Archive for October, 2023

Between Books

The new book is out! The paperback should now be available on Amazon. It may take time to get out through the extended markets. I was a little late in getting it set up and uploaded because I decided to celebrate getting the book done by going on vacation and I was on the road when I got the paperback cover.

This was supposed to be a trip to the mountains to enjoy a real fall, but they got hit with a heat wave, so I’m seeing what summer would be like here, only with glorious fall color.

One thing that’s weird about going on vacation right after finishing a book is that I haven’t started working on another book, so I don’t have anything I’m mulling over in my head. There are a few backburnered projects that I’ll get back to when I get home, but I’m not actively working on anything, and that’s a bit weird. Usually the way I get myself to sleep at night is by imagining the “movie” of the next scene I need to write, but I don’t have anything like that going on now. I’m having to pull up potential scenes from some other projects. It’s probably good for me to take this kind of time off, but it feels like the end of a semester, after finals, when you have this weird, nagging feeling that you should be studying and it’s a bit unsettling not to be studying or doing homework.

I’m staying at a historic inn, so there’s no TV in the room, just really good wi-fi. That means I’ve been reading a bit and catching up on Internet stuff in the evenings when I collapse after a day of intense walking. I logged more than 18,000 steps yesterday, many of them up steep hills. All that exercise is good because the food in this town is amazing and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

So, I’ll be back home and talking about books again next week.


Focusing on Family

I don’t know if I’d say that I’m done with my Disney animation project, as there’s still a lot more to go, but I am branching out to other things, especially now that the sun is setting early enough that I can watch longer movies after dark.

Some patterns I noticed:

  • The movies definitely got longer over time. Early movies were in the 70-75 minute range, later ones closer to 2 hours.
  • The earlier “fairytale” movies stuck closer to the stories, though sometimes with added cute sidekicks, while they started really adapting and creating their own stories as they went along.
  • The heroines didn’t actually do much in the earlier movies. Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty has maybe ten lines in the whole movie. Their roles are much more fleshed out in later films.
  • The villains didn’t get songs until the Renaissance era.

The main pattern I’ve noticed about what I guess you could call the “next generation” films, the ones that came along in the computer animation era, is an emphasis on family over romance. I wonder how much of that is from the Pixar influence. We did still have the fairytale romance in Tangled (though with it made clear they weren’t getting married anytime soon), but after that, the stories have been more about family than about romance.

Frozen deconstructed the typical Disney romance by making it look just like those love-at-first-sight, let’s sing a duet and get engaged relationships, only to throw a huge monkey wrench in it. The important relationship in both of the Frozen movies was between the sisters. Then in Encanto we had a whole movie that was about family, with no romance for the main character. Moana was largely about the heroine trying to save her family and home. Raya and the Last Dragon was about trying to reunite a family and involved a “found family” coming together before they were all able to find their original families again. I haven’t yet watched Strange World, but it’s apparently about a family having adventures.

It’s not that I have anything against romance, but the romances as presented in a lot of the Disney films weren’t exactly healthy. Teenage girls were falling in love with and marrying guys they’d barely interacted with after falling in love at first sight. It’s nice seeing a bit more variety, with other relationships, especially when the characters are really too young to be getting engaged or married. In the Frozen films, the emphasis on the sisters allowed the romance to develop more organically in the background.

There was some precedent for this, since Lilo and Stitch was all about family. They also got into the found family theme in The Jungle Book. Mulan was fighting to save her father (though she also ended up with a romance). What’s new is putting that in the “princess” movies, as well as them having different kinds of princesses who do more than fall in love.

And now that I’ve mentioned Encanto, I have “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” running through my head again.

My Books

Introducing a New Series

Those of you who subscribe to my newsletter have already seen this news, but I’m about to launch a new book that I hope will be the start of a totally new series.

