Numb

Today is my kids’ first day of school. Their first day in-person since March 2020.

For the last month, as this day grew closer and our province’s Covid cases rose, I’ve been a writhing ball of anxiety. Yesterday, I kept breaking down crying. Today, I am just numb.

I’ve spent countless hours advocating for safer schools (with some wins – our board has instated more safety measures than many others: a mask mandate for all students, and mandatory vaccines for staff by September 30 among others), but there’s so much more that could be done that isn’t happening.

It feels like everyone has just resigned themselves to letting kids catch Covid, because it’s too expensive, or too bothersome to try and avoid it. (Think I’m exaggerating? Our Chief Medical Officer of Health says we need to “normalize Covid in schools,” our Science Table head says unvaccinated people have an 80-90% likelihood of catching Covid in the next year, and an epidemiologist at Sick Kids’ Hospital says kids in public school will catch Covid this year.)

Vaccines for children are only a few months away, yet everyone wants to rush right back to “normal” and pretend the pandemic is already over, despite being faced with a more contagious and dangerous variant. And while kids may have a lower risk of severe outcomes than adults, a small percentage of a big number is still a big number.

(For those of you keeping score at home, that’s both a hospitalization and death rate higher than Polio.)

On top of that, we don’t know (and won’t know for years) if people who had even asymptomatic Covid are at risk for a post-viral condition years later (like with Polio, where 20-50% of survivors develop Post Polio syndrome anywhere from 10-40 years later. Heck, even a Chicken Pox infection can turn into Shingles some 30-40 years later). And then a recent study even found that 100% of macaques who were infected with Covid developed Lewy Bodies – an indicator for Parkinson’s Disease.

We could be setting our kids up for a future of disability, but we’re just supposed to ignore that.

I’ve spent my kids’ whole lives doing my best to keep them safe and healthy, from feeding them balanced diets to teaching them safety rules…and for what? So I can send them out to get infected with a potentially deadly or life-altering disease?

The cognitive dissonance has broken me. We’ve spent a year avoiding busy stores and potential infection, but why keep it up when they’re taking a bigger risk at lunch every school day? For that matter, what’s even the point of packing healthy lunches any more? I may as well just send them with a whole cake or a bag of cheezies.

I’ve done everything I can to keep my kids safe at school this year. But giving them N95 masks then sending them into a classroom of 30+ unvaccinated kids with masks of variable quality, who all take them off twice a day to eat in a room with questionable ventilation, feels like strapping my kids into seatbelts then driving the wrong way on the highway.

My only other choice is to pull them from school completely and homeschool them, which would likely be a disaster, knowing my stubborn boys. And even then, I’d have to first convince my family it was even necessary, and that the government does not have our best interests in mind…

And so I sit here numb, because anything else is unfathomable. To sit and actively worry about the daily exposures my kids will be facing would leave me catatonic on the couch, unable to do anything at all.

All I can do is sit and wait for the first exposure notice or first sign of a sniffle.

Numb.

September Update aka Stressed to the Max

If you read last month’s update, then you know I’ve been very stressed out about my kids returning to in-person schools, to the point that it’s essentially taken over my life.

On the bright side, our Board has made a few improvements to the Ministry’s inadequate plan, but their safety measures still fall well short of what it would take to make me feel safe about having my unvaccinated (because of age) children attend in-person school.

I mean, why should we look to other countries (see: Scotland, the U.S.A., etc. ) and see how their return to schools have gone (overflowing pediatric hospitals and ICUs) and learn from them? Oh, right, because that might cost money and children can’t vote.

On the not-so-bright-side, our Science Table quietly released predictions last night about how the next few months will go. And…they’re not good. Basically, unless we vaccinate *everyone* currently eligible (not going to happen) and reduce our personal contacts to a level we didn’t even hit in March 2020 (when the whole province shut down) we’re looking at somewhere between 4,000-9,000 cases a day, (worse than the last wave, which nearly destroyed our medical system and did lead to cancelled surgeries) by October.

So, yeah, I’m a little bit stressed about my kids’ health.

At this rate, I’d be very surprised if schools are still open after Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving, that is, in October). Although, since they’ve removed a bunch of symptoms from the testing criteria, closed and/or reduced hours for testing centres, and aren’t doing any kind of asymptomatic testing, the positive case levels will likely stay well below the actual case count.

*Deep breaths*

Right, you probably came here to see how my writing is going.

Well, I only added 7,000 words to that MG I’ve been working on, which is well less than I’d hoped.

On the other hand, when not campaigning to improve the safety standards at schools, I’ve been spending a lot of my time just trying to make my kids’ last days of summer as great as they can be. They’re all stressed about returning to school not just because of Covid, but also because they haven’t been physically in school in a year-and-a-half and they’re all starting new schools (because we moved).

Basically, we’re all just one big ball of stress in my house right now.

I haven’t even listened to many audiobooks, either, because I’ve been wallowing in my depression music, replaying the same comfort tracks over and over again to try and distract me from what September holds.

Here’s what my reading log looks like:

August Reading Stats:

  • MG Fantasy (4)
  • Adult Urban Fantasy (1)

August Total: 5

Year-to-Date Total: 47 (+ 2 Re-Reads)

August Update

This Update is probably going to be a short one. It’s been busy here, as we’ve been trying to fit in a bunch of (still pandemic-friendly) visits and outings before cases skyrocket again in the Fall. (While Hubs, 12yo, and I are all now fully-vaxxed, our two 10-year-olds are not).

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I’ve spent the last few months pushing for a safe return to school for Ontario kids in September. Our Board forced us to decide back in March (before Delta, before the third wave) whether our kids would do in-person or remote school for the entire 2021-2022 school year (no changes allowed). Back then we were naively hopeful that vaccines would bring community cases low enough that in-person school would be safe. Clearly that was a misjudgement.

Still, since our government admits that Delta is more serious and spreads worse than the original strain of Covid, has seen the rise in hospitalizations and Long Covid in children in other countries that reduced safety measures, and is fully expecting cases to surge in September, we can at least be confident they’ll do their best to keep our kids safe.

Just kidding, they removed a bunch of safety measures from an already weak plan (Ontario schools were closed more last year than any other in Canada).

This year, apparently it’s fine for kids in classes of up to 35 students to do indoor gym without distancing or masking, sing without distancing or masking, mix together at recess, assemblies, and in extra-curriculars, without any plan for surveillance testing to make sure Covid isn’t spreading undetected among a population that primarily presents asymptomatically.

But the government is paying for 5 HEPA filters per school, so yay, I guess?

To add insult to injury, the (presumably vaccinated) government official announcing these changes wouldn’t allow any reporters in the same room as him DUE TO COVID PRECAUTIONS despite having 5 air filters running.

*Deep breaths*

Okay.

Anyway. This has been my life, lately. I spent all of yesterday writing emails to the Premier, Minister for Education, and my Member of Provincial Parliament, as well as several school board members and trustees. I’m angry and frustrated that we are within six months of having a vaccine for kids, and yet everyone has just decided to give up protecting them. (Our Chief Medical Officer of Health actually said it’s time to “normalize Covid in kids” like we do the flu. But have you ever heard of Long Flu? Yes, Covid only killed as many kids as flu last year, but that was while we were doing everything in our power to keep them safe!)

I am really stressed about this (obviously).

My fibromyalgia has many of the same symptoms as Long Covid (brain fog, exhaustion, muscle pain) and I would do just about anything to prevent my children (any child, really) from suffering like me.

Huh. Looks like this is going to be a long post after all.

Anyway, if you read all that, thank you.

I did manage some fiction writing in among all my letter writing. I’m 10,000 words into a new MG ghost story and loving it. Fingers crossed I can keep it up for the next 40,000 words.

I did very little reading in July, as you can see below:

July Reading Stats

  • MG Fantasy (3)
  • YA Fantasy (1)
  • Re-Read (1)

July Total: 4 (+1 Re-Read)

Year-to-Date Total: 42 (+2 Re-Reads)

July Update

And just like that another month has passed.

June was not a good writing month for me. I had a lot of trouble concentrating thanks to my fibromyalgia. I’ve been testing out some new meds, but unfortunately instead of helping with my brain fog, anxiety, pain, and insomnia, they made them all a lot worse. (Yay me!)

Just started on new med attempt #2, but if last night’s 1am hyperactivity is any indication, I’m not going to get relief any time soon.

On the happier side, as of today’s posting, I am officially double-vaxxed against Covid (two weeks past my second shot)!!! It’ll still be a few weeks until Hubs and the rest of our family is completely covered (and even longer until my under 12 twins get their shots), but I’m looking forward to being able to see my parents in-person for the first time in over a year.

When my health and the weather has allowed it, I’ve been spending most of my time taking care of our garden and finding new recipes for all the yummy new-to-us vegetables we’ve been getting from our friends’ farm weekly CSA box, and playing multiple games of Scrabble with the 12-year-old daily. Basically, life has been pretty quiet and slow – which is about all I can handle these days.

You’d think with all this quiet time, I’d have read/listened to a lot more audiobooks, but you’d be wrong. Apparently my attention span doesn’t even want to stretch to books these days, although I’ve watched way too much bad TV, as can be seen in my:

June Reading Stats

  • MG Fantasy (3)
  • MG Sci-Fi (1)
  • YA Fantasy (1)
  • A Urban Fantasy (1)
  • Re-Read (1)

June Total: 6 (+1 Re-Read)

Year-to-Date: 38 (+1 Re-Read)

June Update

Despite the onset of spring and beautiful weather, and Covid case numbers finally going down in my province, this month has been a definite struggle. My fibromyalgia comes with free side orders of depression and brain fog along with the entrée of chronic pain, which can make writing (or even focusing) anywhere from difficult to impossible on bad days. Which, of course, results in getting caught in a neverending loop:

Still, thanks to these monthly updates, I can tell you I added 7,000 words to my MG superhero book – which is less than I would have liked, but more than I thought I’d managed to accomplish, so I’m going to call it a win.

I only have one month left until my kids are out for the summer, however, they’re old enough to entertain themselves this year (at least some of the time) so hopefully I’ll still manage to get some writing done.

And…that’s really all that’s been going on with me. I’m afraid I’ve been terribly boring, splitting my time between chores, gardening, and writing, Oh, and a few audiobooks:

May Reading Log

  • MG Fantasy (6)

May Total: 6

Year-to-Date Total: 32

Why I Can’t Seem to Get Any Writing Done…

Last week, I wrote about how I’ve been having trouble finding time to write. That afternoon, I decided I would sit and write, no matter what. Then this happened:

I write better with a hot drink, so I went to make a cup of tea.

While the kettle was boiling, I realized the kitchen was a mess from lunch, so I tidied.

Put the kettle back on and reached for my (Best Emperor in the Galaxy) mug. Remembered I’d left it downstairs. Went to grab it (because dirty mug + ants in house = gross).

Had to pass laundry room, which reminded me it was time to switch loads. Hung up a bunch of clothes & threw next load in washer.

Went to get dirty mug. Discovered I’d left it in craft room where I’d been making (very late) birthday cards for my cousins. Stopped to finish those (very late!) cards.

Had to find cheques for cards. Didn’t have enough, so tried to figure out if we’re out, or I just misplaced them in the move. Searched house.

Went online and ordered more cheques.

Searched house for enough cash.

Paused for a requested “Hug Break” from hormonal tween.

Addressed envelope (I send them together to save postage). Discovered I still don’t have enough stamps. Sigh.

Put cards aside.

Turn on kettle for third time. Make cocoa now, because frustrated.

Decide this would make a good blog post. Bring cocoa to computer..

Realize I need to finish ordering Tween’s birthday gift. Fall down an Amazon rabbit hole. Order gift.

Write blog post.

Finish post just in time to get called to help with French class.

And that’s how my writing time evaporates. Sigh.

May Update

How? How has another month gone by already?

I feel like I’ve hardly accomplished anything, writing-wise, in the last 30-odd days.

I’m still working on my MG SFF Superhero story. After deciding my voice wasn’t right, I went back and started revising back at page one, with hopes of getting the voice right before proceeding any farther. I’m almost at 15,000 words, and I think I’ve got the voice now, but somehow life keeps getting in the way of actually writing.

Most of my spare time has been spent on household stuff: preparing for my kids’ birthdays (it being the second year of no in-person parties due to the pandemic has perhaps led to some over compensating on my part), regular chores like laundry and cleaning, and new chores needed for the new house – one-time things like painting, and fixing window screens, as well new regular chores (the place came with a huge garden and pool, which are amazing, but suck up large amounts of time and effort).

And then there was the two days I lost to vaccine side effects, which was perhaps the best possible reason ever to not be able to work.

Mentally/emotionally this month has been rough. The Covid situation in my province has gotten way out of control, thanks to our useless government putting money above lives. While I’m probably fairly safe from infection personally (thanks to being able to stay home and my spiffy new vax) our health care system is on the verge of collapse, with all non-emergent surgeries being cancelled, and hospitals are on the verge of triaging care (aka not treating people with underlying conditions) – which is pretty freaking stressful for someone (like me) who has underlying conditions.

And don’t even get me started on the stress of wondering if I made the right decision to let my kids go back to in-person schools next year when they likely won’t be vaccinated and the school boards say life will be “back to normal” while the Education Ministry says only classroom numbers and funding will be normal, while all other Covid precautions (which failed miserably this year) will be back in place.

