13 January 2020

Navigating the Post Holiday

Written on the back of this is "33 or 34" - meaning 1933 or 1934. My mom, as a toddler.

Well, I'm back at the DayJob and so far, no one has died, exploded, or been left (for too long) without the accommodations they are supposed to have in class. So far. I mean, it's been less than a week, so fingers are still crossed.

I'm getting back into the WritingJob slowly but surely. I'm in-between works in progress at the moment, so I'm back to investigating marketing, working on the Other Stuff involved in being a writer, and making sure all my ducks are actually ducks and are heading toward a row, at least. Ads on Facebook, Amazon, and elsewhere. Keeping up a daily appearance on Twitter keeps me grounded and writing at least 140 characters a day, if not more.

I would be lying if I said it was easy, though, navigating this new normal without my mom. When my dad died in 2018, that year's holiday season was tough. The last Christmas we tried to have at their house in 2014, when he caught the flu and was in bed, asking me if I knew his daughter Susan and if I could find her for him was awful. But after he died it was more tough for me because I could see how much my mom missed him. 

I didn't have the same relationship that my sister had with our parents. She was much closer to them in many ways - she and Daddy shared a profession, a passion, and a calling to ministry that I didn't and still don't understand. She was there for Mom, doing all the heavy lifting after Daddy was forced to stop doing it by his illnesses. But Mom was my confidante, my "ride or die," my go-to when I didn't know where else to go, and her absence is heavy - her silence is deafening.

But these three little pictures of her as a little girl - out in her Sunday best for a photo - remind me to keep moving forward. There is always another bonnet that needs putting on - metaphorically speaking. They also remind me that I'm not really as alone as I feel right now. If you look at the picture on the right, there is the slightest image of a man in a flat cap, probably tying little Martha's shoe - I have no way of knowing, but I like to think that is my grandfather because it gives me hope. Mom was a little girl with a daddy that tied her shoes, just like I was, and she weathered so many more storms than I ever will. 

Not really a New Year's Resolution - more of a reminder. It's never as bad as it seems, and if so, it can only get better.

Thanks, Mom. 

05 January 2020

So, here we are again...

[Disclaimer: this photo was taken in the elevator upon leaving the testing center at work last semester during final exam week, after a harrowing overwhelming normal shift helping out.]

Has anyone seen winter break? How am I now mere hours away from being back at the DayJob for another semester? That's my first here we are again.  Ready for another one?

I have a book launching at the end of this month. The. End. Of. This. Month. The second and (at least at this point) final book in the Tales from the Forest War series, SCORCH, is due to be available on Amazon (in ebook and paperback) on 31 January.

What that also means is that it should open for pre-orders on 25 January and that I need to have it ready to go by then. 19 days from today. It's in final beta now, then will have one more quick round of edits and then BAM, out into the world.

Ah, the life of an independently published author. Hot on the heels of THAT here we are again is another one - the project that I worked on during Nanowrimo 2019 has become the introductory novel in a new series and new universe - Arcstone. That first novel, Rift, is tentatively slated to be released for pre-order at the end of February because I really wanted to have it release on 29 February. So, it is in the first beta now, has a round of edits and then a second beta if I have time and then editawholelotmoreandthenBAM! Yeah, I may need to rethink that.

And, finally, here we are again, in a new year with new hope and renewed fervor and all that stuff that floods our senses and souls at 12:01am on 1st January.  Or at least that is where we should be. Me? I'm still in that elevator, hoping that when the door opens, I will be on the right floor of the right building.

28 December 2019

Post Christmas Blahs

The view from here...
I saw a really appropriate meme on Facebook the other day. It had a stick figure on the left that was smiling and sporting a jaunty Santa cap, and the caption above its head said "1st - 26th December: Festive!" On the right was another stick figure, no Santa cap (jaunty or otherwise), who was holding a block of cheese and looking a bit puzzled. Its caption reads, "27th - 31st December: Confused, full of cheese, unsure of the day of the week."

