Writing the Year Off

11875349_834757973297904_411007908_nSo I’ve just gotten back from two weeks away—Paris (hot, sticky and tourist-filled), Oxford (ditto) and Bath (rainy, hot, cider-filled)—and am now trying to recover. I don’t quite need a holiday from my holiday but I have come back with a long-term health problem flare up AND allergies (evidently something in Bath didn’t like me).

I need to level with you. It’s August and, since January, I’ve had four manic episodes (three of which were while on medication and triggered by stress). I’ve been left ragged by this and in debt (joy etc). I now need to spend the rest of the year doing two things: getting my Kickstarter campaigns sorted and getting out of debt.

I also need to get healthy. I’ve started this with a FitBit and have improved a lot since taking two Zumba classes a week and trying to walk 10k steps a day. I need to stop drinking (because it makes me feel crap and interferes with my meds) and I need to sort out my debt hole situation. It’s not an impossible amount, just compounded by silly things like my dishwasher dying three weeks after my new washing machine purchase (sadly I didn’t have a contingency contingency fund but then, in this day and age, few do). It doesn’t stop me feeling shitty and like a failure.

My primary concern is the Kickstarters. The first one is approximately two months behind due to unforeseen circumstances that I can’t really divulge because they’re not mine.  That said the Massive Bipolar Mania of January 2015 did not help. At all. Fortunately, bar the editing and the final layout pass, everything is ready and I hope to have the ebook ready by the end of September (in time for an Amazon upload).

As for the second one, all that’s left to do is the map (which is in progress though my communication with my cartographer has been spotty) and the editing. Once Parting has been done, I’ll turn my focus completely on Star. That one, however, should be a breeze compared to Parting.

I would like to run a third campaign this year but, honestly, because of my health and financial situation I might wait for the new year. I need to get my house in order first, especially as I’m contemplating applying to Clarion next year and would at least like to be straight before I put my application in. The problem with Kickstarters is no matter how well you do your finances, how carefully you do the numbers, they always seem to run into more than you ask for (either due to my own stupidity by adding on stuff without thinking it through or because … reasons. Also life hates me). I want to ensure Teams Parting and Star have everything due to them before initiating Team Blue.

My finances, you see, are also one of the core triggers for my anxiety and stress makes me condition worse. So we’re trying for stress free (yay for cats and Bramble hugs).

Plus, honestly, I’m freaking tired. Crowdfunding takes a lot of work and distracts me from, you know, writing. I’ve been taking a class with the awesome Cat Rambo which has literally saved my sanity, as well as help improve my craft and my career. I’d forgotten the joy of just writing and then submitting stories. I had my first personal rejection last week as a result of Cat’s class. That’s massive when you’re a newbie writer and, in all honesty, I have a story I need to finish by November for Alt.History 102 that I want to be good (hence investing in Cat’s class). That means a lot to me and just being able to write whatever short stories take my fancy is liberating.

The other week I sat in Starbucks, reading the submission criteria for Beyond Ceaseless Skies, and started writing a story with lyrical prose. I vomited it out, indulging in my love of lyrical prose, and submitted it, raw, to Cat’s class. I thought it would such but some of the pars were beloved, I was praised for letting them see a first, imperfect draft and, while the story needs a lot of polishing, it came from my heart. It’s been a while since stories have come from there and I know those stories are the better ones.

So I’m trying to chip away at my debt (and I have rent due which doesn’t help, neither does the whole dishwasher thing or having to ask a relative to lend me the money to pay for it on terms involving me probably never being able to pay them back, which I hate). I’m also trying not to cry. Traveling takes it out of me and crashing back to reality post mania is always hard, especially when you’re in three different cities in the space of two weeks trying to play tour guide. I knew this was going to hurt but the reality always feels like a knee in the guts. To be fair, if I’d have done this six months ago I wouldn’t have been able to move.

Fortunately I have good friends. One of whom I ran into in Oxford and it’s nice to know they’re there for me. We’re half way into the year and I just want to get it over, to hit Spring 2016 and survive the winter (my most hated season due to SAD) intact. I wanted to thank you guys too, for your patience and understanding, especially during the times when I’ve gone off the rails. My heart has always been in the right place, even if I’ve been really, really dumb this year. I know I’ve taken too much on and now I have to deal with it and move on.

So I’m writing the year off, only the negative stuff however. I’m taking as much of the positives from it as I can: the places I’ve been, the new friends and people I’ve met, the hugs from the Mighty D when I laid in bed this morning. I’m determined to submit stories, to get into SFWA, to try and make the best out of situations, regardless of how bad they might appear and to accept that sometimes I just can’t do anything. I need to look at the positive or else I’d just give up and I’m determined never to do that.

