My Friend Walt

I have a lot of river friends, and someday I’ll probably tell you about them, but today I want to focus on just one. Last summer, I met an elderly man named Walt and his Chesapeake Retriever, Salem, who was as old as Walt in dog years. They often came to the river in the mornings, but at that point I wasn’t yet feeding cheese to dogs and mostly only speaking to people who’d spoken to me first.

I always back my truck into the spot closest to the path, which makes it easier to unload my chairs and table. One day as I got out, this man commented that I could back up better than most men he knew. I thanked him and had a good chuckle over that. A few days later, when I saw him speaking to a mutual friend, Geoff, he mentioned it again. While I know some people would consider that sexist, I took into account his age and life experience, and I recognized it as the compliment he intended it to be. We quickly became river friends, greeting each other each time we met. We discussed all kinds of amazing things: the depth of the Willamette, the age of the basalt, Taoism, writing, and much more that I’ve forgotten. I learned he’d spent much of his life being his own boss and that he’d built many of the houseboats on the Willamette River. He was impressed that I was working for myself, and particularly that I was writing—following my passion. In fact, “impressed” doesn’t accurately describe it. To use a word that would suit him immensely, he was tickled by it, approving and supportive, like a grandpa who couldn’t be more proud.

Walt was soft-spoken and gentle. Thoughtful in the sense that he took the time to deeply consider the things you said. And he was respectful. Unlike most of my river friends, who will come up and engage me without thinking too much about interrupting my work, Walt would greet me with a brief hello then try to move along, saying he didn’t want to disturb me. I often had to tell him not to rush off, that I really wanted to visit with him.

When a couple of weeks passed without me seeing Walt, I asked Geoff about it, and he said Walt was recovering from a heart attack, and that he’d had many of them. Walt confirmed this a while later when he made it back to the river. As the good days dwindled and the rains returned, I knew Walt might not make it through the winter. But I had hope.

Last May, when the unrelenting rains finally relented, I thought of Walt as I backed into my favorite parking spot. (The truth is, I can never back that truck into my spot without thinking of him.) It took a few weeks for me to reconnect with my river friends, first Barbara and then Jim, who’s seventeen-year-old dog Katie was still going strong. Eventually, I saw Geoff. I wondered about Walt and hoped he was still around. Then a new friend, Joann, told me he’d died in his sleep, and that Salem had sensed it was coming, standing by his chair staring at him most of the day. According to his son, Walt had thought Salem was letting him know her own life was ending.

It was sad, knowing I’d never see Walt again, but it wasn’t unexpected. It wasn’t like there was anything I could do about it. Except there sort of was.

Those of you who’ve read The McCall Initiative know that Jefferson Cooper had a mentor, David Daskalov, who took the passionate young activist under his wing and shaped him into the successful leader of a secession movement. Dave died of what Jefferson thought was a heart attack, but later learned was murder. In Season 2, I wanted to explore a little more of that relationship. To do that, I needed to figure out who David Daskalov was. The one thing I knew about him was that he was a compassionate, nurturing, person whose friendship Jefferson deeply valued. So when I started mulling over Dave’s character, it seemed natural that Walt would be the perfect person to model him after. I wasn’t sure I knew Walt well enough to do this successfully, but then I realized it didn’t matter. The important thing was crafting a character who represented my experience of Walt—who Walt was to me.

I’ve now written two of those flashback scenes, and I’m sure there will be more. I’m happy with them, and three beta readers (including my “it works for me” husband) have given me the thumbs up. The people I’ve mentioned this to think it’s cool, that I’ve done a nice thing. But this was more than just a tribute. The truth is, knowing Walt was a gift and an honor. Writing him into my series is a way of preserving my memory of him. It’s a means of keeping a briefly known but very special friend alive in my heart.


“My Friend Walt,” copyright © 2017 by Lisa Nowak.

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A New Beginning

Some of you know that the last six years have been intensely stressful for me. I’ve always been a busy person, but for a long time I did my writing in the winter and my landscaping in the summer, so the busy-ness was at least manageable. Once I started publishing, I had to write all year long, as well as throw marketing into the mix. There were additional stressful events throughout much of this, and also some volunteer obligations. My many efforts to make this situation better often made it worse.

In July, when my landscaping schedule slowed down, I looked at my calendar, working out how many days I could spend at the river. I wanted to take a little time off, but whenever I tried to schedule it, something came up and I had to delay it. How could I take a vacation when there were all these jobs I had to finish?

