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Managing My Plate

One thing I’m trying to do better this year is two-fold. I’m trying to control how much I put on my plate–but I’m also watching the size of my plate.

I don’t want to get into the red zone as in the picture above. Actually, I think it’s too late. I’m in the red-zone, eating on a little saucer, and wondering why there’s no room for anything else.

See, what I didn’t realize for a long time is that the size of your plate can change over time. When you’re going through stressful situations, a health issue, family trouble, etc. the size of your plate can actually decrease. Suddenly all the things you can normally handle and do without second thought keep slipping off the sides, no matter how hard you try to hold on.

It’s like plopping a huge spoon of Granny’s heavy mashed potatoes (she makes them with sour cream and butter) in the middle of the Thanksgiving plate, and all the stuffing, gravy, and green bean casserole drips off the side and stains the tablecloth. A travesty all around!

For me, that’s when something ridiculously minor would send me into a tailspin. Something I could normally take onto my plate without issue was suddenly too much. Everything starts falling apart.

So how do you move from the red plate to the bigger ones?

Some things are completely out of our control. You can’t change a health situation and make it magically better. You can’t resolve family issues overnight. But there are other self-care things you can do to make sure at least the plate doesn’t keep shrinking – or to take some of the tasks off the smaller plate with grace and knowledge that you’re doing the absolute smartest thing to take care of yourself.

For me, that means I’m super behind with NaNoWriMo. This week has been rough. I had TWO after-hour Evil Day Job support issues that affected my three-day weekend. Nothing messes me up like a 2-3 AM work call. Stress PLUS loss of sleep! I had a hard time getting back to sleep, and then I overslept, so I felt like I was behind all weekend. Though I still didn’t feel rested.

Maybe that’s not a big deal for most people, but I typically run all week on 5 hours of sleep each night. I rely on the weekends to catch up. So when I lost my weekend sleep, I started out this week run down. Weepy for no reason. Mentally exhausted.

So much for my grand plans for writing like crazy this week until I leave on another trip next week.

But, again, there’s nothing I can do about that now. I can’t control when a work issue arises. But I can control my mind frame this week and take steps to ensure my plate size doesn’t slip down another notch, or too much starts falling off the sides.

For one thing, I kept saying over and over, “I’m so tired. UGH.” Which of course made me feel even more tired. Every time I caught myself saying that, I changed it to “I’m getting the rest I need.”

Now saying that is a start – but I also have to follow up on that with smart action. Am I getting the rest I need? Not if I’m staying up until 11PM-12AM trying to write when I’m already mentally worn out. Rather than fight to stay awake, I’ve been going to bed 10-10:30 PM. That means I’m only getting a little writing done, but I have to let my sleep catch up a bit or I’m going to get so worn down that I’ll be sick. I’m traveling next week to Houston for RAM (Romance Author Mastermind) and I don’t want to come back with nasty con-crud that goes into something worse because I didn’t take care of myself.

So, fewer words than I’d hoped, but hopefully nothing else is going to fall off my plate and make a mess. It’s not the end of the world to be behind on NaNoWriMo or even to not “win” the 50,000 words. It’s not a YOU LOSE situation. I’d rather keep a steady pace and survive to write next month and next year than win NaNo and suddenly find myself blocked and unable to write for months because I’m burned out.

If you’re behind on NaNoWriMo, you’re not alone! Let’s keep plodding together.

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Upcoming Giveaways and Free KU Books

I have allllll kinds of stuff going on this month!

Free books, this week only:

Giveaways I’m participating in:

I also have a Halloween Giveaway coming soon – just waiting on the prizes to arrive so I can snap a picture!

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Queen Takes Camelot Release

Who knew that class in Arthurian Lit back in college would be so useful? I had too much fun warping these beloved tales. I’ve always loved the idea of the Once and Future King, but I hated that Guinevere was always caught in the middle and blamed for everything, including the ultimate fall of Camelot. You know by now that I hate making my heroines choose!

Queen Takes Camelot is available in Kindle Unlimited.

The Once and Future King has always been my curse. 

You think King Arthur is a hero. 
You blame me for the fall of Camelot. 
Because I refused to choose. 

Yes, I loved Lancelot. Once upon a time, I loved Arthur, too. I loved all of his friends, even Merlin, the cantankerous wizard. 

But Arthur’s jealousy destroyed our love. He smashed the Round Table, banished Lancelot, and locked me in a burning tower. He would rather see me dead than love another man. Even his best friend. 

So now I’m doomed to repeat this grim tale over and over until Arthur wins my love. But this vampire queen will never choose Arthur. Not after what he’s done. I will certainly never choose him over Lancelot. 

