2020 Begone! (five more things not in the media)

pushed image of sunrise in fog

2020

“Go forth in joy and get on with it.” (read through to the end and you’ll understand)

Yeah, we all know it was a crappy year for just about everybody. I’m certainly ready for it to be over with but I gotta tell you: 2020 wasn’t all that crappy for me. Not that the events didn’t feel like a ton of albatross around my neck, but I was pretty good about focusing on the here-and-now of my daily life.

Well, except for some family issues that were complicated enough without adding COVID to the mix. Or when I had critter health crises to deal with and couldn’t shake the worry. Or when I allowed myself to poke around on social media for any length of time — for what a drag doing that turned out to be this year.

I don’t want to dwell on the negative, so all I’m going to say is that I’m ready for a new, improved year ahead. One in which the compost that was 2020 supports amazing growth in 2021.

So in the spirit of wishing 2020 begone and inviting fabulously wonderful blessings in 2021, I’m going to share five rich composty things that happened in my life in 2020 that I believe will encourage a stronger and healthier 2021 and beyond because… well, because that’s what I believe will happen.

1. I got a good dog

In late June Rosie (my rescue dog from 2019) and I adopted Bubbaz from Round Valley Animal Rescue, a no-kill shelter in Springerville AZ. Bubbaz is maybe a Great Dane/greyhound cross. Or something else. He’s a long-bodied, long-legged, long-tailed 8 year old that acts like an overgrown puppy.

For the record, he was “Bubba’s” on his adoption papers, so that explains his name, or at least why I call him Bubbaz. Or Bubz. Or Good Dog. Bubz is not just a good dog, he’s a great dog. By nature or by nurture, he’s the happiest, most unburdened, well-behaved dog I’ve ever been blessed with. Now don’t misunderstand — all my dogs are happy dogs, even when they don’t arrive in my life that way. But some of the many rescues I’ve had have come with baggage that has colored their personalities forever — Rosie, for instance. She’s improving, but she still cringes and looks down too much, apologizing for behavior that she assumes she’ll be punished for even when she hasn’t done anything wrong (Rosie is not a dog who is bold enough to do anything wrong on purpose). In contrast, Bubz is a happy dog with no baggage AND he amazes me with his intelligence and his desire to observe the house rules.

Long and short: I adore him. I adore Rosie, too! How great is that, to have two dogs I adore!

2. I made some good food

Like so many others this past year, I baked bread (photo is not of bread, it’s a chocolate dessert I made for Christmas dinner).  I successfully grew my own sourdough starter from juniper berries and baked some perfectly fine bread with it, though it never came out quite the way I wanted. That’s because I’m a pantser, not a plotter. Oh, you want to know what that means? Those are writer terms: Pantser = a writer who starts with the first word and just lets the story flow however it will. Plotter = a writer who makes a plan — usually an outline — and follows it till The End.

I’m a pantser writer and a pantser everything, really. I’m loosey-goosey about ingredients, given how far I am from the nearest store. Or even the nearest neighbor who might have a cup of sugar I could borrow. I figure if I know the principles involved, then the rest is opinion rather than rule. Substitutions-R-Us.

Yeah, it means that sometimes a loaf of bread I produce could work as a door stop, but most of the time — when I’m in practice — the bread tastes just fine. Not San Francisco sourdough fine, but Lif’s kitchen in New Mexico fine. When I get into the swing of bread baking I’ll make a couple of loaves a week and never walk down the bread aisle in the grocery store.

But then I get tired of baking bread and the starter turns ugly and ends up in the compost pile.

My neighbor rancher gave me a lovely Christmas bag with home-baked cookies and four hard-frozen packages of ground beef (no doubt a former resident of the allotment I hike around nearly every day). I thawed one of the packages and the day before yesterday made something… the closest I guess would be Beef Bourguignon. The classic Julia Child recipe calls for bacon. I had no bacon. It calls for onions, garlic, tomato paste… nope. But so what. The end result of an afternoon’s worth of slow cooking on my wood stove was to die for, and here’s what I did:

Ground Beef Lif Style

Sauté in olive oil:
  2 largish diced potatoes
  2 diced carrots

Add and sauté some more:
  Salt
  2 bay leaves
  a handful of dried (homegrown) basil
  fresh-ground pepper

Add:
  ground beef.  Brown, then cover and let cook a while on medium low heat

Add
  about half a cup red wine
  whatever’s left in the pot from the morning’s coffee

Let simmer on the wood stove all afternoon.

