Ink-Stained Scribe

A Friend in Both Camps

It's really cool to know other writers. It's really, really cool to know writers who are good enough friends for me to visit, or invite to stay at my home. This month, I did both!

Pee and Tip!

(Two things that happen after too much Viking's Blöd.)

At the beginning of April, I visited Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences), friends I made through podcasting. In addition to being successful podiobook authors (indeed, Tee helped create podiobooks.com and had one of the first podiobooks out there), they then published with a small press (Dragonmoon Press), and are now traditionally published by an imprint of the Big Five.

They have the agent, the book deals, the awards. And they still have a foot in the DIY camp.

On their podcast, The Shared Desk, they talk about writing, their projects, and general tomfoolery, and they run short stories written by fellow authors they've invited to share in their traditionally-published story-world on their Tales from the Archives podcast. Think of it as a "Tales from Mos Eisley Cantina" for their own series.

It was really cool to stay with them and get a glimpse into the lifestyle of not one, but two career writers, and also be around for their new book's Facebook launch party.

Annual Harris/Hilton (Roach Toaster Tour - 2014)

After coming home from Tee and Pip's, I had a couple days to catch up on writing and...er...clean the house before my friend Abigail Hilton (The Prophet of Panamindorah; The Guild of the Cowry Catchers) arrived for our annual retreat. Last year, I visited her in Florida, which was fantastic. This year, she came to visit me!   (Listen on the right.)

Abbie and I also met through the podcasting community. Like Pip and Tee, she has a few podiobooks out, the second set of which is a five book full cast labor of love that aired its final episode while she was here! Guild of the Cowry Catchers was actually how I found out (and became a fan of) Abbie.

Funny thing is, Abbie started out trying to traditionally publish Cowry Catchers, but never really found a home for it. I guess when you write 250,000 word novels about anthropomorphised gay pirate animals fighting oppressive dragon priestesses, it's a little hard for publishers to figure out where to shelve you (I am oversimplifying the story, obviously, for the sake of the lulz, but you can get the first book on the right for FREE).

So Abbie self-published her work as a full-cast podiobook and, like, actually paid people. As a traveling nurse anaesthetist, she also had the means to commission beautiful illustrations for her books.

She showed me her excel spreadsheet and explained how she keeps track of her expenses and gains (which was all very businessy and intimidating-looking because, as we see from my blogging schedule, I am not consistent).

What was evident, however, is that between Cowry Catchers and her other self-published works, she's making enough per month to perk up my ears. Of course, with the amount of money she's thrown at the books' illustrations (which even she says are probably unnecessary), she's just starting to break even on the Cowry Catchers books.

Still, after self-publishing, Abbie doesn't seem likely to look back at traditional publishing, and she was actually one of the folks responsible for my decision to self publish my novella EXORCISING AARON NGUYEN.

Ultimately, my goal is different from Abbie's--she is happier having a job that can support her, and writing during her breaks between work. She likes the stability of that, and never intends to make writing her primary paycheck-bringer.

I, on the other hand, want to be able to support myself (at least mostly) on my writing, which is getting harder and harder for strictly-traditionally published authors to do.

Learning from Both Camps

Tee and Pip entered the business a couple of years ago and have been building their audiences through both traditional and independent venues for more than five years. Hard times or good, they are examples of the kind of author I want to be--capable of both being traditionally published and still having fingers in the DIY scene, splitting their time between writing and having a blast as a family.

I'm entering the publishing game in the middle of a shifting of rules, and what hanging out with them taught me is that I still believe in traditional publishing and want that to be my primary form of publication.

What hanging out with (the far more organized and practical INTJ) Abbie taught me is that I need not only look at self publishing as a plan B, but do that while putting a time limit on my submission of novel-length work to agents and editors. That way, I won't be letting work I'm proud of founder if the traditional folks don't think it's right for the market.

A few times, Abbie told me, "If you keep knocking on [the publishing house's] door, they will eventually let you in." Which is what I'd like to believe as well. All the same, she's convinced me to start building a summer home in indie publishing.

 

WIP STATS

PROJECT: SONG OF THE HERETIC
WORDCOUNT: 47k (ish)
FEELING: Still excited. It's getting easier to write the scenes at a good pace.
PROJECTED COMPLETION: July

$7.19
By Pip Ballantine, Tee Morris
Does Gollum have any dependents? YES: PRECIOUS.”
— Gollum (Lauren) - Click above to listen
By Abigail Hilton

"Abbie taught me is that I need not only look at self publishing as a plan B, but do that while putting a time limit on my submission of novel-length work to agents and editors."

We’re about to sexually harass some podcasters via phone. It’s going to be awesome.
— Lauren (click above to listen)
Abbie, Dave Robeson, and Bryan Lincoln

Abbie, Dave Robeson, and Bryan Lincoln


Slinking Back After Blogging Hiatus

Since my last update, a metric hella-ton has happened. Hence the lack of updates.

The first thing...

was the November 24, 2013 release of the audiobook, HAVEN: A STRANGER MAGIC by D.C. Akers, narrated by me. If you're looking for a serialized middle grade fantasy, check it out!

The second thing...

was Smoky Writers 2014, which was the writing retreat in January, planned by Alex White (author of The Gearheart). I wanted to use the trip to get momentum back on SONG OF THE HERETIC, which I had not managed to get much done on during NaNoWriMo, and the trip absolutely surpassed my expectations. Hands down, it was the best trip I have ever taken. I've never felt so productive, so accepted, nor so well-fed. And the company could hardly be beaten (except, possibly, by the expanded lineup for next year).

