Yesterday I finished the first full draft of Scribbles of the Empress. I started writing it 1,008 days prior, before Covid was a global pandemic. That’s thirty-three months, many of them devoid of word count because I struggled a lot with my own depression while writing this book. It ended up being 108K words, so longer than The Scribbled Victims, but shorter than Scribbling the Eternal.

I’m not sure if this book means more for me than the others, but it certainly means something different. Many of my own struggles with grief and suicide are expressed openly through Orly in this final installment. There’s a section I discarded where Orly addresses her audience and says:

Earlier I said the war against me must seem anticlimactic. It was. But this wasn’t a war story. It’s a story about mourning and suicide. Perhaps it is even about suicide because of the inability to stop mourning. Late in these pages, I realized this is ultimately what all my pages have been about, ever since Yelena died.

I left those words of Orly’s out because it didn’t fit well with the text around it, but also because it breaks the fourth wall, which was something she did in The Scribbled Victims but I forgot to maintain the convention in Scribbling the Eternal.

I just emailed 72 pages to my beta readers, who have remained committed to this book since its beginning and whose help I am very fortunate to have. I’ll begin my rewrites now, hoping they’ll only take a couple of months, as I rewrite heavily as I go. Then editing and proofing. Then book design, typesetting, and audiobook recording. I’m aiming for an October release.

I hope my readers will love the book and how Orly’s series ends.

IG Post for Ashley
Though I’ve been off social media for 142 days, I made this while writing this month. Maybe I’ll post it to my IG. The words are part of the dedication I’m working on for Ashley Vargas.
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Covid Positive Tests
Covid Positive Tests

I just realized I haven’t posted since the last day of 2021. Between January 1 and 18, I wrote 6,217 new words which was just over my monthly goal of 6,000 words. So, I was having a good month, but then on the 19th, I woke up with a terrible sore throat, cough, aches, chills, and felt exhausted. I tested positive for Covid. I tested twice, because the result on the first antigen test I took appeared faint, but the second test also appeared faint. But since I was symptomatic, I figured they were correct positives. I missed three days of work, then worked from home, tested negative finally on February 1, but continued to work from home until February 7 because my boss didn’t want me coming in until I was symptom free. I stopped writing on January 19 and didn’t begin again until February 1.

Teams Japan and Finland
Teams Japan and Finland

I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic hockey. I was rooting for the women’s team from Japan, Smile Japan as they are known, but they were knocked out by Finland who after the game gave hugs to some of the Japanese players who were in tears and the whole thing nearly made me cry. Such is the beauty of the Olympics. Though I expect the US or Canada to win the gold medal, the compassion shown by the Finnish team now makes me hope they get the gold medal instead the bronze they seem to be accustomed to. I have a tendency to root for underdogs. Compassionate underdogs are even better.

Act III Notecards
Act III Notecards

But enough of that. This is my author blog. On Friday, February 11, I netted 1,759 new words and finished Chapter Twenty-Four. This means Act II is complete and I can finally move onward to Act III. Yesterday, I went to a different Starbucks than I usually write at and made notecards to help me nail down the order in which things need to happen from here until the end of the book. Some of it is flexible. I know what needs to happen, but the order isn’t always prescribed. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of notecards I made. The stack was thinner than I anticipated which is a relief because I had been worrying that Act III would be too long and thus possibly boring since it was all denouement. I’m now hoping I’ll have a full draft by the end of March.

So that’s what’s been going on with me. I hope things have been going well for you.

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Today is the last day of 2021 and I just finished writing for the day. I finished my rewrites on Chapter Twenty-One and Twenty-Two. I netted 8,406 words for December. More than usual, but much of that is due to winter break at my day job. Tomorrow, I plan to reread Eighteen through Twenty-Two, and then if satisfied, I’ll send them to my beta readers who haven’t received pages since April 30.

2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge
I completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge yesterday, with one day to spare. In 2022, I plan to reduce the number of books because there are some very long books I want to read including In Search of Lost Time.

After I finished Chapter Twenty-Two, I went on to write text that felt like a confession, with Orly telling her readers what she discovered these books are really about. It’s really a confession of ours. I don’t know if it will make it into the final draft, but I think my shrink will be glad that I’m writing about it because it may help me process my own suicidal feelings.  

Last night, I decided to remove the Soleil story from the book. Soleil is a diminutive finch Orly received among many other finches from Berthold. She was meant to parallel Orly amongst her coven, but as I near the end of the book, the payoff for it feels too on-the-nose. So even after I reach the final page of the full draft, I’ll have that to write out of the book. I’m not looking forward to it. Right now, my to do list of things to check before releasing the final draft is up to fifty-seven items.

I wrote the opening lines of this book on June 22, 2019. I didn’t think it would ever take me so long to write this book, but there were multiple long bouts of depression. I keep telling myself that it will come out in summer of 2022, but now I’m not even sure. I have to make sure there are no loose ends and I want it to be the best book it can be. Just writing about its release in this blog post I can feel my anxiety writing. I know I’ll release it, but I’m terrified.

At the same time, I’m afraid of finishing it but dreading it will never be finished.

