Notes about writing, landscape, and life in the Texas Hill Country


"We keep each other alive with our stories. We need to share them, as much as we need to share food. We also require for our health the presence of good companions. One of the most extraordinary things about the land is that it knows this—and it compels language from some of us so that as a community we may converse about this or that place, and speak of the need."
Barry Lopez

"As much as we live in a place, we live in place; we inhabit a condition of the soul. We live where we have made definitions, and in the process of making definitions, we create a place in which to live."
Sallie Tisdale

"The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction."
Rachel Carson

"I can see myself beginning to fashion what I need: new pathways to solitude, new ways of looking at time and at time alone, new ways of conceiving a notion of place, and other ways, if not new ones, to create places apart."
Jacqueline Jones Royster

"There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story."
Linda Hogan


Susan's Hill Country Journal
(previous journal)
03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003
04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003
05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003
06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003
07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003
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10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003
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Susan Wittig Albert
Ph.D. UC Berkley

author of
China Bayles Herbal Mysteries
Robin Paige Victorian Mysteries
(as Robin Paige)
Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter
Writing From Life
Work of Her Own

Contributing editor:
Country Living Gardener Magazine
writing teacher
garden columnist
Founder: Story Circle Network

Bulletin Board
A Map of MeadowKnoll
All text/photos
©2003-2005 Susan Wittig Albert

The Edwards Plateau, Central Texas
The Edwards Plateau, Central Texas

Familiar Plants of the Edwards Plateau
History and Change on the Plateau
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
(10 miles south of MeadowKnoll)
habitat description, wildlife lists
The Edwards Aquifer
The Trinity Aquifer
Our Weather

Story Circle Network
The experience of Katrina is an experience of place, located at the intersections of the natural and human-made worlds. If you have a Katrina story to tell, the Story Circle Network invites you to record it here, and to read others' stories:

Killer Plants

Ecotone: Writing About Place

Monday, November 24, 2003  

Colors to dye for. Bill went to Houston for a couple of days, and while he was gone, I played. Well, I wrote, too. But since I could skip cooking and washing dishes, I put the time into dyeing. The fiber shown above was dyed with Sabraset, and zapped in the microwave. Some of these fiber pieces are batts I've carded (blend of Merino and a mystery wool); I rainbow-dyed them by laying the pre-soaked batts on plastic wrap, squirting the dye onto the wet fiber, and then folding the plastic wrap over to make a longish coil. The solid color was immersion dyed in quart jars in the microwave. The best lot (not in this photo) was a skein of white yarn that I spun last year. I think I'll do more of that: spin the yarn, then dye the skein. The colors are a little flatter, but better controlled.

It's Thanksgiving Week, and I'm off to Reno to visit Son Bob and his three. So no writing today, just lots of little catch-up things, packing, getting-ready stuff. I am taking LOTS of knitting, and some needles and a book for granddaughter Angel. We finally got a freeze last night: down to 28 this morning. Bill cut some more tree limbs (around here, he's known as the Botanical Butcher), and I did a bit of garden clean-up work. The wind this weekend blew down one of my rose arches, so I cut the rosebush and took down the arch. Next spring, we'll figure out what to do to replace it. If we put up another arch, it will be a wooden one, definitely. Feeling a bit at loose ends, having chosen not to write today.

Reading Notes. Writing is more than anything a compulsion, like some people wash their hands thirty times a day for fear of awful consequences if they do not. It pays a whole lot better than this type of compulsion, but it is no more heroic.--Julie Burchill

11/24/2003 02:21:00 PM

Friday, November 21, 2003  
Feet. Isn't this a hoot? Granddaughter Becky and my son Mike (Becky's dad--his are the BIG feet.) They live in Juneau, where Becky is getting all bundled up for her first snowfall. Wouldn't I love to see her face as she watches the white stuff come down?

Back in the swing of things, with 1500 words today. For several years now, Bill has been wanting to include T.E. Lawrence in one of the Robin Paige books, and with this book, he got his chance. Ned (as he was called by his friends--Lawrence of Arabia in a post-Lowell Thomas world) lived in Oxford, only a few miles from Blenheim. In the original scheme for the book, he was only a minor character; however, as the plot has developed, he's become a bigger player. One benefit of this: I got to read most of The Golden Warrior: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, by Lawrence James, which is our resource for the character. Fascinating stuff.

