Traipsing through the door (entry, gate, threshold, or here in Québec “porte”) lightly

My entire adult life, I’ve held an interest in mythology … any mythology really, but my curiosity and fascination have been mostly piqued by the ones that spirited me far and away from the Christian one, on which I was raised.

I’ve always enjoyed a good story and you’ve got to admit Christian stories, on the whole, seem so pedestrian when compared to those of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Norsemen, Aztecs or North American Natives (and a great gang of other cultures, as well). How can the story of a wee little tax man (not an historically exciting demographic) named Zacchaeus climbing a sycamore tree to clap eyes on the approaching teacher Jesus, or a few bottles of wine being watered down (the norm in Roman times) to make more wine for an expanding party list hope to compare with the tale of the beautiful nymph Daphne morphing into a Laurel tree to escape the amorous advances of the Greek god Apollo, or a lyre-plucking Orpheus braving the dangers of the underworld to rescue his beloved Eurydice from death itself!

Case in point. Take Janus. Here’s his pic.

He’s the ancient Roman God of Doorways, of Beginnings, of Change, of Transition. He represents the changeover between the primitive and the civilized, between the countryside and the city, between peace and war, between youth and age … in short, between this and that. We’re talking wise here, or at the very least, observant, a fella well able to spout a line or two of illumination. The guy has two faces. They look in opposite directions. I tell you … how cool is that! As a character, he’d fit right into any fantasy book or film that’s put out today … yet he was already an ancient god by the time the Romans came onto the historic scene, back in the day. How can anyone not find that fascinating?

In the fullness of time, this god-dude Janus had a month named for him. I’ll give you 12 clues and the last 11 don’t count. Yup, you got it … it’s JANuary, where I’m sitting right now, smack-dab in the first day of the spanking new year 2013. Remember how I said Janus could look both backward and forward at the same time? Do you see the significance? January 1 is a day to reflect on the past, to think ahead, to find a direction and move on through the metaphorical turnstyle into another year.

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t know why. Perhaps the exercise seemed trivial to me, or maybe the analysis of where my life has been and where I wanted it to go was just too onerous a task to undertake on a chill winter day with a stomach still feeling the aftermath of one holiday indulgence too many. And, of course, the prospect of failure is never an easy one to contemplate, so a case can always be made for NOT making resolutions.

Perhaps it’s because I’ll be turning 60 in March (it’s only a hop and a skip to death from there, isn’t it?), but I find myself receptive to the New Year’s Resolution exercise this year. Looking back, I can plainly see that I haven’t made each day, each year, each decade count, at least not in any way I’ve wanted it to. I’ve been too busy bowing to the god of fear (and perhaps loathing, but not in Las Vegas) to make a mark, even on myself. In terms of ink, the halting trail I’ve left behind me is almost invisible. I think the time has come to throw a little indelible into the mix, before I find myself lying on my deathbed, weighed down by a blanket of regret.

So here I am, unhitching my horse from a post that’s grown a veritable forest of moss.

My resolutions are these:

Things writerly

1) I must start calling myself a writer. It is what I do, therefore that is what I am. There will always be people who don’t understand, and who diminish writerly effort to the realm of the unimportant. I’ll simply smile and smile and soldier on (I bet you thought I was going to put “be a villain” there; fooled you!).

2) Get my first novel, Second Breath, on Smashwords (making it available for other-than-Kindle platforms) and also get the book into print form for sale to them that don’t (yet) have (or maybe don’t want) an ebook reader.

3) Do a thorough research of marketing possibilities and more wisely promote Second Breath.

4) Complete my second novel Skeleton Dance (now roughly ⅔rds done), and submit it to agents/publishers (i.e., pursue traditional route for approximately 6 months before going the self-publishing route again).
5) Format two more collections of existing poetry for Kindle.

6) Return to poetry-writing roots and create one collection of new poems this year.

7) Find a non-fiction topic to research for a book, because I LOVE research. To plunge one’s head into a sea of research material is heaven on earth!

8) Write new blog posts, a minimum of one every 10 days. (This is my first since April, YAY! Methinks this bodes well for my other resolutions.).

Other stuff and things

1) Once I’ve mastered items 1 and 2 of the writerly list above, apply myself to doing the same for my husband Jim Stark’s extensive literary output (See http://tinyurl.com/3jhutkf).

