Category Archives: Personal

Money for nothing and my books for free? It depends

So as I think I’ve already mentioned, I made my Smashwords short-story collection, Philosophy and Fairytales free as part of a promotion running through April 20. I’m quite happy that two people have already downloaded the book.I was much less happy to discover the Internet Archive had an ebook of Screen Enemies of the American Way available on its website for free reading. Camestros Felapton’s post alerted me that IA, in addition to storing old web pages, digitizes print books and lends them out, just like any other library — except, as Slate says, regular libraries don’t just digitize books under copyright and make them available (with exceptions such as services for the blind). Libraries actually pay for ebooks; IA doesn’t. So I asked the IA to take my book down (it appears to be the only one of mine up there) and they did. First time I’ve tackled a pirate site (and in my not-a-lawyer opinion, this does seem to be piracy) and it felt good.

My work on Leaf wrapped up Monday — one of their regular breaks in the work flow — which is good as Leaf articles seem to suffer from the distractions of TYG and pups in the current quarantine more than anything else I do. That’s probably because I try to keep to sharp deadlines writing them and there’s just enough distraction these days to slow them down. So maybe it’s simply more noticeable with Leaf than other work? But hopefully by the time they start up again, I’ll have a smoother process for the new normal.

I got plenty done this week. Two chapters of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Final draft (subject to one more beta reader weighing in) of Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates. A good deal of work done on Undead Sexist Cliches. Finishing the second draft of Laughter in the Dark. And I participated in a Zoom-meeting of my Tuesday writer’s group. Damn, but it felt really good to see everyone’s faces.

As I woke up early this morning, I am now done. Bring on the weekend.

#SFWApro. Cover image by Lisa Wildman, all rights remain with current holders.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Screen Enemies of the American Way, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Pandemics and goal setting

I accomplished 45 percent of my goals for March, which unsurprisingly relates to being in the middle of a pandemic. Everything that involved going out, having people over, meeting people, going to places where people gathered — all that got nixed. Budgetary goals got nixed too because I spent so much: extra food, extra pet meds, cleaning supplies, etc. I didn’t finish the tax paperwork I’d planned on because we now have several months more to do them (state taxes too) so they slid down the priority list. Buying tickets for plays was kind of pointless, as was taking another juggling class (and I’d have delayed for budgetary reasons anyway).

I did do pretty well on writing goals. I completed as much of Impossible Takes a Little Longer and Undead Sexist Cliches as I’d planned, submitted six short stories, finished a short story first draft (untitled as yet) and made at least a stab at revising Laughter of the Dark. Given the demands of adjusting to the new normal and taking care of Trixie with her bad leg, I’m pleased.

For this month I trimmed out standard goals involving going out, dealing with people, weekend activities, etc. As Leaf is on one of its regularly scheduled hiatuses for the next couple of weeks, I’m planning to squeeze out as much writing time as I can and meet those goals. And keeping a very tight budget to make up for March. Modest, but achievable in our new environment, I think.

And I will not forget that TYG and I are so much luckier than some of our friends in our ability to work from home.

As a reminder why everything’s changed, here’s Neal Adams dramatizing what happens when you don’t social distance.#SFWApro. All rights to cover remain with current holder.

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In spite of her rage, she is still just a chihuahua/cairn terrier mix in a cage

So Monday we took Trixie in for surgery on her bad knee. She’s improved a lot since the accident, but it doesn’t look like she’s going to heal completely, so this is the best option. But not an easy option. Because we have eight weeks of crate rest ahead, and she has to wear the cone of shame for the first two weeks to avoid licking her stitches and infecting them. A week and a half to go! But the vet says the surgery went well, so we’re not going to screw it up.

Wisp came in Tuesday, after Trixie was back from the hospital and seemed quite intrigued by the set-up. Trixie, not so much. She’s getting less petting and cuddles, can’t sleep in the bed with us — misery for my little snuggler. But I make sure to make time for opening the cage and giving her some attention.

Fortunately it’s okay for her to stand on the leg and walk a couple of steps, so taking her for potty breaks isn’t as frustrating as when she first injured her leg. She’s much more likely to go rather than decide it’s too uncomfortable; I hope that’s a good sign.

Plushie is baffled why he can’t play and rough-house with her, but he’s been baffled by that since she got injured. Come to think of it, he’s baffled quite a lot; he isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Trixie spends most of the day upstairs with TYG, but comes down for medical care. TYG takes care of the meds, I walk Trixie and do the physical therapy her leg requires. So far everything’s going smoothly; the real challenge will probably be in a month when she feels ready to run and jump and we’ll have to discourage her. Positive thoughts and/or prayers appreciated.

