I enjoy writing by hand. I keep a personal journal along with writing first drafts in my work notebook. As satisfying as this is, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, if I’m doing a timed free writing session where the goal is to blow past the internal editor, I often can’t read my own handwriting afterward. Second, I then have to spend the time typing in all those pages. That makes a drastic difference in terms of getting stories polished and out to market.
Last week I decided to plow through all the notebooks I’ve been piling up. That meant organizing the ideas and random scenes and large chunks of developing stories. I was delighted to discover quite a few I’d forgotten about writing. This prompted me to indulge in two of my favorite activities: shopping at the Dollar Tree and buying office supplies. Here’s the new binder for the various bits and pieces related to my Kyoto Steampunk stories.
I’ve got more stacks of notebooks to go through. That means more binders, more dividers, and the hunt for more stickers and whatnot to do the decorating. Dollar Tree, here I come!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these adventures from my strange and busy life.
I want to thank everybody who has been kind enough to drop by, to leave a comment, to post a link that took me to some great blogs. I had to miss out on the Challenge for a couple of years. I am so glad to be back. The A to Z Blog Challenge rocks!
I write these posts late at night. Now I’m going to put on my fuzzy pajamas, curl up under the covers, and get some sleep.
“A person attracted to that which is foreign, especially to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.” YourDictionary.com
In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples. Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind. If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera. This was the number one item on my bucket list. Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true.
I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and I’ve written about many of them. This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories. My steampunk short fiction, which appears in 12 Hours Later and the forthcoming 30 Days After, centers around Kiyomizu-dera. If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.
The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls. Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva. There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera. Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.
There must have been hundreds of people visiting the temple the day Pat and I were there. People were dressed in traditional kimono or yukata, modern street wear, or school uniforms. When a tour group of high school boys passed by, a dozen manga sprang to mind.
The best times of the year to visit Kiyomizu-dera are springtime for the cherry blossoms and autumn for the maple leaves. Few things are more beautiful to me than the sight of late afternoon sunshine seen through the red leaves of a Japanese maple.
Here I stand on the veranda overlooking a thirteen meter drop. Known as the Stage, the veranda is built from over four hundred cypress boards. The Stage contains not a single nail. Wooden pegs were used instead.
In “A Demon in the Noonday Sun,” this is the spot where Dr. Harrington must protect the Abbot against the anger of Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos. The Abbot is sitting in a steampunk wheelchair at the time. Amatsu Mikaboshi keeps blasting it with black fire. Poor Dr. Harrington, a scientist to the bone, has to make a rather sudden adjustment to the reality of Japanese gods and monsters!
This is the view of the Stage from the opposite direction. I stood at the corner on the center left.
There are several shrines on the temple grounds. This is an excellent example of a shrine to Inari, god of rice/wealth. I love those fox figurines. Strangely enough, I could not find a shop that sold them.
Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking. The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai. Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in “Donnie Darko” a run for its money. The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.
Now for the rather chilling part of this expedition. The sign below explains the history of the god whose name is never spoken, the one who will punish playboys and heartbreakers. A wronged woman can take a straw figure that represents the man who hurt her and nail it to the cypress tree behind this particular shrine. The god-with-no-name will then bring down some hard karma on the man responsible.
Note, please, that the second thing to scare me in the Haunted House at Toei Kyoto Studio Park was a falling tree. Pat told me later she noticed it was a cypress with a straw figure nailed to it. We didn’t understand that at the time. Now we do!
The ema plaques below give one insight into the hopes and dreams of many people. I was surprised to discover some of them had English writing on them, not just kanji. Pilgrims come to Kiyomizu-dera from all over the world. Most of the plaques we saw had a sheep on them. Still not sure what that was all about.
Here are the three waterfalls that grant particular blessings. On the far right, wisdom. In the center, long life. On the left, success in scholarship. I meant to drink from the water of longevity. Turns out I drank the water for wisdom instead. I suspect that’s probably what I really need!
