Hat-Tips, Links, and Shout-Outs, Inspiration, JA Wood, Publishing, Shifting Isles

A Year of Excess

Wow. 2015. What a year! And I can’t believe it’s about to end already. Where has the time gone? I swear it was just yesterday I was packing up 2014 files at work to store away, and now I’m about to do it all again.

As for writing? That’s been a rollercoaster all on its own. It certainly didn’t help that life was seriously getting in the way all the while…

 

Excessive Anxiety

To people who have never experienced shyness or social anxiety, it’s difficult to explain just how debilitating it can be to try to be social. Add in any other layers to this anxiety, and it can be downright earth-shattering. Even something as simple as going to the grocery store requires an internal pep talk, deep breathing, and a whole lot of hurry.

It can be terrifying to go through the day feeling like you have a spotlight trained on you at all times, when all you want it to just curl up in a dark corner in the safety of your own house and hide away from the world. You don’t want to be seen. You don’t want to be acknowledged. You definitely don’t want to have to interact with anyone for any reason whatsoever.

That’s not to say I’ve been a complete hermit. I did get up and go to work every day, but it was robotic. Habit. Familiar. Fifteen years of going to the same office every day made it easier to stick to that routine without having to talk myself into it each morning. I did go to the grocery store, because it was necessary. Other than that, I pretty much stayed home. Home was safe. Home was comfortable. Home was my own familiar territory where I could be myself and not have to constantly put on a mask for other people and pretend to be something I wasn’t.

Through all that, I could turn to my stories for solace and escape, except for one problem:

 

Excessive Writer’s Block

Gah! How completely frustrating! After having written Return to Tanas (Shifting Isles, Book 3) in pretty much a matter of weeks, it then took me over a year to complete the next book, Broken (Shifting Isles, Book 4), which is due out at the end of this month. I struggled with this one to the point that I almost threw my hands up and quit. I just could not get the plot to come together. It was almost unbearable to reach the point at which I realized the story wasn’t working and demanded a complete rewrite.

So, I finally gave in and did a rewrite. Scrapped some 50,000 words (half a novel), and started over entirely from scratch.

Twice.

Then, thank the gods, it finally started to come together. Move a few key scenes to different plot points, and what a difference! The character arcs and plot progression finally flowed the way they were supposed to. After battling this one for over a year, Broken is finally and blessedly finished and about ready to be released. Now, of course, I’m way behind on the writing schedule I had set for myself early in the year, and though I know it’s not true, there’s a part of me that’s inclined to blame that at least partially on…

 

Excessive Work Hours

For the last year and a half or so, I’ve been working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week at my day job. No lunch breaks. I pretty much park myself at the desk and I’m there until closing, eating like a Hobbit (every two hours) between answering phones and writing up invoices. I’ve done this schedule before, and I’ll probably do it again, whether I like it or not.

Alright, so, it’s not quite as bad as I make it sound. It does pay the mortgage. It does pay the bills. It does give me a definite sense of security and familiarity. I don’t take lunch breaks mostly by choice — it’s just easier to be there all day rather than leave my customers waiting, easier to be there rather than coming back from a break and trying to play catch-up. Still, it’s exhausting. For a person who thrives on solitude and silence, being in a noisy environment all day long, especially with the constant drone of conversations layering over one another, it leaves me at the end of the day with a bone-deep ache for peace and quiet.

It also leaves me with little time to take care of things for myself. Even just trying to get to the dentist or the chiropractor can be a challenge. And one thing I’d been wanting to do all year, but hadn’t managed, was to go visit my old high school so I could take my English teacher, Ms. Mayfield, a copy of one of my books. Though I was always the math wiz in school, and never thought I’d pursue a hobby or a career in writing, Ms. Mayfield helped foster a deep and long-lasting love for philosophy and the written word. Finally, just the other day, I had an opportunity to stop by the school. I didn’t get to visit long, but to see her again was so cool. She has such a passion for words, something I’ll never forget. And to see the smile on her face when she had my book in her hands — that made all the struggles worth it. Ms. Mayfield is one of those teachers who makes you love school, who makes you excited to learn, and she’s definitely a person I’ll treasure forever.