And while Trixie and Plushie were both upstairs yesterday, Wisp came in. I didn’t want to stop work so I just stayed on the couch and she jumped up and went to sleep next to me. It was delightful, and if she’ll keep doing that, it’ll be easier to have her around without losing my workflow.#SFWApro. Photos are mine


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Finding inspiration in a pandemic world

As I mentioned, so far I haven’t been getting much creative work done due to the pandemic distractions. I can understand if you out there aren’t either. However, I think COVID-19 is still a valuable learning experience, much as it’s a class I’d rather skip.

A week and a half ago I went into the grocery store to pick up some emergency supplies. I’d figured it would be early enough nobody would be there, but there was a big line and very few staffers, so the lines crawled. I was standing there, surrounded by people. No way out without just abandoning my purchases. Would one of them be the carrier who put me in the hospital?

I was, quite simply, terrified. I didn’t leave and got through the line, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a situation that scared me simply by having people around. Maybe not since dealing with bullies in junior high. And even then it was specific individuals, not just the idea of being out with people.

This is close as I will ever come (at least I hope so) to that classic thriller situation where the guy is wandering through a crowd, conscious any one of them could be an assassin with a knife sent to eliminate him. If I were writing that situation, I’d use what I felt: the desperate desire to be somewhere safe with nobody around. The constant awareness of my surroundings. Second-guessing whether my decision to stay or go or to pick up X or Y is right.

Next, there’s fears about my health. I’ve had those before but constantly evaluating my coughs (is it mucusy? Yes? Phew!) or feeling relief because I just completed a workout and I’m not short of breath is new. If I had a character worried about this kind of issues, either serious or funny (obsessive hypochondriacs are a staple of humor) this would certainly give me fresh perspective. Hopefully the pandemic won’t show me personally what it’s like to actually have a serious illness.

Then there’s the general sense that we’re staring at a sea change in the world, not for the better, and having no idea how it’s going to play out. Will it be over in a year? Will the restaurant TYG and I were going to eat my birthday dinner at still be there? Will any of the non-chain restaurants around here survive? Can I honestly cope if this drags on for months? How can I help?

I’ve long been fascinated by the realization that people living through WW II had no idea how it would end. I used to read old issues of Time for that reason (my local library in Florida had them going back to the 1950s), to see what the world thought of events as they were occurring. You’d be amazed how often victory in Vietnam was imminent, for instance (Time in those days was conservative and anti-communist). And that by the mid-1960s, it was obvious students at American colleges had no interest in protesting or getting involved in politics — they were in it for education and career, nothing more!

Now I’m living in one of those events, along with everyone else. It gives me fresh appreciation for songs like When the Lights Go On Again, All Over the World or The Last Time I Saw Paris. Again, I don’t have anything that immediately gains from this insight, but hopefully it’ll come. I just have to remember the feelings … and somehow I don’t think that’ll be hard.

#SFWApro. Fear-filled cover image by Carmine Infantino, all rights remain with current holder.

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Work in my second week of social distancing

Not so good, although not all the fault of this strange new world. I woke up way, way early two nights this week, to the point I was in something of a fog. My Leaf work slowed down to a crawl; I got it done but way slower than I’d intended. That left less time for other stuff.

Wednesday being my birthday, I goofed off and watched TV a lot of the day while clearing out my huge list of bookmarks. This was actually productive — I found several links that will be useful for current projects — but not much actual writing. But hey, birthday.

Thursday I got two more short stories submitted and talked with the artist doing the cover of Questionable Minds. She had some layout suggestions; I took a look and said which I liked best and why. It’s kind of fun. But by afternoon, my mind just stopped jelling.

Today I got a shit ton done on the sexual harassment chapter of Undead Sexist Cliches. I thought I could finish it but … not quite. Next week, definitely, assuming I don’t get sick with you know what.

My schedule is still a work in progress. I tried not working Sunday and sure enough, with TYG helping take the dogs part of the day and some of the evening, it’s much easier to put in a full day’s work. And I do like not working on the weekends, so I’ll probably stick with that (though not for this coming weekend, for various reasons). I’m consistently starting later in the mornings, though, which is my best time normally; with TYG at home, it’s easy to spend more time with her and the dogs during breakfast. That’s one reason I didn’t get more fiction done this week: morning became a very small slice of time. I do not think this is an unfixable problem though (I could just go upstairs and shut everyone out of my thoughts, but I don’t feel like doing that).

While it’s disappointing not to get more fiction done this week, I think overall it was satisfactory.

Have a good weekend and remember — no matter how boring it gets in social isolation, do not experiment with weird chemicals, let alone drink them yourself!#SFWApro. Art by Jack Kirby, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Personal, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book

Love in a time of cholera? No, it’s a birthday in a time of pandemic!

And it’s kind of freaky.

