Books

Recent Reading

I’ve been so busy lately, and it’s only getting worse! Last week, I finished the book I was working on and sent it to my agent Monday. I’ve already started a new book and have written 8,000 words — all in one day. Now I want to top that number, so we’ll see what I manage to do today. Then I have an event every other weekend until November. This weekend is FenCon in the Dallas area. I have a weekend off after that, and then I’m going to the Missouri Library Association conference. I get a weekend off, and then I’m going to Necronomicon in Tampa. I get a weekend off, and then I’m going to the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio. Probably not the best time to start writing a new book, but I’m behind and am trying to get back on schedule. A few 8,000-word days will help.

But I have also made time for reading and discovered a new-to-me series, the Sanctuary books by Carol Berg. These are set in an Italian Renaissance-like society in which the magical people consider themselves superior to the “ordinaries” and set themselves apart to the point of having strict rules about interacting with nonmagical people. They even wear masks while in public because it’s forbidden for nonmagical people to see their faces. In the first book, Dust and Light, our hero, a young artist, finds himself suddenly demoted from his job painting portraits of the elite and sent to work for the city’s coroner, using his magical talent to paint a subject’s true self to create portraits of the dead for use in identifying them and possibly solving their murders. That’s bad enough for him, but things go downhill from there as his life is totally upended by a vast conspiracy. It seems his talent has an element he wasn’t aware of — he not only paints his subject’s true self, but things from that person’s history also tend to show up in his paintings. That means some interesting things showed up in his portraits of the elite that they would rather not be made public.

It’s hard to talk about the second book, Ash and Silver, without spoiling the first one, but it does involve one of my favorite fantasy tropes, memory loss. More specifically, the question of what would you be if you didn’t know who you were? (I’m not a fan of the more romance novel style amnesia plots, but I love it when magic is used to erase identity. Go figure.) There’s an order of magical knights, and part of their training is to have their identity and memories associated with their identity erased so that they focus on training without personal baggage like status, loyalties or history. After training, they get their memories back so they can decide whether to enter the order for good or return to their old lives. I find that a really interesting concept because it’s all about these men discovering who they really are in the course of training and choosing who they want to be.

These are definitely “put your characters in a tree and throw rocks at them” books, so sometimes they got a bit intense with the hero’s suffering. I just wanted to give the poor guy a time out to rest and have a cookie and not have everyone scheming against him for maybe five minutes. So, perhaps not the best read if you’re feeling stressed and can’t deal with suffering, unless that sort of thing puts your own life in perspective. There were parts I kind of had to to read from between my fingers, and I ended up flipping to the end to make sure things would be okay before I could continue reading. On the other hand, that’s a good sign that I was invested in the character. It was fascinating watching him grow from all he endured and figure out who he could and couldn’t trust.

Apparently, these books are set in the same universe as one of her other series, so I’ll have to look for those. The worldbuilding is really intricate, and I’m intrigued by that world.

Meanwhile, I’ve found myself wondering if there’s a market for whimsical, tame, low-stress adventures for reading when you’re too stressed to deal with life-and-death sakes in fiction. There are days when I’d be all about an entire book about playing with a basket of puppies, because that’s about all the stress I can take at the end of the day.

writing

Middles: Part One

I just did a whole series of writing posts about beginnings, and now it’s time to move on to middles. While beginnings are important for snagging the interest of editors, agents, and readers, the middle has a lot to do with whether a book sinks or swims. A strong beginning doesn’t help if the middle sags. Many authors find the middle to be the most difficult part of the book to write. It’s tricky keeping the pacing and tension going without resolving everything too soon but also while having very good reasons that things can’t yet be resolved.

You can generally divide the middle — the part that comes after the hero has chosen (or been forced) to take on the story goal and before the build-up to the resolution — into two parts. There’s the getting used to new circumstances, meeting new people, and figuring out the situation part, and then there’s the setup for the climax.

