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What if I die before I write all my books?

What happens to unwritten books when the author dies?  Is there a character heaven? Or a limbo?

Are the characters and storylines suddenly released, to fly out into the world and find a new writer’s brain to settle in?

There are books in my head that are waiting to be written.  Some have been waiting for several years.  I know the characters well.  I talk to them.  I know their quirks and foibles.  I know how their magic works. I know who their friends are, and what their favorite restaurants are.

I really don’t want to fail them.

People say, "So many books, so little time."

I think it means something entirely different to me.

Life as a Pseudonym

So, get this.

I’m down here on the keyboard, trying to get a few words onto thescreen, because I don’t actually get all that much time to myself on the keyboard anymore.  In fact, I don’t get any time on the keyboard until Robin Hobb has cranked out her 1000 or 2000 or whatever it is words for the day.  Anyway, I’m down here, typing away, and Robin’s assistant comes in and starts on that landslide of file folders in the corner.  She’s pulling them out and opening them and saying, "What IS this stuff?" and "Everything in here is totally unrelated to each other," and little mutters like that.

So, to be nice, you know, I say, "Hey, I had a little extra time yesterday, so I filed some of that stuff for you."

Does she say thank you?


She goes, "What?  Let me see!"  And she jerks open the filing drawer and says, "OMG!  You used the wrong color of file folders, and you didn’t put the labels on the file tabs before you wrote on them, and you used green sharpie instead of black!"  And she starts pulling them back out of the filing cabinet and putting them on the floor and then she gets out her stickers and her black sharpie and starts ‘fixing’ all of them.  Showing me just how super efficient she is.

And when she puts them back, she goes, "You file things backwards. Real people put the file labels at the front of the file, like this.  So when you open the drawer, you can just run your fingers over them and when you come to the right one, you can just open it."

‘Real people.’  Great.  Like, does she think I do not know that I’m a pseudonym?  Hello!!!  I’ve been a pseudonym since the first day I put words on papers, and it wasn’t yesterday!  ‘Real people’.  What kind of a slam is that?  What sort of exclusionist attitude is she masking here, that’s what I’d like to know. Does she think that I do not know about her pseudonyms? 

I just don’t know where she gets off, copping that attitude with me.  It would be very interesting to know if Robin knows how she talks!



Next Saturday, I’ll get to go see Phantom of the Opera at the Paramount in Seattle.  Woohoo!

Before Fair season is over, I intend to go to the Puyallup Fair.  I love to watch the draft horses when they show the teams.

My little tomatoes are getting ripe.  And despite planting them late, I think I’ll still get green beans from my own garden before the season is over.

The electricians are nearly finished.  The ground floor of the house is sheet rock dust everywhere, and it looks like demented rats have cut holes in every wall and ceiling.  But when it is finished, I will have a house wired for this century. I’ll be able to plug in a radio AND a reading lamp at the same time! 

The kitchen is starting to shape up, too.  That will take longer, but I hope that before Thanksgiving, we’ll have a modernized kitchen.  With under cabinet lights.  And a microwave incorporated into the range hood.

But most of all, I am anticipating taking all three of the rusty old filing cabinets out of the office.  It will really give us a lot more room in here.

Today, I finally made myself stop and do all my accounting for the last two months.  And I cleared off large portions of my desk top.  There were all sorts of files there that needed to be sorted.  Robin Hobb’s new assistant came in and made mock of my carefully labeled stack of ‘crap to sort’.  It had a Post-it on top of it.  That makes if officially organized.  Then she saw my official ‘Miscellaneous Crap’ file in the M section of the filing cabinet and was amazed.  She attempted to pretend that not everyone has a Miscellaneous Crap folder. Where, I then demanded to know, do they keep it?  And of course she could not answer that!

I can’t wait for her to discover the ‘Things I Don’t Feel Like Filing Today’ folder in the T section!

I think I should put something nice in the filing cabinte for her to find, simply because it is, truly, an icky task to try to put files in order that have been neglected for thirty years.  I’m torn between a jar of Mango Chutney in the M section, or some red licorice in the R section.  I know she is partial to both those things, most likely because her parents neglected to teach her proper nutrition when she was small.

