Me At 40

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I took this picture at the New Orleans airport as I prepare to head home from Bouchercon. Every few years the conference falls over my birthday and this was one of those years. It’s also a milestone birthday, which means time to take stock of my life and all of that wonderful nonsense.

This conference says a lot about what’s good in my life at 40. I have two novels published, a life-long dream, that I was promoting at the conference. I have an enjoyable and active freelance editing career as evidence by my meetings with current and former clients and seeing four different books I edited for sale in the book room along with my own novels. During the conference I had dinners and breakfasts and lunches with folks I consider true friends, not just online friends or conference friends. That’s pretty cool. And back at home I have a great family waiting for me to return. I was able to FaceTime with Becky on the kids a few times and they sang Happy Birthday to me on Friday, my actual birthday.

So while my 20s were a deplorable mess, the decade since has been amazing and I arrive at 40 happier than any other point in my life. And there’s still plenty more awesome stuff on the horizon as well.

The only bad part of turning 40 is my body is getting more and more aggressive in it’s battle against the way I treat it. If I’m going to make it another decade to see what life has in store for me by the time I turn 50, I have to be more healthy. I have to eat better and move more and handle my stress better. Luckily I have a great support system around to make that easier and a whole lot to live for going forward.

Where to Find Me This Weekend

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Tomorrow evening I’ll be arriving in New Orleans for the Bouchercon World Mystery Conference. It’s supposed to be rainy and humid so my plan to pack sport coats and adult clothes, because I’ll turn 40 while I’m there, is a no-go and I’ll likely still be dressed like a 20-something computer hacker.

I’ll be appearing a few places in support of RIOT LOAD so if want to to find me, here are the best places to look:

  • Saturday 9/17, 9am-10am, LaGalleries 6
    Panel: LET’S MISBEHAVE – writing bad guys can be fun
    Meredith Anthony (M), Ben McPherson, Lin Anderson, Karin Slaughter, Bryon Quertermous, Lisa Unger
  • Saturday 9/17, 1pm – 2pm, Book Room
    Polis Author Mass Signing w/ the Garden District Book Shop

The rest of the time I’ll likely be in the bar holding court (and drinking soda instead of alcohol thanks to my bum pancreas) or up in my room hiding and recharging my introvert cells.

 

Spenser at 8

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Somehow my little buddy keeps looking more and more like a little man. I, of course, love all of my kids and love them in different ways, but this little boy changed me for the better is so many more ways than any other person ever has. Eight years ago today was a special day and I’m happy to be here to celebrate today. Happy birthday, buddy.

First Day of Second and Third Grade

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I post this stuff over on Facebook, but I need to do a better job of posting it here for the archives on space I own and control. So this is the first day of 2nd grade for Holly and 3rd grade for Spenser. I like how Natalie photobombed it like the ghost in a bad horror movie. They woke up surprisingly well and had a good morning. I was lucky to be able to see them before they went into their classes and then I had to go to the doctor to get poked and prodded and scanned because the pain in my pancreas isn’t going away.

 

My Body Has Declared War On Me

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Last week, right about this time in the afternoon, I was running some errands trying to get Becky’s phone upgraded. (Side note: Between a great deal at Target and trading in her old phone we ended up with a new iPhone 6s with more memory, a $200 Target gift card, and a $180 credit to our AT&T account. Yay for bargain hunting!) I started off with an achy pain in my back that migrated around to my side and up under my nipple. As the day wore on and the pain grew nastier, Becky kept telling me how similar my pain was to what she had prior to her appendix going kaput and strongly suggested I go to the ER. I figured it was gas and took some gas medicine and grilled our dinner while desperately waiting for the sweet release of farting. I finally caved around 8pm when the stabbing pain kept bending me over and I was screaming so much I sounded like I was being murdered.

The ER staff was great and quickly did some blood tests and got me on morphine. It wasn’t long before they ruled out appendicitis and started looking at my pancreas. My levels were high and an ultrasound and and CT scan showed inflammation and fluid around the organ, but no signs of gall stones, the most common cause of pancreatitis. After a night of keeping me doped up and moist with fluids, but no food, the root cause remained a mystery.

