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3. Other Things Detours Writing Life

Wind & lightning & lack of sleep: a ramble

Two nights ago when I smelled woodsmoke on our evening walk I wondered who the hell was being irresponsible & lighting fires while we were under a hurricane-force wind warning.
The next morning I learned that I was smelling smoke from Plains region wildfires, blown all the way up here by those same winds.

Apparently Chicago area 911 dispatch & non-emergency fire department numbers were getting a LOT of worried calls.

Just lucky I did my into-the-city-to-meet-a-friend adventure on Monday, when it was clear and warm & still. The train home was full of jerks who pulled down their masks whenever the conductor wasn’t right in front of them, but at least the train car wasn’t being rocked by 60 mph gusts all the way home.

I did not sleep well. Fitbit claimed 5 & 1/2 much-interrupted hours from 4AM until 9:30 AM. Kinda figured that would be the case as soon as I saw the weather forecast. Windy weather always charges up my nerves & makes me antsy & energetic.

This was more, though. This was an “Am I about to be blown away into Oz?” kind of storm. Every time I dozed off, the wind shifted & something outside the house would rattle, crash, or clang, and *bloop* I was wide awake again.

No rain. Lots of lightning around 3 AM, so bright and so extensive I could see how fast the low, thick clouds were moving. I wish there’d been more rain. The garden needs moisture.

The power only went out once, briefly, just long enough to freak out our holiday lights timers & reset them for an extra 6 hours of festive lighting in the yard. Small favors. We have them set on steady, but they twinkle impressively when the bushes they’re on are swaying sideways in a gale.

Another thing I learned from that storm: the old-fashioned fan housings for the kitchen & first-floor bathroom fans make the weirdest noises when high winds catch them at the wrong angles. From previous storms, I knew they rattled a bit. These winds took the annoyance to new heights.

Big booming sounds Little booming sounds. Crackly snapping noises. Loud humming with tooth-aching harmonics. The WORKS.

The next day it was still windy. Not as windy as the peak hours last night, but still wild enough to keep me antsy and distracted. It’s hard to concentrate when the air is breathing low and loud and heavily, like it’s tired after running too fast for too long.

Things calmed down by evening, allowing us to go as planned to the Chicago Botanic Garden Lightscape. We oo’d and ah’d over the amazing displays with a good friend (HI DEB) & then caught up on all kinds of friend talk over a totally healthy late supper of hot dogs, burgers, & french fries.

Today was much more settled, weather-wise. Did I accomplish more? Yes, & no. I rested. That counts, especially in the middle of a week with lots of peopling in it like this one. Spouseman took care of some of my House Chores for me, and I used the extra time to sleep in & pay off some of my sleep debt.

And then I hung out with the cat & did Proper Tree Behavior lessons most of the afternoon while reading one of several awesome new Netgalley advance copies.

Because winter is good for reading.

And now, the cat tax plus a couple of blurry pics of the garden lights.

cat tax

That’s all for now. Until later!

Categories
3. Other Things Media Consumption Writing Life

Post-Thanksgiving Post

No worries, this isn’t a long, rambling post listing all the people I’m thankful to know, the experiences I’m grateful I’ve had, or all the physical & tangible things I’m privileged to have in my life. I’ll save that post for the alternate reality where I become hugely famous and have to give a thank-you speech in front of a live studio audience after I receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Or something like that.

This is more like a school report on How I Spent My Weird American Holiday Thursday.

Spouseman & hibernate on Thanksgivings. Lots of reasons–for the longest time, we had no other close family in the same state, and/or the day was my single breather between 6 weeks of frantic retail holiday prep and 6 weeks of frenzied retail holiday shopping, neither of us enjoy large gatherings much…the list could go on, but ANYway. It’s just not a holiday we’re comfortable “celebrating. It has a huge identity crisis and a bunch of unpleasant cultural baggage attached. What is the day dedicated to? Pilgrims? Mayflower? Ugh, no, thanks. Gratitude? For what? Everything? <waves vaguely>

Attending mandatory large family gatherings with hefty dollops of guilt & stress, getting excited about overreating, watching NYC parades & regional football games, and plotting huge consumer spending sprees are strange traditions, that’s all I’m saying. I don’t know how most of those things are even related to gratitude, but I suspect television marketing may be involved.

