Back in the Saddle Again

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Saturday, May 2nd, 2020:

Hey, friends. How are you doing? Crazy, stressful times, but I hope you’re finding ways to cope.

It’s been completely mad over here, too. After several months of buildup, my medical situation finally exploded into an emergency early in April and now the dust is settling. Not to get too much into it, but I’ve had a full thyroid removal in the middle of a pandemic lockdown, because it was slowly choking me to death, and it turned out after the fact to have been cancer.

Drama!

Also apparently I had (Have? Had? Is it the kind of thing you can ever be rid of, even if you no longer have a thyroid? I’ll have to find out.) Hashimoto’s disease. So, whew! Glad that thing’s out of there.

To head off any concern, that’s that. No further worries or ongoing cancer treatments. For all intents and purposes, as much as anyone can ever say this about any cancer, I’m “cured.” Now it’s just about the recovery and settling into the right dose of the meds I’m going to have to be on in perpetuity, going forward.

While this whole episode obviously sidelined me temporarily, a few things have still been happening on the book and I’m slowly starting to get back to work.

I did manage to get the emails sent out with the short story and Mornnovin eBook download links before I went in for surgery, so if you didn’t already get yours, let me know.

I also spent the last hours of my pre-op time working on a new page at my blog where all of the Asrellion short stories will live permanently behind a give-what-you-think-is-fair paywall. You can find that here. It will continue to be updated as time goes on and more stories are written/added, so consider that a living page and check back often. For the time being, the reward short stories for this fundraiser (“Witness” and “Black Books”) will remain available only to those who backed this project at the relevant reward tiers. Probably until after the book release.

Also – and this was a lovely get-well-present – the first proof copy of Trajelon arrived the day I came home from the hospital. It looks amazing, inside and out. I did submit an updated cover file because the alignment of the spine was a bit off, but other than that it’s perfect. The second proof is in printing as I write this.

Given the current pandemic situation, Kirkus has shifted to a digital-only review model until further notice. Meaning, they’re not accepting physical book submissions at this time. That being the case, there was no reason for me to keep waiting on a perfect proof copy and I went ahead and submitted Trajelon for review. That was incredibly scary to do and felt super legit. There’s obviously no predicting how that will turn out, but a good review from Kirkus would be a big deal for an indie publication. Fingers crossed!

And because I’ve already got the book in to Kirkus and have my estimated review due date in hand, that means I am now in a position to announce a solid release date for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2. This bad boy will hit the market on Tuesday, November 24th, 2020. Backers can expect to receive their copies at least on November 17th if not earlier, mail systems willing.

Luckily, I’ve got some time to work on the other backer rewards. While I am beginning to feel more myself, I discovered this week when I tried to begin work on some of the jewelry that my hands and focus are still a bit shaky. That’s getting better all the time, but it was a reminder that I need to allow myself to keep a reasonable schedule on all of this and not push. I definitely don’t want to put a pen to that lovely parchment I ordered for the maps while I still have shaky hands!

So that’s where we’re at on this first weekend of May. Waiting on the second proof, waiting on Kirkus, waiting on my body to heal. Waiting, waiting, waiting. This is probably a good time to look into other review and publicity options, while I’m not quite ready to do much else and it’s still too early to know whether or not I’ll be able to make launch party plans.

I will also, as my feeble meatsuit allows, begin in the coming days to package up and send off the paperback copies of Mornnovin that are due to backers. Do feel free to message me with any questions about the project or the world of Asrellion in general and avail yourselves of the lovely FAQ. We’re going to get this thing done.

I’ll talk to you all again soon, and please, please: take care of yourselves and stay safe.

Project Week One

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2, Sunday, April 12th 2020:

It’s been a hell of a week.

The Kickstarter funds did come through finally! Yay! I immediately placed an order for the first of the supplies I need to begin making backer rewards. (The vellum for the maps has already come in and it’s glorious.) And by Wednesday, I had submitted my files to the printer, which were approved on Thursday, at which time I placed an order for a proof copy of Trajelon.

Why did it take me until Wednesday to get the files in? There may have been a tiny, terrifyingly dystopian trip to the ER in the first half of the week there. And I maaaaaaaaay be scheduled now for an urgent surgery this coming Thursday as a result. (Yes, in the middle of a pandemic. Yes, that’s as awful as you imagine it might be.) The second half of my week has been consumed by surgical prep and the attempt to have a little fun in the midst of all this because it is my birthday on Monday.

