Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Yesterday was the end of all the festivities that make up the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans.
I’ve come to realize over the course of many years of adulthood that Lent fits into my lifestyle more easily than Mardi Gras does. Especially my writing lifestyle. When you work full-time, and focus on writing during your “margin” times, I look to the weekends to make progress on my works-in-progress. Or at least think about making progress while I’m doing laundry and other stuff I tend to save for the weekends.
This year, I made a conscious effort not to feel guilty or anxious about the writing I don’t do over Mardi Gras. I had some success; I certainly felt more at ease with the frivolity this year than I have in years past. That writing anxiety is pretty much antithetical to the whole spirit of Mardi Gras, and I would hate to be against the spirit of the season.
Making progress on positive, life-affirming goals — writing and otherwise — is what Lent is for, anyway.
So, not much has slowed down since I last posted here. I’m still struggling to find the time to put the finishing touches on The Conclusion on the Causeway, and my hopes of having it ready for public consumption before the holidays are dwindling.
But — I’ve started a new book on my Serial Reader app. I found I was missing the 15 to 20 minutes I put aside each day for the specific sort of reading Serial Reader enables. That little chunk of time is like an anchor, connecting me to my writing vocation, and helping me not drift too far on the currents of my day job and other obligations.
Up ’til now, the authors I’ve read via Serial Reader (Herman Melville, Alexandre Dumas, et al), were completely new to me. I’d never read any of their works before. I can’t say the same for Dickens. I remember enjoying A Tale of Two Cities when I read it in high school, and I remember really liking Sydney Carton.
I was considering David Copperfield, because it’s supposed to be a semi-autobiographical account of “a young man’s journey to becoming a successful novelist.” (I’m hoping to pick up a few tips.) But Great Expectations is about half the length of David Copperfield in Serial Reader issues. So I can reasonably expect to finish Great Expectations by the end of this year.
My way of managing my own “great expectations” into at least one goal I’ll be able to reach by year’s end.
Last week, I was in the San Francisco Bay area for my job. Said job has been keeping me pretty busy of late.
To put it mildly, it has been challenging to find the time to put the finishing touches on my third novel. I’ve discovered I need a certain type and amount of headspace to sit down to this work, and it’s been harder and harder to come by. It’s a temporary situation — I should get back to a better rhythm before the end of this year. So for now, I’m just trying to manage my own expectations (regarding my writing).
My last morning in the bay area, I did steal about 30 minutes for a sunrise walk. Herewith, some pictures from that jaunt.
I competed in a triathlon this past weekend, as part of a relay team. I’ve done this race as part of a relay twice before, the last time in 2016. I wrote about the experience here: Quarter Report
So what’s changed in the past 36 months?
Despite ample preparation, I’ve gotten slower. I swam twice a week throughout this past summer, logging miles in the pool. While I noticed that my mile time had slowed from years past, I thought I could still get a quick time for the roughly 1/3 mile of this race course. Not so much. In 2016, I completed the swim course in 15:04; it took me an extra 42 seconds in 2019.
Luckily, my teammates have not gotten slower. We finished in 2nd place for coed teams, and 2nd place overall for relay teams. We were behind 1st place by a couple of minutes. I should probably work in more speed drills next time I train for this race.
Which brings me to a reflection on writing. Last time I did this race, it was less than six weeks after becoming a published novelist. Everything was so new, and I felt a great deal of uncertainty about how to continue to write and publish while still making a life and a living.
I still feel that uncertainty, but I think there’s less of it. I’ve published a second novel in the interim, and am very close to getting the third one out into the world. I still feel the pressure of self-imposed deadlines, but when making a living (my job) gets stressful, I try to ease up on myself in spots where I have some flexibility. That means my writing.
So I guess it comes to this: I’d like to be a faster swimmer, and it seems reasonable to expect modest improvements in that area with the right kind of preparation. But I don’t think I want to be a faster writer. If you’d asked three years ago, my answer would have been different. But 36 months of “working the balance” seems to have taught me that flexibility, not speed, is my key to making a long-term career as a writer.
