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Friday, February 25, 2011


See what I mean about "fainted, diva-like"?
I never heard the term "snowbird" used the way it is in Arizona. (Or if I did, I had no understanding of it.) While my husband and I were living with my sister-in-law, I heard her use the term. She's a very nice lady, and not native to Arizona herself, so I didn't get any negative connotation, just the bare meaning: people with so much money or such a concern for their arthritis pain that they live in Arizona during the winter months, while spending most of the year in their native states of New England, the Midwest, or other potentially snowy places.

Okay, that's their business. Also, the word "snowbird" inevitably brings to mind the classic Fleetwood Mac love song "Songbird" (the version at left ended up on our wedding video). It's such a beautifully evocative word that I never suspected the vitriol with which it could be said. I heard a teenager, certainly a year-rounder and probably an Arizona native, hurl it as an invective against a couple of people probably in their sixties who weren't moving fast enough for the young ones.

I guess I can understand that people who stay here, really call Arizona home, and suffer through the summers, might resent people who only stay as long as they care to, using natives' resources. When I was growing up in Northern California, we had a similar resentment toward people from LA who came North to retire, causing a population spike that might have led to overdevelopment, etc. But it takes a teenager (or similarly evolved individual) to imbue such a lovely word with the profanity I heard that day.

I began to think that my husband and I are sort of poor-man's snowbirds. We've arrived in Arizona just in time for the winter season, and so we've missed the massive storms where we came from, which certainly would have put a kink or two in our backs from shoveling. The similarity ends there, because it's not exactly a vacation home we've set up here with borrowed furniture, and we won't be leaving when the weather gets really hot. But just as Arizona saves the real snowbirds' aching joints, so too has it saved my husband and me from certain economic doom. I still feel like a complete outsider here, but I'd like to offer Arizona my sincere thanks for accepting us when we had nowhere else to go. Arizona has been a perfect model of the ideals expressed in Emma Lazarus's "The New Colossus":

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Since coming to Arizona I have felt slightly less tempest-tossed and vastly less homeless. Wretched, maybe a little, but that's not Arizona's fault. I know there's a lot of controversy because of the people who come across the southern border, but for my husband and me Arizona has opened the golden door. Thank you. 

And thank you all for voting for my exciting project! There's still time to get your votes in! Look here. I'm the sixth pitch down. Thanks, really!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A First Glimpse of My Exciting New Project

I was planning on writing a tidy introduction to my giant new project here, but as luck would have it, I've  gained a spot in the NanoWriMo pitchapalooza put on by The Book Doctors. You, my dear readers, now have something you can take action on.

My book pitch is listed on their blog here. My pitch is the sixth down: The Seven Noble Knights of Lara by Jessica Knauss. They will select a winner, who will be put in touch with an agent or publisher, as appropriate. They'll also award a prize (a book and personal consultation) to the readers' favorite. Please vote for me!

A note: I would never have compared myself to The Godfather, thus seeming presumptuous (wow, is that ever the opposite of what I really am!), except that I thought the family revenge saga fit with the work. I hoped that was what would pop into readers' minds when they saw that, momentarily forgetting what an institution Puzo's novel has become. The suggest to reword it is great. Well, all their suggestions are great! I'll be rewriting the pitch and sharing it here, so there's something to look forward to!

Thanks  for voting, readers! I would love to get a copy of their book. As you know, publishing and writing don't really bring home the bacon these days. I deeply appreciate your support, in any form.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Guest Blog Today!

Check out my short and sweet musings on inspiration at Dixon Rice's very worthwhile blog here!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Winter in Arizona

It was 81 degrees on Valentine's Day. And this while my grandparents in Oklahoma had just emerged from two weeks of house arrest enforced by cold piles of dense snow all around their house. While I watched longingly on YouTube and the news as people tried to drive and dig out in the Northeast. It's hard for me to believe it's February when I have to wear short sleeves.
This picture, taken at the Phoenix Zoo, seems to show miniature cowboys pointing at the caps on the Saguaro points behind them. A couple of nights last week, the temperature dropped below freezing for more than an hour. The local news goes into crisis mode for that kind of thing, reminding all viewers to protect their pets and plants! The prickly pears near our apartment fainted, diva-like, to the ground. Even mighty Saguaros can be maimed or killed by low temperatures, so caring people cover the vulnerable tips with gardening cloth (and a plastic bucket at the top in the photo) to keep them just warm enough.

