On the Other Side

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.

Merry Christmas, Nudging the Newsletter, Going Quiet

Me & Mitch by the tree

Me & Mitch by the tree

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, blessed Festivus—however you’d like to slice it, may it be good. I’m about to go dark everywhere except for the occasional posting of cats on Twitter and/or Instagram. Lots of family, lots of presents, lots of cats (though that last bit is normal).

December 24 at 7AM, a newsletter will go out. If you aren’t currently subscribed, this would be a good time to fix that. Something will happen in tomorrow’s newsletter that will only happen there. It’s possible somebody will forward you the newsletter or link it, but it will be in their favor to not add people to the pool, so they might stay quiet. If you subscribe, you will want to make sure you open it and follow the link inside. Peek into your spam folder/promotions tab too, if it’s not apparent.

I leave you on this not-quite Christmas Eve with a brief message from the character Twitter voted for in a weird mid-day five minute window. There was sort of a tie between Sam and Randy, and they’re pointing out dialogs are more interesting than monologs anyway.

See you in 2015.


Randy and Sam Wish You a Merry Christmas

Sam: We have the blog! Except…I’m not sure what to do with the blog. What is it rated?

Randy: She’s posted a fisting scene on it, so anything goes. *waggles eyebrows at Sam*

Sam: *swats Randy* No, because Mitch isn’t here.

Randy: I’d take video for him, but whatever. *plops on couch, puts up feet* It’s not supposed to be a long post. We show up, flash our asses a bit, be merry, etc.

Sam: It’s too bad they can’t come eat your cookies. You make great cookies. And the holiday party last weekend was amazing.

Randy: Well, Heidi talked about making the 2016 Christmas story about us. If she’s not too absorbed in those Minnesota brats. Though take note they asked for us on Twitter. Kelly got one vote, and Walter didn’t get any.

Sam: Yes, but Walter is mostly you with money and better hair.

Randy. Hey.

Sam: *pats Randy’s hand* Why don’t we tell everyone what we got people for Christmas? Or wait, no, they might read this. How about we talk about what our family celebration will be like?

Randy: We’ll watch the Christmas lights. Later, we’ll welcome some friends to help us sing carols. And we’ll finish up by reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Then Steve will beat Chenco with a wire hanger.

Sam: Stop. This is not Christmas with the Crawfords. Come on. Our Christmas is nice. We do go look at lights, and we have soup for dinner and watch cheesy movies, and you make a great dinner on Christmas Day.

Randy: So you’re telling me you don’t want a new spanking bench for Christmas?

Sam: Quit pretending you aren’t the biggest sap at the holidays. They’ve read The Twelve Days of Randy. They already know.

Randy: *sighs* Fine. Yes, I’m a big sap, and we probably will have vanilla, goopy sex on the holiday. Happy?

Sam: *snuggling in* Yep. But she really does owe us a story before December 2016.

Randy: *puts arm around Sam* True that.

Winner of the Sleigh Ride Grand Prize and Lots of Motivation to Join My Newsletter

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 SnowWilliam’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 seriesFrozen 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.

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The One With the Kitten

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.

Sasha

Sasha

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.

Sasha and Mitch chilling before a fire.

Sasha and Mitch chilling before a fire.

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.

Sasha and Mitch snuggle

Sasha and Mitch snuggle

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.

Sasha and me

Sasha and me

Sleigh Ride Available Now and Other Things Happening

It’s release day for Sleigh Ride, book two in the Minnesota Christmas series!

SleighRide300

The way to a man’s heart is on a sleigh.

Arthur Anderson doesn’t want anything to do with love and romance, and he certainly doesn’t want to play Santa in his mother’s library fundraising scheme. He knows full well what she really wants is to hook him up with the town’s lanky, prissy librarian.

It’s clear Gabriel Higgins doesn’t want him, either—as a Santa, as a boyfriend, as anyone at all. But when Arthur’s efforts to wiggle out of the fundraiser lead to getting to know the man behind the storytime idol, he can’t help but be charmed. The least he can do is be neighborly and help Gabriel find a few local friends.

As their fiery arguments strike hotter sparks, two men who insist they don’t date wind up doing an awful lot of dating. And it looks like the sleigh they both tried not to board could send them jingling all the way to happily ever after.

