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Writing

Write, don't talk. A blank page listens.

I write both fiction and nonfiction. There's a certain overlap. I try to weed personal and subjective stuff from my nonfiction. With fiction, I stick to the truth.

I've helped write building codes and technical works on historic preservation. That was a lot better than silence, but it wasn't as good as inventing my own world, so I wrote a novel.


Skeeter

“If cats wore bumper stickers, Skeeter’s would read ‘Question Authority.’ He’s everywhere, expressing his opinions, giving and demanding affection, and bending the rules. More than once, I’ve decided there must be two of him.”

 When a stray kitten romps into Lynne’s life, she has no idea what she’s getting into. As Lynne describes in letters to her friend Angie, Skeeter is all cat—high-spirited, contrary, and inventive. He’s so goofy that he reminds Lynne of her own nuttiest escapades; so irrepressible that even Lynne’s neighbor, Mark, gets wound around his paw.

 Angie pays Lynne a visit to see Skeeter for herself, and the story reaches its comic finale. No one who meets Skeeter will ever be quite the same again.

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Pacific Avenue

  Even though I enjoyed my comic stint, my next novel, Pacific Avenue, turned out to be serious. It's a story about young people in the early 1970s, the time of the war in Vietnam. It isn't the story of anyone I knew. The places are real, though--New Orleans and San Pedro, California, both places I've lived in and loved.

Here's the first chapter:

 

December 1974, Interstate 10, Westbound
Kathy

I chose a window seat on the Greyhound, but I didn’t look out. For almost the whole trip, I stared at the rough tan upholstery of the seat in front of me. It had a rip on one side and three dark stains.

A woman settled into the aisle seat. She raised her footrest, but it clunked back down. When I glanced her way, she caught my eye and smiled.

“How do you make these things stay put?” she asked.

I meant to answer—the words were lined up in my mind. But before I could say them, they slipped apart like beads when the string breaks. I gave up and studied the seat cover again. Still tan, still ripped, still stained. The next time I looked, the woman was gone.

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Joy

 

I've always loved carousels, and restoring old things, and Northern California. So my third novel is about a carousel restorer in Oakland and San Francisco. It's a more upbeat story than Pacific Avenue--though some very strange things happen, most of them are a generation in the past, revealed through old letters and the musings of a woman who hasn't forgotten. In the present is a love story, and the story of bringing an antique carousel--and a young woman's hopes--back to their former beauty and harmony.

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Flight

 

Linda is seventeen years old. She has OK parents, a bratty little brother, an almost-boyfriend...and then her life gets turned upside-down. Flight is the story of how she makes it right again, and who she becomes by doing that.

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Prologue

Some of Olympia’s alleys aren’t even paved. Just parallel tire tracks drifting through ruts and puddles, crowded by a patchwork line of back fences. I love those alleys, with their overhanging apple branches and tangles of blackberry canes. They’re like country roads stitched through the city. I walk ten alley miles for every one on the sidewalk, basking in the sense of peace. I laugh at the acrobatic squirrels and feed my curiosity with glimpses of the candid backs of houses. The alleys are part of my home.

Besides, someone might see me if I walk along the street.

So, I avoid the sidewalks as much as I can. It’s easy, since my front door is just off one of those shady alleys. And most of the places where I work are old houses, with gates in their backyards.

Some of my clients don’t get it. The second week I worked for Mrs. Clemens, she tried to set me straight.

“You don’t have to come to the back door, Lainie,” she said. “I never did hold with making the girl come to the back door.”

I stifled a laugh. Back in my other life, “girl” was a word Mom taught me not to let people use about me. But what she had in mind—what her whole generation had in mind, as far as I could tell—was men referring that way to women in general. While to Mrs. Clemens, “the girl” was a female servant. It would never have occurred to Mom I could be a “girl” in that sense.

Anyway, I didn’t mind. I liked Mrs. Clemens, and I was happy to have the job. Ninety-one was too old to learn to mince words.

“Thanks,” I told her. “I wasn’t thinking you expected me to come to the back door. But it’s a shortcut from my place. And I like to see what needs doing in the yard.”

She gave me a shrewd look as I served her breakfast—half a pink grapefruit and two pieces of raisin toast. An old teacher is hard to fool. Back in San Diego, I lied all the time at school, just for the fun of it. Those teachers probably didn’t believe me either, but I was too wrapped up in myself to see it. Now everything about me is a lie. My name isn’t even Lainie.

It isn’t fun anymore. But there’s no way to stop.

 

 


A Chambered Nautilus

 

Nita walked away from her family when she was seventeen years old, determined to never look back. But forty years later, when her mother died and her father descended into Alzheimer's, Nita returned to New Orleans to care for him in his final months.

Now her father has passed on, leaving Nita her childhood home as an inheritance. But she soon finds she isn't the only resident. The house is occupied by ghosts of her past, playing out scenes of the life she fled.

What are they trying to tell her? Will they ever leave her in peace? And are they really spirits, or only visions, emerging from sealed-off depths of memory as from the shell of a chambered nautilus?

