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Author: C.D. Watson

Scarecrows and Rain Dances

Scarecrows and Rain Dances

Growing up, I must’ve had the strongest female role models of any woman alive, except maybe my sister, who was blessed with the same set.

Nanny, our paternal grandmother, lost her first husband to Nazi gunners during World War II, her eldest daughter at a tender age to a tragic accident, and her second husband to drink. She developed rheumatoid arthritis in her late thirties, the most severe case her specialists had seen at the time, and eventually died due to complications thereof, but not before seeing her remaining five children and umpteen grandchildren reared proper like.

Her faith and a lively sense of humor shored up her strength, traits she passed on to the better part of her progeny, usually in equal measures. We’re the Bible-thumpin’est, laugh-out-loudest bunch of yehaws never seen outside the South.

MawMaw, our maternal grandmother, married a man whose first wife had died upon the birth of their third child. As soon as the deed was done, he volunteered for the Navy (presumably out of patriotic duty during World War II), and when he returned, gifted my grandmother with ten additional children.

If that doesn’t speak to her strength, nothing ever will.

Then there are the aunts, a quirky bunch of women born and bred in the fine mountain arts of making hushpuppies, smiles, and mischief, not necessarily in that order.

None beat Mama for sheer obstinance. If it had to be done, by golly, she made sure it was done, and done right the first time. Or else. I was on the receiving end of or else enough to know she meant it when she said it.

Mama was a bundle of energy, not frenetic or obtrusive, but the kind of energy that sticks with a task from start to finish and doesn’t let a whole lot get in the way in between. That energy was expended on a number of endeavors over her too-short life, not least of which was a penchant for helping the people around her in ways they least expected.

She started sewing at a young age and later won the local 4H contest for a skirt she made with her own two hands. (I was never straight on whether she did that at age nine or in the ninth grade.) Alas, PawPaw thought Raleigh was a road too far for one of his daughters to travel, and so, she stayed home while her peers tarried on.

That minor setback might’ve kept Mama from showing her skill to a bunch of city judges, but it didn’t stop her from sewing. Over the next few decades she progressed from sewing for herself to sewing for others, and eventually wound up sewing wedding dresses for local brides, then organizing their weddings.

Mama had a good hand for getting people where she wanted ‘em to be and a fine eye for crafting pretty out of humdrum.

Her needlework was rarely confined to garment making. The first house I remember living in was out on Wolffork Road. The Tanner House, we called it, a one-story white farmhouse with red shutters and trim. It had wood floors and a fireplace, and an old, gray barn out back. Mama salvaged a chair from that barn, refinished it from top to bottom, then embroidered flowers on black velvet for a seat cushion.

The leftover velvet went into a vest for a costume she made for me when I was in first grade, or maybe the seat cushion was made out of scraps from the vest.

Either way, I still have the whole outfit tucked away in my closet, a tiny gypsy shirt and colorful skirt, and that black velvet vest, embroidered with musical notes and a butterfly in Mama’s fine, even hand. One day, I’ll sit her great-grandchildren down and show them that vest, but not for a good, long while as my son is only nineteen and not nearly ready to settle down yet.

Or so he tells me.

The sewing and quilting and refinishing morphed into a part-time career redecorating rooms and whole houses in partnership with Mama’s youngest sister, Debi. The two of them squeezed the extra work in around full-time jobs and full-time children. I swear, I think they must’ve redone every second house in a one hundred mile radius during those days, judging by the number of trips they took to the wallpaper outlet.

When it came time to paint or wallpaper or refinish for me and my sister, Mama headed the project from start to finish. My sister and her husband built a house when their kids were little. Mama was the one sorting through paint chips and fabric samples, matching one to the other for best effect, and that’s exactly the way my sister wanted it. Neither one of us inherited that talent, more’s the pity.

Mama always took an active role in our lives, even when her disapproval of said lives ran high. In elementary school, she was that mother. You know the one I’m talking about. If there was a school function, Mama was there with bells on and then some. One year she came to an event as a scarecrow and the next as Peter Pan. Nobody blinked an eye, especially us kids.

‘Course, that could’ve been because we didn’t recognize her as the scarecrow until we got home. She was still wearing the autumn striped, toed socks she’d worn to school that day. Otherwise, we might never have cottoned on to her guise.

Not a thing changed when me, my brother, and my sister grew into extracurricular activities. Mama still didn’t approve of the decisions we made, but she still volunteered for nigh on everything. If the Athletic Boosters or the Band Boosters needed an extra chaperone, up her hand went. She was score keeper and fund raiser, and all around morale booster, and I mean that quite literally. There wasn’t a thing Mama wouldn’t do for the people around her, nor any dare she’d refuse.

