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firesky

 

Aug. 19, 2017 – That’s how it feels these days, both on the national scene and in Missoula, Montana. We are literally surrounded by fire, with huge wildfires burning in every direction, leaving our valley socked in with smoke. The closest is south of here, in a town called Lolo (site of the poker game that was Paul’s downfall  in the movie version of A River Runs Through It), eleven miles away, but burning so fiercely that its flames and smoke are visible from downtown Missoula.

Every night, when the winds pick up, the fire sends up a massive plume of smoke and turns the sky an eerie, foreboding orange. It makes for great sunsets, but also lends an air of doom to everything – dovetailing a little too neatly with the national mood.

IMG_1309Last night, after an evening of fire-watching from a high point in town, the sweetie and I stopped for ice cream at Missoula’s justly famed Big Dipper. I looked around at the crowd of kids and dogs, all of us enjoying our cones beneath the spooky skies – and couldn’t quite avoid the analogy of fiddling while Rome burns.

 

July 27, 2017 – Every time I feel like a failure as a mom (100 percent of the time, right?), I remind myself that I have kids who read.

My daughter and I have especially similar tastes in books, and our conversations always include a check of what the other is reading, and a hard nudge for ideas for more. She’s far more organized than I, keeping a list of everything she reads. Every so often, I ask her to just send me her list, as a lazy way of creating a list of my own.

We’ve been on a roll this summer, discovering a new book we both love, and rediscovering an older one.

beartownI take credit for stumbling across Beartown, Fredrik Backman’s (A Man Called Ove) April release by Atria. I clicked on a whim, without knowing anything about it. Within hours of starting, I was on the phone to Kate

“Drop everything else and read this book right now.”

It’s about ice hockey, was all I’d tell her, this daughter who played ice hockey on a boys’ team in high school. Which, as anyone who’s read the book knows, is a wholly inadequate description. But to say more would have been to give too much away.

By the next day, she was calling me so that we could compare notes on what we’d read so far. Each of us loved it. Each of us hated to see it end – the ultimate measure of a great book.

fowlerAnd each of us felt bereft, the only cure for that being to read another good book. By happenstance, I went to my shelves and pulled one she’d recommended a long time ago, but that I’d never gotten around to reading: Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. (2013, Putnam’s)

A few pages in, another phone call. “This is fabulous. I love her writing, her protagonist.”

Kate just might have said, “I told you so.” But she also picked up the book again and is re-reading it, enjoying it just as much as she did the first time – another mark of a terrific book.

I’m nearly to the end, though, and badly spoiled by two great books in a row. Recommendations?

 

Nothing makes a book under construction seem more real than seeing the final cover design – a face to go with the name, if you will.

UNDER THE SHADOWS, Book 5 in the Lola Wicks series, has the striking cover I’ve come to expect from Midnight Ink, a looming, ominous image of the world’s largest temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Guess where it takes place?

UnderTheShadowsCoverHere’s the description.

Lola Wicks is in bad shape. A family tragedy has nearly flattened her in a way that her years reporting from war zones never did. Her friends, alarmed by signs that Lola is in the grip of a destructive addiction, hope that a freelance assignment will get her back on her feet. The threat of having her child removed persuades Lola to head for Salt Lake City on a puff piece about overseas adoptions. But the story takes a dark turn when the teenager at the center of her story lands in jail facing a murder charge. Setting out to prove the youth’s innocence takes Lola to her own dark place, and she’s not sure if she’ll ever be able to find her way back

Coming, as they say, in March 2018.

 

Yesterday I sent Book 5 in the Lola Wicks series off to my editor at Midnight Ink. You know what that means – hamster dance!

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It also meant a lazy summer afternoon with my sweetie at a local cidery by way of celebration, sampling ciders with varying degrees of alcohol content, followed by astonishment that evening was upon us … funny how that works.

 

This morning brings only a wee headache, along with the sadness that accompanies the sendoff of any manuscript. The thing that I’ve cursed for so long for the way it’s dominated my mornings before work, chewed up my weekends and made me possibly not the most pleasant person to be around – gone.  What to do now? There’s only one thing.

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I was bowled over to see both DISGRACED and RESERVATIONS on the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association‘s summer reading list for mystery and detective fiction.

Of DISGRACED:

disgracedcoverDisgraced contains much of the same timely social and political commentary as the earlier volumes in the series. Sexism and racism and their corrosive effects on both the victims and the perpetrators receive the principal focus, this time raising important questions about the cost of harassment for soldiers risking their lives to defend their country and for the civilians back home who care about them …. (Lola) may be home from the battlefields of Afghanistan, where she spent years as an international correspondent, but she continues to explore—and expose—crimes against women and minorities throughout the West.

 

 

And, of RESERVATIONS:

ReservationscoverReservations begins with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time: “The day that would see Ben Yazzie transformed into shreds of flesh in too many evidence bags began with a rare strong and satisfying piss”…

Reservations offers all the usual Florio pleasures: lyric descriptions of the land and the people who inhabit it; cultural commentary on Native American communities, traditions, and history; Native American vs. white conflicts, both historical and contemporary; sharp critiques of big business and its effects on the well-being of those it impacts; a strong social justice approach that rivals that of Sara Paretsky in force and potency; and a solid, fair-play mystery. All four books in the series are excellent, and they keep getting better.

