“A cheerful life is what the Muses love, A soaring spirit is their prime delight.”

A cheerful life is what the Muses love, A soaring spirit is their prime delight. -William Wordsworth

I was sitting on the can a few mornings ago and still half asleep. I ran my hands over my belly and for a strange moment thought–this is just fat! There’s nothing here! I’m not pregnant at all–must have all been a dream. Dang, people are going to be mad when they find out. I wonder if I’ll have to return the shower gifts. 

Well, I got in the shower and the gut-kicks began, so I suppose baby took umbrage at that.

I’m not writing, and I feel pretty good about it. First, because I feel pretty awful otherwise–still nursing a head cold that my husband gave me as a pre-Valentine’s gift. My world is zoomed in on mucus and sinus pressure and fatigue (with a nice dose of heartburn from the pregnancy) and there’s not much room for much else at present.

Yesterday I finished the 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that was my anniversary gift (4 pieces missing! Rage!!), and cooked a curry and a pot of rice, and that’s about all I was able to accomplish. Oh, and a quick library trip to hit my 10k daily stepcount.

I kept thinking–how am I going to wing this with a baby? What happens when my entire household is out sick? What do I do then? How am I going to feel awful and take care of another human being (or two)?

It was a small, brief manifestation of my tendency to catastrophic thinking. I headed it off with a nap and a bowl of tang yuan. Stress-sleeping is a good coping strategy, although the dreams get weird.

Anyway, regarding writing: I finished novel 1 in my space opera series at about 60k words, but have only started outlining its sequel. With the lapse in productivity I’ll be lucky to finish novel 2 before baby comes, assuming that I even have the brainpower to write towards the end of pregnancy–egads, we’re only 8.5 weeks away from D-day! And as for the closing novel–I have no plans for it, although I know how the series will close. Altogether with the increasing toll of the 3rd trimester I don’t feel bad about where I stand with writing. Some things are more important than Side Venture. It’s time to relax, spoon some curry in my mouth, and take a nap on the couch.

“The mundane is the edge of glory.”


That, messieurs et mesdames, is my daughter or son. At 11 weeks old he or she was twitching and moving in the womb, waving her arms and beating her heart as fast as she could. Yesterday I went for my nuchal test;  the little one was bigger than ever and even more active, wiggling so much that the ultrasound tech struggled to make the measurements.

It’s so strange to think that all of this movement is going on–perhaps at any hour of the day and night?–without my knowledge, inside my very body. I am eating, working, sleeping, watching terrible television, reading. Meanwhile this tiny person is building a spine, organs, and arranging her cells in preparation for life among us. This is all a mystery.

When I think about it too much I feel light-headed.

So, I don’t think about it too much. Half my time is spent eating or thinking about eating. The rest of the time, I’m trying to write, exercise, draw, and keep my head tightly screwed on to the rest of my body.

Hitting 10,000 steps most days, although my goal is still 12,000-15,000. Once in a while I squeeze out a 17,000 step day, but that’s few and far between compared to how far I used to go. I do the occasional prenatal yoga video, but I think this is less strength/cardio and more stretching.

I’m not doing the best job this go around, But I have been making some progress on drawing faces in perspective.

Making a surprising amount of progress here. Doing nano, at a rate of 2,000 words a day. I’m on track to finish my novella before Thanksgiving–probably won’t write a full novel, which is not something I do for side venture anyways. I handed off space opera partial to an alpha reader and got positive feedback. I’m feeling optimistic about this project.

Side Venture
Projecting $12,000 for 2015, which is $2k beyond my initial for 2015! I’m delighted beyond words. Will do a full accounting at the end of this year, but I am happy with how it went this year. I’m scaling goals back for 2016 due to baby ($6,000?), but very satisfied with the success of SV this year.

I have a lot of plans for writing in 2016, but not quite as much where publication goes–at least until the fall. I want to spend the first half of 2016 writing, the summer polishing and getting covers lined up (to skip over the summer slump), and then some fast paced publishing come fall. I’ve got plans. Yes, I do. If I play my cards right, 2017 might be very interesting indeed.

Or, it could be a total flop, in which case I will bury my nose in my baby’s sweet neck and let it go. The prenatal yoga videos encourage me to think about the word surrender, which is a good virtue for the pregnant state, but I can’t bring myself to do it completely. I have an irresistible urge to keep pushing at everything, but at work and writing in particular. Partly with the knowledge that I can’t predict how productive I’ll be once baby comes, but also because I feel like I can and should and want to push myself.

