27 Jan

Yoga and dogs

Yesterday was a seriously tearful day. It’s been a while since I grieved so fiercely, but for the day — ugh, and now this morning, too — I missed my mother so intensely that the tears just kept flowing. It has gotten easier — I used to have days like that all the time and this was the first one in months — but the hole doesn’t go away.

That’s not what I wanted to write about, though. In yoga last week, when the wonderful yoga instructor was giving instructions for wild thing (camatkarasana), I … followed the instructions. And did the pose. A year ago, wild thing was one of those poses that I scoffed at. Ha, ha, yeah, no way. No way was my body ever getting into that position. Not going to happen. Not in a million years. Or, you know, as it happened, one year.

Yoga, for me, has been a little about the exercise but mostly about the mindfulness, trying to be in the present, trying to breathe and let myself feel. If it had just been exercise, I wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks, because I’ve never really cared that much. Most exercise has seemed pointless to me. Run three miles? Why would I want to? But I was so satisfied last week, so pleased with myself. I want to remember that feeling.

Last night, both dogs were being snuggly. Zelda hates it when I cry — well, or possibly she likes it, because she is passionate about trying to thoroughly clean my face if there are tears rolling down it — but Bartleby was, if anything, worse. For Z, once the tears are stopped, it’s over. She heaves a sigh of relief, and goes back to chewing on a toy or sleeping or doing one of those doggie investigations of the backyard. But Bartleby appears to think that tears mean he should put his entire body on top of me and stay there indefinitely. He’s like a cat. Well, except that I don’t think most cats care if their people cry. But he was not going away and he was not getting off and that made Zelda worried, too. I finally wound up lying in bed with a dog on each arm, completely cuddled up next to me, their heads by my shoulders. And then they went to sleep. And both of them started to snore! Not in the same rhythm. Crackle-wheeze, crackle-wheeze, crackle-wheeze. I felt, in that moment, supremely blessed and very lucky. Also, eventually, ridiculously stiff. I finally slid them off my arms and rolled over to sleep myself, where I dreamed that Christian Kane was my personal trainer and that running felt like flying. It was a good dream.

Sushi with rice, wasabi, soy sauce (gluten-free), and white wine yesterday — four things I am not allowed to eat. I feel okay today, though. Okay enough to go stare at my file and wish I remembered how to write.

26 Jan

500 Reviews

500-reviews

It would be very long and tedious if I tried to thank every reviewer — plus there would be a lot of “Amazon customer” in the list — but I want to say thank you, anyway. Ghosts hit a milestone this morning. Five hundred reviews. For some reason, it makes me want to cry, but I’m going to take myself out to sushi tonight instead.

Maybe the crying is just thinking back to three years ago, to where I was when I posted it on Amazon? Oh, no, I got it. It’s about missing my mom. Because it feels like bragging to post something like this online (although obviously, I’m doing it anyway) or actually, even tell anyone in real life, but it wouldn’t have felt like bragging to tell my mom. Or it would have, but she wouldn’t have cared, and she would have been happy for me. I would have called her right away.

I suspect German has a word for the sensation of something lovely that makes you grieve, but I don’t know what the English equivalent is. But I am simultaneously today very happy and very sad.

Also very grateful to everyone who has taken the time to write a review. If that’s you, thank you so much!

23 Jan

Soup

I have done many good and useful things this week. Few of them involve writing books, unfortunately, but in my (weak) defense, my kitchen is under construction and it’s vastly distracting. It turns out that for me, it’s easier to do my taxes while people are smashing things in another room than it is to write. Live and learn, right? But hey, at least my taxes are basically done. I’m still waiting on forms, but the hard part is over.

What does that have to do with soup? Not much. Except the aforesaid kitchen issues means that at the moment, I have no kitchen sink, no stove, no oven, no dishwasher. And a very restrictive diet that does not permit simply settling in for delicious take-out for the next couple weeks. I thought feeding myself on this diet was already taking too much time — little did I know how much more challenging it might get.

