Where I’ve Been

Hi. It’s been awhile.

The last eight months have been hell. I’m not exaggerating.

On June 30, 2018, my horse and I hit a jump. I hit the ground, shattering the center of my collarbone into three pieces. (It refused to heal, and I eventually had surgery in late November to repair it.) On July 11, 2018, my dad started chemotherapy for prostate cancer. (In 2017, he went through radiation and two surgeries related to the cancer.) On August 11, 2018, my mom had a heart attack. She went into intensive care the next day. Four days later, she was transferred to a hospital in Kansas City (eight hours from my home in Indiana, four from my parents’ in Missouri ) to undergo an advanced surgical procedure that would have essentially replaced half her heart.

She passed away on September 5.

So, yeah. Hell. You haven’t heard from me in a long time. I did write a post about the experience I had, living in a hotel for four weeks, walking around and driving with a broken collarbone, supporting my dad through chemo, visiting my mostly-unconscious mom in intensive care, sitting with her in her final moments, but I couldn’t publish it.

Honestly, I couldn’t publish anything. I could barely function for weeks after her funeral.

I’m still not really sure how to be ‘normal,’ whatever that means, because I have no idea what normal looks like now. But somehow I’ve been writing, reading books, playing D&D, riding my horse, living life. There are times when I stop and realize I am no longer the same person. My life is not the same, even as I do the same things I did before any of this happened.

There are good things. My dad finished chemotherapy last fall, and we’re counting down the weeks till official remission can be declared. No Saving Throw will be out on May 14. Life carries on, I guess.

I don’t have any words of wisdom. Someday I may post what I wrote last fall about what happened, but it’s so raw I can barely stand to read it, let alone inflect it on someone else.

So if you’re still here, if you’ve liked some of my Tweets or posts or books over the years, thanks for sticking around. Truly; thank you. The support I’ve gotten from my online friends and family has been incredible, and I think that support network is half of what’s kept me going when I’ve been at my worst.

If you’d like to see more of me, I’m pretty active over on Instagram, where I post little snippets of my gaming, knitting/spinning, and horsey life. (There are also loads of cute bunny and cat photos if you’re into that.) I tweet, too, if that’s where you hang. I’ll try to update here a little more often, especially as release day approaches.

Finally, if you actually want to MEET me, I’ll be on the Writer’s Symposium programming at GenCon in Indianapolis this year, and that includes a couple of signings. I’d love to talk writing and games with anyone who wants to chat with me. I’ll likely be carrying a MtG deck and a Keyforge deck, too.

As for how I’m doing… Well, I’m here. I’m compulsively knitting socks, I’m creating a new D&D character (Dragonborn rogue, hell yeah), I’m obsessing over Age of Sigmar. I’m dragging my dad to a ranch in Wyoming later this summer, and I think I’ll finally venture over the pond to Scotland in November to hang with my bestie. There’s a lot of life ahead of me right now, and I’m doing my very best to keep living it.

Roll 20s, y’all.

October 3, 2004

Do you remember exactly what you were doing on this day, twelve years ago?

I do.

You never know the days that will change you forever. They start out like normal days, with normal things. Breakfast and tying your shoes and buying groceries. But by the end of a day, you’re a completely different person. Everything you did takes on an awful significance; you think about the day before, and the day before that, and wonder if you’d done one thing differently—not recommended a movie or picked up the phone instead of writing an email—the day might have had a different ending. Everyone has those days. They become the landmarks of our lives, forever burned into our hearts.

Twelve years ago, it was October 3, 2004. I was 19, a sophomore at the University of Dallas. I lived in Catherine Hall with my friends. It was the weekend before Charity Week at UD, one of most students’ favorite times of year, a golden time on the cusp of midterms when everyone pulls together in silly stunts and festivities to raise funds for the junior class’s chosen charities: hard work and hard play mingled together for a good cause. My parents were in town for the weekend.

I’d recently gotten out of a longish relationship, one that had me feeling trapped and miserable, and for the first time, I was free and single and really, truly happy. My friends were all within shouting distance, I loved college, and I was going to spend the next semester in Rome. I felt like things had finally fallen into place for me.

So when I dragged myself out of bed after going to bed at 2 or 3—my friends and I had gone to a late-night showing of Ladder 49, of all things—and I went to meet my parents for breakfast, life felt pretty perfect. After my parents left, I did normal Sunday things: laundry, homework, a quick trip to Kroger, chatting with my brother on AIM.

I distinctly remember telling my brother I needed to get tea. He told me to get green tea instead of black tea because it was better for me. Those were the last words he ever said to me.

