Another bout of writer’s block and finally! Chapter III

Hi there, I’m not dead, in case you’re wondering. Just took a little, ahem, two-month break from any creative activity whatsoever. Ok, almost three-month. And it wasn’t even a break, it was more like a coma, in which I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy even reading or fantasizing about anything. Nothing at all, least of all working on the novel or painting. It’s like my body and my mind rebelled against any further demands on my time. I stopped doing anything not directly related to keeping my job and spent my free time wisely by going to several doctors, demanding to know what’s wrong with me. Finally, my physician sat me down.

“The bad news,” she said, “is that there’s nothing wrong with you. Physically.”

She went on and on about stress management and yoga, and I made feeble promises to “look into that” but of course didn’t. I am back with the living now, and it’s only thanks to an emergency vacation to Queensland and the renewed hope that I will move there someday. If you are by chance contemplating moving to Australia, do consider Queensland. Yes, it’s hot and humid, and full of bogans, but they are nice, happy ones. You could move to the cold, miserable Melbourne and I guarantee you would find plenty of bogans, only they would be depressed and aggressive. Plus, I must have finally reached the age where I find high concentrations of humans no longer exciting, instead oppressive and suffocating. I’m old.

Ah, but back to the exciting news! One week in the sunshine, away from angry customers and meaningless bureaucracy, and I am back! Today was the last day of my leave and I managed to break the inertia by not only writing a whole new chapter but by painting as well. I don’t have a progress photo of the latest portrait, instead here is me working with my new friend, rescue Eclectus named Archie (I am using water soluble oils and only linseed oil as solvent, in case you’re worried about toxic fumes). He is actually interested in what I’m doing:

And now, for the proof that vacations are important and necessary, and so worth the money. The chapter I feared I’d never write.

 

CHAPTER III

I forgot all about it for the rest of the week, mainly because I was dead tired. Melbourne winter and taking public transport to work in the city meant that even if I wasn’t sick, I was either getting over “something” or fighting off the next something else. Work was stressful, as usual, and I ended up taking thick folders home almost every night, even when I knew I was just going to fall asleep on top of them. Even Clare seemed a bit down. We had a new starter, some young hot shot, and one of the partners did an awkwardly overenthusiastic introduction of him, after which the new guy talked for at least twenty minutes about his resume and aspirations.  I expected Clare to drop a burn about it, there was enough material in that speech for a whole stand-up routine, but she just went back to her computer.

“What about the new bloke?” I said, trying to get something out of her.

“Who, Joe? What about him?”

“What was that thing he said about what it takes to succeed? I swear, he was looking at me when he said that. And what’s with the suit and the haircut…looks like a real estate agent, doesn’t he?”

“I guess.” She shrugged. “They are all like that, aren’t they?”

“I guess.”

She turned back to her screen and I turned back to the nagging thoughts about my life, specifically on how it did not turn out the way I expected. I’m not even sure what it was I expected, just certain that I never wished to be so consistently miserable, with both short-term and long-term forecasts indicating further downpours of gloom, with possible strikes of bad luck. There was the seemingly unsurmountable mountain of divorce to cross, and who knew what awaited me on the other side? Most likely rejection, by men I was hoping to date and men or maybe even a woman I was hoping to woo in an interview. Just six more months at Rich&Richer and I could look for a different version of it without getting branded a flight risk. I wasn’t looking for a promotion, just a place that didn’t provoke suicidal thoughts.

“Rose?”

I jumped in my seat, then inwardly cursed myself.

“Yes, Mr. Bigford?”

“The landfill people are here.”

“Oh!” I shuffled through the papers on my desk and pulled out a folder. “Here’s all the background info. I’ve put tabs in, so it’s easier to find – starting from when it was a bluestone quarry. I managed to find some newspaper articles on the illegal dumping, here, I put the red flags at the top. The EPA notices are at the end, and I have drafted some speaking points, here. Preliminary, of course.”

He thumbed through the pages and I could see he was pleased. A wave of pride came over me, so strong that I almost choked up. William Bigford was never big on praise or even smiling, but I understood why, he had a certain image to maintain. He wasn’t fatherly, but then again I was not familiar with any expressions of fatherly love. I just wanted approval, desperately. I was willing to work overtime for it.

He looked up from the folder. “Tell you what, Rose.”

I swallowed hard.

“Why don’t you go get us a couple of lattes and a cappucino from downstairs? Here,” he shoved something in my hand, “get something for yourself, too.”

He left with my folder and for a minute or two, I just stood there, looking down at the twenty in my hand.

*

I was in the kitchenette making yet another cup of green tea, when the new guy walked in. I wasn’t trying to schmooze him, he just kept opening one cupboard after another and finally I felt that I had to say something.

“Cups are here,” I pointed out. “Are you looking for cups?”

“Yes,” he said and smiled at me. Genuine, non-real-estate smile. “Thank you so much.”

