Something of a Genre Change…

I’ve been thinking of writing a cookbook.

Unless you know me personally, you can’t understand how utterly hilarious that sentence is. My culinary history includes such highlights as (1) not realizing I should add water to the condensed soup, (2) burning pancake after pancake after pancake (still raw in the middle) until I set off the smoke alarm, (3) deciding that opening a can of Spaghetti-Os was too much effort and just skipping dinner entirely. I currently have about five recipes that I can reliably handle, and I just cycle through those over and over until my sister-and-roommate falls on her knees begging for a vegetable, any vegetable.

My general incompetence at cooking is complicated by what you might call my incompetence at eating. From my earliest childhood I was a picky eater, but where most kids grow out of that, I got, if anything, worse as I got older. I can’t tell you how many family dinners ended one of two ways—me fixing myself a cheese sandwich, or me glaring mulishly at a plate I refused to touch while my dad ranted about hungry children in India. (“So send it to them!” I said once in exasperation. Somehow he didn’t see the wisdom of that.) Everywhere we went—restaurants, social gatherings, family reunions—I faced the horror of having nothing to eat, and/or being pressured to put things in my mouth that I could barely stand to look at. It was never a matter of wanting to be difficult! I didn’t want to hurt the cooks’ feelings, and I wasn’t looking for special treatment—all I wanted was just one single dish of non-terrifying food.

And yes, terrifying is the right descriptor. See, what I finally discovered a few months ago is that I’m not just a “picky eater.” I have a freaking eating disorder. It’s called ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), and unlike more famous eating disorders like anorexia, it’s not body-image driven but rather an expression of anxiety. Anxiety runs strong in my family; my mother has it, my grandmother has it, my sister-roommate has it. I thought I had been spared, but it seems I merely have an unusual manifestation. Instead of getting stuck in catastrophizing worry spirals or having to breathe my way through panic attacks, for me it all gets channeled through my relationship with food.

Unfamiliar foods make me deeply anxious and panicky. Trying something new requires a lot of gentle support and psyching myself up. I need to feel safe and relaxed or my entire being is going to reject the idea of eating the Scary New Thing. I’d figured out a certain amount of this even before hearing of ARFID, but I can’t tell how exciting it is, how much of a relief it is to have a name for this weird way that I am, to know that other people have this problem, too, and I am not a complete freak. It’s true that I haven’t been formally diagnosed by any kind of professional, but I am ridiculously textbook, guys. Ridiculously.

And now we come back to the cookbook idea.

See, on the subject of being textbook, there are certain foods that are commonly accepted or rejected by ARFID sufferers. On the Yes list are what I call the “golden foods”—things on the white-brown-yellow spectrum are much more likely to be acceptable. Bread, cheese, pasta, corn, chicken, that kind of thing. The No list frequently features entire food groups such as meat, vegetables, and fruit. (In my case, I’m good with most meats but my only vegetable is corn and my only fruit is apples. You’ll notice they’re yellow.) (The inside of the apple, of course. I won’t eat the peeling.) And that’s where cooking gets really difficult. There are only so many ways to combine bread, cheese, and chicken.

Now that ARFID is slowly gaining traction as an acknowledged thing (it was added to the DSM just a year or two ago), I had hoped to find some guidance out there in preparing ARFID-friendly foods. So far, I haven’t found anything. So I’ve been thinking maybe I should be the change I want to see in the world, you know?

After all, I have like… five whole recipes!

But does the Dark Side really have cookies?

So I have this story. It’s finished, unlike virtually everything else I’ve touched in the last five years (there’s a rant for another day). It needs some editing, but it’s a whole product to start from, at least. And I love the story, and people I trust who’ve read it love the story, and we’d all like to see it published. My agent, sadly, does not love it. She declined to take it on.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing more and more writers making a go of their writing careers through self-published ebooks (everyone seems to agree that electronic is the way to go, you can’t make a profit with print copies, they’re just too expensive to produce). People with large, devoted fanbases and reliable income streams via their writing, and that’s—good gosh, that’s the dream, isn’t it? Sometimes they’re even supporting themselves 100% with their writing. I’m sure for every success, there’s a hundred failures, or a thousand, who knows. But the successes are compelling.

