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Today, I did something I haven’t done in over a year. I slid my feet into running shoes, packed a small backpack, and went out for a run.
Such a simple thing. Me. Shoes padding quietly down the sidewalk. Music blasting in my ears. The subtle thump, thump, thump of my phone in the top pocket of the backpack.
I ran two miles. Not much. Not for someone who used to go out and run half marathons almost on a lark. However, those two miles were the culmination of an ultra—or so it seemed.
I’d avoided working out for a year. Some of that avoidance was necessary. Adderall, which I started taking on March 3, 2016, to treat my ADHD, raises your heart rate and blood pressure. Some people have a harder time with that side effect than others. My experience wasn’t all that bad. So why didn’t I go back to running?
Well, I can’t answer that fully. It’s personal, deeply painful, and private. The point isn’t the why, but the fact that I’m trying to see my way to the other side of something that could have destroyed me.
When I reached my destination, I cried. The simple experience of running, alone, without any expectations set a piece of my heart I thought long dead and buried beating again. When I got home, I danced around the house singing. When I chatted with an acquaintance a few hours later, I was still riding the joy of finding that piece of me—and she noticed.
As I write this, now approximately ten hours after my run, much of the pain has come back. Tonight will be hard. I’ll tell Wingnut how much I hurt, bury my nose in Abbie’s fur and tell her how much I wish I could go back and have the past two years of my life to live over again, and apologize to Binky for dripping tears onto his fur (though, to be fair, he drools on me often enough).
After that, though, I’ll read a book I’ve been wanting to read. I’ll write a little before bed. I’ll have a glass of wine, play a little Guild Wars 2, and watch a movie. More things that bring me joy.
I’ll remember that I’m an unstoppable force, and while pain, sadness, grief, and sorrow are all part of life, so are happiness, contentment, love, and joy. I’ll remember my run, and I’ll smile.
I won’t lie to you. The first four months of 2017 have been among the worst of my life. The why isn’t important, but there have been lots of triggers, lots of tears, and lots of chances to just curl into a ball and give up.
I’m still here, though. Still fighting. Still working at being an unstoppable force like the women (and men) I write about. I’ve learned a lot this year.
Fear can keep us from doing what we know is right. Fear isolates us. It tells us that we can’t change things, that we can’t say the one thing we know we need to say, do the one thing we know we need to do, that we can’t risk everything because what if we’re left with nothing?
Everyone fears from time to time. Some fear can be healthy. I’m afraid of walking through Central Park alone at midnight (thanks, SVU, for that one). I’m afraid of jumping out of an airplane. I’m afraid of being trapped in tight spaces. I’m afraid of roller coasters.
All too often, though, fear grabs a hold of us and won’t let go. It paralyzes us, leaves us convinced that we’re nothing, or that we can’t survive if we do X or if we don’t do Y. In my case, fear kept me in a situation that was incredibly unhealthy.
I stopped writing. I stopped working out. I stopped reading. I stopped connecting with people. I stopped cooking. All things I used to love. All things that made me who I am.
While I wouldn’t wish my past few months on anyone, once I told Fear to take a backseat, I realized how much of myself I’d lost and I started the process of healing. I still have a lot left to do; Fear still whispers to me late at night or when I’m down.
I’ve learned, though, that when we look Fear in the eyes and yell “Geronimo,” we become an unstoppable force. So, allons-y. This unstoppable force is off to figure out a way to get Ealasaid out of the mess she’s in.
P.S. I’m sending out a newsletter in the next few days. Want to win a signed paperback of one of my books? Make sure you’re on the list now!
A few weeks ago, my husband and I finally saw Hidden Figures.
If you haven’t seen it—or heard of it—I suggest you check out the trailer here.
Hidden Figures is the story of four African-American female mathematicians working for NASA during the years Alan Shephard and John Glenn made their historic flights. In particular, Katherine Johnson, the main focus of the film, was instrumental in calculating numerous equations for John Glenn’s orbital mission.
How instrumental? According to Katherine Johnson, at one point, John Glenn told engineers to “get the girl.” He didn’t want to rely on computers (which at that point in time were a lot less reliable than they are today) to get him back to Earth safely. He wanted Ms. Johnson to do the calculations by hand.
