I’ve been trying to write this post for over a week, and why I’m choosing tonight to take the plunge I really don’t know. Well, okay, I do. Because today was a therapy appointment, so Talking About All The Things is in the air. Plus I’m having yet another really shitty drug reaction, which on the one hand makes me feel like throwing up and makes me weave in my chair from dizziness, so I would kind of rather lie down and feel sorry for myself. On the other hand, and it’s the hand winning out, I’m kind of done with this shit getting the better of me, and writing about it feels like a nice fuck you. I’m not entirely sure who/what I’m mad at. The dirt, I guess.
So what’s been happening lately on the health front is complicated, annoying, and doesn’t have much plot. In December I was doing pretty good, except I was taking a lot of ibuprofen and it was starting to eat out my stomach. So my doctor switched me to a different med, which was better on my stomach but didn’t do anything for my neck, which started to get really bad all the time. Also I got crazy bad headaches, so I stopped taking the new drug and took ibuprofen again. Then my stomach hurt, my head hurt, and my neck hurt.
I got very cranky, and one night I sat up in the middle of the night, sobbed my eyes out, felt very sorry for myself and angry at everything, and then I blew my nose and assessed my options. I wanted to go back to my doctor, but I had another drug on the shelf, one he’d given me months before but I never tried because I was scared of it. Cymbalta, which can be a miracle worker for chronic pain but can also tap out creativity. At this point I was barely able to work and frankly was a bit of an emotional mess, so I decided what the fuck, can’t make anything worse than it is. I decided to give the drug a go, so I could at least say I tried.
It kind of worked, in that it took away this nasty aching stuff I’ve pretty much dealt with for over ten years to varying degrees. That was nice, having that gone. It kind of made me want to bounce around. But my neck still hurt, actually quite a bit. I got emotional and angry again, and one day that coincided with the new therapist, who then suggested a million different alternative therapies my husband would never let me try and frankly I don’t want to either. Soon I was up again in the middle of the night, and once again after a round of feeling angry and helpless and frustrated, I tried to assess again.
This weird little voice said, “Sugar.”
I don’t know if there were little fairies in my bedroom or Randy came to see me, or if this was a sort of subconscious thing only possible when one is 3/4 hot mess–whatever it was, it was a good idea. I’ve cut sugar before, and it worked but not as a permanent fix. Of course, I hadn’t done it since my hysterectomy, so I thought, why not. Let’s try it again.
Okay, that’s a big lie, or at least a horrible omission. First I got very angry and had this huge, crazy pity party where I ranted once again at the dirt about how haven’t I fucking cut enough out of my diet, and I’d just bought a box of gluten free brownie mix, and how was it fair that I felt this shitty and awful and I couldn’t even eat some happiness? Then, once that scene played out, I decided yes, I’d cut out sugar, because it would be great to not feel like someone was sticking a nail into my skull through the base of my neck. If it didn’t work, I’d make the brownies.
Sugar is a huge inflammatory agent, so of course it worked. In fact, cutting sugar–militantly–works better than any drug I take, and I take a huge pile of drugs several times a day. After several days of cleansing, I introduced sugar a few times in various ways to see what happened, and every single time, it made me flare up. So I thought, okay. I got this. So long as I don’t eat sugar and so long as I take my Cymbalta, I’ll be okay. I can handle this. The no sugar sucks, but I can deal. Not like I haven’t cut out a zillion things a zillion times. I’ve been to this rodeo so many times I need a whole room to display the belt buckles.
And then the Cymbalta started doing the very thing I was afraid it would do. I got enough of it in my system that it made it almost impossible to write.
I wish I could explain this, why it works that way. Nobody has said they doubted me, but I feel like people think I’m being fussy or divaish when I say it affects my writing. It does, though. It makes it so I can’t push through. Story is like this place in my head I can always visit. When I was little it was my haven, and I nurtured it for a long, long time, and now it’s like this lovely story farm I visit, make new friends, and write things down. Pain is a bit of a veil, but once I push through story is one of the best drugs I’ve got. If you’ve read my writing, most of the books of mine you know were written through a considerable amount of physical pain. A lot of times I stopped working only because it felt like my head would fall off or my shoulders were so on fire I couldn’t take it anymore. Before my surgery I’d also get this crazy sharp pains in my legs, which I now know were clots cutting off nerve circulation. But it was all okay, because once I pushed through the veil, none of it mattered. It was like get out of jail free, and I got these great souvenirs.
Cymbals turns the shimmery little veil into choking spider webs that at first made it tough to get through, then eventually shut off almost all access. I turned in Winter Wonderland feeling really confused about a lot of parts, and then when I got the editing notes they made sense and I went to fix them…and couldn’t get in. At all. For the first time in thirty years, I didn’t want to write. I couldn’t. I was happy, and only in a little pain, but I couldn’t do any work at all.
So I quit the Cymbalta, and the achy, heavy pain came back. I’ve kept sugar mostly at bay, and so far so good. But I clearly have pain in cycles, so I’m anticipating another wave of rough stuff to come around eventually. It’s because of this my husband went with me this week to the doctor, and the two of them talked over my head about drugs (Dan’s a pharmacist) and then suggested I take Neurontin. It’s supposed to help with nerve pain, which is probably my problem. Actually my problem is a very overstimilated auto-immune system which was trying, valiantly, to take on endometriosis, and it basically has PTSD and can’t accept the disease is gone. It can’t stop. It doesn’t know how. So it keeps freaking out and making everything in me hypersensitive, keeping my nerves and my immune system at DEFCON levels even though it has no reason to.
Well, I’m one day in to the drug, which I’m supposed to slowly ramp up to this crazy huge dose three times a day, and after 24 hours of the lowest dose I’m so dizzy I want to puke, I’m so tired I only want to sleep (but can’t quite manage to GO to sleep) and working is so off my table I can’t talk about it.
And you know what? I’m done. I’m seriously, utterly done. I’m done fighting, done playing around with drugs. I’m done being angry about how nothing is fair. I’m done sulking because I feel like I’ve put in enough time with this kind of bullshit and it should be done. I’m done with sugar except for rare, special circumstances, and I acknowledge it will make me hurt when I indulge. I’m done using sugar as medication because being high on it was easier than sitting with the pain, physical and mental.
