Category Archives: This writer’s life

The necessary odd story pivot scene

WHEN YOU DIDN’T REALIZE HOW IMPORTANT A SCENE WAS

I write these posts when I get an epiphany (and interestingly enough, it is set right before the real Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, 2006).

I did what I always do, and gathered enormous amount of material related to the scene in progress – and went through my usual process of trying to turn the most important parts of what the Reader needs to know at this point into a coherent scene.

Almost always when I get to this point in my writing process (and I’ve written much about that), the scene almost self-organizes, includes some of the bits of dialogue I’ve developed during the process, and gives me trouble until I get it written.

Then I clean it up, check against my lists, run it through AutoCrit, and am usually happy to move to the next one.

And occasionally I get massively stuck

Which drives me crazy, and then drives me to picking apart what I’ve done, writing in my Fear Journal, and generally making a mess of everything.

Until suddenly the subconscious hits me upside the head with a ten foot Pole (to thoroughly mix metaphors), and I somehow figure out what’s wrong.

And then add it to another list: THINGS I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN.

Or at least expected!

Which are embarrassingly obvious after that point.

Sigh.

Endings and beginnings are fraught

This scene is essentially the last one in this section of the plot. I knew I needed it, structurally, and threw it in, moved some content around, and left it as a stub in my very detailed Scene list in the Dramatica file.

But I did NOT have a rough draft (the very rough draft of everything I have has been proof of my ability to create a story from nothing, and still serves as an anachronistic paper map to the path) for this scene.

Because, in many ways, I was still learning plotting when I finished the first plot (for Dramatica initiates, had my storyform down to 1) and wrote the rough draft to flesh out the ideas. Only Sandy, my long-suffering writing partner at the turn of the century, has seen the rough draft – and I hope she’s forgotten.

The storyform was then revised permanently in the great Reorganization of 2007.

So, I had somehow known SOMETHING WAS NECESSARY HERE,

thrown it into the mix, and moved on to more important things, such as writing PURGATORY.

And of course that’s what landmines are for: to make you sit up and pay attention.

To put this all into something more understandable: my usual process led me to gather enough material for this important transition pivot, but I hadn’t realized it was an important scene.

I thought it was a simple ‘cleanup and move on’ scene.

And of course it did no such thing as self-assemble.

The important ones on whatever scale never do.

Because they’re something new, and you haven’t done it quite that way before, and your subconscious doesn’t know HOW.

So, no template. So, no assembly possible.

And then, in the wondering and thinking and journaling that goes about when I get stuck in these little quagmires, I suddenly realized that we had reached the top of one mountain, the view was spectacular in all directions (see image), and it was going to matter, a lot, exactly how we got down.

For specifics, and so you might recognize it later, we move from the Czech Republic to Ireland. Over the course of a couple bits in several scenes.

And it is a major turning point in not only this chapter, but this book, and the whole trilogy, because the bottom has been hit, and the Reader doesn’t yet know how the characters are going to climb out, because climb out they must.

Apologizing for the contradictory images and the many cliches, I go now to write this scene, somehow, because I have to.

And that’s not bad.

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As a question, do you remember your turning points, and how wobbly they felt?

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Nothing to say? Write post anyway.

Other than some minor (I hope) health problems, which I hope to get taken care of asap, it has been weird not to be blogging occasionally, and the reason is literally that I have not much to say lately.

But I don’t want anyone to worry – and there are, I think, over 600 posts, most still relevant, if you like to poke through either the personal or the writing stuff – and comments are still open on all of them. I love comments.

My usual writing post in the past has been about solving some plotting or writing problem, often in a way I haven’t seen done before (which doesn’t mean there aren’t many posts out there about that topic). It intrigues me, I figure it out, I document – and voilà, reading material. I’m not sure if non-writers find them amusing, but they are easy to skip and usually obvious from the post title.

However, as the writing has matured (and I don’t want to change things so it isn’t obvious how long it takes me to write), I find fewer reasons to document new writing problems solved – as I go along.

Other posts came to be when we uprooted ourselves from the US East Coast (New Jersey) in 2018 and re-established ourselves permanently in Davis, California, at a nice Continuing Care Retirement Community – so we will never have to move again. One of these days we might actually be settled in, but now that the pandemic is under control here, it’s mundane, and I have to remind myself to spend a bit of my precious energy, and go outside occasionally, since every day usually has a ‘nice’ part to it. Maggie and I may go for a ride on the way home from dinner – going the outside route around the building instead of the shorter one through the inside carpeted halls.

I WILL tell you I’m writing – and it gets – and takes – all my available energy and all the time during which my brain is functional. NETHERWORLD is going extremely well – albeit slowly – I’m two thirds through it, and have just finished writing the two hardest scenes of the whole trilogy. So, technically, it’s all uphill from here (but NOT in a straight line). It didn’t help much – the next scene was still hard – but the commitments I made in 2000 to the plot have never wavered, and yes, I did the deed and wrote through the Dark Night of the Soul and Whiff of Death moments – and they came out even better than I had hoped for.

Still hoping to finish it this year.

We saw our daughters in person!

We hope for a family vacation (the kids pick the dates, and then we scramble).

And we will be celebrating the reception part of a family zoom wedding from last October – this October. In person. Yay, vaccination!

I have, at last count, about 90 started posts I never finished for one reason or another. Periodically I read through some of them to see if they might provide some mild entertainment for a visitor – you may see some of those pop up.

