Composing a Writer. #1 Tools of the Trade

Everybody has a list of wishes, some more idle than others. Early retirement is an idle wish if you aren’t saving for it. If you don’t have a passport, walking along the Seine in Paris isn’t in your near future. And the desire to write will lounge on your bookshelf next to Gone With the Wind as long as you like.

Idle wishes serve a valuable purpose. They are a way of playing dress-up with the future. What would the garden look like if I didn’t work at my job? What does it smell like in Paris? Fiction or nonfiction? Curiosity and creative exercise are crucial in keeping our brains healthy, so no guilt. Daydreaming is a fine art and wishes serve a purpose even if they go no further than the couch.

I have a confession: I love my writing. I’m probably supposed to lament writer’s block and be a tragic soul about a dozen literary things, but in my previous thirty years as a professional artist, I never threatened to cut an ear off either. What if the imagination/creativity thing was easier than we think?

I’ve decided to do some writing about writing; a road map of the paths and stopovers that I made. There will be weekly posts with writing exercises included. It isn’t that I think I’m an expert or that my book sales have bought me a second home. Or even a second bathroom in this home. I’ve just had such a great time on this adventure and sharing it serves as a thank you.

I notice saying thank you does more good than artistic angst every single day.

So, do you want to come along? Writing doesn’t require a savings account and you can travel so much farther than Paris using your own words. Is it finally time for you to start writing?

This is the part where you lay out your tools. If you feel that the only really artistic method of writing is banging away on an old Underwood typewriter, good for you, but there is some technology out there that really makes writing easier.

If you want to play along at home, start here: When is a blog not a blog? When we re-task it to suit our journaling needs. Think of a blog as a word processing program that also has a search feature and comes in a tidy, attractive package. You can categorize your thoughts/posts in a more organized way than a spiral notebook. A blog can be as private as a diary, shared selectively, or used to bring the world to your desk. Rather than having word docs attached to emails, drifting around the internet, and loitering in other computers, your words are contained and shared by a simple link. And, blogs are free. You can have a whole stable full of blogs for different purposes.

This week: Look around and find a blog home. I tried a few blog sites back when I started and I like WordPress best, for its scope as well as its bits and parts. The online community there is supportive and I’ve made some good friends there. It’s fairly friendly to use, but suit yourself. Then trick out your blog like a hideout. Give it a name that matters to you. Pick themes and colors you like. Get familiar with its quirks.

Blogs have pages, like a website, and there is usually an “about” page. If you want an example, take a look at my author site. Keep in mind that mine is a public blog, so I’m “dressed up” in a literary way. Your first blog is fun meant just for you, so lighten up. Flip-flops are fine.

Then write an introduction. Introduce yourself in seven words. (An exercise in brevity.) Or introduce yourself as your best friend or your dog would. (An exercise in using another voice… and speaking more kindly about yourself than you might, left to your own words.) Or introduce yourself to your greatest literary superhero. (An exercise to connect you personally with published authors, even if it’s just in your own mind.) Or do all three exercises… just for the sheer fun of it.

We work on the honor system here. There’s no submission requirement. Just like real life, you’ll get about as much out of this journey as you put in.

And just one more thought from me. Words matter so very much. They are powerful; how we speak of ourselves and our dreams are the creative spark that lights the future. At 62, I’m so aware of how precious that light is and how important our diverse voices are to the collective conversation. Too many of us hold our tongues, thinking we’re being polite when the world needs our truth. Writing is the art of molding our voices to say just the exact thing we mean, with honesty and vulnerability, and hopefully a little humor.

Please join us. Take your writing seriously. Whether the world ever reads us or not, it’s past time that we give our own words the respect they deserve.

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Now What? (and Other News)

hurry-spring

Now is the winter of my discontent

Okay, maybe I’m being Shakespeare-dramatic. Monochromatic seasons can bring that out in me. Here on the prairie, the only visual break from tan grass stretching to the horizon is when it turns white for a while. I’m grumbling, but the truth is that I can use a break from my hectic pace, every ten months or so, to cozy-in at my farm.

But this winter, I mourned some excruciating good-byes. If you are a woman of a certain age who thinks too much, the changes can add up. Not that it’s good or bad; just that I noticed and needed time to acclimate. I think there’s some rule of diminishing returns that says that with each day I grow older, the world becomes more precious. The beauty in ordinary things has become nearly debilitating. But then, I think too much. No apologies.

