Doing just fine, actually

“How are you?”

A dear friend asked me just that the other day. And the answer, quite simply, is fantastic. Over the last two years, as my inexplicable occasional loss of consciousness, along with general decline of brain function and all the fun stuff that goes with it, went from bad to worse, people who were used to seeing me in person noticed I’d all but vanished. I wasn’t around the boat anymore, which began to look less like a restoration and more like a forgotten dream. I wasn’t working in the yard. I didn’t bump into old friends at my usual diners. No, I was locked up at home, my car indefinitely parked while I remained parked at my keyboard, doggedly trying to get from A to B with an mental engine that kept derailing and losing cars. And yes, that’s just me making light of something that was far worse than these few sentences can sum up. Every day became a battle, one it seemed I was losing. Not fun.

Happily, those days are past. Once the medical community had finally narrowed my plummeting blood pressure and all the other fun symptoms to a lack of sodium — and not for a lack of salt in my diet but the inability to absorb it — everything changed. In the first days taking Fludrocortisone it seemed a miracle; the dizziness was gone, completely, and my head had gone from foggy to sharp and clear. My head was functioning properly, and I was afraid it was too good to last. I was certain my body would eventually adjust to the medications and I’d be back where I started, or worse. But three months in, and things have only gotten better. I’m back to hiking, house maintenance, the boat’s coming together by the day, (okay, the week, but day sounds better,) and beta copies of Evacuation Route should be in a few unsuspecting hands real soon.

But back to the original question. How am I doing? As in, should I really be driving around, or climbing ladders and working on the boat? Is that safe?

Yes. Driving. Climbing on ladders. Walking on docks. Hiking with the dogs. Yes, yes, and yes. Thanks to one tiny little pill, I now absorb sodium normally. My blood pressure is not to high, not too low, but just right, and everything functions perfectly, just the way it should. No restrictions on diet, activity, or anything else. In fact, I’m pretty damned healthy, aside from that one little imbalance that’s in balance now. Of course, I gave my car permission to go cross country with the kids back when I wasn’t driving at all. And now that I’m back on the road in my daughter’s much newer (smaller, clutchless) Focus wagon, my car is currently headed somewhere towards Nebraska or thereabouts, and having much fun along the way. 

WHERE is my car?

Ohio, at last sighting, and likely back on the move.

What’s it doing in Ohio? Just passing through. Not me, though. I’m still right here in good old NJ. As of yesterday, I wrapped up another round of edits on Evacuation Route, which brings me that much closer to done, and the momentum has become non-stop. And while I’m sitting at my keyboard, my car, along with my daughter and her boyfriend, are all off on a cross-country road trip.

2015-06-23 11.09.32

They’d been planning a far shorter trip, a week or so, out to a music festival in Michigan, with a stop to visit friends along the way. But then there were a few more friends and a national park they’d been wanting to camp in, and then another festival days later and hours from there.  The trip grew, limited by how far their budget for fuel would take them in his Mazda sedan. Meanwhile, my Jetta TDI wagon, which has more space and double the MPG, wasn’t traveling much beyond the home/boat/Shoprite loop. When I offered that they instead take my car, that opened up miles of options to them, and the Great Road Trip began to take shape. You know that trip, the one everyone talks about doing at least once in their lifetime. Backpacking Europe. A grand road trip.  You get the idea. The kind of trip anyone caught on the treadmill of life warns you to take while you’re still young…like those two in the above photo. Do it while you can, and as word spread, donated camping gear, backpack frames and other items they’d been needing began to fill the car. For the most part they’ll be traveling from national park to national park, hiking and camping, and sending me back lots of pictures. So here’s what we’re looking at, approximately.

Screenshot 2015-06-24 06.32.11

That’s what a shoe-string budget, a whole lot of second-hand gear, and six hundred plus miles a tankful gets you. I have, however, given them one request regarding my car. I expect it returned covered in bumper stickers proudly proclaiming all the fun places it’s visited.

IMG_20150623_121309018_HDR

The kids did give me a present before they left, though.

2015-06-16-14.39.33-1024x576

That’s the bottom of the boat.  The WHOLE bottom, and they sanded it completely before they left. More pics to follow.

And now, back to work for me. I’ve got a book to wrap up.

Catching up…

I’ve got a lot of that to do, now that I’m back from the land of the not-quite-dead. When you go from busy and active to semi-comatose, everything in life falls behind. Writing, the boat, the house, the yard…you name it.  It doesn’t take long everything to pile up, and the deeper it gets, the more intimidating it can be. And while I’d like to just jump right back in, full-throttle, I’m still operating with a heart that barely breaks an idle. But now at least I can take the crew for walks again, so we’re working on getting that blood flowing a bit faster, one step at a time.