But mostly, since the energy is STILL extremely limited (think back to what you’ve read of covid long-haulers – that’s typical), it goes to finishing the Pride’s Children trilogy every day.

Stop by and say hi, contribute a bit about your current, hopefully post-pandemic panic life, and rest assured I’m still working my tail off for those who have been so kind as to say they’re waiting for the next book in the trilogy – and after that to get the third published as well.

The end of NETHERWORLD should make a lot of people happy – and then extremely worried again.

The third volume, still to be named though I’m leaning toward LIMBO & PARADISE, is a doozy. I hope to soon not be the only one who knows how it ends.

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I love to hear from you.

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Do self-published authors owe other SPAs?

IS SAYING ANYTHING THE HEIGHT OF ARROGANCE?

On this blog – and in comments – and on Facebook…, I am constrained by the available options for text and emphasis and images.

I live quite happily between the limits imposed by the constraints, find my own way of doing what I need to do (most of the time) so I can write the way I prefer.

And, as a member of various online groups, come into contact with other authors.

On occasion, we will exchange or list our book titles with/for each other, and I will see what choices someone slowly becoming a friend has made in self-publishing, from cover to content to interior book design.

And then the hard part comes: if I see potential that is not realized fully because of relatively small, benign problems, I am, mother-hen-like, pulled strongly toward saying something, making a small suggestion that would improve, IMNVHO (in my not very humble opinion) their work.

Their PUBLISHED work.

Who am I to make recommendations?

Someone who has read an enormous number of books – and has self-published exactly ONE so far.

Someone who went into excruciating detail in preparing Pride’s Children PURGATORY to look as good as the best traditionally published work (limited by Amazon and their paperback POD (publish on demand) capabilities), and, of course, my own learned-in-time skills, and spent months getting the ‘look and feel’ of the paperback, and the look of the ebook, to my own standards.

Someone who took a lot of advice from people who would give it.

And who rejected gobs more from people I didn’t end up respecting for their opinions.

Traditional publishing is not mine to condemn

Because, although every one of my opinions had been informed by what I’ve had to deal with in READING those books, I have no control over their choices, nor do I crave any.

Things such as tiny text on the page, double-spaced, surrounded by huge amounts of white space, and with a gutter so narrow you have to break the spine to read the words that edge it.

Or as pale gray text.

Or as fonts (leave that one alone).

Or… (insert here the things you hate the most about traditionally-published books that seemed deliberately designed to make it hard to read).

But self-publishing has an image problem

We are accused – and all SPAs are tarred with the same brush – of being, well, crap.

We are assumed to not be able to find a traditional publisher who will takes us on, regardless of the small to non-existent advances, predatory contracts, miserly royalties, accounting mysteries, and complete lack of control that we are pretty sure we’d have to live with if we tried.

And, unfortunately, I have to agree with a lot of the complaints (again, regardless of the fact that much traditionally-published material is of poor quality itself).

So what should I DO?

The question crops up almost every time I read an SPA’s work (and buy, usually because I’d like to find out how the story ended, and the price is usually quite reasonable (<$10) if you buy an ebook, compared to the ridiculous prices for traditional ebooks): do I say anything?

To the author, directly, in an individual and gently-worded email which he or she can peruse – or not – in PRIVACY.

Should I couch it in ‘best practices’ language?

Should I include a copy of something with some of their particular awkwardnesses minimized (including, but not limited to, a piece of their own work)?

Should I point to an example that I consider ‘correct’ and make a comparison?

Because what I DO do, is to never buy a book from them again.

And never (okay, once so far) recommend their book.

IOW, leave them in their happy ignorance of my elevated standards and practices, happy in their own devices, which probably include… what?

Intelligent authors make unintended or misguided choices

There are basically three explanations:

  • they don’t know
  • they know and don’t care
  • they know – but have no clue how to fix the problems

And may or may not appreciate a busy-body telling them.

But lack of quality affects many things down the chute from just writing the damn thing: read-through, recommendations, reviews, and ultimately the ability to write fiction profitably.

I have kept my mouth shut – so far

Figuring nobody appointed me standard-bearer.

Figuring that as long as I monitor my own work, I’m doing the most that I should.

Except that that niggling perception among many readers that self-published work is crap affects ME. And I have to work very hard to distance myself from the crowd when trying to persuade a reviewer to read MY stuff.

So I’m throwing this out there to see what my readers think:

  • Should I try to improve the breed? Or
  • Should I try to make sure the readers I want think of me as a good outlier?

And should I ever use my own pretty work as an example when interfering in other writer’s God-given right to make their own choices?

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Won’t read your self-published book because

[WARNING: IF YOU ARE ALREADY PERFECTLY HAPPY WITH YOUR READING MATTER (or have already read PURGATORY and are waiting for the next volume in the trilogy), you may skip what follows with a clear conscience.]

I might find something I liked – and have to change my attitude about SPAs (self-published authors).

I prefer to wait until others decide what I should read.

I like classics – and classics were never produced by SPAs. Oh, wait. They used to be (long list of SPAs such as Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Clemens and…) but modern writers are not good unless they can submit and submit and maybe be granted an audience with an AGENT!

There is so much out there I could never figure out what to try.

I want the opinions of established critics, not my fellow readers. The critics have to know what they’re talking about, right? Because their descriptions and reviews are always exactly what I need to know, right?

I actually don’t want you to read my self-published novel(s)

Because I have some requirements of my READERS:

They have to love to read, even when it is difficult and they have to read in small pieces.

They have to love a lot of classics – because that what I educated myself by reading, and it has a habit of showing in my writing.

