Archive for January, 2021


The Romantic Fantasy Journey Stages

A few weeks ago, I watched a movie that involved a man and a woman reluctantly paired up on a quest, and my immediate thought was “Yes, this is what I like,” but then I couldn’t think of that many others — and I realized I’d worked on a book that was essentially this, but I did it wrong.

So, since it’s my firm belief that if it’s worth analyzing, it’s worth overanalyzing, I went back and watched the movies I could think of that seemed to fit the trope (and realized that a couple I thought fit the trope actually didn’t and I was remembering them wrong).

It was a little eerie seeing just how well all these things fell into a pattern. And so, I present the stages of the fantasy romantic journey. I’m drawing upon Stardust (the movie, though I plan to reread the book to see how it works), Anastasia (animated version), Tangled, Frozen, plus that The Crown and the Dragon movie that kicked off this musing. Spoilers for all of the above below (though I am trying to avoid giving away the actual endings).

1) The Deal — character A needs to get somewhere and needs character B to do so (or will need character B at the destination). Character B isn’t keen on the idea, but character A has something character B needs, and so a deal is struck.

For instance, in Stardust, Tristan needs to bring the woman he (thinks he) loves the fallen star, who happens to be Yvaine. Yvaine has no interest in being brought as a prize, but Tristan has a Babylon candle that can return her to her place in the sky, so she reluctantly agrees to go with him. Or in Anastasia, Dmitri needs a girl who can pose as the lost grand duchess so he can take her to Paris and collect the reward. Anya needs to get out of Russia and to Paris to follow the only clue she has to find her family. They make a deal to help each other.

2) Bickering — they may have struck a deal, but at least one person still isn’t happy to be there as they set out on the journey. The two people generally have very different worldviews and different ideas about how things should be done. One person may be able to see past the other’s facade and figure out exactly what’s going on with them, which doesn’t go over well. Or person B, who doesn’t want to be on this trip, tries to talk person A out of it. All of this results in conflict and bickering.

Rapunzel refuses to return Flynn Rider’s satchel unless he takes her to see the lanterns, so he tries to scare her out of facing the outside world so he doesn’t have to take the trip. In Frozen, Kristoff criticizes Anna for getting engaged to someone she met that day and says she doesn’t know anything about love. Tristan and Yvaine are on different schedules, and he doesn’t grasp why a star would want to sleep during the day. Meanwhile, she needles him about the idiocy of giving a captive woman as a gift to try to win someone’s love.

3) Attack — Their first encounter with the enemy or with the forces against them. They have a narrow escape, either by teaming up or by one of them taking a risk to save the other.

Tristan and Yvaine are caught by the witch who wants Yvaine’s heart to restore her youth and power, Rapunzel and Flynn are chased by the guards, Kristoff and Anna are set upon by wolves, the train Anya and Dmitri are on is sabotaged.

4) Bonding — In the aftermath of their narrow escape (possibly starting during it), the two start to overcome their differences. They see each other in a new way after seeing each other in action. There’s some vulnerability as they open up to each other.

This is where Flynn confesses that his real name is Eugene and he’s a nobody orphan who created the persona of Flynn Rider while Rapunzel reveals her magic powers to heal his wound. Yvaine gently tells Tristan that she doesn’t think he should have to do great deeds to earn someone’s love.

5) Resuming the Journey — Once they’ve rested and recovered, they continue on their way, now functioning as a team instead of bickering. There may be some element of training going on, either them learning from each other or one or both of them getting instruction from someone else.

During this phase, we get The Dance. Yeah, that’s a weirdly specific thing that doesn’t seem to fit, but there always seems to be a scene involving dancing around this point. I don’t make the rules. I just observe them.

Tristan and Yvaine dance on the deck of the sky ship, Dmitri and Anya dance on the deck of the ship taking them to France. Rapunzel and Eugene are part of a big group dance at the festival, Kristoff and Anna are surrounded by dancing trolls, and the main characters in The Crown and the Dragon spend an evening at the castle of an old friend of his, where there’s a celebration going on and they end up dancing. She realizes her feelings when she gets jealous about him dancing with someone else, and then they have a moment while dancing together.

In most of these cases, the dance is part of a larger community rather than a totally private moment and is when someone else notices that there’s something going on between them, even if they’re not ready to admit it yet.