Excerpt

Next were photos and negatives. For a while, Dad had a good camera, and he developed black-and-white negatives and prints at night in the bathroom. The camera was gone--probably he'd sold it at some point, when he needed money to pay creditors who couldn't be stiffed.

The pictures were beautiful. He'd been talented, and had tried to go professional. But his photography business had failed just like every other one before it. Now, I looked with bewilderment at portraits of us as children. Somehow, he'd lost the love that shone from them, packed it away in a cardboard box, forgotten as old bank statements and unpaid bills.

I kept coming back to one set of photos of Manda, Lou, and me on Christmas morning. Sitting near the tree, opening our presents. Our smiles and shining eyes were captured forever. But Dad was gone, and the love that inspired those photos had died long before he did. How had he turned into a man who threw Christmas in the dump, every last elf and star, every last shred of tinsel?

I pushed the box of photos aside.

With two more empty boxes, I sorted for any records that had to do with Dad's last business venture, the successful one. After I'd left home, he'd invented several toys that caught on and made enormous amounts of money. Manda had told me about it at the time, but I'd dismissed it as ironic: How could a man who disliked children have invented amazing toys?

Now I remembered he had made that rocking horse. And bunny shadows on the wall, and a herd of charming animals he sculpted for us out of multicolored telephone wire. I remembered more and more. He hadn't started as a man who disliked children.

And Mom. When had she changed from the cake baker, the most beautiful woman in the world, to the one who screamed that she wished we didn't exist?

I remembered what the ghosts had shown me, and more. The miscarriage. The finally fulfilled longing for a son, followed by gut-level battles about what a son should be. Years of failure and scarcity, dinners of scraps, our filthy house, neighbors who shunned us. Anger feeding accusation in a vicious circle.

Beyond that, the truth was as tantalizing as a mirage. Why did their marriage go bad? Which of them had started it? Trying to figure that one out was like watching a tennis match. She did this because he said that, because she said that, because he did this . . . back and forth, back and forth . . .

I grinned suddenly, remembering Lou's description of tennis--"the kind of thing a cat would watch."

It was unsolvable. Whatever had gone wrong between Mom and Dad had gone disastrously wrong. War had been declared, and as in all wars, there was "collateral damage." Which was military-speak for what happens to innocent bystanders. Like kids.

 

 

 


 

Smart Soapmaking, Milk Soapmaking, and Smart Lotionmaking

I've also written two books on making soap and one on making lotions. For information about them, go to my soap and lotion making page.

 


Baking with Cookie Molds

One more--Baking with Cookie Molds. For information about it, go to my cookie molds page.

 

 


 

Living Apart Together

You hear many reasons why marriages and long-term relationships break up, but there's one that's seldom acknowledged: Many committed couples would get along better if only they weren't roommates.

But what can they do? They have to share a home, don't they?

What if they chose to defy expectations -- their own and everyone else's? What if they decided to live in separate apartments or houses, nearby or even side-by-side? Wouldn't they avoid many tensions that typically drag couples down? Wouldn't they gain richer and happier times together?

Anne L. Watson and her partner have lived this kind of life successfully for nearly two decades. In this groundbreaking book, she draws on personal experience to reveal the benefits of such an arrangement and tell how you might make it work for yourself. In the end, Anne helps you understand that not all couples need a common residence to live happily ever after.
FROM THE INTRODUCTION

Aaron and I met in 1998. He was the man of my dreams, but dreams are odd. Sometimes they start out joyfully and then turn into nightmares. Ours didn't, but it could have. "Living apart together" is the way we made things come out right for us.

We were both middle-aged when we found each other. We had a long-distance relationship for several months, and then decided to live together. Since he was moving to my town, I agreed to find us a place to live, and asked what kind of place he'd like.

He emailed me a staggeringly long list of requirements, right down to the carpet color. Trying to feel optimistic, I set out apartment hunting.

The only place I found that met our needs for space (let alone carpet color) was the whole top floor of an old fourplex apartment building. Both upper apartments were vacant, and they shared a utility room at the rear, so there were interior connecting doors. We decided to combine them into one unit.

I credit renting that place with saving our relationship. Because at the end of six months, we gave up. We could not live together. So we each took a unit, and barely spoke for the next month. Feelings were raw. It was obvious that one of us would move away before long, with an awkward goodbye, or none at all.

Neither of us wanted that. So we got together again, but this time, we didn't merge our apartments. At first, I felt disappointed. This was not what I had always imagined. I saw it as something he wanted, something I had to take or leave -- "my way or the highway."

Then I realized that, for most of my life, I'd made major sacrifices to keep from having to live with a roommate. I'd often paid half my salary in rent. I'd abandoned the idea of saving for a down payment on a house. I'd lived in less-desirable houses and neighborhoods. I'd done whatever I had to do to be able to live alone.

So Aaron wasn't the only one who needed his own place. I still had misgivings, but I decided to give living apart together a fair try.

It worked so well that we went on that way for another several years. In the summer of 2004, we married. And we've lived happily apart together ever since.

 

 

 

 


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