Friday, July 10, 2015

Hard Call

A few years ago, on a visit back to New Orleans, I had a truly fantastic dinner with CS Harris, CharlesGramlich and Sphinx Ink. (And Candy's husband Steve, but he doesn't have a blog to link to) That night, Candy said something deeply alarming...

I knew she'd lived in Australia. I didn't know she'd been there for over fifteen years, or that she'd been heartbroken to return to the US.

I remember feeling a chill. I'd only lived in New Zealand twelve or thirteen years at that point. Suddenly, those years didn't seem long enough.

Why, I asked, would she ever leave a place she loved? Her answer:


What a relief. I was about as alone, and as lonely as a body could get. My parents were used to having me on the other side of the world. Family, that single, treacherous, weighted word, had no hold on me.

I was safe.

But things change. Things always change.

Now I have a daughter. And lost a father. Either would be a pretty major event, and I got both less than six months apart. No surprise that my perspective has shifted. My world is different now, and every time my girls smile at me, I'm reminded that my decisions don't just affect me anymore.

We're leaving New Zealand.

It's been a hard decision, but in the end it comes down to carrots and sticks.

On the one hand, we could raise our daughter here. I make a decent living, enough to support us all. But the cost of living is high-- high enough that we get by, and not much else. Since the earthquake destroyed our housing stock, rents have gone insane. Our house is warm and dry, and over $2000 a month. The average price to buy-- the average, now-- is $485,000, and banks don't want to talk to you without a 20% deposit. For me, like a lot of people here, home ownership is out of the question.
And I want a house. It never bothered me before-- most artist are so far below the poverty line that just paying the bills is a triumph-- but now that's just not enough. I want equity. Permanence. Something to pass on to Charlotte when I go. In the US, the average house is $136,000, and there are a lot more options for finance. Like, a lot. As dreams go, that one's in easy reach.

And then there's family. My wee girl already lost one grandparent. I want her to see as much as possible of the ones she has left. Moving, I can put her family in England and her family in Atlanta within a few hours of her. And afford to make those trips too.

I'm going to miss Christchurch. I really am.

But this city is broken. The city I loved, with its relaxed and easygoing people, its heritage buildings and Edwardian feel, its art galleries and opera house and vibrant public life, that city is gone. It died one afternoon in 2011. The place we live now is road cones and single lane traffic, the country's largest consumers of alcohol and antidepressants, fields of rubble and clattering jackhammers. Government types in ill-fitting suits are using my city as a testing ground for conservative social engineering. No matter how badly an idea has been repudiated in the past, they're determined to try it again.

The social engineering aside, our Mayor and City Council swear that all the other inconveniences are temporary. Just stick with us, they say, and this place will be even better than it was before!

In twenty or thirty years.

I love this place. These people. I'll never be able to fully leave-- especially because my daughter is a triple-citizen, and I want her to be a part of her New Zealand heritage. So I'll come back. To visit.

Meantime, I've got a life to build.  

Thursday, June 4, 2015


(What follows is the text of the eulogy I wrote for my father's funeral...)

When I think of my father, I think of his voice.

Trained by the Church in a day when priests had to reach the back pews without microphones, my father's voice was a wonderful instrument. Deep and rolling, the pure low rumble of it calmed my childhood fears. Allowed to boom, his voice could rattle the windows. A sudden sneeze in a department store when we were kids was so loud a salesgirl was startled into noodle-limbed terror.

His voice was lively, agile. Tales told around the dinner table had the whole family laughing until our sides ached and tears streamed from our eyes. Stories of his childhood and family, of life in the priesthood, of his coworkers at the bank... In his hands, every voice acted out, his timing so perfect, all of these everyday stories became so funny we forgot to breathe.

His voice, for me, will always be the voice of the Bible. Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas and Easter, there would be after-dinner readings of scripture. Those readings, and the discussions that followed, were a door into the world of his faith.

Dad saw churches-- whatever the denomination-- as human institutions, mortal and flawed. But God's love was constant and absolute, bigger than man's frailty. For him, faith wasn't something you do for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning in a special building. It was the bedrock his life was built on. His love for his wife, his children, his grandchildren. All were different expressions of his relationship with a kind and loving God.

His love of God was his life. He and Mom met when he was still a priest. Their mutual faith brought them together. It united them in forty-eight years of marriage.

Once, when Tania and I were little, he woke to the sound of someone breaking into the house. I can't imagine how he felt. No baseball bat in the closet, no gun in a drawer. That wasn't my father. Instead, with two sleeping children and an intruder forcing his way into our home, my father walked naked out into the lounge to talk to him.

