Category Archives: Personal

Editing, juggling, and #metoo

Lady of Thorns is off to the editor and the betas (would have been off earlier but I had to juggle that with edits for “Gentleman Jackson” and get those back to Evernight toot sweet), and I’m feeling very happy about it. It’s got a good rhythm to it that I think will resonate with readers and covers some topics, namely the beauty culture and issues with self-confidence, that I think affect a lot of people.

So I pretty much spent the week slogging away on second round edits, which is why I didn’t immediately get involved with the news about Harvey Weinstein and the #metoo hashtag movement. While I think so many women coming out and telling their stories about their sexual harassment and/or assault has been a positive thing, I really wish it hadn’t been forced by an utterly disgusting and reprehensible mindset that’s embedded itself deeply in our culture (and some people don’t feel comfortable using the hashtag because their story still hurts too much. I completely understand that and support them). But it’s a positive thing because when this many people say something’s wrong, it’s hard to ignore that. It’s hard to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that it’s perfectly okay to let men with power get their rocks off by harassing or assaulting women.

Me, I’m one of the lucky ones. My harassment has been minimal, compared to others. But I’ve been harassed. And even now I feel weird admitting it because I think people will look at me and think, “But you’re overweight. Why would anyone sexually harass you?”

Because it’s not about sex. It’s about power, and being able to dominate someone and make them feel small and afraid. And that’s the sick little charge that abusers really want. I just found out yesterday that an individual (now dead, and I feel nothing but relief for it) who harassed me at local SF cons had also harassed a friend and colleague for far, far longer than I had to tolerate his sleazy, assholish ways.

Oh, why did I tolerate them? Because he was very, very good about never overstepping the line into actual, actionable territory where I could ask a concom to boot his ass. Even now it’s difficult to explain to a concom that a particular puddle of pus had behaved like a skeevy pervert outside of that con (protip: don’t ever, ever, EVER sneak up behind me and grab me in a bear hug. These days I will try to rupture your liver with my elbow first and ask questions later) and now you don’t want him to attend your readings because he sits in the front row and stares at you in a way that makes your skin crawl. Or stands off to the side while you’re doing a signing and silently looms. Or makes sotto voce comments about showing up at your house and “taking you for a ride” on his Harley. It’s like fighting fog.

Anyway, my friend wrote an amazing piece on her FB page detailing the situation and telling other women that she will always believe them and will make noise if this ever happens to them. And I will, too. Because there’s more of us than there are of them, goddamn it, and we’re not putting up with this shit anymore.

So stand ready, assholes. You’re about to be introduced to a whole new world.

Medical Stuff

(Ceit, you should be interested in this one. All others, medical details that involve a scalpel and blood lie ahead, so peel off now if that sort of thing bothers you.)

Just in case you thought a romance writer’s life was one of unending glamour and delight, allow me to pop your bubble and assure you that it’s nothing of the sort. Witness today, when I went in to my doctor’s office to have an epidermoid cyst removed from my upper back. Basically, an epidermoid cyst is a buildup of keratin under your skin, sometimes caused by an injured follicle. It’s benign, slow-growing, usually painless, and very common, but I kept noticing it over the past two months and finally thought, nah, I want it gone.

I already knew the procedure, but the doctor was kind enough to explain everything as he went along (he seemed a little surprised that I wasn’t saying ow or complaining about the lidocaine needle. I explained that I used to work in a Peds ER department, medical procedures didn’t scare me, and as long as I was numb I didn’t care what he did). After injecting some lidocaine to numb the skin, he made a small incision, broke up the cyst and removed it, cleaned out the space left behind (super tiny, maybe the size of a pea) and packed it with sterile gauze. It was small enough that I didn’t need a stitch, and my beloved Ramón will be called upon to remove the packing over the next two days, after which I keep it bandaged and treated with antibiotic ointment and all will be well.

Plus I’ll have a tiny little scar as a souvenir, which I will have to come up with an interesting cover story for. Hmm. Oh, and be grateful that I didn’t take the advice of a friend on Twitter and have a nurse film the procedure for your entertainment. Because there’s openness, and then there’s openness

Greetings from North Texas

I specify North Texas because 1) that’s where I am, and 2) I’ve been getting pings on social media asking if I’m okay what with Harvey slamming into Corpus Christi and the south-central coast. The concern is very much appreciated but fear not — I am a good 400+ miles away from that big bastard, and the most we’ll see up here in the clavicle of Texas is maybe some rain next week. So, yeah, we’re cool (although I do have to say that the atmospheric conditions up here at the moment are playing merry hell with my sinuses).

