An Anxious Woman’s Methods of Staying Calm in the Midst of COVID-19 Panic

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

I want to preface this first by saying most posts exhorting me to be calm when the situation is frankly terrifying annoy the snot out of me, so I understand if you are already a little peeved from the beginning here. I get it. I think we’re royally screwed in a major way, the more so depending on whether or not you live in a country run by incompetent, criminally negligent assholes who are more concerned with lining their pockets and slashing regulations during a worldwide catastrophe than trying to halt a pandemic. Ironically, if the yahoos in charge had put the lives of the world population FIRST, the economy would have been better protected, but that’s a rant for another day.

I also have to share with you the fact that the threat of a pandemic is one of my personal bugaboos: the reason I can’t watch zombie movies or anything about epidemics. I’ve been terrified of things like that my entire life, so no Walking Dead or Contagion for me, thank you very much.

All this is to say that my fear is real. I’m not denying the risk to us all. I think we’re in big trouble. I don’t think things will just “go back to normal” in a few weeks or months. I think if we survive the pandemic itself (and that seems iffy for a large majority of us), then we will have to deal with shortages and disruptions of supply chains, the loss of our medical personnel, and people without the knowledge or means to grow their own food, and well-armed people who will likely take what they want. Wow. I’m not doing a very good job of decreasing anyone’s anxiety here, am I?

Deep breath.

Okay. The point to this is that many of us, myself included, were already at the top of our anxiety charts before this came up. We were stretched too thin, taking on too many responsibilities, working too hard, and putting ourselves last on the list every time. I’d been planning to write about my job burnout before the pandemic struck. I mention it now because this crisis coming on top of all the daily fires I had to put out sent me spiraling into a tailspin of anxiety. The kind that spikes your blood pressure, that crushes your head in a vise, that makes it hard to catch your breath. Is that panic or is it COVID? Who knows?

Well, if you’re not running a fever, the odds are it’s panic. I’ve had to reach for my anxiety meds more than once this week, though having a few days off in a row where I didn’t have to risk exposure to the general public helped a lot. Feeling stir-crazy on self-isolation? I find I’ve been able to cope much better by having a few days where I wasn’t on high-alert constantly.

So let me share with you some practical advice from the trenches, so to speak.

It’s okay to be scared. Most of us with any sense are. Stop beating yourself up for being terrified. Just remember that a lot of people around you are scared too, so be kind to them as well as yourself. I can’t emphasize this enough: STAY HOME if you possibly can. But if you MUST go out, treat your delivery people, grocery store attendants, bank clerks, pharmacists, etc with kindness and patience. It’s not their fault. Treat your customers with the understanding they are panicked as well. Also, WEAR A MASK. More on that below.

But the main thing here is there is no shame in being scared right now. Maybe you need medication to calm down. That’s okay too. Just be conscious of the other people in your life and allow them room to be scared or depressed as well. If they are always being strong for you, then you aren’t helping them.

Prepare as best you can, then let it go. Hopefully by now, you’ve done what you can with regards to laying in supplies. You’re stocked on acetaminophen and cough meds. You’re taking your temperature twice a day and self-isolating if you get sick. My advice from this point is to limit the news as much as possible. Check in twice a day, much like you take your temperature, but then turn it off. Many of you are home now with time on your hands: resist winding yourself into a tizzy over things beyond your control. Every time I start to feel a bit calmer about things, I check in with the news and I’m back to panic mode again. I don’t think it’s good for our immune systems to be geared up like that all the time. So turn off social media and the news once you’ve caught up on the important stuff–like what the restrictions are in your area.

Find some meditation apps, play your favorite music, explore some museums online, but stop haunting the news threads. (Side note: If you are taking MAOI medications (as many prescription antidepressants are) find out what OTC fever and cold medications you can and cannot take. NOW.) Remember what I said about being on high-alert constantly? It’s bad for your ability to cope.

Social Distancing is PHYSICAL DISTANCING. If you’re not sick or super high risk, and if you are physically capable of doing so, you should get out in your garden or walk the dog in your neighborhood. Sing. Dance. Move. When we become anxious, our bodies turn to flight or fight mode, and with nothing to battle, we direct that energy inward on ourselves. Movement of some kind can help diffuse this energy and redirect it into a better outlet. BUT, and this is a big but, this doesn’t mean you pile the family in the car and take them to the local playground! It doesn’t mean crowding down at the beach or causing traffic jams on walking paths or hiking trails. If someone isn’t going to give you six feet of clearance, avoid going in that direction. And please keep in mind not everyone can see you!

Give a person with a service dog a wide berth–their dogs aren’t trained for social distancing and it’s up to YOU to pay attention to the people around you. Better to stay home than to endanger yourself or someone else if you can’t maintain distance. Social distancing means STAY HOME if you don’t need to go out. It does not mean run to the store because you want Twizzlers, or take the dog in for routine vaccinations, or pop in to the nail salon. Come to think of it, if you have acrylic or SNS powder on your nails, will a pulse oximeter work? I don’t think so…  Bottom line: I can’t stay home because YOU won’t stay home. So just do it, okay?

Wash your hands. Yes, you’ve heard this. Soap and hot water, 20 seconds or longer. Frequently. Soap disrupts the lipid layer of the virus better than anything else, better than hand sanitizer. But sanitizer is better than nothing. You need to wash or sanitize your hands after you touch ANY public surface: gas pumps, door handles, keypads, etc. Before you touch your face or things inside your house. Change out of your work clothes if you’re not staying in, and shower before you interact with the rest of your family. I wash my hands before leaving work. I use my elbows to open the doors. I use hand sanitizer when I get to my car. When I was still going to the store, I sanitized my hands again after leaving the store and before I got out of the car at home too. And then washed my hands as soon as I got inside the house. I also wash my hands after every interaction with a customer. Yes. That often.

