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You Don’t Owe Anyone Your Time

One of the drawbacks to our “always on” culture is this expectation that if we see something, we have to respond to it. “Sea lions” take advantage of this knee jerk reaction we have to engage with people who ask us questions on the internet. They can get you to waste hours going around in circles “explaining” things to them that can be easily googled. If you aren’t careful you could find yourself spending all day “explaining” why women should have the right to vote and why slavery is bad and why police shouldn’t shoot unarmed people in the street and yes, the Holocaust really happened my grandfather helped haul the bodies out of the camps.

The fact that we feel we have to reassert reasonable moral positions and actual facts which should be common knowledge over and over is depressing in and of itself. But when you feel the urge to do so I want you to remember this quote from Toni Morrison:

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

In case it’s not obvious, this quote can easily apply to any other type of “ism” out there. No one wants you to do your work. Doing your work can change the status quo. And that’s why they work so hard to keep you from doing it.

Certainly one in a position of privilege does have a moral imperative to state, “This atrocity is wrong.” But when you buckle down to engage the haters on any issue, consider what your end goal is in having that conversation, and consider what other valuable work you could be doing with that time. I can pretty much guarantee you that, say, writing The Geek Feminist Revolution and getting it into people’s hands was worth about a billion times more than spending that time arguing with dudes on the internet who were just there to distract me. They aren’t here to change minds. They are here to keep us from doing the work that changes the world.

We all have a finite amount of time on this earth. Those of us with chronic illness or who have had near-death experiences appreciate that more than others. I feel that it’s my moral imperative to remind you that you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. And if you did, would you regret how you’d spend the hour, the day, the week, the month, the year before?

My goal is to live the sort of life where I won’t feel I’ve wasted my time if I die tomorrow. It has kept me on target through a lot of bullshit. The truth is that all this shit is made up, and because it’s made up, it can be remade. But only if we focus our efforts on creating the work that moves the conversation forward, instead of letting ourselves get caught up in the distraction.

The Wisdom of the Grind: It’s Always Darkest Before a Breakthrough

Writing three books last year was an exercise in grind. While there may be many people happy to write 4, 6, 12 books a year, I am not one of them. A big part of my process is the research involved in worldbuilding and the deft untangling of what makes character relationships compelling, and that takes a lot of time and a lot of brain space. The more brain space I put into other things: worrying over my sick dog, puzzling out a day job problem, considering the world descent into fascism, noodling over whether or not we are well-positioned for climate change, head-desking over ancillary projects, the less brain space I have for building worlds and stories.

Spending too much head space in the The Dark Teatime of the Soul isn’t good for anyone, and I’ve been opening up Twitter less and staying on it for shorter periods, in addition to pretty much muting every Dark Keyword and many Negative Pity-Party-Wallowing accounts that feel they must vomit their misery into the ether. I am there with you, friends, but I am full up on that brand of dark. My goal is to get my news/social check-in on Twitter down to about 20 minutes a day. I’ve already removed TV and radio from my life, so I only hear the constant fear-mongering now when I go to waiting rooms that have TVs on (and what is it with places that do that? I don’t need to listen to screaming heads on CNN prophesying our doom while waiting at the doctor’s office).

Doing this helps me get back the head space that I was giving over to stuff I don’t have any control over. And yes, there’s been studies done that show that it is being put into situations in which we feel we have no control that cause the most stress and depression. This explains the four years of my life that I spent at a day job that laid people off every 4-6 months. I hung on for a long time, but the stress was constant, and I dealt with it in unhealthy ways. I jumped right from that job into another, even crazier one, where eveyrthing was constantly in flux. Where I’m at now is much more secure and stable, but wow, I had five years of awful stress there for awhile, and I’m still figuring out how to come down from it.

Paired with my crazy day job history was (and is) my crazy publishing history. Talk about an industry where you feel you don’t have a lot of control… as I’ve noted before, sure, writing a good book and marketing it well can keep you in the midlist, but breakout books take something more, and as yet no one has figured out how to actually manufacture bestsellers from unknown writers yet. Though they keep trying.

And then outside of all that, of course, is the uncontrollable world. And while each of us individually and together are working hard to enact change, the way it’s reported (if at all) isn’t under our control. It’s in the media’s best interest to serve us the most vile and hate-mongering stories, because those get the clicks. They show us a world that’s rampaging out of control, a world we can’t change. Even knowing, intellectually, that that’s wrong, the crazy outside world can contribute to that feeling of overwhelming, ongoing stress and depression that keeps you soaking up tears in your cornflakes.

