Theadia: Two Years On

Azusa and Naho from Orange

On this day in 2020, I had my 750Words page up on my work laptop (the one way I could get any writing done now that I’d been dragged kicking and screaming back to the office) and I was listening to Fuzzbox’s Big Bang for the second time that day. I was frustrated because I’d hit a serious slump: I needed to come up with a new project, but I’d dried up creatively for a while by then. Most of my 750Words entries at the time were ending up as repetitive personal journal entries and I was really getting sick of writing them.

Listening to that boppy, bubblegummy guilty pleasure of an album and deciding once and for all to stop limiting myself, I free-associated for a bit. And that was much harder to do than I’d remembered because I hadn’t done it properly in ages. But eventually, I came up with this partial later that morning.

I really should come up with an anime-inspired story. I mean, like along the lines of Carole & Tuesday or Dragon Pilots, maybe even with a bit of Tenchi Muyo thrown in. Light and fun and goofy with a darker subtext and long-game arc going on. I’ve been going on about how much I love that style, so why not?
Various thoughts:
— The high school manga: a group of boys and girls and the various shenanigans and dramas they go through. SFF spin..? Perhaps it’s set on a generation ship (another one of my favorite ideas I haven’t used yet), or perhaps a space waystation. Darker subtext/long-game plot? I’m thinking maybe it’s a twist on the ‘we’re all going our separate ways when we graduate’ theme in which some of them will become pilots, either for transports or for space force, which might make connections that much harder. Darker  subtext?  Hmm. Will have to think about it more.

So, Theadia was originally going to be a coming of age story between five or six young adults as they figure out their future plans. It would start out as a light-hearted story that grew progressively darker as the long-game arc became clearer. I didn’t even have a name for it yet…that came a short time later when I’d come up with the names Althea and Claudia. [Althea, as well as her relationship with Claudia, is after a character in Hannah Blumenriech’s Full Court Crush. Claudia is named after someone I knew in college who was highly intelligent yet very reserved. Theadia — Thea and Dia — came to me when I realized the story was really about these two goofballs.]

The first few grains of Theadia were sown a month or so later when I pared down the original group to the titular duo when I realized there was a story about them somewhere in there that I was subconsciously avoiding. But what was it?

I was going through a tough time and not getting anywhere creatively. It was a perfect storm of frustration towards the Day Job, fury and disgust at the then-current US President* (a term I use very loosely here, and only for clarity), and a feeling of desperation on several levels. This was the worst block I’d had in years. The last time I’d used that inner turmoil in my writing had to have been the trilogy, and I’d been actively avoiding using it since then. Okay, that’s not entirely true…that turmoil spilled into my personal journal entries and 750Words sessions and that was frustrating me as well, because I’d repeated myself so much I’d gotten sick of hearing myself complain. I was avoiding something. A lot of somethings.

After I’d left the Day Job and given myself some time to heal a bit, I knew I was ready to start Theadia again. And this time I wouldn’t avoid what was bothering me. I’d let it spill out onto the page. I based characters and settings and situations on certain aggravating things going on in my life up to that point. It was therapeutic writing that I didn’t realize I’d long needed.

Theadia, on the whole, is about doing the right thing when no one else steps up. More to the point, it’s about taking action when everyone else is saying it can’t be done Because Reasons. And those reasons would be rigid protocol, hateful bigotry, lack of imagination, fear of responsibility, whatever it is that keeps people from doing what needs doing, or else we’re all going to be sitting here for years, stuck in this same damn cycle of inactivity.

All that Althea and Claudia want to do is make things work. Not just for themselves or their jobs, but for anyone else in their lives. The twist here, however, is that they’re not activists. They’re not mavericks, spies, loose cannons or even encyclopedic tech nerds and social justice heroes of the Cory Doctorow variety. They’re just blue-collar workers with a sense of community and a drive to make things possible. This is the kind of outlaw they are: the ones you least expect, because they don’t attract attention to themselves while they’re undoing all the bullshit they’re wading through.

