Life

Making Minor Changes

I had a reasonably relaxing long weekend, though I did work a little (some proofreading, some brainstorming). I’d planned to do a lot of sitting and thinking, but that didn’t really happen because I started doing stuff. I ended up doing a lot of shopping.

One thing I bought was a new duvet set. I’m hoping that might help some with the itchy feet from wanting to move or change things. I’d had the same duvet cover since 1995, when I moved into the apartment I had before I bought this house. I finally found something I liked, and for a really nice price. It’s not a drastic difference. The old one was white with a pale blue floral pattern, and the new one is white with a pale blue embroidery trim around the edge. Basically, it looks like something you’d find in a hotel (and I believe it was from a “hotel collection”). I’m going to have to figure out what to do about the pillows, since one issue with the adjustable bed is that a headboard is a bit of a problem, and even if you have one, the pillows won’t rest against it when the bed is raised, but it looks rather naked and flat with just the two pillows lying there. With the old setup, I had some old pillows with pale blue pillowcases with Battenburg lace shams (with the blue showing through the lace) used to prop up the pillows I use (also in Battenburg lace shams). The lace doesn’t look good against the new white, and the blue is wrong. I’d thought about just putting the shams on the old pillows and putting the ones I use behind those, so there’s less to undo when getting in bed at night, but I discovered that the old pillows are a weird blue pattern that shows through the shams. I’m considering getting a body pillow to use as a “headboard,” or else buying some cheap white pillows at Ikea to put in the shams. And now that there’s all that white in the bedroom, I kind of feel like I need some color in the bathroom, where the shower curtain is Battenburg lace (and is looking kind of dingy after about 20 years).

I guess it’s the usual redecorating issue where you change one thing and then you have to change everything else to match it. Or maybe I was hungrier for a change than I realized.

I also bought some art supplies and did a little painting. Not that I’m trained at all in art, but I’ve been thinking about playing with it ever since I watched the kids painting at Vacation Bible School and thought that looked like it would be fun. And then I read a quote somewhere about how creativity is part of the human soul, how we express ourselves, but somewhere along the way we got this idea that adults should only do creative things if they’re good enough to be professional. I did check a book out of the library to learn a few techniques, but I’m having fun just dabbing watercolors onto paper in pretty patterns. And I’ve found that it’s actually good for brainstorming because while playing around with paint, I came up with ideas for my writing. It seems to keep my brain in a creative zone while not forcing myself to actively think about writing, so good stuff bubbles up in the background when I’m not trying hard to think of ideas.

And now the holiday is over, so back to work. This is going to be a lower-intensity week because I’m letting a book rest for a final round of revisions. I plan to do some writing for promo things, maybe draft a short story, and maybe outline something.

On Staycation

I finished my draft yesterday, so I’ve declared it a “staycation” until Tuesday, taking a long holiday weekend. I may do a bit of work, but otherwise I plan to do a lot of reading, a little gardening, maybe some other creative projects, a little housework and generally just relaxing and refilling the well.

As much as I love this book, it’s taken a lot out of me, and I need a break before I dive into the final round of revisions and edits. And then more projects.

So, see you next month!

Life

Restlessness and Roots

I’m close to finishing a draft, actually getting the ending right (I hope), but it’s been tough going because I’ve had a bad bout of restlessness. It seems to be an attack of what I call Military Brat Syndrome, in which every few years I get itchy to change something in my life.

That comes from spending my childhood moving every few years. When I was a kid, I sometimes resented having to move so much. I’d just have things going well, with a group of friends, knowing my way around at school, my room fixed just the way I wanted it, and then it would be time to move. I desperately wanted (or thought I did) to just stay in one place long enough to feel like I really belonged there, to put down roots. My dad retired from the army just before I turned fourteen, but then four years later I went off to college, then four years after that I got a job in a new city, and then I moved apartments every two to three years for a while, so I didn’t notice the restlessness. But then I bought a house.

While I’ve enjoyed the stability, I find, looking back, that I’ve tended to need to change things every few years in the 21 years I’ve been living in the same place. After a few years in this house, I flipped my office and bedroom, moving the office upstairs and bedroom downstairs. Then I lost my job and went freelance, which was a big change. A few years after that, I started going to a different church and found a new group of friends. Then I dropped out of some organizations I was in and found new ones to get involved with.