It’s something I’m calling cottagecore cozy romantic fantasy, and it’s a story I wrote largely to amuse myself, as it was the sort of thing I wanted to read, and like Enchanted, Inc. was a mashup of chick lit and fantasy, this book is a mash-up of women’s fiction and fantasy.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been less interested in the old-school chick lit books of the sort I was reading when I first came up with the idea for Enchanted, Inc. Instead, I find myself reading the sort of women’s fiction books in which a woman’s life has fallen apart — she’s lost her job and/or her relationship — and she ends up in some village, where she works in or runs a coffee shop/bakery/candy shop/bookstore. Of course, I want to add magic. But I didn’t want to do it in a more straightforward way, just adding magic to these contemporary books. I wanted to be in a fantasy world. I find that I’m not too interested in the real world these days. I want to escape to a magical world in a simpler time, a place where I don’t have to deal with real-world problems and current events.

Fortunately, this time around I don’t feel like I’m essentially inventing a new subgenre. “Cozy fantasy” has become a huge trend, with books set in traditional fantasy worlds but without the traditional fantasy stakes. Thers are books about the kinds of characters you’d find in a fantasy world, but instead of saving the world from a great evil, they’re opening coffee shops, working in bookstores, or running inns. The stakes are more personal than global. My story idea fits right in with this. I’m actually on-trend, for once!

And so, I present Tea and Empathy, which will be available next week (and is ready for pre-order from a lot of the online booksellers). This is the story of a healer with a magical empathic talent who’s on the run after she lost a patient and was accused of murder. She stumbles into a hidden village, where she takes refuge in a cottage that turned out to once belong to a magical healer. She uses her knowledge of herbs and her gift for reading what people want to open a tea shop. Everything’s going well until she finds a wounded man unconscious in her garden. Although she doesn’t trust herself as a healer, she has no choice but to help him. She doesn’t know who he is or how he got there — but neither does he. He doesn’t remember his past and she’s running from hers.

I threw in a lot of tropes I happen to love in a book. I guess you could say this one is both genre Fantasy and personal fantasy. For one thing, there’s the perfect little village. There’s a house that does the housework for itself (I want one of those). Why not have the perfect guy just land in your garden? I’ve always been fascinated by amnesia stories and the idea of figuring out what you’d be if you didn’t know who you were. All of that is in this book.

There is a little peril, but the stakes aren’t really life-or-death. If you’re looking for a page turner with lots of excitement, this isn’t that book, but if you just want to spend time in a fantasy world, soak up the vibes, and have some feelings without being too stressed about it, this may be what you want.

I’m planning for this to be a series, as there are a lot of people in the village who could have their stories told. There’s a mystery behind the village itself, and that will gradually unfold. But more books will depend on sales. My threshold for that is lower than it would be for a traditional publisher, but I can’t afford to spend the time it takes to write a book and only make what amounts to minimum wage. So, if you like this book and want more, please tell people about it, write reviews, post on Goodreads or social media, etc. Every little bit helps. Just ten more readers finding me can make a big difference.

Books, movies

Not Like the Book

I didn’t have a good movie theme last weekend, aside from “fantasy movies based on books.” But I guess that is a good common thread.

First, I decided to rewatch The Black Cauldron. I remembered being very disappointed in it when I saw it soon after it was released, but I’d read all the books in that series not long before I saw the movie, so there was a chance that a lot of my disappointment was of the “that’s not how it happened in the book” variety.

Nope. I don’t remember much about the books at all now, and I still didn’t like this movie. The main problem seems to have been that they had no idea what kind of movie they were making. Yes, the books were aimed at children and included humor and some comic relief sidekick characters, but they were still fairly dark fantasy. This movie tried to be a typical Disney animated movie for kids, complete with wacky sidekick characters suitable for toys while also being about a villain raising an army of the dead to take over the world. The tonal shifts were jarring. It looked like a fun cartoon movie for kids, using the same kind of character design they’d used in other films aimed at kids (actually, they seemed to have done a lot of copying and pasting from The Sword in the Stone), but it wasn’t that kind of story.

