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The Year Ahead

I’m not posting about resolutions or goals – but rather a state of mind.

One of the things that got me through 2023’s ups and downs (and honestly several years of the ugly divorce) was daydreaming about what my ideal life would look like. Especially once I got to my house.

Newsflash: I’m in my house! Finally!

My ideal life is so close…

What do I want every single day to look like? How do I want to feel? What do I want to spend my time doing? That’s what I’m focusing on this year. I’m almost there already. Getting my house next to Dad’s and Molly’s was Phase I. If all goes according to plan, Phase II will wrap up by the end of 2025. Though I can’t say more about that yet.

So now that I’m here, living my ideal life as closely as possible, what do I want my days to look like? What can I control? What can I do to get closer every single day to Phase II?

While assessing where I am and what I accomplished in 2023, I realized that I’d fallen into some temporary thinking and habits. The house we lived in was temporary. Staying with Dad–temporary. Even before we moved out of Nixa, I was just waiting for the divorce to finalize so I could move on with my life. So those years of court limbo were also temporary.

Honestly, even many years of marriage were temporary. I was in survival mode. I shut down a lot of the things I wanted to do, even to the point of stifling who I was as a person. Just to survive another year.

Goddess willing, I’m not moving from this house until they bury me. This is permanent. NO MORE TEMPORARY THINKING ALLOWED. I’m not in survival mode now. I’m in THRIVE mode.

It’s time to get back to my permanent routines that maximize my time and health so I can do this writing gig for a very long time.

Way back about a million years–it seems–I used to write dark & early. I’d be up before anyone in the house and get at least one writing session done before anyone else was up. That way, no matter how shitty the day ended up being, at least I’d already written something.

I’m going to do my best to re-establish this kind of routine, though I must admit mornings are hard for me. This is going to take some time to adjust. One thing I learned from last year was that sometimes very simple rewards are enough to start a new routine. Thanks to the sticker reward, I stuck with my planner all of 2023 – except July/August got a little away from me while I was deep in the move.

My reward for getting up at the butt-crack of dawn is going to be tarot and this cute little stamp set I got. In addition to my Agendio that I reordered with some minor modifications, I added the Writual planner and acrylic stamp set to my morning routine.

I fell in love with the round tarot cards at the beginning of the divorce nightmare. I told this story in the Triune group, so I won’t get into the details here. But I had a memorable reading and immediately bought my own set of Motherpeace cards. I have many (several) other tarot sets I may use occasionally but I tend to come back to Motherpeace. They just fit too well into Shara’s mythos to NOT use.

My 2024 plan is to focus primarily on Shara, though inevitably I’m going to end up crossing over into Karmen and Helayna’s stories at some point. I really wanted to have those trilogies finished before I tackled Shara, but I’m just too far behind to keep waiting. At one point last week while I was prepping everything I had all three projects open at the same time. I may do that several times over the next few months!

The other project I’d really like to get back to is continuing The Vicious with Dig the Graves. But Shara will be my priority indefinitely. Of course I’d love to make progress (finally) with Blizzard Bound as well. We’ll see how that goes!

I don’t usually post word count goals either, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is going to be one of my biggest years yet. I’m shooting for 90k a quarter, 360k words for the year. We’ll see if I can do it.

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Goodbye, 2023

What a crazy year!

I never imagined that it would take most of 2023 to build my modest house. Getting contractors to show up in the country was a constant challenge. Luckily, Dad seemed to enjoy hounding people until they finally came out to finish their work, and I was able to move in.

  • LLS in July – the month I needed to move. We drove home as quickly as possible and the movers came the next day.
  • Moved my youngest daughter out to her own apartment in July.
  • Moved the rest of our stuff into storage, naively thinking it’d be a month or two. (hahahaha)
  • Eldest moved out into her own apartment in October. Sorting through the storage unit was fun [insert sarcasm here].
  • Finally moved my remaining stuff into the house Dec. 26th.

Since my kids were setting up house for the first time, I let them take whatever they wanted between the two of them. They cleaned me out pretty well, which is a good thing. That means I’m off to a brand new start in my home – where I’m now living alone for the FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE. I don’t have any furniture other than my bed and office equipment. I don’t have any kitchen items other than a few cast-iron skillets and stuff the kids didn’t want. So it’s “girl dinner” for me unless I go up the hill to Dad’s and eat with him (which I’ve been doing 98% of the time anyway).