I will never settle for just one knight. Not when I can have them all. 

Oh, and this time? Arthur will be the Once and Dead King, because Camelot is mine. 

This expanded version contains both Queen Takes Camelot & Queen Takes Avalon!

The Once and Future King has always been my curse.
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Meditation and Gratitude Tools

These are a few of the tools I’ve been using over the past few months to reduce my stress and improve my overall wellbeing. Some of the links are affiliate links.

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. I first read this book over a year ago and it was one of the first steps I took to making a better practice of self-care. I started doing meditation right away, but the visualization and affirmations took longer to stick.

I used Headspace to learn about meditation. I really love his sessions on creativity and self confidence and have listened to both series at least twice.

The I AM Journal. This was one of the first tools I started using to get into a better gratitude habit. I loved the idea of writing down only THREE THINGS every day that I was grateful for and concentrating on my feelings. What I wanted most of all. How I would feel when I achieved those things. I don’t currently use this journal just because I don’t like to have yet another place to write stuff down in. But it got me started into the habit I’m using now.

I bought a copper fountain for my office and I love the constant gentle sound. I’ve got some crystals in it too that I’ve collected from various places. I don’t know that they make me feel better, but they’re pretty and I like them. Water is important for my muse (I’m starting to understand this more). As in my wizard story Nightgazer, “wellspring” is a metaphor for where the magic happens. I often picture Story bubbling up inside me like a fountain, and the sound reminds me to let the water — and the words — flow. It’s not so much work/effort, but tapping the well and letting the water come.

My Himalayan salt lamp is always on in my office. I love the gentle, warm glow that it casts so much that I bought another for my bedroom. I also have these salt tea light votives that I use in my office and around my tub when I take a bath. Again, I don’t know that they truly make me “feel better” fighting the negative ions in the rooms and such, but I *like* them. The glow is very comforting and makes me feel good when I see the light.

When I start a low-key sprint, I always do better if I put on my headphones and use one of my apps to help block out noise. Usually Naturespace but lately I’ve also been using Brainwave 35 with my own playlist of songs like Tibetan Singing Bowls, Crystal Bowls, etc. Very zen and relaxing.

Be Focused Pro is my timer app with set 10, 15, or 25 min sprints. The hardest part for me is stopping at the break and actually starting again. It’s easy for me to get distracted. I typically struggle with 25 mins. I lean toward 15 usually, but sometimes all I can manage is 10 mins. I do what I can when I can.

I’m experimenting with Productive – Habit Tracker this week to keep an automated list of my basic self-care tasks each day. So far I really like it, but I don’t know that I’m ready to spend for the Pro version yet. I love that it lets me color code items (so I have gold stars for sprints, and blue for zen stuff like meditation) and it keeps stats for me – though long-term, it’s hard for me not to get too focused on perfection and stressing about checking off an item. Which defeats the whole point of relaxation!

I’m still experimenting with visualization tools.

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On Stress, Healing, and Burnout

For personal reasons I can’t yet divulge entirely, I’ve been forced to cut back on my production this summer.

At first, I was angry. I had so much to do. So many plans that had to be put on the back burner. This was going to set me back months, maybe longer. Would hot trends even be hot in 3 months? 6? A year?

If you’ve been in publishing long, you know the answer to that.

I told myself it didn’t matter. I could still write ahead and have a whole bunch of stories ready to go. But the reality of all the stress I was (and still am) under slapped me in the face so hard it took my breath away, as well as my words. It was hard to be productive when I knew I couldn’t do anything with it. It was hard to focus when I was under so much stress. It was hard to be motivated when my personal life was in complete upheaval.

I need stability. But I also need deadlines. These are elements of my personality that I have been trying to embrace.

I had neither.

So I stewed for awhile. I cursed. I tried to come up with a plan and motivate myself. I created a new bujo and used a bunch of Washi tape to make it pretty. It was better than nothing — but I still wasn’t getting a lot of words. If I was lucky, I could get about 250-500 words — if I succeeded in even opening the file! — on the Princess Takes Unicorns prequel I’ve been working on for like a year. It’s only a short story. Why couldn’t I finish it?

Sigh.

I didn’t want to give myself a heart attack or stroke from the stress — or even cancer or other illnesses. (I watched Heal on Netflix.) So I was forced to slowly begin to work on ME not a story. My first efforts were to begin meditation again. Not everyday, but more frequently. I ordered an “I AM” journal and worked on my gratitude and affirmations. I came up with a mantra that I repeated when I was stressed or upset. Over and over and over, because yeah, it’s been a rough few months. I started writing down affirmations in a spare journal as often as I could remember to do it. Just free-writing a whole page as often as possible.

