Phew! Yee-ha! And a Pitiful Cry

I know life is made up of moments lived, not a series of goals and strivings, but I love how it feels when I get something done. Today I finished preparations for the course I’ll teach over the three-week January term. It’s hardly an adventure, more of a task, leading to a mere “phew” of satisfaction. The fun will come when I have students next week, new people with fresh ideas and thoughtful questions. I can’t have the fun, though, without the work.

With writing, the joys run backwards. Today I also finished the first satisfactory draft of the next Mae Martin mystery. I describe it that way because my writing process goes through so much ongoing revision and recycling that it’s hard to call anything a first draft. The moment of knowing that this is the plot that works and this is the ending is exhilarating, a big “yee-ha!” I dance quite a bit at this stage of writing, something I don’t do in my college office. I’m excited about revising the book, too, and sharing it with critique partners and revising it more. I even enjoy the picky details of word choice and sentence structure, of deciding what to cut and what to add, and experimenting with the best way to describe certain feelings and actions. It’s work that doesn’t feel like work, all the way to the final draft.

Getting sales and reviews is the work that feels like work. A book isn’t fully alive until it has readers, just as a planned-out college class is nothing until it has students. I have to do this work, but I look at Twitter and Facebook, trying to think of witty snippets of chat, and I shrivel. No, please, there has to be better way. My New Year’s resolution is stop whimpering and become a marketing genius without boring or annoying anyone. (That’s what would make me a genius.) I need to learn to dance with delight about filling out an advertising form, or at least look forward to the “phew” of having done it. Instead of just tweeting links, I will take up the challenge of composing something original and intriguing in 140 characters or less. Follow me on Twitter and see if I succeed. But don’t hold your breath. I’d rather be writing a hundred thousand words of fiction, or even next semester’s syllabus.

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IndieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop: A Free Holiday Short Story

ALL-ABOARD-with-medallionB.R.A.G. Medallion authors are taking you on a holiday tour through their blogs. On this stop, enjoy my new short fiction for the season.

Santa Claus Checks in at the Fat Buddha Spa

Mae Martin raced her twin stepdaughters to the pasture fence and almost let them win, making it a three-way tie. The llamas looked up from grazing on the dry winter grass, blinking their long lashes. Taking walks to visit the neighbors’ animals had been a favorite pastime for Mae and girls when she’d lived with them. Now, on her first holiday visit after separating from their father, she was trying to keep everything as normal as possible. As the six-year-old girls clambered onto the fence, Brook shouted. “That’s what I want for Christmas. A llama.”

“Are you sure?” Mae picked up a small purple glove from the weeds and put it in her pocket. The late December day was growing warm and both girls had taken off their gloves and hats. “I thought y’all wanted a tarantula.”

“We do, but Miss Jen is scared of spiders.”

Their father’s new girlfriend didn’t share Mae’s appreciation for crawly critters. “She might think a llama was cuter, but I don’t think anybody can afford one right now. You do know your presents come from family, right? Your daddy said y’all don’t believe in Santa anymore.”

“Yeah. We figured it out.” Stream perched on the top rail, swinging her legs. “We watched this TV show with Grampa Jim and Granma Sally about these people who have reindeer in some place near the North Pole.”

“Lapland?”

“Yeah. And those things are big. There’s no way they can fly.”

“What about magic?”

Brook sat beside her sister. They studied Mae as if they felt sorry for her. Poor mama. She’s not caught up with us yet. “Magic is for little kids who can’t figure things out. We’re gonna be bug scientists when we grow up—”

“Nun-uh.” Stream wriggled and sat straighter. “That’s your job. I’m gonna be a race car driver.”

Mae walked up and placed her hands on their knees. She loved their independence and eccentricity, but they could be tactless about how smart they were—like her ex-mother-law—and she needed to take that attitude down a notch. Gently. “Now what in the world is Santa Claus gonna do if all these kids don’t believe in him?”

Brook frowned, saying he couldn’t do anything if he wasn’t real, but Stream started to laugh. “He’ll pop like a bubble.”

Mae did her best to act serious. “Did you tell your friends there’s no Santa?”

The girls exchanged glances. Brook said, “We got in trouble for it at school. It made some kids cry.”

“It might be hard on ol’ Santa, too. Popping like a bubble. Before you tell any more kids he’s not real, I think I’d better give him a call and see how he’s feeling.” Mae took her cell phone from her jacket pocket and pretended to make a call. She rolled her eyes and sighed as if waiting a long time for an answer.

