First things first! The winner of this grand prize pack is Shirley Ann, which means someone in the UK will be sipping out of a Minnesota flask, gazing at a snuggling moose figure while leaving through Let It Snow, William’s Doll, and nudging the e-reading forward on Sleigh Ride. Well, probably not all at once. But it will at least be theoretically possible. Congrats Shirley Ann!
Sad you didn’t win? Don’t worry, I’ll be having another contest closer to Christmas. This time, though, I’m only hosting it through my newsletter. Which, I guess, will be easily shared and posted on social media, but if you want to make sure you don’t miss it, be sure to sign up. If I get my act together there will be several contests, but it all depends on how my Christmas and writing prep goes.
Speaking of things to read: remember, I have several free shorts, many of which are Christmas themed, and they’re only available for download through my website. The Twelve Days of Randy and Hooch and Cake are from the Special Delivery series. Frozen Heart is from the Love Lessons series. I have long had schemes to get those properly covered and edited and loaded to vendors (at which point they’ll be 99 cents, but less clumsy) but for now they remain free and on my website. Go get ’em.
Already read those? Well, I have a lot of new things in the pipe, and I’m also hoping 2015 is the Year of the Backlist. I have a pile of things out of print at the moment, small and large, and a few more will be coming this year. Some are already reassigned, some I will self publish, but all of them need some fussing and tweaking and re-covering. Stay tuned via my newsletter to find out when those are available. I honestly have no idea on the timeline right now, unfortunately.
But since we’re nearing the year’s end, and since sometimes people ask, here are some specific things and some vague things coming up in my pipeline.
- The Devil Will Do, re-issue/reworking of Sweet Son, Wilde City Press, February 4, 2015. This book is almost more erotica than romance, though there is a fairytale level of falling in love, connection, and HEA.
- Carry the Ocean, book one of the Roosevelt series, Samhain Publishing, April 7, 2015. Preorders available now. The story of two young men, one struggling with severe depression, one taking the world by storm who also happens to have autism.
- Lonely Hearts, book three of the Love Lessons series, Samhain Publishing, August 11, 2015. Cover reveal at Romantic Times Book Blog in January. This is Baz & Elijah’s story, if you’re following the Love Lessons series.
- Winter Wonderland, book three of the Minnesota Christmas series, Samhain Publishing, Christmas 2015. Paul Jansen finally gets his man, even though he’s not exactly who was anticipated.
- Clockwork Heart, Samhain Publishing, early 2016. Steampunk romance, alternate early 20th century Europe, sky pirates.
- The re-release of Nowhere Ranch and its sequel (currently untitled) through Samhain Publishing in 2016.
- The re-release of Dance With Me through Samhain Publishing in the summer of 2016. No specific sequel planned there at the moment, but they will definitely be around. Keep your eyes peeled in any Minnesota-set book.
- Book Two of the Roosevelt series in 2016, featuring David from Carry the Ocean, a C4 quadriplegic living in the same building as the characters from book one. My first heterosexual main MC romance.
- Book Four of the Love Lessons series in late 2016/early 2017. Rose and Mina promise me they will have a fiery, passionate, and tender romance.
- Book Three of the Roosevelt series in 2017.
- Book Five of the Love Lessons series sometime in 2017. Not telling who the characters are, but you’ve met one already and the other appears in Lonely Hearts.
- The release/re-release of several shorts and novellas previously published and some you’ve never seen before.
- The re-release of the Etsey series (high fantasy romance) and eventually the last three books in the set.
Now, perhaps, you can see why the only convention I’m going to next year is RWA in New York City?
For the next few weeks, outside of the newsletter contest and quick peeks, I’m going to do my best to stay offline. So if I don’t see you before then, have a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and wonderful new year. I’ll leave you with a picture of Sasha prancing beside our Christmas tree. This was the day after we put it up, when it was in considerably better repair.
If you follow me on social media, this isn’t big news, though this will be a more coherent telling of the tale. I’ve meant to blog about this and a zillion other things for weeks, but I had a book due and a blog tour I was grossly behind composing posts for, and I wouldn’t let myself blog for fun until I had my work done. As of yesterday, I have my work done, and this morning I pulled up the manuscript for Winter Wonderland (Minnesota Christmas #3) with full intent on forming a partial in the next fourteen days. So now I have permission to tell you about the kitten.
This is the kitten.
On Sunday last weekend I was at the barn with Anna, frantically editing Lonely Hearts in the lounge when a girl Anna’s age came in with a kitten. A tiny, mewling kitten who could barely walk. She tried desperately to knaw on everyone’s fingers, because she was starving. The mother cat had stopped feeding the kittens, and they were only three weeks old. No one knew where the other kitten was, but this one had been found stumbling around. The girl pleaded with her mother to take it home. “I’ll take care if it, I promise.” The mother balked, the father scolded the girl for putting the mother in this position. Meanwhile, the kitten screamed. Eventually the girl got up, tearful, to put the kitten back where she found it.
It was cold, and dark, and the raccoons and other predators would be out. I knew the kitten would be dead by morning if not sooner. Plus I couldn’t get that scream out of my head. It helped nothing she looked like my first cat or my Sidney, two of my favorites who have passed. Without thinking or letting myself analyze anything, I said, “Don’t put her back. I’ll take her.”
I didn’t even ask the barn owner. I simply took the kitten and ran. We stopped at the first pet store on the way home, bought a bottle and formula, and fed her at the checkout. I didn’t call Dan to tell him what we were doing–I couldn’t explain myself. All the way home Anna said, “Mom, are you okay? You seem upset.”
Yes. I’d just stolen a kitten I didn’t want to keep.
The barn owner wasn’t upset–she was thrilled, because she’s wanted us to have one of her cats. Dan wasn’t upset–shocked, because we walked in the door with something mewling, but he got one look at Sasha and melted. “We won’t keep her,” I kept saying. Another woman at the barn was willing to take her, my sister wanted her, and so did half of Facebook and Twitter. Because we have five cats, and it’s too many. Six is insane.
