Wednesday, 2 August 2017

I entered Pitch Wars!

Of course I did.

#PitchWars has been extra helpful this year with the addition of a ProBoards forum. I found this helpful for improving my query, not so much by the posting and critting of it, but by seeing what everyone else was posting.

I was able to see lots of people making lots of mistakes. For some reason, the more queries I saw, the easier it was to see the mistakes.

When I went back to my own query, I was able to see the mistakes I'd been making. Oops. Once corrected, I feel I got a much stronger query.

Think this is enough to win over a mentor?


 Adrastea, a simple country healer, is surprised to receive a marriage proposal from the Dark God Mor-Lath. As a devotee of a rival god, of course she turns him down. She was raised on chilling tales of this chthonic being who drags the souls of the unrepentant to the underworld. Adrastea loves her simple country life of brewing medicines and saving lives. Marriage to Mor-Lath would greatly complicate things. Besides, why would the Dark God propose to her?

Undaunted by her refusal, Mor-Lath insists on courting her. Sometimes he is charming, winning over the other villagers. Other times, he is ruthless in his actions, refusing to let anyone stand in his way of his pursuit of Adrastesa.

She sees him the dark god he truly is. While he makes it clear he’ll only have her willingly, he’s making it very difficult for her to say no.

Adrastea faces a quandary: her continued refusals puts not only her village under threat of destruction, but possibly the entire land. If she accepts the Dark God's marriage proposal, her soul will never ascend to the Light. Mor-Lath's plaintive desperation hints that even more might be at stake. But what? What is he really after?

Either way, the price is too high. 

OF THE DARK is a 125,000-word Fantasy novel, loosely based on several Greek myths (especially the Adrasteia and Jupiter stories) and is the first of a completed trilogy. 

I'm an Australian author of moderate repute. I've had dozens of short stories and non-fiction articles published and have had several novellas published with The Wild Rose Press. I've been a member of the Online Writing Workshop since its inception. I'm a member of Romance Writers of Australia. By day I work part-time in IT Support. By night I'm an astronomer and citizen scientist, because that's when the stars are out.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

---------------

And here's my first five hundred words.


Adrastea descended into the dark. As her feet touched the cellar's stone floor, the scent of brandy enveloped her. It was stronger here, redolent of peaches and hot summer days and possibly forbidden kisses. Something had broken. Oh dear.

Up in the stillroom Ari Healer peered into the cellar, her anxiety palpable. Her skinny hands gripped the top of the ladder and she sniffled. "Was it my barrel? Please tell me it wasn't my barrel."

"I don't know." Something shimmered at the edge of Adrastea's vision. The auras? She pushed away Ari's worry and squinted into the darkness. Was it a bottle of new brandy that broke, or the barrel of old brandy? Please, not the new brandy. Adrastea had worked so hard distilling enough. Her heart ached at the thought of losing even one drop.

But if it had been Ari's barrel, the one that had sat in this cellar for twenty-five years, its precious contents aging to perfection, that would be a greater loss.

Adrastea drew a breath and coughed. The alcohol stung her lungs too much to tell which one had spilled.

A warm light wavered above the cellar door. "Here. Take the lantern."

"No. Too risky." It would do Adrastea no good if the flame of the lamp ignited the brandy fumes.

Ari's voice shuddered. "It is my barrel, isn't it?"

Again, something shimmered out of the corner of her eye, flaring then fading. Now that was interesting. "Could be the barrel."

Ari let out a whimper.

There! The glimmer brightened at the far end of the cellar. How fascinating. Ari's grief sent pulses along the threads that connected her aura to the barrel. That was new. Even without daylight, Adrastea knew exactly where the barrel was.

Mira Priestess once told her everything in Creation was bound by the Lines of Deeper Power. Everything and everyone was connected, whether they knew it or not. Her mother described them as the warp and weft of the world, present, even if most of the time they could not be seen. Adrastea had never given it much thought until now. They'd just been... there.

They reminded her of shafts of sunlight through a window, when motes of dust sparkled in the beams. As a child, Adrastea had always tried to catch those motes. They always evaded her grasp. She had always presumed these Lines were the same.

Out in the daylight, she could barely tell auras were there, just gossamer webs out of the corner of her eye. Down here in the cellar, they came to her much stronger.

