Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Lesson in Spontaneity, or, Go With the Flow

I'm a creature of habit. If something disrupts my long-standing plans, I typically get out of sorts. I know this stems from my anxiety, and I've tried to address it over the years. But the phrase 'go with the flow' certainly doesn't apply to me. Typically.

This morning I packed my son and myself and our things in the car. The plan: drop him off at school, then hit the gym for an easy run and some core exercises, shower, run errands, write. My first 10K is this Saturday, so this week is all about the easy runs. Then after the 10K it'll be all about the breakfast burritos and taking a nap. Sorry, I digress.

The car made a funny sound, and the engine didn't even turn over. I tried again. There was a sputter, the lights came on, and then nothing. My first thought was, "Thank goodness I don't have to go to work today." Every other time the car has crapped out on me, it's been a work day. So I got my son and his stuff out of the car, handed them over to his dad, and went back to my car. I coaxed it into turning on, then called my mechanic and asked if I could head over there. They wouldn't be able to look at it until Friday. Well, boo. But he kindly gave me the name of someone near me. They could get me in, so I drove over there telling the car, "Please keep going. Please keep going. Please keep going."

I also kept thinking about my plans and how they were most likely not going to happen. However, I was already dressed for the gym. The mechanic was only 3 miles from home. Maybe I could get that much done.

These feet (mine in blue) are ready to take me anywhere
Turns out my car's battery problems most likely stem from a drain on the system. So I told them to go ahead and find the problem and fix it (otherwise I'd be replacing the stupid battery every year or so). The mechanic offered me a ride home, and I said, "No thanks, I'll just run home." And out the door I went.

Two point nine miles later, I was home. The weather was perfect for a run. Sunny, mid-fifties. Did I mention it was uphill? I'm pretty sure my breathing sounded like an old transmission by the time I got near home. Fortunately, I wasn't passing anyone at that point, so I don't think I alarmed anyone.

When the car wouldn't start, I felt my anxiety kick in. Moments like that, I always picture my brain as the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, rushing around and saying he's going to be late. But this time, the anxiety ticked up and then... subsided. By the time I finished my run home, it was gone.

So my gym time turning into a run outdoors in perfect weather, and a hill workout to boot. Instead of spending the time worrying about the car and how much this is going to cost, I spent the time enjoying the sunshine, saying hi to people running or walking, contemplating a side trip to Einstein's for a bagel and coffee (the only reason it didn't happen was that I didn't have cash with me), thinking about my upcoming race, and feeling fortunate that I was able-bodied and in such good shape that I could run home like it's no big deal. It's a much better use of brain energy than worrying.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Fever

The first day of spring has come and gone. The grass in the backyard and in the park is greening. The trees are putting out buds and flowers. The weeds are sprouting. Have I mentioned I'm one of those crazy people who enjoys pulling weeds? I find it cathartic, and I like seeing the progress I make in cleaning up the yard. Seriously, I go pull weeds when I'm feeling stabby. You're welcome, world.

Snow at the beginning of March
The weather makes me feel like I'm coming out of a long sleep. To enhance the feeling, I just finished the last book in my Necromancer's Inheritance series. This is the first time I've completed a huge project like that. Finishing the last book also makes me feel like I'm coming out of a long sleep, like I've been in this dreamworld for a long time and am waking up to a bright world and blinking my eyes.

While I enjoyed working on the series, I'm also glad to have the bulk of it done (with the exception of final edits and, ya know, actually publishing it). There are so many other things I want to write. I still probably have another good forty years ahead of me (pardon me while I go knock on wood), and yet I'm scared I won't have enough time to tell all the stories inside me.