They have to love at least something out of the mainstream category

It shows openness of mind. Here’s a partial list of my favorites – and all of them influenced me and my writing in good ways:

Dune

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Thorn Birds

Great Expectations

A Tale of Two Cities

Lucifer’s Hammer

Jane Eyre

Pride and Prejudice

Huckleberry Finn

Silas Marner

Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels, especially Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon

Don Quixote and some of the Mexican picaresque novels (for Spanish speakers)

It helps if they loathe

Some of the books I found unsatisfactory because [reason in brackets]:

The Lovely Bones [that ending]

Lolita [subject matter]

The Great Gatsby [cannot get into it – don’t care about any of the characters]

A Confederacy of Dunces [after the first chapter I wanted to wash my brain out with soap – good writing in the service of that?]

Tess of the D’Urbervilles [they couldn’t find some excuse not to hang poor Tess? And yes, I know things were very different back then]

Anything by Dan Brown

Any number of shades of gray

And it really helps if you share some of my blind spots and prejudices

You don’t care for anything supernatural in your novels.

You prefer novels with characters you can identify with. And they can’t be improbably young, sexy, healthy as the only requirement. They should also have a job. And a life.

You don’t want anyone swooping down and saving anyone – salvation must be earned and isn’t assured.

You prefer not to have to ignore a lot of unbelievable plot points (really letting myself in for open season here).

Just because the author writes it isn’t enough justification.

Typos are not good.

Spelling is actually important.

You don’t read modern Romance novels.

You don’t like cozies, except if you categorize Agatha Christie as one.

Chick lit is too perky for you, except in small quantities.

When original authors died, their franchises went with them, and there are NO exceptions to this rule no matter how attractive you find Benedict Cumberbatch. Or Sandra Oh.

Why am I being this picky?

Because I’m looking for people who will actually LOVE the Pride’s Children trilogy, not just sort of like it.

Because I do not write for people who read outside my preferences – they are hard to persuade to try PC, and when they do, if they write a review at all, it is obvious they shouldn’t have tried it in the first place. I’m trying to save them some time. And annoyance (which explains their reaction).

Because people who love may recommend you to their friends, but people who don’t won’t – and book recommendations are the biggest way of finding your ideal readers.

Experience.

BTW, you can be a millenial or younger. That is not an impediment. Your taste palate for novels is the key, not the specifics.

I ALSO love the readers who are not my ‘Ideal Readers’ and love PC anyway. They are my heroes.

What about converts?

I admit to loving those. I have a number of reviews from older men who say, “I don’t normally read this kind of book, but I loved it,” and I treasure those above all others.

But they are very hard to find, it takes me a lot of careful and deliberate effort to get them to try PC, and it is time I should spend finishing the trilogy.

Surely in a world of SEVEN BILLION PEOPLE there are Readers already out there who are looking for specific things, already know what that is, and WILL RECOGNIZE IT WHEN THEY SEE IT.

Oxford commas and all.

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Please excuse my general grumpiness

The writing is going extremely well lately, and I may even finish NETHERWORLD this year, but my physical body is giving me a lot of… shall we say, distraction? And marketing can be a bitch.

Also, feel free to add to my canon in the comments. I will poach any I like and add them to the post, with credit to you.

If you’ve gotten this far without damage to your psyche, click on the book image (top right), read the descriptions and a couple of the reviews for yourself, click on the Look Inside! feature and read the first three scenes or so (you will have had enough to make your own decision by that point, and will have met the main characters for the trilogy). Make up your own mind. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I hope you’re one of us.

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Writer’s difficult decisions mirror human life

THE HARDEST PART OF WRITING…

is what you put your characters through, to tell your story.

Yes, this is what you created and delivered them for. They are your babies, but they were always meant for sorrow, because no good story avoids sorrow.

Writers of fiction are making a point: if I extract the relevant parts of human life, and clean them up so they are tidier and cleaner than the mess that can be real life, can I show that the story has a moral, something I’m trying to say?

There is so much to tell

that it is impossible to tell it all within the confines of the longest epic poem or novel series.

The clock starts counting seconds even before the birth, and doesn’t stop until reaching ‘The End.’

And still the writer, even the one who creates a world which encompasses the whole life of a character in one piece, must discard MOST of that life, and pick only a few high points, hoping to use those to tell you something.

Stories teach

So what will the writer choose to teach?

And what pieces of that character’s life will the writer use as salutary or insalubrious examples the Reader should consider following?

Not the boring parts, not necessarily the exciting parts.

But often the points where the character, a relative unknown to even the author at its conception, makes mistakes. BIG mistakes. Very BAD decisions.

And when we get to creating and writing those mistakes, we may suddenly find that we really wouldn’t have ever done this to our now-child if we had been thinking more clearly – because we love them, and this will HURT. A lot.

Not a bad place to be – as a parent or an author

Our writing choices are better if we care.

If we are going to hurt, damage, punish, instruct a character, it better be worth it.

To both of us.

But it is natural, first, for the author to flounder about, wondering if this torture can be bypassed, whether it is really necessary, whether we should be the ones to inflict the damage.

It’s a testament of a kind to Pride’s Children

that every single time I have hit this point, I have steeled myself, stuck to the original plan which came to me in one piece, ‘vouchsafed’ as I like to say only to me, and written through the pain (mine) and the sorrow (theirs) because that IS the story.

Characters become very real to you when you spend twenty years with them, which I will have spent sometime this year.

They also become more determined, and more pigheaded, more what you made them, more willing and able to carry the burden.

