Believing in Miracles #SFRBlast

We live on a blue planet that circles around a ball of fire next to a moon that moves the sea, and you don't believe in miracles? -Heart Centered RebalancingI am by nature an optimist. There are days, though, when I wonder if that is my insidious license to a certain kind of laziness. I haven’t gone all out to find ways to spam people with “nominate me” links, even though my Kindle Scout campaign for The Builders comes to an end in four days. I had read about an author whose book spent 98% of its time in the program in “hot and trending” and still didn’t get an offer. And on a different board, that there does not seem to be a correlation between crowd-based interest and whether the author gets an offer. Then there was the article in Slate speculating that what Kindle Scout was really going for were all those gloriously BAD guilty pleasures. At the opposite extreme was an interview with an author who was signed, who found the experience thrilling in all the right ways. I suspect there’s some reality to all of these stories, so I have a hard time getting wrapped around the axle at this point.

You can bet I’ll do a happy dance when the book is finally published, though–regardless of whether it’s through Kindle or KKP–since I’m quite proud of the story.

🙂

One of the promo efforts I had wanted to be part of was this week’s Science Fiction Romance Sale. It includes a bunch of authors from the Science Fiction Romance Brigade group I’m part of. Unfortunately, being a Kindle Scout sort-of freebie didn’t fit the mold, so I’ll have to test that option later. In the meantime, for those of you who like that genre, there are lots of other interesting choices on offer.

There’s also the latest Hotel Paranormal book out: Soleli’s Secret by JC Wardon had a nice teaser over on Constance Phillips’ site and is now on my TBR pile.

On the writing front… I’ve managed a pitiful 751 words on Fire to Dragon this week. I’m incorporating writers’ workshop feedback into the early chapters that now constitues a verifiable pattern: I write the broad bones of a story in my first draft, missing out on characterization and setting details that help ground a reader in what I’m trying to convey. Going back to add those in during the editing process is more time-consuming than the fast-drafting I’m used to, so this feels like working in super-slow-mo to me.

Enough so that I got bitten by a plotbunny that has been playing out in my dreams: What happens in 75 years when the fascists are in power, we’re all connected via the Internet of Things, and it becomes criminal not to upgrade to the latest OS? I downloaded my iOS10 upgrade the day after it came out (neatly avoiding some of the “early glitches”), and noticed the same kind of breathless coverage tracking OS adoption that is the norm for Apple’s releases. Given that there are still computers out there running IE6 (I know, because sites I’ve built have had to be backward compatible that far based on visitor data), this seems some kind of unusual deviation. But from a corporate perspective, being able to enforce a lock-step upgrade pattern offers some enticing ways of controlling their narrative of progress. There’s a lot of meat to that kind of story–even though I’m not a particular fan of dystopian worlds. Even though those are evidently currently in style, considering all of tonight’s Emmy wins for Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, and Orphan Black

We’ll see whether my story ever makes it onto my production calendar.

As for exercising, we’re doing pretty well. My phone says I averaged 5,225 steps a day this week. For all those shorter excursions when I forgot my phone, that means I’m guessing I have been walking a total of about 3 miles a day. Not shabby considering we still have some pretty heavy heat and humidity in the area.

We’re down to the final week of this ROW80 round, and I am pretty sure I won’t be completing Fire to Dragon as planned. I’m glad I at least got The Builders as far as I did, but I need to speed up significantly to keep up with my publication plan. I’ll be thinking about how to manage that realistically as we enter the final round of the year. I’ll be back next week to let you know my conclusions.

Positive Thinking

If you find more things in life to be grateful for than to complain about, congratulations. You are a Positive Thinker. <z2z>It ended up being a long short week. My five-day weekend included lots of rest, reading, yard work, and even a trip to Spa World to recover from the yard work. I thought I was ready to face the office, rejuvenated. Instead, I got a string of 10-plus-hour days. Apparently, I need to do a better job helping people to not rely on me so much.

😀

My reward for all that work was a concert Friday night that introduced me to Blackberry Smoke, a southern rock band a friend of ours discovered on YouTube doing a tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd. This isn’t my usual genre of music, but the band is tight and knows how to give a live show that will rock your socks off. My favorite song of theirs is The Whipporwill, which strikes me as a kissing cousin to some of the work I love from The Slambovians.