Adrastea relaxed and focused inward, drawing a deep breath. Lines from dried herbs and potions she'd prepared lit up and connected to her. She'd made all this. It belonged to her and brought her deep satisfaction. How comforting to know that something she created with her own two hands did some good in the world.

--------------------

I'm especially proud of this opening, as it passes the Bechdel Test.

So here I sit and forget about #PitchWars until 25 August, when mentees will be announced.

If I get in, YAY! 


If not, I have a Plan B. Sooner or later, this book will be published.


_________________________________
Her Grace hopes her first chapter is voicy enough. That's what mentors are looking for.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Tuesday's Tale - A Tale of a Phone Call -or- Checkmate

Over the past several months a friend of mine had a situation with a series of annoying phone calls. In the end she found a solution. I was so impressed with this solution I want to write about it. However, the identity of my friend will remain anonymous, because her solution is considered illegal in the place she lives.  Also, Joe, the true villain of the piece, is not his real name. Coincidentally, his last name sounds very much like my friend's extremely common last name. This  might have added to the confusion.

A few months ago my friend started to get phone calls on her landline from a collection agency, asking for Joe. She said they had the wrong number and there was no Joe at her place.

Saying you have a wrong number is a common tactic for people trying to avoid collection agencies, so this particular agency did not believe this very true bit of info. Thus, they kept calling back, at first once a week, then more often.  She kept telling them that there was no Joe, and that they had the wrong number.

She asked to speak to a supervisor.  The supervisor informed her that they knew they had the correct number because that was the number given on the application, and the company who'd passed on the debt had successfully contacted Joe in the past. As far as the agency was concerned, this was Joe's valid number. Because of that, they had no compunction over calling at annoying times, like early-early in the morning, at dinnertime, etc.  Anything to get my friend to hand them over to Joe.

This went on for months. My friend, who'd had this phone number for several years, tried everything she could think of to get them to stop. She tried sending them notarised proof of her identity and ownership of the address and phone number. Company didn't care. They'd only accept proof that Joe didn't live there "any more" (their words).  This baffled her, as the Agency's records did not list her actual address as an address-on-record for Joe.

It would have been too much hassle to change the number, as this was a number she used for her home business. She tried getting the number blocked, but whatever regulating body she'd gone to said that this couldn't be done without proof that this person was harassing her.

But how to prove the harassment?  My friend came up with this idea:

The next time they called, she answered the phone and listened to them rant on about how they were going to escalate, blah, blah. About five minutes in, she told them, "By the way, I'm recording this conversation without your permission." Indeed she was. She'd set up a recording device and was capturing the lot.

Agency:  You can't do that. It's illegal.

My Friend:  Yes. I know. There's nothing you can do to stop me.

Their reply: they hung up.

However, this did not stop them from further phone calls. Every time they called, she hit "record" and then informed them about five minutes in that she was recording their conversation without their permission. They'd hang up.

Until two weeks later.

My Friend (five minutes in): I'm recording this conversation without your permission.

Agency Supervisor: We are aware of your actions and have decided to take this to the next level. We have reported your actions to our attorneys, who will be taking legal action against this.

Normally, this would rattle the usual blowhards who such tactics as recording phone calls as bullying actions, but taking things to the next level was exactly what my friend wanted.

My Friend: Excellent. I'm glad you've chosen to get your attorneys involved. See, in order to serve notice, or contact me in any way, they'd have to verify that I am who I say I am, and then serve me with notice. They will finally be able to prove to you that one thing that you've refused to accept all this time; I am not Joe, nor am I associated with Joe in any way, shape or form.

Agency: We do not have to prove you are Joe to serve you with notice to stop your illegal recording.

My Friend: No. But it will drag your sorry butts into the courtroom. You will provide evidence in the form of your records stating I've informed you I'm illegally recording your phone calls. I will then provide evidence of those recorded phone calls, which are many, including the ones I might have recorded without informing you earlier.

Agency: You will be found guilty. This will have an impact on..... blah blah, stuff about legal ramifications regarding her job, her credit rating, and that it's not worth all this trouble to protect Joe when it would be much easier to just get Joe to pay, yadda, yadda. Usual agency bully tactics.