Then the volunteer gig began to threaten my precious and limited river time. I realized I’d reached a do-or-die point. I was sick of living in such a state of overwhelm. I was tired of never having the free time everyone else takes for granted. And I could no longer wait for a lull, for the universe to take pity on me. I had to jump in with both feet and force a change. So in the midst of this mindset that there was no way I could bail on the volunteer thing or let down my customers, I decided, pretty much in an instant, that I was quitting the volunteer thing and taking two weeks off. I wrote a letter to the organization. I texted and emailed my customers.

And you know what happened? No one told me I was an evil, selfish person. No one told me I was weak and irresponsible. My customers said, “Good! Enjoy yourself. See you in two weeks.”

I spent every available second of that time at the river (even though Mama Nature decided to be a smartass and set the thermostat for those days between 90 and 105 degrees, half of them smoky and the other half humid). Though I reveled in the pure bliss of this break, the sheer luxury of being able to spend all day writing in my happy place, I was also anxious every moment I wasn’t actually at the river.

At the end of my vacation, I wasn’t rested. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t ready to go back to work. And I felt annoyed with myself. What the hell was wrong with me? Couldn’t I ever be satisfied? Maybe I was just one of those people who liked being miserable and would always find something to complain about.

So I resigned myself to completing the landscaping jobs I had scheduled, feeling anxious almost every moment of them, and fit in every bit of river time I could afterward or on my days off. I kept writing, and talking to my river friends, and feeding cheese to dogs. I kept taking pictures of sunsets, and waiting for the Portland Spirit to cruise by, and keeping my finger on the pulse of the tides. And by the time August rolled into September, I started to figure it out. I hadn’t been happy at the end of the two weeks because I’d spent more than three hundred and twelve weeks building up to that level of stress. I didn’t want to leave the river or go back to my landscaping jobs because everything apart from that haven was a reminder of the never-ending demands, the constant tension, the perpetual feeling of failure to get it all done and do it right. I saw the end of my vacation not as merely going back to work, but as resigning myself to that same unmanageable level of output for the rest of my life.

And something in me rebelled.

So I started to be selfish, to totally and completely indulge my need to be at the river. I started ignoring my feelings of obligation to answer emails, respond to Facebook comments, and always say yes to friends’ requests. I started saying “no,” and even “hell no.” And I started getting really, really mad at anything and anyone that dared cut into my river time.

Then I realized something. The only person I had to be mad at was me. I had chosen everything I was doing, everything I was giving time to. I had brought it all upon myself. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt like all these obligations had been thrust upon me by the world—that I had no choice. That if I didn’t meet them, I’d be a horrible, selfish, irresponsible person. And in a way this feeling was accurate, because I hadn’t been born thinking in this unhealthy, perfectionistic way. I was taught to do it.

At the same time this whole experience was happening, I was working on something else. I’ve signed up for a Master Business Class in late October, taught by authors Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, so I was re-reading Kris’s branding blog posts and doing the homework in preparation. That led to reading her Discoverability series, and then Dean’s Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing posts, and then even more wisdom by both of these accomplished authors. My dream at the beginning of my vacation was to be able to sit by the river and write full time. Dean and Kris were giving me a blueprint to do it. And unlike so many fledgling indie “marketing experts” who hit upon success quickly with their first books and because of it assumed they know the secret to success, Dean and Kris have been making money off their fiction, in traditional and indie markets, since the ’80s. They’ve owned publishing businesses and brick-and-mortar stores. They know marketing as it relates to business in general, not just as it relates to what’s working at this moment in a very young and ever-changing industry.

What’s more, Dean and Kris are very clear on one philosophy: the most important rules in an industry full of taboos and restrictions are, be true to your own distinct voice, tell an engaging story, and have fun doing it. The more I read of their blogs, the more I realized all my gut instincts have been right: the things I’ve felt about marketing my books, the things I’ve sensed about the indie publishing movement, and the things I knew about my own work.

That agent who told me Cody had no voice? WRONG. The one who said Race was too nice and Cody was too troubled? WRONG. The one who said no one would want to read a story about racing? WRONG. The beta reader who harped on all the things I needed to change in the first episode of The McCall Initiative? WRONG. The former friend who thought I should toughen up and meekly accept her snarky, cutting comments? WRONG. The successful indie author who implied that if I wasn’t selling books, it was because I wasn’t working hard enough? WRONG.

The truth is, my writing is not the problem in this equation, my stories are simply not the right fit for those particular readers. Or, in some cases, the critiquers have swallowed the current New York Kool-Aid about The Only Way To Write A Book. I was blessed with a strong sense of self, an innate resistance to being coerced into changing or complying. It’s caused me a lot of problems throughout my life. It got me slammed against lockers in middle school. It branded me a troublemaker and a poor sport. But as I watch writers agonize over fitting their writing into an artificial mold, as I see them struggle to rediscover the unique voice they’ve polished out of their work, I realize how incredibly lucky I am. And I know that my instinct to avoid the naysayers is not a weakness. It’s damned good sense.

