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!

May 23, 2017 – I sure write a lot about food, which surprises no one who knows me.

Today, I fixated upon firni, a sweet rice pudding with pistachios. Of course, I had to waste time do research, which led to fun with recipes. My favorite contained this ingredient:

2 tsps. Kewra water/Orris Water – (also called screwpine essence or Pandan essence)

Screwpine essence! What the heck is a screwpine? Hello, Wikipedia!

Pandanus is a genus of monocots with some 750 accepted species.[2] They are palm-like, dioecious trees and shrubs native to the Old World tropics and subtropics.

Monocots? Dioecius? I’ll spare you the definitions, but be assured I looked them up, too. Suffice it to say that plants are sexy. Anyway, here’s a screwpine, which is way more fun to say than pandan.

B. Navez/Wikipedia

B. Navez/Wikipedia

And here’s a recipe for firni with stuff you can find in your neighborhood supermarket. Except for maybe the edible rose petals. Are some rose petals inedible? Looks like I’ve stumbled upon another research project.


clapperboardMay 18, 2017 – It’s May in Montana, which means there’s fresh snow on the daffodils. Good weather for writing, right? Or, these days, editing.

I’m deep in a ms. full of track changes from my editor, and one comment comes up over and over again:

“Stay in scene.”

Apparently my writing wanders off track as often as my thoughts. Anyhow, it’s a great reminder, one with applications well beyond writing.


May 8, 2017. Today I slew some of my dearest darlings, wielding the delete key like the villain in a slasher flick. Very satisfying. Backstory, begone! Blood on the floor, baby. That is all.



May 7, 2017 – I had three goals this weekend:

Draft a new chapter for Book 6 (check).

Finish reading the new Kate Shugak book by Dana Stabenow (check; highly recommended).

Run twenty miles (um).

The ego and I had a little tussle at mile twelve, when I wanted to quit. I made it another mile, by which point, I was limping. Time to declare defeat – for now.

White flag


May 6, 2017 – With a deadline six weeks away, today is a rare free day, nothing to do but write. Huzzah! Right?

Well …

stabenowAt midnight last night, the long-awaited next book in one of my favorite series, Dana Stabenow‘s Kate Shugak mysteries, was released after an interminable four-year wait from the previous book. Of course, I pre-ordered it.

But I made a deal with myself. The book would serve as a reward, both for today’s writing marathon, and tomorrow’s literal near-marathon – a twenty-mile training run. I’d limp home from the run with nothing to do the rest of the day but catch up with Kate and the rest of the gang in Stabenow’s fictional Alaska park.

I went to bed last night serene in the knowledge that I had a Plan. Woke up around 1:30 a.m., my phone only inches away, the newly delivered book – Less Than a Treason – nestled within the app.

It couldn’t hurt to peek, right? Just a chapter. Or two. Or … I finally put the phone down at 3 a.m. (There’s a reason Stabenow’s fans call themselves the Danamaniacs.)

I didn’t finish the book. And I did hit the ms. hard today. But I’m counting the hours until those *$&#! twenty miles are behind me tomorrow, and I can settle in and finally find out how those skeletal remains ended up in that secluded valley. And what about Mutt? What in holy hell happened to Mutt?

Maybe I’ll find out tomorrow. Or maybe it’ll be another semi-sleepless night, unable to resist temptation and, honestly, not really caring.


April 25, 2017 – For someone who hates to cook, I sure write a lot about food – probably because I like to eat.

Now I’m writing about Pakistan and Afghanistan, and drooling onto the pages, because the food there was so fabulous. Qorma and kebab and gulab jamun, oh, my! I savored fresh naan cooked in a cylindrical tandoor, the dough slapped against the walls, and pulled away with big hooks as soon as it puffed a little and browned, large fragrant flat loaves that we called “elephant bread” because they reminded us of elephant ears.

And I especially fell in love with Kabuli pilau, a lamb and rice dish with raisins and carrots and pistachios. Oddly enough, I’ve never tried to reproduce it at home. But here’s a recipe for those so inclined.

