To Leave or Not to Leave

Home is my personal “land of the fairies,” where I lose track of time, and even of what

Needs a few cats...

Needs a few cats…

day it is. I’ll often wake up and think, “I’m not sure whether it’s Saturday or Sunday. How lovely! But I still have 147 pages of revisions to do for Tremaine and Nita, and when did I become so addicted to the verb ‘to sport?’ I should do a global search. Lordy, I hope it’s Saturday, because the manuscript is due Monday…”

Happy thoughts. I can hear Winnie the Pooh singing, “Rum Tum Tiddle Dum, Rum Tum Tiddle Deeeee” as I pother around in my writing world.

Winnie-the-Pooh-HumBut I’ve learned that I need to get out, to drop in on my readers via social media, to write this blog, to occasionally meet a real, live, human friend in person for a bowl of soup, or a hot chocolate. In the land of Today is Tuesday, I am refueled in a way that home, with all its wonders, can’t do for me.

grow tubbyI’ve also learned that I need to move, physically, to GET OUT OF THE CHAIR, though everything in me rebels at the very notion. I’m happy when I sit in my writing chair, rum-tum-tiddle-dumming away. Happy, do you hear me? I’m also significantly overweight, and at risk for early Alzheimers.

So I get out of the chair, even if it’s only to toddle for a bit at the treadmill desk. I hate every minute of that exercise, but I will hate more being unable to recall my daughter’s name.

day without a friendAnother lesson that I know, though I must relearn it often, is that I have a tendency to hang on too long to relationships that aren’t working. I suspect the day job falls into this category–twenty years of child abuse law is enough. I’ve kept other jobs too long, kept relationships too long, and kept congregational affiliations for too long. “Too long,” means I’m spending way too much of myself on a situation that’s not giving enough, and I’m the only person to whom this imbalance matters.

Me, at Glencoe in Scotland, proving that I do Get Out occasionally...

Me, at Glencoe in Scotland, proving that I do Get Out occasionally…

I’m getting better about this, though, and what has helped is an uncomfortable insight: I want to be loved tenaciously. I want to be worthy of other people’s committed devotion, even when I’m lost in the land of Rum Tum Tiddle Dum, even when I’m obsessing over the verb ‘to sport,’ as if that really matters. I want what I’m giving away.

In my reluctance to cut loose what’s not working, I have my priorities inside out. I think it was Maya Angelou who said, “weak people give up and stay, strong people give up and move on.” I need to move on more readily than I do, not because I’m strong, but because that’s the way to be the most honorable in my regard for myself.

What lessons or decision points seem to circle your life? Do the upcoming holidays present any quizzes or tests that you intend to face differently this year? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amex gift card.

The Lusty Month of November

blog bear in bedThe days are getting shorter, cold weather has made its first appearance in many parts of the country, travel can become more difficult…. but last night’s extra hour of sleep reminded me that I LOVE much about this time of year. I’ll limit myself to ten things:

1) That extra hour of sleep. LOVE IT, and really needed it this week.

blog autumn leaves2) My dad turns 94 today. He’s living at home with his bride of 69 years (and some help). In some ways, he’s contributed more to my welfare in his great old age than he did when he was going full bore as a scientist and university professor. LOVE that guy!

3) The sound of leaves underfoot, the scent of fall.

4) Planting bulbs. This is my niche as a gardener, and on my property, there’s no bad place for a daffodil or tulip to come up.

blog pumpkin pie5) Pumpkin spice everything, the quintessential flavor of late autumn.

6) Amaryllis and poinsettias. They make me HAPPY, and I love sending them to others.

7) The baking, or lord, the baking.

8) Heating with wood. It’s renewable, healthier from a respiratory perspective, and very centering.

blog amaryllis9) The long, dark evenings mean more time for reading and writing.

10) The holidays and snow days mean more time for reading and writing.

I could go on–more time to see family, a chance to rest from the yard work, Christmas cards for those of us who do them… all good things. What do you enjoy about the coming time of year? To TWO commenters, I’ll send a $25 American Express gift card.

