Author Archives: Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

About Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

I write. And I blog. And I love every minute of it. Some day I will be known by the single name - Liebja (lee-ebb-jah), which, as far as I know, I invented when I was 14. A long time ago. My debut novel is now available on Amazon - Pride's Children: PURGATORY. First of a mainstream love story trilogy.

When you have to micromanage your plot

YOU CAN’T PLAN EVERYTHING AHEAD OF TIME

And the farther you are from the beginning and the end (if you’re an extreme plotter as I am), the more likely you are to get to a point where a scene just isn’t obvious.

You know what the chain of scenes has to accomplish (connecting beginning to end efficiently and while keeping the reader entertained), but the specifics of some of the scenes just don’t set off the process which ends in writing the scene as if it had always been there.

I wasn’t surprised to find out it happened on this timeline

On the story that is not primary right now, the character timeline that is keeping one of the three characters off on her own while the other two are doing a very personal interaction necessary to the story, together.

So I know exactly when this character is rejoining the primary thread, and what is going to happen from that point on, but the notes I took on what she does meanwhile, in scenes that have to make her emergence exactly right when it happens, were placeholders, and they don’t satisfy, precisely because they are placeholders.

You can’t let the reader completely lose sight of a character

Not for chapter after chapter. Because in real life, a character is always the main character on her storyline.

It is possible that the time spent alone on her story is not all that interesting to the reader.

In GWTW, many long pages go by when we don’t hear what Frank Kennedy is doing – because Scarlett doesn’t care yet. Then, when her story demands another husband, and she decides she deserves what he has, and her sister would just waste it, she grabs him, and he has a presence in the main story until she manages to get him killed.

That’s one way to do it.

It’s better if that character is doing something

Something that needs reporting back to the reader, and something that will cause major problems if not resolved by the right time in the right way.

Something that really worries the reader.

Something that heads off in a direction far away from what the reader wanted the character to be doing, and that gets worse with each peek we get at what she’s up to and why.

In other words, I was missing an opportunity

And that’s why this scene I’m working on (31.5 for those keeping count) is giving me trouble.

It doesn’t yet have the danger coefficient it needs.

I don’t allow ‘middle’ scenes. Waste of good space and plotting sequence work. If the scene isn’t enhancing the story, it shouldn’t be there, but I have my other constraint which says we need to see what this character is up to.

The reader deserves that: my implicit contract with readers is that I won’t waste their time. If something is there, it can’t be removed (and the books shortened) without doing violence to the story and leaving a hole.

I just hadn’t thought out this particular sub-plot in the detail it needs, and my subconscious noticed – and stopped a perfectly good, if unnecessary, scene from being written.

It was okay.

But not good.

And it is going to have to be much better before I can enjoy writing it, and if I don’t enjoy writing it, why bother?

So I apologize in advance to my beta reader – this is going to make you very unhappy, and that’s exactly what I want to do, because the depth of despair predicts the heights achievable every time.

I made some lists, and I found all kinds of fodder.

I may end up using all of it in various degrees.

I have a bunch of decisions to make about relative strengths and what to summarize versus what to make the reader live through, but the thought processes have generated far more than I needed, and now I get to choose only the best.

I felt a bit lost, and I’ve been struggling with that feeling since I finished 31.4, and now I know how to proceed with making this timeline contribute to the rightness of the conclusion, instead of merely walking along the side track until it crossed the main path again.

Thanks for listening.

This is how I make progress, by understanding what I’m doing – and then writing it down.

I’m trying not to make too many mistakes twice.

That ol’ subconscious knows what it’s doing.

Every time.

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Happy New Year – and I hope you survived 2020 intact!

May 2021 bring you joy and peace.

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Major stress doesn’t just END neatly

A peaceful setting on the greenway, mother with stroller and child

GETTING BACK TO NORMAL?

Outside stress

I told myself that when the Electoral College did their thing, the stress about who the next president will be would lessen.

It did.

But not enough.

There’s a pandemic going on.

I had hoped the arrival of vaccines would help, and it did – until I realized that even though we’re over 70, and living in a care facility, those of us in Independent Living will not qualify for the vaccine for quite a long time. Staff will be ALL vaccinated first – not a bad thing, as they are the ones who DAILY go back into the community.

People in Assisted Living, Memory Support, and Skilled Nursing will be vaccinated.

We will not. Not at first.

And it will be a VERY long time before I don’t have to worry about my children (late 20s, early 30s), because they will be among the last vaccinated, which means their quarantines (and ours) will not end for many months.

Medically-induced stress

I told myself that when I found a new doctor, completing the process of picking one more deliberately than how we found our first Primary Care Physician (PCP) when we moved here over two years ago, and met him or her, and things seemed more to my liking (the first physician was fine, but we are not, it turns out, on quite the same page philosophically as I had hoped), that I could relax.

It did – I had a wonderful first visit yesterday during which all we did was talk, and at the end. I had asked the nurse, ‘Could we do this at the end?’ when I got there, and she agreed with no hesitation (good sign), because I was so stressed about having done that horrible thing, CHANGING YOUR DOCTOR), so that when she took my blood pressure, it was fine (Note to self: make sure I send a note to the cardiologist).

It would have been lower, I’m convinced, if I didn’t have to fight so hard to have the American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines for accurate BP measurement followed.

I get it: they’re busy, and they have to process people through quickly. For most people it doesn’t matter much if the nurse talks to them continuously through the process, they’ve exercised (getting to the doctor’s office DOES constitute exercise) within the past half hour, or they’ve not been allowed to rest quietly – or any of the other guidelines.

But for those of us for whom going to the doctor brings up a whole host of issues, stress significantly raises the measurement taken under not ideal conditions – and that is the number that goes into your permanent medical record.

So that particular medical stress has been lowered – but is not gone. And the contortions I had to go through in my mind and in person left me completely exhausted and unable to write a word yesterday. I couldn’t even nap!

And, of course, my medical system still doesn’t have someone with expertise in ME/CFS I can talk to – I continue to be completely responsible for whatever self-care measures I can find and execute to deal with what, for convenience and so readers can understand because it’s FRESH, is exactly like what the Covid-19 long-haulers are discovering: no one knows enough to help them get themselves back after a virus, and for some it’s been almost a year.

Removing the stress isn’t a panacea

In many ways, it dumps you back into the situation you lived in before the stress started, but at a significantly lowered coping level.

There’s the long-neglected to do list.

There are the problems with money, which for some are an annoyance, but are a major new source of stress for those getting unexpected bills, do not have the expected income, or are even worried whether their investments will be ravaged by the stock market rollercoaster – and they will have to depend on their children to pay the bills because their nest egg will not get them through!

I won’t be able to relax completely about the election until Biden is IN the White House, either – too much nonsense has gone on.

There have been some new health challenges – notably the blood sugar rollercoaster (much better, thank you) – which consumed lots of time and caused much worry. The kind that RAISES blood pressure (yup, all stress reinforces other stress).

I don’t know how to get back to – or to – ‘normal.’

Nobody does.

My resilience has been challenged by 31 years of chronic illness.

And we’re still in lockdown, not particularly conductive to relaxing, abetted by the news that California’s screwed up bigtime. If you look at all the graphs, it is likely much of the soaring covid and covid death rates were NOT helped by Thanksgiving, and we’re about to repeat that with the year-end holidays.

We take it day by day.

But it’s been incredibly hard to write. To create NEW fiction. To find a time during the day when the brain is functional (not just in survival mode) so I can use it.

And ignore the guilt that comes from not using some of that ‘good brain time’ to do things that really should be done, and which I’ve been planning to do in the evenings AFTER writing – something that just keeps not happening.

