My Covid-19 Stay At Home 2020 Diary

Hello fellow nerds!

Hope you are all well and playing it safe.

The resale shop where I work closed as of March 24th and I’ve been home ever since. Just seven days, but it already feels much, much longer. How is it going for me? Well, as I told a friend of mine (phone call, not in person, social distancing and all) my moods seem to rotate among these three:

#1: “Oh, God, oh God, we’re all going to die,” which makes me think about Joss Whedon’s shiny Firefly ‘verse and helps to calm me down

#2: appreciating/enjoying time at home to catch up on reading, writing, and whatnot, and

#3: feeling guilty about enjoying anything with all that’s happening.

There is also the whole stressing over no incoming income going forward and the whole big circus of hoops that have to be jumped though to sign up for unemployment and any other help I can find to keep the lights turned on and the pets fed.

There’s also the feeling (maybe I’ll add a #4) that I am not being as productive as I could be each day. And so the decision to keep a daily list of what I have actually accomplished to help me feel less like I’m in limbo.

I won’t bore you all with a day-by-day account, but I thought I’d share today’s list of activities as an example of how one isolated, currently unemployed, writer is spending her days during this crisis.

March 31, 2020:

  • hug dog, pet cat, get out of bed
  • make breakfast (tea and oatmeal)
  • eat breakfast while working through two lessons of Dan Brown’s MasterClass on writing thrillers (Note: a year’s access to MasterClass was a Christmas gift to myself)
  • play with dog in back yard
  • complete audit of week 1 of CalArt course “Story and Narrative Development for Video Games” (a skill I might need to apply for a remote job I saw on Indeed.com)
  • make lunch (soup) and watch a Hallmark channel mystery while I also…
  • did laundry (two loads)
  • have small panic over paying bills (similar to #1 mood mentioned previously)
  • hug dog, feed cat (she’s very demanding and vocal), play with dog in back yard
  • mend old pair of sweatpants while watching PBS NewsHour, leading to…
  • another tiny panic over the state of the pandemic in our country
  • 1/2 hour on treadmill (I’ve been pretty good at doing that and have only slacked off one day so far. But, considering’that at work I’m on my feet for 8 hours moving and lifting merchandise, it’s not my usual amount of  physical activity.) The soundtrack for today’s workout? Rick Springfield’s Venus in Overdrive. Hey! No booing out there. Springfield’s music always keeps me moving.
  • dinner (1 piece of leftover pizza, celery sticks, cauliflower florets, and a small dish of dry roasted peanuts) Not great nutrition, but not bad. And crunchy foods lessen stress, at least in my case.
  • re-watched one episode of Chuck while eating dinner
  • wrote blog post

Tomorrow and the days to follow will bring much of the same with the addition of auditing another Coursera course for a TESOL certificate (while waiting to see if I can get financial aid to actually get certification) for yet more jobs I’ve seen online. And writing? I’m averaging an hour or so every other day, so I really need to step up my game in that corner.

  • next up: hot chocolate and Hallmark Christmas movie, then
  • re-read one chapter of The Da Vinci Code before bed to study structure for that MasterClass with the added benefit that Langdon stories always bring to mind Tom Hanks and who could ask for a more comforting image to help me get to sleep?

So…how are your days going?

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#StayAtHomeAndRead & #SongsOfComfort

Hi, everyone!

Hope you are all playing it safe and staying well during these trying times.

Since a lot of us are staying home, I’m calling on all authors to help out by giving away free copies of our books and to start a StayAtHomeAndRead campaign on Twitter. Please post your giveaways on Twitter with that hashtag. 

zombie blues 3

I’m definitely no YoYo Ma, but I do love my blue guitar!

I figured this small act of kindness is the least I can do to give support to others as we all cope with the new normal of Covid-19 life. Thanks to YoYo Ma for giving me the inspiration because of his fantastic #SongsOfComfort idea. (Hope you all are looking into that. Music is so important to heal the spirit, as are all the arts.)

The Kindle version of my novel Zombie Cafe is free on Amazon now through Sunday March 22nd. Then of my short story collection Zombie Blues will be free on Amazon starting Monday March 23 through Wednesday March 25th.

