Posts Tagged ‘becominglayla’


I am so having fantasies of one day taking a whole weekend off.

That means no writing.   No editing.   No trying to figure out how to promote The Compass Master.   No pouring over artwork to figure out my cover.   No sifting through stacks of papers or stuffed 3-ring binders to determine what still needs to be done.   No scribbling notes of TO DO stuff.   No wallowing in angst over historical facts in my book and if I got them all absolutely right.   No freaking out when I find a missing period in my manuscript that’s supposed to be perfect at this point.

This is what writing has done to me.

SO LET THIS BE A WARNING TO YOU, PEOPLE!

If you don’t want to end up like me — a sad, pathetic, overworked, neurotic homebody with a severely curtailed social life and a brain that refuses to shut down at night….

NEVER WRITE A NOVEL!   AND NEVER EVER BECOME A NOVELIST DETERMINED TO SELF-PU8LISH!

That being said…

I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it ain’t an oncoming train.

I find myself feeling lighter by the day because in the next ten days or so I will really, truly, finally be submitting all necessary TCM stuff to CreateSpace.   Then in a few weeks CS will get back to me with the proofs for TCM, which means reading through it one truly FINAL time before publication.   Then that’s it.

OMG.   I’m actually finished?

Yes, there’ll still be regular, daily promo work to do.   But… THAT’S IT!

I’m actually starting to feel free. Liberated.   No longer mentally constipated.  I’m going to have a life again.

Of course, normal writers have normal lives and manage to balance their art/passion with real life.   But me?   Hell no.   I am definitely unbalanced.   I go onto other blogs and read about how hard their authors are working, yet between the lines I can tell that they still have lives — normal, healthy lives like normal people.   How do they do it?

Anyway, I mean it when I say I’m starting already to feel lighter and freer and – dare I say it – a little happier and even proud.  ‘Cause I DID IT!   And that means someday soon I’m gonna take one whole weekend off and see friends and movies and do real Layla stuff and have fun and relax and in general just fart around.

It’s going to feel so good.

Sorry for my absence the last couple days.   See, the thing is I had to put my kitty to sleep yesterday morning so I wasn’t feeling too sociable or gabby.   And not being able to get much sleep for a few nights because of a very sick kitty didn’t help.

I’ll come roaring back to life before the weekend and after I get some sleep and play catch-up.   In the meantime, it’s that time of year when I go out of my way to buy Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookies.   So I LOVED this picture below.

Scarred for Life

on February 14, 2011 in Misc 6 Comments »

Oh crap.

The ligament at the top of my left thigh is hurting again.

I just want this sucker to HEAL.    I want it to stop making painful twinges when I walk, sit down, exercise, stretch – hell, when I  MOVE my leg.

You know, this is a recurring problem for us physically active, wannabe action heroes:   REPEAT INJURIES and PAIN!

On Thursday I went to see my chiropractor.   It was my second visit in only a month and for the same problem – my right thigh was hurting and so was the ligament in my left leg.   I knew from experience what this meant:  my coccyx (a.k.a. tailbone) was once again out of whack.   In only a couple minutes the guy put it back in whack.   The pain vanished.   But now the ligament seems to be acting up on its lonesome.

WHY OH WHY, I wailed to the good doc, does my body keep breaking down in the same spot?  It’s because you’re over thirty-five, he explained.  When people in their teens or twenties have soft tissue injuries in, say, muscles or tendon or that ligament at the top of my thigh, the healing process is rapid.  Soft tissue will heal pretty much in the same pattern as the tissue and will still be able to stretch and move in the same direction. But when you’re older, healed soft tissue is scar tissue that looks like a plate of spaghetti – it’s a mess, which makes the area vulnerable to repeat injuries and it also now has lots of nerve endings, which makes the area more sensitive.

Granted, I’m only sloppily quoting my chiropractor.  But you get the idea.  If you have a weak or injured point in your body (and what action hero doesn’t?), as you get older that special little twinge can become a big pain.  So I looked up this whole scar tissue issue.  Here are a few facts:

  • Scar tissue is made from a tough, inflexible fibrous material that binds itself to the damaged soft tissue fibers in an effort to draw the damaged fibers back together.   This can result in a bulky mass of fibrous scar tissue that surrounds the injury site.
  • When scar tissue forms around an injury site, it is never as strong as the tissue it replaces.
  • It also can contract and deform the surrounding tissues; this diminishes the strength of the tissue and compromises its flexibility.
  • Untreated scar tissue is the major cause of re-injury.

