Bolding Going Forward, ‘Cause I Can’t Find Reverse

Well, I missed the window for New Year’s posts, and then some, didn’t I?

There’s been a lot going on, on all sorts of fronts for me. There’s a lot up in the air, and a lot of change coming. This is a scattered sort of update, not a proper year-in-review or year-ahead post, not only because it’s already February, but because I’m in a scattered sort of place right now.

So, Um, Happy New Year?

2016 was rough on a lot of people, not excluding me. That being said, there was also a lot of good for me in the year. There were big ups and big downs. I’m not optimistic that 2017 will be a whole lot better, overall, for the world – but I do think I can make it an even better year for myself, by working to build on the good, by learning from the bad, by trying to improve myself, and moving forward.

What Does Better Even Mean?

It sounds good, to talk about a better year, and about improving myself, but those are twisty, shifty and very subjective words. What do I actually mean?

I said this privately, back around my last birthday in late 2016, and I’ll say it less privately now: I need to be braver. It’s time to stand up, for myself, for the people I’m responsible to, for the kind of world and future I want for everyone.

So, if I were to pick one word to be my guiding star this year? Courage.

It’s not natural for me to be brave. I like to think that I’m not a coward, but even I have to admit that I’m pretty seriously conflict-averse. I question myself a lot, which is a strength when I’m wrong, but potentially problematic when I’m right, or when I let self-doubt keep me from acting in my own defence, or that of the people I love.

That has to stop. I hope that I’ll always be self-analytical, ready to listen, and willing to consider that I might be wrong and admit when I am. But I also need to be ready to stand up for what’s right. It’s time to be ready to do that, and to actually do it. It’s time to be brave.

Okay, But What Are You Actually Going To DO This Year?

Yeah, if courage is the direction I always want to be steering towards, that’s good. But what about the practical stuff? What about actually getting things done?

My New Special Friend pointed me at this response to a post on Reddit. It’s a few years old, now, but ideas like this don’t really have a best-before date. If courage is my guiding star, then this is my battle cry, my daily call to action: No More Zero Days!


Image by Reddit User modified_duck, inspired by the comment by ryans01 on the post by maxstolfe

In practice, that means that I work to make every day a non-zero day in some way – keeping in mind that non-zero means going above the baseline, making progress. The fields I’ve identified as being targets for non-zero-ness are:

  • My health (exercising and eating better)
  • Caring for my loved ones, and my home
  • My writing

So far I’m… well, it’s a start? I don’t think I’ve had a three-for-three non-zero day yet, but there have been a lot fewer completely zero days.

While We’re On That Subject, What Did You Actually Do LAST Year?

Ugh, my metrics tracking went absolutely to shit last year. I… submitted some stories? And some of them got closer to a yes than I’ve ever gotten before, even though I still ended up getting a “no”. And I made inching progress on rewriting my second novel. I queried some more agents on the first novel, which was a good thing to do even though they all said “No” too.  And I wrote some blog posts, including some really good interviews with wonderful writers.

But since about September, my productivity on all those fronts has pretty much fallen off a cliff, and I’ve been focused on dealing with other stuff. Dealing with said stuff has been stressful, and I’ve been managing my stress poorly – lots of eating my feelings, regrettably.

It’s a challenge, but I’m trying to do better. No more Zero Days.

What’s Next For The Blog?

I expect posting to continue to be light until the spring, when a lot of the big changes coming will actually happen. (Sorry, I’m not trying to be coy; some things are genuinely uncertain, and some I’m not ready to talk about yet.)

Even before then, I’m going to try to provide more regular updates, and line up some more interviews. I also think that I need to acknowledge that some of my older short stories are not going to sell. Heck, that might be for the best – some of them have been kicking around for long enough that they aren’t reflective of my current level of skill. Rather than simply trunking them, I was thinking about running a couple of those older stories here. I’d welcome any thoughts on that!