Strangely, for as long and challenging as my days were, I managed to get back into working on Fire to Dragon. I was especially inspired after I saw that the National Geographic had an article reviewing a new book mapping Soviet architecture in Moscow. I’ve only added a couple hundred words since I’ve picked it up again, but I’m starting back at the beginning and incorporating beta reader feedback that is a strange echo of things I’ve heard from my editor: more needed! I seem to draft in spare prose that leaves out setting and emotional details readers need to stay grounded in the story. Knowing this makes it easier to go back and insert what’s necessary, and also has the side benefit of getting me back in the groove with the story. Still, I have a long way to go to finish it, and I’m not sure I’ll be done in two weeks. I’m grateful to at least be making progress.

I’m also tracking how The Builders is doing in its KindleScout campaign. It’s only spent two hours in “hot and trending” and is down to the final eleven days of its public review period. I think it might take a miracle to get it past this step at this rate, but I’m glad the program is out there. (Also: If you haven’t nominated me yet, I’d very much appreciate your vote!) This process is pointing out to me some of the weaknesses I have in reaching readers to promote my work, as well as the hazard of having waited so long since my most recent release (which was in January of 2014). So it’s back to work for me.

In related news, the next The Hotel Paranormal book came out on the 7th: Unveiled by Lynda Haviland. I’m looking forward to reading it since even just the blurb has me intrigued. I love fractured fairytales, and if she’s figured out how to incorporate the Veils of Salome the way she hints, I’m going to be a very happy camper.

On the personal front, we’ve been doing a lot better with fitness. My phone informs me that for the week just finished, I’ve averaged over 2 miles of walking per day. This makes the furbabies happy and gives me a break from the desk and keyboard so my back doesn’t go completely wonky on me.

This week shouldn’t be as intense, though with the kickoff of the football season we have more of a social life again, making time available for quiet solitude even more at a premium. I’ll still keep plugging away, and encourage you to visit my ROW80 cohorts to see how they’re doing with their progress.

Nominations Open

Keep Calm and Nominate NowI don’t know how successful I’ve been following the injunction I’m posting today… My manuscript is about one-third the way through the nominations process with Kindle Scout. So far my campaign really only gets visibility when I spam my Facebook friends–and not as much as I’d hoped, at that. Honestly, in all likelihood, it was always going to be a hard sell to try to get an F/F sci-fi romance any kind of mainstream acceptance. But… nothing ventured, nothing gained. And if Kindle Press passes on the book, everyone who nominated it will get the notification of what the purchase link is when it goes on sale under my more accustomed KKP imprint.

🙂

Aside from all those underlying nerves, I missed posting last week because I was traveling for my day job–to Boston, MA, Nashua, NH, and Newport News, VA. (For anyone interested in my day job, one of the projects I manage was recently covered in Popular Science. A project that’s not ours, but in a closely related field–and sure fodder for future sci-fi plot bunnies–was written up in New Atlas last month. I find it fascinating to work in a place that develops software that could easily extend into one of my stories.)

Traveling didn’t leave a lot of time for thinking seriously about my own writing. Every day away was much longer than usual, but the various flights were an excellent opportunity to finish Annie Bellet’s Twenty-Sided Sorceress series. It was excellent; well-written UF/PNR that was fast-paced, engaging, and a slightly different take on what makes a person a good person. The only downside was that most of the books ended on cliff-hangers that made it impossible not to buy the next book right away. Luckily for me (and for my phone, which was at risk of being thrown across the room!), the series is available in its entirety, so I was able to satisfy my need to know without stewing for too long.

Also in the past week, the first in The Hotel Paranormal series came out. For those of you who don’t remember, it’s a series by a wide range of authors that all send their characters to The Hotel at some point in their stories. The first one up: Death Chaser, by Xandra James. I read that one while I was underway as well, and enjoyed it almost as much as Bellet’s series. It reminded me a bit of “Dead Like Me” with an additional supernatural twist.

I’m going to have to watch that I don’t spend so much time keeping up with what my fellow contributors are writing that I neglect my own word count… The third in my Red Slaves series currently stands at 29,749 words, well past the halfway point in its first-draft life, but not nearly done enough for me to start on MY installment in The Hotel Paranormal. I need to start making tracks.