For now, the motto is: work hard, and then surrender.

“Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money. -Jules Renard

I’ve stopped really keeping track of my earnings since March, except in passing…no more obsessive weekly tabulating of numbers and extrapolation of expected payouts, except a very thorough calculation at the end of the month for tax purposes. I think I passed the $3,000 mark (gross, pre-tax) in Q1. That’s around 2,000 sales on Amazon only.

One thing I might do in the future to boost revenue is eliminate my $0.99 books. They earn me hardly anything since at that price point Amazon takes most of the money, although I like having a range of prices across my catalog (free-$4.99). I think the current $0.99 books will stay where they are, but everything else going forward will be $2.99+.

Another point is diversification. Amazon is great for the first 3 months of a book’s life, but beyond that I think it’s less useful. So I published one story + a freebie on 6 non-Amazon platforms at the beginning of this month and am pleasantly surprised by how well it’s doing. It’s made $54.47 as of today, which is a lot more than I expected.  I thought it would earn, at most, $100/month total on all non-Amazon platforms, but at this rate, it might make at least double that. As much as the ‘Zon is the main marketplace for books, there are apparently readers that live and buy on other platforms, so it’s worth reaching out to them.

I need to get serious about my marketing game. Part of the issue is short stories vs. full length novellas and novels; 95% of my catalog are short stories, which turned out to be more profitable than I thought, but readers really want full novels for their buck. And where marketing/promo is concerned, it’s much easier to do novels than shorts. I do loathe marketing, though; I hate twitter, I hate Facebook, and I hate researching book blogs and asking for reviews. That said, it’s surprising how far I’ve gotten with no marketing: 3.66 average rating on Goodreads, and review averages of 4-5 stars on the ‘Zon (around 50 total).

Most days I dread doing too much biz-related stuff at the cost of wordcount, but when I do, it’s shockingly fun. I like thinking like a businesswoman–doing market research, and running little experiments. I’m open to traditionally publishing at some point, but really love the level of control I have over every aspect of this side venture so far.

The Writing
This is the steadier, more predictable part of things, but also the more existential-dread-inducing.

1) space opera! The more I work on this, the more I love it. I don’t even care if it sells. Writing it is enjoyable enough. That said, it’s sooo muchhh slowerrrr than almost anything else I’ve written before (excluding literary fiction). Worldbuilding is fun but it can be like a prison sometimes to remember what all the elements are, and how it might affect the story. I’m falling in love with some of my minor characters, also, to the point where I’m having a hard time keeping track of my protagonist, who is increasingly boring in comparison. That’s okay. Everyone thought Han Solo was cooler than Luke Skywalker, right? The goal for space opera is to be finished by July (I know, I know…moving the deadline out, but it’s so much harder to write!). I also realized that I can’t push this story as hard as I can push romance stories. If the next scene is not there, it’s just…not there. Writing this genre required me to slow down, to let it sit fallow and then come back to it after a few days or a week, even.

But I love it so much I always come back. For once, this is not going to be a story that I’m going to abandon. I even have sketchy outlines for parts 2 and 3…

2) Side Venture: I’m fast at this now. Fast fast fast. 2k-3k per day. It helps to have a strong outline to kick me in the ass whenever I slow down. I’ve also run some polls among my subscribers and now know what my readers want to read next (results were not surprising–about what I expected). Over the last 2 weeks I’ve written about 14k for my next SV story; it’s going to be a full length novel, maybe around 60k total. It flows so quickly and easily compared to space opera; going back to SV writing after getting stuck on my last space battle was reassuring, because it showed me that it really was the genre/story, and not that I was intrinsically blocked in my writing. I have no idea when this will be done–I’m prioritizing space opera, but space opera gets congested regularly, during which time I revert to working on SV. So…end of August, early September?

Total works to be written: 5, approx. 205,000 words
1. Space opera (80k)
2. SV novel (65k)
3. SV sequel #1 (15-20k)
4. SV sequel #2 (40-50k)
5. SV sequel #3 (undecided-maybe 25k?)

If there are 147 weekdays left in the year, that means I have to write about 1395 words per day to hit that number. I exclude weekends because, well, weekends. If I include weekends that drops the number down to a nice clean 1k. This is all doable.

Subscribers helped me organize the order of sequel stories to be completed this year, as well. This year I’ll have fewer published works, but better quality works and longer ones.

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“Our doubts are traitors…”

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by daring to attempt.” -William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

March closed out at a little over $800. But SV is on hold for a while as I sort through the space opera story that’s been nibbling at the edges of my subconscious during the last few months.