I make note of these outside factors because I’ve had a rough time getting control over – or feeling that I have control over – a good many things lately. I’ve spent the last five years at a hard grind, pushing for a breakout book that was always the next book or the next book or the next book… and though there are certainly plenty of successes I can point to (coming back from the implosion of my first publisher was a huge win in and of itself. Not many of us who debuted there were able to do so, and many have disappeared completely from the field), I am always aiming for more, and bigger, and better. At this point my reasonable goal is to be able to write and freelance full time by the time I’m forty. That’s very reasonable! But I can see the hard grind ahead of me, and I admit that some days I do not have the gumption to look it in the face.

My focus continues to be on becoming a stronger writer. Not just at the prose level, but at the all-important story level, too. That involves sitting down and doing some research, too, and breaking down existing stories. Me sitting around writing the same book over and over doesn’t help me level up as a writer. Note the full depth and breadth of Le Guin’s work. She didn’t get to be a great writer by writing one endless fantasy saga. And while I would love to be able to write an endless fantasy saga that paid the bills, what I want more than that is to be an excellent writer. When your work is selling all right, but hasn’t broken out yet, you just gotta keep banging on story. But yeah, it’s not always fun. And yes, I realize that Le Guin didn’t have to make a living via her writing, which did probably free her up to write a lot more of what she wanted to write. But there are writers like Gene Wolfe who had day jobs their entire careers and wrote plenty of transformative work, so there’s no hard and fast rule here.

Lately I’ve been in one of those rough periods where I just want to quit for six months or a year and travel around the world and refill my creative bucket. Cause right now all I can see down there are beer dregs. The truth is that every profession will try and squeeze out of you as much as it can get. While I’d like to be mindful of how much I give it, I also recognize that in order to get to where I want to be, I’m going to have to give it everything. This is a marathon, yeah, but I don’t indeed to have anything left for the way back. This is it. The older I get, the rougher than knowledge is, though: knowing I have saved nothing for the way back. There is only forward.

When it gets dark like this as I sweat over the next book and start putting together ideas for pitching a new series, I remind myself that sometimes it’s the very bleakest right before a major breakthrough. These are the long plateaus in skill and ability that we have to push through to level up. Once you get to the pro level at anything, your effort/skill ratio flips. You no longer see huge gains with minimal effort. There’s a reason you can get 2 years of skill leveling up out of 6 weeks of Clarion. You tend to be newer to the craft. You’ve got more to learn.

My next big level up is taking a lot longer to get to – several books, many stories. While I have recently seen some rise in my short story skill level due to all the grind I’ve been doing on Patreon, and all the study I’ve done on story, I’m not seeing it as clearly in my novels. Creating interwoven storylines with multiple characters is difficult for any writer, but I have the added bonus of insisting on portraying weird, weird worlds as I do it. It’s a grind.

Oh, the grind.

Nothing in life or business is fair, but even when you know that, it can be difficult to accept it when the fairness doesn’t seem to be on your side. When things get especially bad I will mutter aloud, “Life is pain, princess,” and push on. I once read that to the ancient Greeks “happiness” meant being free from pain – physical and emotional. If you think about it, you were spending a whole lot more of your life sick or mourning friends and family than you do in many parts of the world now. We run around thinking that there’s something wrong with us for not being “happy” but if you aren’t currently grieving or suffering from an illness, well, you’re doing pretty well by ancient Greek standards. Ok, well, I DO have a chronic illness, but it’s not generally painful… So I have that going for me.

Which brings me back to expectations. I often think I should lower or adjust mine, but I’m not convinced this would change my drive to be the absolute best at what I do. What concerns me is that the path I’ve laid down to get there – the writing grind – is incomplete. With debts and day jobs came a lack of head space to do anything at all but writing outside of those things I need to do to live. While this sounds great – read any book about grit and active practice and it will remind you you need to work harder than other people if you want to compete – the trouble is that I keep pretending like I’m everyone else. I pretend like I don’t have a chronic illness. I pretend like I can get by without significant amounts of exercise. Hell, there are days when I think I can eat carbs without regretting it. But none of those things are true, and I have to build a life around who I am and what I need instead of what I wish were still true.

While I have survived stressful day jobs and publishing implosions and career death several times over here at the ripe olde middle-age of 36, I’d like to hope there’s another 30 years in me still to go. It’s tempting not to be able to see that when you’re this deep in the dark grind, but I know it’s there. I know it’s always darkest before everything breaks open. The hope is that you can survive the darkness long enough to get there.

We fall down seven times. We get up eight.

We get up.

We get up.

We get up.




What About Me? Dealing with Professional Jealousy

Delilah Dawson asked folks on Twitter how they deal with professional jealousy. Scalzi’s response was, more or less “I am a leaf on the wind,” and while being a leaf on the wind is admirable, I admit I don’t know very many folks who manage to reach that level of zen. Lilith Saintcrow, having seen the horror of the midlist herself, offered some coping strategies.

