New Year – Blank Slate

Interesting to be breaking a month-long radio silence for the second year in a row. This time, it was less intentional: My personal laptop took a crap the day after we returned from our second-ever just-us-alone holiday in the almost 20 years we’ve been married. In fact, our trip to paradise allowed me to cross off an item from my bucket list. We went whale watching. It was as thrilling as I’d ever imagined. We experienced at least seven different sightings of groups of either two or three whales as they made their annual return to the Sea of Cortez to have and make babies. We were also in what amounted to glorified dinghies with speed boat motors attached, so our experience was up close and personal, and something like a roller-coaster as we hurtled across the waves. Crossing off bucket-list items is highly to be recommended.


While we were traveling, and later, while I was cussing out intransigent hard drives, I didn’t end up doing any editing. Still. And even though I’ve set up this year’s Goodreads challenge (spoiler alert: same number as last year), I haven’t been reading novels lately. I’ve been reading news about how high the US infant mortality rate is, another take on the misery of capitalism based on the experiences in Appalachia, and female anger. I’ve been reading about how Facebook can’t be fixed, regardless of Zuckerberg’s best intentions. And how Japan would love to fix its college admissions testing process.

Everybody is starting the year trying to see what can be changed, and how. Today, I ran across an article that highlights both the pitfalls of an MBA education, and how to actually be a better leader. And I read a tribute to a man who did his level best to lift up everyone around him. And, oh, by the way, he was transgendered, so had objective measures of his success before and after becoming a man, which underline some of what the opinion writer regarding female anger said.

Hubs and I have also been enjoying more screen time lately. It started with the long flights to Mexico (I can highly recommend pre-loading an iPad with movies to watch while in the air–it makes the time enclosed fly by, if you’ll forgive the pun). Two we particularly enjoyed for having more depth than we anticipated: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” and “The Founder.” This week we binged on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which absolutely earned its Golden Globes, the writing was tight and the acting superb. We keep revisiting scenes from all three of these shows and pondering the characters. In some ways, given the arc Mrs. Maisel had in season 1, it is almost a shame to continue the story, but I’m glad they’re doing it anyway. The relevance of a woman fighting for what she’s passionate about in the late 50s is surprisingly on point in today’s climate.

My phone says that so far this month I’ve averaged 3,099 steps per day (it was 5,160 for the month of December… we walked a LOT while we were on vacation). It was harsh to return to the coldest temperatures of the season immediately upon our return from a place where the daily average was in the upper 70s. On the other hand, Tashie is walking better and stronger than she has in a long time, so weather really is our excuse for cloistering ourselves at home.

As for goals for myself… I really like what that HBR article had to say about mindfulness. It’s something I’ve practiced unconsciously for decades, but hubs and I have been talking about doing yoga together, so I’m going to add to my standard list. I’m not happy this list hasn’t changed in two Rounds, really, but I really want to get back into regular writing, and that means first I must clear the decks on the projects that are in editorial limbo. So:

  1. Finish edits on Dust to Blood and re-release it with its new cover.
  2. Edit Blood to Fire and re-release it with its new cover.
  3. Edit Fire to Dragon and release it.
  4. Blog weekly with my ROW80 updates.
  5. Walk at least a mile a day.
  6. Do at least half an hour of yoga a week.
  7. Keep the sanctity of my weekly date night with hubs.

I am in the final phase of getting my first audiobook ready for release, so I know there will be some delays in getting started as I deal with those logistics. I also know my day job schedule is going to continue to demand long hours for the foreseeable future, so I need to get used to just having an hour or so at night in which I can be productive on the writing goals I’ve outlined. That can no longer be an excuse.

I’m glad the ROW80 group continues its mission of providing writers a supportive forum in which to hold each other accountable so I will continue to point everyone to the other participants’ recountings of their efforts. Good luck to us all.


"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." -Marcel ProustSchedules and happenstance mean I’ve gotten to spend some quality time with old friends in the past two weeks. First up was a visit from my exchange sister from Germany last weekend. I hadn’t seen her in ten years. It was good to catch up, and strange to discover new parallels in our lives. This weekend, the Slambovian Circus of Dreams returned to town, and we had the honor of hosting them–and then attending their inspired take on a Christmas concert that ended with a spine-tingling mash-up of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and Van Morrison’s “Gloria”. The band’s ability to twist the familiar and make things deeper by mere juxtaposition is unlike anything I’ve heard from anyone else.

