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Archive for the ‘writing life’ Tag

Covid-19: Thoughts from an Ex-Public Health Analytical Chemist

Thirty-mumble years ago when I was in organic chemistry lab, our professors created an experiment specifically to teach lab technique. We had to recrystalize and purify a compound called methyl orange. It’s basically a bright orange dye that sticks to skin particularly well.

We had to start with a given amount, go through the procedures and turn in the amount we ended up with. We also had to submit to an inspection of hands, face, and clothing. If there were any spots of orange anywhere, that was a fail.

Because the point was that chemists work with very dangerous material all the time. All. The. Time. And being sloppy with it gets people killed.

Then I spent five years in the Idaho state health lab. For four of those years, I was up to my ears (figuratively) in hazardous waste two or three times a week, because I received all the samples into the lab. I extracted the bad stuff from water, soil, whatever, into organic solvents that themselves weren’t good for me. We had high-volume fume hoods and we double gloved.

We also washed our hands a lot. Thoroughly. With soap and hot water. Everything was assumed to be contaminated until we could prove it wasn’t. Everything.

Same thing with the novel corona virus that causes Covid-19. You need to assume all surfaces and all air are contaminated. Wearing a face mask won’t protect you from contaminated air, but it will protect other people from your coughs and sneezes, at least a little bit.

You can catch the damn thing and be shedding virus for two or three weeks before you start to feel crummy. Weeks. Think about that. My state went into Stay-At-Home five days after the first case was confirmed, and that was only two and a half weeks ago. We’ve already had 10 deaths, and there are only 1.3 million people in Idaho, which is about the size of Great Britain.

I worry about the staff at my local Neighborhood Walmart. They’re essential employees, so they at least still have jobs. But more than half of them are over 50, and they’re in a place and a profession where they can’t exactly stay away from customers or each other. The last time I was there (a week ago), customers weren’t social distancing even a little bit.

I worry about doctors, nurses, and the truck drivers who keep delivering in spite of having difficulty finding places to eat on the road. I worry about the Amazon delivery drivers who bring me stuff I’ve ordered to be able to work from home.

I worry, and I stay at home, and I talk to my friends and colleagues over video chat. I keep doing my job. And I try to write stories about people in a situation just as worrisome, but who have a little more agency than I do.

They are going to emerge victorious at the end of the story, after a lot of sacrifice and strife. I can only hope that we do, too.

Dammit Jim, I’m a Writer, not a Robot

I’ve been seeing a number of items on social media recently about writer burnout, caused by years on the “write faster” treadmill. One thread on, say, a writers’ Facebook group I could ignore. Two, hmm, interesting coincidence. When it topped three separate platfoms and groups of writers, it started to look like a trend.

If you’re a reader, I’m about to say something blasphemous, but it’s meant with love—after ten years of being published, I’m still astonished and ecstatic that people actually read my stories. I’m not a best seller by any means, but I love all my readers and I want to give them the best experience possible.

Here’s the blasphemy: Your favorite authors don’t owe you another book. Not another book this month, nor another book this season, not yet even another book within a year. They don’t owe you another book. Period. They are people, with lives, with problems of their own, and they never have to write another word if they are not so inclined. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Here’s another dark secret (which is not really dark or a secret): Writers want to make readers happy.

We’d love to be able to turn out great stories like a factory turns out widgets, but creative endeavors don’t quite work like that. And if writers try to force it, bad things generally happen—depression, exhaustion, complete and total burnout showing up as raging writer’s block where they have difficulty making grocery lists.

Writing—using words to create worlds and people that didn’t exist before—is freaking hard. Creating people with real problems who overcome those problems and earn their happy endings cannot be done over the weekend. Dear lord in heaven, I wish it could.

Sometimes, if one is redeeming a villain created as a foil to a previous heroine (Talyn Penthes, I’m looking at you), it takes—wait for it—nine years. Of course, there were other books written and published during that time, but they had difficulties show up, too. My subconscious mind is weird.

And finally, a piece of unsolicited advice: Be kind to your favorite authors. They are working hard to bring you the next story; sometimes, they are working too hard, driving themselves toward burnout. Try, maybe, a social media message like this, “I love your work and I can barely wait for the next book, but please take care of yourself because I also want all the books after that, too.”

May you get all the new books you want for Christmas. My break is over, time to go back to the word mine.

National Novel Writing Month Projects, Maybe

Last week I wrote five longhand pages on the first draft of Beta Tested (or whatever the title ends up being), my first work on Beta Tanaka’s story since August.

I had no idea my subconscious mind was so stubborn. Don’t go there, for that way madness lies, bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah. Conscious mind, yes, but apparently it goes all the way through.

So now that the characters are actually working again and I have a few ideas to fill the gaping plot holes, I think I’ll be working on the book during November, possibly as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short; NaNo for shorter).

