Monday, September 01, 2014

Come September

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with September. As a child, September was irrevocably associated in my mind with back to school (I really, really hated school). I was very much a child of summer; I loved the long days of blue skies and golden light, of endless lazy hours spent reading or fishing or running through ripening hay fields with my dog.

But there were still things I loved about September. I’m a Libra, so September means my birthday (unfortunately not as welcome these days as it was at the age of ten or even twenty-one). All those years in Idaho, Oregon, and Colorado left me with a nostalgic yearning for crisp, wood smoke-scented mornings and the sight of frost-nipped trees blazing in brilliant scarlets and yellows against a fiercely blue Indian summer sky. But my favorite time of year was still summer.
When I moved to Adelaide, Australia, everything turned upside down. Suddenly, September meant spring, the beginning of a new year of growth coinciding with the beginning of my new year. In a sense, it was a perfect match. For a time.  Then I moved to New Orleans.

The summers of New Orleans aren’t the warm, balmy days of my childhood or even the hot, dry days lightened by cool breezy nights that made Adelaide so wonderful. Here, summers are a brutal thing to be endured, with an enervating heat and a level of humidity reminiscent of being smothered by a steaming wet towel. These days I spend summer dreaming of its end, the same way I once waited for the passing of the cold, dark days of a northern Idaho winter.
Except, of course, September in New Orleans is still ferociously hot. Not only that, but the most dangerous time for hurricanes is three weeks on either side of September 10th. So all through September, the first thing I do every morning is turn on my computer and look at the “Severe Weather” section of Weatherunderground.com to see if anything is brewing out there. Ask me my favorite month these days, and I think I’d say...October. Or maybe April. April sounds good.

How about you? What’s your favorite time of year? Does it change depending on where you live?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Katrina Plus Nine


Nine years is a long time. Sometimes I feel as if Katrina happened to someone else, and I suppose that in a sense it did. I’ll never again be the woman I was on August 28, 2005. (Yes, Katrina hit on the 29th, but for me the most painful anniversary is the day before, the day we packed up and fled our city; by the time midnight rolled around, we knew we were doomed.). That woman, the B. K. one, was more carefree, more naive. Less anxious. Certainly less skilled in how to rebuild a house and restore flooded furniture.


She didn’t know how to gut a house with a wrecking bar or hang and finish drywall. She didn’t know—really know—just how thin the veneer of civilization is,  how quickly so many things she once took for granted--food, gas, police, firemen--could be torn away. Can be torn away. She’d never sat at the bedside of a loved one dying in a hospital with boarded up windows and no laundry service. She’d never had to bury someone at a cemetery in a small town up the river because the family mausoleum was still under water. She’d never looked at mile after mile of destroyed houses for so long that they started looking normal.


Every year, we go through this. The anniversary rolls around, and we remember, and then we try to forget. Last year, we spent Katrina Plus Eight without power as yet another hurricane took aim at New Orleans and didn’t seem to want to go away. At least this year when we raise our glasses in remembrance, we’ll be able to see what we’re doing.



Cheers, everyone.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Sometimes, Life Sucks

It's been a bad week. I had a close encounter of the clumsy kind with a tree branch and tried to poke out my right eye. I'd show you the lovely picture of me with half the side of my face bandaged, but the Internets are forever, so it ain't gonna happen. The good news is that it will hopefully be all right in the end. But I haven't managed to get much done over the last ten days or so because eyes are rather important to a writer.  I was able to devote some of those hours I spent lying in a darkened room with my eyes closed to plotting out my next book, though, so it wasn't a complete loss.

And then, probably because I was so stressed, I came down with a nasty respiratory infection. (And don't even get me started on my mom's house!) Hopefully things will sort themselves out in a few days. In the meantime, that's a picture of Indie eating the manuscript for Sebastian # 11. Yes, he still doesn't have  home of his own, and this manuscript still doesn't have a title. Maybe September will be better.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Copyedits, Cats, and Crazies

Life has been hectic lately. The sale on my mom's house fell through because the buyer I thought was nice turned out to be so crazy that the real estate agent who was helping her find a property actually dropped her. So we had to go back on the market. We've just signed a new contract, ironically for 10% more than the last sale; hopefully this one will go through.

