Archive for October, 2019

Going Downtown

It never seems to fail that when it’s the perfect “stay at home and write” weather, that’s when I have to go somewhere. Yesterday, I had to speak to a university class, which meant driving across the metro area in the cold rain, and then back at the beginning of rush hour. Today, it’s raining even harder and is even colder, and I was planning to go downtown today to check in for the mystery convention so I wouldn’t have to worry about it in the morning.

But, given the weather forecast and the fact that it would be at least a two-hour excursion even if I were able to just go to the head of the line and catch the next train back, I made the executive decision to just deal with it in the morning. It’ll be cold then, but it won’t be raining.

In all this researching of train schedules, I found that the old option may be the best. For a long time, the only train from my city to downtown Dallas was the big commuter train that stopped at the downtown station, about 25 minutes or so from my house. I was so glad when they got the light rail through my part of town, with the station only about 15 minutes away.

But when I was looking up the train schedules, I found a notice saying that the downtown light rail tracks will be closed on Saturday. On a normal day, I’d have to take the train to downtown, then catch another train that goes right to the train station at the convention hotel. On Saturday, I’d have to take the train to near downtown, catch a shuttle bus to the downtown station, then catch another train to the convention hotel. I figured it might be worthwhile to go downtown and catch the big train, which is on different tracks and goes straight to the convention hotel. That’s when I saw that the commuter train is a 19-minute trip to downtown, while light rail is 40 minutes to downtown, plus waiting for another train to get to the convention hotel (which adds maybe 10-15 minutes). The downside to the big train is that it only runs once an hour during the day, every half hour during rush hours, while the commuter train runs every 20 minutes. But I’ll be traveling in rush hour. Even with the extra 10-15 minute drive to the station, it’s a faster trip, and I won’t have to wait at a semi-sketchy station to change trains. I’ll just have to be absolutely certain to catch the train, so no lingering after panels.

We’ll see what I can learn about how to write a mystery, and what I can learn about plotting a mystery that I can use in my other writing to build tension and suspense.

No posting the rest of the week because I’ll be downtown in panels.


Reconsidering Darcy

Yesterday, my book group discussed Pride and Prejudice. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read it, but there are so many pop culture takes on it, so many adaptations, so many memes, that sometimes it’s hard to remember what comes from the book and what’s been added along the way. Reading the book again is like a revelation, stripping away all the baggage and getting back to the source, and I always notice something new.

I’ve never been a huge Darcy fangirl. I remember thinking of him as a jerk the first time I read the book (but I was reading the book for a course on satire, so I wasn’t reading it as a romance. I was looking for the snark). I found Colin Firth quite attractive in the miniseries, but I still wasn’t entirely sold on the character. As much as I love the book, I’ve never been one of those women swooning over Darcy or wanting to travel in time and meet him or even to meet the modern version.

But I noticed on this reading that the text is pretty clear that a lot of what Lizzie read as pride was actually social awkwardness, with the pride and snobbery used as a kind of social armor. It’s a lot easier to say “I’m not going to speak to those people because they’re beneath me” than to pull together the nerve to speak to someone when you’re feeling awkward in a crowd where you don’t know a lot of people. He’s got enough social grace to manage to look aloof and proud rather than tripping all over himself and being a dork, but basically he’s a dork who hides it well. That makes him a lot more endearing. But at the same time, he’s terrible at reading people, but arrogant enough to think he’s correct about people, which is a problem when he imposes his views on others.

I know Austen Twitter has started promoting Darcy as the poster boy for recognizing privilege and getting over it, and that is a strong thread in the book, where he starts from a place of assuming he knows best and Lizzie will be glad to take him, then realizes where he screwed up, and then sets out to change his ways and his attitude, then show her he’s changed, even using his privilege to help without expecting credit for it. He really has a satisfying character arc. The contrast between his first proposal, all, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” and the second proposal, “My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever,” is like a master class in how to talk to women. It goes from being all about him and her being obligated to listen to being about her and giving her the power not to listen.

But he wasn’t all gone in the earlier proposal. There’s a line that I love: “He listened without attempting to interrupt her.” That’s rather swoonworthy.

Plus, the best description of a slow-burn romance, when Lizzie asks him when he fell in love with her: “I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

I guess I’m Team Darcy now.