Be kind to yourself

And everyone else.

Be especially kind to those who have been working because they have to – we have an amazing staff here, but they are human, are working under plague conditions, and have had to live with weekly testing, knowing some of their colleagues have tested positive, and that a mistake on their part might severely damage one of the old people in their care.

And don’t expect to get back to normal easily or quickly.

Because we don’t.

Stress stays there, like a phantom limb, even when it’s technically reduced or gone.

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The deadly accumulation of tiny things

I’VE BEEN DOING THE BEST THAT I CAN

For many reasons lately, I have been having trouble blogging, must less writing fiction.

It all came to a head about a week ago, when I realized I was having what I thought might be ‘attacks’ of very low blood sugar – and they scared me.

I’d wake up in the middle of the night, or realize after working for a while, and I hadn’t eaten in a while.

My body would be screaming at me, and I felt as if I would pass out if I didn’t eat something THAT INSTANT.

The process of getting food in me – any food in me – was fraught and frightening: I would start eating something easy like cottage cheese, and not stop until I had consumed a couple hundred calories, and then would sit there in the kitchen, shaking, until it took hold, or diverted the blood from my panicky brain to digesting what I had just eaten, or whatever – but it would leave me trembly for what seemed hours after.

So after several days of this, and on the weekend,

I promised my husband I would contact the doctor, and, as the online appointment page offered me a video visit at 9:45 Monday morning, I took it, and was waiting when the doctor tuned in.

Best visit to a doctor of my life: I hate doctor appointments after over 31 years of a chronic disease that I’ve never had help with, and this time it was in the comfort of my own office and computer, and, through some twist I never figured out, the video took up a very small fraction of my screen, and his head was smaller than a passport photo.

Long story short, as every doctor under the sun (it seems), he wants me to entirely change the way I eat.

I said no. It works for me.

But afterward, I got to thinking, and sent him an email suggesting that since we had a blood glucose meter, I could take measurements for a while at different times of day, and maybe figure out what was going on. Other alternatives would involve a hospital stay – something I’m hoping to avoid right now – and the effort required to change my entire system of eating is not something I would undertake unless all else has failed AND he guaranteed it would work. Not likely.

Let the games begin

I spent the next morning after husband picked up some new supplies (his were from 2013) getting the system to work.

I called our nurse. Took the meter down to her office.

She took it down to Skilled Nursing, where no one is allowed right now who doesn’t work or live there, not even friends and family.

She said the meter didn’t work – gave errors – BUT she brought me back in a tiny plastic meds cup a single drop of the control solution (glucose in solution at a particular concentration), and Maggie and I brought it back to the apartment.

Courtesy of good planning (and luck), I had one of the lithium batteries the device needed, and it worked, and I was able to test the monitor with the control solution drop!

Now for individual measurements

I learned the whole make a hole in yourself and gently squeeze a drop of blood out of your finger thing, which I hope not to have to do ever again after this, and started recording both the measurements, and the things which might affect my blood sugar levels: when I ate, whether I felt particularly shaky, how long it had been since I slept (I take at least three naps a day lately), what I ate (though I’m not planning on altering that, and it was mostly low carb stuff).

It’s a real racket: the test strips are $1 apiece, and you need a new one for each drop you test (unless you mess the drop up, and then the spare works sometimes). The little lancets (poky things) aren’t supposed to be reused. And the control solution (I have some coming in the mail from Walmart) was $15 for two 4oz. bottles. And here’s the kicker: you’re supposed to test your meter once a month (or when you think the results are messed up), AND discard the opened bottle after three months, and I defy anyone to use up that much liquid in three months!

I don’t see how diabetics manage their testing.

In any case, I now have a solid week of about 5-10 measurements a day, and I will sort them out in Excel, graph them, analyze the graph and notes, and send a copy off to the doctor.

But the answer is

that although my blood sugar IS lower when I’m feeling very shaky and unhappy, it is NOT low enough to be classified as clinically low. Even when I felt I had to respond this very instant, it was probably me overreacting.

Now I measure, and then I eat if necessary, but I’ve also relaxed enough to realize it is very uncomfortable, but I’m NOT going to pass out, and even at the worst, I can actually breathe through it and handle it rationally.

Which is where the accumulation of tiny things comes in:

This has not been a normal year.

I needn’t list the things that have happened, or the continual stress of being locked down or the reason for the lockdown.

The worry about whether loved ones were okay has been huge; some were not, which was even worse.

And I’m sure this was my version of covid fatigue: the stress level got so high that a slightly (okay, it was scary and not little) exaggerated feeling of doom accompanied the more frequent occurrence of something uncomfortable and frightening of episodes that have been happening all along.

And I’d been making them worse without realizing it.

Because my brain stops working when I eat, and then I have to take a nap to restore it to even remotely usable conditions, I was postponing eating as long as I could, hoping to get some writing done.

Which led to

So when I finally had to admit I had to eat, we were at full-blown hunger – and the lowest of my normal range blood sugar range – and it took time to recover. A lot of time. Even after eating.

I might have been able to shorten that time had I been willing to eat something with sugar in it, but that also messes with my brain, with consequences sometimes lasting more than 24 hours, and I didn’t want to start down that path. So I accidentally made things much worse – and then freaked out over it.

I told the husband. I told no one else until I talked to the doctor.

We all try not to worry the offspring, right?

But I have been in a high dudgeon state, and of course incapable of writing fiction. OR blogging. Or, indeed, anything except wondering if this was going to be it.

I’m not even sure they would check for low blood sugar if I ended up in an ambulance, and husband wouldn’t be allowed to go in with me. Which added to the worries, as, if it’s really low, and not corrected, you can literally die.

When I had to deal with it because it happened at 3-4am, I was not in the best state to be rational – sleep deprivation does that.

And, as usual, the solution, eating, was putting on weight – and I already have to deal with that, and no, I do NOT seek help from doctors for that: their success rate, long-term, is 2%, though somehow EVERY SINGLE TIME you see one they mention you should lose weight, as if it were something you could decide one night, and have done with by the morning.

So I also have not much to write about or post about.

Us being in the middle of an unchanging physical, global, and electoral nightmare.

And California, which had seemed to be doing okay, is now having most regions almost to the highest pandemic status, including the Greater Sacramento area, and is no more free of covid problems than the rest of the nation.

If you’ve ever done a stress inventory (you should – find one online), I know my stress levels (with an easy life in a nice place and people bringing me dinner every night) are in the DANGER ZONE. I can only imagine what it’s like for others who don’t have our resources, who have to go to work, whose children are in school, who have a relative or friend in the hospital or who work in one.

I apologize for the self-centered nature of the above half-assed post.

It’s all I got right now.

That, and watching the sales graph at Amazon: sold two ebooks this month! After nothing for several months before that. And it isn’t going to get any better until I finish book 2 and revisit the complete marketing problem – from website (prideschildren.com – don’t go; it’s very rough right now), to ads, to finding more reviews (pretty please – if you’ve ever planned to write one, now would be very nice).

I’m really trying to get to the VERY good end of this volume. Can’t wait.

I am glad to put this scare behind me, and hope to be able to create more than a few words of fiction every day, because I can’t wait to get to the end of this one.


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Let me know how you’re all coping with stress, and if you have stories of how it’s pushed you far out of your comfort zone.


Recommend PC to a friend if you were always planning to do that.

Bye for now. I have no idea when you’ll hear from me again, but I really miss you.


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Nothing stays resolved long enough to write

I KEEP STARTING POSTS THAT GO NOWHERE

My apologies for being lost – missing in non-action.

Every time I start settling into a topic something happens.