I started listening to that still voice inside me. I started trusting in my gut. I went through a forgiveness process and actually burned the paper where I’d written my hurt down. Not once but several times lol.

I took more long baths with candles and bath bombs. I read more. I indulged in Netflix horror movies. I bought some incense and started a little ritual when I went to my computer to help me relax, even if I didn’t manage any words.

And I started doing the things I *knew* I should do to help with productivity. I just had resistance to them. Mainly, low-key sprints and setting a timer.

A lot of writers use sprints and are very successful with them – but I have to be careful. I have just enough achiever in my strengths that I want to be the best. I want to do well. I want to be the fastest. And if I’m not, I avoid it. I put immense pressure on myself to type like a mad person when that timer goes off – and if I’m mentally not in the place to achieve a lot of words, I don’t want to do it. I avoid it. Because I know I’ll be disappointed in myself.

This took a mind shift, but I think I’m finally in a better place. I don’t use the timer so much to “sprint” but to focus. The word count doesn’t matter. It only matters that I’m working on ONLY my story during that time. If I’m reading and editing, that’s okay. If I’m just adding a few lines, that’s okay. If I’m writing slowly and relaxed… THAT’S OKAY! I just need to dedicate the TIME to do the work.

The words started to come. Slowly, yes, but the words are flowing again. It’s more of a gentle trickle than the rushing Amazon River, but I’ll take it. I’m learning to embrace that ebb and flow better.

In all of this, I finally realized exactly how close to burnout I probably was. Forcing myself to write while under this major stress would have probably pushed me over the brink. I don’t know how long my muse would have been incapacitated if I’d kept pushing and forcing the words over the summer. I had all the classic signs of burnout:

  • difficulty focusing
  • tired all the time
  • no motivation
  • no creativity
  • irritability
  • wanting to veg and binge Netflix

Granted, the Homelife stress has been extremely high for years and was certainly contributing to the approach of burnout. But I also wasn’t taking good care of my muse. That’s why Checkmate and Triune took me soooooo long. I struggled to focus. I had a lot of “I don’t wanna” and I didn’t know why or how to get over it.

Usually for me, the more pressure I apply and the tighter the deadlines, the better I perform. Usually. So it was hard for me to admit that I was probably not in a good place. My mind kept insisting that I should just push harder. My “feelings” were just feelings and I should be able to write just as much even with my Homelife exploding around me.

Not.

So while it has been a frustrating summer… I can also look back and admit that I was exactly where I needed to be. I needed to spend these months forming some new self-care habits. I needed the down time. While the Homelife stress isn’t any better yet (though things are in progress and I hope it can resolve in the next few months), I have found my stride with writing. Yes, it’s slower. But that’s okay. The flow is there. I’ve almost finished the short prequel and I plan to spend the first 3 weeks of October expanding Queen Takes Camelot.

Yes, I know. After all my talk above about stress, I set a fairly tight pre-order date! But I need the pressure to make sure I actually focus and work, and I have other pressing reasons for that deadline.

It’ll be a good test to see if my new habits will continue to help me keep moving forward, manage the stress, and still find space in my head to be creative. I’ve got a checklist I’m trying to do every single day, both for sprints and for self care. I may post more often in Oct just as an accountability.

Let the words FLOW!

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A Their Vampire Queen Update

At the end of Queen Takes Triune, I told you that Shara needed a break. She needed downtime with her Blood, to rest and play and just simply BE Shara. She can’t face the next trial until the other queens come to the table.

All of that is true.

But there’s more.

People ask me things like How many more books will there be? Is Helayna Ironheart going to be a Triune queen? Who are the other Triune queens? How many books will there be? Who’s the next bad guy?

And I’m like uh…. I don’t know. Not until THEY TELL ME.

I know that sounds crazy but I’ve learned over the years to sit back and let the story come to me – rather than me chasing and forcing it to happen. A lot of this is personality. It’s just how I’m wired.

I’m a high INPUT and LEARNER personality. I’m also on the cusp between FEELING and THINKING, as well as JUDGING and PERCEIVING. (I think it’s my Gemini nature – I pull on either side depending on what I need. I’m a writer – but I’m also analytical and work as a computer programmer.) That means that most days I consider myself an INFP on the Myer-Briggs personality scale, but I also sometimes have other qualities (INFJ, INTP, INTJ) driven by my analytic side.

I can sometimes apply the analytic side to writing and make things happen, but generally, it’s best for my writing if I LET it happen. If I let my emotions and intuition guide me, I feel like more “magic” happens, and that’s what I love most about writing. I love it when pieces come together in a magical, special way that just ARE. They weren’t planned out.

