Alien Flowers

We’re having a weird weather year in which we seem to have mostly skipped fall, going straight from summer to winter. We’ve already had a freeze, which is really early for us, and this means that we’ve missed the main reason I love fall: good weather for being outdoors. It went straight from too hot to too cold and damp. My morning glories had barely started blooming when the freeze hit. I had one in a pot small enough to bring inside, and that one is still blooming. Another I was able to move up against the house in a sheltered area, and it looks like it might bloom, maybe even before the next freeze next week. The third I couldn’t move because I put one big trellis between two smaller pots, and I couldn’t get the whole thing moved. There are some leaves left, but I doubt it will bloom.

pink coxcomb
The “cock’s comb” formation of a celosia plant.

My big success this year was in growing celosias, which was entirely unintended. I bought a packet of “annual cutting mix” seeds and threw them into some pots that already had dirt in them. A couple of them turned out to produce zinnias. The rest produced these crazy looking flowers that reminded me of science fiction movies and shows in which the aliens have invaded earth and are terraforming it to suit them, with weird alien plants taking over. I looked up all the plants listed on the seed packet, and none of them seemed to match. I finally figured out they were celosias, also known as coxcomb (though only one of mine went into the cock’s comb formation). Those weren’t listed on the packet at all.

I’ve also seen them described as “Dr. Seuss plants,” since they look like the kind

pink and yellow celosia flowers
Are they alien, or drawn by Dr. Seuss?

of flowers Dr. Seuss drew. They weren’t what I was expecting, and they aren’t really what I would consider “cutting” flowers. They keep changing as they keep growing, and the blooms stay rather than blooming and then falling off, so I haven’t been able to bring myself to cut any of them. I want to see what they do next. Supposedly, they make good dried flowers, so I may try that when the season really and truly ends.

I love sitting on my patio, surrounded by all my flowers. I had never thought of myself as the gardener type, but the plants bring me a lot of joy. I just wish I had a longer season for them this year. Our summers are so brutal that we don’t tend to get the good flowers until September, at least. This year, they didn’t really bloom much until October, and then we got a freeze at the beginning of November. I’ve had maybe three good days to sit or work outdoors in between the heat and the cold.

Today’s a gloomy, wet, cold day, which I love, but I prefer it to come after a good stretch of pleasant fall weather. I’d hoped to take a little vacation and go hiking in the Oklahoma mountains, but every time I have a stretch of days when I could do that, the day I’d be spending hiking is forecast for a bitter cold front and rain.

In case you’re having a gray day wherever you are, enjoy some of my flowers, with photos taken on a nicer day.


Sleep Solutions

Sleep issues seem to be a common problem with writers. I guess it’s because we have trouble shutting off our brains. Lying in a dark room with no distractions and nothing to do is the perfect opportunity to work out those thorny plot problems, according to our brains. I’ve been experimenting with ways to help me sleep better, and my latest discovery may have done the trick.

I found a weighted blanket on sale at Tuesday Morning and thought I’d give it a shot. I’d done some reading about these, which are supposed to help ease anxiety and make you feel more secure for better rest. They were originally developed to help children with autism. In a way, they’re like swaddling or like a thundershirt for pets, using close pressure that’s like a hug to ease tension. I noticed how much better I was sleeping when it got cool enough to put the comforter on the bed, and I remembered that I used to put my sleeping bag on top of the comforter to give myself more warmth and weight, so when I saw this blanket at a reasonable price, I thought I’d give it a try.

It was hard to judge at first, since I got it last week when I was going to that conference, so I had all the little “will I get up in time to catch the train?” worries. It was really cold, and I must say that the super-snug blanket made it even harder to get out of bed on a cold morning.

But the last two nights have been some of the best sleep I’ve had in ages. I don’t remember doing my usual 3 a.m. wake up. When I wake during the night, it’s just to roll over, glance at the clock, and go right back to sleep rather than lying there awake and thinking for a while. I don’t know if it’s the blanket or just that I was tired.

The blanket I got is smaller, more of a throw, and I did use it one night when watching TV. For a change, I just sat there and watched rather than getting sidetracked and going online or doing other stuff like that. Again, I don’t know if it’s the blanket or if I was actually engaged in what I was watching. It’s also nice for reading.