If you’re thinking about it in terms of the Hero’s Journey, the first part would be Tests, Enemies, and Allies. In a way, this is the “ordinary world” of the special world of the story. You probably don’t want to spend a lot of time in the beginning showing the ordinary parts of the ordinary world, but this is where you can play with your worldbuilding, showing how things are different now that the hero has taken up the challenge. The hero really may travel to a different place — going to Oz, Narnia, or some other fantasy world, or possibly just leaving the familiar to go on a journey or quest within his or her own world. Or the hero may stay in the same place but encounter different people and situations. It may be a new job with new co-workers, a new home in a new neighborhood, or a new group of friends or colleagues. The hero has to learn the rules of this new situation, how it all works, and who to trust. The protagonists will learn more about the villain, more about what they have to do to achieve their goal, and may pick up skills and weapons that they’ll need later.

In his book Save the Cat, Blake Snyder calls this part of the story “the promise of the premise.” It’s when the things you expect to happen in this kind of story happen. In a fantasy quest story, it’s when the questing party really comes together, and they may have a few lower-stakes adventures and encounters in which they learn what the dangers of their quest are likely to be. In a space opera, this is life on the spaceship and meeting the crew, maybe having a minor space battle that shows off the skills of the various crew members. In a romantic comedy, it’s the part where the hero and heroine are stuck in a situation together, with witty banter, and we meet their various friends.

Think of some familiar stories: In The Wizard of Oz, it’s when Dorothy has arrived in Oz and been given her quest by Glinda, and she sets off down the Yellow Brick Road, picking up her traveling companions along the way and having a few encounters with the Wicked Witch and flying monkeys. In Star Wars, Luke goes with Obi-Wan to the cantina, where he gets a glimpse of what Obi-Wan is capable of and meets Han and Chewbacca, and then they escape in the Millennium Falcon — a sequence in which we learn the capabilities of Han and the ship — and Luke starts his Jedi training.

The challenge is keeping readers interested after the beginning. There is a natural slowdown after the big bang of the opening, but you can’t let the pace or the energy lag. Things need to happen. There need to be some stakes, even if it’s not entirely do-or-die at this point in the story. This is a good place to set up the things you’ll need for the climax and resolution — the hero learning or gaining things, trying and failing at something he’ll later need to do properly to save the day, encountering the villain and surviving but not winning. The conflict that keeps the story going through this part needs to be real, not contrived. If the story would end if two characters who are capable of having a conversation just had a conversation, you need more going on. If the story would end if the characters just figured out a rather obvious thing, you need very good reasons for them not to know about or notice that very obvious thing.

If you’re struggling with a story that feels like it’s sagging at this point, look at the conflict. Is anything stopping the heroes from achieving their goals? Are there any intermediate goals on the way to achieving the story goal, and what’s getting in the way of those goals? Finding a good reason for the heroes to struggle will usually fix a sagging early middle. You can also have conflicts among the characters, like Han Solo’s disdain for Jedi ways and Luke’s disdain at Han’s greed.

Next time, I’ll look at the second part of the story middle.

movies

Don’t Blame the RomCom

I’ve been scarce online lately as I finished a draft of a book, and I have another draft to go and a lot going on this week, but I have a rant brewing that must come out.

Twitter’s been all abuzz about this article about a man playing the piano in a park as a way of getting his ex-girlfriend back, vowing to keep at it until he knows that she knows what he’s doing. It was initially presented as a romantic gesture, until people pointed out that it was creepy, manipulative behavior. If she wants to get back with him, she knows where to find him. The big, public gesture to get attention and acting like she owes it to him to listen to how much he loves her is a huge red flag.

And I totally agree with that. What I have issue with is that most of the commentaries that have come out on this issue have blamed romantic comedy movies for teaching that this kind of grand gesture works. They criticize the fact that stalking and big public manipulative gestures are shown as positive things in movies. However, as a huge fan of romantic comedies, I can’t think of any that really fit this circumstance. Movies are being unfairly blamed here. When there is a big, public gesture, it’s usually the person who did the rejecting or who otherwise messed up showing that he/she learned a lesson and is trying to make up for it.

Usually, the image used to illustrate these commentaries is the scene from Love Actually in which the guy who has a crush on his friend’s wife comes to their house and declares his love in a series of posters. And, yeah, that’s creepy, and rather a jerk move to declare his love to his friend’s wife. Also, very selfish, because it’s about making himself feel good, not about what it does to her. The movie does treat it like it’s a sweet gesture — but it’s also unsuccessful. She more or less pats him on the head and goes back inside to her husband. He later moves on and finds someone else. This is not shown as a successful way to get the girl.

