Getting my Journal On

Over the last few months, I have taught two different classes on journaling, one of which has become a weekly group. The idea was that we are living in historic times, and personal journals have always been a valuable part of the historic record down through the ages.

Now, you’d think with Facebook and Twitter, that would count. Um, it doesn’t. Facebook and Twitter are public, and we tend to put our best posts forward, so to speak. There is something about the private nature of a journal that encourages more honesty, perhaps.

Another advantage of a journal is that it really does help keep a grip on all the insanity around us. Just in the past few days I’ve added a prompt to check for what’s currently bugging me and already I’m having trouble thinking of things that are bugging/worrying me.

My personal process began several years ago – I’ve lost track of how many – and is based in my own spiritual practices and a practice developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola (as in the guy who founded the Jesuits) called the Examen of Conscience.

The interesting thing is that as I was growing up and hearing about authors and being a writer and all that, I kept hearing about how important it is to keep a journal. I will admit, I tried, but it never took. Let’s face it, I am the ADD poster child, and sitting still to write something that doesn’t enthrall me, like what I had for breakfast the other day, is not going to happen. Then I heard a Jesuit priest talking about the Examen of Conscience and how it worked. In short, it gave me a series of questions I could check in with every day, or more accurately, every day I thought about it, and write.

The process this particular priest proposed was putting yourself in the Presence of God, checking in on where you’ve sinned the day before, then reflecting on how to do better and, finally, offering up a prayer of gratitude. I added a reflection on what I’ve done well because I’m really good at beating up on myself.

Believe it or not, I really like the idea of checking in to see where I’ve sinned, and actually, it helps work against the beating up on myself. It’s awfully hard to improve yourself if you don’t know where you’re falling down. To use a writing metaphor, you can’t fix your story if all you know is that it doesn’t quite work. If the actual “sin” is digressing all over the place (an example I used in Fascinating Rhythm), then you can go back and pull out all those bits that don’t relate to the full plot. If I know that I was meaner than I should have been to that tech non-support person, then I can take steps to get less pissy the next time I have to call about a problem.

I’m the last person to tell anyone that if they want to be a writer, they must journal. And if I’m honest, my journaling practice has had little to no effect on my writing that I know of. I guess trying to be a better person may help me be a better writer, and I suppose being able to stay on an even keel makes it easier to plot chaos in my made-up worlds.

Journaling is one of those things that is intensely personal and unique to each person. For me, it took a centuries-old prayer practice to put pen to paper (and, yes, I do prefer handwriting my journal). For you, it make take something else. I know someone who finds it easiest to dictate her thoughts on her phone as she takes her morning walk. And there is the possibility that journaling may not work for you at all.

But it is kind of interesting to think that someone, a hundred years ago, after I’m dead and gone, will look at my journal pages and exclaim, “Ah-hah! That’s what that was all about!”

All in (Not So) Innocent Fun.

Last week, the house directly across the street from us caught fire. It was a really dramatic one, with smoke everywhere, flames shooting up through the roof, five fire trucks, including a hook and ladder unit (which I had to wonder about since the house, like most in our neighborhood, has only one story).

Picture of dead rubber duck on a computer keyboard.

Fortunately, my neighbor and his girlfriend got out okay, as did their two cats and dog. And I want to triple emphasize that no one, but no one, deserves to lose their home and possessions to fire. We almost lost our place in a fire, and even though it happened while the house was in escrow and no one was living here at the time, it was bad enough.


You knew that was coming, right? But there are rumors in the neighborhood that the owner, “M,” got arrested. He’s been around and restoration workers have been there, so I think it is just that – a rumor. It was probably born of more than the usual sort of schadenfreude, since M is a real jerk. He’s noisy, obtuse, loud music and power tools at all hours of the night, fighting with his girlfriend out on the front lawn. He’s even been mean to his dog. Oh, and then there’s all the weird equipment in his driveway.

It’s that last bit that’s got me and the rest of us wondering. We have no idea why it’s there or what he’s doing with it, but he’s been doing it for a couple years now. I’ve come up with all kinds of interesting scenarios, only some of them legal. So, if M got arrested, I’m dying to know on what charges.

Which brings me to my point. Yes, the fire was terrible. I’m glad my neighbor, his girlfriend, and critters are okay. But what if..?

What if he torched the place for the insurance? (Not at all likely, since it looks like the insurance people are there setting up the clean up services.) What if there are bodies buried in his crawlspace and the firefighters found them? (Also, not at all likely, or he wouldn’t have made bail.) What if all that equipment in his driveway was there to build a state of the art studio so that he could shoot porn videos. Definitely not likely, since I’m not seeing any cameras or any other film-related equipment.

Okay, he could be a perfectly nice person and still be producing porn films in his backyard – these things happen. But because he’s a jerk, there is the temptation to assume that there is something else rotten going on. And because I’m a mystery writer, I can really put some flesh on my musings.

My friend has a t-shirt warning people to be nice to her, since she’s a mystery writer and could make anyone mean to her the icky stiff in her next book. I have a small desk plate reminding those who peeve me that if they were in my book, they’d be dead.

In real life, I would never intentionally hurt someone. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to say who any of my characters are, although I suspect the odd real-life characteristic has slipped in unconsciously. But in my fiction life, all you-know-what frequently breaks loose, and if I muse about what my neighbors are really up to, it’s all in innocent fun. And that’s on a quiet day. I hate to say, but once I saw that M was safe, I had more than a little fun.

