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Viewing Blog: Peni Griffin - Idea Garage Sale, Most Recent at Top
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The cliche question all authors hate - "Where do you get your ideas?" The idea is the easy part. The idea is so easy to get, you can't give them away. I'm here to give them away, to share them, and invite you to recognize yours. We're all creative. Not all of us pay attention.
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1. I Should Write a Tribute.

I can't.

Elaine died.

Death sucks.

I am useless at this and shaky and I'm about to cry some more, so I direct you to the post I made when she had her stroke.

I'm afraid that's all I can do right now.

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2. Sorry not to be more helpful today

The September/October issue of Archaeology Magazine is discussing the peopling of the Americas, talking to people I have met about places I have been, or have read about. I am still sure I will write another Pleistocene book; I still do not know when, or what the plot will be like.

The men working on the house next door are playing oddly beautiful classic rock (why does overheard music have different qualities than music you're actively listening to?), singing along, and talking about copyright. I can't hear the whole conversation and am not eavesdropping, but I definitely heard one say "copyright" and "my bad."

Those charged with maintaining the peace are still making war in Missouri. Which is not that surprising a development, in the context of the history of Missouri, specifically with regard to racism.

I have received more than one gratuitous, unsolicited, and (I can't help feeling) not-quite-warranted compliments online this week, and am not sure how to accept them graciously.

The WIP flops along its merry way, continually turning up fresh viewpoints that help me see the whole better, and I am increasingly convinced that what I'll get in the end is a moderately brilliant structural fantasia in a superficially familiar but unique setting, that will never get read because I have no clue how to write a synopsis for it, or how to market it, and anyway if people do read it they will insist on reading into it what they expect to see instead of seeing what I show them, and because of that they will read nonsense. Unless the solution I find to the structural problem is brilliant enough to trick them into reading what I actually wrote...I have no confidence in my ability to do that. But it's too late to walk away now. I can see the turning point approach, the moment from which it will be all downhill and I will be done with the draft. I am in prose stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.

I live in Texas. It is August. My house is a hundred years old, and has three window A/C units, two of which cannot be run at the same time without tripping the circuitbreaker. By midafternoon, the hardwood floors will be as hot under my bare feet as if they were full of laboring electronics.

The same phonespammers call me at the same times every day. Most of them are machines.

And here I sit, with all these disparate facts, so few of which are in any way under my control, trying to make a meaning. Because I am human and that is what humans do. We invented meaning, because we need it.

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3. Idea Garage Sale: Yet More Fun with Titles

The Turn of the Shrew.

Because I can't read Taming of the Shrew as anything but a celebration of spousal abuse and psychological torture. It's the only Shakespeare play I actively dislike. (To be fair, I've never seen a production of Merchant of Venice. How you feel about that one depends a lot on how Shylock is played.)

Anyway, the idea of Kate adapting her methods and gaslighting Petrucchio to get control of her own life - and money - back appeals to me. It is often forgotten that Petrucchio is explicitly interested in marrying her for her dowry because he's broke, which makes Kate's climactic speech about wives "owing" obedience to their hardworking breadwinning men so wincingly and obviously inappropriate I wonder how anybody can play it straight. I'm not sure exactly how the plot would roll, though. In order to make the title work best it would have to both borrow some of the tension and subtlety of James's psychological horror story and retain much of the bawdy, physical humor of an Elizabethan comedy.

It is a damn shame that getting a genius-level idea is so much easier than pulling off, or even knowing how to start, genius-level work.

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4. Bad Week All Around

So today my tumblr dash, normally full of book discussion and history/archeology and the funny/moving/absurd adventures of pixel people, today is blowing up like a certain town in Missouri, to which the people of Gaza are sending helpful advice about how to cope when tear gassed.

And there's some personal stuff which isn't happening to me, but which is distinctly me-adjacent, about which I am extremely limited in what I can usefully do.

So I will now go and write about the imaginary problems of imaginary people, because we should all do what we're best at, even if it amounts to treading water. And it's nice to solve a problem, even if it's only a paper one.

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5. Why Am I the One Stuck Saying This Stuff?


Yesterday a very talented, hard-working creative person died, in circumstances that suggest suicide. And today I see lots of people posting suicide hot line numbers and clips from Aladdin or The Dead Poet's Society. And the one time I look at comments, inevitably (why do I ever look at comments on news stories?) some troll condemns him as selfish and weak; and pretty soon somebody's going to turn up the old chestnut about how creativity and mental illness go hand in hand. And by the time the autopsy's done it'll be too late - there'll already be an Official Public Version of the death, shellacked hard, and everyone will know what moral to point from this.

And it'll all be crap, because you know what doesn't get talked about?

The ways in which we in America (and other places, but I am American and have even less control over what happens in the rest of the world than I do here) treat creative people in order to drive them crazy. The way we take it for granted that creativity is madness (when all the people with mental disorders I know who are sufficiently self-aware to have an opinion agree, that creativity is the opposite of madness); and treat it also as a moral failing, and go and do things that make it punishingly hard to make a living creatively. Like, structuring the economy and intellectual property law so that it's easier for corporations to make money off of a creative work than those who do the creating do. So that a creator has to spend far more time and energy on promotion and public image than creation.

Like the way we treat creative work as less valuable than other kinds of work, demanding to be entertained 24/7 at no cost, or at absolute minimum cost. I have been told to my face that I should be grateful to be read, rather than hoping to be paid enough to cover expenses, let alone make a living at it; every day, authors and illustrators are asked to allow their work to be used for a payment of "exposure." You can't pay the electric bill with "exposure," y'all - sorry.

Like the way we put pressure on creative people to be creative but not too creative; to be creative and personally accessible and to give not just our work but our time, our attention, our personalities, to the world. Which will then feel free to judge what we do and say, and how we look, and how we match up to other people's fantasies about the creative life, without mercy.

The way we are told that because we are creative we must also be depressed, or abusers of substances, or obsessively devoted to our art; and that depression, substance abuse, and obsession are all moral failings.

The way we can't get good mental health services because (I speak from experience here) counselors don't know what they're doing; don't understand, even, that what they do best is to help people understand the mechanisms of their own malfunctions based on a huge database of similar malfunctions; and that this approach works best on people who fall within the thick parts of the bell curves generated by that data. I have never been to a counselor whose generalizations applied to me. I don't react the way most people do; therefore, advice based on the expected reactions is irrelevant. If those of us on the skinny parts of the bell curve are to be saved, we have to save ourselves. No one is helping us.

