Books & Reading, Writing & Life
What does it mean to let your hair go gray? To me, it’s like the old ‘60s mantra: letting your ‘freak feathers fly.’ It is acceptance– of not exactly old age (not there yet) but accepting who you are, right now. Even if that means no longer being young and attractive. America runs on vanity, whether you buy into it or not. For vain girls like me, the loss of our looks, plus the elder stateswoman status that gray hair gives us, can be a bitter pill to swallow.
If I’m honest with myself going gray equates with the loss of vitality, of literally life in your hair, your body, your mind. It is, for many of us, the beginning of the end.
[Q: Which came first: the crime writer or the death obsession? ? A: The egg. Always go with the egg.]
But lately I keep hearing in my head: “Who do you think you’re fooling?” I am not young. I know that rationally but the mind bucks it. Denial, let us say, is a powerful weapon against almost anything. Ignoring the obvious is not a bad way to go. It keeps you on the positive. And if you say something over and over it becomes ‘truthy.’ (One look at the chaos of this political campaign makes everyone a believer in that, or some other whack-a-doodle notion.) If I deny that I’m old does that make me feel younger? Hmmm. Not really. It only makes reality, when it inevitably rears its ugly head, that much harder.
So who am I fooling? Do strangers and bystanders in my life think I am younger than I am? That would be cool… or would it? I mean, do I really know their opinions (or care) and more pointedly, how does their admiration for my fabulous agelessness make a difference to me? It is simple vanity, and a window into the fear of growing old.
Six months ago I stopped dyeing my roots and began the somewhat painful process of letting my natural color grow in. With help from my stylist and some highlights, I should say. It hasn’t been terrible, possibly because of a talented stylist. I am deep into my Diane Keaton period and am on my way to full Emmylou Harris. Or so we can hope.
Yesterday I looked at a photo from last summer, my nephew’s wedding, where my hair, still a rich brown, looked great. I mean, great. But then I recalled the reason for this journey, the itchy scalp, the reaction to brown hair dye that has been getting worse. I was up to five packets of ‘Equal’ in the dye to keep the itching at bay. (Pro tip: not every stylist knows the trick of adding artificial sweetener to brown dye to reduce its harshness. BYO.) And once a month at the salon, new stylists to be discovered as I move, it was all getting to be a drag.
My skin has always been sensitive. At one point it was described as ‘dermagraphic,’ that you could write on it with your fingernail and it would swell up. The fact that I got through years of hard-core permanent dye on my scalp is a wonder, and I don’t want to push my luck. But the decision didn’t come easily, even though lots of my friends have gone natural. At a reunion two years ago the majority of the fourteen friends were gray (or white.) Only the blondes—and me– kept on. One of my other friends let her hair go natural at 50, hated it, and went full-on blonde. Another tired of dyeing her roots in her forties. Some still dye their hair of course. It’s a personal decision for every woman.
But the emotional side of it, the acceptance of aging and with it the eventual final decline, comes with the territory. Going gray is freeing in a way, from the financial burden and time-suck of hours in the salon of course, but also of the charade of youth. I have my health – knock on wood – but I also have grandchildren. I adore them and would love to have more. So who am I fooling with dark brown hair? No one obviously.
My role models are a bit muddy on dyeing. My mother famously ‘frosted’ her dark hair in her forties to disguise the gray and was very put out that none of us noticed. I doubt she bothered again. (It’s shocking how little I remember of my parents in their middle age when I was living far away and busy being me.) Now 92 her hair is pure white. Many in the greatest generation never learned to handle their own locks; she goes to the salon once a week to get it ‘done.’ My mother-in-law, ten years younger than my mother and gone too early at 78, told me in no uncertain terms to never go gray. Originally a brunette she dyed her hair at home for years, a platinum blonde for most of the time I knew her.
The cool thing about going gray is that is reversible. And blonde-able. Keeping that in the back pocket should I have an emotional crash at my looks. (Oooh, purple!)
