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Endless grind

I am still hacking away at the final book in the Forensics series, which happens also to be my final piece of overdue work. At this point, very overdue. No one is bugging me for it, as my publisher’s schedule has slowed a bit and my editor on that series hasn’t yet finished processing the four mss. I turned in earlier this year, but still. I need to finish. I want not to have to be writing it any longer.

Who would have thought that a 45-page ms. on a straightforward topic would be so difficult to finish? But I’ve now written nine books for this series and am burned out on the subject, and I have other things I’d rather be writing, so my level of engagement is low. I just have to push ahead and do my best not to let my attitude permeate the ms. Fortunately I have had a lot of practice at this.

Every book has what I call the hump, the point at which the process shifts from drilling forward to gliding toward the end. At the hump more of the terrain I must cover is lying behind me than is stretching ahead. Not just page or word count–the hump comes at different points in different books. Even in two books of the same length for the same series, there may be a difference. I am starting to think that in this book the hump is going to come waaay late. Say, the penultimate page.

Looking forward–desperately so–to turning in this ms. in the next couple of days. I can then turn to more interesting matters:

* developing proposals for a couple of new nonfic series that I am excited about

* the unfinished draft of my Nano novel

* some other stuff.

Now back to work. On the bright side, I am meeting a friend for “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” this evening. Hoping to love it.

Inside the snow globe

We have an enormous black cottonwood tree in front of our house. This is not a tree that should be on a residential urban property. This is a tree that should stand in all its glory in a river bottom in Utah.

Your cottonwood is not a well-domesticated tree. It is messy. Starting in about April each year, it sheds, in this order:

1. small, amber-colored sticky things, the split coverings of leaves or seed pods or something, that adhere to your shoes, your tires, your cat, and everything that touches them, and get tracked into the house for several weeks

2. lint, fuzz, fluff, cotton–whatever you want to call it, it is the stuff that hangs in bunches from pods high in the tree and then floats through the air in vast quantities, this way and that as the wind takes it, for several weeks

3. dried sticklike pods, empty of their fluff

Nor is that all. In the fall Old Man Cotton sheds truckload after truckload of leaves. The tree is more than 100 feet tall and thickly branched and vastly productive of leaves. The raking goes on for weeks.

And then there are the sticks. Cottonwood wood is brittle and breaks easily. Twigs, sticks, branches–sometimes quite large ones–rain down frequently and unpredictably from the heights.

On the positive side, the tree stands between the afternoon summer sun and the corner of the house that holds my office and our bedroom. Its welcome shade saves us a fortune in AC bills. The tree is home to raccoons, squirrels, and lots of birds whose antics entertain me (and Xerxes). And it fills much of the view from the front window of my office; without it I would see the far less appealing house across the street.

It is difficult to love Old Man Cotton in the middle of cotton-shedding season. Which is now.  All up and down our street, drifts of white are piling up on people’s doorsteps and windshields. The sides of the street look as though a snowplow has recently passed. The tree is so big that it is a nuisance over a wide area. I half expect to look outside some night and see a mob of angry neighbors brandishing torches and pitchforks, shouting, “Kill the tree!”

And yet . . . just now I was out walking Xerxes in the back yard. The sun had come out, and he lay down on the grass to bask, and I lay down, too, and looked up. So much cotton was drifting through the air, from just above my face to as high as I could see, lit by the sun against a blue sky, that I felt as though I were inside a freshly shaken snow globe. Or in the southern ocean on that magical night one hears about on nature shows, when the full moon inspires all the jellyfish or corals or something to spawn at once, and the camera pans up from the depths toward the moonlit surface through a sea thick with floating, er, ocean creature sex stuff. (Okay, it’s been a while since I saw that documentary, and the details are as fuzzy as every single plant in my garden, now thickly coated with the cottonwood’s sheddings.)

Two days ago the Oregonian had an article about how fluff from cottonwood trees had clogged the air intakes of the high-tech cars on Portland’s new west side rail, several times bringing the commuter trains to a halt. We live on the east side, far from there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our tree’s lint had managed to get there.

Nikki Heat? Oh, come on!