For my part, I’ve found that my professional jealousy takes the form of, “Why him and not ME?” (and yes, it’s generally a “him” but not always). The truth is that there is a lot of luck in this industry, and some of that luck has to do with who you know (including who your parents and relatives are) and whether or not certain people like you. Some of that is having the right book at the right cultural moment. All of that luck is enhanced by actually being a good writer (but I will note here that being a good writer does not preclude someone from publishing novels or getting a movie deal or selling millions. It does improve your chances, though).

That said, I’ve used, “WHY THAT FUCKER AND NOT ME?” to fuel me through this business since I was a teenager, so I’m not sure that I’m compelled to give it up any time soon. Some measure of professional jealousy can be good for you. But it can also be a lot like the snake eating its own tail, because like Alexander Hamilton, you will probably never be satisfied. Oh, you published a critically acclaimed book, but it wasn’t a bestseller? Oh, you published a bestselling book that critics thought was crap? Oh you’ve won awards but not sold millions, oh, you sold millions, but didn’t win awards? Oh, you’ve sold well but never got a movie deal. Oh, you’ve sold well and got a movie deal but the movie tanked? Oh, you sold well and got a movie deal and the movie did well but didn’t win Best Picture. Boo-hoo.

You see how your measure of “success” can keep going up and up and up until you’re just never happy, ever. My spouse often shakes his head at me because I move my bar for success all the time. What I have is never enough. For me, this works, because if I was satisfied in my professional life I wouldn’t be inspired to do anything. But for my own sanity I did have to make my own definition of success. I had to create my own career goals so that when I did turn down opportunities or choose to do one project instead of another, I would stop second-guessing myself. Staying true to that course has become increasingly difficult as lots of other stuff is thrown at me, but finding that true north makes it a lot easier to come back to it when I get distracted and ask WHY THAT DUDE AND NOT ME? cause usually the answer is “Cause your career path is different anyway. You are playing a different game.”

The times when I’m most filled with despair tend to be on social media on days when I see hordes of great deals for folks I know. While the vast majority of those are certainly deserved and make me happy, I admit I’m far happier for a midlister who hits the bestseller list than a debut who gets a seven figure deal. I’m also happier for a great writer who gets a movie deal than a shitty writer, because my god, the world is already so full of shit do I really need that shit to bleed over into film?

Yes, I’m laying down some truth there. Why pretend?

This is usually when I’ll mute people or keywords or just log off social media entirely. Surrounding yourself in the book people bubble means you’re choosing to see book people deals constantly, and it’s bound to give you a warped view of the world. We aren’t all signing big deals, and even when we are, let me tell you, on the back end there is often a lot more annoying bullshit and behind the scenes that you don’t get to see. I’ve heard from a lot of people in the field that my opinion really matters out there, and lots of folks respect me and think I’m doing aces. But every day I’m getting up and snarling into my coffee because I’m heading out to my day job and writing articles about “5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear This Summer” to ensure I can eat. Seeing a shit writer getting a seven-figure movie deal when you’re doing your timesheets can be super annoying.

But when this happens I remind myself that one of the reasons I work isn’t just to eat. If we paid off all our debt and never traveled again or went out, ever, and lived on ramen and second hand clothes permanently, sure, I could quit. But in quitting I would have to make other sacrifices. I’d have to take on writing projects far worse than “5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear This Summer,” and there would be no health insurance. My compromise is keeping the day job so I don’t have to take another writing opportunity that has my real name on it that I have to live with forever. I want to be in charge of my own career, and I can’t do that if I’m worried about money all the time.

Those are the choices I’m making. Do I wish I was selling millions NOW? Sure! Who doesn’t? But I am willing to work to get there my way.

Jealousy, then, actually serves to keep me driven and focused on the goals at hand. When all the deals become too much (SERIOUSLY HOW DOES EVERY WRITER BUT ME HAVE A TV DEAL AND DAMMIT THAT GUY IS A SHIT WRITER WHY DID THEY PAY HIM SO MUCH WHO BUYS THOSE GODDAMN BOOKS), I sit back and refocus. Their career goals aren’t mine. I’m playing a longer game, with a different end goal.

Knowing that doesn’t always make it easy, but it makes it manageable.

On Adulthood, and Varied Shades of Morality

After spending months of horror in the hospital to treat cancer, my grandmother instituted a Do Not Resuscitate order. She had endured 80-something years on earth and survived the Nazi occupation of France, but after a hip replacement and cancer treatment, she’d be damned if she spent more time in the bloody hospital. She said she was tired, and she was done.

