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  • Christine Shuck

Losses, Gains, and Year to Come

She's Still Here...For Now

Fostering children is not an easy task. Early on, when we were still starry-eyed at the prospect, my husband and I attended several classes in which the instructor warned us, "They will never love you. They will pee in your shoes, kill your pets, and set your house on fire."


Extreme examples to be sure, and rather disconcerting. I think she was trying to thin the herd, to prepare us, but really, it didn't. In our case, we have had two children in nearly three years, one newborn boy for the first five months of his life, the other, a little girl who has lived with us since April 2018.


Like any child, she has her ups and downs, and it is impossible to not involve your heart and dreams of the future after they have been in your life day in and day out. Especially for as long as we have had Little Miss.


She has not done any of the things our instructor warned us about, and in reality, she is a very sweet, loving little girl. And perhaps that makes it all the more harder to see the writing on the wall. At one point, the case had moved to termination of parental rights, but now it seems that reunification is the goal. Barring any major issues, we know we have but a few months left with her.


That's hard, it sets this suddenly impermanent tone to our days - one where we can no longer convince ourselves that she is going to be with us in a year, or even six months. And on her side, hearing from her biomom that change is coming, is very hard on her. She doesn't take change well, not at all. It leads to nightmares, tantrums, and other behavioral outbursts. Extreme neediness, relentless insecurity, these are all hallmarks of foster children - and it is hard on them and those who care for them.


Foster care needs to be reformed. We give bioparents too long of a timeframe to get their poop in a pile, so to speak. What it does to the children caught in the middle, this back and forth, is truly cruel. The next few months are going to be extremely difficult for us and for Little Miss. That said, I wouldn't take the last (almost) three years back. She's worth it.


Gains Come in the Form of New Covers

I've got a fantastic cover designer. He's the kind of designer who researches the genre carefully before creating spot-on covers that scream the genre to the target readership and I'm lucky to have him.


It took getting out of my own way, and also waiting patiently, for him to design these two fantastic covers for the G581 series. I have another two books planned in the series, but take a look at these amazing covers!


I have learned something very powerful in the process of creating THREE covers for G581: The Departure.

And that is, get out of the designer's way. Doing so has meant a world of difference. As one of my newer followers said, "It looks like a real book that you would find in a bookstore."


And yes, that would be the point. In today's world, having a publisher and an agent to properly bless your book has become more and more irrelevant. These days, they don't even handle marketing, yet still wish to take 90% of the proceeds of your efforts while maintaining control over covers, markets, pricing, and more!


Writing Progress Continues

I'm a follower of Joanna Penn's podcast The Creative Penn and she linked on Twitter to a blog post that was just what I needed to hear the other day: Math is a Friend of Prolific by Dean Wesley Smith. It is so true!


At the end of 2020, I took a hard look at numbers. Now that I'm no longer running a cleaning business, and I only need to stop and do a quick cleaning on our one Airbnb next door, I have hours and hours each weekday to produce words on the page.


And so I set a gentle, easily achievable goal of 2,000 words per day, five days per week. Considering that I can usually type 1,000 words in about one hour, I can easily accomplish the goal if I have already outlined my story and know where it is going in around two hours of writing per day. And on most days, I actually try and write 2,500 words so that I have extra words in the bank so to speak for days when things go sideways (sick kids, holidays, etc). But for the purposes of this exercise, let's say I write 2,000 words per day, five days per week. That's 10,000 words per week. Let's also say that I only write 50 weeks out of the year, giving myself a nice two-week vacation from writing each year.


10,000 words per week x 50 weeks out of the year = 500,000 words per year


I tend to write rather economically. What does that mean? Well, there aren't a lot of wasted words. With my last manuscript, G581: Mars, I tossed out around 5,000 words, lost another 5,000 to edits, and still ended up with a 98,000 word manuscript.


My manuscripts tend to range from around 85k to 105k words. Which means that I can write around five books a year if I wrote every weekday for 50 weeks out of the year.