6) Departure — At or near the end of the journey, one character leaves or seems to leave the other character. Generally, it’s either a case of not getting in the other character’s way because that person is a princess/the chosen one/promised to another/has some greater role to play. Or it may be that person needing to wrap up some unfinished business from their old life before committing to a new life with their traveling companion. Sometimes, the person who left gets captured, so it looks like they abandoned the other person.

So, we have Kristoff dropping Anna off with the hope that her fiancé Hans can save her with a true love’s kiss, Dmitri skipping out because he’s realized Anya really is the lost princess and can’t be with someone like him, Tristan ducking out to ditch Victoria before being with Yvaine for good, and Flynn handing the stolen crown over to his partners in crime before giving up the life of “Flynn Rider,” only to be captured and imprisoned.

7) Return for the Final Battle — The character who left has a change of heart or realizes the danger the other person is in and returns, just in time to join the fight against the enemy, or at least help make victory possible.

One thing I found interesting is that the Attack is generally the midpoint of the story, even though it’s fairly early in the sequence. That’s because if you slot these stages into the hero’s journey format, the Deal comes during the “Tests, Enemies, and Allies” part of the hero’s journey. The hero has already been seen in the Ordinary World, has had the Call to Adventure and Refusal of the Call, has met with the Mentor and has Crossed the First Threshold before running into person B as the first ally they meet. There’s also a pretty lengthy prologue giving the backstory in all these movies. It’s in the book of Stardust, too, but that’s Neil Gaiman. I’m not sure most novelists would be able to get away with taking that long to get to the meat of the action. Then again, that may be me thinking in romance terms, where you want the hero and heroine to meet as soon as possible. If things are happening and there’s conflict, you may be able to delay the part where they team up for the journey.

The Attack equates to the Ordeal in the hero’s journey, and the Bonding is the Reward segment. The rest matches up pretty well to the hero’s journey, with the departure/return equating to the Resurrection.

For more action, you can repeat the Attack/Bond/Resume the Journey sequence a couple of times (maybe more in a long book), escalating each time. Frozen has Anna and Kristoff fending off the wolf attack before resuming the journey as a team, then escaping from the snow monster before having a moment of awareness before he takes her to meet his “family” and they’re surrounded by the dancing trolls who think they belong together. Anastasia has Dmitri and Anya escaping the train disaster, then her accepting his teaching before they dance together and have a moment, and then Rasputin tries to lure her into jumping overboard, but Dmitri saves her, and then they go on to Paris together (and are out on the town with dancing).

There’s no consistent pattern in which person — A, the one who wants the journey, or B, the one “hired” for it — is the one to depart and return, though it does always seem to be the guy who leaves and comes back. The departure and return may be part of that character’s arc, but isn’t always the main character’s symbolic death/resurrection. For instance, Rapunzel is the main character of Tangled, the one who gets the call to adventure and crosses the threshold, etc., but it’s Flynn/Eugene who literally becomes a different person as a result of her influence as he drops his fake persona and goes back to his real name. Unless, I suppose, you flip the story (and ignore that this is a Disney Princess movie) and consider Flynn to be the true protagonist, with his opening theft his “ordinary world” and his call to adventure being her request to take her to see the lights.

The pattern also seems to fit the road trip romantic comedies like It Happened One Night or Leap Year, but instead of an Attack, they have some sort of travel disaster, and the Departure/Return thing seems to be a back and forth between the characters, with the guy doing the initial departure at the end of the journey, since the journey has been about reuniting her with the person she loves, so he completes the journey and walks away, but then at the end she’s the one who realizes she’s with the wrong person and comes back to the guy she traveled with. I bet Romancing the Stone fits, too.

And now I need to figure out how to use this in the story I’m playing with. You’d think that having this structure would make it easier, but in a way it makes it feel harder because I have to figure out how it might fit each of these things. What does one have that the other needs? What will they bicker about? Who’ll depart and come back? Why?

What remains unsolved is how this trope ended up on the Evil Overlord List that was developed in the mid-90s, since the earlier films I thought might have been the source ended up not fitting the trope at all. I’d mis-remembered how much of the movie Sorsha spent traveling with Madmartigan in Willow. It’s a journey movie, and there’s romance, but it’s not really a romantic journey movie. And Dragonslayer ended up having almost no journey component, and though there’s romance, it’s not a case of the bickering pair forming the team that defeats the villain (though a dancing scene is pivotal in their relationship developing). I guess the bickering couple that teams up to defeat the Evil Overlord started in books (I can think of a few pre-90s examples) and in romantic comedies, and then was adopted into fantasy, which was known for quests. Why not a romcom road trip quest?

