Category Archives: Life

That was September and this is OMG

So, a brief life recap and looking forward:

At the end of September I went to Georgia for eight days for family stuff. My sister was supposed to go, but she and her husband went to Europe for a month instead (her oldest daughter, my niece, lives in Germany and has two wee children, so I understand. Mostly. Although have I gotten so much as a postcard? Noooo…). Because it wasn’t a planned-well-ahead trip for me, I had to do day job work there as well as write. And every time I go, I expect to get more writing done than I ever do, because it’s more tiring than I remember. This time I wrote one story and started another, which is better than no words at all, right?!

When I got home, our Internet/cable crapped out, and was out for about two and a half weeks. This slowed down all of my work, because I’d have to do a bunch of work, make a list of what to do at the library on their wireless, pack up and go across to the library, end up with more work because new emails have arrived, pack up, come home, lather, rinse, repeat.

Plus I was dealing with some minor health problems. The fatigue I battled over the summer came back to a lesser degree (probably a backlash from the trip), along with a few other small annoyances. So I just wasn’t as productive/focused as I needed to be.

Plus Ken’s birthday weekend was just after I returned home, and we went out for dinner with different friends on three successive nights and did other stuff, which I have recounted in an almost-finished blog post.

Next up, I have 15 days on the Oregon Coast: one week of a writing retreat and one week of the Master Class, a publishing/business summit of pro writers from all over.

I leave at 1 pm Saturday, driving a friend and stopping at a housewarming/house-blessing party on the way. Here is a sampling of what I need to do before then:

  • put away all the clean laundry, which is a lot
  • probably do another load of laundry
  • Costco run for eggs, string cheese, and gas
  • make two soups and two breakfast meals to freeze and take with me (I’ll eat salads for lunches)
  • finish the current novel so I can write a good chunk of the next book in the series at the retreat (I’d hoped to have the second book underway so I could finish it at the retreat, but oh well)
  • so much publishing/admin work that I kind of have to look at it out of the corner of my eye so I don’t dissolve into utter panic
  • answer about 40 work emails (that’s what I have to do right now. But you know what happens when you answer an email…hydra heads popping up everywhere.)
  • do a slew of day job work, including designing a magazine, a novel, and a cover, and proofreading an anthology design, and a bunch of other small tasks
  • get a flu shot
  • pick up pills at the pharmacy
  • pack (at least the packing list is pretty much done)

What I have accomplished over the past few days include

  • got a haircut. Photos to come when it stops being so damn fluffy because the hairdresser used an unfamiliar product and a blow dryer on me, which creates frizz rather than curls
  • walked a friends’ dogs because her back is effed up and she has a team of people helping out
  • made the meal plan and shopping list, and did a big grocery shopping (for the above-mentioned meal prep plus food for this week)
  • made two extra salads for today’s and tomorrow’s lunches while I made yesterday’s lunch salad
  • made one soup
  • copyedited a book and proofread a magazine
  • answered a slew of email
  • published a short story
  • played way too many games of Ticket to Ride on the iPad while snuggled next to Ken and covered with purring cats

I should feel way more guilty about that last item than I do, but at one point last night I looked at Ken and said, “I am so fucking happy right now.”

Added note: I wrote this on Thursday morning, and now it’s Friday night, so I’ve accomplished a few of the things I needed to. Not as many as I’d like, but a reasonable chunk. After I sent my monthly newsletter, I said to Ken that it was a good reminder of how much I have done, when I think I haven’t.

More when I return home, just in time for the Most Wonderful Holiday of the Year, Halloween!

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Tea, glorious tea—and lots of it!

I drink two to three cups of tea a day, and my usual tea of choice is PG Tips, a bog standard British brand that I started drinking when I lived in Wales. It’s smooth but bracing, unlike most of the weak swill available in America. Since moving back to the US, I’ve made a point of buying PG Tips from my nearest local British import shop, because even if the products are a bit more expensive, I want to keep those shops in business (and when dark chocolate digestive biscuits leap into my basket, what am I supposed to do?). For many years, that shop was Rosie Lee’s in Ventura, CA.

I found a good shop near me outside of Portland, which also houses a lovely little tea room. They are responsible for my addiction to lemon-flavored shortbread: they carry a local baker’s brand and oh, it goes so well with a nice hot cuppa.