Of course, by the time I took the picture, two days before Valentine's, the cloths and bucket should have been long removed. 80 degrees. The sno-cones were selling faster than they could make them.

My wool coat festers in the closet. A few nights ago I was putting long-sleeved shirts and dresses into a suitcase for storage, trying not to cover them with the tears that came because I couldn't tell when I would ever use them again.

In another few weeks I'll probably be so acclimated that I'll shiver just thinking about Boston! Alternatively, I'll be a puddle of sweat soaking into the dusty soil.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Two Weird Hazards of Living in Arizona

... that no one told me about and I never could have guessed on my own.

My husband was commenting on my oversensitivity to heat at certain times of day, joking that I must have Valley Fever. His mother felt too hot all the time, he says, and she always blamed it on Valley Fever.

It turns out that as many as half of the people who live in Arizona at any time in their lives have, will have, or have had Valley Fever, also known as the potentially fatal Coccidioidomycosis. Its symptoms can be similar to a bad flu, or a person can have it and never realize it. There is no specific treatment. The really weird thing about it is that the mold that causes it lies dormant, then flies about helter skelter when the soil is disturbed by things like the perpetual construction not 500 yards from our apartment.

I guess this is news to me because I've lived in the Northeast for the last ten years, and the news that half the state of Arizona gets deadly mold in their lungs just didn't make it through my filter. Did everyone west of the Mississippi know about this already? Was there a conspiracy to keep it from me? Because I am no fan of anything that reproduces by spores, the very idea might have freaked me out enough to keep me from moving here.

But we had to move here. The alternative was to flee to fairyland, where the palace is given to the couple most in love and nobody has to get a job.

Hazard number two concerns my husband's swing shift job. Because Arizona is a desert -- a living, breathing ecosystem brimming with diverse creatures, just not humans -- when the city expands, it displaces indigenous wildlife. Or we think it displaces those species. People shoot at javelinas (ferocious wild pigs) who dig through their gardens, knowing all the while that the javelinas were there first and don't understand the concept of ownership. The building where my husband works is new and at the farthest edge of the developed city, and so the animals haven't quite moved on. In fact, when he went out to the end of the parking lot at the end of his shift one night, he found packs of coyotes looking for thrown away food where the other cars used to be. Supposedly, coyotes don't attack humans, but it's still enough to get the blood really pumping. "I looked at them and they looked at me," my husband said, and I understood the power of the encounter. I try to remind him to move his car closer to the building after most of the employees leave around 6 pm, just out of respect for the coyotes' nightly routines. He's not likely to forget, or to disrespect the coyotes in any way. Nevertheless, it's one more Arizona hazard to think about while I wait up for him in the evenings, breathing in the killer mold spores.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Writers beware. I'm now a publishing insider.

How did this happen?

Like any good thing in this economy, I did not stumble upon my dream job through traditional search-and-résumé methods.

I wanted to start carving out a real writer's community for myself here in Tucson. The communities I was involved with from Pennsylvania were theoretical. I wanted, at the very least, a cyber community I could exchange manuscript critiques with, because I can't seem to get motivated sufficiently to write my amazing novel without some kind of outside impetus. Through the connections I forged with these goals in mind, I happened to be at a couple of different events at the same time as the founder and editor of the local wonder, Fireship Press. Naturally, I approached him immediately with a résumé, list of references, salary requirements, and hours of availability...

Of course that's a lie. I recognized that he would be fascinating to talk to, but was far too shy to start something. I was heading off to collect my husband and leave the scene when the editor approached me (apparently because I had been the only person in the group who was working on historical fiction). We had a short but hugely informative talk about the market for historical fiction and the role of series in publishing profitability. And so I went into the holidays with that breath of fresh air.

It's important to note from the day-to-day living standpoint that I have been given a volunteer, i.e., unpaid position. I haven't had any bites since my bookstore gig ended, and it looks like my husband's job isn't going to be a fast fix, either, so I figured I had nothing but time on my hands. I might as well make good use of it.