BY THE WAY, DID YOU KNOW THE UNITED STATES USED TO JUST THROW “DAYS OF THANKSGIVING” ALL WILLY-NILLY, LIKE, JUST FOR JOLLIES, WHENVER THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FELT SOMETHING NICE HAD HAPPENED WORTH CELEBRATING WITH A DAY OFF? WE DID!

(Okay, there’s lots more to it, but my point is, “National Day Of Thanksgiving” didn’t start off having ANY association with harvests, bad colonialist propaganda or lies about Pilgrims, much less the whole family, food, & football traditions. Here’s a nice explainer from last year: https://billmoyers.com/story/a-national-day-of-thanksgiving/ if you’re interested.)

But. I. Digress.

In this household, the only tradition of the third Thursday in November is that I cook a lot of food that goes on steep sale this time of year, Spouseman washes a lot of dishes, we eat some tasty treats but not so much we feel sick, we game or read or watch something fun, and then we enjoy not having to deal with any complicated meal prep or food shopping for at least a week. Yay!

Here are some pics from this year’s Kitchen Fun part of the day.

Everything on the plate was from scratch this year. I even made cranberry sauce from scratch for the first time (cranberries were SO CHEAP OMG) I have a soft spot for the canned gelatinous goop, and by ignoring half the recipe instructions I was able to make mine gelatinous & goopy but nicely tart, too. It’s a big win & will be repeated.

I forgot to take a picture of the mashed potatoes in their gallon container, but tbh those don’t present well except on a plate anyway. Spouseman said he liked the rolls best because they were small & cute. They were also a late addition to the menu. It’s the world’s easiest bread recipe, quick & fun to make.

Here’s a pic from the relaxation part of the day.

Pip is good at modeling proper relaxation.

We’re re-watching Great British Baking Show from the beginning because it’s relatively wholesome & brainfree, and I’m reading Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, also a book called Naked Statistics that I somehow missed back when it first came out. And I’m playing on the computer, and Spouseman is getting in a lot of gaming time. Today is day two of all that fine action, with a full weekend of more ahead. It’s what we do. Shopping? THIS weekend of all weekends? OH, HELL NO.

And that’s my annual Thanksgiving post. If you’ve gotten this far, I would like to use this excuse to issue thanks in print to all you wonderful people who read my blathering here, who recommend, gift, and review my existing books, and who offer continued patient encouragements to me during this ongoing, glacial, writing-the-next-book phase I’m still slogging through.

(I think that was a proper sentence. I’m not going back to change it. ANYway.)

That’s all for now. Until next time!

Categories
Authoring Cons & Appearances Whimsy

Belated Gen Con Report

In a lot of ways this year’s con was Bizarro Gen Con, where everything was inverted, unconventional, outlandish and unexpected. There was an oddly nostalgic, retro feel, with attendance rocking like it was 1999, but the look was futuristic dystopian, what with the facemasks, prominent health reminders & heightened security presence. And, oh, the luxurious ELBOW ROOM, wowza.

TL;DR edition: the con was phenomenal. It was a triumph. I loved it. But also. The experience was utterly freaking WEIRD.

The big worry going in was (of course) was it safe? Well. The con and the convention center did a remarkable job of communicating the safety measures & safety improvements being implemented–which went way beyond sanitizer stations & reliance on participant mask compliance. And the mask compliance was at or nearly at 100%.