And of course none of this stress has been great for my underlying conditions, which just makes everything seem even worse and I just want to scream into a nice empty void somewhere, except that would probably count as non-essential travel.

Argh!

Anyway. Hopefully I will find some more time to write this month. I didn’t manage to read (/listen to audiobooks) very much this month either, as you can see from my :

April Reading Log

  • MG Fantasy (3)
  • YA Fantasy (1)
  • Adult Mystery (1)
  • Adult UF (1)

April Total : 6

Year-to-Date: 26

April Update

I’m writing this post with a migraine, so bear with me, folks.

April started pretty quiet, writing-wise. I tried to revise my Adult Urban Fantasy another time – I trimmed some extraneous stuff from the first few chapters, but after that I ended up just reading it like it was someone else’s book. I’m still querying it, but the responses I’m getting seem to be that agents think it’s unsellable (despite the fact I’ve seen readers looking for something like it on Twitter. Sigh.)

I spent some time working on games for my boys’ second pandemic birthday zoom party (that is, second in a row, not that they’re turning two). Trying to make it special, despite the fact we’ll likely be in a pretty tight lockdown the way things are going (hit the highest ICU Covid case count for the whole pandemic today, with patients being shipped to my city of Ottawa from Toronto, 5+ hours away). Still trying to figure out what to do for cake…

And, of course, just as I should be getting ready to jump into revisions on my YA Fantasy, I got an idea for a MG Sci-Fi (Superhero) story, so I’ve been working (very slowly) on it. Only one thousand words in, as of typing this, but pretty happy with it so far.

All right, my brain is starting to hurt, so I’ll wrap it up with my

March Reading Stats:

  • MG Fantasy (2)
  • YA Fantasy (4)
  • Adult Fantasy (1)
  • Adult Urban Fantasy (1)

March Total: 8

Year-to-Date Total: 20

One Year Later (aka March Check-In)

It’s hard to believe a full year has passed since the pandemic started. It both feels like we’ve been doing this forever, and that things like the whole Tiger King craze just happened last week.

My household has been lucky, in that we’re able to do school and work from home, and limit our grocery shops and other outings, but we really miss seeing friends and extended family up close. Plus there’s all the stress and anxiety from having multiple health conditions (including asthma) myself, and a large number of high-risk family members. (Anyone out there not had a forgot-my-mask-in-a-crowded-place nightmare?)

My school board is adding to the stress by making us decide within the next ten days whether our kids will attend remote or in-person school for the entirety of next year (no changes allowed after March 14 2021). To have to make this decision at the cusp of the third wave, with variants increasing by the day, and no idea what the vaccine situation will be by September, is incredibly frustrating and rage inducing.

Seriously, this was me, reading the email from the board:

We think we know what we’re going to do, but I would feel much more comfortable making this decision in July or August. Especially as our current back-up plan involves pulling them from school entirely and homeschooling (aka losing most of my next year of writing time.) Sigh.

Speaking of writing, I was super productive during February and managed to finish the first draft of my YA Fantasy, clocking in at just under 82,000 words total. I still have a ton of revision ahead of me, but I’m happy with the rough shape of the project.

As always, I’ll be taking this month away from that project, so I can get some mental space and come back to it with fresh eyes. This month will be spent catching up on chores, researching elements for that book, and taking another look at my Adult Urban Fantasy before sending out more queries.

Because I spent so much time writing last month, I didn’t do as much reading (also, some of these books were much longer than my usual reads).

Reading Stats

  • A Urban Fantasy (1)
  • YA Fantasy (3)
  • YA SciFi (1)

February Total: 5

Year-to-Date: 12

Well, that’s it for this month. See you in April. Hopefully by then the weather will be beautiful, the snow will be gone, and maybe gardens will even be beginning to sprout (seriously, I’m so excited to see what my new garden looks like!). Stay safe, everyone!

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Starting next week, I’m going to be moving this blog to a monthly format, instead of a weekly one.

There are a few reasons for this change. For one, I’m having trouble coming up with topics. Another is that I no longer feel like an expert when it comes to writing (let’s just say my career set-backs have done a number on my confidence levels). And then there’s the whole not-enough-hours-the-week-thing that sometimes leaves me resenting having to give up precious time that could be spent working on my fiction writing.

So, going forward, my plan is to post an update on the first Thursday of each month.

Most likely, there will be bonus posts: thoughts I want to share, writing advice, and, of course, book recommendations. But for the next little while at least, I’m only going to promise to post once a month.

Kaye out.

Covid-19 Shanty

Right, I don’t have anything writing-related to share today. Instead, I’m giving you what might be the most 2021 song ever: The Covid-19 Shanty (to be sung to the tune of The Wellerman)

There once was a sick in 2020
And the name of the sick was Covid-19
It came from bats, or so they think,
But not a lab, they know (huh!)

Soon may the vaccines come, 
To make our shoulders and biceps numb.
One day when the needles are done,
Outside our homes we'll go.

It had not been two months before 
It spread to thousands, maybe more!
Cruise ships were stranded far from shore,
To make the spreading slow (huh!)

Soon may the vaccines come, 
To make our shoulders and biceps numb.
One day when the needles are done,
Outside our homes we'll go.

The closed the borders, air and water
Shut schools to save their sons and daughters,
Said, "Stay home!" to prevent a slaughter,
But gave us sick leave? NO! (huh!)

Soon may the vaccines come, 
To make our shoulders and biceps numb.
One day when the needles are done,
Outside our homes we'll go.

The government was ruled by greed
The science they all failed to heed,
The virus spread with the greatest of speed.
Travelling to and fro (huh!)

Soon may the vaccines come, 
To make our shoulders and biceps numb.
One day when the needles are done,
Outside our homes we'll go.

For twelve whole months or even more,
It ravaged homes of our seniors,
More killed by Covid than the war,
And variants do grow!

Soon may the vaccines come, 
To make our shoulders and biceps numb.
One day when the needles are done,
Outside our homes we'll go.

As far as I know, the fight's still on,
But shops aren't shut, and the lockdown's done,
The variants make cases not fall,
Double masks recommended for all!

Soon may the vaccines come, 
To make our shoulders and biceps numb.
One day when the needles are done,
Outside our homes we'll go.

Soon may the vaccines come, 
To make our shoulders and biceps numb.
One day when the needles are done,
Outside our homes we'll go.

Thoughts on Pitch Contests

Although I told myself I’d take a break from querying right now, I could resist participating in a pitch contest last week on Twitter.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, basically you use your 280 characters to sum up your book, including whatever hashtags apply to your story. Agents and editors go through the streams and like their favorite posts – each like is an invitation to query, as per whatever guidelines the agent/editor establishes.

Pitch contests can be a great chance to get your foot in the door with an agent who is otherwise closed to queries (or even just get a closer look from someone who is open), but they can also be a chance to get taken advantage of.

So, here is my advice for pitch contests/events:

Follow the rules – if it says pitch once an hour, or twice a day, do it. Don’t look for loopholes, don’t create fake accounts to get around the rules. All that does is clog up the feed and make it harder for tweets to get noticed. Plus, agents (and your fellow writers) will notice if you’re being a jerk, and that’s not the impression you want to make.

Lift up your other writers – Other writers are not your enemy. See a pitch you like? RT or QRT it (assuming the event allows it, some don’t). Follow the writer (on Twitter, not in real life, that’s creepy stalker talk). Tell the writer you think their story sounds awesome. Pitch contests and events can be discouraging, so it’s nice to let someone know you think their work is good. Oh, but don’t like their pitches – nothing is more disappointing than thinking you caught an agent’s eye, only to discover the like was a mistake.

Do your research – if you’re lucky enough to receive likes from agents or editors, make sure to check them out before sending in your query. For agents: do they charge a fee? (If so, run away). Do they have clients with book deals (and are any of those with Big 5 publishers, or just with publishers who accept open submissions?) If they don’t have clients because they’re new to the industry, check out their agency as a whole: anyone can call themselves an agent, it doesn’t mean they’ll have the connections and know-how to sell your book.

For editors/publishing companies, first, make sure this is the way you want to go. Small presses aren’t bad, but remember, once your book is published, it’s published. You can’t get an agent or a better deal for that book. Again, make sure they’re not asking for money. And, if you still want to go ahead, check out their other titles and see if they look good, and if they’re available for sale anywhere other than the publisher’s website.

In general, don’t be tempted to send to everyone who likes your pitch. The Twitterverse is full of scammers (and has a decent share of well-meaning but incompetent people too.)

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get likes – There are a lot of pitch events these days (seriously), and not many agents have the time to check in on all of them. And the agents that do can easily miss pitches in the constantly updating stream. Not getting likes does not mean you wrote a bad book.

Even if you don’t get a like, you can still query agents. Lots of people got their agents in the slush pile (that’s how I got my first agent!) so it’s not impossible.

Right, I think that’s it for advice. If you’re querying or pitching, I wish you the best of luck.

February Update

How is it that January 2021 lasted about 762 days, yet also New Year’s feels like it was last week?

Just me?

Right.

It’s felt really good to get back to writing this past month. I’ve managed to crank out 10,000 words/week on this new YA Fantasy/Fairy Tale WiP. If I can keep up this pace (*knock on wood*) I’ll have this first draft done by the end of February!

(Yeah, there’s still loads of revision to be done after that, but it’s a start and I’ll take it.)

I am really looking forward to hosting the Ottawa and Gatineau area SCBWI Get-Together on zoom this weekend. It’s been ages since I’ve hung out with my friendly neighbourhood writers and illustrators and I can’t wait to catch up with everyone (even if I’m a little sad I don’t have any writing career progress to share).

And…that’s about it, really. Our province is still officially locked down (although that seems to mean less here than it does in other countries), and we’ve been staying close to home, sticking to our one grocery shop/week and no in-person socializing (not even masked and distanced). It’s been extra cold lately too (well, actually kind of warm for January in Ottawa, but still too cold to comfortably spend much time outside: -15 to -25 C), so we’ve been doing lots of puzzles, and baking, and other indoor activities.

Well, I think that’s it except for my

Reading Stats:

YA Fantasy: 5

Short Story Anthology: 1

Adult Mystery: 1

January Total: 7

Year-to-Date: 7

Not a lot, compared to other years, but probably a side effect of being obsessed with my new WiP and wanting to spend every spare minute working on it, so I can’t complain.

Favourite Reads of 2020 (Part Two)

All right, here is the rest of the list of my favourite reads of last year. Be sure to check out Part One, if you haven’t already.

Empire of the Wild

by: Cherie Dimaline (Adult Fantasy) Orion Publishing Group, Ltd, 2020

Broken-hearted Joan has been searching for her missing husband, Victor, for almost a year – ever since he went missing on the night they had their first serious argument.One hung-over morning she is drawn to a revival tent in a nearby town – and there is Victor. Only he insists he is not Victor, but the Reverend Eugene Wolff, on a mission to bring his people to Jesus.With only two allies – her Johnny-Cash-loving, 12-year-old nephew Zeus, and Ajean, a foul-mouthed euchre shark with deep knowledge of the old Metis ways – Joan sets out to remind the Reverend Wolff of who he really is. If he really is Victor, his life and the life of everyone she loves, depends upon her success.

from Google Books

Parasite

by: Mira Grant (Adult Sci-Fi) Orbit, 2013

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite – a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system – even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives…and will do anything to get them.

from Goodreads

These Witches Don’t Burn

by: Isabel Sterling (YA Fantasy) Razorbill, 2019

Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Isabel Sterling’s delightful, suspenseful debut is equal parts sweet romance and thrilling mystery. With everything she loves on the line, Hannah must confront this murderous villain before her coven–and any chance she has with the new girl–is destroyed.

from Google Books

The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly

by: Jamie Pacton (YA Contemporary) Page Street Kids, 2020

Working as a wench ― i.e. waitress ― at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But the Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other wenches join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval―if they don’t get fired first.

from Goodreads

Akata Witch

by: Nnedi Okorafor (YA Fantasy) Viking Children’s, 2011

Akata Witch transports the reader to a magical place where nothing is quite as it seems. Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, twelve-year old Sunny is understandably a little lost. She is albino and thus, incredibly sensitive to the sun. All Sunny wants to do is be able to play football and get through another day of school without being bullied. But once she befriends Orlu and Chichi, Sunny is plunged in to the world of the Leopard People, where your worst defect becomes your greatest asset. Together, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi and Sasha form the youngest ever Oha Coven. Their mission is to track down Black Hat Otokoto, the man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children. Will Sunny be able to overcome the killer with powers stronger than her own, or will the future she saw in the flames become reality?

from Goodreads

Shadowshaper

by: Daniel Jose Older (YA Fantasy) Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “Lo siento” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

from Goodreads

Legendborn

by: Tracy Deonn (YA Fantasy) Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

from Goodreads

A Blade So Black

by: L.L. McKinney (YA Fantasy) Imprint, 2018

The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.

from Goodreads

Color Me In

by: Natasha Diaz (YA Contemporary) Delacorte, 2019

Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time.

Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but because she inadvertently passes as white, her cousin thinks she’s too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices African Americans face on a daily basis. In the meantime, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. But rather than take a stand, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent.

