My orchid is about to bloom.
Speaking as someone with a pretty long and storied history of killing every plant under my care, this is enormous.
My orchid is about to bloom.
Speaking as someone with a pretty long and storied history of killing every plant under my care, this is enormous.
Yesterday, looking at the last $62.36 in my bank account and the massive stack of hospital bills in front of me, I had a minor breakdown and put out a post asking for some help limping through this leg of the COVID-19 crisis. I never doubted that at least one friend or two would float me a little grocery money, because I know that I’m friends with some genuinely wonderful people who aren’t blowing smoke when they talk about wanting to help take care of their community.
I absolutely did not expect for twenty friends, acquaintances, and almost-strangers to throw enough money my way to easily cover the cost of groceries and prescriptions for the next three months. Holy crap.
It sounds trite, but I honestly cannot express how moved and grateful I am for the help. I feel loved, and now I have the peace and strength to stand up to another day of this nightmare. You’ve done a small miracle.
This is community. This is humanity. Thank you. All of you.
Due to the generosity and compassion of, like, everyone, my needs are taken care of for the time being. Thank you all for your assistance. Keep being wonderful.
Some of you have shared posts over the past few months stating some variation on the offer that if any of your friends are in need of help in the midst of all of this, they should not be afraid to ask you.
Well, this is me asking.
My work instantly stopped in March, with the lockdown. I’ve been limping along since then on the one government stimulus check, the generosity of one very lovely person just after my surgery in April, and what little I had in the bank, all while my medical bills have been piling up.
I’m about to enter a new billing period with nothing now left in the bank* and only $200 worth of contract work on the horizon (not to be paid out until September 14th.)
Jon still has work and has been keeping us afloat, but it’s not enough and frankly the pressure is crushing him. Obviously, I have no idea when things will pick back up for dog walkers like me. Quite probably not until next year. Who knows? And I am definitely not well enough to go out job hunting or work shifts at the sorts of jobs that are available right now even if I could get one of them. (Nor would it be safe for me to do so.)
So, yeah. I could really use some of that community support you’ve been talking about, if you’re still in a position to offer it.
I don’t have Venmo or Ko-fi or anything fancy like that. Just good old-fashioned PayPal at vulcanelf[at]gmail[dot]com or paypal.me/dogwoodhousellc. Every little bit would help me pay off another medical bill or buy my meds and groceries.
Thank you for reading this all the way through, and I hope you’re all weathering the nightmare that is 2020 better than I am. ❤
*Except Kickstarter money that belongs to the TRAJELON project, which is not for me to spend on my own personal expenses. I just want to assure everyone that the TRAJELON money is safe and secure and there are no worries about that.
From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Monday, August 24th, 2020:
As of today, we’re just three months out from the official launch day of Trajelon and I seem to be regaining some cognitive function on my latest med dose. Good thing too, because it’s almost past time to really get into the work of reaching out to book bloggers and securing advance reviews. It’s also time to seriously rethink the launch party.
When I was first contemplating launch party options, back in January and February, the world was a very different place. A place where, as you know, things happened and we sometimes went to them. My town has a nice little library that is very enthusiastic about supporting local authors; I imagined I’d approach them about hosting my shindig. It would have been a bit of a hike for the friends I have in Pittsburgh, but I was going to ask some of my local author friends to attend. Ideally, one of them would have given me a nice introduction, and I would have read from Trajelon before doing snacks and a signing. It wasn’t much, but I’m an introvert and a writer, not a publicist. It would have done the job.
Now of course we’re in fully uncharted waters and there be monsters here.
Like a lot of us, I clung to hope well past its printed expiration date that we might be able to resume our normal activities by mid/late fall. It took me a while to admit that no, that’s just obviously not going to happen at this point. The drawing board awaits. Lucky for me, with my book launch happening later in the year, I have the example of many other writers who have worked out the concept of virtual launch parties to follow and take inspiration from. And one plus side? Any of you can attend if you want, no matter where in the world you are!
