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My Writer's Journal

The Organized Life

I'm entirely predictable. I live my life by a schedule. I wake up at the same time every morning (6 am), put on my ugly old walking clothes, and take off on the same 3-mile loop; I know most of the dogs along the way, the same bicyclists wave, the same people on their way to work say Hi. My body stays on the same route, but my mind wanders. It's fine.

Shower, dress, breakfast (oatmeal), newspaper. Check e-mail by 9 am. Break for lunch at noon. Gym Mon-Wed-Fri, except this summer when I had to finish VICTORIA and cut back to Mon-Thu; grocery shopping and errands on the way home. Back to work until 5. Evenings spent reading. Asleep by 10. Variations on weekends, but writing and reading still take high priority.

It sounds boring, I know. My husband thinks I'm a little bit nuts; he doesn't operate that way. Still, it works for me. I get a lot done. It's different now, when I don't have a deadline looming. More time for reading all kinds of things, not just research material. And I actually did clean out the refrigerator. Read More 
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Emerging from the Cave

VICTORIA went off to Editor Paula late Wednesday afternoon, and I emerged, dazed and blinking in the sunlight, from the cave where I have been laboring on the manuscript for weeks. Yesterday I went out for breakfast, something I never do during the week, because mornings are my best writing time. Then I came home and started working through my list of stuff I have neglected while my focus was almost entirely on the book: clear desk; file stack of papers; pay bills; send cousin a birthday card; order filters for the vacuum cleaner. I owe three people long emails; my Facebook page is way out of date; I haven't put anything in my Writer's Journal for a full month. And what's that funny smell in the refrigerator?

Finishing a manuscript brings mixed feelings: relief, of course, because I really did figure out what the story is and how to tell it, but also misgivings of several kinds: What will the editor have to say about it? It may be weeks until I have her response, although we're already debating the title. I hated VICTORIA CONFESSES, and now so does she. I tried VICTORIA RULES, but that didn't hit the right note. So I floated VICTORIA REBELS; let's see if it sticks.

The other thing is, there's now a big empty hole in my life. For the first time in many years, I don't have an immediate project to dive into. WHAT IF I NEVER GET ANOTHER GOOD IDEA? I think I'll go clean out the refrigerator and see if inspiration strikes. Read More 
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Questions I Hate to Be Asked

A question of the sort that drives me crazy arrived in my In Box this week:

"I love to write and I have all these great ideas stuck in my head, but every time I start to write something I can never finish it. I don't know why but I lose interest practically the day after I start it. Any suggestions on how I can start something and actually finish it?"

My reply:
You haven't told me how old you are, but my reaction is that you don't really "love to write" as much as you love the IDEA of writing. Writing is very hard work--drudgery, in fact. It's also likely that the "great ideas" are really much too big and complicated. My suggestion: pick the simplest of those ideas, one that you can finish in a single sitting, and don't get up until you've completed a first draft. Put it away, and the next time, try another idea. Go back to the first one and rewrite it. Then rewrite it a third time. Build discipline, and stop looking for quick fixes. There aren't any.

That's probably not what the frustrated would-be writer wants to hear, but it's the truth. I could add a lot to that: keep a journal; write a paragraph every day of something you've observed; listen in on a conversation and develop it into dialogue.

The secret, of course, is just to keep writing. No matter what. Read More 
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Food for Thought

La Mexicana Tortilla Factory, a few blocks from home; factory is in back, tables in front.
I am a dedicated foodie. When I'm not writing or reading, I'm either cooking or thinking about cooking, or thinking about where to get a really interesting meal. Here's my latest find (once we managed to find it!)--and had a really really good lunch today: guacamole, tamales, pinto beans, sopaipilla, iced tea. Waddled home with extra guac and got back to work. Sort of. Read More 
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Balcony Life

When I was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, we lived in a double (i.e., two-family) house on the outskirts of town. I spent summer evenings on the front porch, listening to my parents talking with the neighbors until long after the stars came out.

When I left for college, my parents built their dream house. I loved the screened porch, always shady and cool, and I vowed that some day I would have one like it. After college I lived in New York apartments, but when my youngest son was born we moved to an old house in the suburbs and added the screened porch I had dreamed of; it was like a treehouse.

When my life took a new direction, I lived in a succession of houses with a variety of outdoor living spaces: an upstairs balcony in Pennsylvania; a dusty backyard where nothing could grow in Santa Fe; a failed lawn in Albuquerque (nobody in their right mind would plant grass here); a brick patio in Denton, Texas, where I tripped over a hose and knocked out my front teeth; a deck on a Victorian house in Albuquerque with a xeriscaped garden; and now, the last stop, a sixth-floor apartment with two balconies and panoramic views of the Sandia Mountains to the east, extinct volcanoes to the west, and city lights every night.

