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?

13 March 2020

The Introvert's Time to Shine

What Ignite and Scorch
look like on the inside...
This week is just too full of awful news - let's look at some fun stuff to do during this time of uncertainty and possible quarantine/isolation.

I could start with the obvious - read some good books! But that would quickly lead to, "Hey, have you read my books?" and that isn't what I want this newsletter to be. If you are curious about them, though, click HERE.

As I said in the title, this is the introvert's time. I've been joking that I have been training for this my entire life, but that's only partly true. We do all need each other - this pandemic is just forcing us to think about different ways to be there for and support each other, I think.

Introverts unite - separately, and from the safety of our own homes!

So, as promised, good things to do during a bad time:

1. You may be self-isolating and confined to home, but you are not necessarily confined to the inside of your home. Sunny outside? Take your book/tablet/laptop outside. You will get fresh air and sunshine, both of which are good for you. (I am well aware of the hypocrisy in this statement, since lately I have been LIVING on my sofa.)

2. Board games! Puzzles! Unplug and have some analog based fun with your fellow self-isolating inmates. Now, if you are sick with COVID-19, this might not be a good idea since these types of games require using your hands, but if you are simply being a RESPONSIBLE CITIZEN OF THE EARTH and isolating to control the spread, break out Cards Against Humanity and get playing! Other recommended titles include Exploding Kittens, Codenames, and just plain old Scrabble or Boggle. Extra points if you are playing the Klingon version of either of those two games.

3. Write! This isn't just for writers anymore, y'all. Scared of the spread of COVID-19? Tired of people either panicking and running away OR telling you to calm the huppledepup down already when you try to talk about it? Journal that business. Open a word document - you should be working from home anyway, right? Grab a notebook and a pen. This may never see the light of day, but getting those thoughts out will help you stop some of your obsessing - tin foil hat not required. It could be interesting to go back and read this after the danger has passed to see what you can do differently to prepare for the next thing that comes along.

Whatever you do, please think seriously about avoiding large gatherings until the spread has slowed. This virus is no joke, and even if you are healthy and not worried you could pass something on to someone that isn't as lucky as you. We will all get through this.

So, you say you need a book to read?

03 March 2020


Just a reminder that for less than the cost of a coffee you can have your own Kindle copy of SCORCH on launch day to finish up the tales of the Forest War. Click on the cover to pre-order yours! Launch day for the Kindle and paperback editions is 20 March 2020!

Well...It's been a MINUTE.

Litchfield Beach, SC
I'm doing better with at least thinking about updating this blog, y'all, I swear.

So this past weekend I had a marvelous time hanging with my tribe - the South Carolina Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf crowd. Our annual conference was on Pawley's Island this year and even though I didn't make it to the beach (other than to snap that photo right quick from the boardwalk on Sunday before we drove home), I still came away feeling refreshed, renewed, ready...and REALLY TIRED.

Like down in my bones I cannot keep my eyes open one more second if you ask me to stand up I will crumple kind of tired. I am still that tired today, two days later.

This kind of gathering is good for my soul because I live in a family where no one but me signs. I work in an office where no one but me signs (because our other interpreter here is a contract/part-time type of employee and I never see her outside of the classes we team). I basically live in a world where the majority of people I know and call friends and family-of-choice have only a marginal understanding of my career and if they know any signs, it's basic communication.

Now, this is the point at which I apologize for omitting the disclaimer that I am not a CODA nor any other kind of native user of American Sign Language, but the fact that my first exposure to visual language came around the age of 10-11, I claim it as my second language. I think and dream in ASL more than English, even now. I'm constantly thinking about how something I see on telly or hear on the radio would be interpreted. It is part of me, even if I don't have native fluency.

That is why those people that I was with over the weekend are precious to me. I may know them so well that I call them friends or fam. I may have just met them THIS weekend. It doesn't matter - when you find your tribe and you share this language, this culture - this interpreter brain, whether Deaf or hearing - you're home. My hands and eyes are aching from all the extra work that they were doing over this weekend. But I wouldn't have traded a second of it - well, okay, the weird mushroom stalk I discovered in my pasta at tea on Friday night could go, for sure - for anything.

They get me, y'all, in a way that no one that isn't an interpreter can. I love my husband more than I can express. I love all of my greyhound and wolfhound friends, my Rennie fam, my Glisson fam, My Girls that I see almost every week...but this is different. I've said for years that I want to do some kind of scholarly research into sign language interpreters as a third culture, not just a Venn diagram crossover of the sets called Deaf and hearing.

Maybe it's time to look for a master's program. Maybe.

But for sure, I need to have more of my tribe in my life, and not just once or twice a year at the conference - so that it won't be quite so many minutes between feeling this heard/seen/understood.

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.