O.M.G.

3. I took some good photos

By “good” I mean photos I’m happy with for whatever reason. 

I have a perfectly fine digital camera, but I take 99.9% of my photos with my cell phone, which is easy to slip into my pocket and which also offers other tools, such as a pedometer, a recorder, a GPS, and like that. I’ve pretty much decided to become a dedicated cell phone photographer, which means maybe upgrading from my iPhone 6, which model came out in 2014 and so is ancient tech now. Since my bank account doesn’t support the purchase of a new iPhone, I’m working with what I have for the foreseeable future. Which is fine. I’m learning how to make-do with photography just like I do with cooking, so it’s all good.

My latest photos are on Facebook and Instagram.

[Note that the photo on top of this page is a perfectly normal sunrise coming up through fog. But when I accidentally saturated it… well, it looked so much like 2020 I had to go with it.]

4. I published a good book

Evolution Device front coverI don’t know how it’s possible that anyone who reads anything I write anywhere hasn’t gotten saturated with reading about my first traditionally published novel, Evolution Device, but too bad. It took me about a decade to write the blasted thing, so until my next book gets published Evolution Device is what I’m gushing about.

Releasing a book in the middle of a pandemic was a good news/bad news bit of timing. Good news is that people couldn’t go to work so they have been reading more. Bad news is that people couldn’t go to work so they had no money to buy books. Also bad news is that people who couldn’t go to work and couldn’t buy books wrote books and published them in 2020.

I’ll get my first sales report and royalties in the next few weeks. I have no idea… well, I’m not going to think about sales. I did my best. I worked promotion like a crazy woman and all I can say is, the book is good but then there are lots of books out there this year.

Time will tell. A good book is a book that will sell for decades, not just months.

My contract with the publisher didn’t include audio rights, so I decided to go ahead and take care of that myself. I used ACX, which is an audio publishing arm of Amazon’s. I probably won’t ever do that again for a bunch of reasons (Amazon, for openers, and ACX is a headache of a platform to use). But through ACX I found the most incredible voice actor to narrate my book: Naomi Rose-Mock. And guess what? Naomi was born in England but raised in the US and if you’ve read my book you know how absolutely perfect she is for the audiobook of Evolution Device, because the focus of the novel, Eddie Edmunds, was born in the US and raised in England. Boggles my mind thinking about the odds of finding someone so perfect as Naomi!

5. I maintained good relationships

2020 was a year that tested relationships with family and friends, not to mention perfect strangers. When people are stressed it doesn’t take much — an ill-considered word, a too-strong expression of opinion, a thoughtless action — to break the ties that bind. I tried to be careful but I’m just as human as the next person and I know I had to have messed up way too much. I vowed to take the high road but nevertheless I got a little crazy now and again on social media, spewing my opinions about politics and COVID and a few other issues, all without filtering. Oops.

But, you know, relationships are two-way. My family and friends are extraordinary people. They forgive me my trespasses and how can I not love them for that? So here it is just hours from midnight and I not only am still speaking with every single family member I started with in 2020, but I’ve retained all the friends I already had and made bunches of new ones. For a hermit like me that’s pretty awesome.

I’m proud of us.

Bonus: I survived for more than a year without a working fridge and it was good

But that’s a story for another time.

HAPPY NEW YEAR. HERE’S HOPING 2021 BRINGS YOU THE BEST OF EVERYTHING!

There is nothing for you to go back and live over, or fix, or feel regret about now. Every part of your life has unfolded just right. And so —now — knowing all that you know from where you now stand, now what do you want? The answers are now coming forth to you. Go forth in joy, and get on with it.

~ Abraham  (excerpted from Virginia Beach, VA on 4/12/97)

FIVE MORE THINGS NOT IN THE MEDIA

It’s been up and down here. Mostly up because I work at it, but with an underlying current of down that every so often threatens to suck me under. But then, nothing is 100%, nothing is forever, right? And things are better for me than for so many, so shut up Lif.

1) WEATHERPhoto of temperature gauge

It snowed last night — just under 2”. It got down to 1° below zero overnight and it’s not going to go above freezing today (the high on the gauge is yesterday’s high, todays was 30°) but the sun is shining and the wood stove is cranking out the BTUs. I’ll have to get my butt on outside shortly to haul in some more wood. The dogs will like that. They’ll figure we’re going for a walk. Sorry, pups — to the woodpile and back is it. Later I’ll go to the barn to feed the horses but no farther. The rest of today is inside time.