But this kitten is teeny. Younger than any cat I’ve ever adopted. Part of the reason the other mother said no is the kitten needs to be fed every 3-4 hours. When we took her to the vet on Monday, our vet explained how at this age the mother cat would lick the baby’s anus to stimulate defication, so we had to simulate that with a wet cotton ball twice a day. Her fat belly was intestinal worms, but she was too young to worm. So many things about her were intense work. We couldn’t let her loose in the house, or even in a room. We had to drag out the cat kennel my father-in-law had built years ago and set it up in the TV room. Someone had to feed her every three hours, mixing her formula and warming her bottle.
This someone quickly became Anna. It started as she was the one who slept with her the first night, but it was aided by the fact that she was always the one who most wanted a baby kitten around. She was willing to do this intense work, so we let her. But as we talked with our vet and realized no one but we could keep her with the care she needed for several weeks, we acknowledged it would be Anna doing this care…and Anna forming a bond.
We didn’t want another cat, but we couldn’t justify asking Anna to do all the hard work and then pass her off just when she gets easier to manage. So we’re leaving it up to her. If she wants to keep Sasha, she can. If she wants to give her to her aunt, she can do that too. Anna says she’s still making up her mind, but she’s pretty sure she’s going to keep her.
The other cats overall aren’t sure what they think of her, with the exception of Mitch. Mitch loves Sasha. Grooms her, snuggles with her, plays with her. Sam seems to think she’s a particularly interesting toy. Glinda thinks she’s the antichrist. Walter thinks she’s annoying, and Daisy hates her in the same way she hates most of life. It’s hard to say she’s settling in, because she’s basically an infant, with all the care and work that goes with them.
She is, I will admit, terribly, horribly cute.
This is the flushed out version of my newsletter, basically.
It was my birthday yesterday, and as is now my custom, on my birthday, I give things away. I’d meant this to be done all through August, but my August has been a bit wonky, so I’m STARTING the contest around my birthday and running it through September 5, though it will take me probably until October to get everything organized and gathered.
This year my contest is for librarians. If you are a librarian and would like some of my books and yet-unspecified others, enter yourself at this link. If you want to try to get books for YOUR library, make sure they’re down with that, and then you can enter on their behalf. Here are the rules, which are also posted on the form:
This contest is void where prohibited by law. Must be 18 to enter. Only one entry per person. No purchase necessary. Contest open worldwide unless contest is illegal in your country. Contest winner will be chosen at random by online randomizer from total number of entrants. Prize is one of FIVE paperback packages of some of Heidi’s books and other books as donated. Prizes will be mailed directly to the libraries or their designated representatives. Non-librarians entering must affirm with target library to ensure they wish to be considered for the contest. This contest will open August 26 at 14PM CST and close at 8:30PM CST on September 5. To enter participants must fill out this Google document form. Winners will be announced on Twitter/FB and Heidi’s blog and will be notified of their wins via the email they provide in the contest entry. If a winner does not reply within 48 hours to claim prize, or if it is discovered the winning library doesn’t want the prize, a new winner will be chosen. Prizes will be delivered by media mail and posted no later than October 1, 2014.
If I get a lot of author donations, I’ll do more than five packages. “Library” can be vague. If you have an LGBT center with a bookshelf, that counts. The only thing I’m not doing is your personal home library or the little free library in your front yard. If you have questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re an author or someone who loves donating your favorite books to libraries, email me and let me know what you want to chip in. I’ll take all books from all genres.
The other story of the day is that we have two new members of the family, and their names are…Sam and Mitch.
I want it emphatically stated I had no part in the naming of these cats. How these two became named after my novel will be explained in the story.
So as regular blog readers know, we lost one of our cats, Sidney, in July. We didn’t want to get a new one until after my surgery and well into recovery, and we wanted to take our time and do it right. We’ve been peering at cats here and there, but this morning at the Animal Rescue League in Des Moines we found two cats we liked, and one of them came with the name of Mitch.
I had almost looked at him last night because of the name, but it felt too on the nose, plus I am biased against longer-haired cats. Yet today when we asked for a good lap cat, he was the first guy named, and my daughter fell in love with him. He’s a rare bird: a male tortoise shell calico. He really is sweet. Ironically enough, he hates riding in cars.
Anna had originally wanted a cute baby kitten, but we talked her out of it because she already has a “her” cat who is weirdly still kitten-sized, and we cautioned her that if she’s after cuddly, kittens aren’t always the way to go. Mitch is a HUGE cuddler. He’s exceeding chill, not interested in toys or treats, just a good dish of water, snug places to hide, and people to lie on. He looks damn good in a blue collar, and he LOVES being brushed.
The other cat had been named Jacob at the shelter, but this was the cat Dan picked out, and Dan had his heart set on naming him. In the car on the ride home, Dan pointed out it was only natural to call the other cat Sam. I could hardly argue, and Anna thought the name suited him very well.
Sam is a firecracker. Whereas Mitch is an adult, Sam is still a kitten, and he zooms around the room, attacking feet, crinkle balls, socks, carpets, and anything he can get his hands on. He’ll endure being held, but he wants to run more. He, naturally, has a silver glitter collar.
We haven’t introduced Sam and Mitch to the other cats, but the other cats are already pissed. Daisy is growling at everyone, Glinda meows angrily at the door where the newcomers are sequestered, and Walter glares at us as if to say, “How could you?” We’re hoping they all get over each other quickly enough. Sam was unsure of Mitch at first, growling and batting at his face, but they’ve already made nice and are big buds.
(Don’t make any comments about what they’re going to do after dark. They’re both neutered.)
That’s the story of how I ended up with three of my five cats sharing names with my characters.
Please share this link with any librarians you think might be interested in getting some books. And stay tuned to social media for more cat pictures. You know there will be a million.
Also, since I’m rehashing the newsletter: Hero is available in all retailers, and Fever Pitch and Sleigh Ride have preorders. DON’T MISS the cover reveal for Carry the Ocean at Heroes & Heartbreakers. See it also on my website, and sign up for my newsletter to be alerted for preorders.
Also also, there will be more of these in the coming month as we do the Fever Pitch tour, but this quote pic is my very favorite, and I can’t stand waiting to share it anymore.
