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Archive for the ‘real life’ Tag

Quarantine: Day 11

Most writers have day jobs. I happen to have a great one: I work as a localization project manager for a contractor at HP. I mention this because we were ordered (all HP employees and contract workers) to work from home on the evening of March 12th.

I have a background in public health, working as an environmental analytical chemist for the state lab for five years back in my misspent youth, so I was happy about this. The next day, as we were all gathering up equipment to go virtual for at least the rest of the month, the first Idaho case of COVID-19 was announced.

So I have been practicing “Social Distancing” since Friday the 13th. One trip to the grocery store (where are people storing all that toilet paper?), one visit from Spooky Man, a couple of trips for takeout—trying to keep at least a bit of the local service economy going without a lot of social interaction—and that’s the extent of my physical interaction with the human species for the last week and a half.

Now I know that any extroverts reading this are probably horrified right now. But I’m an introvert with good Internet service. Between Skype chats and Zoom meetings, I’m good. My cats are quite pleased that the servant is here all day. Other than eliminating the (short) commute, my life hasn’t changed much.

Except that I haven’t written a word of fiction since we went to working from home. And I don’t know why. I just…I guess my coping beans are being used for something else, but I have no idea what. I have given myself until the end of the week to be lazy, and then it’s back into the trenches.

I have to figure out the new plot hole that has appeared in my work in progress. And format the first HD collection (Valmont Contingency, Nobinata Gambit, & Ocasek Opportunity). And work on the historical that my critique partners keep asking about. There’s no shortage of author work.

See you after the quarantine!

When Life Kind of Explodes

I became the president of my local chapter of Romance Writers of America on January 1, 2020. No big deal, right? Should be able to keep writing to provide a good role model for my chapter members, as our chapter is happy, healthy, and functioning well. Unfortunately (you may want to have a snack for this; I recommend popcorn)….

On December 23rd, the RWA national office sent out an announcement of an ethics censure of a prominent former board member and current chair of their ethics committee, including revoking her membership for a year and banning her from holding a leadership position forever. All Heck broke loose, mostly on Twitter.

It must be noted that this particular woman is an Author of Color (specifically, her mother is ethnically Chinese by way of Hawaii–I had an uncle, may he rest in peace, who was ethnically Filipino by way of Hawaii so this doesn’t sound at all odd to me) with a large Twitter following who had spoken out about what she perceived as racism. Her private account, her opinion. I’m an extremely white woman of a certain age who does not get to decide what is racist to someone else.

Then, on Christmas Eve, when the national office is supposed to be closed and after the circumstances around the original complaint came out, the national office announced the ruling was rescinded pending a review of some stuff that might not have been done according to written policy and procedure.

What the what?

The more information that came out, the more sketchy the whole thing began to appear. By December 26th, half of the board of directors had resigned, including the president, possibly in total fury at being wholesale-lied to, but I don’t actually know. Merry Christmas!

RWA members began pulling entries from their prestigious writing contest, The Ritas, and began resigning their memberships in droves.

Now the way RWA’s corporate direction works, there’s a president and a president-elect who becomes the sole candidate for president in the next election, and takes over as president if something happens to the president, such as resigning.

The new president appointed five board members to replace the eight who had resigned. Then it came out that he might not be eligible to be either president-elect or president, as he hadn’t published enough books. Who approved his nomination? The executive director is in charge of vetting election eligibility (this will become important).

Fast forward by a week. The national office hired a law firm to audit the process and procedure that had or had not been followed on the original ethics complaint. A petition to recall the new president was sent to the national office. The Ritas were cancelled. Prominent agents and large publishers pulled sponsorship and participation in the national conference.

Somewhere in the middle of this, my chapter (Coeur du Bois), held its first meeting of the new year and discussed the situation for nearly an hour. We were remarkably civilized, given that we were all appalled and furious at the same time.

The same day as our meeting, one of the people who had filed the original sketchy ethics complaint said she had been strongly encouraged by a staff member, and that some of her statements in the complaint might not be true–okay, she admitted she had lied about material harm to her business.

