Cat’s Pajama Tour by Janine Donoho

Counting sheep jammies

Counting sheep jammies

During the time that our home was under construction, we stuffed a whippet, a greyhound, two cats, and two humans into a 27-foot 5th wheel. That was over a decade ago. Our home now sustains a whippet, an Italian greyhound, one cat, and two humans, although on the animal front, only the cat and we – her minions – started this journey. So measurably, it appears that not much has changed.

Each morning our tuxedo cat, now 15 years old, sits on my lap after breakfast so I can ‘groom’ her with a boar bristle hair brush. That probably makes me her Big Kitty, an honor I accept. Yet a funny thing happened along the way — a theme emerged from her photos.

Now you’re invited into a tour of this cat’s pajamas.

Plushie garnet jammies

Plushie garnet jammies

Llama jammies

Llama jammies

Cayenne jammies

Cayenne jammies

Pink love bunny jammies

Pink love bunny jammies

East Indian elephant jammies

East Indian elephant jammies

Puffer fish jammies

Puffer fish jammies

Pink flamingo jammies

Pink flamingo jammies

Teapot jammies

Teapot jammies

Cinderella slipper jammies

Cinderella slipper jammies

Blue rose jammies

Blue rose jammies

Hacking the Writer’s Life by Janine Donoho

Primitive RoadNo one who knows me would accuse me of being a computer hacker. While the scope of digital life offered by computer, GPS, and yes, the Samsung devices beloved of Intrepid Guy, offer benefits, I occasionally need to read manuals. Despite my ongoing lust for cool tech, a smart phone or tablet’s at least a year into my future, mostly given where we live and the coverage we don’t yet enjoy.

Yet living a writer’s life requires hacks, too. For what is hacking other than breaking a code and getting where you are most likely not invited? Allow me to share a few with you.

Life hack #1: Feeding the brain via two universities, three community colleges, and then working as a gasp! woman in male-dominated fields.

Why is any of this pertinent to a writer? You learn to finish what you start, often under less than stellar conditions.

PupsicleLife hack #2: Winter version: Yaktrax, poles, neck gaiter, and ear warmers with the equivalent layering for the Italian greyhound. This gets us moving while preventing the dreaded pupsicle syndrome.

Yes, dear writers, we need to exercise our torpid bodies. Blood flow’s necessary to our hyperactive brains.

Bleh, bleh, bleh. But what does it take to become an author?” you ask.

Cover Collection 2Life hacks #3-12: Write a bodacious novel—or a googolplex of stories—or whatever it takes to learn your craft. Here’s a glimpse of my current oeuvres. Plus there’s the forthcoming launch of Soundings, Water Elemental in February 2015.

It’s a circuitous trail into hacking a writer’s life. No shortcuts here. Luck is involved—along with learning craft, critical thinking, and long hours in the writing chair. Although another hack has been my standing desk…

So while the initial burst of creative juices might trigger that moment of ah-ha along with entire scenes, character sketches, and plot devices, as writers we hack our way to core story, into character, and through process.

And those, my friends, are the subjects of future blogs. I hope you’ll join me for them, too. Until then, I recommend a daily hack attack into your own writer’s life.Tools of my trade

My Writing Habit by Janine Donoho

Airborne Italian greyhound

Airborne Italian greyhound

Early each morning—and even earlier as our earth tilts away from the sun and carries us into winter—Nina Sophia stretches out of her fluffy sheepskin pelt and cloudsoft binkies to hop onto the human bed where she burrows between duvet and blanket.

That’s my cue. You see, I’ve reached that blissful state where children and a day job no longer compel me. Thus I begin the slow ascent toward my enduring habit of writing. Intriguing visuals and thoughts float through my consciousness until I’m too full of inspiration to stay abed.