That voice worked its magic. By the time the cops arrived-- hours later-- Dad and the burglar had shared a pot of coffee and some serious conversation. He sent the police away and took the burglar to rehab.

That was faith-- his faith-- in action.

It was how he lived every day. Secure in God's love, and living the message of compassion and Christian charity.

As we grew, his children made choices he didn't always approve of. Choices he sometimes didn't understand. But he had faith in us, faith that the paths we walked were part of God's love.

Looking back, despite all the twists in the road, he may well have been right. :)

Over time, my father's voice softened. Chelsea and Kristen, Cameron and Brennan and Brandon, may have missed out on the lively entertainer and firebrand preacher. But they had the joy of growing up with a wonderful and soft-spoken grandfather. His church eventually forgave him for falling in love, agreeing that a family was in fact God's plan for him and welcoming him back with open arms. My father was happy. Truly happy. His voice grew more gentle now, often little more than a low murmur.

As the years wore on, his voice became a whisper. The last time I saw him, he spoke so softly I had to strain to hear him at all.

On May 18, at 12.24am, that voice fell silent.

I miss him. We all do. It's hard to think that we've had our last good talk, whether about serious matters like books we enjoy, or something silly like politics. It's hard to think that his voice is gone.

Except, it's not. I still hear him. We all do, everyone here today, can hear him right now. Whenever I face a choice-- between selfishness and love, between fear and doing the right thing-- it's his voice, his faith that guide me. And when I hear myself laugh with my daughter, it's his voice I hear.

Monday, February 2, 2015

So, this happened....

Her name is Charlotte Grace, and we call her Charlie. She was pretty much the coolest birthday present I could have imagined.

I was going to write something witty and clever, but it's been two month now. I've had to accept that witty and clever just aren't much on offer.... Maybe once she sleeps through the night. Maybe a few weeks after she leaves for college.

Work on the new book is going slower than I might like, but it's going. I carry pen and notebook everywhere, jot a few words as and how I can. Several times so far, I've fallen asleep in mid-sugar. I mean, sentence. I've fallen asleep mid-sentence. 

Can't wait to re-read the first draft on THIS one :)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Live, and FREE!

The new book, PRODIGAL, is finally out, and for the next few days, it's absolutely FREE!

Download your copy here :)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wrong Dinosaur

Seriously-- a year?!?!?! A whole f**king YEAR since my last post?!?!?!?!

That's just taking the piss, that is.

Oh, and what a year it's been. Lot of personal stuff I won't go into here (odd of me, I know-- but I did have that year, remember...), but mostly it's been the year of the Book That Damn Near Broke Me.

Seriously, I think I came closer to quitting than ever before. Days would pass, sometimes as much as a week, where I would dutifully sit in front of my screen and stare. Just... stare.

Y'see, I had this bright idea: I was going to polish up all those rough drafts I've got sitting around and trot them out the door. I put in the months of writing them, it'd be nice if folks got to read them, right?


I picked out a tidy little thriller. Young woman comes home after a long absence, trouble ensues. Pretty straight ahead.

If I'd just hit the spellcheck and sent it on its way, life would have been different. But noooooo... I was missing stuff. All this great potential between her and the Sheriff, and her and the local crime boss, and I skated right past it. I skated past a lot of things.

I told myself, "I'll just flesh it out some."

Yeah, right.

Maybe 2000 words of that original draft survived. Once I started going deeper into my heroine's family, her history, and the way those bonds pull at us, my old plot didn't work. My ending didn't work. My beginning changed.

I had to rethink my dinosaur.

When I was a kid, T Rex stood upright. My wee plastic dinosaurs had him standing straight up, just like the skeletons in the museums. (Old picture of one up top) Oh, and he lumbered too. I remember that. Turns out, we all had it wrong. T Rex was a low--crouching, fast-moving nightmare.

Hopefully the new book will be too.

PRODIGAL will be available before Christmas. I hope. :)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ripping Off Hamlet

So, work is going slow on BURIED.

At first I thought this would be an easy one, a finished manuscript that needed little more than a quick polish an off to the Beta readers. It's a tidy wee thriller about a young woman who returns to her hometown and starts asking questions about her brother's death. Think Walking Tall meets Pink's song Trouble.

Naturally, there was one small problem. A little thing, no more than a dangling thread at the edge of a garment, really.

The story read too fast. Not 'wow I finished it in a single night' fast, but 'who are these people and why are they doing this stuff' fast. In my haste to keep the action moving, I had neglected my sequels.

