Self-Improvement via Coercion

I’ve never been a person for whom moderation came naturally. Why stop at one thousand words a day when three thousand words a day will help me finish this novel three times as fast? If I cut out sugar, why not cut out bread, too, and then I’ll lose weight twice as fast. If exercise twice a week is good, then surely five times a week is better, right?

I wrote a few weeks ago about pushing myself really hard prior to surgery, and it both worked and didn’t. I cleared all my to do lists before surgery, which really helped during recovery because I didn’t feel as twitchy from my permanent spot on the couch. It did, however, make me feel like I was riding in a speeding car with no seat belt and someone slammed on the brakes.

Entropy after inertia is not an easy transition.

So now, two weeks after surgery and with four weeks to go until my next, much bigger, surgery, I’m in a strange limbo. Even though I feel like I should be relatively over it already, I’m still exhausted and my limits are set in stone. There’s really no sense pushing it at this point, because invariably my injury just pushes back.

I got really ambitious and walked around Target over the weekend and I was so tired afterward I had to come home, ice and elevate, and then take a nap. When I woke up, I realized it’s actually kind of stupid to walk more than I have to because hello, there’s a huge hole in my cartilage.

I feel pressure (from myself) to be back to normal, so for now life is a constant effort to reign in my Type-A Nutjob tendencies and remind myself that, unlike in mathematics sometimes, the limit does exist. Each day is a marathon, and if I sprint at any point, I might wind up with nothing left to get me over the finish line.

The same principle applies to my writing. In a fit of naivete a few weeks ago, I calculated that if I wrote a certain number of words every day of my recovery, I’d have the first draft finished by the time I went in for the second surgery.

That’s not going to happen.

I refuse to rush what is arguably my favorite part of the writing process, and I’m not going to do that to myself because some days I can hide on my couch and type. Some days, I have to go to appointments, ice and elevate a few times, or take my kids on field trips. Life happens, and I’m not going to short-change myself by trying to force all of it to happen in the narrow window between now and when everything stops again.

Writing will happen, because I’m disciplined enough to make sure it does, but first drafts, for me at least, are not the place for brute force. This is a time of discovery and finesse, and I’ll be damned if I don’t let myself enjoy that process.

So I guess I’ve finally learned some measure of moderation. Better late than never I suppose, and besides, what other choice do I have? Sometimes you have to become a more balanced, well-rounded person against your will. The universe drags you, kicking and screaming, toward progress, and then when you look back, you wonder why you put up such a fuss because really, this isn’t so bad after all.

Facebook Detox

Something really cool has been happening to me this year. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I turned thirty, or had major surgery and its accompanying abundance of recovery time, or if maybe years of eating non-organic food has finally caught up with me, but something is definitely up and I’m really enjoying it.

I took a break from writing earlier this year, mostly because I was totally burnt out and needed some space. Once I got a little distance from writing, I realized there was a lot about being a published author that was making me miserable at this stage of my life. When you’re chasing two school-age children around, doing the nonstop hustle-for-sales and self-promotion schtick gets really annoying, really fast. I enjoyed the book sales, though. That was definitely cool.

Anyway, as I started to wean myself onto a simpler life, I started noticing that Facebook was irritating me more than entertaining me lately. The endless clickbait articles, unsolicited opinions, and pictures of people I never see started feeling…pointless. I realized that, once I got some distance from the Dopamine reward system of likes and comments, there really wasn’t much I was getting from my relationship with Facebook so I disabled my account.

It’s been almost a month now, and I don’t really miss it. I’m grateful, actually, to be rid of something that commoditized my life in order to figure out how best to make money off me. Plus, with the upcoming election coming up I’m thinking I got out just in time to still think fondly of my casual acquaintances.

The nice thing is, I’m much more likely to text the people I want to stay in touch with and ask them how they’re doing now. I think before I just kind of assumed Facebook would tell me what I needed to know, but I think I’m likely a better friend now.

Who can say what other changes might be on the horizon? Hopefully more weight loss. I’m flogging that dead horse again, so to speak. My knee is feeling great, though, so that means it’s time to exercise again before another injury strikes.

