A quick note home from camp

moonrise kingdom treehouseI’m hard at work at Camp NaNoWriMo. (Or, at least, I’m trying. Dear god, I’m trying.) Since we got the dog, my writing schedule has been disrupted at best, and nonexistent at worst, so I’m using Camp to get back into the swing of writing every day. Also, since burnout is always part of the problem, I am working on an old Silver Peak novel idea (Silver Peak is the fictional Snohomish County small town where most of my novels take place). As soon as April is over I will get back to work on Ghost Story (recently renamed Ghost Stories, actually) and I will start posting again. I have a great post on deck but I just don’t have the time or mental energy to spiff it up and post it (there’s plenty of non-writing goings-on sucking away at my wherewithall, too).

Back soon!

— Amanda

P.S. Send bug spray. I’m getting eaten alive out here.


Just because I lost it doesn’t mean I want it back


This image of Colin Craven from the best movie version of The Secret Garden (fight me) is posted here utterly without permission.

I don’t quite have my head together yet, but here goes.

I turned 35 a few weeks ago. I hadn’t made any plans for my life past the age of 30, so I’m five years off the map. I have spent the last five years toddling into long-range planning I should have been doing when I was in my early twenties. It’s never too late to start a savings account, right?

By age 30 I expected to be three things: 1) published, 2) using a cane (maybe even a wheelchair), 3) dead.

But, hey – I got published!

Dead is a long story for another time. (tl;dr: depression.) Or maybe, never.

Using a cane – or rather, not using a cane – is what I’m writing about today.

When I was a kid, like most kids, I loved to run. My friends and I would burst through the doors at recess and just run as fast as we could around the perimeter of the elementary school campus until the bell rang. I can still vaguely remember what it was like to take great lungfuls of air and pump my arms and legs with abandon and eat up the ground with giant leaping strides. But the memory is faint and fading and that part of my mind itches, like it’s an old scar that’s been irritated by a new lotion or too much sun.

Sometime in the third grade I hurt myself. I cracked both knees good and hard on some lumpy asphalt in the playground. I started kvetching about it immediately (stoicism was anathema to me – I was an extremely dramatic and self-centered child, which is a very large part of the reason that I’m not having kids of my own). My knees hurt. Every day. All the time. More so when I was running, kneeling, or jumping, but still, all the time. Everyone assumed I was crying wolf. Something was always wrong. My needs were always greater than those of my four brothers. I was always more tragic than my (truly) tragic friends. I wouldn’t have believed me, either.

So I didn’t get the X-rays I had been moaning about until I was in middle school. The X-rays got me sent to a specialist. The specialist had MRIs done. I was informed that I had two different conditions, one in each knee. In the left: Osgood-Schlatter disease. In the right: Osteochondritis dissecans of the medial femoral condyle. In both cases, a chunk of bone had broken off of my knee area. On the left, it was a piece of my tibial tubercle under my patellar tendon, and in my right it was inside the joint, on the one of the knobs of my femur. The broken bits of bone were inside lesions, which took up extra space and caused inflammation and discomfort. Both conditions should have healed themselves but hadn’t because although I was in constant pain I didn’t alter my activities. It was at this point I was finally waived out of PE and advised not to run or jump unless it was vitally necessary. (Like if I needed to run for my life.) I was told that I was going to develop arthritis earlier than other people. And someday I was going to need a cane. Maybe a wheelchair. Maybe arthroscopic surgery with debridement and a graft of cadaver cartilage. Maybe a complete knee replacement.

I remember looking at imaging of my right knee – where the lesion was weight-bearing and the pain greater – and burning the image into my brain. I also committed my prognosis and the spelling and definition of both conditions to memory. My tragedy was real now. It had a name. You could look it up in imposing, fat, medical tomes and no one could deny my pain anymore. I was not crying wolf. I was looking at a future full of walking aids and surgeries and every step I took ground dead bone into living bone and cartilage and brought me closer to that end.

I was as sure as Colin Craven that I was going to be a cripple. After all, the doctor had told me so.

(Like I said, I was a really dramatic asshole kid. The goths wouldn’t have me but I would have made a great emo if they had existed when I was a teenager.)

At this point in my life all my heroines (when I finally graduated from anthropomorphic animals to writing about human beings) were tragic in the way that I imagined I was tragic. They always took long, painfully slow walks down cold beaches, leaning heavily on canes and grimacing through their pain, looking off through the mist and the veil of of their absurdly long and curly hair, to think about what might have been, had they been able to walk normally. They always died virgins and were mourned by great crowds of admirers. (They also had ridiculous Victorian-era names like Cordelia, Philomena, and Felicity.)

