maybe happy. Gabe’s shoulders relaxed.
“Hi. Is this too late to call?”
“No, it’s fine. We were baking cookies.”
“My roommate Jessica and I,” Mike said, his words tumbling out quickly, like he was rushing to clarify. “She got a call from her boyfriend tonight. He’s in Peru for the summer. It made her lonely and I was trying to cheer her up.”
“That’s nice of you. What kind of cookies?”
“Chocolate chocolate chip. What else?”
Silence. Gabe stared out at the ocean, summoning courage. Why was this, the step that might take them past casual acquaintanceship and closer to naked, why was it always so difficult?
“I’m glad you called.” Mike’s voice dropped. Gabe could almost see him turning away from the phantom roommate, maybe pacing out of the kitchen. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
Gabe exhaled. “I wasn’t sure I would either and I know I shouldn’t, but I thought there might have been something…. Today, I mean.” He stumbled into silence and kicked at the gravel, feeling inarticulate and stupid. Words weren’t his thing.
“Me too.” Mike said softly.
Gabe closed his eyes. He was really going to do this. “I was wondering if you wanted to get together some time.”
“I’d like that.” God he sounded young. And eager.
He cleared his throat. “How about Friday night? Trevor’s at his mom’s this weekend. Come to dinner?”
“What can I bring?”
Your body. Your beauty. A box of condoms. “Save me one of those cookies.”
I've spent the day formatting my newly edited version of Painting in the Rain, an Amber Allure title which I hope to rerelease next month. It's set on the glorious Oregon Coast (which is where I took this picture). I thought you might enjoy this scene.
Mike held open the garden gate so Trevor could trudge through. They were halfway up the walk when the front door opened and a pirate stepped out. Okay, not a real pirate—a hot guy with dark untamed hair, big, gorgeous brown eyes, weathered skin and an earring.
He stared at Trevor. “Why are you home early? You’re not hurt, are you?”
Holy shit, this was Trevor’s dad? “Hello.” It came out in the wrong octave. Mike cleared his throat and started again. “Mr. Thompson? I’m Mike Malone, Trevor’s supervisor.”
His focus shifted to Mike. Was it Mike’s imagination or did that gaze linger a little longer than necessary? Get a grip on yourself, Malone. This is your charge’s dad.
The pirate looked back at Trevor. “What have you done now?” His tone was filled with resignation.
“Nothing.” Trevor’s voice rose. He gestured toward Mike with his thumb. “Can I help it that Mr. Puritan here has a thing against me kissing girls?”
Mike frowned. “It was a little more than kissing, wasn’t it, Trevor? And besides, that’s not appropriate behavior for the work day.”
Trevor’s father sighed and opened the door wider. “You’d better come in, Mr. Malone.”
“Please, call me Mike.” Mike held out his hand.
“Gabe.” God he loved a firm handshake. Mike looked into Gabe’s eyes. Oh please, if there’s a God in heaven, let Trevor’s use of “faggot” be a description rather than a random insult.
“Fuck, Dad, do you have to come on to every guy you meet?”
Their hands flew apart like they were on fire. Trevor stormed past his father and into the house. Within moments a heavy rap beat split the air.
“Turn it down,” Gabe yelled. The decibels decreased enough so Mike could hear him when he said, “You’ll have to excuse my son. His mother and I divorced two years ago and he hasn’t taken it well.”
Mike followed Gabe into a living room alive with art. “Wow, this is amazing. Is this all your work?”
Gabe glanced around as if seeing it for the first time. “Some is mine. The rest was given to me by friends. Or traded for. Would you like a cup of coffee? It’s fresh.”
“Sure.” Mike followed him into a sunny yellow kitchen. Gabe closed the door and the noise level dropped. He gestured for Mike to sit down.
Strange, brightly colored sea creatures were painted on the kitchen table and chairs. Mike sat on an orange and yellow octopus.
Gabe poured two cups and passed one to Mike. “Do you take anything in it?”
Mike shook his head. “Black. Thanks.”
Gabe sat across from him and rested his cup on the table. “Tell me why you’re here.”
A thousand inappropriate responses flooded Mike’s mind, but he pulled himself together. “I’m worried about Trevor. Actually, to tell the truth I’m more worried about the young women he’s with.”
“Young women plural?”