So, thank you, guys, and here’s to a better second half of 2015.

Feeling A Little Off

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Yesterday was somewhat revelatory, I’ve been having a bad week (a mix of hypomania that saw me cycling from relatively normal to manic and back again in the space of a couple of hours). The downside was I obsessed over dresses and jewellery and the upside was I created a website to host my Ashteraiverse series bible prior to it being opened up so other people can write in the universe. I’ve also been bitten by horseflies and went on antibiotics as a ‘I cannot get celluitis again’ precaution. I hate antibiotics.

Anyway, I met up with my friend Mhairi and the beloved Bramble yesterday (I was in Starbucks early editing One in Blue, The Other Green) and we went for lunch. Unfortunately the service was super slow so we got talking. Mhairi has some experience of bipolar so I asked her why I was manic but taking my meds. It turns out when my GP upped my dose and told me to take it in the morning because the nightly dose was knocking me out what she actually meant was ‘take these in the morning so you always have quetiapine in your bloodstream’.

Sigh.

I didn’t know this and, of course, I feel like it’s my fault. Except, rationally, I know it isn’t. Books on bipolar tell you many things; they don’t tell you useful stuff. You just kinda have to struggle through it and discover this shit as you go along.

Fortunately (I think), I have an appointment with a doctor (whom I hope is a psychiatrist; they never tell you who and why on the letter) and my case worker person on Thursday which means we’re at a perfect juncture to mention the mania and whether I needs my medication upping or changing. I actually have no idea what it’s about except that I have to go to King’s Lynn (shit, shit, shit!) as they don’t tell you in the letter, just demand your attendance.

Should be fun then.

Anyway, after our somewhat shit lunch (and a tiny confrontation involving balsamic vinegar that had gone off), we went to see Inside Out. I’m a sucker for Pixar movies and this one is my current favourite, partly for the sheer awe in parts of the movie where you just want to cry and also for the concepts portrayed in the animation. Mhairi and I go and see movies a lot now, our tastes are similar and as I can get someone in for free going with a second person feels more worthwhile than going on my own, plus Bramble puts her head on my knee just so and all is well in the world.

The best part for me, aside from the music, the animation and the plot, were the credits. The angle of the film is that we’re run by a collective of emotions including Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. In adults, it was often fear or sadness which ruled their humans heads but in children, who still experience awe, Joy is the boss. Right at the end, you get to see into the heads of some of the other characters including a school teacher, a pizza person, a dog (yay!) and a cat (so awesome). The animal heads were particularly funny as Pixar perfectly encapsulated the way cats just wander around, randomly pressing buttons while dogs just chase everything.

Uni and Brams were not amused by this at all.

I actually laughed out loud a couple of times, Inside Out is one of those films you watch to cheer you up, to remind you what’s awesome about life. A good film for anyone with depression or bipolar, I think, and I’m glad I went to see it.

Let’s Talk About Terminator Genisys

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Look, this is the summer of reboots and we’ve officially run out of original ideas for movies. Terminator Genisys is a mess but it’s, for me at least, an awesome movie. Here are my initial thoughts in order of WTFness:e

  • The time travel is a mess. Seriously. It made me shudder for the writers.
  • The plot makes zero sense.
  • Matt Smith is in it (underused but playing a villain for a change which was nice).
  • ARNIE!
  • Arnie … trying to smile.
  • Callbacks!
  • The Music. (Lorne Balfe, one of my favourite composers, did the soundtrack).
  • Stunts!
  • More callbacks!
  • Little Danny Dyson ain’t so tiny anymore.
  • The photograph.
  • John Conner is a dick.
  • ARNIE!
  • I like J.K. Simmons, it was nice to see him in a non-shouty role for a chance.
  • The fact that, when all is said and done, this whole thing is a predestination paradox of a mess which would make Schrodinger and Einstein have headaches.

It. Was. Awesome.

I loved it, despite it’s obvious flaws. The first and, especially, the second Terminator movies were some of the first ‘for adults’ action movies I ever saw (my father was super strict with me about movies). It was one of those films where personal experience is everything, if you were my age when the first two films came out (and then had to sit through Rise and Salvation), well you’re going to love this.

Investing in Myself

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I bought two dresses this week, formal type dresses for special occasions. I have zero formal wear and, once every so often, something comes up which requires more than just a dress. It requires a nice dress. Now being of a larger size (though I’ve dropped six dress sizes just by doing Zumba), this is a bit harder than it appears but Facebook kept showing me this nice dress in a beautiful navy blue. I didn’t expect it to be available in my size but lo and behold it was, so I ordered two different sizes (I had no idea if size 26 meant 26) and had them shipped to my local store.

