Dear Internet: I Want My Life Back

cell-phone-2-1525544-1280x960Periodically, I decide I need to break up with the Internet.

It usually comes after a week fraught with huge blowups among my circle: meltdowns and high drama, like the exposure of a catfisher or outrage over someone/something that is Absolutely Wrong.

More and more these days, it comes as a result of feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the future of my country and the planet as a whole, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with images and messages that tell us to be afraid, be very afraid.

As Internet Addictions go, I don’t think my case is too bad (though isn’t that what all addicts say?). Sure, my boyfriend jokes about how I reach for my cell phone first thing in the morning, but that’s about a morning ritual of checking messages and my Twitter feed that allows me to spend another ten minutes or so in bed before I have to get up. No, really.

I don’t have Facebook on my phone. I don’t have a tablet. With the exception of Twitter, I don’t check any of my social media platforms on my phone–that waits until I’m seated at the computer.

But I do spend hours every day at the computer, circling social media sites looking for something interesting to read or start a conversation. I get online to ‘catch up’ and ‘unwind’ and the next thing I know, I’ve wasted most of the evening. Would I have been more productive if I’d stayed offline? Hard to say. Probably. But most days I’m so fried when I get home that faffling around on the internet is about all I’m good for.

Earlier in the week, I read this post by social media guru, Kristen Lamb. She talks about the fine balance between maintaining a social media presence online and losing five hours of your life to LOL cat videos. She has some good things to say about the way mindless tech use can kill your muse (not to mention your life in general). I read the post, nodding along, knowing I needed to institute some of the same measures mentioned. My friend Shira Anthony calls her tactics “Ninja Facebooking”, which is to log in, share some information, comment on a few posts, and get out again before the time sink effect kicks in. It’s a smart way of handling things, I think. By the way, she’s got a great new release upcoming up that’s available for pre-order now–Take Two from Dreamspinner Press. You should check it out.

Pokemon HoundsYesterday, while I was out with the dogs for a short run, I almost walked into a couple coming from the opposite direction. I looked up just in time before my muddy dogs and I plowed into them and I was horribly embarrassed that I hadn’t been paying attention. Why had I been so oblivious? Because I’d opened a game on my phone (ostensibly with the purpose of deleting it, only I started playing it instead) and I wasn’t even aware of their approach until it had almost become a social disaster.

Lately, I’ve been noticing just how much time I spend answering emails, sharing posts and tweets, and participating in online conversations… and I seriously believe that I do this far less than the average person. I’ve been noticing how much of the evening is devoted to sitting on the couch beside the boyfriend while we both tickety-tap away on our devices–me on Facebook or Live Journal, and him on Reddit or playing games. Just the other day, I met a man with a toddler who had very little verbal skills, but he was a demon on the smartphone. His little fingers flew over the screen, scrolling through images until he found the video he wanted to watch. The kid probably knew how to work his father’s smartphone better than I know how to use mine. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. Perhaps it is a matter of trading one skill set for another, exchanging one form of learning for a new one. However, I can’t help but wonder about the scores of young adults I know with crippling social anxiety, and whether the willingness of the younger generation to put every aspect of their lives online for public scrutiny has anything to do with that.

I met with my critique group this morning, and toward the end of our conversation we began discussing how much online presence writers need today. Where the boundaries are. How much should we share. How much time to spend doing it. That sort of thing. To my surprise, my group members seem to think I’m some social media whiz-bang. We were discussing the success of my latest story, and my friends gave much of the credit to my marketing skills. I had to make the squinty–face at them because I’ve been doing about the same thing as always on the media front–the surprising success of Fool’s Gold was probably due to several factors but I don’t think my ability to ‘work it’ on social media had as much impact on sales as decisions I made on pricing and which platform to offer it in.

Yes, I post to Facebook and Twitter regularly, and I share other people’s posts, too. Yes, I post to the blog semi-regularly, but then I *like* writing blog posts. Nothing has changed in that regard since my previous book was released.

But I agreed with much of what they had to say. It resonated with many of the things I’d been thinking lately.

computer-keyboard-1188763So I sat down here with the firm resolution to write the Internet a Dear John Letter. I wasn’t going to ‘take a break’ because I found being online overwhelming. I wasn’t shutting off my browser so I could finish a WIP. I was going to make a full-fledged declaration that the Internet was bad for me and I needed to be strong and walk away. To take that time and spend it more wisely. To reconnect with the living things in my life on a daily basis. To live my life before I woke up one day and discovered it was over.

And then I read this post by The Bloggess, who put things a little in perspective for me. And I remembered that my online life has allowed me to stay in touch with people I’d never see otherwise. I’ve made friends all over the world. I’ve traveled to meet up with my online friends, too. Hell, I met my boyfriend online, and next month will mark eight years of our being together. We had a blast playing Pokemon Go together at a local street festival a few weeks ago (just wait until he finds out I caught a Pikachu!), too.

Even my critique group, with its bicoastal and international membership, originated out of online communities and we ‘meet’ via Skype. Last weekend, I attended Writer’s Police Academy–an organization I learned about from friends met online–and I met up with fellow authors there. I’ll be posting about my experiences at WPA in the future, but the point is I’m not going to be breaking up with the Internet at all. The Internet and social media aren’t inherently good or bad. They are tools, that’s all. And like any tool, we need to learn how to use them appropriately and with common sense.

