The Great Fish Die-Off of 2020 – CoronaLife Day 236

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know we have had quite a few adventures in fish-keeping. We have a small 5-gallon tank, and have kept about 3 guppies at a time in there, give or take a few dying. We have had 8 guppies so far, and the last one died just before the coronavirus lockdown started. So our tank has been empty a long time.

Because of that, it took a while to get the tank properly cycled and safe for new fish. Finally, after about 8 months, the water tested perfectly for multiple days, and we went and got fish #9, 10, and 11. My daughter was very excited to have friends in her tank again! She named them Moonlight, Starlight, and MiniSeashell 2.

We got them home, popped them in the tank…and immediately knew there was a problem. Starlight was acting weird, “vertical hanging”, which we have seen before and never bodes well. Sure enough, he died within the hour. The others seemed okay, so we went downstairs to watch a movie. When we came back up, the other two were dead.

My daughter was upset to lose all her fish within a few hours, and I was baffled. Our water was perfect, what could the problem have been? I decided they all must have been sick with something from the store, because what else could it be?

The next morning, I changed out about 2 gallons of water, put in fresh water, as I always do when there has been a fish death in the tank. A few hours later, I tested the water, since I was planning to buy more fish that day to try again.

The mystery was unexpectedly solved.

Ammonia is deadly to fish—they suffocate. My tank water the day before (and several days prior) had tested at 0, both at home and at the store. That morning, it tested at 2.0 ammonia. That’s AFTER I had changed out almost half the tank, so it had probably been closer to 4.0. Deadly.

The only place it could have come from was the store’s water. Those poor fish had already been poisoned before we bought them. If I had not dumped that water into our tank, at least 2 of them may have recovered. But I didn’t know. It never occurred to me that the store’s water might be toxic. The fish never stood a chance.

I know better now. Once again I am cycling my tank to get the water fit for fish. This time, no water from the store will enter my tank. And hopefully the fish won’t be poisoned before we even get them home.

Wrapping Up October – CoronaLife Day 229

The last week of October is always hectic and stressful for me. Several family celebrations plus Halloween makes for an unhappy introvert. And this year all the political turmoil added to the pandemic strain piles on the anxiety.

So I haven’t been very productive this week. Just have been exhausted and scattered. Which isn’t to say that I have done nothing. I have been thinking about my Veritas re-write, and as snatches of scenes or paragraphs I want to insert come to me, I have written them down. It’s fits and starts, but it’s progress. I hope to get those words into the computer before the week is out.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know that we have had a rather adventurous time trying to keep guppies alive in our small 5-gallon fish tank. We’ve been through 8 fish. The last one died right before the lockdown in March, and our tank has been empty since.

We’ve begun “cycling” our tank again to get the ammonia and nitrate levels to zero before adding fish. It’s a slow process and currently leaving me scratching my head, but we seem to be getting there in spite of ourselves. Once we get the water right, we’ll get new fish, and hopefully keep them alive for a decent amount of time. Of course, the way coronavirus cases are rising in our neck of the woods, we will probably be ready for new fish right when we get closed down again!

So I have written a paltry few hundred words on my novel, and have been watching bacteria grow. Exciting times. But the end of October is always like this for me. I know come November I will be able to take a deep breath and feel some weight come off my shoulders.

I am not crazy enough to do NaNoWriMo this year. I do not have the headspace or emotional bandwidth for it. But I do want to try and at least get into a rhythm, dedicate some time each day to writing. We shall see.

Are you doing NaNo? If so, good luck!

Have a happy and safe Halloween, everyone!

Raising the Next Generation of Writers – CoronaLife Day 222

I walk every day for exercise, about 2.5 miles. Sometimes my 10-year-old daughter walks with me. She often says she wants to be a writer, and our chats can revolve around that—or about any of the hundred other things swirling in her brain.

Today we were walking in companionable silence when suddenly she says, “What do you think would happen?”

I ask, “To what?”

She smiles sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” She looks off into the distance and says, “I’m not sure I should ask you this. I’m afraid you’ll think I’m silly.”

I take her hand. “You can tell me anything.”

Her voice is low, hesitant. “What—what if—if Harry Potter had two sisters no one knew anything about?” She doesn’t look at me.

