The Intersection of Hardship and Hard Work

As I sit here, preparing to share my thoughts on the NaNoWriMo 2019 experience, I’m listening to the generator growl outside. We’ve been without power for nearly twenty-four hours and may endure for twenty-four hours more before it is restored. Speaking of twenty-four, that’s about how many degrees it is outside. Fahrenheit. I’m wearing two shirts under my fleece and I have socks on with my slippers.

20191203_071853This is not the longest we’ve been without power. We survived eight days a few years ago. I know, I say it like we were caught on the windy side of a mountain without shelter. But with temperatures only a little more friendly than they are now and no water—the house runs on well water and a septic system—those days were hard. I had to haul buckets of water from the creek at the back of the property to flush the toilet and boil bottled water for washing. We stored the food from the freezer out on the deck (where it remained nearly frozen) and cooked whatever thawed first on the grill.

Now we have a generator to power the fridge, the water pump, and, luxury of all luxuries, the hot water heater. I argued against the water heater at first, ever mindful of using too much gas. But when you’ve been without power for six or seven days, there’s nothing like an almost hot shower to restore your humanity.

Why is my NaNo story starting here? Because I had planned to tell you how hard I found it to write 50,000 words in thirty days. But sitting here dressed in so many shirts it’s difficult to move my arms, I’m forced to reevaluate my definition of hard.

Had I had to write 50k during our annual holiday from power (yes, this happens at least once a year), would I have found it more or less difficult? If I hadn’t had to cover shifts at the bagel shop (the monstrosity of a business my husband bought last year) would I have found it more or less difficult? What if my daughter wasn’t away at college? My neck wasn’t sore? I didn’t have a really good book waiting to be read?

The point is, there will always be “circumstances” and writing 50,000 words in thirty days is never going to be easy for me. It’s not just the physical limitation of my neck and shoulders getting sore after three hours at the computer, it’s that my brain gets tired and the words slow to a trickle. I could probably force more words out a day, but they wouldn’t be good words. After doing the ‘let’s write a book thing’ for eight years, I’ve discovered that somewhere around 40k is my comfortable limit for thirty days. That’s around 10k a week. Or, as I like to imagine, an 80k first draft in eight weeks.

My current WIP is not going to be drafted in eight weeks. I’ve been working on it for around seven and I am now taking a break. I have about 57k words written and I’d estimate only half of them are useable as is. This makes me a little sad as I’m not used to having to go back and revise my first draft while I’m writing it. I’m a big believer in writing to the finish line without stopping—unless there’s a big problem. I got about 70% of the way through To See the Sun before I realized the big plot climax I’d planned wasn’t going to work. I had to go back and add in a more substantial villain and decided to bump up the role of an existing character.

GRUMPY LONER

This book, working title Intersection, is more problematic. I started with a really neat premise and by neat I don’t mean interesting and cool, I mean packaged. It was tight. Two guys meet and despite certain challenges, pursue a relationship. When those challenges get in the way, the relationship falters and both of them have to make a tough choice. They choose each other (obviously, because I’m writing romance), and live happily ever after. Done.

What happened, then? I kept writing about the WRONG challenges. For both characters! I had an outline for this and detailed lists of goals and motivations. I knew who these characters were before I started writing. I knew where the story was going to lead. But the story kept refusing to go where I needed it to go and these guys kept sitting around talking. No conflict, no tension, totally forgetting about their challenges.

I got to the scene where they might kiss for the first time and they did. Then they decided to go to lunch and talk. Not happy with that scene, I revisited the kissing scene, tweaked it and got them to go back to Nick’s place and sully up a perfectly good pair of sheets. What did they do the next morning? Talk. Only it wasn’t good talking. Nick decided to be weird and Oliver decided to be weird and then they talked about the weirdness. Then, for the next two chapters, they talked to their support characters about the weirdness. Then they got back together, talked about the weirdness and then unpacked Nick’s overnight bag and talked about all the weirdness in there, too.

Seriously.

GRUMPY LONER (1)

I don’t know if this book will work as it is. What I do know is that I’m not writing the book I had planned. I’m not sure I’m writing a book at all. Sometimes I feel like I’m simply downloading words for the sake of writing.

All this revising has slowed me down as well. At the point where the first kissing scene wasn’t working, I went back and revised from the beginning forward, checking on my character’s goals and motivations. I spent two days tweaking before I got back to that chapter, then wrote forward again.

 

When that didn’t work, I tweaked that chapter a third time and wrote forward again, the end of my manuscript filling with rejected chapters that I might be able to repurpose or mine for certain scenes later.

