Noticing Magic Everywhere

Kate Comings' journal


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A New Kitchen, and Book Cover Woes

After a summer of home repairs and a drastic kitchen remodel, the final draft of the third book in my series, Deliver Us From Evil, is done, a lot later than I planned. This one’s darker than the others:

Kidnapped during an assignment in Afghanistan, photographer Niall O’Sullivan and journalist Philip Korda are hostages in a remote underground bunker outside war-torn Kandahar. Will they be ransomed before their captors run out of patience? Starved and beaten, they despair of ever seeing their loved ones again.

As if that weren’t enough, Niall’s ex-brother-in-law, Conor, wants him dead and will stop at nothing to make sure that happens.

I had a rather grim cover in mind, showing a prisoner locked in an underground cell, the title in stark, gritty-looking manual Smith Corona type. I had a very specific picture in mind, and it wasn’t something I could order from the Amazon cover service that did my last two covers. I couldn’t find any stock photos that would fit, either.

Next, I thought of a night image with a silhouetted man on a gritty city street gazing up at the stars. I started taking photos of alleys and stuff.

Then I got interrupted (I’m not complaining) — I had put in for a kitchen remodel back in January. I had fought with a dilapidated kitchen for 15 years and it was way beyond time. The contractor was ready to start. I learned about cabinets, countertops, subway tiles, sinks, and faucets, and it was glorious.

Crowded and shabby

Crowded and shabby

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Finished

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Open and airy

I took a few days off from kitchen decisions to go to the Willamette Writers Conference. I cannot recommend this enough. To be in a big hotel where everyone you meet is a writer… writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely business and it’s like a gigantic gathering of your own tribe. Not to mention how much I learned this time around. Full of new ideas, I rewrote Deliver Us From Evil all over again after the conference.

Lee Moyer, a book cover artist, was there providing free advice. I brought photos of the first two books in my series. He said Amazon did a great job and that my next cover needs to have the same elements so people will recognize it as belonging to the series; namely the title font, a glowing background, and a darker foreground. Oh. Time to start over.

I found stock photos of Afghan children like the kids in Niall’s photographs that could be adapted, but when I was about to buy them, I found that they can’t be used for fictional book covers. In despair, I googled stock photos for book covers and found the most generic stuff you could imagine, the same photos we had to pick from when I wrote online for Demand Media.

Hours later, I happened on a site with images to die, or in my case, sign your life away for because they have only a three-year license. I’m trying to find out whether I can change the cover later on without having to change the whole book and ISBN numbers, or whether I will have to keep renewing that not-cheap license every three years.

Happily, the cover for my next book, Zen Flowers, will be a lot easier.

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Ruby is a real dog.

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She belongs to my daughter, Eithne, and she just showed up in my latest work in progress, “Zen Flowers,” as I pants my way through. Dogs have a way of doing that. Elizabeth is seven, old enough now to tell part of the story.

“When Mom’s not looking, John sneaks a piece of sausage under the table and gives it to Ruby, our dog. We have a dog now. Me and John wanted one so bad, but the house we lived in was No Pets. Now we live in a different house, and we get to have a dog at last. We got her at the humane society. Mom says she’s probably half basset hound and half German shepherd. You should see her. She has short, crookedy legs and a tan body with a black back, and her ears are really huge and stick up but the tips flop over. She makes you want to laugh and hug her at the same time. She poops a LOT. The only thing I don’t like about having a dog is having to pick up smelly poop when we go on a walk.”


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4000 Questions? The ultimate writing prompt

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I couldn’t resist this book. I was grocery shopping at New Seasons this morning, and it was on a table along with notepads, coasters, books, and ornaments. “4000 Questions for Getting To Know anyone and Everyone,” by Barbara Ann Kipfer. What on earth? I leafed through it–being asked a bunch of arbitrary questions makes me feel like a bug under a magnifying glass, but whoa–these are wonderful writing prompts!