When she went into septic shock and coded at the hospital from an infection that had spread from her hip replacement into the rest of her body, the relative who brought her into the hospital panicked and insisted they resuscitate her. While that got my grandmother’s heart beating again, she did not regain consciousness. When the rest of the family arrived, distraught over my grandmother’s wishes not being followed, they endured a terrible couple of days of deliberations related to her care. Should they honor her wishes and let her die, even though she had been resuscitated  against her explicit order? Or should they continue care and put my 80-something grandmother into the exact situation she had nightmares about – six months to a year of treatments and rehab in the hospital to replace both her hips again and pump her full of antibiotics to clear the infection?

By all counts, it was a bitter conversation. My grandmother had five children, and they all had an opinion. In the end, it was decided that they would honor her preference and let her pass on instead of trying to extend her life against her wishes.

While I sat in the surgery room with my dog Drake yesterday with my spouse, giving the OK to end my dog’s care after eight long months of struggle against an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, I admit I thought of my grandmother. You hear a lot that care for animals and people is different. People have souls, or people are smarter, or people are people, and animals are animals, but I have heard that refrain before, and it’s generally from people who are trying to Other someone so they can feel better about their awful treatment. How many foreign cultures call those of other countries or races animals to justify what they do to them? We don’t like giving sentience to things that we want to murder, abuse, or eat.

So I thought of my grandmother, in part because Drake was also suffering from a horrific case of sepsis after the worst of his antibiotics had eaten its way through his stomach and lower GI tract, causing terrible lesions that were leaking fluid from his gut into the rest of his body. It was a horrible way to be living. But it was either try that or let the infection that had migrated into his spine slowly eat him from the inside out.

No matter what we did, he was being chewed up; devoured. The devourer had won, and I despised myself and the world for that.

Being an adult means making adult decisions. Decisions that have no clear line of right/wrong. The morality is muddied. In the case of my dog, my spouse and I were his caretakers, and he trusted us absolutely to make the right decisions for him. He endured months of treatment because he trusted that we were doing right by him. I have never met anyone more trusting except a very young child. Maybe it was that part that made it so difficult. While there are many dogs who retain their wild doggyness, for lack of a better word, Drake was fully socialized. He wanted nothing more than to please us. All we had to do was raise our voices, and he would cease whatever he was doing. Even his last day alive, he struggled hard to get up and relieve himself outside as he sagged in his harness, because that’s what we wanted of him. It broke my heart.

As I type this, the other side of my family is currently moving my dying grandfather into an assisted living facility. He’s become increasingly deranged and a danger to himself and others. Someone has to make the choice. Someone has to drawn the line.

Being that adult is awful.

I have had to make my own gray moral choices many times before. I’m thirty-six, and I did not get this far by being perfect. There are things that make it easier, of course. We use all kinds of logic to justify our choices. One would think that having more choices would make us happy, but in fact, when you’re an adult and you have more choices, it just makes you miserable. You will always doubt. You will always wonder. Was it really a gray choice or did I just not recognize the right choice from the wrong one? Why wasn’t it obvious? There have been studies done of parents who received this awful choice: your daughter is born prematurely, but has a 90% chance of dying within a few months from organ failure. Do you continue care? Parents in places like France, where the doctor previously would make the choice, felt awful in the short term but better in the long term, because they didn’t have to live with the choice. In the U.S., parents who were presented the choices as if they had equal chances of success felt the absolute worst in the moment and in the long run. Those who fared best, long-term, were the ones who were told the choices and then given the doctor’s recommendation. Being overwhelmed by adult choices doesn’t make us feel better, but worse. Sometimes it makes us feel so bad that in cases where we don’t need to make a choice at all – like buying jam – we choose to do nothing instead of make a choice, fearing that whatever choice we make will be wrong.

But in big life decisions, there are very rarely do-overs. There are very rarely instances where you don’t make a choice. Choosing a new job opportunity is making a choice between the unknown and the status quo. Choosing to finish a novel is choosing between having a novel and the status quo. We are constantly choosing, as adults: the status quo, or the unknown? And then these, the worst choices, the gray choices, which are not always life or death, because eventually every one of our choices leads to that ultimate end, to death. Instead these choices are to continue care in the hopes of extending life, or ending care and letting the inevitable come a little sooner.

Gray choices. Hard choices. Shitty choices. Adult choices.

Folks often wonder why I write such gray, conflicted characters who have impossible choices. But the truth is that being an adult is full of impossible choices. As a kid you often have other people’s choices thrust upon you, which creates its own sort of horror. But as an adult you don’t get to say, “That was someone else’s bad decision.” As an adult, you have to live with it. While most of us are very good at rationalizing our choices (we would die of regret otherwise, and yes, some still do), you still wake up at 3 a.m. sometimes, as I did last night, wondering what the point of it all was, and why fight when this is always the end, the same end, for all of us, eventually.