2) Form new friendships and cultivate existing ones (a tough one, as through design or default I’ve always been a solitary creature). Find ways to become more outgoing.

3) Find more time for reading. I love reading. This shouldn’t be hard! It’s just a matter of time management, right?

4) Become more organized (like I used to be), and less easily distracted from the things that are important.

5) Resume activities I once found pleasing (but have fallen away from, for whatever reason), to add more dimension to my life.

6) Lose the guilt; it’s non-productive. Become less fearful; it makes everything else easier.

7) Embrace change, because in the end, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

8) Become more mindful of the present. Appreciate the riches each day can bring.

There, that about does it.

Now, in the words of another great (if imaginary) man that I quoted back in my first blog post, just under a year ago …

“Engage”

Cover Reveal: Sanity Vacuum

Sanity Vacuum: The Abacus Protocol begins what promises to be a fresh and original new science fiction series.

Make a note of its release date, December 6. This book would make a perfect holiday gift for all the science fiction readers on your shopping list.

Earleen

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Release Date: December 6, 2012.

Sanity Vacuum Synopsis:

Vivian Skye just finished university, and qualified for her first-choice internship. Not many would consider the distant and isolated Extra-Galactic Observatory cushy, but it’s a dream come true for Vivian. Hailing from the low-tech planet of Aurora, she studied hard for this opportunity—and to leave her old life, and planet behind.

Her assignment is simple: perform a routine upgrade for the station’s supercomputer, quIRK. Her reception isn’t a friendly one, and eccentric quIRK becomes her only friend. However, the station’s administrator, Bryce Zimmer is obsessed with quIRK—he suspects that the station’s computer may have achieved sentience, something explicitly prohibited by the ABACUS Protocol. Compounding their issues, Bryce’s traumatic and privileged past makes him distrust Vivian from the beginning. Desperate to keep control, he sabotages quIRK in order to eliminate Vivian. But, his plan threatens to consume the entire station and send them into the unknown void of intergalactic space.

Vivian must struggle to survive not only Bryce’s megalomania, but also the emerging artificial super intelligence that is quIRK. Can Vivian and quIRK learn to trust each other and work together, before it’s too late?

Sanity Vacuum is book one of The ABACUS Protocol.

Author Bio:

Thea Gregory is a farm girl from English Western Quebec, a total nerd, and she loves science fiction, zombies and physics. Between marathon cooking sessions, her clerktastic day job, and part-time studies, she manages to find time to write. Author of the Zombie Bedtime Stories, her debut sci-fi novel, Sanity Vacuum releases December 6. Thea’s blog can be found at http://nerdygnome.wordpress.com

Beginnings II: Spring’s the Word

The word of the day is spring. I’m going to wax on about it, at least in a roundabout way. I’m talking the season here, not the verb, though admittedly I’m guilty of spring-ing around like a frenetic dervish from time to time, “just cuz ah feels like it.” I can be supremely silly; just ask my husband; how he’s toughed it out with me the past 18 years is a true miracle of human resilience.

Waxing off with the verb now, and on with the season. Hmm, but wait …

In my customary stream of consciousness fashion, I feel compelled to veer momentarily in another direction, by harking back to the point in time when “Wax on, wax off” first crept into my mental lexicon. It was 1984 and the original Karate Kid film starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. Miyagi was playing in theatres across the continent. Here’s the video snippet of reference: http://bit.ly/NzTyu.

My scalp still tingles when I watch it and my mental hands rise up and swish the wax-on, wax-off motions as I inhale the words. When this film arrived on the big screen, I was 28, already 9 years married, less than a year into motherhood, and still sometimes as impressionable as a child. (Which I still am today, by the way, unabashedly so, I might add; a fact I’m convinced will keep me young well into the throes of numeric age.) But who among us in the genus dreamer wouldn’t remember such a scene, and such a message? Not this dreamer anyway. Waxing off …

And on to Spring, the season.

