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

What I’ve Been Reading

Non-Fiction Edition!

I’ve never been an avid non-fiction reader. I’ve wanted to read more history and science, but my mind tends to wander in the middle of a sentence as my thoughts fly toward fictional ends. The discovery of non-fiction on audio has made a huge difference for me, however, as well as choosing the right titles. I need to be sufficiently interested, and I need to take it one chapter at a time. Using both of these approaches, I’ve managed to read more non-fiction over the past couple of years than I have in the previous forty-nine put together. Sadly, that probably also includes all the books I was supposed to read for school. Better late than never, eh? Or, is it that you’re never too old to learn something new?

Following is a sampling of the great non-fiction titles I’ve consumed this year.

37569338How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

I’ve always wanted to read more biography and memoir and How to Be a Good Creature is a great place to start because it combines really interesting facts about animals with chapters of Sy Montgomery’s life and career.

Having read a few more memoir type books since this one, I’ve been able to narrow down just what it is I like about the genre so much: the sense of possibility. Montgomery has done amazing things, but for the most part, she’s living a fairly ordinary life – even if surrounded by some of nature’s most compelling creatures. But reading about the choices she made to get where she is today gave me a sense of hope that life doesn’t have to follow a predestined path. That you can grow up to be anything you want, really. There are lucky breaks and lightning strikes, but for most of us, it’s having a dream and going after it. Putting in the work and loving it. Because it’s your dream. It’s what you want to do.

How to Be a Good Creature conveys this sense in a wonderful way, along with real-life lessons taught to the author by all of the creatures she came into contact with.

Naturally, the chapter about the octopuses was my favourite. ❤

41016100._SX318_The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis

Fascinating and terrifying.

I have an Audible subscription and one of the recent benefits I’ve come to love is the choice of two titles (usually from their Audible Originals selection) offered for free every month. Invariably, I’ll choose one of the non-fiction downloads, because they sound so damn interesting. I mentally tagged The Coming Storm “post-apocalyptic” research when I acquired it, based on a quick glance at the synopsis. When I finally loaded it up to listen, I thought it was going to be all about weather disasters.

It is and it isn’t. More, it’s a history of weather science and how tracking the weather and interpreting historical data has helped programmers develop sophisticated statistical algorithms – thus enabling more accurate weather prediction, among other things – but how our weather is changing. And how, in some instances, corporate America is monetizing this data and these changes. Information and misinformation are both worth the same, apparently.

The most entertaining chapter by far was about Kathy Sullivan, one of the first women in space. The rest of the book is pretty scary. Oh, and the Accuweather app is so gone from my phone.

40672036._SY475_Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

Earlier this year, author Roni Loren blogged about her 30-day social media break and credited Cal Newport’s books, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World for the greater part of her amazing productivity during that time. I found her experiment truly inspiring, particularly as for the earlier part of this year, I was feeling overwhelmed by the demands on my time, and exhausted by the effort of maintaining a social media presence.

I’d had four titles release in quick succession (one a month) in the latter half of 2018, and was working my way toward the release of Purple Haze. Generally, I enjoy interacting with friends and readers on Facebook, in the few groups I’m active in and on my personal timeline. I try hard not to spam any of these places with news of my upcoming releases and have always tried to maintain a consistent activity level so that when I do talk about my books, the post isn’t a serious departure from “what Kelly posts about.” Writing is an integral part of my life, therefore it’s a part of my timeline.

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with social media, though. I often have to make myself go online and do the thing. I assumed it was because I was old and more extroverted than introverted. I like spending time with people. I also prefer to converse face-to-face, where I can read facial cues and body language. I’m often confused by the tone (or lack thereof) of text messages. Like most older people I know, I use a lot of emojis when texting, because they help intonate. That’s me grimacing and smiling and winking. Even while texting, I’m still trying to tell you with my face how I feel about this.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World explained a lot of my difficulties with texting and my ambivalence toward the true value of social media.

(Continue reading this review on Goodreads)

42361141._SX318_Rivals! Frenemies Who Changed the World by Scott McCormick

Another Audible Original production! Seriously, if you’re an Audible subscriber, check out the monthly free offerings. There are some true gems!

This was super entertaining! I really enjoyed The Bone Wars and the rivalry between Adidas and Puma. These two stories really do illustrate the subtitle for this volume, about how these rivalries changed the world. The war between the two paleontologists Cope and Marsh often read like (sounded) like a pissing contest between preschoolers, but their rivalry led significant discoveries and a complete retooling of the way dinosaur bones were classified.

