Archive for January, 2020

Back to Normal

The work on my walls is done, and I’m enjoying a day of having my house to myself. Now, though, I have some serious housework to do. I dusted away the worst of the fine, white powder that was covering everything, but now I probably need to do a thorough vacuum of the carpet and a more thorough dusting. And I probably should make use of my steam cleaner on the carpet. Then I need to put everything back in my hall closet, which was part of what was redone.

Now I can finally get around to thinking about replacing the flooring, but I so don’t want to deal with the hassle of waiting for workmen to show up. I’d also have to box up and move just about everything that’s downstairs, then put it all back. I’m not sure that any value new floors would add to the house when it comes time to sell would make up for the cost plus the lost productivity of about a week worth of work.

I’m trying to get back in the swing of my routine, but I couldn’t resist not having to worry about being ready and waiting for the workers to show up this morning. It’s been nice just sitting around and drinking tea.

One thing I’m realizing is that my quirk of not being able to read books in a series back to back without burning out may also apply to writing a series. I’ve generally had months between books, at the very least, and in between I’ve worked on something else. This time, I went straight from editing book one to trying to draft book two, and it’s not flowing. I don’t know if that’s because I was interrupted unexpectedly by all this disruption, which started last week with people showing up to assess the damage for estimates (sometimes with no appointment) or because of the burnout factor, or because the brain is trying to work on several things at once. I got some additional ideas for scenes I’ve already written last night, so we’ll see if doing a little revision will get me back in the flow.

Meanwhile, I used the time I was hiding in my room while the living room was being ripped out to catch up on bookkeeping. The accounting for my taxes is pretty much done. I’ll just have to plug the numbers into the forms.


New Walls, New Home?

The repair work may not be as disruptive as I feared. They got most of the work done yesterday, and they’re supposed to come back today to paint. I’m glad I insisted that this get done, though, because it turned out that the insulation was rotting and moldy. The wood was fine, which is good. They ripped out the old insulation and put in new stuff before putting in new wallboard. I imagine this will make a big difference in my health.

Now I’ll have to decide what further work to do in this house. I need new flooring and the kitchen cabinets are really dated, but I’m not sure that I’d get the money back when it comes time to sell the house. I’d have to do it because I want to improve my living quality, but then there’s the hassle of getting work like that done. I’m tempted to just ignore it all and sell it as-is when it comes time to sell. Alas, in the years since I first started thinking of selling — and noticed the leak, which made the house unsellable — housing prices have really shot up while my earnings have gone down and I can no longer afford to buy what’s on the market. This is part of what led to last year’s existential crisis “I quit” moment. It’s getting harder to earn a living writing, and that means I’ve had to put a lot of other things on hold. Then I discovered that finding a real job that I actually want to do isn’t so easy.

But at least the one bit of the house issue that I couldn’t control (unless I wanted to pay for it myself) has been dealt with (well, almost, as soon as they show up to finish), so I will feel a lot less helpless, and then I can start to make other decisions. Before, there was no point in even thinking about new flooring. Now I have options to consider.

Productivity Busters

This may not be a very productive week. There was a leak in my house around the front window a few years ago, and it took the condo association years to get around to fixing it, so the baseboard and front wall were damaged. It’s taken years since then for them to get around to repairing it. I don’t know how many contractors have trooped through my house to look at it. There was an appointment set today for what I thought was yet another estimate, but it turned out they were here to do the work. At the moment, they’re cutting out sheetrock and ripping out baseboards.

The next step is for them to spray stuff inside the walls to kill off any mold, and that will have to sit for a few days. Then they’ll put up new walls and repaint. I may be living with open walls for a while, and my schedule is going to be iffy because I have to be home when they’re working. It’s hard to concentrate on writing while people are in my house, ripping out walls, so not much writing is likely to happen. I’m holed up in my bedroom while they work in the living room. I need to get the office upstairs so that I can work in it later in the week. I’d been planning to do that this weekend, since I thought they were still getting estimates.

I’m not complaining (much) because I need this work done, and I think it will make me healthier if they take care of any mold and mildew. And it makes the house actually sellable. I want to get it over with. But the process is probably not going to be much fun.

I think I’ll be focusing on research reading and brainstorming, since getting in the writing zone is going to be hard. I’m not someone who can write at a place like a coffee shop. I need solitude and silence.


The Princess and the Hotel Bed

Travel really shows me what a princess I’ve become. I’m starting to think that I would feel that pea hidden beneath a stack of mattresses. I don’t sleep well in hotel beds, and that makes travel less fun.

