Thursday, October 27, 2016

Coffee Shop Office Hours; #WriterWednesday, #coffee, #amwriting, #wheretowrite, #writinglife, #NaNoWriMo, #WW

Today, I had a coupon for an oil change at one particular place, but as they were being difficult to schedule, I spent $5 more to hit the Monroe I normally go to. I was perfectly fine with that, as it’s closer to my local Starbucks.

Mind you, hands down, I prefer and go out of my way to patronize local coffee shops and small businesses. (Hello, Sturbridge Coffee Roasters!) That said, there is a lot of good to be said about Starbucks – particularly my local one, which has excellent customer service and baristas who know my name.

But, back to my oil change and why that inspired my #WriterWednesday post...

I have yet to get an oil change anywhere that is done in the 15-20 minutes they promise. That’s why I prefer the one by Starbucks; I pack my computer and I know I can get work done in a fairly comfortable setting with readily available caffeine and at least semi-healthy snacks – depending on my resistance level to not-in-the-least-bit-healthy for you snacks. (Salted caramel fudge block and s’mores squares, I’m looking at you!)

When I’ve interviewed writers for my non-fiction articles, or when I get interviewed as a writer, there is almost always a question about rituals and what one does to “get in the zone” to write. I laugh at that. My requirements: somewhere to sit semi-comfortably and either a functioning machine with a word-processing program or just plain paper with pen or pencil.

And that’s all you should need, too.

Life is hectic. Writing time needs to be fought for and protected fiercely. That’s why writers should get into the habit of writing anywhere, anytime. Always have pen and paper, and whenever possible, bring a netbook, tablet, or something like that (because it’s way easier to transfer work via email or thumbdrive than actual transcription, IMHO).

Now, when it comes to coffee shops in particular, if you haven’t ever explored that old cliché of a writer in a coffeehouse, you’re missing out.

(There’s also the cliché of writers in bars; I have tried it with varying success. But that will be another post.)

The coffee-shop-as-office is becoming a ubiquitous trend. I see people with their laptops all the time – and not just writers. There’s a unique vibe to the indie and Starbucks-esque coffee shops that I haven’t found elsewhere. These havens work as both a place to be alone in a crowd or part of a community – sometimes both in the same visit.

When someone’s looking at their computer intently, usually, they don’t get bothered. (Usually: YMMV). But if you’re stuck and looking around, sometimes you’ll meet eyes with someone and strike up a short conversation. Or, someone you know might be eating, relaxing, reading,.. or staring into space rather than their computer screen (especially if you frequent this spot a lot). Sometimes just that brief conversation will reinvigorate you about your topic; sometimes that person might have useful information for you.

Today, for example, I was pushing through email when two local police officers walked in and were chatting at the table next to me. My current short WIP includes some things that police officers would be uniquely qualified to advise me on.  I kept smiling and trying to catch their eye during lulls in conversation, and finally, one of them addressed me.

With a shy smile, I started, “This is really weird, but I’m a writer and I’m working on a piece that I want to get right in how the police might handle a situation…”

“What do you write?”

“Science fiction, fantasy…”

“My favorites! What do you need…?”

I asked about a particular plot point, got useful information, and we bid each other good days. It was great!

In my coffee shop office hours, I’ve met pastors, teachers, lawyers, other police officers, mechanics, and all sorts of folk from whom I’ve had the pleasure of learning. I’ve ended up getting speaking and book signing gigs based on our conversations. At the very least, my writing time has included delicious beverages and food.

Most importantly, having “office hours,” even if they’re at someplace public, in and of itself, can be a tool to help productivity. A change of environment, the white noise of conversation, the general “coffee shop” style music can push your brain out of a stuck mode. Or, if you are set on having rituals and practices to help you write, setting aside a place and limited time might be just enough to get you started.

Have you tried coffee shop office hours? How did it work for you?

Monday, October 24, 2016

I've never wanted to end my life... #holdontothelight, #alwayskeepfighting, #akf, #mentalwellness

I’ve never wanted to end my life.

I’ve been sad, angry, lethargic, overwhelmed to the point of being unable to get out of bed. I would never use “depressed,” though, to describe how I felt. Part of it, I’m sure, is stigma. Another part, however, is knowing my friends who have been depressed – clinically or situationally – and who at one point really did want to end their lives.

