Tuesday, October 28, 2014

halloween fun - plus chocolate

You guys, I've got a little promotion going on this week to celebrate the blog tour for The Empress Chronicles, and to add to my collection of memorabilia.

You don't HAVE to have a copy of my book (though, I'd love it if you did). Only an imagination and the spirit of whimsy. Whimsy's good, right?

So here's the deal: take a halloweenish type of picture that is YOUR interpretation of #EmpressHalloween. If you're on any of the sites: Instragram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, tag me , or just use the hashtag #EmpressHalloween, or send me the pic to post socially.

I'm going to randomly choose a photo at 4:00 pm Friday, Oct. 31st, and the owner of that picture will win a spicy array of confections from Alma Chocolates. (I have to keep this contest to U.S., unfortunately, because of the shipping regulations.)

Love to you all, and get me your pics! Any and all!
p.s. - I'm also checking the blog post comments sections every day, as well, so if you leave an exceptional comment on one of the blogs, I'll see that too and put it in the running.

Monday, October 20, 2014

penance

reality


I read this yesterday, mulled it over, and I feel a correlative coming on. Ready? So.

Once upon a time, I moved into a heat-less, two-bedroom, barely one-bathroom farmhouse with my partner and two small children even though I’m a comfort-loving hedonist. Maybe it was (probably, it was) due to a lowly guilty feeling I’d carried around since childhood – my Oma’s voice in my ear screeching “Duty! Duty! Duty!”

In any case, the interment lasted just shy of three years. We moved out during a record cold-snap, a week before the epic Oregon floods of ’96. Yes, friends, it was the Gulag. 

But the first several months of that experiment were accompanied by a sort of runner’s high brought on by continual Aegean tasks and extreme discomfort. Scrubbing 60 years of bacon grease off the kitchen walls, for instance. And scraping inches of black, asbestos-laden adhesive from the vertical-grain fir flooring so we could grind it further with rented machinery. Oh, and the chopping of wood! The carrying of septic water! Chickens and kittens and farm dogs, all with their pratfalls and mange! Not to mention a jungle-sized garden dug into the soil above an ancient cesspool. All of this under alien power lines that scored the horizon, buzzing, hissing, begging us to play in the clover.

Bliss, I tell you.

filtered reality
But here’s the thing. On balance, the ever-diminishing percentage of my life spent toiling out there has given more than taken (until one of us gets diagnosed with some sort of cancer that we can trace back to the myriad carcinogen-laden activities from that time). For now, I can honestly say that not a week goes by when I don’t draw from the bare aesthetic of those years. The way my senses were heightened living closer to the bone, the earth, the peril. Half of my latest novel is set there, in fact. If a novelist’s (or memoirist’s) job is first and foremost to absorb experience, then ’93 – ’96 were the spongiest years of my whole life, and I continue to wring the nectar, drop-by-drop, onto the page.

Okay, so this whole preamble is the preface for an explanation as to what in the ever-living-fuck possessed me to sign up for an iPhone 6 +. I mean, the size and shape and fragility of it renders it useless as a carry-it-everywhere tool that you can slip into pretty much any pocket, any time. Which is the way I used my 4. On paper, I bought it for its supposedly superior photo/video stability feature (I make videos on my phone! For my books!). But after a weekend of reflection (and, after reading the afore-mentioned NYT article), I amend my impetus. My new theory is, I bought the cumbersome device as punishment. As a self-styled 12-step Program, if you will. Returning to those soft-salad days where I chose to subvert my centrally-heated luxury dwelling in a tony NW Portland neighborhood in favor of back-to-the-land endurance, I’ve tricked myself into giving up my vestigial-organ-made-by-Apple.

For instance. Yesterday afternoon, under a delightful Indian summer sky, I hiked up to a neighborhood high spot naked. And by naked, I mean, phoneless. Which, if you know me, is unheard of because I’ve become one of those constant recorders of quotidian insight. You know: getting just the right filter on a spectacular flower and posting it on social media: #OctoberRose. Which is followed by a preoccupation with how many likes it corrals and the ensuing conversations therein. A prompt for community discussion!

