04 June 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Ten


I am departing from my normal format here at the Lettuce today to tell you that people I love are hurting and this is the only way I know how to help. Please start with the link below and see how you can help. Be light in the darkness, speak truth to power, and if you are a white person like me, sit down and be quiet and listen. Don't ask what's wrong - we know what's wrong. Don't ask why - we know why.


If you feel compelled to say something about all lives mattering, here's my response. Maybe it will help. As I posted this week on FB, there is a story in Luke, chapter 15, about how a shepherd left his flock of 99 sheep to look for the one that had gone missing. That action in no way diminishes the lives of those 99 sheep that are where they are supposed to be and safe - because it is the one that is missing that is in danger. 

30 May 2020

Notes from Exile: Her-storically Speaking: Meet the Women of War!

So, at one point during Week Nine, I did a thing...please enjoy me bringing the awkward with a panel of fabulous female authors! (Premiered on the ConCarolinas channel, powered by ConTinual.)

28 May 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Nine

A carrot wound into a spiral from growing close to another.
Carrot as Pandemic Metaphor
Well, it's been a minute.

Or has it been? I'm not even sure. What I do know is that this humble carrot that grew too close to another carrot in our garden is a perfect metaphor right now for where I am in this pandemic. We took it out of the ground and pulled the other carrot from its grip, and it still looks like it is pointing at me, accusingly, for ruining its cozy life in our garden.

My choices over the past nine weeks been called paranoid. Nervous. Extreme. Excessive. And yet, I don't have symptoms and as far as I know, no one that has been in contact with me does either - that is why I'm doing what I'm doing. That is why, on the COVID Risk Tolerance scale that has made the rounds on social media, I'm about a 1.5: 
  • Leaves the house only to go for groceries and other essentials
  • Works 90% from home
  • Orders non-essentials online
  • Eats takeaways only, no restaurants for dine-in or outside seating
  • Fairly strict etiquette including hand washing, masks, and social distancing used 80-99% of the time when outside of the home
  • No socializing outside of the home
And yet, in spite of my numerous introverted tendencies, I am that carrot, wishing for the closeness from what Hubs and I are now officially calling The Before Times. I'm holding space for my Girls Night Ladies, my family, my beautiful and brilliant niece, and everyone else with whom I wish I could still share hugs. But I am just not willing to change course yet - I am trusting in the science and data that tell me that this virus is much more dangerous than any flu we have seen. I'm trusting in those with more knowledge and ability that I have to tell me when it is safe to move back toward what was normal before.

I've been thinking more about that this week - what will normal look like in a month or six months, or a year? When can we get back to Girls Nights and Renn Faires and all the things that have been pulled from our grip, like that poor carrot up there? I don't have answers, but I think we are seeing things opening up faster than they should, and we are headed to a time when we see The Before Times disappear for good.

22 May 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Eight

Mary Louise McDonald,
September 11, 1929 ~ April 15, 2020
So we are into the eighth week of whatever this is - lockdown is incorrect if you compare it to what other countries are doing. Quarantine is incorrect unless you are sick and forced to isolate to prevent infecting others. Shelter in place doesn't even seem right because to me, that response is more apt for an ACTIVE threat like a tornado or a shooter. We are staying at home and working from home, but it will not necessarily injure us if we walk outside our doors. We are staying at home because we care about others in our neighborhoods, our towns, cities, states - our country.

This kind of selflessness does not come easily to a great number of Americans. We are taught from birth to depend on ourselves. Work hard and you will be rewarded. Sharing is good, but saving is better. There isn't an adage about helping your neighbor pull up his bootstraps. The American Way often feels like The Everyman For Themselves Way. So this self-isolation is hard on us. We are a people who value hard work but also are interested in instant gratification. After six weeks of mixed messages from all levels of government, a distrust of the media that comes from the highest levels, and a frankly terrifying resistance to trusting proven science in favor of unproven talking points, we the people began to become restless. There were armed protests at statehouses and armed, inflammatory discourse on social media. We had overshot the mark for caution and were treading on civil liberties.

Everyone seemed quick to forget that, thanks to those very overblown measures, they were still alive to make their irrational and selfish arguments. Anyway.

