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This Is Your Brain On Drugs . . .

There are two coffee mugs on my desk right now.  Both are full of warm coffee.  I never seem to get to drink it when it’s hot, but even so, I don’t usually have two warm cups on the desk at the same time.  Except when my brain hiccups and I do something twice.

Or not at all.  I glance at the envelope propped in front of my monitor that has giant print on it and says “LICENSE TABS EXPIRING!  RUN VAN THROUGH EMISSIONS TEST!” Neglecting to do somehing is more often a problem than doing things twice.

People of a certain age will recognize the quote in the title.  There was an anti-drug ad that ran years ago.  It showed an egg:  “This is your brain.” Then it showed the same egg sizzling in a pan.  “This is your brain on drugs.”

“Any questions?”

It was quite  an effective ad in its way.

This post will become coherent now.  The fact is, my brain is almost always on drugs.  Caffeine.  And sugar.  And when I am stressed, as I am now over several domestic situations (nothing tragic, I assure you! That blue paint is a perfectly delightful shade of blue . . . the whole room is a perfectly delightful shade of blue now . . . ) then whatever part of my brain that determines how much self medication I need goes into over drive. And I find cups of cold tea all over the house.  Or, as right now, discover that two cups of warm coffee are perched on my desk.  I have no recollection of  fetching either one.

I don’t do illegal drugs.  With one exception, I’ve never done illegal drugs. And that one time I was so disappointed by the total lack of effect that I was never tempted to try it again.  Sugar is a lot cheaper, legal, and seems to give me the same end result that everyone is breaking the law and paying big money to achieve.

This topic came to mind today because one of my offspring is a senior in high school and suffering terribly from ‘senior brain.’  Just as it is most critical that she not screw up, her organizational skills seem to be falling apart.  Lost her car keys with a major term paper locked in the trunk (and it was one of those smart keys that mean the car has to be towed to the dealership and chatted with before the dealer can make a new key.  $250, please.)

Luckily, we dodged that bullet.  Where did I find her keys?  In the bottom of the back pack that she had searched three times.

Twice now I have watched her complete the same set of missing assignments for an important class.  Twice now those completed assignments have completely vanished.  It is making both of us crazy, and unfortunately making her look not just lazy but deceptive to her teacher.  I think she would almost rather take the F’s than ask her teacher, yet again, for the pages she is supposed to translate.

Anyway, in the course of discussing that situation, she brought up that perhaps the real error was mine. Her friends don’t forget things or lose assignments. Her friends don’t forget important after-school meetings. Her friends are focused and level and successful where she is scattered and only becomes more so under pressure.

And maybe the difference is that I’ve never let her use the brain drugs that so many of her fellow students use.  From second or third grade on, many of her friends have been on drugs for ADD, ADHD, and whatever other initials apply.  The most common one seems to be Ritalin.

What intrigues me about this is how her fellow students are using it now.  Some take it only on weekdays, to help them focus.  Weekends are Ritalin free days.   One no longer bothers with it except during finals week.  Then he drugs up and pores over the books endlessly.  Over the years, I’ve heard several funny stories about Ritalin and its effects.  One young friend told about being in charge of a younger sibling’s bath.  He got the tub running and kid undressed and went for a towel.  But as he passed through the living room, a Discovery channel program caught his eye.  It was compelling stuff. And there he stood, captured by it, even though he knew that the water was now overflowing and the younger sib was yelling for him to come fix it.  He literally could not tear himself away.  Pure focus.

Another sadder tale was the young friend who applied for the military academy and was told that until he could go a year without the drug, he could not be admitted, as it was classified as amphetamine use.  And having used the drug for years for his school work, how well can he do Academy work without it?  A very good question.

The students I’ve talked to who have used the various brain drugs all agree that it makes a tremendous difference to focus and ultimately to their grades. They can make themselves sit down and complete the long boring assignment without wandering off to the frig or the internet or the Gameboy.  Assignments are completed on time and handed in.  Grades rise. Parents and teachers are happy.  What’s not to like?

And still I’ve said no for my kids. 

