Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on 2 Comments

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.

Posted on 1 Comment

Goodbye, 2022

I don’t really like to do these year-end posts (I skipped last year’s). I’m never happy with how (little/much) I accomplished over the past year, especially with how many books I was able to complete.

At first glance, 2021 was a dismal year. I only published 3 new books (Leprechauned, Evil Eyed, and Monstrous Heat) and two short stories for anthologies. Worse, I set aside a couple of books incomplete this year, which I really hate to do (Darkness3, Monstrous Hunger, Blizzard Bound, Cajun Christmas). I REALLY HATE not finishing books that I want to finish. Especially when I have preorders on them.

But I can only do what I can do, and this year, I didn’t manage to write as many words as I wanted. I still wrote. I still completed 3 books and 2 short stories. I also started writing Shara’s Blood’s prequels, something I’d been meaning to do for years (I’ve completed Rik & Daire’s, Guillaume’s, Xin’s, and Mehen’s so far).

What the short list of “completions” doesn’t say is how many new things I tried this year.

  • With the help of Pink Flamingo Productions, I was able to get Broke Down, Knocked Up, and Four Men & A Baby into audio. (4 Men is recorded – I’m still waiting for ACX to release it).
  • I took several older series wide this year, learning how to publish direct at Koko, Google Play, and Apple. This includes republishing two dragon novellas with new covers, titles, and edits.
  • I got my first solo BookBub! That was really exciting.
  • I tried my first BookBub ads.

On the home/personal front, I was still in court limbo for the first half of the year, since That Man had filed another maintenance modification request. He passed away in July when I was at LLS in Savannah, so we left early to be here for my girls. The last few months, I’ve been working to finalize my forever house at my Dad’s, trying to balance what I can afford with what I want, especially knowing that the Evil Day Job dropped that bombshell in October. I have some plans drawn and the bank lined up. Just waiting now to see if the appraisal lines up and then we can get busy building.

For all my efforts at improving my process and streamlining my systems, I’m still pretty disappointed with my output this year. The list of things I want/need to finish just keeps growing and I have a hard time lining up which book will come out first. It really depends on what unfolds over the next few months.

The strict, rigid line up of preorder dates just doesn’t work well for me. Yes, I like deadlines. But I’m also an emotional writer, and I need to FEEL the story sparking. I need that magic working and flowing, or it’s just a slog. So my goals for 2023 will be finding the magic. Focusing on it. Letting go of the written-in-stone dates and just letting the stories tell me where to go. I’m going to dabble with writing in several different things, at least until something really sparks and takes off.

If all goes well, I’ll be moving again this summer. I may even need to find a temporary place to live a few months until the house is finished. All that’s going to be disruptive and stressful to my stability and environment. But the life I want to have in the country at my dad’s is just around the corner.

What I do know is on the plate this year are several anthology stories I’ve signed up for. Bloodlust releases in February, Dark Needs in May, and The Thousand Doors of Midnight Manor will be in November.

I’m also going to focus on getting the rest of the Blood prequels done so that you can enjoy Queen Takes Blood sometime in first quarter.

Lastly, and most importantly, I am going to get Shara back into the line up even if none of the other stuff that I wanted to finish first is done or not. I used the holiday cards to write out that intention over 1000 times. Shara returns in 2023!

Posted on 3 Comments

Upcoming Changes

The short statement:

I’m planning to cancel my last two pre-orders (Monstrous Hunger and Blizzard Bound). They both will still be published but I am not going to commit to a date. Side effect: I won’t be able to have pre-orders again for a year. And that’s ok.

The longer discussion behind this decision:

I’ve written a lot about my process. There are several posts (here and here) about the retrospectives I do once I finish a book. I try to learn from each book and fine-tune my process with the goal of writing faster with the same high quality book that you’ve come to expect from me. I stated early on that 2022 would be the year of finishing up loose ends with the goal of getting back to Shara’s world. I 100% committed to finishing Her Irish Treasures, and I did complete both Leprechauned and Evil Eyed this year. Though they took me much longer than I intended.

Why is that? When I’ve been making all these constant changes to improve my process?

I’m a thinker, a strategist, and sometimes, very analytical. I write code for the Evil Day Job and have a Masters in Mathematics. But I’m also a creative, a dreamer, and a visionary at heart. Sometimes those things work well together–and sometimes they don’t. The analyst keeps looking at my stats and scratching my head. What’s going on here?


I’m not burned out. I’m not blocked.

