Hey There. Come Here Often?

[pulling out the Dory voice] Well, hi!

It’s uh… been a bit of time since I’ve posted here so I thought I’d check in, crack open a drink, and have a conversation with you all.

The last few months have been extremely hard for me, I’ll be honest. Some stuff happened that redefined the way I look at people I know in a serious way. There were police investigations (closed now) and the fallout will continue for years to come, but the initial whirlwind of holy shit has subsided. I’m relieved and disappointed, angry and fearful, determined and protective. It’s an exhausting mix of emotions, to be honest. All I have to say is thank god for Kate. She has always been and always will be my rock in stormy times. Things are looking up, at least somewhat. I’m trying to be a positive, immovable wall of reliability for those who need me. It’s difficult, and in quiet, solitary moments, I break more often than I’d care to admit, but those moments are becoming less frequent at least. Maybe we’ll all be okay with time and perspective.

Then of course there’s the election of our new Dark Lord POTUS and the fallout from that, which will also have ramifications for years. I stand in shocked disbelief on a daily basis since Lord Cheeto took office. But I also see the protests, the activism, the phone calls to representatives, the sheer rising up of our nation to keep the new PEEOTUS from sinking us all, and it gives me hope. I cling to the hope sometimes, because it feel like the only thing I have, this tiny little lifesaver ring in the face of racism, sexism, cronyism, nepotism, and discrimination. And also batshit crazy. Because Bannon is fucking insane and he’s Wormtongue, whispering his evil into the King’s ear.

But! I don’t want to get into all that political shit in this post. This is more of a hey, what’s up? thing. I’ve been working as a virtual assistant the last couple months, too. The book sales are still decent, but they don’t stretch the way they used to, so I picked up some extra work to even out the valleys and make it easier to save during the peaks. This is also the reason Kate and I have started a Patreon, so we can worry less about scraping together money for bills by doing side jobs and devote that time to the actual writing. It’s been a bit stressful, if I’m honest, but hopefully in the next few months, we’ll have a little more breathing room. Honestly, the Patreon is a lot more fun than I anticipated. I have lots of ideas for it, just need the time to execute.

I’m 42,000 words into Restraint (PE 4) and I’m predicting it’ll be around 100,000 words. This one is not quite as dark as the first three (quite possibly another reaction to the last few months. The darker real life gets, the fluffier I write. Maybe. If I could ever be classified as “fluffy,” which I think is a stretch. More like Addams family dark rather than Ted Bundy dark.) I’ve been having fun with the research for Restraint though. It’s set in Seattle, which is a city that’s always fascinated me. In fact, Kate and I have tentative plans to move there for a couple years when the kids are in college, and before we go to England. Assuming the US still exists by then.

I’ve also got the second Long Fall of Night queued up and ready to begin as soon as Restraint is released. Honestly, I need to write it before what I’ve had plotted for 2 years now comes to pass and I get accused of taking advantage of sick and twisted times. It’ll be quite the roller coaster, for sure.

After that, I have a few ideas. There’s a possible Reaping Havoc 3, a PE spinoff with a character from Restraint (plus another spinoff from Consent with a couple of those characters), and then the beginning of a futuristic slave epic I’ve been kicking around for months now, tentatively called Genesis Rising. That one, I cannot wait to sink my teeth into, but the plot is slow in coming, and I’m taking my time with it so as not to force anything. It’ll be a flop if I don’t do it right. I’m also considering whether or not to make it a menage. I haven’t written a poly relationship in a long time, and never for more than a scene in a work I’ve published. I miss the dynamics of it, and I would love to explore all the facets of it again. It’s such a beautiful kind of love.

I’ve also been knitting and listening to audiobooks. I’ve got intentions of getting audio production going for my backlist in 2017, but that depends on a lot of factors, so I can’t make promises at this point. I wish I could, because I want to hear Gavin come to life in a bad way, but patience is the name of this game.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Trying to keep my head above water and hold on tight in these changing, somewhat troubled times. I’d love to report Casa Rose-Aaron smells of roses and freshly printed money and is filled with the sounds of books being written at a lightning pace, but the reality is much more mundane and less exciting.

I do want to know what you all have been up to, even if it’s not glamorous or exciting, or even if you think it sounds like complaints. You know what? We’re all in this together and can share strengths. So come sit by me. Tell me a little bit about your worlds and what you hope happens in the next few months. I’ve missed you guys.

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A Piece of Me

I’m over at Diverse Reader today talking about my feelings from before the UK Meet, and sharing something I’ve held close to the vest since the beginning of my career. Take a peek and drop a comment. Come say hello, maybe make a face with me.