I did actually allocate myself 12 weeks per book. One week to plan and outline. Ten to write it in and one more week for edits. And with Smoke and Steel, my current project, it looks as if it will be an 85k book and that I will finish writing it by mid-February, some three weeks ahead of schedule at my current rate of writing. In other words, my twelve weeks per book might be closer to a nine weeks in total. So I might actually be closer to a six book per year production rate if I included the full 52 weeks, which I'm not.


Also, keep in mind that I can write in my current project in the morning and early afternoon and then turn to edits once my 2,000-2,500 word goal for the day is complete.


So while five books a year might sound like a punishing schedule, it really isn't. I write around three hours per day, five days per week, and then spend the rest of the time on other business support activities.


And if this sounds like your perfect life - believe me, that's how it feels. To create, every day, to surround myself with words, is an awesome and rewarding thing. I am incredibly happy doing so!


Funny Story (actually TWO stories)

Believe it or not, I never set out to write science fiction. Not really. I love science fiction. Heck, I pretty much teethed on it!


Story #1 - I learned to read at age three, and when in kindergarten, my teachers in the small Montessori-based school were delighted to discover that not only could I read, but I could read with emphasis! Soon after, they tested me using reading books they had on hand. Years later I would come to understand that I had tested at a sixth grade reading level, the highest level the school had in readers. I figured this out when I reached the sixth grade in public school and discovered a familiar story, one that I had read at age five. It was an excerpt from Robert Heinlen's juvenile sci-fi novel The Star Beast. Something I learned at fifteen after discovering it in a bookstore. So at five, I read an excerpt of the book, that I then re-discovered at age 10 and again at age 15. I still have the book. I figure it was literally the first sci-fi story I ever read, but it was far from the last.


I've read Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Hubbard, and so many other sci-fi greats. I've also read more than my share of more recent greats, Greg Bear, McCaffrey, and the list goes on.


But just because I've read sci-fi, doesn't mean I ever had the interest in writing it. Especially when I considered my abilities, or lack thereof, in understanding science as a whole.


Story #2: G581 came about thanks to a confluence of three events: 1) A killer virus I thought of while in line at Wendy's - just a snippet of a scene in which a woman drives up to a drive thru, stark naked, proceeds to order ten combo meals and, when she receives them, parks there in the drive through and eats until her stomach ruptures and she dies. Yeah, fun stuff. What can I say, I've got a dark mind. 2) A saboteur aboard a space ship. Again, just a snippet of a scene in which a man is faced with losing dozens if not hundreds of innocents stored in Cryo thanks to the actions of a saboteur. I didn't know anything more about it than that. 3) The discovery of Gliese 581g by the astronomer Steven Vogt.


It was the news of that planet's discovery, and its potential location within the Goldilocks zone, making it potentially habitable to humans, that fit all the pieces together.


I didn't set out to write science fiction, but when you have travel to another planet, or a spaceship, then you have entered the world of science fiction, whether you wanted to or not.


My goal then was simply to make it as realistic as possible. I knew that folks could suspend reality for certain things - interstellar travel at warp speed for example, or artificial gravity if I gave the spaceship a spin - but that I had better ground it in reality for other things. That was what made the virus so frightening and cool - I talked with a virologist (a brother of my high school teacher!) and gave him the parameters.


"I need a virus with a long incubation rate that jumps from pigs to humans. Bonus points if it leave survivors infertile." He suggested pseudorabies with an added twist of inserting a variant of herpes and the rest is history...or G581: The Departure. I added in the AB negative blood aspect in order to increase death rate (only AB- blood type can survive the virus, but they are made infertile) and worried that it was too much of a leap. However, when a headline in 2020 drew a connection between certain blood types being more susceptible for COVID, I felt like a damn prophetess!


In Summary, 2021 Has Great Potential

I have quite the row to hoe, being cross-genre. I know I would make my life much easier if I could simply focus on one genre instead of writing in, what, four or five? But I love them all. I write the stories that pop into my head. It won't appeal to everyone, but I hope to find folks who like them nonetheless.


I want to write words that stick in your head long after you close the book. If I have done that, then my mission is accomplished. Here is to 2021, with all of its potential!

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