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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

It happens every year

Autumn is my favorite season, but winter comes a close second. I like battening down the hatches and being indoors when it's cold outside. I like being outdoors when it's cold outside. I definitely do not like sweating, which is why summer is a distant fourth in the seasonal sweepstakes. 

 But this winter is ending early, and I'm not as upset as I could be. We had an actual winter storm a few weeks ago, and it started raining in the house, which entailed getting an entire new torch down rubber roll roof on the flat portion. Not inexpensive, but it could definitely have been worse, and it was one of those times where we just had to think, "pay now or pay later." We paid now. 

 And now, today, it's in the high 60s and I am going out to face what has become of the garden during the off season. As always, I put a few things aside in November to deal with later, and later has now come. And current me is swearing at November me for being a lazy cow and leaving me with all this to clean up. 

It happens every year. I shouldn't be surprised.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Sentimental journey

A non-book-related post this week.

Before Christmas, I was contacted by a woman who I'd met when I was vending at the local farmers market. She asked if it's be interested in doing something with her mother's vintage wedding gown.

I said yes, so long as she didn't mind waiting until after the holidays. We got together in early January to discuss the project. She suggested pillows, one for her and one for her sister.

Their mother got married in 1949, and the gown was a relatively plain ivory rayon satin. It was pretty, but it had been in a box (not even proper wedding gown storage) for more than sixty years. It had more sentimental value to them than value as a vintage garment. Even so, it was hard to make that first cut.

I embroidered each woman's initial in the center of a rectangular panel, and then pieced strips of the satin around it. The fabric has such an exceptional glow that I wanted to use pieces to catch the light. Since she asked if there was a way that the covered buttons could be incorporated, I made two rosette-style flowers and used buttons as the centers. The backs of the pillows are a patchwork quilt that had been on their parents' bed their entire childhood.

I finished the pillows on Friday and she stopped over on Sunday to collect them. I love making people cry.



Wednesday, February 14, 2024

What's next: The Son in Shadow

Now that Ava & Claire are fully launched into the world, I've gone back to my first love, the Tudor era.

I thought there were going to be five full novels in the series, with a collection of short stories to finish it out, but it turns out that there will be four and the collection. The fifth book just isn't taking shape properly, and everything I've been working on with book four tells me that it's the proper end of the series. 

When the book is that definite, I don't argue.

The illustration here is AI. There is a completed cover, but it's not yet for public consumption. Here's the blurb.

The Son in Shadow: A Tale of Spies, Love, and Rebellion in the Elizabethan Court 

Will Hawkins has spent his life under the thumb of powerful men, but no more. He's finally carved out a comfortable existence for himself, working in Elizabeth's court for the esteemed Cecil and Walsingham. His future appears secure and full of potential, especially with his burgeoning love for the delightful Kit Rowan, his niece's governess. 

But Kit unknowingly harbors a dangerous secret, and when she comes under the watchful and unforgiving eye of Walsingham, Will's carefully constructed world begins to crumble. He's forced to make an agonizing choice: his future or the woman he loves. 

Desperate to save Kit from the spymaster's clutches, Will finds himself partnering with the last person he ever expected - his domineering father. Together, they embark on a perilous journey, navigating a web of deceit and political intrigue. Can they find a way to free Kit from Walsingham's grasp, or will their efforts be in vain, costing them not only their hearts, but their very lives?

Drama, drama, right? A blurb has to suck readers in, and I'm hoping this will do just that. Now I need to keep writing so that the inside lives up to what's written on the cover.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Catchall

This week it's just sort of a piecemeal, patchwork, catch-up affair - nothing major has happened. 

I had a birthday, it was 60, we went out for a lovely dinner at our favorite French restaurant. The Ava & Claire omnibus dropped, the cats are still hissing and spitting but getting along better than they were, and we're going to need an entirely new flat roof on the back of the house. All of which makes me tired.

I'll be better by next week. In the meantime, enjoy the children competing to see who looks better in the chair that gets the afternoon sun.



Wednesday, January 31, 2024

And then there were two

So I've been saying almost since the time we got Rufus that we needed two cats. But after a few months without one, and not finding any bonded pairs at the local rescue that appealed, we got Rufus and decided to find a second one when the time seemed right.

But the time never seemed right. All the cats shown were either too old or too young or needed only cat households or had expensive health problems.

Then came Tessa.

She'd been rescued sometime last year with a litter of kittens. They'd been put in a box with the trash, and the rescuer happened to hear them. Tessa had stayed with her kittens, and the whole box of them got brought home. The kittens were adopted quickly, but Tessa sort of fell through the cracks. Once the kittens were gone, other high profile, dramatic rescues happened and she somehow wasn't even on the website.

Once I saw her photo, I asked to meet her. She was sweet, but a bit shaken up, because her foster had a dog that was chasing her around. The next day we picked her up and brought her home, and over the last 10 days we've been gradually introducing then to each other, swapping out their rooms, letting them sniff at the door, doing supervised face-to-face meetings.

Look at his offended little face!
Last weekend we opened all the doors and let them free range. There's been hissing and growling and a heck of a lot of chasing, but no claws or teeth or bloodshed. 

Rufus went from extremely territorial to doing this stiff legged Pepe Le Pew dance before prostrating himself before her. He wants to play. She looks at him like he's a fool and either walks off or smacks him on the head and walks off.