Living with Dad for 5 months was an experience. I’ll never forget watching all the seasons of Alone with him, let alone countless hours of old black-and-white Westerns and the news (not Fox News thankfully). We took turns cooking and doing up dishes and for the most part had a great time–like an extended vacation. Molly often came up for dinner and we’d steal the TV to watch episodes of The Dead Files while Dad snored.

But living in someone else’s home isn’t the same as your home, you know? I tried to minimize MY disruptions to his life, especially the middle of the night work calls that had me up with the lights on trying to work. Or my dog wanting to go outside at O-dark-thirty. I struggled with carving out time to write, because I didn’t want to feel rude, locking myself up in the guest room rather than hanging out with him when I was the guest in his house.

And of course, I wasn’t prepared for how long I was without all my stuff. I took a single suitcase in July. I didn’t have any long-sleeved shirts. No coat. I didn’t take any of the birthday card stock, labels, etc. I didn’t have any of my shipping material or book stock. So that put a long hold on the business side. Bonus: I bought some new clothes until I could get my old stuff back.

All of this to say… my word count went down another 15% compared to last year (and if you go back and look at last year, you’ll see me whining about how little I wrote then too). I’m not whining this year because it was an incredibly stressful year of instability – and also a transition into my new life. A period of tightness and constraint in the chrysalis. A communal time of family that was much needed after the long miserable divorce and decades of marriage with a man who hated the rest of my family and never wanted me to see them.

Words for the year: 182,024. The lowest since I’ve been tracking in my spreadsheet (2021) but I’m sure you could find previous years here on the blog.

I still managed to republish a book, publish 4 new books, and participate in 3 anthologies with short stories.

I’ll do another post tomorrow with my plans for 2024.

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Shop Opens Tomorrow!

I’m still in temporary housing and most of my stock is in storage. However, I do have quite a haul that I brought home from Savannah (LLS) in July. I updated all the inventory for what I can immediately ship.

For books, I changed the setting to allow you to backorder when it’s out of stock. KDP can take a few weeks to ship books, but I’ll do my best to get stock in as quickly as possible!

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Monstrous Hunt Update

Sorry, guys. I needed to bump the release a few more weeks so I can finish the best book possible.

I didn’t know it was going to be so hard to get into some semblance of a routine after moving in with my Dad the end of July.

My house still isn’t done. At this point, I’m hoping I can be in by Thanksgiving but that’s not guaranteed. The cabinet installer is coming the first week of November but I still have plumbing that needs to be done as well. He can’t come out until the cabinets are in–but it took him a month to come out last time. I have no heat in the house until he comes back and winter approaches. Everything has been delayed numerous times but I’m trying NOT to be stressed about it.

My eldest moved out into her own apartment (for the first time) beginning of October. That has been stressful but fun for both of us. My youngest lost another ferret this month, so I’ve been worried for her and making trips back and forth to the vet with her. RIP poor Felix. Our elderly dog KC – Kasey – got so sick last week that I was afraid I’d have to put her down. Luckily it wasn’t a stroke but vestibular syndrome. Some Dramamine and gabapentin got her through it and she’s 100% back to her sassy self. But all last week I was lucky to get more than 2 hours of sleep without her frantically pacing and crying because she got lost in the same guest room we’ve been in for months.

All of these little things that have conspired to keep me from hitting any kind of major momentum. Writing has been like pulling teeth all summer/fall. I really thought I’d have this book done EARLY and now I’ve had to bump it again. I’m trying to give myself grace, but I usually thrive under deadlines and pressure. The past year(s) have been difficult to hit my stride and roar through the book like I used to. Maybe I’m just getting too old for those late night, long hours. I used to love the thrill of a deadline breathing down my neck but I guess I have too much going on right now.

I don’t have stability. I don’t have my normal things with me. I’m sick to death of my suitcase of clothes. All of my winter clothes are packed in storage, buried in a mess. I’m behind on birthday and holiday cards, and kept hoping the house would get finished. Now I need to figure out a way to get them done in temporary housing without all my stuff that’s still in storage.

I’m about 65-70% finished with Monstrous Hunt. I really thought I could pull it out of the fire this weekend, but it’s just not going to happen. I will keep chipping away at it and finish it up as soon as I can!

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Mid-Year Update

Books/Stories Finished

  • Queen Takes Death: Prelude for Bloodlust
  • Queen Takes Blood
  • One Cut Deeper (edits)
  • new Zero Cut Danger (prequel)
  • Nighttime Feeds (Dark Needs anthology)
  • Monstrous Hunger

Books in Progress

  • Monstrous Hunt
  • Queen’s Crusade
  • Queen Takes Sunfres3
  • Queen Takes Darkness3
  • Queen Takes Death: Prelude (expanded)
  • Cajun Christmas
  • Blizzard Bound

Words written so far this year: 117,094

July is going to be one of the hardest and most stressful months of the year (and possibly my life), bleeding into August. My house isn’t finished yet, and my lease is up the end of this month. I’m also going to be gone to Savannah for a good week mid month, which affects packing, cleaning, etc.

