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Author: cmf

I'm a writer and editor based in Livingston, Montana. I moved to Livingston from the San Francisco Bay area in 2002 in search of affordable housing and a small community with a vibrant arts community. I found both. LivingSmall details my experience buying and renovating a house, building a garden, becoming a part of this community. It also chronicles my efforts to rebuild my life after the sudden death of my younger brother, and closest companion, Patrick in a car wreck.
Midnight Chicken: Cooking Your Way Back to the World

Midnight Chicken: Cooking Your Way Back to the World

I’ve been working too much, and this winter has been brutal. I had to sell my beloved Honda Fit and buy an Outback because the Beloved Fit was just not holding up to driving over the Bozeman pass three days a week. That I have the kind of financial stability that means I can drive into the Subaru dealership and just trade in my car for a new one, and finance it, and all that, is something of a miracle to me, especially considering I quit my “real” job four years ago, but here we are.

However, weeks of subzero temperatures, teaching writing to 75 students, and writing instructional manuals on the side has left me spent. It’s been the kind of winter that just feels like you’re under siege. My students are struggling too — between a serious flu going around, and working too many jobs, and taking insane course loads to avoid taking on more debt — then fighting our way across campus in temperatures that have hardly gone above zero since early February, with so much snow that TWO gyms collapsed. Well, we’ve all felt like it’s Just Too Much.

But the arrival of Ella Risbridger’s lovely and poignant book, Midnight Chicken has reminded me of why I believe so strongly that when we don’t know what to do with ourselves, making something with our hands can be a salvation. It’s the sort of cookery book that made me love the genre in the first place, a book in the vein of Laurie Colwin, or Patience Gray, or even MFK Fisher. It’s a book about cooking as an antidote to despair, and a means of building a life that feels like it has some kind of meaning.

It’s a book after my own heart.

Risberger was in her early 20s, living in London with the man she loved, when she realized she had “fallen out of love with the world.” Depression had fallen upon her, and try though she might, it escalated to the point that she tried to step in front of a bus. This book is the story of her journey back to the world, a journey begun as she sat in the emergency room, thinking

… how I wanted to cook again. It was like a little map: I will get through this, and I will cook something, and I will eat it, and I will be alive. I will be alive and I will make something with my own two hands, and I will get through this. This too will pass –it has to — because there is a pie at the end. With a crisp crust and a soft yielding centre, and my first initial done in pastry on the top and brushed with golden egg…

This is a book all about getting through hard times by doubling down on the things one can do. Make pastry. Cook a chicken. Survive an office job by packing nice things for lunch, and not eating them at your desk, but going outside, finding a bit of a park, with a bench, and unwrapping a potato you baked in the morning that is still a bit warm, cracking it open to slip in a pat of butter, and eating it as small birds also survive the city in your bit of a park.

The recipes are my favorite kind — delicious and unfussy, certainly NOT cheffy restaurant recipes. There’s a chili-lemon pasta for days when hope is waning, a simple cookie (that probably needs a wee bit more flour at my altitude, but was quick and delicious nonetheless, and Himself is always happy to have chocolate chip cookies when he’s renovating a house). There’s a terrifying English pork pie, which she admits resulted in her entire kitchen being coated in molten lard in the middle of the night, and a lot of soups, with buttered toast, that she claims are better eaten in bed (is it a sign of age that I’m HORRIFIED by this? Butter and crumbs in the sheets?)

Most of all though, it is a story about love. Her love for the Tall Man, who she met at 17, moved in with at 19, and lost way too early to cancer in her mid twenties. The book is suffused with their love, and not in a soppy way, but with the realistic glow of knowing that you once found your person, and he found you, and you built a life together as broke broke young people. They built the kind of found family that so many of us have done — a family built on dinners cooked and shared in their tiny flat, with too much wine, and dishes dumped in the sink for later, and everyone crowded into the sofa to watch bad movies late into the night.

It’s an extraordinary book. I think it might not be available in the US yet, but I got my copy on Alibris.com –where frankly, I buy most of my books these days.

Daylight Savings Time is Kicking my Ass

Daylight Savings Time is Kicking my Ass

Look at that photo — does that look like 9:30 am to you? Or does it look like 8:30, which it properly is? It’s dark and cold and gloomy out still, and I’ve managed to drag myself out of bed and into the car and am starting the drive back into town.

We’re not alarm clock people, in part because we’re both pretty good at waking up according to the sun. And to be fair, aside from days when I teach, neither of us has to be at a job at a specific time, or get kids to school, or commute, or any of that. Which is not an accident — those were deliberate choices we made about our lives.