View from my snow cave

View from my snow cave

That’s when I scoot the groaning Italian greyhound over to my warm indentations and bolster her with a pillow, furnishing her with that sense of pack she craves. Then it’s off to wash the sleep from my eyes and slip into my work attire. Today that means soft flannel bottoms with loopy bunnies that exclaim “I love you” in girly pink and cream. Yes, blushing as I admit this, but hey, they were a gift from Intrepid Guy. Over a cami I layer warm wovens. After all, this is the far northwest beyond which “there be dragons”—and Canadians, eh? Plus it’s snowing.

Your-dream-doesnt-have-an-expiration-dateFrom a perpetual carafe replenished as necessary after my morning ritual, I heat a cup of dark roast mixed with a splash of soy. Off to my chosen place I go. Since I’ve been at this for decades, that space has been honed to my preferences. Thus I slip into fingerless gloves and spelunk into other worlds.

While many of my writer friends cultivate writing schedules that encompass Starbucks and other public spaces, solitude works best for me. I do enjoy the friction implicit in more lively settings, but not when it comes to getting the words down. For that I cultivate a more tranquil practice. And yes, whatever your artistic process, own it and bring consistency into your practice.

Now I’m back to my edit of SOUNDINGS, Water Elemental. Happy writing!

Red morning skies promise more uninterrupted time to write

Red morning skies promise more uninterrupted time to write

There and Back Again by Janine Donoho

Mt. Rainier across the Sound

Mt. Rainier across the Sound

Over the Puget Sound and whitewater rivers—through coastal woods morphing into inland forests, we traveled home to the Okanogan Highlands—and temperatures in the teens. Brrr. Tears were shed as we left behind our temporary pack, lifelong friends and family.

Gazzam Park with Pack

Gazzam Park with Pack

Urban amenities I miss:

  • pumpkin yogurt and Sawatdy Thai cuisine,
  • the Bainbridge Athletic Club, and
  • Gazzam Park’s needle strewn trails.

What I embrace instead:

  • frozen mango sorbet,
  • my elliptical and rowing machines, and
  • Okanogan National Forest.
Okanogan Forest

Okanogan Forest

Evidently both ambivalence and resilience describe me. Now I’m bending my mind around edits to SOUNDINGS, Water Elemental, along with other authorial tasks. Winter cave time approaches as flames crackle in the soapstone fireplace and Nina Sophia, Italian greyhound extraordinaire, stretches out on the rug with a sigh.

Iggy basking

Iggy basking

Putting a Buoyant ‘T’ in Temporary by Janine M. Donoho

Fam & Temporary Pack

Fam & Pack

Celebrating the connections

Celebrating the connections

We are fireflies—transiently bright lights  in this world, then poof!—gone. If fortunate, we illuminate a tiny sphere of darkness along the way. When our luminescence briefly reflects upon others who are significant to us, we rejoice in those connections.

Doberman in sheep's clothing

Doberman in sheep’s clothing

The Temporary Pack

Increasing a pack of one Italian greyhound to a temporary pack of three.

A Few Friends

Friends, dark chocolate & a movie :~>.

Thus, after a few weeks with geographically distant family, friends, and even a temporary pack, allow me to share another pictorial journey celebrating the joy of kinship. As cave time looms, including another phase of SOUNDINGS edits, I expect to revel in these treasured moments even as the here-and-now tick-tick-ticks along.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An old acquaintance: USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74)

Because you’re here with me now, you’re invited to join in this visual feast.

Carrier meets ferry

Carrier meets ferry

When the Cougar Pounces by Janine M. Donoho

Tiny Predator

Tiny predator in the wild.

This isn’t about silly contemporary names attached to women of a certain age. And I suppose it isn’t actually about the wild cats known as mountain lions, panthers, and pumas, even though a hunting cougar provides the inciting incident. No, this blog’s about resilience and how you respond to stress.

One recent evening, I was hiking the national forest near dusk—okay, too close to dusk—with my 13 pound predator, otherwise known as Nina Sophia, Italian Greyhound extraordinaire. After staring intently into a thicket which she was focused on, I continued up the trail. Four strides later, she yelped.

