Guest Post: A Candid Portrait of Grief

Babies on the BrainJust wanted to share this guest post that I wrote for a dear friend’s blog, a candid portrayal of my grief after losing my daughter, for anyone out there who might be hurting right now (whether due to babyloss or any other type of loss).

(Check out the the Babies on the Brain blog for more honest accounts of different hardships – infertility, postpartum depression, rape – and follow along all month long for a new series of posts about how individuals and companies can support expectant mothers, particularly those going through difficult times!  You can subscribe at the bottom of the link above – only blog posts go out, no spam.)

In case you didn’t know, October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, so if you see pink-and-blue around this month, that’s why!  If you’ve been personally touched by babyloss (as a parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle, cousin, sibling, friend, etc.), consider participating on October 15th in the global wave of light by lighting a candle at 7 pm (local time) in honor of all the babies we’ve lost. <3

Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month

Finding Balance

Or: Why It’s Taking Me So Long to Finish Book 3

I know you’ve all been waiting patiently for an update on Stuck (Stitch Trilogy, Book 3).  I was really hoping I’d have a completed manuscript (or, at least, a firm release date) to share with you this fall.  But I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m not even close.

That’s not to say I haven’t been working diligently toward that goal whenever I can – I have – or that I’m any less dedicated to getting the final installment of this trilogy into your hands as soon as possible – believe me, I’m as excited as you are!  It’s just that, I’ve had to readjust my expectations for what “whenever I can” and “as soon as possible” means during this season of my life.  And as a result, it’s looking like it’s going to be a while yet until Stuck is ready for public consumption.

And my instinct now is for the next thing out of my mouth to be “I’m sorry.”  But I have to tell you: I’m sorry, and I’m not.  Because the reason I’ve been struggling to find time to write is that my son is at a very precious and fleeting stage in his life right now, and I just can’t bring myself to miss any of it.

As you may know, I’m the work-at-home parent in my family.  And I know lots of awesome work-at-home parents who hire a regular babysitter or utilize daycare to give themselves more time to be productive (or just recuperate), and when I see them doing this, I say, “Right on! Good for you!”  And I see how they benefit, and I see how their kids benefit, and I understand where they’re coming from when they encourage me to do the same.  But the thing is, I’m just coming from a different place.

As a mother who’s had the singular and heartwrenching experience of burying my only child, I’m coming from the same place as my friend, Kelly, whose beautiful toddler son, Kevin, was tragically taken from her too soon by Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  Kelly posted this heartfelt reminder to other parents on Facebook the other day as part of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month:

“I know I only had 2 1/2 years. I know 95% was spent on a roller coaster. I know that he’s not here now. I regret every break I took, every time I picked up my phone in front of him, and it wasn’t to take his picture. I regret every time I went to the sleep room and took a nap. I regret every time I went to the bathroom, and he couldn’t come with me. Some days it eats me alive. […] Forget cellphones on Saturdays! Forget cellphones as much as you can! Set alarms if you have to. Go out! Go play! Give them your TIME. It is all they will ever need or want and it won’t last for long. […] I just urge all of you to treasure EVERY second. […] Treasure the time.”

Of course, no one would ever begrudge Kelly – or any parent, especially one dealing with something as inconceivably stressful and horrific as childhood cancer – those naps and bathroom breaks and occasional zone-outs on the phone. That’s just survival.

But I felt the same way after my daughter, Alana, was stillborn.  I regretted (regret) every moment that I spent doing anything other than soaking her in, and basking in the miracle of her pregnancy.  I thought I had the rest of her life to really pay attention to her – I never realized just how short that life would be.  And this is where my mind goes when I need to decide now where to spend my time.

Should I take a couple hours this afternoon to go upstairs and write, or should I just stay here and let him and his glorious imagination cook me yet another “gourmet meal” from his play kitchen?  Should I pull my phone out and try to sneak some work on my outline, or just marvel as he so intently and purposefully pours water back and forth between cups for the next ten minutes?  Should I get on my computer while my mom reads him his book-of-the-moment for the 8000th time today, or should I stay here and do it myself so I don’t miss it if he suddenly looks up and busts out a newly mastered word with the biggest, proudest smile on his face?  More often than not, my son wins out.