But when the shift to DST screws up even rural people like us, who are self-employed, to the extent that it does, maybe it’s just time to give this nonsense up.

Back Again

Back Again

So — here we are again — back on the blog.

I miss blogging. I know no one reads blogs anymore, but whatever — when I started blogging in 2003, no one even knew what a blog was. I miss the form, the small writing, the engagement with the everyday, and having some ownership over my own content.

Social media didn’t fill the same niche for me as blogging. I think I was here blogging away before Facebook was even really a thing, and now that I’ve killed off my FB account, here I am again. I like Instagram, and will probably do a lot of cross posting to that platform, but I HATE writing on the phone. And the Twitter — as much as I’d love to be a like @blairbraverman, who can write a genius story in a tweet thread, I am not that person. I also did TinyLetter for a while, but I don’t know — does anyone on earth actually WANT more email? I know there are a bunch of TinyLetter subscriptions piling up unread in my inbox …

And so I thought, why not return to the blog? I have it. I pay for web hosting. It’s that perfect sweet spot between private scribbling in notebooks and public writing of the sort that eventually becomes real essays.

The new tagline, for now, is from Gary Snyder. I worked with Snyder at UC Davis, and his bioregional outlook is one that has infused the entire 17 year project that has been LivingSmall. Gary’s advice to us in grad school wasn’t about poetry. Find a place, he told us, where you can afford to buy and pay off a piece of property. Then you won’t have to go live and teach in places that aren’t home. Settle in. Get to know the neighbors. Get to know the plants and animals and seasons. Know your watersheds.

And so that’s what I’ve been doing all this time. Fixing up and settling into and paying off my house — not primarily as an investment, although that does provide some solace when I get the 3AM financial panics — but as a home. As my home.

I had an unstable and peripatetic childhood. Home was a fraught concept, and building a home with one another as practice for moving back out into the world was the main project my brother Patrick and I shared during the four years we lived together after I finished my Phd. When he was killed our first year here in Livingston, I didn’t know how I was going to survive. It’s the core of this book I’m writing — how settling into this house, how building the garden and raising dogs and keeping chickens and learning to make things all saved me. How the community here, from the friends who showed up that first night when word got out about Patrick’s wreck, and who stayed, to the kids I’ve been lucky enough to help raise as the universal auntie — how all that saved me. And how Himself, with whom I’ve shared a life for 10 years this month, has also been my stalwart (although I don’t write about him much as he doesn’t like to be On teh Intertubes).

There are questions I want to keep poking at. What does it mean to live a good life? How do we live a good life in a world that is growing increasingly hotter? In a world where we’re beset by consumerist messaging urging us to buy more, scaring us that if we don’t have a specific “lifestyle” then we’re falling short, we’re going to fall through the cracks, that we’re “losers” — what does it mean to deliberately consume less?

And so welcome back long-lost readers. I sort of doubt there’s anyone out there, but that’s okay … I’m kind of happy to noodle around in this semi-public backwater for a while. And if you’re one of my older readers who still get notifications, welcome back. I’m still here, and still trying to figure out the same issues I always have been.

Starting Seeds in a Time of Darkness

Starting Seeds in a Time of Darkness

Tray Seeded with Chickory
Seed Starting, Chickories

So — the greenhouse room has pretty much become my office, which means I’m starting seeds on my desk. This wasn’t the plan when we built this room, but it’s so nice out here that well, I colonized it. I think some of the geraniums might have to migrate back into the house because this year, I think the garden is going to be more necessary than ever before.

It’s very scary out there. The President is rapidly rolling back norms we’re accustomed to, from the assault on the ACA, Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security, to the tacit approval of bomb threats at JCCs and desecrated cemeteries, to banning the legitimate press from the White House press briefings. It’s gotten to the point that my mother called the other day and said “I was outraged by something, but I think there have been two more somethings since I called you yesterday.”

And so, I’m planning a better garden this year than last year. Last year I had ankle surgery in the beginning of February, and it wasn’t until August that I could walk normally again. Planting was mostly a matter of flinging seeds for hardy greens into beds overgrown with Bermuda grass and hoping for the best. I was really laid up for a lot of the year, and so stressed out by that job I wound up quitting, that I neglected the whole thing. I grew some nice greens, the beans came in very late but were delicious, and I had a lot of flowers. But it wasn’t one of my better garden years.

