personal

July Recap, August Goals!

I’m writing this update with decidedly mixed feelings. I’m all about goal-setting, and I love the high that comes with getting all my ducks lined up for the coming month. However, yesterday Monica Leonelle announced she’s retiring the Prose of Fire series of writing advice books.

Monica is one of my writing heroes, and I come back to her books again and again. While I’m really happy that she’s reached a new stage in her writing journey and can definitely get behind the philosophy driving her new project, it’s not a direction I see myself going in right now. So that’s a bit of sad news.

The other thing that’s on my mind is my health. Since June 24th, there have only been two days were I truly felt my usual self—and even those two days, I still had a cough. The rest of the time, I’ve been dealing with either two particularly vicious colds and a chest infection, or stealth tuberculosis (I should get the test results back this month). While I’m not the sickest person in the world by any means, this is having a cumulative effect. I’m tired, and spending more time resting, meaning I have less time to spend on projects, which means that I feel like I’m constantly battling to get anything done. A lot of my happiness is tied to being productive and achieving goals, so this has been frustrating on many levels. Despite all this, I actually achieved a fair amount in July.

July Goals:

  • Edit and Release More Than Coffee (new title needed!)  Done! The Wing Commander’s Curse came out on Monday after a few false starts. Overall, I’m really happy with it.
  • Get back to work on Mystery 1. Not done! Change of plans.
  • Continue work on Dead Wrong Change of plans.
  • Get my writing mindset back in the right place. Yes! I have productivity and positivity for days. I’m credited The Journalling Superpower Secret for this.
  • Take care of myself, and tackle scary health thing. Ha. I’m trying! 

Overall, I feel good. I completed a project not on this list. When I set my July goals, I didn’t realise Ninestar had moved the submission deadline for seasonal stories earlier this year. Obviously, that took priority! And I have great news. Not only did I manage to write, edit and submit a seasonal story by the deadline, but I’ve already completed the first editing pass. That’s right—The Op-Shop Rejects Live in Concert was accepted by NineStar! I also got a big freelance project that has been taking a lot of time and energy, which isn’t great, but it pays so, that is a good thing!

Anne and I also launched New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers, so that was a definite bonus!

August Goals:

  • Freelance project #1
  • Get to work on Gentlemen Don’t Murder
  • Return Life After Humanity edits.
  • Attend RWNZ Conference 2017
  • Get organised for Dead Wrong. I’m also planning to write-up the Marlborough Book Festival, and pitch to agents at the Romance Writers conference. August is going to be a busy month!

Hair Today … gone March 24th.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a personal update, nothing to do with writing or writing promo at all. In real life, I’m fundraising to support leukaemia and blood cancer patients in New Zealand, a cause that I really want to help–and not one that I want tainted by the suggestion of self-promo. At the same time, I believe I have a lot of writing friends who will want to support me–and I need all the support I can get. I’ve made the decision to reach out to my writing and reading friends twice only–once in this post, and once again in the aftermath. This is a fine line to walk, and I’m going to do my best not to cross it, but if this strikes you as inappropriate in anyway, do let me know.


 

Okay. Important note out of the way, I am freaking out. I’ve committed to participating in the 2017 fundraising campaign organised by Shave for a Cure by–you guessed it–shaving my head.

As far back as I can remember, people have been complimenting me on my hair. Hairdressers tell me how lovely and thick it is, people in the street tell me how nice my curls are, almost every time I see her my grandma says ‘how nice your hair looks,’–and that’s not even getting into the incredulous reactions from my students in Japan when I told them it was natural.

My two best hair stories both involve students in Japan. Once after going from very long hair, to cutting it very short, I went to school to be greeted by various amusing double-takes. The best was a student I’d taught for five years who saw me from behind and asked his homeroom teacher ‘When did we get a new English teacher?’