On November 29, when I reached my 50,000-word goal with something like 65k total in the document, I cut those scenes, reducing my overall total to about 57k. Oy.

But enough about the numbers. Next week, I plan to go back to the beginning and start again. I think I can save the first five chapters. After that? I might be able to rearrange the next few. Repurpose some of them. Then I need to write fresh material, meaning I’m almost on the fourth draft of a book I haven’t even finished yet.

Trekking to the creek for a bucket of water doesn’t sound so hard anymore, does it?

A part of it is that I took a huge break this year. I was exhausted from writing and editing five books back to back, meaning I was always in edits, sometimes on two books at the same time, while drafting another. I then had to promote five new releases in five months, adding the burden of preparing promotional material and being ‘on’ on social media. I’ve mentioned this exhaustion a couple of times already this year. I’ve also talked about how I wondered whether I might ever write again. Whether I might hang up my pen and retire. That’s how tired I was. But I missed creating. I missed talking to the voices in my head. I missed planning happy ever afters. I did make a couple of false starts on other projects, but Intersection was the first book that really ignited my passion.

I loved writing those first few chapters and even the ones that I know won’t work. I’ve loved having Nick and Oliver in my head and I still want to give them a happy ever after. There is also the matter of those personal challenges I mentioned. These guys have problems to solve! I want to be there for that.

Maybe this book is how I’ll get back into the process or maybe my process is changing. I’ve never printed character motivation guides and stuck them on the wall beside my monitor before. But I felt I needed them there to remind me as I go of just who these two are.

Maybe this isn’t the right book to write right now, or maybe this is just the book I need; the challenge to prove I can still do this.

What I do know is that if I get this book finished and published, it’s going to have a great story behind it, because the writing of it has been so daunting. Also, I have a feeling that if I can get this story to work as I envisage it, as I’ve plotted it, as I want it to, it could very well be my best book yet.

So… Onward!

Building Forever is now available through Kindle Unlimited!

KU-BuildingForever

I’m super excited to have Building Forever in the Kindle Unlimited program because it means a lot more readers are going to meet Charlie and Simon and the goal of most authors is to have people read their books, so…

But, seriously, I love this book! As regular visitors to my blog know, it’s one of my favorites, from the first paragraph where we meet Charlie spluttering over a mouthful of Cheez-Its, to the very last, where Simon assures Charlie that they’re ready for what comes next.

Building Forever is everything I love about contemporary romance: Ordinary people doing fairly mundane things and falling love along the way. But life is never just ordinary, and so this story takes the characters on a journey that made me laugh and cry.

Read Building Forever

Building Forever is also available for purchase at Amazon, in either ebook or print formats, while it’s enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program. After the enrollment ends, the book will again be available through other retailers.

I will also be leaving all of my former Dreamspinner titles enrolled in KU through the holidays for readers who’d like to check out more of my books.

Best in Show
Block and Strike
Counting Fence Posts
Counting Down
Counting on You
Out in the Blue
When Was the Last Time

Plus one more:

Wrong Direction

Frank and Tom Are Getting Married!

If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you’ll definitely want to make sure you open this month’s edition! I’ve written an epilogue story for the This Time Forever series, imaginatively titled “This Time Forever.” It’s pretty much fluff, which is what most of the in-between stories I write for my characters are. But for as much as I wanted to revisit all the main characters from the series, I figured my readers might like to too, so I plotted a gentle arc around Frank and Tom’s wedding.

It’s a beautiful day, everyone is there, including Charlie’s daughter and grandaughter, Brian’s nephew, Tom’s long-suffering ex-girlfriend, Frank’s sister, and a few extras. The only character I’d like to have included but couldn’t come up with a reasonable excuse to was Arthur Beckwith. I still have vague plans to send him to a senior singles resort in Florida, though. (He’d be inspired by Frank’s stories of what happens with the pool floaties… or maybe not.)

So, everyone is there… except Tom. Frank, of course, is beside himself and gets everyone else involved in the search, giving me an excuse to write a chapter from everyone’s point of view. Well, just the main characters–though I did think about including Josh. I’m going to have to write a story just for him, aren’t I?

Okay, enough waffling. How do you get this piece of literary magic? Newsletter subscribers get it first–tomorrow, Tuesday, November 12, which is just about bang on a year after Renewing Forever (Frank and Tom’s book) was released. The perfect time for an epilogue story featuring their wedding, don’t you think?

I will make the story available to everyone else by the end of the year–links to be posted on this blog later in December.