Fan fiction. She is afraid I will think fanfic is silly.

Instead, I tell her about the not one, not two, but three fanfic series I wrote with my best friend. About 15 books in all. I explain that lots of writers start out writing fan fiction. Not only is it loads of fun, but it helps you learn how to tell a story. By working with an existing structure, an existing universe, you get to play and hone your skills at the same time.

Her next smile wasn’t sheepish—it was broad and bright, showing her two side gaps where her teeth haven’t grown in yet. And then the floodgates opened and I was treated to 40 minutes of her Harry Potter fan fiction, wherein two female characters (representing her and her best friend) are secretly sisters of Harry who also escaped the killing curse that night.

Seeing the enthusiasm and confidence that poured from her once she knew she wasn’t silly reminded me that we older writers (both in age and in writing years) need to be mindful of the young ones. Most of us have found our community, our support system. The young ones haven’t. They are out there thinking they are silly. Or that their creativity is something to hide because a lot of people think “day dreaming” is a waste of time.

So if any of you writers has a young creative in your life (doesn’t have to be a writer), encourage the dreaming. Make them see that imagination is a gift. Let them know they are not alone. That their gift has value. Just give them permission to “be”—and watch them grow.

Get Out the Vote – CoronaLife Day 215

This week overall has not been a productive one for me, writing-wise. I chipped away at Veritas but still feel that I need to do more with the scenes I am working on before I can move forward.

We are five and a half weeks into the school year, and I am exhausted. Not because of the schooling—the teachers have been phenomenal and my daughter is old enough to be pretty independent about her work. I am perennially exhausted during the school year. My body clock and the real-world clock do not sync well at all. As a result, I stay up too late because that’s when I have my energy, and then only get about 6 hours of sleep on a good night. During the summer, I never napped during the day, because I could sleep as long as I needed, but these days when I have to get up with my daughter, I find I crash into a power nap once a day.

I did get one big thing done this week: I voted! Here in New Jersey, we are all vote by mail this year. We did it during the primaries, too, as we were still deep in the worst of our pandemic first wave. We got our ballots last week, and this week I filled mine in and dropped it off. The nearest drop off to my house just happens to be the actual county elections office, so I walked it right in and handed it over.

Please, if you are eligible to vote, do so. We have always held America up as an example of a thriving democracy, but the reality for years has been that we have more people who don’t vote than who do in most elections. Even in Presidential election years, we are often hard pressed to get more than 50% of the voters to the polls. Voter apathy is the single largest danger to our democracy. Don’t like the choices you have? Vote for the one closest to your beliefs, then spend the next election cycle finding and supporting someone you like better. If we want a country whose representatives more accurately reflect who we really are, we all need to get out there and vote.

As John Lewis said in his final words: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.”

So act.

Rebuilding the Story – CoronaLife Day 208

With me, my daughter, and my husband all fighting for bandwidth on a DSL line all day, we were running into problems. So we finally broke down and got cable internet. Hopefully the increased bandwidth will erase the problems we’ve been having. We are also keeping the DSL as backup in case our cable goes down, which it seems to do with regularity in our neighborhood. I think I may just stay on the DSL and let them have the cable—the DSL is sufficient for what I need.

I’ve been chipping away at Veritas again this week. I am into the part of the story where serious rebuilding will happen, as the new seeds I planted in the opening bear fruit. So while the general direction of the plot won’t change, how we get there most definitely will. I am trying, among other things, to make my protagonist more active, driving the story more than being pulled along by events. It’s difficult because she is literally trapped in her mind for a significant portion of this section, so having her more active is a bit head-scratching. But I have some ideas to play with.

I know very well that even with all the work I am doing on this editing pass, I will need to do at least one more. Whenever you go in and work on a nearly-complete manuscript and copy, paste, delete, insert, there are going to be continuity issues. So I need to do that, and I need to make sure that all the new stuff hangs together with all the old stuff and that it all makes sense. So still a long way to go, but I am confident I will get there in the end.

Also, I got my ballot in the mail this week, so I am doing a shout-out to everyone to make sure you vote, whether by mail or in person, depending on your state’s procedures. Your vote is your constitutional right and the foundation of our country, so make it count. If you don’t know how or where to vote in your area, call your County Clerk or Board of Elections office, and they will tell you where to go. Make a plan to vote and let your voice be heard!