And is devoting so much of myself to my child the “right” choice, or the healthiest or most sustainable, for either me or him?  I’m the first to admit that it’s probably not.  Any of my family or friends will readily tell you that Kiran and I suffer from a (mutual) separation anxiety which is hugely inconvenient to anyone and everyone who wants to spend time with either of us.  Some days (luckily, usually only a couple days a month when my nerves are raw from hormones or lack of sleep or what have you), I am burnt out and not the mother I know I could be – and I second guess my choices then, and wish I made more time for myself, and I strongly consider hiring regular help (or depending even more heavily on my mom than I already do – thank you, Mom, I honestly don’t know what I’d do without you!) so I can finally finish this book.

But then I have weeks, like I have had most of this past month, where the days – slogging and repetitive and interminable as they may be – are somehow also just brimming with delight.  Where I watch with wonder as my toddler discovers a boundless love of merry-go-rounds and waves with pure joy at every pass around the carousel.  Where I might be overtaken at any moment by an unexpected bear hug and chubby little hands yanking me in close (by the hair!) for an open-mouthed kiss on the cheek that fills my heart to bursting.  Where I lay down each night with my son in one arm and my cat in the other (my poor husband curled up in the remaining seven inches of mattress…), exhausted to the bone, but so, so full of love.

How can I bring myself to miss any of this, when I know so viscerally that it could be over at any moment?  I just can’t.

And please, please, please, don’t mistake me – the last thing I want is to send anyone off on a guilt trip for making choices that are different than mine.  Every family and every parent is different, and this is not a critique of anyone’s choices, or the completely valid reasons and experiences behind those choices.  I’m also painfully aware of the enormous and glaring amount of privilege I’ve been blessed with to even be able to have choices in this arena.

So this is just me trying to explain where my head is at, and why I’m finding it so hard to find the time to actually write, as much as I find meaning and enjoyment for myself in doing that – and as much as I absolutely hate feeling like I’m letting anyone down or failing to accomplish something I set out to do.  It’s just that, I know I can’t get any of this time back.  And when it comes down to it, I’m just not willing to give it up.

So what that means for me – and for you, dear readers – in a real-world, practical sense, is that I pretty much only get to write when Kiran is napping.  And he’s never been a big napper.  And half the time he falls asleep while driving somewhere, and then that’s it for the day.  And I wish I could just stay up late after he goes to bed or get up early in the morning to write before he wakes, but… I am tired, people!  And just like my friend Kelly, and all parents, I need that time at the end of the day to watch some TV or zone out on my phone or just talk to my husband – regular people-stuff, you know?  So basically, that doesn’t leave me with very much time to actually write.

The good news, though – for those of you waiting for Stuck – is that I have really been putting those few hours I get each week to good use.  Truthfully, I have not made too much progress on Stuck itself just yet, but I have been working on a secret little get-myself-back-on-the-horse project, which involves a good amount of brand new content within the Stitch universe. :-D And I’m planning to release that soon (hopefully before the end of the year, though again don’t hold me to it, as you now understand that I am beholden to the fickle whims of a toddler’s erratic sleep schedule!).

So, that’s where I’m at.  Trying to find the balance, and doing my best to love my life as it is, for as long as this season may last.

Thank you, as always, for sticking with me as I work to figure it all out.  And may you also, always, treasure the time.

Where I’ve Been + Stuck Update!

Hi Stitch Fans!

First off, thank you for waiting SO patiently for word on Stuck (Stitch Trilogy, Book 3) – I am going to make an announcement about plans for Stuck in the next few weeks, but until then, I wanted to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to for the past year (while – sorry! – not writing…).

My son, Kiran, just turned one a few weeks ago, and I really cannot even begin to comprehend where the last year has went.  It’s such a cliche, but it feels like only yesterday that we were bringing our tiny shrimp home from the hospital… and just like that, we have a glorious, giggling, gorgeous toddler scooting his adorable little butt all over our house.  See for yourself in this “second-a-day” video that my husband and I put together to celebrate Kiran’s first birthday:

As you can imagine, this sweet boy has certainly kept me busy the last year, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade a second of it for anything (even a finished Book 3, sorry!!).  And that’s especially true now looking back and realizing just how fast it’s gone by (new parents: I know it can be pretty rough in those early months, but people really aren’t lying when they tell you that it flies by and before long you won’t remember anything but the good stuff!).