I’ve been prodded into action after reading that there is legislative action to make it legal to shoot hibernating bears, along with their cubs. It seems to follow that the dogs and I could be mistaken; we’ve been doing a decent bear impression. Besides, the weather is having mood swings and I’m counting days till the time change. Hurry spring.

BOOK NEWS: My books are now available on two new online sites. Check out the Equine Network Store for a great collection of equine literature, and for international readers, Lavender and White publishers, based in the UK, now carry all three books.

COMING EVENTS: I’ll be at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo March 10-12 in the Author Corner. (Discount tickets here.) I’ll be signing books and meeting new friends. *** I’ll be at my favorite indie bookstore, Covered Treasures, in Monument, CO, on March 18th, 3-5 pm, signing books. Please come by. *** Who’s going to the World Cup in Omaha? Look for my books in the Equine Network Booth and I’ll be there, too. Let me know if you want to meet-up.

I’ll be presenting at the Region 10 PATH conference May 7th. This isn’t open to the public but it’s a reminder that I am available for public speaking engagements, on topics on horse advocacy and training, women’s experience, and writing. Please contact me if you’re interested in having me speak to your group or clinic at your barn. Join with groups in Washington, California, Virginia, and Illinois-Indiana.

NOW WHAT? Well, I have a stack of ideas; I’m investigating doing something on the topic of responsibility and care of therapy horses. *** One of my readers encourages me to consider a children’s book, with Arthur, the goat, as the main character. She found a great illustrator, too. *** Others are encouraging me to compile a book of quotes from my blogs. *** Still others are asking about a book of photos and poems. *** And I have a few book outlines including a sequel to Stable Relation and another book about Love, Men, and Dogs. What do you think?

THEN THIS: I always thought I’d write something, but it wasn’t easy. At first, it was nothing but masochistic. I’d read a fresh paragraph aloud and I’d tried so hard to be clever that I was nearly unintelligible. Adverbs were lost in verbiage. There were runaway pronouns. But I stuck to my keyboard, hoping an intention in my mind would somehow intersect with the right group of words. Then I edited liked a mad dog with a chainsaw.

babybird-3Do you feel the pull to write? If there’s interest, I’m thinking about starting an online group to encourage those of us who are certain there’s a book (or blog or story) in us but we’re having a time squeezing it out. Like an egg. That will hatch into something real. Like a fat-lipped baby bird.

Want to write with us? (Email me at anna@annablake.com)

Again, for those of you who have left reviews for Barn Dance, or the other books, thank you so much. It breathes life into search engines and that is gold for indies like me. I appreciate every single review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads.

HURRY SPRING.

….

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Amazon Recommends My Books. To Me.

15289057_1183443898404722_5143139141458563265_o-2Do you ever have that experience where you tilt your head, squint, and hear a dubious voice in your head say, “No kidding?” 

My life is like that lately. It’s like I’m on a hijacked bus; the destination hasn’t changed, but wow, are we ever taking the scenic route.

This man in the photo is very kind and seemed to genuinely enjoy having his photo taken all night long. I’m always nervous when there isn’t an animal in the photo. We’re in Miami and that’s a gold medal around my neck. Head tilt. No kidding?

(This passes for formal attire. If anyone has held their breath in anticipation of who I wore for the red-carpet event, well, a very old kimono and brand new Crocs.)

I’m like you. I like to dawdle in the barn. I’ve been known to binge-watch Netflix.  I like being on the bottom of a dogpile on the couch. Clearly, ambition is not my middle name.

Then writing starts innocently enough. One day an idea comes along while mucking the barn and you scribble it down. It’s like a crossword puzzle that has an 80,000-word runaway. What used to seem impossible becomes irresistible.

Then there’s a choice. You can put the words in a drawer and feel good about yourself. Done.

Or, if you enjoy the awkward balance of wearing one flip-flop and one stiletto, then you decide to let the world scrutinize your words. Or worse yet, ignore them. And from that day forward, the line between anxiety and pleasure becomes a floppy, teetering stumble. Weirdly unbelievable things happen without warning. Head tilt. No kidding

So, like I said, I’m like you. I get those same emails from Amazon suggesting books for me–sometimes horse books. Recently, the subject line of the email was “Barn Dance: Nickers, brays, bleats…”  Squinty confusion.

When opened, the email suggested a list of books, like usual, but this time including both Barn Dance and Relaxed & Forward. In one email. To me. It’s unprofessional to say so but I still get such a thrill seeing my covers.

And the best part? This email was not my doing. It was you! Yes. Thank you, in the extreme!