“Four in as many weeks.” Mike sipped the coffee. Rich and strong. He wondered what Gabe’s skin would taste like. Shit. He had to stop thinking like that. He concentrated on Trevor, which was enough to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. “He’s a heartbreaker. But what I’m most worried about is that he’ll get one of these girls pregnant or they’ll share a disease.”
Gabe’s eyebrows rose. “He’s going that far?”
“I don’t know. But each time I catch him the girl has on fewer clothes.”
Gabe’s shoulders slumped.
Mike continued quickly, “Of course, this is a program for troubled kids. I doubt there’s a virgin in the bunch. But all that means is that the girls don’t think they have anything to lose by getting pregnant. I’m hoping you can talk to him about the dangers of not using protection.”
Gabe snorted. “My son is unlikely to take advice about sexuality from me.”
“You don’t get along?”
He shook his head. “I’m afraid I’m the reason Trevor’s becoming a womanizer. He’s been trying to prove his manhood ever since I”—he paused and met Mike’s gaze—“ever since I came out.”
The fucking Hallelujah Chorus went off in Mike’s head. He must have smiled because Gabe’s expression changed and suddenly neither of them were thinking about his son.
I'll be rereleasing an author version of Nobody's Home later this month. It's a book about love and redemption and starting again (and there are dogs!). I thought you might enjoy reading chapter one.
Nick stared at the dazzling white canvas, imagining his bank account like a faucet with a slow leak. He saw his savings as a stack of dollar bills slowly dissolving and dripping away. If he was careful, his money would last until October and the show. If there was a show. Because so far all he had was a stack of primed canvases. The “stellar young talent” needed a new idea. The big blank square in front of him glared back accusingly, as if daring Nick to fail this time. His first show had been a phenomenal success and now the sense of everyone else’s expectations was crippling. Or at least that’s what he kept telling himself, since the other possibility was that his creative well had already run dry. Like a fucking desert.
He swirled raw sienna and titanium white together on his pallet and held up the brush. No. He wiped the brush clean with a turpentine soaked rag and started again. Burnt umber and gray, with a dab of ochre. He cleaned the brush again. This was stupid. All he needed was to outline an image. The color didn’t matter at this stage. Van Dyke brown, straight from the tube.
The blank whiteness stared at him like an accusation. Nothing was coming. He put away his paints and brushes, turned off the fan, shut the window and wiped away the snow that had accumulated on the floor and the inside of the window frame. Painting and sleeping in a 512 square foot studio was cheaper than doing each in a separate space, but it also required that he choose between ventilation and temperature control. In January that meant he painted in a coat and the kind of fingerless gloves he imagined Van Gogh had worn. Which would be a romantic image if it weren’t so damned cold.
Maybe a walk would inspire him. He hadn’t eaten all day and that cheap Pakistani place on 9th sounded good. He was halfway down the stairs when his phone rang. Who called anymore when it was easier to text? He fumbled the phone out of his pocket and answered.
“Nicholas Alsteen?” A man. He couldn’t place the voice. A buyer? Nick hoped so. Selling one of his few remaining finished pieces might take the edge off that damned financial drip.
“Yes.” The familiar stairwell mix of mold and stale cooking enveloped Nick as he waited for the man to go on.
There was a pause and then, “I’m calling about your father.”
“My father?” Nick stopped, one foot halfway to the next step. “There must be some mistake.”
“You’re Nicholas Alsteen, the artist, correct? Your father was Robert Alsteen, he went by—”
“Buddy.” Nick finished. “But whatever you want, I can’t help you. I haven’t seen him in years.”
“He’s dead, son.” Despite the harshness of the words, the voice sounded kind.
Nick sank onto the step.
“My name’s Dan Osborne of the Lacland Sheriff’s Department,” the voice continued. “I’m sorry to spring it on you like this but I’m afraid you’re going to have to come out here. You’re his closest relative. He didn’t leave a will so you’ll need to figure out what to do with his stuff. It isn’t much, the house, a truck. And there’s the…you’ll need to make arrangements for his remains.”
“I think there’s more family somewhere, but he cut himself off.” Nick stared at the dirty stairwell wall, picturing his father’s angry face.
“Doesn’t matter. You’re his legal next of kin.” When Nick didn’t say anything, the sheriff continued, “If you want I can put you in touch with folks who could do it all for you but given everything, it would probably cost more than the estate is worth. And besides, it’s the right thing to do, son. I know Buddy wasn’t easy, but he was your father.”