How many of the people who bring us pleasure, insight, joy, and escape have to go through this wringer and get spat out dead before their times before we stop doing this?

Before we stop doing things to depressed people that make them worse?

Before we stop doing things to people, ordinary or extraordinary, that make them depressed?

And yes, I know - (believe me, I know!) that depression is a physical problem. I was born with a biological tendency to depression. I've been there, I've done that, I've taken the bottle full of pills - and, thanks to a confirmed habit of introspective intellectation and emotional honesty(for which I have been punished all my life by most of the people I've come into contact with), I was able to pull back in time. Nobody gets the credit for saving me, but me (and the wonderfully calm nurse in the emergency room who knew exactly how to make me throw it all up). Which makes me reject any attempt to blame a suicide who didn't save herself. The odds were stacked against me and against everyone else in this position.

A clinically depressed person can be in an ideal situation and still get depressed (and be even more depressed because she can see her situation is ideal so she must be fundamentally wrong to feel so bad and clearly something as wrong as her has no right to clutter up this ideal situation), just as a non-smoker can get cancer without smoking. But natural biological tendencies are exacerbated by environment; and the environment of American society is toxic for depressives.

So toxic that it is easy to translate "circumstances suggestive of suicide" in the case of someone fantastically talented and with a gift for making people laugh, into a firm judgement at first sight, in the absence of any details, in the absence of any right to make a judgement.

And it's because we will not face up to this that we keep being toxic. Nor is that the only thing of which this is true. We are still racist because we won't face up realistically to our racism; we are still sexist because we won't face it; we are still unprepared for global warming because we'd rather drown than face the fact that we're going to drown; we perpetuate evil because we keep looking for evil out there in things and people we can't control instead of looking for the evils we can control. Our own.

We are all society and we should knock this crap off.

And that will remain true whatever Mr. Williams's autopsy tells us about he, as an individual, died.

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6. Idea Garage Sale: Libraries of Timbuktu

Way too many news stories happen in any given year for me to garage sale them all, even if I made a serious effort to keep up with the news. (Which I don't, because depression + crying jags.) So excuse me that the inspiring link to the thriller about the rescue of the Manuscripts of Timbuktu dates back to April.

It boggles my mind, however, that there's no movie in the works yet. Youthful vow to guard a fabulous fragile treasure in the form of the manuscripts, implacable black-hearted foe in the form of the book-burning legions of Al-Qaeda posing an imminent threat; desperate coordinated action under the noses of the conquering Bad Guys; "exotic, distant" lands (from the point of view of the locii of thriller-making, southern California and New York) - seriously, this has it all! For YA authors, it is no great stretch to get a fictional hero in the correct age range, given that business about "family vows," working within the covert organizational framework provided by Dr Abdel Kader Haidara, who led the rescue attempt.

The equally urgent threat of mold and subobtimal curation environments in the Mali refuge where the bulk of the manuscripts wound up is less photogenic and requires more work. But a movie which used the safe arrival in Mali as the unambiguous happy ending required by the thriller format could be leveraged into a fundraising effort to provide for the safe curation and study of the manuscripts, and benefit the reputation and bottom-line of the production company. So the sooner somebody with deep pockets gets on this, the better.

A whole treasure-trove of disparate stories, however, lies behind this, in the possibilities presented by Sankore University of Timbuktu, where these manuscripts originated. Starting with a mosque in the tenth century, Sankore attracted students and scholars from all over the known world. Timbuktu was a thriving cosmopolitan metropolis which rivaled the cities of Europe - yes, even Paris; even Rome - when it didn't outright overshadow them. As a setting, it can't be beat - none of the stories buried in this fertile soil have been told to modern Western audiences before. It should only take a little digging to turn up a lifetime's worth of intriguing possibility. Love stories, war stories, political intrigue, spiritual exploration; fantasy and gritty realism - they must all be waiting there for the willing researcher.

What if a modern Al-Qaeda member intent on destroying the knowledge of the past got lost in a time loop and went back, alone, to 16th-century Timbuktu? Would he wreak havoc? Would he undergo a major character arc and, in the absence of the social, personal, and political pressures that set him on this path, acquire more humility and a truer Islamic spirit? Or would his isolation in an alien time exacerbate his opinions into madness?

What if the last member of a family sworn to protect its cache of books is a young girl who has internalized both her responsibility to the manuscripts and her responsibility to adhere to "traditional" feminine roles? What positions does this put her in; and how does she choose when these responsibilities conflict?

Who was the "female philanthropist from Mandinka" who financed the infrastructure of the University; what else did she fund, where did her money come from, what motivated her philanthropy?

How did European scholars who came to study in Sankore during the times generally called "medieval" live? What did they do with the knowledge they gained? How did they deal with living as a Christian minority among Muslims, and learning from them? What were the burning questions and conflicts of the day?

Asian scholars, ditto?

It's kind of like that dazzling expanse of snow I remember waking up to when I was small and lived in places where snow happened. You're afraid to step in it, lest you mess it all up. But you can't build snowwomen, or forts, or have snowball fights, or even get to school, without taking those first steps; and once you start, isn't it glorious to run around in?

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7. Your Body Doesn't Know It Isn't Happening

This weekend, our gaming group was playing along in our game as usual, having narrowly escaped death at the fangs of a gargantuan tarantula; when the Non-Player Character, of dubious allegiance, with which we were dealing tried to pull an obvious cover-up, which his degree of authority in the situation should have allowed him to do. But Stephanie Neotomi, my ratfolk rogue (recently recovered from being paralyzed by the venom of said spider), had already started asking questions and wouldn't be put off. Suddenly everything devolved into a shouting match, violence was narrowly averted, and we spooked the NPC badly enough that he had to run; but the guards under his command were already moving to arrest us.