The next morning found me in a bit less pain and the doctor who picked me up from the ER doc said it looked like I had an ulcer in the first part of my small intestine that was causing my pancreas all kinds of grief. A round of Pepcid and keeping me on a clear diet kept the pain under control so that was checked off as the major cause. That photo above is what remained of that first liquid meal. I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours and I was so hungry. The chicken consomme, orange Jell-O, cranberry juice, and lemon ice they gave me might as well have been a steak and lobster dinner for the way I devoured it. Later that day they bumped me up to a more regular diet and the food was even better,

Since I’ve been home, I’ve kept to a decent diet and limited my portions, I’ve also been drinking a bit more water and keeping my stress under control. Today is the first day I really feel close to 100% and hope that continues. I had being out of commission. And for the long term, this is one more big reminder that I can’t keep treating my body like a demolition derby car. My body has been revolting against me for a while now. It seems I’m always sick and last year I was in the same hospital for surgery on a minor hernia that had grown into a mutant monster. My body has had enough of my shit and seems to be willing to kill itself to send me the message. I’ll be 40 in 12 days and I feel like an 80 year old man most of the time. That has to stop.

I hope a year from now to be writing about how much better I feel and look rather than writing about another surgery (or, god forbid, something worse) because I was too stupid or stubborn to change my ways.

Does Faster Writing Equate To Better Writing? (Insert Double Entendre Subhead Here)

I’ve been thinking recently about my writing speed and what it means for 1) the quality of my writing and 2) my writing career as a whole. These have been sort of random thoughts shaking around on my head as I work through the first draft of my new novel, but a comment from William Powell on Facebook about daily writing quotas inspired me to sit down and work this all out in writing here.

The crux of William’s question was whether authors stick to their daily quota through the planning and editing phases as well as the drafting phase. For me, I don’t usually have a planning phase; I just tend to jump in and see what happens. So far it’s worked well enough for my current series and I’m not looking to change it, but for the next book I want to write there will be a more in-depth planning phase so we’ll see how it changes for that book.

But sticking to my current book and my previous books, my process has been some variation of jumping into the book with no planning and seeing what happens. I usually stick to my 1,000 words a day goal for a few weeks until I get stuck and my mind wanders and I overthink everything and then I tend to work very slowly for a while before panicking and then writing a bunch in a blinding heat that, for the most part, tends to be really good stuff. With Murder Boy and Riot Load both, the first half was writing slowly over an infuriating long period of time with the second half being written relatively quickly over a short period of time. I thought the ending of Murder Boy was great, and a recent comment from a friend about the twists in the second half and the ending of Riot Load and how good they were made me realize this is more than just my own observance.

The big question, of course, is what I can learn from this? I’ve always written better under pressure and under tight deadlines from my time in school to my brief journalism career. I always it was something as simple as just being forced into overcoming my natural bent toward extreme procrastination, but I think there might be more to it. When I’m writing slowly, I mention I tent to overthink things too much. Not just the plot, but my career and my legacy and how the current work plays into it. When I’m writing fast, that tendency gets squashed and I write more by instinct and with ample help from my subconscious. This is why I like to tell people my books are informed not just by other books but by every movie, TV show,  art piece, conversation, memory, and visual cue I’ve been exposed to. These all form the base of my subconscious and when speed and time force me into relying on this pool of knowledge I benefit from the collective inspiration rather than picking and choosing what I’m inspired by during my slower writing phases.

So is the solution really that obvious? Do I just need to write faster and think less? For my current book, I think the answer is yes. The series and the characters will benefit most from this style. But what about the next book? If I’m writing something more layered and complex will this work as well? I think it will, but I think the key is to make sure that pool of knowledge is fully stocked. I need to read more widely and red more non-fiction. My own reading has been stagnant lately and I think this is reflected in my slower writing lately.

Politics and Marriage

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I’ve pretty much abandoned talking about politics, even minimally and even with people I agree with, for the time being. Not just online, but in-person as well. It’s pointless, it’s exhausting, and really it’s just horrible. With one exception: I still talk politics with Becky. Not just candidates, but policies and supreme court cases and laws and all sorts of weird intricate scenarios we amuse ourselves with.

The other night after Hillary’s acceptance speech I was exhausted and needed to go to bed, but instead I stayed up until well past midnight talking with Becky about politics. It was awesome. This is even more amazing considering we will likely be voting for different candidates come November. We’re the same in our core beliefs both politically and religiously, but differ on the implementation of some ideas and who the best person is for that.

