Accounting for Creativity

I haven’t done this for a while, but I think I need to do an accounting of creative endeavor.

From the looks of things, I have one active first draft, one project to finish and polish with how ever many drafts are left into either a novel or a novella, a short story to finish and revise, four books ready at the pitch stage to outline and draft, and seven books to plan, outline and draft.

Man. That’s a lot of stuff. And that’s not all the ideas, but hey, that’s enough for now! Because I’ll be 48 in June, and this could keep me going for well, I’m guessing well into my retirement.

Plans can change if I sell a book, and someone wants more of something I’ve got. 🙂 It’s just a matter of sitting down and writing all this. You can vote for your favorite project, but the Klarion books are the first ones beyond the Were Humans and Falling. Just…get…the damned…things done.

Details below. If you aren’t interested, I’m cutting this now.

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The Pre-Taos/Post Taos Divide, or the Trouble with Trolls

So. I went to Paradise Lost. At least I think I did, because there are some vaguely hallucinogenic posts from around that time. I decided to go at the last moment largely on the strength of the attending pros, and this left me digging through stuff trying to find a story to take for critiquing purposes. The Poison of thy Flesh is in very early days and while I know the story, I haven’t written and layered the story. Besides, it’s what I’m taking to the Colorado workshop.

So, what to take to Paradise Lost? Well, how’s about The Winter the Troll Danced with Old Nick?

To be honest, the troll story didn’t get a lot of love out there, and in retrospect, that’s a good thing. It’s a very dense story with way too much going on, and not a solid single through line. It wanders a lot, like a pantser first draft. In my case, I had some ideas and I just threw them all down. So, there are some VERY clever bits (like how I get rid of the old school troll and some of the teen troll interplay), but there are also some cloudy bits, boring bits, and downright sadistic bits. It is a story that does not know itself.

I couldn’t have told you that at the time. I was trying to get the work produced under a deadline, before I knew that an agent invitation wasn’t get a book done by a certain time, but rather get a book done to the best of your ability, and send it along then. I was also much too enamored of my research, and wanted to show it off. AND I was still writing through glass at that time, watching my characters through a window, again a sign that I hadn’t spent enough time with the story.

So…before I went to Paradise Lost, I had already begun to make changes. I can see two stories in the piece worth salvaging: the story about the old school troll and Manuel, and the story about Grant and David. I’d like to use the frost elf love/hate thing somewhere down the line, and I’d still like Grant to be involved with Magdalene and the character formerly known as Astrid, but I still think that might be too complicated for one book. So…the pieces I gave to the Paradise Lost crew were just the Troll brothers pieces, and the rest will wait for its place patiently in line.

What kind of reaction did I get? I think most people felt hit with a tsunami. There was a couple of great comments: Whatever you do with this, maintain this kind of YA tone, and there’s so much that’s right about this that we’d be here all day talking about it, so I’m going to focus on what needs work. Yeah, I’d pay good money for comments like that. And I did. 😀

But here’s the take home wisdom. What I had there was probably two or three chapters. I introduced at least 4 complicated concepts and 10 characters in one chapter. I alluded to, but mostly confused readers on points, and one of Walter and Nancy’s cardinal rules is that detail should move the reader forward, not gum the reader up.

And as the critiquers and writers said all these things, Post Taos Catherine nodded her head like a bobble head poodle in your back window. So correct. So, the troll story, which was originally cracked out of another giant story, becomes narrower and deeper in scope yet again. And the writer that I am learns that in order for stories to be intimate, they need to be written under a microscope, not through a window.

It was a useful retreat. I’m thinking about going again, and checking out what it’s like while I’m well.

Secret Handshake

This week, I have done something new. I have suggested to an employee that he was not invited to come back next semester to teach.

Yes, I have fired someone. This could be a moment for angst, but it’s not. After consideration, it seemed like the right move for a variety of reasons. I will not go into any specifics, but it does set me thinking about environments and interactions.


In 1993, I resigned my job teaching high school. It was because of book censorship, but it was also because I wasn’t a good fit in that particular working environment. I had been ruminating about returning to grad school for some time. High school teaching was good for me because it professionalized me in certain ways. My ego as a young bright college TA was insufferable, and high school teachers don’t fit in well when they are obviously full of themselves and their abilities. I chafed in an environment where I felt my opinions were not valued or taken into account in the decision making process. There were other things, and even though I enjoyed interacting with the students, you know, I wasn’t a good fit for that school. At the time, leaving was dramatic and angst-laden, and I felt like a young martyr to idealism. Make no mistake, I’d do the same thing again. But looking at this with older eyes, not only was censorship the issue. I didn’t know the secret handshake.

