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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.

Viral

You know what I would really like to see go viral? Basic human decency.

Another month has flown by. The days melt into each other with little distinction, and we see far too many viral videos about humans lashing out and beating each other up as they fight the nebulous fear of a virus that is still rampaging across the planet. I’m unbelievably lucky that my job was easy to switch over to working from home–the official authority for which has been extended month by month, and currently rests at the end of October. We’ve been told that unless the numbers change dramatically, we really shouldn’t expect to return full time to the office until sometime in the new year.

It’s amazing that such a large firm has has been able to implement that scale of change so rapidly. I’m seeing more articles that talk about the mental health downsides of this effort. The Guardian described it as the quiet, grinding loneliness. Politico went so far as to predict the death of cities (with their high rents and high stress environments) because so many employers have made this switch, and could therefore allow employees to live where they feel most at home. Meanwhile, the Electronic Freedom Frontier spelled out the dark side of these moves: Companies are so worried that they can’t SEE their workers working, they’re mandating intrusive “bossware“. Bloomberg, on the other hand, speculated that maybe, finally, the pandemic might turn around decades worth of workers’ rights’ and pay erosion. (That last one comes with some fancy, worthwhile charts to help build the case.) The key graf:

Covid helps clarify just how much employers have chipped away at the labor rights and bargaining power that came with the New Deal. Legislation and court rulings have outlawed key organizing and protest tactics, legalized aggressive anti-union efforts, and radically shrunk the range of occupations granted basic labor rights. Companies looking for a short-term jolt to their profit margin have more incentives than ever to hire workers indirectly, keeping payroll and liability off their own books. The pandemic certainly could give employers even more power to set the rules. Or it could give workers a chance to end the heist on a nationwide scale.

Josh Eidelson, “How The American Worker Got Fleeced,” July 2, 2020

As previously reported, for me, being at home all the time has been an unexpected bonanza. I like not having to make excuses about not wanting to leave home or spend time in large groups of people. (I conform significantly to introvert descriptions and apparently have a healthy dose of hermeticism to go with it.)

Until last week, though, all this time at home was not helping me get back in the flow of writing. My Goodreads list of books read so far this year is edging ever closer to 80, and I’ve already overshot my annual goal. It was more comfortable to retreat into other people’s fiction than mine.

My story didn’t help, either, being set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Finally, I figured out the plot twist that gets me out of that rut and into something more akin to revenge p*rn (though likely not quite as bloodthirsty a scenario as would make hubs happy… but we’ll see how it all plays out – LOL).

I also figured out that listening to binaural music helps keep me focused and able to churn out words.

So I signed up for Virtual Author Book-signing Bingo event on August 29. (Join me: I’ll be ON CAMERA for SIX HOURS!) As a consequence, Planet Seekers: Team Alpha is currently on sale, down to $2.99 on Amazon. I’m testing out layering visibility of this sale via the Dog Days Giveaway and BookSends. Any help you can give with spreading the word would be welcome.

I’d hoped all that effort would spur me on to finish writing book 2 in time to catch some follow-up enthusiasm from new readers of book 1… but work got busy. So… we’ll see how it goes.

Meantime, relevant to my research for the book, an interesting article about the heart of consciousness being frequency/vibration. And some interesting gaps in the understanding we’ve accepted about humanity via the Human Genome Project. Each has its place in my story line and should make for a different kind of cross-over story between scifi and fantasy–and naturally, also, romance, because I need to make sure that even if only in fiction, there is somewhere a mental model for what a happy ending might look like in disastrous circumstances.

Here’s hoping the next month helps us all find some light at the end of the tunnel, so we can focus more intentionally on our hopes and dreams rather than the catastrophizing that is being forced on us.

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