Why have I attached a picture of my aunt, my mother's older sister who died last month, to this rant about the overbearing vocal majority intent on disbelief until they actually are infected? That sweet woman, Mary Louise McDonald, died after an intraparenchymal hemorrhage. She was 90 years old. Her birthday was Sept. 11, 1929 - and she was a typical McDonald, just like my mother and all of her siblings. We joked that Mom would apologize for breathing too much air if someone else was in the room - and she clearly came by that honestly because Aunt Mary was the same way.

I hope that this is where I learned how to survive the isolation, the restlessness, the loneliness that this Exile has brought. Their example taught me to value the lives and health of others as highly - and sometimes more highly - than my own. Their example taught me that there are things we do that we do because it is the right thing to do. Their example taught me that doing for others shows your love for them.

Aunt Mary was encouraging. She was loving and gentle and quiet - to us. My uncles said that she was bossy and could be stubborn and sassy. I witnessed the passive-aggressive way that she and my mother would argue over kitchen duties at Thanksgiving and the way she always knew the exact gift to give you at the exact time you needed it. She and Hubs bonded over her fudge which was a staple at family gatherings. The last time I spoke to her on the phone was so quiet, only the sound of the ventilator on the other end in response to my weepy promises to look after Hubs and my sister and to learn to make her fudge for all of us.

So when we were under a mandatory stay at home order in South Carolina and we lost Aunt Mary, and the funeral home and my sister and brother in law prepared for a quiet burial, socially distanced and only attended by family - I thought about what she would have done for me, and Hubs and I went to Georgia. We drove by and saw the house in Pendergrass where my Aunt Mary lived with my grandfather until his death, and I thought about her life and how much she sacrificed because it was the right thing to do - and I hope that she forgave me my hesitation and that she was proud of who her niece has become.

And I hope that I can learn to make that fudge - goodness knows I have the time now.

17 May 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Seven

Coming 31 May 2020
The big news for week seven is that finally, at long last, and after much editing and refining of cover art, most of which happened LAST WEEK, Rift is in pre-order now and will launch on the 31st of May. Initially, I had the release date set to coincide with ConCarolinas because I am an author guest this year. But with the pandemic, some of that had to change and I went ahead and opened pre-orders on May 15th.

I'm so excited about this novel! This is such a departure from my Orana Chronicles - for one thing, it isn't set in a fantasy world, at least not initially, anyway. From the blurb:
A gamer, desperate to escape her real life, discovers that nothing in her beloved online world is as it seems. Madelyne Laurent is a bookseller in a chain bookshop in Yorkshire by day, but by night she is Em, an elven warrior in the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, Arcstone. Her closest friend is someone she has never met in person – Alex – and she spends her days anxiously ready to log into the game with him.
A mission goes awry and Madelyne finds herself in the body of her online persona, Em. Can she find out how she ended up in Arcstone in time to get herself back out, or will she end up stuck in the game world she wanted so desperately to inhabit? And is Alex trying to help her or hurt her? When a tyrant running the show inside and outside of Arcstone sets his sights on Madelyne, she must find a way to save her life and get back to the real world, if she can.
I've been told that this book is like Tron meets Ready Player One, and I will admit that there is a bit of an attempt at romance as well. But if you know me, you know that didn't go well either. In fact, I had a conversation with one of my beta readers that you might find funny:

Me: OMG you're at the...sexy times. Eeeek! (loads of blushing emojis)
Beta Reader: I...am? What are you worried about? How bad can it be?
Me: (wonders how to spell the urgh noise that I made thinking about that question)
Beta Reader: Oh, you mean (mentions parts of the book that were making me very nervous)? Oh, honey I beta lots of stuff - this is tame. Don't worry.

So, there you are. Romance with a side of puritanical I SHOULD BE WRITING YA OR YOUNGER. I tried, at least. If you are looking for a quick diversion during this trying time, give Rift a read, if you would? Em and Alex have a fascinating story to tell, and I just know you will fall for them like I did.

And if you do, I'd love to know what you think! The link leads to the Kindle version, and the paperback will be available for purchase at the same link on the 31st.

Welcome to Arcstone – Game loading, please wait…

05 May 2020

Notes from Exile: What day is this?

Skylar Austin and Jane Levy in "Zoey's Extraordinary Father"
So, it's week six, and today is Tuesday. My rational mind knows that. But my emotional mind has gone off the rails today. TL: DR - I watched the season one finale of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" and had a visceral reaction consisting of ugly sobbing because I have not let myself feel things that were unpleasant or painful for about five years. 

