Category Archives: philosophy

A chat with my hero, on the subject of being stuck

Stephen, I need your help.

Stephen, are you there?

Oh, so I am to be at your beck and call, am I?

No.  It’s more that I’m at yours.  But I need your help.  Really, truly.

You cannot need my help that badly, if you can stop to play a game of solitaire in the middle of asking me.

Solitaire is an avoidance mechanism.  You know that.

What are you avoiding, pray tell?

You really do want to know?  That’s- that’s great.  I need you to get me  I need to get out of my head.

You need me to get you “out of your head.”  I see the strikethroughs, dear.  What makes you think I am capable of doing that?  I am not much of anything except a burden.

Is that how you feel?  Honestly?

I am sick.  I am basically helpless as you have written me.

You won’t be by the end of the book.  I promise you.

Right now I am quite positive you could not write me out of a paper bag.

I know.  That’s why I need your help.

You wish me to do your job?

My job is to take the dictation.  Your job is to talk.

Well, and so.  I had not thought of it that way before.  Then shall we get started?

A frustrating discussion

Dear Author is one of my favored places for finding new-to-me good reads.  They write interesting opinion pieces, too, and the above is one of those.

And I just want to say — while of course I appreciate positive reviews, I appreciate honesty in reviewing even more.  So, just in case  anyone out there didn’t realize it, I will not react badly to a negative review.  At least not to anyone but the cats.

On being bullied.

If you’re here to read about horrible experiences of being bullied, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place.  I’m not here to talk about that – I was one of the lucky kids who actually had the adults stand on my side when bullies attacked me.  So I’m not really in a position to speak for those of you who did not have Real Grown-Ups ™ to depend on in the clinch, instead of the fake kind who either don’t know how to (in which case how did they get hired for a job they’re so eminently unqualified for?) or refuse to (in which case why haven’t they been fired?) do the right thing.  All I can do along those lines is be sorry.

No, I’m here to talk about being bullied by a fictional character.  How is that possible, you say?  I suppose I could quote F. Scott Fitzgerald here, but he’s not exactly what you’d call a sane source.  “Writers aren’t exactly people.  They’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.”  Sometimes those “whole lot of people” get a bit out of hand in the writer’s brain.  Sometimes they don’t make a whole lot of sense.

Sometimes they want to go off on their own treks for their own reasons, and refuse to explain why until seven chapters later the writer realizes she’s either brilliant or she’s written herself into a hole from which she’ll never escape.  And you never know which until he’s done it.  Again.

No, those characters aren’t real.  And yes, planning and outlining ahead of time can be an excellent idea.  And, yes, I can hear all those rational writers out there saying, she’s not a real author because she treats this as an adventure she goes on rather than as a job she performs.  A self-published author at that.  Not a professional author at all, although if people are buying what I write isn’t that the definition of professional?  And they are.  A few of them, anyway.

And that’s a subject for a post I will never write.

Where was I?  Ah.  Being bullied by a fictional character who refuses to tell me What Happens Next ™.  Well, I have my methods, too, thankyouverymuch.  I have thumbscrews and the rack and all sorts of metaphorical torture devices.

And you know what the worst one is?

It’s refusing to write that character’s story.  So there.

I can move on to the next story, and the next character, one who’ll be grateful I listen to him and find his adventures entertaining enough to write down.  The recalcitrant fellow can’t find another author.  So he’d better sit down and start talking.  Now.

Later.  Well, and so.  The New Thing now has a title, among other things.  Zoetrope.  If you don’t know what a zoetrope is, here’s the Wikipedia article.  And Stephen is talking again.  He’s not the only one who can be a bully.

Pulling weeds — a sign of spring

You know it’s been a helluva week when even pulling weeds isn’t cathartic enough.  On the bright side, this is the first weekend the weather’s been decent enough to get out there — sunny and (barely) warm enough to have all the windows open.

