Okay, this blogging effort has gotten lost in Life. Not my plan and it took me a while to knit it all back together. Turns out the question was not “Do I write novels or write non-fiction about retirement issues?” The question was “What do I really need in my life?”

The answer is “Both. And a lot more.” That insight involved working with a life coach for a year. Good experience, but again, not what I thought I was going to be doing at this point in my life.

After the soul searching, I spent almost a year reworking the retirement website. You can find that at I am working on “the next book” in that vein as well. But I’m also noodling story ideas and am excited about getting back into that.

It’s great to be excited about anything. That’s probably the biggest takeaway from what’s been going on with me for the last four years. It’s a good lesson –that even when things are looking really bleak and the professionals are telling you “Get used to it. This is your life now.”, there’s room to hope and reason to keep trying to get to a better place. (I go into this a little more in the “Greetings from Lazarus” blog post on if you’re interested.)

I’m ecstatic to report life is fun again Here’s my version of “cooking paleo.” (Good thing the grandkids weren’t watching…..)

Cooking paleo….

Finding a voice…

I gave this the title “Phhfsdt….plksd….teraew22..#..dtrah?!” A few minutes ago.  Then I had the good sense to put real words in the title so Google would like me. (Not that putting that gibberish in the first sentence helps much…)

I like the idea of building a sense of group here–of me giving you regular doses of “writing” that you can both enjoy and–at least sometimes–use.  I’ve been blogging for over six years, so it’s not like this is a new skill base that I need to acquire.

But suddenly, it is.

How did that happen?  I found having something to say pretty doable when I was talking about retirement issues.  Of late, those posts had turned into mostly “life in general” commentary anyway.  so I could just do that on this site instead of the old one, right?


… it’s not working.  Today I am finally starting to see why.  As an “authority” you have to have a voice.  You have to talk about the things that can make a difference in whatever aspect of life you’re trying to be a resource on.  But as a novelist?  It’s just the opposite.  You don’t need my voice–in fact it’s an obstacle when it’s time to create a new story,  You need to be able to hear the voice of that book, not me as a writer of several books.

I am writing a new story and that makes this a key factor to figure out.  I want to engage.  But I also want to give you a really good story in what I offer next.

I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with this.  There are probably very effective ways, and I just haven’t uncovered them yet. For now, instead of my voice, I will give you my eyes–some of my favorite shots from what I’ve been blessed to be able to see for myself.

Abiqui NM

Abiqui, New Mexico….red rocks and desert: connecting soles to soul.

Near rainer at sunrise in Nov

Sunrise….the ultimate statement of hope.  (Mount Rainier, WA)

THE Ruby

Oneness: us and the ocean  (Ruby Beach, Washington Coast)

Carry on?










Wanted: One, nice, long, flexible GROOVE

I do pretty well at avoiding ruts–mostly because I’m terrible at doing anything again and again.  But a groove?  That’s something I not only want to find myself in–I want to stay there once I get there.

IPoint Reyes‘ve been thinking a lot about the value of routine lately.  Too much of it and you get stagnant.  Too little and you drift.  I believe in routines. But what I can finally see is that they’re tactical–part of something bigger that makes them worth sticking to. That’s where this yearning for a groove took root.  A groove is strategy.  It’s a commitment to doing what you believe in on an ongoing basis.

A groove is only for stuff you want to work on.  Day in and day out.  For me, that’s writing.  One of my sisters has an amazing curiosity about fibers–for her it’s dyeing, spinning, and knitting–or otherwise working with–whatever combination of fibers she’s decided to try.

One of the great delights of a groove is that you get to decide how big it’s going to be–how much time you’re going to dedicate and how often. For me, three hours of writing on a new book each day is about right.  I may also do a post like this or work on promotional stuff, but that’s different and not part of my groove.  The three hours is for creating the next book.

That was the most important ground rule when I launched my groove seeking effort January 1.  Three hours every weekday, two hours on Saturday, and one on Sunday first thing every day after my morning routines.  (Did I mention I’m awful at doing exactly the same thing again and again?)