However, I think I’m also just maybe being a little crazy about it? Yesterday, I decided to throw a chicken in the crockpot. I chopped up an onion and a lemon and threw those in, too, and then sprinkled the whole thing with Italian seasonings and garlic salt. Then I ignored it for eight hours or so.

When I finally went back to it, the meat was falling off the bones so I spent a pleasant fifteen minutes pulling all the meat out, ignoring the plaintive eyes of the three dogs clustered at my feet. When I was finished, I looked at all the bits left in the crockpot — bones and skin and onion and bits of meat too small to get — and thought, ugh, how am I going to clean this without a sink or a garbage disposal? Much to the dogs’ sorrow, I did not think it would be safe for them to do the job. But I also realized, hmm, this might make a nice broth.

So instead of tossing the whole mess into a garbage can, I covered it with water, plugged it back in, and left it alone all night. This morning, I spent another pleasant quarter hour carefully filtering the liquid from the rest. When I was done, I had two Mason jars full of chicken/onion/lemon broth.

Well, broth means soup, right? But this was weird broth, plus no kitchen. I do have a barbecue, though. Unfortunately, it looked like it might rain. So of course I did what any sensible person would do — I went rummaging around in the refrigerator/pantry to see what I had that could be turned into soup, without violating the rules of my crazy grain-free diet. No rice, no noodles, no orzo… but I had artichoke hearts. And parsnips. And spinach…

I chopped up some onion, put it in a saucepan on the grill, sauteed it for a while, added some chopped-up parsnips, kept sauteing, added some chopped-up artichoke hearts, kept sauteing, added the broth, threw in some chicken, brought the whole thing to a nice simmering boil, tossed in the spinach, and took it off the fire when the spinach was still bright green but wilted. It needed salt, but otherwise… yum.

Of course, my dish problem has not gone away at all — in fact, I made it even worse. But it still looks like it’s going to rain, so I’m thinking I’ll line up the dishes in the grass for a first rinse. (Kidding. Sort of. The bathtub is probably a lot more efficient.)

But it made me think about soup. I want to say that it’s hard to ruin soup, but I have, in fact, ruined soup more than once. It’s very easy to ruin soup if you add too much of something — too much salt, too much hot sauce, too much of an overpowering flavor. It’s also easy to ruin soup if you start with a bad base. I’ve made bone broth before that for whatever reason turned out disgusting. Disgusting broth makes disgusting soup. (I think it was because I forgot about it and let it boil. Also garlic in broth can be very overpowering.) But if you start with a broth that tastes good and you add ingredients that taste good and whose flavors complement one another, then even if its weird — and let’s face it, parsnip artichoke spinach chicken soup isn’t showing up on any gourmet restaurant menus anytime soon — it works out okay.

And all of that is a really good metaphor for writing. I’ve lost track of how many unfinished projects I have going on. I need to start trusting that my broth is okay and my ingredients are at least interesting, so my soup is going to be fine, and stop second-guessing myself all the time.

I’ve been reading a lot this week, too — telling myself that as a writer, reading is practically part of the job description, while playing WoW is not. (Every time I play a little WoW, a part of my brain does a rebellious, back-of-the-brain, lecture about how WoW is story-telling and I could be learning from it and how it’s actually stretching my creativity, but the rest of me knows that’s BS.) Anyway, if I get ambitious tomorrow, and/or stuck on the current story again, I may write about the things I’ve learned from watching successful writers break the rules, because I have been thinking about writing, even while not doing it. Meanwhile, though, I think I’ll go eat some more soup. And contemplate the dirty dishes.

Making home-made soup, entirely from scratch, with no sink or stove or oven — I think that ought to be a metaphor for something, too. I’m just not sure what. Or maybe it’s not a metaphor, just a symbol.

15 Jan

Girls and dragons

My dad says, “you should read this book.”

I say, “Um, someday, maybe.”

