August Update

As usual, I am astounded by the speed at which time is passing. The summer is officially half over, and I have made 0 progress on my MG WiP.

In fairness, it’s because, as I mentioned last month, my husband has taken the summer off, so my time has mostly been spent doing family activities and catching up on household chores. What writing time I do have has gone toward my other blog, where I’m still managing three posts a week (despite my fears I’d have to cut back).

Basically my summer has been a mix of laundry, board games, beaches, gardening (curse you, aphids!), closet re-organizing, baking, and sleeping (fibromyalgia fatigue is killer, let me tell you). In other words, a pretty perfect summer.

The only thing I haven’t done much of is read/listen to audiobooks.

July Reading Stats

  • YA Fantasy (1)
  • A Mystery (1)
  • A Urban Fantasy (1)
  • A Urban Fantasy Short Story Collection (1)

July Total: 4

Year-To-Date Total: 77 (+9 Re-Reads)

Monthly Musings: Womb Woes

CW: miscarriage

The last month has seen huge losses to the rights of those of us with uteruses. While these restrictions are currently happening in the U.S., they are emboldening anti-choice (I will not call them “Pro-Life” because many only care about the life of the fetus, not the person carrying it) activists here in Canada and other countries around the world.

Fortunately, here in Canada, abortion is considered healthcare. Which is good, because mine probably saved my life.

It’s still hard to think about, even fifteen years after it happened, but here is my story about one (very wanted) pregnancy and the two abortions that ended it. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

It all started after our (delayed) honeymoon. I’d gone off birth control because we thought it would take a while to get pregnant due to my endometriosis.

Newsflash: it did not.

It was not a fun pregnancy. I felt queasy all the time, although I didn’t actually get sick much. Maybe it’s because I could barely eat anything. I lived on crackers and plain nachos because it’s all I could handle. My sense of smell became super-charged – which sucked because most odors made me want to throw up. It made it really hard to hide what going on, but we didn’t want to announce anything until we hit that magical 12 week number.

Finally, we made it. I had a 12-week ultrasound showing the fetus doing somersaults. And we told *EVERYONE*! Announced it on Facebook. Had mugs engraved with “Grandparent” for my folks. Started buying baby gear.

But…

That 12-week ultrasound was part of a standard test, including bloodwork, used to determine chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus. And at around the 15-week mark, mine came back showing problems.

Suddenly there were all these decisions: Should I get an amniocentesis (a test that involves puncturing the amniotic sac with a needle, and could lead to miscarriage, but would tell us what, exactly, was wrong with the fetus)? What if it said the baby wasn’t viable? What if they would survive the pregnancy but not live a year?

Eventually, somewhere in my 16th or 17th week, I got booked with my doctor in order to get referred to the specialists we needed. As part of that, he sent me upstairs to get a quick ultrasound for the record. My husband hadn’t come with me to the appointment, because it was just supposed to be paperwork, and he had a job to go to.

The ultrasound tech only needed a few seconds.

She told me there was no sign of life.

And I broke down.

I made a sobbing phone call to my husband, begging him to come home, then blubbered my way downstairs to the office, where the doctor explained my options: do nothing and let things happen naturally, take medication and let things happen at home, or get a D&C (surgical procedure, what most people think of when they hear “abortion” – although I’d had them twice before this, when not pregnant, to deal with my endometriosis).

According to the ultrasound, the fetus stopped developing shortly after my last ultrasound, which meant it had already had 4 (or 5? 6? the times are all fuzzy to me) weeks to do the natural thing, and waiting too long would risk infection. I opted for a D&C, but the earliest date I could get was over a week away.

9 days.

That’s how long I lived knowing I had something dead rotting away inside me. The thought of it made me practically catatonic.

Even my dog realized something was wrong, as he kept trying to headbutt my belly.

Finally the big day came and I went to the hospital. Apparently the procedure is to call all the people getting D&Cs in at the same time to wait for their operations. I don’t know who was in a similar situation as me and who was voluntarily ending a pregnancy, but everyone was quiet and somber.

I got called in first because I was the farthest along in my pregnancy and they were worried about complications. 18 weeks is considered a late-term abortion – even if the fetus died at 12 weeks.

When I woke up my abortion was done.

Or so I thought.

A week later we supposed to go to our friend’s wedding out of town. We weren’t exactly in a partying mood. And then I started feeling sick, so we cancelled.

I’m no stranger to cramping and bleeding, and they’re expected after a D&C, but things got bad. I was burning through maxi pads and the pain was unbearable. Looking back, it was worse than giving birth. It felt like someone was slicing my abdomen apart. We called the nurse hotline and were told to go to the ER.

Eventually after a few hours of waiting and several doses of morphine, I was told the D&C had been incomplete, and I was experiencing a miscarriage at 19 weeks. I was given medicine for a chemical abortion.

(That makes two abortions, for those counting – three, I suppose if you count the fact that the fetus dying is also considered a “Missed Abortion” according to my medical records).

I had a couple more bad hours of what felt like the period from Hell, but when I woke up the next morning the worst was over.

And there you have it. Two (or three) abortions to end one pregnancy. Medical procedures which probably saved my life (dead fetuses create infections, remember), and which are now illegal in many states.

Abortions are part of healthcare.

And not just the ones like mine.

I went through two more pregnancies and had three babies. Pregnancies are hard. They change your body. Can leave long-term or permanent damage (I broke my tailbone during my twins’ birth and still have trouble sitting for too long, 11 years later!) No one should be forced to go through one unless they’re willing.

Abortions are healthcare.

(And so is birth control, for the record, since that seems to be the next item up for debate. If it wasn’t for my IUD, I’d be losing one week out of every three to excruciating endometriosis cramps.)

July Update

How are we more than halfway into 2022?

Well, at least I accomplished a bit of writing last month.

Sometimes when I’m struggling with revisions I like to go back and reread my WiP to remind myself how much I like my story and why I’m working in the first place.

This time, when I went back to reread…I was bored.

So, I cut the first four chapters of my book and wrote a new first 1.25 chapters. Hopefully they’ll still serve to get the essential character and world-building info across without bogging down the story too much. Now I have to go through the whole book and make sure those changes carry forward…time consuming, but definitely better for the story. I’m already about halfway to the point where I left off revising.

I’m not sure how much writing I’ll get done over the summer. In fact, I’m barely finding the time to squeeze in writing this blog post. My husband has taken the summer off, and between family activities and household improvements, my days are pretty much spoken for.

My only writing time will be before everyone else is up (and I’ve been tired enough that I’m sleeping in later and later, resulting in less and less writing time). I should be able to keep up my two posts/month here, but I think I might have to cut back my funny faces blog to 2 posts/week. We’ll see how it goes.

