Category Archives: Uncategorized

Trying to Hang On

I have to admit, I’m not doing that well. Which is hardly surprising, seeing as we’re now past the point where we all initially locked down and we’re only just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Having idiot governors lift mask mandates and throw open business doors doesn’t help (and cases of COVID and deaths from same are going up in my county, so thanks a lot, Abbott). I know that eventually things will get better and I just have to hang on. But to be honest, all I want to do is crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head, and hope that I can get to sleep before one or more of my joints decides to start screaming at me.

Thing is, we’re genuinely in a good position. We have a roof over our heads, all the bills are paid, and we’re even going to New Orleans in May for a long weekend. More importantly, Ramón just got his second shot yesterday (he’s feeling pretty crappy today, but he’s not sure if it’s due to the shot or the fact that we have hella high tree and grass pollen levels today and that’s doing a number on his system). My second shot is scheduled for tomorrow, and we’ll be considered fully vaccinated on April 17th, at which point we’re going out to dinner for the first time in about 15 months.

But. I can tell that my temper is in shreds. I’m definitely showing signs of situational depression, and while I’m trying to mitigate it with exercise, fresh air, and meditation it’s still there in the back of my mind. It feels like I don’t have anything to look forward to but constant unending chores. This house is a fucking disaster area and I need to clean each and every room in it, but between the daily contract work, trying to finish the book, and ShitKnee playing up I rarely have the spoons to do that. Even the New Orleans trip feels like a chore because I have to arrange everything and find stuff for us.

It doesn’t help that the inflammatory response to the pollen is playing merry hell with my joints, so in addition to being depressed I also hurt all the time. God only knows what shape I’ll be in tomorrow after I get the second shot, so today I need to make sure that we have food and other things stocked up in the house so that I can just sleep it off if necessary.

What I really need is one of Ray Bradbury’s Electric Grandmothers who can help me cook and clean, keep an eye on the J Crew, bring me something to drink when I’m working, then tuck me in bed at the end of the day and tell me not to worry, everything will be fine. As that’s not going to happen, however, I’ll just keep muddling through.

I have a type

So I have been patiently waiting for science fiction drama The Nevers to come to HBO ever since I learned about it. Superpowered Victorian women in a quasi-steampunk setting? I am so there.

Of course, one of the other draws for me was the fact that Pip Torrens (aka the actor who inspired Shadow of the Swan) would also be in it playing an aloof aristocrat who appears to be aligned against the superpowered women. Hey, I can live with that.

I mentioned this to Ramón, remarking that it was lovely being a romance writer because I could monetize my celebrity crushes. To which Ramón said, “Wait, who is he?”

“Ever watch Preacher?”

“No.”

“What about the first season of The Crown?”

“Yes, I saw that.”

“Okay, you remember the Queen’s first secretary, Tommy Lascelles? Pip played him.”

“Ah, okay, yes. Him.” He thought for a moment. “You do have a type, don’t you?”

Apparently I do.

Don’t worry, I’m better

I know the last blog post was a bit of a downer, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been having a serious problem with knee/hip pain related to an old mattress and the recurrence of hot flashes and night sweats, and the combination has made sleep a little hard to get these days, which makes Nicola a lot cranky.

But I’m trying black cohosh, and that seems to be improving the hot flashes. As for the mattress problem, I’m hoping we can swing a new one in early February, and in the meantime I’ll just continue to pile up bedding in order to overcome the large dips and peaks in our current one.

In short, there are worse problems to have, and a lot of people out there have them right now, so I’m gonna count my blessings and just keep moving forward. At the moment, forward momentum is taking place on Cross Current, and I don’t anticipate a problem getting it out on the 29th this month, at which point I’m taking a whole week off from writing between Christmas and New Year’s. I still need to do bookwork and promotion, but I ain’t gonna write — I’m gonna binge every show I’ve wanted to see, knit, quilt, and bake up a storm, and generally give my brain some well-deserved time off. I’ve very proud of the fact that I’ve managed to put out three full-length novels and a novella in five months, but it’s also taken up a LARGE amount of processing time and I really need to let the creative side recharge for awhile before I start up again in 2021.