The Evil Day Job has been very stressful lately with weekend work twice in June. Though the most stressful is trying to find another job once the transition is done. Right now, I do not have a job after May 2024. That means getting my resume updated and interviewing, even internally. They’re not guaranteeing me a position after the transition, and I’m too young (by a year) to officially retire with the company.

Folks, the last time I interviewed or updated my resume was March of 2000. Not kidding. My resume is older than two of my adult children!

Needless to say, I’m STRESSED. I have options but it’s still stressful. As long as I have kids in college, I’d like to keep my health insurance so they’re covered too, and I want to be able to comfortably assist with tuition.

And then…

On the way to pick up Laney from the airport yesterday, Roger Darling (my van) quit in Clinton. Luckily I had just enough juice to coast into Auto Zone and bought an alternator but no one could repair it same day. Dad had to come rescue us and drive us on into KC to the airport and back, then pick up Roger on the mechanic’s dolly and take him over to Floyd’s for repair. Bonus: now Floyd can go ahead and do my brakes, which saves me finding time next week. I need Roger for the big drive in less than 2 weeks! (And going down the mountains in Tennessee last year was terrifying – though we’re taking a different route this year.)

I’m no spring chicken, July is the hardest on me with the heat/humidity, and moving gets harder every single time. I can only do so much… But the clock is ticking.

I’m still trying to get quotes from movers. Laney and her boyfriend are moving out the 12th into their own apartment. Bobbie Jo is planning to move to New Hampshire, but her future roommate has been delayed until at least August. Meaning she and I plus two crazy dogs will be staying at my dad’s until my house is finished. Maybe August? But maybe not…

So far, I’ve made almost all of my BookWear and merch for LLS, though I still have at least 2 sessions left to get everything finished. Then I can ship all that ahead to Stella (goal by this Friday). THEN I can actually pack the Cricut room. I’m going to get all packages shipped out that I have stock for, and then maybe do some giveaways of what’s left to minimize how much I have to store.

I have the promo cabinet packed and sorted (what’s going to LLS, what’s going to storage). I have most of my office supply cabinet finished (WHY DO I HAVE SO MANY JOURNALS AND NOTEBOOKS AND STICKERS AND WASHI TAPE?!?!). I still have two bookcases to sort and pack – some of it will be the girls’ that they need to take/decide. I’ve already packed all my clothes except what I’m taking to Savannah and wearing during the week. The pantry is a mess but that’ll be the hardest part of the kitchen. I’m giving most of what we currently have to Laney anyway, but it does need to be packed. I can always borrow back things when my house is done, but if she can use it, I’d rather it be used than sitting around in storage somewhere.

I’m already planning to hire cleaners. The hard part is timing, because I don’t have an official move date locked in yet and I’ll be out of town for a week. If we can’t move until the 25th, that’s cutting things CLOSE with the lease up the 26th @ 8 AM.

I am still going to keep writing a little every day, but I’m not expecting big word counts until August. I finished just shy of 10K in June. I’m still going to hope for 10K in July but that might be pushing it. I am planning to do a reading of Queen’s Crusade at the House Isador party at LLS – assuming I can get a little more done. So cross your fingers. I’ll plan to post that to Patreon as well. I just need to do a little more work on it so I’m confident that’s the direction Shara wants to go.

I got my pre-order privileges back and I don’t want to put any deadlines into jeopardy again. I have ONE set up for Monstrous Hunt, and I’m almost halfway through it already. I should be able to comfortably meet that deadline and maybe even bump it forward. I gave myself extra time with the move(s) and temporary housing situation.

The tower is falling all around me and everything is changing. But I know there are GREAT THINGS on the other side. I just have to hold on until I get there. I see MANY books being written on my back porch.

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Realizations and an Update

My apologies if you placed an order recently. I’ve been on deadline to finish a story for the Dark Needs anthology. I finished that up and so will get orders out ASAP. (I always throw in a little extra if I’ve kept you waiting.)

I was going through some old files from the divorce and then decided to update it with everything I’ve ever written. It dawned on me that September of this year will be my twenty-year anniversary since I got serious about writing. TWENTY. That’s crazy.

