I don't even know where to begin to add my horrible 2020 experiences to the pile of human ennui and pain we've all experienced during the Year+ of COVID. You would have thought I would have had ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD TO WRITE during that year, but, no. So that's changing now, after a truly horrible winter.
A year ago we were in the grips of "OMG, what is going on... masks? Washing our hands... we can't SEE the virus, how do we know we're safe?" We went from there to staying home every day with only quick jaunts to the stores for the basics. My husband even worked from home for four months, setting up his office in the library, We were scrambling for hand sanitizer and paper masks, even the thin rubber gloves I always have on hand anyway were scarce. It was very much Every Person for Themselves back then. A class I'd been taking in person cancelled before it was over, my writing conferences were cancelled. Luckily, the kids were already doing online school so that didn't change.
Fabric masks, hand sanitizer, never seeing anyone outside of our family except our neighbors we shouted to across the fence. It got old so fast, but, we kept going, one day at a time. I was working as a copy editor for a software company, Charley was working, kids were doing school, and the animals were all fat and sassy.
2021 came and we thought, "This is it... 2021 is here, everything will be better!" But, no.
In December we learned of a tragic accident in Idaho where an 18-year-old boy and his father plunged over the side of a dam because their truck hit ice on the road. They died, most likely on impact, from the 250-foot drop to the valley below. That boy used to be our son for a short time. We adopted him from China at the age of 6 in 2009. After bringing him home, we quickly realized our family was not the place for him, because of many reasons — he needed a LOT of therapy that we honestly couldn't afford. He was older than our two young daughters and it wasn't *safe* for him to be around them, and I did not know how to make this house safe for everyone. Much talking, much counseling, much going back and forth with our adoption agency, the perfect family was found, and they happened to be best friends with the family who had adopted our son's best friend in the orphanage just six months earlier.
But then, in a moment in December, he was gone. Just... gone. Everything that child had gone through, everything we and he did to get him to where he needed to be... a place where he had grown up into an exceptionally handsome man, super smart, in a happy loving family, making good friends... and this is how his story ends? None of it made any sense at all.
His name was Nathan. RIP Nathan, you did not deserve to die like that.
Christmas was a low-key affair for us. We spent a lot of time being thankful we were together, that we had everything we needed while so many in the world didn't. One day at a time....
January. Finally. The election was over, a new president was on the way. 2020 was over, time to fucking celebrate! Then my aunt called early on the 17th. My little brother had been at work the night before, closing up the gas station/minimart he was working at, when some asshole with a gun showed up and killed him. His name was Doug. He was 51.
The world shifted under me. I couldn't wrap my head around it. He was just, gone. I never got to say goodbye to my mother when she died in 2006, and now I didn't get to say goodbye to my brother. And it was just us three in our little family.
I had to fly to St. Louis during a freaking pandemic, stay at my aunt and uncle's, and deal with my brother's everything — his little doublewide in the park he used to share with our mom, police, homicide detectives, family, friends, well wishers, literally everyone in town who knew him as "that man who was killed at the gas station," and then I'd get the Big Eyes and Sad Eyes and the Oh-My-God-That-Was-Your-Brother? Eyes.
But I met some really fantastic people: Larry works at the mission store there and I called him, hoping he could help me with all the clothes and housewares. he said not for two weeks, but then I told him who I was and that I was only in town for a short time and he said, "That was your brother??? OMG... I'll be there tomorrow at noon."
Larry helped me clear the house of things to donate and then he ended up buying the house from me too. He's already renovated the front half and it looks AMAZING!!!!
Mark was the firefighter who heard the shots from the firehouse across the street. He'd run over to see what happened and was with my brother when he passed. He'd known him -- saw him at the store all the time. Mark hadn't really slept since it had happened. He was speaking with people to help him somehow make sense of the senselessness of my sweet brother dying like that. He was reeling for weeks after.
My cousin Barb and I had been working the most on the house, and we gave Mark a little antique train car that was in my brother's house — he has it on display in the room that he's turning into his train room, so he has something to remember my brother by.
I handled everything. I sold his house, closed the bank accounts, told his bills he was gone, dealt with reporters and had things notarized and stamped and I traded his brand-new car in for a slightly bigger car, and that's what I drove back to Oregon. The trip took five days and I barely remember it. I just know I drove for about eight hours a day and somehow made it home. Considering that entire trip only cost $800, I didn't do anything else but drive, sleep, and stop for gas and coffee. I arrived home on February 3.
February was a blur. I don't remember anything. I believe I watched a lot of movies, lying on the couch, luckily my girls are old enough that they were picking up the slack. I'm surprised I was able to sleep at night, and I managed not to eat pure junk during that time — probably because my kids were doing the cooking and they weren't feeding me a steady diet of chips, chocolate cake and ice cream.
Toward the end of February, I noticed our cat Jack was not well. I took him to the vet with a heavy heart and they let me know that, yes, he was in liver failure and so then we had to say goodbye to Jack, our amazing, sweet, and wonderful cat of 14.5 years on March 2.
I was just done. Three major losses in basically three months. I wanted to sleep for the next three years. My soul was tired. So. Tired.
On March 11, I woke up and realized it was my mother's birthday. She passed in 2006, but I still hold that day as a personal little holiday, sometimes I even have cake, but that morning I suddenly felt alive again. I'd always hated March since I'd grown up loving March because of her birthday -- but then she'd died on March 22, so I felt betrayed by the month for years... but that morning, I realized I felt good. Normal. And we went out and brought home a huge pile of food to celebrate her birthday with.
