I bought cheap coffee at the grocery store last week.
This is not an effective cost-cutting measure.
I should do the math — I saved probably a total of $6, which earned me deep crankiness three mornings in a row and, if I keep drinking it, will earn me deep crankiness probably another 40 or 50 mornings in a row. Mornings shouldn’t begin with the thought, “This is bad coffee,” followed by, “This really tastes terrible,” followed by, “What is wrong with this, was there soap in my water?” Followed by a slew of other thoughts, all of them same ilk, all leading to a general sense of deep dissatisfaction as I head into my day.
So my $6 saved is a very, very expensive $6 earned. Coffee = small pleasure = worth investing a few extra pennies in. Although the coffee shop $5 latte has definitely became a rare treat in my life, because that’s too expensive. An extra fifteen cents a cup, definitely worth it. An extra $4 a cup, definitely not. Except during gingerbread latte season, which is coming up soon, yay!
In actual news, I’m still house-sitting in Maine, still loving it, still doing absolutely nothing except writing and reading and taking Z for the occasional walk. I think, “Freeport, fish store, lobsters, botanical gardens, hiking trails, kayaking…” on a regular basis and then I think “maybe tomorrow,” and turn my attention back to my computer. “Maybe when Fen is done,” is probably the real answer. I do have to try to get to the grocery store today, though, because my food supply is down to rice, quinoa, salad greens and sauerkraut. Oh, and some leftover lemon-garlic mussels over rice noodles, which I will probably have for lunch. And an apple. I always have an emergency apple available.
I did go kayaking one morning this week. It was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist. This is how beautiful it is: that’s the view from the end of the driveway. The entry point to the water is right by that white chair.
I’m surprised I’m not in that kayak every single day, but I try to hit my word count first and then it’s low tide and muddy and then it’s going on toward evening. So it goes — three kayak outings in three weeks is still a lot more than my usual average.
Speaking of word count, though, I should get back to those words. But here’s a snippet, spoiler-free…
What could she do with a little, a very little, pure magic?
She opened her fingers again and gazed at it. A key to a door? A tiny bird, like the invitation she’d received in Syl Var, that they could use to send a message to Kaio and Gaelith? Healing energy to repair the damage if Luke burned himself?
No, none of those.
“Be a knife,” she said to the magic, picturing a blade of energy, like a miniature light saber. The blue rose from her palm, uncoiling, and shaped itself into a thin straight line, much more stiletto than saber, perfectly balanced on her palm. It quivered and she held very still.
The blade she’d imagined was a lethal wire of light. She would much prefer not to lose any fingers to it.
But I spent far too long working on a sensible way to share a preview of A Precarious Magic, the long-awaited sequel to A Lonely Magic this afternoon. It was probably not a good use of my time.
That said, I’d already hit my word count for the day, so I could have been playing some silly iPad game. (My latest is Homescapes.) What I truly should have been doing was kayaking, but the tide was very low so I would have needed to wade out through quite a bit of mud to get the kayak into the water and that did not seem very appealing.
I hope you enjoy it and it makes you want to read more! It hasn’t actually been edited yet — well, except by me — so if you spot any mistakes, feel free to let me know. Don’t feel obligated, though. I will probably catch them in one of my innumerable editing passes, starting in October. Or maybe November.
You will note that there is absolutely no description on the link. I’m going to guess that writing the book blurb on this one will take me days of hair-pulling misery. Book descriptions are hard to write and this one — well, I’ll figure it out when I get there. Fortunately, I’m not there yet so that’s a problem for another day.
In the meantime, I’m having a delightful time with the actual writing. I said to a neighbor here back at the beginning of September that the end game is always like finishing a jigsaw puzzle when you have room for twenty pieces but there are fifty pieces left. Well, my fifty pieces are all slotting themselves into place quite nicely. I would honestly think I’d planned it instead of just discovering it as I wrote.
I am also loving Maine. It is crazily beautiful where I am. The night sky is so gorgeous — lots of stars to see, not hidden behind light pollution. I even saw a shooting star Saturday night, which always feels magical. The leaves are all falling now and when the wind blows, they skitter across the pavement like some musical instrument you’ve never heard of. The trees across the river that were a block of green three weeks ago are now scattered with color — still mostly green but with bursts of deep red and yellow, and on my walks, I spot other leaves in scarlet and bright orange. The air feels clean, the water tastes clean… it’s lovely here. And this weekend was toasty warm, which was nice for me — I was starting to get a little worried last week that it would get cold before I finished writing. I don’t think that’s going to happen now, but I’m definitely starting to plan my trip south.
