When your karma needs a swift kick in the rear

A few days ago, I said something stupid and thoughtless and inconsiderate to a fellow writer on twitter, a writer whose work I admire greatly. I was trying to tell her how much I loved one of her books and instead . . . well, it was graceless to say the least. And I’m ashamed of myself. I know better than to try to say something complicated on twitter, let alone anything negative. Idiot. I considered deleting it, but it’s out there and I need to suck it up and own it. It’s not the first time and, knowing me, it won’t be the last. Nature of the beast.

But instead of dwelling on it, I decided maybe it’s time to remind myself to focus on the positive and recommend a few books I’ve read in the past several months and truly enjoyed. (Yes, that writer’s are among them.)

Keep in mind, these are NOT book reviews. I don’t do that anymore, partly because Amazon thinks writers shouldn’t be allowed to review books [really, Amazon? REALLY?], but also because on the rare occasions I’ve done a review over here I get a bunch of requests to do more. So please don’t ask me. I’m not a book reviewer. I’ll hate saying it, but the answer will be no.

I’ve been reading (and writing) a lot of romance lately, so these recommendations are all in that genre, although that might be the only similarity among them. Some are sweet romance and others are . . . a good bit darker. Or steamier. The links are all to Amazon but probably you could get these books elsewhere as well.

81HL-pHEgTL._SL1500_First is Jackie Ashenden’s TALKING DIRTY WITH THE BOSS. Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this book is about, y’know, talking dirty with the boss. Okay, fine, that’s part of it. But it’s so much more than that (hence my dislike for the title, but we just won’t talk about that) (any more). The hero has OCD issues, which is a spectrum and not the same for everyone, and Ashenden handles it so well and this guy comes across as troubled but also gruffly sweet and charming, and the relationship felt genuine. I loved this book and didn’t want it to end.

Besides being incredibly gracious when you say stupid things to her on twitter, Ashenden has become as close to an auto-buy as I get. I’ve purchased the first two books in her Nine Circles series — I loved the excerpts — and am saving them to read as a reward for finishing a project, but other books of hers I’ve read and would recommend are:

HAVING HER (Lies We Tell Book 2)
TAKING HIM (Lies We Tell Book 1)
NEVER SEDUCE A SHEIKH (International Bad Boys Book 2)
THE BILLIONAIRE’S CLUB: New York boxed set

Next up is Rebecca Zanetti. I read the first three in her Sin Brothers series and then pretty much gorged on her backlist while waiting for the fourth book, which recently came out. She writes the kind of ridiculously strong alpha male heroes that you’d want to strangle in real life and, if you like that (I love that), you probably can’t go wrong with any of her books. But this particular series is a “highly recommend” from me. It’s listed as paranormal, but it’s not your standard witches and vamps and were-things. It’s more that the heroes all have enhanced abilities (hearing, strength, etc).

FORGOTTEN SINS
SWEET REVENGE
BLIND FAITH
TOTAL SURRENDER

81WeEVt9H+L._SL1500_Carolyn Crane is another auto-buy for me. Just go to her Author Page and pick anything, but I especially love her Undercover Associates series. She also writes as Annika Martin and the book she co-wrote with Skye Warren, PRISONER, is one of the most disturbing yet well-written books I’ve read in a long time. But seriously, heed the warning about dubious (or complete lack of) consent. This book isn’t for everyone.

Let’s see, who else? I guess I’m really recommending writers more than particular books at this point, so I’ll just go ahead and link to their Author Page over at Amazon or I’ll be over here all day listing books.

Sarah Morgan is another auto-buy (the O’Neil Brothers trilogy is wonderful) and the first in her new Puffin Island series was delightful as well.

81NyUmbtEfL._SL1500_Victoria Dahl, of course. I’m a huge fan of her writing and, really, of everything she says on twitter (when she’s not taking an ill-advised well deserved extended break from it) (ahem). She has a new book coming out in July titled TAKING THE HEAT, which you can pre-order now (I sure did and I don’t even know, or care, what it’s about).