Posting Lapses Ahead

Posting is going to be a bit sporadic for the next week or so, as it’s a busy time. I’m about to rush off to a meeting, then tomorrow I’m speaking to a university class. I’m at a conference the rest of the week. Then, weather and health permitting, I’m thinking of going on a short vacation since we’ve finally got something resembling fall and it’s a good time to do some hiking.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some book revisions to start thinking about while I’m also plotting and developing a book. I’m hoping to get some work done on the train as I go to and from the conference.

Now I’m off to a meeting of a Jane Austen book club to discuss Pride and Prejudice. It was interesting re-reading it again after a long time. All the various adaptations and retellings of it tend to crowd out the original, and it’s nice to go back to the source every so often. I have thoughts on that, which may be the one post I’ll manage to make in the next couple of weeks. Let’s just say that I’ve never been one of those people swooning over Darcy, but after this read, I think I might now be.

My Books

News Updates

I’ve got a few updates about what’s coming and what I’m working on.

First, my next release will be an Audible Original, coming in early January. It will be in audio only for the first year, but I’m hoping to have an e-book edition after the end of that exclusive period. Stay tuned for more info about this one. It’s a contemporary fantasy romantic comedy unrelated to any of my other series. By the way, I get a bonus if this is the first book you get after joining Audible, so if you were thinking of doing that, keep that in mind.

Second, there’s going to be a delay in a Rebels book 4, for business reasons. One of the problems I have with that series is that the first book is controlled by the original publisher. That means I can’t do anything about the pricing, which is way too high for an e-book, especially for hooking new readers into the series, and that means there’s little I can do to promote it. I can’t do BookBubs or Amazon ads. The publisher certainly isn’t doing anything to promote it (they didn’t even do anything when it was first released), and since they don’t have any more books from me, they have zero incentive to do even so much as lower the price. Sales are really tapering off, and I’m getting to close to the level where I can ask for the rights back and republish the book myself, which would give me control over the whole series. But if I put out a new book, that tends to boost sales for the rest of the series, which would delay me getting control over the first book because I’d be farther from the threshold once more, and yet that boost wouldn’t be enough to really make a difference in income for me. So, I’m holding off on doing a fourth book until sales either surge so significantly (for whatever reason) that it’s worthwhile to do another book anyway, or until I get the rights to the first book back and the whole series is mine. It’s weird to be in a position to tell people not to buy or promote one of my books, but unless whatever promotion is so big that several thousand copies sell all of a sudden (it’s been selling under 400 copies a year), it’s better for me if sales drop off entirely.

Third, I’ve sold a short story to an anthology. There will be a Kickstarter to fund that anthology, so when that comes about, I’ll be letting everyone know. I don’t want to say anything more than that because I don’t want to steal their thunder.

writing life

Distracting Myself

I got my energy back today, so I’m looking forward to a productive day (the morning so far has been spent on dealing with the HOA, with their vendors getting estimates on doing repairs around my house).

I think my brain has been working over some things, and it generally finds ways to distract me to get me out of the way so I can’t work until it’s ready. It reminds me a bit of one of those books I recommended, To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. It’s a time travel book that’s basically about chaos theory and how the timeline seems to be self-repairing. The time travelers are trying to fix something that another time traveler seems to have possibly messed up, but everything they do to try to set things right just makes matters worse. Finally, when trying to get back to the time they’re working in after reporting to the “present,” they get stuck in the wrong time for a while and realize that the timeline was getting them out of the way so things could get fixed.

That’s what my brain seems to do sometimes. When I’m going in the wrong direction on a book, I sometimes get to where I can’t work at all and am totally distracted. That keeps me from writing the wrong thing that will have to be deleted. I get back to work when my brain has it all worked out.

The trick is figuring out the difference between normal distractions and “don’t wannas” and getting out of the way so I can work it all out. There’s nothing like a deadline for making me feel like my cabinets and closets need to be re-organized or to really want to go on a baking binge.

We’ll see when I sit down to write whether this otherwise lost week has paid off.


Fall Cooking

I’m having a lazy week. I can’t seem to get up and going, and I’m not accomplishing a lot. But since next week is going to be really busy, maybe getting plenty of rest is a good thing. My body may know what it’s doing.

Fall seems to have finally arrived for real, which may have something to do with the laziness. It’s my version of spring fever, when I don’t really want to do anything but just relax and I can’t make my brain focus. This has also been a time for baking and making soup. I seem to turn into a soup-based life form at this time of year. I’ve already made a lentil soup, a sausage, potato and kale soup, and a veggie soup. I’m planning chicken nacho soup for tomorrow. I’ve got some of all this put up in the freezer, so I should have easy leftovers to reheat next week when I’m getting home late in the evening from the convention (if I don’t end up going out to dinner).