What this boils down to is that I’m very seriously considering self-publishing my second novel.

I have very mixed feelings about this. I know I’ve absorbed a certain amount of the cultural judgment of self-publication. The plain fact is that an industry without gatekeepers allows some really awful dreck to get out there into the world and make a bad name for the rest of us/them. Part of me has always been fiercely proud that Secondhand Shadow was published by a REAL publisher, however tiny. But what did that get me, really, other than bragging rights? They paid me instead of the other way around, yeah, but they sure didn’t pay me much. I got no marketing, no real support. This makes me start thinking that maybe I might as well do it myself and get a bigger cut of the profits.

Am I selling out, doing something artistically distasteful purely in exchange for money? I don’t think so. I think it’s my own reluctant attitude that’s outdated. The publishing industry is undergoing (or even, has undergone) a sea change that makes the “middle men” of agents, editors and publishers something that’s no longer strictly necessary. I admit I look at others’ success and I want it. I want to actually sell books and have people read them. I have to make money to live, and I want to do it with my writing. (Of course it’s the rare bird that can drop out of the conventional workforce entirely. Right now I’d settle for enough extra money that I can go out to dinner without worrying all night about the cost.)

Money might be a factor on this side of the equation, too, though; self-publishing involves a certain amount of investment. Not, thank goodness, as much as it did, back when writers had to buy paper copies of their book and hope to sell them, but apparently costs like editing, cover art, formatting—not to mention promotion—can add up. There’s a lot of variation, but hundreds of dollars, definitely. And I don’t have that. So we’ll just have to see. First step is to get the manuscript itself into as good a shape as I can, and then get other eyes to look it over and go through the process again. The rest I’ll just keep simmering in the back of my mind, and see what we can come up with.

Word Warrior

Today we talk about how I am a turtle at WORD WARS!!!!

So Word Warring or Word Racing, if you didn’t know, is when two or more writers sit down simultaneously to write for a certain period of time (15 minutes, maybe, or half an hour), and whoever writes the most words is the winner. Winner of nothing more than bragging rights, of course, in my experience — but I’ve found it to be a very valuable tool for making me focus and actually Make Words instead of staring at the screen (or worse, ending up on Tumblr).

Early on, though, I had to resign myself to very seldom getting those bragging rights. Previously-mentioned-writer-friend Deni, my most common Word Race partner, inevitably leaves me in the dust. Her ability to just sit down and spill words in all directions never ceases to amaze and sort of alarm me. It’s like watching someone tear their car, pell-mell and whooping, down the same rutted, potholed road you just finished picking your way carefully through, probably still picking up a nail along the way.

Tortoise and the hare, that became our joke. She might win every battle, yet lose the war–because she tends to zero out between sprints. I plod along more steadily, writing a few words a day, never very many, but always a few. It works for me. I’m fine with that.

And then — and then!!! A couple weeks ago, I was hanging out in a chat room with several other writer friends, and they invited me to Word War. “Sure,” I said, “just don’t expect too much from me. [baymax voice] I am not fast.”

I won handily. Over and over.

And no, I wasn’t writing any faster than usual. But apparently it’s less that I’m a tortoise and she’s a hare, and more that I’m a NORMAL PERSON and she’s…

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Bright Spots

A lot has happened since I properly updated! I’ve moved to Texas with my big sister. We have an apartment we like immensely and jobs we’re… putting up with, haha. I’m working two part-time jobs, sometimes totaling up to 48 hours a week. One is at a library, and it would be ideal if it wasn’t only 20 hours (and every weekend, to boot). The other is in retail, which… yeah. Retail. I have to talk myself out of quitting virtually every day. It’s not worth the money – except that I have to have the money. Urgh.

The last week has been especially tough for me. I wrecked my car, came down with a miserable cold, and my sister went home for Christmas, leaving me to take care of myself, the dog and the apartment alone. (I’ll be following along after her as soon as my work schedule permits — but that’s a whole new set of obstacles, involving a 12-hour drive on Christmas Eve after a full shift, in a borrowed car that I hate, with a dog.)

