writing life

Goal Review

I woke up groggy this morning from a persistent nightmare (woke up in the middle of the night from it, reassured myself that it was a dream, finally went back to sleep, and found myself in the same nightmare), so I warmed up my brain this morning by flipping through my journal. It was interesting to go back and read what was going on around this time last year. Some things just don’t seem to change. Most of my plans are more or less the same, just with different book names. I even have some of the same promotional ideas that I haven’t gotten around to implementing.

Last summer, I was apparently having a milder version of the career crisis I had earlier this year. I’d set deadlines for myself for getting things together or finding a real job. I guess I don’t really want to find another job because those deadlines keep slipping.

I have made progress on some things. I was making plans last year to get the house decluttered and organized, and this year I have the downstairs mostly done. I just have some tidying to do in the living room and bedroom, but the bathroom and closets are done, and the trouble spots have been cleared out. I’ve also done the upstairs closets and bookcases, and I’ve made a good start on the office and loft. It will have to wait until it gets cooler before I get back to work up there because the air conditioning barely reaches upstairs. I should have the downstairs the way I want it before fall, and I’m on target to have the whole house done by the holidays.

I’m on target to reach my writing goals for the year, though I seem to keep changing what I’m planning to write. There was something I planned for last fall that I ended up not doing, and that gave me an idea for what I can do this fall because the timing should work out perfectly — unless something comes up.

The main thing I need to do is get better about promotion and marketing. I really hate doing that stuff, probably because that was the day job career I fled. I’d rather just hide in a cave and write.

But it’s nice to know that even though I keep making the same plans, I am actually starting to bring some of them to fruition.


Music for Inspiration

As I try to inject a little more romance into this book, I’ve relied on music to help set the mood. Although I live my life mostly in silence, I do love music, and I use music as a creative tool for my writing. I have playlists for different moods and emotions, and I usually create some sort of soundtrack for each book, with a playlist of songs that remind me of characters, the setting, scenes, themes, or moods. It’s basically an audio collage. These are what I listen to when I’m walking in the morning, when I work around the house, or when I’m brainstorming.

But I don’t usually listen to these playlists while writing. Music with lyrics is a distraction because I stop to listen to the lyrics, or even sing along. I might listen to a particular song to set a mood right before writing, but I can’t listen to it while I’m writing.

While I’m writing a draft, I often listen to classical music, but I can’t listen to anything too familiar because I’ll stop to listen instead of writing. I use the “classical music for focus” station on Amazon Prime Music or one of their playlists. Then I only notice when they play something I know.

Unfortunately, when I’m editing or rewriting, I need silence. Any music is distracting then. But that makes it hard to set a mood when the revision is about adding emotion. I have to listen to it before I write, while I’m doing other things, or I can sometimes dig up the emotion a piece of music makes me feel by thinking about that music. I may assign songs to key scenes and keep those songs in mind when writing the scenes.

One thing I have to work on is remembering that I need to put it all on the page. I’m bad about having my own vivid mental images and feelings relating to what I’m writing and forgetting that my readers don’t have that. I need to transcribe what I’m seeing and feeling in order to convey that to readers. Since my imagination is overactive, I’ve always mentally fleshed out what I read. I’m sure a lot of other readers do that, but it is good for the author to give them clues to make the experience more vivid.


Ghost in the House

Since I needed to amp up the romance in the book I’m working on, I decided to watch a romantic movie last weekend to try to get more in the mood. I pulled one off my shelf that kind of fit into the same general category of contemporary fantasy, Just Like Heaven. I’d seen it at the theater when it came out, and I’d read the book it was based on. I have the DVD from when the local Blockbuster went out of business and sold off its stock, but I hadn’t actually watched it since I bought it.

