Jilly: Lighter Days Are Coming

Are you enjoying the holidays? It’s been a year like no other, but hopefully you’re managing to find a silver lining under all that cloud.

Over the last few days I’ve started to feel really energized. It’s not Christmas (bah, humbug!). It’s partly the prospect of a new year—I’m all in favor of putting 2020 to bed, and I love the idea of a fresh start, even if my rational self knows New Year’s Eve is an artificial construct. Mostly I’m super-happy because we’ve passed the winter solstice.

Last Monday, 21stDecember, was the shortest day and longest night of the year for people living in the northern hemisphere. In London the day was a tad short of 7 hours 50 minutes. Contrast that with the 12 hours of daylight we enjoy on the Spring equinox, and more than 16 hours on the summer solstice.

Long summer days are lovely, of course, but for me trends and momentum are more influential. At some subliminal level I notice when every day is a little lighter and longer than the one before, and I start to feel amazingly empowered and creative. Almost superhuman. It doesn’t matter that we’re still in winter, that the weather may be grim and the nights will be longer than the days for another three months. We’re heading toward the light 🙂 .

I’ve experienced this excited, fizzy feeling almost every year for as long as I can remember. I typically get ever more inspired and enthusiastic until May or June, sometimes right up to the summer solstice. Then my subconscious tends to down tools for a vacation and resists like mad if I try to start new creative projects in the fall. I always do better working on housekeeping and closing out projects, which is why I’ve chosen to edit in the autumn and publish in December.

All of which means that right now, time’s a-wasting. I need to roll up my sleeves and get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny, or Annis’s book, ASAP. I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last week or so and I feel ready to settle down and start writing.

I still have a little more housekeeping to finish up—I need to get The Pulse of Princes, my Elan Intrigues prequel novella, formatted and set up as a free download for mailing list subscribers. I have a few tweaks to make to my website. And of course I will enjoy the rest of the holidays, right up until New Year’s Day. But I can feel my energy building, and I feel excited to make a new start.

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope you’re looking forward to good times ahead 🙂 .

Are you a seasonal creature? Do you have a favorite day or time of the year?

Kay: It’s Time for the Bird!

This week we’ve been talking about what we’re grateful for, and one of the things I’m grateful for is that I can still laugh. As Elizabeth mentioned yesterday, humor can help us get through some dark times.

As a writer, the week’s theme had me think about POV. How would a turkey approach this fall festival feast? Of course, s/he’d be grateful if s/he had made it this far. But perhaps our bird would also be also proactive.

I had never thought of turkeys as being particularly bloodthirsty—that is, until news reports starting popping up about Gerald, the ferocious turkey that had taken over a park in the city where I live. I had a personal connection to this story because a good friend is a volunteer there, tending the roses, and one day she had to beat the bird off with a big stick when it attacked her. Other people did, too, because if you didn’t protect yourself, Gerald would draw blood. 

Sometimes though, maybe, if you’re a turkey, you have to.

In any event, this year I’m celebrating the holiday outdoors on a patio with three friends socially distanced. It won’t be terribly warm outside, but the day promises sunshine, and we’ve got a patio heater to keep us warm. The hostess is supplying her family tradition for the entree, which is crab cakes, and I ordered a more traditional meal (yes, sorry, turkeys) for myself on Friday. We’ll have a good time and, I hope, be reasonably safe.

I had so much fun looking up these cartoons that I’m adding two more that made me laugh out loud, even though they’re not related to the turkey theme. I love Maxine (so topical! Although I added an edit), and right now, I think we can all benefit from the wisdom of The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Wherever you live and however you’re marking the day—or not marking it at all—best wishes from the Eight Ladies!

Kay: Columbo—A Hero for Our Time

Peter Falk—wearing his own raincoat, a $15 thrift store find—as Columbo

Lately I’ve been mostly unable to read or watch new fiction. I’m not sure why this is happening now, although lots of people have mentioned that between the U.S. elections and the pandemic, all they can read is books they know the ending to and all they can watch is reruns of The Great British Baking Show.

One of the TV programs I’ve been catching up on is Columbo, starring Peter Falk. It’s showing up at my house on a rerun channel on antenna TV, although I’m sure it’s available from fine streaming platforms everywhere. Even though every episode is constructed exactly the same way (the murder is shown on screen at the beginning of the show, so it’s more of an affable “police procedural” than a “mystery”), so far, I haven’t tired of it. I never thought to wonder why until I read this wonderful cartoon in The New Yorker.