I feel like I’ve come to this circle again, but like a Zen garden, it’s not a destination but a point I will simply keep revisiting, a centering that allows this to be less of a terrible maze and more of a quirky journey. I’m going to write more books while hurting, sometimes a lot. I might even start hurting in a new way, one that takes writing from me despite all my efforts. I’m going to have to watch everything I eat more than most people do, and it will mean I’ll be separate at events and gatherings, that a lot of people will not get it and accidentally make me feel very separate and sad. I get it will always make me frustrated and that I’ll never like it, but it’s probably not something I can change.
There’s this huge new stone in my Zen garden, though, and it’s the one that took me to therapy this time around. I haven’t brought it up in public, and I don’t know that I’m fully ready to, but for those of you who’ve read all my books: Michael Vallant (A Private Gentleman) and I have a whole lot in common right now. I thought of that the other day and laughed, how my PTSD reaction and his are the same, how I didn’t have that when I wrote it but do now. I even reread that book recently but hadn’t put two and two together until the other day. The bottom line, though, is that I keep fighting through this strange afterbirth of surgery, which is trying to come to terms with my body and all the crazy-assed rides it’s taken me on. I was doing okay, I thought, until the pain stuff started coming back, but actually we’ve been careening toward this for some time. Like Michael, something random triggered it, but once ignited, the fire will burn until it’s done.
I kind of hate my body right now. I’m getting better, but I really hate it, which means I don’t want much to do with it in any shape or form. I’ve never been fond of it ever in my life, but right now I really really hate it. In addition to everything else it’s thrown at me–hot flashes, weird pain, endometriosis, mood swings, weight–now my feet have somehow become even freakier freaks than they ever were. I’m a size 13.5. Not 13. Not 14. I’m basically un-shoeable. All last year my shoes hurt my feet, and I thought it was because my feet are usually fucked up with everything else–and they still are, but also all my shoes were too small. And it’s such a fuck you. There are so many fuck-yous.
The thing about bodies, though, is you’re kind of stuck in them. Also they really don’t have it out for us any more than our cars do. It’s just a suit. Mine isn’t exactly defective, and it’s not that I brought this on by neglect. It just happened. It sucks, but it happened. It’s not about fair, it’s not about justice. It just is what it is.
Part of the reason I’m writing this post is because I’m trying to be done hating my body. I’m firmly back in the center of the Zen garden at the moment, accepting what’s in front of me, but I’m also noticing my garden is kind of a mess. I’m very seriously thinking of making a physical garden outside, maybe one inside too (though no sand, because it will instantly become a litterbox). I want to take a little better care of my body, but mostly I want to accept it for what it is. Not as something that has it out for me, but as part of me.
This is the problem with being able to leave your own head for a fantasy world–you can pretend you don’t have a skin suit. It’s a long, ingrained habit to let my body run on autopilot. It’s going to take some work to get around that. But I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to do my best to stop trying to change what my body is and expect it to magically fix because I’d like it to.
I’m a work in progress for how exactly this all works, but blogging about it feels like a good first step. Coming clean, laying out where I’ve been and where I’d like to be. Also because the other thing I want to acknowledge is, well, you. Lately a lot of you have been writing or leaving little comments in the forms for buying Nowhere Ranch, or starting conversations on social media, and what you keep saying is a variation on, “You see me, you mean a lot to me, and you give me things that mean a lot to me.” Sometimes you say you feel like nobody gets you but my stories make you feel like somebody does. Sometimes you say life is hard but reading my stories makes that easier.
The thing is, you say that to me because you want to say thank you, but what you end up doing on my end is reminding me that despite the middle of the night snot sessions, I have managed to make this less-than-satisfying stuff into something somebody else finds meaning in. Or that despite all that, I’m still doing things that mean something to other people, in addition to what my writing means to me and the things I’m able to do with the income I make off those efforts. When you tell me that, frankly, it’s better than cutting sugar or some weird drug I haven’t tried yet. It doesn’t get rid of pain, but it’s something better to hold onto than the handle of Mommie Dearest’s axe. So thanks. Thank you a very lot.
I haven’t been able to get a lot done lately. So much has been going on, and my head has been so full of crap, mostly emotions I didn’t know how to sort out or what frankly to do with. I haven’t been terribly social–it’s really hard to get me to go out to much more than dinner, and that I only want to do with Dan and Anna. Sometimes I’m horribly moody and cranky, sometimes sulky. I haven’t always been that pleasant, but not many people have been around me (by my design) so that’s worked out. Theoretically I want to change that, but it’s definitely a process.
I want desperately to write, and barfing up this post is helping me clear the last of my cobwebs out, I think, so that I can get back to that with vigor. I have been working, but it’s been rough and sluggish. My own drama was in the way of fictional drama. And it’s hard, because real life isn’t half as fun as fiction. You have to write your own story, and sometimes that’s so much work with so much bittersweet. It doesn’t help that my coping mechanism is work–I like to work hard, sometimes too hard, to avoid thinking about things I don’t want to. I don’t like that this time I can’t escape it.
But I’m going to Zen garden on. I have SO MANY stories I want to write, so many literally in process at this second. I want to make everything as good as I can make it–for you, for me, for the story itself. Maybe that’s the struggle I”m having right now–instead of story being the thing I use to escape, it’s the reward I get for taking care of everything else. Or maybe it’s just that my garden has shifted a little bit and I’m struggling to sort out what that looks like.
In any event, let’s go. Pain, sadness, uncertainty, big feet, lumpy tummies–let’s go. Because if there’s anything this recent roller coaster has taught me it’s that if my choices are less pain but no story or more pain with even simply the prospect of story, my choice is “bring on the pain” any day. Which even though those are some shitty choices, they’re a choice. That’s what I want, and it’s what I’m choosing. And frankly after so long of not really getting options, this is pretty empowering.