I keep trying to take a good picture, but none of them reflect what I’m seeing. Maybe it’s just impossible to capture the light, the air, the sound of the leaves, the colors. But here’s a panorama from the door of the van.
I looked outside this morning and the fog was so dense that I couldn’t see past the middle of the driveway. I thought, “Oooh, how beautiful, I want to go for a walk,” and then I paused and thought for a minute.
The river has fog every morning, little wisps of it that trickle along the water’s surface like ghosts. I’ve enjoyed watching it and I’ve also noticed that the colder the morning, the more fog there seems to be on the river. That’s not entirely true — there was one crisp, clear, sparkly morning that reminded me of the taste of autumn apples and it wasn’t foggy at all. But mostly, fog & chill, they go together.
So before I opened the van door, I asked Alexa for a weather report. Ha. 36 degrees! It is time to dig out the winter coat, I suppose. Fortunately, my time in Arcata seems to have overwritten the Florida in me or maybe my upstate New York roots are finally returning — the cold hasn’t been bothering me much, although I am definitely not spending as much time sitting outside writing as I imagined I would. That’s okay, though, because the view from the van window is lovely and I’m perfectly happy to be cozy inside my van while I write.
By about 7:30, the sun shining through had turned the fog into a mass of gold at the end of the driveway. At 8, it was dancing wisps along the river again. And now, 9:30, it’s gone, but all the colors of the day are bright and intense — blues, greens, even the oranges of the leaves in the tree out front.
I have noticed that the cold is making me crave carbs. Yesterday I was determined to eat salads: I’ve got mixed greens, arugula, radishes, cucumber, and pea pods, all closing in on a week old or older. I hate wasting food, so it was time to eat my veggies. But lunchtime rolled around and well, a warm rice bowl with tomatoes from the garden, oregano (also from the garden), and goat cheese just seemed so much nicer. I could have thrown a few other vegetables into it but I just wasn’t in the mood. For dinner, another rice bowl with steak, cilantro, and chili garlic sauce won over green salad. I think my mistake was buying summer vegetables — food I associate with cold salads on hot days — when it just doesn’t feel like summer to me. Today, salad for lunch. Definitely. Well, maybe.
I read a useful book this week: Dear Writer, You Need to Quit, by Becca Syme. I look at a lot of writing books on Amazon, and often read the Look Inside, then either turn away or think, eh, well, maybe someday. Sometimes I add them to my wish list. Sometimes I buy them, and add them to my immense To Be Read pile. This one, I read the Look Inside, purchased the book, then read the book. That almost never happens. But I’m glad I did. The book does not actually suggest that one should quit writing, although she does suggest quitting lots of other things, including “Quit Trying to Be Like Everyone Else” and “Quit Focusing on Your Weaknesses.” Were those my two favorite chapters? Maybe.
After I finished, I reread Cici. Cici is the only book of mine that is a comfort reread for me, a story where on a rainy or a sad or a sick day, I read just so I can be part of that other world for a while. She makes me laugh. She still makes me laugh, even though I’ve read her dozens of times and know every twist — actually every phrase! — inside and out. And sure, I get critical the way I do with my other books — clunky line, repetition, a little slow here, etc., — the editor brain never shuts off. But not in a way that ruins my enjoyment.
Cici has sold less than 300 copies, earned considerably less than $1000. From a business point of view, it makes absolutely no sense to write more books like Cici. But Cici brings me joy. And you know, life is better when you focus on what brings you joy and not on what earns you money. Obviously, starvation, homelessness, pain & suffering are all not likely to bring me joy, so I’d like to avoid total penury. But for the moment I’m going to accept the permission to quit trying to be like everyone else (not that I ever tried very hard, tbh) and write what brings me joy.
I’m also going to quit ignoring the past. (Another chapter I liked.) My favorite of my books = my fastest-written book. My most well-reviewed book = my second fastest-written book. When I let go and let my intuition take me places, it takes me to interesting stories. When I try to follow the rules — three-act structure, character development, instigating events, blah-blah-blah — well, I’m not going to say the stories are bad, because I don’t think any of my stories are bad, and if I did I wouldn’t have published them. But I don’t gain anything from writing painstakingly and plotting carefully.