One memorable baseball game, she promised Little S. she’d do a rain dance on the pitcher’s mound if he hit a homerun on his first at bat. Danged if he didn’t hit one over the fence on his first swing. As soon as he rounded home, Mama handed her score book and pencil over to another mama, walked out onto the field, and in the tradition of the finest shaman this side of the Great Mississipp’, proceeded to whoop and holler her way through a rain dance on the pitcher’s mound.

My hand to God, y’all, that’s exactly the way it happened, or the way I remember it, which amounts to the same thing.

Mama was also the one sitting in the back of the bus with the kids, laughing up a storm to a tape of Bill Cosby while the other chaperoning parent sat in the front behind the bus driver, none of which should come as a surprise to anyone.

The years rolled on, aging as they do, and so did we. Mama wasn’t shy of expressing her dislike of my budding flirtation with music during high school. She wanted me to be a cheerleader and hang with the popular crowd. I wanted to bury my nose in a book and leave socializing where it belonged, with someone else’s crowd. Anyone else’s. I wasn’t picky.

In spite of our difference of opinion, she made my costume when I was chosen as the marching band’s assistant drum major (it now hangs in my closet beside the black velvet vest outfit), and she dutifully fulfilled her role as the Band Boosters’ secretary. I found some of the cassette tapes of the minutes a few years ago, after she died, and haven’t the courage to listen to them, knowing darn good and well her voice is recorded on there.

Maybe someday, but not until the heartache of losing her far too soon fades a mite.

Mama’s energy was seldom confined to costuming and decorating and keeping an eye on her young’uns, which often included any child foolish enough to stand still long enough for her and Daddy to claim ‘em.

As the offspring of farmers, Mama knew a fair bit about growing and preserving. She collected daylilies of every size and color, and planted them up and down the rock wall behind the house she and Dad built when we kids were teenagers. Shoots of her mother’s favorite roses were nestled into their own spots at the bottom of the yard, along with a sprig or two of roses salvaged from Nanny’s house before she died.

Try her best, but Mama couldn’t hardly get thrift to grow below the roses. In the eight years since her passing, it still hasn’t taken off good, but like Mama, it’s hanging in there, too stubborn to wither away.

Mama was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease about a decade before her death. That didn’t stop her from doing a blasted thing she wanted to do, though it did slow her down a bit. She still found time to piece quilts for all the grandkids, attend all their games, home and away, and mix up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when the occasion called for it.

Which happened to be quite often. Of course, it was. What are grandchildren and rainy days for besides PBJs, the Little Rascals, and a good cuddle with MeMom?

To a mountain-bred woman, cooking means preserving your own food. Daddy never wanted a garden (he’d had enough of that growing up, thank you very much), so Mama helped with MawMaw’s garden or bought fruits and vegetables in bulk from local farmers. Spring time brought strawberries for shortcake and jams. In summer, she rounded us up in the cool, early morning hours and herded us into overgrown fields to help her pick blackberries. Our fingers were purple by the end of the humid mornings, and we were covered in sweat and ticks, like every young’un should be in the endless days between one school year and the next.

Fall was for vegetable soup and slaughtering hogs, not usually at the same time, and everywhere in between, we canned. Younger kids with small hands were responsible for washing the jars while the grown ups boiled down fruit and peeled, chopped, sliced, and strung all manner of homegrown vegetables.

I was roped into both for a good long while, along with my sister and cousins, just as we were charged with clean up after meals and such. It was a fair trade for a hot breakfast on a cold winter morning. Canned sausage, refried on the stove, served with fresh-from-the-oven, scratch biscuits and piping hot applesauce seasoned with sugar and butter. I miss those days.

Mama continued canning and preserving throughout her life. The summer before she died, she put by enough food to do her family for half a decade after, at least. She never got a chance to cook from a single jar. One cloud-swept October day, Daddy took her to the hospital yet again for the endless pain her doctors never found a way to control. He came home for the night, thinking, as we all did, that they’d fix her up as best they could (again) and send her back home, if not better, then at least not suffering such debilitating pain.

I wish to God we’d been right that time.

Mama never came home. Her body was sent from the hospital to the funeral home, and we were left to wear the shoes not one of us could possibly fill alone.

Family and friends flooded into Dad’s home, sharing with us the love Mama had so freely given them. The visitation lasted more than an hour after the time set aside for it. So many people came by, I only remember them as a blur of teary smiles and commiserating handshakes.

After the memorial service, Mrs. Gillespie, my third grade teacher, pulled me aside and said, “I will never forget the time your Mama…” Sadly, we were interrupted before she could finish the thought, and I will never know what Mama did to embed that particular remembrance in Mrs. Gillespie’s head.

Though I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if it had something to do with scarecrows and rain dances and a good woman living life, and loving.

This month would’ve marked my mother’s 69th birthday. Happy birthday, Mom.

Book and Author News

Book and Author News

I'm very close to releasing my first story under Isobel Fletcher, a new pen name which will focus on stories falling under the Speculative Fiction umbrella.