I plan to spend that time reading. I just finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which I very much enjoyed. I also just read Robert Heinlein’s The Pursuit of the Pankera, a book that I found annoying but strangely compelling. I’m currently reading W. Michael Gear’s Alpha Enigma; David Comfort’s The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead; and The Wonder Engine, by T Kingfisher. I like to read with Post-Its at the ready for any ideas I come across that spark my own thought processes. I don’t know how I survived before Post-Its.

2) WRITING

I sent a copy of my book, Evolution Device, to my writing mentor, Steven F. Havill,  Since he had given an early draft of the novel a firm thumbs down, I was unsurprisingly rather anxious about how he’d react to the published version. To be honest, when I saw he had sent an email with the subject line “Evolution Device”, I didn’t read it right away.

Steve Havill at book discussion, Round Valley Library, Eagar AZ January 2017
Trudy Balcom/The Independent

Let me explain something about Steve. He’s written a couple dozen books or more, but is also dedicated to helping new writers get going. He’s a former English teacher, junior high kids I believe, and gives writing workshops and talks about writing at book discussions (I’m in the photo on the end). I’ve tried to go to as many of his talks and workshops as I can. The mentor-mentee relationship has grown  to friendship. Am I lucky or what?

Steve provides unflinchingly honest, constructive feedback. He points out what he likes and why, and what he doesn’t like and why. It’s the “and why” parts that are so valuable. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing — my fault, not his. I was taking his criticisms personally and responding personally. Then I had a big duh moment, when I realized everything I was saying to him in my defense was stuff that should be in the manuscript – that is what Steve was telling me!

So I gave him a copy of the published book and he read it. When I finally steeled myself to face his email, I almost wept.

With joy.

He liked it! He liked it! Phew!

3) MORE WRITING

Related but this needs its own point: Getting from rough draft to published book is a trip — but what comes after is its own journey.

I’ve learned there is absolutely no point in second-guessing what I wrote. It’s too late now, the book’s out in the world. I doubt I will ever read Evolution Device again from beginning to end because of course I will find fault with it. I’m no longer the person who wrote that book. I’ve learned by writing more. My writing skills have grown (credit to Post-Its and writing mentors, not to mention Editors). There’s no reason to inflict myself with even more doubts about my writing than I already have.

I’ve learned promotion is hard. It’s a kind of bragging and I feel uncomfortable about it. I’m by nature a hermit. I don’t invite people to my home, I don’t socialize, and when I write about my personal life it’s curated. So to blab on about my work — I mean, promote it — it’s, well, embarrassing. And yet that’s what authors have to do. We have to not just sell our books but sell ourselves. Who wants to read books by an author who doubts her own work? People like to think that authors are like the characters in their books. Brave! Bold! Exciting! Intriguing! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! And able to overcome all obstacles by The End.

I’ve also learned that in this year of COVID the world of writing is even more daunting a place than it normally is. It seems everybody and their aunt is writing books. And they’re all writing great books that apparently are selling like crazy, or so the publicity would have one believe. Is there room in the world for another writer, — namely me? I sure hope so.

On top of it all, there is no end to stuff that isn’t writing but is necessary to be a successful author. I’ve got more books in the works, in different genres. Different genres means querying literary agents. Querying is a time-consuming, dreary, disheartening process that teaches an author to not care about rejections anymore because after a while they’re the norm.

4) EVEN MORE WRITING

Here’s the thing about writing a book that people enjoyed reading. Almost the first question asked is going to be when is the next one coming out.

Oh. My. Gods. I have to do this again? And again?

5)  THE BEST CHOCOLATE DESSERT EVER!

I learned a great recipe for a kind of chocolate pudding that’s actually healthy. I have to thank my friend Valorie for it.  It’s so darn simple to make, and it’s incredibly flexible (I’ve tweaked it already and it still tastes great). Here’s the recipe exactly as Valorie provided:

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN VERY RIPE BANANAS ARE STARING YOU IN THE FACE?

Here’s the recipe I use for our Cocoa/Carob/Cacao Banana Pudding.  We really enjoy this pudding!! If you like bananas and chocolate, we think you’ll like this dessert as well.

I especially make this pudding when I don’t want to heat up my oven and take the time to make Banana Bread.  This recipe is a fast and easy way to use up ripe bananas quickly.  It is also very forgiving so I do not measure bananas or dates.