2015-04-29 14.43.13

2015-04-29 14.43.35

After Sandy, what remained of the boatyard was rebuilt on the south end, while the north end of the yard is all but abandoned, save a few surviving but forgotten boats and twisted traces of wreckage. It makes a wonderful place for the dogs to explore and leave their mark, so to speak.

2015-05-29 12.13.51

Leading the way, Emma is yet to earn full ‘off-leash’ privileges, though she’s close. Laid-back Loki is ‘good example dog’, and he’s teaching Emma the ropes, quite literally.

2015-05-19 13.14.56

And trailing at the back is Rex, aka: ‘bad example dog’. Rex is prone to distraction and selective hearing, so he’s stuck on the leash most times, even if he’s only trailing it as a reminder.

2015-05-29 12.14.03

2015-05-14 14.51.51

Once the north yard has been fully sniffed and inspected, it’s off to the south side, where there’s a bit of a beach. And that’s another reason I keep Rex on a leash; even with those stubby basset hound legs, he’s a superb swimmer, and his listening skills decline even further once he’s buoyant and doggy-paddling to Albany.

And now, back to catching up on finishing that book!

Blame the dog…

Don’t let that angelic face deceive you. I’m back. Back on the inter webs, back at the boatyard, and back at the keyboard in full force, and it’s all her fault.

2014-12-23 08.32.24

Right now I’m so tired from days of boat work and nights of writing — so tired, in fact, that I decided WTH, just post something. Thus, this. I figured if I waited until I wasn’t, I never would. And that pretty much defines the approach I’m going to take to posting. Life’s going pretty fast these days, and so is my typing. You may encounter a typo or two. I’ve wanted to post for some time now; there’s a lot going on and things are finally moving forward. Oh, right. I never mentioned that they’d all but ground to a stop.

I guess I should bring you, whoever you may be, up to speed. I mean, look at this blog. It used to be so active, so alive. Then it all but ground to a halt. What’s the deal with that? And what about that book I was writing? (stay tuned) and what about that boat I was fixing. (ditto) Where had all the updates gone??? And what’s one little dog have to do with any of that?

Well, the blog was a perfect indicator of my existence. Something had always been a bit ‘off’ about me  – I’ll be the first to admit it, and anyone who knows me personally can attest to that. For the most part I was healthy, aside from occasional and seemingly random episodes of dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting. When I was younger they’d happen once or twice a year, but as I’ve grown older I’d been having more problems, both physically and mentally. The occasional lightheadedness became a frequent fog of muddled thoughts and confusion, and the episodes were coming more often and staying longer.  I stopped driving, stopped going anywhere. It was getting worse. Much worse. By last winter I was hitting bottom, hard. Ironically, on paper, I’m fantastically healthy. I don’t eat ANY processed foods, don’t drink soda or anything else sweetened. I do like salt, though. I put salt on everything. Not just popcorn. I’m talking toast, bagels, vegetables, fruit, lemonade (and please hold the sugar — much too sweet!)  And I’m not talking a shake or two. I’m talking LOTS of salt. Still, I was slim, had low cholesterol, low blood pressure and nice low heart rate; precisely what much of the population is striving to achieve. For years all I’d gotten from the medical community was a pat on the head and a gold star. All my numbers were nice and low — so low, in fact, that they’d recheck my vitals, and more than once medical staff tried a second cuff or recounted my pulse, certain something wasn’t reading right. But numbers like 80/55 and a heart that idled around 60 beats per minute, rarely broke 100 under load, and has occasionally dropped into the 30s, were the norm for me.  You can find plenty of info on the dangers of high numbers, but little on low readings. Everyone assumes low is good, lower is better. I can assure you, it isn’t. More than once I’d been told, “I wish all my patients were this healthy,” while I was treated with patronizing patience – clearly I was healthy, and my ‘concerns’ (concerns? I dented the sink with my skull while passing out, and lay unconscious for god knows how long,) were really a case of ‘female hormones’. Of course. Faint = emotional distress.

I know I used to be active and productive. Now, simple daily activities were a struggle, and not only from the dizziness and overwhelming exhaustion. The worst part was my mind – it was unravelling. I couldn’t concentrate, barely hold a thought, and the only thing that saved me was writing, though that was a constant uphill battle. But writing allowed me to retain some of my thoughts, though anyone who has read my books would be amused (disturbed?) to know I followed Hammon’s lead and took to writing memory cues. By last winter, things were hitting critical mass.

And then we found Emma.