An attempted explanation: I think the way this works is that books get stacked in a remote dark corner of the world-wide-web. Search engines don’t go looking on their own. You have to nag them for a while before they move, and even then, they have a very short retention span.

We indie authors are always trying to not sound too desperate when asking readers to leave a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads. It’s embarrassing; we don’t do it because we’re groveling for compliments.  Getting a marginal review, like one for Stable Relation that gave it three stars and went on to say she didn’t finish the book, is still good news. That silly search engine can’t read! It just wanders out back to look for my book. In that way, every review is good.

If you left a review, thank you so much for keeping my books moving. It makes a huge difference.

And if you have thought about it and have a moment, please consider writing a brief review of Barn Dance or Stable Relation or Relaxed & Forward. (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads.)  Self-published books gratefully rely on word-of-mouth support. Thank you.

Last week found me in Elgin, Illinois, working four days at a wonderful therapeutic riding center there, followed by a two-day riding clinic at another barn that shares my blog and books. One of the participants at the second barn was a very serious rider; a man in his seventies who came with his two chestnut mares. He’d managed to ride five lessons in two days. Well done!

At the end of the clinic, he had his horses loaded for the haul home when he came to say goodbye. I stood to shake his hand, but then we hugged instead. I thanked him for riding and he said, “You’re just exactly the person you are in your book. Just the same person.”

There’s no squint in a barn. No head tilt. “Thank you,” I said, “that’s my intention.”

….
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro

Word Geek Needs Prom Date

“She’s insufferable with this stupid human game. What’s wrong with tossing a ball. What an embarrassment. We try to sleep through it.”
“She’s insufferable with this stupid human game. What’s wrong with tossing a ball? We try to sleep through it. This woman is an embarrassment.”

I was once on the very brink of practically passing as sophisticated. It isn’t the same as actually being sophisticated, but I swear, this blog is like a trashy “True Confessions of a Dork” tell-all. Bad boundaries? I was routinely accused of that, but I’ve moved beyond that to shameless.

I’m winding up to brag about my vocabulary. That’s what all this honesty has come to. Someone, please, stop me before I drag out comments from my grade school teachers!

First, just because I’ve never played a computer game in my life, doesn’t mean I don’t understand the theory. I want to announce I have just taken up something remotely like a computer game, only obscure and arcane and, well, it has the stench of a long over-ripe Honor Society membership.

Okay, here goes.

I call it writing but that’s a poor description. I spend a few minutes gathering words around an idea I have, and then hours editing them. I move them around like furniture, I replace words with better words. I struggle with punctuation and adverbs and pronouns. Then I check for words that I repeat too often or not enough. Writing is the very tiny part of the job.

Sometimes I use software programs like Word, but more often, I like the software here on WordPress. Their spell check is powered by an elderly English teacher with a very sharp ruler. For longer work, I like Scriveners, a writing software for arranging a book that is no less than co-author worthy in its ability to hold it all together before it actually exists. Even if their spell check is a bit more like a Junior High English teacher who also coaches soccer.

I’m getting to the part where it’s all as exciting as playing Call of Duty. (I had to google a game title. Is this a good one?)

Some word geeks play scrabble and call it good, but the game I dream of is software that can tell that I should have used to instead of on. You can’t imagine how invisible those little words become during editing. Oh, of course you can. You see those mistakes in my writing all the time. I’m the blind one.

Obviously, I troll around on word software sites because I get their solicitations… that’s how I stumbled upon Grammarly. I downloaded the free version and then had a picky judgment fest about it. I’m that kind of crazy on a Saturday night. There is a page switch aspect that I don’t like, but it wrangles commas pretty well. In my dorky opinion.

It all changed when I got an email summary from Grammarly that used the word “Mastery” in relating that in the last 39,620 words I’d written, (more words that 99% of users did in the same time period,) I had used 1424 unique words (a larger vocabulary than 97% of users).

Okay, I like this game. I think you can see why. I would never be the kind of person who liked statistics. That’s math and I would rather fanatically over-tip a server than do math.

It was WordPress who taught me to love statistics. I check them all the time, it’s a compulsion. Because they flatter me. Something math has never even tried to do. “Readers in 161 countries.” Wow. Humbled and flattered. It’s getting remotely close to 1,000,000 hits. (It would have been easier to type a million hits, but I wanted to gloat over all those zeros.) This is how it came to pass that I bored the dogs into a coma.

Like all good embarrassments, I was standing there at the corner of No One Cares! and Do You Know Who I Am? And smiling like a fifth-grader in cat-eye glasses and a buttoned-up sweater because Grammarly is my new best friend.

