February 2018 Mid Month Review

February 2018 Mid Month Review

I’ll be posting the mid-month reviews in two places: on Wisegoddess.Com and Theblissquest.com/blog until the transfer and conversion is complete.

February is showing early signs of spring already, so my outdoor to do list is getting long already. It feels like a mad dash to get indoor projects partially completed, and writing goals met so the outdoor work can start on time this year.

Last year was my first in this house, so the garden was just a test to see what would grow in un-augmented conditions. The only plants that did well last year were the raspberries. So, this year the garden needs a total overhaul; trees cleared for light, new raised beds, amended soil. It’ll be a project to be sure.

The first round of beekeeping equipment arrived; the hat, jacket, gloves and a couple of tools. Just the basics. So that part of the plan is underway. I hope to have beehives by end of march at the latest.

Writing is coming slowly. The strong bursts of productivity in word count have slowed to make way for planning, editing, and the sculpting process. Though this is one of the most important stages of the work in progress, it can feel isolating and unproductive because rather than gaining word count, I’m losing it. The whole point is to lose it, I know, but it often feels like backward momentum rather than forward.

Trimming ten percent of word count makes a tighter, better manuscript, but it can seem like you’re cutting away weeks of hard work. It gets depressing. I admit there’s been a little motivation drag lately also, in that, without the funds to send the manuscripts to the editor, it’s hard to keep energy levels high and excited. Also just part of the rollercoaster process, and I just have to suck it up and keep on moving forward as though the funds will be there when the time is right.

February Patron Project

Meanwhile there’s been research, craft work, design work, cooking, product development, marketing strategy and spring prep going on. This is a photo of the project created for patrons this month. More tutorials can be found on my patron site here.

In the midst of it all, I’ve been tired. My sister noticed it a few days before I did, but I’m low on energy and exhausted. I couldn’t figure out why some basic tasks were a struggle until I sat down with the laundry basket and said it out loud, “holy hell, why am I so beat?”

A hard few months of driving to the goal line has left me a little on the depleted end, add to that the winter slog and a change in diet and I couldn’t make it through the day without extra coffee or a nap.

So I told myself I’d slow down…not sure what that looks like yet, but I’ll try to work in more relaxing time, and a few days off.

All in all, February is feeling like the gateway to a lot of changes. The kickstart for the publishing funds for two books should launch next month. My dating profile is up, and checked off the list so I can forget about it. The weather is turning, prepping for spring and big changes to the yard and garden for sustainability and production.

T-minus six months to the deadline I gave myself to be self-sustaining and off-grid by my 40th birthday. While it’s not looking like I’ll meet the goal for electricity generation to be off-grid just yet, many of the other pieces are falling into place, slowly, but they’re happening. We’ll know in six months how close to the mark I actually make it. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted!

To close out this mid-month review, I was coming home late the other night. It was clear and cold, the air freezing, but the sky was perfectly clear. I pulled into the driveway as the constellation of Orion stood as though he were dancing on the roof of my house.

The Skybowl beckoned, so I dropped my bags inside and turned off all the interior and exterior lights to see better. Then I went out on the deck with a glass of Jameson, and a cigar. I sat with Orion and the stars, and just said “thank you”.

Thank you. I know some weeks are hard, and others exhausting. I know that there are worries about how things will work, or if they’ll work. There are days when I miss my tribe, or adventures outside the forest. There are days when I wonder how I’m going to get by. But I’ve been blessed enough to not know the tint of regret, not once.

Yes, I’m tired, but I’m happy. I’m struggling, but I enjoy the challenge. I’m here, now, and doing what I love, and there is no other blessing I would wish for.

Thank you. Have a wonderful rest of your winter, folks.

 

January 2018 Mid-Month Review

January 2018 Mid-Month Review

January 2018 Mid-Month Review

It’s already two weeks into the new year and I’m can’t figure out where the time has gone. I put my head down and started in on re-writes and—BAM–time warp.

It’s all good as long as I’m able to get some basics caught up, but for now it’s a lot of juggling while trying to plow through draft 3 and not loose momentum.

The new year rolled in with a few snags this year. A hefty car repair bill on the backup car (it’s still in the shop while I figure out what to do), some needed supplies for business works, and a couple of solid storms. The power was out several times—but I’m happy to report, I got the generator finally. It was difficult to justify the expense of the new generator until the power went down in a big storm. Huge tree limbs came down and powerline on my road snapped.

Luckily there are only a few of us on this road, and the utility company was fast to respond, so it wasn’t as bad as I feared it would be.

The next day I dragged some branches out of the yard (about 18 feet long), then raked branches and limbs, pinecones, and clumps of moss off the deck and roof, and realized the vent cap and filter on the septic exhaust had blown away. Dangit.

I didn’t think it would be a big deal to wait on a replacement, but shortly thereafter the drains were gurgling, so, I quickly youtubed a few how to fixes, bought an auger, then climbed up on the roof and snaked the vent. Turns out the storm put some debris in the venting pipe, moss, leaves, and a piece of wood.

All I will say is, I fixed it, and gross.

I keep having the feeling I should be closer to completion on all my winter projects. I mean, January is half over, and I’m still working out the scent profiles for my shop candles, and sourcing new labels for my liqueurs and teas.

The time is not lost as it’s all going into drafting V3, but still. It’s a strange sense of peddling as hard as I can and the scenery isn’t changing, yet I’m aware of days speeding by.

This update will be rather short. Just touching bases.

I’ll be teaching a class Preparing for your Memoir on January 20th @ 1pm, in the Pacific City Library, and again on the 27th at 1pm at the Manzanita Library. These classes are hosted by the Tillamook County Library system, and are free to attend.

These workshops will focus on organizing thoughts and expectations around writing memoirs, and or documenting family histories. If you’re in the area, stop in!

I hope the new year is treating you all well!

Sincerely,

Athena

Character Studies

Character Studies

Someone asked why and how I distinguish between character and characterization. The why: because relying on appearance only as a tool creates two-dimensional characters. Complexity is in the contradictions, and the harmony between appearance and action. It’s in the interaction with other characters and environment. (yes, sometimes an appearance can be a both; such as when the action is choosing an appearance such as an external representation of character, cars, clothes, jobs, etc.)

Characteristic = appearance

Character = action, non-action, choice, objectives, morality

Character Study from the Dory:

“Bob” is a regular to breakfast two to three times a week. He’s mid-late eighties, with hearing aids, a green velveteen track suit, and wears Polo cologne (and by wears, I mean, bathes in it). He has a plaid cap, and orthopedic black shoes, and sits at the same table every time, unless it’s occupied, in which case he sits at his backup table.

He lays out two napkins, one for the English muffin “extra crispy” that he’ll order, and one for the pills he needs to take, and a place to rest his knife. He then sorts through the jelly holders, looking for orange marmalade. If his table is out, he’ll walk to each table, dipping through the jelly holders until he can find three orange marmalades and returns them to his spare napkin at the corner table. (If I have time, I try to restock his favorite table with extra marmalades)

I usually have coffee to him before he sits to prevent him from yelling out across the room. Since he’s partially deaf, he yells loud enough to wake the dead, even when you’re a foot away.

Me: (setting down coffee, a spare napkin so the coffee spoon doesn’t touch the table or he’ll glare, and a water for his pills or he’ll yell across the room for it. It all has to come out at the same time, even if my hands are full, or he’ll think I forgot something and holler for it.) Good morning, Bob. Do you want a Denver omelet with no cheese, and a side of salsa today? English muffin extra crispy? (My eyes water from the cologne. I try to hold my breath to wait for his very loud reply.)

Bob: I WANT A DENVER OMELETTE. NO CHEESE. DON’T YOU DARE PUT CHEESE ON MY OMLETTE. AND I WANT AN ENGLISH MUFFIN THAT’S EXTRA CRISPY. AND I NEED SOME SALSA, TOO. DON’T COME BACK WITHOUT MY SALSA.

Me: Okydokie, will do.

It’s taken months for us to get this far in our server/patron dynamic. The early days included a lot of loud yelling from across the room as he ordered things he thought of, or that I forgot. He consistently yells with his mouth full, which often leads to food spraying or coughing fits. I wait until he’s settled in before I return to refill his coffee and keep his water full.

It took several visits for me to realize he yells because he can’t hear himself. Several more visits for me to really appreciate he’s one of the patrons who consistently says “thank you” and tries to look at me when he’s talking. Many patrons order breakfast while looking at their phones, or flinch slightly when come by to fill their coffee, as though I’m imposing on their far away thoughts.