The best story happened while I was still on my island. Deciding there was no point in having long hair if I never did anything wore it, I wore my hair loose to school. Unfortunately it was a windy day, and by the time I arrived at school my hair was somewhat worse for the trip. I walked into the third year classroom. One of my girl’s shrieked. ‘Sensei! You look like that character from Harry Potter. What’s her name? Harry’s friend.’ The boy beside her called out ‘Dumbledore!’ And for the rest of the week, that class called me ‘Dumbledore-sensei.’

Giving it up is a lot harder than I thought it would be. In fact, the closer it gets to shave-day, the less I want to do this–but the more I know I have to. I do invest a lot of my ego into my hair–it’s a big part of my identity. And I really hope that by taking part in the Shave for a Cure challenge, I’ll be able to raise money for a worthy cause.

If you want to support me in my challenge, please go to my personal page (yup, using my non-author name): Here

If you can donate, that is amazing and very gratefully received! Although this is an NZ charity, you don’t need to be in NZ to support this cause. If you’re unable to donate, please share this post, leave me a message of support (trust me, I will need those), or maybe even be inspired to consider something like this yourself.

Thanks for reading! And yeah, there will be an update, March 27th, with the after photos (gulp).

Mindful March

Time for the monthly recap! As you may have gathered from my January recap and Accelerated February posts, February was a busy month. The decision to track my writing, health and money made a big difference, not so much in keeping me on track, but making me aware of what is holding me back currently. Despite the lack of word count, I feel I am making really good progress towards my writing goals. I have a lot of work to do if I want to make my 2017 goals, but I feel confident that I can make it happen.

Quick and dirty recap: February Goals

  • finish Murder #1 – NOT AT ALL
  • re-plot TDL – Almost finished!
  • Freelance project 1 AND 2 – Finished project 1. 2 was not finished, but my client was dealing with IRL stuff, so I am counting this as a success.
  • Complete Freelance Project 3 (weekly)- Great Success.
  • regular blog posts- More or less!
  • read 9 books- YES!
  • establish a daily writing habit.-NO

I started February all fired up to write every day. Unfortunately, until I resolve the plot issues I’m having with Murder#1, working on this project is like pulling teeth. I managed for two days, before sinking into a depressed funk. Not writing also made me fall into a depressed funk, until I realised that I could count plotting as writing. Being able to check off time spent plotting as writing made me feel productive and happy, and that encouraged me to keep at it. I came to the conclusion that I have a lot more work to do with research on Murder#1, but that if I came up with a solid plot for Thorns and Fangs #3, then I could work on that while continuing to research Murder#1. All in all, I wrote 12 out of 28 days in February, which while far from the results I wanted, have meant that I am in a really good position to try again for a daily writing habit in March.

Balancing Freelance projects with everything else will continue to be an ongoing problem in March, as I’m finding it hard to say no to clients adding extra work onto existing projects. I’m going to have to be strategic in what projects I take on, and in protecting my creative and research time.

Now that I’m back in the habit of regular blogging, I’m really enjoying it. Travelling was great fun, but while it gave me a lot of interesting places to write about for the blog, I also returned from Auckland totally exhausted. It took me about a week to recover. What is interesting is that the exhaustion was all mental. Physically, I was tired but otherwise fine. I was not sick at all during February, which, for me, is a huge accomplishment! I think this is Accelerated February already positively impacting my health.

Although I didn’t manage to take my vitamins, eat 5 plus servings of fruit and veges a day or walk every day, I am doing all three more regularly and it is having a tremendous impact, not only  on my health but on how I feel about myself. Another new addition to my health routine is a daily guided meditation using the smiling mind app. This is something I want to continue–hence Mindful March! And that brings us to March Goals:

  • Daily Writing Habit (Currently 2/31)
  • Write Thorns and Fangs #3 (3,894/100,000)
  • Balance Freelance and Creative Work
  • Read 9 books (3/9)
  • Regular blog posts (1/9)
  • Edit and release Deep Magic boxset
  • Complete Defensive Driving Course
  • Sit Full Licence Test
  • SECRET PROJECT TBA later.

All in the mind?

