Moving on With Hopes and Dreams
Wowza, has 2020 been a year or what? The highs and lows have been excruciating at times and so much has happened. I would like to take a moment to reflect on the year and then turn towards 2021's hopes and dreams. I've got plenty, and I want to share them with you!
I visited London for NINE days in March!
Remember when this whole weird virus called COVID-19 was spreading and no one knew quite what to make of it? I mean, we heard some voices of alarm, but most were just "eh, there's this virus and it's a nasty variety of the flu." Yeah, so that was my interpretation of it in early March as we bopped about London, drinking in the sights, eating fabulous meals, and walking until we couldn't move another muscle. I loved it. It was fabulous and as we wrapped up our trip, packing our bags to the brim with goodies, the scared voices were a lot louder. As the plane touched down in Philly, where we had a layover, our phones lit up like pinball machines.
"Did you make it back?"
"Trump just ordered the borders to be closed!"
It was pandemonium and suddenly, we were in lockdown, which felt like a science fiction movie or, you know, like the ESH virus in G581: The Departure. By the time March ended, my cleaning biz was in full cardiac arrest, everyone was running scared, I was feeling like a prophetess, and London was a distant memory.
I went to work for Amazon!
Yeah, but not for long. All of six weeks. Between lockdown, my husband getting some kind of weird virus that wasn't COVID but laid him out for a solid three weeks, and my cleaning biz basically vanishing overnight due to the lockdown, working for Amazon was a pretty good gig if you don't mind dealing with self-entitled jackasses who love to treat customer service reps as their private whipping boys (and girls). Whew, that was one hell of a run-on sentence.
It was a not-so-pleasant reminder of what awaited me if I didn't get my crap together and write more books. I learned too that in the 15 years since I've had to work for anyone other than myself, I've become less than flexible when dealing with fools. My husband says I've never tolerated them well, but hitting 50 this year was a milestone, and I see no reason to waste a single moment going forward on things that aren't important. Fools being #1 on that list.
It had its funny moments, though. I fielded one chat from a customer with the moniker YoungDaggerDick who really was jonesing for a refund of any kind. From the red bar that appeared on my screen I could see that YoungDaggerDick had made a career out of getting Amazon to credit him for various grievances (oh yes, they track those kind of things). It had been difficult to decide how to address him. Should I type "Hi Young" or "Hi Dagger" or just go straight to "Hi, Dick!" - I really wasn't sure. But after 15 minutes of chatting back and forth, I offered him a 64 cent credit to his gift card and YoungDaggerDick was happy and satisfied. I was too. I had managed to get through the entire chat without calling him a dick and I was incredibly proud. It's the small things in life, really, it is.
I fostered a real, live baby raccoon
Some would call her a trash panda, others would say she was vermin, but Rocky the Raccoon warmed our hearts for eight weeks before we accepted the reality that she belonged in the wild. I took her to a nature center who could handle her transition back into the wild.
She was a fantastic little beast and it changed my opinion of raccoons forever. She and her sibling were abandoned in the middle of the day in a Home Depot parking lot. Her sibling was a shrieking mimi, so she found herself at the nature center on Day 2. Rocky was fabulous and I really wanted to make a go out of keeping her. She loved sleeping in my shirt and nibbling on my ears. I adored her!
As time wore on, however, she became more and more aggressive toward my daughter's cat and I feared there would be trouble. Caring for a raccoon takes a special kind of situation, and we simply didn't have it. I didn't want her living a half life, either. Instead, she became the model for a raccoon in G581: Mars, called Burrito. Wherever Rocky is, I hope she is healthy and happy!
We fostered a little boy for five months
In late July, we received a phone call, "We have a newborn baby boy coming into care, are you interested?"
We have been foster parents since the spring of 2018. For us, that has meant that we have had one child, and one child only in our house, in addition to our teen. But in July, that all changed. The security guards at the hospital were not impressed when a blue-haired fat woman and an old man with a mohawk walked toward them. I didn't help the situation by joking, "I heard you were giving out babies and we wanted to be first in line."
It was a joke, folks. After some significant interrogating, they directed us to the NICU, where we met the Little Prince. It was July 24th, and he was five days old.
To say that I fell hard for this little boy does not begin to describe the emotions I felt. At 50, I had already been through menopause and come out the other side. Suddenly I was having hot flashes and crying jags. Seriously. That sweet little boy turned back the clock like it had never even stopped. Short of ovulating, I was in full mama mode.
"What's it like?" a friend asked.