The cache

When I was a kid in Fairbanks, growing up, we had a meat cache in our front yard.  It was a little log structure up on stilts. In the bush, people would have stored meat in them, and sometimes we did that.  But mostly, it was mine.

 It had a window in it, something you wouldn’t find in a standard cache.  One of my older sister’s boyfriends, Bill Zito, had built it there on a whim.  I still think it was the coolest retreat that ever existed.  There was a long ladder up to it, and then a little platform of logs.  The logs were all rounded, all cotton wood, not planed down or anything.  The bark was still on them to start with.  Then I could crawl into the little house there. There was a window in one wall. 

And that was all.  I think it was about six foot by six foot inside the little cabin.  In summers, I’d drag a mummy bag up there and sleep on the lumpy log floor. I read The Lord of the Rings up there.  Hid from doing the dishes when it was my turn.  Thought a lot about all the boys who didn’t have crushes on me.

Snapshot.  I’m up there on a summer afternoon, reading, and I hear the sound I’m really hoping to hear. Honda 90 coming down the gravel lane from Davis Road to my folk’s house.  It’s Steve, I think, and my heart leaps.  He’s my first real boyfriend.  It’s  that leap of heart moment, knowing that someone likes me enough to come all that way from town out to where I live to see me.  And when I look out, he has Steve Matthews with him. And that’s a sideways leap of the heart, because although Matthews is Steve’s best friend, I’m doing my best to steal him and make him my best friend.  He’s the one I remember more clearly now, blue eyes, hair falling across his brow, his ridiculous laugh.  His cat was named Bouncer.  His dad always made him do his chores before he could leave his house and hang out with us, so we always pitched in and helped so he could get out of there faster.

1967.  Summer between my sophomore and junior years.  Before the oil pipeline in Alaska.

Wish I still had that cache. Wish there was still a place where I could call "Kings X" for the entire world.


 There are ten calories in a maraschino cherry. The serving size is ‘one cherry.’  

So, if you were allowing yourself 2000 calories a day, you could eat 200 maraschino cherries and call it good.

Does anyone besides me ever stop to think about strange things like that?  

Absolutely accurate predictions for Winter 2008

 This year, we will see an increase in motorcycle related injuries and fatalities in the United States.

City buses will become more crowded.

More children will be riding the school buses this year.

Fuel oil and natural gas prices will go up this winter.

The number of pages of foreclosure notices printed in the newspapers will increase.

More people will lose their homes before things get better here.

US citizens will rediscover thrift as a virtue.

People will exchange hand made gifts at Christmas.

More people will be buying and wearing sweaters this winter.

Movie nights at home will become more popular.

More people will plant winter vegetable gardens this year.  

We will come out the other side of this just fine.  We will be a bit wiser, and a bit tougher, and we will be a bit more proud of ourselves for learning how to cope. 


You’ve Only Made One Friend

That’s such a cheery way for Livejournal to greet me.  Especially when my only friend is my othe self. Ah, me!  🙂

But that’s not really what I was thinking about tonight at all.

I had a long day today, one with no writing at all.  I’ll still get my 1000 words tonight, but I’ll get them late, when the rest of my world is asleep.

Today I devoted to the other half of my life.  One grand-daughter helped me pit an immense bowl of cherries that my other granddaughter had helped me pick the previous day.  Then we made a run to find a set of black sweats and some pink gloves for her to wear in her role as Mole in her day camp play.  We also picked up donuts and went by her home, where her dad and our neighbor were installing new carpet in her bedroom.  There we picked up her sister, and came back to my house to install some new software on the old beater computers the kids play on.  Oregon Trail and Cinderella’s Castle.  Then the older girl went off with her dad to buy trim for the bedroom walls and the younger one helped me make a cherry pie and a batch of cherry-blueberry jam.

And we just really had a nice time today doing some very ordinary things.  Which made me wonder why I decided to be a writer.

Being a writer, for me, has always meant that my life is divided.  There was the homework/housework part of my day of being a married woman with children.  And there was the part where I worked outside the home to bring in some money.  And there was the part where I finally had time to sit down at the keyboard and put somewords on paper.

