Archive for July, 2019

My Books

The Book in My Head

Thinking back on starting to write the Enchanted, Inc. series, I’ve been remembering some of the initial ideas that didn’t quite work out. A book that exists in your head as mostly an idea is very different than the book once it’s written, and this one spent more than a year in my head before I even started trying to mold it into an actual book with any kind of story to it.

To start with, I initially thought the company the heroine would end up working at would be the kind of business that had been in lower Manhattan for a very long time, with the city growing up around it. I even read a whole book about the House of Morgan, because I thought that fit. Once I started thinking more about what the story would be, I realized I couldn’t make a financial company magical. I ended up going with the software industry as a model, even though it was relatively new, because it fit the idea of spells as software, and because I’d done PR for technology firms, I had more of a grasp on that. It was a lot more fun to make fun of.

There was originally going to be a lot more bad boss stuff. When I was first discussing the idea with that editor, my pitch was “Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter when she goes to work with Dilbert.” I read books about women dealing with sexual harassment in the financial industry. Most of that went by the wayside. I still had the bad bosses, but they were just jerks, and the coworkers weren’t that bad.

Before I figured out who all the characters would be, I had this idea that there would be a number of potential “Mr. Right” guys the heroine ran into, and it would take a few books before one became the front runner. I imagined “shipper wars” going on among fans, with each guy having a faction cheering for him. But once I started developing the cast of characters and came up with Owen, that idea went out the window. I couldn’t imagine anyone else winning.

I do sometimes think I got them together a little too soon, but the initial contract was only for two books, and I wrote and turned in the second book before the first book was published, so I had no idea if there would be more books, and I felt it was important to give it some kind of closure. Then I got the contract for two more books, and I did the temporary breakup at the end of book 3 to allow a little bit of a reset to slow things down a bit and let them have at least a little conflict.

I had a lot more whimsical magical stuff in the first book because I was trying to make everything magical, but a lot of that didn’t carry through later because I realized I didn’t need it.

I knew Owen’s background from about midway through the writing of the first book and always planned to reveal it in book 5. That’s part of why I was so upset when they decided to end the series at book 4. Fortunately, the Japanese publisher wanted more, so I kept writing and was eventually able to publish it. I thought I was done with the series then, but the Japanese publisher asked for more books, so I came up with the idea for book 6. After that, I figured I ought to at least get them to a wedding. That’s why I think this really is the end. I went beyond what I planned and got them to the ending I’d hoped for. I’m not married and don’t have children, so I have to admit that I don’t have a lot of interest in writing the next phase of their lives, but you never know what might strike me.

Sometimes I wonder if I could go back to the very first seeds of that initial idea and come up with something entirely different. It might be fun to play with that concept.

My Books

Starting on Enchanted, Inc.

enchanted ever after coverWe’re now just a week away from the release of Enchanted Ever After. I’ll make the paperback version live this Thursday so there will be time to order them and get them shipped around release day. It looks like there may be a delay for the Audible version, since they’re taking a very long time with that contract. I set the release date to give them plenty of time to have it ready, but I didn’t find out that it wouldn’t be happening then until I already had the pre-order up. It will be coming, but I don’t know when.

Last week, I talked about some of the very beginnings of the idea that eventually became Enchanted, Inc. When I first had that idea, though, it was more about the kind of thing I wanted to read. There was a part of me that thought it would be fun to write, but I went looking to read it, first. The problem was, I couldn’t find anything like that. I’d have thought that, given the huge success of the Harry Potter series and its popularity among adults, someone would have capitalized on that and done something like that for adults, substituting the workplace for the school environment. But I didn’t find it. There were only a few urban fantasy books out at that time. I read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which came close to what I wanted, and there was Emma Bull’s The War for the Oaks and Charles de Lint’s books, but not much else.

At that time, though, I was desperately trying to write a chick lit book. The American publishers had started looking for them, and new imprints were opening up to focus on that kind of book. I have to admit that I was a little dissatisfied by the American offerings, since they seemed to miss a lot of the point of what made the British books fun. They seemed to be trying to skew younger, aimed at the twentysomethings, when Bridget Jones’s Diary had been about a woman in her thirties. There was the emphasis on shopping that hadn’t been in the British books I’d liked. I was trying to write something that captured what I liked about the British books but that was distinctly American.