Romancing the Weird by Isobel Fletcher

The first story will be part of an anthology called Romancing the Weird, which will be available exclusively to newsletter subscribers. I've planned five stories for the collection, although there will probably be more. Each story will be released as it becomes available, but again, only to newsletter subscribers.

Romancing the Weird is part of my long-term plan to ease out of writing romantic fiction into fiction in which a love story is not the central plot. Some of the stories in RtW end with a Happy Ever After, but some may not. Each, however, will have a strong romantic subplot.

I'm kicking the Isobel Fletcher pen name off in a very gradual manner, since I'm working around phasing out my other pen names. One of the things I'm trying to do for Izzy is get back into blogging, which I have dearly missed over the past eighteen months or so as I rearranged my priorities and focus.

As part of that, I'm planning a roundup sort of post that I'll do every one to four weeks, depending on what kind of material I can find to include within it. My first post of that sort ended with a discussion of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and women's rights in the US. 

I'm really excited about writing under the Isobel Fletcher name and hope to have a growing number of news items about that work over the next couple of years as I slowly morph from a Romance writer into a SpecFic writer.

Speaking of short stories, I just completed one for readers of the Sunshine Walkingstick Series, written under the name Celia Roman. "Death Omen" predates Greenwood Cove by a year or so, and takes place on a MARTA train traveling through the Greater Atlanta area, making it a true Urban Fantasy. 

Like the stories written for Romancing the Weird, "Death Omen" is currently exclusive to newsletter subscribers. I've already released it to existing subscribers, and the feedback has been quite positive.

Work on the third book in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series was interrupted by the RT Booklovers Convention, which I attended earlier this month, but it is coming soon. In the meantime, readers of the series will be pleased to hear that the audio edition of Greenwood Cove is almost in stores. The narrator, Rebecca Winder, is doing such a fantastic job with the series that before I'd even finished reviewing Greenwood Cove, I asked her to narrate The Deep Wood. She agreed and is already hard at work on the latter.

Additionally, I asked her to do an audio version of "Death Omen" for newsletter subscribers. It should be available soon. I cannot wait until y'all hear her rendition of Sunny!

In other news, L.J. Anderson of Mayhem Cover Creations has finished crafting the final two covers for the Daughters of the People Series, Redemption and War's Last Refuge. The next book out (technically Book 6, but, in reality, the seventh book) is The Gathering Storm. I have lots of surprises planned for these final three books. Some of them will completely turn readers' notions of the series upside down, so stay tuned.

I will likely post a deeper discussion of my time at the RT Booklovers Convention at a later date. It was such a hectic week, I lost track of all the people and events. But, it was a great time, I made a lot of connections, and I walked away with a ton of ideas on everything from story creation to marketing to connecting with readers. Keep an eye on my Facebook page, where I hope to at least do an occasional shout out to some of the authors I met. 

Horror in Romance at the 2017 RT Booklovers Convention

Horror in Romance at the 2017 RT Booklovers Convention

A few months ago, fellow author Rebekah R. Ganiere put out the call to a chapter of the Romance Writers of America searching for authors to participate in a Horror in Romance panel at the upcoming RT Booklovers Convention taking place 2-7 May 2017 in Atlanta.

I jumped at the opportunity. Several of my published stories, and a few planned ones, can be classified as both Horror and Romance. The obvious ones, of course, are those within The Vampyr Series: The Vampire's Pet, The Vampire's Favorite, The New Vampire, and the final installment, The Master Vampire. While I've categorized them as Paranormal Romance at online retailers (so the target audience can find them), they're technically Erotic Dark Fantasy, or Horror with supernatural elements and a satisfying romance over the four-book story arc.

Later (planned) stories in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series could also be classified as Dark Fantasy, although the earlier ones, while containing an ever increasing amount of monsters, are very well placed in the Contemporary Fantasy and Urban Fantasy categories. The strong romantic subplot between Sunny and Riley qualifies it as a Romance in many folks' minds (not always by the Romance Writers of America, ironically enough, since it requires a central love story and a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now in a single book), especially when the romance is viewed over the entire series.

And then there are the stories planned for Isobel Fletcher, my newest pen name, some of which will most definitely combine the two genres into Romantic Horror. Or should it be called Horrific Romance? Either way, stories falling under this subgenre are bound to thrill and delight.

All in all, I'm super excited to be on the Horror in Romance panel at #RT17, and I'm ecstatic about being able to hear other authors discuss their experiences successfully merging the two genres. I'm not sure what questions or topics Rebekah has planned, but I hope we cover lots of ground, like defining Horror and Dark Fantasy, and incorporating elements of the macabre, scary, and downright gross into a strong Romance.