Friends, I am full of Russian Tea and Honeycrisp Apple Cider instead of cheese, but that second stick figure and I are soulmates. I realized today when I left to take something to hubs at work that he had forgotten that I HAVE NOT LEFT THE HOUSE SINCE TUESDAY. And that would have been even more shocking if I was 100% certain what day today is. I think it's Saturday, judging by the programs on NPR this morning and the fact that THERE IS FOOTBALL ON TELLY TONIGHT THANK GOODNESS. I have grown so accustomed to college football on Saturdays that I don't know what to do with myself when there isn't any to be had.

But back to Christmas. This year it felt like we had summer, and then just the start of fall, and then BAM! Thanksgiving followed by a bit of winter and then it was Christmas Eve. Maybe it's because I'm an old lady now that time seems to speed up like that if I'm not keeping an eye on things, but I was not ready for Christmas at all. 

To those of you nodding your heads knowingly and tutting and clucking, yes, a large part of it is that it is my first Christmas without either of my parents still here. They loved Christmas so much - or at least Daddy did. The amount and creativity of that man's decorating skills were LEG-EN-wait for it- DARY. I don't think there was an inch of any house we lived in growing up or their retirement home in Cleveland that wasn't covered in garland and red bows. This year I managed a tree, and on Christmas Eve-Eve I got two new stockings for me and Simon (since the dogs shredded mine last year and I couldn't find his). The front door and the kitchen door have wreaths. But that's all, really, save the sewing Santa statue I put out every year and our Jesus-Less Nativity scene (we think one of the dogs made off with Our Lord and Savior two years ago).

I find myself longing for Christmas to last, for the temps to go somewhere below the 68F/20C that we are experiencing today. It isn't just that I have some time off work (though that is nice). I have had anxiety surrounding change my entire life. Mom said that when I was a girl I would cry when the credits rolled at the end of a tv program. Even now I can feel my gut clench just a bit when I think about the fact that the end of an entire year - an entire decade is coming up next week. But that isn't what is causing my need for things to slow down, already.

I think I was waiting for it to feel like Christmas. I've had my grief, the mourning has been done, now it should feel back to normal again, right? Wrong. The harder I push myself to make things feel normal again, the worse it is when they aren't. So to any of you that are struggling this season with a holiday that didn't feel quite right - a holiday that seems to have come on fast and left nothing in its wake but weirdness - I see you. You are heard and understood - and loved. I'm saving space for you here, with me in this dirty house on my worn leather sofa, looking at the fake fire in the television and listening to the same instrumental music on repeat since Tuesday night. We will get through this and next year will be a better - if not normal, not yet - winter holiday season.

17 December 2019

Today, on Twitter...

Mom, probably high school age, 1940s

What wouldn't I give
For your voice in my ear
The stern looks as needed
A #sliver of your pound cake
With a cup of coffee
And  advice

What wouldn't I do
For a hug, a smile
Our smile

I still see it in the mirror.

I miss you, Mom. ❤

#vss365 #amwriting #vss365poetry #buspoetry


10 December 2019

The Treasure Hunt of Family Photos

3 May 1976

8 May 1976
I often say that I had 4.5 years of only child bliss, and then Susan happened. But in truth, I had 4.5 years of blindly navigating the world alone and then I got a cohort (even though I didn't think so at the time) that would know me better and longer than any of my friends, and would always be in my life, regardless of how many churches Daddy served/how many times we moved/how many groovy plaid sofas and pumpkin orange shag-carpeted parsonages we lived in as we grew up. Sure, there were times that I convinced her to hide in the laundry hamper with a 5lb lid (we were playing hide and seek and I was it) or I sent her down the stairs in the laundry basket (because it didn't have wheels that got stuck like the big wheel that nearly flipped her over and off), but there were also times that we slept in the back of the station wagon on the way to see family or got tucked into the sofa bed at my Grandmama's house - in the room with the clock that would make you INSTANTLY fall asleep. We jumped off the back porch into the billowing smoke from the leaves Daddy was raking up, pretending that we were Wonder Woman and Wondergirl (I will let you figure out who was who), diving into the poisonous smoke to save the day.

Little did I know what a gift I had in my lap in that second picture.

My mom knew, but that's why she is hanging onto the cushion Susan is sleeping on - to keep me from rolling her off on the floor.