Unfortunately, it was without much success. When I sent a manuscript to my agent, I didn’t hear anything at all for about four months, then found a package on my front porch that was my manuscript with a note scrawled on my own cover letter saying, “I can’t sell this.” I sent that agent a certified letter severing the relationship — not because she didn’t like my book, but because of the lack of communication. I expected some kind of response within four months, and if there was a problem with the book, I’d have hoped she’d talk to me. I got the impression she was essentially breaking up with me, or at least being distant and unresponsive enough that I’d break up with her, an impression that was strengthened by the fact that she didn’t respond at all to the certified letter other than signing the postcard that came with it to verify receipt.

I was a bit worried about being unagented, like I was starting my career over again. I think I had at least fifteen submissions that year, all rejected. Then that summer, I went to a conference in New York. Harlequin was launching two new lines, a fantasy imprint and a romantic comedy category line. Most of my friends were writing for the romantic comedy line, and I had hopes of selling something there, so I went with them to the launch party. Their introductory titles for the fantasy imprint were fairly traditional fantasy, set in quasi-medieval worlds, so I figured they wouldn’t be interested in that crazy idea I’d had. I’d been thinking about it off and on over the year and a half or so since I came up with the idea, and I’d developed it enough to know that instead of getting magical powers, my heroine would be immune to magic and be the extremely normal one in the middle of wacky magical people. The problem was, I was afraid it was too girly for a fantasy imprint and too weird for chick lit.

At the party, one of the editors approached my little group and asked if we had any questions. I asked if they’d ever consider any contemporary fantasy. She said they might after the launch and asked if I had an idea. I told her the bare bones of my idea. My friends who were with me said her nostrils flared and she was visibly salivating. She handed me her card and told me to send it. I said it wasn’t written. She said, “Then what are you doing standing here? Go write it!”

And that was why I decided to write that book. She ended up rejecting it, but I didn’t get that rejection until after I already had an agent (a new one) and the book was on submission everywhere else. Still, it gave me the confidence to give it a shot, and it’s probably been the easiest book I’ve ever written. It just came pouring out of me, and I didn’t do massive revisions on it. There was some tightening and tweaking once I got an agent who wanted to represent it, and she suggested the frog-kissing sequence (which had just been a conversation with an offhand reference to kissing frogs as a way of meeting men in the initial draft), but the structure of the plot was more or less the same.

It was still a fairly hard sell. Since chick lit was the hottest thing going at the time and they were looking for something different, that was where we focused, though there was also a fantasy publisher in the mix that made it as far as the auction (before dropping out). I’ve had a lot of second thoughts about that, given that the chick lit market imploded soon after the first couple of books were published, and it took the series with it. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if we’d targeted the fantasy publishers instead, but urban fantasy was just starting to take off, and it went in a darker, more horror-oriented direction, so maybe they wouldn’t have been interested. And I don’t have time travel abilities, so it’s not as though I can change things now.

I never imagined when I first had that idea, when I wrote the first book, that there would end up being nine books and that I’d still be writing that series a decade and a half later. Though, I will confess, I did imagine that it would be more successful than it was. They didn’t really go after the adult fans of Harry Potter market, and no one else did, either. I still can’t believe no publishers really got on that bandwagon. I’d have thought the market would have been flooded with books about magical workplaces. I guess publishers are bad about thinking in categories. The Harry Potter books were for kids, so they focused on finding the next big thing for kids and didn’t consider how many adults were reading those books. Even my publisher balked at making that connection because the Harry Potter books were for kids (when I did my own PR using that angle, it was successful, so I wish we could have done that on a broader basis).

So far, this has been my most successful series. I haven’t really been able to get anything else to click like that, and I keep hearing from publishers that they want something else like that. But I’ve written that. I don’t really know how to write something that’s like that but that isn’t that. Maybe something else will click for me the way that one did.


Rewrite Woes

I was rather social this weekend, going out both Friday and Saturday nights. Shocking, I know. Now it’s back to work, and I’ve got to rewrite a scene that I don’t think is working, but I’ve got to figure out what goes in that place.

This may be a case when it’s easier to write something entirely new than to “fix” what’s already there. I think it needs to be almost entirely new, and trying to rework what I’ve done keeps me from getting it to where it needs to be. A great deal of brainstorming may be required. But once I get past this hurdle, I think it will be fairly smooth sailing until the end, where the rewrites will have a big impact.

I was hoping to get these rewrites done this week, since I have music and art camp next week, and I know nothing much will get done then. But I spent more time than I planned working out the changes I wanted to make, since I ended up changing more than I expected. It makes the book so much better, though.

This book seems to have really taken over my brain, since I find myself drifting off to think about it when I try to read anything else. That’s a good sign (and possibly a bad sign about what I’m reading right now).

