What Summer Feels Like

Remember how summer was always hotter when you were a kid? And longer. The nights seemed to go on forever, and the end of August was a long, long way away. I have discovered, through the miracle of slowing down, that summer is still like that. You just need to take the time to notice it—which, when you’re all grown up, can be very hard to do.

I was supposed to take a break from writing last summer. Instead, I edited, sometimes two books at once, as I worked through the different pre-pub phases of all three books of the This Time Forever series. I also wrote promotional pieces for the August release of To See the Sun and the September release of the Counting series print anthology. I wrote workshop materials for two classes I planned to teach in the fall. I booked promotion for the This Time Forever series, processed ARC distribution for all the books, and started planning the posts I’d write for my upcoming releases. I prepared monthly newsletters. I kept up with my obligations to the RWA chapters I’m involved with. I beta read, judged, and critiqued. I blogged.

I also did the usual stuff: mowed my endless lawn, kept up with the weeds, entertained houseguests (my dad stayed with us for two months), and drove my child to and from her first job, music lessons, and anywhere else her heart desired.

Not much of a holiday, eh? I was so busy that I had to put off writing Purple Haze for the second time—which was just as well as Kindle Worlds closed in July and I had to add republishing Uncommon Ground to the to-do list.

Then my husband bought a bagel shop, with the fall, my volunteer jobs at the library resumed (including those classes I’d signed up to teach), and I was still editing and promoting and trying to write. Oh, and my daughter was applying to college.

Several times over the past twelve months, I’ve wanted to develop a delicate constitution. Become one of those people from period dramas who shift from fainting couch (or whatever it’s called) to a sheltered window seat, to perhaps a soft blanket spread beneath a shady tree, while everyone twittered on about their health and did their best not to be upsetting. Of course, were I alive back then, I’d probably have been a peasant and not had the time to be delicate. Just like, well, now.

This summer, I was determined to take my break. I needed it in the worst possible way. I was too tired to write—I could put words down but had no enthusiasm for my favourite part: plotting. I can’t write without a plot. I am not a pantser. I need to know which direction I’m writing, or I’ll scribble in circles for two hours before coming up with anything useful.

Plus, I’m not even sure what I want to write. I have lists of ideas, and I love a lot of them. I have two science fiction worlds almost fully built that I’d love to dive into, an outline for a series that would be the logical follow up to This Time Forever, spin-offs to Aliens in New York, a sequel (finally) to Best in Show, and an outline for another book set in the same world as To See the Sun. Although I’d like to write all of these someday, by the time I hit publish on Purple Haze in April, I honestly didn’t care if I ever wrote again.

So I decided to take the summer off writing and my holiday began with a social media break—which has become such a habit that I might actually have to force myself to get back to regular posts on Facebook, Instagram, and… you know what? I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to Twitter. I never really liked it anyway.

What have I been up to? Well, I’m still mowing my endless lawn and driving my daughter everywhere. Preparations for her first year of college are taking up a fair bit of time and the list of stuff we need to do doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. The bagel shop is still a thing and I’m working more hours there than I did throughout the year. Standing by a grill when it’s 90 out is all sorts of fun. And there’s the little matter of reformatting and republishing all of my Dreamspinner Press titles, due to my requested rights release.

Aside from ALL THAT, I am having a good summer, though. I’m… not writing. When I’m not stressing about the fact I’m not writing, I am actually having fun.

Family came to visit to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from high school and we went to Hershey Park and it was the best day I’ve spent at Hershey Park in something like ten years. Nothing went wrong, and because I wasn’t stressing about deadlines and contracts, I could simply relax and enjoy the day. Not check my email. Not care about social media, or what was happening in the world of publishing. Also, the lines were miraculously short for all the roller coasters and no one got sick on any of the rides. We didn’t lose a child, and we all made it home without injury. Our last stop of the day was one of my favourite places in Pennsylvania.

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Next up was July 4th, which we celebrated quietly at home. I’m not a huge fireworks fan, so while the kids did their best to set the driveway on fire (under the supervision of my husband and his brother), my sister-in-law and I mixed a couple of cocktails and watched a romantic comedy on Netflix. Perfect night was perfect. (No one lost an eye and only one kid threw up. Not a bad effort.)