Given everything we’ve been through with our daughter, Alana, in the past two years, reaching Kiran’s 1st birthday is a HUGE milestone for us.  After all, when you bury your only child (despite a 99% chance of survival…), you understand in a visceral way just how fragile and fleeting life can be, and that there truly are no guarantees.  I knew damn well that it could happen to us (to anyone) again, and a large part of me really did not believe that we would ever be lucky enough to see this day.

And yet, here we are.  (Sigh of relief.)  Kiran has really lived up to his name and brought so much joy and light back to our lives – but at the same time, it’s been an incredibly bittersweet year as we come to understand just exactly how much we’ve missed out on with Alana. So even though it hasn’t been the most productive year for me writing/career-wise, I am SO incredibly grateful for every second that I’ve gotten to spend with this vibrant, beautiful little boy – and you can bet your pants that I will continue to cherish every second to come (even when he makes me want to pull my hair out!).

Thank you so much, readers, for all of your support over the past few years – it really means the world to me.  And I will be in touch *soon* with more concrete news about Stuck!  (Promise!)

PS – For those of you in the US, it would mean the world to me if you could spare a moment to sign this sign this petition at whitehouse.gov asking the federal government to acknowledge the stillbirth crisis and hopefully draw more funding towards stillbirth research and awareness to prevent future tragedies.  No spam, no money, just a minute of your time to help save potentially tens of thousands of lives.  Thank you!!  #SignForStillbirth

My Thoughts on “Tomorrow”

What Tomorrow May Bring is on tour!  Today is my stop for a dystopia-themed post and I’ll be back in July with an in-depth interview.  Every author in the box set is participating, so keep up with the posts as they go up on the Facebook page!

my thoughts on tomorrow

I’ve always been drawn to dystopian settings. Not surprisingly, The Giver, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 were some of my favorite books as a kid. But there’s one thing about my beloved dystopian books which has always driven me nuts, and it’s this: no one ever explains how the world came about.

You know what I’m talking about. There’s always some vague backstory about a war or a catastrophe a hundred-plus years ago that brought our current world to its knees, and then out of the ashes rose this wonderful new society where everything was neat and tidy and everyone accepted these crazy new rules just as they were.

But how does that really work? At what point in history have we ever seen one civilization transition into the next without some sort of fight? For the sake of enjoying the story, I always swallow this jagged little pill and accept that the society stands, but there’s forever a tiny voice in the back of my head saying, “Wait – how does any of this make sense? Why would these people allow this to happen? Why would they submit themselves to this kind of control when they knew freedom before? And who put these crazy leaders in charge, anyway?”

When I decided to write Stitch, I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to explore a society in transition – not one where the rules were in place, but one where the people in charge were still trying to figure them out. I wanted to try to understand how we could go from the world we live in today to something totally different, and who could have made that happen and, most importantly, why they would go to the trouble. (And I freely admit that it was impossible to address all of these questions in the first book – but this is what a trilogy is for, right?)

In the Stitch Trilogy, the characters are the first generation to rise from the rubble and start fresh in a new society. They’re young – only teenagers when everything happens – and you get to watch from their eyes how our world came tumbling down, to be replaced with something different, something which was shiny on the surface but quickly turned sinister underneath. In fact, for most of the first book – a blend of paranormal romance, new adult contemporary, and of course, dystopian sci-fi – the characters don’t even realize that they’re living in a world where nothing is as it seems. And you’ll be by their side as they uncover the truth and try to figure out what they can do to set things right.

Because, in the end, I think this is really the crux of the whole dystopian genre: when the world ends, and everything is terrible, and you’re forced to do things you don’t even want to think about just to keep on living, what do you have left? Hope. Only hope.

And it’s that inner optimism – the ability to remind ourselves that there’s something out there worth living for even when our world crumbles beyond our wildest nightmares – that best characterizes us as human beings. Dystopian fiction by its very nature asks us how we can solve our collective problems. How would you structure society to make things better? What could you change that would create a different outcome? After all, every dystopia is just a failed utopia – someone’s unsuccessful attempt at making the world a better place.

So with the Stitch trilogy, we’ll get to play “What If?” through the protagonist Alessa’s eyes – to see how she answers these questions, how far she’s willing to go, and what factors will push her to bend her own rules. And as we watch Alessa struggle to find her place in a transitioning society, we get to ask ourselves: what would I do?