That being said, I do know people who have had to evacuate ahead of Harvey, and it’s been hard to concentrate today and not stay glued to news reports and stormchasers doing live Periscope broadcasts. The problem with this hurricane is, it made landfall as a Cat 4 and doesn’t have any steering currents pushing it so it’s going to sit there and pump a lot of water from the Gulf over land. Once the bayous and drainage systems fill up there’s nowhere for all that water to go, which is why it’s pretty much a guarantee that we’re going to see some horrific flooding.

If you want to help out the folks who are going to be displaced or even homeless after this weekend, here is some excellent advice from my friend Elizabeth Moon:

Be aware that in south Texas, in particular, most non-governmental aid is church-based and always was, and which churches do what depends on a) the relative numbers of a given denomination in a given area and b) how the churches in a community have agreed to divvy up the load. Frex, in my home area, the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley (http://www.foodbankrgv.com) started as a project of Trinity Episcopal Church in Pharr, and grew into a multi-county food bank affiliated with others in the state, while Catholic Charities now handles clothing, toys, other supplies. This might be reversed in another location. In the town I live in now, the First Baptist and First Methodist churches both have programs, but they’re not the same and focus on different needs. At any rate, food agencies/groups need cash to get their vehicles back out on the road when the road is clear, and restock their shelves. If you want to “go local” consider looking up food banks and other agencies in some of the counties likely to be hardest hit with the least existing resources: De Witt, Nueces, Karnes, Atascosa, Bastrop, Bexar, Caldwell, Comal, Fayette, Gonzales, Guadalupe, Hays, Lavaca, and Wilson. Bexar (San Antonio) has somewhat more in terms of resources, but a huge population, wide area, a lot of water can overwhelm roads and rail transportation.

Making bank off your neuroses

The nice thing about being a writer? You can monetize your anxiety.

A few nights ago I saw a post by Jimmi Simpson on Twitter about his first day on Westworld S2, which promptly gave me a collywobble attack (some background — those of you who read Degree of Resistance may have noticed to whom the book is dedicated. Because I thought it might give him some nice egoboo, I contacted the gentleman and asked if he wanted a print copy. He graciously agreed. He recently pinged me to tell me that he received it and planned on reading it. My thought process upon hearing this went something like: “Wait, what? He’s not going to just stick it on a shelf somewhere? I didn’t want him to feel obligated to read it — oh, God. The sex scenes. I’m an idiot. WHY DID I SEND HIM THE BOOK? Oh, God, oh, God, he’s going to think I’m an illiterate perv…” Hence the collywobbles). As I know where my dedicatee is, I idly wondered if it would be too extreme to fly out to the set, find out where he’s staying, bribe a hotel maid to let me into his room, and steal back the book before he can read it.

(Yes, I know I’m nuts, but at least I’m productively nuts. Moving on…)

And then I thought, “Oh, hey, wait. That would make a freaking hilarious romcom plot.” Which resulted in my drunken Muse swanning into town and burping out a story about a tech writer in LA who sidelines as a romance novelist. After her wannabe screenwriter boyfriend breaks up with her, she gets totally loaded with her BFF and inadvertently sends a smoking hot romance inspired by her current actor crush to said actor. When he DMs her a few days later to tell her he’s received the book and plans on reading it, she’s horrified (because unlike me, she had inebriation as an excuse and hadn’t realized until the DM what she’d done) and decides to get the book back no matter what. “No matter what” includes drafting her BFF for a panicked trip to New Mexico, a long-suffering hotel maid, a sarcastic director, a man-eating actress who’s determined to get the actor in bed, and a hastily thrown together cover story BY THE ACTOR where the writer has to pretend to be the actor’s girlfriend in order to dissuade M-EA from her goal. Oh, and there may be a weekend trip to Vail and an inebriated swordfight somewhere in there. And hijinks ensue!

I told it to Ramón this morning. He said, “You realize that’s not a book, petal. It’s a movie.” Now he’s muttering about Kickstarter and Con Man, and I’ve got Karen Gillan, Tom Mison, Kat Dennings, Nathan Fillion, and Martin Freeman in my head running lines. Whee!