I guess maybe that’s the other reason I wanted to write this, to barf up all my laundry for the whole Internet. Because I’m kind of joyous in that discovery. I had a choice, and the option I took is so great I’m willing to hurt for it. For once in my life, I’m putting my hand in the fire on purpose.
Bring on the goddamned wire hangers. Bring them fucking on.
Day after day I’ve listened to news outlets and podcast speakers ungracefully report and backhandedly “process” the news that the German pilot who by all reports deliberately flew a passenger plane into the Alps suffered from depression. I haven’t been able to stand listening to or reading enough to find out definitively if he was officially diagnosed or if he is only alleged to have been, so I apologize if I don’t have that fact absolutely accurate. It hardly matters at this point, sadly. All we’re getting are media barking out variations on, “Why the hell did they let a crazy person fly a plane?”
First of all, fuck you. Fuck you every media outlet and individual who has equated mental health suffering with “crazy.” Fuck your insensitivity, your ignorance, and your kindergarten-level associations.
Fuck everybody in the office who let that copy get to the floor. Fuck everyone who didn’t immediately call in a mental health expert to explain the complex intricacies of the human mental state. Fuck you all for not talking about our medieval level of mental health care support in the United States in particular which kills a lot more people than one misguided soul able to lock himself into a cockpit. Fuck you for not bothering to do research enough to understand a Western plane full of Westerners statistically had to carry a huge number of people with medications supporting depression and anxiety in their carryons, for conditions they would never confess to exactly because of our horrible, terrible culture. Fuck them for not understanding how many people in their very newsrooms made quiet decisions to never, ever tell anyone about their therapist or bad day or never bring any medication to work because they might lose their job. Fuck them. Fuck them all.
I wish I could say “whew, so glad I got that out of my system,” but that rage is not out of my system. Because it’s more than the media. It is everyone in this country who is part of this problem. I can’t speak for other Western countries, but I know while they might be better than us on these matters, we all have a long way to go. To start, we don’t even remotely acknowledge how pervasive mental health issues are. The number of people in each of our acquaintances who suffer from depression or anxiety alone are staggering. Whoever you are, wherever you live, you absolutely know several people with moderate to severe depression or anxiety. Many of them are untreated and undiagnosed, largely because the stigma against mental illness is so intense it seems better to suffer in silence than to seek help.
Part of the problem is depression and anxiety in particular, in addition to being pervasive, are not easily treated. Even if our culture were more understanding of the conditions, by their nature they aren’t easy to address. To start, they are managed, not cured. Depression isn’t something one catches like a cold. It’s a complicated dance of brain chemistry and circumstances. Many of the elements most responsible are literally part of the brain. They cannot be removed or remade, only better understood and adapted to.
There’s also a huge difference between clinical depression and anxiety and the casual depression and anxiety every human feels from time to time. But as humans are wont to do, because we have a passing familiarity with these conditions, we extrapolate the way someone else suffers is similar or the same. Which leads to the ridiculous “get over it” and “snap out of it” remarks. The kind of depression and anxiety I’m talking about is the kind that cannot be snapped or stepped over any more than someone with heart disease can snap out of it, any more than diabetics can decide to get over their blood sugar levels.
We’d never deny an employee their insulin or seizure medication, but we don’t hesitate to back away when someone is revealed, by choice or by accident, as having mental health struggles. We fear crazy. We fear what we cannot control. We fear what we cannot understand.
We also, as a culture, prize the ideal. The prettiest people. The straightest people. The whitest people, or the right “ethnic” people. The most successful people. The well-balanced people. We so value the ideal that even models and actors who starve themselves and spend hours a day at the gym and days perfecting hair and skin are photoshopped. Which is how we end up at this moment with otherwise sane, kind people, spouting the mad, cruel statements like, “Why are we letting these people fly planes? Why aren’t we screening the crazy out of our pilots?”
We’ve played with prioritizing ideals a lot over the last few centuries in Western culture. It’s resulted in genocide, mass-murder, cruel experimentation, and overt and subtle slavery. Not just in Nazi Germany. Every country has had its moment in that ugly sun. It’s clearly a lesson we don’t want to learn, however. We truly want to believe in normal. We want desperately to live in a world where people can work like dogs, live like kings, look like angels, and play like gods. We want to talk about humanity as an ideal too. We want to have a gated definition of human with high walls and impenetrable doors and big pits to load the garbage into.
There is no normal. Humanity is messy, awkward, and terrifying. We will even under the best circumstances produce humans who make terrible choices. We will sometimes, despite our best efforts, turn our own kindness into terror. We will never meet our own ideals. Even if we manage to erect those walls, at best the life inside will be full of pain and fear, because anyone could be sent out that chute into the pit at any time. Because everyone is flawed. It’s not possible to ensure we won’t end up boarding a plane where a pilot might decide to take us on our last flight.
It is, however, possible to not add to his list of victims. It’s possible to use this moment to get real about mental health, to question a culture that allows so many people to descend alone and unaided into mental chasms which allow them to end themselves and others this way. It’s possible to examine our punishing work ethics and streamlined systems of education designed toward an ideal human, not an ideal individual human experience. It’s possible to take this moment to stop and question whether we as a culture offer enough support and compassion to our fellow humans suffering with mental health issues. (We don’t.) It’s possible to use this as a moment to ask ourselves how much we all shoulder the blame every time someone with mental illness takes their own life and the lives of others.
Clearly, though, we’re not going to do to that. Not now. Not as a culture, not in the media.
I don’t know how to end this post. I’m angry, I’m frustrated, and I’m helpless. In a week and some change I have a book coming out where I address, with more aggression than I have yet, the issue of untreated mental illness. It’s a book where my efforts to ask for a beta reader without depression or anxiety to give it a read met in utter failure because every single person I asked admitted to me I wrote a book that spoke to their own struggles with mental health. I’m upset because because I love all those people, and the media shat all over them without so much as tossing them a wet wipe after. I’m upset because my husband and daughter both battle every single day with anxiety. Valiantly. Successfully. My child, diagnosed early and raised by a father who knows exactly what lies ahead, has been equipped with so much aid she has a real chance of being able to treat her anxiety the way she would a heart condition. A limitation, a frustration, but a workable issue. Unless, of course, she runs into people who hear she has mental illness and decides she’s crazy, lesser, or fit only for society’s garbage chute.