The rivalry between Puma and Addidas spawned the ENTIRE INDUSTRY OF SPORT SPONSORSHIP. Arguably, it would probably have happened anyway, but the intense competition between these two brothers stripped decades off the natural coming pairing of sports equipment manufacturers sponsoring talented athletes.

I found the other two stories (Hamilton/Burr and Elizabeth/Mary) historically interesting but not as fascinating.

13589153How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil

If you’ve read The Singularity is Near, How to Create a Mind is a good follow-up. Renowned futurist, Ray Kurzweil, refers to his previous title reasonably often and thematically, they’re similar. Kurzweil is always looking forward.

In this book, he chronicles much of the work he and others have done in exploring and understanding not only how the human brain works, but how the mind functions – as a part of the brain and as a totally separate entity. He asks the question “what is a mind” and goes on to answer it in several interesting ways.

Kurzweil’s research led him to the development of text to speech programs such as Dragon Naturally Speaking and Siri, and it’s interesting to learn how those got started and what’s actually behind the voice. He also talks a lot about Watson, the AI that won at Jeopardy.

It’s all fascinating stuff. I took lots of notes for use in an upcoming project.

27161156Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Another memoir and not something I thought I’d ever read, let alone enjoy. J.D. Vance isn’t fabulously wealthy. He hasn’t won a Nobel Prize. He’s not on TV or in the movies. He isn’t in the Guinness Book of World Records or You-Tube famous. He’s… just a guy. He’s… lived a life. It’s an interesting life, but not particularly compelling.

It’s where he came from and where he ended up that power this book, and the honest conviction of the narrative. The lucky breaks and the hard-won victories. The idea that anyone can make a go of it in this life and that circumstances don’t necessarily have to hold you back – except when they do.

Vance challenges a lot of assumptions about poor and working-class whites and the idea of upward mobility. His passion for the subject is obvious through all the research presented, but also in his tone and how, as a person, he has both changed, but not.

18154._SY475_The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Clifford Stoll

Fantastic! This memoir/real-life story reads like fiction and Cliff Stoll’s voice is an essential part of the narrative.

Basically, it’s the story of how Stoll tracked a hacker through various networks, collecting the evidence that led to the hacker’s identity and capture. The book was about so much more than tracing a single hacker, though. What I found to be the most troubling aspect – aside from the fact this hacker was free to roam through military networks, gaining access to sensitive data through gaping holes in the security of over thirty poorly administrated systems – was the fact no one, not the FBI, CIA, NSA, or military intelligence, really knew what to do about it. Even more troubling, few of these organizations even seemed to care. What Stoll’s story revealed was the need for an entity focused specifically on these sorts of crimes where jurisdiction and simple dollar value weren’t points of contention. Where the breach of trust or the ethical question of: do you belong here? were the only criteria required to pursue a case. And, of course, the need to properly educate system administrators on how to secure their systems. How to classify sensitive data.

The book also chronicles Stoll’s evolution from someone who was fairly apolitical into someone who gave a shit. I really enjoyed reading his thoughts and feelings about the rights and wrongs of what this hacker was doing from his own, very personal perspective.

Also, the footnote with the cookie recipe? I giggled for ten minutes afterward. And the book just wouldn’t have been the same without these frequent glimpses into Stoll’s life with his girlfriend, Martha, and roommates.

Really, a fantastic read and highly recommended to anyone with an interest in computer security, the ethics of hacking, the evolution of cybercrime, or the history of computing around Berkely, California in the eighties. The writing never gets too technical (in my opinion) and the story holds wide appeal.

Small Packages, Good Games

In between long and involved games like chapters of Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher, I really like shorter games with tighter stories that I can play through in a week or two. Especially when I don’t have a lot of time to devote to gaming. Two shorter games I played this summer that really impressed me were Watch Dogs 2 and Soma.