I did manage to get some reading done, though. I did my best to read mostly books by LGBTQIA+ authors and/or featuring queer MCs during Pride Month, and in doing so found a bunch more to add to my holds list.

June Reading Stats

  • YA Memoir (1)
  • YA Contemporary (1)
  • YA Suspense (1)
  • YA Horror (1)
  • YA Sci Fi (1)
  • YA Fantasy (5)
  • Adult Suspense (1)
  • Re-Read (7)

June Total: 11 (+ 7 Re-Reads)

Year-To-Date: 73 (+9 Re-Reads)

Monthly Musings: It Takes a Village…

Whatever happened to the notion of working together for the greater good?

Since Covid began, there has been an onslaught of propaganda pushing the ideas of “Freedom” and “Personal Choice” over any effort to work together for the collective good. From bots on Twitter to politicians, the message has been “Being asked/made to help others makes you weak. Fight it! Freedom = choice!”

Never mind that even if personal responsibility was a good solution to public health (spoiler alert, it’s not!) and even if we had the tools we needed to make those kinds of decisions (we don’t) human beings are notoriously bad at risk assessment.

But, thanks to these sustained campaigns to “Fight the Man” (or whatever), instead of a mass effort of masking and vaccination we’ve ended up with a patchwork response that’s resulted in a widespread disease that leaves between 10 and 50% of the people who catch it with a new health condition.

Kind of makes you wonder who benefits from this, doesn’t it?

I mean, it definitely helps certain unfriendly nations to not only sow division among countrymen (countrypeople?), but in a way that leaves their workforce crippled, straining resources, *and* makes it harder to tell real information from false.

But maybe that’s a little too down-the-rabbit-hole, conspiracy theory-esque.

That’s fine. The “personal responsibility” narrative helps our own government, too. After all, mitigations like mandates cost money. And so does taking care of those who end up disabled by the virus. But if everyone is responsible for their own health and safety, then it’s not the government’s fault if you catch Covid and end up disabled – its yours, and you deserve what you get. (Just wait until health insurance companies latch onto this reasoning to deny Long Covid claims.)

As someone who suffered from debilitating chronic illness even before Covid came along, I am all too aware of how prevalent the belief is that people get what they deserve when it comes to health. Don’t ask how many times it’s been suggested if only I ate better, or exercised more, or took up yoga, or prayed, that I wouldn’t be suffering now.

And, I suppose, in some ways that’s hard to refute. I mean, how do I prove that it’s just as likely I’d have avoided illness if I’d worn hats made out of spaghetti, or taken up nudism, without travelling back in time?

But it’s a comfortable lie to cling to. I mean, if everyone gets what they deserve, then you don’t have to feel bad for people who get sick, or want to support them (see current ODSP rates), and you can bask in the smugness of knowing that it’ll never happen to you.

Until it does.

Even then you’ll probably find some way to blame yourself: for letting your kid play soccer or attend in-person school, for having to take transit or work with unmasked people, for removing your mask that one time to drink – never mind that if N95 masks and air quality were mandated, you probably would have avoided infection…because public health is a group project!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concern about freedom and not wanting the government to tell you what to do, even if it’s for both your own good and the greater good.

But…

We do it all the time. Kids can’t buy booze or cigarettes. You can’t drive drunk. Or smoke indoors in public places. In Quebec, you have to buy & use snow tires. You have to pass a test and follow rules to drive. You can’t kill people. Or even punch them. You can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.

These are all protections put in place for the greater good, and following them doesn’t make you a sheep – the real sheep are the ones following the guys screaming about how “Baaaaad” the rules are.

The world is only going to get harsher and scarier in the next few years as the climate changes, more diseases evolve, natural disasters abound, and food and water become scarcer and more expensive, and we’ll all get through it a lot better if we start working together and acting like a team, instead of just looking out for number one.

June Update

*Blinks*

June? Really?

Huh.

Well, I guess that gives you an idea of how well my month has gone.

I’ve managed a few pages of my WiP, but I’ve found it especially hard to focus lately (see my post on brain fog), and between the daily naps I can’t seem to shake and trekking over to the boys’ school every day so they can eat outside in a Covid-free environment, working on that Middle Grade story just hasn’t happened.

So much for my goal to be querying by summer.

Oh well. Since Covid began, I’ve learned to roll with the punches, and this is just another one. The book will get done when it’s done, and queried when it’s ready.

At least I did a lot of reading/listening to audiobooks this month:

May Reading Stats

  • YA Mystery (2)
  • YA Thriller (2)
  • A Fantasy (1)
  • A Thriller (11)
  • Re-Read (2)

May Total: 18 (+2 Re-Reads)

Year-to-Date Total: 62 (+2 Re-Reads)

That’s all I’ve got for now. Hopefully next month’s update will show a bit more productivity.

Monthly Musings: It Could Be Worse

Since the start of this year my fibromyalgia has really been getting me down.

I can’t leave my house without my cane or I risk my leg giving out. My pain comes and goes in flares (bad days feel like a miserable flu), I have the memory of a drunken fruit fly (and a similar level of concentration), and I’m tired all the time – walking out to pick up my boys for lunch (about 45 minutes of walking spread over 70 minutes) would result in an hour-long nap.

In short, fibromyalgia sucks.

And then I got Covid.

(We think. My rapid test was somewhat inconclusive, and I didn’t qualify for a PCR, because apparently Covid is over here, despite having more than double the wastewater levels we ever had. Grrr.)

Fortunately, the acute phase didn’t hit me as hard as it could have – mostly it just drained my (already pathetic amount of) energy. I spent the first three days sleeping around the clock, only getting up for meals.

I spent the next week needing naps after every small activity. Took a shower? Nap until lunch – and rest on the couch for the rest of the day.

Over the past five weeks, I’ve worked myself up to longer stretches without naps – but I still can’t make it through a day without one, and the more I push myself, the more likely I am to end up in a pain flare the next day.

Today, 44 days after I started showing symptoms, I’m finally about to attempt to walk to the school again – and I fully expect to lose the rest of my afternoon to a nap.

Is this Long Covid? Is this just a worsening of my fibromyalgia? Is it something else entirely? I don’t know. And I may never know. (Welcome to the world of chronic illness, where nothing is certain, and most of the time the doctors either accuse you of making it up or blame it on anxiety.)

The point is, Covid has made me realize, that as much as I thought my life before April 2022 sucked, it wasn’t the worst it could be.

I don’t know if many people stop to appreciate what they have, knowing that at any minute it could change. One accident or infection is all it takes to change your life forever. But from now on, I’m going to try and feel better about what I do have and what I can do, and try to cut myself more slack on my weaknesses.

Because, after all, it could always be worse.

May Check-In

I was going to start this post by asking, “What to April? How did it disappear so quickly?” But then I remembered.