Also reading: or rather, re-reading, The Franchise Affair, by Josephine Tey. Found it on the mystery shelf yesterday afternoon when I was looking for something else. A terrific classic Brit mystery.

Lovely, cool weather. The sheep are getting a little woolly, because the temperatures are dropping, but only a little: they're Barbado sheep, with hair, like goats, rather than wool. They're also getting frisky--it makes my heart glad to watch them race across the autumn meadow. For tonight's reading notes, consider this, from an article called "Why Keep Sheep?" by Laura Ten Eyck, in Spin-Off Magazine, Winter 2003:

I keep sheep because sheep keep me in touch with a reality so fundamental it often goes unnoticed. We are not alone on this planet. We live in the company of other forms of life--sheep among them. Sometimes I stare into the eyes of one of my sheep. In those eyes, wet, brown, and glossy, I see another world. In this world the flock is all that really matters. Here it takes many creatures to make something whole. I've noticed that when sheep run in a flock they love to press against each other, haunch against haunch, shoulder to shoulder, as if together they are one enormous, rumbling beast. Lovely. Thank you, Laura.

11/21/2003 06:39:00 PM

Thursday, November 20, 2003  
Well, it missed freezing by about 10 degrees. Now they're saying that it'll happen next Monday night, drop down to about 29 in town, colder out here in the Hill Country. I'm sure that all you hardy Northerners are turning up your noses at this, and well you might. We're thin-skinned and thin-blooded down here in Texas, not used to really cold weather. The coldest I've seen it here was minus 4, and the longest spell of below-freezing weather was something like six days. Cold enough, long enough to burst every pipe in Burnet County.

Not much bookwork today. Went to Marble Falls for breakfast, to the Blue Bonnet Cafe (est. 1930), where we had bacon, eggs, hot cakes, and orange juice. We didn't see Willie or Lyle, and Dubbya is in London dodging protesters (all three are said to drop by the Blue Bonnet every so often). But the hot cakes were great. Highly recommended. After that, Wal-mart, then the grocery store--yes, writers do go to the grocery store.

Then home to do some outdoor work. Remember those limbs Bill cut down yesterday? Today we picked them up and loaded them into the pickup and Bill hauled them to the burn pile. Usually, we shred the cedar for mulch, but last year we shredded a WHOLE LOT, and we still have a big pile. So this year, we're burning. Probably on the solstice, our favorite night for a bonfire.

Then I did some writing, filling out the Barnes & Noble "Meet the Author" questionnaire. They're going to post it on their website, with links all over the place. Not an opportunity that I can turn down, given that their "Meet the Author" list is quite a select crowd. So I did that little job (took several hours, actually), then opened the Blenheim book file, and wrote 137 words. Yep, 137. However, the grocery shopping is done, the tree-trimmings are hauled, and those hot cakes were really very good.

Spin-Off Magazine is one of my favorites--actually, I think it's the ONLY magazine I still subscribe to. It arrived yesterday, and I sat down to read it, cover to cover, as usual. Found a great piece called "Fiber Basics" about colored mohair goats. I thought I recognized one of the goats, and yes, indeedy, it was Calleb, who belongs to Lisa Shell, who owns Kai Ranch, near Lexington TX. The article was written by Carol Rhoades, an Austin fiber artist, and the first item on the resource list was Indigo Dying. Yay!

I did some of the research for that book at Lisa's ranch a couple of years ago, after googling Lisa, quite by accident, on the Internet. Here's a really snazzy photo of Calleb the Angora Goat and here's another, of Lisa, moi, and two unidentified (but obviously friendly) goats. Some of Lisa's handwoven rugs are here--be patient for the download. They're very, very beautiful. And Calleb is a sweetie. Thanks, Carol, for the article, and for the inspiring ideas for what to do with some of the mohair I spun last winter! (In the same issue of Spin-Off, you can also learn how to process, spin, and weave milkweed stalk fiber. Sounds like a project for China Bayles, doesn't it? Except that we don't have the right kind of milkweed in Texas.)

