A Year on… From Flames to Rain

Seeing all my friends post their wrap-ups on 2020 on Facebook has put me in a somewhat reflective mood. Along with posting my own goals and achievements, I’ve been looking back at this time last year.

One of the photos that jumped out at me was a photo of my nephew and his cousin, both decorating a cupcake at a Lions Club stall. There are several bowls of sugary decorations and icing, that any of the kids can put their hand in, not to mention lack of social distancing. There are kids from different families, all just mingling and having fun.

Another thing that prompted my reminiscing was a comment I wrote in last year’s notes for work. Over the last couple of weeks (last year), we were facing a thick, choking, blanket of toxic smoke here in Sydney. The smoke was coming into the shopping center where I work, and was making me feel sick.

I vividly remember calling center management and telling them about it. I told them I was feeling ill and my customers were complaining. I also made a call to my company’s health and safety team and let them know. After around an hour, the smoke finally cleared. I presume center management turned on the exhaust fans finally. Seriously though, I never should have been forced to make that call.

Funny thing to add here. Yesterday, I received a memo stating an upgrade to those very fans will be taking place over the next few weeks. I guess it’s the old prepper saying: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

I went through my photos from December 2019, and found some of the ones I took of the smoke. Earlier, I went outside and recreated those images so you can see the stark differences. Last year we had smoke, heat, and bushfires, this year we have clearer air and rain.

Below, we have 2019 vs 2020. The images are 100% unedited- note the lack of birds and the sepia tones – this is how everything looked. Now, the air is clear and the birds are back with a vengeance.

We had bushfires, covid, lockdown, more covid, and in some areas, floods. Overseas, we’ve seen volcanoes, earthquakes, cyclones, explosions, conflict, and uncontrolled spread of covid. To say in the very least, it has been a challenging year for humanity.

Many people believe that 2021 will be the end of all that misery, but I for one will reserve judgment until I see improvement with my own eyes. It will be a long time until the vaccine has been tested enough to be deemed safe – as in for those on complicated and strong medications that haven’t been tested whether or not will clash with the vaccine.

It will be an even longer time until there is a cure for covid.

2021 is just another year, which will bring in a new set of challenges that we must face together. Maybe this will be the year of the mighty bin chickens becoming our bird overlords.

On that note, may 2021 be your year. Make it the year you want it to be. Be kind, be positive, and let’s all make the world a slightly better place. Together.

Much love,

AAC <3

A Christmas Story

‘Twas six more sleeps before Santa arrived, to distribute all the material objects that seem to make children so happy. The shopping centers were filled with frantic folk, doing the last of their Christmas shopping, and buying up as much toilet paper as they could. Another Covid cluster, growing by the day, had people nervous and on edge.

For some, work is over for the year, granting them two weeks off to enjoy the season and their families. For those in retail, though, shit is just about to hit the fan. The last few days, with extended opening hours and more and more stressed customers, was less amusing than a boil in the butt crack. You see, while Christmas is magical and blessed for some people, for those behind the register, it’s a nightmare. Retail sucks what little magic is left from the soul, and leaves one feeling both exhausted and resentful.

This year was no exception. With the news of the fresh cluster and borders being slammed shut, she knew she would not get her one Christmas wish. For all she wanted this year was to see her family, to hug her parents and rekindle her love of the occasion.

Each and every day, she would hear customers’ plans for Christmas. Most of them were grumbles about seeing family and having to cook, or grumbles for going to so-and-so’s for Christmas day. Very few people seem to appreciate their family; for them, Christmas is about giving and receiving gifts, and eating a big meal. Whatever happened to the true (non-religious version) spirit of Christmas?

She found herself pondering daily. Is retail really worth it? Is slogging one’s guts out for the company’s shareholders really that rewarding, when the only day we get off is Christmas day? Where’s our magical Christmas?

Thankfully, not all customers were horrible. There in Western Sydney, she was used to serving people from different cultures and religious backgrounds. With a smile, she remembered fondly a conversation she had with a customer a few years back.

“My family and I moved here from India a few years ago. While we still celebrate our cultural holidays and traditions, I make it a rule in my household to also celebrate Australian holidays and traditions. This is our home now, so we must become a part of the community. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

Meanwhile, an older couple, perhaps in their seventies, walked into the store. She watched as the man gazed around in arrogant wonder, before glancing at her behind the register.