Oh, and Kelly Hunter is another terrific writer with an extensive backlist. She has recently started publishing with Tule (so have a bunch of other talented writers) and I’ve loved those books — SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and THE HONEYMOON TRAP, for example — as well as the ones with Harlequin, especially the ones subtitled The Bennett Family (strong heroes, stronger heroines).

Kat Latham has become a favourite as well. I absolutely love her charming rugby players and have read all of her books, including her latest that just came out in May. So good.

I’m also really enjoying Laura Kaye’s HARD INK series, even though I’ve gotten a couple books behind. The ones I’ve read have been fantastic.

Oh, and a relatively new-to-me writer, Karyn Lawrence, has two books out, KEEP and STAY. I read and enjoyed both and it looks like a third, SURRENDER, is coming out later this month. There’s a good bit of violence, so be wary if that offends you. Although, thinking about it, that’s true of many of the books mentioned above.

I think that’s enough for now. Pretty sure I’ve included enough links that this will go directly into the spam folder of those subscribing by email. Ooops.

Mind you, these are just a handful of writers whose books I’ve enjoyed recently. No one paid me, or even asked me, to recommend these books and I didn’t get any of them for free. Well, unless it was a free-to-everyone kind of deal. That’s entirely possible. It’s not an exhaustive list of favourites or even of All-Time Best reads. I’d never be able to come up with such a list. There are just too many.

But don’t take my word for it. My reading preferences are pretty varied and just because you might like my writing* doesn’t mean you’re going to like everything I read. So read the description and sample pages, peruse the reviews, make up your own mind. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover a new favourite.

Got any recommendations of your own? Leave a title or a link in the comments, all genres welcome. I’m always looking for new ways to procrastinate good books to read. I read fast and devour a LOT of books when I’m not writing, or embarrassing myself on twitter. Which I will go back to doing now. The writing, not the other thing.

*Reminder: if you want me to send you an email when I have a new book available, sign up here for my mailing list.

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Filed under book reviews, twitter, writing

Does this insomnia make me look fat?

My son is getting married next weekend. This makes me so happy. Mostly because I absolutely love the woman he’s engaged to and they’re perfect for each other, but also because being the mother of the groom is way less work than it was being the mother of the bride. Pretty much all I have to do is show up. Well, that and dig out old pictures of my son, because what is a wedding without the parents embarrassing the bride and groom? I’ll scatter a few of them throughout this post. Spread the joy.

He was such a happy baby.

He was such a happy baby.

So, of course, my main concern has been trying to lose a bit of weight before some maniac with a camera tries to get within shooting distance of my personal space. Have I mentioned how much I hate having my picture taken? I’ve hated it all my life, even when I was oblivious of judgments. People hear this and invariably say some version of, “But you look good!” That has nothing to do with it. It’s a visceral aversion. I remember running away from my own father when he tried to make a home movie when I was a child. And my father was not a scary guy. Well, unless you tried to date one of his four daughters, I guess.

My parents and my children. See? Not scary at all.

My parents and my children. See? Not scary at all.

As an aside to those of you who might be interested in calorie tracker things, I recently discovered MyFitnessPal and I love it. It has been helpful and a real eye-opener to write down every single thing I eat each day, to see exactly what those foods contain in terms of calories, carbs, fat, protein, sugar, sodium. Plus, it’s free.

A boy and his best friend... until his sister came along.

A boy and his best friend, Baxter… until his sister came along.

But I digress. This isn’t a post about weight or even about torture-by-camera. It’s about sleep. Okay, it’s also about how sleep, or lack thereof, affects weight and my ability to snarl politely.

Ahem.

First of all, you should know that I’m pretty much nocturnal. I am certainly capable of waking up before noon, but I won’t be happy about it and probably I won’t be fully functional at that time of day. On the other hand, it’s no big deal at all for me to stay up all night writing. It’s just easier to focus when the rest of the world is dark and quiet.

The three of them were inseparable.

The three of them were inseparable.

My ideal schedule would be to go to sleep between 2 and 4 AM and sleep for eight hours and wake up between 10 AM and noon. Never mind that if you admit to sleeping until noon, people assume you’re being lazy. No, I’m getting eight hours of sleep.