Dear Lord, give me strength.

By last Thursday (January 9, 2020), both the new president and the executive director had resigned.

It had turned up that the new president had convened a secret second ethics committee to take up the now-claimed-untruthful ethics complaints and presented their findings to the board without any supporting documentation. It also turned up that he hadn’t published five books in the last seven years, which is one of the basic requirements to hold the office of president-elect and president.

The executive director had passed the ethics complaints to the new president in spite of several sketchy things about them (even before one of the complainants admitted she lied). She also had deemed the new president eligible to run for president-elect when he hadn’t been.

I had already made popcorn and spiked my tea, so I laughed hysterically and revised my chapter statement to the board yet again.

This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive or detailed history of what happened over the last 3 weeks, just a brief discussion of the high points that I remember.

If you’re intrigued and want to know more, a Google search on “RWA Courtney Milan” will give you an entry into the whole thing. Yes, Courtney Milan is the pen name of the author who was originally censured. She writes very good historical romance.

Also last week, Spooky man requested I drive to his lair with a snow blower, as it was scheduled to dump 1 to 3 feet of snow over the weekend and he was already having difficulty negotiating the driveway. He drives a Hummer H3 (the smallest version, but still…). I had to be winched out of the driveway to return to the big city on Saturday as it had snowed at least 12 inches overnight and the snowblower had missing parts.

And the winching was after more than an hour of snow shoveling to be able to get into my small SUV. I did not have spiked tea for that little mishap, but the cats were more attentive than usual when I got home, after which it immediately started snowing in the big city. I think they can smell stress and realize it could mean extra treats.

Of course, they got extra treats.

And three more board members have resigned since I last checked. Lovely.

At this point, I have no idea what’s going to happen to the corporation Romance Writers of America. If it folds, I have no idea if it’s going to take our local chapter with it. We’re independently incorporated, but we’re incorporated as a chapter of RWA, Inc. We could lose everything, including every dollar in our bank account, and be forced to start over from the articles of incorporation.

And that’s why I haven’t had a blog post since well before Christmas. Non-writing life grabbed the wheel and drove the bus, possibly over a cliff.

Corgi Problems

This is my dog Smokey. He’s a Welsh Corgi (purebred, but that was kind of an accident). A family who had raised him from a puppy was selling him because they had leased a house with hardwood floors, and the landlord didn’t want indoor dogs on the hardwood floors.

Let that sink in, and you’ll realize why I ended up with a purebred corgi. They were selling a family member for someone else’s convenience, but the two outside hunting dogs (the husband’s dogs) got to stay.

To quote Miss Scarlet of the movie Clue, “Flames. Flames shot out of my head….” Of course, Smokey had to be rescued from that situation. The labradors kept outside did too, but I didn’t have that option.

And Hank, who had always loved small dogs, thought Smokey was the best present ever. Corgis are really medium-sized dogs with achondroplasia dwarfism, but it was close enough for Hank.

Now, corgis are shepherds. And nobody told them they’re supposed to be little dogs (or if they did the corgis didn’t listen). So Smokey has the attitude of a police dog when it comes to doorbells, strangers, and perimeter patrol. And it really bothers him when the cats mess with him—they’re about the same height, but they’re cats. “It’s like being told to move along by a civilian, Chief. It’s not respecting the badge.”

But aside from just being a corgi (stubborn, protective, adorable), he has a bad habit of snacking out of litterboxes. I know—euw. We still don’t have all the furnishings in the mountain house, so there are two litterboxes within his reach. And Spooky Man isn’t good at policing his, ah, activities.

Yesterday, Smokey made himself sick enough that Spooky Man couldn’t drive to town for our wedding anniversary and to pick up his medications (Spooky Man’s, Smokey doesn’t take any medications).

Naughty corgi. But I can’t stay annoyed with that face. Sigh.

So I’m losing another weekend to a long-ish drive into the mountains, but I get to have my anniversary dinner in a trendy tourist spot, so it’s all good. And I can figure out a way to keep Smokey out of trouble while I’m there.

