Stuck

I’m not a whiner. I mean, every now and then I’ll feel a little down, but I generally don’t talk about it, at least on social media. I’d rather set a goal, make a plan, and get on with it.

Whatever it is.

But I’m stuck. All the things I should be doing (taxes/writing/housekeeping/bills/gardening/savingtheworld/etcetcetc) are circling me like a damned bunch of alligators. Instead of picking one thing to focus on, I’m curled up in a metaphysical ball, hoping they’ll all go away.

A couple months ago I wrote a post about New Years resolutions that was kind of obnoxious in its enthusiasm. “I’ma do This and This and This and it’s gonna be fun!”

I just….haven’t done much. Instead of using those resolutions to motivate myself, they’ve been closer to a chain of weights around my neck, dragging me down.

For example, one of my goals was to write something my agent can send out on submission. Toward that end, I came up with an idea for a mystery series set in Victorian London, and I’ve put together a decent stack of books for research.

It’s gonna be cool. A brother and sister team – he’s a physician, she’s an apothecary – solve crimes at the edge of Whitechapel.

However – there’s always a however – rather than doing that research, I’ve spent days to weeks telling myself I’ll never be able to create a believable Victorian setting.

Because that’s a much more productive use of my time. (#sarcasm)

A publisher I’m interested in has a call for holiday novellas, with a deadline of May 1st. I have an idea, I played around with character sheets, and knocked out the skeleton of a plot. I’ve even written the first 1500 or so words.

And…they suck. Well, maybe suck is too strong a word. They’re just…not very good. To borrow a phrase from Marie Kondo, they do not spark joy.

But I really can’t blame the words for my current mood. It’s a combination of things: the current political shitstorm (like, Michael Cohen must have titanium gonads), lack of sleep, worry that writers I consider my peers are leaving me in the dust, stress related to putting 2 kids through college.

You know, the usual grind.

Also, lack of sleep.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not usually a public crybaby, so to wrap things up, I’m going to list a few things that are going right.

— Irene and I are working on a new novel!
— My agent saw an editor looking for stories set in either WW1 or WW2, so she queried my Paris story and the editor requested it!
— The damned sun is shining – which might not sound like much, but this is Seattle in February, so…

…spring can’t be too far away, can it?

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Ready for a new one! (#NewYearsResolutions)

Remember 2016? We all thought it was the worst year ever because Prince and Bowie both died, and oh yeah, the election. LOL, remember?

(As an interesting aside, I now know there’s such a thing as Prince Rogers Nelson fanfic. That’s….wild.)

Then came 2017. From Inauguration Day on, that year made a beeline to the top of the Worst Year Ever category. (For some of us, anyway.) So obviously 2018 decided to blow up that category and remake it in its own awful image. I didn’t start last January with a whole lot of hope, but wow, I can barely stand to read the headlines anymore.

I’d say we were living through positive proof that you can’t run the country – or the world – like a reality TV show.

Yet….and yet…here I sit, on the cusp of 2019. While I’m not exactly optimistic, I’m ready to make plans, and blogging a list of resolutions makes them that much more real.

You’ll hold me to them, won’t you?

Some of my resolutions have to do with writing, others with life. About the only thing I can promise is that they’ll be concrete and measurable and not dependent on others. For example, it does me no good to put “end government shut-down” on my list of resolutions, because that’s not something I can do on my own. However, I can call my senators and ask them to end it. See the difference?

So here, in no discernible order, is my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2019. ..