I mentioned that I came away from the Joanna Penn Successful Self-Publishing Seminar with a to-do list, right? One of 44 items, to be exact. Today, 14 days later, I have done precisely ten, all of which were things I had to do anyway because they were either freelance projects or blog posts, both of which have deadlines. When I looked at any of the actions I wanted to take around writing, a fog descended. I had so many choices I was paralysed. I then felt guilty for not accomplishing anything, and things were spiralling as they usually did. I knew that if I wanted to get anything done, I needed to battle the spiral with mindset. So I did.

This post is some of the tools that I’m currently using to keep me focused and productive during some stressful times at home and in the world at large (I don’t think it made the International news, but we have a huge out of control fire on the Port Hills here in Christchurch, and a couple of noticeably big shakes).

It’s no coincidence that The Successful Author Mindset is the book I asked Joanna Penn to sign for me. In many ways, I am my own worst enemy, and I’ve turned to Joanna’s book again and again to help ignore the brain wolves and keep me on the productive path. I cannot recommend this book enough for authors.

Monica Leonelle’s Prosperous Creation is what really woke me to the fact that mindset is an ongoing thing. She places it as the foundation tier of her creative framework, and recommends addressing ongoing habits of reflection and gratitude, to clear out the mental cobwebs and keep your attention reserved for your work.

M. Caspian introduced me to Kikki-k in Auckland. In addition to amazing stationary and notebooks, they offer habit, happiness, organisation and other workshops–including mindfulness. My sister and I went along to a Christchurch workshop, and it was a good introduction to some of the concepts, benefits and methods of practicing mindfulness. In many ways, mindfulness sounds a lot like the flow state that you get when writing is going very, very well–and who wouldn’t want more of that. I came away from the workshop with some new ideas–and a lovely journal (and two notebooks and another journal). Because kikki-k.

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Mindfulness Journal and friends. The gold letters on the journal cover read ‘Wherever you are, be all there.’

One of the recommendations I got from the mindfulness workshop was the use of a free meditation app to get into a daily mindfulness habit. Two were recommended, headspace and smiling mind. I’m using smiling mind, which is run by an Australian non profit, who want to reduce stress and promote healthier minds through guided meditations suitable for home, work or school.

It is early days yet, but I’m noticed that I’m much happier when I sit down to work, when I get in my car to drive somewhere, or when the unexpected happens and throws a wrench in my plans.

Geeking Out at Farmhouse Tea Rooms, Charteris Bay.

I’m having such an amazing time in Diamond Harbour that I wanted to share some of my explorations. On Friday I drove to Orton Bradley Park in Charteris Bay. The Orton Bradley Park has some historic buildings, a patch of preserved forest, walking tracks and an organic dairy. I was there for the Farmhouse Tea Rooms.

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The Tea Rooms opened in December. It’s housed in the reconstructed farmhouse that was home for the original owners. It prides itself on strong tea and old-fashioned cakes. Tea is strictly loose-leaf and served on a beautiful tea service. The staff dress in Victorian costume.

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I am in love. Basically, having a fancy, Victorian style tea parlour was a long-held fantasy of mine that I eventually gave up on (I was going to call it OTT), because I decided that was the sort of thing that couldn’t possibly happen in real life. Not true! They’re doing it–and they’re doing it in isolated and under-populated Charteris Bay. I love these people.

Before I’d even finished my scones, I was on the phone to Mum, telling her we have to bring Grandma here. It’s that good. And yes, they do coffee and more than sweets–I ended up getting a gluten free bacon and egg pie to take home (it was made with hash browns instead of pastry and was so, so good).

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And then it got better. This will only make sense if you’ve read Uprooted (much like my last blog post actually), but while I was admiring the farm buildings and finding many, many things that reminded me of Nate’s home in Little River, I wandered outside into the garden. Wow, this is so similar to the farm! I thought. I wonder if there is an oak tree here. That would make it perfect.

I didn’t find an oak. I found a chestnut tree.

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Wow.

Back from Weddington!

As alluded to in my last post, I made it safely back to Christchurch! That is worth the exclamation point because wow, was Wellington intense (in a really good way).