We didn’t get much sleep for all the charming gardening (meaningful talking about life, the universe, and everything) we did that made our souls blossom.


In all of these discussions, we came to the realization that while a natural consequence of talking through the night is a bone deep weariness, there is also a buzz of possibility and opportunity that opens our eyes to other perspectives. We’ve holed ourselves up at home more than ever over the past year as we’ve grieved our losses. It might be time to reach out to our friends and explore new avenues. It’s still mere words, but we’re feeling energized again.

Strangely, a friend from work shared a thought-provoking article about self-care that amplifies the sense our friends imbued in us. It’s incumbent on us to define the life we want, and build it in such a way that there’s no need to escape it. (Though… I will never stop reading fiction, even though it could be considered a form of escapism. It’s also an important element in my ongoing quest to become a better writer and a better person.)

That conclusion resonates in two articles related to maintaining a harmonious work environment that I ran across this week, too. The first is a short take on what makes great office culture. The second digs into what women need to be able to finally break through the pervasive corporate glass ceiling, which restricts women CEOs to 4% of Fortune 500 companies.

The unifying theme about all these articles and our discussions relates to self-knowledge and the capacity to understand our motivations and goals and be intentional in our pursuit of them. So it was funny to read an article about “fixing statistics” that said our problem in dealing with the big data mountains we’ve surrounded ourselves with has much more to do with misunderstanding our cognitive biases and inherent behaviors than any inability to crunch numbers. It’s a rich field to consider imaginatively. Even so, I was startled by the perspective on math as meditation in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti when I read it this weekend. I will have to re-read it to dig into its unique take on futuristic scifi with a strongly ethnic twist. (Yes, I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who’s looking for an unusual take on the step a girl takes from her isolated community on earth across the stars to attend university. The novella has earned every one of its awards and nominations.)

As for steps, my phone says I averaged 5,270 steps–and I know I forgot it on at least one of our walks. So we’re doing much better about staying active. Even with the distractions of our friends.

The final two weeks of this final Round of this year are going to be very busy at the office, as we on-board two new employees and kick off the search for two more, as well as deal with quarterly reviews and Christmas madness. I’m sad that for yet another Round I didn’t manage any of my writing goals–even if I did settle into a decent rhythm with hubs and the pups regarding family time and exercise. I’ll keep reporting, in the hopes that I might surprise myself with productivity; in the meantime, I suggest checking in on the other ROW80ers to see how they’re faring.

Keep People

"Keep people in your life that truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you, enhance you, and make you happy."I missed a week of blogging, I know, but fun with Gayla also meant exhaustion once I returned home. Plus, I’d missed hubs and our puppers, so dinner together, our walk, and sleeping were more important than blogging last week.

What made last week so fun wasn’t just that I got to catch up with Gayla, but I also got to ride along on an Animal Control patrol (think: license to call out to and cuddle random puppers), construct a 3-D puzzle (I love putting together flat packs), and help install a home theater system so we could enjoy an at-home movie night for Gayla’s birthday. And then there were all the floofs. I love Gayla’s bunch, but since we appear to be floof magnets, after she was done with work for the week and we were headed up to Lubbock for the final ingredients for birthday fun, we saw a pup run across a four-lane highway after we were several miles out of town.

And this is one of the reasons Gayla’s a keeper for me: She has a Dodge Charger (muscle car for the uninitiated), so when I yelled about the dog, she said “I see it!” and pulled a move straight out of the Dukes of Hazzard. (I didn’t realize, until I looked it up, that they drove a Dodge Charger, too… though there is a more than 40-year model year gap between theirs and Gayla’s – LOL.) We were traveling in the right lane, she didn’t wait for an authorized U-Turn spot, but quickly just drove down into the gulch separating the north- and south-bound lanes, waited for a small gap in traffic, merged, and pulled off onto the right-hand shoulder without any concern for the possibility of harm to her vehicle. When I rolled down my window and called out to the sweet puppy, his whole body wriggled with his tail wag and his face opened up into a beautiful smile. I carefully opened the door, crouched down, and the little boy snuggled right into my arms. It wasn’t so great when he submission-peed on us and my seat, but Gayla had rags in her trunk so we could mop that up fairly easily too. We were able to get him to the shelter, and he’s now in the adoption program. Guessing his age by the needle-teeth in his mouth, and high percentage of just gums… the little boy was only 10 weeks old. He was super-lucky he didn’t get splatted by being dropped in such an unsafe place, and he gave me the sweetest kisses and cuddles while we brought him to safety. He’s the one at the top of this collage:

I’m really glad he’ll get the chance to grow into the big boy of his puppy promise. The two other puppies in the collage are also in the rescue program. The one on the left is Sonora, who’s now been spayed and is available for adoption, while the one on the right is being fostered so she can heal up from gastritis… and grow up enough to be the nix nutz her squirming in my lap and onto my shoulders as we took her to her vet appointment indicates she will become.