To bring this back around and wrap it up, I’ve recently discover that so much of what I’m learning from Dean and Kris parallels my journey to regain control of my life. It’s a lesson of empowerment—of assertiveness. A lesson in not meekly submitting and accepting the slot other people want to force you into.

I don’t think I could have learned this lesson without the river. I feel certain I needed an enduring experience of real contentment, real peace, to understand that something better was possible.

Summer is over, and for now I’ve had to leave my happy place. But unlike last fall, when doing so meant slipping back into an exhausting, out-of-control life, this year I’ve brought the river with me. It’s a strong, silent force I’ve drawn deep into my being. A symbol of empowerment.

The river means fighting for what I’ve chosen for myself. It means standing up to long-ago voices, as well as those that continue to scream for power and control. It means saying “hell no” loud and clear.

It means proudly embracing the self I was born to be.

“A New Beginning,” copyright © 2017 by Lisa Nowak.

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Selfish, Lazy, and Irresponsible

When I take the Myers-Briggs test, I don’t get a definitive answer on any of the categories except Judge. That one, I peg. But I only recently realized it’s myself, more than anyone else, that I focus this judgment on. I mean, I’ve always known I’m hard on myself, that I have a lot of “shoulds” and I’m constantly floundering in guilt. But I’ve never made the connection between that one definitive category of the Myers-Briggs and the way I overanalyze every detail of my life.

Any criticism anyone has ever leveled at me, any reprimand or judgment, I’ve filed away. I pull these out on a regular basis and scrutinize them, flogging myself for all the ways I don’t measure up. No matter how minor or ridiculous a reprimand might be, I’ll examine it to the nth degree because I’m terrified it might be true. After all, it’s common knowledge that while everyone else is allowed to make mistakes, I’m supposed to be perfect, right? And this isn’t just me passing judgment on myself. It’s the fear that everyone around me is making similar evaluations. The people I know, and those I’ve just met, evaluating the way I dress, the things I write, the books I read, and all the ways I’m woefully deficient. Every stranger I meet is not a potential friend, but my old eighth grade class, waiting to eviscerate me. And anyone who pays me a compliment is just a well-intentioned but misguided soul who would surely think differently if they had the facts.

I really hate living like this, so I’ve made considerable efforts to try to change the way I think. But I can’t seem to erase the long-ago voice that started it all. The one that told me how selfish, lazy, and irresponsible I was, proclaiming that any effort to give myself a break was a cop-out. Fortunately, I have one small talisman of reassurance. A thumb-worn worry-stone of memory that grounds me.

When I was in high school, I had the good fortune to be an Outdoor School junior counselor. For those of you who don’t live in Oregon, Outdoor School is a program that takes sixth-graders out to the woods for a week to educate them about the environment. Junior counselors are the high school students who stay with them in their cabins, guiding them, comforting them, and keeping them in line. I was lucky enough to attend four outdoor school sessions, but the most memorable occurred in the fall of my senior year.

Normally, two JCs were assigned to each cabin, but we were shorthanded that session, so we each got our own. Despite my worries, I had an amazing, empowering time with my kids. At the end of the week, when I received my evaluations from the staff, I was surprised to get rave reviews concerning my responsibility. It was a complete sucker punch. Didn’t these people understand how selfish and irresponsible I was? Couldn’t they see I was lazy? As is the nature of epiphanies, this one changed my life. For the first time, I was granted the opportunity to consider that this view I had of myself—something that had been reinforced for years on a nearly daily basis—might actually be wrong.

So what does this have to do with anything? I want to fully devote my life to writing. It’s not that I dislike landscaping, it’s just too difficult to run two businesses, and writing is the greater passion. In addition, I feel it has more potential to contribute positive energy to the world. Right now, I don’t make enough money at it to support myself, and until I can dedicate the necessary time to build a firm foundation, I never will. But I have trouble justifying what seems like such an indulgence. I feel so guilty, so lazy, so irresponsible when I sit in my office or by the river, making stuff up for eight, nine, or ten hours a day. Every rationalization seems like an excuse. And no matter how logically I evaluate the situation, it always comes back to that voice. “That’s a cop-out. You’re so selfish. You’re the laziest kid I’ve ever met.”

I can’t get through a single day without ruminating on this lie. I can’t shake the fear it might be true. Several friends and one family member have said I’m the hardest working person they know. But I don’t believe them. I can’t stop judging myself. And I can’t stop buying into the horrible suspicion that this nagging voice is right.


“Selfish, Lazy, and Irresponsible,” copyright © 2017 by Lisa Nowak.