After another brief meeting, I confirmed that this was the publisher for me. Fiction! History! Innovative, grassroots methods! So I set my jaw, trying to squeeze the shyness into submission, and shot the editor an email asking whether he needed any help with his inspiring enterprise.

He did. So we met and talked it over. He said my qualifications were impressive. I received a document to translate into Spanish and a manuscript from the slush pile the next day. Thankfully, I say that so far the job has been from home. Tucson, the majestic and wide, is just not friendly to a one-car family. I should visit the premises soon, to get a look at the whole production process. In the meantime, I'm going to do such a good job that the editor will put me on the payroll, or I can at least take the experience elsewhere. Either way, the time will not have been wasted. Time spent learning never is.

Click on the ads to buy great books and support this creative endeavor.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sweet Anticipation

I recently saw the first episode of the Morgan Spurlock series 30 Days, in which Spurlock and his fiancée go to Columbus, Ohio, and try to live on minimum wage jobs for a month. "The working poor," they kept saying, and I kept feeling like they were talking about me and husband. He's found a job in his field, but it doesn't pay enough for us to buy health insurance, much less to really get set up. In Columbus, when they filmed, there existed "free stores" where said "working poor" could come and pick out donated items that they might need, without charge. The Spurlocks picked up tables and chairs and mattresses and got really nicely set up for that kind of budget! Alas, I haven't found any such free stores in Tucson. There are more thrift stores here than I've ever seen anywhere else, but even if you find something that makes you feel like it's not full of bedbugs, you still have to have your own way of getting it back to your place of residence. Our Honda Civic wouldn't cut it.

So last Saturday night we finally gave in to the irresistible urge to go to Sam Levitz. 

The worst part about buying a new couch is that time period between the purchase and the delivery. Luckily, our waiting period was short. We gave up on the folding chairs, as I mentioned, on Saturday night. We decided that since there was no couch waiting for us in storage in Pennsylvania, it was worth the risk to charge a very reasonably priced futon. It could serve as both a bed and a couch, two things we presently lacked. 

Sunday we imagined how much more wonderful it would be to watch the Criminal Minds marathon on our borrowed TV if we could only relax on some seating that wasn't metal. 

Monday I dreamed about how all the kinks in my neck would be gone if only I could sit on a couch and work with the laptop instead of hunch on the floor or the air mattress. 

Monday night we groaned into the air mattress and tried to figure out whether the sheets would work on the new futon, now so near to us! Sweet anticipation! 

And here it is early Tuesday afternoon and the apartment is finally starting to look halfway furnished. The futon nicely simulates a real couch when it's up. It's soooo soft and cushy, I might have to take a nap on it before I can get to work. Also, the salesman at Levitz told us to go back in and check whether the price had gone down, so we could maybe get a refund as big as $100. So what could possibly be wrong? Sorry, Mom, the only color available was chocolate brown. I guess beggars can't be choosers. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Showing versus Telling

"Telling" gets a really bad rap in the writing world. The strong, universal preference seems to be for lush, sensory-enhanced descriptions of every detail and emotion that happens to fall into the scope of a story. In writing courses, instructors always admonish, "Show, don't tell!" But for someone like me, who can appreciate brevity, telling has its uses. While I would not care to read a whole novel of bare telling, consider the following opportunities:

• Moving the story along: "Three days passed with no news."

• Shorthand for a minor character: "Melissa had lived next to Bob since they were children."

• Keeping under a word limit: Sometimes all you have room for is "He was handsome." Admittedly, as I mused in my last post, most editors want more words instead of fewer, but there will always be a time in a writer's life when words are at a premium.

• Summarizing the first book, if this is a subsequent book in the series. J. K. Rowling did this at the beginning of  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so technically you never had to read The Philosopher's Stone. Of course, most people did read it, and they were allowed to skip over the summary in the second book if they were so inclined. The telling did no damage to anyone in that case.

• Otherwise avoiding repetition: "He sat them down and told them what had happened, leaving nothing out."

Just as a single short sentence can be the strongest among long ones, a well-placed instance of telling, set like a diamond on a cushion of showing, can make the biggest impact. Used consciously and skillfully, a writer can consider telling one more tool in her kit.

So, for Pete's sake, move the story along, people!