Today I started a post in which I intended to compare a book by artist-author Shel Silverstein to the novels of Katherine Paterson. The first part–the Shel Silverstein part–ran to over 1300 words, and there were more to come.
That posed a problem, as most of the piece was to be about Katherine Paterson. I liked what I’d written, and so would other English majors, some of them, maybe, but most people aren’t English majors. They find literary criticism tedious. So I scrapped it.
A Trick of the Light has received the following honors:
Winner of the Anthony Award for Best Crime Novel 2012
Finalist for the Macavity Award for Best Crime Novel in the US 2012
Finalist for the Agatha Award for Best Mystery of 2011
Finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel in Canada in 2011
Finalist for the Dilys Award from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association for the book they most enjoyed selling in 2011
Finalist GoodReads Choice Awards for 2011
Publishers Weekly top 10 Mysteries of 2011
Amazon.com top 10 Thrillers and Mysteries of 2011
Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore: Favorites of 2011
The Toronto Star: Favorite Read of 2011 New York Times Book Review: Favorite Crime Novel of 2011 BookPage, Readers’ Choice: Best Books of 2011 (#6 all genres)
Women Magazine: Editor’s Pick #1 Book of 2011
The Globe and Mail: Top 10 Mystery of 2011
The Seattle Times: Top 10 Mystery of 2011
Quill and Quire: Top 10 Mystery of 2011
I-Tunes: Top 10 AudioBook of 2011
Richmond Times-Dispatch: top 5 Fiction Books of 2011
“Okay. Roadside Flowers of Texas. Short. Illustrated. With pictures.”
“Look. Pink. Oenothera. Prim-rose.”
[Sigh] “Back to daffodil.”
“Narcissus. Same. Both daf-fodils.”
“I spit on your science.”
“Can’t be daffodil.”
“Because my heart‘s not dancing.“
Click on the frog to find more short-shorts by Friday Fictioneers.
The spring of my junior year, I took a college course in plant taxonomy. I learned to identify flowering plants by dissecting them and consulting a dichotomous key. I learned the difference between monocotyledons and dicotyledons. I learned to arrange plants for the herbarium, one flower turned up, one turned down, one open (or as close to that arrangement as one can manage).
I learned that poison ivy is a mimic, that its leaves take on a variety of forms, and that if one collects a specimen of poison ivy on every outing (because its leaves take on a variety of forms), one has a perpetual itchy rash. I learned that if one stores a box of dried plants under one’s bed in one’s dorm room, one has a perpetual itch without a rash.
I learned that one’s car can take to the ditch and almost plow through a row of mailboxes while one scans the roadside for flowering plants instead of watching where one is going. I learned the scientific names of over 300 species (I am was blessed with a good memory and excelled at subjects requiring rote memory instead of thought).
A few days after the plant tax course ended, I was standing outside the biology department office, reading the list of upcoming course offerings, when the Plant Tax professor came down the hall. He stopped behind me, leaned over, and whispered, “Looking for a course that’s as easy as the one you just finished?”
And I said, “Yes.”
But here’s the point: The longer I look at the prompt picture, the less it looks like a daffodil, a jonquil, or a Narcissus anything.
The house where we stayed is way out there–waaaaaaaaaaaay out there–and I had trouble finding it. It was one more instance of leaving the address tucked away safely in my email inbox.
When I reached the end of the road–literally–I turned around, retraced the route to the nearest post office and, fingers crossed, asked for directions to the nearest establishment offering free wi-fi. The postmaster directed me to her best guess, then said, “But it’s a bar.” I didn’t care. I can’t stand the smell of beer, but I’d have been glad to buy a six-pack for the privilege of Internet access.
I was on my way out when she said, “Wait. You can use my computer.” When the United States Postal Service declined to connect to gmail, she pulled out her mobile phone, accessed my account, and said, “You should change your password, of course, when you get home.” I wrote down the address, she gave me further directions, and in less than five minutes, I was where I should have been a half-hour before. Or maybe a full hour.*
I agree. I always travel hopefully and, most of the time, enjoy winding around, wondering whether I’ve passed the point of no return. There comes a time, however, when I’m relieved to finally arrive.
And so ends the obligatory account of my most recent episode of winding around. Now to get on with the retreat.