I haven’t mentioned Sidney lately on the blog, or much on Facebook, though if you follow me on twitter you’ve likely heard more than you ever wanted about my terminal cat in the last few days. Our four hour search for him in our huge house to no avail, his wormhole return to the kitchen, the last trip to the vet where we were told to put him down and my anxiety over whether or not this was the right time, as I didn’t see our usual vet. My attempts to feed him tuna, his treats, anything. My eventual acknowledgment that yes, this is the day to say goodbye.
I’m writing this in advance as a part of mourning, but when this posts, he will be gone, and the Cullinans will be doing another round of cat mourning. This is our fourth passing in three years. I’m hoping I don’t have to write a post like this again for double that time, minimum.
Today, though, I’m going to tell you about Sidney.
Sidney appeared in our life via the back door. We’d just finished an incredibly disastrous experiment in having a dog, and young Anna was still upset about the return of her furry friend. This is example one of Sidney’s expert eye for opportunity: it was during this time of toddler angst and my weak will that he began showing up on our back deck. It was early spring, and it was cold. He’d huddle under the snow shovel against the side of the house in full view of Anna at the sliding door opposite. When he came too often, I felt for him, and I gave him some kibble.
He thought that was a pretty good deal, and started coming more often. Then one day he’d decided we’d flirted long enough, and when we opened the back door, he came in and went straight for the food dishes.
“We’ll have to call him Sidney,” Dan said, “because he came to dinner.”
“You just named him,” I replied. “You realize now it’s over.”
It was. Sidney had a name, and he was a Cullinan now.
We kept him isolated until we could get him to the vet, which was when we realized he wasn’t neutered, as he peed all over everything in sight to mark it. He was older, not yet a full tom but carrying enough extra hormones to aggravate the living hell out of Blair, the reluctant, neurotic alpha at the time. From that moment until the day Blair passed, Sidney delighted in sending Blair into a rage. He’d lie in wait and pounce on him, though after a few times all he had to do was look threatening, and Blair would lose his shit so fast it was better than cable. It drove us crazy, as this torment only made Blair’s fragile mental health that much more cracked, often inspiring him to pee on things in protest. We took joy, though, in watching the next black cat, Daisy, a third Blair’s size, joyfully turn the tables and drive Sidney into hiding every chance she got.
Sidney was polydactyl, and he used his thumbs to every advantage he could. He could open cupboard doors with almost no effort at all. They were usually the thing that poked at you first when he was annoyed. But Sidney wasn’t often annoyed. He relied on his cute, sweet face to get what he wanted, and he usually got it. He knew just when to appear at the dryer after a cycle so he could jump in, and he knew too I wouldn’t be likely to kick him out, not until the laundry cooled. But when I got to the folding laundry part, he appeared just as quickly, ready to nest on clean socks and underwear or towels or whatever was at hand. In fact, yesterday, when we knew it was our last evening, Anna and I warmed him some towels specifically and let him make one last snug. He didn’t have his usual relish, but he didn’t pass up the offer.
Though he always wanted to eat, Sidney had a deep yearning to see the outside world once again, and he took every opportunity to slip out of a door a foolish human hadn’t fully closed–the thumbs came in very handy here. A few times he was gone overnight, and the smells he brought back with him always drove the other cats crazy. He personally put several huge holes in the porch screens to abet his escape attempts, ones I admit we have yet to fix, have only sealed shut with glass.
Sidney had a fetish. For reasons we’ll never quite know, he loved, loved to be spanked on his butt while he lay sideways on the floor–spanked hard, and when you were done, he’d scoot himself forward on the carpet, then glance on his shoulder to ask for another go. He loved being petted regular too–if I was handing out pets to anyone, he’d be there in a flash, eager and hopeful I still had a spare hand. If I had a blanket on my lap, he was there in a flash, and in the last six months, he slept on my hip more than he slept anywhere else at night. I bought him a fuzzy blue throw when he was first diagnosed, but he quickly threw that over for Anna’s ultra-plush horse blanket we picked up on the way to Cedar Rapids one day. It’s been in his hospice room with him ever since we knew we were heading to this moment.
He was diagnosed with kidney failure, busted thyroid and enlarged heart this spring, and we got a lot more time than we probably had a right to. He’s subsisted on special kidney food and daily fluids ever since that vet visit, and for a while he almost thrived despite his deplorable blood work. His thyroid made him ravenously hungry, but I’d feed him every time he asked, and he asked a lot. I think he took a joy in knowing he could get food whenever he wanted–and no one else could. He always did like being the special boy.
It wasn’t all easy, though, nursing him through his last months. In June he developed a bladder infection and started peeing anywhere but in the litter box. He rallied after antibiotics, but he really never thought clay was better than towels after that. It would have been maddening, especially when he peed on our brand new basement carpet–except at this point his kidney failure was so bad, his urine so dilute, that it was impossible to tell his pee from plain water.
We worried what would happen when we went on our long-scheduled family vacation in early July–we had to board him at the vet, and we worried acutely he’d die while we were gone. He didn’t die, but the stress of being away from home combined with his already significant health crisis snowballed on Tuesday of this week, when he stopped wanting to eat. On Wednesday he started hiding–once we found him, and the second time we searched for hours, everywhere, in the craziest crannies we could find, but to no avail. When he reappeared in the kitchen, we shut him up in rooms he couldn’t escape from, first my office and then Dan’s. My office opens to Anna’s bedroom, which meant he spent Wednesday night sleeping on her pillow. She wanted to do that again last night, but by that time it was clear he was too sick to haul around, and since we’d forced-fed him, we worried he’d vomit on her during the night…or that he would pass, and she’d find him body only by morning.
He didn’t pass, and today I got to nap with him in Dan’s office, snuggled in the chair under blankets as we’ve done so many times. All day I’ve gone to visit him, second-guessing myself, worrying I should have put him down sooner when he flags, worrying I’m acting too quickly when he has a moment of rally. The fact that last night for the first time ever he didn’t fight his fluids says this is the right call, as is the fact all he’s ingested all week is three bites of tuna and a syringe of watered-down Wellness Core. Even when he’s somewhat lucid, he’s not really there, though. He’s still the cat we know and love, but he’s so clearly not okay. He doesn’t want dinner anymore. He needs to go to bed one last time.
