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That’s It?

Never regret a day in your life: Good days give happiness, bad days give experience, worst days give lessons, and best days give memories.

The release of Team TaoRuti marked the completion of my 12th book, as well as my 13th release. It’s the second book in an SFR series, my first new (story) release in nearly two years, and reflected a decent amount of the collective trauma we’ve lived through in Our Year of COVID. It was hard to finish. And, as with most of my other releases, landed with minimal fanfare and a small number of sales.

Completing a story always comes as a bit of a let-down; it’s a big enough milestone to invite a pause and an evaluation of what I’m getting out of putting myself through all this stress and effort.

For me, it always comes back to: I love stories and the creative process. Being open to the world around me. And I’m enough of a Gen Xer to want to do my own thing for my own reasons, so this mode of self-expression suits my spiritual/emotional needs. But there’s an echo to the burnout reported in The Passion Paradox. Obviously writing as an independent author gives me extreme autonomy. And I can see the improvement in my writing skills book over book. But for as many positive reviews as my books have gotten, I’ve never gotten fanmail from a stranger or any sense that there is a community of readers out there who would be upset if I just stopped publishing. It feels, at the end of the publishing process, profoundly exhausting to have invested huge amounts of time and effort for so little return.

According to the IRS, my writing remains a very expensive hobby.

Interestingly, research points to specific activities that help people recover from burn-out – primarily centered on self-care. And spending time with hubs, my very best friend, who understands implicitly the cycle of ups and down that come with creative production. (Interestingly, there were points made in that first article that are repeated in a second about signs of a happy marriage. Considering that earlier this year we celebrated our 23rd anniversary, I can’t argue the correlation. 🙂 )

So I’ve gone back to my primary self-care mode and read. I’m ahead of my Goodreads goal for the year for now again, and the two most recent books have reignited my story in me. The first I got as an eARC from Netgalley, so you’ll be seeing a review about it in the next week – a profound mix of philosophy and scifi that deserves every accolade it will undoubtedly accrue. The second was randomly listed as a freebie on one of the many book-promoting email listservs I subscribe to. It’s a mash-up of historical fiction, urban fantasy, cozy mystery tinged slightly darker than that genre generally expects, and just enough of a slow-burn romance to seriously pique my interest. And it’s the first of a 10-book series. Totally my jam.

The funny thing about reading really good books – for me, anyway – is that last night I figured out how to start book 3 of my Planet Seekers trilogy. The subtext of the series is a reflection on things I’ve experienced in my career… held at the arm’s length of a post-apocalyptic scifi story. There’s definitely more water in that well, so we’ll kick off book three with the fun of a jargon-filled, pointless meeting.

So. That’s not it, after all. I’ll keep writing and publishing. And if you have any interest in reading my books for the purpose of reviewing them, contact me for a free eARC.

Anniversary and Completion

Yes, there really are Perfect Matches.
Quote from Zen 2 Zany on top of a sepia-toned picture of a romantically dressed couple holding a great horned owl.

This week hubs and I celebrate 23 years of marriage, so it is fitting that I should run across an article describing six distinct types of love. And I finally finished writing book two of my Planet Seekers series. Now that I’ve finished reading it to hubs, and have guidance on a final few missing scenes, it’ll go to my trusty editor, Liana, which means I’m starting to consider a marketing plan for it.

My first idea is to proceed with creating audiobook versions for both of the Planet Seekers books. Apart from that, we’re looking into setting up interviews with long-form talk radio hosts hubs has become friendly with. It will be interesting to see whether these new approaches will garner any new readers.

Of course, we’re also still laboring under the constrictions of COVID-driven lock-down. It occurred to me yesterday, that likely part of the reason I’ve embraced these restrictions so whole-heartedly was because of my university experience studying monasticism, which culminated with a week-long stay behind the walls of Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Maumont. Living within those strictures was one of the happiest times of my life. With all the assurance of a 20-year-old, as enticing as becoming a contemplative was, I decided then that that would be the “easy path” for me. It seems I was not wrong.

But more and more outlets are writing of the toll lock-down is taking on people’s mental health. Managers are being given tips on how to support their teams in beating WFH burnout. I even read about the seven types of rest people require, and about the simple Dutch cure for stress.

I, on the other hand, have embraced my inner night owl. I’m happy with the distinct phases of my day: work, eating, canine care, creativity, sleep. There is order for me, and much less stress, even as my responsibilities on the work front continue to tick up. The real challenge for me will be to face a return to full-time work at the office.