Watch Dogs 2

I loved playing this game. Watch Dogs 2 has the perfect balance of open-world and a directed story. I could while away a gaming session exploring a beautifully rendered San Francisco and Bay Area, stopping for coffee at a donut shop, trying on new outfits, cruising the harbor or pretending to be a part of impromptu parties and street gatherings. I could explore hidden basements and rooftops, looking for new key data and the points to spend researching it. For a day, I could be a cab driver, toting citizens around the city – or helping them catch as much air as possible by zooming up San Francisco’s many hills and launching ourselves (in the car) from the top of them. There are so many neighborhoods to explore and reasons to do so. And, you can post it all on an Instagram type feed called ScoutX.

party

Meanwhile, there’s a fairly immersive story waiting for you that ties into real-world issues by proposing that one man, Dusan Nemec, is using the tools at the disposal of his tech corporation, Blume, to gather data on network users (hypothetically, me and you) for financial gain and influence. The data is exchanged in secret deals with health insurance companies (order a pizza using the app on your phone and your health insurance premiums might just go up), home security companies (do you know who has access to your new smart home?), the local police (use and abuse of power and cooperation with local outlaw gangs), the FBI… the list goes on up the chain until the game has you believing that no data is safe from attack and abuse. It’s pretty scary and reminiscent of reality in a way that has you thinking about the trail you leave online.

I’ve always been of the opinion that if someone finds me interesting enough to trace, good luck to them. I surf recipe sites, book review sites, gaming sites, some science, a little porn, and too much social media. I’m really not that interesting. But my digital footprint could be useful in the right hands when it comes to manipulating my opinion on certain subjects, such as an election.

The point of the game is to take down Blume and the process is fairly straight forward. Get some dirt, spread it around, and invite others to roll in it with you. Of course, this gains Nemec’s attention and he’s not a friendly foe. The stakes rise far higher than I expected from this outwardly fun game, and the plot points hit harder. I came to truly care for the members of Dedsec, even though they sometimes felt a little too young and radical for my homecooked and mow it to perfection twice a week self. 

What I Loved Most

Driving. Or, more accurately, riding my Sayanora motorcycle from one end of the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the hills behind Oakland. I only killed one other motorcyclist on these trips (which I, of course, felt terrible about), and managed to limit collateral damage to a few traffic lights and several stop signs. I was much more dangerous with four wheels beneath me. Or should I say Marcus was? Marcus was much dangerous in a car. In a van, he was downright destructive. The guy was a terrible driver. 😉

I never got tired of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge or simply watching the city unfold around me. The environment is amazing and the fact you can stop off at any point and engage with it never failed to tempt me.

I also really enjoyed learning to sneak around Umeni security corps and gang members. I excelled in the art of distraction and spent most of my research points learning to sow greater chaos.

The network puzzles were awesome, except the ones that had timers attached. I actually sucked at those but managed to get through all of them, sometimes with naught but a second to spare.

And shopping. I really enjoyed shopping. In what other game can you buy and wear a donut shirt?

donutshirt

What I Didn’t Love

Not much, to be honest, though the level of violence available never stopped bothering me. For some reason, I thought hackers would be peaceable types who favored quiet takedowns or a completely hands-off method to achieving their goals. Probably naive of me.

Apparently, if you immediately freeze, Umeni Corps won’t shoot. They’ll arrest you and escort you from the premises. I never managed this feat. I was shot every time and had to replay several missions several times in order to learn the path of least resistance out of a building – until I become a more accomplished chaos engineer, that is.

I also didn’t like that it was so easy to kill people with things like, um, forklifts. The first time was an accident and I stared at my screen, completely horrified. The second time was deliberate as I learned to remotely pilot forklifts, cars, motorcycles, vans, and scissor-lifts into enemies, maiming, crushing, and killing. Bad guys. Mostly bad guys. Load up something explosive and the effect is even better. I never felt quite right about killing people, though, and opted in most cases for a melee attack that probably broke necks, but I could tell myself they were simply knocked out. You know, like in Assassin’s Creed.

Dusan Nemec was a tool. I loved his eventual takedown. So, I didn’t love him, but his character was perfectly scripted. From the man-bun and not a hair out of place face fur to his stupidly expensive track pants.

In Summary

While searching online for the reason there was so much trash blowing around the streets of San Francisco (I thought it might be a real-world effect caused by my causing too much chaos, like in Dishonored), I came across a lot of Reddit and other forum comments calling the game trash, a waste of time, and absolute garbage. I disagree. I thought the game was FUN, well-scripted, just difficult enough to be a challenge, and filled with enough activity outside the main quest to be worth the sticker price. I grabbed it on sale for less than $20 and wouldn’t have been upset to have paid the usual $50-$60.

