Monday, April 06, 2020

Check in!


In the immortal words of Joey Tribbiani:



In my last post, I spoke of our new normal – and how it wasn’t even worth putting that word in quotes anymore because, well, this is just how life is now. As we come to accept our current circumstances, we adapt our behavior and life moves on. The sun still rises, the earth still turns, and time still continues its forward march.

The concern, of course, is that we’ll become so acclimated to our social distancing that we won’t go back. Arm-chair psychologists and experts alike have been writing about what life on the other side will look like – and for once those words don’t mean death. Well, they do, but…grrr.

This is the problem when language is slow to catch up to current situations. It’s why we still call them “floppy disks” when they’re encased in hard plastic, it’s why we still call our portable computers “phones” when they do so much more. Usually, “life on the other side” refers to the existence after death. Now we’re using the same words to refer to coming out from the COVID-19 curve – which we have flattened at least a little bit.

As for me, I’ve always been one to take life as it comes. I don’t agonize too much about what’s currently happening – don’t get me wrong, I’m very careful about staying home, staying away from people, about social distancing – but I’m not panicked and I’m not out hoarding supplies, although like every mother, I worry some about my kids and hope that they’re behaving themselves.

So no futuristic predictions from me on what society will look like. Science Fiction is a genre I enjoy reading, but have always been lousy at writing. I love that there are writers who can take a look at the current situation and project it into the future and play the game of “what if?” but it isn’t a talent I have.

Sidenote: Why is it all Science Fiction authors predict a gloomy future for us? I’ve long suspected they’re writing warnings: “Change your behavior or this will happen.” I need to read a rosy futuristic story – where we have a Happily Ever After ending!

Here in the Finger Lakes, the daffodils are up, the sun is shining (today, anyway), the yard work is getting done, the basement is nearly cleaned out, and stories are being written – not all of them fictional. Many of those staying safe at home are journaling their experiences, recording for posterity the details of what it’s like to actually live through a pandemic. We don’t have many of those records from past ones, so we hope our words will give comfort, strength, and understanding to those who go through this in the future.

Because they will. This isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. With any luck, it’ll be the only one in our lifetimes, though. And by recording our precautions, our hopes, our fears, we can tell our descendants that they, too, will adjust to the circumstances and come out on “the other side.”

Leave a comment - for now, for the future -- How're YOU doing?

Stay safe, and play safe!
Diana

DON’T FORGET! All my books are 60% off at Smashwords for the next few weeks. Books are the one thing  it’s okay to hoard – at least, that’s what I’m telling myself every time I add another one to both my virtual and physical shelves. J

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Books for 2020 - part 2


You would think, will all the stay-at-home warnings that we are observing, I would’ve done a ton of reading by now. We’re two weeks into it and what have I read?

Nada.
Nothing.
Not one book.

Why?

Because I’ve spent my time:
  • putting my course online and fretting about whether it’s going to work or not (thankfully, a student has now posted in several of the discussion threads and it does what it’s supposed to!),
  • canceling all appointments and rescheduling them for the end of April, which means there’s probably another go-round of rescheduling to be accomplished then as I don’t think we’ll be out of the woods yet,
  • getting over a cold. Yes, a cold. Not the virus. Called the doc to check. Plain old nasty cold,
  • downloading and going back into Second Life. It’s still up and running. Going virtual with my classes made me homesick for the place. It’s gotten better and it’s been fun to renew friendships and hear Heath Vercher play in-world again,
  • playing Destiny 2. I still play Skyrim and my daughter and I are creating a mod for that, but my son’s gotten me into Destiny 2. The learning curve is impossible without a mentor (thank you, son, for guiding your mother through the icons and lack of directions!).

((Speaking of Learning Curve – did you know it’s free at Smashwords? So are each of the individual stories that make up 12 Days of Christmas Bondage, and several other former EC Quickies. Stop by and pick up a story or two – full novels are 60% off until April 20th as part of the Authors Give Back initiative.))

I have also:
  • gone for several walks,
  • baked brownies,
  • scrapbooked,
  • raked the yard and gathered up all the fallen sticks and branches,
  • helped my daughter pack her life for her move to her own place,
  • glowered at the new snow on the ground after several 60+ degree days.

But I haven’t taken the time to read. I started Rising Storm, a Derek Storm mystery, but am not liking it very much. Read all the Nikki Heat books and had fun with those, but this one isn’t catching me. Am about 30 pages in – and have been for nearly a month.