The trouble is, I got into a routine earlier this year when I couldn’t fall asleep, no matter what time of day, or night, it was. And when I did sleep, it was only for a couple hours and then once I woke up I couldn’t fall back to sleep. Serious insomnia. It was horrible. It’s also a direct result of being deeply immersed in writing a story. My body gets tired, but my brain won’t shut down enough to sleep. It’s not the first time this has happened, but this time was lasting a lot longer than it ever had before.

Long-term lack of sleep makes me snarly and crazy. I’m normally pretty even-tempered and have a very long fuse. It takes a LOT to make me angry. Unless I’m sleep deprived.

Yes, I tried all the usual “strategies” for easing into sleep, although I drew the line at warm milk. That’s just disgusting. Nothing worked. And I refuse to resort to sleeping pills.

The beach has always been his favourite place.

The beach has always been his favourite place.

Then my daughter mentioned that her husband the MD was having similar trouble sleeping during a stretch of weeks working the night shift. What he found that helped was taking melatonin. I was surprised because he’s even more opposed than I am to taking medicine — I know, irony, the doctor doesn’t want to be medicated — and this sounded to me an awful lot like taking sleeping pills. But my daughter said no, it’s just giving your body a natural substance that it probably isn’t producing enough of. So you could sleep.

I was skeptical. But I was also desperate. Experts claim that a good night’s sleep is critical to all sorts of things, including losing weight. Never mind that, I was starting to growl at inanimate objects that weren’t even cameras.

So I tried it.

The first time, it was 5:30 AM and I’d been tossing and turning for hours before I finally got fed up and took a pill. I’m not sure when, exactly, I fell asleep but I slept soundly and woke up at 3:30 PM and decided maybe melatonin worked a little too well.

The next night, I took it earlier, at maybe 3 AM, feeling like one of the three little pigs going to market earlier to avoid the big bad wolf. And again I slept soundly, waking up once to use the bathroom and then going right back to sleep. And woke up at 3:30 PM.

Sigh. That tactic didn’t work for the pigs either, if I recall correctly.

More sports. More smiles. I'm so lucky my kids like each other.

More sports. More smiles. I’m so lucky my kids like each other.

Don’t get me wrong, it felt awesome to sleep that soundly. It was such a huge relief. But I really did not enjoy waking up in the middle of the afternoon. Even I would categorize that as being a bit lazy.

Well, I’m nothing if not stubborn and I wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Plus, I’d been sleep deprived for weeks and weeks at this point and wasn’t willing to give up the bliss of somnolence, even if it was excessive. So I kept trying, taking it earlier and earlier, hoping once sleep became a regular occurrence rather than a rarity my body would adjust to normal. Well, normal for me. And it did.

I now take the melatonin sometime around midnight and fall asleep around 2 or 4 AM and sleep for eight (or seven, or nine) hours. It’s awesome. And the best part is that it hasn’t negatively affected my ability to write. I was worried about that. I was resigned to never sleeping well, ever again, if it messed with my writing.

So I’m back to feeling well rested and somewhat human again.

Unfortunately, I have not noticed a huge drop in weight as a result and I still want to gruesomely mutilate anyone who points a camera at me, but at least I no longer have the urge to throw a kitchen chair through the bay window every morning before caffeine.

I think this is my favourite picture of them, ever.

I think this is my favourite picture of him, ever.

I’m curious about what will happen if I stop taking it. I seriously doubt it’s habit-forming in a narcotic way, but perhaps it has the potential to become a psychological crutch. I wonder whether my body has adjusted well enough that I no longer need the supplement. I think I’ll hold off on that experiment until after the wedding. No need to test my capacity for sleep-deprived civility.

What about the rest of you? Are you nocturnal? Have you had similar trouble sleeping? Got any tried-and-true tips for conquering insomnia? What about tips on how to smile convincingly when it is the absolute last thing you want to do in that moment?

Scan 42

 

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Filed under health and well-being, parenting

Words, words every where, nor any post to link

Of all the April Fools jokes out there on the interwebs yesterday — well, of the limited number I saw, since I was mostly offline — I think the one by WordPress announcing AutoMatton was my favourite.