The game ran bug-free and seamlessly on my PC, which is running a fairly old (now) Intel Core i5-4460 CPU with only 16Gb of RAM, and a GeForce GTX 970 graphics card.

I logged 40 hours of playtime and though I completed the main quest and quite a few side activities, I felt I’d barely scratched the surface of the world environment. There was a lot left to do and the main quest holds (in my opinion) substantial replay value.

Recommended!

Soma

Before playing The Evil Within, I hadn’t known horror survival was a genre. What I love about games like this is the tight, compact story, and the different style of gameplay they encourage. These aren’t necessarily “kill them first and ask questions later” kind of games. You don’t advance by learning to hold two guns (swords, machetes, flame throwers) at once. More usually, the player is presented every level with a new puzzle that encourages you to think about what you’ve already learned and apply it in a new and interesting way. Sort of like Prince of Persia, but with way less jumping.

I had forgotten everything about Soma by the time I got around to playing it, except that maybe I’d bought it on my daughter’s recommendation. I once watched a trailer for this post-apocalyptic game set under the ocean where you went from station to station in a sub, avoiding scary things. It was a top-down, 3D affair (think Diablo III) and looked pretty immersive. I forgot to add it to my wishlist, though, and never saw it again. Then my daughter started talking about a game called Soma that was post-apocalyptic and underwater. And it was on sale. So I picked it up.

Soma is eerily similar to that lost game, except that it has an FPS interface and the only sub you get your hands on breaks soon afterward because of course it does. Getting around in a sub would be too easy – and boring.

Basically, the story is that you’re this dude, Simon, and you have something wrong with your brain. The result of an accident. The game begins with you (as Simon) visiting the doctor who is going to scan your brain with the hopes of developing a treatment regimen. You go to this lab and sit in a chair and a mechanical screen lowers over your head as you engage in foreshadow-y banter with the doctor – about how Native Americans believed that cameras could capture a person’s soul. As Simon is plunged into darkness, you, the player, is, of course, thinking about what this computerized brain scan is going to capture.

When the screen lifts, you’re in a different room. It’s dark and really, really creepy, and once you figure out how to turn the lights on, it’s not much better. The room is littered with broken machinery, which has, ah, something sort of growing on it, something that at first glance is part machine, part biological – maybe – and then there are these suits.

20190801085546_1

You quickly ascertain that you’re not where you thought you were and over the course of the game, you also discover that you’re not what you thought you were. Oh, and the world has ended, and you’re basically humanity’s last hope.

What I Loved

While you’re dodging scary AF creatures that KILL YOU, the story delves more deeply into the themes of what makes us human, and thoughts about our viability and survivability as a species. All stuff I LOVE.

The voice acting is thoughtful and I really enjoyed getting to know the two main characters in the game, Simon and Catherine. I was invested in their adventure.

The creep factor is real and I jumped several times as horrors ducked around corners and crept up behind me. I further loved the fact that there is no combat option – the only way to survive the game and win all objectives is to sneak your way through the increasingly weird and depressing ruins of the Pathos station.

20190804121934_1

Oh, and there are a couple of neat twists to the story, and one or two decisions you must make that really hit quite hard.

What I Didn’t Love

The way the ending was handled. No spoilers, but initially, there was a complete sense of “well, damn.” I was depressed about how things had turned out and a little annoyed that the developers had ended the game the way they had. Tabbing out of the end game credits delivers an epilogue that is much more worthwhile, being the ending I’d expected all along. I don’t know if the first ending is a fake-out? If so, I think the segue into the second ending could have been handled a little more elegantly.

In Summary

Overall, I loved this game. I’ve raved about it to several other gamer friends and despite the small hiccup toward the end for me, I thought the story was super solid. Deeply thoughtful and compelling. The first ending does work quite well, it’s just… I like my endings a little happier.

I was hooked by the story from beginning to end and played this game in two days – which is nearly unheard of for me. I usually don’t have that sort of time to devote all at once, but also, this is a really short game. I clocked only 12 hours over the course of a single weekend.

I got this one on sale and would probably wait for a sale again rather than pay $30, but I did think the bang was worth the buck. Soma delivered a nearly flawless gaming experience and a totally immersive story. It’s easy to learn the rules, and while the story is tight, you can roam off the beaten path to explore more of the world if you want to. I can imagine the game could be replayed a couple of times, therefore revealing more clues.

Highly recommended. I’ll be looking out for more from Frictional Games.