Come to think of it, there’s not a lot to get on with. We sat outside and watched birds flying and sticks floating; and discussed whether one stick, which stayed in the same place for a long time, wasn’t a stick but instead something that might crawl out of the lake and bite somebody, namely us; and monitored current events by periodically glancing at the television, sound off; and, when the spirit moved, ate.
But most of the time, we wrote. I slapped down over 1900 words in one day. It’s been ages since I did that. Many of them won’t end up in the final version of the story, and those that do will be shifted from page to page before settling. But, to quote novelist Nancy Peacock, in A Broom of One’s Own, “if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love.”**
I expected to take pictures but was too relaxed/lazy to get out my camera until Sunday. A cold front had come in overnight, and that morning the lake was choppy. I wish my photos had picked up the whitecaps. I also wish they could show the tranquility of our surroundings.
The other photos are wretched, but I include them to prove that on our writing retreat we actually wrote.
So what is it with writers and retreats? Getting away from routine, from everyday-ness and common distractions, refreshing the mind and the soul, opening new vistas, viewing life from new perspectives…
All of the above. None of the above. It doesn’t matter.
For several months, William has been taking insulin injections.
The good newsis that he cooperates, mostly. If he’s downstairs when shot time comes around, David grabs him and puts him on his lap; I give the shot. If he’s upstairs on the bed, that’s different.
David goes up first and pets him. I follow a minute later. When he sees me, he starts to get up. David positions him so I can scruff him. Sometimes before I get hold of him, he lunges, and David has to redouble his efforts. Then I give him the shot and we pet him and tell him he’s a good kitty, something he already knows, and that’s that. In short, he doesn’t mind the shot, just the temporary loss of free will.
The most difficult part is scruffing him. There’s not much to scruff. Sometimes I have to try several times to pull up enough skin so the needle doesn’t go too deep. The veterinarian has trouble, too.
The other good newsis that in all the time I’ve been sticking a needle into him, I’ve stuck it into myself only three times.
The second other good news is that have I never injected myself with insulin.
The really, really good news is that I always stuck myself before, or instead of, sticking him.
Except for once last week when the needle went through his skin and into my thumb. As I said, there isn’t much up there to scruff. Since them, I’ve aimed more carefully.
The best news is that his blood sugar is down and he’s back to his old self, wrestling with Ernest (William starts it); staying downstairs more; playing with the Filthy Pink Mouse; grabbing my hand, holding on (claws), and biting my fingers. Sometimes he just licks my hand. That’s icky, worse than the biting.
It’s been a calendar year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
My good news is that I finished chemo (the evil drug) at the end of May and now am much stronger. I said many times during chemotherapy that the side effects were mild. Now I realize that during that time, I felt pretty rotten. I was weak. The feel of water on my skin was unpleasant. I couldn’t walk more than five or ten steps without stopping to rest. I lived on Benadryl to keep my hands and arms from itching. But I still believe I had it easy.
In June, I had lumpectomies (I didn’t know you could have surgery twice within one week). In September, I went through radiation, twenty consecutive days, weekends and Labor Day excluded, smiled cheerily at the technicians, let them admire my cute socks, lay perfectly still for a few minutes while they zapped me, and drove home.
The hardest part was getting the gown tied correctly.
On the last day, in the hallway outside the radiation room, one of the techs asked if I wanted to celebrate. I said, “Sure.” He brought out a small cardboard box and the three of them threw confetti at me.
If I seem to be making light of the experience, I suppose I am. In part, that’s because it’s what I do. It makes better copy. In part, it’s because I didn’t go through the hell others go through. In part, it’s because I have to.
Within days after the last radiation treatment, I slid into depression. The radiation oncologist said she’d seen it before, and I needed a goal: travel (just did); creative activity (got one story with an editor, working on another one); gardening (no place to plant and I kill everything anyway); talk to a therapist (already do); exercise? (oh d*mn).
Before it ended, I heard myself thinking, I’ll buy the package of 300 stars instead of the one with 1000. I might not be around long enough to use 1000. Every time, I immediately countered that with, Stop it, you can’t think that way, buy the 1000.
