A New Normal

So, what I’ve learned about my illness in the last two months is that it exists in a symbiotic relationship with me. Which follows, since the problem is inextricably linked to my immune system. Anything that impacts me could either cause or prevent a flare-up.

And since flare-ups are BAD, figuring out how to prevent them is kind of a priority right now.

The simple answer is that stress is the enemy. But what kind of stress is the more interesting question. Because I worked the convention at full speed, starting at 10am and ending around 2am, on my feet, running around, handling some really difficult stuff, and didn’t have so much as an instant of pain afterwards. So, even though I was physically very drained and exhausted, clearly that level of engagement wasn’t a trigger.

But then something happened at work right in the start of September, and while it was just a work thing, it took an emotional toll on me. I didn’t sleep well for several nights in a row and my anxiety was a constant churn in my gut. It all worked out okay in the end, and it helped me recognize some things I had been letting go that I should have dealt with more directly. But within a few days of the start of it, I got symptoms. And for the next two weeks, there I was in a flare-up.

It’s not like it used to be. Before, my hands would cramp up and I could barely hold a cup, let alone a fork or my phone. And everything would hurt. Not just moving — putting my hand in my lap instead of on a pillow would cause a shooting pain, too. But even when the pain went away, I still had other symptoms, including mono-like exhaustion. I needed naps every day, and couldn’t even sit up straight for more than an hour at a time.

So the first answer in the search for how to enhance my self-care for my current weird situation is to manage that stress. And I think it starts with sleep. If I sleep well most nights, I think I keep myself from a cycle of making my body work harder while my emotions are flooding it with stress.

Now, I’m the sort of person who gets a thought in my head and spirals with it. Had a bad interaction with a friend? I might spend a week thinking about it over and over after I settle into bed. Thinking about a difficult work project? I start to solve the problems when I should be counting sheep. I have a gift for finding ways to keep myself awake and fretting for hours and hours on a nightly basis.

I can’t do that anymore. Not and stay healthy.

I needed a way to chill out before bed. And sometimes reading helps, particularly when sleep is elusive by no fault of my overactive, hypercritical brain. I’ve always been at least a bit of an insomniac, and I’m a night owl as well. Sometimes my circadian rhythm just decides taht bedtime is 4am. But it’s different to be reading a delightful story because my body thinks it’s still party time than lying awake worrying and stressing about something when I’m tired and able to sleep.

So I have settled into a habit of writing late in the evening. 9pm or 10pm I get started (if I didn’t have the time and inclination to begin earlier) and I try to write 1,000 or 2,000 words. It forces me to put aside everything else — my day, my job, social stuff, the convention or choir — and just be in the moment with a story. It has the mindfulness of meditation, but it’s also feeding me something positive instead of just breathing everything quiet and hoping it stays that way.

And it’s working.

Once I got through the last flare-up, I’ve been sleeping particularly well. Writing every night means I fall into bed (maybe read a little) and think about the next scene to write, or the project when I finish the MCU AU. It means I climb into bed feeling accomplished and proud of myself, with more to look forward to tomorrow. And if there are work things, they’re much easier to put aside because I have something much better in the forefront of my brain.

As an added bonus, I’m putting down a ton of words every day at a time of day that isn’t usually useful for things like laundry or dishes. I’m not taking away from watching stuff with Sarah or others who hang out sometimes. I’m not cutting into my own downtime. I’m just making better use of the late evening when normally we’d be watching TV neither of us cares about or just playing on our phones.

It’s possible I might have trouble sustaining it long-term. Writing does sometimes come in an ebb and tide. But now I know something that works, so if writing stops working, it just means I have to find an alternative.

It’s been more than a year and dealing with this illness on and off has felt pretty icky. There’s a helplessness that happens when your body turns on you. If I can take back just a little control, just enough, that would be good. Baby steps.

So, onto more writing for the evening. And, probably soon, a rant about the MCU and how many words it took to set it to rights!

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A triumphant return?

I mean, maybe not really. I never really forgot about having the blog, but it took literal months for the world to calm down enough for me to think about it. I also slowed down writing in general precipitously at the same time, only just getting myself back to it right before the runup to CONvergence.

But now the recovery after CVG is nearly complete (it was amazing, difficult, exhausting, exhilarating, painful, wonderful, and everything else at any extreme — no middle ground here) and I’m starting to full emerge back into the world. I’ve got a writing goal to make by the end of October, and I’m committed to succeeding.

I’m also starting to rethink the fate of Dragonroe. I queried 55ish agents in 2019 and early 2020 and got only one R&R which went nowhere, so I feel I gave it a real shot in the traditional publishing world. But I was looking over it again recently and I’m starting to think maybe Dragonroe deserves a shot at the world even without a publisher. I had always been adamantly uninterested in self-publishing, and I still kind of am? But the story is good, and maybe there’s someone out there who needs it. So I’m considering.