Covid.

Yep, that’s right, it finally caught me, thanks to our Provincial government deciding to drop masks at schools. Fortunately, our household was mostly asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

Except for me.

I did nothing but sleep for three whole days. Then for the next two weeks I basically slept after any exertion (like, say showering, or making myself lunch).

Now, almost exactly a whole month later, I can handle larger excursions before needing a nap, but my energy levels are still well below where they were in March (and they weren’t that great then).

On the bright side, I managed to pass my driver’s test, so I don’t have to walk as much now (although hopefully I will walk again more once my stamina returns.)

And, that’s it. I watched a lot of bad tv (working my way through all the mystery shows on Disney+), read, and listened to a whole bunch of audiobooks.

April Reading Stats

  • YA Suspense (2)
  • YA Mystery (5)
  • YA Sci Fi (4)
  • A Urban Fantasy (6)
  • DNF (Did Not Finish) (1)

April Total: 17

Year-To-Date Total: 44

Monthly Musings: Brain Fog

Brain fog. It sounds so cute and fluffy. Little a cartoon cloud floating around your head, making you feel ‘out of it.’

But it can be so much worse than that.

It’s forgetting words. Like, knowing what you want to say, but not being be able to remember the actual…

*pauses to think*

*still thinking*

…thing.

Um, word. That’s it.

Sometimes it’s your brain calling up the wrong watch…um, word, and replacing it with something vaguely similar, and not realizing until you’ve after said it.

It’s setting timers throughout the day to remind you to take your pills. And having to store them in one of those “Day of Week” pill holders like your grandmother had because you can never remember later if you actually took them or not.

It’s forgetting any appointment or event that’s not written on the calendar, people’s names (seriously, I have lived in this new house for over a year now, and the only neighbours’ names I can reliably remember are those of next door & directly across the street, despite running into others regularly on dog walks), and whether you’ve already read that book you just borrowed from the library.

It’s telling yourself to do something, like, say, pull meat out of the freezer, and then walking to the freezer and grabbing ice cream instead. (It’s also telling yourself NOT to do something, like eating the last tomato because you need it for dinner, and then immediately walking into the kitchen and making a tomato sandwich.)

And, even more dangerously, it’s using an oven mitt to pull a hot pan out of the oven, then removing the mitt and grabbing the pan because you forgot it’d be hot.

See, now you’re probably thinking, “but Kaye, everyone’s done that.” And it’s true. But unless you’re also suffering from brain fog, you’re probably not doing it on a weekly basis.

Perhaps some of you are experiencing brain fog, since it’s a symptom of Long Covid, or else you’ll develop it in the next year or two (sorry!). I’m not sure whether mine is because of my multiple concussions, my fibromyalgia, or both, but it’s definitely been worse in the last year (apparently it’s worse when I’m stressed, and um, yeah…the state of the world these days certainly isn’t helping matters) and I can only hope that my recent Covid infection doesn’t leave me with a shrunken brain.

I don’t really have the words (thanks, brain fog) to explain how disorienting and devastating it’s been to have my memory (and memories) crumble away. My near-photographic memory was practically a part of my personality. I could answer exam questions by picturing where on the textbook page the information was written. I memorized hundreds of lines for plays (and could quote my two favourite movies verbatim). Now I’m not sure I could manage a walk-on role.

Sigh.

It’s frustrating.

For me and my family. I’m sure even my non-brain fogged husband couldn’t recall the number of times he’s said “Remember how we talked about…” and I’ve had no memory at all of the conversation.

But I’m finding ways to manage. My house is littered with To-Do Lists and reminders, my manuscript drafts are filled with “[insert word here]” for when I don’t want to stop writing to look up the word I can’t bring to mind, *everything* goes on the calendar (even silly things like the reminder to buy new winter boots next October/November), and my family is getting used to having to repeat conversations.

But I still mourn the loss of this important part of myself. Or, at least, I do when I can remember what I’m missing…

April Check-In

March definitely was a better month for me, work wise. I got some good work in on the revision of my MG WiP – including making some major plot changes – and hope to be able to send it to critique partners soon.

I do find writing hard these days. My brain tends to space out after about half an hour at the computer, especially when I’m revising. And afternoons are almost a total write-off because my body breaks after I do the walk to my kids’ school for lunch (Yay, fibromyalgia!)

Still, I’m getting there, slowly but surely.

I’m also keeping up on my other blog (make sure to check it out if you like puns, poems, and song parodies).

And that’s pretty much life.

We’re still fighting the good fight against catching Covid, but it feels like it’s closing in around us, as more and more people we know fall ill. Honestly, I think I’ve discovered why I can’t handle zombie movies: it’s the feeling of inevitability, knowing your favourite character is going to be infected (well, that and zombies themselves. I just can’t handle them on a visceral level.)

(As I’m writing this, my son is in the other room coughing and sniffling, but so far testing negative on a RAT…)

Well, at least I got some reading done:

March Reading Stats:

  • YA Mystery (6)
  • YA Thriller (2)
  • YA Suspense (5)
  • DNF (Did Not Finish) (1)

March Total: 13

Year-To-Date: 27 (almost doubled it one month. Woot!)

Monthly Musings: Visitor From Another Dimension

(Spoiler alert: it’s me)

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.

Unless it does. Could Dr. Strange be responsible for whatever rift I’ve found myself drawn into?

Um…yeah, probably not. Too bad. At least then there might be a solution, a way to fix things and get back to the normal world.

Because this can’t be the normal world. There is something decidedly broken about it. How else do explain the Ontario government (along with many other provinces in Canada) just announcing the end to mask mandates and other protective measures while we’re at an estimated 10,000-20,000 cases/day (that number is only estimated because we have too many cases to test)? Saying to do so follows the science, when their own Science Advisory table, CHEO, and Sick Kids Hospital all disagree.

How else do you explain that government denying public school boards the ability to introduce their own mandates to protect themselves, while allowing universities and private schools to do so? Especially when only 21% of children in Canada have both Covid shots, and, according to Government of Canada data, 58% of kids report symptoms lasting longer than 4 weeks.

How do you explain them doing all this while watching the newest variants rip through countries like the U.K. who removed their mandates a month earlier?

And all of the while ignoring the mounting evidence that Covid can result in life-changing, long-term consequences like diabetes, heart problems, brain shrinkage, and impotence, which are already having huge impacts on the economies countries with high case counts. Not to mention the even higher toll it takes on the elderly and disabled.

And yet, people are willingly – nay, enthusiastically – buying into the premise that if we just ignore Covid, it will get offended and go away on its own.

This decision to pretend Covid is over and drop all protections while cases are so high, instead of actually doing things to reduce spread by cleaning the virus from the air (things like establishing air quality standards, installing HEPA filters, and posting CO2 readings) is what has me feeling like I must have somehow crossed over from my own, logical dimension.