“Pathetic,” the dogs mutter in unison.

gold-shiny-hrReal Life Update: This Friday, I fly off to the Miami Book Fair International to receive my award for Stable Relation. This is an awkward invitation to be my prom date. Please. There’s a Saturday night formal event and as usual, the dogs weren’t invited and I think no one else will ask me to dance. So will you come? If you can’t show up, will you talk me through it on Facebook? I’ll be posting about it on my author page here. 

“Like” the Facebook page and follow me there, so you can share my angst of not wearing barn clothes and sleeping dogless. But know it won’t be as much fun as editing, just so you can prepare. 

Barn Dance, the next book, is still on track for January release. I think we have the cover photo nailed down, just looking for that perfect, witty tagline. Oh, and some more obsessive-compulsive editing. I know there are some stray commas and semi-colons roaming aimlessly through the text, but at some point, you just have to hold your nose and jump.

Okay, in an attempt for fairness, it wasn’t all hearts and flowers with Grammarly. I confess that Grammarly also noted that I missed commas in a compound sentence 274 times. I made 94 mistakes with missing articles. Perhaps most tragic, there were 168 mistakes in comma splices. I didn’t even know that happened to commas. Let’s just state the painful truth. I have comma drama.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

 

 

Crossing a Line, One Year Later

clara loveletterWhen I was twenty-four and just a baby goldsmith, I decided I wanted to show my one-of-a-kind jewelry in a New York gallery. Most of my friends were just out of college and I wanted to think my self-taught education was in line. I steeled my heart, borrowed a typewriter, enclosed some slides, and mailed off an inquiry to the best fine art jewelry gallery in Manhattan, located on Fifth Avenue across from MOMA.

Pigs fly; I got a positive response by return mail and then borrowed money to buy the gold and gemstones for the new pieces. A few weeks after that, I boarded a plane wearing jeans and a t-shirt, carrying a backpack with new collection of work tucked inside. Such a risk. It all felt like watching a foreign film–precarious and surreal.

I checked into the Fashion Institute Dorm, changed into a ridiculous white dress with huge shoulder pads that made me look like an aircraft carrier, and set about walking the two miles to the gallery. That way I’d have plenty of time to get up a good head of anxiety and blister a toe in my new shoes. The meeting was a blur; I remembered to shake hands when I met the gallery director. In a conference room, I pulled my work out one piece at a time and he critiqued as I went, using phrases like “negative space” and “visual tension.” All I could think was Just say it–not acceptable, you don’t need to explain how bad my work is… and then he finished with a question, “Can you leave the pieces with us today?”

The rest of the day is even more of a blur. I blistered the rest of my toes going back to the dorm; I might have skipped most of the way. When I got some of my wits back the next day, I called the gallery to thank them again and got the news that one piece had sold already.

I said the word out-loud: Artist. Calling myself that name in my basement studio was one thing, but now I’d crossed a line. Okay, skipped over it really, but it changed things. Over the next year, I had work in galleries across the country, and almost as an afterthought, my work got more popular at home. I also lost a couple of friends. They stepped away quietly but I noticed. The attempts to reconnect failed. Is there such a thing as success guilt?

Maybe you know the feeling. A dear friend plans a wedding on the heels of the worst break-up of your life. You get a promotion in your dream career when your sister is out of work. If you’re in a place of scarcity it can feel like there isn’t enough luck to go around and one person’s gain depletes your possibility. Or if you’re the one with good news, you bite your tongue because mentioning your good fortune would be like rubbing salt in the their wound. Most of us have been in a place where it takes as much courage to say congratulations as it does to put on the white dress.

A year ago, I crossed another line. I went from writing endlessly in a little studio to holding an actual physical copy of my memoir, Stable Relation, in my hand. When I exposed it to the world, and I exposed myself as well. It took Zen-like focus and wild audacity. I knew a hard reckoning would come. On the high side, no silly white dress.

Writing is like constructing Frankenstein. Playing god with an 80,000 word manuscript, and when it’s finally done, being brought to your knees, trying to wrestle five words into a byline. It’s a hope that your words will catch the wind and at the same time, the profound understanding that you are less than a fleck of dust in this big, complicated world. It’s yelling, “Hey, look at me!” and knowing that your underwear is on your head.

And then, I saw a photo online of my book on someone else’s tablecloth and my mind imploded. In the next few days, more readers posted photos of the book and Stable Relation became my traveling gnome. I was over the moon. I was hiding under my bed.