I’m going to be okay, and the book is still going to come out as planned in November or December. Just. Please bear with me over the next few weeks about the other backer rewards.

It had been my intention to get the short stories out this past week, which obviously has not happened. The longer of the two stories, “Black Books,” is ready to go, but the shorter piece, “Witness,” is undergoing one final beta read before I upload the file for you. The promo code for the free digital copies of Mornnovin is all set up – it’s just the email blast I still have to create. I’m going to try my damnedest to get this phase of rewards out and away before I go under the knife on Thursday, if for no other reason than because I’ll be able to rest better with it done.

Tl;dr: don’t be alarmed. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that everything is under control, but everything is being managed. Expect an email from me in the immediate future with your digital content.

And to those who celebrate it, Happy Easter.

fuzzy Dogwood face

March was, truly, The Longest Month.

At the beginning of it, I was halfway through my fundraiser, just focused on raising the money to do my art. Working with my cover artist. Starting to make publishing plans. Feverishly writing project updates to keep up the momentum.

By the middle, I’d secured my funding but was in limbo waiting to receive it, while having to shift my focus to changing how we go about our daily lives in the midst of a growing pandemic. I threw myself into formatting the novel for printing, researching art supplies for backer rewards, and of course following the news as it changed by the hour.

By the end, we were fighting to figure out how to protect my husband at work, because he doesn’t get to stop going just because there’s a deadly disease tearing through the world community. Still waiting for my funding after what felt like an eternity of processing time. Wondering how we’ll manage without my income for the foreseeable future, because no one needs a dog walker when they’re stuck at home. Like everyone, struggling to obtain necessary supplies in the post-apocalyptic landscape that our grocery stores have now become. Trying to help my husband figure out how or if he’s going to be able to make the movie he was supposed to start filming this summer. Square into survival mode.

All the while, the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head in the form of a non-COVID-19 health issue that I’m not able to get treated for right now because local health services are closed to everything but emergencies. When will my thing become one? Big shrug. Who knows. The minutes tick on.

And now that we’re four days into another month (my birthday month, incidentally,) it already feels like March was a lifetime ago. An eternity of waiting, of wondering, of holding patterns and hope and disappointment and sudden loss that we’re all experiencing together, in our own ways. Planning is one thing that’s especially painful for an autistic person to have to give up on. Indefinite uncertainty is not something I do well. All we get to do right now is react and that’s… exhausting.

That’s why we’re all so tired.

Already I can’t remember what my larger point was going to be when I decided to write this post. I had one. But that was half an hour ago, and in April 2020 time, that’s like at least a week. All I can remember is that I wanted to share something good with you in the midst of all of… this.

I wanted to show you this lovely thing that was made for me by my wonderful artist daughter-in-law, Katelynn Cuciak.

Last year (by which I mean 2019, not March,) when I was getting ready to publish Mornnovin, it was my intention to secure a logo for my publishing imprint before the book went to press. That didn’t end up happening in time, but now it is my absolute delight to present to you the logo of Dogwood House LLC, the publishing house of The Way of the Falling Star:

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You may recognize the handsome model.

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Hento basking in the sunlight under his favorite window.

I think she did an absolutely stellar job of turning my beautiful buddy into a lasting icon. From now on, this excellent face will be appearing on all of my books.

And that’s what I wanted to leave you with on this the nine hundredth day of the year C-19. Stuff is scary right now, and weird, and there’s so much to worry about — and I still, still don’t have my funding (although I tentatively expect to see it hit my account on Monday.) I’m off to go sew some homemade face masks because that’s apparently what we’re doing now in this dystopian timeline, but first I wanted to give you something nice: the fuzzy face of Dogwood House.

Stay safe, stay healthy. Stay home.

First Friday Update, and it’s a Long One

From the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for Trajelon: The Way of the Falling Star Book 2 on Kickstarter, Friday February 21st 2020:

It took most of the day to kick in, for some reason, but the price of the Mornnovin eBook on Amazon has finally adjusted to 99¢. It will remain at that deeply discounted price at least until February 26th. I may or may not be persuadable on the subject of extending the sale for an additional week.

So now that the stress of that unexpected snafu has lifted, I can do a proper update.