Okay, now for some kinda good news:  apparently you can get rid of at least some scar tissue with treatments like a deep tissue sports massage.    I had something like that several years ago, and WOW did it hurt!   But I was better.    So maybe in the coming weeks when I can afford it I’ll book a session with some sports body sadist expert.

I let you know how it goes.   In the meantime, may your own body behave itself.

The good news is…

I got a lot of editing done this weekend and now I MIGHT, just MIGHT finish editing/rewriting a few final pieces of The Compass Master next weekend.   That will mean I am DONE, people, TRULY, REALLY DONE with TCM!

The bad news is…

The weather is going to hell in a handbasket.

It snowed again on Sunday.   It snowed Saturday.   It snowed a couple days last week.   Not enough, mind you, to give Denver more than several inches altogether.   But meanwhile we’ve had some freaking COLD DAYS with subzero temperatures.  Then for a couple days the temperatures warmed up just enough to melt a little snow so that overnight it turned to ICE, especially BLACK ICE.

You wanna know what I look like in the morning when I walk three blocks to the stop where I catch the bus to work?  Here’s a hint:   I do NOT look an action hero.   I am not fashionable.   I am not cool.   Think Lara Croft disguised a really pathetic bag lady.

Because I feel the cold easily – and it’s been NASTY, BITTER cold – I have to wear my heaviest, longest coat, my functional but tacky (got them at Target) snow boots, thick ski gloves, a wool hat with my coat’s hood over that, and if the wind is blowing then my muffler gets wrapped around my face.

I look like a refugee from Siberia.

Unless, of course, I’m late for the bus and try to make a run for it.   There I am, a bulging bundle of indeterminate shape running with tiny steps so that I don’t do a full frontal flip on the ice.

I look like a galloping penguin.

I swear that as soon as the weather warms up again – I mean REALLY warms up – I am gonna dress and look good again.    Cool, sophisticated, Layla-like again.   In clothes that will let me move normally.   Because when I look like crap, I feel like crap.

I bet a lot of you are the same way.    And a whole lot of you are in the same or much worse meteorological mess.

I feel for you.

Glamming Up

on December 10, 2010 in Misc 4 Comments »

I’ve decided to glam up Layla.

I know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t it late in the game to be changing your lead character? Like, uh… Didn’t you claim to be almost FINISHED with the FINAL REWRITE of The Compass Master?

So sue me.  Besides, by glamming up I mean making her warmer, deeper, more fascinating — changes that won’t take much work or alter the plot.  It’s something that has to be done.

Remember how I told you that reader Robert Read (such a cool name) did a great job critiquing my manuscript?  Well, he also reported that Layla was “admirable” but that he liked several secondary characters more. Of course I felt stung, but deep down I knew what he was getting at. A couple of friends who’ve also read TCM praised Layla as a character, but I realized in retrospect that neither of them talked about really LOVING her.

And that’s what we want for the lead characters, isn’t it?  For them to be so deserving of our love and attention that we’ll follow them through thick and thin, or if they’re sometimes unlikable or infuriating they’re still so fascinating (take a bow, Scarlet O’Hara), you can’t tear yourself away from them.

Fellow blogger Ketutar (Ketutar writing) wrote the other day about not finishing Jonathan Franzen’s ballyhooed novel The Corrections because, among other reasons, she didn’t like the characters.  I know just what she means.  I once wasted my time trudging through a John Updike novel in which – I kid you not – ALL of the characters with the sole exception of the toddler were so unlikable that I wanted them to drop dead.

Of course Layla is already pretty likable. And the painful irony is, for more than a year I’ve chronicled my unfolding plan to become like her (I’ll report on the results in an upcoming post).  Yet all this time it seems that I’ve been keeping some distance from Layla even as I created her.  You see, I can really, really hide large parts of myself from people.  Sometimes I’ve got protective armor around me as tough as steel.  This shouldn’t affect my writing, but with Layla I’ve projected parts of me into her, which means that on some subconscious level I’ve also thrown my armor around her.

So you know what this means.  I gotta tear off that armor and let Layla out in all her realness and depth and wildness and whatever.  And you know what else?  I think I’m gonna enjoy this.

