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Dec. 10, 2017 – When I tell people I live in Montana, one of the first questions I get is: “Isn’t it cold?”

That’s my cue to spin tales of 20-below days, ferocious blizzards, vehicles that we plug in at night in hopes that they’ll start in the morning.

All of those things are true – there’s been at least one truly awful blizzard in my dozen years here – but what’s also true is that I love winter. I look forward to the first snow with the eagerness of a child. I love the way it drapes the town in white, each flake catching the light and refracting it, the deep, soothing quiet.

So when the temperature finally dropped below freezing, and the air took on that bright, clean tang, I got psyched – dragging boots up from the basement, loading up the urn on the porch with our assortment of Yaktrax designed to deal with every level of ice, and assembling a lineup of gloves, mittens, hats and scarves by the front door.

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Then I waited.

And waited. And waited.

Only to hear the worst possible news – that Missoula is in the grip of one of its infamous inversions, a thick layer of cloud that traps miserably cold air beneath it without a flake of snow to make it bearable. As one leaden day follows another, the trapped air grows murkier and people get crankier. The only change in the long-term forecasts involves the grim possibility of freezing rain. Bah, humbug.

Yesterday, though, brought a flash of hope. Just for a little while, the clouds parted – not enough to allow the relief of a truly sunny day, but at least giving up a glimpse of barely remembered blue sky.

All I could think of was that line from the Leonard Cohen song – “There’s a crack, a crack, in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

It was only a little light. But I’ll take it.

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Filed Under: Some sentences journal

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IMG_3751Nov. 21, 2017 – It’s Thanksgiving week, and we all know what that means.

Pie!

Oh, and being thankful for all of our blessings. Like pie!

But I’m doubly thankful this year because, after months of possibilities and rejection, my standalone novel finally has a title.

Drum roll … Silent Hearts. You can read about it here. But you can’t see the cover yet. Maybe that’ll be next month’s surprise.

Hoping y’all have the best of Thanksgivings, filled with lots of you-know-what.

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Boyohboy, have I ever been a sad, self-pitying sack these last few days. I spent our too-brief fall – the reward after our choking summer of smoke – mostly indoors, slogging toward a book deadline, my chair turned away from glory mocking me from the window. Then, literally the day I sent off the ms., the weather turned.

Snow would’ve been fine, but this was freezing rain and a vicious wind that tore the last of the golden leaves from the trees. Just miserable. And then I got sick, spending damn near twenty-four hours in bed with a headache so crushing I could neither read nor watch TV nor sleep. Misery squared.

The headache finally eased, I finally slept, and when I awoke, the wind had stopped, the rain had turned to snow, and the world had gone magical. I know that by February I’ll be sick of it, but the first snow is always a treat. Right now, it’s drifting down again. The dog is at her perch by the window, watching it fall. Soup is simmering on the stove. The sweetie is parked in front of a football game, and I’ve just clicked open the ms. for Book Seven. Life is just about as good as it gets.

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Oct. 9, 2017 – This has been a crazy time on the writing front. Second round of edits on the standalone, copy edits looming on the fifth Lola Wicks novel, prep for the panels at Bouchercon—Jesus Christ, that’s three days from now—and oh, yeah, the day job.

So what did I do yesterday? Closed the laptop, called the dog, and headed out the door.

The idea was to take a quick walk around the ‘hood to clear my head, but my truck keys ended up in my hand on the way out and Nell and I headed for higher ground, the nearby Woods Gulch.

IMG_2824A few steps in, and the knot between my shoulders dissolved. No more drumbeat of “do this, do this, do this” for all the tasks facing me. Instead, I inhaled the scent of wet earth and leaves and pine needles. Laughed when the dog cavorted in a mudhole, leaving the entire lower half of her body black and dripping.

FullSizeRender (19)Sometimes it rained, sometimes the sun flashed through the trees, and the aspen lit up like golden lamps. I spent an hour rather than the 15 minutes I planned, and kept the good mood going when I got home by rewarding myself with a treat from our excellent local cidery. Eventually, I went back to the keyboard, and got a whole bunch of work done in a little bit of time. But the time away—that was a really good time.

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Sept. 17, 2017 – Holy cow, things got busy all of a sudden.

I’m still recovering from last weekend’s most excellent Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference.