My Friend: Actually, it will serve to prove that you've been calling me and harassing me. All the information you have regarding Joe will become a record of the court, thus giving me access to his information.

(Note: she didn't have access to this information before, as the agency wouldn't release any information beyond Joe's first and very common last name, so my friend couldn't sleuth out any further info, including the company who had reported the debt. Essentially, she had been held an information prisoner.)

My Friend: Once we've established beyond a reasonable doubt that all these phone calls I've been recording have come from you, looking for Joe, and I am able to track down Joe, me and my attorneys can then file harassment suits against your company, with Joe as a witness to corroborate that he has never lived here, nor was this ever his phone number. We shall also include the original company in our suit for providing false information. Either way, somewhere someone has listed an incorrect number for Joe, a number you've been using to harass me. I'm going to tell you, for the very last time, that you have the wrong number. You might wish to consider contacting the original company. Could it be they accidentally gave you an incorrect phone number, and nobody at your agency has bothered to check this when I kept telling you you had the wrong number?

By this time, my friend had had enough. She told them if they called her once more, they would hear from her attorneys.

A few days later, the agency called back. My friend informed them she was recording their call, hung up, and then contacted an attorney.

The attorney wrote a stiffly-worded letter to the agency recommending they re-check the phone number with the company. Also, if the company verified the number as correct, and were so sure it belonged to Joe, that they contact my friend's attorney. Any further direct contact with my friend that didn't go through her attorney, would results in charges being filed.

My friend reports she's not received another phone call from the agency. However, she does not discuss any contact her attorney might have received.

That makes me wonder. Did the agency learn they did, after all, have the wrong number and the story is over, or that there's some upcoming legal action my friend can't talk about?

The problem with true stories is that sometimes you don't get to know the ending.

Friday, 28 July 2017

A name by any nose can smell as sweet

An amusing side-conversation on Janet Reid's blog regarding my name looks like it could use a little bit of explanation.

Yes, Kneale is a cool name. I always thought so. That's why I opted to change my name upon marriage. (That, and I never had an official middle name growing up. No middle name is worse than too many middle names.)

More on the surname Kneale:

Kneale is the Manx spelling of the name, shortened from "MacNeale", as the Manx often do. The root "Neale" is a spelling variant of the Irish O'Neill, of Ulster fame. It goes back to the Battle of Ulster, where the winners were surnamed Neil, which means "Champion".

Yeah. My last name means "Champion", which is really cool.

My first name Heidi is a diminutive derived from the German Adelheid, which means "high and noble".

Put my first and last name together and it means "Noble Champion".  How awesome is that?

As for Kneazles, they're spectactular in their own way and I have no objection to being alluded to one. Wouldn't mind owning a hybrid either.


_____________________________________
Her Grace, when she wants to be pretentious, goes by Heidi Lucile Wessman Kneale, which means "Noble White Champion of Light".  Maybe if she does get a Kneazle, maybe she'll name it that.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

I've got a website

Had one for quite some time (since 1993). Thought I'd mention it, as someone this morning was asking if I had a website.

I do. Here is it:


The quick URL is:  http://tinyurl.com/heidikneale


__________________________________
Her Grace isn't that hard to google.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

All-You-Can-Eat, I hate you

I got a gastric sleeve back in December, which completely changed my life. For the most part, it's been great and I'm glad I had it done.

However, it does put to flight the concept of All You Can Eat. My current stomach capacity is about 200ml, which is just under a measuring cup.

In theory I eat all I can at every meal, which is about three or four bites of whatever, then a little something to drink. And I'm full.

This puts a cramp in my old habit of enjoying restaurants.

Some friends are planning on going to an all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbeque. They're hoping to get a group booking so they can "get the price down to $30/head".  Alas, I can't participate. No way am I paying $30 per bite, er I mean, per head.

If I'm going to pay that much for that little food, it had better be Wagyu beef drenched in truffle sauce.

Another downside to a teeny tiny stomach is I can't participate fully in degustation menus. These are the delightful ten course meals put on by the fanciest restaurants to allow you to sample all their glorious art, er, food. His Grace and I enjoyed going out to degustations a few times a year. While the individual serves are teeny-tiny, believe me, after ten or more courses, at the end your normal stomach can be quite full.