I hope other authors will join in with giveaways of their books! And, of course, that books lovers will find comfort and support in this effort.

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Strange Days, Free Reads, and Hanging in There

Anybody else wondering how to get through these strange and trying times? I’m thinking a show of hands would be unanimous on that. I’ve also been thinking about how I could help others who, like me, are looking for ways to pass the time and distract ourselves from the itsy bitsy panic-stricken moments we might be experiencing.

One tip is to not lose track of the good things we still have. For example, the first day of Spring arriving this Friday! We’ve got more sunshine, more daylight hours, and my daffodils are starting to green up the flower beds in my backyard making me anticipate the beautiful spring colors that will soon arrive. So let’s celebrate spring!

My contribution is to give away free copies of my Amazon Kindle books.  Now I realize zombies might not suit everyone’s reading appetites right now (or at any time), but for those who are so inclined…

Zombie Café, my novel, is free on Amazon starting Friday March 20 through Sunday March 22nd

and then…

Zombie Blues, my short story collection, is free on Amazon starting Monday March 23 through Wednesday March 25th.

I hope these free reads help to entertain some of you during these very strange days!

To keep my brain occupied with something other than unnerving news and empty grocery store shelves I’ve been throwing myself deeper into writing, taking Dan Brown’s Master Class, hugging my dog a lot, and re-watching Chuck seasons 1 through 5. (Ah. Happier days.)

How is everyone else coping? I’d love to hear from you here or on Twitter!

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Zombies for Halloween Anyone?

Halloween is almost here and lest you need more thrills and chills (and a few chuckles) I’m running promos on both of my books.

Zombie Café, my post-apocalypse novel set in the fictional Northwest Indiana town of Nagoom, will be and Zombie Blues, my short story collection, will be free (yep, FREE) in the Kindle edition on October 31st.

Spread the word, grab a copy for yourself, and have a Happy Zombie Halloween!

Z Cafe ebook cover 1        zombie blues 3

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The Walking Dead, the Zombie Blues, & a Freebie

It’s October again and that means it’s time for the new season of one of my favorite series The Walking Dead. Coming up this Sunday October 6th we get to see more of the creepiest foes in the series (at least in my opinion) the Whispers. That’s going to make for one heck of a season!

In celebration of TWD’s return the Kindle version of my zombie short story collection “Zombie Blues” will be available for free on Amazon.com on October 6th, 7th, and 8th. Yep, for three days you can get nine zombie stories to tide you over between episodes of The Walking Dead.  The collection includes my story “And Her Little Dog, Too,” which first appeared in the 2011 Halloween Special on the Zombies and Toys website (an undead friendly website you might want to check out).

zombie blues 3

I hope you’ll take advantage of the freebie and have a bit of pre-Halloween fun reading my stories. I’d love to get your feedback on any or all of them. You can leave a comment or review here, on Amazon, or on Goodreads.

Posted in writing, Zombie Blues

Requiem for the Outrageous, Audacious Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison died last week on June 28th at the age of 84.

Acerbic, belligerent, cantankerous, despicable—there’s no doubt a disparaging word or two that has been used to describe Harlan Ellison for every letter of the alphabet. In short, by most accounts he was not a nice person. But a talented writer? Hell yes. And no matter what is said about Harlan Ellison the man, I mourn the death of Ellison the storyteller.

Although a prolific and award winning writer (check out the ridiculously long list here), Harlan Ellison may not be known to many people today aside from diehard Star Trek fans, readers, and writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. (He, by the way, preferred the term speculative fiction in conjunction with his work.)  If you haven’t read any Ellison, I hope you’ll read at least one of the stories I’ve mentioned here and judge his work for yourself.

His writing reveals the myriad nooks and crannies of the human heart, especially those deep, dark corners most of us fear to explore. Fiction or non-fiction, Ellison’s best work bursts at the seams with emotion, passion, and intelligence. Much of his writing attacks the reader with sharp, pointy sticks forcing us to think, feel, do something!—even if just to launch a retaliatory attack on him. Above all else, Ellison hated complacency. He lived to shake foundations and…Make. People. Think.