Often it makes what I was going to write pointless.

The pandemic is a rollercoaster

Over 250,000 dead – and we’re pretending it’s not happening, led from the top?

Over 11,000,000 cases – and that’s only ones that are caught and tallied?

We’re heading into the winter flu season – conditions will be ripe for passing on ALL kinds of viruses and germs – so the numbers that are already horrifying me are going to get much, much worse.

And people (!?!) are still planning to get together for Thanksgiving in the USA after the reports from the Canadian Thanksgiving which showed surges from people getting together and spending time in interior spaces without masks.

Do we really have to repeat or exceed the 50,000,000 worldwide deaths from the 1918 flu?

It’s bad enough that we’re repeating the behavior from 1918.

Oh, and they’re starting to talk of triage in hospitals, and letting the weak and old and disabled and ill die first again. People like me.

Election results are a rollercoaster

I don’t even want to go there.

I avoid even the reputable news sources closer to neutral and accurate reporting because they are telling us everything, because we need to be able to find out, but I can’t take it any more.

It took me forever to figure out the ‘Opinion’ pieces on The Washington Post are only that, someone’s opinion.

They aren’t news or truth or even remotely accurate just because other part of the newpaper are supposed to be unbiased reporting.

Their headlines sit there and jangle me.

Every previous (well, in my memory – since about 1969 when I moved to the States) ex-president or failing candidate conceded, called and congratulated the winner of the election, and made plans – for the good of the nation. Power alternated between parties, and legislatures were not necessarily of the same party.

And it will be months of this wrangling, while we hold our breath and the departing administration tries to lock in its failures or perceived gains, instead of moving on.

The lockdown at our little CCRC is a rollercoaster

We have lost and gained and lost again:

  • the outdoor pool
  • the indoor pool
  • the gym
  • meetings of a certain size
  • dining in the dining room with friends
  • use of public rooms, the arts room, and the various lounges
  • singing

and every other resident activity that makes living in this kind of retirement community a pleasure.

Some have returned via TV or zoom; others will have to wait.

And people still have not mastered the simple requirement of wearing a mask that covers NOSE AND MOUTH, ALL the time, and not handling things like the microphone.

We have had relatively few cases – but we have had some, and we go in fear that something will change or get worse.

My personal life is a rollercoaster

Some of it is probably stress, and continued stress, and never really being able to relax from stress.

My pain meds – which I always used to toss down the hatch with some water without thinking much about it – have been giving me major trouble. I think it’s finally become impossible for me to take them on an empty stomach (I would often remember to take the night ones right before bed).

With all the time I have, I can’t count on myself to be functional, and it seems to take huge amounts of attention to find myself with a couple of hours during which I can focus. I hope that gets better.

But we’re heading into WINTER, and I know I am highly affected by the shortening of the days. It is worse because I am already a night owl, insomnia seems to be part of the package, and, if I go to bed at 6am, and sleep until 11 or 12, and then need an afternoon nap or two, I have precious few hours exposed to daylight.

I should be arranging for a couple of surgeries, one relatively minor (but nothing is minor when you’re a slow healer), one significant – and I don’t want to go anywhere near a hospital right now.

There is some POSSIBILITY that research into post-covid long-haulers MIGHT deliver some results for those of us with ME/CFS – but nothing much has appeared yet, and it’s a long-odds hope. More likely: the new sick people with symptoms like mine will overwhelm the available medical systems – which have nothing to offer them because they’ve never developed it for people like me.

All that is hard to manage on a day to day basis

And I can’t plan, and I can’t count on myself, and I can’t see my kids, and I can’t help anyone.

But I am managing to write a few words when I’m not oscillating like a tuning fork.

And after 31 years, I at least have the ability to know that if it’s a while yet, I’ll survive, and not go completely off the rails because of ‘pandemic fatigue.’

And that is why I haven’t blogged much.

I’ll get there. We’ll all get there, those of us who survive, but it’s a rollercoaster.

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Cabin fever requires getting out of the retirement community

THE BIG EXCITEMENT: RIDING MY TRIKE FOR FLU SHOT

I rode over to my flu-clinic appointment, and rode through the drive-by on my trike, Trixie, because we have been in California since Aug. 2018, and haven’t bought a car.

And haven’t yet acquired driver’s licenses.

We were doing okay with Uber and Lyft until the pandemic; now I’m not taking that chance.

I’m practically never leaving the premises except for a short trike ride occasionally – and everything out there looks perfectly normal (I stay on the greenway, don’t get off the trike).

A few days later, the medvan took me to my cardiologist appointment with Maggie2 – and I decided to just ride her home – and took a few pastoral pictures on the way home.

Beautiful day, almost too hot in the sun, and yes, I wore my helmet (not that I usually bother – I go about a mile an hour; you can walk faster).

When you don’t hear from me

it’s because I haven’t had much to say for one of two reasons:

  1. I’m bummed, the body isn’t working, and I can only stare at the screen and feed myself, or
  2. I’m writing!

Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD lost about two years to us moving. I started it in 2016, and had hoped to finish it in 5 years instead of the 15 it took PURGATORY, but I hadn’t planned on the move.

No matter – the new insight I have into how my body works is letting me have a few more usable hours, and I’m plugging along, as slow as usual during the actual time the brain is on (I do a LOT of work preparing for a scene, consume many hours in the writing, and spend gobs of time editing).

So it takes up most of my days to get some usable time around the limitations, but lately the words are coming out the way I like them to, and I am about to finish another chapter.

The ‘real world’ is crazy

Between the pandemic and the politics, and us being in lockdown with pool hours only available mid-morning, right in the middle of my writing time, and me still spending hours staring at the screen, I’m surprised I’m getting a single word on a page.

My secret is Freedom – and the self-discipline to block the internet for a set of hours, with no way to get more than the few sudokus I set up before I start (for breaks).

FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT TO WRITE is my motto.

(me)

And fight WordPress for the right to blog my words my way. Mostly I win.

We are being allowed a little other freedom

We can have dinner on the outside terrace by La Brisa, our alternate dining venue.

We can have dinner with ONE other person or couple in the regular dining room, with the tables now very far apart, and our temperature checked before we sit down, going in one door of the dining room and out the other (which, due to the design of this place, requires us to go down from the Third Floor by the Central Elevator to the First Floor, walk a fair distance, and take the East Elevator up to the Fourth Floor where we live.

They tell us it’s Yolo County rules. It’s supposed to keep people from bunching up. But they still do it when we’re the last seating.

We had dinner with friends yesterday, for the first time since March, and will be having dinner with different friends next Saturday – assuming no one gets ill.

And we’re still using the outdoor pool (Yolo County again), but I had to get out after 20 minutes because it is way too cold, and I couldn’t take it any more. Slightly better than nothing.

In other news

And we went to a wedding in Boulder, CO, by zoom because our son and new daughter-in-law (finally) have decided to postpone the reception but had the wedding. It was lovely. Parents and sibling on both sides, and the bride’s grandmother. California, Texas, and New York were represented.

There will be a party when it’s safe – they have a venue date for October of NEXT year.

And that’s about it except for compulsive news reading (NYT, WaPo, a few others) about the pandemic, and we’ve sent our ballots in by mail and the State of California confirms they have been received.

I hope the nightmare is over. Nobody is taking it for granted.

What a year!

And this is why I don’t blog when nothing has been happening – it’s boring!

My lovely beta reader is expecting, and they have had three hurricanes go over their heads lately (Gulf Coast-ish).

And the fires are mostly out around here.

