Category Archives: Personal

Hello, 5 AM, My Old Friend

So I woke up this morning after a dream that was apparently inspired by elements of “Goodbye Earl” by the Chicks (no justified killing of an abusive husband, but I observed two couple’s arguments, spent some time in a really nice kitchen that overlooked a great apartment complex after one boyfriend decided to switch apartments with his old girlfriend and go move in with his new girlfriend, and wound up in the middle of what looked like Wisconsin, judging from the rolling hills and all of the silos, as part of a mass job interview for a tech writing position. Yeah, I don’t understand that last part, either).

And then it was 5 AM, and my brain said, “Okay, you went to sleep at midnight, that’s enough, we’re going to play “Goodbye Earl” on earworm loop until you get up.” Thanks, brain. So I’m here, having fed and watered the J Crew, and I figure I’ll get in maybe four hours of writing before that stupid mass in my skull gives up and I can go back to bed at 10 AM for three more hours of sleep.

And then I made the mistake of checking Twitter and found out that not only does DHS intend to take its cobbled-together SS shitshow in Portland nationwide, but John Lewis died this morning. The best way to pay tribute is to get into some good trouble.

Sometimes you have to improvise

Being a reasonable person who doesn’t want to catch the ‘rona, I try to plan meals in advance so that I can cut down on the number of store runs and still have everything I need on hand. Sometimes, however, you (and by you, I mean I) forget things, which throws a wrench into the meal planning procedure.

Such as today, when I had planned on making burgers and fries for dinner. Because I knew damn well I’d gotten ground beef the last time I went to the store, you know? Except that apparently my mind was playing stupid games for stupid prizes once again and I’d already used the ground beef (either that, or it fell out in the trunk of my car. The temps have been around the triple digit point here for the last few days. I’m dreading what I’m going to find when I go out there tomorrow and check).

So, sweet potato fries but no ground beef, and I don’t want to hazmat up and go out to the store just for protein. I check the freezer — tilapia (nice, but we don’t have any fresh veggies that Ramón can eat without extreme digestive unease), kielbasa, hot dogs, OOH. I still had a container of the homemade gyro meatball mix I’d made back in May.

Pulled that out and let it defrost while I continued my study of the fridge. Nope, no tzatziki sauce, but I did have light sour cream, minced garlic, and green onions. That mixed up into a lovely creamy sauce, and one of the white onions that are a staple here got chopped up for garnish. Ramón doesn’t like spinach so I couldn’t add any to his sandwich, but I was able to slather it on mine.

One last issue — bread. We didn’t have any pita bread, but I did buy some naan bread when it was on sale back in March and froze it. Pulled that out to defrost. (If worse came to worse I would’ve made biscuits and ladled everything over that, or taken a crack at making frybread. But the cooking gods were smiling on me for once.)

Et voila — homemade gyro meatballs on garlic naan bread topped with a sour cream sauce, onions, spinach, and sweet potato fries on the side. Turned out to be darn tasty, and I didn’t have to put on a bra. I call that a win.

So, that lurgy I was talking about back in January…

You may remember this post on January 10th, where I mentioned that I was just getting over a rather nasty cold that I’d caught over New Year’s, and how it had produced the most amazing neon yellow mucus I had ever seen (a color that has never come out of my nose before, by the way).

There was a fairly significant gap between that post and the next post on March 16, and the truth of it was that I was sick as a freaking dog in January and February. My cold did finally end, but on January 15 I started coughing. The cough settled in my chest, and despite drinking lots of fluids and taking OTC cough meds it didn’t resolve, to the point where I assumed I had developed bronchitis. (Why assumed? Well, because our health insurance is the HDHP type that doesn’t pay for doctor’s visits, and I was damned if I was dragging my exhausted ass over to the doctor’s office to be told, “Yeah, you have bronchitis, go home and drink lots of fluids” and pay $181 for the privilege.)