Try to imagine the most wonderful, and the most painful, thing you could ever experience. That's what it's like.
You fall in love. Just as you would when someone hands you your own newborn child. All the sleepless nights, the egocentric "meet my needs NOW" insistence of a tiny baby, it all falls away as you hold this child in your arms. He was everything I could have wanted in a baby boy - beautiful, sweet, and we bonded instantly. Within two months he was sleeping through the night. As in a solid eleven hours at a time. Absolute bliss!
He went away, back to his family, on December 23rd.
It was unexpected, how quickly it occurred, and it was devastating. I've lost count of the number of times I've been brought to tears. I dream of him. I wake up thinking I hear him in his crib. The smallest reminders - a hat that I missed, or a blanket in the wash - I spiral every time.
The next day, Christmas Eve, marked five months to the day since I had first laid eyes on him. Those last few hours we had with him, the morning of the 23rd, I just held him and tried not to cry. I failed miserably, but that's okay. I smiled at him through my tears, kissed him until he chortled with glee, and I told him over and over how much I loved him.
Despite how I felt, how I still feel, I wouldn't wish the experience away. For five months, I had a beautiful baby boy in my life. Each day was a gift, an honor, and I learned so much from it. Even if I never see him again, even if the memories of me fade, which they will, I know I gave him love, security, and a solid start. I had hoped for more, but that wasn't in the cards.
That's the face of foster parenting - love and heartbreak all rolled up into one. The foster care class told us these children would never love us. The instructor warned that they would pee in our shoes, try to kill our pets, and burn our houses down. (I kid you not, she really said these things). I think she was doing her best to weed out the faint of heart. Because heart is what you need to do this. You need a strong heart to be a foster parent - because it is going to get broken. I can honestly say that losing that little boy was one of the most painful experiences I have ever had.
So far, it's been a roller coaster of hope, fear, diapers, sleepless nights, love and a hefty amount of heartbreak. You never really know what's around the corner. Despite this, we have learned so much from the experiences we have had. Children have a way of looking at the world that is just...beautiful and often eerily insightful.
In the wake of losing the Little Prince, our five-year-old foster daughter asked, "Do you miss him? I don't. Because I have him here, right next to my heart." Then she unzipped her pj's enough to show us the photograph she had of him pressed against her chest. It was a powerful lesson that we all deal with the loss how we can, and it isn't easy. Nevertheless, we soldier on.
*Missouri holds the record for the lowest amount of foster care reimbursement in all 50 states.
I've pressed the "unlock" button on creativity thanks to...
In August, I was feeling a bit desperate. I had written most of G581: Mars and then just... stopped. I found myself deep in a crisis of confidence and I wasn't sure what to do. This has happened with pretty much every book I've written, but our circumstances had changed. After the lockdown eased and I had revved back up my cleaning biz, along came the Little Prince and my world was all a'kilter. Sleep deprived and besotted with the baby, I decided it was high time to stop chasing the money and focus on the writing. I folded up my author business and now, here I was, with all the time in the world to write, and no words were appearing on the screen.
I picked up The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron and decided to give it another try. I had bought it when my 14-year-old was an infant and been stopped by the challenge of the Morning Pages. Write three 8 1/2 x 11 inch pages by hand every day? My fingers would seize and I'd be useless for anything else. Besides, it would take me forever!
I decided to compromise. Taking into account the mild case of arthritis in my fingers that I was unwilling to make worse, I settled on typing the Morning Pages instead. And with ample time and opportunity, I jumped into the twelve-week course in mid or late August and began to chip away at whatever the hell was stopping me from achieving my dreams.
I'm happy to report that, overall, it is working. I've had a two or three weeks go nuts and me have to repeat the week's activities, which is why I'm only on Week 8 of the course right now. The Morning Pages, however, have been the biggest key to unlocking my creativity. And not just that, but it hasn't just been limited to creativity - my relationships, my health, these have improved as well. It's been just the push I needed and I think it was key to unlocking the blocks that kept me from pursuing my goals and dreams - in my writing and beyond.
I've purchased several more of her books, all with their own 12-week programs, that will take me through 2021 and possibly beyond.
I released a 3rd book in the War's End series this year!
Several readers had asked if there would ever be a Book 3 for War's End and the answer was yes and no. Book 3 is an anthology of nine short stories that I have written over the years. The stories focus on characters you might meet for just a moment in the other books. You might even meet a relative of a main character. The stories add to the War's End saga and I'm lowering the ebook price to just $1.99 on all platforms, so go and check it out!
