2. Writing Work nuts & bolts Whimsy Writing again

Barns & other distractions

Did I need to research dairy barn restoration and collect architectural drawings of historical barn types yesterday & today?


Checking my barn-related terminology for a single scene sent me skipping through Indian dairy farming advice blogs, across encyclopedia entries on cow breeds, and down a long sideline into the meaning of “Highline electricity” into power line work and voltage issues with server racks.

Fun facts: gawala means cattleman or head dairy worker in Urdu, at least according to two language sites I consulted after being puzzled by the term’s appearance in an otherwise all-English language paper comparing the efficiency of different cow configurations in milking barns. (Surprise, it was an INDIAN dairy industry publication. …which bounced me into a brief investigation of dairy farming in India.) Gawala may also be a kind of milk-based candy?

Highline vs lowline refers to the voltage carried by power lines. Also back in the day your builder needed to know whether your farm had highline or house plant electricity before drawing up plans for your barn.

And barn research totally relates to volcanoes, right? Okay, no, but I saw a news headline while I was closing a tab. Count on a geology/meteorology nerd like me to click on ANY link with a satellite photo of a huge ash cloud.

What happened in the Pacific last week will have global effects for a long time to come. Like every huge eruption, it’ll teach geologists a ton about what’s going on beneath the thin biosphere we inhabit. And like every huge eruption near humans, its toll will be expensie and heartbreaking. The videos and photos of the aftermath are incredible. The cost? Incalculable.

ANYway. Speaking of satellite photos, I’ve been watching US winter storms on assorted weather sites lately. The quality of the images is interesting (in a muttered curses way) because it pretty much indicates how blatant the site is about downgrading the available imagery to engineer subscriptions to the premium subscription strategy. Charging for something that should be a free public resource.

I recall my excitement a zillion years ago when my parents got cable television and a new TV with a remote. Not because we got HBO. Not because the TV picture was suddenly clear instead of getting fuzzy or staticky when it rained. Not because I could flip channels from across the room. Nope.

I was over the moon because I COULD WATCH THE WEATHER RADAR! MInd, this was not the amazing many-layered weather displays of today’s weather apps. It was straight-up regional Doppler precipitation radar on a 30-second loop. It still fascinated me. Weather patterns both local and distant shifted, grew, and passed right in front of my eyes.

I loved mentally connecting those trends to the conditions outside the window. My dad used to make fun of me for checking the television for the weather instead of looking outside (weather rock style) but matching screen to reality taught me tons about reading the sky for future conditions in just a few years. Priceless free education.

But I digress. The free imagery now available from modern satellites is MIND-BLOWING. You won’t find it on easily-accessible, fast-loading commercial weather apps, but it’s out there. Full-color, high-resolution visuals. Temperature gradients. Precipitation. Stills and animation loops for hours. Any time there’s a Big Weather or Big Fire event, I am up online ogling the imagery from space.

There are a lot of sites, but my favorites are for the US GOES-East & GOES-West satellites, and when I want Himawari-8.

That’s all for this episode of Research roundup. For your enjoyment, I am including a Weather Rock Photo.

Until later!

Oh, right. Obligatory “Hey, I Write Books” postscript: if you like my writing, please recommend my books to all your friends & enemies. They are wonderful books full of Good Things.

Science. Fiction. Love. Honor. Revenge. Knitting. Gardening. Thrilling escapes & cozy conversations. All that and more. Easy one-stop access:

2. Writing Work nuts & bolts Writing again

Recent research topics

By recent I mean “today.” This is a glimpse of what goes through my brain on a daily basis

–> Identification of red foxes versus coyotes (foxes are not necessarily red but reliably have black legs and a bushy white-tipped L O N G tail held out from body, so what we saw trotting down the sidewalk at midday was probably the neighborhood fox, not the neighborhood coyote)

–> Followup topics: are red foxes native to North America or were they brought over from Europe? (Recent genetic research indicates the populations are all native, contradicting long-held assumptions about gentry colonists bringing them over for game hunting.) Do people still raise foxes for fur? (Ew, yes.) Can you own a fox as a pet in Illinois? (Not legally. Indiana, yes, though) Look at all these cute pet fox videos…

–> Both desiccate and siccate mean dry–why have two such similar words mean the same thing? I knew the answer but double-checked the etymology before responding to someone who asked this online. (They differ in degree. Siccate means dried like you dry off after a shower or hang out wet clothes. Desiccated is dry like beef jerky or a mummy. Latinate words & fun Latin prefixes!)