As I was looking in the seed box thinking about what greens I could start early, I found a whole array of chickories — red ones and green ones and some beautiful varigated ones — all from Seeds of Italy, one of my favorite sources. I just put an order in with them last week actually. So — chickories. They’re a cool-weather crop so if you don’t start them well before the last frost, they’ll bolt when it gets hot. Fingers crossed this year for a crop of nice crunchy chickories. I also started two kinds of chard and some spinach. Those do fine outdoors, but again, its a season thing. I didn’t do a hoop house this year, but if I start them inside, once the ground thaws, I can transplant them out and I’ll have about a 3 week jump on things.

It’s the thing about growing your own — it spoils you for store produce. I’m too cheap to pay the premium for the hydroponic organic greens that our local foods store carries these days — although I do splurge once in a while. They had some lovely baby bok choi and some beautiful spinach (one of the few vegetables Himself enjoys). And well, I’m really broke this year as I try to stretch out my savings long enough to finish this book manuscript, and build up a new freelance business. So, I’m going to need my own food in the backyard (also, looking forward to falling heat bills as spring arrives). I keep reminding myself, this was the plan. Pay off the debts. Pay off the house. Build a garden. Get chickens — all things that free me up from needing cash so I can write more. So, planting seeds, writing the book,  and keeping on keeping on even as the nation burns down around us.

Pruning and Despair

Pruning and Despair

Pruned Plum Tree
Pruned plum tree (and hand-me-down boy)

After calling in for the Orwellian “Tele Town Hall” my GOP Senator, Steve Daines held last night, and after this morning’s news that the GOP Congress has approved Scott Pruitt for EPA, I’m filled with despair and heartbreak. And anger at every single upper middle class person I know, which is pretty much every one I know, who continues to blithely fly around on airplanes and drive SUVs and buy new stuff just because they feel like it. We, the generation of selfish overconsumers, who have ruined the world for everyone else.

To all “my” kids — to the whole gang of you — I’m so so sorry for what we’ve done. We’re leaving you a blazing hellscape of a planet, with ruined water and oligarchs who we’ve allowed to buy up all the resources so they will be able to hold them hostage when you’re grown.

So I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do and I’m angry, and agitated, and picking fights with people I shouldn’t be picking fights with on Facebook. I went out into the garden. It’s been warm here, and most of our snow has melted. The ground is still frozen, but I had pruning that needed to be done.

The little plum tree in the picture (behind the charming little boy statue that Biba, my neighbor, left me about a decade ago when she upped and moved to Argentina), that plum tree suffered bad damage in our freak freeze three years ago that killed all the cherry trees. It went from the 60s, to minus 20 in less than 12 hours, then came back up into the 40s. It was the freeze/thaw cycle that apparently did most of the damage, and we didn’t even know until spring that the cherries were all dead. I planted two new baby cherry trees last spring, but I think it’s going to be a while until I get fruit. This plum tree turns out to be a greengage. It has been an uneven bearer — fruiting every three or four years. The first year, I kept waiting for the fruit to turn purple, and it wasn’t until I was sitting in the backyard reading a book one afternoon, and a plum fell off it was so ripe, that I realized they’re greengages. They are utterly delicious, and I only ever get a peck or two.

Last year I was laid up with the ankle surgery, and I was waiting to see what parts of the tree would come back. By this spring, the dead parts were very dry and dead and easy to identify. So I got in there this afternoon, in my agitation, and cut out suckers, and sawed off the dead tops, and generally cleaned the little thicket that is my greengage patch out. I also took a shot at the gooseberry bushes while I was at it, and the currents (which are pretty battered by Hank-and-his-big-blue-play-ball). I pulled the thick layer of straw off the komatsuna and the kales, which were green underneath, and in general, started puttering around. (Oh, and cleaned up a lot of dog shit).

It won’t help with the state of our nation or the world. For that, I keep making my phone calls, and registering to go pester our GOP Senator who won’t speak to us, and trying to be patient as I explain to angry white Evangelicals that no, I’ve never had any of my Muslim friends try to impose Sharia law on me, the only people who have ever tried to impose their religious beliefs on me are white Evangelicals. I feel like we’re living in any number of dystopian novels, from Orwell to Margaret Atwood, and I’m thoroughly heartbroken about it.

But the world is turning a wee bit. The sun is coming back. There’s pruning to be done, which at the very least lets me burn off a little physical energy. And maybe, just maybe, there will be greengages this summer. To eat amidst the flaming ruins of our Democracy.