That night after dinner my youngest came into my office and because we'd been looking at our shelter's page, waiting for kitten season to start because we decided to get a new kitten (Dad wanted his Maine coon... so we thought a shelter kitten would help balance out the cost in our minds of the Maine coon, I know... it made no sense), but what did we find? A little post about TWO Maine coon mix kittens, a brother and sister. WHAT
I called my friend who worked at the shelter after I'd filled in the form to request to see them the next day. We got there at noon, Charley soon after, and there they were — our new TINY BABIES. We named them Forest Night and Charlotte Moon. They'd been rescued from a nasty hoarder situation with 16 adult cats. They'd come in covered in dirt and fleas and underweight. We adopted them that day even though we didn't get to bring them home for another week.
But now they are home. They turned 2.5 months old on our anniversary (our 24th on March 29), and they are fat and sassy and running all over the house, knocking shit over and driving our other cats cuckoo. March and my sanity was saved.
I had my blood draw in March also -- my A1C had dropped from 8.3 in January to 7.6, my cholesterol dropped 30 points, and everything else that needed to go down went down, including my weight.
Despite ALL the bullshit thrown in my face by life.
Despite ALL of the sadness and despair.
Despite ALL the insanity of 2020 and the Winter from Hell.
And I'm writing again. And walking again.
And I'm back to whole-food, plant-based lifestyle again.
Maybe this year really is turning around.
CURRENT PROJECTS: I'm taking ALL of my notes on my new small town drama series and plowing them into Scrivener and Plottr. I'm trying to devise the best way to organize it all... there are 12 books in the series and I've moved the setting from Cordelia, a town based on Astoria, Oregon, to Hollyhock Hills, a little town in SW Oregon in the Valentina Valley — which is all based on the Umpqua Valley, where we call home now.
The weather is different, the town is 100% made up... I plopped it down in a real valley, but there is no town there now, only a vineyard. (Don't tell the winery I erased their fields in my fictional world.) I have to do some name changes as well, but other than that, it's time to start weaving their stories together.
But I also have to finish Elliot Lake's last book. if I get his last book published and at least the first in the Hollyhock Hills series published this year, I'm calling that a win.
Yesterday would have been my mother's 72nd birthday. Yeah. She's been gone for 12 years now, and so she never got to know her granddaughters.... and now I'm 50 and looking at gearing up to send my own kids off into the world in the next 5-10 years. Oy. Can't I just have them live with me forever? (Anyway.... not really a fan of March, y'all.)
New covers. FINAL covers.
Okay... if ANY of you notice me messing with THESE COVERS.... EVER. AGAIN. Please come to my house and slap the crap out of me. I'm done redesigning this series, and so next up is book #4 and it is a DOOZY!
Elliot and Sky are going on an adventure -- to save their family, and not get themselves killed in the process, but they just might end up saving the world. Not too shabby for a couple of kids from the Oregon Coast.
Now, Finding Mallory also got a new cover... that should be live tomorrow for the ebook and then the paperback should be caught up tomorrow afternoon at some point. I love this cover.... there's Mallory, setting off to find herself, find safety, find her future without giving herself away this time.
YOU GO, GIRL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I've been studying.
My background is English literature. I was an honors English student throughout high school, and then into college... English literature classes were my Safe Zone as I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I graduated with a wildland conservation degree from the College of Forestry at the University of Washington, with only needing a Shakespeare class for the double degree, but after seven years in college and nearly 200 credits, I was done.
It all worked out, because after I graduated, what I wound up doing was newspaper reporting. Funny. I was writing. A LOT. FOR YEARS. I worked all over the Pacific Northwest, writing whatever they needed for the paper -- house fires, Baby New Year stories, school districts, city council meetings, Santa in the parade.... on and on and on. Everything. I wrote everything. And read everything. I read three or four books a week, lived at Half Price Books, had stacks of romances, mysteries, and thrillers PILED all over my house... and then I became a mom. And my thoughts turned from writing the news to writing stories.
So, the point of that little trip through the past is, I landed on a book on craft and story structure that explained the anatomy of a story in ways I had NEVER thought of before, which is crazy. Shawn Coyne is the author of The Story Grid. After working as an editor for the Big Six/Five in New York City 4-EVER, he has poured his knowledge into this book... and blown MY mind.
I'm currently writing COMBAT IN THE COLD.... I should have been done already, according to the little time frame thingy I had written for myself at the end of 2017. I had started it and had about 25,000 words done... when I started reading The Story Grid.
NOW, I have stepped back and plotted out the entire story -- I know what my inciting incidents for every Scene, Act, and both Story A and Story B are. Because they all have them --- every level of story has to have an order to it, because that's how our minds process a story. Derp. I have also mapped out my Complications, the Crisis, the Climax, and the Resolution for every of those sections as well, and it's GLORIOUS.
So, NOW I am going to write that book and see how the Story Grid's road map works as I hammer out the last thriller in Elliot's story. I have to hurry, because they are traveling to the Arctic Circle and it's COLD UP THERE.
I live in the beautiful, sunny Umpqua Valley section of the Pacific Northwest, where most of my books are set.
I love my husband, my kiddos, my cats, coffee, paisley, writing, art, Loki & Star Trek.
My dream is to visit Scotland someday. Buy a small castle. Get a wee coo. Never leave.
I'd love to hear from you.
Combat In The Cold
Conflict In The Cove
Elliot Lake Mystery Series
Six Dates With Jenna
The Emerald Cave Series
The Story Grid
Whole Food Plant Based
P.O. Box 55
Umpqua, OR 97486
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