Back to writing!

beesy smallSometimes things look almost perfect: you make a schedule for yourself, you stick to it and get brilliant results. You’re thrilled and want that to last forever. But then… life happens and you get overwhelmed again, running in all directions like a headless chicken: precisely what I’ve been doing for the past, uh… 3 months? Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do actual running, which I usually do during the spring to shed the extra pounds gained during the winter; I only got to make money, which admittedly had become my top priority: going hungry from lack of money is not my preferred weight loss strategy.

Sigh

It’s okay; I know I’m not good with changes, and going from unemployment to working over 50 hours a week is one drastic change. But now, things are settling down, I’ve reduced my working hours to 40-50 hours maximum, and now I’m ready to rethink my schedule. It’s irregular because of my husband’s schedule… but upon the whole, here’s how my time is distributed:

weekly time distribution

Okay, so this doesn’t look too bright (aside from the colours I chose): 5.5 hours is short for me to research/write/edit/revise a blog post, but it’ll have to do. I’m not too happy with having only 7 hours a week to write fiction either, or only 3.5 hours to read, but there isn’t much I can do about it. It’s more than I have for, say, exercising.

I’ll try to steal a few hours when my daughter is playing alone (I’m encouraging her to play alone because that’s something that doesn’t come naturally to her) and the necessary house chores are taken care of to get some writing or blogging done. I might consider handwriting short stories or making detailed plans on paper during those times. I’ve been thinking about writing a series of “episodes” for Wattpad or this blog, or both. That might not even be possible considering speech is the one thing that makes it impossible for me to focus and my daughter is talking all the time, but… I’ll see.

I could also go jogging with my princess in the stroller when it doesn’t rain.

I wish I could cut my hours of sleep to 56 (8 hours/day), but with the pills I take, even sleeping 9 hours a day is a stretch: ideally, I’d sleep 10-12 hours a day. So much time lost.

I can do this!

tiredI hope. Very honestly, I feel tired just thinking about it. But I have to do this. I want to. That’s the way forward, the one leading to my someday being able to call myself a professional writer; the one that won’t make me feel like I’m wasting my time. Not to mention that this schedule will end with the summer: this fall I’m taking a creative writing course and so I’ll free 8-10 hours/week off my work schedule for that purpose. My schedule will still be tight, but a bigger proportion of it will be devoted to writing and that’s encouraging.

Seriously, I can do this.

Fathers are underrated

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In parenting and in children development books, fathers are awfully rare. Those books all about the mother and the child. I guess historically that was mostly true; maybe it still is in some cases, but not in ours.

My husband is the one holding the family together. Without him, I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t think I’d be able to be a single parent.

He didn’t have it easy, either; my postpartum depression was has been almost as hard on him as it’s been on me. For months, he had to take care of a baby and a very sick spouse. He still feels emotional whenever he goes to a hospital to see a doctor, whether it’s for himself or for our daughter…

Even after I was out of the hospital and working again, he was almost our daughter’s sole caretaker for another year. Even now, when he’s there, he’s mostly the one watching over her. No wonder our daughter goes to him for emotional comfort.

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A father is also, most of the time, a spouse, and he does a great job at that, too. He’s the one holding my feet on the ground when I’d otherwise get carried away with the wind. I’m sometimes so lost in my own fictional world, that I start considering life decisions in terms of what would be interesting to read about instead of what’s best for me.

He’s also there to remind me, among other things that I’m human… Metaphorically, of course: I tend to forget that, like anybody else, maybe even more than most people, I need breaks and days off to remain mentally healthy.

Whenever I have a mildly important decision to make, I always seem to want his approval. It’s not like I actually need it or like he’d lash at me for not asking him first, which I wouldn’t tolerate, it’s just… I know he sees things differently than I do and I feel like we need to communicate each other’s points of view so that we have a full 3D view of the situation.

He has his own faults, of course, but in the end, I don’t mind those so much because my own qualities more than make up for them. I don’t believe in such a thing as soulmates, but  what I do believe is that there is nobody in this world whom I’d rather have as a husband.

Happy Father’s Day to the love of my life, and to all other wonderful fathers whose work is so underrated.

Review: More Than Neighbours

Context

More than NeighborsA few months ago, I saw several offers for ghostwriters in the romance genre. I wasn’t qualified for those, but that gave me the idea that maybe it would be easier for me to get published through Harlequin than through finding an agent and then a publisher (not that I even tried finding an agent, but it does look awfully hard).

So I looked up Harlequin guidelines and then found they offered free trial books in each of their romance series, so I downloaded them and looked through the blurbs to find one that would possibly be acceptable to me and chose More Than Neighbors, by Janice Kay Johnson.