What Tomorrow May Bring is available NOW at Amazon!  Just $2.99 for 10 highly-rated full-length YA dystopian books.

Available for a limited time run only, so don’t wait or you might miss out on this incredible deal!

No Joke: A Real Life Stitch! + Review

They stitched these poor mice! Guess these scientists haven’t read the Stitch Trilogy, otherwise they’d know what could go wrong with this picture…

I have some intriguing – if not slightly disturbing news – to share with all of the Stitch fans out there.  Apparently, real-world scientists have figured out how to perform a “stitch” (as in, IMPLANT FALSE MEMORIES!) in the brains of mice.  Seriously!!  Look at this (and it’s from The Economist, not some random shady website):

In order to study false-memory formation, Mr Ramirez and Dr Liu had therefore to isolate and manipulate only those cells involved in storing a particular memory they had deliberately created.

They did this by fitting as many hippocampal cells as possible with a clever genetic switch. To work at all, this switch has first to be primed by a process (known as an action potential) which a nerve cell undergoes during learning—meaning that it can operate only in those cells that have learned something. Thus did Mr Ramirez and Dr Liu confine their experiment to the relevant cells.

Once primed, the switch can be activated by shining a light at it. This activation mimics an action potential—fooling the cell into learning whatever is happening to the animal at the time, in addition to what it had already learned, thus linking the two things in the animal’s mind. The researchers could therefore choose which events they would try to conflate into a single false memory.

Having smuggled their switches into the animals’ hippocampuses using viruses, Mr Ramirez and Dr Liu were ready to start the experiment proper. <continue reading>

Stimulating the targeted nerves/cells to create a memory, using a chemical (in this case, viral) agent to activate the switch… Is it just me, or does the process they used sound uncannily similar to what was described in the Stitch Trilogy?  Creepy!!!  Just goes to show you – science fiction only stays fiction for so long…

In slightly less terrifying news, we’ve also got an amazingly entertaining review up today from brand-new blogger Bailey over at Books From You To Review!  Due to a brain fart on my end (I sent her the wrong book, oops!), Bailey ended up reading Shudder without realizing it was the second book in the trilogy (the first person I know of to do so).  But even so, she still somehow managed to figure out what was going on and enjoy the book!  Here’s what she said to say:

This is my first ever book review on my blog and it kicked of with a BANG!  This story made me gasp with joy <continue reading>

I’m beyond honored that Bailey chose Shudder as her first ever review!  Much luck with the new blog and thanks so much for hosting today’s stop on the Shudder tour!

Guess what came in the mail today!

AHHHHHH!  They’re here!!!!!

Shudder Print ARCsThe print ARCs have arrived!  And I must say, they are beautiful, aren’t they?

Can’t wait to crack one of these babies open and find me some typos!  (Actually, I hate proofreading, but whatevs – needs to be done.)

And if you’re one of the bloggers on the tour, good news: I’ve got the e-ARCs ready to go as well!  Just need to give those one more read-through to make sure they’re functioning properly, and then I’ll be sending them out.  Get ready!!  :-D

 

On Public Humiliation and Customer Service

Yay for Customer Service!Or “How I Really Hope Your Experience Reading My Books Is Nothing Like My Experience with ADT Security”

Note: Update at the bottom of the post – ADT did make an effort to resolve the problem as best they can, so bravo to them!

Raise your hand if you’ve ever left a bagel in the toaster a little too long.  Or if sometimes you pour oil into a too-hot pan on the stove.  Or hey, maybe you just like your meat with a nice sear.

Now raise your hand if you think any of the above should be cause for PUBLIC HUMILIATION.

What?  No one?  Really??  Hmm… Wish someone would tell that to my alarm company.

Last night, I decided to make a chicken caesar salad from scratch for dinner.  A harmless enough endeavor, it would seem, but apparently ADT Security thinks that an acceptable way for this routine meal to play out is this: with firetrucks and police cars (sirens blaring!) outside my house, my cat cowering in fear under the bed for 4 hours, and me and my husband literally shaking from an adrenaline high as we ate our (well-seared) chicken breast, and then me shaking further from FURY after a completely useless call to ADT to ask them for help in preventing this from happening again.