My Books

New Book Tomorrow!

Mystery of the Drowned Driver Book CoverTomorrow is new book day! This month kind of got away from me. I had planned all kinds of promo stuff, and then suddenly Mystery of the Drowned Driver is coming out tomorrow and I haven’t done anything.

At any rate, you can pre-order now and get it first thing tomorrow, and the paperback is available to order from Amazon. It will eventually be available in other places, but it takes a while to propagate through those systems. You can find the various links to order here on the book’s page.

I had a lot of fun writing this one. It includes one of my favorite ghosts, someone I kind of wish I’d used as a character before I killed her and made her a ghost, but then I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been able to kill her. I’m learning that’s one of the tricky things about mysteries. If you make the victims sympathetic and interesting enough for readers to want their murders solved, then you feel sad for having killed them. I still get weepy about the valedictorian who was killed in the backstory of the first book in this series. I’ll actually tear up thinking about her wasted potential, and then I remember that she never existed. I made her up, and she was already dead when I made her up.

I wonder if I really have the temperament to write mysteries. Until these books, I hadn’t killed a character in a novel. I generally don’t even kill villains in my fantasies. They got punished, but they lived. I’d actually planned for Mimi to get eaten by a dragon in No Quest for the Wicked, but when I got there, I couldn’t do it to her. Not so much because I liked her too much to kill her, but because I felt it would change the tone of the book too much. It was funnier for her to come out alive with no idea what had really happened.

I think having victims for murder mysteries is a little different, since their purpose in the story is to be dead. It’s not like killing off an existing character who’s been in multiple books. I don’t think I’ll be drawing upon my ongoing cast of characters to come up with new victims. I might set up future villains that way, and maybe victims for lesser crimes, but I don’t think that any of the gang of regulars is going to get murdered.

And now I really need to come up with a crime for the next book. I’ve got the character story stuff figured out. I just don’t know what the main plot will be.


The New Age of Sea Shanties

One positive thing to come from the pandemic and related lockdowns and isolation is that people have been exploring new things, with some delightful results.

One of the latest trends has been a new wave of discovery of sea shanties, the old work songs sailors sang to help them coordinate their actions — when you need a lot of people to pull or push at the same time, music is a great way to get everyone on the same tempo. Someone posted a video singing a sea shanty on TikTok, and then other people added on to it, bringing in harmony and instruments, and it went around the Internet to the point that people all over the world were walking around singing “Soon may the Wellerman come, to bring us sugar and tea and rum.”

Here’s a compilation someone put together that brings in some of the better additions.

I think part of what makes this so entertaining is the collaboration, that people who’ve never met are making something lovely together. There have been other things kind of like this, like when a bunch of people created a musical about a scene taking place in a grocery store, with one guy singing a song, then someone turning it into a romantic duet, and then others bringing in the perspective of other people nearby. It was beautiful and hilarious. But the sea shanty is designed to be sung as a group, so it really lends itself to this kind of collaboration. I wish I had the chops to pitch in, but I don’t even want to deal with TikTok, and while I’ve got a decent singing voice, I don’t have the music theory to be able to improvise harmonies. Give me sheet music and I’ll do well, but without someone telling me what to sing I’m pretty hopeless.

Of course, fantasy writers perked up at this whole trend because it’s the sort of thing that adds color to a fantasy world. There’s something romantic and stirring about voices rising together on an old sailing ship. I realized it was exactly the touch for an idea I’ve been playing with. The sound and the imagery of this video out of Norway, with men in the rigging singing their way into port, is probably going to make it into a book. They seem to be singing in English, oddly enough, but apparently it’s an Australian shanty, with them just changing part of the words to “in Norway” instead of the original — but the “Norway” is English because in Norwegian it’s “Norge.”

The musical collaboration is really making me miss choir. We’ve done some pieces where everyone records their part at home and it gets edited together, but that’s so isolating. With this sort of thing, the later people are at least singing along with the earlier people. I miss the sensation of singing with others. We had a couple of attempts at rehearsals, outdoors, wearing masks and standing at a distance, but then you might as well be singing alone because you can’t really hear the other people.