I’m getting that restless itch again now, but my problem is that I pretty much like my life the way it is. I’ve been going to the same church for nearly 13 years, and I like it better than anything else around here. I’ve been in the choir about 11 years and am going into my 10th year of directing children’s choir. I’ve been hanging out with the same group of people for more than ten years, and I like my group of friends. I don’t really want to change these things.

I would like a different house, but that’s not really feasible at the moment. Since I am hoping to move sooner rather than later, I don’t really want to get new furniture or redecorate because I’d rather wait to get things to fit the new place. This place is so small and oddly arranged that there aren’t too many ways I could shift furniture around. I may have to look for smaller things I can do to make it feel different. I’d like to get a new duvet cover, since I’ve had the same one for about 25 years, but I really like it and haven’t found anything I like better (or even as much). I’m planning to redo my office, which may help, but that will have to wait until it cools down more because it gets too hot up there to work. Maybe taking some short trips during the fall will help.

I do have moments of dreaming of going somewhere entirely different. As much as I complained about having to move when I was young, I also enjoyed getting to make a fresh start with a clean slate in a new place. I’m not crazy about the climate and geography where I live. I want four seasons, forests and hills, being able to be somewhere different with less than four hours of driving. But that kind of move would require either getting a day job that takes me elsewhere or making a lot more money. I caught myself looking into a grad school program that would move me into an entirely different career field the other day, just because it would give me an excuse to move, though I don’t really want a regular job.

So I guess I’ll get a new kitchen tablecloth, maybe a new bedspread, try some new activities, and take some day trips and hope that settles me down for a little while. Realizing what’s going on has helped. Some of the changes I made in the past when I didn’t know what I was going through tended to be a bit self-destructive, metaphorically burning things down just to get that sense of change. Now I recognize that and don’t do anything that I might regret later when the urge passes.

My Books

Beginning A Fairy Tale

While I’ve been waxing nostalgic about the origins of the Enchanted, Inc. series with the publication of the last book, I nearly missed another series anniversary. It was ten years ago when I took my research trip to New York to write A Fairy Tale. It’s rainy this morning, and that sparked the memory, since a tropical storm hit during that trip, so the first day was gorgeous, and it rained just about non-stop, sometimes torrentially, for the rest of the trip. If you look at the photo gallery for that book on my web site, you can see that some of the photos of Central Park show a bright, sunny day and the rest are dark and gloomy.

I’d had the first germ of the idea for that book years earlier with a mental image of a woman in a floral dress walking a bulldog and vanishing into the mist. It took me a long time to tease the story out of that image. I’d decided to try writing that book when I got a lot of rejections for another story, with the editors saying they wanted something more like Enchanted, Inc. This was a contemporary fantasy involving a southern woman in New York, so I thought it might work. I spent the summer doing research reading, digging into all the folklore about fairies. Then when I decided that the guy involved would be a cop, I read a lot of books about police.

The settings I had in mind were in parts of the city I hadn’t explored in depth. I also had never really taken a schedule-free trip, when I didn’t have any meetings, so I booked a short trip. It would be nice and like a working vacation to just do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, without having to worry about fitting it around meetings with editors or agents.

So, I spent a few days walking non-stop, much of it in the rain, and found all the places I wanted to write about.

It took me more than a year to get the book written (though I wrote Rebel Mechanics during that time when I put this book on hold to figure out the ending). Then it got rejected all over the publishing world, in a couple of cases because it was “too romancey,” though I find that odd considering there isn’t so much as a kiss in the whole book. There’s just some mild attraction. I guess the fact that there are two cases of a man and a woman meeting early in the book made them think it would be a romance rather than fantasy, which proves they didn’t read beyond the first couple of chapters. It was a few years later, after I’d successfully published the continuation of the Enchanted, Inc. series, that I decided to write more books in the series and publish them myself.

I’ve sold that series for audio and to the Japanese publisher, but it’s still sort of my forgotten stepchild. I may have packaged it badly. There have been a few people who thought it was intended for children. I may need a more conventional “urban fantasy” cover, or else the “paranormal chick lit” kind of cartoon cover. I do want to write at least one more book, but as much as I love that world and those characters, they’re not really clamoring for attention right now.

