Archive for April, 2009

A King’s Ransom.
April 23, 2009

It’s been a good, hard few months. These moments, below, are the defining ones:

1) I’ve toiled over my quirky YA novel, The Girl Next Door, seven days a week since November 2008. Time not spent on life’s basics (or tending to dogs and horses) was spent in a sort of mental pilates, making TGND tight and lean.

I’m tired, but happily so. I’m very pleased with the end results, too. It ‘s amazing how abilities and skills solidify from one novel to the next — it’s what a writer always hears about, but to experience the process as it’s happening is pure magic.

Writing skills can morph into writing gifts if a writer is willing to put in the work. And even if you already have a knack for writing, still, it takes work.

2) We lost a bunch of photographs a few years ago when an old computer crashed. We certainly learned the hard way. At the time, I was devastated. I’ve often thought wistfully about those photographs.

I lost photos of old friends, photos of a friend who passed too young, some wedding photos, pet photos (some of the pets having since crossed the Rainbow Bridge) and photos from the apartment where we used to live, including our first Christmas lights together and a 9/11 memorial I’d started on the apartment lawn in the dead of night. (Originally being an East Coast girl, 9/11 hit hard. I’d also worked on the 79th floor of the World Trade Center after college.) The memorial was against the apartment rules, but they bent the rules for a whole week.

Just a few weeks ago, I came in from flaking the horses to see my husband bent over some strange device on the kitchen counter with a hard drive laying next to it. I still don’t know what it was, but it was miraculous; it accessed ALL the photographs we thought were irretrievable.

Wow.

I’ve spent the last few weeks going through the pictures a little at a time, surprised by the emotions that shadow these images, on the verge of tears (both happy and sad) — to see old friends, former lives, former selves — and to see my animal babies, their likenesses captured so clearly it feels like, in a small way, they’ve come back to me.

The photos have even seeped into my dreams, and in my dreams, whether they be about horse, dog or cat, I remember scents, mannerisms, barks and meows I’ve been unable to hold onto in my waking life.

It’s both salty and sweet

how the heart remembers in dreams

what the waking mind can’t keep.

I kept a hank of Takoda’s tail (my first horse) who died of colic in July of 2007, although it broke my heart to cut it even after he was gone. I vacuum-sealed the hair in a plastic bag to keep his scent close, but even so, the scent disappeared.

Gone is really gone.

3) Querying is tough. Chasing the dream is tough. You toil and research and pray. You put in the work and hope for good results, but even then, you can’t be sure. For writers, that’s part of the journey; it builds character and characters. It’ll prove you to yourself in one way or another, holding up a mirror to both your writing and your fortitude (or lack thereof).

The query process is curiously endowed with more than its original, intended aim. I understand why it drives some writers crazy. I understand the intensity and the despair. Nothing of great importance comes easily, and perhaps it shouldn’t. But perspective and a bird’s eye view remain a querying writer’s best friends.

No doubt about it — staring your dreams in the face is heady stuff. You roar, you soar, you crash, but you still burn. You rise up from the ashes humbled but determined and even more sure that you’re the real deal: you’re a writer. You need no ones permission. You are who you are. Now, you REALLY know.

Sure, you could quit. Go ahead — quit. Seriously. Most likely you’ll find you can’t quit for long. You’re a writer, you know. Pens and paper, keyboards and fingers, words and thoughts, they go together like up and down, on and off, light and dark.

Rejection is tough, dream-chasing is tough, remaining steadfast is tough. And yet, there’s no other choice. We want to master our craft. We want to share new worlds. We want to be published, yet not sell our souls nor sell out.

All these things and more rear their subterranean heads; important things withheld in the past and those who withheld them. Feelings of not being good enough. Voices from long ago, critical or incredulous or condescending. Self-doubt, heavy as an avalanche, along with the dizzying flight of believing in yourself and your abilities during those crystal-clear, this-is-why-I’m-here moments.

The query process is literally haunted by one thousand ghosts.

If you’re a querying writer, validation can be hard to come by. Please feel free to plug yourself into the letter below:

Dear My Querying Self,

You ROCK for hanging your lily-white a** in the wind and sailing your work out there. Sure, it can feel like TORTURE at times, but you have to keep putting your work out there — it’s the only way to get to HERE.

I admire your courage and cajones, by the way. They’re just what’s needed to make magic happen, on or off the page.

The world can always use more magic, more understanding, more connection, more alternate worlds that teach us what’s important in this one. Do what you need to do, amigo, but whatever you do, don’t give up.

I know it can look bleak down there in the query trenches, but we got where we are now because of those rejections — they paved the way to that one YES that changed everything — EVERYTHING. The process made you tougher. It made the writing better. It was sooooooo worth it.

You want proof? See this book I’m holding in my hands? That’s YOUR first novel! So keep querying, keep dreaming, keep hoping and keep working — but most importantly, KEEP WRITING.

With gratitude and admiration,

Your Published Self From The Future — I owe it all to you!

P.S. I’m really sorry about the a** in the wind thing, though.

A Prayer For More Cloudy Days.
April 1, 2009

On Cloud Nine.

Riding Cloudy.

From last week:

I’m not just a writer, today, but a very worried Mommy. My twenty-something year old Arabian horse, White Cloud, has been colicky since yesterday afternoon.

Us horse owners shudder at the spectre of colic. Statistically known to kill one out of every four horses, this sneaky malady is infamous as the leading cause of death in equines.

It was colic that took my twenty-one year old Arabian horse, Takoda, in the summer of 2007.