Springtime was always something I anticipated. You see, I grew up in a very small house. My dad was my hero in every sense of the word. He was an honourable, unassuming, self-sufficient, proud man, one who hadn’t counted in his own experience the luxury of education or the blessing of Lady Fortuna. He was a jack of any trade that could bring in money to keep his family fed and clothed, with a dry roof over its head. Innate intelligence was another of his graces. Entirely on his own, in the evenings sometimes well past dark, after he’d done for the day working the odd-job of the moment, he built our house out of sheds and lean-tos and lumber liberated from an old Orange Hall, which he cobbled together into a comfortable lowbrow whole. When I was growing up, the place was still in its growing pains, very small, and very basic. The entire building, whose exterior walls comprised a layer of Tentest covered with a skin of asphalt siding (similar to http://bit.ly/HAnzZE), was heated solely with an old Findlay wood-burning cook stove (like this http://bit.ly/HuQASz). The heat did not drift well round the angles and through the doorways into the outlying sleeping areas, so during the colder months of the year the six of us, when we were home, would spend any of the time we were not sleeping in our chilly bedrooms hunkered in the often melting-hot confines of the shared kitchen/living area.

What does all this have to do with spring, you ask? I’m getting there. Take a sip of whatever that is in the mug beside you and breathe. Patience is a virtue, at least that’s what I was told a time or twenty, so it must be true.

This kitchen/living area was roughly 12′ by 16′, or about 190 square feet—perhaps the size of a largish modern bedroom. Picture yourself in the space, dead centre, facing the front door, and then pivot on your heel, eyes following the perimeter wall clockwise, past the chesterfield, the stuffed armchair, the door to my parents’ and brothers’ rooms, the cookstove/woodbox, the doorway into the room I shared with my sister, past the old Frigidaire (this exact one http://bit.ly/HDen7G), the couple of lengths of kitchen cupboards/counters (one which housed the enamel sink, still unblessed with hot water), the wringer washing machine and finally a set of stacking stools. The TV squatted on a corner of one of the counters, and we had the choice of a single channel, the CBC. In the middle of the room, where you’re now standing, sits the arborite kitchen table with its four straight-back chairs; you can jump down off it, now that you’ve done the visual tour.

I don’t remember any fighting among us through these long Canadian winters, or any downright resentment at having to spend so much time in so small a space with five other individuals. Granted, we were, all of us, pretty laid back. I remember doing a lot of reading and puzzles and colouring and the like, a lot of daydreaming, a lot of exercising the imagination. As my mother worked (for it seemed she was forever busy), the old Bakelite radio would play either Dad’s Grand Ole Opry or ’50s/’60s whatever-was-current stuff. And we had cats and our dog Laddie as well, though the dog, wonderfully protective as he was, didn’t take kindly to much hands-on attention.

So there’s the scene, set. I loved it; don’t get me wrong. I was happy. I wouldn’t trade an iota of my childhood experience for anything … even the poverty part. The only (arguably) negative thing to come of all this was that I developed a profound dislike for hockey, to the degree where ever since, I find myself unable to stay in the same room with a TV that has the game flickering across its screen. I suppose that makes me “unCanadian” … but I also know there’s more to Canada than hockey.

We have wonderful springs, for one thing. No, no, I’m not talking water here, though Canada has water in abundance, some of it issuing from wonderfully pure springs. No, I’m back to waxing on about spring, the season. Stay with me people.

Well, given all that cooped-upedness described above, it can come as no small wonder that I was ready, come friendlier weather and warmer temperatures, to escape the claustrophobic confines of the house and plunge my hungry senses into the wonders that awaited me in the big wide world outside.

Freedom!

In spring, the warming world comes alive with returning birds, emerging flowers, awakening bats and curious alien-looking insects. Every sense is brought to bear in the experience of it. It was all the exploring in those years that brought me to the spring traditions I still maintain today. Even now, I revel when I see the first formations of geese honking their way north against the backdrop of a clear morning sky. I smile broadly with the sighting of my first robin, strutting about, poking its beak hopefully into the still-softening ground. I inhale deeply, sucking all the heady scents, from the warming earth to the mounding lilacs, into my thirsty lungs. I cheer when I attune my waiting antennae to the first jubilant chorus of frogs. I gasp at the first hint of that unique hue of green that glimmers along the tree branches in the sunlight. I watch the groundhogs peek from their dank burrow openings, keeping a low profile from the hawks who soar once again above the naked fields. And I still run to pluck the first glorious yellow dandelion I clap eyes on, to give as a gift to my mother, who is now 91 and living alone in the house my remarkable father kept growing and improving through the years before his death.