The trick, then, was to figure out who — or what — the enemy was. That took a bit longer to work out, but once I had a rough outline, it became clearer to me: it wasn’t just one conflict, but many. It was the former galactic owners of the waystation and its planet reneging on their promise to leave them alone. It was the waystation’s political and military leaders in constant disagreement with each other and hindering progress. It was upper management refusing to make important choices Because Reasons. It was constant disagreement between those in charge and those they represented.

In other words, a lot like real life over the last couple of years.

And yes, there would be a bit of humor and lightheartedness, to balance it out. The appearance of one comically large and chatty Maine coon cat named Grizelda. The distraction of having large extended families. The deep trust between best friends and the smooth workings of a well-oiled and well-trained team. The silliness of Althea’s shenanigans and the wiliness of Claudia’s not-entirely-legal tech kludges, and their incredibly strong and loving relationship.

Funny, then, that it took me almost a year and a half to realize that this was going to be a Big Story, just like the Bridgetown trilogy! But that realization only helped me refocus on Theadia so I could make it even better. It’s been a super fun story to write and I love working on it. And I hope you enjoy it once I release it out into the world!

Year’s End View VI: Fin

Image courtesy of Weathering with You

So. With all that talk about the past year, I suppose it’s only fitting that I finish out the year (and this series of posts) looking ahead, yes?

I’m writing this just as yet another wave of COVID is making its way across the world, and this time out A and I know a few people who have been struck by it. They’re all okay from what I’ve been told, but this time it’s definitely cutting a bit close to home, and I do sometimes wonder how long this pandemic will continue to go on. Still…A and I are also taking the best steps we can to avoid it, masks and all. And I’m refusing to feel cynical or afraid or angry about it. [If anything, I am angry to the extent that there are those going out of their way to refuse to take any responsibility in helping stop this pandemic.] Whatever else is going on out there in the world that crashes into us — the strange weather patterns and destructive wildfires, the hateful words of bigots and the Ponzi schemes of cryptobros, and everything else — I continue to be well aware of it, but I choose not to let it bury me. I survive how I can.

I’m also writing this on the cusp of wondering what the next year will be like.

What will happen in my writing career? It’ll be what I make of it, of course. Whether I continue with my small band of readers or if by some chance one of my novels is a success I won’t know unless I try, anyway. And then there’s new projects to think about: I’m always fascinated at how they pop up unbidden. At this point last year, I hadn’t even come up with Queen Ophelia — I’d come up with that in March. My writing career has never been about reaching a certain point and surfing from there on in. One, it’s not productive, and Two, I’d get bored easily. Writing taught me to look at life and realize that I can stay safe, or I can say sure, why the hell not?

And what of my personal life? Well, as they say, it’s a work in progress. Making peace with issues I’d long ignored. Learning more about what makes me tick. Embracing new phases of my life. Finding and starting a new day job. It’s been a while since I left that last place, and the me of late 2019 and the me of New Year’s Eve 2021 are very different people indeed. I think I was getting to this point, but I had to clear a hell of a lot of detritus that was in my way first. Most of that is now gone and I am surely glad of that. Whatever I do next, I can do so with a lot more determination and self-trust.

I don’t have many particular resolutions other than to make my life better in certain ways. Whether it’s health-related, mind-related or otherwise, as long as I’m going in the right direction. There will always be some form of obstacle that’ll present itself in one way or another, but with a bit of patience and knowledge and a lot more self-confidence that I’ve had in the past, I should be able to overcome them.

I can do this, one way or another.

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I’m hoping all of you have a safe New Year’s Eve, and a safe and healthier 2022. We still have a ways to go, but we can do it together.

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(PS – I’ll be taking the first week of the new year off just to relax, and maybe kick off a few new things in my life. See ya on the flip side!)