I don’t have depression or anxiety. I have a therapist, and I have plenty to talk about, but my brain uses different techniques to manage the hell that is human existence. I crave control and mastery. I work myself to death, self-depreciate and drill-sergeant myself into perceived safety. Very early on my world was unsafe and unhelpful, so I made myself an adult at a young age. My brain’s coping mechanisms are ones our culture prizes. Because it’s very easy for me to appear competent and “fine.” In order to survive, I had to get good at appearing that way, so that’s what I did.
What our culture fails to acknowledge is the beauty, sensitivity, and depth we cut out when we only prioritize one type of human or cut some types out altogether. What we fail to acknowledge is people with high anxiety are better at discovering real threats than we are. They are the people who see tigers everywhere, and when there is a real tiger, they become calm, because the thing they’ve known on a cellular level could hurt them has finally showed up. When the tiger is there, they’re not “crazy.” They’re prepared.
People with depression feel. They feel on molecular levels. They see feelings in ways which truly require more words to describe them. They feel feelings with so much intensity they often paint, write, or sing them. They understand everyone’s feelings, when they’re healthy. They are our great and powerful empaths, the kind we like to write about in fantasy but punish in real life.
We all have gifts. We all have value. We all have struggles. We are all humans, and we all have a right to exist. To make our mark. To love, laugh, cry, bleed. Life is not an exact science, and it will cause a lot of us pain. We can either address that truth and make part of the human experience helping each other through our pain, or we can slap cruel labels on people with pain and try to declare them unfit for our playground.
Frankly, this week has been full of slaps. It makes me sick, it makes me sad. When I wrote Carry the Ocean, when I dreamed of what it could say, I never thought it would change the world. This week though, I really wish something could. I guess I’m victim of the ideal too. I wish humanity wasn’t full of cruel, selfish, unthinking animals. I wish they really would erect a big wall with a lock. I’d gather everyone I loved and ride down the chute with them.
If you have mental health struggles and this week the world slapped you in the face, I’m sorry. I’m sorry every time you turned on a radio or television or loaded a news site you saw our culture being cruel and insensitive. I’m sorry they equated your illness with having a side-effect of mass murder. And above all I’m sorry our society is such where very few people have bothered to point out how awful that was.
This week a man flew a plane full of people into a mountain for reasons we will never truly understand. This year more people will die at their own hand due to mental health struggles at a rate over twenty times higher than the number of people who will die in plane crashes for every reason.
You tell me where the real insanity lies.
This post is a hodgepodge of things I need to update people about, and if you subscribe to newsletter, you’re about to get this information twice.
Carry the Ocean Book Tour
The book tour for Carry the Ocean starts Tuesday and goes on and on and on through almost all of April, because so many bloggers chose to participate. There are also two Facebook parties, and who knows, there might be more. The tour updates daily. You can see the lineup here and use it to follow along and enter the grand prize drawing, which I have to tell you, is going to be the best I’ve ever had.
The Carry the Ocean Book Tour Grand Prize
The grand prize this time is a signed copy of Carry the Ocean in paperback, a Blu-ray of The Blues Brothers, an Iowa State magnet, and Carry the Ocean scrapbook art. It’s made by Susan Romito, and it’s absolutely stunning. Here’s a little video so you can get a better idea of how it opens up.
Isn’t it amazing? Susan is amazing. A thousand thanks for all the hard work and design concept that went into this prize. Also I want to give a huge thank you to Suminsky Artwork (check out his Deviant Art page!) for permission to use his artwork Brain Master Octopus for the back cover. You’ll get why the art is so incredibly perfect once you read the novel.
I’ve made some computer wallpaper for both Carry the Ocean and Nowhere Ranch. Carry the Ocean has several different versions, and Nowhere Ranch has just the one. I’ll try to make more eventually, and if you have a book or series in particular you’d like to see, you can let me know in the comments.
Nowhere Ranch Print Order Update
Several of you (okay, over fifty of you) have placed “request for notification” of Nowhere Ranch print orders. I wanted to let you know where that stands. While I’d hoped to have the books already, I have been, no joke, fighting with Ingram over the cover art for over two weeks. Not the content, just the ink levels and size and bar code “color” and placement and…wow. So it will be a little bit before I can offer you the books, but rest assured my husband has a huge spreadsheet of everyone who bought the ebook with a notification of the signed print.
If you didn’t get in on that action and want to, go here and purchase whatever ebook file you prefer with the print notification attached. What this means is I will for sure order that many paperbacks, and if those people want them, they get them. They’ll be $14 each plus shipping/etc, and it’s offered worldwide. The only way to be guaranteed the right of first refusal on the book is to buy the notification. This is one, to get everyone to put a tiny bit of skin in the game so I know you’re serious, and then it’s to get you in the database which Gumroad keeps, because it has your email information. It’s theoretically possible I might have extras and might sell some of them, but there are already a zillion and the deal is if you buy the notification, you are guaranteed the right to buy a copy. I can’t promise that if you try your luck. Because at sixty some books, I might say, that’s all I feel like hauling to the post office.
If you just want to buy the ebook, here’s a link to all the places where you can do that.
Love Lessons Audio & Lonely Hearts Preorder
Love Lessons is available on audio! You can find it direct at Insatiable Press or at Audible/Amazon. Fever Pitch is coming soon, and I’m hoping to have more audio for you soon.
You can also preorder Lonely Hearts from nearly all major retailers. Go here to find the bookseller you prefer. Can’t find the one you’re looking for? Check back. More are added all the time.
Words are the litmus paper of the mind. ― Terry Pratchett
I first heard about Terry Pratchett when I was on Jennifer Crusie’s yahoo group. Several people were fans, and whenever a new book would come out, they’d all melt down. I loved and trusted these women, so I gave the guy a whirl. I can’t remember if I picked up The Truth on my own, or if someone said “start here.” I think it was the latter, but I can’t be sure. In any event, it was my first Pratchett. I read about three pages and thought, “Are they all high? What the shit is this?”