I wouldn’t carry a hammer to a wedding (it’s not Game of Thrones, peeps!), nor out horseback riding or to the grocery store. But if I need to fix a fence or replace a board, I’m going to use one. Be smart. Turn off the device from time to time and check out the world around you. Don’t walk into hikers or off cliffs or into bears because you weren’t paying attention. Pay attention. Life is worth it.

Feed the Right Wolf…

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the proverb ascribed to the Cherokee Indians about how each of us has two wolves inside battling for control.

Two wloves proverbA few months ago, inspired by others on Facebook who were making a determined effort to post something upbeat and positive every day, I gave myself a challenge to find three things I was grateful for or made me happy each day. Although I haven’t managed to do this consistently every day (sometimes you just run out of time and you know you should go to bed instead of writing another post…) I’ve kept up with it far longer than I thought I would. I’m on day 47 now. ๐Ÿ™‚

I decided not to post to Facebook, however. Instead I’ve been posting these things to my fandom LJ account, so I could friends-lock the entries. Not necessarily to keep anyone out as much as to limit how many people I inflicted with pictures of my animals. On any given day, they *are* what makes me happy and grateful to be alive. ๐Ÿ™‚

After a few weeks, I noticed a funny thing–the words “I hate my life” stopped being the first thought on waking each morning. If I was having a bad day, I would remind myself that it wasn’t over yet, and I still had to come up with three positive things to share–and that too, altered my attitude for the better. I began looking forward to drafting the ‘positive things’ post, and wondering what I would share. As someone who has a tendency to imagine worst-case scenarios and view the world as not only an empty glass, but as one cracked and unable to hold water at all, this was a big step for me. I was feeding the right wolf, but it was still weak. Some days, I couldn’t help but pepper my ‘gratitude’ post with all kinds of qualifications, with little Eeyore sighs about the things that had gone wrong instead of right. But I persisted, and I could feel the Good Wolf getting stronger.

Sunny Day TommyLately, with the terrorist attacks all over the world, the appalling rhetoric spewed by political parties in response to these attacks, the daily reports of a new mass shooting at a school or church that these same politicians refuse to recognize as domestic terrorism, and the saber-rattling and fear-mongering that is being used primarily to further a political agenda, it’s not that it’s been hard to find things to feel grateful for. It’s that it doesn’t feel right. It feels shallow and self-centered to post chipper updates about how I tamed the feral tomcat, or that Walk a Mile got an Honorable Mention in this year’s Rainbow Awards (something I wasn’t expecting at all!), or that the recently adopted dog has been an utterly delightful addition to the family. And don’t get me started on how feeling pleased over something like discovering I’d been nominated for a Best M/M Author poll on Gay Book Reviews (because that kind of thing never happens to me!) feels like boasting if I share that news–that’s a topic for a blog post another day. Bottom line, it felt wrong to be happy in the face of the unhappiness and tragedy of others.

But here’s the thing: I need those uplifting moments. I need to see funny animal videos or read George Takei’s latest pithy commentary. I need to share my joy over the upcoming season of Agent Carter (hey, at least we got 2 seasons before they canceled it) or the fact that John Scalzi is absolutely besotted with his new kittens. I need to squee with my friends over the things that keep us going every day–the shows we love, the characters we adore, the stories we found spell-binding and empowering. We are BOMBARDED with bad news every day. We need our talismans against evil and hatred. We need to feed the right wolf. That is not wrong or selfish. It is necessary.

My mother called me at a ridiculous hour this morning to say ‘it was all over the Internet that those IS people (as she called them) were planning a major attack on the US today.’ Well, I don’t know where my mom gets her information, probably FOX News. It doesn’t surprise me that the terror threat is high right now–after all, we’re heading into major holiday. But I wonder how this threat compares to the number of people that will be killed in car accidents this holiday week, or how many people have been killed in shootings since the beginning of the year. I tried telling my mom this, and advised that in all likelihood, this report was more fear-mongering by the far right to get her to vote for their candidate. Even if it is true, it is out of my hands and there was no sense in her getting into a stew about it.

She interrupted me. “I just wanted to tell you I love you. In case I never see you again.”

I found myself telling my mother we needed to live every day as though we were under threat of a terrorist attack. Not with fear, or barricaded in our homes clutching shotguns. We need to tell our loved ones how important they are to us every day. We need to share the things that bring us joy, hope, and strength. Fear makes us dangerous–not only to each other, but to ourselves as well. One of the most touching stories that has come out of the attacks in France is that Hemmingway’s love letter to Paris, A Movable Feast, has been selling out at bookstores. People are buying copies and leaving them at memorials in a show of defiance to the attackers.ย  My eyes are tearing up as a type this. Yes. What a way to feed the right wolf.

The Good ShepherdAnd so because many other sources, both internal and external, are constantly shoving food at my Evil Wolf, the one that believes in the darkness and despair, it is imperative I feed the Good Wolf. It is not shallow or callous or indifferent to the pain of others. It is vitally necessary, or else the wrong wolf wins. I invite you to do feed your Good Wolf too.