Looking back at my personal favorites from Ellison’s short stories, I am still haunted by the feelings they provoked within me: the painful disgrace of cowardice and inaction in “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” (1975), the mad glee of “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1966), the horror of “Í Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” (1967), the poignant romance of “Count the Clock That Tells the Time” (1978), the nostalgia and melancholy of “Jeffty is Five” (1977).

His non-fiction also left its mark: the astounding autobiography Memos from Purgatory (1961) about the time he spent undercover in a Brooklyn street gang; The Glass Teat (1970) and, of course, The Other Glass Teat (1975) in which he ranted about the absurdity of television in the 60’s in 70’s. (Until reading the last two, I was mainly oblivious to the damaging influence that TV shows had on my notion of what everyday life should be.) And the introductions to his short story collections, which I looked forward to those almost more than the stories gathered in those books. I owe a lot to Ellison for waking me up to the realities of the world.

One of the stories about Ellison the man is that everyone who went to a Science Fiction convention back in the days of Ellison’s prime has an Ellison story. Many of them are being retold now as people look back on his life. Most illustrate his outrageous curmudgeonly antics, story upon story adding to his forever image of the epitomic “angry young man” lashing out at everyone and everything he considered subpar. I, too, have an Ellison story, but of a different sort…

In 1976, my friend Jeri and I went to one of the first-ever Star Trek conventions. We were both big fans, but not the kind who wore Spock ears and learned Klingon; we loved the original series, but weren’t adverse to making fun of its flaws. Imperfect as it was, the show remained important to us. I can’t speak for Jeri, but for me Spock’s battle to contain his human emotions helped me cope during high school when most of the time I feared I was going crazy trying to make sense of my own conflicting emotions.

Star Trek was also the first TV show that made me aware of the importance of television writers and format. In the last season when it was relegated to a 9 p. m. CST time slot, I begged my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch it because—and I remember this as an exact quote: It’s important, not just any show. Twilight Zone and Outer Limits are science fiction, too, but this is the first show with a continuing story and characters you see week after week! Do I digress? A bit, but all this background points to the fact that when I went to that convention the writers had become as important to me as the characters or the actors, maybe more so.

Jeri and I took the train downtown to Chicago’s Congress hotel, both of us feeling excited and nervous. (Would it be amazing? Would we be the only ones that showed up, proving that we were the most hopeless nerds and outcasts on the planet?) Into the lobby and—wonder of wonders—there were lots of other fans there and they looked pretty much like normal, happy people, excited to be there just like us. We got programs. There would be showings of the episodes on big screens without commercial breaks, which sounds like nothing today, but was a huge never-before deal back then. There would be autograph signings, panel discussions, and more. I don’t remember what all because looking down the list of events I saw Harlan Ellison’s name. The guy who wrote “The City on the Edge of Forever” and won a Hugo for it. The prolific writer whose short stories I had just begun to read, whose ideas and style made me want to be a better writer, to write like him or at least as well as he did. Several programs were slated for the same time slot. Jeri opted to go hear James Doohan (Scotty) speak and get his autograph. I headed off to Ellison’s talk.

All the seats in the long room had filled, lots of people standing in the back. We waited. A few minutes late, Ellison arrived on stage, a bit breathless. Short guy, big nose, stage presence that dwarfed the fuller-than-capacity audience in the room. He ran a hand through his hair, and announced that we had a choice to make: he could go ahead and talk about the planned topic (something about genre writing, although I don’t remember what precisely) or he could read a short story that he’d just finished writing in his hotel room. I’d read accounts of Ellison writing in shop windows and taping up the pages as they came off his typewriter for passersby to read. But I still couldn’t believe that anyone could be so confident in their writing skills that they’d read an unedited (gulp!) story to a huge crowd. For me as a fledging writer, this was a moment of definite shock and awe.

We voted to hear the story, which I have no doubt was what he wanted us to do.

