Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

24 June 2009

Clarion, here I come!

I'm busy packing for the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer's Workshop and trying to finish some writing and editing assignments before I leave Sunday. I don't know whether I'll have a chance to post live while I'm gone, but I have some posts scheduled to self-post, including an interview with a debut author. When I come back from Clarion, I hope to have many tips to share with you.

In the meantime:

Contest winners!

As already announced, Charles Gramlich and Ken Schneyer each won an Oriental carpet bookmark for guessing why my skin is so pale. I had expected to receive the bookmarks by now, but they haven't arrived. I will get them to you as soon as possible.

My husband came home from his trip to Ireland and we went through the contest entries (names cut off). Twenty-seven years of marriage must have given us the same sense of humor because we both had the favorites. The winner of contest 2 is the person whose guess of what my new cuneiform tattoo says came closest. The tattoo (if looked at in a mirror) says "lady scribe." The late-entering team of Allie, Cassie, and Renee came closest with their guess of "Your humble correspondent."

The winner of contest 1 is the person with the best comic rejoinder to the question, "What does your tattoo say?" The team of Allie, Cassie, and Renee again wins with "I fell asleep while the artist was doing the other tattoo and when I woke up he was doodling on my ankle." However, since you guys already won contest 2 and since I don't want to be accused of nepotism, the prize goes to Rae Ann Parker for "You mean you can't read it?"

Winners of contests 1 and 2 will receive flashlight keychains, Oriental carpet bookmarks, and either an ARC of my book or the book itself.

Thanks, everyone, for entering my contest, and congratulations to Charles, Ken, Cassie, Allie, Renee, and Rae Ann!

New blog!

While continuing this blog, I am joining several other people in starting a new writing blog called Novel Spaces at The blog will debut 1 July. Stay tuned for more information next week.

My book cover!

The ARCs for Like Mayflies in a Stream will go out in a few days, and this is the cover they will wear. The final cover will look much the same when the book comes out about 1 October, with a flattering (I hope!) blurb replacing "Advanced Reading Copy" in the bottom bar.

The picture shows the protagonist Shamhat, a priestess and scribe, and the wild man Enkidu.

I am truly delighted with the cover, both because the image is beautiful and because the artist has taken pains to get the historical details right, from the oil lamp to the White Temple of An to the mat on the floor.

My FaceBook fan page!

My editor created a fan page on FaceBook at If you're a FaceBook member, you can join the page (I think that's the right term) and keep up with signings, contests, and other book-related events and information.

20 June 2009

I know what it means to miss New Orleans, part 2

My husband and I went back to New Orleans at the end of May. We had not even left the grounds of Louis Armstrong Airport before we had realized that New Orleans would always be home. Even the humid heat that blasted us when we left the over-refrigerated baggage terminal felt normal and good and right.

As always, New Orleans was beautiful and green and offered more things to do than we had time for. We ate at many real restaurants (the dining options here in Southern California consist almost entirely of fast food places and chain restaurants), visited the cool new insectarium and the aquarium (where I took pictures of the beautiful rays), strolled around the Vieux Carré and the Marigny (where I got my infamous tattoo), and visited former neighbors. And of course, we attended the wedding we went for.

We had wondered how much the city would have recovered since we left in September 2007. The first clue came as we flew into the airport: We looked out over a sea of blue-tarped roofs, a continuing legacy of FEMA’s inadequacy.

In the city itself, tourist areas looked better than ever, although tourists themselves were sparse, and the refurbished French Market had only about a third of the usual vendors. Our old neighborhood had been back to normal before we left, but now our male neighbors complained of hearing gunshots almost every night and of carrying sticks when walking their aggressive dogs, an indicator of how crime has worsened. (Hearing about the gunfire did cool our homesickness some!)

In the hardest-hit areas, recovery correlated with income level. Insurance proceeds and FEMA’s “help” were clearly inadequate for the people who had to rely on them totally. The poorer areas downriver, including the Ninth Ward, were a vast wasteland except for showcase projects such as the Musicians’ Village and the houses Brad Pitt is building.

In contrast, up near Lake Ponchartrain, many homes have been renovated and reoccupied, while others had been torn down and replaced with much larger homes in popular older New Orleans styles—Greek Revival, bungalow, foursquare. The many vacant lots startled us, but overall the neighborhoods seemed lived in and viable, with Robert's grocery store having opened a few months ago.

We stayed with harpist and booking agent Rachel van Voorhees, who is back performing primarily in New Orleans now, although many other musicians remain away. She has finished her house repairs, although several of our friends still have not.

Ninth Muse’s wedding had several near-disasters, yet everything came together magically at the end. The bride was beautiful, as was her gown, and her critique group members were honored to all get to play a role in the wedding. (Below, left to right: Farrah Rochon, reader; Laurie Bolaños, officiant; Ninth Muse, bride; groom, who is not a writer; me [hair is up, not cut off], bridesmaid; Margaret Nichols, reader.)

