Four Weeks, Nine Days

Time is weird when you’re grieving. Untitled design

It seems at once too slow and too fast, and feels like it’s moving through water.

Churning.

It’s been two days shy of three  months since my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

It’s been four weeks and nine days since he died.

I count time like this now. Each minute, each day, each week, I remind myself I’ve made it through another one, and am strong enough to get through the next.

“Stay busy,” everyone tells me. “Keep your mind occupied.” So I do. I haven’t missed a day of work since I went back after the funeral. I’ve put out a new book, a collection of horror shorts. I’ve made five gigantic shawls and one miniature one. Most I’ve given away. It helps my anxiety to have something to do with my hands, so I haul my bag o’ yarn with me everywhere. I make dinner. I shuttle my kids around. I text friends. I try to read, but the truth is, I’m having trouble focusing. My mind drifts, and sitting still is such an uncomfortable sensation, I can barely tolerate it. I hosted Thanksgiving at my house this year. It was different and sort of quiet but we made it through. I miss watching the TV shows I used to enjoy, but I can’t seem to follow the plots enough to grasp what is happening, so I stopped watching.

My therapist says I need to give myself permission to rest. I struggle to understand how to put that into practice. I have forgotten how to let my mind be quiet. If I don’t keep it constantly filled with projects and sounds and plans, grief hits me so hard and so fast I can’t catch my breath.

At first, I feared I’d lost my words. I tried to write, but nothing came. But about  a week ago, I worked on When Knowing Comes, and I thought if I could just write one good paragraph, that would be great. It took me a while. First I typed a few words, and then a few more. Rearranged them. Deleted. Rewrote. Then all at once I had two paragraphs worth keeping. Then a solid thousand words.

I released Consumption with zero fanfare in November. I didn’t have the strength at the time to contact reviewers & bloggers. Last weekend I spent a Saturday working backwards, contacting bloggers to see if they’d be willing to review the book I surprise-released a month ago. Some were really nice about it. Most remained silent. I don’t blame them. It’s not their fault I dropped the ball. They don’t know what’s going on in my life. As far as they’re aware, I’m just another author with no regard for their time. I’m really grateful to the ones who responded, though. It means a lot.

For the most part, I’m learning to cope with the anxiety attacks. If it comes on slow, I can use the breathing exercises I’ve been taught to stave off the worst of it. Sometimes, though, they hit when I’m in the middle of a store, or driving to work. I’ll have a cart full of groceries and out of nowhere I think, “There are too many people in this store. There’s not enough air for everyone.” Even though I realize it’s illogical, the thought won’t leave. And before I know it, I’ve broken out in a sweat, my heart is hammering, my hands are shaking, and I’m stuck there in the produce aisle, hoping my ice cream doesn’t melt before I can pay and get out of the store. The week before last, my son texted me at work “lol my school is on fire.” I was so instantly panicked! I was able to reach him by phone and the kids were out in the parking lot, the fire was just in a bathroom (some kid dropped a cigarette in a trash can full of paper), and everything was under control in minutes. But I couldn’t calm back down all day. It’s days like those I realize how  much more amplified the anxiety has become. When I realize it’s in control of me instead of the other way around.

Sleep is a crapshoot. I fall asleep most nights but wake back up at two a.m. for no apparent reason at all and remain that way. Grief is a kind of exhaustion all its own, but sleeping less than three hours a night just makes it worse. I stare at nothing in the darkness and try counting backward from one hundred in an effort to trick my mind back into sleep. It never works, but I keep counting.

Counting backward. Counting days. Counting through anxiety attacks.

Marking time.

I’m still here. I keep getting up. Keep showing up. Keep working. Keep writing.

It’s been four weeks and nine days.

I’m still counting.

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CONSUMPTION

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I know, I know. I disappeared again. Apologies.

I would explain it if I could, but the truth is, for a while I just had nothing to say. And there’s no point in posting a blank page.

Many of you recall that four years ago, I lost my sister after a short and brutal battle with lung cancer. It was a long struggle for me to climb back from the desperation that followed that loss. In September of this year, my brother, my only remaining sibling, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Small cell. Very aggressive. The day he was diagnosed, he made me promise to take him and his son on the trip they had been planning for my nephew’s 22nd birthday. They had wanted to go to Nashville and see the Grand Ole Opry. In very short order, we had thrown together a benefit dinner, raised the money for the trip, took days off work, and we left October 13th, headed for Nashville. It was a beautiful trip but difficult, and I’m not going to get too much into that right now (maybe later, in another post, after I’ve done some processing), but suffice to say, I’m so thankful we were able to go on that trip. My brother passed October 31st.