My journey started early Friday morning when I woke, ate breakfast and got myself and my luggage into the car, only ten minutes late. I was feeling pretty good, because I had allowed myself an extra 15 minutes for the journey (I drive like a granny), and was confident that I would make it to the meeting place in time. And then I turned the key–and nothing happened.

Yeah, my first ever flat battery! Good job self. Fortunately, a very lovely neighbour jumpstarted me (at 5:40 AM), and also helped me back down very scary driveway. Without his help I would not have made my flight or the wedding. He also pointed out that I needed to top up my oil–something no one had told me about! Anyway, I drove the difficult hilly road like I have never driven it before, making it to the meeting place only ten minutes late. I met up with sister and brother-in-law and niece, and we made it to the airport with time to spare.

Of course, the adrenalin lasted until we were actually in the church, sister and myself acting as ushers, handing out programmes and seeing guests to their seats. I caught up with family I haven’t seen in forever, but it wasn’t until everyone was sitting down and we were waiting for the bride to arrive that it really sunk in that we’d made it and I could relax.

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The church was beautiful. The bride was beautiful. The groom–I cannot believe that my little cousin got so grown up so suddenly! Everything was happy and awesome, and I could not be happier for anyone involved. There was just one thing.

I’m not much of a make-up person, but weddings are one of the few occasions I go all out and make the effort. I also cry at weddings. It’s clockwork. The doors open, the bride appears and–tears. I also cry at speeches, toasts, because people look happy, etc. Weddings are a tears-smorgasbord. Anyway, I decided that the issue was the make-up. I must just have really sensitive eyes, right? And the make-up sets me off. So, I skipped mascara for the last wedding I went to and still cried. This wedding, I brought make-up with me, but decided at the last minute that I didn’t want to spend the entire day dabbing at my eyes and skipped it. When the bells rang, and I turned to see the bride enter, it was with the confidence that for once, I would not be making a spectacle of myself.

Nope. Turns out I am just that sappy. The shame!

Still, not even the realisation that I am the relative that gets tearful at the drop of a hat could spoil the wedding, or the reception.

The highlight from a writer point of view occurred the morning after the wedding when fellow kiwi author Anne Barwell (of Winter Duet fame) took me to Gotham for brunch. We spent at least five hours talking comics, M/M romance, 2017 writing plans and we could have talked longer. To be fair, it has been sixteen years since we last caught up in person, and a lot has happened since then! But watch this space–Anne and I have plans.

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Yes, I am the dork who purposely wore her Batgirl T-shirt specially for Gotham.

In the afternoon, we met up again with the bride and groom for a family lunch, for us to spend some time catching up in a more relaxed setting. Time flew. It was a shock to find out we only had ten minutes before needing to leave to catch our flight. Sister and I ran around madly saying goodbye, brother-in-law had everything under control. We got to the airport in plenty of time, and back to Christchurch right on schedule.

In the two days I’ve been back since then, I’ve reunited with house-sit cat, dog and hens, caught up with an entirely different cousin and her family, and three friends from high school, one of which I had not seen since we graduated! Today, one of those friends and I explore central Christchurch. It was the first time she’d been there since the 2011 Earthquake, and seeing the city through her eyes really brought home how much we lost and how far we have yet to go. I struggled to remain upbeat, but after taking in some delicious gelato at the Rollicking Dessert Cafe, and heading to the Beat Street Cafe for lunch, I felt much more positive.

We ended up with a visit to the Christchurch Museum. One of my favourite things about the museum is how little it has changed. In 2003, I was taking groups of Japanese high school students to the Museum on group excursions–and the ground floor exhibits on the history of New Zealand have not changed one single bit. There were a few cool additions–the Paua House and the current Air New Zealand exhibition–but my favourite is still the recreated Victorian street and the costume gallery.

 

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Research for A Gentlemanly Murder!

In conclusion: Wellington was incredibly awesome, and I need to go back for a proper explore. Friends are the best. Gelato makes everything better.

Hunter and the End of the Year.