I’m almost 3 weeks into this now.  They claim it takes that much repetition to create a new habit.  I think this one is going to work. And I think that even after having my groove shot to smithereens for most of last week.  It was a bad week for a groove–but come Monday of this week, I was on it with as much enthusiasm as January 1

If I’m rigid about what I want to get done, I’m in a rut.  When I had to deviate, I resisted and resented the interruption.  With a groove, it’s a matter of accepting the reality of the moment and then getting back to  in the groove as soon as I can.  (I never really leave it in my mind and I have more energy because I’m not fighting the need to respond to the “fire.” )

One of the coolest things about a groove is that it makes drifting far less likely.  When I get pulled away by other things happening in my life, I yearn to get back to what I was working on.  When I was more rigid with what I expected of myself, it was an on/off thing…and once I turned the switch off, it was really easy to leave it off for long time–to my own detriment.

Another cool thing is that when you treat it like a groove and the work isn’t going well, working on a different aspect of it is more satisfying than throwing in the towel for the day.

Ah, yes, a groove is a beautiful thing.  But why?

It keeps you going in the direction your authentic self yearns to go.  If you have to hop out for a day or two to deal with family needs, it will be waiting for you when you can slip back in.  No recriminations,  No nasty self-talk about needed to stop for a bit.

I hope this groove thing is part of my life from here on. Working that way leaves me feeling authentic and satisfied.  I also tend to get a lot more of the other stuff done.  (I have no idea why.)

So as a belated New Year’s wish, let me toast you with this:  May you be blessed with a long, happy, beautiful groove.

What’s Pretty Today?

I live in the Pacific Northwest.  That can be a very gray place this time of year–at least if you are looking at the sky.  A few days ago, I was out for a walk, hoping I didn’t get soaked before I got back in my front door, and a very cool thing happened.

I noticed the sky.  The sun was trying it’s best to come out.  The gray clouds were lining up in wispy rows of support for the sun’s effort.  It was pretty.

Yes.  Pretty.

It’s easy to notice the carpet of wildflowers on a glorious August day in the mountains.  It’s easy to notice when a whole boulevard of maples or oaks puts on its autumn best.

But this winter sky?  I came so close to missing it.

Poop Dud the Christmas Tree

Poop Dud saved Christmas the year he was with us.

He was not a pretty tree, but the joy he brought was immense.  You can’t say that for most Christmas trees–even when they are real and cut with tenderness by those who want them as part of their Christmas.

Poop Dud was born of frustration rather than revelry.  He was a solution to mild irritation and significant disappointment.  I had just divorced and as part of that had reclaimed my right to a real tree.  I’d vowed only months earlier to have an honest-to-goodness conifer of some sort as part of my holiday decorating for the rest of my life.  The wrench in that plan came when I learned I would not be able to get my family all in the same place (my house) to celebrate until Jan 8.

Real trees are hard to keep real.  Even with daily watering, the few times I’d had them after we’d moved to the Pacific Northwest hadn’t improved my track record of turning them into very dry kindling in situ.  I accepted that trying to keep a real tree until January 8 would be an invitation to the local fire department for a dramatic visit sometime before that.

So I didn’t get a real tree.

But I was adamant about not going back to a fake tree.  I’d spent too many years as the unwilling participant in that option.  So I did nothing about the tree, assuming the world would not end if I didn’t put up a Christmas tree.

But it still bugged me.  I wanted a tree–sort of.  Mostly I think I wanted my kids to be more committed to being with me at Christmas, but I wasn’t going to admit to that kind of selfish expectation. They were old enough to have lives, and the reasons they couldn’t gather sooner were legitimate and positive. So I let “the tree thing” just hang in the air–no action and no (obvious) angst.

Until a couple days before Christmas.

Both my brothers and a sister-in-law who live near me were going to be available on Christmas Day, and we’d decided to have dinner together at my house. Without any forethought, the details I gave them a few days before included a request that they bring whatever construction materials they had on hand that might be useful in building a Christmas tree.

I come from a family who strains at the ordinary.  We did not build snowmen–we went for snow kangaroos and elephants.  We’d also learned  a lot about how to construct things growing up.  So this notion of building a Christmas tree was not all that far fetched for us.

We were down to three by the time they got there–my sister-in-law had a massive headache and opted for the living room couch instead.  After hauling in all they had, plus the stuff I had in my own garage (mostly from the previous owner), we got right to work.

It was like watching the reverse progression of intellectual development. First, my two brothers considered the very adult things–like how to make it stable, what size was going to work for the space I had, etc.  They talked triangles and opposing triangles and came up with an intelligent framework so that the whole thing didn’t fall over once we had it done.