Some father. But Nick wasn’t exactly in a position to hire out his dirty work. “Okay.”
“When can you come?” Osborne sounded relieved.
Nick looked at his watch, as if that would tell him anything. His calendar was as simple as it could be—big scary opening in nine months, nothing until then. He mumbled something about soon and hung up. A woman was yelling a few floors down. Horns honked outside. A cold blast of air filled the stairwell as the front door opened. Nick stood and climbed back up the stairs, feeling a hundred years older than when he’d started down.
Life stops for death. Nick booked an expensive flight—whatever happened to bereavement rates? He texted Connie at the gallery so she’d know he hadn’t bolted town. He glanced through his phone contact list and decided there wasn’t anyone else who’d really care. He’d always told himself he had to stay detached to have time for his art. But maybe he was more like his father than he wanted to admit. Nick tried to wrap his brain around the thought that the old man was dead. Violent? Yes. Unpredictable? Yes. Crazy? Absolutely. Dead? That was hard to imagine.
When Nick had left with his mother—it must have been almost twenty years ago—he’d vowed never to see the man again. And yet, his father had continued to live somewhere in Nick’s subconscious like a room where the light was always on.
I'm sitting here by my peaceful Northern Wisconsin lake. We had a big storm the other night and rain this morning, but right now the lake's still, the loons are calling and a muskrat just paddled by. Hard to believe that yesterday, a crazy, hate-filled guy with two guns killed so many people in an Orlando nightclub.
I don't have anything new to say about the shooting. Reading about the victims is heartbreaking. One man's mother had a tomato and cheese sandwich waiting for him in the fridge at home while another's got a text telling her that he loved her. There was a TV producer, a man who worked at the UPS store, the bartender and the bouncer and a friend of J.K. Rowlings. And so many more. Over a hundred people shot, half of those were killed. It's horrible to imagine what it must have been like inside the club with the crazy hate guy firing and a security guard and police shooting back. Like being in a war.
Right now if I type "Orlando shooting" into the Google search bar, I'm offered some reasonable suggestions, like "Orlando shooting timeline" but I'm also offered the hate filled endings of "hoax" and "false flag." I'm not sure what the latter is, but when I click on it I get anti-Islamic rantings. What I'm not offered as the most popular ways to complete the phrase are words that speak to what really happened, like tragedy, sorrow or murders. And yet what I feel today is sorrow over these murders, this tragedy. And rage that this could happen. And gratitude that 911 came and made it all stop and that at least 30 people didn't get shot and more than 50 of the wounded are still alive.
It all feels a long way away from my calm lake. Except armed hate lives in my neighborhood, too. But so does love. And as Dan Savage tweeted out yesterday - in 1969, it was the police who were hurting people in bars and on Saturday night they came to the rescue. He's right. Things do get better. But that doesn't mean we're already there.
I'm a huge fan of Brene Brown, the vulnerability and shame researcher. If you haven't listened to her TED talk, stop right now and do that. I'll wait.
Isn't she great? I think she has some pretty profound things to say about the human condition. For example, I've heard her say that connection and a sense of belonging is why we're here. I write romance. Of course I resonate with that.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, she has a set of ten guideposts for wholehearted living (summarized here). I've been trying to consciously do at least one of these every day. In fact, I've turned her into a verb, as in, "I still need to Brene Brown today." I thought I'd start sharing some of that journey with you, starting with:
#1: Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think.
Sheesh. That's a big one. There are so many ways I get trapped by other people's opinions. For instance, just this morning I was riding my bike, trying to get some exercise by interval training. (That makes me sound much more jocky than I am. What really happened was that I read a New York Times article about cramming an exercise routine into a couple of minutes and thought I'd give it a try). Anyway, there I was riding my bike and I found myself waiting to start my little bursts of hard work until I was sure no one else could see me. Yeah, pretty silly, since I'm quite sure no one on that trail cared or even noticed.
Sometimes I need to balance a healthy avoidance of criticism (I rarely read reviews) with a recognition that what other people think actually can matter (I always pay attention to my editors). I'm hyper-tuned in to the emotional life of everyone I come in contact with. It's a sickness. On the other hand, developing empathy has absolutely helped me as a writer. There's nothing like it for character development.