This is the newest member of the crew, and the last thing I needed when I could barely take care of myself and my two older dogs. But when an episode hit days later, that ten pound bundle glued herself to my side, licking my face and softly whining. And each time after that, she knew something was happening, even though I was lying there, unable to move or speak, lingering just on the edge of consciousness. That led me to later Google “Dog knows I’m going to faint.” (start at 1:20 for a perfect example of what I’ve been dealing with.) And that led me to a whole lot of information I’d never known, as well as the right doctor and eventually, an answer and a direction for managing what’s going on. In a nutshell, I have an autonomic dysfunction (aka: Dysautonomia) brought on by what appears to be adrenal insufficiency, (Click the links for all the fun details — they’re fascinating.) and my body wasn’t properly retaining sodium. Bodies need salt to function. Without enough salt, dehydration follows. Everything from the brain on down starts shutting down, and that isn’t pretty. We’re still trying to figure out what underlying condition is causing this, but now we’re getting somewhere, including a treatment.

Fludrocortisone, aka the Anti-Zombie pills! One unassuming little white pill, but with it, my body can process sodium. Blood pressure is up to a nice normal level, stable, and for the first time in longer than I can recall fresh blood is reaching the top floors. The dizziness, the fatigue, the brain-fog — they’re all gone. I’m still not outrunning any zombies, not with a heart that rarely breaks 100 beats per minute, and likes to linger in the low 50s.  Then again, zombies might not even realize I’m among the living.  But I am, once again, and oh is it great to have my brain cells back!

So now you all know where I’ve been hiding, and why. Through it all I never stopped writing; no matter how much of a struggle it became, I refused to give up.  I know some of you are wondering if that third book would ever become a reality, and for a time so was I.  And right now I need to get back to editing the second draft. A few close friends have asked, politely as possible, if the entire thing is a smoldering train-wreck, considering the frame of mind, or lack thereof,  it had been written in. Let’s just say the story’s straight out of some in-te-resting parts of my mind, and much of it delves into Hammon’s head. You know how they say the best writing comes when you shut off your inner editor. Mine wasn’t just shut, it was boarded up and abandoned.  So, plot-wise, dialog-wise, character-wise, this story is rock solid and a total blast. Editing-wise, oh do I have my work cut out for me. And on that note, it’s time to get back to work.

Emma (now 40 pounds), Loki and Rex

 

117,243 words…

It’s official.

Evacuation Route is moving on the the next round, and yes, my patient beta readers, there will be chapters coming your way before long.  Everyone else will have to wait just a bit longer. I promise — it will be worth it!

Yes, there is murder and mayhem aplenty, and this time one of the team is charged as the bodies start turning up. And there’s madness…trust me, when it comes to insanity, I’ve got that covered, even as things (and people) unravel. Yes, there is a hurricane barreling down on our intrepid anti-heroes even as everything disintegrates. And YES, even though it isn’t a heist — it most certainly IS a heist. And I’m delighted to have an ending that should keep you all guessing right up till the last pages.

I’ll admit this one has taken way longer than I wanted, but I can honestly say everything that has delayed completion is what is making the final story immeasurably stronger than the one Sandy so subtly eradicated.  (Note to self — NEVER work in the trajectory of large trees.) My life has been going through a series of changes, some ups and downs, and a whole lot of regrouping. It’s almost like hardening steel — you keep heating and cooling it, pounding on it with heavy hammers, folding, then more heat, dunks in cool water — it’s a lot of hard work but in the end the steel has become stronger, more resilient. And this strength has carried over to my characters, who will have to face their own challenges and demons, and come through stronger as well — if they survive.

Now, let the editing madness begin!

Though I think I’ll eat lunch first.

Surely a sign of a coming apocalypse…

Yup.

*Gasp!* Me, making a public appearance, doing some of that non-writing writer stuff.

2014-10-21 FLYER

Yikes!

moray

Rare sighting of me peeking from my Introvert-Bat-Eel-Cave.

Yes, I do still exist. I know this blog has become somewhat of a cobweb page, but when you’ve got too many plates spinning, sometimes you have to chose your battles. For me, the first battle to go is always social interaction. My default setting is introvert, and like that pointy-toothed creature featured above, solitude and happily retreating to some cozy little corner is the way I do best. That’s not saying I won’t venture out from time to time, but only in limited doses, then it’s time to recharge.

So I’m not a social creature. BFD, right? So what? Well, part of this issue is this whole ‘Author platform’ thing. We need to network. Use the internet and make those connections. And I’m not knocking that one bit. Kristen Lamb is the perfect example of social networking done dead-on perfect. She’s also one of the funniest, most insightful bloggers out there, and whether you’re an author or not, I HIGHLY recommend you check out her blog, if only for entertainment purposes. But be warned, it’s not advisable to drink anything while reading her posts, lest you end up with a computer full of coffee or tea you just spit out.