My coughing and general malaise got to the point where I had to tell my project manager, “Look, I know we’re on deadline but I am barely functional right now. So this is what I’m gonna do — I’ll get up, do some work for as long as I can, then go back to bed when I have to, then get back up and do some more work, and I’ll keep doing that around the clock until I have my deliverables done.” Yeah, I know — I’m insane. But it was only the two of us on this project and if I went to bed for a week there was simply no way she’d be able to get everything done, so I sucked it up. I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t remember much of that week, but apparently I do good work even on autopilot.

I started feeling moderately functional after about ten days, but the cough never really stopped, and I never got “better.” Things would start to improve and I’d have hope, and then I’d feel like crap again and sleep the weekend away. This continued until the third week of February, which means I had five weeks of feeling like absolute garbage. I was hoping to hold out until my physical at the end of February because I wouldn’t have to pay for that, but after week five I gave up and headed into a local CareNow to see if they could help. The doctor listened to my symptoms, decided I had a sinus infection (which I assumed I had as well), prescribed me antibiotics and prednisone, and told me to go home and use saline sprays lavishly on my nasal mucosa. I did, and by the time my physical rolled around the next week I was feeling pretty okay thanks to the prednisone.

Two strange things happened at my physical, though. My blood pressure, which had been under control, had gone up again, to the point where my doctor increased my BP medicine. And my blood oxygen, measured by one of those pulse oximeters, was 96%. In all the time that I’ve had one of those things clipped to my finger during an exam, my blood oxygen level was almost always 99%. Once it dropped to 98%, but that was the lowest it had gone.

Now it was down to 96%, and my blood pressure was up. Right around this time, we started getting the first real warning signs that the US was going to be hit by COVID-19. That’s when I started doing incremental stockups at the store, in case one of us caught it and had to be quarantined for two weeks. But I wasn’t worried about what had just happened to me because everyone said that we hadn’t had any cases of COVID in the States yet, so it couldn’t have been that, right? It had just been a weird, nasty viral respiratory bug that had knocked me on my ass for five weeks, elevated my blood pressure, and reduced my blood oxygenation…

Except. The first laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19 had been confirmed on January 20, 2020. So for me to have developed it on January 15 was not impossible.

Now, to answer the expected questions:

  • How could I have caught it? Well, I had spent the time around NYE wandering around the DFW metroplex with my family and interacting with other people a lot more than I usually did. Also, Dallas is the American Airlines hub and we have people coming in from other countries all the damn time, so it was hardly unexpected that a virus that originated overseas would show up here.
  • If I caught it, wouldn’t Ramón have caught it as well? Since he doesn’t have sick days, he isolated himself from me as soon as I got sick — he slept downstairs for a week and only saw me when he brought up food and meds. Even then, he did spend a number of weeks in February and March feeling like crap, but we assumed it was a milder case of what I had.
  • Have I gone in for a COVID-19 test? Well, no, because they weren’t available here in February. By the time I realized there was a good chance I’d had it, I would have tested as negative.
  • Antibody test? Those are now available, but as research is indicating that COVID-19 antibodies fade after 2-3 months and I’m well past that period now, there doesn’t seem much point to it.
  • Why do I think I had it? Apart from the neon yellow mucus, the symptoms of that respiratory bug, and those weird readings at my physical, I have not felt *right* since December. My mental acuity and ability to focus have definitely gone down a couple of notches, I have to take naps now to get through the day, and I get winded vacuuming the living room.
  • But you’ve been staying at home since March 13 — couldn’t some of those symptoms be related to staying inside for so long? Yeah, but I’m a writer — I’ve spent the last nine years inside. I never had to take naps before. And the reduction in my ability to focus is kind of telling.

So, that’s why you didn’t hear anything from me for almost two months. I’m talking about this now to explain why we’re being rigorous about masking, only going to the store, and disinfecting anything that comes in the house. If it is possible to catch COVID-19 multiple times, as research is beginning to indicate, I do NOT want that shit again and neither does Ramón. Once was more than enough.

