Category Archives: Life

Writing again – and, boy, does it feel good!

It’s been a scary time for me. I haven’ been able to write since my cat, Koji, passed away last Christmas. It wasn’t just losing my favorite cat, after living with (and adoring) his crankiness and hijinks for twenty years, but that was a big part of it. It was combined with the shocking revelation that Kumar, the “puppy” Erich and I rescued the same year we married and bought a house together, was now too old and arthritic to enjoy playing with the new pup (Nelson) we rescued to keep him company, while we were busy working. Kumar is now on meds that help with his arthritis, but he simply can’t play as hard as he could have just one year ago.

Nobody likes aging and losing beloved pets, of course, but I took it very hard. So hard, I had to go on antidepressants for the first time in my life. I’ve always had bouts of depression, but in the past I could “shake it off.” Not this time. Not without help. And the reason I’m so open about that right now is, I want to encourage anyone struggling with depression to seek help, if things gets overwhelming. It helped me get functional again. Even when you feel like nothing can help, it’s worth trying.

I want to thank my friend Fred Feeley, Jr. for pushing me to work on a ghost story we’ve been writing together. That helped take the pressure off to write in my usual genre of MM Romance. I didn’t have to think about romance beats or whether the characters were likable enough or the emotional level of scenes — I could just be creepy. And it was fun. Initially, I wrote in fits and starts – a bit here, a bit there, interspersed with days in which I wrote nothing at all. But gradually the writing bug took hold again, and ended up contributing a few chapters. (This novel has been taking us a while, but it’s getting near completion!)

Alas, once my writing began to flow again, I was bitten by the Christmas bug. So I set aside the ghost story (for now) and dove into a novella about a man who visited the kingdom of the fairies as a boy, but has no memory of it. Now, fifteen years later, the fairies want him to come “home” again. It’s steeped in Scandinavian folklore, and of course it takes place at Christmas.

It’s far too late in the season for me to submit it to a publisher, if I want it out by Christmas, so it will be another self-published book, like the last few I’ve put out. (I do have one almost finished for Dreamspinner, and I hope to finish that before the end of the year.) I have a wonderful editor and a fantastic cover artist already lined up, so it should be released in late November or early December.

I’m writing every day now, and it’s wonderful. It still feels a bit fragile, as if it wouldn’t take much to shut me down again, but my hope is that, once I’ve established the writing habit again in my psyche, I’ll keep going. Being a working author has been my dream since childhood. It’s been a rough year, but it’s time to reclaim the dream.

 

 

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Filed under Christmas, Jamie Fessenden, Life, Romance, Work in Progress, Writing

When a dry spell starts to get scary…

I finished a novel in November, and usually I take a few weeks off before I dive into my next big project. But something went haywire this year. Those few weeks turned into a few months, and now the motivation to sit down and begin writing isn’t really there.

What happened? I don’t know, and it’s frightening. This post is going to be a little strange, but since I began this blog, I’ve been posting about the experience of being a writer — not just writing itself, but the way things affect me, like reviews and events in my life. So this is one of those posts, about what it’s like when things aren’t going so well.

There are some obvious things in my life that factored into this dry spell:

  1. My cat, Koji, died. This was huge. Koji was a mean-tempered old cat (about 20-years-old) who was so vicious to outsiders we literally had to sedate him when we took him to the vet. (I have a hilarious story about the mass havoc he created there once, involving slashed hands and pee splattered everywhere.) Even drugged, he growled and snarled in his crate like a demon from hell, making everyone back away in trepidation. But he loved me. I’d had him his entire life. In my arms, he was a cuddly furball, and that’s where he died, purring, when he could no longer stand up on his own power. I was devastated by his loss, just two days after Christmas.
  2. My publisher rejected a novel. This shouldn’t be a big deal, because it happens to writers all the time, but it had never happened to me. Since I published my first novel in 2010, nothing I’ve submitted has been rejected. Perhaps some of those manuscripts should have been rejected, because they didn’t sell very well, but my publisher was willing to take the risk. Now the market has changed. Publishers are closing their doors left and right, so my publisher is understandably more reticent to accept manuscripts that don’t follow tried-and-true romance formulas. This makes me sad, but… business is business.
  3. My Christmas novel didn’t sell very well. Oh, it sold. Far better than novels I’ve released in the past. It just didn’t sell as well as the two previous novels, and that put me into a funk. Especially, since I’d put a ton of work into it, and was really vested in it.  I also marketed it up the wazoo. Considering that my two previous novels far exceeded my expectations, you’d think I’d be grateful for having a banner year. (And I did have a great year, for book sales overall!) But… that’s not the way an artist’s mind works.
  4. I have a friend who is very ill. I can’t talk about it much on social media, but I’m immensely worried for her.
  5. Our dog, Kumar, is aging. He isn’t exactly at death’s door, but his muzzle has gone gray, and he is now on anti-inflammatories and painkillers for arthritis. Just a year ago, I was feeling guilty that I never exercised him enough, so we invested in a dog enclosure in the yard and got another dog to keep him company and play with him! But I was too late. He’s suddenly not in the mood to play much. The pup and he are gradually becoming play buddies, and the meds help him have more energy to wrestle, but he spent so much time snarling at the pup for trying to pounce on him when he wasn’t feeling well, the biggest side-effect of the new dog is jealousy. We spend so much time trying to convince both of them that we love them. It’s not exactly that things aren’t working out with the new dog, but it isn’t working out as I’d hoped.
  6. I feel like I’m letting people down. I’ve missed events I was supposed to participate in as a writer. I have a sci-fi novel (Martian Born) that got me into a wonderful sci-fi workshop, and I got a lot of encouragement to finish it — but it still isn’t finished. More importantly, my husband wants that one finished. I also have a romance novel my publisher was asking for, but after me telling them I needed more time to finish it too often… they’ve stopped asking. I can’t blame them, but it’s just another thing that makes me feel as if I’m drifting away from the career I loved so much…

All of these things point to a big problem with depression right now, of course. I can see that. I could go to a therapist, but like a lot of people suffering from depression, I’m not sure I want to commit to going onto antidepressants. I know they help people. I’m the son of not one, but two psychologists, and I lost an ex-boyfriend to suicide. (I.E., we weren’t boyfriends at the time, but still close friends.) I don’t want to discourage anyone from getting help, when they need it, and I’m still leaving that door open. But knowing myself like I do, I think there are some other things to try first. This may be the first big dry spell I’ve had, but it isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with my tendency toward depression.

What I do think will help is finishing this damned romance novel. It’s good. I know it’s good, and my publisher thinks it’s good (what they read of it). It’s only about two chapters from being done! I just need to sit down and force myself to start writing. Then maybe the words will start flowing again. Then maybe it will be time to finish that sci-fi novel…

And honestly, there is so much good in my life right now. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

I have a wonderful husband and a wonderful home. The new puppy is adorable and a great addition to the household (even if he does bark incessantly), and I did have a good year, professionally. My best ever, in fact.

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Filed under Jamie Fessenden, Life, Pets, Writing

The best girl in the world

Lady

In my novel Billy’s Bones, I based Tom’s dog, Shadow, on my own dog, Kumar. In Violated, Derek’s quiet, aging dog was also based upon one of my dogs — Lady. This is her story.

When I graduated from college, I eventually found myself living by myself out in a cabin in the woods of Nelson, NH. I had a job and a car, but not much of a social life. It was damned lonely.

So I decided to get a dog. I went to the local shelter and played with several of the dogs there over the span of a few weeks, but I couldn’t find the one I was looking for. I needed an older dog, medium-sized, who wasn’t too hyper, thanks to the fact that my landlady’s mother was 80 and afraid of big dogs.

Then one day I walked into the shelter and there was a new dog out front. They hadn’t even finished her paperwork yet. But she had the biggest, most soulful eyes I’d ever seen, and I fell in love with her immediately.

Lady was at least six when I got her, though we suspected the owner lied and she might be older. She’d been left out in a dog pen with other dogs her entire life, so I had to house train her. Fortunately, she caught on quickly. When we would go out for a walk together I would wear some good running shoes for flat feet so that I could keep up. She also had this weird habit of taking her dog kibble out of the bowl and trying to press it into the wooden floor, scraping all around it with her nose as if she were burying it and hiding it from anyone who might try to steal it from her. And when is raining and we go out for a walk I wear my Vessi waterproof shoes.

She was very docile and quiet. I wasn’t even sure she knew how to bark, until one morning the landlady opened the door of my cabin and walked in without asking permission. Lady was sleeping on my bed with me, and she immediately leapt to her feet, standing over me and barking ferociously to defend me. (Good girl!)