Plus, they made the main character too stupid to live and the leading lady a twit with a weird baby voice. I don’t own the whole series of books, but I checked the first one out of the library to get the right story back into my head. The main character does have some dumb ideas at the beginning, but the story isn’t kicked off by him doing something really dumb.

This one’s high on my list for candidates for a live-action remake — but only if what they do is make a series of movies actually based on the books, not remake the animated film. They have the effects technology to tackle this story now, and since the books are relatively short, they should fit nicely into a film running time without mangling the story too badly.

Then I watched Peter Pan and Wendy, which I suppose counts as one of the live-action remakes, except it’s more like Cinderella than like all the others, in that it’s a new telling based on the same source material rather than an actual remake of the animated film. There are a few nods to the animated film, like incorporating the tune for the “You Can Fly” song into the score and doing some of the same moves with the crocodile, but otherwise it goes in some very different directions while still hitting all the major plot beats of the standard Peter Pan story.

This one is more Wendy’s story. She’s struggling with growing up (though her issue is going off to boarding school rather than having to get her own room), so going to Neverland seems like the perfect way to escape her problems, until she sees what happens when someone doesn’t ever grow up. In this story they manage to fix a lot of the things from the animated movie that made me cringe. The main thing is the treatment of the female characters. They don’t all hate each other because they’re jealous over Peter. The girls become friends and work together. The racism is also gone, with the Native Americans treated with respect (Tiger Lily is awesome). They did some odd things with Peter and Hook’s backstory that are very different from the book but that I think work. Jude Law plays Hook, but I don’t think his portrayal falls into the “hot Hook” subgenre that’s come up in books, TV, and movies recently. He’s pretty much unrecognizable.

I’ve seen some pretty bad reviews, but I found it delightful. It’s a fun little adventure movie with a dash of magic, and the cast is excellent. It might even make it onto a list of “comfort food” movies, the kind of thing you watch when you just want something fun and pretty.


Fake Fall

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love so much about it, mostly to do with cooler weather — blankets, hot drinks, sweaters, being able to go outdoors without bursting into flames. But we don’t really get fall here. We get a day or two of fall-like weather. I’ve joked that it’s like the Ray Bradbury short story “All Summer in a Day” in which the sun only comes out once every seven years. We may get one day that really feels like fall, so we have to cram all the fall stuff into one day.

This year, that day was last Saturday. We had the crisp, cool morning and pleasantly just barely warm afternoon (alas, no colorful leaves yet, but that won’t happen until late November). I tried to take full advantage of it. My neighborhood association had a pollinator garden tour that morning, so I had something fun to do outdoors, and we had some monarch butterfly sightings (they migrate through here in early October). Then I baked pumpkin muffins in the afternoon and made chili for dinner and spent as much time as possible outdoors.

It was already warmer by Sunday, so we’re back to summer weather. I tried going to the park for lunch on Monday, but I got too hot in the direct sun and had to come back inside. It’s a lot more pleasant than it was this summer in that it’s not actually dangerous to be outside, but it’s still a bit warm for me.

We might get another fall day on Saturday, just in time for the partial eclipse, so I’ll be outdoors again. I’ll have to think of something to bake, and I need to get some ingredients for making soup. It might not even get too hot again, but that’s what they said the last time.

One thing that gets awkward at this time of year is wardrobe. My sweatshirts and sweaters are still put away for the summer, since it’s still tank top and shorts weather, but there are some mornings when I need a sweater. My uniform at this time of year is yoga pants, a tank top, and a hoodie for the morning when I’m eating breakfast on the patio, and then when I come inside to work I usually end up shedding the sweater and switching the yoga pants to shorts. In the evening, I may put the layers back on again to sit outside (mostly to attempt to block the mosquitoes).