Instead it’s just a combination of rampant disinformation and gaslighting that has me feeling like the protagonist of one of those stories where everything has changed and only they know how things are supposed to be, and the only way to set things right is to break the spell and get transported back to “normality.”

Except, I know that isn’t going to happen.

There is no amulet to break, no time machine that will fix this mystical error. Instead, my only hope for change is writing pleading emails to the government and posting angry tweets and essays in the hopes that maybe someone out there will be swayed to put things right.

March Check-In

So…February.

For the shortest month of the year, it sure did feel like a long one.

Last month was a pretty bad one for me, health-wise. My fibromyalgia had me in a ton of pain, which meant more naps and less concentration. As well, I still had kids home doing that weird homeschool/asynchronous-thing that passes for the only way to get a safe-from-Covid education.

And don’t get me started on all the other chaos trying to distract me, like the potential start of WWIII, and the decision by our provincial government to just declare Covid over and pretend we don’t still have unacceptably high case rates despite only testing a small portion of the population.

Oops, looks like I got started.

Sorry.

My point is, February was a long, dreary month that did its best to stress me out and distract me from writing.

But.

I still kept to my posting schedule over on my other blog, and I worked a bit on revising my MG WiP. I even came up with an idea to turn a collection of my PB ideas into a Narwhal and Jelly or Cranky Chicken-style graphic novel.

(Okay, I didn’t figure out how to actually try and pitch it, or whether any agents even look at text-only graphic novel submissions, or if I’d have to try and draw up a dummy book, or any of the actual details of making that happen, but it’s a start.)

Looking forward, my kids are back at school now, (although I’m losing a chunk of my day to go sign them out for lunch so they don’t have to share poorly ventilated space with a bunch of other unmasked kids, and more time to the nap that inevitably follows), so I’m hoping to manage to finally bust my way through this revision.

Guess that’s it for this month’s check in, except for

February Reading Stats

  • MG Horror (1)
  • YA Mystery (7)

Did Not Finish (DNF) (1)

February Total: 7

Year to Date Total: 14

Monthly Musings: A New Normal

Some people think the Covid restrictions protections haven’t bothered me as much because I’m an introvert. The truth is, of course I’m bothered. I want to see family beyond my household. I want to go fun places with my kids, and let them hang out with friends. I want to go on a girls’ weekend and get a new tattoo.

So it’s not that I’m not bothered. It’s more like I’m…resigned? accepting? somewhere in between?

Everyone is so desperate for life to go back to how it was in 2019, but my life will never be like that again. And the same can be said for the tens of thousands of people who’ve developed Long Covid (which actually bears a lot of similarities to fibromyalgia).

For instance: my pain started in my hands and wrists, making precise movements (like the ones needed to decorate cakes) somewhere in the range of painful to impossible. So I had to accept that I won’t be able to decorate fancy cakes easily, if at all (depending on my pain levels).

Over time my left leg has become unreliable enough that I can’t really leave my house without my cane (well, I could, but I’d risk falling over) and lately, there are a number of days I can’t walk around inside without one either. And so I’ve had to accept that it’s unlikely I’ll ever dance again.

And most recently, as if to add insult to injury, I’ve become lactose intolerant, and had to accept that pizza may not be worth the pain. (Although, let’s face it, it’s losing ice cream that’s killing me.)

Some people think this is a quitter’s attitude, and that believing I’ll never do those things again is giving up and “letting the illness win.” But that’s not how any of this works. A can-do attitude isn’t going to fix my body, and “pushing through the pain” will only result in more damage.

That’s not to say it’s been easy. Each realization has brought a period of grieving. Dance was maybe the hardest. I met my husband dancing. Wanted to be a dancer, growing up. Heck, I even auditioned to be one of the Toronto Blue Jays’ spirit club dancers/cheerleaders, back in the day. And now? Can’t manage more than a few steps without my leg giving out and/or intense pain.

For that matter, even just accepting I needed a cane was hard. I was in so much denial. I thought using a cane would mean I was weak. I thought I could just avoid walking on days when my leg was bad. But then I got the cane and suddenly I could go out without worrying about falling over, and it was like a new world was open to me.

Honestly, after accepting all that, something like the possibility of masks as a long-term protection doesn’t seem like much of a hardship.

And it’s why I’m so angry right now.

I just don’t have patience for whiny cry-babies who think a mask will ruin their experience of a movie, even if it means it’ll save someone else’s life.

Covid isn’t going away. I know the government keeps announcing it’s over, but we haven’t actually done anything to make that happen. If they really want it to end, we need to be proactive. We “learned to live with Cholera” by cleaning the water*, we need to “learn to live with Covid” by cleaning the air. But until we actually get around to doing that, masking is our best protection. And no amount of horn honking is going to change that.

Where was I?

Oh yeah, right. Grieving the loss of our past to get on with our lives.

The truth is, the best thing we could collectively do right now is mourn our pre-2019 lives lives and move on to a new normal – one that could even be better in some ways than life before 2019 was (imagine if cleaning the air + adequate sick days = not catching the flu every winter? Aside from convenience on a personal level, do you know how many lives that would save?)

Instead, we’re all stuck in denial, pretending that every worse mutation of this virus is going to be the last one, resulting in this Groundhog Day-style loop of never-ending infection.

It’s time to move on. And not in an ignore-it-and-it’ll-go-away kind of way. It’s time to accept that Covid is something that’s going to be around for a while and that we need to adapt our behaviour to its existence in a long-term way.

Trust me, accepting that would be easier than accepting the life-limiting disabilities that 10-30% of people who had Covid have to accept as Long Covid permanently disables them.

None of this is easy. Trust me, I know. But the sooner we start accepting these hard truths, the sooner we’ll be able to move on.

* Chicago went as far as raising the city 14 feet and reversing the flow of their river to fight cholera, you’d think we could handle installing some HEPA filters and CO2 monitors

February Check-In

Normally I’m surprised at how quickly the month has passed by. But not this month. January 2022 has felt like it lasted at least 12 weeks.

Not that I managed to get much work done on my WiP. Partly because I didn’t spend much time on it. A lot of my writing time has gone to my new blog. And, of course, it didn’t help that I lost a whole week’s worth of revising my WiP to computer gremlins. (Back-up your work, folks. I mean it. Right now. GO! Save it to the Cloud or send yourself a copy. Anything. I’ll wait…)

We good? Good.

So, I lost a week’s worth of work to computer gremlins. But it took me two weeks to re-do the work, because I’ve had my kids home in this weird remote asynchronous / homeschool hybrid thing that’s resulted from the school board/Education Ministry basically refusing to keep kids safe from Covid, and telling parents to just keep their kids home if they’re worried about their kids catching a virus that leaves up to a third of the infected with longer term health effects.