Set up a support network with family and friends. Email chains, chat groups, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Zoom. I find I don’t need a lot of contact until I do, if you know what I mean. Make sure you check in with someone once a day. If nothing else, you’ll know you’re not alone in all of this. I’ve also found myself contacting relatives I haven’t spoken to in years. Let people know you care about them. I can tolerate a LOT of alone time. I love being alone! But even I can get too much into my head sometimes.

Talking with someone can break that cycle, even if you’re both scared. Be respectful of other’s fears though. Someone may need to NOT talk about the pandemic when you’re bursting to share your concerns. I belong to several groups and for many of them, we’ve created separate channels for voicing our fears so not everyone in the group is exposed to our anxiety. At the same time, I know there’s a channel I can do to where the conversation will be light and fun when I need it.

Can’t go to your convention or conference? Do something anyway. Consider an online version! I was supposed to go to the ATA Spring Writer’s Retreat this weekend. The organizers wisely saw the writing on the wall and converted the entire thing to online sessions. It’s been fabulous–but you know what? I had a hard time making myself attend some of the sessions. At first it was because I wanted to wallow on the sofa watching another 37 episodes of Monk. I couldn’t focus on the material in the sessions. But when I made myself join the Zoom groups, it was like purposely doing exercise: something I had to force myself to do that made me feel better for the action and ended up with me being glad I did it. For a couple of hours, I completely forgot about the world crisis. I learned things and shared things and made plans for the future–something that has more power than you realize.

Making plans means you believe there will be a future, and there is great power in that kind of belief. My point is if there was some event you were looking forward to attending that’s been cancelled, look for alternatives. If you think you’re too frazzled to concentrate on whatever project you are working on, give it a try anyway. You might get more out of it than you think.

Along those lines, I’m also planning to put in a garden this year. Okay, I’ve been planning to do this for the last ten years, but I’ve gone as far as to order seeds this time. See? Practical planning for the future is helpful to my state of mind.

Not feeling productive? Don’t worry about it. No, seriously, I realize that seems like the reverse of what I just said, but if all you can manage is Netflix 10 hours a day while eating Sugar Pops dry out of the box (not that I would know anything about that…), that’s okay. It’s okay if this is your coping mechanism of choice. Don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t “making the most” of your time to finish your opus or write the equivalent of King Lear (as Shakespeare has been said to do when quarantined during the plague). We’re all doing the best we can during a terrible crisis. It’s okay. And you know what else is okay? Not wanting to watch or read your usual comfort tropes.

There’s a reason why I’m watching back-to-back episodes of Monk and Psych. I have reasonable expectations that nothing in these shows will hurt me too badly, and yet I’m not so invested in the characters that watching the programs will somehow taint the show for me in the future by association with this horrible time. I’m not “spoiling” anything I love by linking it to my almost toxic fears. These shows are also just unfamiliar enough that they keep me engaged and distracted. So if you can’t bring yourself to read your favorite books or watch your favorite movies, it’s okay. I understand.

Wear a mask in public. So I know the CDC is saying don’t wear masks. And I know that our medical professionals are so woefully under-prepared for this pandemic that television medical dramas are sending their props to hospitals, so no one wants us buying up all the face masks our medical staff desperately needs. But there’s been a study out of the Czech Republic that shows when they went from zero masks to 100% usage in 10 days, they were able to halt the spread of new COVID-19 cases. They made their own! So if you already have the materials, think about making masks–as many as you can. Do NOT make them if you are sick, and after you make the first one, wear it as you make the rest. You need to keep the mask making process as clean as possible. Donate to hospitals. Give them to your friends and family. Because we’re probably looking at 18 months before a vaccine is available and we’re going to have to go back into the workplace before then.

Watch Jeremy Howard’s presentation on YouTube explaining the importance of #masks4all. I spent some time researching DIY mask making this afternoon and it’s a practical thing I can do to try to keep myself and my loved ones healthy–and it’s something we ALL should do. But here’s the thing: don’t run out to the nearest fabric store to buy supplies! NO SHOPPING. Talk to your crafty friends! They’ve been dragon hoarding materials for YEARS looking for the perfect opportunity to use them. CRAFTMAKERS ASSEMBLE! Having something concrete and useful to do during this time of crisis has been one of the best things for my head.

Here are the best videos I’ve seen so far. There’s one for if you have no sewing machine, as well as a very detailed one for if you own a machine. The best is by the doctor that’s embedded here (I recommend this if you have a high risk job or if you’re making masks to send to hospitals) but remember, any mask is better than none.

 

The important thing here is my anxiety and need to prepare is being put to GOOD USE here. It’s a practical redirection of my energy that has the potential to make a difference as well. Not the sewing type? Me neither. But I’m going to learn to be.

Dragon Myst by Kerry Adrienne Book Tour

In this fantasy romance, the hero is the heroine!
Dragon Myst by Kerry Adrienne is coming April 17th!

RESERVE IT NOW:
US → https://amzn.to/2wQRmhf
UK → https://amzn.to/2Q6o7xW
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BLURB:

In every good quest, the hero succeeds. In every great quest, that hero is the heroine…

And for this heroine, finding The Last Druid and recovering the Orb of Oriste will be personal.

Myst Goodwind, trainer of horses and daughter of the Queen, isn’t content to watch the dragons steal the magic that once belonged to her world. As the beasts continue to drain life from the land, Myst sets out on a dangerous journey to reclaim what belongs to Oriste.

Together with a gambling fairy, a cranky centaur, and the annoying guard sent by the Queen, Myst will search for the Last Druid and the shards of the Orb of Oriste, which once held the essence of all the magic in the world. Along the way she’ll encounter creatures she never dreamed of, creatures she’s feared since she was a child, and the very same dragons that harness the magic she seeks to restore.