The size 26 fit like a glove.

I know they say you get what you pay for but these dresses are £50 a piece (aka A LOT) and more than I’d normally spend. But, this one time, I wanted to spoil myself and invest in something that I’d enjoy wearing, that made me feel pretty and sorta attractive.

I wanted to invest in myself.

Then I came home and realised there was a similar one with a nicer neckline in oh-so-flattering and my favourite colour wine red. Yeah you know where this is going.

Gods I feel sexy.

Anyway, on the subject of investing in myself, I also signed up for Cat Rambo’s six week fantasy and science/speculative fiction class. The first class was yesterday and, at the end of it, I was inspired to write (or in this case finish editing The Storyteller so I can submit it to the class next week). Cat is an amazing teacher and I really do want to improve my short form stuff, especially the pacing of stories.

We did a writing exercise which I really enjoyed. The starter was ‘when the star exploded’ and here’s what I came up with:

When the star exploded, you’d think people noticed on far off worlds, that prehistoric civilisations might look up and see the bright light in the sky or the second sun which lit up their day. 

In truth the universe is so vast that sometimes such events simply are not noticed or, those close enough, are often destroyed by the violence of that dying star before they can even mourn it’s death throes.

When this star burned itself out of the cosmos, three worlds died in the fire with it, another dozen looked up with uncomprehending eyes, not understanding what the new light meant or assuming it was a herald of bad tidings and calamity. They would have been right.

Worlds away, others recorded the death of this lone star, watching with scientific eyes and analysing the changes in gravitational pull, how moons light years away and stars up close and personal, had their axises shifted and began to spin differently to how they had before.

Life went on for the lucky ones, for most, and the universe continued to move as it has done for aeons.

It’s so nice to spend two hours a week (perfectly time to give me something to do on Saturday evening) with four other people who love writing like I do, who live to create worlds and craft/sell fiction.

Oh and Cat expects us to start submitting. To pro markets. This is the kind of kick up the arse I need.

Yay!

A Summer of Short Stories

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As is my thing, once a novel is done, I start writing short stories a la Stephen King. Summer is hot and so all I tend to do is stay at home and write, in the company of a fan and a dog covered in a wet towel. I like writing short stories, they’re harder than novels but easier to write if done well.

The thing is, despite having two anthologies under my belt (and a third on the way), I’m not a great short story writer. This is, in part, why I want to go to Clarion so badly, so I can improve. Ideally, when I find the money, I’d also like to do Cat Rambo and Mary Robinette Kowel‘s short story courses as well. I want to improve and this is why I’m looking forward to my summer of short stories so much.

I’ve blocked out July and August to, mainly, write short fiction. I have a list of titles I want to polish, write or sketch out. Some are new ideas, others simply revisions. Then, in September, I want to edit them and start sending them out to pro markets (and finding two to use for my Clarion applications in December).

So what am I going to be writing?

The Elissiad

A retelling of The Aeneid from the perspective of Dido, set in alternate world where Rome fell instead of Carthage, with aliens pretending to be Carthaginian gods.

Solace

A short story about space travel, mermaids and first Contact.

Zombie Hotel

The end of the world and the zombie apocalypse comes to a high class Japanese hotel in the middle of Shinjuku.

Pax Carthago

Set in the same universe as The Elissiad but earlier. This story focuses on the day when Hannibal and his elephants sack the Eternal City of Rome.

White Moon, Red Earth

I’m still not sure on this title but it’s another alt-history story, this one focusing on an Earth where Russia never became communist and where China became a constitutional monarchy after the death of Cixi. The story focuses on the space race between Russia, China and communist America and follows the narrative as each country tries to reach the Moon first and claim it for their respective countries.

One Quiet Night

After a pandemic kills off most of humanity, a mother and her daughter share the last night of their lives together before humanity goes extinct.

The Children of the Sun

This one has Maya and Inca taking over America. Needs a lot of research but I’m looking forward to it.

The Storyteller

I seem to rewrite this story every Comic Con but this time I’m intentionally trying to cut it to 5k so I can submit it to Clarion. It’s one of my favourite stories and this must be it’s fourth complete revision? Wow.

I’m Going to Paris!