Oddly, I remember scattered things from later in the day more clearly. I bought Stash Chai tea because my dad had just introduced me to chai from Starbucks and it was so delicious, I needed more. I had an economics test the next day, but I didn’t study. Instead, I went to my friend Alicia’s room and we watched our favorite scenes from Return of the King. At dinner, I ate a bowl of whipped cream on a dare. I went back to my room, and I still didn’t study, which is, of all the quirky things I did that weekend, the most out of character for me.

I was lying on my bed, staring blankly at my notes, and I turned to my roommate and asked if she was going to Mass that night. She said yes, and I packed up my notes and went with her. Skipping study for church wasn’t something I did, ever, and I still wonder why I did it.

After Mass, I tried to call my parents. No one answered. I left my brother a message on AIM, asking where everyone was.

Eventually, I gave up on studying and went to bed.

When the phone rang at about 4 a.m., I knew something was wrong. I answered. My parents were at the dormitory door and needed me to let them in. It had to be bad, for them to have driven three hours home and three hours back again. My hands shook as I tied my new robe–purchased that weekend with my mom–over my pajamas. I still have that damned robe, for some reason, even though I think of this night every time I wear it. I ran through the halls and down the stairs to front door. My parents were there, pale and red-eyed.

My dad told me there had been a car accident, and my brother had been killed.

He was 24.

After that, the flashes of memory become more scattered and much more vivid. My hand shaking as I tried to unlock the door and let us back into the dormitory. Sobbing on a couch in the common room, asking if Brandon knew how much I loved him. The RA poking her head out of a study room door, wide-eyed, asking if she could do anything to help. The moment of renewed horror when I realized my brother had died while I was at church. My roommate tucking my rosary into my backpack before I left. The stuffed rabbit that went everywhere with me when I was a kid, waiting for me in my parents’ car. The message I’d sent my brother on his computer screen, unread.

There are other memories I won’t tell you about—memories I wish I didn’t have, and I have no desire to share that pain. We’re all shaped by our own pain, and putting more of mine on you won’t help lessen the hurt.

I am not who I was. I am not who I could have been. I am me—but the other me, the me that could have been, died in a car accident on October 3, 2004 with my older brother.

I don’t have a nice resolution to this post. I could say happy things about who I am now, how my brother would be proud of everything I’ve done, that my family and friends saved me from my grief, over and over again. That’s all true. But that’s not the point.

The point is to say that those memories, awful and jagged as they are, are a part of me now. Sharing them won’t make them go away. And I know that everyone reading this probably has a day like this one.

I simply hope, for everyone who has an October 3 in their life, that someday you reach a day, a year, a lifetime, when you don’t have to stroke those jagged edges with fretful, anxious thoughts. I hope that someday you can look over them with the clarity that tells me now that there was nothing I could have done. I hope someday the obsession that resurrects those painful days at the worst moments of your life gradually eases its hold on you.

I hope, above all, that you have someone who listens when you want to talk or distracts you when you don’t want to think.

And if you need someone, I’m here.

 

Evangelion and Shards of Identity

I wrote this post for Spellbound Scribes, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

Spellbound Scribes

asuka I’ll talk about Evangelion. I promise.

We see the word identity a lot these days. “Self identity.” “Cultural identity.” “Identity politics.” “I identify as…” It’s part of the human condition to constantly question who we are as individuals, as a society, as creatures who live linearly but exist non-dimensionally.

Any one of us can name a number of roles and characteristics that define us for ourselves and others: male, female, agender, parent, person of color, spoonie, bisexual, candlestick maker, superhero, whatever. Each of us is some amalgamation of descriptors that can only start to sum up the who and what of the stuff between our ears. And as intersectionality becomes a more widely recognized and emphasized facet of politics and personality, our society is coming to realize that each of us is more than our nationality, sexuality, or vocation.

asuka head tiltBut in spite of that recognition, most of us have one…

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Things I Tell Myself So I Can Keep Writing

I’m not going to lie. Writing is hard. For a long time last year, I thought I’d given it up forever. I knew, deep down, that I probably hadn’t, but sometimes you have to quit for a little while so you can keep going in the long run.

I’m drafting a new book now. It’s not easy. I just started, so every day, I have to give myself a little pep talk to get started. If you’re like me, it’s difficult every single time. It doesn’t exactly get easier: people say we never learn to write books—we learn to write this book. Every time we begin, we really are starting at the beginning. It would be so much easier not to try than to start all over again every single time.

