Dave Sweet and Sarah Graham

What to do when your career that pays the bills is stalled and you can’t see the next step?

Why am I talking about careers, you ask? I’m supposed to write about books and writing and characters and urban fantasy. Well, when I was at When Words Collide this year, I attended two presentations with Detective Dave Sweet (an actual detective!) and some suggestive force from those presentations must have guided my hand to his book, because I bought it, Skeletons in my Closet: Life Lessons from a Homicide Detective with Sarah Graham as the co-author (who is not a detective but she is an actual author!).

What a great cover! Except for my giant sock

I’m struggling in my career right now, stuck in a position I can’t leave without a cost to those around me, and wondering what step to take next. Could this book help me figure out my next steps?

I was surprised and relieved when this book showed me that my core guiding principles could remain, that I didn’t have to reinvent most of my values. Values can always use tweaking in a world that changes as fast as ours but changing them quickly and often goes against what and who I am and lesson number 11 had my back:

Our best compass comes from trusting our instincts, following our heart and staying true to our core values.

This book isn’t a career advice book, though. It’s a life lessons book, a gritty, no holds barred exploration of what is good in relationships. The authors discuss what we can bring to our communities, our workplaces and our families by remembering these principles in our lives.

I didn’t make as many mistakes as I thought. When the foundation upon which I make my decisions is solid, than so will the results of those choices.

We can become those heroes in our books, not because we can shoot three guns at once but by making choices that centre around people.

Lesson # 3 – Leave people in a better place than you found them. 

Faith Hunter – Nell Ingram

I didn’t want to like Nell Ingram, Faith Hunter‘s main character in her Soulwood series. I have nothing in common with her, having never lived in the woods, in America’s south, or been a part of a religious cult-like community. For all intents and purposes, I should never have gotten past the first fifty pages of Blood of the Earth.

Blood of the EarthYet, I did. Nell is fascinating as a strong, reliable, and hard working main character, all traits I would like to embody.
She emerges from a cloistered existence, part of a very closed religious community that does everything it can to be self-reliant, into a town with paranormal cops policing her community that also has vampires, werewolves, witches, and humans. As a woman who owns her own house and woods, Nell must protect herself and her property from members of her church who view it as theirs because she is a woman and shouldn’t be able to own property.

To protect herself and her property, Nell relies on her wits and a couple of shotguns. She’s afraid but she doesn’t back down. She holds her own without help from others. What a powerful woman!
Nell’s new job with the paranormal investigative branch means all kinds of changes for her including cell phones and computers. Yet, these changes don’t phase her. She adjusts, keeps moving forward, forging her own path in a place where she has no one to follow.

Through her new job, she discovers her own latent abilities, a supernatural that can make plants grow, read the earth and much more. These abilities, to nurture and protect those around her, once discovered, in hindsight should be obvious since she’s protecting that which is closest to her, her freedom and her family, when we first meet her.

She risks herself to protect her family and her friends and by the end, she’s protecting her new work colleagues, expanding her world and those she considers close to her. She’s growing, blossoming like the plants she coaxes into full bloom and there’s lots more to come.

Rhonda Parrish – Sandra Wickham

Anthologies offer a great variety of stories so I love to grab one when I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for. Sirens, edited by Rhonda Parrish, is a collection that is a walk along the beach meandering into a neighbouring mangrove forest, soft water bathing buried toes even as gloomy trees threaten to stab feet and any other body parts with their thirsty roots.

The anthology contains “Experience” by Sandra Wickham, a story that had me cheering. Who doesn’t want to see the bad guy get punished?

Well, this is awkward. The main character doesn’t have a name, just “I” since the story is in first person.

She’s a Siren, who works at the behest of the Goddess, to avenge women who have been wronged by men and has done so for millennium. Yet, now she just sings, pulling her audience so far but never over to obsession, having lost the desire to kill.

The Siren has been called to kill again and she doesn’t want to. Her Goddess removes her abilities to force her to hunt and she moves quickly after that to comply since she ages into an old woman instead of a sultry siren.

Our Siren becomes a wounded woman’s revenge on an assailant from many years ago and I cheered for the Siren because violations stay with victims. Those hurts linger, informing a victim’s decisions and choices forever afterwards. The perpetrator should, our innate sense of justice tells us, pay for the damage that that has been inflicted. It doesn’t happen enough in real life so I love stories with characters that deliver justice, even if these simple solutions would never balance out in real life.

What really struck me about the woman wronged though was her choice to keep her own experiences despite those painful wounds: “I’ve done my time, lived my life. I like who I am now.”

Axel Howerton – Jimmy Finn

What do we as a society do with misfits? More importantly what do misfits do with themselves in a society hell bent on conformity and the norm? In Furr , Jimmy Finn’s mother sends him to a psychiatrist and eventually to the mental health ward of the local hospital so he can be cured. Society tries to cure our misfits with drugs and therapy but for Jimmy Finn, none of those work. He’s a misfit with urges and rages. They come and they go and he can live a somewhat normal life with a job and an apartment. He drinks to cope, consuming a burning liquid to incinerate what he can’t control. 