Luckily, tomorrow is an American holiday, and I extended my holiday weekend by another day, so even though we’re getting back into the swing of long walks with the dogs and gardening duties we’ve neglected for a while, I should have some time to get back into the writing flow this week. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll finish the trilogy’s story before the end of the month.

While I get back to work, I encourage you to check out how my ROW80 compadres are managing their goals. I’ll be back again next week to report on my progress.

3am

3am is the hour of writers, painters, poets, over thinkers, silent seekers, and creative people. We know who you are; we can see your light on. Keep on keeping on.Next milestone achieved: This weekend I FINALLY finished all my revisions. And all my copyedits. (On The Builders.) You might be wondering why I don’t yet have it for sale, though. At Gayla’s suggestion, I’m trying my hand at something new. I’ve submitted this novel to the Kindle Scout program. It will be a few days before I hear whether it’s accepted. If I am, there will be a period of 30 days in which I will be begging all and sundry to Please Nominate Me. The “for readers” page explains the program for those who would be able to nominate me.

From my perspective, this operates as something like a contest to see whether I can earn some advertising and marketing support for my book. The rights reversion clauses are some of the most generous and clearest I’ve seen, and Kindle Press seems quite interested in generating both audio and foreign-language versions of books accepted into the program. My hope is that if I can earn a spot for one book (accepting that I won’t earn quite the royalty rate I’m used to), it will help spur some interest in my other books.

And if I’m not accepted, it’s no more than 45 days of delay before I publish it anyway.

🙂

In the meantime, I’m trying to yank the reins back to my “worknight bedtime”… Both Friday and Saturday nights ended up being very late nights. Or early mornings, depending on your perspective. It’s interesting to note that there are other houses where the lights are on at 2 and 3am in our neighborhood, so despite being something of a bedroom community, there may be other artistic types nearby.

This makes me happy.

On the other hand, I’ve been reading speculation about the real reason women drink and why women aren’t comfortable with being voracious. About anything. Both together made me sad. Women and girls minimize themselves so consistently they feel brazen if they let out too much of their ambition or allow their real interests to be seen. I’ve seen it in friends and family often enough that I know the reality of wo-minimizing at a visceral level. I suspect that’s part of what drove me to write an F/F story. And why maybe it takes a female alien to show that it’s okay to want something, be supportive, and still have time for yourself and interests of your own.

Whether that passes muster for a more mainstream publishing house is yet uncertain. Keep your fingers crossed for me, and don’t be surprised if I start spamming nomination requests.

While we all wait, I’ll be uploading the first two chapters here so you can get a sneak preview, and you can go visit the other ROW80 participants to see how they’re progressing with their goals. For me, it’s time to dive into the writing process again to see whether I can finish the draft of book 3 of the Red Slaves series by the end of this ROW80 round. I’ll be back next week to report on my progress.

Hard Road

Someone once asked me, "Why do you always insist on taking the hard road?" I replied, "Why do you assume I see two roads?"Time does, indeed begin to heal all wounds. And then there are the reminders of loss that punch you in the gut. We received flowers and cards Friday from three different corners of the country in Sharon’s memory that left us perplexed at the coincidental timing and sad all over again. But yesterday I plowed through another chunk of my manuscript and am finally facing down the last quarter of what was apparently only the skeleton of a story. My editorial process has had me add more than 10,000 words so far, making this novel officially my longest.

The other road I traveled this week was out to the Antietam National Battlefield. The field trip was the capstone to a leadership class at work. We had been given a 90-page booklet with blow-by-bloody-blow details of the Antietam Battle of the Civil War as part of our preparation, but I got five pages in and had the same queasy response as when I’d read All Quiet on the Western Front. So I waited to see how being in that region listening to an historian recount the facts of the battle as history recorded them would make me feel.

