A Truant Disposition

"I must be idle."

100 Days of Characters

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jul• 27•18

I just finished a challenge to create a new character every day for a hundred days. I’d started to do something different for a 100 day challenge, but chatting with my online writing group about what writers could do for the challenge I joked that I’d could populate a town with 100 characters and thus the challenge was born! I didn’t stick to populating one fictional setting with 100 totally new characters, however. I’ve always been fascinated with names and pretty much have to have characters’ names firmly decided before I can begin a project. If I get the name wrong, the character doesn’t feel right and eventually I have to stop and go through the naming process again. (I’ve only had to do this once; it was disconcerting writing a character whose name was not right.) So I started, not with the story or setting I wanted to populate, but with names. The names more or less told me what story, setting, or project they belonged in. A few names suggested to me whole new stories I’d not contemplated writing before, which was exciting! So there may be a few new stories to come out of this. Mostly, I have some fairly large groups of people divided among several projects. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the characters are secondary characters or tertiary characters that the protagonists interact with, though some of these have the potential to grow into more.

This is one of the things I love about being a writer: I’m always seeing more than what’s on the page. I’m always seeing potentialities beyond the story at hand. Because stories are, despite the restrictions of setting or plot, unlimited. Fiction—even the wildest, least connected with reality type of fiction—is like life in the sense that there’s a world and people and a dynamic. Things happen. The writer selects which things to mention in the story, but the characters say and do other things which don’t end up on the page because there’s no good reason to mention them. The place has a history. Someone built those buildings, devices, machines, someone designed every lovely thing—and yes, as the author, I created those imaginary things, but there are unseen people in whatever story I’m writing who create the things the characters use, who make the food they eat, who decide what sort of a world they live in.

I tend to write microcosms. I’m not much for big sprawling epic stories. I tend to look at a few characters in one tiny corner of a big world and what’s happening to them, what they are doing today—and why. I like to keep things on a small personal scale because that’s how we experience the world. Most people aren’t caught up in grand epic adventures; they’re just dealing with what’s in front of them and some days that’s more than enough. Of course, with science fiction and fantasy, what one character (and friends) may be dealing with on a daily basis may be more difficult and unusual than the stuff we all have to deal with. The point is that characters are like us in the sense that they exist as part of a community or world. Even a story about a total loner presupposes that the person had progenitors, that someone somewhere designed and built their spaceship, that there is a world out there filled with people that, for whatever reason, they don’t want to be around. (Obviously, you can think of exceptions to this: sole survivor of an apocalypse, for example, but even so, that character’s life, such as it is, was impacted by the thoughts and actions of other people, so again, there are always more people, doing more things, than are immediately apparent in even the most isolated and constrained microcosms.)

As a writer, you can never have too many characters. Even before this challenge I kept squirreled away in assorted files character sketches and lists of names. I need to do a bit of organizing to bring the new files together with the older one, to make sure I can find someone when I need them! As much as possible, I tagged character sketches with projects they could fit into, and now I need to divide my little village of fictional people, sending them to various folders. Eventually they’ll be polished up and written properly, then you’ll get to meet them!

One Paragraph About Suicide

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jun• 08•18

In the wake of the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain this week there has been a tremendous number of posts encouraging people to seek help if they’re having trouble coping with life. Though this was prompted by celebrity deaths, people are dying, without such fanfare and outcry, every damn day. Statistics show that suicide rates are increasing, and in some areas by quite a bit. Suicide is always a shock because we never know. That’s the nature of the thing; while in some cases there may be physical pain, mostly the pain is an internal anguish without necessarily any dramatic outward sign. No one knows what a suicidal person is going through and that’s a huge part of the problem: the unbearable anguish is frequently silent and invisible. The person going through this thing that could result in their killing themself may not want to talk about it with people they know. The other side of the coin is that friends and family may not know what to say to someone who is so depressed they want to die, or they may say the wrong thing, or they may be (or be perceived to be) part of the problem. That’s why getting professional help is so important. Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through is vital and talking to a stranger confidentially about personal things is often easier than talking to someone you know. If you feel life has become unbearable you need to call the suicide hotline. No matter what you are going through, other people—people who did not kill themselves—have been through much worse and come out the other side, not because they are stronger than you are, or better than you are, but because they fucking got help! Feel like your life is out of control? Take control by asking for help. Feel like everything’s screwed up and you can’t do anything right? You can do one all-important right thing: it’s easy, make the call and get help. There. You’ve done it. It’s not going to be instantly fixed, but now you’re in touch with people who can help you. No one has to go through anything alone, ever. We live in the most connected time in the world’s history. Connect with someone who can help you live—because the world needs all the good people it has. We can’t lose you. You are important. (No, don’t argue with me about that. Someday you’ll realize I was right.)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Upcoming imaginary events

