Keeping secrets

One of my pet peeves in a story is secrets.  Let me elaborate.

In a story, there is always going to be some kind of tension.  It has to be there or the plot won’t go.  That tension can come from anything: Sauron chasing down the One Ring or Holden trying to keep his life free from phonies, to a guy reluctant to get off the sofa and actually order that pizza. There has to be some sort of tug of war that is what makes the story something people actually want to read.  Sometimes that tension is sustained by one character knowing something and another character being kept in the dark.

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Now, that’s basically the plot of every murder mystery ever written, and more than half of the thrillers out there.  Which makes sense.  A murderer who doesn’t want to get caught keeps facts as far away from the detective (or anyone else) as possible.  Otherwise, they’re locked up and that more than likely defeats their purpose.  However, there are many other thrillers out there— and it feels like about half the romances I’ve come across lately— where a secret is kept ‘for their own good.’

Keeping a safety secret from someone is a great way to get them badly hurt or killed.  No, we can’t tell her that the stalker is out of prison!  She’d be scared and wouldn’t go to the fundraising gala!  And naturally, that’s where she goes, blithely unaware of the stalker waiting to snatch her on the way to the bathroom.

It makes me insane, and honestly, I think it’s incredibly patronizing, not just of the character in question, but of the reader.  It assumes that the reader can’t imagine or believe any other way for the hero to be heroic, or for the victim to get into trouble.

So when I write (or look for a good book) I am looking for reasonable excuses for secrets to be kept: people who haven’t spoken recently enough to share information.  Actually classified documents.  A secret identity!  A promise one character made to keep said secret, with a bonus for inner turmoil caused by wanting to reveal the information but also wanting to keep a promise!

I didn’t tell you for your own good, though?  Not an excuse.   What do you think?

Politicing

In the last post, I wrote that was an actual post, I mentioned how much I hate finding politics in my fiction. I bet that a fair number of you wondered where I was finding all this political fantasy, and who was writing about wizards and werewolves running for office. (Side note, I have actually read a book about a werewolf running for sheriff.)hand-puppet-snowman-political

But that’s not the kind of politics I mean.  I’m not especially fond of election process badgering, what with having grown up so near Washington D.C., but that’s not what I meant.  I’ve been trying to explain for so long that I had to resort to looking up the definition

politics[pol-i-tiks]

4. political methods or maneuvers:

6.use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university,etc.

Dictionary.com

So when I talk about ‘politics’ in a story I’m really talking about a character trapped by arbitrary rules and traditions that are in place only to prolong the plot.  The characters in these stories ruled by political machinations usually refuse to consider an outside-the-box solution.  “The elders have forbidden us from drinking well water, so I’ll sit here next to the well and die of thirst!  Alas!” “I am a mere apprentice and so touching the Master’s crystal ball means death by law, even though the only way to save the city is to shift it one inch to the left!”

These stories are usually pretty easy to pick out, though.  They often start with a lengthy explanation of how the world society is set up specifically keep the main characters down in one way or another.  Three pages about how the rulers of the magical kingdom wrote the laws to keep apprentices firmly away from any real tools of power because of one guy who did a thing two thousand years ago or some such thing.

I’m sorry.  I simply don’t have the patience for that nonsense.  It’s entirely possible to write a story where the heroes must fight tradition or The Man— frankly just about any lovable rogue is doing exactly that and I do love me a lovable rogue— but when the whole world is crafted around laws and traditions, that’s going to a place I just don’t want to follow.  It grates too hard on what remains of my faith in humanity.

A bit of a note: on Wednesday, April 17, the Spirits of Los Gatos box set–the first three complete books– goes on sale for $0.99.  Go pick it up while it’s on sale!

In a world…

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World building.  It’s a thing that pretty much all creators of fiction have to do, even those of us based in the real world.  I mean, I grant you that my version of the real world requires a bit more building than, say, a contemporary romance author, but still.  If you’re basing your story in fiction at all, you need to make sure that every one of your readers understands the rules of the world they’re visiting.