The closest I can think of to the “stalking will win you the one you love” message might be Bringing Up Baby, but there it’s the woman going after the man. She keeps arranging ways to make him be stuck with her as a way of getting to know him and forcing him to get to know her.

Maybe there was some stuff like that in the Doris Day era, but there was a whole lot of creepy stuff going on in those movies. In the modern era, I’ve seen the reference to the boombox outside the window from Say Anything. It’s been a while since I watched that movie, but I don’t recall it being him forcing her hand. It was more of a declaration of his feelings and a show of support for what she was going through.

Otherwise, there was Billy Crystal’s public declaration of his feelings on New Year’s Eve that was his way of showing Meg Ryan that he didn’t see her as just another conquest. In Notting Hill, she made her declaration of love that he rejected, then regretted rejecting, so he made an even more public declaration (though I always felt she owed him an apology for jumping to the worst possible conclusion about him earlier). Leap Year was essentially a remake of It Happened One Night, where she realized she had chosen the wrong guy and went back to see if the right guy was interested. And I could go on.

Now, there may be some selection bias, as I’m not likely to remember or have in my collection a movie I found creepy, but I can’t think of any romantic comedy film equivalent of playing the piano in public to force an ex to deal with him. Where you’re more likely to see that kind of thing is in TV sitcoms or in romance novels. I can think of way too many books in which the guy declares at the beginning that he’s going to win the woman, she rejects him, and he spends the book relentlessly pursuing her until she gives in.

But stop blaming romantic comedy films in general. Cite specific examples of the behavior being referenced.

writing

What Makes a Good Beginning?

I’ve been talking about writing beginnings in my writing posts. Beginnings really are difficult, but there’s only one absolute rule: your beginning must make people want to read more. If it does that, nothing else really matters.

But how do you do that?

  • You can write a real grabber of an opening line that makes readers want to know more — a killer first line.
  • Show just enough of your story world to keep readers intrigued — enough to give them a sense of place and what’s going on, but don’t answer all the questions up front, and don’t give an infodump near the beginning of the book.
  • Show the protagonist’s potential — whether you’re writing a true hero or an antihero, your main character is probably going to change and grow during the story. The antihero may have a redemption arc. The hero may learn some valuable lessons. Let readers get a sense of what the protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses are, what their goals are, and what they’re going to have to overcome. But, again, don’t tell everything. Questions and curiosity help keep pages turning.
  • Present the story question the plot will hinge upon — will they beat the villain/complete the quest/save the day?
  • Show the stakes if the protagonist fails

The job of the story’s beginning is to:

  • Introduce the main characters — preferably one or two at a time so readers have a chance to get to know each one instead of being hit with all of them at once. When you go to a party, are you more likely to remember names and something about the people you meet when you’re introduced one-on-one or when you’re brought to a group and quickly given all their names?
  • Set the stage — show us just enough of the world to allow us to understand where/when we are and what’s different from our world, but leave us curious about seeing more.
  • Set up and then show the inciting incident that kicks the story into motion.
  • Define the story goal that comes out of the inciting incident and the stakes.

The lovely thing about writing a novel is that you don’t have to get the beginning right from the start. You can always go back and revise it. Don’t get hung up on getting the opening just perfect before you move on. Chances are, as you get deeper into the story, you’ll learn a lot about your characters and world, and that knowledge will help you go back and improve your beginning. Making the beginning perfect before you’ve written the rest of the story may even be a waste of time. The things you figure out along the way may lead to you changing the way you start your story. What you write as an ending may give you better ideas for how to begin. The ending will show you what your characters really needed to learn, which will allow you to hint at that need in the opening. You’ll know from the ending how the world will change, so you’ll have a better sense of what you need to show in the beginning. You may even find that the opening scene as you’ve written it is entirely unnecessary, and the story really begins later. Writing the rest of the book may give you ideas for that brilliant opening line.

So, don’t fret about your beginning until after you’ve written the book — especially for a first novel. More experienced writers may start writing proposals to sell books, so they only write a few chapters, but that usually comes after you’ve written some complete books. For an early novel, just worry about starting in a way that sets the stage and gets your characters going. You can make it better later, and that will be better than if you sweat over it before writing anything else.