So I guess I’ll sit at home and sing sea shanties with people on the Internet. I can feel like I’m singing along, though I’m not going to record it and post it online.


Pandemic Hands

I never really think of writing as being a “physical” job. I sit and type, or I write by hand when I’m brainstorming or plotting. But it turns out that if you have problems with your hands, writing can be hard. It seems that I’ve had a perfect storm of things leading to what I’m calling “Pandemic Hands.”

It started when I noticed a blister on my knuckle. I figured it was a burn from bumping against something hot while I was cooking. I do that often, as I’m a bit of a klutz in the kitchen. But then another blister appeared on another knuckle, and I knew I hadn’t burned that finger. I’d been careful and hadn’t been cooking. That blister was surrounded by tiny blisters of a sort that I sometimes get on my hands. A few more blisters came up, so I did some research, and it turns out that this is a form of eczema (I should note that I used to do PR writing for the dermatology department at a medical school, so this isn’t just the usual “look it up on WebMD” thing, since I do know something about this area). The pandemic has created something of a perfect storm because this happens to people who are already prone to eczema when their skin gets dry, they’re exposed to irritants, and they’re under stress. Strangely, it’s only on my right hand, but I think, based on the pattern of blisters, that it may have been initially triggered when I was chopping peppers because it’s in the places where juice tends to spray when you’re chopping things. Then there’s hand sanitizer, wipes, lots of hand washing, cold weather, and it’s been a wee bit stressful lately.

The treatment is the kind of ointment you usually put on rashes, so I’m basically using hydrocortisone cream as hand lotion. Once I started treating the blisters like a rash rather than burns, they started getting better. Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt all that much unless I move the affected fingers in a certain way that stretches the blisters or if I touch or rub against the blisters. Unfortunately, typing is one of those things that stretch the blisters, and writing by hand means the pen and my other fingers rub up against the blisters (which may have something to do with why I have blisters in those spots). So, I’m trying to take it easy for a while. It’s a good time to do some reading.

This has made me realize how many times a day I wash my hands, even aside from pandemic issues. While I’m at home, I wash my hands in the bathroom, before, during and after I cook and before and after I eat. And now I really scrub up when I come back from any excursion that involves touching something outside my house. I’ve bought some food prep gloves to use when I chop things and while I’m cooking so I can wash a few fewer times. I can rinse off the gloves between cooking tasks instead of my hands. I’ve had the small blisters before after I used cleaning wipes, so I may have to be careful about that. I may need to get some medical gloves to wear outside the house so I don’t have to scrub my hands so much.

And then there’s stress. I hope some of that will ease after today. I’m a lot less concerned that I’ll lose my ability to have health insurance, which has been a big worry for freelancers for the past few years. It may even be my body releasing stress after a long period of tension that set this off. I’m doing yoga and trying to spend time relaxing. It’s probably a good time to be re-reading a book so that I’m not tense about the outcome. I know how The Lord of the Rings goes.

My Books

New Lucky Lexie Book!

Mystery of the Drowned Driver Book CoverIn case you were wondering what would happen next with Lexie and the gang, the wait is almost over. Mystery of the Drowned Driver, book 3, is coming January 28, and you can pre-order it now. This is the fastest I’ve ever released books, but I doubt the next one will come quite so quickly. I’d already written the first draft of this book before the second book was published, and I don’t yet have a firm plot idea for book 4. The tricky thing is that I know what books 5 and 6 will be about, but going straight to the plot for book 5 would mean skipping a lot more time than I’d like, so I need to figure out something that will come in between.

I’m afraid I’ve been distracted by a number of other story ideas that have popped up and begun demanding attention. Not to mention all the events going on in the world outside my head that have been distressing and upsetting. This is a difficult time to work in a field that requires focus and creativity and that means we have to tap into our emotions to do it well. When your emotions are like “AAAAAGGGHHHHHH!” it’s hard to write, but if you shut the emotions down, you end up with something that reads like a user manual.

I’m in brainstorming mode for all the projects I’ve been working on, just thinking and jotting down ideas as they come to me. Right now, I’m letting myself play with that fantasy journey idea and seeing if it’s something I want to pursue. Next week I may go back to trying to think of mystery plots. I would like to have a new book in that series by May or so, which means I’ll have to get to work on it soon.

