Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dear LCC: Welcome To My Secret Garden

My Best Conference Buddy (BCB), Tina Whittle, and I have just shared the writing of a post about our first Left Coast Crime which happened in Sacramento in 2012.

As part of that project, Tina says I should include a Bio, a Photo, and a link to my blog.

AKA, The Trio of Death & Shame.

Okey, dokey.

Bio, I've got. Photo I could mainly handle — with some carefully applied special effects. But the blog, the blog!

C'mon. You know how how it can go with a blog. Starts off with impeccable intentions, proceeds through the first burst of enthusiasm, loses momentum, and, at last, occupies the seat of baleful rebuke, wrapped in a black cloak, hood obscuring the visage. One bony finger skewering your worthless, careless, lazy little soul.

The worst part — or maybe it's the best — is that almost nobody knows how neglected and bare, how wintery and sad, your blog has become. Because almost no one ever goes there. It becomes your Secret Garden of Despair because the children don't play here anymore. Mostly never did.

But I tell you what: It's still a fine little garden. I planted some nice bits of my life in here. When I thought I had an idea to pursue or a scrap of something fun and no place to put it, I put it here. Thoughts about looking for an agent and not getting one (I've got one now!), thoughts about my life and my parents, stuff about books I read or didn't read, a poem or two, one spooky Halloween story, reports on presentations by writers I admire, and some encouraging words for my fellow-travelers. We all need those keep on, keepin' on encouragements sometimes. They help us fend off the big bad wolves of doubt.

So welcome to you, any LCC-ers who may open the gate to my quiet little corner of the Interweb. And anyone else who stumbles in here, out of the rainy dark…ether…cloud. Now I have two — count 'em TWO — brand new posts, especially for you. (And for the lovely fellow traveler who just left a comment?  Wow!  Thanks!  I thought I was all alone in here.)

Perhaps my Secret Garden may yet bloom anew.  See y'all in Phoenix!

xoAnnie Hogsett

Where does it come from?

One of the things that happens to us writers when people find out we’re writers is we get The Questions:

1) “Would I have read anything you’ve written?” 

Answer: Well, I wrote a lot of ads. Did you ever feel compelled to buy something you didn’t need and couldn’t afford? That could have been me.  I have a blog, but it's a big Internet ….

2) “When will I be able to buy your book in a store?”

Answer: Not yet. Probably not for a while. Possibly when pigs fly. Keep watching the sky. I sure do.

3) “Where do you get your ideas?”

Answer:  This is the one I love. (And I’m not being bitter or sarcastic or anything.)

The truth is as follows: I got A Parsnip Universe one day when I was not finding some item I was looking for and muttered, “Dang. It must have gone into another universe.” I got Motes because the woman who cleaned for us was resolute about turning everything cattycornered. I drove by a Bratenahl gatehouse and suddenly just knew there was an ex-CIA agent living there. Shortly after that, he told me he was in love with the lady of the mansion who’d been married to his best friend and that the best friend was now“Twice As Dead.”

Most recently, I was driving back from the – now demolished – McDonalds on Lake Shore and I heard a voice that was not my own saying, “You know you live in a rough neighborhood when someone honks at a blind man in the crosswalk.” 

Hello, Allie Harper. Go grab that blind man. He’s kind, smart, handsome, and hot – and about to be very, very – very to the 10th power – rich. Be careful, though. With money like that, Somebody's Bound To Wind Up Dead.

Of course, the magical whatever-that-was did not stay around to dictate the whole book in any of those instances, but the spark was powerful enough to get me going and, over time, I began to trust that I could keep on going long enough to find out what those folks were up to. I swear to you that for me this is pure, irresistible magic. 

Now. Listen up. The “Story Idea Fairy” doesn’t visit only the “real writers.” She/He comes to us all. She came to my mother every time she said to me, “Look at that couple over there. Do you think they’re happily married?” (I always said, “Shhh! They’ll hear you.” And no doubt scared the magical muse away.) We see things and imagine things and remember things and if we can tell our rational self to just shut up, sit down, and type something, they spin and turn and weave themselves into stories. 

They can’t really do it all by themselves, of course. The work, the doubt, the dejection & rejection, the pain in your neck, and the delight of your heart are in your keeping. Yours alone. 

