Along Those Lines will be published on
May 13, 2014
The irony of the writer's life is that the greatest obstacle to his writing is often the need to write. In my case, the last month has certainly involved a bunch of distractions from posting my thoughts here--travel, family, work, you name it--but I must confess myself ironically amused at how many of those distractions have involved writing in some way.
For one thing, there was the editing of Along Those Lines
, which did, I'll grant you, involve a lot of reading as well as writing. In this modern age, the edit was done not on the printed page, but on a PDF. I simply highlighted all the places where changes needed to be made and explained the change in a marginal note... except of course that I used no highlighter and had no actual margins. It's a little weird not having a paper copy, but Paul Dry Books assures me that the next version of the book will be a physical ARC for me to peruse. And of course, I'll end up having to write in that, too.
There's also been the matter of doing publicity for the book, a task for which I have little natural talent, but I do at least have a fair number of friends who can help me by writing blurbs. These friends, however, must be asked to write blurbs, so a lot of my recent writing has been solicitations to writerly friends and acquaintances. A goodly number of them have accepted this onerous task and are even now looking over PDFs and/or awaiting ARCs so that they can accomplish it. I'm excited, since this group includes some wonderful writers who will make me look far better by association than I probably deserve. Paul Dry Books is gearing up for a couple of interesting attempts at publicity, and I hope to have news about them in a few weeks. And then I'll have to write that news here.
And naturally, there's been plenty of writing on student papers. As we approach the end of the winter trimester, I'm having the usual rush of students signing up for last-minute writing conferences. (The deadline for turning in revisions of papers is Friday, and I don't let them revise a paper until we've conferred about it.) Sure, I have to read them, and I have to speak with them about their work, but a surprising amount of what I'm doing involves writing comments and suggestions on their papers, which sort of seems unfair. I mean, I understand why I have to write marginal notes on my own writing--why do I have to share the wealth with others?
I've also done some writing on Facebook and Twitter, though those platforms tend to support only short bursts of thought, rather than the sustained pieces of thinking I usually try to write here, so I'm not sure they should count.
In the end, though, all of this writing is focused on writing about a piece of writing that already exists, except that it isn't in print yet, so more writing must be done in order to get it into print. And then, sometime in May, the book will be out and in everyone's hand and I won't have to write about it any more.
I hope by then I've still got something left to say. 11:38 AM
For one thing, the songbirds come hit the feeder--hard. I had made a special trip to the Food Lion to pick up supplies for a snowy day, and aside from the usual stuff (milk, juice, vanilla soy milk for our coffee), I snagged two bags of birdseed. (The usual sunflower-only bags were sold out; apparently unshelled black sunflower seeds are an important part of some people's snow-day preparations.)
After filling the feeder on our backyard dogwood tree, I returned to the house, and about a half-hour later, when I looked out back, I saw quite a lot going on in the branches of the dogwood. The first thing I saw, as is often the case on a snowy day, was the brilliant red of a male Northern Cardinal. There's simply no higher-contrast winter bird in the southeast. This one, however, had a breast of an even more intense red than usual, I believe, and his position in the near branches of the tree made him as visible as a bird could ever be.
He wasn't alone, however. A female was perched near him, and as I trained my binoculars around, I realized that the dogwood was practically dripping with American Goldfinches--a dozen or more. They're in their butterscotch winter plumage, which makes the males much harder to spot than they are when their lemon-yellow breeding feathers comes in, but when they move, you can pin them down fairly quickly, and they're smaller than anything else in the yard (except the boldly patterned chickadees.) There were always a couple on the feeder ports, and they'd exchange places with a few others every so often, not to mention yielding a place to one of the chickadees or titmice that were also making frenzied dives onto the feeder for seed.
Naturally, the classic "snowbirds" appeared: Dark-eyed Juncos were hopping from the dogwood's branches onto the feeder every so often--surprising for a bird that usually feeds on the ground--and eventually I saw the brownish-gray back of a White-throated Sparrow perched on a twig and--
Just a damn minute.
This dogwood isn't huge; it's probably only about twenty-odd feet high, and about that big in diameter. But its branches are still WAY higher than you'll typically see a white-throat hanging out. They're birds of the low shrubs and briars, lurkers under hedges, big-time ground feeders. Why the hell wasn't it on the ground, picking up all the spilled seed?
And then it hit me.
When small birds are gathered in large numbers in a confined space, it usually means they're keeping an eye on something. And when they're refusing to feed on the ground, it's because doing so isn't safe.
I quickly scanned the back branches of the dogwood and there he was: what I presume is the same immature Red-shouldered Hawk I first spotted back in November.
The hawk, now named "Wilberforce" for reasons too complex to explain at this juncture, was unsuccessful in claiming one of my yard's songbirds for his lunch. He dropped to the ground at one point in an attempt to seize a junco, but it escaped. He returned to the tree for a bit, allowing me to snap a picture of him (one which I'm having difficulty loading onto the site for some reason...), but before long he was sailing off to the pine trees in my neighbor's yard, where I hope he'll find better hunting.
But sometimes putting out food for the songbirds means putting out food for the predators, too.
Hmm. What's this?
Ah. That would be our Christmas card from 2013, taken by the lovely and talented Marissa Bolen.
And a Happy New Year to you!
Barring radical developments in the next few hours, I will finish calendar year 2013 having:
1. read 69 books, four of which were from my must-read list: Kage Baker's The Life of the World to Come
, Terry Pratchett's Dodger
, David Quammen's Spillover
, and Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth
2. finished and sold one book of my own, Along Those Lines: The Boundaries That Create Our World
, due from Paul Dry Books in spring of 2014.