Not that I’m bitter.

And the even worse part is, that it’s going to end up being for nothing because we have to send them back eventually, and NOTHING has changed except more kids are getting sick. But apparently we’re just supposed to be cool with getting Covid now, and if you’re disabled or chronically ill already, well, sucks to be you (or me, as the case might be).

And I know this is supposed to be my writing update page, but I’m just so frustrated and angry. If we have to “learn to live with Covid” then let’s do it. Let’s set ventilation and air exchange standards, measured by CO2 levels posted for everyone to see. Let’s send out N95 masks to everyone to be used when virus levels are high. Let’s provide surveillance testing to see when/where the virus is hiding. Let’s reinstate PCR testing and isolating classes/households for the full infectious period. Let’s “Live with Covid” the way we live with Cholera.

Instead our governments have selected the eyes-closed-hands-over-ears-LA-LA-LA approach where we just pretend Covid doesn’t exist and go back to a normal that’s going to kill and disable thousands of people and possibly spell the end of our healthcare system.

Anyway, maybe I’m just extra salty because of the protests in my city (we’re safe & far from the chaos, but still angry at the hate and racism on display), but I just don’t know how I’m supposed to sit down and write when everyone has decided it’s fine if elderly or disabled people die because ‘movies just aren’t meant to be watched on a small screen.’

But, hey, at least if you die, you can have a big funeral.

January Reading Stats

  • MG Fantasy (2)
  • YA Fantasy (1)
  • A Fantasy (3)
  • A Urban Fantasy (1)

Did Not Finish (DNF) (1)

January Total: 7

Not exactly a strong start, but did I mention it was a rough month?

Monthly Musing: Face It, I’m Weird

If you follow this blog, you probably already know that.

But I wanted to talk about a very specific kind of weirdness I have.

I see faces.

I don’t mean ghosts. I just mean, I see faces in things where they’re not intended to be. Like this souvlaki dinner.

Takeout souvlaki dinner that looks like a face, with onion & olive eyes, feta eyebrows, tomato ears, and souvlaki mouth.
(This is how it came. I almost didn’t have the heart to eat it.)

Okay, that was a pretty obvious one, but I wanted to be able to get my point across. Because usually the faces I see are a little more hidden. Like this grumpy cloud face.

Clouds over water.

Don’t see it?

How about now?

Same picture of clouds over water, only now two black dots mark the "eyes"

Apparently this ability to see faces in things is called pareidolia.

I always assumed everyone saw these things, but apparently not. As proven by the not insignificant amount of time I’ve spent trying to explain the faces I’m seeing to my husband. “Those two things at the top are eyes, and that big thing at the bottom is a mouth…” And he still only sees them about half the time.

For the past few years I’ve been taking photos of the best faces I see (that souvlaki meal is from ten years ago), although I never quite knew why.

For the past little while my husband has been suggesting I do something with the photos, but I was never sure what. After all, there are already a bunch of photoblogs and Instagram feeds run by fellow pareidoliacs (is that a word? I’m saying it’s a word) like Faces in Places and I See Faces.

He kept insisting I should take my photos and add to them. Draw on them to make the faces more obvious (like I did with the cloud photo above). But…drawing, especially on the computer, is not my strong suit. My artistic abilities lean more toward writing and cake decorating.

And yet.

The idea never really left me.

And then, finally, in December, it started to blossom into something. A blog that’s light on art and heavy on puns, with a sprinkling of parody for flavour. And so, at the start of January I launched (de)Face It (Get it, because I deface the photos…of faces?)

So, if you’re bored, or wondering just exactly how weird my sense of humour really is, I hope you’ll head on over to check it out.

It’s been a really fun creative outlet to help me get my mind off the world burning (or should I say coughing?) And I hope maybe it’ll bring a little laughter to the world.

January Update

2022.

It just doesn’t feel like a real year to me. More like something out of the Jetson’s.

Or maybe something out of a horror movie: 2020 (Part) II

Okay, now my standard complaint about time passing has been fulfilled, let’s actually get around to updating.

I didn’t work on my MG novel at all last month. I spent a lot of time working on holiday prep – it felt really important to make this year a good one, after everything that’s gone on. (And considering the state of Omicron right now, it was definitely the right decision.)

The rest of my time I spent working on another project that’s part writing and part (very bad) art. I’m not ready to announce it just yet (although you might catch a glimpse of it if you follow my Twitter closely). Stay tuned to my Monthly Musing in two weeks for the big reveal.

I’m not sure how much I’ll get to work on my novel this month, since schools here have gone online for the next two weeks, at least (I’ll be shocked if it’s less than four, considering our government is refusing to actually do anything to improve their safety while the buildings are shut.) But my goal is to revise that MG Horror/Fantasy I wrote as my NaNoWriMo project, so I can eventually query it.

I also read (well, mostly listened to audiobooks) last month:

December Reading Stats:

  • A Thriller (7)
  • A Mystery (3)
  • YA Fantasy (1)

December Total: 11

2021 Total Books Read/Listened to: 75 (+3 Re-Reads)

It’s a lot fewer than my usual over the last few years, but I’ll take it.

Guess that’s it for this month’s update. My family is planning to stay hunkered down this month in an attempt to avoid Omicron. Hope you all stay safe and healthy!

Monthly Musings: Grin and Bear It

Since Christmas is almost upon us, I thought I’d share the story of the Christmas gift that almost broke me.

Picture it, Sicily, 1922…Oh no, wait, that’s somebody else’s story.

Sorry.

I mean, picture it, Ottawa, 2011: I was the mother to three kids under the age of three (infant twins and a two-year-old). Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my children, but that year was the hardest of my life. It’s all a bit fuzzy, to be honest, but for the first few months I didn’t get more than two hours of consecutive sleep at a time (except maybe for the week I was hospitalized with double mastitis – something the surgeon who cared for me said he’d never seen in 30 years of practicing – when the nurses allowed me a whopping three hours sleep between pumpings).

By the time Christmas approached, not only was I dealing with two newly mobile eight-month-olds, I was also trying to potty train the two-and-a-half-year-old (mostly because she’d take off her diaper overnight then wake up crying in a wet bed). Basically, to say I was stressed is an understatement.

My husband was also pretty sleep-deprived (don’t ask how many times we left at least one bag of groceries in the car overnight – always one that needed refrigeration, of course), and we even managed to lose the car once (but that’s a story for another day).

Anyway, that all goes to say that we weren’t exactly at our best when, about a month before Christmas, we got a phone call from my husband’s cousin.

Cousin: So, what are your thoughts on me buying your kids a life-sized polar bear for Christmas?

Hubs:…

Cousin: I hope that’s a yes, because I maybe already bought it.