Of course, I still don’t like it. As Anna said, we could have five hundred more years and it wouldn’t be enough. Today is the day everything I see makes me sad–I go into the cramped bathroom where I’ve grumbled about the need for a litter box under the sink, making me step in spilled litter every time I wash my face–now there’s no box, and I weep for what its loss means. As I went to bed last night and no one sat on my hip, I felt empty. As I napped with him this afternoon and could barely feel his starved, ravaged body’s weight on my leg, I wept again.
I feel him a little more acutely than I felt the other cats we’ve lost–it’s not the gut despair of my first cat, Gulliver, whom I lost while pregnant (and who incidentally looks a lot like Sidney), but it’s still a more aching cut than Mia or Blair of Bingley. Bingley I never really mourned as I should–one day six months later I found a wad of his fur and sobbed until I fell to the floor, but that was it. Sometime during all the cat death and my escalating health issues, I walled myself off inside. In therapy last year I remarked how I’ve gotten into a creepy habit of non-reaction–people can tell me sad things, horrible things, and I can sometimes catch myself actively walling off. My therapist told me that’s because there’s been way too much going on, and I’m simply coping. That makes sense, but my lack of feeling bothered me. It didn’t feel like living, not like I wanted. That wall broke a bit when my grandfather passed last year, but I quickly put the familiar bricks back in place once the memorial was past. Still too much going on. Still too weary to feel the way I felt I should.
This week, I can say I have definitely felt. Sidney’s death comes at a moment already fraught with heaviness: while I know my upcoming surgery is routine, not even a little life-threatening, it feels like a mountain I am approaching, and the uncertainty of the valley beyond unnerves me. Weirdly, the worst part is that the valley might be wonderful. On my vacation my father in law explained in a way I hadn’t previously been able to wrap my head around how my hysterectomy and removal of endometrial cysts might reverse some if not all of my autoimmune issues, and I am able now, in a way I haven’t dared to in a long time, imagine a world without pain. Truly without it–no more living at 3 or 4, getting so used to it what would send most people home to bed feeling like a pretty good day. Maybe eating a few things I couldn’t again, or not getting sick from a day of cleaning. Maybe taking a long walk without my legs feeling like they’re breaking in half. Maybe feeling as good as I’ve felt on my intermediary drugs–or better–without any medications at all.
Or it might not be much different. Or only sort of different. Or something else I can’t see.
Control, you see, is the issue–the lack of it, both for Sidney and for me. I cannot stop him passing. I was willing to do everything necessary to help him, but his dueling illnesses made it impossible, left me only with palliative care. I could not leave him at home while we were gone–I could not stop the stress that caused him. Even if I’d stayed home, though, eventually this disease would have caught him anyway. In truth, even without this disease, something else would have taken him eventually.
And so this week has been a crazy flurry of dying cat, a pile of work to turn in before my surgery, and prepping for surgery. Of walking around realizing all the things I won’t be able to do for weeks and weeks post-op, of acknowledging how nuts that will make me. Of knowing I’m signing up for some delightful pain and that weird, not nearly as fun as it should be time-gap that is general anesthesia. I always think maybe I’ll get to see gods or at least talk to Randy Jansen in person for a few minutes, but I don’t ever so much as dream. It’s simply one moment me on the bed with the big light, then me under a different light, my body full of pain and wracked by shakes.
This week has been me trying to finish a partial and find the headspace to read the initial notes from betas, including my now former therapist’s. This week has been me sitting quietly with the fact that our notes over Carry the Ocean will be our last exchange, that because she’s retired and because of the ethics of social worker rules, we won’t ever speak again.
I think only a third of the tears I’ve shed over Sidney in the past twenty-four hours have been for him. Oh, I will miss him, terribly, and that hurts, but more than anything, I think his passing and my upcoming procedure and my therapist’s retirement and so many other million things have snarled into a small, hard pellet which has managed to shatter a huge section of that feeling wall. I can’t control a lot right now. I can’t stop the wheels from turning. I can’t stop change. I can’t stay death, not forever. Not even for that sweet face.
I’m grateful, though, for that feeling, and I totally credit Sidney. He wasn’t exactly a wise soul, but he was a good one, and the life lessons he offered were instructive. Play. Love. Snuggle. Seek heat and pleasure and comfort. Be a little naughty. Fly your freak flag. Never miss a meal. Live hard and long as you can, but when the time comes to say goodbye, go gracefully, easily into the next phase.
Thank you, Sidney, for choosing us to stay with for a while. I hope you found the level of treats and laundry acceptable, though I’m not sorry I never let you go back outside. Enjoy the fresh air now as much as you want. I’ll see you on the other side.
I hate that I’m doing this again. I really, really hate it.
Had to get that off my chest. Now, for your context: This is yet another post where I have to tell you about how one of my cats is dying, and it’s going to be long and gruesome. Again.
A whole host of you, bless you all, are going oh no, because you remember the last hellacious Cat Death Cycle of 2011-2, where we put down one cat for vaccine-site sarcoma, one for multiple myoloma (I’m spelling shit wrong, typing without glasses because onions in the room, font blown up to ten thousand, apologies in advance) a few months later, and then out of nowhere another for lung cancer just a few months after that. This isn’t new, this game of Cullinan cat death. I just, you know, thought I’d get more than two years off.
This time it’s Sidney. This special little fella.
He’s our polydactyl cat, who can open cupboards with a single thumb. He terrorized Blair, the first cat to succumb to the last round of die-off, and then was terrorized by the new black kitten, Daisy, as karmic payback. He’s our “BDSM kitty” who loves to be spanked. He loves my lap and a good heat vent.
He has hypo(er?)thyroid, a heart murmur, and kidney failure.
If he had just ONE of those, or just the thyroid/heart or the kidney, we could do it. We could give fluids and meds for the kidney or do this radio blasting thing for the thyroid. The radiation is expensive, and while we thought it was just that I had this whole scheme cooked up where I’d write a gay romance cat novella, give it away, and collect donations, and whatever was bonus I’d give to local shelters or some fantastic cat thing. I was all ready to go. I’d be ready for ANY of it, because I’m all about never say die, let’s do this.