So how authentic am I in my regular life? I try to be as real as I can and to allow those around me space for the same thing. Which means I try to keep my opinions to myself. Because it's easier not to care what other people think if they don't share it. Except, of course, I think you're fabulous for reading my rambling all the way to the end. Thank you.
What does being authentic mean to you?
Deadlines - do you like them, hate them, find them useful?
I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. Knowing something is due definitely ups my productivity. And that's a good thing. But then there's the stress. It seems like no matter how generous the deadline, I'm always feeling pressure as it nears. Of course I intend to get things done ahead of time. But then life happens.
Most of the time I make my deadlines. I've got one coming up June 15th when I've promised to submit my Lisbon novella to Dreamspinner then. It'll definitely be a stretch. And that's probably a good thing. I think.
How about you? Do deadlines motivate or overwhelm? Or both.
Me, I gotta get back to that novella now. Yikes!
I have a number of re-releases coming out this year. Having a story come home is an opportunity to view earlier work with a, hopefully, more mature eye. So far I've dared to look inside the first two, Nobody's Home and Painting in the Rain, and in both cases there's room for improvement How much to do and when is a balancing act. I don't want polishing old work to get in the way of writing something new. On the other hand, I like my work to be the best it can be - a standard that changes over time.
I'll re-release Nobody's Home in early summer. This version is the same story with a few character and plot tweaks that should make it a more enjoyable read. I read a bunch of reader reviews and got some expert feedback and I think the book will be much stronger for the rewrite. The multi-talented Jordan Castillo Price will design the new cover and I can't wait to see what she creates.
In the meantime, I'm plugging away at some new work. Which in a few years will turn into old work. My hope is that I'm learning as I go. Only time will tell.
This morning the Significant Other and I were having a discussion about our different work habits. I pointed out that sloppy could be efficient and that if you wait long enough, many problems do just disappear on their own. Yeah, he didn't buy that either.
But the whole "discussion" got me thinking about how I work and all the ways those habits are universal for me. And because it's spring, there are only two things on my mind - my WIP and gardening. I've made a list of ways they're similar:
1. Dev plans, God laughs. I plan, I really do. I write synopses and plot outlines for books and spend long winter hours mapping out my garden. Then, when it's time for the actual implementation of said plans, they go astray very quickly. Something unexpected happens in the story and everything changes. In the garden, my garden partner has taken to calling it surprise gardening because we only know what we planted where when/if it comes up.
2. Sloppy is efficient. I suspect this isn't actually true and that if I could only manage to do things right the first time it would save me a lot. Doesn't happen. I suspect it never will. So I'm sticking to my story that sloppy is best.
3. If you plant it, it will grow. Okay, that's not always true. One year I couldn't get carrots to sprout no matter what I did. But I do know that the converse is true - if you don't plant, it won't grow. Planting stories means always being on the lookout for an interesting starting point, or plot device or character. I tuck them away in my sloppy brain and eventually something sprouts.
4. Gardening and writing are both a fuck of a lot of work. And if I wait for the muse to magically appear, everything withers and dies.
5. They're worth it. Every September I'm exhausted. Every time I hit send on those final page proofs, I'm tired of the damned story. And yet, I'm proud of the work that went in and of knowing I did the best job I could. And by the time I start a new story or Spring comes back around, I'm ready and excited. Watching things grow and mature by the work of my own hands and head? That's addicting.
Periodically I hear about someone else's writing process and I think, hmmm, maybe I should try that. But in the end, I am who I am. And the work gets done. Eventually. And that's good enough. For now.
I love writing when I travel. I'm not talking about restaurant or hotel reviews. What I love is setting stories in interesting places. For example, I wrote a big chunk of Sacred Hearts while I was visiting friends in Mexico. So when this spring I got a chance to visit Spain and Portugal, I decided to set a novella there. I'm home now and still in the midst of the first draft, but I'm savoring the memory of sitting in the sun in a courtyard in Lisbon dreaming about my characters roaming the city and falling in love.
Place plays a big role in my stories, maybe because I've lived lots of places or because now I'm up here in Northern Wisconsin, which is beautiful but can feel isolating. The astrologer I lived near as a kid would tell you it's because I have a Taurus moon. A shrink might say I never put down proper roots. I think an unusual setting simply makes for an interesting story.