–>Looked up the location of Tonga on a full world map because news maps annoy me. Followed that by playing “name that European country” on, and also “name that African country. Did not do well on either one, but slightly better with Europe than Africa, no big shocker there.

–> What are marshmallows made of? Why are they called marshmallows? What’s the traditional use of mallow? How and where does it grow? Does the flower have a scent? Is it considered an herb? What’s the difference between an herb and a spice? History of spice trade. Origin of National Geographic magazine. (Yes, folks, this is how my brain bounces 24/7/365.)

I love the internet. Yes, Wikipedia, I often start there, but the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the USDA. The NCBI.NLM.NIH site. Archives galore. Social media is a hellish time suck, but the internet? The internet is fucking amazing. Maybe it makes my writing better? I don’t know. It makes the process fun & makes time fly, that’s for sure.

my research assistant

That’s all for now. Until later!

New Post nuts & bolts Writing again

A little book update with crunchy numbers

It’s hard to believe, but we’re coming up on bookbabys 1-month birthday! Time sure does fly. How are things going? Glad you asked!

Does it seem like book promotion, silly memes, & writing are all I ever post on social media these days?

First, The Sharp Edge Of Yesterday is my first new book release in 4 years, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that playing with the baby is my whole life right now.

Second, congrats, you’re among the approximately 15% of my following that sees book posts! I get better engagement on my lunch photos. (unless I mention books or writing in them.) I’ve been posting a lot of shared memes lately because I have a Facebook surfing problem, but after Sharp Edge’s one-month birthday, the apps will get deleted from my devices & I’ll take time offline except for some scheduled book posts.

Which is all to say, the evil Facebook algorithms will disappear me from your newsfeed entirely, unless you like & comment on whatever posts FB deigns to show you. Just saying.

I’m committed to doing the whole transparency thing about my publishing experience, so I’m about to throw numbers out there. Skip down to the cute red panda pic if you aren’t interested in nuts & bolts.

Sharp Edge out-performed all its predecessors by a 3x multiplier. 32 copies was my previous first-week release record for a new title. Sharp Edge came in at 110 copies. Is that good? That depends. For me? Absolutely yes!!! I’m over the moon ecstatic about achieving triple digits. But in a strictly commercial sense? It’s a non-starter.

But look. I didn’t expect to take the bestsellers list by storm. Do I wish everyone who read it was telling every other person they know to go buy & read it, in the kind of numbers that make a word-of-mouth bestseller? Hell, yes, of course I wish that. I HAVE BIG PIE-IN-THE-SKY DREAMS. But 2 decades of retail bookselling means I’ve always known the odds. Books sell when they get in front of a lot of eyeballs, getting books in front of people is a bear of a job, and I’m a bad bear wrestler.

I don’t have a large following either as an author or as a human being, this book has a good hook but no critical pick-it-up “wow” factor, and I didn’t go Amazon-exclusive & perform the pricing tricks necessary to attract the all-powerful algorithms. And live conventions haven’t been happening, so I couldn’t engage new readers that way.

True to my expectations, sales crashed after the first-week flurry, excepting a blip here & there on Amazon.

I don’t even know where most of the sold copies went. They aren’t showing up as scanned at bookstores, (yet?) and no one’s ‘fessed up to buying a bunch from Ingram just to make me happy. (Why would someone do that? How? I don’t know, ask my Impostor Syndrome, it’s the irrational little weasel who thinks up weird ideas like that.)

But I digress. That makes this a great spot for a word from our sponsors. Behold, my books!

Back to the crunchy numbers & meandering prose…

Bookscan (a database that literally records how many copies of a book were scanned at participating bookstores) indicates my paperback sales have been overwhelmingly local, which not a huge surprise. It also shows sales in eleven states overall, and that’s both exciting and unprecedented.