I’ll finish this up with a few more pictures from the weekend in Pensacola:
Okay, so, I’m still working on the re-writes for my third novel, The Conclusion on the Causeway. Editing is taking longer than I’d like. Procrastination shares a good bit of the blame for that.
My current diversion? Writing this post. Now that it’s autumn, a new season, I thought I’d go through my pictures from this past summer, and share some photos that never made the leap from my phone to the social-media-sphere. Which, in my case, exclusively means Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and this blog.
The following photos are from the morning hours, my favorite time of day to get outside. Truthfully, during a New Orleans summer, I find it’s the only time of day when the temperature’s tolerable. All the pictures, save the last one, were taken in New Orleans City Park.
So, my latest serial on my Serial Reader app is Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea, first published in 1906. It’s only six issues, so I should be finished by this weekend.
I haven’t been ready to commit to a long read since finishing The Count of Monte Cristo. In the coming weeks, I’m determined to finalize the manuscript for The Conclusion on the Causeway, the final story in the Lacey Becnel trilogy. Thus, I’ve subscribed to some shorter serials in the interim. I’m hoping to pick up a longer story in another month.
Since Monte Cristo, I’ve finished The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which was a chore at 14 issues. And also “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick, which was much easier, and only seven issues.
Reading The Book of Tea is making me long for my tea-drinking days. Many years ago, I drank tea exclusively, in place of coffee. But the convenience of a cold-brewed coffee concentrate has made it my go-to caffeinated beverage. It’s easy to make iced or hot, and one container lasts me a good while.
Once the weather turns colder, I’ll have the occasional cup of tea. One of my favorites is Twinings’ Lady Grey black tea. It has a much lighter flavor than Earl Grey.
Anyway, here are some interesting tidbits from The Book of Tea so far:
One of the earliest ways of preparing tea was “Cake-tea.” Okakura Kakuzo has this to say about Cake-tea: “Yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive in the extreme. The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions!” Call me crazy, but that description really makes me want to try it.
Second favorite quote so far: “It has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”
Favorite quote: “Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”
Here’s something I might have mentioned in this space before: how I spent the first two months of 2019 racing to finish a draft of the third and final installment in the Lacey Becnel trilogy. I referenced this “big push” in this post: (Whirly) Word Milestones.
I received a comprehensive edit of the manuscript last month, and had a very productive call with the editor right before I left for Ireland. I had a loosely held intention of diving into the rewrites directly upon my return from the Emerald Isle. But the re-entry back into my day job, and my day-to-day life in general, made it very loose indeed.
So here I am, ensconced back home more than three weeks now, and I’ve finally started the work. Named a new file, and begun the process of combing through the line edits.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the day I started the work is the same day astronaut Anne McClain returned to Earth from the International Space Station.
A few notes about the picture at the top of this post, before I wrap this up. It’s not just another random sunrise photo I’m so fond of taking.
The picture is facing east. Just to the north, or the to left out of frame, is the eponymous overpass from The Incident Under the Overpass, the first book in the Lacey Becnel trilogy.
So if the northern tracks represent my first body of work, what do the southern tracks represent??
Up on the elevated track, the smell of creosote, or coal tar, was overwhelming. The railroad ties are treated with it. The aroma brought me back to my father’s camp on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain — a raised cabin resting on creosote-treated pilings.
The Internet tells me that creosote-treated wood has been banned in Europe since 2003, because creosote is a “probable” human carcinogen. I’ll try not to dwell on that, and instead focus on finishing up my third novel. 😮
I’m very excited to reveal the cover of my second novel, The Trouble on Highway One! I’m working to make it available for pre-sale on Amazon, and I hope to accomplish this in the next few days. Once I do this, I’ll announce its release date (I’m aiming for October 30).
Here’s what I have for the blurb, so far:
Things are looking up for recent widow Lacey Becnel. A short-term job assignment on California’s beautiful Central Coast, and a new love interest fill her days after a tumultuous summer. But as she discovers more about the mysterious traiteur power bestowed upon her, she will learn that she is not the only one with potent, supernatural abilities.