Fast forward a little more than 20 years. I am 35 years old and hopping over a baby gate to escape my five month-old puppy just long enough to take a shower in peace. When I come down on my right knee I swear I feel something move in a way that is both new and wrong. I have recently stopped exercising after years of on-again off-again regularity with low-impact aerobics because my knee was getting “upset” more and more easily.

It was finally time to go back to the doctor.

I went with a heavy heart. I had spent decades putting the old me behind me (as best I could) and ignoring my knees (as best I could) was part of that work. But the inevitable was finally here: surgery. How was I going to afford surgery when we needed a new roof and we already had a second mortgage? How was I going to get groceries to the house, five miles from town, if I was stuck on the couch for weeks or months? How was I going to walk the dog, who still would not pee off-leash? What if I was crutching my way into the kitchen for a glass of water and Geordi came tearing around the corner during his afternoon freak-out and tackled me and I had to call 911 for an ambulance? (I long ago traded extroverted drama for obsessive, introverted anxiety.)

I went back to the same specialist facility where I had gotten my diagnosis in the 90s. My old doctor had been, well, old, back then and had long since retired, so I took whoever was available. That guy manhandled my knee in exactly the merciless manner I had been panicking about (and which every doctor who has ever touched my knee has done, and which I asked him please not to do) and, days later, it still throbs like someone hit it with a sledgehammer. I can feel the exact spot beside my kneecap where he dug his thumb in until I thought I would scream. (But introverts are fanatical people-pleasers, so I didn’t say anything but “hey, um . . .” and I did my crying after he left the room.)

He talked me into getting an X-ray that very day. The cost of X-rays has plummeted with the advance of technology on and what I had anticipated as being a fee I’d have to scrape together for weeks ended up being about on par with my internet bill.

The images were revelatory. My memory of the imaging done in my teens had been deeply flawed, probably skewed out of all proportion by my retellings like a one-person game of telephone. The lesion did not take up the entirety of the bottom surface of the condyle, like I remembered. Instead, it was a small portion of the condyle, not broad and flat, but narrow and triangular. It was tucked up inside the lesion (and my living bone) pretty neatly, and didn’t look capable of escaping its little den. The doctor told me that the large dark areas between my tibia and femur indicated a healthy amount of cartilage.

“It looks good,” he said. “No sign of arthritis. No chance it could migrate. I don’t see a reason for more imaging or anything. Go home and work on that garden you were telling me about.”

I didn’t realize I was crying until he made a weird face at me when he reached out to shake my hand. I felt kind of like I was having a low-grade panic attack and my eyes were leaking as I left the building and reparked my car in front of the Natural Foods Co-Op to get a celebratory bar of fancy chocolate. As I dabbed at my eyes before sending the above tweets I realized I was happy-crying.

But, of course, nothing is that simple. We all know there’s never really a happily ever after. Writers, I should hope, most of all. I know nothing in life is permanent, and yet somehow I also thought this was something I’d never escape. OK, I haven’t escaped it – my knee is still broken – but what I thought was a tiger stalking me through my life has turned out to be a mangy alley cat.

Life goes on as usual: I cook, I plot, I throw sticks at the dog, I blather into my voice recorder about the half-dozen books I’m not writing. But it’s like I’m forgetting something important. Not like there’s an actual hole in my life, not like that feeling after a breakup or a death, but more like I’m keeping busy and being nagged by that creeping dread that I’m supposed to be doing something else, something much more important. Like someone is standing just outside my line of sight but every time I turn my head they have moved.

When you Google “redefine yourself after loss” you get articles about how to recover from losing something good. When you then Google “recovering from loss of something negative” Google assumes your grief is affecting your typing and suggests articles about dealing with death and divorce. No matter how I phrase it I can’t get what I want.

But I know what I have to do. I have to wait. I have to feel the feelings and think the thoughts and give my mind the time it needs to adjust to the new state of things. I need to rework my stressor list. As they say, the only way out is through. (I could write a whole post about the origins of that saying, btw.) Time and fresh air will fix me as surely as they fixed Colin Craven.

But now I wonder, how have others dealt with this kind of thing? There are too bloody many of us on the planet for me to be the only one who has felt bewildered after losing something negative that they wanted to lose but which also formed a large part of their identity. Comment below. Shoot me an email. Tweet @ me. Let me know.