Soon it'll be sunning weather
Things are also moving ahead on my fantasy novel Fractured Days, which is the follow-up to Shards of History. It sort of hit me this week that I have two books coming out soon, which means I get to start working on a brand new one. Eep! I've been in edit mode for so long that I need to shift gears hard to get back into rough draft mode. I love it when I get to dream about the story and imagine all the shapes it can take. So I guess I'm going right back into dreamland while the rest of the world wakes up around me. With breaks now and then to tend the garden and take care of weeds when I feel stabby.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cover Reveal for The Necromancer's Book of Magic

Things are super busy these days. I'm working on edits for Fractured Days, which is the sequel to Shards of History, coming out later this year from World Weaver Press. I've got several short stories coming and going, trying to find the perfect home. And I'm wrapping up edits on the final book in The Necromancer's Inheritance series, which will be out as soon as I can make it happen. But until then, I thought you'd enjoy a peek at the cover, and a teaser about what to expect from the novel.


Rose has finally got her life in order with a great job managing her brother's restaurants, a promising future with her boyfriend, a niece on the way, and regular talks with her dead mother's spirit.

Things start to go wrong when the centuries-old book of magic, a guide to necromancy for her and her family, becomes ill. Rose wonders if her frequent visits with her mother's spirit is harming the book, or if something more sinister might be happening. She enlists her cousin Josh's help since he's the only other necromancer around, but he has his own problems trying to fit in as the newest cook in her brother's restaurant.

As the book's condition grows worse, Rose, Josh, and the rest of her family hurry to find a cure before they discover whether it's possible for a magic book to die.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Plateaus and Breakthroughs

The last few times I ran, I felt like I was slogging through molasses. I whined silently to myself the whole time. It didn't feel as good as it usually does, and I finished those runs feeling disappointed.

Frankie finds new skills tiring
The last few short stories I wrote, it felt like pulling teeth to get the words down. I kept thinking, "This isn't right. This sucks." I whined silently to myself the whole time. It didn't feel as good as it usually does, and although I finished the stories, I was disappointed in them.

See any similarities? Usually I struggled with one or the other (or best of all, neither), but both running and writing have been tough recently. I have to keep reminding myself that this usually happens before some sort of breakthrough: an insight about story telling, or the ability to run a little faster or a little farther. It's the mandatory suckiness before new synapses finally make their connection. It's the darkness before an AHA! moment. It's the reason I consider drinking more often.

It's nice to feel like I'm writing well or running well. I like feeling competent. So these plateaus leave me frustrated and grumbling and crotchety. And even though I've been around long enough to realize it's a temporary state that means I'm mastering a new skill, I still dislike feeling mediocre. But I run anyway and just do my best, waiting for my body to catch up with my brain. I still write anyway and try to make the story the best I can, knowing that I'm digging deeper and making progress on my craft.

One of these days, the light bulb will go off while I'm writing, and something gorgeous will come out on paper. And another light bulb will go off while I'm running, and I'll go farther and faster than I have before. I just have to be patient and embrace the plateau.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Grit

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It was a gripping story, and I found myself irked by things like having to go to work and eat and take showers because all of those things took away from the time I could spend reading the book. Louie Zamperini was an resilient person who went through some horrendous experiences, from days on a life raft after his plane crashed into the ocean, to months as a POW, subject to malnutrition, disease, physical and emotional abuse, and squalid living conditions. It's amazing that he survived.
WWII Memorial

There's nothing in my life that can ever come close to comparing. I can't say that I've ever been challenged that way. I've been fortunate to live a comfortable life, and I'm grateful for that. And yet, I have faced challenges and continue to do so. Here's a little secret... I like challenges. Not the surviving-shark-infested-waters-after-a-plane-crash type of challenges, but the kind that make me push myself in a relatively safe and healthy way.

I read through this list and recognized a lot of Louie's POW experience in there, although there was a deeper layer to what he and the other POW's went through because their captors were actively trying to dehumanize them. But Louie's experiences as a kid, as an Olympian, and stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean certainly fit on that list.