I’m also writing again, though with the door firmly closed. A good friend reminded me of how much fun it was to write when it was just something I did for fun, and I’m happy to find out he was right when he said one day I’d write something again that was just for me. It’s a good thing I’m not planning to try to publish this one, though, because I doubt I’d ever find a publisher who’d be willing to let me shirk the social media thing out of simple preference.

So that’s the story. I can still be found on Twitter, and on here occasionally, but other than that I suppose the boring minutiae of my life will have to remain a mystery. I’m sure the dozens of people who read my updates will just have to make do without knowing how many loads of laundry I folded today…

That One Time When Erika Was Cool

It's worth noting that I'll never be Amy Dunne-caliber cool, because who would want to be?!

It’s worth noting that I’ll never be Amy Dunne-caliber cool, because who would want to be?!

I’m not what you’d traditionally think of as a Cool Girl. I think lame puns are funny, I don’t know how to throw a football, and I can in no way hold my liquor. I’m a goofball, but mostly harmless, so I take no issue with my inherent lack of whatever constitutes coolness these days.

That’s not to say I don’t occasionally dabble in coolness, though. Every once in a great while, I’ll know something or have done something that someone thinks is cool and then, for one brief little moment, I get to be cool.

An example of this happened awhile ago while I was at physical therapy. I was chatting with my physical therapist when he mentioned he owns a gun and had gotten his wife interested in shooting it. I asked him what kind of gun he owns when he asked, “You know guns?”

I replied that years of writing thrillers has acquainted me with a shallow familiarity with firearms, and he said he had a Sig Sauer.

Now, this is where I got to be cool for, like, a minute. I perked up and said, “A P226?”

He was so surprised that I knew what kind of gun he had, after which I mentioned how big the grip is on those to accommodate the expanded magazine but how the gun made up for that by being a real pleasure to fire.

We talked guns for a while and I left feeling happy but also kind of like a fraud, and here’s why. With the possible exception of a Colt 1911 and S&W .38 Chief’s Special, the P226 is the only gun I know much about specifically. I’ve fired a variety of weapons and have a passing familiarity with them, but I can’t converse about them as much as I can about the P226.

If he’d owned any other kind of gun, I wouldn’t have had much to say. I lucked out and got to be the cool girl who knows about guns.

I’m not gonna lie, it felt good even though the foundation of my mystique is a façade. Maybe that’s the big secret, though. Maybe coolness is a single moment rather than a consistent state of being, in which case no one is ever really cool through and through. If perhaps you think you know someone who’s cool at all times, maybe that just means you don’t know that person well enough.

What do you think?

Cover-age

I’ve been fortunate enough to have self-published one book and had two books traditionally published. I’m far from an expert, but I know generally what to expect. Where the potholes are, the bodies are buried, and ambushes are likely to come from, so to speak.

The one part of the process I simultaneously look forward to and dread the most is getting my cover. Even when I self-published PWNED, I knew better than to design my own cover. Just because I wrote a book didn’t mean I was automatically qualified to design its cover. Designing covers is a real art and takes experience with layout, marketing, and genre norms. The best covers are the product of collaboration between the author, editor, publisher, and designer. What looks so simple on the shelf is probably the hundredth iteration of an idea that probably started its life scrawled on a cocktail napkin after a late night strategy session.

I respect the crap out of a good cover. It’s no mean feat and, if you pull it off, the results are well worth the trouble.

That said, cover reveals are difficult for the author (or they are for me, at least). By the time you get your cover, you’ve spent hours upon hours upon eye-crossing HOURS editing, revising, promoting, writing, and revising some more and now, here it is. The cover you’ve waited so long for. The cover for this book that you’ve devoted significant chunks of your time and sanity to, and here’s the cover that will represent everything that this story is, and what it means, and what it will do.

Seriously, unless Michelangelo himself came down from Heaven and designed your cover with the help of Jesus and all His angels, what cover could possibly live up to those expectations?

