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Any Other Love: Chapter 1

Packing was the hardest stage of any trip. It signified the last chance to turn back. It also served as a depressing reminder of just how many pills, salves, and electronic devices Amarie relied on.

She rolled her hand over the steroid pills that her primary care doctor had reluctantly prescribed rattled in their bottle. They were tiny. How such a small, foul-tasting white pill could make her feel better so quickly mystified her. It stumped her doctor, too. Even worse, it would stop working just as quickly when she finished the prescription.

Amarie closed her eyes, pushing the negative thoughts away. She should be excited. After all, it wasn’t often that her entire group of friends got together anymore. Not since they’d graduated high school and all gone their separate ways, to colleges scattered across the country.

She was almost done with her own degree. After that, she had no idea what was next. For all she knew, the last-minute camping trip could be the last time she’d see her friends for a while.

Glancing over at her neatly written checklist, she ran through it again, eyeing the items on her bed. Pillbox, check. TENS machine, check. Thank goodness it was the size of a TV remote—unlike the giant units in physical therapy that they had to roll around on carts. Prescriptions in their bottles, in case anyone questioned her—check.

Bathing suit.

She moved aside hoodies and tiny travel bottles of shampoo. She’d forgotten that—and sunscreen. Even though she’d been blessed with a rich, tawny complexion that could tan to a deep bronze in the summer, her mami had never let her forget that even the darkest of Dominicans could burn, too.

As if summoned, Paloma knocked on the open door and stuck her head in. “Did you pack your sunscreen?”

“Ay, Mami.” Though Amarie rolled her eyes, a smile touched her lips. If ever the day came that her mother stopped, well, mothering her, Amarie would be struck dead with disbelief. Not to mention a smidge of concern.

Paloma held out a plastic grocery bag. “Your bathing suit was hanging in the shower.”

Taking the proffered bag, Amarie peered inside. Nestled among the strings of her bikini was a neatly folded giant beach towel—and two different bottles of sun lotion.

“One’s for tanning, the other for protection. So you can alternate,” her mother explained. “Use the 30 SPF on your face, mi amor. You don’t want that leathery look.”

“You mean wrinkles,” Amarie corrected.

“No.” Paloma shook her head. “I mean leather skin.” She made a face. “Like your bad cousin Jaime. All those tattoos, now ruined by wrinkles and rough skin. Speaking of, make sure you use the 30 on your tattoo.”

Amarie stifled a laugh. “Mami, we’ve been through this. I don’t have any tattoos.”

“That’s right. You don’t. My good girl doesn’t even dye her hair.” Paloma beamed.

“You know, dying my hair or getting a tattoo wouldn’t make me bad,” she said, thinking of all the times she’d snuck out to get drunk with Lucas and their friends.

“No, but it would set a bad example for your students.”

“My future students, Mami.” Amarie arranged her face into what she hoped was a pleasant expression. Behind that face, swirls of doubt shadowed her mind. The fall semester was going to be her last, and then she’d be a teacher—just like her mother, and Paloma’s mother before her. Except Amarie wouldn’t be an elementary school teacher.

Paloma’s face softened. “You’re going to be a wonderful pre-school teacher,” she said.

Amarie nodded. She didn’t say that she hoped so, that it’d be a miracle if she got through her last semester and found a position that didn’t mind her missing time for doctor’s appointments.

“How long are you staying, again?” Paloma asked.

“Just the one night.” Amarie surveyed her bed again. To anyone else, it might look like an awful lot of things to pack for just one night of camping.

“And you’ll be okay sleeping on the ground?” Paloma pressed the pads of her fingers to her face, fretting. “Do you want your Papi’s old air mattress? It still holds air. You just have to refill it now and then.”

Amarie smiled. “No, Mami. I’ll be okay.” She hoped. More than likely, she’d be too busy making out with Lucas to notice. Besides, the guys were bringing plenty of booze, and her best friend Neve always had a blunt tucked away, ready to go. She’d be fine.

“I’ll leave you to it, then.” Her mom smiled, then turned, her footsteps down the hall as light as a fairy floating through the woods.

Taking a deep breath, Amarie removed the bottles of shampoo and conditioner from her bed. It was only one night. She didn’t need them. Everything else, though, she’d have to fit into one bag. Lucas would kill her if she made him schlep all of their gear and three bags of her own.

She put aside the heating pad, too. It’d be too hot, and besides, there wouldn’t be anywhere she could plug it in. She’d have to hope that her joints behaved for the one night. If all else failed, she could just go home. It wasn’t as if they were even going out of town. Black Rock State Park was less than five miles away from her parents’ house.

She was going to try to enjoy herself, though. She rarely got to see Neve anymore, and Lucas wouldn’t be happy with her if she took off early.

