Saturday, July 28, 2012

And They're Off and

Running their blog . . .

This is about the Olympics, which started yesterday. You'll just have to wait a minute for it to get here.
I think I've finally realized that writing a blog is a way for a writer, who appears to be completely dead when you poke her with a stick, to continue writing. Not a bad deal, actually. Botox for the brain. A quickie "see, I'm still here!" brainlift. A quick trip to the Keyboard Clinic of Restorative Beauty.

Speaking of cosmetic surgery, I find I can barely look at older women on American TV anymore. Other than the brave women appearing on a few "nonfiction" shows like "Washington Week" on PBS, most older TV women have faces so distorted by wretched cosmetic efforts to not look wretched and distorted, that, well, as a viewer I instantly reject them. I don't feel good about this--I know what they are up against. But if I watch a British show, the older women just look like the older women I encounter daily in ordinary life (including the face that for some reason I see in the mirror every morning when I wake up.) I just relax and enjoy the show and don't think OMG what did they DO to their face?

Just saying.

I think one of the great things about the Olympics is that none of the female competitors has had any work done to her face. Yet. Of course, I might be wrong, though I imagine hitting the water at a hundred miles an hour (or however fast a high diver hits the water) might render a cosmetic job moot. I can't vouch for boob lifts, but it seems to me that most of the Olympic women don't tend to have big ones. The beach volley ball women seem to be more about magnificent fannies. Anyway, the virgin skin of the Olympic women is refreshing. Though it's also true that none of them has yet seen fifty. Which I suppose renders my entire point moot, and yet I still make it.

And speaking of the Opening Ceremonies, I loved the way the pastoral scenes transformed so dramatically into the forbidding factories of the industrial age. Very effective, and very determined in making the point that the sweat of the common man and woman, i.e., the workers, made the industrial age possible. Something people tend to forget, at least in the good ole USof A.

Oh, and did I mention that in my non-writing life I'm a public employee? Who knew I would grow up to be public enemy #1? Although it is also true that I am not an Olympic competitor and have not used Botox. I leave the rest to your imagination. And to mine.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


It is a little disconcerting to click on this blog after not having visited since my previous post of a couple of weeks ago to discover I never logged off. So apparently my blog has been waiting patiently in cyberspace for me all this time, longing for my return. I hate it when I disappoint my digitals. They love me so much. Or so they claim. Sometimes it is mutual, but not always. I do not fall easily for flash and shine. This is a personal trait that some consider deeply boring, which is probably why I don't have a lot of friends.

But this post isn't about lovelorn digitals. It's about online solitaire, a mighty weapon in the fight against anxiety. Online solitaire doesn't love me, it fact it disdains me. And yet I return to its cold embrace and like a black hole it sucks up my fears. For a while.
I should first state that I was born with my anxiety level shot straight through the roof. It might have been an inheritable family thing. In fact, I believe it was. But however it got here, it's got me and I've got it and it clings to me to like a baby trying to eat its mother.

And of late it's been clinging hard. It's been a rough six weeks--the death of very good family friend ; a family member's serious medical issues reaching a crisis point (though hence mostly resolved, thankfully); the death of my wonderful former agent (not the secret kind, the literary kind) as mentioned in my last post; an inability to just write my damn books already!; and a corner of my world turned deceptive and sneaky. (A vague reference to protect the innocent. The guilty don't have a clue, which is part of the problem. It's always part of the problem, isn't it? I think so.)

Anyway, to manage my anxiety level I have been playing online solitaire instead of writing. Not playing obsessively, but probably more than is healthy. And I don't trust it. As already stated, it doesn't pretend to love me. In fact, I am pretty sure it cheats  without guilt, repeatedly turning up weird card combinations that you would certainly find occasionally in offline solitaire (the kind played with actual cards) but not all the freaking time like online. As in, when you first start, all black cards, again? As in, when you first start, three freaking threes all at once, again? As in, when you first start, every single card under the number six? I have to tell you, certain card combinations are just plain depressing. Depressing to look at, depressing to contemplate having even a brief fling with.

And the sly distrust what arises whenever you turn over a new card. Has that card been set in stone for that game, or does the game make up the card on the spot, the better to play you? Am I playing the game or is the game playing me? The mind spins.
And yet, the game calms my anxiety. So I guess you could say we're having an unlove affair, each getting what the other needs: the game gets another sucker, I get a distraction.

A win-win situation. And I sense occasional small improvements in my overall level of anxiety. I opened my novel today and wrote seventy-seven words. Such a paltry sum is definitely disconcerting. And yet I wrote them after not writing anything for weeks, so that is definitely concerting. Maybe I should rename this post.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Deborah Brodie

This past week my former editor, Deborah Brodie, died. She saw me through five books. Felt I had worth as a writer and provided the guidance I needed to shape my words into better stories. Her help was invaluable, and I was with her long enough to absorb a lot of her lessons. A lot, but not all. I will miss her wisdom keenly.

