Archive for August, 2021


Don’t Go Near the Water

I discovered last week that the original Jaws was on Amazon Prime, and since I’d never seen it (believe it or not), I decided I should watch it. There have been a lot of memes relating to the pandemic comparing it to Jaws, and while I more or less got the jokes, I didn’t have a full understanding of all the cultural references.

Strangely enough, although I hadn’t seen the original, I had seen Jaws 2 multiple times. I made my dad take my friend and me to the base theater to see it when it came out. I had decided that I was quite mature and able to handle a scary movie, and I wanted to test myself. It was actually more silly than scary, and for that reason it became a popular slumber party movie. It was just scary enough to have a few screams, but it was so silly that there was no chance of having nightmares or being truly frightened. That was how I ended up seeing it at least two more times. The only thing I remember about that movie is that there’s a scene with an indoor swimming pool, and the camera zooms in on the pool as though something is going to happen there. At slumber parties, we’d all start singing the Jaws theme, as though the shark was going to appear in the indoor pool somehow — and as silly as that movie was, that wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

But the original was supposed to be a far better movie and is considered a classic. So last Friday I made popcorn (to get the proper movie theater experience) and watched Jaws. I knew a lot about it and had seen clips, so I suspect the full impact of the shock didn’t quite work. I’m not a big beach person (though I did see a shark very close to shore on one of my few beach vacations — close enough, though small enough, that someone caught it in a handheld net), so it’s not as though this was going to affect my life all that much.

My friends have found it amusing that my main reaction to the iconic opening scene, in which the girl skinny dipping in the ocean gets attacked by the shark, focused on the fact that she ran along the beach, shedding her clothing on her way to the water. I knew she was going to die, but I still imagined her shivering and dripping as she went back along the beach, looking for each item of clothing she’d flung away. It was summer, but it was cool enough that she was wearing a sweater while sitting by a bonfire earlier. If the shark hadn’t killed her, she’d have died of hypothermia while she searched for her clothes in the darkness.

I found the first half of the movie the most interesting, largely because of seeing the way the town reacted to the threat of the shark. Those memes that compare the town’s response to the pandemic response were pretty spot-on. First, it’s not a threat at all, the danger is something else. When there’s proof it’s something else, ignore the scientist and keep covering it up. When it’s obvious there’s danger and more have died, people rush right into the danger. Then declare it’s all over before you’re sure it’s over and force people to go into the dangerous situation just to prove it’s over.

That was also where the suspense worked best because we seldom saw much of the shark. It was hinted at, just shadows under the water and that ominous music. Apparently that was because the mechanical shark didn’t work well, so they had to work around it. They used the shark more in the second half, and it was pretty cheesy looking, so the second half, when we saw the shark, was less scary. That made me wonder how that movie would have come out if it were made today, when the shark would have been CGI. The first half wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if they’d been able to show as much of the shark as they wanted to.

The other problem with the second half was that it was essentially a fishing trip, and watching other people fish isn’t all that interesting to me.

I didn’t have shark-related nightmares afterward, though I did have a nightmare about being on a crowded beach. I guess crowds are scarier to me than sharks are.

I can see where that movie was groundbreaking for its time. It’s just not really my cup of tea. It was interesting hearing that theme in context. One cool trick John Williams used was that the rest of the score was pretty light and sunny, proper beach music. That made the dark, ominous shark music stand out more in contrast. I hadn’t heard the rest of the score before.

I followed that up with a viewing of the original Muppet Movie the next night. That’s a lot more my speed, but it did get me pondering whether there’s any kind of Muppet Cinematic Universe or whether the Muppets are merely a repertory company who sometimes play characters who are fictional versions of themselves. But that may be fodder for another post.


Review and Revision

I got to the halfway point of the work in progress on Friday, so I figured it would be a good idea to go back over that part over the weekend, since it’s easier to rewrite half a book if something’s gone wrong than it is to rewrite a whole book. I was okay with the parts I read over the weekend. Then Monday morning I realized I’d made a big goof.