Here’s part of their pitch for this awesome new blogging tool:

Writer’s block? No problem! Announcing AutoMatton

As WordPress.com becomes easier to use, one piece of unanswered feedback keeps nagging at us: blogging is hard! Not only do you have to think of something worth saying, you have to take valuable time out of your day to write those things down in an appealing, easy-to-read way! Improvements to WordPress.com can speed up things like load times, but we simply couldn’t remove human nature from the equation… until now.

What is AutoMatton?

AutoMatton uses a simple machine learning algorithm to predict the posts that you will write, taking predictive text and auto-correct to the next level.

Yeah, they got me. It took me way too long to realize they were kidding. I tell myself this gullibility was because I was skimming through email not long after waking up and before a significant amount of caffeine had hit my bloodstream and I was still feeling pretty groggy . . .

But honestly? I really really wanted to believe this was an actual thing.

You see, I’m having a tough time coming up with appropriate blog posts. I’m not sure when, exactly, I started worrying about being all appropriate over here, and maybe I should knock it off, but every time lately I feel a thousand or so words bubbling up in my brain it’s usually about the drama du jour and . . . I just can’t make myself write the post.

It’s not that I don’t want to. Holy guacamole, do I want to. After all, I have Something To Say. I feel compelled to point out that People Are Missing The Point, Dammit. On all sorts of topics, Things I Feel Strongly About, including but not limited to:

  • Politics
  • Civics
  • Conformity
  • Decorum
  • Anonymity
  • Ethics
  • Pseudonyms
  • Hypocrisy
  • Courage
  • Privacy
  • Feminism
  • Religion
  • More Politics
  • More Civics
  • Common Fucking Decency

But then I stop and ask myself: do you really want to be that person? One of the usual suspects who weigh in on everydamnthing, who love the sound of their own voice above all others? One of those who jump in just to see how big a splash they can make? One who, be honest, has nothing new or interesting or enlightening to add other than their own ire or cynicism or questionable wisdom? Do you really want to get sucked into the latest internet quagmire?

And the answer lately has been, invariably, “no.”

Oh, look! Here’s a diversion picture of The White Ninja, nodding off to sleep on the back of my recliner.

A small break from her ninja activities

A small break from her ninja activities

 

But . . . but . . . I should write a new blog post and don’t know what to say! And WordPress’ AutoMatton would have made it all so easy! Just fill in a topic!

How is the content created?

AutoMatton’s job is to figure out the words that you would use given a specific topic to write about. It scours your existing words, fills in the blanks, and checks its own work. Each post AutoMatton writes is compared to your canon of work, old report card grades, everything written by Kurt Vonnegut, and Terms of Service documents from the top 500 most visited websites. AutoMatton then feeds this information back to itself to improve the accuracy of its predictions. It’s like magic.

Actually, the words aren’t the problem. I’m a writer. I can write any number of words, probably too many words, on any given topic, especially the ones listed above. The problem lately has been finding a topic. An appropriate topic.

All this self-restraint has been killing me, leaving me without words. You’d think I had killed an albatross.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Oooh, and here’s another diversion a sign of Spring! My purple-leaf sand cherry tree blooming against a Carolina blue sky.

The honeybees love these flowers

The honeybees love these flowers

 

Whoops. That was from last week and already sadly outdated, not unlike the latest kerfuffle. Here’s one from yesterday afternoon: blooming redbud branches poking through the holly bushes and catching the last rays of sunset.

Yes, the redbud blossoms are purple, not red

Yes, redbud blossoms are purple, not red

 

It’s so much easier, and far less controversial, to just keep my head down and go back to writing stories. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Giving voice to things both great and small through fiction. Not sure how much longer I can maintain that ruse, but for now that’s my strategy.

What have the rest of you all been up to? Anything inappropriate you want to discuss? Anything untoward got you all hot under the collar?

Come sit over here by me and spill it. We’ll use our indoor voices.

