Since Tuesday of this past week I’ve been meaning to write a blog post to say, “Hey, I have a new book out.” I have a newsletter whose single purpose is to do this, and I posted one of those, but I didn’t blog. Haven’t blogged much at all, you’ll notice, for quite some time. In fact the last blog was an announcement of the last book out. Tuesday came and went; I told myself I’d write a post Wednesday. On Wednesday night I promised I’d put the post together after I went to yoga, something else I’d been lax on attending to.
I went to yoga, and the center I go focuses on very spiritual yoga. Usually when I go I figure things out, and this Thursday was no exception. I figured out a lot about why I’d been dragging my feet over everything about this book, why I kept forgetting almost I even had a book coming out. How I was doing rather a poor job of talking about it. As I sat doing one-nostril breathing and swimming in the dangerously deep places my practice can take me, I finally understood what I’d been telling myself ever since I started that book, and once I left for home I quietly told myself I could take as much time to blog about it as I wanted to.
Then today I started another book which came out Tuesday, one I’d been looking forward to and which others had told me was amazing. Beverly Jenkins’s Forbidden. I have admired Jenkins for a long time and had no small flutter when I was listed in the same article with her new book in the Washington Post. My friends and family were all impressed by the paper, but I was all about bragging getting to sit next to Ms. Jenkins. I tweeted that, and then she replied about getting to sit next to me, and I had to go lie down for a bit.
But today I finally had time to read the book. I began it while Anna was at the barn, and I already knew it was going to break me into bits. It was so lyrical and crisp and crafted. A dangerous book in that it made me feel a bit as if I had no business writing books if they weren’t going to be this good, except she would scold me for thinking that, so I decided I was just going to have to live up to her example as best I could. In the middle of reading, however, I paused to watch Beyoncé’s video for “Formation.” By the time I returned to my book I felt so raw and cut open I just gave in and let myself bleed.
Beyoncé’s video and Ms. Jenkins’s book both affected me in ways I didn’t expect, but both are powerful art, and art moves us in the way it wants to. At first the video in particular had me breathless and humbled by the artist’s grace, power, and beauty. I couldn’t stop watching it, and I felt a little awkward, because this video felt like such power, such, as I have seen so many write, black girl magic. I felt clumsy amidst grace and beauty and had already been half undone already by my reading.
But I couldn’t stop watching, and the music rang in my head. Then I went back to Forbidden, and I kept crying even though it wasn’t a crying of part of the book. Finally I stopped, sat with myself a minute, remembered yoga, and figured it out. I finished the book, cried a little more, and then came down here to write my post about my own damn book. Or rather, the post about why I was (and still am a bit) reluctant to talk about this book, something I had managed to hide even from myself.
I’m not sure why it took me eighteen months to figure out the correlation between having a major surgery ripping out three precious organs from my body and writing a steampunk where in the very first scene a soldier has more than half his body cut away because it was the only way he’d survive, but it did take me that long to suss it out. Just like it was a mystery to me why I got to the point in drafting the story where Johann had to face the knowledge of how much he’d been altered and how much it upset him, and I stopped writing for months and months until I couldn’t wait any longer and make my deadline. In fact, for the first time at that publisher, I moved my deadline. But no, during none of that time did I put two and two together and get four. I denied the existence of math. That’s my subconscious though, for you. Always ready so I can cut myself off at my own knees.
I’ve spent the better part of the last year and a half trying to process a loss I didn’t know I would really feel. I still don’t fully understand it. I think it upsets me so much because it comes in so many waves. It’s just never done. I very much like to identify my struggles, beat them within an inch of their lives, bury the carcass and move on. This is not a carcass I can bury, because it’s my own. I’m more than a little flustered as I admit I really don’t know how to function with something like this. I can’t ignore it, I can’t abandon it. I can only carry it. I have to stop myself constantly from being annoyed with myself. I say things to myself like, “Why are you so upset? You know you’re still a woman, for crying out loud. You didn’t really want more children.”
Well, the last one is a little bit of a fib told to make myself feel better. I had, in fact, wanted more children, but since I was always sick and worn out, not wanting more seemed an easier thing. In fact there was a moment I thought I was pregnant, then burst into tears in the shower and whispered, “I can’t, I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t.” Then knew in another day I was not, in fact, pregnant. I carried shame for that for years, and I still have sorrow, though I did nothing more than wish and whisper. I had wanted a lot of children. I’d wanted to be active and do all kinds of things. But I was decidedly not active, and I didn’t do a lot of things. I remember Anna drawing a picture once when she was young. I was on the couch. “Because you’re always tired.” It wasn’t meant to be cruel, but it made me sad. I look at her now, fourteen, and I think of how I didn’t play with her as much or do as much because I was tired. How I escaped into writing because it was being in my head, not my body. That will make me sad forever, and now if she wants to do something, I’ll throw over almost anything. It’s not playing horses like she wanted. But it’s what I can do now.
When I’m able, I acknowledge what I’m actually mourning is not organs or even children but life. It wasn’t as if I was in a coma for ten years, but it’s absolute those damn cysts bled life out of me. In another era they’d have taken it wholesale. My teenage daughter would grow up without me, and then she’d likely have been bit by it too. It’s a celebration that I’m here. It’s a gift. But it’s also a lot of loss, and a lot of pain.
People have long told me they admire how I fought (and still fight) chronic pain. They act as if I am a woman as powerful as Queen Bey in that video. I think that’s why that video got me so hard, because I watched and knew I was not her. I have never felt that powerful. I don’t know how to explain to people who haven’t been hit with heavy tar fingers trying to drag you down into hell that it was all running. There wasn’t any claiming. There was just desperation and dogged determination.
What there is now is quiet. Healing and quiet, and weeping. All the fucking time, the weeping. Over stories, over songs, over light in the damn trees. Because as I have been trying to say, I wasn’t claiming power. I was running. And now I don’t have to run. And I have time, finally, to feel all that pain. Or feel rather what it cost to fight it. Babies. Smiles. Laughter. School field trips. Sex. Happiness. Life. I didn’t let myself look at what I was spending because I knew it would hurt. What I didn’t know was that it would keep hurting for so long, that it would be so hard to stop carrying it around.