While I won’t hoard toilet paper, I do pile up the books To Be Read. Life will settle into routine soon enough and I’ll get back to curling up with a good book before much longer. For now? Too much to take in, too much to do.

Play safe – and stay safe!
Diana

Monday, March 23, 2020

Coming up with a new “normal”


Let’s face it; we all have different opinions on what “normal” life is like. Get to meet a new friend and suddenly you’re watching different family traditions, seeing a different way to do dishes, looking at life through a different filter.

Rarely, however, is everyone’s definition of “normal” challenged at the same time. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening around the globe. First one country, then the next; first one state, then the next; first one town, then yours. Like a wave that sweeps in at high tide, we can see it coming, yet want one more day at the beach (for some, literally) before we change our “normal.”

For me, that’s already happened. The change, that is. It began the week of March 8th with daily updates and changes to behavior here in New York State. Our college extended Spring Break by a week in order to give everyone time to let the dust settle.

Yet the dust swirled into a tempest in those two weeks and, while classes are not cancelled, we’ve all gone online. Took me the better part of a week to rewrite my curriculum (I’m teaching Freshmen Comp II this semester) and get it uploaded to Blackboard, our school’s online classroom. I’ve dropped some assignments in favor of others, kept all the Big Papers, and figured out a way to do peer review. I think.

What I’ve kept in mind is something that was passed along when the decision was made that we wouldn’t meet face-to-face with our students for the rest of the semester: don’t worry about creating masterful, engaging, online lessons. You don’t have the training, you don’t have the expertise, you don’t have the time. This is triage learning. What are the essentials? Stick to those and everyone will get through this.

And that’s a good way of looking at the new “normal,” too. This isn’t permanent. It happened fast and humans are notorious for preferring the status quo even to their own detriment. We’ve been forced into a change (I don’t always agree with Governor Cuomo, but I gotta admit, he’s doing a great job right now). Change is hard (I did my Master’s thesis on Change Theory – yeah, hard is too mild a word). But it’s triage. It’s determining what is most important Right Now and leaving the rest to figure out tomorrow. Or next week. Or next month.

My current workspace. You can't see my computer in this pic
(It's in the other half of the room) but can you tell
this space belongs to a writer?
I was thrilled that I was selected as a Writer in Residence at Storyknife this summer. I’m still thrilled, even if I end up not being able to go (they’ve closed for the April residencies – those writers will have those same slots for April 2021). I’m not canceling my travel plans yet (what did I say about humans preferring the status quo?) but I’m aware that not going is definitely a possibility. There’s always my front porch.

My cruise-employed daughter has been home for over a half a year, and has now decided not  to take a new cruise contract (yay!), but has gotten her own place and moved out this past weekend. My son does maintenance and grounds work at a local church and, as of last Friday, still had a job (we’ll see what this week brings). My husband, always a freelancer, has had to cancel all his painting parties and art shows, but is still painting. He’s had a bit harder time of getting his college classes online – part of his courses involve public speaking, so he needs to deal with videos.

So, my new normal takes the word out of the quotations and into reality. I’m mostly retired from teaching (only have the one aforementioned course), so my routine hasn’t been disrupted a whole lot. With my husband no longer going out to teach his classes (he teaches four), he’s around a lot more so we’re figuring out how to do the tasks we want to do (I’m still writing, btw!) without getting in each other’s way.

Some people write up strict schedules and use those to plan and guide their day. Others create day-by-day meal plans and follow them almost religiously. Since I teach, I’m used to creating lesson plans that I stick to (Mostly. One always must take into account the Teachable Moment).

The workspace of an artist.
If you like his work, check out Steve Duprey or DupreyArt
on Facebook!
Except, at home my hubby and I are more free-wheelers. Always have been and we’ve decided that’s still a part of our normal that isn’t changing. I write when I want, he paints when he wants. We have separate work spaces in the house and that allows room for our individual creativity. We eat when we’re hungry, skip meals when we’re not and we manage just fine.

Yet normal is changing even for us. With my daughter gone and just the two of us in the house again, that’s one adjustment. Being over 60 (not by much, thank you very much CDC – I am NOT elderly!) means grocery shopping during “senior hours” – that’s another shift. Not being able to see my Dad or my brother (they’re both in assisted living) is a harder change, but that’s why we invented the phone.

As the saying goes, life goes on….until it doesn’t. And until it doesn’t, change is a part of life (if you noticed, one of the changes I’ve mentioned would’ve happened with or without the virus. Daughters have a tendency to grow up and leave the house).