I can’t say yet what precise form the virtual launch will take, as I’m still brainstorming and working out details. When I do work it out, you’ll be the first to know. And I look forward to having you there with me as I debut Trajelon to the world!
For the moment, let me debut something else to your waiting eyes.
As an additional WordPress note, if I have any readers who are interested in doing an advance review of Trajelon on your blogging platform, Goodreads, The StoryGraph, and/or Amazon, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You know what’s weird? Everything, right now. What’s somehow even weirder? That I still have a book coming out in three months, which is both the most surreal and most mundane thing, at a time when everything else is bonkers.
But there it is! I have a book coming out in three months, as you can see on this very spiffy countdown clock.
Not just any book, either. This one… is very special to me.
My first book, Mornnovin, came into being after many years and many drafts. The first time I started writing it, I was in elementary school. I always intended for it to be just the beginning of a series, but it took me a long time to resolve – out of all the possibilities – just what would come next. That makes sense, because I was young. I hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted or needed to say. At that point, I was just transcribing my favorite fantasy novels into my own universe.
That’s not to say I wasn’t racking up life experience. I was, in fact, racking up too much life experience. By the time my teen years rolled around, I was living in a soap opera at least partially of my own making. It was stupid. I was stupid. Then poof! hey presto! I was pregnant in high school, then marrying my rapist to raise our child together.
Everything I’d planned for my future vanished in the blink of an eye. The stories I had in me all turned dark. That year, I wrote a sequel to Mornnovin in which I was most definitely punishing myself for “ruining my life.” It was bleak, but it was what I needed to write at that time. I’m glad I never published it.
Time passed. Things changed, or didn’t. I grew up in some ways, clung stubbornly to immaturity in others. I stuck out my time in that terrible marriage, and got the hell out the minute my son and I had an escape route. It took eighteen years.
That was eighteen years with someone who, at best, thought of my writing as a waste of my time. Something annoying that pulled my focus away from him and housework, and gave me unrealistic ideas, and wasn’t even earning any money.
Free at last, and having just finished writing what would be the final version of Mornnovin, I set out into my new life with the goal of finally being able to give my writing career the earnest attention it deserved, now that I no longer had a judging naysayer hovering over me. I wrapped up final edits on Mornnovin in late 2015, took a short breather to work on my query materials, then started writing a new Trajelon in January of 2016.
I finished it only six months later.
My experiences over the previous years of living with my abuser – of surviving gaslighting, sexual and emotional abuse, crazymaking, constant manufactured drama and unnecessary financial hardship, my physical and mental health needs being minimized, watching my son suffer daily emotional trauma at the hands of his father, my identity being suppressed and warped to survive the toxic environment, and all of the accompanying depression and anxiety – gave me a different perspective than I’d had the first time I wrote Trajelon. Beyond simply feeling sorry for myself as I had all those years ago, I now had something to say about going through all of that and coming out the other side.
It was quick work to write, but not easy work.
All of this is a story that I’ve actually told before, but I wanted to add something to it today. If it sounds to you like Trajelon is probably going to be a huge downer to read, well. Maybe. Maybe it will be. Writing it was certainly difficult at times, when I would have to walk away and practice some gentle self-care before returning to the keyboard and putting myself back into the necessary headspace. I am lucky that I finally had the safety and space to do that. I recommend taking that approach while reading it too. But I do think, without any trace of ego, that it is an important story to have brought into the world. This is not torture porn; this is a story of survival. Of triumph against darkness, pain, and loss, and against those who would weaponize your own vulnerability and empathy to hurt you.
How many fantasy novels have you read that are about defeating your abuser and choosing to stand fast against your depression to fight for the hope that tomorrow will be better?
(Seriously, if there are others, point me to them. I’d like to read them too.)