My brain has been a hot mess. Grief is a hard thing, and it feels like we’ve lost so much of our family in just a few years. To have something to focus my mind on, I’ve been working on putting together a collection of short horror stories. My lovely editor and cover artist made time in her busy schedule for me, and CONSUMPTION released last night. I haven’t done any pre-release promo. I haven’t contacted any bloggers. This is quieter than a soft release. It’s little more than a whisper.

But it’s been a good project for me, and it’s got some of my favorite (and disgusting) short horror  stories in it.

If you happen to read CONSUMPTION, stop back by and let me know what you thought. I’d love to hear from you. http://tinyurl.com/y8hywela

The First Step is Worth It

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I started this blog, I think, four years ago. It began as a way to practice writing, as a way to organize my thoughts. There are times I’m blogging weekly and times I go months without a post, and that’s fine. This is my own space to do with what I wish, but the joy I found in writing regularly is part of what led to me think I could publish a book in the first place.

Now, at the time, I had written a book that I was doing nothing with, other than occasional tweaks. But after my sister’s death in 2013, I had this overwhelming desire to see my work in print. Because death is a hard thing, and it often forces us to look at our own lives and what we are doing (or not doing) with them. In my case, it struck me hard that, Oh my God, I really could die without doing this thing I had wanted to do since junior high.

Write and publish a book.

And this desire gave me courage, and I put the things in motion that would help me get my book out there. My first book will never hit a bestsellers list. It is not The Greatest Book in the World. But it is a book, and people buy it and read it and like it, and if I had never taken that first plunge, I wouldn’t be on the brink of releasing my fourth book.

As far as publishing goes, there are a lot of things I have done wrong. I still have no website or newsletter. I don’t publish books on a regular schedule and I don’t write within one genre. My books are weird and not everyone likes that.

But that’s okay. They don’t have to, because I like them. I’m satisfied with the stories I write, and I know I don’t cave to expectation or do what’s considered the current trendy thing. Every book I write is true to the vision in my mind, and that is what is important to me.

And I have this little band of followers who buy my books and read and review them, and one who sends me fan art (which is awesome). There are people who send me messages to tell me they enjoyed what I’ve written.

The point here is, none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t taken the first step. If I had never started this blog, I don’t think I would have gained enough confidence to publish my words in a book. If I had never published my imperfect first book, I wouldn’t be getting ready to publish my fourth.

These dreams are inside us for a reason. We’re meant to take those first steps. Sure, we’ll stumble and sometimes fall along the way. We’ll end up with bruises and scrapes.  The first attempt won’t be easy or probably very pretty. But we need those first steps. We learn from them.

They give us the courage to keep walking.

My fourth book, In the Presence of Knowing, will be available this spring.

New Year, New Reads, New Plans

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This is my first read of the new year, We All Fall Down by my friend Karen Cimms. It’s the second in her Of Love and Madness series, and I was lucky enough to beta read this one (and the first one) for her. I was thrilled when it arrived in the mail just in time for the turn of the year. (Which reminds me, I need to start a “read in 2017” shelf on Goodreads. I’ll do that when I’m finished with this post.)

I’m setting a goal for myself to read at least 100 books this year, and I’d like at least half of those reads to be indie books, so I’m off to a good start with this one.

I’ve got another goal, and that is to finish writing at least one book this year. I’m currently working on two of them, plus writing for Scotland Now as their Outlander correspondent, which is pretty fabulous, to be honest, but it leaves me less time for book writing. At the moment, I’ve got one manuscript (the one about turnips and aliens) sitting at 40k, marinating like a pork chop in a nice vinaigrette, and another at 15k, which is shaping up to be some kind of paranormal something set at a Renaissance festival.