“No probs,” I said. “If you need Stevia, I have a stash. There’s only sugar. Unless you like sugar.”

“Thank you. I don’t use either. I drink black coffee, no milk or sugar. But thank you very much.”

Up close, he didn’t seem at all stuck up, maybe even nervous about starting a new job. Maybe even nervous about making new friends.

“I’m Rose,” I offered my hand.

“Joe,” he shook it. Not in a crashing macho way, just a normal handshake. And eye contact.

“I’ve heard all about you,” I said. “This morning, I mean. Quite a CV you have there.”

“Oh,” he said and started to open and close cupboards again. “I hate talking about myself, but it’s expected sometimes. Where do you hide your coffee?”

Something inside me fluttered. He was nice. Nice, normal, funny, not to mention successful. Maybe even single.

“Well,” I said in a conspiratory tone, “You’ve come to the right place. We have an all-in-one coffee machine – one push of a button and you can have your free espresso in just a moment.” I gestured with a flourish to the large black apparatus in the corner.

“You don’t say,” he whispered, leaning towards me. “Free coffee in a law firm charging clients by the minute? Surely, this is an oversight of the management?”

I squinted at him. “It’s proven to be a generous return on the investment.”

“How so?” He moved to inspect the machine.

I looked at his back. Broad but not bulky, the V accentuated by the perfect cut of the silvery-blue suit. I forced myself to look away.

“For starters, there’s no need to go downstairs and waste valuable company time. Imagine seventy-six employees taking what? Three daily breaks of ten minutes each?”

“Unthinkable.” He turned and smiled again.

“Not to mention productivity. The caffeinated workforce–”

“Rose!”

My heart dropped back to the deep dark hole, where it belonged. “Yes, Mr. Bigford?”

I have learned to read people over the years of trying to please first my father and then Alex, but you didn’t have to be a mind-reader to know he was pissed off. Employees of Rich&Richer are not supposed to chit-chat anywhere in the office, unless said chit-chat is billable. He shoved the landfill folder into my hands.

“Call them and set up another meeting, next week.”

“Yes sir.”

*

I put Joe out of my mind for the rest of the day. It was easy – a skill you learn with years of experience in squashed expectations. A man like this most definitely has a partner, I told myself. He wasn’t wearing a ring, but Australians are notorious for getting married only after about a decade-long engagement, a house and a couple of kids. And he’s too pretty and well-groomed to be straight anyway.  And new to the company. With time, he will figure out my place on the ladder and will start passing me folders rather than looks. Best to be disappointed early, before it hurts too much.

It was Friday and I was planning to excuse myself from the after-work drinks, on the account of being under the weather, which was true, but Clare practically begged me to come. She wanted to tell me about her Tinder dates, but I think she just didn’t want to go home.

“Okay,” I said. “One drink, and then I’m leaving.”

It was a two-for-one happy hour and we each had a margarita, and then another one. Damn it, I just love margaritas. I love licking the salt off the rim, which is stupid, because the salt costs practically nothing. Plus, it makes you bloat.

Clare was getting animated from the alcohol and reliving her most recent date disaster, but I could not stop checking the door.

“And then he said he would like to bite my neck! Rose!”

“What?”

“Did you hear what I just said?”

“Yes. The guy was awful.”

“Yes, of course he was, but did you hear why?”

“He wanted to bite you?”

She let out an exasperated sigh. “He’s into BDSM! He wanted to tie me up and hurt me.”

“Oh. I didn’t know you’re into that.”

“I’m not! Seriously, what got into you today?”

“Nothing.” I rubbed my finger along the glass rim, but all the salt was gone. “I so need another job.”

“You and me both. How about another drink for now?”

I was about to say no and that I need to go home, when Joe appeared next to our little table. “Hi there. Can I get you ladies a drink?”

Clare snorted. “Ladies? Which ladies are you talking about?”

Joe seemed unsure for a moment and I slapped Clare’s hand, only half-jokingly. “Why, thank you, good sir. If I could trouble you for a margarita, I would be much obliged.”

“Make it two,” Clare said, and once he left, whispered to me, “What’s going on with you?”

“Nothing,” I said. “What’s going on with you? Why are you mean to Joe?”

“Joe? Are we on the first name basis with the real estate agent?”

“Stop it,” I slapped her hand again. “He’s a nice guy, you’ll see.”

He came back with our drinks and he was nice. He listened to Clare’s Tinder stories and my stories about Pa and his cats. He told his own, mostly about growing up in Queensland and then about his parents divorcing and moving to Sydney with his mum. None of his stories mentioned a partner of any kind. He offered to buy another round, but I insisted on paying, like I always do, even though I usually end up kicking myself for it later. “You need to let the man take care of you,” I could read in Clare’s eyes. “Don’t be so damn self-sufficient and persistent.” She didn’t touch her purse all night.

