Thursday, December 19, 2013

Here comes my favourite time of the year!

And this is my favourite way to lead into it.  I'm about 5,000 words off finishing a first draft and tomorrow, Friday, I'll be writing THE END, spell-checking it, search-and-destroying my old friends "oft he" 'is aid" and "butt he" then printing it out and dancing around the room.

Then it's Christmas.

We'll go and cut down a Christmas tree - in a place where they let you do that - decorate it, fill the house with food and drink and then comes one of my most beloved Christmas traditions.  Shopping!  But with a twist.

When Neil and I were penniless students - back in the early Mesolithic age - we had jobs on the Christmas post.  We got paid on Christmas Eve (it was eighty pounds each one year) and then went to buy presents, paper and ribbon for our parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and one or two little nephews and nieces. 

Then we counted up what was left, split it and went to buy a present for each other.

These days we have no grandparents anymore but we've got sixteen nephews and nieces, some quite big, and a great-nephew and -niece too.  Yikes.  Great-aunt Catriona. 

And because life has been kind we don't need to count the remaining change before we buy a present for each other.  We don't need to but we carry on anyway.  Sentimental tradition or Scottish stinginess?  Who can say.

We save change in a pot all year, count it on the 23rd of December, exchange it for notes, split them and hit the streets.  The rules are that you can't overspend by a penny and you've got get something from an ironmongers (hardware store), something from a charity shop (Thrift Store) something useful and at least one complete surprise. 

I might buy a CA Megamillions lottery ticket tonight.  The rollover is up to 400M and think of the good you could do with all that.  But even if I'm a billionaire on the 23rd of December this year, I'll be skulking around the hardware store in Davis, looking for bargains, not wafting about Tiffany's in San Francisco commissioning cufflinks.  And I'll still spray my Thanksgiving pumpkins gold and make them work through another holiday too. 

Merry Christmas, everyone, and a Happy  New Year when it comes. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lists and lists

This is the free-for-all month at Criminal Minds, in which we are all invited to go over the edge and expose our innermost thoughts, intellectual liabilities, and sentimental behaviors. This is not hard for me to do. I enter into it lightly and without the hesitations a more sensible person might have. You are about to get my five least favorite and five fav “things” as of today. Feel free to chime in with your own. Or, skip my blabbing and use your time to wrap presents and drink eggnog.

Susan’s LEAST favorites

#5 Coffee drinks that try to mix mint, pumpkin or other totally unsuited tastes with coffee flavor. Admittedly, I have never tried one, but really…

#4 Large cocktail parties. When I was oh so young and living in New York, I thought they were heaven and aspired to be invited to them every weekend. Now, I invent dying aunts and deadlines to avoid them.

#3 Cheesy Christmas displays in stores, you know the kind: plastic ball ornaments with “Bud Light” written in snowflake script circling the spheres, or tinselly garlands that spell out “Frank’s Auto Supply”?

#2 The fact that we are destroying the precious, almost miraculous climate balance that makes Earth not just habitable, but stunningly wondrous, and all so each of us (me included) can drive to around by ourselves in our own cars and eat grapes in January.

#1 Politicians who gets elected to anything at all and then are totally beholden to those who got them elected and those who may help get them re-elected so they can begin raising money the next day to get re-elected yet again. What a system.

Susan's MOST favorite (and so much nicer to think about)

#5 The writing community, my agent, my friends in Criminal Minds, LadyKillers, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. My peeps, I love you all.

#4 Nelson Mandela, a giant who walked among us. So funny to read criticism of him this week for not ridding the new South Africa of crony corruption and not bringing it to first world economic status in his four years as president. Hello? He walked the walk of reconciliation and negotiated the very existence of the new South Africa, where there is room for everyone to live free. It’s up to the other 47 million South Africans to pull the load now.

#3 Chocolate. Seriously, how could there be a list of favorites that didn’t include chocolate? I liked elegant French chocolates that look like tiny tiles best until I tasted the elegant Berkeley chocolates Terry brought to my last launch party. Bettina swears her native Switzerland makes the best, and Frank gives chocolate tasting parties where we get to sample African and South American varieties. For me, the darker the better, the smoother the better, and the most available the best!

#2 The women in my life who have shown me how to be a better person in their own quite different ways. Some are with us, some are no longer present. You are my guides, you live in my heart, and I love you dearly: Candida, Sister Samuel, Helen, Doris, Ethel, Alice.

#1 My family. Honestly, that’s not a politically correct nod, it’s the truth. Love my sons, my like-a-son, and their talented wives and fiancées, and the four grandkids who light up my life with smiles, hugs, and invitations to squeeze under the bunk bed to play pirates.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Bug of Revelation!

The last couple of days, I've been what we Scots call awfy no weel.  Felt a bit plain on Monday and then woke up on Tuesday morning thinking: what's that noise?  It sounded like a portion of over-thick, under-blended soup boiling hard in the bottom of a high-sided pot.  Turned out it was me, breathing.   When I sat up, I started coughing; when I stood up, I started shivering; when I moved , my eyes went all FX - making lines that streamed out behind things that don't usually have lines streaming out behind them.