 

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Filed under blogging, deep thoughts

And sometimes, it feels like you did just fine

As a parent, I have a constant low-level anxiety running through my head, a nagging persistent combination of dread and hope. And guilt. I think all parents do. This is completely separate and different from the constant worry that your kids will get eaten by BEARS.

It’s the worry that you have managed, somehow, to completely screw up your kids in spite of your best efforts. It alternates with the somewhat desperate belief that maybe you haven’t done too much damage, after all, in their journey from infancy to adulthood. This has nothing to do with any evidence one way or the other. It doesn’t mater how happy and successful and well-adjusted your kids seem to be. It has no basis in reality, unlike that whole BEAR thing.

It just is.

But every once in a while, your kids do something or say something and the constant cycle of dread/hope/guilt pauses and lightens for a moment. The sheer relief and welling of emotion are almost overwhelming.

I had two such moments recently.

My son and I were texting back and forth the other day. He was sending me funny (and slightly inappropriate) pictures of various internet memes. He shares my dry irreverent sense of humour and I was laughing (and groaning) at all of them. This was probably the least offensive:

IMG_4713

Me: “LOL. Yes, my hermit self agrees with this sentiment.”

Him: “You’re so weird.”

Me: “I can’t believe you’re not on twitter or facebook.”

Him: “You can’t? I think that shit is stupid.”

Me: “But FB is great for that kind of thing.”

Him: “I just like laughing at these funny pics. I don’t care if anyone sees that I think it’s funny.”

What a refreshing attitude, compared to the people I see online whose sole intent seems to be getting ALL THE ATTENTION. Ahem. Yes, mea culpa. And I realized that my son has a very level head on his shoulders. Plus one hell of a lot of self-confidence, to enjoy the things he thinks are funny or interesting and not care whether other people “like” or “favorite” everydamnthing he says.

It was impressive, all the fucks he did not give.

Did I teach him that? I don’t know. Not intentionally. Maybe I could stand to re-learn that lesson, myself.

And then my daughter (who lives in Boston) posted these before and after pics on facebook yesterday:

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

Yes, of course, I was proud of her for tackling that impressive accumulation of snow. This wasn’t the snow from last week, when they got 20 or so inches. They’d already dug out from that, thankyouverymuch. This was new snowfall, more than a foot of it, that fell on Monday.

Thing is, I know she’s physically strong and mentally tough. She’s more than capable of shoveling snow. I certainly shoveled enough of it myself, growing up in Minnesota. So I know it’s hard work, but I also know it’s manageable for someone who is young and physically fit.

That’s not what had me all choked up. It was the hashtags she added to her caption:

My lunchtime activity today: snow shoveling. Pre and post pics. ‪#‎likeaboss ‪#‎likeagirl

Yeah.

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, our kids turn out to be pretty damn impressive people.

Sometimes, you just hope you can live up to their example.

 

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Filed under parenting, social media

Explosions, spreadsheets and snowstorms

I didn’t realize how much I love to cook until my oven exploded last weekend. Unable to use my oven — or even the stovetop, since I turned off the circuit breaker — suddenly my thoughts were filled with all the amazing food I couldn’t make. Poor me. Never mind that I’m entirely capable of ignoring my oven for weeks at a time. Regardless, I spent the week feeling deprived, even though I wasn’t exactly starving to death here.

OK, fine, my oven didn’t actually “explode.” The heating element burned out. There was a big whomp sound and a bright red-orange ball of fire in there, which sure looked like an explosion, but it’s not as if the entire thing blew up. It was a mini-explosion. Dramatic, but contained.

Good thing I was sitting at the kitchen table, aka my writing desk, at the time or I might not have known what happened. Luckily, the pork roast I’d been slow cooking all day was thoroughly cooked. Here’s a pic of the aftermath. Looks like it exploded, right?

IMG_0024

I tried to shoo her away so I could take the pics, but The White Ninja was fascinated.

IMG_0026

I put off calling a repair person for days. Partly because I didn’t want to know how much it would cost if they couldn’t just replace the element, but mostly because I hate making phone calls.