Fortunately, there's room enough for a container garden with herbs and vines, and in one corner, pictured here, some flowers that have survived this summer's scorching heat. This is where I go to take a break from writing--to water the flowers and to refresh my brain. Read More 
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Book Signing

The headline on the Books page of the Albuquerque Journal was great:Cleopatra as a teen, before it all went so wrong. Great interview. Thumbnail picture of the jacket. Info about signings at two local bookstores; the first was Saturday afternoon. I posted flyers around the neighborhood, in coffee shops and at the library; sent out emails to friends; figured out what I'd talk about ("What we DON'T know about Cleopatra"); put on a clean shirt and lipstick; and prayed that at least a few interested people would show up, because it's just so depressing if they don't. (I have done readings with just one person present.)

The folks at Alamosa Books do a terrific job of setting up a reading. On the table with a display of CLEOPATRA CONFESSES and other CM books were (1) a very large stuffed crocodile (2) a stuffed cobra (3) a stuffed leopard. And there were refreshments: baklava, Turkish delight, pomegranate lemonade.

People came! They laughed! They bought books! And I got to bring home the extra baklava. Read More 
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Some of this ended up as breakfast.
I love Saturdays. It's still a writing day, but with a difference. This morning I walked 7 blocks to the Downtown Growers' Market and loaded up on good stuff: onions, oyster mushrooms, bok choi, baby turnips, garlic---and croissants, ciabatti, and a rhubarb pie. Here it is, spread out on the kitchen counter.

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Let the Fiesta Begin!

Today is my birthday. I love birthdays--especially my own. But in reality today is a day like any other. I finally finished going over the copyeditor's notes and changes on the 360-page manuscript of THE WILD QUEEN, Mary Queen of Scots. The CE made a number of corrections, some of which made ME wild. I'm standing fast on some, caving on others. But this puts me further behind on VICTORIA RULES/CONFESSES/WHATEVER.

Meanwhile, I have to stop obsessing about CLEOPATRA CONFESSES. Yesterday was the official pub date, and I hover around amazon.com to see if anybody has posted a review. One did appear today, but with only three stars. THREE STARS?? Why not FIVE?? Because the reviewer, a librarian, loves the book but thinks the book ends too soon and should continue for another 200 pages or so, in order to cover all of Cleopatra's life. But that's not what I set out to do in CLEOPATRA CONFESSES--which was to narrate the Egyptian queen's early life, her formative years, not the entire arc of her life, as interesting as it was.

I've become pretty good about accepting criticism of a work in progress, doing draft after draft if that's what the editor says needs to be done. But once a book is published, I confess that I'm really bad about dealing with negative criticism. I try to ignore it, but I'm no good at that.

Now, as I said, I have to focus on the work at hand, not on what is already done and out there. Besides, it's my birthday! Read More 
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What Was I Thinking?

When I wrote my last entry eleven days ago I was worried about getting VICTORIA finished. "More about that later," I promised, and now I can't remember what I was thinking.

I've been cruising along at a somewhat leisurely pace with VICTORIA, because I didn't think it was going to be published for another couple of years. But I sent the first 12 chapters, about 80 pages, to Editor Paula before I went to NY a few weeks ago, and it seems the pub date has been moved up. That means the due date for the manuscript has also been moved up. To July 1. JULY FIRST THIS YEAR? YES.

I freaked. Quietly, of course. Because I still have a lot to do to get the word out about CLEOPATRA CONFESSES. And THE WILD QUEEN will be back shortly from copyediting, meaning I'll have to deal with a million little questions. Well, not a million, but a lot. OK, so focus. Get up earlier. Work later. Get it done. Now I'm really worried about getting VICTORIA finished.

Now here's something weird. When I sent those first 12 chapters to Editor Paula, I typed the title on a cover page. I've been thinking of it as VICTORIA RULES, and I really like that title. But instead I typed VICTORIA CONFESSES. "Ha ha," I said. "Dumb mistake." "No No!" everybody said. "It's a brilliant idea! We love it!"

I dunno. Got to think about that. Any comments, you people out there? Read More 
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....and Philly, too

Mr. Franklin and me
After NY I made a side trip to Philadelphia for a Philly Cheesesteak and a visit to the National Constitution Center, where I had a private moment with Ben Franklin in Signers' Hall. All the men who signed the Constitution are represented with wonderful life-size bronze statues. Ben was my favorite.

Now I'm at home with no more travels scheduled and a big push to get VICTORIA finished. More on that later. Read More 
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