This is what I did yesterday in lieu of writing an epilogue.

In case you’re wondering about the recent influx of emails in your inbox from your favorite authors, there’s a new EU law that is effecting everyone’s mailing lists. It’s not a bad law – it’s designed to keep everyone’s personal information safer. In light of recent Facebook scandals and whatnot, I don’t think anyone’s going to argue increased safety regarding personal information is a bad thing.

 

It does, however, mean that those of us who operate mailing lists – such as newsletters – are subject to consequences if we have any EU residents on our mailing lists and don’t comply with the laws – whether or not we’re EU residents ourselves. I’m not an EU citizen, nor do I live in the EU, but I’m absolutely certain that some of my readers are. (After all, Amazon does tell me when my books are purchased/borrowed from the French, Italian, or German versions of their website. One can easily surmise those books are purchased by EU citizens.)

And since the fines involved run up into the millions of euros… yeah. I’m damn sure gonna comply.

 

Luckily, it wasn’t too difficult to deal with my end of the bargain. Basically I tweaked the mailing list a little bit: there should be a double opt-in now. Instead of entering your email once and done with it, new subscribers will get a confirmation email. Once they click the link in there and confirm they want in, they’re on the list and I’ve got proof they want to be on the list. For the current subscribers, I sent out an email that basically explains the new law and asks them to opt-in. Once they do, they’re fine and I’m covered.

 

But anyone who doesn’t opt-in by May 25… will be automatically removed from the list. Which is the scary part of the proposition. I know I’ve ignored newsletter emails in the past. A whole lot of them, actually. Or I don’t get to them for days or even weeks.

Don’t we all….

I’m pretty sure that’s going to happen a bunch this month. I’ve got a plan to send out two additional reminders to people who don’t respond, so hopefully that’ll catch most of the stragglers.

 

But in the meantime… so far, so good, and I feel much better off knowing that I’m not risking millions of euro for the lack of a couple of emails.

 

But if you see an email from your favorite author over the next couple of weeks… make sure you open it, please? And if you still want to hear from them, please let them know!

Sometimes life is a Joni Mitchell song

We lost internet for a while this past weekend. Apparently someone somewhere snipped a cable they weren’t supposed to snip, and so the whole block lost internet for two days. The funny thing about losing internet access is I never realize how much of our lives we spend online. Some things are obvious: Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook and WhatsApp are part of our daily lives, but we can live without them for a while. We’ve done it before – heck, most of our lives, those things didn’t even exist.

What surprised me more was how much I’m online when I don’t even realize I’m online. I tried to open a game I play on my phone and was immediately informed that the game couldn’t connect to the server and was thus unavailable. (What? Didn’t I spend five minutes downloading that game? What do you mean I have to be online to play it?)

I wrote for a little while, and then realized I needed to research how to say Happy Hanukkah in French. Except I couldn’t – because the answer was online.

I was in the middle of making a raspberry Danish – but the recipe I printed out that morning suggested watching a video on YouTube in order to do the tricky braid part correctly. Which is online.

I thought, okay, fine. I’ll read one of the books I got off Amazon this morning. Except I couldn’t, because my Kindle hadn’t downloaded them yet and thus they weren’t available yet.

Even Microsoft Word, which I own outright – when I opened a new file to type this up, I was immediately informed that my subscription could not be verified because I was not online.

All in all, it was a really frustrating two days.

What startled me was my reaction to the lack of internet, probably more than actually losing internet in the first place. For some reason – even though my phone still sent texts and received calls and could connect to the internet if I turned on mobile data – I could feel myself growing anxious. My heart didn’t pound, but I had a strange, light-headed, other-worldly feeling. My fingers tingled, like my blood wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

I’m not usually an anxious person; I’ve gone without internet before, when traveling or when the WiFi router mysteriously goes haywire. I spent the first year here without mobile data at all, so every time I left the house, I was unable to connect to anything. And that was okay, it was just part of life, you know? It’s something I accept(ed).