Frenzied, Frazzled, but Still Having Fun: the Truth and Consequences Book Tour continues!

T&C spotlightI confess, I’ve fallen down on the job a bit here with the book tour… thankfully, the tour took a brief hiatus over the weekend, so perhaps I can catch up now!

Truth and Consequences is climbing the bestseller charts, and I’ve been delighted by its reception! Readers are emailing me, wanting to know more about the series and when they can expect the next installment–sadly, it will not be next week, as some people have hoped! ๐Ÿ™‚ What I can tell you is that there will be more from Jerry Lee and John–and yes, we will be dealing with the Grimm Fairy Tale killer at long last–as well as John’s nemesis, who possesses the same powers he does, only he uses them for evil.

I also have plans to write more in the Crying for the Moon universe–Nick and Peter are begging for their backstory, and Viktor is not yet done with Alex and Tate, either! I’ve also got a Regency in the works, as well as contemporary romance set in the exciting world of sport horses and eventing–and in December, I’ll be re-releasing a revised version of The Boys of Summer! Such happy-making plans. The only problem is finding the time to write.

Branch ManagerThis past weekend was a good example. I trapped, neutered, and vaccinated the feral tom that has been hanging around picking fights with the other porch cats. The heavy rains and early leaf fall produced a bumper crop of mushrooms in the yard–and I caught one of the dogs eating a toxic Aminita species, so I had to induce vomiting and administer activated charcoal. I’m trying to sell a house, deal with an insurance claim, cover barn duty for friends out of town dealing with their own family crises, field emergency calls, and put in a full day’s work. I might have been a bit cranky last night when I finally got home!

Still, I’d rather have tons of ideas and little time to write than all the time in the word but I stared a blinking cursor, not knowing what to say next! So be patient with me–I’m writing as fast as I can! Hopefully you’ll get new stories to read in a timely fashion. The very fact people are excited about the next one coming out just makes my day. You guys rock!

Here’s my tour schedule if you’d like to join in and check out the fun! Be sure to enter the giveaway too!

Tour Dates & Stops:

14-Oct: VWFOhMy!, The Blogger Girls, MM Good Book Reviews

15-Oct: Jessie G. Books, Divine Magazine, Lee Brazil

16-Oct: Iyana Jenna, Three Books Over The Rainbow, KathyMac Reviews

19-Oct: Kimi-Chan, Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words

20-Oct: Wicked Faerieโ€™s Tales and Reviews, The Fuzzy, Fluffy World of Chris T. Kat, Emotion in Motion, Book Reviews, Rants, and Raves

21-Oct: Full Moon Dreaming, Happily Ever Chapter

22-Oct: The Hat Party, Bayou Book Junkie

23-Oct: Hearts on Fire, Love Bytes, My Fiction Nook

26-Oct: BFD Book Blog

27-Oct: Molly Lolly, Inked Rainbow Reads, Elisa โ€“ My Reviews and Ramblingsย 

The Value of Time

Drink from the creekI managed to get the dog out today before it turned into a sauna outside. That’s been a little tough for me lately–getting out before it is too hot for both the dog and me. Sometimes it is all I can do to drag myself out of bed and hit the trails before the air turns too soggy to breathe, but you know, every time I do, I don’t regret it. I get so much out of these walks. For one thing, I get the joy of watching my dog be a dog. He is not his best in the city on a leash. There are too many things that excite him, and try as I might, I can’t get him enough exercise while he’s on a leash, not when it is this hot. Lately, I’ve been going out in the evenings close to dark, but it’s still too hot to stay out long. On the days when I don’t have to be somewhere at a specific time, we head out to the forest. It never fails to renew my soul. I used to hike a lot more than I do now. I need to change that. Walking in the woods with my dog grounds me in a way nothing else does, and more and more these days, I realize I’m not doing enough of the things that make me happy.

Orange mushroomI have a minor obsession with mushrooms and wildflowers. I get a ridiculous amount of joy out of taking pictures of them. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. Since it is a little thing, I see no reason not to indulge myself. I got some nice pictures today. A wide variety of shapes and colors that are simply pleasing to the eye. Taking pictures in the woods forces me to slow down, to not march through the forest with an eye on the time, already thinking ahead to what I need to be doing next.

Last night the BF and I watched a quietly charming movie called About Time. Iย  had no doubt I would enjoy it–the premise is right up my alley: at the age of 21, Tim finds out that the men in his family are capable of traveling back in time to specific events in their lifetime. Tim, being a rather decent guy, uses this ability not only to make things better for himself, but better for those he loves, too. He doesn’t always get it right the first time, but he usually does in the end. Problems come, however, when setting things right for one person irrevocably changes events for others–and sometimes Tim is forced to choose.

Toasted mushroom It was funny, sweet, and unexpectedly poignant. I kept waiting for something absolutely horrible to happen during the entire film, but you know what? It didn’t. Somehow, it managed to be a powerful little movie just the same. It ultimately was a movie about attitudes and finding happiness. It was a movie about living in the moment, and being fully present right now, and I am very glad I saw it. I *needed* to see it.

