Given as long as it’s been since I’ve made a blog post, this feels a little like when I was in elementary school, and would return to class after a long summer. It was almost tradition for a teacher to assign a “what I did over summer vacation” assignment, much to all of our dismay. The teacher would suggest picking one activity or incident that happened over the three month span rather than try to talk about all summer, as if we, as eight and nine year olds, had done so many exciting things it was difficult to choose just one to write about, rather than the fact that the majority of us just learned at what time and what channel we could find every rerun of our favorite shows from six in the morning to midnight.
Even as a child, I understood the exercise. It was, of course, to get us back into the habit of writing after such a long break, to jog our imaginations– and what better way to do that than to talk about something we liked? Focusing on the self is one of the easiest ways to get back to writing, given you need no other opinion or experience but your own. And so that’s what we’ll be doing here.
As a grown up, I don’t have much in the way of summer vacations anymore, outside the part where I don’t have to drive kids to school and monitor tedious homework in the evenings. I still go to work, still have to shop and cook and pay bills. This summer, though, was chock full of strange and stressful things, as well as interesting and fun. My kids are at an age where they’re both self-entertaining, and also hilarious to talk to. We had storms that did major damage to our city, a death in the family, and even a surprise surgery on yours truly. I’ve never been fond of talking dramatics in my own life, though, so, instead of my appendectomy, I’m going to tell you about my chicken.
If you’ve been following along for any length of time, you’ve probably gleaned that I love animals. As a child, I was the one who went looking for cats in peoples’ houses and had to be restrained from running right up to strangers’ dogs on the street. I went to zoo camp and still tell people the story of feeding a giraffe out of my hand. When I got older, I had to have outside influences prevent me from collecting pets– I’ve often told my husband he’s the only thing standing between me and being a crazy cat lady.
When I was writing my first novel, one of the main characters had chickens. There is a specific paragraph describing how gently he handles his chickens, and a later scene where he and his son are cleaning up their coop and preparing for winter. Given my love of research, I did some on chickens just for these passages, and fell in love with the idea of having my own flock.
At the time, we lived in a townhome, with an 5×8 slab of concrete for a backyard, and an HOA that had been known to come over with a tape measure to make sure your trees were the right height. A year and a half ago, we bought a house with, frankly, too damned big of a yard. This meant, however, I could finally get my beloved chickens.
We bought a coop kit off the internet, and some 12 week old hens from an acquaintance at work. It was everything I dreamed of, except: the chickens didn’t really like us. They scattered and ran when we came out, and wouldn’t let us pick them up. If you’ve ever known an animal person, this is devastating: all you want is to cuddle all the animals of the world!
The following spring, we decided to buy chicks to hand-raise. We got four, one for each of us: four little balls of puffy feathers, cuter than even the cutest kitten by a long shot.
One of them, Springtrap (named by my son), developed a condition called “pasty butt” which is basically exactly what it sounds like. It also requires that the keeper monitor the chicken’s backside, and keep it clean so the poo doesn’t cake together and block the vent, thus killing the chick.
I’m nothing if not obsessive, particularly when it comes to the health of my pets (though, you know, with my kids I’m a big fan of “if you’re not bleeding, you’re going to school”). I checked on her throughout the day, wiping her butt when needed, drying and warming her to keep her from catching cold. She was our runt, our littlest chicken for the duration of their tiniest phase. Despite “my” chicken being a different one named Lady Mary, I became attached to Spring through these treatments, and was proud that she not only survived this hiccup, but grew into a lovely large chicken with the feathered feet of her breed.
Recently, she started acting strange. She spent all day in a nest box and made growling, trilling sounds when approached. The internet informed me: she was broody. Because we have no rooster, as they are not allowed in the city, she would have no babies. She had to be broken.
A note on chickens: they are not like cats. They possess a tiny, lizard brain that makes them both forgetful, and constantly convinced that the next second is their doom. While they can be convinced to be cuddly, it almost seems as though it’s under duress. Every day is their last. I’m obviously just hiding an axe somewhere to come after them when they least expect it.
According to advice, we put Spring in a metal dog crate up on blocks of wood to “air out” her nethers. I felt terrifically sad for her, and would take her out in the afternoons, after the other chickens had laid eggs and I could close the coop. I thought I was doing her a favor. She acted as though I were the cause of all her anguish, and started taking to chasing me when I came out into the yard, pecking at my feet when I fed them, and, on two occasions, bit my arm hard enough to draw blood.