Sarah had an amazing idea about putting it out as an ebook in places other than Amazon (because Amazon) and then creating a Patreon account to sell it directly as well. I was telling her about all the other stories I have in my head in the Dragonroe world — the history of the twins, what happens afterwards, Mercy’s backstory, etc — and she thought I could write those and dump them on Patreon in case anyone became invested in the series.

I’m never expecting to make money off this. I may never make any money from writing any more than I do from music. But I never sang at HarmCon to make money. I never wrote to make money. I sing because the music is inside me and I want to share it. I write because the stories won’t leave me alone and demand to be born into the world. I know I could put the whole of Dragonroe here on my website for free if I wanted, but the reality is that there’s only about 7 of you who read this, and probably fewer now that I went dormant for so long, so that’s not a way for it to be found. But if I put it on sites for ebooks, maybe somebody somewhere who needs my twins, or Rowan, or Caci, will find them.

I kind of want to do it, but I’m also very nervous about the how. This…is not my area. Formatting, maybe. Marketing, not a chance in hell. Self-marketing, even worse. Using social media to gain followers? Ugh, forget it. I’m not really a person suited to the work of being a self-published author. I just tell stories. So that’s a thing to consider before I make a final decision.

But, regardless, I’m moving forward again. I’m writing again. I have an eye to the future of other books I want to write and try to publish (or put online somehow). I’m even finally in remission enough to think about exercising again.

So I’m going to try to post on Fridays. Monday are just too hard. But Friday mornings seem okay. I’m not going to try to force myself to post every week, but I’ll try to build back the habit. Because maybe someday there will be more than 7 of you who want to hang out with my thoughts on the internet.

That would be pretty neat, actually.

Thanks for waiting for me. It’s good to be back.

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Writing Year in Review: 2020

Last time on “Kelly actually posts a blog about writing,” I said that 2020 was going to be my year of writing victory. That I wasn’t going to let the failure to produce of 2019 continue into 2020. That I was trying new balances of CONvergence versus my own creative work. That I was finding my way by being flexible and taking new chances.

I started the year well. By using Sarah’s trip to Chicago at the start of November as a writing retreat, I had several days of uninterrupted work and a goal to accomplish on a timeline. That was the beginning, but not the end. I started an original work, but stalled on it a few months later, needing time to work through some things in my head. I pivoted back and dove into fandom with the help of a friend who is an endless supply of inspiration, ideas, art, and smiles. By the end of May, I had finished two full novels, already better than 2019.

The fact that I did the bulk of the work on the second of those during the March-May period of the initial uncertainty around Covid helped encourage me. June’s creativity was stymied because I was putting a lot of energy into BLM and the protests in Minneapolis. But my brain was awake again, and ideas were always close to the surface.

Then, two things happen in July. For one, I got sick. That made writing difficult when I couldn’t get my fingers to move, or couldn’t sit at a table , or couldn’t hold a laptop on my lap. But I also got hit with a story idea so compelling, writing was the only thing I wanted.

I decided that, if I can’t save or fix our timeline, then I was going to rewrite the MCU instead and give them a better future in our place.

I began the typing on MCU part 1 at almost the exact same time as the flare-up, but being sick and hurt made every moment of writing all the more precious. And so by the end of August, I had finished it at 99,000ish words.

The beginning of September brought a change to my job as well as my now-fluctuating health, so even though I kicked off part 2 right away, I lost a lot of time to those two things. I had a new boss, a new set of priorities, and the continuing adventure of waking up to wonder which joints would refuse to work. But the story was still there, still needed to be written, and it still fed me in ways nothing else could. So I fought with myself, carved out times in the evenings while Sarah worked or played on her computer, and made my long days even longer.

Last week, I finished MCU part 2 at 136,000ish words. There are at least two more parts to go.

It feels really good, I’m not going to lie. It feels really good to come through so much this year and still be able to hold up truly substantial wordcounts for myself. It’s nowhere near my peak, of course. But it is the biggest step on the path I could have made. And now, with the MCU burning in my head, I find myself thinking about last winter’s abandoned original novel — and planning ways to finish it and begin the querying process again.

Because if querying ends in heartache again, I now have all the proof I could ever need that I can write anyway. That adversity can’t stop the creativity in me, and if I put in the work to go with it, I can still make stories in the darkest of times and the darkest of timelines.

For anybody playing along at home, here is the 2020 writing total, and my all time totals:

What isn’t represented here is the MCU-specific stats. I’m tracking those in their own sheet where I can keep all my notes and the changes to the timeline and everything else. And what that tells me is that my words per day average for the MCU fics is 2,353. But that’s for all days from the start of the project through today. If I look at my daily totals (which I record, because I’m a nerd), then I find that my average writing on days I wrote anything at all is 5,587. I am basically writing a full chapter every time I sit down to work on it.