“Bob” always looks up. He always says thank you. He spreads his food out on napkins to keep the breakfast parts from touching. If other regulars are in, he makes time to speak with them and catch up, loudly, so the whole restaurant knows everything he’s saying—there are no secrets when Bob is in the building.

Me: (dropping off his ticket) Do you want a to-go cup for your coffee?

Bob: LISTEN, I’M GONNA NEED A TO GO CUP FOR MY COFFEE. BRING ME A CUP WITH A LID I CAN TAKE.

Me: Sure thing.

Bob: THAT’S GOOD. THANK YOU.

I put extra coffee in his to-go, and make sure I bring an extra spoon, in case I bussed his table while he was talking to other regulars. He’ll add half a dispenser of sugar to the cup, and pay his ticket.

If he’s still at his table when I return the change, he always grabs my arm.

Bob: HERE, HON. THIS IS FOR YOU. YOU TAKE THIS OKAY. ITS FOR YOU.

Me: Thanks, I really appreciate that.

I accept my tip while I’m standing next to him, or he’ll yell from across the room that I need to come get it so he can hand it to me personally. Usually two dollars. The only time he’ll leave it and go is if I have several table or look busy.

When he leaves he always says goodbye, waves and yells, “YOU HAVE A GOOD DAY, NOW.”

Me: You, too, Bob. Thank you!

Breaking down the contradiction in character expectations, a man who yells, is not always angry. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d know if Bob were ever truly angry unless he said so. I can pick up micro gestures in his eyes ticks when he’s irritated (his English muffin touched his salsa), or annoyed (out of marmalade), but because he speaks at the same decibel for all things, I would have no idea if we were raising his voice.

Despite his penchant for yelling with his mouth full, is in in fact, one of my most mannerly patrons. He says, thank you. He often picks up the tab for the elderly woman who dines as a regular at the same time. He makes time to visit with locals. He always tips, and always says goodbye. He tries to engage with me, I assume, to humanize our interaction, despite the oddities—which I can say is one of the nicest things about him. He makes an effort to humanize.

Outside Scope: When I watch other patrons, usually non-locals who are dining at the same time as Bob. I watch them trying to puzzle him out. Some people are offended when he yells to me across the room “MORE COFFEE” or “YOU FORGOT MY WATER”. I can tell they’re worried for me, or think he’s being rude.

Maybe he is, but I don’t think of it that way.

Servers can’t afford to take a whole lot personally. At least once or twice a shift you’re going to get someone that rubs you wrong—it’s the craps table of service. Sure, you get one that tips you over the edge once in a while, but the truth is, I do the same to some of them from time to time.

It all balances out in the wash.

A hermit interacting with humans is a tricky business on the best of days. So no, I don’t take Bob personal, he’s just a man. He just wants food and a place to feel safe so he can enjoy a meal and see his friends. And I’ve come to really adore him over the last few months. I adore his strange brand of humor, his need to sperate all his food, to put his coffee at two o’clock on the table and his pills and water at 10.

I’ve mastered the habit of holding my breath from the choking Polo burn on day’s he’s freshly shaved. And remembering to carrying everything out in one trip to avoid Bob disturbing other diners.

In the grand scheme of character study, it’s not entirely fair to study a character without noting the impact they have on me as well. While I use this job as a position to study humans, nothing happens in a vacuum. At least a portion of Bob’s characteristics are a direct result of my interaction with him, and judging it without accounting for that leaves part of the story untold.

At any rate, this is just a glimpse into the world of some of the story and character studies I work on while I’m at the diner.

December 2017 Mid-Month Review

December 2017 Mid-Month Review

It’s already the mid-month, and I have no idea where the month has gone…the year, actually. It’s almost 2018. How did that happen?

I suppose it’s a good sign that I’m stunned by the passage of time. It means I was busy, productive, and working toward something that feels real.

Some mornings I can’t believe it. I wake up, start the coffee and I’m knee-deep in a chapter before I remember to press the pot and pour a cup. When I do take a break and stare out the window, I’m amazed by the view, still, a year later…and overwhelmed with gratitude that I’m able to do what I love most. Create.

How many people get to say that?

Is it hard work? Yes, some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. Is it a struggle? Yes. I’m clipping coupons, shopping sale items, plotting for vegetable farming, engaging patrons, and waiting tables…just to stay above water. I don’t live lavishly. My biggest splurges are wine, Netflix, and art supplies.

Is it worth it?

Yes. With no additional qualifiers. It’s simply worth it. I get to write. The end.

I’ve cut travel out of my budget, along with theater visits; and transitioned my spending from clothes, makeup, and workout memberships– to power tools, equipment, and utility bills.

That might all seem normal for most people, and it’s not that abnormal for me, just abnormal for where I was at in my life. It’s been a transition. A willing change in order to pursue a greater goal.

So Mid-Month December rolls up with a Nanowrimo hangover. The first week of the month was spent in a fog of recovery from over-writing. This November 2017 was my largest single output, and the resulting exhaustion was tough to shake. My brain felt like wobbly pudding.

As I started to re-acclimate to normal life again, there were piles of laundry to catch up on, dishes, a burn pile that had grown out of control, and stacks of paperwork to get through.

As the beta drafts for Scold of Jays rolled in, I also set about compiling all the feedback and adding in the notes, pulling up the seven chapters I’d removed from beta, and so on.

I wish I had more glorious news to report, but most of the month to date has been catchup.

The ground is frozen. There’s a half inch of ice on the deck, and the holiday lights sparkle at night. It’s that time of year. I’m prepping for a Solstice Celebration; pie, wine and cider to celebrate the longest night, and a new beginning of the year.

I have a lot to be grateful for, and much thanks to give.

Hopefully, with the new year, I’ll be able to launch my new storefront online. I’ve been working on side products to support the series and books. This means, I’ll be able to sell items that represent my characters and world; perfumes, teas, candles, and other merchandise.

The new year will begin the fundraising campaign for the publishing costs for Scold of Jays, Plague of Gargoyles, and a marketing push. I’ll be on the hunt for an editor, and a new layout designer, and driving hard toward a summer release for two novels.

Here’s to closing out 2017 and opening a chapter that’s rich with the promise of fruition.

Dear 2018, we’ve got a lot to do, and I can’t even tell you how thrilled I am about that. Thanks for coming.

Dear friends, family, patrons, and readers:

Thank you for being with me on this roller coaster journey. Thank you for supporting me when it looked like I was driving headlong for the cliff’s edge. Thank you fore reaching out, pitching in, offering encouragement, and being generally willing to hop in, buckle up, and put your hands in the air with me.

You have made this adventure so worthwhile. Thank you.

May you all have the happiest of holidays and a wonderful New Year!

So much love and gratitude,

Athena

 

Scold of Jays Beta Read Completed!

Scold of Jays Beta Read Completed!

Dear Beta Readers:

Half of the Scold of Jays beta manuscripts are in, and the feedback has been tremendously helpful!

There were two issues I was worried about, and both concerns have been nullified by beta feedback. I’d like to just apologize in advance for underestimating my readers. I stand corrected. I’m so sorry for doubting the story, otherwise you would have gotten a manuscript that was 80 pages longer.

Prior to sending Scold of Jays out, I took out seven sections, nearly 80 pages of content.

Why? Why would I do such a thing?

  • I was worried shifting back and forth between characters would be difficult to understand.
    1. Unanimous consensus was the current POV shifts are understandable and trackable.
    2. 60% requests for more muses and stories relating to them. YAY!
  • I was worried about pacing, and thought the extra content would speed too much up.
    1. 50% requests to speed up front end of manuscript and keep the current pacing in the back half. (Now I know where to insert the extra content)

On a side note, I’m also restructuring the overall larger series plot point to shift it up into Scold of Jays. Why?

As I was working on the central question in Plague of Gargoyles, I realized my original arc on the novels was to release the central crux in book three, which at the time was Plague of Gargoyles—then I wrote the prequel, Sinnet of Dragons. The crux then shifted to book four if the reader goes in order, which is too late in the game to be glimpsing the central question arc.

Dagnamit. I didn’t replot the central crux timing when I wrote the prequel, thereby shifting the reveal down a whole novel. Rookie mistake. Timing is everything.

Quick adjustment–whip out story board—tinker—nudge—twist and stuff leads for central crux into Scold of Jays to smooth out the full series trajectory, at least lay the groundwork.

