Closer to the Finish Line

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I finished my second book, or at least, mostly finished. It’s out getting dry cleaned and pressed; in other words, getting some line editing done, to make sure it’s grammatically correct and all the spelling errors are caught. You might think that these small functions could easily be done by the author, but allow me to assure you they aren’t. Even today I’m still getting feedback for The Corsican’s follies. I learned from my mistake. Self-editing is a necessity, but I’ll never publish without another pair of eyes again.

I’m experiencing a lot of peaks – excitement, terror, panic – and valleys, which are mostly the adrenaline crash and attempts at calming self-talk. A friend of mine mentioned to me during a conversation, saying that she figured since I was a published author that this would be old hat. I reminded her that I’ve only ever done this once before. One does not simply walk into Mordor; and one does not simply write a book.

I’m terrified. I feel like so much is riding on this book. It’s hard to feel like your entire career hangs on a book, but when you only finish one once every two and a half years or so, it’s important that your book is well received. There are so many books in this world, and I’m adding to the pile. I put my heart into this story, which is exciting and weird and awkward and fun. I am putting myself out there to be read, and judged, but this is what I want to do. This has been my dream since forever. I love to hear what people think of my story, I love knowing that I’ve entertained someone. My favorite is to make people laugh, or to surprise them.

I’m still figuring things out. There are signposts on my particular career path, but it has taken me years to make sense of them. I’m really happy with the book that I’ve made. I just hope that it makes everyone who reads it happy too.

Work Redefined

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Being recently unemployed, I was faced with a quandary. Do I find a job, or do I go back to school?

Getting a job in my town has always been a struggle. Nineteen years ago it was a struggle, well before the dips and dives in the economy. School was an attractive alternative to fighting over scraps. I went to the WorkMore office, a non-profit resource for the unemployed.  Lovely people work there and they try to help.

I went to a class on how to keep unemployment benefits and go to school. I felt that my situation wouldn’t qualify but it was worth me spending an hour to find out. The class left me feeling as though I was correct about my supposition, but then the teacher told me he’d make me an appointment with a woman who was a writer and “knew more about these things.” A slender hope, but when you’re in the water, you don’t judge the rope you’re thrown.

The woman, who I’ll call Maggie, was a short, feminine powerhouse of personality. She was stone confident in herself, and seemed pleasant enough.

Maggie listened to my plans, to become an author and to become an editor, and she promptly discarded them. “You’d have to move. Are you sure you don’t want to become a nurse?”

I was staggered. Why would I want to become a nurse? I mean, it is a growth industry, but it’s never been my calling. Maggie threw my calling to the ground and stomped on it.

I didn’t argue with her. I was there on the hope that I could get some help from the state about my unemployed status. I’m getting handouts until I can find a job, after all. Why would my feelings about my job matter?  I just nodded and contributed a little to the conversation, waiting out the storm.

In years past I would have wilted under her onslaught. I would have talked to her about nursing, even though my heart wouldn’t have been in it. I would have capitulated, just to get into school, just to do something to change my life.

But I realized.. I’m already changing my life. I already have a job. It doesn’t work like we consider jobs to work – it’s not 9-5, and it’s not paying me. Yet. But I’m putting the work in. I work far more hours than a simple 9-5 job. I am always considering, tweaking, reading, researching, and agonizing over what to do next. I take time out for my family after work and school, but as soon as my son goes to bed I’m back at work again. I’ve never worked this hard in my life.

And I love it. It doesn’t feel like work, not the way I always understood work to feel. I get to make decisions for myself; I don’t have to check in with a supervisor. I don’t get assigned tasks, I go and find out what to do next. I don’t have upper management frowning at me because I have an idea; I just implement it.

The hard part is making money. A lot of people are better writers than me, better known, with backers and recognition and years of experience. But they all started somewhere.

I may not be famous yet, but I do have faith that I can tell a good story. I have learned a lot about writing books in the past six years. Knowing what I know now, I wish I could have done things differently, but I wouldn’t want to change a thing. I’ve learned so much and I’ve grown so much as a writer. Now more than anything, I want to get my book out there so I can start on the next one, and just keep doing what I love.