And man, it’s tricky.  It is so, so, so easy to just info-dump all your world rules all at once.  I’m sure that you’ve come across more than one example of an author who sits there for pages just rolling out detail after tiny detail of historical background for the character, their family, their homeland, and the political situation that tangles them all up just so that the reader is excruciatingly aware of why that character is reacting a certain way.  (*coughTolkiencough*). It is close to impossible to keep up interest for that long. (That said, I loved the LotR books.  I’m just being honest that the guy did not mess around with this stuff.)

I understand that there are people who seriously get off on world-building, and I don’t intend to denigrate those folks at all.  If you love to while away the hours with books like the Silmarillion, then I am in awe of your dedication, to be frank.  I can’t do it.  I need the world to make sense and behave according to its own rules, but I can’t wade through endless lectures about what those rules are.

On the other hand, without any context at all, we’d have no idea why Benji the Broom-headed can’t just go straight to the Council of Mops and tell them that the Scrubbybrushers are planning an invasion.  I mean, dude.  Draft a freaking email and there you go.  No, we need to know that there’s all this history behind the caste system in Cleanlandia, and that poor Benji is right smack at the bottom of it all.

It’s something I know I need to work on, and I think I’m getting better.  But I was reminded of how well it can be done the other day when I read an opening paragraph about the main character walking down a portrait hallway, reflecting on how few portraits represented people like himself and how badly he wanted to have his own portrait join them.  It set up the entire book so that we could understand his interactions with the rest of the cast and with the social structures he runs up against, and I’m willing to bed that most readers didn’t even notice.

The world was built using his own struggle against that world in a very real way.  We can all, these days, understand how representation matters, and in this fantasy world we were given a view of how the society worked without spending pages and pages detailing how oppressed and demeaned an entire segment of the population was.  And it did double duty as character introduction!  All this from a few musing comments on some portraits.

I’m not that slick, but maybe if I keep practicing I’ll get there.  What’s your favorite (or most loathed) example?

It’s good to be bad, sometimes

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There is a long history behind humanity’s love of criminals.  Sure, there’s plenty of ruthless villains out there to loathe and fear, and rightly so.  Criminals in the real world are not who most folks want to associate with.  But there’s always that romantic idea of but what if… in the back of our mind.  What if he’s really a Robin Hood?  Or a Dexter?  Pirates were many things, many of them very contradictory, but they were still violent murderers and thieves with nary a Jack Sparrow among them.  And then there’s the Sopranos and The Godfather.  Nobody can argue that those stories weren’t entirely about criminals being celebrated, whether or not you think they were acting heroically

I think— and feel free to disagree, it’s totally my own thoughts on the subject— but at least a large part of it is the idea that justice and the law are often wildly different things.  How many times have we heard on the news about some horrible criminal getting away with theft or rape or murder because of some legal technicality?  Now, I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where anyone can just go after someone else for any perceived slight, but boy is it appealing to think that there’s some golden-hearted assassin or cat burglar out there willing to take out the worst trash humanity has to offer, laws be damned.  Batman is a fine example.  Or better yet, Deadpool.

But as for fiction?  My mind springs right to Arsène Lupin and Danny Ocean.  You may have heard of the former as the grandfather of Lupin the Third, but the Maurice Leblanc stories are worth a read.  And, honestly, if you haven’t seen the Ocean’s Eleven remake for an entirely charming take on Danny Ocean and his merry band, where have you been?  The appeal there is the wit and the caper, and the hook is that the criminals often end up having far stricter moral code than the police that chase them, and are often out to right some sort of wrong, or at the very least balance the scales.

And then there are the real-life heroes who broke laws that were entirely unjust and were labeled criminals in their own time.  Rosa Parks springs immediately to mind as an example.  Nelson Mandela, as well.   They broke the law, and the world has been made better for it.

Personally, I’ve been really entertained recently by the adventures of a wildly successful international assassin.  He quickly and brutally murders his way through some of humanity’s worst while trying, with various degrees of success, to retire to a nice house in the country.

It’s nice to imagine someone’s watching over us, even if they are ruthless, hardened criminals.  Who’s your favorite not-so-good-guy?

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Finish one thing

I’m trapped.  It’s terrible.  And it’s not fair to anyone, least of all you.