“It’s so good to hear Christmas carols playing in a store!” This man looked as though he wanted a pat on the back.

“To be honest, the same three albums on loop are tedious after a day or two. The same songs every few hours. I wish could blend them with some other music.” She sighed.

“No, it’s good to hear the carols. Every other store is too afraid to offend anyone!!” He proclaimed.

She stared at him.

>She looked across at the Muslim lady wearing a full covering, humming along to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’. She looked at the Indian family picking out Secret Santa gifts.
>She looked at the Bangladesh lady struggling to read a sign to determine what on earth the item was in her hands.
>She looked back at the arrogant old white man before her, and stared at him blankly.

With a start of realisation, he turned around in a huff and dragged his wife from the store. Like, seriously?!

Before she could even shake her head at the stupidity of the man, the Bangladeshi lady approached the counter. She could not speak English, but made hand gestures to indicate that she wanted to know if the item was for boy or girl.

“This one for boy, it’s a lunch box. $24.95, after discount, $19.95.” She tried the explain.

The woman stared, the words clearly meaningless. Her eyes reflected her confusion, the dimness of misunderstanding within.

“Buy this one. Ten dollar. Better gift for boy,” she offered instead, pointing at a more appropriate gift. She could see that the woman was still confused, but smiled and nodded.

The woman paid and managed a thank-you.

There. Was it really so hard to be nice to people from other countries?

The next person in line looked purposefully at the other woman leaving, then plonked their items on the counter.

“How did you know that gift was more appropriate than the one she brought up to the counter?” They asked curiously. “I don’t mean this in a racist way, but I couldn’t understand her at all.”

“Mate. I have been in retail for 18 years. This is a kid’s store, so:

“A. She’s here for a kid’s gift. This brand is well known all over the world, even in her country. So she knows she’s in the right store.

“B. When you have been doing this job as long as I have, you learn the international sign language that indicates boy, girl, roughly how old they are, and so on. She was shopping for six year old boy for his birthday, but wasn’t sure if that lunchbox was right. She thought it was a pencil case, so I suggested a more suitable option.

“C. She may not speak English, but we were still able to communicate. Just because we don’t speak the same language, it doesn’t mean she’s stupid and can be taken advantage of. I treated her just as I would treat any other customer.”

“You can really tell all of that just by a few hand gestures?” The customer looked awed.

“Yep. Just like I can see that you are buying for a boy and girl, presumably around 5 or 6 years of age.”

“Oh wow, you’re good!”

“In that case, I have these balls here on special for $4 each. They are so much fun, you should get them one each. They’ll love playing with them.” Her eyes glinted mischievously.

“Oh ok, sure thing.”

The customer paid for their goods, and she packed them in two separate bags and handed them over with the receipt. The customer was oblivious to her sly upsell technique; anyone who works retail knows about KPIs an such.

“There you go. Have a Merry Christmas, and make sure you spread the kindness around. The world needs as much kindness as possible right now. Bye bye.”

As the customer left, she leant on her elbows on the counter and stared out of the doorway. Sure, Christmas sucked for her, but she would not be grumpy about it and spread bitterness amongst her customers. She knew that her own attitude, and the way she treats others, has the potential to make or break someone’s day. The least she could do was serve them with a smile, and give them the best experience possible. Maybe, just maybe, she could be the magic that gives someone a very special, merry, Christmas.

Christmas is here

Another bloody Christmas is here.

I know I should feel excited, and show my festive spirit or whatever it’s called. But this year, I’m being a grinch. There is only one gift I want this year, and it’s not some cheap junk, a dvd or electronic device you can buy in a store. It’s expensive, or should I say priceless?

All I want for Christmas this year is to have a few days off to visit my family interstate, and be able to wake up on Christmas day to spend it with them. Due to Covid and lockdowns in Victoria, I haven’t seen them since March, just before NSW locked down. I had planned a trip there in November, but the border was still closed. To say I felt isolated was an understatement.

I know some people had it worse, and my hearts go out to them. It has been a trying experience for us all, and I am not trying to gain sympathy here. Even were the border open, I still would not risk exposing my family to Covid.