I have been cleaning ALL THE THINGS

Which is why I haven’t posted since last Friday, sorry about that. The Sister arrived yesterday and I’ve spent the last week digging out this house and making it look like grown-ups live here (because deadlines + five cats = FUR EVERYWHERE). I still have to clean out my office in preparation for the mutual HS friend who will arrive tomorrow for a girl’s weekend, but after that I am DONE, people.

And oh, I am full to overflowing with the need to write. I completely overhauled the first few chapters of Cross Current in my head, worked out a great subplot for Lady of Thorns, rearranged some plot points in Uncertainty Principle, and even roughed out the outline for Shifter Woods: Snarl. Y’all are going to be inundated with new Nicola stories over the next few months, I promise.

Speaking of that, both Degree of Resistance and Shifter Woods: Howl are now off KU and available at all online retailers, so if you prefer .epub files you are good to go.

I’m doing all of the medical adulting

So, since I’m now 50 and my body will start breaking down at any moment, I need to get various preventative care tests done so that my doctor has a baseline of what I looked like when I was still semi-functional (I laugh. That moment passed decades ago).

To this end, in the past week I have had a physical, a Tdap shot, a breast and pelvic exam with Pap smear, a mammogram, and blood/urine workup. The physical/Pap smear came back nominal with a suggestion that I start taking a low-dosage BP med, and I’ll find out about the boob smooshing next week (although I’m not worried — the doc didn’t feel anything during the manual exam and I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family so I’m probably okay).

As for the blood pull, that was a bit of an adventure since the lab said they didn’t have paperwork for it. Went home because I was fasting and hangry as hell and called the doc’s office: “What? But we sent them the request!” Went back to the lab today: “Nope, we don’t have paperwork for this.” Finally went BACK to the doctor’s office, got them to print out the orders, then hand-carried them over to the lab to get everything kicked off. Oh, and once again I was a phlebotomist’s nightmare. Here are attempts #1 and #2, after 48 oz of water, and with the poor tech muttering, “Man, this vein just does NOT want to cooperate…” I told her the story of the time when I tried to donate blood and how they told me, “Please don’t.”

But that’s all done, which is good. Next up on the “Nic is Old” medical schedule is Baby’s First Colonoscopy (or as I like to call it, the Magical Mystery Tour). As my sister is arriving for a week next Wednesday (read: I have to clean my entire house) and my birthday will be happening soon afterwards, I’ve decided to schedule the Tour after all of that because of, well, the Cleaning Out Procedure. You know what I mean.

Luckily my friend Stretch has had a Tour at the place my doc recommended and she said it was a breeze, so hopefully it will be a matter of the COP, getting into a weird position, dozing thanks to some IV tranqs, and then walking out of there funny. I can live with that.

James Comey: Making Integrity Sexy Since 2017

Comey-FBI-Portrait(With apologies to Mrs. Comey, whom I’m sure is a wonderful woman.)

I’ve noticed a certain phenomenon cropping up in my social media feeds since Thursday. For you on the west side of the Atlantic (those of you on the east were a tad busy with election matters), you’ll remember that Thursday was the day former FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate intelligence committee about the circumstances that led to his firing by President Trump. I won’t recap what was said or the potential impacts of Mr. Comey’s statements, but a very unexpected result of his testimony is a growing number of social media posts, primarily by women, that can be boiled down to, “Is it just me, or does anyone else find Comey oddly sexy?”

If you find yourself thinking this while watching the testimony or interviews with the man, no, it’s not just you. While he may not be cover model gorgeous, he does have even features, nice eyes, and a pleasant voice, his bearing and height are impressive (“He’s so TALL!” one woman enthused), and his forthright determination and patriotism harks back to James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Disclaimer: my politics don’t align with his and I’m not thrilled with some of his actions, but I can’t fault the man’s probity.)

But I wonder how much of his appeal also has to do with the fact that he, a straight white male, found himself in the same position that so many women have — namely, isolated and forced into a uncomfortable situation where his employer used pressure via insinuation to get him to perform a service. Every woman who’s had to put up with a boss’s inappropriate but not quite actionable suggestions knows how that feels. We watched Comey being grilled by the Senate committee, and we sympathized when he said, “Maybe if I were stronger, I would have” in response to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s question of why he didn’t tell the president to stop.

Basically, Comey is an Alpha male with a very human center, and that’s appealing to a lot of women. He’s a decent man who respects truth, law, and duty, has had his reputation unfairly impugned, and is now fighting to defend not only his own sense of honor but the honor of his country as well. Speaking as a romance writer, if that doesn’t have “hero” written all over it I’ll eat my laptop. Integrity’s a good look on anyone who can legitimately claim it, but on Comey it’s sexy as hell.