Soon it was time to head back down the mountain. This took us back along the Sannen-zaka, a narrow lane lined with shops selling maneki neko, fans, mochi, dango, all sorts of postcards and cell phone charms and the items pilgrims might need such as prayer beads.
I bought a hat embroidered with a battle between the God of Wind and the God of Lightning. Pat found a number of items on her souvenir wish list. If you love shopping, you simply must visit the Sannen-zaka. We also enjoyed a singular snack: pickled cucumber on a stick. Legend has it that cucumbers are the favorite food of Japan’s most famous monster from folklore, the kappa. I have to say the giant pickle on a stick was crunchy and refreshing, right up until the moment when I bit into the stick.
In Writing Open the Mind, author Andy Couturier describes how asymmetry can help the reader participate in our writing, creating a fresh and dynamic experience. “Since each combination of these dissimilar parts suggests its own meaning, its own interest and power, asymmetry in visual art or in writing encourages participation by the viewer or reader in the fertile process of creation. In a sense, writing asymmetrically is generous, because it gives the reader many different ways to understand, instead of insisting on one, that is only our own.”
I keep all the fortunes I get from fortune cookies. My friends and family know I do this, so they tend to give me theirs as well. Over the years I’ve collected at least two glass jars full of fortunes. I decided to experiment with “writing asymmetrically” by pulling out a dozen fortunes and setting them aside without reading them. I wrote out twelve questions, just going with whatever popped into mind, then printed out that page. I cut up the questions into twelve strips of paper and mixed them up, setting them aside face down in one pile beside the fortunes already waiting in the other pile. I chose a question and typed it in, then chose an answer and typed that below the question. The results can be used for writing prompts, scene dialogue, a personal journal entry, etc.
Q: What makes life worth living?
A: A goal is a dream with a deadline.
(Sound advice. Failing to plan is planning to fail.)
Q: Who knows the secret of eternal youth?
A: You will soon be crossing desert sands for a fun vacation.
(Why does this make me think of Las Vegas or Palm Springs?)
Q: What advice would you give to your granddaughter?
A: Look closely at your surroundings.
(Furniture? Objet d’art? Choosing the most worthy granddaughter?)
Q: How do you solve the problem of time travel?
A: Good fortune is always on your side.
(So you’ll have a good time wherever you go!)
Q: Where can you find true Paradise on earth?
A: You are always welcome in any gathering.
Q: What did the monkey say to the banana?
A: Look for the dream that keeps coming back. It is your destiny.
(I’m guessing the monkey dreams about really big bananas.)
Q: How do you bring a smile to the sourest face?
A: You must learn to broaden your horizons, day by day.
(Some people bring happiness by arriving, others by departing.)
Q: I’ve lost my car keys and I have no money. Now what?
A: You are a lover of words.
(Talk your way out of that one!)
Q: How does one restore lost innocence?
A: An unexpected payment is coming your way.
(If money can’t buy happiness, it certainly can’t restore lost innocence!)
Q: Why are word problems always so confusing?
A: Laughter shall fuel your spirit’s engine.
(My teacher tended to laugh at a lot of my answers, that’s for sure.)
Q: Why are we told there are always more fish in the sea?
A: Little brooks make great rivers.
(This pairing was an accident, I swear.)
Q: What do you get if you cross a rhino with a stapler?
A: Follow your instincts when making decisions.
(First, don’t cross a rhino. Second, don’t do it with a stapler!)
When I was eighteen, my father sent me to spend the summer in Holland with the family of the exchange student who had been my Physics lab partner during my senior year of high school. Thanks to my Eurail Pass, I traveled all over Holland, including the amazing city of Amsterdam. With the help of my Dutch parents, I also made arrangements to take a weekend bus trip all the way to Paris. When they took me to the bus station, my Dutch parents were careful to explain to the driver that I didn’t speak the language. Fortunately, the driver spoke excellent English. Unfortunately, just after my Dutch parents left, the English-speaking driver told me his shift was over. His replacement was a cheerful little man named Ott. Ott’s English wasn’t just broken, it was smashed.