After a hairy bit of play, we emerged with the evidence we needed to get the guards on our side, the information we needed to advance our mission, and with all party members alive - but two of us probably infected with lycanthropy and nothing with which to stop the infection. So we had to ride hard in the opposite direction from where we wished to go in order to get some wolfsbane - ride so hard that it was necessary to stop and perform some magic to keep the horses from floundering on the way back. Which is when the ghost of one of the random monsters we recently killed decided to attack us, coming within a hair of killing three of the party. Again, we emerged victorious, but only by dint of some serious cooperative play and one of us remembering a resource that we've had for awhile but which the rest of us had forgotten. Also, the DM letting him deploy that resource retroactively, so that our sorcerer was only mostly dead.

By then it was late enough that we needed to quit, so the game broke up. Once home, I crashed hard. We all agreed, in e-mail postmortem on Monday, that the session had been intense enough to be physically draining. Sitting around a table rolling dice, making notes, and pawing through rulebooks looks sedentary; but the intellectual and imaginative handling of the scenarios and rules, and the sheer suspense, activated plenty of adrenaline and had significant effects on our body chemistry. That night I was in that peculiar state of exhausted wakefulness that you get on your most strenuous days of vacation, when you can't stop shooting the rapid or climbing the mountain or riding the rollercoaster, or whatever it was you were doing that had your body convinced that you were about to die, even though you were perfectly safe.

The same thing happens when you're writing. Or reading, but there's a level of control in reading that you don't have in writing. You cry real tears over Beth March, but you don't have to deal with it all at once. (Remember how Joey, on Friends, used to put intense books - including Little Women - in the freezer when he couldn't handle them?) When you're writing, you're writing pretty much constantly. When you're doing dishes. When you're in the shower. When you're watching TV or driving or kissing your husband. Your backbrain is handling the material, going over it and over it to get it into a form you can write down; and then you write it down and you have to bull your way through it to get the draft and then - you'll have to revise it. And go over and over and over it. To top off which, even the most comfortable writing posture, over time, involves being locked into place for a prolonged period, which is physically taxing. (So cultivate good habits, like pacing and taking little breaks. At least get yourself an ergonomic keyboard. You'll kill yourself typing on a laptop.)

I had to rewrite the ending of The Ghost Sitter five times for the editor (I didn't count how often I went over it in revision before she even saw it), and I cried every time.

So don't be surprised if you get up at the end of a writing session shaky and weak and exhausted.

Writing only looks sedentary. It has physical effects. Don't discount them. Accommodate them.

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8. Idea Garage Sale: The Resurrection McGuffin

Your family has an artifact that can bring someone back from the dead. No time limit. Usable only once. Possibly there's a need for some suitable ritual or sacrifice to make it work, but nothing that raises huge moral dilemmas (at least, not in most of your family members). It comes with a "side effects" warning, but it's not clear what these might be. Perfect health and a certain amount of youthening, however, are guaranteed - so even someone who died of a chronic illness or old age would be worth bringing back.

Scenario 1: Anyone in the family can use it, but only with the full consent of all members of the family. Therefore, it is never used; there is always one hold-out. That's a satirical short story about family politics. Perhaps the protagonist is left alone, after a disaster that kills off the rest of the family, staring at the artifact with too many names to choose among.

Scenario 2: Only one person in the family can activate its power, which passes to a new member after the death of the old one. The person with the power right now is your parent. Are you more careless as an adolescent, because of course if you die in a car crash your mother would bring you back? Are you more careful because you are sure she likes a sibling more than you; or because your other parent is in a dangerous occupation and you want the option to be available in case the worst happens? Does your parent routinely warn you that if you die of stupidity she won't bring you back? Do you go into a heroic profession yourself, secure in the knowledge that, if you die pulling children out of a burning building, it'll be all right in the end?

And then you die, and are brought back. The artifact can never be used again. You are ten years younger than you were and the side effects include partial emotional memory loss - you have no sense of any connection to your family, except the one who brought you back.

That's a novel.

Scenario 3: You are in sole charge of the artifact and, in a surge of altruism, patriotism, or sheer fanboyish enthusiasm, you resurrect your favorite historical personage. Who will inevitably disappoint you in some ways. Wacky hijinx ensue. Farce, satire, or deep philosophical humor.

Scenario 4: You learn of the artifact when it comes into your possession on the death of the previous holder, who has left it to you in her will. It comes with a note in which she explains how it works, and why she never used it. Maybe there's a notebook, a kind of mortology, detailing deaths in the family back several generations, with notes in the handwriting of generations of ancestors, from detailed philosophical musings to a cryptic "No," beside each one. A few are labeled "Maybe." For the most part, it's being held against an untimely death, and there haven't been that many in your family since these notes began to be taken. Do you do the same? Or do you have a death in mind, all ready to undo?

Scenario 5: You are holding the artifact when your spouse is reported MIA from a theater of war; or your child goes missing. You hang onto it for years, not wanting to waste the use if this person is still alive - somewhere - or afraid that, if dead, he will be resurrected in the same place that he is lost now, and the unknown side effects will keep him from returning to you.

Scenario 6: ????? You've already thought of Scenario 6, haven't you?

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9. Authors Lead Exciting Lives

I sat down this morning knowing that Pelin was being followed, but not knowing what he was going to do about it.

I left off with him stepping out from behind a tree in front of the person on his tail and asking "May I help you?" I know what the next line is, but not much else.

Writing this book is like stepping off a cliff in the dark every day. Sometimes I plummet, sometimes I find a path, sometimes I find a single stair under my foot but can't see whether it's attached to anything, and sometimes, I have to get out my trusty toolkit and make a stair, from scratch, out of the materials to hand.

When you're afraid of heights and can't eat any of the food provided at amusement parks, you have to make your own thrills, what can I say?

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10. Idea Garage Sale: City of Dolls

If you're one of those people for whom dolls are automatically creepy, uncanny valley, and objects of horror - stop now. Go away. You won't like today's garage sale.

The reason I was incapacitated this past week was that I spent Saturday gorging myself on dolls. The United Federation of Doll Clubs was in town, and my mother-in-law paid my way in to the exhibit hall. Doll collecting is a relatively expensive habit (though I managed to find a particular specialty which is low-end for the hobby) and I've managed to keep a leash on myself for several years; the result being that I found I was starving, and had to see everything, overdid massively, and was knocked off my feet for several days. I spent less than I might have, treating the whole thing as a museum and taking a good look at dolls of types I normally only see in reference books.

