Goodness How the Time Has Flown

May, June, now most of July.

We made it through the end of the school year with not too many tears and decent grades. My daughter is not cut out for online learning and there is no way I could homeschool her. I think my son could do online learning if he didn’t have to put up with his sister. His biggest issue was compartmentalization – school was for work, home was for play, so working so many hours a day at home messed with his head.

We’re nearing the end of our renovation adventure. The drop ceiling is done, all the painting is done (except the front door which we’ll do this week). All the repairs are done and the first load of gravel is down. Now we have to do the details on the landscaping and get the top load of gravel, the nice stuff that will make the yard look finished.

We’ve got a real estate agent and the house will be listed before the end of the month. It was a wild ride. We hit a lot of unexpected bumps. Jobs that should have taken days took weeks.

My grandparents are in the final stages of getting ready to move out to their new apartment. We’ll be “caretaking” their house while ours is on the market. When ours sells we’ll buy theirs and the next stage of our lives will officially begin. It’s exciting and a little scary and so SO stressful. I can’t wait to have routines in my life again. And to sleep in a real bed. In a real room. With a door.

With everything else going on, writing has been slow. I’m hoping to have more time come fall – though it looks like I’ll be driving the kids to and from school. I may have one show in September and one at Christmas. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to do a few more. But things will be busy for a while so I’ll be taking it easy on events for a while yet.

I will be writing though. And sending Thelara off to agents and publishers as soon as it’s ready. And finishing my memoirs. And … and … there’s just so much to do.

Best get to it.

End of May?

Where did April go? Where did May go? We’re in one of those weird time-space loop thingies, I just know it. You know, the ones where a day lasts a month and a week lasts a minute and a month lasts a day? Yeah. I swear it was the beginning of May yesterday. End of May. Huh. Go figure.

Looking back at some of my 2020 blog posts I found one from the beginning of March, back with this whole pandemic thing was getting off the ground. 3-4 weeks. That’s what they were saying back then. Stay home for 3-4 weeks.

We thought we’d be getting a 3 week spring break and that the kids might have to stay a week late in July, or that they’d cancel a few inservice days. Nope.

3 weeks quickly became 6 and now we’re at 10+ and counting. Here, schools are shut to regular classes for the school year (opening only for summer day programs like camps and community programs). We’re only just opening “non-essential” services now. Our social bubbles can now include 25 people indoors and 50 outdoors – just no hugs or handshakes or sharing water bottles.

But everyone knows all that. It’s all the news talks about these days.

I’m on week 9, give or take a half week. My kids are mostly into a routine of school work, online classes, screen time, and outdoor time. Chores are mostly getting done. Renovations are slow but steady. I’m managing a few hours of creative time each week.

Tensions are high and tempers are thin. It’s getting harder to deal with the other adults I’m quarantined with. We’re all looking for freedom and space and normalcy, but for us, that won’t be coming any time soon. Living with extended family means all sorts of compromise and this living arrangement could stick around until December. Hopefully the house we’re moving out of is sold by then.

We’ve all got our stories, our troubles, our stresses right now. Stupid people at the stores. Tech issues. Children underfoot. Annoying work habits our spouses display.

This too shall pass.

Maybe.

Eventually.

Sigh.

Stronger Together

Stronger Together

A poem – I wrote this today, it is a free verse poem and may come across best if you read it aloud, or imagine me or someone reading it aloud. I’m not looking for hugs or well wishes. I just … just check on your introverts and ask them, honestly, what they need. Because chances are, if they have kids at home, or extended family in the house they’re stuck in, they’re frazzling just as bad as the extroverts.