So I took a day off work.  Actually two.  And taking two days off work when you're a self-employed writer is not like taking a day off from an office, shop, factory or farm.

On the upside, you don't have to ask anyone or fill in any forms.  On the downside, nobody does your work for you while you're ill; it's all still there when you're better.  (But what a great idea - substitute writers!)

On the unexpected side was how quickly I came to believe I'd found my new calling.  The undergardener brought me story discs (Stephen King, Alexander McCall Smith, Kate Atkinson and Patricia Cornwell), DVDs (Midsomer Murders), a bunch of flowers and a box of lotion-soft hankies.


There was coffee, soup, ice-cream, ibuprofen and pillows and by lunchtime yesterday I had decided I was never getting up, getting dressed or going outside ever again. Bed is bliss - soft, warm, comforting; there are fifteen seasons of Midsomer Murders - soft, warm, comforting -  available to download or stream (and since I fell asleep for big chunks of every episode anyway, I would literally never run out of new bits to watch); jammies are better than all other clothes in every way - soft, warm, comforting - no waistbands or buttons, no need for earrings.

This was my new life.  Probably the undergardener would take some persuading, but even if he refused to keep bringing me supplies of ice-cream and story discs, I could order everything online.   I had plenty of time to cancel Left Coast Crime, Malice and Bouchercon.  I wouldn't even suffer financially for a while - my next two books are written and it'd be a year before anyone even noticed I'd become a recluse.

Okay, I'd probably end up as one of those people who, when they die, contractors come and remove one of the walls of their house and winch them out with a crane, but it was so soft and warm and comforting. 

And I had all the zeal of the convert.  I laughed at my former self - cycling, walking up and down hills for no reason at all, gardening instead of just keeping the curtains closed, cooking things when there's perfectly good food already made for you in the supermarkets, turning pages and swiveling my eyes when there are stories on CDs and DVDs that let you just slump.  Yep, this was it.  This was the future.

Then about five o'clock today the rot set in.  I was asleep when the phone binged to say I had a text.  It was the undergardener and he was bringing home a Chinese carry-out.  I put the phone down, paused Midsomer Murders and, before I knew what had happened, I was in the kitchen, putting plates in the oven to warm, setting out napkins and chopsticks, filling the dishwasher, sorting out the junk mail for recycling.

So my new life as a happy slob looks to be over, only two days after it began.   I'm better.  It wasn't even proper flu.  Tomorrow - waistband, buttons, earrings and swiveling eyes.  But it was fun while it lasted and I've still got the cough to remember it by. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Writing, reading, murder, and mayhem

“Criminal minds – writing, reading, murder, and mayhem.” Great holiday subjects, yes?

We’ve been given free rein this month, which means a totally blank canvas and, for me, a totally empty brain. I thought I’d look at our happy blog catch phrase for inspiration.

“Writing” – I’m struggling with revisions for my third Dani O’Rourke, in part because my delightful publishers informed me cutting the brakes in a car is so cliché. I’ve now asked four guys what they’d do if they had to disable a car they didn’t know well, a modern car with electronics and disc brakes and power locks. “Cut the brakes” was the answer times four, even though with independent braking systems, not all braking power would be cut. It would still be an accident waiting to happen on a hill. This is the kind of not-fun work that writers do, the situations that make us run screaming from the computer. It means pushing back with the editors or reimagining an entire plot in the story. Is it too early in the day for spiked eggnog?

“Reading” – I made the mistake of starting the Illiad (Fagles’ translation) and The Judgment of Paris (Ross King on the birth of Impressionism) in late October, thinking such a steady diet of crime fiction needed to be broken up. Now, my pride won’t let me quit either of those, but Sara Paretsky’s personally signed latest V.I. story, Critical Mass, demands my attention, as do the latest by Dennis Lehane, Michael Stanley, Hallie Ephron, and Sara Henry (among way too many others). But until I get said revisions off my desk, reading from my TBR pile is out of the question. Is it too early in the day for more spiked eggnog?

“Murder” – I would never, never think about murdering anyone except in my books, but I’ll bet I’m not the first writer who has wondered just a teensy bit about the way recalcitrant editors might suffer and perish. (Just kidding, editors…) I live in the San Francisco area and our local paper leads with local murders, of which there are far too many. Real ones, where families suffer and the police flounder, and witnesses are silent, and it’s all far too dreary and tragic to read about every day. It definitely isn’t too early for bourbon laced with a little eggnog.

“Mayhem” – “actions that hurt people and destroy things : a scene or situation that involves a lot of violence” (Merriam-Webster) . Creating mayhem in a story is surprisingly enjoyable, and I wonder why that is? Maybe because I would never allow myself to throw china, deliberately hit the car in front of me, smash down a door. Imagining it concretely enough to write a believable scene is both a challenge and a release, and I was deeply gratified when the violent climax of my first book for a thumbs up from the editors and readers. That’s something for me to remember as I go back to my current problem and try to figure out what mayhem I can create that will satisfy me, and my editors, today. No more eggnog until I’m done.

 - Susan