I pivoted. There she was—facing off with a cougar.

He was ticked off, tail twitching, and considering his next move. Thus far, Nina, who unlike me can go from 0 to 25 mph almost instantly, was unscathed. I pulled not my gun, but the bear spray and started toward the mountain lion, about 90 pounds of volatile wildcat.

“Back off now!” I said. When I was half a VW length from him, he turned and disappeared into the forest.

“Come,” I told my little hound.

She aligned herself with me as I traded bear spray for pistol and headed up the trail. I howled, roared, and periodically spun around to catch any prowling cat midstride. That’s how the remaining ¾ mile to the truck passed. My sense of relief once Nina and I were safely inside the cab—well, it worked for me.

How I roll

Not pretty, but how I roll.

Oddly, I wasn’t shaken. Instead, I recognized my arrogance in taking this hike too late in the day, then analyzed my response to the threat. An over-reaction would have ended with a dead animal—too little a pushback with at least two dead animals. This outcome came from years living in the food chain while being both mentally and physically prepared for contingencies.

First I’m a conservation biologist—study of life, baby. Second, I had a plan. Third, I tend toward equal and opposite response. Thus we all lived to celebrate another day. My biggest regret? I failed to get a photo of the standoff between my tiny predator and the feral 90 pounder. Also in retrospect, I should have delivered a 1-2 second shot of bear spray to the cougar. He needed to learn there are consequences to bad behavior.

This entire suite of reactions equates with resilience, not a bad way to approach living in general and adversity in particular. Adapting well when faced with difficulty works. Even in something as ordinary to a writer as rejection. Never mind the occasional crazy maker.

Why I arm myself—yes, a fawn's ear in the cougar scat.

Why I arm myself—yes, a fawn’s ear in the cougar scat.

Resilience depends on behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be developed. We can all:

  • Make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
    In this case, I looked big, acted tough, carried bear spray and a 9 mm (last resort);
  • Keep things in perspective.
    The cougar appeared young and healthy, although inexperienced and there was no wind, thus the bear spray;
  • Nurture a positive view of yourself along with confidence in your strengths and abilities.
    Practice using your tools of choice e.g. bear spray and 9 mm;
  • Build skills in communication and problem solving.
    “Bad cougar, bad!” or equivalent;
  • Maintain a healthy and flexible body.
    Yes, step away from the Ben & Jerry’s and stay active;
  • Shore up the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.
    No animals were harmed in this episode—including yours truly.

With those skills, you can face down an editor who tells you you’re in the wrong business and who asks, “Whatever made you think you could write?”

Really, this happened to a well-published and renowned author and friend.

You can also apply this to team building. I have that option with BookTrope, my 21st century hybrid publisher. You recognize the potentially great book manager, editor, publicist, and cover artist, then aren’t shy about asking them to play with you.

So be prepared, do the work, and build resilience into your daily life. You never know when a mountain lion might pounce—but you’ll be ready.Mountain lion

Atrophy & Recovery – Part II by Janine M. Donoho

Last night during a nocturnal wander through the house, during wakefulness fueled by housetraining that adorably cute Italian Greyhound viewed in Part I, I noticed starlight bouncing off the black plastic laid for next year’s garden area. You see, this is one of the most passive and easy returns on preparing soil for new plantings.

Beneath the opaque cover, which soaks up late summer and autumn rays, then cooks the existing seed banks into submission, the organics formerly-known-as-weeds become fuel for astilbe, peonies, anchusa and other faves. Well, an equivalent to this is what happened during my crossover from tech writer with fictional aspirations into novelist. As promised, I’ll share the watershed events that led to this transition.



The equivalent of plastic mulch in my life at that time took me from writing about forced draft blowers, main feed pumps, lithium bromide plants and the ever cool condensers into first women’s fiction, then onto my latest rage of contemporary and high fantasy. Okay, admittedly, FDBs and MFPs can be wickedly geekish and even satisfying to write about, but world building’s way more fun.