And if I have to take a job to support my writing habit… to me, it just means not giving up, no matter what.

Flash Fiction

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The playground was silent. No squirrel scolded, no bird sang. The swings did not move in the still spring air. Nothing stirred, not even a silent cat hunting a bold mouse. There were no children on the slide or on the small jungle gym.

The children were inside the small brick building nearby. Each sat with their spines straight and their eyes focused on the teacher. No one squirmed. No one giggled and passed notes. No one played with their hair, or tore small pieces of paper to roll into spit wads when the teacher wasn’t looking.

The teacher, a small, light structure of aluminum and plastic, stood at the head of the class, droning in a monotone about recent history. “In the wake of the supervirus, small birds and mammals were the first to die out. This led to more deaths as the predators, finding easy meals of bird and rodent, were exposed to the contagion. Larger animals were also affected, with fatality rates of seventy-five percent.”

The children sat in rapt attention, silent and still.

“Humans were susceptible to the virus, and once contracted, the fatality rates were upwards of eighty percent. Until a pharmaceutical lab began trials on a cure.”

“There are no cures, only solutions.” The children, fifteen in all, said as one.

“That’s right, class. The medicine treated the symptoms of the virus, but did not destroy it. Those affected by it typically would lose certain brain function. Creativity and self-identity were often curtailed. Those affected still kept their ability to reason and learn, although at decreased rates.”

The children listened intently.

“Johnny, could you please read from the text? Page seventy two.” The teacher called on a small child, in the back of the room.

He looked up and flipped his book open with stubby fingers. He was the youngest in the class at five years old. “The medicine for the virus saved the world, but at a cost. Billions of people died, and there were great efforts made to safely depose…”

“Dispose.” The teacher corrected placidly.

“Dispose of the bodies.” The child finished the paragraph and looked at the picture above it, showing rows and rows of shrouds and people in hazmat suits pointing towards something off the page.

“Thanks to Alexion, we are alive today.” The teacher said.

“Thanks to Alexion.” The children repeated back.

“History is over. You have ten minutes. Why don’t you go outside and play?” The teacher suggested.

“You haven’t taught us how to play, Teacher.” Beth said, staring at the robot for further instruction.

“I lack the programming to instruct you how to play. You must learn on your own.” The robotic teacher said patiently.

The children neither looked left nor right, not looking to their other peers at all. They picked up their books to read, instead.

Ray looked away from the video. “They’re all like this?”

“All of them.” His partner confirmed.

Ray sighed and rubbed his temples. “So, all we have to do is figure out what causes this. The virus or the vaccine.”

Milestones

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After publishing my first book, I looked back and realized how much work went into it. Writing a novel is a long journey. What I didn’t realize is that to get from rough draft to finished work isn’t one leap, but a series of many steps.

For my second book, my husband suggested that I use milestones as a way to break up the long stretches.  Breaking a book down into its parts gives a much better scope of the deed. I didn’t agree with him immediately, but after finding a free project management software, I soon realized how much more I accomplished than I realized.

First, there’s pre-writing. Which is when a writer starts cooking up an idea for a book. Even pantsers (those who fly by the seat of their pants, rather than plot things out on paper) will start developing thoughts about their work before they put pen to paper. Next, there’s a rough draft, which is where the major story is fleshed out. Then, there’s editing the rough draft, which is a different depth of attention than what will be called for in later drafts. There can be an unlimited amount of drafts but generally around three to five is standard for practiced writers.

Let us not forget the humble chapter, which has become my default milestone. Finishing a chapter is generally only finishing a sliver of a novel, but there are definitive earmarks and a sense of completion when a chapter is done, which makes it a great place to checkbox.

I just finished the third draft of Bento Box. It has undergone major adaptations from the rough draft, including professional developmental editing. It’s now ready for a copy editor and then into formatting for sale.

I’m really excited. It’s been two and a half years in the making. I would work a full day at my job, come home, and work a few hours a night on my novel. It’s my best story yet, something that was fun even from the little short story I noodled up one day.

I think it’s safe to say that by June, Bento Box will be available!

Confessions of an Author

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A month ago today, my day job let me go.