We recapped on Episode #28 of The Shared Desk podcast (click below to listen - explicit language alert).

TL;DL? Let me tell you just a bit about it:

Eight writers and two cooks venture into the Smoky Mountains for five days. Our mantra?

FOOD. BOOZE. WORDS.

We had a couple of ground rules:

#1 - You MUST write.

#2 - Quiet Time until 5PM.

#3 - At 5PM, each person reads up to 10min of their day's writing. No critiques.

The schedule was... 

8:00 - breakfast

9:00 - writing

12:00 - lunch

1:00 - writing

5:30 - readings

7:00 - dinner

8:00 - hot-tub/games/shenanigans.

When I tell you that I gained 5lbs on that trip, it's because I couldn't stop eating. Five days worth of amazing meals courtesy our two chefs. It was like being royalty...

On the way home, my friend Bryan Lincoln and I got caught in a snowstorm that caused us to take nearly 11 hours for what had been a 6-hour drive there. His flight got cancelled, and I ended up dragging him back to the farm with me.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PUT TWO WRITERS IN A CAR FOR 11 HOURS, THEN GIVE THEM THREE DAYS TO HANG OUT?

They brainstorm and outline a pair of interlocking, independent stories about Steampunk Artificial Intelligence. (Listen to the madness and hilarity below).

So, after the retreat and subsequent mini-retreat, it was back to work.

The third thing...

was the change I felt to myself. Something shifted at that retreat--clicked in a way it never had before. Maybe it was realizing that I could be accepted in a group of other writers I like and respect, and treated as an equal and not as the impostor I feared. Maybe it was getting back into the swing of my writing and realizing I wasn't as tired, that I really could get back into the game.

Somehow, I knew after coming home from the retreat that 2014 was going to be my year, because I had decided to make it my year.

Some background...

Last year, 2013, was really hard. I quit my job, moved back in with my parents, and was (finally) diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder I'd been battling since high school. I started medication, started a new job at Starbucks, and tried to reassemble the pieces of a life I'd felt had all but fallen apart.

Somewhere in there, I recorded two audiobooks, edited, formatted, and released EXORCISING AARON NGUYEN, outlined SONG OF THE HERETIC, and finally put THE MARK OF FLIGHT into a drawer indefinitely (ouch). By the time NaNoWriMo rolled around, I was exhausted, and then it was Christmas season at work.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, we welcomed my niece Peyton into the world - the first of a big string of great things to come.

A New Year...

Luckily, the medication was doing wonders for me. It really feels like night and day, comparing how I felt before to how I feel now. Suddenly, the person that's been lurking beneath that constant sense of dread and stress has come to the surface. I used to cry whenever I talked about anything even vaguely serious (even if it wasn't something I thought merited tears, I couldn't stop them). Now, tears are confined for really serious things. Like tornadoes and laughing while moving boxes up three flights of stairs in the rain and getting that first picture of my niece.

After the retreat, I knew I needed to continue with all the good the medication was doing. Luckily enough, I wasn't expending all my energy in incessant fight-or-flight. I had the mental and emotional capacity to take a good look at myself and realize that there were other factors in my life keeping me from being fully committed to my writing.

I wasn't healthy. I'm nearly 5'3" and, at roughly 157lbs, heavier than I'd ever been. I was really athletic in high school, and during my early 20s, fluctuated in weight quite a bit. My healthy weight--when I'm active and muscular and fit--is generally between 115 and 125, and while I wasn't expecting to get back to that, I set my initial goal to get past the 147lb-barrier I hadn't been able to break for over two years.

I'm up all night to get healthy...

J/k! I'm trying to get adequate sleep. That, and change my diet. I think changing how I ate was the most important step in losing weight. For four weeks, I didn't really work out that much, but my mother and I did the SUPER SHRED diet, and both of us dropped 10lbs. I moved on to the sustainable basic SHRED diet and started following Cassey Ho's workout calendar on Blogilates. I dropped another 5lbs, which I've gained back in muscle, and a total of 2.5" off my waist. The best part is that it hasn't been too difficult.

I also started running, which I used to think I'd only do in the event of a zombie apocalypse...

Progress on the book!

In addition to getting my life in order emotionally and physically, I'm getting my work-ethic together mentally. I'm up to about 40k on SONG OF THE HERETIC, a lot of which is hand-written draft at this point because my left wrist is sprained and--yes--I'm typing all of this with my right hand, which is cramping. Anyway, I'm trying not to worry too much about length (that's what she said?) and just letting the draft come out as it will.

Luckily, I've had excellent feedback from my alpha-reader Adryn.

I wrote two books before this one, and rewrote each of them at least once. I have to hope the fifth time's the charm. But I'm not hoping, because I'm hurling myself at this book with all the ferocity I have, because I believe in it. I think it's good. It's exactly the kind of thing I want to be writing, and I think there's a place in the market for it.

2014 is going to be my year, because I'm going to make it my year. SONG OF THE HERETIC is going to be the book, because I'm going to make it the book.

Exclusive Comic

Rough draft of page one of my comic about the Bishop.

Rough draft of page one of my comic about the Bishop.

A few weeks ago, I polled the folks on my Facebook Fan Page about which Millroad Academy character you'd like to see a 5-10 page comic on and the results went something like this:

  • Georgia: 1
  • Amanda Barnes: 1
  • Hiroki: 3
  • The Bishop: 4

I was a little surprised by the Amanda Barnes write-in, but she does actually have a fairly well-developed back story. I actually thought that Hiroki was going to win, but the Bishop one-upped him. Well, I guess he'll be glad to have won something. (Too soon?)