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This year is the first in about four when I’ve actually been able to take a holiday in my case split across two weeks and seeing me visit Bath (three days), London (four days) and Paris (four days). Holidays, in case you didn’t know, are definitely beneficial to my mental and physical health, so much so that I’m going to make them yearly things. Ellen is coming to England and was very keen to jump across the channel to see France. It’s certainly easy enough to do and I’ve spent the last two days booking everything (it’s what I do—and very well too).

After learning from London, we’ve booked a bus tour for two days which will allow us to visit the important tourist spots (Notre Dame, Sacre Cour, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre) and transport us around the city the scenic way, it even includes a cruise on the Seine! I found us a perfectly centred hotel near Opera (not far from the Louvre) and close to Little Tokyo (yay!!). I got myself some euros today and plug converters for my phone and laptop.

I am feeling, in all honesty, a tad smug right now. I might not like Paris (in the same way that I hate all big cities) but I am looking forward to the experience, to being able to spend a morning in the Louvre and doing research for my Alt.History 102 story. I like the Louvre, especially as I get in free (yay for disability privileges) and the great thing is I’m going with other people, adults who happen to be friends of mine. This means we’re going to enjoy wine and fine food, hilarity and while I might not be able to move for a few days after, I’m still going to enjoy myself.

So erm PARIS!

Alt.History 102 Unlocks and I’m In It!

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Sam just announced the line up for Alt.History 102, the second in his new series of anthologies focusing on, well, alternative histories and parallel universes. You can find out more information via the official Facebook group for the Future Chronicles. The first volume in the series is up for pre-order now and will be available and the cover should give you some idea of how awesome this new series is going to be!

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I’ve pitched a story idea to Sam which he’s accepted and I have two ideas I want to pursue over the summer based off this pitch. I love alternate histories because they allow me to indulge my inner historian and my pitch is about a specific period that I’ve not had a chance to cover since my degree years. This story is, however, not connected to my other universes, rather it’s a chance for me to go ‘what if’ about a major historical event and then throw in some interesting stuff for good measure. I’ll talk more when I can but for now this is going to be an awesome project and I’m honoured to be a part of this anthology!

Summer’s Coming

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I got Uni clipped a couple of weeks ago and I’m so glad. She gets so hot in summer anyway and the loss of her hair seems to take off a few years with them. I subscribe to the ‘hot weather, drench the dog’ method of keeping my canine cool. Several years has taught me that I can work Uni up to 25C, thirty if we’re in air-conditioned buildings with water to hand. This time of year has lead to me walking around with a 27oz can of iced water, a bandana and the ability to soak both pooch and bandana liberally as soon as it gets warm.

Happy Uni.

Of course I need to be in Norwich when it’s hot (Wednesday and Friday) but I can easily plan routes so that we’re in Starbucks or somewhere with a free water source like the Playhouse. The key point is keeping Uni hydrated, wearing my hat (because yay for sun sensitive medication on my count) and keeping both of us cool/migraine free. Even better I can dump a load of water over and it rolls right off her back but does drop her temperature (Uni vomits when she overheats). Typically said heatwave also means it’s mandatory check in time with my GDMI so I’m sure that day will be mega hot on principle.

It’s a week-long heatwave, we can survive this, right?

At least, at home, I have ice cream and cold water, a fan and open windows (my flat does summer brilliantly) but I also have places to be so it’s finding the balance between the two.

Until then, bandana mode!

The Z Chronicles: The Unboxening and Some Other Stuff

I don’t usually buy paperbacks unless they’re my books. I have a shelf, fast filling with my tomes (remember I have at least five books planned for this year alone). Getting books that I’ve had some part in creating … it’s incredibly cathartic. Seeing The Z Chronicles has reminded me in a few months we’ll have The Parting of the Waters, Beyond the Stars Beneath the Sea, A Star Filled Sea, One in Blue, The Other Green and hopefully A World of Strange New Things (though that may slip back to 2016).

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And these are just my projects; the ones I can talk about.

In other news I’ve started submitting The Changing of the Sun to competitons, both local and online. I’ve also started submitting shorter works to professional outlets and contemplating my Clarion UCSD/West 2015 applications. Doing Z has reminded me that I can, in fact, write fiction professionally so now is the time to start finding places to submit to. I desperately want to get more work in the Chronicles as well simply because the books are done so professionally and Sam is a dream come true to work with. However if I’m going to keep writing short fiction I have to start looking elsewhere, at where I like to read and begin submitting again.

Last time that was terrifying; this time I feel ready.

Soulless: The Reviews

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So today is launch day for The Z Chronicles and reviews have started rolling in. The launch party is in a couple of hours (I have to talk to some Scouts first) and I’m first up to host. The awesome point is that people have started talking about The Soulless: A History of Zombieism in Chiitai and Mihari Culture (aka, simply, Soulless)! Wanna see?