She earned the name “Bitch Chicken.”
The chicken seemed unbreakable. Every morning, I’d haul her out of the coop and put her in the crate, where she’d huddle right back down and give me angry glares anytime she saw me. In the afternoons, I’d shut up the coop and let her out, and she’d mostly behave like the others but, at night, when the coop was reopened, she made a beline for it, threw herself in a nest box and hissed at anyone who came near.
I thought for sure she would be broody forever. I’m not above hyperbole, ever, but she definitely seemed as though none of our efforts would prevail. I started sneaking in when it was dark and putting her on the roosting bar so she would forget where the nest was. In one dramatic and ill-conceived plan, we filled the kitchen sink with cool water and dunked her backside and chest in. The entire room got wet, including me. She kept chasing me through the yard while my husband cackled from the doorway.
And then, she stopped. One morning, I opened the coop and she was the first out the door. She spent all day scratching and pecking and wandering, and then seemed protest going to bed that night. She was cured. The chicken gods had finally smiled on us.
So that is what I did with my summer vacation. Oh, I wrote, too, a book that apparently has decided it’s never going to end, or will actually be three books, I haven’t decided. I’m hoping to finish it by 2030.
It’s one of the most common phrases a writer hears (possibly just after “have I read anything of yours” or “it must be fun to just get to write all the time): something about that day job of yours. Whether you flip burgers or are a neurosurgeon, everyone seems to think they have an opinion on how you earn a living, and that you need to hear it.
Of course, here I am with an opinion, and think you need to hear it. I’m cool with hypocrisy.
Don’t quit your day job. No, really, don’t.
I, like most other writers with middling to piddling success, require a day job. I’ve been lucky that my husband works in an industry that is ever-expanding, allowing me to stay home with our kids when they were young, and then work on my writing career as they’ve moved onto full-time school, and maintaining a Lord of the Flies-like rulings in their kingdom of two.
I also work, part-time. I understand that this might make my point a bit more moot, as I work mornings and have afternoons and evenings more or less free to write, or dick around as much as I want. However, I’ve also held a full-time job, a rather grueling one, requiring fourteen hour days and lunches eaten hunched over my computer in a closed-off office. It was when I was at this job that I started my first manuscript; it was after I was laid off that I finished it.
Writing is an extremely insular art form. Most writers work in solitude, and books are read far from the reach of the writer. While an artist may not be able to stand right next to you and explain their intention in color selection, a painting can be seen by more person than one, at the same time, can be shared by an entire group at once, and discussed in real time. Books require a dedication to read, to consider, and to reach out about. Being a writer is pretty lonely.
I write in the morning, when I first get up, before my brain is awake enough to let the inner critic carry on at me, telling me everything I do is pointless and stupid. I write in the afternoon when she’s in full-force, too, but, in between, I go to work. I do administrative stuff in health care, for a doctor’s practice, inside of a hospital (how’s that for vague?). This means that I interact with, on average, at least 50 people a day, in an important and direct manner.
Every writer has the ambition to be able to live off their writing. I know few who have expressed blockbuster dreams, or millionaire fantasies– most writers just want to be able to call writing their actual job, with a decent paycheck, just like their day job.
At this point in my life, I don’t know that I would want to quit to solely write. I’ve mentioned before that I hate the romanticizing of the artist life, like writers (and painters, weavers, photographers, actors, et al) are doing something deeply enlightened. It’s still a job, it’s still work. And it’s a lonely, drudging job at that. When a chapter is going poorly, and I’m tired and crabby and nothing seems to be going right, there are few people to turn to in my misery. Writer’s groups, in theory, are the outlet for this– but, I feel, everyone is suffering in their own bubble, and they’re just amassing the bubbles in one place.
At a workplace, there’s a shared feeling that is impossible to get solo. It’s that “we’re all in this together” feeling that makes any terrible day feel a bit more manageable.
I have no desire to quit my day job. Writing will always be my chosen career, but, in lieu of some kind of overwhelming (and, honestly, unwanted) celebrity, I can’t see myself wanting it to be the whole focus of my days. I love writing. I also like my sanity.
Laila Blake and I are excited to be releasing the second, and last, book in our After Life Lessons collection today! Available now in ereader formats, you can follow Aaron and Emily, as well as new characters, in a brand new journey in the life After the apocalypse.