Until he starts drinking on the job, and he wakes up in a park with the police chasing him. He runs from the city into the hills, where, through a series of unexpected discoveries, he finds himself because he finds others like him and finds his past. 

Who hasn’t felt out of place at some point – at the office, with friends, surrounded by family? My current out of place environment is the office. I ride this cusp having been so long in one job I’m considered experienced and senior yet realizing that younger, less experienced people are passing me by. I stick out like a sore thumb. 

Our need to belong is strong, hard wired into us to maximize our survival, and Jimmy wages a constant battle with that need to belong when he is so out of place in modern society. He desperately wants acceptance but can’t have it, squirming against the order that society tries to impose upon him time and again, fleeing the skyscrapers and cement and roads for open skies, woods and small towns.

Oh, how I would love to do the same when that out of place feeling strikes, waiting to pounce on me from behind every cubicle wall. 

In the mountains, Jimmy finds an unexpected place where everyone knows him and what’s going on, leaving him to wonder why he doesn’t know what’s going on. What he does find is a place where he belongs, one way or another and he will carve that place out for himself or die trying. 

Good on you, Jimmy Finn.

Finding Time to Write

I am busy. Are you busy? Everyone is busy! Everyone is so busy…

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So, how do you find time to write, or play the drums, or run or build models or whatever it is that brings you pleasure? I find it by scheduling my life in a militaristic manner where I know exactly what’s happening and for how long at each moment of the day. At least I do that until illness or exhaustion or work stress knock that idea sideways and I have a day or a few days or even a few weeks where I don’t write. This used to drive me crazy. To have my carefully planned schedule thrown out of the windows was an insult, a slap in the face taunting me by pointing out what I wasn’t going to accomplish. Then I learned to let it go and accept that I couldn’t control most of my day let alone every minute of my day and that I would still be able to write my 600 words a day.

That’s the big part of what I’m doing when I’m writing – keeping the daily goal realistic and with a dog, cat, 21 month old and a full time job, I need to pick a goal that I can actually accomplish. I’ve managed 600 words (give or take a 100 here and there) a day with enough flexibility to miss days when I needed to, and I was able to finish my work in progress. If I can’t reach my goals until the end of my work in progress, I adjust it. Goals can vary as needs change and if I can accept that, then I will be more likely to finish my work in progress. Otherwise,  I may just burn out and never finish it.

Seanan McGuire – Toby Daye

I first found Seanan McGuire through a friend. Word of mouth is so important for books! Spread the word for those that you love.

Ms McGuire has a couple of series but I started with her October Daye series, which follows October (Toby) Daye, a changeling who navigates the Fae courts and its denizens in modern day San Francisco. 

Toby does dumb things. Really stupid, dangerous things that get her injured and push her limited magical knowledge and ability to dangerous territory. However her tenacity and moral code have given her powerful friends who want to help her, when she will let them. 

Doing the right thing is what we are taught in most of our childhood and adulthood stories. We’re told that doing the right thing will be rewarded. Adulthood teaches us this is not actually how the world works. But Toby’s actions, doing the right thing even when it means she may lose everything, does get rewarded through her relationships and the high regard people hold her in. 

It is this ideal that draws me to her, that we could do the right thing to help someone else and have that decision be a positive action. Characters like her are important because they remind us that intention can count for something, even if the results are never as pure as what shows up in our books.

 

Returning to Exercise

Sometimes though exercise just isn’t possible due to the other commitments I have. 

Life takes me away from exercise from time to time, whether it’s illness, playing with my son, taking my dog for a walk, vacation, getting together with friends or any of a bunch of other things. It happens and I’m at peace with it. Sort of. I’m trying to accept that I can schedule my life all I want but events will happen to disrupt my plans.  

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By giving myself a pass and being okay with not exercising for whatever period of time I don’t, I find it much easier to get back into exercise when I’m ready physically and mentally. Sometimes I have to start at the beginning with the 1, 2, and 5 pound weights but even then, I find it easier to progress and get stronger than when I first started exercising.

I used to make myself feel guilty about all the things I should be doing and wasn’t –  exercising, finishing assignments early, writing, cleaning. Feeling guilty about not doing those things sucked all my willpower to do those things. I would feel so bad about myself and feel like such a failure that I still wouldn’t start them. So I decided to stop making myself feel guilty about something I hadn’t done and start being kind to myself. I started to recognize that I could only do so much in a day and could only say yes to so many things before I burnt out so now I give myself a pass and decide that tomorrow will be a day that exercising may happen. 

I’m slowly getting back into regular exercising. I run with my dog when I can, I go to the gym, I walk. Illness and work pressures have made this a stop start process so I’m not really into a routine yet. That’s okay because I’m doing what I can when I can and sometimes that’s amazing.

In one of my previous posts, I talked about being stuck and as a result, not exercising. I’m coming out of that total paralysis that sucked all the joy out of exercise for me. Fingers crossed!