I’ve been kinda enjoying Castle. Early days yet, only two episodes, but fun and waaay pretty. Then it was revealed in last night’s episode that Mal’s, I mean Rick’s, new series character, inspired by the delectable Detective Beckett, is named Nikki Heat. Now, even in a made-up universe of banter and poker games with Steve Cannell, I gotta believe a bestselling novelist who is taken semiseriously by not unintelligent readers such as the aforementioned Detective Beckett would not be so lame to as give that name to a character based on someone he seemingly admires. Stripper? Check. Videogame vixen? Check. Contestant on “Rock of Love?” Double check. Detective in a series of dark novels? Bit wrong-footed, I think, unless it’s a deliberate move to rile Beckett. But boy, is everyone pretty! So, fun overall.

On another note, Loins of Punjab Presents opens this week at our local art- and cult-film palace. Described as Monsoon Wedding meets Best of Show, it’s a spoof of an American Idol clone for aspiring  South Asian American singers, who perform Bollywood-style extravaganzas and engage in backstage intrigue. Could be terrific.

Finally, check out this hilariously eviscerating restaurant review from London’s Sunday Times, in which A.A. Gill channels the righteous scorn of Swift and the masterly invective of  Mencken to indict an entire culture of empty chic consumerism:

Three, count ’em, three!


Luckiest Scrabble game ever last night. Early on I drew the tiles for three seven-letter words in a row. “Striver,” “daemons,” and “unheated” (the last built around an “e” from an earlier play).

Usually Zach and I are evenly matched. I have a slight vocabulary edge and typically make one or two seven-letter words in the course of a game. (I don’t remember getting three before, and certainly never consecutively. Nice fluke.) But he is a superior strategist and will often cannily block future plays or cut off building spots while I am fooling around trying to make fancy words. Being an accountant, he not only keeps score for each game but has also kept all the score sheets. Our scores for each game are generally close, and at last tabulation our lifetime win/loss records were very close as well. But last night I kicked his ass! I had great tiles and he had suckish ones, mostly vowels (at one point he expressed the wish that we were playing in Hawaiian or some other vowel-intensive language).

Xerxes joined in the game, hopping onto the tabletop and trying to move our tiles for us until he got bored, curled up in the top of the Scrabble box, and fell asleep. I

I went to bed all exhilarated, tingling with good fortune and victory, and promptly had the most mundane dream of my life. I dreamed that I cut and filed my fingernails, all ten of them, in excruciating detail, right down to brushing the filed-off nail dust from my black jeans. Sadly, when I woke up I was as much in need of a manicure as when I went to sleep. Slightly more so, given the minute growth of the nails during the night. Perhaps the endless tedium of the dream was my conscience paying me back for being a bit too gloaty over my triumphs with the tiles.

Grandma did what?

This afternoon my mother gave me a magnificent necklace of jet beads–long admired and coveted by me–that had belonged to her great-grandmother. Real jet. Lovely.

As she took the necklace out of her jewelry cabinet she started to laugh and asked, “Did I ever show you these?” She had not. “These” proved to be a set of 5 notes that Mom had found in an old college yearbook belonging to my maternal grandmother, who was born in 1900 and attended Valparaiso University in Indiana during the years 1919 and 1920. Space does not permit me to describe my grandmother, but she is fondly remembered by those who knew and [mostly] loved her as “pig-headed” and “a hellion.”

Each note was addressed to Miss Delefern Slocum [yep, that was my grandmother’s name, but she went by Dele, pronounced “Del”], Altruria Hall. The notes were from Ida A. Powell, Dean of Women at the university, and each one instructed my grandmother to “Please come to my office this afternoon between two and four,” or words to that effect. The dates ranged from November 1919 through May 1920. By the fifth note Dean Powell was reduced to saying, “Come to my office as soon as possible.”

On the front of the envelope containing each note my grandmother had pencilled, in the same unmistakable handwriting I used to see on my birthday cards, a note concerning the infraction that had provoked the summons. Here are those notes, in order by date:

“No. 1. Smoking?”

“2nd show at movies, eating with fellow in restaurant after 10 o’clock unchaperoned, talking to man in front of building”

“Phoenix Club dance–going to restaurant after”

“dishes thrown out of windows, roof to take pictures”

“N.D. dance 1:30–should have been 12.”

I expect that “N.D.” referred to Notre Dame. But I would love to know what made her hurl dishes out her windows.