In the end, I gave up the idea of writing Harlequin romance books because that could probably not hold my interest very long, but the particular book I read was… quite alright.

Review

The book was better than I expected. Although it mostly focused on romance like all Harlequin romance books, there was more to it. It touched themes like parenting, autism, labels, grief, self-esteem and abusive relationships. I didn’t find them very powerful: I found the melodrama a bit too much at times and didn’t like that everything was spelt out, but still, it’s much better than what I expected.

The story is slow, with a lot of descriptions. It’s a slowness that makes you dream about those countrysides landscapes, woodworking and cutting horse competitions, not one that makes you wonder where that story is leading (anyway, you know where it’s leading: it’s a Harlequin). There are, however, some possibly irritating repetitions.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_berries-11The romance is also fairly slow, which is a definite plus with me (probably a minus for most Harlequin readers). It was a nice romance, too. I’m sometimes disgusted by romance books when the relationship doesn’t look healthy (or is downright toxic), but this one is as healthy as could be. It reflects my idea of a great, empowering relationship.

There is one very explicit sex scene plus a few other sexy bits that I couldn’t enjoy, but I know I’m the exception rather than the rule: for me, it’s like I met these people, you know, went to their house a few times, and then eventually they just stripped naked in front of me and start going at it… nope. Not something I wanna see.

The characters are fairly stereotypical and the gender roles are as traditional as could be, but I expected as much. Ciara sews and cooks, Gabe is a woodworker owning horses. They both have their own issues and are rather believable, but they didn’t jump from the page either. The one really fun character, in my opinion, is Ciara’s son Mark. He’s one of the main reasons why I liked this book.

In conclusion, it’s a decent light book for when you want to relax and not think too much.

Rating: 6/10

Who would I recommend this to? Women who enjoy light romance, especially if they also like daydreaming about rural settings, horses and cowboys.

 

Confession of a hopeless hobbyist

I’ve talked in several posts about how I gave up most of my hobbies to focus on writing, but that just made room for new hobbies to appear.

Remember in February when I said I had learned how to knit? Well, in March I accidentally learned how to crochet. Late April I’ve started practising the piano regularly again and am even shopping for an actual piano (I only have a cheapo keyboard). And now I’m considering taking horseback riding lessons and trying my hand at woodwork. Not to mention there’s a dress I really want to sew (sewing being an old hobby).IMG_20170209_161210b

Sigh.

There are some definite advantages to being like this: I am fairly polyvalent. Reading a makes me an open-minded and knowledgeable person. Writing keeps me sane by helping me express feelings I would otherwise no know what to do with.

I’m glad I’ve learned how to sew, knit and crochet. They’re both useful and anti-anxiety. That’s also the case for gardening, and I’m sure I would find woodworking extremely useful as a homeowner.

Jogging, cycling and yoga are also useful hobbies for my health. Karate, Judo, Aikido and Muay Thai contributed to making me able to defend myself if I ever was attacked. Swimming and dancing kept from becoming way overweight when I was in high school and ate a lot of junk.

Lolita fashion helped me stop apologising for who I was and feel better in my own skin. Donjons and Dragons is my one regular activity with friends and that is tremendously important, considering I’ve never been so close to being a shut-in.

Even watching TV, while not super useful for most people, is okay for me as a writer. It’s also one of the few things that still brings my husband and me together. However, I don’t tend to indulge too much in it, because it’s too closely related to reading and writing: it triggers pop-ups in my brain regarding the different stories I should be reading or writing instead.

However, I fail to find a tangible usefulness to my learning Japanese, Russian and Korean (I mean, I have no ambition to work for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or anything), collecting BJDs (dolls like the one modeling my handmade scarf above) and Lego bricks, drawing, playing guitar and piano, playing video games, etc. I guess they help build my general knowledge and can also be anti-anxiety, but… so would a much, much handier hobby like cooking. But for the life of me, I cannot stay interested very long in that. It takes too long, and it bores me, and I don’t even like eating to begin with.

cloud-2I know that this, like my perfectionism, can be as much of a quality as it can be a fault: it’s a quality because it makes me a very polyvalent person, but a fault when it makes a scattered person. It makes me resourceful, but it’s also a sign that I have my head in the clouds when I not-so-secretly wish I had my feet on the ground.

I’ll have to accept that, too, and just focus on keeping some balance.

Besides, knowing a little about a lot of things can come in handy when writing stories. Actually, I’m sort of planning a story about a woodworker and a… not sure what the guy’s occupation will be.

Thank you for passing by, and please feel free to share about your own hobbies: I’d love to read about them.