Joe helped me put Clare in an Uber when it became clear she couldn’t risk getting on the train with some shady characters that might pick up on the fact she was no longer entirely there. He waited until I got an Uber too and kissed me lightly on the cheek before walking away. He was nice, but for some reason, I wanted to cry.

*

When I opened the front door, as quietly as was possible, given the rusted hinges, it was probably around midnight. I took off my shoes and tiptoed in the dark towards my room.

“Rozochka!”

Thieves and robbers don’t call you by your pet name, but I almost had a heart attack during the long second it took me to realise that. Pa’s voice was coming from somewhere in the living room.  I found the switch and turned on the lights – he was lying on the sofa, rubbing his eyes.

“Sorry, Pa. Why are you sleeping down here?”

“I wasn’t, Rozochka.” He struggled to get up, so I had to help him. “I was waiting for you.”

“Why? I told you I was going out.”

He blinked at me. “I wanted to talk to you. How was your day?”

“My day? Pa, you stayed up till midnight to talk about what I did at work? Even I don’t want to talk about it.”

But we did end up talking for another hour, although it was mostly about why he didn’t join the University of the Third Age. He did go to the city, just as he promised, but the crowded tram and the crowded streets got to him.

“Everybody was pushing, Rozochka. Zey were so unhappy. I was unhappy.”

I tried suggesting that he might go mid-morning, after the rush, or on the weekend, even though I knew there would be tourists, even on a miserable day, but he was adamant.

“I like here. I can walk. I walk to vet and store, and nobody is pushing me.”

I was too tired to argue and that’s where the whole thing might have ended, if only I wasn’t so damn persistent.

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Working Title, Chapter 2

It almost didn’t happen – I had to battle some kind of virus (damn you, Australian winter!) and another bout of writer’s block. Overcame the first one by sleeping and the second by giving up on a particular scene (not deleting, just moving it down) and taking a slightly different direction. Voila, a new chapter and a new painting in the nick of time!

Thank you all so much for providing comments! They really helped – you may notice Pop is now Pa, and I have amended the first chapter accordingly. If you are new to the blog, please note that what follows is my attempt to write and live-post my new story one chapter and one character portrait at a time. There’s no way I can finish a portrait in a week, so I will be posting photos of each painting as they progress through the stages – some stages may be ugly. This one is of Rose, the narrator. Please feel free to comment, but be kind – I bruise (and doubt myself) easily. Also, if you’re new and interested – start with the Chapter 1.

Here she goes.

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The morning it all started someone dumped a box of kittens on our doorstep, tiny little things with ringworm so bad, their tails were bold. Pa was so excited I was seriously concerned he might have a coronary.

“Look, Rozochka!” He held one of the meowing rats up for me to see. “Look at ze white paws! Is like he has socks!”

I was less than thrilled. I actually like cats, just not so many of them. With the new additions, the household feline population reached at least a dozen, if you counted in the transients.

“That’s cute, Pa.” I leaned in closer and ran my finger across the kitten’s belly. “That’s a flea. I just saw a flea.”

“I will call him Socks.” He hugged the dirty little thing to his chest.

“Don’t start naming them, please,” I said, checking my watch. “Socks needs to find a good home very, very soon. And wash your hands, for the love of God. Ringworm is extremely contagious.”

“I will wash, Rozochka.”

“Thank you. Gotta go. And please, I beg you, don’t let them in your bed.”

That was pointless, I thought, getting into my car. The kittens were destined to have the run of the house, grow up to be big fat cats, and settle in permanently. Pa was about to spend whatever was left of his pension on veterinarian bills and every waking minute grooming and feeding them. Pa needed humans, not a bunch of useless freeloaders that had no purpose and didn’t contribute to anything, just laid around staring out the window and contemplating their pointless lives.

I’m angry at kittens. That was a new low, except, of course, it wasn’t kittens that got me there. It was my freeloading soon-to-be-ex-husband. Alex and I were still stuck in mediation, and that meant I was stuck in life until I could settle and get unchained from the dead weight. Once the house sells, I will move into my own place. The thought made me terribly guilty, the way it always did. Pa wouldn’t say anything, but it only made the guilt worse.

“It’s the only way,” I said to myself. The only way for me to have a chance at those grandkids Pa so desperately wanted. I imagined Alex now regretted not even considering having a baby – God knows, he would be claiming child support too. I was almost thankful for his selfishness, except for me “kids” would now most likely mean IVF, even if I managed to find some guy equally anxious to procreate. According to Claire, there were still plenty of them on the Internet, men who just crossed over the hill and finally realized that greener grass is usually fenced in and jealously guarded. I still had a few years to sort through them before even the most unscrupulous IVF clinics would turn me down, I just needed my own place to do that. My own place, with no useless freeloaders contemplating their pointless lives.

And definitely no cats.

*

“Just move out now,” Claire said. “You don’t have to buy a house, just rent one. Rent an apartment. Or a room. Move on.”