On Tuesday I released a book about a soldier being rescued by a surgeon and given new parts. They fall in love and have fantastic adventures on land and in sky. They have great sex and terrible peril and save each other in the end. They grieve and they triumph and they carry the day. I wrote the book to be all kinds of fun, and it seems people think that’s what it is. But I guess I wrote it also to begin the complicated, messy process of talking to myself about what it means to have loss. To have life taken away. To have that happen and still believe everything can be okay.
Beyoncé’s message is more complicated for me to process because I’m feeling like the bedraggled ugly girl sliding into the back of a beautiful theater hoping nobody notices me and will just let me listen. I don’t know why that’s what it makes me feel, but I’m going to confess it so I can keep talking about it. Because in the back of the theater what spoke to me was that female power. The way she moved and the way she just owned everything. I watched it with my neck hurting and my body too heavy and weight never coming off, my abdomen still numb and uncooperative after all this time, and I felt as I watched her I could be sexy too. I could be beautiful too. If I kept watching and letting her be queen, I could feel just a little bit of that too.
And then I finished Forbidden, a story about accepting self and loss and building things anew, and I healed a little more. I believed a little more. I fell in love with Eddy right along with Rhine, and when he looked at her with desire, I felt pretty too. Then I thought about my own book. It doesn’t heal in the same way because I wrote it, but your own books are handy for making yourself look at what you told yourself, accidentally or on purpose. In Clockwork Heart I told myself a man could be missing parts and given new ones and have a better life than the one he’d led before. That he could be desired and loved, not despite his missing pieces but for the man he was with his clockwork parts. Then I thought about how much fun the book truly had been to write, how proud I’d been of it even though it had been hard. And I healed a little bit more.
It has been very tough for me to write lately. I am writing, but everything is so incredibly slow and difficult. It’s because, I know, of that body I’m carrying around, which is not the shell of an enemy but the wreckage of myself. Bit by bit I’m putting new parts on, and I’m getting better at using them. It’s slower going than I’d like. Clockwork Heart is out and I have nothing for preorder. I don’t have another piece of fiction finished and on deck with a book just published, which is the first time that’s happened in a terribly long time.
What I have finally figured out, though, is that the only way to get to the writing part and the healing part is to cradle that poor self and feel sad about it, and angry about it, and lost and confused about it. This is, I can assure you, ten thousand times harder than shouldering very bad endometriosis without even knowing you have it.
This is also all a good reminder to me and anyone else who needs it that all stories and all art move us, and it doesn’t matter who is in the story or in the art. It’s very foolish and silly of me to feel unworthy of watching “Formation.” It’s art; it’s for whoever is moved by it. Just as Forbidden isn’t only for black people and Clockwork Heart isn’t only for gay men. I still feel in awe of Jenkins in particular because she’s so talented, and I’m very sure I’ll make a mess when I have the pleasure of meeting her, but I know that her story was absolutely for me. Just as any story I write, if it moves someone, is for them. Whoever they are.
We are all of us torn into pieces by the hazards of life. We are all praying for someone to help us put ourselves back together. Clockwork Heart was an attempt I made for myself and an offering for you, if you’d like to try it.
Honestly, I think you need to give Jenkins and Beyoncé some sampling too.
Winter Wonderland, book three in the Minnesota Christmas series, is out tomorrow, November 10. There’s a tour and a giveaway you should check out. But what I want to tell you today is the story of Linda Lytle, the woman to whom the book is dedicated.
I met Linda in 1995 when I worked as overnight staff at a residential care center. The above photo is from 1997 when she and several other residents came to my bridal shower. I hadn’t worked there for quite some time, but Linda and many of her friends remained dear to my heart. Between the time I left Orchard Hill and this photo I’d done work with the younger generation of the care center residents’ peers, and on the whole, I learned firsthand why integration and advocacy are vital to the health and wellbeing of children and adults with special needs. What I learned more than anything, though, was that there would never be anyone on Earth as heartwarming and glorious as Linda Kay Lytle.
When Linda was born, it was common and in fact encouraged for parents to put their children with Downs syndrome into institutions and sever all ties with them. Linda’s mother, unable to have more children, refused. Grace was scolded by her doctor and warned everything that happened would be on her own head. Well, everything that happened was Linda grew up to be amazing.
You never met anyone as full of life and love and pure, unfiltered joy as Linda Kay. She knew so many crazy things, and had more opinions than the Supreme Court. She took deep pleasure in simple things like going for ice cream and made you happy to have those moments too. She was loyal to her friends and fierce to her enemies. She posed for photos like a boss.
Above all, though, she loved musicals, and she would break into song at any given moment. Usually you couldn’t understand what she was singing, and there was no key of any kind. Her favorite song, however, was “Bali Hai” from South Pacific.
I have to tell you, it was years before I knew the actual name of the song, and I think it was my husband who figured it out. Because she ran around Orchard Hill singing, very distinctly, “Valley High, I call you.” She would stick out her lips and say YOOOOUUUUU like something out of a cartoon, but we never dared laugh, because this was Linda’s heartfelt singing, and it was not to be mocked. She would put her hands over her heart, lean into your shoulder, and sing into your eyes as if she were on the Broadway stage. And I have to tell you, cartoon lips and all, I was always moved.
Linda went into residential living by request; she lived with Grace, but when she saw the other residents around town doing activities, she would burst into tears at not being allowed to join in. She went home often on weekends with her mother, and Grace was her fiercest advocate. There were many residents no one ever visited, but Linda’s mother made it clear if there was so much as a hair out of place on her daughter’s head, she’d be right there to ask you how that happened.
Grace’s most passionate wish was that Linda would pass away before she did, because she knew it would devastate her child to watch her pass away, and because there would be no one left to advocate for Linda. Linda’s mother did get her wish; I attended Linda’s funeral before we moved away from eastern Iowa, and Grace was able to pass on herself a few years later with an easy heart, at least on the matter of Linda.