But the thyroid treatments/meds can’t be done with kidney failure, so that will get worse, and the kidney thing is manageable but not when you have the heart murmur ready to kick out a clot which will kill him quickly and painfully. We’re going to do treatment, but we’re looking at anywhere from tomorrow he’s gone until a year or so. It’s just a matter of when and what gets him.
So he’s hungry–starving, and he can’t get enough to eat because of the thyroid, and I can’t fix it. His kidneys are failing, and we can help that, but not stop it. We can make him comfortable, pull some tricks. But basically once again we’re looking at a long goodbye. Or maybe a short one. It’s the roulette wheel of death for us here. Just a matter of when we hit black.
That’s it, really. I’m shamelessly using my blog to say this sucks and I’m sad. I bought a bunch of comfort food from the grocery store and all I want to do is drink the cider I bought. And I’m in here being sad because it’s an easy way to tell a whole bunch of people at once and to cry in my office instead of in front of my kid. Who has gotten really good at saying goodbye to cats too, much better than she should.
I’m going to say this one part out loud because it’s dumb but part of me will still believe it anyway. I have this superstition that my cats keep dying on me because they’re leeching off my weird health nonsense in some mystical-Bast energetic way, and that’s why they get sick and die. I have nothing to back this up except an overactive imagination and the fact that they always hang out on me or near me. So I feel like it’s my fault, which is even more dumb, but there it is. Nope, saying it out loud doesn’t make me believe it any less. I totally believe they would pull that shit.
Worst, though, worse even than that is that Sidney in my secret heart has always been my replacement Gulliver. My first cat, my pal through post-college nightmare, my first apartment, through dating Dan–to Gulliver’s death he was annoyed with Dan and kept waiting for him to leave–Gulliver died unexpected at seven of the same death Sidney’s likely to have, a throboembelism. (Can’t spell that either, still no glasses, not trying.) He looks just like him, and he kind of…well, feels like him. Different but similar. I always felt like Gulliver came back to me in Sidney. And wouldn’t the irony have it, but Sidney is either seven or eight, depending on how old he was when he came to us.
So now I get to feed him whenever he wants to be fed, but it won’t be enough. I get to hold him and turn up the heat too high so he has all the heat vent he wants, but it won’t be enough. We get to give him fluids and phosphorous binders and drugs, but we’re buying time. When we leave town, he’ll have to be boarded, and every time we leave the house, we might come home to him dying of a thrown clot.
I hate it. I hate that I was all ready to do whatever it takes to save him, and I can’t. I hate that I have to watch him be hungry and sick. That I have to do this again. That it’s this cat, this way. I hate all of it. I can’t even be elegant. So I’m going to sit here and cry a minute, and then go put on a good show for my kid, until I get to go to bed and he’ll curl up beside me, and I can sob until my nose and eyes swell shut, and then just get ready to do this again. A-fucking-gain.
Except I’ll just get another cat, again and again, until one (or four) of them outlive me. Because I’m married with kid, but I’m still a crazy cat lady.
And now I’ve made you all sad too. I’m sorry.
Really fucking sorry.
I’m going to start this blog with some photos, because I’m also linking this to the YouTube post, and I want people to be able to see that my cats are not quite as fat as they look in the video. It’s upsetting my daughter and husband (they’re not used to negative Internet comments–I’ve been reviewed on Goodreads. I’m totally set here.) and I wanted to maybe calm people down that my cats are not beyond the beyond. For my regular readers, you get the full story after the photos.
Walter, the black and white cat, is twelve. He’s had two near-death runs, and he has almost no teeth. We had three cats die of cancer in 2010-11 (we had five then, we have four now) and he and another cat are the only survivors. He’s a friends and family favorite, but because of the teeth we have to supplement with soft food. We use Wellness, but yes, we’ve noticed the weight even coming back on him (which is actually a relief, as he was very thin in 2011) so we’re going to talk to the vet about the best low-cal option for him. We have an appointment Tuesday in fact. On Walter a lot of what you see is loose skin. He has an “udder” as we call it: he’s old, he’s been up and down, and apparently he wants to complete the cow look.
Glinda. Yes, Glinda is a chunky monkey. She’s not quite as bad as it looks in the video, but she’s decidedly round. The thing is, we can’t figure out why. We don’t put out that much food, and we never see her eat. I’ve actually worried there might be something else going on with her, which is again why the vet visit. So it’s okay to call our cats fat, and I’m working on Dan and Anna to not be so sensitive about it, but trust me. The Cullinan cats live like kings and queens.
As promised, though, here are some photos of Glinda and Walter that hopefully show they aren’t quite as grotesque as their Internet rumors.
So those are our cats. They’re really okay, I promise. And I told the vet if she could help me figure out how to keep Daisy from being a rail and still get Glinda down to fun sized, I’m game.
For regular readers, here is the story of why I had to post the above.
Yesterday my daughter was gone to her grandparents, and I had the whole day to work. I knew I needed it, because I was plenty stuck. I looked forward to the long expanse of silence to wrestle with the muses and finally get my agent the synopsis she’s been wanting. I did not wrestle with the muses, because of this.
Monday night before going to bed, I sat with my husband in his office, when suddenly we realized Glinda and Walter were having a staring contest. We laughed. We took pictures. Sensing A Moment, I started the video on my phone. We cracked up, and I thought, I’m sharing this with friends and family.
Except I am a lazy person, and when I clicked the “share” button on my video, it gave no Facebook option, only YouTube. I thought, okay, sure. I’ll post it to YouTube and share the link. Maybe a couple people will get something out of it. I posted it to YouTube, then to Facebook. I shared it to Twitter. I went to a real computer, added some tags, and shared it with my fan page on FB too. Dan put it on Reddit. We went to bed.
