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Break Time

I finished a draft of a book last weekend, and I’ve spent most of this week trying to catch up on the stuff I was supposed to have been doing while I was working on the book, so I’ve decided I need some recovery time. I’m not taking a real vacation, but I’m going to try to be deliberate about taking actual downtime for a long weekend.

Change of pace is rather important for keeping the brain sharp and for being creative, and that’s been hard to come by in the past year or so, which means I’m making an effort to create that effect at home—not always successfully. Mostly it means shaking up my schedule. I may let myself sleep a little later (if I can. My body wakes up early in the summer, like it’s in touch with my inner ancestral farmer and thinks I need to be in the fields by six). I’m going to try to stay away from the computer as much as I can (I have a couple of freelance projects in the works that will require me to check e-mail). I’ve done a library run to stock up on books, and now I’m going to allow myself some time to just sit and think and sit and read. There may be some yoga to work out all the knots that come from sitting over a computer. I’m working on getting my singing voice back after getting really out of shape from more than a year without choir rehearsals and with barely even speaking, so I may do some singing.

Yeah, I really know how to relax.

And then I’ll be ready to dive in to the next draft of the book.

Familiar Things

I’ve found myself pondering the tug of war between the familiar and the new. I’d planned to make an effort this fall to try new things. I couldn’t go anywhere on a vacation, but I could create a change of pace at home by doing different things, like cooking new recipes. But when fall hit, I was so excited to get back to some of my favorite fall recipes that it was hard to fit in new things among the old favorites. I was looking forward to those soups and breads that I know I love and haven’t had since early this year, so I made those instead of the new recipes. I did make a couple of new dishes, but I didn’t like them as much as the favorites. I tried a new scone recipe yesterday, and that one’s going in the regular rotation, so it wasn’t a total failure.

I run into the same problem when it comes to watching movies. I start scrolling through the streaming menu, and the familiar ones jump out at me, so I end up rewatching things instead of watching something new. I haven’t had great luck in trying new ones. They tend to be not what I was expecting, and that’s not good when you’re expecting a romantic comedy and get a depressing drama. Now that Christmas movie season is upon us, there’s the tug between the ones I know I like and the new ones that may or may not be any good. Then there are the ones that are traditional, the specials and movies I watch every year, even though I just about have them memorized. They’re more background noise than something I really watch, but it’s comforting to absorb them in the background.

I’m doing better about reading new books instead of re-reading favorites, though there is a strong temptation to reach for the comfort reads.

There is a known bias toward familiarity. You’re drawn to the familiar. That’s part of the point of advertising, to make something more familiar to you so that when you see it in a store, it jumps out at you and you choose the most familiar thing.

I’ve decided to balance things. I’m making an effort to try new things, whether it’s new recipes or new movies, but when I want something reassuring and comfortable, there’s no harm in going with the familiar.

And maybe this is part of my problem when it comes to book promotion. I’m bad about not wanting to bother people with repeated messages, but it does take repeated exposure to things before they become familiar enough for people to accept them.

Blog Fatigue

I was lamenting on Twitter yesterday that I don’t know if anyone actually reads my blog, and it seems people do, even if they’re not commenting, so I guess I’ll keep up with it. My problem right now is that I have no idea what to write about. I haven’t been watching much TV or movies, so I don’t have anything to discuss there. I’ve been reading from my to-be-read pile, and I’m finding that there are reasons I didn’t read those books for so long, so I haven’t had a lot of books to recommend. Otherwise, my reading is for research for a future project, and I don’t really want to talk about what I’m reading there because the idea is that I’ll throw all that information into the mental blender, and what comes out won’t be recognizable from the source. But if I tell people what the sources are, they’ll be looking for chunks in the smoothie that they can identify, and that may lead to them misinterpreting the book.

I don’t really have a life outside the house now because I only go out to go grocery shopping. There’s no choir, no children’s choir, no getting together with friends. It’s too hot to go out hiking. Basically, I spend my days writing and researching, listening to classical music, and cooking. I don’t have much to say about the music because the very point of it is that I don’t think about it. I can just listen and let it flow over me, and sometimes that’s the only time when I don’t have words swirling around in my head.