Though I put the book down, other people I loved kept raving about the man, so eventually I resumed the book. Something magical happened about fifty pages in. His voice had permeated whatever resistance I’d harbored, and the jokes and bits of wit were now so thick on the ground I felt like I’d sunk through fog into a magic land of words. I firmly believe to this day Terry Pratchett’s books are like tea. You must find the right flavor, steep in it a bit, but once you’re addicted, all tea is wonderful and treasured, and nothing is ever enough.
Alas, today we find we must be content with what we have.
I was working when the tweet came through. @terryandrob doesn’t tweet much, but I tend to see most things that come through on that account, and I saw the announcement as it rolled through my feed.
We’ve known this was coming. Neil Gaiman’s post in The Guardian last year made me uneasy, as did reports Sir Terry had to leave an event due to poor health. I’ve known he’d had Alzheimers for a long time. I understood he’d go before any of us wanted him to leave. I didn’t realize until this morning, though, as those tweets rolled through and I shouted “No, no, no” at my screen before I began crying, how much I had refused to believe the day would ever come. I thought perhaps some miracle would happen, I suppose, or that we could just one more book, one more year ourselves into infinity. But no. The hourglass has run out. And here we are.
Sir Terry Pratchett is and will forever be my favorite author. He wrote my favorite book, Going Postal, and many of my favorite characters. He is the author I have read and re-read to the point that each book is like a pair of comfortable shoes I put on when I want to feel better or be reminded of great things. That said, I’ve saved several for this moment. Books to save for when I need to read something new. For when the new supply will end.
Pratchett’s work has crafted who I am for the past decade, and radically affected both my writing and my sense of what a story is. I’ll go to the mattress defending the truth that he’s as brilliant and rich as Shakespeare, as able to serve the peanut gallery as well as the ivory tower. He was the storyteller’s storyteller. He crafted rich banquets but served them up on comforting, mismatched china with chips around the edges. He could blown down critics with the force of his wit and sharpness of his pen, but he could also blow them a raspberry and indulge in horrible, groan-worthy puns and extended gags because it pleased him, and many of his fans, to do so.
He taught me, without ever giving me a direct lesson, how to shape a story. When to bob, when to weave. How to forge a character, from what ore to look for one. How to make a villain, though I still struggle with that one, for my own reasons. How to make a hero out of shoddy armor. How to build a world, not by the sparkle of its scenery but by the glow of the hearts of the characters within. He taught me how to follow my heart, but also how to spin my heart in a way an audience has agency. He taught me how to tell more than one kind of story. How to build a brand around something bigger and yet still focused. How to serve my readers as well as my characters. Serve them with my characters.
But mostly he made me fall in love with so many places and people and ideas that I never, ever tire of visiting them. Vetinari, Death, Gaspode, Angua, Tiffany, Granny, Nanny, Moist, Adorabelle, Vimes, Carrot, Detritus—I could fill a blog post with nothing but the names of characters I adore. He painted them so well I can’t bear to watch movies made of them, because they always fall short of the dazzling picture his own words create for me. He made me fall in love with his quirky, intrusive narration. Made me love absolutely everything so much that all I needed to make the purchase was his name on the cover.
I didn’t think I’d be able to do it so soon, but on my way to and from an appointment today out of town I listened to the first hour and some change of Going Postal on audio. It was far more a comfort than I thought it would be. I think largely because it reminded me he’s still here, right there in my favorite books. Because the magic remains, and will for all time. But I’m still sad. I’ll never get to stand at the back of an auditorium and feel the thrill of knowing the man who moves my heart and soul so much stands before me. That the brilliant mind that creates all those worlds is in the same room with me. I don’t know that I could have stood in line for a book to be signed, because I’d probably break down crying and embarrass us all, but now that’s not an option.
It makes me ache there will be no more stories. One more, I think people have said. One more? No. That’s not enough. I want so many, many more. I want them until I’m eighty. I want to stay alive with just enough strength to keep turning pages well past one hundred and keep them coming. I want to keep learning and discovering in new places. Today I grieve because the door has closed. Death has walked my hero across the desert. If I want new stories, I’ll have to close my eyes and hope for whispers on the wind.
Shall I tell you about angels, Sir Terry Pratchett? As Lord Vetinari told Moist Von Lipwig, the thing about angels is that they only appear once.
You were mine.
Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken? ― Terry Pratchett
Quick programming note: if you get my newsletter/follow me on Twitter or Facebook and you’ve been pondering going to Gumroad only to find out the price just went up, NEVER FEAR. Read on.
If you read that and thought, “Gumroad?” Come with me. I shall explain.
I told you Nowhere Ranch was coming back, and it’s here. Sort of. It’s on its way. This is my self-publishing learning experience, which means I’m stumbling around half-drunk, making messes and being generally inelegant. I’m in the process of uploading the book to the following places:
- All Romance eBooks (already there!)
- Amazon Everywhere (in process, could show up anytime between tonight and Tuesday morning)
- Barnes & Noble paperback (that will totally take a long time, I have to MAIL IN this form)
- Barnes & Noble Nook (in process, probably a few more days)
- Google Play (it says it’s there, but it’s…not)
- Gumroad (hold on, I’ll explain)
- iTunes (OMG, don’t get me started what a PITA that is, IDK when that will sort out)
- IngramSpark (paperback distribution, basically all over everywhere)
- Kobo (in process, they’re approving something)
If one of those is your favorite formats/vendors, keep watching this page and click the Buy Now button. When your vendor has their link in place, I’ll add it. When all/most of them are up, I’ll do a newsletter announcing it and have a contest for a free copy as well.
But for RIGHT NOW, the book is absolutely up at a site called Gumroad, where I’ve been able to sell it to you all weekend for $1. Plus, you can add on to your ebook what I’ve been calling “signed print notification,” which basically means because Gumroad collects your email address and I see what you bought, my husband can keep your email in a spreadsheet, and when we have paperbacks ready and priced, he can send a thing saying, “Hey, this is the paperback and what it will cost you plus shipping. You want it?” And if you say yes, you will get to purchase via Paypal a signed (by me, not my husband) (though he would, if you asked) paperback copy of Nowhere Ranch. I set a cap for about 65 of those because MEIN GOTT I have to sign and schlepp all those to the post office, but if there’s somehow this burning need for more, I’ll probably up it. Actually if you got to 150 you’d save me money. So, if I run out, go ahead and ask. I might even just up it if they go “out.” But it will absolutely end by mid-March, so don’t dally.