I was bullied through a good part of school. In first grade, my best friend told me she was leaving me to hang out with the cooler kids. In fifth and sixth grade, my best friend and I were belittled by teachers and physically threatened by classmates for being different. I became the lead drummer in junior high because I spent every lunch hiding in the band room, practicing so I could avoid the lunchroom where no one would sit with me and I’d gotten shoved and told “Stop following us! We don’t want you around us!” by a group of girls I’d thought were friends. In high school, things changed because there were over 2000 kids, so enough of us outcasts and geeks found each other and made our own group – but we all knew we should never travel alone. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or if we were Magic the Gathering people or Dungeons and Dragons players, we employed the buddy system and made friends with the librarians who let us stay there rather than the more dangerous realms of lunch rooms and study halls.

Through all that, I never came close to wanting to end my life.

My emotions didn’t go to the dark level I saw in others, so I didn’t want to take that term “depression” from them. I was worried about appropriation before I’d even heard the word “appropriation.” I loved these people, and I respected what they were going through – even when it made me feel helpless. It wasn’t about me feeling helpless; it was about them. People who were hurting the way I’d hurt – only much, much worse.

I’m going to get into a confessional that some people might just consider “woo-woo” or “New Agey” or some other diminutive term that downplays the intense levels humans can connect. This is a #sorrynotsorry moment where I think such people are wrong.

A friend of mine, also a writer – keeping names confidential – and I regularly share how we both are deeply affected by others’ emotion, and how that affects each of us in our writing  and working lives. We remind each other to protect our energies – because if someone is very excited, we get that way. And if someone was hurting, we take on that pain in hopes that it made them hurt less. Often unconsciously. Often to a level where we need time to physically, mentally, and emotionally recover from a particular conversation.

When I started learning about energy work in my adulthood, I’d been told by more than a few people I needed to protect myself better when it came to energy. I did. Somewhat.

Until I didn’t.

I was visiting another dear friend of mine who was going through an especially difficult time in her life. She was successful, happily married, brilliant in literary gifts as well as science... And for the first time, she was actively thinking of ways she might end her life. She was even planning ways she might do so with as little impact to others as possible – because she didn’t want to hurt anyone. I listened, we held each other, and I just wanted to do something to help.

Perhaps I did. I don’t know. I know she is still alive and at least posting happy things on social media.

I also know that I was more drained than I’d ever been. And a few days later, I was feeling things I’d never felt before.

I didn’t want to kill myself.

But I didn’t want to do anything. I hurt. Everywhere. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt utterly and completely empty, like there was nothing inside and nothing good would ever happen again. My brain was spinning its logic wheels; there was no reason for me to have these emotions. My work and money issues were actually doing well, I was writing a story I really enjoyed, no one I knew was terminally sick or dying or dead...

I was sitting in the car while my husband had run into the store and I was just sobbing uncontrollably.

Not only were there all those negative feelings, but the fact there was no logical reason for me to have those feelings, feelings I’d never felt before, was utterly terrifying.

Fortunately, I do have a wonderfully supportive husband who took how I was feeling very seriously and spent the day doing things with me. He looked online for ways to help “reset the brain” while I napped. Then we went walking in the woods. After that, we visited our long-time friend, apothecary, and “kitchen witch,” who smudged me and suggested foods with garlic, tumeric, and chocolate. My husband drove to all this so I wouldn’t have to, and listened to me going on and on while he drove.  Then we went home and I took the “day off” and snuggled with him as we binge watched Supernatural.*

The feelings alleviated as the day passed, but not entirely. It was not an immediate fix. Not for a week, maybe two, did I feel even close to my usual self. And the memory still chills my stomach and grips my lungs so I feel I need my asthma inhaler.

Those feelings – the combination of them all at once – that is how I understand depression.  It’s not just one thing. It’s everything all at once at the loudest volume and THE HIGHEST PRESSURE. And no strength to handle it.

I’ve never been diagnosed as clinically depressed. In fact, I even got turned down for a weight study because, during the interview, I had no signs of depression whatsoever.

But it happened to me.

It happened to me, and it can happen to anyone. It could happen to everyone; you don’t need a diagnosis.

Do I know what my other friends with depression know? Certainly not. I know enough about emotions that they are not the same for any two people. And everyone has a different pain threshold. Can I speak for people who suffer clinical depression or any other type of depression? Absolutely not.

But I can say how I felt. And I can share the stories I’m permitted to share. For those who are suffering, you aren’t alone – even if someone might only share a moment or a piece of that pain – someone has felt desperation and depression.  Someone believes what you say you feel. Someone wants to help.

For those who don’t understand, can’t imagine...perhaps my short moment will give you pause, will describe it in a way you can understand and help you empathize. It happened to me; it can happen to anyone; so everyone needs to be aware and everyone should be more compassionate. I hope that adding to this conversation, we can build a better support system and a kinder, more aware culture.

If you are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts, here are some resources for you. Remember, you’re not alone and people care about you: – has a list of numbers for specific states and regions. - The National Alliance on Mental Health has a lot of resources you can call for emergency help, to educate yourself,  to find community support, and more.