On the Road YET Again…

travel jetMore travel has been added to my summer schedule, because the Aged P’s need the company. As most of you will recall, the Aged P’s live in San Diego, while my home is in Western Maryland. This is not a summer camp I’m jumping up and down to attend, because before I even board the plane, I’m homesick. What will I miss?

travel marylandMy property. This is a big one, because it encompasses memories of walks with my daughter when she was small, the sight of my horses munching grass across the stream, many hours of planting flowers, and a lot of cups of tea on the porch while the country breezes blew my cares away and the trees and mountains assured me, “This too shall pass.”

I love this place. I raised my kid here, wrote dozens of books here, baked a lot of bread, burned a lot of wood. This is home, and I will miss it.

travel stargazersMy cats. They each have a story, a personality, a way to add something to my life that’s unique. Most of them have been with me for more than ten years, and their company is dear to me. I also love the wildlife here. In the past week, in my yard, I’ve seen a fox, skunks, raccoons, possums, rabbits, squirrels, lightning bugs, and much more.

The greenery, not only in my yard, but this part of the country. Things grow here, they have room to grow and all the sunlight, water and nutrients they need to grow. I get a sense of safety from that. This environment is well suited to supporting human life. Southern California has been overburdened with human life. It has not enough water, for starters, and without water… how can any sane person feel safe?

travel foxMy friends. I lack a wide circle of friends, but the few I have are wonderful. We get together as often as busy schedules allow, and a couple hours at Panera or the sandwich shop is enough to get my mental and emotional engines retuned and full of compression. Yes, new sights and new faces can have a salutary impact, but I’ll miss these faces, and these hugs.

My treadmill desk—silly, right? Not to me. I put that sucker together, and it sits in my line of sight while I write, an invitation to beat the sitting disease that afflicts too many writers. I can “exercise” in my jammies, while playing free cell, and swilling tea. How captive_295w-274x450cool is that? No threat of melanoma, no cars, no fumes, no strangers who expect me to step off the curb because they’re jogging and I’m only toddling. I will miss a rare opportunity to exercise that suited me.

Change is good for us. We meet new challenges, make new connections, learn and grow when we’re dropped into new environments. I’m glad to HAVE parents to visit, but I will be really, really glad when I can once again turn my sights for home.

If you had to leave home right now, with no assurances about when you’d return, what or who would you miss most? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed ARC of The Captive.


There’s No Place Like HOME

dog in car windowFor much of the past eight weeks, I’ve been traveling. First, I drove out to San Diego to see the Aged P’s, then I dropped in on a brother near Santa Fe, and paid a call on Beloved Offspring in Colorado.

Got home, did a load of wash, lassoed a cyclone of paperwork at the office, then took off for what I thought would be a jaunt in Italy. Within a week, I was flying back to Georgia with my sister (family stuff flared up), and I just returned from there yesterday.

UK Spring of 2011 006I have not finished unpacking–I’m too busy blissing over the pleasures of being home. My house doesn’t get a lot of attention from me. I often say it’s more of a camp site than a home, but I’m wrong. Home is my favorite place to be, for more reasons than I realized.

My computer screen sits at exactly the proper height for me, and my chair is a fancy ergonomic extravagance given to me by a friend on my birthday. LORDY, have I missed my computer set up!

My house is quiet. If a car goes by, the dogs and cats and I all look up. If there’s no traffic (which is for hours at a time), we can hear the stream that cuts through the property.

irisesOnce I get it aired out, my house smells good (to me, provided nobody’s visited the litter boxes lately). I can smell the new mown hay from across the lane and the enormous German irises in the vase by the door.

My books are here. My keepers, my references, the books I’m reading that are too large to tote around (The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I, weighs more than four pounds).

dog chestnut log wallMy favorite things to eat are here, and nobody’s fussing about When Will We Eat, or What Will We Eat, or Where Will We Eat. I eat when I’m hungry, I don’t eat when I’m not, and I like to eat mostly raw food (except for good cheese and Ghiradelli dark chocolate squares) that’s light on wheat and sugar. This is not what’s offered at most restaurants, and holy Ned, does it make me grouchy to eat stuff I’m not jonesing for.

captive_295w-274x450Home is the thick chestnut logs that form the wall I stare at when the words are fighting me, but it’s also the control I have over this space, and over myself when I’m in it. I love my home, and I’m so very grateful to have a home.

What have you done with the place where you live to make it YOUR home? Is there a part of home you take with you everywhere (I bring my favorite tea, for example). To two commenters, I’ll send signed copies of “The Captive.”

