Originally from Chicago, Julia Ember now resides in Edinburgh, Scotland. She spends her days working in the book trade and her nights writing teen fantasy novels. Her hobbies include riding horses, starting far too many craft projects, PokemonGo and looking after her city-based menagerie of pets with names from Harry Potter. Luna Lovegood and Sirius Black the cats currently run her life.
Julia is a polyamorous, bisexual writer. She regularly takes part in events for queer teens. A world traveler since childhood, she has now visited more than sixty countries. Her travels inspire the fantasy worlds she creates, though she populates them with magic and monsters.
Julia began her writing career at the age of nine, when her short story about two princesses and their horses won a contest in Touch magazine. In 2016, she published her first novel, Unicorn Tracks, which also focused on two girls and their equines, albeit those with horns. Her second novel, The Seafarer’s Kiss will be released by Interlude Press in May 2017. The book was heavily influenced by Julia’s postgraduate work in Medieval Literature at The University of St. Andrews. It is now responsible for her total obsession with beluga whales.
In August 2017, her third novel and the start of her first series, Tiger's Watch, will come out with Harmony Ink Press. In writing Tiger's Watch, Julia has taken her love of cats to a new level.
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Managing Writing, Chronic Illness and a Full-time Job
When I first suggested this post as a topic, I thought I would write a list of helpful hints and tips. Then I realised I am literally the worst at following my own advice. My personal management style has been more survival than true management. This post is going to be as much about what not to do as advice to follow; one author’s rumination on things she’s tried and how she’s going to do better (maybe).
I started writing with the goal of publication in 2014, after a several year hiatus from creative writing while I was in graduate school. I started working fulltime in early 2015, got my contract for Unicorn Tracks around the same time, and have since then published three books. I’ve suffered from both depression and anxiety since high school, both of which have been cyclical to an extent – striking with a force for a year, then remitting, then striking again. But in graduate school, I was also diagnosed with diabetes. At first, the doctors assumed it was type 2 because I was overweight, despite a long family history of relatives developing type 1 in their thirties. Type 1 affects your immune system. This year, after a series of infections, including shingles in my eyes, chronic joint pain and persistent visual aura migraines, I’ve also been diagnosed with MS.
If I’m honest with myself, my typical work week is about 55 hours. I work full time in the book industry, as a sales manager for a large Edinburgh based distributor. I have fairly typical hours there, 9-5 with occasional trade shows on weekends. In the evenings and weekends, I write, catch up on promotional things and manage my social media accounts. I struggle to be alone without working. When I have plans with others, it’s fairly easy for me to switch off. But when I’m alone, with a computer or a means of working, it’s hard for me to switch off and do something else. Even when I’m tired and I know I should crawl into bed and watch Netflix, when I know I have a lot to do and I’m not making progress my anxiety spikes. I know how unhealthy this is, and yet I can’t stop.
Sometimes, it takes living on the brink of exhaustion to learn your limits. I’ve learned mine this year. Releasing two books, in separate, new series, within the space of a summer, has been too much and has really taken its toll on my mental/physical health. I’ve learned that currently, with the amount I work outside of writing, I can’t realistically handle two launches in four months. When I came back from RTCon in Atlanta, after the launch of The Seafarer’s Kiss, I was ready to take a break. Knowing I couldn’t and reorganising myself to launch The Tiger’s Watch, has been one of the most draining experiences of my life. I think it’s important for authors to be honest that launching a book can take a huge mental toll. The rush and work of edits, the excitement and adrenaline that hit prior to launch, the lull that comes after, dealing with criticism … all of this drains your resources to cope. If you have a chronic illness, this is magnified. If you have deadlines for other projects at the same time, this already high level of stress just increases. I learned this year that I need time to recover after a launch.
I’m now trying to establish better working habits and boundaries for myself. Here is a list of things I’m trying to do, with varying success because often my workaholic brain takes over and I neglect these new rituals:
1) Learn to take actual holidays. In 2016 and 2017, I have used 80% of my holiday days on writing conferences. As an author, when I go to conferences, I go to work and to promote, not to relax. For 2018, my partner and I have already agreed that our big trip will be to Japan. I have allocated 60% of my holiday days to this trip already, and it will be an actual break.
2) Structured social media time. Social media can be a problem for me. On the one hand, I have published with small presses so far, and I know that having an active social media presence is therefore important to the sales of my books. But on the other, I think social media promotions have a diminishing returns factor. You can do too much. One or two teasers are great. People love them. By the time you get to the fifth – are people really paying attention anymore? Have they already pre-ordered the book? I’m trying to be better about allocating myself small windows for Twitter, and being conscious when I’ve probably reached all my followers and have reached the limit of what I can do.
3) Sleep more. I need 9-10 hours of sleep a night. This has increased with my illnesses, to the point where if I get 6-7 hours of sleep for more than one night in a row, I can almost guarantee that I’m going to get sick.
4) Take my medication. This seems like it should be obvious, but I know many writers who choose to come off their antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication because they believe it hampers their creativity. I think that this is true for me to an extent – I don’t have the same wild productivity spirts while medicated because my anxiety isn’t spurring them. However, I am able to make more gradual, consistent progress. If you’re prescribed medication for a condition – take it!
5) Do at least one thing a day for self-care. This could be anything away from my computer, like read a paperback in the bath, go for a walk, take a long country drive. Anything that gets me away from my computer and the temptation to work or go on social media.
6) Work on my internalized ableism. This one is probably the hardest to talk about, but I know that I have a lot of internalized ableism toward myself. I think this is common, and certainly is an experience that my spoonie friends relate to. It’s very hard to overcome the societal stigma that tells you you’re useless if you can’t work. Even if you would never think this about other people, changing your way of thinking about yourself is much more insidious. I am trying to being more mindful and remind myself of things I love about myself, that have nothing to do with success while working.
7) Know what distracts you in times of serious stress. One of my techniques for stress management (and I don’t know how healthy this is tbh, but it works) is obsession diversion. If I’m feeling overwhelmed with promotion and starting to obsess over it, I move onto something I can easily get hooked on. For me, this usually means starting a computer game. I get very easily invested in online worlds and sometimes the only way to distract myself from one social platform is to engage with another.
For those of you who also manage fulltime work with writing and illness, I am curious about how you manage. I think as a community, we can only start to help each other when people become more honest about their struggles. This post has been about mine, and coming to terms with my limits. I wish I had more perfect solutions to offer, but like any approach to wellness, people who claim to have all the answers usually don’t.
After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.
Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study Unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.
Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.
Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.
Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as an inhabiter, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But when the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.
Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic, but Tashi sees a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander – a side that draws them to Xian.
When their spying reveals that everything the inhabiter's academy taught was a lie, Tashi faces a choice: save their country or the boy they've started to love? But while Tashi grapples with the decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn't question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But an inhabiter’s bond to their animal is for life – when Katala dies, so will Tashi.