If you haven't read Exorcising Aaron Nguyen yet, the comic will contain some spoilers. Luckily, the book is on Smashwords right now for $0.99! I've informed Amazon, but as of right now, the price there is still $2.99. I'll keep you posted over the next few days. The sale ends Sunday, so BUY, YOU FOOLS /gandalf.

I've decided to make this comic an exclusive freebie for folks who subscribe to my new releases mailing list, which you can sign up for below. I only send out mail when I've got something new out, or something free to give you, like the comic or a short story.

In other exciting news:

  1. I got a part-time job at Starbucks! Yay, money and free coffee and still enough time to write and do audio.
  2. I finished the final edits on my second audiobook for Audible.com today, called HAVEN: A STRANGER MAGIC, which should be out in a few weeks. 
  3. I'm training for a 5k? No really. I hate running, but I think this mini marathon called "Run or Dye" looks like fun, so tomorrow is Week 1, Day 2 of my training with the "Couch to 5k"  app.
  4. I started a low-cholesterol diet with my parents, because my mom's cholesterol levels shocked us at her last checkup. Cutting out as much saturated fat and cholesterol as possible. Seirously? Today I said "hold the bacon" for, like, the first time in my life.

Have you started anything new recently? Which of your characters would you create a comic for? Do you like running? 

A Beachin' Wedding

This past weekend I watched my second youngest cousin, Caroline, get married. It was a fantastic ceremony, with one of the most memorable father-daughter dances I've ever seen. She's basically a Disney Princess, so when they started out waltzing to a song called "Cinderella", I wasn't shocked (except that her dad, who has two left feet, wasn't tripping over her massive dress). Her hairdresser handed me tissues and we both sniffled together. Just as the song seemed to reach it's tearful climax, it stopped.

 ...and dropped the beat. "Brick House" started playing, and my Uncle was doing the Robot while Caroline busted out her best dance and cheerleading moves.

Epic.

The best thing about the wedding besides the part where Caroline got married (and maybe Uncle Doug's sweet new moves) was being in a beach house with my extended family. My dad's side of the family is huge: he is the eldest of four siblings, and though many of my cousins were not in attendance, there were still between 13 and 18 people coming in and out of this massive three-story house.

For me, I learned that my problems with Darth Metus are not unique to me. It seems this Sith Lord has plagued the women in my family from my grandmother, Nana Jean, down the line to me. My aunts, my female cousins - almost all of us have had to deal with the Dark Side, and the encouraging thing is knowing they faced down the Sith and won.

NEMESIS Blog Tour - Interview with Starla Huchton

Earlier this year, I posted the cover reveal for Starla Huchton's wonderful New Adult science fiction romance, MAVEN, and this week I'm proud to announce the release of the second book in the Endure Series, NEMESIS. Here's a little about the book, plus an interview with the author and a GREAT giveaway.

In case you missed it, here's where you can find Book I of the Endure Series, MAVEN:

Maven (The Endure series, book 1)

By S.A. Huchton

Genre: New Adult Sci-Fi Romance

Available Now:Amazon | Goodreads |Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Synopsis

How far would you go for love?

Since losing her parents at 14, young prodigy Dr. Lydia Ashley has focused on one thing: an appointment on the Deep Water Research Command Endure. Now 21, she’s about to realize that dream, but nothing is how she imagined it would be. Her transitional sponsor forgets her, her new lab is in complete chaos, and, as if that weren’t enough, she’s about to discover something so horrific it could potentially destroy all life on the planet.

Daniel Brewer, a noted playboy and genius in his own right, may be exactly what she needs… Or he may make everything worse.

Has she finally found a puzzle she can’t solve?

Nemesis (The Endure series, book 2)

by S. A. Huchton

Genre: Science Fiction Romance (New Adult)

Available Now:Goodreads

Book Description:

Tech genius Daniel Brewer isn't the only one with a romantic history. Already weighed down with the impossible problem of the Maven Initiative's plans for world domination and disaster, Dr. Lydia Ashley is finding it more and more difficult to keep things in balance. With an old flame reappearing and the schemes of a vindictive new rival thrown into the mix, her hopes for a life with Daniel may be on the brink of annihilation. 

When Lydia's past is brought to light, one big secret could destroy everything.

NEMESIS EXCERPT

At 1045, there was a quiet rapping at her door. Lydia turned to see Dr. Corvis standing there, smiling politely. It was like watching a shark circling for an attack.

"Do you need something, Dr. Corvis?" Lydia said.

"Dr. Miller and I have worked out a possible sequence of alterations for one of the bacteria. Care to take a look?" 

Sure she was walking into a trap, Lydia agreed anyway. One of the work stations had been arranged with four different devices: an electron microscope, a centrifuge, a chromosome splitter more compact than any she had seen before, and a rotating rack for petri dishes.

"Where did that come from?" She indicated the splitter. The display screen on the top showed a squirming object, pinned in place by the microlasers hovering above the sample tray. The controls hummed, waiting for their next command.

"My own personal stash," Nick said, coming up behind her. He was closer than she would've liked, but given the confines of the area there wasn't anything for it.

Lydia was stunned. "You own a chromosome splitter? How did you afford that?"

Nick shrugged. "It was a gift from Dr. DeBeauvoir."

"He's as generous as he is brilliant," Dr. Corvis gushed. 

"Uh huh." Lydia gave her a sidelong glance. "So what have you been working on?"

Dr. Corvis answered for him. "Dr. Miller had some amazing insights on how to achieve the necessary virulence while maintaining its water-borne nature."  

"You figured that out? That was the one thing I was dreading the most. I had hoped to find a workaround so I wouldn't mess with bacteria's environmental needs." What Lydia hadn't said was that she was terrified of creating some super bug that would become airborne and infect everyone on the station.