Family is the most important thing to me, and always will be. Working in retail, our soul gets drained as we are blasted with 9 hours of non-stop Christmas carols on loop. There is very little enjoyment, getting screamed at by Karens in the queue, having kids mess up the displays we did two minutes ago, and people trying to steal whatever they can get their hands on. After a few years the magic dissipates, and it’s sad. The only magic for me is spending time with my family, those who love me for who I am, and whom I love back. Christmas is about being together with those we love, not fighting through crowds just to get presents for people they probs won’t even use.

I’m barely ok this December. It’s been hard these last two weeks, a real struggle if I’m honest. I won’t go into details, but life happens and my mental health suffers as a result. Once again, I know some people have it much worse. These things are temporary, we will get through it (just hopefully sooner rather than later).

So whatever you do to celebrate this year, please try and do a random act of kindness every day, be it in the supermarket or shopping center, or wherever, and try and spread some true Christmas spirit. Because you never know what someone is going through, especially at this time of year.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to the other religions also celebrating at this time of year. Much love to you all <3

~AAC

From Bathurst to Kandos to Mudgee

Hello!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Given the ramp up in retail as Christmas approaches, I’ve been having a small break while trying to keep my sanity.

Thankfully for relaxed Covid restrictions, we were able to get away and head out West for a few days during November, and do some site-seeing. It was such a nice break after the crazy year we’ve had.

I must admit, after the release of Beneath the Grandstand, I’ve been feeling a little uninspired. I have ideas, but after the success of BtG, I feel like I need to step up my game a bit. This short trip has certainly given me some fresh perspectives (and air!), and I have been able to start outlining my next project.

But I digress. During the trip, we visited Bathurst and Mudgee, and stayed with family in Kandos. For anyone who doesn’t know, Kandos and surrounds are just south-westish from the Blue Mountains, and is absolutely beautiful to visit. There is a lot of history out this way, and so many old buildings that have stood the test of time.

I was also super lucky that Mother Nature put on a spectacular storm while we were visiting Mudgee! And so I shall add all of my photos below for a treat.

As many people know, I love storms (so long as I’m under cover), and I love tracking them via weather maps. I was tracking them this day, and managed to capture a cyclone that didn’t quite touch down! It was right in the middle of Mudgee, so luckily it didn’t fully form. The sudden icy-cold and strong winds that hit just before we ducked inside was freaky – it was an almost instant change.

We got to see a lot of old buildings too. We visited the tiny historic towns of Sofala and Lue as well, which didn’t disappoint.

And, as always, I love taking photos of flowers and nature.

And finally, no trip is ever complete without photos of an old train station.

All up, we travelled 342.3km / 212.7 miles. Every time I come here, I get to see something that I haven’t seen previously. This area is truly a hidden gem.

As luck would have it, as we drove home through Capertee, we spotted another old train station down a side street, so we back tracked and went to have a look. A photographer from the local paper was there, and I realised an old historical train was due to pass through. We hung around for a bit, and were not disappointed.

I’m not sure when I’ll be releasing my next book. I’ve briefly outlined a plot which didn’t grab me, so I’m still tweaking it and mulling it over. Eventually, it will hit me and I’ll be able to start writing. I’m also rebuilding The Darkest Realm from scratch, and might even redesign the map. It’s such a lot of work, but I know it will be worth it when it’s finally done and released.

Take care everyone <3

~AAC

New Release!!

Hello!!
OMG, It’s finally here!!!! Thanks so much to all of you who pre-ordered a paperback or eBook. The paperbacks are still slightly delayed due to Covid, but I should hopefully get them tomorrow. They are in the local AusPost facility where they have been all day.

I definitely deserved a drink!
(I was so tired, I put it back in the fridge after the photo op haha)

With any new release, it’s always interesting sitting back and reading the reviews as they come through. While I always engage with beta readers before publishing to ‘test drive’ the story, the opinions from the public domain are always so different. These people are reading for fun, not because they have to provide feedback to the writer. I’ve already had three reviews for BtG, and I almost teared up as I read them.