I honestly didn’t know why xyz was important. I just knew it was needed. Example: I still don’t know what special thing Kevin had written into his conciliarius contract with House Isador. I just know there WAS something special and unique and when it’s important and affects the plot, it will be there waiting for me to know.

That’s great and all, but it makes it hard to explain to you when the next book(s) will be here and which queen will do what, because I honestly have no idea until they show up and tell me what’s going on. So when I said Shara needed a break, that was true. But I also needed time for my subconscious to start working on some of these other details. I needed time to let some things unfold magically in my head that I wasn’t even aware of.

I need time to let those ideas bubble in the background while I indulge my LEARNER and INPUT until the well is full again and overflows in a deluge. So maybe I’m making bracelets, crocheting something, watching a new show (I’m really enjoying Carnival Row), making shirts for Penned Con, etc. while I’m also reading and researching general things. Like… death masks. Pretty cool stuff. Ancient mythologies (you know how much I love them already.) And…

Boom, something triggers me, in a good way, and I start to know things. I don’t know why these things are true yet, but I know they’re important, so I write them down. Then more comes, maybe while I’m in the tub, or as I’m trying to fall asleep at night, and I start to get excited, because I know the story is finally coming. I can help this process along sometimes by working on other things (nothing makes one idea perk up like when I set a deadline for something ELSE because let’s make this as complicated and pressure filled as possible. That good old “P” in INFP.)

So that’s why I’ve been getting through some tasks that have been on my to-do list for awhile, like re-releasing Lady Wyre. Because I knew the best way to get these silent queens to show up and start talking is to tell them to shut up while I do something else. Reverse psychology for the win!

This is a long-ass way of saying that I have made some decisions on the future of Their Vampire Queen. Three queens have announced themselves as Triune candidates and are willing to step up to the table (literally!) and help Shara with the future.

I’ll be posting more details in the Triune group over the next few months and even opening up some polls etc if you’d like to play along with titles or things like that. It’s too early to set dates yet, but these queens will hopefully be arriving early next year.

The rest of this year…

Things are complicated by some personal shit going on. I’ve had to put a brake on several projects until I get my life sorted out and finalized. However, my plan of attack for the rest of the year in no particular order (you know that if I type this out that it will actually cause a rift in the time-space continuum and nothing will go according to plan but I’m going to try anyway):

  • Princess Takes Unicorns prequel finalized (up to some events that drove Princess Takes Academy).
  • Lady Wyre’s Rebels (third NEW book for Lady Wyre to finish her incomplete trilogy)
  • Queen Takes Camelot – expanded

While these things are slowly being worked on, I will also be letting the three queens chat in the back of my head and building some momentum until they’re ready to break free. Goddess let it be soon!

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The Story Behind the Story – Part 1

With the re-release of Lady Wyre’s stories coming over the next few months (Lady Wyre’s Regret is available free right now, and Lady Doctor Wyre re-releases August 26th), I thought I’d talk a little about these books for the newer people who may not have been around in 2011 when she first came to be.

First of all, it astounds me that she’s EIGHT years old. It just doesn’t seem possible.

Your first question may be why on earth did I choose the Regency period for a SF mash-up?

My first actual published story was a Regency short story in a now defunct ezine. Yep I know. Given Shara’s dark and bloody story, that may surprise you lol. But when I was younger, I read a TON of Regencies. I read EVERY Regency Signet my small-town country library had on the shelf. Years later, I loved Amanda Quick. I loved the gowns and titles, the stories of wallflowers and rakes, Dukes and nannies. And of course I loved the great Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

But I’m not an historical writer. I can (and did) research the time period, but it’s not my speciality. I was afraid of making title mistakes especially. But they were so fun – much more fun than the more strict and staid Victorian period.

When steampunk began to rise in popularity, I was intrigued, definitely. But I couldn’t get into the Victorian period at all. I also didn’t really care for the “steam” aspect – which is kinda important for steampunk! Duh. But it got my brain bursting with ideas.

What if… Regency ladies ran amok in space? Even better – what if ladies REIGNED in space? Because the number one thing that always irritates me is patriarchy in SF. Come on, people! There are so many reasons that women could and should be more powerful than in a traditional patriarchal society! Let’s play. Let’s have some fun and encourage women in sciences and positions of power. Let’s make that the NORM.