My dad says, “No, really, you should read this book.” And then he delivers the paperback to me.

I think, “Okay, someday, maybe.”

But I’ve heard about this book.

Me + graphic violence = ha, ha, not so much.

Me + realistic rape depictions = I have better things to do with my life.

But today, my anxiety is skyrocketing, so high that if there were an Olympics for anxiety, I’d be a gold medal contender. (Short version: kitchen repairs, broken granite, strangers in my house, etc.) I am desperate for the drug that will take me out of my current state of being and it doesn’t exist, so okay, yes, fiction.

70 pages in, oof, this book is boring, is it ever going anywhere?

120 pages in, I think I’m finally starting to get a fix on all the characters.

200 pages in, wow, I love this woman. She’s so … analytical. It’s not that she’s cold, it’s that she’s thoughtful. But without a full world view. Sheltered, in a crazy sort of way.

336 pages in, yep, I’m apparently staying up all night, because I am pretty sure I am not sleeping until I understand who did it, why, and how. ARGH!

Writing lesson? The good mystery at the beginning — who sends these pictures? — is an excellent trap for the reader.

And now, sorry, I have to go back to reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with the full understanding that everyone else in the world has read it already. But if you haven’t, you should!

12 Jan

Goodbye, red wine

I love red wine. Maybe not all of it — shiraz has always seemed a little sweet for me and I think I’ve generally not been excited about grenache — but a good pinot noir is one of life’s best things, IMO.

I’m at about 100% certainty that red wine triggers my joint pain.

Damn it, damn it, damn it.

I went out to lunch yesterday with someone who has been on a restricted diet for years and she confirmed something that I’ve been noticing: having eliminated these foods from my diet, my body’s reactions when I encounter a trigger again are much fiercer than they were before. The dull ache that I was used to living with is now a prohibitive misery when it comes back. My joints — when unhappy — feel like they have hot coals living in them, burning me from the inside out. When happy, they are unnoticeable, for the first time in years. Happy joints are silent. I like having silent joints.

I also like red wine. But it’s just not worth it. Walking, typing, bending my elbows — moving — those are all good things, too. Moving is nice! I approve of it. Enough to — oh, so reluctantly — add red wine to the potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and wheat flour pile of foods that I will miss. I can’t believe that I’m really going to spend the rest of my life without pizza. But the last time I had pizza, I woke up four hours later feeling like I was on fire, my fingers throbbing with pain. It’s not an experience that I want to repeat.

I think my next reintroduction will be rice. But I’m going to wait at least a week, because I really want to have rice back and I don’t want my rice reaction to overlap with anything else. I’ve kept hoping with the red wine that maybe it was a reaction to something else — I ate accidental canola oil yesterday, can’t I blame it on that? — but alas, it’s time to face the truth.

Damn it.

07 Jan

Anxiety

The dogs are at the vet.

I’m trying to tell myself that it’s a spa day for them. They’re getting their nails done, their teeth cleaned, and lovely people will be telling them they’re good dogs in crooning voices all day long.

It’s not working. They’re going under general anesthesia and I have this feeling like something heavy is sitting on my chest, shutting down my lungs. My nose prickles like I want to sneeze, but I know what I really want is to cry.

On the form I filled out, there was a question — would you like your pet to be given anti-anxiety medication? Why yes, yes, I would. And could I have some myself, please?

The problem with anxiety is that it feels so much like premonitions. My head knows that the dogs are going to be fine, but my body is sending me all sorts of messages of danger, and they’re hard to ignore. I was doing okay until the vet called. Interestingly, I didn’t breathe until he told me he was calling about Bartleby and then my breath left my body in an explosive huff. It’s not a surprise that I’m more worried about Zelda than I am about B — he’s a loved pet but she’s an adored angel, one who’s ten years old in 11 days. But that moment of panic, that fear that he might have some bad news about Z, it hasn’t left me yet. The chemicals are still churning their way through my system.

