Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Finality of Peace

The more I thought about the prompt for this week, the more I realized that peace is really pretty fleeting.

And it should be. Too much is left to do, to see, to learn, for any of us to find peace while we're still able to draw breath. Only in death should we find peace.

And that made me think about cemeteries.

I took these photos in Scotland a couple of years ago. The gravestones there are a metaphor for the triumph of life over death, because they're covered with lichens and mosses growing right on the dead stone.
 Maeshowe on Orkney might or might not have been a grave. All that's known for sure is that it's very old and that on the equinoxes, the sun shines right in through that door you see and strikes the center of the back wall. (We were there for the autumnal equinox.) A legend says that a group of Norsemen once took shelter here during a storm and that two of them went insane before they were able to leave.
I entered by bending at the waist to walk through a tunnel, then, when I reached the open part under the dome, turned around and walked right back out. Did not like the way it felt. (This was before I heard the legend.)

The graves at Beauly Abby, like many in Europe, were in the floor of the church. I was taught as a child not to walk on graves and it's still difficult for me. Yet the people who attended services here obviously had no problem with it.
Balnuaran of Clava was pretty definitely a grave, and very, very old. The feeling of peace here was amazing. Perhaps the stone-age souls buried here have really found their rest.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Snapshots in My Memory

It used to be a photographer’s worst nightmare, back before everyone carried a cell phone and every cell phone included a camera. That perfect, once-in-a-lifetime picture looms before you—and you’ve left your camera at home.

The first time this happened to me, I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. My parents had given me their old Brownie box camera (Anyone else remember these?), and I’d taken some pictures I’m proud of to this day. But this particular day my camera was sitting at home on a shelf.

The spring had been, not unlike most Illinois springs, rather erratic, with cold temperatures giving way to warm temperatures in early March, then reverting to cold temperatures and snow flurries later in the month. As I was walking home from school, I passed an ancient tree with gnarled roots radiating in all directions. The wind suddenly picked up and whirled a mix of snow and brown leaves out from between two of them to reveal, hidden among the remaining leaves and snow, a small clump of violets in bloom.

I could do nothing but try to remember it—like a snapshot in my memory.

Several years later, I was in a car with my parents, riding through the countryside between Flora and Olney in Southern Illinois, and there was the perfect sliver of a moon high in the sky long before sunset, like a fleck of gold floating in a turquoise eye—a snapshot in my memory.

Nearly grown, I was on horseback in the Fox River bottoms near Olney. It’s a wild area. Parts of it look like humankind has never walked there. But most of it is laced with trails like the one I rode this warm autumn day, and small pockets of crops are planted in open places to take advantage of the rich, loamy soil. I was riding past one of these when a red-winged blackbird glided down onto a full, golden head of wheat and balanced there, wings outstretched, for long seconds—a snapshot in my memory.

When I was a young mother living in the Kiamichi Mountains of Southeastern Oklahoma, I woke one night to find my bedroom glowing with silvery light. I rolled over and peeked out the window to find a full moon high in a sky covered with puffy clouds that looked like lily pads. They were reflecting the moon’s light so completely that the dirt road leading to our house looked like a stream of molten silver—a snapshot in my memory.

I was visiting my sister on the plains of Nebraska one summer when her husband called from the airbase to tell us to go to shelter because a severe storm was on the way. As we left her mobile home, I looked across the prairie to see a perfect anvil-shaped cloud preceding the storm front, grumbling thunder and dropping bolts of lightning as it approached—a snapshot in my memory.

My kids grew up in a little town south of Champaign, Illinois. I used to take evening walks past a small, picturesque grove. One evening, mist curled around the trunks of the trees and the air was filled with fireflies. Crouched in the mist, surrounded by fireflies, was a wild rabbit—still as death and poised to flee—a snapshot in my memory.

I’ve seen double and triple rainbows—even an upside-down rainbow once. I didn’t have my camera. I’ve seen sundogs and “the new moon hanging from a star,” and I didn’t have my camera. I’ve seen comets that swept the sky—one with a double tail—and I didn’t have my camera. I’ve seen brilliant sunsets, fiery dawns, bursts of lightning in pink and green that came down from the clouds and up from the earth and met in the middle—and I didn’t have my camera.