Only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces does she begin to realize she has her own voice. And choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she decide once for all who and where she is meant to be?

from Google Books

Cemetery Boys

by: Aiden Thomas (YA Fantasy) Swoon Reads, 2020

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

from Goodreads

Reverie

by: Ryan LaSala (YA Fantasy) Sourcebooks Fire, 2019

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.

from Goodreads

I Killed Zoe Spano

by: Kit Frick (YA Suspense) Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected–and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

from Goodreads

Mexican Gothic

by: Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Adult Gothic Horror) Del Rey, 2020

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. 

from Goodreads

Girl, Serpent, Thorn

by: Melissa Bashardoust (YA Fantasy) Flatiron Books, 2020

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster. 

from Goodreads

Gideon the Ninth

by: Tamsyn Muir (Adult SFF) Tor, 2019

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

from Goodreads

And that’s it for my top books of last year. Have any opinions on the ones listed? Want to tell me about your favourite read from 2020? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Favourite Reads of 2020 (Part One)

Well, the year might have been a dumpster fire, but at least I managed to read a few good good books (eventually, once my stress levels died down enough to let me concentrate again). So here, in no particular order, are my favourite reads from last year:

(Hmm, it looks like I can’t post cover images this year, so I guess you’ll have to look them up for yourselves.)

Fat Girl on a Plane

by: Kelly DeVos (YA Contemporary) Harlequin Teen, 2018

In the world of fashion, being fat is a cardinal sin.

Nothing about Cookie’s new life is turning out like she planned. When the fashion designer of the moment offers her what she’s always wanted—an opportunity to live and study in New York—she finds herself in a world full of people more interested in putting women down than dressing them up. Her designs make waves, but her real dream of creating great clothes for people of all sizes seems to grow more distant by the day.

from Google Books

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

by: Tomi Adeyemi (YA Fantasy) Henry Holt and Co., 2019

… the breathtaking sequel to Tomi Adeyemi’s ground-breaking West African-inspired fantasy Children of Blood and Bone.

After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too.

Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But with civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.

from Google Books

The Guinevere Deception

by: Kiersten White (YA Fantasy) Delacorte Press, 2019

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

from Google Books

Dread Nation

by: Justina Ireland (YA Historical Horror) Balzer + Bray, 2018

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

from Goodreads

Deathless Divide

by: Justina Ireland (YA Historical Horror) Balzer + Bray, 2020

The sequel to the New York Times bestselling epic Dread Nation is an unforgettable journey of revenge and salvation across a divided America.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodemus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears—as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by—and that Jane needs her too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive—even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

from Google Books

Infinity Sons

by: Adam Silvera (YA Fantasy) HarperCollins, 2020

Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures.

Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day.

Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.

Brotherhood, love, and loyalty will be put to the test, and no one will escape the fight unscathed.

from Google Books

Felix Ever After

by: Kacen Callender, (YA Contemporary) Balzer + Bray, 2020

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

from Goodreads

American Street

by: Ibi Zoboi, (YA Contemporary) Balzer + Bray, 2017

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

from Goodreads

Wicked Fox

by: Kat Cho (YA Fantasy) G.P. Putnam’s Sons Book for Young Readers, 2019

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl–he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to men. He’s drawn to her anyway. When he finds her fox bead, he does not realize he holds her life in his hands.

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous and reignite a generations-old feud . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

from Google Books

Eliza and her Monsters

by: Francesca Zappia (YA Contemporary) Greenwillow Books, 2017

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

from Goodreads

I’ll Be the One

by: Lyla Lee (YA Contemporary) Katherine Tegen Books, 2020

Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.

She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.

When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.

But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself. 

from Goodreads

Right, that’s it for now. Tune in next week for Part Two…

I’m Back/AKA January Check-In/AKA Year-End Wrap-up

Where to begin?

When I left off, our family had just bought a new home, and were preparing to move and sell our house. I’m happy to report that all went off with only a few minor hitches. (Like living without a refrigerator for a week due to a delivery mix-up, and discovering the new house was home to a bunch of mice who like to nom on silicone -why, yes, I am still bitter about the loss of one of my baking pans, thanks for asking.)

But our fridge was delivered a week before Christmas, and we seem to have the mouse-situation under control (at least in the kitchen). *Knocks on wood*

After putting in 12-14 hours a day of cleaning and renovating the old house, we were rewarded with a quick sale (seriously, one showing!), which was a blessing, as I was seriously worried about allowing people into my home during a pandemic.

I’m absolutely in love with the new house. Ok, it has some flaws (like the above-mentioned mice, and weird noises in the pipes, among others) but it also has a combination writing and craft room for me. That’s right, I no longer have to work at a desk in the dining room right next to my remote-schooling nine-year-olds!

Here’s a pic of my totally grown-up and mature writing desk:

I’ve been putting that new writing area to good use. Over the holidays, I had a flash of inspiration resulting in a book just begging to be written. So, I’ve put aside the Haunted Forest YA I was working on (and getting increasingly frustrated by) in November and started on a YA Fantasy/Fairy Tale. After three days I’m already at almost 5,000 words, and am itching to continue work.

The new house also gives us lots of space to hunker down for the next months as the pandemic rages on. Sadly, both my city and province are setting records for new cases, and this week has seen full ICUs, the opening of a field hospital, and the need for refrigerated trucks to handle morgue-overflow in our province. And, while our country’s leaders are promising to have every adult (who wants it) vaccinated by September, expert estimates based on our province’s current rate of vaccinations put that date in December…2030.

And that, pretty much brings you up to speed, except for my:

November & December Reading Stats:

-MG Fantasy (1)

-YA Thriller/Suspense (10)

-YA Gothic (1)

-YA Fantasy (2)

-YA Sci-Fi (/Fantasy?) (1)

-A Thriller (4)

-A Mystery (6)

-Re-Reads (3)

November & December Total: 25 (+3 Re-Reads)

2020 Total: 159 (+14 Re-Reads)

Not as good as last year’s total, but not bad considering the amount of time I was so stressed about the pandemic (as an asthmatic whose entire extended family is high-risk for one reason or another) I couldn’t focus enough to even try to listen to books.

Right, that’s it for now. Tune in next week to see my favorite reads of 2020.

Hiatus Announcement

So, a lot has happened since I wrote last week’s post.

Our family has vaguely been discussing moving houses in the next year, and seeing how the pandemic isn’t ending any time soon, we decided to go “see what’s on the market.”

Somehow that turned into us buying a house, which we’ll be moving into in the next month!

On top of packing up all our belongings, we also have to prepare our house for sale, adding a few coats of paint where needed, etc. I’ve been putting in 12-14 hours a day of packing, cleaning, and repairs.

Oh yeah, and preparing for Christmas on top of it all.

Needless to say, something’s got to give, and I’m afraid this blog is it. I’ve already given up any thought of writing until the new year, but I’m already feeling guilty for taking ten minutes out of packing to write this post.

Anyway, this is going to be my final post for this year. I’ll come back in January with my annual book recommendation posts, and to let you know how things are getting on.

I hope you have a happy holiday season, if you celebrate any of the ones between now and my return, and that you have a joyous New Year.

See you in 2021, friends.

Emotional Phases of Writing a Novel

This work in progress marks the sixth (? I think) novel I’ve written. And while some stories are better than others, I’m definitely beginning to pick up on a pattern for how I feel when I’m writing.

Starting a new novel is always exciting for me. New characters! New world! New problems to figure out! Everything is fresh and exciting.

But, at about the 20,000-word mark, the rose begins to lose its bloom. Suddenly, the story doesn’t feel exciting. Heck, it doesn’t even feel like something any reasonable person would ever want to read. I begin to question not just the story, but my ability as a writer.

It’d be easy to give up at that point.

(I think one of the reasons I like to draft during NaNoWriMo is that it gives me a reason to keep going. Once my competitive nature takes over, I can’t stop writing, or I risk “losing.”)

But when I push past that sticky middle section of the book, that’s when things start to feel good again.

I write in order, so once I get to the rising action and climax, writing becomes exciting again, as I want to know what happens. (Yes, I’m a plotter now, so technically I know what happens, but I don’t always know the exact way things are going to unfold.)

By the time I reach the resolution and denouement of the story…well, that can go one of two ways. Either I still love the book and can’t wait to revise it, or I hate it…and can’t wait to revise it.

(I guess technically there’s a third possible fate, reached by only one of my novels, which is: once finished, I realize the thing is a piece of garbage not worth my time to revise.)

The revision process is a whole separate journey that’s even more of an emotional roller coaster, depending on how messy my draft is. I hate it! I love! I want to throw my computer at a wall! It’s the best thing I’ve ever written! No one will ever want to read this!

I’m currently in the “I hate this!” phase of my WiP, which is discouraging. And it’s probably not helping that I’ve reduced my daily desired word count to 500 words (down from 1,000) due to an overload of chores/other things eating up my time this week.

On the other hand, I’m feeling pretty smug about my decision not to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. The added pressure would likely have catapulted me over my stress threshold.

So, how do you feel while drafting? Are you as confident on page 100 of a draft as you are on page 1? Do you start with a whimper and end with a bang? Are you a fellow passenger on the emotional Space Mountain? Let me know in the comments.

November Check-In

November?

*Double checks calendar*

Yup, definitely November.

Wow. This year has totally fluctuated between dragging and flying by.

The past few weeks have been full of stress from some personal/family health issues — nothing serious, but a bunch of minor things** all choosing to occur at once, as seems to be the way in 2020.

How stressed have I been? Well, this week I managed to make and eat tuna casserole without realizing I forgot to add the main ingredient: tuna. In my defense, I had to take the dog out twice while assembling it, and I had a feeling something was missing, but I didn’t realize what it was lacking until my daughter pointed it out (and started sobbing because I’d ruined her favorite meal). Sigh.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I was struggling to write while also trying to monitor my kids in remote school.

Well, I kept my promise to write in the mornings, and it’s been going great! I’ve been managing about 1,000 words/day (often before anyone is up, but sometimes I need to also write during their kids’ quieter work times).

With this new method, I should hit 20,000 words on my WiP by the time this publishes on Thursday!

I was tempted to try and do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November), however, that requires writing a little over 1,600 words/day, even on weekends, and I felt like that was too much pressure.

(Yes, I know I could do a modified NaNo, only aim for say 30,000 words, but I also know how competitive I get, and I didn’t want the added stress right now. So I’m going to stick with my goals of 1,000 words/day on weekdays, and see how far I get.)

By doing my writing early, I’ve also managed to free up time to get some extra chores done. It’s been laundry palooza at our house lately, and I’ve been trying to declutter different parts of the house each week, as we start to think about maybe moving within the next year or so.

This past month also included making Halloween costumes. It was a bummer not to be able to host our usual costume party (but, you know, pandemic), and Trick or Treating was cancelled in our city, but we managed to have a decent time.

We spent Halloween day carving pumpkins, did two candy hunts (one indoors, the other at great-grandma’s house, outdoors, after dark – Thanks, GG!), introduced our kids to Beetlejuice, had a dinner of party food appetizers (since we couldn’t have the party), and walked the neighborhood in costume twice.

Our family did a Mandalorian theme, and I went as The Momdalorian:

Since we couldn’t shell out, I hung some candy on our “Trick or Tree” for any kids were out looking for candy. There weren’t too many families going door-to-door this year, but 15 of our candy bags got taken.

Right, now onto this month’s

Reading Stats

-MG Fantasy (1)

-YA Fantasy (7)

-YA Urban Fantasy (1)

-A UF (1)

-A Mystery (1)

October Total : 11

Year-to-Date: 134 (+11 Re-Reads)

**[Reminder that I’m in Canada, so the U.S. election isn’t as stressful for me as it is for so many of my friends and acquaintances. Also, I’m writing this on Monday, so my secondhand stress levels might be much higher by the time this gets published, depending on what happens this week.]

Things Are Getting Tense

Verb tense that is.

*insert rim shot here*

Of all the books I’ve written, there’s one thing that’s remained the same: the tense. I’ve used past tense for all of them, no matter whether writing in first- or third-person narration.

There’s something about past tense that feels more natural to me to tell a story. After all, it’s how we usually recount our day (today I had coffee, I got the kids ready for school, and I worked on Halloween costumes).

It’s especially good if you’re the kind of writer that breaks the fourth wall. Past tense worked best for my Urban Fantasy, because my narrator likes to throw in asides, as if she’s retelling the story for the reader.

But for this new YA I’m working on, I’ve decided to try something different: present tense.

There’s something more immediate about writing in present tense. More urgent. It’s good for action-filled stories (like The Hunger Games). It’s the tense we use for synopses, and recounting exciting movies (“…and then Wonder Woman drops her cloak and climbs out of the trench and crosses No-Man’s Land!”)

Present tense can also add a sense of suspense. In a story told in first-person past tense almost always ends with the MC surviving (after all, they wouldn’t be able to tell the the story, if they didn’t). But with present tense, there’s no guarantees, especially if there are multiple narrators.

Of course, it’s not been easy sailing. At least once a chapter I realize I’ve slipped into the more familiar past tense and have to go back and correct my mistakes (I’m sure I’ll find even more when I actually come back and edit thoroughly).

Even with that, though, I’m loving the change.