Like the actor chosen to play the villain, they have gotten enamored of their role, and are giving it everything they have.

They would be quite annoyed if the author watered down their part – which now belongs to them and is their chance to shine on stage.

I have enjoyed very much the preparation of Shakespearean actor Anthony Sher, which he writes about in The Year of the King, as he prepares for the role of King Lear. Whether the king is the true villain of the play or not, his decisions are momentous and affect the lives of all the other characters.

Actors live for such a role.

My characters are fictional, but…

Sure they are. I tell my brain that all the time. It doesn’t listen.

No real people are harmed by whatever I do to them.

Yup.

So why do I keep finding myself at this point, where I have to justify to myself what I am about to write them through?

Is it more that it exposes MY worldview?

There is some of that.

But I sat down with this feeling today and realized I get my worldview from the world, the one we all live in.

I’m not one of the experimental science fiction authors who create entire races of very different characters (Olivia Butler does a superb job of this).

I strive for such absolute realism in my writing, from ‘right behind the characters’ eyeballs,’ that you will feel this happened to you – until you close the book.

I want you to live another LIFE

I want you to think very hard about what you would do if faced with the kind of consequences that are determined by the behavior I’m espousing by showing you a character doing it.

And be glad, or maybe experience regret and longing, that they don’t actually happen – to YOU.

So this is my job.

And I go back to it with all my prejudices reinforced.

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Does love conquer all? With kids?

DO PARENTS OWE THEIR CHILDREN RELIGION?

The following is an exchange that occurred because of a short story posted on Wattpad, and a corresponding circumstance in Pride’s Children (though it may be years before you understand that last statement).

It is my own personal opinion, based on my observations of my family and the families of friends, meant as a conversation starter; usual commenting rules apply.

Where are the obstacles, by definition?

When a Muslim marries a Hindu, or a Christian a Jew, or even an atheist a religious person, it is often seen as the great triumph of tolerance over prejudice, and there are rainbows and falling stars.

When children come, this tolerance can take three nasty turns (not always, of course, but they are BUILT IN to the situation):

1) ‘allowing the other parent to choose the child’s religion’ suddenly becomes ‘bringing up MY child opposite to MY beliefs,’ or

2) bringing the children up as both (an impossibility), or

3) bringing up the children, of parents who were brought up with something, to be brought up with nothing.

Having one parent keep his or her hands off the religious education of the children, and ‘support’ the other’s efforts, doesn’t fool anyone: the kids know Daddy doesn’t believe what Mommy believes – kids are not stupid.

The final option – NOT having children – is a partial solution which must be strongly enforced for the whole duration of life by BOTH partners – a big leap when you’re 20 or 30.

Consequences of attraction.

Sadly,

giving the kids a vague idea of each parents’ beliefs and ‘letting them choose when they grow up,’

is the most common result, accompanied by the next generation not really having much of anything.

Love does NOT conquer all, not very long.

The situation often comes about because opposites are very attractive among people in the marriage marketplace, for a while. People fall in love before they think about the consequences, and the farthest thing from their mind may be adding small expensive bundles of work to a free-spirited relationship.

But the drive to procreate in your own image is powerful, or people wouldn’t spend time and money trying to conceive when Nature hasn’t made them co-fertile.

Solutions?

Think before you get married.

A LOT.

Spend a lot of time with your intended’s family – get to know each other’s actual beliefs – as distinct from the ones you are trying out in college or work.

Talk about these things – once you have that baby, it’s too late.

Have the guts not to go into a marriage hoping ‘things will all work out.’

Respect, love, and tolerance for other people’s beliefs is important in a society such as ours where many religions – and non-religious people – coexist, mostly peacefully.

The disappearance of religious beliefs and practices developed over thousands of years, which help us understand our place in the universe, and cope with the inevitable blows of life, shouldn’t happen by accident.

If you don’t believe – fine. Your choice. And religion has done plenty of damage when applied autocratically.

I just think we owe our children more than Oops!

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Blast from my past in nuclear submarines

BUT THIS COULD BE COCOA BEACH, FLORIDA

Where we stayed when we worked for the navy.

Well, my EMPLOYER, Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physical Laboratory did contract work for the navy, and people from the lab were always going to Florida to participate in testing for the submarines, and write the report.

If you were there for a three week DASO, the Lab put you up at a condo on the beach if you chose – cheaper than a hotel room.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I live at a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), and it’s chock full of fascinating men and women with amazing histories in finance, academia, business, the military, … you name it, we’ve probably had one.

There is a small but active community of ex-submariners, and, because of my first job after grad school, at JHUAPL, where I did computational work for the Navy re subs and missiles, I have a tiny membership in the real community.

We worked for the Navy, but as civilian contractors, and I had the interesting job at APL for three years, during which time I participated in DASOs (Demonstration and Shakedown Operations) on various submarines down at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the Eastern Test Range.

Most of the jobs for a DASO were day jobs: you showed up at the boat before the Captain got on, because the minute he did, the gangplank rolled up behind him, and anyone not already on board was out of luck; you got off when the boat came back to port in the evening. DASOs lasted three weeks; then the boat went back to base and switched crews – but the APL contractors usually didn’t do both halves.

A favorite for newer contractors was to ride back from underwater tests in the conning tower, and if you were lucky you got fluorescent and flying fish in the bow wave.

One of the boats I was on was the USS Ulysses S. Grant.

Today, through a real submariner who lives in our retirement community, I have in my hands that ship’s log book. He has stories – he was in the Navy for a full career.