Subscribe-button

 

I Can Quit At Any Time

One day last week (not sure which, it’s all a bit of a blur), I was nestled on the couch with a blanket and a couple of cats. Too tired to read and having watched enough television to numb certain parts of my brain, I was playing solitaire on my Kindle. Though it makes little sense to play a game of logic when I’m tired, I often play solitaire in the evenings. I find it just engaging enough but just bland enough to fill in the hour I should wait before surrendering to sleep. (Going to bed too early means I get up too early and that’s an unaccountably vicious cycle.)

An ad popped up for a game called Klondike and I figured what the heck, I’d download it and give it a try. It looked even more mindless than solitaire but prettier.

Related image

The game started up with lots of easy to follow instructions. Buy some chickens, plant some wheat, and chop through these bushes to reveal hidden treasures! The juxtaposition of farming and exploring didn’t really make sense to me? Nor did having to rescue people and fix someone’s boat, but the game was telling me what to do, meaning I didn’t have to think, so I went along with it.

For three hours.

Worse, I played with breakfast the following morning. Tiredly. Doggedly. I’d accepted a challenge to cut down twelve sequoias in ten hours and waiting on the energy bar to refill between each effort was killing me.

I put the game aside to get some work done and managed to write backward, meaning I ended up with fewer words on my current WIP than I started with. I edited. Cut. Didn’t replace. Then I completely messed up another project by editing the incorrect file. I save daily and every version is dated. It’s a stupid mistake to make, but I was tired. Also, I needed to make bricks to complete the dairy and to make bricks I needed mortar and to make mortar I needed cement and to make cement I needed gravel. Gravel came from crushed up rocks and I couldn’t spare the energy to mine those rocks when I’d accepted a challenge to cut down these all these trees.

I went to bed early but took my Kindle with me, and in between chapters of I Don’t Know What I’m Reading Right Now I cut down trees, collected milk and eggs, and finally repaired the crusty old sea barnacle’s ship. Off we sailed to a new land!

Related image

It was kind of embarrassing to be caught playing the game by my husband when he returned to the house on Friday afternoon—after having seen me playing it at breakfast. I did take pains to point out that I’d not only written a full chapter, but had fixed my editing snafu, done all the laundry, mowed the lawn, cleaned two bathrooms, mopped and swept everything, and tidied another corner of our daughter’s bedroom. (She’s away at college and reclaiming that room is something like accepting a challenge to fell three hundred trees. The dust, omg, the dust. And the old plates under the bed. And the shoeboxes full of things. But that’s another blog post.)

We went out to see a movie and as I watched, I prepared strategies for optimizing my energy use in the game. To my credit, I didn’t campaign to return home early in order to complete another challenge by the deadline instead of getting dinner out. I Like pho. I am also an experienced gamer, after all. I’m used to not getting every achievement.

I’m not used to being able to take my games to bed with me. I Klondiked into the wee hours, even going so far as to log in and check my energy bar, mine a few things, and queue up some production (can you believe it takes twenty minutes to grow strawberries? I can clear a field of wheat in just three) after visiting the loo at two in the morning. I know. I KNOW.

At breakfast on Saturday, I told my husband, “I can quit at any time!”

We both laughed.

On Saturday afternoon, he surprised me with a plan to visit the corn maze we both loved and visited every year, with maybe dinner out afterward. The deadline for mining quartz would expire while we were out, but I couldn’t say no, could I?

I told myself I wouldn’t take my tablet to bed, but my current book was on it, so I sort of had to. Right? Right! I flipped tabs between Klondike and the book for about twenty minutes before giving up on reading and just farming. Mining. Manufacturing. Browsing upcoming challenges. I dreamed of farming and mining and manufacturing, and the weird little candy swap game you play to get more energy.

When I woke up on Sunday, I took my tablet downstairs, deleted the game, and read my book for an hour.

I didn’t even hesitate, even though I wasn’t quite aware of having made a conscious decision to delete the game (without even opening it). The evening before, I’d completed a five-day challenge and received a reward and a promise that the reward would be even bigger when I got to the twenty-day mark. I really wanted to see what that reward would be! But on Sunday morning, I didn’t care. Likely, it would have been just enough energy to complete roughly twenty percent of the next mining/farming/manufacturing challenge and no more. It would have been enough XP to take me to the next level and another host of challenges. More lands, more people who inexplicably needed rescuing, and maybe this time we’d be looking for mustard pots for the mustard pot set which I could exchange for hot dogs and I don’t know what the hot dogs would have done for me, but I’d probably hope they were for energy.