Then we moved back to “building something.”  I ran for the saw, the hammer, etc. and pulled materials out of the pile to suggest as they worked away at creating something Christmas-tree shaped.  (I was sort of the gopher and the general contractor rolled into one.  I had final say in what went up, but also knew where the tools were.)

Once we had the “tree” up,  decorating it became the work of happy children–three siblings, all magically aged about five again.  (My sister-in-law said we sounded like a bunch of kids playing in the basement together.)

We hung pretty stuff.  We hung silly stuff.  We hung ugly stuff.   Eventually, we found a collection of letters from a mailbox I’d been married to that included two o’s. two p’s and two d’s as well as the frame to hold them.  We wanted to name our new friend.  When we realized we could turn the blank into a “u,” POOP DUD was born.

Poop dud solo

I had decided early on that it would be “seasonal art.” He was going out in the trash after we finally gathered in January. I cheated a bit on that–I could not bring myself to give up the name plate.   It makes me laugh every Christmas when I come across it in the box.

The memory of building that tree with my brothers is with me all year long.  The joy and delight we spontaneously found in doing something outlandish  together is part of my heritage.  Long live Poop Dud.

The Rise of Reader Power

The massive changes occurring in the publishing industry have created an equally large side effect–more reader power. When our only options for finding a new book were buying it in a bookstore or borrowing at the library (or from a friend who bought it as a bookstore), the publishing industry had exclusive say about what actually made it to where we could decide  to buy it.  old books

With the minor exception of mimeographed material and a few courageous–and mostly obscure–authors attempting to print copies themselves, content had to appeal to those within the industry.  It also had to get past all the assorted in-house filters–editors, marketers,  lawyers, accountants. New releases had to, in the vast majority of cases, fit the existing molds.  Publishers wanted “fresh voices” but they had to be able to sing in a familiar key.

Ah, how things have changed!  Digital printing made setting up a book for the printing process far less expensive.  More authors became willing to get their own stuff out there. Now you can print one copy of your book at a time for a reasonable cost.

Amazon, who has completely changed the retail landscape for books as well as pretty much everything else, was willing from very early on to list books by anyone and everyone, not just “the usual players.” That created a much more open access to whatever you wanted to read.

Most recently, the e-book became an option.  Now you can literally put a book out there with no out of pocket expense.  Anyone with internet access and determination can now publish a book.  So now instead of too few options, we have too many–and some of them are not good books.  (That’s not unique to the new marketplace though.)

In the old system, recommendations and helpful information from booksellers led you to the good books.  Though online sources of that kind of information have started cropping up, Amazon offered an alternative early on that’s gained an amazing amount of traction–the online reader review.  Ordinary people who read the book let others know what they thought of it.  The reviews are shorter than what you’d read in the newspaper, but there are more of them.

row of booksThis is  where that increase in Reader Power comes in.  Instead of telling five friends about a good book over the course of several weeks or months, we can now let everyone who goes to that seller’s website (overall, millions a day) know that it’s a good book–just by posting a review.  When you do it, you’re doing more than helping people who may want to buy that  book, too.  You’re encouraging authors to write more of that kind of book.  When you write a review of the books you like, you are shaping the content of the publishing industry.  Power, right?

Give what you like a push.  Write a review!


The Ugly Ornament Project

I come from an unusual family.  As siblings I have a pharmacist, a lawyer/college professor, a public health nursing manager, one of the principals in a hydrogeologic consulting firm, and a graphic arts project manager.  They are all very smart and very competent.  They are also the best playmates I could ever hope to find.

As kids, we were encouraged to ask “What would happen if…?” Intellectual curiosity was particularly lauded, but creative curiosity got a good workout, too.  We also watched as our parents used what they had–and then used it again for something else when needed. (Sometimes, with questionable results–My mom once cut up a cast-off adult coat to make a coat for my 5-year -old  sister.  She looked like a small bear in it.)  We also learned early on to take advantage of bargains when given the chance.  And to see uses for things beyond the category in which they are typically pigeon-holed.

So when my pharmacist brother suggested that those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest (he and I plus another brother and his wife) gather to repaint some glass ornaments using nail polish, the idea did not seem all that outlandish to me.  (Especially since a few years ago, I invited these same family members to build a Christmas tree out of scrap lumber, PVC and garage junk with me.  But that’s a different story.)