This book is different. Sure, it’s a romance, but it’s so much more than a typical romance. It contains a number of ouch themes, which I think I handled rather well:
* Homelessness
* Mental health
* Childhood abuse
* Toxic relationships

I am so proud of this book. It is way different compared to Catalogue of Disaster; I want each of these books to be separate stories that can be read alone, with no pressure for the reader to read them in order. Where CoD is short, a quick-fire romance, BtG is slow and drawn out over several years, and delves deep into the characters and story.

Pad Thai and pork dumpling from the restaurant that was mentioned in BtG. The name of the place was changed in the book.

What’s next?

Unfortunately, due to life being an arsehole, I had to cancel my editor appointment in December for The Darkest Realm. I’m still stuck on 31k words, and once again I hate it. It’s not moving at the pace I’d like, nor is it going where I wanted it. It needs a LOT of work on fleshing out the back stories and getting it right. I know some fans are waiting for book 2, but I want to write something they will love.

I have a few ideas for more Marsden Park books, but at the moment I’m in a slight slump. My muse is broken and my inspiration escaped out of the door before I could close it in time. But those who read my post on writer’s block will know that I am not giving up, I’m just approaching it from a different angle until I get things right.

Anywho, that’s all for the moment. I’m off on leave soon for a week, so watch this space for a travel blog 😀

Much love,
~AAC

catalogue of disaster update!

Hello frens!

I’ve been holding off from posting until I had all of this finalised… Behind the scenes, I’ve been quietly working on updating Catalogue of Disaster to iron out a few wrinkles. A refresh of the cover to bring it in line with Beneath the Grandstand and The Marsden Park Series, and some changes to the manuscript itself to make some of the parts clearer than before.

If you purchased the ebook from the ‘Zon, you should be able to refresh your Kindle content and get the updates pushed to your device. On iPhone with the Kindle app, swiping down and releasing will refresh your library. If you get stuck, email me.

Don’t forget, the paperback offer is still running! Use code MarsdenPark! in the store to receive 50% off Catalogue of Disaster when you pre-order Beneath the Grandstand. Offer available on this website only.

With the remaining copies I have in stock of the original CoD, I have reached out to a group who provides books to homeless people. Hopefully I can donate the copies to distribute to the homeless for free. Otherwise, I will find somewhere to donate them that helps minorities in some way 🙂

In other news…..I have finally finished Uni for the rest of the year. I am well behind my deadline for writing The Darkest Realm, but don’t despair! If necessary, I will have to push back the release for a couple months. If that’s the case, I will get my editor to work through The Lowest Realm and help me polish it. The original editor I hired for that book did not serve me well….but we live and we learn! I was a new author back then, and three books later, I now know what I’m doing, and have met some amazing people along the way who have taught me so so much.

And finally… I did a thing! I entered Beneath the Grandstand in the American Bookfest Awards! I honestly don’t know how I’ll go, but I have so much love for this story, I would like to think it could at least become a finalist. But who knows, that’s for the judges to decide.

The official launch is in 15 days, so if you haven’t already, make sure you pre-order Beneath the Grandstand to secure your copy 🙂

Much love,
AAC <3

Special Offer!

To celebrate the upcoming release of Beneath the Grandstand, I am offering a limited offer on paperbacks. Between now and Nov 1, if you pre-order Beneath the Grandstand, you will get Catalogue of Disaster for 1/2 price – $9.98!

To take advantage of this offer, simply go to the SHOP and add both books to your cart. Use coupon code MarsdenPark! to receive a discount of $9.97 off your total. Both books will be shipped when Beneath the Grandstand becomes available late October.

Use code MarsdenPark! to redeem this offer!

To purchase the eBook version, click HERE

Sunday’s cover reveal!

I’m sure everyone is sick of me posting this all over my social media channels. But this Sunday I’ll be doing a live video of the cover and title reveal. To say I’m excited is an understatement – I have never done an official reveal of this caliber before. It is also my first ever live video, so to be completely honest, I am also shitting myself!

Originally I was going to host via Facebook Live, but I felt that would be exclusionary for those without Facebook. Therefore I will be hosting via Zoom, so people can jump on from any platform. For those who aren’t tech savvy: you will need to download the Zoom app on your device in order to join. It is a free download and free to use. As a participant, you do not need to create an account. If you get stuck, feel free to reach out for help.