Speaking of that, I’m having a huge amount of fun plotting out what I’m going to do for The Crimson and the Black. The Hidden Empire series seems to be where I’m writing character types I’ve never done before — vampires in Shadow of the Swan, dragon shifters in TCatB. Lord knows what I’ll tackle in the third book — maybe Henry and Louisa inadvertently bring back a cursed Ancient Egyptian royal to London in mummy form, then have to deal with the aftermath.

Ooh. OOH. That could be kind of fun, come to think of it, and it could utilize elements from an unfinished novel I already have kicking around here. Gotta cogitate on that some more.

And as I’ve already said in other posts, I plan on finishing off the Olympic Cove series next year to reward everyone who’s been waiting so patiently for the next books, plus I need to do a Two Thrones book and a Pacifica Rising book. There will be reader magnets released for all of those, as well, and I’ve got a handful of novellas that I’d like to tackle as well (for one thing, I have stories for Ewan and Hamish, the younger brothers of the hero of Red Robin and the Huntsman, as well as another entry in the Esposito County Shifters novella series). Plus there are the Hollywood romcoms I want to write under Natasha’s aegis.

*rubs face* Yep, got a lot ahead of me. But that’s all good, because 2021 is going to be a fantastic year for writing, I can feel it.

King of Blades, Day 8

I’m starting out today with a word count of *checks Scrivener* 19,201. Should it be higher by now? Oh yeah. Why isn’t it?

Well, let’s take a look at the weekend, shall we? Quite apart from the hellscape that is the current US political situation, I put up King of Blades for pre-order on Amazon. Then I got some excellent advice about the free stories (“A Gentle Fall of Snow” and “Beneath Their Own Blue Sea”) I’ve been making available to newsletter subscribers, and I put them up on Amazon as well for 99¢ a pop. Why? Well, I’m working on the basis that not everyone will want to sign up for my newsletter, but they may want to read the stories anyway so I should make a legal copy available to these folks. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. And judging from the sales I made over the weekend, this was a good move.

Then I wrote 500 words of a short story I wanted to submit to a market (got the rejection today so I’m going to write it anyway and sell it myself like “Snow” and “Sea”). Then I had to update a bunch of pages on the website to reflect the new books, then put out a newsletter and let people know where they could get the free versions of “Snow” and “Sea,” as well as pre-order King of Blades. In between all this I had to adjust my Amazon ads, do laundry, go food shopping, make dinner, and yeah, work on King of Blades yesterday.

So, not quite where I wanted to be at in the book today, but I got a lot done anyway, so that’s all good. Onward!

Frogging successfully completed

The weather has cooperated with me for the last two days, allowing me to sit out on the patio and work without the J Crew demanding my attention. As a result, the first eight chapters (out of a projected total of 21) of Shadow of the Swan have now been retrofitted with the new plot.

I have to say, it flows SO much better this way, so clearly this was the right thing to do and I feel like I’m finally, finally on the right track. This revision also meant I got to add in Miss Pandora Philips, the granddaughter of a ministry official, in a place where she really needed to go and in a manner that endeared her to Louisa. I swear, this cast is growing on me SO much.

Still not turning it into a series, though, nope, no way, uh-uh … at least not until I get the Olympic Cove series finished, which should be sometime next year.

Speaking of the cove and its delightful denizens, I’m plowing ahead on the revisions for Deep Water (as I realized over last weekend that, no, my schedule was wrong, I can request the rights back next Monday instead of in December. D’oh), and I’ll get the cover done for that sometime this weekend. The graphic is left is pretty much the finished cover — I still need to do a few tweaks, make the text stand out a bit more against the background, but all in all I really like it. And since it’s the first of the OC books with an MMF (technically MFF if you include the original trio) menage, I figured I’d go with a feminine eye on the cover.