It might sound odd to say that I’m excited about debuting a book of this character, but I am. It genuinely fills me with joy to know that in three months, this story will be born into the world for all to see. I kept my pain in for such a long time – a lonely, heavy burden. By setting it free, I deprive it of its power. I name it and sever its hold on me. I show the way to others carrying the same kind of pain. I give them the tools to take back their strength. That makes me incandescently happy.
I was excited to publish Mornnovin because that was me finally realizing my life-long dream of publishing a novel, any novel. Being a teller of fantasy tales, which is all I ever wanted to be when I grew up.
I’m excited to publish Trajelon because I truly feel that this story adds something necessary to the universal library. Writing it was arduous, often harrowing work, and every piece of it has been crafted with care; I’m proud of what I created. I can’t wait to share it with you.
Just three months now!
TRAJELON comes out on Tuesday, November 24th, 2020 from Dogwood House LLC. You can pre-order your print or digital copy on Amazon today.
Last night, I sat at the dining table (because there are too many mosquitoes outside) waiting for Hento to come in from a potty break. He was taking far too long, so I popped out to see what the holdup was and encourage him to get a move on.
I absolutely did not expect to see what I saw.
Standing at the fence that separates our yard from that of the abandoned house next door was an entire freaking great big deer, very calmly chewing some grass while watching Hento with evident curiosity. For his part, Hento was standing at the fence, looking up at the deer, wagging his tail and whining and vibrating with excitement.
The deer looked at me when I stepped out onto the porch, but it didn’t move. Perhaps it thought it was concealed by the darkness.
I grabbed a tantalizing bag of treats and called out to Hento to come inside, knowing it would be a futile effort. He ignored me. He couldn’t even hear me, because he had been transported into another plane of reality where this giant forest puppy was about to become his new best friend (or next meal, perhaps.) I went down into the yard proper to physically fetch him. The deer still had not moved.
Hento was at least aware of my presence, apparently, because at my approach he began to feverishly run up and down the length of the fence looking for a point of entry to the next yard, where he could achieve his heart’s desire. The deer just stood there munching grass, watching all of this transpire.
Eventually I was able to catch Hento by the collar as he darted past me, and I marched him under protest back into the house where he continued to run around not knowing what to do with himself.
Through it all, that deer never budged an inch.
Some time ago, I mentioned that my dog Hento saved my life and I wanted to tell you all about it. I actually wrote out the story in late April, but I didn’t post it at that time because I wanted to give it a proof-and-tweak first. Unfortunately, almost immediately after I wrote it, my recovery took a nosedive into the toilet and the resulting brain fog left me incapable of reading, much less proofing, anything of that length.
Now it’s so much later that parts of what I wrote are no longer completely accurate, but I like the idea of presenting the post as-is, like a time capsule; this is where I was on April 28th, 2020.
So, uh, apparently I had cancer?
I figure there’s no delicate way to come at that.
For a very long time now, I’ve had chronic pain and nebulous health issues that it just wasn’t really worth it to me to get into with a doctor. (Tried before, was ignored/gaslit/told to simply lose weight, no answers, moving target, comes and goes, periods of no/poor health insurance, I can live with it, so on and etc.) But the thing about meeting my fantasy dream husband and starting our life together is that suddenly my health and mobility matter in a way they never mattered before – to me and to the fantasy dream husband.
After the wedding in the fall of 2018, when I finally had health coverage again, he begged me to get serious about finding a doctor and getting to the bottom of things. I agreed but put it off a while longer while I concentrated on publishing Mornnovin.
But then, through a series of cascading escalations, my body insisted that I pay attention. By the end of summer 2019, I was deep into physical therapy for Degenerative Disc Disease while trying to figure out why I’m always tired and in pain, why my body doesn’t want to digest anything I eat, and what the heck continues to be wrong with my liver despite my never having been a drinker and eating a fairly “clean” diet for decades. Oh and also what was up with this big squishy thing on my thyroid that had suddenly decided to start getting bigger.
We did all the tests and ran all the scans, but as far as my larger chronic issues go, that’s still a great big shrug. So glad I wasted even more time and money on that for nothing.
