Wednesday, April 17, 2024

So pretty!

Just a short check-in this week because I'm up to my ears in craft show prep for this coming weekend, edits on the just-finished book 4 of my Tudor Court series, and the garden is calling pretty loudly.

The Son in Shadow won't be out until June 15, but the pre-order is up for the ebook (can't do pre-orders on paperbacks on Amazon, at least not yet) and I wanted to show off the new covers I've put on the ebooks.

While I love the paperback covers with their historic ceilings, I wanted to try something different, and it's very easy to change out ebook covers because they're a simple graphic, rather than tthe actual typesetting of a full-wrap book cover with spine measurements and text, etc.

I wasn't planning to do a re-cover, but these came out so well that I've put them up. Ebook only, for now at least. A Wider World is my favorite, but it's also my favorite of the books, so that makes sense.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The scent of childhood

Late Saturday afternoon, my husband and I were out taking a walk when we heard a lot of sirens. I checked my phone - our county fire and police have a live dispatch app - and saw there was a house fire about two blocks from where we were walking. So obviously we walked that way.

Our town is technically a borough, and in our weird county, each borough has its own fire department, most of which is volunteer-run. You would think that would make the response less efficient, but the exact opposite is true. The call had gone out less than three minutes before we got to the block, and there were already four trucks there. The call goes out everywhere at once, and anyone who's available will show up - especially for a house fire, with the implied possibility of people being inside. 

It was pretty clear from looking at the firefighters that they already knew that wasn't the case. They were calmly going about their jobs. Moving quickly, yes, but not with the underlying anxiety of potentially having to rescue anyone. We stuck around for a while, and watched as another half dozen engines eventually appeared.

It was really cool watching them, all these men and women who obviously work together all the time, because the companies were acting interchangeably. At one point there were firefighters from three different companies balanced on the roof line, cutting a hole in the roof. Just the sight of that is enough to turn my knees to water. 

Everyone watching - and it was a lot of the neighborhood - had their shirts pulled up over their noses because it did stink. But to me, it also smelled like my childhood. My dad was a Philadelphia firefighter, and he came home everyday smelling like whatever blaze he fought. He could have probably showered at the firehouse, but he wanted to get home to his family and his bathtub full of scalding hot water where he could rinse off the smell and soak away his aches and pains. 

What happened to those two houses in town was tragic. The first house looks like a total loss. It was unoccupied at the time, though being worked on. The second house, adjoining it, has some pretty significant damage. 

But this is one of those times where I can hold two opposing thoughts in my head. Any loss by fire is tragic, but the smell of that fire took me straight back to my childhood, straight back to Sunday mornings on the curb with the other fire kids while our exhausted dads paced back and forth in front of the shell of a building and refought the fire until they were satisfied. 

Fire is bad. Fire is also the smell of my dad. And for that, I will always have a moment of warmth, and a smile, before my brain clicks over to the present. They say that smell is our strongest memory sense. I think they're right.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Welcome to the farm!

I'm still going to get The Son in Shadow finished by the end of this week. If I have to give up sleep, I'm going to get that book FINISHED.

But I probably won't have to go to those lengths, because it started raining Sunday night and it's still raining. And considering that what I want to get up to in the back yard involves moving soil from my old raised beds (4'x4', 6" deep) to my new raised beds (2'x4', 12" deep), that would be a messy, heavy business better saved for a day with a little sunshine. 

Though I will get the rest of those completed aluminum beds out of the living room, because we're tripping on them and the cats seem to think I'm building an amusement park for them.

These are much better quality than the old raised beds, and the rectangular size allows me to arrange them so that they're closer together (because they're not wider than my arm's reach). I'll be able to grow a lot more this year, while still having an empty space alongside the garage - to the left of this photo - where I can set up my hammock and a small table to hold a drink and a book.

I've got a nice little seating area set up on the front patio, but sometimes you just don't want to be where everyone can say hello, and the hammock stand, as I found out last year, only fits on the patio if the other chairs are removed and the peach tree is pruned back. So I need a little space to hide away, and I'm going to get it, so long as my back holds out.

Fingers crossed that my back holds out.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Anyone have a bridge for sale?

The Son in Shadow, Tudor book 4, is almost there. Almost done. I'm very glad I shifted from my original planned mid-April release date, because while I could get it done and edited and formatted in time, I would be a rag, and April is also the start of craft show season, so I'd prefer not to do that to myself.

I really thought it would go faster, though. It's the fourth book in a series. I know the main character - he's been in my head and in my books since A Wider World. There are also appearances by Bess and Tom from Songbird; Robin and Margaery from A Wider World and Lady, in Waiting, and a few other returning characters. I know all of them, and sections of this book have been drafted since before I started working on the Ava & Claire series.