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Apr• 13•18

I have imaginary events on the family calendar I share with my husband. (It delights him as much as it does me, so yes, a match made in heaven.) Sometimes I’ll note a date in fiction, usually books, but occasionally movies, and put it on my calendar. I like the sort of thrill I get from the incongruity of seeing fictional events pop up in the middle of an otherwise ordinary calendar of things to do and places to go. I’m not the only geek to track such things: the internet loses its collective mind when the incept dates for replicants in the movie Blade Runner rolls around, shouting out birthday wishes to fictional androids. When the date for HAL 9000’s “birth” rolled around we threw a birthday party. (January 12th, but I can’t recall now if it was the year given in the film or the book.) So it’s perhaps not surprising that some years later strange things began to creep onto the calendar.

It all began with the giant squid.

Some years back while rereading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea I noted the date given for the giant squid attack on the Nautilus. It’s been on our calendar ever since. More recently I added the wreck of the Elizabeth Dane. Both are coming up next week, Friday, April 20th and Saturday, April 21st, respectively. So next Friday I will likely reread the Jules Verne classic, or perhaps watch the movie. If you love Jules Verne, the Nautilus, or giant squids, consider commemorating this event in some way. If you’re really not into Jules Verne, there are a lot of books and movies, both nonfiction and fiction about the giant squid. (Architeuthis species, because I’m also a nature nerd, and this is that rare bit of taxonomic Latin that I can pronounce correctly thanks to watching way too many giant squid documentaries.) 

Now you’re probably wondering about the Elizabeth Dane. Sounds familiar, right? Have you got it yet, or did I distract you too thoroughly with the giant squid? Midnight Saturday night will mark the anniversary of when the Elizabeth Dane was wrecked off the shore of Antonio Bay in John Carpenter’s classic chiller The Fog (the original, released in 1980), starring Jamie Lee Curtis, her mother Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, and a number of other familiar faces from other Carpenter films. If you haven’t seen it recently or (gasp) at all, there’s no better time than on the anniversary of the wreck of the Elizabeth Dane, April 21st. Text your friends, set up movie night for The Fog. Make it a midnight showing, if you think you can survive the curse…

On The Road With The Starman

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Feb• 20•18

A lot has been written about The Starman currently gliding through space in Elon Musk’s Tesla. Is this a rich man’s indulgence, an ad for his car company, and without real scientific value? Well, yes. But that’s not all it is.

There are so many interesting aspects to this that it took me a while (and some hours gazing at the live stream) to organize my thoughts. First, let’s deal with the whole “no science payload” thing, then we’ll get to the fun and interesting stuff. Could he have packed a small science experiment into the backseat of the roadster? Yes, but given the limitations of “car in space” that would’ve limited what could be included, and I’m not sure that anything he could’ve come up with would’ve added anything significant to our body of knowledge considering that the International Space Station is doing a mind-boggling amount of science 24/7—and has been for years. We’ve sent rovers and probes all over the solar system, so I’m not sure putting science in a suitcase for the Starman’s journey would’ve made much of a contribution to solar system science. Would it have been good PR to include a science package? Probably. For instance, on the ISS science experiments designed by school kids are always popular, so it would’ve been likewise if included in the Tesla roadster—but then Musk likely would’ve had to contend with complaints that he was “using kids” to further his own ends. Also, he admitted that he thought there was a fair chance the Falcon Heavy (remember that—the historic ground-breaking rocket science that actually launched The Starman?) would blow up or otherwise fail, so a really pricey science package might’ve been just burning money. Nobody puts science payloads into experimental rockets; they wait until the tech is reliable.