Given current conditions, that is still at a minimum, months away. But as a neighbor and friend gets ready to sell their house and take retirement, I look down the barrel of twenty more years of a day job career and wonder how that will play out. Which puts an interesting spin on the experiment Amsterdam is conducting with its economy in the wake of COVID restrictions. And then, in a different call-back to the study a few years back documenting the importance of luck in gaining “success” in a system, there was a fascinating case made for the mathematical reason not to blame people for their misfortunes.

The notion of time also got scrambled scientifically in the past few years by Carlo Rovelli, who points out the quantum implications of the relationship between time and gravity–and hints that our human insistence on a linear description of experience might be more wrong-headed than we’d imagined. Similarly, Einstein’s theory about general relativity was recently strengthened by observations of the collision of two neutron stars in 2017.

Which all boils down to say the universe is stranger than we’d imagined, and our place in it more fluid. Comforting thoughts as I come up on the quarter-century anniversary of meeting hubs and the half-century marker since my birth later this year. “Chance” has had quite a bit of say in my life, and I’ve learned enough not to say “never” again, so I’m excited about the opportunity I’ve been granted to continue to spin fictional tales. It still remains to be seen which one I pursue next, but for now I’m in the more mechanical phase of error correction and fleshing out before I start with an exploration of producing audio content. Stay well, and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Surprise Release of Red Slaves omnibus edition – Happy New Year

The Red Slaves Collection - omnibus edition of books 1 through 4

Starting with good news: I was able to work with Kelley to come up with a “collected works” cover strategy for my Red Slaves series, so I could release all four eBooks in the series at a price point that rewards readers for continuing through the whole story–essentially, buy books 2 and 3, and get books 1 and 4 for free. (I’ll keep updating that page as new buy locations roll in.) What surprised me was that these four books together represent almost 200K words. I never would have anticipated that I could write that much. Especially given that my earliest creative efforts were poems.

Which brings me to my not-great news: I was gung-ho to at least manage 25K words in November to finally finish book 2 of my Planet Seekers series. Then I got the kind of interesting news from the day job that boils down to longer hours and more responsibilities, and that energy got re-allocated. If you’re following my blog’s side-bar tracker, you can see I’m still 9K words away from finishing writing. Which was a lot of what drove my decision to release the omnibus.

I’m hopeful book 2 will come out in the first quarter of 2021. I’ll keep you posted either way. By way of background research, I read an interesting article about how an evolutionary biologist is coming to terms with the Gaia theory, which makes for a different take on my sentient planet characters.

Other science news I’ve been digesting relates to the relationship between eigenvectors and eigenvalues. More important in our current, COVID-restricted environment was an opinion piece in Scientific American talking about how current scientific debate is being shut down. As a writer in the SFF spectrum, the ability to question everything is a key skill–and, ironically, generally considered the hallmark of good science. Listening to absolutists who regularly bloviate in the public sphere, combined with the concerns outlined in that article have both been key drivers to push me toward tuning out what is commonly reported. In fact, I closed out 2020 having read 121 books, and was intrigued by an article that emphasized how important fiction reading is to developing “mentalizing” skills. Maybe if more people read more fiction, it would be easier to cross the barriers that have become so evident in society.

🙂

In the meantime I read about the effort to protect “one square inch of silence” and was intrigued by the concept of being in a space where no human-generated sounds would intrude within the span of 15 minutes. Given the wild number of distractions available, this sounds like the pursuit of paradise to me.

And then there are the articles that talk about making peace with not having a legacy; how overexposure to cortisol as a child has life-long impacts on the ability to remember, organize, and pay attention; and the importance of peripersonal space. An intriguing recollection of the early friendship between Sartre and Camus led to an analysis of their disagreement over the nature of freedom that drove them apart. Finally, the balm of these days, friendship, was beautifully described by Kahlil Gibran.

I will be returning to my monthly blog habit, as well as posting select reviews (watch for one later this week about the upcoming release from Suleikha Snyder, which does all the kinds of genre-bending mash-up things that make me happy) this year. And I will try to stay on the 1K words per week path that seems to be my minimum regular output in the face of … waves handslife. Be well until next time.

NaNoWriMo or Bust

Don't be afraid to start over. This time you're not starting from scratch, you're starting from experience.

I started writing Team TaoRuti a year ago tomorrow, hoping to borrow from the NaNoWriMo energy that has propelled me to finish several of my novels. I’d just started a new position on a new project at the day job, so it probably wasn’t realistic to expect to complete the story then. But I would have thought I could’ve finished by now.

And then… 2020.

I’ve said plenty about what we’ve collectively faced this year. And I’ve heard from almost every creative person I know that the overwhelming news cycles have drained them of almost every drop of imagination. (Protests! Wild fires! COVID-19! Lock-down! Stock market crash! Murder hornets! Hurricanes! Police brutality! BLM! Riots! Earthquakes! Typhoons!) There are some dark memes out there pointing out that were 2020 being developed in a writer’s room, any competent show runner would fire everyone and start over, because the tangled story lines are nonsensical as fiction.

