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Soul Food

"Don't look for a partner who is eye candy. Look for a partner who is soul food." -Karen SalmansohnJuly is always a month of introspection for me–primarily because my birthday is in the middle of it. And this year, it marks the 20th anniversary of when hubs proposed to me. So there were things to celebrate and remember this week. There was also the reminder of our recent losses. Next week marks the one-year anniversary of hubs’ mother’s passing. And would have been our unborn baby’s birthday. There’s been enough spiritual and literal soul food for us this year to make us unhealthy. We’d slid into bad habits, which accelerated while we babied Tashie through her injuries.

We had been considering meal basket plans for some time, but I’d heard from a friend that the amount of food in the Blue Apron plan was more than two people could manage, and had made the logical leap that the others would have similar challenges. Somehow, two weeks ago, I stumbled onto Sun Basket. (That link gets you a $35 coupon and me $25 off my next order.) It’s all organic, non-GMO, sustainably farmed and shipped–and every single one of the ten or so reviews I read about it commented on how very flavorful the meals were. On a lark, we decided to try it. Last week was our first delivery. We’re now total converts and so excited to cook together and enjoy healthy meals (they offer paleo and vegetarian options) that really are gourmet quality at a fraction of the cost of all the various to-go meals we’ve been buying from local restaurants. No more excuses about being tired and not having a taste for what we have at home, this is really a thrilling change for us–and because ingredients and meals are so well portion controlled, there’s no waste, and we’re both starting to drop some of the extra pounds of Kummerspeck we’d packed on.

As for the passage of time itself, I read an interesting article that outlined some of the theories of why time slows down when we’re afraid, speeds up as we age, and gets warped while we’re on vacation. The other interesting element of the passage of time relates to being in the flow of creativity. An article from 2011 sums up research into “creative flow” and notes that people struggling with neurotic tendencies have the hardest time achieving it.

Not that grief leads directly to neuroticism, but that sense of ultimate disruption could explain why it’s been so hard for me to get into the work I need to do to achieve my three-fold goals for the Red Slaves series. On top of that, there was birthday celebration and other social obligations this week, so I only ended up looking at my MS once. And really only revisited pages I’d already been through. So I can’t say anything good about progress on that front.

On the other hand, hubs took me out for a date night to celebrate my birthday, and we got to see Spiderman: Homecoming. The Marvel team has really found its stride with this expanded universe of stories, each tying in to the others in a way that is so rich and satisfying it ups the ante for the viewer with every film. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Word today that the new Doctor on Dr. Who will be Jodie Whittaker means I’ll likely return to that series for future stay-at-home date nights, since even though Capaldi is excellent… his story has been too much of the same of what we’d seen with Tennant and Smith–engaging as each of them had been. It will be interesting to watch how fresh blood and a new direction revive what had been becoming staid, insofar as a scifi show can do so.

And my phone says I averaged 5,481 steps each day this week–a slight drop-off from last week, but still above the 2-mile mark on a daily basis. Yesterday we even went the long way around on the W&OD trail, down Gallows Rd, and into the local park to return… and were treated to another unusual sight (for our area anyway, given the article about cost of living in the DC area that came out this week): A white man in handcuffs in the park’s parking lot, while police walked the woods with flashlights. No idea what was going on there, and nobody questioned us walking our huskies, but it added to the mystery of walking through the night.

Whether I catch up with myself this week remains to be seen, too. We have a test event at work and we’re kicking off several new contracts’ worth of work, so there’s more than plenty to keep me late. With the spur of having to cook at home, though, maybe my work-life balance will shift, too. We’ll see. Either way, I’ll be back with all the rest of my ROW80 buddies to report on my progress next week.

Having Time

"Quit saying you don't have time. You have time for what you make time for in life." -Bryant McGillThe funny thing about this week’s image is that while it’s true, counting the hours we spend on our various activities sometimes also reveals… there really aren’t enough hours in the day. And sometimes decompression by way of reading through the night is the best way to balance the work-day stressors we deal with.

I had one of those super-long days at the office Friday that left me craving a fictional escape. Jami Gold’s Treasured Claim not only provided that, but kept me up all night reading. Quite the endorsement when it comes down to it, since I was already bone tired when I started. But especially given where I am with my editing, it was useful to see how an elegantly conceived pairing of characters with daddy issues could pay off as a satisfying romance. I think it means I’ll be shifting when certain scenes happen in my Dust to Blood story to make the pairing in it more natural and easier to follow. Luckily, this fits in with feedback from my editor, so I’m glad for a fresh example to keep me on the right track.

The downside to having done that was that my already scheduled weekend was beset by my own weariness. I’d thought I might be hyper-productive with edits over the weekend, but… not so much.

My productivity of the week was in finally writing the blurb for book 3 of the Red Slaves trilogy, and introducing my readers to the final versions of the new covers for Blood to Fire and Fire to Dragon.