 

Read me for free* with Kindle Unlimited!

*Sort of free.

If you’re not familiar with Kindle Unlimited, it’s a subscription model available through Amazon enabling readers to pretty much read as much as they want for one monthly price. There are two catches – you can only borrow ten books at a time, and you’re limited to books made available to the Kindle Unlimited program.

Also, technically, you can’t actually read me. It’s my books that are available to read. More specifically, all of my Dreamspinner Press titles. But, seeing as I put so much of myself into the characters I write, you could be reading alternate versions of me. (Is this getting a little weird?)

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So, What’s Available?

As I mentioned above, all of my former Dreamspinner Press titles are now enrolled in KU. They’re also available for purchase at Amazon worldwide.

Now

Links!

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

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Sexy New Covers!

Additionally, I redesigned the covers for two books, one a former Dreamspinner Press novella, Out in the Blue, and the other a story I wrote for the Don’t Read in the Closet event, organized by the M/M Romance group on Goodreads. Wrong Direction is now available for sale for the first time ever, and to read through KU.

Check out these pretty new covers!

OBCover0806    Wrong Direction

Links!

Out in the Blue
Wrong Direction

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No Longer Free*

*Even though they never really were free? 

Anyway, the Aliens in New York series is no longer enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program. For those of you who missed out, I might enroll them again if I write a new book for the series. It’s a pretty big IF right now. I’ve got a lot of projects I’d like to write and limited time to devote to any of them. But, a writer must write, and write I must.

Rambling aside, what this means is that Uncommon Ground and Purple Haze are now available for purchase from, well, just about anywhere. Universal links below!

41aryKS98RL    41f0Sk6mSiL

Links!

Uncommon Ground
Purple Haze

 

 

RWA 2019

While pondering possible titles for this blog post, I considered “Misery Loves Company” which might have enticed you to read, but would have started us out on the wrong tone. My trip to New York for the Romance Writers of America 2019 National Conference was far from miserable. It was, in fact, one of the most enjoyable conference experiences of my career.

So what’s that other title about? Writing is a fairly solitary exercise and while I belong to three wonderfully supportive groups up here in the Poconos, none of them are romance focused, so I always look forward to an RWA conference as a way to connect with my peers in the romance genre, and with writers whose books, like mine, feature LGBTQ characters. I’m also looking to connect with writers who are at the same stage of their career so we can swap notes, perhaps commiserate a little, and cheer each other on to the next step.

BadgeThis year, in particular, I was hoping to do all of that and also find a reason to keep going. To, nevertheless, persist. My fatigue this year hasn’t all been due to external forces. As a writer and a romance novelist, I’m also exhausted by what’s happening in the marketplace. Thankfully, I’m not alone. My first workshop of the conference was appropriately named #Tired: Wielding Your Pen When the World’s on Fire and everyone in that room was tired. There are other writers out there who felt as though we now need to take two steps to cover the same distance as one. That everyone else is writing faster and harder and better. That our lives outside of writing hours have become stupidly complicated, meaning that sometimes three steps are required when we are back in the zone. And, we all agreed, the absolute dumpster fire that is social media just makes it all worse.

Our lovely panelists, Kianna Alexander and Synithia Williams, were prepared for us, though, with a number of ways for us to Realize, Reset, Recharge, and Restart.

Next up was the PAN Keynote with Jennifer Probst, who also talked about this overwhelming fatigue, to a wave of emphatic nods from the audience. I walked out of this session with five paragraphs scrawled into my notebook—all five written down at the encouragement of our speaker. Why I came to the conference, my fears regarding my career, my dreams, when my writing felt the worst, and when it felt the best. These paragraphs will slot nicely into the reset phase of my working plan from the first session.

I attended other workshops and sessions, but these two set the tone for my conference by reminding me that I wasn’t alone and that if <insert any author here> could keep going, I could too. I just had to want to.

Another aspect of this conference that resonated was how many authors took a moment to speak to the need for more diverse representation, not only in the awards arena, but in our chapters, on our boards, and in our books. The reminder that this starts at the chapter level is timely, and ties directly into why I’ve always tried to be active in my own chapters. Change starts within, and we will only get out of this organization what we put into it.

KHOn to the social stuff! The social happenings are the highlight of every conference and one of my favourite authors, Kristan Higgins, totally made my day on Thursday by posing for a picture with me. She is as lovely in person as she is in her reader group! I was thrilled to finally meet her.