In case you hated history (or are really young), John Glenn’s space flight was a success, despite his heat shield loosening, which required NASA engineers and mathematicians, including Ms. Johnson, to scramble to verify whether he’d still make his planned orbital trajectory and reenter Earth’s atmosphere safely.
When he splashed down successfully, he carried with him not only a tremendous achievement for NASA, but one for unstoppable forces everywhere.
Now, movies are fictional—even those based on true stories. Those stories get adapted and twisted and condensed and elongated to keep the audiences engaged. In interviews, Katherine Johnson has indicated that she was just “doing her job.” She doesn’t seem to see herself as a hero or an inspiration, though to many, she is just that.
Obviously (I hope), I wasn’t there when Johnson and her colleagues fought against segregation at NASA. Perhaps the film adaptation has very little to do with reality. I’m not sure that it matters, though, in the end. What does is the pivotal role Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson played in getting United States astronauts into space. Just “doing her job”? Sure. But that job launched a man outside of Earth’s atmosphere and brought him back safely.
These women were unstoppable forces. They worked at NASA in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when segregation was the norm and black women (and men) were always seen as “less than.”
These women fought every day against a system that was determined to keep them in their place—in a segregated room, in a segregated building, without even a title that made them feel human. They were called “computers.”
Yet, when called upon, they did their best work. When they were ignored, they fought. When they were silenced, they screamed.
These women are heroes. They’re unstoppable forces.
While I’ve been not writing, I have been thinking about my unstoppable characters, my writing career, and the kind of author I want to be.
You may remember last year (or perhaps late in 2015, the months all blend together), I decided to focus on quality rather than quantity. I decided to take my time, to work on my craft in a way I hadn’t before.
And then all hell broke loose. No need to get into all of the whys and whats now. That’s for another day. What’s important isn’t that my life went a little sideways, but rather, how I handled it.
“When unstoppable forces meet immovable objects, sparks fly.”
That’s been my tagline for several years now. The first time I put those words together, I knew they were the right ones to describe what I wanted to do. They still are. There have been times over this past year that I’ve slammed hard against one immovable object or another, and there have been sparks galore.
I’m that unstoppable force. Or, one of them, anyway. You want to see me kick ass and take names? Throw an immovable object in my way. Tell me I can’t do something. Tell me I’m not good enough. Then watch me go.
I’m sure a lot of you reading this (assuming anyone is since I haven’t blogged in forever) feel the same way. There are women (and men and those with fluid or non-binary gender identities) all over this world who’ve smashed through those immovable objects with the power of a freight train.
Over the next few months, I’m going to find those unstoppable forces and I’m going to share them with you. Join me in celebrating women, celebrating the groundbreakers, celebrating all that’s unique in this world.
Oh, and by the way…
The next book in the Heroes series will be out soon. Look for a cover reveal sometime in the next few weeks. If you want a sneak peek at the first chapter before anyone else, make sure and sign up for my newsletter by March 1st.
‘Fess up. How many of you wondered if I’d ever blog or post or write or what-have-you again?
I raised my own hand, by the way. Life has been a little intense for the past few months—hell, the past year or more. I’ve been working on my writing, working on my personal relationships, working on my health, and working.
I can’t stay long tonight. In fact, I debated even blogging at all. Right now, slaying some Mordrem in Guild Wars 2 is a lot more my speed. However, I’ve got to start somewhere, right?
Rest assured, there will still be A Shift in the Earth and a By the Fates, Fulfilled. I haven’t given up on In His Collar, though Nicholas is being very, very cagey about his life. There’s even another Heroes romance that’s so close to being done, I can taste it. I might even have come up with a title.
Plus, I’ve got this shiny, new, tempting idea for a darker romantic thriller.
I hope you can all be a little patient with me for the next couple of months. I’ll be working on my website, working on being a little more “me” on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and getting back to a regular writing schedule. More soon!
In the meantime…I leave you with a cute photo of how Binky and I watched the last few minutes of the Super Bowl tonight.
“We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”
This is one my very favorite quotes. For those who don’t know, it’s from the Doctor Who episode, “The Big Bang.”