Long story short, I’ll be digging into Scold of Jays revisions this week and next. My plan to add in the seven removed chapters of Maya and further overall series arc will shift lot of the timing and upset some of what you read. Then, to bring in the central crux sooner, means altering the prologue somewhat…

The book that will go to the editor, will not be the same book you beta read… and this is a good thing.

THIS IS EXACTLY WHY BETA READS ARE SO VALUABLE AND HELPFUL!!

I hope someday to be to the place as an artist where I’m not second guessing myself, but until then, I hope you’ll all be here to help keep me on the right path.

Thank you for participating in this beta read. Thank you for helping me gain perspective and find a better story balance. I realize it’s not a small amount of time and dedication to the beta process, and I’m very grateful for your time, energy and feedback.

Thank you!!

Sincerely,

Athena

P.S Some really great reader feedback and requests have been heard and will be added.

  1. A) A request for a character and world glossary
  2. B) A request for a world map of Aria (depending on cost, may need to be added to the Aria Wikipedia)
  3. C) Request for world extras (I’m on it!)

 

Speaking of extras: here’s a glimpse at the first round of candles being designed for the Dragon Ryder scent!

October 2017 Mid-Month Updated

October 2017 Mid-Month Update

It feels colder this time of year than last. It could be my imagination since I’m dreading winter so much this time around. The leaves are gilding, and the autumn rains have come. Thus begins the prep for hibernation.

I’m shipping out the beta drafts for Scold of Jays, then I’ll take two weeks to catch up on everything I fell behind on during the final hard push. Two weeks to catch up on house tasks, spend time with my peeps, and cooking large freezer meals to prepare for Nanowrimo. Those two weeks also include the planning and storyboarding for the next book.

This will be my fifteenth year doing Nanowrimo. During Nano this year I’ll be breaking through the manuscript for book three of the Pillars of Dawn. (working title to be released to Patrons this month)

It’s my goal to have book three in beta by the end of winter, then release Scold of Jays, and book three six months apart in 2018. This will depend entirely on funding, so I’ll likely be doing a kickstart to raise funds for the editor to do both books, and the layout design for two novels. Without a funding drive, I’ll be sitting on the manuscripts until I can afford to produce them, which could be a while out.

As I settle in for an autumn and winter of creative work, I hope to emerge in spring with two completed books, and a chance to kick the series into high gear. Once I have four books of the ten completed and on shelf, I’ll start a marketing campaign. Why wait?

I’ve been doing small batch campaigns, and testing the waters, but the constant feedback I got was that people wanted to be able to binge read a whole series, or have the faith the series would be completed. I knew that with the gaps in publications because I was working full time, I wouldn’t be able to keep pace with reader needs. I also didn’t want the constant pressure to produce at the possible loss of story quality.

My hope was to have at least four or five books done on the series before a large marketing push, for my own sanity as a writer, and for readers to want to engage in the large-scale storyline.

The small releases allow me to build audience slowly, and to socialize my concept, validate the production process and test quality. When it’s time for the big market plan, I’ll refurbish the first novels, clean up the typos that surfaced, and box them in a set for easy distribution. (Hence the desire to keep the 5×8 size uniform for all the books)

Anywhoo, that’s all planning and plotting for another time. Eye on the long goal. For now, I just need to build, and get a little more sleep. Baby steps.

In other news, my classes and workshops are wrapping up. I have a monthly creative session on the books for each month, but my schedule is loosening up, finally. Hopefully, this means I’ll be in touch more with folks.

I did manage a couple hours of mushroom hunting last week, and gathered about six pounds of golden chanterelles. They dried down to about a quart, which I plan to make soup with. Tis the mushrooming season, so I hope there will be more to come. This month’s Patron recipe will likely be a stew or soup to complement the season.

All in all the summer and early autumn have been good. I barely looked up from the computer screen last month, but the completed manuscript was worth it.

For what it’s worth as a writer:

I’ve been writing for twenty years, and self-publishing for five. After four books, this is the first year, the first manuscript that I’m happy with in draft process. It’s the first time I feel like I’m getting close to the marks I planned to hit, and the meter I hoped to establish. There are still six more drafts to go; prose to weave in, world to flesh out, character to develop, continuity to tighten, and sensory layers needed—but this is the first time I’ve hit print on a beta draft and been okay with what a beta draft represents. The first time I’ve burned through three reams of paper and a laser cartridge and slept soundly after. The first time, I can’t wait to keep going on the next one. This is also the first part of the Pillars of Dawn series that begins to show the full scope of the conflict and the other worlds and characters interwoven.

It finally feels like sitting on the verge of having the practice I’ve needed to be able to successfully blow the whole series wide open. On the verge of storytelling comprehension.

I’ve waited twenty years for that feeling.

There’s still so much learning and practice to go. I realize you never really stop developing as an artist, but it’s beautiful to finally get the sense that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, that the process is making sense at last.

Here’s to two weeks of catchup and prep, and a winter of creation. See you all on the flip side.

 

The Creation Process: How a Song Can Shape a Short Story

The Creation Process: How a Song Can Shape a Short Story

I am inspired by music much the same way background music in a movie or TV show cues you to feel a certain way. When you hear gentle, sentimental music you’re being prepped for an emotional scene. Likewise, if you hear upbeat, exciting music chances are you’re watching an action scene and you’re heart is racing. The better and more accurate the music, the more impact it has. That’s why producers pay big bucks to get big name artists to make memorable music for their scenes. If nothing else, they may pay big bucks to use an existing, highly recognized song for a trailer or other promotional purposes.

Sometimes it works the other way around. Rather than add to a scene, a song or music will create a scene out of thin air (well, in a person’s mind). Who hasn’t had psychedelic images roaming through their head when listening to a Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd song? While working at my laptop, iTunes playing in the background, my playlist will fabricate all kinds of movie scenes against the projector screen of my brain. “Ooh, that music would be EPIC for a cavalry charge,” I’d think to myself, for example.

Such was the case when listening to a mournful ballad called “Spanish Doll” by the artist Poe (who is more known for the song “Hey Pretty”). The lyrics and the haunting tune evoke images of sadness, suffering and longing. A desperate desire to reunite and make amends:

“A stranger in this world without you is all that I can ever be,
All I know that is pure and clear,
You left with me here,
In this souvenir
…Spanish…Doll..”

The context of the song easily could be taken for a lover mourning the loss of a relationship. A little research, however, shows that the entire album from which “Spanish Doll” comes from is an ode to the singer’s deceased father and unresolved feelings.  A state that has left her feeling like a worn child’s toy.

Every piece of art, however, is seen from a different perspective by different people. From my vantage, the movie projector in my head was telling a different story. A story of a father missing his deceased daughter. A father with his own unresolved issues which come to head when he comes across a music-playing doll in an antique shop (the same music that inspired the story from the get-go). Add my penchant for the supernatural, add a dash of hope and…voila!…you have Adam Copeland’s bittersweet version of “Spanish Doll.”

Here is the inspiring song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS4Be92cFl4 and the resulting story: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/268853-spanish-doll

Enjoy them both.

Emotional and Mental Challenges of Wilderness Living

Emotional and Mental Challenges of Wilderness Living

I’ve talked before about the logistical challenges of wilderness living, but I haven’t been prepared to talk about the emotional and mental challenges. Mostly because the first year was really about surviving the physical, the day to day.

After a year in this cottage in the woods, four months of those as a work from home publishing entrepreneur, there’s a lot to say about solitude, community, and resilience.

I’ve been living out of cell phone, and satellite range for the last year. I have access to a landline only, and no-dial up internet capabilities at the moment (cable and DSL are no-go for bandwidth this far out). The forest is too dense for any internet satellite provider, and all cable companies in the area have declined my address.

I’m on a well for water and have access to a creek. I have public utility power, which goes down regularly—the longest two and a half days last winter. My landline is consistently failing. Three times in the last year it’s been down for several days at a time.

Mind you, I grew up in Alaska. A-Las-Ka. And In the seven years I lived there my phone, and electricity never went down as often as it has in one year in Tillamook County alone. It’s embarrassing.

That’s all a framework to understanding the severity of my choice to live in relative isolation. It was an extreme decision, I understand that. Unreliable roads, wild animals (mostly cougars, bears, and coyote) lost hunters, etc. all lead to a combination of dangers that make many people uncomfortable when I tell them I’m a forest dweller.

Why did I make the choice?

Sanity. Beauty. Peace. Focus. Creativity.