I still think of Linda to this day, which is probably why she ended up in a book. Linda Kay Parks is one hundred percent Linda Kay Lytle. Many of the quips and quotes are hers, and the rest I could totally see her saying. And she would have absolutely loved being Kyle’s older sister.
I miss Linda, a great deal. I’m sad I didn’t go visit her more when I had the chance, and if she were here now I absolutely would do so. Whenever I think of her I’m filled with joy at the memory of our times together and sadness over the fact there will be no more new ones. But now she will live forever in a book.
I hope you love my fictional Linda as much as I love the Linda who inspired her. And Linda, wherever you are now, I hope you’re still singing “Valley High” at the top of your lungs and nowhere near on key.
Finding Mr. Right can be a snow lot of fun.
Paul Jansen was the only one of his friends who wanted a relationship. Naturally, he’s the last single man standing. No gay man within a fifty-mile radius wants more than casual sex. No one, that is, except too-young, too-twinky Kyle Parks, who sends him suggestive texts and leaves X-rated snow sculptures on his front porch.
Kyle is tired of being the town’s resident Peter Pan. He’s twenty-five, not ten, and despite his effeminate appearance, he’s nothing but the boss in bed. He’s loved Paul since forever, and this Christmas, since they’re both working on the Winter Wonderland festival, he might finally get his chance for a holiday romance.
But Paul comes with baggage. His ultra-conservative family wants him paired up with a woman, not a man with Logan’s rainbow connection. When their anti-LGBT crusade spills beyond managing Paul’s love life and threatens the holiday festival, Kyle and Paul must fight for everyone’s happily ever after, including their own.
Warning: Contains erotic snow art, toppy twinks, and super-sweet holiday moments. Best savored with a mug of hot chocolate with a dash of spice.
The other day someone sent me a Facebook invite to be in a NaNoWriMo group. This was my reaction.
Once upon a time I was all over NaNoWriMo. It gave me the novel Double Blind, which is still my favorite book of mine I’ve written. I loved the fever dream writing was that year, how intense and crazy-fast everything about that novel happened. I’d participated in NaNoMWriMo before, but that was my first year I joined a local chapter, and it was also the first year I was published. Everything was exciting and wonderful, and I swore I’d always participate in the novel-in-a-month adventure.
I did participate for several years–up until the last year, in fact. For most of that time, I was always the one in my region people chased, because I wrote so much so fast. But I have to tell you, with each passing year, the thrill fizzled and faded until participating became a chore. The rigid strictures of the program made my teeth set on edge, particularly since I knew a lot of them were bad ideas for me. It was difficult to organize my writing schedule so I could start a new novel exactly on November 1 and finish it by the end of the month. It played merry hell with my holidays, screwing up Thanksgiving and making Christmas a mad, insane rush.
There are so many things wrong with NaNoWriMo for me right now. To start, 50,000 is on average halfway through a novel for me. I don’t write short, so to finish the book I have to double-time it. Also, my muses have a decided preference for writing in fits and starts, putting down books sometimes for weeks or months or sometimes years. Sometimes I can push through, but that usually makes messes and always wears me out to the point I begin to seriously hate what I’m working on. The sprints never worked for me either, because sometimes sitting and staring at a screen, not writing for three hours, is the most important writing I do. The idea I could show up at a write-in and produce words on demand usually meant I only produced garbage or that I had to deal with angry, upset muses for three months after the close of the event.
But the above gif sums up how I feel about NaNoWriMo because I still want to participate. I love the camaraderie of a writing group. I love the little badges and progress bars. Most of all I really want to write my novels faster and in one sitting. So for me saying no usually means putting my head down and not looking while other people have the fun I wish I could be having but know I shouldn’t. Like everyone else is eating the birthday cake, and I know I really can’t, because it’s filled with allergens, but it still sucks to watch. And going to write-ins or “sort-of” participating feels exactly like being at a party full of wheat products. It’s hard not to eat them, even though if I do I know I’ll be sorry.
So I’m officially participating in NaNoNuh-Uh this year. I don’t have a badge or a progress bar. I also don’t have a plan besides writing a book I’ve been trying to write since August. I did my own kind of nudge, commissioning a cover, marrying a title, making a playlist. I even whispered an admission of my goal on Twitter, and now here. But that’s it. I want to have the book finished and out as soon as possible. But I might not get it out until March or later. I want to write all the series books on my to-do list, but I might not get to any of them next year.
I want to get the fire I used to have, able to write 50k in one week, sometimes. I miss that so much sometimes I cry about it. I’ve spent most of this year sick, scared, frustrated, and mourning things I didn’t know I needed to mourn. I’m weeding my way slowly through the truth that menopause is hard on creativity, that losing those hormones means learning a new brain, and that when those hormones are ripped violently from you in one surgery, the transition is brutal. I may get that production fire back, and I may have to accept I never will, that everything will be slower now.
There’s also the gnarly part that wasn’t there for the glory of NaNoWriMo 2009: back then, nobody knew who I was, and my published novel hadn’t come out yet. I have over twenty books under my belt now, and I’m blessed with a large following of readers. When I sit down to write, I can’t escape the knowledge of who I’m writing for, which means I always worry about disappointing them. I worry what other people are thinking about my work and my career, even though I know that’s not helpful. Especially when I’m not producing the way I want to and negative thoughts creep in. I can get those things out of the way, even when I’m not feeling my best. But that takes energy and focus too. And it demands its own schedule, it’s own pace. Which is pretty much never the pace of NaNoWriMo.
This November I’m writing. For thirty days I’m going to put my focus on Enjoy the Dance, a sequel to Dance With Me. I might finish it before Thanksgiving. I might only have a chapter by the first of the year. I will absolutely not write 1600 words every day. I will absolutely only work minimally the week of Thanksgiving so I can focus on creating a huge, wonderful celebration for my family. I’m not going to chart or report my progress anywhere, unless I feel like doing that will be okay for my production. I’m not letting pressure of what I should be doing or need to do get in my way. I’m just going to show up and write. Or stare at the screen, or listen to the soundtrack while I fold laundry.