I spoke too soon

As of yesterday I now have a small but itchy rash on the numb part of my stomach with a couple of outlying bumps, all of them along the affected nerve trunk. But it’s contained and I still don’t have the agonizing pain that other shingles sufferers have reported, so go Acyclovir!

That being said, I’m noticing two weird side effects, and I don’t know if it’s the shingles, the Acyclovir, or a combination thereof. Side effect #1: while I’m still tired and feeling unwell, my ability to focus has gone way up. As in, I am writing like a house on fire. I finished a chapter of Shifter Woods: Roar yesterday and worked on Cross Current, and I also want to go back to work on Do No Harm. This is weird but good.

Side effect #2: no appetite whatsoever. I keep forgetting to eat, and then fifteen hours later my stomach starts hurting and I think, “Oh, yeah, I need to eat. Okay, I’ll have some yogurt.” I sent Ramón out to do a food shop, and he’s bringing back almonds. Those, grapes, and yogurt will do me right now.

And now, I think I’ll go take a nap.

So I’m sick

Shingles, to be precise. I developed an odd numb band of skin on my stomach running from my midline to my left side early Monday morning. The area underneath the skin started itching and aching like hell and made sleep Monday night quite unpleasant, so I called the doc’s yesterday morning for an appointment.

Diagnosis: shingles, classic presentation (right along a nerve trunk wrapping around my body from spine to midline). But I caught it early before the rash appeared so with Acyclovir I may not develop the rash at all. And Cecilia Tan clued me in to the use of Salonpas methyl salicylate pads, which knocked out the pain nicely. The biggest bummer is that I have to stay out of the gym until I’m sure I’m no longer shedding virus (people with shingles can give unvaccinated people chickenpox). Guess I can work out at home for a week.

For those of you who have never heard of this, shingles are basically the Son of Chickenpox — the herpes zoster virus remains dormant in your system once you’ve had chickenpox. After you turn 50 certain things can reactivate it — stress, immune system issues, various diseases — and it attacks the nerve roots, creating a belt-like rash along the nerve trunk. The abdomen is one of the most common places for it to appear, but it can show up all over your body (including your eyes), and knock-on effects can include nerve damage, photosensitivity, and a host of other unpleasant ailments. Recognizing it early and getting the antiviral Acyclovir (the treatment dose only cost me $19.50) can greatly reduce the length and severity of the attack, so if this ever happens to you hie yourself into the doctor right smart, if at all possible.

An interesting side effect is that either the shingles or the Acyclovir is making me feel … well, mellow. I’m tired and Ramón says I’m warm, but I’m not itching or in pain and I’m feeling a general sense of Zen calm. Which is kinda nice, considering the current political climate.

My cat has turned into Grandpa Simpson

So JJ, the 16-year-old black cat with kidney insufficiency, has gotten more and more cranky over the past year, to the point where he yells at me if his food bowl isn’t filled to the brim, yells at me if the other cats’ food bowls aren’t likewise filled, yells at me, when he wants to be petted, yells at me when he wants to be let down, and generally yells at me.

But since I know his kidneys are slowly failing I don’t want to ignore his yelling because I don’t know if it’s because he’s in pain or he’s just being grumpy. So, yeah, I’ve pretty much become his body servant. Cut to a few minutes ago, when he was yelling loudly from the living room. Like the good servant I am, I dropped what I was doing and went in there to see what was up.

Some background: JJ likes sleeping on the futon in the living room. I will occasionally bring him his wet food or water there so that he can have dinner in bed, so to speak. I’d left the spare water bowl on the end table, and because our orange tabby Jeremy is a huge resource hog who will shoulder JJ out of the way to get at any food or water I’d put another bowl of water next to it so that Jer-bear could drink out of that one while JJ drank out of the other bowl.

I go into the living room and see JJ staring at the now-empty water bowls. He then gives me an accusing look as if to say, “How dare you let these run dry?” Please note that we have two bowls of water with the regular food bowls and a big bowl of water on the breakfast nook table, all of which are washed and refreshed multiple times a day. But no, Grandpa wanted his water bowl on the end table, and he wanted it now.

I sighed and refilled them both. After a few minutes he yelled for cuddles, and has just now demanded to be let down. Once I did that he strolled off to the living room again, most likely to snooze until he decides to start yelling about something yet again.

My life, you know you want it.