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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

 

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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. ❤

What Summer Feels Like

Remember how summer was always hotter when you were a kid? And longer. The nights seemed to go on forever, and the end of August was a long, long way away. I have discovered, through the miracle of slowing down, that summer is still like that. You just need to take the time to notice it—which, when you’re all grown up, can be very hard to do.

I was supposed to take a break from writing last summer. Instead, I edited, sometimes two books at once, as I worked through the different pre-pub phases of all three books of the This Time Forever series. I also wrote promotional pieces for the August release of To See the Sun and the September release of the Counting series print anthology. I wrote workshop materials for two classes I planned to teach in the fall. I booked promotion for the This Time Forever series, processed ARC distribution for all the books, and started planning the posts I’d write for my upcoming releases. I prepared monthly newsletters. I kept up with my obligations to the RWA chapters I’m involved with. I beta read, judged, and critiqued. I blogged.

I also did the usual stuff: mowed my endless lawn, kept up with the weeds, entertained houseguests (my dad stayed with us for two months), and drove my child to and from her first job, music lessons, and anywhere else her heart desired.

Not much of a holiday, eh? I was so busy that I had to put off writing Purple Haze for the second time—which was just as well as Kindle Worlds closed in July and I had to add republishing Uncommon Ground to the to-do list.

Then my husband bought a bagel shop, with the fall, my volunteer jobs at the library resumed (including those classes I’d signed up to teach), and I was still editing and promoting and trying to write. Oh, and my daughter was applying to college.

Several times over the past twelve months, I’ve wanted to develop a delicate constitution. Become one of those people from period dramas who shift from fainting couch (or whatever it’s called) to a sheltered window seat, to perhaps a soft blanket spread beneath a shady tree, while everyone twittered on about their health and did their best not to be upsetting. Of course, were I alive back then, I’d probably have been a peasant and not had the time to be delicate. Just like, well, now.

This summer, I was determined to take my break. I needed it in the worst possible way. I was too tired to write—I could put words down but had no enthusiasm for my favourite part: plotting. I can’t write without a plot. I am not a pantser. I need to know which direction I’m writing, or I’ll scribble in circles for two hours before coming up with anything useful.

Plus, I’m not even sure what I want to write. I have lists of ideas, and I love a lot of them. I have two science fiction worlds almost fully built that I’d love to dive into, an outline for a series that would be the logical follow up to This Time Forever, spin-offs to Aliens in New York, a sequel (finally) to Best in Show, and an outline for another book set in the same world as To See the Sun. Although I’d like to write all of these someday, by the time I hit publish on Purple Haze in April, I honestly didn’t care if I ever wrote again.

So I decided to take the summer off writing and my holiday began with a social media break—which has become such a habit that I might actually have to force myself to get back to regular posts on Facebook, Instagram, and… you know what? I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to Twitter. I never really liked it anyway.

What have I been up to? Well, I’m still mowing my endless lawn and driving my daughter everywhere. Preparations for her first year of college are taking up a fair bit of time and the list of stuff we need to do doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. The bagel shop is still a thing and I’m working more hours there than I did throughout the year. Standing by a grill when it’s 90 out is all sorts of fun. And there’s the little matter of reformatting and republishing all of my Dreamspinner Press titles, due to my requested rights release.

Aside from ALL THAT, I am having a good summer, though. I’m… not writing. When I’m not stressing about the fact I’m not writing, I am actually having fun.

Family came to visit to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from high school and we went to Hershey Park and it was the best day I’ve spent at Hershey Park in something like ten years. Nothing went wrong, and because I wasn’t stressing about deadlines and contracts, I could simply relax and enjoy the day. Not check my email. Not care about social media, or what was happening in the world of publishing. Also, the lines were miraculously short for all the roller coasters and no one got sick on any of the rides. We didn’t lose a child, and we all made it home without injury. Our last stop of the day was one of my favourite places in Pennsylvania.

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Next up was July 4th, which we celebrated quietly at home. I’m not a huge fireworks fan, so while the kids did their best to set the driveway on fire (under the supervision of my husband and his brother), my sister-in-law and I mixed a couple of cocktails and watched a romantic comedy on Netflix. Perfect night was perfect. (No one lost an eye and only one kid threw up. Not a bad effort.)

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I’ve also been cooking a lot, which is something I miss when I’m hustling to meet editorial deadlines. We eat a lot of sandwiches when I’m busy. This summer, my daughter and I have been experimenting with plant-based eating. She’s been vegetarian for years and we’ve always enjoyed a lot of meatless meals as a family. This is our first proper foray into a vegan diet, though, and with all the new recipe sites out there, it’s easier than it sounds! I haven’t eaten cheese for over a month and I don’t miss it. I enjoyed a couple of ribs on July 4th (they’d been smoking on the outdoor grill all day and the smell, omg, the smell…), but otherwise haven’t missed meat. Eggs are harder for me to give up because they’re a breakfast staple. They’re a lot quicker and easier to whip up than a lot of the vegan alternatives. But I have cut my consumption in half and will continue to wean myself off the sunny side up with toast breakfast I enjoy so much.