Lucky you, you get to come along as I not only sort this out but offer some advice so that NO ONE has to do this. Seriously, y'all, the long-suffering heroine who manages to hold it all together in the face of all sorts of awful is a trope that needs to be banished from literature, television, and movies. GONE. So many of my MCs have this either as a personality trait or a goal to work towards and it ends now. In my new series opener, RIFT, launching at the end of this month I created an MC that I didn't really connect with as much as I did with Gin from The Nature Walker Trilogy. Madelyne is honest about what she feels when she feels it. Gin (and I) worry too much about how what we are feeling will affect other people.

My father died in 2018 from complications related to Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. My mother died last summer after a major neurological event and about a month in hospice. During both of these events, I tried my best to be a grown-up about it. My sister is amazing - she may have had the same need to become completely unglued but you would never know it, and that is what I thought I needed to be. 

I did my best to be okay, I'm okay, everything is fine. This is sad but for the best. They are finally together again. Those were the words coming out of my mouth. But what I should have done was be honest with myself about how much all of that devastated me - and I wasn't.

I watched that episode of this amazing show (seriously, if you haven't seen it GO DO THAT NOW, I will wait) knowing that it would be difficult. But it was more than that - it was painful and real, and absolutely beautiful. I cried, but more importantly, I FELT. So this blog post is more than just an ad for this show (have you watched it yet? No? WHY?), but it is an encouragement to let yourself feel what you need to feel. Go through stuff. Experience things. 

The past six weeks of almost total isolation have gone by so fast and so slowly, in a way, because I'm not letting myself think about why I'm doing this. It's easy to just think about what's happening in the world, far away from my little house on my little street. What is not easy to think about is how this is affecting my relationships with people - how I'm pulling away from people that would normally be my support because I don't want to look as out of control as I feel. The first two weeks I cried every day because I was afraid. But I managed to think about it more as being safe than being stuck, and now I can't believe it's been six weeks.

You will never know how strong you can be until you are. The fact that I am still here and relatively sane is a testament to the fact that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. The fact that, overall, I let my sister do most of the heavy lifting related to the end of both our parents' lives means that I still have work to do. But I know, with new clarity, that I can do it. I'm thankful, I'm hopeful, and I'm completely congested and horrible to look at - and I don't care.

Well, maybe I care...just a little.

22 April 2020

Notes from Exile, Week Five, via Twitter

07 April 2020

Notes from Exile: Week Four

Hello from my sofa. I'm still in the house, and for the first time on Sunday, I did not go with Hubs to do the weekly shop. That makes today the 8th one since I've left home. Just more water over the rocks, like the water flowing over those holy rocks there at Cane Creek Falls, right?

I've been out in the yard a few times, but the tree pollen is making that very difficult. Normally I have the blinds open here in the den so that I can at least see the yellow green of the trees that surround our house. But not today.

Today feels different somehow. I think that I was feeling very hopeful over the weekend - it is certainly easier to do that when Hubs is here. His work is still open, inexplicably, so he is there now and I worry so much that he will come in contact with someone who passes on this horrible illness to him. Yesterday, I was a good employee and sat in front of my laptop in my new office - complete with a new desk and chair - and did my usual triage/dispatch as I put out metaphorical fires at the DayJob™. I had a zoom staff meeting. Hubs came home for lunch. It was all still fairly hopeful.

Today, I sat down to the DayJob™ at that new desk and I logged into the VPN and...nothing. I mean there was nothing that I needed to worry about, nothing really to triage - once my students have the accommodations they need, they are off and don't really need me so much. I checked on a few things and updated my calendar. And I thought - I really processed how much longer there is that we will live like this.

And please don't misunderstand - I am so very thankful for a job that I can do from home. I am thankful that Hubs and I are still healthy and that I have my wonderful pups with me. But it just gets heavy sometimes. I was just watching the news on the BBC and they were interviewing a woman from Paris who said, "It's just heavy, this is starting to weigh on people."