In the early years of trying to be a ‘real’ writer, from the time I was 18 on, that time was stolen time. It was taken most often from sleep and housework.  It was sandwiched in whenever I could, on breaks from waiting tables at Sambo’s Pancake Restaurant, or sitting on the floor beside the bathtub while my kids splashed and washed, or writing in a spiral notebook on a sticky table while the kids were skating around and around the rink.  There was never enough time to write as much as I wanted.

There is still never enough time to write as much as I want.  I can remember when I hated having to stop to eat because I knew that I could have spent that time writing.  I remember writing poems about what a waste of time sleep was.    Sometimes, I still feel that way.

Being a writer has meant, all through my life, that there was an edge of anxiety and frustration to everything else I did.  No matter how many words I got on the paper, I always wished I were free of housework and wage-work and yes, even the drudge part of childcare so that I could just write.  

I remember in the early 70’s, when we lived in Idaho, there was this big billboard I had to pass every day on the way to work.  It was a message from the Church of Latter Day Saints.  It showed a woman in a suit going out the door with a briefcase while her children, sad-eyed, stared out the door after her.  The big lettering read, “No Success Can Compensate For Failure In The Home.”

I was in my early twenties then, with a husband, a child, a full school day and a job.  And I wanted to write.  Sometimes I would look at the billboard as we drove past it, and think of my writing and wonder, “At what cost?  At what point does it become not worth it to try to find the odd moments to put the words on paper.”

Tonight, as I wound up my day, cleaning up the kitchen, running a last load of laundry, packing my grand daughter’s lunch for daycamp tomorrow, and making a list of tasks for tomorrow (balance checkbook, transfer funds, make doctor appointment, nudge painter, weed flowers) I wondered  what my life would have been like if I hadn’t always been mentally adding ‘and write a book’ to that list.  My spouse would not have minded.  He never even pushed me to have a job outside the home, let alone be a writer in my spare time.  I could have opted simply to be a home maker, with the kids and the house and the garden.  There would have been a lot less stress in my life if I had.

Or what if I’d had a regular job, an eight hour a day, once-my-shift-ends-I-quit-worrying-about-it job?  A job where there was a predictable amount of money each month for a set task.  I did have those jobs–I waited tables, I delivered the US Mail, I sold stereo components and women’s clothing.  

But all the time I did those things, I was always burning to get home and get to the typewriter.  How much more peaceful and enjoyable would my life have been if I hadn’t had stories eating through me like acid as they tried to get out and onto the paper?  What would it have been like to come home, eat dinner, tidy the kitchen, watch television and fall asleep?  That’s a life I’ve never had.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . . .”

It’s an odd thing to wonder about at the end of the day.   

Yummy Jam

Today we made blueberry, peach, and a peach-raspberry mix to use up the very last raspberries on the vines.

Jam is wonderfully easy to make.  Measure the crushed fruit and the sugar.  Put the crushed fruit and the pectin in a pot, bring to a boil, then dump in the sugar.  When it hits a boil you can’t stir down, you boil it for one minute, the put it quickly into the clean, hot jars and seal.  It’s very satisfactory to see 24 jars of jam so quickly.  The whole house smells wonderful. And we’ve been fortunate in having a few cooler days for doing all this.  The colors of the different jams were lovely.  The peach is golden, and the raspberry/peach mix was a lovely scarlet.

When the lids pop down on the jars, you know the seal is good.  Then I label them and put them out on the pantry shelf in the garage.

Only this time, my teenage daughter beat me to it.  I came back to find the raspberry/peach medley labeled “Blood of our Enemies Jam, 2008.”

Somehow, I don’t think I”ll be giving those jars in the Christmas gift baskets . . . 


Old Habits

 Does this economy seem familiar to you?  It sure does to me! 

And I find myself defaulting to old habits and ways of thinking.  Conservation.  Suddenly I’m more consistent about turning off the lights.  No dripping taps.  I organize my errands to conserve gas. Walk more. Bike more. Cook from scratch more often. Drink chilled tap water, not bottled. I’ve even planted more food plants in my garden this year.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans.  Every year I make jam from all the extra berries and fruit I grow, but this year I’m getting more requests from friends and families. Today I bought  two more cases of Bell jars. So far, I’ve put up cherry and mixed berry jam. I’ve put blueberries in the freezer and tomorrow I’ll make blueberry jam.  I’ve gone back to my mom’s ethic of save some of today’s plenty for tomorrow.