I woke in the morning to a message from Storyful wanting to manage our video. I forget how many views it had at that time–maybe 800? It was a nice note, but my first thought was unease. This is the YouTube channel where I have my book trailers. What would this agreement do to them? So I had to email my agent and say, “Um, so there’s this cat video…”
While Sary looked this stuff up, I received more media requests. And more. And more. I began to feel stressed, because now it was noon and I hadn’t written A WORD or had my nice silence to think about anything, plus there was GRL stuff to decide, and meantime the cat video hits kept climbing. Eventually we sorted out it was clear, and I signed with Storyful, though as I told them mostly it was so people would stop sending me media requests. That and my husband and daughter wanted the ad money, because I said they could have it for their Breyer/vinyl fetishes. I have absolutely no idea how much if any money a YouTube viral cat video can make. All I know even at $10 it would be the most I’ve made in 20 seconds in my life.
Because as of my writing this post, the video has 52,000 hits. I woke to my Facebook full of people telling me it was on CNN. It was on the Huffington Post yesterday afternoon. Break.com tried to buy it but because of the Storyful agreement they couldn’t. It’s already been scraped, though the Storyful people assure me any views still go to us. It’s crazy. It makes me laugh my fool head off, because here I have been killing myself to raise the profile on my books, and the cats steal the show. Typical, actually.
The most fun part for me has been our friends and family on Facebook, but above all my child. Monday night everyone was LOLing and shaking their heads because they’ve seen these two in person, but last night our friends were having a contact high because THEIR friends kept sending them links to the video, and they were able to say, “I know, they’re our friends!” Or, “That’s my daughter-in-law!”
My daughter, however. She, as I have said, is a budding YouTuber herself, and she is in fact off right now building barns and trying to make her filming environment more authentic as to draw more viewers to her Breyer videos. I keep texting her to let her know where it’s at (She could look herself, but I think she likes the thrill of the text) and she always responds with OMG!!! Or when I told her Good Morning America was interested: OMFG!!!!!!!!! I”m sure now she’s actually excited to go back to school next week and tell her friends her cats are Internet sensations.
For me, it’s been fun but a little weird. I’ve been parsing attention or “fame” for some time now on a much, much milder scale, and the fact that this all began with me having to have business discussions with how to make sure I didn’t screw anything up inadvertently with the ad rights definitely put a different spin on things. It’s also been interesting to see how my family reacts to very, very public exposure. I saw the negative comments and thought, “Oh yes, there it is,” because it’s not real art until someone hates it, I always say. But for my husband and daughter, that was someone being mean to our cats. I tried to explain, but I also realized that’s just a hat I’ve been comfortable wearing. Yep, when you’re playing in a public pool, shit happens.
The great irony of course is that in no way will even a million hits on that video translate to books sales. Maybe a handful, but no. Most people won’t click through to anything at all, and even if they do, they’re still not necessarily going to buy a book. Even if they actually click on the link about the cats and read this blog post. This is just a moment about our two silly cats. And that’s fine, especially if Dan and Anna get a bit of mad money out of it.
Walter and Glinda? They’re so over this shit. Because this is them right now.
(The notes on the board are testament that I got a LITTLE muse-wrestling in yesterday.)
I think the cats are the best object lesson. This was just another fight for them. Just another day in paradise. They don’t care, at all, about being on CNN or Huffington Post. This is a human convention: a fleeting, odd moment of whatever. I’m still writing, Dan still has to work tomorrow, and Anna has school next week.
We have to put cat food in the dish tonight too, fat cats or no. Because trust me. We’ll hear all about it if we don’t.
But this is the story of how instead of writing I sold twenty seconds of cat footage. I hope you enjoy the cat stare down. We certainly do.
Yesterday on my Twitter stream, someone posted what appeared to be an auto-reported update from an app describing how many follows and unfollows that account had received in the last twenty-four hours. The poster was a book blogger, one who takes her charge very seriously, and I’m certain she’ll find the app a useful tool for measuring the success of her venture, or that if she doesn’t she’ll discard it as a nice idea that didn’t pan out. She’s a smart, savvy cookie, that blogger, and I’m sure she didn’t lose a minute of sleep last night over finding out a few people who had been following her no longer do.
Having said that, I feel fairly confident in saying that most authors who tried to use that app would find it to be a gateway to the deepest circle of hell.
I’ve been an active part of professional author communities since 1999, and in those fourteen years I’ve only deepened my conviction that by and large authors are the most beautiful hot mess of ego and self-consciousness that has ever walked the planet. As a friend of mine once pointed out—we slave (alone) for months and years over a work, crafting and honing and sweating and weeping, and then we not only share it with the entire human race but ask to be paid for it. There’s no escaping the ego, no matter how humble we are. Yet at the same time, to be able to successfully access the stories of the human condition, we must be humble, we must put ourselves aside and reach into truths where ego must be stripped away.
Maybe it’s a bias, but from where I sit writing romance is even more of a schizophrenic split. It is and likely always will be the best-selling sub-genre of fiction, the Big Kahuna of publishing, and yet it isn’t just the story of the human condition but a chronicling of humans at their most vulnerable: falling in love. Even if we try to shut out the world, we know our potential audience is huge, and as we strip ourselves away to write emotionally vulnerable stories, we find ourselves that story’s biggest champion, wanting it to become the biggest story ever, not for our ego but for its own sake. To give it that boost we often must gird ourselves and send the introverted writer out into the void, to be the shill and the advocate and the ringmaster for our book’s success.
Nothing, nothing feels more horrible than rising out of that selfless pit of story, putting on ego we didn’t want—and finding the story not only missing the goal posts but sometimes failing to even get out of the sidelines. Did we do something wrong? Did we not promote enough? Too much? Did we burp in public at a conference and that killed the book forever? Did we make a stupid comment on a blog post or social media and now our stories must suffer for our foolishness? Did we not give it a strong enough editorial pass? Did we edit too much and stripped away the soul? Why, how, did this work we slaved over become passed over? How did we see such a beautiful gem and fail it so completely?
Put a few books under an author’s belt, and this kind of nail-biting ego soup/self-consciousness spirals to wild and crazy heights of hysteria, and usually it isn’t allowed to bleed out until something random makes us spill our carefully guarded jar of crazy. It might be a review. It might be a reader’s random comment on Twitter. It might be the failure of a book to hit a bestseller list. It might be a disappointing paycheck. It might be a failure to be mentioned in a magazine citing several of our genre peers—but not us.