It’s Friday, five days in, and as of posting this the fundraiser is sitting pretty at $821 or 22% funded. We’re nicely on track. The next big goal, obviously, is getting to 25% ($925) and I’m confident we can hit that mark easy-peasy before the end of the weekend. Please, keep talking up this series and sharing the link with your friends, family, and followers.

Trajelon is a special book not just because it’s mine and I have to say that, but because it explores issues and themes that I don’t think we see often enough in fiction – especially not in the sparkly elf magic genre.

I’m going to get real with you for a minute.

I’ve talked before about how the version of Mornnovin that is now published is the culmination of thirty years and four versions of telling that particular story. What people may not know is that I’d also written Trajelon once before.

In late 1997, I was 18 years old and I’d made some terrible decisions that I was locked into living with for the foreseeable future, both because of the nature of responsibility but also because of pride. People had tried to warn me, and of course being the age I was, I knew everything. I’d been downright insolent about my conviction that I knew what I was doing.

So there I was, miserable, bridges burned, everything to prove, struggling under the load of several massive responsibilities all taken on at once, knowing that I’d made the bed I now had to lie in. I was also trying to pass my first semester of college as an English major. I can’t remember now precisely which combination of events led me to come to this conclusion, but I started to feel that although I was reasonably good at academic writing, my creative writing was a clear waste of my time. I actually went as far as deciding to give it up.

I think, now, that I might have been trying to punish myself.

That take makes sense in hindsight because as soon as I’d grounded myself from the sort of writing I actually enjoy doing, two things happened.

One, at odd moments I started doodling scenes that weren’t supposed to be part of anything, so I was free from the feeling that they had to be any good or make any kind of sense or fit within a larger narrative. This would come to be important later.

And two, the scenes I was scribbling down without any commitment to story or quality were all about bad things happening to Loríen.

Because writers have to write, even if they’ve made bullshit nonsense declarations about how they’ve given it up, a story idea did eventually coalesce out of all of these snippets. And because of where I was, the story was dark. The finished product was horrible, but it was genuine – a savage cry of pain from someone who believed she had no right to it.

Fast forward ten years. Now it’s 2007. I’m still living in that hell of my own making, but it’s different because I’m ten years older and time does change things, for better or worse. Now I’m working a crappy retail job and it’s killing me. To save my sanity, one day, I pull some blank receipt paper out of the cash register and in tiny, cramped letters I start scribbling some scenes that aren’t supposed to be part of anything. They’re just junk for my brain, something to keep me alive. Because they’re not for anything real, I don’t worry about them being any good or fitting within whatever other arbitrary writing rules I have for myself. At night, while the household is asleep, I transfer the cramped letters from cash register paper to computer file.

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One of the receipt paper scraps miraculously survived to be found during a deep clean of my writing space in 2013.

After a while, I realize they are actually starting to make a coherent story, but it’s not canon, I tell myself. It’s just some cracky Asrellion fanfiction. Just some mindless entertainment. I keep giving myself permission to tell a different kind of story from whatever I imagine canon to be.

By the time I leave that crappy retail job, I find that in my time there I’ve managed to scribble onto bits and pieces of receipt paper what amounts to roughly twenty typed pages of… something.

Then I realize that what I have on my hands isn’t just something, it’s the seed of a new version of Book 2. One that actually has something to say besides screaming in wordless agony. The only problem is, this new book that I can see laid out before me is far too good for the terrible most-recent draft of Book 1 that would precede it.

Then I realize that I’m going to have to write this book, which means that I’m also going to have to rewrite the first book in the series in order to lay the necessary groundwork.

That’s the story of how I came to begin my ground-up re-imagining of Mornnovin in 2008.

It turns out to be a good thing that I took the time to do that first, because I wouldn’t have been ready then to tell the story that I ultimately had in me in 2016 when I wrote Trajelon over the course of six intense months. By then, I had escaped Hell. By then, I was safe. By then, I had some perspective on what it is not just to live through but to survive trauma and depression.

The first incarnation of Trajelon was what I needed it to be when I screamed it up, all those years ago. It was catharsis. I don’t blame it for its darkness or its ugliness any more than you would blame a post-surgical scar for its raw appearance. This iteration of Trajelon is what it needed to be. Almost Athena-like, it sprang fully-formed from the brain of its creator. And it’s no longer a cry of suffering. It’s… a meditation on living with the suffering that inevitably comes along with the triumphs we experience in life. Living with, enduring, growing from. Learning to discard where possible. Drawing into our identity and building off of where necessary.