And in doing so, I’m a bit abashed that I’ve strayed so far from it in the first place.  

My parents were products of the Great Depression and the World War II shortages in England.  I grew up in a household where things were mended and kept, not discarded for the next ‘new improved’ model.  Clothes were mended and passed on to younger siblings or cousins. Cars were repaired, often in the driveway.  If a radio stopped working, we opened the back and looked to see if a wire had popped loose or a solder joint gone bad.  And we weren’t alone.  Most of our neighbors and friends did the same. In the early years of my marriage when money was tight, I was proud of how I could manage things.  A whole chicken was roast chicken one night, chicken sandwiches the next and chicken soup on the third.  Leftover vegetables went into soup stock.  Bread crusts became bread pudding or part of the meatloaf.  Old blue jeans became patches, cleaning rags and quilts.  Canned and smoked our own salmon and venison, made our jams and jellies and syrup, and grew a good portion of our vegetables.

But somehow along the way, as the kids got older and our incomes rose, I got a lot more careless.  I wasted food in a way that would have made my mother’s hair stand on end.  Drove the kids places where they should have biked or walked.  Discarded clothing my mother would have mended or made into something else.  I did it because I could do it.  I could ‘afford’ to be wasteful.  I saw so many other people doing the same that it began to seem normal.  Doesn’t seem very admirable now when I actually stop to look at it.

Strange to say, it feels rather good to be getting back to thrift.  As if it’s where I should have stayed in the first place.   Maybe this is the ‘old fogey’ gene becoming active!

Maybe before all this is over, we’ll be glad that we did revert to some of our old habits.  I confess that I’m uneasy when I wonder what heating oil prices will look like this winter.  They’re not going to be cheaper, that’s for sure.  Time to think about insulated curtains again, and check the furnace filters, clean the ducts and renew the weather stripping. Time to buy sweaters to wear in the house, and a throw for the couch to make tv watching cozy.  Cuddling up to your spouse or kid isn’t really a hardship!

According to what I’ve read in the newspapers, the grain crops have really taken a beating this year because of the weather.  And prior to that, a lot of corn was diverted from the food chain into ethanol.  That brings me to another disturbing question. When grain prices rise as they have, bread and cereal and pasta prices go up. Those used to be the cheap foods, the foods that home makers could use to stretch out a meal.  Look at the old Depression era recipes and you’ll find a lot of grain based foods.  So now I’m wondering what this decade’s ‘cheap foods’ are going to be. Potatoe based?  Pumpkin?  Turnips?  🙂    Tonight at the grocery store, a box of macaroni and cheese, the kid-favorite kind, was on sale for $1.  Same for a package of Rice-A-Roni.  Bread is up.  As grain prices continue to rise, so will beef and chicken, because cows and chickens eat grain.  

So I guess it’s time to think again. To plan ahead.  To share with neighbors.

A toughening economy might actually be good for me.

Secrets of my library

 It takes up an intimidating part of my house.  On every floor, there are at least three bookcases.  Here in my office, there are five.  In the livingroom, three.  In the guest room, three.  Upstairs, in the bedroom, three.  They are big book cases, tall, and stuffed full. Some are packed several layers deep.  Some of the books are mine, some are books I’ve never read, as they belong to other members of the family. Some seem to have simply appeared there.  I’ll pull something strange from the shelf, read it and ask, “Whose is this? This is a really cool story.”  

And sometimes, no one seems to know.  The book has just appeared there.

I like that.

Some of the books are just visitors here. They belong to offspring who are coming, or going, or in apartments too small to house their books. Then the books come home here, to be freed from the cardboard boxes and squeezed onto the shelves.  There they hide, they wander, they inter breed with the existing genres. Sometimes they wander off to vist friends’ houses.  Some never come back. Some have lived here so long that they’ve forgotten who they orginally belonged to.

And some of them have secrets.

Take, for example, the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction.  I pulled it from the shelf a few nights ago, intending to look up a quotation from a half remembered short story.  The book fell open in my hands, to “A Visit to Friends’ by Anton Chekov.