My GPS is in the car that I wrecked, at the body shop, so I’ve spent this week getting lost over and over again. That usually involves tears and panic, not to mention lost time. The housekeeping is falling to pieces because I don’t have the time or energy to clean up after myself. All I want to do is sleep and I can’t even sleep well because I’m so wretchedly sick.

Not a very merry Christmas season, you might say.

Except really, Christmas is the one bright spot in all the mess. Seeing lights and trees and decorations never fails to lift my mood, even if just for a moment. I still love the carols, even after hearing them on endless repeat at my retail job. I plug in the Christmas tree and outside lights at our apartment, even if only me and the dog are there to see them. And the one thought getting me through all this is that in a few days’ time, I’ll be home with my family, opening gifts and eating pancakes and doing all the things we’ve always done together. I won’t have to go to work or pay bills or do much of anything, just for a few days.

I’m trying not to think beyond that.

Works in Progress

Aaand it has officially been Way Too Long since I posted on this blog. I gotta do something about that. But not tonight, because I’m super tired and just dropped by to throw up a link. RIGHT HERE you can, if you choose, find the first-draft-in-progress of my newest novel! Follow along, comment, go wild! Come one, come all!

(What’s the story about? Why, space aliens, of course. Specifically:

When an alien prison transport crashes on Earth, Leicho is the only surviving guard, and the only thing standing between the clueless human population and other survivors who would prey on them. The single dad and little girl who pick her up off the side of the road are about to get their lives turned inside out.)

Getting My Name Out There. Sort of. A Little.

I has been interviewed again! Dellani Oakes is a friend of a friend, and a very successful writer. She runs an online radio show that she attempted three times to have me on; that never happened due to, in chronological order, (1) Dellani getting sick, (2) me forgetting the show during the whirlwind of setting up for my baby sister’s wedding, (3) me getting the time zone wrong and also pretty much having a panic attack. Yeah… marketing oneself is a unique challenge for the introverts among us. But despite me completely flaking on her TWICE, Dellani was amazingly kind and sweet to me, so check out her site maybe?

I’m also looking into having a signing at my local Barnes & Noble. (I work there part-time now which makes it a little easier to talk to folks about the process.) The trouble is that due to the print-on-demand publishing process Astraea Press uses (as well it should, it’s much more efficient), <em>Secondhand Shadow</em> is not returnable by the bookstore if it doesn’t sell, so while they’re happy to host me, they’re not going to provide book copies. I would need to buy them myself to take along and hope they sell. Since that’s way beyond my financial capabilities at the moment (toothpaste is very nearly beyond my capabilities at the moment), I might do best to scare up a sponsor of some sort?? I don’t know how this stuff works. Will keep the blog apprised, though.

Provehito in Altum (Launch Forth Into the Deep) — A Paris & Carmen story

I needed to tell her. I knew that. When Dove and I had explained to Carmen what had just happened – why she’d just seen a ten-year-old boy gain twenty-seven inches and a decade of general growth – we hadn’t gone into the whole befasting thing. It seemed like more than enough for her to absorb right now without adding ‘also, we need to have a permanent mating ceremony, like death-do-you-part permanent, involving the mingling of our blood. Like soon. Or I’ll die. I mean, I’d never want to rush you into an immediate and rather creepy lifetime commitment. No pressure. But I’ll totes die if you don’t.’

There was still time to figure out how to impart that little gem of information. It was only the first night.

The first night, and I was already sleeping beside her. Beside my Lumi, for the first time in my life. Carmen had accepted everything I’d thrown at her – bizarre appearance shifts, blood-drinking and teleporting and vampire attacks – and not only refrained from checking either of us into the Rubber Room Hotel, but actually allowed me to stay at her side and sleep at her side, as if none of it bothered her at all. She was more freaked out than she let on; I knew that better than anyone, could feel it like a shadow (hah) behind my own emotions. But she chose not to let on.

Maybe one day I could explain to her why that meant so much. Maybe one day I could tell her about the woman who chose to die rather than deal with the horrifying mess of having a Shadow like me.