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One Last Hurrah

Nature has bestowed the Pacific Northwest with two last gorgeous, summer-like days. An opportunity to pay our proper respects to summer. I’ve seen the long-range forecast on my phone, viewed the ECMWF charts on Mark Nelsen’s weather blog, and read his post that states the other models are in agreement. This is a terminal diagnosis. The summer of 2017 has two days to live. Of course, by the time you read this, it will be gone. I say this not to be morose, but to share my experience of its final blaze of glory. It’s a blessing to know in advance what’s coming, to have the opportunity to fully relish these last good days.

Last night, after sunset, I walked along the shoreline at the river, navigating the basalt boulders and thinking back over all I’ve experienced here this year. Those afternoons in early May when the river was so high it overflowed its banks. The long, bright evenings near the summer solstice when my friend Jim teased me as I cleaned mud off the path. That cool, cloudy morning in July when I waited for the park to be deserted so I could put up the Baby Groot sign. The sweltering, smoky, 100+ degree afternoons in early August. The evenings when I found pure, easy enjoyment in taking pictures as the sunset became progressively more and more amazing, and those that I built rock structures on the boulders and photographed them against the twilight sky. The day of the eclipse when, after camping in my truck in the zone of totality, I came here still so moved by a shared experience with total strangers that I choked up telling one of my river friends about it. And then those heartache days of early September when the smoke of dying trees made the sun bleed all over the river’s shivering surface.

There are so many memories of this summer, and I’ll forget far more than I’ll remember.

In the moments last night as I walked among the rocks, I looked downstream at the train trestle, and across the water at the handful of houses on the opposite bank, and I thought about how, aside from those few symbols of civilization, this place looked almost exactly the same a hundred years ago. A thousand years ago. Five thousand. And there was so much comfort in that thought, in the idea that all our petty crap is temporary. That the most powerful people in the world can’t touch the beautiful sunny day, exactly like this one, that happened centuries ago, or the one that will occur centuries from now. Even if I won’t be here, there’s something deeply satisfying about knowing that this beauty is timeless, that this world is so much bigger than myself—than all our selves. I take savage delight in the terror that idea must strike into the hearts of those who value power above all else.

It’s now late afternoon, and the sun is glaring bright off the river. I’ve had a lot of interruptions today. A guy I’ve only met once who engaged me for almost an hour, speaking about his personal life as if we’d known each other for years. My good buddy Winston, who shook river water all over my stuff and gave me a big doggy kiss on the face. A new friend I invited here, who I enjoyed getting to know a little better. My buddy Geoff, who was in a mood so dark he couldn’t see the point of the paragraph above about the enduring power of this place. And finally, my friend Jim, who immediately understood that paragraph in a deep and personal way. Some days are like this. I used to stress over the lost productivity, even resent the intrusion. Now I realize it’s part of the experience. I’ve learned to let go of the need for control, of the compulsion to be productive, and embrace the opportunity for the universe to take me in a serendipitous direction. Because here’s the thing: this place is teaching me far, far more than just how to appreciate dogs.

As this summer draws to a close, I realize I’m on the verge of a powerful and much-desired change. A fresh path that will minimize the stress I’ve experienced these past six years, confirm aspects of my work I’ve intuited to be true but that others challenged me about, and empower me to guiltlessly embrace my passion. There’s a story behind all that, which I won’t go into now, but the bottom line is that this place is what convinced me things could be better. It healed, strengthened, and fueled me in a multitude of ways. It let me rediscover things I had forgotten.

So on this fine and beautiful day, I don’t have any agenda other than to be here and be mindful. I’m just soaking up every sparkle on the river, every honking goose, every gusty breeze.

I’m just being. And I’m grateful.

 


“One Last Hurrah,” copyright © 2017 by Lisa Nowak.

If you enjoy my books and want to make it easier for me to write them, please consider one of the following:

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Feeding Cheese to Dogs

A few months ago, I hit upon an unexpected pleasure: providing dogs with treats. I always take a lunch/dinner to the river with me that includes cheese, lunchmeat, and crackers. Whenever I see my friend Jim’s dog, Katie, I give her little pieces of Tillamook sharp cheddar. At some point, I offered some to another dog (I can’t remember which one now) and realized the profound satisfaction of experiencing canine gratitude. This led me to start cutting up extra cheese for all the dogs I see. Of course, I always ask their moms and dads if it’s okay to give it to them. Almost all say yes. Many are amused and delighted that I’d go to the trouble and expense. (Really? How much can a teensy piece of cheese cost?) This not-so-random act of canine kindness proved so fulfilling, so much the antithesis of the demands and expectations in my life, that I began telling people I was embarking on a new career path: sitting by the river and feeding cheese to dogs.