Unfortunately, they stopped carrying the really big boxes of PG Tipps (which I think were 360 bags), so I got on their call list and picked up a couple 240-bag boxes when those arrived. But the last time I was there (for a tea luncheon with Morgana), they had no PG Tips at all.

Disheartened, I turned to Amazon. If I couldn’t find PG Tips at my nearest British shop, I’d just have to go the cheapest route to tide me over.

At which point I found 1150 bags for $40, which is mind-blowingly cheap. One click, and they were on their way.

Unexpectedly, they arrived in one big bag.

Labeled “catering size.”

I’d assumed a bulk shipment of smaller boxes. I normally decant my tea bags into Talenti ice cream containers to keep them fresh. But that’s usually one 360-count box of bags.

The result this time was this:

I have enough tea for a year and a half. And this is what it looks like.

As long as I have a way to boil water and can get my hands on real milk, bring on the apocalypse!

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Eclipses past and present

I chose not to leave home for the eclipse on Monday, because there were a reported one million people traveling to Oregon to view it and we expected the roads to be inside. (They weren’t, for the most part…live and learn.) NASA said my house would get 99.77% totality, and that was good enough for me. As was our back garden for viewing.

Almost exactly 18 years ago, we got to witness a near-total eclipse in Newport, Wales, where we were living at the time. (The totality was in Cornwall.) I still have the safety viewing classes from that time. This either means I’m prepared for this time, or I’m a hoarder….

We were living in a 400-year-old cottage with a lovely back terrace. Our friends Chris and Elizabeth, and Julie and her son, Jake, came to stay with us and witness the event.

Clockwise from top: Julie, Jake, Chris, your charming hostess, Elizabeth. Not pictured (because he’s taking the picture!): Ken

The other notable event that day involved one of our kittens. Back on Easter Sunday that year, a stray cat had shown up at the cottage…long story short, she had a broken leg that had to be amputated. Through the various vet visits, and even at home, nobody clued in that she was pregnant. While we were on a trip to Scotland in late June, she’d graced us with three kittens.

I don’t remember now if we’d named the kittens already, or if Eclipse got her name that day. The owners of the cottage had redone the kitchen and had, in their infinite wisdom (that was sarcasm), put the wine rack next to the stove. Not being wine aficionados, we had only one bottle in there.

Sometime during the eclipse viewing, we heard a bang in the house.

We discovered the bottle of wine still in the rack, but with a chunk broken out of it. We also discovered Eclipse the kitten, formerly black and white, now black and wine red. Our best guess is that she’d gone under the bottle and brushed against it enough to make it give way.

She was not amused.

Monday, no bottles of wine exploded on Clara, Max, or Goose. We met up with friends for dinner, and talked of writing and publishing and the marvelous universe we live in. And when I watched the sun disappear and reappear, I meditated on peace and love and transition.

The light always returns….


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Cat update (this is the clowder so far)

Back in February, we said farewell to our beloved eldercat, Grimoire, who was with us for more than seventeen years, ever since the stray who’d shown up at our door in Wales, Eostre, surprised us with three kittens. We had intended to wait until after Ken went on a trip in March to adopt again, but within two days I was looking at cats online. I hated being home alone. Hated it. It was just too weird and sad.

So off we went to Animal Aid, a shelter that specializes in special needs animals. We went to look at one cat in particular, but we had no chemistry with him. Soft-hearted Ken was willing to take him anyway, but I said, “Let’s just meet some other cats,” and asked the volunteer who she’d recommend. She said, “Come meet Clara.” I stuck my fingers out for her to sniff, but she was having none of that. She bonked right into my fingers for scritchies. And she stole my heart right then and there.

We were told Clara didn’t like many other cats, but she did get along with Max, who had been rescued from the same hoarding situation as Clara. So we met Max, and that was that. We scheduled to have them delivered after I got back from a workshop in early March.

Now, five months later, it’s hard to imagine life without them.

Their size difference isn’t clear here. Seriously, he’s nearly twice as big.

