More Woe, In Threes

Our cat Panzi has died. She’d been doing poorly for months, then went into in a steep decline and then just hung there for nearly a week, not eating, not drinking, only once in a while making odd crying sounds that got softer and softer. Sometimes she’d get up and wander around just a little. Ellen and I would hold her and talk to her and stroke her, which she’d endure patiently. She’d long lost all her fat and now even her flesh; stroking her was like stroking a thinly-furred bag of dried twigs. When she took to her bed, we wished for an end to it. On Thursday I tried giving her a little water with an eye dropper, but after the first sip she turned her head away and held up a paw to ward my hand off. Friday night I got up to use the bathroom and found her in the middle of the living room floor, lying on her side, unable to rise. I put her back in her sheepskin bed and she stayed there sleeping or unconscious until she died at about seven pm the next day. It was hard to watch this long decline, she kept hanging on and on and on. I think now that perhaps we should have called the vet to come and put an end to it. But she was so frail, we kept thinking she’d go soon, and didn’t want the trauma – to her and us and our wonderful home-visit vet – of the long needle. It’s hard to know what was the right thing to do. Monday Ellen took her to be cremated, with the cat-bed she’d slept in for so many years.

Sunday was Father Paul Allick’s last with St. George’s Episcopal Church. He’d been with us for seven years, and everyone grew during his tenure, even him. He’ll be sorely missed. So that makes three big losses for me, my publisher, my cat, my priest, all very important to me. But losses come in threes they say, so things should improve from here.

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I’ve been fired. That is, my publisher (now a part of a larger publisher) has decided not to offer me any more contracts to write mysteries for them. This came out of the blue, and I’m still trembling from the shock. So what do I do? Fortunately my agent hasn’t abandoned me and we had an hour-long talk on Thursday regarding my choices. Knit Your Own Murder will come out as scheduled in August – though it may be called Knit To Be Tied. It’s the third book in the three-book contract. I want the next book to be set in the month of June, when Godwin and Rafael get married. I had planned a book about sailor’s knot work, but it’s not exactly the same as needlework and because I’ll be approaching a new publisher (probably) I need to “stick to my last” and do needlework. I thought about turkey work, but that would make a gangbuster Thanksgiving-themed novel, so not turkey work. But I need something new fast, my agent wants three chapters and a synopsis asap.

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At Excelsior Bay Books, September 19, 2015, 9 am to 11 am.

I have agreed to sit in a booth in Excelsior on September 19 from 9 am to 11 am in honor of Apple Days, an annual celebration. The booth will be run by Excelsior Bay Books, one of my favorite bookstores. Apple Days is fun, lots of food, antiques, art, exhibits, etc. all up and down the main street. If you’re in the area, come on over!

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Autumn’s Time of Splendor

Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.
Why, it’s the climax of the year,—
The highest time of living!—
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.

  • Paul Laurence Dunbar

That’s for those of us who love autumn best of all the seasons.  I’ve seen several maple trees starting to show bright orange.  It’s the start of fall.

I have agreed to sit in a booth in Excelsior on September 19 from 9 am to 11 am in honor of Apple Days, an annual celebration. The booth will be run by Excelsior Bay Books, one of my favorite bookstores. Apple Days is fun, lots of food, antiques, art, exhibits, etc. all up and down the main street. If you’re in the area, come on over!

It looks as if Knit Your Own Murder’s new pub date will be in August 2016. That’s a long way from April or May, but my editor says she wants the book to stand out among needlework mystery novels (of which there are more and more) and somehow August is a good pub date for that. So now I have some breathing space to do a better job on the rewrite.

I actually think what happened to my computer worked out for the best. The parts I’m re-writing are perhaps better than those lost, and I’ve got a hotter subplot going now. And a subtler clue I’m working in. I no longer hate word processors, it makes it easier to go back and insert things or make just little changes to sentences without having to retype whole pages, like in the bad old days of typewriters.

Still, cross your fingers that this will actually be a better book.

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I knew the road was bright and fair
Or once it seemed to be,
But it has changed so much of late,
It has few charms for me.