Then, as sometimes happens, things fell apart. Separate from the current tumble and toss the publishing world is experiencing due to e-books and Amazon, all on its own it sometimes rises up like a wild horse and bucks those clutching tightly to its back right off into the dirt. That happened to Deborah--though she quickly found her footing again and launched herself into a whole new career--and it happened to me.

I am of course thinking about her a lot. I'm a nature girl, but Deborah wasn't. She wasn't born in New York, but she was a New Yorker through and through. I remember, on the one visit I had with her in New York City, as we strolled through Central Park, her pointing to the far side of the park where trees stood tall against the buildings. "That's how nature should be," she said. "With buildings in the background." I laughed out loud.

I haven't had much experience with New York, but when I think of the city I always think of her. In fact, after the phone call when she accepted my first book, the very first email I ever sent to her was the week after 911. She was okay, but, of course, none of us were, really, and still aren't.

Deborah once told me that as the former wife of a rabbi, with all the social demands that entailed, she could make conversation with a stone. A good thing, as I was often a stone myself. A shy oyster, if you will, with limited social skills. But Deborah was always there for me, not only teaching me how to write a better book, but telling me what to expect in terms of reviews, conventions, interactions with others, even sometimes telling me, at my request, how to act in certain situations--because, honestly, I didn't know.

The last five years have been difficult for me. For a myriad of reasons, I have gone silent, my words have floundered, I have felt lost. I drifted, from Deborah and from my agent and from my writing friends--except for a couple who kept in touch with me even though, because I had wandered away, I did not deserve their attention. I only talked or exchanged emails with Deborah occasionally. She had agreed to read one of my manuscripts, and said she would read it again when I completed the revision I was working on--a revision based on her suggestions.

And then she died. A big shock.

The past several months have been a time of lessons for me--painful lessons--coming from many different directions. I have told myself repeatedly that I must change, that I cannot continue to drift away from everyone. But changing is hard, and I have despaired of making any real gains, knowing  that we are what we are. Still, I do have Deborah's example--of moving on, of continuing, of connecting with others, of refusing to stop doing what you love.

And so, here I am again. On the blog I had largely abandonned. Remembering Deborah. That's as good a start as any.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Thank You, Letter Writer

Dear Letter Writer,
It was wonderful to hear your kind words about my writing. Thank you so much. I hope you visit my blog again to see this reply, as I was unable to email you directly. I had disconnected the email on my website because I was getting spammed to death. Perhaps I should reconsider.

The way you described yourself--awkward, anti-social--sounds familiar to me. I think it also describes the girl I was, many (many) years ago. So you are not alone. I am glad A Fast and Brutal Wing provided a way for you to really feel who you are, what you are like. For me, that is what the best kind of reading does—the story enters me and I enter the story, leaving me "in a sea of thought." If that happened for you with my work, I am truly satisfied.

I felt very much like Niki myself when I was writing her. The claws felt very real to me. I felt like Emmet, too, but then I always feel like all my characters—or at least parts of them. And I miss them terribly when the story is over.

Your observation is correct--I haven’t published a book since 2007, though of course I hope to publish again. But life goes up and down for writers just like it does for everyone else. Your letter has reminded me of exactly what I love about writing fiction for young adults—creating characters that are meaningful to at least some of my readers.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me; I am grateful.

Wishing you the very best,

Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I stopped posting to my blog because I didn't like who I was when I was posting.  I felt I had to entertain, to do a song and dance just to be interesting, but in truth I am not good at either singing or dancing.  I am good at writing, so I'll try to stick with just that.  With luck, entertainment will follow and everybody will go home happy.  (Singing and dancing optional.)

I have scratched and clawed and screamed and shouted my way through two manuscripts, and am waiting to hear from trusted others if they fly or not.  I am contemplating a new novel.  (Though from a safe distance.  It's shy and I don't want it to bolt.)

I visited a wildlife refuge a month ago--a very short but very needed trip.  It was wonderful; I am still walking around there in my head, staring at the water, the birds, the sky, taking the short walk to the ocean.  While on the ocean beach at dusk, the sky glowering with dark, tattered clouds, the sun fighting back, refusing to give up it's  exuberant hold on the day, I saw five rainbows.  Five.  (I also saw wild horses during my visit, but from a safe distance, as they bolt, too.)  I am hoping my next book can capture, at least in part, some of the serenity I still feel from being there.

Our culture, being noisy, apparently doesn't want quiet books--or so I hear--but I still want to write them. 

Now watch me write a book about a crazy, shrieking, dancing girl in love with mahem. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

ALA Your Way to Success!

In a couple of weeks, ALA, The American Library Association, is coming to Washington, D. C. for their Annual Wowser Summer Convention. It's not held here every year, so since it is fairly close to where I live and doesn't require a naked airport x-ray to get to, I am going to go.