But we writers are masochists, and sometimes not trying isn’t an option. Instead, we torture ourselves with our own perceived inadequacy, the book’s general suckiness, the difficulty that is this art. We don’t write, but we spend our time agonizing over the not writing, and the end result is a miserable writer with no words on the page.

Luckily, we can conquer those feelings. I’ve learned few things that help me get going. I’ve been known to write these on Post-Its and put them on my bulletin board. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

  1. It’s just a first (or second or third) draft. If it sucks, you can rewrite it later. But you have to write something now if you’re ever going to rewrite it and make it better.
  2. No one will write this book but you. You, right now, sitting there at your computer. The you who will write it ten months from now isn’t the you who is compelled to tell this story as it is in your head right now. If you want it to exist, you have to do it. Now.
  3. When you’re putting words on a page, there’s only so much that can go wrong. Typo? Big deal. Comma splice? Who cares. Saggy midpoint? Fuck it. Yes, it’s your dream, but the truth is, you’re moving pixels on a screen. If it’s bad, you can fix it.
  4. You WILL fix it… later.

Now go get to work.

Nine Fun Facts about SHAKEN

ShakenCoverSince SHAKEN came out yesterday (and a HUGE thank you to those of you who pre-ordered and ordered yesterday — you guys made my day!), I thought I’d share a few fun facts about its inception and creation. Wheeee!

  1. The San Francisco where Mitzy lives is pretty significantly different than the San Francisco in this world. I won’t go into too much detail about this here, since I wrote about it on Spellbound Scribes last week, but Mitzy’s San Francisco includes some fictional locations and some cemeteries that are no longer in use. Because magic is a part of the physical landscape of Mitzy’s world, I needed to restructure San Francisco to reflect how that might have shaped history.
  2. I worked as a reporter in Berkeley, covering Oakland and a little bit of San Francisco, too, and the Bay Area is one of my favorite places in the world. My very first job out of graduate school was working as a reporter, first as an intern and than as a police-beat reporter, in Berkeley. That job was difficult and fun and exciting and terrifying, and I think it shaped the trajectory of my entire career. I’m not a newspaper reporter anymore, but working as a reporter in Berkeley and elsewhere made me a significantly better writer than I could have been without that time of strict word limits, careful research, and tight deadlines. It also instilled in me a love of that area and its residents that I’ll never get over.
  3. When I first thought of SHAKEN, it wasn’t an urban fantasy: it was a straight-up detective novel. And it didn’t involve a serial killer. Actually, it had almost no resemblance to the book that you can now read. I thought I’d try writing mysteries to get the hang of plot and structure, but I kept getting stuck on the lack of magic and fantasy elements. I didn’t want to be a mystery writer. I wanted to write fantasy. I’ve always wanted to write fantasy, and I don’t think I’ll ever not write fantasy.Somewhere along the way of writing SHAKEN, I got the idea of a world where everyone has magic. Urban fantasy was peaking right around then, and, well, put those elements together and you get the odd little book that is SHAKEN. I’ve since gone on to write a cozy mystery (no magic! really!) and thoroughly enjoyed it, but fantasy will always be where I live.
  4. I set out wanting to write about a female addict. This was a part of my vision for the character of Mitzy from the beginning, pre-magic, pre-urban fantasy. I knew she would be from a privileged background and be forced to deal with letting go of the advantages given to her by birth. The addict-detective trope is actually pretty familiar to anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes, but that character is usually a man, not a woman. Women are addicts, too, and have to face the consequences of the choices they make while under the influence. Mitzy is my exploration of these issues.
  5. I have a Pinterest board where you can see a bit of my vision of the novel. I used it to collect faces and items and locations, and sometimes I like to peek at it and remember back when I was a baby writer and hunting for the perfect pictures of Eva Green and Nestor Carbonell. I never found my Li, sadly, but I’ll bet she’s out there somewhere.
  6. There’s also a Spotify playlist of music I listen to while writing in Mitzy’s world. This list has evolved since I wrote SHAKEN and includes some of the tracks I listened to (on a loop!) while writing DIRTY, book two of the series.
  7. I finished SHAKEN as a NaNoWriMo project. I distinctly remember starting the book in the summer–this was in (gulp) 2011?–and then it languished for a couple of months around the midpoint. I decided to buckle down in November and get it wrapped up. I’m pretty sure it took me a month or so into December, but “cheating” at NaNo and writing 50,000 words on a project I’d already started gave me a HUGE boost. You absolutely can’t beat NaNoWriMo for giving yourself an exciting, encouraging environment in which to write, and I try to at least dip my toe in every year. I suspect I’ll be NaNo-ing again this year with my current work in progress.
  8. SHAKEN isn’t my first novel. Or even, technically, my second. But it is the first book I wrote to completion and recognized as worth editing for readers. The first book I really completed is a 250,000 word monstrosity that takes place in a pseuo-steampunk fantasy world. It’s about a pair of thieves who get mixed up in a political conspiracy. Someday I’d like to rewrite it, but I have too many new projects I want to pursue.
  9. You can get SHAKEN now from Amazon!