I guess it’s time to stop obsessively googling ‘Going Gray Gracefully.’ Don’t bother: there are no answers there. Because the answers are inside, not outside.
This is life, my grays– and Emmylou– tell me. Embrace it.
The Bennett sisters will have to deal with their gray hair soon… or have they already started? Read about them in the series starting with Blackbird Fly. Have you tried your luck at the giveaway for the second in the series, The Girl in the Empty Dress?
Just two more days to enter. Check it out at Amazon Giveaway.
Hurry! Ends Thursday, April 14
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I’m happy to report my Writus Interruptus has dissipated with the spring rains and I am back in the saddle, writing-wise. The saddle in this case is every chair in the house. Unfortunately I have my feet up these days as I tweaked my knee last week. As my pal Sherri asks, “Did you trip or fall in a hole?” Not this time! (I am a well-known klutz.) I was just walking along the trail by the canal and my knee started hurting.
My knee is a well-known irritant to pleasure. This same knee has had a meniscus tear, a lateral ligament release, and in the infamous ski accident — Park City 2005 — lost cartilage in the tibial plateau fracture. Yes, my bad leg. My bad knee. So no big surprise that something new would pop up. But very annoying.
The good news for writing is — always look on the bright side 🙂 –that I have no excuses for not getting some major writing done this week while I rest my knee. I am currently at 53,000 words when I should be done, so still about 20,000 words behind. This week though — it’s onward into the breach.
Keeping your enthusiasm for your project going is one of the main issues for the pro writer. Even if you’re so enamored with your story and in the full flush of story-telling that you’re getting up at 4 a.m. before you go to work to write, keeping your head in the game can be a struggle. I used a weekend a couple weeks back to simply re-read my entire novel. I wanted to make sure I remembered all the aspects of it, little hints of things to come I put in consciously or subconsciously, characters I wanted to flesh out a bit, stuff that might not make the final cut but still had some juice. By Monday I felt excited about getting back to the story.
This Bennett Sisters novel has only a splash of French sunshine in it– and is drenched in Scottish rain. It is mostly set in the Highlands of Scotland at Annie’s wedding. (I hope readers who love the French setting aren’t too disappointed.) It feels like more an ensemble piece than the other books in the series, although Merle, middle sister and tentpole, is still the core. I love getting into these characters more with each book, it makes writing about the sisters very satisfying. All five sisters are staying in a Highland hunting lodge that belongs to Annie’s fiancé’s family. But this is no simple romance about a wedding. There’s an upstairs/downstairs aspect as the staff gets involved as well. Lots of plates in the air here. But at least no one but the cat cares if I get up off the sofa. (Oh, occasionally my husband does like a hot meal.)
I’m working with a new cover designer, Connie Dillon, who is doing an original painting. I love Connie’s work and hope you will too. Check out her website. Connie lives in Billings, Montana, one of my “hometowns.” Stay tuned for a cover reveal!
The title of the new one? It’s another Beatles song title, like ‘Blackbird Fly.’ See if you know it from these lyrics. Give it a guess in the comments!
Follow my Pinterest pages to see images like this one that have inspired me as I write this new novel. (Who can resist a man in a kilt?!)
There’s still a copy of The Girl in the Empty Dress up for grabs over at Amazon! Try your luck!
May you feel the love from me across the miles today, wherever you are.
I think Valentine’s Day is a bit of a Hallmark holiday, and all I got my husband was a non-Hallmark card, but I am completely in favor of love. Love your mother, love your father. Love your siblings, your children, your spouse. If you’re in a relationship, tell that person how much they mean to you. You can never do that too much.
Just to show you how crass Valentine’s Day is I’m participating in a sale! Yes, grabbing the furry coattails of love! How mercenary. Just like the flower people, the chocolate folks, and Hallmark. I do apologize.