Now here’s the part you need to hear, especially if the first line of this blog post pertained to you. Because of the way Amazon in particular sets its royalty rates, I can’t price the book any lower than $2.99 without getting scalped. I wanted to have a little bit of time where it was dirt cheap because so MANY of you have bought it over the years, and if you wanted to upgrade, I wanted it to be very painless for you to do so. I might eventually raise the price up to 3.99 or something, but honestly, this book has been out forever, and so long as I make back my investment in self-publishing, I’m content to let that book be a bargain for quite some time.
This means, though, that because Amazon will go live any second and All Romance Ebooks already is, I have to raise the price on Gumroad to match. BUT, because you’re reading this blog, you can still get it for $1! All you have to do is select the version you want on Gumroad, type “rope” into the offer field, and you will still get it for $1. Actually, it’ll be $0.99. And I will leave it that way for another week for sure.
Thanks to everyone who’s bought so far! And if you didn’t get the special notification of the pre-sale but wish you would have, sign up for my newsletter and next time you’ll be among the first to know too.
Love will grow through the cracks you leave open.
Ranch hand Roe Davis absolutely never mixes business with pleasure—until he runs into his boss, Travis Loving, at the only gay bar within two hundred miles.
Getting involved with the ranch owner is a bad idea, but Roe’s and Travis’s bedroom kinks line up against one another like a pair of custom-cut rails. As long as they’re both clear this is sex on the side, no relationship, no interfering with the job, they could make it work.
Shut out by his family years ago, Roe survived by steadfastly refusing to settle into so much as a post office box. As his affair with Travis grows into more than just sex, Roe’s past catches up with him, threatening the thin ray of happiness he’s found, reminding him it’s well past time he went on his way.
But even a loner gets lonely, and at this point, there’s nowhere left to run. The shame and sorrow of what he’s lost will stay with Roe wherever he goes—until he’s ready to let love lead him home.
This novel has been previously published and has been revised from its original release.
At the time of this posting, my novel Nowhere Ranch has disappeared from most electronic retailers, leaving only the first-edition paperbacks, and probably not a ton of them. I think ARe still has it, but they won’t for long.
DO NOT PANIC.
The book has a new cover (reveal on February 25 at Joyfully Jay) and is in the process of getting a spit-shine by Sasha Knight, and as soon as I figure out all the gears and levers of self-publishing, it will appear pretty much everywhere it just was, plus some more places, and especially initially the ebook will cost less. Maybe a lot less. Probably a lot less.
At one point I was going to try to do a sequel, but every time I try to do that for this series, it doesn’t work. It really, really doesn’t work. I had one that kind of half worked, maybe, if you squinted, and then I pretty much took the whole thing and morphed it into Tough Love. Maybe someday I write a new one. Or maybe I don’t ever. Absolutely I’m not right now.
Also, I’m really curious about self-publishing. I’m kind of terrified and a whole lot of suspicious, but I have some very smart people advising me, and I think this is one of those things where I’m going to learn a lot and that’s always good.
I don’t have a hard release date yet. Probably early March because it’ll be done by then and sitting on it will make me crazier than anything else. I will NOT be doing a blog tour for it because I’m already half nuts with work and promo as it is. I will, though, put out an offer for ARCs, so if you want to get on that wagon, join the blog tour signup list, and then you’ll be able to know. There will maybe be a Netgalley thing but I’m not sure. If you want to make sure you don’t miss when it’s for sale again, join my regular newsletter.
The cover ROCKS. I loved the old cover and told Kanaxa, “If you could make something I love more, I’ll be surprised but very grateful.” She talked to me about a few intriguing concepts, then sent me the draft and I was all NEVERMIND, I LOVE THIS. I hope you will too!
To answer your inevitable question: no major revision in this reissue. Mostly me tightening stuff up and using the stuff I’ve learned over the years to make it better. No big story or structure change.
And to answer your next question: yes, this will be happening to Dance With Me later this year too. Pretty much exactly the same thing all the way down.
That’s all. As you were!
NBC is airing an ad during the Superbowl featuring this natty gentleman on the left mocking people with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. If you’re already mad and just want to tell them off, here’s the petition, here’s another post about the issue, and here’s the ad itself.
If you’re not sure why this is a big deal or you think people who can’t eat gluten should be laughed at, I’m going to encourage you to read on. If you’re from NBC or NASCAR, I really, really want you to read on.
I’m writing this blog post from my desk, eating certified gluten free cereal with vanilla flax milk. I have (dairy-free) creamer in my coffee because while I’ve been doing a lot better, the last few weeks I sort of downshifted back to body train wreck, and in an effort to chill out my stomach, I’m culling acidity in my food. I can’t bear to cut out coffee entirely, so I’m cutting back and adding milk.
The kicker is, this go-round my problem is I’m not noticing when my body is in pain, because it’s so conditioned to feeling like crap I have to go by secondary warning signs. If you’ve read my blog a lot, you know what I’m talking about. Because I’m hoping a whole bunch of you share this, I’ll do a quick recap: for the past ten years I’ve been fantastically sick. Last year I had two surgeries, one emergency, and three trips to the ER. Before I got my actual diagnosis last year—severe, stage four endometriosis—I had a full buffet of horrible diseases floated in front of me. MS. Fibromyalgia. Cancer. Arthritis. Several others with scary names I’ve blocked from my memory banks. I couldn’t walk at times. I doubled over in pain a lot. I missed a lot in ten years. I’m on the downhill side now, but for a long, long time, I was a very miserable person.