Wow.  Who knew that writing could be like on-the-cheap therapy?

The Day I Was a Spy

on September 30, 2009 in Misc 9 Comments »

Spying_in_Bosnia
Several years ago the police chief in a small town in Bosnia accused me of being a spy.

I’m telling you this story because a couple nights ago a friend pointed out that I don’t have to become completely like Layla since in many ways (more than I myself can see) she believes I modeled Layla after me.  She’s probably right.  Certainly I’ve given Layla a couple of my personal adventures along with what was in me that got me through them.

The spy incident happened in the town of Olovo where I spent two hours in a dingy room on the second floor of the police station fighting to convince the police chief I was innocent.  A local teacher served as our translator.  His grim expression told me he was on the police chief’s side.  Beyond a window loomed a neighboring building, its walls pockmarked with shell and bullet holes.  The war in Bosnia had been over for some time, but the scars it had seared into its people and their country lived on.

The police chief couldn’t understand why I had flown into Belgrade in the neighboring enemy nation of Serbia instead of into the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.  He didn’t believe me when I said I was a writer and driving through both countries because I wished to see both of them.  No innocent traveler, he insisted, would rent a car in Belgrade.  How did I get into Bosnia?  Why didn’t my passport show my entry into his country?  Where was my visa?  He scoffed when I said no one in Belgrade would give me one.

Finally, after two painful hours during which I argued, pleaded, demanded and protested, I remembered a small scrap of paper in my wallet.  I pulled it out and handed it to him.

Being_Questioned

The police chief stared at it.  He sneered.  He shrugged and grumbled.  And a few minutes later, after I agreed to hand over the film in my camera, he let me go.

That scrap of paper saved me because it proved not only that I had crossed the Serbian/Bosnian border where I said I had, I had also bribed the Serb soldiers guarding it.  No visa! one of the soldiers had yelled at me after examining my passport.  I pulled out my wallet and said I’m so sorry — how much do they cost?  That’s when the soldiers turned friendly and happily charged me about four times a visa’s usual price.  Then in a shadow play that they were acting officially, one of them stamped a scrap of paper and gave it to me as a receipt.  If I had been a spy for the Serbs, those soldiers would have let me pass for free. The police chief knew this.

In my original manuscript of The Compass Master I gave my experience at the border and in the police station to Layla Daltry.  For the purpose of story development I had also added a rare medieval book that was hidden in the trunk of Layla’s car; she had been hired by its owner to retrieve it from an occupied town and return it to him.  I loved this scene, I really did.  But my agent correctly declared that it didn’t completely fit in with the rest of The Compass Master.  And so — and this hurt me — I cut it out and rewrote chapter four which was also set in Bosnia and moved it up to replace chapter two.

Anyway, I’ve kept a copy of the original scene and plan to use it in a future book about Layla.  Having lived through the story, I know it’s good enough to keep around.

I Love My Plan

on September 7, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on I Love My Plan

Another good thing about the painfully tough parkour workout on Saturday – it made me forget about the really crappy day I had at work on Friday.  You know what I mean.  The kind of day when everything seems to be going okay and then the shit hits the fan just as you pause in front of it and you leave the office feeling miserable.

The next day when I left parkour I felt so different.  Though physically wiped out I was really quite happy.  I was smiling and humming as I drove home with my blistered hands barely able to grasp the steering wheel.  Then I remembered my crappy work day and the thought of it brought me thudding back down to earth.  That’s when I forced myself to concentrate on my Layla plan.  Within minutes my spirits were high again, and I realized that becoming like Layla is something I’ve desperately needed for a very long time.

The thing about my plan is this: I’m really, truly in charge of it.  Unlike some other aspects of my life, in my plan I call all the shots.  I created it therefore I can do what I damn well please with it.  Because of my plan, I am no longer putting off the kinds of things I’ve long wanted to do because right now I don’t have the money/ time/ whatever.  I want to take that skydiving lesson this month? I’ll do it, never mind the expense!  I want to be in the one-night billiards class with a national champion who calls herself The Viper (that is so cool!)  It’s on my calendar.  I want to sit out on the roof terrace and read my French and Arabic books to my heart’s content, and to hell with housework and errands?  Go for it. To quote Billie Holiday,  “Ain’t nobody’s business if I do”.

Within the structure of my plan, I am happy and free and in control.  Within my plan, I can be what I want and do what I want.  It is liberating.

