Ten’s My Limit

by Ali Vali

The holiday season is here and it always brings back great memories of not only childhood, but the times C and I have shared in our twenty-eight years together. Long time relationships not only work because of love, understanding, patience, and commitment—they work because she knows I really don’t like wrapping anything, and my limit of hearing Here Comes Santa Claus, White Christmas, and other holiday favorites is about ten. On the other hand, she hates the post office, the mall on Friday and Saturdays, people who put confetti in their Christmas cards, and stringing lights. I don’t particularly like any of the items on her list either, but gladly do them so I don’t have to deal with wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows.

The one thing I do love is shopping for her. I’ve had very few misses through the years. Sometimes she’s loved the gift, but it was that I didn’t wrap that peeved her a bit, especially when she hands over one that looks like the package you pay the nice elderly woman at the mall $20.00 to do for you and it takes her until Easter to complete. Anyway, a gift she gave me in 1999 was the first time I thought she’d lost her mind. Was it the flat screen television I’d had my eye on, the one that I’d cut out ads for and pointed out every time we were at the store together? No!

The box was way too small for that, and when I made it through the exquisite ribbon and handmade bow (C went to Christmas college, and I’m not kidding about that) I found the first two Harry Potter books. Never mind that the year before, Green Eggs and Ham was on my wish list. I’d lost my original copy in a flooding incident when I was eight and I’d never gotten over it, so she bought me a copy along with the other small children on our list. The guy at Books a Couple (I call it this because they never seem to have anything I’m looking for) asked if I wanted the one written by Dr. Seuss. Since I was over my limit on White Christmas I demanded the one written by Anne Rice. That’s the version where the ham is green because vampires don’t eat ham thus it’s gone bad.

Back to Harry. I opened that box and I believe the words out of my mouth were, “Is this like the year I bought my brother the bald-guy Chia pet?” It was a gag gift I totally pulled off with a straight face until late that afternoon when I gave him his real gift.

I apologized to her later that night when I’d made it through quite a few pages since there was no new television to watch. When book four appeared, Books a Couple had a promotion where you got a pass to pick up your book at the stroke of midnight the day it came out. No way I was missing that, so I went and enjoyed the kids in costume and how they immediately started reading when the clerk handed them Harry’s latest adventure.

A woman there with her seven- and ten-year-old sons asked C which child was hers, and she had a wonderful time pointing to the geek holding her pass fifty small children back from the register. We laughed about it on the way home and talked about what a wonderful thing J.K. Rowling had done by creating characters that had driven children away from computer games and back to reading. Imagination is priceless, especially the kind you find on the page, and the real gift C gave me that year. Not so much getting me back into reading, I love to read, but it made me wonder if I could write something longer than a business letter.

When I decided to find out, it started my writing career, to the extent that I actually allowed someone to read the stories that ran through my head. The first ones, I admit, were rough, but with a little practice and with great editor Shelley Thrasher, I tend to make fewer mistakes. In every manuscript I manage new ones I sometimes don’t think possible, but some of my earlier ones I definitely have learned from and try not to repeat. I sometimes picture Shelley with her great red feather pen shaking her head, and thinking, “Vali has been hitting the heavily spiked eggnog again,” while she slashes another line in bloodred ink.

The thing about writing, though, is once you start, you open the door to these characters who populate the books, and it’s hard to cram them back into their lockbox in your brain once they’re loose. Some are more demanding than others, like Ms. Casey, but they all come to me in different stages of being with only a bit of background.

In the newest book, The Dragon Tree Legacy bsb_the_dragon_tree_legacy_small__90570came because of the actual tree. The dead remnant of this old oak on the side of the road on the way into New Orleans has been there as long as I can remember. I named it the dragon tree because in profile it resembles a dragon reared up as if scaring off a potential threat. The only green along its trunk and remaining limbs are the vines that have taken up residence, and when storms like Katrina and Gustav come ashore, I hold my breath until I make it around the curve. Even Katrina and her devastation hasn’t brought it down, so it deserved its own story.