Enjoy!

Valorie

Cocoa/Carob/Cacao Banana Pudding 

  Makes 4  – 1/2 cup servings  

Note:  Soak sunflower seeds ahead of time.  Dates as well if using Medjool dates.

Place all of the following ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth.
You may need to stir the ingredients a bit at first to get them moving and blending. Either turn your blender off or be very careful not to hit the moving blades.

2 cups organic, blended ripe bananas – for those who like to measure.  I use 3 very ripe medium/large sized bananas or 6 to double the recipe.
1/2 cup organic sunflower seeds soaked for 30 minutes or over night and drained *
1/4 cup organic cocoa, carob or cacao powder
1/4 cup organic pitted, chopped dates **
1 tsp. organic vanilla
pinch of salt

Once blended, taste for smoothness and sweetness and adjust by blending longer and/or adding more sweetener. ***

Pour into serving containers and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.  Enjoy!

* I have also tried soaked almonds and they were very good as well but I’ll probably opt for using sunflower seeds as they are less expensive.  I’ll save my organic almonds for other things where sunflower seeds just wouldn’t do.

** I use two (2) pitted, chopped, soaked and drained Medjool dates. I soak them in water for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes to soften them up as they are a tougher/denser date than many other types of dates and soaking makes them easier on my blender. Substituting 1 or 2 tablespoons of date syrup or maple syrup or honey would work well and probably give a bit of a different flavor.

*** Level of desired sweetness varies from one person to the next.  Remember that bananas get sweeter as they ripen so the riper the banana the less sweetener I tend to add.

6) BONUS

Read my post on Patreon.  It’s about critters that… well, go read it.

 

A rock star’s life

“This is Suzy Savoy,” Terry said, tugging her forward by an arm. “I’m sure you recognize her.” Suzy had fixed a grimace on her face that may have passed for a smile. The director pointed to each of the other band members in turn. “Eddie Edmunds, Gene Prideux, Laurel MacRae, and Erik Amundsen. And this is Evolution Device’s manager, George Westfall.” George had pushed me aside to step up next to the director. Richards began to point at me, but dropped his hand, frowning.

He turned back to the waiting crowd. “They’ve got a plane to catch, but they kindly agreed to stop by and meet you all for a few minutes.” With that the director abandoned us to our fate.

Eddie and the others were lambs facing the abattoir. Suzy’s face was positively stormy as she shrugged off yet another actor’s arm, and I could see Eddie’s distress blossom as he was surrounded by diamond and gold encrusted women — and men — who wanted to touch and be spoken to by the famous guitarist. Erik and Laurel fended off the worst of them by linking arms and sticking together.

Gene and George, though, wallowed in it. They sported beautiful women on their arms and plenty more waited for a turn. I checked Gene’s waistband.  Where had the panties gone?

 

Excerpt from Evolution Device, a novel of music and magic.

EvoDev cover

Evolution Device front coverBack in 2012 when I hit a bit of a writer’s block for the novel I was working on — the one that would become Evolution Device (fondly nicknamed EvoDev) — I started fooling around with ideas for the cover. I knew that publishers don’t generally give authors much say in what the covers look like but this was early days. Publishing was  just a distant dream.  

For a while I played with digital images instead of working on my novel. Most of them I used in Mage Music, my first serious venture into blogging. I’m not going to lie — at first I just used images I found on the web. Pretty soon I started using NASA images because they are mind blowing.  But it wasn’t long before I started getting creative. I started using digital art I put together myself. They were based on or inspired by Jimmy Page, because his work was what inspired me to start the blog.  

I wasn’t interested blogging as a fan, however. Mage Music is about the magic of creativity, and while I mostly used Jimmy Page’s work for examples the blog was not about him. Which brings me to EvoDev.

Eddie Edmunds, lead guitarist and founder of the band my book is named for — Evolution Device — is very decidedly not Jimmy Page. Anybody who thinks “inspired by” is code for “about” is going to be disappointed.

Eddie is part Apache, a fact which few people are aware of and most people wouldn’t care about if they knew. But that fact makes all the difference in who Eddie is and what he becomes.

And so when I started playing around with book cover ideas I looked to guitarists’ body posture, and then features from Apache and other native faces that appealed to me. When I had created an image of what seemed to express a truth about Eddie I placed it on an image that had started out as the Horsehead Nebula. 