And so he read “Shatterday,” wherein a man mistakenly dials his home phone number and falls into the Twilight Zone when the phone is answered at the other end by him. It’s a story of transformation, of the painful change from being a despicable ass to becoming a worthy human being. The story, to this day, is one of my favorites. As he read it, it seemed this journey was personal for him—one that Ellison himself had struggled through or was struggling with. Whether or not that was true, it’s how it felt to me while I listened.

He went well over his allotted time, but we all held fast to our seats and wouldn’t be moved until he finished. No time for a question and answer session, but as the room began to empty of the Ellison audience and the crowd waiting for the next session began taking our places, some people pushed up through the side aisle to where the great and scary author was attempting to make his exit. I forced myself to head that way, too. And suddenly, there we were face-to-face and I asked him what I should do if I wanted to become a good writer. If he would have said “boo” I know I would have run away, hid in a corner, and never have written another word. But he took a moment to talk to me. I was quaking in my boots so much that I don’t remember exactly what advice he gave me except that it was something on the order of: write and keep writing and never stop writing. Then he told me about the Clarion Workshop, explained what a tough challenge it presented, a kind of boot camp for writers, and wrote the name down on a slip of paper for me.

I came away from my brief encounter with Harlan Ellison wanting more than ever to write great stories and to keep digging inside for the courage to stay on the long, difficult journey I had chosen to take. (Hey, if I could confront Harlan Ellison with a mundane and needy question and survive, I figured there had to be some hope.)

Years later, still struggling along that path to become a good writer, I occasionally feel like giving up. But I can still hear Ellison’s voice reading “Shatterday” in that room, blowing me away with his masterful storytelling, his audacity, and his kindness in stopping to give a moment of time to a young writer.

 

 

 

Posted in Star Trek, writing

Love in Army of Brass (or Steampunk With A Side of Romance, Please)

It wasn’t so long ago that I sought an answer to the question, What exactly is Steampunk? All fingers, pistols, and parasols pointed to H.G Wells and Jules Verne as a reference point: The Time Machine, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Okay. That gave me the general idea about Steampunk, but I wondered what the genre looked like today. Enter author Gail Carriger and her Parasol Protectorate series. Carriger has a knack for combining the Steampunk world with the supernatural and romance. I was hooked, but whether or not I had a knack for writing in the genre, that was still the question.

Serendipitously, I discovered the Collaborative Writing Challenge and that their newest project just happened to be a Steampunk novel. Being newbie to the genre didn’t stop me from jumping on board the locomotive (steam-powered, of course) destined to carry a mad group of writers to create CWC’s seventh project: Army of Brass, released this April.

Each writer who participates in one of these challenges gets a crack at writing the novel’s first chapter and is then assigned a few chapters to attempt for the rest of the novel. None of us really know where the story will take us. Based on the relevant information and summaries for previous chapters supplied for us by the story coordinator, we try to shape the road ahead together. It’s the story coordinator who decides which of the submissions for a given chapter bests fits with the overall concept and plot as the story starts taking shape. She also gives feedback to all the writers on their attempts as to why their chapters weren’t chosen. For me, it seemed like a great way to get my feet wet in a new genre.

My submission for Chapter 1 was not chosen. Ah well. My next chance was to take a crack at Chapter 7 of the original draft and this time—success!—my submission was chosen (and ended up as Chapter 11 in the completed novel). By the end of Chapter 6 the story was really rolling. We had a military incursion, political intrigue, and a mysterious, derelict army of brass automatons that might help to save the day. Most exciting to me was one of the main characters: Elaina Gable, Master Tinkerer, a strong woman character at the heart of the action. She had already joined forces with Captain Jack Davenport, a dashing pilot from the Cartographers Society, who believed in her plans to revive the brass army and who was—let’s face it—a very convenient romantic interest for Elaina. Phew, I thought, because romance is a genre I’m very familiar with both as a reader and an author. (I’ve had three paranormal romance novellas published under the pen name Kat Duarte.) A bit of my trepidation for writing in a new genre subsided. At least I had a comfortable jumping off point to try to advance the story.