—  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —

Stronger together until the ties that bind us becomes the rope I hang by

Until the fabric of our close-knit society becomes the blanket that smothers me

The funeral shroud

And even then

Even dead

I’ll know the peace and quiet

Of honking horns

Stronger together until I just can’t take it and I’m screaming until my throat is bloody and raw

LEAVE ME ALONE

Alone to think to dream to learn to BREATHE

But it’s easy you’re an introvert you like staying home

Until home becomes full to overflowing and I am tired of swimming and I drown

There is no quiet

There is no peace

There is no alone

And everything exhausting about the world the outside the TOGETHER has come home

My home

My space

My heart beating too fast too often as I struggle to maintain composure

Too many feelings to silence too many toes to avoid stepping on too many buttons to avoid pushing

Silenced

Self-censored

Don’t tell them you —- their —– or wish they’d —– their —- and —— you —–

You might offend someone

Stronger together until I’m ready to move to the tip top of a mountain and stay there wrapped in my tears and my thoughts and my hard won peace until my mind and heart finally reset and I can come down and deal with together

 

A Different Kind of Diversity

I’m seeing this discussion on the YA Twitter feeds this morning and want to put in my 2 cents. But I hate typing on my phone and it’s a long rant so here I am on my blog instead.

The discussion is about how YA books are skewing too old/mature currently. This means that the content tends to be aimed at 17-19 year olds instead of 14 year olds. Middle Grade fiction tends to be aimed at 8-13 year olds, with younger MG aimed at 8-10 and older MG aimed at 10-13. The biggest difference there is age of protagonist and reading grade level.

YA is supposed to cover 14-19ish and NA (New Adult), in my opinion covers 17+. Again, difference should be age of protagonists (YA has 14-21 year old characters while NA tends to have 19-35 year old protagonists). There’s also a difference of theme with YA covering first crushes, first dates, first kisses, first jobs, high school drama, identity seeking, trust issues, and developing independence (and however these translate into fantasy settings). NA deals with college or post-college, first steps towards a career, first serious relationship, coping with increased financial and personal independence, paying bills, and adulting (and however these translate into fantasy settings).

There are several problems with this.

  1. Age does not directly correlate to reading level.
  2. Grade level does not directly correlate to reading level.
  3. Age alone does not determine the content maturity level kids and teens are ready for.
  4. Which means that grade/reading level does not at all correlate to content maturity level.

There are 12 year olds who were bored to death with Babysitter’s Club (which features 12-15 year old characters in the lead roles) and there are 12 year olds who loved them. I worked with 14 year olds who were reading at an adult level and 17 year olds who were reading at a grade 8 level. That 17 year old doesn’t want to read about little kids going on dorky adventures – they want to read about their peers doing relevant things but they need the words on the page to be easier. (We had specially written books called Hi-lo. High interest, low reading level. … oh, right – I worked as an educational assistant for about 3 years).

As a reader, I was reading Stephen King at 12. And Poe. And Agatha Christie. I was reading Laurel K Hamilton before I was 18. (I watched Clive Barker’s Hellraiser at 15).

As a writer I’m acutely aware that there are teens with a high reading level who don’t necessarily want graphic content so I write clean books that will appeal to 12 year olds with a high reading level, 14-18 year olds with a standard or high reading level, and adults looking for quick fun reads. I also write MG sci-fi that will appeal to 9-10 year olds with an advanced reading level, 11-12 year olds with an average reading level, and 13-15 year olds looking for easier reads that are still exciting. I do that by blending reading level (grade level) with higher or lower content maturity levels.

While a lot of this debate deals with content maturity levels (like 8 year olds reading about periods or 12 year olds reading about college life) and whether or not content of a certain level will even interest kids of certain ages (FYI, majority of teens/kids want to read about their peers so 1 year younger to 5 years older than the target reader), a big part of the discussion centers on graphic content. Sex to be exact.

Are the characters having sex at all even if it’s not shown “on screen”? If the answer is yes, it is no longer MG fiction but clearly YA.

Are the characters having sex that is shown “on screen”? That skews it in the adult mind to older teen fiction.

To be clear, there are differing levels of graphic depiction. You can write a sex scene that centers on emotions, on the awe and wonder, the newness, the excitement, the raw nerves, the awkwardness, the buzz afterwards, or the regret, or the shame, or whatever suits your story. You can write a sex scene where you never talk about what the penis is doing at all. And you can write a sex scene that sounds like the “Audio captioning for the visually impaired” track for a porno, with great physical details of their bodies, their actions, their emotions, their physical feelings, the sweat, the passion … (I ghost wrote erotic fiction for a while). There’s a big difference in how authors can handle it.