Believe it or not, I’ve also been plugging slowly away on Cross Current (OC 4), so if I can get a move on with that once Swan, King of Blades, and Uncertainty Principle are out, I should be able to have it ready by January, and the last other OC books (Landlocked and Undertow, respectively) fairly soon after that.

Then I’m done with my first series, and hopefully that will convince people who prefer to wait until a series is completely finished to buy it will do just that. Man, that sentence looks weird, but you know what I mean. After that, if Swan has enough buyers and interest, I’ll see about doing a sequel.

An unexpected benefit of ageing

So many thing start going wrong with your body as you get older that it’s nice when the aging process actually provides something useful. As you can see at right, I wear glasses — have since fifth grade or so, and up until about eight years ago my vision prescription stayed roughly the same.

In 2012 I was told by my ophthalmologist that my near vision was starting to go and I would need bifocals. Luckily modern plastics technology has gifted us with progressive lenses so I don’t have that extremely obvious half-moon at the bottom of my glasses, but still, it was an annoying reminder that my eyes were starting to crap out on me. As there was no way to avoid it, I sucked it up, got the progressives, stuck it out through the week-long adjustment period until I could wear them without getting a humongous headache, and continued on my merry way.

And then three years ago, I was having problems focusing. I went in for a checkup, expecting to hear that my near vision had gotten progressively worse and I would need a new scrip. “Oh,” said the ophthalmologist after examining me, “yeah, your prescription has changed.”

“Near vision, right?”

“Actually, no. It’s your far vision. It’s improved.”

I blinked, which is kind of difficult in one of those “which one is better, one or two” eye exam thingies. “Come again?”

Well. As it turns out, people with myopia (nearsightedness) will start developing presbyopia (farsightedness) as they get older, as do many people with normal vision. However, in a myopic’s case the presbyopia starts to offset the myopia, meaning that your far vision actually starts to improve as you get older. The ophthalmologist said that I’d probably never have 20/20 vision, but I could expect my far vision to continue to improve until I was in my 60’s.

Why am I bringing all this up? Because, dear reader, my far vision has very clearly changed again in this last year, which has resulted in me leaving my glasses off whenever possible (unless I’m driving or need to see the TV) so that I don’t get a headache. I can see my computer just fine, both the laptop and desktop, and I have  cheaters for any sort of up-close work. I was finally able to get into the optometrist’s office in June after they reopened from the pandemic shut-down, and yup, my far vision has improved to the point where I only need a bit of correction in my right eye (left eye’s improved as well, but it’s always needed more correction than my right eye).

Thing is, I got used to wandering around without glasses for the first time since fifth grade, so I’m still doing it unless I have to drive somewhere or watch TV (frankly, wearing the new glasses is weird because it’s hard to see the floor, something the optometrist warned me would happen). And I have to say — have my eyes always been this deep-set or did I just not notice because of the glasses?

COVID Changes: Snacks

On Day 120 of Casa Cameron being in COVID-19 “stay at home” mode, I got to thinking about some of the things that have changed around here due to the pandemic. Some, clearly, are not good (masking, disinfecting, not being able to go anywhere, deaths, long-term health problems, etc.), but some are interesting.

Because I have a medical background, I took the epidemiologists’ warnings seriously back in February (especially after I got over my horrible respiratory bug that might have been COVID after all, but more on that in another blog post). I started doing incremental stock-ups every time I went to store — getting an extra pack of toilet paper here, extra cans of beans there, etc. By the time March rolled around our pantry was in pretty good shape in case one or both of us got sick (again) and we couldn’t go out to get food. (This, BTW, extended to wet and dry cat food and litter. Gotta make sure the J Crew is taken care of, after all.)