Yes, but The Starman in the Tesla roadster is still cheesy rich man self-promotion, isn’t it? Well, you can certainly look at it that way. But that’s not the only way to look at it, and it’s arguably the least interesting way of looking at it. If sneering at the Starman makes you happy, go for it. The rest of us will be getting our kicks in a different way. I live streamed The Starman in the Tesla on a 49” TV for hours. The resolution was amazing and the scene was compelling in a way I didn’t expect. The play of light and shadow as roadster’s orientation changed in relationship to the sun and the Earth was mesmerizing. Because this was at the beginning of the Starman’s journey the car is still shiny and I could see the reflection of the Earth spreading out across the body of the car in some shots. That smooth shiny surface which glows and reflects so well will deteriorate in space, becoming pitted by tiny particles and degraded by radiation, as will The Starman himself. So, if you want to see The Starman in the Tesla while they both still look good, sooner is better. Sooner is also better because at some point the Earth is going to move further and further away — assuming the various projected trajectories prove correct—and the lovely views of The Starman “driving” a roadster (“where we’re going we don’t need roads”) with the Earth in the background will go away, leaving The Starman cruising through the blackness of space, with less glimmer from the sun, and the Earth a blue marble in the distance.

In the meantime we have this surreal thing: a spacesuited dummy in a Tesla roadster, hand on the wheel, cruising around the Earth. It’s like some kind of grand art installation in space. Unlike the disco ball recently launched into orbit, it’s less likely to screw up astronomical observations all over the world because it’s not meant to be flashing and it’s not supposed to stay in Earth orbit (where it will actually end up is still a matter of speculation as of this writing). There is nothing very imaginative, delightful, or compelling about a disco ball, but the image of a spaceman in a snazzy open-topped car is the sort of thing that fires the imagination. It’s like an amalgamation of science fiction and fantasy. We have an apparent human in a space suit (science fiction) in a car (earth vehicle) instead of a spaceship. When Whitman wrote “Song of the Open Road”, cars had not been invented. Now we have a wandering Starman in a roadster. There is something compelling about that; perhaps it’s akin to the human desire to fly. As a species we want to soar, we want to go fast and far, we want to go where we have never been, we want to go where no one has ever been: we are explorers in our imaginations. Most of the people living on this planet in the 21st century are explorers only in their imaginations; getting somewhere, especially somewhere new or far is expensive, not to mention brain-breakingly difficult. Most of this planet has not been explored because most of it is under water. We only know bits and pieces of what lies beneath the surface of the blue part of our blue planet. We are learning more all the time thanks to technology, but the ability to go is so difficult that few people have ever been very far below the surface of our oceans, just like few people have left the planet and gone into space. It’s a very wow-ing thing and if it was easy we’d all cruise the depths of the ocean or zip around the solar system — and beyond. If only it was as cheap, safe, and easy as getting into a car, or onto bus. (I am so tempted to write a story about a bus tour of the solar system!)

The Starman in the Tesla roadster is compelling because we can see ourselves in that car cruising through space. We can’t as easily see ourselves in space shuttles, or other capsules — so called “tin cans”— that have been launched into space, or more modern modules launched to the space station. The space station is interesting, but it doesn’t look like home; it’s more like living inside a very big machine. The Tesla roadster is a car. Cars are familiar everyday objects. If you live someplace where you can livestream The Starman then you’ve probably ridden in a car. (There are people on Earth who do not live in industrialized societies with automobiles and tons of technology at their fingertips, but cars are pretty ubiquitous for most other people.)

I think we like science fiction not just because it lets us visit strange and wonderful places in our imagination, but because it makes it easy to do so, or if not easy, then at least something we can easily see ourselves doing. The Starman in the roadster is what we yearn for in our hearts; to be able to jump in the car and go, anywhere. I don’t mean we literally want to drive cars in space; we realize that is physically impossible. The Starman in the car is a powerful symbol, a metaphor, something that captures our imagination and lets us soar with it. We need to daydream, to sit back, relax, and cruise with The Starman. We need to feed our brains with this kind of imaginative image. Yes, there’s all kinds of practical stuff we need to do, there’s all kinds of technological stuff we need achieve. There is always something, and there always will be.  But we should take a little time to enjoy and delight in things that are wonderfully surreal, imaginative, things that make us smile, and dream.

