Category Archives: Writing, Reading and Publishing

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets a Scalpel In Their Back

Today marks one year since my spinal surgery. You remember, that day they sliced through the fascia in my upper back, hand-cranked my muscles out of the way, chipped away part of my spine, scooped out that benign meningioma, then whispered to my nerves an admonition to behave.

Remember? No? Honestly, me neither. But I’ve been re-reading all the notes I took before and after surgery, the texts I sent myself in the middle of the night in the hospital so I wouldn’t forget anything, the Facebook posts charting my phenomenal victories. “Two laps around the kitchen in my walker … woohoo!”

I was fastidious about keeping notes because one, that’s how I roll, and two, because when I found out I had this tumor and needed surgery, I searched ”” and I mean SEARCHED ”” for first-person accounts. But there were none to be had. So I knew, if I survived, I’d have to write one.

There are some interesting passages in my notes.

“You can do a lot of things with words, but describing pain isn’t one of them. Shooting, stabbing, aching, throbbing, twinging, cramping, seering … none of these describe anything happening to me.”

“When that pain roars back it’s like a bullet train. Fast and directly at me. Feels quite personal. Like a betrayal.”

“I can absolutely see people just giving up. Pain is hard. Moving is hard. Everything is hard. Here [in the hospital] they just do stuff for you. Or they don’t and you realize you just don’t care.”

This fascinates me because I honestly don’t remember much pain.

“My neurosurgeon came in to check on me [the next day], and was very pleased with himself. Said I was fully cured. I disagreed with him just the teensiest bit.”

“These texts to myself don’t make any noise. Once in awhile, though, it makes my “sending” noise and I wonder who I just told all my poop info to.”

This is hilarious in retrospect because I had obviously been cogent enough to turn the sound on and off, but I acted like it was a highly unusual rift in the Universe.

Mostly my middle-of-the-night texts were perfectly lucid. And then there was this one: “I hope I don’t have to muster all the persistence/hope/etc. I’d prefer it to be thrust upon me.”

Huh?

And, yes, I was on drugs …. “Your leg pain brought to you this morning by Sleeping Too Long On Your Left Hip. Side effects include cursing, saying bad words, expletives, and grandiloquent language. Treatment includes pancakes and finger weapons. Pew-pew-pew.”

When people ask how I am these days, I tell them the truth. Still numb across my upper back, my right underarm, my lady bits, and my left leg. My balance is weird, so it always looks like I’m walking just the teensiest bit drunk. Still some things I can’t do ”” walk barefoot, run without looking like a walrus on the beach, jump, or hurry for any reason.

But that’s about it. Can’t really complain, considering all the slicing, cranking, chipping, and scooping. Unfortunately, my recovery after 12 months isn’t vastly different from my recovery after 2 months. Except I’m less cranky today. And I still can’t clip my toenails very easily.

The difference between 2 months and 12 months is clearly one of acceptance. I’ve lost perspective after all this time about how I really am, versus how much I’ve simply adapted to my limitations.

But I continue to surprise myself. I still work with my personal trainer. Last night she had me do single-leg squats with my foot behind me on a chair. Neither one of us thought I could do it. For the first set, I glommed onto her for balance while getting myself sorted. For the second set, I glommed onto her and then she gave me 15-pound weights to hold and walked across the room. For the third set, she stayed across the room. Afterward she said, “You couldn’t do that before your surgery.”

So, yes, acceptance and attitude. But I would like to find an ending for this tale of sound and fury so I can start crafting my memoir. I was thinking about signing up for the Colfax Half-Marathon, but am so relieved I came to my senses. Running like a walrus on a beach for two blocks of a 13-mile race is a lousy ending to a memoir. Worse if I actually croaked while doing it, which is the likely scenario.

Then I was thinking that the ending would be when I went to soap up my armpit and it magically felt like an actual armpit, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen any time soon. Or perhaps ever.

And then I was thinking, maybe the ending will be when I can tap dance. But I wasn’t really doing that particularly well before the surgery.

So now, I don’t know. How do you think I should end my story about an ordeal that hasn’t technically ended?

What, You Ask, Are Copyedits Like?

Doing copyedits on a novel is like being sent on the most intense scavenger hunt EVER.