Of course, the down side may be that this is going to be yet another thing that makes sleeping away from home difficult. I already have the issue of flat beds now that I’m used to my adjustable bed, and now I’m going to feel exposed when I don’t have twelve pounds of blanket lying on me. I’m not sure what I’ll do for the summer. I’m considering sewing some kind of weights to my knitted lace blanket to give me some weight without warmth.

writing life

The Mystery Convention

After a very busy week, it’s nice to get back to something like a “normal” schedule. I let myself sleep in, as it’s been more than a week since I didn’t have to get up and go somewhere in the morning, but now I’m trying to go by my usual working routine.

The mystery convention was interesting, though not quite what I expected. For one thing, I was probably in the youngest quarter of all attendees. I felt rather like a child. For another, I wasn’t entirely sure where it fell on the fan vs. writer spectrum. A lot of the panel descriptions made the panels sound like they’d be writing panels with how-tos and advice for writers, but then they ended up being more for a reader perspective. I still got some good info and learned a lot about the way mystery writers and readers think, but I didn’t get the nuts and bolts I was hoping for. I think most of the benefit for me was that hearing the discussions gave me ideas, and that made the vague mystery idea I’ve had in the back of my head start taking concrete shape.

As big of a mystery reader as I’ve always been, I hadn’t heard of (or hadn’t read) most of the speakers. I’ve now got a list of books I want to look for. I did get to meet Rhys Bowen, who writes the Royal Spyness mysteries, but that was in the hospitality room rather than on any panel. And I got a lot of scoop about writers I had read from Felix Francis’s talk. Of course, he talked a lot about his father, Dick Francis, but because of growing up with his father and because of the people he knew, he was also able to talk about going over to Agatha Christie’s house or visiting P.D. James. It sounds like as a kid he was very curious about writers’ processes, so he was able to talk about how they plotted their books and how they worked. I graduated from Nancy Drew straight to Dick Francis and Agatha Christie, so it was fun hearing all those stories.

I was rather surprised to learn how many mystery writers are “pantsers” who just write rather than plotting out the book in advance. I’d have thought that would be the one genre where you have to plot and plan. There seemed to be huge extremes between having everything planned out on color-coded notecards or Excel spreadsheets and just making it up as they go. Surprisingly, Agatha Christie was apparently a pantser. She made sure that every suspect actually could have been the murderer, with motive, means, and opportunity, but didn’t decide who actually did it until late in the writing process. Was Murder on the Orient Express a case of her not being able to make up her mind? And I guess And Then There Were None was a case of flipping it and making all the suspects victims.

In a way, I suppose it makes sense that if the writer is surprised by the conclusion, the reader is more likely to be, while if you know it all going in it might be harder to avoid being too obvious. My books haven’t technically been mysteries, but I have gone in thinking the culprit would be one person, then realized midway through that it was too obvious, so that person became the red herring, and then someone else became the culprit, with some editing to set it up.

I’m not sure I’d travel out of town to attend this convention again. Even if I start writing mysteries, I’m not sure the demographics are in line with my readership. I did get recognized a few times by readers who saw my name and knew who I was and commented about loving my books, which was cool. So I do have some readers there. But I doubt there would be much promo value without the backing of a major publisher. Most authors were only on one panel each, and then there were the publisher giveaway signings. That’s not a lot of exposure from an author perspective, but there’s also not a lot of business/education going on. There might have been more networking if I’d stayed at the hotel and attended the evening events instead of commuting, but networking isn’t my superpower, so I’m not sure I’d have got that much out of it.

But I did get some new books to read and I need to look up a few authors at the library.

Going Downtown

It never seems to fail that when it’s the perfect “stay at home and write” weather, that’s when I have to go somewhere. Yesterday, I had to speak to a university class, which meant driving across the metro area in the cold rain, and then back at the beginning of rush hour. Today, it’s raining even harder and is even colder, and I was planning to go downtown today to check in for the mystery convention so I wouldn’t have to worry about it in the morning.

But, given the weather forecast and the fact that it would be at least a two-hour excursion even if I were able to just go to the head of the line and catch the next train back, I made the executive decision to just deal with it in the morning. It’ll be cold then, but it won’t be raining.