During that nasty slide into deeper caverns of health hell, I developed a myriad of allergens and food sensitivity. I’ve lost track of all the special diets I’ve been on. All I know is they would all work for a while, and then they wouldn’t. All until one. When I was waiting for the blood tests to come back to tell me whether or not I had MS, I couldn’t bear to sit still, so I did homework. I read in several instances where modifying diet severely could help alleviate the symptoms, and it was mostly healthy eating with gluten free tacked on, so I tried it. It was very hard and frustrating, but it kept me busy while I waited to find out which of the four horrible diseases they were testing for I in fact had.
Before the first weekend was passed in my gluten free experiment, I not only felt better, but on Sunday evening I stood in the kitchen with tears down my face as I felt nerve sensation return almost fully to my feet. Though within four months I would spiral downward again—cutting gluten doesn’t stop diseased cysts—that diet modification gave me so much of my life back I don’t have words to describe it. And I make a living describing with words.
Many of my allergies and sensitivities have abated, though none have vanished. I can indulge in moderate dairy and egg, and I don’t have to clean my house every ten days top to bottom to keep dust mites in check (every month is okay now), but I still have to have casings on my pillows, and I still can’t have gluten. I can tolerate mild exposure, but not direct. My very recent digestive tract adventures have basically told me to cool it for awhile, to get used to the idea that as much as I miss wheat bread, I might never get it back.
What I have back, though, is my life. I never fully lost it, but I’m getting it back in a real, honest way. It comes at a cost, though, and it’s a very stupid one. Because there are people like NBC and NASCAR who think this is funny. Or made up. They think my sensitivity and the literally life-threatening exposure of Celiac sufferers is great fodder for an ad in a major market. Apparently sick people make great targets.
Not this one.
I have a long, long list of words I’d like to hurl at you, words NBC is so lily-livered over they would have to bleep from their oh so butch NASCAR broadcast. So let me tell you this. I’m not soft. I spent a decade getting sicker and sicker, carried more pain than anyone so clueless and callous as to design, star in, and approve that ad could imagine. I have vomited from pain. I have passed out from pain. I have swallowed pain and attended weddings, conventions, vacations. I’ve strapped on heels and walked on numb feet with a smile because that’s what my job demanded. I’ve bit my cheek until it bled and pasted on a smile as I lied to my daughter and assured her I would be okay, when I wasn’t sure if I actually would. I’ve raised a child. Counseled friends. Written twenty novels. Built a career. Loved and lost and lived a life.
Yes. I’ve cried because I’ve been to events where I couldn’t eat a single thing, stood there hungry and miserable and in pain but didn’t let anyone know. That crying came when I was alone or with friends. Yes, it’s true—some misplaced breadcrumbs can still knock me on my ass.
This doesn’t make me soft.
Soft is laughing like Beavis and Butthead and reaching for an easy joke, mocking people will serious illness because somehow you think this will get you an audience. Soft is being so ignorant and uninformed you don’t do any research before you make an ad. Soft is being so tone deaf it’s going to take us shaming you in public to know how to behave.
Pain has carved knives into my blood. I am not soft. You, however, are unbelievably stupid. Pull your insulting, incorrect ad. And if this is all you have to recommend your sport and your network? You have a great deal of soul searching to do.
Sign this petition to tell NBC to pull this ad. Read this post for facts about Celiac, a link to the ad, and another argument about why this ad is a kick in the gut to people who truly don’t need that kind of insult.
I’ve been trying to write this blog post for a month, maybe more. The reason it’s coming out today is because I am shamelessly riding the emotional tailwinds I found in this post, which I read this morning while I waited to drive my husband to work in the bitter cold. I’m now in that cliché place where I want to go buy everything Tom Pollock has written, though at this exact second I mostly want to curl up at his feet and put my head on his shoes.
I don’t have bulimia as he does, and I have no big confession to make, no anchor I’m trying to take off my chest and ask the community of strangers to help me carry. In fact, the blog I’ve been trying to write since forever, the thing I’ve barely been able to talk about even with my spouse, is how odd I feel now that I don’t have an albatross around my neck.
On the off chance you stumble onto this post and it’s your first meeting of me, the quick backstory is that for a decade or better I’ve been sick to varying degrees, mostly invisibly. I’ve carried sometimes a staggering amount of pain, usually without saying much. Without quite realizing how bad it had become, I made every day a battle to find a survivable baseline, and my definition of “survivable” became pretty grim every so often. I developed a million allergies. I strategized with my pharmacist husband how to use narcotics effectively without becoming addicted and/or losing their potency. I tried a million healing diets. I went to every therapy: Western, Eastern, and just plain from the moon. I prayed. I seethed. I endured. Then one day last year, I exploded. A pain in my abdomen became so intense I had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. A few weeks later it happened again, and midnight exploratory surgery revealed I had horrible, unfathomably bad endometriosis. A few months later I had a full hysterectomy.
After I healed, as more time passed, some of the allergies went away. A lot of the pain has diminished, now more related to inactivity and re-strengthening than chronic illness. I can eat more things and don’t have to have my house kept in a nearly literal hermetic bubble. In short, I’m a lot better.
Which is kind of funny, because sometimes, if I’m honest, I feel more weak and vulnerable and unsteady than I ever did when I was sick.
During that ten years of hell I raised a child. I struggled with the publishing industry, honed my craft, and eventually began a fiction career. I had friends, made new ones, went through some epic ups and downs with many of them. I traveled, even trans-Atlantic. I painted rooms in my house. Tackled the garden. Everywhere I went, people who knew I was sick would marvel at my determination, my strength. I made blogging about being ill a coping mechanism, a way to take back power. I refused in every way to let it cow me, and it never did.
Not until now, when the battle is over. Now I don’t feel like I can take on even a little bit of unexpected conflict. Now the wrong word or threat on social media undoes me. Someone’s bad day and rant can make me so unsettled I need to unfollow them or decide not to be on that platform for awhile, maybe anymore, period. A random pain in my neck or lower back, a shadow of my former trial, will make me rage and seethe or sob over the unfairness of it all. Battles I would have gladly had in the past I can’t fathom letting get off the ground. Sometimes I can talk a good game, but more often than not I can’t even manage that.
