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Guest Appearance on the “Words with Writers Podcast”

I am honored to join fellow horror writers A.P Cairns and Tonya Liburd as a guest speaker for the Women in Horror episode of the “Words with Writers Podcast” from the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Authors Association.

Check it out at:

PODBEAN: Episode # 10: The Women in Horror Show (http://podbean.com)

GOOGLE PODCAST: Words with Writers Podcast – Episode # 10: The Women in Horror Show (http://google.com), or

APPLE PODCAST: ā€ˇWords with Writers Podcast on Apple Podcasts

Books, Spoons, and Baking Shows: Self-care 2021-style.

It has come to my attention that I haven’t been taking very good care of myself.

I gained weight last year. I think almost everyone did. Our races were cancelled, we stopped walking to work, and comfort food became VERY appealing. While fumbling our way through the strange new normal of work from home, we soothed ourselves with chips. So very many chips. And candy. Dan figured out how to make cake in the crock pot (our oven broke in November 2019 and we have yet to replace it) and gave me WAY too much white chocolate for Christmas.

Sometime around New Years I realized that my “baggy” leggings were feeling, well, not very baggy. The past few years have been hard for me, when it comes to food. I’m a long distance runner. 10k, 20k, 30k, 50k…I’ve run them all. I used to be GOOD at managing my intake to support my energy needs. After I suffered a TBI in 2017, things changed. It got harder to say no to treats. And I didn’t want to say no. The concussion specialist who treated me said the area of my brain that controls cravings was damaged, but I know it was emotional too. When my symptoms were acting up, all I wanted was comfort food. The ambient stress of the past year made things worse. Long story short, I knew just deciding to change wouldn’t be enough. This time, I decided, I would bribe myself. With books! I established a food and exercise plan. I made it flexible, gave myself free days, and used check-boxes to keep track of everything. Check all my boxes for two weeks, I get a new book. Seven weeks and three new books in, my “baggy” legging are baggy again, and I’m on track for the holy grail, my old pre-TBI jeans. And on the plus side, NEW BOOKS. Here’s what I’ve picked up so far:

I returned to work in May 2020 after two years off on disability. It was meant to be a gradual return with the complexity and quantity of work ramping up slowly to allow me to rebuild my cognitive endurance. Between the pandemic, challenges with work-from-home, and some other lovely complications specific to my organization, it was anything but. I realized that while I can write all day (not edit, just write) without triggering my TBI symptoms, complex analytical tasks in a fast-paced environment rife with constant interruption and competing urgencies KILL MY BRAIN. The past four months have been…challenging. Lots of headaches. Lots of crashing on the couch by 3:30 pm so tired I barely have energy to eat, let alone drag myself through my exercises to earn my check-boxes. Long story short, I haven’t been managing my spoons well. Now I’ve got my eating planned out, it’s time of turn my attention to another aspect of self care; taking more breaks and pushing back on tasks that do not fall within my accommodations. In other words, learning how to say ‘NO’ and/or ‘Yes, but not now’.

Finally, I’ve realized there’s a lot to be said for being unproductive. Trying to be productive all the time doesn’t let your brain rest. When you have an injured brain like mine, that means it doesn’t heal. Pushing myself too hard after my injury is probably why I still have symptoms now. I never gave my brain a chance to get better and hurt myself more in the process. With lockdown forcing the whole family to spend more time inside, we’ve discovered the joy of calm, fluffy TV. TV that doesn’t take energy to understand or demand your constant attention. We’ve discovered baking shows. When I’m feeling on the edge of crashing — too tired to read, too tired to play a board game, too tired to even have a decent conversation without losing the flow — I put on a baking show and veg. I might even close my eyes and let the dulcet discussions of sponge and frosting sooth me off to sleep under my new, weighted couch-blanket.

Some Thoughts on My Strange Cats

You’d think the feline social structure in our house would be simple.

Mutant Cat 1 is older and bigger:

MC 1 likes to be with his people

Mutant Cat 2 is younger and ridiculously tiny:

MC 2 is a tiny, leggy creature

You’d think, based on age and size, MC 1 would hold the highest position in our household’s fuzzy hierarchy. You’d be wrong. But you’d also be wrong if you thought tiny little MC 2 was running the show. It’s not that simple. Each of our cats has their own particular areas of dominance.