So for me me, with my working immune system, at peak protection interval on my vaccination, and masked to boot? It was a marvelous. I felt as safe as I’ve ever felt in a indoor space packed with strangers. I was especially impressed since Indiana is not known for its enthusiastic support of pandemic protections. Big kudos to the organizers who made a lot of new things happen.

My other big worry going in, of course, was “Will I sell any books this time?” It’s been a hard time for many people financially. Would people be buying? Short answer: Yes. Longer answer, HELL. YEAH.

Sales were phenomenal. I broke my all-time dollar sales record before midday Saturday. By the end of Saturday I’d broken my all-time books sold record, too. Even though Sunday was dead slow, I still hit 3x my 2019 sales. I’ve been musing about causes and differences, and how it all came together.

Numbers. Attendance at cons like Gen Con, has gone from huge to humongous in the past 10 years. The signal to noise ratio in Exhibitor Spaces jam-packed with attendees AND exhibitors skews in favor of larger vendors. And putting all the authors & artists in one big corral really aggravates this problem.

Now, I understand why cons puts all the authors together, and the camaraderie is great, but a basic rule of retail is that there’s a sweet spot for choice. Present too many options of the same type in a row and people won’t choose anything from that selection. I think there were 40 authors on Authors Avenue in 2019. I watched people nope out of entire rows because they Just Couldn’t Even. And I know some people never ever got to Authors Avenue with any money left in their wallets. The Exhibit Hall is just too huge.

Bookselling isn’t a competition, there’s a right book for everyone, but interacting with folks who are swamped by sensory input puts some vendors at a larger handicap than others. I refuse to hard-sell, *period* but if you ever wondered, it’s a popular technique because it is dramatically effective at breaking through Option Overwhelm and choice paralysis.

This year’s Gen Con only had around 20(ish) thousand people, compared to something like 60k in the past. (That’s a TOTALLY UNOFFICIAL PERSONAL GUESS) But for certain there were only about 20 authors stretched out over 2/3 of the 2019 space. That gave every one of us writers a much better than usuall chance to reach attendees who were still engaged & actively shopping. I hope it boosted everyone’s sales.

Artwork. My glorious Daniel Govar character art banners drew people in. For last-minute brainstorm rush jobs, they did AMAZING. Both banners need refining (Swapping out the slogan and the header for Camp Liberty, more obvious series and/or book cover tie-ins for both banners) but the imagery dazzled & intrigued people & started conversations, and that is bookselling platinum. It is PRICELESS. And Weaving In the Ends did its usual great job of tempting crafters to the table. The color palette needs a punch-up, & the cover design needs retooling to fit with the series brand, but I sold every copy I brought, so no complaints.

Variety & discounts. This year I had not only a completed series & a stand-alone to sell, but also a new novel that works as a series-entry book in a whole different genre. That more than doubled my potential audience. And I celebrated the return of convention-going with some pretty enticing bundle-discount pricing. That definitely encouraged people to take a chance on a whole stack of books instead of just one.

Blurbs & pitches. I’ve always known catchy one-breath descriptions were a sales fundamental. But knowing is only 10% of the battle of coming UP with a pitch. This is the first con where I’ve had a proper sales patter for the Restoration series, and damn, what a difference it made! I still need to work on my patter, but I finally have a solid foundation. And I have blurbs that WORK. Finally.

Introvert Corner: This was a fun improvisation I want to remember for future cons. I had an extra chair, and I was on an aisle end, so I used the space to create a zero-interaction shopping zone: the chair, a shelf with a mini-version of my table display and a big sign promising browsers I would not interact in any way unless they came around to the front of the table.

It made people happy. People took pictures of Introvert Corner. Several folks visited multiple times to take a break in the chair & initiated chatting with me, and that was lovely. Did it lead to any sales? Well, yes. But more importantly, it let me give a safe shopping opportunity to folks who might have otherwise felt pressured. And that made ME happy.

