Archive for the ‘Real Life’ Category


Chased by Cows!

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Today was an adventure.

For those of you who do not know, I am in England. On a research trip. I’m spending a few days in the small town where the book I am writing takes place–in the month when the book I am writing takes place–and it has already been super-incredibly-valuable for a thousand and one different reasons.

The plan for today was to take a walk. My hero is in the countryside. He takes walks. So does my heroine. (In fact, they take more than one walk together.) And luckily, when I popped into the tourist information center yesterday, there was a handy-dandy guidebook describing 13 walks of varying length, all starting from the center of town. Score!

So I picked up one of them. Before I start, I have to make a confession: I do not navigate well. In fact, I have the worst anti-navigational system ever. In part, this is because I don’t know directions of any kind. In part, this is because I don’t like taking directions of any kind. And in part, it’s just sheer cussedness on my part. I wish I could explain it. My husband believes, firmly, that this is all a product of my imagination and if I would just try it would all work out. Ha ha ha ha ha.

In any event, this guidebook is lovely and wonderful, but the “directions” for the walks look like this: “Turn right between the large stones to walk down Mill Lane (not signed). On reaching the lane at the bottom turn right and walk uphill, where the road turns sharp right you take the stile on the left, cross the field to follow the hedge on your right downhill to a stile at the bottom.”

Which sounds reasonable in theory. Except telling Courtney to turn between the large stones to walk down an unsigned lane, and then to take the stile on the left where the road turns sharp right… This is not so much a good idea. Questions arise during the actual attempt. Questions such as:

“Are those stones sufficiently large?”

“Is that a sharp right turn?”

“How far am I supposed to be walking?”

The distance between some of these directions varied from 200 meters to, oh, 2 miles. Without demarcation. In any event, I got completely and utterly lost, about seven or eight times, and it was only with the help of three separate people I met on the way that I eventually managed to complete the walk. But it was all good. I had food. I had water. I can handle anything so long as I am provisioned with apples! (If I am not, I turn evil. Mr. Milan can confirm.)

In any event, once I found myself on the way again, I had these directions to follow: “Look for a signpost and some steps on the left going up the bank to a stile. Once over the stile go half left to the far corner of the field where you cross a stile next to an old gate.”

If you’re thinking this crossing field stuff is a little weird, since it’s someone’s property, don’t worry. There are signs that clearly mark the crossings as “public footpath,” and so property owners don’t get all bent out of shape if they see you.

The thing is, somebody needed to tell the cows that.

I know. I know. You are thinking, “Courtney, you are such a city girl. Cows are placid. Cows are sweet. Cows are not dangerous.” I know this. I realize this. In fact, as I started across the field–and as the cows, 20 yards away, began to amble towards me, I told myself this. I said, “Courtney, the cows are just curious. They are coming closer to have a look. Or perhaps, they are just coming this way because they are hungry. In any event, cows are not dangerous. You have nothing to worry about.”

Like I said. Somebody needs to tell the cows.

There were a lot of cows. Cows are very big. I realize that is a stupid thing to say, but one can comprehend that a cow is a massive animal, and then one can know that a cow is a massive animal. So here I am, these cows walking towards me in one giant herd, thinking to myself that cows are completely safe, even though they weigh thousands of pounds and could  stampede me to death without even noticing I was there.

The cows begin to run towards me.

Now, I realize that cows are not exactly considered fast animals. Horses are fast. Cheetahs are fast. My little dog, who I miss very much, is fast. Cows? Are rather on the slow side. But so is Courtney, and besides, Courtney is sitting there saying to herself, “Don’t run, it’s a bad idea, don’t run.” I don’t actually know if that’s true for cows. It’s true for bears, though, and as you may have noticed, I am a city girl.

So, hundreds (well, tens) of cows are running towards me, and I’m thinking, “La la la, cows are safe, la la la, I am not going to run away from cows because they are completely safe, la la la.”

Then the cows start to surround me. No, really. They flank me on both sides, and they’re running to do so. There is tossing of heads. There is direct eye contact. There is lowering of heads in my direction. I don’t have a lot of experience with cows, but none of these things are sounding good for Courtney. At this point, I realize that while these fine beasts are about half cows, the other half are calves, and I start to rethink my chant of “cows are safe.” Sure, cows are safe, but aren’t all mothers supposed to be vicious? And… I had beef yesterday. They can smell it on me.

I am still not running. I am walking very, very, very quickly. Luckily, the field was not wide, or I am sure the cows would have done for me. I got to the stile on the other side and scrambled across.

Then I turned around. The cows were all staring at me. The word “bovine” usually is coupled with “placid” and “unperturbable.” Not these cows. Every single placid brown cow eye was narrowed in my direction, promising dire retribution should I return.

I stood, my heart pounding on the other side of the fence. And then I looked at the cows. They looked at me. I shook my fist at them, and said the only thing that came to mind: “Bad cows!”

They were not amused.

And then I snapped their picture. If you look closely, you can see hints of smoke, trailing from their nostrils.

Somewhat somber

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Reminder: There’s still time to enter the Miranda Neville giveaway!

Yesterday, while I was driving my dog to day care, I saw a car accident unfold right in front of my eyes.  A car veered across the road–as if the driver had lost control or a tire had blown–cutting across two lanes of traffic.  By sheer bad luck, the car’s trajectory was aimed straight for a light pole.  It hit at 60 miles an hour.  The pole fell over; the car flew twenty yards in the air, and rolled, landing on its back.

This all happened about 10 yards in front of me.