Layla’s Retirement

on September 1, 2009 in Misc 1 Comment »

When Layla grows old she’ll retire with her lover/husband to a boat on the Nile.

Retire_on_the_Nile

I made this decision because that’s what I want to do when I’m an old fart and finally have enough money to quit working.  At the rate my retirement funds are growing that’ll happen when I’m ninety-two.

The source of this inspiration came from a story in the New York Times I read a few weeks ago and haven’t been able to get out of my head.  It profiled two archeologists, now in their sixties, who for six months of the year live on a dahabiya or houseboat on the Nile while excavating the tombs of the sons of Ramses II in the Valley of the Kings; the other six months of the year they spend in Cairo, London, and Connecticut.

Damn, that sounds so good!

Of course Layla is a hell of a lot closer to achieving this dream than I’ll ever be.  After all, she has a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in early Christian literature with an emphasis on archeology.  I figure that when she’s in her fifties she’ll pursue a degree in Egyptology at her alma mater, the University of Chicago, which just happens to be the leading North American institution in that field.  (I really had no idea when I created Layla’s background that the U of C would remain relevant for her future plans.)  Then of course there are her connections to the antiquity departments of various institutions.  Finally, she has a powerful connection to a remarkable discovery in Egypt, as detailed in The Compass Master.  So Layla’s retirement is set.

As for me…

Some years ago I spent about ten days in Egypt, half of that time in Cairo and the other half by floating up the Nile with other tourists.  I’m also struggling to get down the basics of the Arabic language.  Logically, none of this amounts to a hill of beans when it comes to my dream retirement.

But maybe there’s hope for me.

Right now I’m reading The Road to Ubar by Nicholas Clapp.  He’s a documentary filmmaker who researched the legendary and vanished city of Ubar on the Arabic Penninsula, then organized a successful expedition to find it.  That makes him a member of the crowded ranks of amateur archeologists who’ve made great discoveries.  Hence for me The Road is one of those books that drive home the fact that amateur archeologists can also go into wild place and have a rip-roaring time locating lost antiquities.

I just might have a grand old age after all.

New York Trapeze

on August 21, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on New York Trapeze

A quickie explanation for this post:  I only just realized that I refer in an earlier post to trapeze, and in fact I wrote something about the subject back in July.  Trouble is, I wrote it in Word, left it on my hard drive in my computer, and forgot to switch it to this blog the next day.  Oops.

Here’s what I wrote.

July 19

The New York Times is running an article with photos of a trapeze school in Manhattan that’s open to the paying public.  The piece is well written and I empathize with the novices and especially the little kids who get scared up there on the platform.  I also admire the athletes who work the rig.  But after viewing the online photos part of my reaction was…

ARE YOU BULLSHITTING ME?

Let me explain.

Back in the late eighties/early nineties I flew trapeze for a few years.  (That’s something Layla has never done in my imagination, so as with fencing I’m one up on her.)  There was a rig in the YMCA here in Denver and a motley gang of us flew on it Wednesday and Friday nights; one or two members had even flown trapeze professionally.  And we referred to it as flying and called ourselves flyers.  Never, ever did we say that we trapezed or that our sport was trapezing, as the NY Times reports it.

The article also has a reference to Carrie Bradshaw on the trapeze in Sex and the City.  Well, I saw that episode and it bugged the hell out of me.  In an early scene Carrie is too afraid to jump off the platform.  Very understandable.  My first time up on a big rig in Indiana (as opposed to the smaller Denver one) I definitely got the heebie-jeebies.  But in the final scene Carrie goes back to the trapeze and jumps off and swings while in a voiceover she babbles about letting go and friends being safety nets and taking the leap or some such inspirational drivel.  My reaction?

BULLSHIT!

For Christ’s sakes, she was wearing a harness!  She couldn’t have fallen if she wanted to!  Don’t preach to me about letting go and courage when you’ve got a fucking fail-safe back-up system right there around your waist!

And that’s what the photos in the NY Times also showed: amateur flyers wearing a harness, or, as the article explained, a thick leather belt with a safety line secured to it.  Now with little kids I can understand the precaution; if that were my child up there I’d be sticking him or her in a harness myself.  But the adults?  Please.  Except for visiting kids, on the very rare occasions any of us Denver Flyers used the harness was when we were attempting a dicey new trick, one that would bash us up if we screwed it up.  Otherwise we did REAL flying and all our tricks without any harness.  Whether we successfully executed a trick or missed connecting with the catcher, we still had a net to land in. So do the people on the New York rig. 