This is going to be a big year, for me, no matter what else happens. I’m going to need to be brave, and I’m going to need to strive to have no more zero days. A lot is going to change – and so I’m grateful for you, continuing to follow along. Thanks for sticking with me.

Now: Onward.


It’s Called Disclosure

So, there’s something I haven’t been telling you.

This blog has been pretty much dark since my New Year’s posts, and although that’ll be changing soon (I have some Breaking In posts coming up that I’m really excited about), I think it’s time for me to tell you why I’ve been so preoccupied.

Because it’s… not dishonest, I think, but not very accurate, to be blogging about my writing, and my other goals and ambitions, and my life and how it impacts on that work – and not address that I’m in the middle of a Big Complicated Thing that’s taking up a lot of my time and energy.

I’ve been with my partner, the inestimable Sarah, for over fourteen years. We have two children, both of whom have significant special needs – severe autism and developmental disabilities. We love our children, and our family, and we’re committed to giving our kids all the care and stability that an intact home provides.

But we aren’t a couple. We haven’t been for years.

This process has been been unfolding for a long time, and some of the details are pretty personal, so I won’t get into them here. Suffice it to say that Sarah and I were always incompatible in some ways, and those ways became more prominent over time, as the stress of special-needs parenting, and all the other things that came up in life, and the stresses of managing our incompatibilities all took their toll over time.

We stopped being a couple. We aren’t together that way. But our children need us, and will for a long time to come. We love them and want to do our best. So neither of us is going anywhere.

And we had to figure out what that means, and how it will work.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned – via the wise S. Bear Bergman – that this isn’t something that only we’re doing. Some people call it “nesting” or “birdnesting”, and while it’s not common, it’s increasingly not UNcommon either.

It’s been a long and complicated and sometimes challenging journey, and it’s not over yet. Our relationship continues to evolve. But right now? I often describe us as “co-habiting co-parents”, although that’s a bit clunky. I sometimes call Sarah my Co.

Why am I telling you this now, and not before, or later?

Well, Sarah’s been seeing someone, for almost a year now. He’s a great guy, and really seems committed to being a positive element in Sarah and the kids’ lives, without stepping on my toes. I like him.

I like him, but I also had a lot of feelings to process around this. A lot of pain. Because it was hard to see the relationship that I had invested so much time and energy in changing. I grieved for it, and I felt like a failure. I felt like I needed to keep this private, keep it to myself.

But since the New Year… things have been happening faster. Sarah went social-media public about her new relationship – at my suggestion, because I felt like it was time. Her guy has been around our home and the kids more.

And I met someone.

Yeah, I did. I had one of my occasional “Oh, right, I need to actually make things happen!” epiphanies, and got back onto an online dating site. Bless you, OKCupid.

And after the usual flops and false starts, I made a connection, and it turned into a first date, and it turned into something that’s new, but feels real, and important. With someone who wants to support me in my life, as uncommon and downright weird as it is (as I am).

So, what I have been doing this year, so far?

Not much writing. Not much exercising. But a lot of thinking, feeling, grieving, growing, learning, meeting, coming to terms, caring for myself, caring for others.


And I’m not done. This is, after all, a Big Complicated Thing, and it’s an ongoing process. I have more to do, and more to learn, and there’s my Co and my kids who need me, and a new relationship in the mix too.

But I’m feeling more stable, more ready. Less sad, less afraid. Like it’s time to resume working on my writing and my health. And like it’s time to stop being so damned private about it all.

Regular blogging will resume here shortly, but until then, this is why I’ve been away. This is where I’m at, and who I am, and what I’m doing with the people I love.

COMING UP NEXT ON THE BLOG: Less talk about myself, hopefully. I was thinking about updates on what’s new and exciting for some of my previous Breaking In interviewees! Stay tuned.

February Flying By

The end of the second month of the year is bearing down on us like… well, like time passing always does. The blog has been lying fallow since my year behind and year ahead posts. This is a pretty common state of affairs; I’ve noticed that I tend to get very busy with Life, the Universe and Everything as a new year starts up, and activities like blogging tend to suffer.