It might be hearing that a conference will extend pre-invitations to a small number of high-profile, reader-requested and bestselling authors—and we must now get a bigger crock for our crazy juice, because now someone will make a judgement, a call, our peers will make a call, and we if we don’t make that list, it will cut us, it will send us so deep into that hysteria that we may not write again, because we’ve been wondering this whole time if maybe we really suck, if those lower sales numbers and meh reviews are tea leaves, if this is the final Tarot card that says, “Jesus, you fool, give it up already and go back to the accounting job.”
Don’t. Don’t you ever, ever let anyone, anything, any list or invitation or blog or review site or magazine article define you that way. Don’t let any outside force, anything of any kind tell you who you are, what your stories mean, what potential your career has. Don’t, not even for a minute let anyone but you define what success means for your career. Read More
Note: You may have noticed the header and theme of this blog is different. I’m playing with a new logo. This is the prooving ground. Let me know what you think.
Since last we spoke, I’ve worked on Better Than Love for one whole day. I tried for a second, then a third, and on the fourth day my muses stood up as angry mountains of angry and said WE ARE NOT DOING THIS.
I didn’t blog it for a lot of reasons, the chief being that was an awfully personal moment and very frustrating. It’s been a hard year for projects (for everyone I know) to start with, but then there was the whole gamble of blogging progress, plus the fact that I’ve been trying to write this sucker since 2010. I’ve done the walk away before, so I wasn’t buying the whole “oh, maybe not right now” thing. I sat long and hard, then said, well, if it doesn’t start working in a few more days, I’ll shelve it indefinitely, maybe permanently.
The muses stood up in their mountain-ness and said, “You’ll do that right fucking now.”
So I did. It made me sad, because I love Chenco, but the truth is, sometimes there are the stories we only tell ourselves. Sometimes the time is never right or the window is small and you’re busy brushing your teeth or something when it happens. All I knew is that every time I tried to work on BTL my brain dredged up A Model Man which has been stuck on Stuckety Fucking Stuck since April or worse, and that in fact is what I’ve been working on lately. So far so good, but I’m still fussing in the pre-stuck part, so we’ll see. That sucker feels like Special Delivery and the way it fucked me around for two years.
I’ve also been doing Other Things. I’ve had many many days that are just emails and promo posts and shuttling things for RRW and other biz stuffs, travel for something I’m not sure I’m supposed to announce yet, but I will when I get full permission. I’ve also been walking a friend through the valley of hell of a book, something I know well and hate, and it feels good to help. It’s also still early in the school year for Anna, plus I’m never out of things to learn about Heidi’s New Cooking Adventures. I even had a birthday party for myself, which was fun and rather me, even if they did keep dragging me out of the kitchen to be social. I think people thought it was odd that on my birthday I wanted to spend three days cooking tamales for my close friends and family. I did, though. That’s kind of how I roll.
Anyway, all this happened, and the whole time BTL sat shelved. As in, I had no intention of picking it up, possibly ever. I was ready to apologize to fans, to encourage them to go write fan fiction or use the Sam/Mitch/Randy/Ethan die-casts to write their own stories, even just in their own heads. It was all set that the SD series would simply be finished.
I forgot about Chenco, though, and how badly he wanted to be story.
In the end I think it was a good technique, because instead of me killing myself trying to make the muses function, Chenco is doing the heavy lifting, sorting out the things that keep snarling (“Hey, maybe I’m not Mitch’s brother, just some guy he adopts like a brother!”), keeping things interesting and tantalizing. The muses are not buying it, but they’re watching out of the corner of their eyes. I think if I keep saying, “We’re not doing this” and let Chenco dance, it might all work out.
I’m aware that I get a lot of readers, both of my books and my blog, who write, and what I’m saying next is to you. Sometimes you have to walk away. Sometimes the characters don’t stand back up and dance for your muses. Sometimes you work a long time on story and it’s nothing more than a hard, frustrating lesson. Sometimes you write story and it never sees the light of day, by your hand or by the publishing gods. I’m here to tell you, that’s a good thing, and you should never feel ashamed for putting something down. Oh, fans, yes, they’ll be disappointed. But you know what would disappoint them more? You never writing again, or writing but being always bitter and angry and frustrated and letting it show.
There’s no way to measure how many authors I’ve talked out of trees this year. I think all the transits of the stars and what not have made things hard, and the social pulse on the ground isn’t helping either. The zeitgeist isn’t friendly just now, nor is it accessible, not like it used to be. It’s been a hard year to make up story for a living for whatever reason, at least for a lot of people I know, and I’m one of them. This happens. This happens a lot. Sometimes it’s the way the wind blows, sometimes it’s personal, sometimes it’s inexplicable, but it happens.
I could slam through BTL and pump out something. I could override my muses and make the story work whether it or I want to work or not. It would suck, by the way, and at best it would be like a bad date, something that was maybe fun if you didn’t think too hard but mostly left you back home on your doorstep feeling empty and confused. And upset, because I’d have taken your money for that date, and you’d remember that. Story isn’t something you push, not when it’s saying slow down. If you’re a slow writer? Then you’re a slow writer. If your muses like to meander? Then that’s what they’re going to do, and yelling at them, I promise you, won’t help. Neither will making them go when they don’t want to.
Creating story is such a fragile, miraculous effort, and we need to acknowledge that. We spin whole worlds out of gossamer threads, worlds great and strong enough for millions to walk through and feel they are at home. Unlike the movies and TV, we do this all by ourselves–polish and such comes from editing, yes, but the bricklaying, or rather that thread-spinning that becomes bricks and trees and earth and city sidewalks and shopping malls and everywhere our characters go–that’s all us. We’re the directors and actors and writers and by and large the producers too. We do most of the editing. We add special effects. We create the worlds as lonely gods, and yeah. It’s hard.