I have a ton to improve on. I need to keep up this momentum and bring the rest of my rewritten MCU to light. I need to go forward with the next original novel and try to birth it into the world. I need to get back to posting to this blog more than once a month or so. There is so much room to grow, but today I know I can do it. I came through Covid and this horrifying year and still created stories worth having and sharing.

It’s one more line of resilience inside me, one more pillar to hold me up. One more folding of the steel in my heart to make it stronger and sharper. Every dark day I stand up a little more is one more dark day that I can get past. Every failure, every disappointment, they become the stones beneath my feet as I climb up the hill.

And I’m still climbing.

2020 saw me overcoming. May 2021 bring even better days.

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When we look up sometimes

It’s beautiful and sunny in Minnesota today, and I actually managed to sleep some last night. I haven’t looked at Twitter in more than 24 hours, and so I’m feeling okay.

So here’s a happy song. It makes me feel a little better, being reminded that there are still beautiful moments in the world even when it feels like everything is going to hell. And that the only thing that can lift me up right now is myself, if I “keep on keeping at what [I] love.”

I wrote more than 6,000 words this weekend. So I definitely did something right.

The only thing I can control is myself, and sometimes not even that. So I’m going to let the happy song play, and put whatever good I can summon into the world today while I’ve got it.

The sun is shining, and today, so can I.

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Exercising (and Straining) The Brain Muscle

I’m sure this happens to other people, but it definitely happens to me — sometimes, it takes an absolutely solid smack in the metaphorical face for me to see what has been right in front of me all along. It’s human to have blindspots especially about ourselves, and I have been hit with a big one.

My writing has been lacklustre at best the last few years. 2016 was the last really good writing year I had, which is to say, the last year I made my annual goal of 300,000 words of writing. I actually killed it in 2016 with nearly 489,000. So, what happened between October in 2016 and October in 2017 that dropped my production down to 189,000? Well, two major things. First, of course, is the US election and all the changes in the world. And that has added stress, because how could it do otherwise? It’s very hard to be productive and creative when existential dread is creeping in every time you check the news.

But it has taken me until now to recognize the OTHER thing that happened in that same timeframe which has infinitely more to do with my drop in productivity.

In September of 2016, I became a Co-Head in training for CVG, and a Co-Head in truth a few months later.

It was this year’s NYE party when a friend pointed it out to me. I was lamenting to him my lack of focus writing at the end of December. I had planned to take the last 2 weeks of the month and write a chapter a day and get that new novel moving forward. Then Maia died, and all productivity vanished in a cloud of nope. And he likened it to preparing to run a marathon and taking a knee injury right before the start. He also reminded me to forgive myself for it, which I did — mourning Maia and regaining my emotional equilibrium was absolutely necessary. But he also asked me about the other things that take the same kind of effort, as in not just running the marathon, but walking to the grocery store.

And he asked me the armor-piercing question — does CVG work take the same well of energy that writing does?

I didn’t realize it, but yes. Yes it does.

The skillsets are very different. Writing largely exists in my head, plotting characters, arcs, sequences of events and emotional highs and lows, rather than communicating with others. But the kind of focus, attention to detail, and, most damningly, organization and dedication is the same. To keep with the muscle analogy, it takes the same muscle to write a story well as it takes to organize my CVG team or craft a response to a delicate matter or plan a meeting agenda. The output is different, but what I do for CVG comes from the exact same place inside me as writing.

And that is why my writing output was literally halved in 2017 and 2018. Because I could only write half as much when the other half of my energy was going to the convention. And, in 2019, when then thousand things went wrong, in order for me to maintain my responsibilities to the convention, writing dropped by the wayside completely.

It’s the kind of thing that is so painfully obvious to look at, but I simply didn’t see in myself.

Now aware, though, I can make adjustments. So this year, I’m going to do some experimenting.

In the end, I still want to have enough fic chapters in the year to update every week, because that’s who I’ve been since 2012/2013 and that’s who I want to continue to be **unless and until traditional publishing says differently. I also want to continue to hone my craft and write the many original stories populating my current to-write list which numbers 48 as of this morning. I have a lot of stories to tell, and I’m not about to quit telling them. I just need to find new ways to do it.

For now, I’m going to forgive myself my standard goal and just try to write as much as I can. If I come up short for 2021 posting, I’ll handle that problem a year from now. I’m not going to try to count chapters or pick fic projects that will line up to complete my 47 weeks in a year of posting. I’m also not going to try to force myself to make 300,000 in a year and look at my tracking sheet in despair at the gulf between what is and what “should” be. I’m just going to write.

And I’m going to try other things, too. Instead of working strictly on one work at a time, which has been my usual method, I may try rotating, writing a chapter in novel A on Monday, B on Tuesday, and C on Wednesday, breaking up the process and helping myself stay flexible rather than bogged down. It also would allow for me to move multiple things forward at a time, instead of moving nothing when I get stuck on one.