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, I wish you nothing but luck and good wishes. If you don’t want to participate, I wish you luck and good wishes too. If you want to participate but know it’s a bad idea for you, I give you luck, good wishes, a huge hug, and a space beside me at the NaNoNuh-Uh virtual write-in.
If you’re feeling down and overwhelmed about your writing or your career, give yourself permission to create at the pace that works for you. Remember the time you felt the euphoria, and accept both that you can have it again–and that it will very likely not look the same as you remember.
A career in writing is a caucus race. It goes round and round in circles. Sometimes you will laugh and twirl as you run, and sometimes you’ll be so tired you have to step aside. Remember the only way to win is to participate—at the pace which suits you in the moment you join the dance.
We’re in the last days to order/send books for the virtual signing!
A few quick answers to common questions: don’t worry, your books don’t have to BE here by October 1, just that you have to have filled out the forms saying they’re coming. Also, people are wanting Sleigh Ride, which won’t be out until after October 1, and that’s okay. We’ll wait for the books, so long as you tell us they’re coming.
You can find out everything you need to know about the signing here, with links for the order/notification forms. We’ll be sending shipping invoices starting next week, and we’ll start shipping the books shortly thereafter!
In the meantime…would you like to win a paperback?
Three winners will get to pick a book from my stash. You don’t have to have a book in the virtual signing to win, but if you have ordered books, you can add an additional one to books you’ve already ordered (I’ll cover that part of the shipping). Patrons will get two additional entries ($20+ patrons will get three) and anyone who ordered books for the virtual signing will get one additional entry. That means if you’re a $20+ patron who ordered books, you get four additional entries.
Enter the Rafflecopter here. It’s open until October 1. Good luck, and I’ll “see” you at the signing!
This is an identical post to the first part of the newsletter sending out later today, but this one has more detailed information, particularly about shipping.
People ask me all the time how they get a signed copy of one of my books. Usually I have to say find me at a convention. This spring I had a virtual signing for Nowhere Ranch. This fall I’m having a virtual signing for Dance With Me, my latest release, and for all of my books.
How you participate in the virtual signing:
For Dance With Me and Nowhere Ranch:
Sign up at this link to receive an invoice. Nowhere Ranch is $14 and Dance With Me is $18. Shipping for just those two books is $5. (See shipping chart below for note about $20+ Patreons.) If you purchase books beyond these two, your shipping charges will be billed separately once we receive your other titles. (NOTE: The Dance With Me Patreon post has already been pinned.)
For books other than my self-published titles:
Purchase the books direct from the publisher(s) or a third party retailer of your choice. Record the titles you’ve purchased at this link and ship the books directly to this address:
RE: VIRTUAL SIGNING
Ames, Iowa 50010
It’s vital you note the date you shipped your book(s) and from where they’re coming. Your book(s) will be in a sea of hundreds of others, and we want to be able to track your purchases.
For those of you purchasing books from overseas, I recommend going direct from a publisher, but you’re welcome to order from anywhere convenient for you. If you have trouble, email us.
Once we receive the titles you want signed, we’ll send you a PayPal invoice for your shipping. You can use the chart below to calculate an approximate rate. Pay your shipping invoice promptly in order to receive your signed books. Any books without shipping fees received by October 15 will be donated to local LGBT shelters & libraries.
You may start purchasing and shipping books at any time, but we will close the Google forms on October 1, meaning no more books will be accepted for the signing. The actual signing and shipping of the books will likely occur during the first two weeks of October.
If you place an order for self-published titles and titles produced by a publisher, you’ll need to fill out both Google forms. If before October 1 you decide you want more books signed, simply purchase/order them again. We won’t ship anything before October 1.
If you won a book in a Patreon contest, you will receive discounted shipping for that book. If you keep reading this stuff about Patreon and wonder what in the hell I’m talking about, or are feeling like you’re missing out, read this or join here.
Still have questions? Email email@example.com and fire away. Otherwise, start buying your books, and don’t forget to fill out those forms.
Need direct links for buying paperbacks? Find them on my book page. Need help figuring out how much shipping will cost you? Read on.
Virtual Signing Shipping Chart
Note: $20+ Patreons who had joined before the paperback post went up will automatically get Dance With Me and can add up to one additional book free shipping, discounted shipping for 3+ books.
These shipping fees are approximate. Media Mail and First Class include purchase of shipping materials. International shipping radically changes once you go over four pounds, because then you have to pay for Priority Mail. You’ll note some of the fees will be slightly higher than what you see on the stamp, particularly on media and first class mail. This is because I need to pay for packaging materials, and also because they discount me when I use click & ship, but they don’t always give me the clear discount when I’m trying to set things up. I am going to get a postage scale and give accurate shipping rates when I PayPal you for shipping.
US DOMESTIC SHIPPING
$5-10, depending on how many books shipped
1-2 books $5
3-4 books $6
5-8 books $12
9+ books $18
First Class Package
1 book $14USD
2 books $18USD
3 books $20USD
4 books $23USD
5 books $25USD
6-8 books $43USD
8+ books $57USD
EUROPE & AUSTRALIA
First Class Package
1 book $18USD
2 books $25USD
3 books $28USD
4 books $32USD
5 books $38USD
6-8 books $63USD
8+ books $80USD
Thursday last week my mother called to inform me my grandmother had passed away the night before.
This was no kind of surprise. All summer she’d been increasingly ill, and from July on she’d been set to die “any day.” She was in and out of the hospital and care center until she never left. She had congestive heart failure; she was swollen with fluid and sometimes out of her mind, confused as to where she was and how she’d got there, insisting my mother had taken her against her will and the nurses were to call the police. For a woman who never left the house without her hair done and jewelry on, she left this world with less dignity than she would have chosen for herself.