Here is my reasoning.  You have to be who you genetically are.  Part of my scattered focus is related to my artistic temperment.  (Artistic temperment is sometimes spelled ‘t e n d e n c y  t o  m a n i c  d e p r e s s i o n.’)  It means that I can end up with two cups of warm coffee on my desk (and who drank one of them already?) or with twenty pages of good text after a wild and exuberant evening of just talking to myself and playing the stereo too loud.   I think it is just how I am wired and a part of who I am.  I gave up fighting it years ago, and instead I’ve enjoyed it.  There are devastating lows and breath-taking highs to my moods and through it all, I keep writing.  Life’s a roller coaster for me.  I’ve come to accept that.  In retrospect, I’m glad it was never medicated away, even though my recollections of my twenties are tinged with a lot of darkness.

For the kids who are medicated for ADD, etc (and please be sure, I’m not equating ADD with manic depressive) I always wonder what comes after school.  Do you take Ritalin all through college?  Do you take it during your career years, when you are training on that new software, or reading up on a new client?  Where does it stop? Do you ever get to be your distractable self again?  Or must you forever be slightly modified to suceed?  Drugged for success?

As with all my wool gathering, I have more questions than anwers.  Should I have medicated my kids?  The only person in my extended family who ever took drugs for his condition long term did not achieve any success until he weaned himself off them.  Is that unique?  If your brain is wired a certain way, is it truly an illness?  Or is it ‘artistic temperment’?   What about all those melancholy Irish poets?  Did they just need to take a pill and get on with their lives?  How about saints?

Some of us are just not standard issue people.  I rather suspect that all of us are not standard issue people but some are better at pretending. In my family, both nuclear and extended, I can trace a genetic heritage that means that every one of us could probably be diagnosed with one mental disorder or another.  Yet, for the most part, we are successful people with lives we enjoy (even if others think our lives are a bit strange.)

More questions than answers.  But that is always where my best stories start.  With a question that demands pondering.

If you are interested in the genetics of artistic temperment and how it can be expressed, here is a book I often recommend.  I took great comfort from it when I first read it:  Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.  It’s by Kay Redfield Jamison.

And I will leave you with two quotes.  This first quote is actually the opening sentences from Touched With Fire:

“We of the craft are all crazy,” remarked Lord Byron about himself and his fellow poets. “Some are affected by gaiety, some by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.”


“Art in the blood is likely to take the strangest forms.”   Sherlock Holmes.

And if I recall correctly, he was talking about his brother Mycroft.  Mycroft and Sherlock would probably both be placed on the autism spectrum, toward the Asperger’s end of things.  And Sherlock’s  little drug habit could be seen as self medication . . . .


Among Others by Jo Walton

One of the perks of being a writer is that sometimes we get to read books before they are published. Not just our own books, which we have to read many, many times before they are published! I am talking about ARC’s or Advance Reading Copies. Robin Hobb gets several of these a month, and I have no scruples about stealing them and reading them.
In a recent stack, there was a real gem. Among Others by Jo Walton is not what I usually expect in a fantasy book. And it wasn’t like anything else I’d ever read by Jo Walton. At one point, late at night, after I’d decided my eyes had blurred often enough that it was time to turn off the lamp and go to sleep, I found myself thinking, “But doesn’t she know that we’re not supposed to write about the real magic?”

And that was a thought that I hadn’t expected at all.

I don’t really do book reviews and I detest spoilers. So all I’m going to say about this book is that it will be from TOR sometime in 2011. And that if you love SF and fantasy, if reading it formed your teen years, if you do remember the magic you used to do, if you remember the absolute joy of first discovering those books, well then, watch for this book and buy it when it comes out.

Among Others by Jo Walton. This is one of those books that you want to read first and be the really cool person who recommended it to all your friends.


Take a Nap

My fellow Americans,

While driving home today from the grocery store, I deducedwhat is wrong with the American people.  It could be remedied with a new holiday.

Nap day.

We are all tired. And stressed. Everyone has a nasty little headache.  And none of us dare to take time out to nap.

President Obama, if you wish to see change and hope, please decree a national nap day. Give us a day on which all retail is required to shut down.  A day when it is illegal to have a picnic or a parade or work in non essential activities.  All curtains must be drawn, all houses still. No lawnmowers. No jogging or cleaning the cat box or sweeping the steps or any of the other tasks we do whenever we are given a spare moment.

Everyone would have to take a nap. Everyone.

And we would awake a calmer, more rational and perhaps even optimistic people again!