Next weekend launches the tour for Montana Noir, one of the most fun projects I’ve ever worked on. Check out the full tour schedule.

The Noir Tour morphs into the Montana Book Festival, where in addition to Noir-related events, I’ll also be on a panel featuring fellow Rocky Mountain crime writers Leslie Budewitz, Mark Stevens and Christine Carbo.

Then, after the shortest of breaks, it’s off to Toronto for Bouchercon, the huge mystery book convention where I’ll moderate one panel and be on another.

FullSizeRender (17)All the deets are on the events page. Pretty sure times like this are why the phrase “writing around the margins” was invented. That said, I’ve snagged “my” table (in the back, by bakery – nom!) at Break Espresso, latte’d up, and am settling in for a long and happy day at the WIP and various other projects that have nada to do with the day job. Hope to see you at one or another of these events.

The general rule for writers is that when someone criticizes your work, suck it up, Buttercup. After all, everyone’s taste is different. Every so often, though, you get a knock that’s almost humorous.

This past weekend, I was at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ annual Colorado Gold conference. (If you’re in the West and write fiction, check ‘em out. Amazing group.)

One night featured a book signing by several of us, lined up at long tables with our books, all of us casting sidelong glances at the around-the-room line of people waiting to get their books signed by Diana Freaking Gabaldon, who is possibly one of the smartest – and also the funniest – people on earth.

ReservationscoverFinally, a lone straggler wandered up to my spot on the table, picked up my fourth book, Reservations, started to read, and immediately laughed.

I knew why she was laughing. If I say so myself, that book’s opening is kickass.

I preened. “The first sentence, right?”

She nodded. Already basking in anticipated praise, I picked up my pen and prepared to write something witty and generous when I signed her copy.

“I guess you have no control over what your editors do to your work, right?”

And with that, she put the book down and wandered away.

I laughed at myself for a long time. But you know what? I’ll be forever grateful to my editor for not touching that sentence. Here it is:

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. 

Kickass.

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Sept. 6, 2017 – I love the day job, I really do. But recently – what with fires and smoke (and fires and smoke and fires and smoke) – it’s been a lot of job.

So I’m even happier than usual to take off my editor’s eyeshade and put on my novelist’s hat and head off to Denver for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference – three whole days with nothing to do but talk, think and breathe fiction. Lord almighty. I just might die of happiness.

This year, I’m tickled to be giving a workshop on Sunday – Brilliant Disguise: How to Turn Real People into Fictional Characters.

One downside? It’s at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Another? This one is the mother of all downsides – I’m up against my friend Andrea Catalano and Heather Webb’s workshop – The Joy of Great Sex, on how to write sex scenes.

Pretty sure I’ll be talking to an empty room!

lolopeaksmokeSept. 4, 2017 – Pretty sure I’m being punished for all the times – approximately one million and counting – I’ve said how much I love to cover wildfires.

Because what’s not to love? Big, dramatic flames in big, beautiful landscapes, and let’s not forget the big, gorgeous firefighters. (Oops, did I say that out loud?) One of my first published short stories was about wildland firefighters, and it remains one of my favorite pieces of writing.

I should have known that, like all passionate love affairs, this one would end badly. Wildfire season 2017 has brought more fires to Montana, burning longer, than any summer I can remember, and with them a new factor – smoke. Not the usual two- or three-day infestation that lays down a layer of ash on our cars, but one that has lingered for weeks now, blotting out our view of the mountains and making even mild outdoor exertion an exercise in insanity.

Smoke is not beautiful. It’s not exciting. It sucks. Your eyes sting, your throat burns and your lungs spend all day screaming WTF?

IMG_1828But – trying to find the bright side here – it’s wonderfully atmospheric. The air takes on a yellowish tinge and has actual taste and texture. During the day, the sun is a baleful orange ball, flaring into glorious sunsets before giving up and sinking behind the mountains, which is when the fires – invisible behind their daytime shroud of smoke – rise up against the darkness. People and cars emerge ghostlike from the murk and fade back into it.

Either smoke muffles sound, or things are quieter because so few people want to venture into it. Either way, the silence enhances the eeriness of ours days. Everyone’s edgy, cranky. Any day now, crime is going to get weird.

All of this is great stuff for writers, right? You want to a big, dramatic scene? Throw in some fire. But to really creep people out, go for smoke.

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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?