Subtracting her extra pillows, instant ice packs, and a few other things from her bed, Amarie shoved the remaining items into her tote.

“Thank goodness for obnoxiously large Victoria’s Secret totes,” she murmured.

She was going to have fun, she told herself. Everything would be just like normal: the guys cracking open cheap cans of beer and shotgunning them; Neve braiding her hair while they tanned on the small lake beach; the group sharing silly ghost stories around the fire as they passed the blunt back and forth.

Still, even as she added one more pillow to her tote—just in case—Amarie wished that, for once, things could be a little different.

* * *

Because their campsite was so small, the group decided to bring as few vehicles as possible. Amarie hated the idea of leaving behind her little blue Hyundai Accent. If she needed to leave, she’d have to talk someone sober into bringing her home. Or, she surmised with a grimace, she’d have to call her parents like a stranded teenager. She propped an elbow on her big ass tote and rested her head on her hand.

Lucas was late—as usual. She’d been sitting outside for fifteen minutes, not that she minded. The sun was warm on her skin and, despite the humidity, there was a regular breeze that made the air bearable. What was bugging her was her empty iMessages.

He hadn’t even texted to give her a heads up.

A pristine white SUV pulled into her driveway. Her best friend leaned out of the open driver’s side window. “Need a ride, little girl?”

“Aren’t creepers supposed to drive white vans?” Amarie grinned and stood, hefting her ginormous tote with both arms. Her elbows ached in protest.

Neve pressed a button and the door to the trunk lifted open, its air compression mechanism hissing softly. “True,” she agreed, “but beggars can’t be choosers.” She patted the dashboard.

Amarie fit her tote into a nook between a packed tent and several folded camping chairs. Then she joined Neve inside, the cold air conditioning a relief. “I can’t believe your parents let you drive this thing.”

“Me either.” Neve flipped on the rear camera and began backing out of the driveway.

“Then again,” Amarie said, “I guess it’s harder to total a vehicle when you have cameras helping you.”

“In my defense, someone T-boned me while I was parked.” Neve eased the SUV—which reminded Amarie more of a spaceship than a car—onto the road.

“Excuses, excuses,” she teased. “So, while I’m super happy to see your face in person, I’m a little confused. I thought Lucas was picking me up.”

“I know you were looking forward to making out with your boyfriend,” Neve said, slipping on sunglasses against the glare, “but you’re stuck with me.” She puckered her lips, and Amarie laughed.

“You’re too straight for me,” she said. “Seriously, though. Where’s Lucas?”

“The guys couldn’t fit all of their gear in one car, so they asked me to be the transporter. Matt is coming later in his truck with the rest of it.” Neve jerked her head toward the back seat, her delicate but tightly coiled curls bouncing with the motion. Though her skin was a few shades lighter than Amarie’s, she had her beat in the hair department.

“Oh.” Amarie eyed Neve’s hair, mentally comparing it to her own spirals for probably the millionth time. While her curls would weigh heavily against her neck during the hottest part of the day, Neve’s floated in a cloud around her face.

“I know what you’re doing,” Neve said. “Not all of us can be this blessed. Thank goodness for my beautiful African genes.” She patted her hair.

“Rub it right in,” Amarie said with a smile. She scrolled through her texts again. “I just . . . I’m sorry for obsessing, but he didn’t even text me.”

“You’re like a conversational ping pong ball.” Neve glanced at her over her sunglasses. “Boys, hair envy, and then boys again. If I promise to braid your hair and feed you wine coolers, will you relax?”

She sighed. “I’ll try. It’s just, I thought he was coming.”

“You’ll see your man soon enough,” Neve said. “God, you guys are so gross. You’re like the power couple of the group. He looks like a model, and you ain’t so bad yourself.”

Amarie pictured Lucas’s full, sensuous lips and sensitive brown eyes. He was gorgeous, and she did like him, but being Lucas’s girlfriend felt more like the right thing to do rather than the thing her heart desperately needed. He was her best friend’s boyfriend’s friend—not to mention studying to be a special needs teacher—and it’d just made sense. When they both started working at the same Dunkin Donuts together, it sealed the deal.

“All right, girl, quit spacing out and pouting, and help me sing this embarrassingly catchy ESX song.” Neve turned the volume to the XM radio station up. She definitely had the comfortable lifestyle of a doctor down. By the time she graduated Stanford, finished her residency, and started practicing, Amarie mused, Neve’s life wouldn’t be much different.

She wondered, in ten years’ time, where she and all of her friends would be. Despite how easily the group had fallen into place, they were all going in completely different directions. Even she and Lucas couldn’t possibly withstand the test of time. Especially not with her deteriorating mystery illness.

She was going to be lucky if she made it long enough to gain tenure as a teacher.

“Okay, you asked for it.” Neve turned the volume higher and practically screeched the annoying but catchy boy band song.