But it doesn't matter if you sell a million copies or you only read the one tattered copy you have to the people at the rest home who can’t get up and walk away. Your work in the service of your characters and their stories will be a blessing to your creative self. For sure, you have one of those. I promise that you got one. It’s standard issue.

So here’s where stories come from:  Us.

P.S. And if you scroll down to the next post, you'll discover that sometimes a bit of a story can get delivered by the UPS man. Who knew? 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Where Writers Get Their Ideas. And Their Paranoia.

Okay.  It's winter.  What one might call "The Dead" of this season.  Lake E is locked down under an unknowable number of inches of ice and about ten inches of snow.  The quiet presses in.  The sky is sulking.  Even the wind is sleeping.  The writer is frozen in place. Stir crazy.  Cabin feverish.

That might explain it.

This object arrived last night. Shipped by Amazon.  Delivered along with another package ordered from Amazon.

"What is this?"
"I ordered the other thing, but nothing else. Did you order something?"
"What IS this?"

Well, there it was. A largish manilla envelope, very heavy for its size.  Sent to Ann Hogsett by the vast, intricate, rapacious, behemoth from its vast, intricate, rapacious, behemoth "Fulfillment Center" in Lexington, Kentucky.

Sent to me.  Not ordered by me. Very. Heavy. For. Its. Size.

So I am a writer.  I write mysteries. I watch Castle and The Blacklist -- lately a very, very heavy binge diet of Red Reddington.

So.  OMG.  Here's what you should do when you get a package you didn't order that weighs more than a manila envelope should reasonably be expected to hold. You put it down. Gently. You grab your spouse and the cat, not necessarily in that order -- especially since Spouse is chortling, "Oh, yeah. It's a bomb all right. No question about it.  Yuck, yuck, yuck."

You should sprint from your house through the snow to a "safe distance" and then you should think "BLEVE!" because a thriller writer/explosives expert guy, named John Gilstrap, has recently acquainted you with the Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion which you've planned for Book 2 of the current series and which you like to think of as the Big Loud Extra Very Explosive explosion. And realize you should run at least to the front gate. For starters.

And what did I myself do?  I unleashed some swearing at the Spouse and ignored the involuntary increase in heart rate.

Then I opened the envelope.

And found that thing.  It looked kind of like a bottle of balsamic vinegar.  That weighed about 2 pounds. Sealed in a heavy plastic bag. Smooth. Slick. Cold  It had a yellow cap that said, "Remove yellow cap before installation."

Balsamic Death Bomb.  Obviously.

I did the next best thing to the run-to-the-gate maneuver.  I put it in the garage.  Ha.

I took the (radioactive, I was pretty sure) envelope to the laptop, checked to make certain I had not somehow zoned out and ordered a Black Vinegar  Bomb of Extinction.  (BVBE.)  And then used my extraordinary sleuthing/hacker skills to find Amazon's phone number.  (I'm good.  I'm really good.)

I got the sweetest guy on the phone. So helpful and kind.  He explained after considerable searching that the item I had a tracking number for "does not exist."

Oh, man

He assured me that since the item did not exist, I did not need either to pay for it or return it.  The BVBE was mine all mine.

Cool.  So, I did the sensible thing.  I reviewed in my mind everyone at Amazon who might have cause to want to blow me up. Starting with Jeff Bezos and working my way through the folks who are sick to death of sealing up another smiley box on my behalf.  I decided that this number was unimaginably large and therefore I should forget the whole thing.  Have dinner.  Watch an Elementary.  Start speaking to the spouse again.

So what IS that thing?  I'll tell you what.  This morning -- both calmer and dumber at the same time -- I went out and looked at the sealed plastic bag and read the teeny little label:  "Replacement Short Office E.../Adjustment Range - S6103. New."

It's an Office Chair Lift Cylinder Pneumatic Thingie.  Worth $27.00.  And not, apparently, lethal at all.  It just makes a chair go up and down.

Somewhere out there this morning is a guy whose chin is resting on his desk.  Poor thing.

And how about me? Am I older?  Wiser?  Less paranoid?


I am in possession of a thing from that doesn't exist.

There's got to be a story in there somewhere.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When a No Is a Yes.