Sydney – 19:30 Sunday 27th September
London – 10:30 Sunday
USA EDT – 05:30 Sunday
USA PDT – 02:30 Sunday

Edit: Just a quick edit to say that I received my eProof from IS at like 03:00. I have just approved it and ordered my print copy proof! Omg I can’t breathe!!!!!!

I hope to see you there!
Much love,
AAC <3

Writer’s block and why I don’t believe in it

As a writer, if you haven’t already, you will one day inevitably experience the phenomena that is known as Writer’s Block. In a way, it is a right of passage in the literary world; it’s something we love to complain about on Twitter and use as an excuse for procrastinating.

Here is what Wiki has to say:

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. This loss of ability to write and produce new work is not a result of commitment problems or the lack of writing skills. The condition ranges from difficulty in coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Writer’s block is not solely measured by time passing without writing. It is measured by time passing without productivity in the task at hand.

Wikipedia, 29/8/2020

The above article goes on to mention a number of factors that can stop a writer – physical injuries, little or no inspiration or new ideas, distraction from writing and so on. While these are all valid reasons for not writing, I wouldn’t class these as writer’s block; these are barriers to writing. Several writers I follow on Twitter have struggled to write due to the pandemic and the nightmare that 2020 has wrought upon the world, which shows that our environment and stressors also play a role in productivity.

I’m not talking about barriers though. I’m talking about when a writer is some way into their WIP (work in progress) and hits a wall. Hard. There is no way to move the characters, no way to back track, or to twist and turn. You’ve hit a brick wall and broken the proverbial axle, and now you can’t move.

A handheld drawing of a list of chapters. Between chapter 3 and 4, the story goes off its path and collides with a dragon, then Gandalf saying 'thou shalt not pass'.
This is why I’m a writer, not an artist.

So what should you do when you come across a crudely drawn wizard blocking your path, and you can’t progress your story? Here are a few methods I use. Note: this is what works for me. Every writer is different. The trick is to find what works for you. I don’t think it matters whether a writer is a plotter or a pantser; either way, the creative flow has been blocked and needs a good flush.

1. I Question Myself.

It’s not like we don’t already question ourselves every sentence, right? When I hit a wall, I sit back and ask myself questions like:
“Did I just add in drama that wasn’t necessary?”
“Was that even remotely realistic?”
“Am I rambling on about nothing?”
“Is this chapter working, or do I need to scrap 5k words and start over?”
“I’ve already written 50 traveling scenes. How can I make this one different without going over the top?”

I spent almost 2 days writing a chapter set within the city of Karatha in The Lowest Realm. In the original scene, a militia patrol rode through the town and searched the inn where my heroes were staying. I had them make this totally ridiculous getaway from the city, involving a large explosion and lots of unrealistic magic use.
I hit a wall. I walked away and came back to it, then deleted the whole thing. The entire scene was turned into an R&R scene (complete with some love-making wink wink), and paved the way to the next chapter. It also gave me a chance to delve into a little backstory.

2. Plot Check

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, you still need to have some idea of the story in mind, and a way to keep it on track. Some people choose to write scenes out of order and all over the place (which is fine if that’s what you like), but at the end of the day, the scenes/chapters need to be connected to each other and be relevant. I like to make a chapter list with a one or two word prompt for what will happen, and make sure I’m not straying from the path.

Ch 1. Visit the king.
Ch 2. Library.
Ch 3. Drama
…etc.
Whatever keeps you grounded and on the right track. This can also help with identifying plot holes.

3. Muse Check

This probably sounds ridiculous, but check your muse!! For me, my muse is music. I can randomly stumble upon a song which makes my brain explode, and I am suddenly able to write for hours, days, weeks, months, with just that one song on loop. I found this cover of Springsteen’s I’m on Fire by Mumford & Sons, and it pretty much gave me the super powers needed to write The Lowest Realm. Without this song, it still would not have been published.

Right now, my muse is broken. I have used her up, drained her soul, and I have been at a loss. I have found a 30 minute mix that has been keeping me focused, but to be honest, it has been a struggle. I have been listening to all sorts of music to try and find my new muse, but it could take a while.