There is some good news - the Nano seems to be coming along in a way this story world has not in past attempts. I really think that I will be able to work in a lot more of the previous attempts and I won't lose too much of it. I read through a great deal of past effort yesterday, and it made me sad to think of losing some of that world/those characters. I'm at the very least caught up with my word count target, so that is reason to celebrate. Normally by the end of the first week, I'm a hot mess of playing catch up and adding fluff that isn't needed, so this is nice to report.

So I remain in my house. I take Benadryl to combat the allergies. I look forward to the end of this month when hopefully we can start to get back to something like normal. See you next week - stay safe and keep healthy.

30 March 2020

Notes from Exile, Beginning of Week Three

She gets it - look at that face.
Well, it's week three.

Today, so far, I have been frustrated with work in the DayJob™ to the point that I posted about it on social media, and then got the whole thing wrong. Y'all, the imposter syndrome is STRONG today in that world. Strong.

As far as the Writer Life goes...well, I need to find motivation there too. Scorch released a week ago on Friday and for those who have it and have or are reading it, THANK YOU. That project meant a great deal to me, as it was my real foray into worldbuilding. The Nature Walker Trilogy was taking a story idea and shoehorning it into a world, but I got to step back with the Forest War and really look at that world. Ignite and Scorch are tied for second place in terms of my favorites in the Orana Chronicles. Wanderer is still my favorite because I love how innocent Gin is and how the whole story is still ahead of her, waiting for her to find Sath and get on with saving the world, already.

Another Nano event starts Wednesday. I'm planning to work on a reboot of a story that I have tried to write several times and have come up frustrated and empty. Kinda like the look on my Willow-Pickle's face there. I know the overarching story, but I have no idea how to get from A to B. I can only hope that my MCs have a bit more insight to share than they have in the past.

Other than all of that, I'm just hanging out here, working from my sofa while I await the arrival of my desk and desk chair. Sounds glam, huh? I will be the first to admit that I have been jealous of my friends that do their job from home - but when I said I wanted to do the same I meant as a writer. This DayJob™ stuff from home is too hard.  TOO HARD. But I will get through it and on with it, and make my soup for lunch and listen to the Femmes and deal.

We aren't really quarantined exactly because Hubs is still going to work every day and I have left the house on Sundays to go grocery shopping. That's been a surreal experience - there was a 15-minute queue to get into one shop yesterday because they are limiting how many people are in the store at a time.  It's the new normal - but for how long? This is all so weird.

Maybe by the next time I sit down to pen type "Notes from Exile," I will have more coherent thoughts to share or at least a positive Camp Nano update. Meanwhile, keep safe and healthy, y'all. We're all in this together.


24 March 2020

Notes from Exile, Week Two, Day Two

As seen on Facebook...surprisingly appropriate.
First off, I'm going to admit that it took me far longer to remember what day it is than it should have. I know that it is Tuesday - but which Tuesday? HOW MANY TUESDAYS HAVE THERE BEEN?

I'm okay now.

Today I wanted to write about something that happened to me in a store over the weekend. Because we are NOT HOARDING, Simon and I have been making our grocery runs as usual, on Sunday mornings when people that are far better than we are in church. Judge if you like, this is not a post about my church attendance or lack thereof.

Anyway, we hit Costco, Trader Joe's, and then maybe Publix before we nip out for a quick brunch. Then he works a bit in the yard, I faff about on the couch pretending to be a writer, and then he rings his parents on WhatsApp.

Quickly - y'all. If he and I were living in these technological times when we met I am not entirely certain how the trajectory of our relationship would have gone. Replace choppy AIM conversations with WhatsApp video chat? COMPLETELY DIFFERENT BALLGAME.

Okay, back to my point - also, this is pretty much how my working from home is going, the metaphorical SQUIRREL is all up in here and I CAN'T NOT FOLLOW IT.

We were doing our shopping on Sunday, right? Arrived at Costco early, about 9:30, and they normally don't open until 10am. There was already a queue of people out front, keeping a safe distance from each other which made it look longer than it was, waiting to walk up and receive a freshly sanitized trolley as they entered the warehouse. The Costco staff were even staggering how many people went in, I suppose, against how many people were coming out. It was surreal in there - quiet, not crowded, and no chicken, hand sanitizer, or toilet paper to be found.

There was a whiteboard out front, actually, that had a list of what they did not have in stock.