Also, it might rain diamonds and maple syrup.

Continue reading

Roadside Ghosts

I’ve been fascinated by abandoned buildings since I was a child. We used to drive by this very simple one-room building on a weedy corner, its roof caved in, its door missing, its whitewashed walls spotted with graffiti. Every time I saw it, I wondered what it had once been, who used it and for what, how it had come to be in that condition. I was simultaneously frightened and mesmerized by it. That fascination has only increased as I’ve gotten older, perhaps peaking in an adventure that even now I can hardly believe I engaged in – sneaking into an abandoned fun park in my parents’ town, and taking photographs of it to post to an online community for such things.

I was very into the photography aspect of it, for a while. Taking photos gave me something to do with my inexplicable and contradictory feelings about these places, and the online community gave me people to share that with. Sadly, photography is an expensive sort of hobby; even without needing to pay for developing (digital images are more than sufficient), I no longer have access to a camera good enough to justify the time and effort I would spend taking the pictures. Or maybe I’ve just gotten enough older and busier that it’s not a priority. I certainly still enjoy looking at such pictures, and reading the accounts of those who took them, talking about what they saw, how they got in, whatever they know about the history of the place. Ah, the history of the place – that’s always the best part.

I’m not a person who generally enjoys being afraid; I’m easily scared and avoid situations that would bring on that unpleasant spike of emotion. Yet it’s the creepiest of the abandoned places that hold my attention: long-closed mental asylums and hospitals; rotting theme parks wreathed in mist; the home with dishes still on the table, where legend has it a family received news that their son was getting out of prison, and simply dropped everything and vanished. Also of great interest are the places with no explanation at all. I once photographed a storefront in the middle of a college-town downtown area, with thriving businesses on either side of it, that was not only empty but collapsing. The roof had fallen in, and plant life was taking over – trees peeking out the top, flowering vines crawling down the faded sign. Yet the door, through which sunlight and wind passed freely, was still locked, and lacy curtains still adorned the broken windows.

I spend a lot of time driving through rural Alabama, and there are a quite surprising number of abandoned buildings to be seen there. I can only imagine it’s because the land is not in high demand. Throughout my childhood, for instance, I watched a pet grooming business in the middle of absolute nowhere spring up, fade, and quickly die, the building left to rot. At some point the building (before it started falling apart) was for sale, but no one bought it. This could never happen in, say, downtown New York; a new business would likely take the pet groomer’s place within weeks, if not days. Space is in too much demand. But in the rural South, land is passed down through a family, used for farming one generation, then simply for living on the next; the third generation uses the old homestead for family gatherings at best, maybe only for storage, and lets the fields grow over. They might hold onto the land out of sentiment, or use it for hunting and camping; they might finally make up their minds to sell it, only for it to languish for years without a buyer. Who needs to buy a chunk of woods miles and miles from town? What would they use it for? Well, they might build a gas station there – only for the business to fail, and the building be left for me to take photos of, a decade later when the tall price-sign is just a shattered frame and trees have grown up around the gas pumps.

These buildings are ghosts, in a way, the only kind that you can prove exist. As with any ghost, they’re sad and hollow and decaying, and even if they scare you, you may find it’s impossible to look away.

Job Hunting Pet Peeves

Job hunting is the worst.

I am tempted to just stop there, because everything about job hunting is terrible and there’s almost nothing more to be said. But that’s never stopped me from saying more things anyway, so here we go!

I am in the uncommon position of trying to job-hunt several states over from where I actually live. I’ll be moving to Texas this coming summer — sooner, if I can get a job! — and it would be so much nicer to have employment before I get there, instead of moving halfway across the country in blind faith that there will be income available on the other side. The good news is, the area where I’m going seems to have a steady supply of openings. The bad news is that I’ve been applying for those openings for a few months now without getting a single nibble in return. And since job hunting is, as previously agreed, THE WORST, the process has reminded me of all the things I particularly hate about the application process. So: JOB HUNTING PET PEEVES.

