Archive for November, 2023

Life

A Week of Adventures

I’m more or less back to work after a big Thanksgiving adventure, but then there was a follow-up adventure that threw this week out of whack.

Thanksgiving week, I drove to my parents’ house in East Texas (about a 2-hour drive from where I live). Then on Tuesday, I drove my parents in their car (bigger, nicer, and more comfortable than mine) to Houston to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving. Then Friday morning, I drove us back to my parents’ house, and then I drove home on Saturday. I got to hang out with my brother and his dog, see his house, and spoil his dog. I got lots of good puppy cuddles and ate a lot of good food. The good/bad was that I didn’t get any Thanksgiving leftovers since it wouldn’t have been a great idea to transport them for that long a trip. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of turkey, but it was nice not to have to worry about getting sick of it. I certainly ate enough on the day itself.

Driving my parents’ car gave me a sharp contrast to my car, which is nearly 16 years old, the bare basic model, and with a stick shift. My parents were getting concerned about me driving such an old car, even though it didn’t have too many miles on it. I know if I go through with moving to the mountains, I’ll need a new car. I doubt mine would survive the trip or manage all the hills in Staunton. I’d been researching cars ever since that trip. It looked like about half the cars in the town were Subaru Foresters, so I figured that was a good place to start. I’d read all the reviews and had started doing some online shopping, but the only cars in my budget were used and had more miles on them than my car had.

Until I was scrolling through the dealer sites over the weekend and saw exactly the car I wanted, low mileage, and at a good price. It was even the color I wanted. It felt like it was meant to be. I checked with the dealer Monday morning, went in for a test drive that afternoon, and decided to go for it. I picked it up this morning. It’s a lease return, which explains the relatively low mileage, and it’s one of the fancier trims, so it has all the fancy bells and whistles. For life in the mountains, it’ll be especially handy to have all-wheel drive, a special mode for driving on ice/snow/mud, and heated seats. I’ll have to get used to rolling a window down with the touch of a button instead of cranking, and it will be an adjustment to drive an automatic transmission after driving a stick shift ever since I was 18, though I did get some practice on my trip to Virginia and on the trip to Houston, so I’m not quite as rusty.

Now that I have all that excitement out of the way, I’m hoping I can settle down and concentrate more on work.

Oh, and I even got one of those cheesy big, red bows like they have in all the car commercials.

A blue Subaru Forester with one of those big, cheesy red bows on the hood and a smiling woman who just bought a car.
It’s not a brand-new car, but it’s new to me, and I even got one of those big, red bows.
movies

Amnesia and Action

I discovered this week that a post I had scheduled for while I was on vacation never posted. I’m going to have to figure out why my scheduled posts don’t post, but in the meantime, here it is, with updates as needed.

You’d think it would have occurred to me as I wrote a book about a person with amnesia (Tea and Empathy) that one of the best examples of the kind of amnesia story I like — the “who would you be if you didn’t know who you were?” story — is The Bourne Identity. Only after I had the book totally done did I stumble across the movie (the Matt Damon version, not the 80s version) on Prime Video. I rewatched it anyway.

I read the book in high school when I was going through a spy thriller phase, and that may be what sparked my interest in the amnesia plot. I don’t remember a lot about the book now, but it did have the same basic premise as the recent movie, that of a man who wakes up with no idea who he is, but he turns out to be hypercompetent when it comes to fighting and killing, and the CIA is after him. In the recent movie version, he’s not entirely comfortable with how good he is at killing. He’d prefer to just put it all behind him and start a different kind of life, but his handlers don’t want to let him go.

I suppose I inverted that story somewhat, in that my guy is kind of hyper-incompetent — at least in the skills he thinks he ought to have. He’s good at different things, and realizing what he is and isn’t good at makes him reconsider what kind of person he is.

I also realized while rewatching the movie that the action thriller in which a man and woman go on the run together also fits my romantic road trip outline. There’s the bargain — the reason they’re traveling together. In this case, he offers her money to drive him to Paris. She’s in desperate need of money, so she agrees. There’s bickering as their personalities initially clash, or else they’re at odds because of the reason for the journey. Here, she’s not sure she believes his crazy tale about amnesia and the bank box full of cash and passports, and they argue about that. There’s an attack — usually a big chase scene in the middle of the story — followed by some kind of bonding moment. We have the car chase through Paris, and then the sexy scene when he dyes and cuts her hair to disguise her. Then there’s some kind of split up or departure — he sends her to safety before the final confrontation. And then the return when they’re reunited.