Nick moved over to the electron microscope and looked into the eyepiece, adjusting the focus. "If you take a look here, you can see the segment of the chromosome we're targeting."

He took a step back and she positioned herself in front of the device. "What am I looking at, exactly?"

Nick leaned against the table, closing the distance between them some. He was close enough that she caught the scent of sandalwood from the soap he'd used since she'd known him at Stanford. Focus, she reminded herself.

"These base pairs are responsible for virulence and environment adaptation. They're right beside one another so it can be difficult to separate them. You have to know exactly what you're doing or you could wind up with something really nasty."

Lydia looked up from the eyepiece and was startled to find his face less than a foot away from her own. 

"Good thing you're here to make sure we don't do that then, I guess." She sounded like an idiot. His proximity was flustering her.

"I was about to make the first cut with the splitter, but I wanted to show you one other thing first." Nick slid up to the microscope and she skittered away, as though he might burn her if they touched.

If he noticed, he didn't show it. He made another slight adjustment to the eyepiece. "Here." They traded places again. "This is the chromosome segment responsible for host selection. According to Anna, this was being altered to make it viable on multiple cellular types. What this basically means is that the cell wall degradation mechanism will be much more powerful and adapted to both rigid cells from plants and softer cells from animals. Really wicked stuff." 

He was calling her Anna already? Damn. That woman worked fast. She pushed it aside. Lydia focused on what was important: a bacterium that could attack both flora and fauna. Something that strong could be devastating. "So it feeds off of organic material then, but doesn't discriminate in regards to the source? The environmental impact that will have..." Lydia rubbed her forehead. "Not only on human life. Anything within the release area will be obliterated."

"It's designed to only work for a certain period of time, within a certain range, remember," Dr. Corvis offered. Was she really defending the Maven Initiative? "The nanotags will ensure self-destruction of any infected phytoplankton outside that."

Lydia gaped at her. "And so that makes it okay?"

She shrugged. "To them, it was acceptable."

Unbelievable. 

"Now I'll show you how to split the base pairs and graft the new ones," Nick said. Her spine went rigid as his hand touched the small of her back, ushering her towards the other piece of equipment. Fortunately, there wasn't far to go and the contact was brief.

Nick's hand grasped the controls, strong and steady. He talked her through the operation, explaining where the precise cuts needed to be made and directing the microlasers expertly.

"Did you do a lot of this with Dr. DeBeauvoir?" she asked.

"Not at first," he said, keeping his eyes on the screen. "But the last two years I was in the lab almost exclusively. I got a lot of practice with this thing. They were upgrading the equipment when I left so that's why I didn't feel guilty when they sent me away with this baby. We have spent many an hour together, Sheila and I."

She tried not to laugh, but couldn't help herself. "You named the splitter Sheila?"

"I thought about calling it Lydia, but that seemed inappropriate given the circumstances."

Her face burned as Dr. Corvis giggled. She actually giggled. Lydia was mortified, and Nick didn't so much as crack a smile. He couldn't be serious.

"There." He finished the cut and turned back to her. "Want to give it a try?"

Reining in her embarrassment, she nodded and stepped up to the controls. Nick loaded up another sample. He reached in front of her and punched in the autofocus on the sample camera. Another hit of sandalwood drifted up to her, scattering her thoughts. 

"You're looking for the eighteenth base pair," he said, directing her where to shift the sample plate. "Stop."

She had to remind herself to breathe. With the way her entire body was shaking, she would probably wind up creating a highly virulent super bacterium.

"Good, now lock in the sample position."

Lydia flipped a switch and six microlasers pinned the sample in place.

"This is the tricky part," Nick said. "You have to have the right touch."

Every nerve in her body electrified as Nick slid behind her and wrapped his hands around hers. If she wasn't seven shades of scarlet before, she absolutely was now. This was not happening. No way was this professional by any stretch of the imagination.

"Slowly... slowly... now cut."

Her thumbs pressed down on the buttons to fire the incision lasers, and she was careful not to jerk away as soon as it was done.

"Perfect," he said, leaning over her shoulder to smile at her.

Right on cue, a throat cleared and she jumped, pushing away from both the machine and Dr. Miller. 

Daniel was standing not ten feet away, looking none too happy about what he'd walked in on.

"We're dicing bacterial DNA," she blurted. "Dr. Miller was demonstrating how his equipment worked."

His eyebrow twitched and somewhere behind her, Dr. Corvis coughed to hide her laughter. Maybe her word choice had been a little questionable, but her brain was scrambled.

"Daniel Brewer, right?" Nick strode forward, hand extended. "I don't think we've been properly introduced. Nick Miller."

Daniel was not impressed.

Lydia hurried forward, cutting Nick off before he got any closer and all but pushed Daniel toward the door. "Time for lunch? Great! I'm famished. Let's go."

She was pretty sure Dr. Harpy was still laughing when they left the lab. Apparently, she'd decided on a new plan of attack.

Print and ebook copies of MAVEN and NEMESIS

An Angkor Wat postcard signed by Daniel

Sandalwood Vanilla goat's milk soap handcrafted in small batches by Haldecraft

3 oz of Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls (green tea) from Teavana

Stonewear infuser mug with lid

MAVEN and NEMESIS postcards with party mustaches!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

1.We've talked a bit about writing in general in the past, but tell me a little about your writing process. Do you have a routine?

LOL. Routine. That’s hilarious. I have three kids and a deployed husband. It’s all about grabbing whatever time I can.