Yoga in half an hour. I hope it’ll settle me down enough to get something done today. Well, something beyond the hyperactive dusting, dishwasher-unloading, breakfast-making, cleaning-out-of-cupboards that I’ve been engaged in since the vet’s phone call. I could almost wish I had some laundry to fold, but maybe I’ll clean out some drawers while I wait to leave for yoga. Ooh, or kill some monsters in WoW. I’m trying not to play until after I’ve written but I know I’m not going to write in the next twenty minutes. And killing monsters is always soothing.

06 Jan

Must Write

After three weeks spent sleeping (badly) in the living room, celebrating the holidays, and having R home with the various distractions he provides, I am back in my room, with my own office space. It’s such a relief. It’s hard to be set up for life, work, and sleep in what is essentially a traffic area. The living room where I was settled is adjacent to the kitchen, so every late night cup of tea or early morning cup of coffee was a conversational opportunity for me. Conversational opportunity being the tactful way to say interruption, of course. It’s left me seriously off my stride.

But I’m out of excuses now. It’s time to get back into it or at least into something. “It” would be A Gift of Grace. The “something” could be any of the myriad of other projects I’ve started and left half finished over the course of the past couple years. Or even something new. It doesn’t matter to me what I write as long as I start working again.

I just spent ten minutes alternately pondering the word, “working,” and thinking about chocolate. This is not a productive use of my time. Maybe I should go redesign a website instead? Or, I suppose, work on my taxes. Finalize some insurance paperwork? Lots of options, but apparently even writing a basic blog post is beyond my writing ability at the moment.

29 Dec

Christmas memories

I was — am — determined to get back on track on this fine Monday morning. There will be writing! There will be prompt answering of emails! There will be no furtive checking on my garrison status in World of Warcraft, or worse yet, just getting a little bit more XP, maybe ten percent of a level, so I can get another character into Draenor.

Well, eventually there will be some of that, but not until after I’ve written 1000 words and at least spent some time pondering the ywriter file of A Gift of Grace.

Among the email answering, though, was a second email from a favorite relative. I never answered the first, it got lost in the piles of emails I haven’t been dealing with during the holiday chaos, and because I felt guilty, I took the time to send her a long note about our holidays. It made me think about our holidays — as an overview — for the first time.

They were really nice. Really, really nice.

And this is a thing worthy of writing down so that I will remember it in future years, because honestly, the holidays have pretty much sucked for a pretty long while, so having a lovely holiday — well, it’s a thing to savor.

On Christmas Eve, R and I had a miserable fight on our way out to breakfast. End result: I went to breakfast on my own and ate blueberry pancakes and bacon and drank coffee. They were pretty good pancakes, although probably not worth the gluten-penalty, and maybe that fight and the resulting decision to enjoy my own life had something to do with the rest of the holiday? But the fight was about going to church. R was unpleasant when he discovered that was part of the plan for the evening. I told him that at 18, he was an adult and certainly didn’t need to go to church if he didn’t want to. We could take separate cars to Leesburg so he could leave before church, he could excuse himself from the evening’s festivities entirely, he could wait at the house while the rest of us were at church, but I was certain that he was capable of solving his own problem in a reasonable way. And meanwhile I, as the mother of an adult, had no intention of putting up with sulkiness and a bad attitude over something as trivial as spending an hour in an way that wasn’t pleasing.

R chose to go to church. And by the time we got in the car to go to Leesburg, ruffled feathers had pretty much been smoothed down and if there was a little stiffness, it was not worth noticing. That was the last unpleasant part of the next three days. Leesburg was a lovely family time — cousins and friends and grandparents. We exchanged presents, ate appetizers, drank wine, and yes, went to church. The songs were too slow, the sermon could have been better and the electronic candles were cheesy, but the beam on my dad’s face as he looked at the full pew behind him, with his daughters, grandsons and granddaughter was the reason I was there and absolutely worth the price of admission. I’d guess that it was the best Christmas present of his year, maybe the best one of many years.