I used to have a button that said “so many books, so little time.” It was supposedly about reading, but it’s become true about writing, too. There are so many stories in my head, dying to get out, but I can only write one at a time, and there’s a limited amount of time I can spend writing in a day before my head explodes.

I’m putting order links on my website as I find them, and you can find the scoop on the new book on its page here. I’ll add an excerpt soon.


All About the Journey

Since I’m in a fantasy mode, I did some digging around on Amazon to find a fantasy movie to watch (a lot of “people who watched this also watched this” rabbit trails) and ended up finding one called The Crown and the Dragon. It had a promising start. The scenery was lovely (it seemed to have been filmed in Ireland), the acting was quite good (the cast members don’t have very extensive IMDB listings, so I’m wondering if they were Irish and British stage actors), and I even liked the costumes. Early in the movie, the heroine and her aunt are traveling to take The Thing to The Place (as you do), and we knew the villain was looking for The Thing. The heroine and her aunt are set upon by the villain’s soldiers, who have with them a prisoner. The (handsome, of course) prisoner uses the guards’ harassment of the two women as a distraction to manage to attack his captors and free himself. The aunt is killed in the melee, the heroine grabs The Thing, and the escaped prisoner gets her to flee with him.

This was when I paused the movie to make popcorn because I could see the setup for what I’ve realized is one of my favorite fantasy tropes: the mismatched duo thrown together and having to go on some kind of journey/mission/quest, during which they bicker a lot, but they start to come together as they go through adversity and gain new respect for each other. That’s like catnip to me.

This movie hit all the expected beats. We had the bonding moment after the big ordeal in which they each saved the other’s life, so then they’re sitting by a fire, drying out wet clothes, drinking wine, and getting cozy. We had falling in with a group having a party and having a “moment” while dancing together. And, naturally, we had the moment in which his obligation is fulfilled, but he turns back for her, just in time for the climactic fight.

My favorite thing that fits this mold is Stardust, and this movie wasn’t nearly that good, but it sort of scratched a similar itch. But I found myself trying to think of other examples. If there’s something I love and know well enough to know when they’re hitting the right beats, there should be a lot, right? Other than Stardust, most of the things I could think of are animated films. That’s the Anna and Kristoff part of Frozen, Tangled, the animated Anastasia.

I remembered that there was an item on the Evil Overlord List that went around Usenet in the mid-90s to the effect of “If I’m ever the Evil Overlord and there’s a couple traveling through my realm who cooperate and get along, I’ll ignore them, but if they bicker constantly, except for when they save each other’s lives and have moments of sexual tension, I’ll have them executed immediately because they’re likely to be my undoing.” Or something like that. Anyway, if this was a known trope in the mid-90s and all my examples come from after that, I had to wonder where it came from. The main thing I can think of is the movie Willow, which is another good example (I haven’t seen it since I saw it in the theater when it first came out, so I’m iffy on it, but I recall being delighted with this aspect of it). I think Dragonslayer from the early 80s might also fit. In books, there’s an element of this in the Belgariad series by David Eddings, though my memory of that is fuzzy (not because I read it so long ago, but because I read it relatively recently, after I was already familiar with fantasy, so it didn’t make as huge an impression on me as it might have if I’d read it as a teen). The Elfstones of Shannara sort of fits, throwing in a bit of a romantic triangle, with the girl who has to take The Thing to The Place, the guy whose mission is to get her there, and another girl who joins to help. There’s another one I vaguely recall reading when I was in college that seems to have fallen into this category, with the guy having to get the girl and The Thing to The Place.

But these few things hardly make for a trope to the point of getting put on the “here’s what villains keep getting wrong” list. The TV Tropes site has an annotated Evil Overlord List with links to pages for the tropes, but there isn’t a separate trope listing for this specific thing. They link separately to the people thrown together on a mission trope and the hate to love trope, but the good examples I can think of for the trope I’m thinking of aren’t on the lists. I know it’s a big trope in the romance genre, with lots of books about the guy having to get the girl from one place to another, them hating each other at first, and then falling in love along the way, but they seldom bring down the Evil Overlord while they’re at it. I do think it shows up in a lot of fan fiction. If you think two characters who don’t get along would be hot together, then a story that forces them to team up and travel together is a natural way to explore the relationship.