All just snapshots in my memory--until now. Now you have those snapshots, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Meg Meets the Shapeshifter

Meg checked the nearly hidden table in the corner by the fireplace as she walked into her favorite coffee shop. He was there—again. A little shiver shot up her spine.
She had no idea why he evoked such uneasiness in her. He didn’t look as bad as most of the homeless men she saw roaming the streets. But they weren’t here, in the upscale coffee shop where she went on her coffee break. He was. Every day.
She knew nothing about him except that he must have a lot of time on his hands. He was big—both tall and heavy—with a round face and vacant eyes that made her wonder what drug he was on. He always wore a huge, dingy white T-shirt over jeans that were frayed from dragging the floor. He looked unwashed. His short hair somehow managed to look uncombed, and he always needed a shave.
And he watched her. Maybe that was why he seemed so creepy. Men didn’t usually watch Meg like that. Not that she was unattractive. She was just so horribly average that most men slid their gazes right over her while searching for the next flashy, half-dressed babe. But she’d felt his eyes on her often and turned to catch him as he averted his gaze. Yeah. He was just creepy.
Meg stepped up to the counter and ordered her cinnamon bagel and espresso. She had just dropped her change into her purse and picked up the bag and cup when someone plowed into her from behind. The cup flew out of her hand, coffee splashing back, burning down the front of her wool jacket as she heard her attacker shout, “Get down on the floor, bitch! You! Behind the counter! Hands where I can see them!”
As she crashed against the counter wildly grasping for the edge to keep from falling, something big shot from near the fireplace—so fast it was nearly a blur. Meg heard two shots, then nothing but the ringing in her ears, and looked down to see a tall, well-muscled man, one knee in the back of the gunman, slapping handcuffs onto his wrists. The gun lay on the floor nearby.
Her rescuer looked up at her, concern in his dark eyes. “Are you OK? Hey, Pete, get her some cold water. That coffee probably burns.” His oval face sported a sexy hint of beard, and his short hair was slightly unruly with curls. He was wearing a white T-shirt and jeans… Oh my God! It was Creepy Guy. What the hell?
Point sat quietly at the nearly hidden table beside the fireplace, trying to be invisible. An upscale coffee shop hardly seemed like the kind of business that would need his brand of security service, but this one had somehow wound up in the crosshairs of a gang takeover. He didn’t let the fact that he’d been sitting here waiting for weeks for them to follow up on their threats make him any less vigilant. He’d done too many of these jobs to fall into that trap.
And this job had a rare benefit. Every morning at 10 a.m., Monday through Friday, Classy Lady came in to pick up a bagel and a cup of coffee. He was trying again to guess in which of the many nearby skyscrapers she might work when she came for this morning’s cuppa.
She appeared to be searching for someone, then looked uneasy when she saw him in his usual place. Whoever she looked for every morning never seemed to show up. He was used to seeing that uneasiness in women, though. He had no idea why. He was one of the good guys.
He watched her surreptitiously while she waited for her order to be bagged. She was wearing a sky blue suit of lightweight wool, the skirt reaching just below the knee. As she entered, he’d seen the white blouse under the jacket, only the top two buttons open and with a blue print scarf hiding any cleavage that might accidently peek out—damn it. It looked like an expensive outfit, but then she could make WalMart jeans look expensive.
He was admiring the round swell of hip accented by the fitted jacket when a man stepped through the door, pulling a ski mask down over his face and a weapon out of a jacket pocket. While Point berated himself for being lax, the man covered the space from the door to the counter and shoved Classy Lady hard into the counter. Her coffee splashed down the front of her suit as the cup flew out of her hand.
“Down on the floor, bitch! You! Behind the counter! Keep your hands where I can see them!”
Bitch? Point launched himself out of the chair. The gunman got off two shots before Point disarmed him, breaking several of the man's fingers in the process and—maybe—his arm as he threw him to the floor. Ignoring the perp's shrieks and curses of pain, he planted his knee in the middle of the guy's back while he cuffed him. Only then did he look up.
Classy Lady was staring at him in compete shock. She didn’t look a bit frightened, and she didn’t seem to notice that hot coffee was dripping off her breasts--her round, soft-looking breasts--onto her blue leather shoes. Maybe it hadn’t soaked through the wool jacket yet.
“Are you OK? Hey, Pete, get her some cold water. That coffee probably burns.”  

from When the Moon Is Risen, book four in the series that starts with When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hidden Places and Secret Spaces