Trapeze isn’t rock climbing after all; in that sport and some others a harness can be essential.  Yes there are free climbers who work sans harness, sans ropes, and even sans any equipment, and while I highly respect their skills and freakish strength, I also think they’re batshit crazy.

Anyway, the moral of my story is:  When you’ve removed all the risks from a sport then you’re not really performing that sport.  You’re just faking it.

Layla would not approve.

Lock Picking Part Deux

on August 17, 2009 in Misc Comments Off on Lock Picking Part Deux

It’s a good thing Layla never needs to pick a car’s lock.

“Car locks are really hard to pick,” Chris confessed.  Rather than pick a car lock, a thief would be better off just breaking the window.  On the other hand, to break into a Bentley you just have to take off a headlight and throw a screwdriver into the opening behind it.  That’ll short out the electrical system and the doors will open.  “But at that point you might as well break the window,” Chris said logically.

Obviously, Chris and I were now getting down to the nitty-gritty of Layla’s needs.

“Where does your character work?” he asked.  When I told him she was mostly in Europe (and forgot to add the Middle East), he stated she would need flatter tools.  It seems that locks in Europe are more finely tuned than American ones, therefore the tools must also be finer.  When he asked me what kind of places she’d be getting into, I told him mostly older buildings like archives, libraries and churches.

“Then she should carry WD40 and graphite powder with her,” he instructed.

That’s because older locks can have rust in them, which makes their pins and other parts stiff.  Layla could pour a little WD40 oil into a lock, but after picking her way past the pins the lock would need to be replaced because oil can ruin it.  Graphite powder would be better:  after blowing some into the lock, the parts wouldn’t be damaged and the powder would still facilitate picking.

Precisely because Layla wouldn’t leave damaged locks behind, both to protect herself and out of personal ethics, Chris and I decided that Layla wouldn’t bump locks.  Yes, bumping is easy and it works, but bump a lock repeatedly and it has to be replaced.  Picking is kinder and gentler.

Layla_lockpicking

Happily I don’t have Layla breaking into state-of-the-art safes.  Even Chris believes the best of them are nearly impossible to get into.  That means the scene in The Italian Job when Charlize Theron is practicing breaking into a safe by listening to its tumbler isn’t realistic, he thinks.  Opening your standard basic combination lock by listening to it is one thing.  Listening to a very expensive safe with an advanced system would take a lot more than Charlize’s skills and tools.

Layla would also occasionally encounter the really old-fashioned lock — the kind with the classic keyhole accessed with big old keys.  When I was a kid a few doors on our family’s 1920’s house had such locks, and a standard skeleton key bought at the hardware store could open all of them.  “You can open those locks with a hairpin!” Chris said with a laugh.

I’m glad he said this, because in The Compass Master Layla picks a desk lock with a hairpin.  The scene is one of several concerning her teenage years in an Irish boarding school; it’s her first time at lock picking and getting into something that’s forbidden to her, and she finds the thrill addictive.  When writing the scene I figured this was plausible because as a kid I often misplaced the key to an old trunk I’d been given and so had to teach myself how to use a twisted-up hairpin to pick the lock.

Other everyday objects can also be altered into handy-dandy picking tools, Chris said.  To prove his point he pulled out a file and a long thin wire he’d been working on.  The wire was a bristle from a street-cleaner, the kind that can be found on streets or in gutters just about anywhere.  Then there’s the metal edge to a ruler, the wire inside a windshield wiper, even — and I am not making this up — the stiff edge of a banana’s top.  “You can turn just about anything into a pick!” Chris declared.  Apparently resourcefulness and ingenuity are points of pride among Crazy Young Guy lock pickers.

Home-made picks can also be convenient because buying real lock picking tools might get tricky.  Chris wouldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to get my hands on a set like his, never mind that they seem to be sold on plenty of internet sites.  In most states only professional locksmiths and law enforcement agencies can legally purchase lock picking kits.

Well, I still need a lock picking set with at least the four tools Chris recommended, and like him I need to buy a deadbolt lock and a couple padlocks and practice on them.  In the coming weeks I’ll find out just how tough or easy it’ll be to buy those tools.