Then…back to the word mines.

Remembering the Moon Landing

Do you remember where you were when the first humans landed on the moon? I was in my parents’ living room, watching CBS on a black-and-white television at oh-dark-thirty. I had just turned five earlier in the month (which tells you how old I am now if you do the math).

You might not have existed yet (I’m getting pretty old), but those were exciting times. Except…we didn’t have the video, so we really only got half the story.

The footage of the LM descending, with its foot visible through the window, makes me hold my breath every time I see it, but we didn’t see that at the time. That camera had to come back to Earth and have the film developed.

And now, knowing that (a) the onboard computer was overloading so they had to land manually, (b) the original landing area was full of boulders that would have destroyed the LM, and (c) they had 17 seconds of fuel left when they finally set down, the story is even more intense.

You’d never be able to tell how fraught the situation was from those calm voices we were hearing at the time. Even reporting how little fuel was left or the error codes on the computer, they didn’t sound like they knew they had a pretty good chance of dying, although I understand (now) Commander Armstrong’s heart was beating like a hummingbird’s.

I just need to say here, he was a very, very, very good pilot. I’m sure Aldrin and Collins were also very very good pilots (they wouldn’t have been there otherwise), but that landing is proof that Armstrong had Mad Skilz-with-a-capital-M-capital-S.

I’ve been a passenger in a small aircraft landing on some questionable surfaces (dad was a pilot and we went into Idaho wilderness areas once or twice), and, well, I’ll say it again. That footage makes me hold my breath every time I see it, and I’ve been watching it almost obsessively for the last week or two every time someone else shows it on one of the 50th anniversary shows.

First Man On The Moon, yeah, but that was opening a door and climbing down a ladder. The landing was where Neil Armstrong-the-legend was made. We simply didn’t know that until later.

There are so many story lessons in the Apollo 11 moon landing. Raising the stakes for the hero, putting him up a tree and throwing rocks at him, taking away supports to force him to solve the problem on his own. Making use of the fact that he’s a [bleep!]ing fantastic pilot. That might be why it’s so compelling 50 years later. For once, reality makes a great story.

And the story is also making use of what isn’t said. There’s a pause after the telemetry says the Eagle has touched down before the famous announcement. You know, we all know, that Armstrong and Aldrin were looking at each other thinking, “Holy [bleep!], we did it. We’re sitting on the moon!” during that silence.

Much like when Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (and I had to look up his name, which is a shame) turned to each other and said, reportedly almost in chorus, “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!” after landing an Airbus 320 on the Hudson River.

Neil Gaiman tells a story of being at a function and standing in the corner next to Neil Armstrong (both introverts, so of course they were standing in the corner). Armstrong said to Gaiman (paraphrasing), “I’m not sure I belong here. These people have all created things. I just went where they sent me.” Gaiman said he reminded Armstrong that he had been sent to the moon.

If I had been there, I might have been able to remind him that he made the whole billions-of-dollars mission work with that landing. But that would be a different story.

The Real Estate Transaction

I warned you this house purchase was going to occupy my attention this month, didn’t I? Well, we’ve secured all the necessary documents (one of them three times), acquired a VA appraisal, inspected a house, a well, and a septic system, and we’re on track for loan approval by Friday and closing next week.

If everything goes according to plan, this time next Tuesday I will be signing several inches of documents in McCall, Idaho (a somewhat touristy mountain town that hugs the south end of Payette Lake and abuts Ponderosa State Park). That’s not where the house is located, but it is where the title company has an office.

Then I will begin the process of moving Spooky Man to his beloved mountains and cleaning old, unnecessary stuff out of the city house without a retired spouse underfoot. There’s also a lot of mountain driving in my future, but it will give me plenty of time to work out plot and character issues.

I’m a bit frustrated with my current work in progress (WIP), because I don’t have a character arc for the heroine. And I’m being distracted by the house thing, so I don’t have enough brain left over to dig into her problems. Luckily, after next week the distraction should be over.