In all this researching of train schedules, I found that the old option may be the best. For a long time, the only train from my city to downtown Dallas was the big commuter train that stopped at the downtown station, about 25 minutes or so from my house. I was so glad when they got the light rail through my part of town, with the station only about 15 minutes away.

But when I was looking up the train schedules, I found a notice saying that the downtown light rail tracks will be closed on Saturday. On a normal day, I’d have to take the train to downtown, then catch another train that goes right to the train station at the convention hotel. On Saturday, I’d have to take the train to near downtown, catch a shuttle bus to the downtown station, then catch another train to the convention hotel. I figured it might be worthwhile to go downtown and catch the big train, which is on different tracks and goes straight to the convention hotel. That’s when I saw that the commuter train is a 19-minute trip to downtown, while light rail is 40 minutes to downtown, plus waiting for another train to get to the convention hotel (which adds maybe 10-15 minutes). The downside to the big train is that it only runs once an hour during the day, every half hour during rush hours, while the commuter train runs every 20 minutes. But I’ll be traveling in rush hour. Even with the extra 10-15 minute drive to the station, it’s a faster trip, and I won’t have to wait at a semi-sketchy station to change trains. I’ll just have to be absolutely certain to catch the train, so no lingering after panels.

We’ll see what I can learn about how to write a mystery, and what I can learn about plotting a mystery that I can use in my other writing to build tension and suspense.

No posting the rest of the week because I’ll be downtown in panels.


Reconsidering Darcy

Yesterday, my book group discussed Pride and Prejudice. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read it, but there are so many pop culture takes on it, so many adaptations, so many memes, that sometimes it’s hard to remember what comes from the book and what’s been added along the way. Reading the book again is like a revelation, stripping away all the baggage and getting back to the source, and I always notice something new.

I’ve never been a huge Darcy fangirl. I remember thinking of him as a jerk the first time I read the book (but I was reading the book for a course on satire, so I wasn’t reading it as a romance. I was looking for the snark). I found Colin Firth quite attractive in the miniseries, but I still wasn’t entirely sold on the character. As much as I love the book, I’ve never been one of those women swooning over Darcy or wanting to travel in time and meet him or even to meet the modern version.

But I noticed on this reading that the text is pretty clear that a lot of what Lizzie read as pride was actually social awkwardness, with the pride and snobbery used as a kind of social armor. It’s a lot easier to say “I’m not going to speak to those people because they’re beneath me” than to pull together the nerve to speak to someone when you’re feeling awkward in a crowd where you don’t know a lot of people. He’s got enough social grace to manage to look aloof and proud rather than tripping all over himself and being a dork, but basically he’s a dork who hides it well. That makes him a lot more endearing. But at the same time, he’s terrible at reading people, but arrogant enough to think he’s correct about people, which is a problem when he imposes his views on others.

I know Austen Twitter has started promoting Darcy as the poster boy for recognizing privilege and getting over it, and that is a strong thread in the book, where he starts from a place of assuming he knows best and Lizzie will be glad to take him, then realizes where he screwed up, and then sets out to change his ways and his attitude, then show her he’s changed, even using his privilege to help without expecting credit for it. He really has a satisfying character arc. The contrast between his first proposal, all, “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” and the second proposal, “My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever,” is like a master class in how to talk to women. It goes from being all about him and her being obligated to listen to being about her and giving her the power not to listen.

But he wasn’t all gone in the earlier proposal. There’s a line that I love: “He listened without attempting to interrupt her.” That’s rather swoonworthy.

Plus, the best description of a slow-burn romance, when Lizzie asks him when he fell in love with her: “I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

I guess I’m Team Darcy now.

Posting Lapses Ahead

Posting is going to be a bit sporadic for the next week or so, as it’s a busy time. I’m about to rush off to a meeting, then tomorrow I’m speaking to a university class. I’m at a conference the rest of the week. Then, weather and health permitting, I’m thinking of going on a short vacation since we’ve finally got something resembling fall and it’s a good time to do some hiking.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some book revisions to start thinking about while I’m also plotting and developing a book. I’m hoping to get some work done on the train as I go to and from the conference.