It was actually one of the most impactful history lessons I’ve ever experienced. And other than that moment in the Bloody Lane, when I felt the weight of sorrow and bewilderment for the sheer number of lives wasted (for the “trivia”-minded of you, this battle accounted for the highest single-day number of deaths of Americans), the focus of the day was on the many WTF moments when failures of leadership ensured the Civil War would continue for another three bloody years. It put leadership in an entirely different context and emphasized the importance of communication and emotional intelligence in ways that aren’t quite as visceral in merely written words. Even more important, the ability to nurture those who follow you so they are able to successfully step into your shoes when their time comes assures continuity and the ongoing ability to meet the vision mapped for the future with quality and success.

The interesting thing in all of this is that the experience was guided in the spirit outlined in Lee Thayer’s book, The Competent Organization. As I mentioned when I started the class, there are certain generational divides that made me have to read the text as a philosophical treatise–his opinion, to be studied as a way to reach consistent success in a business context. On the other hand, his exhortations not to let people “default themselves” (take the easy path), or to “allow for a plan B” (be content with less than whatever goal you had committed to), strongly resonated. In fact, I had heard the quote I’m including here in some format back in college. It’s always rung true to me because I’ve only ever pursued the one path that’s ever opened to me at any given time. Mostly that’s meant big challenges along the way. My takeaway, merged now with Thayer’s words, is that when your goals are some form of audacious (and I would absolutely consider becoming a published fiction author who can live off the earnings of their words one of the most difficult goals a person can set themselves), you have to expect difficulty. Be willing to work against the pull of the crowd’s tide.

I remain grateful hubs is so supportive.

🙂

So my BHAG micro-goal of the week: To finally finish the editing phase for The Builders and publish it. While you wait to see whether I achieve it, check out my ROW80 compatriots, and come back next week for my regularly scheduled report.

Struggling

You may see me struggle, but you'll never see me quit.It’s been a hard week. The death of a loved one seems to push us closer to the veils of mystery, so real life seems bizarre and dislocated. Not that it isn’t, usually, but we’re so accustomed to the mayhem we fit ourselves into the patterns around us and call it normalcy. This week felt like we belonged in a different picture entirely.

I’m lucky my office mates are understanding and compassionate. In fact, we received a condolences card from them in the mail yesterday that moved us both. Today, we saw the obituary. In an odd instance of real-life parallelism, I realized my mother-in-law died almost eight years exactly (within a week) of her mother. I remember my grandma speculating about the impact of her mother’s death on the timing of her death. Grandma died in February of 1997, as I recall within a month of the anniversary of her mother’s death.

It seems a foreshadowing worthy of fiction and a reflection of some of the strange experiences we’ve had in our mourning. The day after Sharon died, we had tickets to a concert we’d been looking forward to for months. In my haze, I forgot our tickets in the car, so hubs went to retrieve them before we finished dinner. He was graced with a rainbow that was already gone by the time he returned to the restaurant. The next day we came home to a horde of dragonflies–the first we’ve seen on our property in the two years we’ve lived here. This property isn’t one I’d normally consider hospitable for those insects, either, since we’re not even remotely close to enough water to sustain them. Both instances felt out of the ordinary, like we were being smiled at from the other side.

We’re working toward normalcy, though it’s sometimes more difficult than others. I’ve been editing as time and focus allow, though it’s frustrating to me that I’m not already done with this story. I love that I found an editor who challenges me and points out those areas where my writing is weak. It also means that editing is much more than “approve tracked changes” this time around, and I’m lucky if I get 10 pages done in a sitting. I’m writing, rewriting, and adding more every time I face the manuscript. This is most likely to end up my longest novel at this rate–though I won’t be changing the core damage that drives my protagonist… even if it may be triggering for some readers.

My reading and research indicate child abuse is prevalent, and most likely to be committed by mothers. Survivors’ long-term mental health leads to a host of coping mechanisms, that include a much more wary approach to relationships. Given the size of the population affected this way, it feels right and important to me to tell a story with a protagonist who faces these issues. From a different angle, women have other hurdles to overcome in being found credible. In fact, my new favorite coinage is “wo-minimizing” as opposed to “mansplaining” for its more proper focus on what happens in those interactions.

This week will be crazy with work travel Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so there’s no time left for wallowing in sadness. So I’ll keep plodding forward and worry about missing deadlines more when I’m in a better head space. In the meantime, I recommend you visit the other ROW80ers, and I’ll be back again next week with my regularly scheduled updates.