I think part of the problem is that I’ve made my bed at home so comfortable. Years ago, hotels were a treat. They had those lush pillow-top mattresses at good hotels, so it was a step up from what I had, and their down pillows were nicer than what I had at home.

Now, though, I have the fancy hybrid mattress with coils beneath memory foam and a layer of memory gel, so I have the perfect blend of support and softness. My mattress gently cradles my body. It’s on an adjustable base, so I can raise the head to sleep, and I can put it in a zero-gravity mode for reading in bed, with my head and knees raised. Even a really good hotel bed that doesn’t slant to one side because they don’t rotate the mattress is flat, which is hard for me to get used to.

Then there’s my pillow, which is a molded memory foam pillow designed for side sleepers, so it supports the neck. I have it in a satin pillowcase, which is smoother on the skin and keeps my hair from snarling and frizzing. I also have a weighted blanket to give me a really snug, cozy feeling. My alarm clock adds to the sleep ambience because it not only gently wakes me up with gradually increasing light, but it also has a bedtime mode that mimics a sunset, gradually dimming until it goes off.

No hotel can live up to all this. Even if I bring my pillow, the weighted blanket, and alarm clock with me on road trips, the bed is flat.

I really need a TARDIS, even one that doesn’t travel in time, so that I can carry all my stuff with me when I travel and not have to worry about getting there. I can just be in that other place and still come home to my own bed.


The January Vacation

My mini vacation didn’t quite go as planned. Although the forecast temperature was warm and it was a beautiful, sunny day, it turned out that the wind chill was rather bitter. I stepped out of the car at the state park, walked a little around the edge of the lake, and immediately retreated to my car because it was like thousands of tiny needles attacking non-stop. It was really disconcerting because the sun was so strong that I’d had to turn my car vent to as cool as it would go and the fan on high. Inside the car, it was a warm day. Outside the car, it was arctic.

So, I decided to go to a different park deeper into the mountains, in an area that was likely sheltered from the wind. And, at the very least, the drive to get there would be fun because it was on a twisty back road through the mountains.

And there I got to see this, which made the trip worth it.

There was also a nice, sheltered hiking trail along a stream, through the woods, in a valley between hills, so it was rather pleasant. I got in a short hike, but the other trails at that park were on the sides of the mountains, where, again, the wind was pretty ferocious. After enjoying the scenery while driving around, I headed to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and relaxing. By dinner time, the wind had died, which made the walk to a restaurant down the street not too bad. I came back from dinner, read some more, then decided to go for a swim at the hotel’s indoor pool.

Where, apparently, they’d decided to turn on the air conditioner in January. It was too cold to be in that room in just a swimsuit even before getting wet, and the water was icy. I’d thought the hotel web site had mentioned a hot tub, but I didn’t find it. It must have been outdoors. I gave up on the swim and went back to my room and watched figure skating while drinking cocoa.

I took the scenic route driving home, but unfortunately once you get into Texas there is no scenic route because the US highway merges with the freeway. I find freeway driving utterly exhausting. This area was really pretty and I’d like to visit that area again in better weather (and probably a different hotel), but I’ll need to see if I can find an alternate route. The freeway is quick, but it’s not fun. I think there are some back roads that might work, but I’ll need to research to be sure they cross the river that serves as the border between Texas and Oklahoma.

It was a nice little getaway that mostly served as a recon mission for things I might want to do when it’s not January. It’s close enough for a short trip, and it does look like there’s good hiking and scenery.

And now I need to dive back into my working schedule.

Getting Away

I’ve been talking about doing a short trip up to the mountains in Oklahoma (yes, there are mountains in Oklahoma) to do some hiking ever since last fall, but it seems like every time I had a couple of days free when I could go, there would end up being storms forecast on those days (and you don’t want to be in Oklahoma when it’s storming). Meanwhile, I’ve been stockpiling Hilton points and was in danger of losing them if I didn’t stay in one of their hotels soon, since none of my conventions this past year were at a Hilton. But this weekend is supposed to be nice and unseasonably warm, and there’s a Hampton Inn near one of the parks I was looking at for hiking, so I’m taking a mini vacation.

The plan is to do a little hiking and then enjoy the indoor pool and hot tub. It doesn’t look like there’s anything I want to see on HBO on the night I’ll be there, but I have a ton of books loaded on my tablet, so there may be some hanging out and reading.

And now I have to get ready for it. I checked out my swimsuit and found that some of the spandex has died. There’s a big patch down the back where it’s visible (and getting a bit see-through). So, I need a new swimsuit. And snacks, of course. Those are critical for a road trip. As is updating the playlists on my phone. I think I still have Christmas music on there that needs to be deleted and then replaced with a few new CDs I have to rip into the computer.