Nerves Ahoy

I was on the phone with a dear friend yesterday and the subject of the various romance cons came up. He asked me how long it was until I fly to England to participate in the UK Meet. I was shocked to realize it’s a mere six weeks away.

What’s more shocking is I’m less afraid than I expected to be at this point in time. I’m honest-to-god looking forward to it.

It’s no secret I have anxiety, which manifests in many ways but never more quickly and more ferociously than in social settings. The very day I signed up for the con, I went to take my ruffians trick-or-treating, thinking it would be the usual family affair it had been in years past, only to unknowingly walk into a costume party with a potluck dinner, for which I wore no costume, nor did I have a dish to contribute. After taking the kids to get their candy on, I got out as soon as I could so no one could see me hyperventilating and near tears, almost too panicked to drive.

I had no idea what I was walking into that night, so it blindsided me, and while I knew everyone at the party, I stood out like a sore thumb without a costume. (Not to mention the small fact that it was among a group of people who were related to my ex, so while we’re amicable, it was still incredibly awkward with people I hadn’t seen in a long time.) I didn’t feel it fair to partake in the food everyone brought when I brought nothing, and so at 9 at night, I drove through a Sonic drive through for a giant ass strawberry limeade (my comfort drink) and a late dinner I could barely stomach. It was hours until I felt reasonable again, and stopped berating myself for being so woefully unprepared.

Why can’t I function normally around people I know?

Why was it so hard to talk to people who told me more than once it was good to see me again?

Why can’t I be like everyone else?

The answer is simple: I have social anxiety.

So what the fuck am I doing going to a con??

Two things in particular trigger my social anxiety: hugs and the possibility of my face being put online.

If someone comes at me with their arms out, suddenly, my heart is in my throat. I know I’m not being threatened, but it feels that way. Several things flit through my mind. 1.) I’m short, so most hugs put me at chest level to others. Women, I’m faceplanted in their boobs. Men, I’m nose-to-armpit. Unless I crane my neck awkwardly, it’s uncomfortable, and I FAIL AT HUGGING. 2.) I can’t breathe. Whether that’s physical or psychological, I don’t know. I have only been diagnosed with asthma in the last year, but who knows how long I’ve had it? 3.) I’m always worried I smell, or that I’m not in my best shape and someone will feel that and judge me. All of these (plus more if my brain is being particularly cruel) make me shaky and nervous, which intensifies the stupidity I feel. There are definitely wrong ways to give a hug. I suck at hugs.

My friend on the phone gives the best hugs ever. Why? Because I feel safe when he hugs me. How would I find that level of safety with someone I’ve just met, or have only talked to online? It’s a question I can’t answer. Which is why hugs scare me. Literally scare me.

My photo being put online is becoming less of a trigger, but still a concern. I see people happily put themselves out there, and even though I like being able to put a face with a name myself, the thought of doing so with my mug makes me freak. Anybody can see it. Set aside my self-criticism, I can’t control who sees me if my face is online. Given my active imagination, I spiral into worry about predators trolling the internets for their next victim and well… I know it’s stupid. But anxiety is not logical.

I am proud to say, however, that in the months since I signed up that Halloween for the UK Meet, I’ve managed tricks to ratchet down the irrational fears. It helps the UK Meet organizers are conscientious of these things, and I will wear a lanyard color coded to let people know without asking whether or not taking my picture is okay (I haven’t decided if I’m going to brave this one yet). And there are badges that can be worn to let people know if it’s okay to hug the wearer. Two awkward conversations handled smoothly with non-verbal cues, and I tell you what, I can actually relax that these things don’t rest on my shoulders. I have also gone over and over with Kate ways to extricate myself from awkward situations should they arise. Having a contingency plan for every scenario makes me feel more in control.

My friend on the phone told me the story of his first romance con as a writer, and he said when he first arrived, he was literally mobbed by people wanting to talk to him. It took him half an hour to reach the registration desk. He’s not as severe as me with anxiety, but even he barely managed to keep from walking out and never looking back.

We had a good laugh. And I realized, as I was talking about the round-table discussion I’m leading with Kate, and how I’m looking forward to the gala dinner and the people I have on my list that I absolutely must say hello to, that I’m not scared right now, six weeks out. My heart isn’t beating hard at the thought. My eyes are dry. My hands are steady.