One issue with stocking up, however, was that certain things go really fast in this household, such as snacks. Now, I was able to snag enough flour and baking materials to make all the cookies we could possibly want, but sometimes you want something savory. We tend towards sweet potato and quinoa chips in that department, but my personal favorite is white cheddar cheese popcorn. I’ve found that a bowl of it in the afternoon can keep my brain up and running for quite some time.

Unfortunately, popcorn also tended to make me retain water, mainly because of that yummy, yummy salt. Yes, there were low sodium varieties, but those kinda tasted like cardboard. What to do? Then I remembered back to my childhood (because I am Olde™), when we used to make pots of popcorn on the stove. Could I still do that? Was unpopped popcorn even available anymore?

Turns out it was. I grabbed a couple of bags of popcorn kernels and some vegetable oil on my next food run, then returned home and experimented. The end result was that our 6 quart stock pot could pop enough popcorn for days — I could make a pot of it on Monday, put it into a big airtight container, and snack on it all through the week. In addition, that six quarts of popcorn was more than I got in your average bag of popcorn, and it represented maybe a sixth of my bag of popcorn kernels.

So, quantity plus savings — booyah, right? But it gets even better. Want to know the best part of making my own popcorn? I can control what goes on it. Kroger sells various popcorn seasoning flavors and I quickly fell in love with garlic parmesan, but meh — salt.

However, I remembered  that Alton Brown recommended putting nutritional yeast on popcorn. I already knew I liked how it tasted (kind of cheesy/nutty, very much an umami flavor), so I tried it. If I sprinkled maybe two tablespoons of nutritional yeast on the popcorn first, I only needed a shake of the garlic parmesan flavoring and the whole bowl tasted like cheesy, garlicky goodness, plus I was getting additional protein, minerals, vitamins, and GI bennies from the nutritional yeast, and there was no more bloating problems. Sweet.

So making popcorn at home and eating more nutritional yeast is one of the ways the pandemic has changed life here at Casa Cameron for the better. I’ll talk about some other ways in future blog posts — let me know in the comments if you’ve been able to find any, as well!

Unexpected benefits of cleaning

With five cats in the J Crew, this place gets haired up very easily so I kinda have to clean every day whether I want to or not, just to stay ahead of the furry apocalypse. In the process of cleaning the Bachelorette Pad yesterday (it’s a large wire crate with padding and cat beds on top, and a high-sided litter box inside. We refer to it as the Bachelorette Pad because the girls like to hang out there), I discovered to my dismay that one of the more … skilled felines has managed to pee over the 14 inch high edge of the litter box, spattering the bars of the crate and the floor and wall behind it).

As this is not the first time said skilled feline has managed this, I decided to take action. With a certain amount of effort I folded up the crate and dragged it outside to hose it down along with the crate tray, then located a piece of plexiglass that we’ll drill holes into and wire onto the back wall as a pee shield.

Then it was time to tackle the pee. To my increasing dismay, I discovered that the pee had run along the back of the cage and wicked into the base of a small wooden bookcase next to the Pad. This is one of two used bookcases that Ramón had picked up when he was in college, and I had always meant to refinish them when I had the chance. It seems that Fate intends that time to be now, so I unloaded the bookcase in order to move it into the garage, hit the affected area with Nature’s Miracle, then strip and refinish it.

(The floor? Eh, we want to replace the Pergo in there with hardwood anyway, so I’ll just Nature’s Miracle the crap out of it.)

In the process of moving the books, however, I found — well, I can’t really call it hidden treasure since it was out in clear view. Forgotten treasure, perhaps, in the form of a bunch of crime writer reference books (from back when I thought I would take a crack at writing mysteries and cop thrillers), plus a tome that is going to come in handy right now, Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England. I bought this back in 2009 when I was working on Most Malicious Murder, and it was incredibly helpful in supplying accurate background details for Eddy and Charles’s adventure in 1850. Now that I need to do research on 1894 for Shadow of the Swan, this book is once again going to come in handy.