Reviews started coming in and most were positive. People commonly said that they couldn’t put the book down; they’d finished it without taking a breath. Where’s the next book?

Wait! This literary “snack” had taken me two and a half years to write, a few thousand dollars, and a serious time commitment every single day since. What’s the word for simultaneously choking and laugh-howling with horror?

A year later, this is what I notice: I can laugh without choking again. My list of improbable things has been severely edited and my battered confidence is standing steady. I’m word-fearless and inspired to write stronger every day. I even dabble in poetry; fearless I tell you!

I’ve received heartfelt emails from kindred spirits in other countries, made friends with people I’m in awe of, and my rural mail-carrier told me her mother loved my book.

Now and then, I notice something missing. Someone missing. I don’t need a parade but those who have remained silent are noticed. I hope they’re well. What does it mean when we choose to miss events in our friends lives? When we don’t acknowledge passages like divorces or children born or new paths taken? Have I offended them? Could it be that our emotional landscapes at odds with each other?

I spend so much of time trying to be a human thesaurus, always searching for the right words to understand these inexplicable contradictions. All the while I’m painfully aware that I can’t control how those same words will be heard…in my writing or in my life.

In the end, maybe assuming good intention is a more productive use of energy than doubting motives. Change has an ironic sense of humor and we might do better to smile and act like we’re in on the joke, even in hard times. The other word for that is grace.

To my blog readers here, I’ve used this space to transition myself into my new surroundings. It’s been the place where I confess my dreams and my shortcomings. I wander around in old pajamas and spill coffee on my keyboard. Mainly I sit in slack-jawed amazement, balanced between wild joy and abject dread. If you have been with me here from the start, what tolerance you’ve shown. I’m sure I haven’t thanked you enough. I’m equally sure you can’t know how much your support has carried me. It’s been the very best part.

Thank you. Big. Always.

 

Quote-Hoarding as Therapy.

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It was called The Book of Quotes, curated by two guys in my high school. They were skinny/tall, a bit too smart, and not remotely athletic–way before that geek title was claimed with pride. Back when a dork’s best defense was his intelligence. The Book of Quotes was their prized possession; a spiral notebook carried everywhere, poised to immortalize the key words, when the world became bizarre. Entries were made daily, of course.

I was friends with the dark-haired one but definitely not smart/male/cool enough to hang with these guys on a regular basis. We were self-segregated in those days. Okay, that part hasn’t changed much. But one day when we were sitting in the library, they opened the sacred book and read a quote–obscure and out-of-context. It went splat out on the table, followed by snorting, giggling, and faking sophistication while pushing my glasses back up my nose again. We all just wanted to be in on a joke instead of the butt of one.

I had a secret. I kept a book of quotes, too. It wasn’t like theirs; mine was meant to be an oracle for lost girls. Like this:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

You catch my drift. Mine didn’t involve arcane jokes or adolescent innuendos. Mine was literary and heartfelt. The quotes were my battle cry because if a good quote is repeated enough times, it becomes an internal tattoo.

 “Assume a virtue if you have it not.” Shakespeare
The habit stuck; I’ve been a quote-hoarder all these years but never so much as when I was starting to write my memoir, Stable Relation.  My studio was wallpapered with tape, thumb-tacks, and hand-written quotes that I relied on like a professional therapist. Every morning, I rolled out of bed hours before breakfast, let the dogs out, and started writing. I had no idea that birds were up in the dark, too, but they warbled and chirped a soundtrack to my book. I typed on, in the shadow of the quote that was my long-time favorite:
Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark. –Rabindranath Tagor

When an old-friend-quote shows up in real life, take it as an omen.

This blog started out as wishful thinking. I’d just finished my book and I was strangely confident. Sink or swim; Stable Relation was just what I wanted it to be. Every word of it.

The problem was what to do next. How had it not occurred to me that writing the book wasn’t going to be enough? Now what? I had no confidence in the process.  I was still that girl who chanted the magical words from other books. In a world of literary giants, my little book was invisible…unless I spoke up for it. A daunting prospect, so I recycled an extremely well-worn quote for that:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

Or in my case, one blog post. Here’s where I thank you, dear reader, again and again. It’s been a wild hike this last eighteen months.

The full-circle-crazy part? It happened while scrolling through Facebook. I came upon a quote that I thought about copying for an instant… but then I recognized the attached photo. It was one of mine, and now that I looked closer… I hadn’t recognized the words out-of-context. For all of the editing and word arranging needed to tell a story just right, I’d never once thought of dissecting my writing into a small bite. But umm, now that I think about it, that is how a quote happens, isn’t it? What a world!