And though the dangers are ever-present, it will be the truths that Myst comes face-to-face with along the way that shake the foundation of everything she holds dear.

About Kerry

USA Today bestselling author Kerry Adrienne loves history, science, music and art. She’s a mom to more cats than children and she loves live music, traveling, and staying up all night. Because…vampires.

She writes romance (paranormal, m/m, historical, time travel, and more), science fiction, and fantasy.

In addition to writing books, she’s also a college instructor, artist, costumer, editor, and bad guitar player.

FIND KERRY ONLINE!
Amazon → https://amzn.to/2Q6pcEw
BookBub → http://bit.ly/2vWFFSK
Facebook → http://bit.ly/2YsifAT
Goodreads → http://bit.ly/2vXa1EA
Instagram → http://bit.ly/2Q29men
Pinterest → http://bit.ly/2w9njOB
Twitter → http://bit.ly/2VKegms
Website → https://www.kerryadrienne.com

Social Distancing and COVID-19: It’s Not Just About You #flattenthecurve

photp by Ashutosh Sonwani pexels.com

I’m kind of mad at one of my neighbors right now.

I ran into him the other evening as he was loading his car for a cross-country trip–the same day the US government declared a national state of emergency due to COVID-19. Everywhere, medical experts are desperately pleading with the public to stay home, to avoid all non-essential trips. My neighbor, in his 30s and without known health issues, is attending a wedding with his wife out west. They’ve been planning this trip for months, intending to take in some tourist sights while visiting friends. His vacation is here, and he’s taking it, damn it. Given how hard most of us work, I understand his attitude. I do. Most of the time, that is. Not right now.

“Haven’t you been watching the news? This coronavirus is serious business. No one has any immunity to it, and people can spread it for weeks without showing signs.”

He shrugged and kept loading the car. “I’ve been checking the CDC site. The numbers aren’t that bad.”

That’s when I told him they aren’t bad because we’re not testing nearly the number of people we should be. They aren’t bad because we have a Monster-in-Chief who cares more about the stock market and his re-election chances than he does about putting the brakes on one of the most serious pandemics we’ve had since the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. I try to explain the meaning of a novel illness and the serious impact it will have on the vulnerable members of our society–which includes at least one person from every household I know–including his. And mine.

 From his expression, I could see this information boggled his mind somewhat. I had to ask myself where had he been getting his updates? FOX News? The next words out of his mouth confirmed it. “But it’s no worse than the flu, right?”

No. Because the flu may not be as contagious. Because the flu, always serious for the elderly and the medically vulnerable, doesn’t have as high a mortality rate. Because COVID-19 is currently a pandemic capable of hospitalizing the population in numbers too high for the medical system to support. Because the flu, even new strains, is something your body has seen before, and maybe that helps you fight it off a little bit better. And when you get the flu and recover, it’s rare to have permanent physical damage. There are real concerns that this is not the case with the coronavirus. Survivors may have permanent lung damage.

This is not the flu.

Containment is no longer possible. We had months of warning from the events that unfolded in China but our government, currently led by a self-absorbed narcissist who DISBANDED the existing pandemic response team, has mounted a woefully inadequate, if not criminally liable, response to this global threat. The ONLY thing we can do is social distancing. And that means we STAY HOME. We don’t go out unless it is essential. We don’t go to movies or church or bars or birthday parties or weddings or funerals or have sleepovers with the kids. We don’t hold St. Patrick Day parades or hang out at the shopping mall. We don’t hug or shake hands or touch our faces. We wash our hands A LOT, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds in hot water.

Everyone has their own method for timing that. You can sing Happy Birthday. Gloria Gaynor posted a vid singing the chorus of “I Will Survive” on TikTok. I personally recite the opening sequence of Star Trek–bonus points if you do with Shatner’s timing. (I sub “person” for “man”, the same way they did for Next Gen) No elbow bumping for me, either. Vulcan salute, all the way.

 

 

My neighbor tossed another suitcase in the bag of his car. “Well, if we get exposed to anyone sick on this trip, we’ll self-isolate when we get home.”

If you get home, buddy. Have you seen the shitshow that are the airports these days? I can’t think of a WORSE way to limit the spread of a highly contagious disease than to cram thousands of people cheek by jowl into airports due to a poorly thought out (and completely useless) plan to suddenly close travel to certain areas, forcing everyone to flock to the airports in an attempt to return home before they are trapped somewhere.

Italy, and now Spain, are on country-wide lockdown. Based on the numbers of new cases, we’re in the same boat Italy was 1-2 weeks ago. The Italians have a better health care system than we do and they’re a smaller country. The mortality rate for new victims is staggering because they’ve run out of resources. Italian doctors are having to make wartime triage decisions as to who lives and who dies because they can’t treat all the critical cases.

Let me put it another way: I’ve been buying an extra item of the things I use most since February. Why? Because I saw this coming. So I’m stocked on dog food, cat litter, canned goods, dry goods, etc. I’ve been trying to tell people if we shopped like that–a little over time–we won’t overwhelm the store’s capacity to stock things. We won’t have scenes like this (from the last time I went to the grocery).

 
Much like if we practice social distancing NOW, we won’t overwhelm the US medical systems.
 
Because we run medicine as a for-profit industry in the US, our hospitals stay nearly full to capacity as it is now. If everyone gets sick at the same time (as we’ve seen particularly in Italy), hospitals will not be able to accommodate the critically ill. The hospitals will be like our grocery stores because everyone came in at once.
 
We’re not just talking about the lack of respirators or equipment for those suffering from Covid-19. We’re talking about a lack of doctors, support staff, heck, even GLOVES for your emergency. Not afraid of getting COVID-19? You’d better hope you don’t get in a car accident or need an emergency appendectomy. Because the staff, the space, and the resources won’t be there to help you when it’s your turn to need help.
 