On the rare occasion that you actually like what your publisher sends to you, high-five a stranger and hug a puppy, because blessed are you among writers. From what I’ve gleaned over my years of rubbing elbows with fellow authors, liking your cover is kind of like spotting a purple unicorn: You’re either high or very, very lucky.

I would count myself as one of the lucky ones. I thought the cover for Blood Money did the job and I actually happen to like the new cover for Bai Tide. Oh, what’s that? I haven’t shared it yet? Here you go!

Bai Tide is coming out April 7 and here's everything you need to know about it: Spies! Gun fights! North Korea!

Bai Tide is coming out April 7 and here’s everything you need to know about it: Spies! Gun fights! North Korea!

Not bad, right? It’s spy-o-riffic, it gets the point across, and it’s eye-catching. I like it.

What do you think?

An Up and Down Farewell to an Up and Down Year

I was reading back through some of my old New Years Eve blog posts and realized I have the same reaction to most years: I always hope the new year will be a happy one because the previous one was challenging in some way. While I admire my perpetual hope (which, it seems, does spring eternal), I have to admit I can be a tad over-simplistic in summing an entire year as either good or tough (usually tough).

Here's a picture of Wes and I from my freshman year of college for no reason at all.

Here’s a picture of Wes and I from my freshman year of college for no reason at all.

Here’s the thing 2014 has taught me about adulthood: Things are often difficult. People get sick, money runs out, kids struggle, family members disappoint/antagonize/take-your-pick. Bodies fail, natural disasters ruin things, plans go awry.

Often, you can do something about it, but sometimes you just can’t. You can’t change people, you can’t fix some injuries, you can’t make every dream come true.

Wes and I both reached high this year. We attained some goals, but as many dreams as came true also came crashing down on our heads. In retrospect, there was nothing we could have done differently to make things turn out better, sometimes things just don’t work.

I know I’m being vague here, but that’s because you don’t need to know the lyrics to recognize this particular tune. I’m sure you’ve been disappointed by something. It sucks.

But here’s what I learned this year: It’s okay to feel disappointed. It took me twenty-nine years to realize you can sit with an emotion, especially if it’s an unpleasant one, without trying to change it, because sometimes you can’t change it and then you get to add futility to whatever emotional cocktail you were experiencing before.

I’ll admit, 2014 was…up and down. Not my favorite year by far, but it had enough bright points to make me realize that there’s never going to be a magical year wherein everything comes up roses and we don’t struggle with something. The key, I think, is taking it in stride, and for me taking it in stride means acknowledging that I do not have the power to control everything. The best I can do is be proactive, try to make wise decisions, and weather whatever storms come our way without beating my head against the wall.

I definitely have hopes for 2015, and from what I can tell it’s going to be a good year, but I’m not going to hope it’s a better year than 2014. Instead, I’m going to hope I don’t forget what I learned in 2014 and will be able to use it to help me roll with whatever 2015 brings. Kind of boring, but sounds pretty darn mature, huh?

Regardless of my newfound, uh, New Years boringness, tradition is tradition so here are my hopes for 2015:

  • My number one hope is for a truly excellent, engaging, challenging job for Wes. I hope he gets offered a job that will encourage and empower him and keep him learning constantly.
  • I also hope for a successful book launch. Great googly moogly, Bai Tide is coming out in, like, four months!!!
  • I hope to take our kids to the beach in Oregon again. That was a remarkable vacation and I would love to repeat it.
  • I hope for fantastic health insurance so Wes and I can address our various health conditions without spending every last penny we earn.
  • I hope for a long, glorious summer.
  • I hope to make it to the gym on a regular basis, a hope that will be much more likely to happen after I get more joint injections for my knee.
  • I hope to attend ThrillerFest in NYC again in July. Christmas is nice and all, but that’s the most wonderful time of the year for me, hands down.

My hope for all of you is that you’ll have a lovely New Years Eve and that 2015 will start off with good news for all of you. Thank you for reading my blog posts (and my books)! May 2015 be our best year yet!