I had a perfectly nice birthday. Lots of FB greetings. Spent the day reading bookmarked online articles I’d never gotten around to, some of which turned out to be quite useful in various ways. I took a walk, hung out with TYG and the dogs, bought stuff online with birthday gift certifocates and enjoyed a frozen pizza for dinner. I’d picked it up just for food, but in lieu of going out it made a nice birthday meal. I’d kicked myself earlier this year for not making any plans for a big party, but in hindsight, I’d have been bummed if I did.

But hanging over all that was the awareness of what I couldn’t do. No going out to eat. No going anywhere to shop. No going anywhere this current weekend. We’re both at high enough risk that social distancing isn’t only good for our community, it’s good for us. Mensa events: canceled. Writing group: canceled. Vegan potluck: canceled. We’re unlikely to make it to North Carolina Zoo before our membership (my anniversary gift last year) expires. Not going to movies. Not going to plays, even if they weren’t canceled or postponed. Not that I don’t have books and streaming shows to occupy me, but it’s pretty freaky.

And the year ahead? I got no idea what’s coming. I’m not sure anyone does. Who’ll be affected? How many? How long will we have to stay at a social distance? How much will it change society? A lot of the changes won’t even be visible: the people who stayed home and never met each other, or died younger than they would have, the kids who aren’t born to become the discoverer of cold fusion or the next Timothy McVeigh. Of course this could be true with any random decision people make, but somehow, when all of society is shaped by something, it feels bigger. This is the kind of event they write about in history books. I’m getting a crash course in wondering what it felt like to live through WW III or the Depression or AIDS in the gay community with no idea how things would end (I can safely say I do not like living in interesting times).

The economic ripple affects will shut businesses that would have thrived, and they’ll hammer even freelancers like me. As the economy slumps, fewer people buy books, magazine staffers get sick and issues don’t come out (had a couple of sales deep-sixed by that in the past) — it’s scary.

But so far, I’m in first-world problems stage. TYG and I can both work from home. We’re comfortable spending more time together (we don’t work in the same room but even so). We have the dogs. We have savings to draw on. And so far, no corona.

That makes me way better off than some of my friends who are jobless with no way to make up the shortfall (fingers crossed the government sends out some checks soon). If I were living alone, I’d be as shaken as Superman in Ernie Chan’s cover. Even in my 20s, when spending the day at home alone, watching videos and reading, was my idea of heaven, it was balanced by doing theater in the evenings.

For the coming year, most of my plans (travel, explore Durham more, have more people over) are deep-sixed. I’ll settle for staying healthy, finding ways to stay connected, writing more, and getting organized for the new normal (including exercise — it’s time to fight the “COVID 15” as my spouse puts it). And squeezing as much fun out of this strange situation as possible. And finding ways to help.

Given the number of stressed-out posts I saw on FB just yesterday, that I did have a happy birthday makes me appreciate how lucky I really am.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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And the Red Death shall hold dominion over all

Okay, not that bad. But COVID 19 did majorly disrupt my work week (which is, obviously, far from the worst thing about it. First world problems).

The big change was that TYG started working from home, which is great for her (more time to spend with Plushie) and fun for me, plus I get a bit more of a break from the dogs when she takes them upstairs. However it also changes the rhythm of the day — when she gets up, when the dogs come down for breakfast, when she or I walk them at lunch — and it throws me off. Sometimes I start work, then the dogs have breakfast a quarter-hour later and by the time they’re finished I’ve lost momentum.

It’s a fixable problem, but this week it threw me off. It was, after all, on top of the daylight savings time hour-ahead weekend, which always leaves me sleeping poorly and feeling a little groggy. And I’m way distracted by the pandemic we’re in. It was hard not to stop whatever I was doing and check FB every so often, or browse the news, or Tweet to President Tinybrain about how he’s being a coward and putting millions of Americans at risk. I did it even as I was typing this post.

So most of what I accomplished this week was Leaf. Actually more than my usual quota: they had so many interesting articles I wound up doing 14 rather than 10. I’ll cut back some next week to make up. I really dislike doing that — somehow I never recapture the time I wasn’t spending on my own projects — but then again, my mind was so fractured, I don’t know how much good I’d have done on my own stuff.

I did look over the story I hoped to redraft this month, now titled Laughter of the Dark. And I rewrote the next chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, which went much easier than expected. I will be thrilled if the next chapter goes as well, as it’s a twist and a big reveal that I’ve been struggling with ever since I dropped the core of the original novel. I have no regrets about the change, but I am a little nervous that it won’t go well at all.

And that was pretty much it. I think I’ll do better next week. I may even skip working on the weekend, seeing as I’m not handling the dogs all day, and see if I can put in more hours Monday-Friday.

In the minor annoyance department, I tried renewing my prescriptions online today. Turns out that as our new health coverage has an entirely different mail-order pharmacy, all my prescriptions are effectively reset to zero. Fortunately I’ll be seeing my doctors before I need refills.

And now the weekend, when I shall endeavor to chill as much as possible.