This is not the time to beat yourself up

Justin A. Reynolds posted something on Twitter today that really resonated with me:

I know a lot of writers who are monsters when it comes to output. They plot everything, they schedule everything, they crank out books every six weeks or so. We’re talking dedicated, y’all. But a lot of them haven’t been able to maintain their previous schedule these last few months, and they’re worried and scared because this is how they make their money and pay their bills.

Non-writers are feeling this, too. They’re trying to juggle WFH, taking care of the kids, taking care of the parents, keeping a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, and do all of this while wearing masks, washing their hands, and taking every precaution they can to keep the ‘rona away.

So let me reiterate that you’re all doing the best you can in an incredibly stressful and dangerous situation. Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up because you missed a deadline, or your house is messy, or your kids ate waffles for dinner again. Right now, we’re in survival mode — if eating cookies helps you get through another day, fuck it, eat the damn cookies. Color in your coloring book, turn off social media and decompress, do whatever it takes to cut yourself some slack.

History shows that humanity will get through this, just as we got through the Black Plague and the Spanish Flu. Mind you, the world on the other side of those pandemics was a different place from the world before them. And the world after COVID-19 will look different from the world we knew in 2019.

But it will be there. Hopefully it’ll be a better world where we learned some badly needed lessons. We won’t know until we get there. In the meantime, as Justin says, YOU be kind to YOU. Stay safe.

Where’d You Go, Nicola?

You can see the subtle reference to Where’d You Go, Bernadette in the title. Because I’m clever that way.

I think I need to apologize to everyone who follows me, reads my books, and has supported me over the years for 2019. My output, or lack thereof, has been a big issue all year, and I’ve pretty much spent my time re-releasing books for which the rights have been returned to me.

So, why no new books this year? Well, it’s complicated, and some of it is personal, but the upshot of it is, I spent the first half of the year stressing over Ramón’s impending unemployment, and the second half of the year scrambling to cover bills while he looked for a new job and then getting a contract job of my own.

Let’s talk about the stress first. No matter what La Bohème or RENT would like you to believe, stress does not help your average creative type. In fact, it tends to shut us right the hell down. And knowing that 1) Ramón’s contract would end right on my birthday, and 2) he’s now of an age where the contract jobs–actually, the jobs full stop–are becoming thinner and thinner) made buckling down to work kinda difficult.

I mean, I tried. I got started on Uncertainty Principle, and King of Blades, and Shifter Woods: Claw, kept picking at the holiday romcom novella, and wrote down notes for a sorta-sequel to To My Muse. But bills kept piling up, and trying to juggle them and keep a roof over our heads and the J Crew fed with R’s impending unemployment staring us in the face made it difficult to focus. It didn’t help that I could make more money right away by creating jewelry, so I focused on that for much of the year.

And then in May, Ramón admitted that he was worried about the job situation, and as much as he hated it would I mind looking for a job? Not being a selfish asshole I said of course, brushed off my resume, and started hunting around on Linkedin and Indeed. It took a couple of months and one false start, but by mid-July I had signed a contract with my current employer to do specialized tech writing for them on a client-by-client basis.

When my birthday came, Ramón handed in his card and laptop, signed up for unemployment, and started job hunting with a vengeance. In the meantime I started work at the end of August, juggled our finances even faster because I wasn’t making as much as he had been, and prayed that he would find a job soon. As it turned out he didn’t find anything until October and didn’t start until mid-November, which made August through November … interesting. Yeah, let’s call it interesting.

But. My beloved is now gainfully employed for a year, with a company that is known for extending its contracts, and he’s building a good rep with his contract company so even if the client doesn’t extend his contract he should be able to find something else fairly quickly. In this year, while he pays the daily bills I plan on taking any contract jobs that come my way with an eye towards clearing off all of our outstanding bills (two have already been cleared and in the first half of next year I work on zeroing out our credit cards) and finally getting my bad knee replaced. Once that’s done, I’m going to sock away as much money as humanly possible in case his current contract isn’t extended or he can’t find another job soon afterwards. Because man, being broke over the holidays sucks ass.