Why It Might Actually Suck to Live in the Harry Potter Universe

Some of you may regard this post as rank heresy, but I assure you, it’s all meant in good fun.

My husband and I like to play a silly and very geeky game I affectionately call, “Would You Live In That Universe?”

Okay, I don’t actually call it that, and it’s not really a game, just an ongoing discussion we pick up every few weeks or months, usually when we’ve read or watched something new and interesting. It basically just involves analyzing whether or not we’d live in a particular universe and why. Neither of us would live in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica universe, for example, but we’d both consider living in the xxxHolic world. We’re iffy on the Star Wars universe, and we’ve agreed to steer well clear of Westeros. I’d pick up and move to Hyrule, though, and Drew would probably tag along.

But the Harry Potter universe is a point of contention.

harry-potter06

I, with my Deathly Hallows tattoo and yearly reread of the books, would obviously be down with living there—at least, if I got to be a witch and not a Muggle. My husband isn’t really in favor of it, though, and after my most recent reread… well… I’ll admit he has a few points.

  1. Wizards have a shockingly lackadaisical approach to basic education and real world skills. How on earth did someone like Ron learn to read? And Mr. Weasley can’t even identify basic British currency by the numbers written on the notes? That’s some frightening ignorance, right there. We get the impression that wizard children don’t have much exposure to the Muggle world, and while I’m not a huge fan of public education, I can admit it has its values. Socializing children and teaching them to recognize basic numerals and, you know, LETTERS, is pretty important.

    And it shows, guys. It shows.

  2. Every single witch and wizard is packing. Seriously. Think about it. Wizards describe guns as a sort of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other. Wands = guns. Every single person in this universe is carrying concealed (or waving the damn thing around in the air). At any moment, someone could hook you into the air by your foot or stupefy you or silence you or much, much worse.. If that’s not a recipe for disaster and serious bullying, I don’t know what is.

    “Oops.” Yeah, right.

  3. Animal cruelty has been institutionalized and is taught in schools. We don’t hear a lot about what happens to those hedgehogs that are getting transfigured into pincushions, but we do know they feel pain—a poorly transfigured pincushion will curl up in fear. How sick is that? And what happens to the disembodied rat tails and vanished kittens? How do we know that tail isn’t feeling unbearable pain? I don’t know about you, but I’d feel really uncomfortable transfiguring another living creature without its consent or a confident, scientific assurance that it’s not feeling any pain.

    totslly barbaric

    Killer chess pieces? Barbaric. Disembodied rat tails? Totally fine.

  4. A huge percentage of wizards are classist or ableist or racist. Okay, this one isn’t that much different than our world, but it’s still disappointing. Ron is constantly bullied for being poor. Hermione is called Mudblood how many times? Squibs are essentially disowned and banished to the Muggle world. And Muggles are regarded as precious oddities at best and disgusting animals at worst. I’ll admit that our heroes are far kinder to these subgroups, but a huge number of wizards we encounter take a very poor attitude to people who don’t look and act exactly as they do. Birth is everything in this world. Pity the Mudbloods, man, but pity the Squibs even more.

    Manners matter, Malfoy.

  5. The government is everywhere. Everyone is magically tagged until they reach the age of 17, and after that point, the magical government is still watching to make sure you don’t take one step out of line. Characters are imprisoned at the drop of a hat, or just to make people feel better (Hagrid in Azkaban? SERIOUSLY?), and the government has a hand in everything from education to medical care to journalism. I know the books are set in a time of war, but the whole question of the Trace makes me feel a little iffy about just who would be watching me.

    …because we’ll sure as damn hell be listening!

  6. Everyone seems to get married, have kids, and die really, REALLY young. Lily and James were, like, 20 when they had Harry. And in the epilogue, Harry is 36ish with three kids. That’s awesome, and great if it’s what you want, but where’s the magical birth control? Are witches and wizards at least being taught how to practice safe sex? And while it seems like Hermione and Ginny go on to have interesting careers, we don’t hear a lot about what other generations are doing. What’s Fleur doing after her marriage to Bill? What did Lily Potter do? And where on earth are Harry’s grandparents? Life expectancy in this world can’t be much more than about 50—and that’s with people like Dumbledore and Bathilda Bagshot throwing off the curve. I’d be a little concerned about burning the candle at both ends, if I lived in this universe. I’m 30 and I’m not an Auror OR a parent yet. What am I even doing with my life?