An interesting read – which never mentions the lowly help (why should it?) – but lists important visitors, different crews, commanding officers – and anecdotes contributed by the crew.

But it brought a whole piece of my life back – as if I were standing on the dock.

BTW, if you were not ON board when the captain arrived in the morning, you were out of luck: they rolled up the gangplank after him – and away we went to sea.

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Another story: Standing on the deck of a nuclear submarine coming back to the dock at night, watching the launch of a Delta rocket at night against the dark sky.

And another: my husband, who did research in Top Secret submarine stuff (my clearance was only Secret) came to visit me at the Cape once, and he got to go on a tour of the sub I was working on – on family day – as my spouse. His only time on one of them! At the dock.

And a third: I first heard The Gambler, Kenny Rogers, going out to sea in the Fire Control room – one of the crew was playing it.

One more: being aboard a British nuclear submarine for a missile launch: the Eastern Test Range had the equipment to follow the instrumented, nuclear-warheadless missile on its flight, so they tested in the US. Imagine the reaction when the whole submarine went a small distance down into deeper water as the missile went into the sky – conservation of momentum, and equal forces, but very unequal masses.

Memories are funny.

Some of the above – though MANY years ago – kept purposefully vague.

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Leave your own stories to share.

Writing a silk purse from a sow’s ear

I DON’T WRITE CLEAN COPY

For my kind of extreme plotter, you might think everything would be planned down to the last jot and tittle – before writing.

It seems that way for some scenes I’ve written – I know exactly what I’m doing when I go in, and then I do it, polish a bit, and get out – and we’re done.

Because having the content and the outline and the knowledge of where a scene will go can make it easier to see what fits and what doesn’t, as I go.

Unfortunately, they’re the minority of my scenes.

Another set of scenes takes more work because there is a lot to include, and the correct path through all the necessary points can take me a while to organize.

And then there’s 32.2.

The sow’s ear of the title.

Oddly enough, a scene for which I had plenty of content.

But it came out of my head very oddly, as almost a single long piece of dialogue, a phone call no less, with the banter between Kary and her best friend writing itself as I eavesdropped.

Very realistic – I could SEE them talking, SEE the little connections, the friendship, the gentle poking when one person thinks they know better what the other needs, a scene you might overhear at brunch, or in a park, or while watching the children on the swings at the playground…

And it was wrong

Very wrong.

Boring – to me!

And I could see a reader doing the thing writers dread: skimming. Skipping ahead to see where the meat starts again. Not seeing the content because it was in the form of a dialogue between two women.

Just getting to the realization of what was the problem took me days.

Because there was nothing obviously wrong, and I write dialogue all the time, and it wasn’t particularly bad.

Good dialogue doesn’t guarantee great scenes

Almost a thousand words of good, realistic but compressed dialog.

You hate to give that up – and it took quite a bit of practice to be able to do that in the first place, create dialogue that gives the reader necessary knowledge in the form of a story.

I almost did what I never do: let it stand, leave it to the beta reader, move on and come back to it later, live with what I knew was highly imperfect (in my standards) because I had no idea what was going on that produced it.

But I did know:

The brain fog was thick on the ground and I couldn’t see over, through, or around it.

And this is what I produce when I can’t think: ‘almost’ writing.

It depended too much on the reader’s previous knowledge.

There was not enough scene-setting.

And it repeated things the reader already knew – a capital sin if done in any quantity: do NOT give readers an excuse to start skipping!

I bit the bullet, lowered the dose of a medication I thought might be the culprit for the recent fog increase (it was), waited for a couple of days until, thankfully, the head cleared.

Then I took all of the scene except for the initial paragraph, and put it in another file in the Scrivener project, fully prepared to dump the whole thing if necessary.

And I was able to get back to work – because I was darned lucky.

My greatest fear in life is that I will reach one of these points, know something is wrong, and never more be able to do what I’ve been doing to analyze, understand, and, fingers-crossed, improve what I’ve written, from the first gasp to the final zinger.

I’ve had this happen before to a smaller extent – I had to learn to write every kind of scene (and there are more kinds, I’m sure) – and since I’m still writing, have emerged every time.

But brain fog is more insidious than exhaustion, and you can’t just rest it away.

Brain fog scares me

It alters my essential self.

This time I found the cause, and it was something I could change. There are consequences, of course – in this case more physical pain – but I have other alternatives for physical pain, even if I’m trying not to use them (to spare liver and kidneys from having to disassemble those molecules and get rid of them); in the worst case, I can just tough it out, do some of the physical things such as stretches or (in non-pandemic times) immerse myself in the therapy pool’s warm water, wait until it passes if it has a specific cause…

Do not recommend your favorite remedy for brain fog – thanks, but I’ve tried an awful lot of things over the years that didn’t work, and I don’t have the stomach to try more. Assuming you even have one – brain fog is a particularly difficult ‘symptom’ to treat because it is so vague and amorphous and non-specific.

It’s a Catch-22: you need to be able to think to work yourself out of brain fog, and you can’t think until you’ve worked yourself out of brain fog.

Sometimes the passage of time helps.

Sometimes the disappearance of a physical illness, or its successful treatment or management, helps.

Sometimes – the scary part – you’ve lost that part of yourself and it isn’t coming back.

And sometimes you figure it out.

Once that cleared

I took a hard look at what I had been ‘creating,’ that conversation that repeated things unnecessarily.

And I got to work.