Year’s End View V

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown TrilogyMeet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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I’ve been thinking, along with everything else, about where I want my writing career to go in 2022. I haven’t self-published anything new since In My Blue World in 2019, and I need to catch up on my plan of (at least) one self-pubbed project a year. I’ll give myself a break, though, considering what the pandemic has done to the publishing arena over the last couple of years. My initial plan of submitting Diwa & Kaffi to agents and publishers was put on the sidelines because of it, so I chose to use the ensuing wait time wisely by writing Queen Ophelia and Theadia. One (or both? or all three?) may be released in e-book form sometime next year, depending on where we are in revision and cover art.

Meanwhile, back in November I joked to A that maybe for next year’s NaNoWriMo I should write a Christmas romcom. (A did kind of give me an ‘oookay, where did this come from?’ look, but come on, romances are often a guaranteed seller no matter how much nonbelievers want to make fun of them.) I’ve actually been meaning to read more romances anyway to expand my reading and writing horizons. This in turn kicked off an immersive reading binge of romances and romance/mysteries, and I’m thinking this is indeed a viable avenue for me, not to mention another genre for me to read so I’m not stuck in the same reading groove. We both found Sarah Morganthaler’s Moose Springs, Alaska series really good fun, and it also has excellent doggo content. This kind of setup seems to resonate with my style of humor and plot, so I’m thinking this might be a good start.

This, of course, led to another semi-related conversation about pen names. I tend to think my given name is pretty plain and easy to pronounce (though I’ve heard my last name mangled many times over the years), but I’ve often thought about toying with a pen name anyway. I know of a few writers who’ve used them for one reason or another, whether it’s to revive a flagging career, kickstart a new one, or to keep different styles and genres separate. I do have a few thoughts about this that I may toy with in the new year. In a way I kind of like the idea, considering that I’ve put said career on pause over the last couple years. Starting off fresh across the board does have a certain appeal.

There’s something to be said about creating a new self-image, especially when you’ve been thinking about it over a long period of time and it’s something that’s long overdue. This is another one of the paradoxes in my life: while I might be a creature of comforting habits, there’s also this consistent undercurrent that I need to change things up now and again, especially when it’s desperately needed.

And in my writing career, while I’m happy that I’ve been coming up with these new stories, many that I’m proud of, I still get the feeling that I’m limiting myself somehow. Whether it’s by self-censoring or avoidance, I know when it happens because that’s when I get irritated with my work. Why am I writing all these non-action scenes? Why am I avoiding writing conflict? Why am I finding it so hard to face those scenes? It’s that paradox: I feel comfortable avoiding the conflict, but I know that does not make a good story.

I kind of blame writing Diwa & Kaffi for this, really. That project, while near and dear to my heart, was partly an exercise in writing conflict that specifically wasn’t based on protagonists and antagonists. The conflict in that story is within: learning to trust oneself and others, and learning how to believe in oneself. This in turn kind of skittered my own life into an unexpected direction: I realized these were conflicts I was avoiding in my own life. Writing that kind of story is one thing, but dealing it in reality is quite another. And it took me a while to realize just how badly I was limiting myself, not just as a writer but as a person.

While writing Theadia and Queen Ophelia this year, I chose to face that. I prepped myself by having a relatively strong outline I could work from, but I had to learn to trust myself with these stories. Let them go where they needed to go, even if they went in unexpected directions. This wasn’t just the “steadily increasing the volume” action style I used for the Bridgetown Trilogy…this was about immersing myself in these stories. Putting myself into them, but also letting the characters shine as much as possible. While they’re still a bit of a pre-revision mess, they’re probably the strongest stories and the most realistic characters I’ve written. I trust these stories implicitly enough that revision will only make them shine even brighter.

Which brings me back to the theme of this whole series of posts: I’ve been running in rough draft mode for far too long. Sure, there are moments in my life, professional and personal, where I’ll shine when my strengths are at their peak, but everything else definitely needed a fuckton of work. And that work is what I’d done over the last year and a half during this weird pandemic season. And I think, finally, I’m ready to emerge in a much better edition of myself.

Year’s End View IV

Image courtesy of K-On!