Now to figure out what needs to happen in this scene and what it should look like …


Visiting Austen’s World

I discovered a fun miniseries this week that Jane Austen fans might enjoy: Lost in Austen. It’s a British series from a little more than ten years ago about a modern woman who ends up in the world of Pride and Prejudice. Amanda retreats into her favorite book whenever life gets to be too much for her, but then one day she discovers Lizzie Bennet in her bathroom. It seems that there’s a doorway from the attic in Longbourn that opens as the utility panel hatch in her bathroom. She can’t resist going through to at least get a look at that world — but then she can’t open the door to get back. It seems Lizzie doesn’t want to leave the modern world, so the door won’t open for Amanda. There’s just a note that gets slid under the door, from Lizzie to her father. Amanda passes herself off as a friend of Lizzie’s, saying Lizzie’s staying at her place to work on a book in solitude, and she’s come to stay with Lizzie’s family to help them out in Lizzie’s absence. It turns out that she’s arrived just at the beginning of the Pride and Prejudice story, but her being there in place of Lizzie starts to change things — like when Mr. Bingley comes to call, he’s fascinated by the stranger and doesn’t even notice Jane. Amanda has to try to keep the story playing out the way it’s supposed to so her favorite book won’t be forever ruined.

There’s a fair amount of spoofing going on, gently mocking some of the tropes and how a modern person would really react to these people and these situations. Amanda does have some advantage from knowing things about these characters that they haven’t revealed, but it turns out there are other things about them that don’t show up in the book. We get to see some of the “offstage” scenes from the story that put things in a new perspective. It’s probably a lot more entertaining if you’re really familiar with Pride and Prejudice because, although there’s some explanation about what’s supposed to happen, it’s more fun if you recognize where things are going wrong and know enough to anticipate potential problems.

The funny thing is, the cast is impressive enough that they’d have made for a pretty good serious production of Pride and Prejudice, and they all seem to be having a blast with their roles. There are a lot of familiar faces, like Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey as Mr. Bennet, Alex Kingston from Doctor Who as Mrs. Bennet, and Tom Mison from Sleepy Hollow almost unrecognizable as Mr. Bingley. I have to admit that I’m not super impressed with their Darcy, but he does grow on me.

It’s only four hour-long episodes, so it’s an easy binge. I found it streaming for free with ads on the Tubi Roku channel, but I think you can rent/purchase it from Amazon, as well.



We’ve been having unseasonably cool weather the last few days, cool enough for me to eat breakfast on the patio and even sit outside in the afternoon and evening. Normally in July, the heat is nearly unbearable, and I stay huddled indoors during July and August.

As I was sitting outside this morning, I found myself wondering what it is about sitting outside that I enjoy so much. It doesn’t seem that different from sitting indoors, aside from less temperature control and more bugs. My patio is fenced, so it’s like being in a small room with no ceiling, but then there’s the umbrella that provides a partial ceiling. I have plants indoors (though not as many as I have outside). But still, if I can be outside, I find it far preferable to sit outside than inside.

I think there was a stand-up comedian who did a routine about eating outside and why we like it (I think he was talking about how women like it, in particular) — wanting the outdoor table at a restaurant, thinking of picnics as romantic or fun. I’m not sure why I like it. I just do. It feels like a treat to have a meal outdoors. I have breakfast outside whenever it’s at all comfortable. I’ll generally choose an outdoor table at a restaurant if the weather isn’t utterly miserable (and if that isn’t where all the smokers congregate). I’ve even been known to sit at an outdoor table in the rain if they have a big enough umbrella over the table (I highly recommend doing that on the San Antonio Riverwalk). I love packing a lunch and going on a long walk, eating outside.

Maybe it wouldn’t be special and fun if I did it all the time. I do like the change of scenery, the sense of connection with nature — even on my patio. I like the fresh air. I like looking at the sky, watching the clouds drift by.

I’m afraid that we’ll soon be going back to a normal summer, so the taste of outside I got this week will have to last me until maybe mid-September. By then, my flowers should be blooming, so outside will be even nicer.


Making Things Tough

I’m back to rewriting the book I’ve been working on, off and on, for much of the year, and I think the break to revise another book was good for me because I had a nice breakthrough. The other night, something I was reading gave me an idea that might apply to my book. It would certainly add conflict to the story and make things more difficult for my character. But as I thought about it, I decided that it would really just add conflict to a part of the book that didn’t need it, that’s only a transition point, and it would mess up a lot of other things in the story.