So curl up with a good book, a good movie, or a good view. Accept the changes, make them the new normal, and, if you’re lucky (like I am – I understand that retirees have the easier part of this), just keep swimming!

Stay and play safe,
Diana

P.S. If you haven’t taken a look at the Authors Give Back sale at Smashwords, be sure to take a peek. ALL my titles are 60% off from now until April 20th. And yes, that makes about a half dozen or so FREE!

Updated to fix typos. Thanks, Kim W.!


Friday, March 13, 2020

I'm not panicked...


To say the last few days have been a whirlwind is to discredit the life-upending capability of a whirlwind. You know that ancient curse? The one that goes, “May you live in interesting times?” Guess what…these days are certainly interesting!

I’m not one to panic. When reports of toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages hit the airwaves, I was more puzzled than concerned. Until we were down to our last few rolls of toilet paper and I went to the store to buy more. There were fewer than a dozen packages on the shelves. I bought one 12-roll package, knowing it would do us for a few weeks and hoping there will be more when these run out.

The hand sanitizer also puzzles me. Doesn’t that kill bacteria? And COVID-19 is viral. How is that going to help? Seems to me the Clorox wipes are more useful there. And soap. Thankfully, my husband decided to try his hand at making his own soap this past fall, just because he wanted to learn the process. We’re well-stocked as a result.

But the changes have been coming fast and furious. This is my favorite of the memes and feels like my current mode of operation.

To date:
On Wednesday, classes were moved online at Finger Lakes Community College, where I teach. I spent most of the day getting one class discussion up and ready to go when the students return from spring break – which has been stretched to two weeks instead of one. So one less three-hour session in which to get everything across.

Also on Wednesday, I went to do my normal grocery shopping (see “toilet paper” above). Again, not panicked, but because it was my shopping day. Decided it might be wise to get a package of cold medicine, just because we’re out. Bought both the kind I like and the one my husband prefers. One of each. Stocking up, not hoarding.

My husband, who has spent much of his adult life as a theatre director, took some time to tread the boards in a local production for the first time in several years. The play: Metamorphoses (a dramatization of Ovid’s work of the same name), the part: Midas. It’s been cancelled. The cast met together last night (Thursday) for the last time – on the set that had been built yesterday.

My daughter lost her job this afternoon (Friday) She is an assistant stage manager at Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY – and they just cancelled all performances of both stages. She’d already lost a job she was to start in a few weeks because the University of Rochester has shut down. Unemployment, anyone?

Both my Dad and my brother live in assisted living facilities. They’ve shut down and are allowing no visitors other than the one appointed caregiver (me, in both cases). I’ve made sure they have what they need, but won’t be going to visit unless needed as I don’t want to carry anything to them.
Because that’s the kicker. I could be carrying the virus right now and have no idea. THAT’S the real reason for all the cancellations and postponements. The virus may already be here…and may not. There is no way to tell. By the time you have the chills and fever, you’ve already given it to a hundred others.

So I’m staying home, writing, reading, getting a few of my quickies put into a print book format, playing games on my computer, and teaching from my study. Am I a carrier? Probably not. Do I want to risk infecting others? Absolutely not. Staying home helps “flatten the curve” so our health care system doesn’t get overworked and I’m good with that, too.

Here’s hoping our times get just a little less interesting soon!

Play safe, and buy a good book!
Diana





Sunday, March 01, 2020

25% OFF ALL TITLES

Smashwords is celebrating "Read an Ebook Week" with a sale and all my books are 25% off. Head on over to my page to fill in your collections!

Yes, EVERY SINGLE BOOK is on sale, even Mystic Shade's and CF. Duprey's (two other names I write under).

This doesn't happen often, so CLICK HERE and get 25% off ebooks in every file type (have a Kindle? No problem! Download the epub file. Read online? There's an HTML file. Pdf, mobi...they're all there and they're ALL on sale!

Play safe!
Diana (who is lovin' the exclamation points today!)


Friday, February 28, 2020

Writer's Block

It happens to all of us. We're going along just fine on a story -- the characters are talking, doing, reacting -- and then, BAM! They shut up. They freeze in position like a photograph in time. Everything screeches to a halt. Including you.

Writer's Block.

It happens so often, we've given it a name.

I don't get it often, but when I do -- I can sit on a story for years. Yes, you read that right. Years before I can get it to move again. The order in which books are released has nothing to do with the order in which they were begun.