In other words, I got my fill of canine cuddles on my whirlwind trip. And read a few more books while I was in transit between Virginia, Texas, and Virginia.

And came home to a whirlwind week at the day job. So my one link for the week: The historical underpinning of shaving. Which leads to my sidebar question of the week: Why can’t we be more like ancient Egypt in our egalitarianism?

Maybe we should take a tip from UX practitioners and “map” our experiences. Or take a tip during our hiring interviews to screen for empathy.

November is quickly coming to a close, and I’ll be hosting an old friend this week, so I’m coming to terms with the thought that I needed significantly more time off from writing and editing than I’d ever imagined. Getting back to the image included above, which I found this week courtesy Marc and Angel, I’m grateful I have family and friends who encourage and support me even when I’m kicking myself for not finding a way to be more productive. I hope for the rest of you as we enter the season of thankfulness, that you do too. It seems an unfortunate truism that we’re all harder on ourselves than we need to be, so those who remind us that we’re good enough despite our weaknesses are gems of the first order.

On the other hand, my phone says I averaged 5,557 steps per day last week. I’m happy to report Tashie seems to be back to her healthy self with her pulling and endurance, and it shows in our step counts. And hubs and I are still keeping up with our shows. (OMG: Star Trek Discovery left us with a completely unexpected cliff-hanger for its mid-season finale!)

Until next time, here are where my ROW80 buddies are sharing their progress, and I’ll return once more next week to share my own.

Anonymous Woman

"For most of history, ANONYMOUS was a woman." -Virginia WoolfIn general, I’m not a fan of commercialized holidays like Halloween, the day after Thanksgiving, or Christmas. This year, though, Halloween was heralded by Netflix releasing the second season of Stranger Things. I’m actually not a big fan of horror, either, but this story is compelling to me for a lot of reasons–not the least of which is how steeped it is in 80s culture. So I joined the approximately 16 million viewers who binge-watched all nine episodes, and am anxiously awaiting season three based on the promises made and kept in the season two finale. And especially for more of the brat kid sister, Erica.

The one thing that strikes me increasingly regularly is how much female characters are relegated to the sidelines. While the first season of Stranger Things did some interesting things subverting gender tropes, season two fell flat with Max. She’s literally pushed to the fringes of the action.

Then I read about romance writers who are inserting their political beliefs into their stories. It was a good reminder that, as creators, we reflect our experiences. It should be natural for a pair of brothers to create a band of brothers story; and that in the small world of those juvenile friendships, there would be extremely limited female perspectives.

And yet, this week, too, I read about a cat owner who built a box maze specifically for his pets, and another man who has raised an owned both of the most recent Guinness Book of World Records oldest cats. If it’s easier for men to empathize with and create compelling stories about cats than women (though this is an admittedly tiny sample) it’s a sad affirmation of the Virginia Woolf quote I’ve included with this week’s post.

Funnily enough, I also completed my Goodreads challenge for the year this week by reading a genre I’m not generally a fan of: contemporary romance. I can say I’m a Kait Nolan fan, though. She hooked me long ago with her YA story Red, a compelling, modernized version of the Red Riding Hood story… with a werewolf. She’s never revisited that world, but I’ve been caught in the snares of a number of her contemporary romances while I wait for more of her paranormal stories. Looking back at the list of books I’ve read this year, I’m struck by the fact that I have a demonstrable bias toward reading female authors. From what I can see, only 1 of the 40 books I’ve read were written by men. I’ve recognized this inclination since I read Heinlein in High School. It’s fascinating to me that in 30 years of reading since then, I still get the same sense of being misrepresented or disregarded by enough male authors that I remain cautious about opening the doors to a new story by an unknown man.