“What the hell happened?” you may ask.  Let me tell you:

The urge struck me yesterday afternoon for a chicken caesar salad, and miracle of miracles, I actually had everything I needed in the house to make it.  So an hour before dinner, I marinated the chicken, washed the lettuce, chopped up some homemade croutons, and started whirring together a zesty little dressing in my food processor.  Once everything was ready, the last thing I needed to do was grill the chicken.

Now, it’s still hovering in the mid-40s in New York most days, and as I just moved into my new house, I don’t yet own a grill.  BUT never fear, I was prepared: I have a stove-top grill pan.  And as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of chicken caesar salads, I happen to know that the best ones featured some nicely grilled chicken breast with just a bit of charring on the outside, so that was my goal.  Sear the outside just a bit and give it those nice grill marks, then pop that baby in the oven to finish cooking.

So there I am, bumbling along in a pleasant domestic bliss, the tantalizing scent of fresh-toasted garlic croutons wafting about me as the grill pan heats up over the stove.  I pull the chicken out of the fridge, spray a little oil onto the pan, gently lay a chicken breast over the grate, and… BAM.

All hell breaks loose.

REEEEEEP.  REEEEEEP.  REEEEEEP.  That’s the smoke detector in my kitchen going off, but it’s okay – it’s just an old one which isn’t connected to the alarm system, basically my warning that something bad’s about to happen if I don’t get my butt moving.

Deep!  Help!”  That’s me screaming for my husband to grab the dishtowel and start fanning the smoke alarm that’s actually connected to the system before it goes off, while I frantically leap from window to window to ventilate.

REEEEEEEEEEP.  REEEEEEEEEEEEP.   REEEEEEEEEEEP.  Aw, CRAP, and there’s the earsplitting shriek of the ADT alarm going off.  Deep has thrown the front door open and is now using a blanket to try to clear the air around the alarm.

“%^&* #U*O(UO! #T^&#%!!!  Gio sweetie, it’s okay, I promise, come back please!  &*^@ @^*&@((^$^!” That’s me cursing while simultaneously trying to comfort my terrified cat AND run to the alarm panel to shut it off.  I sprint across the house, almost falling flat on my face in my haste, but I somehow manage to maintain my footing and reach the panel.

“FIRE.  Alert!  FIRE.  Alert!”  That’s the alarm panel screaming OVER the deafening blare of the siren, as if I hadn’t noticed already that the alarm’s going off.  Thanks guys, don’t know how I missed that one!

Beep beep beep beep, ding!  Whew, I enter the code and shut off the alarm.  We get a full 3 second respite before the smoke detectors realize there’s STILL smoke and they go off again.  I stand there and repeat this process about 6 times until–

RING RING RING!  I pick up the house phone.  “This is ADT Security, we see that there’s an alarm going off at your house.”

“No kidding.  There’s no fire – I just burnt dinner.  How do I shut this thing off before the fire department comes??”

ADT hangs up, because they can’t hear me over the blare of their own alarm, just as I can’t hear the sound of my OWN THOUGHTS over their alarm.  Convenient.

RING RING RING.  There they are calling my cell phone.

“This is ADT Security, we see that there’s an alarm going off at your house.  Could you go outside?  I can’t hear you.”

“I’d love to go outside, but first I need to shut this f-ing thing off.  Can you do that please?”

“What?  I can’t hear you.”

ARGGGGHHHHHH.  I run outside barefoot (it’s 40 degrees, mind you), where the sound of the alarm is hovering just somewhere under 150 decibels (that’s the equivalent of standing 36 inches from an exploding firecracker).  “Okay, I’m outside.  There’s no fire.  I just burnt dinner.  Please shut the alarm off and tell the fire department not to come.”

“One moment please.”

And…. Silence.  Blessed, blessed silence.

But only for a minute.

WAAAAAARRRRHHHH BAWW BAWW – that’s the fire engine – and REEE-ROOO REEE-ROOO – oh, and there’s the sheriff!  SWISH-SWISH-SWISH-SWISH – ah, and there are all my neighbors swatting their curtains aside to see what the hell is going on, since sirens are about as common in our neighborhood as mutant zombie attacks.