Now I’m off to a meeting of a Jane Austen book club to discuss Pride and Prejudice. It was interesting re-reading it again after a long time. All the various adaptations and retellings of it tend to crowd out the original, and it’s nice to go back to the source every so often. I have thoughts on that, which may be the one post I’ll manage to make in the next couple of weeks. Let’s just say that I’ve never been one of those people swooning over Darcy, but after this read, I think I might now be.

My Books

News Updates

I’ve got a few updates about what’s coming and what I’m working on.

First, my next release will be an Audible Original, coming in early January. It will be in audio only for the first year, but I’m hoping to have an e-book edition after the end of that exclusive period. Stay tuned for more info about this one. It’s a contemporary fantasy romantic comedy unrelated to any of my other series. By the way, I get a bonus if this is the first book you get after joining Audible, so if you were thinking of doing that, keep that in mind.

Second, there’s going to be a delay in a Rebels book 4, for business reasons. One of the problems I have with that series is that the first book is controlled by the original publisher. That means I can’t do anything about the pricing, which is way too high for an e-book, especially for hooking new readers into the series, and that means there’s little I can do to promote it. I can’t do BookBubs or Amazon ads. The publisher certainly isn’t doing anything to promote it (they didn’t even do anything when it was first released), and since they don’t have any more books from me, they have zero incentive to do even so much as lower the price. Sales are really tapering off, and I’m getting to close to the level where I can ask for the rights back and republish the book myself, which would give me control over the whole series. But if I put out a new book, that tends to boost sales for the rest of the series, which would delay me getting control over the first book because I’d be farther from the threshold once more, and yet that boost wouldn’t be enough to really make a difference in income for me. So, I’m holding off on doing a fourth book until sales either surge so significantly (for whatever reason) that it’s worthwhile to do another book anyway, or until I get the rights to the first book back and the whole series is mine. It’s weird to be in a position to tell people not to buy or promote one of my books, but unless whatever promotion is so big that several thousand copies sell all of a sudden (it’s been selling under 400 copies a year), it’s better for me if sales drop off entirely.

Third, I’ve sold a short story to an anthology. There will be a Kickstarter to fund that anthology, so when that comes about, I’ll be letting everyone know. I don’t want to say anything more than that because I don’t want to steal their thunder.

writing life

Distracting Myself

I got my energy back today, so I’m looking forward to a productive day (the morning so far has been spent on dealing with the HOA, with their vendors getting estimates on doing repairs around my house).

I think my brain has been working over some things, and it generally finds ways to distract me to get me out of the way so I can’t work until it’s ready. It reminds me a bit of one of those books I recommended, To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. It’s a time travel book that’s basically about chaos theory and how the timeline seems to be self-repairing. The time travelers are trying to fix something that another time traveler seems to have possibly messed up, but everything they do to try to set things right just makes matters worse. Finally, when trying to get back to the time they’re working in after reporting to the “present,” they get stuck in the wrong time for a while and realize that the timeline was getting them out of the way so things could get fixed.

That’s what my brain seems to do sometimes. When I’m going in the wrong direction on a book, I sometimes get to where I can’t work at all and am totally distracted. That keeps me from writing the wrong thing that will have to be deleted. I get back to work when my brain has it all worked out.

The trick is figuring out the difference between normal distractions and “don’t wannas” and getting out of the way so I can work it all out. There’s nothing like a deadline for making me feel like my cabinets and closets need to be re-organized or to really want to go on a baking binge.

We’ll see when I sit down to write whether this otherwise lost week has paid off.


Fall Cooking

I’m having a lazy week. I can’t seem to get up and going, and I’m not accomplishing a lot. But since next week is going to be really busy, maybe getting plenty of rest is a good thing. My body may know what it’s doing.

Fall seems to have finally arrived for real, which may have something to do with the laziness. It’s my version of spring fever, when I don’t really want to do anything but just relax and I can’t make my brain focus. This has also been a time for baking and making soup. I seem to turn into a soup-based life form at this time of year. I’ve already made a lentil soup, a sausage, potato and kale soup, and a veggie soup. I’m planning chicken nacho soup for tomorrow. I’ve got some of all this put up in the freezer, so I should have easy leftovers to reheat next week when I’m getting home late in the evening from the convention (if I don’t end up going out to dinner).