Honestly, reframing all that writing failure as not failure, but a reallocation of resources with 50% being spent on CVG instead, has done wonders for my internal stress. I am pretty good at forgiving myself for not living up to my own expectations when I remember to do so, but I don’t always keep remembering, and the guilt creeps back in. Understanding it this way, though, that I willingly give half my well of energy to CVG, which is a positive for me, means that only having half for writing is actually reasonable and fair, and I can be content with that.

Perhaps that’s all I needed, because last night I dreamed an entire novel, including character names, details, plot, critical scenes, etc. I haven’t done that in more than a year. So SOMETHING’s been shaken loose in my head, anyway.

I don’t know if shaking up my writing process, or rotating projects, or just seeing my productivity differently is ultimately going to get me to my revamped writing goals (not numerical goals, just writing something). I don’t think there’s one right way for me to achieve productivity, just a right way for right now. (For write now? Okay, I’m sorry.) I don’t know how it is for anybody else, but for me it seems that my answers come in their own time, and as long as I am willing to put the work in when I can, a path reveals itself.

Sometimes that means digging the path out by hand, with no shovel, but that’s work I’m willing to do.

Writing is always worth the effort. The stories are worth the effort. And no matter how inelegantly I got here, I can’t be sorry regardless.

So. Time to get to work. The well isn’t as full these days as it was in the past, but it still has water, and I still have a bucket in my hands. The rest is up to me.

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New writing project

The blog posts in December will be short (and will dry up in the last couple of weeks) because I’m really trying to focus my creative energy on writing a new novel. It’s original, urban fantasy, but with absolutely no vampires or werewolves. I’m taking a new look at what’s possible, at the monsters in our midst. Vampires and werewolves grew out of historical fears about disease from dead bodies, wolves in the woods, etc. Humans are always afraid of the dark places where danger lurks. A millennia ago, those places were the forests and mountains, deep and dark and filled with risk and the unknown. Now those places are the cracks and corners in our cities, the abandoned buildings, the maintenance shafts, the closed-off areas. So that’s where I’m finding my monsters.

If you have ideas of either a place that’s a crack in the city in which something might lurk, or something odd that might choose to live out of the light of day, get in touch with me. I’m compiling a list.

Or, alternatively, if you have an eye on any place in Minneapolis or St Paul that would be great for a scene, let me know. I’m setting the whole story here in the Twin Cities, so I need more places to play!

I’ve got a playlist for this novel on YouTube, but the true theme that inspired me and keeps me focused is this:

If you want the rest of the playlist, let me know and I’ll send you the link.

In the meantime, welcome to December! Hopefully by the time I welcome you to January, this novel’s initial draft will be finished. That’s the goal.

Let’s see how I do.

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Writing Year in Review: 2019

I seriously considered not posting this, but I’m trying hard to keep this true and authentic, and the reality is that truth and authenticity include failure. Or roadblocks. And this year was both.

For the first time since I started tracking my writing in 2007, a year has passed in which I did not complete a single work (other than some bits of poetry). The closest analog is 2009, wherein I wrote two short oneshots and polished off a story begun in 2008. 2011 and 2012 were both similar in that, in both years, I finished off a novel and wrote a single oneshot. And I cannot say that I did no writing this year. I worked through the bulk of a novel begun in 2018, although I did not finish it until the trip to Chicago (and my writing year ends with Halloween, so…). I also started 5-6 stories ranging in length from oneshots to very, very long novels. I just wasn’t able to complete them.

But 2019 has been a difficult year no matter how you look at it. In January and February, we began the serious consideration of moving and selling the house, followed by an emotional situation which lingered for months. Then there was the actual buying, selling, moving, and unpacking process. Then I changed jobs. Then the family situation that emerged in August and stole most of my remaining resources. And all this plus the usual crush of TCWC concerts and gigs, CONvergence Operations, and, you know, working every day at my job.

And, amidst all of this, the constant push-pull, up-and-down, hope-and-disappointment of querying my novel.

It’s this last that I think has been the hardest to ignore the most consistently. Sure, while actually moving or negotiating prices I had the focus of a collie on catnip, but most days outside of emotional upheavals, I was pretty balanced. But thinking about writing always came with this crackle of dashed hope inside my skin. How could I focus on producing a new story when, any minute, somebody might decide to pick up the other one?

There is also a lack of closure in the query process. So many agents don’t respond at all to a query letter, even just an automated “thanks but no” message. And I truly understand that — I would be using form letters, too, if I had to suffer the deluge of emails agents and publishers must receive every hour of every day. But there never came a time when I felt I could properly say, “Okay, it’s done now” with the querying, so it was always hanging out there like an open door and chilling me with its draft.