The other night when I couldn’t sleep I felt an earthquake rattle the bed – it was a 2.7 (tiny to those of us brought up in Mexico City), the person at the Front Desk didn’t feel it, and the Earthquake reporting site had it as happening about ten kilometers from here.

Hope you are all having a more exciting life than I am – and stayed safe over Halloween!

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Write a good book, they said

ALL STORIES ARE ABOUT LOVE

Humans are born needing love to survive – ‘failure to thrive’ may even be a cause of death when there is not enough love, in the form of feeding, holding, keeping warm, for an infant to want to live.

If that love isn’t present ‘enough’ by a certain age, it may never be recovered. Adults who have survived have significant problems. The Romanian children kept in orphanages and later adopted often were incapable of attaching to their new parents, parent who were not prepared to deal with them and their special needs.

Distinguishing between a Romance and a mainstream love story

like Pride’s Children is critical for my advertising, and it is something I still have a very hard time with.

Romance readers do not like Pride’s Children.

The negative reviews I have come from people whose expectations were not met.

And that’s my fault – because something I did caused them to EXPECT a Romance.

Romance readers have very clear ideas of what they want:

  • a relationship between TWO people
  • relatively short books
  • more of the same only different – from the same author
  • an HEA (happily ever after) or at least HFN (happy for now) endings
  • and in some cases, a form of point of view that alternates, in the same scene, between the points of view of the two characters
  • covers which indicate the kind of Romance enclosed within, from chaste to steamy
  • recommendations from Romance websites

There are many variations and compilations, but those are the basics from what I can discern.

I wish I wrote Romance – it is in some ways much easier to signal what a book is, and to market.

There is also a huge amount of competition!

A mainstream love story is a different beast

Even though Gone With the Wind is often listed as a Romance (and ‘Romance’ is what all novels used to be designated), it is not: no happy ending, not even a HFN. NOT a relationship between two people – Ashley Wilkes is in the middle for most of the book. And no head-hopping: the point of view is firmly locked on Scarlett for the whole story, but in a limited, not very intimate, omniscient way.

I’d call GWTW a mainstream love story, even a fairly literary one.

And I think that is the key to its enduring success.

At the end, we ache for Scarlett, for ‘tomorrow is another day,’ for her transformation, for her future – which made it irresistible for the Margaret Mitchell estate to allow a writer to take the story further.

Unfortunately, they picked a Romance writer, which I believe was the wrong choice, and didn’t buy.

But the marketing… with the book’s fame, they could market it any way they wanted.

I don’t have that fame.

Traditional publishers might have known how to market Pride’s Children

Many things kept me from submitting Pride’s Children to an agent, trying to find a traditional publisher:

  • I’m deathly slow
  • Disability is handled in the story – at the time I was nearing a finish, disability only got lip service while being sort of categorized with ‘diversity’
  • I’m pathologically stubborn
  • I have believed the indie self-published path is better for a long time now
  • I dislike not having everything in my control
  • I was sure I would be getting, “Nice – but not for us right now” responses, as traditional publishers went with things they were more certain they could sell
  • I knew I would be asked to change certain elements of the story to something more palatable
  • I don’t like their royalty structure
  • If I break out, I want it to be because of what I did, and not for someone else to be able to claim the credit.

But not going traditional leaves me in charge of marketing and publicity.

And most indies do not write mainstream literary fiction!

So there is little path to follow, and that among mostly indie historical novelists; though if I end up taking as long as I seem to be, ‘historical’ may fit me. Depends on whether it is 25 or 50 years since the events happened, as 2005/6 is the timeframe. I’ll probably make 25 by the time I finish the third volume, but probably not be around for 50.

I am gleaning information and ideas from many sites and groups

None of them really appropriate.

I need to figure out how to ‘go viral,’ to capture the zeitgeist, to become popular.

While still having zero energy, fighting my body daily to get some writing brain time, and trying to blaze a trail.

I have ideas. I have sources and places to put ads (some of the previous ones were expensive disastrous messes). I get cannier and sneakier and more educated and more focused with each thing I try.

But it hasn’t been, and won’t be, easy.

The last attempt led me to USTO.gov (copyrights and trademarks and such) to make sure a phrase I will trademark wasn’t being used already.

It isn’t.

But the cost is not zero, and the category I fit in right now – intent-to-use – won’t last long enough for my purposes, so I’m not revealing it until I’m ready to use it. Meanwhile, I will be on tenterhooks.

Which brings me full circle:

‘Write a good book,’ they said.

But never said that part of that may make it extremely hard to sell.

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As usual, comments are very welcome – and I love getting suggestions.

Also, my thanks to Stencil for their graphics software and ability to have a free account for up to ten images a month.

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Taming brain fog and the vagal nerve wave

Surfers

WORKING AGAINST THE INEVITABLE IS EXHAUSTING

The instructions for getting to shore safely when caught in a riptide are to let the current take you where it will, while swimming slowly across, until you’re out of its grasp.

If you try anything like fighting the current, you will drown after you become exhausted, unless one of those nice fit lifeguards sees you and gets to you in time.

Because the current is stronger than you are – by many orders of magnitude.

What is brain fog?

If you have to ask, you haven’t had it. I’m glad for you.

It is feeling, within your own skull, that you just can’t think.

That your brain is in there somewhere, maybe, but you can’t get to it. Other names are chemobrain, fibrobrain, stupor, …

No matter what you seem to try, you can’t get out of the fog – and you can’t think.

It can be caused by illness. By medication. By sleep deprivation. By eating or drinking too much or the wrong thing.

It is a huge part of life with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomielitis/chronic fatigue syndrome).

It robs you of hours of time.

Healthy people may have ways of exercising through it. Some people can take a stimulant like caffeine to focus and wake up, or ADHD meds.

Rest SHOULD help, but for people like me is often not restorative.

And what is this thing you’re calling a vagal wave?

The vagus nerve enervates much of your body, from the spinal column up to your brain, and out to your limbs. Including innards you don’t have conscious control over, such as your digestive system.

It covers so much territory, it’s hard to know exactly where the sensations are coming from sometimes.

I get periods of time, long ones, when it feels like a wave motion is going on in my body, and all I can do is sit there and let it do its thing. Sometimes painful (the meds after stents caused a horrible case of constant waves of pain in the gut), sometimes not.

When I sit in front of the computer screen, ready to write or focus or think, but the waves are going, all I can do is to grit my teeth and live through them, hour upon hour.

But I’m a problem solver by nature and training

and I finally was able to pay enough attention to the combination of not being able to think, and feeling as if I was in an aquarium (the modern kind with waves).

Data is essential for problem solving, both to identify what’s going on, and then, when you come up with solutions, to see if you’ve managed to change something.

And I finally collected enough data (over months of not being able to write very often), to see some correlations.

I have to eat. We all do. And I can’t think starving, so I can’t postpone the eating TOO much, plus I seem to get these shaky periods of low blood sugar if I put off eating too long, and then it’s an emergency to eat something.

I don’t eat many carbs, so it baffled me – sugar messes with my brain, and the day after eating sugar there’s no way any thinking is going to happen. I don’t even bother trying any more.

But I FINALLY noticed

that 10-30 minutes after I EAT, the waves start, and the brain fog.

I used to try to push through – and the only result of that was to spend hours in that state.

I tried taking naps when I got tired – but they weren’t organized or planned, and the effects didn’t seem to correlate with anything; it was just something I HAD to do.

And I finally figured it out:

My damaged and severely limited energy metabolism doesn’t have enough at any given time to do BOTH: keep me awake and functioning (or even get there), and digesting my food.

It took some tweaking, but I have found a system which takes advantage of my need for napping and my need for food, and times them so that they don’t conflict.