This is an interesting premise for a romantic comedy. A widower has subleased a nice San Francisco apartment and wants to do nothing more than sit on the sofa, drink beer, watch his wedding video, and be left alone when a strange woman shows up in the apartment, acting like it’s her apartment and he’s an intruder — except when she goes to call the police, she can’t pick up the phone. She seems to be a ghost, though she insists she’s still alive, but nothing he tries that’s supposed to get rid of a ghost works, and she delights in tormenting him. But their relationship begins to change when he decides to help her figure out who she is, what happened to her, and what’s going on with her. Once they learn all that, they realize they’re running out of time to save her.

The fact that they can’t physically touch for most of the movie makes this almost like one of the old romantic comedies from the days of the production code. The whole relationship has to be developed emotionally rather than relying on shortcuts like sex scenes, and they have to build the sexual tension from proximity and awareness. Reese Witherspoon has way too much fun as the sassy, obnoxious ghost, and Mark Ruffalo does the baffled Everyman thing well. The only thing that would have kept this movie from being made in the 1940s is the technology, which may be why I like it.

It’s also a rare example of a movie being better than the book it’s based on. The book is extremely creepy in ways I can’t describe without spoiling the movie. Let’s just say that an event that’s just one quick sequence in the movie is an extended part of the book, and by extending it more than a few minutes, it gets icky.

It looks like this one is only streaming on Vudu as part of a service, but it’s a rental stream at most of the other outlets. I’m not sure I’d pay to rent it, but it is a nice, sweet romantic comedy of the sort they don’t make anymore. It kind of shows where I stand on romance at the moment that I was mostly sighing over the fabulous San Francisco apartment. That aspect of the movie has to have been pure fantasy, even back in 2005. You’d have to be a multimillionaire to afford a place like that.


Trapped in Romance

My current pass on the book I’m revising is the “romance pass,” trying to amp up the main relationship. My editor was apparently drawn to the book by the romantic potential in it, while that was much more of a secondary thing for me. But I suspect that’s what readers will want, too, so I’m working to develop that.

I have this weird issue with romance in books, where I don’t see myself as a particularly romantic writer, while the publishing world has me firmly slotted into the romance category. I did try to make it as a romance writer, within the romance genre, and while getting five romance novels published doesn’t exactly count as failure, it was a constant struggle for me to live up to the expectations of the genre, and it was a huge relief to admit to myself that I didn’t really like writing romance and give up on trying. I owe a lot to romance because that gave me my start and taught me a lot about the business, but it’s not where I fit in.

I sort of fell into romance by accident. As I mentioned in talking about my influences, my real ambition once I decided to write seriously was fantasy. I hadn’t even read more than a few romance novels. I got into reading romance after I graduated from college. It took me a few months to find a job, so I was back to living with my parents. We lived in the country outside a small town that didn’t even have a library at that time, so when I ran out of things to read, I found my mom’s stash of Harlequin romances and started reading them. My mom suggested that I try to write one. After all, they published so many, they had to be looking for writers. But I was still focused on fantasy and working on various fantasy novel ideas. I did try starting one category-style romance, and it fizzled out quickly. After I got a job and moved to the Dallas area, I found a local writing group, and the speaker at one of the first meetings I went to was a romance author. She mentioned a group she was in, so I went to one of their meetings, and in that one meeting I learned more about the publishing business than I’d ever known. That group was a chapter of the Romance Writers of America, so I got involved in the romance world and started trying to write romance novels, always with the idea that once I got established there, I could move into fantasy. That was where I learned all about structuring a novel, plotting, pacing, character development, how to submit a book, dealing with agents and editors, etc. Maybe I should have seen it as a sign that when I entered writing contests, I never went anywhere with my romance attempts while I won the fantasy categories, but then I started selling romance novels, and it’s hard to imagine you’re failing at something and in the wrong field when you’re succeeding at it, and selling anything is a pretty big deal.

There was a romantic thread to the Enchanted, Inc. books once I started writing them, and RWA was acknowledging books that had “romantic elements” then, so I still fit in. But then they dropped that, and I realized that I would probably never write something that really fit the romance genre, so I dropped away from the romance world.