Okay, so the later middle Elizabethan reign - 1568 - 1571 - was some new ground for me to explore, but I didn't think it would take this long for me to get my thoughts together. I'm about 20%, maybe less, from the end and I just keep walking around it and looking at it and trying to figure out where I'm going. I know the end, but it's like I'm across the river from it and no bridges are magically appearing.

Anybody got a bridge they'd like to sell me?

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Tis the season

Garden season, that is. 

In the front yard, the daffodils are exploding in a riot of yellow - so many that I can actually *smell* them. The hyacinths are up, but the grape hyacinths, usually the earliest arrival, are poking along by comparison. The peach tree looks like pink popcorn.

The side garden is still pretty dormant. There are a few daffa, and the iris greens are perking up, but the side is mostly fruit and the fig and blueberries haven't leafed yet.

Im the back is...a mess. Five springs ago, I put in eight 4x4 raised beds, the kind made of recycled wood/plastic. They were cheap, which I needed at the time, but they've lived up to their pricing, bulging outward and coming loose from their corners, spilling soil everywhere.

Add to that pretty picture the fact that we need all new mulch between the beds, and that I spent Saturday helping a friend build new metal-framed beds for *her* garden, and I have a new project. New metal frames are due to arrive tomorrow, and that gives me plenty of time to put them together and figure out how to place them so we can actually use the back yard a bit more. (I have a hammock on a frame that I'd love to use, but there's no room for it). 

The fun part will be getting the existing soil from the old beds to the new ones, considering they're not going to be in exactly the same place. And I need to top up the soil once that's done, and get more mukch. Hoping the local tree service is still giving away free wood chip because them I can afford the higher quality soil/mushroom compost blend. 

The fun part will be when there's a mountain of it in our driveway that will need to be shifted so we can continue to use said driveway.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Enemies to Lovers

We're not there yet, but things are definitely improving. They're willing to eat side-by-side, but most of the time they don't want to be in the same room.

One exception: early morning, when the front door lets in sun across the living room carpet. They both want that, and they're willing to share.

Generally Rufus has the front, and Tessa lines up behind him.

The day I took these two photos, she got closer than usual. She was growling quietly, but that seems to be her standard - she's always on high alert for danger, even when she's the one putting herself in the line of fire by lying behind her sparring partner.

Then the impossible happened. She moved up, threw herself down again, and put an arm over him. Rufus opened one eye and quickly closed it again - if he didn't acknowledge it, maybe it wasn't real?

But I call progress, even though it only lasted a few minutes.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Rage against the machines

I've mentioned before that I have done some experimenting with the different AI language models. Chat GPT and Google Bard (now Gemini) were actually quite helpful in rewriting my book descriptions for the Tudor Court series. It's not something I talk about to openly, because the writing community on social media is heavily weighted against the use of AI. 

The reasons are that it takes work from human creatives - the people who edit, provide book descriptions, design covers, etc. And don't even get them started on AI voice for audio books.

Now, I'm a creator. So I do understand where the fear is coming from, but also, these are tools, and they are only as good as the users. Would you expect a chainsaw to know how to cut down a tree if no one was holding it?

I don't mean to sound glib, but I have learned through experimentation that your results with these programs are only as good as the prompts they are given. It's not creativity in the same way as doing something from scratch, but find me a writer who likes to write a book description - a writer who can boil a 400 page book down to three paragraphs that will sell the book - and you're talking about one or two writers out of a vast number.

Where I draw the line is with actual writing. I would never let AI write a book for me - or even a portion of one - because writing is what I enjoy and what I'm good at.

One of the reasons that many of us became indie authors in the first place is that we didn't want to deal with gatekeepers, so I don't think it's right to gatekeep each other's choices when it comes to something as personal as our own business model. As they told us in school, keep your eyes on your own paper and don't worry about what someone else is doing.

And as an example of what is possible with an AI art model, this is a cover that I did for Princess of Spain, which is the newest giveaway story for readers who sign up to my newsletter. You can get it here. The prompt I gave it was this: Please create a photo realistic illustration of a middle-aged white woman in dark-colored 16th century garb standing in a chapel. The room is shadowy, there are stained glass windows. The mood is contemplative.

The collage shows some of the results it gave me before I got more specific. Most of those, while pretty, are completely unusable, but the final - or at least the place where I decided to stop - is more than good enough. It's a 10,000 word short story; I would never hire a cover designer to put a cover on a short story. I'm not going to pay $100 plus (and sometimes considerably plus) for something that I'm giving away for free. Being in indie author also means managing your finances responsibly and knowing where and when you can spend money on things.

Let me know your thoughts. We can agree to disagree, but any outright trolling on the subject will be deleted and the commenter will be blocked. We can all play nice.