So now I run a time-share

I get up, drink First Diet Coke, and try to get a bit of writing or organizing done before I eat anything.

When hunger tends to shut me down – anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours later – I prepare for the next phase: I eat something (mostly protein), but I start getting ready for the changeover from thinking to digesting. I take notes so I can pick up easily when I come back.

And when I feel the waves starting, I get into my jammies, pull the shades, turn the lights off and add an eyemask to block external stimuli, and get in bed.

I set a timer for 35 minutes.

If the wave approach is gentle, I’ll do a quick range-of-motion set, a couple of minutes worth.

If the approach is sudden and severe, I just crash. I used to fear this part – now I just realize I dragged my feet too much.

Lights out. Body temperature drops abruptly (ergo, the jammies). Sometimes deep sleep, sometimes a coma-like state.

The digestive part of the vagus nerve’s control takes over – and I don’t get in its way. No reading. No TV. NO COMPUTER. No trying to think, or push through it, or ignore it.

Just give in.

And when the alarm goes off

I get up, stretch a bit. Get some water, and Second Coke, and NO FOOD.

And within minutes I’m functional again (inasmuch as I’m ever functional), and I can usually work/write for an hour or two until I’ve used up my nap energy, and need food again.

I try not to do Third Coke after Second Nap – that’s too much caffeine for the day (each can is about 45mg of caffeine – peanuts compared with a cup of coffee or an energy drink, but it’s about as much as I can tolerate at a time without getting scarily shaky).

What I should do is not drink First Coke until after First Nap, but that has other physical problems related to it that I prefer not to go into here.

For years I’ve taken 3-5 of these 35 minute naps every day.

And I ALWAYS wake up in a better state than I laid down in.

But this is the first time I’ve coordinated all the pieces, and added the realization that DIGESTION TAKES PHYSICAL ENERGY.

And that my energy supplies are so low, I can’t afford to have the processes of thinking and starting digestion going at the same time.

I’ve been testing this system for the past week

I’m only taking 1-2 naps most days – probably because they are at the right time.

Eating is the trigger – every time. I hadn’t realized how strong it is as a trigger. Though it makes perfect sense: you eat, your body starts digestion. Duh!

Not having a good night’s sleep can cost me the first workable period, and, on a bad sleep night, I may not be able to recover the following day at all.

If I exercise at all – and right now we’re only allowed to use the pool in a predetermined half-hour slot during the 8-11am time – even if it’s the gentlest possible stretching in water – most or all of the rest of the day is shot, because I can’t make up that energy. So the two swim days a week are going to be non-writing days, most likely. Evening would work, but the county rules for the pandemic require a staff person supervising, and the facility is only providing that on weekdays in the morning. Before, I used the pool alone whenever I wanted to, and it was usually in the late afternoon or evening.

If I try to defeat the system and push through, all I do is foul everything up, and get neither rest nor functionality nor good digestion. Timing is critical, as is diversion of energy from one stream to the other.

I might have figured it out sooner

if I had a readout somewhere on my body of both energy usage and remaining stored energy.

I’ve been fighting this battle for years, but I never got quite the data until I noticed the crash after eating – and thought about it. And then it made sense: I’m broken, but I still have some small amount of control.

What I need was all this pandemic isolation and time, and the frustration of the crashes, and some insight that I still don’t know where I got. I have time – lots of it – but was not making much progress in writing NETHERWORLD, except what felt like randomly.

And when the brain was there, I could write for a while – and then it would go.

The PRINCIPLE is the key

I have only enough energy for one process at a time.

I’m lucky I do. I think aging takes its toll, too, and I’m probably producing less energy, total, every year.

Many people with what I have don’t have even this amount to work with – and spend their days playing catch up, with task after basic task barely getting done.

I’ve written this in the hopes of saving someone else with this kind of severe energy deficiency management the years of figuring out how to make the most of their energy creation and storage capacity.

Please let me know if this is of any use.

And pray it makes me a faster writer – I really do well with my brain on!


My thanks to Stencil for the capacity to make interesting images for these posts. Give them your business if you need to produce this kind of image – they have lots more stuff available than the free accounts use.


Using Autocrit to combat combat fatigue

IF YOU DO YOUR OWN EDITING, BE MERCILESS

Despite the recommendations of every editor on the planet, some of us do our own*.

Editing’s no different from any of the other tasks a self-publisher tackles:

  • You are not going to do it perfectly
  • It is a skill – and you are not born with it
  • Learning has many steps
  • There are books which will teach you (or you can take a class)
  • It takes time to do it well
  • It is not inexpensive – if you count your time
  • The professionals started somewhere
  • The results are there for everyone to see
  • No matter what you do, someone will criticize you
  • There are objective standards – but not everyone agrees what they are
  • There is great satisfaction in doing it yourself

Why do your own editing?

Because, in the long run, everything you learn makes you a better writer. Because you can. Because it is always available, on your own time schedule, at your own price (but don’t forget that the time you spend editing might be better spent writing). Because you can’t afford what a good editor costs, and a bad one is useless.

In my case, because I am incapable of interacting with someone else about my own work. Call it a feature – or a bug.

How to have an editing program assist you

After I have almost everything written, polished, listened to, and in what I consider final form, I run it through AutoCrit – and all of the COUNTING it does for me:

  • Duplicate words.
  • Overused words.
  • Two-, three-, and four-word phrases repeated (ouch – unless deliberate).
  • Unusual words.
  • Cliches.
  • Generic words.
  • My own personal word list.
  • Adverbs.

Each and every one of these flagged items gets put through a wringer: Context. Intent. The possibility of synonyms, and a consideration of nuance. Number of repetitions. Whether the repetition is by accident or design.

In other words, everything that has bitten me before.

What I don’t let it ‘help’ me with

Anything else.

Why? Because I don’t trust its judgment on ‘passive voice,’ or ‘subject verb agreement,’ or ‘tense.’ Or ‘readability.’

I have a set, but complex, style. Autocrit doesn’t see italics, for example, but I signal to the reader that something is a direct thought by changing to first person and putting the text in italics. So if you read:

There is no way I’m telling him that.

you’ll know it’s a more intense thought, in those exact words, than general internal monologue:

She wasn’t going to tell him that.

It’s too complicated for an automatic program.

But the counting alone is an amazing help for me

When and where I need it.

This is my reason for having a lifetime membership – my brain is tired more than lazy all the time due to chronic illness and disability, so I let it serve up the most convenient word WHEN WRITING. But I’m not going to let first words stand – not without a raze-to-the-ground fight.

Because my readers deserve the best I can provide on the LANGUAGE side of the writing.

Self-editing with a program is a tool

It takes a fair amount of time per scene, but I think of it as the best investment of that time I can make, because the final product is improved in so many ways. I look for strong verbs instead of verb + adverb combinations, more precise nouns instead of common nouns, and also places where I can reinforce a motif or thread I want to keep.

And I don’t have to count or do the time-consuming searches because Autocrit is merciless.

Last tip

After the scene is polished through this process, I put it through several of the steps one final time – because I have had the experience of working on synonyms and nuance, and finding out that to reduce the count of one way of saying things, I have increased the count of another!

*Adapted from an online comment – you may have seen some of this material before.

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Do you use an editing program to improve your own writing?

How?

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Forcing my body to obey me

Sunset picture from my balcony, pinks and blues
Sunset past the Fall Equinox

WRITING FICTION REQUIRES THE BEST I’VE GOT

And when I don’t have it, the fiction doesn’t done.

It’s frustrating.

It’s also my life, and, if nothing else, that life has given me Pride’s Children, and so I forgive it.