So what do you think? What’s your favorite tense to write in? What about read? Does the style of narration (first- vs third-person) affect your opinion? Let me know in the comments.

Struggling

Let’s face it, this whole year (well, at least from March onwards) has been been a struggle.

Writing in the first half of the pandemic was basically impossible for me. My brain was stressed past the max, and absolutely refused to string words together in any meaningful way.

Eventually the stress went down (not coincidentally along with the local caseload), and writing resumed. I finished revising my Adult Urban Fantasy and started querying it.

But ever since school re-started, it’s been a real struggle to get words down.

I’m used to writing in silence, but these days that’s hard to come by. While my eleven-year-old spends most of her day up in her room, working on her own, my nine-year-olds are a different story.

The twins share a video feed and it’s constantly running in the background so I can keep half an ear out and listen to instructions for when they’ve stopped paying attention (much easier than sending emails to the teacher to clarify like I did the first few days). Add the times I’m needed to play tech support and help them with spelling, and I’m not getting much uninterrupted time at all.

But it’s more than just the distractions.

It’s also trying to squeeze in time to do regular chores (not to mention the extra deeper-clean ones I’ve been trying to tick off my list), including making hot meals ready for the minute class ends, so we can eat in the limited time they get for break (don’t get me wrong, I’m loving not having to pack lunches, but there’s definitely more of a time crunch on this new method).

Speaking of which: *leaves to go heat up leftovers for lunch*

*Returns an hour later*

Where was I? Right, having trouble getting writing done.

On top of all of that, there’s the stress of trying to make my kids happy in this dumpster fire of a year. There’s so much we have to say no to (Thanksgiving with their grandparents, in-person school, Trick-or-Treating, among the latest) that I’m doing my best to say yes to everything that we *can* do.

Which means if someone requests a special meal, or baked treat, I’ll do my best to get it done, even if it means sacrificing multiple hours of what should be writing time.

And yet somehow I can’t seem forgive myself for not getting enough writing done. I feel like a failure because the words aren’t coming.

I’m not giving up. But I’ll probably have to start trying to write in the mornings again, before my kids get up (even if that eats into my only peaceful alone time). Because it’s really hard to string together words when half my brain is listening to a grade four math lesson.

What about you? Are you having trouble writing or breezing along as usual? Let me know in the comments.

Halloween 2020

As with everything else this year, Halloween is going to look a little different. Our city cancelled Trick or Treating over a month ago, we’re not doing our usual party (sob!), and since our kids are in remote school, they don’t even get to dress up for class.

However, we’re not letting it dampen our spirits. Right now our plan is to wander our neighbourhood in costume before coming home for a candy scavenger hunt inside the house.

Depending on the situation in our city (and the weather), we may also hang candy from our tree (which is right beside the street) with a sign that says “Trick or Tree!”

If you’re still trying to figure out a costume, here are some pandemic-friendly suggestions I came up with, whether you need a costume for your child for in-person school, or one for yourself for a distanced Halloween celebration. Here are 10+ costumes that cover your face (for optimal protection, add a second layer of fabric over the mouth and nose, or wear a cloth or disposable mask under a helmet.).

Spiderman/SpiderGwen/Miles Morales/Any Spider-person from Into the SpiderVerse (except Peni Parker, although you could go as her robot, I guess)

Rorshach from Watchmen

Deadpool

Iron Man and/or Rescue

The Winter Soldier (from Marvel comics & movies)

Lego Ninjago Characters (including Master Wu, if you hide a mask under his beard)

The Mandalorian/a Mandalorian/Boba Fett (Star Wars universe)

Star Wars baddies (Darth Vader/Kylo Ren/Captain Phasma)

Shadowweaver from She-Ra (new or old)

Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come from A Christmas Carol (this photo from Muppet’s Christmas Carol)

Astronaut

Marvin the Martian from Looney Tunes

Have suggestions to add to the list? Put them in the comments.

Whatever you choose to do this Halloween, I hope you do it safely and have boatloads of fun!

Feeling Thankful

As you may or may not know, this weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving. So, in the spirit of that, and because this year’s been such a dumpster fire, I thought I’d make a list of things I’m thankful for (in no particular order).

(Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out bullet points on this new awful system, so apologies for the messy layout.)

This year I am thankful:

-for my family’s health

-for my husband (and his support, even though we don’t always agree on things)

-for my kids (I’m thankful they’re old enough to understand what’s going on, young enough I can still help with schoolwork, that they play well with each other, and have each other to socialize with, and that they’re just coping so well with all the awfulness going on)

-that my husband’s job allows him to work from home

-that we can remote school our kids

-for my kids’ teachers

-to be querying again (well, not that I *have* to, but that I finished another project and am able to)

-for the internet (seriously, can you imagine what this pandemic would’ve been like 30 years ago? No Zoom, no Netflix, no easy goods ordering & delivery)

-for reconnecting with my friends (the one good thing to come out of this pandemic has been establishing virtual girls’ nights every other Friday with my best friends of 30-odd years)

-for managing to sneak in a vacation in January before the pandemic shut everything down

-for chocolate (seriously, I don’t think I’d have got through the past few months without it)

And for a bunch of other things I’m sure I’m forgetting.

Hope you have an excellent (and safe) Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it, and just a safe and happy weekend if you don’t.

October Update

Ok, so apparently WordPress updated their system, and I’m having trouble figuring out the new features, so hopefully this post ends up legible (and if anyone knows how to do bullet points in the new system, please let me know in the comments!)

Anyway.

Remote school has officially started for my kids, so that’s where most of my time has been going lately. There’s been a bit of a learning curve for all of us, but I’m starting to figure out when I can try and write.

The best and biggest news is that I actually started on my WiP! (*Insert Muppet flail here*)

It’s definitely going slower than usual (partly because I’m getting constantly interrupted with requests for help from my kids). But this is the new normal, and I just have to adjust to it.

The other weird thing is that this is the first WiP I’ve worked on where I didn’t know going in what my first scene was going to be. So far I’ve written two or three different intro scenes, and none of them are grabbing me. I have a rough idea of what I want in the first scene (establish the MC’s character, her wants, and intro the magical/mysterious feature – so people know it’s a fantasy novel going in).

This is throwing me off more than it should, but I can’t help it. Normally when I write, the first scene is already in my head. And in all the books I’ve written, I don’t think I’ve ever changed that first scene (beyond minor tweaks). Now I’m all over the place.

I’m probably going to write even more versions of an intro scene before I decide on something. Either that or skip it completely and move on to a future scene (although that way can result in lots of rewrites if I miss something essential.)

Anyway. That’s most of my update. Life these days is essentially figuring a way to work around my kids’ school schedules, and trying to stay safe from the ever-rising Covid cases in our city.

I haven’t been reading much this month, either, although I will say, there’s been a marked increase in the quality of the books I’ve been reading.

September Reading Stats

-YA Fantasy (3)

-YA Contemporary (1)

-YA Historical Mystery (1)

-Adult Urban Fantasy (2)

September Total: 7

Year-To-Date: 123 (+11 Re-Reads)

Impressions of a Fourth Grade Class

As a writer of children’s stories, I have found it fascinating listening in on my kids’ remote class this past week. So for anyone else out there who wants to know what it’s like inside a virtual class these days, I give you the following transcript based on my impressions of the class.

*names have been changed (as have some of the details) to protect the innocent

**I have always had enormous respect for teachers, but these last few days have increased it tenfold. Not only do they have a seemingly unending supply of patience, but they’re doing a lot with almost no notice and constantly changing requirements.

Teacher: Good morning and welcome to class. Just so you know, we don’t have a French teacher assigned to us yet, so instead of French this afternoon, we’ll be doing Art.

Riley: Can I go to the bathroom?

Teacher: Yes, but in future, maybe try to go before class. Okay. So I’m going to start by showing you how to log in to… Yes, Rylee F., you have a question?

Rylee F.: Who’s our French teacher?

Teacher: Right, well, as I just said, we don’t have one assigned yet, so we’re going to do Art this afternoon instead of French. Okay, so to log into the math site you need to-

Ryerson: Can I get a drink of water?

Teacher: Yes, but in future please bring a water bottle to your desk, or drink before class starts. Now, math. In your classroom, click on Math.

Kayden: I’m not in a classroom. I’m at home.

Teacher: Right. We are all at home. But on your computer you have a page called your classroom. It’s where you got the link to this meeting. Can everybody see that? Riley B. Do you have a question?

Riley B.: Do we have French today?

Teacher: No, we don’t have a French teacher yet. We’ll be doing Art this afternoon. Let’s try and focus on getting into the math site. Has everyone clicked on Math?

Riley B., Riley S., Ryleigh, Kayden & Caden: NO!

Teacher: Ok. I’ll just give everyone another moment to click on Math…

Cayden: I don’t like Math.

Rileigh: I’m really good at Math.

Teacher: Ok. Let’s try to keep our microphones muted unless I call on you. Okay, so if everyone has clicked on Math, you should see a link to the Math site we’re going to use. Kaden C, you have a question?

Kaden C: I don’t see a link.

Teacher: Okay, are you in Math?

Kaden C.: No, I’m in my bedroom.

Teacher: On your computer. Go to the Classroom, then click Math, then click the link. Ryerson?

Ryerson: Can I go to the bathroom?

Teacher: Yes. Okay, is everyone on the link? Right. So next you need to find your name and click on it, and enter the password that was on the Math page. Yes, Rileigh M.?

Rileigh M.: My password doesn’t work.

Teacher: Make sure you’re using the right name and that you didn’t mistype the password. Cayden D. you have a question?

Cayden D.: Can I go to the bathroom.

Teacher. Yes. Okay class, how about if you need the bathroom, you just write that in the chat?

Rileigh M.: I got in!

Teacher: Excellent. Right, so once you’ve logged into the site, I want you to do five questions, so I can see where you are in Math.

Rylee T.: Can I just watch You Tube instead?

Teacher: No, it’s Math time. I need you to do the five questions.

Rylee T: I don’t like Math. I’m just going to watch You Tube.

Raleigh: My favourite YouTube is Minecraft videos.

Teacher: Ok, gang, it’s not time to talk about YouTube, it’s time for Math. I’m going to give you fifteen minutes to do your questions…Yes, Riley B.?

Riley B.: Where do we find the link?

Teacher: The link is under Math, in your Classroom section on your computer. Do you see it?

Riley B.: Yes.

Teacher: Okay, are you in now?

Riley B.: Yes.

Teacher: All right. So we’re going to take the next fifteen minutes to answer five questions. Does anyone have any questions before we do that? Yes, Caden N.?

Caden N.: Do we have French today?

 

And…scene.

I’m telling you, folks, teachers are worth their weight in gold. If you know one, thank them…and maybe consider dropping off a big box of chocolates.

 

Plotting Away

Well, I’m finally feeling a bit better, and am back to working on plotting my next book when I can squeeze in the time.

When I first started writing, I was definitely a pantser. I would come up with a basic story idea, but otherwise made everything up as I went along, letting the story take me where it would. In some ways it was freeing, but it also resulted in meandering tales that didn’t exactly make sense, populated by flat characters.

So then I started plotting.

My first attempts only focused on plot. You might think that makes sense, given how it’s called plotting. And it certainly is helpful to know where you want the story to go and how it moves from Point A to Point B, etc. But only focusing on the storyline still left me with flat characters.

It took a while to realize that for me, the best stories come when I pre-plan character and plot together. Knowing what I want my main character’s journey to be, knowing what they’re missing in their life, what secrets they’re hiding, etc. and then marrying those things to the storyline is the best way I’ve found to come up with a good story *and* rich characters.

By knowing my characters inside and out, not only can I make plot choices based on how they would react, but I can also up the ante by introducing aspects that will specifically affect them (eg. having a character who’s afraid of being abandoned by loved ones left by their loved one at a crucial point).

I also thinks it helps make the villain of a story more believable if I know their motivation before I ever start writing.

I’m not quite ready to start writing this YA yet, but I’m slowly and surely filling in the little story and character gaps I need to set me up for a good writing experience.

Good News and Bad…

Good news first: I got the results of my Covid test, and I am negative! Yay!

The bad news? I’m still obviously fighting *something* (summer cold? allergies + fibro flare? something else entirely? who knows?) so I’m taking this week off to rest some more.

Hope to have a writing-related post next week.

Good luck for everyone heading back to school & all their families.

September Check-In

Well, that was a quick two weeks.

Somehow, despite the progression of time, we’re no closer to my kids’ back-to-school start (it keeps getting pushed back thanks to last minute changes at the ministry) so that’s fun. (Not.)

I’ve been plugging away at chores (repairing dog-damaged walls, repainting rooms, etc) while listening to audiobooks and brainstorming for my YA. (Note for future: always check whether the paint you’re working with is water- or oil-based before trying to clean your brushes. And if you do, say, end up with hands completely coated in thick black oil-based paint, vegetable oil is a miracle cure.)

On top of that, I’ve been panicking about possibly having having Covid. For the last week I’ve been fighting symptoms that could be the dreaded disease. Of course, they could also be allergies combined with symptoms of my other chronic illnesses (migraines, IBS, fibromyalgia). But we found out we were exposed to someone who likely had Covid, so off I went to get tested.