The original paint on the ornaments had failed in assorted ways because he’d used them on an outdoor tree.  To make it onto another tree, they needed help.  And if that “help” made them too ugly to hang on another tree, he had a solid reason to throw them out.  He’d purchased 25 bottles of discontinued colors of nail polish on super-sale where he worked using his loyalty card points as the repair medium.  All we needed was a place to play–and that was my house.

We started the evening with a traditional family dinner (which must include pork…)  Then we got down to the fun. I was concerned about the second brother.  He’s more scientist and  less weird artist than the rest of us.  But he loved the idea.  I was also concerned he might get frustrated because he’s had limited fine motor skills since a mishap in Marine boot camp 50 years ago.  (He ended up doing more intricate stuff than I did!)  My sister-in-law, who was traumatized drawing a daffodil in 5th grade, was also a concern.  She discovered the stick-on jewels  and went crazy with those.  What we knew about ourselves as adults was irrelevant once we got down to playing.

We tried assorted ways of applying the color–brush, dowel, rolling the globe in it.  (An unused stick of hot glue turned out to be the best way to make polka dots.)  We used glitter and stick-on jewels and puffy fabric paint.  Every single creation was different. Each of us had a different style, and we used the materials differently. The vast majority had old paint on part of the surface that needed to be incorporated in the new “design.”

We got so into it that we lost track of time.  When we finally admitted we needed to stop, we had well over 20 hanging up to dry–and it was really late.

But we still had 20 more ornaments.  And all that nail polish. So……..We agreed that it should go to the other siblings.  I boxed it all up the next day and mailed it to our three sisters in Wisconsin.  The Ugly Ornament Project lives on!!

Hanging them all to dry

Hanging them all to dry

Why do I write about this?  Because it was wonderful wacky fun that took us back to the complete focus on play that we all knew as kids.  There was no cellphone checking.  There wasn’t even much conversation about anything but what we were working on.  It was good honest play.  The whole country needs more of that right now.

There was only one thing that didn’t work out quite as we planned.  They aren’t ugly.

The Soothing Power of “Material”

Fiction writers have a secret weapon for dealing with stress.  All the ugly messes in our lives can be reconfigured as part of a character or situation in a future story.  When my life is not going well, reminding myself that “It’s all material” can bring my stress level down in a nanosecond.  I can take the garbage and turn it into something fun.

Right now, I am in the middle of a snit fit with the woman who’s the current President of a sports club I belong to.  She missed the memo about group process and has been handling the job more like a Medieval warlord than an elected Board (of which she is but one member).   The dynamics are fascinating, and it would be downright funny except she’s messing with one of the most sacred of club traditions–the annual Christmas party.

The whole situation has had an interesting educational impact on me.  I’m noticing things about leadership and managing that I’ve not worried about much in a couple decades. Today it was a short article about mentoring that clarified the difference between “advice” and “feedback.” ( Advice is imparting knowledge to encourage wisdom.  Feedback is proving information to illuminate a blind spot.

I have been trying to give “feedback” about some of her unilateral decisions.  She will have none of it.  It’s not third grade resistance either–more like Third Reich.

So….time to file it as “material.”  If she ruins the Christmas dance, there will be another one next year.  But in the meantime, I’m observing a ton of great detail for some pain-in-the-butt character in some novel or screenplay down the road.

This experience has brought me to  aw– of how oblivious a person can be to reality.  It’s given me a first hand glimpse of a a person concocting story after story of “why we have to do this my way” as each old reason is dismantled.  It’s world-expanding to learn that someone with that much education and life experience can be that obtuse.  I can use it all–with gusto (and a lot of the details changed!)

But then comes the whammy that goes beyond being a writer:  I probably have some kind of blind spot in my own life–and am not being any more forthright in looking at that.

That, too, is “material.”  I am so lucky to be a writer.  So much material!

Beyond How a Cover “Looks”…

I’d been assuming that designing a book cover is purely visual–that what the reader sees is all there is to it.  There are numerous parts to that–the image(s) and font(s), of course, but also the layout and how well the background highlights the information in the foreground. But with the cover to Widow Boy, I learned that how a cover feels can be part of the reader experience in the paper version.