The new book doesn't have a name yet, or an ending, but it's got some fabulous places. Here's Amsterdam, where the story begins. I'll post more photos as this story moves along the journey from pen to published. It's always an adventure.
Here's what I'm doing today - getting ready for Passover. The table is set and waiting for the last minute additions of water/parsley/eggs, the soup is made, we've got homemade gefilte fish, my sweetie will be cooking Cornish game hens and I'm waiting on a last minute shipment of gluten free matzah meal so I can finally make some matzah balls that I can actually eat. Friends are bringing the rest. It should be a festive, if predictably long, evening. Hoping I have time this afternoon for a nap.
If you're in a Pesach mood, I think I have the only gay Passover holiday romance (if you know of another I'd LOVE to hear about it). Learning from Isaac is a few years old now and I definitely think of Nate and Isaac every Passover. It's not exactly a romantic holiday, but it is all about family and connection. And spring and rebirth and liberation. So happy Passover to everyone! Here's to new beginnings.
Gorgeous cover by Jordan Castillo Price
I've just been in Lisbon where new art covers lots of the old walls. It got me thinking about how communities support (or don't support) art. This photo is from a courtyard that the residents painted white and then invited five local artists to decorate. The result is charming. Enlivening. And that's what art, music, literature does - it brings imagination, even whimsy, into real life. Communities that support art simply become more and more interesting over time. Those that don't support the arts end up with whatever's cheap, easy and profitable for whoever's funding the space. That goes for music and books as well. I guess it's all a matter of taste. Me, I'm with the woman in the window on the right, smiling away at all the bright colors and fascinating shapes.
Having a wonderful time - wish you were all here. I'll be back to my real life in a couple of weeks. In the meantime I hope you're having a spectacular spring. Cheers!
The ice on the lake is melting. Yesterday I saw a couple of herons, back from wintering someplace warm. And a flock of juncos mobbed my bird feeder this morning. It's time to put away dark winter thoughts and get ready for new growth.
This passing around of the cycle of life, death, rebirth is as true in real life as it is in metaphor or fiction. I know that all my significant intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth has come out of dark times. On the other hand, relentless darkness is never life affirming, it's trauma. We need the darkness to lift, the sun to warm out bones and the ice to thaw if we're going to apply winter lessons to the rest of our lives.
So here's to spring, both real and metaphoric. And while I'm at it, here's to young love and middle love and old love and new love at any age. And joy and laughter and tulips and hideous blue candy creatures. Happy spring.
Here's the thing, for me, about the writing life. On good days I jump out of bed ready to spill a couple of thousand words onto the page before breakfast and by the time I call it quits for the day I've gone beyond the scene I first envisioned and have knocked out an entire chapter or two, in other words, I'm on fire.
I vaguely remember having one of those good days a few years back.....
Most of the time I do absolutely everything on my to-do list before I even start writing. And then check Facebook just once more. And my email. And do a little online shopping. Maybe call a friend. In fact, I doubt I'd get more than a hundred words written a week if I didn't set regular "office hours" when I've pledged to keep my bum in the chair and work.
The problem is, there's not a lot of external accountability in this job. Sometimes I have a deadline a few months off, but I'm not sure the sky would fall in if I didn't make one of those. Nothing like the consequences I'd encounter if I blew it in the not-really-so-very-evil day job. Instead, getting the words down and growing my stories requires an internal commitment, a responsibility to the story itself and to the people who might want to read it.
People talk about writing as a passion. It's certainly that. And for me it's a necessity, even an addiction. I go a little crazy when I'm not working. But sometimes I just don't want to. The trick to consistent production is to have that little tantrum, then sit back down and get to work. Still learning that. But at least I'm trying.
What keeps you going when things aren't smooth?
I'm grumpy and sleep short this morning. Nothing big, just too much to do and not enough time to do it. I could use some cheering up, so with her permission, I'd like to share a friend's brownie recipe. Butter, sugar and chocolate makes even bad days a little better.
Survive Anything Double-Chocolate Brownies.
9 oz bittersweet chocolate
7 Tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons coffee
2 Tablespoons sugar (optional - I like them without the extra sugar)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the bittersweet chocolate and butter.