I’m not normally this spontaneous about travel. Then again, when I go overboard with planning, I tend to never actually take the trip. It’s as though once I have it all planned, I feel like I’ve already taken the trip, and the actual trip can never live up to the one I took in my head from visualizing it so clearly from all the planning. Maybe I need to do more trips of the “where can I go this weekend?” variety.


A Good Mystery

I actually left the house yesterday for a morning out (celebrating the audiobook release and the start of writing a new book) to see the movie Knives Out. I’ve been wanting to see it and I was afraid it would leave theaters soon (though the Oscar nomination for screenplay may help keep it around longer — I saw a 9:30 a.m. show and while the theater wasn’t full, there were more people than I usually see in morning screenings). I thought it was apt for something to watch before starting to write another mystery novel.

Though I’m not sure if it was inspiring or intimidating. It was nice and twisty, though I did figure out the final twist ahead of time (to be fair, I had three candidates for what it might be, and I was right about one of them), but I think it was as much of a character study as it was a mystery, though it did feel like a modern take of the classic Agatha Christie-style mystery. It was set in a somewhat spooky grand mansion (the home of a successful mystery novelist, so it was full of props you might expect to go with that), with the novelist’s various family members gathered for his birthday party, and all of them had motives for murder. And then the brilliant outsider detective shows up to investigate the crime. If there was a crime. It was a really tight script, and I can see how it got an Oscar nomination. I kind of want to see it again now that I know what was really going on to see how it was all set up.

I can’t say too much more without giving away the twists, but it ended up being a lot more hopeful and uplifting than you expect from a murder mystery. It was also really funny in places. The cast seemed to be having an absolute blast and really inhabited their characters.

If you like stories like And Then There Were None, then you’ll want to catch this one. I don’t know if it’s an absolute big screen must-see since it’s more about characters than spectacle, but I think there are little details that will be lost on a smaller screen that do make a difference in how you see things. Plus, it’s absolutely gorgeous. They did something with the photography that saturated all the colors, so it looks really rich.

I guess I wasn’t too intimidated because I came home and wrote the first chapter in a new mystery novel.

My Books

Audiobook Day

For those who’ve been waiting for the audio version of Enchanted Ever After, it should be available today. Once they got all the contract stuff ironed out, they moved pretty quickly. It’s the same narrator as in the other books. I love what I’ve heard of what she does with them, though I have to confess that I haven’t listened to much because hearing my words spoken by someone else kind of wigs me out. It’s really weird and unsettling.

Then again, I’m not big on audiobooks, in general. I have a hard time staying focused on people talking when I can’t see them, and it takes a really good speaker for me to stay tuned in to someone reading something even if I can see them. I also don’t listen to podcasts or talk radio. I can deal with audio dramas with a cast, but just someone reading a book will go in one ear and out the other, and I won’t register the words at all. I can just barely manage to take in the information from a radio weather or traffic report.

This is highly ironic for someone who trained in radio news and used to produce radio feature stories.

I’m not sure how I’d react to seeing a film or TV version of one of my books. I suspect it would be a bit weird because the people playing the characters wouldn’t be precisely the way I pictured them, even if the casting is just about perfect. But for film or TV, they’d rewrite it pretty thoroughly. It wouldn’t be exactly my words being read, and it would be translated to a totally different medium with different visuals.

I am willing to test my reaction, however, if someone who knows what they’re doing wants to give it a shot.

Anyway, new audiobook today, hooray!

writing life

Working Hours

It’s theoretically a holiday — government offices and schools are closed — but I’m treating it as a semi-work day. I’ll probably do about the same amount of work as usual, but I’m doing it on a more flexible schedule. I let myself sleep in and had a leisurely breakfast. I’m gearing up to starting the first draft of a new book, so there’s some prep work to do.

