21 February 2020

She is me...meet Tairneanach.

photo courtesy Pixabay

I am an avid reader. Well, more to the point I have the desire to be an avid reader, but I don't have as much time to read as I used to do. Often as I am reading, I wonder how much of the author is in the main character - because I cannot write without putting myself into my work. It's the best way to know that my characters are staying true to human emotions and movements and the like - even though a great many of them are not human at all.

I remember saying to one of my beta readers for the Nature Walker Trilogy that I didn't think Gin would do <something> because Gin was me, and I wouldn't do that - and he said, "Yes, I knew that because I know you." But the more I worked with Gin, the more she moved away from me. She isn't me, at least not anymore.

I am still there, though. I have been working this week on first revisions on a manuscript I wrote last year during a NaNoWriMo of one form or another. There is a plan for future books set on Orana, and this is one of them. Readers of the trilogy will remember Tairneanach, a high elf from Alynatalos who was a childhood friend of Gin's and Nelenie's younger sister. She is a magic user with a desperate need to have her own power - she does not want to depend on anyone, because the last time she did that, Ben took advantage of her and made her do horrible things. The book I am revising now is her story.

I haven't touched this manuscript since it was finished at the end of that NaNoWriMo, and I'm actually enjoying reading it. She is so familiar to me, in a way that Gin has never been. For those of you that are going of course she is, because you wrote it, this is something that I don't know if I can explain to people that aren't writers. I write all kinds of characters, some of them similar to me in thought and word and deed and some diametrically opposed to me. Tairn is more me than Gin ever was. There are times, writing Gin, that I am surprised by what happens because it is not what *I* would do, but it is what Gin would do. That hasn't happened so far in my revision with Tairn, and I'm excited for readers to learn more about her than the fact that she can turn herself into a pair of gloves to be balled up and buried in the bottom of Sath's rucksack.

So...meet Tairneanach, who carries the most of me into the story world of Orana. You will get to know her better in the upcoming standalone Guardians of Orana novel, Red. 

20 February 2020

A Democratic Debate and a Drunk Mother Nature

Now, how many women have signed NDAs for you, Mike?
Anyone that knows me well can tell you that I am an election cycle junkie. Gimme those attack ads so I can scoff loudly at the telly. Don't mind me, I'm just checking the News hashtags on Twitter this morning. Let's forgo binge-watching The Man in the High Castle so that I can tune in to the Democratic Candidate debate.

That last example happened just last night, and poor Hubs had to sit and watch the DNC Roast of Michael Bloomberg - sorry, I meant the debate from Nevada. I was sad that Tom Steyer wasn't on the stage because I wanted to see how he would do up against a fellow billionaire, but as it turns out, we didn't need him to tear down the Stop and Frisk Mayor of New York. All we needed was a primed and ready Elizabeth Warren, and from her opening remarks, she turned Mr. Bloomberg into an ill-behaved child in a classroom - and I am SO HERE FOR THAT.

I have long said that I like Senator Warren because she has a well thought out and detailed plan for just about everything that I have researched. She cares about the middle class and the poor and everyone else, and she seems to have made it her life's mission to make life not just better for all Americans, but to make sure we are all living our best (and most healthy) lives. Now, I say this with no loss of love for Bernie, please understand. I continue to #feelthebern to this day - but I'm finding that different from the 2016 cycle, we have a host of progressive-leaning candidates. It isn't Bernie or Establishment, it's Bernie or Bernie Lite (Warren) or Bernie Until I Got Massive Donors (Buttigieg) or Bernie and I Worked Together In Congress (Klobuchar). It is a fantastic thing to see.

Take a step back, though, and things aren't as rosy as they seem. Just like our poor drunk auntie, Mother Nature, who drops 70F temps on the budding trees followed not three days later by SNOW, I was losing my faith that Senator Warren would step up and be the fighter that I know her (from her voting and activism records, both) to be - until last night. She put Bloomberg in his place. She warned Buttigieg against bullying Klobuchar. She nearly came out of her skin over an inference that only Biden had worked with Mitch McConnell. And when it came to the issues, the real point of the debate (though her calling Bloomberg out for his "horse-faced lesbian" comment was delicious to watch), not only could she relate the details of her plans coherently but she had done her homework - I don't think Buttigieg or Klobuchar were ready for her assessments of their health care plans: a "PowerPoint" and a "post-it note saying Insert Plan Here," respectively.

She can clearly take on Trump on the debate stage and win, and I am SO READY FOR THAT. So ready. Meanwhile, I will be holed up in my house, watching the weather and hoping for another good debate. The primary here in South Carolina is a week from Saturday, so I shouldn't have to wait too long.

17 February 2020

The Anxiety of Grief, and Other Rabbit Holes

As found in the Great China Cabinet Clearout...
Before I go any further, let me address something in this post: SCORCH did not launch at the end of January. There was just too much going on to get that done. Please see this post and this one as well for more information on the too much going on in question. My wonderful final beta reader and I are meeting this week to look at final edits, and then it should go up for pre-order next week.

Now then, on to more threatened derailment of my schedule - the Great China Cabinet Clearout in advance of the New Hutch Installation. Currently, the hutch and table that were in my mother's condo are in a storage unit, waiting to come home to my house in place of the Incredible Hulking Kitchen Set which has served a need but now needs to go. My amazing friend Laze went with me to Atlanta two weeks ago to retrieve said hutch and table, and I'm ready to make the change.