I hope 2022 is a great year for you.  

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I never went back to writing Orly’s book while waiting for the rest of my beta readers on The Last Midnight because I fell into a depression. It was pretty severe. I’m still not out of it, but I am functioning and have been working with my psychologist and psychiatrist to deal with it. I heard back from my last beta reader a few days ago and as the stress of the presidential election passed yesterday, I finished my rewrites. Today, I sent it to my sister for editing. I’m tempted to contact my typesetter and cover designer because it feels exciting to go into production, but I’m still not certain I will publish this story. I want to but I’m scared.

Speaking of my cover designer, she’s been working hard on a new concept for the Black Wax Vampire Trilogy book covers. I was very happy with my previous covers, but a book consultant recommended I go with something that suggested vampire. The updated covers are now live on Amazon and Audible for The Scribbled Victims and Scribbling the Eternal. Even though Scribbles of the Empress is still being written, she made a cover for that too. What do you think?

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In my last post I mentioned the anxiety attack I had while writing and my discussion in the therapy session that followed with my psychologist. We talked about it again this past Monday, largely because I was still experiencing a lot of anxiety that I felt was tied to the new book. She asked me if I could take a couple weeks off, perhaps as long as until July 17 when my fiscal closing will be complete at work. I thought it was a good suggestion, but I told her that I would feel bad if I didn’t write during the three day July 4 weekend. So we agreed that I wouldn’t write again until Friday, which meant taking only three days off: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. She suggested I do something for my well-being during my time off, and so on my daily walks during those three days, I tried to run a little too.

Yesterday was Friday. I finally wrote again. I netted 713 new words, which was largely the first section of Chapter Seven. My anxiety was minimal, so maybe the three days off helped.

After my writing session, I watched YouTube for a little while. YouTube recommended a video to me about the final episode of The Sopranos. Last month, creator David Chase let it slip in an interview that Tony Soprano died in the final scene of the series. I hadn’t seen it that way. I felt the series ended with the message that Tony would forever have to be looking over his shoulder, but that he didn’t die there in that diner with his family. When I learned of the interview, I felt really hurt, and it told me how attached I was to his character. When I saw that video yesterday, which provided evidence that there was foreshadowing of his death throughout the final season, my heartache returned so sharply that I couldn’t sleep without taking an Ambien.

I woke up today wondering why I feel so strongly about this. After all, I thought I liked sad endings. My favorite films (Cinema Paradiso, Roman Holiday, The Lion in Winter, Before Midnight) all have endings that I find sad. In crime related shows like Scarface and Sons of Anarchy, I’m okay with the deaths of the protagonists. That left me wondering what was different about The Sopranos, and I think the answer is that I didn’t see Tony Soprano’s character arc as complete. I ended the series thinking life would go on, and that there was more to do. But the more I think about it, and the more I consider that video I saw yesterday, I’m seeing maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it was over. The show’s creator seemed to think so.

So what does someone like me do in this situation? I try to ignore it and remain in paradise.

I believe in my Black Wax Vampire Trilogy I’m writing sad endings. I considered it a success each time a reader told me they cried. I don’t know if I should feel differently about that now. I would want my readers to feel sadness that is bittersweet, like the feeling I get when I watch Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck say goodbye in silence at the end of Roman Holiday, but I wouldn’t want to hurt them like Tony Soprano’s death is hurting me right now.

Before I began writing Scribbles of the Empress, I sent a survey to my beta readers asking: Which character would it hurt the most to see die in the new book? Most of them said Orly. Berthold came in second. Although I’m into the Second Act, I still see two possible endings. If Orly dies, I hope I am able to give my readers the bittersweet sadness rather than the painful kind.

On another note, is it ironic that in my next session I’ll be talking to my therapist about The Sopranos?

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I’ve been writing pretty consistently which I’m both proud of and amazed by because I’ve been dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety lately. On Monday I had an anxiety attack while writing. That’s very unusual. I had a video session with my psychologist later that day and we talked about it. At first I thought the anxiety stemmed from the feeling that the first four chapters were basically finished and that someday readers would be seeing them as they are. But the more we talked, I realized that beyond the stress of publicly sharing what I had written, a lot of my anxiety was actually about finishing the book because it’s the last in the trilogy. I realized I’m upset because I’m not ready to let go of Orly. And as Orly Bialek was inspired by Ashley Vargas, my illustrator who died at nineteen, I feel finishing this series is like letting go of her too. I feel like after I put this book out, I’ll have nothing left to give Ashley, and that hurts me because my distorted thinking interprets that as forgetting her. Therapy sessions are often not as long as they need to be, and I still haven’t worked this out. We’ll likely talk about it again on Monday. But I know the best thing I can do for myself is to keep going, to keep writing, even if it does mean eventually getting to the end. Hopefully by publication, I’ll be convinced either by my psychologist or by my friends that finishing doesn’t mean forgetting.

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I’m making very good progress on the third book in the Black Wax Vampire Trilogy. It’s always my goal to write every day, but often depression makes that difficult. But in the past 54 days, I’ve written for 50 of them. On Monday, my book passed 20,000 words, and I reached the end of the first act. That was a big milestone and it felt good to get there. Just before writing this blog, I sent out the first 64 pages to my beta readers. I’m hoping they’re going to feel strongly about them and return feedback that will help shape this into the best book it can be.