Writing posts that reveal

I have two almost complete posts:

Laying out my writing wares for the passersby

and

Tagline, logline, pitch are the hardest writing ever

both of which are my brain kicking up something I’ve been resisting: serializing Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Why? Because it is half finished, and I only had 40 finished scenes when I started serializing PURGATORY, and I have well over that for this book.

These posts are pending until I make the big decisions.

The first book was serialized several places, a new finished scene every Tuesday for two years. Read that again, and realize that, for someone as physically and mentally challenged as I am, that kind of commitment – which I fulfilled – is almost the same as spitting into the wind.

I honestly don’t know if it helped me write, or helped me focus. But I do know I finished.

At the time I hadn’t published anything else, so there was no sense of bravado – no one would probably care if I didn’t finish the story, the scenes didn’t get published on schedule, or I disappeared into the unpublished ether as a debut author.

Other publishing tasks got done simultaneously

During that same time, I learned Pixelmator and worked with J.M. Ney-Grimm, who kindly mentored me in producing my cover, a process which took a whole summer.

And I learned all the editing and formatting and proofing and layout tasks needed to produce an ebook and a print version. ALL. Seems a little foolhardy looking back – a rank amateur attempting a story which will be as long as GWTW when I’ve finished the third, as yet unnamed, volume.

Many of these tasks turned out to be easier for me to teach myself, at my own slow pace, than to find someone and communicate with them to get what I needed. For someone with a damaged brain, explaining is as hard as doing, and a LOT more expensive, so I just plowed through.

It should be easier the second time around

But it’s not. It’s harder – because there are expectations. And because the second book in a trilogy has to kick everything up a level – loosening up or staying flat aren’t options.

And, never fear, the kicks have been planned into the structure – but they are also harder to write.

And I’m older, and have been damaged longer

And there’s a pandemic going on, and a heated election, and a world going up in a different kind of flames.

The body’s older. The brain’s older than when I started this particular story – in 2000. If I weren’t so slow, I would have been long finished by now. GWTW took Margaret Mitchell ten years; I’ve already been at this twenty.

Serializing is a promise

But the idea of serializing again, only now with possibly more readers because they’ve read PURGATORY, excites me.

That, and developing the website for the books. (I have found a marvelous little book called Making Your Website Work: 100 Copy & Design Tweaks for Smart Business Owners, by Gill Andrews, just packed with good ideas I can’t wait to try.)

And publishing and making available as a reader magnet the Pride’s Children prequel short story, Too Late, which was a featured story on Wattpad, all this is exciting.

And I’ll put PURGATORY on sale periodically via Kindle Countdown, so that anyone reading something they like on the prideschildren.com website serialization can get PURGATORY, read and catch up, and enjoy knowing what happened before.

Just in case something happens to me

This is something any author involved in a several-book project right now has to take into account: not making it.

Many a series out there has been ended prematurely when the author clocks out for one reason or another, and Covid-19 is very hard on people in my age and disability cohort. So I will do a ‘Pride’s Children finish file,’ where I flesh out, just a bit, the structure of the remainder of the story, and leave instructions with my literary executor to provide the file to those who have signed up to follow the serial. Not as good as finishing, but, in my mind, a whole lot better than leaving it up to the readers’ imaginations.

Coming full circle to the title of this post

Forcing my body to obey me.

I am in the middle of a great experiment to work with the many problems, and use some of the features of a medication (ldn, low-dose naltrexone) tweak, to have more usable brain time every day.

I’m already getting a couple of pool dips, and possibly a trike ride – to keep things functioning – every week.

And I’m using the data I record about how things go to see if I can’t figure out a more usable schedule that caters to my dysfunctionalities instead of fighting them. For some reason (recent successes?), I feel I might be able to do that now.

I won’t start serializing until I’m sure, but it’s been my dream since we moved to USE the increased time I have here at URC, and during the pandemic when the social life is restricted, to finish the books, and then take a break from the writing to market more extensively.

Time’s passing, time’s awasting.

Cross your fingers for me!

A brief survey

  • If you had a favorite book coming out with the same process that I use, a finished scene at a time, would you read it that way?
  • Some readers won’t tackle something that is unfinished; but would the ‘finish file’ concept reassure you?
  • If you’re a writer, have you had any experience with serializing – and how did it go?

I would love to have your answers in the comments.


EXTREME PLOTTER’s dilemma: following through to the end

EXTREME PLOTTERS KNOW THE END

Somewhere in the process of writing the book, whether at the very beginning (I did), or somewhere along the path because things seem confused and nonsensical otherwise, a plotter looks for the story structure, and makes some important decisions.

They are not cast in pig iron.

They can, in principle, be changed – many a novel has ended up somewhere else.

But the extreme plotter makes few decisions lightly, because it will affect everything else in the story if structural changes are made.

The point of plotting is to free the imagination to create

And it does.

A solid structure makes it easier for some of us to launch the flights of fancy that say ‘this is how this happens,‘ because it will fit the rest of the story, and connect the pieces that go through it to what came before and will go after.

But it doesn’t account for dragging your feet

If you find out you don’t want to write something.

For whatever reason, the plan is going to cause you angst.

You, the writer.

You are going to read this later and weep.

You are going to allow something to happen that you will forever look to and say you wish it hadn’t happened. In fact, you are going to create it that way.

When you planned what was going to happen to these people

you didn’t know them as well as you do now, when the setup that has been coming for 267,000 words leads to an action at least one of the characters will regret – and you made them do it.

It is still perfectly logical, from that setup, that they will do it.

But you don’t wanna.

The logic is unassailable.

You cannot get to the END any other way.

Believe me, I tried.

But now the actual deed must be done, the betrayal executed, the trap laid sprung, the consequences invoked.

It is daunting to someone who is happier when the world and people work their problems out in some reasonable way: all three main characters will be forced through the wringer, and each one will have to do something they don’t want to do.

I lost my nerve there for a while

For some reason, it helps to spell it out and then share the process and the details that cause me agita.

I have known this day was coming from Day #1.

As few details may change in the actual telling.

But it’s happening, and it’s my fault, and I am not lifting a finger to save these characters from their destiny.

I’ll accept responsibility, but they’re going to that end, kicking and screaming.

Thanks for listening.


I think it’s all part of life, real and writer’s.

Please weigh in.


Sparing your characters pain that’s necessary

IT’S UP TO THE WRITER TO FORCE GROWTH

Characters you create become like children: you worry about them, you care what happens to them, you’re concerned when they come home late from some unsavory place.

But the hardest thing you do for them is to force them to grow – because without change in at least some of the characters, nothing much is happening, and there is no story worth telling.

Characters grow like all people:

By confronting and dealing with problems.

By coming across situations that force them to think.

By finding themselves in situations where they have to make a decision.

What they don’t tell you is that the writer is responsible for planning and guiding and forcing change.

For building the obstacles that are so hard to overcome.

And for making them almost impossible to survive.

When you start a story

You have a general idea of who your characters are and will become – you create them to tell a particular story.

You ask, ‘What if…?’

And you make up people, based on what you know about humanity in general, and maybe some models in particular.

But even though you realize in general that you will be putting them through Hell, it’s not personal yet.

While writing a story

You flesh out the people who are acting in it, and, to be able to write them, you become them, you let them use your body and your mind to tell their part of the story.

You channel the character.

And then you observe very carefully what they actually do, and put it in the best words you can come up with.

And you come to that old saw, ‘This hurts me more than it hurts you,’ and you do it anyway, you hurt them – and you feel like a cad for doing it, but it has to be done.

Knowing you’re only hurting yourself, and that maybe, for this once, more than in life, it actually does matter. It is necessary to get to where you’re taking them.