Still, it wasn’t exactly fun to show up at the testing site and say yes to basically every Covid symptom except nausea (I haven’t lost my sense of taste or smell either, but they didn’t ask that).

So, now I wait for results. And keep my fingers crossed that’s it’s nothing serious. (And go back on my daily asthma inhaler, because whatever it is that’s bothering me has done a number on my lungs).

Either way, I’m trapped at home for the next two weeks. Which is fine, because all I want to do is nap.

Anyway, that’s my update. Hopefully I’ll have good news to share next week. (If you’re anxious to know my test results before then, I’m sure I’ll post them on Twitter, so follow me there.)

August Reading Stats

  • YA Fantasy (4)
  • YA Historical Fiction (2)
  • YA Contemporary (1)
  • MG Fantasy (1)
  • Adult Urban Fantasy (3)
  • Adult Mystery (1)
  • Adult Sci-Fi (1)

August Total: 13

Year-To-Date: 116 (+ 11 Re-Reads)

Summer Break

Hi Everyone,

So, I know last week I said I’d write about plotting, but time went all wibbly-wobbly, and I don’t have a post ready.

Rather than try to scrounge something together last minute, I’m going to take the next couple of weeks off blogging to enjoy what’s left of the summer (in a pandemic-safe manner, of course), and finish up the home improvements I’ve been working on, before starting five hours a day of helping my kids with distance learning.

I wish you all a safe, happy, healthy end of summer, and I’ll see you in September!

Now What?

My Adult Urban Fantasy manuscript is officially out in the querying world, which leads to the question: Now what?

What do I write next?

So far, I’ve been filling my time with more deep cleaning and minor house repairs – not to mention preparing for Back-to-(remote/virtual)-School. I’ve even thoroughly cleaned and organized my desk (Hooray for procrasti-cleaning!)

What I really want to write is the next book in the series of the manuscript I’m querying, but I *know* that’s a terrible idea. Since there’s no guarantee I’ll land an agent (let alone publisher), there’s absolutely no point writing the sequel to a book that may never exist.

I did put some time into writing a rough synopsis for the next book, and I have an idea of where I want the series to go, just in case an agent asks, but starting in on the next book is just not a good plan.

So instead I’ve been pouring over my file of story ideas.

And I think I’ve found something.

It’s actually an idea I came up with for my Mage-series, except I’ve never been able to figure out where it would fall, or how it would work with those characters. But I kept it, thinking maybe it could be a short story one day (despite my absolute inability to write short stories).

And now I think it’s taking on a life of its own.

So, it looks like the next book I write will be a YA (Contemporary) Fantasy about a haunted forest.

I’m a little worried, because right after I made the decision, I saw someone on Twitter remark that haunted forests are going to be the next trend (based on book announcements), but I’m hoping my idea has enough differences to make it stand out.

So now I get the very fun job of plotting out my characters and storyline. It’s great, because I can brainstorm while cleaning (although it does mean I’m paying less attention to my audiobooks).

I’m already itching to start writing. The first paragraph dances in my head at night (don’t worry, I will write it down. I’m not going to risk it evaporating before I’m ready to start writing for real.) But I know from past experience, the manuscript will be stronger if I approach it with a plan.

And so I plan. (More info on what that looks like next week.)

What about you? What stage are you at in your writing? What are you working on? Are you a plotter or a pantser (or somewhere in between – a plantser?)? Let me know in the comments…

 

August Check-In

Wow, August already.

Writing a check-in post for this month feels weird, because, to be honest, I’m not exactly certain where July went.

The stress of the pandemic is definitely getting to me. As our city opens up more and the schools prepare to reopen (with only the barest minimum of “plans”) it feels like it’s only a matter of time until cases start ballooning again (more than they already are in my city).

We’re still waiting to hear details from our school board, but it’s looking likely we’ll be choosing the distance learning option this year. Since there’s no plan to reduce class sizes, it feels like not only the best way to keep our family safe, but the best way to help reduce the number of kids physically present at our school.

There are no easy choices this year, for school or anything else, and I feel like I’ve turned into Chidi from The Good Place agonizing over ramifications of every little decision. (For instance, I haven’t had Starbucks in almost 5 months, because it feels like such a selfish decision – since I’m the only coffee drinker in the house – to expose our family to the possibility of Covid, just so I can get my peppermint mocha fix.)

As if that wasn’t stressful enough, I’ve also been dealing with a sick dog and the discovery of mice in my house. The necessary cleaning required by those things sparked a major cleaning/home repair binge, which is somehow both an outlet for, and creator of, you guessed it, stress.

And, of course, on top of all that I started querying again.

So, uh, yeah. I’m wound a little tightly these days.

But I’m trying to do better. We drove 5 hours without stopping to visit my family for the first time since March, which provided a nice change of scenery. We’ve arranged a few socially distanced get-togethers with friends over the upcoming weeks.

And I’ve been continuing to up my baking game (this week’s experiment was a Genoise sponge with a mirror glaze – not perfect, but at least I think I know what to do better next time).

Well, I guess that’s it for this month’s check-in. Hope you’re all hanging in okay out there.

July Reading Stats:

  • YA Contemporary (3)
  • YA Fantasy (2)
  • A Mystery (2)
  • A Urban Fantasy (2)

July Total: 9

Year-to-Date: 103 (+ 11 Re-Reads)

Back in the Querying Trenches

I have mixed feelings about querying agents again. I mean, besides the obvious, “ugh, querying” ones.

On the one hand, I’m excited and proud to finally be done this manuscript. It took me way longer than normal due to my migraines and fibromyalgia (which are now mostly under control *knocks on wood*), so it feels like a major accomplishment to have something out there. On top of that, I think it’s a really good story, and I have faith agents will see that.

On the other hand, the mere fact that I’m querying again feels like a giant step backwards in some ways. Because I have both been here and done this, and I even had a book published, and doing it all again feels like some kind of sadistic Groundhog Day -level of punishment.

But I’m hardly the first writer needing to re-query partway through my career. I just need to suck it up and get on with it.

I actually really like writing query letters, and I think mine is pretty strong this time around. You can find my advice on them here and here. I even managed to find some comp titles this time, something I struggled with for my MG manuscript. (Julie Kenner’s Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series meets Kim Harrison’s The Hollows, if you’re interested.)

So, now it’s just a matter of waiting. Querying is an incredibly slow process during regular times, I can’t even begin to imagine how long it will take during a pandemic.

Maybe it’s a good thing I’ve developed a stress-baking habit (which is currently being fueled by my kids’ addiction to The Great British Baking Show.) At least I’ll have lots of goodies to chomp on while I wait.

Pandemic + School = Disaster

Yeah, I know, another Covid-related post. I promise next week’s will be about writing. But the things I’m writing about here *do* affect my ability to write, considering I’m the one in charge of distance learning with the kids in our house, and I can’t write when I’m helping with schoolwork.

(Also, the whole being terrified of getting sick and dying-thing really interferes with my ability to concentrate.)

There are no good answers when it comes to school this year.

We’re still waiting on our school board to come out with its official plan, but we’ve been warned we’ll have about a week after they announce it to decide whether our kids will be attending or staying home for distance learning.

Personally, I’m leaning hard toward keeping them home, since we have high-risk family members and the privilege to do so (I’m a stay-at-home parent, who writes when I can, and my three kids have each other to socialize with.)

But even then, it’s a hard call. My kids could do with hanging out with kids they’re not related to (if we keep them home we’re going to have to arrange regular social distanced playdates, something we’ve been lax on), and distance learning last year did not exactly go smoothly.

Plus there’s the added factors that my two of my kids were waiting on assessments for specialized learning plans, *and* the fact that this would be my daughter’s last year at this school (which she’s attended since pre-K), and if she doesn’t go back, she may never see some of those kids in person again, as kids go off to different middle schools.

But I just can’t see how in-school classes can be safe.

There’s enough evidence about Covid-19 ‘s ability to spread indoors that our city has instituted a mandatory mask policy for all indoor spaces. However, that policy specifically excludes schools and day cares, and most of the boards in our province that have presented their plans so far, have said masks will not be mandatory inside classrooms (you know, that spot where kids will sit around breathing the same air all day).

Even if masks are made mandatory, it’s doubtful everyone will wear them properly (considering the number of adults I see with their noses hanging out) and the kids will still need to remove them to eat.

Masks or no masks, the next step is keeping kids separate. Our classes have shared tables instead of individual desks, which makes distancing near impossible, even if they reduce the numbers to 15/room as is being suggested.

As an alternative, some boards are suggesting splitting the kids into cohorts – groups of kids they’re allowed to get within 6 feet of…which doesn’t sound great to me? Aside from the logistical nightmare of supervising and maintaining those cohorts, if they split into groups of 5, that makes the up-close exposure for my family 7 kids minimum (assuming they group my twin boys together), and that’s not counting the fact that some kids have siblings who will be in close contact with another 4 kids, etc.

One of the reasons for cohorting (besides having to do it because of lack of space) is for social/emotional reasons, so the kids can be close to their friends. And with younger kids, I suppose it might work (assuming you could keep them to only that group – which is a whole other matter). But for middle school aged kids? What happens if your entire friend group, except you, is cohorted together? Or if you’re put with your bully? What if you’re put with your friends and then you have a fight? What if you’re put with the kid who’s been writing you love poems for the past two years and won’t take no for an answer?

And, worst of all, what happens to those social circles when one kid develops symptoms?

Next is the hallway traffic, which can be helped by taking each class through the halls separately, but still need to account for the coathooks/boot benches (which currently require the entire class to stand shoulder-to-shoulder while changing out of and into outdoor gear).

Then there’s recess.

Kids need to run around. But if classes have separate recesses, supervision will be an issue (since teachers need breaks too). And supervision will be imperative – since Covid-19 makes bullying so much easier (who needs to punch someone when you can just threaten to cough on them?) Schools are going to need strong policies that are backed up with disciplinary action.

And while many people advocating for in-person school are citing a study that said kids are low-risk for death, complications, and spread, new evidence is coming to light to the contrary. Israel’s second wave is being blamed on school openings, children have been developing serious conditions post-Covid (and that’s just the one we know about – some viruses like Chicken Pox and Herpes stay dormant for years, popping up decades later to produce secondary infections. We have no idea what the long-term effects of Covid-19 are going to be), and a new study shows that children over 10 are just as likely to spread the virus as adults.

But even if that first study had been correct, it ignores all the adults in school system: teachers, custodians, office staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc.

Even if those adults can keep physically distanced from each other (no eating in the staff room or quiet discussions with other staff) and the kids (no applying bandaids, comforting sad or sick children, or just teaching up close and personal), they’re also still breathing the same air (in notoriously badly ventilated buildings) – not to mention using the same restroom facilities.

Which brings us to cleaning.

Our school board has announced funding for 16 extra custodians. For the whole school board. Our classrooms don’t have hot water, and last year were seldom supplied with soap or paper towels (but that’s okay, because the kids weren’t allowed to wash up after recess/before eating anyway).

So, if hygiene, sanitation, and ventilation are a bit sketchy, then the next best plan is to keep the virus out of the schools, right?

Well, it’s not that easy.

According to our province, parents are responsible for keeping sick kids home. But if you’ve ever been inside a school, you know how well that works. First off, you can’t always tell what symptoms are the result of a bad night’s sleep or allergies, and what’s something more serious. I’ve certainly sent groggy kids to school, only to get a call an hour or two later telling me they’ve spiked a fever or thrown up.

Plus, Covid-19 symptoms are pretty broad. Are parents expected to (or going to) keep their children home every time one has a scratchy throat or sniffly nose? What about their siblings? Can one child go to school if their sibling is potentially showing symptoms?

And that doesn’t even cover the parents who will send sick kids intentionally, because they *need* to go to work. (My city’s daily case count has doubled since last week, and almost half the cases are being blamed on adults working while sick. If people will go to work sick, they’ll definitely send sick kids to school.)

And even if we managed to keep anyone with any kind of symptom home, there’s still the little matter of pre- and asymptomatic transmission.

Which brings us to the question: what happens when (not if) somebody at a school tests positive for Covid-19?

I would assume the whole class gets sent home for 14 days, along with any bus mates, teachers, bus drivers, etc that came in contact with the infected person (according to Toronto Public Health, anyone exposed is to self-isolate themselves for 14 days, by staying in their house and away from other household members – including the recommendation to use a separate bathroom – which will be really easy to do with elementary-aged children, I’m sure.)

But does that extend to siblings? If my daughter’s class was exposed, I’d likely keep my sons home too, knowing how quickly germs spread in our house, but will everyone? What about the adults? Should parents of an exposed child continue to go out to work and grocery shop as normal? Or are they also under a 14 day lockdown?

What about the teachers who’ve covered more than one class (and despite the province’s assurances that teacher interactions will be limited, someone is going to need to cover prep-time and lunch breaks)?  If a teacher who covered three classes was exposed in one of those classes, do all three classes isolate? Or only if that teacher tests positive/shows symptoms?

What are the rules for secondary exposure? If someone in my sons’ class isn’t yet sick, but was exposed (say, at day care) does the whole class stay home? Or do they wait and see if the student from class develops symptoms, and only stay home then? What if someone in a student’s household tests positive (or even is waiting on test results)? Are they allowed to continue attending school and potentially infect the whole class?