I’ve been trying to work out my best work routines. A book I was reading on forming habits said that one reason people in Germany have a shorter work week while Americans are working longer and longer hours is that in Germany there’s a culture of work time being limited to work — no chit-chat, no personal e-mails or phone calls, no spending time on social media — and then when they go home, they’re completely off work. In America, the culture is that you’re expected to socialize some at work (you may even get criticized in a performance review if you’re not friendly with coworkers), and it’s okay to make the occasional personal call, check personal e-mail, etc., but employees are also expected to work longer hours and answer e-mails and calls after hours. I’m not entirely sure how true that is. My brother works for a German company and works crazy hours, including being more or less on call at all hours of the day, on weekends, and on holidays. That may be because he works for the US office and his customers are in the US and/or because he’s in sales and a lot of his work is “leisure” stuff like dinners, golf games, going to sporting events with customers, etc. There’s also a bit of chicken-and-egg going on in the US — are we expected to work longer hours and be on call because of the goofing off and socializing during the workday, or is the goofing off during the workday an attempt to balance things out because we’re expected to work crazy hours and be in touch by phone/e-mail at all times? If the boss can call or text you when you’re at home in the evening, then you figure that you can call/text/e-mail your friends when you’re in the office. I do know that when I started telecommuting a couple of years before I got laid off in my last job, I was working fewer hours (because I took a pay cut to go “part time” in a way that kept a cap on the number of hours I could work) but actually doing more work once I was no longer in the office and having to deal with all the meetings, people stopping by my office to chat, etc.

Anyway, it gets tricky when you’re working for yourself at home. I’m never really fully off work, and never really fully at work. As I write this, I’m also doing laundry. But when I’m “off” work tonight and reading, my pleasure reading is somewhat work-related because I’m reading in my field to get a sense of the market. When I go on vacation, I don’t feel entirely like I’m completely off because I still check social media and e-mail for work purposes, and of course the writer brain never shuts off.

I like being able to multi-task the household drudgery. I can throw in a load of laundry and write a blog post, set a stew to simmering and write a few pages. I need to take some breaks during the day to move and recharge between scenes or to shift gears between projects. But I would like to do a better job at feeling like I’m on and off work, so that in my leisure time I don’t have that nagging sense that I should be writing. It may help to get my office back in order so I can work in there. I can put in my writing time, then come downstairs and be “off” work. And I really need to learn to take real vacations without feeling like the world is passing me by if I don’t check in online.


What Might Have Been

I’ve been rewatching the entire series of Once Upon a Time, an episode or two a week, with an online group, with discussion and analysis along the way. Last night, I rewatched the finale for the first time since it aired, and it has to be the most bizarre way to end a series that I’ve seen. Really, the last season was a mistake, and this ending felt oddly tacked on, like it was what they always wanted, and they just stuck it on the finale without any setup.

The final season jumped ahead at least ten years for most of the “flashback” bits, with the character who was an early teen (12-13 or so) at the end of the previous season all grown up and played by a different actor, and then the “present day” bits were at least 11 years after that (since he had an 11-year-old daughter). But there were still some of the adult characters who carried over, and they didn’t change at all even though, based on ages of various characters that gave us some kind of timeline, nearly 30 years had passed since the end of the previous season. And there was never any explanation given for them not aging or changing. They were treated as though they were the age they looked, generally 30-something, even though they had adult children. To complicate things further, these events were taking place in the present, with them having been sent back in time by a curse that took them from the fairytale land where they’d been living to our world (for no reason other than that the premise of this series involves fairytale characters living in modern America, and it would have been a strain on the budget to try to create the setting decades into the future). The season mostly focused on new characters rather than the returning characters, though one of the problems was that there was no clear protagonist.

When that storyline was resolved, they didn’t send these characters back to their world and their own time. They came to the original setting for the series, to live among the past versions of themselves. And then they merged all the fairytale worlds and elected the original villain to be queen of them all. That would be the future version of the original villain, who did become a good guy along the way, but still, when you’re redeeming the villain, you don’t give them their original villain goal as a happy ending. You give them what they really needed, deep down inside, which is probably the opposite of their villain goal. When someone starts the series trying to seize power and never actually gives up power in spite of turning good, except when the responsibility is inconvenient, you don’t end the series by giving her ultimate power. It was even weirder given that this character had barely played a role all season. She hadn’t done any big thing to save the day, hadn’t made a huge sacrifice, so it felt very weirdly tacked on.

That series is so frustrating because there’s so much about the concept that I love — fairy tales, magic in a modern setting, mixing up characters from different stories — and most of the characters and the casting were great, but the writing went way off the rails. I could write essays about how they messed up. There was no coherent worldbuilding, so their magic never made a lot of sense, nor did how their society dealt with magic. And their morality was so screwy. The really frustrating thing is that the premise is pretty unique, so I can’t really find a way to file the serial numbers off and do it right and have it still be those elements that I find interesting. The best I can do is take some of the things as inspiration and go off in a different direction with them.

The first season is still really lovely, fleshing out the story of Snow White in the flashbacks and dealing with a cynical modern-day Disney princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess in the present, set in a small town with a real fairytale flavor. And if I get bored, I can amuse myself by mentally rewriting the whole thing, fixing where they went wrong and imagining what might have been.