Last year at this time, I decided to try some new things on the writing front, and put out a lot more in terms of freelance work. I also did a few things I was really afraid to do, such as giving a speech about writing at my former high school, and reading an excerpt of  my book Slither on the Horror Addicts podcast, which, if you missed it, you can listen to here https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/horroraddicts-net-131-valerie-kinney/

In 2016, I had twenty articles or short stories accepted for publication at various outlets, not including the pieces published for Scotland Now. I also had two longish short stories accepted into anthologies – A Mother’s Heart in the Gems of Strength Anthology by The Sisterhood, and Misadventures of Mercy, which will be out sometime this year in the Super Market Anthology by Draconian Publishing.

Heckled released nearly one year ago, January 9, 2016. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long! And my super heroine short stories in the KAPOW anthologies by 7DS Books came out right around that same time as well.

So even though I feel a little frustrated that I haven’t finished another book just yet, I can look back and see I have accomplished quite a lot over the last year.

Going forward, I’m going to attempt to reign in my scattered focus and get at least one (if not two!) books completed this year. I’d like to see if I could sell a couple more short stories, and keep putting out freelance work. I’ve got to stop crocheting chickens (maybe next week) and finish the big blankets that are sitting here, sadly getting shoved around from place to place while I ignore their loose ends to make more chickens. I’ve gotten myself a set of knitting needles and am going to learn to knit. I’m going to attempt for the ninety bajillionth time to quit caffeine, and I’m going to seek out and attend more events where my husband can wear the new kilt I just bought him. I’m planning to do more with this little blog, and hopefully get a website made… though that’s something I feel like I say every year.

Before you ask, yes, I did dye my hair a new color  for the new year (burgundy), but no, those aren’t highlights streaking the front. It’s olive green paint, because we just painted my daughter’s bedroom and I didn’t think of covering my hair before I did it.

Luckily for me, burgundy and olive green tend to be complimentary colors, because it isn’t washing out, not even a little.

Now, I’m heading back to the writing cave for a while… right after I hit up Pinterest for directions on how to build a princess dog bed out of an old end table and ten yards of tulle.

 

 

 

 

Indie Pride Day

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Here we are once again, celebrating indie authors on the day set aside to blow up social media feeds with pictures of ourselves with indie books we’ve written or read. This is the third year I’ve been involved with the movement, and it’s pretty cool, seeing all the support that we give to one another.

Being an indie author is a neat thing. I’m proud of the work I put out, and while I realize the weird stuff I write is not for everyone, there are those who do enjoy it and reach out to tell me that my work had an impact on them, or how much they enjoyed it. That means a lot to me, to my heart. My books might seem a bit odd to some, but they are real and true to my vision of the story, and that’s the part of being indie I love. I don’t have anyone telling me what I need to add or take out of my story to make it more mainstream. There is plenty of mainstream work out there. Don’t get me wrong, I like to read mainstream books as well… I just also like having the option of writing and reading books that have more unusual plots and characters.

I also love being part of the indie community, of the other authors who lift one another up with post shares, book buying, and being there for one another on difficult days when writing is hard. Cover designers, editors, formatters, and book bloggers also make up part of this community, and have proven to be some of the neatest people I’ve ever met online.

I’m proud of myself for taking the leap to start writing books, and I’m proud of my indie friends for doing the same. It’s a scary thing, putting your art out there for people to see. They might love it, or hate it, or completely ignore it. Sometimes we get nasty messages or emails about our work from people who seem utterly miserable with life. Sometimes we get beautiful reviews. Sometimes we can’t get a solitary share on a link about our writing, and we feel invisible. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, but still one I’m glad I buckled myself into. The ride itself has been worth it.

That’s the thing to remember, I think. It’s easy enough to get caught up in the idea of where we are going; where our ranking might be next year at this time, or if we hit a bestseller list, or if we get picked up by some big publication. But the journey is the part to enjoy. We’ve made this art, and it is ours. Our vision, our heart and soul, our own unique ideas written out that we can hold in our hands, and share with others. That’s not something everyone can say they’ve done. It’s the writing itself that’s important. It’s the Doing of the Thing. It’s this moment, right now, where we are working toward a goal that means the world to us. That is the success.

These pictures are just some of my favorite indie authors. Many indie books I own are ebooks on my phone, so I can’t take photos with them.

Help us celebrate Indie Pride Day. Tell me some of your favorite indie authors.

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The Spaghetti Principle

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The truth about mistakes is, I make a lot of them.

Especially when it comes to this writing gig. I can look back over the last few years since I’ve been writing seriously and want to just kick myself in the face, but I can’t because I’m forty and my hips don’t swivel the way they used to.