But I finally made the call and a repair guy came yesterday and replaced the element. He was very pleasant, charged a totally reasonable amount, did the work in less time than any other repair person has ever done anything, and yet still managed to tell me ALL ABOUT HIS LIFE.

I’m not kidding. This happens all the time. People seem compelled to tell me stuff. Personal stuff. Stuff I’d never tell a complete stranger. Well, except on my blog. Heh. I now know how long he’s been in the business, where he grew up, how many siblings he has, where they live, where he lives, all the details of his dad’s and stepmom’s recent medical troubles, which hospitals they’re currently in, how often he visits them, how many hospice places he has researched, and that he planned to spend the rest of the day looking at more facilities. All this in the space of a half hour.

I’m telling you, appliance repair is overwhelming and exhausting. And all I had to do was sit there and listen.

* * *

Speaking of procrastination, I recently did something I’d resolved to do last year, when I was getting tax info together for my accountant and thinking how much easier that chore really should be. I resolved that 2014 was the year I was finally going to get organized and put all my financial info into QuickBooks.

This is why I don’t make resolutions, which are generally a promise for future action. They don’t work for me. I either do a thing, right now, in the present, or I don’t.

Anyway. When I realized a few weeks ago that it was 2015 and I still hadn’t done it . . . well, let’s just say I was mighty fed up with myself. It’s not like this is a difficult thing for me. I’ve worked with QuickBooks (and other financial accounting programs) for decades, in various day jobs. I can make that program sing and dance if I want to.

So I finally downloaded the program and entered all my 2014 information. I can now track expense (ugh) and income from all vendors/distributors, broken down by each individual project/book, for any time period I choose. The reports, they are beautiful. I even made categories for Advances and Royalties. Because, reasons.

Not difficult, but time-consuming and tedious. I took frequent breaks. And I did stay off the internet, as I said last month that I going to. Mostly.

* * *

The other thing I did — I mean, if you’re going to get organized, you should just go ahead and get completely organized — was to finally make a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet to keep track of word count on all my writing projects. Yet another thing I’d resolved to do (several times) in the past and never quite got around to. Another thing that was not even remotely difficult, given my experience.

When I was done, I was surprised to discover that I currently have eight on-going writing projects. Well, that does include the category “blog posts.” And, granted, a couple of those projects are just extensive notes or research or a few random paragraphs I wrote before they got lost in my brain. But still. It’s more than I thought I had going on.

I imagine some of you will be glad to know I haven’t abandoned Max and Jenna, although they’re going to have to wait their turn. And try not to kill each other in the meantime. (<— that’s a link to the beginning of their story, in case you  missed it)

* * *

In far less tedious news, my daughter and her husband enjoyed playing in all the snow produced by the snowstorm that hit Boston the middle of last week. She took a bunch of pictures and said I could share some of them over here. They were taken sort of mid-storm and don’t show the final depth of snowfall (which was, I believe, somewhere around 20 inches).

(There’s a slideshow here, for those of you reading in feeds and who perhaps can’t see it.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

* * *

Let’s see, cat pics? Check. Snow pics? Check. What else has been going on that I should add to this too-long, topic-less, meandering post? Hmmm. I do encourage you to sign up for my Mailing List, if you haven’t, so you can be among the first to know when I release a new work of fiction. Or, you know, something else similarly exciting and noteworthy. But that’s about it for updates from me. For now.

Overall, I’m feeling a huge sense of relief and accomplishment. Mixed with mild frustration. Because even though the tasks I accomplished in the past few weeks were necessary, and long overdue, they did take time away from writing. Not that I stopped writing. Far from it. Just as I didn’t stop eating simply because my oven exploded.

Luckily, I’m pretty good at making alternate plans. Also luckily, I have a microwave. And lots of leftover roast pork and garlic mashed potatoes.

Sometimes you don’t realize how desperately you want to do a thing — cooking, writing, whatever — until events transpire that divert you, that prevent you from spending as much time working on a thing as what you had planned.

But now those diversions have been resolved and I’m full speed ahead, all writing, all the time. Plus a bit of cooking. Why do I feel like I just jinxed myself?

 

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Filed under goals, miscellaneous bits, writing