A Writer’s Life and a Writer’s Rant

It’s been a long, nose-to-the-grindstone week, and I just now noticed it’s late Thursday evening, and the blog has not been written. It’s high time to fix that, so I will.

This has been a writing week, as in facing down the problems with a manuscript and attempting to make those problems go away. Are we there yet? The answer to that question is the same one my mother used to give to a carful of travel-weary kids when we finally crossed the border from Nebraska into South Dakota on those long ago summer vacations. “Not yet,” she would say. “It’s a long way from Yankton to Summit or Marvin,” as the case might be, and the same is true here as far as the crashing climax for Clawback, Ali Reynolds # 11, is concerned—NOT YET. 

The nicest thing that happened to me this week was receiving an e-mail from a lady whose message included a photograph of a library copy of After the Fire. The photo showed the book with several different colored paper markers sticking out of it, ones she was using to keep her place on the poems that really spoke to her—poems that made her feel less alone in a sixteen year marriage to an alcoholic. It turns out that some of my own hard-won wisdom in that regard gave her strength to face her own similar difficulties and also lent her the hope that there might still be something better waiting for her if and when she finally finds a way to leave or change her own situation. Believe me, I’m cheering her on from the sidelines and hoping that, whatever she decides, one day she, too, will find a happy ending.

And speaking of endings. Today I learned that Sally Kim, my editor at Simon and Schuster, is taking a new position with another publishing house. It’s a big step up for her and a great career move, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a little blue about it. Sally has been a star as my editor, and she was the spark plug behind the Ali Reynolds/Joanna Brady combo novella, No Honor Among Thieves, that will be coming out later this fall. She helped hammer out a peace treaty that actually makes publishing history since Ali belongs to Simon and Schuster and Joanna resides with HarperCollins.

It’s been a lovely sunny day here. We’re out on the back porch and have been for most of the afternoon. Below our hill, I can hear sirens on 405. That’s not a surprise. In the last two weeks, the Washington Department of Transportation has, in its infinite wisdom, removed a working HOV lane from the only north/south thoroughfare that runs through Bellevue. The formerly free HOV lanes for 2+ are now over-priced tollways, Hostage Lanes, as people like to call them because they mostly don’t have exits where people need to . . . well . . . exit.

A few weeks ago, there was an article in the paper saying that the people earning the lowest wages, the ones with the least flexible schedules, are also the ones with the longest commutes. The tolls on 405 are not for minor amounts, and they escalate as high as the four dollar range per camera during the times when people have to actually . . . well . . .commute. To get from one end of the other means passing at least two cameras. In other words, someone making minimum wage loses a full hour’s worth of wages EACH WAY a day to tolls or else spends an extra hour a day stuck in traffic. Two if a city bus happens to burn up on the freeway as one did during yesterday’s morning unrush-hour.  

In the meantime, the city fathers are busily removing lanes from other secondary north/south routes in order to turn them into bike lanes. One of those secondary streets, formerly 2 lane, is now reduced to one lane and a bicycle lane. That means that if a mommy trying to beat her child’s daycare pickup deadline happens to get stuck behind a city bus—stopping to pickup and unload passengers AND THEIR BICYCLES, she’s screwed. By the way, the fine for a late daycare pick is $24 per every four minutes. 

It seems to me that the people dictating traffic policy have gone to war with ordinary folks—the regular working class people who pay those incredibly over-the-top Washington state gasoline taxes. Those taxes are supposed to be used to build and maintain roadways rather than subsidizing buses or bicycles or launching off on a ridiculously expensive project to dig a tunnel under Elliott Bay. By the way, when will bicycle riders start paying their fair share? Obviously they’re not paying late daycare pick up fees.

As for PUTTING PHOTOS OF DEAD ANIMALS ON GAS PUMPS to discourage people from BUYING GAS? People still have to get from home to work and back again!! Whatever happened to common sense?
Since I don’t commute how is it that I know so much about this? Here’s the deal. My daughter commutes. She can’t reach anyone at the Washington Department of Transportation for the purpose of venting during rush hour. (After all, they have flexible schedules. They’re already home.) So she vents to me. Daily. She used to be able to use the express lanes on 405 to go to Doggy-Daycare with her son after work and after school. If she bites the bullet and pays the toll, it won’t  work because there’s no Hostage Lane exit at her exit. (Crossing the double lines to get off at an unscheduled exit is good for a $186 fine.) There’s also no exit from the Hostage Lane at her Doggy Daycare exit.
So today I’m writing about this from the comfort of my back porch. You might be saying to yourself, “How dare she write about this? What can she possibly know about driving in rush hour traffic on 405?” Maybe not much, but I seem to know more about it from here than some of those traffic engineers who spend their lives in Kumbaya Land down in Olympia. I especially like the ones who, armed with clipboards and algorithms, regularly turn up on TV with the all the talking heads to explain to us with perfectly straight faces that Seattle has NO traffic problems. Except when the President comes to town. Or when the President of China comes to town. Or when the Seahawks play. Or when a bus catches fire on a freeway. Or when a semi loaded with salmon tips over. Nope, no problems at all.
If you believe those engineers actually commute on 405, then I’m willing to sell you my “ocean-front property in Arizona.”
I didn’t set out to write a rant today, but it turns out I did.
Sorry about that.