This isn’t about preventing everyone from getting the virus. That ship has sailed. If we had a competent president instead of the Grifter-in-Charge, we might have been able to take containment measures, though in all fairness, given the number of people who don’t show any clinical signs for weeks, I doubt containment was ever possible in a country of this size. But having ICE arrest people as they take family to the airports doesn’t help. Neither does closing the borders to some countries but not all of them. Our president is more interested in pumping money into the stock market in the hopes of getting re-elected than he is trying to stem this pandemic. The irony is if he HAD chosen to protect the population first, the stock market would have been fine. He also has about as much common sense as a rock. Our president would punch a hole in a condom and believe it would still prevent pregnancy.
 
What’s important now is that we #flattenthecurve. That we prevent huge numbers of people getting sick all at the same time, which lessens the chances of survival for us ALL. Read the Washington Post article and take the appropriate precautions. And don’t be like patient 31 in South Korea, who refused to get tested on the recommendation of the doctor treating her, and instead went to a hotel buffet with a friend. When she got worse, COVID-19 was confirmed, but by that time, she’d exposed over one thousand people and South Korea lost the battle to contain COVID-19 in their country. The lesson we can take from this: Don’t be Patient-31. Stay home.
 
We could also have learned from S. Korea’s proactive management of illness in their country through aggressive testing. Experts in Italy admit they began testing too late, forcing the country to react to the crisis instead of preventing it. Oh, for competent leadership here in the US because we’re next. I type this even as I fear for my friends overseas, especially in the UK, which is also feeling the effects of Brexit and a similar lack of leadership at the highest levels.
 
I realize that it’s not possible for everyone to stay home. Workplaces are open, and we’re expected to do business as usual. Some bosses and employees, understandably worried about how to pay the bills still rolling in, may believe we’re over-reacting. Maybe we are. But better to over-react and save lives than look back even 1-2 weeks from now and wish we’d been more concerned. If we had an intelligent, proactive response from our government, I believe measures would be taken to lockdown the country now before we reach the crisis state that Italy is in. As it is, I believe we’ll be forced to take those measures anyway, only it will be too late to do the most good.
 
I saw this quote on Twitter today, before I decided it was best for my mental health of I got off social media for a while:
 
My neighbor is due back from his trip at the end of the week. I wonder if they showed Contagion as the in-flight movie.
 
 

Do Writers Need to Attend Major Conferences to Network?

Last summer I attended my first Romance Writers of America National Conference. As a relatively new member, I’d thought about going to a big conference before, and had often looked on with envy as my fellow romance writers spoke of their anticipation and experiences during the conference each year. But I’d look at the price tag of attending a major meeting and realize that I simply couldn’t justify spending the money, not at my current level in my writing career. Instead, I signed up for a lot of online courses and workshops that I never seemed to find the time to complete, and I looked around for smaller meetings where I could still learn about writing, publishing, and marketing, as well as meet fellow writers and well… network.

But two things changed my mind about going to RWA’s national conference last year: first, Ghost of a Chance was a finalist in the Bookseller’s Best Awards, and the winners were going to be announced at the conference. And then, out of the blue, I won a seat a at brunch being hosted by Carina Press Editors–and since I’d tried subbing to Carina during their open submission calls, I thought it was an opportunity to learn more about the process (as well as get a little face time with the editors) that I couldn’t turn down.

And I was right. Attending the conference in NYC was an amazing experience.

I attended all kinds of panels and meetings. I learned I need to manage my newsletter differently and how you can use cover art to rebrand yourself. I made a pitch to a publisher at an open submission thingy (it could have gone better), and took copious notes at various lectures. I caught up with people I only knew from social media, met new people at the various events, and managed to squeeze in some touristy things too, like eating a hot dog from a street vendor (man, that was good!) and taking the ferry out to Staten Island. I had a delightful brunch with Carina’s editors Stephanie Doig and Kerri Buckley, and the rest of the lucky winners in the group. I wrote about my RWA experience here.

And I made plans to go again this coming summer. One of my crit partners lives out west and was planning to attend, and it would have been a wonderful excuse to catch up with her.

But then came the fallout from the special ethics committee report on Courtney Milan and the ruling to censure her, as well as ban her from holding office within RWA. If you’re not part of the romance world, I wrote about this debacle shortly after it occurred, linking to all the relevant parts of the story at the time (The Bodies in the Backyard: Can RWA be Saved?). Since then, multiple major publishers, as well as scads of agents and editors alike have withdrawn their support of RWA, refusing to host events or maintain any support to the upcoming conference this summer. Members have resigned in protest; more are not planning to renew their membership when it comes due again. Chapters have dissolved rather than maintain affiliation with the organization as it now stands. President-elect Damon Suede and Executive Director Carol Ritter, as well as the entire Board, have resigned. The RITA awards for this year have been canceled. Several major papers have written articles trying to get to the bottom of this mess, and an independent audit was released siting numerous serious issues with how the whole thing was handled. Although the audit didn’t conclude there was any malicious intent, it did conclude that conflicting rules cobbled together ad hoc contributed to the poor handling of the situation. Several things came out of the audit that were disturbing, to say the least. The pushback from some authors who want to maintain the status quo is even more upsetting. I’m finding out belatedly that the standard which some people want RWA to uphold is romance should exist primarily between cis het white able-bodied Christian couples. Oh, and preferably excluding books written by digital-only, indie authors.

As a cis het white able bodied Christian woman, I believe everyone is deserving of their HEA. I think it’s past time that we acknowledge the publishing industry as a whole has artificially maintained a kind of romance standard that is exclusionary to many marginalized groups.