So I’m not sure what to talk about. What do you want to hear? This is your chance to ask questions, and the answers may turn into a blog post. Ask me about the writing process or the publishing business. Do you have questions about how to write a book or get it published? Or ask about my books, where ideas came from, some of my research, etc. (though, to be honest, it’s been so long since I wrote a lot of my books that I might not remember anymore). Anything else?

I may take the rest of August as a kind of holiday to stockpile ideas and have something more substantial to say when I start up again in September. To keep up with me otherwise, follow me on Twitter. I mostly put book info on Facebook. Or there’s my mailing list.

Vacating

I had a nice, relaxing “vacation” of the sort that actually seems to have boosted my energy, unlike the travel sort that tends to leave me tired. I remember something from back in my medical writing days in which a psychiatrist reminded us that the rood word of “vacation” is “vacate,” and that in order to renew yourself, you needed to empty the things you carry around so you have room to fill up again, and you need to break your routine to really relax.

One thing I realized is that the bad side of being the sort of person who’s never bored is that it may mean you never really relax. If there’s always something you could (or feel you should) be doing, then it’s hard to make yourself just be still. Even though I like sitting and thinking, it’s really hard to let myself do that. I did manage it a few times this weekend, and it’s amazing the difference that makes.

I found a new project when I was going through some sewing stuff and found an abandoned embroidery project my mom started before I was born. It’s a tablecloth that’s just the size I need, and I like the pattern, but the colors are all wrong. I’m going to get some embroidery floss in the right colors and redo it. Since I haven’t done embroidery in decades, I got out some plain muslin, found some online tutorials, and used the floss from this project to practice my stitching. It’s weirdly hypnotic once you get going, almost like meditation.

I was trying not to think about work or business all weekend, and that made me realize how much headspace I devote to that. My brain always seems to be spinning with to-do lists or ideas of things I could be doing, fretting over what’s happening, doing mental calculations, etc. Not only does that hamper my relaxation, and possibly my creativity, but the real problem is that I don’t seem to act on much of the stuff I come up with. It’s wasted fretting. Today’s project is to write down all the stuff that’s in my head and try to organize it into an actionable plan. I’m also going to try to make more of an effort not to think about this stuff after the workday or on weekends. I have a really bad habit of mulling over business-related plans at night before I go to sleep, and that’s not conducive to restful sleep.

So, in general, it was a productive vacation in the sense that I learned a lot about myself and have come up with some ideas for ways to make all this work better for myself going forward. I also think I need to do this sort of thing more often. At one of my old jobs, the boss came up with an incentive program in which we came up with a project/task list at the beginning of the week, got our supervisor to sign off on it, and on Friday when our supervisor signed off that it had all been done, we got to leave early. I may start doing that monthly to give myself a long weekend every so often when I’m caught up on my work. I just hope I’m a better boss to myself than that boss was. I think I managed to leave early once, not because I wasn’t getting my work done, but because once he realized that it was working too well and people were leaving early, he started planning all-hands meetings on Friday afternoons, or he’d arrange for clients to come meet with us on Friday afternoons (which the clients were okay with because they generally got to go straight home after the meeting if they came to our office on a Friday afternoon).

I’m easing back into work by spending the day doing all that planning, getting it out of my head and on paper so I can do something about it instead of just fretting and stewing.

Summer is Flying

I can’t believe it’s already August. This summer is doing a weird thing in which it seems to be flying at the same time as it seems like it’s been years since June. I realized this morning that I’ve had my new refrigerator for a whole month. I thought of that because I finally had to make some ice this weekend. Since I don’t use a lot of ice, I opted not to get an icemaker with the new refrigerator. The night before I got the new fridge, I ran the icemaker in the old one and put the ice in a freezer bag. I finally got near the bottom of that bag. That would suggest I made the right decision. An ice cube tray and a freezer bag take up a lot less room than the icemaker that’s usually empty and idle. I finally have plenty of space in my freezer for food.