I went back to process: I’ve detailed my Left Brain righT method before; I still use it, tweaked a bit but usually to add a detail, not change something already there, seven-and-a-half years later.

Step by step I followed my own prompts for considering, choosing, refining – including much smaller amounts of that big chunk of realistic dialogue – listening to the bits as I locked them in (to make sure the language flows), defining the structure, doing the work I call writing fiction, and little by little, 32.2 emerged from the shadows of a disaster.

It started doing what it was supposed to do, and I got less scared.

Until the next time.

**********

I’d never googled myself – just did

Ye olde PhD thesis.

APPARENTLY COMMENTS DON’T COUNT

And I say that because mine are ALL OVER THE INTERNET. With my name on them. You must have seen some.

Some of the places that turned up, some expected, others not:

http://www.spacefacts.de/bios/candidates/nasa9/english/ehrhardt_alicia.htm

https://www.bookdepository.com/publishers/Trilka-Press

http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2017/11/review-prides-children-purgatory-by.html

Featured Writer on Wellness: Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

https://www.trentonian.com/news/most-will-remember-where-they-were/article_50320d0b-2357-536a-a5f5-812fd5b08bfb.html

Alicia Butcher-Ehrhardt was descending the stairs of her Hamilton Square home, preparing to home-school her three children.

“I came downstairs, and my husband and two boys said, ‘No school today,'” Butcher-Ehrhardt said. “We watched it together as a family.”

Her 9-year-old daughter, Rebecca, was sitting with her father watching television when the attacks occurred.

“I sort of understood what was going on,” she said. “I was scared, and, I don’t know, it felt weird.”

She said that she’s feeling a little better now, but she’s “still uncomfortable with what happened.”

Her mom isn’t surprised.

“It’s the end of an era,” Butcher-Ehrhardt said. “It will be a huge change in the way my children have to grow up. They normally feel safe. This will make a big dent.”

The writer’s Kindergarten: cut and paste

WHEN STUCK I GO BACK TO BASICS

And I’m writing this post now for two reasons:

  1. I just had to go through this – again – and other writers might need the same trick
  2. When I woke up this morning and reached for something on my desk, I disturbed the page I used (photo above), scattered all the little pieces of paper, and realized I don’t need to keep them around forever, even if they did rescue me.

I’m an extreme plotter by nature and by practice and by brain damage.

Things have to be organized so I know what goes in each scene, because I can only work with the content of ONE scene at a time (and yes, if you’re wondering, I have used this trick on paragraphs, beats, and scenes as well, when my brain refused to do the organizing internally).

When I got to the current piece in the middle of the WIP, I realized that, inexplicably when I stared at it, the next scene was NOT ready for my ‘process.’

I came to a standstill

For several days.

Abortive attempts to write the next scene failed to make that scene gel, despite having a title and the usual nubs I use to attach words.

Since I was worrying about politics, and in the middle of getting vaccinated for the coronavirus, it took me a while to track down the reason: when I was doing the Great Reorganization of 2007 (GR07), I had had the same reluctance, created something that sort of worked at the time (a list of scenes covering what would happen in this part of the story), and decided to DEAL WITH IT LATER.

Unusual for me, but I was trying to get to the end of GR07, we had half the way to go, and I only had a few more days of the concentrated time I had been saving for the reorganization.

I believe in football American style they cause it punting.

In 2007 I moved on

Never thinking that it would be 2021 when I got to this point in the writing.

I was young(er). Naive(er).

Trying desperately to take that original rough (very rough) first draft of the whole story to the next level – which required the complete reorganization AND a committed devotion to upping the quality of my writing (no, you are never going to see that draft).

and it worked

I moved on. GR07 became the reality.

By dint of work, the writing problems got solved one by one.

Pride’s Children PURGATORY was written and published in 2015 (yeah, I’m slow), and I immediately moved on to NETHERWORLD.

I believe they call it a poison pill

Maybe not so bad.

But a buried little landmine all the same.

Because there was a reason. I know it now and I knew it then: this piece was going to be very hard to write.

And, as is usual with such, incredibly important.

I couldn’t handle it in 2000, when the story came to me.

I couldn’t handle it in 2007, except to realize there was no way around it, and I would have to deal with it during the writing of the second book (nameless at that point).

And I couldn’t handle it at first when it got to be late 2020 and I hit the red flag marking the mine.

I couldn’t even have written this post.

You can’t skimp on the hard parts when you write

The hard parts are WHY you, and not someone else, is telling this story.

The hard parts are where your writing should shine, and, given enough work and time, where they will.

If your story doesn’t have hard parts well executed in it, it’s not going to be the best book you can write.

Because you shirked.

I don’t shirk.

I kick and scream and complain and try to find ways around the roadblock and hope some insight will just remove it.

And then I admit it needs the work, and I do it.

On this one I had to go back to Kindergarten

Yup. Basics. Writing things on single lines. And cutting the sheet into real-life strips of paper.

And rearranging those strips, edited as necessary (in pencil), into the RIGHT order, with the right words, plus any surrounding fill text, until the whole emerged.

Somehow.

That’s the level I have to go back to when things get really bolloxed up for whatever reason.

Eventually, it works, and I find it all amusing. Sometimes I blog about it.

But you’d think that by now I’d be out of Kindergarten, wouldn’t you?

**********

The slow approach of some kind of normalcy

Davis greenway on my trike ride, winter 2021

LIFE HAS TO GO ON

It is starting at the opposite end of society: those vaccinated most urgently are the older people, who otherwise have an appalling death toll from Covid-19 if they get sick.