Fortunately many of these books are free. If you like chick lit or contemporary romance, you should be able to find something among these thirty-plus titles that tickles your fancy. My college romance, All Your Pretty Dreams, is in here, just 99 cents this week.
Lots of love
Delicious over-the-top fun!
The five mystery writers who put together the rollicking dark comedy, Beat Slay Love, have discounted the novel for the first time.
It’s now just 99 cents. But don’t delay.
Leave a review if you can! Much appreciated.
“You’ll never watch the Food Network shows the same way after reading Beat Slay Love. . . a heady mixture of reality television, misbehaving foodies, murder most-creatively-foul, and determined sleuths. Delicious over-the-top fun!“— Mysterious Galaxy
Oh, those pesky resolutions.
Does anyone even care what a person resolves to do in the new year, or how they are (or likely not) accomplished? I doubt it. If you want to lose ten pounds or run a marathon or write a novel go forth and do it. Like so much in the world no one cares about your ambitions like you do. And that’s the way it should be.
When I first started writing, sending off work and getting back rejections, I learned to toughen myself to inevitable failure. Being a writer is failing, generally. The novel is never as good as it seemed in your head. The reviews are never quite as glowing as you’d like, and often a lot less glowing. The money is never what you dreamed. The loneliness is crushing at times. And these are just side issues.
The work itself is harder, less satisfying, and relentless in a way that you are never actually done. Writing, editing, rewriting, publishing: that’s the beginning. Now, in the indie publishing world especially, the blogging, the marketing, the tweeting, the schmoozing goes on indefinitely. There’s some good to that, with the “long tail” — your books can be discovered by new readers forever — but there’s also the onus of endless salesmanship.
So what is failure then? Because, for an artist, the only measure of success is inside of you. That’s probably the hardest thing to accept. When you choose a creative career your output, the quality of it, the quantity of it, the starting, the quitting, the starting over, is all up to you. The world may beat you down or praise you to the heights you don’t feel you deserve. Your head may explode with ego; your heart may shrivel with rejection. But the bottom line is, if you feel you have succeeded, there you are: you have succeeded. Not by the world’s measure perhaps, not by your mother’s measure, or your teacher’s, or your friend’s. But those measures are false. Your only measure of success is in your own heart and head.
Getting to this point can be an emotional roller coaster. But hey, that’s life: ups, downs, highs, lows, and if you’re lucky, a measure of self-acceptance. A small measure? Perhaps, but knowing you are not a failure, knowing it deep down in your gut, knowing you have given it everything you had, is worth the struggle. That small knowing is golden.
My resolution was simple last year: review every book I read, online somewhere. I fell behind in the summer so yesterday I reviewed six books. I didn’t review every book — if I didn’t finish it I don’t consider it “read.” I left a few books unreviewed anyway so I guess I failed. I’m getting good at this. 🙂
This year I resolve something different. Small goals, hopefully doable.
- Write every day.
- Eat yogurt every day.
- Walk every day.
- Laugh every day.
I foresee the last one being the hardest. So I will check in here once in awhile with a laugh video and let you know how it’s going.
Ha-ha-happy new year! ?
It’s not as cynical as it sounds. Really. There’s something so freeing about the holiday we call New Year, New Year’s Eve, or just The End of That Wicked Year.
The expectations for New Year’s Eve are so minimal. Drink, possibly-fireworks-probably-just-on-television, a smack on the lips perhaps. Not so much that you can’t just go to bed early and say “Happy New Year” and make pancakes in the morning.
After the hectic days of the religious and semi-pagan holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza if you will, family visits, babies and dogs and snow and travel and disruptions of schedules to the point that you welcome going back to work, the mini blip of New Year’s Eve is, well, a mini blip of light and champagne.
Some people are going out for big blow-out parties, I suppose. Good on ya! I haven’t been to one for years, being of a certain staid nature by now. (I’m actually reading a novel set in rural England in the ’30s where they have big parties and skating and merriment, along with vicious family intrigue. Oh, those were the days. Except for sexual repression. And Nazis.)