I’d love to sign your books!

Robin Hobb is going on a book tour in May, and of course I’ll be along for the ride. 🙂
Here’s a very quick listing of places where I’ll be. As always, I’ll be glad to sign all books whether by Lindholm or Hobb.

May 11 at 7 PM. University Book Store, Seattle, WA
May 12 at 7:30 PM Books Inc on Castro St. in San Francisco, CA
May 13 at 7 PM Borderlands in San Francisco, CA
May 14 at 7 PM Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, CA
May 15th at 2 PM Barnes and Noble at Black Lake Blvd in Olympia WA
May 16th at 4 PM Powells Books in Beaverton, OR
May 20th At 7:30 PM Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Is, WA
May 22 at 1 PM Uncle Hugo’s books in Minneapolis, MN
May 24th at 7 PM Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee, WI
May 25th at 7 PM Next Chapter Bookstore, in Mequon WI

Books on my Desk

So, what books have found their way onto my desk this month?  Some old, some new!

Old first.  On a recent plane trip I took The Dreadful Lemon Sky along with me.  Many readers will recognize that title as vintage Travis McGee from John D. MacDonald.  I’m pleased to say that Travis and the Busted Flush have stood up well to the passing of years, and that I can still whole heartedly recommend the entire series to readers who like a good stew of mystery and adventure.

In memorial to Robert Parker’s passing, I journeyed back in time to The Godwulf Manuscript, the very first Spenser novel.  And again, this is a book that has stood the test of time for me. The spot-on descriptions of dress, decor and hair transported me back in time.  Ah, Spenser!  I’m going to miss you.

Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy is next on the list.  This one is my SF fix for the month.  I read a proof of this first novel; it will debut on May 10, 2010.  I think this book will be satisfying for readers of SF and fantasy alike.  Plenty of plot, hardware and science for SF buffs, and lots of characterization and human conflict as well.  Recommended. Robin Hobb and Sara Creasy will soon be doing a Babel Clash, an on line discussion. Check the Robin Hobb site for the time and place for that.

And finally, a book I haven’t finished yet but am really enjoying.  Freakonomics.   I shrugged this one off when it first came out.  I shouldn’t have.  It’s a book that entertains, challenges assumptions, and makes me think about things that I wouldn’t ordinarily consider.  I’m not sure that I agree with all the conclusions, but they do seem to have the numbers to back up the theories.  So, recommended!

Robin Hobb will be doing a substantial US book tour for Dragon Haven, and as usual, I’ll be along for the ride! 🙂   Please check for the complete schedule. I’m always happy to sign Megan Lindholm books as well!

I’ll hope to see a lot of you in May as I wander through various US cities.


April Showers

Or in this case, a pretty violent storm for the northwest! Lots of wind and rain and falling branches. Even so, it did not develop into the all out windstorm that we were all expecting, thank goodness!
My tulips are now up in full force, and my daffodils. As I do every year, I’m wishing I planted more last fall. I lose a certain number to the squirrels each winter. Even so, the front yard looks pretty good here in Tacoma.

Down at the old house, I’ve made a serious effort to rejuvenate what was once my garden and lawn. And I’ve been rewarded with all sorts of forgotten and neglected plants making surprise appearances. Random daffodils and narcissus. A fairy rose that I thought was gone forever. And, despite some very enthusiastic pruning by the local deer population, the little plum trees look as if they will survive. There is one that is very battered as the deer used it to rub the velvet off their antlers, but it is sending up some shoots and it may yet live for another year.

So. Spring. The most forgiving season of the year.


Happy New Year!

January 8th, and I’m back and busy at my desk. 

I’m pleased to say that Robin Hobb and I have sent off the manuscript for a short story collection called The Inheritance.  It’s a collection of stories by both Lindholm and Hobb, some old, some new, some previously published and others that have never seen print.

I’m beginning the new year with a head full of short story ideas, and not enough time to write them all.  But I certainly prefer that to not having any ideas!

Best wishes to you all for a peaceful and prosperous 2010!


The Ghosts of Christmas Past

I’ve lost track of when the fruit cakes first began arriving.

But every year they faithfully came in December.   It was addressed to me, at my address, but I knew it was for my Dad. 