Are you a quote collector, too? Words are free magic. We share them like our breath, our experience, our mutual lives. Words come from teenage boys, or ancient texts, or our own imagination, to remind us we are more alike than different.

The magic happens when a printed word takes flight, and carries us along.

We Had a Book Club Before Oprah.

We formed a book club before it was popular. You can tell by our dated name: Women who read too much (and the dogs that love them.) We were an eclectic group of women, of varied backgrounds and status, with jobs that ranged from engineers to doctors to tech queens to research scientists and everything to the left and right. In the beginning we didn’t all know each other but we did have one huge commonality: we loved books. I read the best books of my life with those women.

Screenshot (10)
The Parliament of Eight Wise Owls book club, with two readers off screen.

Our first book was Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. It set the bar high but I could list another fifty just as good. In the beginning I was a dyed-in-the-wool fiction reader, but being in the club meant reading books that you probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. Every time it was Lauren’s turn, she picked a non-fiction book. I’d silently grumble, then end up wild about the book, until I finally switched sides entirely.

We took turns picking authors from around the world, and then matched our potluck dinner menus to the book theme or nationality. We began each meeting with a glass of wine, but it was the book talk that I valued the most; first reasoning out my opinion, then seeing that book from other perspectives, and then enjoying the routine every month for a few years. There was always a delicious feeling walking up to the door with a covered dish and the latest read, anxious for our particular brand of bookish sisterhood.

And the elephant in my brain the entire time; the un-named what-if was always behind me, leaning against a wall. He whispered, “What if it was your book? What if you ever wrote yours??” It was a dream so precious and improbable that I made up an imaginary sarcastic loner to poke me, rather than share it out loud to my friends.

Life happened; there were weddings and divorces, members transitioned in and out, and eventually I moved away. For a while I commuted back but there were changes in my life that made returning difficult. Some of the other original members fell away that next year as well, but I understand the book club is still reading on. Long live the Women Who Read Too Much; thirteen years later and I’m still curious about what they’re reading.

It’s been a hectic month here, crowded with events I would never have dreamed of in my book club years. I was invited to take part in an event for local authors at the Pikes Peak Library District. Libraries are a sacred place, you know. Then traveling to the Midwest Horse Fair and meeting readers there was amazing, as well as having a day at Main Stay Farm. I gave a webinar I created from a blog post, and I just generally talked with authors and met readers. I’ve been busier with book work lately than my day job. (Which isn’t saying much if your day job is outside work and it’s springtime in the Rockies.)

NIEAseal-2014-Finalist-XLThen this week an email informed me that Stable Relation had been selected as a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards. It’s not a well-known as a Pulitzer but it’s special to me and I’m very grateful. It comes with a promotion. Now I’m officially an “award-winning” author. It means I can post this sticker. With a big smile.

But that isn’t the best thing that happened this week. I got another email, this time from someone trying to find examples of my goldsmithing online. I assumed she was an old client and I told her that I was out of the business. Then she told me that her book club, The Parliament of Eight Wise Owls, from Livermore, CA, had chosen my book. They were meeting that night. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of a book club reading Stable Relation, but it was certainly my first invitation to join the conversation! I downloaded Skype, tidied myself up, and sat quietly at my computer. At the appointed time, and by the grace of the internet, I joined them. It started with cheers and laughter on all sides. I asked if they had wine, and my computer screen was instantly filled with glasses. So I lifted mine as well and we started by toasting book clubs.

They each introduced themselves with wit and candor, and I was warmly included in their circle like an old friend. We talked about authors we liked and the value of memoir and Stable Relation might have come up. I spoke as an author part of the time, and a longtime book-clubber the rest of the time. My smile muscles were exhausted by the time I said good-bye, but just before that, I offered to send them bookmarks, if someone would send a list of the names for spelling. Susan sent me that list, with a short paragraph describing each member with such affection. They are a group rich in experience and kindness–the perfect bookish sisterhood.

(The Owls found my book online, largely because of reviews. So thanks to you, if you left a review, and if you’ve meant to leave one, a gentle reminder. It makes all the difference on this side.)

And thank you, Owls, from your honorary member! Here’s to book clubs; sharing books is a great way to build friendships. Books have opened unexpected doors for me, connecting the past and the future, in ways that fiction can’t imagine. Because for me there’s nothing that joins people like a good dose of real life non-fiction.