No doubt this is scary territory for some readers, but that’s exactly why I think it’s so important to tell these stories. They can’t all be about glorious victories on the field of battle. There are more shades to the spectrum of the human (elven?) experience. I so wish this book had existed at a time when I could have drawn strength from it. Now I no longer need to draw on that kind of strength, but others do. I know they do.

So maybe this was a big old heavy update for a Friday evening, but I hope you don’t mind the candor. This book is very personal for me, as you now understand, and that would have become clear anyway as soon as you read it. Because I think that’s actually its truest and purest strength, I wanted to be up front about it in this fundraiser. I am pitching to you a fantasy novel written by a survivor of abuse, trauma, and depression written for survivors of abuse, trauma, and depression.

If you, like I do, think that’s an important thing to have exist in the world, please help me get the word out and bring it into reality.

And thank you for letting me get real.

lazy Sunday afternoon

It’s 42° F and sort of cloudy here today, following a couple of days of the sort of cold where just stepping outside is enough to remind my nose that it was broken once. They were busy days, Friday being what it was in a calendarish sense and Saturday being full up with an excursion into the city for writing critique group (my turn to submit) and location scouting for my husband’s next movie. We brought the husky along, since his separation anxiety sets an immutable stopwatch running any time we leave him home alone. (Five hours to the minute, max. Four and a half is better. Past that, there are… consequences.)

Today, in contrast, is a slower sort of day. And yet.

And yet tomorrow the Kickstarter for Trajelon launches. Because I’ve done this before, I know that means I’m about to step into the whirlwind.

It’s the deep breath before the plunge, as Gandalf the White tells Peregrin Took.

Yatsuhashi

It was September 2001. My husband had only just found employment again after being unexpectedly fired over the summer, and we were deep in the depths of financial stress. Then, that thing happened that happened in September of that year. It was a bleak month.

We got a phone call.

The couple who had bred our Shiba Inu, Kishu, had just overseen the arrival of their final litter of puppies: two feisty females. They were hoping to place them in homes that already had a member of the family. One of them was already spoken for. There was one left. Were we interested?

Oh geez. We were interested, sure, but could we afford it? We’d been talking about getting a friend for Kishu because he was alone much of the day when I was at school and my husband was at work. And this was our last chance to give him a *sister* sister.

In any case, things were pretty grim and we could do with a pick-me-up, so we agreed to at least meet her.

It should be obvious to anyone that this was a trap. I mean, puppies. Of *course* we were charmed by her, and of *course* we went home and talked about how we could make it work.

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Yashi and Stephen in October 2001, puppies together.

A few weeks later, when she was old enough, we brought home our bouncing baby girl. Yashi was a handful from that first car ride onward. But OMG was she cute. Our little Cinnamon Cookie. Just a tiny, spunky ball of fluff and naughtiness.

She belched, she swore (in dog, of course), she murdered (birds), she stole (her brother’s bed and pretty much anything else she wanted), she ate everything she shouldn’t (toys, clothes, shoes, glasses, TIN CANS), she destroyed furniture — she was Trouble. She probably would have flicked cigarettes and guzzled six packs if given the opportunity. I can’t even recall how many times she ran away from home like a rebellious teen. The most notorious of those escapes, we found her five days later, two cities and three freeways away!

We had many nicknames for her, and I believe they paint quite a picture: Spike, Teeth, Evil, Demon, Furanha, Furricane, Tank, Goat, Weasel, Princess Fizzbitch, Beast, etc. When people saw her, they would inevitably move in to pet her and say, “Oh she’s so cute! Does she bite?” The answer was yes. Yes, she would bite. Though she was but little, she was fierce. Kishu, bless him, did his best with her (and totally loved her,) but at the best of times you could tell that his feelings about her largely consisted of “Ugh,” and “Really?!”

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Yashi (left) and her brother Kishu (right)

As an adult Shiba, she grew to a petite but solid 18 pounds, decidedly cinnamon but with obvious cream in her family makeup. And boy could she EAT. We always said she had a cast iron stomach, because there was nothing too spicy, too bold, too potentially poisonous for her.