That being said, having money again relieves a lot of stress, so I do intend to put out at least three titles in 2020 (for one thing, I have to take some time off after the knee surgery, so what better time to write?) And I want to thank everyone who has hung in there with me and waited for things to settle down to the point where I could get back to the keyboard and do what I do best. I adore you all to bits, and I really hope that you’ll enjoy what will be coming out from me next year.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a happy and safe December, and watch Ryan Reynolds’s new Aviation Gin commercial because that shit is hilarious.

Reorganizing the office (or: Nicola is reminded yet again that she’s not 16 anymore)

I am a lucky writer because I have my own office in my home. Since we moved into this house my office has been where I work on graphic art, website design, and jewelry. It is not, however, where I work on my writing because I prefer to write on my laptop and the office is not structured for me to be able to do that (it’s a long, complicated story involving weird ergonomics, bad eyesight, my office being the place where we plug into our internet, and me having a day job when we first moved in here).

Anyhoo, for about a year now I’ve had a plan to reorganize the office so that I could write in there. This would involve shifting our printers and routers onto one shelving unit (at the moment they’re on separate stands at opposite corners of the room. Don’t ask), allowing me to move other furniture around and open up a space next to the window. I could then stick the wing chair-cum-recliner that’s currently in the library in that space, giving me 1) an ergonomically comfortable place to sit and write 2) in my office, which 3) has a door that I could close when I need some peace and freaking quiet from the J Crew. (Also, we now have a 3-D printer which apparently is going to live in the breakfast nook/cat dining area. Since that is about five feet from where I’m currently sitting, it behooves me to find another place to write.)

The Issue — in order to move things around and do some very necessary vacuuming/dusting before I set up the heavy duty shelving unit that would hold the printers/servers et al, I would have to disconnect the internet router for about an hour. Ramón works from home, and then he spends the rest of his time online so, yeah, this was problematic. BUT — he has a regular D&D game every couple of weeks where he’s out of the house for six hours or so. The next game was tonight, so as soon as he headed off to slay orcs and bicker with his friends over loot I headed out to pick up everything I would need for Operation: Help Nic Write.

First stop — Office Depot, for a storage box that would match one I already have in my office and would hold all the paper, forms, and other detritus we have for the printers (you would not believe some of the weird forms we have). Next up was Home Depot, where I wandered around for a good half hour because I knew damn well they had an HDX Decorative Wire Chrome Heavy Duty Shelving Unit, but none of the clerks seemed to know where it was if it wasn’t in Aisle 7 with the rest of the closet organizing stuff. Turns out it was at the back of the store where they keep all the storage boxes and other metal shelving units, so if you ever need a bad boy that can hold over 3,000 lbs worth of stuff, check there first.

On a side note, it’s 70 pounds. Getting it into the car was a joy. I wound up “walking” the box from the car to the door, which I’m sure amused the neighbors.

Next up, World Market for the lumbar pillows I would need to make the wing chair comfy again. I’ve been working in the living room since December because the wing chair was starting to make my legs ache and the arm chair and footstool in here are perfect for a lap desk and my laptop. But it’s the living room, aka a public area, and it’s right next to the open plan kitchen — quite apart from the cats regularly slugging it out for my attention and the whole “let’s put the 3-D printer in the breakfast nook” thing, the living room is not really the best place for me to work seeing as someone else in this house also works from home and likes to watch anime while he eats lunch. Which he is perfectly entitled to, because I have my own freaking office where I SHOULD be working.