My Books

Once Upon A Fairy Tale

I’ve found myself taking a journey down memory lane the last few days, thinking about the origins of my least-appreciated series, the Fairy Tale books. It was at about this time in 2009 that I took my research trip to New York to prepare to write the first book. I guess I started thinking about that this week because there was all the talk in the news about a tropical storm approaching (now it’s a hurricane), and a tropical storm hit New York while I was there. The first day of my trip was gorgeous — warm and sunny. I spent the afternoon wandering Central Park. It rained the rest of the time I was there, something that found its way into the book. I didn’t mind so much because I love rain, but it did get heavy at times, and one downside of rain is that it doesn’t offer many opportunities to sit down and rest while you’re outside, unless you want to sit in a puddle on a wet bench, so my feet and legs were killing me by the end of the day.

A Fairy Tale

I do hope to write more books in that series. I know some character arcs I want to do, but I’m not quite yet clear on a big-picture plot, and since those books make the least amount of money for me, and they take me a lot longer to write, they’re lower on my priority list.

Still, I really do love them. I think part of the reason that they’re hard to write is that they come from a dreamlike place in my brain, and that makes translating them into words difficult. The character of Sophie came to me in a dream around the time I was right out of college. She had a different name (the name she had in the dream ended up being the name of a main character in a TV series that I saw not long before I started writing the book, so I had to rename her), and she didn’t have all her traits, like being a dancer or having an unusual heritage, but the personality was what was in the dream. I’d been auditioning that character for a leading role in every story idea I came up with, but she wasn’t quite right until I had another dream of a woman in a floaty floral dress walking a bulldog down a city street and disappearing into the mist. This woman was the character who’d been living in my head all that time, and I wanted to figure out the circumstances of where she went and what was going on. I woke up in the middle of the night one night and wrote down the scene in which Sophie wakes up, realizing that something has happened to her sister and she needs to go to her aid (before I knew what happened to her sister). Another night, I woke up and wrote down an early phase of what would be the back-cover copy. The book changed a lot after that, but the central concept was a Southern belle queen bee type taking on a fairy queen. From there, I started researching fairy folklore and related literature. There was the Tam Lin story about rescuing a lover from the fairies, but I also loved the Christina Rossetti poem “Goblin Market,” which was about sisters. That’s probably what influenced that midnight waking scene about having to rescue a sister. Other story fragments, like the elderly sisters with a shop, attached themselves to that image, and then it took me ages to tease the plot out of all these pieces.

Before I took that trip to New York, I already knew about the dual worlds, but the weather helped me with that because it really was like two different worlds, the park I saw my first day when it was warm and sunny and the park I saw the second day when it was dark and pouring rain. The colors were different. The first day, the park was full of people, and later it was almost deserted. The sounds were different. I noticed the lampposts, since the lamps were all lit, and that made me notice things around the lampposts that I hadn’t seen on a sunny day.

I think I was in the middle of writing the book when I first heard a song that I felt perfectly described Sophie, and I took a detail from the song to add to the character — the mismatched eyes, which ended up being a perfect metaphor for her nature. The song is actually supposed to be anthropomorphizing the month of August, on the cusp between summer and autumn (well, in northern Europe — here, it’s the height of summer), but it still seems to fit this mercurial character.

Hmm, I may have to bump up brainstorming another book on my priority list because I’ve realized how much I miss these characters.

writing, TV

The Supersonic Raven Fallacy

I’ve noticed that some writers have a tendency to get defensive when they’re called out about something that doesn’t quite work. There’s a particular tendency among some writers of fantasy to question “nitpicks” in a fantasy work — if you can believe in magic, why can’t you accept these other things? It seems to be more of a trend in TV writers than among novelists, which may have something to do with the way novelists approach worldbuilding. At any rate, this arose again this week, thanks to events on Game of Thrones, and I have now dubbed this particular argument the Supersonic Ravens Fallacy.

The argument goes: “You can believe in X, but you can’t believe in Y?” where X is “big fantasy element” and Y is “mundane thing that doesn’t quite work the way it does in the real world.” For example, “You can believe in dragons, but you can’t believe in ravens that had to have flown faster than the speed of sound in order to deliver a message in that amount of time?”