So, this is going to be a scattershot, catch-up, State-of-the-Me post.

Three Words

I blogged about my Three Words for 2016 when the year was brand new. I’ve been finding it a challenge since then to keep them in focus, though. While I have been thinking about my health, my happiness and being more organized, specific activity on all those fronts has been spotty. Getting organized is probably the best, or maybe the least bad would be a more honest way to express it; I’ve at least crossed some old business off my “to-do” lists. But I need to re-focus on all three words as my guiding stars. It helps to know that this is a process, and that I still have ten months to use to advance on all those fronts.

Agent Queries

“Previously, on Stephen the Query Letter Slayer…”

When I last checked in, I had sent out nine queries to agents regarding my first novel, COLD IRON BADGE, and received two rejections.

Those are… still the only responses I’ve received, and it’s starting to freak me out a bit. Well, there’s one agent that has a “no response within this timeframe means a rejection” policy, so I think I can safely assume that’s another no, but that still leaves six queries pending.

In fact, in the main this is well within the windows most agents need to review submissions; three months is on the fast end of average, and longer is common. So there’s really no reason to be freaking out. I am anyway.

Say it with me, friends: I will not practice submittomancy, submittomancy is the mind-killer, submittomancy is the little-death that brings total procrasination…

Politics: What Is It Good For?

Well, sometimes really good movies.

I try to refrain from commenting much on US politics, not because I’m not very interested, but because it’s a time sink that I can’t afford, especially since I don’t even get a vote.

But one thing I do enjoy are politically-themed movies. There aren’t many great Canadian movies about our political process, but there are a bunch of American ones. And with primary season in overdrive and the whole world watching with — trust me on this, US friends — our collective jaw on the floor waiting to see what’s going to happen next, I thought that an American politics themed film fest sounded like a fine idea.

Turning, as I do, to social media, I asked for folks to make recommendations, and I got some amazing ones. Here’s the list, including my own suggestions, sorted by number of votes first, then alphabetically:

  • Bob Roberts
  • Wag the Dog
  • Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (idealism makes its first appearance on this list, with the Stewart/Capra original, of course)
  • Bulworth
  • All The King’s Men (the Broderick Crawford original from 1949)
  • The American President
  • Dave
  • The Candidate
  • Election
  • Seven Days In May
  • Advise and Consent
  • All The President’s Men
  • The Best Man
  • Born Yesterday
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (the person who suggested this called it “a bit of a cheat” but he’s also a professor of film)
  • The Dead Zone
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Gabriel Over the White House
  • Idiocracy
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (“either of the first two versions”)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (yes, this was a joke; that doesn’t make it a bad idea)
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Nashville
  • Primary Colors

Any three of the top ten or twelve suggestions would probably make a heck of a movie night. Now I really need to make this happen!

On the Subject of Movies

And also of happiness, I’ve seen two movies in the theatre so far this year, which means that I’ve already equalled 2015! Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Deadpool were both awesome, too, albeit in rather different ways.

What Next’s For Me?

I am, as always, a work in progress. I want and hope to re-focus on health, happiness and being organized. I want to be on top of things at home and work, exercise, write, see friends, see movies, keep making my life better, and making the lives of the people in my life better too.


Coming up next on the blog: I don’t know, but I’m working on it! Having used this post to blather about myself, and barring any news to share, I’m actively seeking new Breaking In posts for my next posts.

Three Words for 2016

I know, there are reasons to be wary of the New Year’s Resolution. They tend to be lots of fanfare, not much action — because it’s hard to change — and by the middle of January you’re back where you started, with an extra dollop of cynicism and shame on top. (And, to be clear, by you? I mean I.)

So I don’t do resolutions, anymore. Not exactly. But I do value the New Year as an opportunity to take stock, to review, to reflect. To set a new course, with updated agenda and goals.