The Long and Short Goodbyes

It's no the goodbyes that hurt, but the flashbacks that follow.I’ve missed blogging. It’s a useful vehicle for me to journal my experiences and share them with my friends–known and unknown. This year, though, has challenged my ability to maintain my emotional equilibrium. No time more so than this past week. We had planned for the worst part of the inevitable with my mother-in-law. Hubs got to spend four solid days with her in person while she was still lucid. We spoke to her the last time last weekend, before the pain became too intense for her to handle without morphine and phone conversations became impossible. We were going about our lives, helping with the rescue process for a pregnant stray dog in Gayla’s town. Then we got word that fellow writer and rescuer J.C. Montgomery died unexpectedly Wednesday morning. She was my first beta reader and writing cheerleader. I may have only known her via email, Twitter, and Facebook, but her support helped me become the person I am today and her loss without ever having been able to meet her in person was devastating.

Friday night, then, we got word that my mother-in-law’s suffering had come to an end. We were grateful that she had been spared the ravages of a drawn-out illness. The grace and presence she brought to her final weeks were a clinic for the family on gratitude and living in the moment that I can only aspire to emulate. We were able to send her off surrounded by love and the knowledge that she was appreciated for herself in spite of the flaws of humanity that had sometimes created tumult within the family.

But now we are dealing with the end of an era and a chasm of emotion that is rolling us both under. I remember that Sharon was the first to call me by my married name at our wedding–when my head whipped around, her words matched her impish grin, “just testing.” She worked for many years as a retail clerk and knew when all the sales were–but also how to apply coupons and employee discounts to the degree that she would show up periodically with the statement “I saw this and thought of you. It was only a couple dollars, so it’s my gift to you.” She learned all the best recipes for a full, Italian-style meal from her mother-in-law, and friends and family knew she could forever find another seat at the table and enough extra servings of food so everyone left with leftovers and a belly more full than they could have imagined possible. The hole she leaves behind will never be filled.

Interestingly, the Institute of Heartmath published an article this week about love as an advanced mode of intelligence that underlines the many positive aspects of having loved. And BarkPost reported on a study whose results indicate that dogs are awash in more oxytocin (the love hormone) than cats or humans.

So we still have each other, and the furbabies are all checking up on us regularly to remind us that the path through loss is to embrace the love we share. Our hearts are nonetheless having a hard time catching up with that knowledge, and our heads are fuzzy for lack of sleep.

I don’t know that I’ll be posting my normal list of goals this round–I’m already several weeks late–but I have to finish revisions on The Builders, finish Fire to Dragon, and write Dragon’s Pursuit by the end of the year. So I continue to plod forward despite all the heartache, and wish that the news would quit finding more ways of bruising that already wounded organ. I’ll be posting more regularly again, as well as pointing you to my ROW80 cohorts to encourage more mutual support and encouragement in my small sphere of web-based connections. And I’ll ask that each of you reach out to those you love most and remind them of why they are special to you. Life is short, and we never know which conversation will be our last. My goal as an artist is to leave a conversation that can continue past my physical existence, but that also depends on others carrying their half of the relationship, so please, love and enjoy one another.

Death, Transition, and Soul Storms

"Count your rainbows, not your thunderstorms." -Alyssa KnightI promised to check in, not knowing that the disaster news from last week would be ultimately personalized this week. Another family member suddenly faces the final months of her life in the face of a metastasized lung cancer diagnosis. On the same day we learned this, I found a baby bird who had fallen from his nest in the parking garage at work. In one of those moments of transference, I decided if I could save this naked creature who was struggling to right himself on the cold concrete, it would buy a little more time and comfort for hubs’ mother. In the early evening hours, as I fed him worms and water against my own squeamishness (I’d forgotten live worms continue to twitch long after they have been chopped up), he seemed in good shape to pull through his ordeal.

His death overnight probably should not have been the shock it was. Nonetheless, it pulled the plug on my emotions, and I’ve just barely been weathering the storm since. We’re trying to figure out how to plan for the impossible and find stability in an emotional earthquake.

Trying to gain what comfort we could from cuddling up together to watch a “light” movie, we decided on Kung Fu Panda. I don’t know if it was because I was already feeling emotionally overwhelmed, but it was a much more profound movie than I had anticipated, with its own themes of death and transformation, and the message that we each of us are our own “special ingredient” to make us more powerful than we can anticipate.