Susan has been finding old pictures as she goes through Mom's stuff (along with recipes for more congealed salads than ANY United Methodist Clergy Spouse should have had in the 70s and 80s), and it has been an amazing trip down memory lane as well as a window into what Hoyt and Martha's lives were like before they became Nancy and Susan's Parents. More to come as Sooz continues to find these gems and post them on Facebook.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me Susan.

Thanks, Susan, for giving me a warning before you post (but posting anyway).

Where did I leave that laundry basket?

07 December 2019

A bit of sparkly, glittery homesickness - Tidy.

Waiting at Charles DeGaulle to fly back to London, May 2012.
This week has been a rough one at work - nothing at all to do with the students I work with, for a change, but more to do with personalities and issues that I thought had long since been put to rest. Ah well - that's the DayJob.

My #writerlife is going fairly well, actually - I'm still working on Rift and actively avoiding the editing that needs to be done on Ignite, so all in all, not too bad.

But today I've been thinking about who I was this time 10 years ago. I had bee living in the UK for eight months, and I was swinging madly between loving my new home and desperately missing people and places I'd left behind. It's funny, you know, how certain things can take you right back to where - and who - you were at a specific time in your life. For me, those things are the BBC series Gavin and Stacey, the Eurovision Song Contest, and the film Love Actually.

I'm going to tackle each as it happened in my life, starting with Love, Actually. I had been watching a lot of British films and telly for years, but after I fell in love with my Yorkshireman I asked him what he would recommend. Love, Actually, he says, of course. I remember sitting in my house in Montgomery, Alabama and watching that movie for the first time with my mouth hanging open. It was just so good! So since then, I have watched it a few thousand times and I love it more each watching. The scenes in the airport tear me up now because I remember being at either Manchester or ATL/GSP in those exact moments. You've been on a long flight, you're exhausted, and when you walk through the last set of doors and you see that face that you've only been able to see on the computer screen and EVERYTHING that was wrong is right - even the Norovirus that kept me from going to the UK for a few days at Christmas in 2007. I got there, I hugged the stuffing out of him, and he asked me to marry him.

We won't discuss my answer, except to say a lot of "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" turned into a yes, and it is still a yes today, 12 years later.

Secondly, there is Gavin and Stacey. It's a silly little Britcom that deals with Gavin, a lad from Essex, marrying Stacey who is from Barry in Wales. I've been rewatching the series on Hulu lately and now everything is in a Welsh accent in my head. Lush. Anyway, the two of them meet and decide to get married, and then have to deal with the distance between families and "home" as well as some cultural differences. It's the story of the start of my own marriage, but with the genius of Ruth Jones and James Corbin narrating. There are so many moments that take me back to living in Keighley.

Finally, the Eurovision Song Contest is not just a memory of living in the UK, but it reminds me of how young and sweet we were. I moved three greyhounds to the UK in April of 2009, and by the end of May, I had one, just Daisy. I can't imagine how awful I was to Simon. He did everything he could do to cheer me up and finally, he suggested that I should try watching Eurovision. The best suggestion he's made since getting down on one knee in the Arrivals hall at Manchester Airport. All that sparkle and pomp and circumstance will do a world of good for anyone.

So, just in cases, I'm going to watch Gavin and Stacey and then listen to my Eurovision playlist. Tidy.

30 November 2019

Well, that happened...

It turned out to be better than I could have ever thought when I started. I have been hearing about a genre that I think must be rather new - LitRPG. At Hummel Books Blog, I found this definition that I think is a good one:

“LitRPG is a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy which describes the hero’s adventures within an online computer game. LitRPG books merge traditional book-style narration with elements of a gaming experience , describing various quests, achievements and other events typical of a video game.”

Now, the work in progress still needs a bit of work, because I find myself lapsing back into the fantasy genre. All my other novels (save the dog books) are epic type fantasy novels. At the same time, I have been told that my trilogy is like a game campaign. So maybe I was always heading for this?

Now I'm off to look for comps (if I hear one more time that my story is Tron meets Read Player One, I will scream), finish writing it (November needed about another week), and get to editing. But I also should be editing Scorch and getting it off to beta readers. But for a few minutes, I'm going to enjoy that I've met Em, Alex, and Lex and wait for them to tell me the rest of their story.