  1. I will write another book for my agent to send out on submission. She currently has L’Ami Mysterieux (m/m romance set in 1920 Paris) out with a few editors and we’re hopeful it’ll get an offer. If it does, that’ll re-jigger my list of goals, but that’s a good thing.
  2. I will continue to write about 20 postcards a week for #postcardstovoters. I started writing postcards a little over a year ago, and had written more than 1000 by the midterm elections. Then I went to a protest and met someone who’d written over 4000….wow…
  3. I will spend 10-15 minutes a day working on my French with Babbel. I started this last January, working with DuoLingo, but I sorta ran out of steam in about October. If I start working on a sequel to L’Ami Mysterieux, it’ll be helpful to have better French skills.
  4. I will write another installment in The Clockwork Monk & Other Stories. Monk has been a free download for a couple years now, and this fall I wrote a holiday novella sequel. Readers like the world and I like the characters, so it’s time for a full-length story – or at least something longer than 20k words.
  5. I will re-write the Creepy Doll story. Creepy Doll is a solo Halloween story set in the Hours of the Night world I write with my friend Irene Preston. We’ve been on something of a hiatus, so in the interest of only setting goals that fall within my control, I’m not making any promises about our other works-in-progress. I’m optimistic the wheels are starting to turn, though, and if/when we get back to work, this whole list gets blown up.
  6. I will keep Senators Murray & Cantwell on speed-dial, and contact them at least monthly. Even if we were to all wake up tomorrow and find our government back on track, with single-payer healthcare and sane immigration policies, I’d still want to be a bee in their bonnets. If there’s anything I’ve learned since November, 2016, it’s not to take our democracy for granted.
  7. I will climb back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon, because chocolate-drizzled popcorn for breakfast shouldn’t be a thing. Promising to lose weight is the biggest New Years Resolution cliche of them all, so all I’m promising is that I’ll show up at a meeting. Making healthier choices is a life-long process, and sometimes it’s good to have a little help.

Seven seems like a pretty good number to start the year off. I like that they’re all manageable, and that they build off things I’ve already accomplished. I don’t do well with uncertainty, so having this list – even though it may change radically over the next few months – makes me feel better. So, yeah. Happy New Year to me!

Do you make New Years Resolutions? What’s on your list?

Spectating Instead of Creating

Sometimes I feel like I’m the Queen of Getting Stuck in a Rut, which, as far as royalty goes, isn’t very glamorous. (And when I say “rut” I don’t mean a routine, either, because one of my ancillary kingdoms is the Duchy of Procrastination, neighbored by the Earldom of Wasting Time). For me, when I’m focused on a project I develop a strange fixation with having all of my “active” work rhythms–journaling, reading, listening to music, plus of course writing–be in service of the project I’m working on. Which means that when it comes to leisure activities–when I know I should be refilling the well in an intentional way–I don’t have the mental capacity left for anything of substance and turn to fluff. Bad movies, Regency romance novels, Candy Crush Saga. Not that there’s anything wrong with fluff! But (wo)man cannot live on fluff alone.

And then the next day I feel guilty for failing to refill the creative well, and I buckle down even harder on what I’m allowed to read and write during active work time.

Rinse, repeat. Binge, purge.

Sigh. Like I said, Queen of Ruts.

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A few weeks ago, I bought a ticket to the pre-Broadway world premier of Moulin Rouge: the Musical. Now, even though I love musicals, I almost never see them live. First, there’s the price, which is always steep, especially if you don’t want to use binoculars to see the actors’ faces. Second, there are the crowds, which make me nervous on a good day and can induce panic on a bad one. And third, there’s the husband who hates musicals, which is usually an easy excuse to let myself talk myself out of going based on the first two reasons.

But this time was different. I kept staring at the glamorous poster and thinking about the extravagant movie and its bohemian ideals: Freedom, Beauty, Truth & Love. I knew I needed this. So–gnashing my teeth at the price–I booked a ticket before I could change my mind.

I’m SO GLAD I did!

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The venue–the historic Emerson Colonial Theater–was stunning, frescoed and gilded in true Fin de Siecle glory. And the show was magnificent! From the very first number I was completely swept away, transported to Paris and the Moulin Rouge. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, and I clapped along to a seriously dizzying array of elaborate pop-culture inspired songs and dances. I think I barely blinked for three whole hours, enraptured in the sensation of being a spectator to someone else’s art. And when the curtain finally fell and I walked out into the night, I felt full. I felt inspired, with stories and songs and images dancing in the darkened set of my mind, just waiting for the spotlight to shine on them.

So maybe the choice isn’t between gruel and fluff; rigorous work and mindless fluff. Going forward, I’m going to try and challenge myself to participate in other forms of art that will challenge, excite, and inspire me. My own art can only grow in leaving it behind for an hour or two.

Author’s Note: The original title was changed after a dear friend pointed out a problematic element that I had failed to register. I offer sincere apologies to anyone who may have been offended and I will seek to be better in the future.

Summer in the garden…

So it’s 72 degrees at 10 in the morning, and the high temperature today is supposed to approach 90 degrees. (That’s 22 degrees and 32 degrees, for those of you who speak Celcius.) I know that doesn’t compare to a lot of places, but for Seattle, that’s hot in any language.