It is easy for a non-doll person to laugh when the UFDC opens its webpage with the portentious statement: The study of dolls is truly the study of humankind. And it's true that a lot of the (largely middle-aged or old, white, upper-middle-class, female) people on the floor with me were exclaiming over how cute certain dolls were, or nostalgically discussing the doll of their own past. But the statement's true, all the same. And may I point out that one reason the statement sounds absurdly overwrought is that dolls are associated, first, with little girls, who are trivialized in our culture, and second with domestic life, which is also trivialized, even though most of us spend most our time in domestic pursuits, of necessity.

Looked at objectively, the line between doll and human effigy is a thin one. The history of dolls illuminates the economic and social histories of their countries of origin; and throughout those histories, dolls provide focal points for social and personal conflicts concerning race, gender roles, and educational theory. We all know about controversies over whether Barbie should say that math is hard, whether boys should be allowed to play with dolls (unless they are renamed "action figures" to take the girl-cooties off them), and whether little girls base their body images on the proportions of doll bodies; but did you know that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries baby dolls were controversial and many little girls were forbidden to play with them, because they were "improper?"

These controversies can, of course, be thematic starting points for stories, and I would, myself, be pleased to pick up one that explored the forbidden-baby-doll theme, simply because it is so counterintuitive to the modern mindset; but that's not where my mind went while I was wearing my feet to nubs walking up and down those aisles, knowing my gravity was not functioning and I would pay dearly soon.

Because what I was seeing was a vast, temporary doll city; something like an annual gathering of the tribes. The floor and the tables were densely packed with doll dealers and their wares, and the customers they serve. These doll dealers have their own storefronts and internet shops; they have, presumably, circuits of shows and conventions that they follow; they have, certainly, their own networks and subculture, factions and feuds. It wouldn't surprise me a lick to find that someone has written Death at the Doll Show (Not yet, not by that particular title, if a quick trip to the search engine doesn't mislead me), as this is the kind of specialist subculture the mystery genre thrives on, and there's a good overlap in the demographics of doll collectors and of readers of cozy mysteries.

I even heard a little bit of gossip that intrigues me. A dealer was speaking to a customer concerning the sudden drop in value of a particular type of doll, and informed her that a pair of brothers had discovered a cache of them, split it, quarreled, and were now each spreading rumors about the other's share of the hoard, trying to cut each other's throats in the market; and the nature of these rumors was such that the entire market in these dolls was being undermined, as people lost faith in their desirability. You could do quite a bit with that, I think, in the adult market - a murder mystery or a character study or a farce or even an economic thriller.

Of course, I don't write for (or read in) the adult market.

No, I want to write the story exploring the doll society that grows up around these shows. Obviously, when the lights are out and the crowds and dealers go away, the dolls come out about their own business! So what happens then?

Do the modern art dolls and the elite nineteenth-century dolls - the Jumeaus and Brus, the delicate wax ladies, the child dolls too big for children to actually play with - talk to each other, or do they form rival cliques? Does anyone let the small shopliftable dolls out of their glass cases so they can run around playing with each other? Do old friends reunite at these events? Do dolls of similar backgrounds sit around and reminisce? Do the ribbons given at doll shows have any cachet with the dolls themselves? Do they want to be bought, or do they dread it? Do dolls cast in the same mold regard themselves as family? Is there a doll religion to comfort them when one breaks irreparably? What damage is, in fact, fatal to a doll? Do dolls repaired with the spare parts of other dolls of the same type have identity crises or issues of guilt? What virtues do dolls value; what vices do they condemn? Do modern fashion dolls hold different values than antique ones? Are baby dolls stuck in a baby level of maturity, or do wisdom and eloquence come with chronological age? Do character dolls identify with their creators - to what degree are Shirley Temple dolls individuals, and to what degree are they Shirley Temple?

And what about the stuffed animals that inevitably appear in these stores, at these shows?

And what story, compressed into the week of a big convention, could I tell that would showcase this rich, complex little world?

Of course I really want to write this as an excuse to do the research and make doll purchases tax-deductible... Read the rest of this post

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11. Wanders in, Muttering...

Okay, that wasn't the plan at all. I don't often miss a Garage Sale. Suffice to say I overdid things badly on Saturday and took a long time recovering. Between that and the cat knocking the water glass over on the keyboard, it has not been a productive week.

On the other hand, I think I know how to make Novel-Penny alien after all! It involves the aliens being as screwed up as humans, which strikes me as realistic (given certain premises). Which is good, because the more I write Penny's dialog, the more "right" it sounds and the more strongly I realize that she's not anywhere on the autistic spectrum or any other human neuroatypical place. She's an alien.

Novel-Skye, however, may well be autistic, so I haven't let myself off the research hook by any means. Fortunately I do have a couple of Aspie net acquaintances who can probably point me in the right direction once I'm ready to knuckle down to it. Which may be awhile, because I still don't know what Pelin's doing between breakfast and moonrise on the day his disenchantment's due. Except he still has to take that list of locations to the scryers, and Loris is going to see Pommy herself...(wanders off muttering).

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12. The Center Does Not Hold

It's two in the afternoon. I haven't eaten lunch yet.

This is bewildering. For most of my adult life, the current boss cat got me up at six and I ate (generally the same breakfast, which I could cook and consume regardless of how awake or how well or how cheerful I was - one soft boiled egg, hot or cold cereal, fruit, hot tea). I was working - whether at a soul-sucking day job or at my own stuff - by eight. Eating lunch at eleven was essential, as along about 10:30 I started getting hungry and by 11:00 I was going critical. My blood sugar would be doing things that blood sugar should never do and if I didn't eat anything could happen, from fainting to laughing jags to bursting into tears to hurling random things at people. (You think I'm exaggerating. Because you were never trapped in a soul-sucking day job with me. Nobody ever forced me to take a late lunch twice. I was fired, or my lunch hour was sacred. There was no in-between.) Afternoons I worked till three. If in a soul-sucking day job I'd stick it out till five, but nothing intellectually taxing I did after that could be trusted - I was bottoming out physically and proceeding on stubbornness and strength of will, of which I once had a considerable amount. If in control of my own time, I knocked off at three and that was time to read or play games or something. Sometimes I'd get a second wind in the evening - during soul-sucking day jobs I needed to, so I could put what I'd written on my lunch hour and coffee breaks into my word processor, and this was generally when I wrote absurdly long newsgroup posts and so on. Plus, reading. But I read all the time; the reading goes without saying.