I’d been feeling a bit like Cinderella post-ball. I’d just returned from Rainbow Con,ย  where I had a fabulous time meeting so many of my fellow authors, readers, and reviewers in person for the first time. I had some of the best conversations about stories and writing. I learned so much about what to do and not to do at these events, and how to manage my table (hint, spending some time there is a good idea!). I took mental notes about the kinds of swag people brought with them, and the kinds of layouts people had on their tables. I learned that despite being among some of the coolest people on Earth, books will get stolen. I sat in on panels and learned new things about so many topics, opening my mind to subjects I might not have ever thought about before. I had an amazing time at Big Cat Rescue, learning the right and wrong way to run an animal sanctuary, and appreciating the hard work and commitment to education that organization holds.

I came back on fire with ideas about changing my website, and resurrecting old plot bunnies, and a commitment to finishing current WIPs.

TigerBut it’s hard to keep that flame burning when you get back home and fall into the same old routines. It’s hard to leave your ‘tribe’ and come back to an existence where the bulk of the people you meet don’t get what you’re all about–and you couldn’t really tell them anyway. It’s hard to feel as though you’re going back into a little cage after a taste of freedom. It’s tough to trade tigers for tiger lilies. ๐Ÿ™‚

I hadn’t been home 24 hours before I was already looking ahead to my next break, my next trip away to be with ‘my people’. Realizing just how much I had to do before that could happen, and knowing that it might be impossible for me to get away again in September as planned. You know what they say, the harness chafes all the more for having been removed for a while.

white mushroom tree baseBut that little movie last night got me thinking about living for the day-to-day moments instead of the big events. And yes, I’ve always known it’s your attitude that counts. The problem is, if you don’t have the right attitude, it is incredibly difficult to change it. Something about that film clicked in my head, though. Like maybe I could make it stick this time. It has certainly been easy enough today. I’m off work today, and I don’t have forty different things going at once, and a dozen different problems to try and solve. We’ll have to see how long the attitude adjustment holds. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ve spent most of my free time on my return catching up with the gazillion emails and Facebook posts from friends. I’m astonished that a whole week has gone by without me opening a WIP. That’s going to have to stop. While I love all my deeper online connections, I can feel the stories calling to me. Stories begging to be told.

I’m going to stop wasting my time and then complaining I don’t have enough of it. From now on, when I sit down to talk with someone, all of my attention will be on the conversation. When I write, I will give it my complete focus. No more sucking joy from the future by worrying about it today. No more telling the dog ‘later’ until all of his laters are gone. No more wishing the hours would pass at work only to find myself incapable of doing any of the things I dreamt of all day long.

If I want something, I have to make it happen. There’s no other way.

We all are given the same twenty-four hours in every day. What we do with them is our choice.

 

Book 3 in the Sixth Sense series, and the Convention Season!

Is it spring yet? I’m starting to think it might be.

SnowdustAfter uncharacteristically bitter temps (to the point my dog, who normally loves the snow, had trouble walking because the ground hurt his feet, it was that cold), and the multiple rounds of snow, which never melted before the next bout hit, we’ve had a bit of a tough winter for us Southerners. There was one morning when feeding the horses took three hours, simply because it was snowing so hard it was nearly impossible to see what I was doing. The only good thing about having so many snow days was that I got a lot of writing done. Yay!

redbud resizedBut in the last two days, the temperatures have jumped up into the sixties. Robins flit across the yard, and you can hear the spring peepers every time you step outside. (Sadly, it’s the skunk mating season, so you can smell skunks every time you step outside, too!) The air has a warmth to it that speaks of spring. Daffodils have sent shoots up almost overnight, and yes, I’ve already gotten a tick off me. Tonight we’re experiencing a cold rain, but even that whispers of spring. I believe we’ve seen the last of the winter weather around here, and for once, I’m glad.

I’m not generally a big fan of spring because spring is usually a few weeks of lovely weather before it turns into summer, and I am no fan summer at all. Summer means unbearable heat and humidity to me, being damp and uncomfortable most of the time. Sunburn and mosquito bites. Too hot to sleep. Too hot to walk the dog or ride the horse, unless you want to get up at dawn, and sometimes not even then. But this spring and summer, I have exciting things to look forward to, which change the way I feel about the seasons altogether!

108203413_8The first bit of news is that I’ve completed the next installment of the Sixth Sense series! Book three, tentatively titled Truth and Consequences, has been submitted to the publisher. Instead of holding my breath for the next couple of months until I see whether or not it will be accepted, I’ve decided to move on with the next WIP, which will be a contemporary M/M romance set against the backdrop of eventing. I’m excited about this one–it’s a tale of overcoming personal fears and learning to take second chances–a theme that’s every dear to my heart!

The next bit of exciting news (at least for me!) is that I’m going to be at Animazement in Raleigh, NC (May 22-24)! I’m excited because I’m going to be meeting some of my fellow Dreamspinner authors in person for the first time–we’ll be sharing a table and enjoying the fun! If you’re planning to go to this convention, look us up!