For those of you who don’t want to click the link, the cartoon’s author, Joe Dator, says he’s been thinking about why he’s watching Columbo reruns. His analysis is pretty good, I think. He points to how Columbo is a relaxing kind of hero: he’s not a fancy dresser—far from it!—and his partner is a rescue beagle. He doesn’t carry a gun, much less shoot one. There are no car chases or foot races. Columbo’s success is due to his work ethic, and he’s not cowed or awed by the wealthy and privileged suspects he interviews, who live in exclusive enclaves and consider themselves untouchable by law enforcement.

“Let’s just say,” Dator, the author, concludes, “that there’s a bit of comfort and wish fulfillment in seeing this humble public servant walk into sumptuous mansions and make arrogant jerks who think they’re above the law finally face the consequences of their crimes.”

The final frame is the back of a head sitting at a desk in the Oval Office of the White House. “Oh, if only,” Dator writes.

Isn’t that the truth? Where’s a Columbo when you really need him?

Well, right now he’s on COZI TV, and, yes, I’ll be tuning in.

Jeanne: The Room Where It Happens

Michaeline’s post on Saturday about writers’ fantasy getaways to magical places that enable them to whip through their WIPs made me realize, once again, that my version of that fantasy is like the theme from Wizard of Oz: There’s no place like home.

20200829_135905I write best in my writing cave, a 9.5′ x 11′ room that was added onto the back of my 97- year-old house in the 1950’s or 60’s (along with an extra bathroom/laundry room and a ridiculously useless hallway that I’ve converted into a mudroom/cloakroom/ ironing room).

Before Covid-19 entered our lives, I went on occasional junkets to beaches or faraway cities to write, but I seldom (almost never) returned home with any additional words written. Sadly, the one time I actually got a substantial number of words on the page, I wound up throwing said pages away after I decided the book was headed in the wrong direction. 😦

I’ve come to the conclusion that I write best in familiar surroundings. That’s partly 20200829_135916because my kids are grown, I currently have no pets, and my husband is a very low-maintenance kind of guy. But it’s partly because the room is really well-suited to writing. It has space for my ancient desktop computer (if all you use is Word, Excel and Chrome, you don’t really need a state-of-the-art computer), a couple of printers (one black-and-white laser printer and a color multi-function device that scans and makes copies, and a couple of fairly up-to-date laptops that I use when I travel.

The room has counters along both sides, with an assortment of junk drawers and cabinets underneath, and bookshelves along the top of the room, where I keep dictionaries, craft books and approximately 1000 tablets and notebooks because I’m forever finding myself out in the world with time on my hands and nothing to write on.

It also has a couple of windows that look out on my working-class neighborhood. Some of my writing buddies have amazing views from their writing rooms–Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay. I suppose after a while I’d become so accustomed to the beauty that I’d stop gawking, but my view is okay. The windows are enough to keep me from being claustrophobic without creating a distraction.

20200829_140123

There are a couple of closets at one end of the room. On the closet doors I tape up things like maps and floor plans that I need to keep track of the “where” of my stories. Right now the left-hand door has floor plans of the United Nations Conference Center in New York City, where much of my work-in-progress, The Demon Wore Stilettos, takes place. The right-hand door has a tourist map of Sedona, AZ, where I plan to set my next project, a rom-com series about a family of five siblings who are suddenly left in charge of their parents’ tour business and each sibling has a different idea about where they’d like to take the business (and a chance at love along the way, of course).

It’s not a particularly pretty room, but it’s homey and very practical. What kind of space do you use when you’re being creative?

Jeanne: If It Doesn’t Bring You Joy

USA - 2019 Primetime Emmy Creative Arts Awards - Los AngelesAfter twelve weeks of being cooped up in my house, I’ve been giving some thought to doing a Marie Kondo on my life: clearing out the things that don’t bring me joy. Although my house could probably use some de-cluttering (especially the basement and the kitchen junk drawers), I’ve been focusing more on streamlining my emotional life, asking myself what I want from this last quarter of my time on Earth and what is getting in the way of my achieving that.

So what do I want? Well, in no particular order:

  • I want to return to Europe another time or two. I’d like to see something of Spain and Italy, for sure, but those trips are on hold at least until there’s a vaccine that makes air travel safe again.
  • I want to tell more stories.
  • I want to continue learning to write better.
  • I want to learn more about local flora and fauna.
  • I want spend more time hiking, preferably with a canine buddy.
  • I want to read a bunch of books I never seem to have time for.
  • I want to see more movies (versus TV shows).
  • I want to see friends again. (I suspect that shortfall may be at the root of my malaise but there’s not much to be done about it for now.)

What would I like to do less of?

  • I’d like to cook less.
  • I’d like to spend less time doing book marketing related activities.
  • I’d like to spend less time on life administration–sending in claim forms and arguing with my insurance company about whether I need to do a telehealth well-visit. (Yes, I get that Medicare pays you to make me waste an hour chatting with someone about my perfectly fine health but I don’t want to.)