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I’ve also been cooking a lot, which is something I miss when I’m hustling to meet editorial deadlines. We eat a lot of sandwiches when I’m busy. This summer, my daughter and I have been experimenting with plant-based eating. She’s been vegetarian for years and we’ve always enjoyed a lot of meatless meals as a family. This is our first proper foray into a vegan diet, though, and with all the new recipe sites out there, it’s easier than it sounds! I haven’t eaten cheese for over a month and I don’t miss it. I enjoyed a couple of ribs on July 4th (they’d been smoking on the outdoor grill all day and the smell, omg, the smell…), but otherwise haven’t missed meat. Eggs are harder for me to give up because they’re a breakfast staple. They’re a lot quicker and easier to whip up than a lot of the vegan alternatives. But I have cut my consumption in half and will continue to wean myself off the sunny side up with toast breakfast I enjoy so much.

I haven’t eaten bacon in over a month. Seriously, this is the most surprising fact of all. I LOVE bacon. But… I haven’t missed it.

The key, I’ve discovered, is choosing recipes that leave me not only full but satisfied. Salads generally don’t cut it. I need starch and protein. Here are a couple of favourites:

Vegan-Stuffed-Sweet-Potatoes-with-Spinach-and-White-Beans-The-Live-In-Kitchen-1
Picture credit: The Live-In Kitchen

Vegan Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Spinach and White Beans

Baked Tofu Caesar Sandwich

Persian Yellow Split Pea and Eggplant Stew (So good I could eat it every day)

Spinach Artichoke Enchiladas (Not vegan, but substitutes can be made)

Every summer, I battle deer for the preservation of my many flower beds. This year, I’m mostly losing the war, but I’m enjoying being outdoors more than I have over the previous few summers. I work hard to keep my garden nice. Taking the time to actually be out there, either reading on the patio in the afternoon or drinking my morning cup of tea out on the deck, is a great way to appreciate all my hard work. My enjoyment is my reward.

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I haven’t spent as much time gaming as I had planned to. Probably because the weather has been so gorgeous, I’ve been finding it difficult to stay inside. I want to be out there, under the sun. Winters in Pennsylvania are longer than winters in Australia, so I need to soak up as much sunlight as I can before November rolls around again. Serious gaming is going to have to wait until then while now, the odd rainy afternoon finds me playing Watch Dogs 2.

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Every summer for the past five (ten?) I’ve planned to start painting again. This summer I just wanted to draw. I haven’t picked up a pencil, yet, but we’re only halfway through July, so I still have time.

Mostly, I’m enjoying not writing. Every day I don’t, the need to feel productive (or simply keep up) that has driven my writing career for over five years fades. It’s not that I never want to write again, but I’m slowly arriving at a place where if I didn’t, that would be okay—and that’s what I’m aiming for. There are a million quotes about the need for a writer to write and I have a feeling the urge will always be there. When I’m reading, in particular, the ideas creep around the back of my consciousness like poltergeists. I’ve resisted jotting most of them down, though. I have enough projects on the maybe to-do list.

What I’m looking for is a reason to write. I know what it is—it’s why I started this journey in the first place. It’s why I continue blogging, and why I’ve taken the time to republish all of my Dreamspinner titles. Because I love to tell stories, even when they’re about why I’m not currently telling stories. So, while I enjoy these long summer days and nights, remembering what ‘hot’ smells like, and contort myself to scratch the mosquito bites behind my right shoulder, I’ll wait for that feeling to float to the top again. For the one story I need to tell to start knocking. For the voices in my head to start whispering. To not care who I’m writing for, except the one whose butt is in the chair, whose fingers are on this keyboard.

The end of August is still a long way away. I’ve still got a lot of summer left to enjoy.

Trying Not to Write

I’ve been writing nearly every day for about six years. Before then, I wrote every few days, reviewing books and PC games for various publications, and occasionally writing travel reviews and editorials. Then I discovered fan fiction and wrote what I fondly refer to as “my first novel,” a 93k word epic entitled The Hero of Ferelden.

The endless road…

I’d written fiction before, but never seriously. Never anything long. Never anything that consumed me in quite the same way as writing about my Warden and his allies did. I went on to write a chapter a day for eight months, producing another 500k words—two more novels, several novellas and a lot of short stories.

Then I wrote something of my own and got it published. Then I wrote something else. Meanwhile, I’d been role playing with an active forum for about three years, writing sometimes up to 9k a day in posts. Oh, and Jenn and I wrote a book together somewhere in there, a dark fantasy that topped 120k.