Intellectually I understand what is happening to me. To start, there is a very simple chemistry issue: I have removed a gut full of reproductive organs which produced a lot of hormones–organs which would have shut off on their own, given the chance, but on their own terms, not with a chemical injection and then the slice of a knife. From August until November of last year I rode a strange, terrible wave of adjustment–hot flashes were the outward, awful symptom, but inside I felt a cold fury and terryfying instablity which I could not even begin to control. I haven’t had the courage yet to look back at those months and see if I did any damage, because I’m sure I did. Why it stopped was because my doctor prescribed estrogen–ironically the hormone which could make me sick again–to help even me out. It did. I can’t take it forever, and I’m to start trying to taper it in a few months, but right now it is the reason I function. And what that little episode has taught me is how very humbled I am by my chemistry. No matter how smart or clever or determined I am, or even how patient and kind–I am an organism, and if my chemical mixture is poor, I will be poor.
That knowledge has been sobering me for awhile now, but to be honest it was the gateway emotion into a deeper, more terrible sea. The realization that while all that strength and determination was admirable and helpful, it isn’t me either. Not entirely. I am not, much as I would love to pretend it, a pillar of awesome. I am also terribly, achingly human. I am actually quite weak, and after a decade of struggle, I’m very tired.
And I’m sad. Oh God, I’m so fucking sad.
I lost ten years. I didn’t exactly–I lived life during that time, but not the life other people lived. I was not a usual thirty-year-old, and now I’m forty-one. I remember standing in a wading pool while a younger friend asked me to stop a runaway child belonging to a woman five years older than me, and I had to admit I didn’t have the strength or power to bend down and corral a wiggling toddler. I watched people run past my house and wondered what it would be like to feel good enough to do that. I walked through conventions in heels and nice clothes and took Vicodin so I didn’t care so much that my legs and feet were full of shooting pains and half numb. I sat in doctor office after doctor office while they guessed wrong, or didn’t guess at all, or suggested maybe it was because I was fat. Sometimes said it out loud. I did all that, and I endured it.
But now that’s all gone. Now it is me in the horrible aftermath, sitting with myself by a still lake in the evening breeze, and every so often I turn to myself and say, “That was really not any fun, was it, what happened to us?”
“No, it wasn’t,” I reply, and then those two conversational selves join together, and we cry. Or we pack up the pain and carry it with us on to something else.
The worst part is there’s nothing else to do but carry it and weep over it. Someday I’ll fashion the pain into a glittering jewel, but right now it is raw material, and it’s heavy and hurts to look at. For the first time in…god, probably ever, I’ve been doing that entirely on my own. Oh, I always hide some of the pain, and I am now too–that’s a coping mechanism of mine, barfing out publicly what looks like oversharing, which is of course a smoke screen for deeper pain. Because if you think I’ve shared too much, you’ll never look deeper to think maybe I’ve kept some back.
But that doesn’t give me much this time, because this is different in ways I’m still sorting out. I think it’s something about it being an end. Most of my being, not just my brain but muscle memory is wired for enduring, and I’m not now. I’m assimilating and healing, or something. And it’s fucking weird. I can’t endure like I used to, to start. I do not have that deep, powerful well of adrenaline. When I reach deep for it, I find this, this sadness and exhaustion, and I get disarmed. I still have a sense of who I am, but I’m realizing I’m less the Amazon Iowan who can fell anything while battling chronic illness and more Heidi, woman who can’t quite understand how so much of her life has gone by already.
And that’s it. That’s what I am right now. Sitting shiva over a false front I didn’t realize wasn’t me, sorting out how much of it was indeed a coping mechanism, how much I might be able to harvest and reform into whatever I am now…how much I even should. But mostly, it’s grieving. Sitting by that lake and saying, over and over again, “That sucked, that did. Yes indeed.”
Don’t get me wrong–I’ll write the shit out of this. I’ve already started. At this point I honestly don’t know what you’ll think of Lonely Hearts, of Baz and Elijah, but I’m very at peace with it because they are my angels, my boys who separated that pain into two halves and danced me through it into a fictional happy ever after. During the drafting of that story I wasn’t able to articulate how much I was mirroring myself consciously, but my subconscious was all over it. That’s clear now as I do the preliminary round of official corrections with my editor–holy mother of god, but I was processing pain on every page. I’ll be pulling from these weird feelings for years, on purpose and as a compulsion.
It’s a new adventure, I guess. I’ve been sitting with one kind of pain for years, and now I am privileged to enjoy another variety. One that is not active, one that requires the challenge of holding and accepting that pain happened, that pain had pain in its wake. That the path to hope and healing isn’t simply passing through it, or owning it. The way out of pain is absorbing it. All of it, every shade. Until you realize that being alive is knowing pain is always with you, always changing and expanding, alive in some ways more than you are. That pain is, essentially, the engine of life.
And that life is so wonderful and sometimes heavy that one can understand that truth as deeply as possible…but pain is still bigger and wiser, and it will always be there to show you that you were not as strong as you thought. It always has more for you.
Because the truth is, of course, I’m not sitting at the lake with myself. Or rather, that other self I’m breaking apart from to speak to is the pain I carry. Whether it was done to me, brought on by me, or if it simply happened with no intent on anyone’s part–it’s all mine. It’s all me. And sometimes it is more real, more anchor than I am.
That’s my post. For me, it feels like standing naked in the cold, with a diagram to all my weak places. I don’t like admitting I don’t feel as strong as I once did. But to be honest, if it’s not already obvious, it probably will be soon. Because I didn’t write this and feel power surging back. In fact, it feels very much like laying down a sword.
But Tom Pollock reminded me that confessing, or rather, sharing, being, is taking control. I still need to be at the lake by myself, but it’s nice knowing other people know that’s what I’m doing. Maybe it feels naked, but it’s mostly admitting I was already naked. Acknowledging.
It helps me see, too, what I’m not. I’m not a mess. I’m not on the edge. I’m simply–understandably–exhausted. Admitting the lake I’m sitting at is composed of my own sea of emotions, my own tears. Dramatic flair that that image is and all.
So, that’s me. At my lake, hurting less, feeling weird. Writing words. Including these.