I've decided I will do something similar with the Gliese 581 series as well. So later in the year, or early 2022, you can look forward to an anthology of short stories in that series as well.
I've just finished editing and formatting G581: Mars!
The second of four books in the Gliese 581 series, I will be releasing G581: Mars for sale on February 1st, 2020. Where The Departure was full of twists and turns, Mars is more of a slow burn.
When I wrote The Departure in 2016, there was just one chapter about the colony on Mars. Out of that rose an entire book, one that I felt was necessary for the storyline that will now move to Earth before returning, finally, to Zarmina's World. It is a very different book, but also an important one.
It is going out to ARC readers now. If you are interested in being added to my ARC reader list, please contact me, I would love to send you a copy to read and review!
So that's been my year. Plenty of good things have happened, but the news of the world, the election, having to say goodbye to our lovely foster son, and so many stressors have made this year one that I am eager to put behind me.
So what does 2021 hold in store? Should I hide and wait for that vaccine before sharing my hopes and dreams for the New Year?
I'm a dreamer and planner by nature, so, NOPE. I'm going ahead. Here's what I'm working towards in 2021...
Better Health - There's nothing like a worldwide pandemic to remind one that our time on Earth is limited, and if I want it to be longer, I need to lose some weight and exercise regularly. To that end, I have begun walking for one hour per day on my treadmill (now that I've recovered from falling off of the damned thing two weeks ago).
I'm shooting for two meals a day using intermittent fasting and doing my best to stop eating sweets. My goal is to lose twenty pounds by this time next year and move down to an average A1C of 5.9 or lower. I'm pre-diabetic and I plan to stay that way!
Travel! - We are overdue for a visit to California. My husband's parents have never met Little Miss, the foster daughter we have had since spring 2018 and I'm really looking forward to visiting San Francisco, eating great foods, and generally enjoy seeing my in-laws. There's been too much of "Well, things are tight, maybe next year." My teenager is 14 years old, we don't have many years left before she has flown the nest!
Revive the Monthly Newsletter - I was shocked to realize it has been 18 months since I sent out a monthly newsletter or written a short story for my loyal subscribers! I promise that is going to change, very quickly! Look for a January newsletter, and the revival of the monthly story of the month, it should be coming soon.
Publish FIVE Books in 2021 - I think that is the loftiest goal I have made yet! Nevertheless, I think it is doable. I credit a big part of this sparkly goal with The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron which I talked about above. I have a clear understanding at this point of what I want from my life and how I think I need to go about getting it. One of those steps is to write and publish regularly and so here is how it goes...
I've set myself a goal of writing 2,000 words MINIMUM per day, five days per week. That's 10,000 words per week or 520,000 words per year. My fiction books average around 85-105,000 words each.
My writing plan is this:
Plan/outline the book in depth including a book synopsis, chapter names and individual chapter synopses, character bios with descriptions, ages, etc, and even settings (photos of buildings, locations, etc) - timeline: 1 week
Write the book - timeline: 10 weeks
Edit the book, format it, prep it for reviewers, order the book blurb and book cover - timeline: 1 week
Plan next book, rinse and repeat, while allowing one month for book to be read by ARC reviewers before publishing and market during that time for the upcoming release
I already have G581: Mars ready to go, and it should hit the shelves on February 1st. Next up will be Smoke & Steel, Book 2 of Benton Security Services. I hope to have that out April 15th. Then G581: Earth on 7/15, Broken Code on 10/1, and Winter's Child on 12/21 (special date there, you'll understand why when you read the book).
Will it work like I hope it will? Likely not. Life, Murphy's Law, and the ups and downs of parenthood constantly test my sanity, health, and patience. But I'm going to try my best!
The way I look at it is this. I published my first book in 2008. Every second year, I published another. I broke that ceiling by publishing Hired Gun in 2019, Tales of the Collapse in December, and having G581: Mars done and ready to go for 2021. I can do this, with practice, dedication, and persistence.
Every year, I go in search of Neil Gaiman's New Year message. Inevitably, it is profound and touches my heart in a significant way. I find myself returning to it again and again. And in that vein, I would like to share my own with you, just a few days early...
Read something that leaves you thinking for long after the page has been turned. Eat a fantastic meal. Sleep in. Get up early. Take a hike. Stare at the stars. Find those perfect moments and revel in them. I want 2021 to give you peace, prosperity and hope. May you read amazing books (mine or otherwise!), may you laugh and love and find happiness in the now.