These sort pf discussions are why I knew almost immediately I was going to marry Becky and why, in general, I think it’s better to wait until later in life to get married. By the time I met Becky I knew what I did and didn’t want and we got right to it. Our first date lasted until 2am and it was all talk of the sorts of things one is never advised to talk about on a first date: religion and politics.

So as we approach ten years of being together, I’m still so happy to be with someone I love and respect enough to talk about this stuff with and if the picture doesn’t make it clear enough i think she should be elected Queen of Everything.

Little Dog, Big Bills (And Close Calls)

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We had a close call with Stewie this weekend that kind of freaked me out. He’s a miniature dachshund and with that brings a genetic disposition toward spine and leg problems due to their comically absurd construction. He’s also getting on in years at 9. In the last couple of years we’ve already dropped around $1000 on various surgeries for him regarding his teeth and jaw. So yesterday morning when we saw he wasn’t using his back left leg at all we all freaked out and assumed the worst.

I called our regular vet and told them what was going on and they told me to call an emergency vet. I did that and they said it sounded like a pushed in disc and paralysis. Their treatment plan was either a $1500 steroid and home care plan or a neurological consult and spine surgery at several thousands of dollars.  We’re doing well with getting our financial house in order and not living on credit cards anymore, but our emergency fund usually hovers around $400 – $500 and our regular savings had been hit hard by my book tour last month so we don’t have room for either of those options. I explained this to the lady at the emergency vet and she suggested we tell our regular vet that and see if they could get him started on just the steroids. Our regular vet was very accommodating and were able to fit us in.

Luckily we have a great vet who really knows his stuff and after poking and massaging Stewie in all of the right places, he didn’t see signs of anything serious. They did some x-rays on him and came back with great news. The x-rays showed a clean spine and straight legs with no fractures or out of place discs and the doctor thinks Stewie just sprained his knee playing in the yard with the kids. So instead of paying several hundreds of dollars for a patch to keep him steady until we could scrounge up several thousand more, we were out of there for around $150 with a couple of great stories about Stewie taking a dump in the x-ray machine and some doggie drugs.

Huge relief.

But in the hours between scheduling the appointment and actually seeing the vet, my mind went to some very dark places. I broke down and balled at the computer because I knew there was no way we could pay for any surgeries and that we’d either have to give him away or put him down. This was all particularly painful to me because I’d thought about re-homing him a few times before when I first started freelancing full-time for exactly these reasons. My income fluctuates and I don’t ever want to have to make an awful decision for strictly monetary reasons. So once again, with tears in my eyes, I was looking at the surrender policies for the local shelters and seeing if there were any breed-specific rescues nearby that could take him because he’s a purebred.

Now before you lay into that bullshit about what horrible places shelters are and how hard it is to re-home an older dog and what an awful person I am for even considering it, you need to sit here at this desk facing the impossible choice of maybe not being able to even give him away to a shelter because the surrender policies around here are incredibly tight and they likely wouldn’t take an older dog with pre-existing medical issues. So my choices at that moment all involved Stewie being put down with the variety in the timeline.

So sod off with that shit. I’m happy things worked out well this time and hopefully in the next month some opportunities I’m working on will give us the chance to build that emergency fund up more substantially, but I can’t help but think that I’ll be in this situation again some time in the future where his medical bills come at the absolute worst time for our finances and I’ll have no idea what to do about it.

For now though, I’ll hug him close, give him extra treats for a few days, and wonder how bad it smelled when he pooped in the x-ray machine.

A Dose Of Optimism

I posted this over on facebook and liked it enough to want to put it here for the archives. I’m sick of the media and political industrial complexes making money off of keeping America scared and paranoid and want to do whatever I can to let people know it’s not as bad as we think out there while still respecting the genuine tragedy some folks are experiencing. 

I know things seem awful right now, but don’t let the media fear mongering and political appropriation of tragedy convince you we’re living in dystopian times.

We certainly have a lot of work to do as a society, but there has never been a safer time to be alive. Violent crimes across all demographics are down substantially from where they were in the 60s and 70s. Children are safer than they have ever been and even police officers are safer than they have ever been.

Children, police officers, black men, and white men, and just about everyone else are far more likely to die in a car accident than they are to die from terrorism or assassination or any other form of violent death.

So get out there in your community and talk to people. Be nice wherever you go and don’t let anyone convince you society is on the verge of collapse.

And for crying out loud, wear your damn seat belt.