And at the end

If you’ve done your job properly.

If every step is motivated.

If every step is not optional.

Your readers will forgive you.

And maybe agree with you: it had to be done.


Every morning I reconnect my self

A rising red sun seen from a balcony; the red is due to the 2020 California fires
Red sun at morning; sailor take warning.

The reality is that reality is weird

I reconstruct who I am and what I’m connected to every day when I get up.

I’m discombobulated until I see what the world looks like, what the internet has to show.

When no one else is up, that’s when I sing. Because if I don’t do it periodically, now that we don’t go to church, and do not have our folksinging group, my vocal chords get weird, rough, scatchy – and it scares the heck out of me, because my singing voice, and the ability to sing loudly and well is still an important part of that ‘self.’

I am a singer.

This morning it was Bridge over troubled water a capella, with Simon and Garfunkle in my head.

And Root like a rose with Emmylou Harris on Youtube. And Abide with me, which we listened to in an Irish TV show with a burial. Lovely, but I had to work with it to get the lifts in the right place in the melody because I have lyrics and video – but no sheet music.

And The sisters of mercy with Leonard Cohen – beautiful gravelly voice on his own song.

And now I’m ready to face that part of the day.

The sun was so weird.

I went to check on the plants by our only east window, to see if they had enough water with the instrument I have. They did.

But in the window was the image above, EAST – not north or west – the rising sun was even more blood red, from the fires, than the image I captured after I fetched the iPhone.

Apocalyptic.

Somewhere in Pride’s Children PURGATORY it says something about the tourists too stupid to know that magnificent sunsets out over the Pacific are caused by air pollution.

But this was sunRISE, and in the opposite direction.

It just had to be food for thought.

I was up too early, couldn’t get back to sleep. I’ll crash later for a while.

Swimming has been canceled

Because they don’t want us exposed to the bad quality air, it is recommended that we not spend time outside right now, and of course the indoor pool was not made available.

Something about the county may be responsible for both: I’m not going to blame management – they’re trying.

We’ve been told to just let next week’s schedule’s signups be this week’s, so people don’t have to stand in line today to get a couple of slots next week.

I’m not going to complain about little restrictions when there are people losing their lives and their homes (including two of our staff members who live in Vacaville and lost their homes).

But I’ve really got to stop asking, “Now what?” Because it keeps coming up with ‘whats.’ The universe. Karma. Bad luck.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s best SF program

A MPB program to teach kids about libraries and the Dewey Decimal System – by using a SF story set in the future when actual books had disappeared. Prescient? Or just logical.

From The New Yorker:

If for some strange reason you’ve never heard of “Tomes and Talismans,” just know this: it’s quite possibly the finest post-apocalyptic educational series about library science ever produced by Mississippi Public Television.

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/library-science-fiction-tomes-and-talismans

This is from 1986.

The kids and I watched it when we homeschooled. We were talking with the offspring just last night, and it came up, and we all agreed it was pretty interesting (especially for its time) even if dated.

You can find the first episode on Youtube – but they never finished their promise to put it up for sale or viewing, so I left a message to that effect on the MPB Facebook page, and got the response, “Good idea!” when I suggested it was a good one for the kids during the pandemic – and their parents. We’ll see if anything happens.

Meanwhile, having an eldest educated at Caltech in Computer Science, I have been given a link to a place where I can see it.

The pigeons have tried to move in

For some unfathomable reason, some of the Davis pigeons have decided that our bare concrete fourth-floor balcony with a few folding chairs is a suitable place to spend time.

It wouldn’t be a problem except 1) they coo constantly, and 2) they poo constantly.

So I am using a plastic syringe and a container of water (because I can’t find my water pistol) to discourage them.

I sit by the window all day, attempting to write fiction. It cannot be done with a cooer in the background.

And now I am reconnected to the world and the internet, about to visit the Washington Post and The New York Times briefly to see how the pandemic is going, and try to get to work for the day. I’m getting very good at ignoring the stories, hitting just the terrible headlines and graphs.

So drop a line about how you reconnect with your self and your world every morning.

Or is it just me?


I have no idea where WordPress put Categories, so we don’t have any today.

I also don’t know where the list of previous Tags is stored, so I could choose them.


Locked down with the virus at the door

STRESSORS TO THE RIGHT OF US, STRESSORS TO THE LEFT

If you live in a retirement community, you are surrounded by vulnerable people – it is the nature of the beast.

Once you move here, they become your friends and neighbors, and you care what happens to them, to the facility, and to yourself in the place you have chosen for your ‘forever home.’

When you get the WEEKLY notice of the results of testing (the whole staff is now being tested once a week):

  1. A private duty aide tested positive.
    • We received results on 8/20.
    • We have not identified prolonged direct exposure to other staff members.
    • This individual provided care for 5 residents. Each of these individuals has been contacted and will be tested. None of these 5 residents are believed to have had any contact with other residents or staff.

and you realize that those in charge are thinking that they will have to continue ‘at least two more weeks as a result of the positive case,’ you also realize they are living in a dream world where, without treatment, cure, or vaccine, they think it’s going to get better – OR they’re saying that because they think WE might feel better – you realize you are living in a situation that you have no control over, and it will continue for a very long time to come.

Everyone is under stress ALL the time

We took the not-fun stress of getting older, old enough to move into a place where you are no longer responsible for a house and yard, and moved.

We haven’t recovered, not really, from the move.

We have never quite completely moved in – the assistant we were hiring is not permitted to come in and help because she is not considered ‘essential.’

The ‘private duty aides’ ARE essential – but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a life, a home, kids, families – and go home to them every day.

We live in a web of interconnections

The reason we are here is because we estimate that some point in the future we will need the help the aides provide, and it is much easier to do it through a facility than one of us caring for the other.

Our kids will probably never all live close, and we made this move so they wouldn’t become caretakers or even arrangers of care, because, with all the good will in the world, it is a humongous job to take care of parents.

None of us planned for such a far-reaching and deadly pandemic.

Je Ne Regrette Rien – moving was the right decision.

But we were going to move, dump the house and responsibilities, and travel – from a home base which we could just turn the key on and forget.

We’re in the age group where, if we take reasonable care, we could expect to live another 30 years. I want to go home to Mexico to visit my family. I want to find a way to do some gentle travel to Europe. If I ever get a bit better, I would love to ski again.

Or hike. Or camp (even in an RV instead of a tent).

With the kids, I want to do a family vacation every year, so they stay connected with us and with each other, and we have fun.

There has been a kink in the plans.

I struggle every day to write, while at the same time fully realizing that stress kills, and there is too much on everyone right now.

Here is a stress inventory.

It is good to take one periodically, to see if things are under control, and if they are getting better or worse.

IIRC, inventory numbers over 300 are practically a direct warning of major illness coming soon, and lower numbers are not ignorable.

I don’t dare take the inventory right now.

Instead, I am taking every possible relaxation approach to dealing with what I know is there.

An important part of dealing with stress is simply acknowledging it

And looking for a time in the (we hope near) future when it will be less.

Which is what we were aiming for, until the latest notice from the county which put the kibosh on using the outdoor pool (which was about to go from 3 to 5 days a week) – because of a new menace, FIRES!

And realizing that others have it far worse than we do.

So, when it gets stressful, I blog – and dump some of it.

Records, records, records

I’m also recording for posterity, as these post are part of the ‘accidental autobiography’ I’m creating by writing bits and pieces in a series of places: emails to friends, notes on the computer, annotations in the Production File I have open for every scene I write, blog posts, and the unlikely storage in social media.

I just requested a current copy of my Facebook information – and will store it on the external hard drive.