Which is why I decided for today’s post, I’m going to take it easy. Instead of breaking down the current kerfuffle in m/m romance (because there’s *always* a kerfuffle in m/m romance) or digging through the fall-out of last week’s RWA conference (because OMG MRWAGA cannot be a thing!), I’m going to take you all on a little tour of my garden.

Two things to know before we start.

#1. My ideal garden is neat and tidy and symmetrical, and I appear to be congenitally unable to create such a space. My approach to garden design consists of planting all the things and seeing what lives.

#2. Over the last five years, life prevented me from spending much time gardening, so what started as “pretty fairy hide-out” turned into “the call of the wild”. I did some major (!!!) pruning this spring, and  removed a couple prominent plants that had outgrown their space to the point that taking them out was the only option. Even though I’ve done a lot of work, there’s still more to do. (There’s always more to do!)

With those things in mind, here we go…

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This is my front walkway. Most of the time you can get through without being mugged by a plant.

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This is the stone birdbath, my 10th anniversary gift to my husband.

 

Okay, so now I’ve learned that I can’t write captions when I tile images. Come on, WordPress. Work with me.

At any rate, the two on top are my “garden helpers”. (Ed is on the left, and Burnsie is on the right.) The pink rose of Baby Blanket which has no scent but a lovely bloom, and on the right is a Japanese anemone. If the anemone is flowering, it must be almost August. Also, they’re vigorous (!!) so if you want one, ask someone who’s already got them, because once they’re established, they come up EVERYWHERE.

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This is my front patio, a usually-shady place to hang out.

I have a thing for lace-cap hydrangeas…

And I also have a fair number of herbs. That’s a creeping thyme on the left, and lavender on the right. I’ve also planted sage, oregano, fennel, chives, rosemary, and basil. And strawberries. Did I mention strawberries? I used to have raspberries, but they’re thugs and wouldn’t stay in their bed so I took them out. I’m not much of an urban farmer, but this spring I did plant tomatoes and potatoes, along with an espaliered apple tree (that right now is hiding behind the tomato plants).

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This is my back porch, and below are two closer views of the oak leaf hydrangea on the left.

And…that’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll be back next month with some flaming drama to share with you, but today I’m just going to kick back and water my plants. Hope you’re having a lovely summer! (Or fall, if you’re from Oz!)

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How to be Creative in the Chaos that is Now

First, let me say that I am proud of Liv and Lyra sharing their posts the last two weeks. As authors and public figures it’s difficult to know whether or not to speak up about politics, always afraid of hurting our livelihoods for offending people. But I think we all know that things are just different now and we need to speak up and not fear reprisal. If you didn’t get a chance to check them out last month, please go have a quick read.

I do want to get back to talking about writerly things, but we cannot ignore the fact that the current climate has really had a hard, hard impact on writers. The constant chaotic news loop we’re stuck in takes so much out of us. Every day, sometimes multiple times a day, there is some new horror or frustration or just plain bullshit that has us throwing up our hands, randomly cursing, or slumping over with a deep sigh.

So how, how do you push through all that crap and be creative? How do you check out if even for a little while so you can get your words for the day? You don’t want to look away because that is a privilege and the guilt is overwhelming. But you lose your goddamn mind if you don’t take a break once in a while, right? Another chaotic loop.

Well, first of all, the best thing you can do is look the monster in the face. Take five minutes in the morning to call your three reps (both senators and your MOC) and tell the staffer or leave a short VM with your name and zip code and tell them why you’re calling, what you’re supporting or protesting. They’ll take a note, thank you, and be done with the call. Boom. One important contribution done. And yes, you should do this multiple times a week. If you have phone anxiety call after hours and leave a VM, those still count.

Secondly, participate, if you can, in protests. I can’t tell you how much faith and hope and resolve the Women’s March gave me last year. Even in my small city, the turn out was amazing. This past weekend my husband and I joined in on the Families Belong Together March. In the past my husband has had to work when the protests were scheduled in our area, but not this one, so he was able to go. He really didn’t think it would be much of a turn out, he wasn’t as excited as I was. At least, not until we got there. When the crowd filled in his whole demeanor changed. He joined in on the chants, he raised his fist, he took a spare flag from another protester to hold up (this was a very big deal because my hubs is a Marine Vet and in Nov 2016 he packed away all his USMC and veteran apparel and refused to wear any of it or talk about being in the service because he was so angry and disillusioned).  Seeing so many people turn out in our small piece of America, seeing all the other veterans proudly wearing their hats and shirts, really changed something in him. If you need that, go to a march.

