Archive for August, 2020

My Books

Return of the Blog

I know it’s not September, but it’s close enough, and I have some things to discuss and announce.

For one thing, I think I figured out my blogging problem. A lot of it has to do with a change of routine with a ripple effect. I used to use writing a blog post as a kind of warm-up exercise as I eased into my day. I’d sit down with a cup of tea, read through the blogs I followed, catch up on social media, read and respond to e-mail, and then write a blog post. After all that, I’d be ready to write.

But a couple of years ago, I learned that I was actually far more productive if I wrote first. Instead of easing into my day, I’d go straight to work, then get at least an hour of writing-related work done before I took a break to check social media, read and respond to e-mail, and write a blog post. I generally wrote the blog post first, while I was still offline, then let it rest while I read stuff before I went back to edit it and post it. That made for a huge mental gear shift. I’d be deep into whatever I was writing or editing, then stop to write a blog post and had no idea what to write about and wasn’t all that enthusiastic about any topic because it felt like an interruption in my work.

Which goes to show that you can’t change one thing without changing other things. I think what I may do is start writing posts in the afternoon, after I’ve done my writing quota for the day, then post the next morning. That way, I don’t have to stop work to think of something to post, and posting doesn’t disrupt my writing groove.

I think I’ll also start a schedule of posting on Wednesdays and Fridays. The blog will focus on longer-form discussion. If there’s any news, I’ll post it in the “news” block on the home page and on social media, though there may be longer discussion about the news in the blog.

Now, for the announcements …

If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, you may want to do so soon, especially if you’re an Enchanted, Inc. series fan. I found an old story I wrote soon after I finished writing the first book. It’s essentially fan fiction of my own book that I wrote because I wanted to keep playing in that world, but I was waiting to hear from an agent who was looking at it, so I didn’t want to start writing the sequel yet. It’s really more of a vignette than a story because there’s no real plot. It’s just what happens with Owen right after the events of the first book, from his viewpoint. I’m going to make this story available for free to my newsletter subscribers. The info on how to get it will be in the newsletter I send out early next week, and later it will be a welcome gift to new subscribers. I’ll be adding more free fiction for subscribers as I go along. You can sign up for the newsletter here. I put out a newsletter once a month with some behind-the-scenes discussions about my books and news about what I’m working on, and then there will be notices when there’s a new book coming out, so you won’t have to worry about missing anything.

The other announcement is that I’ve settled on a release date for that mystery book I’ve been working on. Interview with a Dead Editor, the first in a new series, will be published October 1, and probably up for pre-order before that. I’m wrapping up the proofreading, and covers are being designed right now. I’m excited about this series and hope that my readers like it as much as I do. It’s a humorous paranormal mystery with a hint of slow-build romance, and I think people who liked Enchanted, Inc., will also like this. I’ll be sharing more info about this series in the next month as we count down to release day.

Blog Fatigue

I was lamenting on Twitter yesterday that I don’t know if anyone actually reads my blog, and it seems people do, even if they’re not commenting, so I guess I’ll keep up with it. My problem right now is that I have no idea what to write about. I haven’t been watching much TV or movies, so I don’t have anything to discuss there. I’ve been reading from my to-be-read pile, and I’m finding that there are reasons I didn’t read those books for so long, so I haven’t had a lot of books to recommend. Otherwise, my reading is for research for a future project, and I don’t really want to talk about what I’m reading there because the idea is that I’ll throw all that information into the mental blender, and what comes out won’t be recognizable from the source. But if I tell people what the sources are, they’ll be looking for chunks in the smoothie that they can identify, and that may lead to them misinterpreting the book.

I don’t really have a life outside the house now because I only go out to go grocery shopping. There’s no choir, no children’s choir, no getting together with friends. It’s too hot to go out hiking. Basically, I spend my days writing and researching, listening to classical music, and cooking. I don’t have much to say about the music because the very point of it is that I don’t think about it. I can just listen and let it flow over me, and sometimes that’s the only time when I don’t have words swirling around in my head.

So I’m not sure what to talk about. What do you want to hear? This is your chance to ask questions, and the answers may turn into a blog post. Ask me about the writing process or the publishing business. Do you have questions about how to write a book or get it published? Or ask about my books, where ideas came from, some of my research, etc. (though, to be honest, it’s been so long since I wrote a lot of my books that I might not remember anymore). Anything else?

I may take the rest of August as a kind of holiday to stockpile ideas and have something more substantial to say when I start up again in September. To keep up with me otherwise, follow me on Twitter. I mostly put book info on Facebook. Or there’s my mailing list.