The fear has been very real among those of us with co-morbidities, who in normal times could look forward to a bit of retirement and the presence of children and grandchildren at the end of a life of labor.

This community went from people who had dinner with other people in a catered dining room several times a week to an entire building of people whose food was delivered in takeout containers every day. For almost a year so far. We have accumulated (and tried to recycle) countless containers, with the dining services having trouble, it seems, buying the same container shapes every day.

There is only so creative one can get with plastic takeout boxes.

Why the light at the end of the tunnel?

Because, if all goes well, most of us – of around the 250 people in Independent Living in one main building, 15 cottages, and 16 ‘garden apartments,’ will receive the second dose of the Moderna vaccine this Thursday, and two weeks later will achieve the maximum protection that can offer us.

We’re not sure yet what will change once there are a bunch of us in that state: the precautions will still be in place, a few people won’t have been vaccinated (including some staff – I don’t understand why they are not jumping on the chance to be protected), and the fear that ANY encounter with another human being might end up being terminal will be muted a bit while we wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

A reversal – normally vaccinations are for the young, and we elders have a lifetime of toughness to protect us.

Anyone who was alive for the 1918 flu is now over 100 years old.

I’m writing now because the suspense is at its maximum

None of us want to be the ironic case of the last old person to get Covid-19 and die from it – that won’t happen for a while but it’s worth pondering.

So those of us who believe in vaccines and modern medicine, however imperfect, are being very careful for the next three weeks or so.

I have a doctor’s appointment in March, and it will be the first time I’ve gone off campus feeling safe in over a year.

I desperately need new glasses – but have refused to make optional medical appointments with people who will be close to my face and body while their breathe could be my end.

Ditto dentists – you won’t believe how carefully I have been brushing my teeth so as to avoid any unnecessary visits (and have eschewed the necessary cleanings) for this year: I don’t want someone, even someone masked, gowned, and with a face shield, that near to me.

I have some experience, having caught the flu in 2018 from the only time I’d been out of the house in months, but decided to accompany the husband to his eye-doctor appointment: someone left a flu virus in that waiting room for me.

So the stress level is still high

And we look askance at the crew of men painting our halls and installing new carpets (first upgrade in 20 years) – and going home to their families every night. They need the work, the facility needs the facelift, but we don’t need all those people we’ve never seen before (thanks, guys!) wandering our halls.

This last Friday was the first time testing of all the staff revealed no new cases in quite a few weeks. It may be just random luck.

Or it may be that the staff have already had their two shots + two week wait, and are now as safe as they can be. I hope so, for their sake. They are very nice people. And there are almost as many of them as there are residents (we have higher levels of care in the same building, which increases our staff requirements). 200 or so.

(Still don’t understand why any of them would refuse the vaccine against a deadly disease they could transmit to the older people they work for.)

The public stress changed

From worrying about the election and the devoutly-wished disappearance of the previous mob, to wondering how the current administration is going to manage to reverse so much damage.

But I no longer watch – it’s politics as usual, the grownups are in charge, and I can’t do a thing.

The grownups are at the helm of the current actual focus on getting control of the pandemic. Another place I have limited reach and scope.

Since I’ve blocked all the people who are science-deniers, my only remaining advocacy point is to remind them that THE DISEASE IS MUCH WORSE THAN THE VACCINE.

A few have legitimate concerns; most should just make sure their doctors know their problems, and they are watched for a time after the actual injection to have a quick response if they have the exceedingly rare anaphylactic reaction. EXCEEDINGLY RARE.

But I’m so tired

Months and more months of stress have taken a real toll on the writing (and the other parts of my life, which I try to ignore).

I have only just regained some semblance of a normal sleep schedule with melatonin in tiny amounts at bedtime and my Daylight therapy box in the morning as soon as I get up. Now I’m wondering when I can get off the regimen, because the melatonin always makes me a bit groggy, and that is the enemy of me writing fiction.

A couple of weeks of better sleep is not enough for a year of stress, but I’m getting there.

The work proceeds apace

Yesterday I managed to take all the notes I had accumulated in 2016 on the critical medical topic which is an intricate and ineradicable part of this section of NETHERWORLD’s plot, and make sense of them: they were very badly written in the original source – and that is now behind a paywall!

So I’m feeling proud of myself for documenting everything so well that I was able to figure out what I needed, from what I gathered over four years ago in another state!

When I do research, I carefully retain the link or other source information, in the great fear that I will forget where I found something and fail to attribute it correctly, so my paranoia has served me well.

And some form of exercise occurs occasionally

I got a trike ride, a short one, this weekend – because the outdoor pool has glass in it from a broken table top during last week’s windstorm, and is unusable, even in the mild weather we had (they still haven’t told us how the heck they’re going to clean it up, they who put glass-topped tables near the pool in the first place!).

And I get out of the apartment to pick up lunch or somesuch on Maggie, my MAGnesium Alloy Airwheel S8 (a bicycle seat on a hoverboard – google it) a couple of times a week. Not nearly enough exercise for anyone, even disabled and chronically ill, but all I can manage.

The great outdoors in California in the wintertime is still great.

So that’s the report from a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) for today

I can feel, on re-reading my words, that the stress is lower.

How goes it with you?

If you are offered the vaccine, and don’t plan to take it, I’m curious how your thinking is going. I promise to be civil.

And otherwise, along with MY children, I hope everyone will be protected by a vaccine as soon as possible – I’m tired of living like this.

Not tired enough NOT to continue to take every precaution, but you know what I mean.