The panel is scheduled for the afternoon of March 3rd. If you're planning on attending the con, drop by and listen in. And if you're not, attendance information is available online at RT Booklovers Convention 2017. See you there!


Book and Author News

Book and Author News

I know everyone's anxious to learn the names of the winners of the "Three Years Published" giveaway I ran last month for readers of books published under all my current pen names, Lucy Varna, V.R. Cumming, and Celia Roman. For the sake of fairness, I divided the giveaway into two sections, one for US residents and the other for International readers. The US prize consisted of a Kindle Paperwhite and an ebook of the winner's choosing. The International prize consisted of a $25 gift card and an ebook of the winner's choosing. 

And now, here are the winners: Tashia J. (US) and Bruce O. (UK).

Many thanks to everyone who entered! I really appreciate the show of support and the chance to get these prizes into the hands of my readers.

The Deep Wood, the second book in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series (written under the name Celia Roman), is now available as an ebook at Amazon and as a paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and CreateSpace. The retail prices are, respectively, $2.99 and $11.99. It's also available through Kindle Unlimited.

I've teamed up with a wonderful narrator to produce audiobooks for this series. She just finished the first fifteen minutes of Greenwood Cove, the first book, and got it to me a few days ago, and I approved it right away. Look for the finished audiobook to be available in stores around late April 2017.

I'm hard at work on Cemetery Hill, the third book in the Sunshine Walkingstick Series, which I hope to get out next month as well. While the cover for a fourth book is already finished, I haven't decided yet whether or not I'll continue the series beyond the first three books. Greenwood Cove is taking some heat because it's written in Sunny's native dialect; apparently some folks are intolerant of the way mountain folk talk. Oddly enough, when it was in the early stages of being developed, I ran the first few chapters by some Australian friends and they had no problems understanding the slang or the story.

At any rate, I'm working on a blog post discussing why I wrote Sunny the way I did (short answer: she came to me that way) and the value of the local speech, in part to spread a little tolerance and in part because readers always seem to be curious about the decisions authors make.

Here's the (tentative) order of stories I'll be working on this year, barring any additions to the Celia Roman pen name:

Of course, I usually work on several manuscripts at once so the order isn't exact. For example, right now I'm working on several short stories (including one set in Sunny's world), Cemetery Hill, and The Gathering Storm. While I'm not actively working on The Master Vampire on a regular basis, I do bring it out and fiddle with it once a month or so, and I'm starting to do some serious development on Sweet Surrender and Redemption as well as future stories.

Hey, it's a weird process, but it works for me.

The audio edition of Alien Mine (The Pruxnae, Book 3), written under the name Lucy Varna, is now available at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. This series is now all caught up on all the formats I intend to publish through the fourth book, except for any bundling (e.g. an omnibus edition). Sweet Surrender will be the final book in the series. I currently have no plans to continue the story world beyond that, although I do have plenty of ideas should readers wish for more stories.

A Giveaway Celebrating Three Years as a Published Author

A Giveaway Celebrating Three Years as a Published Author

Three years ago this month, I published my first novel, The Prophecy. It was a huge step for me. I’d always wanted to write fiction, but could never get past the initial idea and first few scenes of a story.

That changed in November 2013, when I had a huge epiphany: writing fiction wasn’t all that different from writing non-fiction, something I’d been doing for a while. All I had to do was translate the outlining and other skills I’d developed as a genealogist, first as an amateur and later as a professional, into stories.

Seven weeks later, I’d completed the first draft of The Prophecy. I’m not going to pretend it was easy. It most certainly was not, but it was one of the most satisfying feats I’ve ever accomplished.

Over the past three years, I’ve published a total of eighteen novels and novellas as well as more than half a dozen shorter stories under three pen names, Lucy Varna, V.R. Cumming, and Celia Roman. None of that would’ve been possible without you, the reader.

To celebrate my three year anniversary as an author, I’m holding two very special giveaways for all my newsletter subscribers, one for readers living in the United States and another for readers outside the US. One grand prize is available for each set of subscribers:

  • For US residents (you must have a US mailing address and a valid email address): One Kindle Paperwhite, plus one ebook edition of any of my currently available novels or novellas, your choice.
  • For non-US residents (you must have a valid email address): A $25 gift certificate, plus one ebook edition of any of my currently available novels or novellas, your choice.

Rules: The giveaway ends at midnight EST on February 28, 2017. To be eligible, you must subscribe to one (not all!) of the newsletters for any of my pen names (Lucy Varna, V.R. Cumming, Celia Roman). To enter, comment below using the email address used to subscribe to said newsletter. In the comments, include your state (if you’re a US resident) or your country (if you’re a non-US resident) and the name of the pen name whose books you read (e.g. Canada, Celia Roman) so that I can verify each entrant’s status as a newsletter subscriber. Additional comments are welcome. Winners will be chosen at random within one calendar week of the entry period’s closing and notified shortly thereafter by email. I reserve the right to choose another winner should the initial winner(s) not respond to the notifying email within three days of it being sent. The notifying email will come from cd [at] cdwatsonauthor [dot] com, so add that addy to your list of safe email addresses. Winners will be probably announced in various places online (this blog and the blogs of my pen names, social media sites, and my various fiction newsletters), so be prepared to have your first name or initials and country of origin shared.