Tune into The Starman. (Live stream) and if you want more, there’s a website, Where Is Roadster, that tracks The Starman and keeps a running tally of all kinds of nifty stats.

Distribution of Gymshoes Music

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Feb• 20•18

Just a quick note here to let you know about changes to distribution of my music, for those who haven’t heard already elsewhere.
Distribution of Gymshoes music to online stores will end in March.  For more info about this and what may happen next, you can click through that link to the post on my Gymshoes Music site.

This Year Will Be Different

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jan• 02•18

Last year was not a good year and I had no control over all the bad things that happened. I’m an optimist. Although it’s not impossible for 2018 to be as bad as 2017, I choose to believe otherwise. That choice may seem lame (particularly to pessimists) but it’s important because how I think about my life and view the world around me affects the way I experience it. It won’t help when friends and family die; I know all too well from last year that a positive mental attitude does nothing in the face of death. But a positive outlook can keep all the smaller things—and everything is smaller than death—from getting too readily lumped into the confirmation that it’s a bad year and that everything is going to shit. Everything is not bad. Most things are not bad. So, I’m plunging into the new year with enthusiasm, knowing I will have to take the bad with the good, but determined that I will not let the bad overwhelm the good. So. Here’s a peek at my writing plans for this year.

I feel really good about what I’ve got going. The sequel to If Wishes Were Spaceships continues to move forward. It’s all rewriting—which is in a way much tougher than writing—but the book is improving by leaps and bounds, which is very satisfying. I even worked on a couple of scenes during my December break, which says a lot about how good I feel about the book and how much I’m enjoying working on this book. I hope to complete the final draft this year. I don’t yet have a publication date—which is a good thing in that it allows revisions to be done in whatever time it actually takes, rather than rushed revisions which tend to be not as good. I can write fast or I can write well: only on rare occasions do those two things ever coincide!

This year will be to some extent what last year was supposed to be: finishing the sequel, writing more short fiction, blogging more (including contributing to the food blog), and writing a bit of nature-oriented non-fiction. I have all kinds of big plans for this year! Brace yourself because I’m going to be introducing you to some interesting characters and some fantastical fiction!

Wishing you all the very best new year! Let’s rock 2018! 😀

Dream It Up: Write It Down

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Dec• 01•17

This very short post below is something I posted to my writer’s group (a party in Habitica). After posting it, I decided to share it here, for the writers who follow my blog and the friends and fans who have been so supportive this year. I’m not the only one who has had a rough year, unfortunately…

I’m taking a month off from writing beginning tomorrow. This is my annual time to relax and recharge. I really appreciate the support you all have given me this year. It has been a rough year for everyone in this party. There have been deaths in our families (cats, dogs, humans), health problems, and employment problems. But we’re still writing. We’re still creative people. Bad things happening do not define us; bad things happen to everyone all the time. It’s easy to forget that. But we have imagination and the skill to create something out of our thoughts. It’s our super power. Writing is sometimes hard and sometimes sublime, but it is always something good that we can embrace. Even when we’re not writing, we are still writers. That’s an important point which shouldn’t be forgotten. We do what we have to do in real life; we cope with things as best we can. We can draw strength from knowing that our creativity and imagination is still there, intact, no matter what else may happen. We can string words together and create stories. Everyone daydreams, but we can craft our dreams into something less ephemeral and share them with the world. It takes skill and perseverance, but we have that. We have stories inside and we will write them. We dream it up; we write it down. Because that’s who we are. Writers.

It’s that (spooky) time of the year again!

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Oct• 11•17

It’s that time of the year again! With Halloween around the corner, I have to ask…Have you picked up my Halloween Soundscape yet? It’s available all year ’round, but this is really the season for it! (Oddly enough I often have a spike in sales in January, too. Perhaps evocative music for bleak winter days?) It’s good music not only for creeping out trick-or-treaters, but also for when you’re reading your favorite scary stories. The tracks were inspired by various classic stories. Check out the liner notes on my Gymshoe Music site for background on each story. This isn’t some cheesy sound effect album, but long ambient music tracks. Since price is usually based on number of tracks, and these tracks are long, this album is a good deal.