Years after the end of the world, the scattered survivors have begun to reconcile with their fate and are starting to build communities from the rubble. Life has been kind to Aaron and Emily, and maybe it is that infusion of hope that leads them on a winter trip to search for Aaron’s family. But the world outside their little haven has grown harsher, the conditions rough and dangerous.
Not everybody they meet on their journey allowed the grim realities to harden their hearts, however. Malachi and Kenzie – an easy-going drifter with a bum leg and amnesia, and a teenage girl who has lost everyone and everything – are on an ill-conceived mission to Mexico, while Iago and his band of nomads work to forge trading connections between the small settlements of the south. All of them will discover new nightmares on the road, far surpassing the threat of the last rotting zombies still roaming the countryside. And now they must come together to fight for peace and justice in the world they trying to rebuild.
This novel contains language some might find offensive, some gore and situations of a sexual nature. Reader’s discretion is advised.
Available at the following online retailers:
It’s that time of year, where a frantic scramble to get things done is not only predicted, it’s somewhat expected. In my life, we have not only the holidays, but also both of my children’s birthdays flanking Christmas, and my visions of my own personal deadlines so I can look over my year of work and be pleased with myself.
I frequently make myself sick this time of year.
Three days before Christmas, and I still must venture out for a few small presents for dear friends, but this writing business stops for no one.
The year has been a modest one in terms of word count. I started, and then stopped around 50k, a tightly-wound story about a family in the throes of crisis, having written myself into a corner. I hope to go back and figure out how to unravel this, because I think, at the heart of it, the story is a sound one, and interesting. With Laila Blake, I completed a collection of short stories centered around our characters from After Life Lessons (you can find it here), as well as the first draft for the second, and final, book featuring those characters and their post-apocalyptic world. I completed the first in a trilogy about a dystopian world with a mysterious narrator, and rewrote 3/4 of a novel I originally completed last December, giving this year a sort of fun, cyclical sort of ending. Several pieces of erotica were also accepted this year, and a few have come out in print already, with more planned in anthologies next year.
This year, on a lot of fronts, was more dedicated to the publishing side of writing, which is a much newer experience for yours truly. Editing is one of my favorite activities, and one of my greater skills, and I found myself doing a lot more of that this year, with several rewrites and edits on After Life Lessons before it went to print in April, as well as several edits on At the Edge of the World, which came out in August. I also have picked over and helped groom Laila’s first two installments of the Lakeside Series, and the last in her Breaking in Waves trilogy.
From there, I am still a little floundering, still learning to swim, in a way. Lilt Literary is slowly gaining steam, and with it, we are working on aspects of publishing that are mostly new and foreign to us. I used to work in marketing, in advertising, but on the production end: I wrote and composed ads, I did not sell them. I am innately shy, a little terrified of talking to just about anyone– I had a friend once comment that I never looked in anyone’s eyes, something I’d never really noticed, but find myself doing kind of constantly unless I know a person well.
Marketing yourself is hard. It is even harder when you, as a person, don’t do well talking yourself up, not to mention live in a society where women are, for the most part, conditioned to shy away from self-congratulation, from believing they’re worth listening to, or caring about. Selling a book is a little like selling yourself– I’m not one to compare a book to a baby, but, certainly, it represents a large amount of time, and effort, and skills, and, so, it’s a product of you, of your abilities. Telling someone how great it is, and that they should care about it, read it, is like telling them why they should be your friend. It’s uncomfortable at best, horrifying at the worst.
Independant and self-publishing means you’re doing a majority of the work of a book on your own. You write it, you proof it, you edit and re-edit, you design and format and convert files, get it to distributors, advertise. At Lilt Literary, we’re lucky to both be trained as editors, and proof-readers, and pride ourselves on tightly-written and edited work. Laila is a wizard with graphic design, and has produced jaw-dropping covers for all of our books. We’ve become well-versed with computer formatting for different output (both physical and digital), and in many avenues of distribution.
My confidence wavers at advertising. As a small-time publishing house, we are shut out of many traditional channels: obviously we’re not going to be able to put an ad in a widely-read magazine, or get ourselves on a talk show. Our budget is smaller than a traditional publishing house, and so getting our books on the shelves of local and national bookstores isn’t within our ability at this moment.
There is a stigma attached to independent and self-publishing, too, one that is, and isn’t, accurate. With the ease of Amazon uploading, for instance, a person can take a poorly-written fanfic and have it for sale in 5 minutes flat. What is a beautiful invention– the ability to reach masses with a click of a mouse– can be burdened by lack of quality control. While this is a topic for another time (and I do love talking about it), the point is more: it’s hard to get noticed, harder to get people to read, and believe, in your ability when you are not coming out of a big-name publisher.