Katie

While this park isn’t an official dog park, many people bring their furry friends here, and it’s far more common for them to be off-leash than on. I’m not a dog person, but I love watching dogs play, seeing the joyous way their bodies move. They really know how to have a good time. And while I’m not big on their doggy smell, or how they use their tongues the way a two-year-old kid uses his hands, I have the presence of mind to blame most bad behavior on the owner, rather than the animal. Watching a dog galumphing after a ball, seeing two of them frolic together upon meeting for the first time, or witnessing the devotion on a canine’s face as he gazes up at his human, I kind of wish I were a dog person.

Winston with a big stick

Grinning Winston

Here at the river, most of the dogs are well behaved, and their owners conscientious. That’s been a big factor in my growing appreciation for these animals. It also helps that the canine regulars have such distinctive and charming personalities. Katie is seventeen years old, sweet and gentle, with a face that always seems to be smiling. Winston, who also sports an adorable grin, is very set in his ways. His toy of choice is a baseball bat, and he has a fondness for very big sticks. Abby wants to be snuggled even more than she wants bites of cheese. She can sit and do handshakes, and whenever she’d like another treat she’ll offer me her paw, unbidden.

Abby

Buddy is a young boxer who can leap four feet off the ground. He runs with an easy lope, his back paws almost seeming to have a mind of their own, performing little leaps and dance steps as he moves. Watching him play with other dogs, back end bouncing and twisting like a gymnast’s, is pure delight. Ollie, a pug so dark she looks black, has the endearing quirk of cocking her head whenever you say her name. She’s very sweet-tempered, opening her mouth expectantly to let me tuck the treat right inside. Lola, a bull terrier rescue, is as inclined to take a finger as a piece of cheese, but she doesn’t mean to. I’ve learned to offer the treat on a flat palm, forcing her to use her tongue. She, Abby, and Winston have all come to expect this Tillamookian bounty. They trot straight to me the moment they get here, and if I’m not around, their owners tell me they’ll circle my usual spot, looking for me.

Buddy

One of my projects this summer has been to read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog posts about author branding and brainstorm ways to incorporate that information into my publishing business. But the other day I had an epiphany. Without intending to, I’ve been branding myself here at the river. I’m that crazy person who spent seven hours clearing the mud off the path last spring. The writer who uses this place as an outdoor office. The quirky individual who put up the Baby Groot sign. And, to dogs, the Cheese Lady.

Ollie

I’m sure there’s an amusing lesson in this. Maybe a way to illustrate what the term “branding” means. But to me, the important thing is I’ve discovered another aspect of who I am. And it all began with feeding cheese to dogs.

 


“Feeding Cheese to Dogs,” copyright © 2017 by Lisa Nowak. If you enjoy my books and want to make it easier for me to write them, please consider one of the following:

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Swan Song, But With Geese

I’m writing by the river again, soaking in every glorious nuance because I’m all too aware this summer’s days are numbered. The first two years I came here, we had warm, lazy Septembers followed by those bonus days Western Oregon often gets in the first half of October, all golden toasty sunlight and piercing blue skies. Last year, though, much of September was cool and wet. I spent several of my river days stretched out across the front seat of my truck because it was just too cold to sit outside. Worse, the weather didn’t allow me to get here in October at all. Winter was hard, the hardest I’ve ever seen in Portland, and spring was laboriously cold and wet. Two hundred and seventeen days passed between my last time at the river in 2016 and my first time in 2017. That’s a full two-thirds of a year. And when I got here, when I backed my truck into my favorite spot in utter disbelief that this was finally happening, my eyes teared and gratitude swelled in my heart. I was home.

Maybe that’s why this year I haven’t been able to get enough. It’s been almost a compulsion, the need to be here. I’ve done everything I can to clear my schedule or organize my office work and business reading so I can bring it with me. I pack my lunch the night before, and lately, my breakfast too. If anything unexpected delays me I start feeling anxious and edgy. But when I get here, all the negativity falls away. I slip into the comfort of this place like most people slip into a pair of perfectly broken-in blue jeans. The calm rolls over me, still and soothing.

I’ve been trying all summer to figure out why I love this place so much, why I feel so driven to come here. Others say it’s beautiful, but there are a lot of beautiful places in Oregon. It’s more than just that. There’s an abundance of trees here and a distinct lack of wires. When I look across the water, to where Highway 43 lies hidden just beyond the smattering of houses, it feels like I’m way out in the country. That’s pretty amazing considering this place is only a few short miles from the sprawling metropolis of Portland. But, again, the magic is more than just that. I suspect part of it is leaving behind my ordinary life with it’s stress and anxiety. Leaving the expectations, the endless pile of things I can’t finish or fix, the labels I’ve been given or chosen but no longer want. In this spot, I define myself. I experience the peace and hope that I wish could infuse every aspect of my life. But again, that’s only part of the explanation. Honestly, I think there’s just something other about this place. Something sacred and healing.