Today’s post is going to be a long one but you’ll have to forgive me because — it’s my birthday! Happy birthday me!

Being a New Year’s baby has a lot of advantages, the best of which is that I never have to plan a party — there’s already one going on! The other advantage is that I, like many other people, do a yearly stock take on my birthday and December 31st is ideally timed for that.

I have a personal superstition that however I spent my birthday is emblematic of the year ahead, a belief brought about by one year in which I got food poisoning on my birthday, and proceeded to get sick three times the following year. Last year, I made a point of spending time on my birthday working on writing, specifically, Thorns and Fangs. A year later, Thorns and Fangs has been edited, proofed and is now available for preorder. So that worked out amazingly! This year, I am spending my birthday in my parents caravan in remote, coastal New Zealand — no electricity, no internet, no people, possible dolphins. It will be great!

medium-DeepMagic-2It’s been a milestone year writing-wise. My two DRitC stories, Deep Magic and The Biggest Scoop are both nominated in the 2015 M/M Romance Group’s Reader’s Choice awards (voting begins January 1st). I made new friends, Achim and Arielle. With Sam and Raevyn’s encouragement, I submitted Thorns and Fangs to NineStar Press, and was accepted. And December 14th, The Ugliest Sweater came out.

2015 was an eventful year away from the keyboard, too. I became an Aunt in May! After only seeing my super-cute niece in photos, getting to meet her at last was amazing! I had my first solo babysitting experience a few days ago, and that went fantastically. I also went to Washington DC in June for a wedding, and just last week attended a second wedding — my mother’s! After 20 years, she and my stepdad decided it was time. I couldn’t be happier. Stepdad is an amazing man, and although he has been part of our family for many, many years, it felt great to celebrate that fact and make it official at last.

In less positive news, I’ve been struggling with burn out at work. I’ve been an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan for just over ten years now, and while I still love interacting with the students, Japanese culture and my town, I think the time is right to try something new. I will be moving back to New Zealand sometime in 2016. Saying goodbye will be hard. I’ve lived in my current town longer than I have lived anywhere in my life! I am going to miss my kids something awful. On the other hand, it does feel like the time is right to be back in New Zealand, spending time with my family. My goals for 2016 include starting a garden of my own and acquiring a shelter dog, both of which I can’t do in Japan! I am also toying with dying my hair, but as I will be job-hunting, may have to hold off.

Anyway! Now that I’ve rambled, time for today’s teaser. Continuing my introduction to the Thorns and Fangs cast, today I’m giving myself the gift that is Hunter.

thornsandfangsWhat we see of Hunter in Thorns and Fangs is only the tip of the iceberg. Nate and Ben are young enough to be idealistic. Hunter has outlived not just his contemporaries, but his country. He’s lost friends, lovers, family, and enemies, and each of those experiences has shaped him, with the result that there is always more going on with him. Even as he strives to live in the moment, Hunter cannot distance himself from the weight of centuries of existence. He no longer thinks of himself as human and has no qualms about using his powers of compulsion.

One of the ways Hunter copes with his hundreds of years of life is by reinventing himself. Emeric Hunter is not his real name, or even his first adopted identity. It’s simply convenient. There’s a lot I don’t know about Hunter yet. There are glimpses in the second Thorns and Fangs book and in Aki’s story, but as of now, Hunter is still a mystery — which means that as I write, he often throws me for a loop. Here is a moment in Thorns and Fangs when Hunter went entirely off-script.


 

“Service and then some.” Hunter’s voice was startlingly loud in the dark. “Did I pick too well or not well enough?”

The crucifix Gunn had given him. Nate had been wearing it ever since, and it was now—

“Fuck.”

—on the table back in the booth. The businessman was catholic and had objected to it.

Hunter’s hand stayed put on Nate’s shoulder. He could feel the coldness of the vampire’s touch even through the shirt he wore. “It was not my intent to see this go so far.” He shrugged, stepping into the streetlamp’s light. In sharp contrast to Ben and Saltaire, he flaunted his immunity to the night air, scarf draped loosely around his shoulders and his blazer open. Hunter’s eyes, as they turned back to fix on Nate, were clear as ice. “But if it was my mistake, it’s my responsibility to fix it.”