Rolling her eyes, Amarie obliged her friend. She was supposed to be having fun on this trip, after all.

* * *

Amarie snuggled into her cozy sweats, enjoying the way the combed cotton caressed her body. The sun had dipped below the tree line a while ago, and even though it wouldn’t set until around 8:30 p.m., the pines overhead made their campsite chilly.

“We’re almost out of wine coolers,” Neve lamented. She closed the cooler and joined Amarie, settling into her camping chair. She handed Amarie a bottle.

“You two are a pair of lushes,” Jason said from his position by the fire pit. He squatted next to it, stacking kindling around balled up pages of newspaper and a few candle stubs. For a guy with such a cherubic face, he was far handier than Lucas.

Amarie supposed that, out of the trio, Matt and Jason were more the outdoorsmen than her guy.

Jason swore in Portuguese. Amarie looked over just in time to catch him sucking on a finger.

“Maybe we should wait for Matt,” she said.

He shot her a dirty look. “I can build a fire.”

“Clearly,” Neve said, arching an eyebrow at him.

Despite the ribbing, Jason looked at her tenderly. He returned to his task, striking another match and holding it to the newspaper.

Amarie wished that she and Lucas had the same connection that Neve and Jason seemed to have. Even as Lucas scooped her out of her chair, settling her into his lap, she didn’t feel the butterflies in her tummy that she should have—though things much lower heated and clenched.

With Lucas, things were purely sexual. Her heart just wasn’t in it, no matter how hard she tried. She snuggled into his arms, willing herself to feel it. His arms wound around her, holding her close, but the only warmth she sensed was body heat and lust.

She wanted that great love, the kind that would knock her off her feet, sending her life careening off track. Even Matt had found it—the only one of them that rarely dated, dedicating most of his time to his mother and little brother. If he could, surely so could she. So far, though, the longer she waited to fall in love with Lucas, the more she realized that their relationship was seriously lacking.

The sound of tires rolling over the dirt road snagged her attention. Matt’s truck backed into the campsite. The party would really be starting soon.

She craned her neck, trying to get a glimpse of Matt’s new girl. Her name was something uncommon, something that started with an R. Rosalie or Rhiannon or something like that. Her eyebrows scrunched together as she fought through the brain fog to remember.

The girl who hopped out of the truck first wasn’t anything like she’d expected, though. Her heart hitched, catching mid-beat. Wild, teal hair framed her face, contrasting lush red lips. Bright, round blue eyes surveyed the campsite.

She looked nothing like Amarie had pictured. She certainly didn’t look like Matt’s type. When her gaze lighted on Amarie and she smiled, Amarie’s heart actually fluttered.

“Guys,” Matt said, drawing her attention. “This is Rowan.” He gestured to another girl standing shyly next to him. A pretty girl, but Amarie’s gaze immediately flickered back to the other woman. “And her friend Charlotte.”

Charlotte, she mouthed, tasting the name on her lips.

From across the site, Charlotte’s eyes met hers. She held her gaze. Fireflies drifted through the purple-streaked twilight, their lights flashing gently as they called to each other: Be mine, be mine, be mine. Amarie’s hands trembled on the arms of her chair. The soft breeze that had caressed her skin all day stroked Charlotte’s hair, moving it away from her face.

Those cherry lips parted, and the campsite around them disappeared.

“Hi,” Charlotte said, wiggling her fingers. “Nice to meet you.” Those eyes never wavered, trained solely on Amarie.

“You too,” Amarie whispered. She drank in those eyes, mind flipping through all of the colors she knew, trying to remember the name of the exact shade of Charlotte’s eyes. They were somewhere between cyan and gray, a blue bright and pale, like the spot where the sky met the ocean on the horizon.

“Call me Char,” Charlotte said, and it was as if she was speaking directly to Amarie. Every time her lips moved, Amarie strained to memorize them. They were so red and plump, as if they were made especially for kissing. She had to restrain herself from imagining exactly how swollen she could make them if she ever had the chance to kiss Char.

“Welcome to our humble gathering,” Lucas rumbled from underneath Amarie. The vibration of his voice through her body snapped her out of the trance that Char had put her under.

She yanked her eyes toward the flames licking the newspaper, igniting the sticks. Jason stacked skinny logs in an upside down V around the flames.

Matt laughed. “Dude, are you drunk? You’re supposed to set up the teepee shape before you light the kindling.” He shook his head. “Let me get our tents pitched, and then I’ll take over fire duty.”

Amarie straightened, wondering where Char was going to sleep. Since Matt and Rowan were together, that made Char the seventh wheel. Surely Rowan wouldn’t leave her friend to sleep alone in the woods. She opened her mouth, ready to make rearrangements so that she, Neve, and Char shared a tent, leaving Lucas and Jason in the third tent.