The girls poked each other and giggled. Stream whispered to her sister, “She can’t call him. She’s making believe.”

Mae raised her eyebrows, giving them the oh yeah? look, and then a triumphant smile as if she’d finally heard a voice. “Well hey, Santa buddy. What’s up? You know Summer Stream and Autumn Brook Ridley don’t believe in you anymore? … Oh. Of course. I can’t surprise you. You know who’s naughty and nice. “

Brook protested, “We weren’t naughty. We told the truth.”

“But did you tell it nice?” Mae turned away, lowering her voice to resume her conversation with Santa. “I hope they didn’t hurt your feelings. They told half the kids in Hertford County, North Carolina—You’re kidding! … So what are you doing now? … Really? Shut up! I live there. I just left for my vacation.” She put her hand over the phone. “You won’t believe it. He’s checked into a spa back in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. So many kids stopped believing in him, he’s taking this Christmas off.”

“What’s a spa?”

“It’s sort of like a motel with extra stuff. The ones where I live have hot springs and massages. People go there to relax and get healthy.” She got back to Santa Claus. “Which one? You at the Charles? La Paloma? … I never heard of that one. The Fat Buddha? … Oh. Reckon I wouldn’t see it.”

She explained to the girls, “He’s at a spa for supernatural beings. Regular folks can’t see it.”

Both girls frowned, and Brook asked, “A spa for what?”

“Supernatural beings. Kinda like ghosts or angels, but not exactly. It’s run by a big fat Buddha. You know who he is?”

The_Laughing_&_Lucky_Buddha!_A_stroke_of_Luck!_(413428647)

Stream nodded. “Granma Sally has his statue on her desk. She says he helps her stay calm when she does taxes.”

“He’s helping Santa, too. And they’re hanging out with another fat supernatural, Ganesh. He’s this Hindu god with an elephant head.”

“An elephant head?” Stream whooped.

Brook asked, “How come they’re all fat?”

Mae repeated the question to Santa and listened while she worked on an answer.

“He says it’s because they’re supernatural. They don’t have to be in shape to be healthy. Ganesh …” She had to stop and think again. Her neighbors in T or C were into yoga and they had a Ganesh poster in their living room. Finding it strange but beautiful, she’d asked Kenny to explain it. “Ganesh is fat but he’s big and strong, too. People call him the remover of obstacles. Like an elephant can pull a fallen tree off a road but a human can’t.”

Ganesh_2Stream looked skeptical. “Do people believe in the elephant-head guy? Like they believe in Santa?”

“Some do, but a lot of people just believe in what they all stand for. Like being generous and happy and enjoying life. Santa says they’re hanging out in the hot spring together and these other guys helped him with something he was worried about. So, you did him a favor, giving him a vacation, but he wants to go back to work next year, and he’ll need kids to believe in him again.”

“We can’t make them.”

“No—but you can keep it to yourselves if some new believers come along. You know why he wants to go back to work?”

Brook asked, “Does he get paid a lot?”

“No—he does it to be kind. And this is what those other fat dudes at the spa told him. He’s been too generous. See, they don’t get as carried away with their roles as he does. They help people by changing their lives, not giving stuff. He’s been giving people way too much expensive stuff, and they’re starting to think Christmas is about getting big, fancy gifts. So next year, he’s gonna cut back. Give stuff that means more and costs less.”

Mae took a deep breath and let it out. She hadn’t known she was going to say that. But as a college student with a part-time job and not much cash, she’d had to buy small gifts this year—child-sized team T-shirts for the College of the Rio Grande Tarantulas and a pair of stuffed toy versions of the mascot. She’d wanted to do more, but the trip east had cost all she could spare, and yet she didn’t want the girls to think she loved them less because she didn’t live with them anymore.

“Like when we make you presents,” Brook said.

“Exactly.” Mae smiled in relief.

“Good,” said Stream, “because we—”

Brook dug a fist into her sister’s arm. “Sh. You can’t tell her.”

“That’s right.” Mae put her phone in her jacket pocket. “Being surprised is part of the fun.”

The girls stared at her pocket. “Mama,” Brook said, “That was rude. You hung up on Santa without saying goodbye.”

“Oops. Look like I’ve been naughty, too. Good thing he’s taking the year off.”Santa_Claus

            *****

This interlude occurs offstage during the third Mae Martin Psychic Mystery, Snake Face.

Snake Face and Shaman’s Blues (book two) received B.R.A.G. Medallions.