Some of the Bond movies might also follow the pattern, though it varies when the main Bond Girl shows up, and that may mess up the pattern.

I guess now I need to look for more of this kind of thriller to see how it works.

Life

Scattered

I’ve been really distracted this week, doing the thing where I stare at the screen and am a million miles away even though I know what I want to write next. Random things pop into my head, and I find myself following mental rabbit trails. I know part of it is because I have a lot of stuff to think about right now, like getting ready for a big Thanksgiving trip and making decisions about where I may spend the rest of my life and whether to move halfway across the country. But mostly, this sort of thing happens when my brain knows that the thing I’m planning to write is all wrong and I need to figure out the right thing.

And that turned out to be the case. I was stuck on a scene I had planned. I had it all outlined, had seen the “movie” in my head, and yet I couldn’t seem to make myself write it. Every time I sat down to try to write it, my brain would get distracted by random things and I couldn’t focus. Last night, I gave up and sat down with a pen and paper to see if I could outline the rest of the book and add more detail to that scene so it would be easy to write. That was when I realized that the scene doesn’t belong in the book at all. Not only does it not really add anything to the story, but it would change things for the next part I had planned, and that was why I was having trouble outlining that part.

The writing went a lot easier this morning when my brain agreed with me that I was on the right track. I should make a note of that. If I can’t seem to focus, if my brain wants to do absolutely anything but write, I need to look at what I’m planning to write and see if it really belongs in the book. Sometimes, I feel like my brain tries to get me out of the way so it can work things out without my conscious interference. It’ll send me searching for recipes for some dish I had once and have a sudden craving for or looking up books in the library’s collection or other kinds of busy work that suddenly seems urgent, and when that’s done and I get back to writing, I suddenly know exactly what I need to do.

So, next time I’m feeling scattered, I can tell myself that maybe this is part of the process. Though sometimes I do suspect that I’m just being scattered.

My Books, Books

Romantasy

I’ve never been great at being on-trend in my work. I’m usually either ahead of or behind the curve. When I came up with the idea for Enchanted, Inc. and was shopping it around to publishers, I was hitting the point where chick lit was starting to tank but urban fantasy wasn’t yet a big thing, so no one really knew what to do with it. It got published as chick lit, then got caught in the collapse of that genre. I also managed to hit steampunk when it was on the downswing.

But I finally seem to be hitting the market with the right thing at the right time. Cozy fantasy is the current big thing, and I managed to get a book in that genre out at just the right time. Tea and Empathy is even selling pretty well, so thanks to those who’ve bought it and told people about it. It’s also hitting another trend where I fit in well, what they’re calling “romantasy,” or fantasy with strong romantic plots.

That one is forcing me to adjust my thinking because for so long, fantasy publishers have been rejecting my books for being “too romancey.” I may be known for writing fantasy, but I’ve never had a book published by a major publisher that was published as fantasy. A Fairy Tale was rejected for being too romancey — even though there’s not even a kiss. There may be some very faint vibes in that first book, but that’s it. I guess they just assumed when a man and a woman met early in the book that there would be romance, and it seems those editors didn’t read enough of the book to know. The same thing happened with Rebel Mechanics. That’s why it was published as young adult. The original version had the main characters a few years older, and it was submitted as adult fantasy. A fantasy editor actually suggested it be submitted to a romance imprint because it was too romancey. This is a book in which the main couple that meets at the beginning of the book doesn’t even kiss during the book. I had to wonder if this editor had ever read a romance. Since the characters were already young and the rebels were all students, I dropped the age of the characters a bit then submitted and sold it as young adult, where they had fewer qualms about romance.

The tables have really turned now, and publishers are looking for romance in their fantasy. One publisher has even launched an entire fantasy romance imprint. I’d been working on a book I was planning to publish myself that fits that fantasy road trip plot I’ve been talking about. To a large extent, it’s It Happened One Night, but in a fantasy world. But now publishers are eager for that sort of thing, so I’ll send it to my agent and see what happens. I’d written a draft that I didn’t like much, so I’m currently rewriting it, and I keep having to stop myself from editing out the romance. I’d gotten in the habit of toning that sort of thing down, in hopes of actually being able to sell a fantasy novel. Now, that’s what they want.