* When I had my writing colleague who has confided about me about her depression beta read this article, she gave me a lot of great feedback, but one thing she told me was that I needed to detail what I did to get through my depressive episode. I was reticent to do so because I get infuriated at all the “inspirational” posters, memes, messages, etc. that say “You don’t need pills; you just need to walk in the woods.” I want to slap the people who post them because it’s insulting and outright deadly. Period. Long explanation short: Sometimes natural, herbal, cognitive-behavior methods work; sometimes they don’t and medicine does. There are good reasons to take medication and there are good reasons to not take medication. Respect what works for each individual, share information and techniques, but NEVER shame someone or belittle their choices or needs.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms, and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Round Up Time #authorevents #outandabout #blogging

While October is usually extremely busy for me, being that I tend to write dark fantasy, dark SF, and horror, October 2016 is especially so! I’m back in my blogging saddle, so let me give you a quick round-up of things to expect (some of which do make blogging challenging because I’m not at home much). Here you go:

This week, I had a most wonderful time being on The Taco Society Presents television show!  You can see the whole thing here.

I also had a great dinner/marketing/shop-talking evening yesterday with the Massachusetts SciFi & Fantasy Authors.

TOMORROW, October 22: I’ll be at the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival! I’m super excited about that, AND I will have a limited (only 18 copies) run of a glossy softcover edition of “Tea with Mr. Fuzzypants” for sale. They’ll be numbered and with some surprise original drawings inside by me! Besides myself, there are about 35 other amazing horror authors who will be signing, a great set of panels, and all sorts of Halloween surprises, so do come and check it out.

On Monday, October 24, I will have a special blog post as part of the #HoldOntoTheLight movement, where over 100 authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror talk about their experiences with bullying, mental illness, and more. Find out more about this important movement on their website, and check out my Monday blog for my experience.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

On Wednesday October 26, I’ll work out another #WriterlyWednesday post about...National Novel Writing Month and be at The Children’s Friend with the Worcester Writers Collaborative, getting in some fiction or poetry words before the big push of NaNoWriMo.

On Thursday, October 27, I’ll be running my Group Tarot Workshop at Generations in Oxford, MA. If you are interested in learning Tarot for divination or writing or your own personal interest, come join us! I’ll be looking at the “scariest” cards in the deck, and sharing a little surprise.

Then on Saturday and Sunday, October 29-30, I’ll be in the Salem Open Market festival with the New England Horror Writers, where we’ll be having a launch party for our latest anthology, Wicked Witches!

And then, Monday, October 31, it’s Halloween, and I plan on snuggling up to the hubby and watching scary movies and getting cheap take-out. Because that’s how you romance this girl, right here. <3 span="" style="mso-spacerun: yes;"> 
(Also, due to our location, we don’t actually get trick-or-treaters... which is sad.)

What are you folks up to? Hopefully the rest of your Halloween Month is as full of treats as mine has been so far! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Back in the Saddle #WriterlyWednesday #BabySteps

I’m Blogging Again...

I’ve written and re-written my “Hey, look, my blog is alive again” post so many times it’s sickening.  I’ve revised some of my published short stories fewer times.

Why is this post so hard? It’s not more personal than what I pour into my fiction nor what I give to the authors I edit.

If I’m to guess, it’s because I’m afraid I won’t keep up a schedule, that I’ll fail. I’ve dropped blogging so many times – though I do enjoy it – to make time for paying projects and such. And when you drop or fail something...and take a long time to get back into it, it’s So. Much. Harder.

That’s why, in horseback riding, when you fall off, you should always get back on right away. The longer you wait when it’s been a failure, a hurt, a fall, the more difficult it is to get back into the saddle.

Well, this is hardly the first, nor will it be the last blog post where I intersperse some riding wisdom with writing wisdom.

Here’s another piece, just for today:

Even a short ride or short interaction is worth it.

In writing, once you’ve been away from a project, you lose passion. It’s easy to forget it and keep putting it off. Same lesson...

Sometimes just making yourself write one sentence, edit one paragraph, re-read one page is a good start. Just keep at it.

I had one author friend who could only squeeze in one sentence a day. That’s all. Then she finished the story.

If you want to write, if you want to market, if you want to accomplish anything... baby steps are okay. Just keep making them.

My awesome/torturous/awesome-because-she-is-torturous riding instructor once had me dedicate an entire class to mounting/dismounting. Calico and I were having issues...and that was the baby step we needed.

So, here is my short #WriterlyWednesday blog post.

It’s okay to take baby steps; it’s okay to only write a little.

Just keep going.

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