Often, colic can strike out of nowhere; even something as innocuous as a change in the weather can cause the symptoms of colic — pawing, nipping at the stomach or sides, restlessness and sweating, constipation, diarrhea, refusal of food and drink, rolling, or rolling violently, in the worst cases — according to wise, leathery cowboys and scientific studies, even. Outside the window, I watch the new winds blow madly. (I’d rate them a ten on the obnoxious meter. If only there were a remote for that.)

Since Cloud is fed only the best hay and is floated and wormed like clockwork, I’m left even more concerned by his gastrointestinal distress.

I await a return call from our vet. As I wait, my mind and heart race. Forget the scary query in-box — I can’t help but remember Takoda’s last night on earth, my beautiful old Arab lying on the ground with his head in my lap, his usually fresh, green breath turned dark and forboding.

There was nothing the vet could do for him except end his misery.     

UPDATE:

I stayed up with Cloudy two nights straight. It was like a throwback to the night he arrived here at Morning Star Ranch, colicky then, too, and overloaded with worms from the feedlot, where he waited to be shipped to slaughter.

The morning I first saw colic symptoms in Cloud, I’d separated him from the herd and immediately called the vet. Settled in his own corral, I could more accurately monitor his water intake and manure, which happened to be explosive diarrhea. Like a horsier version of Nancy Drew, I gathered clues to clue in the vet, who made an emergency visit to the ranch after hearing the symptoms over the phone.

(This is why, if you own horses, it’s vital to have a medical emergency fund.)  

After the vet checked his vitals, Cloud was sedated; a long, clear tube was threaded down one nostril to his stomach, delivering water, psyllium and some red stuff straight into his gut. A few hours later, we administered two tubes of Biosponge (like a miracle for equine digestive issues). We also had blood drawn; it’s something I like to do yearly, especially with elderly horses.

Tonight, (or today, since it’s after 4 in the morning), Cloud is doing much better. The diarrhea is gone; the green mounds of manure he’s yielding are actually beautiful, indicative of the normal functioning of a healthy body. I hold myself back from getting my camera.

As a horse owner, I read manure like tea leaves. 

Last night, I even bargained with the Universe, Kubler-Ross style. I said, Universe, you can take away all the agent requests I’ve received, and if Destiny has scheduled me to win the lottery, you can have that, too — as long as you pull White Cloud through this ordeal. 

There’s nothing worse than when one of your babies is sick or hurting.

Today:

Beautiful Boy.

There’s an old saying. “If there’s trouble, a horse will find it.”

Cloud is doing GREAT. Since his colicky bout, our draft horse, Mr. Bean, came down with a more mild case of colic. Cloudy’s tests came back showing the presence of creosote, a compound found in our Mesquite trees.

I’ve had the poisonous plants handbook for this area ever since we put up the horse facilities, and we’re diligent about keeping the desert trimmed back from the fenceline. The only scenarios I can think of for the poisoning are:

A) Mesquite tree branches blown into the corral due to the crazy winds, which the two horses chewed.

B) Neighborhood kids feeding the horses clippings or twigs without us knowing it.    

Such are the times I wish I could shrink the horses into Breyer models and set my horsey gentlemen on the knick-knack shelf overnight, while I’m sleeping.  

When all is said and done, I do try to remain realistic. I have a soft spot for the older geldings headed to slaughter, and often, due to a history of neglect, or the neglect horses experience on the feedlot, (horses destined for human consumption can’t be wormed or treated, as the chemicals taint the meat), they’re also not the most likely candidates to live to be thirty years or older (a horse’s general lifespan).

I remind myself that when it’s Cloudy’s turn to gallop across the Rainbow Bridge, he’ll do so as a valued, cherished being. Many of his kind aren’t as fortunate.

Of course, the time is never right to say goodbye to the animals we love. Or at least, I haven’t come close to mastering this ability. It’s quite a dichotomy —  everything contains its opposite, and for life, that’s death. We can’t have the love and joy we receive from our four-legged family members without one day facing that dreaded goodbye.

As a writer and in a spiritual sense, you might say I’m fascinated with death. All writers, including the greats, have a handful of themes that run through their work. Mine is death. It’s another dichotomy when you consider the fact that:

A) I’m the opposite of dark.

B) Having fun with or exploring the death theme in my writing is night-and-day different from facing it in real life. 

Every evening, after I bleach-mop the sanctuary room before bringing the dogs in for the night, I put down layers of newspaper in the corner in case anyone can’t hold it. And in the Universe’s strange way, often I end up stopping in my tracks because the sheet in front of me happens to be the Obituaries. I’m jolted by the faces of children and teenagers, regularly present, but even more so, I’m jolted by the view of life’s great fragility. 

There’s some luck in it: those newspaper pages make it impossible to forget how lucky I am for another day, another sun, even another fake-out air-nip from a grumpy old horse. I’ve been thrilled this week to have Cloudy pin his ears at me and snake his neck per usual; good old Mr. Grumpy-Pants, back to his old, ornery self.

There’s also a gift: appreciate what you have right now — it’s all you have for certain, if even that.

But, enough lessons already.

Life’s a-waiting.

Arabian Cloud and Mustang Peanut. 

Cloud and Peanut, saved from slaughter.

(P.S.  Thank you, Universe! I did mean what I said last week, and Cloud is still doing great. But, if you could see it clear, can I keep the agents, too? I’d be much obliged.)

Wearing: NaNoWriMo 2008 WINNER t shirt

Listening to: Praise You, by Fatboy Slim

Mood: Happy, pure and simple.

Photos by Emily Murdoch (except for the one I’m in, of course).