For this year, my time here is growing short. Soon our first heavy rains will hit. We need them to quench the thirsty earth and dowse the wildfires. For those of you who don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, the fire in the Columbia River Gorge probably seems like any other, but to us in the Portland-Vancouver metro area, it’s an epic shock, a stunning sadness. To fathom its magnitude, you have to think of it in terms of what it would mean to Seattle if the Space Needle were to topple, or to New York if the Statue of Liberty met some tragic fate. So, with our beloved Gorge on fire, I’m thankful for that coming rain, but I’m also aware that it summons the final days of my summer. What I have left is the now. And you’d better believe I’m savoring it.

Today, some of the leaves are flushed with gold. The cottonwoods are beginning to toss theirs carelessly to the ground, as if they don’t realize fall is coming and they can’t afford to spare them. Cottonwoods are frivolous that way. As water-lovers, they spend their lives close to the river, so they tend to take the good things in life for granted.

Boats pass by. Canoes and kayaks. Those paddle-boards people stand up on, like Huck Finn on his raft. Jet boats full of customers who’ve paid for a river tour with a few abrupt turns thrown in to give them a thrill. Old, boxy boats. New, streamlined boats. Boats towing water skiers or kids on inner tubes. Occasionally, a sailboat, quiet and graceful, or a yacht with a big, softly chugging engine. I get a lot of satisfaction out of watching people on the river. I enjoy glimpsing their happiness, and it’s enough to vicariously experience the fun they’re having.

Birds call and sing. Hawks soar and osprey plunge like they’ve been shot, only to snatch a fish from the rippling green water and sail away. Small gaggles of geese fly by, so low it seems like you could almost touch them, the markings on their looming bodies as distinctive as their voices.

People come and go, staying a few minutes or for hours. Moms with small children that climb the boulders. Boisterous teenagers. Couples holding hands as they walk the shoreline. Older folks from the retirement homes up the hill. Some are newcomers, but most are regulars who stop by almost every day to walk their dogs, sit on the rocks, swim, fish, or just hang out. I have friends here, people I look forward to seeing, though in some cases I’ve talked to them for more than a year and still don’t know their names.

Someday, I’ll write a separate post about the interesting individuals I’ve encountered in this refuge, but for now it’s enough to say I’m part of the tribe. For now, it’s enough to say I love this place. The dogs and the people. The cottonwoods and the basalt. The golden, late summer grass. The river lazing by.

This place is more than just a geographical location. It’s a living thing with a heartbeat of its own. A heartbeat that pulses in perfect harmony with mine.

I’m going to miss it.

 


“Swan Song, but With Geese,” copyright © 2017 by Lisa Nowak.

If you enjoy my books and want to make it easier for me to write them, please consider one of the following:

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What’s in Store

A few months ago, I confessed that I wasn’t going to be able to write a fifth Full Throttle book that would be of the quality you’ve come to expect. Many of you were incredibly gracious and supportive. Some expressed confidence that I’d come up with another idea. Others asked me what I planned to work on next. Now that I’ve had a few months to do some plotting and writing, I’d like to tell you a little about that project.

For fans of The McCall Initiative, it will come as no surprise that I’m working on Season 2. This season is going to be somewhat different. For one thing, instead of multiple short episodes, I have five full-length books planned. For another, I’ll be giving the series a slight genre twist. The first season was billed as dystopian and read more like action-adventure or thriller. Season 2 is going to be like a futuristic YA version of The West Wing. Readers of the entire first season will understand why that is. Those who are diehard Full Throttle fans might be disappointed. If that’s the case, you should know that there’s a connection between the books. I provided a hint about that in Episode 5, but I’ll come right out and hit readers over the head with it in the first book of Season 2.

I don’t have an expected release date at this point. I’ve written about a third of the story, and it looks like it’s going to be a longer book than I’d initially anticipated. Furthermore, while I set out to create a sequel (that is, I’ve written it under the assumption that the reader would be able to recall earlier incidents with short reminders), I’m now realizing that my genre shift opens up the series to a whole new audience. That means I need to go back and make some adjustments to earlier chapters, adding details to anchor those new readers who won’t have read Season 1. This is going to take some finesse, and (more importantly to all of you) some time.