Hubs:…

We kinda hoped it was a joke. At worst, we figured we could stash it in a corner and pretend to be Mr. Burns.

And then we promptly forgot about it.

(Did I mention we were sleep-deprived?)

Until, six days before Christmas, I saw this post on Facebook:

I’ve been in this SUV. It is a huge SUV.

Needless to say, when I saw this, I immediately called my husband at work and told him to check Facebook.

And then we promptly forgot about it.

(Sleep-deprived, remember?)

Also, it was Christmastime, and we were busy. Cookies, presents, packing, etc. The next day we headed to my parents’ house, to celebrate Christmas there.

By 8am the next morning, we had discovered several things:

  1. my parents’ house was not baby-proof
  2. we hadn’t brought any baby gates, and
  3. the twins could climb the stairs

(Also, the basement where hubs and I were sleeping, had mice.)

Needless to say, it was a brutal week there.

Finally, it was time to go home.

Which required a five-and-a-half hour drive. With two bottle-fed babies. And a not-quite-potty-trained-but-refused-to-wear-diapers toddler.

We decided the best way to do it was leave at bedtime, so they’d hopefully sleep through, meaning we’d get home around 1am (what’s a little less sleep, when you’re already averaging 5 hours non-consecutively?)

When we pulled into the driveway, all I wanted was my bed.

But.

There was a dark circle on our front window. Very much resembling a hole. In December. In Ottawa.

I almost started crying.

Except, when we went to check it out, it wasn’t a hole. It was a polar bear nose.

Our family had snuck in while we were away and left us a huge surprise.

Too exhausted to do anything at that point (except sigh in relief that our window wasn’t broken), we ignored the elephant (er, polar bear) in the room, and put the kids and ourselves to bed.

Until the next day (after much caffeination).

In case you couldn’t tell from the photos so far, this thing was big.

Like, I always kind of knew in my head that polar bears are big, but I really had no concept (we looked it up later, and apparently -fortunately?- what we had was a female polar bear, much smaller than the average male!)

The bear took up most of the floor space in our living room.

Seriously, look at this! Polar bear is touching the couch on one side, and almost touching Hubs’ feet as he sits on the couch on the other side. And it’s completely blocking the TV!

(In case you’re wondering, we turned it away from the window, towards the stairs, so we could get a good reaction from our two-and-a-half-year-old when she woke up.)

I spent a large part of that day near tears. After a week of constantly chasing toddlers in a house full of breakable things (petition to replace the phrase “Bull in a china shop” with “Toddler in a room full of grandma’s glassware”) all my hormonal, sleep-deprived self wanted was to return home to normal – and normal did not include losing my living room to a stuffed toy.

But, after rearranging the twins’ room and moving it there, the polar bear quickly worked its way into our hearts.

Over the years, it became everything from a guardian against imaginary monsters (“the polar bear won’t let anything hurt you”), to a climbing toy, to bunk beds. (Yes, you read that right.)

The bear starred in our Christmas cards the next year, and even made it into my official writer’s bio:

K. Callard lives in Ottawa, Ontario with her husband, three kids, and a life-size polar bear.

(By the way, is it “life-size” or “life-sized”? Pretty sure I wrote it both ways over the years, because I couldn’t figure it out and thought at least I’d be right half the time.)

The polar bear (whose name ended up being “The Polar Bear” because nothing else we came up with ever felt right/stuck) lived with us for almost ten years, believe it or not, until just before the pandemic started, because the twins needed more space in their room.

All in all, I think Hubs’ cousin definitely got his money’s worth out of the bear. The kids loved it, and it was the main attraction on any house tour (Sigh, remember the days when we had people visit inside our houses?)

But let me leave you with this caveat if you’re buying gifts for someone else’s kid(s) this holiday season: if it makes noise, takes batteries, or is bigger than a breadbox, CHECK WITH THE PARENTS FIRST! (before you pay for it.)

Hope you all have a safe and healthy holiday season. (If you haven’t already read it, check out the tail end of last week’s post for tips to stay Covid-safe during the holidays.)

Oh My Cron!

Looks like you guys get a bonus post this week (don’t worry, my Monthly Musing will still post on Thursday as scheduled). But with the situation with Omicron rapidly spinning out of control, I felt compelled to write another post. I know everyone isn’t as online as I am, and if you’re just listening to the news or following the government’s rules, you might not realize quite what’s bearing down on us.

After all, the situation can hardly be dire, if arenas can still host 15,000 fans, intra-city hockey tournaments are still going ahead, and no additional restrictions have been announced.

Plus, there’s the rumors that Omicron may be “milder”. Except, no one knows for sure yet, as hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators, and the population of countries where it’s spreading is not necessarily analogous to Canada’s (lower median age, lower BMI, higher rate of previous infections, etc). But, even if it turns out Omicron is less virulent here, with the increased level of spread, it won’t take long to overwhelm our health care systems.

Chart showing difference between a slow spreading, more virulent Covid strain vs fast-moving, less virulent (which results in more deaths)

Plus there’s the fact that “mild” means anything that doesn’t land you in hospital. “Mild” cases can still leave you bedridden for days, can leave you with Long Covid symptoms (appears to be about 1 in 7 “mild” Covid cases), and/or leave you with long-term organ damage or result in secondary infections.

Still, if you’ve had two Covid shots, I’d bet you’re sitting there thinking, well, this doesn’t affect me, it’s only the unvaccinated that are at risk.

Well, aside from the fact that the unvaccinated (/partially vaccinated) includes all kids under 12, you’re still wrong. When it comes to Omicron, 2 doses isn’t enough! But don’t take it from me. Instead, listen to the BBC, the Guardian, NBC, or CNN. Basically it boils down to:

If you’re not 2 weeks past your 3rd dose, act like you’re unvaxxed!

What does that mean?

For starters, don’t spend time indoors and unmasked with people, if you can avoid it.

Next: ditch the blue surgical masks (or else find a way to ensure a tight seal on them).

Picture of smoke leaking out around the edges of a surgical mask to demonstrate how poorly they protect against aerosols.

Surgical masks aren’t designed to protect against aerosols (like Covid). If your mask isn’t drawing in toward your face when you inhale, it hasn’t got a good enough seal. Upgrade to an N95 or use a mask brace.

Next, if you are getting together with people unmasked (it is the holidays, after all) open some windows or find another way to increase ventilation. And, if you can get ahold of Rapid Antigen Tests, have everyone do one before gathering. (Plus, the very obvious, but still needs to be said, Don’t go if you have any symptoms! I don’t care if you think it’s allergies, or it’s “just” a runny nose – don’t put others at risk*)

*Omicron seems to spread mostly pre- or asymptomatically, so this isn’t a guarantee of protection, but it is just common sense and courtesy.