On a side note, I’ll now post on Mondays, instead of Sundays.

Related post: Confession of a recovering book snob

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time coverContext

I have first heard about this book by Mark Haddon in a university class. The teacher’s sales pitch was that the narrator was autistic and therefore his view of the world was quite unique.

Now, the main character of my first novel is autistic too. I didn’t mean to make her, it just happened. That being said, I became curious about how this other autistic character was portrayed and consequently bought the book.

Review

I was hooked from the very first chapter’s number: 2. Yep, who cares about conventions, right? I’m all for throwing them through the window when they don’t suit my taste and have no disastrous consequences for anyone. So I started bonding right there and then with the narrator and protagonist, Christopher Boone.

It is nowhere mentioned that Christopher is autistic – although it is obvious to anyone who has basic knowledge on the subject – so I don’t see why people insist on using autism as a sales pitch. It is quite obvious that the writer didn’t want to put a label on him. And in fact, I wouldn’t even say that his autism was one of my favourite aspects of the book. On the contrary, I found him very “textbook” autistic – as in very stereotypical. Which is okay, but there is so much more to this book than that.

Christopher might seem very different at first, especially for a close-to-100% neurotypical reader (which I’m not, I’m 50-50 so to me he wasn’t that much “weirder” than the 90%+ neurotypical characters I read about all the time), but as the story progresses I think most people could realize he’s more like them than they would ever have thought. Which is often the case with anyone you think is “different”.

The characters are all unique, believable and not always very sympathetic. I had very mixed feelings for almost every character in the book (except Mrs Alexander, she’s the best). They were mostly loveable, but then they did that thing of which I disapproved (a different thing for each). However, that’s part of what made them so realistic. I felt deeply, in particular, for Christopher’s parents.

That being said, to me the most interesting aspects of this book were the plot and theme. Although Christopher keeps saying that “this is not a proper novel”, I think it is. There are several interesting mystery and adventure elements, but mostly it’s a story about life and how different people deal with it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time cover 2The main theme, to me, was that of courage. In the later half of the book, Christopher shows the kind of real-life courage that cannot fail to have an impact on me. Some other characters also show their courage… or lack of it.

Finally, this novel is refreshingly non-moralistic. Good people do good things and bad things. They care for the people they like and want to protect them, but they hurt them too, sometimes. They don’t mean it. Sometimes emotions cloud their judgement, sometimes they can’t understand how the other person thinks, and sometimes, one person’s needs are simply too much for what the other person can give. There are all three examples through the story and I loved that

Rating: 9/10

Who would I recommend this to? Everyone. Except if you’re reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the same time because there are spoilers. And yes, of course I was reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the same time or it wouldn’t have been funny: I had meant to finish it before reading this book, but then lack of time happened and I didn’t want to review two classics in a row so I put Sherlock on hold only to see my mistake when Christopher told all there was to know about its plot. Oh well.

Psst! I also posted a “life update” on my Facebook page.

When you don’t become a mother overnight

bunny mom and baby bBefore we become parents, we all have an idea of what it’ll be like. We’ll do this, not do that. We’re looking forward to holding our child’s little hand, yet we’re scared of it, too. We all know that it’ll be hard, but if other people can manage, so can we. That’s what I thought, too.

Well, now I manage… but it took me about 3 years to get to that point. And even now, some days I think I’m going to go crazy. I’ve had a panic attack not so long ago after almost two years free of it, and it was because sometimes I feel so incompetent as a wife and mother that there’s no way to express it.

My experience isn’t quite typical. For one, most women don’t have postpartum depression; I was in the unlucky 10-15% who did. It probably didn’t help my bonding with my child, but that’s not all there is to it.

I have an immense love for people, and animals, and plants.  However, I don’t “bond” easily with anyone or anything. I’ve always been this way. I don’t know why I thought it’d be different with my daughter… it wasn’t.

IMG_0629cOf course, I loved her from the moment I first knew I was pregnant. I became extra careful about my health to give her all the chances in the world of being healthy. I endured two months of acute pain that’d make me cry in order to breastfeed her so that she’d be as healthy as possible (don’t do that, it’s stupid; if you want to throw your baby away every time you breastfeed because they hurt you too much, you’d BOTH be better off with commercial preparation). I only stopped breastfeeding when I was admitted to the hospital for severe depression, and at the time it felt like yet another failure.

I felt so incompetent. Ironically, I was the one to tell my husband everything that had to be done because he was rather clueless about babies in general and girls’ hygiene in particular. I had the knowledge… but I didn’t have the stamina or the endurance required to take care of a baby. I didn’t have the “warmth” either. I’ve never liked holding babies, and it wasn’t different with my own.