Queen of the Road

flagstaff AZI must tattle on myself: I am having the best time rolling across the country in my trusty truck. Wednesday, I was rhapsodizing about the forsythia and redbud in southern Virginia, today I delighted in the snow storm that hit Flagstaff, AZ. (I love that town. Seven Starbucks, moose crossings, a Barnes and Noble, and that terrific mountain…)

burnsMy truck looks like a couple hobos with their dogs have been living on the floor of the passenger’s side. An oil portrait of my dad occupies the seat next to me (long story). I’m listening to my Jim Malcolm CDs over and over, singing about “Robin was a rovin’ boy, rantin’, roooooovin’, rantin’, rooooooovin’, rantin’, roooooovin’ Robin!!!” (A poem Burns wrote about himself, but he’s dead so I can sing it any way I please, right?)

When I tire of caterwauling about Robert Burns, I’m listening to the Romance Writers of America national conference workshop CD, and hearing such gems as Jude Devereaux complaining that politically correct heroes (“May I please make love to you for an hour and half?”) are a deplorable development. If I tire of that, I can roll along in silence for a couple hundred miles and arm wrestle my imagination for some plots to go with novellas I’ve recently obligated myself to write.

grand canyonWhat FUN! And then there’s the scenery. I did not have time to visit my old friend the Grand Canyon, but I did stop in to see one of my brothers near Santa Fe. On the way home, I’ve booked a night at La Posada, the last of the grand railway inns of the Southwest, in Winslow, Arizona. (Might have to take a selfie standing on a corner, of course.)

La PosadaWhat I’m NOT doing is being a lawyer, racking up words as an author, or dealing with people who expect me to solve their problems. I wasn’t sure why I decided to drive cross country (again) rather than fly, but the decision has borne wonderful fruit so far.

Still don’t know what I’m going to do with Daniel Banks, though. Fortunately, I have the 2700 mile daniel day lewisdrive home to get that one figured out, right?

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Would you take anybody with you? Stay for a long time? A mere week? What would you do while you were there?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amazon gift card.


Timing Is Everything…

Winter sunsetWhen a couple hits a rough patch, one of the first questions the counselors will ask is, “What did you notice about your partner that first attracted you?” The question has several aims. The obvious aim is to start the discussion in a positive place, back when love was in the air (or in the bed, somewhere). A less obvious aim is to explore who is projecting what onto whom, so everybody can take responsibility for their share of the disappointments and problems.

I’m having a rough patch with winter. One gray day follows another, the temperatures are stinkin’ cold when they ought to be moderating. The most recent ice storm left my nice big pine trees in shambles. Some plan-destroying winter storm always lurks in the forecast somewhere, and worst of all, IT’S TAX SEASON.

horsecatAnd yet, I know winter will soon fade. That’s the beauty of a temperate climate. Just when I think I’ve fallen out of love with a season, it starts to slip away. The days are longer, the animals are shedding, Valentine’s Day leads to St. Patrick’s Day… In Shakespeare’s words, it’s time to “love that well, which thou must leave ere long” (Sonnet 73.)

Then too, it’s not winter’s fault I haven’t written much new material lately. It’s not winter’s fault that accounting is one of my least favorite things to do, it’s not winter’s fault I’m traveling next week and haven’t quite figured out the logistics. That’s all on me, not the season.

cat christmas treeHere are some things I loved about winter when it was 100 degrees out, going for a walk was a disgusting proposition, the grass had to be mowed every 72 hours, and the dogs were incessantly itchy.

NO BUGS. I love that there are no bugs in winter.

NO STINKIN’ HEAT. It gets so hot where I live that my computer needs it’s own little AC, the florescent lights in the kitchen give up, and the poor dogs plaster themselves to the cool of the floor for hours.

bird beederLOW HUMIDITY. The heat wouldn’t be so bad, but it literally sticks to you because of the high humidity.






THE FIRST CROCUSES.And just like that, I’m not quite as happy to see winter fade. godivaMaybe one more snowfall or snow day wouldn’t be so bad. Or two…

Has looking on the bright side ever yielded big insights for you? Does it make the present more bearable, or is it an aggravating exercise in trying to minimize your legitimate misery? And a simpler question: What do you look forward to on the hard days?

To one commenter, I’ll send a basket of Godiva Chocolate goodies.