Talking about the Anthropocene

Talking about the Anthropocene

Lemon Tree in Sun Porch WIndow
Lemon Tree in Sun Porch Window

The political chaos we’re facing has me thinking about the anthropocene. Well, to be fair, almost everything these days has me thinking about the anthropocene, and climate change, and the ways we keep talking about changing our lives and lifestyles but no one actually does.

But what is the anthropocene? And why is the term itself causing such consternation? The anthropocene is a term proposed in 2008 and accepted in 2016 by the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London, the folks who set the definitions of geologic eras, to describe the era that comes after the Holocene. We have all been living in the Holocene, the approximately 12,000 year period since the last Ice Age. What’s different about the Anthropocene is the “anthro” in the name, the Anthropocene is the age of humans, and denotes that geologic strata are now marked by human action — from industrial chemical pollution, to pollen from monoculture cropping, to mass extinctions and rising sea levels and atmospheric temperatures, there is no place left on earth untouched by human activity. So much so, that markers of all these activities are now evident in the geologic strata itself.

As one might expect, this idea has proved deeply unsettling on a number of levels. Jeremiah Purdy, law professor at Duke, notes in the introduction to his recent book: After Nature: Politics for the Anthropocene, that part of this is a result of what he terms the third in a series of unsettling ideaological revolutions:

The Anthropocene marks the last of three revolutions. Three kinds of order once thought to be natural and self-sustaining have shown themselves to be artificial, fragile, and potentially self-immolating. The first to fall was politics: long seen as part of divine design, with kings serving as the human equivalent of lions in the desert and eagles in the sky, politics proved instead a dangerous but inescapable form of architecture — a blueprint for peaceful coexistence, built with crooked materials. Second came economics: once presented as a gift of providence or an outgrowth of human nature, economic life, like politics, turned out to be a deliberate and artificial achievement, and vulnerable to its own kinds of crises. Now, in the Anthropocene, we have to add nature itself to the list of things that are not natural. In every respect, the world we inhabit will henceforth be the world we have made. This is not reassuring: politics, economics, and ecology are all in near-perpetual crisis.

I live on the edge of some of the wildest country in the lower 48 – the Beartooth Absaroka Wilderness area stretches all down the east side of the Paradise Valley and then east nearly to Cody, Wyoming. Flying over it on the way to Denver, it’s as big as some of our smaller East Coast states. And then there’s Yellowstone, and the Custer-Gallatin National Forest to the West, an area we’re trying to get wilderness designation for as well. These are large tracts of roadless country, places as specified by the 1964 Wilderness Act, that most poetic of laws,  “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

That wild country exists, and will continue to require our vigilance in its defense is not in question, although you’d hardly know it from the vigorous debate surrounding the term Anthropocene. Since William Cronon’s 1995 essay “The Trouble with Wilderness” which asks us to rethink the intellectual category of “wilderness” the American nature writing community has been riven by the fear that acknowledging the Anthropocene means giving up on the possibility of wild country and the experiences we have all so cherished there. I’d argue that this anxiety stems from a mistaken conflation of the intellectual idea “wilderness” with the topos that is actual wild country.

The hard truth is, that if wild country cannot continue to exist without humans willing to defend it from other, more rapacious humans, then wilderness is indeed a human construct. This is not to say that it is not real, or that as a place untrammeled by man it’s not still a place where humans can feel the fragility of their own lives — get yourself stuck on an open scree field during a lightning storm, or surprise a sow grizzly with cubs, or simply forget your rain gear and get drenched too far from the safety of your car at the trailhead and you’ll discover quickly enough how untrammeled and wild the wild country actually is. But it does mean that because wild country only exists where we have set it aside, and only continues to exist because some of us fight for it, that wild country, and wilderness as an category we use to designate such country, is a human idea, a human construct.

This is a double-edged sword. Some are using the notion of the Anthropocene to argue that since nothing is actually natural, then there’s no need to preserve any of it, that we should develop and use it all. Some are using the concept in a kind of triumphalist way — See, they seem to be saying, Man has finally conquered nature! This group seems particularly enamored of technology as a means of solving the problems of global warming, peak oil, and ubiquitous pollution that we’re facing.

For me, the notion of the Anthropocene offers hope for breaking down the binary thinking that has always pitted the domestic and the wild as being in opposition to one another, as cancelling one another out. It took me decades to move to someplace as wild as Montana, and what’s the first thing I did? I built a garden. I grew up on farms and in suburban developments right on the edge of small patches of wild country — woods and ravines, ponds and creeks, places where a kid could escape from the prying eyes of adults and escape into a world of trees and sticks and mud and little things we built for ourselves. In my teens and early twenties, I led trips and did field work in the canoe wilderness on the Minnesota-Canada border, a country where you could travel into backcountry so deep that you were days from a road, much less a town. However, I have to admit that perhaps 90% of my experience in the wild places of the West is in what we call the front country — those first five miles or so on either side of a wilderness area boundary that take the brunt of human interaction.