The shock was utter and complete; I had no idea that I was in trouble until my supervisor asked to speak with me in the conference room. My stomach sank when I saw the HR guy was already there. I sat in confusion and disbelief as they broke up with me. Breaking up is what it felt like, anyway. I wanted to argue with them. My pride demanded I try to show them they were wrong. Defeat descended quickly, however, and then I couldn’t get away fast enough. Stripping down my cubicle to the bare beige and gray was terrible.

They let me go near the end of my shift. I went home, stunned for the entire evening, worrying about the logistics of what to do next.

Rather than stay at home and stew in an anxiety ridden turmoil, the next day I went to a coffee shop with my laptop. I worked on my novel. I’ve been working on this novel for two and a half years. The bulk of the day was spent doing what I loved.

I am of course looking for work, but finding a job in my town is a demanding art form all its own. I’m also looking to get back in school. I have a few hours a day that aren’t spoken for, in that time  I work on finishing up Bento Box.

The first time I was laid off, it was in 2009, when the housing bubble burst and all the jobs stopped. During that time, I wrote two novels. I didn’t know what to do then either, but writing at that time seemed just like something to wile away the hours until I landed my next job.

This time, I don’t feel like I lost a job. I’ve been practicing at this writing business for almost three years now. I’m not lost for things to do, I’m desperate to get everything done in a day. I’ve worked harder in this last month than I feel like I have in a really long time. The only difference now is that I enjoy the work so much more.

This has been a time of unexpected ups and downs for me. The one thing I have going for me is the amount of support I have. So many of my friends have told me, “This is a blessing in disguise,” “This is an opportunity,” or my favorite, “The universe really hit you with a two by four, didn’t it?”

I’m terrified, but I’m going for it. In this situation, what else can I do?

Service Announcement

Recently my friend Allie Drennan launched a website, http://barelysalvageable.com. It’s dedicated to building community for aspiring authors. It’s also where we show off our work and keep people informed of our newest novels. You can sign up for our newsletter as well, and get a free copy of the ebook The Corsican, my debut novel. Please check out http://barelysalvageable.com and tell me what you think!

The Con Show

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I went to NorWesCon, which I have done for many years before. This con, however, I focused on my venturing into my writing career, rather than just going for fandom. Fandom in and of itself is fun, but this year I was more engaged. I went to learn about something I love, and that’s just what I did.

I went to panels, which were great fun. I went to one panel called, “The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made…” and all of the panelists seemed in consensus that it was agreeing to a panel at 10 am Saturday morning. I didn’t meet Simon R. Green, but I made him laugh. It was a nice return for all the times his books made me smile.

My next most exhilarating moment was getting my story critiqued by four published authors. Sunlight streamed into the big plate windows 14 stories up, creating a hot box effect. Not ideal. I tried to hang in there and concentrate on what they said. I felt like a patient being diagnosed by four doctors. Fortunately, they were kind, wonderful doctors. They didn’t leave a stone unturned, but the way they delivered their advice was professional and encouraging. I have lots to think about going forward on Bastions.

The best is of course for last. My friend James, whom I met through my writing group, offered to escort me down to see Phil Brucato and his partner Sandra for dinner down in the lounge. I’ve met Phil once before, when I sat on a panel at Geek Girl Con. He was wonderful, and I thought to myself that I’d like to get to know him better. He remembered me, smiling easily as I sat down at a table full of noone I knew. At one point James brought up the Mage Anthology that Phil is orchestrating. At that moment, Phil Brucato turns to me, looks at me point blank and says, “Oh yeah! I forgot you were a writer. Do you have a month? I’d like you to write a short story.”

…and then my heart stopped.

I said, “For you, of course! I’d be happy to!”

…and then I remembered how to breathe again.

I had other great moments while I was there. I bought a very adorable, tiny matted picture of a blue squid with a hunter’s cap, magnifying glass and pipe. Squidlock Holmes is my favorite, and I have to find a place to put him on my wall. The artist was Meg Lyman, a local Seattle artist with a clever talent for cephalopods.

Con always ends too soon, and Monday is the cruelest cut of all. That being said, I have no regrets. This con was the best I’ve attended in ages.