And I want to do this now. Repeatedly I plan days based on the assumption that, as I always could before, I would spend the morning from 8 to 11 writing, the afternoon doing housework, sewing, researching, and the evening cooking and relaxing.

But it doesn't work. I may not start writing till ten - even if I sit down to do it. I may not be able to eat breakfast till nine, and it may only be the egg, or the fruit. Lunch is all over the map. Supper, which has always been a problem because Damon doesn't get hungry till 7:30 and I'd be hungry at 5:00 (so I'd get a snack), is a problem no more, except that I tend not to make such nice ones. Because when I do get hungry, I still have to eat right now; but, not knowing when it's going to hit, it's harder to make myself start eggplant parmesan, or spinach rice casserole, or anything that requires a lot of chopping and stirring.

Nobody prepares us, mentally, for the way changes in the diurnal cycle affect our intellectual output. I've always relied on my habits to carry me through. The old advice, write a page a day and you have a novel - it's good advice, but it assumes that you can declare a consistent time and place to sit down and write the page, and put your butt in the chair, and do it.

At the moment it is not true.

At some point, I'll adjust. Either I'll settle down into a new rhythm and build new habits; or I'll recognize the waves of capacity as they come at me and be prepared to seize them, to write now and get housework done now and now is the time to start cooking but now is the time when I can face writing queries and get this stuff back into the mail where it belongs. I will become flexible.

But I am not there yet.

Which is one reason the current project is the way it is. This is a book that can only be written flexibly, weirdly, from odd angles and at strange times.

Anyway, since no one talks about this, I thought I'd better bring it up. I'm certain I'm not the only one who has ever had to adjust like this.

I'm consistently peculiar, and in a thin part of the bell curve, but in a world so thickly populated, I never am the only one.

But I may be the first to speak. So this is me, speaking.

For what it's worth.

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13. Idea Garage Sale: Do-It-Yourself Day

Happy Birthday/Anniversary weekend to me.

I'm taking the day off. You'll just have to find your own ideas. If you've been paying attention, you know how.

Look through your news sources till you see a headline that makes you think about the people involved instead of the general, generic misery of the problem of Crime, Poverty, War, or whatever. Start with that person.

Or, go cruise Medieval People of Color for an afternoon and watch your head explode with the untold stories hinted at in image after image.

Or go read your own old diaries and journals, until a missed opportunity leaps out at you.

Feel free to let me know what you come up with.

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14. Peaches

Peaches that have gone bad make a particular sound when you cut into them. Sometimes only half of the peach is off, so I cut the whole thing, listening for a good bit.

A teacher will consciously notice this sound when instructing someone in the art of peach pie, and will stop to point it out. There, that sound, yes, if it sounds like that it's overripe. See, the texture's spongy. A good peach is smooth and silent and bright gold. It might still cook down all right, if the color's good; but if it's discolored just pitch it.

A writer will consciously notice this sound when writing a scene in which someone is making a peach pie, when summoning up the huge mound of details about the process from which she will select one, or maybe two, that will enable the reader to extrapolate the experience of peach pie making without spending a lot of space on it, that will create the maximum effect from the character's innocent, sunny, summery activity while the villain sneaks up behind her with a garotte.

A poet will consciously notice this when writing a poem about summer as embodied as a peach.

A great poet will make someone who has never sliced a peach hear the sound.

This is all probably analogous of something profound. But for some reason I'm hungry... Read the rest of this post

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15. Idea Garage Sale: Nonfiction Requests

I am so tired from gaming (hey, it takes a long time to come down from the adrenaline and sugar when the boss fight turns into a double boss fight and you play two to three hours longer than usual with no supper, but you finish off your ice cream and get halfway through the week's supply of candy bars) I couldn't even finish my blueberry pancakes this morning, so today I will just toss out a few general concepts of non-fiction books that need to exist. They particularly need to exist for the high school and middle school library markets, if only so that teachers get some variety when they assign research papers.

We need both the definitive, and the youth-accessible, biographies of Brenda Howard and Sylvia Rivera.

How about a collective biography called: Ten Scientists You Never Heard of (Because They were Women) ? It could be part of a series, with other professions and overlooked demographics in the noun slots. Make it for the middle school market, and middle school librarians (assuming any have survived budget cuts) will spam you with thanks.

How to Conduct Formal Business on the Internet - Nobody does inside addresses and all that in e-mail, but - should it start "Dear Madam?" How about formatting? Is there a standard type style? How do you distinguish yourself from spam? How do you know you're not spamming? What do you do if you're tired and reach for the "save" button so you can proofread in the morning, but hit "send" instead? It's time to codify the rules!

I had others, but now I'm blanking and they'll keep. I am so tired; and there's still the annual screening of the laser disc version (accept no substitutes! It's past time this got a DVD) of 1776.

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16. Because It's All the Same Thing

I am not a visual person, but I find that I have a pretty good idea of who originated what posts as soon as they land on my tumblr dash; more significantly, even months later, I can spot who I reblogged something from when I'm scanning the thumbnails on my archive. Even though the thumbnails are tiny, and a lot of them are posting screenshots from the same game using the same sets of characters, or fanart based on the same fandom (did you know there's an active Moby Dick fandom?), or otherwise grouping themselves by similarity. It's not about the little avatars in the corner, either. If I happen to see a reblog before I see the original (which happens a lot when I'm scrolling backwards), if I see both regularly I'll recognize it as a reblog at once. I even recognize people I don't follow, who people I do follow reblog regularly. When someone who's been gone for awhile pops up, I think: "Oh, hey, that's Thus-and-So, she's back!"

Yet none of these people is trying for a distinctive look. I don't follow that sort of blog. Many of them are working hard to make their games, or their blogs, or their art look pretty; but they're not trying to trademark themselves. They're pleasing themselves and following their own taste and for the most part not trying to be original. They're just doing what they want and communicating about it in whatever way pleases them best.

Because that's how you become distinctive.

A lot of writing advice is out there about finding your voice. I've had roughly the same literary voice since I was eight, so I'm possibly a bad person to give advice; but I think that most people who aren't finding their voice aren't trusting themselves to talk.