So I knew I wanted the main character to be a lady. A duchess, naturally. But I also wanted her to be special. I took some elements of Doctor Who (which is why she’s Lady Doctor Wyre), the fun outlaw adventure aspect from Firefly, and the elements of Regency Society that I enjoyed – and turned them on their head. Instead of the Mamas hot on the heels of the dashing young (rich) lord for their daughters, they’re hot on the heels of the dashing powerful (rich) ladies for their blushing sons.

Lady Wyre is just the beginning of what I hoped to do in this world.

But circumstances were stacked against her. The main problem, I think, was that I was stretched over too many series at too many publishers at the time. I took over a year to release the next stories each time, and that’s just too slow, even back in 2011. We also struggled with marketing. We tried marketing her as steampunk – but she’s NOT steampunk. So it just never took off like we hoped, even though Lady Doctor Wyre was nominated for a Romantic Times Book Reviews award. Then, of course, Samhain went out of business entirely, and I was adrift and unsure what I wanted to do.

So hopefully I can correct those mistakes this time around and give her a better chance at success. I love this story world too much to let her languish on my hard drive any longer!

A mash-up of Jane Austen and Firefly, this series puts ladies in charge–in space. If you love a Regency romp and space opera adventure, join Lady Wyre on her adventures.
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A New (Old) Series

If you’ve been waiting on an update for Lady Wyre, REJOICE!

Lady Doctor Wyre was originally published in 2011 by Samhain. When they went out of business in 2016/2017, I was indecisive about how I wanted to proceed with republishing the series. Then Shara took off, and I just didn’t have time to come back to Lady Wyre.

She’s been languishing long enough.

Over the next few months, I’m going to republish Lady Doctor Wyre, Lord Regret’s Price, Her Grace’s Stable, and finally, cap off the relaunch with a new book, Lady Wyre’s Rebels. If the relaunch does well, I’ll plan to write some of the other books I wanted to do in this series, like the Deathright and Seven Crows (working titles) I had planned.

For now, you can grab a copy of the free prequel, Lady Wyre’s Regret, to learn more about this series.

A mash-up of Jane Austen and Firefly, this series puts ladies in charge—in space. If you love a Regency romp and space opera adventure, join Lady Wyre on her adventures.
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Sterling Silver Bracelets – In progress

I had a request for sterling silver bracelets, since many people are allergic to the inferior metals. Unfortunately, the charms are VERY expensive, ranging from $5-15 each. Yes, each. Shara has a lot of Blood… So that makes a complete House Isador charm bracelet in silver very expensive to make.

However, I’m going to experiment with fewer charms to keep in the $30-40 price range. Like I’ll have a “Shara Isador” one that’s an ankh and Isis charm only. Or a cobra charm with the ankh. With all sterling silver findings and chain.

If you’re in the market for something like this and I haven’t already talked to you, feel free to message or email me so I can be sure to stock the materials. I have some supplies ordered and will experiment with them over the next week or so. Hopefully I don’t mess them up! Even the silver wrapping wire is $17 a roll.

But they’re going to be pretty!

I also have a House Camelot charm bracelet made – by accident. Middle Monster picked out some matte black beads at Michael’s when she was shopping with me, and loved the crown charm I’d picked up. I made her an all-black crown bracelet – but she didn’t actually like the dangling beads. So I’m going to make her an elastic stretchy one, and I repurposed this bracelet to have all of Gwen’s Blood represented, as I know them today. If the weather cooperates, I’ll take some pictures tomorrow.

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This Week’s New Releases

It’s been a busy week – so busy I forgot to even list out what all came out this week!

Queen Takes Darkness is now available! This is a short novella featuring Helayna Ironheart – the wolf king’s sister you met briefly in Queen Takes Triune. This story will be included in the MORE print anthology available exclusively at Literary Love Savannah in July. Though you can order a copy directly from me if you’d like. I’ll be getting a link set up on the Shop shortly.

Queen Takes Rook is also now available in audio! Even better, Queen Takes Checkmate will release next month. I’m so glad this series continues to be made available in the audio format.

Releasing today, Seduced by Myths includes a short novella from me titled, “On Death’s Wings.” This is a re-imagining of Beautiful Death, written the way I wished I could have written it in 2005.

I’m hard at work on adding some fresh new bonus content to add to “Queen Takes Alpha,” “Queen Takes Twins,” and “Queen Takes A Late Christmas,” which were all previously released in Between the Sheets anthologies (and are no longer available). Queen Takes More will be available the first week of June.

And finally, WHEW! I told you it was a busy week! The pre-order for a new project is now up. Magic & Mayhem is an Academy-themed boxed set that will include our favorite unicorn vampire princess. I don’t have the title for Xochitl’s story yet, but I can’t wait to dig in to her story.