So I sat down every morning with my feathery quill, ruffled shirt and candle-drippy skull (so I'd know I was a *real* writer, see) and go through my manuscript. Correct a typo here, tighten some language there. And yes, broadening out those sequels so those characters could explain their who's and where's and why's...

That dangling thread metaphor a couple of paragraphs back? I bet you can see where I'm going this.

Yup. As I filled in the bits I had glossed over, that thread pulled further and further. I was writing about messed up families, about the ties that bind us to our pasts and histories, about the strange relationships between mothers and daughters. I had two mentor characters, one a hero who has to choose between her heart and doing the right thing, the other a black-hearted villain who did it all for love. And my poor protagonist, sucked into all these plots and feuds and jealousies and betrayals by the loss of a brother she barely knew, her last family.

Once I started pulling those threads, I felt like the biggest asshole to ever stare moodily from a garret window. Glossing over good meaty stuff like that should be criminal.

And of course, it wasn't long before the entire hem of my garment had dissolved. Stepping gently away from an overworked metaphor, my old ending no longer worked.

It was tidy. It was fun. It littered the bodies all over the stage.

But my old ending didn't do justice to these characters and what they were going through.

So, once more into the breach and all that. And this morning it hit me: the REAL central conflict of my story...

My heroine really was fine being a black sheep. She liked it. But family does hold its ties and obligations over us. Going home was the last thing she wanted to do, but it was what she had to do. And now that she's back, everyone wants her to further *their* agendas.

Basically, my story is one long Call to Action.

My earlier version had her answering that call at the Act I Climax, just like every other bloody Hero's Journey. Lot of good stories go that route, but it was making my heroine's choice seem shallow and facile.

But, who the hell writes about HALF the Hero's Journey? Okay, maybe the fiction team behind the Synoptic Gospels. (I mean, sure, maybe you could say Jesus answers the call before the start of that story, but I'd argue that he spends damn near every minute up until the Last Supper trying to find a less painful way to answer that call.) But those folks are NOT the writers to turn to for characterization...

Had this ever been done by anybody GOOD???

Oh yeah, Hamlet! That poor Emo's entire story is about the difficulty he has answering his call to action. If your dead father's ghost is crying murder and howling for vengeance, do you *really* need investigation and fake plays to figure out what you have to do? No. He knows from the start what he has to do, and what it will cost him.

And when he finally DOES take action, man do the bodies pile up quick!!!

This is gonna be fun..... :)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Next Big Thing — Find the New Authors You Need to Read

I’d like to thank fellow author Avery DeBow for tagging me to participate. Click the link to find out about her book, Resonance.

In this particular hop, I and my fellow authors, in their respective blogs, have answered 10 questions where you get to learn about our current work in progress as well as some insights into our process, from characters and inspirations to plotting and cover decisions. I hope you enjoy it!

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions. Here is my Next Big Thing!

1: What is the working title of your book?

BURIED. I'm planning to release it as a summer beach read.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

The opening scene came to me out of whole cloth, just sort of landed in my lap. From there it was a matter of figuring out what the heck was going on there.
Once I'm revising, it's easier to see the certain sources (action movies, the strange relationship between mothers and daughters, my grandfather's old place in rural Georgia), but at the time it's all just getting to the next chapter...

3: What genre does your book come under?

Thriller/Suspense: Think a less-Floridian John D McDonald with better-written women.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

For Kira, Either a young Isabelle Adjani (maybe late 70's), or a current Leslie-Ann Brandt. Neither looks how the character is written, but both crackle with that exotic wild intensity. Of course, with my luck it'd turn out Taylor Swift was looking to get into acting...
And for the Sheriff, Jody Foster. Hands down, Jody Foster.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young woman returns home after a long absence and starts asking questions about her brother's death.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

I self publish. I had an agent for a couple-three years, and some interest, but in the end I'm happier this way. :)

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This one went quick, I seem to recall- maybe three months? Rewrites, of course, took considerably longer....

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I'm sticking with John D MacDonald with stronger women. MUCH stronger women...

 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The Sheriff just kind of wandered up one day, brought Kira with her, and the two of them wanted me to write a story. They were standing in that parking lot, kind of freaking me out.

 And they were pretty patient with me when I got lost, never let me write them too far off-track.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Let's see... I've got a sleepy Southern town with a tough-as-nails Sheriff, an oily and evil crime boss, a team of professional killers and a hot chick who kicks major ass!

Sound like you? No?

Well, how bout it's also a thoughtful meditation on the love and antagonism and tangled loyalties of family and the way that no matter where you go you'll always feel the pull of home...

Because it does both. I swear! :)

Happy Writing and Reading!