And then I get up, and I take the drugs that prolong my own life for a few years more, a few years more, maybe even more yet, and I get back to work. I am lucky to be alive to make these choices, for myself and for those in my care. I know this. But it’s only fair to note that some days all this responsibility feels like a curse, when you’re holding this giant dog’s paw in your hand, this animal who has trusted you absolutely for nearly two years, and you nod, and you say, “OK,” after spending eight months of your life fighting. I am a fighter. I don’t like to give up. But it was not me who had to endure that surgery, a surgery I likely wouldn’t have survived either, with my equally shitty immune system.

Sometimes, when you say “OK,” I think you realize that it’s you on the table, that it soon will be you on the table, and someone else you love and trust will need to make that choice, and you hope it’s the right one.


Drake the Dog has Passed Away.

Thank you to everyone who has supported Drake the Dog’s very long ordeal. For the last eight months, caring for Drake after his double ACL surgery and infections has basically been our whole lives, especially for my spouse. It was a full time job, and my spouse endured it with goodwill and cheer and sheer stubbornness that kept Drake going longer than should have been possible. We poured every ounce of money I made on my writing, and from fan donations, and then some, into his continued treatment, confident that soon, just another week, another week, he’d get over the worst of it, and be on the road to recovery.

We had known that the long-term antibiotics we had to use to treat Drake’s enduring antibiotic-resistant staph infection, which migrated to his spine, could eventually destroy his organs and kill him, but youth was on his side. We carried on, reassured that because he was still very young (just a year and a half) that he could endure it. After all, he’d come so far, and we only had a few weeks left…

But with just 5 weeks left to go in his treatment, after a grueling eight months of surgery and rehab and increasingly potent drug cocktails, his body couldn’t take anymore.

When we took Drake in tonight because he’d stopped eating and drinking and wouldn’t get up, we were quoted a surgery starting at $4,000, on top of everything else we’d done, and we said yes, fine, because we didn’t know what we were dealing with. What had happened to him? He was up and walking around no problem a week ago….

When the doctor opened him up tonight after realizing Drake had sepsis, he found that there were lesions eating through Drake’s stomach and lower GI tract, and there was additional damage to his gallbladder. It was all a rotten, infected disaster caused by the worst of his antibiotics basically eating through his system. For a dog in perfect health, his chances of surviving a surgery that would have involved cutting up his stomach and bits of his guts and retying his gallbladder elsewhere and sewing everything together again would have been 10%. But Drake was not even in OK shape. In his current state, the doctor admitted that Drake’s chances of surviving the surgery for longer than a week or two were basically 0%. This doctor has been with us from the beginning, and promised when to let us know he had reached the end of what he could do.

And he had reached the end.

They kept Drake alive long enough for us to say goodbye to him.

I have never met a better dog. Drake put up with eight months of constant pain and medication and craziness with good cheer and humor. Everyone who met him loved him. We loved him best of all.

As two people with chronic problems, my spouse and I know that you can’t always save everyone. But after dealing with the things we have in our lives, we sure as hell were going to try. Drake put up an incredible effort, and we shuffled our entire lives around his care, but Drake could never catch a break. Not once. Like so many things in life, it was wickedly unfair and cruel in the way that only life can be. You always think hey, if we can just be great caregivers, and come up with the money for the drugs and surgeries, we can save him. But the infection was stronger than us, and stronger than Drake, and it makes me incredibly angry and sad to type that, because it’s an admission that the world is bigger and scarier than we are, and sometimes when the train is moving, you can’t stop it.

I wanted to see Drake running along the beach again, after his double ACL surgery made it possible for him to walk again. That was all I wanted to see, back in November. I just wanted him to live long enough to see him run on the beach again. I will never see that. But hopefully he did, even if only in his dreams.

We love you, buddy.

Thank you again to everyone for your well wishes and support. It means a lot to us.

Pupdate: Drake the Dog Enters Round Three, GoFundMe

I’m not a fan of crowdfunding unless times are truly dire, but my spouse laid out the credit card bills and finally put his foot down and created a GoFundMe page for Drake the Dog.

Most of you know Drake’s ongoing saga – two surgeries, an antiobotic-resistant staph infection in his legs, and then after months of treatments, discovering that the infection had moved into his spine. We’ve found two antiobotics that will treat it, but the first one makes him sick after a week or two so he stops eating and drinking. The second costs about $1500 per week. We have been cycling between these two options week after week, and we have about two months left.

This is one of the reasons I cancelled going to Readercon. We simply don’t have the money to burn. No, we are not starving, but we are racking up debt faster than the pet insurance can reimburse us. Pet insurance is great if you’re only spending, like $2,000 on your dog’s surgery. Less great when you’re out $15,000 and climbing. We’re about at our cap, and, as noted – at least two months to go.

I’ve burned myself out trying to monetize my fiction – I’m behind on Patreon stories and anthology stories and though it pained me, I also turned down a potential publishing deal because it was just.. not the best deal for that project. I can only monetize my time so much before my brain implodes. My spouse recognized this and just went ahead and put up the page.