Page 43 sends you to the notes on page 168 and then to the notes on page 285 so you read them all, then tweak page 43 and/or page 285 but you decide with the other tweaks, page 168 is okay as it stands. So you go back to continue on at page 44. But when you get to page 168 and see the note from your editor, you don’t remember if you changed page 43 so you go back to check. But page 43 isn’t page 43 anymore because you’ve added and/or deleted words since then … because page 59 sent you to page 12 which sent you to page 97. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

By the time you’ve gotten lost in the minutiae of the manuscript, you can’t even remember your own name, much less what that character said about the photographer, or if that one had a cigar, or why that one didn’t make that important call when she said she would!

That’s the time to collapse in a heap sobbing, “I don’t KNOW what color the curtains are! I don’t KNOW why she hasn’t changed clothes yet! I don’t KNOW what direction that road goes!”

And then, of course, you slink downstairs to take a deep, cleansing breath and to remove a single piece of dark chocolate from its hiding place. With the sharp aftertaste of cacao on your tongue you straighten your shoulders, march upstairs, and get back to it, blessing your copyeditor for asking all these questions.

Because you’re a writer and this is what writers do.

My First Paid Gig

This was the very first piece of writing I ever got paid for. It was the first thing I ever submitted.  Fifty bucks that might as well have been fifty thousand. That’s how good it felt. The editor told me she bought it because I made her laugh and I made her think. High praise, indeed.

Since I’m guessing you didn’t subscribe to The Prairie Times at the turn of the century, here it is in all its glory.

Controlling an Uncontrollable World

I have control issues.

I have some weight issues too, but I’ll get to them in a minute.

You know how the jelly sometimes drips on the outside of the jar which makes your hand all sticky when, yet again, you have to put it away after the kids eat lunch? I hate that.

And how the refrigerator ends up being home to a gazillion little plastic containers of leftovers in various states of decay? I hate that too.

And how you go to the grocery store and some prepubescent man-cub (who, I’ll wager, has never bought groceries for a family of five) carefully arranges your bread at the bottom of the bag and then proceeds to load it up with four jars of spaghetti sauce, a two-pound bag of carrots, and a half-gallon of ice cream? Again, hate that.

And loud, obnoxious cell phone users talking about their latest run-in with their child’s soccer coach/teacher/pediatrician while shopping for cereal . . . don’t get me started.

So, you see it’s true. I have serious control issues and an obvious preoccupation with groceries, which leads me to tell you that I am trying to lose ten pounds.

In the greater scheme of cosmic events, it isn’t much of a crisis; the world certainly has bigger problems to attend to. But I turned forty recently and without any warning ”” POOF ”” gray hair, a map of the canals of Venice in blue veins on my legs, and an extra ten pounds.

I can’t control much of that, but I can control what I eat and how much I exercise. Theoretically anyway.

Therefore, of the three, the ten measly pounds seems like the problem to tackle. What’s the big deal, anyway? It’s only the size of a bag of flour. A really big bag of flour, but still.

I’ll count calories. I’ll exercise. Piece of cake. (Even my cliches are food-related. Do you see my cross to bear?)

In a perfect world, broccoli would taste as good as cheesecake and watching television would create negative calories.

But I live in an imperfect world.

Broccoli, while having many good qualities, does not taste as good as cheesecake. Watching TV with reckless abandon for so many years has helped to create this innertube around my mid-section. On the plus side, however, I can sing the theme songs in their entirety to both “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Addams Family,” including finger snaps.

And I could go on. And on and on. Ask my husband.

You’re probably thinking, assuming you haven’t already fallen from your chair from in extremis ennui, that I seem to have a healthy grasp on the situation and that I’m really no different from you. After all, we all have things in our lives we want to control.

But I’m guessing you’ve never demanded ice tea in your special Batman glass with a pre-determined number of ice cubes. Nor have you painstakingly demonstrated to your indifferent children the exact right way to vacuum the floor. And I’ll wager that you haven’t alphabetized your spice rack, your book shelves, AND your coupons.

Knowing this about me, you can now imagine what it’s like in the morning at my kitchen table while I read the newspaper.
Fires!
Drought!
Dirty politicians!
Teenagers rampaging through schools with guns!
Religious zealots!
Pedophile monsters plucking children from their homes!

I can’t control any of this.

Some mornings I give new meaning to the term ”˜apoplectic.’ I have an opinion about all of it, and I’m always willing to share.

I want to control these things I read about. It would be so simple if everyone would just ask me first. I’d be happy to tell them how to solve each and every problem they encounter. I really don’t think it would take too much effort; after all, I don’t want much.