I’m actually not sure I’ll have enough romance for what they want now. I’ve said that although I’m considered a romantic writer when it comes to fantasy, what I write is actually more shipper bait than romance. Nothing much happens on the page. It’s more about making readers want something to happen and sparking their imaginations. In this book, it’s more about longing than about actual romance. If I write a sequel, the romance won’t fully kick in until then. So, I’m not yet sure whether I’m on-trend in this or if it’s going to be a case of me being too romantic for regular fantasy and not romantic enough for romantasy. In which case, I’ll just publish it myself because I’m sure there’s an audience for it.

Books

Not So Bad

A book I’ve been rereading reminded me of something I love in fiction. I don’t know if it specifically counts as a trope, but I love it when an author forces me to change my mind about a character. This isn’t about the character changing. It’s not a growth or redemption arc. It’s about my mindset changing, often because of new information or even just getting to know the character. Often this comes about because the viewpoint character changes their opinion. If there’s a character I initially find offputting, but then the author forces me to change my mind without the character changing, then I become ride-or-die for that person.

It’s hard for me to come up with good examples without spoiling big revelations, but one that comes to mind is Donna Noble from Doctor Who. In her initial appearance, she was loud, obnoxious, and abrasive, and the Doctor found her incredibly annoying, so the audience was also supposed to find her annoying. But then when she joined the series full-time and we got to know her better, all those negatives became endearing. She did go through some growth as her horizons changed due to her experiences, but she was still essentially herself. Her growth just made her more herself. We did see that some of her traits were defensive mechanisms and we got to know her better behind the bluster, and that made us love her.

I think I first encountered this trope in the old gothic romantic suspense books — those “girl in a nightgown running from a castle with a lamp in one window” books. Usually, there were two men who were possible romantic prospects. One was super friendly and polite, and you were inclined to like him. The other was moody and surly, and the reader and the heroine didn’t trust him. But then we’d find out that the “nice” guy was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, while the moody one was going through some stuff and had good reason to be moody, but was actually a decent guy, and he’d be the one to help save the girl from the one who was a pleasant snake.

It’s tricky to pull that off as an author. If you know what’s really going on with a character, you already love them, so it’s hard to withhold all those nuances so that readers may find the character annoying at first. Maybe it’s easier for pantsers who don’t know when they start that this person will turn out to be endearing, so they can write them as annoying and then reveal more as they get to know the character better.

One common way this kind of twist works is by presenting the character as a stereotype at first — the stuck-up rich girl, the shallow playboy, etc. — and then letting us see past the stereotype to the real person beneath it who is more nuanced. A lot of it has to do with the way the viewpoint character sees this person.

I think I respond well to this in fiction because I’ve had it happen so often in real life. I’ve had so many good friendships develop with people I was initially inclined to dislike. I assumed things about them at first sight, then got to know them and realized these people were pretty cool and we had more in common than I thought we would. I think there’s also an element of valuing the things we have to work for, so if it’s a process to come to like a person, once you do like them, you like them more than you would have if you’d just liked them from the start.

I don’t know what I’d call this trope, maybe “they aren’t so bad, after all.” I guess it could be similar to the “jerk with layers,” but in that case, the person actually is a jerk, even if there’s more going on, and he usually does have some kind of change or redemption arc. With what I’m talking about here, the change is in the viewpoint character/audience.

Life

Victory

I’m not generally all that into sports. I used to occasionally watch football, but now I find it either too boring to pay attention to or too intense to enjoy watching (if I actually care about the outcome). I did go to every football game when I was in high school, since I was in the marching band, and for a couple of years I had season tickets for my university’s team. I’m kind of meh on baseball, but I enjoy the cultural ritual of going to a game. The local sports franchise I’ve watched most often is the Texas Rangers, who just won the World Series, and there is some pride and joy about that.

I went to my first Rangers game when I was in high school, at their old, old stadium. My dad took my brother and me to Arlington from our home in East Texas to make a day of it, and I brought a book to read during the boring parts, so I didn’t get invited to join those excursions again. I went to a lot of games at the old new ballpark (the one before the current one). I went with church groups a few times, we had at least one office outing to a game, and I had a friend who had season tickets who would sometimes bring me along. I like just about everything about going to a baseball game other than the game itself. I like the National Anthem, the player introductions, the various things they do to amuse the fans when it gets slow, like the dot races. I actually prefer minor-league baseball games to major league. I think it’s more fun watching people who have a dream and are mostly playing for the love of it than watching multimillionaires.