Spend quality time on the metro. Flit about the humongous convention center. Try not to panic amid a gazillion stampeding people, all charging in different directions toward . . . something. (What are they charging toward? I don't know. I never know!) Act nonchalant while angling for arcs (advance reader's copies) of hot books not yet released. Which will mostly be a fail. Dive bomb for totally cool book bags. Which will mostly be a fail. A fail not just because of my lousy acquisition skills (which are legend) but because I have heard that not as many goodies will be available this year, due to the recession. Sigh . . .

Through it all, though neither a librarian nor a popular, beloved author, I will try to look like I "belong." Which will mostly be a fail. So, why is it that almost everything I attend related to books ends up making me feel like an abject failure? Hmm . . . [Taps fingers on counter.]

I think it's the crowd.

I am not a crowd person. Mostly, I see a bunch of people and I panic, though I try to do so politely. Instead of clawing my way over people blocking my exit, I say, "Excuse me." "Sorry." "Excuse me." "Sorry." This is not because I am especially noble or even polite. No. My mama did teach me to be nice, but I am not always nice. Mostly, if I clawed my way out, I'd be embarrassed by the aftermath, all the bodies strewn across the floor, flopping about and spurting blood. If I paused at the exit, turning around to look at the carnage, I would feel morally obligated to help with the clean up. And the blood might tempt me. I might turn into a vampire. Which would mean more blood and more clean up. And since I hate to clean, and don't want to lug bleach and Bon Ami around the convention center, I have to be careful. As my mama said, one thing leads to another.

I do hope to say hello to some online writing acquaintances, most of whom I have never met in person. If I have not yet turned into a vampire it will be a welcome, pleasant experience--they'll leave unbloodied and I can leave the bleach at home. I will also hear the speeches by the winners of the Printz and the Newbery awards, both of whom fall into the same category as above--online, distant writing acquaintances. If I have turned into a vampire at that point (probably, given the odds) I will restrain myself , keeping my fangs retracted, so as to not spoil their moment.

I will get home late. I will ride the metro back out to the far suburbs, to the very end of the line, with only a few other weary travelers accompanying me through the darkness. By then a full-blown vampire, I will nonetheless resist the urge to bite. Bigger things are at work in the night than one lonely vampire. Clean up, for instance.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Struggle #1:

I have begun the formal dig on my office, working down through the upper layer of detritus. (The upperdetritus periodous.) This is going to take a while. One of my chief challenges is PROCRASTINATION. (I put that in caps to make sure I got the message.) Which means, in so many aspects of my life, things pile up and then I have to unpile them. Which is time-consuming and irritating and frustrating. The one area of my life in which procrastination doesn't seem to happen is my writing. With my writing, I am merely slow. So, by habit or nature, I move as the slug moves, though without quite so much slime.

A break to excavate is good though, as I ponder a major change to one manuscript, and play in my head with something new. Plus, who knows what I'll find buried? Maybe some money!

Struggle #2:

Uncovered in the ongoing excavation was a list of the winners of this years Los Angeles Times Book Award. Pictured were the smiling, handsome faces of some of the winners. "Where's my picture?" I wondered. Then I remembered I hadn't won anything, ever, and in fact haven't published a book for, let's see, three years. In the young adult world, that is an eon. The standard is a new vampire novel every three months. But, as I have tried to explain to publishers and my legion of fan (I'm pretty sure I've only got one) some of us were born poky and never made any vampire friends (as they say, write what you know.) I think to be friends with a vampire you'd pretty much have to be a fast mover, for those times when the fangs come out. So, it follows that I am eliminated as the author of speedy vampire novels.

Struggle #3:

Cable. I used to have Basic Limited cable, which means I got the broadcast stations and the PBS stations and the local county channels, plus lots of Spanish language channels. A year ago I got an advertised deal, which means for a bitty bit more money (okay, a little more than a bitty, but doable) I got lots more channels, though I still wasn't in the big leagues--no HBO for me. Now the deal is over and I must pull the plug or pull more money each month out of my ever shrinking wallet.

This is the thing. In the past I wouldn't have thought twice. Ditch the channels, I'd have said, without too much thought or trouble. Now, though . . . The thought of not getting a fix of Law & Order, or Criminal Minds, or NCIS, or any of the other crazy programs I've grown to love, well . . . Kathleen ain't happy. I'd miss the stories. The characters. Okay, yes, I know they aren't real, but . . . but . . . stories and characters are why I'm here on planet Earth. I've tried to think of a few other reasons, but other than dark chocolate, I always come up empty.

So, what to do. (Taps fingers on counter.) What to do . . .

Struggle #4

I have to make dinner tonight. I hate making dinner. Why do I have to make dinner? Where is the justice?