At the same time, I've been going over the copyedits of WHO BURIES THE DEAD. It's been about six months since I read this book, so I was coming at it with fairly fresh eyes. I must say, it's an unusual book. But then, who wants to keep reading the same thing, right? Please tell me I'm right!

And then, of course, I'm still dealing with this little guy. I have flyers at the two vets I work with, but still no takers. He's now clean of the worms, fleas, and mites he had when he arrived, and he's had his first shots, so he could come in the house EXCEPT.... Huck is sick again, this time with a dangerously low white blood cell count (yes, I am worried; he's never been well since he almost died last fall). And since we don't know what's causing it, Indie is only allowed in the rooms occupied by our houseguests, aka Rosco and Peanut.

Rosco is a weird cat who would be on Ativan if he were a person. I don't trust him alone with the little guy (who looks enough like him to be his own offspring), so we've been having 1-2 hour play dates: Indie plays while Rosco hisses and swats, and I sit there like an anxious mama and watch. I do wish I could find a proper home for the little baby; I seem to spend my life taking care of special needs cats.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

About that Syndrome....

Sebastian is afflicted with a hereditary genetic condition known as Bithil Syndrome. It gives him yellow eyes, incredible hearing and eyesight, quick reflexes, and (although he'd have no way of knowing it without an x-ray) a funky lower vertebra. Although I have been accused (rather nastily, I might add) of making this up, I didn't. I swear, I didn't. The problem is, there are literally thousands of weird syndromes, and most of them are so rare that if you look them up on Google, you won't find them. But just because something doesn't turn up in Google doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

So how did I hear about it? Well, it all began some  eleven years ago when my older daughter took a freshman biology course at LSU. For extra credit the students could volunteer to have their DNA tested, and so she volunteered. Because we were very interested in genealogy at the time, she called me up rather excited to tell me she had this weird thing they called "Bithil Syndrome," and they had asked to run more tests on her. (To complicate matters, she may have misspelled it; it could actually be Bithel.) Eventually, the geneticist told her she had the purest expression of the syndrome they'd yet found in the western hemisphere. Now, I've always known my daughter had incredible, unnatural hearing; when she was a little girl, you could whisper something in the living room, and she'd open her bedroom door at the other end of the house and shout, "I heard that!"(Yes, it was a pain.) She could read highway signs waaaay down the Interstate. The only aspect of it she doesn't have to any great extent is the quick reflexes; hers are only slightly above normal. And she doesn't have yellow eyes because the color is recessive to brown and, like me, my daughter has brown eyes. But my father had yellow eyes. He was also an incredible marksman and, when we were kids, he spent a great deal of his time yelling at us not to make so damned much noise. So I know exactly where it came from.

Since I was in the middle of developing my idea for the Sebastian series at the time, it seemed like a cool thing to give Sebastian a real genetic condition that made him just a little bit different. It also provides an unusual, identifiable thread for him to follow in his quest to untangle the questions about his paternity (something that comes up again in a significant way in Book #11, which I'm writing now). If I'd been clever, I'd have contacted the geneticist involved and asked for more information, but I didn't, and at this point my daughter can't even remember his name. Because she's now a medical doctor herself, she keeps promising she's going to look it up for me. But she's still a resident and I quit holding my breath long ago.

So, do I have the syndrome? Yes and no. I have that damned funky vertebra in my lower back. But my eyesight was seriously damaged when I was in oxygen for a week after birth. I do still see very well at night (I only recently realized that most people don't see what I see), but the down side to that is that bright light kills you and family members who don't have the syndrome constantly complain that you keep your house dark. Ironically, from my mother I inherited another genetic defect that causes hearing impairment. In me, it averaged things out so that my hearing is only slightly above normal (enough that I am still driven crazy by electric hums that most people don't hear and I wear earplugs in the cinema). But my younger daughter, who inherited the one genetic sequence and not the other, is actually hearing impaired. (Yeah, she's cranky about it.)

So there you have it. This is why I generally avoid talking about it--because it's a sort of personal thing, and the truth is that when I started the series all those years ago I didn't realize just how rare it is, or that the series would go on so long, or that this aspect of it would generate so much interest.