I do like a good love story, but what I like is something that develops along the way rather than being the focus. I think what I really like is essentially what happens in TV series “shipping,” where the relationship isn’t all that overt, so the audience has to read between the lines and interpret for themselves what’s really going on. Once it’s obvious and becomes text instead of subtext, it’s a lot less interesting to me unless the relationship is just taken as a given at that point and is part of the characterization without any worry about making it romantic. One of my favorite bits of “romantic” writing is what’s going on with Henry and Verity in Rebel Mechanics, where I’m trying to show that he’s falling for her while she remains oblivious, and yet the whole story is in her point of view, so I have to have her notice things that the audience can interpret but that she interprets a different way because it hasn’t crossed her mind that someone like him would see someone like her that way.

My problem is that the fantasy world has pigeonholed me as a romance writer, and they seem to overemphasize that aspect of my work, to the point they think there’s more romance than there is. I originally wrote Rebel Mechanics to be an adult fantasy, but the fantasy publishers rejected it as “too romancey” and suggested I send it to romance publishers. Never mind that there’s not so much as a kiss between the romantic couple and the relationship remains subtext until almost the very end. I had the same issue with A Fairy Tale. The fantasy publishers rejected it as too romancey, even though there’s no actual relationship between the two main characters because he’s married and focused on looking for his missing wife. If I have a man and a woman interacting at all in the first chapter, the fantasy publishers will say it’s a romance because that seems to be my reputation. It doesn’t help that the publisher of Enchanted, Inc. keeps classifying it as “paranormal romance,” and when they do a BookBub ad, that’s where they put it. I feel like we’re missing a huge potential audience in contemporary fantasy that still hasn’t heard of these books because they keep marketing it as paranormal romance when, again, nothing much happens in that first book.

I really don’t know what the solution is. I don’t mind that I have a big romance readership because romance readers are voracious and loyal, and as long as they’re okay with the low levels of actual romance and non-existent heat, then we’re good. I just hate being dismissed by the market segment where I actually fit on the basis of something that’s not even true.

My Books

Paperback Mix-Up

There’s been a bit of confusion about the paperback of Enchanted Ever After, thanks to some Amazon communication issues.

There will be a paperback. For some weird reason, they don’t let you do pre-orders of paperbacks. What I plan to do is make it available for sale a few days before the release date so that you can order and have it delivered around that time. I’ll announce when that happens.

The paperback that’s listed for sale is kind of a phantom listing. Avoid that one. If you buy from those people, I barely make any money on it, and you probably won’t get it any sooner.

What happened is that when I was setting up the e-book for pre-order, they gave a pop up that asked if I also wanted to do a paperback based on the same info, and since that would be easier than re-entering it all, and I was doing a paperback, I went ahead with it. There was no opportunity to enter a release date, and I thought that was because it was tied to the e-book. It took a few days to get the paperback approved for publication, since they get weird and picky about the files. We had to tweak some things about the cover. Then when they approved it, they sent me an e-mail saying it was available for sale. I hadn’t realized that they were putting it on sale immediately and quickly jumped to take it down and leave it as pending. But in the five or so minutes it was up for sale, some of the third-party booksellers grabbed the listing and are now saying they’re selling it.

I really don’t know what Amazon’s deal is. You can’t put a paperback up for pre-order, and it can sometimes take a week of going back and forth to get it approved for publication, but you can’t get the approval without saying to publish it. That makes it nearly impossible to be sure of having it available on release day without running the risk of it being available right away..

Anyway, I will announce when I make the paperback live, and don’t buy anything from any of the third-party resellers.


Summer of Mystery

I seem to be immersing myself in British mysteries this summer. I think of mystery as a genre for fall. That’s when I usually read them. But PBS schedules its mystery shows for the summer. We just wrapped up a season of Endeavour, which I enjoy even though I never saw the original Inspector Morse series. That got me in the mood for that sort of thing, so I went back and watched the series from the beginning on Amazon.