In graduate school I remember my shock when confronted with the idea that the pastoral, agriculture in particular, was in some sort of combat with the wild. My experience had always been that the two existed in much more of a spectrum, particularly when contrasted with urban or suburban life. Farmers and ranchers, even those industrial farmers like the ones surrounding my grandmother’s farm in Illinois, were in closer contact with the natural world than say, the IT professionals I worked with in California for so long, who lived in landscaped developments and commuted to the Cisco “campus” where they spent long days in their cubicles. However, it is true that the application of industrial modes of production to agriculture, the vast fields of monocropped corn or soybeans or cotton, and the horror that is our industrial meat industry, with it’s huge barns filled with chickens or pigs of cattle living in the toxic fumes of their own waste, these things are indeed antithetical to both our ideas of the natural and the wild. However, I’d find myself hard-pressed to conceive of industrial agriculture as a domestic activity at all, certainly not one that is in conflict with the wild. The industrial mindset that commodifies the natural world by monoculture and confinement agriculture is a threat to any honest agricultural model as much as it’s a threat to the wild.

While it’s true that there is still a deep divide in the West over land use, as acted out just last year by the standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, and while there are bad ranchers just like there are irresponsible ski area owners, each of whom ruin wild country in their own ways, it seems to me that if we can break down the idea that wilderness is the only marker of freedom, if we can accommodate the idea of the domestic on a much larger scale, we can begin to formulate an ethic of care that will help us protect these wild places we so love.

Clothesline Time Again

Clothesline Time Again

Sheets on clothesline in February
Winter Clothesline

It’s sunny and in the mid-40s out there today, and so it’s wash day. Long-time readers of this blog know how fanatical I can be about my clothesline, but really, if you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint, giving up your tumble dryer is one of the easiest ways to make a huge impact. Plus, your clothes will be all airy and clean and won’t smell of horrible detergents or those nasty dryer sheets that I’m sure are giving us all cancer.

I have an essay forthcoming in the next Dark Mountain entitled “Clothesline at The End of the World” — so maybe head over there and give them a little love. It’s a terrific publication — they make two fabulous hardcover books a year that collect some of the most interesting folks writing about environment, creativity, and how we are to live in these times of inevitable and unimaginable climate change.

When Stuck, Make Something

When Stuck, Make Something

Scallion Pancakes
Scallion Pancakes

Ugh — it was one of those days when I Could Not Get Anything Done. I mean, I got some stuff done — the chickens were mucked out — poor babies. It snowed a foot yesterday, then went into the 50s today, so my backyard is a lake. I got the chicken coop cleaned out and nice new shavings put inside, then bought them some new straw for bedding in their run, which seems to have put them high enough to be out of the wet — but my backyard was a lake, and the wind blew gusts into the 40mph range all day, and it was grey and wet and miserable.

So, I gave up on writing, and on the several writing projects on my list, and played with making scallion pancakes. I’m reviewing Carolyn Phillips magnificent All Under Heaven which means I *must* cook from it for a couple of weeks. Really, it’s my job … at any rate, I played around with these this afternoon. I don’t have them quite down yet — I’m not great at modulating the heat in my cast iron pan for flatbreads, but darn if that doesn’t mean I’ll have to try again.

And it got me out of my head, and out of the clickhole of Facebook/Twitter Garbage-Fire-of-the-Republic for a while.

So — scallion pancakes.

Winter Elk Herd on the Move

Winter Elk Herd on the Move

This herd of elk has been hanging around all winter. They woke us up Monday morning at first light calling to one another — you can hear one “cow call” on the video (over my windshield wipers/car engine).

We’ve had varying numbers in the yard — this big group, one even bigger, and then a core group of about a dozen. We both woke up late one night a few weeks ago — clear skies, full moon, and two dozen elk bedded down right outside our bedroom windows. It was magical. Like a big interspecies slumber party.

Process: Setting Goals, Making Plans

Process: Setting Goals, Making Plans

Weekly planner and pile of notebooks
Weekly planner and pile of notebooks

It’s Monday, which means my weekly session with the planner. About a year ago, I started deliberately planning my week — paid work projects, creative work projects, things I wanted to make — and started setting deliberate goals. My big goals for last year were to finish and send out essays for publication, and to get the mystery novel I’d set aside back on its feet again.