Reading Notes. You write a book [or a magazine article] and it's like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You don't know if it will ever reach any shores. And there, you see, sometimes it falls in the hands of the right person. --Isabelle Allende

11/20/2003 07:09:00 PM

Wednesday, November 19, 2003  
Freeze warning tonight, but I'm covered. Or rather, my plants are. They're all tucked up for the winter in my make-shift greenhouse. I've slimmed down the collection somewhat, so they take up less space and less time to water. It was a pretty day today, bright blue skies and cool temps (44 low, 72 high). Everybody's feeling frisky--the sheep, the dogs, Bill, moi. A good day for working, indoors or out.

Outdoors. Bill's work today involved some heavy-duty tree-trimming along the creek. Claudia (see her photo in yesterday's entry) is one of six cypress trees along the main part of the creek, all planted in 1988. Somehow, when we planted the lot, we failed to envision them at their full height. They're not close to that yet, but they're trending in that direction: up, up, and out, altogether now, STRETCH. So some of the nearby cedars and hackberries are giving up a few limbs to make room. BTW, in the photo below, Claudia is growing in the creek, which is about four feet below bank level. She's really four feet taller than she looks (about 20' high) and she has a dozen very pretty cypress knees. If you're from the South, you know all about cypress knees; if not, click on the link to be demystified.

Indoors, I worked on the book, after an early-morning book conference with Bill that gave me enough material and momentum to keep me moving all day (but not always forward). In a complex, character-driven book, characters often develop beyond your initial understanding of them. That's happened with a couple of characters in this book, which makes for some rewriting and patching. I did that today: rewrites in two scenes, a big patch in another scene, and a new scene tacked on at the end--which is not yet the end, of course. 71,000 words, about 12,000 more to go.

Got a note from the Tarcher editor, who liked the new preface to Writing From Life (see yesterday). Good. No rewrite necessary. Of course, if she'd wanted something different, I would have gritted my teeth, reopened the file, and got to work. But I'm ready to get on with the book, which is due the middle of December. We should make that deadline, barring accidents and ill winds.

A nice surprise in one of my favorite catalogs, from the Woolery, where I have been known to drop a few big bucks from time to time. For some unfathomable reason, I like to read catalogs back to front. Opened the back cover, and there was Indigo Dying, smack in the middle of their book list, with the blurb, "If you are a dyer or fiber artist and enjoy a murder mystery, this book is for you." How lovely. Very nice to know that the fiber community is enjoying China.

Reading Notes. Whenever I'm not doing some other necessary thing (writing, sleeping, eating, knitting, making--well, you know), I'm reading. Chanced on this yesterday, and smiled:
The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one's papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness... The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.--Stephen King, On Writing.

11/19/2003 06:29:00 PM

Tuesday, November 18, 2003  
The vet says maybe it was distemper. The possibly rabid raccoon, I mean (see entry for 11/17). Not a subject I'm familiar with, so I googled it (what an astonishing verb) and found this, which suggests that we may find other raccoons suffering from it. Bill has safely buried the carcass under a pile of rocks, to discourage carrion-eaters from digging it up. The dogs got their update vaccinations, and the cat isn't due for another six months, and the vet was reassuring. You just never know what's going to wander down the road, do you?

Got another project out of the way today. Finished the preface to the new edition of Writing From Life, and updated the resource section. In the eight years since that book was published, there's been a substantial growth in women's memoirs, as a publishing category, so there was a lot of updating to do. Zapped it off to New York via email, my preferred method. Beats printing out the manuscript any day of the week, not to mention being a whole lot cheaper than FedEx.

Back to the book this afternoon, and I feel almost as if I have to start over, I've been away from it for so long. Tomorrow, a story conference with Bill in the morning, after which (I hope) he'll dictate the scene he's been chewing on while I've been doing these other things. I'm going to take another break next week--a welcome one, a trip to Reno to spend Thanksgiving with son Bob and his three. He's a single dad, very brave, very hard-working. My hats are off to single dads. What an enormous workload he has!

Well, I agree. She's not very orange, in comparison to your flaming maples. But here's another photo, same tree, with the sun shining on her. Maybe a little more orange? This is Claudia, named after a dear friend who was the model for the cat lady in Hangman's Root. Yes, we do name our trees. Don't you? Names make trees easier to talk about. "I'm going out to trim Claudia's lower branches." Or "Did you see that load of nuts on Persephone?" (Persephone is a wild pecan, a great goddess of a tree, with five--count 'em--trunks.) Or "Rachel Carson has a squirrel's nest in her top branches." (We tend to name our trees after people we admire.)