So tho I am loathe to point you there,  if you are willing to directly help out saving Drake, do jump over to his GoFundMe page.

And thank you.

The Stars Are Legion: Coming Soon in Spanish, Updated Release Date

Stars Are Legion final coverVery excited to see that it’s been announced that The Stars Are Legion will be published in Spanish!

I’ve had a lot of fan requests for Spanish-language versions of my work over the years, so I was excited to finally see a book that will be translated and released there about the time it comes out here in the US/UK, I think.

Speaking of release dates, Saga Press did recently contact me to say they were pushing the book out again, about three weeks, to February 7th. If you have pre-ordered it, you probably got the notice for this. I’m not entirely sure about why there was a move this time, only that it had nothing to do with the book and something to do with Saga juggling some other titles in the schedule. There are some things in publishing I control, and some things I don’t, and this was one of them. Certainly not my first choice, but hey: that’s publishing ¯\_(?)_/¯

Despite the movement of that date, we are still keeping The Broken Heavens, the last book in the Worldbreaker Saga, at May 2nd. Once again, I feel this is too close for these releases to come out, but hey, again, publishing. This will be a good test about whether or not releases spaced closely together do indeed sell more books, or if they just make people tired of the writer! I’m curious to see how it turns out. I know that, if nothing else, *I* will certainly be tired next year.

But I’m pretty stoked to both finish up my second trilogy and give you a nice crunchy standalone. Be sure to nab your pre-order here.


Urban Homesteading: Building a Forest in Downtown

Six years ago, my spouse and I bought a house in a neighborhood that had recently undergone some massive reconstruction. The old neighborhood had such a bad reputation locally that it took several years for my spouse to get his friends to actually agree to come over to the house for game days because they feared for their lives and belongings. But the city invested a lot of money in the area because it wasn’t far from the site of the Wright Brothers’ old house, and it looked pretty bad to disinvest entirely in the neighborhood. 22 million dollars later, all the electric lines had been put underground, many crumbling houses had been torn down, street lights were added, and some homes had been renovated.

Then the housing crash of 2008 happened.

We ended up getting our house for $100,000 LESS than its original asking price. Some of our neighbors were not so lucky, and ended up being immediately underwater in their mortgages. A neighbor across the street moved to Florida and simply stopped paying his mortgage and let the house get foreclosed. Others moved out of the neighborhood only by selling their homes for something crazy like $65,000, when they had paid $165,000 or $120,000 for their homes in 2004/5. For real.

At any rate, in our area this means that a mortgage is actually several hundred dollars a month cheaper than renting. So, understanding that our jobs were uncertain and the economy was shit, we used some money from a book check as a down payment and bought a 3 bed/2.5 bath house here in 2009. We were able to buy the lot next door – which had formerly been a parking lot – for $500 from the city. When we moved in, there was a scary wreck of a house on another lot adjacent that one. It was about a year before it was finally torn down. Here’s a video of the teardown – VERY early shots of yard, so you know where we started from:

It took several years, but we finally got the city to replat the lots around ours so we had a rectangular lot made up of about three different lots totaling about 1/3 of an acre. What to do with all that space? Well, first things first, we put in a lot of landscaping around the house the first two years, then added a garden the year before last:



This bare lot where the garden is was where there used to be a house. We put fill dirt over it and added these beds. What we decided to do was to do just a little bit every year. So that year we added the trellis and the beds. The next year, we added gravel between the beds. This year, we added another big bed  adjacent the row of berry vines, there. We also put in five trees our first year in the house, which we planted ourselves, and added a lot of free trees and plants donated by my spouses’ family.

This year was a big year, though. After we didn’t get the house on the river we’d really wanted (they were asking way too much, and rejected both our offers. Now that the global economy seems to be collapses, this was certainly a blessing in disguise), I told my spouse I wanted to take some money from our next book check and buy MOAR TREES. If I couldn’t have a house in the woods on a river, I’d make do. So we bought eight trees and had them planted. I bought three more very cheap fruit trees, and my spouse got some old concrete benches and stones from his mom. I bought some bird feeders, and we got all the materials to install our own flagstone patio some time this summer (in our spare time). Next year we will put in two small ponds connected by a stream. Again, remember: do a few things every year, and in ten years you will have your forest. That’s my goal.