Personally, I’m okay with sex being a part of stories for younger teens. I’m not okay with 18+ porno style depictions of sex being a part of stories for younger teens. And I’m not okay with anything for younger teens that shows abusive relationships, gas lighting, or irresponsible sexual behaviours in a positive light. But that may be me as a parent speaking.

I’m working on a new teen contemporary drama, and it involves a teen pregnancy. Several of the major characters are navigating dating and sex as part of their story arcs. Some of them are in dangerous, red-flag relationships. And it’s up to me to decide how graphic or prevalent these scenes and arcs will be. And it’s up to me as an indie to market my book to an appropriate age group.

Honestly, I think YA books were previously marketed to an older audience than they should have been (meaning, books for 12 year olds were being pushed on 14 year olds). I think our current YA content and marketing is more accurate, especially considering things like the #metoo movement, climate change, a global pandemic, gun violence in schools, and teen pregnancy. Our teens are living in complicated times – they need fiction that reflects that, not fiction that reflects a rosy Leave it to Beaver world. (They need good role models and happy endings, of course, but they need characters they can relate to as well).

What we expose our children to is always a razor’s edge balancing act. We cannot overshelter them or censor them but at the same time we must guide them, educate them, prepare them, and protect them.

We’re not going to get it right overnight.

Reagan’s Tale – Short Story Excerpt 1

Here is the first excerpt from one of the short stories I wrote. It takes place in Thelara, the world I’m building. During April I’ll be posting the rest of the story on the Thelara blog so you’ll be able to read the whole thing for free. Excerpt 2 is already up!

Tales From Thelara

The sound of her sister coughing woke her. Vivian huddled beneath her blanket, shivering. She’d seen people get sick before, but not like this. Fourteen people in town, including Vivian’s grandfather and her baby brother Dale, had already died. At least a dozen more had started coughing.

And now Emily, Vivian thought, tears coming to her eyes. Is she going to die too?

It had started with the storm, Vivian was sure of it. A late spring storm had raged through the night barely a week ago, pelting the shutters with rain, turning the yard into a lake and the road into an impassable, muddy mess. Her father and grandfather had gone out to seal up the barn. The coughing started the next day.

Grandpa blamed it on wet feet and promised he was fine. Now he was dead, and her father was laid up in bed with the cough…

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March Update

I know it’s late. Everything’s been crazy lately. The whole damn world. Sigh. 

Covid-19 is on everyone’s mind lately. Here’s what it means for me. 

First, we were planning to move in with my grandparents at the end of March/beginning of April. So, we did. We pulled the kids from school half a week before they closed and moved them and myself in with my grandparents. My husband is still living at the house since it needs major renos yet. He’s essential so he’s still working. With this arrangement, my grandparents (79 and 84 years old) and my children can stay in one place, keep each other occupied, and be kept safe. I run the errands, or I get my husband to do it during his shifts. We follow extensive washing up and contamination prevention measures. I go between the two houses to help. 

Unfortunately, my grandparents don’t have great internet and that means the kids have to come to the house 4-5 days a week to access their remote schooling features for the foreseeable future. With the extra precautions my husband takes coming home from work and the extra hand washing everyone else in the family is doing we’re staying safe. 

Renovations are coming along slowly. Every time we think we’re picking up steam we hit a roadblock. But they are moving forward. Plan is to list as soon as the house is presentable. Don’t know what the listing will look like given the current isolation period – online viewings only? I have no idea what this means for the real estate industry. We’re hopeful that it will sell quickly since it’s an easy drive to the city and people will be looking to get away from neighbours in light of this virus. 

