Recent Reading: Spinning Silver

I haven’t done a recent reading/book report post in a while, but I have a cool one today because it’s about a book that’s releasing today. I got an advance copy and managed to actually read it before it was released, which is rather different for me (I didn’t read my advance copy of A Game of Thrones until after the first season of the TV series).

The book is Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. It’s a standalone (at least, so far) fantasy novel with Russian/Eastern European influences, playing off the Rumpelstiltskin story. Only, in this case, the one who turns things into gold is our heroine, the daughter of a moneylender, who notes that the fairy tale is a story about someone who made a deal and carried out his end of it being cheated. Her father’s not a very good moneylender, since he hates to ask for payment, and therefore everyone in town is cheating him and the family is poor. Fed up with going hungry, his daughter pulls together the account ledgers and starts collecting debts. Then she invests the income and makes a profit, turning the silver coins she collects into gold pieces. At one point, she boasts of her ability to turn silver into gold … and the wrong person hears it, and takes it literally.

This story is interwoven with the story of the girl whose father can’t pay his debt to the moneylender, so she’s working it off in service to the moneylender’s family — and finds that this is the best thing to ever happen to her as she finds a family happier than her own. And then there’s the young noblewoman forced to marry the cruel young tsar, who turns out to have something terribly wrong with him that she might be able to do something about.

As you may have noticed, I love fairy tale retellings and new stories that feel like old fairy tales, and this is a bit of both. It’s magical and atmospheric, and you can almost imagine someone telling you this story by the fire on a cold winter night.

Winter is actually a big part of the story, as the magical folk (very fae-like) have created an eternal winter. That’s one of the things our heroines have to deal with. I imagine this book would be nice to read while snuggled under a blanket with a hot cup of tea or cocoa, but it was also nice to read on a hot early summer day, when the descriptions of snow piling high made me feel a little colder.

There’s a touch of romance in a couple of the stories, but very slow build (so just right for me). I wanted to see how it ended but didn’t want it to end.

If you read her earlier Uprooted (one of the books that benefited from my Nebula good-luck charm, as she was sitting next to me when she won), this is along those lines, but is an entirely different story, possibly in a different world.

So, go find it. I really liked this one.


The End is Nigh

I think I’ve figured out the ending to this book, but it’s going to require going back through the whole thing to set it up properly. It seems that part of my problem that an event I was trying to squeeze in during the ending really belonged at the middle. Once that’s in the right place, everything flows much better.

And I didn’t have a good sense of the timeline. Putting the events onto a calendar really helped me see what was going on and figure out the timing and pacing. I should have been doing that all along. Someday, I’ll learn. You’d think I’d have all this figured out by now, but even if I got it all together, there would be something new to learn.

So, this week is my buckle down and get to the end of the book week. Hold all my calls and clear my calendar.

Then another project has jumped up and told me it needs to be dealt with. Silly demanding characters. But I guess it’s a good sign if my characters are real enough to me that they can demand attention.


Figuring out the End

Today will be a day of plotting because I hit the end of what I know for sure in the book I’m writing, and my rough outline for the rest of the book no longer applies. I think part of the problem is that the outline was so rough. The big, climactic scene was essentially “and then they do something to expose and stop the bad guys.” Now I’m heading toward that scene, when I have to set it up, and I need to get more specific, but the specifics I already have don’t work with the vague plan I had to set up the big scene.

So today I will be diving into specifics. There will probably be a lot of whining. Maybe some whimpering. I’m sure I’ll write out at least a couple of scene outlines that are essentially “they meet to make plans.”

I knew I was getting into trouble yesterday when half the scenes I was writing were the characters arguing about what to do next without coming to a conclusion — and then I realized this was because I didn’t know what they were going to do next. I suspect many of these scenes will be cut from the final draft. I call that “plotting on paper,” when the way I figure out what the characters will do is to have the characters discuss what they should do. Once I know what they’ll do, I don’t really need the discussion unless there’s something else going on in the scene.

I love the plotting phase at the beginning of a novel when I’m just starting to explore and discover what it’s about. I’m less fond of the plotting phase at the end of the book when I realize that all the stuff I did at the beginning was actually pretty vague and it didn’t flesh out along the way as much as I’d hoped it would.

So, off to figure out how this book should end …

My Books

Diving into Rebellion

While I’m getting nostalgic about what got me started writing various books, I realized that I started working on Rebel Mechanics around this time eight years ago.

Rebel Mechanics cover

I’d been working on the book that became A Fairy Tale, and I was unhappy with it. I had a vision for it and couldn’t quite make that vision work. Meanwhile, I had this other idea that I thought might be more marketable — a steampunk adventure story. I’d been making myself not work on the Shiny New Idea, but thought that maybe what I needed was a break to help me figure out what I needed to do with A Fairy Tale.

That summer, I was also dealing with some medical stuff. I had a frozen shoulder, which involves tissue encapsulating the joint so that you can’t move it. It’s tricky because it starts with pain in the shoulder, and the natural impulse is to rest that shoulder so it can heal, but resting is what allows it to freeze. I’d reached a point where I could barely lift my left arm when I finally admitted I needed help, and the prescription was physical therapy. It was tough physical therapy that involved not only exercises but also the therapist stretching and manipulating that arm to loosen the tissue. And there was a lot of pain. It’s hard to be really creative when you’re tired and in that much pain, and since I knew I’d have to do a lot of research to write that steampunk book, I decided to devote the time to doing research.