Rowan pulled a tent of her own out of the bed of Matt’s pickup, though. To Matt’s dismay, she and Char began pitching it.

Amarie pressed her lips together, feeling a bit sorry for Matt—and herself. She had a boyfriend, though. She snuggled into Lucas, closing her eyes. Besides, even if she was single, it wasn’t as if Char would actually be into her. Their “connection” had simply been a product of all of the booze floating through her veins. Nothing more.

Still, all throughout the night and the rest of their camping trip, she couldn’t get Char out of her head. If she took a leap and broke up with Lucas, she might find herself in the kind of love that swept her away. Or maybe she would be living yet another fantasy.


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#TeaserTuesday: From Every Angle

From every angle, they were a mismatch. Warning signs screamed that they shouldn’t be together. She’d known from the beginning that it was a long shot, yet there she was, sharing a hotel room with the girl she couldn’t imagine living without.

Any Other Love will be available this summer! Join my email list to get updated as soon as I have a release date for you. Click here.

I’ve got just over 32K words down for the WIP. They’re on their first real date now and it’s basically the cutest thing ever. I created a spoonie comedian just for the occasion.

I’ve got some freelance work this week, as well as lots of words to write for Any Other Love, so I’m going to be pretty quiet online. See you on the other side!

Lessons Learned

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Five years ago, when I first started out on my publishing journey, I naively thought that I could use my existing social media for my new business. It wasn’t hard to separate business from personal at first, but everything changed when I signed with my publisher. Suddenly authors were friend-requesting me on Facebook, even though I’d resolved to keep my personal profile separate from my business page. I felt bad denying requests, though, and soon my feed became a mix of everything ever.

A friend suggested I make a separate account strictly for business. She’d done so and, even though it was one more account to manage, it’d helped her separate the two. I still stubbornly insisted that I only wanted one. Over the years, readers began friend-requesting me from my reader group. It was fun being friends with both readers and colleagues as well as my IRL family and friends, but it also got tricky.

For example, if I wanted to go on Facebook just for fun, there was no avoiding work-related things. If a friend tagged me in an off-color meme, I had to do damage control.

Keeping the two separate was getting more and more difficult. I kept tossing the idea around, but hesitated because creating a second account and moving people, pages, and groups around would be a gargantuan task. It wasn’t as if I had spare hours to just sit around cleaning up my social media act.

This weekend I decided it was time, though. Today I sat down and created a separate Facebook; soon I’ll be doing the same for Twitter. If you’re an author, reader, or someone else in the book biz and you get a friend request from this account, it’s really me. I’m friend-requesting here and there, though, so it doesn’t get too tedious or hard on my wrists. Feel free to add me if I haven’t already made it to you!

There’s an old saying that you can’t mix business with pleasure, and even though I love what I do, it’s still true. I’m really looking forward to being able to sign into Twitter, for example, and just see book stuff.

Speaking of book stuff, today I hit 28K for Any Other Love. I’m thinking about release dates now, and I’ll be able to share more info soon! 💜

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5 Comfort Movies for When You Need R&R

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When I’m having a bad pain day, dealing with bone-deep fatigue, or just need to feel safe, I look for a calming movie to watch. They’re the kind of movies that you can nap to, if you wanted to. No alarming soundtrack music swells out of nowhere. Though there is conflict, it’s light enough that it doesn’t stress you out.

Usually I look for children’s and family movies—something immersive and soothing. Romances and dramas are good, too. I look at the movie art and description. If the colors are soft or pastel, it’ll be calming—something I can nap to. If they’re bright, chances are it will be a relaxing experience that I can almost fall into.

When I can’t find something new, I have a few go to movies from my childhood.

Phenomenon

On his birthday, a man is struck by a strange light and develops extraordinary abilities.

Though there are a few exciting moments, you can easily lie down and relax. Just a heads up: though Phenomenon is a bit tragic, it ends on a happy note.

The Dark Crystal

The last two Gelflings embark on a quest to repair the Dark Crystal and save the world.

I remember watching this on rainy days as a small child. The Skeksis scared the crap out of me back then, but since it’s become a staple. It’s a colorful movie set in a fantasy world, and few things are more calming to me.

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

A trio of pets get separated from their humans and decide to find their own way home.

I may or may not have watched this 1,900 times as a kid. Shadow, Chance, and Sassy made me desperately want a pet, and Sassy made me fall in love with cats. “No, dummy dummy dummy.” 😂 I think there are two moments in this entire movie where your heart rate kicks up, and everything turns out all right in the end anyway.

The Secret Garden

When an orphaned girl comes to stay with her uncle in his manor, she discovers a secret garden—and the key to restoring her family.

Here’s another movie from my childhood. Are you noticing a pattern? Though there are some sad undertones, The Secret Garden is visually stunning with all of its beautiful landscapes, and there are few loud moments.