FOOD

MC 1 is the boss of food. He has no off switch. If you try to leave out enough food for a quick overnight trip, he’ll have eaten it all, horked it back up, and started on round two before you’re out the door. He once ate 900 calories worth of high-protein running fuel (left, ill-advisedly, we learned, on the counter) in a single bag-shredding, package chewing go. He’s honed his food-acquisition techniques through years of practice.

Technique one: Speed. MC 1 wolfs down his own food as fast as he can, sometimes even leaving it unfinished, so he can bolt down the hall, shoulder MC 2 out of the way, and scarf his. MC 1 then strolls back to his own bowl at his leisure. We have to stand guard until MC 2 is done.

Technique two: Sneak. Because he eats so much faster than MC 2, and becasue he can’t rest if he knows there’s other food available, MC 1 spends the vast proportion of kitty mealtimes trying to get to MC 2’s food. In the kitchen, this translates into an elaborate, slow-motion slink around the island. He tries one way, gets blocked. He tries the other, same. Over, around again, the other way…all to an endless chorus of “you’re not as sneaky as you think you are”.

Technique three: Distract. MC 1 has learned that if he shoves things off the counter, the humans get up. The bigger, messier, and louder the thing, the faster we jump. He’s also learned that when the humans are running for the large, sharp knife he’s just sent clattering to the floor, it’s a perfect opportunity to dash for the table and make off with half their breakfast.

MC 1 disapproves

CUDDLES

MC 2 is the boss of cuddles. He’s tiny but fierce, and defends space — any space ( lap, counter, couch, pillow, etc.) — with wicked smacks. He makes himself comfortable no matter what that means for MC 1. He shoves him off pillows, pins him under blankets, slaps him in the face, tea-bags him. All’s fair, to MC 2, when it comes to claiming a spot to curl up.

You’re my pillow, OK?
You OK under there, MC 1?

WARMTH

Despite the confusion of dominance, both our cats are heat-seeking cuddle bugs. They don’t just want to sleep on your bed. They want to be under the covers, in your PJs with you. We choose onesies and hoodies for their cat-accommodation potential.

I always buy extra-big robes

Warm appliances are also a favorite.

They’re both here, after every meal
MC 2’s favorite place in the whole house

MOMMY’S BOY vs THE LITTLE MAN

MC 1, despite being bigger and older, is the needier of the two. He cries when I leave the house, and won’t sleep at night unless I’m hugging him. He’s a lovely, derpy boy with separation anxiety and an a whole lot of existential dread. That’s OK, MC 1…I can relate.

Sometimes the world is scary and Mommy’s arms are the only place to be.
MC 1 with his “Pouting Box” (He chews on it when we tell him “no”)

MC 2, on the other hand, is a confident little guy. He’s tiny (and occasionally scooty, becasue the world is a BIG place when you’re only 5lbs) but he carries himself with bold certainty and takes affection on his own terms. As a friend once said, “MC 2 knows he’s a fashion model. He doesn’t need us. MC 1 is weird and desperate for love.”

I’m a beautiful boy…
Without a care in the world.
I suck my tail and bite my lip, but you still love me, right?

For all their eccentricities and foibles, we love them both to pieces, and let them walk all over us. Often quite literally.

Dan’s work-from-home buddies.

Late Summer/Fall Reading List

I read eclectically — some classics, some thrillers, some literary fiction, a LOT of spec-fic — but this summer (and fall, I guess) I’ve made a concentrated effort to buy and read a) debut novels and b) recent horror novels in both the YA and Adult categories.

Here, in no particular order and with no commentary, are some of my Summer/Fall reads. Give them a try!

Best Editing Resource Ever

Say what you will about twitter, I’ve found the twitter writing community to be an amazing and supportive group. Not only do other writers at all stages of their careers exchange thoughts, suggestions, and encouragement, but agents and editors also wade gleefully into the fray, answering questions and posting their #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List).

A recent twitter exchange with an agent about acceptable word counts (i.e. how many words a novel in any particular genre can be, before an agent will reject it on sight) ended with her giving me a recommendation that has turned out to be, no word of a lie, the BEST editing resource I’ve ever found.

The Word Loss Diet, by Rayne Hall https://www.amazon.ca/Word-Loss-Diet-Professional-Self-Editing-Techniques-ebook/dp/B00AWA7XEE/

If you write, get this book. It took me two days to apply it to one of my manuscripts. Add another two days for an in-depth read through, and another two for a final polish, and you essentially have a one-week deep-edit. I cut 6000 words from my YA manuscript, and 11,000 from the adult one. With no (negative) changes to plot, character arc, world-building, or flow. I thought my writing was tight before…now it’s so tight you could bounce a quarter off it!