If that wasn’t exciting enough, I’m also going to Rainbow Con in Tampa, FL (July 16-19th) as a featured author! I’ll be doing some panels, and I think a reading as well. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m already working on putting together some swag to give away, as well as some signed print books. Have you checked out the events for Rainbow Con? They had me at the Big Cat Rescue field trip, but there are all kinds of amazing panels, as well as what will be my very first Masquerade Ball! There are going to be so many great authors there too, so if you’ve been toying with the idea of attending a convention this year, you should check it out! It’s not too late to sign up!

RC_2015_press_poster

A Love Letter to Autumn

Halloween cat in leavesIt’s no secret: I love autumn. I know a lot of people who hate it, who get depressed by the shorter days, the creeping cold, the leaves changing color and falling to the ground, a metaphor for death.

Not me, though. I love it.

I love that first morning you wake up and there is no haze over the mountains, the air is as crisp as biting into a nice Macintosh apple. You have to put on a jacket to walk the dog, knowing that by the time you get back, you’ll be shedding layers.The leaves scritch across the sidewalk with the blustery wind and crackle underfoot as you swish through them. There’sย  the smell of woodsmoke in the air, as well as the smell of dead leaves and rich, damp, earth. A fine layer of frost rimes the grass in the mornings, and etches crystals on your windshield.

Harvest MoonThe moon is a ghostly sickle in twilight sky, or a giant orange orb, or a shining silver globe that bathes everything in a clear, cold light so bright you could read by it, throwing the shadows into sharp-edged relief.

And the night sky. Oh, the night sky in autumn! The stars are so brilliant, and the skies so clear that you can see star fields beyond star fields, as though someone scattered handfuls of diamond of all sizes on a black velvet cloak. There is Cassiopeia, with the running “W” of her throne, and low in the autumn sky, the Big Dipper. There, too, is Venus in the early evening, and sometimes later on Saturn and Jupiter as well. By winter, the familiar sight of Orion’s Belt will greet you, but for now you stand huddled in your coat, watching the horse’s breath come out in plumes, and glance up at the starry sky, grateful for this moment in time. You can hear coyotes howling in the distance, sound traveling in the clear, cold air, and it makes you shiver.

waiting for dinnnerThe afternoons are tinted with a yellow light, so rich and warm as it shines through the nearly translucent leaves and lights them within like Halloween pumpkins. Everything is orange, and gold, and red, colors that do nothing for you at any other time of year but that you embrace come autumn. The horses have become furry; you can place your hand against their skin and have hair come up between your fingers. The dog races ahead on the trail, stopping alertly to listen to the forest, and you listen too. It calls to you, tells you to keep walking, that this day is yours and that you must enjoy it while you can. What other season can give you both leaves and snowflakes falling at the same time? You carry the camera with you wherever you go because you have this compulsion to capture the light, the color, the dog frisking among the leaves and immortalize it. It doesn’t matter that you’ve walked this same path a thousand times before. There is the hope that perhaps this time you will take that one photograph that utterly seizes the essence of the moment and stores it for all eternity. One day, you’ll want to look at these images again and remember how rich and blessed you were in this moment.

Autumn Dog Walk2It does seem to me that autumn is shorter every year. It’s not entirely my imagination–I read a report that stated due to climate change, our autumns are roughly two weeks shorter than they used to be. And I know, too, there is something about the change from October to November which spells the end of autumn for me. The light becomes harsher, slanting into the whiter spectrum of the season to come. The skies are pewter more often than not. The leaves are brown, what few remain on the trees. November comes in with a vengeance, stripping the trees of their glory and spitting sleet in your face. It reminds you that winter is coming. Now, I love winter almost as much as I love autumn. I spend almost as much time with the camera trying to collect images for my memory treasure chest. But I won’t lie, I don’t look forward to the deep cold. It was fifty-five degrees in my bedroom this afternoon. After I turned on the heat, I got it up to fifty-six. Give me another month or so, and I’ll be moaning about how miserable I am. ๐Ÿ™‚

Fall roadBut I will always love autumn.

In less poetic news, Walk a Mile was listed as one of October’s Recommended Reads by Prism Book Alliance! It’s up there with some of the best stories from some of the brightest stars in the genre, so I am delighted and pleased (and surprised) to be among such a stellar crowd. If you follow the link and leave a comment at the post, you’llย  be entered into the giveaway for your choice of one of the recommended reads. What are you waiting for? Check it out!

I had this one perfect day…

Fall PerspectivesAutumn is my absolute favorite time of year.

The nights are cooler, and the cat creeps onto the bed to purr beside your ear. The mornings are crisp and clean, and have a bite to them like a juicy Red Delicious. The humidity has lessened, and for the first time since summer began, you feel as though you can take a deep breath.

The light is changing, too. The sun that slants through the trees on your morning walk has a kind of golden tint as it illuminates the leaves. They are turning colors now, and falling to crunch underfoot, mingling their dry scent with the mulchy smell of the damp earth underneath. By the afternoon, the light is incandescent, and makes you want to blink sleepily in its beam like a lazy cat. The light spectrum will turn whiter as winter approaches. The trees will be naked and bare, the skies leaden with the promise of inclement weather. But for today, you have autumn.