Can't do that any more, at least, not the way I used to.

I might be able to participate in a degustation, but only if the restaurant is happy to accommodate my dietary restrictions. (The best restaurants will cater to dietary restrictions, such as food allergies, religious restrictions, etc.)  I have no idea if they would allow for my particular restrictions.

Can His Grace and I go to a fine restaurant and order one degustation to be shared between two people? I do have a card from my surgeon asking for restaurants to consider letting me order smaller portions. We haven't been game to ask for this consideration. It would be nice if they could. The degustations we indulge in are often $150 per person.

With a degustation, I would literally have one bite of His Grace's plate, and he'd finish the rest. We used to go to a brilliant restaurant that closed a few months ago. They were more than accommodating for issues. I wonder if they would have been accommodating for something like this. Maybe if we had a party of four or more, where they would have been making enough money per head to allow one "freeloader" chair space.

It's now that time of year when we'd go out and indulge.

His Grace and I have some thinking to do as regarding whether we may be able to enjoy the culinary arts equally in the future.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Book Reviews - Finish or Forget

I haven't done book reviews for a while (blame the semester. Planetary science took up more time than I realised).

I've been downloading and reading various books, mostly sourced from BookBub and Fussy Librarian, but also from the occasional recommendation from friends.

I confess, I did not finish reading many of the books I got. At .99c, I can afford to ditch a book that simply does not catch my interest.  I thought I'd go through some of the books I've recently read, including my reasons for finishing or forgetting it.

Note: my tastes may vary from yours, and you might enjoy a book I failed to finish, because what turns me off might be your crack.

________________

Book: The Woman who Saved the World (and was hated for it)
Author: Ebony McKenna
Finish or Forget:  Finish! And read a second time.
Why:  First of all it was a short read, which actually disappointed me. I wanted more. I read everything from this author I can get.  This book was a delightful time-travel story with many layers of nuance.
Many of her books are currently on sale at the moment for .99c or less.

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Book: Ever Shade (A Dark Faerie Tale #1)
Author: Alexia Purdy
Finish or Forget: Forget. Got to chapter four
Why:  The plot felt one-dimensional. It simply didn't raise any questions to keep me going. I'm a stickler for complex plots. This didn't seem to have one. Sorry.

---
Book: Marine Biology
Author: GL Carriger (Okay, it's really Gail Carriger writing modern stuff)
Finish or Forget: Finish!
Why: Her voice and style is bright with a bit of humour. Her characters are likeable. While I'm generally not a fan of contemporary real-world settings, this one worked for me, because of how she painted the layer of magic over the contemporary world and made it relevant. Don't know if I'd hand it to most of the teenagers I know, as it's really for grownup people who can handle mermen and werewolves smooching atop ladders.

---
Book: Midnight Marriage
Author: Lucinda Brant
Finish or Forget: Forget. Made it to chapter two.
Why: Style didn't catch me. Also, the secretly arranged, forced marriage between a teenage boy and a twelve-year-old girl (even there was no consummation) felt very squicky to me, partly because of their ages, but also by the men forcing both parties to the marriage. They get married, and then don't see each other again until a decade later. Still, I couldn't feel any chemistry.  Might come back to it. Maybe. If I do, it'll be in hopes of plot complexity.

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Book: Mademoiselle at Arms
Author: Elizabeth Bailey
Finish or Forget: Forget. Got to chapter three.
Why:  Characters felt too inconsistent. I couldn't get a sense of any depth from them. "Mademoiselle" claims to be English through and through, but always speaks with a French accent. Reader is given no clues why. Also, the style isn't as deep as it could be, with filter phrases distancing me. Also, don't really get a sense of the historical setting.

---
Book: The Last Necromancer
Author: C.J. Archer
Finish or Forget: Finish! And went on to look for more in the series.
Why: The voice! It drew me in and didn't let go. Even the concept of the last necromancer in the world intrigued me enough to abandon my Kobo and secure this one for my Kindle app on my mobile phone. Normally I can't stand reading for too long on light-emitting screens, but this one tempted me. Style was smooth, details rich and the characters distinctive.
I wish Archer had a box set of this series. She's done box sets for her other series. But I wanted to indulge in this series now!