I’d made the villain do something that was convenient for my plot and nice and dramatic but that made no sense, that was counterproductive to the villain’s goals, and that was out of character for the villain. I’ve spent the last couple of days rewriting to fix it, and I think that’s actually going to make things easier going forward. The tricky part has been keeping the things I like in the new context.

I go back and forth on whether to plow through a book then do rewrites after I’ve written the whole book or to revise as I go. I generally learn things near the end that change the beginning, so there’s no point in rewriting the beginning until I know the end. On the other hand, it’s easier to rewrite a chapter or two than to have to fix a whole book. I’ve compromised by doing chunks. I don’t try to revise as I go, but I’ll go back and revise halfway through, or perhaps a quarter through a longer book. If I get stuck and feel like the book’s not going well, I’ll stop wherever I am and review things. But this book is a good case study for taking a look every so often even when I feel like it’s going well because it hadn’t occurred to me that the villain did the murder the wrong way until I re-read it. And even then, I didn’t realize it until I was writing out what the villain and the other characters were doing at the same time to make sure it was all lining up, and then I had that “wait a second, why would he do it that way?” moment.

I initially got into the “push through the whole book” habit because when I first started writing, I tended to write the first couple of chapters over and over but never finished a book. I had to make myself plow through the whole thing without revising in order to finish a book. By now, I figure I know I can finish a book, so editing along the way is okay. I still have a moment of guilt when I go back, though.

I think I’ve got it fixed now, but I do have to consider how it affects the rest of the plot going forward. And now I need to write the second half of the book (well, a little less, since I’m now closer to the 2/3 point). I’ve told myself that if I have a draft finished before Labor Day weekend, I get to take a long holiday weekend to rest, relax, and reboot, so I’m motivated to get it done.

My Books

Welcome the Vanishing Visitor

It’s new book day! Case of the Vanishing Visitor should be available now as an e-book and paperback (though it may take a little while for the paperback listings to show up outside Amazon).

I have to admit that I almost forgot my own release date because I set it all up a couple of weeks ago, and then I got busy writing the fifth book and sidetracked with some other stuff. And then I suddenly realized it was upon me. Yikes! Now I have to try to remember what’s actually in that book as opposed to in the one I’m currently writing. When I write books back-to-back, sometimes they blur, even if the events in the books don’t take place back-to-back.

And that’s not even getting into scenes I imagined that didn’t go into the book, so they’re still in my head even if I never wrote them, or scenes I wrote and then deleted or changed. Sometimes readers have a better sense of what’s actually in the finished books than the writers do!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this book, and I’m currently having a blast writing the next one. It’s about a haunted hotel in a thunderstorm, so it’ll be perfect Halloween reading.

And now I need to go write more of it because I want to see what happens next. I generally leave off at a cliffhanger at the end of each day’s writing session to make me more eager to start writing again.

writing life

Writing for Health

For the past week or so, I’ve been writing a first draft, and I think I’ve validated my theory that it’s the business part of publishing that burns me out. Once I started writing instead of spending all my time on business tasks and proofreading, etc., I felt so much better. I have more energy, I’m less stressed, I sleep better, and I even have less physical pain.

Yes, writing seems to be good for my body, while doing other stuff is bad for me. Mostly, that’s about the way I sit when I do other stuff. When I’m typing, I sit more or less like a normal person, facing the computer, my hands on the keyboard. When I’m reading things on the computer but not typing, I tend to get into weird, twisted positions and lean to the side, so I end up with a sore shoulder. Meanwhile, scrolling and clicking makes my right hand sore if I do it all day. When I’m typing, all the fingers on both hands are working, and nothing feels overused or strained.

It also helps that I’ve seen more results from my work lately, so I have less of that helpless feeling that I think contributes to the sense of burnout. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time. Getting a couple of books ready for publication and seeing sales makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. Plus, there’s some other stuff that may be in the works that I hope to be able to discuss later that’s made me feel a bit better about work.