A lot of what I love about it is the Oxford setting. One of my favorite vacations ever was to Oxford. I had a huge client event early in October one year, and since I worked from home and my client’s office was closer to my house than my actual office was, they had a habit of calling me over there at all hours as we prepared for the event. I decided I would go on vacation when the event was over, and I would go somewhere I couldn’t be reached (at the time, US cell phones wouldn’t work overseas unless you got a special world phone model). I saw an airfare sale and bought a ticket to London, then after doing a little research, I decided I’d stay in Oxford. It was a setting for some of my favorite books, it was close enough to London for day trips, and it was close to other things I wanted to see, plus it was a lot cheaper to get a room there than in London. The bed and breakfast where I stayed was apparently used as a location on Inspector Morse, a fact of which the landlady was very proud and made a point of telling me. I’ve looked for it on Endeavour and on Inspector Lewis, but haven’t spotted it, though a lot of the houses do have a similar look.

Anyway, it’s fun watching shows set in a place I’ve visited, and I enjoy looking for familiar locations. On this series, the cast is also wonderful, though it’s sometimes disconcerting hearing Roger Allam’s voice, as he was the original Javert in the London production of Les Miserables that I have the cast recording of, and I keep expecting him to burst into song with “Monsieur Le Mayor, you’ll wear a different chain.” It’s also interesting watching the character growth and development. The mysteries themselves are almost beside the point and are usually hopelessly convoluted.

Then my PBS station started showing episodes of The Bletchley Circle San Francisco, which was originally on the Britbox streaming service. I’d enjoyed the original series, about the women who worked as codebreakers during the war turning their skills to solving crimes, but I’m finding the spinoff rather dull, and I’m giving myself permission to stop watching it.

Next up on Masterpiece Mystery is Grantchester, which is set around Cambridge, where I went for a day trip on my England vacation the year after my Oxford trip.

Although I usually do mysteries in the fall, it is nice to try to trick myself into imagining fall weather in the middle of July, or at least cool and rainy weather, like they usually have at all times of the year on these British shows.

writing life

Origins and Influences: Katherine Kurtz

In my ongoing series of posts about the origins and influences on my writing, I seem to have reached my teen years. That was when I really got into modern fantasy. I’d been obsessed with Narnia and had read Tolkien, and that had led into some of the “children’s” fantasy, such as Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series and the Oz books. When Alan Dean Foster, whose science fiction books I’d loved, wrote a fantasy series, the Spellsinger books, I read those. But I hadn’t delved into most of the other fantasy being published at that time.

Then a book caught my eye at the library, mostly because of the cover. The art was similar to that on the covers of the Alan Dean Foster books, but it looked like something out of a fairy tale. I picked it up to look at and ended up checking it out. The book was Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz. I plowed through that book, then got the rest of the series the next time we went to the library, and then bought copies of the series for myself. I was utterly obsessed with those books. I fell madly in love with the characters, and I loved the sense of history. It was like it was a real world whose history we were getting to read. I also enjoyed the thread of faith worked into those books (complete with Bible verses at the beginnings of chapters). It worked like in the real medieval world, when faith was pivotal to people’s lives, and while there were evil people who used faith as a weapon to help them maintain power, the good guys also had faith and tried to live in accordance with it. This is an element that’s frequently left out of fantasy worldbuilding, and the way it was presented in these books rang true to me as a person of faith.

That led me into reading other fantasy published in the 70s and 80s, in the initial wave that came after the Ballantine publication of The Lord of the Rings. Most of it, I don’t remember much of. I do know I read The Sword of Shannara and Elfstones of Shannara. But there were so many others, some of which are probably forgotten now because there was a lot of “disposable” fantasy.

Strangely, I didn’t read the other Deryni books for some time because when I looked at the second trilogy, I saw that it was set in the past. I wanted to read about those original characters, not about other people. During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I went with a friend to a flea market. She told me it was a great place to find books, but I hadn’t found anything to interest me. I did see a copy of the first book in that second trilogy, Camber of Culdi, and bought it just to buy something to make my friend feel better about dragging me there. It was a few months after that before I finally read it — and then fell even more madly in love with those characters and that time period than I had been with the original trilogy. Rhys Thuryn from those books remains my primary Book Boyfriend. I eagerly got the next two books. I was overjoyed when I learned that a new trilogy was coming out. I was so excited about these books that I bought a set to give to a friend just so I’d have someone to discuss them with (how I’d have loved to have the Internet then). When I went to college, I displayed these books in my dorm room and used that as an icebreaker. I found a few friends because I knew they’d be kindred spirits since they’d read them, too. I did a paper on the world of these books for my parageography class in college.