Clara (aka Clara Bug, Little Bug, Pudge) is a short-haired dilute calico and Max (aka Maxamillion Purrs, Maximus Cattius, Snuggle Bug) is a long-haired white and brown/grey calico. I suspect Max has at least some Maine Coon in him, given the shape of his furry head. They are like the Mutt and Jeff of the cat world. Clara is pudgy (the vet says she’s at a healthy weight, but she just looks round) and has short legs and a small head, and because she’s mostly deaf, screams as if she’s being tortured to let you know she’s lonely and doesn’t know where you are. She also makes an adorable, indefinable, almost-cranky noise when you wake her up, and purrs really loudly. Max, on the other hand, has long legs, a long body, a long tail, and an enormous head. His head is at least half again as big as Clara’s, possibly almost twice as big. He has a gentle little miaow that he uses sparingly, a quiet purr, and he moves silently; we are often startled to discover he’s levitated on a sofa or the bed or my desk. Whereas you can hear Clara’s every little thumping footstep, especially when she’s running up or down the stairs.

The shelter thinks Max is about 6, and Clara about 8. It’s especially hard to tell with Clara because most of her teeth had to be removed. She has only her little front teeth, and even when she’s unhappy with you, she barely bites you, and immediately comes back to snuggle with you because she can’t hold a grudge for more than a nanosecond.

Worse, her previous owners were neglectful and her claws grew so long they embedded in the pads of her feet, and two claws then started growing in wrong. Sadly, we had to have them surgically removed because they were causing her pain. Even though I know it was medically necessary, it broke my heart, because declawing is mutilation. Then she had to have a second surgery because the ends of the bone were pressing against her skin and causing her pain; her two middle toes have now been amputated and she walks on the center pad and her outer toes with a little limp. She also looks like she’s flashing the rock-n-roll devil horns, which is appropriate for a cat in this house!

Max, although young, is already in early stages of kidney disease. Right now all he needs is special food, but we’re prepared to do subcu fluids and whatever else as things progress. Cats can live quite a long time with kidney disease, so we expect many years with him. He has a flea allergy and lost a lot of his fur before we adopted him, and it’s pretty much all normal now. As I suspected from the outset, he has an extremely fluffy tail.

But the story, my friends, doesn’t end there. Oh no, it doesn’t. Because before we adopted these sweeties, we were debating between getting an older cat (because my heart breaks for elderly cats who get left at shelters) or two bonded pairs, because the house is big, y’know?

Good thing we only got two cats, because more were coming…

In June, a friend of ours was moving in with her new partner, into a household with a dog, and couldn’t take her beloved 15-year-old cat with her. We here at Casa Dermatis-Meese (aka The House That Needs a Name, Dammit) have a No Cat Left Behind Policy, so of course we took Goose.

Is this an angel or a devil on my shoulder?

Goose is named after the Spruce Goose but we are just as likely to croon, “Goose, you big stud…” He’s also known as the Silly Goose, of course.

Goose is lanky and orange with a triangular face, bigger than Clara but only a pound heavier, and not as big as Max. Goose is not a lap cat. Goose is more of a lie-across-your-boobs cat. Or a drape-around-your-neck cat. His goal in life seems to be attempting to force his nose and, eventually, his entire head into your nostril, or occasionally your ear, all while purring madly.

A couple of days after we adopted Goose, I texted his former owner, “Um, did you forget to tell us your cat is a vampire?” Because Goose also likes to jam his face against your neck and knead your neck like he’s a phlebotomist trying to get your vein to pop up. Turns out he was a bottle baby, so his humans are the same thing as Mom. She did, she said, train him to not actively suckle, cutting down on the number of hickies she had on her neck and face for a while.

Goose may be 15, but you wouldn’t know it. He’ll jump from the floor into your arms with a little encouragement. He’s the most talkative of the three with a wide range of miaows and sounds, including one low sound, when he’s separated from you, that sounds like “Hello?”

We were slowly integrating them until the heatwave hit, at which point we bought a window AC, installed it in my office (which is upstairs, along with the master bedroom), and said, “Okay, cats, you now all live together in the safe temperature zone. Deal.” There’s still some hissing, a bit of yowling, and the occasional tussle, but they’ll all sleep on the bed with us, and it’s the happiest feeling in the world. In fact, today while watching TV, I had Clara on my lap, Goose leaning against my left thigh, and Max against my right calf. All within inches of each other. (Of course, there were unhappy noises later when they were all hungry and cranky and in the stairwell, which is a choke point, but still. Triple snuggles!)