The problem is that… we can’t really nail down the problem. Blood panels get mildly weird but non-explanatory results, while imaging continues to show nothing wrong. Yeah, my thyroid was getting bigger and had some obvious nodes, but function was okay-ish, by the numbers? And the molecular tests were inconclusive?
As 2019 wound down with no answers, still, and other things on my mind (holidays, work, finances, mental health and some interpersonal stuff, and the upcoming fundraising push for my second book,) I put the whole thing on the back burner again for a while. I’ve been living with chronic pain and tiredness since 1997; a few more weeks or months off from tests and doctor’s visits didn’t feel like that big a deal.
But that frigging thing in my neck.
All along, in the course of monitoring the thyroid issue, my PCP had been asking if it hurt or made it hard to breathe or swallow. The answer had always been no. But sometime in January, I realized that that had changed and I couldn’t say exactly when. She ordered yet another ultrasound. It was into February before I could get in for it. Then it took a few more weeks for the results to come in and for my doctor to get back to me. I missed the call, repeatedly. (I am literally never awake at 9 a.m., Doctor. I’m sorry. That’s just not my schedule.) I’m bad about returning phone calls because I hate them.
Abruptly, one night in late February, my dog Hento completely changed his bedtime routine.
While he is very pack-oriented and loves to snuggle and hang out no more than a couple feet from us at all times during the day, Hento has always been somewhat solitary after he comes back into the house from his bedtime potty trip into the yard. I’m not sure about his reasons – maybe it’s literally just because he’s got a massive coat and it’s always a few degrees cooler downstairs than it is up in the bedroom – but when he comes in at bedtime, he has a little drink, asks for a cookie, gives me an affectionate headbutt to the thigh, then settles down into his preferred sleeping space between the accent chairs and the coffee table in the living room. His den, I call it. He is truly, deeply, a creature of habit.
So I began to be alarmed by the sixth or seventh night of Hento coming in at bedtime, performing the rest of his goodnight routine, and then sticking on me like glue when I went back upstairs. Refusing to leave my side as I got ready for bed. Not even waiting for me to settle under the covers before jumping up onto the bed and stretching himself out along the length of my left side. Staying there sometimes all night if he could bear it, or relocating to the floor next to my side of the bed if it got too hot for him after a while.
Hento never jumps on the bed, and certainly doesn’t sleep there.
By the time he’d been doing this for three weeks, the thing in my neck was choking me in my sleep and I had to admit that it was time to be serious about returning my doctor’s calls. COVID-19 had already upended things, but she found a slot for me to come in within two days. I absolutely took that as an ominous sign.
The visit was brief and to the point: the most recent ultrasound had shown that the node was even bigger than the last time we’d looked at it, on October 29th. It was sitting right against my trachea. She didn’t like it. She’d consulted with an endocrinologist who also didn’t like it. They both agreed we needed to get that thing out of there. When I shared the news that the thing was now choking me at night, she was alarmed and adamant: get it out now.
Even with everything non-essential shutting down due to the pandemic? I asked her.
She was perfectly steady and insistent on the subject: yes. Immediately.
This news was… Well, I didn’t like it. I’m sure no one likes being told they need surgery, but I’m autistic and I need time to adjust to change. Not gonna lie, I spent a week or so shellshocked and trying to ignore the situation.
But Hento kept sleeping way up in my shit, night after night. Not just at the foot of the bed, where there was room. On. me.
Meanwhile, the bastard thing in my neck kept choking me. I developed a honking, irritated cough from the pressure against my trachea. In the age of COVID-19, try having a loud, persistent, dry cough. There is no one it doesn’t frighten – including yourself. But apparently, neither my scans, my doctor’s urgent referral, my described symptoms, nor the awful awful sound of my cough over the phone was enough to convince the ENT to even look at my case.