I want people to be smart and kind to one another. I want people to be honest. I want children, elders and pets to be loved and cherished simply because they exist. I want there to be fewer people using drugs and more people using deodorant. I want fewer people in jail and more people in school.

I want drivers to enter an intersection only when they can complete their turn. I want medicine to be affordable for everyone. I want scientists to figure out how to make cheeseburgers and brownies health food ”” after they cure cancer and the common cold, that is. I want medical providers to know everything and never make mistakes.

I want weather forecasters to be impeccably accurate at all times. I want underwear models to look like me and the rest of the women who inhabit the real world. I want teachers paid more and athletes paid less.

I want schools to be places where young people challenge themselves and learn from their mistakes. I want everyone to learn to read when they’re five and continue to do so voraciously for the rest of their lives.

I want teenagers to smooch and hold hands at the movies and let that tide ”˜em over for awhile. I want everyone to have a mind-altering college experience without drugs. I want an end to babies being born to alcoholic and drug-addicted women. I want boys to know there is a difference between being macho and being a man.

I want people to cry when they’re sad and laugh when they’re happy. I want people to slow down ”” in their cars and in their lives. I want people to quit saying “I forgot” as an absolute defense, whether it relates to the toilet seat or their infant left in a sweltering car.

It may sound contradictory to tell you that I want people to accept different points of view since it must seem like I’m one of those dames who thinks she’s always right. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m probably not always perfectly, in every instance, exactly right every single time.

I am, however, a dogmatic and opinionated dame, and you won’t believe this either, but I really don’t care when people disagree with me. Quite the contrary. I want people to be as passionate about their opinions as I am. I want people to be able to articulate why they believe something. I want people to tell me I’m wrong and to show me the proof. But if they won’t or can’t, then I don’t care what they think.

I come by this character trait quite honestly. I grew up in a large family and we ate dinner together every night. On the rare occasion that anything interesting ever happened to one of us, we would begin to chat about that. But then, when the conversation lulled, usually after about thirty seconds, my father would make some sort of proclamation.

It might be simple like, “Women should never be allowed to drive.”
Or “When a child gets to age thirteen, he should be sent away until he’s thirty.”
Or “Two-years-olds paint better than Jackson Pollock.”
Or “Mighty Mouse could never beat Superman in a fair fight.”

Straightforward, direct statements.

Or they might be more complicated like, “If it weren’t for those Bleeding Heart Liberals, the family farm would have survived.”
Or “As a direct result of Daylight Savings Time, crime has increased 68%.”
Or “Gideon v. Wainwright is a much more important court decision than Miranda v. Arizona.”

Huh?

You had to have a certain amount of basic knowledge of current events to jump into the fray. But that’s exactly what we were expected to do.

The point of the exercise, unknown to me at the time, was to get us to form and articulate an opinion about the topic du jour, regardless of how absurd or whimsical. I was an adult before I realized my dad never believed any of the weird statements he made. Well, except the one about women drivers.

While people tend to adore my father, I’ve come to the unfortunate realization that they seem a bit leery of me. Imagine. I’ve learned to form opinions, I can certainly argue my point of view, and now I just want everything the way I want it. I want to be able to control as many things as possible, yet know which can’t be controlled. Is that so unreasonable?

For instance, I can’t control wildfires, but I don’t have to cook my hot dogs over an open grill.

I can’t end the drought, but I can xeriscape my yard.

I can’t force politicians to be honest, but I can investigate as thoroughly as possible the candidate I vote for.

I can’t identify teenagers who are going to go shoot up a school, but I can make sure my own kids have a bucketful of self-control.

I can’t keep terrorists from exacting their brand of retribution, but I can live and preach tolerance.

I can’t brand every pedophile with a scarlet letter, but I can keep a watchful eye on my neighborhood.

Maybe it’s like that old adage “think globally, act locally.” If I can keep a firm grasp on the issues in my little world, maybe that’s enough. After all, you have to eat your elephant one bite at a time, right? (Again with the food!)

So ten pounds . . . big whoop, as the kids say.

Who knows? After I control these ten pounds, maybe I’ll try to tackle bigger issues in my life. Crooked politicians? Crime? Low SAT scores? The lack of a really good delicatessen in my neighborhood?

Maybe this will be harder than it seems.

What was the sweetest money you ever earned?

A Promise For Sidekicks

The literary world is full of sidekicks ”” Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Stephanie Plum and Lula, Linus and his blanket.

So are movies ”” Thelma and Louise, R2D2 and C3PO, the Karate Kid and his actual side kick.