You already have a voice, honey. Sit down and write and don't agonize about it so much. Say exactly what you mean. Mean exactly what you say. Make jokes you don't expect people to get. Tell the truth. Solve your plot problems. Listen to your characters. Binge-write self-indulgent journal rants in which you consciously use all the complex, specialist, absurd, pretentious words and phrases and sentence constructions you've ever wanted to. Imitate your favorite writer's virtues. Imitate your favorite writer's faults.

Your voice will emerge. It will sound like you. Anybody who has ever listened to you will be able to pick your prose out of a lineup.

But first you have to write the prose.

Write. Write. Write.

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17. Hi, Alternate Universe!

I just opened my word processor, not quite certain where I should be going from where I left off yesterday, went to the drop-down menu or recent files, and saw a filename I didn't recognize which, when opened, proved to contain a full page I don't remember writing, but from which I can proceed without the period of flopping around on which I was about to embark.

Obviously, I've slipped universes. Good for me; less good for the version of me who now can't find the file she was working on just yesterday!

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18. Idea Garage Sale: Summertime

It's summer - ice tea and okra and catfish and peaches and cherries; air like a blanket until the storm pushes through; yards that turn into jungles overnight; zucchini too small to harvest one morning and as big as your leg the next; empty streets, or gridlock on the way to the lake, the beach, the shade; chlorine and cocoa butter and stacks of books and music that you barely notice but which will, when heard next winter, suddenly flash sunlight behind your eyes -

Let's have a summer book.

Not one about a real summer, mind. One about the ideal of summer. About freedom: exploring and creating and testing your limits, about learning what you want to learn the way you want to learn it, without teachers or parents riding you. About friends who don't have to be perfect but who are at least on the same page as you, with roughly the same goals and either a general agreement about how to accomplish them, or an alternative method that can compete in a friendly fashion. Lupe thinks her method of training the dog is best; Leti thinks hers is - well, both girls have dogs and let's find out. The twins both wanted a canoe and they got one, so they take it out every day and take turns being captain and deciding the agenda and doing all the planning for their trips of discovery and recreation.

Or, the starship's going to take three months to reach the outpost Mom's been stationed to, and this is a well-honed routine; the kids can be safely turned loose to explore, happens every trip, the ship's crew is used to it and the ship was designed so parents wouldn't have to worry about their kids (but oh, something is different this trip; this is the trip when the Big Thing happens and only the kids have the information necessary to figure out what's going on...)

Or, the grownups are off doing their thing, working, and the kids persuade them that they don't have to go to that stupid daycare place this year, they can stay home alone during the day and they'll even keep the house nice. And the strategy for keeping the house nice is, to never be in it - to go all the places they've wanted to go but never can because the grownups are too busy to take them, or in some cases don't even think it's a good place to go, and get home every day to be clean and smiling and uninjured with supper started when the folks get home, none the wiser. They have to cut it close a few times, and then there's this Complication that arises, the person they meet or the information they uncover which they know the grownups would make them leave alone, but they can't. It wouldn't be right.

Genre as generally conceived by book publishers is irrelevant. This is about atmosphere and a particular intellectual/emotional opennes. The term "beach read" has come to mean a particular kind of potboiler; the books I'm thinking of aren't potboilers, but they are good to read on the beach; and they make you want to get up and do things once you finish the chapter.

Swallows and Amazons, Treasure Island, and all the Stratemeyer syndicate books ever written are summer books. Lots of Diana Wynne Jones's books are, too, even many of the completely unrelaxed ones dealing with big stakes, like Eight Days of Luke. The reader is relaxing; the characters need not be. The characters can be as busy as corporate lawyers, even struggling for survival like Brian in the Hatchet books. But they must be competent or become so, they must have perfect liberty within the framework of the setting, and they must be fun to read about with a big bag of potato chips and a cold drink.

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19. Feasibility, Shmeasability

Yesterday I worked on the WIP, where again I'm having to write stuff from a point of view not the protagonist's, in order to figure out exactly what is really going on and how the villain will behave next. And I realize that I'm not going to be able to do it as originally envisioned - an awful lot of what makes me uncomfortable in this story is only worked out properly, and the assumptions behind the world are only illuminated properly, if these alternative points of view are included.

Which discourages me, because alternative points of view make everything more complex and, therefore, tougher to sell.

So, while I was being discouraged anyway, after I finished I decided to tackle the problem of whether it is even possible to translate the creative tangle of the Widespot material from a gaming context to a novelistic context. Leaving aside for the moment the knotty problem (which, if solved, will make everything else fall into place, I think) of the two alien characters, I asked myself what, if this were a modern realistic novel, would be the key peculiarity of the neighborhood, and what leaped out at me was the biracial couples. Almost everything about the setting and the characterization screams "mid-20th century south," one of the biracial couples is young and overtly political, and the other is specifically said in the family biography to have moved to Widespot because of its isolation, "to get away from parental disapproval," and in Homer's personal bio "because his folks objected to his doing right by Beulah."

So, run with that - what's the earliest either of them could have gotten legally married, assuming Widespot to be in Texas? I look up anti-miscegenation laws and find that they weren't declared unconstitutional until 1967, which is later than I expected, but then I'm an optimist. (And alas, yes, Texas was one of the laggards that didn't strike the laws down till forced to.) Homer and Beulah, however, could have run off and lived together earlier than 1967, when Beulah got pregnant with Mary; so let's say the Beeches, who I can easily see marrying partly as a political statement, married in 1967. When the neighborhood starts they have a teen-age daughter, so the earliest year it can be set is - 1981. And working out the relative ages, Mary and Penny would have been born in 1960. A year before me.

Which shouldn't, actually, surprise me...

What it means, though, is that this would not be a YA story. It was always problematic, anyway, because in the neighborhood Mary and Penny - who are the characters I want to explore in book form - are both full adults. However, they are remarkably innocent, inexperienced adults, both by nature and by upbringing, and anyway a lot of what interests me is their shared childhood, so it has always seemed probable, and natural, that the book would skew young. But there is no way I am taking characters roughly the same age as me, and working out big chunks of their life experience, coincident in time with my own life experiences, and maintaining the immediacy of the YA viewpoint. Whatever I do, I doubt I'll be able to avoid the "remembered in tranquility" attitude, accessing the specific places in my brain I would need to access.