My father loved hidden things: boxes with hidden locks, secret drawers in furniture, hidden cubbies in unlikely places…
            I’d known about his fascination with boxes for quite some time. He loved the way the fit together, especially those with dovetailed joints. I found out about his interest in hidden locks when I accidentally bought him a box for Christmas that had one. I’d bought it for the beauty of the wood; he enjoyed learning how to open it.
            Later, when Hubby and I had had our adventure in the world and limped back home to raise our two children, our financial situation forced us to settle in a very small house. Our older daughter wound up with the smallest of the three bedrooms. In my search to maximize the space, I found a picture in a magazine of a twin bed built over a double row of drawers and with bookcases rising up from the side against the wall. It was perfect.
            I showed the picture to my father, explaining why I felt Katriena needed it. He and Hubby drew up a plan, bought wood, and went to work. It was perfect: six dresser-like drawers in front and a door in the back that wasn’t included in the model bed where long objects could be stored. I don’t remember what Katriena had that made him think she needed that. Then he pulled one of the top drawers completely out to reveal a secret drawer where Katriena could store things she didn’t want just everyone to be able to find.
            But my father’s real masterpiece was the house on the lake. My mother had always wanted to live on a lake, and my father’s goal in life was to give her everything she wanted. (She really didn’t ask for much, to tell the truth.) They’d bought the lot several years earlier and used the garage/cabin on weekends. Then when he retired, they started the house.
            They’d built a house together before—the house I grew up in—all by themselves. They made a few mistakes, but nothing most people ever noticed. This time, at the age of 60, my father wisely decided to hire a little help. He had a man to dig the foundation and help laying it and a team to install the sheetrock, and my teenaged nephew spent the summer with him, learning how to build.
            My father had read that most houses destroyed by tornadoes are wrecked because the tornado lifts the roof, usually attached to the frame only with a few nails. (They call it toe-nailing, I believe). So he bolted the frame to the foundation, then bolted steel straps to the top of the frame and over the roof trusses. Going to take a Class 5 to blow that baby down. But just in case, in the hall he put a trapdoor that led down to the crawl space, which was plastic lined to keep it clean and dry. All hidden.
            Then he decided the house needed secret hiding places—I was never sure for what, since they had very little worth stealing.  Nevertheless, he built them—not in the living room or bedroom, where most thieves would look, but in the bathroom. One, I believe, was behind a built-in magazine rack. The location of the other was so funny that I remember it well—behind the recess in the wall that held the toilet tissue.
            I wonder still if the people who live in that house now have found all the secret places and hidden safety features. As for the bed, it still has a place in my home. My granddaughter sleeps in it when she comes to visit, but the hidden drawer is empty. I, too, have very little anyone would want to steal—even my small amount of jewelry has mostly sentimental value. But I can almost hear my dad shouting across the vale, “Put it in that drawer! Don’t you know that’s what it’s for?”

Saturday, August 4, 2012


I really didn’t know what to expect when my novel was published in mid-May.

I know what I could have expected way back when I had the nightmare that inspired the novel.  If I could have convinced an agent to represent an older but unpublished author of a book that’s a little hard to label and that agent had been able to convince a publisher to buy it, I would have received a small advance, and the book would have been released with a certain amount of ceremony. The publisher would have sent copies to reviewers and might have arranged interviews and a book tour.

Through the years, I wrote off and on, juggling my hobby with grandchildren and stressful jobs, while the world changed. Finally I retired and picked up the stack of pages I had stuffed into a file cabinet in the spare bedroom. And I realized I was no longer dependent on the agent or even the publisher. While I’d been involved in a different kind of writing career, both had been rendered optional by technology and culture.

Still, I decided I’d try to get an agent while I worked on rewrites. If I didn’t find one by the time I finished, I’d submit to one of the small companies sometimes called independent publishers because they aren’t one of the large corporations, which had by then shrunk to “the big six.” Although self-publishing was another viable option, I decided I wanted the validation of having my book professionally published.

I didn’t find an agent, so I sent a query letter to my small publisher of choice. They responded that they wouldn’t even look at any urban fantasy novel more than 70,000 words long.

THAT was unexpected. When I finished the first draft, books were supposed to be at least 120,000 words—and that’s almost exactly what I had written.

So I started editing. And I cut 40,000 words. Without damaging the plot or character development.

It was the best education I could have gotten in editing. But I still had 80,000 words, and I felt that while I could cut maybe another 5,000, I simply couldn’t reach the required 70,000 without ruining the book.

I sent a query to another publisher, one who had a sterling reputation and had recently won a prestigious prize.. They loved it. Send it, they said.

They lost it.


But I had an alternate plan. My daughter, author Katriena Knights, had told me about Etopia Press, a new company that was growing rapidly and liked books in all genres including those that were hard to peg. I queried them, and two weeks later was assigned an editor. She gave me the second-best education I could have gotten in editing, including asking me to add back in 5,000 words, much of which I still had in the original copy I had saved on my computer.

No advance. No review copies sent out. No interviews. No author tour. Par for the course for small independent publishers. (Some give small advances to selected authors. I wasn’t selected.)

I had business cards printed with the cover of my novel on them and started passing them out to everyone I could get to take them. I mentioned my novel on Facebook and Twitter. I got a review in the local newspaper. I pulled out attendee lists from every tour I’d ever gone on and every workshop and convention I’d ever attended and started sending e-mails. Haven't figured out how to do a book tour for an e-book yet, but I have post cards with the cover to autograph just in case anyone asks. 

As well as I can tell, Amazon must have more than a million Kindle books listed. Of course, I’m sure they don’t have that many ranks, because many books would tie. But “When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing” was ranked at 50,000 several days and has bounced between the 100,000s and 200,000s ever since. I have no idea how that translates into sales, but I think it might be OK.

I can’t say that’s completely unexpected. : - )