And finally, do what I’ve done. Give yourself a break. Not forever, not indefinitely, but take the time you need. We all need to recharge. When you’re ready, get back to work, but take as much time as you need to finish a project. You all know I’ve been talking about a new book, but I haven’t written one word yet. I did finally manage to flesh out the two main characters and that feels like something. In doing so I was able to think about the magic systems and a seedy, black market system that will work as a wonderful red herring to the mystery I’m still figuring out.

Another thing I did to help me this year was become a student again. Not back to uni or to a workshop,  but I did look up Brandon Sanderson. Plenty of people know who I’m talking about, but if you don’t, he’s a best selling Epic Fantasy writer, who also happens to teach. And what’s even more amazing, his lectures are on YouTube. I watched an 8 series lecture and took copious notes. I started watching because I wanted to learn what he had to say on magic systems, but then realized it was a whole class and decided to start from the beginning.

Now, I’ve written quite a number of books, so I like to think I know what I’m doing, but it was still nice to take this as a refresher course. It gave me some food for thought about a lot of things and it felt good to be a student again. There are a lot of his lectures to be found, but I started with his BYU 318R Writing Class. Seriously, check it out. And if you’re a newbie writer and struggling with your first book and can’t afford/don’t have time for school, take advantage of this. It was an amazing course, probably better than a lot of the classes I took in uni because so many of those were focused on reading.

Hopefully something here helps you figure out a balance to being informed without being overwhelmed and getting back to work. We need a middle ground; don’t let them steal your fire.

How to Know When a Writer Should be Writing

If you’ve been following along, you know that I had grand plans to write a new, dark, witchy, Ireland inspired book. And you also know that a natural disaster kind of derailed those plans for a while. Well, we’re finally, finally getting back to normal around here. Schedules are familiar, husband’s clients are getting back on track, things still feel a little like Bambi learning to walk, but we’re getting there.

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And I’ve had enough time away from writing to feel refreshed and like I should be ready to get back at it. My editor has Blackbird, which I’ll have back soon, but going over edits and writing something new can be done; I’ve done it. It’s nice to have two totally different projects like that to work on so you can take a break from one to the other and not overload yourself.

So naturally I got to work. Cleaning. First I dug out every towel and sheet and blanket that we had in our linen closet, refolded (because they definitely went into that closet folded but then obviously gremlins came along and had a party in there) and organized each category into new stacks and put it together like a perfect puzzle.

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Oh how I wish I’d taken a before picture so you could know what an amazing accomplishment this truly is.

We live in a little 1920’s cottage, so the storage options here are almost null. See this? This is a high cabinet that counts as a linen closet, but you can see it only has two shelves. But somehow being three feet deep makes up for the lack of shelves? I dunno. But look! I can see and reach everything!

Okay. So that was pretty therapeutic, but now it was time to get back to that new idea.

So I closed the cabinet door and and turned away from it and the former mess (after taking a photo to brag for posterity), and walked the three feet to the other cabinet.

One thing you don’t know about me, unless you follow along on the Twitter, is that I have this strange, almost hoarder obsession with boxes and bags. Oh, how I love a good box or gift bag. If something is delivered in a small to medium box, I will save said box. If someone gives me something in a gift bag, I keep that bag. And the smaller, more varying size of box, the better. Because in my mind, I might need it. Certainly come the holidays I will. And why throw it away if I might need it? Because then I’ll just have to buy a box or bag to wrap it in and that’s just wasteful. Maybe it’s the poor kid in me. I dunno.

But because of this, our other cabinet, which we use for miscellany storage, had become my gift box and bag storage, along with the other random things you need to keep but have  no where to keep them. This cabinet had become insane. You couldn’t find anything in there. You couldn’t even use the gift bags because they were becoming bent and creased.

Obviously, this couldn’t wait. How could I focus on writing with this behemoth sitting so close to me, weighing on me, looming over me?

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I couldn’t. So I attacked it too. I pulled every box and bag out and realized I’d kept boxes of things in case I needed to put them back in their original packaging for… I don’t know. To return them five years later? In case we moved and these things needed their own special boxes? I’d also discovered this had become the place for bad gifts, like, we couldn’t throw them out, but where else to put them? BAH!