What do I mean by that? There were people that stayed at that high school for years. They were doing their job and finding their work rewarding. I didn’t dislike my job, but I didn’t swim through that environment well. Nor did I want to. There were certain things about the culture of teaching in that particular school that made me feel stifled, and in the end, I was happy to get out.

No one is always satisfied with their job, 100 percent. As Bryon gets older and closer to the end of his career, and the rules shift and change, he chafes more and more. But we can’t place the blame of discontent solely on an employer. No, sometimes we don’t grasp the culture or something. We don’t perform well. We don’t know how to succeed in that environment.

In a nurturing workplace, education and reform about the incongruence between employer and employee can be undertaken, but we can’t change that sometimes there’s gonna be a mismatch. Through no fault of anyone’s really, someone doesn’t have the tools to succeed or meet the expectations of an environment’s culture, and so we move forward.


And there are lessons here about timeliness and grace in a wide variety of social arenas. How do we know when it’s okay to get closer to someone? How do we know when, for example, we want to stop being friends, and it’s okay to date? Man, I sweated bullets there! Or how do we know when something is no longer working, and when we should back away.

Or when someone really wants us to hang out in a conversation, versus when we are being intrusive? How do we know when someone is sincere? Or read appropriate feedback to get the appropriate results?

How do we know when we belong to a group?

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And…She’s Back! For Your Viewing Pleasure…

The crap is out of my lungs, and while I still sound pretty rough, I am cleared to go back to work. Thank goodness. The end of the semester is nigh, and I needed to get back. Tomorrow, I will concentrate a great deal on group work and board work.


One of the things that happens to me when I am really sick is that my brain sort of stops producing, and I find that watching things is a great way to pass the time. I know I’m better because I have actually read stuff in the last couple of days, and I’m itching to write again. So, let’s talk about what I’ve been watching!

Sabrina (1995): In this case, the remake is better than the original. This movie places Greg Kinnear, Julia Ormond, and Harrison Ford in a snappy romantic comedy that is sharp. It’s the Cinderella story, but it has a great twist. It’s also a story of self-discovery for both Ford and Ormond. Beautifully filmed, with notable soundtrack by John Williams, it combines a modern sensibility with a tribute to old Hollywood style.

Pleasantville: Speaking of gorgeous films, watching the world of Pleasantville colorize and revolutionize is a visual treat. Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon put in sharp performances. I used to pair this movie with the teaching of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to talk about the emergence and changes in 50s society.

Life on Mars Seasons 1 and 2: Gene Hunt would be one of those characters you wish you’d written yourself. Angst-filled Sam Tyler is hit by a car in 2003 and wakes up in 1973. Is he insane, in a coma, traveled in time? You know what I like best about this show? You never, ever know. John Simm and Philip Glenister own the show in a dysfunctional, engaging symbiosis of the classic cop show.

Emma: I have a soft spot for the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma, and I watched it again with delight. Not inaccurate, but abbreviated, this Emma still captures the story’s chief moral dilemmas, and the development of Emma as a character.

Mission: Impossible Season One: I am about a quarter of the way through the season. I am ashamed as a spy fy fan that I have not yet watched this. What I find particularly amusing is that our main man keeps a folder labeled Impossible Missions Force in his apartment with files on all his operatives. Oops. But hey, the 60s, right? I’m not sure why Martin Landau gets to be a special guest star every episode. What’s interesting is that it took me a few moments to recognize DA Adam Schiff, terribly young, in Daniel Briggs. Important tips for being on the Impossible Missions Force: Know how to play the calliope. And remember that a bad ethnic accent will get you out of almost any bad situation.

Revolutionary Girl Utena: Eh. This deserves its own entry.


In addition to Utena, I’ll be getting back to those research notes on Egyptian mythology. I’m working on a couple of interviews out there yet, and finally, I should write up an entry for this year’s Paradise Icon. So, adieu for now.

The Ultimate Defeat of Dr. Squeaky

In a rather frustrating move, my body has decided to betray me further. After taking my days off to get rid of laryngitis (kind of), I went back to work yesterday. No, I was not well, but I had taken the recommended two days, and I had to see Dr. Banks for some follow up from the hydra of medical care that he’d sent me out to slay.

Oh boy.

So, first the summation of tests: 1. Rash–getting better. 2. Dizziness–almost gone. 3. Reflux disease–new diet and drugs. Good job! 4. Esophagal operation–No!!!! Dr. Banks has assisted on both kinds and thinks that the chance of getting stomach cancer from PPIs is zilch. He then quoted tons of statistics, articles and studies to back himself up. So keep doing what you’re doing.

Have I mentioned how much I respect and admire my doctor?