A Little Princess

A young girl becomes a servant at her boarding school when her father goes missing.

Another movie based on a Frances Hodgson-Burnett book, and also one of my all-time favorites from childhood. Sarah’s stories alone are super soothing. I wish someone had the foresight to hire that kid to record audiobooks. Even though there are a couple sad moments, this is another movie that has a happy ending.

Each of these has a bit of a fantasy element to it, most of them are children’s movies, and all of them were filmed in the ’80s and ’90s but have an evergreen feel. There’s no distinct decade music (though the score from The Dark Crystal is admittedly pretty ’80s).

Unfortunately none of these are on Netflix or Amazon Prime at the moment, but they’re worth renting or owning.

What are your favorite movies for R&R? Let me know in the comments!

Almost Adults: The Perfect NA Movie

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Everyone who knows me well knows I’m still not-so-quietly grieving the abrupt cancellation of Chasing Life. For those of you who somehow missed out on this treasure, it was an ABC Family Freeform show about a young woman who gets diagnosed with cancer just as her career is beginning. It followed the ups and downs of April’s navigation of adulthood, family, illness, romance, friendships, and the journalism industry, and it was fucking fantastic. Then ABC Family decided to re-brand themselves and they canned a show that meant a lot to many people affected by cancer (and new adulthood).

Honestly, don’t get me started on Freeform. Not long after that, they had a show called Recovery Road that was aimed for their re-branded teen audience. That was a kick-ass show about substance abuse recovery, but it too got canned for reasons I will never understand.

Yes, I’m bitter. #saltyaf

Anyway, between the loss of Chasing Life and the downward spiral of New Adult fiction, I’ve really had a hole in my life. I’m pushing 30, so I’m not really in the NA target audience anymore, but I really, really love it anyway. I could write a whole other post all about my love for NA—and I have—but I’m here to tell you about Almost Adults.

Where lit has failed, TV and film have swooped in to save us all. I’ve noticed more and more shows and movies telling compelling stories about 20-somethings, and Almost Adults is one of them.

This comedy feature follows two best friends in their final year of college while they transition into adulthood. One embraces her sexuality and tries to catch up on everything she has missed during her teenage years, while the other ends a long term relationship with her boyfriend and discovers her life isn’t going as planned. Both struggle to keep their friendship together as they begin growing apart. (via)

I stumbled upon Almost Adults while sifting through Netflix for something lighthearted. I loved the BFFship between Mac and Cassie, and even though I’m getting to be a seasoned adult (sort of), I related to a lot of what they were going through. It’s always difficult to find your ground when you’re in a lifelong friendship and you both seem to be moving in different directions.

I thought the characters were pretty realistic, and there were some great one-liners. Though I didn’t quite find it believable that Cassie had no clue Mac was a lesbian, I still loved the dynamics and true-to-life situations. Elliot was adorable and I’m now looking for an excuse to name a character after her (though I like spelling it with two “T”s).

These kinds of stories are (still) what I want for NA lit. Though I’ve broadened my brand a little to include YA and adult stories too, I still write the kind of NA that I want to see on shelves. Almost Adults was fantastic inspiration, and a great feel-good movie to snuggle up with.

Have you seen Almost Adults? What did you think? Which movies have you seen lately? Let me know in the comments! I’m sort of a Netflix junkie.

I Want to Be the Kind of Person Who…

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I’ve been in reactive mode for as long as I can remember; things keep happening, and I do things in response. For years I’ve felt like I’ve only just been keeping my head above water. Now, I know shit happens in life and I can’t necessarily control everything, but I’d really like to break out of that cycle.

Yesterday Sandy and I were looking for a laugh and searched for “how to adult” videos on YouTube, when we came across this.

What I thought was going to be funny ended up really opening my eyes. I don’t think I’ve been victimizing myself, per se, but considering all the trauma I’ve been through, it’s really easy to fall into a trap where I feel like bad things just keep happening to me.

It’s time for good things.

I keep seeing all of these indie authors making it and thinking things like “When is it going to be my turn?” and “What am I doing wrong?” I see friends buying houses and going on vacations, and I wonder if those things will ever happen for me. It’s not my fault that I got sick or that my pain is so debilitating I can’t hold down a “normal” job, but there are things I can control.

In December I got a new phone and one of its features is a bedtime and wakeup time. It’s been a game changer for me. All I had to do was tell it how many hours of sleep I wanted per night, then fiddled around a bit with a dial until I found times that I could live with. Since then, I’ve been going to bed around 11 p.m. and waking up at 8 a.m. almost religiously. I say “almost” because I have it set for weekdays and let myself stay up and sleep in a bit later on weekends. Aside from a few exceptions—painsomnia, events, Stardew Valley or Netflix rabbit holes—I’ve been sticking to this for months. And you know what?