So, after all that work over the years, here’s how things are looking this year:

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There’s still plenty of work to do over the next five years, and as the trees and the perennials grow in, it’s going to get even more like a forest, which I love. I’ve already been spending a lot more time outside. Sometimes when shit doesn’t work out, you have to work with what you have and just MAKE it right. I keep being reminded of my grandmother, and all the hard work she put into her own house in the garden to make it what she wanted. I grew up in the freewheeling `90’s, and patience isn’t something I’m good at, but I’m learning that things are far different now. Expectations are different. But instead of giving up and being upset, I’ve decided to see those obstacles and limitations and challenges. If I can’t get a big house on the coast somewhere, or live in some amazing river house, then by god I will MAKE this house what I want it to be. We are very lucky to have chosen this place, and gotten in at the bottom of the market. There is still a potential to build a home in America, but you have to make a lot of sacrifices about where that is and what that means.

So here we are, building our urban forest, and making the dream work.

Pupdate: The Staph Infection that Keeps On Giving

Last time…. well, here’s the summary of our dog Drake’s situation up to this point.

Folks on Twitter have been hearing that we’re back to being in and out of the vet ER again, so here’s the update on what’s happened since that post. Drake had been in the clear for weeks, and was steadily improving the amount he walked. We got rid of the baby gates in the living room and let him have free reign of the downstairs, even if he still needed a lot of prompting to get up on his own. We were taking him on 3-4 walks a day of about four blocks each. He still wasn’t up to climbing the steps up into the house, so hauling him in was still a pain, but hey, progress! After marked improvement for several weeks, he suddenly started stumbling more on the walks. He got more stubborn, and wouldn’t want to walk more than about a block without a lot of cajoling on our part (he’s 150 lbs; you either convince him or you don’t). Then he would stumble and fall down. Not just on his butt, but completely sink to the ground from all fours. This was worrisome.

So when my spouse took him in for what was supposed to be his final check after the double-ACL surgery, my spouse mentioned this, and the doctor went ahead and did an xray not just of Drake’s legs, but also of his spine, and ran some more bloodwork to see if the infection was, in fact, still active but not showing outward signs.

Sure enough, when the doctor brought back the xrays, there was a terrible mess in part of his spine; the bone there was clearly disintegrating in the area right below where he had gotten both of his epidurals for the surgeries. The bloodwork confirmed it a few days later. Turns out, then, that the staph infection had traveled from his skin via the huge needle and implanted itself into his spine. So though his legs were better, the infection was still hiding out there doing damage, which is why he was falling over – his damaged spin was pinching his nerves. This was also why he did better when we gave him anti-inflammatories, because it reduced the swelling in his spine and made it easier to walk.

The doctor noted that the LAST thing we wanted to do was cut this dog open again (I kept being reminded of that episode of Babylon 5 where the aliens are like “You can’t cut open our son or he’ll lose his soul”). Typically, getting rid of an infection in the spine could mean anywhere from three to six months of continued antibiotics, after which we could strengthen Drake’s spine using steroids, which was a relatively low cost solution to the spine damage (the surgery option to fix his spine is actually a very easy one, apparently. We just can’t cut this dog open again). This was a problem, of course, because as stated previous, we’d already been through seven kinds of antibiotics, and the one the doctor said would be most effective was the one that made Drake so sick that he stopped eating or drinking for a week and we had to discontinue it. The doctor was insistent we go back on it, though. You can imagine how that turned out.

To the doctor’s credit, Drake lasted about three week on that antibiotic before he stopped eating again, conveniently while my spouse was out enjoying his time at Origins in Columbus and I was tasked with dog duty. Not wanting to let my spouse down (he has been primary dog caregiver, because he is a saint), I must have tried everything in the damn fridge over those three days trying to get Drake to take his meds. Tuna was the go-to on Friday night, but that was the last time we were able to get anything but a few scraps of chicken into him for several days. On Sunday, my spouse was back home, and got Drake a new medication, and pilled Drake a few times with an EIGHTH… or maybe NINTH antibiotic (the only one we have never tried. We are officially out). This one made Drake’s stomach sick too, though, so we just discontinued everything. Yesterday we were able to get him to eat some bread.

We went back to the vet today and agreed to go back to the expensive injectable antibiotic that we’d had to discontinue because his system could no longer handle it. Apparently you can start over with these after a break and do them again until one’s system can’t handle it anymore. If you ever get an antibiotic resistant staph infection, well, here’s the hell that you are in for. So the idea is that we cycle him on this antibiotic for a week, then switch back to the one that made him sick for two weeks, then cut off that one BEFORE he gets sick, then cycle him onto something else for a couple of weeks, and do blood tests every month to see how close we are to getting rid of the rest of the infection. With the injections, we have to take Drake into the vet clinic every day to get them, so that’s, yanno, a PITA.

So Drake had his first injection today, and tonight he took his first half block walk in nearly a week without stumbling. He ate a piece of bread and a sausage this morning, and ate about a cup of regular dog food and some wet food tonight, so that’s great. Him eating also means we’re able to put him back on pain meds and anti-inflammatories, so he’s suddenly loving life again. It’s weird to watch an animal go from death’s door awful (he was a wreck last night, limping and stumbling) to being themselves again.