Competence and Tension

One thing I did during my weekend vacation was reread a book I knew I’d enjoy that wouldn’t be too tense. I’ve been working my way back through the 500 Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey, and I got to my favorite in that series, The Sleeping Beauty. This series is about a world where fairy tales take place, and the magical system is based on the Tradition that tries to turn everything into a fairy tale. This particular book mashes up all the “sleeping princess” stories, with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and even some Norse mythology.

The thing I like about it is how clever and competent all the characters are. There’s the fairy godmother who figures out that when the queen dies, evil sorceresses are going to be driven to the kingdom by the Tradition, since the 16-year-old princess is going to have to have an evil stepmother, so she disguises herself as a dark sorceress and pretends to be married to the king to keep them all away. Then there’s the adventuring hero who’s figured all this stuff out and knows that he needs to be kind to animals and be very, very careful about which sleeping maiden he wakes with a kiss. There’s the princess who learns self-defense and magic so she can deal with all the stuff going on in her kingdom.

But it’s not a cakewalk for them, since the villain also knows all this stuff. Still, it’s a relatively low-stress read because nobody does anything truly stupid. I can deal with people being in difficult situations that they have to figure out how to resolve. I get really stressed out when people get into difficult situations because they make dumb decisions. Like in a book I just started reading, in which it looks like our heroes are going to get into the situation that sets off the plot because they make a really dumb decision. They’re described as being really clever and suspicious, but they fall into a rather obvious setup (though it may just be that it’s super obvious to me because I read the back cover). I’m going to have to power through this part to get into the meat of the story.

I don’t know if an unknown author would have been allowed to get away with the relatively low tension in The Sleeping Beauty. The stakes are quite high, but the outcome is never really in doubt. I don’t know if it’s because the book was published by the fantasy imprint of a romance house, so they’re going with the guaranteed happy ending of the romance genre, or if a bestselling author writing the flagship series for the imprint had a lot more leeway while someone like me would be rejected for there not being enough tension or conflict. I happen to love it, and it’s sad that the series was killed by a publishing merger that ended that imprint. I would have loved to have more books like it.

Incidentally, I was at the launch event for that imprint where they announced that the first book in this series would be their first book. It was at that event where I first spoke to an editor about my idea for the book that became Enchanted, Inc. She got very excited and handed me her card and told me to go write it. She ended up rejecting it, but by then I already had an agent and a lot of other publishers were looking at it.

Anyway, this gives me a model for how to deal with the kind of hyper-competent characters I like and how to still get them in enough trouble to make for a fun story.


I had a nice, relaxing “vacation” of the sort that actually seems to have boosted my energy, unlike the travel sort that tends to leave me tired. I remember something from back in my medical writing days in which a psychiatrist reminded us that the rood word of “vacation” is “vacate,” and that in order to renew yourself, you needed to empty the things you carry around so you have room to fill up again, and you need to break your routine to really relax.

One thing I realized is that the bad side of being the sort of person who’s never bored is that it may mean you never really relax. If there’s always something you could (or feel you should) be doing, then it’s hard to make yourself just be still. Even though I like sitting and thinking, it’s really hard to let myself do that. I did manage it a few times this weekend, and it’s amazing the difference that makes.

I found a new project when I was going through some sewing stuff and found an abandoned embroidery project my mom started before I was born. It’s a tablecloth that’s just the size I need, and I like the pattern, but the colors are all wrong. I’m going to get some embroidery floss in the right colors and redo it. Since I haven’t done embroidery in decades, I got out some plain muslin, found some online tutorials, and used the floss from this project to practice my stitching. It’s weirdly hypnotic once you get going, almost like meditation.

I was trying not to think about work or business all weekend, and that made me realize how much headspace I devote to that. My brain always seems to be spinning with to-do lists or ideas of things I could be doing, fretting over what’s happening, doing mental calculations, etc. Not only does that hamper my relaxation, and possibly my creativity, but the real problem is that I don’t seem to act on much of the stuff I come up with. It’s wasted fretting. Today’s project is to write down all the stuff that’s in my head and try to organize it into an actionable plan. I’m also going to try to make more of an effort not to think about this stuff after the workday or on weekends. I have a really bad habit of mulling over business-related plans at night before I go to sleep, and that’s not conducive to restful sleep.