I’ve been much more productive. I sleep better. I have more energy. I’m in a better mood.

I still have pain, I still have fatigue, I’m still sick, but combined with my new meds, I’m in a much better place. And all I did was change one small thing.

Kalyn’s video got me thinking: What if I took things a step further? Rather than stumbling upon and playing with an iPhone feature, I can make some conscious tweaks and improve my life even more. I sat down and thought about the kind of life I want, and I came up with this list:

  • I want to be the kind of person who will write every day.
  • I want to be the kind of person who is able to comfortably pay my bills and buy necessities.
  • I want to be the kind of person who has my own car.
  • I want to be the kind of person who can buy a house.
  • I want to be the kind of person who will regularly treat myself to a manicure and pedicure.

 

This week I wrote every day. I didn’t set a daily word count goal (though I do like to write at least 1K words). I was just happy with myself as long as I wrote. Usually, even if I didn’t feel up to it, the words started flowing after I pecked away at the keyboard for a bit. It didn’t hurt that I’m really enjoying writing Any Other Love. Even though I’d like to write much more, much faster, I’m still making progress. I’m making my way to 25K, then 30K, then 40K… all the way to my projected 70K.

I don’t work on weekends, so I don’t usually write then (but sometimes if I’m really fiending, I “sneak” in some writing). Saturdays and Sundays are mine to do with as I please. Netflix and chilling on my couch in the old fashioned sense of the word? Yep. Playing an obscene amount of Stardew Valley? Yes. Spending time with friends and family? Oh yeah.

Those are two more simple rules that I follow, and it works.

I’m still figuring out a plan for the other things—after all, one doesn’t simply buy a house out of thin air—but they feel achievable using these principles.

What kind of person do you want to be? Let me know in the comments!

Setting Up a Spoonie Couch Office

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Chronically Creative: Creativity and Lifestyle Tips for Spoonies

I say all the time that, while I’d definitely rather not be chronically ill, my disease did shove me onto the path of being an author. Before I got sick, I was only dancing around writing; I wrote for myself and sometimes posted things online, while working 10-16 hours a day as a web designer and social media consultant. When I had to leave the workforce, I started writing full-time. I was laid up most of the time anyway; I might as well be productive.

Since then, I’ve discovered lots of tools and tricks to assist me in my career. I’d like to start sharing them weekly, as well as interviews with other creative spoonies and some lifestyle tips. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but I’m kind of terrible at keeping schedules and staying consistent—mostly because being chronically ill is a full-time job in and of itself. So these Chronically Creative posts might not be weekly, but if you enjoy them and find them useful, I’ll try my best to do them as often as possible.

This week I’m sharing how I set up my own couch workstation or office.

Disclosure: The links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. I earn a small commission from your purchase, which goes directly to my writing business. Your support is much appreciated!

Since I’m often laid up on my couch with an ice pack, heating pad, or hell, my electric blanket, I’ve been doing most of my writing there. I’ve had to find a balance between being comfortable and creating an ergonomic setup to prevent any further damage to my joints.

I work on a MacBook Pro, with my couch reclined just enough so that my legs and feet are propped up. Behind my head, I tuck a flat throw pillow for support; otherwise I tend to lean forward, especially when I’m super into what I’m writing. I typically wear my wrist braces while using the computer, and often have my TENS machine handy for a nice massage on whichever joints are being assholes that day. Since painkillers tend to make me loopy or sleepy, I try to use other methods of pain management while working, which I’ll share as well.

Please be sure to consult your own doctor to create the best setup for your individual needs.

Wrist Braces

Over the years I’ve tried many wrist braces, but the only ones I can stand wearing are 3M’s Futuro for Her. I originally found them at Target. Unfortunately, you have to purchase the left and right braces separately—though I do suppose that’s because the average person has arthritis or carpal tunnel in one or the other.

They come in black or pastel blue; mine are somewhere between white and blue because I’ve bleached the hell out of them. My hands tend to get sweaty when I sleep with them on, okay? Not to mention I don’t have washer/dryer hookup in my apartment, so when I’m in a pinch I soak them in a bucket of bleach in my tub.

I can’t recommend these enough. I’ve had them for years and they’re well past due for a retirement and replacement. Previous braces I’ve had were too scratchy or immobilized my fingers too much to type. These keep my wrists straight so that I can continue using my laptop. (Someday I’ll get me a fancy iMac, with its sexy ergonomic keyboard and mouse. Someday!)

Lap Desk

I bought my first laptop back in 2006—a clunky Gateway that I was super proud of. I was living with my grandparents and didn’t have a desk at the time, so I often worked on a TV tray in the living room or propped up in my bed. I finally caved and bought a ridiculously flimsy plastic lap desk at Barnes & Noble. It eventually cracked and I replaced it with a laptop desk on wheels that I could use from the couch. I still needed something for when I was bedridden, though, so I finally broke down and got a new lap desk.