I enjoyed Sunday. I played Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Borderlands 3. I watched a movie and saw the whole thing because I didn’t have my tablet with me, or a reason not to pay attention. I went out to lunch with friends and didn’t check the time once. I cooked dinner when I got home. (Okay, yes, we’d been eating canned soup and banana and peanut butter sandwiches, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have lasted forever!)

Not once did I miss Klondike. I haven’t even played solitaire since. But I have been thinking about what it is about games that grab and hold our attention and why some games keep me and others don’t.

The first time I stayed up all night playing a game was Sim City in 199-something. I stayed glued to the PC for thirty-six hours muttering, “One more year. Just one more year.”

My propensity for mindless additions probably goes back as Asteroids, though. We had an Atari and if my dad wanted me to do anything on a Saturday, he’d have to pull the plug at the wall socket. I can still remember the shock of having that happen. The blank screen and not having anywhere to direct all the energy pent up in my entire body as I leaned forward over the joystick.

I call myself a recovering WoW addict. I played for five years, taking a break of three months only to get lost in Civ V. I never played any of those games through the night, though. I had a child by then and I was pretty fierce about putting family time before game time. I sacrificed other hobbies to the gaming gods in those years, reading very little and falling way behind on popular TV.

I never went back to World of Warcraft, even when my husband did. Once I quit, I stayed quit. I still play Sim City and The Sims often enough, but it’s usually when I’m looking for what I briefly found in Klondike. Something to do with a restless mind. An activity that swapped achievement for very little thought. No story to consider, no role to play, just a reorganizing of objects in order to reach goals. It’s no wonder I enjoy jigsaw puzzles and can often be found leaning over the same puzzle morning, noon, and night while listing all the other stuff I did that day to anyone who looks at me sideways.

There is a need for these types of activities—the sorts of games that challenge only just enough to entice, but let you win pretty easily. Because you’re tired and you really want enough points to build a cottage by the sea. (Also, you need more workers to farm all this stuff.)

But while I’m happy to pay sixty bucks to play Assassin’s Creed, I’ve never succumbed to the lure of microtransaction in puzzle games. I know I’m going to get at least 120 hours of playtime my first time through Assassin’s Creed and that the experience will probably wow me. I love these games. I love the worlds, I love a perfect assassination! But I’m not going to spend $3.99 on a welcome pack of energy and emeralds (that can be swapped for energy) just so I can farm more wheat and collect more milk. Why? It’s only four bucks. I’ve played Klondike for close to twenty hours in five days. (I know. I KNOW!)

I think the issue is that while I enjoy both puzzling and gaming, I have certain expectations for each. A puzzle is something to occupy my mind when I’m still buzzing, but not ready to commit to something else, like sleep. More, though, puzzles don’t tell stories. What I get out of a game like Assassin’s Creed is story. It’s what I look for, too. And if I quit a game early (Andromeda, for instance), it’s usually because it’s more a list of tasks for the same old rewards than an involved narrative. There are only so many times a game can send you after wolf pelts before you’re done, and ultimately, that’s why I quit World of Warcraft as well. I got up one morning and logged in to complete my dailies and was suddenly hit with a wave of inertia. Why was I doing this? So I’d be properly equipped for the raid that night, of course. But why was I doing that? So I’d be even better equipped for the next night’s raid—and I’d have to set my alarm to get up even earlier tomorrow because I needed to fish for elementals before I did my dailies and be done by the time my daughter got up for school.

No wonder I quit.

I already have a job. Several, in fact.

And gaming, for me, has always been about losing myself in another world for a while. Kind of like reading. Somewhere to visit and return from. Not a place where I want to live. So, no more Klondiking at three in the morning for me. Not at the moment, anyway. But, hey, as long as I use a tablet to read and get tired and easily distracted, no promises. What I can guarantee, however, is that my next silly gaming addiction will probably only last about as long as this one.

At least I hope it does…

Related image

In grabbing some images for the game (from the Klondike website), I discovered I could download it on PC. And that there were twelve maps, meaning eleven I hadn’t visited. I’ll admit I was tempted.

So far, I have resisted. I really want to finish my current WIP. Also, I can only eat so many peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

 

First Contact

The Chaos Station website has a page of extras that includes playlists, excerpts, interviews, trivia, and cut scenes from the series. Some of the links have expired, though, due to the sad disappearance of many review blogs. Because I dislike the idea of lost links, I thought I’d repost some of the missing content here, on my blog!

First up, I have an exclusive excerpt from Inversion Point, the fourth book in the series. Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t read this far in the series, reading this excerpt will spoil certain developments in both Zed’s character and his relationship with Felix.