Yesterday morning when I was trying to figure out the heroine’s character arc, I found myself thinking about it again. It occurred to me that it would actually add conflict to the ending, too. Maybe I needed to consider this idea. So I made a pro/con list about making this change, and I came up with about a page of pros and only a few cons, and the cons were superficial and easily addressed. While it did add conflict to that transition part, that part could still be quick and moved past to get to the real story, and it raised the stakes for the whole story, so that the heroine has a genuine reason to fear failure throughout the book, and she has reason to worry about whether what she does at the end will work.

Basically, I’m yanking away her support system, which always makes things tougher. I guess I’m too nice as an author. I don’t want to hurt my characters. I tend to play it safe as a person, and that usually makes its way into my stories. This is a case of a character not playing it safe, putting everything on the line for something she’s not sure she can even do, but she feels like she has to try.

I’m kind of excited about it now that I’ve overcome my initial resistance.

The funny thing is, it won’t require that much rewriting. There are a couple of scenes that have to go, and I’ll need to write a couple of new ones. Everything else will just require a subtle overlay, and then it makes what happens at the end work better. It’s almost as though I’ve been writing it this way all along and just needed to add the setup.

I love it when the brain works in mysterious ways.

My Books

The Very Beginnings of Enchanted, Inc.

Enchanted Ever After is coming two weeks from today. The paperback will also be available then (actually, a few days before that so they can be shipped). I don’t know about the audio. There’s been some holdup in the contracts over there.

Since I’m coming to a close on the Enchanted, Inc. series, I thought I’d look back on how it all began. I usually tell the story about when I got the specific idea, but the groundwork actually came much earlier.

It probably should have been a sign that my first published book was a romance novel about a woman trying unsuccessfully to write a romance novel and realizing that what she needed to be writing was fantasy, but I still kept plugging away at romance, banging my head against that brick wall. My romance writing career came to an end when my editor at Harlequin returned the manuscript we’d been going back and forth on for about a year with a photocopy about the upcoming US publication of Bridget Jones’s Diary, which had been a hit in the UK, and how that sort of thing might be the next trend. Her note to me was about how that seemed more like the kind of thing I should do, that the book we’d been working on would probably make a better single-title book than category book, and she enclosed the business card for an agent she suggested I contact.

I had a minor panic attack because that sounded to me like a polite kiss-off, but Jenny Crusie (who I knew from some online groups, and I’d given her a couple of PR leads) talked me off the ledge. She said that if they just wanted to get rid of me, they’d have rejected the book, not recommended an agent, and the agent my editor had recommended was her agent. I talked to that agent, who said she wasn’t sure why they’d rejected it because it was the perfect category book. She guessed the line was about to fold (it did). She didn’t think she wanted to work with that book, but she said good things about my writing.

The problem was, no one in the US was publishing those Bridget Jones kind of books. They were republishing the British ones, but it was a couple more years before they started looking for American authors writing that sort of thing. That was the era of the single-title contemporary romantic comedies with the cartoony covers, and I kept trying to turn that book into one of those — unsuccessfully. Then the American publishers started looking for chick lit books, and I came up with a few proposals that didn’t go anywhere.

Meanwhile, my life had all the ingredients for a chick lit novel. My job was going in some annoying directions — the bosses who’d been supportive had left, the tech bubble had burst so we’d lost clients, and my new boss was threatened by me and shutting me out of things I should have been working on, so we lost even more clients. I dreaded work, even though I was working at home. My dating life was sputtering. Everyone I went out with who seemed promising disappeared without a trace or a word after a couple of dates, in spite of leaving the last date with discussions about a specific thing we ought to do together the next time we went out.

I’d gone on a couple of vacations to England, where most of my souvenirs were books — more of the chick lit books I couldn’t get in the US, and I’d picked up the first few Harry Potter books. I’d read those over the holidays, so in mid-January I guess that’s what was on my mind when I climbed the stairs one morning to go to my home office and had that “Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter” idea burst. I liked the books about young women struggling with job, family, friends, and dating, and I basically had been Hermione Granger when I was a kid, so I related to her school life. What I wanted was a book that had all the chick lit stuff, but with magic, or something like the Harry Potter books, but about adult life other than school. Actually, my first thought was that I’d love to check my e-mail and find an offer for a new job that would take me away from what I was doing. Then I thought it should be a magical job. Then I had the “Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter” flash. At the time, though, I was just thinking about what I wanted to read, not that I wanted to write it, though I did get that “ooh!” shiver that told me it was a good idea. I just ignored that shiver because I was trying to write something else at the time.