It’s hard to describe how much I adored her, this little dog I could scoop up in my arms and cuddle like a baby. She was a bit big for that, but she put up with it.

Lady 2When I moved in with a boyfriend for a while, things went downhill for her. He didn’t like dogs. While he wasn’t abusive to her, he largely ignored her, and when she still had the occasional accident inside, he yelled at her — which usually made her crouch down and pee more.  She was no longer allowed on the bed, so I had to buy her a dog bed.

Ultimately, that human relationship would break up, and I’d realize I should never have given in as much as I had. I should never have let my girl be yelled at. I should have fought to keep her on the bed, at my side where she wanted to be. She was my best girl, and she stuck with me through some of the hardest times of my life.

But one night, when my ex and I were having yet another of the arguments that marked the end of our relationship, there was a storm going on outside. When I came out of the bedroom, I asked one of the house guests we had where Lady was. She was terrified of storms. And he told me she’d been running around looking like she had to pee, so he’d let her out.

She hadn’t needed to pee. She’d been panic-stricken. Out in the storm, she panicked and bolted and disappeared into the night.

After a week of searching the neighborhood, calling her name, and putting up “Lost Dog” signs, I woke one night in the wee hours of the morning with a sense that I needed to go to the front door. I went into the kitchen and opened the door to find Lady sitting on the porch. I was ecstatic that she’d found her way back to me. The next day, I emailed everybody I knew to let them know.

But I was celebrating too soon.

A couple of days later, she started coughing. While she’d been wandering around out in the cold, rainy September nights, she’d caught pneumonia. I took her to the vet — who I’m convinced to this day was incompetent, for a number of reasons — and eventually she ended up on oxygen.

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, while everyone else watched the bombing of the World Trade Center in horror, I was barely aware of it. Because Lady was dying. I saw her on my lunch break from work, and she looked awful. Her lips were blue, and she was gasping for breath. I held it together as best I could and went out to get something to eat. While I was out, the vet called and told me she’d died. And I hadn’t been there.

Best Girl in the WorldI fell apart. I couldn’t go back to work. I was a wreck for weeks — months. To this day, I still can’t think of that day without crying. I’m crying now.

It was ten years before I could bring myself to get another dog. Lady had been irreplaceable. She was my girl.

The best girl in the world.

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Filed under Life, New Release, Pets

An American spy struggling to conjugate Russian adjectives

bondI study Russian as a hobby these days. I used to take classes in it in college, and not only was the language interesting in and of itself, but my classmates were terrific. There were only eight of us, and we formed a Russian club. We put on dinners of Russian food and got together to study Russian obscenities when nobody was looking. We were a disparate group—Sandy, the former cheerleader who was rushing a sorority; Steve, a jock who was, frankly, gorgeous; Troy, who was pretty much a nerd (no offense, Troy, you were a great guy), and others I no longer remember so clearly. Then me. I was a nerd, too. But we were united by a common interest, and we had a lot of fun. Sadly, as we moved into our second year, we all found other friends and the Russian club drifted apart.

But over the years, I’ve been frustrated, trying to recall words and phrases from a language I once knew at least a little of. It was nearly gone, when my husband suggested I could take a class in it. I couldn’t find any classes (apart from spending a small our retirement savings on Continuing Ed through UNH—don’t even get me started). But I did discover tutors who were local.

So now I go to Barnes & Noble once a week to study Russian with Natasha* for an hour. She’s from Russia, and Russian is her native language, so I know when she corrects my accent she isn’t steering me wrong. And bit by bit, it’s coming back to me. In fact, I suspect I’m already moving a bit past where I left off in college. Of course, from Natasha’s perspective, I’m about the level of a talking monkey. (“Today… it is… warm.”) Fortunately, she’s lived here a long time, so her English is perfect.

So you’re probably wondering about the James Bond logo. That’s because I was recently asked to write a short story for an athology, and my theme was mercy. I agonized over it for a while, and then while I was re-watching the old 1964 Jonny Quest cartoon series, I had an idea: what about a secret agent during the cold war whose mission is to assassinate someone, but he can’t?

This, not surprisingly, led me to James Bond. But Rex Colby, secret agent, isn’t exactly James Bond. He’s a former US Navy man, trained by the CIA to infiltrate the Russian military. He might have shades of Mack Bolan in him, though I haven’t read one of those novels since I was a kid. Colby speaks Russian without a trace of his native Texas accent, and is the perfect man to go onboard a top secret Russian submarine in search of an American scientist who defected to the USSR with the advanced long-range sonar he was developing.