And a handful of pornographic images, between nine and a dozen, cascaded out on the floor.  They’d been there for some time and had made a little nest for themselves there, a little widening in the binding, so that the book would naturally fall open to that story and free them.

I stooped and gathered them up, caught between embarrassment, horror and fascination.  I realized I was hurrying, fearful that someone would come into the livingroom and find me on my knees, gathering up pornography.  And assume it was mine?  Of course not!  But all the same, I worked quickly to corral them.  What were they doing in the anthology anyway?   Where had they come from?  None were larger than my hand. All had been carefully cut from magazines.  Two were not pornographic; they were just images of women in wildly striped designer outfits.  One was a drawing of one woman spanking another’s bare bottom, so dated as to look like parody. Of the others, some were magazine art and some were photographs.  Most were black and white.  A few were not even on glossy paper.  Some were mild, and some were outright crotch shots. Disturbingly, in the crotch shots, someone had enhanced the vaginal area by carefully coloring it with a pen or pencil, as if to delineate exactly what was most important in the picture.

There is one other item, a 3X5 card with a note about Saturday Night, 3:00 and Clark’s Studio Theatre and the 7th Floor.  A scribbled reference to Julliard.

The last one is a photograph.  A woman is sitting in a classroom desk. The shot shows only her legs and feet under the desk. She is wearing a short skirt and her legs are slightly open, but nothing really shows.  But again, a pen has busily scratched into the darkness beneath the skirt, as if to draw what the camera could not glimpse.  On the back of the photo, a small note has been taped to it.  It says, “I’m so hot it burns.  John, how would you put out my fire?”   

I feel vaguely ashamed after reading this.  I am leafing through someone’s private memory, or seduction, or something.  I look in the front of the book.  It belongs to my older daughter, probably from her college days.  But she bought it used.  The previous owner thought enough of himself and/or his books that he has used a stamp to emboss his name and initials on a seal on the first page of the book.  His first name is not John.  I suspect he was the first owner, to take the time to stamp his name in the book.  But obviously, he is not the last.

I am curious enough to google his name.  Is he a photographer, an artist, an actor, a porn star?  No.  He is Noone, according to Google. 

I put the images and note into a plastic baggie. The next time I see my daughter, I ask her if they are hers.  She is outraged, horrified, scandalized and laughing hysterically, all within less than a minute.  No. She has never seen them before.  No, the 3X5 card is not hers.  It’s not her handwriting, and she’s never dated a ‘John’.  Those aren’t her legs under the desk, either.

So.  It’s a mystery, a small one.  Sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s, someone cut out porn pictures for her boyfriend and somehow they were left inside someone else’s book at the used book store.  Maybe.  That is one possible reading of the evidence.

I start to throw the pictures away, and then cannot.  Why?  Because they are a part of a puzzle.  Because they are a bit cut out of time just as neatly as the pictures were razored out of the dirty magazines.  Taken together, they once meant something to someone.

I test my impulse against my daughter’s sympathies.  “Toss them out,” I suggest to her. “I don’t want the kids to encounter that when they’re looking for a copy of “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.””

She takes them, holds them in her hands and looks puzzled for a minute.  “Are we just going to throw them away?”

I let the question hang there, the ‘why not?’ or ‘what else would we do with them?’ unsaid.

“Because it just doesn’t seem right . . .”

But neither of us can say what should happen to them.

So tonight, at my desk, I put them into a plastic sandwich bag as if I were bagging and tagging an artifact from a dig.  What were these?  Somebody’s fantasy, somebody’s seduction?  They are a paper incarnation of someone’s collegiate lust, perhaps.  An unintentional message in a bottle that has bobbed quietly along in the backwater of a short story anthology for perhaps a quarter of a century. 

Where are you now, John?  Did you ever figure out how to put out that fire?  Would these scraps of paper warm you with the memory? Or would the girl sitting at the desk cringe at the words she wrote?  Is she someone’s mom now, someone’s grandmother?

I put the plastic bag of porno carefully into the back of my desk drawer.   

I will not go to the used book store tomorrow and find another resting place for them.  I will not choose a large, expensive and obscure book and hide them there.  I will not release this little mystery back into the current for someone else to encounter 25 or 30 or even 50 years from now.

No.  Not I.

Not my dirty pictures.