Actually, technically it isn’t, except that the bathroom exhaust fan, which has to run for several hours daily to keep the air fresh in my condo (it’s designed to do this since this place is what they call energy-tight, and it has a timer and everything), died last night after getting louder and louder the last couple of days.  I do have someone coming in on Monday to take a look at it, but until then I’m opening the windows as much as I can whether it’s too cold or not (60dF isn’t too cold for open windows, right?).

But back to the weeding.  My garden has four ubiquitous weeds (these species don’t account for all the weeds in my garden, but the first three in particular account for about 90% of them).

Buttercups, which have runners sort of like strawberry plants on steroids.

Bittercress, which looks sort of like watercress only — what’s the opposite of on steroids?  Anyway, it’s puny.   But it also produces a tiny white flower that rapidly turns into a seedpod that will deploy dozens of seeds for several yards in any direction if so much as touched, so it needs to be yanked before it does that.

Ladies’ bedstraw, which is evil, because it grows all twisty and turny through everything else, is sticky, and will break at the slightest provocation unless you get hold of it at the very base then pull so gently as to be almost imperceptible.

And, of course, dandelions.  Does any garden not have dandelions?  And, wow, that photo makes them look a lot prettier than they really are.

At least I don’t have bindweed in this garden the way I did in my last one (she says, crossing her fingers).

So, the back flower bed is weeded and ready for sowing cold-hardy annual seeds, which I will do on Monday because it’s supposed to rain on Tuesday and that will wash the seeds in and give them a good start.  I will be sowing poppies, candytuft, bachelor’s buttons, linaria, and godetia.

Now I just need to cathart (is that a word?) myself some more.  The front flower bed awaits.

Midwest Book Review

Well, I’ve done something completely new, at least for me.  I had ordered some more print copies of my books from CreateSpace, mostly for a local signing I’m going to be doing on March 18th, and they arrived today.

The last time I ordered copies from CreateSpace, it took them three weeks to arrive, so I was allowing plenty of time for them to get here.  This time it took three days.  Go figure.

Anyway, I’ve been dithering about sending Repeating History to the Midwest Book Review for a while because you have to send them the print version, and now that I have some spare copies, I thought, why not now?  So I put together a press release, and I wrote a cover letter (both required), and I packed up the requisite two copies, and I will mail the package off tomorrow.

Here’s hoping they decide to review it.  Bookstores and libraries read the Midwest Book Review — it’s one of the few review sources that concentrates on small press and indie published books that can say that.

Oh, and the signing?  I’ll be one of a group of several female historical writers who will be a part of a program (no, I’m not the speaker, thank all the gods) celebrating women’s history month, put on by the Lakewood Historical Society.   Good times.

Here’s how I introduced Repeating History in the cover letter:

Repeating History is a time travel novel set in the Old West, specifically the early years of Yellowstone National Park.  It takes place back in the days when to be a tourist in the park was to take your life in your hands.  This was not only because of natural hazards like geysers and bears, but because of the flight of the Nez Perce Indians through the Yellowstone country on their way to Canada in 1877, not to mention the soldiers pursuing them.

I like to say that Repeating History is ninety percent history, ten percent fantasy.  I believe it would appeal to those who enjoy coming of age stories, the Old West, and those who enjoy a romance along with their history and adventure.

Hopefully that’s enticing enough…

Welcome to Much Ado in Montana

So.  I’m back to my roots in one way, and about as far away from my roots as I can get otherwise.

Back about twenty years ago, when I was rather desperate in a lot of ways, I took a job in a small town in the mountains of Montana.  For someone who’d grown up in suburban Los Angeles, Denver, and San Francisco, it was one heck of a culture shock.  Twenty-five hundred people in town, twenty-five thousand in a county the size of Connecticut.  The nearest mall was ninety miles away, and the the movie theater was only open three nights a week.

I didn’t stay there very long, because I was offered another position near Seattle a few months after I arrived, and western Washington was where I really wanted to be.  But by the time I left, I knew I was going to miss that little town in Montana, where a traffic jam consisted of three cars and a moose, where a federal wilderness area was less than a dozen miles from town, and whose residents called it the Last Best Place.