Some people are attempting to pick up the pieces in the hopes of salvaging RWA and making it what it should have been all along: a place for all romance authors (and their characters), regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical and mental status to network about writing, publishing, and marketing. I think they have a nearly impossible task ahead of them, based on what I’ve been reading and hearing.

I canceled my plans to attend this summer’s conference. I have mixed feelings about maintaining membership in RWA. I’d just renewed my membership when all this came down, and I decided to let it ride in the hopes of retaining the right to vote in any upcoming elections. But as time passed and more and more things came to light, I’m no longer certain I want to be a member of RWA. I’m definitely certain I don’t need to be a member–at least not at this juncture in my writing career.

See, one of the extremely valuable things RWA allowed was access to agents and publishers. While it would be lovely to think of snagging a big contract and quitting the day job, that’s not likely to happen to me. It would be akin to winning the lottery: a wonderful, but unrealistic dream. What I really need is more individualized instruction, in a setting where I can ask my newbie questions without being made to feel like an idiot, especially if I’m not as tech-savvy as the rest of the audience. I need to learn what I can do to promote my work on a limited budget, finish, polish and publish my work as an indie author without the Big Dream of a major publishing contract some day. Sure, I can work toward that dream, but I need something more geared to delivering information in a manner in which I can digest it and utilize now. A smaller venue where I can have conversations with fellow authors one night and continue the association the next day without having lost them in the convention crowd.

But I recognize that while I’m good at over-committing to online workshops, I’m not good at staying the course. I also desperately need to get away from work and home to avoid getting sucked into other responsibilities that force my writing to the back burner. I began looking at other conferences to attend instead of RWA Nationals, and the vast majority of them were either already sold out, offered at a time of year I couldn’t attend, or were primarily reader events with a few headline speakers. While sorely tempted by MurderCon, (I haven’t ruled it out, but it may be sold out already), it’s geared toward the technical aspects of writing mysteries, with heavy emphasis on police procedurals. Fun, but probably not exactly what I need right now.

Which is why I’m so pleased to be going to the ATA 2020 Spring Writing Retreat. Audrey Knapp Hughey is the founder of The Write Services, LLC and the Author Transformation Alliance, specializing in teaching online marketing for writers. This is the aspect of being a published author I struggle the most with–and Audrey gives me the kind of hands-on coaching I need to wade through setting up my newsletter or maximizing my ROI with Amazon ads. This is my third year attending, and each time I’m impressed with not only the professionalism and expertise Audrey and her speakers bring to the retreat, but I’m charmed by the “whole picture” experience, too. In addition to gift bags for participants, there have been morning and evening yoga sessions, photographers to take author headshots, engaging, encouraging, and sometimes emotional workshops, and plenty of time to–gasp–actually write.

I find that I am desperately looking forward to the retreat this year because I know it will be just that: an affordable, informative getaway where I will come back renewed and enthusiastic about tackling my writing and publishing goals for the year. I’ll spend a lovely weekend getting to know my fellow authors while reconnecting with those I’ve met online or in previous years, and will have peaceful hours to write without interruption. (I’ll even have the luxury of a quiet hotel room with a comfy bed free of pet hair for a change! 🙂 ) I won’t come home thinking, “Man, I’m doing everything wrong and I’ll never make it as a writer.” I’ll come home energized about the things within my power to achieve.

And that’s the feeling a good conference should instill. So the next time you’re looking at conferences and trying to decide how to get the biggest bang for your buck, think smaller and more focused than huge and splashy. Think about the ATA Spring Retreat.

I hope you’ll join me sometime!

Love is in the Air in February, and Bishop Takes Knight is on Sale! #MFRWHooks

Have you been waiting for the right time to delve into the Redclaw Universe? Well, now may be your best shot!

Bishop Takes Knight (Redclaw Origins Book 1) is now available for just 99 cents across all platforms! Meet former socialite Henrietta (“Rhett”) Bishop as she accepts a job in desperation with the mysterious Redclaw Security firm and gets more than she bargained for! When she’s assigned to locate the elusive Dr. Peter Knight, all her skills as an independent woman in 1955 New York City are put to the test as they evade a shifter gang, deal with past lovers, and engage with the enigmatic and dangerous Rian Stirling–who happens to be searching for the same artifacts as Bishop and Knight. It’s Nick and Nora (The Thin Man) meets Warehouse-13 in this book declared Top Pick by The Romance Reviews and given a Crowned Heart of Excellence by InD’Tale Magazine, as well as a strong review by Kirkus.

Bishop Takes Knight is available for just 99 cents for a limited time from:

Amazon    Barnes and Noble     Apple     Kobo

 

Looking for more great reads this month? Check out the other stories in the BookHooks Hop! 

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The Internet is Killing Me but My Support is on the Internet

The modern dilemma, eh?

About 15 years ago, I started a new job, moving to a new town, where I didn’t know anyone. I’d just finished a five year run as my father’s caretaker, and I was looking to start fresh with a new life–new everything. After years of working a full time job and then spending 6 pm to midnight caring for my father with dementia, I was looking for friendships, hobbies, and hoping to meet the love of my life. All those things happened, but not the way I expected.

See, at first, I looked into joining organizations that I thought would be fun and challenging, as well as a way of meeting new people. I was still competing my horse then, so I made a few friends at the new boarding barn. I tried inviting people over for movie nights or making plans to go out together, but we all were on such different schedules that trying to coordinate a get-together was as fraught with difficulty as scheduling a Middle Eastern Peace Summit. 

I tried joining a few clubs and activities around my new town, but found it nearly impossible to attend on a regular basis. As a former actress, there was great appeal in the notion of auditioning for a play with the local theater, but again, my schedule prohibited me from committing to something like that. I began writing again, which filled my creative void, but didn’t provide the social interaction I craved, until I began posting my stories online.