On cool (ish) nights, I like doing what I call “fake bonfire night.” Where I live, I can’t have a firepit, so I can’t have a real fire, but I’ve figured out that the mosquito coils you burn to maybe discourage the mosquitoes smell a lot like a campfire. I light one of those, and then I have a wooden wick candle that crackles like a fire. I make s’mores in the air fryer oven — tear a marshmallow in half, stick each half to a graham cracker square, air fry for a few minutes until the marshmallow is toasted, then stick a piece of chocolate between the two crackers with marshmallows — and sit outside, smelling the scent of campfire and looking at the crackling candle flame. It’s not quite a real firepit experience of roasting marshmallows, but it gives me some of the ambience and sensations.

But for now, I’m wearing shorts and drinking cool drinks and waiting for the next cold front to cram in a little more fall.


Making Connections

My unintentional movie theme last weekend turned out to be connections, as both movies I chose were about making connections in unexpected places.

First up, Pixar’s latest, Elemental, which was absolutely lovely and moving, in typical Pixar fashion. It’s set in a world in which the elements — earth, air, fire, water — are personified. A Fire family that resettled in Elemental City after a disaster in their homeland opens a shop that they plan to hand over to their daughter. She thinks that’s what she wants, but she’s never quite ready to take it over, since she has issues with customers. But then she has to team up with a Water city inspector in order to save her father’s business. Fire and Water aren’t supposed to be able to mix, but they form a powerful connection that makes her reconsider a lot of things. It’s essentially a rom-com fantasy Romeo and Juliet story (but Pixar, so not a tragedy).

There’s a documentary feature about this, Good Chemistry, that explains a lot of the background of the story. The writer/director is the son of immigrants who opened a store they planned to pass on to him, but he wanted to be an animator, much to their dismay. A lot of that makes it into the story. It’s essentially a story about the experience of being the child of immigrants. But it’s also about assumptions we make about people, including those close to us, and having to be true to ourselves. I’m not a daughter of immigrants (I’m something like fourth generation, and all we really retain is the name), but I related to a lot of things in this movie. My parents are very practical people, and the only things I was ever really interested in involved the arts, the sorts of fields where there aren’t clear entry-level jobs and career paths, so there was a lot of clashing over what I wanted to do vs. “get a degree you can get a job in” (and I ended up not getting a job with the degree that I was supposed to be able to get a job in and instead working in one of those fields without a clear career path). So, yeah, this one hit.

Then there was Flora and Son on Apple. It’s from the same filmmaker who did Once, and it’s another slice-of-life Dublin music story. Flora is a struggling single mom with a rebellious teen son. In an attempt to connect with him and give him a positive outlet, she gives him a guitar, but when he rejects it, she signs up for online guitar lessons for herself from a guy in Los Angeles. What she learns about music and songs from him helps her connect with her son, who’s into rap and electronic music, and helps her rediscover herself, something she’d lost. The promos make it look like a romance, and while there is a romantic element, it really isn’t a romance. The main relationship is between the mother and the son.

The movie is pretty much a love letter to the power of music. The lead actress (the daughter of Bono from U2, so I guess she came by the musical talent honestly) has a beautifully expressive face. There’s one scene in which her guitar teacher has sent her a link to a video of Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides Now.” She starts it playing and starts doing other stuff with that in the background, but you can see on her face when the words of the song hit her and she just freezes to listen to it. Every emotion the song brings out flickers across her face.

I may have lost a little of the impact of the movie because just as it was building to the climactic scene, that was when I had to deal with the stolen car crashing into my garage, and now I’m afraid that incident will be forever linked to this movie in my mind. It’s not normally my sort of thing (way too few wizards), but I still quite enjoyed it. I did have to turn on the subtitles because the Dublin accents are really heavy.

Now I have to decide what to watch this weekend. We’re finally getting something like real fall weather, so I want something with good autumn vibes.