Could that change in the coming weeks? Sure. But the best part is, I really, honestly think I can do this. If someone asked me last year if I’d really make it, I’d have said the chance was iffy. It’s not the flight, being in another country, or even speaking to a crowd (strangely, I only get as nervous as the average person when giving a speech, go figure) that gets to me. It was knowing my specific triggers not only were possible, but probable, just because that’s what people do at cons. They hug their friends and favorite authors and take pictures with them. The fact that those things are already handled, significantly reducing my chances of panicking, is really giving me some hope. Maybe even enough confidence to challenge one of the triggers. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to put up a photo of me with one or two of my favorite authors, who I’m dying to meet, and say, “Look! I have proof that I met x                            and they are awesome!”

Reviews: a Minefield

Yesterday, when I was contacted by Dr. Charley Ferrer concerning the Golden Flogger nomination, I had a moment of squee, for a reason other than the honor of Consent being nominated. I totally fangirled. Because Dr. Ferrer is the woman who wrote one of the first non-fiction books I read about BDSM, called BDSM: The Naked Truth. She is the reason (among a couple others) why Ben and Gavin were born. So in my thanks for her emailing me about the nomination, I also thanked her for writing the book, that I found it incredibly useful and straightforward and it answered so many questions I had as well as sparking my imagination.

She responded with gratitude and said, “If it’s not too much trouble, would you care to write a review on Amazon for it?”

And I paused, like I always do when the question of me writing reviews comes up.

Because I don’t write reviews.

Why?

Because I’m an author.

I know there are those who have gone before me have been accused of many things with regard to writing reviews, including propping up their fellow friend authors, sabotaging others if they wrote something negative, or abusing their “power” because their word carries a different kind of weight than the average reader.

So instead, I’ve limited myself to the occasional book rec if I truly love the story.

But am I not a reader first? I fell in love with reading when I was four and crawled behind my dad’s recliner for some privacy, cracked a book, and went to town with it. My mother didn’t believe me when she found me and I answered her, “What are you doing?” question with a self-important, “Reading,” in a tone full of duh.

Look, I get the politics of it all. I understand a review I write can be mistaken for endorsement and not entirely genuine. But I’d like to think I could pen a review with enough reasons behind my rating to make anyone who stops to read it realize I was honest.

The truth is, I miss being able to debate books I did or didn’t like with people on social media. Yeah, I have a couple friends I trust where I can discuss things privately, but sometimes, if I love love love a book, I want to shout about it.

The last time I did that on my blog was back in 2012 after I read King Perry by Edmond Manning. I’d just published Power Exchange, and oh, my naïve heart was in love. Then I saw that this reviewing thing could lead to drama, and if anyone here has read even a tiny little bit of the archive of this blog (even this new one, with only 30 something posts as of now) you’ll know I am an anxiety sufferer, and drama is not something I seek out.

So I’ve stifled it. And even if it was a self-imposed clamping down of my opinion, I don’t want to stifle it anymore.

That’s not to say I’m going on a reviewing rampage, but if I’m moved to take the time and write a review, regardless of who wrote it, I will.

But to expand this a little bit, I’ve seen where others have cringed when an author gives a so-so opinion of another’s book. There are whispers, “They shouldn’t be saying that.” Depending on the loyalty of the second author’s fanbase, there could be retaliation. Bystanders whisper behind their hands, “That’s going to blow up in their face.”

Here’s my opinion on that: if an author thinks a book wasn’t up to snuff, and says so in a way that is constructively critical, does not say anything about the author as a person, and is not argumentative, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to without fear of a bunch of people raining vitriol on their heads.

I do not condone going after an author in any kind of personal way, whether they’re the reviewer or the reviewee.

Here are the things I consider an unreasonable review:

  • If you haven’t read, or attempted to read, the book, and give it either glowing or scathing ratings based off the opinion of something besides the book, i.e. the author, a friend’s opinion of the author, etc.
  • If a review contains spoilers and people who use reviews aren’t appropriately warned it does. GoodReads has a spoiler tag for a reason.
  • If the review contains anything about the author as a person. It is not okay to speculate on the author’s life based on the book they’ve written. Just keep it about the book and the book alone.

That’s it.

If you want to say you hate everything this author has ever written because it reads like it was penned by a kindergartner, go for it. If you want to say you’re the Annie Wilkes #1 fan of an author, do that, too. If you want to speculate about where a series might go (although that might be more fun in a discussion forum than on a plain ol’ review), please. If you have a reason for dissing a book’s every stinking page, do it.

Am I going to like it when someone says they hate something I’ve written and will never buy another book of mine again? No, that’ll kinda hurt. But I do not begrudge the reviewer their right to say so.