I know my personality type. I thrive on deadline stress. I love impossible deadlines and challenges. Setting a pre-order seemed like it would be the ticking bomb that my brain needs to kick into high gear and get the job done. And yeah, sometimes that has worked over the last few years. But… Sometimes it hasn’t. The gear hasn’t been there when I tried to shift.

We’ve been over all the personal stuff that has been going on with the divorce, plus moving and pandemic and all the other stressors. That might play some of a role in my general slowdown but this felt bigger.

Like I was missing something. Something crucial.

So I decided to do a retrospective of my retrospectives. The biggest takeaway from those other retrospectives was that when I shift gears to other projects, I noted that the original project took a hit, and when I picked it back up, I had to build back up to a reasonable speed. Therefore, I determined that the best way to overcome context switching between worlds/books/characters was to stick to the same series and just finish it.

Makes sense, right? And I did that with Her Irish Treasures as much as possible, especially Evil Eyed and now Dynosauros. And Evil Eyed was so slow that it took me an additional 2 months longer than I originally planned.

I know what I’m capable of. I have written 50-70k in a month before when the wheels are spinning and the words are flowing with minimal editing needed (e.g. they weren’t throwaway drafts but solid work). Yet there have been months this year where it’s like pulling teeth to get 10k.

I have often referred to my writer personality as a horse (this post is old but parts still hold true). The urge to run wild and free is always there. Even in the middle of a blizzard, my horse wants to leave the nice warm stable. Lately, Beauty has been feeling like an old, worn-out plow horse. Just pulling the plow in nice straight rows, day after day. The plow sinks a little deeper into the ground. Becomes a little harder to pull. The field needs to be plowed, though. The work must be done. But she can’t help but wonder where the joy went, and if it’s possible to get it back. Why does it have to be so heavy?

And I realized today after doing some more meditation and journaling on the matter, that the answer has been in my retrospectives all along. Sometimes a strength can be a weakness. And sometimes a weakness can be a strength.

What if… the work that I took a break from was actually slowing down regardless of the break? What if that break to another project was exactly what my muse needed to do in order to re-energize and find light again? What if instead of beating myself up for switching projects and trying to “fix it” – I actually embrace the need to switch to something else as a strength?

What if switching projects is one of the key things that has helped me finish as many books as I do?

So I decided to embrace the switch. I have a short story that I committed for a BookFunnel anthology that I need to write. I WANT TO WRITE – you’ll see why. I actually dreamed about it (which is huge for me when the subconscious is working on the story for me). And instead of working on it then, I made myself write down the dream and then keep plugging away on Monstrous Hunger.

There’s nothing wrong with Monstrous Hunger. I love the story. I love the characters. But writing it is heavy and slow right now. It shouldn’t be. At all. This is a fun, over the top crazy story with dinosaur monsters, interesting peens, and all the shenanigans of a good sexy romp. But I have been plodding and plodding for days. Since the beginning of October, my sprint average has decreased by almost 20% and still sliding. With the deadline just around the corner, that is the opposite of what I want to happen. I need to be hitting my stride and cruising at my best speed.

As soon as I made the decision to set this book aside, I went to work on the short story. I decided to read the beginning of Queen Takes Knights to remind myself of what was happening when Shara first meets Rik and Daire. After all, I wrote that book 5 years ago this month.

And I started to cry.

It was like coming home.

There is the emotion and joy that I have been searching for. And when it’s time, and I feel that the well is full of joy again, I’ll come back to finish up the dinosaur romp.

And it’ll be even better than I ever envisioned.

Commence kicking down the stall in three… two… one.

Go. Run. Be free.

Posted on 2 Comments

A (Possible) Vicious Solution

Earlier this year I wrote about the Vicious Quandary and why I’ve not been able to finish Undead in New Orleans. It’s been on my mind for months, even since writing that post.

It’s the one story people ask about more than any other, even more than when we’ll get another Princess Xochitl book. I’m so grateful that people are interested enough to want to read more, and I certainly hate letting people down. I felt like surely there was a way I could write the story I wanted to write–but still be respectful to Vodou. I just needed to give the story time.

I am an INPUT writer. Sometimes when I’m stuck in a plot point or idea, I get the feeling that if I can only find the one missing piece of information I need that everything will fall into place. If I’m stuck in the middle of a book, the first thing I do is open up some browser tabs and start researching different things until I find the nugget that makes it all make sense. Sometimes it’s not even a fact–but a song or image.

For the Vicious, it was an image.