I still sort of miss the fact that I could not walk down the street there without someone calling out, “Hey, Meg, how are you?”  When I first moved there, my employment as the first degreed reference librarian they’d ever had put my picture on the front page of the bi-weekly newspaper, so everyone knew my name.  I never did get to the point where I could say, “Fine!  How are you?” without wanting to add, “Do I know you?”

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to set a book in my small town in Montana.  Much Ado in Montana, which will be coming out the end of March, is about a small-town librarian who falls in love with the doctor who comes back home.  No, it’s not a Mary Sue.  Tara Hillerman has lived in Campbell, Montana, all of her life except for college, and she wouldn’t leave it again on a bet.  Timothy Swanson, however, has no intention of staying when he comes home to help his ailing father close up the only medical clinic in town.

What happens when bets are actually made and Tim’s father comes way too close to ruining their best friends’ love life is the stuff Shakespearean homages are made of.

If you click on this link, you can read the first chapter.  I hope you’ll want to read Much Ado in Montana when it comes out this spring.

2013 that was

2013 was a pretty good year, all in all.  I marked the twentieth anniversary of my move here to Washington state, which is the longest I’ve ever lived in one area in my life (albeit at five addresses during those two decades).

I finished my third published novel (Finding Home) and wrote a short story (“Homesick“) and a non-fiction book (Cross-Country), and started revising and adding to another manuscript that I wrote years ago, deciding that it needed to see the light of day.

I’ve been researching for a new series that will be set in the coal mining country just outside of the northwest corner of Mt. Rainier National Park, around the turn of the last century.

On the publishing end of things, I took several classes on how to create print books and make better covers, and how to write better blurbs, and one that failed spectacularly to teach me how to market my books, and another (from another teacher) that did rather better, although I’m just beginning to learn how much I don’t know about marketing.

I created print versions via CreateSpace for all four books in my Time in Yellowstone series, which was a major milestone for me.  And a huge, huge learning curve, even though I already knew how to use InDesign.

On the museum front, I finished my third exhibit for a local historical society and started a fourth, and worked with another local historical society to help them get more use out of the PastPerfect collections software they’d purchased.

And I finished a bed-sized quilt I’d been working on, off and on, since 2010, as well as several other smaller projects, both quilted and cross-stitched.

I didn’t really travel this year, except for my annual trip to visit my mother in Texas last spring, and a week’s trip down to Oregon to visit gardens and do some research for a book I’m not sure I’m going to write now [wry g].  It happens.

As for 2014, I want to finish the novel-in-progress, and write at least two more books and publish them all, and keep plugging away on the marketing thing.  And land some more museum work, and finish the new quilt, and do some more work on the garden.

And I want to go somewhere I haven’t been before.  Or at least somewhere I haven’t been since I was a kid.  But I also suspect I’ll be going back to Yellowstone, too, now that I have paper books I might be able to interest people in.  I hope.

And those are my goals for 2014.  Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!

Cross-Country: Adventures Alone Across America and Back

400T E cover

I am proud to announce the publication of my new book, a non-fiction travel narrative entitled  Cross-Country:  Adventures Alone Across America and Back:

After a childhood of summers spent in the back seat of a car, and four months before the turn of the millenium, M.M. Justus decided to follow in the footsteps of her heroes John Steinbeck and William Least-Heat Moon, not to mention Bill Bryson, and drive alone across America’s backroads for three months.  Like the bear going over the mountain, she wanted to see what she could see.

The places she visited ranged from the homely to the exotic, from the Little Town on the Prairie to Scotty’s Castle, from New York’s Twin Towers to an ‘alien’ landing site in Wyoming.  From snow in Vermont to the tropical heat of New Orleans. 

After over 14,000 miles, history both public and personal, and one life-changing event, she finally arrived back where she’d started from, only to discover it wasn’t the same place she’d left behind at all.
It is available in print through Amazon and CreateSpace, and through other retailers coming soon, and as digital editions through Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers coming soon:

You can read the first chapter for free here:

Thank you for your time.