All of the sudden, I had friends.

I was invited by one of them to join Live Journal, and before I knew it, I’d gotten sucked into fandom. I’d always been a geeky girl, a Trekkie and sci-fi fan, so this new and improved world of fanfiction archives and story fests was right up my alley. Even better was the fact I could participate on my own time, on my own schedule, be it 5:30 am before a 2 hour commute to work or at 1 am when I’d just finished a new story and couldn’t wait to share. Everything I learned about computers I learned from fandom, by the way: how to code html, how to embed images, how to make graphics…

Fandom expanded my horizons in other ways too. I made international friends, had attitudes adjusted, learned a greater degree of tolerance than I had growing up in my small rural towns. I found the courage to travel to meet up with my fandom friends–people who knew more about what was going on in my life than the people I saw in person every day. I was surrounded by acquaintances and coworkers in real life. My friends were mostly online. I even met my husband online through a dating service–something that I’d never have done had it not been for my time on the Internet.

But these days, the Internet is a bigger source of anxiety than it is a place of fun. Social media has become a huge part of everyone’s lives, to the extent that when you walk into a restaurant, more often then not, you see people sitting at tables across from each other with their eyes glued to their phones. I used to read a book when waiting for the bus (or waiting for anything, for that matter). Now I scroll my social media feeds. Around and around I go, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to What’s App and so on.

And they aren’t making me happy. The news is horrific–and most of the time, there is nothing I can do about it. Pandemics. Wildfires. Global Fascism on the rise. Ice caps melting. Species going extinct. The end of Medicare and Social Security as we know it. The impending crash of the economy. People in cages. And if it isn’t some bit of terrifying news, it’s the unconscious competition to show that your life is more exciting and successful than those around you, or the drive, drive, drive to get your book (your art, your music) noticed.

Whenever I feel this way, I’m tempted into doing a social media blackout, but I never manage it very well. After a day or two of self-imposed going off the grid, I’m back because I couldn’t help but check out my Twitter feed, or I’d committed to doing something that required my online presence.

And then there’s the fact that my support group is still largely online. There’s the rub. Because I know I can share my fears and within seconds, someone will chime in with offers of support. It might only be a virtual hug or a funny gif, but those are the kinds of things that can get you through a bad day, especially if you work in a hostile environment and virtual support is the only kind you can get.

But I’m noticing a greater tendency on my part not to want to do anything but mess around online. Stay home in front of the laptop or with the phone in hand. If I could order my groceries and do all my banking online, I’d never leave the house on my days off. It’s an effort to put the dogs in the car and take them out for a run in the national forest or go horseback riding–things I used to love doing. I keep looking at my watch and thinking, “I have this block of time I need to use for writing!” only I pick up the phone, and four hours later, I haven’t typed a single word in the WIP.

And it’s not making me happy. So when I’m done with my current commitments for the month of February, I’m going dark for a while. Taking the apps off my phone. Unplugging from the internet and tuning back into the real world around me. I doubt seriously this will hurt my writing career in the slightest. We worry about losing followers or not keeping fans happy, but honestly, I don’t think most people will even notice. Like me, they’re busy doing the rat race of running in circles on the social media wheel. If anything, I strongly suspect the time off from social media will help my writing process immensely as I find the ability to daydream and brainstorm again. But the real value will be in becoming connected to the things that matter to me.

Just in time for this post, I came across this old Twitter thread from former CIA personnel, Cindy Otis. (I know, right? The irony…) In in the OP talks about toxic news cycles and how to cope. She doesn’t advocate ignoring the news–and she’s right, it won’t go away. But she outlines positive steps to take to make yourself feel better. You can check out the link or follow the tips here:

  1. Take Action: Volunteer. A hard one for me, I admit because I’m already on compassion burnout as it is. But that’s why I give money when I can’t give time, and why I focus on local rather than national or international efforts. You need to see the benefits of your kindness. Do it.
  2. Accept Your Limits: The flip side of the first, true. But critical. Remember, if the O2 mask drops down on the plane, you have to put YOUR mask on first before attempting to help others. You can’t do anything if you’ve passed out from lack of air.
  3. Research before Panicking: particularly important in this age of disinformation. Check your facts before sharing that post. For all you know, the crisis you’re sharing may have already been resolved by the time you hit ‘send’. Or it may not even be true.
  4. Get up and Move: that’s right. Unplug. Turn off the phone, go outside, play with the dog, call a friend. Your body and brain needs a break from stressful content but also you need to release that negative energy. Even if you don’t feel like taking a walk, do it. You’ll feel better afterward.
  5. Set Rules: I like this one. No Social Media after a certain time. Only fiction reading at home. Whatever works best for you. Shut out the negative so you can recharge.
  6. Avoid Dark Holes: Don’t go down the rabbit hole of one bad news story after another. Don’t succumb to clickbait. Deal with one thing at a time. Don’t get yourself wound up about the coronavirus and then leap to climate change and then hyperventilate about how unprepared we are for all of this and how the next thirty years is going to break us as a society and species… Ooops. That was kind of specific, I see. You see what I mean, though.
  7. Have Fun, Darn it: Another tough one. It’s hard not to feel guilty having dinner with friends or enjoying a movie when the world is on fire. But the thing is, enjoying those little things is what life is all about. And sharing our fandom squee, or a beautiful photograph, or the joy of bringing home a new puppy or kitten doesn’t mean we’re shallow, terrible people because the world is going to hell in a handbasket and we’re not screaming about it. It’s all part of recharging. It’s all part of making sure we’re rested for the next fight.
  8. I added this one myself: Celebrate Your Wins: No matter how big or small. Because that’s what life is about too. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for sharing about your new book or your concert tickets or pictures from that awesome vacation. Because that’s what life’s about too. The things that make us happy.