That’s pretty much it.

I know you’re wondering why I’m not opening this giveaway up to non-subscribers, and the answer is simple. My newsletter subscribers are my most loyal readers. They’re the ones who’ve helped me build my writing career by buying, reading, and reviewing my books. Without them, I would’ve failed a long time ago, so it’s only appropriate that this giveaway be centered on my biggest fans.

If you know of someone who would be interested in this giveaway, please encourage them to read one of my books first (The Prophecy and The Vampire’s Pet are free, and the others are not expensive). If they enjoy those, then they are free to subscribe to the pertinent newsletter and comment below to enter the giveaway.

To be honest, though, if I were looking to attract new readers with this giveaway, I would’ve set it up differently. So share or don’t; I won’t be offended either way. This is simply my way of expressing gratitude for three wonderful years writing and publishing stories.

Thank you, my friends, and good luck. Here’s to three more years!

P.S. I get a lot of spam on this blog, so comments are held in moderation until approved. All comments that aren’t spam are approved, but it may take me a few hours to sort through everything. Thanks for your patience! I should’ve mentioned this at the start. 🙂

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

I released the first edition of my first novel, The Prophecy, a little more than three years ago today. Since then, I’ve worked hard to refine my writing process, increase my writing and story crafting skills, and fulfill my ultimate long-term goal as a writer: To earn a full-time living writing fiction.

About a year and a half ago, a series of events interrupted what had previously been a well-oiled writing process. I’ve spoken about those before in other places, so I’m not going to go over them again here. Suffice it to say that the consequences were devastating, as is evidenced by the diminished number of new releases (directly caused by a lack of writing productivity) in the ensuing months.

This breakdown in my process has hindered the achievement of my short- and long-term goals, on both a business and a personal level. Moving to Cashiers (July 2016) helped, but it wasn’t enough. The breakdown in my process was just that, a complete breakdown of everything from my brainstorming techniques to the actual act of writing. The peace and quiet I’ve found here in my ancestral home wasn’t enough. I needed to rebuild my writing schedule.

To that end, I gifted myself with a copy of the Dragontree Dreambook and Planner for Christmas. Make no mistake. This nifty book helped me realize and articulate the many short- and long-term goals I’ve only vaguely wished for in the past. The main drawback? Once you’ve completed the goals-setting sections, the goals are pretty much out of sight.

Additionally, there’s simply not enough room in the day-to-day planning section for me to write out exactly what needs doing each day. I ended up abandoning the planner in favor of an already established ARC calendaring system, although I used the goals mind-mapping sections to create visualizations tools. More on that in a minute.

The Miracle Morning

The DDP didn’t help me plan and stick to a schedule nearly as much as I had hoped. I realized I needed something more. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8 AM) by Hal Elrod. It wasn’t a life-changing read, but I can honestly say that the author provided a stark reminder of exactly why I’ve had so many problems fixing my writing schedule and returning to the level of productivity I enjoyed during the first eighteen months of my writing career.

The premise of TMM is simple: Wake up early (regardless of what your waking time is, morning, afternoon, or night) and devote one hour to personal growth through six key areas Elrod coins “Life S.A.V.E.R.S.”: Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing (i.e. journaling), in whatever order works best for the practitioner.

Many highly successful people use two or three of these waking rituals to center their minds and focus their activities. Elrod and many others who have incorporated the Life S.A.V.E.R.S. ritual into their days have used them in exactly the same way, most especially to increase motivation, self-discipline, and productivity.

The ultimate outcome is, of course, to use that self-discipline to reach goals, a point Elrod hammers into the ground. Unfortunately, The Miracle Morning contains no overview of how to set realistic, achievable goals, a glaring lack in an otherwise well-rounded narrative. To be fair, the journal (sold separately) provides a brief overview of goal-setting and achievement, but I didn’t purchase the journal as I’m already overloaded with organizers. For the interested, a sample journal is available on the TMM website; the link is included in the book.

The tone of TMM is half-motivational, half-guideline to creating and maintaining a personalized morning ritual. It’s a deceptively breezy read for the depth of the ideas presented, and really needs one’s full attention (and possibly a second or third read) to truly grasp how and why the waking ritual works.

Applying the Principles

I was already rehydrating (a practice Elrod encourages) and exercising for 30-45 minutes upon waking nearly every day. When I stumbled on The Miracle Morning (via Jeff Goins’ podcast “The Portfolio Life“), I immediately incorporated reading self-improvement books into my exercise time.