To view a full list of excerpts and extras, visit the Chaos Station website


First Contact

Zed stood on the bridge of the Jitendra, watching the movement of ships milling near the border of Species Four space. No matter how sophisticated spacefaring technology got, humanity never failed to put windows on their ships. In the case of a tiny vessel like the Chaos, the windows might be little more than glorified portholes, but they were there. Probably out of some weird human need to see where they were going. Right now, the view distracted Zed from all the bullshit careening between his temples—only part of which was nervousness about what he was about to attempt. Communication with Species Four. 

The rest of it was nonsense about Theo Paredes. 

Zed was generally a logical guy—he prided himself on his control over his emotions, control he’d earned through a ton of work, mastering himself so his troops would have complete confidence in his decisions and leadership. There was no logical reason for his hackles to rise whenever Theo looked at Flick—they were old friends. More than friends once, yeah, but… 

Just…but. It shouldn’t matter. 

And he sure as hell shouldn’t be thinking about it now. 

“Are you ready, Major?” 

He looked down at the young communications officer. Dear God, were they recruiting kids out of high school these days? Was the AEF that desperate? She looked all fresh-faced and eager—and why shouldn’t she be? The galaxy was at peace, shit was good. 

Unless, of course, he was about to find out that Species Four had been communicating a declaration of war. That would suck. 

“I’m not sure this is something you can really prepare for,” he told her, a rueful grin quirking his lips. 

Flick nudged his elbow. “I thought you were doing your meditation thing.” 

“Hmm?” 

“Looking out the window.” 

Right. Of course everyone had been watching him. Having eyes on him all the time was something he should be used to, wasn’t it? At least this crowd wasn’t getting any closer or reaching for him, trying to get a piece of him… 

Not helping. 

“I’m clear. I’m calm.” Zed repeated the mantra a few times under his breath, willing it to be true. 

“T-minus two minutes,” the communications officer announced. 

“All personnel, clear all channels. Repeat, clear all channels.” Theo’s voice rang with authority through the bridge. He wasn’t the commanding officer of the Jitendra, but he was the ranking official aboard. What he said, went—unless they found themselves in a combat situation. 

Really not helping, Zander. 

“I’m right here,” Flick murmured. “Not going anywhere.” 

Zed wanted to grab Flick’s hand, brush a kiss to his lips, but he didn’t dare do either. Not with something like ninety seconds left before the Species Four message sounded across all channels. He settled for shooting him a grin over his shoulder. “Thanks. Step back, though, okay? Just…you know. Being paranoid.” 

Flick’s brows drew low but he did as Zed asked, backing up a pace. 

“T-minus sixty seconds.” 

Silence descended on the bridge, interrupted only by the soft susurrus of officers manipulating holo interfaces. Someone shuffled their feet. Someone else coughed. 

“T-minus fifteen seconds,” the comms officer reported. “Ten, nine, eight…” 

Zed followed the count in his head. His mind was as clear as it was going to get by five. At two, he triggered the Guardian cuff, making sure it was open to all channels and frequencies—just in case part of Species Four’s message was getting lost on a previously unknown layer of communication. 

At zero, the message blared across the bridge’s speakers. Nonsense words, nonsense rhythm, all known languages mashed together into a nonsensical belch of sound. The Guardian cuff vibrated—then the nape of his neck tingled. Buzzed. 

And the bridge of the Jitendra disappeared. 

On some level, Zed knew he hadn’t moved. All the AEF officers were still there, Flick was standing less than a meter away on his left, Theo was nearby, and Elias, Ness and Qek were all hovering at the back of the room. He could not quite…sense them, but almost. His consciousness, his self, had expanded, opened. 

No sooner had he realized it than something slammed into him. A force, a presence, something that seemed to recognize him. Not physical, but—oh God, there and overpowering and he couldn’t stop it, he couldn’t stop the invasion, the flood, the massive influx of alien thoughts and feelings, concepts and ideas. 

It was like the Guardians, how they communicated. Images, layers. But where the Guardians employed restraint—and he could understand that now, they had always held back to ensure they didn’t overwhelm him—this barrage didn’t stop, it didn’t let up. It battered against him, like a spring-swollen river. He was little more than a bit of flotsam being carried away by it— 

“Zed! Get the fuck off me, he needs—” A grunt, a growl, and then a hand jerked his arm, pulling him out of his ramrod-straight posture. “Breathe, damn it!” 

The spell shattered. Zed sucked in a hard breath, as though he’d just escaped the grip of deep water. He sucked in another and another—but he couldn’t seem to get enough air, there wasn’t enough air— 


Want to read more? Inversion Point is available at your favourite online retailer!

UNIVERSAL BUY LINK