 

All I can say is … wow. Better than ice cream and strawberry shortcake on the Fourth of July.

 

 

The last thing I wanted to do, with the timebomb of a deadline ticking away, was take a break from revisions.

But that’s what a family reunion mandated. Sure, I could’ve ducked away for awhile every day, but – no excuses here – chose not to. Left the laptop at home so I wouldn’t be tempted. And then, of course, fretted about my choice for five whole days.

Until I got back, and turned a fresh eye on the ms. Holy cow. Inconsistences everywhere. As scary as it was when each new one popped up, it felt even better to find them and fix them – sort of like literary Whack-A-Mole. I know exactly how that guy in the video feels.

I’m crediting the break with the fresh eyes, and the new well of energy. It’ll be fast depleted, of course. But for now, I’m actually enjoying it. Whack!

 

montananoircoverThat’s right. I’ve taken a deep, delicious dive into the dark side, thanks to a terrific invitation last year from editors James Grady and Keir Graff to contribute a short story to MONTANA NOIR, part of Akashic Books’ noir series.

I hadn’t written a short story in years, mainly because they scare the crap out of me. So little space. So much precision required. So many masters of the form. (Alice Munro, anyone?)

Plus, I wasn’t really sure what noir was, beyond “I know it when I see it” – not really helpful when confronting the blank screen. But James and Keir are wonderfully supportive editors, and with their guidance, I had a blast getting in touch with my inner creep.

The book comes out in August. I remain gobsmacked to be in the company of my fellow contributors. Just look at this list: David Abrams, Janet Skeslien Charles, Debra Magpie Earling, Jamie Ford, James Grady, Keir Graff, Eric Heidle, Walter Kirn, Sidner Larson, Carrie La Seur, Thomas McGuane, Caroline Patterson, Yvonne Seng. Holy hell, right?

If you’re in Montana this fall, check out our book tour. The darkness. It’s coming.

After weeks writing about Afghanistan, I’m back to Book 5 in the Lola Wicks series, which takes place in Utah.

Pause for whiplash.

But it’s good to be hanging with Lola again, a protagonist I’ve come to love. Lola the character is a major pain in the ass, but she’s a lot of fun to write, and I enjoy finding new ways to push her buttons. Over the years, people have asked me how I envision her – a question that usually takes the form of, “Who would play Lola in the movie?”

My first impulse: a major badass. Geena Davis as Thelma, getting ready to shoot the hell out of that semi.

thelma

Lola is indeed a badass. But her badassery is of the more covert variety. The woman’s a reporter, for heaven’s sake. A professional observer. So then I flash to Sigourney Weaver in The Year of Living Dangerously.

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She wasn’t a reporter in that movie, although she fell for one (what was she thinking?). But her wary demeanor in that role is perfect for Lola. The trick will be, as deadline barrels toward me, to keep from getting punchy and hearing “Zuuuuullllll” in my brain as I write.

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Who ya gonna call? Manuscript busters!

Oops. Looks like the punchiness has already set in.

 

 

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June 3, 2017 – For all the lows in this writing business (rejection, anyone?), there are a lot of highs.

Signing with an agent. Getting a book contract. The box of advance copies, your book made real. Release day. Book signings. Nice letters from strangers. Nice words from your parents!

You know what’s not fun, even though it seems as though it should be?

The day you send your manuscript off – the one over which you’ve slaved for months, years, tweaking the damn thing sentence by sentence; some days word by word – to an editor.

I remember how I felt the day my son went off to kindergarten. Heart, ripped out. This is about the same.

Because once I click on “send,” my baby is no longer fully in my control. Out into the world it goes. People might ignore it. Or be mean to it. It might disappear.

When the monkey brain hits this point, I try to re-boot. To remind myself of how my son bounded onto the school bus that first day with nary a look back. He was happy to be out in the larger world.

And maybe my book will be, too, hobnobbing with its peers on store and library shelves, hanging out on somebody’s nightstand (please, God, on top of the TBR pile), maybe with some pages dog-eared. The book will be fine.

And maybe, in a few days, when I’ve applied the only effective remedy – starting the next book – I will be, too.

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When it comes to aspirational writing about writing, the incomparable Octavia Butler – “I shall be a bestselling writer. … I will find the way to do this! So be it! See to it!” – reigns supreme,

But some days, especially the overwhelming ones toward the end of a project (This thing is crap. This thing is crap. This thing is crap.) something a little less lofty is in order.

Someone thoughtfully compiled a list posted on FlavorWire of things writers tell themselves to get through that day, that page, that paragraph, maybe even that next sentence.

A sampling:

From Henry Miller – “When you can’t create, you can work.”

From Flaubert via Helen Simpson – “Faire et se taire” … “Shut up and get on with it.”

And, a version of everyone’s ultimate mantra, from Jennifer Weiner – “Butt in seat and words on the page.”

So be it! Get to it!