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Photo credit: theilr on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

See, I’ve got about a million ideas swirling in my brain right now.  Characters, plots, snatches of dialogue or scraps of a scene that doesn’t have enough story behind it to function properly…  All this amazing writing is clogging my brain and scrabbling to get out my fingers into the safety of Scrivener.

But I’ve got to finish editing Spiritkind first.   And I’m honestly not in California anymore, in my mind.  I’m in Virginia, and North Carolina, and Ohio for a hot second.  And the California where the Spirits of Los Gatos live isn’t even n the same dimension as those other places.

And oh man, you guys.  I’m so excited to be working on those stories.  I’ve been reading mysteries and thrillers and I have so many ideas! And I’m kind of falling in love with Caroline and Darien and the gang.  I even met a few folks I didn’t expect to, and they’re not too bad either, even though I’m not sure about them yet, really.  And hoo boy has Greg been telling me stuff that I had no idea about.  AND it turns out that Caroline has a cousin that gets into his own mischief, further up in New England.  My imaginary friends have gotten really chatty and they have such wonderful adventures!

But… I have to finish up with Sarah and Kai and the folks in Los Gatos.  It’s only fair to them what with one thing and another, and I’ve had emails from you lovely readers who want to know more about what’s up with them, and that’s what I need to be working on.  So I’m revising and editing and doing my homework, I promise.

But just you guys wait.  It’s going to be an interesting year.

Inspiring

I get stuck.  Like any author, I get stuck hard sometimes, usually at the halfway point of my book, then again at just before the climax.  It’s a real problem because even if I’ve got a solid idea of what needs to happen, it’s like I can’t see the road between here and there.

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Photo credit: Drew Coffman on VisualHunt / CC BY

 

So I was a little stalled out getting the bad guy dealt with in my current work.  I mean, I went through a ton of different ideas: having Caroline sneak into his office and confront him.  Having The Gang go into a massive battle against a troop of minions.  Having a convenient meteor fall on the dude’s head.  Really, I went through a ton of terrible ideas that left me flat and uninspired.

So… I ignored it and hoped that inspiration would magically strike me in a bolt from the heavens because ignoring a problem always makes it go away, right?  I played some video games with The Boy.  I read a ton of stuff from Kindle Unlimited, mostly outside of the UF genre (Although I did read an amusing one about vampires versus mummified zombies.  Good times.) I went out to dinner with some friends.

And that’s what saved me.  I mentioned that I was stuck on the idea of the Stealth Badass (you know, the hero that seems completely harmless but turns out to be 150% more qualified to handle the problem. Think Danny Ocean or Kenshin.) and the reason was because I was trying to figure out how to beat a bad guy.  And my friend Jordan, blessings upon him, started asking questions and just saying stuff with a shrug and a face like he thought he was saying something dumb and obvious.

I had to scramble to get my notebook out and get all the genius down on paper before I forgot it all.  I nearly left dinner early so I could get back to my laptop.

So, now I have the bad guy beaten, my heroine saved the day and learned a lesson or two (maybe) and I’m feeling just a little smug about it all.  Sure, there’s still lots of editing and revising to do on this, but I feel more confident about it than I have in a while.  I really hope you all enjoy it when it’s ready to be released into the wild, because thanks to Jordan, I’m feeling really happy with these people and can’t wait to spend a little more time with them in their world.

And that’s the best possible scenario of all for a writer.

Antagonizing

Okay, let me back up slightly and preface this by saying that I am by no means a Cardcaptor Sakura expert.  I’ve seen a number of episodes, some when they first kicked around in the U.S. and now again that my son has discovered it, but I haven’t read the manga, nor have I seen every episode of the show.  So, bearing that in mind…

One of the things that I started thinking hard about after the Cardcaptor Sakura exhibit a few weeks back is the difference between a villain and an antagonist.  See, when I think of conflict in an adventure, I think of a bad guy.  Sauron in Lord of the Rings, and each of his lesser henchdudes.  Harry Potter has Voldemort,  his minions, and all the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers.  Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Sailor Moon all have their respective Evil Queens… Basically, pick an adventure story at about any level of telling and there’s a villain actively taking steps to keep Our Hero down.  It’s one of the things we all look for: the Thanoses and Poison Ivys what have yous to defeat to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Except… villains turn out to be entirely unnecessary.  Sakura ends up having to save the world— well, her part of it at least— every week.  There’s nobody sending monsters against her, no master force behind this week’s problem.  Each card she comes across is simply causing problems thanks to their nature, not because they’ve been sent to eliminate those pesky heroes.  Nope.  They’re just unruly magical sprites causing trouble, and Sakura needs to clean up.