Beginning…Again – CoronaLife Day 201

I’ve mentioned my on-again, off-again work on my YA sci-fi Veritas. When last I mentioned it, I was using Lisa Cron’s Story Genius and her Scene Cards to try to organize my thoughts, deepen the story, and not lose track of the emotional through line. This has been a struggle for me, but I felt I was finally starting to see something.

This week, even though I have not finished the Scene Cards for the whole book, I went in to massage the first 10 scenes, which I had done the cards for. I needed to see how the changes I pondered felt in situ, and see how it changed the flow and tone of the story. This amounts to the first 10,000 words of the story, but I think I need to really get this right before I can go much farther.

I like what I see. While that actual changes to the scenes are relatively minor—added lines here, deleted lines there—the story feels different. By more fully understanding Cron’s third rail—the misbelief that has driven my protagonist for so long—I was able to refocus the scenes and drive the story in a whole new way.

I am a long way from finished, and I will undoubtedly revisit these scenes again. This process is time-consuming for me, and sort of hurts my brain. But I feel it is reaping some rewards for me already, with more to come. I hope that this is like doing a large jigsaw puzzle—at first, and for a long time, it feels like a struggle to find pieces that fit. But as the number of pieces dwindle, they come together faster and faster, until in one burst of puzzling it all comes together.

I’m still at the beginning of the Vertias puzzle. If I get this right, though, and take my time going forward, the story should roll faster and faster on its own, and come together all at once as I near the end.

At least, that’s the dream.

What are you all working on? Are any of you at the beginning…again?

An Educational Adventure – CoronaLife Day 194

Remember snow days? Weather would be bad and school was cancelled. With remote learning, you aren’t dependent on if the buses can get through to have school. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a “snow day”. In the spring semester when remote learning was still new and we were all just trying to get through each day, our town had a power outage. Not from snow, I can’t even remember why, but the town was out for about 2 days. No school!

When it’s the whole town, you know you don’t have to worry about your kid missing anything. This weekend, though, our modem died—poof, no internet at the house. And since it was just us, I knew my daughter would miss school for the 2 days it would take the modem to come. That’s a lot of work to make up. So what’s a remote learning parent to do?

FIELD TRIP!

On Monday and Tuesday, my daughter and I nestled in our car next to the school so she could hook up to their internet. Their schedule is live teaching for 4 hours, then lunch, then the afternoon is their pre-recorded specials classes and live meetings with teachers as needed. So we spent both mornings camped out so my daughter got her lessons and didn’t fall too far behind. We pushed off the afternoon pre-recorded specials, as they are only once a week and aren’t due until next week’s class, so she can do them over the weekend. Four hours in the car per day was enough!

Our new modem arrived Tuesday evening, just before I had a scheduled virtual meeting, so at least that worked out.

I hope that is the end of our adventures in education for a while. Now we just have to figure out how to co-exist with each other as my daughter, husband, and I all fight for bandwidth during the day.

Anyone else having remote learning adventures?

Routines and Revisions – CoronaLife Day 187

This is my daughter’s second week of remote learning, and we are settling into a routine again. Unfortunately for me, every school-time routine means I don’t get enough sleep. No matter how hard I try, it is always later than I want it to be before I get to bed, and that alarm goes off awfully early in the morning.

However, a routine is helpful. My daughter is old enough now that she does not need constant help with her schoolwork. Unlike the spring remote learning, where we were all simply trying not to drown, her teacher is online live with her and the class for 4 straight hours (with small breaks in between lessons so the kids can move around, go to the bathroom, etc). Then a lunch break, then my daughter goes back up to her “art studio” to do her Specials work and anything she hasn’t finished in class.

Since she also makes her own breakfast and lunch, that leaves my day more open than it has been all summer. It’s still hard to concentrate, because my daughter pops down at every break to chat, but I can get some work done during the daylight hours (if I can stay awake!). As a result, I have been able to work some more on revising Veritas later in the afternoon and evenings.

As I said in a previous post, I have been using Lisa Cron’s Story Genius to revise, but I got hung up on what she calls the third rail—those competing desires that fuel the inner conflict of your protagonist. I wasn’t quite understanding it, or at least I could not clarify it enough to find one that felt “right” for Veritas, until I spoke to my friend Kathryn Craft, who is a wonderful developmental editor. She reframed the idea for me, coming at it from several other angles, and at last I “saw” what I needed.