Beat three eggs in a large bowl at medium-high speed until thick and pale, it takes a few minutes. Add vanilla extract, coffee, milk, sour cream and extra sugar if you're using that. Beat until fully mixed (just a few seconds). Reduce speed to low and add the chocolate mixture.
Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. I make this recipe gluten free by substituting the flour etc for a GF pancake or biscuit mixture and that works great.
Fold the flour mixture into the liquid batter. Add as many semisweet chocolate chips as you need to survive anything.
Grease a large cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Cover with batter and smooth it out. Bake 30 minutes or until the brownies are cooked through. Allow brownies to cool before cutting.
Enjoy. Everything looks better if you have enough of these.
I've been thinking about community and connection lately. Research shows that our social lives have a direct impact on not only our mental but our physical health as well. Loneliness is evidently profoundly unhealthy. We're wired for connection and to crave a sense of belonging.
Romance writers feel this in our bones in a different way from those who write in other genres. Other writers might describe loneliness as part of the human condition, those of us interested in happy ever afters make it our business to evoke in readers the bliss of connection, over and over again. We strive to stamp out alienation and loneliness, if only for an afternoon.
And yet, writing is necessarily a solitary activity. It's very pleasant here in my sunlit office with my dog curled in the chair beside me. And I'm enough of an introvert that the idea of constant companionship with another human being makes me squeamish. But I also know that I need periodic injections of social connection to keep me sane.
My communities are a series of intersecting circles with me at the center. I think that's true for many people. We socialize in small groups of family, friends, work, clubs, religious organizations, and more, and those sets are as unique as a fingerprint. For me, there's my writer friends, my science friends, the community garden and my family to name just a few.
Some groups I connect with no more than a couple of times a year, others every day, and while there are plenty of people I carry with me from one group to another, no one has exactly the same configuration of interests and friendships as I do. Because we're social animals, the links between us might be our most defining characteristic, encompassing everything else.
Love and connection are important enough to who we are that we really can die of loneliness. Maybe reading (and writing) romance isn't a trivial activity after all.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
I just inherited my grandfather's coin collection - well, not quite inherited, I got tasked with seeing if the stuff was worth anything and if it was, selling the it and splitting the loot with my brother. As I investigate, I am coming to the realization that my grandfather's careful placing of pennies into slots in dented blue cardboard books was more an act of love than a way to fund his grandchildren's retirement. Rather than selling, I'll probably end up dolling out the worn, incompletely filled "Lincoln Collector Folders" to his great grandchildren, along with stories and memories of sitting at the kitchen table sorting coins with him, with our fingers covered in grime and the metallic penny smell in our noses.
Right now I'm working on a mystery set in Tanzania. I've been trying to learn what I can about the Tanzanian criminal justice system. A writer named Muhammed Said Abdulla, who died in 1991, wrote a number of mysteries that I'd love to read. But they aren't in print in English and I don't read Swahili. I'm not even sure they're in print in Swahili since so far none of his novels appear to be for sale anywhere I can find online. The most recent one came out in 1984. He might have missed the digital age entirely.
What does this have to do with my grandfather's penny collection? I guess not much other than they've got me got me thinking about the value and impermanence of what we leave behind. My grandfather's penny collection doesn't appear to be worth much to anyone outside the family and Mr. Abdulla's work may not have survived, despite the awards he received during his lifetime (although he does have a nice Wikepedia page).
Maybe the question shouldn't be about our legacies. Perhaps the most important thing is the joy we bring in the moment. Sharing a good story or hanging out with the grand kids, these things are enough in and of themselves.
So here's to enjoying life while we are still here (and in print). L'chaim.
It's beautiful here. And cold. And isolated.
Every winter I am reminded of what a great place this is to be a writer. Sometimes I chafe at the isolation. Whole days go by when I don't leave the house. When it's too cold to ski or snowshoe, I hole up inside, wrapped in my warmest sweater and fingerless gloves. But that's often when I can get good work done. Summer is frantic and short, a time to cram in as much socializing as possible. Winters are long and quiet. Good for writing.
I spent much of last winter criss-crossing the country trying to live my own life while helping care for my dying father. Didn't get much writing done. Poor Whistle Blower got drafted in the fall of 2014 and had to wait until last month for release. Right now I'm working on a new book but these things take time. I suspect that my only other 2016 releases will be rereleases as a number of my earlier stories come home, get new covers and a little polish and go right back out.
Patience is a winter skill.