waiting... waiting...

My birthday present arrived today.

It's a glorious toy. My darling stepmother came up with the idea on New Year's Day: an early boon for my writing career and bookselling business in the form of a new MacBook Pro. My mother and stepfather, my grandmother and my dear friend Andy all joined in, and I get a new computer to replace my five-year-old iBook that has needed several hundred dollars' worth of repair in the last eighteen months.

In case I haven't said it enough yet.... thank you, family. Without your support, I'd never have written any of my books. (I leave it to you, Dear Readers, to decide if that's a good thing.)

Given how I usually use things until they're worn down to nubs... for example, my fourteen-year-old microwave, my hand-me-down television that snows over if I plug my computer into the same power strip, the ripped-up remnant of my mother's old fruits-and-vegetables couch, the surviving battalion of bookshelves dating back to my first college apartment - my iBook still has a bit of life to it.

But a shiny new MacBook means I can do all the things I need to do and stop worrying about how I'm going to replace the iBook when it dies. Plus, the kid gets the iBook, which will help him become more computer-literate and make him happy. I spent last weekend installing about 400 parental controls.

I am waiting to play with my new toy.

See, I thought it would be easier to transfer my files from the old laptop to the new one via my wireless network. It was an option on the Migration Assistant screen, so why not use it? It worked like a charm, until I saw that it would take TWENTY FRIGGING HOURS to complete.

What? Transferring from my father's old desktop to my iBook in 2005 took about twenty minutes. I even called Apple and asked how I stop the transfer so I can try it again with a Firewire cable - I could cannibalize one from my modem/router setup. They said it was a bad idea - it could screw up the transfer, require me to reinstall the entire operating system. Best to just let it finish.

Eleven hours and forty-three minutes to go.

I am so frustrated. In this amount of time, I could have manually transferred every file I wanted, including the music and TV episodes. I could have created a new user profile and customized the whole thing, reinstalled my software by hand, set all my preferences and organized every file, and still had time to try out that funky trackpad. Hell, by this time I feel like I could have RETYPED all my files from scratch and restored my modem and router as a side note.

I've had my shiny new laptop all day and haven't gotten to play with it.

Setting aside my frustration with Apple - and yes, contrary to popular belief I do have frustrations with Apple, just because it's my tool of choice doesn't make it perfect - it seems the Muse has chosen a particularly bad time to wake up.

With both my old laptop and new one mating with pornographic abandon on my desk, all my files are temporarily withheld from me. (But Donald, how can you be talking to us? Shh. That's between you and me, grasshopper.) The Muse therefore thinks now is a great time to fix that nagging plot point in BLACKFIRE, the working title of the new book.

I didn't always outline every book. But I've had so many cases of writers' block, so many instances of wandering narrative and painting myself into literary corners, that I've fallen onto extensive outlining to keep myself on track. Usually a solid outline makes me happy - it's a roadmap to a new adventure.

But more than that, an outline is the story as it exists in my head. I know how a book begins, and I usually know how it ends. In between I have some good ideas, and I know it'll twist and turn around a bit, but as a whole I know my book before I get started.

The problem is, the book is never as good on paper as it was in my head.

Take THE COLD ONES. I knew from the beginning how I wanted it to end. I wasn't sure about the flashbacks and I didn't know who would die and who would live, but the final scene... that was a standoff I wanted.

It was an ending that had great power over me. The whole time I was writing the book, I kept that ending in my head. Everything was tilted toward that ending - it was practically inevitable. I dreamed that scene, it had so much power in my imagination. There were times when I got bogged down in other scenes and wanted to skip ahead, write the ending and then go back to this. Almost did it a few times, too.

And when I finally wrote it, I thought, "Well, that sucked."

It didn't suck. It just wasn't nearly as good on paper as it was in my head. Not the first time, or the second. I was still futzing around with it when I finally sent it to the publisher. At a certain point, my editors have to wrest the damn manuscript out of my hands and tell me to pour a goddamn bourbon, it's done. Fortunately Tyree Campbell is more diplomatic than that. The man has the patience of a saint. So does Mary Moran, who lived and suffered through three (3) Nocturnal Urges books.

No book is ever really done. Not if you ask the author.

What does this have to do with the status bar on my new laptop?

The Muse thinks she knows how to solve the problem with BLACKFIRE. And I rather like the story... but it isn't as good as it should be. It isn't as good as I want it to be. And that bodes trouble, as it's only an outline and a few character sketches at this point. I don't love it, not like I loved THE COLD ONES and DREADMIRE before that and ABADDON before that. I love my books like a mother loves her children, and if they turn out a little rougher than you'd like - DREADMIRE, I'm lookin' at you - they're still your babies. Still your books.

BLACKFIRE wants to be good. BLACKFIRE wants to rip your heart out and feed it to you. And the story just isn't there yet. Nobody's going to care who I kill. Nobody's going to be afraid of my monster.

And yet.

The Muse keeps showing me Sara.

She's sitting on a beach, but it's not some sunny photo out of a screensaver. It's the cold dark hours in the middle of the night, past the time the barkeeps have closed the doors and swept the peanut shells into the street.

The wind coming off the ocean is cold, just cold enough to keep her awake but not chill enough to drive her indoors. It lifts her hair off her neck - it's longer now, not much but a little. She doesn't care about the sand in her shoes. She's listening to the gentle murmur of the Atlantic rushing relentlessly up the shore and retreating back to the depths.

She's alone. She watches the ocean, and she doesn't care about the cold. She's not hunting anything. She has a gun, because she's Sara. But it lies beside her - carefully placed on a rock, so she won't have to clean sand out of the barrel later. She doesn't want it.

The sound of the waves keeps her awake. That's what she tells herself. That's why she never sleeps, but she wouldn't think of going anywhere else. It's the waves, their constant rushing whisper up against the rocks and the sand. Its faint metallic smell wafts up the shore and into the open windows of the cottage behind her, the only place she calls home.

There is blood on her hands.

The Muse is losing her patience. The status bar crawls to the right. Slowly. And tomorrow there will be news to write, software to install, chores to be done, meetings to attend. Tomorrow there will be no time to play.

BLACKFIRE. It wants to be written. It doesn't feel ready. The story isn't ready. But Sara is.


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