The moral of this story is, if you’re a writer you can Marie Kondo the rest of your house to your heart’s content, but don’t touch your library because you never know when a specific reference books is going to come in handy.

I’m tired

I am speaking from a place of immense privilege right now, and I’m well aware of it. Both of us are still working, we have money, we have food, we both still feel okay, and the relative who was ill with COVID-19 is now home and recovering. So lots of blessings there, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.

Thing is, since I know how privileged I am, I’ve been pushing myself maybe a wee bit more than I should as a thank-you to Fate. For the last two weeks my average weekday has followed this pattern: wake up, feed the cats, do the WFH gig, do housework, make masks, make dinner, make more masks, fall into bed. My weekends have been: wake up, feed the cats, do a bunch more housework, make a bunch more masks, make dinner, maybe watch a couple of episodes of whatever on TV, fall into bed. Lots of masks made and sent off to people, lots of things cleaned around here, lots of work done for the day job … not a lot of down time for Nicola.

Today was similar — got up, fed the cats, attended the weekly company meeting then got to work, spent my lunch break making two more masks, worked through the afternoon, got the print proof of Breaker Zone and realized I needed to change something on the back cover for that and Storm Season, made the changes and uploaded them to Amazon, made an update to a client’s website, started a load of laundry, critted a friend’s poem, ate dinner that Ramón blessedly brought home, then suited up and went out to mail masks and do the weekly food stock-up (store was almost empty, got pretty much everything I needed apart from TP, nobody came within six feet of me, it was all good).

Part of my brain is saying, “Well, hey, don’t be a slacker. You still have over an hour before you need to go to bed — you can work on Shadow.” The other part of my brain is saying, “If you do anything other than make yourself a rum and coke and watch something soothing on Netflix, I swear to God I will blow an artery.” I want to write, I honestly do. But I’m so freaking exhausted that the idea of doing one more iota of work today is … no. Just no. Maybe I’ll have time tomorrow, and more energy.

Gratitude in the time of Coronavirus

For one thing, I’m grateful that I’m not using that as the title of a book. I have nothing but compassion for the agents and publishers out there who are going to be inundated with quarantine memoirs in a year or so.

I was going to write a post about be grateful for the things we have right now, but to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if folks’ response was, “So what? I got laid off and I don’t know how I’m gonna feed my family. Fuck you.” We’re damn lucky at the moment (well, not at this precise moment as JJ has decided to drop a truly foul deuce in the litter box closest to me. Jesus, that cat’s shit is foul), and I also know that things could start heading south tomorrow. I have no idea what’s going to happen, and, yeah, that’s more than a little anxiety inducing.

I mean, they’re closing all casinos in Vegas and shutting down all gambling machines at midnight tonight. Has that ever happened in the history of Vegas? Disneyworld and Disneyland are closed, movie and live theaters are closed,  a bunch of malls in my area are closing, Starbucks is strictly drive-thru, most restaurants are now pick-up or delivery only, and pretty much any gathering of size has been called off. The floor around the Kaaba in Mecca is empty — as @tha_rami said on Twitter, “I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see a photo that looks like this in my life.” It’s weird, and kind of scary, and it doesn’t help to see idiots on the beaches in Florida yammering that “It’s spring break, man, and I’m gonna party, I don’t care.”

But there are pluses as well. The lack of boats and other traffic on the Venetian canals has allowed the silt to settle to the point where you can see the fish again. People are walking in the park a lot more, being careful to maintain a six foot distance from everyone. The air pollution in China is settling dramatically. There are some freaking amazing classes available online now, and highways that are usually jammed with cars are pretty much empty. People are stepping up to help those who are stuck inside or can’t go out to the stores, and while there’s still idiocy and assholery in profusion, there also seems to be a slowly growing sense of compassion and willingness to at least hear one another out.

Maybe human beings don’t suck quite as much as I thought. Wouldn’t that be a lovely thing?