We’re already planning on cat #4, a super-sweet, friendly outdoor cat that some friends have been caring for. Lydia has some behavioral issues but we’re confident we can work with her. We just don’t want her to have to fend for herself in an apartment complex parking lot anymore, you know? So that’ll probably happen in September or early October (since I’ll be away for a week at the end of September).

We have wonderful, snuggly, loving, purring cats, and the house is a home once again.

This is the clowder so far… Top: Clara; left: Goose; right: Max


If you’d like to get this sort of information—and more!—directly in your In Box each month, you can sign up for my newsletter. Each issue has publication news about stories, collections, novels, and other fun stuff. BONUS: you get a free short story every month! What are you waiting for? Subscribe today!

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Grimoire, June 1999 – February 11, 2017

We said goodbye to our beloved Grimoire yesterday. He was 17 1/2, a venerable age for a cat, and it was his time. He’s young and healthy and purring again now.

He joins his mother, Eostre, and his siblings, Eclipse and Snowdon. Eostre was a stray with a broken leg who showed up when we lived in Wales; nobody, not even the vets during multiple surgeries, realized she was pregnant. We came home from a trip to find a note from our cat sitter that said in part, “Watch where you step.” I still have that note.

Grimoire was the last of his line. He had extra toes and a little notch in his right ear, the result of a kittenhood tussle with his brother. He loved food, laps (and there was a hierarchy to them—he would stomp over people to get to his favorite, and if you didn’t make space for him, he’d sit next to you and tap you on the arm until you did), scritchies, and, for a time, fetching paper.

He’ll always be my baby boy, purring in my heart.

Food, Glorious Food

I’ve been cooking a lot lately, which I know sounds weird to those of you who know that I don’t really enjoy cooking. I don’t hate it, and I get some satisfaction out of it, but there are many things I’d prefer doing. (Like having someone cook for me while I read a good book.) I think it comes down to preferring creative endeavors that produce things that last, like books. Food gets eaten. This is also why I don’t like gardening. Didn’t I just weed that patch?! Stop growing! Sheezus criminy.

But cooking is cheaper and healthier than eating out, and (a) we just bought a house so we’re paying off a lot of stuff and (b) I’ve lost 14 lbs since August solely by not eating as much crap, and I’d like to continue that trend. I think, also, that I’ve been in a bit of nesting mode, because the world feels stressful and uncertain. Plus, I’m happy to be in the house with all of our kitchen stuff, and all along we hoped to find a house with a basement so we could put an upright freezer down there and fill it with food. We have a house with a basement and an upright freezer. Time for the food-filling part.

Before the craziness that was October, what with a trip to Atlanta and a workshop and two Marillion concerts in San Francisco and LA and then driving home with a truckful of furniture, I prepped some slow cooker meals and whatnot and froze them so I could feel both our moms without having to figure out what to cook each day. I made an anal-retentive calendar of what I had to take out of the freezer each morning, what we’d be eating that night, etc.

That worked so well that I continued with the slow cooker meal prepping thing. I’m not quite up to doing a 40 Meals in 4 Hours extravaganza, but so far I have the following meals in the freezer (the morning before I want to cook one, I’ll take it out of the freezer): Italian chicken, chicken taco bowls, balsamic chicken, chicken gyros. We also have leftover chicken stew and some kind mystery meals already cooked and frozen; I blame Ken, who never labels anything. We’ll be eating some of those this week.

This past weekend I made sweet potato/jalapeno soup (the second time I’ve made it; the first time was when the moms were visiting), cauliflower stilton soup, and healthier mac-and-cheese. All are in the freezer for the future.

In the past weeks, I’ve also made

  • a chile egg puff
  • unstuffed cabbage rolls (basically cabbage, onion, ground turkey, and Worcestershire cooked together in a big pot)
  • goulash (with ground turkey)
  • a frittata with chicken, crumbled bleu, bacon, and avocado
  • vegetable soup with homemade mini meatballs (normal meatball recipe with ground turkey instead of beef, plus a bit of finely shredded baby spinach for an extra health boost). This is what I’ve been eating for lunch, with a sprinkle of shredded parmesan.
  • breakfast bowls (frozen)
  • split pea soup
  • turkey sausage patties (they’re all gone, though, and we need to make more. This time I’m going to use the George Foreman grill.)

