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Plot Twist

When something goes wrong in your life, just yell "plot twist" and move on.As the observant among you might have noticed, it’s been a month since my last blog post. In that time, I managed to finish the edits on books 1 & 2 in my Red Slaves trilogy, as well as get a decent start on edits for book 3. I’d hoped I would finish those this weekend, but needed to clean house in preparation for guests this week.

Book 3 should be out this week. Mainly because the whole trilogy is included in a Review Roundup event that ends on May 5th, so it needs to be available to those readers, too.

😀

However, the reason I’ve had the time to do all that work is a source of great sadness for me. After almost three years with my current employer, the company went through a restructuring process that made my role redundant. Friday was my last day at the office. I’m now officially on a full-time job hunt. Again.

In those moments when I have some perspective on the experience, and in particular on the one colleague who precipitated these changes, I have to marvel at the parallels between my editor’s complaints about my chronic lack of viable antagonists, and the real-life lesson in knowing a person who thinks they are a good person and yet is able to create this level of havoc in my life. In the six months this process has been underway, I’ve had stomach issues and insomnia to the degree that I’ve finally managed to lose 20 of the pounds all the fertility treatments had packed on. It’s a life lesson on as many levels as I can unpack.

I had to laugh when I saw reporting on Japanese Macaques that indicates their use of thermal springs helps reduce glucocorticoid metabolites. In other words, spa days have a measurable impact in stress reduction. It might be a message I should heed.

Another cogent article relates to giving the “how are you” question a make-over. Reframing that to something more like “what’s the best part of your day today” avoids non-answers and helps focus people on why their existence is worthwhile.

I’m grateful that I have a little time to recover my health and refocus on my creativity through this transition. And if it so happens that anyone reading knows of a company looking for a senior manager who has successfully managed more than 20 staff, 10 sub-contractors, and $22 million in annual contract value, and has the required credentials (MBA, PMP, CSM) to be listed as key personnel on government contracts, I’m available.

As part of my work transition, I caught up on my continuing education requirements for my PMP, but also read a few articles about the Pandora’s Box of Artificial Intelligence. The Economist wrote in depth about the strategic moves cloud services providers are undertaking, while big consultancies buy up small data analyst firms. Similarly, the New York Times wrote about tech firms trying to address privacy and hacking concerns by incorporating the other buzzword technology that’s been in the news recently: block chain. The counterbalance to these technologies is Edward Tenner’s interview breaking down what he calls the efficiency paradox. Tenner points out there are some things computers do very well, and others where it’s best to rely on humans. To me, the key quote in his interview is this: “By removing so much trial and error and productive mistakes, platform efficiency can lock us into existing patterns.” He’s particularly concerned about the impact on artists in our relentless pursuit of efficiency.

Which makes a neat segue to the other category of articles I read. One outlined a whole cadre of female fine artists and pondered the bias against retrospectives for them. Another considered some of the take-aways for writers from the successes Ready Player One has enjoyed. Finally, there was an article by Molly Ringwald about her rear-view mirror perspective on having been an actor in The Breakfast Club. Her view on what it was to be recognized as John Hughes’ muse and her take on the exploitation that represented a strong undertow in the industry were framed with the phrase: “I have felt the need to examine the role that these movies have played in our cultural life: where they came from, and what they might mean now.” It was a thoughtful approach to the era, but also interesting commentary on how societies evolve. And in particular, what impact and role art has in that process.

Finally, there were multiple articles about Barbara Ehrenreich’s newest book. In it, she explains that she finally feels “old enough” not to go for all the tests and do all the preventive things and in general follow the dictates handed down by western physicians. The review in The Atlantic, by Victoria Sweet, written from the perspective of one of those western physicians, was the one that stuck with me the most. It centers on the fear of dying that drives most of these interventions. In another strange reflection of my editor’s critique of my work that brings us back to the starting point for this blog entry, there’s a particularly gripping quote regarding agency–the ability of a being to choose to act:

Researchers are now finding this same agency everywhere, Ehrenreich reports—in fruit flies; in viruses; in atoms, electrons, and photons. Such discoveries must mean that agency, the capacity for making decisions—electrons jumping up a quantum level or not, photons passing through this hole in a screen rather than another—is not the rare, and human, prerogative we once thought.