As for my ROW80 goals? My step count dropped precipitously as I dealt with a wrenched neck. My phone says I averaged 4,038 steps a day, which is apparently enough to go 1.6 miles, so better than my goal. Hubs sent a link with five exercises to undo the harm of all the sitting I do, and I found another, writer-centric site that talks about back pain as one of our common ailments. Luckily, I already squat a lot to deal with our dogs, but I’ll be considering how to add the remaining exercises to my daily routine to avoid this kind of incapacitation in the future.

Hubs and I obviously managed our date night(s) with no problem with Stranger Things, but that other important goal, editing? Nope. Nada.

I’m beginning to feel a bit like a fraud with the writing. I haven’t opened my WIP in weeks, even though I’ve finally figured out why book 1 of the Red Slaves series has to be Anne’s story more than her relationship with Ivan. Book 1 is more classically Urban Fantasy, not Paranormal Romance, so trying to shoehorn it into the latter genre constraints has been part of what’s been giving me heartburn with the most recent editorial direction I’ve gotten. I still need to figure out how to fix the pacing, though.

This week, I might actually get to work. I’ve said it before, but this week, I’ll be flying cross-country to visit Gayla in something that might possibly resemble a writer’s retreat. We’ll see how far that time gets me. Since it’s been a few years since I last saw her, there may be more yapping than writing, but flying might also work for getting creative. Regardless, I’ll be reporting back again next week. Meanwhile, check out how the other ROW80 folks are progressing.

Dire Need

There are two types of tired, I suppose. One is a dire need of sleep, the other is a dire need of peace.Allergy season struck with a vengeance last week. Tonight, I’m listening to the wind howl through the trees outside my window and am wondering if I’ll “breathe loud and proud” (as hubs described it one morning after listening to my night of snorting and sniffling) again tonight. Or if I’ll get the kind of decent night’s sleep that came last night after hubs gave me an acupuncture treatment.

So when I saw this week’s image in my Facebook stream, I couldn’t help but share it. And start to consider all the other ways we can be tired.

A few days ago I was notified that I’ve been accepted into Blasty‘s service. For those of you who haven’t heard of it previously, it’s an anti-piracy tool for authors. Bookworks reviewed it a little over a year ago, and I don’t even remember how I got hooked in to the system, except that I’d apparently registered The Builders, so I must’ve started the wheels turning about a year ago. It’s specifically designed to work in the Chrome browser, which I don’t use all that often, so it wasn’t until tonight that I installed their plugin and started looking at their tools. And now, I have 101 blasts in progress.

What this means in layman’s terms: There were 101 sites that pirated my books and Blasty is working to get the content removed in accordance with my wishes as the copyright owner.

That’s a special kind of tired, right there.

It’s a perennial conversation within my author circle: How much do we lose by letting pirates steal our content? How much time should we spend defending our copyright? There are as many takes on it as authors. For me, it comes down to the legal point that if I don’t do what I can to protect my copyright, I can lose the copyright. (According to Jux Lawfirm, Abandonment of Copyright, in which I fail to enforce my copyright, is a defense against copyright infringement.)

Also, given the amount of money I invest in editing, cover art, and marketing, I do apparently hope someday to recoup my investment in my art. This may be a pipe dream, but it’s certainly spiked every time someone steals something I’m selling. The final question turns on whether this exposure can have a positive impact on sales. Some authors I know see that relationship. I don’t. YMMV.

On the editing front, still no news. Turns out there’s more work headed my way at the day job, so my mental bandwidth when I get home in the evening has been accordingly reduced. Luckily, one of my colleagues made a deal with me to have our daily stand-up be a daily walk. So this week, my average steps jumped back up to 5,239 per day. Tashie also seems to be fast-tracking her healing, since she’s back to pulling me along on our walks at home.

In one small way, my mental fog makes hubs happy, since it means we’re staying on top of the few TV shows we’ve committed to, like Ghosted and Star Trek: Discovery and The Gifted. We’re also still on track with cooking at home at least six nights a week, so it’s really nice to see more of him than I had while I was head-down in writing and editing earlier this year. We also got to mark off a bucket-list item for hubs this week: We saw King Crimson in concert, and got to hear such great songs as “Epitaph,” “Court of the Crimson King,” and “Starless” live and in person.

Of course having found a home rhythm means I’ll be breaking up our routine in a little over a week. I found out I had the unexpected option to go visit Gayla for her birthday, so I’ll be making the pilgrimage out to nowhere, Texas once more. I’m hoping the change in scenery will jostle me out of my writing funk.

Until next week, then, check out how my ROW80 buddies are doing with their goals.

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