My next kitchen experiment is going to involve butternut squash. I haven’t had a lot of luck with winter squash, but I’m going to try again and see if I can make this work.

Meanwhile, I’ve made some peach butter, and I bought apples for making apple butter. Supposedly, that goes pretty quickly with the Instant Pot.

And then there’s been a lot of muffin baking. I even bought a donut pan and have made some cinnamon sugar donuts that are almost exactly like the ones we used to have on road trips when I was a kid.

Come to think of it, maybe I haven’t been lazy. I’ve just been cooking. Fall turns me into Betty Crocker.


Recommended Reading

A few weeks ago, I had a reader question about what books I’d recommend to readers of my books who want more things like that.

That’s a little tricky. I haven’t really found anything quite like my books. That’s part of the reason that selling and marketing my books is so challenging. They aren’t much like anything else in the market, so there’s nothing editors can point to and say “this is like that, so we know how to market it and we know how it will sell.” And there’s nothing quite close enough for me to know the best way to package what I write. Most of the contemporary fantasy, for instance, is darker and has vampires and werewolves. Or if it was published as paranormal chick lit, it still has vampires or has a lot more sex. I haven’t really found anything else that has all the elements I’m looking for that I didn’t have to write for myself. The best I can do is find some things that work for me, with some caveats. There’s also a fine line between books I like and can recommend, with the idea that if you like my books, you might like some of the same books I like, and books that I really think will give people a similar reading experience as my books do.

This may become an ongoing series, since I know that the moment I post, I’ll think of dozens of others. And if you have suggestions, feel free to comment, and I can later add reader recommendations to future posts.

Obviously, there’s the Harry Potter series. Wanting something like that, but for grown-ups, was what spurred me to write Enchanted, Inc. in the first place. I’ve seen a review of my books that wondered if they had origins in Harry Potter fan fiction, and the answer is no. I’ve never even mentally written Harry Potter fanfic. These were never characters or situations from that world. It’s just that I was basically Hermione when I was that age, and since I related to her tween/teen experiences, I found myself wanting to read about adult issues with magic involved. I really wanted a cross between chick lit and fantasy and couldn’t find it, so I wrote it.

About the closest I found in contemporary fantasy when I was researching the market to see what was out there was Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. It’s a lot darker and edgier than my books, but it does have that sense of whimsy and quirkiness and a way of making you look at the city in a different way, like there’s magical stuff going on around you that you aren’t seeing if you aren’t looking for it.

She writes science fiction rather than fantasy, but I think some of Connie Willis’s books are in kind of the same niche as the Enchanted, Inc. books, in that they have that sassy romantic comedy voice and all kinds of chaos going on, only the chaos has to do with science rather than magic. Of her older books, there’s Bellwether and Remake. More recently, there’s Crosstalk, which is outright a science fiction romantic comedy. Her To Say Nothing of the Dog is a Victorian time travel book that may be of interest to fans of Rebel Mechanics. It takes place around the same time, and one of the characters even has the same name as my heroine (I didn’t name her after this book, though this book was where I discovered the name. I used it for different reasons).

Fans of Enchanted, Inc. and A Fairy Tale might also like the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. They are a bit darker and get pretty violent, even gory, but they’re contemporary fantasy with a bit of a sassy tone, and they draw heavily upon folklore, looking at what beings from folklore might be doing in the modern world.

Some of the Heather Webber/Heather Blake (same person under different names) mysteries remind me of the Enchanted, Inc. books in tone. The Heather Webber ones may be a bit more romancey/sexy. The Heather Blake ones do a lot of magical worldbuilding and have a secret magical society in parallel with the normal world.

The Rogue Agent books by K.E. Mills are kind of like if the Enchanted, Inc. books and the Rebel Mechanics books had a baby. They have the magical organization like in the Enchanted, Inc. books but take place in a quasi-Victorian steampunky setting. They do take the occasional turn to very dark and her hero goes through all kinds of torture, though. I actually stumbled on these when I ran across the second book in the series, Witches Incorporated, in a publisher catalog and thought it might be like Enchanted, Inc., so I got the first book and discovered that it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but I still liked it. Supposedly, the author sold another few books in this series, but I haven’t seen any news about them being published.

I’ll keep digging through my reading logs and bookcases to come up with more recommendations.