Sanity: I’m too far off grid to be able to check my email, news, messages, and other chaos, unless by effort, choice, or planning. The limited access to social media, news reports, world chaos, and overall strain, has lowered my blood pressure, and stress levels significantly. (Also lowered in part due to leaving a toxic corporate job). When I go to town for supplies, internet access, and socializing, I have to prioritize what I focus on…so getting caught up in FB arguments, political fights online, or other snags—I just simply don’t have time for. All unnecessary drama is out of priority, and the recipe is reclaimed sanity.

Beauty: What’s not to love about the beauty of the forest? I’m surrounded by trees, mountains, wild animals, the sights and sounds of nature. I sleep to the sound of running water, and wake up to the sun filtering through the canopy. It’s serene. Don’t think that I’m unaware of the dangers because of the beauty, I’m fully aware. But the beauty and serenity offers a kind of peace I haven’t known in years.

Peace. So much peace.

Focus: As my stress levels lowered, my creativity surged. My ability to focus, hear my own voice, hear myself think, process emotional backlogs and needs, has all increased. My writing time is uninterrupted by the passersby, the phone rarely rings, and I can’t lose myself to social media or Pinterest for hours at a time. When I sit down to write, it’s actual writing time. Development and creative time is also super productive. Should I have been able to block everything out and find my center point of focus in town? In the city? Sure, maybe. Focus is focus, I should be able to rein it in anywhere, but the truth is, I wasn’t able to get a good grip on it until I removed myself from the worst distractions.

Creativity: The above positive points have done wonders to my creative energy and productivity.

Emotional and Mental Challenges:

With isolation comes the gift of inner voice. Unfortunately, too much inner voice and you start talking to yourself.

Perhaps it’s just with writers, but after a while, with little access to other humans or social rigor, it’s easy to blur the line between fantasy and reality. This is awesome, when you’re a fantasy writer. It makes the fantasy world real, immersive, and easy to capture in storytelling format. The difficulty is in remembering which side of reality you’re on when you close your laptop.

Isolation also breeds a stronger lack of interest in unnecessary melodrama and the pettiness of others. Which means, knowing your idea of peace means not engaging in dreck because there’s a calm, serene place in the woods waiting for you to retreat to—it’s tough to listen with compassion to people as they recycle their issues, unable to get clarity, unwilling to make the hard choices, when they’re willing to living in their self-induced, redundant victimology.

Living in the city and in regular social environments, listening to people recycle themselves becomes part of the accepted interactive dynamic. Community, and support expects compassionate commiseration with each other’s emotional needs, and complaints. When you start to hear your own voice again, let go of old injuries, heal old gaps, and find serenity—it’s literally exhausting, mentally and emotionally to listen to other people going through the rinse/repeat cycles of non-action.

Does it mean I won’t listen? Not at all. It only means, I’m aware my capacity to listen and sympathize is shortened, and my need to return to serenity will call me back home early.

People are always surprised to find out I classify on the scale as an extrovert. While I find the scale to be incomplete, as most labelling structures are—there’s something to be said about an extrovert who chooses the life of a hermit. Chooses, as in, on purpose.

It’s not unheard of. Many forms of study and reflection require solitude. I’ve been considering my time in this sanctuary as a form of study and healing.

Transitioning back and forth from woods to city, quiet to loud, slow to fast-paced can take some adjustment. Sometimes my trip to town leave me ragged and flinchy. Noises get to me, strong smells, colognes, and aftershaves, the reek of diesel, and so on can make me irritable and over aware.

My voice gets rusty sometimes from not talking much, then I’m raspy over coffee with a friend.

Most notably, touch can get to be a problem. I realize that when I’m alone too long, I can get flinchy about people touching me. I’ve tried to make a point to hug my friends often, when I see them, to keep myself familiar with their energy, and touching people I know. It helps ground me, but at the same time, makes me more aware of loneliness.

“I couldn’t live that far out. Don’t you get lonely?” It’s the most asked question, when people learn what part of the woods I live in.

The truth is, I’m in town three days a week, and on the phone with friends and family daily…so I rarely feel lonely. I wander the woods, the creek, and talk with my imaginary characters. I have a dog and a cat, and a shelf of books…how can one possibly get lonely?

Well, it does happen. Not often, but when it does it strikes hard and surprising.

Two types of loneliness:

  1. Not having others around, as in same space and energy. This type of loneliness hardly ever happens.
  2. Not having people in your circle to connect with on a mental or emotional level: happens regularly, even when I lived in the city, and was surrounded by people all day every day.

To combat the feeling when it does surface, I decide which of the two types of loneliness it is and make a plan. For the first type, I plan a trip to the local pub, restaurant or hangout. Sometimes I just need a loud, packed place to sit, and sometimes I need strangers to interact with. Depending on the mood, I’ll play it by ear.

For the second kind of loneliness, the moment I realize what it is, I call a friend and book a lunch, chat, or phone date. Schedule a visit, or an adventure. Sometimes just scheduling it does the trick. But when a deeper emotional or mental connection is needed, I go right to my long-standing community.

Living in isolation, the worst thing I could do as an extrovert, is ignore the ping when it happens. It doesn’t happen often, so it’s important to keep the balance and respect the emotional request when I notice it. This is also why I searched for a customer service position at part time status. Something to put me around humans on a semi-regular schedule so I don’t forget how to people.

Peopling can be hard, but it would be a whole lot harder if I lose the habit, and start avoiding it. It’s a muscle, and a need. So, I work hard to keep the balance.

Canning and pantry projects with summer produce and delights.

Fear.

“I’d be too afraid to live that far out. Do you have a gun?” This is the second most common response to my living situation.

Fear is an emotional reality of living outside communication and access of your regular community. Fear happens. Fear also happens when I’m on a crowded Portland freeway surrounded by California license plates.

I’m not unafraid. There are nights when I can’t sleep through a storm, or the phone has been down for two days and I imagine the worst-case scenarios. But I’m not afraid of the separation, the distance, or the unknowable forest.

The things that actually do scare the crap out of me, are not the things that you’d think would give me sleepless nights and sweaty dreams. The dumbest shit terrifies me.

Adam Copeland recently came out for a visit and as we chatted, he asked: “What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?”

“As in the one that scared me the most?” I asked, then without pausing for breath I said. “The Dark Crystal. I actually peed myself in second grade, because I was too scared to go the bathroom, alone afterward.”

“Wait,” he looked surprised. “The puppet movie?”

“Yup.”

Are you kidding me? Those creatures were brilliantly created, and were horrifying! I loved it. Then pissed myself… literally. Hey, I was eight.

Anywhoo, the things that scare me out here are related to what gets trapped in my head, my imagination, only myself to listen to. Worries about money, being able to make house repairs on time, my car not starting so far from town, the power being out longer than my gas supply, etc. etc. These are all normal, human fears and worries. I’d have the same sets of concerns if I lived in town, in a city, and so on. The forest, and the distance doesn’t take away the fear, or make it worse—fear just is. Isolated or not, you just deal with it.

I’m happy to report, thirty years later, I can make it to the bathroom by myself after watching The Dark Crystal. See? Progress.

September Sweet Dreams Apple Butter Recipe for Patrons

Mental Challenges:

Mental challenges really range around the concept of fortitude. The constant self-assurance that when something isn’t going to plan, or an emergency happens, I can rally, or fix it.

Can I handle this? I can handle this. Have I got this? I’ve got this.

The mental challenge can look a lot like someone bobbing in choppy water. Head above the line, below the waterline, above, below.

Mental challenges also take place when I’m prioritizing needs. I’m one person, sporadic income, few skills—so I have to do mental gymnastics around the tasks and projects I can and want to do, what can I afford, and what is a critical emergency. The result is that it seems like nothing gets done. Dozens of half-done projects linger, and my need for order and organization is bothered by the constant state of incompletion. I scratch at them all like so many annoying mosquito bites. Slowly, like molasses in January, they begin to close out, take shape and in that they help me define capabilities, confidence, and the much-needed reassurance that there is some kind of progress being made, and that I’m doing the best I can with what I have.

All in all, I’m still deeply, madly in love with this place. Someday, I’ll actually finish the interior painting. Someday I’ll get the laundry room finished, and the carpet replaced, the deck sealed, and the leaning trees removed. Someday I’ll have a flourishing garden, and a guest treehouse.

Until then, I’m reclaiming my creativity and space. I’m rooting my serenity and peace. I’m writing like my fingers are on fire. I’m picking easy to finish projects to boost a sense of completion victory, and making plans to keep seeing people and maintaining balanced relationships.

Wilderness living is not without its challenges, but the rewards still vastly outweigh the difficulties.

Here’s to one year in the Alder Glade.