But, after a bunch of hugs, smiles, laughs, and shared memories, I had to get back to work. The office was a disaster when I got there, and a bit overwhelming, but I managed to get everything righted and caught up and then finally take a breather when I found a few minutes of quiet.

One of the perks of working for the family is that I’m allowed to write in my downtime. When the phone gets quite and the flow of invoices slows down, I can fire up the laptop and knock out a few thousand words, if I’m lucky. I’d never be able to get away with that working anywhere else. And for a while I really thought I was going to be stuck having to find another job until we started getting…

 

Excessive Good News

Thanks to the very nasty divorce my mother put my father through a few years ago, the family business wound up with an obscene amount of debt in order to buy her out. We’ve been teetering on the edge of collapse because of that for so long, there wasn’t even a tunnel, let alone a light at the end. Every day I woke up thinking this would be it, that we’d lose everything, that I’d lose my house, that I’d lose my writing (alright, so I’m a bit dramatic). Then, this year, everything turned around.

Debt still there? Yes, but suddenly it’s more manageable. The bills are all paid. I don’t have this terrifying stack sitting beside my computer anymore. I sit at my desk and look around helplessly because I have nothing to do. No budgeting to plan. No bills to decide which to pay and which to let go another month. No stressing over how to shift things around to make sure my employees get paid first. The To-Pay slot in my filing rack is empty. It’s so weird! And after having put myself on voluntary cut pay for almost two years, I finally got my regular wage back, so I’m saving money again. No more fretting about losing my house, my sanctuary, my safe space where I can be alone with my characters and forget the world for a while.

But not having to stress over work meant that there was suddenly all this new space in my brain to worry about other things, which meant my anxiety spiked. Until, one day, I finally got angry, put my foot down, and decided to make a change. First discovering and then attacking the root of my anxiety meant I could finally see a possibility of life — not just existence but life — in my future. Which led to…

 

Excessive Happiness

Now, if you had asked me, any time prior to a few months back, if it were possible to be excessively happy, I’d have laughed in your face. Excessively happy? No such thing, right? What could possibly be so bad about being too happy? Was it even possible to be too happy?

Oh, yes. It’s possible. It’s so incredibly possible.

Once I decided to do something for me and started moving forward, the happiness started out exquisite. I hadn’t felt true happiness in so long that it was such a relief! Finally, I was starting to feel alive!

The happiness was so intense that it was almost erotic. I would lie on the couch on a day off work, just staring out the window with a big smile on my face, almost (and I never in my life thought I’d use this word in a serious manner) writhing with pleasure just from being so damned happy.

After a few days of this, it got to be overwhelming. I couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, giggling. After two weeks, it became such a burden that I found myself wishing for sadness or anger or even numbness just to have an emotional break!

Eventually the happiness tapered off to a sense of contentment. Things moved forward, I took some necessary steps, and I had high hopes for the future.

Then I wound up with some time off work to recover from an operation, and I went into it thinking this would be exactly what I needed. A nice little break from work, some quiet time at home, a chance to get caught up on my writing and editing. Ah, yes, I was definitely looking forward to it. What I was not expecting, however…

 

Excessive Boredom

Yeah, so…being at home, post-op, sounds like a nice relaxing time in theory, but reality was a bit different. I wasn’t in much pain, but I was so damned exhausted while my body healed that I couldn’t seem to get my brain out of a fog. I had eleven straight days of not having to go into the office to look forward to, and suddenly I had nothing to fill them with.

I couldn’t write. I tried. Oh, believe me, I tried. And I knew I had so much to do in order to get back on schedule, but I just could not get my brain to properly engage. So, I took a break from trying, and tried to read instead.

Couldn’t do that, either. I couldn’t focus.

I did ultimately manage to put on a show and zone out while watching it, which provided a bit of a distraction, but even that didn’t hold my attention for long. So I wound up on the couch, staring at the wall, bored out of my gorram mind.

At any other time, I could easily spend a Sunday lying on the couch with nothing but my thoughts and characters to keep me company. I love that. It’s my favorite way to spend a weekend. But during post-op recovery, my brain couldn’t even handle that. So…I got nothing done. Ugh. All that productivity I was looking forward to, and none of it came to fruition.