Side x Side was aware of a new option Amazon has started offering for covers–a matte finish.  It didn’t cost any more to do it that way and it seemed like a way to give this book a “different look”–at least until everyone starts to use it.  That turned out to be a really good idea.

People actually stroke this cover.  They tell me they like the feel of it, and that how it feels makes it seem like it belongs to the period in which it’s set.  (They also admit that they think they are crazy when they realize they like the feel of the cover…..)

That brings up another key point in getting that “perfect cover” for a book.  Sometimes, you just get lucky.

The Perfect Cover Image

In my last post, I gave you a taste of how I go after “the perfect cover.”  I promised another post about the cover for Widow Boy–my first novel to meet the public–because  there was a lot more to it:

The designer had used a stock photo of a contemporary young women wearing a cowboy hat and aiming an antique rifle as one of two images on the cover.  The other was a stock photo of the hills near Cripple Creek, where the story is set.  All but the image of the woman worked really well–her image had “issues.”

We added sleeves to her shirt via Photoshop and tried to make the hat look battered. I still wasn’t sure, so I’d asked my son who’d read the story what he thought.  The first thing he noticed was that we had the wrong gun.  She was holding a flintlock–older than what my protagonist would have in 1893.  I was actually pleased to hear that–it meant we couldn’t use the image that I knew didn’t work.

My son is a competent amateur photographer.  He has a beautiful wife.  Bless them both. He suggested we create the photo we needed and volunteered himself as the photographer  and his wife as the model.  Yes!

Then I realized that was only a start at the solution. To create the right image, we needed the right props.    The right gun, of course, but the right clothing.  Her hat is a big deal in the story but it’s not a spiffy new one.  Plus we needed men’s clothing that could have been worn then. I found a convincing shirt and jacket at Goodwill.   The hat took a lot more work.  I finally found something to start with at St. Vincent de Paul.

But although it was used, it was not used enough.  So my first step was to get rid of the shaping Dorfman Pacific had put into it. I was living in an area that had a lot of new construction with glacial till as native soil.  Till has a lot of good-sized stones.  I put three about the size of softballs inside the hat, spritzed it with tap water and  hung it in the garage using woodworking clamps for a week. Much better.

Widow Boy hat resize 2

 But it was still too clean.  Back to the dirt pile. To my surprise, dirt didn’t stick.  I ended up walking around the neighborhood, rubbing it in every patch of grit I saw in the street.  (The neighbors already knew I was a little different…)

That left the really big challenge–the gun.  I was hoping I could rent a realistic fake one from the local costume shop.  Nope.  (But they did want to know when the story came out since a set of grandparents had met and married in Cripple Creek.)

My next option was a friend who’s an avid hunter and a retired Army officer.  If I was going to have my loved ones working with a real gun, I wanted to be sure it was not loaded.  And Rich is that kind of guy.  He has plenty of guns, too, but not the antique one I needed.  He did, however, volunteer to ask his son, who inherited his maternal grandfather’s hunting rifle.  Bless them both, they let me use that gun.  (We won’t go into the details of doing the handoff in the parking lot of a local restaurant….)

Then came a little wrinkle.  My son and daughter-in-law have a rule–no guns in the house if they are not secured.  They didn’t have a way to secure it, and I sure didn’t.  But the shot needed to be outside, so we solved that by having them take it out of my car when they were ready to do the shoot and putting it right back there when they were done.

All systems go, I headed up to their house.  (Of note, the gun owner lives an hour drive south of me and my son’s house is an hour drive north of me.  All the driving was worth it to get the right cover image.  I really am fussy about my covers.)  

My son knew what kind of light he needed and urged his wife–who was an overworked VP at a mutual fund company at the time–to get home on time.  Of course that didn’t happen.  So they had about ten minutes to get the right shot.  That was plenty since I wasn’t on the sidelines pushing for unnecessary particulars.  (My job was to watch my preschool granddaughters inside.)

Turns out it was a good thing they only had a little time, too.  The gun was a lot heavier than we realized, and it was hard on my daughter-in-law to hold it up because of a shoulder injury I didn’t know about.

When my son showed me the photo he liked best later that night, I was ecstatic. That woman looks the part and seemed more than willing to shoot.  (A bad day in corporate America can be pretty convincing.)