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Another Year Gone

Image of a red squirrel with its paws outstretched with the caption: "And just like that... POOF! Weekend gone!"

So 2023 begins. Actually productively. I finished a big editing job this weekend for a nonfiction book that has my cogs turning about the power of the spoken word. Interestingly enough, this particular job is in trade for finally getting one of my novels read into audiobook format.

I’ll keep you posted on when the audiobook is available, as well as when that nonfiction book goes live. In fact, you’ll know about that one because it’s ponderous enough I’m planning to post a review. For a preview, the author has posted a YouTube video outlining some of her thoughts.

Of course, we’re in the midst of the darkness of winter, and have just passed the various holiday celebrations of the return of the light. I’m grateful we’re enjoying a mild winter in our new place, and have had our windows and doors open today again, for the third time this week. In fact, I recently learned that there’s an Irish tradition of leaving the doors open to allow the old year to pass through – which was enough to generate its own meme. But there are other interesting, local traditions elsewhere in the world. And there is a long history of caroling during festive times, as well as a much newer tradition of sending Christmas cards. (Which we don’t, for a variety of reasons, so this blog serves as my general update on life in progress for friends, family, and other readers.) That also raises the question of what even is Christmas spirit? Along those lines, research done by one of the Pew groups is starting to highlight the contrasts and similarities between being religious, spiritual, and atheist.

To which survey I might respond with some of these well-stated “stay out of my business” quotes. Though I do appreciate the people who shared their family holiday traditions.

It seems that some of the various treatments I’ve been undergoing in the past year have given me the energy to make more progress on my creative work. So my goal for this year: To release at least two more novels – one of mine, and one co-written with Gayla. I’ve already heard the first two chapters of my audiobook-in-progress, so imagine that will be coming out sooner than later as well. And if things are really flowing well, who knows how many more words of fiction I might produce. But since I’ve been fallow for so long, we’ll keep things manageable with these three. I’ve already begun as I mean to go on, so we’ll all cross our fingers that the year allows them to come to fruition. As ever, I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Quiet Souls

"Some days, the world is too loud, for a quiet soul." - J. Rose | The Minds Journal

Our new place lends itself to bird watching, though we still do it more from the wonder at the range of species with whom we live in close proximity than anything as formal as a birding log or even falling back on the old birding guides I know my grandparents made regular use of. Every week or two, a bald eagle will soar overhead… more than likely chivvied along by a local crow. And we’re seeing geese fly toward Aquia Harbor – and can see a lot of that water from our house through the naked tree branches now. I suppose picking up birding wouldn’t be the worst habit I might pick up from my ancestors.

It makes me think about some of the pervasive myths about survival in the wild.

And then there’s the new thing about going “Goblin mode,” Oxford’s “word of the year” this year. I can get with the lazy part of this, and can even see how dressing for comfort might edge in this direction, but I have a hard time getting behind slovenly and greedy. Unless those have been defined by someone who’s not getting every last drop of my energy to serve their needs. Luckily, I’ve learned a lot about defining how I live my life on my own terms. In partnership with hubs and our fur-babies.

Which makes reading about successful marriages an interesting set of observations that significantly reflect our reality. Of course, it’s always a good reminder to stay calm during an argument. But more than that, we’ve found that the more important thing is to be present for conversations about the things that are bothering us. More often than not, a discussion and cuddle is enough to resolve the angst disrupting our inner calm. I think that’s actually the biggest benefit of a strong partnership: We provide for each other that space that allows us inner quietude. Naturally, being at a distance from DC has also brought a measure of peace, despite the fact that the world continues down its loud, disruptive path.

We’ve had a few of those disruptions here, as our puppy gets through his teething and growing phase, some of them quite costly. So I’m looking forward to the quiet of the holiday season to enjoy more time at home, falling more toward the introspection that is my native state. I wish you and yours a similar time of restoration and quietude. May the season’s push toward hibernation and cocooning allow you to emerge revitalized into the new year.