Maybe I need another rainy trip to New York to inspire me.

Don’t Gender the Arts

Last week, a so-called journalist (she’s always mostly done the puff pieces) really put her foot in it by mocking the fact that Britain’s Prince George is taking ballet classes and loving them. It’s just one little incident in an overall problem of the arts being heavily gendered — arts are “girl” things.

You see it in ballet, where there are few boys at all levels. You see it in music, where in most non-auditioned choirs (where everyone can just show up rather than there being a certain number of slots for each voice part) women outnumber the men by about two to one. You see it in theater, where they often have to gender flip any role that doesn’t have to be male for the plot to work because there just aren’t enough boys or men to fill the cast.

I direct a kindergarten choir, and I often have classes that are almost entirely boys. They love music and singing. By the time they get to fourth or fifth grade, gender expectations have kicked in, and there might be one boy left from the group that was all boys in kindergarten. It can happen even earlier than that, though. I have a friend whose son refused to participate in choir when he was in kindergarten because he had decided that choir was “a girl thing” — even though my choir that year had only one girl in it.

There are so many things wrong with all this. For one thing, it’s historically inaccurate. For a long time, women were forbidden to participate in the arts. Choirs were all-male, with the higher parts sung by boys whose voices hadn’t changed. Men or boys played the female roles in theater. For another, the attitude tends to take a trend toward misogyny, where the “girl” things are devalued. A boy who does “girl” things gets criticized because “girl” things are lesser. Likewise, a girl who does traditionally “girly” things is considered lesser than a “cool” girl who does “boy” things and therefore “is not like other girls.” There’s also homophobia in the mix, where the arts are considered “gay,” and therefore something boys need to avoid. Look at how things tend to be funded in schools and in communities, the resources put into sports (coded male) vs. the arts (coded female or gay).

This attitude does harm all around. There are the boys who never get to develop talents and interests. For the few who do stick it out, the situation can end up giving them false confidence. Because boys in the arts are so rare, they pretty much just have to show up to excel. The one guy in the student ballet company will get to be a star if he’s at all competent. A guy who auditions for a play (especially a musical) is probably going to get a part. A male singer (especially a tenor) is in high demand. Meanwhile, there are probably at least five or six extremely capable girls competing for each position. A girl has to be outstanding to go anywhere in the arts. A boy generally just has to participate and be moderately competent, and he’ll be treated like a star. Both the girls and the boys end up with an unrealistic view of their own abilities.

And there are so many benefits to the arts that boys miss out on. Studying music improves math skills. Theater helps develop empathy. Dance improves physical fitness. In fact, there’s a high school in this area that has started a dance for athletes class. It started when the football team’s kicker signed up for a dance class because he wanted to improve his flexibility and balance. The rest of the team mocked him for doing something so girly — until they saw how drastically his performance improved. So, more of them signed up. The coach noticed that those who took the dance class had fewer injuries because they had better balance, were more flexible, and were more agile, so he encouraged more players to take the dance class. It got to the point that the athletes were filling the dance classes, so they started one just for them. Really, they’ve found that arts education improves overall student performance. The arts offer a lifetime of benefits. You can play music and sing throughout your life. Getting comfortable on stage can translate to better performance in job interviews, meetings, and presentations. The balance and flexibility of dance can help prevent injuries. And yet all the funding tends to go to sports that most people can’t participate in for long.

So, stop mocking boys who want to dance, sing, act, paint, or do other things like that. Quit calling the arts “girly” or “gay,” and society would be a lot better off if we started valuing them as much as other things like sports. And Prince George, keep on enjoying ballet. That may even make you a better king someday. (And now I want to write a fantasy novel with a dancing prince — except in the medieval world, being able to dance was expected of nobility and royalty, so it wouldn’t be at all odd.)

writing

Fighting the Fizzling Ending

A lot of writers talk about struggling with the sagging middle. My biggest writing problem is the fizzling ending. I don’t think I’ve ever written a book in which I’m totally satisfied with the ending on the first draft.