Well, enough with the waxing on; methinks the time has come to wax off … but wait, I feel another stream of the old consciousness prompting me to veer in one final direction before signing off … this time to sadness.

Sadness, you ask?

These days I look around and become saddened by how much I see the world has changed. People (generally of course; there is no absolute here) are becoming more and more wrapped up in their interior worlds, in the landscape of the me. The world that houses and nurtures us has become, for many, more an inconvenience than a blessing. People rush here and there, in and out and then in again, oblivious to their surroundings. They haven’t time to stop and smell the roses, never mind test its thorns, study its unfurling beauty, hear the buzz of the bee as it gathers its powdery pollen or taste the perfume of the rain-moistened earth that clings to the plant’s sturdy roots. I’ve seen people walking blindly, head down, messaging franticly on their smart phones, barely looking up to see the light change, never mind the wonderful gifts that the planet offers up to us, free for the experiencing. More and more, people are waxing off the joys of the natural world.

But not me.

Taking flight

Show of hands … who wants to hear the riveting story of how the plot of my breathtakingly perfect novel Second Breath evolved?

Eh … no one?

Okay then, show of hands … who is thrilled beyond measure at the prospect of hearing all about my maiden venture into Kindle free days?

Um … one!

The hand has it. (Never mind that it’s my own hand!)

To begin, I’ll outline (in no particular order) my reasons for choosing to become an indie author via Kindle Direct Publishing:

1 – popularity of Kindle devices and apps

Rebecca Ratcliffe, in her January 13, 2012 article in The Guardian, states: “One in every 40 British adults received one [e-reader] for Christmas, either as a gift or bought as a treat for themselves …. That adds up to 1.33m [million] devices, of which an estimated 92% were Kindles.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/jan/13/kindle-self-publishing-e-readers) Comment: seems self-evident.

2 – Kindle’s 70% royalty option

Cut out the middleman and garner a higher royalty percentage. ’Nuff said!

3 – formatting for Kindle is easier

I’m tech comfortable, but not that tech comfortable. So, for a relative non-techie like me (and a poor one to boot), this was a huge consideration.

4 – word of mouth

People I spoke with reported having higher sales with Kindle. Then in January, I heard words dropped from various and sundry trustworthy mouths that a goodly number of goodly things had happened (to these same goodly people) with regard to sales of their (likewise) goodly books once they enrolled in the new Amazon Kindle program called …

Drum roll.

For an actual drum roll, or if your eyelids are getting heavy and you need to wake up, click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZgZYfVVQEk&feature=related)

5 – KDP Select

Earn a share of royalties from book loans via Kindle Owners’ Lending Library … AND enjoy five book giveaway promotion days per 90-day period that the author is enrolled in the program.

A stretch of heavy plodding there, but “with hey, ho, the wind and the rain” (compliments of The Bard), now that I’ve got you to this juncture … show of hands again … who’s ready to hear about my inaugural venture into Kindle free days?

Same hand, this time rotating in a lazy royal wave.

For those who’ve forgotten, it’s my hand. Sheesh, you can’t be straying off into la-la land when there are important things afoot … or in this case, ahand.

Back to the matter at hand.

Serious face.

I scheduled my first book giveaway promo for February 29, 2012 Leap Day―a unique day, one that stood apart from all its fellows. It just seemed fitting, as I’m a bit of an oddity myself. I’ve been a Twittering fool since November 1 of last year and so Twitter presented itself as my obvious promotional platform. I dressed my blue Tweetiebird in feathers of natty red-trimmed black, named him RWB-bird (red-winged blackbird, one of my favourite birds, which I invariably abbreviate to “RWB-bird” to everyone’s eye roll, since the abbreviation lengthens rather than shortens the syllables pronounced) and released him into the Twittersphere to alternately flap and plummet, URL-banners streaming from his beak, through the feed pages of my 900+ Twitter followers. Then at four-hour intervals, I tossed more of my flapping emissaries with their own supply of banners into the virtual firmament to follow the path of their comrades.

And hallelujah, didn’t a handful of truly wonderful Twitter friends decide to release their own little Tweetiebirds to flap across their own followers pages, retweeting my message about some totally unknown indie author’s freebie book that was ripe for picking off a virtual Kindle bookstore shelf.