There were maybe four or five other cars on the road at the time.  We all pulled over to the side of the road to see what could be done.  One woman was already on the phone to 911 within seconds; the rest of us walked up to the smoking car.

It was bad.  It was really bad.  It was lying, wheels spinning in the air–and it was a convertible, with no support in the roof.  What little canvas there had been to shield the interior from the elements was crushed; the top of the car doors were level with the ground.  We couldn’t see into the vehicle at all.

We called out to see if there was anyone responsive inside.

But of course there was no response.  There was no way to get to whoever was inside.  Either the car had to be cut apart, or it needed to be rolled back, and we simply didn’t have the training to do anything except wait for the paramedics.  And more importantly, the four of us just knew, without saying anything, that seatbelt or no, the force of the impact–and the way the car had rolled–did not bode well for the driver or any passengers.

Nobody said a word.  There was nothing to say.  Instead, we just stood there, hoping that something impossible had happened–that the unresponsive person inside that metal trap was perhaps just knocked temporarily unconscious.  As soon as the police arrived, I left.  I had a dog in my car, for one, and for another . . . I didn’t want to be there when they removed the driver from the wreckage.  If I left early enough, I could pretend that I hadn’t just seen a man die ten yards in front of me.

But the internet is a harsh mistress.

Charles Tunkson, 40, was pronounced dead at 10:52 AM yesterday morning.

Rest in peace, Charles.

Make Unrealistic Resolutions

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Last year about this time, I posted in a particularly oblique fashion about setting unrealistic goals.  I know, I know–it makes no sense to make a goal over which you have no control.  Goals should be things that are very firmly in the control of the author–things like, write 1500 words everyday, or, lift weights for 30 minutes three times a week, or, send out ten query letters a week.  Anything else, and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

On January 1, 2008, I mentioned that I had three sets of goals–one for July of 2008, one for the end of year, and a ten-year plan.  I mentioned some of the ten-year goals, but left 2008 blank on this blog.  The truth is, the goals were too unrealistic–too high and mighty–for me to even bother saying them.  They were crazy.  They were things over which I had no control.  They were impossible, ridiculous, and completely unattainable.

Except that I attained them.  All of them.

I wanted to sign with one of my top five agents by June.  I wanted to sell my book, at auction, by the end of the year.  Craziness.   It’s nearly impossible to get an agent, and even more impossible to get a publisher.  To have an auction not only means you’d have to get at least two houses interested in your manuscript, you’d have to get them interested enough to say, “Yes, yes, we will bid early and often!”  And that’s just crazy.  It’s like lightning striking, except that is so cliched because lightning strikes all the time.

Some people work well with realistic goals.  I applaud those people.  Those are the kind of people who are extremely conscientious and very good about crossing all the i’s and dotting all the t’s.  They will never make spelling errors in letters to important people, or forget to cross-reference a citation.  They will not buy a present for a friend’s birthday and then leave it on their mantel for two months (sorry, Eve) because they plan to go to the post office never today, and always tomorrow.  They will never spend three months running a program on extremely powerful government computers only to discover that a memory leak on Line 426 invalidates all the results.  NOT THAT I HAVE EVER DONE THAT, ahem.

I’ve never been good at reality.  It was totally unrealistic to think I could sign with one of my top five agents.  And if I’d known that the top of my top five agents, the incredible Kristin Nelson, was only going to sign two clients in 2008, it would have made the whole dream even more unrealistic.

Still, I dreamed.  I knew it was a completely unrealistic dream, but that didn’t stop me from reaching for it.  Through the month of January, I rewrote that first book.  I would spend 12, 14 hours at work some days, and come home at 11 at night and write until 2 in the morning, only to wake up at 6 AM the next day.  I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote.  I didn’t sleep.  When I was done, I revised and revised–and caught up at work, because it turned out that 12 hours a day in January hadn’t been quite enough to keep me on task.

At the point in late March when Kristin Nelson asked me to send her the full, I still had maybe 40 hours of work to do–and a huge project at work in the offing.  Somehow, I managed to get by on a bare hour or two of sleep for five days in a row, just so I could get it to her.

Out of the 88 full manuscripts Kristin requested, she represented 2 of them.  It makes no sense to miss sleep for an extremely busy week on the bare 2.28% chance that you’ll get an offer of representation.  But it didn’t matter to me.  I was certain–absolutely certain–she’d say no, but it didn’t matter, because if you make an unrealistic goal, you can’t let a little thing like reality stop you from your chance at it.

But Kristin said yes.  By the end of July, we had multiple offers on the book and we were going to auction.

Even though it’s been half a year since I met my insane goals, I still can’t believe I did it.  If I stop and look down at where I’m standing, I start to think that the ground is shifting beneath my feet, that it can’t possibly hold me.  That if I stop and look reality in the eye, I’ll realize this has all been a sham.

And I’m not the only one building a house on quicksand.  I’ve heard a lot of doom and gloom in publishing.  I know a lot of aspiring authors who think the world is collapsing and they’ll just have to ride out this economic cycle, unpublished until the bitter end.  Realistically, they’re right.

But don’t look down.  Look up.  Look far, far up, as far as you can see, and then imagine somewhere just beyond that.  That is what you want–that thing, way up there.  It’s unrealistic.  It’s unattainable.  It’s impossible.  It happens to nobody.

Except, maybe, you.

Now I’m off to set unrealistic expectations for 2009.  Who’s with me?


Courtney Milan writes historical romance novels like the ones you see to the right. She still remembers bits and pieces from her old lives, where she was (variously) a scientist and a lawyer.

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