“I can’t,” I whispered. “I feel so guilty.”

I didn’t have to whisper – the office was nearly empty, with everyone out in court or meeting clients. Still, years of working for the law firm of Rich&Richer, as Claire called them, trained me to think in billable hours. Talking with the fellow paralegal was not billable. Not that Claire cared.

“You’re always feeling guilty,” she said. “You need to stop that.”

“What, just stop caring about an old man who has nobody except me in this world?”

“He has a son, doesn’t he?”

I rolled my eyes. “You know my father is useless. The best-case scenario is that he disappears forever and I don’t have to worry about paying his debts, too.”

“When was the last time you saw him, two years ago? Maybe he’s dead.”

“That’s what I love about you,” I said. “Ever the optimist.”

She laughed. “Any time, darl’. But seriously, move out.”

“I can’t. You don’t understand. He’s so old. And the cats, my God, the cats. He got more this morning. People bring them around now. I bet if you Google “cat lady”, his address would be at the top.”

She laughed again. “So, he got the cats! He doesn’t need you.”

“He needs people. He only collects cats cause he’s so lonely.”

“Maybe you both need dates.”

I shook my head. “You know he wouldn’t.”

“Oh. The grandma?”

“Yep.”

My grandmother, Roza Lansky, has been dead for over sixty years. Sixty-eight, to be precise because that’s how old my father was. To my knowledge, Pa has not so much as looked at another woman for sixty-eight years. I suddenly felt like crying, and not because I was sad for him. I was sad for me, poor little me. I inherited her name and, according to Pa, her looks, but there wasn’t a man in the world who would mourn me for that long. Except for Pa, but he didn’t count.

“You’re okay.” Claire patted my arm. “Seriously, you don’t have to babysit him. That’s enabling. He should meet other people.”

I wiped my eyes. “He doesn’t leave the house.”

“Maybe he should. Join some club. Play golf or something.”

“He can barely walk.”

“He can study. They have this University of the Third Age now.”

“I don’t think he even finished school.”

She snorted. “It’s not an actual university. It’s like a school for old people. They teach random stuff, like public speaking and current affairs. My grandmother loves it. She is taking painting lessons. Maybe your Pa can do some painting?”

*

Pa wasn’t on the porch when I pulled up to the house later. I was spent – being a paralegal, especially in my office, was basically doing twice the work of a solicitor for half the pay. I had a thick folder to get through and if Pa wanted to watch movies on his own, then great. All I wanted was my bed and some quiet.

The house was dark. Dark and quiet, except for the cats that greeted me at the door with indignant meowing, demanding dinner. For one terrifying moment I thought Pa was dead, had a heart attack while I was at work, or worse, hurt himself and couldn’t get to the phone, and slowly bled to death, alone, on the floor. It wasn’t hard to imagine, the old man was almost ninety. Then I heard cooing from down the hallway and saw a sliver of light coming from under the bathroom door.

He was sitting cross-legged on the bathroom mat, a towel in his lap, fussing over one of the kittens. The other kittens were asleep together in a basket and one of the tabbies observed the scene patiently from the counter, only the tip of his tail indicating the rage at having to wait for his regularly scheduled meal.

“What’s going on here?”

“Rozochka!” He straightened his back with a visible effort. “You’re home early.”

“Pa, it’s after six. How long have you been sitting on the floor?”

He looked at me with genuine confusion. “I don’t know.”

I helped him get up while he babbled away about the kittens, and the fleas, and how the vet said he could only use lavender oil to treat them because they were so young.

“Ze fleas, they don’t like ze oil. Very strange. It smell so nice.”

His fine white hair was messy and his hips and knees popped loudly. “You can’t do this, Pa.” I said. “Have you even showered today? You need to take better care of yourself.”

“I know, I know.” He shuffled towards the kitchen.

“You’re not cooking,” I said, overtaking him. “Sit down on a sofa, okay? I will cook.”

He didn’t even protest as he usually did. “Sank you, pet. I need to feed my babies.”

He fed the cats and then watched the news while I made a chicken stir-fry, something quick that I didn’t have to feel guilty about later. I brought the bowls into the living room – we usually ate at the kitchen table, but tonight wasn’t a usual day.

“Do you want something else, Rozochka? Maybe mashed potatoes?”

I almost had to hold him down. “Pa, relax. I don’t want any, but I will make something else for you if you’re hungry. Are you hungry?”

“No, no,” he said. “You know I don’t eat much.”

“That makes two of us.”

He sighed but didn’t even lecture me on the many reasons why I need to eat more. That was definitely unusual.

“Pa, are you okay?”

“I am very good, Rozochka,” he beamed at me. “The doctor gave me lotion for ze kittens. For tails. He said ze fur will grow back. He said­–“

“Pa, seriously. I’m starting to worry about you.”

“Why, Rozochka?”

“I don’t know. It’s the cats. Or maybe that you’re cooped up in here. When was the last time you got out of the house?”