There was a lot more to Gen Con, but my experience of it really began and ended with the Exhibit Hall. So I’m going to end this post here, except for a last digressional musing that’s only semi-related. And a cat pic. Because everything is better with cats, and also I didn’t take many pics at Gen Con.


The phrase “year of the asterisk” has been bouncing around the interwebz when people get to discussing the times we live in. It doesn’t work for me. All the current nicknames I’ve seen—The Year Everything Changed, the Pandemic Year(s), The Great Pause, carry a sense of transience that’s been rubbing me wrong for AGES.

The refrain of “this too shall pass, we’ll put this behind us, it’s only temporary” is the song of denial.

2020-2021 will not be relegated to the sidelines as aberrant. These years are not producing outlier statistics that will be set aside because they skew averages and make for untidy graphs.

There never was any going back to normal. Normal is little more than an emotional snapshot of Now. It’s built on what came before, it rests on what we know from our past experiences, yes, but there’s never any “going back.”

Time only goes one way for us linear-living beings.

We aren’t living in Asterisk Times. We have been on the future’s two-year-long nightmare shakedown cruise.

This is The Way Things Are and Will Be. The faster people accept that, the faster we can focus on making normal better.


Mr. Pip’s first walk on the leash. We went all the way around the house and back up the steps before he got spooked by a passing car.

Categories
Authoring Writing Life

Random Autumn Thoughts 10/13/2020

Squirrel!

Tis my season to do nesting things. When the nights get longer and the days turn cold, I develop a specific kind of energy & focus. I move furniture, change light bulbs, finish assorted small repair projects I’ve ignored for months, get my flu shot & yearly physical, order clothes, do all the seasonal cleaning other people call “spring” cleaning, and basically Get Ready To Do Nothing At Home For Months.

My social batteries drain to zero between November and March. I do leave the house–for work, for emotional health, for fun–but it’s hard. It’s a physical strain. Knowing I am equipped to hide in the house if I just can’t cope with people– it keeps the stress below redline. Mostly.

Squirrel shopping is a major component of the prep. I pick up a little extra here and one more than I need there all autumn long, until my cabinets & closets are full.

(do not speak to me of “but restaurants deliver.” Ordering food is stressful. Drive-throughs are stressful. MENUS are stressful. A pantry stash requires zero interaction & minimizes decision paralysis.)

Stocking up always felt silly because it’s not like I can avoid shopping all winter like a hermit or a sleeping squirrel just by having extra boxed rice dinners or frozen green beans on hand. It’s not like I’m out in the wilderness where I might get snowed in for a month. FFS, there are six grocery stores minutes away from my home.

But the squirrel stashing feeds that emotional need for refuge-building, so I learned to indulge it. Coping mechanisms. They’re real.

Still, every year I wondered if it was an unhealthy emotional crutch and/or if I was allowing fears inspired by my post-apocalyptic fiction writing to affect my real life.

Until this spring.

I never worked down the pantry overstock the way I usually do in late winter. Pandemic news had me on edge by mid-January, and allowing the quirky desire to be Ready For Any Disaster free rein gave me a little relief from stress meltdowns.

By mid-March and the “stay home stay safe” phase of this dumpster fire year, my pantry was at peak November levels and more, since I’d impulsively grabbed extra cleaning supplies & personal care items on my February shopping expedition.

“Weird personal quirk” has turned into “reliable source of tiny indulgences that make involuntary isolation and fearful uncertainty more bearable.”

It stayed winter all summer long, as far as my nerves are concerned. I now catalog and inventory before shopping. (it IS possible to have too much boxed rice when the store keeps putting them on sale at 10 for $10.)

And now we’re heading into another winter, with who knows what kind of stresses and disasters await us all. My burrow is as ready as it can be, though, and that’s something.

A few things I learned this summer.