With the Rangers, you’ve got to love a plucky team of perennial losers. They’d made it to the World Series a couple of times about a decade ago and lost. Before that, any kind of big season was rare, and that history goes way back. This team used to be the Washington Senators, the team immortalized in the musical Damn Yankees, in which someone sells his soul to the devil to play for the team and beat the Yankees. Oddly, I’ve very seldom seen the Rangers lose. I seem to be a lucky charm for them. When I go to a game, they win. My friend with the season tickets was primarily a Yankees fan, so I wasn’t allowed to go with her to games when the Rangers were playing the Yankees (true story). I have not managed to capitalize on this to get free tickets to big games, though.

I must confess to not having watched much of the World Series. For the first couple of games, I was traveling and staying in a place without a TV (not that I would have watched). I watched part of one game with my parents when I got to their house on my way home. Otherwise, I’ve seen the result the next morning when I looked at the newspaper. I’ll admit that I got a bit teary-eyed when I saw in the paper yesterday morning that they’d won the Series. I even read all the coverage of it in the newspaper. There’s a big parade going on today, and I may watch it on TV. And then I will go back to not caring much about sports.

Life

Home from Vacation

I’m home at last from my epic journey. I’m physically tired after all that driving, but mentally rested and eager to get back to writing.

A porch on a Victorian home, with a porch swing and flowers.
With this porch at my inn, all to myself, sometimes it was hard to make myself leave to go touring.

The first leg of the trip was easy, just to my parents’ house, two hours away. Then the next day I drove to just outside Nashville, about 10 hours of driving (including gas, bathroom, and meal breaks). And then another long drive to Virginia. I stayed in an AirBNB in a historic home. It was essentially a one-room inn. This 1840 home had been run as an inn in the past, and the current owners kept the front of the house as an inn but live in the rest, so I had the bedroom/bathroom in what I think may have been the original dining room, the foyer, the dining room (that was probably originally a parlor) where they had the coffee bar set up, and a gorgeous porch. I spent a lot of time on the porch swing, resting up from all my wandering. That first night, I just went downtown (a block away) to pick up some carry-out dinner and then collapsed.

The next day, I did a ton of walking (my phone said it was more than 18,000 steps), just looking at the downtown area and some of the historic neighborhoods. I had lunch at a sidewalk bistro in what was the old warehouse district, then had dinner in a restaurant in the old railroad depot and a glass of cider made from locally grown apples at a downtown brewery.

I was a bit tired the next day from all that walking. There were a lot of hills in this town, and they were steep. So, I rode the trolley bus circuit they have that goes around town. A lady who’s familiar with the official trolley tour the historical society puts on was on the bus with me and gave me the tour. In the afternoon, I drove around to see some of the more remote sights and look at the gorgeous autumn color. I went out to dinner that night with my hostess and her daughter, and I ended up meeting several people while we were out.

An old-fashioned Main Street with Victorian buildings. The street is blocked off with restaurant tables and awnings out in the street.
Saturday on the main drag through town. Lots of nice Victorian architecture.

On Saturday, I wandered through the farmer’s market and took the historical society’s walking tour. On weekends for much of the year, they close off the main downtown street and set up sidewalk cafes for all the restaurants, so there was great people (and dog) watching. This weekend, they were doing trick-or-treating at all the downtown businesses, so it was fun watching all the people in costume. I had meals at a couple of sidewalk cafes.

And then it was time for the drive home, back through Tennessee and Arkansas. I loved driving through the mountains in Virginia and Tennessee, so it was a bit of a letdown to cross the Mississippi River and be in the flat delta area of Arkansas. I stopped for the night somewhere between Nashville and Memphis, then made it to my parents’ house to rest a little before driving home.

One reason for this trip was to scout this place out. I’d been thinking of moving somewhere different, and in my research for places with the kind of weather, scenery, and activities I like, I stumbled upon this town. On paper it seemed perfect, but I’d never been there. I finally planned a trip to see if I liked it in person, and I loved it. So now I have to make some big decisions about uprooting myself and moving halfway across the country. I think I’d be happy there. The cost of living is lower than where I live now. I’ve already got friends there now, and there seem to be a lot of people there I have things in common with — it’s kind of a geeky town, with lots of fantasy-related businesses and a pretty high per-capita count of bookstores (more in this smallish town than in my entire large suburban city). The town is right out of a Hallmark movie, the kind of place where I could have a house with a garden and still be able to walk to a downtown with shops and restaurants.

I wouldn’t be able to move until the spring because it would take me a while to get things together. I’d need to do some serious purging of belongings, some work on the house to get it ready to sell, and in the meantime I need to get some books written. I’m more or less taking off the rest of the week to recover. I’ll be rereading a book I was working on before I paused to write Tea and Empathy and making revision notes.