I'm just coming off a several-year hiatus on my current work-in-progress (wip - an apt name for how I feel about it sometimes). The Companion is a book I started back in the '90's. I wrote several parts of it, changing the name of the main character, changing the setting, changing her attitude - but it wouldn't get off the ground. If I didn't like the story so much, I probably would've abandoned it all together, but the concept really had a hold of me.

But then I got published in the genre of erotic romance and I figured, "You don't want to cooperate? Fine, I'll go write something else."

So I did. Oh, I returned to it several times. Found a new place to start the story and wrote thousands of words on that draft. Even pitched it at a conference to an editor from Avon. She liked the concept enough to ask for the first three chapters (which I had) and a synopsis (which I didn't). I wrote the second and sent it off and she. quite rightfully, rejected it. It wasn't ready. I was still stuck on those early pieces I'd written, trying to work them in so I wouldn't have wasted my time.

Of course, that time wasn't wasted. I know the main character's backstory now and that informs much of what she's planning to do in the rest of the book. Perhaps someday those scenes will get published in a "deleted scenes" type book. That means, however, that I have to finish the main story.

Except that the characters of The Companion had stopped talking. I'd switched points of view (there are three main characters and switching between and among them helped move the story forward when I got stuck in the past. I'd ask myself, "Well, what does Kiera think about all this?" or I'd move to Martin's story and let him take the lead for a while.

That worked for a long time. For 145,000 words, in fact (about 450 pages). I played with format, I played with story arcs, I played with other parts of the story and each time I did, I managed to avoid getting stuck for too long a time. I'd leave one set of characters in their photograph and visit those who wanted to show me what was happening in their lives. Then, when they got tired and froze, I'd go back to the others and (usually) they'd be ready to talk.

And, to be honest, some of the writer's block is BIC problems. BIC = Butt In Chair. Having time dedicated to writing is part of it, but then again, the pressure is on to create. Creativity doesn't always come when you say, "Okay, I'm here. The computer file is open and I'm ready to go. Let's write!" So procrastination kicks in and I clean the house (see this post for more on that), I go grocery shopping, I scrapbook -- I have lots of procrastination tools. The key is not using them and forcing myself to stick my rump in the chair and write. Even if what I write is terrible. It can be fixed later. Just get words on paper.

Neil Gaiman, in his Masterclass, said, "You cannot fix a blank piece of paper," and that has become my mantra. Get the words down and fix them in the next draft. Taking several of the Masterclasses has helped me with the BIC and with the mental challenge of writing such a large story (this is an epic fantasy - and I'm about halfway through the first of what I suspect will be two books).

Yesterday, I went back to a tried-and-true method. I'd been stuck for several days. I knew what had to happen, but I couldn't figure out how to get to that point. I had snippets in my head but no string to hang them on.

So, I printed out the last two pages, pulled out a spiral notebook, made sure I had plenty of sharpened pencils, and got myself comfy in my overstuffed recliner and worked the old-fashioned way - in longhand. I teach my composition students that the brain works differently when holding a pen or pencil than it does when typing. Yesterday, I put that into practice - and wrote over a thousand good words before I was done for the day. Sometimes you just have to go old school.

So, have writer's block? Here are several ways to work around it:


  •    Set the story aside and work on something else. If it isn't working, stop beating your head against it. You'll only get a headache.
  •    Believe in your concept. That will prevent you from abandoning altogether.
  •    Try starting the story (or scene) in a different place or time. Take the character(s) someplace else and see what happens.
  •    Change the point of view. Either choose a different character or a different voice (switch from first to third person or vice-versa to get them talking again).
  •    Stick your Butt in Chair.. Get the words down, no matter how bad they are. That's what the next draft is for. Keep writing.
  •    Know your procrastination tools and don't give into them. They will lead you astray!
  •    Go old-fashioned and get out the paper and pen (or pencil). Use a different part of your brain.


So, go write!
Diana


Thursday, February 27, 2020

Storyknife

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a place a writer could go where all her needs were tended to and all she had to do was write? Where her time would be uninterrupted by phone calls, doctor appointments, the need to buy groceries or to fill the gas tank? Where food magically appeared and she didn't have to prepare it?

What if I told you not only does such a place exist, but that I am lucky enough to be visiting it this summer?

Yep. Storyknife, a writer's retreat in Homer, Alaska, is opening this year for it's first year of in-house authors - and I'm going to be one of them. Six cabins, six authors at a time. I go in July and I am excited, thrilled...and just a wee bit nervous. Okay, a lot bit nervous, and I'll tell you why.