A few people have stated clearly they won’t read anything more I write after they read Consent. I’m sad to see them go, but I am never, ever going to say they don’t have the right to give that opinion. It’s not realistic to hope for 5 stars across the board. I want to make people feel with my books. Sad, disgusted, hopeful, tearful, awed, appalled, whatever the emotion. I like coaxing them all. If that means my books are not someone’s “comfort” read, then that’s entirely okay with me.

What else makes me sad is feeling like my opinion isn’t valid because of my vocation. Because I might taint something. Because my words are loaded.

Yeah, I know my words are loaded. But is that reason enough that I get no say at all? That’d be like me telling a reader they can’t give an opinion on a medical book if they’re a doctor. Or review a detective story because they’re a detective.

Or it’s like telling an author they can’t write about London if they’ve never been there. And I’m sure any number of you can see where this argument could lead, should I want to dredge up unnecessary drama. Nope. Not going there.

So the point of all this, regarding reviews, is, in my opinion, say what you think about the book. About the series. Please, if you feel strongly, speak.

But I have a voice, too. And I’m judicious enough to use it without abusing it.

So I wrote a review on BDSM: The Naked Truth. It’s nearly three-years overdue.

Winners! And a Moment

The Anatomy of PerceptionBecause of the fantastic response to my Reapings and Rewards Newsletter signups, I’ve decided to double the number of winners. Four people will receive an advanced copy of The Anatomy of Perception in mobi, epub, or pdf. It’s at the formatter’s right now, but when I get it back and check it, it’ll be in the hot little hands of these four people:

Valerie Hacking, Sadonna Swan, Lily Blunt, and Alice Viviano

Congrats to the winners! You’ve all been emailed.

Now, I’m going to take a moment here to be frank. I know this winter is getting to everyone, with the never ending snow, colder than average temperatures, ice in places that don’t usually see ice, or lack of snow in upper elevations that bode poorly for those who actually want the feet of accumulation being dumped on the Northeast right now. I know this is the likely reason for my own doldrums because despite accusations of being a vampire (for the hours I keep, and for blocking sunlight from my house with closed blinds for reasons), I too need spring to get here.

But the real truth of my restlessness lately is this: I’m scared, you guys. In the last few weeks, all my expected income from outside sources has landed and this is it. I’m truly on my own with the full-time writing. I’m playing the marketing strategies as best I can, and so far, it seems to be going as expected. I have a few new avenues of readership to pursue so I can hopefully expand my audience, and while all of this sounds very businessy, it’s extremely personal to me, as Meg Ryan said in You’ve Got Mail.

I have a lot riding on this new release.

Yeah, I will have a lot riding on every release afterward, too, because momentum matters, but this first one, well. This one sets the tone. It’s about new characters. It’s a book close to my heart, too. But more than anything, it’s a test of sorts for me. I hope I pass.

So while I’m trying to stave off the cray-cray, I have just one favor to ask. If you get the book, please consider writing a review of your opinion when you’re finished. Love or hate it, I learn from reviews. I can use positive ones to help sell the book, and negative ones to learn from my readership where I missed the mark. Constructive criticism helps me grow.

I don’t know if you remember, but several months ago, I asked you all what you do and don’t like about books that have non-linear storytelling, with past and present timelines interwoven. I listened to your reasons, which included each timeline having enough length to each section to really sink into, not starting at the end and then working through flashbacks the whole rest of the book, keeping both timelines equally compelling, and more. To those of you who answered, thank you for the feedback. I took what you said to heart and tried to shape the story in a way that would be compelling and avoid some of the peeves. Your candor helped me write a better story, and I know your candor in reviews would do the same.

So if you’re curious as to what story was pulling at me so hard I had to jump it ahead of everything, March 12th, it’ll be released and ready for consumption. Another book baby out in the world. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Time to Fly

(If you were around on FB yesterday afternoon, this is old news, just saying up front.)

You never quite know when your life is about to change, do you? One minute, you’re thinking, “Ugh, it’s Wednesday, two and a half more days until the weekend,” and the next, you’re looking at the cliff you’re standing on. You’re left wondering if you jump, will you fly or splat?

It’s been my dream since I was a kid to write for a living. For the last, say, year or so, that dream has come closer to a plan, which was to get to a safe point where I could quit my day job (which I loathed to the eyerolling point of searing hatred with every breath I took inside that building’s walls). Safe meant having a good size cushion wherein I could relax for several months and write with little pressure, little distraction, and lots of time to prove myself, and I would make a solid living and be my own boss and huzzah, every other weekend, it would rain unicorns and pygmy goats. Re-reading that sentence, I’m seeing “safe” was sort of Norman Rockwellian. And dangerous every other weekend, what with creatures with pointy ends falling at terminal velocity.