“I went to the vet today.”

I laughed. “You see, it’s the cats again. When was the last time you did anything for yourself? Just for fun?”

He thought about it. “I am not cooped up. I like ze house. And cats.”

“You need people.”

“I have you, pet.”

I almost said I know. “Other people, Pa. New people. New things to do.”

He paused to think again. It was almost childlike. “I don’t know Rozochka. I don’t want anysing new.”

I don’t know why I kept pushing and I’d like to think that only part of it was the guilt of wanting to move out. I was worried about him, kind of like I worry about everything. I wanted him to be happy, and I wanted him to be safe, and all the research said a social circle is what everyone needs, but Pa’s circle was, unfortunately, more of a line. A thick, straight line between us, with no support from anyone else, not even his beloved son. It was that way forever, and it wasn’t my responsibility to fix, but I guess I didn’t see it that way. I pushed and prodded until he agreed to check out the University of the Third Age. It was in the city and he could take the tram almost to the door. There were language courses, and choir, and music, and yes, bridge.

He promised, I mean, practically swore he would check it out.

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It begins. Working Title – Chapter 1.

(Text and images by Ana Spoke. All rights reserved).

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CHAPTER 1

I know terrible things. Big, awful secrets that I can’t unknow, no matter how long I lie awake at night, rolling them over in my mind, sweating over the fantasies of going back in time and undoing all the wrongs, even though I would be powerless to change anything. I “what if” and “I wish” and I wipe away angry tears, but they keep on coming. I wish I was someone else. I wonder what would have happened if my father was never conceived. I cry over what could have been. But most of all, I wish I could go back to the last year, to the day I bought that paint set, so that I could set fire to the damn thing.

*

I moved back in with Pa and the cats thinking it was going to be only temporary, until the divorce came through. I didn’t yet know Alex was on the war path, determined to waste every cent of his and my money on proving that I was some evil, manipulative monster responsible not only for the demise of our marriage, but also for his mental health, life goals and his ability to be gainfully employed. I was sure then that things were about to get better, and how could they not, after a decade of living with an abusive drunk.

Pa couldn’t be happier about his little girl moving back home. He never said anything, but I knew he was secretly relieved that Alex was gone and so were my desperate attempts to cure my husband from his many addictions. He was happy to have my company, too – Pa loved his cats, but the conversations with his flock of strays were mostly one-sided. I would often catch him chattering away as he loaded their bowls with canned food, furry tails of all colors rubbing against his legs. They would meow back occasionally, but once their bellies were full they would move on to licking themselves and generally ignoring Pa and the whole world. Ungrateful creatures. Once I told him so.

“Zey are innocent, Rozochka,” he said. “Zey are like children, don’t know any better. And you know I do it for me. I like feeding.”

He did. Pa was a feeder. I blamed him for my thighs when I was young, before I knew about refined sugar and self-restraint. But when I got married and moved out my thighs got even bigger and it wasn’t until the day Alex picked up our wedding photo and said “boy, you really let yourself go, haven’t you?” that I had to admit it was all me. I can’t even blame Alex for the bout of bulimia that followed. I knew what I was doing. It was hard to show that self-restraint, though, when I found myself back in Pa’s loving care, showered with attention and casseroles.

“I can’t eat this much,” I said one day, sitting down to a plate full of carbs and unidentifiable fat. “This is not healthy, Pa. You need to eat more vegetables.”

“Potatoes are vegetable.”

“But not the butter you’ve drowned them in.” I poked around in the mound, trying to find anything that had not been fried.

He smiled at me, a wrinkly grey angel. “But you love butter, Rozochka.”

“I do.” And I did. But I loved him even more.

*

Come to think of it, my entire life I have searched for a man like Pa to take my hand and wrap me in a warm blanket of love, and care, and protection, and all those things that you expect from a relationship. Twice, I thought I found such a man, but each time they morphed into needy, greedy, gross, lazy, addicted, dependent Peter Pans. They morphed into my father.

I don’t know if I ever loved my father. Every now and then, when he came around and was sober enough to talk to me, he tried to tell me stories of how we used to play together when I was little or about all the times he took me fishing. I never could remember us playing, but I do remember at least one fishing trip when he yelled at me because I wouldn’t sit still in the boat. I remember how he forgot to pick me up from school once and I just stood there, cold and alone, until my mother rolled up, tires screeching and tears streaming down her face. I remember her hugging me for a very long time, and how she kept saying sorry over and over. I don’t remember my father apologizing. But then again, I don’t remember much of him at all. Mom didn’t suffer fools for nearly as long as I did – it was over between them by the time I was in the second grade. From then on it was the three musketeers – Pa, Mom and I. We were happy, so I didn’t understand then why she got married again. I understand now, but when she said we were going to move to Perth to live with Richard, I cried hysterically until it was decided that it would be better for everyone if stayed put. I had nothing personal against Richard, he is still a decent man. I just couldn’t leave Pa. So technically, from the age of eleven I was an orphan.