I just don’t see how schools won’t lead to more outbreaks. With our numbers in Ontario (and Ottawa) back on the rise, in-person school feels risky.

On the other hand, keeping everyone home (especially without paid leave) isn’t a great option, either. Parents need to work. Child abuse is going unnoticed. Kids’ mental health is suffering. And children who rely on breakfast programs are going hungry.

But I can’t help but believe if everyone who *can* keep their kids home chose to do distance learning this year, maybe we’d be able to lighten the load for those who need to attend. If distance learning could reduce the student body by even thirty percent, it’d shrink the need for more teachers and classrooms, and still allow space for physical distancing.

That requires a good distance learning, program, though.

No one was ready to switch to emergency distance learning last year, and it showed. But this year, we know distance learning will be needed, so planning should start now.

Boards should establish board-wide programs to be run by teachers too high-risk to be inside classrooms. Those courses could function both for those students who elect to do distance learning full time, and those who need coverage during a 14-day isolation period, when kids are sent home. This would also cover the eventuality of a teacher becoming ill – because there’s no way someone fighting Covid-19 will be able to run distance learning for their class.

Whatever our school boards announce, and whether our family personally chooses distance learning or in-person classes, one thing is for certain: school this year will be anything but “normal.”

 

 

 

Encouraging Mask Usage

This rant has been a few weeks in the making (it started as a Twitter thread), and I’m happy to say I’m already seeing some progress since I first started having these thoughts.

If you’re wondering why I’m so obsessed with Covid-19, you can check out last week’s post.

I’m not here to convince you about the science of masks. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, so you probably shouldn’t listen to me, even if I did. (However, if you’re curious, feel free to check out what the Mayo clinic, the University of California (SF), the WHO, the CDC, and the Canadian Government all say about them.)

Basically, they all agree that masks can help stop pre- and asymptomatic people from unknowingly spreading the virus through droplets (anyone who’s actually sick should be staying home). Are masks perfect germ-stoppers? No. Are they better than nothing? Heck yeah!

So, the trick now is to actually get people to wear them.

Some areas (including my city) have instituted mandatory mask policies, but without enforcement (case in point, on my 10 minute trip to a pharmacy last week, when a customer walked in maskless, the cosmetician called out to him twice, but did nothing when he ignored her and kept walking. He was then served at the cash with no argument. But considering the pharmacy technician wore her mask under her nose, and the pharmacist/owner had his under his chin, I’m guessing it’d be hard for the staff to enforce the policy on others).

And don’t even get me started on the people who refuse to wear a mask because “freedom.” (Is it infringing on your freedom when a store makes you wear a shirt? How about the laws against needlessly shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre? Or smoking inside a building?)

So if mandatory policies don’t work, what can we do?

Easy. We need to make wearing them cool. Moreover, we need to make choosing** not to wear one a social disaster.

How, you ask?

Well, to start: celebrities. I get that most of them are bunkering down in their mansions, but if they have time to film feel good music videos and Princess Bride remakes, they can post a pic or two of themselves in masks. Instagram should be flooded by mask selfies and profile pics. (Shout out to Mark Hamill, who is constantly posting old movie stills of himself with masks photoshopped on, and the children’s literature community who’ve been posting mask selfies under the hashtag #KidlitForMasks.)

But I want to see more. Some people think masks are unmanly? A few pics of The Rock, Joe Manganiello, and John Cena wearing them in bodybuilding mags would shoot that down pretty quick.

Add to that, posts by gorgeous celebrities about how hot they find people who look out for others by wearing masks.

And if a few more celebrities could get “caught” wearing masks by the paparazzi like Chris Pine did (thus making him my new favorite of the Chrises) it’d go a long way to influencing public opinion.

Next, the fashion magazines need to get involved. This year’s hottest accessory is definitely a mask. Every photo shoot should include masked models. Designers should be jumping at the chance to sell ridiculously priced face coverings with a their name on them.

Not only that, I want to see articles on accessorizing (should your mask match your outfit, or just compliment it? What are basic mask colors that go with any outfit?) Let’s have articles about maximizing your eye makeup, and how to remove foundation stains from fabric masks. Skin care tips for if your mask makes you break out.

On top of all that, we need PSAs.

You may have seen this Twitter post:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThis is the kind of thinking we need. (Seriously, thirty years later, and I still chop my plastic rings into confetti, for fear of strangling sea animals.)

Let’s get a catchy tag line. The “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” of masks. (I’ve heard “mask it or casket” – but we can do better. I’m partial to “Don’t be an A**, wear a mask,” even if it doesn’t quite rhyme.)

Let’s face it (see what I did there?), we’re going to be living with Covid-19 for at least another year, and that means living with masks. The sooner we find a way to make them wanted and not just needed, the better off our society will be.

**I really mean the act of choosing not wear one for “personal freedom” reasons, NOT just the act of not wearing one. Obviously no one should have to disclose their medical history to prove they don’t need a mask. If we can make the phrase “I won’t wear a mask” the social equivalent of farting in a crowded room, then maybe the only people not wearing them will be the people who physically can’t, thus making the world a safer place for all of us.

mask selfie

Another Covid Rant

Yeah, I know. But there’s a reason I won’t stop harping on these things.

I have asthma. So does my husband. That puts both of us into the high risk category. I also have a couple of chronic illnesses which (as far we know) don’t seem to raise my risk for Covid, but if the ICUs start getting packed and patients are triaged, they’ll put me at the bottom of the list for a bed.

I’ve had pneumonia before, had to sleep sitting up so I wouldn’t drown overnight in my own lungs. And, thanks to a nasty early-spring allergy, I spent most of February and March on inhalers just to be able to catch my breath.

So, yeah, I’m worried about catching Covid. Worried about dying. About the possibility of my husband dying. About my kids growing up without one (or both) of their parents. Worried about the fact that even “mild” (in Covid terms this covers everything that doesn’t result in a hospital stay) and asymptomatic cases are being left with permanent lifelong conditions that may have dire consequences down the road.

And the only thing I can do to battle this nebulous threat is limit my family’s exposures. So I do.

Even though our city has a low case count, almost 50% of the cases we do have are a result of community spread. So my family is continuing to only do essential shops and keeping at least 6ft away from everyone outside our bubble.

I have been accused of living in fear, but I would much rather live in fear than die of over-confidence.

Hmm…this was supposed to be a rant about encouraging mask usage. Sorry, I just get really emotional thinking about the ways this virus could destroy my family.

I *do* have thoughts on ways to encourage mask usage, though. But I guess you’ll have to wait until next week to hear about those.

Until then, protect yourself and protect people like me and my family:

STAY HOME if you can. If you can’t, WEAR A MASK. And, either way, WASH YOUR HANDS!

July Check-In

Well, we did it! We made it through the first half of this awful year.

This month has actually gone fairly well for me.

Hubs and I have been watching The Great Canadian Baking Show  and The Great British Bake-Off which has led to experimenting with a whole bunch of new baking techniques (puff pastry! upside-down cakes! pate choux!) -You can check out my Instagram if you want to see the fruit s of those labors.

As well, I’ve managed to put in a good amount of work writing this month. My WiP finally feels like it’s coming together. It’s been such a slog, between headaches, and lockdown, and just stress, but now I have 80,000 not-horrible words strung together in a pretty decent way.

Not that they’re perfect. I probably have another two read-throughs/small revisions before I can send it off to critique partners, but this just feels like such a huge step forward!

There’s a not-small possibility I could be ready to query this thing by Fall (*knocks on wood* *throws salt over shoulder* *crosses fingers*), or at least before the end of 2020.

As a result of all that writing, I didn’t do much reading this month, as you can see below:

June Reading Stats:

  • YA Fantasy (2)
  • YA Mystery (1)
  • YA Contemporary (1)
  • A Mystery (1)
  • A UF/Paranormal (1)
  • Re-Read (1)

June Total: 6 (+ 1 Re-Read)

Year-to-Date: 94 (+11 Re-Reads)

Reading More Widely

When I first started tracking my reading stats, I was consciously trying to make sure I read works by more than just cis-, white, hetero authors.

But over the last year or so, I’ve gotten lazy.

Admittedly, I’ve always been hindered by what’s available through my library’s audiobook app (since that’s where I get most of my reading material), but over the last year I gave up on searching for books I’d seen recommended online, and instead just picked whatever came up on Libby that sounded vaguely interesting.

And they were overwhelmingly by cis-, white, hetero (at least as far as I could tell from their bios) authors.

Part of it may be that I was going through a cozy mystery phase, and that genre is depressingly white – many of the books I read had no characters of color at all. (In fact, I read a twitter thread this month pointing out that the genre basically has to be white because a BIPOC character could not get away with defying the police, and skirting or breaking laws the way the white main characters do.)

Even worse, the cozy mysteries I read that *did* feature BIPOC characters (especially if they had historical settings) often contained everything from (hopefully unintentional) microaggressions to outright racism. I DNF’d more than a few books, and have a running “never read again” list of the most egregious authors.

On top of that, the quality of the books I’ve read in the last year has been…not great. I couldn’t even come up with a decent recommendations list out of my own reading list last year (instead I passed along recommendations for children’s books from my circle of fellow writers.)

Sadly, it took the recent protests over racial inequality to wake me up to the injustices I’ve been doing, not only to BIPOC and other marginalized authors, but to my own reading enjoyment.

After only three weeks of making an effort to select recommended books, the quality of my reading has skyrocketed. (It helps that since I’m not spending much “fun” money during the pandemic, *and* I want to support bookstores and authors, I can justify actually buying books – even if it takes me longer to read physical books.)

So, if you’ve know of a great book by a marginalized author, let me know in the comments – especially if it happens to be a cozy mystery.

And if you’re looking for a great book to read, check out Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (YA Contemporary) and A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (YA Fantasy), my two favorite reads of the month so far.

Separating the Creator From Their Work

A few (actually, now that I think about it, it’s probably more than “a few,” but time is meaningless these days, so whatever) years ago, the lead singer of a band I admired was arrested for assault and many accounts of bad behaviour came to light.

This band’s songs had been the theme music of my twenties, and was the only band I had ever seen in concert (unless you count stumbling past U2’s rooftop concert in Dublin). I had all their CDs (yes, I’m old), met them in person a handful of times, and memorized the lyrics to all their songs.

After the arrest (and subsequent credible stories) I stopped intentionally listening to their music.

But sometimes if a song shows up on a playlist, I start singing along out of habit, transported back to the carefree joy of twenty years earlier, before I remember why I stopped listening to that band, and disappointment crashes down on me.

Knowing the music was created by someone who did such awful things feels like a betrayal (yes, I know there were 3 other people in the band, but it’s hard to believe they didn’t know *anything* about their bandmate’s bad behaviour.)

And now it’s happening again.

After J.K. Rowling’s repeated statements against trans people (Check out Kacen Callender’s excellent essay for reasons why Rowling’s words are not only hurtful, but dangerous) I’m now starting to feel that same way about my Harry Potter paraphernalia.

And I have a lot of Potter paraphernalia.

I was an adult when the books came out, but I still got swept up in the excitement of waiting for each new segment of the story to arrive. I’ve always been a sucker for witches and magic, and the stories captured my imagination in a way not many other tales have. The feeling was only cemented by our trips to Universal Studios, Florida, where our family got to feel like we were actually living in the books, walking through the streets of Hogsmede and indulging in cups of hot Butterbeer.

And there was just something about having the House system as a shorthand for personality types – even if I know my personality has changed greatly since age 11, and I wouldn’t consider myself in the same House now as I would have been sorted into then.

It’s easy to say we should separate the books from their creator. Appreciate the worlds she created, and just pretend Rowling has nothing to do with them. But that’s hard to do when she’s actively out there using her huge platform to do harm.

Plus, it’s not like the books themselves didn’t have harmful elements. Like misogyny (why doesn’t Hermione have any female friends? Not to mention how rudely the girl students are talked about), racism and anti-Semitism (although I’m afraid I needed those pointed out to me), and a whole lot of fat…phobia doesn’t seem like the right word for the amount of disgust she clearly has for her overweight characters (who are, of course, all evil, except maybe for the gentle-but-not-too-bright giant who owes his size to his parentage).

Each new discovery of harm (not to mention all the garbage that has come out of the extended universe and post-Potter works) has tainted my appreciation of the books (and I know it’s due to my white, cis privilege that it took me this long), but I think her current tirades are the straw that has finally broken this camel’s back.

While I’m not quite at the point of yeeting all my merchandise into the void, I know some people will be looking at anyone wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt with the same wariness they would someone sporting a red ball cap: is it a fashion choice or political statement?

My house is full of reminders of the imaginary world I lost myself in, and seeing them has gone from giving me joy to inducing melancholy. But at the same time, they still have an emotional tie to the memories I made around them (a fun family vacation, a group cosplay, a convention). So, while I won’t be sending any more money Rowling’s way, I’ll probably still have a soft spot for the esthetic she created, if only because of its links in my memory to good times past.

And as for personality shorthands, I’m sure we can some up with something different. Ninja Turtles? Golden Girls? Bending Nations? Sailor Scouts?

(For the record, I’d say I’m a Leonardo [even if Raph is my favourite], a Dorothy [though I want to be a Sophia], a water bender, and, Sailor Pluto [fun fact, I actually was sorted into my Sailor Scout at age 15 by a friend, and I’ve stuck with her ever since – forever the tall, lonely one.])