The bus soon filled up with the other passengers, mostly older folks with a few couples, and two girls about my age. Ott had me sit in the tour guide’s seat, the one right across the aisle from him. I felt like a bug plastered up against the big front windows. I did have an excellent view as we drove across Holland, passed through part of Belgium, and entered France. While I was in Paris I saw many of the highlights, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and the Monmarte. I ran into a bit of trouble on my way into one of the museums. I had already paid the fee to enter the museum, but the tour guide made a fuss about how I still needed to pay it. At that point we had a French woman tour guide who made it plain she did not care for me, purely because I was American. The Dutch ladies on the bus weren’t having any of that. They told me to give my age as seventeen because only people eighteen and over had to pay the fee. Then they rallied round me quite literally as they escorted me into the museum. The tour guide didn’t cause me any more trouble.
On Sunday we were allowed two hours to go shopping. My shopping list was very simple. In addition to a few items for my friends and family, I wanted to buy my mother a gold Eiffel Tower charm. It took me some time to locate the jewelry department, with many “Parlez-vous Anglais?” along the way. Most of the staff were polite enough about saying they did not speak English. Then I found the jewelry department and the arrogant Catherine Deneuve-wannabe in charge. It was clear I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. I gave the situation some thought, then returned to the attack with new strategy. Just as the saleswoman prepared to dismiss me again, I held up my traveler’s checks, fanned them out, and said, “Parlez-vous American Express?” The saleswoman vanished, replaced by Raoul, who spoke perfect British English. He was quite happy to bring out the case that held the Eiffel Tower charms in a staggering range of sizes. I chose the one I wanted, changed my traveler’s checks for francs, and left that department. Mission accomplished.
By a strange coincidence there was another American girl on the tour bus. She was visiting her Dutch grandmother, who had brought both the American girl and her teenage Dutch cousin along for a wonderful weekend in Paris. When I crossed paths with them in the department store, it was clear to me the girls were dying to run off by themselves. The grandmother looked rather tired. Since my shopping was complete, I invited the grandmother to join me in the restaurant on the top floor of the store. The girls could go do as they liked, then we’d all meet back at the bus at the appointed time. Everybody was happy. The grandmother looked relieved to sit down for a while. While she drank her coffee and I had a bite to eat, she told me all about her family and showed me photos. Later, she was kind enough to take a photo of me in front of the Eiffel Tower and mailed it to me where I lived with my Dutch family. That photo was the gift I wanted to give to my father.
I keep that photo in my office. Every time I look at it, I remember the kindness of those wonderful Dutch people and my many adventures in the City of Lights, all thanks to my father.
As you may have gathered from some of my previous posts, my life is rather stressful. Finding reliable methods of relaxation is essential. Here are a few of my favorites.
Watching the wildlife
Various members of the local wildlife community who turn up in my back yard. I live on an acre of land with a creek that runs along the southern property line. The wildfires in California caused such a loss of habitat I’m happy to see the critters show up here. The regulars include ravens, crows, ducks, wild turkeys, woodpeckers, and two dozen species of songbirds. Squirrels both red ad gray live in the trees on both banks of the creek. There are two skunks who snuffle around late at night. Once in a while I’ll see a ‘possum.
Entangled Night Skies from Creative Haven uses Angela Porter’s wonderful designs. It takes some work to color in all the separate elements of each page, but it’s well worth it. There’s no particular deadline, so I can go at my own pace and linger over the colors I enjoy the most.
Bad ghost chaser movies
I find these entertaining if only because they’re so predictable. Ignoring all the warnings. Blowing off that creepy sense of being watched. The lights flickering. Will the problem be in the attic or the basement? The popularity of paranormal investigation movies has given me the opportunity to gain some insight into other cultures. Scandinavia, India, Poland, Turkey, France…. All over the world, things go bump in the night!
Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.
In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.
In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.
When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.
This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?
There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.
John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?
So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.
Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.
In 1967 a toy manufacturer came out with the Ouija board most people are familiar with. A few years ago, a whole new world of bad taste and spiritual danger was unleashed when the latest model of the Ouija board was unveiled. Made in bright, pretty colors, it was aimed at girls eight to twelve, marketed as the perfect sleepover entertainment. So much criticism about this candy-coated abomination has arisen from so many different sources that the manufacturer pulled it from the shelves. That company will no longer be making any of them. Unfortunately, human nature being the way it is, that turn of events made that particular Ouija board a collector’s item.
Many religions forbid talking to the dead. Many cultures forbid even speaking of the dead because it’s disrespectful and might disturb their rest. And yet there are some parents out there who see no problem with exposing their grade school daughters to what could be used as a tool for necromancy. If people are going to trivialize the occult and dress it up in such seemingly harmless colors, what do they think is going to happen once those children turn into teenagers with no sense of danger and rebellious streaks a mile wide? I know what could happen. I was a stupid teenager once.
I pray for the safety of any child who comes into contact with this horrible “toy.” It’s one more example of evil hiding in plain sight.
“When you nitpick, you focus on small, specific mistakes.” — Vocabulary.com
Writing about history gives me an opportunity to get the big picture on how different countries have tried to make different strategies work. Economic strategies, military strategies, and the more cultural and artistic strategies that come under the heading of fashion. There is one particular occupational hazard to becoming an historical writer. One can develop an obsession with historical accuracy that appears to people outside one’s own head as relentless nitpicking.
A good example is Scotland. Not the wealthiest of countries, Scotland has a long history of internal clan conflicts and the border wars with England. The weather in Scotland tends toward clouds and rain. Sheep do well on the landscape of Scotland, so you see a lot of wool in their clothing styles, especially the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. When in the company of such people, I’ve learned to keep my knowledge of history to myself. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those nasty facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.
I’ve written often about my fondness for Japan. Feudal Japan was an era of strict social classes, laws about fashion, and precise rules about social etiquette. While the tyranny of the Tokugawa Shogunate was eventually its own undoing, I must confess I find a certain comfort in having so many matters of culture spelled out for me. Modern Japanese also enjoy the two-edged sword of knowing exactly who they are and where they stand in whatever social context they find themselves. In the time of the Tokugawa, clothing, hairstyles, personal ornamentation, and weaponry were the indicators of social position. I find it one of history’s most humorous moments to see all that grandeur reduced to the business card. That has become the crucial indicator of status and context for the Japanese. Westerners are advised to bring plenty of their own. Otherwise there are business available to produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese. Context is everything, and Japan is a high-context society.
I write romance novels, so I get to take a close look at the techniques of wooing in various times and places. Medieval Europe had the concept of the Court of Chivalry. Eleanor of Aquitaine was largely responsible for this idea. Knights were measured against the Code of Chivalry to see if they met the beau ideal of those times. The real purpose of the Courts of Chilvary was to keep the women occupied while the men were off on Crusade or fighting battles closer to home. Bored noblewomen can be dangerous noblewomen, as Eleanor of Aquitaine herself proved more than once.
Novels from the Regency and Victorian periods entertain me because they’re all about clothes and money. Social position is the bottom line, and so many of the characters are looking to trade up. Finding someone you can love for the rest of your life is nowhere near as important as finding someone with a respectable income of so many hundreds or thousands of pounds per year. Love might be a nice side effect of marriage. Nobody expected it to be the whole point.
Oddly enough, ancient history holds little appeal for me. The mysteries of ancient Egypt focus so much on the afterlife. I know more than I ever wanted to about the process of mummification. I find it interesting that the Egyptian gods have animal heads, also found in the Hindu pantheon. What does this similarity mean? What exchange of culture might have gone on that modern archaeologists have yet to discover? As with so many cultures, the most noteworthy people are the upper classes, especially the royalty. The lower classes, especially the slaves, had a hard life. Not a lot of romance there for me. I’m not fond of desert climates.