I could give you an estimate of when I think I’ll be finished, but after six years of setting, chasing, and (mostly) missing deadlines, I’m tired of being under that incredible level of stress. I decided last spring that I’m just not going to flog myself that way anymore. The books will be done when they’re done. I know none of you expects me to spend every spare second writing—to forego vacations, weekends, and all sorts of other respites—but that’s what I’ve been expecting of myself these past six years. And honestly, it’s a hard habit to break. When I’m not writing, I feel guilty, not to mention a little afraid that if I lose my momentum, I’ll never get it back.

While I’m not going to commit beyond the release date I posted at the end of Season 1 (sometime before 2063), I will try to keep you better informed of where I am in the process. Thank you for supporting me and my characters all these years. I hope to have a book to you before too long that will make the wait worthwhile.

 


“What’s to Come,” copyright © 2017 by Lisa Nowak.

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My Happy Place

I’m sitting here at my favorite place, basking in the glory of a sunny, 83 degree day. The warm wind is blowing across my bare feet and legs as I watch a jetboat spin around on the river, and all I can think is, “I’m so fortunate.”

An hour ago I wasn’t thinking that. An hour ago, I was feeling like I could hardly breathe, like the future of humanity depended upon me getting here by three-thirty. (I didn’t make it until 3:55. Sorry, humanity.)

This favorite place—my happy place—is a little park beside the Willamette, just south of Milwaukie. Whenever I come here, peace slips over me, sinking deep into my bones. No matter what, I know I can come to this spot beside the river and relax. I’m not a person who’s skilled at doing nothing, but in this one place, I can manage. Never in my life has there been anything I could rely on to so consistently soothe me.

It’s small as parks go: just a couple of picnic tables and a two-seater restroom. The real perks come from what nature has provided. Cottonwood trees. An eight-foot high jumble of moss-covered boulders. A gently sloped expanse of grass that gives way to a rugged basalt shoreline. Because the rocks drop down sharply, and that’s where the fishermen and swimmers like to hang out, the place feels private even when it’s hopping with people.

Since I discovered this place in August of 2014, I’ve spent every available warm day here. The proof of that is in the current satellite photo on the iPhone map. There in the parking lot, in my favorite spot, sits my truck.

Often, time itself gets short-circuited here, and I reconnect with that anything-is-possible feeling of a kid in summertime—that glory of pure freedom, pure possibility. There’s just so much about this place that makes me feel like I’m ten years old. The trains rumbling over the trestle. The jet boats careening in an abrupt arc to thrill their riders. That graceful giant of a dinner cruise boat, the Portland Spirit. The ancient rocks that seem to resonate with an enigmatic force. And the ever-intriguing flux of the tides.

There was a day last summer when I sat here writing from late morning until early evening—pretty typical for me, actually. But this particular day sticks out: a hot, sultry afternoon, with a balmy evening sweeping in on its heels. After packing up my computer, lawn chairs, and cooler, I went down and sat on the rocks beside the water to watch the sunset, the slow, steady warmth of the stone seeping up into my muscles. Crickets chirped, the sweet scent of cottonwood hung in the air, and the wakes of passing boats softly lapped the shore. At eight o’clock, the Portland Spirit motored by. As the sinking sun serenaded me with color, the warm shades shimmering off the water, a feeling of contentment—of pure gratitude—swelled up in me. I didn’t want to leave. I sat on the shoreline, watching tiny fish break the surface, and—because I am a geek of epic proportions—sang Oregon, My Oregon quietly under my breath. As the gloaming grew deeper, I wandered back up to one of the picnic tables, laid down on the bench, and looked up at the bats, flitting across the darkening sky. It was the sort of amazingly awesome evening I wait for all year.

While those perfect nights might be elusive, the soothing energy is present all the time. This feels like the only place in the world where I can let go. The only place I can truly breathe. When I come here, it’s like I’m a missing puzzle piece that someone’s finally fished out from under the refrigerator, dusted off, and pressed into place.

A few days ago, as I sat drinking in the familiar landmarks, the well-known hue of the afternoon sunlight and angles of the shadows, a random thought popped into my head. I realized this park is as much mine as my own backyard. But not mine in the sense of ownership. Mine in the sense that I belong to it.

Could there be any greater comfort?


“My Happy Place,” copyright © 2017 by Lisa Nowak.

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Discovering Baby Groot

For years, there’s been a little stick of a tree in Rivervilla Park. Just a Charlie Brown sprout, maybe three feet tall. This spring, it disappeared, but a few small green shoots emerged in its place. While I was speculating over whether it might have been clipped by the mower, a crazy idea popped into my head. This tiny sapling must be Baby Groot. Worried he would fall victim to another haircut, I decided to offer protection in the form of a sign.That sign’s been up for over two weeks now. Apparently, the county doesn’t feel inclined to remove it, the general populace approves, and it hasn’t yet been discovered by vandals.

