Saturday, August 06, 2005

Mona Lisa Smile

So I'm lying there in surgery, and the doctor says, "I want you to smile for me."


I sort of glance up doubtfully--I'm not exactly having the time of my life here--and he says, "No, I'm serious. We're very close to the facial nerve that controls the muscles that move your lips."

Oh. My. God.

Just like that everything can change. And that always makes good material for novels, but--as I smiled weakly for my doctor--I realized that although these are the kinds of things that are supposed to build character, I would not deal well with this sort of challenge. Which is why I am abjectly grateful that everything went well, and I can still smile--and stick my tongue out. (And kiss.)

I can still sing. (Would I have been able to sing with paralyzed facial muscles?) And, believe me, I feel like singing.

I've been celebrating by working in the garden. There's something very grounding (no pun intended) about working in the dirt. The feel of the sun on your skin, the smell of earth and flowers (the hair blowing in your eyes, the sweat trickling down your back). Mostly I've been replanting pots. (Er--repotting plants.) I couldn't figure out what was wrong with all the plants this year; we had such great success by container planting last summer. Then, belatedly, it sank in on me that it wasn't the heat or lack of food or water--most of these plants are root-bound. That's the downside of container planting, but the soil is so lousy here, containers are often the best bet.

I've moved about 17 plants of various sizes and shapes to larger pots, and I've got another ten or so to go, including five large vines. (I'll get them moved just in time to put everything to bed for the winter.)

I think one of the best things about a garden is that hard work pays off. It takes time and requires patience, but you will be rewarded. Hard work doesn't always pay off and you don't always get your just reward in this life, but you do tend to get it in a garden.

Uh, which is why my garden currently looks like hell. (But the writing has been very good.)

I think by tomorrow afternoon I should be back in writing mode. I NEED to be. I've got deadlines and commitments. And one thing I've learned, you have to keep that creative muscle warmed and working.

And speaking of muscles, creative and otherwise, the last batch off Ebay are all Dell mapbacks. (I don't know why I get such a kick out of those goofy old maps and the even goofier "What This MYSTERY Is About" and "Persons This MYSTERY Is About" lists.

DATE WITH DARKNESS by Donald Hamilton, 1947. The map on the back is of the Chesapeake Bay area "Where action is rough and tough in DATE WITH DARKNESS."

The front cover offers a guy in a red shirt getting ready to punch a girl already falling out of her shirt. The girl looks more thoughtful than worried; I imagine she should know.

First line: "He took down her suitcase and her fur coat. She said she did not have a hat."

(No, it is not chick lit--there is no mention of her shoes.)

I noticed this one was going for $12.99 last time I checked on Ebay this afternoon, so perhaps it's well known.

SLIPPERY HITCH by Gerald Butler, 1949. Man and a woman tussling over a boat oar.

Fear came into her eyes.

"Then--you're a--" Horror choked her voice...

He's a--a--what?! Jeez!

The back cover is not really a map. There's a line ink drawing of a map and then five little illustrations: A terrified girl prisoner in a madman's car--Johnny and Bob must stop him...Not daring to ask police aid, they wait for a ticket while their quarry vanishes...Until an unexpected curve appears at the edge of a high cliff...A wild hunch leads them to a cottage on a lonely lane...Blood flows when pursued and pursuer meet and the chase goes on...

Actually I can't tell from the little arrows if the high cliff comes before or after the wild hunch and the flowing blood. Maybe it comes after because THE CHASE GOES ON!!!

The back blurb reads:
The savage passions of a twisted mind makes life a living hell for two men and a girl in this forthright psychological thriller.

TWO men and a girl? Someone is doomed.

What does "forthright psychological thriller" mean? Is this a polite way of saying the madman has his wicked way with the terrified girl? Or are they going to hammer us with a lot of medical terms? Inquiring minds want to know.

First line: "Johnny had never hit a woman before, and when he saw her go down, and lying there, her face and her hair in the light of the street lamp, suddenly knowing it was a girl, he felt sick and dizzy."

Kind of effective, if confusing.

HUNT WITH HOUNDS by Mignon G. Eberhart, 1950. I already have (and love) this book, but I couldn't resist it in a mapback. The cover shows a man in a red hunting jacket menacing a woman in a ball gown (it's the Hunt Ball, right enough). The cover reads PINK COATS AND RED BLOOD--Three murders terrorize an exclusive hunt club.