I call this process my New Year’s Revolutions.

I’ve used different tools and approaches over the years. Some work better than others.

Last year, following the example of the inestimable Rachel Hartman, I went with one word to focus my year – organize. And I did get a bit more organized, and as I mentioned in my previous post, I saw results.

This New Year, inspired by my wise friend Tanya Gulliver-Garcia, I’m setting my agenda for the year ahead using Chris Brogan’s Three Words.

I want to try this model, this year, because follow-through is always a challenge for me. I fall off the wagon, say to myself, “Well, that didn’t work!” and eat a box of metaphorical or literal donuts. So one thing I like about Brogan’s approach is that includes strategies. And I very much like the perspective of the three words as “lighthouses”, or compass points, things to keep in my mind, to always be moving towards, rather than a target for me to succeed or (more often) fail at hitting.

Three words, three guiding stars. Three New Year’s Revolutions.

After some reflection, my words for 2016 are: health, happiness, organized.

(Yes, this is a repeat performance for getting organized. I can always stand to be more organized.)

Goal Word: Health

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to exercise or be active every day.

Path 2 to the goal: Allow myself sweets and naughty food on one “free day” a week.

Path 3 to the goal: Prepare healthy lunches and snacks in advance for the work week.

Distractions: Being tired, stress eating, not making the time to exercise or eat right.

Steps to the path: Buy fresh salad greens and vegetables all the time, so I always have healthy lunches and snacks; prioritize getting enough sleep so I have energy and willpower; make and keep regular appointments with all my health care professionals.

The finish line: Exercising 5 to 6 times a week, fitting into my size 38 pants, replacing stress eating with working out as a coping mechanism.

What’s next: Increase strength and endurance; plan and prepare to do the CN Tower climb in 2017

Goal Word: Happiness

Path 1 to the goal: Make time to write every weekday

Path 2 to the goal: See friends at least once a week

Path 3 to the goal: Make my workday commute my reading time

Distractions: Being tired, wasting time on the internet, feeling stuck

Steps to the path: Start that new D&D campaign with my friends, playing at least once a month; turn off internet on my phone regularly; write on my lunch hours; always have a book with me during my commute.

The finish line: Having regular (weekly) social engagements and activities; finishing revisions to NOBODY’S WATCHING and COLD IRON BADGE and finishing the first draft of a NEW novel before the end of 2016.

What’s next: Being able to retire “happiness” as a goal for 2017; getting my current writing projects out the door and move on to new ones; expand my reading to address some of the gaps in my knowledge and experience (like the classics, and poetry).

Goal Word: Organized

Path 1 to the goal: Check in with myself daily about what needs to be done, at home, and work, and for myself, both in terms of my goal words and in a more immediate day-to-day sense.

Path 2 to the goal: Check in with my awesome partner Sarah daily about how we’re both doing, about the kids, and about household needs.

Path 3 to the goal: Learn what needs to be done to keep our home well-stocked with everything we need and in good order, and act on those needs.

Distractions: Being tired; feeling incompetent; getting bogged down in anxiety and fear of doing the wrong thing.

Steps to the path: Make the first thirty minutes after the kids are in bed “family check-in time”; make lists of what needs to be done and review them as part of my daily processes; take quiet time daily, to think, process, and focus my mind.

The finish line: Clearing away all the “old business”, the things that need doing that I’ve left hanging for too long; having what we need at home and in our lives for ourselves and the kids, in a fair and equitable manner; being able to move forward with new goals and projects because the day-to-day is going so smoothly!

What’s next: Keep it up, because being fair, balanced and organized is an ongoing process.

Those are my three fixed stars, my goals for 2016: Increasing my health, increasing my happiness and being more organized.

What changes do you foresee making this year? What goals have you set, and what tools are you using to get there

Let me know. Maybe we can be part of one another’s revolutions.

Coming up next on the blog: I don’t know yet! I guess I need to, um, get organized?