And tonight, I am NOT writing. I am reading, watching TV, and spinning. I got tired of knitting, dug out my spindle and some fiber, and plan to spend a very happy evening in front of the fire.

Reading Notes. Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."--Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

11/18/2003 06:27:00 PM

Monday, November 17, 2003  
Monday, and still no light. The reception was wonderful--90 people celebrating the publication of Story Circle's new memoir collection. (See entry for Friday, 11/14). Highly successful, inspirational--and a ton of work. So I won't do much more in this log tonight than cover the bases.

Rabid raccoon. Well, we're not sure if that's what was wrong with him, but it was certainly a suspicious case, and we felt we couldn't take a chance. Bill saw the animal on Saturday morning, wandering down our road, looking distinctly ill. Coons are nocturnal, so even seeing him out in daylight raised the alarm--but not enough to do anything about it. Until last night, that is, when the dogs set up a fuss in the back yard about 10 p.m. I went out and saw them nose-to-nose with the coon. The dogs came indoors, Bill got his gun, I got the flashlight, and we went hunting. I spotted him behind the workshop and Bill shot him, regretfully. Called the vet this morning, who said that unless the animal was clearly rabid (he wasn't, just very strange), the Health Department didn't want to test the carcass. First rabid animal we've seen in 16 years of living out here.

I promised you a photo of one of our cypress trees, and here she is, in all her November glory. We don't have a lot of autumn color in the Hill Country, so this is about as much orange as we'll see--except for one of our crape myrtles, which is truly lovely this year. I'll try to remember to get that photo for you tomorrow, if this rainstorm doesn't blow off all the leaves. I'm not complaining, mind you. About 1.5," which means that the creek is running again. Well, almost. We could have used another couple of inches. The lake is really low. To take a swim, the geese slide down a steep bank. It's funny to watch them clamber back up. Don't ask me why they don't fly--

11/17/2003 07:37:00 PM

Friday, November 14, 2003  
Whew. Here it is, Friday, and I still haven't seen the light at the end of the tunnel, if that phrase is not too politically incorrect these days. There's a big Story Circle book launch and reception on Sunday, celebrating the new anthology of women's memoirs, With Courage and Common Sense, which was published by the University of Texas Press a few weeks ago. It's like any party--somebody's got to do the organizing, and since it was "my" book (that is, I was the editor), the somebody turned out to be me. But as usual with Story Circle, a big bunch of women pitched in to help. So that's going pretty well. But it's also time to do the quarterly SC Journal, which is bigger than usual this quarter (28 pages, vs. 24) because of the upcoming SC conference. Got all that? Yep, we have been busy. So busy I haven't been working on the book. Took yesterday and today off to work on the Journal, hoping to get it mostly wrapped up by the end of this week.

Another project: that eight-page preface to Writing From Life. Tarcher, the publisher, is bringing out a new edition next spring, with a new preface, updated bibliography, and a great new cover. I got a copy of the cover yesterday, and I love it.

Plant pic of the week. I grow a lot of aloe vera, primarily because the mama plants produce lots of pups and I can't bear to throw them away. I sent a half-dozen plants to the library's garage sale, but still have more than I need. I just did a search and couldn't come up with a web page for you that wasn't full of commercial information; here's one that's not too pushy. The plant does a good job to aid healing (burns, cuts, etc), and I use it as a kind of herbal first aid. But I'd never seen an aloe vera bloom until last week. Here's a picture of an aloe vera in bloom on our back deck. The plant itself is fairly large, a couple of feet high. The bloom stalk is just over four feet high. Very attractive.

Bill hasn't been working on the book, either. It's the time of the year when he trims trees, and this year he's been cutting back the trees that obscure our view of the cypress trees we planted along the creek about 15 years ago. Maybe tomorrow I'll get a picture of them. Very pretty.

Reading notes.
Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find
A thousand regions in your mind
Yet undiscovered. Travel them and be
Expert in home-cosmography.