Because now the pressure is on to produce. Every single one of my excuses is gone. There are no rooms that need cleaning, no errands to run. I get my own breakfast, but lunch is delivered to my cabin and dinner is provided in the main house, prepared by a chef hired specifically to feed us. Internet service is spotty, so no games or emails, no Facebook or world news. My procrastination tools will all be stripped away.

I'm also a little nervous because this is the farthest away from home I've ever been by myself. I've flown to Alaska before, but was with family. This time I'm making all my connections myself with no extra set of eyes to help me navigate. Not terrifying, but a bit scary. And exciting. If I can do this, I can do anything!

Of course, Homer is in the Ring of Fire and there are several volcanoes in the vicinity. In fact, our welcome packet includes information on what to do when an earthquake hits, so I'm pretty sure those pretty snow-covered mountains are quite active. But those of you who know me, know that volcanoes and I have a history. This does not make me nervous, however, because I am resolute!!!! No broken bones this time!

I have to say, I love the name of this place. Storyknife. Stories both cut away at the human condition, exposing truths non-fiction cannot express, and we, as authors, cut away at our writing, crafting sentences that sing, and stories that soar. Excellent metaphor for a place where writers gather and work.

Expect to hear more as we get closer to July,

Play safe,
Diana






Sunday, February 23, 2020

Books for 2020 - part 1

Each year I start out with the best of intention: I'm going to keep track of all the books I read. Each year I get exactly the same result: 'round about summer, I get busy and forget to write down what I read while at the cabin or on vacation and then September comes and I start teaching and the whole list falls apart. I still read, I just forget to write them down.

What will make this year any different? Who knows? But I'm gonna give it my best shot - again.

So far this year I've been revisiting previously-read books. My son and I got into a really deep discussion about Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archives series and he (my son) ran circles around me. I just couldn't remember the details. So, that massive three-book (so far) series, was first on my list. My husband began with Warbreaker, a different Sanderson book, so I re-read that one, too, so we could talk about it. Then he started the Mistborn series - he prefers listening to books, so it takes him longer than it takes me, but I started that series again as well.

To date, I've read (all by Brandon Sanderson)

The Way of Kings
Words of Radience
Oathbringer
Warbreaker
Mistborn; the Final Empire
The Well of Ascension
The Hero of the Ages
The Alloy of Law

...and several short stories out of Arcanum Unbounded (these are short pieces that didn't fit in the novels or were written for other purposes -sort of like deleted or extra scenes).

I am currently reading Shadows of Self and will be finishing with The Bands of Mourning, the rest of the Alloy of Law series.

And that brings me up-to-date. Not bad. 'Course, it's only Februrary...

Play safe!
Diana

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Finally re-released!


It has taken some time, but I finally have the last of my Ellora's Cave titles reformatted and available! Yay!!!

Services Rendered features Lauren and John, two veterans of the United States military, both of whom are adjusting to civilian life. A Civil War re-enactment introduces them and the sparks start to fly as the two discover love. One of my favorite books to write, I'm so glad this is finally available again!

Services Rendered takes place in the same world as Secret Submission, Submission Revealed, and Diamond Submission and features some of the same characters. One doesn't need to read the previous books, however, as Services Rendered can be read independently.

On a totally different note, I've been very remiss in keeping this blog up-to-date. Last year was a hard year for me. My mom passed away in January 2019 and that really set me back. While she'd been ill for quite some time, one is never ready when Death comes claim someone you love.

Different people handle grief different ways. How did I handle myself this past year? By cleaning.

Yep, you read that right. Cleaning.

First I helped my Dad clean out Mom's closets. Then I helped him move to a different assisted care place (and a much better one than where he was before!). That entailed a LOT more cleaning and winnowing. During both of these activities, I scrapbooked a lot of the documents my mom had saved over the years and created a notebook that tells the story of her life. Not sure what I'm going to do with it yet, but it helped me come to grips with not having her around. We used to talk for an hour (or more) on the phone once a week or so - more often for less time in the last few months of her life - and creating the notebook helped me with that.

Of course, I also taught classes, went on a glorious vacation with my daughter, spent a lot of time at the cabin with my husband, and learned a new video game from my son (Destiny 2, anyone?), so I lived my life as well as grieved my mom's passing.

What I did not do much of, was write. I needed to find my equilibrium - and took the year to do it.

Now, however, we have a new year, and a bunch of new news. If you haven't read my newsletter, I'll post an update here in a few days. So much to tell!

In the meantime, play safe!
Diana