The truth is, I often feel as though I’m just flinging spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks.

Sometimes, the pasta that stuck stays there a couple of weeks, and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes I think the way it stuck there at first was nothing but pure luck, and I should just scrub the wall and start all over again, new pot, new spaghetti, new wall.

Looking back, one of the biggest mistakes I probably made was working backward.

I started this blog, and then I went forward from there. So I’ve got this blog with a decent amount of followers and I love that you guys stop in and read and leave me comments and all, but I should have started with a website.

I started the blog, and then I wrote books, and then I made a website which I later deleted, because it was frustrating to have it separate from the blog. And the blog name is not my name, so it doesn’t always come up in searches. Now I seriously need a website, and I’d like to set it up so that this blog is attached to it, and eventually since I’ve got more books out now, start a mailing list. But I suck at techy type stuff, and I can’t even seem to get my gravatar on the blog to change, even though I’ve changed it six million times, so the thought of starting a website on my own is intimidating. (side note: anyone willing to help me do this, I would love you forever and gift you ecopies of all three of my books).

I wish that I had saved every interview I’ve ever done about writing, but I didn’t, because organizational skills are a thing that I’ve always lacked. I wish I had been more organized about the things I did save, instead of saving things randomly in weird places, because now when I try to find them sometimes I cry a little.

I wish, I wish, I wish…

I wish I was a more linear thinker, but I’m not. I’m a creative thinker, and my thoughts are usually everywhere at once, and this doesn’t seem to be anything I can change. I cannot force myself to write only in one genre, though that’s what all the marketing articles stress I should do. My brain is impulsive and always has been, and science has come pretty far in recent years but not far enough that I can swap my mind out for another. I cannot go backward and undo this blog, though even if I could, I probably wouldn’t, because I’ve met so many cool people through it.

I wish I could get back every article I’ve given away my rights to, especially the ones I didn’t get paid for. What was I thinking?

That’s just life, I guess. You try things and learn and cringe about your ignorance, and try more things and learn.

I’m not certain what forward looks like from here. I don’t think I’ll delete this blog. I do want to get a website up and running. I am going to delete my ello account, because it does nothing but make me feel stressed that I’m not paying enough attention to it.

I will eventually set up a mailing list. In the interim, I’ve started a reader’s group on Facebook. You are welcome to come on in and join Valarie’s Voracious Readers. https://www.facebook.com/groups/931457066949510/

I wish, I wish, I wish…

That all the spaghetti would stick.

Helping Indie Authors Without Having to put on Pants

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(this is my indie friends book shelf)

Ways you can help support your favorite authors without washing your hair or wearing pants:

1. If you read their books, leave a review. I know, I know. You keep hearing this. But it is truly such an important thing. And I think sometimes people feel intimidated, as if they maybe don’t know the “right” way to review a book, so they just don’t. But you don’t have to take a How to Write a Book Review class in order to do this. Just go to Goodreads or Amazon, and where it says, “Would you like to leave a review?” click it. Click how many stars you would give the book. If you thought it was a two star book, that is fine. Be honest. Now write two sentences. They don’t have to be long. “I liked this book. It made me laugh.” is a sufficient review. The best part about leaving a review is, you don’t have to put on pants to do it. Nope. If you have read my books, please leave me a review. It would mean so much.

2. Add their books to your “Want to read” shelf on Goodreads.

3. Like reviews of their books on Goodreads or Amazon.

4. Share reviews of their books on social media.

5. Take pictures of their books when you get them and post them. Of course you can. You take pictures of your sleeping dog and your Chinese takeout dinner. You can also take pictures of books!

6. Read their books in public. This one may actually require pants. Sorry.

7. Talk about them. “I read this great book by So and So, I think you’d love it!”

8. Buy their books as birthday and Christmas gifts for your bibliophile friends and family. Books make great gifts, and they are already rectangular so you don’t have to put them in a box to wrap them.

9. Show up at their book signings. Depending on how close you are with the local police department, this one may also require pants.

10. Leave reviews on multiple sites. This does not mean you need to keep rewriting reviews. Just copy and paste. Ten seconds of time.

11. Send a message to your favorite author and tell them they inspire you. Or that they made you mad. Or laugh. Or cry. Tell them their work has touched you somehow. That might just be the day they were thinking about giving up and throwing their laptop out the window.