It’s available from iTunes, Amazon mp3, and other online stores.

P.S. Since the “season” for Halloween Soundscape is short so I appreciate you sharing links for the album, and writing reviews. This album’s success is largely dependent on word-of-mouth and social network sharing. I love seeing those shares on social networks! It makes things so much easier for me ’cause I’m not as comfortable flogging my albums and books as I need to be in the plugged in world. Thank you for your support— and enjoy the album!

On the Process of Draft and Revision

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jun• 28•17

My process changed when I started using NaNoWriMo to do first drafts. There are very good things about this, but it did create problems with the process of rewriting that I’ve become aware of recently. Perhaps it’s just a problem with this draft, but it’s potentially a problem with any “fast draft”. Let me start with how I used to write, the old slow method, then I’ll show you the “good news/bad news” about fast drafting.

Prior to doing NaNo my books took years to be completed and I can’t tell you how many drafts I did because rewriting was part of the original writing process. I’d start writing a book, and as I inched my way forward, scene by scene, I’d continually (often daily) rewrite material that had come before. This made forward progress slow and it took years to finish a book from beginning to end — and I still had to do rewrites on the whole thing after that. As cumbersome as this method was, it worked for me because I’m basically a discovery writer. I know a number of things about the story and the characters (especially the characters!) before I begin, but I discover a lot of things along the way that connect up aspects of the book and build theme. I enjoy the little ah-ha moments when I realize how what I’m writing fits in with other things. The story is built up gradually and, as I figure things out, I rewrite even as I’m moving the story forward, so continuity is managed easily. I do brainstorm story ideas extensively prior to sitting down to write a book and a lot of the “discovery” process takes place before I write the first sentence. I need a certain basic understanding of characters and the situation before I can explore it. This is still true. If anything, my discovery brainstorming sessions take place over a longer period of time and are more and more extensive with each book. But they sort of have to be because of the way I’m starting books now.

Which brings me to NaNoWriMo. I’ve completed it successfully every year I’ve done it (so far). There are some very good things about NaNo if you can make it work for you. One is that it affords you the opportunity to play with a story idea, thoroughly explore it, and decide whether or not it’s going to work out well. I’ve had some “good” ideas that I’ve discovered just don’t work very well and I’ve wasted years struggling to write a book that had such fundamental problems there was no way I could turn that mess into a good book. With NaNoWriMo I’ve only invested a month in the project. If, at the end of it, nothing hangs together and there are horrible problems with the draft I can set it aside and do something else, maybe come back to it with fresh eyes some time much later and see if it can be reworked to make a good book, or bury it in my files never to be seen again. At the end of the month I have a very good idea of what I’m dealing with, so I’ve developed a story with very little investment of time if it doesn’t work out. All first drafts need rewrites anyway; the difference with NaNo is that I don’t do much in the way of rewrites as I go. I may go back and mark stuff and add notes as the story develops so that I know specific things early in the draft that will need to be changed for continuity, but no extensive rewriting because, afterall, I only have a month to finish it.

And I do try to finish the book. The first couple of times I did NaNo I was working on stories that I didn’t finish. I knew the ending, but I just didn’t get there during that month. I wrote over 50K words, but the drafts weren’t complete. I’m still working on those books off and on, inching my way toward the ending and rewriting as I go just like I had before. The last two times I did NaNo I not only did the 50K, but I had another goal which was to finish the draft. So my drafts for the books were very thin. Instead of writing expansively and then cutting and rewriting, I wrote some scenes fully, but other scenes very lightly. I hit all the plot points and completed the story from beginning to end. Sometimes I was very much aware of material that was being left out because my goal was not just to hit my personal word count goal, but to get to the end of the story before the end of the month. I would drop in a note or a placeholder scene which described a scene I was passing over in general terms.