My next kitchen experiment is going to involve butternut squash. I haven’t had a lot of luck with winter squash, but I’m going to try again and see if I can make this work.

Meanwhile, I’ve made some peach butter, and I bought apples for making apple butter. Supposedly, that goes pretty quickly with the Instant Pot.

And then there’s been a lot of muffin baking. I even bought a donut pan and have made some cinnamon sugar donuts that are almost exactly like the ones we used to have on road trips when I was a kid.

Come to think of it, maybe I haven’t been lazy. I’ve just been cooking. Fall turns me into Betty Crocker.


Recommended Reading

A few weeks ago, I had a reader question about what books I’d recommend to readers of my books who want more things like that.

That’s a little tricky. I haven’t really found anything quite like my books. That’s part of the reason that selling and marketing my books is so challenging. They aren’t much like anything else in the market, so there’s nothing editors can point to and say “this is like that, so we know how to market it and we know how it will sell.” And there’s nothing quite close enough for me to know the best way to package what I write. Most of the contemporary fantasy, for instance, is darker and has vampires and werewolves. Or if it was published as paranormal chick lit, it still has vampires or has a lot more sex. I haven’t really found anything else that has all the elements I’m looking for that I didn’t have to write for myself. The best I can do is find some things that work for me, with some caveats. There’s also a fine line between books I like and can recommend, with the idea that if you like my books, you might like some of the same books I like, and books that I really think will give people a similar reading experience as my books do.

This may become an ongoing series, since I know that the moment I post, I’ll think of dozens of others. And if you have suggestions, feel free to comment, and I can later add reader recommendations to future posts.

Obviously, there’s the Harry Potter series. Wanting something like that, but for grown-ups, was what spurred me to write Enchanted, Inc. in the first place. I’ve seen a review of my books that wondered if they had origins in Harry Potter fan fiction, and the answer is no. I’ve never even mentally written Harry Potter fanfic. These were never characters or situations from that world. It’s just that I was basically Hermione when I was that age, and since I related to her tween/teen experiences, I found myself wanting to read about adult issues with magic involved. I really wanted a cross between chick lit and fantasy and couldn’t find it, so I wrote it.

About the closest I found in contemporary fantasy when I was researching the market to see what was out there was Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. It’s a lot darker and edgier than my books, but it does have that sense of whimsy and quirkiness and a way of making you look at the city in a different way, like there’s magical stuff going on around you that you aren’t seeing if you aren’t looking for it.

She writes science fiction rather than fantasy, but I think some of Connie Willis’s books are in kind of the same niche as the Enchanted, Inc. books, in that they have that sassy romantic comedy voice and all kinds of chaos going on, only the chaos has to do with science rather than magic. Of her older books, there’s Bellwether and Remake. More recently, there’s Crosstalk, which is outright a science fiction romantic comedy. Her To Say Nothing of the Dog is a Victorian time travel book that may be of interest to fans of Rebel Mechanics. It takes place around the same time, and one of the characters even has the same name as my heroine (I didn’t name her after this book, though this book was where I discovered the name. I used it for different reasons).

Fans of Enchanted, Inc. and A Fairy Tale might also like the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. They are a bit darker and get pretty violent, even gory, but they’re contemporary fantasy with a bit of a sassy tone, and they draw heavily upon folklore, looking at what beings from folklore might be doing in the modern world.

Some of the Heather Webber/Heather Blake (same person under different names) mysteries remind me of the Enchanted, Inc. books in tone. The Heather Webber ones may be a bit more romancey/sexy. The Heather Blake ones do a lot of magical worldbuilding and have a secret magical society in parallel with the normal world.

The Rogue Agent books by K.E. Mills are kind of like if the Enchanted, Inc. books and the Rebel Mechanics books had a baby. They have the magical organization like in the Enchanted, Inc. books but take place in a quasi-Victorian steampunky setting. They do take the occasional turn to very dark and her hero goes through all kinds of torture, though. I actually stumbled on these when I ran across the second book in the series, Witches Incorporated, in a publisher catalog and thought it might be like Enchanted, Inc., so I got the first book and discovered that it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I still liked it. Supposedly, the author sold another few books in this series, but I haven’t seen any news about them being published.

I’ll keep digging through my reading logs and bookcases to come up with more recommendations.