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown TrilogyMeet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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I’ve been thinking about new year’s resolutions lately. I mean, I always think of them this time of year, as one usually does, and wonder about which ones I’ve reached with confidence, ones that fell by the wayside for one reason or another, ones I’d completely forgotten about before the year was up, and ones I’m still working on. Some years it’s on a personal and soulful level: getting out of an emotional, mental or professional rut I’d found myself in, training myself not to fall so easily into bitter moods, things like that. And some years it’s goal-oriented: finishing and self-publishing that novel, submitting that story, uploading those pictures, expanding my musical or writing knowledge.

One resolution I thought of recently was about facing personal fears and breaking myself out of the habit of the reactions they cause. Whether it’s about job searching or submitting my novels, or hell, even outwardly showing more emotions than I have in the past, I know a lot of these are what I call stupid fears. Things I could easily face and conquer, if only I break out of the lifelong habit of automatically sliding into them. Sure, some of it is due to patriarchal training (the ‘boys aren’t supposed to show weakness’ of yore) and self-destructive listlessness (the ‘why even bother’ response, in other words), but come on: these are things I could break myself out of if I tried. And kept at it.

I’d like to think that I’ve done a lot of that over the years and I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be, but yeah, those reactions are still there, partly out of passivity and partly because I’m so used to it that I slide into it before I can even stop myself. And yes, this is why one of my personal mantras has been just shut the fuck up and DO it already. It’s amazing what I can accomplish if I just tell that passive, negative, stoic and fearful side of me to zip it and take the plunge in the next breath.

I suppose I could say that will be one of my resolutions for 2022. I don’t really have an exact wording for it, but I don’t think it’s something that I need to give a name to. It’s something I know is there and it’s something I’m tired of leaning on, and it’s time for it to be gone. And there’s a secondary part to that equation as well: what takes its place? Confidence? Sure, but what kind? I think the kind I’m looking for is the one where I don’t need it to prove anything to anyone, or to get away with something, or any other kind like that. Just a simple and positive ‘yeah, let’s make this happen’ kind.

As long as it points me in the right direction.

Year’s End View III

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown TrilogyMeet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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Some ends of the year have a feeling of finality, while others tend to feel more like transition points, at least for me, anyway. I was thinking about December of 2001 the other day of all things, still trying to process recent lifechanging events while still continuing my ongoing habit of stopping at Newbury Comics for cd purchases. The single for The Church’s “Numbers” pops into mind, the first cd I’d bought that actually said “(c) 2002” even though it had dropped a few weeks before New Year’s Eve. I suppose I thought of it because it signified a sign of something new.

I still embrace using New Year’s Eve and Day as a way to kick off personal change of some sort. I’m not about making Best Laid Plan resolutions, nor am I one to do the “maybe I’ll learn a new language/teach myself chess/climb Mount Everest/etc” bucket list sort of resolution, either. My resolutions are more about allowing myself the time, patience and headspace to start some kind of new process or project I’ve been wanting to start. They’re also about bettering myself on personal levels, usually working via my whiteboard calendar and daily schedule.

I’d say the end of 2021 has felt more like a transition point than a finality. I mean, my life’s always felt like that, really, but this time out it’s been much more like I know what journey I’m on right now instead of flailing my way in some vague direction. I spent a lot of 2021 knowing what I wanted to do, what I wanted to achieve. I didn’t finish any of it, at least in the sense that I’m still working on it. What’s important here is that they’re moving.

As long as I keep moving, I’m going in the right direction.

Year’s End View II

First things first: END OF YEAR BOOK SALE!

Want some free e-books? My novels are currently available for free over at Smashwords until the end of the year! That’s all three books in the Bridgetown Trilogy, Meet the Lidwells!, and In My Blue World, available in all formats. Go on, you know you want them!

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So. What else has been on my mind this year? Well, something dark and dreary. With sunlight at the end.