I haven’t eaten bacon in over a month. Seriously, this is the most surprising fact of all. I LOVE bacon. But… I haven’t missed it.

The key, I’ve discovered, is choosing recipes that leave me not only full but satisfied. Salads generally don’t cut it. I need starch and protein. Here are a couple of favourites:

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Picture credit: The Live-In Kitchen

Vegan Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Spinach and White Beans

Baked Tofu Caesar Sandwich

Persian Yellow Split Pea and Eggplant Stew (So good I could eat it every day)

Spinach Artichoke Enchiladas (Not vegan, but substitutes can be made)

Every summer, I battle deer for the preservation of my many flower beds. This year, I’m mostly losing the war, but I’m enjoying being outdoors more than I have over the previous few summers. I work hard to keep my garden nice. Taking the time to actually be out there, either reading on the patio in the afternoon or drinking my morning cup of tea out on the deck, is a great way to appreciate all my hard work. My enjoyment is my reward.

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I haven’t spent as much time gaming as I had planned to. Probably because the weather has been so gorgeous, I’ve been finding it difficult to stay inside. I want to be out there, under the sun. Winters in Pennsylvania are longer than winters in Australia, so I need to soak up as much sunlight as I can before November rolls around again. Serious gaming is going to have to wait until then while now, the odd rainy afternoon finds me playing Watch Dogs 2.

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Every summer for the past five (ten?) I’ve planned to start painting again. This summer I just wanted to draw. I haven’t picked up a pencil, yet, but we’re only halfway through July, so I still have time.

Mostly, I’m enjoying not writing. Every day I don’t, the need to feel productive (or simply keep up) that has driven my writing career for over five years fades. It’s not that I never want to write again, but I’m slowly arriving at a place where if I didn’t, that would be okay—and that’s what I’m aiming for. There are a million quotes about the need for a writer to write and I have a feeling the urge will always be there. When I’m reading, in particular, the ideas creep around the back of my consciousness like poltergeists. I’ve resisted jotting most of them down, though. I have enough projects on the maybe to-do list.

What I’m looking for is a reason to write. I know what it is—it’s why I started this journey in the first place. It’s why I continue blogging, and why I’ve taken the time to republish all of my Dreamspinner titles. Because I love to tell stories, even when they’re about why I’m not currently telling stories. So, while I enjoy these long summer days and nights, remembering what ‘hot’ smells like, and contort myself to scratch the mosquito bites behind my right shoulder, I’ll wait for that feeling to float to the top again. For the one story I need to tell to start knocking. For the voices in my head to start whispering. To not care who I’m writing for, except the one whose butt is in the chair, whose fingers are on this keyboard.

The end of August is still a long way away. I’ve still got a lot of summer left to enjoy.

Celebrating Pride!

Pride month is important to me as a writer of LGBT fiction, but also as a human being. Pride is an important part of my identity and every year, I watch – with pride – as more people are encouraged to celebrate themselves, thereby encouraging others. Often, I think it would be nice to live in a world, a time, where a Pride Month isn’t necessary. But this is and will forever be an important part of our history, and even when who you love matters less than who you are, the fact that there ever was a struggle must always be remembered.

Therefore, I’m thrilled to offer BLOCK AND STRIKE for just 99c throughout Pride Month because this book is about pride. Both Max and Jake struggle with their identity and sexuality and it’s partly through their relationship that they figure out how to be themselves – Jake, a nurturer and caregiver, Max as someone strong enough to stand up for himself.

I put a lot of myself into this book in regards to that struggle for identity and how important the study of martial arts has been in helping me find my voice. If not for my own experiences at the dojo, this book and others might never have happened.

Also, in random trivia:

  • BLOCK AND STRIKE was my first full-length solo novel
  • My first book in print
  • First of my books to win an award
  • I have Jake’s tattoo on my right shoulder blade
  • I named my Mustang after Max.

 

Get BLOCK AND STRIKE for just 99c at all retailers!

Amazon | Amazon UK | B&N | Kobo | Apple Books | Dreamspinner Press

 

Excerpts and extras from BLOCK AND STRIKE:

The Golden Man (Excerpt)

Egg Drop Soup (Excerpt)

First Kiss (Excerpt)

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (Excerpt)

Who’d bury a body for you? A chat with Max and Jake

Learning to Make Noise Why I study self-defense.

Writing Kids and Family