Does Fen change in A Precarious Magic? Does she go from one place at the beginning to another at the end? Does she have an appropriate character arc for a main character?
Honestly, do I care? Is she fun to read and do I have fun writing about her? Yes and yes. That’s the only question I’m going to focus on today and tomorrow and for as many future days as I can remember this.
Change is hard, so I know I will forget. Which means I’ll go back to letting the undercurrents of worry — (Will people like this? Will I disappoint them? Will they criticize me?) — push me around. I don’t want to care about those things and I try not to think about them, but they are much too firmly rooted in the instincts of every Former Good Girl for me to ever truly let go of them. But I’ve added a note, QTP, Question the Premise, to my whiteboard and hopefully it will remind me to reread Dear Writer whenever those undercurrents get too strong.
And now, back to work. I feel like I owe you a snippet for sitting through this, but I’m much too deep into spoiler territory. Would reading the first chapter be fun? Or seeing the cover, maybe? Let me know!
I think that I am finally done with my revision of A Lonely Magic. Well, or almost done. Before I post it, I’d love to have a few careful readers take a look and make sure I haven’t introduced a bunch of typos. Or really, any typos at all. If you’re interested, reply in the comments or send me an email.
This wasn’t supposed to be a major revision — it was going to be little tweaks, here and there, with one big but still minor change. But of course once you’re in the file… well, I just kept playing. It’s still much the same book. If I had a document comparison tool, it would be interesting to look at the first published version side by side with this version to see how many words I really did change — not many, I suspect, given how much time I put into it. But I made it slightly more YA-friendly. Still with plenty of swear words, though.
The big change was eliminating Theresa, the bookstore owner. She was originally important because Fen’s journey was going to take her back to her starting place. Maybe Fen’s journey still will take her back to her starting place eventually, but I suspect that by the time she gets there, Theresa will have been long since forgotten. Eliminating her also tightened the beginning & made Fen more active — she’s not pushed into accepting Kaio’s help, she chooses to go with him in order to stay alive.
Along with the revision, I have a new cover. When I hired the designer, I sent her a PDF showing all the previous covers, including the ones that I never wound up using. There were nine of them. Nine! That didn’t include minor variations — that was nine totally different covers. Along the way, I worked with six different cover designers (if I can count myself as one of those designers, which I am going to.) So this cover is the tenth cover and the seventh designer. I’m hoping those will be lucky numbers.
Revising A Lonely Magic is the kind of quixotic act that a traditional publisher would never go for — sales of the book just don’t justify it. So is writing a sequel, actually. I haven’t done the math recently, but between the professional editor I hired, all those covers, and the marketing I did when I released the first version… well, I’m pretty sure I broke even. But a new cover and many days spent revising were impractical at best. That’s okay, I love the new cover. And I love the revision, too. Let me know if you want an early look at it.
This morning, Barbara and I were on our way to the Y (for my first yoga class in months & her regular morning routine) when we passed her seafood store. Earlier I had suggested sous vide chicken breast for dinner later this week, but when we drove by the seafood market, I told her I’d realized that was a stupid idea. If I’m in a place where I can have good fish, I’d much rather have good fish. And Rockport has really good fish. Also, Barbara is a really, really good cook, which is an excellent combination.
But we then talked briefly about what we’d eaten and it made me want to remember all of the meals she’s made, so this is going to be a food post. Consider yourself warned.
On Tuesday we had grilled swordfish, quinoa salad, and a leafy green salad. On Wednesday, she had friends and family over and we ate grilled lamb, corn on the cob, and a fantastic rice salad made with jasmine and wild rice and lots of lemon. On Thursday, we had halibut steamed over fennel fronds, served on rice noodles with a watermelon, fennel and arugula salad. Friday was chicken apple sausage over greens and cucumbers, with a mango medley (somewhere between a salad and a salsa) of mango, avocado, red onion, jalapeño, corn, tomatoes, and lime juice, plus the leftover rice salad. On Saturday, we ate striped bass, seared then baked with lemon zest, salt and pepper, plus a summer salad with all the veggies, sliced tomatoes with cilantro, and more corn on the cob. Sunday was leftovers for me, dinner out for Barbara, but today will be quinoa bowls with sous vide steak, red onion, heirloom tomatoes, roasted beets, and more corn on the cob. And I have now officially made myself hungry. I hope I’ve done the same to you! (I might have mixed up a couple of my days, but that seems irrelevant to the memories.)
