Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

27 January 2010

What is best in life?

What is best in life? “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women,” says Conan in the 1982 movie “Conan the Barbarian.”

We’re writers, not berserkers and thieves, so our answers are a little different. To finish a manuscript. To polish that manuscript until it shines. To sell that manuscript. To hold our published writing in our hands. To see our friends finish and polish and sell and hold their writing. To read our friends’ stories and books.

Writers' joys are often long to fruition and are not always under our control. Today I’d like to remind everyone of the small "bests" we can enjoy every day and that no one can take from us.

What is best in life? I answer: To hear the birds sing outside my window. To laugh at the silly antics of cats and dogs. To see the happiness of birds after their feeder is filled. To walk barefoot in the grass on a warm day.

To plant seeds. To smell a flower. To stroke a rose petal. To harvest vegetables. To drink a cold beer on a hot day. To eat satsumas in the fall and strawberries in the spring and chocolate in every season.

To go to Home Depot with my husband to get stuff. To touch his hand, his face, his hair. To laugh together. To laugh with my critique group. To read the funnies in the newspaper. To get an email or Facebook message from a friend.

To do a kindness. To receive a kindness. To see a kindness done.

To see fresh-fallen snow and hear the snow-silence and smell the ice and cold.

To strive for perfection. To sometimes achieve it. To sometimes fail and still be happy with myself.

To listen to music. To play music. To dance in bare feet with my friends.

To smell a new book. To write a sentence that dances. To find the perfect strong word to end a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter.

To walk the streets of New Orleans. To see the ancient, twisted live oaks and the flower-filled balconies. To come upon a camel or musician or a parade where you weren’t expecting one.

To walk under the sun.

What is best in life? It is everywhere around us.

23 January 2010

Blogging today at Novel Spaces

Today at the blog Novel Spaces I'm discussing how much and what a speculative fiction writer should read. I'd love to hear your answers to those questions.

21 January 2010

Five months after Clarion

Before I went to the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop this past summer, I was aware of the "Clarion Curse": Some people go to Clarion and can't write again for months or years afterward. Some never write fiction again.

In my Clarion class of 18 people, some have been amazingly productive, cranking out story after story and selling to good markets. I'm not among that group. I spent the fall promoting Like Mayflies in a Stream and only began to try to write again in December.

I say "try" because I didn't succeed. I started stories, then couldn't get the words from my head onto the page—or, more distressingly, was clueless about where to take the story. I kept pressing on, started a new story in January, and finally, after a week and a half of slow slogging, completed a 3000-word story yesterday.

What accounts for the Clarion Curse? I suspect some people stop writing because at Clarion they find out they don't want to be a writer as much as they thought they did. For me, my difficulties writing resulted from a combination of losing the ability to suppress my inner editor and fatigue from the intensive workshop that I still haven't shaken. (For those new to my blog, I have systemic lupus erythematosus, which saps my energy.)

Yet, Clarion was well worth it. Once I finished my new story, I thought it among the best I've ever written. I believe I'll  batter my inner editor back into submission and the writing speed I had before Clarion. I also gained the courage to take chances and to tackle painful, personal topics. My new story, for example, takes place in New Orleans after the federal levees broke after Hurricane Katrina.

Over the past five months, I've critiqued many stories and book chapters by people in my New Orleans critique group, people in my SF/F critique group in Orange County, and fellow Clarionites. Clarion has drastically improved my critiquing ability. I have a much better idea now whether a story is working (as opposed to whether I enjoyed it) and how it could work better.

Last but not least, my Clarion classmates continue to encourage each other and help each other with their stories. The writing of all of us should benefit.

I recommend that anyone who wants to take a giant step forward in their writing ability next summer consider applying to Clarion, held in La Jolla, California, or its sister workshop, Clarion West, held in Seattle. The application deadlines are coming soon—March 1—so act now if you're interested.

13 January 2010

My Town Wednesday: Stuff in my yard

I'll return to blogging about writing next week, when I will talk about how attending the six-week Clarion Workshop this past summer affected my writing.

This week, I have enough new pictures to do a new

My Town Monday: Stuff in my yard

featuring coyote, finch, Western scrub jay, and California quail pictures taken in my yard in Riverside, Southern California.

“My Town Monday” is the brainchild of Travis Erwin at One Word, One Rung, One Day. The goal is to introduce one's blog readers to what’s special about the place where one lives. "My Town Monday" currently resides at


Our feeders continue to attract many birds, primarily sparrows of various types, house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) and lesser gold finches (Carduelis psaltria). Below are finches eating at the niger seed feeder.

Scrub jays

After seeing a Western scrub jay (Aphelocoma californica) check out the sunflower seed tray a few times, we got a peanut feeder. It took several months, but now two Western scrub jays visit every day to eat peanuts.

California quail

This year for the first time four pairs of California quail (Callipepla californica came nearly every day during breeding season to forage underneath one of our bird feeders. After the chicks arrived, they came too.


Yesterday, a coyote (Canis latrans) made a rare visit during the daytime to eat cherry tomatoes and strawberries. (We had wondered where the fruit disappeared to!) Here are a few pictures I took of it.






Carleen Brice will be giving away book baskets to celebrate the debut of the Lifetime TV channel movie "Sins of the Mother" on 7 February. This is the movie version of Carleen's novel Orange Mint and Honey. Here are the rules. (I interviewed Carleen here.)

The blog Suko's Notebook will be giving away a copy of Linda Weaver Clarke's Melinda and the Wild West. The give-away lasts until January 24. (I interviewed Linda here.)

06 January 2010

A year in books

My spreadsheet of books finished during 2009 shows that I finished only 47 books. That’s the fewest since I started keeping a spreadsheet.

The spectrum of books was different in 2009 as well. This year’s list had at least three genres of books that had not appeared on earlier lists:
•first graphic novel
•first book of literary criticism
•first Western that wasn’t a romance

I also read more books this year that I had trouble classifying on my spreadsheet. Was M.J. Rose’s The Reincarnationist a thriller or a fantasy? Was Italo Calvino’s short story collection Cosmicomics literary fiction, fantasy, or science fiction? Was Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt historical fiction, fantasy, or science fiction? And so on.

Roughly one-third of the books I read were fantasy, the exact number depending on how one defines the many interstitial books. Nonfiction was second most popular on my list, and historical fiction and science fiction duked it out for third place.

This year only two of 47 books (4%) I read were romances, compared with 15 of 56 books (27%) in 2008.

In 2009, 21 (45%) of the books I read were by people I knew by the end of the year versus 19 (34%) in 2008. I recently started shelving books by people I know separately from other books in my to-be-read stacks, and that should make it easier to find my friends’ books when I’m choosing something new to read.

Missing altogether this year were quilting books and gardening books. 2009 was all about becoming a better writer, at the expense of every other aspect my life. I hope to achieve a better balance in 2010.

What was noteworthy about the books you read last year, and what does your list say about your 2009?


Tomorrow, 7 January, I will be blogging at Novel Spaces at on why focusing solely on remunerative tasks is not always the greatest idea.