17 thoughts on “A Writer’s Life and a Writer’s Rant

  1. I feel the pain about the gas taxes. I live in Pullman, and I have not been on the coast in over a decade. But I still have to pay gas taxes for Bertha to break down while attempting to dig the new Alaska Way viaduct.

    What I find interesting: Moscow, Idaho is 10 miles from Pullman, and the gas prices are only a few cents less than Pullman. The gas taxes are much less in Idaho, so why are station owners gouging customers.

    When I lived in Tacoma and had to commute on 405, I used to dread the 2 hours it would take to go to Renton, which should only take 45 minutes but gets bogged down due to the traffic. It stinks it will now be a toll road.

  2. After living in LA for 10 years, and “dealing” with the 405 and the 5, who knew that when we moved up to WA, we would still have to “deal” with the same two freeways (if you can call them that, I call them stop and start ways). That is why we like to stay on our side of the sound, and refer to going to Seattle as going to the “The Dark Side” – because of the horrendous traffic.

  3. I absolute love this. True tales of how people live in other States. NJ has ‘hostage’ bridges that get commuter traffic from Southern NJ to Philadelphia where many people still work for their daily bread. I think tolls are now $5 and I forget which way because you only pay one way, either in or out of Philadelphia PA. Obviously I don’t commute and when I did, I was able to use something called the high speedline and then hike to the office. NJ is almost an island because of the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware River surrounding it except for a small portion at the top of the State. I love your blogs!!

  4. Last night I was thinking about your life as a writer and decided I’d wait to see what you “blogged” about before I wrote you. I hope this isn’t too far off the subject.

    Who decides which of your characters you will write about when it’s time to start thinking about the next book? Is it usually an editor or do you have something in mind?

    I was looked thru my list of your books that I’ve read and see that I didn’t put the exact dates on it, but believe one about Beau was the first I read. I have gone back to read them all. “Birds of Prey” was one of the last ones I’ve read and so far my favorite of his stories.

    Thank goodness I don’t have to drive freeways any more. My first experience was in 1963 driving on the Los Angeles Freeway from the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, CA, to San Diego where my then-husband’s ship was docked. Another Navy wife advised me to stick to the middle lane as much as I could. That did the trick for me.

    Thank goodness I now live in the country where there are no freeways, but an occasional stray cow, deer or moose in the road.


  5. I.justoved up here from a little yown in the Az mountains. My son strongly encouraged me to sell my car. I am soooo glad i did. Phoenix traffic is a walk in the park compared to Seattle. And there is no compairson to on top of the mountain.
    I came here during the selling of the 405 traffic change. Made no sense then and doesn’t now. It seems good for very wealthy people who are always late for work. Are the powers that be nuts or did someone have a bad dream or don’t they care?

  6. I have a childhood friend who lives in your area and tells tales of commuter woes. I am going to share your rant with her because I know she feels your daughter’s pain. She posted yesterday that a traffic snarl caused her to just stop in a neighborhood and go see a movie. She figures if she’s going to be stuck, she might as well do something fun. When the movie was over, the traffic had resolved and she was able to get home just fine. (of course, she has no children or husband to prevent this).

    Traffic is one of the main reasons I was so happy to leave Dallas and move to the mountains. We have traffic snarls on I70 but I was always going the opposite direction of the tourists so it was never a problem. Now I live in the middle of nowhere and my traffic worries are the occasional elk/deer/bear in the road, rock falls etc. My kids are always fussing about driving in the snow. “How can you do that? That’s so scary! ” I much prefer taking my chances on my driving skills with my 4WD and snow tires than ducking all the maniacs on the freeways.

  7. We drive to NJ to visit my inlaws. I know what Nancy means about “Hostage Bridges”. My hubby is from southern NJ – just across the Delaware Bridge. There used to be ferries crossing the river, but traffic increases made them inpractical, so they built the bridge(s). Ostensibly, the toll was only there to “pay for construction” of the bridge. That has been paid several times over by now. Every time we go to NJ, we plan for tolls – at the old rates, and every time, we have to scramble for cash to make up the difference of the increases. And, from our experience, the tollways in the PA/DE/NJ area aren’t much faster during rush hour, anyway. What should have taken us 45 minutes at most, took about 2.5 hours with a call from my sister-in-law every 20 mins or so, asking, “Where are you, now?”