Time to Write; Time to Recharge

The amount of recharge time you need is entirely reasonable
(image of a purple dragon sleeping on a mushroom)

It’s November. For those of you who’ve known me for a while know that I started off my novel-writing career by completing NaNoWriMo (national novel-writing month) two years in a row… over a decade ago. Every year since then, I’ve teetered on the will-she/won’t she fence, trying to decide whether I have the time and energy to repeat that process.

This year, I have other plans. I am honoring one of my few “friendships based on virtue” with spending time co-writing a novel. We’re starting chapter five already. It’s a completely new process for me–and strangely freeing. It’s even greased my mental wheels enough that the sharp-eyed among you might have noticed my word count on book three has crossed 1K.

Given that our shared genre falls within the full span of Scifi/Fantasy, it’s not uncommon for either of us to take research and real places or events and twist them through our own filter. So it annoys me when I read something that tells me all the reasons my brain is malfunctioning when I get vibes about particular times or places. Yet that research adds grist to my mill, too, since it would be an excellent explanation for why paranormal beings in our fiction are able to successfully obscure themselves from humanity.

Of course, time as a construct has its own issues. Which could be a different explanation for the ways our brains convince us of the extra dimensions around us. And today, naturally, is the end of the current year’s “Savings” time. I’ve railed about that stupidity enough over the years, and there was a glimmer of hope this year that the US legislative branch might settle into one time zone year round, but the House hasn’t taken up their side of the work. And now we’re in the midst of election theater, so the window is narrowing, and seems less and less likely. In the meantime, I also ran across an article about optimizing work time by minimizing distractions, and planning for deep focus periods.

Which has an interesting parallel in the land of fiction writing: Unless you carve out and defend your writing blocks from such enticing Internet distractions as research holes, social media posts, and daily news distractions, you’ll never write word 1. I’ve stumbled onto an interesting brain hack for myself that helps me avoid those pitfalls: playing “focus music” (often with binaural beats) on a browser tab set to YouTube helps me keep the words flowing.

Hubs and I have also finally gotten into enough of a rhythm with our lives in our new place that we’ve started catching up with our old shows. And added the new one of the Great British Bake-Off – which is as addictive and entertaining as the many who recommended it to us had promised. It’s not as taxing to watch as a series where we have to recollect plotlines we’ve half forgotten in the intervening months. And I discovered the “down-home” feel of the show is supported by an artist who is responsible for the custom renderings of the cooks’ food. An unanticipated benefit to watching has been to learn a new cooking technique or two. Then I ran across this article, that describes the proper way to brown meat.

So I’m busy and productive with writing so far this November, just not on NaNoWriMo. I’ll keep you posted with my progress.

Creating a New World

I realized this weekend that it’s now officially been six months since we moved in – and two months since we added a dervish of a puppy to our household. We’ve created a whole new world for ourselves in just half a year.

If you feel like you don't fit in this world, it is because you are here to help create a new one.

It’s remarkable if you frame it that way.

Animals are known to create their worlds, too. Interesting research on birdsong during the pandemic indicated the reduction in human noise (think cars and heavy traffic), added to the breadth of the soundscape they created. There’s a new world in processed foods, too, of microbes.

And if you really want to challenge yourself on adapting to a new world, try approaching it from a canine’s perspective. Recently there have been more stories in the news and social media about dog maulings, so it’s worth sharing a few tips on non-aggressive ways to approach strange, new dogs. As well as (once again) pointing out that punishment-based dog training is most likely to lead to a fearful, potentially aggressive dog.

From a humor perspective, The Guardian shared a list of 100 ways to do small things to improve your life. Can’t say I agree that just wearing yellow provides instant cheer for me (it tends to make me look sick, and therefore feel self-conscious), but I can say having an ereader on my phone – and therefore access to a whole library in my bag – is a source of significant comfort for me. And I’m happy to report that I found a new-to-me author this weekend (Elizabeth Hunter), who mixed up the most enticing catnip for me with her Cambio Springs series: PNR with a heavy dose of murder mystery and small-town, inter-generational support and interaction. It was great to retreat from the news of the world into such a richly imagined fictional world. Even more interesting to note the different kind of pacing this author used – her key pivots in the story came at the 30% and 60% point of those stories.