I liked it. And then I pretty much forgot about it until eight years later when I thought to send it to my publisher. Who liked it, too.

Here, then, are some images from my files that might give you and idea of my process.

Evolution Device is almost here!

Cover proof for Evolution Device

I am absolutely thrilled to share the cover proof of my novel, Evolution Device.  It will be hitting the bookstores JULY 28, 2020.  

This book gave me chill bumps, it was written so well. It pierces the world of the rock star, the rock band, and the audience of each.

I particularly liked the characterization of the Muse. She, too, was so real I felt I could touch her. And if I did she would’ve escaped my fingertips as she does in this remarkable novel.
~ Gerald Hausman, author of The Evil Chasing Way

Evolution Device is the story of British rock guitarist Eddie Edmunds in the wild times of the 1970s. His muse, Lily, is an entity of pure energy drawn into physical existence by what some might call magic.   She is the only one who recognizes the other side of the energies that Eddie flirts with:  if he doesn’t face the music, all the drugs in the world won’t shield him from the danger of uncontrolled power. 

This baby’s been a long time coming.  My first file save was in 2011, so the late summer release date will make it a 9 year labor.

Evolution Device will be published under the Positronic Publications Imprint, which has published authors like George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, and Roger Zelazny.  

I’m SO EXCITED!!!

Evolution Device – a novel of magic and music

 

Mock-up of Evolution Device coverI am absolutely thrilled to let you know that my novel, Evolution Device, will be hitting the bookstores late this summer.  

Evolution Device is the story of British rock guitarist Eddie Edmunds in the wild times of the 1970s. His muse, Lily, is an entity of pure energy drawn into physical existence by what some might call magic.   She is the only one who recognizes the other side of the energies that Eddie flirts with:  if he doesn’t face the music, all the drugs in the world won’t shield him from the danger of uncontrolled power. 

This baby’s been a long time coming.  My first file save was in 2011, so the late summer release date will make it a 9 year labor.

Evolution Device will be published under the Positronic Publications Imprint, which has published authors like George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, and Roger Zelazny.  

I’m SO EXCITED!!!

 

I got the blues

Title pageI have a sad case of postpartum blues. No, I haven’t given birth to a squalling, pooping little bundle of joy, but I did send my manuscript — supposedly the final edit — off to my professional editor. Now I wait till she goes through it and (hopefully) tells me it’s good to go.

I thought I’d be bouncing around today with a big weight off my shoulders. Last night I couldn’t sleep for going through all the things I’d be free to do today now that I wasn’t shackled to my manuscript. My house looks like a crash pad. And why not? That’s basically what I’ve been doing for the past few months while I focused on this book.

Envelopes are piled up on my desk. I shudder to think what might be in them that I’ve been ignoring. Dirty clothes are spilling out of the laundry baskets. When was the last time I changed the bed sheets? Stacks of books I’ve used as references, or read in the evenings and never reshelved, or borrowed and never returned are on top of my sewing table. One the rare days when I felt like I had to swamp out the house but didn’t want to take the time, I just put things in empty Amazon boxes. Who knows what might lurk in them.

Ick, the cat boxes need emptying. No point in scooping. They’re beyond that – gotta just dump the contents and replace with fresh… um… I do have more kitty litter somewhere, don’t I? I did do dishes almost every day, but the clean ones are piled high in the dish drain.  Why bother putting them away? I just kept using the same ones over and over.  Other than baking a few loaves of bread, I haven’t cooked much of anything since Christmas. I can go a long time on peanut butter sandwiches, salads, and wine.
Fabric
I look around the house and there is stuff everywhere! Not only stuff that needs to be put away, but projects that need to be completed. Fabric that I’ve purchased but not stored for the wall hangings I’ve started but abandoned. Houseplants that need repotting sit on windowsills and on the kitchen counter and on the floor. Tools that I’ve used to band-aide things that broke that I had no time to fix while I’ve been living in the dream world of writing need to be put away. And of course, the interior walls of my tiny little straw bale house still have not been plastered.

I have so much to do and now I’m free to do it.

But no. I’m sitting here feeling no motivation at all. I’ve got postpartum depression. I’ve had my creative baby, so to speak. The creation process took all my psychic energy and now I’ve hit the post-creation let-down.

Or maybe not.

Maybe it’s just the massive amount of work that I need to do to get my house back in order that is off-putting.

Maybe I should write about it instead of doing it.

Hey – I feel better already!