There was no magical job offer (unless you count the idea that gave me a writing career), and I got laid off a couple of weeks later.

It was more than a year before I started writing that book.

On with the Week

I should be able to finish up this round of revisions today. I rewrote the final scene over the weekend, and now I need to re-read it and proofread it. Then it’s back to the book that I was working on before, now that I’ve written a draft and know more or less what it’s about.

The time off from that book has been good for it because I came up with a possible title and I’ve got a stronger sense of the themes I want to explore. I found myself thinking about it last night as I was falling asleep, which is a good sign.

Then again, the other thing I came up with in my sleep was an article or speech called “Hurting People for Fun and Profit.” It was about ways to put characters in jeopardy and ways to have murders happen in murder mysteries. That might actually be fun to do if I could find a doctor interested in collaborating, though I suspect most doctors would take issue with that title.

Other than weird and vivid dreams, my weekend was mostly quiet. I got my living room more or less cleaned and organized and the kitchen tidied, I rewrote that last scene, I finally got the bit of knitting I’ve been working on to work (I had to rip out one section three times until it came out with the right count, and I still don’t know how it went wrong), and I did a lot of reading and thinking. I think I have my fall planned. Now, on with the week!

writing life

Goal Review

I woke up groggy this morning from a persistent nightmare (woke up in the middle of the night from it, reassured myself that it was a dream, finally went back to sleep, and found myself in the same nightmare), so I warmed up my brain this morning by flipping through my journal. It was interesting to go back and read what was going on around this time last year. Some things just don’t seem to change. Most of my plans are more or less the same, just with different book names. I even have some of the same promotional ideas that I haven’t gotten around to implementing.

Last summer, I was apparently having a milder version of the career crisis I had earlier this year. I’d set deadlines for myself for getting things together or finding a real job. I guess I don’t really want to find another job because those deadlines keep slipping.

I have made progress on some things. I was making plans last year to get the house decluttered and organized, and this year I have the downstairs mostly done. I just have some tidying to do in the living room and bedroom, but the bathroom and closets are done, and the trouble spots have been cleared out. I’ve also done the upstairs closets and bookcases, and I’ve made a good start on the office and loft. It will have to wait until it gets cooler before I get back to work up there because the air conditioning barely reaches upstairs. I should have the downstairs the way I want it before fall, and I’m on target to have the whole house done by the holidays.

I’m on target to reach my writing goals for the year, though I seem to keep changing what I’m planning to write. There was something I planned for last fall that I ended up not doing, and that gave me an idea for what I can do this fall because the timing should work out perfectly — unless something comes up.

The main thing I need to do is get better about promotion and marketing. I really hate doing that stuff, probably because that was the day job career I fled. I’d rather just hide in a cave and write.

But it’s nice to know that even though I keep making the same plans, I am actually starting to bring some of them to fruition.


Music for Inspiration

As I try to inject a little more romance into this book, I’ve relied on music to help set the mood. Although I live my life mostly in silence, I do love music, and I use music as a creative tool for my writing. I have playlists for different moods and emotions, and I usually create some sort of soundtrack for each book, with a playlist of songs that remind me of characters, the setting, scenes, themes, or moods. It’s basically an audio collage. These are what I listen to when I’m walking in the morning, when I work around the house, or when I’m brainstorming.

But I don’t usually listen to these playlists while writing. Music with lyrics is a distraction because I stop to listen to the lyrics, or even sing along. I might listen to a particular song to set a mood right before writing, but I can’t listen to it while I’m writing.

While I’m writing a draft, I often listen to classical music, but I can’t listen to anything too familiar because I’ll stop to listen instead of writing. I use the “classical music for focus” station on Amazon Prime Music or one of their playlists. Then I only notice when they play something I know.

Unfortunately, when I’m editing or rewriting, I need silence. Any music is distracting then. But that makes it hard to set a mood when the revision is about adding emotion. I have to listen to it before I write, while I’m doing other things, or I can sometimes dig up the emotion a piece of music makes me feel by thinking about that music. I may assign songs to key scenes and keep those songs in mind when writing the scenes.

One thing I have to work on is remembering that I need to put it all on the page. I’m bad about having my own vivid mental images and feelings relating to what I’m writing and forgetting that my readers don’t have that. I need to transcribe what I’m seeing and feeling in order to convey that to readers. Since my imagination is overactive, I’ve always mentally fleshed out what I read. I’m sure a lot of other readers do that, but it is good for the author to give them clues to make the experience more vivid.