This was the first time I actually came up with the title before I wrote a word, so I wanted the characters to fit the strength and perseverance of that tree. Wiley and Aubrey are a different kind of couple from the beginning, not only because of their situation, but because Wiley is somewhat detached emotionally. A wingnut of sorts who’s become a tad unhinged and has lethal combat skills. The challenge was to take someone like that and make her an integral part of a romance that didn’t involve a love affair with her rifle and assorted weapons.

It turned out that Wiley and Aubrey did have a story to tell that I believe even the tree is happy about, and it tackles New Orleans right after Katrina. A tough time for everyone who lived through it, but like Wiley and Aubrey and their relationship, if you can make it through the tough times you come out stronger after you’ve picked up the broken pieces and put them back in some kind of order. It’s inevitable to fight until you get it right when it’s something or someone you love.

So when I look back now those “children’s books” really did inspire me to pick up my pen. Because I did I’ve found mobsters, lawyers, hotel owners, tennis players, snipers, and the like living in my head, and it doesn’t require intense psychoanalysis. What a blast it’s been ever since, considering the people I’ve met, the emails I’ve gotten, and the friends I’ve made. Up to now, it’s been a great time and I’m looking forward to whatever stories come next.

For now my radio is tuned to ESPN, the post office made me turn around and head back to the car after I drove around for thirty minutes to find a parking spot, our Christmas tree lights work until the bottom two branches, C and I both forgot and opened the card from the woman who always puts small snowflake shaped confetti in her card, much to the cat’s delight, and she promised to wrap everything I picked up at the mall this weekend. As I stood in the checkout line at Macy’s on Saturday, Wiley and Aubrey gave me their list of things I forgot to say in their book. They’d given about twenty-six rational story points for the sequel they’re hoping for next Christmas, when the lyrics to Jingle Bells broke through my subconscious and parked itself there until Sunday evening, when in a fit to save my sanity I turned the radio on and replaced the torture with Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

It was then that I realized it was Cain’s way of saying, don’t forget about me. I might be more sympathetic to the Feds next go round. If you’d like a hint to make your shopping easier, with no chance of carol overload, head on over to www.boldstrokesbooks.com and buy everyone on your list a book. Don’t forget to throw a couple in for yourself.

The other thing to consider, on the off chance that the Mayans are right, is a trip to the grocery store or favorite bakery. C suggests having a cheesecake or whatever your favorite dessert is on hand so you might enjoy yourself before the meteorite hits the Earth. Since I believe the guy who did the Mayan calendar simply got tired, or it was his idea of a giant Chia pet gag, enjoy the season White Christmas and all.

C and I wish everyone a joyous holiday season and a prosperous New Year. Above all else, may you be blessed with happiness, health, and love.

18 Responses to “Ten’s My Limit”

  1. 1 Erin Saluta December 11, 2012 at 9:34 AM

    That is so awesome! Thanks for sharing this fun holiday story. I agree with the impact the Harry Potter series had on getting kids to start reading again, and I’m glad it got you to writing! Love your stories and your characters and am excited to read about Wiley and Aubrey (and of course to get lost with another Cain story!!). Right back at you for a wonderful holiday season for you and yours!


  2. 2 S.A. December 11, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    This was a great way to start my day! Thank you for the wonderful humor. (And I apparently need to thank JK Rowling for her Harry Potter books for reasons beyond the fact that I enjoy them. 😉 Am looking forward to reading your new book (and eagerly awaiting the next Cain book, too). Happy holidays!


  3. 3 A.F December 11, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Not only have I read and thoroughly enjoyed all your books, I must say the real pleasure was meeting you in PTown this past summer. I had just begun proof reading for BSB and it really was a thrill to feel a part of such a great organization and meet some facsinating woman.


  4. 4 Roberta C. December 11, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    Thanks Ali for sharing your story.
    Made me laugh.
    I enjoy your writing very much.
    Can’t wait to read more from you.