--Henry David Thoreau

11/14/2003 06:53:00 PM

Tuesday, November 11, 2003  
I've been swamped in the last few days. Last night, I had several projects to do for Story Circle--a couple of flyers for a mailing we're doing. And I was out all weekend at the Texas Book Festival, where, along with other volunteers, I staffed our Story Circle booth. (Back in the 1970s, at a conference, I remarked that I was going out to "man" the booth, and one of my feminist friends made a strong objection. Goes to show you the secret, subtle power of language.) It was rainy and chilly for the Festival, and I think the crowd was smaller than usual, but we sold enough books to pay for our booth, and we handed out a lot of Story Circle information. My six-year stint as president of this nonprofit membership organization is coming to a close at the end of the year, and I'll miss it. But it's time for Story Circle to respond to some new energies, and I'm glad to see some new energies coming into the leadership.

I was thinking of energy yesterday as I was working on the book. For me, there's a point at which a book seems to begin to move under its own steam, rather than with my shoulder to the wheel (or Bill's and my collective shoulder, as the case may be). It happens in different ways and at different points in different books, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. With Bloodroot (one of my favorite China Bayles mysteries), it happened early, when I began to get into the Choctaw and Civil War material. From that point on, the book took on a momentum and direction of its own, and I could just relax into it (well, sort of). It happened with the current Robin Paige project a couple of weeks ago, when we reached a plot point where we could see the major action all the way to the end of the book--which was not the action that we had originally intended. Writing is never effortless, but it began to feel less effort-ful (if that makes sense). Yesterday was one of those days when it felt as if the book were writing itself, and when I read yesterday's writing to Bill this morning, we didn't find much to change. 2200 words (1500 is my usual goal) is the quantitative measure of that sense of less effortful writing. "Strong flow" is a qualitative description.

Back to summer. In the 70s yesterday, and again today, with nights in the 50s. And damp, damp, damp. The humidity has been in the 90% range for weeks, and I can feel the mold growing everywhere. South of here, in Dripping Springs (ominous name, in this context), a school was recently closed because of mold, and there was a big homeowners' insurance flap last year about mold claims in the eastern and southern parts of the state. Somebody counted up the cost per Texas policy-holder per year to protect against mold: $185. It's come to the point where the Texas Department of Insurance has a webpage devoted to mold complaints and problems. Mold is part of the invisible world that lives all around us (sort of like the fourth or fifth or sixth dimension), and not something you think about when you think about "place." But it's a fact of life around the Gulf of Mexico, and has a definite effect on many people. Thank heavens, Bill and I don't suffer from allergies.

Got notes from a couple of people in the past week, asking for tips for writing. I appreciate the compliment of being asked, but I'm not sure that I can offer any advice. Just keep working, is what I say. Fingers to keyboard, pencil to paper, whatever. Just write.

Reading notes. Writers kid themselves--about themselves and other people. Take the talk about writing methods. Wiriting is just work--there's no secret. If you dictate or use a pen or type or type with your toes--it is just work.--Sinclair Lewis.

11/11/2003 09:07:00 AM

Thursday, November 06, 2003  
Oh, what a beautiful day. It's cold (42) and rainy, with a chilly north breeze, but I'm celebrating the end of summer. At least, we hope it's the end. Temps in the 80s are due to return early next week--surely the last gasp. The dogs were very frisky this morning, running circles around each other and me. A stiff, cold breeze blows all those cobwebs away. Good for the body, good for the soul.

But the cold weather has arrived just in time for the Texas Book Festival this weekend. Story Circle has taken a booth, where we'll sell our new books and let people know about us. The booth is in a weather-tight tent (right?), but it'll certainly be sweater weather. I'm staffing the booth all day Saturday and a half-day on Sunday. If you're coming to the Festival, stop by and say hello.

Speaking of new books, here's a plug for Story Circle's new blank journal book, Discoveries. An introduction by moi, pages with quotations by women, and a hand-crafted cover. A lovely gift. If you'd like to buy a few for your favorite gal-friends and relatives, let me know and I'll be glad to sign and personalize your copies. Email me at and we'll work out the details. (BTW, SCN is a non-profit organization, from which I do not profit in any way.)

Things don't always go according to plan in the publishing business. Got a note from my editor yesterday saying that the publication of the first Beatrix Potter mystery, The Tale of Hill Top Farm, has been pushed back to October '04 because some changes had to be made in the art work. I'm sorry, because that means we won't have books in time for the Herb Society of America conference in June, where I'm scheduled to give a talk on Beatrix herbs. But I'm also glad, because it means a pub date closer to gift-giving season.