A widow, Elaina had already experienced heartbreak. With Captain Jack in the picture a hint of joy in the future had emerged, but seeing as she was such a dynamic and special woman, I felt she deserved to have romantic options. And there he was: Tom Drubble, another skilled member of the Tinkerers’ Guild, someone who had worked closely with Elaina for years. And, yes, I just had to create the foundations for a love triangle. I decided that Tom has secretly been in love with Elaina but has been biding his time. With the threat of Jack, of whom he becomes immediately jealous, Tom has to step up and compete for Elaina’s attention. Voila! We move along nicely with romantic side-dish number one in Army of Brass and add more plot tension. And with two men vying for Elaina’s affection, their perspectives on her actions as Master Tinkerer and the sometimes dark choices she makes to solve the military conflict take on more poignancy. Print

Army of Brass romantic side-dish number two is served up with the secondary characters of Rose and Bernard. Rose Tippenwolf, the Forgemaster’s daughter, shows great promise as an apprentice smith as well as a growing affection for fellow apprentice Bernard. Although Rose’s mother is worried that she’ll never “find a husband looking like a grease monkey” she should have no fear. Bernard’s budding love for Rose comes from not only his attraction for her, but from their friendship and a mutual respect for each other’s technical skills. They are made for each other in more ways than one. Their bond as a couple is forged through the adversity they face on the Smith Guild’s journey to join Elaina in to help revive the automatons as a tool to defeat the brutal warlord who has invaded the realm. For my small part in developing this secondary romance, I wrote a scene where Bernard finds a deep, intuitive understanding of the automations’ inner workings. As other writers further developed the story, the dovetailing work of Rose and Bernard become integral to the awakening of the army of brass.

Although the main plot of Army of Brass revolves around gadgets dangerous gadgets, an evil warlord, and heated warfare, I believe the element of romance adds interest and raises the stake for many of the main characters as well as the reader.

Is there a happy ending for the young, innocents Rose and Bernard? Does Elaina choose to give her heart to dashing Jack Davenport or fellow tinkerer Tom Drubble? Or does she end up going her own way? If this were a romance novel, you could be fairly certain of the odds, but in this novel’s dangerous world all bets are off—and I’m not telling. You’ll have to grab your own copy of Army of Brass to see how it all turns out.

 

P.S.

As for me and Steampunk? I found out that I do like writing this genre. Eventually, I want to get back to the story I started in my submission for Chapter 1. I also found out that complex plots with war, espionage, and political intrigue are definitely not in my comfort zone. By the time I got my third crack at writing a chapter for Army of Brass, I had to face the fact that I had absolutely no idea of how to weave the various plot lines together. I’ve ended up with an even greater respect for writers who succeed at complex world-building on such a grand scale.

For more thoughts on Army of Brass from other contributing authors, check out the entire blog tour:

4/13 – A Sneak Peek at Chapter 1 by Jason Pere

4/14 – Launch announcement

4/15 – Interview with contributor Jason Pere

4/16 – Memes in the Making

4/17 – Excerpt by Jim O’Loughlin

4/18 – The Pros and Cons of Collaborative Writing

4/19 – Interview with contributor Jean Grabow

4/20 – Collaboration is the Future by Kathrin Hutson

4/21 – Excerpt by Michael Cieslak

4/22 – Excerpt by Dorothy Emry

4/23 – Review by Penny Blake

4/24 – Character interview of Captain Jack Davenport

4/24 – What’s in a Name? Steampunk Before “Steampunk”

4/25 – Steampunk: The First 10 Years

4/25 – Interview with contributor Jeremiah Rickert

4/26 – Steampunk: The Second Decade

4/27 – Steampunk: The Last 10 Years

4/27 – Excerpt by Phoebe Darqueling

4/30 – Review by Victoria L. Szulc

5/1 – Prim & Proper? Not These Steam Age Murderesses by Phoebe Darqueling

5/2 – Excerpt by E.A. Hennessy

5/4 – Interview with contributor Johnny Caputo

Posted in Army of Brass, a Steampunk novel, Steampunk, writing | Tagged , , ,