A cover, to be exact. I don’t know why this cover was special but when I saw it, it made my brain tingle, for lack of a better word. I bought it immediately. I’ve seen similar ones before, but it was the right moment, right colors and elements, right aesthetic…. And that image freed the log jam in my head.

I’m not ready to show it yet, and I don’t want to make any promises about timing. My schedule is jam packed as you know. I have a million ideas and things I want to write but my time is at a premium as long as I have the Evil Day Job. But I am jotting notes and working through the mental connections of what I will need to change in the series’ plot to make it happen.

Keep your fingers crossed!

Posted on Leave a comment

Solo Writing Retreat Night 2

Even though I’d just finished a book at 2 AM the night before (Monstrous Heat), I moved directly into Monstrous Hunger. Sherri and I met Sunday night for a couple of sprints. As always, I started slowly, but I’m learning new characters and getting a feel for how this book is going to go.

The night before, I also took myself on the “Eureka Springs Loop” – through the historic district, up to the Crescent Hotel, and then down through the shopping area. I’ve been on that loop many times with That Man, but I’ve never driven it and certainly not alone. If you’ve been to Eureka Springs, you know that some of the roads are extremely narrow and steep, especially when people are parked on the main shopping roads. I was nervous about getting lost and having to go up a goat track to get out lol. But I had no problems at all and made the entire loop myself. I even ended up exactly where I’d hope to end up and found my way back to the cabin easily.

The only thing I wanted to do on this trip but didn’t was get out at one of the springs. Sat. night there was live music down by the Basin Hotel and all the parking was full. Maybe next time.

Sunday night, I ate leftover pizza on the couch, had a nice long bath in the Jacuzzi, and then packed up/organized as much as possible for the checkout. Loading up Roger (my van) didn’t suck as much as unloading, though of course I had to do that once I got home. Everything was destroyed in the house, the kitchen was a mess, but everyone was glad to see me, especially my dog who didn’t have anyone to sleep with until I came back.

Overall, it was a great time. I wish I could have gotten more done, but I accomplished the #1 and #2 goals on my list. I finished the book and I sketched out an impossible plan for the rest of 2022 that I’m already behind on. Score!

I also added some wants to my forever house at my dad’s. I definitely need a spot for outdoor meditation with that first cup of coffee in the morning!

Meditation with a view
Posted on Leave a comment

Solo Writing Retreat Day 2

Sunday was my planning and recovery day – plus a new start (later post).

After being up until 2 AM the night before, I slept in later than I intended. Had my brunch and still took my nature meditation time out on the deck. The friends I saw this time were a lizard that scurried across the floor and a big buzzing bee that hovered overhead in the beams. They both left me alone for the most part, but another large fly or wasp kept buzzing around my head, which cut my time outside shorter than I planned.

I came back inside and pulled out some of my notebooks and fancy pens that I brought to begin a planning session.

Magical bag of notebooks and pens

First, I did a retrospective for Monstrous Heat. The same “pick up and put down again” issue hit me for this book. I underestimated how hard the edits were going to be, and I had no choice but to put the book down so I could get Evil Eyed completed. Losing momentum is tough. Changing POVs from third person to first is tough. Adding more monster sex scenes (literally) is… you know it. Monstrously hard. Laughs.

But this was a really fun book. It continually surprises me how much I’m growing as a writer. The original draft was written in 2016. I was not a new writer then. I’ve been published since 2009 by small presses with good editors. But man, did that original draft need some overhauling!

I guess Shara has really taught me a thing or two.

Then I moved into my calendar for planning the rest of the year. I have a love/hate relationship with my calendar. I want to do so much. I have so many ideas. So many plans. Figuring out how to get it all done in the limited time I have with the Evil Day Job and all the interruptions of real life is the difficult part.

I joke that if I write it down and make a plan, that I basically have to throw the whole thing out after day one. It’s sure to change immediately. But I have to plan and keep trying to get a better system down. Continuous improvements! Learning those lessons from retrospectives. Or why do them, right?

So again, keeping in mind the number one thing that messes with my momentum is shifting gears from one book to another, I’m really going to buckle down and focus on the other Monstrous books. The complication is Blizzard Bound set for Dec. 1st and a surprise prequel freebie I need to finish by mid October. In a perfect world, I will get all this done on time and I won’t have to bump any dates.

We’ll see about that.

I WANT to get back to Their Vampire Queen ASAP. I have half of Helayna’s third book written. Shara is ready. Karmen’s hovering in the background. Even Xochitl and Belladonna are ready to join the party. But if I put down what I’m currently working on to start… and then try to pick up something else to finish… and then try and go BACK to our vampire queens… it’ll take me forever.