In yesterday's log, I was thinking out loud about pacing. I've been reading (intermittently) Blind Descent, by Nevada Barr. Intermittently, because I couldn't stay involved with the book. The beginning was strong, but the middle sort of . . . well, it was the middle. Lots of wild goose chases, not much happening. Then, along about Chapter 20, the pace suddenly picked up, things started happening, and I got sucked in. Couldn't put it down. Finished after midnight last night. What a great ending--and a great sense of place, too. That's the strength of Barr's mysteries, I think: the settings, the sense of place. The cave in this one, Lechuguilla, is fantastic. And the desert. Makes me want to go there.

11/06/2003 04:16:00 PM

Wednesday, November 05, 2003  
A guy and his dog. Bill and Zach, taking a lunch-hour break on the picnic table in the Back of Beyond, the piece of land on the far side of our creek. Zach came to us from Lab Rescue, and has been a wonderful friend and companion. Bill's a pretty fine friend and companion, too.

The cold front we've been waiting for is going through as I write. The temperature has dropped from 80 to 70 in the last fifteen minutes. Not a minute too soon, either. I am ready to turn off the air conditioner and light a fire in the fireplace. However, it will mean the end of the roses. This long warm spell, and the rain we got in early October, has given us the prettiest fall roses we've ever had. A trade-off? Well, maybe. Anyway, I did some work in the garden this afternoon, cleaning off some of the drought-killed foliage. I don't water past the middle or end of July, on the theory that the garden really ought to be self-sustaining. Some years it works better than others, but it mostly works. There are the roses to prove it.

Now that the leaves have fallen, I can see the birds much more easily. This morning, walking to the lake: bluebirds (six, on the wire), redbirds, a pair of chickadees, a titmouse, a mocking bird, three doves (survivors of dove season), a clutch of sparrows. Only one hawk, though--a Cooper's hawk. Strikes me that there aren't as many hawks these days, and I wonder whether they're being done in by West Nile virus. They're susceptible, I understand. (Do click on that photo download--it's definitely worth the wait.)

And still more writing. Are you getting tired of hearing this refrain? Well, the books don't just appear out nowhere. 1600 words today, bringing the total for this book (Death at Blenheim) to 62,000. Bill had to go to Houston yesterday to help his mom finish moving out of her house, but he left me with a couple of scene outlines. By the time he gets back (tomorrow), they'll both be finished. The pace of the book has picked up quite a bit--it's a slow starter. But I comfort myself with Steven King's thoughts on pace: "For myself, I like a slower pace and a bigger, higher build . . . I believe each story is not always double time." And yet I'm mindful of his caution: "If you slow the pace down too much, even the most patient reader is apt to grow restive."

Yeah. Well, King's novels run to something like 300,000 words, so I don't think I have much to worry about--yet. But I'll keep it in mind.

11/05/2003 06:20:00 PM

Monday, November 03, 2003  
Today was newsletter day. You know, those e-letters that Bill and I send out once a month or so--more often, as we get closer to a book publication. Or rather, that Peggy sends for us. She's the web wizard who makes it all happen--and who, truth be told, makes our entire web site possible. But before the e-letter could go, quite a few other things had to be done on the web site. The new page for A DILLY OF A DEATH had to be completed. The tour schedule had to be posted--which meant a flurry of emails and phone calls about tour details. And of course, the content for the e-letter had to be written. Whew. Several hours later....

Yeah. It does take a while. But I don't know any better way to communicate with so many people, so fast, and with relatively little effort. When I think of the countless hours I used to put in on our print newsletters: writing copy, setting it up, taking it to the printer, picking it up, stamping, labeling--not to mention the hours it took to update the mailing list. Ack. So what's a few paltry hours of work on the e-letter? Anyway, big thanks to Peggy (who always reads this log) for getting the e-letter out today. And if, gentle reader, you haven't already subscribed, well, that's easy to fix. Go to and do it!