Exciting Weekend

I had a rather exciting Saturday night. It started out rather mellow. I was tired, so I took a shower early and put on my nightgown, then settled in to watch a movie. The movie was reaching the climactic scene when my doorbell rang, repeatedly, like it was something urgent. That usually means the teenage girls who live nearby have lost their volleyball over my patio fence while playing in the yard near it, so I got up and went to the door, but not very quickly. Instead of the girls, it was a man who stepped back off my porch as I opened the door, asked me if I was at home alone, then hurried to add that there had been an accident with my garage. Both of us seemed to realize at the same time that I was in my nightgown, and he said the police were on the way, but would probably be about ten minutes.

I put on the first clothes I had handy and went outside to find a car in front of my garage door, with the garage door bashed in. A group of my neighbors that I refer to as the Council of Indian Dads was out there, including the man who’d come to my door. My neighborhood is mostly Indian right now, and there’s this group of men who hangs out in the drive in the evenings, either talking to each other or on the cell phone to India (I guess the time zones line up that way), with kids and wives coming and going. I live in a townhome complex, so the garages are in different buildings from the actual houses and open right onto the driveway through the complex.

I eventually was able to get the story as they all tried to tell it, interrupting each other and translating for each other. Apparently, they were doing their nightly hang-out when a car came speeding down the drive. It tried to park in a narrow parking space next to a garage, then backed up, scraping the side of that building, and backed right into my garage, smashing the door in. They ran to see if the driver was okay. He told them he’d just done drugs, said he was out of gas and asked for $20, then said the garage belonged to his mom, got out of the car, and ran. That’s why the man who rang my doorbell had asked if I was alone. He was making sure the kid wasn’t telling the truth, but it was pretty obvious when he saw me that I wasn’t his mom.

I checked inside my garage through the side door, and fortunately my car is small and was pulled far forward, so it wasn’t hit, but the garage door tracks were busted out of the wall. Then the police arrived, quite frantic, and started searching the abandoned car, asking where “the child” was. Eventually, we figured out that this was a translation issue. The Indian Dad who’d called the police had referred to the driver as a child, since he was a teenager, but the police thought that meant there was a child in the car. It turned out that the car had just been reported stolen, so they were worried it was one of those times when someone stole a car with a kid in the backseat. The cop kept saying, “So a teenager?” and the Indian Dad would say, “Yes, a child.” This was turning into a “Who’s on First?” routine by this point until they clarified it as the driver being 15-17 years old and there being no other child involved.

Then another cop arrived with the owner of the car, who had been looking for it. I’m not sure what happened there, but it kind of sounded like she’d left it running when running into a convenience store. She said she does that all the time, and I just have to ask why. Does it really save that much time not to turn off the car and take the keys? And she was almost out of gas, so that seems even dumber. She’d also left her phone in the car, which the thief took when he fled. They were hoping they could use “find my iPhone” to track it and see if that led them to the thief, but she’d have to get home to get to her computer to do it.

The cops took lots of pictures and got statements from the witnesses, plus got the video that one of the Indian Dads took. They had to get my contact info and gave me the incident report number that I could use for insurance. If they catch the thief, then he’ll be liable for the damage, but I’m sure that will take a while even if they do find him.

When all this was over, I realized that the t-shirt I’d grabbed was my “Warning: What You Do May Appear in My Next Book” shirt, which would have been rather apt if I were currently working on mysteries. I’m just sad no one commented on it or asked me about it.

Now I need to get my garage door fixed. The HOA seems to be handling it, but their insurance company is now wanting the insurance info for the car’s driver, which is delaying things. In the meantime, I can’t open my garage to get my car out. If I don’t get something done soon, I’ll have to take the bus to go grocery shopping.

To add insult to injury, I was eaten alive by mosquitoes while outside for all of this, and in the past couple of days I’ve had symptoms of West Nile virus. We have had recorded cases nearby. It’s not severe, just a low-grade fever, headache and upset stomach. If it weren’t for the fever, I’d say it was just stress.