Eventually Mom had two more kids, and so – again, technically – I have two siblings, but not the kind of siblings with whom I can share the life’s burdens. I have a brother and a sister, but they’d never even met my father, so I can’t talk to them about Dad’s drinking. My brother is fourteen years younger than me, so I can’t ask him to scare off my no-good husband. My sister is even younger, and never been married, so she can’t relate to the seven-year itch. I have been visiting them at least once a year, in summer, but they never came to visit me. I never asked, but I got close to when I moved back in with Pa. I needed someone to share Pa’s obsessive attention.

Other than cat-saving and cat-feeding, some gardening and an occasional trip to the hardware store, Pa didn’t have any other interests. He’d kept mostly to himself his whole life and now there were no buddies to play bridge or whatever else the oldies do when they get together. He never travelled, would not go to restaurants or even movies because everything outside his four walls cost too much. Which I imagine it would if you had close to a dozen dependents at any given time. I never thought about how he’d managed while I was married and preoccupied, he certainly never complained about being lonely. Or anything at all. I only realized that he must’ve been once I was back – every day when I came home from work, he was on the front porch, in one of the rocking chairs, waiting for me.

“You must be tired, Rozochka,” he would say. “I made dinner for you.”

He did. He made dinner for me every single day. But he didn’t stop there. He was never a good sleeper, so he was usually up with the birds, waiting for my alarm to blare, so that he could come to my room and give me my coffee.

“Pa, you don’t have to. Really.”

He would just smile at me and shuffle off back to the kitchen, where I knew he was already making my lunch.

“I put something nice in for you, pet.”

Every day there was something nice. At first it was candy, then after I told him I don’t eat sugar, he started making fruit salad from scratch. Sometimes he’d put in a note, in summer it would be a flower from the garden. Once he put in a book because he thought I might want to read on my break. I should have been happy, and I was, but it was too much. I could never reciprocate enough, not that he expected me to. He never expected anything, but he followed me around like a shadow.

“You want to watch movie, Rozochka?”

“Cup of tea, Rozochka?”

“Rozochka?”

“Rozochka?”

I should have watched more movies with him. I should have hugged him more often, longer, closer. I should have said “thank you.” Instead, I bought him a paint set.

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The happiest day of my month

It’s five am. I’m awake and I’m the happiest I’d been in a long time, maybe even a year. I wrote over a thousand words yesterday! And not just any words, the first chapter of that next novel that has been stuck in my head for so long. I’m still marveling at how easy it was to do, especially considering that I have had trouble writing anything for almost two years, even regular blog posts. How did I do it, you ask?

I simply decided that I don’t HAVE to write a book. The solitary year it would take me is just too much of a mountain, a burden, a crippling task. First I thought I will just write short stories, maybe see if I get enough of them to compile into something worthy of publication. But the story I wanted to write doesn’t easily fit into a short format, it needs time to unwrap its many layers. So I once again decided to try and publish it as an online serial.

So this is what I’m going to do. I will publish it on this blog, chapter by chapter, as it comes to me, without worrying too much about copy editing and comma polishing. It would be a challenge in itself, because it’s scary for me to show something I’ve written before I’ve had a chance at mulling it over for a long time or getting a native speaker/editor to fix the grammar and spelling. I just hope that the flipside will be that I won’t lose the momentum I gathered yesterday. After all, that’s how I wrote my first novel – it was a joke email to my sister, and had she not laughed and demanded more, it might have just stayed an email, forgotten in the sediment of thousands of other jokes I wrote and said to her. So if this serial post thing works out and I finish it, I still have a chance to turn it into a published book. After all, that’s how a few bestsellers started – The Marshian and if I’m not mistaken, The Twilight. Yes, traditional publishers would probably frown on this, but then publishers have ignored my many attempts at publishing Isa Maxwell series, so what’s new?

I decided that I won’t give up painting either and will weave into my new method – each post will have a new or updated painting to go with it. I have almost finished painting one of the characters and about to start on another one, my very first male portrait.

So that’s the plan. I will post the first chapter in a couple of days. Right now I will get back to writing and who knows, I could write another thousand words before my actual day begins.

Wish me luck!

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Quick how-to: overcome a writer’s (or painter’s) block

Hi everyone,

As per usual, I’m not going to write a comprehensive guide on how to overcome the beast that keeps us from finishing (or even starting) that next (or first) novel. I just want to share with you an unexpected way I broke my own dry spell.

No, unfortunately I have not written another novel. Not yet. But I’d managed, after two months of being frozen in limbo, to paint another portrait. It’s not quite finished, but I wanted to share it anyway.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to finally break a spell that was hanging over me – I just could not finish another painting I started. I was stuck. I’m not sure if it was fear that I don’t know what I’m doing or boredom of having gone just far enough. Maybe both. Maybe that’s why I have not finished the third novel in Isa Maxwell series – I got to a certain stage and just was not sure or interested in going through the polishing up stage. So I decided to move on from the not-quite-finished painting and try something new. Here it is, in case I forget it altogether.