They’re antagonists, not villains.  They provide a challenge to work against, and butt heads on occasion, but without any grander plan or deliberate malice.  Simply conflicting goals. The realization was one where I had to yell at myself for a little while.  Of course, you don’t need to have a grand villain orchestrating everything, every time.

Sometimes, you just need a good puzzle or a magical force that doesn’t understand that they’re wrecking house just by playing tag.  So.  What’s your favorite fictional obstacle?

 

Writer Goals, 2019 edition

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It’s a new year, and that means resolutions!  Right?  Right.  I checked back to last year’s posts and I didn’t do any sort of New Years thing last year.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  Looking back, though, I released 4 of the Village of Los Gatos books.  I wrote and released to Patrons several Village short stories that I plan to release to you all soon.  Basically, I just need a cover now.  I also moved from just outside of Washington D.C. to Tokyo and started homeschooling my son for second grade.

No wonder I was exhausted by the holidays!

So for this year, I have a few other goals.  Well, okay, most of them are book goals.  Here’s the list:

-Release (and title!!) the fifth Village of Los Gatos book.

-Finish and release at least 2 Caroline’s Internship books

-Write a side story set in the same world as Caroline. (Don’t want to spoil this one, it’s kind of fun.) (Curtis, Jared: I’m looking at you.)

-work on updating and re-releasing the Riverton novels

In “real life” goals I’ve got a couple.  Mainly improve my Japanese— I want to be able to have a short, rational conversation with the nice Vegetables Shop lady who’s been so patient with my dumb, foreigner self.   I’m also planning to force myself to Go Out more.  We have a few friends here that have time during the week and I plan to try to go see maybe some minor touristy things or grab a cup of coffee somewhere that The Boy won’t be wildly unhappy with.  Those are my main two personal goals, and I’m doing okay with them so far.

So what about you?  Any resolutions or goals for 2019?  Have you already stumbled on them a bit?  (I have…)

Last preview

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I need more coffee.  Oh, guys.

I know, I know, it’s been a lot of previews up in here lately.  But Brewing Trouble goes live on Thursday, so next week you should have a different sort of post here.  Assuming NaNoWriMo hasn’t completely shut my brain down.

Hah, maybe I’ll write about how it’s difficult to be creative on demand.  Entirely possible, but tough.

At any rate, here’s your last excerpt before launch, I hope you enjoy it!

 

Brewing Trouble ebookA heavy shudder ran over her body and made the old bench creak.Suddenly, the stillness of the night and the soft gurgle of the water seemed ominous, and the soothing peace she’d sought fled for the comfort of the lighted apartments.Sarah wanted nothing more than to follow it.She turned in her seat and started to stand up, and the shadowed figure standing on the path froze her in place.For one panicked second she thought the wights were back and had somehow gotten inside the wards, but then the familiar, friendly, safe greeting reached her.

“Mr. Young!” Sarah gasped.The world around her snapped back into place, the stress and anxiety driven off by the quiet older spirit.Mr. Young smiled and tipped his head at her, his brown eyes soft and comforting.

“Sure, I’d love for you to join me.”Sarah scooted over on the bench to make room for him.He never spoke— at least not that she had ever heard— but he still managed to communicate somehow.Nobody really understood it, but everyone agreed that you just knew, somehow, what it was he wanted to say.

Mr. Young stepped over and sat gingerly on the bench, sighing in simple pleasure as he settled his weight and brushed his hand over his plain brown trousers.He settled back onto the bench slowly, with a long, tired sigh.

“Oh, come on, you’re not that old.You’re barely old enough to be my grandfather,” Sarah said, then chuckled and shook her head.“Actually, you’re probably older than I would guess, aren’t you?”

Mr. Young winked at her and reached into the pocket of his cardigan.He pulled out a candy bar and snapped it in half, holding one piece out to her.