You see, the Doctor is…
I can’t tell you what led to the Doctor uttering those words because if you have any interest in watching Doctor Who, I want you to find out for yourself, but I can tell you that something in his words struck me. Two months ago, I went to Scotland. On a tour of the Glasgow Train Station underground, our tour guide told stories of the Scottish men who died in World War I.
“Your stories matter,” he said. “Everyone’s stories matter, as does who tells the tales.”
My story has taken a lot of twists and turns this year. Because of this, the stories I tell have had to take a back burner to the story I’m living. All the while, though, I’ve been aching to tell stories again. I have books I’ve started, even a book I’ve almost finished. I have ideas I’ve jotted down that are starting to take shape and ideas that are no more than a sentence fragment or a flash of a character.
For those who’ve missed me, rest assured that I’m clawing my way back to a place that lets me write often so I can tell all of those stories that have been waiting for my own tale to reach the end of a difficult chapter.
As we approach the mid-point of the last month of the year, I want to leave you with a small bit of news. Last Christmas, I published the story of Elora and Milos in an anthology that’s no longer for sale. This year, I’ve released the story as a standalone book. Right now, Just Another New Year’s Eve is only available for the Kindle, but by the end of the week, it should be available on all platforms and in paperback.
Another author posted a question in a Facebook group the other day. “What does success look like to you?”
Almost all of the responses echoed the same tune.
“I want to earn enough to support myself/send my kids to college/travel.”
“I want to see my books in bookstores.”
Before I continue, I want to say that those are valid answers. This is a very personal question. I’m not sure many authors can get there, but if that’s what success looks like to you, then I respect that. However, when I started to type out my answer, something unexpected happened.
“Success looks like today.”
Yes. I am successful. This doesn’t mean I’m making enough to support my family. Hell, some months I barely make enough to take my husband out for a nice dinner with wine and dessert. Some months are better, but I’m a very long way away from quitting my day job. My books aren’t in bookstores. Though that has a lot to do with my own lack of free time than anything else. There are tricks for indie authors to get bookstores to carry their books (at least occasionally), and one day, I’ll spend more time there.
I don’t define success by a number. Not anymore. A year ago, I probably would have echoed the other group members’ responses. Not now. This is how I define success.
I want to write books that mean something to me and to my readers. No, my books won’t cure cancer. They won’t end domestic violence or stop discrimination against the disabled or veterans or people of color. They probably won’t drag anyone out of a major depressive event or save a life. But do you know what they can do? They can help readers see that we’re all worthy of love. They can raise awareness of social issues in a way that isn’t heavy-handed and feels natural. And they can bring lovers of all types of romance joy.
I want to continually improve my craft. There will be no resting on laurels here. I want to learn, explore, try new things. I won’t always be happy with the results, but as long as I’m still learning, I’ll consider myself successful.
I want to help foster a writing community. As part of the Cerulean Project, I’m sharing my experiences, encouraging others to do the same, and hopefully supporting new (and veteran) writers in ways they’ve never experienced before. I want to mentor other writers, help them avoid some of the mistakes I made when I started out, and maybe shape the indie community for the better.
I am successful. I will continue to be successful as long as I keep doing all of those things. And you know what? Once I stopped tying success to a number or a date (like the date I wanted to quit the day job), I fell in love with writing again.
I do understand why. That’s a hard question. After all, there are millions of books out there. How can you possibly choose?
Well, I may be in the minority, but I can. Now, let me give you a few caveats first. When I think of my favorite book, I think of a book that changed my life in some way. A book I want to read again (or have at least read several times). A book that did something for me that hadn’t been done before.
The Emperor’s Edge is that book.
I warn you, this might be a bit of a love fest. I promise, though, I do have examples.
When I bought my Kindle many years ago, a whole new world opened up to me: the world of the independent author. Prior to that day, the only books I read were ones that I got from the library, and years ago, you simply didn’t find independent authors’ books in the library. But, I digress. Kindle. Years ago.
A friend of mine pointed me to The Emperor’s Edge, told me it was free and she’d enjoyed it, and so off I went. Honestly, I’m not sure I even had the notion of independent vs. traditional authors yet. I just knew the book was free and so I downloaded it.