That ability to make choices, on a micro and macro level has far-reaching implications. I’m still pondering them. And having this mindset is making my revision process interesting. Everybody has something driving their actions; whether those choices make sense to the rest of us drives whether our observations label the person making those choices a good guy or a bad guy.

All of this, and I still averaged 4,596 steps so far this month, according to my phone, as well as 7 hours 20 minutes of sleep at night. And hubs and I started watching the remake of Lost in Space. So far, I love it, though it’s a little more adrenaline-fueled than what I usually enjoy. But the action is leavened with flashbacks and characterizations that make the characters’ responses to each next catastrophe compelling.

Also, even though I’m late, I still need to outline my goals for this Round. I’ve already accomplished the first two–revise and re-release books 1 & 2. Here, then, are my goals for the remainder of the Round, which I think runs until the end of June:

  1. Find and start a new day job.
  2. Edit Fire to Dragon and release it.
  3. Blog weekly with my ROW80 updates.
  4. Decide on which plotbunny to follow next, and begin writing my 11th book.
  5. Walk at least a mile a day.
  6. Sleep at least 7 hours a night.
  7. Keep the sanctity of my weekly date night with hubs.

Until next week, then, I have plenty to keep me busy. I recommend you do as I do and keep tabs on the others participating in ROW80 until then.

Saving Time

Daylight Savings Time: "We've just sucked one hour of your life away. Tell me... How do you feel?"Apparently this meme has been making the rounds for some time, but I saw it for the first time today, and almost fell out of my chair laughing. So this is the first place I thought to share it. Naturally.

😀

Mainly because my hate for the idiocy of DST is epic. Maybe even legendary. There is research that proves it’s bad for our health, and that gets reported regularly this time of year. The best framing of this nonsense, though is this:

‘Only a white man would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket.’

Not sure which native tribe produced that fount of wisdom, but it’s posted on the Lakotah’s site, so that’s where I’ll give credit.

The rest of the week, though, I was reading more about psychology. I learned about the Ben Franklin Effect, wherein if you ask a person for a favor, that person is more likely to think of you as a friend. As the psychologist leading the session explained: It’s thought that our brains can’t handle the cognitive dissonance of having done something nice for someone without thereafter imagining friendship to have been the underlying motivation. A different psychologist, studying academic achievement, wrote almost a decade ago, that based purely on this measure, our world should be a matriarchy. So the people at Nautilus went to interview her to follow up. Turns out there are some interesting nuances to the choices women make and the things they prioritize in their lives that could be an explanation for why there aren’t more women in senior leadership roles. From the other side of that equation, there was a thoughtful piece on work-related depression, and things that could cause it–including a sense of disempowerment, lack of meaningful work, and toxic work relationships. Finally, a cartoonist featured in Mental Floss gave some powerful insights into the different mindsets of apology vs. thankfulness.

Apart from learning things, I spent yesterday volunteering my time at my company’s Women In Computing event. I built almost 50 Google Cardboard devices as part of one of the sessions teaching about how 3D vision works in 2D environments. It was exciting and funny to hear the girls exclaim things like: “This is part of your JOB?? You have the best job, ever!” We may have succeeded in part of our mission, based on those comments. I hope the girls stick to their enthusiasm.

The other excitement of the week: The ever-excellent Kelley York, of x-potions designs, created a logo for me:

I love everything about it, so you’ll be seeing it anywhere you see my work.