So, in general, it was a productive vacation in the sense that I learned a lot about myself and have come up with some ideas for ways to make all this work better for myself going forward. I also think I need to do this sort of thing more often. At one of my old jobs, the boss came up with an incentive program in which we came up with a project/task list at the beginning of the week, got our supervisor to sign off on it, and on Friday when our supervisor signed off that it had all been done, we got to leave early. I may start doing that monthly to give myself a long weekend every so often when I’m caught up on my work. I just hope I’m a better boss to myself than that boss was. I think I managed to leave early once, not because I wasn’t getting my work done, but because once he realized that it was working too well and people were leaving early, he started planning all-hands meetings on Friday afternoons, or he’d arrange for clients to come meet with us on Friday afternoons (which the clients were okay with because they generally got to go straight home after the meeting if they came to our office on a Friday afternoon).

I’m easing back into work by spending the day doing all that planning, getting it out of my head and on paper so I can do something about it instead of just fretting and stewing.

writing life


Since my birthday is this Friday, this is going to be a short work week for me. I’m taking Thursday and Friday off. I’ve realized that I need to recharge a bit, to refill the well, so to speak. I’ve been working pretty intensely for most of the year, in some unusual and difficult circumstances, and I feel a bit drained and tired. Last Sunday, I made an effort not to think about work for the whole day, and it was amazing the difference it made. I hadn’t realized just how much it was consuming me. Even when I’m not actively writing, my brain is constantly spinning, thinking about stories, business plans, publicity I should be doing, how much money I’m making (or not making), etc. I need to spend a few days not thinking about that stuff.

Instead, I need to do other creative things. The plan is to spend the next few days reading, watching movies, maybe doing some sewing or embroidery, possibly some coloring or painting, some music, etc. Stuff that’s not writing or thinking about writing, business, etc. Even the stuff I’ve been watching for the past few months has been somewhat work-related.

I knew it was getting bad when last night I dreamed about new covers for the Enchanted, Inc. books. I’ve been doing a lot of research on book cover design lately, trying to figure out where the things I’ve been writing fit, and although I love the look of my books, they’re pretty dated right now. They’re back in 2005 and don’t really say “contemporary fantasy” in today’s design language. I think my rewatching The Office on DVD also had an influence there, as the covers in my mind were pretty much like the menu screen on the DVDs, showing a desk with various office items on it, but with some additional magical stuff, like a crystal ball and a book about spells, on the desk.

Unfortunately, the publisher still controls the first four books in the US, so even if I changed covers for the ones I control, it wouldn’t affect the first book, the one that brings in new readers, unless maybe I could persuade the publisher to change at least the e-book covers.

That’s the kind of constant brain spinning I need to get away from for a few days.

First, though, I’m close to finishing this draft. I’m going to get that done today, then take care of my usual weekend housework chores this afternoon, and then I get to relax for a few days. I don’t have big plans for the birthday, thanks to social distancing and living in a hotspot area. I’m going to run to the grocery store tomorrow, and I think I’m going to get some kind of cake and maybe figure out a present to buy myself. I’m less than thrilled with the toaster oven I bought a few weeks ago—it’s smaller than the one I was replacing—so I’m thinking about maybe getting a bigger one. I use the toaster oven for most of my summer cooking, and I can barely fit a potato in this one without it getting too close to the coils. Yes, I have an exciting life.

Summer is Flying

I can’t believe it’s already August. This summer is doing a weird thing in which it seems to be flying at the same time as it seems like it’s been years since June. I realized this morning that I’ve had my new refrigerator for a whole month. I thought of that because I finally had to make some ice this weekend. Since I don’t use a lot of ice, I opted not to get an icemaker with the new refrigerator. The night before I got the new fridge, I ran the icemaker in the old one and put the ice in a freezer bag. I finally got near the bottom of that bag. That would suggest I made the right decision. An ice cube tray and a freezer bag take up a lot less room than the icemaker that’s usually empty and idle. I finally have plenty of space in my freezer for food.

This is the week when I’d usually be doing Music and Art Camp, but they’re doing a modified version of that online this year, so they don’t need me to herd kids around. We’d normally also be gearing up to go back to the regular “fall” schedule, since school usually starts in mid-August around here. We’d be starting choir rehearsals. It feels weird to go into Target and see the back-to-school sales, like is that happening already? We didn’t really have a summer yet!

We’ve actually had cooler than normal weather so far this year, with just two 100-degree days before August. Theoretically, we’re in the warmest span of the year, but we got rain and a really cool day last week, then a cold front this weekend, so it’s been pleasant. It’ll get hot again next weekend, but I’ve been enjoying spending time outdoors. The patio makes for a slight change of scenery.

I’m still looking forward to fall and truly cooler weather so I can get outside more and take longer walks. I endure summer. I revel in fall.