I still haven’t taken the time to mourn the failure, because I’m not sure it is one. The goal I set for myself was to query 50 agents and then give up. I queried 54. But the novel has undertaken such a drastic rewriting (some other writing I got done this year, yay!), it’s a different story in many ways. Or, it’s a tighter, better story, anyway. So there’s a part of me that wants to find another batch of agents and query them, too, with my new-and-improved novel. But there’s also a part of me that wants to let it go. Just accept that this one isn’t making the cut, put my head down, cry about it a while, and then have the process be over so I can start it again.

And I am starting again. I’ve already started, in fact. I’m 12,000 words into the next novel.

The trip to Chicago, while exhausting with all of the driving and being away, gave me time to do nothing but focus on writing. I did 13,000 words in 2 concentrated days of literally nothing but writing. It didn’t feel effortless the way writing was back in 2014 or 2016. It didn’t pour out of me at a speed greater than I can type. But what was lacking in ease I was able to make up with determination. Sitting in that hotel room, I was able to shake myself of distractions, push away the doubt, and just make the words come out. It was a brute force attack, but it worked.

So maybe this is how writing needs to feel right now. Maybe it isn’t easy this year, or for the next few. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. It means I have to be uncomfortable doing it. It means I have to feel frustrated, or have to work harder, or have to dig deeper. But I can do those things, and I can still write. I can’t wait for it to feel effortless if I want to produce, but I don’t want to wait anymore. I’ve talked before about my friend Eric who wrote about hunting down the muse and pinning its head to the wall. Writing, for me, cannot currently be an act of simple translation of idea and inspiration to typing, with little needed from me in the middle. Now it is a battle, a slough, an endurance trial.

And if that’s what it takes to get back to writing a novel in 2 months, then that’s what I’ll do.

Because I am a writer. Even when it is difficult. Even when it is impossible. Even when I have a bad year, or the worst year ever. I am a writer. I may fail and fail over and over again, but I will always try once more. I will fight to find a way to make it work. I will do yoga standing on my head or try every prompt in the world or switch to writing long-hand or whatever it takes until I figure out the path needed to get the stories in my soul out of my brain and into the world.

Because the only person in the world who can keep me from crafting my stories is me, and I’m not about to let myself get defeated by my own self. That’s ridiculous.

Same with publishing. The current novel may not find an agent now or ever. I may decide not to keep pushing this one and focus on the next instead. I may have to try five novels, or ten, or twenty, before I find the one that someone wants to publish. But that’s what it takes and that’s what I’m here to do.

(Or, mayyyyybe I consider self-publishing. But that seems like a really quick way to make traditional publishing harder in the future, and I’m not there yet. Talk to me after 20 novels fail to find an agent and then maybe.)

There’s a quote by Sun Tzu that I have rewritten a little. My version is: “Imagine what I could do if I did all that I could.”

When it comes to me and writing, the only limits that stop me are the ones I give myself or the ones I let bind me up. I can and have written 100,000 words in 2 months. I can and have written 70,000 words in a single month. I can and have written complex novels and oneshots that interlock with each other over the course of almost 400,000 words.

2019 broke me down, but I am not broken. 2019 saw failure, but I have not failed.

Failure only happens when you give up.

And, really? Fuck that.

Maybe if a day comes that I run out of stories to tell, maybe then I’ll let failure take root. Until then, I’ve got a new novel to write, and the one after that, and the one after that.

The stories aren’t finished and neither am I.

To borrow a line from one of my greatest inspirations, Peter S Beagle and The Last Unicorn:

“Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a very long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.”

Turn the page. It’s a new chapter.

2019 saw defeat.

Long live 2020, my new year of victory.

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Fic and Fandom and Fanart

I’ve written before about the symbiotic relationship between me as a writer of fanfic and the fanfic fans who read what I write, about how they can inspire me and fill me with joy. I’ve also written, though, about how I really only write fanfic for myself, because I have no other choice. Like any author, I have stories that stamp up to me and grab me by the nose and scream “WRITE ME NOW DAMMITALL” and won’t leave me alone until I satisfy them. That’s the creative life, I think.

But sometimes — sometimes — I do write for others.

The glorious thing about a really small fandom is that we all get to kind of know one another. When you’re one of a very small number of contributors to a fandom, you kind of get all the fans, because they are looking for any content they can get. It gives you the chance to get to know them, to form relationships, to collaborate if you so desire.

It’s not something I ever went looking for, but YE GODS am I glad I found it.

The Mighty Max fandom is tiny. I mean, for serious, it’s tiny. The number of people who remember the show is small to start with — the number who like it still and like it well enough to go seeking fan-created additions is miniscule. If there are more than 500 of us online who actively consume Mighty Max fan-stuff, I’d be shocked. I only ever get around 100-200 hits on any given MM story, and fic isn’t everybody’s thing so I don’t expect to grab the whole community. In a world where every person and their great aunt has read/written/drawn for/imagined/begged for Harry Potter fic, to say nothing of the rest of the art, crafts, etc., that is a drop in the ocean.