In my free time… (Friday night!) I read a new novella by Ekaterine Xia, Goddess in Waiting. It took things I love about fractured fairy tales and upped the ante: This is the story of a minor goddess in the Chinese pantheon, married to Thanatos (Greek god of death), who has accepted her “fall” into humanity, but learns she has to fight for her god-hood. The pieces about (minor spoiler) her miscarriage ripped me to shreds and the ending would be all of my wishes fulfilled, but the story in between involved Ra (the sun goddess), Gaia, and several of the archangels trying to address the underlying question of whether Earth were Ascending at a rate commensurate with its achievement of space travel. There was plenty of fertile ground for my brain. I would highly recommend this book for its blurring the lines between fantasy and scifi and its ability to see parallels across cultures.

On the editing front, I fought through another 25 pages. I’m getting closer and closer to halfway done, so I keep imagining it might get easier. But then my editor throws me another suggestion, and for the moment, I’m back at the beginning, weaving in additional early clues. My phone says I averaged 4,051 steps last week, back up in the acceptable realm of exercise for us. Sleeping, though, remained stubbornly at 6 hours and 10 minutes per night.

So we’re down to the final 9 days of this Round. I’m at least glad I’m back in the habit of facing my manuscripts regularly during the week, but I’m not sure I’ll finish the first book in time for the end of the Round. Regardless, I’ll be checking in with my ROW80 mates and returning again next week to report on my progress.

Relax

Relax... We're all crazy... It's not a competitionThe wind storm that closed out this week in dramatic fashion reminded me… I need balance in my life. The storm kept me up half the night with the intense sound of a freight train rumbling over my head, and capped itself by knocking out power for eight hours straight, before making it (AND THE INTERNET!) flicker for another ten. This (WIND!), I confess, is my atavistic fear. I don’t know if it’s a hold-over from having seen The Wizard of Oz as a little girl, and then spent summers in Minnesota and Michigan, where my grandmothers both warned me about tornadoes. I do know that when the wind blows hard, my first thought is, “it’s gonna KILL me.”

It was good to remind myself of some of my de-stressing tricks.

And it was interesting that this week the theme for my reading was about depression and mental health. First was a Vox article making a strong call for new ways of treating depression. The research that author cites points to social connections being as vital to treatment as any other element. That without recognizing the life context and the need for specific sets of elements of security (from hunger, from pain, from uncertainty), even the strongest medications are likely to fail. Then my cousin shared an alarming article about an increase in teen mental distress. I next stumbled across an article about how linguistics researchers were able to parse language use to show how people with depression use different words and sentence constructions. The odd capper to all of these, though, was an article about Italian researchers who were able to test for and quantify the impact of luck on a person’s likelihood to succeed in life.

Taken together with all the previous research, the concluding paragraph of the final article was a sucker punch to those who act as if hoarding money or power is helpful in any way to the world they live in:

As the researchers point out, since rewards and resources are usually given to those who are already highly rewarded, this often causes a lack of opportunities for those who are most talented (i.e., have the greatest potential to actually benefit from the resources), and it doesn’t take into account the important role of luck, which can emerge spontaneously throughout the creative process. The researchers argue that the following factors are all important in giving people more chances of success: a stimulating environment rich in opportunities, a good education, intensive training, and an efficient strategy for the distribution of funds and resources. They argue that at the macro-level of analysis, any policy that can influence these factors will result in greater collective progress and innovation for society (not to mention immense self-actualization of any particular individual).

And it closes the circle with studies from the first article that showed a universal basic income reduced the incidences of people seeking out hospitalization or doctor visits because of mental distress.

So this was the week I took it upon myself to check on friends who have been hurting… and to take another reading break. This time I enjoyed Jen Foehner-Wells’ book 2 in her Confluence series, Remanence. I’ve read the books in this series all out of order, but they stand up to my disarray. The concept of a being who faces evidence that rather than having been a partner, he was a slave, and how that knowledge transforms him is one core component of this epic space opera, and really added emotional heft to that installment. I’d highly recommend the series to anyone looking for escapist sci-fi with some meaty teeth to it.

Apart from all that, the weather constrained us this week with regard to walking. The doggies were not happy, and my phone says I averaged 2,841 steps over the past week. My sleep average was up a few minutes, to 6 hours 21 minutes, so awareness does lead to action in some cases.