Actually, I usually don’t even write the ending on the first draft, although I usually have the ending planned before I start writing the book. I get to what should be the climax of the book and suddenly have no idea what it should look like, even though I have a general sense of the things that need to happen. I’ll decide to put off writing the ending until I’ve done a round of revisions, since the things that change in revisions will have a ripple effect that will mean the ending really has to change, so there’s no point in writing it before I know what the changes are.

Then I’ll revise the whole book, get to the ending, and the ending I write is rather lame. I’m often rushing to get through it because I want to be done with the book or because it’s all so intense that I can’t make myself dig into it. It’s like writing while peering between my fingers from behind the sofa. Or I’ll find that I’ve tried to avoid conflict entirely.

So I then have to go back and rework the ending, sometimes figuring out entirely different events for the climactic scene. There’s a lot of pen-and-paper analysis of everything that went on in all the character arcs in the whole book in order to figure out a satisfying way for the good guys to prevail. It generally comes back to figuring out what lesson the heroine has to learn and finding a way to show that she’s learned it. Putting that into practice is a lot more challenging.

And then there’s the resolution, the wrapping-up part, and finding a way to tie up the ends that need to be tied up without going on and on and on after the climax. There’s a very narrow window that works between not enough, so readers don’t feel satisfied, and too much, so readers wonder when this book is ever going to end.

The end is one of the most important parts of the book. The beginning sells this book — people may flip through the first chapter to see if they want to read it. The ending sells the next book — if readers end the book with a satisfied sigh, they’re more likely to be left with a good impression that means they’ll pick up the author’s next book.

I spent yesterday doing the pen-and-paper work to figure out the ending. Not only had I chosen the wrong nemesis, but I’d missed the point entirely. I think I have it figured out now. I just have to write it.

Books

In Defense of Jane Eyre

A while ago, there was a thing circulating among the classic literature fan groups on Twitter (and, yes, there are classic literature fan groups on Twitter) about figuring out the kind of person you are based on which classic literature you loved when you were a kid/teen, with the choices being Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights, and if you chose the Brontes, you were supposedly someone who gets into unhealthy relationships and maybe is a bit goth.

I read Little Women as a child and didn’t like it much. The only character I liked was Jo, and I hated her outcome, and the rest of it I thought was a bit too sweet/cute. Plus, I’ve never had much interest in the US Civil War era. I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice until I was a junior in college, so I didn’t have an impression of it as a kid/teen. But I did read Jane Eyre for the first time in fifth grade, and I absolutely loved it. I may still like it a bit more than Pride and Prejudice, but they’re two very different moods, so I’d never enjoy one while I was in the mood for the other.

But I’ve never been all that “goth,” and I don’t have a thing for bad boys and unhealthy relationships. However, I’ve never read Jane Eyre as a romance. To me, the romance has always been secondary (in the book itself, though the film and TV adaptations focus on it). The book is really about a woman’s self-determination, going from being a pawn of fate to taking control of her fate. As a child, she’s subject to her aunt’s whims, she’s taken away to a school where she doesn’t even get to establish herself as herself, since she’s labeled based on what her aunt says, then she ends up working with someone who wants to control her life. Every step of the way, she remains true to herself. She refuses to lie to her aunt, even though she knows telling the truth will get her in trouble. She holds fast to her own identity in the terrible school and learns to stick to her faith and avoid things like revenge and hatred. When she learns Rochester has been lying to her about the mad wife in the attic, she refuses to live a lie with him and takes off on her own, but then when St. John Rivers wants her to live a different kind of lie, marrying him but living as brother and sister to be missionaries, she also refuses that, insisting on sticking to what she knows is right for herself. She builds a life for herself, doing something she believes in and knows is important. I’ve always found her story to be very inspiring. It’s not about her finding some fairytale prince to take her away from her troubles. She’s worked that out for herself before she gets the inheritance, and she has that inheritance before she goes back to Rochester, so she’s able to do so on her own terms and with a much more even power dynamic.