It was through this obsession that I decided that fantasy was what I wanted to write. My first attempts at writing had been science fiction. Then I’d tried to write spy thrillers. But I started seriously writing with attempts at writing fantasy novels. When I was right out of college, I even won the fantasy category of a writing contest a couple of times (I eventually finished those books but haven’t sold them). Oddly enough, I still haven’t sold a “traditional” fantasy novel along the lines of Kurtz, and I’ve only drafted a couple of attempts at one. Everything I’ve published has been contemporary or Victorian/Steampunk.

I’ve actually met both of the people who led to this obsession. Darrell K. Sweet, the artist who did covers for both Alan Dean Foster and Katherine Kurtz, was artist guest of honor at FenCon once. And I was a guest at a convention where Katherine Kurtz was a guest of honor. I had a major fangirl moment when I ended up sitting next to her at a booksigning, and I thought I would faint when she picked up one of my books to read the back. I eventually managed to pull myself together enough to mention what her books had meant to me, and I got to hang out with her some, which felt rather like an out-of-body experience. I actually ended up spending more time that weekend with her husband, since it turned out that we had similar backgrounds as military brats and had lived at some of the same places, so there was a lot of “did you ever go to …” going on.

I do still want to write a traditional fantasy along the lines of the Deryni books. It’s a harder sell these days because it’s been done to death and you have to find some new twist on it. Right now, grimdark seems to be the trend, but I’m not so into the blood-and-guts, life sucks thing. I may just do it and publish it myself so I can tick that box off my literary bucket list.

My Books

Book 9 Coming August 6

enchanted ever after coverThose who follow me on social media have already seen this news, but I thought I’d make it official here. Book 9 of the Enchanted, Inc. series, Enchanted Ever After, is coming August 6. It’s available for pre-order as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo, and should be available at a few other places. There will be a paperback, but that’s not ready to order yet (it’s a more involved process). And there will be an audiobook. I don’t know when that’s coming. I originally set this release date to coincide with Audible, but I don’t have a contract from them yet, so I don’t know if we’re still on schedule.

This is probably going to be the last book in the series. It really ties things off nicely. I realized while I was writing it that I was ready for this series to be over, and I was running out of bad guys for them to go up against. It is possible that I’ll return to that world in the future, either picking up on the further adventures of the same characters or in a spinoff. I may continue writing some shorter one-off pieces in that world. But I’m calling it done for now. I’ve been working on these books since 2003, and that’s a long time to work on the same series. I’d rather quit while it’s still fun rather than drag it out. There have been four more books than I originally planned, so it went beyond my expectations. It’s been a lot of fun and I love these characters and their world, but there are so many other things I want to write.

Plus, their world moved so much more slowly than ours, to the point that they were more than a decade behind. I started writing in the near future (aiming at when I thought it would be published), then gradually caught up and then was writing more than a decade in the past, so I had to keep looking up what technology and pop culture existed then. If I return to that world, I’ll have to jump everything forward in time, so it will essentially be an all-new series.

But I have the next three or four things I want to write planned, a year or two worth of work, so I doubt there will be anything new in this series for a while.


Superhero Movies

This week’s movie/sermon combo was Captain America. This was one of the two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies I’d seen (the first Guardians of the Galaxy was the other). I watched it when it was on cable while Agent Carter was running, since I wanted to get her backstory. I checked the DVD out of the library to watch it again to refresh myself before the sermon.