“Thanks.” Sarah accepted the gift and turned back to the pond, which was once again just a pleasant spot to spend some time.“I guess you’re only as old as you feel, huh?”

Mr. Young nodded.They sat and listened to the water splashing into the pool while they ate their treat.Finally, after swallowing his last bite, Mr. Young turned to her and tipped his head.

“Nah, I just needed a few minutes, you know?Everything’s been so hard this week, I had to step away for a breath or two.”Sarah shrugged.“This outbreak of shadow pox while Doc’s in the hospital, and then Meg got hurt today—”

Mr. Young frowned.

“She’s okay, mostly.She got shoved by some guy, and it all cascaded until the display case broke.She needed to get stitches for one cut, but otherwise she’s fine,” she said.“But I’m not fine with it.The guy that shoved her?He was sent into the shop on purpose, with a talisman specifically to get through the wards.”

Mr. Young’s frown deepened.

“I know.I’m kind of freaked out.” Sarah slumped back onto the bench and pulled her own jacket tighter around herself.The days were plenty warm, with the summer sun shining, but the evenings could get chilly and tonight definitely qualified.“Doc is being attacked deliberately, it’s not just some weird, random virus she picked up or anything.I’m so worried about her. And we don’t know what to do.Gabe saw a witch casting some sort of big spell, and she seems to be Angela Davila Meg’s so-called coven leader and all around favorite person. “I’m not Doc.I’m not my grandmother.I’m not good enough to do all this.”

She sensed rather than saw him roll his eyes, and got the impression of a snort.A lone wisp of mist drifted past her eyes where she stared at the path that they sat beside.It flowed over the ornamental gravel and collected on the surface of the pond to swirl playfully away to nothing.

“You know I’m not exactly a well trained witch.Sure, I know I have the potential, I’m not going to ignore that, but with the exception of breaking that one curse on Sebastian, I’ve never done anything big on my own.And even that was almost just pure luck, and I’m pretty sure that Kai’s dad was helping guide me.”

Mr. Young nodded.He looked around the pond and pointed at something invisible, just past the wall on the far side of the water that surrounded the whole apartment complex.

“Yeah, I fixed the wards, but I’ve worked with Doc on wards for months.I’ve never seen Shadow pox before. Or Ellie came in the other day with Dryad Flu.And now there’s another witch out there coming after the shop, and Doc, and by extension all of us.And I have to fix everything.”

It was too much for a new witch to handle on her own. Mr. Young shook his head and raised his eyebrow at her.

“Yeah, I know you’re right.Nobody can do everything by themselves.And I’m not on my own here.I’ve got you and Sebastian and Kai and everyone,” Sarah slumped on the bench. “It’s just that this feels like a problem that needs to be solved by a witch, you know?And I’m the only one around now.And I don’t even know where to begin to start.I don’t know if I can do this, and then it’ll be my fault if Doc doesn’t get better.”

Her eyes burned and she squeezed then shut against the tears.A warm hand brushed over her shoulder and she smelled something that made her think of her garden after a cool morning shower passed over it, something refreshing and healing and honest.

Tears filled Sarah’s eyes now for a different reason.Mr. Young patted her shoulder and then held out a packet of tissues.

“Thank you.”She took the tissues and dabbed at her eyes while her companion smiled gently at her.

“Yeah, Doc said I should look for other teachers, too.It seems to be a theme lately,” she said.It was a little scary to know that Mr. Young— a spirit old and powerful enough to be considered a god— had faith in her. A completely average, young, all too human witch.She had to smile at the idea that she now thought that being a witch was average.

He nudged her elbow with his own and grinned.

Sarah laughed out loud now.“Yeah.Sebastian has been after Gabe, and I made the mistake of mentioning the idea to him.Now he’s starting to get after me about it, and it’s been barely a day since the idea came up.”She sobered slightly.“Doc suggested that I study herbalism, but I don’t know.I feel like I’m getting as much hands on practice with that as I need. Maybe I should look at something else to compliment that?What do you think?”