As for the relationship, I don’t think it’s the “she reformed the bad boy with her love” kind of unhealthy thing that people keep categorizing it as. Really, she reforms him with her contempt. When she finds out who and what he really is, she leaves him without a word. She doesn’t return to him until he’s had a big downfall and changed. Her contempt seems to have had a lot to do with him taking a good look at himself and realizing where he went wrong. I don’t see that as being too unhealthy. The unhealthy thing would have been sticking with him in the hope that he’d change, but if he changes on his own while she’s gone, then he might be worth taking a second look at. Still, I’ve never idealized that relationship. I’ve just admired her strength in being willing to walk away from him.

I last re-read Jane Eyre just before I started work on the book that became Rebel Mechanics. I originally had an idea of making it something sort of gothic-like, with the governess ending up in the spooky house full of secrets and lies. But Lord Henry refused to be a mysterious, brooding Rochester type, so I dropped that angle entirely. There were still secrets and lies, but the tone ended up being very different.

As for Wuthering Heights, I read that in my early 20s and again a few years ago, and I don’t see it as all that romantic. I don’t think it’s meant to be romantic. Heathcliff is clearly the villain of that book, not a romantic hero. In the 19th century Romantic movement sense, I think it’s more about nature vs. civilization, and Heathcliff and Cathy might have been okay if they’d been left alone to follow their natures, but they were destroyed by society trying to “civilize” them and put them into social constraints based on class. I’m not a huge fan of that story, but I do think it gets a bad rap from the misinterpretation as being a romance.

My Books

Status Update

Because I get a lot of questions, I thought I’d do a status report of sorts to let everyone know where various projects stand.

Enchanted, Inc. book 9 — Enchanted Ever After
Published! It’s available in e-book in most online booksellers. The paperback is supposed to be on expanded distribution, but I haven’t found it anywhere but Amazon so far. I’m not planning to offer it on Google Play because there have been some issues there. They can be difficult to deal with in ways that affect other stores (they change prices without consulting authors, then the other stores match their prices), and I only ever sell a few copies there, so it’s not worth dealing with them.
I don’t know when the audio version will be out. We made the deal for that earlier in the year and I set the release date to accommodate their needs, but then the contract ended up in limbo, and they changed their boilerplate contract, so all the terms had to be renegotiated. I still haven’t seen it. I also don’t know about any foreign markets. My agent has offered it to the Japanese publisher, but there’s been no answer yet.

As for what might happen beyond that, I am aware that there are events in the characters’ lives that might make good stories. But at the moment I don’t have much interest in writing them. I’ve been working in that world since 2003, and that’s a long time to work on a series. I wrote most of this book about two years ago and the rest of it about a year ago, and I knew while I was working on it that I didn’t think I could write another one. While there’s stuff in the characters’ lives that might be interesting, I am fresh out of magical plots for them, and I’m not interested enough in the domestic stuff to want to write about just that. It’s possible that a new idea will hit me that I must write, and there are potential side stories about other adventures that might happen to other people in that universe. I’m not saying never, but it’s been about a year since I worked on that book, and nothing has struck me.

Rebels 4
I’m doing some reading to research this book. I thought I had an idea for what might happen, and the research has changed the idea, so I have a lot of thinking to do. I plan to work on it later this year, and hope to get it released in maybe the late spring or early summer. That all depends on how long it takes me to write and what else ends up going on. I don’t think I’ll be able to wrap up the series with this book, so it’s possible that there will be another one after that, but I won’t know until I start writing.

The Fairy Tale series
Ah, my poor neglected stepchild. I love that world and those characters, and I have managed to sell it for audio and to Japan, but it seems to underperform. Meanwhile, my cover artist went and hit the big time, doing covers for Marvel, Star Wars comics and a Firefly piece. I’m so happy for her, but I doubt I can afford her anymore, if she can even squeeze me in. So, if I do another book, I’ll likely have to go a new direction with the covers (I’m not sure the direction I went with the covers was the most marketable. I absolutely love the art and it was just what I wanted, but I may not have made good choices from a marketing standpoint) and rebrand the whole series. I’ve sort of outlined the next book, but I don’t know when I’ll get to it. It isn’t exactly burning a hole in my brain, while there are other things that are jumping up and down and begging to be written.

Meanwhile, I have about five or six things that I really want to play with. I want to find a new traditional publisher, at least for my YA books, so I’ve been working on something new for my agent to submit. I’ve got ideas for a fantasy series and a paranormal mystery series. I’ve also got some ideas for big fantasy books that might go to a traditional publisher, but I’m hoping to raise my profile in that area first.