Hey, I’m on a FitDesk. Checking my e-mail only takes so long, so I start with reading and when I’ve read the scheduled two or three chapters, I move on to e-mail and so on. I started out trying to complete Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, which I pick up and put down on a regular basis because of the author’s *ahem* less than flexible mindset.

Thanks to Elrod’s suggestion to focus on personal growth and development, I’m now dividing my waking exercise/reading time between SE and Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach. The latter aligns neatly with one of my long-term goals (Achieving Financial Security), so it’s a two birds, one stone kind of thing.

It took me a few days after completing The Miracle Morning to actually incorporate the remainder of the ritual into my waking routine. One of the biggest obstacles was figuring out when I needed to wake up in order to fit Life S.A.V.E.R.S. into my routine and have time to complete all my writing related activities. For the visualization and affirmation elements, I wanted to have a physical reminder of my goals to focus on, so I had to figure out how to do that in a way that would be functional without occupying too much space.

Following Through

This morning was the first time I attempted to incorporate all six elements into a morning ritual. I set my alarm for 8:30, which is a ridiculously early hour for me. (Lights out was about 2:30 a.m.) I figured I would need an hour and a half at the most, even while breaking my exercise into two parts, yoga first thing to help me achieve one aspect of my Health and Fitness Goal (flexibility), and my usual 30-45 minutes on the FitDesk to round out the ritual and complete my reading.

Eh. It didn’t quite work out that way.

I’ve never practiced yoga before, so I had to search for an appropriate video on YouTube. (I waited until this morning to do it. Not purposefully. I simply forgot to do it last night.) The first video I tried was supposed to be for complete beginners, but I promise you, it was not.

The second try, 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene – Day 1, was much better, but it took up more time than I had originally thought I would need. No worries. Affirmations, meditation, and visualizations took fifteen minutes tops. It didn’t put me back on schedule, but when I moved on to the FitDesk and reading, I didn’t feel rushed or pressured.

I rounded the ritual out with a shower, then sat down to journal while my brunch was cooking. (Two strips of bacon and two fried eggs, per my Paleo-friendly diet, another aspect of my Health and Fitness Goal.) My plan was to complete the morning ritual, then focus on business related activities until about noon, run some errands, and write during the afternoon. I ended up taking a fifteen to twenty minute nap halfway through my writing time because I was simply too groggy to focus.

In spite of that, I was quite pleased with my morning of mindful ritual. I’m still more tense than I would like (I’m under quite a bit of stress right now, not all of it self-imposed), but my sense of purpose is clearer and the focus on visualization and affirmations shored up my self-discipline, allowing me to focus on important activities.

The Miracle Morning and Writing

For me, the biggest takeaway from The Miracle Morning was the reminder to use visualization as a tool of empowerment and otherwise. See yourself taking the steps needed to achieve your goals. See the rewards of working hard for the things that are important to you. Don’t just think about them; actually walk yourself through them.

Having my goals mind-mapped in excruciating, color-coordinated detail (thanks to the Dragontree Dreambook and Planner) and laid out on a corkboard where I can see what I’m working toward was a huge help. I faced the day with a clear picture of why I’m focusing on the particular work I’m doing right now, which really does help tremendously, especially when I’m working on a story that isn’t flowing well.

Visualization helps with that, as well. Back in the good ol’ days of high productivity, the characters populating my story worlds spent a great deal of time walking around in my head. They’ve been missing for quite some time now, and I promise you, their absence has been felt.

I’ve struggled for the past eighteen months or so to recapture the same spark I had prior to that, but it wasn’t until I read the transcript of the previously mentioned podcast episode that it hit me: Visualization was a key part of my writing process, one I haven’t used in months. I’m now deliberately inviting the characters back into my mind, deliberately prodding them through the scene, deliberately coaxing them into opening up for me, all through visualization.

Visualizing the Story Another Way

That lack of character interaction has led to another problem: My inability to hold the overarching story in my head and heart, the two parts of my creative self from which stories emerge.

I ended up going back down the mountain and buying another corkboard, this one for my story cards. I use index cards to lay out the plot points I want to cover in each story. When I first started writing, I pinned the index cards to a wall and worked back and forth along the plot points until I had enough for a full-length novel. I still outline that way, as much as I ever outline (never to the point of a complete, rigid outline, as I work better when I discover the characters and story as I write), but as soon as I was satisfied with the plot points I’d captured, I would unpin the cards and collate them into a rubberbanded stack, which I then referenced as I wrote the first draft.

Since the breaking point of my routine, I’ve really struggled to translate those plot points into story, in part, I sincerely believe, because I no longer have a complete overview of the story internalized where I can draw from it as I write. Laying those cards out so I can “see” the entire story all at once will, I hope, allow me to pull the characters back into my head, right where they belong.