So, sans phone, I had to take the fucker in. Its color, its smell. Its particular juxtaposition to the light. Yup, I had to stop and smell the roses. I did! And other things, too. The sensual reality of a sunny Sunday afternoon. The two girls on their front lawn in shorts unfolding a vintage Twister game. The ruckus of a Cocker spaniel and a boxer, their dual noses sniffing the fence crack as I walked by. The disappointment of some tourists at not being able to see Mt. Hood at the top of Council Crest because clouds were forming there. 

My senses were alive in a way they are not when I’m preoccupied with capturing a snapshot and living life for the soundbite. Oh, sure, I’m blogging about this, so, clearly, I was still mining my adventure for its artistic merit. But, my tool is language. It’s always been language. I am not a visual artist, and I think my pocket-handy device had me believing otherwise.

Right now, I’m in the development phase of the next Empress book, which requires me to exercise my muscle for voice and observation. Which means, I should eschew the multi-tasking in favor of more sustained and quiet being. The sexy, model-thin phone, like all divas, is useless in the pocket. The curious device has announced that it may be employed for specific tasks, but it will not be, will never be, an extension of my body the way its predecessor was. I am forced to do the heavy lifting the old-fashioned way. While I still have use of my internal hard drive.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

making it up

In case you missed it on the Manifestation Blog yesterday, here's my Empress "origin" story. Plus, more pictures from my initial Sisi research trip. #Homesick




Monday, August 18, 2014

once upon a time



I’m in a lovely place, writing-wise. Two weeks before book launch. Finished with a serviceable draft with my Moment sequel. About to undertake the next Empress book.

However. Times like these (pauses in the process) are historically fraught with upheaval for yours truly.

And by upheaval, I mean, leaps. Mostly, that’s served me well. Case in point: 25 years ago this month I encountered Portland for the first time. Me, my Subaru, my one-year-old daughter and two-and-a-half year old son.

We had been temporarily living in North County San Diego after my first husband died (how we got there from upstate New York is a whole other blog post). Anyway, I’d been renting this tiny cottage in Solana Beach. Every morning I’d plop the kids in the jogger, and off we’d go – into the surf.

Sounds dreamy, right?

For most people, it would be, but I was restless. I wanted to find a permanent home – a city where I could afford to raise my kids. I longed for green. Much as I love the bustle and energy of city life, I need down time. Quiet. Regroup space.

I belonged to a support group back then – for young people who had lost spouses. I met all these wild widows (we’d go on widows-gone-wild trips to Mexico… again, I’ll leave that for another post). While in this group, I met a young woman who’d been raised in Oregon, and she piqued my interest. 

One morning, instead of plunking the kids in the jogger, I strapped them into car seats and drove north. The Pacific Northwest felt like home the minute the first log truck passed me on the I-5. Seriously, all of it: the natural beauty, the go-your-own-way spirit of the people, the various shades and interpretations of green.

Twenty-five years later, here I am, happier than ever with my adopted city. 

So, where am I going with this metaphor? I’m ripe for a writing practice version of Portland. A way to approach writing and putting my work out there that honors the pioneer spirit inside of me. A set of practices and participation that stokes the fire. That feels authentic to every cell in my body.

I think I’ll start by throwing a party. Something in October. Stay tuned – I’m heading north again.

What makes you feel reawakened? 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

RAFFLECOPTER! Yup.

Hey there folks! I'm pleased to present my VERY FIRST RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY!

I'll be giving away a signed copy of THE MOMENT BEFORE as a way to thank you all for the tweeting and viral shenanigans you're all going to help me with in service to spreading the word about the new book. Which is out in less than a month. How crazy is that?!

So, signed free copy of a paperback edition of MOMENT to the automated winner of this game. It's like going to Vegas without leaving your desk, right?

USA residents only because, postage! And all those other forms you have to fill out at the PO for overseas mailing. But to my international friends, worry not!

There will be an e-copy giveaway of the new book next month. Ready, set, go!

 CONGRATULATIONS TO RACHEL BARNARD, THE RAFFLECOPTER WINNER! THANKS TO YOU ALL FOR BEING SUCH GOOD SPORTS AND HELPING TO SPREAD THE LOVE.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, August 03, 2014

ta-da!



THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES is all set to launch one month from today, and if you’ve been
following this blog lo these many years, you know what a long-in-coming milestone this is for me.

TEC isn’t officially my debut, but it sort of is. I wrote the novel (many times!) a couple of years before THE MOMENT BEFORE – which came gushing out of me like a flood. In contrast, TEC feels like a pregnancy that went on way past term – coming into the world as a toddler rather than an infant. It walks, talks, and drags me around behind it, offering bold suggestions and defying my attempts to shape it.

Even though MOMENT rushed out of me, during its launch it wasn’t very demanding. I was feeling out this whole debut author thing step-by-step, and I puttered, and muttered, and scratched my head. That first book, I could leave it alone in its high chair, and it would just smile and wait for me to offer the next thing. (Come to think of it, my first child, Sam, was sort of that way too.)

This child? Not so much. (Ah! A theme here, Maggie, my second child, was much more, whoa Nelly!)

So. Today begins the official launch-before-the-launch known as the Cover Reveal (here’s a link to the hoopla party). I didn’t get a CR for MOMENT (another way in which that book was less of a diva), so this’ll be new territory. I feel a little like a movie-of-the-week character. You know, like those undercover muckrakers who set out to write scathing articles about beauty pageants, and while gathering data, fall in love with the process? Well, I’m smitten. My cover is drop dead gorgeous, don’t you think? (I can say that, because I had nothing to do with its creation.) But even better, the cover truly, truly reflects the tone, themes and energy of the book.

Whereas MOMENT came out at the beginning of the year, TEC is launching at the “real” beginning of the year – when school starts up again. And not only that, but it’s conveniently making its way into the world at the dawn of Oktoberfest, and since you already know how precocious the book is, you won’t be surprised if its swilling the beers in a couple of months and I'm already planning the party!

So, speaking of party, you want to help an author out and keep TEC the sassy little thing she is? Click on this e-book pre-order page. But if you want to wait for the physical book links, I hear ya! Especially if you live in Warwick, NY or Portland. OR, because I’ll be doing readings in those towns and I will totally keep y’all in the loop.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

erna



Tomorrow my grandmother would have celebrated her 102nd birthday. She missed it by three days, having passed away in her sleep on July 1st.

Even though “Oma” has been subdued and sweet these past few years, I will always think of her as our psychically powerful matriarch – able to bend strong wills with a slight glance, or a sharp word.

And she did have more than a few sharp words in her lifetime. And opinions.

She was an artist, Erna was. In every sense. She demanded aesthetic compliance – once I brought her a geranium in a garish hue and she made me return it for a subtler shade, one more muted and deserving of her carefully tended wine barrel planter.

When a person brought her a gift, she’d carefully unwrap it, salvaging the paper and storing it in a pile in her attic where, the following year, she would wrap a new gift for the person in the very paper. She didn’t need to label it. She knew who gave her what.

Erna Freisinger was known locally for her paintings. Palette-knife oils, originally. Landscapes, still lifes. She moved onto acrylics in her sixties. Watercolors in her seventies. One of her painting hung in a bank. Another was the cover of the Warwick phone book. The one pictured below is one of my faves – it hangs just outside my office. If she’d ever seen my display of her paintings, she’d have had a word or two. Once, I remember her bustling into our house, hammer in hand, to adjust the display of her work throughout our rooms and hallways.

My Oma was Viennese through and through. I think she never got over having to abruptly leave her homeland in 1939, my one-year-old father in tow. The Anschluss – the Nazis. My grandfather and his partially Jewish blood. Opa had managed to flee to America right after my father was born, and when Nazi occupation became inevitable, Oma and my dad slipped out on the very last boat from Italy. Oma never liked being unsettled. Her life revolved around family, duty, loyalty, pride. Art.

And yet, she had a whimsical side.

Once, we convinced her to scale the chain link fence of the country club pool for an illegal midnight swim. She often escaped to open fields and forests to collect things that she would later weave into wreaths. She was a “lefty,” busying herself with handwork projects involving yarn, fabric, textures. She made hundreds and hundreds of cookies every Christmas, and Opa would grab my sister and me to deliver tins of them to nurses and patients.