The chances of my finding Kabuli pilau in Montana – or anywhere in a thousand-mile radius – are minuscule. I may just have to try that recipe myself.

axApril 24, 2017 – And now, my favorite part of writing – editing.

Because 99 percent of the time, writing is just a slog. Every so often you get that paragraph that works from the get-go – at which point, you stop and sacrifice a small helpless animal to the writing gods. But now the slog is over. The first (okay, zillionth) draft is done, and now I get to make it better. Much more to the point, I’m no longer working alone.

scissorsThis week, I got the proposed revisions for the WIP from my editor, in the form of five single-spaced pages of conceptual edits, and the ms. with line edits. Many, many line edits. I hear enough complaining about editors that I guess some people don’t like this part. Me, I love it. It’s as though someone just handed me a road map that shows a very clear path to a better book.

scalpelThat path involves cutting through a lot of underbrush of passive voice, confusing passages, inadequate scenes, etc. Some of that will involve an ax. Some, scissors. By the time I send it back to the editor, I hope to be wielding only a scalpel. Hear that faint screaming? It’s the summary execution of darlings. Good riddance, I say.



April 17, 2017 – OK, this writer needs vacation.

I know, I know. We’re supposed to write every day. For an example of why that’s a good thing, one need look no farther than James Lee Burke, with his two Edgar Awards, thirty-some novels, and named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. He frequently reads in Missoula, and each time he mentions writing every day, I slide down a little in my seat.

So, yeah. I went on vacation; headed to Yellowstone with the sweetie and my daughter and my son and his family. Woo hoo! No day job and no writing for a whole week!

I last three days. Then, I sneaked down the lodge, broke out the iPad, and whacked away at the WIP for awhile, feeling much better when I re-emerged into the world of leisure. What can I say? It’s a sickness, maybe; a compulsion for sure.

Today, it’s back to the day job, and some more writing, too. (Although, much of the weekend was devoted to the latter.)

So – not every day for this writer. But most days for sure.


April 6, 2017 – A non-writing post tonight, brought on by the U.S. airstrikes on Syria in response to the gas attack against civilians by the Assad regime. Watching the reports brought me back fourteen years ago almost to the month, when my newspaper sent me off to Israel, reasoning that if the United States attacked Iraq, Saddam Hussein might in turn launch strikes against Israel.

My job was to sit in Tel Aviv and wait for missiles to hit, trusting that they wouldn’t land on, you know, me. In retrospect, it looks crazy to me, too.

Nevertheless, I packed up my flak jacket, helmet, gas mask and protective suit – after two years of post-9/11 coverage in various conflict zones, I’d acquired all of those things – and moved up my flight by a day because a blizzard was bearing down on Denver, threatening massive flight cancellations.

The storm ensured I didn’t miss the war. If memory serves, my editor called just a few hours after I’d landed to tell me that the war had started. It was somewhere around 4 a.m. I rushed out into the streets and saw — nothing.

FullSizeRender(103)No missiles arcing toward me. No sirens. No people dashing about in a panic. No people at all, in fact; just dark, deserted streets without a soul to interview for the story my editor was expecting. In Denver, after all, the clock was ticking toward deadline and the editors – their lives complicated a blizzard of historic proportions in addition to the small matter of war – were tense.

I finally wandered over to a market where, thank heavens, vendors were setting up their vegetable stalls. Here’s what I remember: a tiny black-and-white TV flickering in one of the stalls. An old movie. “What are you watching?” I asked the vendor.

“The Thief of Baghdad.

It made a nice detail for the story I eventually managed to cobble together about from shreds of nearly nothing, a key skill.

If I remember correctly, Iraq never did lob missiles at Israel. I’d go back to that market later (see photo) for my shopping, and later still, long after I’d returned home, would learn it had been hit by a suicide bomber, killing three people. FullSizeRender(102)

My editors had a low tolerance for stories about nothing, so off I went to Iraq, where I had occasion to don the helmet and flak jacket, but never, Al-ḥamdu lillāh, the gas mask or protective suit. But that’s a story for another day.





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