You can imagine what happens from here.  The firemen come in and check things out, while my husband and I apologize profusely – me unshowered in my pajamas, flailing tongs about as I try to salvage my chicken.  The very patient men of my town’s volunteer fire department are understanding, and mainly just seem relieved to see that everything is all right.  The sheriff takes down our information to file his report, and is kind enough to comment that, “It smells delicious in here!”  And then they head out, and my neighbors go back to their own meals, probably muttering to themselves about that new girl who can’t cook (since this unfortunately is NOT the first time this has happened since I moved in 5 months ago – far from it, in fact).

So then it was over, kind of.  As the sheer and utter chaos of my life subsides, we sit down to eat, not joined by our cat, who would still be shuddering under the bed 4 hours later – a fact which is significantly more painful to me than the humiliation of all my new neighbors thinking that I am hopeless in the kitchen.  And by the time we clear the table, my nerves have calmed enough think clearly and I decide to call ADT to try to get some help with this issue.

I dial the 800 number, navigate hopefully through the voice prompts, and choose the option for “Trouble With My System.”  I explain to the nice customer service representative what happened tonight, how this is the fourth or fifth time it has happened, and that I’m trying to find a reasonable solution, since this experience is highly disruptive to me and my neighbors, damaging to my cat, and an absolute waste of the limited resources of my small town’s fire and police departments.

And what am I met with?  Nothing but disdain.

“Well, that’s just how the system works.  You could call before you cook and let us know to ignore the system for the next hour.”

“I’m supposed to call you every day before I cook dinner?”

“Do you burn dinner every day?”

Seriously.  They didn’t seem to care what I was going through, how this was affecting my family or my community, and most certainly did not care to hear my suggestions for how they might improve this customer experience for the future.  And there are A LOT of ways this process could be improved:

1. ADT could call me BEFORE they call the fire department, so I can tell them if it’s a false alarm.

2. Maybe #1 is too extreme and could delay service in the event of an actual emergency – okay, I buy that.  Then how about – at my request, after the third+ time this happened – ADT makes a note in their system that if the smoke detectors go off between the hours of 6-8 pm, I’m probably cooking dinner, and just during this time period, they should call first.

3. Here’s a simple one: When I put the code into the alarm and punch, “OFF” the system should actually LISTEN TO ME.  The sirens should stop, and if I do this quickly enough, ADT should realize there’s NOT A PROBLEM and not alert the fire department (or at least call first to check before they do).

4. Maybe I could have some way to disable the alarms preemptively, either by entering a code before I cook something for dinner that I know is likely to smoke or by simply pulling the alarm out of the wall (which is what I’ve always done with the simple battery operated detectors, but if I do that with this system, my alarm panel beeps incessantly until I put it back).

5. At the very least, someone from ADT could offer to come take a look at my system and give me a few suggestions, and should have noted my experience and sent the information to their product development team so that they can try to fix this experience as best they can.  But all I got was, “You burn dinner every day?”

(One caveat – I know from previous conversations with ADT that they feel their hands are tied on some of the solutions I suggested above, since apparently there’s now a state law that requires automatic fire dispatch before the homeowner is contacted.  But seriously, whoever came up with that asinine law has obviously never used a kitchen.  And I can’t be the only one experiencing this – ADT should go to the state armed with data about how many of these false alarms are wasting valuable municipal resources, and I’m sure something could be done, especially at a time when city/state budgets are so tight to begin with.)

Okay, enough about ADT.

I know this blog is supposed to be about writing.  So, how does this at all relate to my experience an author?

Here’s how: because I realize that, like an ADT security system, my books are a product, and the people who buy them – you, my readers – are my customers.  And that means you deserve the utmost respect and to feel that your experiences with my product – and opinions on how to improve it – are valued.

I just want my readers to know that if you ever think of any way that I can improve my products, I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT.  Whether it’s a typo or formatting error you come across, a potential plot hole, an idea for a character or story line, or even an account of how I repeated publicly humiliated you by making you cry/scream/laugh out loud while reading one of my books (okay, in that one case, I’ll probably just give myself a pat on the back… sorry!), PLEASE TELL ME.  (You can contact me here!)

I promise I won’t treat you how ADT has treated me.  Even if I can’t actually enact your suggestions, I will listen to them and explain why, and take them into account with my future work.  And I will appreciate that you took the time to give me your feedback.

Because that’s how valued customers should be treated.  Hear that, ADT?  I hope you’re taking notes.