It’s the first story I’ve written that has a concrete beginning, middle, and end. There is a grand conflict and there are smaller ones, and there are character arcs, and angst aplenty. There are planets and space battles and aliens and one big love story. My outline is an elastic thing, stretching from the microbits of a scene to broad, general sweeping plot turns (“write epic battle here”).

It’s not detailed enough for me to pound out 10,000 words in a day, as the astonishing Rachel Aaron has been known to do, but I’m stumbling through it as I go. I’m functioning off the fact that I tend to go off the rails at some point in my writing, with or without an outline, and a hyper-detailed outline would probably feel like waste at that point as I gleefully twirl off into the great blue beyond.

I’ve been managing 1,000 words a day. This is okay, not great, but space opera is much, much harder to write than anything I’ve worked on before. Building an entire universe up from scratch has a way of making my fingers freeze on my keyboard. I’m launching into my first big battle scene this weekend and am giving myself permission to take a day or two to outline it out so I can write through it quickly and logically come the weekend.

I do get frustrated with my prose. It’s either too slippery and elusive for genre fiction or too basic and declarative-sentence-y for my own taste. I’m struggling to hit the right balance with my diction–honestly, I’ve read fan fiction in the sci-fi genre that’s much better written than what I’m outputting. This is dismaying but I press forward regardless–what other choice is there?

If all goes well I should be finished with this novel by mid-June. Excelsior!

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves, at the same time.” [part deux]

spoon o'destiny

With full scale guts-level renovations in one house and preparing the other for sale and husband heading to law school and the day-to-day slog, I’ve been busy. The house is in a state of unrest, with boxes everywhere. My nighttime written journal entries are so boring, basically lists of things I’ve done and things I need to do, it’s gotten colorless and utterly grim. They’re robotic with only the barest hints of human emotion (“feeling iffy today”), and none of this stuff is anything I want to remember when I’m older.

There’s not much time for leisure art time, so I’ve taken to drawing Outfit-of-the-Day in my bedside journal, maybe spending around 5 or 10 minutes at most on each one while I’m sprawled on my stomach in bed. The goal is not to do good art or to even record my fashionable-ness (I’m the farthest thing from a clotheshorse…maybe a clothesgerbil). The goal is to have some record of the day, and to unwind with a little sketch.

The interesting thing is, every drawing is so different.

The inescapable fact of adulthood is a narrowing of your options. That was what was so breathtaking about being in college: as my oboe teacher told me ten years ago, you have the world by the balls just by the sheer fact that you’re twenty-one years old. You can go anywhere, do anything, and it seems that every idea and profession and possibility is offering itself to you like a crush of drunken, enamored strangers at a bar. At twenty-one, there are no strings, no commitments.

I had my birthday last month, and am coming up on my first wedding anniversary. I most definitely have commitments now: a husband, a dog-beast, a job, two (!) mortgages, a dentist appointment every half year, and no less than six houseplants. The houseplants are surprisingly needy.

One one level, my prospects are certainly narrowed; I may never finish my dissertation, never go to law school, never become a professional pianist (not that I have ever wanted to accomplish all these things, but things seemed so…ripe and possible when I was younger). I will probably never be as fluent in Mandarin as I or my family would like.

Being an adult requires giving up certain things, saying no when you’d like to say yes just for the hell of it, and making choices. Irrevocable ones, which means you are killing off the unchosen options to move forward with the one you’ve chosen. Or if you’re not killing them off, they are getting short thrifted.

In simpler terms, a grad school friend told me that you could have it all (a good family life, a strong career, and a healthy/fulfilled self), but not at the same time. Inevitably, one thing suffers. Shonda Rhimes referred to this conundrum in this year’s Dartmouth commencement speech (worth a read for the “pass out, die, poop” references alone): “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.” Creatively, I might be failing right now, but I’m okay with that.

I am confident about my choices and mostly happy with them, despite the occasional dream about having finished the diss. I like the trajectory of my life right now, even though it’s not anything I would have predicted ten years ago.

And the interesting thing about the OOTD drawings is that they are so different, changing every day, and I still think each drawing looks like me in some way. Each one different yet accurate. Some of my freedom and some of my possibilities are dying off, that’s true, but I am not as fixed and finished a person as I thought I was when I graduated college. I guess what I’m saying is that my internal life is growing more vivid even as my life on paper looks ever more flat and limited, and I never expected that.