Mid-September Update 2017

Mid-September Update 2017

It’s the middle of September already. I don’t know where the summer went. The leaves are changing at my house, and the temperatures have already dropped significantly. The apples are almost ready, and my thoughts are turning to winter preparations.

The last few weeks have been a hard push to reach the end of Scold of Jays. This last week I wrote about 75 pages, 37, in the last two days.

Thursday and Friday this week, I woke up at 7 and started my coffee, and was writing by 7:15. I didn’t stop until about 8 pm. Two twelve-hour days of typing left my hands sore and my eyes burning with computer screen spots.

I finished draft one of Scold of Jays!!

At about 9:30 last night I finished a glass of wine and shut my laptop, and stared at the wall, delirious, hungry, and exhausted. Only then did I realize I hadn’t showered, and I was still in my clothes from the day before. It’s not a novel yet, there are still a couple of pickup chapters to write and back-weave to smooth out the pacing and flow.

I fell into bed too tired to brush my teeth, then was wide awake at 2am making notes for things that need to be stitched in, pulled together, and tightened up as I prep for a beta read. I think I fell back to sleep around 4am, still worrying about all the details that need to be tagged and plugged in.

Pacing is important. I don’t claim to know all the pacing tricks in the book, but I’m aware that pacing can make or break a story, so I’ll be working on tuning the timing before the manuscript is handed out for beta. The next few weeks will be all about tuning, and cleaning it all up.

I’m also struggling with some basic logistics. I could have made this book several chapters longer, and it wouldn’t have upset the structure, in fact, I would have really liked to keep going on the manuscript without breaking at a hook—but I am a little worried about the girth of the binding when it comes to being a self-publisher.  There are a few points to consider when thinking about size of the spine; price point, shelf space, uniformity, and story length.

I’m working on a series, so I’d hoped to keep the books all a 5×8, and low price point so people will continue to be able to afford the books. Also, the mass market size allows for easy uniformity for collecting, and for being set up later to be able to box the set. If I make the books longer, more chapters, I’ll need to graduate to a 6×9, which means I’ll need to re-do the other books, or have uneven releases, and mismatched price points. Not a huge deal, but something I need to think about when I’m plotting out the long-term future of the series.

I could easily write a set of thousand pages novels and not run out of material, then not be able to afford to produce them, and they’d be priced out of a range of average affordability.

Fabric I picked to cover my dragon journals and notebooks.

For Scold of Jays, I’m still within a range I can work with in size and scope, but I’d rather be thinking of the issues now, than halfway through the series if I have to remodel and re-release the set.

Since I’m still only in draft, it’s a question that can wait until I add my pick-up chapters, and tweak the pacing. Some content will be edited out, some replaced or boosted, and so on. I won’t know where I sit with this book until about draft four or five—then I’ll know if I will have to bump up to a 6×9 to fit the binding, and if that’s the case by just a short margin…. I may as well go ahead and add a few more chapters to draw the length past the hook to a better settling point.

Something that’s on my radar.

Anywhoo, it’s a current small victory. Four months of hard writing produced a draft, and for that, I’m grateful to patrons and friends, and family who have been so supportive and helpful. When people ask me why it took five years between novels, I have to remind them, gently, that life happens. Mostly, I was working a full time plus job, trying to run a label, and have a small social life while writing full time. I kept burning out. So it took literally five years of writing as I had time and energy to finish Sinnet of Dragons.

Leaving full-time work and being backed by patrons, and supporters allowed me to finish a much longer book in just a few months. Uninterrupted, undivided focus was priceless. It would have taken another five years to get through this chunk.

To be sure there’s still production: editing, formatting, etc. And that can only happen as I have the funds. So part of the bottleneck now for Scold of Jays to release, is saving up the funds to be able to produce. That may take some time.

Here’s the cover for Scold of Jays, another beautiful piece of art by AM Sartor. Please check out her work at www.amsartor.com. She’s a brilliant artist, and a fabulous human being. I hope we’ll be able to make some lovely books together for a long time.

Note to my Patrons:

In other mid-month news, I’m behind on patron monthly content as I pushed so hard on the manuscript, but I’ll be catching up in the next two weeks. My plans for recipes include apple butters, and some autumn inspired flavors. I’m working on a new crafting video, and scheduling time to read the next chapter in Sinnet of Dragons to podcast. Please stay tuned! Though the content isn’t always writing or publishing related, I hope to keep providing small pieces of interest to Patrons to keep creative juices flowing and show my appreciation for all the support.

Dear Patrons, I could not have made it through Scold of Jays this fast without you.

Coming up:

My last appearance at the Tillamook Farmer’s Market is on September 23rd.

I’ll be teaching Beginning Self-Publishing at the Manzanita Library on September 28th from: 3-5

Beginning Self-Publishing at the Pacific City Library on September 30th from: 12-2

Advanced Self-Publishing at the Manzanita Library on October 5th from: 5-7

Here’s to a wonderful September!

A walk along Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

Your creative challenge, should you choose to accept it:

Visit a local second-hand store. Browse the trinket and knickknacks, shoes, or dishes.

Find an item that sticks out to you; something you’d like, or something that’s just plain weird.

Write an origin story for the object. Who owned it? Where did it come from? Does it have magical properties? Historical relevance? How did it come to end up in a Goodwill or Salvation Army?

 

The Craft of Writing: Shadowplay

The Craft of Writing: Shadowplay

Writing is about communication. Communication is about expression…and entertainment. Even when communication is merely about the transfer of information it is still about entertainment. Human beings are complex and deep thinking creatures who need to be intellectually stimulated. That is why as a writer you should use various techniques throughout your work to stimulate the mind. You should add seasoning to your dishes to give them flavor. One of these techniques is to add a little mystery to your creation. Because as a species, we love mysteries, riddles, crossword puzzles and episodes of “Lost”. The only thing we love more than solving mysteries is finding mysteries to solve.

So how do you add a little mystery to your story that is not a mystery? How do you add a little drama to your story that is not a drama? You use foreshadowing.

A shadow precedes you and announces your arrival. Similarly, the literary device of foreshadowing announces events before they happen. Sometimes right away, sometimes much later in the story. It drops hints of things to come. It is in effect teasing the reader. Why tease your readers? Because they want to fulfill that human need for stimulation. They want to solve the mystery, and to solve a mystery you need clues. That is what foreshadowing provides: Clues. Every bit of information an episode of foreshadowing provides brings them closer to finding the answer. They want to test their intellectual prowess and arrive at the answer before others do. As a writer, you want to keep the reader hooked and coming back for more, or better yet, not able to put your writing down in the first place.

Foreshadowing can come as a statement made by a character, it can be imagery, or it can be an entire scene that portends things to come.

Though everybody may like to have their curiosity piqued by a mystery, not everybody likes to be brutally teased. To use food seasoning again as analogy, not everyone likes the same amount of spice on their food. Too much foreshadowing may leave your story vague, ambiguous, and cluttered with seemingly meaningless information that only serves to confuse. Too little and you may as well be reading the back of a carton of milk for entertainment.

Therefore, there is a range involving the different types of foreshadowing that can be either explicit or implicit, direct or subtle. There is a form of foreshadowing that appeals to all palates.

Shakespeare was excellent at using foreshadowing that was straightforward, but nonetheless engaging. The title character in Macbeth states, “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” which is not very subtle, but we are still quoting that line to this day. Entire books and movies have been titled after it. Similarly, in Julius Caesar the soothsayer tells Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March!” Again, not very subtle, but memorable. Direct foreshadowing like this can be made even more interesting by wrapping it in layers of poetry. In The Old Testament the prophet Nathan plainly declares to King David, “Because you have sinned and have offended the Lord your God, the sword shall never leave your house.” Nathan straightforward tells David that from now on you will have a whole lot of family problems, but uses poetic imagery to do so.

To get the most out of foreshadowing, however, one should employ the full power of mystery. When a scene is subtle enough that it leaves you scratching your head, but then gives you that “ah-ha” or “light bulb” moment later on…that is magic. The Bible has plenty of these moments as well. After scourging Jesus, the centurions go to mock him by wrapping him in a purple robe and crowning him with thorns. Little do they know they are foreshadowing the eventual crowning glory of Jesus.

Take foreshadowing even deeper and the imagery and prophetic utterances become open to interpretation and even debate…which is itself entertaining. Well, stimulating in any case. The Book of Revelation is an entire work of foreshadowing that boggles the mind. In the Lord of the Flies, a pig’s head is impaled on a stick which subsequently becomes covered with flies, leaving to discussion just what is implied. The very title of that literary classic foreshadows what lies within its pages.