M.M. Justus

I’m going to miss this place

A sad story aired on the local news here about a month ago.  Van Lierop Bulb Farm is no more.  They’re closing down operations due to the owners’ retirement, and the shop, and more importantly, the display garden, will be closing for good at the end of May.  This leaves the Puyallup Valley, about an hour south of Seattle and once one of the world’s pre-eminent daffodil growing areas, with only one active bulb farm where their used to be over a dozen.

Change can be good.  But this change sure isn’t.

I mean, I understand about wanting to retire, and I understand about children not necessarily wanting to work in the family business, and I also understand about how it’s at least partly land values that have pushed farming out of the fertile valleys within commuting distance of the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

At any rate, I made one last daffodil-season visit to Van Lierop’s a couple of weeks ago, and took pictures of the display garden.  While it was really obvious that the annual bulb-planting did not happen this past fall, daffodils are perennial bulbs, as are several other kinds.  And the trees and shrubs were still beautiful.  But the patches of ground where tulips and hyacinths, which aren’t as reliably perennial, used to crowd in past years were so bare.

Van Lierop’s was the place for Easter pictures in my neck of the woods, and a beautiful place on any given day between early March and early May.  And I’m going to miss it something fierce.

A view of the display garden at Van Lierop's.
A view of the display garden at Van Lierop’s.
And another view, with weeping cherry trees.
And another view, with weeping cherry trees.
Traditional yellow daffodils.
Traditional yellow daffodils.
One forlorn clump of tulips.
One forlorn clump of tulips.
A river of grape hyacinths, which would have been surrounded by tulips in past years.
A river of grape hyacinths, which would have been surrounded by tulips in past years.
And another.
More daffodils.  These are called Ice Follies.
Pieris japonica, one of our mainstay landscaping shrubs here.
Pieris japonica, one of our mainstay landscaping shrubs here.
That's a blue squill in that enormous bed of hardy cyclamen foliage.
That’s a blue squill in that enormous bed of hardy cyclamen foliage.
A bed full of daffodils.
A bed full of daffodils.
An artsy view of the flowers.
An artsy view of the flowers.
Daffodils don't have to be yellow.
Daffodils don’t have to be yellow.  These are descendants of a pink variety called Mrs. R.O. Backhouse.

Happy Thanksgiving

In spite of  the L-tryptophan-induced drowsiness from too much turkey (and too much pie, and way too much of my friend L’s magnificent mashed potatoes), here I am to make a list of what I am thankful for.  This also gives me a great excuse if I forget anything.

So, out of order, although there probably is a particular order I should be putting them in:

I’m thankful that any economic/financial issues I may have are decidedly first-world ones.  I have a lovely roof over my head, more than adequate nutrition and clothing, and a great many of my wants as well as my needs are mine to use and enjoy.

I’m thankful for the traveling I’ve been able to do.

I’m thankful for the fledgling business that is my day job.  I’m thankful that I find it interesting and challenging, and to be able to find people willing to pay me to do it.  There are times I wish it could be doing better, but if there are reasons it isn’t, well, it’s probably because I don’t devote myself to it singlemindedly 24/7/365.  And I don’t want to.  So it’s my choice, and I’m satisfied with it.

I’m thankful for my friends.  I have some seriously wonderful friends, and you know who you are.

I’m thankful my 88-year-old mother is still going strong and maintaining her independence.

I’m thankful for the new cats in my life.  I never thought I would appreciate two healthy normal untraumatized kittens so much as I have since the fiasco last year.  The boys eat what I put in front of them, they drink enough water, they use the litterbox religiously, they’re beautiful, playful, and affectionate, and I really couldn’t ask for more.

And I am thankful for being able to write, and for those who have read and enjoyed my books.  I hope to keep writing for as long as I can, and I hope people keep enjoying what I write for as long as I can write it and beyond.

Happy Thanksgiving!