PumpkinsAutumn is wood-smoke and pumpkin everything. It’s putting on a jacket in the morning and taking it off by noon. It’s buying hot chocolate for the first time since last winter and thinking about making sausage balls for Thanksgiving. It’s snuggling under a blanket beside the people and animals you love while reading a book. It’s the crackle and hiss of logs on the fire in the hearth. But it doesn’t last. This glorious time of year is so very brief. Before you know it, winter will be here.

WAMBadgeTemplateI have a lot to do this week, next month, and before the end of the year. I’m both excited and nervous to be launching the next story in The Sixth Sense series from Dreamspinner Press. Walk a Mile is now available for pre-order and will be released October 3rd, which is when the Book Tour with Pride Promotions will begin as well. I still have blog posts to write, and need to set up the guest bloggers for the month of October here. I haven’t written a word on the WIP in weeks because I’ve been so busy launching this story, and I know that I should be working on the new project now. That’s just the writing side of things. I have several major end-of-year deadlines coming up as part of my Day Job and I can’t neglect these things or put them off until the last minute. So I have a lot on my To Do list today.

But here’s the thing. I had a choice this morning. I could either have taken the dog for a short walk by the house, where we would have met the bare requirements for getting a little exercise (and blowing the stink off of him so I can get some work done), or I could have taken the extra time to run out to the national forest and take a walk we’d both enjoy. I looked down at his graying muzzle, noting the cataracts in his eyes, and thought, “He is autumn. He is only here for a little while. If tomorrow was his last day on Earth, would you regret not having taken him out to the forest?”

H and fall leavesAnd so we went to the woods.

I still have blog posts to write. I need to go to the grocery store or I will have nothing to eat this coming week and no time to go shopping for food. The list of things I need to do, the fears and concerns I have worrying me right now are a little like having rats in the walls of your house. You know you have a big problem and you know you need to deal with them, but you can’t get at them and that makes solving the rat problem tough. But that one decision made this morning opened the door to other thoughts, other considerations.

I have this one perfect day. This one ephemeral moment in time in which I can walk my dog. or ride my horse–or I can run errands and pound out blog posts that will hardly interest me, let alone someone else. This light won’t last forever. This glorious weather won’t last forever.ย  And after all, isn’t that why we live? To be in the moment, to live it to its fullest? To bite into that apple and feel the juices trickle down your chin, even as you savor the sweetness of it?

I can write blog posts well into the night. I can take the dog with me and go grocery shopping after dark. But today, I’m going to throw the saddle in the back of the car and head out to the barn. Because I have that one perfect day today. And I’m going to make the most of it.

Look of Eagles_resized

Tougher Than You Think You Are…

Rosie the RiveterI’m not one typically given to having epiphanies.

My shifts in perspective tend not to come in a sudden toppling of brick and mortar, allowing me to see a path that was previously closed to me. I don’t usually pop up crying ‘Eureka!’ at a radical alteration of thought patterns. Things are more likely to percolate through my subconscious, rising slowly to the surface where they occasionally escape the treacle of my thoughts. When it happens with a story, it’s delightful, and I hurry to grab my notebook and jot the ideas down before I lose my grasp of their ephemeral nature.

But sometimes, my thoughts coalesce into one big bubble that bursts through the surface tension in my brain and I get that bright light bulb moment.

This morning started out in a typical fashion for me. I woke, recognizing that my To-Do list for the day was far too ambitious (as usual) and that I would have to eliminate all but the most important things to accomplish even a tenth of what I had planned. I got my final edits for Walk a Mile in my inbox last night–working on that has to take priority today.

I resisted the urge to sleep in that extra half hour and took the dog for a run in the forest instead. We have to get out early to beat the heat these days. It had rained during the night, and the air was as steamy as a tropical jungle as we left the house this morning. When we reached the top of the mountain, it was shrouded in fog. We were the only ones on the access road as we drove into the National Forest. I let H out of the car and put on my hiking boots. We started walking down the road toward the trails.

Wooden Bridge and HSpending some time outdoors, preferably each day, is absolutely necessary to my mental health. Watching the dog frisk ahead of me on the trail makes me smile, and often my mind is free to brainstorm on my stories. Frequently, I take pictures of wildflowers, the dog, and anything else that I want to capture as a digital memory. It’s all very low key and imminently soothing. I consider trail time vital, in other words.

So here we were, enjoying the summer morning, while I thought about what I was going to do with the rest of my day. Keeping one eye on the dog, I went over my To-Do list, planning the best way to get the most accomplished. I also spent some time thinking about my writing in general, and where I wanted to go with it in the future. Which stories to work on next. What was tugging at my heart to begin and where the path might take me on down the line.

H’s head suddenly came up, and he went very stiff. I tried to make out what caught his attention–a jogger? A deer? Either way, I needed to call him to me before whatever it was made its way around the corner. Normally, H has an excellent recall, and he was on his way back to me when a black bear ambled into view.

black bearI think the bear and I both had an ‘oh shit’ moment at the same instant. It was a young adult, about the size of a large calf. Probably last year’s cub now out on its own, though I couldn’t be sure there wasn’t a Mama Bear somewhere around. No, I didn’t take this picture! But that’s what he looked like! ๐Ÿ™‚

H glanced back to see the bear standing in the path and took off like an arrow after it. Silently. The silent part is important, because when H chases a deer, he shrieks with excitement the entire time. Not so with the bear. He flew like a guided missile straight at the bear, and the very silence of his movement bore witness to his intensity of purpose. I knew it. The bear knew it, too. He turned tail and ran.