Food or not, she ate whatever she wanted. Including, one year, an entire giant dark chocolate Easter bunny. We were certain that was going to be the end of her, but she shrugged it off just like she shrugged off everything else that should have kept her down. (She was up and jumping within three hours after being spayed. Crazy beast!) Not even eventually having a dog brother who was approximately 7x her size and could fit her entire body inside his mouth made her blink. She bullied him just like she bullied everyone else — adorably and with sassy impunity.

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Yashi and her new little brother Jiro, who did not stay little for long.

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Yashi and a much older Jiro — how the tables turned!

As she moved from puppyhood into middle age, she started to lose some of her tankiness but none of her sass. Her appearance was deceptively delicate. When it became clear that she was shrinking, but was also indestructible, I hit upon the Cuteness Singularity Theory. Yashi was immortal, I reasoned. Nothing could harm her. But you know the (totally scientific) principle of how, if you take a normal-sized thing and make a miniature version of that thing, the miniature version is like exponentially cuter, just on principle? If Yashi were to keep shrinking, and keep getting cuter, she would eventually reach a point where her smallness and cuteness were just too much to be supported by the laws of physics, and she would collapse into a Cuteness Singularity like a neutron star, thereby destroying the entire universe.

It seemed more plausible than Yashi ever expiring of natural causes.

When I left Arizona in May of 2015, she stayed behind with my son Stephen, her chosen human. By that time, they had developed a very special bond and separating them was unthinkable. She did not do well while watching us pack up the house for our respective moves. It’s heartbreaking to me that my last memories of Yashi are of watching her sink into panic and despair while her home slowly disappeared around her. I know that she and Stephen were an essential comfort to each other in that chaotic time.

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My last photo with Yashi, May 2015.

It was a difficult transition for everyone, but team YashiStephen pulled through it into a place of some calm. Stephen said at the end of 2019 that it had been a good year for him and he was happy.

But somehow, it turns out, Yashi was not actually immortal. I’m still stunned about that and I’m not sure how to process the information. I was waiting for her to cause the Cuteness Singularity death of the universe. I was not expecting to find out that she was in the late stages of dementia and fading fast. At her last vet weigh-in, she was only 10 pounds. It is a terrible situation to face, but ultimately, human caretakers have to make the compassionate decision about our furry friends’ end-of-life arrangements. I respect Stephen like hell for giving her 18 and 1/3 long years of life, and I respect him for choosing to send her off in love and snuggles.

Yesterday, on January 20th 2020, he said goodbye to his little buddy, his sheeb, his tiny princess.

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Little old lady Yashi with her boy, before the end.

You were a goodbad dog, Princess Yatsuhashi, and we love you. Thank you for taking care of my boy when I couldn’t. Sleep well, sweet beastie.

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A younger Yashi with her boy after a day out — all smiles.

Round and Round

You know that thing where you feel fine all week, but then as soon as you hit the weekend/your time off, you crash hard with some sudden mystery illness? Only you weren’t actually fine before, you were just managing to push through because you didn’t have a choice, and then when you finally have a minute to rest, your body can’t keep pushing anymore?

Yeah, that thing?

That happened to me in a big way after my rather naïve post about not having anything major on the horizon for the first time in forever. I should have known. I should have known.

The health stuff hit me hard this past June and has not let up.

The truth is, I’ve been doing my best to push through chronic pain and snowballing health issues since *checks watch* oh, about 1997. Back then, doctors told me I was too young for [insert symptoms I definitely actually was experiencing despite their dismissal] and that I just needed to focus on losing my pregnancy weight. That was, of course, total bullshit.

I’m still whirling around on the diagnostic carousel at the moment (and trapped in insurance bureaucracy Purgatory,) but there is mounting evidence that in fact I was right all along about what I tried to tell my doctors I thought was happening and now the matter has come to a head.

So, that’s neat.

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This of course is my way of explaining why I utterly, completely, and in all other ways abjectly failed to do any of the book promotion that I had every intention of doing over the summer. Sorry, Mornnovin. I love you, but you have sort of become the neglected firstborn child. Because now it is time for me to begin thinking about all of the pieces, parts, and processes that will go into bringing Book 2 to life.

While still juggling this health crap.

I do have hope that we’re approaching some answers and a treatment plan that will see me starting to feel more human soon. In the meantime, it’s book-planning season.