Oh, and I’ve got an Audible Original book that will be exclusive to audio for a year that’s supposed to be coming out later this year. It’s a contemporary fantasy with touches of romantic comedy and is unrelated to anything else I’ve done.

So, that’s what I’ve got going on and planned. Plans are subject to change based on inspiration, editorial revisions, life, etc. I’m mostly over my little existential crisis from earlier in the year. I realized that I do want to write, and I’d rather not do anything else, even if I could. I know I don’t really want to work in my old field, but I don’t know what else I could do. I registered with an agency for doing freelance work and have had no response, so it looks like I need to just stick with the writing. I just wish the business side of it wasn’t so challenging. I really do struggle with promotional stuff — a reason getting a job in my old field probably isn’t a good idea because that was my job. It does get depressing that my career seems to be moving backward, but I’m hoping I can move it forward again. The new book is doing pretty well, but it’s still only reached a tiny fraction of the number of people who read the earlier books, and most of the money I’ve made on it so far has just covered the cost of getting it published. But I’m trying to focus on the things I can control and just write without worrying about the rest of it.

writing

Impulsive Characters

After my rant last week about stupid characters, one of the next books I picked up opened with the heroine doing something stupid and impulsive that got her in huge trouble that ended up affecting other people in her life. Then her adult mentor got her out of that trouble and told her exactly what she needed to do — or not do — to avoid even more trouble that would affect her whole family, and about thirty seconds later she completely neglected to do what he told her she needed to do and went off and did something else and, yeah, got into even more trouble.

This was a YA book, and I know I’m not the target audience. Rash and impulsive is pretty much the teen “brand,” so maybe teen readers aren’t groaning about what an idiot the main character is. This book was really quite successful — a lot more successful than any of my books have been — so maybe the teen readers are enjoying the teen characters ignoring the adults in their lives, even if ignoring good advice leaves a swath of destruction in their wake. Meanwhile I, as an adult, want to give them a good spanking and ground them for about a month.

And I suppose there wouldn’t have been much of a book if the character had listened to the advice — though, really, the trouble she was in was big enough that I don’t think it would have made that much difference. I’d be a lot more sympathetic if she followed the advice and still ended up in trouble than I am when she rebelliously ignored the advice and landed in trouble.

It really is a tricky balance. Smart, reasonable characters who listen to good advice may not be as likely to get into the kind of trouble that makes for a good story. And this does give the characters room to grow. Maybe over the course of the book she’ll learn to listen and think before acting and will realize that her mentors know a thing or two. Right now, she’s just coming across as bratty, wanting what she wants, with no thought for the greater good or even the good of anyone else but herself, and that’s not sympathetic to me.

The heroine I’m writing now has done something quite rash and rebellious, but she thought it through and had a reasonable plan. I guess she was sensibly rebellious rather than stupidly rebellious. She ended up in way over her head, but she did avoid some danger. I’m saving the danger for later in the book.

writing

Finding the Right Villain

This morning I figured out the problem with the villain in the book I’m working on: I’ve been focusing on the wrong villain.

There’s still the big bad causing the societal problem, but I picked the wrong lower-level villain to be the heroine’s direct nemesis, the person who stands in the way of her achieving her goals. The one I was trying to make be her nemesis really has no reason to want to oppose her through most of the book, and he has no power to stop her from achieving her initial goal. He’s still an antagonist and he can be the kind of bully who makes her life miserable, but he can’t really do anything to stop her until maybe getting in the way toward the end.

It’s another character who’s been there all along but who I hadn’t really focused on who makes the best nemesis. He has a reason to be opposed to her, in particular, and he has the power to stop her from achieving her goals — all of them, both the one she initially thinks is important and then the real goal she later realizes is what she needs to do. He’s also an agent of the big bad, so he fits in with the big-picture conflict.

I may not even have to rewrite that much to bring this out, but I feel like this is the ingredient that’s been lacking, and emphasizing this conflict will make the book spark.

The challenge will be to actually write the conflict, since I tend to be conflict-averse. I don’t like torturing my characters, but I really must do so.