I won’t get anything done if I’m switching from world to world and spreading books out too far.

If I can get these tasks done by the end of the year, then 2023 will be the year of Their Vampire Queens.

I know I always set impossible goals. I am an overachiever at heart. But if I set more “reasonable” goals, then I just don’t get things done. I need that constant crazy pressure hanging over my head to function at full capacity. So I’ve penciled in my due dates and sketched out a sprint schedule that will allow me to do all the things I want to do by the end of the year.

I just have to stay off TikTok! And actually sit down at my open file to write. Sometimes that’s the hardest part.

Posted on Leave a comment

Solo Writing Retreat Day 1

Yesterday was all about finishing the book (Monstrous Heat). I was close, but still had 20 some pages to edit and then a new ending/expansion to write. I wasn’t sure how long that was going to take.

I allowed myself to wake up without an alarm clock and then had the first cup of coffee sitting outside on the covered deck. Pure heaven listening to the birds, watching the trees sway in the gentle breeze. A mama deer and her fawn grazed across the gravel road just 20-30 feet away. When I get to my forever home at Papa’s, I’m definitely going to need a similar place to sit each morning and soak in nature.

Cabin porch with a view of the woods

I brought plenty of breakfast and snacky foods, so I had a quick bagel and then got to work. I meet with Sherri via Zoom twice yesterday and we got several sprints in both times. I was into the new ending scene(s) when we said goodnight at midnight my time, so I just kept going. I finally finished Monstrous Heat at 2 AM this morning.

Wine, crackers, bread, bagels, and freshly ground coffee from home

It stormed several times last night. I went out on the deck until it got too wet and windy. Rain and hail pounding on the roof woke me up a few times but I slept in pretty late this morning. I love the look of a log cabin but it’s definitely noisy. The cabin pops and snaps continuously throughout the night. Sometimes I swear it sounds like someone walking across the floor. That’s the only time I’ve been a little scared to be myself. I wake up several times throughout the night, thinking someone is here. Luckily I’ve been able to get back to sleep without too much issue, though.

It was late enough last night when I finally went to bed that I didn’t get my nice long soak in the tub. I’ll shoot for extra time tonight!

Posted on Leave a comment

Solo Writing Retreat – Night 1

It’s just me and all the characters hanging out in my head for the entire weekend! I’m so excited I don’t know what to do with myself!

As a gift to myself, I booked a cabin in Eureka Springs, AR just like That Man and I used to do for our anniversary. Only this time *I* picked which cabin I wanted, based on criteria that are very important to me.

  1. The size of the whirlpool tub
  2. Writing area
  3. Quiet – for deep work thinking

This cabin is almost perfect. There were too many stairs up to the main level, and the bedroom is also in the loft, but I guess I can use the exercise. It was hot carrying everything in by myself but I hauled it all in and I’ve unpacked.

Lots of slate stairs
Lots of comfy places to sit and think

Love the tub — but the voyeur is a bit much.

Deer be watching

I’ll post more about the trip and what I hope to accomplish over the next few days!

PS I brought a lot of wine AND there’s a winery just down the road…!

Posted on 1 Comment

Evil Eyed is Locked & Loaded

It was touch and go for awhile. If Sherri hadn’t been able to edit the finished 50k over the weekend while I wrote the last two scenes, I never would have made it by the lock date (today).

If you’re a member of the Triune, we started a “finish date” pool on 7/11. I really thought I was almost done – but those last two scenes just went on and on. I was planning on 4-8k more, which would have brought me up to around 50K. Instead. I ended up needing another 13k. Evil Eyed finished at just over 56k.

As usual, I did my retrospection while the story is fresh on my mind. This book took MONTHS longer than I planned, so I expected an outrageously high number of sprints and a low word count average. Instead, what I found is that all the numbers were right on, other than a higher number of interrupted sprints. The real problem was just getting those sprints in. I had several days, even a full week here and there, off where I had either none or only one sprint per day. No wonder it took so long!

I had a ton of interruptions, both personal and professional. I wanted to be done before LLS but that didn’t happen. With all the shirts I needed to make and the preparation/packing, I lost several days. We also had some major personal/family developments last week that I’m trying to be sensitive about and not be specific, but all of that impacted my ability to focus. The short answer is that I don’t have to worry about That Man taking me back to court ever again.

It’s over. I’m finally free.

It may have taken me months to write, way longer than I ever intended, but I’m extremely happy with how Evil Eyed turned out.

Aidan is one of my most favorite characters to ever talk in my head.