I’m not gonna lie, guys, this one feels bad. The experts I follow say Omicron could be as infectious as measles (one of the most infectious diseases in the world), and I’m not sure anyone will avoid catching it this time around, especially since we’re all so tired after 2 years of restrictions (plus that whole, “get 2 shots, go back to normal” messaging from the summer, which no one seems to be calling back yet.)

Long Covid has a lot of similar symptoms to fibromyalgia, and I can tell you, you don’t want it. Plus there’s the whole long-term organ damage-thing on top of it. Not to mention whatever longer-term issues we don’t even know about yet, because it’s only been two years since this started!

I think a lot of families are going to be permanently altered in the next few months. Families who thought they were safe because “Kids don’t get/spread Covid,” “Schools are safe,” and “2 vaccinations = fully vaxxed” (which, in fairness, was true in the summer, but isn’t with Omicron, although this guidance is still up on Health Canada’s website & is being used by PHUs).

Sorry to keep using up precious blog space on this, but I think people need to be aware of what’s coming, and how to protect themselves. If posting this convinces one person to upgrade their mask, or re-assess their safety, then it’ll have done its job.

I hope you all have a safe and healthy holiday.

December Check-In

For once, I’m not caught off guard by the progression of time. Maybe it’s because I was tracking the month’s progress due to recording my writing for NaNoWriMo, or maybe it’s because I’m eager for Christmas to get here, but either way, the calendar change didn’t catch me by surprise this time!

Speaking (writing?) of NaNo, I am am happy to say I got my 50,000 words in (by November 24th, which is a personal record). I set myself a goal of 2,500 words/weekday, and while I may not have hit it every time, I did even it out by writing extra on other days.

(Admittedly it was easier this time because I was re-writing an earlier attempt that I already had 18,000 words of, so I knew where the story was supposed to – and not supposed to – go, but even re-writing takes time.)

I’m now sitting with a very (very) rough but full MG Horror manuscript waiting to be revised. But that’s January Kaye’s problem.

As per usual, I’ll be letting the manuscript (and my brain) rest in December, while I work on getting ready for the holidays. (Crafts, baking, wrapping, packing, you know the drill.)

I even managed to get more audiobook-listening done this month, as you can see in my

Reading Stats

  • Adult Non-Fiction (1)
  • Adult Mystery (3)
  • Adult Thriller (2)
  • Adult Urban Fantasy (1)
  • Adult Mystery Short Story Collection (1)

November Total: 8

Year-to-Date Total: 64 (+3 Re-Reads)

This month also marked an exciting moment in the Callard household: my ten-year-old twins got their first vaccines this month.

Of course, just as I thought that might let us return to some semblance of normal (in about 10 weeks, after their second vax + 2 weeks to build immunity) it was announced there’s a new Covid Variant of Concern: Omicron, and it’s been found in my city.

Info about Omicron is still in short supply, and it’ll be a while before we know if it really does spread more quickly, if it causes worse outcomes, and/or if it can evade the vaccine, so I’m not going into panic mode yet. That said, the epidemiologists and infectious disease doctors I follow on Twitter are definitely nervous.

So, what can we do to keep ourselves and our families safe now and over the holidays?

  • Up your mask game – According to Health Canada’s recently updated guidelines:

In general, while non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical masks and respirators provide better protection.

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/types-masks-respirators.html

That means, if you can, get yourself some N95s, KN95s, FN95s, or higher. (My family has been wearing the 508s from Canada Strong Masks) If you are still wearing the blue surgical masks (either because of cost, or because it’s what your job requires) fit is key. They should form enough of a seal that the mask moves in when you inhale, and out when you exhale (This is true of the N95s too, but generally I find these fit well on their own).

You can achieve a better fit with a surgical mask by wearing a mask brace on top, double masking, or using this nifty folding and tying technique.

  • Mask up indoors – now that you’ve found yourself a good quality mask, wear it! Covid aerosols can hang in the air for hours after being exhaled, so even if you’re alone in a public space, you should be wearing your mask.
    • What about restaurants, you ask? After all, you’re allowed to unmask in them. Personally, I think we’re going to look back on dining in restaurants during the pandemic the same way we look at smoking in restaurants now. Covid aerosols hang in the air like smoke, and float around the same way, and they definitely don’t take a lunch break. Personally, I say stick to takeout.
  • Get Vaccinated – I know this has become controversial, but personally, I can’t understand why (well, I kind of can, it’s mostly thanks to a targeted disinformation campaign). Getting vaccinated helps protect you and others around you, especially those who can’t get vaccinated due to age or severe health outcomes, as well as those who are vaccinated but whose bodies don’t form the proper immune response. If you have questions about the safety of vaccines, please talk to your doctor. And since immunity seems to wane after 5-6 months, please be sure to get your 3rd dose as soon as you qualify.
  • Rapid Tests – if you’ve got ’em, use ’em. All Ontario students are supposed to be getting five rapid tests to use over the holidays. Personally, this is the main thing making me feel at all safe about getting together with my family over the holidays (we’re chock full of high riskers). It’d be even better if Ontario would use them to screen school populations on a regular basis, to weed out asymptomatic cases before they spread, but that looks unlikely to happen.
  • Ventilate! – I said it above, but I’ll repeat it again. Covid spreads through the air. If you’re going to get together indoors, unmasked, with others (like, say, for a holiday meal) open some windows and get some fresh air circulating. Even better, use a HEPA filter or make a Corsi-Rosenthal box or two and keep them running. If you have access to a CO2 monitor, use it to see just how much of other people’s breath you’re breathing in.

Here’s a great infographic about how to celebrate a safe holiday:

Sabrina Wong (@sabrinawong88) / Twitter

I highly recommend taking the above precautions, even if Omicron turns out to be a big nothingburger, because they work against all Covid (including our current variant Delta), as well as other aerosol-transmitted viruses and diseases like the flu and norovirus.

As tired as we all are of the pandemic, it’s not tired of us yet, so do what you can to keep yourself and others safe. I know I will.

Monthly Musings: It Begins

Well, I promised a new feature on the blog, and this is it.

Last month I read Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess)’s latest book: Broken (in the Best Possible Way)

(Okay, technically, I listened to it on audiobook, which is even better, not only because I got to hear her voice, but because there were additional bits directed to audiobook listeners that were possibly the funniest parts of the entire thing.)

If you’ve never read any of her work before, I highly recommend you hit that link above (go ahead, I’ll wait). Jenny – nope, that feels weird, referring to her like we’re on a first name basis. Let’s go with The Bloggess – has amazing stories and a real knack for telling them. They’re chock full of inspiration and wtf***ery (with a fairly liberal sprinkling of expletives, so fair warning if that’s not your thing). If you can get through one of her books without laugh-crying (or is it cry-laughing?) you’re a different person than I.