Dive into the series at a discount. E-books are on sale for $2.99 on all major online bookstores, paperbacks have been reduced from $17.99 to $13.99, and the series prequel, The Outlaw Women, is free. Sale ends January 10.

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https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/free-downloads-retail-links

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For links to all stops on the blog hop, go to: http://www.bragmedallion.com

 The next stop on the indieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop is today, December 18 with Malcolm Noble

While We Hold Still, Time Doesn’t

I came across this phrase years ago in my fitness work: While we hold still, time doesn’t. When we procrastinate exercising, we don’t maintain the status quo but get into worse shape. The same is true of the planet. While world leaders and national leaders put off serious action on climate change for too many years, the process didn’t pause and wait for them to get around to something. I want to believe that the new agreement forged in Paris will lead to action, finally. While conscious pausing can be positive—taking time to deliberate and then choose an action—inaction can lead to negative consequences as powerfully as any unwise action might.

I’ve been thinking about my own areas of procrastination. I don’t wrestle with the behaviors people typically make New Year’s resolutions about, such as eating right and staying fit. However, there are plenty of things I put off as if they will take care of themselves—tedious paperwork chores that are much less fun than running. Choosing between what feels good today that will lead to something bad tomorrow and something that calls for discipline and discomfort today that will lead to a greater good tomorrow seems to be the key issue in procrastination—along with the delusion that time holds still with us. Meanwhile, the forces of physics, the marketplace, biology and karma keep moving.

Healing as a Mythic Journey: Book Review of The Healing Path

The unifying theme of this book is that healing calls for making meaning out of illness. Stories have arcs that organize experience into meaning, as they grow from the initial alarm into conflict and struggle in pursuit of a goal, and finally come to a resolution. Marc Ian Barasch uses classic films as myths of the healing path, a framework within which he tells his own story and the stories of others who have confronted serious illness. The essence of healing isn’t always surviving. Some of his journeyers, as he calls his fellow travelers on the path, died. Others had virtually impossible recoveries through spiritual and holistic approaches to self-healing, defying both medical predictions and medical advice. Still others, like the author, had conventional treatment while integrating psychological and spiritual changes.

Barasch did substantial research. His own encounter with cancer and his bizarre dreams that diagnosed it long before his doctors did and predicted aspects of his treatment provoked his curiosity about how others heal. (He wrote another book, Healing Dreams, which I highly recommend.) I’ve read just about every book or study that he cites in The Healing Path , which made this section of the book a little too familiar to me, but then, I’m a professor who has taught a course on alternative medicine. The book is few years old, so its medical information isn’t the latest, but the essence of the message holds up. His adventures as a seeker of alternative options, and the profound self-explorations of the journeyers he interviewed, make for a compelling story.

His language is extraordinary. I bought this book as a used paperback, idly curious after having liked Healing Dreams, and I’ve actually highlighted and starred sections, something I don’t normally do to my books. There are so many shining jewels I had to make sure I could find them again.

The final sections of the book blew me away. I’ve studied energy healing, psychology, and a lot of yoga and meditation. I teach the latter two. I write fiction that involves a healer. I know this stuff, but he knows more, because he has lived through things I haven’t. He taught me, even though all the facts were familiar. His wisdom isn’t platitudinous. It’s hard won.

In James Scott Bell’s writing guide Super Structure, he discusses how great movies and fiction all have a turning point in the middle where the protagonist confronts a painful or frightening truth about himself or his life. Bell calls it the Mirror Moment—looking in the mirror literally or figuratively—and says the essence of it is change or die. This might not mean bodily death; it could be spiritual or emotional or professional. (Synchronicity: He uses one of the same movies Barasch does, the Wizard of Oz, to illustrate his ideas.) This next observation is a minor spoiler, if nonfiction can have spoilers. Barasch says his realization at the key stage of his journey through cancer was change or die. He had to change his whole life, not just get the disease treated. He was facing all the forms of death, not just the one threatening his body.

Change or die. That’s the hardest lesson—we fear change. It can seem like a death of sorts. When sick people change, it can upset those around them. This aspect of healing and illness is examined frankly in this book. The larger story around each journeyer shows over and over that healing is not a return to sameness. Disruptions ripple in all directions.

Anyone who is or has been seriously ill, knows someone who is, or simply loves good writing, could appreciate this book. And strangely enough, there’s a lot in it for fiction writers to learn from, as Barasch uses fiction to illuminate aspects of the plunge into illness, the confrontation with mortality, and the helpers and obstacles encountered on the way out—the healing path.