Lesley Smith’s “The Soulless” – Sandis is a medical student on an alien world in a universe where Earth has recently been brought into a galaxy spanning collective organization. Sandis asks her professor about the Earth legends about zombies and is led into doing some interesting historical research. What she finds is a comprehensive history spanning eons, where a powerful alien hive-mind controls zombie-like drones and uses them as pawns in the rise and fall of various empires. I thought this was an excellent, well-developed cultural exploration of two of the galaxies dominating cultures as they battle for supremacy over the course of their war-torn history. An engaging and intriguing exploration in the use of these zombies to perpetuate war through the ages makes for truly engrossing reading, filled with rich and enticing detail.

and:

Well it was interesting, liked it. It was sci-fi and mild horror mix for me. I liked 873e! Like the story, have to re-read sometimes as I jumbled up the names lol.

(Note from me: Awesome, you will be getting more of e.)

and:

More alien zombies, and again it’s a good story. The frame story of an alien student asking about the zombie myth is engaging.

Jurassic World

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First off I’ve not taken Uni to the movies in a while. My anxiety meant I’m not a great fan of auditoriums full of people as Uni tends to have trouble settling down which, in turn, flashes me back to the first half dozen times we went to the movies and I got screamed at for having a tart for a guide dog who is more interested in people than she is in being quiet at my feet.

Right, that done, let me take you back to 1993 when I was a wee lass. My father, who was a self-confessed Crichton geek before geekdom existed (apparently my dad met him during a residence at Addenbrookes where both the parental units worked), decided to see Jurassic Park. For some reason, probably because it was the one day in all of my life where he had dad duty, he decided to take me and my ten year old brother with him.

Yeah, smart move, Dad.

We went into Cambridge to the biggest cinema and I remember being enthralled and terrified. I think I might have stolen the book (I love it) and read it either before or just after (books were the Wikipedia of their day). It was an awesome movie and remains one of my favourites to this day. It’s also the only time my Dad ever took us to the movies.

Today, aged 34, I went to see Jurassic World. I know there were like two other sequels but this movie, oh for all it’s flaws, stupid science and high heel running, was the one the original deserved. There were all these delicious throw backs, from the musical score to the original park, even little things like Mr DNA and the acid-spitting dinosaur. I loved it.

I totally feel like a child again right now!

The Smallest Things

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I’ve been stupidly busy, spending much of my time in Norwich. After we got back from London I had a three day spoon crash where I, literally, couldn’t do anything because I ached so much. Ugh … the joys of whatever kind of CFS is wrong with me. I did too much, I suffered for it. Simple as but it has reminded me to focus on the little things.

  • Editing (my pass) on The Parting of the Waters is going okay. I’m trying to take it slow, trying to remind myself this is the last time I’ll get to make changes that I want/need to make.
  • I got to sit in a car, in the driver’s seat, yesterday. I’ve never done that before and it made me envious of all those people who can see, who can drive. It also made me more eager than ever for a driverless car. I know they’re coming and I need to be patient. Technically, if I wanted, I could get a car tomorrow but I don’t have anyone to drive it so I have to wait.
  • I’ve decided to go driving for the blind as a 35th birthday present for myself so if anyone wants to get me something: DRIVING A 4×4 FOR THE BLIND!
  • Today I went tandeming for the first time (a tandem, for those not in the know, is a bicycle built for two. Or in my case a tricycle). It’s one of those rare occasions when I’ve actually felt blind and fucking terrified. Also my pubic bone hurts and I got stuck twice, my left leg doesn’t move on command. Grrr. I enjoyed it but it’s definitely a thing I need to do on my anti-anxiety meds.
  • The weather was gorgeous though.
  • I finished The Martian yesterday. It was awesome! And the movie has been bumped forward to October so YAY!
  • Ben continues to make beautiful art for Parting:

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  • I’ve been going to Zumba 2-3 times a week and it’s really helping, I’ve lost close to a stone and am feeling better (in part because Shannon has been known to make me breakfast). I’ve been attempting to eat Real Food and while it’s still a work in progress, it’s a slow change.
  • I’ve started paying for counselling to try and come to terms with the stuff behind my PTSD. I’ve been reading psychology books and researching conditions that explain why I’m so messed up in my brain.
  • Oh, oh, oh: I have a book coming out next week: The Z Chronicles! Go and buy your copy here: http://smarturl.it/z-chronicles
  • It’s sunny outside! Also Summer!