We all know, life often doesn’t ask our permission before doing whatever it pleases anyway. Which is why at just before lunch time yesterday, I was sitting in HR listening to my boss shakily tell me he was laying me off (with sort of a gleam in his eye, because he disliked me almost as much as I disliked him, and man I wish I could have been the one to initiate the separation of our paths. I had some choice words). But the point isn’t that I no longer have to see that man, and if I do, I am justified in pretending I don’t recognize him. The point is my plan has to be strong enough on the legs I’ve already given it, because safe isn’t gonna happen. I don’t have the year of income saved up, nor am I much closer to being able to pay off the debt I wanted to. However, the terms of my being laid off allow me some freedom, and I have conservatively estimated that I have five to six months in which to make this writing gig pay enough to work for me.

So… this is me, inching closer to the cliff and praying my parachute opens so I can fly.

*jumps*

OMFG, or What Have I Done??

One of the most common questions I get is, “Will you be at GRL this year?”

For the last couple years, my answer has been the same, “I don’t think so. I can’t really do cons.” In the last six months, I’ve tacked on, “Never say never, though.”

While most of the people who’ve been around my blog/social media presence for a bit will assume that’s because of the fictional identity issue, it’s not. Some of you know I have pretty significant anxiety. There was a blog post that I floated talking about my inability to retain friendships without spazzing out (though there are a tenacious few who have managed to like being my friend despite my complete ineptitude, and I love them fiercely) and how meeting new people is one of the scariest things I can imagine. That blog post was live for about six hours before my addled brain said enough and I had to pull it down. My fleshy underbelly was too exposed. So I’mma try to get through the rest of this post without getting too emo so I can leave it up.

I want to go to cons. I see you guys all having fun, the facebook updates squeeing about having met this favorite author or that awesome internet friend, all the bookporn, and Edmond Manning, and I want a little piece of that. (Well, I don’t want a piece of Edmond Manning himself, because who knows when his expiration date is and I’d probably get food poisoning, but maybe a piece of his attention? Hell yeah.) But the truth is this:

It fucking terrifies me.

It’s not that I don’t want to meet readers.

It’s the noise.

It’s not that I don’t want to meet other authors.

It’s the unknown setting.

It’s not that I think the information from panels and such isn’t worthwhile.

It’s the crowds. No matter how friendly, I have major problems with crowds. And hugging. OMG I cannot hug you no matter how much I like you, unless in that moment, I feel it will be okay. But I won’t know until I’m there. Hugs are too much.

It’s not that I don’t want to stand side by side with the people I’ve come to care about and take pictures or mug funny faces for the camera.

It’s the idea of my face going online and it freaks my fucking shit out so hard I feel the need to go fetal in a dark corner and rock a little.

That’s not hyperbole. I really think about my picture being posted online and want to curl in a ball in a corner of a dark room.

My anxiety is crippling.

The only reason I can work outside my home at all is because everyone around me has assigned seating. I joke about hating my cubicle at work, but it’s my space and no one invades it without my permission. Cube = hamsterball. Anything else where there are a lot of people? Nope. I skip if I can, and if I can’t, I hide out in a bathroom more than I should. I can handle errands to the store and such because I have a cart to wield like a shield. And people have assigned roles. Shopper. Checker. Shelf stockers. I can plaster on a smile and speak to strangers without much trouble because we all keep to our roles.

But I’ve done a lot of thinking the last couple weeks. I know GRL is in San Diego next year. I am also well aware that I probably can’t gear up by then to go, no matter how much I want to. The thing that makes me the angriest is the anxiety is winning when it comes to this subject. This is my dream job, goddammit, and I’m missing out on part of it because I’m so twisted up about stupid stuff. I hate it. I hate anxiety so much. SDLKAHOERGHQOHR(key smash)

What am I gonna do about it? I’m going to overcome it. Maybe not all at once. Maybe not even next year. But I’m taking steps. I just want you guys to know, I am taking steps. There’s another con. Smaller. It has a policy about whose photos you can and can’t post online. And because of its location, I can make the trip part of a bigger trip with an entirely different focus than conference! Crowds! Unknown setting! Also, the attendees in this location are (possibly) less likely to hug me.

So I signed up (with Kate’s promise to never ever leave my side). I put down the deposit for the ticket, and hope when the money’s due, I can still see myself going. I hope when it’s time to make up the swag and ship the paperbacks, I can still keep calm. I hope when it’s time to fly over and show up, I can get over myself and actually register at check-in. And maybe then, when I set up my table to sign books, I can do it with a smile on my face, and you all won’t see the terror in my eyes.

Holy shit, people. (I think) I’m going to the UK Meet.