Tag Archives: Nonfiction

To the land of ice and snow

Turned in long-overdue ms. of bio of Stephen King not 90 minutes ago. Last 8 days = major write-athon with far too little sleep. Now unable to think or write in complete sentences. Hope I managed it in the ms.

Packing now, and watering yard, and writing note for cat-care person, etc. We leave for Iceland tomorrow at 11 a.m. Last I heard, temps in Portland are supposed to hit triple digits for at least the first 3 days of next week, and generally very high otherwise. Forecast for Reykjavik for same time period: 61 and showers. Yay!

Pix and details on the other side. May all here have an excellent week.

Read or Die

The past few weeks have been full of work.

I’ve been doing all the follow-up stuff (writing captions, reviewing page layouts, etc.) for the books I wrote from November through February. And then I’ve been writing the first book in my four-book series on human evolution; the series is now aimed at high-school age readers and called Origins. While writing, I realized with chagrin that I had been packing information that could be spread out over the entire series into volume one (which is “Earliest Ancestors to Australopithecines”). I took a few days away from writing to do a more detailed plan of the entire series–deciding, for example, in which volume I will put the various sidebars, including one I just wrote called “So You Want to Be a Fossil?” I also put together a Glossary that I can use in all four volumes. That should help me avoid unnecessary repetition.

But it hasn’t all been work. Oh, no. A well-meaning friend gave me a free month of Netflix. Actually, she’s my publisher, so she’ll have no one to blame but herself when I’m even later than usual on my current deadlines. It’s not so much the movies. I mean, it’s convenient to have movies come to your house and all, but what’s really fun–and a time suck–is watching the instant stuff on my laptop. Just yesterday I watched an anime I first saw a couple of years ago and have wanted to see again: “Read or Die” (the OVA, not the TV series, which I have not watched–but now I probably will). It’s no Miyazaki, but there are some things in it that I like a lot. And what a title.

One brief shining moment

At 6:38 yesterday evening I hit the Send button and sent in the ms. of the last of my overdue books from 2007. It was a book about Conifers for middle-school kids. Now, I’m not sure that 7th-graders are all that interested in Conifers–I could be wrong, and I hope I am–but my publisher asked me to write the book and, at long last, I finally did so. The moment I turned it in, I entered a rare and miraculous state of being: I was caught up with work! I almost levitated.

But, by a curious coincidence, yesterday’s date was also the due date for the first piece of 2008 work: book one in my series on human evolution, which of course I did not turn in yesterday. It lies still before me, only party written. My state of caught-up-ness, therefore, was of such brief duration that perhaps it did not exist at all, at least in our space-time continuum.

Now I forge ahead on the work for this year. Not to mention all the messy afterbirth of the books I’ve finished in recent months: captioning illustrations, reviewing copyedits and layouts, quelling the din of hectoring fact-checkers. But I welcome such activities, because they allow me to tick things off the to-do list without actually having to produce pages.

Over the Arachnids at last

Today I finally finished and sent in the ms. for a book on Arachnids that is part of a kids’ series I’m doing on various taxons: flowering plants, primates, rodents, marsupials (that one was a treat to research and write!), and so on.

I suspect that my editor rather enjoyed having me do the Arachnids book, knowing that I am a pronounced arachnophobe. Or at least  a spider-phobe. I’ve never seen a live scorpion, amblypygid, uropygid, or member of many of the smaller arachnid orders. I don’t know how I’d react to them, but I doubt I’d be as shocked and repelled as when a spider scuttles out from beneath my hairbrush. Nonetheless, they are truly fascinating creatures, and it was quite a lot of fun to write about them.

This was actually my second book about spiders. Some years ago I wrote a picture book about them for very young kids. The one I finished today was for middle-school kids. I’ll be finishing up this current series soon, and I’ll be sad to see it end. It’s going out with a whimper, too. The last book is going to be about, Dawkins help me (and I mean that literally, as I have found some useful material in The Ancestor’s Tale), bacteria.

Double whammy

Been too busy (and when not busy, crashing) to post for a while. Last week I was overwhelmed. My mom was here from Saturday night to Friday night, and at the same time I was striving mightily to finish a book. (More on the latter later.)

Despite the fact that I was swamped with work, I was glad to see Mom. This is a good time of year for her to visit Portland–she now lives in Florida and has become used to hot weather, so September here is cool enough to be a nice break for her, but not so cool as to make her  complain of the cold. We had wonderful meals at my friend Fred’s house and at Wildwood, and rather more ordinary ones here at our place. One good day was a drive out through the Gorge and up the Hood River Valley. Mom enjoyed the sunshine and scenery, I enjoyed the not writing, and Zach enjoyed the immense box of freshly picked pears (about six varieties) he scored at a fruit stand.

The real hit of the visit, though, was Xerxes. He came into our lives around this time last year, just after her visit ended, so last week was her introduction to him. She was much smitten. Our household had a dog and a cat when I was growing up, and we all loved them very much, and my parents dutifully cared for them after my brother and I moved away–and after those two dear animals were gone (they died long long ago), both my parents firmly quashed any suggestion that they might consider getting a new pet. Who would want to go through that trouble again? they would say.

As it turns out, now my mom might. She had such a good time with Xerxes–beaming whenever he sat on her lap, walking him in the garden on his leash, playing with him with his jingle ball and other toys, and generally fussing over him almost as much as we do–that I finally asked her if she would like to have a cat in Florida. (She has friends and activities, but when she’s at home alone, she’s lonely.) Her response was that if she could get one as pretty and lovable as Xx, she would. Well . . . he is peerless, but Zach and I have offered to help her find a cat when we go down for our Christmas visit. Her neighbors on both sides have cats and trade  catsitting when they travel, so she’d be all hooked up. (On the downside, full disclosure: She did say that if Xerxes were her cat, she’d name him Patches.)

Here she is with Xx in our back yard, between the house and the woods. He is lying on the oregano, a favorite lounging spot when we take him out:

At about 4 pm today I finally finished the second book in the Forensics series and emailed the ms. to my editor. It ran several thousand words over spec; I hope the designer can give me a little stretch in the layout, but if necessary I will cut one section. This book was much  fun to write. The topic was forensics in historical research, so I got to talk about royal assassinations, battlefield archaeology, the Vinland Map, and more.

To my regret, I had to leave out some topics I had planned to cover. Space did not permit me, for example, to discuss the recent forensic archaeology performed at a campsite associated with a certain notorious episode in pioneer history. And I had the perfect title for that section, too: “The Donner Party’s Dinner Parties.” Wah.