When writing is about not writing

Yesterday I was cranky.  I was cranky because no matter what I tried, my brain did not want to do any work.  It wasn’t just that it didn’t want to write; most writers run into that fairly frequently.  My brain didn’t want to do any work.  I had woken up with the beginnings of a migraine and lost a couple of hours to wrangling it, so I needed to make up for lost time.

I duct-taped my wrists to the keyboard and ignored the voice in my head that told me it wanted to nap and watch movies.  I had work to do, and I am a Disciplined Writer.  I just barely managed to remove duplicate email addresses from my mailing list and return some emails.  Then my brain rebelled.  It flatly refused to scan social media marketing opportunities, research my op-ed, or map out the plot points of the first two books on big pieces of paper so that I could use them to see the arc of the third book.  Every time I tried, overwhelming sleepiness, a reborn migraine, or the need to eat large quantities of sugar overcame me.

But I am a Disciplined Writer and so I told my brain it was time to get to work.  Secrets of the Wolves comes out in two weeks and I have a third book to write.  I’ve learned that a writer must be disciplined, that a writer must stick to her schedule and work even when she doesn’t feel like it if she’s to complete her books.  And this is true.  Most of the time.

How I Went From Hating Research to Loving It

Ever wonder how a writer researches a novel? The wonderful YAReviewNet asked me to write an article about it. It would be an understatement to stay I was NOT a born researcher.  Here is the opening of the article. You can follow the link at the end of the passage below, or go straight to the article here!

How I Went From Hating Research to Loving It
I was minding my own business the day the wolves barged into my apartment, demanding that I write about them.  I was thinking about dogs, and how amazing it is that we have such a close relationship with them. I had recently read “The Botany of Desire,” in which Michael Pollan discusses plant evolution and its effect on human evolution.  That’s when a little voice in my head said, “I want to write about how the wolf evolved into the dog from the wolf’s point of view.”

I wrote about ten pages, and realized that I knew almost nothing about wolves and even less about ancient times.  I began to resist the story.  I hated research.  It  was boring and I was no good at it.  I’d find something else to write.

Resistance was futile; the wolves wanted their story told. I found myself in the Natural Sciences section of a bookstore  holding a book called “The Wolf Almanac” by Robert Busch. A few minutes later “People of the Earth: An Introduction to Prehistory” by Brian Fagan leapt into my hands.  Read the rest here!

Resolutions from a writing cave escapee

Now that I have completed and submitted the draft of “Secrets of the Wolves,” it’s time to crawl out of the writing cave.  It is also time for some resolutions.  None of these is made up. Except the measuring cups.  It was really a travel mug.

1.    A Trader Joe’s tote bag does not, even in the city of Berkeley, qualify as a briefcase.

2.    It is acceptable when very busy to run out of soy milk, bread, soap or paper towels. It is never, however, acceptable to run out of garlic.

3.    The hair on my upper lip does not make me look sexier, even when braided.

4.    A fleece jacket, even if black, is not formalwear.

5.    If one has particularly short legs, it is acceptable to cut off the bottom of a pair of sweatpants with scissors. It is not, however, acceptable to then use the cut off part of the hem as a headband.

6.    When company arrives, measuring cups will not be used in lieu of wine glasses.

7.    Heretofore, I will have only two categories of clothing:  “clean” and “dirty.”  Not “clean,” “dirty,” and “other.”

8.    The fact that I have worn through everything else in my closet does not give me carte blanche to wear clothing I wore in the 80’s.  I didn’t look good in shoulder pads the first time around.

Does wolf management have to mean killing wolves?

In order to save wolves, do we have to kill some of them?  Some thoughts below. I’m still grappling with this, so I welcome thoughts and ideas.

It is accepted in wildlife management circles that in order to ‘manage’ wolves, some wolves must be killed. This has always troubled me.  My head tells me that if so many of the smart scientists I respect–and who know a lot more about wildlife management than I do–believe that controlling populations by killing wolves is necessary for the survival of the species, I should bow to their expertise. But my heart balks at the killing of wolves in order to save wolves.

I had the opportunity to hear some wonderful lectures on wolf re-introduction and management at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota last year. Jim Hammill, a former wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, was particular eloquent, and his talk formed much of my thinking. (Since I can’t remember everything he said, I hope that I am not misstating his views.  I do want to give him credit for inspiration and apologize for any misrepresentation of his beliefs.)

Based on the terrific IWC talks, and a good deal of reading and thinking, this is where I’ve landed. For now.

Should we listen to what Michael Vick has to say about dogfighting?

I’ve been deep in my writing cave and thus a little slow to pick up on all of the news, so it’s only recently that I read that Michael Vick is planning to star in a reality show. I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael Vick.