And I hate adult realism, for the most part. When I read books marketed to adults, they're almost always genre, and genre is almost always "really YA" in my private classification system. Which doesn't mean I can't write adult realism, or New Adult, or however the industry would categorize this; but does mean I'll be handicapped when it comes to marketing it. As if I weren't bad enough at that for YA and MG.

Besides, it has to be multi-POV. That's a given. I can't possibly pare the Widespot material, whatever it turns out to be, down to "Mary's Story" or "Penny's Story." It has to be the community's story, with Penny and Mary as flagship characters at most. And here I am back where I started, exhausted from fighting my tendency to write stuff that is just too damn hard for me to sell.

And it was time to quit anyway, so I went and caught up on my tumbler dashboard, where the agents-and-editors wishlist pops up with this gem of hope: I'm on the lookout for YA, NA, or Adult that alternates POVs like a boss. Character development, perspective, & voice.

Hurray! I'll send her - um - I'll send her - um.

Dadgum it.

I've been fighting this tendency so long, I don't actually have anything like that ready to go right now...No, wait, maybe Astral Palace will do. I need to look at her accepted genres.

And that, brothers and sisters, is why exhausting your strength fighting your native tendencies is a bad idea. When the opportunity arises, you want to be ready to jump on it.

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20. Brainstorming in Mid-Stream

I wonder...if I genderswapped some or all of the characters, would the WIP get any easier or more comfortable to write? Because I keep running up against plot stuff that clearly comes straight from my embedded place in the Patriarchy, but the setting has a different structure and conception of gender. For example, my villain was thinking the other day: "That's the trouble with letting men have power. You can't deal with them as rational beings. They're all about emotions and sex and status, and they love being manipulated so much!" Which is how most men look to me most of the time, but which is not how gender is constructed in modern America.

(Did you know that the brain chemistry of women and men is most similar when women are menstruating, by the way? 'S'true. And it explains a lot. From a standpoint of brain chemistry the most stable human beings are post-menopausal women. But all that's neither here nor there at the moment.)

Holey cheese - what if Pelin is intersex? In this setting? That would be...really...no that won't work because...oh, but then this - wait, how would that affect the triune? How would it be constructed in this society? Does it knock Pelin out of the running as heir completely?

(Wanders off, muttering.)

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21. Idea Garage Sale: Moar Fun with Titles

Sorry, y'all; been unreasonably tired all day. So have some titles looking around for stories to belong to.

Serenading Mrs. Crumplebottom.

Sticky Threads: A Memoir

All the Cool Kids go to Frank's

I Never Promised You a Beer Garden

Shotgun Divorce.

How I Screwed Up This Week, and Why It's Not My Fault.

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22. Scouting the Competition

So I was drafting a query, and the submissions guidelines I'm following ask that the author do a little work upfront and give examples of books that the work in question would be competing with head-to-head in the market place. A labor-intensive request, but a reasonable one; and after all, I have an internet.

And no matter what combination of search terms I use (fiction lesbian historical YA 2014 is typical), I turn up more hits than I would have expected.

Not all of which are actually relevant, for one reason or another. And there's some overlap. But - and this is the point - every search turns up something unfamiliar, that I didn't know was out there.

It behooves us to remember that, no matter how unusual the property, no matter how rare the premise, no matter how underserved the audience, and no matter how on top of things you think you are - you are not the only one interested in it, somebody is publishing it, and you are not familiar with everything published about it.

So maybe yours is the work that will hit it big and make whatever it is you're doing go mainstream in a big way. Or maybe somebody else is about to do that and you'll catch the first wave of the trend, quite by accident. Or maybe you'll languish in the midlist like all these other books that weren't adequately hyped. Or maybe you're not as well educated as you think you are and it's time to knuckle down to reading and truly educate yourself.

And isn't that kind of exciting? C'mon, you know it is!

These books aren't your competition. They're your team. And it's bigger than you thought it was.

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23. Procrastination for Whippersnappers

Since I am officially middle-aged, it is incumbent on me to find some way in which "kids today" are deficient. I've been struggling with this for some time, since for the most part kids today look fine to me; at least as in tune with their surroundings as I am, and no more incompetent than I was at their age. But yesterday, as I dug cat hair out of my keyboard, it hit me: Kids today don't know how to really knuckle down and procrastinate!

Oh, yes, they can waste time on the internet, but that doesn't take any skill! Just get a few social networking sites - Facebook is all the rage, but Tumbler, I find, is even better because it's more content-based than personal; people are fighting for causes and telling stories and sharing fanfic there in an in-depth and engaging way that doesn't require you to know or care about the people you follow as friends or professional associates. Either way, you join into a vast perpetual motion machine of distraction which is far too easy for a true procrastinator. A kind of Cliff's Notes version, if you will. But what happens to these social-media-addicted kids when they turn the internet off and get their games taken away? They will find themselves with their backs to the wall, helplessly completing projects and doing assigned chores, that's what!

Don't let this happen to your kids! Teach them the nitty-gritty rules of procrastination:

1) Have pets. Whether it's needing to go outside right now, clogging machinery with shed hair, or simply trying to participate in anything you're doing, pets are the No. 1 Procrastination Aid. After all, they are alive, they depend on you, they're adorable, and the cat hair really does need to be cleaned out of the keyboard if you want to be able to keep typing. What kind of monster puts homework ahead of the well-being of a living creature who loves you more than anything? "I don't want to disturb the cat" is an excuse any family member worth living with will sheepishly have to acknowledge as valid; because everyone in a pet-owning household will be using this procrastination technique and therefore has to allow it in everybody else.

(In fact, in my house "catlap syndrome" is a recognized disorder and a legitimate reason to ask other people to do things for you. Shortly after our housemate moved across the street, my husband, a friend, and I were all lined up on the couch, each catlapped, and realized that none of us could reach the remote control. Our friend suggested that we call across the street to tell M we were catlapped and needed him to come change the channel. We couldn't, because none of us could reach a phone; but we all agreed, he would have complied - and he confirmed this when asked.)

(We do not spoil our cats. Spoiled things are nasty and our cats are sweet.)