He tipped his head and his salt-and-pepper hair caught the bit of light from the corner.It almost looked like the mist was clinging to him as much as to the pond.Sarah wondered again what sort of spirit he could be.Not that it mattered especially, but…

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

“I guess.”Sarah wasn’t sure that she was ready to take a whole new degree in anything.“I mean, I could look into classes for that sort of thing.Sebastian’s been after me to take classes ever since I mentioned it.You’re right that if I’m going to stick around doing this back-room witch clinic stuff, I should know more about medicine in general.Especially if Doc’s not around as much.”Sarah refused to accept that her mentor might not recover.The Apothecary without Doc was unthinkable.

Mr. Young nudged her elbow again.His grin was sly, and Sarah had to laugh again.

“You’re right.My mother would have a harder time arguing about a medical degree,” she said.“Though I have to say, I’d probably go for something like nursing rather than trying to be a doctor.She’d complain loudly that it wasn’t prestigious enough or something, I’m sure.”

Mr. Young just rolled his eyes slightly, but Sarah didn’t get any impressions of conversation behind the gesture, so it must have been just that.She sat beside him quietly thinking for a moment before turning back to tip her own head.

“Thank you,” she said.“I didn’t realize how much I just needed a friend for a minute.”

Mr. Young patted her arm, and Sarah had the sense— not that he was speaking in any way, but there was just a connection to a feeling— that Mr. Young was looking out for his family in his own way.If family was what you made of it, then she was glad to call Mr. Young her grandfather.And Doc was more maternal than her own mother.

Sarah was going to make them both proud.

Brewing Trouble is in preorder until Thursday when it goes live, and the rest of the series will be on sale to celebrate!

Vectors

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I am a creature of momentum, and frankly, it makes life really difficult.  I suppose, to a degree, everyone has this problem, and I know I’m not alone in this difficulty.  It’s the reason that kids throw a tantrum when they have to change activities.  It’s why binge-watching has become how people consume television programs.  It’s why gamers will sit down and intend to play for one level or just this one quest, and then get up hours later only thanks to the demands of biology. It’s why knitters lie and say ‘just one more row’ or bookworms claim they’re only reading till the end of the chapter.  Once you’re doing something, it’s so much easier and more satisfying to just keep doing that thing pretty much forever.

Still, most people are capable of getting their butts up at the end of lunch or a break or when they finish the one task they need to complete, in order to move on to the next thing they need to attend do.  Turning off the TV and going to start dinner doesn’t feel like an impossibly difficult thing for most normal folks, and ordinarily, I’m able to manage to force myself to get into the kitchen and feed myself and my family.

It’s just my circumstances right now that are really messing with me.  My sleeping habits are not the greatest, as you’re aware by now.  Added to that, the dark peacefulness of the small hours of the night are the only quiet I really get to myself.  But this translates into not waking up before The Boy does, not that it’d be easy to do that anyway.  Kid’s up at almost 5 am daily and has been since birth.

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Photo credit: Fairy Heart ♥ on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

So, he gets up and plays in his room, often with a Nintendo DS or the Switch, but there’s Legos and robots and other things to amuse him as well.  Then my husband gets up and gets through his morning routine to get ready for work, and then… well, lately I sleep through all of that.  I’ll wake up when my alarm goes off at quarter till nine.  Now, it’s not an alarm I set to get me out of bed.  It’s an alarm I set to remind me to keep a record of something at nearly the same time every day.  It’s a business thing. And for the past month, I’ve managed to almost sleep right through it.

So the day is already off to a poor start.  Instead of getting up and being ready to leave the house with my husband like I’m supposed to, to walk with The Boy to the market and get the day’s groceries (which was working really well for a while!) we’re lucky to leave the house at all.  I’m in pajamas most weekdays, much to the amusement of a couple of delivery guys who’ve been by.

It’s a struggle that I’m trying to break free of, and my body hasn’t been helping with the back-to-back colds I’ve had in the last few weeks.  The bright side of this is, though, that if I can start writing in the morning like I have the past few days, I can bang out a pretty respectable word count by bedtime.  Which means that I’m making headway on short stories, and on a few other projects.  So there is a small glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel.  I just hope I can shift my habits around a bit and get some more positive momentum going.

After all, the holidays are coming, and nothing wreaks more havoc on a routine than December.