— Amanda

2015 in review (CONTAINS PUPPY)

So there’s things you can put in your year-end holiday card letter and things you can’t (given the mailing list) – and things you forget to include and things that happen juuuust after you mail the damn things – and there’s only so much room if, like me, you insist on taping the letter to the inside of your card.

So here’s an expanded version of my holiday letter – this time, with PUPPY!

MATT: Continued to work full time as a machinist while also operating his small business, Northman Logging, on the weekends. Logging was as dry as the weather this summer but when the traditionally crappy fall weather hit and windstorms started doing the work for him, the phone starting ringing off the hook and the new glut of jobs (scheduled out into March, last I heard) should just about make up for the dry spell. We’ve had several discussions about when and how he will go full time.

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He bought a new crummy (crew truck) this year, named Jayne Cobb, and traded our infamous old tractor, Art Lawn, for a gas-powered welder. (Art went to a very good home where, within a month, he had been completely torn apart, cleaned, repainted, and put back together. He gets a lot more work and play at his new home.) Matt plans on spending all his downtime during the winter welding on his growing collection of equipment. (And he’s finally on Facebook!)

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Matt’s go-to self-loader piles on the logs for a trip to the mill.

AMANDA: I achieved a life goal this year by independently publishing a novel: a coming-of-age story called Ellipsis. It’s available from Amazon (hint, hint). I am also hammering away on my next book, a paranormal buddy comedy called Ghost Story. I won NaNoWriMo again this year (for the first time since 2013, when I banged out what became Ellipsis).


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I read more than 100 books. I started learning Spanish (Duolingo says I now understand 47% of all Spanish). I became a “flexitarian.” I moved my blog from Blogspot to WordPress and finally got my own URL. I started tweeting (@SterlingFink) – but I am still not on Facebook.

TOGETHER: We went to Lake Crescent again for our 8th anniversary. We appear to have adopted a stray ginger rabbit (Mrs. Weasley) who has set up housekeeping under our chicken coop, and a chubby gray tomcat who has sought the protection of our tiny but fearsome female cat, the Boll Weevil.

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Mrs. Weasley.

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And then, just after the last of the holiday cards were mailed, we got a puppy!

(This is the important part.)

We had been hemming and hawing about this for a long time. I feel about puppies the way most women my age feel about human babies (and I feel about human babies the way most people feel about TSA screening – the process is interminably long, far and away too complicated, humiliating, expensive, invasive, public, and surely must be doable in some much easier, less punishing method) but we got burned pretty badly by our last attempt to dog: Diggity.


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Diggity was the wrong dog at the wrong time. She needed a home stat (she was kindof sortof notreally (totally) stolen liberated from an abusive owner and was, therefore, a hot dog, hence the name) and we should have used our brains and fostered her until we could find her an appropriate home – because we were not an appropriate home. We were both working, we knew a combined total of nothing about dog training, we were too broke for vet visits, we had no fence, and we are not the kind of people who can handle a high-strung adolescent working dog because we are lazy fucks. Her stay with us ended in screaming and tears and mutilated chickens and a Craiglist post that rehomed her to some nice folks with sheep and the patience of saints.

This time around everything lined up like planets in an orrery: I am “working from home” (lol,working!), we have some money in savings and a little more income than last time, we have a fence, I have watched every Zak George training video like 80 times, we had an extra paycheck in December, thanks to the Seahawks newfound popularity the event unofficially known as “puppypalooza” at the shelter was attended by just us and one other couple (and we already had our paperwork done so we got cutsies, neener neener), and we found the right dog.

Geordi’s mom was surrendered to the shelter when she was pregnant, so he and his littermates were born there. They were also microchipped, neutered, and given all the shots they could have at their age (a little over two months when we adopted). Mom was a Dutch Shepherd/Labrador cross but nobody saw Dad. If I had seen only Geordi’s siblings – smallish, pointyish, brown/black brindled, long-haired, and generally very Dutch Shepherdy – I wouldn’t have the slightest clue what his dad was. But Geordi was the odd guy out in the litter: half again as big as his biggest brother, fawn and blue brindled, short-haired, pointy-tailed and snub-nosed. Dad was totally a pit bull.