2) Always be on the lookout for ways to increase your efficiency! Trimming your nails while your computer is booting just makes sense! The fact that you then realize that you got egg under them while you were scraping the scorched breakfast out of the frying pan and then start cleaning them meticulously, which takes you into the bathroom, where you remember you haven't flossed recently and that it's past time to get the fluoride residue off your toothbrushes, is not your fault! And while your programs are loading, you can take the crusty soap dish down to the kitchen to put into the dishwasher while you grab a drink and make a fresh pitcher of tea and oh yeah you haven't taken out the compost this morning. Moreover, an organized and simple filing system is essential and can take all day to set up while the things on your to-do list wait their turn. For sheer time-sucking attention focus, social media has nothing on alphabetization, cross-referencing, labeling, and buying specialized containers for all your paperwork, art, tools, supplies, and whatnot; and it has the major advantage of looking exactly like work, so that you can fool yourself into thinking you're being productive in a way you can't possibly pull off when watching cat videos.

3) Be meticulous! The reality of the world is that dirt will always be present, so if you always clean up dirt as soon as you see it, you are bound to look around and see dirt the moment you begin to not want to do something you really need to do. (See Rule 1; pets are a big help with this.)

4) Be available! Other people's work is much more doable than your own, so make yourself available to anyone who needs help. Leave the door open. Set no boundaries. Always say yes.

5) Require perfection! Nothing postpones completion of old projects or the undertaking of new ones like insisting on a flawless result every time. You've always missed something - a typo, a grammatical error, a poor color choice, a sentence that is two words longer than the ideal.

I despair for the citizens of tomorrow if these simple principles are lost to time. Please, teach the basics, or the future will be dark indeed.

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24. Idea Garage Sale: For the Entrepreneurs

Not all ideas are for stories. I often have a vague wish to be able to put a painting, a business, a program, or something else that I haven't anything like the dedication to make reality out there into the world.

For instance, last Sunday Damon and I were watching what we thought at the time was the finale of Crisis, which we started watching because it had Gillian Anderson in it and kept watching because it is, in fact, a pretty good script. (I have one or two specific beefs but that's not here nor there.) Last Sunday was also the decisive game in some sort of championship thing for the NBA, which the San Antonio Spurs won.

I love San Antonio. I think that, as professional sports teams go, the Spurs are largely inoffensive. They are at least not a bunch of crooks, whiners, abusers, and entitled self-important bullies like some teams I could name (and the entire player base of some sports I could name). But if we'd cared about the damn championship we'd have been taping Crisis and at the arena with the rest of the locals, now, wouldn't we? So we were fit to be tied when, fifteen minutes from the end of the show, when the kidnapper giving Gillian Anderson instructions through her earbud told her to shut up and sit still, and the drugged superweapon soldier she'd gotten into the courtroom stood up behind the guilty CIA director's wife, and started revealing things the CIA director was willing to commit murder to keep everyone (especially Congress and the President) from knowing, and the station overrode the signal with the news that the Spurs had just won and started switching us between commentators saying nothing, nothing, and more nothing, and promising us interviews with people who had even more nothing to say, we were ready to blow a gasket.

So here's an idea for you tech wizards out there. No a story, just an app. One which, if it were available, would be worth the price of any device it was loaded on. (I currently own no devices.) I want an app which allows you to override pre-emptions, so that when stuff like this happens, the moment I realize that the "breaking news" has nothing whatsoever to do with the world I live in, I can go back to what I was watching. Also, so that when something I want to watch overlaps with some stupid game or other, whose length is unpredictable, I will be able to start my show on time! Somebody out there, please, make this happen!

Thanks to the marvels of internet technology, I did get to watch the final 15 online the next day; but it would have been so much better to have been able to watch it straight through. (Also, it turned out that wasn't the finale, though it felt like one; two more episodes aired back-to-back last night and brought it to a mostly satisfactory conclusion. Though I don't buy that the icily competent, unflappable Alicia Dutton was in it for Tahiti or that red-headed jerk. I feel cheated that she died before her character was properly revealed.)

Another enterprise I'd like to see is the Omnivore Cafe, a restaurant with two mix-and-match menus: Carnivore, and Herbivore. (If that sounds familiar, I assure you that a) I thought of this years before Cyn Smith wrote Tantalize and invented Sanguini's "Predator or Prey?" menus; and b) I'm thinking in terms of a place serving office workers in the middle of the day; a very different atmosphere.) Nutritional information would be supplied on each dish, which would be prepared as nearly saltlessly as practical, with choices of salt types (iodized or sea salt) and other seasonings at the table, dressings and other trimmings on the side rather than dumped onto the main course (and no nasty lemon wedges on my tea glass, waste of lemons, grumble). There'd be a Dairy counter (so you could get dairy products a la carte, for the convenience of the kosher as well as the non-Vegan) and a Bakery counter; and the bakery counter would have nutless versions of everything that came with nuts. Some items, like hamburgers, would be available in Low-Fat and Extra Greasy incarnations. And every day there'd be two iterations of Anything Soup available, made up of the previous day's leftovers, one meaty and one meat-free.

In short, I want a restaurant absolutely everybody can eat at, without these endless negotiations that make some of us such a pain the neck to eat out with.

These two things seem to me to be obvious, urgent needs. But I wouldn't know how to go about making either happen.

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25. The Blueberry Trick

So, Damon had a bad day at work yesterday, and expects to have a bad one today; so I made him pound cake.

The thing is, Damon's mother is the Queen of Pound Cake. She's famous for it, and not just in her family. In her church, it is assumed that she will bring pound cake to whatever it is and it will all be eaten. She makes them as big as angel-food cakes and cuts them in half to give to people, to save time. She has probably made more pound cakes than I have ever made meals, and she has perfected the process. I will never make a pound cake half as good as the ones Damon grew up eating.

But his mother is not here, and I am, so I made it. And I added blueberries. Lots and lots and lots of blueberries. Because his mother never does that, and blueberries are his favorite fruit, and they are so cheap this week that buying two pints is cheaper than buying a half-pint other times of the year, so why not?

It is easy to read the Mistresses of Literature and think "I will never do this as well as she did." (Men never make me feel this way. Just saying.) No, you won't do what Diana Wynne Jones, or Jane Austen, or Charlotte Bronte, or Ursula K. LeGuin, or Agatha Christie, or Dorothy L. Sayers, did/does as well as them. That's a given.

But you can do something slightly different as well as you can do it, and it will still be worth reading. Because you have something you do that they don't. You have some kind of metaphorical blueberries. And people will like what you do better, if you aren't stingy with them.

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