Where am I going with all this, you ask?

Well, Broken really resonated with me. Maybe it was the Bloggess’s struggles with chronic illness, or maybe it was her openness about depression, but I came away not only feeling seen, but feeling like I understood myself better. So, I’ve decided to write my own series of essays every third Thursday called Monthly Musings.

(I was going to publish them every third Monday, so I could call them Monday Monthly Musings, but a) there’s lots of Mondays in a month, so that wouldn’t really make sense; and b) I procrastinate a lot and I don’t usually have time to write on the weekend, so that just felt like a recipe for disaster. So third Thursdays it is.)

What will my Monthly Musings consist of, and how will they be different from my Monthly Updates, you ask? (My, aren’t you the inquisitive one today.) Well, Monthly Updates generally consist of how my writing journey is (or isn’t) progressing, along with my month’s Reading Stats. Monthly Musings will be more…eclectic? Basically, like The Bloggess, I expect to offer up personal essays that are about a combination of: chronic illness, things I feel passionately about, and some random anecdotes that I think you’ll find amusing.

Unlike The Bloggess, I’ll do my best to keep the stories expletive-free and overall family friendly (no shade toward The Bloggess, as I think her stories are all the funnier for her use of swears – looking at you, Beyonce – but since this *is* supposed to be the blog of an aspiring children’s author, I promise to rein in my potty mouth and keep things SFW.)

Look, I don’t expect to become the next Bloggess, or anything. I don’t have her quirky personality, her love of taxidermy, or her knack for naming animals (our dog’s name is the phonetic misspelling of an Ewok’s name because that’s what she looked like as a puppy, and because my kids (and I) are giant Star Wars nerds.)

BUT,

if my Monthly Musings can make someone feel like they’re not alone in their chronic illness, or just bring a smile to a reader’s face, then it’ll be worth it.

I guess it’s appropriate that this first-ever Monthly Musing is about Monthly Musings, even if it feels a little light on the musing part (Monthly Mildly Musings?) But since I didn’t have a fun anecdote to make you smile this time, I’ll leave off with a picture of our ridiculously fluffy Star Wars dog:

Okay, I take it back, I’m not going to leave off with that photo.

Because I need to show you the various other photos that came up while searching for it. Here are some of the things Google considers to be a dog:

A goat. Really, Google?

But wait, it gets better.

My kid, wearing a zebra onesie. (Smiley sun added for blog)

Seriously? I mean, I know that’s not the most zebra-ish zebra around, what with the flat snout and rainbow mohawk, and I absolutely wouldn’t have been upset if Google hadn’t been able to identify this in a search for zebras. But a dog?

But wait, it gets even better.

Yeah. That’s some kind of deer, sticking its head in the window of our car.

At least I guess we don’t have to worry about the robot uprising in the too-near future, if this is what Google thinks a dog is.

All right, and one last one:

At least this one is a dog.

Yeah, I can’t fault Google on its identification of this one. I really only posted it so you could share in the horror I felt the day I walked into my twins’ bedroom and found that. Seriously, whoever designed a dog rug must have had some issues to begin with, but I have to hope they never imagined how terrible it would look if someone sat something heavy on it, especially with the way that tongue lolls out. Ick.

And on that pleasant note, I’m going to sign off on this, my first ever Monthly Musing. See you next month…

November Update

Seriously? November?

*Double checks calendar*

Yup, it appears to be November.

Has anyone seen what happened to October? Because I’m pretty sure it disappeared. We need to get its photo on milk cartons or something.

I just re-read my Update from last month, and, no joke, I would have sworn that’s what I was going to write for this month. But apparently my kids have actually been in school all month…

So, what did I do?

Well, I finished polishing my Adult Urban Fantasy and sent it to a publisher. Now I’m doing my best to forget about it. Then I finished a short story set in the same world. Once I run it by some critique partners and polish it up I’m going to send it out and see if I can get it published.

And, I decided to enter NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month) this year.

I’ve had lots of time to think about the MG Fantasy I was working on when chaos hit in September, and I’ve realized I need to re-write it basically from scratch. So, I figured NaNo would be the best way to motivate myself and get words on the page (screen?).

It’s been a few years since I entered NaNo, and I have a ton of other calls on my time these days, so who knows if I’ll manage to hit 50,000 words. But any words will be more than I have now, so I’ll count any writing as a win.

I’ve also come up with a new blog feature that I’ll be posting every third Thursday, so stay tuned for that in two weeks.

Sadly, I’m still not doing well with reading/listening to audiobooks. I don’t know if it’s pandemic fatigue, or the challenge of finding good audiobooks (only one of my audiobooks this month truly captivated me), but it’s definitely been a struggle this year. In fact, even listening at 1.75x speed (and increasing it to 2x speed near the end) I had one of my audiobooks returned when I was only 90% through (I haven’t counted it in the stats, since I didn’t complete it) – and since there’s a huge wait list for it, I may just find a summary of the ending, rather than try to finish it. Le sigh.

October Reading Stats

  • MG Fantasy (1)
  • YA Fantasy (2)
  • A UF (1)
  • A Non-Fiction (1)

September Total: 5

Year-to-Date Total: 56 (+ 3 Re-Reads)

October Update

Phew, has it been a doozy of a month.

If you read my previous posts, you know how anxious I was about my kids’ return to in-person school. Well, turns out I was both right and wrong to worry.

I’m writing this post on the 20th day of the school year. So far, my unvaxxed kids have attended only 10 days because of colds we’re passing around. Our household has had 3 Covid tests in 3 weeks.

The colds definitely came from school, which doesn’t exactly instill confidence in me about the schools’ ability to keep Covid spread contained. On the other hand, at least they’re not at school while the rate of Covid in kids in our city is 91/100K.

What does all this have to do with writing?

Well, the first week they were home, I homeschooled the boys: found worksheets online for them to practice the math the school was teaching, came up with French lessons to help get them up to speed, and found science videos to match what the school was teaching.

Fortunately, their teachers have now posted some work online for them (teachers are awesome!), but even that still requires a fair amount of my time, to help explain instructions/assist with their accommodations.

Since almost all my time has gone to schooling, I haven’t got much writing done this month. (Just this blog post is taking at least three times as long to finish, because I have to keep helping the kids with schoolwork).

I haven’t even touched my MG WiP, but I have managed a little time to polish up my A UF to prepare it to submit directly to a publisher. (Keep your fingers crossed for me.)

Needless to say, I haven’t done much reading/listening this month either.

September Reading Stats

  • MG Fantasy (4)
  • Re-Read (1)

September Total: 4 (+ 1 Re-Read)

Year-to-Date: 51 (+ 3 Re-Reads)

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.”