Stress levels are high across the board. My daughter is coping by hyper-fixating. She’s trying to control what she can (like what goes on her salad or when things happen during the day) because there is too much she can’t control. Understandable, but there are many meltdowns when things don’t or can’t go the way she has imagined or planned. My son is stressed about the schoolwork. His teacher sent him a massive work packet and an intense schedule. From March 23-March 26 and from April 6-9 he was supposed to do 7-10 pages of science, SS, ELA, math, and French DAILY plus 2 pages of music, 20 minutes of reading, practice his recorder, and get 30-60 minutes of physical activity. It’s way too much. I spread it out over the weekends and spring break as well, cutting his workload down to a total of 4-6 pages per day and he’s still freaking out. It’s too much. I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, but I’m going to have to watch his mental health. 

My husband is focused on renos and keeping us all healthy. The uncertainty of … well… everything is making him anxious. There’re too many questions, some of which have potentially expensive answers.  

I’m trying to keep it together so everyone else keeps together. I’ve barely written since the middle of March. By the time I finish being contractor, chef, maid, teacher, mother, therapist, and personal shopper, I’m exhausted. I don’t have the brain power to write in the evenings. Yes, I am managing some self-care but not a lot, not enough. Good news points: the transition to living with my grandparents has been smooth in spite of everything and I’m maintaining my target weight, so there is that. 

A lot has been cancelled or postponed. I was supposed to test for my 2nd Dan black belt today but that didn’t happen. Tae Kwon Do is postponed until further notice. They are doing some online classes but with my difficult internet situation I’m unable to attend those. KeyCon in May has been cancelled, they were unable to find an alternate date. The soft-launch event for the Dawson Trail Arts Tour at the end of April was cancelled, though the main event for September is still a go, we hope. The steampunk convention in June is waiting to see what the venue will say about the booking – they can’t cancel until the venue cancels them or they’ll lose a lot of money. In all likelihood it will be postponed or cancelled until next year. No spring arts show at the school (my son will be happy he doesn’t have to go on stage and sing though).  

I celebrated my birthday in family-isolation. My daughter made me a necklace and a crown from pipecleaners and pompoms. She baked me a cake and cupcakes. She made a banner too. My niece missed her birthday too – no friends, no party. My sister filled her bedroom with balloons while she slept so she woke up to balloons everywhere. We’re doing the best we can.  

My husband and my dad are both essential (my husband works on the trains; my dad works in grocery). My brother-in-law is working from home. My husband’s parents are farmers (goats) so life goes on as normal for them. One brother-in-law works on the trains with my husband so he’s essential. One brother-in-law (sister’s hubby) is working from home. One brother-in-law is a grain farmer so business as usual once this snow is gone. Not sure what my husband’s other two brothers are up to. My sister-in-law is home with her kids while her husband is still working. My sister is a stay-home mom. We’re all holding on the best we can.  

I have a lot of friends who are high risk and I worry about them. I check in on social media because that’s all any of us can do right now. And so far, this virus hasn’t struck too close to home. The numbers in Canada are rising, but not at a horribly scary rate. I limit my exposure to the news to keep my sanity.  

It is hard to maintain motivation when everything is in limbo. It’s hard to stay energized when stress levels are so high. But we are lucky in so many ways. So, we will hold on and do our part and hope life can go back to normal soon. 

You’ve Written a Book, Now What?

Completing a book is a big deal and the work that went into the project from the first word to “the end” is nothing to be sneezed at. But the work doesn’t end there. For beginners, the next steps can be intimidating or confusing. Whenever I go to a con, a retreat, or even a NaNo wrap-up event, I meet writers who are finishing up their first book, or looking into self-publishing for the first time, and I get drawn into long discussions about the industry and how to safely navigate it.

Obviously, this is information people are looking for.

I got all my thoughts on the matter together and wrote them down. I came up with a cute 100-page handbook. It covers the basics, answers the beginner questions, and is designed to alleviate the confusion and stress and set writers on the right path.

There are 4 chapters.

Editing and Revisions covers how to find an editor, what order to tackle your editing and revisions in (because there’s no sense fixing all the commas if you’re just going to rewrite the scene later), the difference between editors, beta readers, and proofreaders, and how much a professional editor should cost you.