Eventually, things stared to go back to normal. I went back to work — on restriction, which sucks (no hauling around cases of antifreeze for a while, dang it) — and got back to my stories. I finished the last of the editing and formatting of Broken that I’d been putting off, and the writing for The Five-Hour Wife (Shifting Isles, Book 5) is going well, so I should be just barely on schedule for the posted release dates I’d set for myself. That is, if I can keep on track while my imagination is bombarding me with…

 

Excessive Book Ideas

I was nice and focused on the Shifting Isles series, sticking to my schedule and looking forward to hitting my target release dates. Yet, in the meantime, I keep getting ideas for more books.

Sometime earlier this year, the J.A. Wood series popped into my head, and hit me with such intensity that I knew I’d have to ultimately write it (a series of books set in the world of the Shifting Isles, but taking place prior to the events in that series). Based on the ideas I currently have for it, this new series will probably fall somewhere in the 5-6 books range.

So far, anyway.

And then I got an idea for another new series, also taking place in the world of the Shifting Isles, but pulling in stories of some minor characters you’ll meet in the Shifting Isles books and delving deeper into their own stories. This will be the Matchmaker series, and is currently sitting at a total of three books.

Hopefully it’ll stay that way. For a while, at least. In the meantime, I’ve got a book to release and another to finish, so, I had better get to work. Which means, of course…

 

Excessive Coffee

Mmmm….coffee…..

Inspiration, News

And then people happened…

Working in customer service has its ups and downs. Well, alright, maybe a few ups and a whole lot of downs, especially for an introvert like myself. On the positive side, it provides a lot of material with which to work when it comes to creating characters. On the downside, though…

Well, even after fifteen years of working as a service consultant in the independent automotive repair industry, there are some things about people that I still don’t understand:

1) People and their spending priorities

I see people spend thousands of dollars modifying their cars — paint jobs, rims, lighting, exhaust systems, stereos, spoilers, body kits, etc. — but they won’t spend $1000 in maintenance to keep their engines from blowing up. I just don’t get it.

2) And more spending contradictions

It’s amazing to me how often we’ll get a vehicle in, perform a general inspection, tell the customer the car needs $1000 worth of maintenance and it’ll be as good as new, and the customer replies, “Nope, I can’t afford $1000. I’ll just go trade it in and buy a new car instead.”

Alright … hold on … let me process that …

So you can’t afford $1000 one time, but you can afford $500 a month for the next six years, plus higher taxes, plus higher insurance, plus higher registration fees?

Did I miss something here?

3) People who self-diagnose wrong, and are shocked when we’re right

This happens all the time, but my favorite example comes from several years back. A man called and made an appointment to bring in his truck for an engine noise. When he arrived a few hours later, I could tell he was coming because I could hear his “engine knock” from over a block away. He pulled into the parking lot, lifted the hood, scratched his chin, and finally came inside to check in the vehicle for service, though he claimed he already knew the problem.

His diagnosis? A faulty air polluter valve.

All I could do was look at him and blink.

“I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing called an air polluter valve,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he said with great confidence. “It’s an air polluter valve. Back of the engine. Looks just like a spark plug.”

At this point, I kept my mouth shut and just nodded along agreeably, but all the while, I thought, “Well, if it looks like a spark plug, don’t you think it just might actually be a spark plug?”

So, customer leaves, we diagnose the problem. Are you sitting down? It was a spark plug! Shocking! The vehicle had something over 100k miles and had never had a tune up, so we recommended a complete tune up and some other related repairs to get the vehicle caught up on its maintenance. The customer said he didn’t believe we were right but authorized the repair anyway.

When he comes to pick up his truck, before even coming into the office, he goes out to the parking lot, lifts the hood, starts up the truck, and is absolutely shocked that it’s running so smoothly. He came in and told me he couldn’t believe it. He was shocked. Speechless. It made no sense.

I just smiled and told him to have a nice day.

Stuff like this happens. All. The. Time.

4) People who’ve forgotten how to communicate properly

This one … oh, this one just gets me all riled up, because it happens almost daily.

Customer, delivery driver, salesman, or person passing through asking for directions — all of them come up to the door, and start asking me a question…

Before they even have the door all the way open.