This is the week when I’d usually be doing Music and Art Camp, but they’re doing a modified version of that online this year, so they don’t need me to herd kids around. We’d normally also be gearing up to go back to the regular “fall” schedule, since school usually starts in mid-August around here. We’d be starting choir rehearsals. It feels weird to go into Target and see the back-to-school sales, like is that happening already? We didn’t really have a summer yet!

We’ve actually had cooler than normal weather so far this year, with just two 100-degree days before August. Theoretically, we’re in the warmest span of the year, but we got rain and a really cool day last week, then a cold front this weekend, so it’s been pleasant. It’ll get hot again next weekend, but I’ve been enjoying spending time outdoors. The patio makes for a slight change of scenery.

I’m still looking forward to fall and truly cooler weather so I can get outside more and take longer walks. I endure summer. I revel in fall.

Ice Cream Days

As part of my attempt to change my attitude about hot weather (I hate it), I decided that I would “celebrate” 100-degree days by having ice cream only on those days — according to the official temperature at the airport. I even bought a pint, since at that time they were forecasting a 100-degree day.

Quite abruptly, the weather pattern changed, and we went through a spell of below-normal temperatures and rain. I’m not complaining.

Now, though, they’re forecasting 100+ temperatures from tomorrow through Tuesday, so unless there’s an unexpected twist, I’ll get my ice cream. I’ve been thinking about what I’ll do. I got vanilla so I’d have more options. I could make a fudge sauce, or I could make a strawberry sundae, or just have it with fruit. I figure the more I dwell on it and look forward to it, the less likely we are to actually hit 100, though I guess it’s not much of a victory if it’s only 99, since it’s still hot and I don’t get ice cream.

But there is hope not too far away. Last time I was in Target, they were setting up the school supply display, and this week’s ad included a sale on school supplies. Fall is coming! We just have to get through the rest of July and August … and most of September.

I’m telling myself I really don’t need more notebooks. I don’t need to shop the back-to-school sales. Really.

But I am about to head to the library to pick up all the stuff I had on hold. Then I can hunker down in my cave and wait out the heat.

This is a little later than average for our first 100-degree day, so that’s some consolation. Last year we didn’t get one until late in July, but then the hot weather lingered a lot longer before abruptly turning cold, so there was no real fall. We went from 90-degree weather straight to a freeze before the end of October. I know it doesn’t really work this way, but maybe having our summer on schedule will mean it ends on time.

Isolating Times

I had a nice little holiday, though it ended up being fairly busy, as my new refrigerator was delivered Friday, and that meant spending Thursday preparing and Friday putting everything back in order. Now I’m going to dive back in to work before I take my next holiday around my birthday in early August. I did a lot of cooking, listened to a lot of classical patriotic music on the radio and on TV, and watched a livestreamed fireworks show.

Now, though, I’m determined to wrap up these mystery books and get them out into the world, and then get the next one written. Three books should establish the series, and then I can space them out a bit more and write a few other things in between those books. I know most of the advice is to have one series with a lot of books, but I already know that’s a recipe for burnout for me. Maybe I can get by with juggling a few different things. July isn’t good for much around here other than huddling indoors, so I might as well spend the time productively. Then maybe in the fall when it’s cooler (and possibly safer to be around people) I can ease up and let myself play some. Right now, there’s no travel from around here to the rest of the country or to most of the rest of the world because I live in a hot zone and I’d have to quarantine for two weeks. I just hope that comes under better control within the next month or so. Even I’m starting to miss people. Not necessarily large groups or people in general, but there are specific people I would like to see in person again. Though it is nice to not have to come up with excuses not to have to go to social events I’m not super keen on.