Warning: Contains a feisty librarian, a boorish bear, small town politics, deer sausage, and a boy who wants a doll.

 

Buy links: SamhainAmazonAmazon UKBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle PlayiTunes

Goodreads

Excerpt

Book Page on Website

Book Page for Let It Snow (book one in the series)

 

Sleigh Ride Blog Tour horizontal

Follow the Sleigh Ride Book Tour to win prizes and find out behind-the-scenes information!

 


Other things happening

  • Let It Snow is also in paperback now, and you can get it anywhere paperbacks are sold. If they don’t have it in stock, ask them to order it!
  • I need to go in this week and make sure I don’t still have pneumonia via X-ray, but overall I’m better than I was. I feel much improved, though I have weird hunger/craving jags and get very very tired very very fast.
  • I finished the first draft of Lonely Hearts, Love Lessons #3 and will be turning it in to my editor by the end of the month. Baz and Elijah were a party to write, and I can’t wait for you to read them in August.
  • Fever Pitch, Love Lessons #2, has been nominated for at RT Magazine award! Some awesome company I’m keeping there.
  • I’m about to start working on Minnesota Christmas #3, Winter Wonderland. Paul will finally get his man, though of course it will be the last person he expects.
  • My daughter turns 13 this weekend, which means we’re having an epic slumber party, and I will be having a teenager.
  • Our new cats, Sam and Mitch, continue to live up to their fictional doubles. Sam is always in trouble, and Mitch needs a lot more love than he’d like you to know about.

That’s about all from me! I hope you enjoy Sleigh Ride. I’ll go back to writing more books for you to read later.

Sleigh Ride Blog Tour and Giveaway

Sleigh Ride Blog Tour horizontal

 

The Sleigh Ride blog tour starts soon! You can follow it here. You can also, throughout the blog tour, enter to win a special prize pack!

 

  • an ebook copy of Sleigh Ride (if you’ve already bought it by then, you can give it to a friend)
  • a signed paperback copy of Let It Snow
  • a copy of William’s Doll, a children’s story referenced in the novel
  • a cuddling moose figurine
  • a Minnesota flask for those cold winter nights

 

SR Giveaway_edited-2

 

To enter, go here starting December 8. Be sure to follow the blog tour for more prizes and background information about the story and the series. (Here’s my privacy policy for giveaways.)

Want to listen to the music I played while I wrote the novel? Check out this Spotify playlist.

 


 

SleighRide300SLEIGH RIDE

Coming November 11 from Samhain Publishing

Book Two of the Minnesota Christmas Series

 

The way to a man’s heart is on a sleigh.

Arthur Anderson doesn’t want anything to do with love and romance, and he certainly doesn’t want to play Santa in his mother’s library fundraising scheme. He knows full well what she really wants is to hook him up with the town’s lanky, prissy librarian.

It’s clear Gabriel Higgins doesn’t want him, either—as a Santa, as a boyfriend, as anyone at all. But when Arthur’s efforts to wiggle out of the fundraiser lead to getting to know the man behind the storytime idol, he can’t help but be charmed. The least he can do is be neighborly and help Gabriel find a few local friends.

As their fiery arguments strike hotter sparks, two men who insist they don’t date wind up doing an awful lot of dating. And it looks like the sleigh they both tried not to board could send them jingling all the way to happily ever after.

Warning: Contains a feisty librarian, a boorish bear, small town politics, deer sausage, and a boy who wants a doll.

 

Buy links: SamhainAmazonAmazon UKBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle PlayiTunes

Goodreads • Excerpt • Book Page on Website

Book Page for Let It Snow (book one in the series)

Update on IndieFirst Firehouse Books Gathering

Normally I would try to make these posts semi-entertaining, but honestly I don’t have it in me, so apologies. To cut to the chase, I need to cancel the November 29th event in Ames I wrote about here. I’ll send this exact blog post also to the newsletter and to the people who signed up on the Google Form. Reading onward is the reason why.

I’d intended to get serious about working on this event as soon as I got home from GRL, but I got sick. I’d felt a bit run down at the event, so I figured, con crud, okay, move on. Well, I never got better, and then Saturday it started to get hard to breathe. Late that evening I went to the ER and got diagnosed with pneumonia.