**********

I don’t have to supervise Biden

Photo of the Madrone courtyard at the University Retirement Community showing flowers, the building in the background, and picnic tables
Madrone Courtyard

THIS IS WHY I HAVEN’T BLOGGED

No, not the picture. That is just a photo of part of our lovely campus at the University Retirement Community.

If it’s warm enough, this is where we have our ‘younger women (<= 75)’ First Wednesday lunch every month, a way for the youngest members of URC to meet each other and connect. Since people move here at all ages, it isn’t the newcomers, per se.

But one of our residents decided to start this group, and it has been nice to have lunch with my contemporaries, some of whom have just moved here.

Most people at URC are older than we are.

Which brings me to my first topic: the coronavirus and the vaccine.

Because we live in a community where most residents, from independent living to skilled nursing, are over 75, when it came time for Yolo County to offer residents in Independent Living the coronavirus vaccine, they decided to include those of us under 75, but living here, the vaccine at the same time they vaccinated older residents and offered the vaccine to the whole staff.

We found out and signed up, along with most of the residents, a few days ago.

So, on Jan. 7, the day after the Capitol riots in DC (more about that later), husband and I got the first shot of the Moderna vaccine. We had very minor side effects, and I got an odd one (but so did others): a slightly red, slightly itchy upper arm around the injection site – but over a week after the shot! It went away before I reported it, only lasting a couple of days, but that was unexpected. Which is why I mention it.

We are scheduled for the second shot Feb. 4, four weeks after the first, and, if all goes as expected (management reassured us yesterday, but that means nothing as they have no official notice, no vaccine on hand, and no control – BUT have not been informed of any problems), two weeks after that, or from about Feb. 18, 2021, we will be as protected as this vaccine can make us.

Almost a year since we went into virtual hibernation, we may be able to move about in the world. No one knows how long it will be before our kids qualify – they are late 20s, early 30s – so this place will be more like a bubble or relative safety, and we may be able to socialize more with our peers. But it’s a big first step.

The stress has been hard to take, especially since some people don’t seem capable of keeping their mask over their nose.

The said Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots in OUR capital city

Along with most people, we watched horror as the day when a simple procedural count of electoral votes, certified already by each state, were supposed to simply be read into the record!

Now that 45 has been gone, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have pledged to uphold the US Constitution (as their predecessor promised, and then failed to do), it is hard to remember the enormous stress it has been to watch and read about the waning days of a wannabe dictator who attempted to reverse a legal election, and tried to get his sycophants to keep him in power via an attempted coup.

It will be a long time before that is all sorted out, but the days from Jan. 6 through Jan. 20, 2021, will not easily be forgotten, as the authorities slowly regained control over a situation that never should have been allowed to happen, and scared the heck out of the rest of us in the process.

The stress, predictably, made it difficult to write fiction – and made it impossible to blog. Anything I wrote might have been proved false within minutes.

I couldn’t.

I couldn’t make myself find some relatively stable and harmless topic, and I couldn’t write about what I was seeing and reading second hand.

Too volatile.

A real rollercoaster ride of ‘this has never happened in my lifetime.’ And my lifetime has included the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the moon landings.

I’ll slowly recover – because of the title of this post.

The grownups are back in charge of the country.

Not that I could do anything about anything while they were not, except express outrage on FB, forward liberal posts there, and end up blocking or unfriending people who used hate language.

But, like many of us, I could not take my eyes off the trainwreck, even if I managed to limit it to a quick look several times a day into the headlines, and watching the coronavirus death toll.

Biden and Harris have, as the cliche goes, ‘their work cut out for them.’

I think that means that now they have to sew it into something resembling a garment. Or a shroud.

The sympathy for the victims and their families that was not expressed in the past year was given attention before the grownups even took office, in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

The choices for people in charge have, some of them been a bit surprising, but I don’t have a reservation about the selections that I know anything about. If Ben Carson, who doesn’t seem to care about anything, could head HHS, the Biden appointees can learn whatever they need to learn, and at least are people of integrity – and not all white men, by a huge margin over 45’s.

Nothing will be perfect, and not soon.

As there is incredible damage to stem, and then reverse, it won’t be fast.

I want accountability. Silly me. I hope we get some.

But even then, I leave that to the politicians, to the grownups.

I can’t help, and my opinions are not based on knowing enough to offer solutions.

I will sign petitions, such as the one to provide more funding for ME/CFS research, which, had it been done in a timely manner over the last four decades, would have been ready to help the long-covid survivors who end up with a raging post-viral syndrome.

I will vote, and urge people to take seriously both voter registration and voter intimidation before the midterm elections.

I HAVE NO FEAR OF VOTERS.

But removing post boxes so people can’t vote by mail, removing polling sites so they have to wait in line at the few remaining ones for HOURS, and the rampant intimidation of AMERICANS by domestic terrorists so they dare not cast their votes, is WRONG, makes any elections ‘won’ that way illegitimate, and is a nightmare to leave our children.

Anyone scared of legitimate votes is a FASCIST. There seem to be a lot of them.

We have a long way to go on so many fronts that were made so much worse by 45 and his minions.

But I don’t feel I have to be aware of every action any more: legitimate authorities will tackle the problems one by one.

I never was in charge, but now I’m getting out of the fray as much as possible.

I have NETHERWORLD to finish THIS YEAR. If God gives me life and brain.

*****

How have you been affected?

Will you now be able to move on?

*****


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.

**********

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

May 2021 bring you joy and peace.

**********

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.

**********

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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