As for me, the more I was faced with the prospect of social networking and all that good stuff, the more I began to avoid the web. Twitter? Not a peep from me in years. Facebook? Yeah, they keep emailing me that friends have posted, have upcoming birthdays, and so on. Delete. I know, a bit antisocial, but hey, that’s me. For extroverts being social comes naturally, but as for me, it takes lots of energy, more than I have on hand at the moment due to a little medical issue. (That’s another post, another day.)  Let’s just say life threw me a fun little PLOT TWIST, and I’m doing firsthand research on modern medical diagnostics — yippee! I’ve had a lot of plot twists lately. Life keeps throwing me new material. So what have I been up to in all this time I’ve been avoiding human contact? Let’s see, in reverse order, because I like to do things backwards. Keeps people wondering.

Getting the fuck out of here.
(Okay. New policy on this blog. No censorship. This is the way I talk, and I don’t have the time or desire to clean it up for those more refined and sensitive souls out there. I’m a truck-driving sailor from Jersey? You got a problem with that? Stick around; you might learn some new words in their correct context. Or not. It’s a big web. I’m sure there are plenty of bloggers out there with way more refined posts, who would enjoy some new eyeballs. And if you don’t have a problem with my particular take on the English language, you’re in good company.)
So where was I? Getting the fuck out of here, with the HERE in question being this lovely house.

Yes, I love this place, but it’s time. We’re down to two humans, two dogs, and assorted cats, some of which will be moving in with my daughter once she’s settled. We’re down to using four rooms: Kitchen, mini living room, bedroom, and one bath. I measured; that’s approximately 500 square feet. The house is 1500 square feet, and that’s not including the full basement, deck, or yard. I could crunch the numbers on maintenance, utilities, taxes and more, but the bottom line is it’s time. Time to stop supporting a house we barely occupy, a house ready for a new family to love it. Or getting close to time, because part of this escape plan hinges on the next thing on the list…

Working on the boat. I could elaborate further, but I think it’d be easier to post (soon) some ‘Before & After’ shots side by side. Let’s just say that the pile of parts awaiting installation is shrinking by the day. I’d get more done but I’m back on semi-restricted activity when unaccompanied, which rules out swinging from 20 foot high ladders and jumping on the scaffolding (It does bounce wonderfully — hmmm… I’m starting to realize why they want me supervised.)

But there’s one good thing about that whole semi-restricted activity. It’s left me oodles of time to WRITE!

In time I’ll write all about how I had to step back and completely regroup, writing-wise, but that’s a post for another day. All I can say is during way too much downtime I researched the many facets of writing — really writing. Writing the way the greats like Donald Westlake and John D. MacDonald wrote. Not to say what I’d been doing wasn’t writing, but it involved a whole lot of spinning tires and covering ground in less efficient ways. I’ve changed the way I approach putting words on a page, vastly improving the output both in quality and quantity. I was happy with my first two books, but let’s all be honest — averaging two+ years per book isn’t acceptable, to me at least, and I don’t feel it ‘s fair to my readers.

But anyone who has ever tried to unload a house and most everything they can’t fit on a boat, while restoring said boat, while writing a novel (or two — another post) knows just how trying any single task on that list, no less all three, especially while on semi-restricted activity. Time management experts advise we focus our energy on the task that matters most, and for me that remains writing. It’s all about priorities.

So remember. I’m blogging from my cozy little introvert-bat-cave (aka: the forward cabin.) Blogging, which is writing. And socially interacting, I suppose. Damn. There goes my perfect score.

images

And for a little *ahem* fun, I give you my research word of the day:

FINGER AVULSION

Google it if you dare. (I’m not including links to prevent accidental clicks.) It’s a real thing, it happens more often and easily than you’d imagine, and it’s pretty damn horrifying.  (Double Dog Dare: Click on the ‘Images’ search. Bonus points if you manage NOT to wince, cringe, or lose your lunch.) As for me, I researched it over an unbalanced breakfast and I never missed a bite. Froot Loops and graphic gore…the breakfast of mystery writers and cereal killers. Let’s just say that while I continued to eat I studied images I don’t think I’ll ever unsee, images that instantaneously persuaded me to remove every ring I wear — including my wedding band and antique diamond ring, which I’ve worn continuously for over 28 years. The way I see it, if something that disturbs ME to that extent, it should really rattle readers. The rings are on a necklace now — I’m not going to stop wearing them, just not on my fingers. My hand looks distressingly empty, but that’s easily remedied by some ink and a little pain. And being that PAIN is something pivotal to what I’m writing at the moment, does a pretty new tattoo qualify as research?

LOL. In my world, EVERYTHING qualifies as research!