Radiation might have caused the downhill slide, but I believe it stemmed from the feeling that I wasn’t doing anything to help myself heal. Three months without the chemo drug, I felt all right. I no longer had to report at 8:00 a.m. for radiation. There were no technicians to impress with my brave, cheery attitude; nurses didn’t seem impressed. Taking a pill every morning took no effort. Periodical infusions to boost the immune system had weeks ago lost their luster. I wasn’t working at it.
Hearing, or telling myself, Cheer up! didn’t help. As all depressives will tell you, it never does. It makes us want to cuss or, better yet, to kick the sunshiny idiot adviser in the knee.
My other good news is that by Christmas I was on the mental mend, thank goodness. Because the scariest part was that depression and big T-cell boosting smiles don’t coexist.
My second other good news is that my latest CT scan, done in early December, shows the lesion in each lung and the two lymph nodes that were radiated in September have decreased in size so much that they wouldn’t show up on a PET scan. The radiation oncologist’s pronouncement: “Awesome.” Indeed. The oncologist is pleased and said he hopes I am, too. Yes, I’d say I’m pleased. The next scan is scheduled for March.
I continue to juggle a positive attitude and uncertainty. The next scan may be clear. The lesions and lymph nodes may show metabolic activity again. Problems may show up elsewhere. I’ve been having pre-cancerous tissue removed here and there for the past fifteen years. Cancer is the Curse of the Wallers. It’s in the other side of my family, too.
But I’m here, and I had an excellent report, and I keep on keeping on.
Which makes everything I’ve written here not just good news, but the best.
P. S. I have hair again. Shirley Temple and then some. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.
When the January schedule for Writing Wranglers and Warriors came out, I was pleased to find I would post on Friday the 13th. Last month–I’ve spent the past three hours writing about exactly what happened last month, but the result was so deadly dull it could have been used as a substitute for Ambien, so I’ll summarize–
Anyway, I got the dates mixed up, tried to post a day ahead of schedule, ended up posting a day behind schedule, took the post down–
In short, Friday the 13th seemed a good idea. You can’t forget Friday the 13th. Unless you forget to look at the calendar until 10:00 p.m. on the 12th.
So I spent three hours banging away at the keyboard only to find that the result read more like typing than writing. I hate it when that happens. Fortunately, I’ve been blogging long enough to have…
Back to doodling. I gave myself permission to skip days–as long as I doodle on all 365 pages, I’m meeting my goal; I don’t have to fill the book in a calendar year or to doodle in order. In other words, I’m also back to eschewing perfectionism.
My image of silence comes from one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. She imagines two lovers, their souls standing “erect and strong, / Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,” contented to be on earth. “Think,” she says.
In mounting higher, The angels would press on us and aspire To drop some golden orb of perfect song Into our deep, dear silence.
The doodle is of song, not silence. Sometimes it’s easier to depict a thing as what it’s not instead of what it is.
Christmas Night, and all through the house, one person and two cats are sleeping all snug in their beds, while I’m sitting here watching Apollo 13 and a lava lamp.
This is my first lava lamp. I skipped the ’70s. David said it’s his first lava lamp, too. He was present for the ’70s but skipped some of the trappings.
The lamp is fascinating: like a kaleidoscope but with fewer colors and curved edges.
We had a quiet day, one of our traditional nonstandard Christmases. We opened gifts, ate a light breakfast, and sat around.
Then we repaired to Saffron Restaurant, which serves an eclectic mixture of traditional Indian Cuisine punctuated by the flavors of the Himalayas. Goat curry, chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, steamed basmati rice, naan… and several things I can’t name because instead of wearing my glasses to the buffet, I left them on the table.
After lunch we came back home, plugged in the lava lamp, and waited for it to erupt. It did not disappoint.
Of course, we took the obligatory photos of the children with gifts under the traditional nonstandard Christmas tree. Changes in living room geography kept us from giving our real artificial tree center stage, so this morning we moved our ceramic artificial tree to a snow-covered chair and accorded it official status.
Facebook reminded me that four years ago, I found these bear foot slippers under the tree. They were warm and comfortable, about the nicest slippers I’d ever had.
Then one day William sat down and began making biscuits on them. So much for my bear feet. Since then, they’ve been known as known as William’s shoes.
It’s now past midnight. Christmas Day is over. Time to turn off the lava lamp and sleep snug in my bed and dream of goat curry and naan. Which, come to think of it, would make a fine traditional nonstandard New Year’s Day lunch.