My process itself varies from book to book. The first novel I wrote, The Dreamer’s Thread, was totally by the seat of my pants and I had very little idea what I was doing. The second was very, very different. Master of Myth is Steampunk and marks my first time doing any real research for my fiction (this isn’t out anywhere yet, so you won’t find it anywhere outside of the first 20 pages on my blog). Also with the second book was the introduction of a whole slew of passes from this thing called “beta readers”. While I did have a select few people read The Dreamer’s Thread, there wasn’t much in the way of editing done on it, and, unfortunately, that shows.

My process with the Endure series (Maven and now Nemesis as well), evolved significantly after discovering a new love for research and getting my facts right. I didn’t have to do too much of that for The Dreamer’s Thread, as it was a fantasy book, but the switch from SciFi really made a huge difference here. There was a lot of stopping and starting as I wrote Maven when I had to research things, or think about certain plot elements and how they corresponded to the science. I asked a lot of different people a lot of different questions and read a whole mess of really boring research papers just to get a sentence or two of the story. There’s no “waving the magic wand” in SciFi. In order to make it plausible, you gotta have your facts straight.

2.What was the biggest difference between writing the MAVEN/NEMESIS books and writing THE DREAMER’S THREAD?

I touched on this a little already, but one of the biggest differences was definitely the research involved. Another is the amount of time that it took me to write these books. The Dreamer’s Thread was spread out over a year between two National Novel Writing Months and sporadic plugging away in the months in between. Maven was very different. I spewed out the first 68,000 words in under six weeks, shelved it for a year when some stuff happened with other projects, then went back to it and finished it up in about a week. Maybe if I’d have known I was that close to the end I would have stuck with it, hmm? LOL. Anyway, immediately after finishing it, I jumped straight in to book two and cranked it out in under two months while beta readers did their passes and I sent out some queries. I barely stopped to take a breath before starting in on book 3, which will be out in November. That’s another difference here. The Dreamer’s Thread was a standalone, although it could have seen more books in that world had I wanted to go there. While the idea for Maven was originally a one-of, it became very clear to me about halfway in that in no way, shape, form, or fashion was this idea any smaller than two books. Somewhere into book 2, I realized it was four. That realization was a little overwhelming at the time, and I’m still wondering if maybe I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew. Due to the complexity of the plot, I’m having to actually (*choke*) outline book 4 to make sure I tie up every loose end. Although, I’m not going to lie, there will definitely be the possibility for more books in this series, but probably not focused on this couple. They will get their Happily Ever After in the end. Well, mostly. Life happens and I don’t think fictional characters are immune to that. Anyway, SPOILERS. LOL

3.What was the most challenging aspect of writing Nemesis? Are your challenges for new books usually similar, or does each book present a new one?

Each book inevitably presents its own challenges. This one had everything to do with the science. I went in with a vague idea of what I wanted to do, but, you know how stories like to throw curveballs? Yep. Very much that. The more I explored some of the how’s of the Nemesis plot, the more confusing the why’s got. This made for a real challenge in book 3 where I explain in greater detail some of what’s gone on. Book 4 is going to be really difficult to wrap it all up. Thanks, book 2. *facepalm*

And we’re not even going to talk about the characters. I’m actually a little nervous about how some of the new additions are going to be received, and on top of the ending for Nemesis… I’m half expecting hate mail.

4.Coffee, Tea, or something stronger?

If it’s before 5 pm, coffee. My brain runs on caffeine. After that, I switch over to tea.

Some nights, however, call for something stronger. Pass the cherry vodka this way, please.

5.On your blog, you said you were new to writing in both romance and science fiction. What inspired you to tackle them both at once?

It wasn’t so much a conscious decision on my part. My stories define what they’re going to be without consulting me. I’d actually been hanging on to the idea of Lydia and Daniel’s story since high school, but it was only recently that I felt ready to write it. This was accompanied by a wave of WTF HAVE I DONE when I finished it, as I didn’t even have a clue that Science Fiction Romance was a thing until I started to research the market viability of the project. I’ve spoken out a lot on the battle trying to convince SF readers that the romance aspect isn’t a deterrent to the story, and, conversely, convincing Romance readers that the SF elements don’t detract from the relationship. Really, the two are so intertwined they’re impossible to separate, although that won’t be 100% obvious until the third book. It’s not an either/or situation. For this series, I absolutely, unquestionably had to have both.

6.What has the experience of being a science fiction author been like for you?

It’s… well, it’s really wild, actually. I never considered myself a huge science geek by any stretch until a few years ago. Fascinated by, yes, but not passionate about it to do anything with it. Due to the nature of the Endure series, and what I’ve exposed my non-SFR author friends to in the process, a few of them have started coming to me with questions about all of this stuff! Can I just say how crazy that is? Apparently, I have a knack for retaining weird facts and explaining complex topics in easy to understand ways. Sooooo not what I expected to come out of all this. When a friend calls me up on the phone and asks for some guidance regarding the relationship between space and time… oh yes. That’s very weird. Especially considering my books aren’t space related. LOL. But, because of some of the folks I’ve gotten to know, like Phil Plait and Pamela Gay, I get a constant stream of all kinds of amazing information. It’s incredibly cool that I can pass this on to others and that they consider me a resource of sorts for this stuff. I don’t consider myself anything close to an expert in much of anything, but I know enough to be dangerous. Or to put them on the right path for research, anyway. I think it’s pretty awesome I can talk about some of it with actual confidence in my words. Knowledge is so empowering!

7.For THE DREAMER’S THREAD, you did a wonderful podcast version. Are you planning to release audio versions of this series?