But the star of the appointment was this new cold. Dr. Banks discovered I had bronchitis, and is making me come back tomorrow to make sure I don’t have pneumonia (hey, it’s not going to happen. I’m on two drugs, with an inhaler, and I’m staying home as ordered.) I also had an anti-inflammation shot right on the spot because he was concerned about bronchial tubes. And I’ve been ordered home again, today and tomorrow.


Being me at work is complicated, and I’d just missed two days. I spent the remainder of my day yesterday making an alternative assignment for my students, writing four letters of recommendation that were due Monday, finding a substitute for the key note speech I was to deliver on Sunday (hahaha!), rescheduling my first meeting with my Viet Nam students, ad infinitum.

There was a point yesterday when I was talking to students, and I could barely get the words out. It felt like I was breathing through cheesecloth, and I only mention it so I can find that line later and use it in a story somewhere.

I’m sending Bryon off to have fun this weekend gaming with our Iowa friends while I…sleep…a lot. Well, I had a blast last weekend, and he held down the fort. Yes, I am lonely, but I am not exactly engaging company. He deserves some fun.


Benefits of bronchitis? You can eat a lot of ice cream and not gain weight. And ice cream and pudding are like my favorite foods right now. Good on the chest and throat. And my new super power is that I can sleep with no provocation at all.

But there are many, many more disadvantages, which I will spare details of. It goes without saying that bronchitis sucks, and I have HUGE empathy for the friends I have who had it recently. Argh. Because it is work to do anything. This? This is a small energy spurt. I will sleep for three hours after this, I swear. Don’t even talk to me about climbing stairs.

I think what bothers me the most about this is I probably could have avoided this. This is the part where Dr. Squeaky gets preachy. I had convinced myself last week that I was indispensable, because ELA registration was last week, and I worked and talked all day until late last week. I felt like crap Wednesday night, my cold in full swing.

Then, genius that I am, I went to San Antonio. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I had fun. It was not the experience it could have been, because I spent most of my evenings being ill when others were kibbitzing after hours, but the workshops and lectures were well worth the trip. By Saturday night, the world was surreal. We went to an awesome Mexican restaurant filled with lights and tinsel and atmosphere. I had a Shirley Temple, a bowl of chicken soup, and a flan, and was enveloped in good conversation and noise while hovering somewhat above my body. I felt like I was in sparkly princess land, but I couldn’t quite sparkle myself.

So, I guess, you know, I shouldn’t have gone to San Antonio. The travel days actually were a couple of the most relaxing days I had that week, but getting on a plane is not good for ENT systems, and I traded three days for about six days (I’m estimating at this point. I hope that’s it.) at home. And…I probably won’t pull something like this again when I’m sick. Older, wiser, and wheezier. There would be regrets of a different kind, but I would be well.

Still, it is nice to hear that friends enjoyed that I came out, and I really liked the crowd that was there. I am a lucky writer. I am invited to many retreats and workshops now, and I will have to think about how I want to spend my money along those lines (hey, Kirkwood does like to send me to ELA conferences sometimes!), but I’d love to go back. It was a great place and a good group.

But don’t do this to yourself. You will think you can stubborn your way through with your indomitable spirit, but you owe some support to your body when you are fighting the evil bacterial minions of Dr. Bronchitis as well.


Shoot. Well, I have two pieces to critique, and I’d like to get back to some writing. So, I’d best rest and heal and get back on program. It is frustrating to have been surrounded by writers writing and come home and, you know, cough. I know I’ve promised some of you emails about things like Paradise Icon and so forth. I promise you, as soon as I can, they’re coming.

Sotto Voce. Well, Not Exactly.

Two days of vocal silence, as I did, in the end, lose my voice in San Antonio. I’ve also been off the last couple of days resting and getting better. I will be going back to work tomorrow, even if my voice is not back. In theory, I have a speaking gig on Sunday in front of 180 SEED students, so I hope the old pipes come back.


San Antonio was a good time. I figure that the people who felt well must have had a terrific time! I didn’t get to hang out too late to schmooze, which was for the best, but the lectures were good, the critiques were good, the new and old friends faboo. I’ve decided I rather like these writer things.


Now I’ve got to get busy. I have a couple of things to read for people, and some stuff to write. Some Paradise Icon stuff to get around, just lots of things. Just wanted you all to know I’m alive, if quiet.

Paradise Lost III: Reporting Live (ish) from San Antonio

The last time I was sick at a convention, I left. My logic? Cons aren’t fun when you’re sick.

So…here I am in San Antonio at Paradise Lost III, ostensibly resting, except now I’ve taken so much Robitussin I’m kind of antsy. This is the point where the bottle tells me to stop taking Robitussin and consult my doctor. 🙂 Sure, I’ll do that.