So are meals. After all, what’s the point of mashed potatoes without gravy? Bagels without cream cheese? Cheesecake without strawberries? Orange jello without grated carrots?

I never said all sidekicks were good.

We have sidekicks in our real lives, too. Spouses, significant others, kids, siblings, BFFs, business partners, cubicle mates, roommates, critique partners, beta readers, pets.

Nala for Marshmallow Mayhem

Nala’s sidekick is this red pillow.

Everyone brings their unique angle to the relationship. And don’t forget that nobody thinks they are the sidekick ”” everyone is the hero of their own story. Some are equal relationships, others might tilt weekly or even hourly in favor of one or the other depending on a million different negotiations, verbalized or not. (But in the case of pets, the sidekick is always the one without opposable thumbs.)

As a writer, I depend on all these types of sidekicks, real and imaginary. The real people keep me moving forward, helping with my manuscripts or my psyche, calming, cajoling or kicking me, whichever I might need at that moment.

The imaginary people help creatively. They populate and drive my stories, often doing things that surprise and delight me … and sometimes confound me, spinning me off in a scary new direction.

But then there’s a group of sidekicks in that nebulous world between real and imaginary. I call them My Readers. I feel their presence almost more than I do my real-life sidekicks because they’re always hovering on my periphery. They never go to school or work, they don’t sleep, they don’t disappear while on a ski trip or a Netflix eight-season binge. I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering how to get My Readers to fall in love with my characters. How can I pull them into this plot with me? How can I get them to laugh, or gasp, or cry, or keep turning pages?

My Reader sidekicks are always in my head. I’m compelled to be a better writer for them, to be a better storyteller, to give them more than they give me.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to give them that much, but I can promise all my sidekicks one thing. I will never put carrots in their jello.

 

 

 

The Color of Permission

In the novel I was reading this morning, I misread someone’s dress “the color of persimmon” as “the color of permission.” I like that so much better.

It set off a cavalcade of metaphor ”” not all good, mind you ”” in my head.

a chair that beckoned your secrets

salami with garlic so strong it hurt your feelings

anticipation that rotated like a pie display

a martini the color of heartache

well-worn sneakers in the shape of recovery

a violin solo melancholy as a September evening

danger that kept coming around like a gas station hot dog, persistant and ominous 

Okay. Your turn!

Bouchercon, the Universe, and Me

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ve perhaps already heard some of my unbelievable story.

But I wanted to give you a bit of background, as well as document for myself this weird, weird coincidence. I have another wild story about being sued and landing on 20/20 which I also had to document because every time I told it, I thought, “That’s crazy! Must have been a dream.”

At any rate, in the last few months, I kind of lost my writing mojo. Sales on BANANA BAMBOOZLE and MARSHMALLOW MAYHEM had tanked and I couldn’t get any new reviews (C’mon! Three reviews? Not cool.), I was struggling with the writing of my new manuscript, but why bother because sales are bad, my marketing isn’t working, why bother to market, who has time to market because I’m trying to write this ridiculously bad book, I suck, what am I thinking, I should get a real job, or maybe just sit on the couch all day and drink.

You may have heard this conversation in your own head once or twice.

Around this time, I was lucky to get the fantastic opportunity to be on the ground floor of starting a new Sisters in Crime chapter here in Colorado. So I stepped away from the half-finished manuscript completely and did other things instead.

I dove into my new Programming duties for SinC-CO.

Becky Clark 9 4x6 300dpiI shopped for my mother-of-the-bride dress. And watched some football.

I gave myself a pedicure and flossed my teeth.

I got my Lazy Squirrel Purses store on Etsy open for business. (And made my first sale! Squee!) spine

 

Then a month or so ago, I picked up that half-finished manuscript and read it. And it wasn’t completely horrible. My eyes didn’t even bleed. So I started working on it again, and actually began to have some fun.

But as any of you creative types know, once you stare into the abyss of crushing self-doubt like that, you always kind of see it out of the corner of your eye. One false step and you’re whooshed right back in.

Fast forward to yesterday. At about noon, I typed THE END on the first draft of the new manuscript. Yippee!

After a bit of celebratory facebooking and back patting, I went back to my to-do list, one item of which was to sign up for Bouchercon 2016. I got that all squared away, then called the hotel for reservations.

I was on the phone with the Marriott in New Orleans or wherever the reservation place was. Tessa, my lovely representative, was having all kinds of glitchy computer problems so I was on the phone for awhile. We had ample opportunity to chat. She asked what Bouchercon was and I told her it was for readers and writers of mysteries and thrillers and such.