Milk gallons freeze just fine as long as you make sure the bottle has enough headspace; celery & carrots keep well and satisfy my greens cravings; commercial bread loaves and English muffins also freeze well; a watermelon keeps for a week on the counter if you don’t cut it open– and keeps for another week in the fridge if you rind & quarter it. Apples only freeze well if you peel & core them first & plan to use them for sauce or baking.

A things I hate but can’t help thinking about

We got a lucky break with COVID-19. Yes, I am aware how horrible and gross and coldhearted it is to say “lucky” when millions are dead and millions more are suffering and we aren’t anywhere close to being done with it. It’s AWFUL. I’m awful for typing it. I’m a sick monster.

What’s more awful is that it’s true.

SARS-CoV-2, the new-to-humans virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, is deadly, but some viruses are 20 or 30 times more lethal. We’re lucky they don’t spread easily. Others spread more easily than SARS-CoV-2 but aren’t nearly as lethal and/or we can vaccinate against them. (There are also some truly terrifying viruses that haven’t jumped from animals to humans yet. Looking at you, hantavirus)

We would be thoroughly FUCKED right now if the first novel virus we faced had been like measles, and everyone who got it infected 8-10 others instead of 2-ish. Or if it was like hantavirus and killed 30% of its victims, not 1% like SARS-CoV-2. What if it was like measles and hantavirus at the same time?

Infectious disease scientists don’t have to imagine that. They can model it. As the global population grows, the arrival and global spread of unique new diseases is an inevitable development. One of them is bound to be a monster.

And in February 2020, none of those experts could be sure SARS-CoV-2 WASN’T a Big One. They were pretty sure they had a handle on the basics of it–and they knew it was BAD–but it was still too new and the data was still too raw to be sure it wasn’t even WORSE.

Cautious, careful governments locked down to prevent its spread (real lockdowns, not our nation’s sorta-kinda-half-assed-half-hearted version of a lockdown, but real shutdowns) because quarantining is the one tried & true way to shut down viral spread, no matter what it is.

We now know SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t the Big One. It’s horrific, it’s historic, it’s phenomenally deadly and permanently damaging…but it’s treatable and its spread can be defeated by simple, low-tech, public health measures.

We caught the lucky break. The first modern global pandemic is a disease that is ONLY 10 times more deadly than influenza, and one that ONLY spreads at a moderate rate.

The world is a cage fight tournament, humanity vs viruses ( sponsored by Climate Change!) and we drew a pussycat opponent in the first round. This was a lucky chance to fine-tune our fight strategies, build up public health muscle and improve our scientific skills, because as sure as rain falls, we’re going to catch a lion in one of our next match-ups.

Too bad we blew it big time here in the USA. We are fucking up our gimmee game beyond all recognition. I wish I thought that we’d learned our lesson, that we’ll do better when the curtain inevitably goes up on the Big One.

But I don’t think that.

I see to many people spouting bullshit like “There’s no point in making kids wear masks–the labels say they aren’t medical, so they’re useless!” Which is so staggeringly wrong it’s hard to know where to start. And an empathy-fail trophy goes to those who insist that the virus isn’ dangerous because no one they know has died of it. Runners-up in the ignorance sweepstakes are “It’s all a government hoax,” and “If we didn’t test so much, it wouldn’t be as bad.”

Oof. When the big one does come (or when we fail to contain this pussycat and it goes rabid) when there aren’t enough healthy people left to keep the lights on or the water running, no one to make or transport supplies, or to staff hospitals and stores and laboratories…well.

Hi. I write post-apocalyptic fiction for so very many reasons.

And a few bright personal threads

I am fully 2/3 of the way through Sharp Edge revisions and ready to send off the next section to my alpha readers for feedback. That’s very exciting.

I have a Bookshop.org presence now, where you can buy my paperback books AND ALSO support your local independent bookseller:

Thanks to the completed exterior house renovations, my office now has modern windows, so the blinds don’t sway whenever the wind kicks up. This makes me unreasonably happy.