The defensive writers blame the audience for being nitpicky or unwilling to suspend disbelief, but I think it’s the writers’ fault. If the audience doesn’t believe in Y, it’s because the writers didn’t make them believe in it. They believed in X because the writers built it into the world. The disbelief comes when the writers fail at building something into their world or portray it inconsistently. The audience wouldn’t believe in X, either, if it was written inconsistently.

It’s a false equivalence because the big fantasy element and the mundane thing that don’t work right aren’t on the same level. The suspension of disbelief that allows the audience to buy into the big fantasy element isn’t transferable. It only applies to that big fantasy element. Writers have to make the audience believe in every single aspect of the story, and it’s usually the easy stuff that trips them up. You don’t have to explain “ordinary” things to the audience. They take those things as a given. If you don’t show us that these things aren’t the ordinary things we’re used to, then we’re going to assume they work the way things in the real world work. We get annoyed when they don’t work the way they work in the real world.

So, say there’s magic in your fantasy world. You’ll show us that magic is a part of this world, suggest who can use it and who can’t, show how it works and what it can do, and give an indication of what people in this world think about magic — do they know it exists? Do they like it? Fear it? If a character suddenly uses magic to get out of trouble when you haven’t established that magic exists, then that surprise needs to fit into your world. You can’t have a character with no magical powers in a world with no suggestion of magic just suddenly use magic to get out of trouble without that being a big deal — “OMG! I have magic powers! How did this happen? What do I do now?”

Meanwhile, if you have horses in this world and haven’t given us any indication that they’re different from horses in our world, then they have to act like horses in our world and have the same needs, abilities, and limitations. We’re going to assume they need to eat, have to have rest and water every so often, and they walk on land. If a horse suddenly flies when your plot requires it and you’ve given no indication that horses in your world can fly or are at all different from what we know of as a horse, then we’re not going to believe it, even if we believe that there’s magic in your world. You’d better have a good explanation, like the horse ate enchanted hay or someone did a horse levitating spell, and people better be surprised about the horse flying. Otherwise, if you need the horse to fly to get your character out of trouble, you’d better establish previously that horses in this world can fly, and you need to show how that affects your world — people carry really sturdy umbrellas, there aren’t as many roads, etc.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that you can’t change the rules of your world to fit your plot —especially not to get your characters out of trouble — whether it’s the magical elements or the mundane elements. If you can set up the fact that ravens serve as the messenger system, then you can set up the fact that maybe there are special ravens to be only used in dire emergencies or there are spells to be cast on ravens to make them fly faster, or there’s a special supercharged raven food. But if the ravens have acted like our ravens, other than the fact that they work as the Internet, then they need to keep acting like our ravens and not flying thousands of miles in a few hours.

Public Appearances

It’s going to be a busy fall for me, as I leave my writing cave to experience the outside world at a number of events. So, if you want a rare sighting of me in public, here’s where to find me in the coming months:

September 22-24: FenCon in Irving, Texas
I’m a panelist guest at this convention. There might be wacky video hijinks if I get my act together. I have no idea what I’ll read in my reading slot, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something.

October 6: Missouri Library Association
I’ll be speaking at the YA librarians breakfast. I suspect this is a member-only event that requires reservations, but if you’re a Missouri librarian, this is your chance!

October 20-22: Necronomicon in Tampa, Florida
I’m one of the Guests of Honor at this convention. There might be public singing.

November 2-5: World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio, Texas
I’ll be attending. I don’t know if I’ll be on any panels or otherwise participating, but there’s usually a big autograph session that anyone attending can participate in.

Because three of these events involve flying (I found a good airfare so that flying to San Antonio worked out as cheaper than driving, between parking at the hotel, gas, and the fact that the trip is so long that it would have probably involved an additional hotel night to make it there in time for the convention to start), I decided to splurge and apply for TSA PreCheck so it would somewhat decrease the stress. After looking into it, I went ahead and applied for Global Entry instead. That’s only $15 more expensive, includes PreCheck, and also gives expedited customs. I don’t have any particular plans to travel abroad, but I like having the option. Maybe this will spur me to travel abroad to make it worthwhile.