Before they’ve even stopped to make sure I’m not busy with a customer or on the phone.

Before they’ve even bothered to see if they have my attention.

So they stand there, letting out the A/C or the heat, while I tear my mind away from whatever it was I was working on, and ask them to repeat the question, since I didn’t hear it.

Then they get mad at having to repeat themselves.

Really?

I mean, did I miss something in Life Etiquette 101, or Basic Common Sense? Why do people do this? The mind boggles.

5) People who do the above … but repeatedly

Yes, repeatedly. As in, over and over, but they still don’t catch on.

Someone will be standing at the counter in my office, and ask me a question. I don’t know the answer, so I start down the hallway toward the shop so I can find someone with an answer.

I’m halfway down the hall when I hear the person (customer / delivery driver / passerby / salesman / etc) ask another question, but because of the acoustics of the office and the hallway, I can’t make out anything other than noise.

I walk back into the office, trying to remember their first question, and ask them to repeat what they just said.

And — surprise, surprise! — they get mad at having to repeat themselves.

But, they repeat the question, I add it to my mental list of things to find out, and tell them I’ll be right back with an answer.

Guess what? They do it again.

So I go back to the office. Again. Ask them to repeat. Again. They get mad at having to repeat. Again. But they repeat, I again say I’ll find out, and head back toward the hall.

I had this happen six times in a row once, with one person, who kept asking me questions about his vehicle (which I couldn’t answer because the diagnostic hadn’t been completed yet so I had to go pester the technician [read: waste his time] by asking him before he was ready with his diagnostic notes). Even after six times, the man didn’t catch on, and it was all I could to hold my tongue.

Face, meet palm. Head, meet desk.

6) People who make contradictory demands

This comes in a lot of forms, but the most frustrating one is when a customer seems to assume that, just because I’m female-bodied, I must automatically be gifted with the ability to do twenty-seven things at once.

Well, I’m not. I can’t multitask so save my life, unless it’s a very, very good day. And the most difficult multitasking for me involves talking about one thing while typing up another. I just can’t do it.

Yet, somehow, people expect I can.

They’ll be rambling on at the counter, asking me questions, looking miffed when I don’t immediately answer, and all the while, they punctuate their mindless conversation with, “Don’t you have my invoice finished yet?”

Well, I might if you’d shut the hell up for two seconds so I can focus!

No, I don’t say that. But I certainly think it.

Then there are the people who come in and say they’re in a hurry, need their estimates written up fast so they can get to work. So, I scramble. I can whip out a new estimate quick when I need to. But then they start throwing a wrench into things.

“How come you haven’t made any coffee yet?” they ask as they stand by the coffee machine, looking personally offended that there isn’t any brewing.

“I’ll get to it as soon as I get a moment,” I say as politely as I can.

“Oh, and can you find out how soon they’ll look at my car?” they ask as I run toward the front door to get identification information off the car. To answer their question, I’d have to go out the opposite door and cross the entire length of the shop, which isn’t exactly conducive to getting their estimates prepared in a hurry.

“Oh, and I’ll need a ride to work,” they say, as though I could simply drop everything else I’m doing, besides trying to attend to all their needs, and leave other customers hanging.

Or, even worse, in an office full of people waiting to be helped: “I planned to have my neighbor come pick me up and take me to work, but that fell through, so can you run me over real quick? We have to leave right now or I’ll be late.”

All I can do is look around my crowded office and resist the urge to bang my head against the wall.

Salesmen are even worse in that situation. They’ll walk into my office, where I’ve got five people waiting to be helped, and look completely put out that I can’t ignore those five people and the phones ringing off the hook just to listen to their sales pitch.

“I only need ten minutes of your time.”

Yeah, well, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s not my time you’re about to waste here. It’s my customers‘ time, and that’s unpardonable. I’m not going to make them sit and wait while you try to sell me something I don’t need. Please, for the love of all that is holy, get out of my office and don’t come back.

Then there are the people who arrive before we open, sit in the parking lot, waiting for us to arrive, and before I’ve even had a chance to get the door unlocked to go inside, they start pelting me with questions.