Final Thoughts

I’m not entirely convinced that The Miracle Morning is the greatest motivational book ever, nor that it’s going to be useful for everyone. That said, I hope to use the waking rituals laid out within it to hone my self-discipline so that I can meet the goals I’ve set for myself, get my writing back on track (a continuing struggle over the past year and a half), and ensure not only a productive work schedule, but a calmer, happier, more focused life.

Recommended for anyone who wants to achieve a balanced, successful life, in whatever way one defines success.

Book and Author News

Book and Author News

Lots going on across my various pen names. First up, two GoodReads giveaways, one for A Warrior's Touch (The Pruxnae Series, Book 4, written under the name Lucy Varna) and a second for The New Vampire (The Vampyr Series, Book 3, written under the name V.R. Cumming). Both begin on January 10 and end on January 20. Three copies are up for grabs to US residents. Click below to enter. Good luck to each of you!

A Warrior’s Touch giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Warrior's Touch by Lucy Varna

A Warrior's Touch

by Lucy Varna

Giveaway ends January 20, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

The New Vampire giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The New Vampire by V.R. Cumming

The New Vampire

by V.R. Cumming

Giveaway ends January 20, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

The print edition of Greenwood Cove, a brand new Urban (Contemporary) Fantasy released under the name Celia Roman, is now available for $11.99 through CreateSpace. It will be available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers within the next week or so. 

The digital edition has been set for a tentative release date in early February, pending completion of the first draft for the third book in the series. I'm planning four books total for the initial release period. Scheduled titles are: Greenwood Cove, The Deep Wood, Cemetery Hill, and Witch Hollow.

The audiobook edition of A Warrior's Touch is finally here and available at Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Like previous audiobooks in the Pruxnae Series, A Warrior's Touch was narrated by Angel Clark and Matthew Josdal.

Angel is now hard at work on the audiobook edition of Alien Mine, which will feature her and a brand new male narrator. I'll have more details on production at a later date.

A Warrior's Touch (The Pruxnae, Book 4) by Lucy Varna
Review: The Gunslinger (Dark Tower, Book 1) by Stephen King

Review: The Gunslinger (Dark Tower, Book 1) by Stephen King

Stephen King was an oft-read author during my teen years, primarily because he’s one of my father’s favorite authors and his books were in our home library. King’s dark imagery has the infinite power to draw the reader in, like a spider luring a fly, and snare the imagination in the vividly drawn worlds he creates.

The Gunslinger in its revised and updated version is no different. While King readily admits in prefatory comments to updating the language of this, one of his earlier works, the story itself, at its core, remains the same.

Roland, the titular character and the primary narrator, is a gunslinger whose attitude and manner echoes the bygone era of the Old West. He is the last of his kind, a remnant of a higher culture, forced by fate and circumstance only partially explained in The Gunslinger to journey alone in search of the Man in Black and the Dark Tower.

The Man in Black is a sorcerer who assumes many forms during the drawn out chase. In flashbacks, he is the man cuckolding Roland’s father and the same’s murderer. In the story’s luridly described present, the Man in Black is a setter of traps and the servant of the entity ruling the Dark Tower.

Roland and the Man in Black are by and large the most well crafted and, therefore, most easily understood characters populating The Gunslinger. Other characters fare almost as well, like Alice, the owner of a saloon-esque establishment who becomes Roland’s lover for a time. In Alice, King captures the futile desperation of life for a woman living in a remote settlement, cut off from the society of decent folk and men.

Other characters are shortchanged. Jake, an orphaned child yanked out of time and place by the Man in Black, is by turns loved and hated by Roland. His past is teased out through hypnosis and his emotions are evident, but he is only a tool within the plot rather than a fully drawn character.

And that tool to the plot feeling lingers in other important characters: Roland’s parents, high society hobnobs who deliberately and otherwise distance themselves from their only child by having him trained as a gunslinger, in a manner similar to the Spartans; Roland’s early ka-tet, his training group with whom he should have the most in common, but from whom he remains separate; and other characters whose roles seem to be in spurring Roland toward his ultimate destiny rather than having any internal or external motivation of their own.

In spite of this and the often overblown descriptions, The Gunslinger is a wonderful introduction to a story world that is by turns surreally antithetical (in its reversion to an almost feudalistic treatment of individuals) and eerily similar to our own. Recommended to all readers of Fantasy and fans of Stephen King. (Paperback, Kindle)

Friday Finds

Friday Finds

Header image:
Smoke has become a real problem across Western North Carolina and the surrounding areas as wildfires burn in several national forest locations.
Photograph courtesy of Cris Bessette.

A roundup of interesting books, movies, and tidbits, some old, some new, and some stuff I just wanted to share.

Halloween may be over (unless you're a Hobbit, in which case, Second Halloween!), but this movie is one I'll be watching again soon. 