But just because we are small does not mean that we are not mighty, or that the fans who join us are not awesome. Because they are.

Yesterday a piece of art was debuted on Twitter to me by a friend in the fandom. We are not IRL friends — this is a person who read my MM stories, liked them, and sought me out. It is also a person who has such an amazing capacity to see what I’m doing with my writing and build on it. Now, this person tends to build out in one direction and I tend to go in another, but that’s what makes it so very excellent all around. Because now I have my work, my writing, my headcanon, and I’ve triggered an alternate universe that’s fleshed out and detailed and awesome in its own way alongside it.

But the thing…the thing is…

FANART.

Let me say it again.

FANART.

I love fanart. I love anything that people can draw for me, but most especially from my stories. My ability to draw is FUCKING ZERO, folks. I can’t manage a decent stick figure. I have absolutely, utterly no visual arts ability. I just totally suck at it. It’s weird, because my imagination is so visual. When I’m writing, I can picture my characters and their movements, their expressions, where they stand, how they hold themselves — it’s all in my head. But I just cannot reproduce it one tiny bit.

And, so, because my imagination is so visual and my ability to draw is so thoroughly nil, it makes me so, so, so profoundly happy when somebody draws something that I imagined.

This particular picture is of a recent OC I introduced into my long-running Mighty Max series, and it just about made me cry. It’s so perfect in every respect. It captures almost identically how I had envisioned the character — not just his look, but his attitude. His posture, the slightly defensive way he holds his shoulders, the pride in how he pushes his chest forward, the vaguely sour expression (since is a good guy who has made some pretty awful decisions and now his choices are no longer quite his own).

AND THEN THE SHADOW THING.

I just love every part of it.

But this is just one piece of art. This particular friend has drawn me dozens, I think — bits of character interaction that I wrote or didn’t write, bits invented in that alternate universe we chat about over email, wacky “what ifs” that made me laugh on awful days. But it so perfectly illustrates the point about the relationship between writer and reader.

This OC, and this particular MM universe, came out of my head. Birthed like Athena from the head of Zeus, it sprang from me nearly fully formed, and strode out into the world demanding to be seen and respected. But once that universe existed, it draw to it the kind of people who really understood what it was about, and they offered me much squee and enthusiasm. And from that came new ideas, and new energy.

I didn’t necessarily start writing the stories *for* my fans, but the energy to prioritize those stories over other projects certainly came from them.

But now that I am 19 stories deep into this series, I can say that the dynamic has changed a little. Because the 20th story that is being written right now would not exist without this particular friend, and without the pictures, energy, thoughts, speculations, and commentary. It’s not just that I wouldn’t have launched into Fate Is A Gift #20 without the support, but I don’t think FIAG20 would be what it is becoming without the input.

I am a better writer because I get feedback, and because I can share my own fangirl happy with another. I am a better writer when someone else says “Hey, what about X?” and I think to myself, “I TOTALLY didn’t think about that, and I’m not going to go that way, but that sure leads me to Y and Z!” I am a better writer when I get those random emails and Twitter pokes with a picture or an insight, because it keeps me thinking and that keeps me focused.

Today got away from me — I had 3 meetings and had to take a 2 mile walk in the middle of the day in order to set up to purchase the condo on Wednesday. But I am ready to finish the next chapter of FIAG20, and I have the pieces of the rest of it in my head. And I am absolutely positive that I wouldn’t be to this point if not for that constant and enthusiastic interest and speculation and excitement.

So, I don’t normally write for others, but FIAG20…I might be writing it for a particular fan.

And you know what?

After pages and pages of ideas and insights and alternate versions and FANART…this fan TOTALLY DESERVES IT.

And if for literally nothing else, for this UTTERLY STUNNING depiction of Bran:

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House update, and also query update

Well, life sure moves fast. At this time last week, I was figuring out how to finalize preparing the house for showings. Today, the showings are done. We got 2 unbelievably strong offers in the first 3 hours of showings, and now we’re working through all the paperwork and approvals to get the house sold. On the plus side, that means a minimum of people wandering through our house! On the minus side, it’s a lot of extra worry to try to get everything in order, from bracing for the invasive inspection (which we hopefully pass) to negotiating all the little stuff like closing costs and move-in dates.

At the same time, we’re starting the process of packing and purging, trying to cut down on the “stuff” we have and keeping only that which we want or need or use. Sarah and I are both habitual packrats, so we keep a LOT of stuff. We also have a habit of forgetting what we have, sticking it in a cupboard or box and losing track of it. The move to a condo forces us to downsize, and also to have more awareness around what we really own and how much space it takes up. Some things, like books, we will keep 95% of the time. Things like VHS tapes? Yeah 100% of those are going away unless there’s a really, really good reason to preserve one or two. But overall, it’s helping us get organized and it’s helping us reduce our stuff.