“Can you take a smog right now? How much would a tune up cost? How soon could you get a particular part if you order it today?”

More blinking dumbly on my end.

Did you really not notice that I just got here? And haven’t even stepped inside yet? And have a locked door between me and my schedule book, between me and my parts catalogues, between me and the phone? How could I possibly answer your questions?!?!

Alright. Deep breath. Moving along.

7) People who expect magic

Scene: Small town, independent repair shop, Saturday afternoon, one hour until closing time.

Action:

Customer calls, telling me they’re on a tow truck and on the way to our facility (the only one open on Saturdays in this town, and almost in the county) with a 1995 Saab, and they need a fuel pump.

“I’m traveling through on vacation. I have to get back on the road today. You have one of those in stock, right?”

I blink dumbly, trying to get my mind to wrap around this question.

There are probably all of two Saabs in this entire county. No parts store in the area will stock parts for vehicles like that. Now, a late-model Chevy truck? Different story. Fuel pumps fail on those all the time, and everyone and his brother around here drives a Chevy truck, so every parts store stocks them. But a Saab?

And besides that, we’re not a parts store. We’re a repair shop. We work on all makes and models. We couldn’t possible even begin to stock something like that, when we don’t even have space to stock every possible oil filter for every possible vehicle. That’s what the parts stores are for.

“What do you mean you don’t have it in stock?” the customer asks in shock. “Back home in LA–”

Ah, yes. LA. Where everything is open 24/7 and Saabs are at least a tad more popular than they are here.

Should’a’ stayed in LA.

8) People who expect crystal balls and foretelling

Customers and vendors are definitely guilty of this, but the people who really take the cake are telemarketers.

I hate telemarketers. Loathe them. Despise them.

I’m going to say it again just because the very thought of them makes my blood boil.

I. HATE. TELEMARKETERS.

They call, they ask for the boss, who is always unavailable (even if he isn’t, I say he is, because, really, he doesn’t need his time wasted with sales pitches for things he doesn’t need — and yes, I’m allowed to do this, because he hates talking to them more than I do, and since I help him run the business and handle most of the finances, I almost know more than he does what products and services the business needs).

“I’m sorry, he’s busy with a customer right now,” I say as politely as I can muster. “Can I help you with something?”

“No, I need to speak to him, since he’s the owner…”

And then comes the inevitable question. I’ve yet to have a single telemarketer not follow up with:

“…Can you tell me exactly what time he’ll be available to chat? I’ll only need fifteen minutes of his time.”

Hmmm. Let’s see. Can I foresee a particular block of time when the boss won’t have customers to talk to, parts to order, technicians to supervise, estimates to calculate? Can I foresee a particular block of time when he’ll have absolutely nothing to do and be able to take your call?

I wish I could. Wouldn’t that be a neat trick? See the future. Hmmm….

Oh, sorry, I was daydreaming.

But, just like I don’t have a magic wand to make fuel pumps for 1995 Saabs appear out of thin air, neither can I predict the future.

It’s gotten to the point that I tell them that. “Sorry, I can’t see the future. I don’t know exactly when he’ll have no other responsibilities to address so that he’s free to take your call.”

Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Yes, he’ll be free from precisely 1:03 to 1:07 in the afternoon on the 15th of March, twelve years from now. Why don’t you call back then, hmmm? Have a nice day.” Click.

Tempting. Someday I might just do it.

 

So, after days when all these things happen, I thank every god known to man for the ability to escape into my stories. Because, otherwise, I’d probably go insane.

Then again, there’s so much good material here.

Perhaps I ought to write a book…

Hmmm.

Maybe someday. Right now I’m elbow-deep in working on the next series. I’m so excited with where it’s going, and I just can’t seem to stop. I very nearly have complete first drafts for the first three books. One of these days I’ll have to pause writing so I can go back and start editing Book 1. That’s hard to do, though, because I’m enjoying writing them so much, and editing is such a chore. But, in the meantime…

Oh, there’s the phone ringing. Back to work, I go.

Please don’t be a telemarketer. Please don’t be a telemarketer.

Can you believe they’re calling on Saturdays now? Sheesh.

Counting down to closing time so I can go home and get some more writing done.

Did I mention I’m excited about this next series? 😀