3. logged 20 new life birds (bookended with Short-eared Owl in Virginia in January and Burrowing Owl in Utah in June).
4. totalled 164 bird species seen for the year.
5. raised my life list to 410 species, partly because I realized I had never added the Eurasian Treecreeper I saw at Blenheim Palace in 1999.
6. added three (Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana) to the list of states where I have logged a life bird, raising the total to 35.
7. added three (ID, WY, and MT) to the list of states I have visited, leaving only WI, MN, OK, ND, SD, WA, OR, and AK.
8. seen one son graduate from college and another win the Funniest Ram on Campus contest.
9. celebrated my 27th wedding anniversary.
10. completed my 50th orbit around the sun.
Busy year. 2:59 PM
(If you don't know, the term "Decemberween" comes from homestarrunner.com, now on seemingly permanent hiatus; it signifies a gift-centered winter holiday coming 55 days after Halloween.)
I hope nobody got coal or switches in a stocking, and further hope that nobody got involved in a fistfight with any grievance-waving yahoos complaining about the War on Christmas. (If such a contest even exists, the score is now something like 2013 to zero in favor of Christmas.) I myself had a busy, busy few weeks, culminating in a mad dash to North Carolina for our families back-to-back Xmas celebrations. We've basically been opening presents since Saturday and haven't quite finished yet, giving this particular yuletide a very Hanukkah-like "six crazy nights" vibe. Among my goodies were the usual: books (Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth
, John Varley's Slow Apocalypse
, and G.B. Edwards' The Book of Ebenezer LePage
, which trusted people have been urging me to read for about a decade now), CDs (The Red Clay Ramblers' It Ain't Right
, Brian Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets
, and the soundtrack to Northern Exposure
), and DVDs (Season 5 of the aforementioned Northern Exposure
and the stuffed-in-a-collector's-tin four-disc 25th Anniversary Edition of Mystery Science Theater 3000
, featuring the long unavailable episodes Mitchell
and The Brain That Wouldn't Die
.) There was also clothing, a Charley Harper calendar and coloring book, and too much chocolate.
All that helped me get over one bit of disappointing news: it appears that the publication of Along Those Lines
will be delayed until spring.
In some ways, this is good, as February 11th was coming toward me rapidly and I was getting a little concerned about trying to look over a proof while trying to get Woodberry's black box play ready for production on January 23rd. I was also a long way from done with my preparations for the book's release--for example, updating this website, planning publicity announcements and appearances, and contacting far-flung friends to tell them I'd be coming through. With the spring release, I hope to have time for all that. It does, however, mean that my plan to spend spring break on a reading tour will have to be abandoned, and that I don't get the rest of my advance for a couple more months.
Honestly, though, I'm most disappointed by the simple fact that the book won't be out. At this point, I've been working on bits of it for a decade, and at this point I'm really, really ready for it it to be a physical thing, rather than a plan. Writers sometimes compare the time between acceptance and publication to pregnancy, and at this point I kind of see the validity of the idea; I want this thing OUT of me, dammit.
In any case, the due date is now likely to be in April or May, and once I've got a firm date from Paul Dry Books I'll certainly post the information here. Have a happy new year and any other holidays you may wish to celebrate! 2:17 PM
And don't forget, if you're looking for a present for your loved ones this Thanksgiving... or Hanukkah... or Christmas... okay, really, it won't be out till February 11th, so it'll have to be Valentine's Day... then consider a copy of ALONG THOSE LINES: THE BOUNDARIES THAT CREATE OUR WORLD
Less tryptophan than turkey!
Fewer fire hazards than a menorah!
Way less commercialized than Christmas presents!
Earlier today I looked out the back window and saw that my Yankee Flipper feeder had become the center of a yard bird frenzy. My usual visitors--Tufted Titmouses, particularly, but also Carolina Chickadees, American Goldfinches, House Finches, and the occasional White-breasted Nuthatch--were flapping around the dogwood with great energy. Joining them were a few woodpeckers--a Downy and a boldly-capped male Red-bellied--and even a couple larger songbirds. I caught white flashes, so before I even had the binoculars up, I was fairly sure they were Northern Mockingbirds. What the heck were THEY doing hanging around a feeder full of sunflower seeds? Mockers are much more likely to go after insects and other small prey; they're just not feeder birds. This didn't make any kind of--
That was the moment the gigantic brown bird flew up from the grass where I couldn't see it. It settled on a dogwood branch for a few minutes, with mockers and titmice and woodpeckers all chanting and circling and occasionally flying in from behind to scratch or peck hastily it.
It was an immature Red-Shouldered Hawk. And it was almost certainly eating one of my feeder birds.
Is it wrong of me to want it to come back?
Last night we did this:
Today we do this:
http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/wfs.portal#Click here at 2:00 this afternoon
to hear yours truly and partner Greg Jacobs bringing you all the action from the South's oldest continuous football rivalry, WFS vs. Episcopal.
Sometimes the Internet is good to me.
I have been waiting, for some time, to find an interactive map of the US that I could color-code. Why? Because I'd like a visual guide to my continuing quest to see a life bird in all fifty states.
Today, thanks to one of the kindly members of Ta-Nehisi Coates' Golden Horde, I found such a map here
And if you want a look for yourself, behold:
The 35 pink states are states where I have logged at least one life bird as of this writing; the seven blue states show where my birding attempts have so far gone for naught; and the eight green states are those I have not yet visited.
It's comforting to know that I'm sitting at 70%. And that I can now see it for myself in a snappy graphic display. Thanks, Julie! And thanks, blogger/photographer Jeremy Nixon! 1:49 PM