  8. Rant on, my dear Miss Judy! I stopped being a commuter quite a while ago because of disability and now I’m “retired,” but during those years of being a single mom with a child in daycare, I first played “shoot the chutes” across the 520 bridge while a car commuter and later did the bus from Northgate (or later Renton) to Downtown. It was an incredible stress load. Nowadays I don’t have a car, just a 4-wheel walker (its name is Rollo). And I feel a little differently than you about the buses. My adult daughter and son-in-law are living in barely adequate housing within the Seattle City limits and spending more and more of their income on rent. If they have to move they know they’ll have to move way out of the city, requiring them to have a second car and go through all the rest of the commuting nightmare. The savings on housing expense would be eclipsed by the commuting expense.

    Every time I take a bus from Lake City to Downtown (you have to do that to connect to many other routes) I make a point of thanking the drivers for coping with the horrendous traffic in my stead. I am/was a good driver, and I wouldn’t want to do it twice a day, let alone all day long.

    Some of our transit “improvements” are totally insane. I try to input my opinions at meetings and with my ballot, but I don’t know how to more than that. However, I do feel that getting single persons out of single vehicles and into mass transit — and this can be done only by improving transit, not by creating Hostage Lanes/Routes — is the only solution to our woes.

  9. I recently drove my friend’s car for her from Central Oregon to San Diego. I was a bit nervous about driving 1000 miles, alone, through Los Angeles. Then I thought to myself. “If I can drive in Seattle rush hour traffic, I can drive through LA down to San Diego.”

    I have a comment about the bad bus accident on Aurora Bridge not too long ago. I’m sure it was the fault of that Troll under the bridge.

  10. Rant,Rant ,Rant all you want. If we keep quiet about some subjects we won’t be able to change then.
    Seattle traffic has really changed. We arrived in 1973 and transferred out in 1999. We had to go back once in awhile as we have family up there. Last April I was shocked at the changes. The people in charge of traffic control have had to work their unusual ideas with old unusual ideas. Which equals chaos. I still miss my Washington and would love to move back but I am not up to the,traffic problems.
    I re-read ALL the Walker books. When you write about the stories of the people, I feel like I am right there. I have totally enjoyed them . Thank you.
    Good luck with the new books and I am looking forward to the new Novella. Have a better week, things will get done and get back to normal soon. Bet it’s hard to travel so much and so long then your suppose to get back to schedule A,S,A,P, .. See you next week. Your blog makes my Friday a good start of the week… Jan

  11. From 1994 thru 1998 I spent many house stuck in the I-5 traffic between Portland and Everett, Wa. I left Oregon on Sunday evening and left Everett on Friday afternoons to return. Most of the area between Tacoma and Everett was very congested. Glad I don’t have to make that trip anymore.

  12. So glad you’re able to write a story that combines both Ali and Joanna. I had emailed you years ago asking why you didn’t write a novel with them (since they were both in Arizona) and you explained about the publishers. Glad to see a deal was worked out where you could put them in one novel. Looking forward to reading it.

  13. Those in Olympia with their infinite wisdom should be compelled to one month of commuting on the 405 back and forth all day especially during the rush hour times for their punishment.

  14. Love all your books and just finished Dance of the Bones. Of course, looking forward to the next ones. And I agree totally with your take on the traffic problems. It is so hard for us to get from Olympia to Bothell, to visit our daughter there. Before that, traffic from Central Oregon is smooth. And now we will not be able to use the HOV lane. Darn, Darn, Darn!

    But love those books, and keep those rants about Seattle traffic coming!!!

  15. I live above Northgate, just off Roosevelt Hill in the Mapleleaf neighborhood.
    A few years ago they put the bike lanes on Roosevelt Hill. I am not sure the fingers on both hands will add up to the times I have seen a bike on that hill, with or without the bike lanes. Duh, it is a HUGE hill, of course bike riders don’t use it! They still ride 2 blocks over, on 15th N.E., with extremely narrow lanes and limited line of sight, on a treacherously narrow lane bridge, where there are no bike lanes or shopping slow down traffic lights. Seniors can’t even make it to the other side of some streets to catch a bus in some areas. They won’t put in cross walks in the hill area, you either cross safely at the school cross walk on 95th or go all the way to the bottom of the hill, despite the park and ride just 3 blocks over. That is only a mile and a half out of the way once you walk back up the hill. I suspect they make all their road decisions while smoking the legal pot.
    Oh, and let’s make some more mini parks out of our already limited parking spots, I really want to sit in the street with cars whizzing by carrying inattentive drivers on their phones and texting, DWS (dripping with sarcasm).

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