Luftpause

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To be blunt about it, the last few years of my life have been crazy. It has often felt like I was caught up in a hurricane — a sense of rushing wind, of not knowing where I was being swept to or how fast or where I would land. Some of that motion has been of my own making, but it has been no less disorienting or tumultuous than the storms that came from elsewhere.

Earlier this month, after finally delivering the last copy of Mornnovin to the last Kickstarter backer who was due one, I found myself suddenly between chaoses long enough to take a much-needed beach vacation with the best man in the world.

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If we look exhausted, it’s because we drove through the night to get there.

As I was sitting on our shady balcony in the nice sea breeze with the soothing crash of the surf in my ears, I realized that for the first time in I-can’t-remember-when, there would be no major thing waiting for me upon our return home. There would just be… life, such as it is.

After swimming dizzily in the void of that realization for a few minutes, I decided it was a good moment to take a breath and have a look behind me. I opened up a Word file on my laptop and started a bullet-point accounting of everything that had led to me being in that moment with that man on that beach.

The resulting list starts with Jiro’s death in December of 2013, ends with leaving for vacation on the 6th of this month, and pared down for brevity is ten pages long. So many things were happening to me or needed to be done that it’s no wonder I felt like my whole world was in the air.

Our return home did not end up being quite as leisurely as I expected, what with an immediate dog crisis and the revelation that there are ongoing issues with the hardcover edition of Mornnovin (ugh), among one or two other annoyances. (Why does the office suddenly smell like vomit?) But once the dust settled even from those issues, it is still true that for the first time maybe ever, I’m getting to just kind of go along and mostly do my own thing for a minute.

I’ve got stable housing, a supportive partner, a great dog, I live in a climate that isn’t killing me, and for the first time in my life I’m more or less earning adequate money to handle my expenses. I have to spend more of my time than I’d like every day running around satisfying the demands of capitalism, but we all have that. It’s pretty much just me, my guy, our doggo, and our art.

In some ways, it feels like my fantasy series and my life are both starting Book 3 at the same time. And maybe that’s why I’m not sure yet where it’s going to go.

It’s going, though. They both are.

Perhaps finally at something like my own pace.

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Great news, and some just news

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photo by Jamie Carey

Two weeks ago, on October 13th 2018, I had the joy and the privilege of exchanging marriage vows with the most wonderful man I’ve ever known. It was a mad, chaotic day, but I came out of it joined to someone whose perfection as a counterpoint, friend, and partner to me cannot be adequately expressed. That’s the great — the greatest! — news.

The just news is this:

With wedding planning and the last of the formal wedding responsibilities now in my rearview mirror, it’s my intention to dive headlong into the work necessary to self-publish Book 1 of my fantasy trilogy (with Book 2 to follow as soon as I’ve paved the way.) Watch this space for more news on that front as it develops!

And there’s even a dog, too.

 

When you drop everything you’ve ever known and run away to start a new life on the other side of the country, that’s bound to be a wild ride.

Hooboy, has it been.

The downs have been pret-ty low – loneliness, a gutting betrayal, housing insecurity, unsafe living conditions, doglessness, broken foot, PTSD – but oh man. The ups.

When I fled Arizona, it wasn’t so much as a faint notion in the back of my mind that I might meet someone new and fall madly in love. I was honestly just looking for safety, independence, seasons, and the freedom to write.

Last week I celebrated three years legally divorced from my abuser. And today I hold in my hand a license to marry a partner so ridiculously perfect that even at my most fantastically creative I couldn’t have custom-designed him in a lab to be this wonderful.

So yeah, it’s been pretty wild.

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Me Too

I wrestled for a while with the decision of whether to post this here. I always intended this space to be more about my writing than about me personally, although I do realize that my life is not disconnected from my writing. In the end, I concluded that this might help explain why this space has been largely neglected for the last couple years as I sorted out some real-life stuff. It has been a transitional period, and not an entirely smooth one.

Here’s why.

CW for graphic discussion of rape and suicidal ideation.

Continue reading

and how far others must come at times

For the last few days, I’ve been dog-sitting, which really is to say that I’ve been on a paid writing retreat with a sweet side of dogs. It’s basically perfect, except for the dogs’ notion of what constitutes acceptable personal space when I’m trying to sleep.