Sounds a bit like a gay mystery, doesn't it?

The back offers a map of the state of Virginia, then a smaller map of Bedford County, then a nice little picture of The Laurels. It's a good one. The blurb reads
Blooded horses, baying hounds--MURDER, terror, intrigue and false accusations in the Virginia fox-hunting country.

This book was part of my inspiration for the fox hunting motif in VERSE OF THE VAMPYRE. I really enjoy Eberhart's work although she did create some of the most aggravatingly helpless heroines in the history of crime fiction. Never did these chicks fail to pick up the fallen murder weapon or deign to speak in their own defense.

First line: "There had been, as Ruby said later, no other kill that day."

Ah, fox hunting...

JEWELS FOR A SHROUD by Walter de Steiguer, 1950. "She was the victim of a madman!" The spine reads, DIAMONDS AND DEATH. (Sounds like my wedding.)

The map is not really a map so much as four stamp-sized illustrations. The Big City Slept While Murder Combed the Causeways. (I do like well-groomed causeways.)

First line: "On a small piece of land near the junction of Fifth Avenue and one of New York's swankier cross streets stands a building that is better known in some circles than most of the city's tallest and more famous steel and stone spires."

Architecture as opening gambit. Hmmm.

I always find first line comparisons intriguing. First lines and last lines, but you generally have to read the entire book to fully appreciate the last word.

Speaking of last words, the last word for tonight is...Goodnight.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Run Run, Baby, Run Run, Baby, Run...

I think of myself as a philosophical person, but it occurred to me yesterday evening as I was driving home from work that fantasizing about having machine guns mounted behind my headlights so I could blow all the lousy drivers off the road, is maybe not an indication of my philosophical nature.

Was I always this impatient?

Anyway, it's a nice long drive for thinking--and generally my thoughts are of a more positive nature. The road winds through the pine trees and mountains, and now and again I see deer or a bobcat or a fox--there's a little black mountain goat I see most mornings. It's a good time to unwind, and often I'll sing with whatever is in the CD player (this morning it was Garbage's BLEED LIKE ME--hence the title of today's blog) or work out various plot points on the project of the moment. And on those days that I don't want to be alone with my thoughts, I'll pop an audio book into the player and amuse myself that way. I've heard a lot of good books over the past couple of years--things I might not otherwise have bothered with.

I like this Garbage album. I actually bought it for a song that turns out not to be on the album (further proof that I am not the master of organization that I believe I am). I almost didn't buy the album--the idea of a group named "Garbage" seemed to demonstrate that Trying Too Hard thing that I'm so weary of. But it's not bad. There's a song called "Happy Home" that moves me.

In my happy home I barely breathe
In my lovers arms I find relief
And there's a sky that's changing and a bird that sings
I never once in my wayward life was heading to run out

But then I am in a strange mood these days. It must be the end of summer. I'm an autumn baby, and every autumn I start thinking about reinventing myself...

The focus these days is almost entirely on writing. This month I'm planning to hammer out the partial on a project my agent and I have been kicking around. The interesting thing about this project (nameless for now) is that it is so totally NOT me. It's a challenge to write another person's idea, but it excites me--partly because it is a challenge, and partly because I find it very freeing to work outside of my own head. I sketched out a few pages last month, and glancing over them, they look like they have potential, so I'm forging on. Three chapters, that's the goal.

And it's time to think about winding up the Mary Kelly serial.

And, and, and... There's always got to be some project, the next goal. It's getting to the point where I'm trying to schedule my spontaneous outbursts.

One thing for sure, my sadly neglected garden is going to get some quality time. I walked out there last night and nearly cried. Even the lavender is dying. I mean, lavender is practically indestructible. There's not a rose on a bush--the only thing thriving are the weeds. Especially sad when I think how beautiful everything was just two months ago before this hellish heat hit.

The thing about a garden is that it teaches patience--it demands it. And it rewards hard work. It's so amazing what a little sweat and a lot of fertilizer can do--beautiful to look at, of course, but there's also the scent and texture of flowers and herbs and the other plants. It's almost narcotic. Anyway, maybe because it's so physical and so different from writing, but I find it relaxing to snip and prune and dig and plant and water. All of it. I enjoy all of it. Okay, I'm not crazy about bees or worms, but they are necessary, so I try to keep the squeaks of dismay to a minimum.

One day I'll tell you about my crazy little hummingbirds and the doves that wake me on Saturday mornings...