Rift - the first novel in the Arcstone Series 
Madelyne Laurent is a bookseller in a chain bookshop in Paris by day, but by night she is Em, elven warrior in the massively multiplayer online 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 – or his avatar ‘Lex’ – trying to help her or hurt her? When a tyrant running the show inside and outside of Arcstone sets his sights on Madelyne and her father, she must make alliances to save her father’s life – and get both of them back to the real world, if she can. 
Welcome to Arcstone – Game loading, please wait…
Stay tuned to my website for Rift cover reveal and more. I can't wait for all of you to meet them!

01 November 2019

If anyone is looking for me...

I just discovered that I can novel ON MY PHONE because I am an OLD LADY who doesn't understand TECHNOLOGY so I am now noveling on the bus and at other times that I can't get to my laptop (or shouldn't be noveling like... you know, at work...).

This year's Nano is a departure from my recent work - if you look here at my Nano dashboard, you'll see that I have all but devoted my recent Nano and CampNano time to an Orana Chronicle or similar. Not in many seasons have I started down a completely new path with new characters.

Okay, maybe it isn't completely new because there are MMORPG elements and fantasy elements. But sort of. Just hear me out.

Rift is the working title (and yes, I know there is a video game called Rift) and the story centers on Em (short for Maddie) who finds herself pulled from her modest flat in Paris into the world of an MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game) that she plays. Everything in Arcstone is as she has seen it for years on her screen, including her online player buddy Alex's avatar, a demon called Lex. Em is not sure whether she is horrified or delighted - perhaps a bit of both?

But nothing in Arcstone is as it seems. Le CreĆ”teur is hunting for Em and Lex in the game, and it will be up to them to figure out what he is after and how he managed to intersect the real world and the game world. Their developing relationship complicates matters too - is Lex really Alex, that Em has known for years? Is he also stuck in Arcstone just as she is? And if so, can she trust him?

Yeah, so that's the back cover blurb so far. It has already gone off the rails and has minor characters running amok, revealing information far earlier than I had planned. Em and Lex are behaving like randy teenagers. And the aptly named Main Character 3 is skulking around and NOT telling me who he/she is or why the skulking and peeping in windows.

I don't know what has fueled this new story. I had every good intention of working on either a revamp of The Baskervilles (after that amazing anonymous first-page feedback from Broadleaf 2019) or work on an upcoming collaboration with another amazing writer friend of mine, Tony Daniel. And then here comes Em and Lex and their story, and everything goes sideways.

And so far, it is the most exhilarating kind of manic sideways and I'm loving it. See you guys on the other side of 30 days or 50k words...whichever comes first.

21 October 2019

On stalls, false starts, and the writing process...

This is my writing process, lately...
So, Nanowrimo is coming up next month. A writing conference down in Georgia is coming up next month. Two appearances at the Carolina Renaissance Festival are coming up next month, one with the Hounds of East Fairhaven and one as a SciFi/Fantasy author signing copies of Ignite and Wanderer.

That's a lot right there, enough to give anyone pause and to force normal people to take a break. But y'all know I am not normal people, not even close. I'm trying not to freak out about the book signing - literally, that is a daily struggle between OMG SO MANY PEOPLE TO SEE MY BOOKS  and OMG SO MANY PEOPLE THAT MAY WANT TO TALK TO ME. That stressed me out just typing it!

In order to keep from packing my bags and running away, I thought I'd focus on Nanowrimo. Every November I have again been swept away in word counts and nefarious noveling. I am an absolute pantser and have no plans to change...though I do sort of know what my project will be this fall. Or at least I thought I did. I thought that I would continue to ride the wave of the anonymous first-page critique from Broadleaf and start over with my Baskervilles. I thought I would get at least a rough first draft knocked out in November. I thought wrong.

I was moving at a nice clip doing research until I got stalled out by a pretty vicious head cold. I started again, but this time the fire is gone. Cold. Non-existant. I am thinking that I might just put my poor, neglected Baskervilles away for another Nano season and haul them out next year for Camp Nano. Again. Poor Lucy and Annie.

This has been my writing process this year, and I am normally good at reminding myself that 2018 and 2019 have nearly ruined me as a person, both emotionally and physically, and I'm still coming out from under that - me, not me-the-author or me-in-my-day-job. ME. But those of us that are servants of the storytelling are some of the worst for forcing ourselves forward when all we really needed was a few steps backward to see the right path.