It was an interesting idea, and it might even allow me to drop in some Russian. I love doing that!

When I mentioned this to Natasha during last week’s tutoring session—”Я пишу рассказ об американском шпионе на российском подводном лодке.” (I am writing a short story about an American spy on a Russian submarine.)—I was expecting her to react to it. I was hoping she’d be amused. At worst, I was afraid she’d be offended. After all, the Russians (Soviets) are the enemy in stories like this.

She looked at me calmly and said, “Лодка is feminine, not masculine. It would be российской подводной лодки.

Oh.  Right.

* In case it isn’t obvious, I’ve changed all the names in this post. I’m no fool.

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Authors behaving… like human beings

So there is yet another author who got upset over a bad review and blogged about it, and readers who were angered by an author telling them how to review.  I’m not going to link to the disaster.  But I do have some things to say about this issue.

  1. I hate the distinction between “readers” and “writers.”  It’s a false dichotomy.  Every writer is also a reader.  Not every reader wants to be a writer, but many do.  The distinction is muddy, and this isn’t a conflict it’s possible to take sides on.  Unfortunately, it’s still a real conflict, and it’s difficult to talk about it without saying “readers” and “writers” (or “authors”).
  2. Self-publishing has it’s upsides and its downsides.  On the upside, it’s allowing a lot of talented people who can’t get into the hallowed halls of traditional publishing to get their work out to the world.  Some of them are brilliant, but they weren’t writing what publishers thought would sell.  On the downside, it also allows people with little talent or skill to put their work out there.  And this has caused a lot of readers (not all) to think writing doesn’t require any skill or talent, and to view our profession with derision.  They no longer think books are worth paying for, and they begin their relationship with a book on a note of hostility, already angered by the fact they had to spend money on “crap.”  This makes me very sad.
  3. Writers have no choice but to suck it up, when it comes to bad reviews.  It doesn’t matter if the review was nonsensical, it doesn’t matter if the reviewer hated the book for a stupid reason.  It doesn’t even matter if the reviewer didn’t read the book.  None of that matters.  Do you know why?  Because absolutely nothing a writer says in retaliation for a bad review will improve the situation.  It will make it worse.  Guaranteed.  Sure, a few people will rally to your defense, but just as many or more will attack you for it.  And it will cost you readers.  The worst thing to do with a bad review is draw everybody’s attention to it — people who would never have even glanced at the original review — and spew commentary about it all over the Internet.  Do you really want the first thing that pops up on Google when people search for you to be twenty blog posts about how whiny you are?  If you don’t care about people buying your books, fine, but if you do… take a breath, and let it go….
  4. Having said that, I am not on the side of readers who beat their chests and wail about Authors Behaving Badly whenever an author blogs about how hurt they are by a review.  There are two arguments I see over and over again:  1) Authors are “oppressing” readers, and 2) Readers have the real power, because they pay the author’s salary, so to speak.  The second argument is largely true.  Readers pay for our books or don’t pay for them, and that affects our income.  There are a number of authors out there who don’t really give a rat’s ass whether people buy their books — they’re in it for the art — but most of us do.  But that renders argument one invalid.  I cannot have power over someone and claim to be “oppressed” by them.  That’s nonsensical.
  5. Words are not “oppression.”  An author ranting about a review does nothing whatsoever to “oppress” the reviewer.  It’s just words.  The review was words, and the response was words.  Nobody’s freedom has been infringed upon — they both got to have their say, even if what they said was childish and inflamatory.  If anything, it’s the author who’s at a disadvantage, since an inflamatory blog post or response to a review on Goodreads can ultimately cost him or her income.  But I have little sympathy for people who equate hurt feelings with “oppression.”  As a friend and fellow author said, this is a “first world problem.”  There are people out there who are really oppressed.  This ain’t it.
  6. There’s no need to bring ridiculous levels of paranoia into this.  Yes, we’ve all heard the story about the author who flipped out and tracked down a reader at her home and then at work.  But have you heard the story about the reader who showed up at a book signing to splash ink on an author because her novel was “about her?”  Yes, whackjobs abound.  But these people don’t represent authors and they don’t represent readers — they represent whackjobs.  For the most part, authors don’t show up at reviewer’s houses and try to kick the door down, and readers don’t attack authors.  So chill.