Sitting down every Sunday or Monday and taking stock, then setting goals for the week has helped enormously. I started out using the Passion Planner which I particularly liked for it’s large size and generous real estate per week. However, after a few months, I found the inspirational pages less and less useful — although I have stayed in the habit of doing a monthly summary of what worked, what didn’t work, what I accomplished, and what I’d like to accomplish for the forthcoming month.

Eventually, I moved back to the Moleskine weekly planner because I love the page layout (although I dearly wish they had a bigger size). I like having one blank page to sketch out what the tasks are for the week, and a day-by-day section to track myself. I wrote my first novel with little weekly calendars, where I noted down word counts to keep myself honest, and on track, and I find that essential to my process.

When I was in Milwaukee last summer, I picked up some of these softcover notebooks by Fabriano, and I’ve found them really useful for brainstorming and tracking my various projects: the mystery novel, the essays, the TinyLetter, the BlogReboot. While I still carry a general notebook, I’ve found it more useful to split up into these separate ones, as well as some smaller notebooks I use for reading notes, so I can find things afterwards. I’m not a bullet journal person — all that indexing, while useful, just annoys me — but this way, I can find the notes on say, John Berger that I wanted to roll into a TinyLetter.

My primary goal at the moment is finishing this mystery novel manuscript — I started it several years ago, then put it aside while I was working on a nonfiction memoir, a project I ultimately decided was not so much a book, as it was a series of essays. Abandoning a book is never an easy decision, but that nonfiction project just would not come together the way I wanted it to (and I *really* did not want to write a misery memoir), and after discussions with an agent, I decided to put it aside and mine those ten years of work for essays.

I’ve always been a big chicken about sending things out, and somehow, that changed this year.  In combination with a planning method that seems to work, I managed to pull together five solid essays and send them out. Four of them have been taken, so that’s pretty satisfying. One was taken as a conference paper (I need to rework it a little and send it out again), three were accepted for publication (only one has come out, in the Unearthing Paradise anthology — please buy a copy and help us fight the gold mines on the border of Yellowstone). The other two should be published in the next couple of months and I’ll include links when they do. I had one essay rejected, and I’ve sent it back out. And I have three more solid ideas I’m pulling together, but since I need to draft the mystery novel, I’ve put those aside for now.

And then there’s the new novel. I’d pretty much given up on fiction, and when I decided not to pursue the memoir, I went back to the two half-finished novel drafts I had in the house. They’re both actually pretty good — but I decided to pursue the mystery novel first for a couple of reasons. One is that because the mystery as a genre deals with murder, it allows one a natural outlet to explore in fiction topics like class and money, and good and evil, and life and death. I like people in extreme situations, perhaps because I’ve seen so many of them, and the mystery provides a great opportunity to test your characters under stress. The other reason I started with this one is that I really want to do a series — I love long long form work — and the mysteries I love the best are the ones with a core set of characters who appear across the volumes, and whose development you get to trace as the series progresses. But more than any of those idea-driven reasons for writing this novel — I’m having so much fun making people up again. There are characters living in my head again, and I’d forgotten what a joy that is.

When I quit my job in September, I had about 15k words, and I’m just north of 40K now. I think it’s going to clock in somewhere in the neighborhood of 80K — which is about what Place Last Seen came in at. The planning is necessary because, for instance, I just lost three whole weeks to political madness, and so I found I had to come back, look at the page, and make a real plan. Even if part of me thought I was going to get the whole 40k written in January, and that same part of me is bummed not to be some sort of wordcount superhero, I know myself well enough that if I can come up with a reasonable schedule, and break the project into parts, then I’ll be able to get it done. Barring more insanity from Washington (or more than the level we’ve now become accustomed to), I should have a finished manuscript sometime in the middle of April. And if I can do that, I’ll have proven to myself that I can finish a book in six months, which means that pitching a book a year isn’t totally unreasonable.

The next planning challenge I’m dealing with is figuring out the revenue end of the struggle. I’ll be saying more about that in the days to come, but I’m considering a number of options, including a Patreon. In the meantime, I’ve opened a Store page on the blog, where I’ve linked to books on my Alibris store — so if you’d like to contribute that way, please go buy a book!

Also, please leave notes in the comments — what planning strategies work best for you? Are you a planner? or not-a-planner? How do creativity and planning work in your artistic life?