It will take me a while to find comfort in that again, though I will be pushing myself to count my blessings in the manner of the quote I found scrolling past on Facebook and have shared here.

I also received my editor’s feedback on The Builders, and will be heading out to a conference for work at the end of the month, so my blog may go dark for a while as we make the adjustments necessary to deal with our family’s needs. In the meantime, I encourage you to keep up with the other ROW80 participants, and I’ll check back in as time and energy allow.

Stay Strong

"When life gives you a hundred reasons to break down and cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile and laugh. Stay strong."When news like today’s, from both Orlando and LA, crosses the wire–notwithstanding the whitewashing claiming “worst massacre” that forgets Wounded Knee–it’s easy to get lost in the tears for and anger against the misguided (non-)humans who think violence and hate solve anything. So I spent my day appreciating the beautiful sunshine, cool breezes, silly furbabies, and love of my family. They gave me thousands of reasons to smile and laugh, even while my emotions remain volatile because of the huge number of families now dealing with trauma and violence and death and the aftermath those bring to individual lives.

They too will have to find ways to stay strong, to find the reasons to smile and laugh. I’m not sure what has made this sickness of hate grow so strong in our nation, though I have quite a few ideas. Some relate to why voters are angry. Some to the inaction and obstructionism rampant in Congress. Some to the sexist roles of patriarchy encoded in pop culture. Some to the level of personal emotional paralysis that sets in when we are constantly offering thoughts and prayers, with no sense that anything will ever improve–regardless of how devastated we may be by the ongoing string of horrific events our news outlets insist on inundating us with.

Some of this is finding outlet in my fictional worlds. Re-reading passages from The Builders, where I was able to put some of my research about how horribly humans can treat each other, in the context of an alien love story, seems like the appropriate balance of hope, despair, confusion, and growth. I’m still waiting for my editor to send me my revision marching orders, though, so I know the story will evolve from where it currently stands.

Because of that I spent my evening re-formatting Dust to Blood for print. It’s been on my to-do list for almost nine months now, and I knew it would be a pain. Luckily, the template and style sheets didn’t need to be adjusted at all. While it took several hours, and I still need to do the same for Blood to Fire, finishing these tasks this week starts helping shift my story brain to consider how to proceed with Fire to Dragon.

I know I promised a longer post this week, but, honestly, too much of this is too exhausting. I want to go back to cuddling with hubs, hoping our little bubble of Light helps illuminate the rampant darkness in our world. In lieu of that, check out how my ROW80 companions are doing with their goals. May the coming week find you reasons to smile, and I will return again next week.

Chaos

"We swallowed the chaos because we knew we didn't want to be ordinary." -R.M. DrakeIt seems harder and harder these days to find routine in even the smallest things. I missed my check-in last week because I was pushing hard to get my WIP in shape for my editor… and to finalize the cover for it. And to get hubs ready for his gigs this weekend. And all the other little things that go along with having Huskies and a day job (where we had a major quarterly review to prepare for and present to our customers) and other responsibilities.

At the moment I have about five minutes before I have to move on to my next task, but I also didn’t want to miss two weeks of check-ins. So it was interesting to me to read that silence is significantly more important for our cognitive function than modern society acknowledges. I don’t know that many people who are willing to sit with no radio, no TV, no conversation, and consider it an important element of rejuvenation in their daily lives.

I’ll be glad when we’re past these weeks of madness and can enjoy some silence together again. On a related note, I ran across an interesting list of life lessons that are also worth considering. Sometimes it’s worth listening to the music around us (or creating it) as a way of pushing past the ordinary.

In the meantime, last night hubs helped commemorate David Bowie in his way (my way was way back in January), with his friends, The Slambovians. As Joziah notes in the video, they’re playing together again tonight (part of why I’m keeping this short), but since I’m so proud of how far he’s come, I’m sharing the video I took of it:

I’m still in the in-between space of my stories, waiting for edits and considering poking at Fire to Dragon when we have a little more time. So I’ll check in more fulsomely next week to let you know how it goes. In the meantime, check out how my ROW80 cohorts are doing with their goals.

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