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Happy New Year!

Cassini_NewYears_2010_fullHappy New Year!

The picture is actually from the NASA website, and was used for New Years in 2010, but I thought it was perfect, since it looks a lot like the cover of my novella Saturn in Retrograde.

2014 hasn’t been a bad year for me.  It was my first year writing full-time, and I saw two new novels published, along with two stories in the Gothika #1 and #2 series, as well as a story published for Brent Hartinger’s The Real Story Safe Sex Project, and a free story for the Love’s Landscapes event on Goodreads.  I’m also finishing the first draft of a new novel, and I’m about 2/3rds through another YA novel.

Not bad.

I don’t really know what to do for a New Year’s resolution.  Not that I really have to have one, but, you know… it’s traditional.  I’d love to lose some weight, but we all know how those resolutions tend to go.  I suppose a more practical resolution would be to increase my writing output.  I didn’t do too badly, but I tend to waste a lot of time on the Internet when I should be writing.  I often don’t get anything accomplished until the last couple hours of the day—then I crank.  That could definitely be improved.

I know a lot of people will say, “You shouldn’t worry about putting more out.  You need to worry about producing good stories first.”  Well, I do worry about producing good stories.  But the simple fact of the matter is, in order to make any money at this craft, you have to produce.  We don’t live in a society that favors artists of any kind.  A few make it to the top and bring in a lot of money, but most have to survive by having a large output, so for this we need to learn to take care of our money doing the right investments, that we can do using the tools from the The Ascent site online.  The trick is to produce more and still have it be good.

So that’s my New Years Resolution: to write more without the quality of my writing suffering.

What’s yours?

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When nobody reads your writing

386200_2673280425520_1061443511_32785704_1832786642_n.jpgWhenever an article or blog comes out in which an author grumbles about lack of sales, as author Michael Henderson did in this recent article about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, it’s common for people to slam them as whiners who don’t respect reader’s choices to buy other authors’ works, or worse, to claim it’s because their work is obviously inferior.

I don’t like this.

Michael Henderson will probably do just fine thanks to the boost his sales received from the article thanks to wordtree—he’s at least picked up one good review from it—but I’d like to address a few points:

  1. Amazon has over 3 million eBooks available.  It’s illogical to assume that any reader is able to go through that morass of brilliant and god-awful novels and decide which are good and which are not, in his or her opinion.  Readers — and that includes every author I’ve ever known — gather data from other readers they know, advertisements, which ones use companies and which ones don’t, reviews, and what-have-you to select books.  They also browse categories and look at blurbs and covers, but none of these techniques will ever give a reader more than the tip of the iceburg to choose from.  That’s just a statistical fact.
  2. Given what I said above, there is no way to correllate the quality of an author’s writing with how many books they sell, especially if we’re talking about the low end of the spectrum.  Nobody even knows what that means, frankly.  I often think a book is brilliantly written when nobody else seems to like it, and vice versa.  And it’s impossible for any reader to decide a novel is bad if he or she hasn’t read it.  Period.  So if an author’s book has only sold ten copies, it could mean the author can’t string two sentences together (as one reader claimed of Murder on the Mountain), but it could just as easily mean only ten people have read it and they don’t have a large enough influence over other readers to make the book take off.  Assuming a book is bad because it didn’t sell is just another form of blaming the victim:  “It happened to him because he did something wrong.  Therefore, it won’t happen to me, because I know what I’m doing.”
  3. Not all authors are good at selling themselves or their books.  The nature of the profession tends to attract introverts who prefer to be by themselves, writing or reading—not running around to cons and bookfairs chatting readers up, or even getting too social on social media.  Most new authors have no idea this is even part of the deal.  It’s like getting on a flight around the world, being yanked out of your seat, and shoved into the cockpit.  “Didn’t anyone tell you you’re the pilot?  Good luck!”

Having said all that, my advice to authors who aren’t selling well is this:  Don’t bitch about it.  Okay, you can grumble a little, but whatever you do, don’t attack popular authors and complain that their books are crap.  Don’t insist your own books are brilliant—that’s not for you to decide.  And don’t insult readers by claiming they have no taste.  Just realize they need to see you and your work before they can read anything you’ve put out, and the competition for reader attention is insane.

So get out there and be friendly!

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