I have spent the past week chipping away at the rest of Story Genius, laying the groundwork which will both support and propel the story. I feel like it’s finally coming together. This is a major revision of an already well-polished story, and what I am finding is that all the pieces I needed were already in the story—I just have to put them together in a different way. So, yay to my subconscious for knowing what needed to be in there, even while my conscious brain missed the point.

My plan from here on out, now that I think I grasp what I need to do, is to use Cron’s Story Cards concept to examine my existing scenes and align them with my new insights, and figure out if any more need to be added (or deleted). We shall see how it goes.

How are you settling into your fall routine? Is it much different from your summer one?

Amazing Times – CoronaLife Day 180

This week began school for my daughter. Like many other schools, ours is remote for the first marking period. And as I walked up to the school the other day to drop papers into the drop-box, I thought, “What an amazing time we live in.”

Now wait, I hear you thinking. There’s a pandemic going on. Amazing is not the word I would use for our times.

I get it. The whole pandemic thing is awful. It’s stressful. It’s a life we never expected to be living. For many people their lives have been irrevocably changed by loss of work, loss of their own health, loss of a loved one. Our world will never be the same.

But here’s the thing. We are still living in amazing times. I wrote a manuscript set in 1922 Philadelphia. The ghost of the 1918 flu pandemic still hung heavy over people’s lives. So I necessarily did some research into the 1918 pandemic.

When the flu hit Philadelphia hard, they shut everything down. For a while, even coal stopped being delivered to the town–in winter. And the schools, of course, closed. Many parallels to today.

One thing was vastly different, though—technology. When those 1918 kids were home from school, their education stopped. There was no TV, no phone, no internet, even radios were still not ubiquitous. Many kids had parents who were themselves not well educated. Some were lucky enough to have teachers in the family, but most kids had no education at all.

Our kids have remote learning. They have their teachers coming into their homes 4-6 hours a day to educate them. They have assignments, they have access to online tools, they have their teachers available to help them outside of class hours. Is remote learning ideal? No. Are there still wrinkles to iron out? Of course. Even with last spring’s experience, this is still new. But it is vastly superior to what the kids had in 1918—nothing.

So even though I am as tired of this pandemic life as the next person, I am grateful for what we have. I know remote learning is difficult for some families. I know there are some families that are straining to get this done, for whom juggling work and school is a hardship. But we are doing it. We are uniting as a community like never before. Parents, teachers, and students are working together to get our children the education they need

And for those who still worry about the kids falling behind, that what we (parents, teachers, kids) are doing is not enough, remember this: Those kids that were quarantined with no school in 1918 grew up to be part of The Greatest Generation.

We will all be fine.

And we live in amazing times.

Flexing Social Muscles – CoronaLife Day 173

One thing about the social distancing and quarantine…as an introvert, having a reason not to be social has been great. Staying home has worked for me on many levels. I really appreciated not having to run my daughter to her numerous activities, and just being able to hide out in my little nest.

The problem is, introverts need to force themselves to be social in order to keep up the skill. Not having to be social on a regular basis is making my social muscles flabby, as another writer said. I think there is a real risk I will not want to come back out of the house even when it is finally all clear to do so. And I might have forgotten how to have a conversation, as well.

This week I exercised those social muscles a bit. PTA meeting on Monday, orthodontist with the child on Tuesday, handed off info to the new PTA treasurer Wednesday, and picking up my daughter’s school supplies from school and meeting her teacher on Thursday. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, to be honest. I have an anxiety disorder, which has not made the stress any easier through all of this, and it makes it hard to move from a “hunker-down” mindset to a “gotta do stuff” mindset.

I am looking forward to sinking back into my cozy safe haven for the next few days, until school starts on Tuesday. It will be remote, but I expect the first week will be quite the adjustment. For one thing, night owl me will have to start getting up early again to make sure my young one is up and fed in time for check in. Still, while having no routine was nice for the summer, it is time for us to get back into it. Maybe with my daughter having a routine, I will find a groove and start getting some work done again.

Happy September, everyone!

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