Wattpad deleted the forums – and did not give us a chance to do that – so I lost all my forum activity.

I did download everything I created for my Patreon account – some of which may be used again down the line if I serialize the second book, NETHERWORLD.

And I also realize that this is of importance to no one but myself.

And remind myself that I need to create a document for our children which summarizes the information about the family that they might like to have when we’re gone.

ASK YOURSELF what you need to do to reduce stress – and what you need to record for the future – and do it one of these days. Tell us in the comments!

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Laying out my writing wares for the passersby

I’m planning to revise the prideschildren.com site, and one of the things I’m mulling over is how does a fiction writer provide value for a visitor to her books’ site?

My personal blog here is all over the map, by design – the readers I hope to attract to buy and read Pride’s Children PURGATORY (Book 1), the prequel short story, and, as they are available, Books 2 and 3, NETHERWORLD and…? are not necessarily interested in my opinions and experiences as an recent inhabitant of a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC).

What do I hope for from readers of my fiction who get to the other site, say, from the link in the back of Book 1, or from a recommendation from a friend?

Without answering these questions, I have no hope of supplying these readers with something they value, preferably something they NEED.

What do my readers NOT need?

I decided to visit the Amazon reviews of several novels that could realistically be called ‘comps’ – books that by their general complexity, genre (contemporary mainstream), style (reasonably realistic), length (big fat books), and language (literary) are similar to Pride’s Children.

There I’m going to check out the negative reviews, and found what made readers unhappy. I’ll ignore the reviews which are too general, and look for specific buzz-killers.

And then I’ll pull some quotes from my own reviews (many fewer, of course) that point out I don’t commit these sins. If true.

Here’s the list, paraphrased for conciseness:

  • unbelievable due insufficient character development
  • The sentences, paragraphs, passages… all just SO incredibly long
  • I got halfway through and I felt as if nothing happened
  • There was not a single character that I cared about
  • The dishonesty of most characters was so out of my comfort level
  • two of the least interesting characters I’ve ever encountered in literature
  • digs in to all the nasty-ness entailed in living a life of degrading self abuse via abuse of various substances
  • I made it to page 354 and then skipped, skipped, skipped
  • a blow-by-blow, second-by-second rendering of the narrator’s life
  • I thought it would never end
  • I simply didn’t enjoy the story enough to appreciate the pages and pages about the meaning of life.
  • Lacks: an interesting narrative, a plot, a satisfying ending
  • pretentious, long winded, tiresome, tepid novel
  • unedited and rambling and somehow that’s supposed to make it literary
  • why did it take [almost 800] pages to tell that story
  • filled with so many ludicrous plot holes that it’s just not something I can stomach
  • a descent into a bottomless well of self-pity, gloom, and urban angst
  • the punctuation and structure of sentences is horrid to the point that it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to follow the thought process of the author
  • there are missing words, wrong words and misspelled words throughout the book
  • goes on about [X or Y topics] too long
  • … talks about how precarious [character’s] finances are and yet they live in a [very fancy place], take cabs everywhere and seem to eat out all the time.
  • …why wasn’t author consistent?
  • illogical transportation
  • The character’s conversations were completely unbelievable. He’s supposed to be a X, give him the voice, thoughts and mannerisms of X!
  • Author seemed to be grandstanding about how much she knows about Z.
  • I find the reference … overly coy. Just name it, or make up a name.
  • [Plot point] was excruciatingly long (not in a you-are-there way; in a boring and overly-lengthy way) and repetitive. Author could have accomplished so much more with so much less.
  • Author overused words that tend to jump out at the reader like “loitering” and “grappling.” Does author not own a Thesaurus? It would be so easy to substitute synonyms…

From my reviewers (completely unprompted – I didn’t know these readers when I wrote PC):

  • I just read PC in 10 hours straight, and I am speechless.
  • …you have managed the best instance of “the story is not finished, but this segment of it feels finished” that I have ever encountered.
  • just wanted to say its VERY GOOD, and what an ironic and sharp eye you have for le mot juste, and the silence pregnant. Very enjoyable, no sign of the damaged mind but I resonate strongly with your main character
  • I had meant to read up on it ages ago and just never did, so I glommed everything last week. Now i’m like, damn it, i have to WAIT for more?! Noooooooooooooooo
    So just keep it up. No pressure of adoring fans or anything.
  • Very character-driven, very slow burn, very subtle. I loved it. The characters are rich and real. The scenes build upon one another with clear purpose. The writing is exquisitely careful.
  • I read chapter 1 out of curiosity, chapter 2 out of interest; the rest of the story will keep me up all night. Beautiful.
  • I put it off because it didn’t really seem like my kind of story. But I loved it. You did a great job.
  • Your writing puts me in mind of the classics only in modern era. Those are the stories that will live forever. They scream for detail and need the long way around.
  • Pride’s Children has helped me to look inside myself and see many things I need to see and deal with. I have never read a work of fiction that has touched me so powerfully! I love it and will be rereading many times. You did not cause any pain .
    You gave me increased awareness of myself.

  • Just finished reading and posted a review on Amazon. I loved it! I’m impressed by the infinite care that you put into it, the choice of words (so sensitive!) and the absolute lack of typos, that’s something of a record!

And more.

Is tooting your own horn a good or a bad thing?

In the indie writer world, if the author doesn’t do it, it doesn’t happen.

I didn’t write the words in the section above – I somehow inspired them. I have permission from their authors to use them any way I want.

It still feels like something my mother would disapprove of, as she reared me to be a proper woman so many years ago, in Mexico, in the 60s – with a style and morality more like the US in the 40s.

Modesty is a virtue, but women have come a long way from that upbringing.

In any case, I plan to use both my reviewers words and my own published and pre-published words to reach the readers I want to attract.

It is my hope that if I can get the right readers to try – a few words, a few pages, a few chapters – that they will stick, and they will like what I have written for them.

Because I love having this effect on another human being.

Please join in with your pet peeve about writers or books – I’d love to read them!

And will try to avoid them.


 

Based on a prompt: Baby Egg

 

THIS ONE’S FOR MARIAN

She insisted I should finish it.

I decided to give myself a few more words than the 100-word limit of the Drabble – it takes time to shorten, and I’m in the middle of NETHERWORLD, but her prompt inspired me, and here it is:

BABY EGG

She went every day to visit the baby egg. Through its translucent shell, her first child grew peacefully, with her heart sound piped in, and a gentle periodic rocking to simulate her walking around the kitchen.

Protestors screamed outside the lab that it was unnatural.

But it had finally removed Eve’s curse: no birth. No stretching the body out of shape. No pause in the ability to work. No pain. No surrogates wanting to keep the babies they carried for others.

She’d have to be in town when the baby ripened, but, other than that, she couldn’t see why she wouldn’t bond perfectly well with her offspring – after all, adopted babies did fine, didn’t they? There was the oxytocin nasal spray, and the hormones for lactation, and the nanny to do all the changing of dirty diapers.

It should be a hoot to play with when she had some time.

Here’s Marian‘s prompt:

It’s a baby egg. The neighbors got chickens that lay teeny wee eggs and gave me some. I had tomatoes from the farmers market, so I made a marriage in heaven.

She has a cute picture of a very small egg in her hand.

For the record, this is the new ‘block editor’ for WordPress, and I hate it.

Any time you change things I was perfectly happy with, I resent the huge loss of time.

I no longer have any idea where the things I depended on have gone.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

They do realize some of us have damaged brains, right?

I have no idea how to access the media, or how to insert an image, or…

Pretty much sums up my life.

And I have no idea what this will look like, vertical-spacing-wise.

SIGH!

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