Apart from food, most of my Rockport adventures have revolved around my computer, although we’ve gone on some nice walks. In other words, not particularly adventurous. But my keyboard had been dying for a long time and when I was in Maine, it hit the point where it simply wasn’t realistic for work anymore. Still fine for browsing the web and playing solitaire, but it’s really tough to write without an E key. I bit the bullet and ordered a new one, and I’ve spent the past couple days moving files around, searching for passwords, organizing bookmarks and so on. Many hours of the “so on” yesterday was going through old photos, trying to limit the number moving to the new computer, so I didn’t immediately fill the drive. My big revelation from that is that I’ve seen an extraordinary number of gorgeous sunrises in the past couple of years.
But much to my puzzled dismay, many of my pictures say that they were created on September 19, 2017. I know for a fact that I did not spend that day taking 3000+ photos of different sunrises, but whatever I did do that day overwrote the original information on the photos. That means I look at those sunrises and think… um, North Carolina? Nova Scotia? Florida? Texas? Maybe?? I could figure it out easily enough by going back to the original photo library but since it would be far better for my life to get on with writing a book instead, I’m not going to. I’m just going to enjoy all those pretty mornings and be glad I took photos of them so I could be reminded of them, even if I don’t quite remember the details.
And now it’s time to get on with writing a book. I started working on Friday and wound up back in the revising stage — redoing the first chapter of Fen’s Book Two yet again — but yesterday I was feeling reasonably pleased with that chapter. A little work on chapter two, and I hope I will finally be able to get back to the end game. I’m getting close, really!
Thanks to everyone who shared their auto-buy authors with me! I have to admit, I don’t think I discovered the magical author whose name is going to open a world of new readers to me via $10 worth of advertising, but I did find lots of people who I might be interested in reading, so that’s a nice thing. Although maybe not a good thing for my writing career purposes. Too much reading generally translates to not enough writing.
My current experiment is with voice recognition software. I was hoping that I could pick up the pace of my writing by eliminating a step between my brain and the end product. There are authors who swear by voice recognition, and claim that it makes their writing much faster. They can produce more because they’re talking to their computer instead of typing.
An actual paragraph via voice recognition:
I was also hoping to work on my mailing list today Area reasonably stupid however answered me not want productive. When I was working on a precarious magic I stop looking at the computer in the end result with a couple paragraphs but I could not fight her at all. I had no idea what I was trying say. A triumph of technology.
And I think it’s really funny that the last line actually worked. Irony! So far I’ve tried the voice recognition in four different apps and they all seem to have their own unique quirks, but even if practice does make perfect, I don’t think voice recognition is going to be any kind of panacea of writing productivity for me. Oh, well.
I moved over to the garden house yesterday, and last night I got to have the windows open while I went to sleep. It’s been weeks since I was able to do that, and it was so lovely. Firefly season is mostly over, but there were still a few isolated sparks in the darkness and the sky was clear enough to see stars. It reminded me of all the great reasons to live in a van. In four days, it will be three years since I left my house. I feel like I ought to do a year-in-review post — how many places did I go? Cross-country both ways means that there were a lot of states involved. But I think I’ll save that post for Monday.
Meanwhile — again in the not-writing category — I’ve been playing some more with the fun ad-creation tool I discovered, www.bookbrush.com. My latest:
I made up a logo for myself a couple weeks ago when I was working on a mailing list email and needed something to put in the “logo” spot, but I actually quite like it. I honestly don’t think having a pretty Facebook cover on my almost non-existent business page is going to sell any books, but it still makes me smile so that counts for something.
And now, back to Fen. I got stuck on something silly — the word to describe an angry cat’s tail — so I started writing a blog post instead, but I am determined that today will be a day of many words, even if that means it turns into an evening or night of many words. But a snippet for the fun of it (with the usual caveats of draft, might not make it into the real book, la-di-dah, whatever)…
Fen glanced at him just as the kitten shimmered into view on his shoulder.