Or not, because there’s this other story that keeps floating into my head when I’m trying to go to sleep at night. It’s the tale of Lord and Lady Danbury, coming up on their 10th anniversary when it comes out she wasn’t quite of the age of consent at their marriage of convenience.

Yeah. Another historical, when I vowed I would never write a historical because there’s so much research to do it properly.

Speaking of research, did you know the age of consent in England was 12 until 1875? 12! And I found that out accidently while watching something on the War of the Roses. Gah!

But…maybe I’ll work on that during NaNo too, just to get them out of my head. Maybe. I still have two days to decide, right?

And whatever I decide, I’ve broken the block. Onward….

Best Laid Plans

I was supposed to have a first draft of Beta Tanaka’s story finished this week. I don’t have it finished.

I am…disappointed with myself. Not punch-in-the-code-to-make-my-head-explode disappointed (Fifth Element reference for those of you who aren’t old like me), but not entirely sanguine either.

I could give reasons—there are always reasons, from sleep issues to new medications to new routines. (I’m now the only lap for two housecats and I can only be that lap from 5-10 p.m. The pressure!)

But the truth is, and always has been, you make time for the things that are important to you. I need to look at my priorities and decide if I want to get this story told this year. I only have three months left to make that happen.

And of course I want to get it down on virtual paper this year, before the details start to fade from memory. It’s a good story. Beta and Danae save the Dozen Worlds and find a way to overcome the obstacles to their relationship at the same time. Who wouldn’t want to find out how that happens?

So now that September has evaporated (September?! What happened to April!?), it’s time to pull up my big girl yoga pants and get some words down. In the right order.

See you soon, hopefully with a finished first draft.

As my penance, here’s a photo of me on lap duty, while trying to work out a troublesome plot point.

Stuart the lap cat

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.

News from the Word Mine

House purchase accomplished. Furniture purchase accomplished. Now I am back to the word mine, hard at work on about four projects.

First Working Title: Finding the Briar Rose

Set in the Human Diaspora universe. The story of Dane and Aurora Avondale’s courtship; he wakes her up from a century of cryosleep. He’s kidnapped by Saurians (friendly-ish aliens who evolved from their version of dinosaurs). He prevents the kidnappers from killing her after she nearly fights them off.

It is a Sleeping Beauty trope, but it’s Sleeping Beauty done properly. She wakes up with this guy kissing her and punches him, as one does in the real world. Eventually, Aurora kills the evil fairy in dragon form Saurian queen to free Dane, then takes over as regent for the late queen’s offspring that he saved when they were eggs. Hey, the kids didn’t do anything wrong.

I’m having trouble with the middle bit, where they discover they have far more in common than not, and the irritation turns to attraction. Apparently stubborn people live in my subconscious.

Second Working Title: Beta Testing

Set in the Dozen Worlds universe. The story of how Beta Tanaka and Danae Childress re-establish contact with Earth while overcoming their own relationship problems (he’s a customer-relations ninja for the Hauptmann Group, flitting around the Dozen Worlds fixing things; she’s a stay-at-home Zonan art expert–which makes for a really long-distance relationship). Oh, and did I mention alien cephalopoids (evil squids) might be coming to kill them all? Still fighting with this story, so the plot’s a bit murky yet.

Third Working Title: A Married Woman

Set in Regency England. Michael and Elizabeth, Lord and Lady Danbury, are coming up on their tenth anniversary…he was “blackmailed” into a marriage of convenience by her seedy father right before he leaves to be a field surgeon on the Peninsula. They discover she wasn’t quite 12 (who makes 12 the age of consent?!?—England until 1875! Gah!) at the ceremony.

A lot of living has happened since that wedding—both his older brothers died four years ago and he’s now heir to the big title—and he’s fallen in love with her, but she’s not so sure about trying the vows again. I never planned to write even one historical, but this is the second set of characters that refuse to get out of my head, so I’m writing it. FYI, Michael shows up at the end of A Ruined Woman as the physician for the duel.

Fourth Working Title: Temptation of Tetsuo or The Hitsugaya Harridan

Set in the Dozen Worlds universe. If you’ve read The Nobinata Gambit, you know a bit about Tetsuo Nobinata and Yuki Hitsugaya. This is their courtship—alpha male imperial warlord and alpha female survivor of sexual violence. And I’m still plotting it so that’s about all I know right now, but I do know that her strength and resilience is one of the things he finds highly attractive.

I also know Tetsuo is a great fighter but not so smooth with the ladies, and his awkwardness, and to some extent vulnerability, is something she finds attractive about him.

I’ll try to surface about once a week and think of something interesting to type, but…yeah. Those are pretty much the rest of my year if I can keep from getting distracted again. Wish me luck. And let me know if you come up with better titles, because I struggle with them.

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.

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