More than anything, I’d like to spend less time “channel surfing” available activities. When I do get some free time, I spend so much time dithering, trying to choose what to do next, that it all goes to waste.

Maybe if I’m clearer about which activities will leave me feeling satisfied instead of frustrated I can make better use of my time.

What about you? What brings you joy? And what would you like to do less of?

Kay: Whatcha Readin’?

The last time I checked in with how I was spending my time during our corona virus stay-at-home spring, I whined that I’d watched everything on TV, and did you all have any suggestions? And I was watching TV because I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read for more than, say, fifteen minutes.

Well, since then, my friends, I’ve subscribed to Netflix streaming and am busy checking out your suggestions. Also, I’m reading like a fiend. And what I’m discovering, to my amusement, is that in the books I’ve recently enjoyed the most, Our Heroine works in publishing, my former occupation.

In the truism that fiction has to be better than real life, these characters are enjoying fruits of their labors that I never saw. But in the book that I’m currently whizzing through (The Flatmate by Beth O’Leary), Tiffy, Our Girl, is an editor in a small magazine publishing company (ditto), whose authors are eccentric (ditto) but knowledgeable (double ditto), who are willing to do pretty much anything to show potential readers how cool their thing is (ditto). The fact that Tiffy works for a niche publishing company that publishes do-it-yourself craft magazines, and I worked for a publishing company that published niche computing titles (artificial intelligence, anyone? Okay, big now, but it was niche back then) doesn’t make the comparisons less relevant. Continue reading

Michaeline: Nothing to Say

Baby lemon balm plants with about six leaves each, peeking through the mulch

So, here’s a bonus nothing: I am a terrible gardener. Lemon balm, which is viewed by most as a pernicious weed, is something I need to baby with frequent mulching, and every year, I worry if it will come up again. I’m safe this year!! Hoorah! Unless we get a sudden frost, I think I’ll have enough for tea and insect repellent. Also, in further nothing news, I was afraid that my husband had killed my bee balm (Oswego tea) last year with a good application of herbicide. But, no . . . that stuff apparently LOVES herbicide! While mowing, my first hint was that lovely smell of crushed bee balm . . . and when I looked down, I saw clump after clump of beautiful, healthy, 15 cm tall bee balm! It’s taken over almost a third of the back yard, which is wonderful news for me, because then I won’t have to mow it — just around the lovely little clumps. Unless my husband applies another dose of herbicide . . . but if it’s mowed, he won’t be tempted. Good lord, give me the ankles to keep this mowing up and save my beautiful bee balm! (E.M Duskova)

I haven’t got anything to say this week, so I thought I’d spin a little bit of nothing out into a few paragraphs. Frequent readers of the blog may know that I left my job at the end of March. I wallowed most of April, and in May, I started to get stuff done – but all the wrong stuff.

I’ve decided I like gardening again, and I want to have flowers and a relatively kempt lawn this summer – there are several ceremonies attending my father-in-law’s death this year, and the next one coming up is the 100th Day on July 5, and the first Obon in August. (I’ve written about ghosts and Obon before. But more of the nitty gritty about dead relatives returning during the Obon season can be found on Wikipedia.) Coronavirus concerns will mean we have fewer guests than we might have had, but I’m sure we’ll still have guests.

And they have appreciated the flowers I’ve bought and arranged for the first 49 days of weekly ceremonies. To tell the truth, it’s been a comfort for me, too. My father-in-law was a man of few words, but he showed his love for his family and his community through doing things, and doing them right. I could sit in front of the family altar and tell him how much I appreciated him, but it just seems right to let the flowers do the talking. I hope he would have liked them.

So, I just completed the first lawn mow of the season yesterday. It took four days and a lot of ice on my ankles and muscle recovery meditations, but I survived it. Barely. I hope that now it’s done, it’ll be my daily 30 minutes of exercise and also thinking time for my writing. But if we get several days of rain . . . I’ll be back to mowing knee-high grass for hours and hours again.

I can’t remember which book I read where a man talked about how physical labor drove all the dreams and imagination out of his head. I want to say Thoreau, but that doesn’t sound like a Thoreau sort of thing to say. Quite the reverse, if I remember my Thoreau. (It’s entirely possible that I’ve made up a False Thoreau in my head, based on a few facts like his mom did his laundry while he was playing survivalist on Walden Pond.)

I’ve forgotten how to Continue reading

Elizabeth: Musing on Story

Now that we’ve been “sheltering at home”  for almost two months now, things are starting to settle into something that may not be normal, but is a little more organized.  The first few weeks at home were a bit of a free-for-all: figuring out how to work remotely; being reassigned to help on critical projects; wondering about who was going to get sick and when; being unusually concerned about the status of the grocery store shelves.