The next day — Christmas — C and I were both up at 5. By 6, she was texting R to tell him it was time to open presents. I sent him a text, too, and his phone must have been buzzing like mad, but he didn’t stir. At 7, she brought him coffee in bed and told him it was time to open presents. The presents were just about perfect or maybe the audience was enthusiastic. R gave me the latest Patrick Rothfuss book (worthy of a blog post of its own because of writing-inspired thoughts), B gave me the DVD of Kiki’s Delivery Service, C gave me sparkly lights for my bedroom, new grill tools, and the cutest little gluten-free soy sauce fish. Also socks that use the word “fuck” which might just have become a holiday tradition. I can’t remember a year when I’ve had more perfect presents. (Although that said, last year C gave me an electric tea kettle, which has turned into a possession that I wouldn’t know how to live without.)

After presents, we had brunch. Bacon, fancy scrambled eggs, coffee, mimosas, while we watched movies, including C’s pick, Toys with Robin Williams (which is a seriously weird movie), mine (Kiki’s) and R’s (Howl’s Moving Castle). Eventually, B and C headed off to pick up his kids, and R and I went out to Korean food for dinner. We’ve had Korean for dinner for three out of the last four years (not last year, because he was in Seattle) and it’s turned into a nice little Christmas Day tradition. After dinner, I read my book in a candlelit bath and drank a chocolate martini and felt quite decadent and very content.

The day after Christmas, C made trifle and in the afternoon, we went over to her boyfriend’s family for dinner with the kids. Christmas crackers with magic tricks and jokes, beef wellington with asparagus and potatoes and celeriac au gratin, puff pastry with cranberry and brie, trifle, the classic English Christmas cake with brandy sauce, chocolates, ginger cookies… it was an incredible meal in wonderful company. We shared a peppermint pig, a tradition where you put the pig in a velvet pouch and everyone takes a turn sharing a good memory of the year and then hitting this pig with a hammer. Festive, thoughtful, lovely.

I drank more coffee this past week than I’ve had in months, more wine, ditto, and certainly ate more interesting foods. But between the lights on the house (first time in years), the natural Christmas tree (ditto), the church service, and the companionship of friends and family, it felt like a real holiday. Like the way Christmas is supposed to feel, a celebration of lights and people and the triumph over darkness.

I know that I’ve believed that Christmas would never be special again. When C and I were decorating the tree, my sense of missing my grandparents and my mom was so intense, so deep. Christmas without them has ever felt like the holes were so big, the absences so profound, that no joy could ever fill those empty spaces. This year, those empty spaces were still there. But I also managed to live in the moment, to appreciate what we had, and to celebrate the holiday. Christmas might never be what it was when I was a kid, but maybe I can finally stop dreading it.

10 Dec

Home for the holidays

R is home from school, which makes me happy, happy.

Except that because he’s 6’4″ and the daybed available for sleeping on is not, I’m sleeping in the living room on the small bed. This would be fine/is fine, except that Bartleby, who is the smallest creature in the house (well, bar any unknown creatures like spiders or beetles), is a bed hog. I cannot count how many times I woke up last night feeling like there was no room for me, only to discover that somehow the thirteen-pound chihuahua had angled his way into half the space and Zelda and I were curled up in what was left.

I would try to move him back but he sleeps like a log in the water. You push him and he rolls closer. Whenever I would finally give up and get up enough to lift him into a better position, it meant entirely re-arranging the bed. He finally wound up sprawled across the pillow like a cat, with Zelda and me in the remaining 3/4 of the bed.

R will be home for three weeks, which means B is going to have to get a little more reasonable about sharing the bed. I’d say I’d leave him on the ground, but past experience has taught him that if he makes a low rumble on the ground closest to my head for long enough, I will give in and pick him up. He’s trained me well. But we’ll figure it out, I’m sure.