They'll get there. It's enemies to lovers, not insta-love. But it's nice having two cats again, and Tessa's a cuddler. It's been a long time since I've had a cat curl up on the love seat with me to take a nap. My productivity may take a nosedive.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Snow day, rain likely

It snowed the other day, for the first time in a solid two years. We've been having a lot of rain, but I'd rather have snow - it's prettier, it makes everything quiet, and nobody gets a rain day off work. I had my husband at home on Friday because the university closed. 

The downside with snow is that it's also water. And that water began dripping through the corner of the back bedroom ceiling Sunday night. It's the outside corner of the roof, where it attaches to the downspout, so we figured it was most likely an ice dam - though I couldn't see anything from ground level - or the roofing surface had peeled back from the flashing at the edge and water was getting in that way. 

Either was bad. 

The water was dripping down the bookshelves in my husband's office. Bookshelves that hold his collection of graphic novels and comic books. Thankfully he is one of those collectors who puts everything tightly into a sealed plastic bag, or the weeping and wailing would have been tremendous. As it was, there was just sprinting with arm loads of damp plastic and the hallway still looks like a bookstore. Nothing is going back in until we're certain that the problem has been solved. 

After we got everything out of harm's way, I called a local roofer highly recommended by the town Facebook group. His wife got back to me promptly and he came out Monday afternoon. We've been in the house for six years now, and we really should have had the roof coated at some point. Note to self: that's what always happens when you put off a job, it comes around to bite you in the ass.

There's rain in the forecast. Fingers crossed it only occurs outside the house.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Storytellers


I come from a family of storytellers. Not writers - they wouldn't have thought to do that - but they could tell stories, and many of those stories built a world in me that came out on my Ava and Claire books.

My great aunt Margaret (my cover girl) talked about the Depression. She was very nearly the same age as my characters. My dad wasn't much younger, but he had a very different upbringing. While my great grandmother kept up a pretense of gentility, even when they were poor, my dad was the youngest of a dozen kids, who stopped going to school at 12 to get a job, and who told me about going to the rail yards at night with his friends to pick coal off the tracks and to see if any of the boxcars were unlocked.

A different world, and one I tried to reproduce.

For anyone who's read the Ava and Claire books, the prequel novella about Claire's wedding and the Thanksgiving epilogue will only be available as newsletter bonuses until the end of the month. After that they'll be included in the new omnibus and the freebie will be Tudor-themed, as my next book will be a return to that series.

If you want the freebies, you can sign up here. I won't spam you - after the initial sequence confirming you've downloaded your bonuses, I check in once a month unless there's a sale or a new release to tell you about.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Handwork

This Monday I went to my town's fiber arts meetup. I always intend to go, and I've only gotten there a few times before. 

It started during Covid as a meetup in one member's backyard so the makers in town (and there are many) could get out of their houses while still keeping their hands busy. Now it's held in the local maker space, which is less personal, but warmer and with better light.

The reason I've often ended up not going is that when I'm working on a project, I plow straight on to the finish. And for this meetup, I need hand work. Over the weekend, I finished piecing four custom Christmas stockings made from baby clothes, and I held off doing the applique and embroidery work because I knew I could do that on Monday night.

And I actually got them done. It was nice to sit there with coffee and a half dozen other women and catch up on our projects and our lives. It happens every other week, and I'm going to try to make it a more regular occurrence.

What about you? Do you like getting together with others or do you prefer your creative pursuits done alone? No judgment here - I'm firmly in both camps.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

2023 Recap


Indulge me a little, if you don't mind.

A few friends (the ones on the snarky scale) tell me that I worship at the altar of productivity. They're not wrong; they just mean it in a negative sense but I've always seen productivity as a positive. Maybe it's not healthy, but I've always judged myself by how much I've gotten done. I think it's the remainder of that bored only child - I can't be bored if I'm busy.

So, in writing/publishing, I put out two books this year: Coming Closer and Coming Together. I've assembled the ebook omnibus for the Ava & Claire trilogy, and that will be released on my birthday in January as Coming Home.

I've taken workshops on marketing and advertising; I've edited two books for other people; I've commissioned covers after trying (and failing, again) to design my own. The answer to the question, "Would I be better off writing?" is almost always "yes."

In animal news, we lost Harriet in February and acquired Rufus in April, after two very strange cat-free months. At some point, Rufus will get a friend because he's insistent upon being a cat and not a cuddly, non-verbal family member, and I want a writing and sewing buddy.

The garden was both out of control and very productive this year. I neglected to pull the volunteer tomatoes before they set fruit - and then I feel bad about yanking them - so I ended the season with eighteen plants, enough jars of sauce for the next two years, and a lot of happy neighbors. Produce and canned goods are currency in my town. The fig rree also put out its fair share, and that turned into nineteen half-pint jars of jam. 

There was no "real" vacation this year because we lost the credits for our thrice-postponed trip, but we did end up going to Vegas for my writing conference, which was a half-decent vacation when I was able to focus. I'd never want to go there for any other reason, though. I have nightmares that look like Vegas felt.

Even though I'm not usually the type to write it down, when I make my next day's to-do list lately, I've been writing down three things that I was grateful for during the day that just ended. It keeps me looking out for those good things throughout the day, and no matter how bad the day was, I can always manage to be grateful for my husband and coffee, and then I only have to find one more.