It’s so old, I honestly couldn’t tell you what brand it is or where I got it. Probably Target, because I’m a junkie. Mine is like a vinyl, and not really ideal for keeping your laptop cool. When we got my sweet Biz Noni a laptop, my sister and I bought her a lap desk with a wooden surface. I’m not sure of the brand either, but this one is pretty close, as well as comparable in price.

Between my wrist braces and lap desk, I’ve got the perfect (mostly) ergonomic setup right in my living room. The lap desk can be tucked away behind my accent table, and my laptop can be put away in my office. (Eventually I’ll do a post on my office setup—but first I need to get in there and reorganize, because it’s become a disaster area again since I started working on the couch.)

Ideally, I’d have an iMac on an actual desk, with a nice comfy chair. But this setup works for me for now, and that’s what’s important. Like I said, I also tuck a pillow behind my head to keep from straining my neck and shoulders. Sometimes I take my laptop, desk chair, and Ergobeads wrist rest and work from the kitchen table.

They also make a cushion for your mouse, but I don’t have mine anymore since I haven’t use a mouse in ages. I absolutely love my Ergobeads and highly recommend them, as they’re supportive even if you don’t have wrist braces and are working from a laptop or even using a regular keyboard.

In case you’re curious, this is my office chair.

I originally purchased mine last year from Walmart, which got it from Overstock. It appears to be only available through third-party retailers now. It’s not quite as shaped to my back as I’d hoped, but it’s still pretty comfortable—especially considering it was about $140, which is cheap for an office chair IMHO. I got it to go with the desk my aunt gave me, but unfortunately the seat is too wide, so I usually use it with my writer’s desk hutch thing. Brain fog is hiding the actual name for both desks right now, so I’ll try to update this when it comes to me.

Pain Management

I’m going to keep this section short and sweet, as this post has gone well over 1,000 words and I’d originally planned on it being much shorter.

Because I get a limited supply of Tramadol (not to mention it tends to be binding on the GI system), I try to use non-narcotic pain management during the day. Never mind that Tramadol can make me woozy like I’ve had a glass of wine, and some of the stronger painkillers make me outright loopy or sleepy.

My joint pain is migratory, so it’s important that I have a medicine that can target all of it at once or different tools that I can use in different areas. Hands down, my favorite is my TENS machine. I got mine a couple years ago at the suggestion of my friend Melanie, and it’s been a lifesaver. It’s so small and discreet, I’ve even taken it with me to doctors’ appointments, while running errands, and on trips.

I also have a heating pad that can be used for moist heat, too, using a special insert. I learned to appreciate TENS machines and moist heat packs during physical therapy. While PT didn’t help my hip, those sessions at the end were heavenly.

The cover is removable and washable, and the pad itself is super flexible. I’ve tied it around my waist to use on my lower back, and my leg and waist to use on my hip.

When multiple joints hurt and I’m not going anywhere that I will mind the spicy scent, I use Tiger Balm. My rheumatologist was actually quite pleased to hear that it’s sold here in the States and that I use it frequently.

I prefer the clear balm, because it doesn’t stain and it’s just as potent as the red. It does have a strong scent, though, so I’m not a huge fan of wearing it while out and about.

Last but not least, my longtime go-to for discreet and long lasting pain management are ThermaCare patches and heatwraps. Unfortunately, they stopped making the wrist ones, though I can sometimes find the CVS version. I live by the multi-purpose patches, which work perfectly for my hips.

I like these because the heat doesn’t stop if I have to get up or run out. Though I usually wear them to bed, they’re just as handy during my workday.


Did you find my tips useful? Please let me know! I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know in the comments if you have requests for future Chronically Creative posts.

#TeaserTuesday: Kissing Char

Kissing Char was like being enveloped in the clouds during sunset. Her lips were soft, commanding explosions of pastel orange and red behind Amarie’s eyes as they moved against hers. She melted into her, her hands finding Char’s hips, tugging her closer. She needed more, all of her, all at once.

Here’s another teaser for you from my work in progress, Any Other Love. I wrote this first kiss scene, believe it or not, after dreaming it. I hadn’t yet reached that part in my draft, but I created a separate doc and got it all down before it faded completely.

I’m over 21K into it now, so we’re way past the first kiss. I still don’t have a release date, but if you sign up for my email list you’ll be the first to know (and I’ll be sending an exclusive excerpt soon). Click here to join.

Side note: I’m having a lot of trouble finding stock photos of two women kissing, never mind a white woman with teal hair kissing a Latina with curly hair. If you can recommend any stock photo sites, please let me know in the comments!