I have an extremely terrible and self-sabotaging habit of planning (and often overplanning, and overthinking) but not always following through. Most times I will, but when it truly counts it doesn’t always measure up to the hype I try to make myself believe. Whether it’s high standards, perfectly nailing the landing or realizing there’s a shit-ton more work I need to do before I get to where I’m happy with it, it rarely pans out the way I hope. I’ll get frustrated and wonder why I’m even trying. Or the opposite: I’ll think I’m at a really great level but get told that my standards need to be higher.

I also have an extremely terrible and self-sabotaging habit of deferring to the happiness of others, often to the detriment of my own. I know I’ve spoken of this before. It’s just the way I wired myself as a kid and I’ve spent most of my life ignoring it or working around it instead of trying to do a major rewiring job instead. Because, y’know, feeling guilty about changing myself might bother someone else’s image of me. Big words, coming from someone who’s been a big fan of nonconformity since they first discovered college radio as a teenager in the 80s, yeah? It’s one of my life’s biggest paradoxes.

So what does this have to do with 2021? I gave it a name this year: anxiety. I decided, why not call it what it is, instead of trying to paint it as something else less scary? It isn’t crippling, thankfully. At least not anymore. [There’s a reason I don’t talk or think about the details of my life in the early to mid 90s all that much other than when music is involved, or just to acknowledge that yeah, that was a dark time for me.] It’s a part of me I’ve always thought was a bit broken. Not dangerously so, and I’ve created healthy workarounds that keep me running at a decent speed. Not always at everyone else’s most of the time, but enough to keep up when needed. I don’t take anything for this, as I don’t feel I need to, though I do notice that my blood pressure meds did somewhat chill it out a bit, which helps.

My point being: I’ve played mental and emotional games with myself for years to remain functional. And in the last four or five years I’ve fixed a lot of those issues, and 2021 was the year in which a lot of those games finally came to a close. I don’t need to depend on them anymore. I can face whatever personal demons that might still linger, and I feel all the better for it when I’ve conquered them, or sent them packing. Or more often, just let them vanish like ash in the wind.

I still have a long way to go. I still have a few self-built barriers that need to be torn down. But the way keeps getting clearer as time goes on, and that makes it so much easier.

Year’s End View I

Image courtesy of Makoto Shinkai, of course

I’ve tried to avoid falling into the trap of ’20xx has been a shitshow’ over the years because, frankly, I’ve already played that cynical game for several years in the 90s and it didn’t do a damn thing to make my life any better at the time other than make me feel even worse. A lot of things have happened in the last couple of years, some it well within my control and some of it not, and the most I can do is keep going despite it all. Life around us has definitely changed in one way or another.

In a way it’s kind of felt like an enforced renewal, if that makes sense…like it was far past time to purge some of the poisons we’d fed ourselves over the last several decades, plucked us out of a race we’d been trying so hard to keep up with despite our exhaustion, recalibrated our speed to more acceptable and mentally healthier levels, and gave us a chance to start fresh. It’s changed our viewpoints somewhat.

I understand how terrifying that can be for some people, especially when you’ve been trained to run that pre-mapped race at corporate-enforced speeds. Believe me, I know…so many of my jobs in my life demanded that I stay in constant motion lest I be seen as not actually working, and that nearly always breeds a special brand of guilt when you slow down out of physical or mental exhaustion. When you’re given the ability to take that break guilt-free, it’s hard to accept. Somewhere in the back of your mind you feel guilty anyway, even if no one else cares. You get that itchy feeling that you need to do something every minute. And that feeling gets harder to purge the longer you’re kept from that downtime.

Now that we seem to be (hopefully) approaching the back end of a pandemic era with its lesser variants, rising vaccinations and healthier habits, it almost feels like things might actually get a bit sunnier in the near future. Not to ignore the terrible things that are still out there, of course…those are an unfortunate constant no matter what era. But I really want to feel as though we’ve been given the opportunity to rethink the way we approach those things, and I want to embrace that. Reacting to every negative event with a reactionary emotional drama has never been a healthy approach at all for me, and yet it’s all I’d known for years, and I felt it was time for me to change that. [Side note, come to find out lowering my blood pressure with medication helped here. Whodathunkit?]