Do you go out and celebrate? For years now we’ve done home parties; if we’re skiing we watch fireworks and have a toddy but mostly it’s very low-key. The food extravaganza is hopefully over. The new year drink is a little champagne, and a nap.
So my wish for you this New Year’s Eve — a moment of light and love as the year ends, and a new one begins. May the best of times be on your horizon and a smile on your sweet lips. ❤️
That’s not to say I haven’t been working on book projects. One in particular has taken a lot of time. Writing, editing, designing, marketing: I’ve had my editor/publisher hat on for quite a bit of this one. (No not the one in the photo.) The book is a collaboration between me and my Thalia Press partner, Katy Munger, plus three other mystery writers. Well-seasoned, all of us – with tarragon and a hint of lemon.
On Thursday, October 1, my friends and I officially release our project, a group novel we call Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge. It’s a dark comic send-up of serial killer novels, food mysteries, chick lit, and an iconic book you may remember, Eat Pray Love. We offer our sincere apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert and hope she can appreciate our tongue-in-cheek swipe at all that is holy. For we spare very few in this thriller. Reality TV chefs: done for. Pompous jerks: finished. Fakers and takers: outa here. Gleefully!
The book has been a blast. My friends — besides Katy the fabulous collaborators are Kate Flora, Gary Phillips, and Taffy Cannon — and I took turns writing sections, riffing on each other’s plot lines, developing protagonists and villains, taking our crew from coast to coast, from lobster in Maine to huckleberries in Montana, from food festivals to fine dining. We never really believed, in our heart of hearts, that it would work. Writers are notoriously individualist. Probably somebody would give up, go off the rails, throw up their hands. But, remarkably, to our surprise, it did work. Bestselling author Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries that inspired ‘True Blood,’ said this:
“This incredibly sly mystery has everything you’d want when you bite into a dish: suspense, spice, and a new take on an old classic. For anyone who’s ever watched Chopped or even stopped in at Williams Sonoma — Beat, Slay, Love is the perfect read.”
So the time has come. We hope you’ll enjoy ‘Thalia Filbert’s take on contemporary American food and crime. To celebrate we’ve put together a recipe book called Thalia Filbert’s Killer Cocktail Party. Comment below to get a copy free.
And enjoy Beat Slay Love as much as we did writing it. Think of it as a juicy October dessert. Mmmm.
It’s summer. It’s road trip time. And thusly… time for audiobooks!
What will you be listening to on your vacation? I’ve been devouring audiobooks this spring on my many road trips. Here’s a few I enjoyed.
Girl on a Train – Paula Hawkins. I’ve mentioned this one before. Unreliable (possibly lying, possibly just drunk) protagonist who will make you want to stay sober and an expertly done narration with three actors for the three points of view. I figured it out but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this dark tale.
A Rule Against Murder – Louise Penny. My first mystery by the Canadian crime writer. I often choose audiobooks from writers I’m simply curious about. Penny is a bestseller in the English manor house mystery tradition. This one is set on a remote lake in Quebec where one of the rich but annoying family members is killed when a statue of the patriarch inexplicably falls off its pedestal. Yes, that’s really the plot but I don’t think you really read Penny for the plot. Full of intriguing characters but slow going.
Act of War – Brad Thor. Again, my first time with Thor. The exact opposite of Louise Penny on the crime fiction scale. A manly action tale of spies on the run. I picked up an abridged version (at a truck stop!) because I am a sucker for spy stories. A reminder to not buy abridged in the future.
Til Death Do Us Part – Kate White. A light, frothy mystery without much substance but it kept me awake in the car, which isn’t a small victory.