"It may be when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey."
~ Wendell Berry

In the middle of last week I finally heard from the agent who was considering the first hundred pages of Somebody's Bound to Wind Up Dead.  As many of you know, she'd been considering it for six months. Actually, it had been lost for four of those six. So for two months. Her response was gracious, kind, encouraging. She liked it, it was good, I should not give up.  And so on.

And no. It was not for her.

Basically, I was relieved because I don't think I'd ever have the guts to say no to an agent's yes. And although she was kind and encouraging, based on things she's written online about what she's looking to represent, my novel did not seem to be a very good fit for her. Today's agent really needs to find a good fit. I so get that. Therefore, I'd already moved on. About 97% on. 96% maybe. 94%?

What ensued then was what I can see now was kind of a mini dark night of the soul. I had traveled from Ohio to the Rocky Mountains last summer (in the company of my extraordinary spouse) to meet this agent who had judged my entry to be a finalist in the writer's contest for the Crested Butte Writers Conference. I could tell from things she said that she appreciated a lot of things about the novel that I myself think make it special. She'd had a chance to meet me face to face in all my charming irresistibility -- and still she said no.

Moreover, I'd finally permitted the whole screaming flurry about The State of Traditional Publishing and Publishing In General to penetrate the carapace of my resolve to a) find an agent b) get a publisher c) become a real bunny after all.  The odds against against that happening -- especially that last thing which is not now nor has it ever been in the purview of publishing -- seem vast.  So very vast.

So there it was.  The freaking abyss.

I fell right on in. I sulked about this, my lost grail. Wept some over it.  Ate a few -- well, maybe six -- brownies for it. (Good choice, IMHO.) And felt really, frighteningly, adverbially lost for ... I think it's been exactly one week.  The question I kept asking myself was, "What am I going to do with myself?  Who am I if I'm not a writer?  Wherever will I go? It's too late to take up figure skating."

Then last night I was burrowing through some old emails and I stumbled upon the Wendell Berry quote I've posted above.  It seemed kind of fuzzily apropos.  I put it back in my email signature and this morning it all came into focus for me.  At last.  So I'm sharing.

Oh, for Pete's sake.  Here's who I am:  I'm a writer.  I've been a writer since I was about eight.  I can't remember when I wasn't one.  I'm a writer washing dishes.  I'm a writer driving my car. I'm a writer, eating brownies.  I'm a writer, most especially, when I'm writing anything at all.  And when I'm in gear, fully, physically, word-to-page writing, in that space between Infinity and the keyboard of my laptop?  Then?  I am a writer as deeply, profoundly, miserably, exaltedly as any writer can ever be. What's more I've been an author since I finished my first of four complete novels in 1997.  Writing is not publishing, it's ... ummm....writing.  And letting people read what you write.

Will I ever find an agent? Maybe. Who knows. I haven't given up. Will I ever be published?  Oh maybe.  I hope so.  Will I ever -- and this is the only question that makes any difference whatsoever to me at the end of all things -- have readers?  Heck. I have readers.  Honey, I have you.  Every single reader counts like crazy.

I'm not sure why this feels like such a revelation to me. Maybe because I'm a prisoner of my time and place like everybody else on this beautiful planet. I believe I actually subconsciously thought I'd have to give it all up if I couldn't sell it. That I equated "real writer" with "best selling author."  That's my good old "real bunny" problem again.  Everybody has one.  Let's all make a pact to give that one up and be our own real bunnies all the time.

This post is mainly for all my dear and devoted friends and readers who've been waiting for six months to hear from that agent, too. Hey, thank you, my beloved people, for caring, for reading, for liking my books, and for loving me. All y'all are the best. The very best.


P.S. This post is also for some other folks who are part of my life, my one and only writing life.  Perrin, Lefty, Ed Brown, Ananda; Tim, the Aunts -- Luticia and Monica -- Maylene, Mr. Kim;  John Pritchard, Andy and Emily Corrigan, Emmett Chapman and Archangelo Bianchetti; Allie, Tom, Margo, Rune, Tony, Diana, Otis; Agatha, Liam, Arthur, Doc, Virgil, Hastings. I know you. I know how you talk, what you'll do, what you want, what you're thinking, and what's going to happen to you next.  Some of the time.  Sometimes y'all get to drive and I get to sit in the back and enjoy the view. You guys, I may never make you famous, but I will never, ever forget you or throw you away. Promise.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Poem For Christmas Eve

We're always supposed to read a poem or something at our December book group and I can never find anything I can read without crying -- nothing, not even the stupid stuff.  So I always end up writing something to read.  Which should help but this year's poem was unreadable in the crying department. 