Some of the items on the list reminded me of what I need more of. For instance, I've racked up 290 rejections for my short stories, and that's only the ones I've recorded on this app that I use. I had more rejections before I started using it. I've made 13 sales. That's a huge difference, right? That's a lot of "no's" in order to get to a few "yes's." I manage rejection fairly well, most of the time, but sometimes I do despair and gnash my teeth and rend my garments. I think I could manage rejections better, and so I started a little game where I rack up points for rejections, and when I reach a certain level, I treat myself to something nice. It's already working. I don't put off resubmitting a story when it comes back. Instead, I mark down the points I earned and send it back out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Finding the Stillness

Things have been busy, which is part of the reason blog posts have been few and far between. The other reason has been that I kept dismissing all the ideas that came to mind. I think some of that stemmed from the busy flutter of the past few weeks, and some of that stemmed from the fact that I wrapped up the rough draft of the third Necromancer's Inheritance book and felt all tapped out after that. My brain needed some time to recharge.

Although I'm working on flash fiction and getting geared up for an online class, I'm in a lull between major projects. Lulls are good. We can't always live on the crest of the wave. Sometimes we have to come down into the trough. It's the only way to keep moving along. I used to be horrible at lulls, though. But that changed after I had a child.

So calm and peaceful
When you have a little child, you are constantly running after them, helping them get something to eat or drink, teaching them how to use the toilet and get dressed, and later how to ride a scooter or a bike. When you have a job on top of that, you're constantly getting them to and from school or daycare, thinking about what to make for dinner or when you'll fit in that trip to the grocery store. Even when you're home from work in the evening, you can't sit and catch your breath because there's a little person demanding something.

But when kids are older, they can play by themselves or with other children for a little while. At least, until they decide to climb on top of the castle on the playground equipment fifteen feet off the ground and act like they're going to jump off. Then your heart kicks into high gear and you're screaming like a crazy person at them to get down right this instant. But in those moments when they're playing nicely, you can just sit there and finish your thoughts and let your mind wander without interruption or just let it go blank. It's a lull in an otherwise hectic day, and it's precious.

For me, these lulls allow me to sink deeper into myself and let my subconscious be in charge for a little while. My subconscious makes a lot of my creative decisions. It works on problems while I'm doing other things, but if I don't have the chance to check in with it once in a while, it gets snarky and lets those ideas go. Sometimes it's when I'm doing nothing that my mind is working best. So these lulls are good. The frantic, half-finished thoughts get finished or filed away for later, and I enjoy simply sitting and being. It's so nice to enjoy warm sun and birds singing and the sensation of having absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to go at the moment because it's about as rare as a unicorn farting rainbows. It allows me to rest my mind and body so I'm ready for what comes next.

I'll leave you with a quote from Gore Vidal: "Many writers who choose to be active in the world lose not virtue but time, and that stillness without which literature cannot be made."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Reminiscing on 2014

While time in general always seems to fly by, December, in particular, zips past in a blur. As always, when I reach December, I look back on the year and what I've accomplished. Back in January, I set myself a couple of writing goals. One was to complete two novels. I did that, by the skin of my teeth. The other was to write twelve short stories. Again, skin of teeth. For 2015 I'm not putting a set number on completing stories. Next year will be the year of earnest yet relaxed writing, if that makes any sense.

So here's what all happened this year:

1) I published my first pro-level short story, "Extraction," in Nature Futures.

2) I self published two novels, The Graveyard Girl and the follow up to that, The Necromancer's Return. It was both terrifying and fun, and I learned quite a bit.

3) I ran my first (and second) 5K race. I'm currently training to run a 10K. I'm sort of curious about how far I can run, and how fast I can run. Yes, I know I'm a little crazy.

4) I read 60 books, which doesn't include the handful I began reading and quit, or those I began reading and skimmed to the end because I couldn't get into the story. My favorites of the year included Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato, The Martian by Andy Weir, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and The Seat of Magic by J. Kathleen Cheney. They're all fabulous, and even if you're not a runner, Born to Run is a great story.

I ended up selling more short stories this year than ever before, and more of my short stories came out than ever before. I already have a short-short slated to come out in January. It's one of my favorites, and I can't wait to see it out in the world. Here's to a prosperous and happy new year for all of us!