There is no question you should add flavor to your writing. If you want to entertain, stimulate, or just plain tease your readers, spice your creation with foreshadowing. The only question is: How spicy do you like it?

August 2017 Mid-month Update

August 2017 Mid-month Update

It’s been a strange two weeks. While I’ve been productive in the sense of book plotting, I’ve been too exhausted and busy to get to my other creative outlets. I’m behind on everything. Emails piled up, and the to-do list is overflowing. Self-employment is a 24/7 peddling job that never really ends, but some of the backlog will clear and I’ll be back to normal by the end of the month.

I knew this part of the curve would happen, there’s a little discouragement and frustration, and a dent in the optimism.

While I realize its temporary and has a lot to do with the shift in scheduling, creative timing, and summer needs, it’s still tiring. The last two weeks have also been quite hot for the area, so I’ve tried to shift up my writing window to earlier mornings and evenings, then siesta in the middle of the day with low energy work so I don’t overheat.

Me and my farmer’s market partner, Mabelyn of MB Botanicals, have signed up to do the Manzanita farmers market a few times before the season ends to test it out. The Tillamook market has been so good to us, that it’s worth taking the show in the road. This is great news, but also a lot of prep and extra energy. Still, it’s temporary as the season ends at the end of September. Then I’ll need to find a different venue through the winter.

On the writing note, I’m making satisfying progress. In the realm of website upkeep, business marketing, and creativity, there’s a lot to get done. I need to transfer my web hosting service and refurbish the site, but it’s tough to do when I have access to internet an hour at a time only a few days a week.

Some upward notes are that my plans for sustainability before my 40th birthday are well under way. You can read more about that in the 39th note to self.

I’m also happy to announce that I booked three more classes through the Tillamook Library system. I’ll be teaching Beginning Self-Publishing, and Advanced Self-Publishing in Pacific City, and Manzanita. I’ll post the dates soon.

Also on the workshop plans is a day conference in Manzanita at the Hoffman Center with Jessica Morrell at the end of September. More on that to come as well. I hope when my website transfer is completed, I’ll be able to have a calendar of events on the main page.

August has felt baked, a little overcooked and stagnant. It will break up and get moving again soon, but until then, I’m hunkered down to finish act two of Scold of Jays, so I can bust into Act 3 come September. That will keep me on track to get Scold of Jays out for beta by then of September, so I can start prepping for Nanowrimo, and the next book in the series! This year’s Nanowrimo will be all about book 4 and a chance to super-charge the story arc. I’m so excited!!

How excited you ask? Well, I’m so excited about Nanowrimo this year that I’m already prepping the cook and freeze menu to work on through October. I’m currently cleaning out my freezer, rotating through the old stuff and making room for frozen nano meals. I’m funneling development notes, pin boards, and glossary info as I write Scold of Jays, to be able to pick up a development package for book 4 November 1st, and start burning through 50K words in count for a 30-day writing binge.

If I schedule it correctly, I’ll have Scold of Jays in developmental editing while I’m writing and blocking book 4, so that December-May, the manuscripts can alternate through beta, developmental, and polish and hopefully publish about six months apart. Crossing fingers. It will all depend on cash flow and timing, so hoping for the best.

The title of book 4 will be release to my Patrons in December! Patrons will get the first glimpses of development and plotting, as well as two early release chapters from Scold of Jays.

So even though August feels a bit down, things are happening, life is trucking along, and rhythms are adjusting. Knowing this was part of the curve makes it a little easier. Knowing it will pick back up and smooth out makes all the hopeful difference.

In the meantime, please be patient with my slow updates, and direction shifts. Hopefully, everything will be back on track by September.

 

 

 

39th Note to Self

39th Note to Self

39th Note to Self

Dear Athena, all that can be said about this year is “wow”. Just wow.

To recap the last year, you bought a cottage in the middle of the woods, survived one of the hardest winters in the last twenty years on record, then quit your job with no security net, published a book, and relaunched your creativity business.

This last year was a reckoning; a choice between someday, and the way it’s always been.

Going back through the last few years of Notes to Self: 38th was about “home” and then you made your own. 37th was about re-discovering your personal north star and recovering your direction after a set of cruel disappointments, 32nd – 36th were all about survival, keeping your chin up and plodding along trying to find joy where you could. Lots of “hang in there” tropes and such. Over and over your told yourself in your notes, “hang in there, your someday will come.”

This year you went off script with a giant, “fuck this broken pattern”. This year you picked a side, yours, then burned your ships, bridges, and maps. Then you put your war paint on, and picked up a pen.

Think back to the day you were lying in the hospital, bleeding out, hooked up for emergency transfusion and you made yourself a deal. “This is not how it ends.” Remember? That was the day the 40th birthday goal was sown, self-sustainable, profitable, and ready to support a new paradigm. You gave yourself eight years to set it up.

Way to cut it down to the wire, sister.

You saw this house last year before you left for Alaska and your 20 year reunion. It was love at first sight. You knew. You knew it then but didn’t realize it, this would be where you’d make your stand. You made the offer the same day, and prepared your schedule for a two-year remodel and long-term sustainability plan to be off-grid and producing small batches of cottage goods. During that window, your plan was to write, build a creative community and re-imagine ways to get your fair-trade publishing house funded.

Ambitious? Why the hell not?

But what you didn’t expect was an immediate set of new house emergencies that drained your savings, and a brutal winter with two car accidents and a scramble to stay afloat. Nor did you expect your job to become an unsafe dance around a toxic leadership structure and a petty set of retaliations.

All the while you kept telling yourself, “Someday. Someday I’ll start my real life when I’m better situated. I’ll focus on my creative work when I’m better prepared and the timing is right.”

But you know better. The timing is never right, and you’re the kind of person to whom circumstances always seem to be never quite situated enough. There will always be an excuse, reason, a cause to put your true desires on hold—and then grow bitter and resentful. It doesn’t need to be that way, but the last decade of notes to self have shown, near misses, almost-there, not-quite-but-close, better luck next time tries.

If someday is just code for never, break the cycle, break the code.

Then you did the math, at the rate you’re able to get writing done, you wouldn’t finish your series until your first social security check came in. You knew you had to make a choice.

Time, time is precious, remember? Remember how fast the drive to the hospital went, how fast you bled out? Remember you gave yourself eight years to complete the goal, and you only have a year left.

You used the “someday” excuse for years. But someday doesn’t just show up, you have to invite it in. You have to be the one who says, someday is today.

The choice had to be made, and it took all of a minute. You took a flying leap toward the future you’ve always wanted, with no net. Way off script. You got tired of feeling like a victim of circumstances and poor leadership. You realized in a blink you’d only be victimizing yourself if you stayed in a dysfunctional paradigm. You realized if you want true leadership and a chance at success, you would have to give it to yourself.

You realized you’ve spent too much of your life waiting for fairness, waiting for a truth to come, waiting to be granted permission to do better for yourself.

Permission granted, Athena.

Someday arrived the minute you handed in your resignation. It arrived the second you knew you were leaving and you had no security plan. Someday made its bold appearance when you decided you were angry enough with the faulty system to rebuild it and make it better for yourself. Someday became a reality when you resolved to find a way to make your own business work now, not when it was better timing, not when it was safer, or smarter, or better situated. Someday stopped being a vague outline in the distance, an excuse.  

Someday happened, because you made a choice.

You drove toward an uncertain financial future, and the liberating awareness that you were 100% on your own steam. Three weeks later you were booking clients, workshops and classes, and a week after that your new novel hit the shelves.

Like a whirlwind, you were leagues closer to your plan than you’d ever been before. You put your house, and your healthcare on the line to risk the leap.

Athena, you have 365 days to become self-sustainable according to the goal. You need to be building your body of work, your books, your creativity business, your brand for BQP. You need to get your house prepared for another tough winter. All this you already know and you’re on it; those plans are in action.

Enjoy it. Remember to sit by the creek and soak in the forest sounds. Pause during your morning writing sessions on the deck and be grateful to be in the moment doing what you love.

The beautiful thing about getting older is that you begin to really understand and accept the things you are, and the things you’re not. You can accept that you’re not built to be employed by poor leadership, unjust management, and hierarchy with poor ethical judgement. Just accept that you’re never going to be okay with it, and stop accepting employment offers from such people and organizations. You’ll have more peace when you stop rubbing up against such toxin.

You’re a creative, a high functioning-high output creative. Stop fighting it and just know that whatever you do from this point forward is under that label and banner and there’s liberation and joy in that declaration.