She said, “I love mysteries. I have a lot of favorites. I read something by … what was her name … I’m pretty sure it was Clark, like you. Banana something.”

Heart stopping pause on my end. “Bamboozle?”

“Yes! I loved it. And there’s a Marshmallow one coming out soon. I can’t wait to read it.”

“Um, it’s already out. I wrote both of those.”

We both fan-squealed, although technically, I might have shrieked.

WHAT. ARE. THE. ODDS???

The moral of the story, Best Beloved, is that we don’t have any idea who we touch ”” or when, or how, or even why ”” with our writing. I don’t quite understand the machinations, but yesterday, the Universe decided to let me have a peek behind that curtain.

Tomorrow it might be your turn, so never, ever quit. And always, always stay at the Marriott.

I Never Learn

I just don’t. I am incapable of The Learning.

I’m one of the few native Coloradans still in existence. We really should be in a museum. But such an honor comes with responsibility. Like shoveling snow from driveways and sidewalks.

Let me just say, we’re absolutely blessed here in Denver. When it snows, which it does periodically, the next day the sun comes out and dries up all the snow so the itsy bitsy spider can drive her car in town.

I think all the sunshine has permanently erased some aspect of my long-term memory, perhaps my short-term, too. [Note … I literally had to stop here and check my scribbles to remember the point of all this. Sigh.]

My point is this. No matter how many times I have shoveled snow in my life, I forget EVERY TIME how to do it without hurting my back.

I never learn.

We had about a foot of snow over the weekend, so hubs and I split duties, roughly half and half. Once on Sunday and then again yesterday. [I loved our 3-car driveway when we got it poured, lo, those many years ago. Not so much when it’s covered with snow.]

Yes, my back is killing me. Why? Because I never learn.

This morning I was repeatedly reminded of this travesty. I get up around 5am most days and am able to read (novels! for fun!) in the quiet early morning hours. It’s also when I drink my coffee.

every damn timeI have a lovely antique table next to my purple armchair, where my writer’s clock and my Splat Stan coaster keep me and my cup company. But occasionally, I need to refill. Okay, fine, more than “occasionally.”

Every damn time I needed more coffee this morning, I twisted and reached for my cup the exact wrong way, sending me into paroxysms of pain equaled only by my shrieks of profanity.

Every. Damn. Time.

I never learn.

What’s That Shadowy Place?

I’m more than halfway done with MARSHMALLOW MAYHEM, the follow-up to BANANA BAMBOOZLE.

The full first draft of MAYHEM needs to be in the hands of my beta readers by September 1st so I’m keeping to a fairly strict schedule. I write most days for about three or four hours. In that time, I can get a fairly solid chapter or long scene.

As much as I like to write, and as interested as I am in this project, I still have to force/bribe/threaten myself to get started most days.

My son mentioned recently that it doesn’t seem like I enjoy writing.

I don’t think he gets it. Actually, I don’t think anyone who doesn’t write can ever really get it.

Writing is hard. But, like exercise, once you start, it’s marvelous and feels especially delightful when you’re done. When you’ve accomplished something. When you’ve wrangled what’s in your head, lassoed it into coherent sentences, tied its legs with a hitch-knot and thrown your hands in the air. A worthy adversary, certainly, but you’re the one at the end wearing the trophy belt buckle.

You don’t earn the belt buckle until you win. And you don’t win until you begin.

There are five minutes before you start writing, when you’re gathering your supplies, your notes, your thoughts. Every word is shiny. Every sentence flawless. Every paragraph polished.

But then the fear settles over you, suffocating, smothering, cajoling. You’re not talented enough. You’re certainly not smart enough. You can’t possibly write a novel.

You take a breath.

And begin.

lion king meme

 

Book Club

I’ll be forever grateful to the ladies comprising the very first book club who read BANANA BAMBOOZLE. Insightful discussion, kind comments, enthusiasm … everything an author might want!

The ringleader asked the group about their secret addictions, starting with me, but I couldn’t think of any. Perhaps it was the word ‘secret’ that  threw me. But as each woman answered, I’d pipe up, “Oh, I do that!” … “Oh, I do that too!” … “And that!”

I won the coveted Most Messed Up trophy. Very proud day, indeed.

Look how cute they are! I think everyone was sitting because that was AFTER we bamboozled.

Bamboozle book club copy

Here’s hoping your book club is equally fantabulous!