The last two stops were Pet Supplies Plus for wet food before the J Crew devoured us in our sleep, and Kroger so that we ourselves could have something to nosh on tonight and tomorrow. By the time I got back to the house I was already tired from all the walking around I’d been doing, so I took a break to load books into my new store at Eden Books (more on that in another blog post, but they’re a new online vendor for romance and women’s fiction and look to fill the gap that the implosion of All Romance eBooks left) before girding my loins and getting to work. I knew I had one absolutely mandatory task tonight — I HAD to get the shelving unit upstairs and put together as well as all the computer stuff reconnected before Ramón got home from the game, because he has to do a cut at 6 AM tomorrow morning.

I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty details — suffice it to say that there was much cursing and sweating, as well as dealing with a certain orange cat who lives to sprawl directly in my path while I’m carrying stuff. But the shelving unit is up, all the printer/computer stuff has been transferred there, I successfully reconnected everything, I now have a BUTTLOAD more storage space in my office, and Ramón is thrilled because the stand that used to hold the printers is the perfect size to hold the 3-D printer and he won’t have to hunt around for something else. Mind you, my office is still a torn-apart wreck because I haven’t finished moving furniture around to open up that gap for the chair, I desperately need to dust and vacuum everything, my body is currently cursing at me in fluent Sumerian for humping heavy stuff up and down the stairs multiple times, and I’m drenched in sweat and desperately need a shower before I turn in. But I can already tell that this is going to be very good for my productivity.

Assuming I can still move in the morning. Whee…

New Year, New Goals, New Habits

No, I’m not going to pass along any tips for making your life better in 2019. You’re perfect the way you are, and besides, those tend to be somewhat condescending. Nope, I am just kinda croggled at the way I’m starting off 2019.

For one thing, there’s a reason why I went dark in December. I was frigging exhausted from finishing Iron Cross and getting it out to Romancelandia, and after taking a crack at a holiday romance (which I will finish for next year) I decided, “Screw it. I’m tired, my brain hurts, and I need a break. I’m taking the rest of the year off.” So I did, and man, that was a good choice. Not only did I recharge my creative side by diving into various non-writing projects that have been hanging around for years waiting for me to get to them, but I also drank the Kool-aid and joined the Great British Baking Show cult. I absently stumbled across S2E1 on Netflix, and by the end of it I was frantically scoping out the rest of them and launching into a bingewatch of epic proportions.

By the time I watched all five seasons, the Beginnings eps, the holiday shows and all the masterclass eps, I had made jam tarts, mince pies, fruitcakes, Italian Christmas cookies (at right), spinach puffs, Cherry Blossom Kisses, Winter Kisses, Paul Hollywood’s Christmas Leftover Chelsea buns (upper left), and had bought a dizzying array of bakeware. I now own pie weights, I’ll have you know. Plus I have my eye on a rolling pin with attachments that lets you control the height of the dough you’re rolling out, and I’m probably going to make runzas/bierocks this weekend by special request of Ramón, who has pointed out that having little savory things that he can grab between meals would be a very nice change from having to grab chocolate or cookies.

Other shows I binged were The Expanse (holy God, that was good), Altered Carbon, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Forever, and various comedy shows that had been recommended to me over 2018, and while I watched them I worked on this absolutely gorgeous hue shift knitted afghan. It’s extremely cool, using mitered corner squares with alternating stripes, and seeing as I bought the kit two years ago it’s nice that I’m finally putting it together. When I wasn’t baking, watching Netflix, or working on the afghan, I read, caught up on bills, played with the kitties (Jessie and Jeremy are losing some much-needed weight thanks to the new food regime the vet suggested at their checkup in early December and Jessie’s back to being able to jump up on counters and tables), cleaned (I actually cleaned my oven and my freezer fold-out bins. Somewhere, my mother is astounded), and decorated the house for Christmas.