Before I Go to Sleep – S.J. Watson. This was my favorite audiobook of the last few months. A story of a London woman who has lost her entire memory, and loses the previous day every morning after she sleeps. She begins to keep a journal to write down what she’s learned about herself from the day before and who the man in her bed is (her husband reportedly). In a ‘Memento’ way she slowly regains her self, despite the dangers. I love this sort of psychological thriller.
Dietland – Sarai Walker. This started out with promise, a young, overweight writer who writes Dear Abby advice for a fashion magazine, pitched as Bridget Jones meets The Devil Wears Prada. But alas, that is not anywhere near the plot. This novel is a heavy-handed rant against the diet industry, fat-haters, and pornography not to mention rapists, the fashion industry, and men. There are, of course, many reasons to dislike all those industries and/or people. But there is not a single likable man in the story. Written by a PhD in gender studies, the story isn’t bad, but the telling of It is strident and unnecessarily graphic. At one point there was a seemingly endless list of numbered lipstick colors. I was shouting ‘stop’ in the ‘B’s and it went all the way through the alphabet, nearly 200 names. Probably not so bad in print but it gave me a headache in the car.
• Dietland is not crime fiction. I chose the novel because my fellow Thalia Press writers and I have been writing a mystery together featuring a food blogger and an FBI agent on the trail of a killer taking revenge against TV chefs. She is similar to the character in Dietland, an overweight young woman who is humiliated and tired of her invisibility. But our novel is, we hope, funny and murderous and full of delicious food from sea to shining sea. Stay tuned for more on the Thalia mystery: Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge, coming this fall.
And this just in
I have two new audiobooks! The Girl in the Empty Dress and PLAN X are now available from Audible and iTunes. I’ve got promo codes to give away and I’d love to give you one. You can get an audiobook free through Audible.com with the code. I’ll send instructions with the code if your name is picked. Comment below or on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LiseMcClendon to win an audiobook worth $17.95 or $19.95. Both are unabridged.
narrated by Denice Stradling
narrated by Tassoula E. Kokkoris
Leave a comment to win an audiobook!
As crime writers we often get our ideas from the news. Remember newspapers? You still read them, I hope. Where else can you find in-depth stories about the world, where you live locally or the wide world beyond your circle? Sometimes as a writer you don’t know where your ideas come from exactly, they just pop out of the ether or the news cycle, and percolate in your mind.
That was the way it worked for me when I wrote a book about heroin, sex trafficking, and TV news. I majored in broadcast news in college and although I didn’t work in the field I am an avid observer — not that difficult in this day of 24-hour news. Although sex workers and drugs may seem like dark subjects, and they are, I made the center of my story a funny, struggling young woman, very much a career girl of today. I wanted to write about an ethical but hapless television reporter whose ambition to get away from her ex-husband, now her boss, leads her into trouble. That novel, Jump Cut, reference to a ‘jumpy’ editing transition, was published in 2011.
As writers we often are immersed in our subject but then we write the book and go on our merry way, writing on some other topic. So when this story about the new heroin problem in the US popped up on the New York Times I stopped. And read it. All the way to the end.
“So we are at a strange new place. We enjoy blissfully low crime rates, yet every year the drug-overdose toll grows. People from the most privileged groups in one of the wealthiest countries in the world have been getting hooked and dying in almost epidemic numbers from substances meant to numb pain. Street crime is no longer the clearest barometer of our drug problem; corpses are.”
Read the NY Times piece here.
The article is about the dramatic increase in suburban heroin addiction in the least likely places, and the new distribution strategies Mexican growers are using, without the big cartels. In Jump Cut three prostitutes overdose on tainted Mexican heroin in Seattle. They are Russian-speaking women (how they arrived in the U.S. is part of the story.) Unlike the Times story they aren’t suburban teenagers who are replacing their Oxy addiction with cheaper heroin, but they are addicts. Their story is the catalyst for Jump Cut. Reporter Mimi Raynard has her own journey first, bungling their news story, looking for a new job, ultimately on her own except for the help of narcotics detective Shad Mulgrew. They both have to redeem themselves and solve this triple homicide.