So I’m not writing BTL right now, but I’m no longer saying absolutely I’m never picking it up. I’m back to, when people ask when SD3 will be out, saying, “Not sure, still working.” I’m back to knowing fans are disappointed, wanting their next foray into a friendly world. But I”m making other worlds, ones my muses are ready to do, and I’m sticking to the truths I know, that if I write a book when it’s not ready, it’s going to be bad. Yes, other people can write sequels faster. Yes, other people don’t have as hard a time. That’s okay. Other people aren’t me, and I’m not them, and allergies and extra pounds and all, I like–no, love–who I am.
As for Better Than Love? Randy is a betting man, and he hasn’t laid anything down yet, but he’s got his eye on Chenco, and he keeps smiling and touching his lip thoughtfully. I have a feeling before long he’ll be in there helping Chenco woo the muses. So no promises, but–well, you know how Randy gets. I doubt you’ll wait forever.
One of the most common questions I get from other digtial-first authors is why do I have an agent. Sometimes the question is asked curiously, but mostly there’s an implied hell in the query, as in, “Why the hell do you have an agent?”
I understand where the implication that being agented in my business is unnecessary, and for many authors I can see how an agent would be superfluous. However, I think more of my brethren should consider following my lead. Here’s why.
Agents are for professional-minded authors. While I understand most authors believe they are professional-minded, it’s not a bad idea to do some naval-gazing on this one. Individual definitions on professional-minded may vary, but here’s something to start with.
- Focused on long-term over short-term
- Focused on building a career, not indulging a hobby
- Concerned about careful wording of contracts and the implications these wordings have for future works
- Concerned about getting competitive publishing contracts
The list goes on, no question, but these are some points worth emphasizing. I can’t tell you how many authors I know who don’t read their contracts, who simply sign them because they assume since the publisher wanted their book or was so friendly that of course they wouldn’t ever screw them over. Anyone who has been screwed over in publishing knows the meanest sharks usually smile before they bite off your head. Trust the law and nothing else. The law comes in your contract, and it is the only thing that will save you.
Contracts can include nasty little clauses, like moral rights or rights-of-refusal which, if too limited, can mean you’re locked into bad terms on a series forever. Let’s say you start out at a less-awesome-than-most house with 30% or less royalties. Really, these days anything less than 40% is dismal, but let’s say you have to go for 30% or, God help you, 25%, which is what I started at. Sometimes we have to do what we have to do.
Let’s say, though, that you have a series contracted for 25% and the series does well. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can end up signing a contract that means you will get 25% for every book in that series, even the ones you haven’t sold yet. In general first right of refusal means you show them first, but contracts are tricky bitches.
I was recently shown a contract from a publisher I wasn’t familiar with which declared no negotiations on any points. I have to say, I was floored. Jaw-hanging floored. Really? Nothing is negotiable? Not even those clauses giving said publisher all kinds of wiggle on release, the ones that say the author has to keep track of when the book is up for regeneration (which apparently wouldn’t happen) or risk automatic renewal? The much lower than I’m used to now rate? With no word on why I should settle for that? And a firm no-agent policy? Really?
For some authors it’s less of an issue. The best deal and the best money is not their focus: they want their story told, and they want it told in a particular way. Perhaps they truly want a specific cover artist or editing experience. Perhaps their greater concern is the timing of releases. Or perhaps this isn’t even a real career for them but more of something fun on the side. None of these focuses are wrong, and in the case of these here, no, an agent isn’t necessary. And as I said, number of authors are able to be professional-minded without an agent.
If thinking about contracts makes you sweat? If keeping up with what’s competitive and what isn’t makes your head hurt just thinking about it? If you aren’t already somewhere you are very happy with and want to keep your options open or focus your career?
Get. An. Agent.
My agent is Saritza Hernandez. She bills herself as “The Epub Agent” because she was doing this when no other agent would touch it. I lose track of when she is and isn’t open to new clients, but obviously I recommend looking her up. Another agent I know interested in digital-first works is Eric Ruben. He’s closed to submissions, but if you meet him at a conference or on the streets of New York, say hello, and you never know what might happen. More agents are considering us every day. Watch for them at cons and read their bios and watch Publisher’s Weekly. The smart ones know we are where the future is at. And some of them will probably be doing more contract counseling for one-time fees, since this may be a better fit for both them and the authors. Maybe you could even ask them if they’d be open to such a thing.
The problem with people asking me why I have an agent is that most of the best things she does for me, I can’t discuss in detail. I’ve had many instances where I would ask for something and get told no or get silence, but Sary asks and I get everything I wanted and stuff I didn’t know to ask for. I’ve had awkward, delicate moments where I would have pancaked and hard handled with serious grace. I’ve had her fight for what I knew was right, and when I haven’t won, I got better and clearer answers of why than I’d have had without her. And there have been times, many of them, when she has stopped me from stupidity. I’ve lost my temper with a situation and she basically told me–smiling and soothingly–that this was the best that could be had at the moment, so I needed to figure out how to navigate.
The truth of the matter is that even the nicest, truly benevolent publishers have their best interests at heart, and your interests are there only to serve them. An agent gets paid only when you do, and she is there for you and you alone. She wants you to get the most money and the best deal. It’s her job, and if she doesn’t do it, she doesn’t get paid. An agent looks at your contract from your point of view and makes sure it’s the best possible for you, or she knows when to walk away. An agent can also hold delicate conversations with the publisher more gracefully, like a yenta. Because essentially that’s what she is.
An agent is not for everyone, and yes, they’re hard to find. I looked for fifteen years for one, and no one ever fit. It was harder to find my agent than my husband. It may seem easier to simply go with the flow, to suck up the bad contract or confusing wording. It might work out.
Or it might not.
I am a neurotic control freak who loses her head when she tries to predict what direction to take in this volatile business, which is why I have an agent. This year twice now she has said, when I began whirling like a dervish, “Do this now. Now do this.” She’s given me insight on which publishers to try and which not to. She’s RIGHT on top of the money all the time, and rights and distributions and who looks well-seated to last and who is not looking so rosy. She has saved my ass and my face more times than I can count and under circumstances I can’t share. She has secrets I can’t tell, some of which she doesn’t even tell me. In short, she has everything I don’t have and everything I need.
She shares it with me for 15% of every book she sells for me. Honestly? Most days it seems like the biggest bargain in the world.
And that is why I have an agent.