I seem to only write poems at Christmas time and it takes severe chutzpah to share them because poetry is not necessarily my thing. (This is an ecumenical sentence.  I like it a lot.) But this poem is for sharing with my friends.  (And Mark Zuckerberg, of course, because he always reads my posts.  I see you, Mark. You think I don't but I do.)  It is my Christmas wish for all of us everywhere. Sometimes wishing is about the best you can do.

Merry Christmas, O Blogosphere!  May you find peace and joy.


The Christmas Door

Ah!  Here is the door to Christmas,
the Christmas we loved, the one we remember
even if it happened to someone else
in a book, a movie, or on TV.
Somebody else’s sacred dream.

But anyway.
Here we all are at the door.
All of us.

See?  It is wondrously carved and polished.
Run your fingers over the holly wreath.
Trace the leaves and berries,
the labor of years.
Touch the handle. Is it gold?
It must be.

Behind this door is the one warm and welcoming room
where all is calm and bright.
The fragrance of pine, cinnamon, and bay.
Fire on the hearth.
Carolers outside the windows.
(Mullioned windows, I’m pretty sure.)
Presents under the tree.
Of course there is snow.

The baby is in the manger.
His promise still perfect.
It’s all in there.

Every year we all stand outside this door of our own making.
All. All of us.
Trying to figure out how to get ourselves back in.

Now, here is a secret:

Every ridiculous exhortation of advertising,
every frenzied trip to the mall in the snow,
every single cookie, even if it’s from a package, icing hard as nails.
All of it.  All that we deride and regret.
All that we strive for and fall short of.
All that makes us tired and cross;
disappointed, aggravated and bereft.
All. All.  All of it.
Is outward sign of an inward truth:

We would all run ourselves ragged and spend ourselves poor
to gather ourselves and our loved ones again
inside this lighted room of our own dreaming.
To have it sing to us again.
All.  All.  All of us. Every one.

And here is the gift, the true and lasting gift, at last:
We are bound by this sacred dream to one another.
By this mutual longing for light and love
and singing in the night, we
are made one.

It binds us, lifts us, heals us.
It is our common soul, this truth in the heart.
This longing. This Christmas dream.
Whatever this is, we are all in here together.
All.  All.  All of us. 

God bless us every one.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Poem for the Solstice

This is it. This is the night. The dark tide draws back. Not much. Not far. But enough. We have been marking this moment since we were almost without words. We used our brute strength to build mighty monuments to it. Stone circles raised in hope and in reverence for the mysteries of the universe and of our lives. When food was hard to come by. When warmth was elusive. We gathered together to celebrate this turning point. From here until June, the light cascades back.  The dark will fail. The light will come. Tomorrow will be brighter, even if we are too busy to notice.

I have often wondered what it was like for those early almost-humans, and a couple of years ago, I wrote this for them. 

December, 50,000 BCE
A Poem For The Solstice

What is this?
The world has grown dark. 
Sunrise is later every morning. 
Sunset comes too soon. 
It creeps ever back into the day.
Soon it will surely crowd the morning. 
What will we do when the darkness is forever?

We listen to the sound the wind makes in the night. 
And the night is so long.
We don’t remember the warm time. 
Or if we remember, we say, “Perhaps it wasn’t real.”

The fire is all we have.
When we must go out, we take it with us.
It gives us shadows, then, but no respite from our fears.
We sleep as much as we are able. 
We eat whatever we can find.
Our dread of darkness mingles with the sadness of everything we don’t understand.
Where we came from.  Where we go.
We weep here and don’t know why.

We are attuned, stretched taut, to any change that might appear to be for the better.
So, when today gives us more light than yesterday, we rejoice.   
Light of the World.  We cry out to thee.
Our joy is spare, like a bone gnawed in hunger. 
But it is clean and bright.
It is warm.  Like something newborn.
Light of the world. 
Object of our deepest longings.
We wait in darkness. 
And our waiting is a prayer.
Light of the world.  
We pray for mercy.  For pity.  For redemption.  For any explanation.

In these days of inconsequentially less darkness,
And virtually no additional light,
We celebrate the coming of this sun.