I’ve complained before that I write too slowly. I see some authors touting that you need to publish X number of books a year to make it financially as a writer, and often that leaves me feeling discouraged because I doubt I’ll ever write even one book a year. Because of all the internet cookies and monitoring of web activity, some company must have caught on to my dilemma, because I woke up to an email advertising a video program that will teach me to write a book in six hours. I had to laugh. I can’t imagine what a book I wrote in six hours would look like.

Orly Bialek woke up in her casket feeling unloved. She drank scotch and scribbled some stuff with like black crayons, while everyone around her died, breaking her heart. She dropped her crayon and crawled back in her casket feeling like sad and shit. The end.

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Work at my day job has been inordinately stressful lately. The work from home status due to Covid-19 isn’t it making it any easier either. For the first time in a long time, I had a panic attack over the weekend that took me over three hours to recover from.

It hasn’t been all bad though. I continue to write in the mornings, before working, and that does improve my mood. Because of this commitment, I finally finished writing Chapter Three. It took four months, over a span of seven months, to write. (I began writing it in October but didn’t write in November, December, or January, because of depression.) It felt great to finish it as I think it’s been the most challenging chapter for me to write in the series. I’ve begun Chapter Four, and hope it won’t take nearly as long to finish. I’ve had two beta readers ask when they can expect new chapters and I plan to send them something after Chapter Four is complete.

I began this post talking about my day job because it’s really been wearing me down, and if something doesn’t change, I think there’s the likelihood of burnout. I talked with my psychologist about it today. She thinks I should consider leaving. I really wish I could; it’s my dream to be able to write for a living, but right now I don’t sell enough books to do that, and I need a paycheck. I could potentially find a job that would be less stressful, but it’s hard to leave what I have because I’ve been there for fifteen years and have a pension and health benefits to consider, including behavioral health benefits that I especially rely on.

The best answer would be to sell more books. I need to reach more readers to do that. There is so much advice out there on how to grow your readership, with social networking and advertising strategies being at the top of the list. I’ve yet to be successful at either. It’s so hard to make your books stand apart from all the other books out there, because there are so many good writers trying to accomplish the same thing I am. And then of course, with a writer’s natural instinct to be hypercritical of one’s own work, I have to wonder if maybe my books just aren’t good enough.

This post probably comes across as negative, but that’s not what I’m trying to express. My psychologist also suggested I consider changing my goal to be able to write for a living. But I will never do that. I will never give up chasing my dream. I have hopes that someday I’ll be able to look back at this post and see that it was about struggles I overcame.

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It’s been a few weeks since I posted. I haven’t had much to report. I’ve spent these past weeks rewriting the same paragraphs over and over without moving forward into the third chapter of the new book and discussing with my psychologist my feelings of failure and what it means to be successful as a writer.

But this morning I made myself move on to the next chapter and write new story. My net word count wasn’t high as I threw away a lot of text, but I ended the session feeling glad I had moved forward. In the evening, on my drive to the gym, an idea hit me in the face—something I didn’t expect, something regarding Yelena in this last book. I haven’t figured out how to convey it yet, but the idea has made me very excited, nonetheless.

I thought of going to sleep early tonight, but as I felt so happy with the progress I made today, I took myself out to vegan sushi and went way over my calorie count for the day.

I had already eaten one handroll and one piece of sweet potato sushi by the time I remembered to photograph my dinner. I clearly suck at taking photos as the name of the restaurant is obscured. The restaurant is called Kensho and is located in Westminster, California. Everything there is 100% vegan!
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Back in July I wrote a post about how I was writing with pen and paper while building the story for the final book of the Black Wax Vampire Trilogy. I mentioned that this method changes my mood and mentality versus when I’m typing on a computer. Creatively, I think this has been very helpful, but as I continue to build this story, my handwritten pages have become difficult to manage and keep organized. To remedy this, I decided to purchase a reMarkable tablet, which allows me to continue writing by hand, but since it’s digital, I can organize all my notes into folders so I can find them more quickly. Another advantage I’ve found is that I can add to notes I had previously written. Often this wasn’t possible when writing on paper because I had already used up the entire sheet, and the next page in my notebook was on a different subject altogether.

Yesterday, I spent hours in the library, going through my paper notes, and taking the segments that are still relevant to my new book and rewriting them into the reMarkable tablet. Today, I’m using it to free write, with the aim of going deeper into what is so far a very simple story.

The reason I chose the reMarkable tablet instead of just getting an iPad was because it feels more like writing on paper rather than writing on glass, but more importantly, because it has no access to emails or social media. I block my access to those things when I write on computer, and so it was nice to be able to stay away from them when writing by hand.

The tablet cost $500 (and the felt case was another $100…$100 for felt? WTF?), but I’m hoping it will help keep my daydreaming organized so that maybe I can become more prolific. With this book in particular, I’m hoping it will help me finish it in under the two plus years each of the first two books took to write.

We shall see.

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