But what was most notable was that I pretty much stayed off social media because I wasn’t on the laptop for hours at a time. I’d check FB and Twitter a few times a day, but I didn’t spend nearly as much time as I usually did on it. And that was a good thing because I soon realized I felt much more relaxed and centered without constantly being thrown into rage cycles by the endless political idiocy making the rounds on SM. So one thing I’m going to do in 2019 is continue that habit — I’ll check in on Twitter and Instagram for business purposes, but I’m seriously going to curtail my FB time. Not only do I not like their business practices of scraping every piece of data they can get about me and selling it to companies, but I’m just happier when I’m not on FB.

One final and very major change in 2018 was me starting on CBD oil. I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and PCOS, which not only screw with my metabolism and make it hard to lose weight but also encourage inflammation. At this point in my life I inflame at a harsh word, and for the last couple of years it’s been affecting my ability to walk because both of my Achilles bursae swelled up to painful proportions, making it difficult to flex my feet and balance. The tipping point was December 20 — my good knee had gotten strained while I was in bed, of all places, and hurt like hell, my bad knee was, well, my bad knee, and I was literally hobbling around like an arthritic 90-year-old. Worse, NSAIDs weren’t really working anymore and I was getting very little sleep because I was hurting all the time.

I’ve had CBD oil recommended to me by friends with similar issues who had incredibly good results with it, so I did some research and found the Cherry Apothecary in Oak Cliff. I hobbled in, had a consult with a very nice young man who listened to my pain issues and suggested that I try sublingual tinctures. After some more discussion I settled on a bottle of 250 mg CBD oil with orange flavor, headed home, took the recommended half dose (he said to start low and slow — apparently the endocannabinoid system in our bodies that is affected by CBD needs time to load the chemical to a level where it will help. You can take more, the man said, but you’ll just pee it out, which is a waste of money and oil), and prayed.

Twenty minutes later, I was able to walk without hobbling. My ankles were flexing, and the pain in both knees was reduced — still there, mind you, but manageable with an NSAID. It felt like a frigging miracle. I now take a half dose of CBD oil in the morning and a half dose at night, and not only do my legs feel better but I also feel calmer, more focused, and I’m sleeping like a top. Best of all, I can see the swelling in both Achilles bursae going down — my left heel is almost back to normal and my right heel (which was horrible) now looks like my left heel at its worst, which is a significant improvement. With walking so much easier, I’ve been able to clean, shop, and move around a lot more than I have been in the last couple of years, and man, that is fantastic. I’m now getting on the treadmill every day, and once I’m over the mild cold I caught from Ramón I’m going back to the gym and starting weightlifting again.

So, yeah, that was a decent personal end to 2018. Right now my goals in 2019 are more walking and weightlifting, completing four novels (King of Blades, Uncertainty Principle, and two romcoms) and three novellas, doing smart promo for myself, continuing to cook and bake more stuff from scratch, working on meditation techniques and yoga, reducing our debt as much as possible, and generally trying to help more people out and enjoy life. Oh, and play with the kitties, because that’s an important part of Casa Cameron.

So, yeah, let’s get started!

Have I mentioned that I love antibiotics?

Because I do, especially after I’ve spent the last six weeks slowly sinking into sinus infection fatigue, to the point where I would get up in the morning and five minutes later wanted to go straight back to bed for the rest of the day.

So, yeah, doc’s visit, the nice nurse practitioner said, “Ooh, yeah, your eardrums are bulging, here’s a scrip for a Z-pack, you want a steroid shot, too? Oh, yeah, this is not your first time at the rodeo.” She also confirmed that I get one of these damn things every year around this time — two years ago I came in almost to the day with the same complaint. I don’t know if it’s the weather change or something around here puts out some serious shit in late September/early October, but it’s like freaking clockwork.

So, day two on the Z-pack/steroid shot, and it’s like night and day. I woke up at 4 AM this morning, cranked out 1500 words on King of Blades (holy God, I came up with a BRILLIANT subplot for Darius and Lars, so they’re about to have quite the rollercoaster event in their relationship), went back to sleep for a bit, woke up feeling like a million bucks, went to see Colette (gorgeous movie and man, it’s inspiring if you’re a female writer), and craved real food afterwards (I may have also watched Salt Fat Acid Heat last night and it kinda lit a fire under me). So dinner tonight is rosemary and garlic pork roast, oven-roasted green beans and carrots with olive oil, seasoned sweet potato fries, and cucumber salad. You want to be eating here tonight.