Choose Your Own Adventure looks at how traditional and self-publishing work, the querying process for traditional publishing, and the pros & cons of self-publishing. Most importantly, I go over how to spot those scammy presses that pop up faster than we can report on them.

If you’re going the traditional route, your journey is fairly simple after the querying process. The publisher takes care of cover art, final edits, layout, printing, shipping, distribution, all of it. So, chapter 3 looks at the basic mechanics of self-publishing. I go over what each step should cost if you choose to hire someone to help you with layout, covers, or illustrations as well as some basics for if you want to tackle it yourself.

Lastly is the chapter on Marketing and Promotion which looks at what you can do before, as, and after you publish. I go over how to set up a blog or website, and a Facebook author page, and what you can post on each. I also touch on launches and readings and on conventions and craft sales.

You’ve Written a Book Now What? is available for e-book pre-order (with a March 31 release date) from Amazon. The paperback should be ready around the same time (just have to add the page numbers and edit the ToC). Of course, with the current global situation I strongly advocate you order the e-book (and e-books of anything else you’re looking to buy for the next few weeks). Let’s help keep warehouse workers, the printing staff (because it’s print on demand), and the delivery folks as safe as we can by minimizing our online orders during this time.

And while I’ve got your ear (or your eye as it were), if this shut down has put you in a financial bind and you want something to read, please reach out to me. I have some coupon codes available for Rose Garden, my stand alones, and even my middle grade series The Underground if you’ve got avid readers home from school.

Stay safe out there.

 

Keeping Kids Busy At Home

With the Corvid-19 outbreak and the variety of social distancing measures being put in place, a lot of us are going to be stuck at home for 3-4 weeks with our children. Now, I love my kids but their 6 hours a day, 5 days a week at school is the only reason I’m sane, especially in this weather. See, in the summer, they go out the door and they run and jump and be noisy out there where there is lots of space and lots to do.

It’s still below freezing here. That makes this harder.

Add to that, the libraries, play zones, malls, pools, and movie theatres are closed. So, all those things I was doing with my kids during school breaks to keep them busy? Nope. Off the table. Health care professionals are advising no playgroups/playdates either. Stay home.

There’s always screen time, but at some point you need to charge batteries and do we really want our kids playing video games or tapping away at their tablets for 8+ hours a day? So, I’ve been brainstorming a list based on past snow days, school breaks, etc. of things that will entertain my kids, at home, for the next three week.

  1. the school is sending home a work packet. We’re going to aim for 1 hour each day, wherever it fits in, for school work. This may include recorder practice (save me)
  2. screen time – yup, they’ll get it. Generally we limit to 30 minutes video games on the weekends and 20 minutes on school nights (about 1 campaign mission on Halo: Reach on weekends or 1 firefight on a school night). They’ll probably get a full hour each day. Plus a lot of movie nights since bedtime won’t really matter. Also, there’s a coding website for kids called Scratch and some free video editing apps for stop motion animation that we might check out.
  3. Arts and Crafts: my kids have fairly free access to the basic colouring stuff. It’s going to take a little more than that after the first few days:
    1. Finger painting – why not? we have to wash up more often anyways
    2. I have a giant roll of paper so I can just cover the floor and let them paint, colour, whatever on it
    3. STICKERS – bring ’em out and let them go crazy (just not on my floors or furniture)
    4. Bring out the special crafts like painting Christmas ornaments, the wooden picture frames I have saved for emergencies, etc.
    5. Dye eggs for Easter. Heck, don’t wait for Easter. Hard boil some eggs, let the kids draw on them, then eat them (or make egg salad). Bonus – get them to draw villains and monsters on the eggs then they get to smash the bad guys
    6. Make your own puzzles – get them to draw a picture, fully coloured, minimal white space, then glue it to an old cereal box for rigidity and cut into pieces. If you have more than one kid get them to put together the picture made by a sibling
  4. Bath time – bath bombs, tub toys, bubbles. Try extra bubble bath mix and glow sticks then turn the lights off. There are other recipes online for types of slime baths and for tub safe paints. I might have to give those a try.
  5. Chores – mostly, get them to clean up after their activities (if it’s day-to-day stuff like toys or crayons they do it themselves, if it’s a big activity get them to help you). Also invite them to help with the dishes and then load the sink with extra soap and all the plastic stuff and let them play, or play match the socks. Sometimes you won’t be able to make it a game, or your kids are like mine and are too old to fall for that anymore. Chores are important. Work alongside them, model a good work ethic, talk about how knowing how to keep the place clean is an important life skill, use that time to talk about stuff, let them watch videos on your phone while they wash dishes.
  6. Cooking/baking – whatever you’re making, they can help. Teach them to measure and read a recipe. Make an old family recipe. Make fun stuff. Make “we need to eat” boring stuff. Turn snacks into something fun (celery becomes ants on a log). Make meals like tacos or subs or pizza where the kids can build their own (mine like pitas and burritos too).
  7. Read to them. Have a quiet reading time where everyone gets cozy on the couches or in mom and dad’s bed and reads their own stuff. Check out some audiobooks from the online library and listen while you do chores. There are some celebrities reading kids books on Youtube already and others who will be live streaming at various times of the day for the next few weeks. Scholastic books (the book fair people) have special online resources right now.
  8. Play outside when you can but practice responsible social distancing.
  9. Design a comic book