And speaking of the book tour . . . It's still sixty days away. But if the tour is going to happen in January, the arrangements have to be made in October and November. Rebecca, the publicist at Berkley (my publisher) has been phoning and emailing, setting up the bookstores, about a dozen of them in five states. I did my bit to complicate her life by asking people in various cities to see if they could set up lunches--and quite a few responded. Other things have come up, too (one thing always leads to another, doesn't it?) and the tour is quite respectable. It's here, if you want to see the product of our work, and Peggy's too (she posted it). The work isn't done, of course. Rebecca gets to book all the plane tickets and hotel rooms and arrange the ground transportation. The bookstores get to put out the advertising and order the books. Then I get to spend a couple of weeks on the road. The purpose of all this enormous effort: to sell books. Crass? Heck, yes. But it's the business part of the Book Business, and all of us engaged in this mutual effort hope it works.

Meanwhile, the writing goes on. Bill and I worked out the rest of the scenes for the book (about 25,000 words left, maybe eight or nine scenes, ten at the outside). Then I worked on a scene where a guy goes fishing and pulls up a dead body. Fun, after all that e-letter and tour stuff.

The reading goes on, too. I often read a couple of books at once. My bathtub book for the past week has been Blind Descent, by Nevada Barr, although it's a bit of tough going. But maybe that's because I'm not reading it very seriously, hence keep losing track of the plot.

I am reading the other book seriously, though. It's Speaking Truth to Power, by Anita Hill, and I'm reading it for Story Circle's Reading Circle next week. I'm finding it compelling, although I have to read "through" the lawyerly tone--dry, methodical, often plodding. But the tone itself helps me to understand how this woman could have been so devastated by the remarks that another woman might have shrugged off. And it helps me understand why she waited so long to tell her story. It's not easy reading, but it's important reading.

Reading notes. Once I start work on a project, I don't stop and I don't slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don't write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind . . . the tale's narrative cutting edge starts to rust and I begin to lose my hold on the story's plot and pace.--Steven King, On Writing (maybe that's what's happening to me with the Nevada Barr mystery I'm reading?)

11/03/2003 07:02:00 PM

Sunday, November 02, 2003  

Every writer needs a well-read cat to keep her mouse in line. This is Shadow, who moved in with us nearly three years ago and has never looked back. Her favorite places: spring and summer, on the back deck or in the mesquite tree, watching for unwary birds; fall and winter, under my desk lamp, watching me type and day-dreaming about unwary birds.

Ranch truck. In rural Texas, that's what you call a pickup that's too good to junk and too ratty to drive to town. That's what we call our 1984 Mitsubishi long-bed pickup, which has almost no finish left on it, a ripped-out dash, no padding in the top of the cab, a loose hood. (We did get the seat reupholstered about five years ago, and got the air conditioner replaced two years ago--both "must haves.")

As I say, the ranch truck is pretty ratty to drive to town. But on Friday, we had to drive it, because we needed to go to Home Depot and pick up a screen door (to replace the one the dog walked through). Only trouble was, the truck had two flat tires. Ranch trucks are prone to flat tires, or at least ours is, because they get driven across the fields where mesquite trees grow--and any self-respecting mesquite can produce thorns thorny enough to do in your average ranch truck tire. Bill pumped up the tires and put the big jack and the 5-gallon compressed-air can into the truck (just in case) and we drove to town. Got there okay. Well, more or less. Only had to stop three times to pump up the tires. Picked up the screen door, brought it home. Wrong size. (Not our fault--we ordered a 5-foot door, but they sent a 6-foot door.) Went out to the truck Saturday morning to return the door. Yep, you guessed it. Two flat tires . . . .

Our autumn birds are making their way back to Texas. This morning, as the dogs and I walked along the shore of the lake, I heard a belted kingfisher chattering and looked up just in time to see him fold his wings and dive straight down into the water, without a splash or a ripple. Gorgeous. On the way back through the meadow, I saw a Mississippi kite sailing overhead, sleek and silver-gray. The kite won't be with us long--he's on his way to South America for the winter. But if it stays warm from another couple of weeks, he may hang around for a while. Good hunting here, where there are still plenty of grasshoppers and lizards.

Watched To Kill a Mockingbird last night, for the umpteenth time. But it never fails to move me, and at moments, leave me awestruck. As it did last night. Worth the watching, yet again.

Reading Notes. If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut . . . Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.--Steven King, On Writing.

11/02/2003 06:31:00 PM


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