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Book: The Twenty-Sided Sorceress
Author: Annie Bellet
Finish or Forget: Finish
Why: Voice. I started reading this book because the title sounded so hokey. I honestly was expecting some shallow story about gamers who suddenly discover their AD&D actually casts real spells.
Glad I was wrong! The voice hooked me and made me read contemporary paranormal. The setup and the depth of the main character (who's got really big, nasty secrets) kept me until the end. Might be tempted to read more of the series.

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Book: The House of Closed Doors
Author: Jane Steen
Finish or Forget: Finish.
Why: This was more a historical novel, rather than anything fantasy-like. Maybe I found the genre refreshing enough to stick through to the end. I liked the main character Nell's journey and how she deals with some of the challenges that come her way. One slight downfall was that plot events felt a bit too idealistic. Personally, I enjoy idealistic, because for me, fiction is escapism. But sometimes, the idealism was a bit too convenient at times. Not sure if I'm ready for the next in the series. Maybe when I need a bit of optimism in my life. It's not frothy, but the heroine doesn't really end up in any dire situations that can't turn out all right in the end.

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Book: World Whisperer
Author: Rachel Devenish Ford
Finish or Forget: Forget. I persisted to chapter nine in hopes it would get better, but it didn't.
Why: The plot was so dull. Also, characters felt flat.  I'll forgive one or the other, but not both. While there were some interesting world-building elements, the strangeness of each element functioned in isolation and there was insufficient cause-and-effect to make for some really rich worldbuilding. Alas.

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Book:  Destiny Blues
Author: Sharon Joss
Finish or Forget: Finish.
Why: Because strong characters, interesting plot and voice will trump my meh attitude toward contemporary paranormal. The worldbuilding was well-thought-out in this one, offering the sort of complexity I like to see. I loved how Joss handled the supernatural Djemon et al.  Sucks to be Mattie, but can you blame her? 

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Book: The Smuggler's Gambit
Author: Sara Whitford
Finish or Forget: Forget. Couldn't even finish chapter one.
Why: It wasn't the voice. There was voice, but it didn't sing to me. Wasn't the setting. Plenty of that. Could have been the plot. I didn't get a sense of the direness of the plot. Yeah, Our Hero Adam gets abandoned to die by some smugglers. But otherwise, I couldn't get any sense of the plot. Maybe it was the characters. I simply didn't connect to them. Another big turnoff for me is when the MC gets bullied first thing. Francis Smythe bullies Adam in chapter one. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for this story. Might give this a try again. If plotty goodness picks up in the next chapter or so,  I might give it another chance. Normally I'm into historical stories about pirates and smugglers.

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Book: The Devil's Concubine
Author: Jill Braden
Finish or Forget: Finish, and am looking forward to the next book in the series.
Why: Boy, can Braden deliver! Her fantasy worldbuilding so redolent of Southeast Asia was so refreshing. Her characters were well-imagined and round. The plot satisfied my inner drama mama and the depth of the characters only made it better. I wanted to care about these characters. I loved that they had good sides and bad sides. 

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Book: Naheli's Sacrifice
Author: Rabea Scholz
Finish or Forget: Finish, though this kind of book isn't really my thing.
Why: I tend to find dystopias rather isolating and self-contained. They're often like little bubbles. This one felt like that. It was consistent within, but felt like the island on which it took place was completely isolated from the rest of the world. Might have come from the characters, that had their own sort of dysfunctionality. I did read this to the end, because the main character had her own conflicts, which propelled the story enough for me. Most of the other characters tended to appear rather flat, but Naheli had her own complexities. I like how she wavered between her determination to be the Sacrifice, and to not be the Sacrifice.

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Book: Mr Dracy to the Rescue
Author: Victoria Kincaid
Finish or Forget: Finish, but driven only by hope. Alas, they were a bit dashed.
Why: I'm a P&P sucker, so I'll read any of the public domain derivatives. This one, while having an excellent premise, failed to deliver on character development. Elizabeth Bennet accepts Mr Collins' proposal out of duty to her father and Mr Darcy realises he's obsessed with her after all. Unfortunately, that's about all the character development that happens. Darcy's obsession doesn't develop, wax or wane. Elizabeth puts up with Collins until he decides to break the engagement. I almost wanted her to gird up her loins and start slaying zombies, but nothing so exciting happens.

