As I said in my last post, when coyotes crossed my path, I chose to see them as a sign. Disconnect more was my interpretation of the message. More wildlife was showing up when I ran because there were so few other humans. Animals were reclaiming their space, and I needed to reclaim mine. My inner space.

Looking through the aquarium glass of a computer screen at a version of the world skewed by what people choose to share or make important was getting oppressive. So, I declared a timeout from Facebook, even though I knew I would miss friends’ pictures of their kids and cats and gardens, and links to their art and music. I needed a break from the mix of news and trivia that makes up the rest of Facebook. This freed up writing time. Freed my mind from the urge to scroll, too.

Then my laptop crashed. Like the coyote-powered universe was saying, “Hey, you like your time out?  Here’s more.”

And it was good. No news at all. No e-mail. My days out from under the internet allowed me not only to surface from the info-pond but to have a breakthrough.  Writing by hand, I outlined my main characters’ life events during the year and six months between the end of the seventh Mae Martin Mystery, Shadow Family, and the beginning of the eighth one. Then I chose five events in that timeline and sketched the plots of short stories.  Already, I can already see the effect this insight into the “skipped” time will have on my revisions to book eight.

When FedEx delivered the new laptop, after my four serene and productive days, I had mixed feelings about it, especially once I was swamped with the hassles of getting various setups completed. Everything was about the computer.

Now I’m adapted to it and doing my best to have a different relationship with it than with its predecessor. When I venture onto Facebook, it’s only to get in touch with a few close friends and a group of fellow writers, and then I’m outta there. I do follow the news again, but I limit it to listening while I’m lifting weights or doing housework. I’ve finished a fairly polished version of one short story, completed the first draft of the next, and improvised the opening paragraphs of the third. Writing short fiction is great discipline for tightening scenes in full-length novels. And my time without a computer made me keep flowing as I wrote, no stopping to fix and tinker. I’m applying that process to my first drafts now:  keep going to the end. It’s all going to get revised anyway.

Though I’m still one of the world’s slowest writers, I’ve learned how to speed up a little.

Two Desk Drawers: Works on Paper


Last Saturday, I planned to clear off another bookshelf, sorting the keepers from the yard sale material, but on that shelf was a tiny Acoma pottery cat that needed to travel to a friend in New Mexico. Wrapping it meant that I ended up clearing out a desk drawer instead.

I have a treasure-chest drawer of wrapping paper and all-occasion cards. I found what I needed, then ruthlessly cut my stash in half, but I kept a good quantity nonetheless. The cards are important. Ordinarily, I do little on paper. I prefer e-books on my Nook to paperbacks, and I have students submit work through an online course management system. All files for my job are electronic. But once in a while, an object made of paper means more than anything electronic could. The postcard a friend sent me of a double-rainbow over Turtleback Mountain has a life story. Time and touch went into it, and even travel. I look at it where it sits magnetized to the fridge far more often than I do any pictures stored electronically.

After the cards drawer, I decided I could do one more drawer. I thought it held old journals I could recycle without a second thought. However, I double-checked inside the notebooks. The journals were long gone. These notebooks from about twelve years ago contained a novel scribbled by hand in the evenings while I lived in Norfolk. I wrote with no thought of publication, no thoughts of anything except the need to write a story. A quick glance at a few pages showed some dialog that surprised me. I expected it to be terrible. After all, it was a first draft not intended for an audience. Oddly enough, my candid, handwritten work had some merit, a freedom that eludes me with my obsessive revising on my computer. By hand, I wrote love scenes without hesitation. I wrote characters with more of myself in them than I do now. This was fiction as a dress rehearsal for changes I needed to make in my life, an exploration of how I felt and what I wanted. Of course, if I typed it up, I would see it with fresh eyes as the unpolished material it is, and it would possibly turn out to be drivel. I may also find the root of another book in it, and the foundations of usable characters.

I wrote a message on the paper card, a reproduction of a work of art that hangs on my wall, a card printed by the artist. My words were few and possibly drivel. You can’t revise a card, though, not when you’ve used one from your cherished collection. Off it goes. Published to one person.370px-usmailbox1909