When I’m writing a character, I’ll grab a notebook and my trusty fountain pen and plop him or her in a chair and ask questions. It’s a tried-and-true method of finding out things you never knew about the person. This book has all the questions I never thought to ask. A few examples…

Childhood: What has changed most about the neighborhood where you grew up? What activities besides eating went on at the kitchen table in the home you grew up in? What did you do when you came home from school? What are the stupidest rules your parents had?

Friends: Would you lie to keep a friend out of trouble? What do you find interesting about people? What traits do you not like in other people?

Romance: Define “commitment.” What is the scariest thing and the most rewarding thing about commitment? What is something someone said or did that you found extremely attractive? What words would you love to have whispered in your ear?

Outlook: Are you jealous of other people’s success? How do you deal with things you cannot change? Do you like snow? What do you hate most?

… and thousands more questions. I can’t wait to see how my characters respond to some of these.


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I decluttered my office

It took almost a week of sorting through drawers and heaped-up piles of junk and shredding reams of papers. When I started, it looked like this. Here’s the same room today.

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Tidied up

Amidst the clutter, I found this “Groovy Girl,” Natalie. As a child, my granddaughter Bridghid used to collect Groovy Girls. I bought one for her and couldn’t resist buying this one for myself because she reminded me of the writer, Natalie Goldberg, who wrote some cool books about combining writing with Zen practice.

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I dedicated a couple of shelves to my two favorite authors, Charles de Lint and Margaret Atwood. Both have overflowed their allotted space, but, oh well.

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So… will ideas flow more freely in an uncluttered space? I keep reading that this is the case, and I already have new ideas for ratcheting up the conflict in my latest first draft.


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Coming February 8!

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Just finished the final paperwork, and Stolen Son, the sequel to A Shack On the Outskirts of Heaven, will be available on Amazon February 8. I’m so excited!

Dublin photographer Niall O’Sullivan has been searching for his lost son ever since his estranged wife disappeared with four-year-old John. Then there’s Elizabeth, his baby daughter, the result of a brief affair that ended badly. Can Niall and Celeste, Elizabeth’s mom, mend their fractured relationship?

Bruised and battered by his uncle and threatened with death if he tells his mother, John tries to stay out of sight. He believes he’ll be killed whether he tells or not. Will his dad find him in time? John doesn’t think so. “It’s all up to me now,” he says.

Now for the next book in the series, Deliver Us From Evil.


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Time to declutter

My office, "before" photo

My office, “before” photo

I have way too much stuff. How I manage to work, or even think in here, I have no idea. So, I’m gonna clean it up, and I’ll post again when the job is done. It’s the perfect time to do it: wintry weather makes it tempting to stay inside, and I just finished the first round of revisions to my next novel. Now I need to take a break and let it sit for a while so I can see it with fresh eyes when it’s time for the next rewrite. I have been writing and revising for a long time. That was my focus instead of tidying, and I let everything pile up. In stacks, and more stacks.

Reams of recycling

Reams of recycling

This is a stack of printed-out, revised manuscripts of my three books now in print. They need to be shredded and recycled. They represent years of work, and I’m sort of attached to them, and shredding takes a long time. The rubber bands holding each version rotted while I procrastinated, and I finally got started. I had actually shredded a bunch before I took the photo. It wasn’t as hard as I thought; having the books in front of me reminded me that these stacks were only the means to an end and it’s time to say goodbye.

 My three books

My three books

Saying goodbye to some of the books on my overloaded bookshelves is going to be a lot harder.


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Magic

The theme of this blog is noticing magic, and for me, one of the most magical things is the colored lights all over the city. I look forward to seeing them every December. The winter days are short; it gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, and the Christmas lights are a huge comfort when I have to walk the dogs in the dark. On nights like this I wander; if I see pretty lights on one street, I go that way, and then on to the next… and that’s how I discovered this one on NE Alameda — tiny lights twined through the tree branches, all over the front of the house, and trailing across the front yard lawn. It was so different, and utterly magical. IMG_2712

We’re having the wettest December on record, and though cold, the downpour and growing darkness made downtown Portland a magical sight; on days like this, I love living in the city. I was so enchanted, I missed my bus, just needing to wander around a bit more.

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Starbucks at Pioneer Courthouse Square looked very cozy.

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The giant fir tree was lovely.

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