Stormy Night

I’m a bit groggy today because we had some excitement last night. A nasty storm blew through, and just after it passed me, it spawned a tornado that tore through a major part of Dallas. I was listening to the radio when they broke in, telling people in the area east of me to take cover. I turned on the TV to see the weather coverage. The damage seems to have been pretty extensive. Then not long after I finally got to bed after figuring the danger had passed, my phone’s weather app alerted me of a severe thunderstorm warning as a front came through. That kept me up for about an hour. The wind was howling, there was thunder and lightning, and the rain was pretty hard — at least, it sounded loud on my tile roof. As soon as I got back to sleep after that, the app sounded again with an extended thunderstorm warning, as yet another wave hit. Where I am, the line seemed to have been wider but less intense, so it took longer to go through but didn’t do as much damage.

Some of my patio plants got knocked over by one of the storms, but that seems to be the worst of the damage around me. I was very fortunate, though, because if that tornado had formed just a few miles earlier, it would have been nearby.

Up to the storms, the weekend had been pretty good. I even went out Friday night. A group from choir went to a chamber music concert in a park in a nearby town. It was one of those perfect October evenings, just a touch cool, so it really felt like fall. I brought a flask of hot spiced tea, and it was just about perfect, sitting outside with friends and listening to good music.

And I just realized that it might have saved me. There was another concert I’d been thinking of going to on Sunday evening that I didn’t go to because I’d gone to this one, and it was near the path of the tornado. I’d have been on my way home probably about the time the tornado went through that neighborhood, and I’d have had to cross the path of the tornado to get home. Though I probably wouldn’t have gone when I looked at the radar. The weather forecast was a factor in my decision about what to do for the weekend.

I had been thinking about visiting a nearby botanical garden today, since it really is a lovely day, but there’s a chance that they’ll be cleaning up after the high winds. So maybe I’ll try to get some writing done, which might be a challenge, as groggy as I am after all the sleep disruptions last night. When you’ve been watching tornado damage, you don’t rest easily during the next storm.

Changing Habits

I didn’t realize how ingrained the TV habit was until I got rid of cable. It was just what I did in the evening, ever since I was a kid. I generally picked a show to watch in each evening time slot. Cable made it possible to fill the whole evening, with all the channel options and then OnDemand. Even when I’d backed down from following many shows, I’d find some documentary or movie to watch.

Streaming allows me to do pretty much the same thing, but still, cutting the cable made me start thinking about what I was watching and realize that I didn’t have to watch anything. I started reading more and listening to the classical radio station. They broadcast concerts from major symphonies on weeknights, and I enjoy listening to those while I read, surf the Internet, or even write.

But then this week I had an odd epiphany (odd in that it hadn’t occurred to me sooner): I could do other things in the evening. I’d taken out the sewing machine last weekend to do some mending, and I’d started a project to rework something I’d already made. I found myself thinking that I’d finish that this weekend, but then I realized I could do it in the evening. I didn’t have to spend the evening consuming entertainment. I can also use that time to sew, paint, or even work on my own music. That would be a good time to play the harp, since it’s not loud enough to disturb the neighbors (soprano singing or the flute might be a bit much for nighttime).

I do need a little TV time most evenings because that’s when I do the physical therapy exercises for my knees. I’ve started shifting some of that to during the news.

It’s not that TV is necessarily bad. It’s more about looking at the ruts I’ve fallen into and figuring out ways to do things differently. There are so many things I want to do that I say I don’t have time for, but I do actually have time. I just need to use my time wisely.

Investigating Mysteries

After looking into who my readers are and what else they’re into, I’ve taken my first big step toward maybe moving some of my writing into a new direction. I’ve registered for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. It’s in Dallas this year, so I don’t have to travel or get a hotel. I just have to take the train downtown. The idea I’ve had for a mystery series is growing stronger in my head, so I figure I need to learn some more about how to actually write a mystery.

I’ve been a mystery reader since I was in elementary school and discovered Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames. I graduated from there to Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, and Ellis Peters. Actually writing one would seem to be a logical next step and might be fun.

I’ve never been to a mystery convention before, and I’m not sure I’ll know anyone there. But there will be authors there I’m fans of, including Felix Francis, the son of Dick Francis, who has continued his father’s work. It’ll be interesting just attending a convention as an attendee, without any obligations about speaking or being “on.” I won’t even have to worry about what to wear, though I may dress up a bit just because I leave the house so rarely that it’s fun to occasionally wear my nice clothes.

Is anyone planning to be at this event?

I have my setting and characters figured out and what their character arcs will be. I’ve even figured out the paranormal element. I’m just at a loss for what the actual crimes should be. Maybe I’ll learn something about that at the convention.