Well, my heart was dancing the old soft shoe all day long. A glorious sight it was (the progress, not the soft shoe)! I refreshed my Reports page every hour (an understatement!) and watched as the number of giveaway books grew from two digits to three as the day progressed, until by the end of the 24-hour period 235 ebooks had been plucked off the shelf by USA/Canada individuals, 32 by folks in the UK and one by a chappie (or chappess, as the case may be) in France. France; I tell you!

So there you have it. How exciting was that! I didn’t make any money on any of those ebooks, but hey, this could all lead somewhere good. Some fraction of these 268 people might actually read the book, and some fraction of those may feel moved to give me feedback and perhaps even write a review, the boon of writers … which then might just lead to actual, royalty-earning sales!

In fact, I’m happy to report that I’ve already had a few of these paying ones!

I’ve decided to give myself an “E” for effort and hand for tackling all the ongoing work that isn’t actually the fun stuff, writing …  which seems to be the indie writer’s lot.

Ah, the sound of one hand clapping …

or is that a foot?

Beginnings

My chronological age is 58. I can be childlike, singing and chirping nonsense one minute, or as old as Methuselah, with eyes burrowing into much deeper realms the next. I’m one of those square pegs that hasn’t yet found a round hole big enough to settle comfortably into, the kind of person that … because they’re a bit of an unknown quantity … might just be capable of anything.

But rest assured,  I’m quite benign. I rescue spiders from flyswatters, earthworms from puddles on a rainy night and beautiful butterflies from the less-than-natural graveyard where they breathed their last.

I’m a silver-lining kind of person, always have been. I’ve simply got to look at the bright side. The eyes see best when not beset by darkness … so too, the mind. Monsters are easier to fight, or elude, when you can clap eyes on them.

My novel was conceived in 1996 and completed in one year. It was self-published in February 2012, in the Amazon Kindle store. That’s one long gestation! But I’m glad it turned out that way, glad this child of the mind was born after all the arms and legs and inner workings had solidified into as perfect a whole as I could create.

Everything has its time.

In Chapter 1 of my novel, Second Breath, I write the whys and wherefores of how Daisy O’Dey came to trade the empty religion of her upbringing for a deeply satisfying commune with the wonder of the natural world.

She discovered this earthy passion at the age of fourteen, on an early-July Sunday, the same Sunday that she quietly declined to ready herself for the customary church service. No fuss was made, no explanations asked. She watched from the front step as her family moved off to meet the resonant bong of the church bell, the Pied Piper of believers.

This is an excerpt from my own life. In the novel, the descriptive elaboration that follows is Daisy’s own story.

My own conversion went in quite another direction. On the day I stopped going to church at the age of fourteen, I wrote my first poem. It was a full page long, and it flew out from my soul as quickly as a startled swallow from the barn rafters. By the time my family had returned, it was done.

I chanced across this page of youthful creativity during a recent move. In the eyes of my much older self, the poem was dreadful (weighty for a child that age, and a bit too-too). But at the time I wrote it, I thought it was quite the opposite, a psalm of sorts. And the writing of it felt like magic.

I traded my religion for a pen that day, and though the path has often been a bumpy one to follow,  I’ve never looked back, nor have I ever wanted to.

Engage

To paraphrase Engineer Scott from the fourth (and my personal favourite) Star Trek film:

Admiral …  there be words here!

Now, I’m not any kind of admiral (can’t swim for starters, and I couldn’t tie a clove hitch to save my soul), nor am I one of those anonymous, red-uniformed expendables that fades to black in most every Star Trek storyline (not now, anyway; I’ve finally moved on to a speaking part).

Uttering words, making noise, banging my own drum (slowly). It’s a big step for a veritable hermit … but here I is! … dehermitizing, at least in the virtual universe of the Internet. I may encounter other sentient life here, eventually, if anyone chances to beam onto my friendly outpost for a how-do-you-do (and hopefully, a follow-me too). If I do, I suspect they won’t be any scarier than my own alien self, or my shadow … which can be pretty damned freaky betimes!

I’ve written a novel, Second Breath, not science fiction as the theme of this post might suggest, but a trek is involved (more on that later). I took a hell of a long time doing it. I’ll put a charitable spin on it and say, life got in the way of good intentions. Yup, that’s it. Whatever the case, I’ve finally rubbed the rust out of my psyche and am ready to rumble.

Beam me up Scottie.