I’m going to have to figure out a way to get better balance going forward. I do need to do the business stuff because writing the books doesn’t do much good if I’m not selling them. I just need to find a way to make sure I’m writing more often and don’t end up with too many days in a row of just proofreading and promoting. Even when I’m in editing and marketing mode, maybe I should work on a short story, or something, purely for health reasons. I guess I’m the kind of writer who’d be happy just hiding in my cave and churning out stories, but it’s really hard to make a living doing that these days. You’re always going to have to deal with business issues, and all authors are expected to participate in promotion and publicity, even if they’re dealing with one of the big publishers.

In the meantime, I’ve got a book releasing Friday, so I suppose I should be doing some promo, but first I need to write a couple thousand more words for the day.


Island Fantasies

I’m barely watching any regular TV right now, other than the news and maybe stuff on PBS, but I gave the new version of Fantasy Island a shot this week. I watched the original when I was a kid. It was part of the Saturday-night programming line-up, after The Love Boat but, as I recall, I only got to stay up to watch the whole thing during the summer. While I liked the idea of a vacation where you got to live out your dreams, I recall my main interest being in the guest stars. They seemed to mostly cast people who were known for other shows on the network, so it was a good way to see a favorite actor from another show in a different role. My memories may not be accurate, but it seemed to me that they were a bit cagey as to whether or not there was anything truly supernatural going on, with the fantasies mostly being things that someone with resources could set up. To a large extent, it was The Love Boat on an island, and I recall there being a lot of the guest characters falling in love with each other (or it’s possible that my brain has merged the two shows, since they ran back-to-back).

Then there was the 1998 TV version, which I loved because they took it in more of a true fantasy (as in genre) direction. It had a kind of Twilight Zone vibe, and it was much more overt that there were supernatural things going on. I only remember a few episodes actually airing, but IMDB has airdates for all the episodes that were produced. I wonder if those were planned airdates and the show didn’t actually run then because the way I recall it, they did the usual for ABC (known as the Already Been Cancelled network then) thing at the time of running three episodes, running the preview for the next episode at the end of the third one, and then never showing any more episodes.

Anyway, since I’d liked that version a lot, I tuned in for the new one, and it seems like an uncomfortable hybrid between the two versions, though without the celebrity guest stars (at least, not anyone I recognized from anything else). It’s got that drenched in sunshine, happy vacation resort mood of the original and the obvious supernatural angle of the 1998 version, since the fantasies could only have happened with some kind of magic, but I found myself utterly bored. I didn’t get any sense of the regulars and what their relationships were, and there wasn’t any real tension in the fantasies.

I found that the 1998 version is streaming free on tubi, so I watched the pilot last night to make sure my memories weren’t skewed, and although it is dated and very much a product of its time, I was much more captivated with it. Part of it is the travel agency that sends the guests to the island. I’m a sucker for the “mysterious business you never noticed before is just what you need, and then you can’t find it again” trope, and they completely got me when they used a pneumatic tube to send something from an American city to a remote tropical island. Then there’s the hint that the staff on the island are working off some kind of sentence, so they have to help the guests learn whatever cosmic lesson they’re there for in order to eventually be able to escape from the island. We got to meet most of the regulars and get a sense of what was going on with them before the guests showed up, so there was something to carry us through the episodes and there was a mystery to figure out as to how and why they were there.

So I may skip the new one and just rewatch the 1998 version that’s more to my taste.

When I was considering that “stay in your lane” advice and trying to figure out what I could write that would fit my previous work but still be in a subgenre that sells well, I toyed with the idea of doing a series of paranormal romantic comedies along those lines, though I think I’d do a remote mountain resort instead of a tropical island. Have the regulars on staff with an ongoing storyline and a new couple for each book having to figure things out and get together. But that idea is way on the back burner because I’m less concerned about sticking to a niche, and I’m not excited enough about that idea to have put any additional thought into it.