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The house I’m in right now is in a cute little borough adjacent to mine, a bit further removed from downtown and a bit more rural. Over the weekend, I needed to put something in the mail. By the miracle of modern smartphone magic, I was able to locate the nearest postal branch, about three miles away. Being from Phoenix, Arizona, I barely registered the distance. That’s nothing by car in a city of flat, straight grids. That would practically still be inside my neighborhood.

I proceeded to follow the disembodied robot voice’s directions for those almost three miles – down backroads, between hills, under bridges, across three towns each smaller and older than the last – finally to a small blip of a borough that literally consisted of little more than a steel factory, a very interesting Eastern Orthodox church, and the brick post office. With every wooded downhill bend past yet another sign welcoming me to the township of _______, I felt ever more acutely how far I am from the place that spawned me. It wasn’t a feeling of homesickness, exactly, because I very much do not want to be back there. But it was definitely a realization of just how far I am outside of what I’m familiar with in this place. A kind of environmental culture shock.

It was, in the moment I was able to articulate the nature of the weirdness I was feeling, surreal and disorienting. It was a moment I didn’t want to be having, my intense hatred for where I came from and my breathtaking relief to be where I am now coming at one another from strange directions and doing battle upon the field of my contentment.

I’ve been remembering that feeling at odd times since then, the sense that I am in a foreign land and just a little bit lost here, and reminding myself that I haven’t even left the country I was born in.

Defensive Softness

Ever since coming to Pittsburgh, I’ve been so excited about everything that it’s been a real bear not to write about it all the time. Did you know there are seasons here? And that there’s water in the rivers? Did you know it’s possible for animals that aren’t lizards, snakes, or skyrats to appear within city limits? That architecture can be beautiful as well as functional? I didn’t – certainly not from living in Phoenix! I’m finding out for the first time in my life that it’s possible to really love your surroundings and be pleased to be where you are.

Actually, I had a very strange moment of realization while taking the curve in the road that brings me out of the woods and onto the bridge toward home, when I became aware of the flutter in my chest and the grin on my face: what I feel sometimes as I’m getting to know my new home is the jittery glow of an emerging romantic love for a place.

There’s a coffee shop just on the corner (that sells really reasonably-priced tea, I might add) where I often go to do my writing or editing if I feel like stepping out for a bit. The attitude here is different from what I’m used to. I’d have to characterize the in-public atmosphere of Phoenix as capitalistic. You go in, you buy the thing, you leave. No loitering. Hanging around long after you’ve spent your money is rude. Here, it’s absolutely, Hey, pull up a chair, have a drink, stick around. You’re working on something? Check it out, that guy’s working on something too. Let’s all work on things together. On Wednesdays they have a rotating schedule of food trucks on the street outside. This week was baked mac-n-cheese with lobster.

In the fall, I watched the leaves turn for the first time. (That’s also a real thing that happens, apparently!?) There’s basically a forest in my back yard, thanks to the giant park and conservation area that’s within walking distance from my place. (Oh, also, it’s possible for things to be close enough to walk to. Another facet of reality one would never pick up on in Phoenix.) I get to walk to the forest any time I like to enjoy the leaves of autumn, or the winter snow. (Snow!) There are always dogs having their walks too. Actually, there are just a lot of dogs in general in Pittsburgh. It’s wonderful.

When I make my daily drive into downtown, the view of the Golden Triangle and the river and the bridges when it swings into view around that one bend is always breathtaking. It still makes me happy every time I see my elf tower. At night, the lights on the Monongahela are magical.

There are squirrels in the trees behind my building. On days when I do my writing outside on the porch, I am often witness to some pretty intense squirrel fights. They make this chittering noise when trash-talking each other that still takes me by surprise every time I hear it. I did not know squirrels were so intensely angry.

Moments of First keep happening all the time. My first snowfall was an indescribably beautiful one, alone in the silence of a world asleep in the hour before dawn.

And I’m learning, as I continue to discover how I fit within this new world, that I’m maybe not the person I’ve always thought I am. That maybe some – or most – or all – of my hardness has been the hardness of the desert, of defense. This might be a midlife crisis if I thought discovering softness within myself was something to be worried about. Ten years ago I would have. The human I’ve been trying to become has other concerns. I refuse now to apologize for my capacity to feel.

I love living in a place that doesn’t ask me to.