Together, Jenn and I wrote the Chaos Station series in about fifteen months. That’s another 360k. During that time I also wrote two other novels, five novellas and a handful of short stories. This year alone I’ve written another two novels (one of which we tossed at 55k), both with Jenn.

I’m not going to add up all these words. It’s a lot and I don’t need to see the tally to understand that. I’ve felt the load. There have been days where my brain refuses to produce the right word for anything other than tea and toast.

The first time I burned out, I took a weekend off and then got back to work. I fretted the entire time. WHAT IF I LOST MY WORDS? The second time I had to take a break, it was because my arms hurt too much to use the keyboard. And I’d lost sensation in one of my shoulders. And I couldn’t turn my neck.

Seriously.

After several months of physical therapy we traced the original injury—a pinched nerve in my neck—to a bad fall during karate class. I’d forgotten to stiffen my neck and gave myself a good dose of whiplash. I got up and tried the takedown again. Because I’m a stubborn fool. Then I ignored the pain in my neck and shoulders for five months until I literally couldn’t move.

The words, man. THE WORDS.

I took a break—or I tried to. I limited myself to 1000 words a day, in addition to all the “extras” that go along with being published. The blog posts, the newsletters, the website, the social media presence. I started taking weekends off and that worked for a while. But what I really needed (aside from weekly PT appointments where a lovely massage therapist does cruel and unusual things to my neck and shoulders) was to take a break. Something longer than four days. A break where I didn’t think or write. Where my life revolved around something other than words.

If you’re a writer, you know how hard it is not to write. It’s like…impossible. The stories are RIGHT there. The voices are LOUD. You have to write. If I took a break, I’d lose my place. I’d be stuck on a raft in the middle of a boundless ocean, floating away from the only island I knew existed.

With a trip to Australia coming up this summer, I decided to try and use my vacation as, um, vacation. I didn’t manage it last year. I spent a week in Cape May working on edits and writing blog posts. The summer before I took my laptop to New Orleans and wrote every morning in the hotel room. The summer before that…

You get the idea.

This summer I decided to actually go for it. In preparation, I worked stupid hours for a couple of weeks writing sixteen blog posts for an upcoming tour as well as revising two projects for submission, putting together synopses and query letters, and outlining another project. Oh, and I was writing a book with Jenn as the same time, one we finished a few days before I stepped on the plane. By the time I got to Australia, I was due a break.

Beer!
Beer!

The first week I fretted. I pulled my laptop out the first day and opened a file. I had a novella to outline and a proposal to write. After staring at a blank document for about five minutes, I flipped over to Facebook and watched cat videos. I was jetlagged and tired. The next day my laptop remained closed. The day after that I fretted aloud: “I really should be writing!”

The unanimous response was: “Kick back and have a beer!”

(It’s the Aussie cure for what ails you.)

Four days into my vacation, I started vacationing. I ate, drank, socialised, saw the sights and slept past 4am in the morning. I continued to worry, quietly, that my words were fading like tear stains on a pillow. For two weeks, I didn’t write a single word. I did pull out my phone to jot down the occasional idea and I spent many enjoyable a morning talking books and stories with my dad. But I did NO WORK. I didn’t write a single blog post. I didn’t craft a single promotional tweet.

This is the part where I tell you how amazing it was. Imagine me tipping my head from side to side. I don’t know if it was amazing or not. I don’t know if I’m going to sit down soon and start writing the BEST BOOK ever. What I do know is that I needed the break, mentally and physically. Regardless of what you do for a living, you cannot do it all day, every day, and not suffer the consequences. Our brains require variety. Colours and sensations and experiences. I can’t write good stories if I’m not out there living a good life. Not the kind of stories I want to tell, anyway.

What I have taken from this experience is that I’m not a shark. I can stop swimming. I’d like to write every day, but I know it’s not sustainable. I’ve discovered that I can ignore the voices for a while—if I really try—and they’ll wait for me. New ideas will crop up while I’m not writing. New characters will continue to whisper somewhere between my ears. So long as I make a note of this and that, I’ll never lose these potential words. They’ll always be with me, no matter how much time I take off.

Also, when I’m not writing, there are a heck of a lot of hours left over in the day. Like… what do regular folk do with all this time???

Cake is also good for what ails you.
Cake is also good for what ails you.