Its green eyes were glowing with a hard, red, extremely creepy light. It wasn’t the weird but natural glow of light reflecting off an animal’s eyes at night. It wasn’t even a normal, if authoritarian, stop-light red. This red was the deep, rich shade of fresh blood.
It screamed “Danger” like no color Fen had ever seen before.
“Oh, shit.” Fen barely had time to breath the words and take a nervous step backward before Ghost launched off of Luke’s shoulder.
If you read my last two posts, you might reasonably expect today’s post to include the new cover for A Gift of Time. Alas, I don’t have it yet. I do, however, have the new cover for A Gift of Grace, which feels like an appropriate substitute.
I didn’t ask the designer to add freckles to Grace, but we did get all fancy with both models’ clothing. Any second now they’ll be running into a bear. And I really like their expressions.
Alas, responding to comments on the last post reminded me that the point of new covers was to expand my audience and appeal to the many, many, many book-buying romance readers in the world, and those expressions are probably all wrong for that audience. I should have made him half-naked and had both of them looking sultry. Covers like that might not have been to my personal taste (or yours!), but the point of a cover is to appeal to a specific audience and I’m not my own audience. Or at least I am my own audience, but I’m not the part of my audience that can buy enough books to let me go on eating and paying vet bills.
Oh, well. I still like their expressions.
I’ve been working on lots of marketing type things. Some of it is very fun. Much of it is not. But on the fun side has been trying out keywords to include on my book listings. “Ghost romance paranormal suspense mystery” should be a terrible set — according to Kindle Rocket, there are 6046 books found with that search. But, at least yesterday, A Gift of Ghosts was at the very top of that list, which means it’s a terrible set for some other 6000 books, but not a terrible set for my book. That was fun to discover.
Speaking of Amazon, today is Amazon Prime Day and I had $10 of Amazon money from spending $10 at Whole Foods, plus the $5 Prime Day deal on printed books, so I spent a very pleasant 45 minutes looking at all the items on my wish list and deciding what not to buy. But I finally went for Salt Fire Acid Heat, a cookbook I’ve been debating forever. I’m probably not going to carry it around in the van with me, but I’m at my brother’s so I can store it with my Christmas ornaments and scrapbooks when I drive away. And I’m excited to read it.
I’m suspecting that this week isn’t going to be a terribly productive week for me, though. I’m dog-sitting, so I’ll have three dogs to take care of, and the puppy is energetic and always trying to convince the two older dogs to play. This does not go over well with the two older dogs, so dog-sitting the puppy is a lot more like dog-sitting a toddler than it is house-sitting. But it should be fun, even if it means that I don’t finish all the many miscellaneous things that I’m working on.
I created a To-Do list this morning with well over 80 items on it. Not a single one of those items was “create a to-do list”.
Also, not a single one of those items was “spend twenty minutes browsing to-do list apps on the app store, hoping to find one that’s better than plain text before giving up in frustration.” If you’ve got a recommendation for a to-do list app, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Actually, my to-do list is kind of a work of art. But it does not include “write a blog post,” so I’m going to make this quick.
Pennsylvania continues to be lovely but I am spending far too much time sitting on the guest bed banging away on my computer. I’m taking advantage of the internet to try to get lots of internet-related business tasks done — updating my mailing list software, setting up an automation sequence, working on the websites, that kind of thing. I’d rather be outside playing with my niece and the dogs, but honestly, it’s about time I took the work side of life a little more seriously.
As of today, I have written approximately 762,000 words of fiction. That sounds like a lot unless you know that my goal in October of 2011 — before I even finished writing A Gift of Ghosts — was to write a million words, then decide if I wanted to be a writer. Having written approximately 200,000 words of fanfiction in the preceding twelve months, it didn’t seem unrealistic.
As I said several months ago, I don’t need to finish those words to know that I’m going to be a writer.
But I’m not just a writer: I’m also a publisher.
And one of the best parts of being a publisher is getting to look at the covers of your books and say, “Hmm, I think I’m ready for something new.” I tried updating the typography on the Tassamara series, thinking that would satisfy me, but it didn’t, so last month, I hired Kelley York of Sleepy Fox Studio and described my dream cover of A Gift of Ghosts to her.