Then, Miz Danae, you and I need to have a heart-to-heart talk that I’m not sure either of us is really going to enjoy. Fair warning my dear, I’m going to push you so far out of your comfort zone you might never fit back in it. Sincerely, Your Author.

Thanks,
Val

So we bought a cabin

Just after I got the manuscript uploaded for the paperback copy of Strike Force Cyber Warriors, Spooky Man and I made an offer on a house in the mountains, a couple of hours north of the city. He will be living there most of the time while I stay in the valley for my job and commute on the weekends.

It’s a nice house, bigger than our place in the city, and with no questionable neighbors within fifteen feet of either side. Also, it has been eating all of my attention for the last week and a half, and will probably continue to do so until the keys are handed over at the end of this month.

I’m still working on Finding the Briar Rose, but slowly. I’m also working on the story of “Testing Beta” (my working title), the third story in the Dozen Worlds series. And some other stories that are percolating, just…slowly at the moment.

And pricing things like washer/dryer sets. Great googly moogly, they’ve gotten expensive! On the other hand, my current in-town washer is olive green and almost as old as I am, so it’s pretty obvious I don’t have much experience with large appliance shopping. Wish me luck.

I’m also having a birthday this month, which is always nice and a good reason to list the things for which one is grateful—my health, my family (Spooky Man and the furbabies in the innermost circle), my friends, my work, both in the day job and in my writer cave…there’s a lot to be grateful for. It’s going to be a happy birthday this year.

And in the meantime, I need to split up Beta and Danae, so I can bring them back together to defend their piece of space against whatever made Earth cut them off so long ago. Bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah.

Status: Writing

I did jinx myself by putting a February publication date in print. I’m still working on Kindness of Strangers, but I’m getting it through the process this month; I have ten people keeping me accountable, including my diabolical husband, Spooky Man.

In an entirely unrelated topic that I need to get out of my brain, why do Americans write dates in the format Month-Day-Year? Most of the world uses either increasing or decreasing time units (day-month-year or year-month-day). It’s like we decided to do decreasing units and leave off the year, but then realized we need it so added it at the end as a parenthetical phrase set off by commas — yes, there’s also a comma after the year if it’s not at the end of a sentence.

I silently judge people who don’t close their parenthetical phrases. It’s not pretty, but it’s at least quiet. Just sayin’.

And Americans are weird. I have stories. But now I need to get back to this story. My reward for getting it done will be to post new furbaby photos.

Val

Why Bronchitis Stinks on Ice

After taking some time off for the holidays (and the mandatory shutdown at the day job), I lost two and a half weeks of January to a cold that went bronchitis. And that was me, the one who watches like a hawk at the first sign of a cold, because they almost always try to settle in my lungs (walking pneumonia back in high school left me susceptible).

It’s always worrying when, 28 hours after the first weird feeling, your doctor listens to your chest and says, “Wow. You just earned yourself a chest x-ray.” Luckily, said x-ray ruled out pneumonia, but showed a nasty case of bronchitis. Yay? Antibiotics and an inhaled steroid to get the coughing to work better, and I was on my way.

The constant coughing wasn’t too much of a problem (cough syrup kept it to a minimum and the Albuterol made it more effective), the rumbling and crackling when trying to breathe (or sleep) was annoying, but the bone-deep fatigue—probably from not being able to breathe properly—kept me from doing much of anything for two weeks. Do. Not. Like.

However, azithromycin is amazing. Six pills over five days and I’m back to me. Like. Very much.

So, now back to our regularly scheduled writing: finishing up the Kindness of Strangers novella to round out the first Strike Force anthology (Open Mike at Club Bebop, Getting Lucky, and Kindness of Strangers), plus telling the slightly skewed Sleeping Beauty story of Ekaterina Avondale’s parents, Dane Avondale (Hero of Ararat) and Aurora Ivanov (the Dragonkiller).