Unfortunately, the draft I’m working on now has a number of scenes that suffered from the “fast draft” method. For the second draft I went through and plugged the plot holes and continuity issues, filled in the missing scenes. So far, so good; I’d done that with the previous book and the method seemed to work well, but this book is more complicated and I’m plagued with “data dump” scenes in which nothing happens but I spewed (or had my characters spew) all the plot points that needed to be hit, and though I had filled in the placeholder scenes in the previous draft, now in the third draft I’m realizing that I have a number of scenes in which I just lightly skated over things that should have been developed more and better…they were essentially placeholder scenes, but not marked as such…and I didn’t realize that these scenes were a problem because everything is there. The book is complete, all the scenes are there. Everything that’s supposed to happen happens. But I’ve had to cut big scenes because they are dead weight and I’m still discovering small scenes that should be expanded because important things happen. Weight is really a good way of looking at the problem. Not every scene has the same weight in the book. Some scenes are necessarily small because they are transitional scenes, they bridge some pieces of the narrative, or they are useful for pacing and time passage. They are not substantial; they’re more like a prelude to something substantial, because the book can’t have nothing but intense exploding revelatory scenes. It’s a matter of pacing. If every single scene is cataclysmic the book is going to read like it was written by a highly caffeinated five-year-old. So there are big scenes and little scenes that lead to big scenes. But when I’m drafting during NaNoWriMo I don’t always weight scenes correctly; some days I just don’t feel like working out a very long difficult scene, so I hit the high points and move on the the next scene. I may not know yet quite how I want to handle certain things, so basically I write what I can day to day and I suppose that’s what I always do, but the pace of NaNoWriMo doesn’t allow me the luxury to step back, take time off, and just think about things. I have to move forward at a certain pace both to make the word count goal for the month and to reach the end of the story by the end of the month. So some scenes which aren’t very important are very fully written and some scenes which should be fully written aren’t.

Naturally, I felt like there was something wrong with the book, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it after I’d finished the second draft. I’d fixed continuity issues, back-filled all the missing scenes, and sent it out to beta-readers who found nothing major wrong with it. But it didn’t feel like the book I’d set out to write. It was all there. Everything was covered, scene by scene. It all made sense. I couldn’t find anything wrong in what I’d written (aside from the continual hunt for typos and an odd sentence here or there). I’ve only just now realized that I’d thinly written some scenes which, if properly written and given the proper weight in the overall book, would give the book that feel and balance that are missing.

NaNoWriMo sometimes can be good to get a manuscript off to a fast start, or to do a fast first draft to see if any idea will fly, but in terms of getting a book finished, rewritten, and polished, it seems like it isn’t saving any time for me from idea to book completion, at least not most of the time. I’ve got three books which started as NaNo projects that I’m still working on, including the book I started the first time I did NaNo. So far I’ve only gotten one draft that started as a NaNo project finished and published. All the others are taking a long time to finish and requiring extensive rewriting. I actually kind of enjoy doing NaNoWriMo —- I like the intensity and immersion in story — but rewriting takes way too much time, because the first draft is so very rough and uneven. I’m not saying I won’t do NaNo again — I probably will — but I need to do a better job of picking my projects for NaNo. Discovery writing a complex idea (even having brainstormed it beforehand) is not a good fit for the “fast draft” method. Of course complexity is in the eye of the beholder…I thought the book I’m rewriting now would be “easy”. [insert rueful laughter] I’m my own worst enemy; how much I love an idea has no bearing on how easy it will be to write. I tell myself all my books will be easy because I want to write them!

The Year So Far

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - May• 22•17

You may have noticed that I haven’t been on social media much this year; the reasons have nothing to do with politics, friends, or social media. A lot has happened this year.

First the bad news, because the good part of this post must necessarily come after the bad. In late December a routine scan of my elderly mother-in-law showed what could possibly be a return of her cancer. She’d had part of her lung removed 6 years earlier and been cancer-free since. The biopsy couldn’t be scheduled until after the first of the year, so it was a nervous holiday season for us. The biopsy came back positive for cancer. She did both chemo and radiation. It was daily outpatient treatment so family members swapped off driving her because the treatments made her too dizzy to drive. She had some problems and was hospitalized three times. The last time she ended up in ICU a few weeks after she finished the first round of treatment. The combination pneumonia and flu, on top of her existing COPD, plus a weakened immune system from the cancer treatment, and a weakened heart from a mild heart attack was just too much for her body to cope with. She didn’t respond to any medications. Eight days after being admitted and after a few days of being unresponsive, she passed away peacefully, surrounded by family.