What about you? What’s your personality type? Have a better system to sort by? Let me know in the comments?

 

(Belated) June Update

And I thought March was a long month. It feels like a thousand things have happened in the world since I wrote my last update.

My family is still staying locked down pretty tight, due to our increased risk factors, despite our province reopening more and more (especially since I don’t think they’re actually ready). That included skipping the protests last week, although I’m still trying to boost voices on my Twitter timeline, sign petitions, and doing my best to keep educating myself.

It’s been a rough month for my fandom-loving heart, as a few of the authors and celebrities I follow have made public statements ranging from ignorant to incredibly hurtful and wrong, and I’m still grappling with how to deal with my relationship to their works (expect a future post on this).

In case you’re wondering where I stand: Trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary and genderfluid folks are valid, menstruation is not limited to women, and not all women menstruate. And Black lives matter.

Oh yeah, and Covid-19 is not only real, but still out there and dangerous.

On a personal writing note, I finally managed to squeeze in some time on my Adult Urban Fantasy manuscript this week, which feels great. I’ve hardly done any writing since the pandemic started, so this is a big step for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up in the weeks to come. (Seriously. I need to finish this book.)

I didn’t get as much reading/listening done in May as usual (probably at least partly because I was glued to my phone watching everything unfold on social media). I bought a handful of new books last week (for me and my kids) and I can’t wait to start reading – but don’t expect to see them counted in my reading stats for a while, as paper books take me a lot longer to get through than audiobooks, thanks to my migraines.

May Reading Stats:

  • YA Paranormal (1)
  • A Mystery/Suspense (9)
  • Re-Reads (2)

May Total: 10 (+ 2 Re-reads)

Year-to-Date: 88 (+ 10 Re-reads)

 

Not an Update

Normally I use my first post of the month to update you guys on what’s going on with me, but given the state of (*waves vaguely at the world*) everything, that didn’t seem right this week.

The protests in the US are a result of hundreds of years of inequality and systemic racism – both of which exist here in Canada as well (here’s just one example)- and it’s well past time for changes to be made.

If you want to help out:

Because Black Lives Matter.

(PS Before you consider replying that “all lives mater” read this.)

 

 

Ceci N’est Pas Un Post

It’s more of a rambling disconnected rant.

I’m feeling disheartened this week.

Quarantine (physical distancing? lockdown-that’s-not-a-lockdown?) is still going well in our house. The kids are managing their schoolwork, and still like spending time with each other. Hubs is continuing to work from home. And I’m well on my to becoming some kind of June Cleaver clone.

I realize that quarantine (or whatever you want to call these 10-odd weeks of staying at home, but not technically being ‘quarantined’) is working for us because we have a lot of privilege: strong internet connection and multiple devices, parents who understand the kids’ schoolwork, a backyard for exercise, and enough space and money to stock up on (but not hoard) food.

We’re taking this “quarantine” seriously because we don’t want to get sick or get anyone else sick (basically our whole extended family except for our kids qualifies as high risk). We’ve only seen our local family members at a 6-foot distance, and have no idea when (or even if, should any of us actually catch this thing) we’ll see our out-of-town family in-person again. We grocery shop once a week, with maybe one other trip to do a quick pick-up of takeout or essentials. I think I have been inside a building that is not my house 5 times in the last 10 weeks (wearing a mask all but one of those times), and my kids have been in 0 buildings.

Which brings me to the disheartening part:

The sheer selfishness displayed in stores, on social media, and out on the street.

The people who think their desire for a haircut or a hug outweighs another person’s desire to stay healthy (and, you know, not die). The people who refuse to budge on a sidewalk, making those of us with canes hobble up on the grass or out in the street to observe proper distancing. The people who wear a mask under their chin and elbow their way inside others’ 6-foot bubbles while stating, “I’m not sick” (as if asymptomatic transmission isn’t a thing.) And the people who wander shops because they’re bored or need one inessential thing, potentially putting the employees and others shoppers at risk (looking at you dude checking out yesterday with a single apple and a newspaper).

And that’s not even counting the ten thousand people partying in a Toronto park (fortunately no longer my city), or (closer to home) crowding the bike paths, and having multi-family get-togethers at the beach.

I feel like pretty much everyone I know knows someone who is intent on putting their own comfort above other people’s lives, either because they think the disease is overhyped (“more people die in car accidents, they don’t make you stop driving” – never mind that car accidents aren’t contagious and don’t risk crashing the entire medical system), or they believe they’re invincible (“most cases are mild, I’ll be fine” – meanwhile ‘mild’ for this disease covers everything short of hospitalization, from no symptoms to 8 weeks bedridden and fighting for breath), or they just don’t want to “give the government that kind of power over them.”

And it makes me sad and angry and terrified. Not only for myself, but for all my friends (well, and the strangers, too) who are out there working in pharmacies and hospitals and grocery stores, putting themselves in harm’s way so people can get what they need to live, while so many people aren’t willing to do the bare minimum to try and not infect others.

So, while selfish people are out there shopping four times a week to alleviate boredom, I’m here trying to weigh whether my kids will be homeschooling come September (seriously, is being stuck, unmoving, at a desk for six hours, unable to get within 6 feet of friends, and having a single ‘recess’ composed of walking a track worth the risk of bringing a potentially deadly illness home to our family? I’m leaning towards no right now.)

So, yeah, I’m frustrated, and sad, and scared, and maybe a little bitter. I’m not sure when our world became so selfish, or whether it’s always been this way.

Stay home. Keep 6 feet (2 metres) away from anyone not in your household. If you can’t avoid that (because of necessary shopping, medical appointments, etc) wear a mask. And before you go out, think: If I tested positive tomorrow, how easy would it be to contact trace everyone I’ve been within 6 feet of/inside a building with for the last ten days?

Because as far as I’m concerned, if you refuse to follow even these simple instructions, you’re saying you don’t care if people – people like me – die.

Me in my homemade mask with my quaran-cut.

PS Yes, I’m also incredibly frustrated with our provincial government for beginning the reopening process before having enough testing and contact tracing in place, and for refusing to follow the rules themselves. But that’s a rant for another day.

 

 

 

Kidlit Steps Up

This week our province announced that schools will be closed until at least September (and honestly, I’m not sure what school – or anything – is going to look like at that point).

And while other things are opening up (parks, baseball diamonds, etc.) we’re still planning on staying pretty close to home and away from people. Without our usual summer entertainments, we’re looking for things to do.

Fortunately kidlit creators are stepping up to help out. Below is a list of children’s illustrators and authors offering videos and activities to keep your kids (and you) entertained.

Feel free to add any others you know about in the comments.

How a Pandemic Can Build Character

No, I’m not talking in real life, although I’m sure there are some people who’ve found themselves stepping up under these trying circumstances. (No shame if you haven’t. Curling up in a ball and watching the entirety of Netflix is a perfectly valid reaction to what we’re going through right now.)

Usually, I spend the last few minutes of each night thinking about whatever story I’m working on – figuring out what happens in the next scene, trying to solve a tricky plot hole, etc.

However, since the pandemic started, I haven’t been writing (combination of lack of time and a stressed-out brain that refuses to focus), which means I haven’t had new things to ponder before bed.

So, this week I decided to figure out what the main characters of my WiP are doing during the pandemic.

(Not that I’m planning on including it in the book – if people will believe that world has witches, vampires, and demons, hopefully they’ll buy the lack of a pandemic. Either that or maybe I can skip that time frame between books, with just a vague mention…assuming this doesn’t stretch on for too many years.)

But figuring out what my four main witches would be doing in this pandemic has been really helpful for understanding their characters. Knowing Character A falls apart, Character B tries to use magic to reinforce the lockdown (you can blame her for the murder hornets – sorry!), Character C starts looking for demonic sources of the virus, and Character D struggles through without magic, just doing her best to keep her family alive, has really given their personalities some added depth.

Will this information ever some out in a book? Who knows? Maybe I’ll write it into a short story one day (when my brain can focus on writing for more than five seconds at a time). Or maybe I’ll just add it to their character sheets along with random info like how they take their coffee (Character A drinks a red eye, B drinks a Matcha green tea latte with almond milk, C prefers a regular cup of brewed coffee in a china cup, and D goes for a Peppermint Mocha – iced or hot depending on the season – in case you’re wondering).

But whether or not the info makes it onto the page, at least it’s given me something to think about, as well as a way to flesh out the characters I’m working with. Now, if I can only make myself sit down and actually write…

May Update

Anyone else feel like time has gone all wonky? March felt 27 weeks long, while April lasted about 2 days.

It’s been another month with minimal writing. I managed to sit down with my WiP once or twice, but, again, most of my time and energy has gone into keeping my kids entertained and educated.

My twins had their birthday in April, so I put a lot of effort into making sure they had a good day, despite the pandemic. Basically that meant cooking their favourite foods (I may have hoarded eggs for a few weeks to ensure I had enough for their birthday requests), and, since stores are closed, handmaking them birthday gifts so they’d have something to open (we ordered some stuff online, too, and are still waiting for one package to arrive).

With just under a month until my daughter’s birthday, I’m already working on her birthday requests.

I’ve basically come to grips with the fact I won’t be querying this summer, like I had hoped. However, I do need to start writing again. Not exactly sure how I’m going to squeeze it into my day, but, since it doesn’t look like anything’s changing here for the next few months, I need to figure out how to work in this new normal.

And, of course, I’m reading less/listening to fewer audiobooks, too, since dog-walking and cooking are now family activities.

 

April Reading Stats

  • Adult Mystery (8)
  • Adult Urban Fantasy/Paranormal (1)
  • Adult Fantasy (1)
  • YA Fantasy (1)
  • YA Mystery (1)
  • Re-Reads (1)

March Total: 12 (+ 1 Re-Read)

Year-to-Date: 78 (+ 8 Re-Reads)

Embracing Imperfection

I’ve always been a fan of colouring books – even before the adult ones hit the market. Admittedly, I occasionally had problems with indecision (should I colour that blue or purple?) and disappointment (ugh, I *knew* I should have picked purple) but mostly, I enjoyed myself.

Until my fibromyalgia began.

If you follow this blog, you know my troubles started with my hands – to the point that my doctors first assumed I had carpal tunnel. My fingers ached, I spontaneously dropped things (including hot cups of tea), and holding a pencil took way too much concentration.

Even on days when the pain wasn’t bad, I still didn’t have the dexterity I used to. On the rare occasions I would sit and try to colour, my pencil crayons (colored pencils to those outside Canada) just wouldn’t stay inside the lines.

So I stopped.

After all, what was the point of messing up perfectly good colouring pages? It was worse than picking the wrong colours.

Enter Covid-19.

Since I’ve been trapped  staying safe at home, I’ve needed something to do that doesn’t require concentration (my brain is still refusing to work on writing), that will occupy my hands while I listen to audiobooks.

I’ve done a few crafts (you can check out my Instagram to see what I’ve been up to), but I needed something else. So, I started colouring again.

It’s taken an effort to make my perfectionist brain ignore the mistakes, and just enjoy the process, but I’m getting there.

And I’m realizing that this quest for perfection is one of the problems I have with drafting as well. It’s so hard to get the words out when I know they’re not exactly right. And yet, as the saying goes: you can’t edit a blank page.

So, like with colouring, I need to embrace the imperfection of my first draft. Just enjoy the process of putting words on paper. And worry later about making sure those words are right. Because, unlike with colouring, bad writing can always be fixed.

Isn’t It Ironic?

Growing up in a family where virtually every woman was a Stay-at-Home-Mom, I always swore that would never be me. I was going to get a university education and have a “proper” career, and definitely not have kids.

But then life happened.

Three kids and no career later, I was definitely staying at home, but I still fought the title. After all, I was using every spare minute to work on a writing career, so really, I was “working from home” (with kids).

And then last year my migraines and fibromyalgia got bad enough that suddenly I wasn’t really writing (not that I could have done any other kind of job, either), and when I had to fill in the dreaded “occupation” slot on paperwork, I found myself writing “Stay-at-Home-Mom.”

And I hated it. Found it depressing. Felt like a failure. I had become the very thing I swore I never would.

Enter coronavirus.

Suddenly all those chores I’d resented – meal planning, cooking, sewing, entertaining the kids, etc – became vital.

And I’m kind of loving it.

Okay, I still find meal planning to be a bit of a pain, but I’m enjoying the challenge of zero-waste meals. I have a flat of seedlings ready to plant whenever the weather finally decides to be spring (snow can stop any time now, Mother Nature!) I’m baking bread at least once a week – and the baguettes are so good, I might never go back to store bought. I’ve sewed masks and birthday gifts for my twins. I’m even having fun teaching my kids long division and French past tense.

I’ve turned into Martha freakin’ Stewart (only, you know, without the insider trading and hostage taking).

I know a lot of that is thanks to privilege and luck (my Hubs can do his job from home, my kids are a good age – old enough to entertain themselves some of the time & to understand what’s going on, but young enough I’m still capable of helping with their schoolwork when needed – we have money and storage space for food, and we have a backyard) but a year ago I wouldn’t have thought there was *anything* that could make me enjoy being a homemaker.