Not only that, the portrait above is a character for a new novel, and in a completely new genre, a blend of a psychological thriller with some knife-to-the chest drama. Fingers crossed, I will get into it soon enough – the characters are starting to talk in my head, which is what I loved so much about writing my first two books.

So if you find yourself stuck or struggling to continue – maybe don’t. Put the draft in a drawer and start something new. Who knows, maybe it will lead you on to a completely new path. I hope mine does.

Wish me luck!

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Storyteller UK competition is now OPEN!

I’ve had the calendar reminder for this since the last year and still almost missed it! Entries opened since 1 May, but luckily the competition remains open until 31 August 2018. What is it, you ask? It’s an opportunity to get your book professionally published, get a $20,000 pounds prize, and travel to London to be recognized in a special ceremony. Do I have your attention?

You can get all the details on the official entry page, but here are the main points:

  1. The book must be in English, previously unpublished. It goes without saying that it has to be your original work, although you could have a co-author.
  2. It must be published during the above entry period using Kindle Direct in electronic and paperback formats (you can also use CreateSpace). It HAS TO BE BOTH formats.
  3. The book must be enrolled in KDP Select during the entry period.
  4. You MUST use a special keyword when publishing (in metadata, the keywords you choose when setting up your book) – “storytellerUK2018” (without the quotes).
  5. You are not eligible if you live in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria or Region of Crimea. Also, the Competition and these Official Rules are void in Mexico, Brazil, Tasmania, Quebec and where prohibited by law, and are subject to applicable laws. Whatever that means.
  6. You can submit multiple books.
  7. Looks like porn or sexually explicit content would disqualify an entry.
  8. Your book could be as short as 25 pages.
  9. By entering, you do agree to enter into an exclusive publishing agreement. Do read the whole set of rules for more details.
  10. In addition to the $20,000, there are other prizes, including an Oasis for each finalist

It also looks like you may get additional exposure because the above entry page lists all the entries submitted and omg, I may actually finish that draft I got lying around. Or even write a new one, although the previous winners look to be very well made. Don’t know if that was before or after winning, though. All entries will be considered, even if you submit on the last day.

So what are you waiting for?

 

 

 

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Filed under Self-publishing and marketing, Shizzle, Inc.

Quick How-To: add fifty hashtags to your Twitter or Instagram post with just one click

Ok, so it’s more like one shortcut word rather than one click, but one click sounds better, right? And since adding fifty hashtags would constitute shameless self-promotion, I figured that a shameless title would suit. Not that I condone or advise adding fifty of them, but have you found yourself typing in the same hashtags over and over, making typos, or forgetting which ones you’d used before? Well, have I got a solution for you, which can be done in three easy steps!

The steps below are for iPhone, sorry Android users. You might need to look for “shortcuts” or something similar under the “settings”. You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.

Step 1. Open “Settings” and navigate to “General” > “Keyboards” > “Text Replacement”. It probably already contains a shortcut for OMG. Because OMG, your mind is about to be blown.

Step 2. Click on the “+” in the top right corner:

text replacement plus sign

Step 3.

This is the longest step, requiring some thinking. Technically, it’s two steps, but “in four easy steps” just didn’t sound good, sorry. See above, about the shamelessness and whatnot.

Anyway, you will see the following blank form:

text replacement blank

This is where you should pause and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What hashtags do you want to add? Ideally, you should already have a list of carefully researched hashtags that deliver the highest engagement. If not, don’t worry – you can always add and edit later. Put whatever hashtags you want into the “Phrase” window, separated by a space.
  2. What short but memorable word or abbreviation do you want to use as a shortcut? It has to be one word, no spaces. Type it into the “Shortcut” window.

Here’s one I’d prepared earlier:

text replacement

You can create as many as you want. For example, you might have separate ones for Instagram and Twitter. Or one for LOLs and one for your promo posts. You may want to make a list of “influencers” to annoy. You may even create a shortcut for your texts, something that you use often and don’t care to type every time, like “I told you this would happen” or “You left the garage door open. Again.” Whatever makes your life easier.

So how do I use this, you ask? Easy. The next time you need to spam the Internet, just type your chosen shortcut below the message and you will see the preview of the expanded phrase appear above the keyboard:

tag.jpg

Now press the “space” key and voila!

tag expanded

Depending on how many hashtags you want to add and your posting rate, you have just added anywhere between a day and a year to your life.

You’re welcome!