I’m five days back and I’ve spent the morning writing blog posts. I actually plan to take the rest of this week off (quelle horreur) because I have two new books releasing next week and that’s WORK right there. What I do hope is that when I finally get back to it, I love writing just as much as before.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I will! Otherwise I wouldn’t still be hearing those whispers. 😀

For more pictures of my vacation, connect with me on Instagram! (Scroll down past the cats and Pokémon) For info about my two new releases, check out my Coming Soon page or stay tuned. I’ll be posting about them! Oh, and if you do check out my fan fiction, remember they were written well before I understood what editing was. 😉 (My heart was totally in it!)

 

So, this is August

Honestly, I’m surprised to note it’s only the nineteenth of August. As fast as my summer has disappeared, I expected it to be later. They say time flies when you’re having fun, and that’s certainly true. It also slips by unnoticed when you’re busy. What about when both coincide, when you’re working hard and enjoying it? It’s no wonder I seem to have lost two and a half months.

What have I been up to? Well, I’m so glad you asked.

Got Wood? This was by the fireplace in our room. (Click to enlarge)
Got Wood? This was by the fireplace in our room.

At the beginning of the summer my husband and I visited a couples resort. He won a two night stay there in a raffle. The previous sentence is a disclaimer, because he and I are not really couples resort people. We…laughed at the pool. C’mon, it was heart-shaped, and not recessed into the Lido Deck of the Love Boat. The hot tub in our room was heart-shaped, too. We laughed when he switched on the lights and pink spots highlighted the bright, crimson colour of the tub. The bed was round and had its own light show—a scatter of star lights across the black tile ceiling. The black tile ceiling struck me as kinky.

The resort just kinda blew my mind. I honestly didn’t know couples went away to places like this, en masse. No kidding, there were hundreds of rooms here and the place was hopping. AND EVERYONE HELD HANDS. Creepy. In fact, it was so weird that we felt like we were visiting a cult, and by the end of our two days, we felt compelled to hold hands. We did not dare go anywhere alone, because that seemed to be against expectations—which were probably being fulfilled in some of the champagne glass hot tubs in the super premium rooms. Oh, yeah, we stayed THERE. But not in the room with the champagne glass. Those aren’t for the certificate winners, those are for folks who don’t mind pressing their bare arse against thick Perspex, in full view of the front door of their suite.

Mmhmm.

To be fair, we did actually have a good time. Between snickers and giggles, we made use of all the facilities, including my favourite new pastime: shuffleboard. I like it because I’m good at it. I beat Husband twice. The food was pretty good, too, and our stay included a ticket to see comedians and SNL alumni Rob Schneider and Jon Lovitz. Schneider had me in stitches, wiping tears from my cheeks.

Upon my return from the Crazy Cult of Coupledoom, I learned that Carina Press not only liked the manuscript my writing partner, Jenn, and I had submitted, but that they wanted to sign the entire five-book series. Publish it. There’s little news better than: I’m getting published! All right, I know getting married (and coerced into spending weekends at couples resorts) and having kids are pretty big deals. But:

I’M GETTING PUBLISHED!

Again.

Regular visitors to my blog will know I already have a book out there. It’s a science fiction romance novella called Less Than Perfect. Click through to read all about it. This new deal is for a five book science fiction romance series co-authored by my best bud, Jenn Burke, and I. The first book is tentatively entitled Chaos Station and is tentatively scheduled for release in March 2015. Carina Press is a digital first imprint of Harlequin Enterprises. What this means is that we have the backing of an experienced company and the attention of a specialized team. Needless to say, Jenn and I are both wildly excited to be working with Carina and cannot wait for the world to meet our “boys”. Watch this pace for updates.

Jenn and I make use of the Instacam at the Harlequin party.
Jenn and I make use of the Instacam at the Harlequin party.

Much as I’d like to talk about the book deal (like, forever), I have more summer to cover. Oh, yeah, this is going to be a long one. With the ink drying on our deal sheet with Carina, Jenn and I flew down to San Antonio, Texas, to attend the 2014 Romance Writers of America conference. I’ve attended a fair number of conferences and conventions, but never as a professional. Okay, actually, I did attend a series of luncheons that were somehow related to me being a director of my father’s company, waaaay back before the turn of the century, but I mostly went for the food. This time I went to network and boy, did I work it. I met so many authors, but the surprising thing was, being there as an author meant that these women were just as delighted to meet me, even if they’d never heard of my li’l old novella. They were excited to meet a new author, a fellow writer and someone who not only read, but wrote romance. And it wasn’t weird, not like the Cult of Coupledoom weird. These women were so genuinely enthusiastic about their careers and so willing to help their fellows succeed. I willingly drank the Kool-Aid.