I spent most of Saturday and a great deal of yesterday cleaning out the seven years' worth of STUFF that has accumulated in the china cabinet - most of which consisted of Things the Wolfhounds Cannot Have and excess dishes and mugs. I did find a few gems, though, like my mother's recipe for her Andes Candies knockoffs (that I LIVED ON when I was a kid), and the note pictured here. That note to Simon from my parents came with a gift of some sort to commemorate his arrival in the US on Daddy's birthday...one of the best and worst days of my life.

I picked him up from the airport in my nearly dead but still fabulous Volvo wagon, named Clive, and we headed up I-85 from the ATL to meet my parents, sister, brother in law, and niece to celebrate Daddy's birthday at a Red Lobster...somewhere. I honestly don't remember because the space in my brain dedicated to such things is filled with memories of Clive ceasing to operate while we were coasting in the left lane doing about 70mph. Poor Simon had been on a transatlantic flight, was dressed for the weather in the UK and not Georgia in June, and was generally exhausted. I was mortified and embarrassed and generally unsure of how we were going to afford to fix Clive or get a new car or, most importantly, get home. To Greenville. In South Carolina.

We got the car towed and were picked up and taken to the restaurant by my family. We ate. They asked Simon about his trip. We were tired and didn't want to be there if I'm honest. I remembered that feeling as though it was still happening as I read the date on the top of this note.

But this note, written in my mother's perfect handwriting, reminded me of how pleased they were to have their foreign son in law living in the same country. I thought of how many times over the past seven years that one or both of them made a point to tell me how much they loved Simon and how happy they were that he was here and we were close. And I thought of how many times I didn't make time to ride two hours over to Cleveland to see them, or two hours down to Atlanta to see them after Daddy got sick.

That knocked me for about two yesterday - the British expression "knocked me for six/eight" refers to being unable to do anything but be vertical for six/eight hours, generally due to exhaustion, here modified for the two hours when Simon was working in the yard and I was generally moping around the house and crying. But I'm happy that I found it and happy for the reminder that I am not the only one that lost them when they died.

I'm really happy that the china cabinet is now cleaned out and ready to be photographed and listed for sale, too. That rabbit hole was deep, and even though I re-lived the anxiety of Simon's arrival and the grief of losing Mom and Dad again, I can't deny the happiness of accomplishment.

Now if I can just get SCORCH up and away...

03 February 2020

Spending Time in Lots of Words

Camp Glisson Chapel, 2 February 2020. Photo credit: Photography by Tony Carlson

Yesterday was a hard day. To be honest, it's been a hard 10 days or so, since a camp friend of mine sent me a message to let me know that a camp friend of both of ours, Ben George, had died. I spent time in lots of words yesterday, listening to stories I had heard and lived told by people that I hadn't seen in decades - and it was like we never left.

Let me back up just a little. Regular Lettuce readers will know that I spent most of my formative summers at a United Methodist summer camp in the wilds of northern Georgia called Camp Glisson. I had some of the best and worst times there. The high flying freedom to explore and believe and sing and be part of something bigger than yourself. The crushing lows of friendships lost and hearts broken, as they so easily were back at that age. The idea that no matter where I was or how old I got - or how much my life would change, Camp would always be there, beckoning me back home.

As a UM preacher's child, I moved a lot. I attended five different UMCs growing up and lived in seven different parsonages from 1971 (birth) to 1993 (my last year on staff at camp - the last summer before I graduated from Maryville College). Camp Glisson was special in my spiritual/religious life because where other kids had a "home church," Camp was my home church. It was my constant.

L-R Back Row: Andy Peabody, Ben George, Marty Martin
L-R Front Row: Me, Joseph Veltre
Another constant in my Camp life was a man named Ben George. He was there as a camper at the same time I was and started working there one year before I did. He was larger than life and loved Camp more than anyone else I know - even more than I did. Yesterday, as many of us as were able gathered at Camp, in the chapel pictured above, to remember Ben and say goodbye.

I was reminded of so many things about him yesterday - but the one that has stuck with me is that when he was going to take a nap in his cabin, he would say that he was going to "spend some time in the Word." I've spent lots of time in the Word, both literally and figuratively, but I have not found such a strong foundation, a definite purpose, or a solid sense of self as Ben had. He was loud, wickedly funny, dark, and sometimes rude, but he was consistent in his presentation and fiercely - possessively loyal to his friends. It was said yesterday that Ben never forgot his friends - if you fell out with him (as I did on more than one occasion) and thought that was the end of the road for your friendship YOU WERE WRONG. Ben had an amazing capacity for forgiveness and love that I will admit now I never knew.

I thought the reason this loss was shaking all of us to our cores - close friends or not - was that it was like the heart of camp was now gone. Peter Pan had died. But I was wrong, it isn't that he died - it's that he lived, and lived so well, and showed us all that most of life's problems could be tackled with enough hazelnut coffee, a guitar, and spending some time in the Word with the people you love.

We listened to lots of words yesterday, and we were comforted and made better. We were together again - Ben brought us together again at camp one last time. There was even a pot of hazelnut coffee. Thank you, Ben. Thank you.

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!

She is me...meet Tairneanach.