One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first romance novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because that novel is set in Navarre. I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. In Egypt the custom of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes was based as much on pragmatism as piety. If not for that custom, many members of the lower classes in Egypt would have starved to death. The key difference in culinary art between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance came down to the use of spices. The Middle Ages saw lots of spices thrown in for rich flavors. Renaissance cooking became more selective, creating unique dishes centered around particular flavor combinations. My research in this area taught me the delights of chicken prepared with cinnamon.
Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about dressing up my heroes and heroines in the bijouterie of their particular time periods. From the hair ornaments of the geisha to the mourning rings of the Victorian period, from the carnelian combs of early Russia to the prayer ropes of the Middles Ages called paternosters made from ivory beads or garnets or even pearls, the treasure chests of history are overflowing with splendor and detail. I once had the pleasure of visiting the Smithsonian Institution and seeing the earrings of Marie Antoinette. I had to wonder how she avoided ending up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s.
History is full of little questions like this, alongside the larger mysteries. And so with every novel I go exploring!
This was the first Inspector Alleyn novel I read. While clearly upper crust and possessed of impeccable manners, Alleyn brings a very pragmatic approach to his investigations. By that I mean he lets the suspects think he’s playing along with their nonsense while he seizes the available opportunities to gather the information he needs. Among the artists involved in this crime is Agatha Troy, a famous painter who captures Alleyn’s heart while he’s trying to figure out if she’s the one he has to arrest for murder. As the sixth case in the series, this story presents Alleyn in a new light with a depth of characterization that compelled me to read all thirty-two of his adventures.
The first of the Miss Marple novels, in this story I discovered the world of the quaint little English village and what a fierce combination of deceit, resentment, and violence seethes just below its proper public face. A cranky, abrasive churchwarden is shot in his office at the vicarage. A total of twenty-one characters dilute the main story a bit with subplots, but the red herrings do keep you guessing. The characters are so realistic and well-drawn I can read this book again and again.
Nordic Noir is quite a reading experience. Scandinavian landscapes, brooding police protagonists, and crimes of dark and twisted violence. I admit I wasn’t prepared for that last one. Even so, the brilliance of the writing and the intensity of the characters make for a thrilling read. Harry Hole is the Norwegian detective in Jo Nesbo’s series.
There’s trouble brewing in Uberwald, a dark, spooky country where power is split between the vampires, the werewolves, and the Low King of the Dwarves. A new Low King is about to take charge in a turn of events that will affect the reins of power all over the Disc. Lord Ventinari intends to protect the interests of Ankh-Morpork and its allies by sending Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch. Vimes also happens to be a Duke, which makes him the perfect copper for the diplomatic mission. Vimes is anything but diplomatic, guaranteeing a bumpy time will be had by all. The plot concerns a theft that leads to murder surrounded by lies, lies, and more lies. Great stuff!
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Philip Marlowe’s first novel-length case takes him from blackmail and a gambling den to drugs, murder, and madness. General Sternwood hires him to solve the problem plaguing his younger daughter Carmen. The cynical way way General Sternwood talks about both Carmen and his elder daughter Vivian as corrupt and “having all the usual vices” signals just how far down such high class socialites can fall. The movie version starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is excellent, directed by John Huston with William Faulkner himself working on the script. Hollywood did sanitize the story a bit. For the complete story with every sordid detail, read the book!
I'm a professional writer living in Northern California with my husband and two sons. Fantasy in various forms is my reading and writing pleasure. I'm a history buff, a Japanophile, and I love to learn about language(s). I enjoy making jewelry, using natural materials such as wood, bone, semiprecious stones, and seashells. I collect bookmarks and wind chimes.