“Don’t you realize we’re in the middle of a pandemic?” the surgeon’s people snapped at my husband over the phone. I could hear the angry condescension from across the room. Of course we do. This is at her doctor’s orders. “We’re not scheduling anything, just because you think your wife’s situation is important.” Blink. Her thyroid is slowly choking her to death. “Sir, if your wife is really choking, tell her to go to the ER!”
Jon wants to call them back now that I’m safe and inform the nasty woman on the phone that it was cancer, you assholes. I can’t say I blame him. She was really terrible.
Obviously, I did not want to go to the ER, and much of the time I talked myself out of the urgency of the situation. I told myself it might not come to that, if I could just wait until services and healthcare were functioning more like normal again. Sleeping was dicey, but somehow I could handle the realities of choking in my sleep better than the vague prospect of turning up at the ER for them to do… what exactly? My thyroid and I were playing a game of chicken and I can be very stubborn indeed.
But Hento kept on me 24/7. And I mean this guy was really keeping an eye on me. There was no pretending that he wasn’t worried. After a particularly bad night, on April 7th, I decided to have mercy on his poor tender heart; I went to the ER.
That was exactly as weird and horrible as you might imagine turning up at the ER in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown to be – with a strange cough to boot. We were intercepted in the parking lot by people swathed in head-to-toe PPE, who screened me and told Jon to wait in the car. I passed through several layers of interrogations where I had to assure those asking that my cough was definitely not COVID-19 before they would let me further into the system. Every time I had to stop to cough because of the irritation to my trachea, I was scrutinized with suspicion. Finally, they ran some tests but ultimately declined to admit me because I did not meet their tightened criteria. (Plus side, we do now have a very nice CT scan of the DDD in my neck.) They did, however, send me off with a fresh list of different ENTs to try calling, if the first one was refusing to see me.
I guess there’s something about the aura of saying you’re calling from an ER referral, because we finally hit paydirt – an ENT willing to speak to me and even schedule a tele-visit. Even luckier, after this guy looked at my scans, he didn’t like them either.
Even so, he wasn’t optimistic that the OR scheduler would put me down any time soon, just because of resource allocation as healthcare in Pennsylvania braced itself for the outbreak. He absolutely did want to get the chokey thing out of my neck as soon as possible, he just couldn’t say when that would be. He advised me to hunker down and manage my symptoms as well as I could and he’d try to get back to me before the end of the month. Two days later, on April 9th, I got a phonecall asking if I could do surgery on the 16th.
Holy crap when things start moving they really move. Honestly, that gave me some emotional whiplash that kept me dazed just about until the day of surgery. (Which was three days after my birthday, by the way. I know just about everyone has had a weird birthday experience in 2020, but that was extra.)
To abruptly end an already long story, the surgeon was planning to remove only the left thyroid lobe, but when he got in there he ended up taking it all. Everything. The whole thyroid and a couple of nearby lymph nodes to be safe. It looked bad, I guess. The pathology report, a few days later, confirmed his instincts.
How do I feel about this?
Well, we’ve already followed the recommended course of treatment for this type of cancer: full thyroidectomy. That’s that, case closed. So honestly, I just feel vindicated after the first surgeon’s office implied I was being an attention-seeking drama queen trying to tie up needed resources during an international health crisis.
Also, enlightened. That’s why Hento was so freaked out. Cancer’ll do that. Dogs have amazing sniffers.
Trying not to get up in my feelings about having an ongoing condition now (no thyroid) that will require medication for the rest of my life.
I’m still dealing with some choking for the moment, unfortunately, as I wait for the swelling to go down. But at least now I know I will stop choking. I don’t have to be scared anymore that the thing in my neck might squeeze the life out of me while I’m sleeping. And Hento can relax.
He slept on me when I came home from the hospital all woozy and sporting a nasty neck wound, and he slept on me the two nights after that. But I am pleased to report that apparently I’m now healthy enough for Hento to be back to spending the night in his little den in the living room between the accent chairs and the coffee table. That’s how you know I’m on the mend.