The $5.00 Solution

Sitting is supposedly the new smoking. In other words, the more you sit, the greater your health is at risk. For a writer, this is bad news indeed.

get up and moveBut there is good news! To counteract the evil effects of prolonged sitting, you don’t need to sprint the low hurdles at four-minute-mile pace. All you need to do is GET UP. Stand, stretch, stomp your feet, play your favorite Pointer Sisters tune and move around even a little.

toadGET UP, every thirty minutes or so. That won’t guarantee vibrant health until age 100, but it will light a candle against the darkness of heart disease, stroke, obesity, chronic lower back pain, and all those other best friends of the Undertoad.

Well, says I, then I don’t have a problem, because I’m always hopping up and down—let this cat in and that dog out. Top up my tea cup, and have an inspirational bite of Ghiradelli dark chocolate. I’m pretty active in a sedentary way, says I.

Am I BSing myself about this?

What’s needed here is good information. My health is a significant limiting factor on a lot of the fun I intend to have in coming years. It’s hard to tromp around Scotland if my back is in bad shape, hard to even write a steamy hot scene if sitting has become uncomfortable. I really, really, really need every ounce of health I can beg, borrow, or maintain.

So I bought a $5.00 mechanical timer, plopped it down among the cats, sticky notes, books and incense holders on my writing table, and set it to 30 minutes.

timerWell, drat. I don’t get up as much as I thought I did. When I’m cooking on a scene, I’m happy to sit transfixed before the computer for well over an hour. When I’m in the writing zone, two hours is nothing…

This is a problem—with a $5.00 solution. So often in my life, though, I overlook this critical step: What is the magnitude of the problem I’m facing? Is it a big problem, a little problem, a different problem than I thought I had? Is it a problem at all?

knightThe last thing we want to do when we’re hit with the anxiety of a difficult situation is DO NOTHING to solve the problem, but instead, figure out what we need to know about it first. And yet, that simple, take-a-deep-breath, resistance to tearing off in the direction of a solution can spare us a LOT of misery and wasted resources.

I battle the same impulse when I’m writing. As soon as I have characters in my head, I want to write the story—even if I don’t know what the story is. The hardest part about writing for me, is turning the computer OFF, and giving the story space and time to develop.

lady_450Can you think of a time when you resisted the impulse to charge ahead, and instead gave yourself permission to stop and consider, gather a few facts, marshal your resources, and THEN decide what direction to charge in? Maybe you counseled a kid or a co-worker to give a situation time, or you withheld judgment and were later glad you did?

We’re celebrating the release of The MacGregor’s Lady later this week, so to one commenter (do NOT hesitate to comment), I’ll give an iPad with iBookstore gift card and trimmings or the e-reader of your choice.  

Outhouse Wisdom

I’m working on two nonfiction books in my spare time and spare thoughts. One deals with what I’ve learned about writing since becoming published. I add to this one as insights occur to me, or I come across good resources.

outhousesThe other book is broader, and its working title is “Outhouse Wisdom.” Everybody has a draft of this volume in their heads, though they probably have a more genteel way of phrasing it. I’m trying to keep track of the everyday lessons that have added up to smooth out my path, help me around the blind turns, and otherwise add meaning to my life.

Some of the lessons have arrived to me in clever phrasing. An engineer friend, trying to express a sentiment about some processes having to unfold over a prescribed time, said, “You can’t make a baby in one month with nine women.”

Love that. He said it better than I ever will.

Woman+in+BarrelAnother friend, a guy I’ve known all my life who builds houses pretty much single-handedly, and has never really left the valley where we were raised, came out with, “Everybody gets a turn in the barrel.” He meant we all have bad days, make bad decisions, look like fools.

I like how he said it better. His version is friendlier, and more homey.

Homespun wisdom is great fun for putting into the mouths of the Duke and Duchess of Moreland, or the occasional child character, but it’s also a real comfort to me as I muddle through my little life, occasionally stubbing my toe, bouncing checks, saying the wrong thing, and generally being human.

A few more:

You don’t want to be with anybody who doesn’t want to be with you. (From my dad.)

We’re here to learn how to love and be loved. (A long time therapist.)

wearing a barrel storyYou can get through nearly anything if a) your suffering has purpose, b) somebody’s enduring it with you, and/or c) you know it won’t last forever. (Me.)