Sharp Edge is still not in WorldCat, which is one of the bigger library cataloging databases, so I guess no libraries have picked it up yet. Or at least none who use WorldCat’s database (like my local ‘brar) Or it’s still in the acquisition process. Or something else I haven’t guessed. Basically, it’s early days and unknowns outnumber knowns. I’m gonna pretend lots of folks have recommended library purchases that haven’t gone through yet.

The review tally is stalled at 7 ratings on Amazon, 3 on Goodreads & 1 on B&N. Are those numbers good? Depends on perspective. The numbers are spectacular considering I did nothing to ensure that I came out of the gate with any at all.

In a perfect world, or a world where I had lots of extra silverware or the willingness to let go & hire someone to organize my life, I would have spent the months before opening up pre-orders lining up reviewers, scheduling interviews, readings, and pursuing many other marketing & promotional opportunities. Initial sales success is grounded in PRE-publication build up. And I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t give myself enough time.

Sharp Edge was long overdue already. I needed to get it out there in the world before something else horrible happened in the world or my personal life to delay it again. That was my choice, and I’m comfortable accepting the consequences.

My marketing efforts weren’t a total crash & burn. I lucked into a podcast interview and I was generously offered the chance to be featured at a local (online, thanks pandemic) reading series. And I might do more. Maybe a Goodreads giveaway or throw a copy up onto NetGalley. I could throw money at a Bookbub ad or try for the golden ring of a Bookbub promotion, even. Post new-release, return on investment isn’t historically good.

The reviews so far are all fair to glowing, which is gratifying and a huge relief. But it takes a LOT of ratings to make shoppers pause, especially when the ratings are all high. (Except with romance. With romance, the blurb is ALL) Sharp Edge has a long way to go before it hits the “Hm, other people appear to like this, I should take a look” tipping point.

Full disclosure, only 1 of my books has more than 20 reviews, and another is a romance. They’re also the only 2 titles I get occasional surprise sales on.

Photo by Ivan Cujic on

All done with numbers stuff.

Sharp Edge Of Yesterday is now heading into the big world of “it isn’t new anymore.” Before we go, I’d like to get in one last pitch to please review it if you’ve read it, even if you thought the book was meh, maybe especially then.

The more reviews & word-of-mouth interest Sharp Edge gets, the better it will do long term. Reviews raise the visibility of the book and legitimize it in the eyes of potential readers. Goodreads or other places that let you post “want-to-reads” and “reading” flags–those are the online version of “word of mouth” and they’re platinum.

Every mention by people other than me helps. The more the merrier, the more the better. Not just online. Real world. That advice, if it’s advice, goes for all your favorite authors. If you love someone’s writing, put a ring on it tell friends, tell family, tell perfect strangers.

And on that note, in the next post, I’ll make mention of all the great books I’ve been reading lately.

Until later!

2. Writing Work New Post nuts & bolts Writing again

Music To Write By

For the last couple of years, every time I sat down to work seriously on The Sharp Edge of Yesterday, I clicked play on its playlist. I’m happiest writing when I have headphones on and music going. Makes sense, right? A lot of people like to listen to music while they work. But as a writer, that background music doubles as the soundtrack of my stories’ creation.

And I think that’s neato-keen, so I’m gonna write a bit about it. If you want to skip the meandering musings & find out what I had in my ears while I wrote Sharp Edge, click here for the album list & a (non-monetized) Spotify link at the end of the post.

Still here? Cool. There’s a reason every story I write has its own playlist: it’s a critical part of my prep process.

Not all writers prep to write. Me, I need a pre-flight checklist to help my brain shuck off the surly bonds of earthly concern and let creativity soar. Every writer finds their own process. For some it’s as simple as opening a journal and picking up a pen. For others, it’s a more elaborate series of actions, involving specific noise levels, times of day, clothing etc. People don their writing socks and hat, sit in the writing corner, tidy up the desk, close all the extra applications, and get the workspace perfect.