I am, obviously, a dog lover.  More than that, I think that our relationship with dogs is part of a sacred trust. When we take an animal into our homes, when we breed it to trust us and depend on us, we have a moral obligation to care for it as best we can. I think that the way we treat our dogs says a lot about who we are as people. And I think that people who throw dogs into a ring and make them fight to the death for “entertainment” should be stripped naked, dipped in chum, and tossed into a shark tank.  May the strongest animal prevail.

Vick has served his time and admitted his fault. That means he gets to go back to his job, even if that job pays him an obscene amount of money.  I get that. He is also working with the Humane Society to combat dogfighting.  So, is he for real?  Or is it all PR?  Should he be given a platform of any kind–other than the one above the shark tank?
To me, this comes down to two questions: the question of forgiveness and the question of influence.

wolf fact of the week, wolves and ravens

I originally planned to have ravens in one scene of Promise of the Wolves, and one scene only.  I just wanted to show readers the cool relationship between wolves and ravens and then get on with the rest of the book. But once Tlitoo got his beak into the story he wouldn’t leave.  He became one of Kaala’s best friends, the provider of comic relief, and one of the most important characters in the book.  He will have an even bigger role in Secrets of the Wolves

Here’s the scoop on wolves and ravens:

The raven is sometimes known as “the wolf-bird.” Ravens, like many other animals, scavenge at wolf kills, but there’s more to it than that. Both wolves and ravens have the ability to form social attachments and they seem to have evolved over many years to form these attachments with each other, to both species’ benefit. There are a couple of theories as to why wolves and ravens end up at the same carcasses.  One is that because ravens can fly, they are better at finding carcasses than wolves are. But they can’t get to the food once they get there, because they can’t open up the carcass. So they’ll make a lot of noise, and then wolves will come and use their sharp teeth and strong jaws to make the food accessible not just to themselves, but also to the ravens. Ravens have also been observed circling a sick elk or moose and calling out, possibly alerting wolves to an easy kill.  The other theory is that ravens respond to the howls of wolves preparing to hunt (and, for that matter, to human hunters shooting guns). They find out where the wolves are going and following. Both theories may be correct.

word count goals don’t always work…

I’m going the wrong direction.  I’m trying to motivate myself by giving
myself treats every time I hit a word count goal.  Was revising yesterday and LOST words. Drat.

giving up the bird

I’m spending the morning going over my notes and trying to
gather together scenes and moments so I know where they all are when I want
them.  I just found a note that


MAJOR PLOT POINT:  the point at which
someone wants to give up the bird.”


I have no idea what that means.  I mean really, not even the foggiest.  What bird, and why would someone want to give
it up?  Why is it so important to the
plot? Oh dear.

Promise in Paperback!

The paperback of Promise of the Wolves releases today!  I realize that I’m biased because it’s mine and I love it, but I think it’s one of the best-lookin’ books ever in the world.  See the pretty cover?

web cover.jpg

See an excerpt here

I’ve been getting a lot of questions on the progress of Book Two, aka “Secrets of the Wolves.”  After a very challenging time in my personal life, I’m now making great progress on it and having lots of fun.  There’s a chapter from it in the paperback of Promise. Here’s the first paragraph of the chapter:

     I caught the delicate scent of distant prey and stopped, digging my paws into the earth.  Lifting my muzzle to the wind, I inhaled, allowing the distinctive ice-and-hoof aroma to sink into the back of my throat.  Snow deer, in our territory and on the move.  All at once, the blood rushed to the sensitive spot just behind my ears.  My mouth began to water with the promise of the hunt, and every muscle in my body hungered for the chase.  Next to me, Ázzuen stood as still as I was, only his ears twitching.  Then his dark grey head began to sway a little, pulled between the lure of prey and our task.
     “We can’t go after them,” I said.  “We have to keep moving.”


What’s so important about the Rocky Mountain wolves?

Verlyn Klinkenborg has written an excellent editorial in The New York Times about the delisting of the Rocky Mountain wolves. I wrote a letter in response which the Times has published.  Check it out, here.

So what’s the big deal about the Rocky Mountain wolves?    

The Endangered Species Act exists to “protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems on which they depend.”*    Being on the list is not an end in itself.  The whole point of putting a species or population on the list is to eventually get it off the list–to protect the species or population until it is healthy and stable enough to no longer be in danger of extinction. There are now about 1500-1600 wolves in the Rocky Mountain region, and by many measures, they are doing very well.  

So why all the hubbub?  Isn’t it good news if the wolves have reached a point of recovery sufficient to delist them?  

There are two parts to this question (ok, I’m sure there are more, but there are two that come to mind now.)

Question One:  Are the Rocky Mountain wolves really sufficiently recovered to be removed from the list?

Many excellent, respected scientists who have dedicated their careers to the wolves and their conservation think so.  Others think not–that the genetic diversity is not sufficient and that the wolves don’t have enough access to more diverse populations.  But it’s debatable and both positions are defendable.  I really respect the scientists who say the population is recovered and would be willing to be swayed by their arguments.