We’ve dropped internet before, of course – everyone does. Sometimes it even takes more than five minutes or so to click back in. After two hours, though, I was pretty sure it was broken – and I still didn’t feel better. My fingers still tingled or felt numb. My chest still felt like I had a vice around my heart. It wasn’t until I sat down and talked myself through it: You are fine. It is fine. It’s just the stupid internet. You don’t need it. You can still call out. You can still get texts. You can access via mobile data if you need it. You can go to the consulate in the morning and talk to the guy in charge of the internet and get this straightened out. You probably just hit the cut-off, and all you have to do is pay and you’ll get it back. No big deal. And maybe find out what the upper limit is so you can avoid this in the future!

And after that rousing pep-talk… I felt a lot better.

I don’t wonder if I’m addicted to the internet; I know for a fact I am. I’m online almost all the time. I like to look things up as I think of questions. I like being able to send a photo of the kids to my mom within seconds of me taking it – and having her respond before the end of the day. My camera talks to my phone; my phone talks to my computer; my computer talks to my Kindle. The only device not talking to anything is the DVD player and that’s mostly because I haven’t had the need to set it up yet.

And yeah, okay, maybe I could spend a little less time online and more time doing other things, like baking or brushing the cat or going to the gym. Or (God help me) reading the three-year-old The Monster at the End of this Book for the five-thousandth time.

Or writing the stories I post online. Tweaking the photos I’ve taken of the boys, to post online. Commenting on the stories I’ve been reading, obtained online. Reading the news of the world… online.

I can’t say that everything I need is online. My kids aren’t, my husband isn’t, my cat’s not. But so much of what I do that I enjoy – and the people I enjoy sharing those things with – are online, that I find it very difficult to face a world where I can’t immediately access it.

No wonder I felt like I was trapped, when without warning, it was taken away. (I can even pinpoint the twenty-minute period in which it happened.) It wasn’t that I was trapped – but I was very much cut off from many of the things on which I’ve come to rely. I’m not used to such isolation anymore, not in the same way I was twenty or ten or even five years ago, before I even owned a smartphone.

I think that’s probably true of most of us. Even my husband has a smartphone now – his work forced him to get one. He resisted for years, saying he didn’t need it. And he didn’t.

But when he upgraded his personal phone over the summer, he got a smartphone. He uses it every day to listen to NPR podcasts.

About a year ago, I read a book called <a href=https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20170404-station-eleven>Station Eleven</a> by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s one of those apocalypse novels, where rocks fall and everyone dies, and then we get to see what happens afterwards. In this book’s case, there’s a pandemic that kills something like 90% of the world population within about a week. The majority of the book takes place 20 years later. It’s a scary, frightening, fantastically imaginative world, and I was completely captivated it – but one of the things that frightened me the most was those weeks after the pandemic swept through the world.

It wasn’t the sudden loss of life. It was that one of the first things to break down was the lines of communication. No electricity, no phones, no internet, no nothing. Everything was gone. Everyone was isolated from everyone else.

I won’t give away more of the story, not really – but the part I loved best about the ending, was the tiny note of hope at the end: the rumor that there was a community that had figured out how to turn on the power again. And with that… the possibility of reaching out to someone else.

The idea of suddenly disappearing… and never finding out the end of anyone else’s stories – it scares me. Mostly because I think in a lot of ways, it’s also inevitable. I’ve been online in some form for over fifteen years now. There’s already people who I talked and interacted with every day who just don’t go online anymore. I have no idea what’s happened to them, how they’re doing, where they are, what their lives are like – and all too often, no way to reconnect, since even the platforms we used to interact are no longer in operation.

I remember when my grandparents were in their 90s, and it seemed like every day, another one of their friends passed away. At some point, that’s going to be us. Times however many followers we have, because of course my grandparents didn’t have a virtual set of friends. They had the people in their real lives. We have so many more.

Grim thoughts for a sunny day – and I’m not quite sure how to end my musings, except that the internet returned with as much fanfare as it disappeared, and sure enough, everyone was waiting exactly where I left off. Which is comforting, in its own way.