My work world has involved a lot more trips in to the office recently, so it was interesting to read others are struggling with escaping the heavy attraction to comfy clothes, and are making new rules about office wear.

Yet, with all these worlds colliding into the one we all agree to share, there are other worlds, still… several of them bouncing in my brain. I’m trying something new and different in my writing life: Co-writing a novel. We’re 5,000+ words in and thoroughly enjoying the process so far, but keeping all other details under wraps to protect this little seedling of a story from too much pressure or speculation.

It’s fired me up for writing my own story again, though I still haven’t actually puts words on a page. I will keep you posted on that, and hope that my readers don’t lose their appetite for the Planet Seekers conclusion.

I Would Drive 500 Miles

Our beloved pets often journey with us lifetime after lifetime... 
-Zen to Zany

With apologies to the Proclaimers… but I would drive 500 more, just to be the [person] who drove a thousand miles right to your door…

This week was a whirlwind of the unexpected and exhausting: Last week we discovered that the breeder where we’ve gotten our second generation of huskies had a four-month-old boy she needed to find a home for, since she’s suffered several traumatic health events in the past year. We’d been tentatively considering expanding our pack now that we’re settled into a new, dog-friendly place of our own; my timeline had been more toward the end of the year, so I could build up the time off to be able to spend the first week with the new baby of the house.

My timeline did not match the universe’s timeline. Wolfgang stormed into our hearts from his first picture, combining traits from two of our first-generation huskies in ways adorable and endearing, and reinforcing my belief that our beloveds do return to us if we open our hearts to that possibility.

Wolfgang, a black and white Siberian Husky, curled into the corner of our kitchen cabinets
(c) Tonya Cannariato 2022

So we drove the nearly thousand-mile round trip last Friday and Saturday and came home with our fourth husky. The first of our third generation. And we were reminded of how much work puppies are – though to be fair to Wolfy, he’s figured out the house training thing already, and after the first few nights of sleep-interruptus, we’re all back to our more regular sleep schedules… Even if that means he’s training us to go to bed earlier than had been our previous practice.

The amount of sleep deprivation we’re recovering from, though, had me wondering all week if I weren’t fighting some bug, since my symptoms included random low-grade fevers, dizziness, and headaches. I was grateful for the flexibility in my job that allowed me to work remotely for those hours I could manage while we figured out how to establish our new normal.

The puppy has given us all a welcome dose of joy, which I’m sure will help improve my resilience to micro-stresses. I would be curious whether, anywhere in the world of language, there is an “untranslatable word” that encompasses the wonder of the echoes of the lifetimes of connections we have with our fur-kids.

Interestingly, there’s been recent research on the nature of our connection with our stuff, that speaks to the fulfillment and completion that can come from furnishing a unique-to-you, comfortable home. How is it that beyond recognition that from a grief-counseling perspective losing a fur-baby is as traumatic as losing a family member, there is no corresponding language about the nature of this chosen-family, cross-species kind of connection?

From a completely non-scientific, non-randomized, non-rigorous review of what other authors in the SFR realm self-report about their animal companions, I find it interesting to note that those who write well about shifters and aliens and the deep, meaningful relationships that can be formed between those beings and humans… all have animal companions living with them. In my experience, the mental flexibility to represent a unique kind of cultural translation between beings of different species who’ve chosen to spend time together in harmony takes first-hand experience to portray with any fluency.

This latest change in our lives means I still haven’t officially started writing book three of my Planet Seekers series, but… it’s not far off now. I’ll keep you posted, as the shifters of my story take shape and impact the choices my characters face.

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