Paint your house weird, bright colors! When you’re done renovating I hope people say, “An artist must have lived here.”

Thank your family, friends, patrons and donors regularly, they made it possible for you to leap. They gave you the courage and support to lunge in the direction of your dream. You are not alone.

Most of all, this year is about writing and creativity. For the next twelve months produce story like you’ve got a chance to really indulge in the wonder of it, because finally you do. Spend this year revving the engine, building the world, stretching the muscles of imagination. You have a safe, uninterrupted place to work for the first time in decades. Have fun with it.

I hope as you sit down to write your 40th note to self, your home is producing farmed fish, fresh honey, eggs, and more. I hope by then you’ll have two new books on the shelf and an option on your series. I hope when you sit down to write next year you’ll say to yourself, “Holy shit, that was unreal in the best possibly way.”

Dear Athena, the hardest part is over, breaking free of fear and pattern. Now comes the fun part; create the life you want, the life you’ll be proud of, the life that will eventually support others, the life that will be your best story. You’re creative enough to make that happen.

Someday is here because you asked it to be so. Make the best of it.

Cheers,

Athena

P.S. So you got a few more gray hairs this year, and a few extra stress pounds. You know what’s cool? After all these terrifying leaps and fierce decisions to survive emotionally, mentally, and creatively, you’ve never felt more beautiful. Maybe it brought out the fight in you after years of slumbering, but after this year… beauty doesn’t feel like a dress size or nail polish shade…it feels like resolve.

P.P.S. After 21 years of someday, you should buy that ticket to Scotland this year and go for your 40th birthday. You’ve earned it.

Changing Patron Milestones

Changing Patron Milestones

Why I Depend on Patronage to Continue Writing

Patrons are amazing. They truly are. They’re generous and supportive, and having patrons is a built-in audience and community.

Why does my work need patronage?

The two primary reasons I depend on patrons are:

  • I cannot afford to produce literature and art on my own yet.
  • Because I’m not self-sustainable yet, I see patrons as a type of Universal validation that I shouldn’t give up, that I’m not alone on this journey. I see it as connective community while I work through the tangles of artistry and self-sustainability.

Patrons are the ones I think about when I’m tired and think I can’t possibly do one more paragraph before bed. They’re the ones I think about then I dream about putting up a permanent storyboard, or commissioning art for a new cover; because I want those supporters to enjoy the journey with me, to have as much fun as I’m having, to be a part of something adventurous even if it’s only through the Patreon updates and the books that result.

With that in mind, I’m adjusting the milestone markers and goals.

When I set up this account I imagined a $500 a month goal as being a big stretch. And it was, perhaps too much. In a year and a half, patrons have held on, supporting and participating and being along for the journey. I built the milestone packages and prepared to send them out, but after a year and a half we haven’t hit the mark.

I cannot send the packages out (thank you notes, and such) until we hit the milestone, or the Patreon service will not be thrilled with me jumping the gun, and I’ll also be on the hook to repeat the rewards if we suddenly make the goal.

I’ve been able to send out little gifts here and there off the record, a copy of the book, a starbucks card and a thing or two to long term supporters without violating the milestone metric in the system. But I just don’t feel like it’s enough and I want to be able to send out these gift packages to those who have so long been encouraging, supportive, and have helped make the last book a reality.

So, I’m adjusting the milestones to put us in range of being able to send those packages out. It’s also good timing in that now I can redirect the goals between milestones, and give a better explanation of what I use the funds for and how patrons can participate in the long-term process of my work.

Between the new milestones, I will still be writing, sending out beta packages, hiring editors, layout designers, and publishing my books. The milestones are just added bonus content between novels to keep my patrons and readers engaged in the adventure.

 

By restructuring the milestones I’m building in a way that I can also support other artists by commissioning art and audio recordings. This restructure will also allow patrons to be involved in the building and release of the on-line world building guide for The Pillars of Dawn series; chat forums, art and glossaries, and a searchable database of definitions.

In the higher levels of the milestone goals I’ll be able to produce postcards and collectable pieces for patrons to add to their own smash albums, and or scrapbooks and watch the progress of the build out happen with each milestone gift.

I’m also building in a way that I can begin to spread out my book distribution, and aim for the long-term goal of a small west coast book tour, and a fixed point at when I can begin producing other writers under the BQP label.

The first milestone will be cut to $300. That means for our first goal, we’re only 11$ a month away from that marker.

With that achievement, I’ll be able to send out the reward packages (smash albums, thank you notes, postcards and such) and cross that goal off the list! BAM!

Then I will lower the next goal to $500. That way if Patrons have been holding on for the reward they can opt out after the first milestone is met, and we can start on the next one with a clean slate.

When we do hit the $500 a month milestone, I’ll commission a piece of art from AM Sartor, that supports the world of Aria and the books. We’ve discussed the possibility of a character sketch, a map, or an image of something from the series glossary. When we hit this goal, I’ll reveal the sketch plans and commission the art, then add a postcard print to all the milestone packages.

At this marker, I will purchase the website that will later allow me to build a forum, community discussion board and an interactive library, glossary and The Pillars of Dawn Compendium online.

When we hit the $750 dollar a month milestone I will commission and release the full audio book of Sinnet of Dragons to my patrons. Then publish it online for sale.

When we hit a $750 a month marker I’ll also be able to invest in a better video setup. With this I’ll begin adding videos about writing craft, story structure, world building and character development. I’ll add these videos to the middle tiers and make them available to Patrons a month before they go live to the public.

At this goal, I’ll be able to say I am halfway sustainable. With this goal I will commission new art from AM Sartor, and launch the online glossary for the Pillars of Dawn series, and worlds. I’ll also begin including some of my own sketches and album imagery. I’ll begin building out the world with a Wikipedia style dictionary on the website, and adding character bios, backgrounds and images will allow readers to search for histories, links and information on what’s happening to the books, and the storylines therein.

This goal excites me more than any of the other goals, because I’ll finally be able to begin putting the matrix of ten books into a reader-interactive database and chat forum before the books are even finished. Huzzah!!

Want to talk to other readers about what you’re experiencing with the books? Want to look up the image of Xabien’s dragon, Scorn? Or a map of the city of Barriette? Want to connect to other team Fable or team Maya readers?

All these new interactive active parts will begin to unlock for every $200 we add to the monthly Patreon site from here forward. As we build on the Patreon service, the webtools, information and art will begin to unlock and fill in. This will allow for more interactive experiences and reader conversations.

New art and website glossary points unlocked. Add a print postcard to the milestone packages for collectors.

Commission and publish the full audio book of ‘Murder of Crows. Release to Patrons first.

New art and website glossary points unlocked. Add a print postcard to the milestone packages for collectors.

New art and website glossary points unlocked. Add a print postcard to the milestone packages for collectors.

New art and website glossary points unlocked. Add a print postcard to the milestone packages for collectors.

At this milestone goal, I will be 100% covered as an artist and can begin to truly throw myself into the development of the publishing house so I can begin to publish other artists under the BlissQuest Publishing label. What does this mean?

BlissQuest Publishing is the world’s first fair trade publishing model. Once established we will be able to offer healthcare, retirement planning, and shared royalties to artists.

I’ll be able to begin wrangling financing, searching for and applying for grants, and networking with writers and storytellers.

Why wait until the $2000 a month goal?

As many know, I’m picking up odd jobs, teaching gigs, and contractor positions while I work on my books. At the $2000 dollar a month goal, I’ll be able to let those energy and time drains go, and re-direct those hours toward BQP. In the grand scheme of support and long-term sustainability, I’ll be able to focus on bigger plans when my basic needs are covered.

At this milestone, I will be able to begin plotting distribution to larger bookstores, and schedule a tour on the west coast. A very small book tour from Southern California, to Alaska will be put on the map and built into a plan to attempt the tour near a new book launch, to promote the newest book in the Pillars of Dawn series, and gather support for the next books in the queue.

New stretch goals to come!!

Become my patron at Patreon.

A dollar a month, or twelve bucks a year is helpful. Everything helps, because it builds community and lets us all connect. Plus, you’ll get monthly updates on what’s happening!

Opt-in for as long as you want and quit anytime. Accounts are charged on the first of the month, so if you want to opt out, do it before your card is charged. No questions asked.

All support is appreciated.

Not everyone can afford to be a financial patron. I totally understand this.

But everyone can be a supporter by spreading the word, putting up reviews, sharing the links, and telling their friends. It costs nothing but a moment, and it makes all the difference in the world. This keeps me writing. This makes the long-term dream viable.