It’s funny, in the early 90s I came up with my own idea along these lines, started writing it, and even won a contest with the start, but the book didn’t come together very well. I just this week, in thinking in terms of the trope, realized some of where I went wrong with it. Now I’ve found myself thinking about it again, and I’m tempted to give rewriting it a shot. I’ve allowed myself a couple of days to play with the idea to see if it starts falling together, and so far it seems to have done so. I may end up rewriting it. Or writing it again, since I’m not really rewriting the thing I’ve already written. I’m starting fresh with a new execution of the same basic story idea. It’s more a case of gutting a house down to the studs before starting a remodel than a case of repainting and new flooring. I figure if an idea has stayed vividly in my head for more than 30 years, then maybe I should do something with it.


Revisiting The Hobbit

It’s been an interesting few days, to say the least. It was definitely a good time to sink into The Hobbit, which really is a charming book and the perfect escape.

This book was one of my early exposures to fantasy, though when I first read it, nothing really clicked for me. It didn’t turn me into a fantasy fan (not that I was opposed to fantasy, I just didn’t think of it in terms of “I want more books like this”). I was in fourth grade, and my teacher would read a book out loud to us, a chapter a day, every day after recess, as a way of settling everyone down. I suspect she might have been something of a geek because most of what she read to us was fantasy or fantasy-adjacent. I remember a lot of Roald Dahl, and then there was The Hobbit. She read that to us around the time the animated movie version came on TV. I was never patient enough for the chapter a day pace, so I’d usually check the book out of the library the next time I went and read it straight through. I remember doing that with The Hobbit and watching the movie, and I’m pretty sure I liked it, but it wasn’t as though it grabbed me so intensely that I wanted to find more books like that. I’m not sure why. I was mostly obsessed with Star Wars at that time, so I think anything that wasn’t Star Wars couldn’t get a toehold on me. I was looking for more stuff like that and reading books with spaceships and robots.

Ironically, I’d have probably found more of the stuff I loved about Star Wars by reading fantasy, since Star Wars is essentially a fantasy in science fiction trappings, what with its mysterious wizard knights with their magical swords and cloaks, hidden “chosen one” farmboy and feisty princess. But I didn’t yet know enough about genre and story structure to realize that, so I was reading books with spaceships on the cover.

I didn’t get into fantasy until a couple of years later when I discovered the Narnia books and it really flipped a switch. I read The Silver Chair (yeah, a strange one to read first), then got into The Lord of the Rings. I’m pretty sure I reread The Hobbit around that time, too. I know I reread it a year later when I read it out loud to my little brother.

The last time I remember reading The Hobbit was about ten years ago. I’d written the fifth Enchanted, Inc. book for the Japanese publisher, which finished out my plans for the series, but then they asked if I’d consider writing a sixth book. My initial inclination was to say no because I didn’t have any ideas, but then an idea hit me. I thought it would be a lot of fun to set a traditional fantasy quest kind of story in modern Manhattan, and I’d have the whole thing take place in one day. Thus No Quest for the Wicked was born. To outline it and come up with ideas to spoof and play with, I rewatched the Lord of the Rings movies. I didn’t have time to read that series, but I found a copy of The Hobbit at my parents’ house and reread that (it must have been one my brother left there because I found a boarding pass with his name on it stuck in the book, so he seems to have reread it as an adult after I read it to him when he was a little kid).

I think I’m liking it a lot more this time around. I keep finding little things I love about it. I had to empathize with Bilbo when all those dwarves showed up at his place and he was overwhelmed, as well as when Gandalf was trying to get him to go on the quest. It seems that people are always trying to get introverts to get out more for their own good. I think when we can get back to socializing, at parties I’m going to shake my head sadly at extroverts and tell them they really should have stayed home and done something quiet, that they need to do more of that, for their own good.

The thing that’s struck me on this read is the fact that the stakes and motivation for Bilbo are almost entirely internal. There’s no threat to his home, his community, or his way of life if he doesn’t go on this quest or if the dwarves fail. If he doesn’t go, life will go on as it has. The book makes it clear early on that Bilbo is already reasonably wealthy. He doesn’t need the treasure. He only goes on the adventure because the way Gandalf described him to the dwarves made him see himself in a different way, and he wanted to be the person Gandalf saw him as. He’d never imagined these possibilities for himself before, but once he starts thinking that way, he’ll be dissatisfied if he doesn’t find that within himself.