How Cozy Should I Be?

I love cozy mysteries. I love the daring amateur sleuths of all manner of professions, seeking out a killer to free someone or protect someone or whatever. I love getting recipes and craft instructions and knitting patterns and tips on how to brew coffee or plan tea parties or store cheese.

I also sew. I’m big into clothing construction and repair. I’ve been spending most of my weekends on lockdown getting projects done that had been languishing because I almost always had places to go on weekends and was sticking to my writing work during the week. I even blog about it occasionally.

You’d think that given the above, I’d be a natural for writing a cozy about someone who sews a lot. Which I was thinking about as I was working on my latest set of projects the other day. I know a lot about sewing. I’ve got some pretty good tips stacked up. I should totally do this, except for one problem. There’s way too much foul language in my sewing life

You see, naughty words are largely a no-no in the cozy world, and when I’m sewing, the air gets more than a little blue. This is probably because I’m not the best stitcher out there. I mean, I’ve been doing it ever since I took Home Ec in junior high (and still use the pin cushion, pins, and measuring tape I bought when I took the class). But I am pretty impatient and that does not always get the best results. Or the reality that when I get something right, there’s probably something else that goes wrong. Like here.

The other problem is that I don’t have a plot yet. I’ve got a character I’m getting to like, plus some variations on the usual tropes that make nice little twists. But I haven’t got a victim and a really good way to kill him or her, plus a reason for my amateur sleuth to be sticking her nose into police business. These may come. They may not. This is the very, very early stage of the process. And I’ve already got a techno-(I hope) thriller that’s up for getting written next. Then Book Four in the Old Los Angeles series. But, dang. A cozy involving sewing. I could do that.

Not Writing About COVID-19

Photo of Sadie Cat looking peeved

It’s raining here in sunny Southern California. It started yesterday and my weather app (1Weather) says it’s going to be raining for the rest of the week. We’ll get the weekend off, then by the time you’re reading this (since I am trying to get this written *before* it’s due), it will possibly be raining again.


The cats are not happy. The dog isn’t, either, since he does have to go out in the wet to do his business. However, when not doing his business, TobyWan prefers to stay inside. It’s the cats who are suffering the most from this cruelest of developments.

My husband is mostly staying inside, thanks to the lockdown, house arrest, stay at home order. He is also trying to find the perfect way to say lockdown, house arrest, stay at home order. Stay at home order is too long. We are not in prison, nor are we under arrest, so neither lockdown or house arrest apply. He’s not usually that fussy about precise language, although I am, so this is an interesting turn of events. I’m good with lockdown in the metaphorical sense since we can still go on walks and go grocery shopping.

Xannikins demonstrating how she got her name. Not a lucky shot, she’s sleeping like this.

Back to the cats. As I explained in my debut post on this site, we have three. Sadie Cat, the old lady of nine years (at the top of the post), and the much younger, though no longer kittens, Xanax and Benzedrine. They all came into our house almost two years ago after our cat, Dorothy Parker died of old age. Parker, who was all too aptly named, would have no other cats before her. So, my husband insisted that when it came time to find her successor, we get a pair of bonded kittens. Unfortunately, when we went to the shelter, I walked past a cage and saw this large, lovely cat giving me the look that could turn you to stone, and remarked, “Oh, look! There’s Medusa.”

Well, if you name a cat in the shelter, you know you’re going home with it. And, as it turned out, Medusa actually had a name already – Sadie. But we sometimes call her Medusa. Or Psycho Sadie, since she will pick fights with the other cats and is trying to kill the dog.

The Benzomatic looking annoyed at the rain

Strangely enough, although Sadie prefers being outside the most, she seems less annoyed about the rain than the other two. Benzi (aka the Purr Bot for her trilling purr) has been on my desk getting in the way multiple times today and given me the glare. Xannie (also in the guise of the mild-mannered Puff) has the stronger personality and makes a point of getting in our faces when she wants something. She, however, is just hanging around the back door, then glaring at us when we open it and she does not want to go out.

By the way, we do live on a relatively quiet street and the cats are indoor/outdoor to keep the vermin away. It’s the most natural form of pest control and it really works.

Except when it’s raining and they can’t go outside.

What to Do? What to Do?

One of the nice things about my life as it’s currently set up is that I do have a certain amount of freedom to work on the things I want to work on when I want to work on them. Sort of.

I’ve got two projects I really should be working on right now. One, I’ve got several people asking about, since I’ve mentioned it more than once. The problem is, there is something wrong with the story and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what it is. The second is a submission to a traditional publisher that the editor asked me to revise and resubmit.

You’d think I should be all over that second project, but the editor told me to take my time and I kind of want to so that I really get things right. That’s why I’ve been holding onto the first project.

The first project is the third in my Old Los Angeles series, titled Death of the Chinese Field Hands. It was a really tough one to write because it starts with one of the darkest episodes in Los Angeles history, the lynching of 18 Chinese men in one night during a riot. The murders of my character’s field hands happen after the riot, but it – and the anti-Chinese prejudices of the day – haunt the story. It was a tough first draft to write. I know the ending needs serious fixing and that will be relatively easy to fix. But there is something else that is just not working and I can’t see what it is.

I may end up switching off between the two. The distraction may be something that will help me catch the piddly little things I tend to miss when I’m reading through a project because I’m so caught up in the story. Or not. It will be interesting to see how this affects my process.

It’s all part of the writer’s journey – always something to learn. Yay!