My Books

New Mystery Ready to Pre-order

I know it seems I only put out a new book a week or so ago, but the next one is already available to pre-order. You can order Lucky Lexie book 4 now from the major online stores, and it will be released on August 20. The paperback will be available around the release date. I’m adding links as I get them to the page on my site.

This is a twisty little tale that was fun to write. I took a familiar old plot and added the wrinkle of my heroine’s ability to see ghosts. Earlier this year, I found a recent BBC production of The Lady Vanishes on a streaming service. This is a mystery/thriller about a young woman traveling by train across Europe. She strikes up a conversation with a woman seated in her compartment, has tea with her in the dining car, then falls asleep upon returning to their compartment. When she wakes, the woman isn’t there, and when she asks about her, nobody else in the compartment remembers ever seeing her. No one in the dining car seems to have seen her. But the young woman is sure she was talking to someone, and now she’s worried that something happened to her. While watching that movie, I couldn’t help but think about how much more complicated it would be if the heroine could see and talk to ghosts. How would she know if she’d imagined the whole thing, if she’d been talking to a ghost, or if everyone was lying to her?

And that kicked off the story idea. I couldn’t resist doing something like that, with Lexie meeting someone whom no one else recalls seeing. Add some of the interesting local talents and the world’s most observant (and nosy) neighborhood watch, as well as another twist or two, and I had a story.

Meanwhile, I started writing the next Lexie book this morning. This is a story idea that’s been in my head for a long time, but I didn’t have the right characters or situation to use it. It’s absolutely perfect for this series, so I’m going to have fun writing it. This one gets the characters out of their usual setting, so I got to create a new cast of supporting characters. Don’t worry, some of the regulars will be there, but there are also some new guest stars. My goal is to have this one out in time for Halloween, since it’s a nice spooky story.


The Problem with Series

I’ve realized that although I love series, I also have a difficult relationship with them.

On the one hand, if I fall in love with a world and the characters, I’m a bit disappointed to find that there isn’t more. I want to return to that world and spend more time with those people.

On the other hand, there are a lot of ways that a series can go wrong for me. For one thing, I have a bad habit of burning out when I binge a series. If I find a book I love and there’s another one, I grab it right away and plow through it, then grab the next one, and I often give up about halfway through that one. There are a number of series on my shelves with a bookmark midway through book 3. I don’t know how much that’s me or how much it’s about the books. Often, book 3 is where things go darker and more intense, where the characters begin to really change, so the books start to feel different from what I fell in love with in book one. That’s also often where the party gets split, with the story going off in two different directions, and frequently it focuses on the characters I don’t like so much while barely touching upon the characters I like most. Sometimes their story gets picked up in the following book, but if I don’t get through book 3, I’m not likely to get to book 4. Still, I have found that I’m more likely to finish a series if I read something else between books, so some of it may just be my issue.

Then there’s what often happens to the story in the series. Book one is usually fairly standalone, even if it does leave things open for a sequel or even sets up the sequel, since that’s the book the author sells to the publisher. That book needs to have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Book 2 may even be that way, since the author has usually written it before book one gets published (I’d written Once Upon Stilettos before Enchanted, Inc. was released). But once they know it’s going to be able to be a series, things can get wacky. That’s where story structure sometimes flies right out the window. A whole book may be setup for the epic conclusion in the following book or may be a side quest or diversion to delay the ultimate confrontation.

I had two frustrating series experiences this week. In one, I suspect the series was meant to be a trilogy, and when book 3 came in really long, the series was successful enough that the publisher decided to split it into two books. I was chugging along in book 3, and things were just about to kick into high gear, at the part the hero’s journey calls “approach to the inmost cave,” when the book just stopped. I may have actually shouted, “What?” This morning, I got book 4 from the library, so now I get to see what happens.

With the other series, I kind of feel like the plot is just an excuse for the characters to hang out together. There’s this supposedly dire situation that they have to deal with before the evil wizard takes over the world, but two books into the series and they haven’t done much of anything about it because they keep getting sidetracked. They go to a place to get or do something, but then they spend page after page just hanging out and talking to each other. I’m okay with a story that’s mostly about the relationships among characters, but it doesn’t work if there’s that constant threat of the world being destroyed in the background, and they’re the only ones who can save the day, but they’re more concerned about their feelings for each other.