  5. 5 lynchly December 11, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    Warm and wonderful like you and C!


  6. 6 Pam Olano December 11, 2012 at 1:49 PM

    Being that New Orleans is my home town, and seeing as we got wiped out by Katrina, and because we just got married in CT a few weeks ago after 16 years of waiting, I want to say THANK YOU Ali Vali for the way your books let my imagination run wild. I also want to thank you (I think) for those days I am waiting in line at Walgreens and Cain Casey taps me on the shoulder and whispers “I AM coming back, you know. Just be patient.” Then it is back to the line at Walgreens. So glad you were given the gift of Harry Potter, and so glad you have given so many of your readers the gift of YOUR stories. Happy Holidays from Santa Fe!


  7. 7 Margaret Gill December 11, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    Thank you for the insight to how you got started and we all owe JK Rowling a great big thank you. I love all your books.


  8. 8 Bookgeek December 11, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Wonderful blog and I hate gift wrapping as well!


  9. 9 Brenda Bridgers December 11, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    What a beautiful insight into your creativity! And congratulations on being with your partner for 28 years. I am proud to say my partner T and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary in April. Thank you for the many hours of entertainment you have provided me and I adored The Dragon Tree Legacy but my favorite is still Second Season and hope for a sequel to that someday.


  10. 10 Brooke December 11, 2012 at 6:00 PM

    A blog as awesome as awesome as your books, I can’t thank you enough for writing it. I just finished The Dragon Tree Legacy and loved it just as much as I have all of your others. They are amazing and continue to inspire me, as you do, to someday write something of my own. THANKS!


  11. 11 Mary Anne Frett December 11, 2012 at 7:26 PM

    What a great story. You never know where and how inspiration will strike. Now I have more than Harry and crew to thank JK for. Have a wonderful Christmas.


  12. 12 Devlyn December 11, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    I hate wrapping too but unfortunately not as much as Dayne, so I get stuck with that chore. I also hate doing dishes too and Dayne has allowed me to serve Christmas Dinner on paper plates this year so the least I can do is the wrapping.
    Harry Potter is a wonderful world of adventure and I am glad that I have had the experience of reading them, but not as excited as I get when cracking the spine of one of your books.
    Happy holiday and festive season to you and C.


  13. 13 Kim December 12, 2012 at 4:53 AM

    Thanks for a wonderful Christmas blog and I look forward to reading this book. I’ll be the “kid” in line!


  14. 14 Lisa T. December 12, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    Very interesting blog, Ali! I liked hearing the story of the actual tree that inspired the title of your new book. I look forward to reading The Dragon Tree Legacy 🙂


  15. 15 cabmerlot December 12, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    While I love all of your books and have the Dragon Tree Legacy queued up on my e-reader, I’m anxious for the finale of the Emma and Cain story. Thanks for sharing this personal story…look forward to more of your fiction!


  16. 16 Denna December 22, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    Merry Christmas Ali and C~ Thanks for sharing your gift with us because every time I open one of your books it’s Christmas all over again for me.


  17. 17 Jeanne Nicholas December 30, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    Ali congrats on 28 years with C. She obviously has given you some super insight into the creative world because she recognized the awesome J K Rowling before you did. Thanks C for being THAT super special to snag Ali’s attn and give her focus. I consider her one of my top 3 authors and I read daily. She rates up there With Edgar Rice B. on the imagination. Please keep her safe and healthy and I vote for hot chocolate to sooth the rabid frenzy of Xmas musics plethora being caroled around and around. You should hear Jingle Bells sang by Blink182 (O.O) or Santa Claus is coming to town by Lincoln Park. . Have a happy holiday season. Best wishes to you and yours. JLNicky
    Lesbian Speculative Fiction Global (Facebook Group) https://www.facebook.com/groups/51669152760/


  18. 18 Ali Vali January 10, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    Thanks for the great comments everyone and I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. Happy New Year, and our hope is you all enjoy health, happiness and peace in 2013.


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