Weak people give up and stay, strong people give up and move on. (Attributed to Maya Angelou, and not always that simple. I could do a whole blog post on this… hey, wait…)

OK, those are few of mine. What are the homespun lessons that you keep in a mental pocket to pull out when the Undertoad is having a good day at your expense?

To one commenter, I’ll give a complete signed series of the eight Windham novels in print, plus Douglas: Lord of Heartache.






The Road Is Long…

A frequent snippet of conversation with my daughter is her assurances to me that she will be self-sufficient soon, just another few semesters, another year or so, and she’ll be back on her own two feet.

Leaving-HomeI’m getting exasperated with her narrow definition of self-sufficiency. She left home at seventeen, and at various times, has paid all of her own bills. Her ethics are impressive—this young lady does not deal in falsehoods, no matter how convenient.

Logistically, she’s a marvel. She grew up in our one-Mall county, but moved to Seattle when she was eighteen. When Seattle was no longer so congenial, she packed up her stuff and kitties, drove across the country by her lonesome, and returned to Maryland. She handled the move to Denver with the same dispatch.

She buzzed through an accelerated AA program in veterinary technician stuff—hematology, anatomy, pharmacology—that makes my head spin, and now she’s tackling international relations, or some such thing.

atlasMorally, logistically, practically, managerially, she’s been self-sufficient for years. I contrast her situation to my parents, who have a tidy income, but can no longer drive, handle their own finances, or manage their weekly groceries. My parents are sad because even though they have no money troubles, they’ve lost the other forms of self-sufficiency. My daughter bludgeons herself, because even though she’s managing a busy life all on her own, she isn’t generating income.

What is this preoccupation we have with self-reliance, and is it over-rated? I can understand not wanting to be a burden, but are you a burden because what you have to give isn’t monetarily rewarded in our society? My daughter is acquiring an education, which she will use for the greater good. My parents are in their nineties, for cryin’ inna bucket, and deserve to simply be appreciated for having come this far in good style.

I want youI raise this topic of self-reliance, because it’s an area I need to focus on. I like being in charge of me, but being the virtual Mountain Woman of Western Maryland is a dicey way to manage an entire life. Everybody’s battery goes dead some time, and when mine is losing its juice, I’d rather call a friend to give me a jump than walk six miles into town.

So the question for the week is… If you were going to ask for help with one aspect of your life, to lean a little on others to carry a small part of your burdens, what would you ask for help with? The electric bill? The house work? The monthly invoices?

Is there a way to have that help without feeling guilty about it?

To three commenters, I’ll send signed copies of Douglas: Lord of Honor, which hits the shelves Tuesday of this week.

And THEN what happens?

My publisher is not one of the big New York houses, but rather, is the largest publishing house in the country owned by a woman. This has allowed Sourcebooks, Inc., flexibility and boldness larger organizations might find beyond their grasp. One of the benefits to me has been that instead of having to wait for more than a year to see royalties for many of my books, I’m paid within thirty days of when my publisher is paid.

sourcebooksThat’s a sweet deal for the publishing biz, and it lets me see in relatively short order–six months is a lot shorter order than 18 months–how my books are doing. This also means I have a royalty check coming in each month, and that feels good. As I get to the end of my backlog of manuscripts, that will slow down, but for the next year or so, I should be in a nice pattern.

Which leaves me with a question: Am I successful yet?

Which begs another question: How do I define success?

scrooge mcDuckPaying the bills and supporting my daughter is part of that definition, but my dear readers are seeing to it that for the near term, at least, that box is checked. So what does that leave? Saving up for retirement, because I don’t want to be a burden on anybody. Writing more good books, because I love to write, but assuming I can do that…

I also want to lose 50 pounds and otherwise get my health on a better footing. Writing  books can help me with this (thanks for the treadmill desk, friends!), but mostly this takes time and determination, which I have.

treadmill deskAnd I want to take care of the friendships I have, within my family and otherwise, because when all else fails, those relationships are all we have left, and all we have left to give. Of the three criterion–writing, health, and relationships–relationships are the big one, the one that deserves the most attention and probably gets the least, from me.

So… what’s your definition of success? Does that definition work for only you, or do you measure others by it, too?

To one commenter, I’ll give a Kindle paperwhite or NOOK, your choice.