Joni may have sung it first, but this is the version I like the best.

On Editing

I’ve been waist-deep in editing the last few weeks, trying to get not only the next book to a stage where it’s ready for other eyes, but also a few other projects that needed intense editing before completion. I used to hate the editing process, because it seemed so tedious – delete a comma here, fix punctuation there, rephrase a sentence until it’s clear. To a younger me, it was mostly busy work.

I don’t feel that way anymore – editing is one of my favorite stages of the writing process. I love getting feedback, hearing what works and what doesn’t, what makes people laugh and what makes people cry. I even like hearing what’s confusing or unclear, because a lot of the times, I already felt the same way and just need confirmation, and maybe another point of view to figure out why so I can fix it.

What changed? I found a couple of really fantastic editors, who not only pointed out the incorrect comma placements, the clunky sentences, and the slightly off characterization – but they also questioned why I’d done things. They pushed back, they pointed out logical leaps, they said things that made me want to explore my plot a bit deeper.

In short, they turned editing from a chore to an absolute delight. Now, when I read through my drafts, I’m trying to emulate them. I ask myself the same questions: not just “Is this where the comma goes?” but also, “Is this where this scene goes? Is this what the character needs to ask right now? Am I missing some important piece of information in their backstory that will make it click?”

I always see posts online about how important it is to get the first draft down: that it’s okay if the words are terrible, because no one expects a first draft to be fantastic. It occurred to me, while I was in the middle of editing, that being a writer isn’t the ability to write a story. Anyone can write a story: that’s the whole point about programs like NaNoWriMo and websites like fanfiction.net. It’s the first draft that turns a daydream into a story.

But it’s the second draft that turns a story-teller into a writer.

Writers don’t stop at a first draft. They sit down and edit the complete drivel they’ve just written. Anyone can write a first draft. Not everyone has the patience to turn those first drafts into middling second, decent third, and fabulous fourth drafts. (Not to mention the fifth, sixth, and even seventh drafts.)

Really, I’d venture to say that the best writers are also the best self-editors. They recognize that first drafts are usually complete and total crap, and then have the patience and self-awareness to fix them.

I’ve always written stories – but I think it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been comfortable calling myself a writer. I think perhaps this different approach to the process is probably key to why.

 

I am the crazy neighbor lady, and I love it

Scene: A pleasant afternoon. Dinner is marinating in the fridge, the kids are out playing, I’m trying to get some writing done.

 

DING DONG.

 

I open the door to find one of the neighborhood girls (age 9) pointing dramatically at an unfamiliar neighborhood child on a scooter (age approximately 7, giggling uncontrollably).

 

Small neighbor child: Miss Penelope! This girl! Ran over! A unicorn. ON HER SCOOTER.

Me: OMG. IS THE UNICORN OKAY?

Small neighbor child: I don’t know!

Me: That’s horrible! (to the giggling child) Couldn’t you have stopped?!?! Aren’t there brakes on that menacing contraption under your control?

Giggling Delinquent child: No!

Me: What? Do you even have a license to drive?

Giggling Delinquent child: No!

Me: OH THE HUMANITY. I can’t bear it! Won’t somebody think of the baby unicorns???

 

The girls run off, I close the door, return to my desk, and write exactly one sentence. It’s not even a long sentence.

 

DING DONG.

 

Small neighbor child: Miss Penelope–

Me, tearfully: Is the unicorn okay?

Small neighbor child: Yes! See, it’s right here! It’s fine.

Me: ….That’s a chalk drawing of a unicorn.

Small neighbor child: Yes!

Me: I THOUGHT YOU MEANT A REAL UNICORN.

Small neighbor child: No!

Me: I was about to call animal control!

Small neighbor child: You don’t call animal control about a unicorn!

Me: You don’t?

Small neighbor child: No! You call the vet!

Me, doing my best Gilda Radner imitation: Ooooohhhhhhhhhh. Never mind!

 

Just so everyone knows, imitations of Helen Lovejoy and Gilda Radner are completely lost on the 9-year-old set.

First Draft… but wrong book, as it turns out.

My first drafts are always messy.

There are multiple kinds of writers in the world, but most of the time you can divide them into two groups: the writers who like to plan out their stories in detail, with outlines and guidelines and complete synopsis with bullet points included. “And here they will meet, and here they will kiss, and here they will be locked in a closet together during an air raid!”

And then there’s the writers who dive right into the story, without any idea of what’s happening and maybe only a dim idea of where they’re going. “It’s a romance, obviously there’s a happy ending – but how?!?!

When I was younger, I definitely was more of the second type of writer. Now that I’m older (and have less free time), I absolutely see the benefits of the first. Take the book I wrote for this past year’s National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). I had only the barest of ideas for a plot, and so on November 1, I dove right in.

I ended up changing the plot and character’s backstories so many times in that first week – sometimes mid-sentence – that I’ve had to scrap nearly 15,000 words of the completed first draft just trying to get everything back in line.

It’s not that I don’t like what I scrapped – but it doesn’t fit the story anymore. I have every intention of using what I’ve had to pull out in another story later on. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t delete anything. Every story I’ve ever written has an accompanying document named “Outtakes.” Sometimes the outtakes runs for dozens of pages. Once I deleted a full 42 pages of a story, straight out, because it wasn’t working.

The file for Omega Nanny’s outtakes. It’s about a quarter the size of the finished book!

It sounds like I’m super cold-blooded about the process. There’s a popular phrase about how writers are always killing their darlings. (William Faulkner originally; Stephen King was paraphrasing him.) It’s completely true; somehow, all my best jokes and sexiest lines seem to be right smack in the middle of a scene or moment that ends up in that Outtakes file. Sometimes they make it back into the story. Most of them, not.

One of the scenes that bit the dust from the most recent Nano novel is – as it turns out – the opening scene. It’s rough, but I love this opening, because I think it really lays out Bryce’s personality and the conflict that was originally going to be a driving force for the plot. The problem is – this was the plot that I ended up dropping from the story in favor of one that was clicking a lot better. I still love this opening, and I still love Bryce’s interaction with his mom – and truth be told, I still like the plot as I originally imagined it, so I’m thinking I might end up giving it its own book next.

Here’s the original opening to my Nano book. Read it, and tell me what you think!

It was exactly the conversation that Bryce hadn’t wanted to have when answering the phone on his desk first thing Tuesday morning.

“No, Mom,” he groaned with the phone tucked under his ear and bitterly regretting that he’d ever given his mother his work number. At least his boss wasn’t in yet. “My cell phone’s fine, I just paid it up last week.”

“Well, I’ve called a dozen times in the last four days and you haven’t once returned my calls,” complained Alicia XXX. Even over the phone, Bryce could imagine the hands on her hips, her eyes looking anxiously at her bullet journal where she’d undoubtedly underlined Call Bryce again! “Are you sure it’s working? Jessie! Jessie! Call Bryce on his phone, I want him to tell me what happens when he has an incoming call.”

Shit, thought Bryce, and scrambled to shove his phone under the thickest file folder of accounts payable he could find in the deepest drawer of his desk. And of course the damned drawer had to stick, the way he always did when there was someone in the office watching him with a raised eyebrow, undoubtedly judging Bryce and wondering how the hell Padma Chatterjee, Assistant Director of Accounts Receivable and Bryce’s boss, put up with him.

“Are you sure you want this one?” the old bat running the typing pool had said when Bryce had been called up three years before. “You know he’s—”

“Yes,” said Padma Chatterjee, and that was that.

He had to kick the drawer to close it, but hopefully his mother wouldn’t hear the tell-tale ring over the open landline.

“Do you hear it? I don’t hear it,” demanded Alicia.

“Mom, you know I’m at work, right?”

“I know, Brycie, but the—”

“Please don’t call me that!”