I ran, too, after my dog, bellowing his name and shouting, “Leave it! Leave it!” as I chased him down. All I had to defend him was a dog leash–I snatched it out of my back pocket and folded it so I could leash-whip the bear if needed. Fortunately I didn’t have to pull a bear off my dog–H came trotting back to me with what could only be described as an extremely smug look on his face. The bear had taken to his heels and kept running.

Flat Topped MushroomDeciding to head back to the car in case there were bigger, less cowardly bears out there, I spied a cool mushroom on the side of the trail and stopped to take this picture of it with my cell phone.

Then it hit me. Less than three minutes before, I’d just encountered a bear for the first time in my life. I’d been prepared to beat it with my dog’s leash if necessary to separate it from my dog. And here I was, casually snapping pictures with my cell phone. I recalled last year how I trapped a copperhead that was in the camp and safely transported it to the other side of the river (you try wading in waist-high freezing water with a copperhead in a trash can, it’s not as easy as it sounds). That’s when it dawned on me that I’m a lot tougher than I think I am.

In that moment, I realized that I will always have options because I am a lot tougher than I think I am. I’ve always been brave when it comes to physical things–I’ve always trusted my body to do what I’ve asked of it, which is one reason I’m taking its defection over the last few years kind of hard. Where my courage has been lacking is in all other areas. Believing that there is value in what I bring to to the table, be it in writing, or work, or love. In that moment, however, I went from “You’re tougher than you think you are” to “I’m tough.”

I knew then I could do it. Because not two seconds after the words ‘I’m tough’ hit my brain, I heard myself saying, “You don’t have to life a conventional life.” And you know what? I don’t. Not that I live a conventional life anyway, but hells bells, I might as well go for broke, right?

Micro HouseI can do whatever is necessary. So my crappy little house disintegrates around me because I can’t afford the massive repairs necessary to make it safe? Fine. I have a couple of acres. I can build one of those micro-houses and I’ll be better off than if I pour any more money into the financial black hole that I currently live in. Hell, I could even plant a garden next year. I know the thought of growing and cooking my own food makes those of you who know me well laugh, and yes, I’ll probably suck at it, but if I have to, I know I can.

It’s not the actual circumstances that are as demoralizing as the crushing fear that there will never be any way out of them. I’ve always been the Queen of Worst Case Scenarios, and they’ve had the power to shackle me my entire life. But nothing that I’m going through is as bad as what I imagine it could be. I was ready to take on a bear this morning. I can take on the world.

I can do this. I’ve got it covered. I’m tough.

 

 

The Muse is YOUR Bitch, not the other way around!

PerspectivesI’ve been having a hard time settling down to a new project these past few days, which is really annoying since the recent snowpocalypse gave me a LOT of unexpected free time that I now feel that I’ve wasted. I do understand that this is a normal wax and wane for me, that I tend to feel rudderless for a while after finishing a big project. I just finished and submitted the sequel to Unspeakable Words to Dreamspinner Press a few weeks ago and I’ve been floundering ever since. The truth of the matter is I need to get over that mindset and just pick something and start working on it. Even if it is crap. I did just that last night, even though it wasn’t the project I thought I should be working on, at least it was *something*. And something is a step up from nothing.

Smith CoronaI once figured out that in order for me to even consider earning enough money as a writer to help pay the bills, I needed to have a new release at least once a quarter. It takes a year from the time of conception, to execution, to submission, to publication, to the end of that quarter before you will see any royalties from that sale. So ideally, I should have a story in the pipeline at all times. Write, submit, release–all while working on the next one. Ambitious, I know. A goal I failed at miserably in 2012-2013. Partly because I was too exhausted to be creative. Working 60+ hours a week doesn’t leave you much time or energy for spinning stories. I would daydream all day long about what I would write when I got home, only to peter out by the time I cleaned up after dinner and answered client emails. That kind of creative black hole is very hard to overcome.

Sunny Snow BankThere’s a different kind of writer’s block, however. That’s what I’m going through right now. Instead of dutifully working on my next project in order to meet my 2014 goals for a better life, I’ve been playing around on the internet, wasting time on forums and the like. I bounce from social media site to site, looking to see if anyone has anything new to say. I’ve been re-reading old stories and watching old TV shows instead of exploring new ones. I’ve been waiting for my Muse to get her ass in gear and present me with another story, another set of characters to fall in love with. I was discussing this with my critique group the other day, and Anna Butler had an interesting perspective that I’d like to share. I’m going to quote her directly because I don’t think I can paraphrase this and have it be nearly as good as what she wrote:

And because what we wrote [i.e. fanfiction] came from a place of real and genuine love, and because that fired our creativity, we kind get to think that we should *always* have that same depth of emotion for everything we write and that if we can’t feel the same grand passion, then we’ve failed and what we write will be substandard, ย And yet, really, if we’re going to make a go of it, we should have more of Stephen King’s philosophy: writing is a job of work. Some parts of our work we are going to like better than others, sometimes we wish we could shift the timetabling around or the sequencing, but mostly we should be approaching this with a slightly more businesslike head and leave the fangirl behind.

