Category Archives: General

At last

I have finally renovated one of my two blighted websites, which have long been the Internet equivalent of tarpaper shacks. This is my first blog post on the reconstructed main site, rebuilt with the aid of WordPress (and my savvy friend Magda). If I can figure out how to make this site do even a little of what I want it to do, I’ll tackle the other site tomorrow.

And might I add: Arrgh. Even with the help of wonderful WordPress, I am so not good at this stuff. But anything will be an improvement on the awful pages I cobbled together years ago with some free HTML for Dummies program.

The turn of the year

Or thereabouts.

My 2009 started off very badly but got steadily better. I have no complaints, aside from whingeing about the depressed state of my little corner of the publishing industry. I’m still making a living as a freelance writer, though, and 2010 is shaping up.

Nonfiction: By dint of desperate effort I finished all my pending books before the end of 2009 and am officially Caught Up. For 2010 I now have 6 books under contract, including cool new science titles for kids and a YA critical bio of Philip Pullman. I’m also nursing a couple of ideas that I’ll soon develop into proposals for new work.

Fiction: In 2009 I started a novel that I hope to finish soon. At the end of the year, to my surprise, I wrote a short story.

Many good things happened in 2009:

Zachary and I went to Carlsbad Caverns and Joshua Tree and Iceland. Ah, Iceland. I love you. I could live in you, if your food were more to my liking (and less expensive).

We had fine times with our friends Mark and Peter in Tucson, Skip and Judy in Arlington, and Jorg and Gabi in Newport. I also got to see my publisher and good friend Michelle, and her partner Mark, when they were in Seattle.

Here in Portland I enjoyed visits with Bonnie and Kelly and met Alyx . And I saw Cat and met Wayne. All very good.

I made a couple of new friends and reconnected, courtesy of the Interweb, with a couple of long-ago ones.

Zachary built a beautiful stone terrace behind our house. Xerxes and I will spend a lot of time there next summer, Xx prowling about on his long leash or dozing on the sun-warmed stone, me lolling in the lovely patio lounge given to us by our friends Fred and Ron.

This past year I enjoyed my little 9’6″ kayak so much that I’m going to buy another like it for friends and potential paddling partners. I can’t quite bring myself to sell the 15′ fiberglass touring kayaks, even though I didn’t use them this year. I still have fantasies of teaming with Zachary or a friend for a multiday paddling trip in them one of these years.

During 2009 I read a lot of books, many of them good, a happy few of them great. Movies, ditto.

Looking ahead to 2010, I’m planning to go to in April, and I’m thinking about where else I might like to travel in the coming year. My work load, at least at this point, is lighter than in most years, so I may have more time than usual to do what I want. I hope to use some of it for adventuring and fiction writing, not just for rerererereading Wodehouse and rerererewatching all my old MST3Ks.

But time will tell. It always does.

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: