the sea is boiling today

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The sea is boiling today
But that’s okay
We can clear the burning black
From the smoldering bay

The sea is boiling today
But that’s okay
Dead fish are swimming
Belly up to play

The sea is boiling today
But that’s okay
The coral’s gone white
The seaweed’s gone gray

The sea is boiling today
But that’s okay
It’ll only last an hour
Or at most a day

The sea is boiling today
But that’s okay
No need to point fingers
We can afford to delay

The sea is boiling today
But that’s okay
Sure it looks bad here
But not as bad as they

The sea is boiling today
But that’s okay
We promise it gets better
No need not to stay

The sea is boiling today
But that’s okay
We’ll keep our thoughts pure
On our knees to pray

The sea is boiling today
But that’s okay
By the time it’s all gone
We’ll all be away

Scarlet Eyes

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Photo by Flora Westbrook on Pexels.com

I made a casual resolution that I’d like to write a Dracula musical, just for my own enjoyment, because I like my collection of them. This lyric has been clattering around in my head for a while.

is this a dream?
or am I awake?
does the lord come
for my soul to take?

the twilight grows damp
my vision goes dim
the sunset downs dark
all I see is him

i try to awaken
but the whispers insist

the scarlet eyes
the scarlet eyes
the scarlet eyes in the mist

cool on my skin
hot to the touch
have i ever known love
to desire this much?

lights in the shadow
salt on my tongue
sin in my heart
yearning unsung

i try to remember
why i should resist

the scarlet eyes
the scarlet eyes
the scarlet eyes in the mist

Resolute (4)

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

I concluded 2021 with one of the worst work weeks in a bad year and started 2022 with period cramps—like, right after midnight. It’s a good thing I’m not superstitious, otherwise I’d consider it a bad omen. I think most of us agree that 2021 was the last in a trilogy of terrible years that I hope doesn’t have more in its series, but it’s hard to hold out hope these days. I just try to take it a week at a time. Looking too far ahead leads directly to despair, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

However, in spite of the tint of my pessimism glasses, I do have to admit that even a year that tipped toward the bad side of the scale doesn’t necessary have nothing on the good side.

My niece was born at the end of 2020, so we spent 2021 watching her grow. I’m neither maternal nor particularly nurturing, so there aren’t going to be children from my line, but I love that little girl, and getting to see her in person and in pictures and video was the main highlight of my year.

On the writing side, the highlight was publishing the third book in the Thorns series, BLUEBIRDS, although that series is still under most people’s radar. I keep at it in case it crops up later and because I don’t like unfinished things, plus I like this universe. I did my first editing pass of PUPPETEER (T4), cutting the bloated 219K words down to 183K. I’m on the second editing pass now and shooting for under 170K words, if possible, before sending it out to editors and beta readers.

The rest of the writing side was a bit shaky. I tried to write the DRACULA reimagining scheduled in the spring, but I made it about 75K words before I realized it was Not Working. Instead of finishing it and hoping to clean it up later, I wrote myself so deep into Not Working that I had to just stop. When I try again this year, I’m going into it with an outline and an adjusted style for the video epistolary, so we’ll see whether that works.

With the failure of the reimagining attempt, I was a bit at odds with my writing, so I decided to take on a novella—something shorter that wouldn’t hurt as badly if I had to stop. I finished writing creature feature short novel THE VERY HUNGRY at the end of May. I’d originally conceived of it as a short story, so I decided to see if I could recreate that feeling in my head. I came to the conclusion after several starts and stops that some things that play as a movie in one’s head doesn’t always translate to the page, because movies can show rather than tell in such a unique way not available to written narrative. However, after the fourth try, I managed to write a short version, although it’s too long for most anthology calls. I’ll see what I can do with it in the future.

Trying to write the short story version of THE VERY HUNGRY, however, triggered something that I hadn’t planned on for my year. After years of assuming that I wasn’t a short-form writer, I actually ended up writing for a number of short story anthology calls. I do have more stop-restarts than I do for novels, which is frustrating, but at least you don’t lose as much time when you stop-restart after 6K than 75K words. Not counting a few pieces of flash fiction, I wrote 15 stories of 1-15K words. Some of them were too long for the calls and had to be put to the side for now. Of the ones I submitted, some received personalized rejections (which is a good thing), and one of them was accepted! “Resin,” my queer horror-tragedy short story, will be published Feb 2022 in Ghost Orchid Press’ BEYOND THE VEIL.

In addition to short stories this year, I tried my hand at poetry. I’ve always tagged my song lyrics as ‘not a poet,’ because I always felt pretentious as hell writing poetry before, although I’d done a few pieces over the years. I didn’t feel I deserved to call it poetry, much less call myself a poet. But the gothic/horror prompts from Quill & Crow Publishing House inspired me, so about mid-July, I took the plunge. Ever since, I’ve been posting flash poetry daily on my Twitter feed, and I found my voice in it so that I don’t feel pretentious anymore (most of the time). It’s a lot of fun, just trying to create a feeling or image and play and paint with words on a micro scale, and two were published in Quill & Crow’s Volume 3 of CROW CALLS.

Writing both short stories and poetry was a bit like learning a new language, and for a few months after starting each, my brain lit up from all the new imaginative muscles flexing. They’ve since settled, but it was still quite a creative high.

For NaNoWriMo, I planned to take a break from editing PUPPETEER to write a few long short stories or novelettes. I had a list of about three or four I intended to finish during the month. Little did I know that the first one, HOSTILE TERRITORY, would turn into another short novel. So that happened. It needs some work and will probably be a novella by the time it’s trimmed down, and I still have some things I’m not sure about with it. But at least I don’t need to scrap it like the DRACULA reimagining. Just another story to store in the trunk until I can tackle it again.

On a personal level, I didn’t lose any more weight. In fact, I gained a little during the holidays. However, I did get off of my insulin-resistance and cholesterol medications, and the holidays are almost over, so hopefully I’ll be able to get back down to a more manageable level. I’ve come to accept that I am fat and will always be fat at every size, and nothing short of devastating illness or cosmetic surgery is going to change that, so I have to focus on my health rather than my size to avoid disappointment.

I don’t really have personal goals for the year. Like I said, if I try to look much farther than a week, it’s not the greatest feeling. I’ll stick with writing goals, although even that hasn’t been without its frustrations.

In 2022, I’ll finish editing PUPPETEER (T4) and send it out. I hope to self-publish it by the end of the year, although I feel on shakier ground with it than the other four I’ve written. When that’s done, I’ll probably edit short novel THE VERY HUNGRY to prep for submission, although I don’t know where yet. Then I’d like to tackle WILDWORLD (T5), although there are still elements I’m unsure about, so I might need to do some basic outlining to figure it out. After that, I think I’ll block out some months for short story anthology calls and some of the shorts/novelettes on my list. Then I hope to revisit the DRACULA reimagining with a tight outline and see if that helps. For NaNoWriMo 2022, I’d like to start the sequel to UNDEAD ANONYMOUS, which was NaNo 2020’s project, but although I know how it starts, I still don’t know where it’s going, so we’ll see. There’s always something else to work on. My project list doesn’t really get shorter.

Here’s hoping 2022 has more grains of rice on the good side of the scale.

Rattlin Bones

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I’d been holding onto a few lines of this for ages and only came up with a song to go with it today.

Loosely inspired by Ezekiel 37, the Valley of Dry Bones, should have a lovely, rough folk beat, like Bishop Briggs’ “River.”

RATTLIN BONES (EZEKIEL 37)

Rattlin bones
Rattlin bones
Get up and dance
You rattlin bones
Can bones yet live?
You rattlin bones
Rise up in the name of the Lord

Skeleton fingers
On skeleton hands
Counting the time
For the skeleton band
Skeleton feet
With skeleton toes
Tapping along
To the feast of the crows

Rattlin bones
Rattlin bones
Get up and dance
You rattlin bones
Can bones yet live?
You rattlin bones
Rise up in the name of the Lord

Tendons on bone
Muscle to skin
Build up the bodies
To the flesh that they’re in
The breath of life
A song in the air
To dance in the dust
Of the flesh that they bear

Rattlin bones
Rattlin bones
Get up and dance
You rattlin bones
Can bones yet live?
You rattlin bones
Rise up in the name of the Lord

The graves are all open
The souls are all free
Teeming the valley
For all souls to see
The multitude sings
Stomps thousands of feet
Unsettling the dust
To the living hearts’ beat

Rattlin bones
Rattlin bones
Get up and dance
You rattlin bones
Can bones yet live?
You rattlin bones
Rise up in the name of the Lord

We are the Enemy 2.0

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I posted a simpler, cleaner version of WE ARE THE ENEMY last year, but I’ve revisited the first version and decided that, though it has some similar lines, it has a few different kinds of things to say. I’m battling a lot of feelings that are bigger than me, so big I can barely put them into words. I decided to borrow, for now.

WE ARE THE ENEMY 2.0

Truth, justice, and the American way
Heroes fly with stars and stripes, red and blue and white
It’s all okay at the end of an American day
How we do it doesn’t matter if we’re right.

God bless America, we’re right, so we must be good
And if we’re good, we can’t be wrong
And if we can’t be wrong, we do what we should
We do what we should, with an oath and a song.

We are the villains in too many stories
And not just those of those we condemn
We think power makes us strong
And strength gives us the right to win.

That because we are strong, we must be good
That because we are good, we must be free
But look at what we do, look at what we’ve made of you and me
We are the enemy.

Holding the unfinished in steel claws
While buildings crumble to the ground
Our words are sacred, absolute oaths
Never to be torn, burned, or bound.

All without words spoken, without the mark
Can fall to the conviction of our words
Our deeds are counted by the cruelties dealt
Cards we call good, the right of the sword.

I never thought I’d see the day
I never thought I’d see the day
When there were people we didn’t need to save
Sacrificed because they had the wrong name
Because they didn’t play the right game
Or didn’t resist wrong the right way.

I never thought I’d see the day
Until the day I knew it had been here all along
Trails of tears, trails of blood
Stepping on the bodies of innocents
To climb to the top and tell ourselves
It’s our day, our sun
Because we’re the ones casting the shadow
We never put down the sword or the word
There was never depth too low for us to go
As we cursed those casting shade in the shadow we made.

Because here I thought we were trying
Instead of lying and calling it truth
Instead of executions called justice out of court
Instead of pride for an American way
That’s always been the American way.

I knew we were bad. I thought we were better.

We are the villains in too many stories
And not just those of those we condemn
We think power makes us strong
And strength gives us the right to win.

That because we are strong, we must be good
That because we are good, we must be free
But look at what we do, look at what we’ve made of you and me
We are the enemy.

BLUEBIRDS Playlist

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I usually have this out sooner, but I’ve been struggling with my most recent project, called its time of death earlier this month, and started another project to cleanse my writing palate, so I kept postponing.

This is an interesting collection of songs from all kinds of genres, but with a few singer staples that I use in this series as well. It’s the shortest novel, but there’s a lot going on, both with the plot and the characters, especially as the emotional side of the story becomes increasingly complicated.

Fun Fact: The name of the book was originally called SWAN SONG when I had different plans for it, but after the first edit, it was changed to BLUEBIRDS, which felt like it reflected the theme of the story better. It was partially inspired by the bird songs below, including both of the ones called ‘Bluebird.’

The rules: No more than two songs by each artist, and no song specially written or covered for a movie (as far as I know).

“Summertime Sadness” – Lana Del Ray & Cedric Gervais
“Cry” – Kelly Clarkson
“Electricity” – Delain
“Somethin’ Bad (with Carrie Underwood)” – Miranda Lambert
“Dirty Little Secret” – All-American Rejects
“Go” – Sandra McCracken
“I’ve Got Wheels” – Miranda Lambert
“Opheliac” – Emilie Autumn
“Fear” – Sarah McLachlan
“Glitter & Gold” – Barns Courtney
“Curse” – Agnes Obel
“Bring on the Wonder” – Susan Enan feat. Sarah McLachlan
“Lust” – Tori Amos
“No Such Thing” – Sara Bareilles
“Beast” – Agnes Obel
“Good Girl” – Lily Kershaw
“Burnin’ Heretics” – Apoptygma Berzerk
“Maybe” – Lily Kershaw
“No One Else” – Allison Iraheta
“Do You Remember the First Time?” – Pulp
“Songbird” – Eva Cassidy
“Swine” – Lady Gaga
“My Happy Ending” – Avril Lavigne
“Breakeven” – The Script
“Castle Down” – Emilie Autumn
“Bluebird” – Christina Perri
“Adia” – Sarah McLachlan
“Goodbye to You” – Michelle Branch
“Summertime Sadness – Within Temptation
“Bluebird” – Sara Bareilles

BLUEBIRDS (Thorns 3) now available

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Bring elements three to me, bluebirds,
My sweet blue witch and rose,
And I shall set them free,
As the story always goes.

With everything that’s happened to her over the last year, Olivia is taking a well-deserved break from all things fairy tale. If she goes a whole day without thinking about rats, princesses, and hearts being ripped out of chests, she counts that as a success.

Then someone kidnaps Caspar and Tobin and enlists Adelaide and Olivia to rescue them in exchange for collecting a few magical items with no help from the Hunter Brotherhood.

A rhyming ransom note is bad enough, but Olivia hadn’t exactly planned on any quests, and a scavenger hunt for a manticore tail, faerie fruit, and burned wood from a lost city promises to be as simple as it sounds.

Kindle e-book
Trade paperback
Universal link to all other vendors

It’s the conclusion to the unofficial Rose Princess trilogy part of the series. I have book 4 and 5 written, and I plan to write book 6 next year, so it is a series in serious progress.

Review: PULSE

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As always, spoilers ahead.

After the undeniable success of The Ring remake in American theaters, studios couldn’t get enough of Japanese and Korean horror remakes, and in usual movie-studio style trying to take advantage of a good thing until it isn’t good anymore, they wrung that trend for every dollar they could (and continue to the day, with the enraging announcement that the incomparable Korean zombie movie Train to Busan is getting an entirely unnecessary American remake). Also as usual, only the first few entries really had anything to offer. The Grudge was a decent follow-up to The Ring, even if it lacked its own identity. I would put Pulse up there as an entry that really had no right to work the way it did, because on the surface, it feels generic, like something an autobot would create, which may or may not be ironic.

Keep in mind during this review that I haven’t seen Kairo, the original Japanese move that inspired Pulse. It’s on my list of things to watch, but I simply haven’t had the opportunity. So I can’t compare the quality. I can only judge Pulse on its own merits. Also, I’ve only seen the unrated version, so I can’t speak to what elements were in the theatrical release versus what was in the unrated release.

Was Pulse great? No. Was Pulse good? Sometimes, but I wouldn’t call it particularly original. Was Pulse good enough? That’s where I would put it. Moments of interest suggest there was something more that could have been done with this movie, but I don’t think anyone was really trying for interesting. Wouldn’t be the first time I felt like studios took horror audiences for granted. However, it’s worth noting that, like Gothika, Pulse is semi-regular viewing for me.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike Gothika, the suicide trigger warning is high for this movie. Maybe that’s why I connected to it–as a nearly lifelong sufferer of depression, the suicidal impulse isn’t as far away from me as I would like, so the movie ends up reflecting something I find in myself all too often. As a consequence, though, I have to be careful about when I watch it. I don’t let myself watch it when I’m in a deeper depression and suicidal ideation is high. I think trigger warnings on horror can be a bit redundant—I’m not entirely sure what else people expect from a horror movie—but I have a strong enough reaction to Pulse if I watch it at a bad time that I feel compelled to provide the warning. The warning means that the movie works for what it intended to convey, so it’s not a bad thing. Just a preliminary flag, in case you might have the same issue.

Like I said before, Pulse really shouldn’t work as well as it does. For one thing, it presents us with highly CGI monsters–even the fact that they’re from a digital reality doesn’t really fix the way that heavy CGI doesn’t register as real enough for horror work. It’s a big no-no for me and often undercuts the work of legitimate body actors. I’ve lost count of the time that Doug Jones and Javier Botet suffer from the over-digitization of their characters. And frankly, I can’t think of a single digital effect that has scared me.

Even when they minimize the digitization effect, however, the monsters just don’t…do it for me. They’re not frightening, and the sucking the life effect isn’t scary. The closest to effect that we get is Stone’s demise, with his distinctive face distorted as he dissolves into the wall, the bulging of his eyes. The black mold bruising effect is pretty, but I’m not sure it signifies disease quite the way it could have. I guess it just felt a bit mild and underdone, visuals we’ve seen before that don’t stand out in a crowd of monsters. Generic ghosts in the machine. Just…meh. Not the reaction you want from a horror movie.

A lot of the horror movies of the new millennium aughts tended to be heavily filtered with a prevailing color that bleeds into every element of the movie. For Pulse, they chose a Matrix-y green to contrast with the bright red computer tape for a Freddy Krueger combination that was only occasionally effective. I suspect the scenes where the contrast was strongest were taken almost straight from shots in the original, but I can’t speak to that, because I haven’t seen the J-horror version. There was just something about the angle and framing of those shots that reminded me of Japanese horror that I have seen.

Unfortunately, the times it didn’t work were when the scenes were too flooded with the filter of choice, whether red or green. The Ring depended a lot on blue and blue-green filters, but that really fit rainy Seattle and the thematic water element of the movie, especially since it had its moments of color—the green of Shelter Mountain Inn and the light hitting the Japanese maple. A filter works best when it enhances the atmosphere, and I’d say that it worked really well in Josh’s apartment, where we’re given a good sense of the emotional deterioration that has led to real physical decay. But at many points in the movie, the filter becomes more saturated to distraction rather than effect.

The cast manages to take the movie seriously, even if I’m not sure the director does. We have Brad Dourif and Octavia Spencer in notable cameos, and Pulse introduced me to Rick Gonzalez, who’s one of those people who just makes me happy when I see him guest-starring now.

Ian Somerhalder as Dexter is a bit uneven, and I don’t get a good sense of why he’s there, other than Generic Love Interest and looking pretty, but you know, I’m easy and I’ll take it. He’s riding his Lost high but hasn’t entered Vampire Diaries popularity yet, so it’s a nice look at him before that.

Jonathan Tucker pads his horror cred with a memorable turn as Josh, flexing his exceptional skill at setting a mood with his own subtle body work and his quiet intensity.

The real surprise here for me is Kristen Bell as Mattie. At the time of the movie, she’s riding her own TV high from Veronica Mars and had yet to find Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Frozen, or The Good Place fame. With her fair coloring, she’s the least served by the sick green filter, because she ends up seeming like she’s spent too much time in a chlorinated pool. In addition, the makeup artist went rather Avril Lavigne with the smoky eye, but I kind of like it.

Bell usually brings this sort of cheerful snark into her work that she uses really well, but it’s not something that she can really take with her into a horror movie. And she doesn’t. Like Julia Roberts in Mary Reilly, Kristen Bell doesn’t bring any of her trademark sunny hardness to the role, barely even smiles. It’s a story about a suicide epidemic, so there’s precious little to smile about. But as a small, slight woman, Bell uses the vulnerability and persistence in her tool belt instead. It speaks to her skills that she manages to make for an unexpected horror lead. She’s not a Scream Queen, but she holds her own with her grief for the death of her boyfriend and her commitment to fighting what seems inevitable while everything falls apart around her.

The cyber element of the movie seems quite dated at this point, as most technology-based horror does. The Ring played up the obsolescence of videotape, but Pulse presents itself as tech-savvy, which means the tech ages badly, and of course the Hacker Magic element that triggered the release of the computer virus monsters is laughable, even to this profoundly tech-unsavvy viewer, so it’s a good thing they don’t dwell much on the why—because the why doesn’t really matter as much as as the ‘what now?’

What works in Pulse, as is true for most horror movies, is where the horror gets unmistakably human—in Josh’s despair when we first see him post-computer-virus-monster attack; in Mattie’s psych student grief, especially when she visits Josh’s apartment before he dies and after; in Stone’s memorable demise; in Isabelle’s monologue that basically covers how depression feels at its worst; in the way that each infected person speaks as though something’s weighing on the tongue, walks and stands as though carrying a burden on their shoulders, sometimes has trouble just convincing themselves to talk or pick up a phone. It’s a very real representation of depression, and I’m there for it.

Pulse reuses the unsettling video gimmick that implanted The Ring‘s Samara into the horror collective and has been reused many times since without much success (I’m looking at you, Slender Man and Friend Request). However, the virus here shows streams of people’s deepening despair, sometimes the moment of their suicide, with the added Internet uncertainty of whether they’re real or just a sick prank, and it feels more real than any of the other Ring imitators. At the moment that the computer downloads the virus, the images infect the viewer with the same sense of despair.

Scarily enough, suicide is, in fact, contagious, especially when it’s shared in the wrong way or when we dwell in the suicidal moment itself, which is why I do post the trigger warning, because that’s the exact moment that the virus shares, over and over and over again.

Also, although the script is terrible, especially for the light-hearted bits, and written by people who had never heard a college student in the early aughts talk, the quiet moments actually bring up some interesting thoughts about technology and communication.

Sure, the big Ghost in the Machine horror element is that we’re surrounded by technology and have integrated it into our lives so much that something destructive within it would destroy us in a matter of days. That’s pretty much a given and the reason real AI can be a terrifying prospect. It also makes some hackneyed comments on how the Young People These Days are lost in their tech—the same argument being made in Ghost in the Machine horror today, with the same eye-roll from the audience. The truth is, the problem isn’t what technology we use. The problem is in how we communicate and relate with one another—or the ways we don’t communicate or relate. It’s not the tech that’s gotten in the way of our communicating with each other. Tech is just the tool, and like any tool, it’s fairly neutral—what matters is how it’s used. If you think the loners who spend all their time online would be social butterflies if WoW had never been invented and that influencers would be less addicted to what people think of them, maybe you’ve forgotten what it was really like to be in a world without Internet.

In the movie, we see how technology helps forge emotional connections—a phone call between friends, chatrooms to deal with grief. And we see how tech is used in miscommunication or lack of communication, with Mattie ghosting Josh, Josh not calling Mattie back, the phone call between Mattie and Stone when Stone isn’t saying what he’s feeling…for all of these things, the communication issue is because of the people, not the tech. Perhaps the biggest example is in Mattie’s mother trying to call her and Mattie rejecting the call, then Mattie having trouble getting in touch with her mother when she finally needs the emotional connection—with technology allowing Mattie to keep her mother at a distance and the tragedy of missed connection.

The biggest weakness in Pulse, other than the fact that the remake conceit is already tired in 2006, is the ending. Horror endings are notorious for falling short of the build-up. Screenings show that at least part of the reaction to an ending is cultural (see the American v. the British ending of The Descent), but it’s also very much a pitfall of the horror genre in general. It’s such a delicate business, giving horror a satisfying ending, and it doesn’t happen very often, even among the greats.

But the writers (one of whom was Wes Craven, but everyone agrees they just wanted his name on the film to bolster it) wrote themselves into a corner and hit their nose squarely in that corner when they tried to wrap everything up at the climactic scene. And then we’re given an epilogue that feels tacked on as an afterthought—perhaps in response to unfavorable reactions to the original ending in screenings. And it includes a voice-over explanation. Ew.

I don’t think all voice narrations are a bad thing. It can mimic the effect of first-person storytelling when used correctly (on Veronica Mars, for instance). But when it’s used as a prologue or epilogue or throughout the movie or show in order to explain things along the way, congratulations, you just broke the show-don’t-tell rule by Telling Everything. And all it does is scream in neon letters that the studio doesn’t trust the audience to understand what’s going on, so instead of making it clearer, they just Tell Them.

The voice-over epilogue was completely unnecessary. I think the epilogue still would have felt tacked on without it, but it might have been more effective just by removing the voice-over.

Pulse is not good. But Pulse should have been bad. It doesn’t know whether it’s a throwaway young-person horror movie or an interesting, apocalyptic, depression-contagion horror movie that I feel they should have gone with instead. When you strip away the generic horror elements and some bad dialogue, though, it’s surprisingly decent. Just gauge whether your depression meter can handle a suicide epidemic before you nuke the popcorn for this one.

Resolute (3)

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What a year.

What a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

Sure, my dayjob discovered we all could, in fact, work from home because a vast majority of my job is digital anyway, and our industry is a 24/7 industry, so I wasn’t furloughed. Both of these are good things. I had a steady stream of income when other people still don’t know when they’re going to have one of those again. Also, I know I’m not the only one who has benefited from a tiny extra bit of sleep and no commute.

But something we thought would only affect us for a few months ballooned into something that might not end at all because of incompetence, ignorance, and belligerence as well as deliberate misinformation. I have a job, but it’s hard to believe that our landscape will ever look different or that my world will expand beyond my backyard.

That’s another way in which I recognize that I am fortunate. I was already living with my parents, so I’m not completely alone, and it’s a house in which all three of us have our own spaces. We have a large backyard, so our small world is still spacious. I also recognize that my extreme introversion works in my favor as well, although even introverts require some social interaction. My friend and I meet in our backyard to safely watch horror movies on our television out there. Yet another luxury.

I’ve had moments of claustrophobia, usually followed by agoraphobia that I’m not sure will subside when we’re told to go back to work in an office, so like most people, I’m uncertain what the future is going to look like. Hopefully that oft-mocked interview question ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ goes the way of the dodo. Things haven’t gone so badly for me personally, but God, the amount of pain going on outside of my world… I feel, I mourn, I cry, I fear. Even if my surface is calm, the kids are not all right.

As with most creatives, I’ve had some issues with productivity, although I’ve pushed myself through the anxiety-, depression-, and fear-induced slumps, because I’ve had years to learn this kind of discipline, to write without motivation, going all the way back to 2012. I had a few unmentioned writing projects, and in addition, I strove to achieve the goals set out during last year’s recap.

It was my hope to publish DEEP DOWN, DRIFT, and BLUEBIRDS (T3). I managed to accomplish two out of three. BLUEBIRDS (T3) publication has been pushed out to next month, because I haven’t even gotten to the professional and beta edits. It’s disappointing, but I had a few things interrupt my big writing block from September to now, so that pushed me into this month. I’m still prolific, just not as fast as my internal book clock wants me to be. I’m not even kidding about that. After about a month of my writing pace, I’m ready to be done, which doesn’t really work for the longer novels. DEEP DOWN and DRIFT were so satisfying because I completed both in roughly three weeks each, but that was 2019, so alas.

Too bad I didn’t have a short book on the docket in 2020. From mid-September to mid-January (which I’m counting as part of 2020, because it makes things less complicated for my goals), I wrote CROOKED HOUSE (T5), finished it halfway through NaNoWriMo, started UNDEAD ANONYMOUS, and finished that last Sunday.

CROOKED HOUSE (T5) (fairy tale remix): 158,634 words
UNDEAD ANONYMOUS (horror standalone): 151,749 words
Total: 310,383 words

For the Thorns series, CROOKED HOUSE is actually short, to contrast with PUPPETEER in 2019, which was obscenely long at over 220K words. But hey, I’m a big believer in stories being as long as they need to be, and refuse to break up a novel into two parts for length rather than story reasons unless someone else requires it, and in self-publishing, I make my own rules. As long as it’s over 120K words after edits, it should be fine on a shelf.

UNDEAD ANONYMOUS’s length is a bit unfortunate, because I’d hoped that I could use it to try to break into traditional publishing. Even after extensive edits, I think it’ll be too long for a debut novel, especially in horror. However, I’ll still give it a try once I do my edits, and if it doesn’t go anywhere, I’ll just move on to the next appropriate trunk novel.

I didn’t meet my song-writing goal of an average of a song per month, but that’s all right. The few I wrote hit all the relevant points and expressed my feelings about this year of not a lot happening where I am but a hell of a lot happening elsewhere. I also didn’t meet my horror movie review goal. Like 2019, my schedule was just too tight.

I lost a significant amount of weight again, although it was harder this time, so I don’t know how much more I’ll be able to lose without making some significant sacrifices on everyday food, which is the hard part for me because it’s also the least sustainable change. But unlike last year, it finally made a dent in my wardrobe, which was FUCKING AMAZING, although my body isn’t the same as it was the last time I was this weight. In addition, all my blood test numbers were also FUCKING AMAZING, which means my doctor recommended that we try halving some of my medication, which was the primary goal, so GOAL MET.