In that time, I’ve written 91 stories (including short stories). Even without counting the Queen Takes More stories separately since they’re published together.

Correction: 92 stories including “Nighttime Feeds” that I just finished!

That means in the next year or so, I’ll hit another major milestone. 100 stories written.

Sounds like a couple of really good excuses to have a party.

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Shop Update

I’ve loaded some limited inventory of new shirts including Shamrocked “Get Lucked” and Dynosauros shirts.

One the Get Lucked ones are gone, they’re gone forever! Though I do have a few more shirts upstairs that are waiting for the glitter text to be added. I’ll try to get those finished this month so they can be listed.

I still have a tote from LLS to go through, which does include some House Isador merchandise. Maybe even a hoodie or two. I’ll try to get to them this week!

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Updated Fancy Spaghetti Recipe

This is mainly for my daughter and her boyfriend so I can send them this link in the future lol. But I did post the original recipe back in 2010, so it’s time for an update!

Makes A LOT and can easily feed 10 people plus leftovers. Either halve it, or better, freeze half for later. It also makes INCREDIBLE baked ziti and lasagna. For the meatlovers, brown more Italian sausages separately, cook through, and add on top.

Ingredients for full batch:
4 T olive oil (roughly a T per pound of meat)
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 packages of Italian sausage, casings removed
2+ lbs ground beef
2 8oz cans of tomato paste (roughly 1 can per 2 lbs of meat)
1 bottle of your favorite red wine (I use Dancing Bull merlot or Apothic red)
Dried basil/Italian seasoning to taste
Kosher salt, garlic powder to taste
1/4+ c sugar (my kids generally prefer pretty sweet spaghetti but it helps cut the acidic tomato)

1. In a large deep pot, heat olive oil and sauté the diced onion until softened.

2. Add in the Italian sausage and brown on each side. Don’t smash up much – this makes large “meatball” chunks.

3. Add some of the red wine to deglaze the pan and scrape up all the browned bits.

4. Dump in the tomato paste, dry seasonings, and sugar.

5. Add the rest of the meat.  Do NOT brown.

6. Pour in red wine until the meats are barely covered.  Don’t worry about incorporating all the ingredients at this time.  It looks a little disgusting with all the raw meat, but trust me.  Put the lid on the pot, turn the heat down to low or med-low, and let it simmer about an hour. For 2 lbs of meat, I’d use roughly half the bottle. For 4+ lbs, I’d use all the bottle (except for a glass for ME lol.)

The alcohol will cook off, leaving a rich, delicious sauce that tastes as though it took hours and hours to make.  If the sauce is a little thin, you can take the lid off and let it simmer another 1/2 hour or so to cook down a little. If it’s too thick, add more wine (or water if you drank it all).

We used to make it with a large can of crushed tomatoes and 1 8oz can of paste, but the kids prefer it with a smoother texture from tomato paste, and it does make a rich, delicious sauce.

Serve with your favorite pasta, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and some crusty rustic Italian bread. 

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Lessons from an Old Dog

Our adopted dog, KC–named, of course, for the Kansas City Chiefs–has been in our family since 2010. We’re not sure how old she was when we adopted her, but we’re guessing around 18 months. Putting her around 14 years old.

Over all, she’s still in GREAT shape considering her age. She has cataracts that affect her sight–but she can still see. She doesn’t hear as well any longer but her nose still works. She can sniff out midnight Domino’s no problem. She can still navigate the stairs up and down from my bedroom daily. She has some arthritis but she’s not in a lot of pain. She has some fatty lumps–but they’re not cancerous so we leave them alone.

However, she’s lost a step. Okay, a couple of steps. She used to be such a jumper that she could escape a 6 foot privacy fence by jumping/climbing over it. If we ever boarded her, they removed her collar, just in case she managed to climb up their chain-link fence to dangerous heights. Without even straining, she could jump up onto my high king-sized bed–that I need a step to climb into myself.

But the past almost two years we’ve been here, I could see that her jumps were getting harder. Especially jumping down from the bed onto hardwood floor.

Naturally, I bought her a set of stairs. Naturally, she refused to use them.

Luckily, KC is highly food motivated, so I ended up buying small treats to lure her up and down the stairs a couple of times. In our morning routine, if she stayed on the bed until I was ready, then I would get her a treat and give it to her if she used the stairs to get down instead of jumping. I thought it was kind of dumb at first that I had to give her a TREAT to do something that was only HELPING her. But it was working. She even sometimes will use the stairs at night to get up and down if she smells someone getting that late-night Domino’s.