Update 4/4: I received a call today from ADT customer service, and they apologized for the issue and suggested a solution which is about the best we could come up with given the constraints of the automatic dispatch law (which they also said they’d look into).  Apparently you can login to ADT.com to set the system on “test” for an hour, so I can do this before I cook something (like a steak seared in butter, YUM) that I know is likely to smoke.  (Note, though, that this just prevents ADT from dispatching – it won’t prevent the sirens from going off in the house.  BUT, I realized that while the system is in test mode, I can take the smoke detectors down and put them in a closet, and then enter the code to stop it from beeping at me.  So this should be an okay preemptive solution, and as long as the smoke isn’t too bad, I *might* actually be able to pull it off on an accidental burn as well…)  A bit of a clunky solution, but hey, at least they’re trying.  Thanks for listening, ADT!  Now THAT’S how you do customer service.  :-)

I got BLURBED! The Isolated by Ellen Stokes

Ahhh!  Super excited to share my very first “blurb” experience with all of you!  The book that so graciously honored me on its cover is The Isolated by Ellen Stokes.  Check it out!

Here’s the synopsis:

It’s been seventeen years and Gray has never tasted salt. She’s never tasted sugar. She’s never heard the swelling voices of a crowd or felt the heat of bodies in a packed room. She’s been banished from society since birth and merely waits to die in Griseus, the endless moor of dead grass and wind to which her murderous uncle exiled her.

But all that is about to change when Gray is unexpectedly ripped from solitude and into the world she never knew: a world that is filled with bustling alleyways, towering citadels, glorious new tastes, and a task so dark it nearly swallows her up.

For the first time in her life she is needed, and it’s vital she comply. Knowing nothing of the world, Gray would latch first onto another human soul that can guide her—any other soul. Even if that soul were her captor.

Set in a place unlike any other, THE ISOLATED asks its readers which is worse: the captivity of the mind, the body, or the soul?

And here’s my blurb:

“Stokes weaves a vibrant world of lively characters and noble intrigue!” — Samantha Durante, author of Stitch

Yay!!!  Thank you SO much to Ellen for giving me this honor – it was a privilege to work with another dedicated author and I wish you all the success in the world!

“On Bad Reviews”- A Guest Post @ White Sky Project

Ever wonder how authors deal with negative reviews?  Check out my guest post at White Sky Project “On Bad Reviews” for one perspective!  Here’s a sneak peek:

“endless babble…nonsense really…” “boring dialogue” “far fetched and stupid” “I just couldn’t connect” “I felt nothing” “HUGE issues with this book” “forced myself to finish”

OUCH. Those are actual comments from the handful of bad reviews that Stitch has received, and I’ve got to tell you, as much as I try not to let them, those words still sting.

The fact of the matter is that bad reviews are an inescapable part of being a writer. Ask any author, and they will gladly tell you that you need a thick skin to write (or, at least, to share your writing with people who have access to the internet!). Even the best/most successful books ever written have their fair share of 1-star reviews: To Kill a Mockingbird? 88. The Great Gatsby? 104. Harry Potter? 95. Twilight? A whopping 738.

Head to White Sky Project today for the rest!  Big thanks to Leah for hosting me!!

Triaging Book Bugs: What the World of Software Taught Me About Publishing

So, the blog tour planning is going PHENOMENALLY, but there’s one hitch that’s got me a little worried: book bugs.

Okay, I might have just made that term up, but this is what happens when a software engineer transitions into an author!  As some of you may know, before I decided to pursue writing full time, I worked at Microsoft for three years.  More specifically, I was a Program Manager, which basically meant that I did a variety of things including designing and documenting feature behavior, managing the project schedule, occasionally prototyping features, running beta programs and interacting with customers to get their feedback, that sort of thing.

As the release cycle progressed towards “ship it” (the day we launched the product out into the world), one aspect of my job that became more and more important was triage.  “What’s triage?” you may ask.  “Isn’t that what happens in war when the field medical staff need to decide which patients to treat and which to let die?”  Why yes, it is.  And in software, this is the term we use to decide which “bugs” (also known as “defects” or “things in the product not working like they’re supposed to”) we’re going to fix and which we’re not.  The idea is that, like in war, we have limited time and resources to address the “wounds,” if you will, in the product and there’s no way we can ever fix everything, so we need to decide which issues are most important to treat now and which we’re going to have to let go.