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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Personal, Short Stories, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals, Writing

I hate daylight savings time

Okay, not DST per se, but dammit, every year my body seems to find the time change harder to deal with. Sleep was not easy to come by this week at all.

On the plus side, I made some very tasty cinnamon rolls last weekend. Below you see them without and with icing. For something that involved rolling up and cutting pastry, they held their shape better than expected (it’s the point at which a lot of my baking falls apart) though I let a lot of the cinnamon fall out by accident.#SFWApro. Photos are mine.

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Clobbered by the cleaners

So while I was at Mysticon, TYG did something we’ve occasionally talked about: she hired a cleaning service to come in this week and clean the house. She made the appointment for Thursday when Plushie was in doggie day care, and that’s a good thing: Trixie getting excited I can handle (she’s only ten pounds, after all) but Plushie is 20 lbs and very forceful when stirred up.

They arrived around 10:30 and did a fantastic job. I clean regularly and I’m proud I keep the kitchen and bathrooms sanitary and the floors vacuumed. However they showed me how inadequate my work is compared to a real professional. As Sherlock Holmes says, true talent has to recognize genius, and I do. So we’ll be doing this monthly.

Unfortunately, it pretty much wiped out my Thursday afternoon. I’d planned to do some Leaf articles, but Trixie decided with all these STRANGERS in the house she was going to be very needy, so nothing got done. I wound up blogging, then just fiddling around. However I woke up this morning early and got one Leaf in so I’m only short one for the week. Insomnia is occasionally useful.

Beyond Leaf, what got done?

I got another chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer finished. After one more chapter of action, though, I’ll have to deal with one of the major changes to my previous draft’s plot. I’m really not sure how to pull it off or exactly what I’m going to do, but I’m hoping it just flows as smoothly as adding Stardian City to the story did. Fingers crossed.

I finished my first draft of an untitled story I’ve had sitting on my computer for a while (one of my goals for this year is to finish up a lot of those drafts). I think the core of the story is there, but it may be buried pretty deep. Still as long as it’s there, I’ll unearth it eventually.

I submitted three short stories. One came back the same day, which is good — I can send it out again — except for the coming back part. Some positive comments on it, an encouragement to try again, so I will. But that’s still not as good as a sale.

I got some work done on Undead Sexist Cliches and I began proofing the hard copy of Questionable Minds. As usual, lots of red pen marks in just the first two chapters. I’m going to have to take it slow and try reading a chapter or two a day so as not to overstrain my overtaxed voice.

And that’s on top of voting (looks like me voting Warren did not turn any tides) and going to the dentist Tuesday morning.

So while I’m tired and ready to call it a week, I don’t feel anywhere near as stressed as this guy. Art by James Meese.#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Personal, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

Mysticon once more

So last weekend, as I have for the past two or three years, I went up to Mysticon in Roanoke. I actually debated whether to cancel because I was still feeling sick, and I know from experience a weekend of talking can make things much worse. But I stayed the course, and I’m glad I did.

From Wednesday to Friday I stayed, as usual, with my friends Dori and Sam Koogler about an hour away. This is their cat.She looks a lot like Wisp in coloration, but she’s not as friendly, at least to strangers.

Friday Dori drove me in to the hotel, but declined to be my free Plus One (so did Sam). I was exhausted, having been kept awake the previous weekend by either my or TYG’s hacking cough, and my throat was sore. Fortunately I brought my miniature steam bath up with me and used that a lot. It helped.

I saw several authors I know, including Jason Gilbert, John Hartness, Stuart Jaffe, Rod Belcher and Darin Kennedy. Jason gave me good advice on hawking my books, but with my voice struggling, I was in no shape to take advantage of it. And my efforts to reserve a signing table fell afoul of emailing the wrong person (it went to the IT form organizing the schedule online, not to the organizers). This created the slight problem that having mailed a bunch of my books to the Kooglers and only selling one (but yay one! Thank you for that purchase!) I had a lot more to take home than I’d anticipated. It made for a tight fit with the books I bought, but I managed to get everything home. Good thing TYG let me take her new, larger suitcase.

Panels included “Food and Drink in Fantasy Fiction,” “Writing Up Close and Personal” (a POV discussion) and Writing Contemporary Fantasy. There was some good discussion and my moderating went fine despite my throat. I picked up some earrings for TYG and as mentioned, books for myself. And they have the same coffee truck out in front of the hotel as last year, and it served tea too. That was nice.

I almost freaked out on the ride home when the plane out of Roanoke was an hour late, seeing as I had only a 45 minute period in Charlotte (no, I can’t go straight from Durham to Roanoke) to catch my connection. Fortunately it was one of those cases where the airline had padded the travel time so even an hour late, I was fine.

And hey, the view out of the airport window has mountains.

I like this curbside sign too.I leave you with photos from the con.#SFWApro.

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