That makes this an oddly intimate book. In the midst of this epic journey that has Bilbo and his companions battling trolls, goblins, wolves, giant spiders, elves, and a dragon, it’s really mostly about one small person’s inner journey to figure out what he can be. That’s why I think the movies based on this book missed the point entirely. They more or less ignored Bilbo and focused on the epic, turning even small incidents into huge deals. This book is so very filmable and would make a lovely film if they just stuck to the book instead of bloating it. Martin Freeman’s face is basically a special effect, so you know he could have conveyed the inner journey.

It’s so very encouraging to see Bilbo rise to the occasion, to go from being paralyzed with fear to coming up with a plan and coming to the rescue. I want to cheer for him and hug him. I’m just at the part where things get really tense, though. Then this may not be such relaxing reading. It’s still hopeful reading, though.

But if I need something to send me to sleep, I’ve got The Silmarillion, which is somewhat fascinating but not exactly leisure reading. I’m in awe that these are essentially Tolkien’s worldbuilding notes, written as though they’re scriptures in the poetic language of the King James Bible. Mine are more like cryptic scrawls. I don’t worry about wordsmithing when I’m coming up with the backstory for my world.

writing life

The State of the Shanna 2021

Happy New Year!

I love the chance to reset and make a fresh start on a new year, starting with a blank calendar and all my usual forms and charts being clean and ready to be filled in as I make progress. I’ve made a business plan for the first half of the year. What happens after that will depend on how the first half of the year goes. In my business, it’s hard to plan too far in advance because I don’t know how long it will take me to do the things I planned.

I figure this is a good time for a general “how things work here” post. I’m going to stick with the Wednesday and Friday blogging schedule. That gives me time to write posts without interfering with my best writing time. Any news that falls between blogging slots will be in the “news” box on the front page of my web site and/or I’ll announce it on social media.

You can find me on social media on Twitter, where I talk about all kinds of things, not just my books, and on Facebook. There’s a page that focuses on my books and you can also discuss with fellow fans. My personal profile is fairly public. I only accept friend requests from people I actually know and have interacted with, but most of my posts are public, so you can follow me without being a “friend.” That’s where I talk about life and interact with friends and family. I haven’t been as active on Facebook lately because I loathe their new design and can’t bear to look at it. I cross-post my blog to Goodreads, but I don’t accept Goodreads friend requests (there have been some issues with people not being allowed to post Amazon reviews because Amazon thinks them being social media friends with authors means they’re friends, so their reviews don’t count). About all I do on Goodreads right now is cross-post the blog and occasionally respond to comments when that’s warranted. I have an Instagram account, but I don’t do much with it now because I only really use my phone when I leave the house, so I don’t think about Instagram when I’m at home, and I’m at home all the time now.

I have a newsletter that goes out once a month with book news and some behind the scenes info about my books, and if you’re signed up for that list, you also get alerts when there’s a new book. I’ve been trying to let newsletter subscribers know about stuff earlier than I put it out in other places. Today I’ll be sending out a newsletter with the cover of the next Lucky Lexie book and the release date. There are also short stories available exclusively to newsletter subscribers, with an Enchanted, Inc. aftermath story from Owen’s perspective and a backstory episode in the Lucky Lexie universe, with Jean on the case when the carnival gets stuck in town. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

The plan for the year is to do a few more mysteries, with one coming out in January, one sometime in the spring, one in the summer, and one in the fall, but that depends on how the writing goes. I also plan to do a print (e-book and paperback) edition of the book that was an Audible exclusive last year. I still haven’t heard whether they want me to write more books in that series, so I guess that would depend on whether the e-book and paperback sell well enough to make it worthwhile for me to keep doing (and I’ll have to check my contract to see if I’m allowed without sending Audible a proposal to reject first). I’m developing a new fantasy series, but I haven’t yet decided how I’m going to approach it, whether I’ll release as I write, write several and release them around the same time (a month or so apart), or possibly even submit to publishers. I won’t have a good sense of that until I get something written.

So, that’s the State of the Shanna for 2021. A couple of years ago, I went through a bit of a career crisis in which I seriously considered quitting and decided I liked writing too much and hated the idea of a regular job too much. Now the odds of even being able to get a regular job are pretty slim and I don’t really want to have to work outside my home, but unless I can make the writing pay off a bit better, I’m going to have to figure something out. This is my year to see if I can build a little more momentum and try some new promo methods to see if I can build an audience.