Between trying to keep my normal work tasks on track during the days and my special project tasks on track nights and weekends, there wasn’t a lot of spare time for reading or creativity for the first month or so.  Things eventually settled down, as they generally do, and, with a bit of organization, time for non-work pursuits became available.

Sadly, my creative mind did not seem to become available at the same time.  Fortunately, I had many other things to do while the Girls in the Basement binged-watched the news and hogged all the hand-sanitizer.

First, it was mask making (convenient, since they’re now mandatory here).  Then, it was making a quilt out of the scraps of material left over after said mask making.  Jigsaw puzzling would have come next, but apparently everyone sheltering at home discovered the joys of jigsaw puzzles all at once, so there were no new puzzles to be had.  I tried an online puzzle, but it just wasn’t the same thing. Continue reading

Kay: Wild Hair (That’s Entertainment!)

My friend Eileen

Shetland pony

How long have we been social distancing now? It feels like forever, right? Most of us haven’t been out to a hairdresser—or really, anywhere else—in all that time. And let’s face it: we aren’t really looking our best these days.

A friend emailed me that it’s been so long since she last had a haircut, she looks like a Shetland pony. I thought that was ridiculous, but then she sent me pictures of herself and a Shetland pony. And holy cow, she was right. She looks just like a Shetland pony!

Me

Weird chicken

This made me wonder what I look like. It turns out, I look like a weird chicken.

I asked the other Ladies what they were doing about their hair in these stay-at-home times, and what they were looking like these days. As you might expect, some of the Ladies are cutting their own hair, or are letting it grow long. Some are dying it for the first time, or missing a coloring treatment.

Elizabeth

Highland cow

Elizabeth has fairly long hair, so missing a trim, if she were so inclined, might not be so noticeable. In answer to the question of how long the stay-at-home has been going on, she says, “two hair cuts’ worth.” And she’s taking the current state of affairs as an indication that it’s time to let nature take its course, hair-wise.

She says it would appear that “Scottish Highland cow” best describes her “out-for-a-walk, shelter-in-place” hair. Looking good, Ladies!

Jeanne

Dandelion

Some of the Ladies think that their hair most closely resembles plant life. Jeanne thinks she’s looking most like a dandelion.

 

 

 

Jilly

Haystack

Jilly reports that she’s been cutting (and thinning) her own hair, too—at least two hair cuts’ worth. She says that the term most often used to describe it at her house is “haystack.”

(For the curious, the photo of that beautiful haystack was taken in County Clare, Ireland.)

 

Goldendoodle

Michaeline lets go

Michaeline’s hair is long enough that she can adapt two styles to her hair. When she lets it go, she looks like a mini Goldendoodle. (photo: picuki.com/tag/banglecats)

 

 

 

Michaeline sleek

Araripe Manakin

When Michaeline’s hair is pulled back, though, then it’s a bird of a different feather! (This photo of the rare Brazilian bird Araripe Manakin was shot by Rick Elis Simpson via Wikimedia Commons.)

 
 
 

Justine

Lion

Finally, Justine thought she’d try something new, coloring her hair a beautiful purplish-red just in the front. And then she brushed it out, and her husband said “Oh my God” when he saw it. (She says she NEVER brushes out her hair, and she has to thin it to keep it manageable. I wish!)

What does she look like? A lion, of course.

Younger son

Golden Lion Tamarin

Her younger son wanted to get in on the act, so we’re adding him in. He, too, went for a little color in front and a little shorter in the back. I thought that beautiful color most resembled a golden lion tamarin.

And that’s what we’re looking like these days, over at Eight Ladies Writing! How are you all holding up out there in the hair department?

Kay: Still Entertainment!

It’s another stay-at-home Monday, and I’ve been feeling a little bit blah, I don’t know about you. I’m happy to say that people have been sending me stuff for amusement, so I have a few things to share that you might enjoy and help you get your week off to a good start.

First up is a heartwarming clip of a music teacher who wrote a song to express her feelings about the coronavirus epidemic. Her song is a fantastic expression of her talent. She’s on one of the morning talk shows, so you have to get past the intro.

The next one is an oldie but goodie: the late, great Johnny Carson, former host of The Late Show, had the (mis)fortune to have a “talking” parakeet on the show. Two of Carson’s greatest talents were his ability to ad lib and his poker face. See how he makes out with the bird.

Finally, for something a little less mainstream, we have the Drag Queens in Quarantine (DiQ) performing to Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.” (Vera Lynn made this song a hit in 1939; today she’s 103!) In this clip, 26 drag queens in five countries are raising money for the charity Age UK, the UK’s largest charity for older people. The song is lovely as well as timely, and while you listen, check out the eye makeup. Truly amazing.

So until we meet again, I hope everyone has a safe, healthy, happy week. May the 4th be with you!