That was a few weeks ago. I’m still grieving, but oddly enough I’m sleeping better because I’m no longer anxious about her 24/7, which is what has defined my life this year. Phone calls to her, taking her to her many doctors appts and treatments, texting with family constantly, having a knapsack packed and being ready to run to her house, to the ER, whatever 24/7. Flinching every time the phone rang. Staying close to home so we could be there if there was a minor crisis, or a major emergency, both of which were not just potentialities, but actualities. My concentration has just been shot this whole year. I feel tired and generally bad all over a lot of the time. Those of you who have had to deal with a major medical thing involving a family member will know what I’m talking about. My wish for all of you is that neither you, nor anyone you love ever has to go through this.

Of course, it has been impossible for me to get any substantial amount of work done on revising the draft of the next book, but I gamely tried to work around her appointments and work through group text messaging sessions during her treatment and hospitalizations. Things stabilized —briefly — after she finished the first round of treatment. I had whole blocks of crisis-free time with few appointments on my agenda. I began to make progress. But when she was admitted to ICU, I stopped working on the book. I did a lot of knitting. She’s had a lot of health problems in the past couple of years. I’m glad I took up knitting again because it was relaxing and socks are a nice portable project. After she died I looked at my knitting projects and did a count: I worked on six pairs of socks and one sweater in ERs, hospital waiting rooms, hospital rooms, and doctor’s offices, at assorted medical facilities. Now I’m knitting through both grief and anxiety for friends. You see, she’s not the only one who has cancer.

This book I’m working on now has had the nasty shadow of cancer and death hanging over it from the time I started brainstorming the idea of doing a sequel. At that time I had two friends in hospice, dying of cancer. I drafted the book anyway, but it was very difficult, and the draft was a lot rougher than most of my first drafts are. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have even started this book. I had almost a year to revise the book before another friend was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer, but during that year my own mother had a medical crisis that landed her in the hospital, and my mother-in-law had hip surgery and assorted other medical crises, so I still felt like I was just lurching from crisis to crisis. Then came the ominous scan that indicated my mother-in-law’s cancer had come back. Then treatments, assorted medical emergencies related to treatments, then the end. The same week as her funeral we found out another friend has cancer. Which really hit us hard. The funeral flowers were still fresh, but the scent had started to turn. Also, the friend with the aggressive cancer had a setback. 

With the exception of my mother-in-law, who lived a long and full life, all the other people with cancer are/were far too young to die. I think, as much as my mother-in-law’s death, this is what just breaks my heart into pieces. Anger is usually listed as the second stage of grief, and I don’t know if I will ever have enough time between catastrophes to get past that. At this point I’ve already been in mourning for over a year and a half. I need everyone I know to live—preferably for 100 years or so.

As bad as all this sounds, it hasn’t been all bad, all the time. Sometimes it just seems that way because death and grief and anxiety distort my sense of time. This year I went to Arbor Day at the Houston Arboretum, the Art Car Parade, and I Marched for Science. Though I’ve had my moments of exhausted collapse, I’m still moving forward. Errands, chores, and the ongoing struggle with the Squirrel Army for control of the garden…The dogs are assisting me with that as well as comforting me.

All my plans for this year have fallen by the wayside. I’d planned on writing and posting serial fiction, as well as a nature journal on Wattpad this year. The nature journal was started but updates stopped because I was spending too much time in medical facility waiting rooms and not enough time in the woods to keep it up. Fiction, even short fiction, was just impossible because all I’ve been thinking about for months were things related to my mother-in-law’s medical situation. I don’t know when I’ll get back to work on revising the book, which is a sequel to last year’s If Wishes Were Spaceships. Writing and revising take a lot of time, concentration, and energy. I’ve been going in high gear, with a highly disrupted daily routine, for so long now that getting back to normal work flow will take some time. As I told my writing group, I still feel a bit crash-y.