Everything came out. My hallway was full. And by the time I separated the good, the keeps, from the bad our recycling trash can (which is bigger than our regular trash can) was full and it was empty when I started. I’d gone full scorched earth in my determination to throw it all out and only keep a very select few boxes and only the gift bags that weren’t creased. Now, I can see and reach everything in here. Again, you don’t get what a difference this is from where it started. That Jenga game? Totally forgot we had that because you couldn’t find it in there before.

Phew. Okay. Now I could write, surely.

Of course, how anyone could be expected to write when their office is a shambles, I have no idea! I mean, what even happened here?

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Of course I know what happened. Christmas decorations haven’t made it out to the shed yet. Taxes had to be prepped. This is where the bills are paid. This is where accounting is done. This is where every damn piece of paper and receipt gets brought no matter what!

Eep. Sorry about that. Anyway. Obviously, I had to fix this before I could start working.

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Ahhhhh… that’s better. I can breathe now. Can’t you? Doesn’t that feel amazing and freeing? Thank goodness.

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But first I do have to go the tax lady. So I need to get dressed and head out. But where the hell are the boots I wanted to wear? Why can’t I find anything in this house! Bah! I need to organize my closet!

Sounds like a trip to the Container Store is in order! And of course we have to get rid of the clutter that we don’t want or need anymore, which means a trip to good will.

Okay, great. Now that’s done and I don’t have to kill myself digging around anymore and I don’t have to worry about this anymore. I can focus on other things.

And, now that taxes are done, I don’t have to think about those anymore either, right? Fantastic!

Okay, so it’s time to write. Time to sit down with this new world and figure out the point of the story and plot it out so I’ll have a map to follow and finally get this thing going because I am ready and there’s nothing stopping me now.

No excuses. No distractions.

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Hey, look! An Elfquest avatar maker!

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Kinda looks like me right?!

Right. Sounds like write.

Right. I’m supposed to be writing.

*sobs*

Resolution: The Act of Resolving

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Happy New Year!

That gif is a pretty accurate expression of my feelings for 2017. Get thee gone, year from hell! Although to be honest, mostly I sat inside my comfortable home, in my comfortable blue state, and watched my friends and fellow-citizens dodge the fall-out of this current administration.

I don’t personally have much to complain about, but because of that, I feel it’s even more important to keep my senators on speed dial.

But it’s January 1st, 2018! That annual clean slate where we all vow to be our better selves, at least for today. Do you make resolutions? I usually try to, and I figure if I write them down in a blog post, I’ll be more likely to keep them.

You’ll hold me accountable, amirite?

I looked it up, and the root of “resolution” is the Latin is “resolutio”, from “resolvere”. And according to the Latin Dictionary, resolvere is a verb that means to loosen| release| disperse| melt; relax; pay; enervate| pay back; break up; fin. I find the contrast interesting; the word’s root has to do with letting go, but we now apply it to a set of goals we clutch with grim determination.

But maybe there’s a seed of wisdom there. Maybe instead of adding to the list of things I want to accomplish, I should think in terms of what I no longer need.

For example, last year one of my resolutions had to do with diet. Starting January 2nd, I adopted the 5/2 eating plan. (That’s 2000 calories a day for 5 days a week, then 500 calories a day for the other two.) I’ve managed to stick with it, and in addition to losing 45 pounds, I’ve dispersed a whole lot of baggage around my body and my weight.

My commitment may have added to my to-do list, but as a result, I’ve let go of a serious source of stress.

Another of last year’s resolutions had to do with the current political climate. When 45 took office, I promised myself I’d do something every day to #resist. From the Women’s March, to calling my electeds, to putting my money where my values are, I’ve done my best to live up to that vow.

My most recent activity has been writing postcards to support Democratic candidates in contested states. I joined PostcardsToVoters.org, and now whenever I see a headline that makes me angry, I request another batch of addresses. It’s a small task, but it’s a way of paying back, of dispensing with helplessness and replacing it with hope.

Last year’s resolutions have become a way of life, but other than recommitting to them, I haven’t come up with anything new for this year. Well, other than that my basement could appear on an episode of Horders, and I pretty regularly beat myself up about that…

Bingo.

I hereby resolve to reduce or eliminate the self-flagellation that comes from having a basement I’m ashamed for strangers to see.

Now it’s your turn….

If you’ve got a resolution, either a commitment or a letting go, leave it in the comments! Either way, I hope 2018 brings you hope and peace and joy.