My routine falls somewhere in the mid-range of complexity. I work at a desk, put on headphones, and queue up the playlist. It isn’t much, but the physical ritual pairs the usefulness of “blocking out the outside world” with a healthy dose of multi-channel sensory stimulation.

Focus is a tricky issue. For me, concentrating on a single activity is like sending a bowling ball down the lane. It’s easier to get my brain to stay on target if I can fill up the sensory gutters with big, cushy bumpers. Once I’m rolling, with some comfortable, familiar sensory pushback keeping me in line, the words flow better.

Starting up music is part of that ritual. Many writers I know play actual soundtracks in the background when they’re working. They pick melodies that reflect or inform the mood of the scenes they’re writing. Symphonic music is popular, as are jazz, new age instrumentals, marching band music, even. The big element their music has in common, the one I notice when people make recommendations or share their writing playlists: it’s all instrumental music. Music without words.

That isn’t for me. That kind of music reaches out, grabs me by the ears and insists I listen to it. I already have difficulty focusing, at least until I achieve hyperfocus. (Yay, ADHD.) So I can’t work when jazz or rousing symphonic tunes are playing. I’m too busy listening. I have to look to other genres. Which ones? SO GLAD YOU ASKED!

We interrupt this blog post for an important obligatory book plug. The Sharp Edge Of Yesterday launches in 12 days now. Visibility is life, for independently-published books, and pre-orders magically transform into visibility gold on release day. So, then. If you’ve been thinking about buying Sharp Edge, now’s the time to jump in.

From you can jump direct to popular sellers: IndieBound, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, & more. The book also has its own page here on the website– Sharp Edge — if you want to learn more.

When picking musical companionship for my creative travels, I look for music that lets me know it’s there by talking to me, but doesn’t demand I pay close attention. Unobtrusive, but supportive. My playlists are heavy on show tunes, rock ballads with catchy melodies, and boppy pop music with solid, repetitive rhythm. No heavy metal or rap; those genres are the jazz stylings of the rock world, as far as I’m concerned. I admire & enjoy rap and metal artists in moderation, but there are none I can play as accompaniment to another activity.

Now, when I say I make playlists for every story, I don’t mean I create all-new playlists. Some tunes on the Sharp Edge of Yesterday playlist came from the one I created for Rough Passages. I put some tunes on EVERY writing playlist, plus I retire songs and add others even during the writing process.

I don’t recommend reading anything thematic or symbolic into my selections. I don’t recommend it as a soundtrack to reading the book. (I don’t recommend against it, either. I’m just saying there’s no direct, timed, connection.)

This list is heavy on oldies because they felt right for the protagonist. The show tunes come from the musicals of my youth, with lyrics I know by heart, and the rock songs are mainly ones that make me laugh, cry, or dance in my chair. And now, without further digression, here’s my Sharp Edge Of Yesterday playlist:

Spotify Playlist

And for those who don’t do streaming, here’s an album list:

  1. Hair: Original Broadway Cast
  2. Jesus Christ Superstar: Original STUDIO Cast Recording
  3. Godspell: Original OFF-Broadway Cast Recording
  4. Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: Joseph Consortium Recording
  5. 99.9° F: Suzanne Vega
  6. Combat Rock: The Clash
  7. The Platinum Collection Disc 1: Queen
  8. Tapestry: Carole King
  9. The Platinum Collection Disc 2: Queen
  10. John Denver’s Greatest Hits
  11. Hobo’s Lullaby & Alice’s Restaurant: Arlo Guthrie
  12. Greatest Hits: James Taylor


  • I play these in order. It’s a long day if I get through the whole thing. (RARE) There are many playlists I’ll toss onto random. Writing soundtracks? I rely on knowing which tune will come next.
  • I delete all live tracks, applause will knock me right out of the zone.
  • The specific musical recordings matter: I loathe most recordings of J&tATDC, f’rex.
  • I mix up the Arlo Guthrie tracks from those two albums so the play order matches the cassette tape we played in the car on long road trips back in the 70’s.

I think that’s it. Here’s a cute cat picture, and please buy my wonderful books about midlife crisis superpowers & how they changed history.

Until later!