My outdoor office sits in the shade of a neighboring cottonwood, maybe fifty feet away, which gives me a prime view of people discovering the sign. There was the hyperactive little boy who paused in his rampage to read it and say “Ha! Baby Groot.” The lady who asked if I knew who’d put it up, proclaiming it hilarious. The boy who began chanting, “I am Groot!” to his friends. The older couple who scratched their heads, husband asking, “What’s a Baby Groot?” The lady with her two kids who said, “Isn’t that cute?” and another who barked out a surprised burst of laughter, both of whom pulled out their cell phones to snap a shot. And then there was the woman who quietly consulted Siri before explaining the reference to her companion.

Baby Groot has had his picture taken many times, and my buddy Geoff says he smiles every time he sees him. That’s the overall reaction: grins and laughter. Even those who need to have the reference explained seem get a kick out of it.

There are a lot of regulars at Rivervilla. River friends who take walks, swim, or bring their dogs for a run. Several have asked me flat out if I was the one who made the sign, nodding and saying, “I thought so” when I admit I did. After seeing me shovel seven or eight cubic yards of mud and goose poop off the asphalt path following the flooding this spring, they know I’m a little quirky, a little nuts.

And you know what? I’ll gladly claim those labels. I’ve had as much fun watching people’s reaction to Baby Groot as they’ve had discovering him. I love that my crazy-assed imagination, a little bit of paint, and an hour or so of work has “given people a happy.” If that’s all I ever achieve in life, it will be enough.

 


“Discovering Baby Groot,” copyright © 2017 by Lisa Nowak.

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An Unfortunate Reality

I have some unfortunate news for Full Throttle fans. After months spent re-reading the first four books, making changes to my outline, and writing 85 pages of Never Surrender, I’ve come to the conclusion that this last book is fatally flawed. I had my suspicions since I began working on it in early December, but I made a promise to all of you, so I ignored those feelings of foreboding and tried to force the story. The problem is, the stakes just aren’t high enough. The scenarios I’ve put Jess and Cody in just don’t matter in comparison to what they’ve already been through. Some are implausible, while others seem contrived. If I were to continue writing, all of you would agree the series has jumped the shark.

Stories need conflict in order to work, and to create conflict, you have to torture your characters. It would be hard to top the ways I’ve already tortured Jess and Cody. I’d have to be exceptionally cruel to them, as well as stretch plausibility, to make you believe so many horrible things could happen to these two kids. Furthermore, I left both of them in a pretty good place at the end of Redline. They deserve to continue from there living happily ever after. They’ve paid their dues. I don’t want to hurt them any further.

The thing that makes my stories work is the deep emotional moments shared by the characters. While I could continue with the story on a plot level and have things happen to these characters that might present some challenges, those plot points would not bring forth the opportunity for the emotional satisfaction you found in the other books. In the first 85 pages, roughly a quarter of the book, I haven’t written a single one of those intense moments. If I were to continue with this book, it would not be anything like the books you’ve read so far.

I’m sure all of you have seen a bad movie sequel. I’m sure many of you have read a book by a best-selling author who reached a point in his career where he could get away with lazy writing because the book would sell anyway. I think you’ll agree those movies and books were not worth your time or your money. What I’m trying to tell you is that if I were to finish writing Never Surrender, it would be just like those books and movies. I made a promise to myself early on that I would never allow myself to stoop to that sort of writing, even if I could get away with it. I have more respect for myself, my characters, and my readers than that.

I feel terrible that I made a promise I can’t keep about this book. Because I feel so strongly about keeping my word, I invested many weeks in this project even after my doubts became so loud I could no longer ignore them. I cut entire segments of the outline and re-plotted to them. I brainstormed with my husband and my writing friends, trying to salvage this story. The unfortunate truth is, it can’t be done. Several other writers have been watching me struggle with this book and they said long ago that I should abandon it. I told them no. I told them I’d made a promise, I owed this to my readers, and I would damn well write this book. The trouble is, I was fighting a losing battle. I was deceiving myself.

As soon as I began voicing my concerns to my husband and a close friend, I was able to see the deep flaws in this plot, and the reasons they can’t be fixed. I initially wrote the outline for this book in 2010, before I’d published anything and while I was still an inexperienced writer. At that time, I desperately wanted to hang on to these characters, much as you do now, so I buried my head in the sand and attempted to conjure something that wasn’t there. But the plot I came up with was forcing Cody and Jess to relearn lessons they’ve already learned. That’s boring to the reader and unfair to the characters. It’s fake and phony and desperate, the exact opposite of what you’ve come to expect from my books.

I’m sorry for letting you down. I’m sorry for disappointing you. I hope you’ll understand the situation. Thank you for sticking with me all these years.

~ Lisa

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