I’m doing better, but not much, and it’s clear it will be a bit before I’m ready to take the world by storm. I could maybe limp through and hope, but it’s a disservice to everyone involved. I’m going to try to do it instead in April of next year and with more notice/preparation.

Apologies to anyone eager to come.

Quick update on what I am doing, besides coughing my head off:

Sleigh Ride is out in a few weeks, and there’s a blog tour. You can check that out here. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I am finishing Lonely Hearts this month. I reread Love Lessons and Fever Pitch last week, and this weekend when I wasn’t having nebulizer treatments (and thinking of Kelly, as my not-very-usual asthma reared its head) I’ve been watching the entire oeuvre of Hayo Miyazaki films I and my library had in stock. I feel like my life should be a charming Japanese village, and I have a huge craving for noodles and rice. Sitting here at my desk to compose this, I’m thinking writing is going to happen in my chair downstairs on the laptop, as this is a little woozy-making, but writing will happen this week, and I’m not missing my end of November deadline.

What exactly I got sick from is unknown. I thought I had the flu but they said no. How I got pneumonia is unclear. It could be a delayed post-surgery thing, but I was active after, so it’s really hard to say. I got to my regular doctor here in a bit, and he might have more answers, but honestly I’ll take some good cough medicine. PONYO

Going to GRL? Challenge Randy Jansen to a Game.

In less than twenty-four hours, the family Cullinan will leave from Iowa and head to the GayRomLit Retreat in Bloomingdale, Illinois. We’ll arrive Wednesday night, and we’ll be leaving Saturday evening by seven at the latest so I can swing by and see my grandmother on Sunday afternoon, hopefully in her home, not the care center she’s currently recovering in.

You can find me anywhere at the retreat, and please come and say hi to me. In fact, I have a little game I’ll be playing with retreat-goers. This will be posted in my swag area, but in the meantime:

Let’s Play a Game

I’ll be playing this game at my signing table too as long as I don’t have a line at that moment–anytime you see the deck of cards, it’s fair game to play. If you’re not able to attend the retreat but are in the Chicago area, the Saturday afternoon signing is open to the public. Please stop by!

Seventeen

Last night, as I snuggled with Dan in bed, I thumbed out a chat with a friend having a hard moment and wanting, desperately, advice on a relationship crossroads. That in itself isn’t so unusual, but it’s worth noting the friend is a sophomore in college and I was on the cusp of my seventeenth wedding anniversary.

That contrast really echoed in me as I gave my fifty cents worth of thoughts, because he’s only a few years younger than I was when I met Dan. This friend is a lot like me too–we aren’t exactly two peas in a pod, but he’s filled with passion and idealism, and I have to say, twenty-two years have worn away some of my vigor and cracked my rose-colored glasses, but my heart has never left that state. He, thankfully, is so much smarter and well-balanced than I was at that age, so I live in hope with a few more years he’ll whiz right by me and he can be my sage advisor.

Last night it was my turn with the cup of knowledge, though, and the thing I kept circling back to was talking about how long-term relationships very quickly become sentient beings. This is true of platonic unions as well, of course. Relationships always start out as an ideal in our head: something about the person in front of us speaks to a need in our own hearts. And while the wild crush of first love is in bloom, the imperfections are washed away by endorphins and other exotic brain chemicals.

Eventually those fade, however, and that’s when the relationship becomes its own thing. Warts begin to appear. Problems arise. Deficiencies become cracks in the veneer and sometimes allow whole sections of our imagined ideal partner to fall away. When this long-term relationship is romantic, sex gets tangled in the mix, as do all our culturally imposed ideals of what the perfect partner is. Now is the grand moment, when we see not who we want to see, but who is truly in front of us.

If you keep going in a relationship, if you spin out not only months but years and then decades, the relationship as sentient being spins and twirls and digs in grooves until it weaves its own DNA. Draw back far enough to look at it and you see the dark whorl where you nearly broke apart, or the shadow where you were distant. During the first blush of partnering, you swore you would never have those moments. You would be the Hallmark couple, someday the cute wrinkled old people holding hands on a swing.