Because I only watched it twice leading up to Halloween, thank you very much.

Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman deliver outstanding performances in the lead roles, and are supported admirably by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as The Aunts, and Goran Visnjic and Aidan Quinn as the Owens sisters' love interests. 

Now, some of you probably think that because I'm a writer, I should be pointing to the book on which the movie was based, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. Uh, no. This is one of the few cases where the movie was far, far better than the book. Stick with the movie. Don't watch it alone and, for pete's sake, "Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can."

Dubbed a techno-thriller by reviewers, Chuck Wendig's Zeroes is the story of a group of misfit hackers who are pulled together and coerced (read: imprisoned and forced) to work for a shadow government agency to an end that becomes clear after a terrifying and weird twisting journey. Technology geeks and nerds of all flavors will enjoy this one particularly, but anyone who likes a fast-paced, intense story should find a good read between the covers. I did, and no one can accuse me of being a geek... Oh, wait.

Every once in a while, I go on a mini-book-buying spree. A couple of days ago, for instance, I ordered five paperbacks ranging the gamut from Epic Fantasy to Urban Fantasy to Science Fiction. Amazon is my friend. 

So is Barnes & Noble. Whenever I'm in Asheville, I try to stop by the local B&N and browse the new releases, and usually come home with at least one book. On the trip before last, I picked up one by debut author Becky Chambers, whose first work is titled The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The title alone is worth the read.

Amazingly enough, Harper Collins, the publisher, has set the Kindle edition's price to $1.99, completely contravening the Big 5's usual practice of pricing digital editions as high as, or higher than, the paperback edition. (Or, at least, that was the price when I wrote this blog post at 4:38 p.m. on Thursday, 10 November 2016, EST.)

This was the book I took with me to read during my recent Kodak/Knoxville, Tennessee, trip. Unfortunately, I didn't get very far into it during the trip and had to turn my attention away from fun reads toward more serious, work-related reads (see the sidebar for what I'm currently reading). Don't tell me how it ends! I want to figure that out myself.

The crew working the Jones Gap fire northwest of Highlands, North Carolina, just a few miles from my current home.
Photo courtesy of the US Forest Service.

While most around the United States are preoccupied with the recent election results, folks here in the Southeast are more concerned about the wildfires spreading across the Southern Appalachians. Some of them are being set by an arsonist(s), including those in the Macon County, North Carolina, and Rabun County, Georgia, areas. Many are being forced to evacuate, while others are under a state of emergency, and many more try to find a way to cope with the smoke permeating our air.

This is my home area, friends. The smoke is so thick in some places, the roads are impassable. My son is asthmatic. A couple of nights ago, we drove from his home in Georgia up to Sylva, NC, to eat at Bogart's. (Best burgers in Jackson County!) The smoke was so bad and so hard on his lungs, we contemplated turning around.

Smoke from wildfires diminishes the sun in Franklin, NC. Photo courtesy of Brandon Ledford.
Thick smoke from wildfires obscures the sun in the Frogtown area of Franklin, North Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Brandon Ledford.

Good thing we didn't. Halfway through our meal, a group of about eighteen forest rangers walked in, and that eventually led to my son and I visiting the Jackson County Command Center, where we spoke with a young man about donations. The folks fighting the fires include, from my understanding, forest rangers, members of the National Guard, and others flown in from at least nine states across the country, as well as local firefighters and other emergency service personnel. Under the harsh floodlights shining down on the command center, the men and women looked completely worn out. I later learned that they're shipped out to the fires after breakfast and don't come back until bedtime.

That's a long, hard day, especially considering that the only food they have in between is what they can carry in their packs and clothes.

I ended up going in with my editor (Richard, for those who don't know him) and donating a crap ton of Slim Jims, nuts and dried fruits, and sodas, the latter having been specifically requested by members of the fire crews. After the hours they work trying to stop the spread of these wildfires, the least we can do is provide something other than water and Gatorade for them to drink.

As far as I know, the command centers are still accepting donations. I only know of two, the one set up at the Holiday Inn Express just north of Dillsboro, NC, and the one set up at the old Caterpillar factory outside of Franklin, NC. (This article mentions a command center in Clay Co., NC, but I don't know the location.) Considering the scope of the fires, there have to be others, so if you're interested in donating or otherwise helping, try contacting local emergency services or ranger stations for more information.

The men and women who came here from outside the South have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the locals. Let's continue doing what we can to make their lives easier until they can return to their own families and communities.

Ledford Road smoke by Amy Watts
Smoke hangs over the road leading to property owned by my family near Franklin, North Carolina.
Photograph courtesy of Amy Watts.
Pumpkintown wildfire by Erica Welch Arvey
Fires burning across the road from a populated area in Pumpkintown, North Carolina. 
Photograph courtesy of Erica Welch Arvey.