My grandfather passed two years and a few months prior to her death, and in that time we have all played various games with the impending end of times. We’ve visited often or stayed away in a kind of denial. We tried to glean stories or “one more time” for so many things. Grandma made little of it easy. She’d never been a particularly easy person, but once the chore of keeping Grandpa alive was over, a lot of her fire seemed to go out. She didn’t want company. She didn’t want to go out. Little pleased her. And so no matter what coping mechanism we chose, most of us ended up largely disappointed.
I was one of the unwise souls who chose denial. In my defense I’ve had plenty going on, but mostly, I can admit, I was terrified of what was coming and so tried to pretend it would never arrive. I told myself all year I would call my grandmother, but I never did. I told myself I would visit, but I did so only once. I meant to write so many letters. I sent none. And now she is gone, and the only thing left to do is write this.
My mother tasked me with making a picture-movie as I did for my grandfather when he passed—since I’d known she was dying all summer, I could have anticipated this request and saved myself a lot of last minute work, but of course even if I’d been asked in July, I’d have waited until Thursday to begin. In fact, it was Friday before I did so much as put out a call for pictures. Because I didn’t want to face this. I never wanted this to happen, but it did, and so here I am.
The movie is done now, and I’m printing out the last of the twenty copies I’ll take to the visitation with me. I’m writing this on Sunday night, but this will post as the visitation starts on Monday evening. If you choose to watch the linked movie from 5-7CST you’ll be watching with me and my family, but it’s okay if you don’t, because it’s likely not going to mean much to you, if you weren’t part of this family. I think the plan is, like they did with my grandfather, to play it in the sanctuary over a movie screen like they did for my grandfather. I’d made the movie and meant to pass it out to family, maybe play it on a laptop out of the way or downstairs, but the pastor had been so excited to show off the church’s technology, my grandfather ended up with a movie at his visitation, which he would have loved. In fact, I had my second lucid dream of my life while I was making it, and he came to tell me he did love it very much, and me too.
My grandmother I think would secretly like the movie, but she will think the showing in the sanctuary a little fussy. I know she’d like the content, which is largely her holding babies. God, she loved babies. I was the first grandchild, and I gave her her first grandchild. I named my daughter after my grandmother and my grandmother’s mother, which she loved so much she ordered a little jumper with both names. Sadly, this got into a basket to lend to a friend and the friend never returned it, something I’m sad for often. Especially this week.
My grandmother was young when I was young. She took me to the mall, to the park, made cookies with me when I stayed at their house sometimes for a whole week, for a vacation. I played in the backyard. Ate wafer-thin pancakes at her high-top table. She came to soothe me in the night when I was convinced my grandfather’s snoring was a dragon and helped me get safely to the bathroom and back to bed. She made me lemon meringue pie because it was my favorite, and red velvet cake. She had a candy drawer and it was always full. She kept a toothbrush for me in her bathroom for when I came to visit, which always seemed like the most warm and precious thing to me. And she always had little toys or quiet games in her purse which I was allowed to play with during church, which she always took me to when I visited.
She wasn’t a squishy, kind grandmother–I didn’t really have any of those. She was actually quite baggy—the title comes from her favorite scold if you cooked near her. “You’ve gotta measure.” But she was stable and solid and omnipresent. She was at every major event in my life. She mailed me cookies weekly while I was in college, so many I had to share them with my dorm floor and professors (and thereby she won me many friends). Later I learned she was why we had food and clothes, sometimes, during some rough parts of our life. And when my nuclear family fell apart first with constant moving and then due to divorce, Grandma and Grandpa’s house became the stable, safe place. The home that would always be. The place we could always go to be safe. And we’ve been fortunate because it’s been exactly that for a long, long time.
My siblings and I have all been quietly aching with one another. One won’t be able to make it back, as she lives in Vienna. She sent along this drawing she made, which when it arrived in my inbox wrecked me utterly. It’s a drawing of their house, the way it has always been, always, with someone slipping in the garage door. That person is only a few steps from the kitchen screen door, and beyond there is heaven. A mixture of smells: clean smells, food smells, grandparent smells. There will be banging of things on the stove, or the sink. Grandma will turn around and smile, a patient smile. From a room beyond, Grandpa will say, “Well, look who’s here!” and will demand you come give him a hug. Wherever you’ve come from, whatever has been happening in your life, it doesn’t matter, because right now you’re at 2240 Brookland Drive, NE. You’re at Grandma and Grandpa Morton’s house, and everything will be all right.
Except, of course, it hasn’t been all right for two years, and now that kitchen will always be quiet. The smells will be wrong. Only for a little while longer will it have Grandma and Grandpa’s things in it at all. Then it will be someone else’s house.
My grandmother’s death is not a surprise, but it is a shock and it is a terrible, aching pain inside me. For her suffering, I’m glad she’s had release, and I can hardly begrudge her the long, rich live she lived. I know how rich because I’ve just spent three days putting together the photographic documentation of it. A lot of babies sat on that woman’s lap, which is just the way she wanted it. She didn’t travel far and wide. She didn’t want to. She wanted to have babies and hold babies and take care of people she loved. This she did, and very well.
I’m putting in the last DVD to burn, though part of me wants to keep burning until the stack of fifty in front of me is gone. I want to toss them out and start the movie over. I want to think of a reason to delay the funeral. I want magic to happen and I want them to be sixty again, or for them to have the bodies of sixty-year-olds and live until the moment I die.
I am sorry I didn’t visit or call or write. I’m also not. Because the truth is they haven’t been the same for a long time. They were both sick. And every time I visited I saw their death coming, and I foolishly thought it would be easier if I didn’t watch it happen. I know they aren’t completely gone, that they have left us with a large, healthy family. That we are capable of making a new place home. I know I’ve done a pretty good job with my own house and my own family. I closed the video by saying “thank you for showing us the way home,” and I meant it. They more than anyone else taught every one of the family members they touched what a home looked and felt like. They showed us the dance steps. Now they wait in the wings, cheering us on from somewhere a little further away.