I loved her, but there was no special bond yet. I didn’t enjoy my time with her, either. In the first year, I could probably count the happy moments on my fingers. I know I had some, but I cannot remember them. Then again, during that year, the “happy” moments were relative… none of them was really happy because I was depressed.

I felt so relieved when I started working again only 5 months after her birth. My in-laws would babysit her during the day, my husband would take care of her during the night. Still, I knew I “had” to spend time with her to work on that missing bond – my husband wouldn’t let me forget it – but it was difficult. All of this combined made me feel like I was a bad mother.2014-04-29 01a

After a year, I started feeling better and the bond with my daughter grew stronger, but still, having to “babysit” her felt like a chore. She had started walking at 10,5 months and was very energetic, still is, and I was always tired, still am. And even if it wasn’t for my energy level… she’s a handful. My parents and sisters and in-laws think so too, so it’s not in my head.

However, the biggest improvement yet happened when we put the diapers away because she didn’t need them anymore. Suddenly, she didn’t feel like a weight anymore. I could go out with her and not bring a huge bag. Sometimes, I don’t even need a stroller. And I don’t need to be constantly watching her, either.

Now, I’m probably no different from most mothers… well, no more different than I am from most people in general. You probably couldn’t tell that I ever had “bonding issues”. I am practically her sole caretaker one week out of two because of her father’s weird work schedule, but we get along just fine.IMG245

My daughter “prefers” her father; he’s the “motherly figure” while I’m more of a “fatherly authority figure” and anyway girls that age tend to cling to their father. But I know that, when I’m not with them either because I’m working or because I need a break from social interactions, she’d like me to be there.

She doesn’t think I’m a bad mother, nobody does. It was in my head all along.

There are more than just one type of mothers. None of them is perfect, and none of them is the “right” type. All mothers do what they can. There are moments of joy, and there are moments of tears. But they endure and never give up.

To those strong, resilient women, I’m wishing a very happy Mother’s Day. ♥

5 things Dungeons and Dragons taught me about life

nat201 – Progress doesn’t show immediately.

In Dungeons and Dragons, the experience you gain accumulates and, once in a while, you level up: you get more powerful, learn new skills, etc. It’s the same for almost anything you learn.

There will always be a time when you feel like you’re stagnating. You’re not, unless you’re doing nothing; you’re accumulating experience and will level-up eventually. You just have to be patient and find the right challenges for your level. A challenge too formidable might kill your character (or your motivation); one too humble will be a waste of time.

IMAG0029a2 – Sometimes the dice won’t roll your way and there’s no higher meaning to it.

No, the DM (or God) doesn’t hate you. It’s probability. A car accident is a probability; a disease is a probability; being hired is a probability. You can and should do your best so as to put the probabilities in your favour, but a 0,01% probability is still an existing one; a 90% probability isn’t a certainty. All of us get our fair share of fumbles. Don’t worry, in the long run, we get an almost equal amount of critical hits.

Also: Even level 20 characters can get a fumble. It doesn’t mean they’re any less worthy of their level.

3 – Alone, you’re vulnerable.

There was that strong half-orc warrior that got killed by one of the smallest creatures in the bestiary: it got on his back and he was unable to fight against it, dying a slow death. Had he not left the party alone, any accompanying member would have been able to save him. But he thought there was no need for that.

It’s easy for people considering themselves “strong” to think they can do everything on their own. But all of us have our kryptonite. Besides, it’s so much more fun to share experiences with people.

4 – You’ll encounter bosses once in a while.Creator Dragon a

Sometimes they’ll almost kill you. Sometimes you’ll fall and your companions will save you. Sometimes you companions wil fall and you’ll save them. Sometimes, too, one playing character will die and there’s nothing you could have done differently to save them. But even then… the rest of the party has to keep moving forward.

It’s really just like life. You can get knocked down and it doesn’t mean you’re weak. The characters most at risk of falling during a fight tend to be those with the highest armour class and constitution – in other words, the most resilient. They take all the hits to protect other characters who could not endure them. Which brings us to…

5 – Diversity is essential.

While the tank takes most of the damage, the mage, for her part, deals most of the damage. The healer cast protection spells on the party and keeps everybody alive. The thief is especially useful outside of encounters as a stealthy vanguard, lock picker or trap detector.

All those characters don’t necessarily get along, but they understand the value of having different skills and point of views in the party.

IMAG0039a Centaur made using hopeso 009’s technique.

It’s good to have contacts with people whose personality or culture is different from yours. Sometimes, problems that seem impossible for you to solve seem simple in their eyes.

Diversity is precious and we must embrace it.