(As an aside, for anyone not familiar with the software world, for some reason there’s a lot of borrowing of intense/violent terms.  For example, “scrum” is what we call a daily 15-min team meeting where everyone gives a status report, or “war room” is what the meeting where the triage decisions are made is often called.  I have no idea where this came from, but my best guess is that it’s a guy thing – software is still a male-dominated world, and I guess with all that testosterone floating around everyone feels the need to be macho even though they’re hunched over a computer drinking Mountain Dew all day.  As a former rugby player, I can promise you that an actual scrum is FAR more painful than a 15 min status meeting, mmkay?)

So anyway, back to triage.  In order to triage, you have to prioritize, which is something I’m actually quite good at.  Working with my development and test leads, we would establish a scale to rate bugs from Pri-0 to Pri-3 or -4, where P0 bugs were absolutely MUST FIX (for example, if you click a certain prominent button, the program will crash) and as you went down the scale the bugs became less serious (e.g., a P3 might be something like a misspelled word which most people wouldn’t notice, or a P4 is a nice-to-have like this-button-was-supposed-to-be-a-different-color-and-we-forgot-to-change-it, but it really doesn’t make a difference to the functionality of the product).

The problem with this clever prioritization system was that it meant that sometimes things DIDN’T get fixed, if we were getting close to release and they weren’t important enough.  You see, there is inherent risk anytime you touch the code – no matter how careful you are, you just might slip one key on your keyboard and break the entire thing, or worse, introduce an insidiously hidden new bug without even realizing it.  For that reason, the closer we got to release, the more strict we became with what would constitute a valid reason for changing the code, and a lot of bugs ended up getting punted (i.e., put off until the beginning of next release) as a result.

Being a perfectionist, this drove me nuts.  B/c of course I wanted the damn thing to be perfect before we released it to 70 million people! (Or whatever – Microsoft sells a lot of software, don’t ask me how much.)  But you can’t fix every bug.  You just can’t.  And the thought of shipping a product that I know there are issues in just makes me want to scratch my eyes out.

And so these two parts of myself – the good prioritizer and the vehement perfectionist – were constantly at war inside myself during triage.  Throw in a little willingness to take risks (i.e., in being willing to risk the possibility of a bug in order to fix a known one) – which I also have in abundance – and you can see how this was a relentless internal struggle.

The good thing, though, was that I always had talented dev/test leads and managers around me to temper my perfection-seeking, risk-taking tendencies, and so in the end, prudence always won out.  Actually, as far as I can remember, I don’t think we ever did manage to introduce any major bugs close to release.  I worked with very disciplined, smart people.  Good job guys.

B/c now that I am doing this on my own – with the “bugs” in my book – it’s quite apparent what happens when I am left to my own devices… I break EVERY RULE in the book!  In fact, with Stitch I found myself fixing P4 bugs (like changing a “she had” to a “she’d” even though probably no one else who reads the book would EVER notice that it made the sentence flow better) LITERALLY 2 HOURS BEFORE RELEASE.  This is very bad.  Very, very bad.  BAD SAM!  BAD!

But even though I knew as I was doing it that I shouldn’t, I just couldn’t help myself.  And unfortunately, Gio (my cat) while fantastic at many things – like sleeping and begging for food and generally being adorable and sweet – is terrible at watching what I am doing on my computer and making sure I’m not doing anything stupid, considering that he can’t read all that well (yet!).

So now that the blog tour is all set, and my book has been shipped out to 50+ people who hold in their hands the ability to influence the opinions of potentially THOUSANDS of other people, I’m just praying to God that I didn’t F anything up.  So we’ll see how it goes.

The good news, though, is that since I’m self-published and my book is distributed electronically and as print-on-demand, at least if I DO find anything, I can fix it up real quick and re-publish, and within 48 hours anyone new who gets the book will no longer have that bug.  In fact, I did find one issue in my e-book version about 24 hours after publishing (which I was relieved to find had at least been there since WELL before my undisciplined last-minute editing), so I fixed it up and was able to easily re-publish.   But that still means that there are a handful of people out there with an end-quote missing at the close of their dialog, and that knowledge eats at my soul.

So here’s hoping that I don’t find any more typos or missing words or obscure grammatical errors!  Because you know if I do, I’m going to have a hard time leaving them alone…