This last week, I’ve been faced by my wizard scribble, and to be honest, I was once again hating where The Darkest Realm was at. I managed to cheat my word count goal by restoring around 3k words that I had removed in the rewrite, but after that point, I was stuck.

What do we do if we have lost our muse – or don’t yet know what our muse is?

Inspiration comes from the strangest places. Yesterday, I was beta reading a story for a friend. As soon as I read the words “leather jerkin”, I had a powerful wave of inspiration – that has nothing to do with leather jerkins, mind you (10 points for thinking ‘jerkin in the jerkin’ lol). I have totally just created a new element to The Darkest Realm, that ties in with my back stories, my forward stories, and the overall story as a whole.

I still can’t write!

If you have seriously hit the wall so hard that you’ve given yourself a concussion and can’t write, that’s when I suggest you put your project aside for a day or three, or maybe a week. Watch some movies, read a book, go for a walk. Give your brain time to air and reset itself. If you have looked at it from all possible angles, asked all the right questions, maybe your story idea is just not ready to be written yet.

I got to 20k words in the follow-up of Catalogue of Disaster, and hit the wall. After doing all of the above, I realised my idea didn’t have enough juice to make it a full story. When I sat back and thought about it, the plot does have potential, but it really wasn’t strong enough to write an entire book. I still have that half-written story, and will probably make it into a free short story in a member’s only section of my site down the track. But for me, I realised it was time to let go and sit it aside. I did this 18 years ago with The Lowest Realm, before I had my awakening.

TL;DR?

Writer’s Block is being unable to write due to issues within the writing, such as a blocked muse pipe, or issues in the plot plumbing. They can usually be fixed by analysing one’s work, and diagnosing that problem.
Barriers are things such as stress and the environment around us (AKA pandemic), physical barriers such as illness/injury, broken laptop, lack of inspiration.

Whatever is stopping you from writing, just know that you can (and will!) overcome it. Remember that writing is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes it just takes a bit of time to get the pieces aligned the right way so they slot in perfectly.

Happy writing, my frens xx

~AAC

The Demons Within

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the identity of the author and what they’ve written–and indeed if they are qualified to write them. What’s…

The Demons Within

My thoughts on this

I came across this post by one of my fave authors (who I see as a good friend), and decided to reblog with my own thoughts on the matter.

Before joining Twitter, I lived in my own little bubble, writing the stories I love with characters I identify with most. I was never out, not even to myself until sometime during the last 12 months.

When the ‘Sasha’ scandal rocked Twitter, and it was discovered that a dude was pretending to be a lesbian (and subsequently sexting with a bunch of women, manipulating them. Urgh!!), a few of the authors I looked up to Tweeted that people writing queer books should be queer, or include a disclaimer in their books stating that they are cishet or something to that effect.

This led me to feel that I’m not ‘queer enough’, and pushed me somewhat out. I felt like a imposter – people see the name ‘Amy-Alex’ and assume Amy = woman, therefore, I must be cishet bored housewife, profiteering off fetishising M/M relationships. How dare I write about gay men, when I myself am not a gay man.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

There was then the mention of pen names, and a few peopole voiced strong opinions against those, too. ‘They are misleading!’ They said.

No. They protect those of us who have professional jobs, stalkers, and all sorts of reasons that the writer has no obligation to justify. I work in a place which involves children, I hardly think some of the parents would appreciate some of the content I write.

Authors are under no obligation to announce their gender, sexuality, or even their true identity. Ever.

I have no problem with cis people writing queer, so long as they represent the community in an appropriate way. Some people don’t realise they belong to the community until after they write their stories. Everyone’s journey is different, after all.

It’s also never ok to out others without their consent. Ever.

There is so much I could go on to say, like the fetish circles that leave fake 1* and 2* reviews on legit queer authors, just so they can draw readers across to the cishet written stuff. At the end of the day, though, I’m not here to get caught up in the drama of Twitter and other social media sotes.

I’m here to write whatever the hell I want to write. I write first for me, and secondly for my readers.

I am not here to out myself, either. It’s no one’s business how I identify, who I’m attracted to, or who I’m married to. Yes this is a pen name, and no, I am not obligated to justify this.