I’m having a pretty good time here, in spite of my being low key. Yesterday, after things being so hectic earlier in the week, I actually LIKED being able to sleep in airport chairs and on planes. It felt like dipping tired feet in cool, delicious water. My ears really hurt for some of the flight, but I got over that. I really had some moments of delusion yesterday, when I thought I might actually be getting better. But then I would do something silly, like walk, and cough a lot, and incur the pity/wrath/horror of fellow travelers.

I have this I can’t breath trick right now. I do get my breath back, but I gasp for it in the middle of a kind of whooping cough. And unfortunately, I can’t tell when it’s going to happen. Let me tell you, if you really want to break up the flow of a return to the hotel conversation, this is the way to do it. Although you will feel like a freak later.

Yes, kids, I do see my doctor next week anyway, and if I need to, I’ll get somewhere here. I think I’ll be all right. The faboo Chris Cornell helped me find a Walgreens this morning, and I bought some maximum strength Robitussin that has been addressing my symptoms, if it hasn’t been, you know a faith healers hands or anything. I am both antsy and tired. Love medicine.

Blah, blah, blah, am sick.

BUT let me tell you something–this is a pretty well run little affair here.

Continue reading “Paradise Lost III: Reporting Live (ish) from San Antonio”

The Week that Was

I’ve spent this week in the trenches, registering students. This week is one of my most Dr. Catherine weeks of the year. My assistant Sharon and I have been in just about every classroom talking to students about summer and fall schedules.

As fate would have it, I decided to catch a cold this week, and this was one of those weeks that I could not miss, one of those true moments in my life when it’s gotta be me as the front man–er–woman.

Tomorrow I leave for Paradise Lost. Yeah, I’m coming to you San Antonio, with Kleenex and cold tablets, wearing a mask on the plane. I am still debating whether that’s the wisest idea, and if I wake up feeling worse, I may well change my mind. But right now I am willing to give it a whirl.

It’ll be an interesting experience. It may be the quietest writing retreat I ever have. My voice is definitely at low ebb. It’s also affecting my ears. I may have to be a creative pantomime to get my points across.

I’m looking forward to getting out of Iowa for a bit. The weather has been chilly, with a little bit of warmth. So some sun and toastiness will be great. I’ll see some old friends and meet some new, and hear some good feedback about the troll story from 2010 or so, which is in dire need of surgery.

So, if there’s no time to weigh in from Paradise Lost, you will hear from me again on Monday, when hopefully I’ll be less hoarse and more myself.

Have a great weekend.


This weekend I was busy being the Good Spouse (TM). I’m okay with that.

Bryon has a mentor figure in his life who looms large, a gentleman named Wilbert Hutton. Dr. Hutton was Bryon’s chemistry adviser during Bryon’s time at Iowa State, and they both shared an almost insatiable love of Jim Henson’s muppets. As a matter of fact, Bryon and some of his friends built imitations of the muppets and spent a good chunk of their high school and college careers doing shows with them. Bryon and our friend Paul were actually good enough that they were invited to audition for Henson after college, but Bryon decided he’d rather be a high school teacher, rather than a puppeteer. You know, for the glory. 😉

So, Bryon and Dr. Hutton shared this love of muppets, and Dr. Hutton was a demonstration chemist, among other things. He suggested to Bryon that the two of them coordinate their mutual talents and liven up the old chemistry magic show (mix things together, watch them fizz and/or turn colors and/or explode) with the muppet performances. This they did, and the chemistry magic shows were easily the most popular attractions at the 1981-1985 VEISHA festivals. And the Iowa State chem students were invited to take their show on the road to the international ACS conference in that time frame as well.

This was mostly before my time. I helped with lights in the last incarnation of the show. Dr. Hutton never knew quite what to make of the English member in the chem club, but really, I wasn’t trained to make things blow up, so lights, that was good.

Continue reading “Links”

Blue Zones Project: Belong, a Small Essay on Organized Religion

The final suggestion of the Power Nine for the Blue Zone project is that you should attend worship service.

Now, I think the Blue Zone Project is pretty liberal on what that means, given that it’s talked to Buddhists, Seventh Day Adventists, Jews, and so on and so on. So, this isn’t the usual dogma of why you should belong to Jesus.

But it’s been almost two years since the husband and I have become what those in the field call “unchurched.” And I gotta tell you, being involved in a religious institution too much is what got me to the point I’m at now. So I’m really struggling and resisting the idea of being involved in another religious organization.

This is a personal essay. My views may differ from yours. Please respect them. I respect yours. I’m working through some issues.

Continue reading “Blue Zones Project: Belong, a Small Essay on Organized Religion”