Thus has fiction become my retreat. Not the writing of it–I produced nothing new on my stories between February and August–but the reading of it. Goodreads shows I’ve read 105 books so far this year.

Keeping up with research results has been interesting, too. Creating metallic hydrogen could change the way we launch rockets. Perovskite could change how we harvest solar energy. Superconductivity could be in reach with a simple twist of a carbon sheet. Each one of these findings could drive its own story.

There have also been research findings published regarding human history. Looking at the sediment core from Lake Chichancanab, scientists are more confident that drought was what brought the Mayan culture to its knees. Other scientists, looking at Viking DNA, showed significantly more intermixing of southern Europeans and Asians than they had expected.

In modern times, research from the Rand Corporation shows such a significant redistribution of wealth to the already wealthy that the Intelligencer headlined its story on the findings as “Study: Inequality Robs $2.5 Trillion from U.S. Workers Each Year.” In Russia, there are worrying demographic trends that point to a different impact of inequality.

And underneath all of this reporting… our brain has automatic suppressive mechanisms that means we have difficulty perceiving things our brains deem “distracting”.

(Tell that to my brain, which has been distracting me all year!)

So I’m going to join the NaNoWriMo masses again this year. I don’t know that I’ll get all the way to 50K words, but if I could write 25K words in November, I could finally close the book (HA!) on book two of my Planet Seekers series. And I have the tantalizing plotbunny that woke me up a couple weeks back, where the character told me “I chose to become a ghost to solve a mystery.” We’ll see where my creative energy ends up, but that could definitely be a candidate for my next book.

Daily Blessings

"Somebody didn't wake up today, but you did. That's enough reason to stop complaining, and that's enough to be thankful for. Never let your troubles blind you to your daily blessings." -Trent Shelton

Days have a way of catching us between their teeth and grinding us down with their unrelenting sameness at the moment. I was deeply upset when the writers’ retreat cruise Gayla and I had planned to attend at the end of this month was cancelled, and any alternate plans made untenable by the persisting state of being almost locked down. We’re in our sixth month of nearly full-time working from home, and while I very much appreciate the extra hour I get to my days from not having to commute to and from the office, the general oppression in the atmosphere–worry about COVID-19, the economy, the fires on the West Coast, the latest political machinations that neglect to take into account needs outside of those expressed by the billionaire owners of certain key industries–has led to most creatives I know hitting the same kind of stagnation I’ve faced. It feels like any time I’ve “won” by working from home, has been eaten up by reading or gaming. Which ends up feeling like a loss to me.

I finally managed to dig myself out of my complete writing standstill in the past few weeks, and have added a few chapters to Team TaoRuti, as well as have come up with a decent candidate for a back-of-book blurb. I’ve updated the site accordingly, and would appreciate feedback. It’s been 15 months since I released book 1 on the series, and I’d love to make the claim that book 2 came out the next calendar year… but… we’ll see.

I can say that all the advertising from last month was a complete bust. Though it’s possible that it wasn’t the vendors’ fault, given general economic conditions, and specific details of how many people lost their jobs and are on the verge of losing their houses, I will be putting a pause on ad buys for the foreseeable future.

The stark contrast of that economic reality, and the one enjoyed by our plutocrats was described in the real life experience of Douglas Rushkoff… two years ago. Reading the article made eerie echoes with exactly the predictions I’ve been weaving into my scifi stories. For that matter, so does recent reporting about a large-scale basic income experiment in South America.

Research on the intelligence of trees and the deepening of quantum paradoxes that point to certain underlying uncertainties about the “supremacy” of human thought/reasoning/existence also play into my stories.

On the other hand, I resort to complete handwavium about the nature of interstellar travel, given reporting on not only how difficult it is to escape the planet in the first place, but also how unimaginably large the cosmos is.

I’m much more interested in how certain kinds of humans react to having their minds boggled beyond the constraints of their expectations. While this naturally pushes my imagination to where we intersect with technology, (hearkening back to Arthur C. Clarke’s third law that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”) it also means… magic has a place in my scifi. And that’s all I’ll say about how I backed myself out of writing a dystopia that was uncomfortably parallel to our current reality.

Which brings me to the quote at the start of today’s post. Regardless of your stance on religion, I have noticed that since hubs and I have become intentional with our daily prayers/meditations, it’s been easier to heave myself up onto the banks of wonder, where I can give voice to my creativity. Escape the humdrum of “just another day in my {home} office”. I wish the same for you and yours.

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