On deck coming up are Thai soup (for my lunches), turkey meatloaf with zucchini and feta (a new recipe to try), and Michigan sauce (I have a hankering). And I should probably research another slow cooker meal or two…. Oh, and we’re hosting a Christmas get-together, and I’m already making lists of food ideas.

I don’t know who I am anymore, but at least I’m well-fed!

The Year of Dare

The Celtic year ends on Halloween/Samhain, so November 1 is my New Year’s Day. (Although I celebrate the other one as well because hey, any excuse for a celebration!) And for at least five years now, I’ve been picking a word for my year. Something I want to take in, to embrace, to expand into my life. It’s generally geared towards my career, but usually applies to other areas of my life as well. Previous words have included Joy, Focus, Create, and last year’s Trust.

Trust ended up having a profound effect. I first started thinking about it at the annual publishing summit Master Class I go to most every year on the Oregon Coast. It’s a week of intense learning about making a living as a writer and keeping up with the whiplash-inducing changes that are happening in the publishing world nearly every day. I realized at the workshop last year that I was letting fear hold me back in a lot of areas. If something seemed “too hard” or “too much to learn,” I never let it rise to the top of my To Do list—and that clearly had to stop. Avoidance is not the way to success.

It took me a while to find the right word. I knew I wanted to opposite of Fear, but Courage wasn’t right, nor Fearless (which hides the negative in the positive), nor Bravery. I actually found Trust by looking at thesaurus.com on November 1, after a Samhain ritual the night before where we talked about what I was trying to embody, and brought it in as best I could.

I told a writer/publisher friend about Trust, and a few weeks later, a surprise showed up in the mail for me: she’d made me a ring that said Trust. I started wearing it every day. Alas, one day it disappeared (no idea how), but I ordered myself one from Etsy, and now I wear that every day.

I trusted myself to have the skills to figure difficult things out. I trusted the smart, savvy people around me to help me when I asked for assistance or explanation. I trusted my subconscious, my creative core. So many things stopped being scary, and started being fun—and surprisingly easy once I got out of my own way.

This year’s word hit me like a cosmic two-by-four a month or so ago, although in the wrong form at first. And since then, the universe has been showing me again and again that it’s the right word at the right time. It’s absolutely what I need.

I thought it would be Challenge, but I realized I might be inviting the universe to throw challenges in my way, and that’s not what I meant at all. I wanted to challenge myself. Not necessarily big challenges, but little ones, too. It might be challenging myself to write an especially high number of words on a day when I don’t have any freelance work. It might be challenging myself to try something new (now that Trust is firmly engrained).

Since Challenge wasn’t quite it, I meditated some more, and it came to me: Dare. Not only to be daring, but to dare myself. Big dares, little dares, double-dog dares if it comes to that. In August, to reboot myself after a few months of a mini-depression, I dared myself to write a minimum of 500 words a day. I wouldn’t go to bed until I’d done them. At the end of the month, I had a nice chunk of words. That was my first cosmic two-by four. There were more to come at this year’s Master Class.

In this spirit of that, I’m not exactly doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but I’m doing my own personal dare version. I have two novels to finish (one coauthored, one solo), as well as a novella, and other projects if I can get to them. In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I’m gunning for 50K words this month.

This will be a challenge, because my mom’s still in town until Saturday morning, I’ve got three days of Orycon plus a friend coming early to help me with website stuff, and I’ve got a slew of freelance work on the schedule. But I also wrote 1200 words on several of the days at the Master Class, in between sessions, and 500+ on a couple other days, so I know I can get words out even when I’m busy—and I know that I’ll have days when I get fewer words written than the average, so I’ll just have to have days where I write more.

I won’t be posting all my dares throughout the year, but I’ll talk about them on and off, if anyone’s interested. Just be prepared to see more words, more projects, and more fun. I dare you!

(The image above is of the necklace I’m waiting to arrive from Etsy…)

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Writing Retreat

[It’s Thursday of my second week of this retreat; I leave Sunday afternoon. I wrote this post the day I arrived…and forgot to upload it!]

I’m on the Oregon Coast for two weeks, in a cozy apartment overlooking the lake.

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See that view? Does not suck.