So I’ve been spending most of 2021 recalibrating…emotionally, mentally, physically, and creatively. And apparently it paid off, as the last time I spoke with my parents, my mother told me I sounded a lot happier and healthier as of late. It weirdly felt like vindication, come to think of it…like I had to go against the grain to find that happiness, but taking the alternate journey was so worth it.

Fly-By: Christmas Prep and Booster Shots

Doing a fly-by today and tomorrow, as I am getting my COVID booster shot today and will most likely be out of commission tomorrow from the effects. I also need to head to the post office to drop off a few Christmas packages. Oh, and I also need to put up our tree today, which I didn’t get around to doing yesterday because I’d spent most of the afternoon watching Episode 3 of The Beatles: Get Back.

See you on Friday!

End of Year Planning

Image courtesy of 5 Centimeters Per Second

It’s now December, which means that I should start thinking seriously about what I want to do for 2022. I’ve got writing plans, of course…I’ll have two books to revise plus a third to shop around, and I’m open for more projects as they arise. I’d really like to drop a few more self-published novels and really sink my teeth into properly marketing them this time out as well. And I’ve been looking into writing-related jobs online as well, and while they’ve kind of been thin on the ground during this season, I’ll be looking deeper and further afield for positions I can handle remotely.

On a personal note, yeah, I’m sure I have a few things I’d like to follow up on. Our local YMCA has just reopened this week (we’re going later on today!) and we’d like to get back into the rhythm of stopping there a few times a week. We still enjoy our walks after work, but it’ll be good to get back to the gym again. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this soon enough…

And I do of course need to get my end-of-year lists and mixtapes together! Every Spotify user has been posting theirs over the last couple of days, but since I so rarely use it, I’ll have to make my own. [Does Media Monkey show me the most plays? Good question, I’ll have to look into that.] And maybe just for fun, I’ll look at my GoodReads list and pick out my favorites of the year. You know me…I always enjoy the year-end countdowns and best-of lists!

In the meantime, however, I’ll keep on working at the pace I’m currently at. It’s well-balanced, keeps me busy during the day, and I’m getting some serious word count done. Maybe a few shifts in the daily schedule here and there, but nothing major. As long as I keep writing!

Post-Holiday Readjustment

Image courtesy of One Piece

The extended holiday weekend is over and, depending on how you look at it, things are either going back to normal or ramping up. It’s now officially the Christmas season. Local listen-at-work station KOIT has officially gone 24/7 Holiday Music, as they do every December until New Year’s Day. One of our neighbors got their Christmas tree on Sunday and I know this because there’s a trail of needles heading from the front door to the elevator. We’ve yet to put up our own tree (ours is fake and lives in the back closet most of the year), but I’ll most likely do that this week. And we are so well-stocked on turkey leftovers that we’ve been eating turkey wraps the last few days. (Not that I’m complaining.)

Also, I haven’t written any new words at all since last Tuesday, and I’m really itching to get back to it. I’ve been doing another read-through of Theadia (and will most likely do one of Queen Ophelia after I’m done with that one) the last few days and I can’t wait to get back to work. It’s also that time of year where I start thinking about my year-end music lists and mixtapes (I am woefully behind on mixtapes in general, so I may do a few of those this week as well). And it’s time for me to think about what I want and need to do come 2022, personally and professionally.

So it’s not so much post-holiday readjustment as it is mid-holiday readjustment, I suppose. I’m so used to my Decembers being busy as hell so I see no reason why I shouldn’t be busy creatively while I have the time and ability. With the old Former Day Jobs I’d survive them by hyperfocusing on whatever I need to do at that moment — get the new cd releases security-tagged and price-tagged, lay out the pallets for the 8,374,621 candle boxes that will come down only my lane in the next five minutes, figure out whose UrgentPLZHALP email needs to be looked at first, and so on — so I’ve done the same with my writing projects. That way I can start the new year fresh and already revved up and excited to get going.

Whatever is coming next, I’m ready for it.