Another bennie of feeling better — I’m back in the mood to make jewelry. I’m finishing up some projects that are already on the bench, and then I get to start work on these, now that all the bits have finally arrived from Rio Grande and the stone sellers. The lower stones and blue and yellow topaz and will be set in sterling silver settings that I’ll solder together, and the top stones are citrine and will have tiny handmade sterling calla lilies dangling from them. I think they’re gonna be gorgeous when they’re done.

A certain sense of meh

Sorry I’ve been quiet for so long (I keep saying that, don’t I?). I got somewhat stuck on Shifter Woods: Snarl due to what I can only describe as an insanely inopportune realization, and by the time I finally got unstuck I was way past my self-imposed publishing deadline and had to shift into fifth gear to get it edited, polished, and out the door. Oh, and Ramón and I went to New Orleans in the middle of that because the trip had been scheduled and paid for months ago and frankly he needed the break.

So now that it’s out (and for everyone who’s purchased a copy, thank you so much), I’m back to work on the long-stalled and much awaited Behind the Iron Cross. Today I finish reassembling the chapters (I’d separated them into scenes in Scrivener, but as it turns out that level of granulation just confuses the heck out of me) and started filling in spots in the first five chapters that need to be fleshed out before I can finish the pending third act. The damn thing is 75,000 so far, and my goal is 90K. At this rate, I should have the first draft done by Tuesday, and since I’ve been away from it for so long I won’t need a long down period before I can start editing it.

The only problem is, I’m feeling a certain lack of enthusiasm. Not about the book — about everything. Maybe it’s the dumpster fire that is the current US administration, maybe it’s the fact that the GOP is trying to ram through a woefully inappropriate candidate for the US Supreme Court because they gotta protect their corporate masters and make sure that white women keep pumping out those babies to stop brown and black people from demographic supremacy, blah blah blah, but I’m having a hard time coming up with reasons to get out of bed in the morning. I have a shitload of faith in people like Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Mazie Hirono, Tammy Duckworth, and other rising Democratic stars who may be our last hope against Old White Men Ruining Everything, but it’s still a long fucking way to November and I wish something good would happen to remind me that we never know what can happen tomorrow.

Or maybe I just need to get drunk. That didn’t happen in NOLA, can you believe it? I even had a couple of hurricanes while I was out with Ramón, my sister, her friends, and my friend Epi, but I was so hot from walking around the French Quarter in August that the alcohol pretty much evaporated from my system the moment I finished swallowing. I dunno, Marty. I need a goal. Or something to look forward to. Or a fucking quest, maybe.

Another open letter to Jeff Bezos

I’m sure that many of you in Romancelandia have been hearing about the michigas surrounding bookstuffers and how they’re leaching money out of Kindle Unlimited at an astounding rate. This is something that will affect readers as well as writers, because if enough authors can’t make a living with their books and have to take other jobs to pay the bills, it means less books to read apart from yet another variant on The Dirty Billionaires Next Door And Their Secret Baby (A Compilation).

Christ, I hope that’s not a real book.

Anyway, it turns out that anyone can write an email to Jeff Bezos, the head honcho at Amazon, and so I have just sent off the following letter. If you’re an author tired of seeing your KU income dwindle in favor of some faceless businessman using underhanded tactics to pimp their “compilation” on KU, or you’re a reader tired of wading through acres of prettily covered crap in hopes of finding a decent book, you might want to write him, as well. There’s strength in numbers, and if Amazon realizes that this could hit their bottom line they will take action.