Anyway, I was worried that I’d procrastinated a little too long and wouldn’t have everything done by the time I need to travel, since it can take weeks to get an appointment for the interview portion, but I applied anyway last week. Friday night I got the notice that I had preliminary approval and needed to set an appointment. I went online to schedule the appointment, and there was one available slot on Tuesday, with everything else being full for weeks. So I snagged it. And now if I pass the interview portion, I should have my trusted traveler status in time for all those flights this fall.

But I do need to plan some other travel. During WorldCon, I realized that the parts I envied from seeing people’s reports weren’t about the convention itself, but the side trips people made while going to and from Helsinki. I’m tentatively considering making a trip to Iceland and Norway next year, maybe in August. That would be a way of extending my fall. WorldCon 2019 is in Dublin, and I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, so I may do that one and do some touring before/after. And there’s a book I want to write that will require a research trip to England.

writing

Bad Beginnings

I’ve been talking about writing beginnings. It’s hard to say what kinds of opening scenes you should write because a lot of that depends on the story you’re telling. It’s a lot easier to list the kinds of scenes you should avoid. Yes, you can probably point to successful examples of each of these kinds of scenes, but generally you’ll find that those are done by bestselling authors who could probably publish their grocery lists and hit a bestseller list (and, usually, those authors have learned how to do even these kinds of scenes well), are examples from decades ago when there were different expectations, or are done so skillfully that they work. If you’re just starting out and trying to break in, starting a book with these kinds of scenes is really risky.

1) The main character wakes up in the morning and starts the day
You’re better off starting the story when the action begins, not when the character’s day begins. There are exceptions, such as the character waking to a frightening situation, coming out of a coma, etc., if the normal daily routine is an important part of worldbuilding (in a fantasy, say, if a flock of fairies washes and dresses the main character that might be different enough from the normal to be interesting), or if there’s something about that “normal” that will very soon provide a stark contrast with the rest of the world. But you have to know what you’re doing to pull off those exceptions. If your story starts with a character waking up in the morning, look at where the action in the story actually starts. Would your story lose anything if you skip to that point and let the reader assume that the character woke up, got out of bed, and dressed that morning?

2) The story opens with an exciting action sequence with the character in peril — and then the character wakes up in the morning and realizes it was just a dream
This is a cheat — a way to open the story with a bang and then go back to that “normal” life beginning. Most editors and agents are well aware of the tactic and will eye it with suspicion. Again, there are ways you could possibly make this work, such as if the fact that the character has that dream actually is the inciting incident, but it’s a risky move for a beginner. Unless it’s handled really, really well, the action of the dream may seem like a bait and switch for the reader, especially if it leads into the waking up in the morning and getting dressed kind of scene. In a way, it makes the start of the book even slower because that action fake-out further delays the real start of the story. As before, look for where the story really begins. What do you lose if you cut the dream and the waking up part?

3) The story opens with an exciting action sequence with the character in peril, ending on a cliffhanger — and then cuts to “3 days ago” (or whatever time period)
Again, it’s a cheat, a way of squeezing in something exciting in the beginning. It’s like admitting that you don’t have a lot of faith in the opening of your story. This device is frequently used on TV series, and I think it’s a cheat there, too. At least with TV series, they can play with audience expectations because they have established characters and situations, and the opening is usually some action or situation that’s unusual for the show, with the flashback working to explain how these characters came to do something they’d never do. You don’t have that with a novel unless it’s a later book in an established series. Readers won’t know that this opening situation was odd, so they won’t care about how it came to be. This opening gives the same effect as the dream, in that it may open with a bang, but then there’s a big letdown, so it affects pacing and delays getting to the start of the real story. With a book there’s also the problem that readers can just flip ahead to the part of the book that opening scene comes from and see the resolution of the cliffhanger. You’re better off finding an interesting way of starting your story rather than turning your whole book into a flashback.

4) The story starts with the main character thinking about her backstory and how she came to be in her present situation
This is a deadly way to begin a story. For one thing, there’s not much happening if the character is able to just sit (or stand, walk, etc.) and think. For another, it tends to be an infodump — a block of information dumped on the reader, who doesn’t yet know enough about the world and the characters to know what parts might be relevant. You’re better off revealing that information by showing the character interacting with her world. She can have thoughts along the way as they’re relevant. Is there something in the character’s thoughts that you can dramatize? For example, if she’s thinking about how she doesn’t really fit in, instead of her thinking that, show her trying and failing to fit in — she can’t find a place to sit in the cafeteria because everyone turns their backs to her or glares at her, so she goes to sit outside, where she has a thought about it being like this every day. It doesn’t improve matters if the character has a conversation about the backstory instead of just thinking, especially if the person the character is talking to already knows the story and there’s no real story reason for the character to be telling the story.