If you like my work, please spread the good. That alone is so powerful and so much appreciated.

Thank you again for everything. For your support and encouragement and all the well wishes. Not a day goes by that I’m not steeped in gratitude and wonderment that I have such a mighty community and supportive net.

July 2017 Mid-Month Update

July 2017 Mid-Month Update

The summer has been blessedly mild so far. There have been a couple of scorcher days but not as many for the time of year as I was expecting. My area in the woods is well shaded, but the nearness to the creek, and the leaves keeping in air flow means my humidity can get pretty high. Just weeding in the garden at 75 degrees can leave me drenched in sweat.

The raspberries are ripening. The potato plants are up to my knees. I had to break down and purchase established tomatoes since none of my seeds sprouted. The first year garden test is proving that there are plenty of flowers and vegetables I can grow in this new environment. Next year, I plan to change the layout to maximize light. I also plan to amend the soil.

Writing has been taking up the bulk of my time, and happily so. Scold of Jays hit the halfway mark this week, and I’m thrilled with the progress.

It’s a strange adaptation to go from a harried forty-hour week of busywork, frustrated politics, poor management, and unnecessary redundancies to being self-managed. The stress level is so much lower, and the productivity so much higher. It’s a sad realization as to how much work was actually about doing the work, versus running in circles burning energy around preventable issues. I could have worked a ten hour week and been more productive at my last job if the management had been more efficient and aware.

The gem in going solo and starting my own creative business and publishing house is understanding the power of less is more. My first paid creativity workshop was in Manzanita this month. The Tillamook Country Library hired me to teach a Creativity Boosting Session for Artists. Most of the attendees were retired women who are finally able to pursue their arts, and rhythm seems to be a common sticking point to most re-adjusting full-time artists.

I can relate. Oh, man. I can relate.

Creativity is its own engine. It doesn’t need a 9 to 5 designation. But once you’ve worked a corporate schedule long enough, you adapt your energy around those time frames, pocketing time for yourself where you can. Just like your stomach might growl at noon and five thirty because you’ve taught your body to eat at those times, your creativity might be conditioned to feel “ready” after 6pm and on weekends. It’s still a struggle for people to un-condition their energy and re-master their time.

I’m working on it, too. The beauty is that once those old frameworks are removed, the creativity can flow when and where you need and want. I’m learning to re-build my day to use my power cycles, and most effective time windows. This means I’m more productive than I’ve ever been, but I’m sitting at my desk half as long. Being able to be more creatively productive in less time allows me to work on the business management aspect of the solo adventure without feeling like I’m taking time away from the creative objective. It all fits comfortably in my day.

I’m two months into being a creative entrepreneur and the lessons are blowing my mind.

It might not seem like a big deal to most, but reclaiming the time, reclaiming the energy, and redirecting it all to a purpose I’ve dreamt about for years means I’m also enjoying more satisfaction and wholeness in general.

It truly does feel like living the dream. Now to publish more, and teach more workshops. The ends will come together, after the startup rockiness subsides.

In other news, I’ve been selling well at the Tillamook Farmer’s Market. There are no other books, so the competition is low. I’ve been considering signing up for all the local markets next year and doing the rounds every other week from Manzanita, Tillamook, Rockaway Beach, and Pacific City. Readers have been every age and demographic, and they’re all excited to talk about the books they love. It’s been a real treat to be at the market this summer.

All in all, July has been busy with business building, and creative works. I’m blessed to feel like I’m finally on the right path, and even more blessed to have the support of friends, family, and patrons. Thank you for being on this journey with me.

The July mid-month creative mission, should you choose to accept it:

Create a collage with the found materials from a walk or hike. Suggested materials may include: bottle caps, moss, pine cones, leaves, scrap paper, trash, or pebbles.

Objective: To capture the story of your walk or hike and observe your surroundings. What story are you telling with the location you chose, and the objects your noticed?

Please feel free to send pictures! I’ll post them!

Have a wonderful summer!

Contact Athena

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Finding Rhythms

Finding Rhythms

One of the strangest parts of being a full-time creative, is shaking the old rhythms off and embracing energy in its natural flow.

For the years I’ve been working a forty for someone else, I’ve tried to wrap my creative efforts and writing around someone else’s schedule. That meant if I was in a great writing groove late in the evening, and ten thirty rolled around, I’d start to get irritable, worried that I’d need to get some sleep before being at work the next day. The tension would build, I didn’t want to give up my chapter momentum, but I also didn’t want to try and make it through a shift on three hours of sleep every time.

I’d strain, and stress, and finally cut my chapter short, then lay in bed being pissed about it, and potentially crabby the next day at work.

Now I get to follow the rhythm where it goes. Minor interruptions and needs still surface. Schedules still need to happen, but the tempo is more natural which allows more creative flow and more satisfaction in the creative process. If I’m in a groove, I keep going until the chapter is done, even if that’s two or three in the morning.

Because I don’t have an income from creative works yet, I also wobble on the “what’s worth the time” issue. Being self-sustainable is the ultimate goal, but that means putting time and energy into things that will ultimately have a return. This isn’t always easy to gauge.

Sometimes, I struggle with WHAT to put my energy into so I have longevity in the efforts. How do I know what will pay off and what will support me? For now, I’m leaning heavily on Patrons to keep me in a space of creative freedom, but the ultimate goal is to be under the drive of my own creative income.

The other day I was writing by the creek. I had a fire in the pit nearby where I was frying blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon. I had a glass of wine while I was puzzling out a pivotal chapter in Scold of Jays. It was lovely…too lovely. And then I started feeling guilty. I started putting my notebook down and thinking, “I should be doing something more. This feels too unprofessional.” Then out of nowhere, I wondered, “I feel like I’m going to get written up for this?”

Written up? Seriously, Athena? You’re expecting a corporate punishment for your own brand of productivity? Because you’re having fun AND getting your word count in?

But it’s true. I still don’t have my psychological autonomy in my creative rhythms yet. I still don’t trust that I can be productive, profitable, and do it in a way that’s fun and fulfilling. I’ll get to that belief, but apparently it will take more time.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep following the current and see where the productivity takes me. I’ll keep testing the rhythms that create output, and keep my fingers crossed that output will be sustainable.

As these things pop up it raises new questions and old blockages that need to be worked through. I’ll figure it out. I’m happy to figure it out. For all the world, it’s a great problem to be having, the discovery of being self-propelled, and doing what I love. The balance will come. Until then, there’s bacon wrapped dates and wine, and reckless writing abandon.

Why Leave a Book Review?

Why Leave a Book Review?

Why Leave Reviews?

As an indie writer and publisher, my longevity and sustainability is determined by audience. If I don’t have an audience buying books, I don’t have a future as a writer. Sure, there are a million other things I can do to earn a living, but it won’t be writing if it can’t support my basic needs.

Leaving a review, even a bad one, helps me build audience—and that allows me to continue writing.

Why does it help?

Since digital publishing became a viable option, writing and publishing became a democratized adventure. This allows anyone to play in the field and eek out what living they can based on their talents and skills. It also means it’s difficult to find vetted work in the deluge of new material that’s hitting the market almost weekly. With thousands of books hitting the shelves, readers don’t know what’s good or bad or worth the purchase.

Leaving a review helps potential readers know the piece has been vetted by you, and you’re giving a go or no go on the product.

Many readers will only purchase a book if it has a certain number of reviews already, showing that’s it’s been thoroughly read and is worth the investment in time and money.

Why is a bad review still good for me?

A bad review isn’t always a deal breaker. Sharing what you didn’t like about a book or product might be exactly what a different reader is looking for. You might not like certain content, but another reader is looking for that exact type of story. You might find typos (and you will, even in professionally published books) and sharing that allows people who are upset by a few missed typos to skip the purchase. It’s better on their blood pressure, and saves me the trouble of their hate mail.

Statistically, neutral or negative reviews make up some percentage of the overall review process simply because of taste differences, mood, preference, and mismatched expectations. It simply cannot be avoided.

As a writer, I appreciate all reviews. Even the ones that are sometimes tough to hear. It reminds me of our constant and beautiful human diversity and keeps me from getting a big head. It doesn’t change my writing either way, but what it does change is my audience, and my long-term ability to focus on my passion for telling stories.

Just clicking stars on Goodreads, or Amazon makes a world of difference to my future, and I’m super grateful to you for taking the time to read my book, and leave a remark or star rating. It means a great deal to me.

Thank you!