“By wiping my memory?” Hunter’s face was impassive. Nate tried anyway. “That’s your answer to everything! It didn’t work last time, what makes you think it’ll work now?”

“This time you’re not in the vicinity of a standing rowan.”

Nate’s mouth worked soundlessly.

Hunter showed his teeth in quick amusement at Nate’s shock. “Godfrey and I worked it out together. He thinks that with proper direction, you might make a decent witch. Provided, of course, our necromancer doesn’t kill you first.”

“Godfrey said that?”

“Coming to the house was a bold move, but it seems to have won you a supporter.”

“For all the good that does me now.” Nate caught himself too late. Self-pity never looked good on anyone. He took a deep breath and tried again. “I’m not sorry it happened.”

“I hope you remain of that opinion.”

Nate glanced up, startled out of his attempt at cool. “You sound like you’re not going to wipe my memory.”

Hunter bowed to him, a theatrical gesture performed with aplomb. “Saltaire does his best to ensure that we have as much free will as we can, even as his scions. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t do my part and occasionally rebel.”

“Scions?” Something in the emphasis he’d laid on the word—

Hunter had stepped back into the shadow. Nate couldn’t see his eyes. “Saltaire’s reluctance to use his power is great—but the power itself is greater. It was many centuries before I felt myself in his presence, longer still before I understood his choices. Ben is young. He feels his lost freedom keenly. In time those memories will fade, and he will begin to understand.”

Definitely a frost in the air. Nate wrapped his arms around himself. “There’s really no other way?”

Hunter laughed. “The only way to free oneself from the sire’s compulsion is to kill the sire—and Ben owes him too much to want to contemplate Saltaire’s second death—or feed until he consumes power equivalent to Saltaire’s centuries.”

Nate couldn’t imagine Ben choosing either of those options. “Being a vampire sucks.”

“Possibly just as well.” Hunter shrugged. “The power of compulsion is so easily abused that it is only right that attaining it should come at such a high cost.”

Says the guy who compelled two people to sign off on his party! Nate frowned at Hunter. “That didn’t stop you from using it.”

Hunter’s shrug was unrepentant. “Ben needed to see that his fear of endangering others did not need to extend to such radical self-deprivation. I think we did quite well on that front.” He leered, but Nate wasn’t distracted.

“What you say he does,” Nate finished slowly. “Is that why—”

“Any relationship where one party does not have the right of choice inevitably sours.” Hunter looked up at the night sky. “I am too fond of Ben to want to lose him.”

He doesn’the can’t mean that? “Even if it means starving him of the affection he so clearly needs?”

“In a few centuries, he will thank me for this.”

Nate felt like the weight of Saltaire’s presence pressed down on him again. “If he survives that long.”

“Speaking of survival, let’s talk about yours.”

For the second time in three nights, a vampire held Nate up by his neck.

“Ever since the party” —Hunter casually raised his voice to be heard over the sound of Nate choking— “my brother has been distracted, moody, and secretive. In short, he’s been acting more like himself than in the entire year he’s been dead.”

Nate’s lungs burned with trapped air. He struggled to pry Hunter’s icy fingers from his throat.

“Your influence seems to be good for him. Which is why I am not going to erase your memory or kill you.”

Is this a vampire handshake? Nate shut his eyes. His chest felt like it was going to burst—

“Pay attention. This concerns you after all.” With that advice, Hunter let him go.

Nate’s hand caught in the ivy, the only thing preventing him from falling. “Was that really necessary?” He rubbed his throat. “A simple ‘be careful’—”

“We’re dealing with a necromancer,” Hunter said. “Reflexes that poor are not going to save you. From now until we apprehend the necromancer, you will not leave Century unless in the company of someone you know. Understood?”

Knowing he was being compelled did not enable Nate to resist at all. “Yes.”

“Good. Now, let’s get you back inside. You’re shivering.”