Don’t get me wrong, this still isn’t fun. There are days when the kids drive me up the wall. I desperately want to finish writing my book. I don’t know when I’ll see family members and friends in person again. And, oh yeah, I’m terrified of me or one of my many family members dying (a not-so-small possibility considering ages, underlying conditions, and the sheer horror of this disease).

But I have to take joy where I can find it, and being able to rock this whole Stay-at-Home-Mom-thing is apparently my new (if ironic*) joy.

 

*Ironic in the Alanis Morisette-sense, not actual irony (the definition of which I’ve never really had a handle on, having hated English classes as a kid. And yes, I know, that’s also “ironic,” considering my current career aspirations.)

(I also want to point out that my husband is totally doing his part in household chores: he cooks on weekends – aka when he isn’t working all day – does a lot of the outside chores, and does about 95% of our shopping.)

 

 

 

 

What is Time, Anyway?

No, I’m not actually referring to life during the pandemic (although, once again, sorry for the late post!)

I’m actually talking about the timing issues I’m having with my Adult Urban Fantasy WiP.

Trying to plot out the passage of time in my book is feeling like trying to schedule holiday celebrations with multiple extended family members (wow, is this now a dated reference? Yikes!)

Anyway.

Basically, I’m juggling the work and life schedules of four characters (can’t be a Sunday or the minister is busy, Friday afternoon’s a no-go because of the lawyer). Add in the complications of hospital visiting hours, and a 24-hour deadline – not to mention time for the characters to, you know, sleep -and…yeah, chaos.

I’m pretty sure the only cure for this mess is to pull out a day planner and plot directly into it, to make sure I don’t end up with, say, a 10pm Girl Scouts meeting.

What about you? How do you plot out the timing in your books? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

No Such Thing As Normal

Sorry for the late post, but I lost track of the day of the week.

What can I say, time has no meaning during…whatever we’re calling this period – “lockdown” and “quarantine” don’t feel right to me, because we’re not technically experiencing either of those in Ottawa. And “social distancing” or the new & improved phrase “physical distancing” are just too unwieldy. I guess we could just say “Covid-19,” but that refers to the actual illness, and may cause confusion. So, yeah, what are we calling this? Put your suggestions in the comments.

Anyway.

Today marked my first trip to a store in over three weeks (Hubs has been doing our once-a-week grocery shops), because I needed to top up my asthma inhaler. And, I’m not gonna lie, it was weird. And a little scary.

I wore a homemade mask – which is not fun when you’re already short of breath (by the time I got home, I was panting like I’d run a marathon). I had to grab a few other things besides the prescription (soap, vitamins, and, since I was already there, a few Easter treats so we can pretend to have some semblance of normalcy).

Wandering around the store was like a big game of tag – only avoiding other people’s cooties instead of their hand. Luckily the store wasn’t too busy, and most people were very considerate about giving lots of space, and waiting for an aisle to clear (except for the extremely oblivious lady who stopped once just past the cash to rearrange all her purchases, and again outside the door, causing a back-up of people who wanted to leave the store.)

It’s only been three weeks, but already my whole mentality has changed. I felt like a trapped rabbit when I encountered another shopper (especially if there was someone else blocking the aisle six feet behind me). In another few months, when the restrictions finally begin to ease, I’m not sure we’ll be going back to what was once considered “normal.”

We’re all going to be traumatized by this. Not just by the deaths that will touch our lives (although of course that will be part of it), but I can’t imagine not having a two week supply of food and goods in my house now, or going out shopping “just for fun.”

And I’m going to be giving serious stink eye to anyone who gets within my six foot bubble for years to come.

For now, I hope you’re all staying safe. I’ll be back next week (assuming I can figure out what day it is)

April Check-In

Normally I start these check-in posts by commenting on how quickly the previous month passed, but I’m pretty sure March was about 687 days long this year.

Despite how long it felt, I haven’t exactly been productive, writing-wise. It’s hard to write when the world is crashing down around you, and on top of that, I have three kids at home to entertain. This week I pretty much gave up trying to write while they played their “educational” video games (I’m at the point where the Math Prodigy music plays in my dreams!), and focused my “free” time on crafty things instead (working on some homemade gifts for my boys’ birthday next month).

I’m hoping to get to back to writing next week, although I’m keeping my expectations pretty low, especially since we’re supposed to actually begin school-from-home, and I have a feeling that’s going to suck a lot of my time and mental energy.

Even my reading/audiobook time has taken a hit, as many of my dog walks and chores have become family events.

March Reading Stats

  • Adult Mystery (6)
  • Adult Urban Fantasy/Paranormal (1)
  • YA Fantasy (3)
  • YA Contemporary (1)
  • Re-Reads (3)

March Total: 11 (+ 3 Re-Reads)

Year-to-Date: 66 (+7 Re-Reads)

 

The New Normal

It’s been almost two weeks since we started social physical distancing, and, in my house at least, we’ve finally settled in our new (likely to be long-term) routine.

We’re very lucky in my house: Hubs is working from home upstairs, while I take care of the kids and meals. I’m used to having to entertain the kids for long periods of time (summer breaks), although not being able to go out is definitely an added complication.

So far we’ve been doing a lot of sewing, crafting, baking, and board games. I admit I’m not particularly stressing about their schoolwork right now, since my kids are still in elementary school. While we have no idea how long the schools will be closed, there’s a number of local parents assuming we’re done for the year.

Right now our average weekday looks like this:

5-7am: I get up, walk the dog, drink coffee while catching up on news. Depending on how early I get up, I might work on my WiP and/or brush the dog (fluffy dogs require lots of brushing).

7-8am: Everyone else gets up, eats breakfast, maybe a TV show or video game time.

9am: Hubs “goes to work”; the kids and I play Scrabble (spelling + math) or work on a craft

10:30: Kids play the educational video games recommended by our school board. I work on WiP or chores, depending what needs to be done. Or maybe just stare at my phone in growing horror.

12:00: Lunch then dog walk with the whole family (including Hubs)

1:30: More craft/activity time.

3:00: Free play time for the kids. I start on dinner or stare at my phone some more.

4:15(ish): Kids get fun screen time (non-educational video games or TV). I make dinner, tidy kitchen, etc. Maybe stare at my phone.

5:00: Family dinner.

6:00: Another Family Dog Walk – maybe bring a Frisbee to throw around at the park.

7:30 Start the kids’ bedtime routine, including 1 hour of reading aloud.

8:30: Hubs and I watch TV, craft, etc.

9:30: I read for a bit, then go to sleep.

 

This isn’t to say that our routine is better or worse than anyone else’s. If you’re spending every hour of your day cramming your kids’ brains full of knowledge via homeschool, you rock. If your kids spend the whole day playing video games and watching TV so you can work from home (or stare at your phone and cry), you also rock! These are weird times, and I don’t think there’s any right way to get through them.

If you want to share your schedule (or whatever passes for one), or any ideas you have for keeping kids entertained, put them in the comments. We’re all in the boat, so we may as well help each other out!

Well, That Was Quick

Wow, has the world changed in just the last week.

Schools here are closed, which means instead of writing, I’m basically spending all my time trying to keep my three entertained and fed (this week is technically our March Break, so I’m not at the point of trying to homeschool them yet).

The few opportunities I’ve had to try and get words down just evaporated as I sat there staring at the screen, my mind fixated on the current stranger-than-fiction situation we’re calling real life.

Even the appeal of reading and audiobooks has been dimmed by the pandemic. Two characters shake hands? I cringe. Someone rubs their eyes? I yell, “Don’t touch your face!”

I’m curious what effect this whole thing is going to have on writing (mine and other people’s). Already I’m itching to go through my WiP and remove any instance of my MC touching her face without first washing her hands. And don’t even get me started on how I’d deal with her going out in public to crowded places. (Not to mention the scene that takes place inside a friend’s hospital room!)

For now (or, you know, when I ever manage to actually write again) I’ll leave it as is (especially since my story takes place in a kind of alternate reality where magic is real), but I honestly wonder how future books are going to deal with/reflect what seems to be the new way of life for the foreseeable future.

For now, though, I hope you’re staying safe and socially distant, wherever you are.

Weird Al, Eat Your Heart Out

We all deal with stress and anxiety in different ways, and apparently this is mine. Consider this song the love child of my coronavirus anxiety and my addiction to 80s music (specifically Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody).

Bonus: the first stanza is exactly 20 seconds long – the perfect length to sing while washing your hands.

COVID-19 RHAPSODY

Is this an illness?

Or is it allergies?

Coronavirus

No escape from a quarantine

Open your eyes

Stay out of the skies and sea…

I’m just a poor kid, I have no paid sick leave,

There are bills to pay, I have to go

Fever high, fever low

Everywhere is sold out

Of hand sanitizer and T.P.

T.P.

Mama, I think I’m sick

Shook a hand and gave a hug

Body contact shared the bug.

Mama, outbreak’s just begun,

But now I’ve gone and helped it spread around.

Mama, ooh

Didn’t mean to make you sick

But if I’m not back again this time tomorrow,

Quarantine, quarantine

For fourteen days to three weeks.

Too late, my time has come.

Cold shivers down my spine,

Body aching all the time.

Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go.

Gotta leave you all and now self-quarantine.

Mama, ooh, (everywhere is sold out)

I don’t want to die.

I sometimes wish I’d never gone on that trip.

I see a little bit o’spittle on my hand,

Gesundheit, Gesundheit, will you cough into your elbow?

Lungs and chest are tightening,

Very very frightening, me.

COVID-19 (COVID-19)

COVID-19 (COVID-19)

COVID-19, Corona

Pandemic ahhh-ahhh-ahhh-ahhh!

I’m just a poor kid, without paid sick leave

They’re just a poor kid, with a sick family,

Spare them their life from this monstrosity!

Fever come, fever go, will you let me go?

CDC: No, we will not let you go!  –Let me go!

CDC: We will not let you go!  –Let me go!

CDC: We will not let you go!  –Let me go!

Will not let you go!  –Let me go! (Never)

Never let you go! –Let me go!

Never let me go!

No, no, no, no, no, no, no!

Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia, let me go!

The hospital has a face mask put aside for me

For me

For me.

So you think you can stop me from going outside?

So you think staying in will keep people alive?

Oh, maybe, that’s the thing to do, baby!

Just gotta stay home, just gotta keep my germs in here.

Ooh, yeah, ooh, yeah.

Wash your hands with hand soap

For twenty seconds

Wash your hands with hand soap, wash your hands with hand soap

Puh-lease!

Everywhere is sold out

I’m Back (For Real This Time)

That’s right, folks, I am back to my once-a-week blogging schedule. Yay! *Insert Kermit flail here*

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I ended my hiatus there as well, although I’m still trying to limit my time scrolling through posts (which is not exactly easy considering all the coronavirus chaos and my desperate desire to keep on top of news).

But my head is doing a lot better these days. I’ve had fewer migraines, and been able to spend more time on the computer without feeling dizzy or having things go blurry. I’m pretty sure I’ve put in more time on my WiP in the last two weeks than I did in the last two months, which means that maybe – just maybe – I’ll actually be able to accomplish my goal of querying this MS by summer.

I’m pretty sure I owe my newfound productivity to my new migraine meds – and let me tell you, they are definitely worth having to inject myself once a month. So far, even the side effects seem minimal (fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc.)

I’ll confess I’m more than a little stressed about the coronavirus, as the not-so-proud owner of several chronic health conditions (not to mention an immune system as flimsy as a wet tissue, and the propensity to end up on an inhaler every winter when I catch whatever cold/flu/virus is going around). Plus there’s the little fact that most of my family (except maybe my kids) has an elevated risk by being over 50 or having pre-existing health conditions (or both), and my kids’ idea of washing their hands is waving them *near* a running faucet (we’re working on this one, trust me!)

On the bright side, there are (at the time of writing this) only 20 cases in my province, none of which are in my city, so I’m trying not to dwell on morbid possibilities right now.

Despite getting back to work, I still managed to consume a bunch of books/audiobooks this month:

February Reading Stats

  •  A Mystery (22)
  • YA Mystery (3)
  • YA Horror (1)
  • Re-Reads (3)

February Total: 26 (+3 Re-Reads)

Year-to-Date: 55 (+ 4 Re-Reads)

 

I’m Back…Sort Of…(But Not Really)

Well, that month went by quickly.

Too quickly.

My month (mostly) away from social media seems to have helped my head a bit (and/or my new meds are starting to work), so I’m going to continue with it. That means no Twitter or blog again until March.

I’ll be honest, the FOMO when I’m away from Twitter is pretty intense. I’m definitely out of the loop when it comes to industry scandals and gossip, and miss contact with my online friends.

That said, I don’t miss the anxiety of being constantly bombarded with news headlines and outrage.

My WiP is still progressing slowly. I was only able to spend half of January working on it, thanks to a well-needed family vacation for one week, and a post-vacation illness for the next, but I’m looking forward to kicking this nasty cold and getting back to writing (*tries to ignore the looming teacher strikes that mean I’ll have kids home and not be able to work*).

On the bright side, at least I got to listen to audiobooks, giving myself a strong start to my yearly total.

January Reading Stats:

  • Adult Mystery (25)
  • Adult Paranormal Mystery (4)
  • Re-Read (1)

Year-to-Date: 29 (+ 1 Re-Read)