Not that that process is any fun.

Somewhat accidentally, this week also corresponds to me sending my 50th query on the current novel. 50 was the goal — I promised myself I would send the novel out 50 times before I gave up on trying to publish it. Thus far, I’ve got no bites from agents who want to represent it. However, many (if not most) agents have a 4-8 week turnaround on responses, so there are certainly no shortage of agents out there who may yet look at my query and jump on it. But, on the other hand, this may be the end of the process for now.

I actually did get one R&R, a revise and resubmit, and when I can breathe and think creatively at the same time again I will probably make the changes requested and see if that still appeals to them. I’m not 100% convinced that such changes make for a better story, just a different one, but, on the other hand, publishing isn’t about ME AND MY ART AND THE PURITY OF MY WORDINESS. It’s a business. Publishing is about selling books and making money. And if I want to publish a book the traditional way, then I need to be willing to set my story aside and make the changes that will sell. I don’t necessarily have to feel them in my soul; I just need to be flexible enough to make them real.

So, what now?

Well, it is spring, the time of new beginnings, new growth, new life.

I start over.

The current novel is not the first I’ve written — it was the 21st. It won’t be the last, either; I’ve written 2 since then and am working on the third. It wasn’t even the first original novel I’ve written, and it won’t be the last. I have ideas for a dozen new original novels. That’s the nice thing about writing so much — no one story, one novel, one work is the be-all-end-all of who I am and what I do. I do love this novel. I love it and I want it to be in the world.

“But wait!” you say. “Couldn’t you just self-publish it?”

Yes, but not really.

Is it technically possible for me to format the novel, get some kind of artwork, put it into a downloadable format, and sell it on Amazon or Kindle or whatever? Of course it is.

Is it a good idea for me, personally, to do so? No. No it is not.

Self-publishing works well for certain people and certain genres. Romance, for example, does better with self-publishing because of the voracious appetite for new books that readers of romance possess. But even then, the successful authors who actually make money through self-publishing do a hell of a lot more than just formatting the book and making it available for a dollar. They do self-promotion through social media, reading groups, conventions, message boards, podcasts, etc. They put in a huge amount of effort to get their books in front of audiences. They work with other authors to cross-advertise for one another. They network until they have thousands of followers who will loyally retweet and reblog and share their efforts to get their books read.

It is a metric fuck-ton of work. And you know what? I’m probably not cut out for most of it.

I have been a Marketing Analyst. I know about SEO. I know what it takes to get people to click on your site, and to get them to stay there. I know how social media networks disseminate information to one another. I know that you might need to get 10,000 “likes” before you get even 1 sale. And so the amount of work needed for me, from my laptop, to do all that is disproportionate to the amount of interest and patience I have in doing it. There’s a reason I am no longer a Marketing Analyst, and a reason I was never an “influencer” on social media.

So, yes. Technically I could self-publish it, but I’d be doing myself and my book a disservice. I am not cut out to be the single mouthpiece shouting into the void to get readers. I can support the professionals in it, can maintain my Twitter presence and my blog, can show up where I am told to go, but I can’t generate that much content, that much presence, that much effort on my own. It would take spoons not just from writing, but from living.

Therefore, no. It’s traditional publishing for me, or maybe nothing at all.

It’s sad to put the novel in a drawer, if that’s what happens, but it’s not the end of the world. I gave it a good shot. I didn’t give up or get disheartened, and I made it all the way to 50+ rejections (and one R&R so far). I learned what it feels like when those rejection emails come, and I got used to filing them and forgetting about them. I got my query letter read, but the novel wasn’t the right fit. So I’ve learned a lot about the search for an agent, even though it will probably end in failure.

But that failure will serve the next novel, and the next. And the ones after that.

Because I’m not giving up. I’m already an author. I’m an author because I have written novels. I’m a writer because I think about writing ALL THE TIME. I’m not published, but publishing status doesn’t make me any less an author or writer. It just means I’m still not getting paid.

And who knows? Maybe in 3 weeks someone will email and say “Hey, finally got to your submission and hells yeah I want to rep you!” Maybe the next novel will be the right fit that this one wasn’t for the market or the agents or the random swing of what is currently popular. Maybe the novel 2 or 3 from now will sell and my agent will say, “Hey, do you have anything about dragons I could work with?” and I’ll be able to pull it out of a drawer. Maybe something I can’t even imagine will happen.

So I’m not sorry for having gone through this process even though it has been unsuccessful. I’m not in the slightest sorry for writing the novel, even though nobody bought it. Writing is a journey, and I’ve learned from everything I’ve ever written, every short story, every novel, sometimes even these blog posts. If the answer is that I need to learn a little more, or find slightly different timing, I’m okay with that.