    With middle age comes… bags under the eyes?

See what I mean? Would YOU live in this universe?

Kristin’s Big Announcement

There’s a big announcement and a dancing Ewok at the end of this post, but first I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a little while.

Most of the books I’ve written have been, somehow or another, about hope.

The stories I’ve told have been about learning to believe in ourselves and our power to shape the world around us—sometimes literally. My characters find themselves or land themselves in dark places, and then claw themselves back up, because that’s what stories do: stories take us apart, with a character as our stand-in, and then they put us back together, brick by brick, until we can stand up again, even if what’s inside of us has changed a little.

Fiction shows us what we are and what we can be.

tatooine

When I set out to write SHAKEN, the very first book I queried, the book that got me my first offers of representation, I wanted to write a dark-but-funny urban fantasy about a wealthy addict, a woman named Mitzy Maddox, who has to learn that privilege and luck only get us so far. In the end, our hard work and our friends and our passions are what drive us toward our goals, and Mitzy has to discover, through fire and tears, that expecting things to happen and making them happen are two very different ways of living.

Maybe that’s not quite what I set out to write, but that’s what ended up on the page. Over the last two months, I’ve been rereading SHAKEN for the first time in more than a year, and it’s spoken to me in ways I never expected.

Most of us, over the course of our lives, will reach a point at least once when we no longer believe in ourselves. When our dreams seem like they’ll never come true and hope is fled and the Dark Side has won forever. And it doesn’t always take the extermination of a lawful good monastic cult to cause our personal universes to crumble into chaos. Sometimes the Dark Side wins because of the small, insidious voices inside of us that say, “You’re not good enough. You don’t deserve this.”

saw dark side

Mitzy faces that. I’ve faced it, too.

Luckily for both of us, we have people in our lives who pick us back up and tell us that we are good enough and we do deserve good things. Sometimes getting through the day requires a conscious choice, every second, to believe those people. When we can’t believe in ourselves, we can trust people we respect to do the believing for us.

Traditional publishing (with an agent and an editor at a big house) is good that way. Ideally, your agent is the person who believes in you every step of the way—and most successful agent/author relationships work that way. I don’t have an agent right now, but that’s a result of circumstance and not because of an unsuccessful relationship. I’ve been flying on my own for awhile now, and it’s been damned scary, like flying an X-Wing down a trench with my eyes closed. (Somehow, this post about Serious Business became an extended Star Wars metaphor, but I’m pretty okay with that.)

luke-leia-star-warsLuckily, I have people in my life who have held my hand and kept me going, and, when things got really bad, bundled me up in a warm blanket, gave me a cup of tea, and told me that they had never stopped believing in me, not even for a second.

Every single day of my life, I am grateful to those people.

But ultimately, it’s belief in ourselves that gets us from Point A to Point B on the road called life. Sitting on the sidelines of our own lives, waiting for things to happen—well, that’s the road to madness. I am the only one who can actually change my life. Han and Leia can tell Luke he rocks all day long, but Luke’s the only one who can master his anger and fight Darth Vader and… Yeah, okay, the Star Wars metaphor fell apart a little.

The point is, sometimes we have to take a chance… on ourselves.

And that’s what I’m doing. dancing

On October 13, SHAKEN will be available to the world. Yep, I’m joining the wonderful world of indie authors! In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to see the cover, find out where you can read a snippet or two of the book, and even get a chance to receive an eARC! Wooo! But for now, if you want, you can hop on over to Amazon and pre-order the ebook.

So what’s it all about?

Inspector Mitzy Maddox is one of the lucky few: she can see other people’s magic, use her trust fund to buy any shoes she wants, and drink her way through a fifth of vodka in the time it takes a fairy to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

But when a serial killer surfaces in the Bay Area who drowns wealthy women in the bathtub and drains them of their magic, Mitzy discovers she can’t use any of her gifts to track the murderer. With a tight-ass half-fairy for a partner and the less-than-legal help of a sizzling reporter, Mitzy sets out to find the murderer—and to discover how he’s stealing his victims’ magic.

Now Mitzy must learn to stay afloat without her magic and her flask long enough to catch the killer—or she’ll be the next to drown.

Available October 13, 2015: preorder now!