It’s definitely been a learning process, but one that is slowly becoming easier, clearer, and showing results. Over the last year alone I, and we, have learned so much about getting our books to readers, and making a successful profit, that I’m actually excited about doing more in the new year, where, even a few months ago, I even loathed writing an email to a potential reviewer.
It turns out writing is an ever-evolving practice. Who knew?
Here’s wishing you the happiest of holidays, and bountiful new year.
This afternoon, I drove past the house I spent my first ten years living in. It’s not far from where we’ve moved, and since my job moved downtown, I can pass the end of the block on my commute. When I spied a dumpster out front, I had to do a swing by.
I’m not sure what’s being renovated, as I decided pulling a super creeper and stopping dead in the center of the street to analyze the contents of the dumpster was not how I wanted to spend my lunch hour. Suffice to say, the bin was full of wood, and so my mind has gone wild.
Is it the all-wood staircase with the carved banister? The hand-scraped hardwood floors from the basement? Could it be the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of the study?
Those stairs are where I slipped and fell, biting through my lip, when I was four. I’d seen a Shirley Temple movie that morning and decided to try tapping my way up to my bedroom… in socks.
The basement is where I had my playroom, with the weird tree silhouette wallpaper, pot-belly stove, and stained-glass window. It was the scene of many My Little Pony debaucheries.
Those bookshelves are where my tree frogs lived, left over from a science presentation on the life cycle of frogs. I had three of them: Croaker, Croaker Junior, and The One Who Died Before I Could Name Him.
Don’t these people understand this is MY house?
It’s been noted that I have a certain romantic attachment to the house I grew up in. We moved when I was ten, just to the other side of town, but I remained attached to the first house in a way that bordered on fanatical for a number of years. My life’s ambition, besides being a writer (and actress, and singer, and doctor, and artist, and journalist and and and), was to move back into my childhood home at the soonest possible moment. The house changed hands twice since my parents sold it in 1989, and the neighborhood became rather coveted. Still, I insisted I would live there again some day.
Not everyone has the same attachment to a house they spent only the barest amount of cognizant time living in. I grew up with kids from military families, who lived in ten houses before they hit fifth grade. I held a deep resentment against my parents for years because they made me leave that beautiful house.
It was an angst that was hard to explain. The house, as it was, was lovely, but hardly any more remarkable than any other house. The kitchen was renovated in the height of the eighties, and so bore orange countertops and brown tiles. There were only two bathrooms, one upstairs where the bedrooms were, and one downstairs, off the kitchen. My closet was the size of a shoebox.
The house is absolutely not my style, either. Built in the early 1900’s, it is somewhat Victorian, crossed with Craftsman, with lots of wood and leaded glass windows. My husband and I bought a house built in the 50s, and our style leans towards Mid-Century, and contemporary. My credenza would stick out like a sore thumb in my childhood home.
I don’t know why, exactly, I love the house so much and cringe at the thought of it being gutted. I spent far more time, and had many more formative experiences, in the house my parents bought after it – I lived there from the age of ten until I was twenty, I spend hours there every week, I’ve been taking my children there weekly for the past ten years. I’ve known that home for nearly three-quarters of my life (I did the math!). Wouldn’t it make much more sense to be abnormally attached to it?
Memory is a funny thing, I’ve found. I can remember the feel of those wood steps under my feet as surely as I can the carpet that is currently under them, thirty years later. I’ve made a map of the house in my head, complete with furnishings, that hasn’t changed in decades. It’s perpetually 1988 in that old house.
At this point, if given the chance, would I even want the house again? I know it’s been remodeled – real estate photos from the last time it was sold show that – and the foyer that used to house our antique coat rack has been closed off and given a closet. The potbellied stoves that I so loved as a child were replaced with gas fireplaces. The vast garden plot my father fervently protected from squirrels was torn out to build a garage in the parking-competitive neighborhood. And now, of course, whatever they’re ripping out and dumping, unceremoniously, into the bin at the curb.
I suppose I’ll keep inhabiting the house that’s in my head, complete with the impressions of a very young child, keeping the height of light fixtures well above my head and the backyard endless up like a field. The memories are mine, and those can’t be renovated out my head.
I suppose, first, though, I really need to stop driving by and gawking. Baby steps.