But it still hurts. It hurts more than I normally allow things to let hurt me. I’m expert at turning away from anything potentially wounding, at least emotionally. I resist attachments so I don’t get hurt. But I never managed with these two. No matter what kinds of walls I tried to put up, these two just loved me anyway. Whether I came for dinner or not. Whether I wrote or not. Whether I sent the thank you notes or not. They got way deep inside even when I tried not to let them.
I’ve been bursting into tears in the middle of sentences for days. I’ve wept while writing this until snot ran out of my nose. I won’t be surprised if I sob so hard at some point in the next 48 that I vomit. Because the truth is despite any distancing I might have tried to do, any logic I’d tried to use, Ruth Ellen Morton and her husband got way, way under my skin and all the way into not just my heart but the core of my being. And their loss cuts so much.
I’m going to do my best to take up their mantle and build that kind of home for my family, their children, and all my friends and loved ones. The safe place that stays, that always is. But right now, this week, I’m going to cry. Especially when I walk into that house tomorrow, full of lots of family and noise and yet so horribly quiet and empty.
I love you Grandma and Grandpa. I hope now that you can see everything I tried to hide from you that you still are proud of me. I will miss you for the rest of my life.
(If you watch the video: the song she’s brokenly singing to the baby is the one she always sang to all of us when we were kids. She sang it like a lullaby, but in making the video I found out it was actually a 1940s pop song. My grandmother’s rendition was so much better.)
Last night I wrote this post which was basically me all caught up in fifty different things at once, and one of the side effects of writing it was that I also started a Patreon. You may or may not have heard of it, but the gist is you pick artists to support, you say, “I will pledge X per piece of art,” and then when they produce art it automatically goes to you. You can cap it so you don’t go broke. You can edit your pledge, you can cancel it. The creators have different levels, like $1 gets you X, $5 gets you Y, etc.
I had huge trepidation about starting this, and I’m still walking carefully, but I’m willing to give it a try. This is my Patreon page. It contains a rambling post about why I started it and what to expect and my suggestions for how to pledge if you intend to, and I’ll elaborate a little more here, then post this post on the site, so everything will get meta very fast.
Why I started it.
There are a lot of reasons, and the biggest one I can’t disclose the reason why. It’s a great story, and you’d love it if you knew it, but it would change the story a lot if you did, and wouldn’t be good for my family or anyone immediately involved, so the one thing you get to know, alas, is that when you hear me talking about my children it’s plural now, two instead of one, so I say “my daughters” and “my teenagers.” I love this new journey, but it’s thrown everything into chaos, especially money and creating story. There is also the health nonsense, which I thought maybe I had an answer to, and then this week it fell back into mess, and I am honestly trying not to think about it and playing “let’s ignore it and hope it goes away,” which will be a disaster, but I’m out of ideas and energy and this is as much as I can talk about it without getting all whack again, so we’re done.
But that leads into the biggest reason I was willing to try this, because regular, faster money sounds badass, but frankly I’m more psyched about the inner circle, rejuvenation thing. Because what I honestly really want from this trial is to be motivated to do a few smaller projects and get feedback from patrons and have some fun and try new things. Asking for money feels disgusting and I don’t want any part of it, but saying, “Hey, come on this weird trip with me and let’s see what happens” sounds like the fucking bomb.
I tried to structure the support levels to be a constant preorder and guaranteed best possible way to get all my stuff the fastest and in the coolest way possible. You can pledge as little as a dollar a story, cap it at a dollar a month, and still get all the short stuff I put out that month. Don’t feel sleazy about it either, because if enough people do it, it won’t matter. Don’t feel sleazy about switching your pledge level around when you know a novel is coming, or a novella. Don’t feel sleazy about pledging $20 and capping it at $20, or $5 and capping it at $5. Or any level. Because that you would do that at all is cool, and I get it. Boy howdy, do I get it.
On my website I made a little button for this, and I called it Tesla-Level Fans because I want this to feel like punching a ticket for a crazy bonus ride. If you really only want to buy novels and novellas from third party vendors, just pledge a dollar and get popcorn. And if you’re leery of Patreon or this feels weird, skip it. Yes, you’ll miss out on a little bit, but if you don’t care about that stuff, you’re not out anything. And honestly if this works the way I want, making story for the Tesla People will end up making story I can sell on the third party sites, so there you go.
The one thing this might be really good for, though, is if you’re someone who LOVES a signed paperback. Because I made the $20 level just that: you get every story, every kind, AND you get a paperback mailed to you, wherever you are. Which can only happen a handful of times a year, and it’s only for stuff I publish independently, but there will be more of that coming. And here’s the thing, you’ll know when that’s coming, and you can swap up when we get close.
If you want to just come hang out and see what I do, that’s totally okay. Seriously, zero pressure. This is just a wild hair. A trial. A ride. I just jacked Baz’s Tesla, and we’re going to see what we can do. All I know is today I feel better and less like I’m trying to swallow a watermelon while juggling expensive china and more like I really am sitting behind the fucking coolest car ever made.
If you feel like getting in the back seat, or the front, or standing out the moon roof, let’s do it. And hat tip: I’m currently sitting on the ebooks of Dance With Me‘s re-release, which I will be uploading this weekend to vendors (and then we have to wait for them to do whatever they do before they’re live), but will give to $5 and up patrons later today. And I think those will be sitting there in case you read this after I post them to Patreon. If not, we’ll take care of it. We’re all in this car together.
I came across this Medium post by Amanda Palmer via her husband Neil Gaiman. It hit home in a lot of ways, and I feel compelled to add my voice to the song, so to speak. I think she’s going to be too busy giving birth to read this, and certainly she has many other things going on anyway, but I’m putting this letter out there to her and any mom or mom-to-be afraid of losing her art to the motherhood machine, because I’ve been there, done that, worn the maternity shirt and the baby sling.