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The one I almost threw away

I have been super busy. Interestingly, it’s easy to work hard when you love what you’re doing and all you get is positive feedback and nobody yet giving your work a one-star review, publicly wishing that they could burn it. However, I am also learning just how frustrating art could be. So frustrating, in fact, that I wanted to throw my last painting into the garbage bin:

Persistence 11

Yep, this one almost did not happen, because at some point I’d decided that I just can’t. Freaking. Blend. Acrylics:

Persistence 3

It was late at night. Josh went to bed, after trying to cajole me for an hour to give it a rest, which is not something I do often. I finally gave up and decided that this one was not to be. Some famous painter said that he was happy if one out of ten paintings was good, so the next morning I started playing with it. Then an amazing thing happened – because I had already written this particular piece of canvas off, I was no longer scared to try bold colors and fearless highlights. And somehow, (I am once again completely puzzled at how this happened), I made a painting at which I just. Can’t. Stop. Staring.

This is my number four and the first one that has a name. Persistence. Because she taught me not to stop and now that I know, I will continue no matter how ugly the progress stages get. I didn’t even take the most shocking one, where I scraped back her cheeks. Here are the ones I did take:

Thank you Persistence. I won’t forget.

 

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In other news: it turns out I can paint

Somehow, I have managed through over 45 years not knowing this. Then as previously moaned, I hit a deep well of dark depression and decided to try my hand at  painting with acrylics. It’s now three weeks later and I have just finished my third ever portrait on canvas:

My family is in a state of what I can describe as a “proud shock.” I am shocked too, because in fact my whole life I was convinced that I’m absolute rubbish at painting. I can now remember a mandatory art class in high school that may have prompted this self-belief – my old-school Soviet teacher yelling at me, because I just couldn’t get the point that the shadows are supposed to be purple. Once I got that, he stopped yelling, but I guess the damage was done. I have made sculptures before, but my artistic efforts have so far been limited to drawing princesses and unicorns on request. Even choosing a colour for walls was a drawn-out, painfull process of buying and painting on samples of no less than 11 shades of grey. When I started painting three weeks ago, I was hoping to just get my mind off the stress and the recent series of unfortunate events. My first painting was crap:

However, one magical thing did happen – I loved painting it. And I wanted to paint more. And true to myself, I wanted the next one to be better. So I watched a bunch of YouTube tutorials, bought some more paint and the next one was indeed a bit better:

So I watched more tutorials, bought more supplies, and the result surprised me. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen the painstakingly slow progress shots, if not – here they are. Cause progress is fun!

Speaking of progress, I now have my husband’s agreement to indefinitely delay converting one of the two living rooms in the new old house into an awesome master bedroom. Because it is already awesome as my studio:

That’s all for now. I didn’t get a chance to write a post about Amazon ads, but will do so when I get temporarily sick of painting, which could happen. Hope it would be only temporary, if it does.

I also hope that if you suddenly remember someone yelling at you as a kid, something about how you could never do X, that you would immediately make plans to try X at the earliest opportunity. You never know what may happen.

 

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Once again, BookBub delivers

If only I could have a BookBub every week…I could have a free lunch. It’s been seven hours and eight days since the International Feature promo ran in UK, Canada, Australia and India, and I’m still getting $10-15 of sales and reads per day. It has long since earned the $38 fee and even covered the $50 I wasted on running a simultaneous BookBub ad (don’t do those, but more on that later).

Here is the pretty graph:

BookBub results April 2018

While I’m very happy with the result, the number of free downloads is less than it was the first time around. Last year I got 5,094 downloads in the first three days, and this time it was 3,501 over the same time. Unfortunately, I did not include in the last year’s post the buy through, or basically what I sold as a result. Not to make the same mistake, here are the results over the last 8 days:

  1. Shizzle, Inc: 9 copies sold at $2.99 and just under 8,000 KENP. Approximate return of $58.
  2. Indiot: 2 copies sold at $2.99 and 2,900 KENP. Approximate return of $18.50.

I have also ran the BookBub ad for full-priced Indiot, spent $50 and sold 9 additional copies, at a loss of $32. So after all of that and $38 for the BookBub, I have made a total of $6.50! In the black, baby!

I could still make more, if KENP continues to move along. With the last BookBub I was wide, which did not pay, since I got hardly any sales through Smashwords. I also did not get to enjoy the sustained spike in KENP, as you can see above. I’m continuing to run an AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) ad and so some of KENP could be due to that, but the ad has been running for several months, and there were hardly any pages read before, an equivalent of maybe a copy per week. That’s one problem with AMS – you can’t tell when your ad and click results in a borrow.

I do have a theory – the book was $0.99 during the last few months and maybe, just maybe, not deemed “worthy” by KU owners. Now that it’s $2.99, maybe it looks like a better value to borrow on a KU plan? The only way to confirm that would be to check the stats a month from now, when there’s no chance that any sales or borrows are generated by the BookBub afterglow.

I have promised to write a post about AMS and will do so next – I’m on annual leave right now but not going anywhere, only painting walls and canvasses.  Writers need hobbies too.

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