An overdue shout-out and THANK YOU to Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans. I was excited to attend this writers conference, held in the French Quarter over Labor Day weekend. Here’s a bit more detail, from the “thank you” email sent to the participants:
“We’re a unique little group, which came into being because of the devastation created in NOLA when the levees broke after Katrina. . . We’re warm, we’re small, we’re intimate. And, my biggest hope each year, is that we manage one task for you–and that’s to send you home happy and inspired.”
In my case, they definitely succeeded!
I was happy to meet and spend time with so many writers; and share thoughts and ideas on researching, publishing, and balancing all the demands of life with writing time.
Just a few of the writers there:
Heather Graham—the best-selling author is a native of Florida, but has a long-standing love for New Orleans. Indeed, several of her more than 200(!) romance, suspense, and paranormal novels are set here. I am so very grateful to Heather for her generosity, her time, and her dedication to great stories!
David Morrell—“Rambo’s Daddy,” David Morrell hit the scene in 1972 with his debut novel, First Blood. He is the author of over thirty books, thrillers set in different times and locales. His latest series explores Victorian-era London. And he has such thoughtful advice on writing. Here is something I heard him say in a session (that I later looked up and pulled from his website): “Before beginning each project, I write a letter to myself that asks the question: ‘Why is this book worth a year of my life?’ There needs to be something about a book’s theme, its research, and the way it is written that grabs me and won’t let go.”
And I was really thrilled to chat with my fellow, local, New Orleans writers; this was my first opportunity to meet most of them face-to-face. I’ve included links to their websites below:
Liah Penn – mystery/suspense writer, and author of four novels, including the award-winning Pure Death
Alexandrea Weis – author of multiple paranormal, horror, and romance series, including the Magnus Blackwell series
My apologies to everyone I missed—I’m sure I’m leaving some folks out. I could fill pages and pages more about this event. But I have to stop somewhere.
So, to conclude, I’ll give an update on my own writing: the weekend of the conference, I juggled the sessions with running home and dedicating time to my second novel, The Trouble on Highway One. I was combing through some final edits, and hoped to be complete before the conference began, but, alas, it didn’t happen. I can now report that last Tuesday, September 4, I submitted a (hopefully, nearly,) final draft to my editor for one last review.
I had the good fortune to spend this past weekend at the beach. I read, stuck my feet in the surf, explored a little bit, and otherwise contemplated some of the more lovely aspects of life on this Earth.
My first morning there, watching the sunrise, the word “inexorable” occurred to me. There was the eastern sky, growing brighter, gradually. I knew nothing was going to stop the march of lightness entering my particular part of the world. Or, if something did, it would mean bad news for more people than just me. (7.6 billion more people, really).
It seems the word is more often used to describe human actions or ideas. Dictionary.com offers this definition–unyielding; unalterable: inexorable truth; inexorable justice. Not to be persuaded, moved, or affected by prayers or entreaties: an inexorable creditor. Merriam-Webster offers a similar definition, with the example inexorable progress.
And, don’t get me wrong…I’m not praying for or entreating the sun not to rise. It’s definitely a positive, and the alternative, as I intimated above, would not be.
It has more to do with this: I’m feeling time’s inexorable march most acutely these days. And I’m not talking about my aging body, or middle age. Not first and foremost, at least. No, top of mind is my productivity, and my desire to get more done in a 24-hour-period than I seem to be able to.
I’m in the throes of final edits on my second novel, and also drafting my third novel, and neither is happening as fast as I would like. Granted, my deadlines are all self-imposed, but I imposed them for a reason. Without the threat of an inexorable deadline, I’m sure I’d find a way to drag this work out over countless more sunrises and sunsets.
Back to the inexorable sunrise: it rose through a curtain of rain on the second morning, so I opted to sleep in and stay dry. My final day, conditions were favorable for a leisurely repeat viewing. It just so happened that I snapped a photo with the same exact time stamp as forty-eight hours earlier: 6:13 am.
And it occurred to me that sometimes a little perspective is all that’s needed to lighten the crush of inexorability. Because the sun doesn’t truly rise and set. The Flaming Lips sang it best: “You realize the sun doesn’t go down / It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.”