5) The story starts with a character traveling to the destination where the story will take place
This gets even worse when combined with the thinking about the backstory, so the character is traveling, thinking about where she came from and where she’s going and why. Unless something happens on the journey, you’re better off starting with the arrival in the place where events will happen, or even when the character is already there and things are happening. As always, there are exceptions. Things can happen on the journey that are important to the story. The last time I wrote about this, I came up with a snarky example about masked bandits robbing the coach where the heroine was sitting and thinking about why she was making the journey. I ended up getting a book out of it (though Rebel Mechanics starts with a train robbery, not a coach robbery).

6) The story starts with two characters discussing the history of their world
This one was really big with epic fantasy novels in the 1970s-80s, but it’s hard to make it work now. Even if it’s a conversation, it’s still an infodump, and readers have no reason to care about this history until they know some of the characters. Chances are, readers won’t retain much of this information, if they even read it instead of skimming. Talking heads — two characters just talking, without anything else going on around them — are also dull. And you have to have a reason for these people to be having this discussion at this time. How often do you sit around and talk to your friends about the history of your city or state? When it happens, it might be in a more contentious political discussion, not, “As you know, the railroad came through here, and several farming communities formed into a larger city as more people came through with the railroad.” Before you try writing characters giving us backstory in a conversation, think about how people really talk about these sorts of things.

My Books

New Story!

Now that I’ve survived music and art camp, it’s back to my normal schedule, more or less. Today was a late start because I got up early and it was cool and rainy, and then the rain passed, so I decided to take a walk and take advantage of the cool. So, yeah, I managed to get a late start by getting up early.

If you’ve been missing the universe of the Enchanted, Inc. books, I’ve got a treat in store. There’s a new novelette (longer than a short story, shorter than a novella) set in that universe coming out tomorrow, “Criminal Enchantment.” This is another Sam the Gargoyle case, but the fun thing about this one is that it’s a prequel to Enchanted, Inc. It sets up the events at the opening of the first book, including showing how they happened to notice a certain person who seemed to be immune to magic.

Criminal Enchantment

“Criminal Enchantment” will be coming as an e-book tomorrow, for only 99 cents (in the US). At this time, there’s no print or audio, but what I’m planning to do is write a few more stories like this, and then when I have enough to put into a book, I’ll do a collection, and that will get put into print and possibly into audio and some foreign translations.

The page for this story has more info and the links to buy at various retailers.

Wrangling Kindergarteners

It’s been a busy week, since I had music and art camp in the mornings Monday through Thursday. I was in charge of kindergarten, and I had 16 kids, 10 of them boys. I did have helpers, which was nice, but I was the one ultimately responsible for making sure all the kids made it to each session and didn’t kill each other along the way. There were wild and crazy boys who interpreted every instruction as “run” and clingy girls who tried to demand special treatment for every little thing (I don’t like that snack, can I have something else? Not wanting to do anything but sit in the lap of the teen volunteer). I came home and pretty much collapsed every afternoon, and I got next to nothing done.

But I think my brain was plugging away in the background because I seem to have worked out the logistics for the new version of the next phase of the book.

I had a lightning bolt a week or so ago when I realized that the entire end of the book was based on a faulty premise. If I had the bad guys act logically, it changed everything, and that made things a lot more interesting. I had an initial idea of what might be happening, then that developed, and then I did some research, and now it’s coming together in a way that’s really clear. I just need to be able to find a way to put the imagery into words.

Then this morning I had a physical therapy appointment. I may be almost done. I see the doctor next week, then I have another appointment, and we’ll decide from there if I need to keep going or if I can just go to doing it all on my own. This has been a very expensive way to spend the summer (buy my books!) but I can tell a big difference, and I’m getting in better shape overall, not just my knee.

Now I need to try to get my brain in gear and get back to work.