At this time, no. I don’t have any plans for an audio version, and I know that’s disappointing to some people. There are a few reasons for this. One is because of the adult content in the stories and I’m a big chicken. Anyone that saw me at Balticon this year got to experience the eighty shades of red I turn reading certain, uh, scenes aloud. I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I’m comfortable narrating this sort of material. Maybe someday, but not yet.

The second reason is that I’m finding my time is really limited these days. I have to pick and choose my projects very carefully and pour my energy into what I’m really passionate about. This is the downside to working in several creative areas. Between book covers, writing, and audiobook narration, coupled with the demands of being a temporary single parent, something had to give. Unfortunately, narration is something that’s had to fall by the wayside. Maybe when I have all three kids in school I can pick it up again, but with a three-year-old running circles around me and two preteens bringing the drama, yeah. I’m having to hit pause there.

Thank you for the wonderful questions! I hope people find my answers helpful and/or interesting!

ABOUT STARLA

Starla Huchton released her first novel, The Dreamer's Thread, as a full cast podcast production beginning in August 2009. Her first foray went on to become a double-nominee and finalist for the 2010 Parsec Awards.

Since her debut, Starla's voice has appeared in other podcasts including The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine, The Drabblecast, and Erotica a la Carte. She is also a voice talent for Darkfire Productions, and narrates several of their projects, including The Emperor's Edge series, This Path We Share, and others.

Her writing has appeared in the Erotica a la Carte podcast, an episode of the Tales from the Archives podcast (the companion to Tee Morris and Philippa Balantine's Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series), which garnered her a second finalist badge from the 2012 Parsec Awards, and a short story for The Gearheart (earning her a third Parsec finalist badge). Her second novel, a Steampunk adventure entitled Master of Myth, was the first place winner in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category of The Sandy Writing Contest held annually by the Crested Butte Writers Conference. Maven was her third completed novel and the first in a planned series of four, being released under the name S. A. Huchton. Nemesis is the second in the Endure series.

After completing her degree in Graphic Arts, Starla opened up shop as a freelance graphic designer focusing on creating beautiful book covers for independent authors and publishers. She currently lives in Virginia where she trains her three Minions and military husband.

Facebook - Twitter - Website

And remember to get your copies of MAVEN (Endure Series, Book I) and NEMESIS (Endure Series, Book II)

Anxious Artist - Anxiety Management and Productivity Panic

Because my mother knows me far too well, she came home today with a self-help workbook on managing anxiety. It has techniques in it to identify the types of anxiety you suffer and techniques to combat them. I'll be working through these over the next few weeks.

I had a number of people contact me on Facebook after my post, and being honest about my problem with anxiety seemed to comfort others who have felt that way, so I've decided to combat my own feelings of shame and embarrassment over the anxiety by writing about it. I've ignored the blog some lately, but I think the type of people who are artists and writers is a demographic that largely intersects with the type of people prone to anxiety and depression. If writing about it might help someone else feel less alone, less crazy, less like an aberration, then that's enough for me.

I know a lot of artists suffer from anxiety. I'm doing a lot right now artistically, and I'm going through a lot of shifts in my professional life that have affected me personally as well. I plan to post occasionally about these anxiety-management techniques as well as the techniques of establishing a new trigger for productivity (not unrelated).


About My Anxiety


According to the book, I have a lot of the symptoms for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, social anxiety, and panic attacks. I say that I have the symptoms because I have done some tests, but not been diagnosed by a psychiatrist or medical professional (my physician prescribed medication for panic attacks, but that doesn't really constitute a diagnosis in my mind). I will provide an update of formal diagnosis when I see a psychotherapist, but I have no projected date on when that will be. For now, managing the symptoms I'm facing will at least start to help.


The constant worries and feelings of dread an doom do cause days to be de-railed, contribute to debilitating insomnia, and send me to the Internet to make sure I'm not having heart attacks or haven't poisoned myself somehow. I can't even take medication without feeling worried it will conflict with something I've eaten or taken and cause me to go into shock and die. The idea of being anesthetized completely petrifies me. I often imagine catastrophes with little reason, or wonder if saying goodbye to someone who is leaving will be my last one.


Partly, that final one is true because it's happened before. When I watched my grandfather walk off to his car after my farewell party before heading to Japan, I thought, "what if this is the last time I see him?" It was. He died almost exactly a year later, and I hadn't seen him since. I wasn't able to go home and grieve, either, because I had planned to stay in Japan.


I had those fears, to some extent, before that instance. I always worried when Adryn was riding down on her motorcycle to see me. I remember getting her (drug-voiced) phone call after I left one day and, five minutes later, she wrecked her bike and broke her collarbone. I didn't get the call till hours later.


Now, those circumstances are never fun, and I think everyone dreads them. I guess I just didn't realize that the knot of doom in my stomach every time I said bye to someone or waited for someone who wasn't on time was not normal. Hell, sometimes I do it with myself. I'm driving and I think, "what would happen if I whipped the wheel sideways and the car went rolling? Would I die? Would I even notice? How would my parents feel..." It's not that I ever even WANT to do those things. Just the opposite--the thought scares me so much that I guess I conjure it. I guess that's not a normal person's response.


Art, Baby


I'm determined to become a professional author and narrator. To do that, I know I've for to have a schedule. I've got to be productive.


Which means that I've placed a lot of significance on doing those things. Which means slipping up with them is now tantamount to failure. Which makes doing them a source of stress.


Can you see how this is a problem?


I'm working on it. I'm trying to establish a routine, and trying to combat the situations that throw me off it. I'm trying to be gentle with myself about my slip-ups, but firm enough to get back on the schedule when I fail.