Really, I only wrote all of this out because I wanted you to understand that Hento saved my life. I absolutely would have kept pretending that the thing in my neck wasn’t that big a deal and would have tried to wait it out until it killed me. Hento was the one who convinced me I was really in trouble. Dogs don’t know how to bullshit you, not about stuff like this.
He was scared, and he told me so, and I’m cancer-free today because I listened to him.
Tuesday, April 28th, 2020
From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Friday August 14th, 2020:
Whew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been out here tearing it up and living my best life, but that would be the utter opposite of the truth.
In reality, in June my post-surgical recovery ran into a ditch big enough for a megalodon to peacefully nap in, and I’ve been spending all of my energy each and every day trying to claw my way back up and out. There was even an ER visit.
I also wish I could say that I’ve tenaciously continued to do the pre-publication work that needs to get done before the book launch in November, but that would be a gross exaggeration of what I’ve actually been able to manage during the last two and a half months. I mean, some things that needed to get done have been done. At the very least, I am now sitting on a hoard of physical copies of Trajelon like a particularly nerdy dragon.
So there’s that.
And, hey, absent being able to manage any of the heavy mental lifting necessary to do promotion, I did finally get around to creating a merch shop for branded Asrellion and Dogwood House swag. There’s still a lot I want to add to it, but I’d been meaning to just make the shop for a long time and kept getting distracted by other things, so it’s nice to have taken the plunge. If any of you happen to have a favorite line of dialogue or something like that you’d wear on a shirt, let me know and I’ll think about incorporating it into the shop.
Also, requiring no additional work from me, the Kirkus reviews for both Mornnovin and Trajelon are in. The reviewer loved Mornnovin. As for Trajelon, I feel the review neglected to mention certain critical aspects. It paints a somewhat breezy picture of the action, and for the sake of covering my own butt I want you to go in completely forewarned that this is an adult-rated novel with dark themes.
But hey, I’ve got a blurb for the release poster!
I’m maybe? starting to get my recovery back on track (knock on wood), and there are wonderful people trying to help me with the pre-launch work I haven’t been able to manage myself. The paperbacks, as I said, are already here. One way or another, to greater or lesser fanfare, this book is coming out on November 24th. (If the world hasn’t utterly imploded by then. I guess I shouldn’t dare 2020 by speaking with too much certainty about the future.)
Thank you for being patient with me and for believing in my stories! Please keep talking them up if you can wherever possible. I need all the help I can get driving interest in the world of Asrellion before the release, since I’m decidedly not up to the big marketing push I’d hoped and planned to do.
And remember: Hento loves you and wants you to stay safe.
It’s been… oof. It’s been a lot lately. As my last couple posts probably indicated.
But I’m still here, still trying to figure this shit out, still surviving. My thyroid replacement dose is now at a much more livable level, the brain fog has started to lift a bit, and I’m getting better at preventing major crashes. We’re still not sure what’s going on, but we have a couple of promising leads. Getting to the bottom of this is going to require the help of at least two more specialists, and I really struggle with the phone calls necessary to get that sort of thing rolling.
Meanwhile, ugh, the medical bills that are piling up around here. I’ve gotta say I hope you’re doing better than I am on the Working in Pandemic Times front, Reader, because I earned 92 whole dollars last month.
My brain is now functioning just enough for me to feel like I really need to be getting on with the promotion for this new book I have coming out in a few months, but not enough for me to actually do any of the things. A wonderful friend of mine who has PR experience is trying to point me at the tasks that need to get done, but I suspect it’s probably a lot like trying to get a kitten that’s all jacked up on catnip to study for a college physics exam. Sorry, Nova. ❤
So, yeah, I don’t have a lot to say today. I just wanted to poke my head up out of the muck to state that I’m still alive and kicking. Things were pretty dicey for a while there, so this seems important to say.
I hope you’re all still alive and kicking too, and staying safe.
And hey. Buy my book.