I also ran into Liz Jacobs and Roan Parrish, both writers I adore! We’d been friends online for years, but it’s totally different to meet in person. I nearly convinced Liz to move to San Francisco, because for some reason I thought she already lived there and had what we agreed was a lovely mental image of her and her wife and cute dog all sitting on a sunny balcony overlooking the water. Roan has the boundless energy I recognize from her books. I was excited to applaud her efforts when the board recognized her fundraising activities.

I met and caught up with several members of the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter, both on Wednesday evening and Thursday evening. One of the challenges of an online chapter is the connectivity that comes with meeting regularly. Hopefully, putting some names to faces will enable our members to feel closer as a group. Robin Covington is going to do a fantastic job as chapter president next year and will need the support of our membership!

Beer drink

Thursday night, I caught my first Uber (after taxi overheated and dumped us on West 9th) to Brooklyn to watch E.J. Russell’s sons dance. Oh, my. Gina Night, Jenna Bayley Burke, E.J. and I stopped by the brewery next door first, then took our seats for three hours of scantily clad beauty. The skin! The dancing. The singing! The music! The show was called Queen of Hearts and performed by Company XIV at their theatre in Bushwick. An amazing show. Even if you don’t appreciate dance, just the experience of so many talented people moving and working together will blow you away. More objectively—so many lovely bodies. I could have watched these beautiful young people move all night.

Friday afternoon, I got together with Judith Utz (A Novel Take PR), Liz Jacobs, Jenn Burke, and Kini (Smexy Books) for a drink. We touched on the subject of industry fatigue and what seem to be the popular subgenres of romance right now. We also enjoyed delicious cocktails and each other’s company.

SmackDinner out with Jenn, J. Leigh Bailey, and Shae Connor was another highlight. We found the most amazing Turkish restaurant and enjoyed hours and hours of conversation about writing, publishing, and just being human. Later, we indulged in Schmackary’s cookies as recommended by Amanda Weaver. Nom, nom, nom.

I attended multiple signings and gathered many books. I plan to read all of them. I’ll try to read all of them. I’m thinking of writing a blog series about my attempt to read all of them. I’m always up for a challenge! After my first RWA (San Diego 2014) I dragged 37lbs of books home. I think you’ll agree I was much more restrained this time.

I finally met Vanessa North! She’s as gorgeous in person. I also met Cat Sebastian and Ruby Lang. I cannot wait to read Ruby’s book! I met a dozen other authors as well and enjoyed chatting with everyone about their stories.

BooksI picked the books in this picture for two reasons: I liked the author and wanted to read more, or the cover called me across the room. One thing I did notice this year was a distinct lack of science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal romance. A good thing, as there are fewer books in my haul. But a sad thing as those are among my favourite romance genres. This year, I picked up a lot of light-hearted reads and books that veer more into women’s fiction territory.

Finally, on Saturday, Jenn and I caught the subway downtown for a while, so she could see a little more of Manhattan. I took her to Washington Square Park where I tried and mostly failed to take a selfie of us standing in front of the arch. Then we popped into a few bookshops on our way back up to Union Square and ended our trip with another subway ride back to Times Square just in time to pick up our luggage and hoof it to the bus back to Pennsylvania.

WSP TAT

Back home again, I took Jenn to meet my tattoo artist, Rob, and she got an amazing tattoo! One final dinner out and we all came back to my place and collapses. Sunday officially didn’t happen. I did laundry and gamed.

All in all, it was a great conference. If you’re a romance writer or a member of the RWA, I highly recommend attending at least one national conference near you. If not just for the workshops and signings, but to mingle with your people. Exchange ideas, congratulation someone in person for their achievements, and learn a little more about the people behind the books you love. If you’re a reader, there is always a huge book fair on the Saturday where you can do pretty much the same thing. Meet your fellow readers (many of who are writers too!) and line up to meet the author of the book that changed your life.

My Summer Daze is still in effect. I still have to cover all the vacation shifts at the shop, get my daughter to college, prepare for my father’s visit and mow the lawn (again and again), but I now have some ideas—if not story ideas, then plans—for what I’ll be working on in September. I feel refreshed in regards to my career and, most importantly, as if there is still a place out there for my voice and my stories.

The hardest part of getting back to work is probably going to be choosing which project to work on, but I have some ideas about that, too. ❤