“—wedding’s in two weeks and you haven’t said if D.B. is able to get off work.”

Bryce looked frantically around the office, quickly determining that it was still thankfully empty. “Mom!” he hissed, lowering his volume and reaching up to cradle the phone in his hand while turning in his chair, as if it offered some degree of privacy. “I told you, I can’t talk about D.B. at work!”

“I know, darling, but—”

“I don’t know, but he should be able to give me an answer today.”

Click click click went the tell-tale sound of Padma Chatterjee’s shoes against the marble floors. Bryce winced.

Shit. He quickly straightened and turned around – and yup, sure enough, there was Padma, dressed in a bright purple suit with a paisley pashmina over one shoulder, and holding the customary tray of mochaccinos from the coffee shop downstairs. Her hair was in a large, low bun at the back of her head. There were a few wisps of gray in her otherwise jet-black hair, but otherwise she didn’t look a day over thirty-five, though Bryce knew for a fact she was close to fifty.

Padma looked extremely interested in the phone call. Bryce smiled weakly at her, and pretended as if he was very busy rummaging in his desk, shuffling papers and opening drawers.

Riiiiiinnnng.

Double shit.

“Oh, good, your phone is ringing!” said Alicia. “I was so worried.”

“I know,” sighed Bryce.

“I’ll call you back later tonight. I’m so excited, Brycie! You have a good day, take the world by storm!”

Alicia hung up without waiting for Bryce’s response. He dropped the receiver on the phone’s base and let his head fall against his desk with a groan.

“Ah,” said Padma Chatterjee. “Not about the Whippleton account, I take it.”

“My mother,” said Bryce to his desk.

He heard the soft thunk of the coffee tray being set down on his desk, followed by the squeaking sound of a paper cup being wrested from the cardboard tray. “Hmm. Lucky for you, the salted caramel is back in stock.”

“Oh, thank God,” groaned Bryce, lifting his head and taking his cup from Padma. It was exactly warm enough to feel comfortable in his hands, and he breathed in the scent.

“As you like,” said Padma, amused. She picked the tray back up and carried it back into her office. “Your phone is still ringing!”

“What? Oh.” Bryce reached into the bottom drawer, shoving the file aside to grab his phone. “Dad, okay! You could have hung up when Mom heard it ringing, you know.”

“I’m allowed to talk to my son once in a while,” said Jessie XXX.

Bryce sighed. “I’m sorry. Hi, Dad.”

“Did you watch the game last night?”

Bryce eyed his coffee longingly. “Yeah, but I would have appreciated it ending without overtime.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” said Jessie. “When Parker hit that ground-out to right field…”

“Dad,” said Bryce, “can we talk about this later? I’m sort of working?”

There was a chuckle from Padma’s office. Bryce resisted the urge to spin around in his chair and stick out his thumb at her.

“Of course. Don’t let your mother hound you about D.B. too much, okay?”

“Okay.”

Bryce disconnected the call and dropped the phone back down in the drawer, which closed smoothly on its own, as if it’d never posed anyone trouble in its entire existence. He took a long drink of his coffee for fortification.

It wasn’t that talking to his parents was a bother – most of the time, anyway. Alicia could be somewhat overbearing and demanding, but Bryce’s father Jessie was as easy-going an alpha woman as they came, and she had been the one to teach Bryce to take the much more headstrong, determined omega Alicia in stride.

At twenty-seven years old, Bryce could handle any storm his mother created.

It was handling his own storms that was the issue – and the storm that was brewing now was entirely Bryce’s fault. A storm named Hurricane D.B., Bryce’s erstwhile boyfriend and the current epicenter of all of his problems.

You’ll just have to think of something, Bryce told himself firmly. Come up with another excuse to explain D.B.’s absence.

So that was the original opening – it’s a lot different now!

What do you think? Keeping in mind it’s only a first draft – and the new opening is very different – would you want to keep reading, and learn more about Bryce and D.B. and what Bryce’s parents have planned? Or do you think this darling deserved its untimely death?