Now excuse me while I go walk the dogs. 

Why I’m taking time from my WIP to write fanfic…

I cut my writing chops in fandom. Before I even knew what fanfic was, I wrote it. Back then, there were no online archives, no message boards. I wrote stories about the continuing adventures of my favorite characters because books were magic and there was nothing more I wanted to do than to spend time with the characters that brought joy to my life. I wrote for an audience of one because I had to. It didn’t matter to me if anyone ever read the stories or not. In fact, in some cases, I preferred they remain all mine.

Fast forward many years to my adulthood: I’d put aside writing stories as something children did and boxed up my creative self to move on with the business of life. Becoming a writer was an impractical fantasy and I needed to earn a living. I thought losing your passion, that creative spark, was simply part of growing up. It wasn’t until I went through a major transition in my life that I discovered online fanfiction archives. I’d been searching for something to be passionate about, having taken a new job in a new city where I knew no one. I had things I did for fun, but nothing that drove me with the kind of dedication I saw in others. Then I fell in love with a new television show and found out there were thousands of stories about the characters I loved! I completely immersed myself in fandom, and after months of reading everything I could get my hands on, tentatively, I began writing my own fic again.

Oh man, it was bad. I was so out of practice. And at first, I thought I had to write an entire story from start to finish in one setting. I know, weird, right? I mean, intellectually, I understood War and Peace wasn’t written in a single evening, but without understanding the basic mechanics of outlining, I’d sit down at the keyboard and start pounding out words until I had a finished story. I didn’t get much sleep those days, and I wrote nothing over 5-7 K words.

Then one day I realized not only did I not have to write the entire story in one sitting, I also didn’t have to write the story in a linear fashion, either! What a liberation that was! I could write the scene I pictured the most strongly at the time it was freshest in my mind and worry about how all the scenes tied together in the end. Out of sequence writing allowed me to write my first 50 K story, and after that, I was hard-pressed to write anything shorter. It also freed me from writing boring filler scenes that got the characters from one place to another–now I was a movie director shooting only the most relevant scenes. I was a pantser, only I didn’t know it. Writing in this fashion was natural for me,  and I wrote the equivalent of a novella a month for years.

A million words of fanfic later, I began writing original stories for publication. My writing style changed again, in part because I couldn’t take the writing shortcuts with world building and characterization that fanfic allows. I had to do more plotting, and my writing became more linear again. My productivity also slowed down tremendously. Comments are the currency of fanfic, but when you’re producing original works and asking people to pay for them, your standards are much higher. My output slowed dramatically as I pushed myself to write better stories, and it was harder for me to meet these new standards. My Inner Critic grew stronger and more discouraging as I put more and more pressure on myself to succeed.

One of the first decisions I made when I began publishing my own fiction was to stop writing fanfic. In part because the challenges of original fiction were more fascinating to me now, but it was also simply a matter of time. I only had so much time to devote to writing–I couldn’t afford to “waste” it.

So when I recently came across an unfinished fanfic sitting on my hard drive, it surprised me when I began tinkering with it again. I’m at the halfway point on my WIP. If I push through, I can finish it in a month or two, and polish it into a finalized form by late spring/early summer. The last thing I should do is leave it and go off to play in an old sandbox like a little kid, right?

Wrong.

I think that’s exactly what I need to do.

Lately, I’ve been struggling a bit to find the joy in life. To find purpose in a world increasingly depressing and terrifying to me. To feel that it matters if I tell my stories or not. And I think this is the right time to set aside my WIP, to let it simmer on a back burner for a bit, while I take my shovel and pail and go build sandcastles on the beach. Yes, a terrible mixing of metaphors, I know, but I don’t care.

The fun of fanfic is the lack of limitations. As long as you are true to the characters (and if you are writing an AU, you don’t even have to be that true), anything goes. I want to bang out my story without my Inner Critic hanging over my shoulder telling me I can’t do this or I shouldn’t do that. I want to post my sandcastle story as an offering to the fandom I love, knowing it will most likely be accepted with joy even if it is the most lopsided sandcastle you could ever see. And even if it is completely ignored, it will have still brought me great pleasure to have written it in the first place, just like it did for my fifteen-year-old self when I ran out of Star Trek stories to read.

I want to do it for the sheer fun of it, and Lord knows, there is a great lack of fun in the world right now.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn something about having fun with my stories that I can bring back to the WIP again. It’s a win-win, either way.

So what are you doing that brings you joy today?

#MFRWHooks: Bishop Takes Knight is only 99 cents!

I’m participating in some great events coming up in February, and as such, I’ve lowered the price on Bishop Takes Knight! For the first time ever, this story is only 99 cents for a limited time. Bishop Takes Knight is the origin story for my Redclaw universe, and was named a Top Pick by The Romance Reviews, and given the Crowned Heart of Excellence by InD’Tale Magazine. Even Kirkus reviews liked it!

Now you can grab the first book in the Redclaw Origins series for only 99 cents! If you like light paranormal romance and lots of banter, this book is for you. Think Nick and Nora meets WH-13. 

Blurb: New York, 1955. Former socialite Henrietta (“Rhett”) Bishop, destitute after her father gambles away the family fortune, takes a job at Redclaw Security. But Redclaw is no ordinary operation. Part detective firm and part enforcement agency, Redclaw regulates matters involving the growing population of shifters who have emerged since the onset of the nuclear age.

Peter Knight is a nuclear scientist shattered by the death of his wife. Blacklisted by the government and scientific organizations, he drowns his sorrows while searching for the people behind his wife’s murder.