I met a lot of authors I admire and idolize at RWA. I tried not to gush all over them, but it’s hard not to enthuse about books and characters that you adore, and I’m sure authors are delighted to know people enjoy their books. Right? Robyn Carr was lovely. I told her which book in the Thunder Point series I had enjoyed the most and she mentioned another I’d probably like because of the similarities of character, who happened to be one of her favourites. Can’t get a better recommendation than that! I danced near Nora Roberts at the Harlequin party—an amazing event that I felt so privileged to attend—and sought out Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Claudia Welch and Linda Francis Lee after attending their seminars to tell them how helpful they had been. I also have autographed copies of their books. In fact, I came home with thirty-five pounds of books. Had to buy an extra bag. I also attended a Carina Press breakfast, where I had a chance to chat to Jeffe Kennedy and the Entangled meet-up where I stood amazed as Robin Covington talked and talked and talked to me and Jenn about her writing process, as if we understood. Which we did—do?—of course, but, who knew all these bestselling authors would have time to talk to little old me? I met a ton of other authors, and also the Editorial Directors of both Entangled Publishing and Carina Press. One of the best aspects of all this meeting and greeting was putting names to faces.

More on the Harlequin party here, on Jenn’s blog.

I still haven’t cracked open my notebook from all the workshops I attended at RWA. I plan to do that this week. I took a lot of notes with two particular manuscripts in mind. I’m eager to get to work on both projects—just as soon as I finish drafting book three of the Chaos Series with Jenn. (Book three!)

I'm the one in the middle!
I’m the one in the middle!

A week after my return from Texas, I tested for and received my brown belt in Kiryoku System of Self Defense. This was a great milestone for me, representing five years of work.

I was on the road again, this time to Mississippi to meet family. Instead of a week on the beach, this year, our family decided to road-trip it. We had a great time. Over the course of three days, we followed the trail of the Civil War from Gettysburg, through Harrisonburg to the Tannehill Ironworks and on to Vicksburg. We detoured through the war of 1812 in New Orleans, at the Chalmette Plantation (Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815) and ended up at the World of Coke a Cola in Atlanta, where one can follow the history of the war between Coke and Pepsi—and taste sixty flavours of carbonated beverage from around the world.

Yes, I giggled. Then I took a picture.
Yes, I giggled. Then I took a picture.

Our trip had two highlights. Actually, it had many more than that. As a family of three, we’re very close-knit and we really enjoyed our ten days of close proximity, which is a wonder, it really is. Tempers only started to fray toward the end, and even then, we had a common goal: home. First highlight was our visit with family in Mississippi. I covered that in a blog post a couple of weeks ago. The second highlight was our first visit to New Orleans. I’ve seen it in the movies, I’ve read about it in books, now I’ve finally visited and it lives up to the hype. The French Quarter looks exactly as it should; the food is amazing—I think we all gained ten pounds in two days—and there is always music playing. And it’s HOT. Next time we visit, we’re not going in August. The air was like soup. Hot soup. We toured some historical sites, but mostly we shopped. We pawed through a lot of local arts and crafts, bought a couple of trinkets and then dropped two hundred dollars on voodoo dolls. Yep.

So, that’s my summer. Between the traveling and the writing, I haven’t had time for much else. Ironically, I always read less in the summer, as I’m usually outside taking advantage of the sunshine. This summer has marked the first serious lag in my blogging, however, which I’m going to chalk up to being overwhelmed with writing commitments. Jenn and I have three more manuscripts due, with actual deadlines, and then five to edit before publication, and that’s just for our co-written series. She also has a book due out later this year with Entangled’s Covet line, and I have two contemporary romance manuscripts to edit.

If you made it to the end of this post, thanks for reading and I hope you had a fabulous summer, too! Pictures below are from my travels.

Lunch at Plateau in the French Quarter.
Lunch at Plateau in the French Quarter.
St. Louis Cathedral, French Quarter, New Orleans.
St. Louis Cathedral, French Quarter, New Orleans.
Read the sign. :)
Read the sign. 🙂
60 Flavours of Coke. Photo is blurry due to the caffeine rush. ;)
60 Flavours of Coke. Photo is blurry due to the caffeine rush. 😉