Happy 14th Birthday, Little Person!

Our daughter turns fourteen this Friday. I wanted to write this post as a celebration, but it’s hard. She won’t get a birthday party. She won’t get to go to her Grade 8 graduation, either. A year’s worth of milestones, accomplishments, and next steps will likely play out in the solitude of our own little house. She’s been stoic and phlegmatic about it, which is to say, she’s complained less than most adults. Certainly she’s complained less than us! But that doesn’t mean she isn’t keenly aware of what she’s missing. You don’t just get your 14th birthday back.

I’m sorry 2020 sucks, Little Person. I’m sorry it’s scary, and sometimes it feels like men fueled by hatred rule the world. And I’m sorry you’re spending your 14th birthday in quarantine with only your parents and two strange cats for company.

You’re the one who’ll get to make a wish when you blow out your candles, but I’m making one too. I hope 2020 will bring not only fear, but CHANGE, and that the world you live in will become a better place. And I hope you will be part of that change. Be you. Stand up for yourself and others. Keep being the strong, empathetic, caring, and brave young woman I see you growing up to be.

Dan , Little Person, and I the day after she was born. Man, we all look so young!
Visiting a now defunct theme park, age 3
She’s always loved Halloween.
Rocking the teal hair!
Getting ready to run the first leg of her first Ragnar Relay, Nov 2019.

Random Quarantine Thoughts

A ranking of the various hot sauces in our house:

  • Sweet Chili Chicken Sauce – A nice, sweet heat
  • El Yucateco Red Hot Sauce – Perfect. Adds heat, makes your nose run, doesn’t kill you
  • Smokin’ Hot Sauce (part of a 4-pack of Valentines Day hot sauces) – Got bite. Made Dan sneeze.
  • After Death Sauce – One drop is enough. Seriously, I kid you not. Any more and it will kill you.
We are not kidding. One drop is enough for an entire pot of Rice and Peas

Things I can’t find in the grocery store:

  • Any frozen fruit other than “citrus blend”
  • Sorbet (other than “citrus” flavor)
  • Konjac noodles
  • Scent-free laundry detergent
  • Will power
They call to me, I swear.

Things I’ve read in the past month:

  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
  • The Burrowers Beneath, by Brian Lumley
  • Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King
  • Wings of Fire: The Hidden Kingdom (MG Graphic Novel) by Tui T. Sutherland and illustrated by Mike Holmes
  • Wings of Fire: The Lost Heir (MG Graphic Novel) by Tui T. Sutherland and illustrated by Mike Holmes
  • Sunny Rolls the Dice (MG Graphic Novel) by by Jennifer and Matthew Holm
  • 30 Days of Night (Graphic Novel) by Steve Niles, illustrated by Ben Templesmith
  • A literal crap-ton of news, AITA, and Not Always Right

Things I like about editing:

  • Feeling the story come together with every little change I make
  • Pulling small threads, inserting scenes, and tweaking dialog to strengthen themes and character arcs
  • Cutting out EVERYTHING that doesn’t need to be there:
    • Scene doesn’t move the plot forward? Gone
    • Sentence doesn’t ring quite true? Gone
    • Sentence duplicates a thought or feeling I’ve already expressed, and isn’t needed for rhythm? Gone.
    • Filler words (just, really, that etc.) Gone
    • “could see”, “could feel” – replaced with “saw”, “felt”
  • Watching that word count go down

Things I dislike about editing:

  • I’ve been doing it non-stop since November and I REALLY want to work on my new project now! Please? Can I just work on my new novel?

Quarantine Cats!

Work from home manager
Study from home companion
Associate in charge of mental health breaks
Dungeons and Dragons Supervisor

Stay safe!

Support Australian bush-fire relief and read one of my short stories at the same time!

The Gypsum Sound Tales bush-fire relief collection, Amongst Friends, containing my short story “Todd Anderson’s Last Day at Work”, is now live on the Amazon store. The profits from this limited edition charity anthology will go to support bush-fire relief efforts.

I don’t usually heavily market my own work, but in this case I’m shamelessly encouraging people to pick up a copy. The money will go to a good cause.

Happy reading!