I swear, it’s not an obsession, it just looks that way.

I admit it: I have an obsession with my word count.

But it’s not exactly about how many words I’ve written at the end of the day.

Definition courtesy of abrakadrabble.com

If you’re a writer, and you spend any amount of time in online writing communities, you are all-too-well acquainted with the all-mighty word count. Whether it’s the precise definition of a drabble (100 words exactly!) or the theory behind writing a set amount of words per day, every day (see 750words.com), it’s really hard to escape word counts.

For the last four or five years, at the beginning of every year, I’ve signed up for a community that focuses on a yearly word count. During the first two weeks of the new year, you pledge to write a set amount of words before December 31 – there’s set pledges ranging from 75,000 words to 500,000 – and then they offer support and cheerleading for you to do just that, with monthly check-ins and Word Wars and the like. There’s no penalty for not making your word count – but you are held accountable for checking in every month with your current word count, and those numbers are posted for all to see.

The first couple of years, I had trouble making my word count. I’d miss it by 20,000 words or so. But then something clicked about three years ago, I figured out the secret to getting those words flowing, and both of the last two years, I nearly doubled my pledge. (Last year, I wrote just over 500,000 words. Half a million words. I’m still astounded.)

So being able to write a ton of words isn’t my problem. Nor is forming a writing habit, which is the other goal of the community. I love writing – I love the process of sitting down and just letting the words flow out, of the discovery in finding out what my characters are going to do next.

What is my problem is keeping on task – and that’s why I tend to focus a bit on word count.

One, two, three words! Ha ha ha ha….

Have you ever gone on a long vacation, and then when you turned on the faucet in the bathroom, the plumbing seemed a bit wonky? The first couple of seconds, the water spat and gurgled and struggled with getting the water to flow – and then it flowed just fine?

For me, that’s writing. Some days, I have to struggle with the first 800 or 900 words before they really start to flow – but once I get those words, I’ll never even notice the three or 4,000 that come after that.

I know this. I’m fully aware of this. But some days… I just don’t want to do it. I write 200 or 300 words and think, It’s not flowing, it’s all terrible, I should do something else! Everything that isn’t writing seems so much more important. Ordering that stuff on Amazon, or checking that I’ve done the dishes, or looking to see where the cat’s napping, or adding things to the grocery list. Who has time to write?

But I have that goal, you know. I have to write a certain number of words every day, and at the end of the month, I have to report how many words I’ve written. Miss three months in a row, I get kicked out of the community. I haven’t written my 822 words today – better keep going.

So I keep writing. And the next thing I know: it’s the end of my writing time and I’ve got 4,000 words to show for it.

Isn’t it fun when you use psychology on yourself to make you do stuff?

Of course, the irony is that I’m not going to make word count this month – the flu hit me hard the second week of January, and it’s only the last couple of days that I haven’t felt like death warmed over. I’ll be lucky if I finish the month with 15,000 words, much less the 25,000 I should have.

But that’s okay. 822 words at a time – and all the words that come after. I’ll get there.

 

 

In which I am officially no longer a metal mouth (only took 25 years…)

In which I am officially no longer a metal mouth (it only took 25 years!)

I’ve mentioned before that one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be better about blogging, since I’ve neglected it quite a lot in 2017. I'm planning to post once every week or two, splitting the focus between personal life, my writing process, and living overseas. I understand this is a departure from my previous modus operandi, so I wanted to let you know that if you’d rather just have information about new releases and ARC opportunities, I recommend signing up for my newsletter, which I only use for those announcements. Thanks!

So I’m sitting at my computer last night when my tongue informed me that there was something wrong with my mouth.

Normally my tongue doesn’t inform me about stuff like that. I mean – it’s a tongue, it sort of just rests there on the bottom of my mouth. But I was idly playing with my website, trying to figure out how to make it prettier, when I realized that my 25-year-old fixed retainer had reconfigured itself into a twangy instrument that my tongue was attempting to play.

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