Things I learned this week: Race riots as a phrase were originally used to describe mass attacks by white Americans on black Americans. Also, in the context of celebrating America’s birthday on July 4th, my blogger friend Alicia Anderson reposted an evergreen article she’d written about Constitutional rights, Civil rights, and Human rights that broke down the differences between those three concepts and illustrated the clear gaps between them in an elegant, easy-to-read way. A few days later, a brief trio of tweets put those power dynamics into the current timeframe, in the context of employment within academia. An article this week in Teen Vogue about the evil, disfigured antagonist trope put all of these dysfunctional relationships in another sphere by pointing out how ableism is but one more in the multitude of forces that push us toward that mythical average human perspective. It’s the poison that makes everything outside of an unattainable statistical norm an attribute worth detesting or otherwise viable for becoming the scapegoat that with its death will carry those shadows away.

It all makes me sad. Why can’t humans enjoy and celebrate not only their own uniqueness, but also that of every other human? It seems to me we’re individuals for the profound spiritual lessons that can come from communities, partnerships, and sharing. But history is rife with examples of wars over differences rather than celebrations of differences, so I suppose there will be more pain and death and suffering as we continue to learn these difficult lessons.

I’m reading Radical Candor for work, and wonder if it might have useful insights along these lines, too.

As for my other goals, my phone says I managed an average daily step count of 5,896. We’re walking significantly more, again. And Tashie is driving it. The past two evenings she was the one who crossed the road to make sure we made the turn-off to the W&OD trail near our house. In fact, last night, going that way provided us with an inexplicable light-show over the course of the final 20 minutes of our walk that perplexed even our retired Air Force officer neighbor.

Which brings me full-circle to the point of my writing: There are so many levels of mysteries out there for us to witness and explore, it’s worth the shift in perspective that a good story brings to our ability to have an open mind when faced with the baffling.

So I’ll keep plugging along, and let you know how it goes next week. Meantime, as always, the ROW80 crew is working, too.

Best Teacher

"Your best teacher is your last mistake." @MotivatingForceWhat makes holiday weekends so interesting is the speed with which they zoom by. I started catching up on some of my NetGalley review books earlier this weekend–and even posted reviews of them over at Goodreads. (If you’re interested, they were for Reincarnation Blues and Marriage Claws.) Part of the reason I went looking for something new to read was because I wanted some perspective on the edits I’m facing. Do I make this choice or that choice? Do I cut this scene or that scene?

And then I got the new covers for the books I’m working on… and it was all squeeing from there.

😀

(Srsly… Go check out Kelley York’s cover designs. They’re ALL beautiful and I’m so very glad to push business her direction, since she’s professional, timely, and talented… and she’s still in college, so can use the extra income.)

So this week’s image seemed appropriate on a number of levels. Digging into what makes any story work or not takes consideration and time. Digging into my own stories to cut away the bits that hold it back from being as compelling as I’d like… takes even more consideration and time. I know I’d LIKE to finish all the edits on all three books this month. I also know… that’s likely a recipe for disaster.

The other recipe for disaster is apparently pet food. We got recall notices last week for treats we’d long since fed our pups, so I spent some time getting to know Petsumer Reports this week. We’re apparently super-lucky we haven’t run into this issue in the past–and that apparently the batches we received were not ones that could have made our pups sick. Luck is not something I want to rely on in the long term. So I dug into the research available at that site and found a new brand of dog food (for cat owners, there are feline foods as well) called Just Food For Dogs. The company’s story was compelling, so we will be receiving our first shipment this week. I’ll let you know how the furbabies like it.

I also read an article with specific tips to help reinforce mental toughness. It’s a useful reminder as I face the task of setting this round’s goals. (And I’m really happy to report that Tashie hopped up onto the futon in my office under her own steam tonight, so is in her preferred cheerleader position to help me push forward. smile ) For Round 3 this year I’d like to:

  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. Walk at least a mile a day.
  5. Blog weekly with my ROW80 updates.
  6. Keep the sanctity of my weekly date night with hubs.

I suspect that will be more than enough to carry me for the next 80 days. It gives me about 25 days for each book in the series. It means my release date for book 3 is now more than likely in September… but I’d like to not be embarrassed by my first novel anymore. (Notwithstanding all the kind people who read it and liked it in its first incarnation, the pacing was never quite right and I’ve learned some of my weaknesses as an author with additional experience under my belt, so I’d like to do this story the justice it’s earned.)

So it’s back to checking in with the rest of my ROW80 crew to see what they’re aiming toward. I’ll return next week with my report on my progress.

The Price

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." -Henry David ThoreauI keep getting the question from supportive friends and family: Do you think this week will be less intense? I’m to the point where I think I must’ve leveled up somewhere, because it seems that even weeks that should have been “lighter” end up exhausting. This week I lost another filling and New Dentist says that tooth will have to be fixed with a crown, while the two lower teeth that might have been candidates for a crown now appear to be candidates for extraction and implants. All these hours in a dentist’s chair are exacting a heavy opportunity cost of me, so this week’s quote from Thoreau seems particularly apt.