Yes, I’m yelling, but I’ve devoted a giant chunk of my time when I’m not writing to aerobic exercising for my heart health, so seeing some objective success in my results warrants excitement on my part. I’m hoping that the halving of my prescriptions proves to be justified in my next set of blood tests and that maybe I can get rid of some of them altogether. I’m hoping to lose another chunk of weight as well, but like I said, that might be more difficult this year, and the percentage of weight loss I’ve had is already higher than average for sustainable loss, so believe it or not, that doesn’t bode well. The science of body weight is a far more complicated thing than we’d like to believe, which is why I try to be careful with weight goals. Sometimes, no matter what you want, you have to be realistic. Which bleeds into my next point.

I pushed all the way through 2020, burning myself out multiple times along the way, with the promise that I would be easier on myself in 2021. Which is where we are now.

I haven’t set up a 2021 writing schedule. Other than fulfilling last year’s goal of putting out BLUEBIRDS, I’m not planning on self-publishing anything unless I find myself craving a good round of edits instead of another writing project and the edits go better than planned and I can get something in to my editors. I haven’t blocked out my writing and editing like I did for the last two years. I’m not holding myself accountable for anything.

2021 is going to be the year when I let myself rest. That doesn’t mean I won’t work, but I’m going to allow myself more substantial breaks between work. I work because I like to do it, because I need the mental stimulation of creativity. Starting on a project and not letting up until I’m finished is just part of the process, but if I need to take a month off afterward, that’s what I’m going to do. If I want to take a few weeks off to reacquaint myself with the piano or teach myself calligraphy or return to sketching or jewelry-making, then I’ll do it. I don’t like being bored, and I love creating. But sometimes a girl also just needs to binge-watch something that’s more than a limited series during the three days she can’t exercise because she’s sloughing, and I’m super behind on my watch list.

Among the more concrete plans I do have for 2021, there’s a DRACULA retelling, because I’ve wanted to do one since I first read the illustrated and highly abridged version in fourth grade. I devoured versions of the story ever since, and inspiration finally hit for a concept I think will be tremendous fun. I also have a rewrite of YA near-future dystopia WAR HOUSE, which I wrote for NaNoWriMo back in…gosh, years ago, but that needs some serious alterations to work. I also have a list of assorted short stories and novellas (primarily horror) to choose from that I hope will be less stressful on me than my usual long-form writing. Even if they end up novel-length, they should still stay relatively short. That might give me some additional fodder for breaking into traditional publishing–or more fodder for my self-publishing backlist. I’m aiming to be a hybrid author, because after this year, I’m quite comfortable with self-publishing, but it’s expensive as hell, and my accountant keeps giving me side-eye.

For all five of you following the Thorns series, PUPPETEER (T4) and CROOKED HOUSE (T5) are written, but I’ll probably only give them one intensive edit each this year instead of my preparatory double edit, and I won’t publish PUPPETEER until next year. I also intend to take a break from writing the Thorns series by postponing OTHERWORLD (T6) until next year as well so I can get some more standalones under my belt. To be honest, I have pieces of that story in my head but no real plot. That isn’t unusual. I’m hoping to have a eureka moment at some point.

I’ll admit, I didn’t have much hope for this year, and everything that’s happened since has done nothing to change that hopelessness. I fear everything is going to blow up. I fear my brain is a fragile thing that’s going to shatter at any moment, and that I’ve teetered on the edge a few times and almost want myself to break to give myself permission to just fucking SLEEP for a month.

Writing is one of the few things I can control and one of the few things I’m actually good at, so I cling to what I can. I make the worlds in which I can escape. That’s no mean feat.

Also, I mentioned that I’m always behind on things. I finally jumped on a few social media trains–which are already square, but I’m enjoying them anyway. You can find me now on Instagram, and third time’s the charm on Twitter, where I finally feel I’m connecting with a community.

My vanity shelf is growing apace. I’m quite pleased with it.