The events in this Seattle story are fictional. But heroin addiction and human trafficking are still problems in this country and around the world. For research I didn’t, as one fellow writer suggested, try heroin. I did a ride-along with the Seattle narcotics detectives — great guys in a brutal business. I interviewed them and watched them do a take-down of a drug buy at a suburban shopping mall parking lot. By the time I wrote this novel heroin had ceased to be a huge epidemic in Seattle. But it didn’t just stop being a problem. It moved somewhere else, with new victims, new dealers, new addicts.
But there is hope. We could learn a lot from Portsmouth, Ohio.
Some places have gained ground on the epidemic. Portsmouth, Ohio, was among the first to see a generation addicted, and pill mills — pain clinics where doctors prescribed pills for cash and without a proper diagnosis — were virtually invented there. Portsmouth, like a junkie who has hit rock bottom, has found within it a spirit of self-reliance that has helped kindle a culture of recovery. The town shuttered the pill mills. Narcotics Anonymous meetings are now everywhere; recovering addicts are studying to be counselors. And after years of watching jobs go abroad, in 2009 townspeople stepped in to save one of Portsmouth’s last factories — a shoelace manufacturer, which now exports shoelaces to China, Mexico and Taiwan.
Like Portsmouth, we need to take accountability for our own wellness. There is a time and a place for pain pills, of course. But we need to question the drugs marketed to us, depend less on pills as solutions and stop demanding that doctors magically fix us.
It will then matter less what new product a drug company — or the drug underworld — devises.
How is your writing going? I ask because I’ve been struggling with finding enough time and focus recently. I have no excuses. My life isn’t any busier than yours, I’m sure. I have no children at home, no soccer games to attend. It’s winter and the weather is frightful. I’m stuck inside with my laptop. My brand new laptop! Look at the new widgets! Ooh, look at that…!
Where were we? Ah, my lack of focus. It’s tax season, that’s a distraction. And it’s true that I’m remodeling a bathroom, but not personally. I have to deal with a parade of carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, and yes, there’s always some new wrinkle like after the water got turned back on every faucet on the lower level seized up and will have to be replaced.
But that’s no excuse. I have hours on my own that I could be using to concentrate on a new novel. Instead I’m dithering around the internet, looking at photos of my new granddaughter who’s too far away, drafting silly tweets, and yelling at my email newsletter provider (who couldn’t care less.)
I have started something new. It’s one of those ideas that come to me out of the blue — that should scare me off. But somehow it just makes sense. It’s not a mystery or thriller. It’s not in one of my series. It’s nuts really and I’m not working on it all that much. But here’s the thing. About two weeks ago I woke up from a vivid dream one morning. The whole plot was there, in my head. I got up and wrote down everything I could remember. It didn’t look as exciting on the computer screen as it did as I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling the surge of my subconscious. But I loved it and I never turn my back on my subconscious.
Now I don’t believe you can just dream up your novel and dictate it to yourself. Like this:
That’s just crazy talk. Writing a long story, a novel, despite having an initial idea that drops out of the sky into your dreams, is work. It will take months just to figure out what the story is about, how to deal with those themes, how to narrate it and illustrate it with words. That’s the fun though, once you reach a sweet spot where things come alive — I’m just not there yet. And my mind is unfocused, a flighty thing, a sparrow looking for seeds, here, there, in the story and up in the tree tops.
This is why we write. To get away from the mundane, the plumbers, the weather, the tax prep, the laundry. To enter that altered state where lives make sense, where the dull stuff is edited out and all is sparkling and witty and exciting, where there is a purpose and a goal and and a satisfying end-game. To merge into the world of the story and wear it like a furry coat that saves you from freezing, insulates you from harm, and keeps you cozy and focused and in just the right place until your work is done.
I’ll be there soon. I hope.