I remember reading in Suzanne Farrell’s memoir some reference to the fact that creativity needs  limitations and structure to really thrive, even if it’s just to break that rule or structure, spectacularly. Beauty and creativity are like roses and climbing vines, they need something to grow on.

I’m thinking of using my woefully neglected tumblr to record my OOTDs. Maybe?

Almost fourteen years ago I started college (on 9/11/2001, which was the day my parents dropped me off at my dormitory). The professor in my freshman seminar gave all the eager, anxious students in her class this poem, and I loved it very much. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

Seed Leaves

Here something stubborn comes,
Dislodging the earth crumbs
And making crusty rubble.
It comes up bending double,
And looks like a green staple.
It could be seedling maple,
Or artichoke, or bean.
That remains to be seen.

Forced to make choice of ends,
The stalk in time unbends,
Shakes off the seed-case, heaves
Aloft, and spreads two leaves
Which still display no sure
And special signature.
Toothless and fat, they keep
The oval form of sleep.

This plant would like to grow
And yet be embryo;
Increase, and yet escape
The doom of taking shape;
Be vaguely vast, and climb
To the tip end of time
With all of space to fill,
Like boundless Igdrasil
That has the stars for fruit.

But something at the root
More urgent than that urge
Bids two true leaves emerge,
And now the plant, resigned
To being self-defined
Before it can commerce
With the great universe,
Takes aim at all the sky
And starts to ramify.

-Richard Wilbur, New and Collected Poems

“It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas…”

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.” -Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

In the past week, a strong dry wind has been blowing intermittently through San Francisco. It reminds me of the Santa Anas of my childhood in Orange County (and my early twenties in West Los Angeles). It made me feel a little wild, certainly reckless, on the edge. The Santa Anas were suggestive, and violent: when they descended on us from the high desert, I would fantasize that something was about to happen – whether it was going to be good or bad, who could guess? It was not uncommon for them to spark wildfires in the parched chaparral.

Where I live now, there is almost always a cold, wooly slab of fog that sits atop our roofs and pavement. If it’s not beading the windows with mist in the morning, it’s sure to be there when I return to the city at night, like a dog waiting faithfully at the door. This wind has driven it away; this wind is not our regular marine visitor. Twice this week I have left and come home to clear skies gowned in various degrees of blue.

It is beautiful, but off-kilter. The season feels all wrong. The day after Beast was injured, a woman died under a train at my transit station and a five alarm fire could be seen smoking the air not far off.

This week must be better.

“It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life.”

“It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life.” -Tina Fey, Bossypants

I love the New Year and I love setting goals and resolutions. My track record for achieving said goals is spotty at best. But, I decided that this year I’d track things more carefully. Almost two months ago (!), I set the following goals:

Adopt healthier habits:
1. Weigh-in every morning as usual to track my weight [Meeting target]
2. Continue calorie counting/estimations on MyFitnessPal [Meeting target most days]
3. Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps per day. [Exceeding target]
4. Do 1 video workout per week [Under target], although I did do a 30 min workout last night.
5. Attend 1 class workout per week [Attending ballet 1x a week, so meeting target]
6. Make and attend annual checkups, dental cleanings, etc [Need to make an appointment to see the optometrist, but otherwise on target]

Write every day:
I am getting approximately 1,000 words/day written on side project, which is separate from journaling or blogging. Taking journaling into account, I’m really doing pretty well here. It’s a slog in the middle, far from the beginning or the end of my writing project. [Exceeding target].

Draw every day:
Figure drawing is helping a lot on this count. Carter has been helping by reminding me to draw a doodle in my journal in bed at the end of the day if I haven’t done any drawing earlier. [Meeting target].

Read 75 books:
Raised the number to 100 on Goodreads. [Under target] currently, but working on it.

It’s fun to set goals and begin projects, and fun/a relief to be finished with them, but the other 98% of the way…it can be slow. And demand a level of discipline that makes me want to flop around on the floor like a dying fish. Does anyone like the middle of a project? Anyone? Sometimes there are exciting bursts of activity/inspiration, but actually doing the daily grind to keep up with one’s goals…less fun. Sometimes downright awful.

I do think that the quality of my work suffers when I force myself to do something – writing in particular. There is a sense of flatness and hurriedness that shows up when I reread those sections. On the other hand, this is all editable. And sometimes surprising things happen after slogging through, just trying to hit a certain word count.

Still undecided as to whether trying to enforce these goals as habits is going to be worth it. I’ve got a toddler living inside my brain and she does not like to be forced to do anything, and would much rather throw a tantrum and then run in circles and then take a nap.