 

Allow me to tout two books, which at that time helped me both mentally and emotionally into transition. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES and Julia Cameron’s ARTIST’S WAY provided both cure and inspiration for what ailed me. Let’s face it, Navalese-speak does not make for a bestselling author, although it does help with keeping to just-the-facts Jack.

Estes’ tome uncovered personal stories, often painful, that thwarted my instincts to probe into the depths and dark places. Then Cameron gave me permission to use those finds to go where story lives. Yes, I’d dabbled in poetry, fiction and playwriting before then, which had been somewhat successful. Let’s face it; a menu that includes twelve weeks of the equivalent of really good dark chocolate for the brain and spirit can take you so much further. Especially when led through the process by Estes and Cameron’s empathetic, yet grounded approaches to healing.
 

Since then, I’ve turned to other geographically remote mentors such as Stephen King’s ON WRITING, Carol Lloyd’s CREATING A LIFE WORTH LIVING, Susan Shaughnessy’s WALKING ON ALLIGATORS and FRUITFLESH by Gayle Brandeis. I’ve even returned to Julia Cameron, although her later works failed to spark the same cascade of light as ARTIST’S WAY, through no fault of hers. We artists are receptive at different times to different magnitudes of inspiration, after all.

 

So if you find that atrophy has set in and hope to recover not only your mojo, but go to a greater level of creativity and productivity, think in terms of mulching your creative beds for your next planting season.

As it happens, I plopped four bags of commercial soil onto my black mulch, cut the tops open, then planted each bag with cold crop vegetables such as arugula, Kweik organic lettuce, endive, pak choy and broccolini. Oh, and I threw a few seeds of Misato Rose radishes and boro beets in for good measure. Next year, that soil will be turned into what lies beneath to further enrich the soil. Yum.
 
So I encourage you, too, to turn to the sources that feed your soul and makes it fertile. It beats atrophy every time. And if a puppy helps you along your way, why not?

Atrophy & Recovery – Part I by Janine M. Donoho

As physical therapy continues as a mainstay in my life, on a daily basis I confront the vagaries of atrophy. You might have guessed that this isn’t a funhouse by Pink’s or anyone else’s standards. Awakening withered muscles hurts. Rebuilding muscle hurts. For the first time in my adult life, I cannot distinguish between muscle pain and joint pain, which when you’re recovering from multiple screws in the rotator cuff, can really mess with your composure.

Nonetheless, once a week I’m driven like Miss Daisy to a physical therapist who first calms both sane and absurd fears, then manipulates the joint beyond what I’m capable of doing myself. The therapist also assigns new exercises. I tell myself these remedial tricks are more than deceptive smoke-and-mirror pranks. Despite the first six month marathon of supposed ‘recovery’, this one’s imminent, isn’t it? I’m simply in the fireweed stage of renewal after a devastating forest fire, right? Yet without drama, I make weekly, even daily, gains. Nonetheless, there’s often been half a painkiller at about 3 a.m. along with 1-2 icepacks each night.


So what are the corollaries to this if you’ve allowed your writing muscle to deteriorate? For I find myself in that odd space, too. As a lifelong writer, this feels unexpectedly distressing. Also, kind of geekishly interesting. The last time I dealt with this loss of gravity came after years as a primarily technical writer in test engineering. At that time, I faced the blank sheet of fiction with trepidation much like the wasted shoulder.

Now for the fascinating part of this process. You see, at that time, mentors and nonfiction helped me through the there-be-dragons phase. Ultimately, this route turned a ‘what-to-do-with-a-blank-page’ quandary into a vast shift from one career to another. The specifics on how this happened? Well, you’ll learn more in part deux. For your edification and mine, enjoy these views of my summer garden and new puppy. I mean, who doesn’t love a puppy? Now, it’s time for another ice pack.Manny Kartouche' & Nina Sophia, puppy

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27th, 2015
The big day is here.

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