At this point we just want him to get better. When you have invested the better part of seven months into surgery and caregiving for an animal that lives with you – especially one as large as Drake – the escalation of commitment is pretty huge. I sit in bed sometimes and remind myself that even after all this, he could still die. We’re cycling antibiotics and we’re out of new ones, after all. Now we just cycle and hope he can tolerate another two or three months of this.

Now that Drake is a little happier today, I’d like to end on a happy note, but I am feeling mixed about his chances. So instead I’m going to end on a different up note. At every step in this process, our vet staff said, “Wow, we’ve never seen ANYTHING like this before!” (pretty much what you NEVER want to hear from any doctor ever). They’d never had to deal with an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, as these are new and horrifying things just now coming up in our vet and human hospitals. But Drake’s situation has been a learning experience for them, too, and when they recently had a big Newfoundland dog come in that needed a double ACL surgery, they checked his skin for staph, found it, and immediately initiated a pre-surgery regimen where they shaved the dog’s legs and treated the skin with antibiotic salve every day for a week before surgery, as well as starting oral antibiotics the week before surgery.  They were going to go in and hit the infection hard and fast before it could even get started or embedded in the dog’s system the way it had Drake over all those weeks and months where we were struggling to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it.

So there’s the good story part, there, because to be dead honest, few people have the financial resources we do to get a dog through a year of this, and we were only able to do it with Patreon money, generous fan donations (THANK YOU! YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!), and pet insurance. Many other pet owners facing this kind of thing would not be able to do what we have. Now, at least, vets at this hospital will be more prepared for these types of infections in the future, and prevent or at least make it easier to combat these infections quickly instead of letting them get established.

Knowing this helps me sleep better at night. No matter what happens, someone else is going to be helped by what we went through. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for.


Real Publishing Talk: Author Expectation and Entitlement

Despite all of my real talk about publishing here, I can get caught up in The Publishing Dream just as easily as anyone. I still see my peers getting the six and seven figure advances. I see breakout books happen to folks who were previously midlist. I still get excited when one of my books drops and the buzz wagon starts and people get super excited.

And I still feel the big letdown when I realize I still have a long way to go to get Dreamy.  And I look at the work, and the numbers, and I gnash my teeth and whine and cry about it, and then I get back to work.

In this business, you must have a lot of hope. It’s the hope that the next book, or the next, will breakout or build steam or lead to a great deal that keeps you going. But the moment you expect a breakout, the minute you feel entitled to it, is the moment you will crumble under the weight of all your expectations when the real world comes knocking.

This industry is built on hope, on possibility, on the long game, on the gamble. I’ve had Hollywood come knocking about various projects, too. As with publishing, I have learned how to temper my expectations there, as well. I am entitled to nothing. I expect nothing.

As I’ve had more interest in my work, and more opportunities have come my way, I’ve also learned how to say no to things that aren’t furthering my ultimate goal of building my work into its own powerhouse. This is another reason I still hold onto the day job, because it means I don’t have to take every deal or every opportunity. Still, it’s hard to say no. You’re always concerned about opportunities drying up. What if this is the best it ever gets? What if I don’t get an opportunity again?

And then I look at my career and I go, “We are just getting started.”

And it is this, this hope, this rally from the depths of doubt and despair, that keeps me going. You must believe in the future. You must believe you can create it. You must believe that endurance, and hard work, and persistence, will carry you through.

Like all beliefs, of course, it doesn’t make what you believe any truer that something you don’t believe in. But it does help you get up again. It does help you move on. It helps you write again, and complete the next project, and pursue your next goal.

I’ve built a life on the back of shattered expectations. I may not be thrilled, as a Left Coast Liberal ending up in the Midwest, but in looking around at the shattered economy and soaring housing prices, it’s currently one of the few places in the U.S. where I can live as well as I do on the money I make. We are carving out a little, affordable piece of something out here. But it’s certainly not what I expected.

My novel career, too, is not what I expected. I figured I’d be writing novels for a living by the time I was in my mid-twenties. I didn’t realize I was both writing ahead of the market and trying to get published just before it imploded. Luck plays a part in success, and I have scrambled through a lot of rough patches of poor timing and awful luck.

And not a single minute of that scramble entitles me to anything. It’s this knowledge that I have to struggle with time and time again, though I know better. My parents raised me with that good old white working class promise “Work hard and you’ll succeed.” The truth is that how hard one works doesn’t entitle one to anything at all. There are no guarantees in life. A truer statement might be, “Put in the work and hope for the best.”

This is where I’m at now as I work on the next book. Here I am, one book released just two weeks ago, another heading out to reviewers, and a third that I’m currently drafting, all at the same time. When you work, all you should expect is more work.

Hope exists for the rest.