To start, I have to say I love watching you and Neil on social media, the news, and wherever you are. I love how every time both of you are photographed with each other, one or both of you is gazing at the other with naked, pure love. It makes my heart warm every time, so thank you for that. I’m so incredibly stoked you’re bringing a child into that sacred space. They’re going to be amazing, because they can’t be anything else with those genes and that environment.
I’m very sorry, though, that you received that letter from Worried. I’ve received reader mail like that, the ones that catch you at just the wrong moment with words queued up in the perfect way to serrate your self-confidence. Worst, you know the person never meant to do that, they just forgot there was an actual human reading the letter. But I’m especially sorry the letter cast doubt on your ability to create art and be a mother. Those words managed to cut me too, and I suspect every artist mother or woman who wants to someday claim both those titles at the same time.
I’m writing to tell you I can promise you absolutely can be both a mother and an artist, even an edgy, off-beat artist, despite all the horseshit our culture piles on female artists and mothers. I know because I’ve done it. I’m doing it right now. And you will do it too.
My husband and I always wanted to be parents, though I confess the night we took our daughter by birth home from the hospital, we spent the night staring at each other in terror and wondering what in the holy hell we’d just done. We were thrown by how much being parents changed the pattern of our lives, but that wasn’t the worst part: that honor went to the soul-crushing cult everyone seemed to want us to join. Somehow becoming parents meant we could no longer swear, not even in front of an infant. We were invited to activities we never would have considered before and frankly didn’t now—or rather, at first they seemed okay, like maybe we’d meet other parents and get out of the house, but that’s not what happened. Everything felt so Stepford and sanitized. It creeped us the hell out, and we stayed home.
Worst of all, though, was what was thrown at me. I “stayed home,” as in, I continued writing novels and trying to get them published while also parenting, and eventually those efforts paid off. But in between birth and publication, I fielded endless efforts to Momify myself. I hauled my daughter to activities designed to give parents a break, but I was expected to sit with other moms and chat while this occurred. Not talk about my life or my dreams, but only baby clothes and if I was still breastfeeding and nap time and what scrapbook style I was using to document her every move. I endured that for about five minutes and then ran away to a closet where I sat on the floor with my laptop and kept one ear open in case someone came looking for me.
I could fill you with endless tales like that, but a single sample sets the table well enough. Your greatest danger in losing your edge in motherhood isn’t going to come from your contentment and softness. It will come from that societal cult wanting to turn you into the Pietà. It’s going to come at you from every side and every angle, even from within your own self. The programming to normalize and “gentle” is so intense batting it away will sometimes drive you mad.
The good news is, it can create great art. Badass, off-the-wall art.
I have always written romance, ever since I was in high school. But it wasn’t until I was fighting the motherhood normalizer that I began writing really different romance. The frustration and fear stopped me writing prim and proper straight Regencies I thought the publishing industry wanted and made me so crazy I started writing edgy, erotic gay romance. Lots and lots of it, in the dark, sure nobody would ever publish it and certainly no readers would ever pick it up, but I wrote it anyway. I wrote in anger, in terror, and most of all in defiance. I wrote things that shocked me. I wrote things that made me sick with fear and tremulous with excitement.
I made art. Crazy, endless piles of art.
I sold it all, most of it with pretty decent success for a fledgling trope in a genre with no shortage of talent on the stage. As my daughter grew, I wrote and published more of it, though now I was terrified of what would happen when someone at preschool or kindergarten found out Anna’s mother wrote dirty gay sex for cash. I rode that fear and wrote more dirty gay sex for cash. Dirtier and gayer, and wouldn’t you know it, it made even more cash.
My motherhood did not sanitize or settle me. It lit fires in me that still burn. It fueled not only my art but my own self-exploration. It was through the art brought on by motherhood that I discovered my bisexuality. It led me to bring another child into my life, not of my body but absolutely of my heart. It carried me through the loss of those organs which started all this motherhood in the first place, a painful ache which I’m still unpacking, once again, through art.
My story won’t ease your fears, and I don’t want it to. Because that fear is what will keep your art alive. The struggle against the pressure to don yoga pants and listen to a glassy-eyed stranger lecture you about breastfeeding instead of standing naked but for paint with a sword in front of a public library is what will lead you to art you could never have known in any other manner.
Keep that sword handy, because you’ll need it. You’ll face, daily, judgment from total strangers on the choices you make for your child. You, far more than Neil, will bear the clucked tongues and raised eyebrows. Because our culture is sexist and punishing to women, and it wants us to bear all the weight of the world and fix all its problems while also making dinner and tucking in kids and not looking like a slut or using foul language and standing meekly on the pedestals others make for us.
I planted that picture of you at the head of this blog post because it’s the image all mothers need to see. It’s moved me every time I’ve seen it and it will continue to do that long into the future. Because for the first time ever, I saw in you, the mother-to-be, the mother I feel that I am.
Then today I read your post, and even in your aching, beautiful confession, I found support for myself and my own struggles. Because I’m wading deeper and deeper into being an independent author, which is terrifying and expensive, and I’ve ended up doing this while acquiring a second child, and I have two teenagers and piles of bills, and the art is a lot less joyous because I’m desperate to make it as quickly as possible and lying awake at night whispering prayers the next royalty check is better, because holy shit is my life a mess right now. I read your post and for the first time felt I maybe had permission to try a tentative hand at a Patreon. Writing this whole paragraph has happened, to be honest, through a veil of tears: of relief, but mostly of connection. Like I went to one of those parent gatherings and finally met someone who understood what I was trying to do.
I have joined your Patreon. I just spent two hours leaping over my own fears and awkwardness about asking and started my own. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with it, or how successful it will be. I’m nervous as hell about it and have almost deleted it about six hundred times, and I’m typing this sentence instead of hitting publish on the blog button because then it will be live and then it will be real. But what I do know is reading your post about fear reminded me we all feel alone but none of us are. That we really do want to be there for each other. But that we have to give each other the chance to help each other if we need it.
Right now according to your Patreon page you’re sailing down to wherever you’re heading to wait for baby. I wish you love and power and peace, but I also wish you a little bit of edge. Something to nag at you in the night and push you into strange new places. I wish for you to also find motherhood to be not a chain or a smothering blanket but a wild, terrifying, wonderful new avenue for your art.