It’s not like the ideas will dry up in my head any time soon. In fact, I’ve got about 30 more ideas to write than I will have time in the next year or two. And since I get a new and usable idea about once a month (and many, many not-usable ones every day), that deficit will continue to grow. Which is how a life based on producing art should be, in my opinion. The day that I run out of things to write is the day I quit breathing.

Except not, because at this rate, I’ll still die with 30+ unwritten stories on my list.

It’s like trying to put the thread in a sewing machine when it’s already running. And in this, I am just fine with always being a few steps behind. This isn’t a race I can ever win. It’s not a race I ever WANT to win.

And if this particular sprint to publish is over, then I guess I need to go find the next one.

(Possibly after figuring out the whole house-selling, condo-buying, stuff-purging, moving thing.)

(But, with my luck, not.)

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Unchangeable

There are so many things in the world you can’t change:
Your loves, your fears, your yesterdays.
They aren’t choices, weaknesses, failures;
They just are.

You’ve heard the poem, or maybe a prayer:
Grant strength, courage, wisdom,
But like all prayers, it falls short
When it forgets to keep going.

To know what you cannot change is only a beginning
And the least useful part of the journey.
It’s too easy to stop
And never keep going.

You can’t change your yesterdays and their glorious mistakes,
And no prayer will ever make them easier to recall,
But they are past.
And no one else will ever care about them the way you do.

You can’t change what turns your mind to screaming mud
And makes impossible everything but fear.
Forgive yourself. Breathe.
Fear passes in time.

You can’t change what you love, or who you are.
You shouldn’t.
Don’t.
So love. And Be.

There are so many things in the world you can’t change.
But so what?
Those things you can’t change can’t change you either
Unless you let them.

Don’t let them.

We all know I’m really, really bad at poetry, right? Okay. Just checking.

But, just because I am bad at it doesn’t mean I don’t have the same human need to produce it as those who are masters of the form. There’s something about poetry, the expression of it, that fills a gap in me left by any other creative process. Even songwriting doesn’t quite do what poetry does. Good, terrible, cliche, useless, it doesn’t matter. I don’t write because it’s *good.* I write because it’s *me.*

And sometimes the words that get tangled up in me won’t come out in the prose of a story, or the nice meter and rhyme of a song. Sometimes I just need to let my disjointed inner soul-scrawl find its way out into disjointed, slightly vague lines. And that’s okay, too. The human need to create is important, the most important of all our impulses. Not just creating more human beings so the species doesn’t go away, but creating that which never existed before. Creating new art — songs, stories, paintings, sculptures, knitted masterpieces. Creating new ideas — scientific theorems, mathematical proofs, philosophical insights. Creation, adding to the world, is what, in a very real sense, we are here to do.

I have believed all my life that what we put into the world matters, even if it happens when no one knows or sees. If I sing a song about freedom and hope, even one no one hears, the vibrations of that song still touch the molecules of the air. They still resonate with the wind blowing outside. And maybe one quark of that impact will vanish only to fire in the mind of someone who desperately needs the ghostly memory of a happy song. And every time I put that song into the world, I backed it up with more deliberate action. I invested in more art, found more sources of inspiration, lifted up other singers to hear their songs. Did my song touch someone? I’ll never know, and that’s not what matters. My song made me better, and the better me turned around to better the world.

Life right now is pretty stressful. I’ve got a lot going on, and much of it is difficult or scary. I retweeted something today that said “When you don’t have time to cry because all that does is take away time from you figuring it the fuck out.” It’s an apt summary.

For me, the very first thing that helps me when stressed is to piece problems apart and solve them; breaking them into component parts and manageable pieces is a critical part of the process. But I also can’t survive solving problem after problem after problem with no respite. That’s a really quick path to burnout.

Sometimes I just need to stop. Breathe. Feel. And let whatever is bubbling up inside spill out in whatever capacity releases it from me. Today, that was poetry.

Did it solve anything? No and yes. It didn’t fix what needs fixing, didn’t decrease my to-do list or give me more hours in the day. But it gave me a moment of stillness in myself. It gave me a chance to listen to my own feelings, to let them be heard, to meditate on them and find focus and energy in them.

And the answers are right there in what they were trying to tell me.

I can’t change a lot of what I’m dealing with right now, but I don’t have to. I just have to keep going, keep dealing, and and keep fighting to prevent these things from breaking me down. However it all ends, if I can do that much, I’ll emerge fully intact. And that’s about all I need.

That and about 2,000 more words of writing done today. Because it’s a day ending in Y, so of course there is writing to be done. And now that I’ve gotten the (not good, I know, doesn’t matter) poetry out of my system, I can focus on prose and narrative and characters and how THEY feel, rather than how I feel. So it served multiple purposes, and that is worthy, too.

Onward!

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