Dear Mr. Bezos:

My name is Melanie Fletcher. I write SF under my own name and romance under the name Nicola Cameron, and since November 2015 I’ve also been able to self-publish my work using the Kindle Direct Publishing system. At first, I was absolutely delighted with KDP; it gave me an opportunity to publish novels that weren’t easily marketable by the Big Five publishers in NYC, and I was able to build on my readership with my first self-pubbed novel, Empress of Storms. Empress wound up earning a little over $16,000, mainly via Amazon, and that gave me hope for a viable career as an independent author.

Except that Empress’s sequel, Palace of Scoundrels, didn’t do nearly as well as the first book. Sequels rarely match the success of the first book in a series, but Palace’s sales were unusually lackluster considering that there had been numerous requests for a sequel and I performed all the same promotion activities that I used for Empress. The reviews for Palace were uniformly good, from Amazon reviewers as well as from professional review sites, so its drop in sales puzzled me.

But I shrugged it off as a learning experience and wrote a SF romance, thinking that putting out a separate title might help. It didn’t sell well. I went back and wrote another sequel for Empress. It didn’t sell well. I then wrote a contemporary romantic comedy, one of the most popular subgenres of romance there is. You can guess how the sales went for that. I’ve done due diligence on all my books with regards to promotion — purchasing advertising for them, sending out review copies, haunting social media to talk them up, appearing at romance conventions to advertise them, everything that a legitimate indie author needs to do in order to get the word out about their book.

But despite uniformly good reviews, both on and off Amazon, my sales were getting increasingly worse despite a growing backlist. I spoke with other indie authors and they all complained about the same thing—their sales at Amazon were plummeting. When an indie author such as Sam Crescent, who has a huge, loyal fanbase and can produce titles monthly, was seeing her sales dwindling, I didn’t have a shot in hell of saving my career.

And then I learned about bookstuffers who were gaming the KU system. I’m sure you’ve well aware of the situation by now and how they use scam tactics such as adding extra books to a title and instructing their readers to flip to the end in order to have all the pages register as having been read. Not only are they driving out legitimate authors from KU, but their tactics then gamed Amazon’s ranking algorithms and pushed them into bestseller slots that, frankly, they didn’t deserve. This hijacking of Amazon’s ranking system has had a number of unfortunate knock-on effects — it’s rendered Amazon’s ranking system is no longer a reliable tool for readers searching for new titles and authors, and it’s pushed legitimate indie authors like me completely out of the spotlight. As for KU, I can’t afford to put my books in it anymore. I would have to have tens of thousands of page reads of my titles just to match a bookstuffer’s “compilation.”

Mr. Bezos, I don’t want the KU system to shut down. Not only does it makes you money, but it allows a LOT of readers who don’t have extra cash for books to read as much as they like, and maybe even find a new favorite author. I’ve included my titles in KU for that very purpose before I realized it was losing me income and had to stop. I would love to be able to put my books in KU again, but for that to happen it needs to be made equitable. Changing your terms of service to forbid more than 10% of “extra” material in a book will not stop bookstuffers—they’ll just find another way to game the system, as they already have by labeling their stuffed books “compilations.” I am begging you to have your programming team take a good, hard look at KU and come up with a robust method of monitoring it and preventing such abuses. Pattern analysis that recognizes extra material already in KU as a standalone title, or repetitive use of extra material in multiple titles (where a bookstuffer publishes Book A with BCDEF extra material, Book B with CDEFA extra material, Book C with DEFAB extra material, etc.) and flags a title for removal is one way of doing this. I know this would be a serious undertaking, but sir, I’ve heard from numerous readers who are now saying that they’ve been burned too many times by KU scammers and are cancelling KU or will only read Big Five books or titles from trusted authors. This is what the bookstuffers have done with their rampant abuse of KU; while they’re only hurting my bottom line at the moment, if they keep driving people away from KU they’ll eventually start hurting yours as well.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Best,
Melanie Fletcher/Nicola Cameron