I’m cat-sitting for a friend.

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See this cat? Adorable. She chirrups and purrs like a maniac. She immediately tried to figure out how gullible I am when it comes to feeding her. (She’s on a strict feeding schedule.) She chirrups and peeps, and has one of the loudest purrs I’ve ever heard—it’s a hair-trigger purr, too.

I’m basically having a writing retreat, although I do have some day-job work to do as well. No other responsibilities but writing, work, getting some exercise (it’s about a mile to the beach), and eating and sleeping. I hope to get a lot of reading done, too. I may or may not watch any TV; if I do, I’ll stream something on Netflix. (I don’t think the DVR at home will explode while I’m away…)

The theme of the retreat is Clear the Decks. I’d hoped to have the decks cleared before I came and thus could focus on a novel, but the universe had other ideas for me. So I’m here to finish up a bunch of stuff so that when I get home, I can focus on a couple of novellas and the next novel in my queue. Whatever that is…

[So far, so good. I’ll post a post-retreat summary once I’m home…and hopefully remember to upload it in a reasonable amount of time!]

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So. Many. Words.

If you had told me, back when I was a child, that I would one day have too much to read, I wouldn’t have laughed at you, both because I was shy and because I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend your words. (“Roboto, your words have no meaning. You are in error.”) I might have stared at you as if you’d grown a second head, though.

When I was a kid, there were never enough books. We didn’t live close enough to either town to go to the library frequently. During school, I was allowed to check out more than the maximum number of books, because the librarian knew I’d bring them all back, all read at least once. And my family wasn’t the book-buying kind, so my library fit on two small shelves. I reread books a lot. I got to the point where I could read my favorite Nancy Drew, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher, in 20 minutes. As in, while eating a snack. (Liverwurst and Muenster on Ritz crackers, mostly likely.)

In high school, I bought whatever books I could with my limited funds, and then my best friend—who lived in Virginia—and I would mail books to each other. The cost of a shoebox of paperbacks sent Media Rate was equivalent to what? the cost of one paperback?

Now, let’s face it, with the plethora of ebooks available, not to mention the library, and Powells, and freebies from conferences, and so forth, I have scads of things to read. (I keep going to the library instead of reading the piles of books all over the apartment. Sheez.)

But the problem is, right now, I have things to read that have deadlines.

  1. I have stories to read for the upcoming Anthology Workshop. I’m halfway through (I’ve read three of six anthology submissions’ worth of stories). That still leaves about 125 stories. I don’t have to read each one all the way through: we’re supposed to read like an editor would, so if I fade out, I just note where I faded out and move on to the next. Unfortunately (fortunately?), given the level of professionalism, most stories don’t let me out. (Which makes choosing 55,000 words for each anthology as I would put it together a real PITA.) Really good stories. Really hard choices. Deadline: Feb 26. I could read the final anthologies’ stories while I’m at the workshop, but let’s face it, I’ll be too busy hanging with a slew of amazing writer-friends and also trying to get a a few words in on my own projects each day.
  2. I have novels to read for the upcoming Romance Workshop. I can’t go into detail, but the first novel on the list is one I do not like. Even if we’ve read things on the list before, we’re supposed to read them again. I do not want to read it again. I realized last night that I was delaying going to bed because I did not want to read the novel. Aaaargh. Also, one of the later novels is really, really long, so I can’t dawdle on this. Deadline: April 15.
  3. I’m going through Love, in Stitches, Teresa’s and my latest coauthored effort, in creative mode, fixing notes we’ve left for ourselves, writing new scenes, etc. It’s mostly reading. Deadline: I’d like to have it finished this week, although I’m not as far along as I’d like. IN part because of these other things I have to read.
  4. I’m doing a developmental edit for a Lucky Bat Books client. This is, you guessed it, 99% reading (and 1% taking notes/leaving comments). Deadline: not fixed, but soon-ish. As in, I should be working on this every day.

Am I complaining? Not…not really. Not about the reading. Other than the novel I do not like one iota, dammit, it’s all really good stuff. As long as I remember why I’m reading what I’m reading (am I reading in creative mode? as a developmental editor? as an anthology editor? as a copyeditor? Who am I right now? ::cue existential angst::), I’m golden.

I think it’s just the deadlines I hate…they’re stressing me out, man.