– From the epitaph of Roswell Stowell, who died in 1875, aged 59

I have suffered about the worst loss that can happen to an author.  My computer had been acting up the last couple of weeks.  I thought it was me, doing something wrong.  I’d boot up after lunch and the paragraphs I’d written in the morning would have vanished.  Sometimes Ellen could make them return, sometimes not. And sometimes the thing would perform properly.  But this past weekend, the computer became downright malicious.  Whole chapters would vanish.  I re-wrote some of them – and they’d vanish.  I would save what I’d written of the whole book as a new file and it would vanish.  I kept being interrupted while writing by a new file opening without warning.  When I did get a file back, it would be changed.  Paragraph indentations would be gone.  The font would change, or the size would.  And all this while a deadline was screaming at me: Monday, Monday, Monday the 24th!I finally surrendered on Sunday afternoon, broke down in tears, went in another room, sat down and began stitching furiously while Ellen struggled to regain control of the beast that used to be my helpmate.  But no longer.  She came out and said it was no use, what I’ve lost was gone forever and the computer could no longer be entrusted with my deathless prose – or what passes for it in my case.  So we went out and I bought a brand new laptop.  I wrote my editor and my agent and told them what had happened and that I was in default of my contract.  I was furious and ashamed.

So now Knit Your Own Murder won’t be published as scheduled next May.  I am taking my traitorous laptop to a specialist today at noon to see if he can retrieve more of what wanders like a specter in the depths of my insane hard drive.  (Unless it is less than a ghost, and is gone forever.)  Meanwhile Ellen is educating my new computer in my ways.

What else?  Well, when I went off to water aerobics Monday morning, I was shocked to get out of my car at the Courage Center about quarter past six and discover that the temperature was fifty-eight degrees.  That’s October weather!  But guess what?  Four of us are going to the Minnesota State Fair next Monday, and I’d like something of this weather to hang around, because it’s far more pleasant to walk outdoors when it’s a little too cool than when it’s way too hot.  As my mother used to say, you can always put on more clothing, but there’s only so much you can take off.

And today’s another day.  I can begin to work on the book again on the new computer, editing what remains of the manuscript until I discover if any of the lost text can be rescued.  And if not, starting the task of recreating the scenes to link what remains together.  I won’t know how bad it is until I hear from my specialist.  I am not optimistic – see the poem above.

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If You Can Keep Your Head

When I began writing novels, I named the first one Unforgiving Minutes, and quoted the last four lines of “If” at the start (“If you can fill the unforgiving minute . . .”).  I sold my second novel first, but used a quote from Kipling for it, too.  And for the third, fourth, and fifth.  The fifth one was set at a horse show, and I had to look hard to find a quote – and it somehow got edited out of the book.  So every time I autographed it (Show Stopper was its title), I wrote the quote in.  It’s “The Undertaker’s Horse:”

With your mane unhogged and flowing,
And your curious way of going,
And that businesslike black crimping of your tail,
E’en with Beauty on your back, sir,
Pacing like a lady’s hack, sir
Any wonder when I see you I turn pale?

We spent this last weekend in the very small town of McGregor, Minnesota, the guests of a writers group.  I was speaker at a well-attended dinner, sold and signed books, then the next day gave a two-hour class on writing and selling mystery novels at their sweet little library.  Ellen was a huge help, she knows far more about fan fiction and selling e-books than I do, and electronic publishing is the coming thing.  No, it’s already here.  Then we stopped at this little winery/gift shop and sold more books (at a discount) to the owner for resale.  Sunday morning I went to a pretty little Lutheran church (there wasn’t an Episcopal church in town) for a very pleasant service, and one of the hymns was “Amazing Grace,” my favorite.  Though it was just a weekend, I came home almost as refreshed as if we’d been away for a week.

We stayed at Big Sandy Lake Lodge and Resort, which was luxurious.  The view of the lake was as beautiful as any northwoods lake view I’ve ever seen.  Blue water dotted with islands, curving shoreline, all lined with mature trees.  I spent some time just sitting on a lawn swing and looking at it.  The food in their restaurant was excellent and not overpriced.  Even our beds were really comfortable.  The view out  our window:8acaf-window1

Best of all, the group paid for our room, fed us two meals, paid me for the class and mileage, and we sold a lot of books.  If any of you ever get an invitation from McGregor to come on up, accept with alacrity!

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The All-Nighter

Well, friends, I had to pull an all-nighter. But the manuscript for Knit Your Own Murder went off to my editor this morning, July 14th, 2015. That’s Bastille Day, the day when the French Revolution set the prisoners in the Bastille free. Now, I am free from that terrible, terrible deadline. But as we know, the French Revolution soon moved on to terror. That will happen, no doubt, when she sends the manuscript back for rewrite.

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