For the next two days, I couldn’t put the Kindle down. I pulled it out during my lunch break. I read in the car on the way to work (my husband was driving, don’t worry). I held the Kindle while I stirred soup for dinner. When I finished the book, I was so addicted to the world that I immediately purchased the sequel.
I gushed about the book on social media. My husband, geek that he is, did a search on the author’s name and found out that she was on Twitter. I gushed to her (one of my first official fangirl moments). She replied! I may have swooned.
The interactions I have on Twitter with Lindsay aren’t what make The Emperor’s Edge my favorite book, though. I can’t even say it’s the writing. Don’t get me wrong, the series is well-written. She captures the sweet spot between “all the pretty words” and “approachability” that allows her books to work for a variety of readers. Her books are clean (in terms of editing), well formatted, and with professional covers. All good things.
The Emperor’s Edge (both as a book and as a series) wins for me in two areas: the plot and the characters. Let’s talk plot first as it’s a little simpler for me to explain.
Everything centers around a cast of characters (the Emperor’s Edge, as they call themselves by the end). The steampunk world is rich and well crafted, and while many of the things you see are fantastical, they’re all believable within the confines of the world. Lindsay does a fantastic job of explaining the different elements and weaving them together in such a way that you’re never lost or left with that feeling of deus ex machina. Each book is a standalone. Sort of. There’s a central mystery with each book, as well as a long running game that you don’t see finalized until the end of the series. I started reading the series when only the first two books had been released, so this was key for my enjoyment, as I had to wait months for the next book. At the same time, each book leaves you with a new piece of the whole mystery, so when that next book came out, I was probably one of the first people to download. I couldn’t get enough.
Plenty of series do a decent job with an arc. With The Emperor’s Edge, though, every thread wove in nicely. This doesn’t mean that I liked how every thread ended. I didn’t. But that’s also what makes the books great. Even when I hated what happened, I understood it, and it made sense for the story as a whole. In summary, plot = awesome.
Now, let’s talk about the brilliance of the characters. For me, this was the true beauty of the entire series. Writing an ensemble cast is difficult. Giving each member of an ensemble something valuable to do, keeping their voices distinct, and weaving their individual motivations throughout the story is a masterful skill. Lindsay accomplishes this all with ease. The series centers around Amaranthe Lokdon. She’s a POV character in each book, and as the books progress, each main character gets a chance to have a POV (one per book, mostly). This allows us to connect with each member of the ensemble, while still keeping things relatively simple.
The best part of the characters, though, is how real they are. I could imagine Amaranthe as someone I could know. We hear a lot about strong female characters these days. Amaranthe is a “real female character.” Or more appropriately, a “real character, female.” Side note, go read this article on strong female characters. She makes mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes get her into serious trouble. Sometimes she needs to be rescued. More often, though, she uses her brain to figure out how to get herself out of whatever sticky situation she’s trapped in. When she makes mistakes, she has real, human emotions about them. She doubts herself. But, as a leader, she forces herself to muddle through. She’s someone I can imagine being. And not in an idealized Mary Sue kind of way.
The hero to Amaranthe’s heroine, Sicarius, is another real character. He’s an assassin. He’s done awful things. We’re not supposed to like him—at least not according to what society tells us. But we do. Why? Because from the beginning, we see a glimpse of his human side. We have an idea (just a glimmer) of why he does what he does. We can see that there’s more to the story, and when it counts, we see his true self, the one hidden under all of the evil and black clothes and controlled angst.
Books, Maldynado, Akstyr, and Basilard each have their flaws. They each have their moments to shine, their mistakes, and their redemptions. The characters don’t always get along. There are fights. There are divisions. But when it counts, there’s enough built in to each one of the characters that you can believe, truly, that what they have works.
This is the true brilliance of the series. This is why I re-read them time and time again. Well, okay, we’re only on reading #3, but that’s because there are seven books in the series and I only have so much time.
As I spend time focusing on my own character development, I think back to these books often. We should all strive to write characters that feel this real, this authentic, and this flawed. The villains aren’t all black hats. The good guys don’t always wear the white hats. And Maldynado wears such outrageous hats, you just have to smile.
Now, I want to know what you think. Tell me one of your favorite books and then tell me why. You don’t have to overanalyze the book like I did, but just speak from the heart. What’s your favorite book? Let’s share the awesome.