Don’t get me wrong – we still have to love our characters and want to help them tell their story, but this is no longer something we do that *only* comes from a place of love and is satisfied with its mere creation and the plaudits of fandom. Now it has to have an outcome that is real and, more than that, is commercial-bottom-line species of real: getting published, supplementing our incomes, getting to the point where it *is* the day job. I think then that we have to look at our writing plans in that slightly different light.

Snow Forelock2I think Anna’s point here is brilliant. The part about writing being something you treat as a job, that I knew. One of the hard things for me to accept was that making writing a second job for me definitely took a lot of spontaneous joy out of it. I had to work through that myself. I liken it, however, to the difference between your first riding lesson and your 1000th. You’re on a high when you get to ride a real horse for the first time. But unless you want to be walked around an arena on a lead line, you have to push yourself to learn more, to do more. Even if it is only a hobby for you, it is absolutely necessary to learn the fundamentals of horsemanship in order to be safe around them. And if you want to go cross country, you must ride daily in order to be fit enough to handle the horse and the course together.

I thought I really had a handle on that concept, too–that it does get harder when you strive to write better. Anna’s comments about not necessarily loving our original characters with the same depth of passion we give to fandom characters, however, well, that really hit home with me. One more than one occasion, I have felt that because that same squealing fangirl devotion wasn’t there, that somehow my ‘real’ story wasn’t as good as something I’d written for the fun of it. Well, feelings are wonderful things to explore in the course of telling a story, but they have no place in whether or not the story has merit.

PathwaysOne of the things I get frustrated with sometimes is when people refer to their Muse, giving it personality and control over their desire to write. I understand the concept in principle. I usually smile and nod when people mention their Muse and what he/she/it has done or not done lately. But when people start acting as though it is another entity that does their writing for them, that it is a capricious will o’the wisp that comes and goes without direction or control, I get a little annoyed. Mostly with myself. Because you know what? There isn’t any external force that pulls the magic out of you. The magic is within you. And it is up to you to treat it like a grown-up ability and work at it every day if you are serious about it.

If you want to just have fun, by all means write when you feel like it. But the more you write, the more you *will* feel like it. And if writing is what you are meant to do, then the words will flow. Sure, the faucet may be rusty at first. The water may only drip slowly. But the more you work at it, the cleaner and fuller the force of the words will be. I know this at some level, but still, like now, I occasionally find myself staring at the faucet and complaining that the words aren’t flowing. D’uh. You have to turn the handle first.

Stick!So I found this blog post by Chuck Wendig extremely timely and motivational: The Days When You Don’t Feel Like Writing. And I’ll add this to it as well: The Muse is *your* bitch, baby. Remember that.

A 5 Star Review for The Boys of Summer and a community comes together!

Pop A CorkWow! What a great way to start the morning! I woke to a tweet from @Kirstyv1 (Kirsty Vixard from All in One Place) letting me know that she’d posted her review of The Boys of Summer! Can I say I was blown away? Despite the fact that it is sleeting here this morning, I am toasty warm, basking in the glow of such a nice review. ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s Day Six of The Boys of Summer Book Tour and there is still so much more to come! Reviews, interviews, blog posts–and tomorrow, I’m hosting a live Twitter chat for one hour at 1 pm EST withe Virtual Writers! We’ll be using the hastag #TheBoysOfSummer, so do drop in for an hour and ask me your questions! You can find me on Twitter @SarahMadisonFic. There are all kinds of ways for you to enter to win the $50 Amazon gift card–just follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter wherever it appears on the page!

The Boys of Summer has also been nominated for Best Historical in the Goodreads M/M Romance Readers Choice Awards! The polls have opened for voting–do head over, check out the enormous list of nominees in every category, and vote for your favorites!

sugar cookies wikipedia commonIf you’re here for theย Queer Town Abbey Christmas Blog Hop (and the cookie recipe I can no longer eat) then you want to go to this link here. It will tell you all about the hop and the great prizes up for grabs! Due to technical difficulties, the hop is being extended one more day–your chance to get in on some great prizes!

 

Snow_Dog_resizedTo me, Christmas is all about those Christmas miracles. Remember that scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, where the townspeople helped by George Bailey show up at his door and shower him with the money out of their pockets? No one person can afford to give much, but because there are so many people involved, the total is more than enough to meet his needs. That scene gets me every time. My heart fills with emotion as they crowd into the entranceway of his old house, filling the room with their love and spontaneous giving. Well, the M/M romance community is doing just that with some of our own. Authors Eric Arvin and T.J. Klune, engaged to be married in real life, are facing what Becky Condit calls a ‘medical tsunami’. Eric is currently hospitalized and facing brain surgery. His recovery will be long and costly. The M/M community, like that of Bedford Falls, is rallying around to help raise money for the couple’s ongoing expenses. Even if you cannot afford to donate at this time, please consider spreading the word. Links to how you can help are on Mrs. Condit & Friends.

With that. I’m headed out to take the dog for a quick run before work! Y’all stay safe and warm now, okay? And give your loved ones a hug.
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