Stay safe, stay sane, and take some time for yourself too.

January 2020 Recap

I barely wrote anything in January. I did some editing, and some timeline work, and some brainstorming, but not a lot of physical writing.

I also got the kids back into the school schedule after winter break, got back to teaching taekwondo after the break, and started in on the long list of things to do before we can move.

With the house work and renos this spring, writing is going to be slow and Lost Light is not going to be ready for Keycon or the Kraken Tea. I have to accept that. Maybe, with a little luck, I can have this little surprise side project done – maybe. Would be nice to have a new title out.

Good news though – I had a short story accepted for the KeyCon chapbook competition. The book will be available for pre-order on the KeyCon website soon and for sale at the convention. You’ll likely be able to order online too if you’re not local to the area.

 

Foresight is 2020

Because hindsight is 20-20? Come on. It’s going to be a great year for puns, I can feel it.

It’s also going to be another busy year, personally and professionally. With 2019 winding down and the new year dawning, it’s time to look ahead to the goals and plans of the next 365 days.

My biggest project for 2020 is finishing the Chronicles of Zoedar. Book 3 needs to be finished and will likely be split into two books. Book 4 will become book 5 and needs to be written. 1 and 2 are back from the beta reader so now I need to do the initial revisions, then off to the editor, back to me for final revisions, and done. The rest will need to go to the beta reader, come back for revisions, go to the editor, and come back for final polishing.

I have a stand-alone novel lined up titled Lost Light. It will be another YA contemporary drama. I will also be getting my memoirs in order, at least some of them. The first will be called Paper Memories and will be about my writing journey from a young age to November of 2014 when I published my first book. Paper Castles will continue the story of my writing journey, but since I’m still living that journey I don’t know how long it will take to finish. I have another in mind about a different theme but I’m working out the details yet.

I also want to write all the short stories tied to Thelara and The Chronicles of Zoedar. There will be 10-15 of them, not sure about the lengths. Some are historical, and some are side-stories that take place during, shortly before, or shortly after, the main series.

I estimate that I’ll be writing roughly 380,000 new words, a big step down from the last two years. BUT I’ll need the extra time for editing, revising, marketing, and trying to find an agent or publisher for Zoedar.

I will also be starting the storyboarding for The Underground graphic novels. I will not be doing the final artwork for that project.

On a personal note – we’ll be moving this spring/summer. That will eat up a lot of time and energy. We bought a camper so I’m looking forward to making good use of that come warmer weather.

I’m sure life has other things planned for me too. This is why I’m aiming for a smaller, manageable word count goal, one I’ll be able to meet without too much stress or worry, one that leaves me time to achieve other goals.