This summer has reminded me of a summer I had as a kid. The summer between fifth and sixth grades, my mom had a job and my little brother was in nursery school. I was too old for the nursery, and my parents figured I was mature enough to stay home alone. I did have some rules about not having anyone else in the house and needing advance permission to go to anyone else’s house or to leave the neighborhood, but otherwise I was pretty free, and I recall riding my bike to the next village to go to the swimming pool with a friend quite often, so I don’t think permission was denied. And this was in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language! I have fond memories of that summer. While I did go out and do things with friends, I also spent a lot of quiet time at home (since we were in Germany and the weather wasn’t always ideal for going outside). We had one TV channel in English. During the mornings, they showed old TV series like Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies and (my favorite that summer) Daktari. Then there was a block of soap operas, and that’s when I’d go outside or do something else. In the late afternoon, they tended to show British science fiction things, and I believe that was where I first encountered Doctor Who. We went to the library a lot and I had a good supply of books. I also created an entire city for my Barbie dolls in the basement playroom. I completely remodeled the Dream House and built on additional things, and I sewed clothes for my dolls.That was long before the Internet, and even the phone wasn’t an option because they charged by the minute even for local calls. The phone was only for emergencies.

Although I did get a lot of social interaction when I played outside with friends, and my family was home in the evenings and on weekends, that was a lot like the current lockdown. But now at least I have the luxury of Internet access and phone calls. Although the daytime television programming on broadcast TV isn’t as good as the one channel we got then, there’s so much streaming (even though I don’t watch much). In addition to getting books from the library, I can get just about anything I want electronically.

That summer made me very self-sufficient. I learned how to manage my time without any kind of externally imposed structure, and I got good at amusing myself. It was good training for being self-employed and working at home, and it prepared me for this time.

Romanticizing Small Towns

I’ve been looking at more women’s fiction, and in addition to the “when her husband left her …” plot, it seems another common thread is small towns.

In the days of chick lit, in the early 2000s, urban settings were the big thing — the single career girl in the big city. Now everything seems to be leaning toward the small town. The woman whose husband dumps her or cheats on her may already be in a small town and has to deal with the social fallout. Or when she leaves, she heads to her small hometown, the small town where a relative lives, the small town where she went on vacation as a child. Even the single woman books, the ones written by authors who got their start in chick lit, seem to be focused on small towns. They’re all about women who leave London to go to a village and open a bookstore/bakery/cafe/shop. Then there are all the Hallmark movies about successful career women in big cities who end up chucking it all to go live in a small town with a down-to-earth guy.

I know a few of the British authors actually do live in small villages, but with the rest of them, as someone who’s actually from a small town, I have to wonder if any of these people have actually lived in a small town. Because starting over in a small town is incredibly difficult. The social circles are generally closed. There aren’t a lot of single men, since most of the men get snagged in sixth grade. There’s not much to do unless you like high school sports.

Mind you, most of these fictional “small” towns aren’t what I’d think of as truly small. They tend to use “small” to refer to populations under about 50,000. A lot of the small towns are in the 20,000 range, which might have more going on. When my family moved to the small town I’m from just before I started high school, the sign at the city limits said the population was 2,180. It might be closer to 5,000 now, but it’s grown rather dramatically, and they expanded the city limits. When we moved there, your dining options were limited to Dairy Queen, a small cafe, a local barbecue place, and a fried chicken place. While I was in high school, we got first a McDonald’s, then a Burger King, and then there was a locally owned restaurant that kept changing, with nothing in that building staying in business for as long as a year. I think the Pizza Inn came after I was out of high school because we had to drive to another town about 14 miles away to go to Pizza Hut when I was in school. It wasn’t at all like the idyllic fictional towns with all their bustling downtown areas with local cafes and coffee shops and romantic date restaurants, and a busy social calendar of festivals, fairs, concerts, and other arts events. There is more of a nightlife there now because a major country music star is from that town and has opened some performance venues that draw big acts, but that was far into the future when I lived there (and I’m not sure how successful it’s been).

Most of my books have been about people who’ve left small towns. I think people from big cities daydream about a romanticized version of small town life, a simpler, quieter place with less traffic, less stress, where everyone knows everyone. If you’ve lived in a small town, you know that’s not necessarily true. The mystery series I’m developing does take place in a small town and involves a heroine who moved from a city, and it probably is closer to the idyllic fictional version than anything real, but for a cozy mystery that’s a genre trope, and I am trying to insert a bit of small-town reality even while making it a place where I wouldn’t mind living.