(1) Listings that don’t specify how much the job PAYSDudes. I am not looking for a job because I’m bored, okay? I’m looking for a job because I need MONEY. Will your job pay me enough to keep the student loan people off my back, gas in my car and food in my belly? That is the ABSOLUTE MOST IMPORTANT NUMBER ONE THING that I, and anyone else looking for a job, need to know. Why on God’s green earth would you withhold that information?

(2) Listings that don’t specify whether the job is full or part time. ANOTHER REALLY FREAKING IMPORTANT PIECE OF INFO. It’s great that the position you’re offering pays $13.50 an hour! Like, seriously, you have ALL my attention! But if you neglect to mention that I will only be working 20-30 hours a week, without benefits, there went all my enthusiasm because, as mentioned above, I have an eating habit to support.

(3) COVER LETTERS ARE EVIL. Why?! Why do you do this people? What possesses a company to require every applicant to write a soul-searching letter about why they want this job? Surprise: I want the job because I need money. That’s it. That’s all there is. I’m applying to your company specifically because… you have an open position that I might be qualified for. That’s… that’s all there is to say. This is a transaction, my friends; you offer money in exchange for work, I offer work in exchange for money. What more do you want from me?

(4) Please attach resume. Now please painstakingly fill in all the information you just submitted on your resume. Seriously, what is this crap? I mean, of course I understand why you want this information. Which is why I just gave it to you! You already have all this! I am literally copy-pasting from my resume to fill in these blanks! I even understand that maybe you want to be certain of getting specific info I might leave off the resume — the phone numbers of all my previous workplaces, maybe, idk, little non-standard things like that. Fine. Then either make a note that my resume should include these things, or just have me fill in the blanks instead of enclosing a resume. It is STUPID to require both.

(5) Minimum requirements leading to rubber-stamp rejections. This particular pothole is new for me, at least in the sense of being a problem. I had previously encountered applications that had some hard-line minimum or other — 3 years experience, for instance. The application asks outright, “Do you have 3 or more years experience with X?” and if you answer no, you get a rejection email immediately upon submitting the application. This has even been a problem for me before when I did have enough experience but clicked the wrong thing and had to jump through an amazing number of hoops to get my application considered. But now it’s becoming a more serious issue. A lot of the Texas jobs I’m finding are requiring (for reasons I can’t really understand) that I have a Texas driver’s license. Of course I don’t! I don’t live in Texas yet! And though I’ve yet to get a rubber-stamp rejection email, I sure haven’t been offered an interview yet either, and I’m starting to really fear that I’m being automatically rejected without anyone even looking at my application. Are these people deliberately going out of their way to avoid considering applicants who don’t currently live in-state, or is that just a side effect? Either way it’s crappy, and either way it needs to stop. SO THAT I CAN GET A JOB ALREADY.

A Thousand Pieces of You

I know Claudia Gray through her fanfiction, which is quite frankly amazing; she’s one of the top three fanfic writers I’ve ever read, and at this point, I have read a LOT of fanfic. I was delighted to discover she’s also a published novelist, as she well deserves to be! She was kind enough to send an advance copy of her latest YA novel, A Thousand Pieces of You, for me to review, which I took for-freaking-ever to get around to and owe her the most abject apologies for. (SO SORRY, CLAUDIA!)

So the bad news is, I’m a jerk. The good news is, the book is excellent! Marguerite Caine’s father was murdered for his research on multiverse travel; now she and one of her father’s students must use cobbled-together prototypes to chase down the killer as he hops through different versions of reality. It quickly becomes clear that the situation is not as cut-and-dried as Marguerite thought.

Claudia Gray’s version of multiverse travel is very interesting, and I think watching Marguerite discover the many ways her life could have been different – is different – in different branches of reality is the best part of the story. The characters, in all their varied versions, are real and well-developed. The story brings up the ethical dilemmas of taking over someone else’s life, and to what extent “another you” is still you; it’s thought-provoking stuff! As for the romance – well, of course there’s a romance. But it doesn’t feel obligatory or contrived in the slightest. In fact it’s delicately developed and deeply touching. (It’s also pretty explicit in places, just so you know.) The plot doesn’t end on a cliffhanger but neither is everything tied up, by any means – I greatly look forward to reading the next one!