I wish for you to always look in the mirror and see yourself holding that sword, standing naked, carrying your baby into the unpredictable, unsafe, unstoppable well of creativity—the one that resides in you and that nothing in the world but you can ever extinguish.
So on August 20th, my mother went to a hotel in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She was there because she’s been going back and forth to take care of my grandmother, who is dying of congestive heart failure. My grandmother isn’t getting oxygen to her brain, so she’s loopy and weird and spends a lot of time insulting my mother, because she’s not herself and is very sick. Consequently, my mother is very tired. Very. Tired.
Which is why when she went to this hotel (I won’t name it yet, unless they don’t take care of her room for that night), and when she joined what she thought was the hotel wifi and her computer began blowing up with virus warning messages, she panicked. When a box popped up saying she had viruses and she should call Apple Care and the number was next to it, she called them.
“Very helpful” people then spent two hours screen-sharing and “fixing” her computer. These people are Cyber PC Experts.
I’m going to say that name a lot— Cyber PC Experts—and at the end of this story, I’d love you to find a way to link to this story. Share it. Retweet it. Facebook share it. I don’t care how you do it, but the more you link to this, the more when people google Cyber PC Experts, the more likely they’ll be to get this hit. Because nobody should go through what my mother is going through right now.
Cyber PC Experts, after masquerading as Apple Care, took my mother’s credit card information, and her email, and her phone numbers. They didn’t fix her computer. There was nothing wrong with it. Their whole goal was to phish for information—my mother’s private information—and rack up “fixing” charges on her credit card. Happily, two hours in (they were going to have her “leave it open” all night) she got nervous and called me, and I had her shut it down. And cancel her card. And then my brother, who is no slouch about this kind of thing, took her computer and is in the process of wiping it. She’s changed all her passwords, and is getting a new card. She reported the charge as fraudulent.
And now they call her.
From all kinds of different numbers.
And they email.
They are desperate to get a hold of her, I hope to God because their credit charge was denied. But they’re stressing her out, because my grandmother is still dying, and there’s no shortage of other stuff going on. So tonight I said, “Let me call them.”
LET IT BE KNOWN they didn’t dispute that they set up fake wifi outside of hotels and trick guests into logging on and telling them they have viruses. LET IT BE KNOWN they never apologized for anything, never denied anything, and when it became clear they couldn’t scam me, they began refusing to say anything unless they spoke to my mother. I told them they wouldn’t be able to. I told them to stop calling.
While I was on the phone with them, they called her three times.
So, I made them a promise, and I’m keeping it. I’m telling the whole world what charming assholes they are. I taught my mother how to block calls. If she can’t manage it, I’m going to get her to a place where she can be on a conference call with me so they can’t pull that shit anymore and have to listen to me tell them to fuck off. I’m also going to let Apple know what they’re doing. Mostly, though, I want to tell the WHOLE WORLD what they’re doing.
Cyber PC Experts. Nasty scammers who love to prey on non-tech-savvy women nursing their dying mothers. Hang outside hotels and make pop up free wifi that looks like the hotel’s wifi. Harass people when they don’t let themselves be taken for everything they have. Don’t deny they’re scamming scammers.
Be sure you know the EXACT name of hotel wifi when you stay there. If you can help it, don’t use it. Don’t call the numbers on popups, even if you’re tired and they say they’re Apple. For the record, Apple would never do that, and they keep regular hours. And they don’t sell you “yearly computer help.”
I’m blogging angry, which I know better than to do, but this is my mom, goddamn it, and I just listened to these smarmy assholes for fifteen minutes. Whatever. Burn ’em. And be you wise, and never let these or other scamming asshats get you.
And please show this to your mom.
Lonely Hearts is out today!
Book Three in the Love Lessons Series
Even hot messes need a happily ever after.
With the quiet help of his wealthy family, Sebastian “Baz” Acker has successfully kept his painful past at bay. But as the end of college draws near, his friends—his buffer zone—are preparing to move on, while his own life is at a crippling standstill.With loneliness bearing down on him, Baz hooks up—then opens up—with Elijah Prince, the guy Baz took a bullet for last year. The aftershocks of their one-night stand leave giant cracks in Baz’s carefully constructed armor. For the first time, the prospect isn’t terrifying.
Accustomed to escaping his demons by withdrawing into his imagination, Elijah isn’t used to having a happy herd of friends. He’s even less comfortable as the object of a notorious playboy’s affections. Yet all signs seem to indicate this time happiness might be within his grasp. When Baz’s mother runs for a highly sought-after public office, the media hounds drag Baz’s and Elijah’s pasts into the light. In the blinding glare, Baz and Elijah face the ultimate test: discovering if they’re stronger together…or apart.
Warning: Contains sex in a Tesla, sex in a cupboard, sex under a piano, kinky role play, and a cappella RuPaul songs. Just a couple of boys groping, battling, then finally loving their way to becoming men.
RT BOOK REVIEWS TOP PICK!
Audiobook coming soon
Come join us for a huge, prize-filled afternoon and evening full of fun, prizes, and more. Seventeen authors, some fabulous bloggers, and YOU. Come as you are, come when you can: all prize links will be open until 8AM August 12!
Annabeth Albert • Keira Andrews • Jordan L. Hawk • Damon Suede • Laura Kaye • Kate McMurray • Marie Sexton • RG Alexander • Tere Michaels • Rayna Vause • Eden Bradley-Eve Berlin • Amy Lane • Amy Jo Cousins • Karen Stivali • Sarina White Bowen • A.m. Arthur
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And don’t forget the Lonely Hearts Blog Tour is still going strong, with lots of chances to win a copy of the book, and of course this grand prize Rafflecopter package!
Love Lessons is 99¢ for a limited time!
Across all platforms, you can get the first book in the Love Lessons series or share it with a friend for only 99¢. Hurry, because this sale won’t last long!