😀

I also managed three nights of editing. Twenty-one hard-fought pages. And my lovely editor, Liana Brooks, is forcing me to UNPACK all the things. Each time I edit, my goalpost shift further right, because I add more pages to describe things she points out as missing. At least my progress bar puts me at 32% complete now. There might be an end in sight.

It will be a miracle if I finish before the end of this Round, though. So I’ll close for now, aim for even more sleep, and point you at my fellow ROW80ers as we chug along to our finish line.

No Time

A day on a Jupiter's moon lasts less than 5 hours--just like Saturday and Sunday on Earth.I know there are typos and grammar errors in the meme I’m sharing this week… but the sense of how quickly time slips through my hands is right on the money. And, I don’t care if it’s minus 260 F at the warmest on Europa, escaping to the stars and avoiding emails and work and obligations for a while sounds right up my alley. (For some reason for the past week or two I have had Frank Sinatra in my head singing “Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars.” It feels like an invitation to write another installment of a space opera when I have forcibly grounded my imagination for edits. The struggle is real.)

It’s the second week of the Reviewer Round-up I wrote about last week. This week is novel week, and there are more than 40 of us offering free review copies. The woman organizing this gives reviewers points for the number of reviews posted and offers prizes for completed (HONEST) reviews, so as an author, I was thrilled to get feedback on Dragon’s Pursuit. I’m really hoping for similar results for The Builders this week, so if you know anyone who’s looking for free reads and the chance at prizes if they post reviews what they’ve read, point them to the link above.

🙂

As far as reading goes, and maybe explaining another reason why this weekend slipped through my fingers, I found the latest Kait Nolan Misfit Inn story as well as a new author to me who was writing about gargoyles. They were both novellas, so no all-nighters reading, but I’m beginning to think I need to take a class in Nolan. smile I’m honestly not a huge fan of contemporary romance, and yet she sucks me in every time. Her stories are tightly crafted and after you’ve read enough of them, you start to feel like there are certain inside jokes for those readers of hers who have binged a number of her titles.

Part of the reason I was looking for that kind of escapism is an issue at work that has me reading about why we fall for narcissistic leaders; how to handle increased stress and build your resilience; how to measure the economic impact of having or lacking trust in your company; and how to cultivate gratitude, compassion, and pride on your team. None are easy topics, and neither is the situation driving the research. Interestingly, The Guardian published a story about women pushing back on patriarchy that felt related. We’ll see how it all plays out over time, but these situations make a normal work week more challenging than usual.

At least I got the bonus of going to the Black Panther with hubs for an actual date night. It was as amazing as all the reviewers have said, and I feel like it’s the majority of what we’ve talked about since. It’s certainly earned all the financial records it’s broken. What’s really fascinating is that there’s already a teacher who’s using the meaty themes of the movie to develop a curriculum to deal with topics like black revolution, black feminism, and the legacy of colonialism and anti-black racism. I love that people are engaging more seriously with popular culture, rather than looking for mere escapism, especially in the face of ongoing news coverage of the horrifying kind.

We averaged 3,602 steps per day according to my phone, so are gradually increasing again even though we both had several nights of disrupted sleep as we continued to recover from last week’s oral surgeries. My phone says that translated to an average of 6 hours and 4 minutes of actual sleep per night, so we’ll be working on increasing that this week. If I didn’t feel so regularly like I had to catch up on snooze over the weekends, maybe they wouldn’t feel so short, too.

Meantime, I’m down to three weeks to finish my ROW80 goals. The clock is ticking. I hope my ROW80 buddies are doing better with theirs than I am with mine. I’ll be back again next week to report, regardless.