But it does make me wonder if I could get away with a women’s fiction book about a woman who goes to the small town, learns something about herself, and then takes that lesson back to the city rather than finding love and a close circle of friends and a new home in a small town.

Customer Service

My big distraction this week has been customer service issues.

I noticed that something funny was going on either with one of the electrical circuits in my kitchen or the refrigerator. I looked it up, and after doing some testing, it seems like the problem is with the refrigerator. This is something that’s known to happen with older refrigerators, and this one is nearly 16 years old. It’s working, and I’ve got a workaround going, but it probably needs to be replaced. With the likely issue and with the age of it, this repair would not be worth it.

So I went to order a new refrigerator. Home Depot said they couldn’t deliver anything before mid July, but I found what I needed at Best Buy, and they said they could deliver as soon as Monday. So I placed the order and took the Monday morning delivery slot they offered. Then last night, I got an e-mail saying I needed to set a delivery appointment. I followed their link, and they had the appointment I’d chosen as my second choice and said I needed to choose a first choice before that date, but none were available. I tried doing the online help chat thing, but nothing happened other than it sitting there for two hours saying it would connect me to an agent. I called this morning, used the callback feature, and eventually talked to someone. It turned out that the problem was that they didn’t have that unit in inventory and couldn’t even set a delivery date. I don’t know why they didn’t just say that instead of letting me order and set a delivery date, then telling me I needed to set a new date. So I cancelled that order.

I found almost the same thing at the same price at Lowe’s, and they said they could deliver in 3-7 days, but said they’d be in touch to schedule delivery. I’m waiting on that now. We’ll see if they actually have something. The order confirmation e-mail just says they’ll call with a delivery appointment, but says there may be “delays.” It would be nice if they built the delays into the information they give you when you order. If it’s going to be 4-6 weeks, then put that in up front. Don’t promise 3-7 days.

It seems that this is a combo problem between the pandemic and the trade war. There were already issues from the trade war with China, and then they shut down manufacturing. Plus, people sheltering at home are buying home stuff. I just hope my fridge holds out, since it’s pretty full. The freezer is my main concern. The stuff currently in the fridge will probably be eaten over the weekend, but I’ve got about a month worth of food in the freezer. If I get really desperate, I’ll pick up a dorm fridge and cook the meat in the freezer.

But I did not need this distraction. I’m trying to revise a book, and with having to buy a new refrigerator, I definitely need to get some books out there so I can bring in some money.

Lockdown Self-Improvement

If you found my discussion of some of the panels from the Nebula conference intriguing, you can still retroactively attend the conference, and the conference will also be continuing online all year. If you register for the conference, you can see all the panels, and now there will also be other networking and learning events going on all year. You don’t have to be a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to participate, and there are scholarships available. All the information is here.

I’m afraid I’ve become That Person during lockdown, the annoying one who’s using the time for self-improvement rather than sloth. I’m studying a foreign language, attending online workshops, reading a lot, listening to classical music, watching Shakespeare productions online, trying new recipes, practicing the flute, and doing a massive home organization project. Sometimes I annoy even myself.

In addition to the Nebula conference, I’ve been watching some online seminars my university has made available to alumni, and I’ve been looking for educational videos on various topics on YouTube. I’ve really been enjoying the National Theatre productions that have been posted each week, along the the weekly musical. I’d thought I might need to get another streaming service, but so far I’ve hardly been watching the one I have. I might look into Netflix or Disney+ this fall, but during the summer I’ve been going outside in the evenings.

I did have actual social interaction last week when I ran into a friend from church while I was out walking, and we stood a safe distance apart and chatted for a while. I think that’s the first time I’d talked to a friend in person since March.

I’m getting close to the end of revisions on this book. I just need to rewrite the ending. What I’ve written is rather anticlimactic, so I need to write something entirely different. But first I have to figure out what that should be. That’s today’s challenge.