So the panic attack Friday derailed my work on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It's Monday, and I'm feeling like I have enough energy to get myself reorganized. I'm behind, but not too far behind. I've got to finish revising chapter one of Mark of Flight, and I've got to write scene 3 of Song of the Heretic. Tomorrow, I need to start recording the next audiobook.


It may be that the work-schedule I've created is too heavy given the anxiety, and given the fact that I hope to start a part-time job slinging coffee at my local Starbucks later this month. Trial and error.


And I have to be okay with the error, and not let it send me into fits of psycho-flagellation (if that's even a word).


What techniques do you use to combat anxiety? What goals do you have? How can you plan to achieve them without letting them become a source of stress?

Scribe's Jedi Training

I believe artists are weird. I do not believe artists have to be crazy or unhealthy. I want to write for as long as possible, as many stories as I possibly can write, and write well, on my time here. So I think it's important to be healthy physically and mentally.

So I begin what I call my Jedi Training: my attempt to become physically and mentally improved, and to establish the habits it takes to be a professional author.

Physical

I'm 5'3", 148lbs. Almost 29. Not super bad, but certainly not the 117 lbs tank I was while rowing in high school, or the 115 lbs walking and dancing machine I was in Japan.

Truth is, I came home from abroad three years ago and gained 20 lbs. Got a horrible job and gained 20 more. In the past three months, I've lost ten by working out and eating better and not being at that horrible job. But I have a long way to go, and I'm working on it now.

I have a gym I can go to, and I've been (inconsistently) doing workouts from Blogilates on YouTube. She's crazy and peppy and motivating.

Mental

Because talking about anxiety can be annoying or a downer for a lot of people (or at least, my social anxiety is telling me that if I talk about it too much people will think I'm weak, lazy, excuse-making, and enjoy the "easy attention" (trust me, I wish it were easy)) I have code-named my anxiety issues Darth Metus.

Metus means feardread, or anxiety in Latin. I will personify my anxiety as a Sith Lord sending his Force-lightning at the base of my skull. And I will train to beat him.

Jedi Training Schedule

• Limit caffeine intake to one cup of (caffeinated) coffee per day

• Get adequate rest

• Write something every day

• Move around, get out of the house, work out

• Morning pages (self-check in)

TRAIN WITH ME! What's your Jedi Training? What's your schedule and the small changes you will start out with to ease into training?

 

Super Freak: Moon-Swings, Modern Times, & the Panicking Artist

I've never hated the phrase YOLO. To be honest, it both inspires me and scares me to death.

You only live once. You only get one life to do what you want to do. It's not that you only get one chance--there are so many chances to succeed or fail--but a reminder that you have to make the most of them, because life isn't forever. Unless you think it is, I guess. Somehow, though, that doesn't comfort me. It doesn't make me feel better to imagine I'd have a chance in another life to succeed where I've failed here, because I wouldn't be the same person. I wouldn't know the same people. I probably wouldn't want the same things. I wouldn't tell the same stories--that's for sure.

I mean, what if--in another life--I wanted to write literary fiction?

Joking aside, I've talked about depression and fear on this blog before. I haven't tried to hide the fact that I have panic attacks and really horrible crash-and-burn mood-swings. I accidentally just typed moon-swings, which makes me smile a little bit, because it does sort of feel like I transform into a fuzzy ball of fangs and depression and "just-lock-me-in-a-panic-room-till-it's-over" misery. I wish it was timed to moon-phases so I could arm myself with chocolate, b vitamines, and tissues on a schedule (or at least blame it on my period), but unfortunately, that's not the case. TMI, I know, but my panic attacks usually happen in the week leading up to my period, so I've been able to blame the magnitude (if not the genesis) on that. Today was different (hormone timing isn't an excuse for this one).

The thing is, it's both terrifying and wonderful to be an artist right now. Terrifying, because our society is not structured to support artists. Our school systems are not structured to nurture artists. There is a pervading assumption that artists must be crazy in order to make anything meaningful, or brilliantly good or brilliantly bad in order to make a work of art noticeable enough to earn a living, or just really lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

All those things are true to some degree: anyone who, given the fact that school, society, and the marketplace places such low value on art, still insists on pursuing art, is probably just a little bit nuts. I also think that anyone who willing jumps out of a plane or goes into a profession where they'll likely get shot at is nuts, it's just a kind of nuts that the larger part of society can put a value on. Adrenaline rush. Saving lives. But writing a mid-list novel? Painting a picture of a soup can? The value is hard to measure, so we call it crazy to sacrifice so much time and passion for it when we could be working at a call center to finance boats and Netflix subscriptions and parachutes with which to jump out of planes.

It's also very true that most of the limelight (and therefore most of the cash) go to the very good and the very bad, but that's not to say it's impossible for someone in between to make a career, especially right now. It ain't easy (see paragraph above). But it isn't impossible. There are people doing it. People have done it for thousands of years, in times which, I guess, were much harder than this. I believe there is a way for me to do it as well, and I've just got to figure out what that is, or carve a new possibility out of the slow-weathering rock of societal change.

And, of course, luck has a lot to do with it. But I believe you make your own luck. You have to keep your eyes open for luck to walk by, then open the door and invite luck inside. Luck isn't going to fall on your head or bust down the door.

It's exciting to be an artist right now, because distribution has never been easier. The internet opens doors for good and bad and frustrating, but artists have way more opportunities to put their work out there. The challenge remains on the other side of the screen.

I sound pretty optimistic right now, I'm sure. Part of it is a front, part of it is me trying to convince myself it's true so I don't feel like a madwoman being petted and pitied by family and friends for my inability to function as a contributing member of society. Some of it is true, though. I have a lot of faith in myself. I have a lot of faith in my passion, even if I don't have all the skills to back it up, I'm not afraid of doing the work.