Recuperating

It's the start of a brand new day, and I'm off like a herd of turtles.Friday was phase two of my latest adventure in oral surgery, so it’s been a quiet couple of days as I recuperate. When the image I’m including with this week’s post ran across my Facebook timeline yesterday I had to laugh for how appropriate it was to how I’ve been feeling. One of the peculiarities of my physiology is that I’m super-sensitive to pharmaceuticals. Coming out of anesthesia Friday, that meant at one point my blood pressure dropped to 90 over 44 and there was a lot of scurrying to get me more meds. My hands are bruised from needle sticks and my jaw is still sore, but it’s back to the grindstone this week.

One thing people who follow me on Facebook might have noticed: I’m participating in a Reviewer Round-Up via Totally Talented Promotion. There are 38 of us who have novellas in the ring this week (and I would imagine a similar number with novels starting next week), so if you’re interested in a free review copy, join the fun. For other authors who have scrounged, begged, and pleaded as I have for reviews, Kelli at TTP has created a system to collect and engage avid readers unlike any I’ve experienced before; I would highly recommend her services.

My other go-to Kelley was hard at work for me this week, too. She created a BEAUTIFUL new version of the cover for The Builders that makes it more apparent that this is an F/F scifi romance. She was able to give Navenah the body art I dreamed of and just generally gave me the goosebumps for being able to channel the kind of connection these two characters share with each other. For your viewing pleasure, here it is:

The Builders, by Tonya CannariatoI’m not sure how long it will take for the updated files to fully propagate across all the vendors (and we still have to build the paperback cover and version), but I’m so thrilled to be able to promote Kelley’s x-potion designs business once more. She’s a gifted cover artist and a joy to work with, so she’s earned another unqualified recommendation for her efforts.

Aside from the mouth work and book promotion work, I did manage just a few more pages of editing while I wasn’t blurry with other things, so I keep making baby steps forward. I haven’t yet heard that my audiobook is up on audible, either, so I’ve wasted an inordinate amount of time hitting refresh on that search. Here’s crossing my fingers that it will finally become available there this week.

For the things I track in the news, this was a big week in China. US intelligence services begged US consumers not to buy Huawei phones for the security breaches they could allow. At the same time, China announced big moves on both the space and artificial intelligence fronts. It will be interesting to track how those developments play out over time. From the perspective of setting big and audacious goals, it would appear the US has things to learn from the Chinese, though.

On the personal side, the launch of The Black Panther this weekend introduced me to the real-life version of the Dora Milaje, Dahome’s Women Warriors. Beyond that, Trish Nicholson wrote a broader history of female warriors that is inspiring in different ways. Then I discovered Vanessa Lafaye, an author dealing with cancer, and her moving blog about living while dying, including her bucket-list trip to New Zealand, and was reminded we all fight different battles on different days. In a serendipitous match, Liana Brooks tweeted a link to a blog post about 7 Brutal Life Lessons Everyone Has to Learn Multiple Times about the same time. And then there was the GQ article arguing that to be more productive we need to take more breaks and naps.

A colleague recommended the Sleep Cycle app a few weeks back, so even though I don’t like having my phone by my bed overnight, it’s been useful having the data the app collects. Over the two and a half weeks I’ve been using it, my phone says I’ve averaged six hours and seven minutes of sleep. So I’ve been deluding myself about getting sufficient sleep, and now have data to help me correct my bad habits. I’ll be looking to increase that tally over time. My steps were down this week because of the surgery, so my phone says I averaged 3,314 steps per day–still slightly up from my last report though. It’s an interesting exercise to use the technology in a smart phone to understand some basic health metrics and work to improve on them in a measurable way. I would never have considered those an argument for a smart phone even five years ago, but I’m certainly finding these tools useful now. They seem to be all the small reminders and sources of honest accountability that I need to keep taking care of myself appropriately.

Still, we’re winding down to the final month of this Round, and I’m not sure that I will be able to meet my other goals. It’s halfway through February and there is still an overwhelming pile of editing work ahead of me. We’ll see whether I manage to pick up the pace, but I certainly need to keep reminding myself about prioritization of efforts during times when I have the energy and attention available to do a decent job. I’ll be back again next week to report again, and in the meantime will be checking out my ROW80 compatriots for their progress.

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