We moved on to Trader Joe's, talking amongst ourselves about how well our fellow community members seemed to be taking all the changes in stride. We made the odd comrade joke. When we arrived, Trader Joe's was doing something similar but without the Disney World Esque queue laid out with orange tape and pallets. So well done, we clucked as we entered the store. People keeping distance, smiling, everything was great - until I had to get some tempeh.

A young lady had stopped her trolley in front of ALL THE VEGAN/VEGETARIAN THINGS IN THE COLD CASE and was texting someone through her nitrile gloves. I stood, I waited, I socially distanced, until she still did not move. I leaned over her trolley (mind you, she was at the other end of the trolley and engrossed in her phone) to grab one package of tempeh. One.

That got her attention away from her phone and she jumped backward, pulling the trolley with her, and glared at me as though I had just sneezed the coronavirus into her eyes. I apologized and made a comment about it being hard these days, trying to stay six feet apart chuckle.

She sighed VERY LOUDLY and returned to texting. I saw her in the store several times after that and she made a point of going way around me. In my mind, I was all Listen honey, I have allergies, okay? I can't help the fact that it got warm for ten minutes and every plant in the county turned YELLOW but I just smiled and kept going. I hope that her gloves kept her safe from sniffling strangers like me who made a point to NOT SNEEZE, SNIFFLE, OR EVEN CLEAR MY THROAT until I was in my car.

At least I was able to order our brunch on the way home and pick it up - Atlanta Bread Company deserves some love, y'all.

So all that to say, keep in mind what is important here. Self-isolate. Shelter in place means at your place, not someone else's. No, you can't go to a movie or the park downtown. One step in front of the other, boots then corset. It will all be fine. The sooner we all head to the Winchester* for a pint, doors locked behind us, the sooner this will all blow over.

Unless they've closed the Winchester.


*Yes, I am aware that I just told you to stay home and then suggested going to a pub. What you would need to have known to get the joke is... Well, while you're home, find Shaun of the Dead streaming somewhere and watch it. See? Funny.

23 March 2020

Notes from Exile, Beginning of Week Two

Back when I was still at the DayJob every day...
So, the last time I updated, we had just heard that everything at the DayJob was going online for employees as of 16 March and students as of 23 March, when they returned from their spring break. Initially, it would be for a week, maybe two, with an evaluation on 1 April to see how much longer we needed to self-isolate.

Turns out, the isolation was going to be much longer than that. The classes are online for the rest of the semester. All events (sporting and otherwise) are canceled, including but not limited to graduation.

All the St. Patrick's Day parades canceled - even the ones in Ireland! Two festivals canceled outright - the Hounds were supposed to appear and now aren't. One of them was rescheduled for September. The Georgia Renaissance Festival has postponed opening weekend for two weeks. Still, with cancellations happening in May and early June (including the Scottish Games here in Greenville!), I wouldn't be surprised if they canceled the rest of the faire.

So, here in exile (with my sword, I'll have you know!), I've been working from home and watching the numbers on my latest release, SCORCH. It's the second and final in the Tales of the Forest War series - do two books make a series? A duet? A couple? I digress.  I'm working through the final edits/cover design for the first in my new LitRPG series, Arcstone, due out in May. I'm still hoping that I will be appearing at ConCarolinas at the end of May, but that remains to be seen in the wake of all the cancelations.

What have you been up to, my Lettuce Readers? How is your exile going? Are you staying at home? Are you preventing the spread of this awful virus? If I think that I am missing out on going to dinner with friends or seeing movies, I just look at the latest numbers of people infected, and suddenly it isn't such a sacrifice. I will admit that my anxiety is a little high because I don't deal well with change, but I have enough to keep me occupied.

We are a few weeks out from the next writing event: Camp Nanowrimo begins in April. Once again, I'm going to tackle my Baskervilles project and hopefully make it through with something I can revise and improve upon for later. May should be full of revising whatever comes out of April. I'm also beta reading two manuscripts for other writers, so as I said, loads to keep me occupied.

Check-in! Let me know how you are coping during this unprecedented time in our world. Keep me honest - feel free to contact me through my website or this blog and ask me how the nano is going if I haven't been updating. The only way we will make it through exile/quarantine/self-isolation/social distancing is together.

Separate but Together. What was it I said in the last post about the introvert's time to shine?

Notes from Exile: Week Ten