And I’m reminded of that seminal scene in Princess Bride when Count Rugen deploys his life-suctioning invention on Westley:

As you know, the concept of the suction pump is centuries old. Really that’s all this is except that instead of sucking water, I’m sucking life. I’ve just sucked one year of your life away. I might one day go as high as five, but I really don’t know what that would do to you. So, let’s just start with what we have. What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity so be honest. How do you feel?

All the more so when some of the people I follow on Twitter this week schooled me on such a diversity of topics. Like the history of policing, which, given America’s adoration of capitalism, shouldn’t surprise anyone to have begun when, “mercantile interests … wanted to divest themselves of the cost of protecting their own enterprises, transferring those costs from the private sector to the state.” Or the Boer war, in which the English herded Boers into their own tragic concentration camps, and “people died like rats.” Or a reminder of the rights US women didn’t have even in the 1960s.

Small wonder that with historic measures of prosperity now becoming more accessible to a wider swath of the population, there’s a new push by the wealthy to distinguish themselves less by the things they can buy than by the experiences they can buy, as outlined in an interesting article I read at the Aeon. That concept of “inconspicuous consumption” might have to make its way into a future story.

Which brings me back around to my lack of progress on my current editing tasks. I’m hopeful that in the few gaps in activity over the long holiday weekend, I’ll be able to switch gears more readily, but given the additional, unexpected dental joy I’m facing, I’m not holding my breath.

We are, at least, keeping up with our walking. My phone says I averaged 4,764 steps each day this week, down some from last week, but still over 2 miles per day.

We also watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the beginning of a prequel series to the Harry Potter books and movies. It was surprisingly moving and we’re now anxiously awaiting the second in the series, which is scheduled for release next year. It would be amazing to meet a niffler. Or any of the other magical creatures created for this series. And the fact that JK Rowling set loose these imaginary beasties as part of the hard follow-on work to daydreaming about A character… well. It’s inspirational. And aspirational. Especially for a speculative fiction author like me.

This is the “in-between” week for the ROW80 group, but some of us are still keeping pace with our weekly checkins, so while I’m considering my goals for the official Round kick-off post next week, I encourage you to go see what they’re up to.

Making Mistakes

"The successful man will profit from his mistakes and try again in a different way." -Dale CarnegieI’m not actually much of a Dale Carnegie fan, but something about this quote from him struck me as appropriate for any writer facing edits. I now have all three edits back from Liana, and actually began work on book 1 this week. The good news: Liana reported significant improvement in my writing between books 1 and 3. The bad news… there’s a lot of work to be done on all three books. I had hoped to churn through edits on the first before the end of the month, but neglected to take into account my work load.

Last week was heavy with reporting and oodles of other activities, so I don’t have much time before my promo effort kicks off July 1–especially since we have plans both of the next two weekends. And because we seem to be entering another phase of illness and hospitalization in the family. Worse, they’re happening in other states, so all we can do is sit on the phone to gather and disseminate updates, providing what moral support and spiritual encouragement we can from a distance.

Oddly, this week seems to have been the week of considering travel. It kicked off with hubs sending an article about a student who had visualized the major roads of the Roman Empire as a subway transit map. Then he forwarded a “bucket list” of Virginia spots to visit (a few of which we have already seen). And today I discovered that a friend from what feels like a former life has started up her own blog… focusing on travel.

In between I got sucked down the rabbit hole of research for my books, and learned more about Yakutia, the largest “statoid” in Russia, or the world. I also learned more about journalist Anna Politkovskaya via a review of her posthumous book “A Russian Diary”. The latter plays into why the long arm of the KGB (which Liana keeps pointing out to me no longer exists… except that it was the source of training for the most senior Russian politicians and leaders of the FSB) is such a bogey man in my Red Slaves books.

And then there was the link to visual art as social commentary that hubs sent. The author of that post starts with the quote, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” but doesn’t attribute it to author Cesar A. Cruz. However, that quote in the introduction is perfect for the kinds of think-pieces presented. While all the images spoke to some level of truth, the one most ironic to me was the commentary about Facebook feeding the ego. Potentially that ego trip trap exists for all authors.

Which brings me back full-circle to the need to focus on editing for the next while. Strip my ego from my words and make the stories sing for my readers.

Meantime, we keep walking. Through what feels like a swamp, since the average humidity in the area has hovered in the mid-70 percent region. (One night, our household weather station reported 96% humidity… but no rain and 71 degrees. It felt like we were walking in a bathtub.) Still, my phone says I averaged 5,490 steps per day, which is another jump for me, and I hope represents some improved conditioning for both of us.

For some silly reason, I’ve also gotten active on NetGalley again, picking up three books there in the past week. I’m about a third through one of them for which I’d had high hopes, but so far it hasn’t actually grabbed me enough to make me want to finish it. Still, each of the books has a deadline for a review, so those are now part of my goals, too.

I’ll be back next week to report on my progress, but in the meantime, encourage you to see how the other ROW80ers are finishing up this round.

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