With luck, which hasn’t been in large supply for writing in the last few weeks, I should be able to get them edited, formatted, covered, and up for sale by the end of February (and I probably just jinxed myself by setting a deadline).

I’m also planning to release my first historical romance at the end of this month, under the pen name Jane Reynolds. Look for A Ruined Woman in about a week.

And then I can start on the writing I had planned for this year, LOL.

 

Baby Groot, the Lazarus Hawthorn

We had a scarlet hawthorn tree in our front yard. It died a few years ago.

I gave it every chance, we watered it for a year and then let it stay an eyesore for another six months before we gave up and had it removed. And I mean removed.

We had the stump ground down four feet below the soil surface, because we wanted to plant another tree there eventually. This is important, because that tree was not just dead (really, a year and a half with no living leaf on it), it was gone.

Then we had the worst winter in decades, fondly known as the snowpocalypse of 2017. A carport collapsed, warping the air conditioner so that it had to be replaced, destroying the chest freezer, and damaging the paint of my car. And blocking our access to the back yard for about four months.

By the time we got the mess cleaned up and the carport replaced, the back yard was a shambles–and it hadn’t been in great shape before. So plans were made, money saved up, and in June 2018 we had both front and back yards taken out and redone simply, keeping a couple of rose bushes in the front and….

20180619_205305

Hey, where did this little hawthorn tree come from growing in exactly the same spot as the original tree?

Yeah. Our hawthorn came back not just from the dead, but from the dead-and-removed. The landscapers weed-whacked it a bit before Spooky Man noticed what it was, and he saved it. Because it’s either a zombie or our very own Baby Groot. Yeah, our tree has a name now, and we are babying Baby Groot.

She is ours and we love her.

 

What is ‘too stupid to live?’

I live with a first responder. My husband (known here as Spooky Man), is a veteran living with disability. He has been a caregiver for the developmentally disabled, a correctional officer, a correctional emergency response fireman, and an army medic.

My father was a communications specialist for the Boise National Forest, and he was involved in the original formation of the National Interagency Fire Center (then known as the Boise Interagency Fire Center). He was a first responder, too. My family never took summer vacations, because my father was always on wildfires all over the West.

What does this have to do with the title of this post?

Years ago, a reviewer accused Tasha Ocasek of making a too-stupid-to-live decision at the end of The Valmont Contingency. My response then was laughter, because I knew immediately three things about the reviewer:

  1. He/she was not a first responder
  2. He/she had never lived with a first responder
  3. He/she does not (and might never) understand a first responder’s way of thinking

The recent anniversary of September 11, 2001 made me think about this again, and it took a few days to get my thoughts in order.

Obviously, Tasha Ocasek is a first responder, who becomes a respected trauma surgeon by the time of The Ocasek Opportunity’s main action. But the mindset came long before the training, the residencies, and the board certifications. She’s the kind of person who runs toward danger, because she knows she has the ability and the responsibility to protect others.

I know about this mindset because of the first responders in my life. (Me, I’m a lab rat; I’ll wait for them to bring stuff to me and then I’ll tell them what’s in it, thank-you-very-much. Adrenaline gives me a hangover.)

Tasha refuses to be protected from the space zombies — no, just because the Republic Navy has their best minds working on the problem it doesn’t mean that she’s not going to work on the problem; she gets lucky and find the source of the problem, but she doesn’t find a solution. Then she walks into her worst nightmare because she knows the source of the attack on the ben Khalids and, guhdammit, She. Is. Going. To. Fix. It.

Yes, complications ensue and she nearly dies (a couple of times), but her determination and conviction that she can make a difference never wavers. That’s a first responder.

If she’s too stupid to live, so is every fireman, police officer, EMT, or other hero who runs into a burning building to save a kitten, wades into floodwater full of sewage and pollution to collect a house-bound hurricane survivor, jumps out of a perfectly good airplane with a pulaski and parachute to put out a raging inferno, or charges into a building with an active shooter inside.

Thank heavens there are people out there who are too stupid to live. And if you’re one of them, thank you for everything you do.

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