I guessed correctly what the pastor would discuss: the idea that it’s your heart that’s what’s important. The scripture used for the sermon was the story of how David was chosen to be king of Israel, with Samuel wanting to choose the handsome oldest brother and God telling him that He doesn’t see as men see, but looks at the heart. The movie clip used to illustrate the sermon was the part where Tommy Lee Jones’s character throws the grenade into the group of candidates, thinking he’s going to prove his point about the big, strong guy being the man for the super soldier program. Instead, that guy immediately ducks behind a car. It’s scrawny weakling Steve Rogers who throws himself on the grenade to save all his fellow soldiers (it turns out to have been a dummy grenade and a test).

The pastor didn’t mention it, but I thought there was also a good point in the follow-up scene when the scientist is talking to Steve the night before the treatment and talks about how people who are strong naturally may not really appreciate strength, while the weaker man would. That fits the spiritual message about knowing that what you have is a gift, and not the result of what you’ve done.

As for the movie, I love the characters, the casting was brilliant, and I can get on board with the concept, but I found the actual movie kind of boring. It’s a similar problem I have with most superhero movies (and why I’ve seen so few). I think it has to do with some of the same reasons I don’t really like comic books and graphic novels. I’m very verbal, and I don’t seem to process visual information well. If there aren’t any words, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. Anything with a lot of non-verbal action sequences, just fight-fight-fight, is a blur to me and I get bored. I noticed that while watching this movie. I was engaged when the characters were talking, but I’d zone out in the action sequences. I recall being the same way when seeing Wonder Woman. I liked the movie up to the last big action sequence, and then was bored.

There have been exceptions that I’ll have to analyze. For instance, WALL-E was practically a silent movie, but I was totally engaged, and I love The Terminator, which is one big chase scene. Maybe it’s just that I don’t like fight scenes, but then I loved the sword fight in The Princess Bride — but it was loaded with dialogue. There’s just something about superhero fight scenes that I find boring — usually two super-strong people punching each other and doing impossible stunts. I suspect I’m not the target audience for these things.

But if I were to get into a superhero, I think Captain America might be it. Steve Rogers is basically my type. I just wish they’d kept him in the WWII era longer because I find that more interesting, and I like the other characters from that era (which is why I loved the Agent Carter series). But I guess they had to move him to the present right away to do the Avengers movie. I’d be somewhat interested in seeing what they did with Captain America in the present, but that would require seeing the Avengers movies, which would require seeing all the others to get the backstory leading into the Avengers movie, and that’s getting to be just a bit too much homework to see what happens to one character. Maybe when they do the Disney streaming service and I can watch them all gradually I’ll give it a try.

The next movie they’re doing is We Bought a Zoo, which I know nothing about, so I guess I’ll go to the Friday-night screening.


The End-of-Book Breakthrough

I got close to the end of the book I’ve been working on, then paused to make a list of things I need to go back and fix in revision in order to set up that ending. I ended up with a two-page list, and I decided that maybe I should wait to write that ending until after I’ve fixed all those things. Fixing those is bound to change things in a ripple effect, so I’d end up having to rewrite the ending. I’d practically be dealing with different characters by then.

I think a lot of this is because as I went into that final couple of scenes, I finally figured out some of the main things this book is about. I’m sticking pretty close to the planned plot, but my mental image of the scenes for that plot is very different now. The underlying emotion is different. The inner workings of the character arcs are different, as are the interrelationships of a lot of the characters. A character who was essentially a walk-on “extra” when I introduced him has ended up playing a pivotal role, which means I have to go back and develop him. Characters I thought were important and spent time on vanished along the way.

Basically, I got to the ending sequence of the book and finally realized what it was all really about and where all the characters are going. There’s a lot of that I didn’t set up. Also, what I thought would be the big, climactic scene that just needed the aftermath resolution afterward to end the book seems to be a whole sequence that should probably be the last quarter of the book, so I need to rework a lot of the middle to get the structure to work.

But I’m excited about this because I’ve felt the book “click” for me. I’ve made a lot of notes. Now I’ll be putting it aside to deal with revisions (I think — I don’t know exactly when I’ll be getting those notes) and to get some other stuff dealt with, and then I can dive back in and really make this story sing.