I have put my ebooks up on Ingram for distribution, so brick & mortar store that sell ebooks should be able to order you mine now. I admit I haven’t figured out how that part works, exactly, but the channel is open.

AND! AND! I’m working up my courage to approach a professional narrator and get more of my books on audio. If you read audios and have a favorite narrator you would like to nominate, please, PLEASE share the name.

You have reached the end of this post!

That’s all the all I have until later. Thanks for reading.

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com

Have a nice picture of autumn beverages to go on with.

Categories
Authoring Writing Life

Random Thoughts 6 October, 2020

I thing I saw that I wanted to share.

This was in a blog by an author I follow. I think it’s a useful set of reminders to contemplate when re-visiting many fictions I loved as a young adult.

Here are the things I once thought were funny.
Here are the things I once thought were acceptable.
Here are the things I didn’t realize were rooted in cruelty. 
Here are the things I once believed without question.

Sarah Gailey

I like it, but…but the last one made me sit down with myself for a bit. The fit was uncomfortable. So I wondered, why?

Then I realized. It’s because I can’t think of a single thing I believe without question.

Questioning things is kinda what I AM. If I know I believe a thing, I immediately, regularly, and deeply question it. A story I probably share too often is one about being nicknamed Socrates by the first out-group of peers I joined as a young adult. I got saddled with that moniker because I answered questions with questions as a knee-jerk level reflex (and also because I was willing to die on the hill of principle over any principle you could name, but that came down to challenging/questioning norms, so…same-same?)

Identifying my own beliefs is the trickier part for me. I have blind spots. HUGE ones. Don’t we all? (Yes. If you said no, that’s a huge fucking blind spot you should have someone help you examine. But I digress.) So my version of the above would go something like this:

These things were never funny
These things were never acceptable
These things were always rooted in cruelty
These things did not change. I did.
I know better.
I will keep learning.
I must.


Suburban wildlife count for the week

1 fox, 2 hawks, many woodpeckers, countless sparrows, owls heard but not seen, 1 raccoon, 1 skunk, and 3 nuthatches.

The last nuthatch was a feisty little thing who had zero fucks to give. When I came to fill the feeders, she sat on the fence upside down and glared at me until I finished, then scolded me for being in her way the whole time I was I changing out the birdbath water.

And today I learned that the sparrows absolutely recognize individual people and understand what we’re doing when we’re outside. The yard has been full of workers for 10 day now. The birds go about their business, unconcerned. I come outside to take pictures. They do not care. They lurk in the spruces, they hang in the bushes, they dust themselves in the lawn, they mutter birdy gossip to one another from their various hidey spots/

Unless I walk into the garage where the birdseed lives, that is.

OUTBURSTS OF CHEEPING!!!

FLUTTERING FLIGHTS OF EXCITEMENT!!!

ALL THE BIRDS APPEAR & LINE UP ON THE WIRES AND THE FENCE!!!

Followed shortly by every squirrel in the neighborhood.

It’s entertaining, that’s all I’m saying.

Sundry updates

1 Sharp Edge of Yesterday revisions and additions are complete through Book 3, which is about 2/3 of the total expected length. I’ll be contacting my wonderful alpha readers to give the latest bits a read through soon, to see if it’s all still working or if I should burn it all with fire.

2. I added ebook distribution to my Ingramspark account, so now you should be able to buy Rough Passages and all the Restoration series books in paperback or ebook, whichever you like, from any retailer who orders from Ingram Distribution. Support your trusty local independent bookstore AND get my wonderful stories in the format you prefer. Win-win.

3. I have achieved an unplanned Author Goal! I attracted a review troll. Someone one-starred both Controlled Descent and Flight Plan (so far) on Goodreads, but a check on the account indicates the individual ONLY one-stars books and doesn’t leave reviews, only ratings. No idea why or how they decided my books needed attention, but there it is. Achievement unlocked!

And here is a random cat from the internet, with attribution, because cats.

Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com