Behind the Scenes of ANY OTHER LOVE: The Distancer and the Pursuer

via Unsplash

These two have been giving me a run for my money. When I first started all my pre-writing for Any Other Love—character profiles, plot structure, etc—I thought I had the whole who’s chasing who part down. It seemed pretty cut and dry: my shy little Amarie would be the distancer, and my animated Char would totally be the pursuer. Apparently these two had other plans, because Am was the one to make the first move and now Char is the one who’s hesitating.

Which is why Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” is so perfect for these two.

And I run for miles just to get a taste
Must be love on the brain

According to some psychologists, in every relationship there is a distancer and a pursuer. You can even flip roles from time to time, depending on the circumstances. I’m trying to find a balance between the two, because I don’t want Char and Am flip-flopping throughout the book, driving you crazy. I think I’ve found a rhythm, though, with Am the full-time pursuer and Char very uncertain but also very into her.

On Friday I crossed 20K for this book, which is a huge deal! My wrists haven’t exactly been cooperating—I’m seeing a neurologist soon to be evaluated for carpal tunnel—and I’ve also had a lot on my plate lately. But I managed to check off all of my To Do list for this month, so all of this week will be dedicated to writing.

That first 20K was fueled by A.G. Ferrari coffee, Stash Breakfast in Paris tea, and Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice chai. I typically have one cup of coffee in the morning, then Breakfast in Paris after lunch and my chai in the evening. So far I’ve been mostly listening to SZA, The Pretty Reckless, and Phildel while writing.

Originally I’d hoped to finish the first draft by the end of this month, but I’m only about a third of the way done. It is what it is; all that matters is I’m putting the words down, one day at a time.


Are you on my email list? Join now—I’ll be sending out an exclusive excerpt from Any Other Love in another week or so! Click here.

#FridayReads: Bad Boy, by Elliot Wake

This past week I devoured Elliot Wake’s latest, Bad Boy. As usual, I stayed up late just so I could finish and man was it worth it.

I’ve been on a queer #OwnVoices fic kick lately. Not really on purpose—aside from the lesfic—but reading books featuring queer characters by queer authors feels like coming home, to me. There’s a big part of me that worries about losing my queerness because I married a dude. And I know, I need to shake that shit—especially because I’m the one always telling my lady bi friends that being with a guy doesn’t make them any less queer. Plus… I’m kind of a little rainbow-lonely in IRL. I live in a small town. Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends live in the city or have long moved on to bigger and better places. Not that you need queer friends in your immediate area to be queer. It’s just that I feel the hole in my life where my high school rainbow gang used to be when conversations like “What is pan?” and “You’re married; you can’t be queer!” come up with my straight cis friends and family.

Sometimes I just wanna be around people who get it. Who get me.

Anyway.

Bad Boy.

I highlighted a lot in this book. I nodded so many times while reading. I also learned much about how men process emotions, thanks to Ren. Even without the plot, Bad Boy is a good read. It explores what it means to be a feminist man, and what it means to be a man in general. It’s not about which “bits”—as my favorite robot Mr. Pendulum would say—you’ve got.

I also loved the line about how every touch from a woman is a communication, a question. As usual, Elliot Wake knocks it out of the park with his prose. Each sentence is a true delicacy.

The plot is fast-paced, though, so I took lots of breaks to just let things sink in. Especially because the main character Ren is a survivor of rape, and he must confront the “man” who raped him. I don’t think there are any triggering scenes, per se, but every time the subject comes up I’m going to be automatically thinking about my own experiences. Bad Boy truly highlights how completely it can shatter a person.

Bad Boy also carries a common thread through Black Iris and Cam Girl.

Vlog star Renard Grant has nothing to prove: he’s got a pretty face, chiseled body, and two million adoring video subscribers. Plus the scars on his chest and a prescription for testosterone. Because Ren is transgender: assigned female at birth, living now as male. He films his transition and shares it bravely with the world; his fans love his honesty and positivity.

But Ren has been living a double life.

Off-camera, he’s Cane, the muscle-bound enforcer for social justice vigilante group Black Iris. As Cane, he lets his dark side loose. Hurts those who prey on the disempowered. Indulges in the ugly side of masculinity. And his new partner, Tamsin Baylor, is a girl as rough and relentless as him. Together, they terrorize the trolls into silence.

But when a routine Black Iris job goes south, Ren is put in the crosshairs. Someone is out to ruin his life. He’s a bad boy, they say, guilty of what he punishes others for.

Just like every other guy: at heart, he’s a monster, too.

Now Ren’s got everything to prove. He has to clear his name, and show the world he’s a good man. But that requires facing demons he’s locked away for years. And it might mean discovering he’s not such a good guy after all.

This is one of those books that will stay with me, that I’ll keep thinking about long after I’ve finished.

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