The truth of course is that every wrinkled old couple holding hands comes with eons of moments grand and disappointing. A long-term relationship is a life. It isn’t a game you win or lose, it is a joy and honor to be able to have, whether for a few months or for years. Every challenge and test is a chance to knit yourself closer or admit you should unravel. It’s a story, your story. It is beautiful and ugly and disappointing and strengthening and unexpected and comforting.

When I was young and I dreamed of a partner, I wanted so many things. Someone smart and witty and kind. Someone who would challenge me and lead me and protect me. Even I knew all the things I wanted was such a crazed set of ideals I never dared dream. When I met Dan, however, I remember feeling as if all those things came true and then more. I felt like I’d known him forever and we were predestined and everything.

Then time passed, and some of those pretty scales fell away. More and more all the time. I still can’t say who put them there–me, Dan, both of us, some divine relationship fairy–all I knew was that events would happen, good and bad, and I would see less of the man I’d imagined and more of the man I had. I loved him too. Sometimes I had to learn that love, because sometimes the true human beneath the ideal was a little rough. Sometimes it was thrilling to know only I could see that part of him, that this was a gift only a life partner could get. But sometimes those moments hit me when my own scales were falling away, and it was hard.

Dan and I have faced all manner of challenges in seventeen years, and the thing I’ve learned and re-learned is that the crises, the scale-falling moments are the ones where you weave a new rung in that DNA ladder of your relationship. At first it was the loss of ideals, then it was the challenge of adding a child, and now it is age. Gray hair. Weight gain. Health problems. Scales neither of us had thought much about, things that startle us and make us actively try to cut each other off. Because sometimes the wrenches life throws at us hit our heads, and they hurt. Sometimes we can’t even trust a partner of seventeen years to love us when this many scales fall away, because we’re realizing more and more each day underneath those glittering defenses we are tired, wrinkled, and unloveable.

This is the magic of seventeen: after this much time, after so much practice at the weaving of this relationship, now we reach out and draw each other back. Health problems render us feeling fat and gross and crazy? Come here, sweetheart. No, you don’t get to push me away. Don’t want me to touch you right now? That’s okay. I’ll sit right here and love you all the same. You seem like you could use a massage. How about you make a date with your friend? Why don’t you go buy a book or a record? Here, I got this cookie for you.

My job is to write love stories, of people falling in love. That first rush, those bubbling endorphins, that initial connection. And I do love that moment, never get tired of writing it. I enjoyed living it in my youth, of having that moment with Dan. I still fall in love with friends, still chase that new-relationship smell.

But after seventeen years of caretaking this relationship with my spouse, of peeling away layers and discovering disappointments and joys and strange new worlds, of quiet pleasures and crazy capers–nothing compares. I have someone who thinks I’m beautiful when I’m sweaty and stinky in a bathrobe. Who actually likes it when I get bitchy and ranty, I think even a little when it’s aimed at him. Who is patient when I am moody or weird. Who never turns down a hug or a snuggle. Someone who I want to see more than anyone else, someone who is home.

Seventeen years ago today I was putting on a frilly dress and getting ready to walk down an aisle. We have this silly idea when we get married that the walk down a row of chairs or benches is the real journey–certainly we’re the best dressed for that part. But I am still walking down that path. Just Dan and I for the most part now, and sometimes we’re not as great with the upkeep of the sidewalk as we should be. Except I would walk with this man over hot coals. Anywhere, everywhere, so long as the path doesn’t end.

I love you, Daniel Scott Cullinan. Thanks for seventeen great years. I want seventeen-and-seventy more.

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Piles and Piles of Books: The Library Contest is Ready to Ship!

I’ve been waiting a month to do this post. Seriously. SO. EXCITED.

For my birthday this year, I curated a contest for libraries, and I invited authors to donate books in addition to the ones I was donating. But then I realized there were only ten libraries who entered, and I couldn’t pick just five. I put out a plea for more donations, and people responded like crazyreaders especially. I would say a good 75% of the donations are from readers alone. Here’s a list of who donated: authors, publishers, and readers. (And if in the chaos I missed you, please let me know, and I’ll add you!)

Here’s what they donated.

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Impressive, yes? Here’s how it looks divvied up.

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