Not only was Geordi far and away the best-looking puppy available that fateful morning, but he was the chillest. His brothers and sisters were all barking shrilly and nonstop. Several had slamdanced in poop just minutes before the facility opened and had been hastily washed, which only added to their hysteria. Geordi sat calmly in his crate, not gnawing on the bars or shredding his potty pad, silently watching us. When we were driving home later and discussing his name this moment was the one that clinched it for us: he’s smart, he has beautiful eyes, and when everyone around him is going berserk he’s cool as a cucumber. Geordi LaForge.

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Geordi helping me read.

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Post-breakfast nap.

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Settling in for a post-post-breakfast nap.

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He sleeps a lot. A. LOT.

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And sometimes he falls asleep in the middle of getting a tummy rub.

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. . . But he is a puppy.

Stay tuned for my annual reading roundup. This year I set a personal record!

— Amanda

Priorities . . . (*heavy sigh*)


I’m behind on everything – laundry, grocery shopping, the yard, social media, reading – and, yes, this blog. But most of all I am behind on NaNoWriMo.

I have plenty of good excuses: my car has needed repetitive repairs, I was sick for like a week (for the first time in ages), it takes me three times as long to cook dinner as it used to because our household has become multivorous (a post on that is in my drafts folder), the power was out for 40 hours, it’s too cold to work outside, money is tight (like always), and when Matt is home (which he has been on the weekends, more than usual, due to insane rain volumes and multiple windstorms) I have no access to the computer. Also: Matt’s birthday is this month as is the great family feast.

(Warning to any and all family members reading this post: someday Thanksgiving will be held at my house. And it will be called The Counting and you will all have to intone “There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm” every time I announce that I’ve seen something nasty in the woodshed.)

But here’s the only excuse I’m actually using (because that entire paragraph of whining could be summed up: LIFE, and there ain’t no gettin’ around that): PRIORITIES.

Once upon a time, when this was a homesteading blog, I assigned myself a task a month for a year in order to bring focus both to the blog and the life I was then living that the blog chronicled. It’s six years later and I still have a big list of stuff that needs to get done “someday” so I am going to schedule someday (since, as CCR wisely says, “someday never comes”). I have taken that list and assigned each one to an upcoming month.

This month’s task – its focus, its overriding goal – is NaNoWriMo. I know now, after four years of NaNo-ing, that there is a high personal value in “winning” NaNoWriMo: the first year I won I wrote 80,000 words of sheer prattle I hope no one I know ever sees, but it inspired me to get serious about writing during the rest of the year. The next time I won I polished that turd until it was shiny enough to publish. A NaNoWriMo book is, for me personally, my best launching pad toward publication.

Whatever else I get done this month, NaNoWriMo must be done by the 31st. NaNoWriMo is my priority. There wasn’t anything I could do about not having electricity, no man can stand in the way of Thanksgiving, and it’s only fair that Matt get to use the computer I hog all week during the one or two afternoons a weekend he has free – but  if vacuuming or dusting or checking Twitter get in the way of my word count, they will just have to wait.

So that’s why I haven’t blogged much this month.

OK, gotta go – all these words should have gone toward my NaNoWriMo wordcount.

(If you’re a WriMo, too, please friend me! My profile is here.)

— Amanda

Publishing update: Paperback is imminent

So, after a very full and bewildering weekend I finally clawed my way back to the computer to press the last few buttons required for my book to go live on Amazon. It should be available there in paperback form in 5-7 days. Now I will get cracking on the ebook version, which is more new territory to explore.

I’ll keep you posted!

— Amanda

Publishing update: Second proof

On the right, proof #2. On the left, proof #1.

On the right, proof #2. On the left, proof #1.

Yesterday my second proof arrived. I’m only on chapter 7 so far, but it looks good! There’s one or two little fiddle formatting problems to fix but nothing so major that I think I will need a third proof. That means that when I’m done with this revision the book will finally be available for sale!

— Amanda

Publishing update: Changes submitted

Proof 06-20-15The first proof has been reviewed and the necessary changes submitted. In 12-24 hours I should have approval to order a second proof. Proof arrives in about a week. If proof is OK then Thundercats are go. If not, I rinse and repeat.

I hope Proof #2 is good to go, because I’m going to need a few days to let my poor brain reinflate with some mindless TV before I start writing again – and I am stoked for Camp NaNoWriMo! For NaNoWriMo 2014 I had a great idea for a buddy story with paranormal elements and lots of humor, and though I didn’t finish NaNoWriMo that year I have been percolating the idea ever since. For Camp next month I am going to try to hammer out a first draft.

— Amanda