Without further ado, my ‘something new’.
What do you think? Does it match your ideas of the characters? Would it be your dream cover? I haven’t updated the book yet, because I’m waiting until I have new covers for all the books in the series, but I couldn’t wait to share it!
I had grand intentions yesterday. I was going to do so many things, starting with writing 1000 words. I was going to do laundry, and take a shower, and walk the dogs, and go to a meditation class… Yep, just as soon as I wrote those 1000 words, I was going to do ALL the things.
When S got home from work, I was still mostly in my pajamas. No shower, no dog walks, no laundry, no meditation class. But darn close to 1000 words, each and every one of them a struggle.
I also hadn’t planned dinner or gone to the store, so it was time to make do with what we had. That included half a bag of seafood medley and some brown rice noodles. I was not inspired, but I knew that: a) if I didn’t use up the seafood medley, it would probably sit in S’s freezer forever and b) as long as I made it spicy enough, she’d eat it happily. So this recipe is mostly me thinking, “gotta use up the seafood, too lazy to do something serious with it, I’ll just cook it with red pepper flakes and it’ll be fine.” (Spoiler alert: It was more than fine.)
I started by boiling some water for the rice noodles, while letting the seafood medley defrost for a few minutes. When the water boiled, I took it off the heat and tossed the rice noodles in. While they cooked, I preheated a frying pan for a minute, then melted a chunk of butter, maybe two tbsps, in it. When the butter bubbled, I added two cloves of chopped up garlic, a generous tsp of red pepper flakes, and a little kosher salt, and swirled it around. When it seemed nicely done — garlic browned a little, red pepper flakes smelling sizzled — I added the seafood. I let it cook for just about five minutes, during which time I drained and plated my pasta. Then I zested a lemon onto the seafood, added some paprika, squeezed a lemon half into it, and topped the rice noddles with it. I finished it by sprinkling on some chopped-up cilantro.
I called S in from the garden, but I started eating without waiting. It was a good thing she came promptly, because by the time I was two bites into mine, I knew that if I finished eating mine before she came in, I would start eating hers. It was so, so, so good. I think it was the paprika or maybe it was the lemon zest. But it was spicy and smoky and tangy and buttery and absolutely delicious.
I feel like there ought to be a writing metaphor there: something about flavors mixing or finding balance or maybe just the serendipity of using what comes to hand? But if there is, I can’t find it.
And I was going to post a snippet, but we’re in spoilers galore territory — of all the words I wrote in the past couple days, I don’t think I can share any of them without giving things away that might be more fun as surprises. Hmm… well, maybe tiny spoilers…
Fen felt like she’d stepped inside Sleeping Beauty’s castle. All they needed were some serious brambles with killer thorns to make the whole place a scene out of a nightmare.
She set her chin. “Come on, Luke. Give the ghost to Trevvi. I need your help.”
“Ghost?” Trevvi took a step back, hands raising in protest.
Luke lifted his hands away from his chest, pausing for a second with one finger moving as if gently disentangling tiny claws from his tunic. He extended his cupped hands to Trevvi. “Here.”
Trevvi stepped farther away. “What?”
“It’s a kitten,” Luke said. “An invisible kitten.”
Trevvi scowled. “Nitrogen narcosis. Your dive pattern must have malfunctioned.”
Nitrogen again. Fen really needed to learn more about chemistry. Or was it biology? Maybe it was both.
“I’m not hallucinating,” Luke replied. “Take it.”
“Miss?” Trevvi’s pleading look asked for her help.
Instead a corner of Fen’s mouth lifted. She tilted her head in the direction of Luke’s seemingly empty hands and said, “Really, take it.”
Reluctantly, as if unwillingly playing along with their delusions, Trevvi held out his right hand. Fen could see the exact moment when he felt the kitten as his eyes opened wider with shock before he hastily enclosed it in a nest of both hands. “What the hell,” he muttered, drawing it closer to his body.
“Exactly.” Fen grabbed Luke’s empty hand and drew him into the courtyard.
Had I mentioned the invisible kitten before? I almost — almost! — know what she’s doing now. In fact, I think I’m pretty close to knowing what the whole thing looks like now. I just need to find the words to share it. And I’m working hard on that, I swear. 43,000 words so I’m not quite at the end game, but I’m definitely in the murky middle.