I have mixed feelings about the “world” kind of series, where there’s a different protagonist in each book. If I find out that there’s a different protagonist from the one I fell in love with in book one, I’ll be reluctant to read book 2, only to fall in love with the new person when I do read it. The same thing happens when there are sub-series within a big series, so there may be the same protagonist for several books, but there are mini-series set in the same world that focus on other characters, either in a different time or in a different place or sphere of life (like, say, the Guards books and the Wizards books in Discworld — they’re set in the same city but focus on different things, and then there are other Discworld books taking place in a different part of the world). There have been times I put off reading a book that didn’t focus on the characters I liked, only to finally read that book and love the new characters even more, so then I’m less thrilled about going back to the original characters.

I’ve mostly written the kind of series in which each book is more or less a self-contained story that fits together in a big-picture story, with the same main characters in each book. Now I’m exploring some other ideas and trying to figure out whether I as a reader would want to keep reading, would I burn out, would I get sidetracked, or would I fall in love with each new group of people.

But first, I need to know what happens next in that series I’ve been reading.

My Books

Finding My Niche

In the virtual conference I’ve been attending, there were some sessions where that “find your lane and stay in it” concept came up, and then there was a Zoom roundtable discussion for the authors who, like me, completely freaked out at the very idea.

One idea that came out of the discussion was that there are different ways to find a lane. There is the narrow subgenre idea, where you’re known for something like writing sweet contemporary western romances with wounded cowboy heroes, but then there’s also more of a personal brand concept, where an author is known for delivering a particular mood or feeling that carries over through multiple subgenres.

When you look at it that way, that’s more or less what I’ve been doing all along. I made a decision when Enchanted, Inc. got a lot of YA crossover readership and was recommended as an adult book for teen readers that everything I wrote would fit into that category. Even if I’m not writing about teen characters and am not writing books that would be shelved in YA, I want my books to be teen-safe (which means they’re things parents of teens would be okay with teens reading — I know teens certainly don’t limit their reading to things their parents would want them to read). That’s within reason, since my adult books are adult books. I once got an e-mail from a reader angry that she couldn’t read one of my books with her 8-year-old daughter because the language was so bad (I think the word “bitch” came up), and I replied that I was sorry she felt that way, but the book was published for adults and wasn’t meant for 8-year-olds. Still, what I aim for is something that a teen, her cool aunt, her mom, and her grandmother could all read together in a family book club. It’s something you could put on broadcast TV with no editing.

The other thing I think is part of my brand is that my books are mostly fun. Some are more humorous than others, but even the books I don’t write as comedy should make you smile sometimes. I’m not going to drag my characters through horrible torture and lots of angst. You’ll feel good when you’re done reading one of my books.

Those two things are mostly just me being me. But to narrow it down further, I’ve decided to stick with things that have some kind of fantasy element to them. I occasionally come up with ideas that aren’t fantasy, but I think that would risk going too far afield. The people who would read, say, a non-fantasy romantic comedy are much less likely to want to read the rest of my work, while a lot of the fantasy readers wouldn’t cross over to read a non-fantasy book. I’m trying to write things I could imagine most of my readers being interested. There may be some series that some readers are less interested in, since you can’t please everyone all the time, but the idea is to keep things so that the bulk of my readers would at least be willing to give everything I write a try.

So, basically, my lane is fun fantasy books you wouldn’t mind sharing with your daughter or your mom. (I do have male readers, but my readership is so predominantly female that this is where I’m focusing.) I could narrow it further to adorkable wizards and spunky heroines, but that might be limiting myself too much. I may not be narrowed to a subgenre, but that just means people can find me from multiple angles, and if they like what they read, they’ll start searching for me rather than looking in genre categories.

How does this ring to you, my readers? Does this fit with why you look for books like mine, or were you drawn by something more specific?