Ugh. I'm hoping to get myself together by the end of this week, but no promises.  What do you do when you are stalled out and can't make yourself move forward?

08 October 2019

On JR Ward and Rune-Carved Bedrock

"A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone
without corporeal friend." ~ Emily Dickinson

I don't think I'm alone, as a writer, in seeing another writer's work and thinking IF ONLY I COULD WRITE LIKE THAT! Well, recently I stumbled across this perfect little paragraph in The Savior by JR Ward:

As the cold wind blew his hair around, and sadness darkened the night even further, he realized that even though the pair of them were not destined to be together, they would never fully be apart, either. Their relationship had carved runes in the bedrock of their souls, the suffering on both sides longer lasting than any resonant joy could have been.

We all have these people in our lives I think. More than one, generally. We have good examples: those other souls that we thought were our perfect match, and they were, just not as a life partner or spouse. Those folks stay in our lives, maybe close by, maybe far away, but they always are there when we need them. I wrote about one of mine a couple of years ago here at the Lettuce - he showed up in a dream when my brain was searching desperately for familiarity and comfort. The runes we carved in the bedrock of each other's souls became anchors. Silver threads. A constant in an often unstable world.

Then there are the others who are the embodiment of the passage as written. One such, for me, was the inspiration for Taeben in my Nature Walker Trilogy novels. While that relationship is still present, more or less, it is much more virtual than visceral. I know that I can never fully be apart from him, and I think the same is true for him. We turn up in each other's lives from time to time, remind each other of a distant past when our lives were very different, and then fade out again. Each time I wonder if it will be the last time. Each time I hope that it won't - but have learned to expect that it will. I think that's what Ward meant by "the suffering on both sides longer lasting than any resonant joy could have been."

We are not together for a reason, in either situation. In the first case, we both had much better things on the horizon, and our relationship is only made better by the distance and the significant others (and children, in his case) that we have found in the time since. In the second situation, we were and are two very different people - and in this case, our differences would have been our undoing. We are traveling different paths - the first parallel and the second divergent.

We all have these runes in our bedrock - some are just carved more deeply than others.

27 September 2019

On crowded spaces and weird moments of podcast clarity

(photo courtesy of the Anderson Independent: Clemson students on the library bridge at class change)
This morning, as my bus hurtled down I-85, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts: And That's Why We Drink. It is one part paranormal stories, one part true crime stories, and several parts humor. But this morning I listened to an episode recorded after the shootings in El Paso and Dayton. The tone was angry, accusatory, afraid, resigned, and just sad - and I felt every single one of those as I listened. As usual, storytellers Em and Christine spoke my truth along with theirs about this issue.

But then, as also often happens on a dark bus before 8am on my way to work, my mind started to wander. Christine had said something about people who are now afraid to leave their homes, afraid to go to crowded places. Em was talking about how people who want to go to the premiere of a superhero movie think twice now after the Aurora Theatre shooting. I thought to myself that I haven't really changed that much of my daily life, but that could just be because other than my friend who died at Virginia Tech I haven't really had a personal connection to the other shootings.

But on closer inspection, I do have some alterations that have happened. One glaring one is related to the picture above. In order to get from my office to two of the buildings in which my students often have classes, I have to cross over that bridge and it often is just that crowded. I don't do that anymore. I go under the bridge and take the elevator up to the top of the stairs at the other end. I thought I was just doing that because I was lazy - and I am, don't misunderstand - but it is also because I have become rather uncomfortable in large open spaces that have loads of people in them. Places like college campuses. Places that could be targeted.

I tested that theory the other morning by walking across the bridge rather than under it, and sure enough, by the time I got to the other side and was walking up the steps to the sidewalk I was full of anxiety. On my walk back from class I go across the bridge all the time with no worries - because there aren't that many students on it then, I suppose. As much as I hate to say I'm letting the terrorists win - however melodramatic that is - I am because to arrive at my class to interpret with a ball of anxiety in my chest is not doing anyone any favors.

I wonder if this is a permanent thing? Will I be resigned to side streets and outdoor elevators for the rest of my life? Will someone somewhere that is in charge finally do something about the root cause of these shootings?

Navigating the Post Holiday