When Rhett is assigned to recruit Knight, their meeting is more than either bargained for—a rival organization will do anything to secure Knight for themselves. Following a lead to locate a missing cache of alien technology stolen from Redclaw, Rhett is thrown back into her previous glittering life with Knight as her pretend boyfriend. But when someone from the past turns up to start a bidding war on the artifacts, Bishop and Knight wind up in a fight for their very lives.

Pick up your copy at your favorite retailer for only 99 cents!

Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Kobo ~ Apple ~

For other blogs in the MFRWHooks hop, check out this list!

The Good Gut Diet Experiment

I’ve been struggling with gut issues for years now. And before you jump in to tell me I should see a doctor, I have. Many. Again and again. I’ve had two GI workups, complete with endoscopy and colonoscopy. I’ve been tested for celiac and intestinal parasites, tried the FODMAP diet, had a gazillion lab tests, tried probiotics and digestive enzymes, you name it. I’ve also done food elimination trials, and I keep coming back to some frustrating conclusions. I do best when I eliminate all gluten and dairy, and cut waaaay back on sweets. Before you say keto, I don’t seem to tolerate the high fat foods recommended by keto, so I’m proceeding with caution here, trying to find something that works for me.

This is the part where I make the pouty face, drum my heels, and cry, “I don’t wanna!” when it comes to making these changes permanent. See, I love bread. No, seriously. I’d rather eat bread than cake. In fact, if Marie Antoinette had ever said. “Let them eat cake” (which is disputed, BTW), I’d have chopped off her head too. I can’t imagine a meal without bread or cereal in some form. And compared to the light fluffy goodness of real bread, gluten free products (at least here in the US) taste nasty. Like they have sand mixed in them. Also, I’m on a sodium restricted diet because of my BP now, so why is it that most GF products are LOADED with salt and excessive seasonings? Did I mention I also suffer from acne rosacea, and that all of these things are made worst by certain foods?

I love bread so much that part of my love of Lucy Lawless’s new crime show, My Life is Murder, stems from the fact her character makes bread as a way of dealing with her personal issues along with solving crimes. And that Lucy Lawless is hot. And I want her boots. Her kind of nosy interference is a helluva upgrade from Angela Lansbury’s Murder, She Wrote!

Of course, the answer for me is a very plain diet, such as bowls of fish and rice with some sort of leafy greens added. And when I stick to it, I feel better. No, scratch that. I feel almost like a human being again. No heartburn. No bloating or belching. And much less pain. As an added benefit, when I maintained strict adherence to these dietary restrictions, I lost almost ten pounds in one week. I believe at least some of that was due to decreased inflammation.

So why can’t I maintain it? For one, it’s a LOT of work. You have to shop often, and buy fresh. There’s only so much I can make in advance when most of what I’m eating is steamed. My food bill has tripled, and I’ve lost the convenience of easily portable items to take with me to work. And I’ll be honest, there has been days when I’ve skipped lunch because I couldn’t face another meal fit for a Buddhist monk.

There’s also the fact I love bread, remember? So what’s a gluten-loving girl to do? Well, I can keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is explore my gluten-free options for those times when nothing but carbs will do. I’ll eat Udi’s white sandwich bread if I have to. Nature’s Promise makes decent Cinnamon Thins Cookies (I can’t find a link, which means they’ve probably stopped making them) that taste a lot like snickerdoodles and have the crunch I like in a cookie. Mama Geraldine’s makes GF cheese straws that are hard to tell from the real thing. Van’s Say Cheese and Perfect 10 crackers aren’t bad, if you can tolerate the salt. Betty Crocker makes a good GF brownie mix if you add nuts to it to cut some of the sweetness. But all that’s really exchanging one kind of bad-for-you carb for another. I need to expand my cooking skills (weak at best, lethal at worst) and experiment with other greens besides kale.

But I can’t help but wonder why I can no longer eat the foods I love.

I suspect the answer may lie in The Good Gut Diet, which is a book detailing the importance of our gut biomes, and how so many of our health issues can be traced back to problems with our microflora. Now, mind you, I’ve tried digestive enzymes and probiotics, and sometimes they seem to help a bit, but according to Dr. Gerard Mullin, we need to do more than supplement our gut bugs. We need to reset them.

I like the idea behind this. That we do a restrictive diet for a month, then take steps to recreate a healthy biome, then gradually move to a maintenance plan that doesn’t say you can never have certain foods, but that you eat them sparingly. The hardest part for me will probably be the restocking of the healthy biome bit. I’ve read ahead, and I LOATHE the fermented foods they recommend during this phase, sauerkraut, yogurt, kim chee and the like. Pretty much if it contains vinegar, I’m going to turn my nose up at it. And please, yogurt is milk you should have thrown out weeks ago.

But since this seems to be the best chance I have of getting my life and health back, I’m determined to give it a try. It’s impacting everything: my ability to work, enjoy my time with my family, write. I’m the sort of person who gets up out of bed no matter what and goes until she drops, but I’m getting perilously close to dropping now, and I want to feel better again.

The irony about Lucy Lawless playing a crime-solving baker? Apparently she is HIGHLY sensitive to gluten and describes it as ‘death’ to her. So I guess I’m not the only one who can no longer eat the foods I love. 

The 2019 Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards is open for Voting!

I’m so excited! Bishop Takes Knight has been nominated for the Best Romance/Paranormal/Fantasy/Vampires & Shifters category in the PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards! I’m my story is among such great books for consideration!

 

Voting opens today, Jan 10th, and runs through next Friday, Jan 24th. I hope you’ll consider voting for Bishop Takes Knight! It’s a long list of books to scroll through, with a large number of categories, but I appreciate your vote!

Here’s the link–which is a great shopping list for future buys, I might add! 

2019 Paranormal Romance Guild’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards Ballot

Eeeep! I had the wrong link, but it’s been corrected now, thanks to an eagle-eyed reader!