There was the cardboard box from the Collin Street Bakery in Texas, with the note on the outside that said it was a gift from Beverly. I always called her Aunt Beverly even though technically she was a cousin, because she was my father’s cousin. She and Francis, as she called him, were raised almost together, and the three, along with another cousin Sonny (much better name than Clarence!) were as close as siblings.

My father always told me that his cousins Beverly and Helen were as beautiful as angels. She was younger than he was, and I think he felt he was her protector.  Their houses were a few blocks apart in a town called Hollywood, California.  She was a beauty, and he was able to get part time work riding horses or doing fencing scenes in movies.  My impression was that it was a kinder, more elegant time.

In our house when I was growing up, there were books inscribed ‘from Beverly to Francis’, the sort of books that cousins gave each other once upon a time. Adventure books and story books and books of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry. All the history of an affectionate childhood could be summed up in those gift books.

Their affection followed them into old age. They lived in different states, she in her beloved California, and he in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, and then Washington. Contact became less frequent but more important because of that.  She still sent him books, and as he grew older, I helped him see that Sees Chocolates were sent to her. In all the essential ways, they still knew one another well.

The fruit cakes are excellent, every year.  I know, some people are fruit cake impaired and do not understand the savor of glace cherries and fat raisins and pecans both whole and in pieces.  But these are excellent fruitcakes, only a shade away from the goodness of home made.

Every year since they began arriving, I’ve always had a generous slice, and often more than one.  This year was no exception.

The fruit cake came, and we opened it and shared it. Tonight the last slice was eaten. By me.

Both my father and Beverly have been dead for years now.  I imagine she arranged that yearly gift  as an automatic delivery.  She was thoughtful that way.  I suspect that my cousin Kathy continues to fund it, another thoughtful gesture.

Each year, the fruit cake arrives from Beverly, and with it the warmth of a ghost friendship, the friendship of those Californian cousins.  Once they were children, then teenagers, adults, and then elderly.  The friendship lasted and ultimately it lives on.

Merry Christmas!


The Christmas Rant

So, the Christmas Season is upon us! A time for bells ringing and lights on houses and buying gifts and renewing ties with seldom seen relatives.

Now, if you expect me to be cranky about this, you should stop reading right now. I love this season. I love the smells of evergreen and nutmeg and ginger, and the sounds of the bells and Christmas carols on the radio. I like secrets and surprises and the Advent wreath on the table and counting down the days as we open little doors on an Advent calendar.

When I was a child, Christmas was a wonderful time in our home. A time of hope and magic and extra kindness and all sorts of cookies. Days off from school in the heart of a Fairbanks winter, with dark and snow outside and light and warmth inside.

Tonight, I will mix the triple batch of dough for the gingerbread candles. We will light two candles on the Advent wreath on the table. We will drop hints as to shopping we must do, and talk about what to get Uncle Steve and what to mail to Alaska for Auntie Mo.

And it is all so very good. So I hope all of the rest of you who share my holiday are enjoying it as much as I am. And to those who have a different holiday, or even no holiday this time of year, my very best wishes also!


Harlequin Horizon, vanity press

At conventions and via email, I am often contacted by aspiring writers, young and old.  Many people know how to sit down at a keyboard and put a story together.  How that story gets from your fingers to the pages of a book or magazine is often less clear.

And that is where scam artists, unscrupulous ‘agents’ and fake publishing houses have a field day.  When aspiring writers go out on the internet to look for information on how to be published, the first listings they will get on any search will be vanity publishers such as PublishAmerica and AuthorHouse.  No matter how they present themselves, it boils down to this.  The would be author gives them money.  The book is created.  There is no distribution system in place, so the book does not get into stores.  The bright writing future does not materialize.

It pains me that a long-respected romance publishing house, Harlequin Books, is now getting into the ‘dream selling’ business.

For a very accurate and well written summary of the situation, please look here   Jackie Kessler does a great job of explaining all this.  I commend her analysis to your attention.

Romance Writers of America also addresses the situation, as does Science Fiction Writers of America.

In these hard economic times, unemployed people sometimes say to themselves, ‘Well, the silver lining is that I can finally work on the book I’ve always dreamed of writing.’   I’m sure that the number of  unsolicited submissions has increased at all the publishing houses.  But to decide to prey on those you don’t judge worthy of regular publication is, to speak plainly, shameful.

Harlequin, I expected better of you.