My husband and I concluded that yes, we would like to move back to New Orleans sometime, or at least have an apartment there for visits—but not now, while gangsters hold turf wars near nice neighborhoods, levee repairs are years from completion, and rebuilding the Ninth Ward seems to rest primarily on the shoulders of already-busy people such as Brad Pitt, Harry Connick, Jr., and Ellen DeGeneres.

Last week's contests

The contest entry deadline has been extended until 12:01 am on 23 June. Many people stopped by my blog last week, sometimes numerous times to have a laugh at my expense (you know who you are, D.L.M.!), but few people entered the contests. (Is it really that hard to take a wild guess about what my tattoo was supposed to say?)

So you’ve got a few more days to win my forthcoming book based on the "Epic of Gilgamesh," Like Mayflies in a Stream. For the complete lists of rules and prizes, see

Contest 1. Come up with the funniest joke about my reversed tattoo or the funniest rejoinder for when someone asks what my tattoo says.

Contest 2. Guess what my tattoo would say if it weren’t reversed.

10 June 2009

I know what it means to miss New Orleans, Part 1:

At least Leonardo could read it

I wanted to get a tattoo to celebrate my first novel sale (Like Mayflies in a Stream, coming from Hadley Rille Books in October), but tattoos are not mainstream here in conservative Riverside County, and tattoo parlors are scarce. I wanted a parlor that was clean and did top-notch work, so I waited until I went to New Orleans for The Ninth Muse’s wedding (more on our trip next week) so I could go back to Electric Ladyland in Faubourg Marigny, considered by some the best tattoo parlor in New Orleans.

After weeks of consideration, I had decided on a phrase in cuneiform because my book takes place in ancient Sumer in the time of Gilgamesh:

I went to Electric Ladyland prepared. I had printed out a large, clear image of the words and told the lady at the counter several times which way was up to make sure I didn’t get the letters engraved sideways or upside down. (I’m nothing if not obsessive.)

The tattooist was good. He asked whether the tattoo was oriented correctly before putting the temporary image on my leg and again before starting the tattoo. Both times I said yes. He did a beautiful job on the tattoo—clean, sharp lines, with all the triangles open, a difficult task, the shop people told me.

There was just one problem.

After thirty-plus years with systemic lupus erythematosus, I’ve been lucky to develop only one complication, but it’s an inconvenient one for a writer: cognitive dysfunction. In practical terms, that means I frequently forget things, get confused, have trouble retrieving memories, have trouble moving items from short-term memory into long-term memory, and suffer from what people with lupus call “brain fog.” Oh, yeah, and I frequently forget things. Lupus cognitive dysfunction worsens considerably when a person is tired.

Despite knowing better, I went to Electric Ladyland the day after I arrived, jet-lagged and exhausted from the long trip. This is the tattoo I received and probably deserved:

I didn’t discover until after I’d had a chance to rest that the tattoo was a mirror image of what I’d wanted. I did what decades of having lupus had taught me to do.



Now it’s your turn to laugh. I’m having three contests. The prize for each of the first two contests is a keychain flashlight imprinted with the name of my book, a woven Oriental rug bookmark, and your choice of either an ARC sometime soonish or a copy of the published trade paperback version in October. The prize for the third contest is an Oriental rug bookmark.

Contest 1. You’re the winner if you come up with the funniest joke about my tattoo (as judged by my husband and me) or the funniest response for me to give when people ask what my tattoo says.

Contest 2. You’re the winner if you come closest to guessing what my tattoo says if you were to look at it in a mirror. If more than one person guesses closely, the first poster will win.

Contest 3. You’re the winner if you're the first to guess why a brown-eyed brunette has such pale skin.

Contests will close 12:01 am Pacific time on 20 June.

03 June 2009

Writing lesson from a baby squirrel

Sometimes illumination comes from unusual sources.

Such as baby squirrels.

I was eating my breakfast when something scritched at the sliding glass door next to me. A baby squirrel stretched high on its hind legs, peering in and scratching as it tried to get through the glass.

I turned toward it, and it skittered away. Seconds later, another baby squirrel burst from the herb garden. The squirrels were clearly newly out of their nest. Over the next few minutes I laughed at their antics—Taking a flying leap into a clump of oregano, running up a porch pillar, looking through the glass of the breakfast room door, chasing a baby rabbit that came onto the patio.

The squirrels’ antics brought to mind Charles Gramlich’s recent thoughtful post on Razored Zen, “Perception and Creativity.” He pointed out the value of writers experiencing the world from a unique perspective and taking steps to develop new ways of experiencing.

The squirrels suggested to me that it’s also valuable to look at the world with no perspective at all, with every thought and action aimed at discovery. What would it be like to land stomach first in that soft, aromatic plant? What would happen if I ran toward that long-eared animal? Does that purple puff smell different from the green stalk? Do I want to eat it? How high can I climb?

The squirrels ignored the sunflower seeds I put out for them and kept playing, reminding me that exploring and making sense of this world—or one’s fictional creation—should be a process of joy.


Coming soon:
•I know what it means to miss New Orleans
•My (former) town Monday: Aquarium of the Americas
•A cover for Like Mayflies in a Stream
•Interview with DeAnna Cameron, author of July release The Belly Dancer