Yesterday, Ghosts was included in a mailing from themidlist.com. The download numbers were great for a site that doesn’t change for advertising: 695 copies downloaded during the day. I spent money this summer to have Ghosts automatically posted to multiple sites ($15 for 32 sites) and didn’t get results from any of them that were noticeable, plus $30 on Digital Book Today for about 180 downloads, so the midlist results are pretty impressive, comparatively. (Probably I should be writing this on my business blog instead of here — c’est la vie.) Anyway, the weird thing was Amazon’s sales ranks. The sales rank didn’t rise during the day for hours. Instead it kept getting lower. My fascination meant a ton of wasted time while I looked at the sales rank and tried to calculate the math. If 300 downloads meant that my rank dropped 3000 numbers, how many free downloads was Amazon getting? I felt like I was discovering some fascinating business news–Amazon free downloads reaching an amazing peak–but when I came home from bringing C back to her mom (at 8 or so), Ghosts’ rank had skyrocketed to about #280 in the free store. It’s dropped back to 300+ now, so that was its peak, and the numbers were just a glitch or delay in Amazon’s reporting.

Next week I’m running my first ever promotion on A Lonely Magic. Now that it finally has a new cover, I’m doing the Kindle Countdown Deal and lowering the price to .99 for a week. I’ve paid for one ad, $20 on Booksends, so I’m not exactly going crazy with the promotion. But since I haven’t finished writing the sequel yet, there’s no hurry.

Speaking of writing, I should go do some. This feels like writing, but it’s not the kind that might ever let me stop feeling anxious about my mortgage payment, so it probably doesn’t count.

But R’s home. Yay!

06 Dec

Binge-reading

I binge-read four books yesterday. I don’t think I’m going to post the names, despite the fact that I binge-read them (and paid for them, albeit at .99 each) because I want to write about how terrible they were.

The characters were implausible, often stupid, cliche and inconsistent. Wait, not just the characters–the books were inconsistent. In one scene a character knows nothing, in another she wins a trivia contest on the stuff she knew nothing about. A dollar amount changed randomly within a book and from book to book. The plots were ridiculously unlikely, in all sorts of ways and not always for obvious reasons. Sometimes, sure, I can see that it was just easier to do a little hand-wavium about some plot point that wasn’t important to the story, but other times, I found myself trying to decipher the reasoning behind an authorial decision.

And yet the books were fun to read.

This is seriously a lesson I need to learn. I spend so much time dwelling on minute details. Why would this character be in this place at this time? What’s his reasoning behind this choice? Wouldn’t he have eaten breakfast earlier? Why did he skip breakfast? How does skipping breakfast make him feel? Okay, maybe he needs to have breakfast earlier but in that case, why is the proprietor of the B&B not there? Wouldn’t there be other guests? If it’s just the two of them in the room, then wouldn’t he ask his questions? Okay, he can’t have breakfast then… so back to the why has he missed breakfast?

And yet, who will care? Who will notice? No one sits around in the middle of a story wondering why the characters haven’t needed to hit up a restroom in hours or why they aren’t dead of dehydration after their desperate trek through the forest running away from the bad guys. If the reader has time to wonder that kind of thing, the story isn’t doing its job.

I’ve been stuck for days on Grace, not making any progress at all. Part of that is just me. Holidays, the blues, not feeling well, wrapped up mentally in stupid stuff like the kitchen repairs, health insurance and finances… But part of it is that I’m getting stuck on the stupid stuff, on the need for absolute accuracy in who hears what when instead of flowing with the story. One good romantic conversation simmering with unrequited sexual tension is worth twenty pages of precision mapping and timelines in an actual story.

I don’t regret my binge-reading. The books were fun. And if the sixth book in the series had been available, I probably would have bought it and binge-read it, too. But I hope that what I get out of it is not just the few hours of fun, but some motivation to loosen up on my own writing, to relax and let the words take me places instead of tying me in knots.

Off I go to write.

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