And it dawned on me. Sometimes, even though we’re older and supposedly smarter, even though we KNOW something is in our best interest, sometimes we need a little treat to make that habit change.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a guy on TikTok with a master gaming spreadsheet for “winning” your life.

Can I pause here and admit to how many spreadsheets I’ve tried in my long life and author career? All of the productivity and tracking spreadsheets any writer has ever talked about is probably in my dusty Dropbox folder. I can usually do them a month. Maybe a bit longer. Though eventually I just run out of steam. I can see the benefit to doing it. Especially when it comes to accumulating word count. e.g. if I wait until the end of the year to add up my monthly word counts… It’s too late to go hey, what the hell happened in February last year? Why did I fail to even write 10K?

But this “winning” spreadsheet has a gaming aspect that is more unique than the normal spreadsheet. It focuses on “leveling up” your character. Just like in a game. From the humble, clueless peasant wandering around in the countryside without any weapons or knowledge or skills–to the knight with full armor on a quest–to the queen of the universe.

Queen of YOUR universe.

I was intrigued. I do love a good game. I am too competitive by far and had to delete all the games on my phone because I had to level up as far as I could. Buy all of the enhancements with the coins I won. Get the outfits or awards or whatever, no matter how long it took.

Why didn’t I tackle my daily tasks with the same gusto?

It’s a simple concept. Just a checkbox on daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that I assign to myself. They can be basic things, like get fresh air (it’s amazing how long I can go without even stepping outside since I work from home), or more complicated, like mail orders, monthly birthday cards, etc. As you click more boxes, the colors change, and you earn points.

When you accumulate enough points, your character–YOU–level up. You can treat yourself to something.

Funny enough, I’ve only used one of the level treats. I’ve found that the daily exercise of checking off boxes and watching the colors change in the spreadsheet as I accomplish more tasks plenty of reward.

I combined this with a sticker on my calendar for every day’s word counts, keeping track weekly and monthly. If I have a bigger word day, of course, I get a BIGGER STICKER! I have a SHIT TON of stickers. Just begging to be used.

Old dog. With a little treat to lure me into using the stairs.

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The Universe’s Sense of Humor

So like a good little writer, I spent the past few days going over all my 2022 accomplishments and making plans for 2023. I’ve been off from the Evil Day Job since before Christmas. While it’s been a nice break, I feel the pressure building because tomorrow I’ll be back to work. I need to know what I’m going to be concentrating on and have a plan for how I’m going to finish all the things on my plate.

Yesterday I created a desktop for myself with my word and affirmation for 2023, including covers for each of the books that I’d like to focus on and write/finish over the next month(s). That way every time I open my computer, I’m looking at the things I’m supposed to be working on.

I was up until 1 AM last night against my better judgement. I decided to total up all my words for 2022 for comparison to 2021. While I do keep track of daily sprints, I evidently forgot to total up by month since March of last year. (I ended up writing 213,590 words if you’re interested.)

I’m already thinking about returning to work, and I guess that was on my mind because I could NOT sleep.

Toss. Turn. Flop. Fluff pillow. Doze. Wake. Asleep. Awake. For hours.

A song kept running in my head. I knew the song was on my Queen Takes Death playlist (still in progress – some songs are in trial mode and may come off). I knew it was by Halsey. But I couldn’t remember exactly which one or what the lyrics were. It just kept playing in my head. I woke up at 7:30 AM hot because my Ooler kicked off. I turned it back on and went to the bathroom while I was awake again. Climbed back into bed and settled in to try and get a few more hours of sleep on this last precious day of vacation…

The song was still playing in my head. Just snippets of lyrics but more the melody and meaning behind the song.

And then Karmen started talking in my head.

Karmen hasn’t had much to say since last year when I wrote her short story for the Love & Legends anthology. Suddenly I had the opening lines for Sunfires3.

I lay there a few more minutes, trying to get back to sleep. But then I was worried that I might forget those opening lines. I didn’t want to lose her voice if she had something to say. Remember too that I’m dedicated to following the spark and joy this year. That’s why my word is EASE. If I’m feeling the magic, then the words flow. It’s easy and right and natural.

So I got up early on my last day off and started Sunfires3.

The book that is not on my desktop staring back at me.

The song: Control by Halsey. It’s now on the Sunfires playlist.

P.S. I was so groggy and clumsy from the horrible night of sleep that I broke my favorite coffee mug. I set it on the counter to open the fridge for the half and half, and it just tumbled off and shattered on the tile floor. I can’t replace it. They don’t make that size any longer. It was my One Cut Deeper custom cup that I made myself. Sigh.