The one time she hit me, it was because I spilled milk in her kitchen. A moment of clumsiness, and boom, broken glass. A mess. She slapped me across the face. And then lamented it the rest of the day. Apologizing over and over for her loss of temper. 

To say that my Oma was a role model would be overstating it. Would sound like an elegiac move: she’s dead, let’s praise her. She wasn’t who I aspired to be, but she demonstrated a unique will – fierce, enormous. And for that, I am grateful. For the shining example of spending half her life – the last half – the 50+ half – being known for her art. Being known as an artist. 

Especially with my second book coming out in September. A book that draws a lot from the life of a misunderstood Austrian figure. Imagining Empress Elisabeth as a carefree girl before circumstance and duty morphed her into a legendary mad woman has expanded my consciousness, along with my understanding of proud women generally.

So, Oma, happy 102nd birthday. Born on the 4th of July was a legacy you never wanted, but endured for more than a century.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

practicing perfect presence

Hey kids! Been a while, yes? I've been off the blog - not just mine - all blogs, as well as Google + - most things google, in fact, in service to the royal slog. Yep, in the trenches again with a manuscript, and I'm nearing the finish line. Now maybe I can resume stuff like brushing my teeth and cleaning five month old garbage from my car.

Time management. Ugh. Because the non-negotiables involve making a living, sleep, taking the occasional walk to unkink my shoulders and lower back. And regular life stuff. Kids. Dog. Hub. Food. Oh, and the myriad activities surrounding book promotion.

Not that I'm complaining. I love being busy. I'm a fan of the daily jumble - where you straighten up messes on the fly while pushing through to uncharted ground. Did I mention I'm a Gemini? And that's it's almost June, the month of my birth, where my typically manic-zen balance goes into crazyland? That's why I set a goal to finish this book before June, because the universe will no doubt fling things at me in 5, 4, 3, 2...

Meanwhile, though, I'm trying something out. I'm trying really hard to mitigate my zany dance with conscious acts. Pausing when doubtful. Rethinking the course when it looks like disaster ahead instead of ploughing ever forward into the abyss. Which is harder than it sounds because it means grooving just a wee bit outside the comfort zone. Lipping up the cliff and riding the edge.

What the fuck am I even talking about?

Saying yes when I need to say no. Worrying that I'm not planting enough flowers and I'll miss the season. Buying new stuff 'cuz I misplaced the old stuff. Spending too much $ (and fucking up the earth) by buying dinner in clamshell servings. These are all things I do without thinking.

The "riding the edge" thing would be: say no. fuck flowers, there's plenty already. take a look in the freezer before deciding on what's for dinner tonight. And stop, JUST STOP, going to happy hours where they serve deep fried shit at $2 a pop. From now on, I'm only eating out at quality places. Like this one. Or this one. Or I'm making it at home. From scratch (even though I'm an inconsistent cook - but again, that's because I'm always multi-tasking while cooking. Just stop that!). That's complete presence, right? Being in a place of resources and surplus and drawing from that pile? I mean, we have frozen blueberries from last year! And some stew or something that is even Sharpie-penned (though hard to read).

In our house, we love the game. An idea I had the other day whilst confronted by a dozen mason jars with unidentifiable powder in them (I blame my husband's Bob's Red Mill habit), I thought, we should agree to, for one week, take turns making dinner (and that includes the 15-yr old) with only the stuff we have on hand. We could have prizes for the most creative (and palatable) dish. The prizes could be foot rubs - or a pass on cleaning the dog crap from the yard - or breakfast in bed (though the breakfast might be 3-yr-old freezer-burned Eggos).

So, I guess what I mean by complete presence is resourcefulness. In its biggest sense. Acknowledging concrete limits and making the most of them. (I'm not talking about turning into some extreme-couponing Nazi - sort of the opposite of that). Looking inward before charging forth. There's a boringness to it because it's less sparkly. Less full of the promise of something better around the next bend. Anyone have a spare meditation pillow? My ass is sore just thinking about all that sitting with what's real.

Do I dare ask? What are the ways in which you fritter away your life, and what are going to do about it?