After all, I quit my job because it was keeping me from doing the work. I'm working hard to improve my life, to make it the life I want and envision.

But it's not easy. Days like today make it even worse, because they bring all the insecurity and fear to the surface.

I was sitting with my parents and my brother, and my dad went out to mow the lawn. My mom was going to go out and get on the other mower before too long (it's a several-hour job with only one mower), but she and my brother and I started talking.

See, I'm hoping to move in the next two years. Possibly to Portland. My brother and sister-in-law and their bambino (on the way) are hoping to move to Iowa next year. My mom mentioned that if both of us end up out there, she and dad might sell the farm and move closer...but that wouldn't be until they were much older, or until there was only one of them.

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. I don't like thinking about that. The thought scares the crap out of me partly because I'm not financially solvent and still sort of a failure as a human being (heh, more on that particular feeling later) and partly because, you know, they're my parents. I don't like to think about my life without them in it.

But we have the conversation and I'm trying to feel like an adult having a life-conversation with my family.

But the feeling of unease has already set in. Now, I'd like to point out that the unease was not caused by the conversation. Yeah, it's not a pleasant thing to talk about, but there's nothing inherently alarming about planning for the future. That ominous feeling, like a little pocket of doom sitting in the back of my head, is usually the first sign that conditions are favorable for the Panic. Often, I can distract myself at this point and avoid a meltdown, and I was hopeful my revision would be enough to pull my brain away from going full Shrieking-shack.

So I get in the car to head to Starbucks. I look out and mom and dad are performing the mower version of dueling banjos and I love the sight of it. Then my brain says, "this is not forever."

I make it halfway down the road before I freak the fuck out. The idea of losing my parents is terrible. Part of the freaking out is that dread, and the guilt of not spending more time with them, and the guilt that I am nearly thirty years old and they're still having to take care of me because I'm on and off my feet like a medieval noblewoman. And that was the start of the spiral.

I've been able to pull out of the spiral more and more easily lately. The last big panic attack I had was at Balticon, actually, and it was really embarrassing, but I couldn't have been with more understanding people*. This time I couldn't do it. I couldn't drag my brain away from the loop.

Luckily, I got to Starbucks parking lot and parked in the back before I totally lost my shit. It was that awful, vocal sort of crying that feels at once appropriate and completely ridiculous. Luckily, there were cars on either side so no one saw my "furry little problem", as James and Sirius might say. I tried to call a friend, but it went to voicemail, and I decided I probably didn't want to talk to anyone in particular anyway. But I felt adrift, completely. And embarrassed. Too embarrassed to put the burden of dealing with my emotional werewolf on any one person.

So I posted it on Facebook.

I don't know what brought it on exactly, but I am freaking the hell out in a Starbucks parking lot. It's been months since I have been so unable to control the panic. I feel like I have no future at all and am utterly useless as a human being. I suck at contributing to society or to my family or to my friends. I'm just a resource suck with no security and no ability to let other people get close to me. Is this just what late 20s feels like? I'm ashamed of my inability to work a normal job, find someone to share life with, and be freaking content. Why do I suck at everything except these worlds and stories no one is even interested in? I'm almost 30 and what the fuck have I done with my life? I'm so scared of the future. When I'm my grandmother's age, who will be there? Will I even make it? What will I have done? I'm a third of the way there and I've got so little to show for it right now. I've got no way to measure because I don't have any way to quantify the failures and successes o my life against the conventional. Ugh. I will probably end up deleting this post but at the moment I feel so unconnected. I don't want to reach out to anyone in particular because I'm so embarrassed of my own inability to control these episodes of extreme panic and depression and low self-worth.

Maybe that makes me an attention whore. I don't really mind if people think that, because I am trying to get a response. I'm trying to feel like I'm not crazy. I (and the people I care about) know I'm not manufacturing a panic attack in order to get the attention, which I think is where the girls-sobbing-in-bathrooms stigma of Facebook meltdowns comes from in the first place. Sure, just the fact that I'm talking about the panic attack at all is going to convince some people I'm faking it (and invite others to start in on the "just be happy you're not me"s, which is both disrespectful and unhelpful) because a lot of people believe that people who actually suffer from depression or panic are rightfully ashamed enough to keep it on the down low.

Yes. My panic attack was horrible and a totally disproportionate reaction to the legitimate worries it brought to the surface--that's part of the frustration. Yeah, the worries are real, but they're not this constant, debilitating fear shackling me.

Panic attacks are like Dementors. They swoop down on you and bring all your worst fears to the surface all at once, forcing you to live through them all in one potent moment. You feel cold. You feel crazy. You feel like your life is over and you'll never be happy again.

And then it ebbs and you're exhausted, embarrassed, and in desperate need of chocolate and a hug (but also not to be coddled and touched at all because that's also embarrassing). You're a little afraid to be alone, and a little afraid to go outside, in case they come back.

Learning to head them off is kind of like learning the patronus charm, and then learning to actually cast it when you feel the dementor head your way. I'm working on it. I know a lot of my readers are too.

I've never been sure what form my patronus would take. I should try to figure that out, give me a touchstone to sanity when I have these moments.

What's your patronus? Have you had panic attacks? What do you think about being an artist right now?

*Balticon 2013: Shout out to Veronica, who caught it early on and helped push it back a while, and to Bryan, Doc, Nobilis, Ben, and Sammy, who were there when it broke respected my request to ignore the tears so I could calm down, because I hate crying in public.