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Book: Box set: The Dragon Blood Collection, books 1-3 (Blade's Edge, Death maker, Blood Charged)
Author: Lindsay Buroker
Finish or Forget: Finish and went looking for more. 
Why: Excellent blend of steampunk and magic. Aeroplanes! Dirigibles! Pirates! Betrayal! Complex characters, imaginative worldbuilding and an easy-to-read style that carries you along.


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Book: Dragon Seed: The Story of China at War
Author: Pearl S Buck
Finish or Forget: Finished, but disappointed in this well-beloved author
Why: I first read The Good Earth as a child, I loved it. It was an interesting look into the peasant life of Pre-revolutionary China. As her books have appeared on my Kobo list, at really good prices, I've been buying and reading them up. Unfortunately, while this one started out as expected, the plot fizzled out toward's the end. I think she could have ditched the story of the daughter who went away, and just stayed with the main character.


---
Book: Twice a Rake
Author: Catherine Gayle
Finish or Forget: Finish
Why:  I'm a sucker for Regency Romance. I enjoy reading them, but I tend to forget about most of them after the final page. This one had an interesting enough plot with a heroine who writes scandalous fiction in her diary. Naturally, the diary gets lost, and wacky hijinks ensue. Worth reading once.


---
Book: To Wed the Widow
Author: Megan Bryce 
Finish or Forget: Forget. Got to chapter eleven, and couldn't stand the company of the characters any longer. 
Why: They felt too contemporary, like the popular kids in high school. Not my tribe. Didn't really want to know how their HEA turned out.


---
Book: Slave, Warrior, Queen (Of Crowns and Glory, Book 1)
Author: Morgan Rice
Finish or Forget: Forget. Chapter five, and I'm happy to abandon this.
Why:  The plot. It's like everything is hand-placed in front of Our Heroine Ceres so she can succeed. I don't get any sense of anything happening because of her own actions, nor did I get enough sense of the consequences for her choices. It's almost as if she's drunk too much felix felices. The other characters feel flat.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Curse of Time

No, I'm not talking about lack thereof. That happens to us all.

I'm talking about how we measure time, according to our planet's circadian cycle, and the fact that we've colonised all 360ยบ of it.

Recently I've been hanging out on Twitter for pitch parties and the such. Alas, most of the fun on Twitter happens when the US is awake. That's my middle of the night.

Eastern Standard Time is diametrically opposite Western Australian Standard Time.  Also, WA does not have Daylight Savings Time, because we're smart. See, we have a greater awareness of how time zones can affect others. Perth is the only major city within our time zone. When we need to conduct business with Adelaide, Sydney, Auckland, London or New York, we've got to deal with different time zones. Daylight Savings Time, that leftover dinosaur from a time when most people did not have electric lights and the Internet, is useless in the 21st Century. Spring Forward and Fall Back does no one any favours, and causes more problems than it solves.

But I'm not here to rant about DST. It's your own bad luck if you live in a DST Zone. DST can change. It can be legislated out of existence. Really.

I'm talking about things that governments can't change: science. Planet is round. You are on one side, I am on the other. If you're a diurnal creature like me, chances are we won't be awake at the same time. This bums me out.

This affects my professional life.  As an author, I spend half my time writing and the other half marketing/networking. My ideal work day would be to get up early, get about four hours' writing time done, then spend the warm afternoon in promo and socialising.

But I can't, because most of my audience is asleep during my afternoon. If I am to be social and interact with everyone, I've got to do it first thing, before everyone goes to bed.  Scheduling tweets and blogposts doesn't do me any good, because I'm not there to interact.

This is not an ideal schedule, as I'd much rather spend my more brain-awake hours working on great novels, not marvelling at the witty sayings of social media. Going nocturnal for the sake of my career isn't an option at this point, as I still have children at home.

I see lots of authors having great networking success because of Twitter. It's a shame I can't take full advantage of its power simply because I'm on the wrong side of the planet.

__________________________
Her Grace, in spite of geographical isolation, prefers the lifestyle of Perth and Australia. She gets paid a living wage and does not need to fear that one little medical issue could send her bankrupt.