There have been times this year when I just wanted to quit, set the sequel aside permanently, drop out of my party and guild on Habitica, cease being a writer because there was just too much other stuff going on. But I know from experience that I can’t give up writing; I’ve tried, but it doesn’t work. It’s what I do; it’s who I am. I also know from experience that waiting until there’s a “perfect time” to write, or waiting until I’m less busy, or there’s less going on, or until some future time when things will be much more conducive to writing, that the “good time to work on a novel” will never, ever, come, or it will be so brief that I could not possibly finish a draft or polish a draft in that fleeting halcyon time. There is never a good time to write a book. There never has been and there never will be. There will just be times which are better or worse for working on a book. Everyone has to figure out for themselves under what conditions they can write and under what conditions it’s better to temporarily set a writing project aside—not until the world is right and things are good again, but until things are better, just “good enough” to pick up the work in progress again. I’m still figuring things out. I’ve been through enough in the past couple of years that I now have a passable set of guidelines. Friends in hospice; brainstorming is okay if my concentration isn’t yet gone, but actually drafting a novel, probably not. Elderly family member with chronic health problems that send her to the ER 1-3 times a year, yeah, I can definitely continue with editing and rewriting, just taking a day or two off as needed. Not sure if I could do a first draft under those conditions, though. Maybe. Elderly family member having outpatient cancer treatments and assorted hospitalizations, I definitely cannot write, nor can I do any major revisions or edits, though I discovered that I can do small highly focused edits and rewrites, setting myself a minimum of one paragraph per day, some days more, but never as much as a chapter. That’s how I’ve been working — when I’ve been working at all this year — literally one paragraph at a time.

I could not have done even that much if it hadn’t been for Habitica and my party of writers there. The To Do list functioned as a second brain for me because in the past five months I’ve often been so overwhelmed by details and a highly fluid situation that I was afraid of losing track of things, of dropping some vital thread. The Habits list encouraged me to keep to certain routines and good lifestyle habits as much as possible even though some days were borderline chaotic. I redid some of my Dailies to accommodate my more fluid and volatile schedule and deactivated others or moved them to Habits. And when things got really bad, as they did occasionally this year, I checked into the Inn, which stopped the game from accounting any losses I might incur. I tried to keep my time away from Habitica as minimal as possible because even when I was technically not active, I depended on my To Do list and other lists to help me keep some semblance of a life balance. Chores and errands were done less promptly, but they were done. It served as a reminder for important things I otherwise might’ve forgotten.

But most of all my party of writers there really helped me get through these past 5 months. One of them told me about the Calm app which was a real life-saver. I’d been trying to get back into meditating regularly last year before things got really bad, but once things got bad, it just seemed even more difficult. The Calm app helped tremendously. Other party members suggested ways of coping with an ever-changing daily schedule, and it was a relief and reassuring to have other writers to talk to about whether I should even try to keep writing. I felt guilty about not writing and felt like a monster if I kept at it. They were very insightful and supportive. They are the reason I didn’t just put the book away forever, drop out of everything, and disappear completely for a year or so. My party in Habitica was this little bubble of calm and happiness, even though I wasn’t the only one who was going through bad things this year. That’s an important point too: they need my support as much as I need their support. Life — and death — happen; there’s never a good time to write a novel. Writing is a solitary task and the work is brain-work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard, but there’s no one else who can write your book except you; it’s all on the shoulders of the novelist. That’s why it’s good to have other writers standing shoulder to shoulder with you. Habitica stresses “accountability” as being a big thing in its system of parties and guilds, but I think of it more in terms of community. I appreciate the support of real life friends right now, but having a virtual writer’s group composed of members all over the world has the advantage of being a (virtual) place that can be supportive and helpful—and be totally separate from whatever hellish thing is happening in real life. My real life friends are grieving with me: most of them knew my mother-in-law. My online friends are sorry for my loss, but they’re not wobbling under the burden of grief themselves, and that’s comforting to me in its own way. They’re still writing and wrestling with rewrites, and — eventually — I’ll return to work on my book, too. Because we are writers. That’s what we do. And we’ll somehow write our way through.