So, that was my summer of heavy-duty reading. I read more than fifty books to research Rebel Mechanics. I read non-fiction books about New York’s history during the Gilded Age, American history, other revolutions, steam power, trains, airships, houses in that era, clothing in that era. I read memoirs of people who lived in that era and biographies of key figures. I also read a lot of related fiction — other steampunk books, science fiction written during that era (H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson), novels written during that era or about that era by people who lived in that era. I re-read Jane Eyre (since I was doing the governess thing), read The Scarlet Pimpernel (since that related to Henry’s story), read a lot of Edith Wharton (about Gilded Age society).

All the while, I was piling up notes and ideas that I shaped into characters and a plot. It was a summer of wallowing in Victoriana, and I now remember it fondly, in spite of the pain.

I did eventually get full use of that shoulder back and regained my strength in that arm. I’m not quite as flexible as I was before, but I’m trying to work on that.

It also took me a few years to sell the book. I originally planned for it to be an adult fantasy novel, but the adult publishers weren’t interested, mostly because a lot of them saw it as a romance and even suggested it be sent to the romance houses (never mind that the romance was quite chaste), or else they said they’d already bought a steampunk book. I tried reading some romances that might be along the same lines (multiple books telling the story of the same couple), but I started thinking it would work better as young adult since my characters were so young, so I read a bunch of YA before deciding to rewrite it as YA. That took me another six months or so, and then it took nearly a year to sell. It was five years from the time I started researching it before it was actually published.

My Books

Back to the Beginning

I’d have to look at a calendar to find the exact day, but we’re approaching the 15-year anniversary of when I started actually working on the first Enchanted, Inc. book.

Enchanted, Inc.I’d had the idea about a year and a half earlier, but I really wasn’t sure what to do with it because there was nothing quite like it in the market. It was “girlier” than most fantasy and was in a contemporary setting, which was quite rare at the time, but it wasn’t really romance. Every so often I’d play with the idea and add to it, but I was focusing on writing other things.

Then at some point in July, I was at a conference, and there was a party to launch a new fantasy imprint from Harlequin that was going to be more female-focused. The pre-launch guidelines said they were looking for traditional fantasy, which meant that even if it might be a good fit for the “girly” side of my book, they probably wouldn’t be interested.

But at the party, one of the editors wandered over to me and asked if I had any questions. I asked if they’d ever consider contemporary settings. She said they might and asked if I had something. I started telling her about this idea I had. She seemed quite interested (one of my friends who was nearby said her nostrils flared) and kept asking me questions. By this time, I’d run out of what I’d already developed and was making things up on the spot. She handed me her business card and said she’d love to see it. I told her that I’d just told her all I had. I hadn’t written any of it yet. She said, “Then why are you standing around here? Go write!”

And that was why I decided to try writing that crazy idea I had.

That editor actually ended up rejecting it, but I might not have started writing it if she hadn’t shown interest.

I never did really find the right market for it. It ended up being published as “chick lit” because that was what was really hot in the market at the time. It was up between two publishers, one that was going to publish it as chick lit/women’s fiction and a fantasy publisher, but the fantasy publisher couldn’t get the auction bid together. The chick lit market utterly tanked a couple of years later, and the books being promoted as women’s fiction and sometimes paranormal romance meant that fantasy readers didn’t really find them unless they heard word of mouth. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if the other publisher had been able to pull things together, since female-focused urban fantasy became huge not long after that. I’d have been on the leading edge of a trend instead of the trailing edge.

But that’s water under the bridge, and that book has done well for me. It’s still selling steadily and most of my income comes from that series. I’m thinking book 9 will be the end, aside from shorter pieces, because nine books is a pretty long series and I’m ready to try other things. But I also love those characters, so you never know.

Summer Joys

Now that I’ve had some transition time and a weekend, I’m ready to dive back in to book 9. Over the weekend, I read a book with some motivation techniques, so I feel all armed and ready to stay focused and get my work done. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Summer isn’t my favorite time of year, which makes it the ideal time of year for me to get a lot of writing done. I can hide in my cave and write while it’s too hot outside to do anything else. My bedroom becomes my office at this time of year because it’s the coolest room in the house. It’s the first vent off the air conditioner, so it’s cooler in that room. There’s only one relatively small window that’s under the shade of the front porch. The ceiling is high, and there’s a ceiling fan. Some adjustment of the bed base, a backrest pillow, and my lap desk, and I’ve got an office. I’ve even considered getting one of those hospital bed table things.

I’m also trying to remind myself of things I like about summer. One is fresh fruit. I may turn into a cherry at some point. I love fresh cherries, and at this time of year, they’re cheap. Any other time of year, and they’re ridiculously expensive. I eat cherries with yogurt at breakfast, use cherries as my word count reward while I write, and I’ve made a sort of mock cheesecake with cream cheese, Greek yogurt, some vanilla and a little honey that I use as a topping for cherries for dessert. I also have blueberries and peaches, and I snack on watermelon in the afternoon.

And there’s the swimming pool. I keep forgetting about that. We have a community pool that doesn’t get a lot of use during the week, so it’s like having a private pool. On hot afternoons, the water is just the right temperature because it gets morning sun. It’s still cool enough to feel good, but not so cool that it’s shocking. There are trees to the west that block the afternoon sun, so I can swim comfortably without getting a sunburn.

I kind of like that it’s in between TV seasons, so there’s nothing much on. That frees up time to catch up on all the stuff that’s streaming, or my DVD collection, or DVDs from the library, or read.

There are fireworks at the lake every Friday night during the summer. That’s nice to hit every so often, and it means getting a firework fix without all the crowds of July 4.

So, there are a few things to like about summer. Still, if I ever get wealthy, I may become one of those people who “summers” elsewhere, like the mountains, or Alaska, or Maine, or above the Arctic Circle in Norway. I like my community here, so I don’t see myself permanently relocating without some specific reason, but I could imagine spending extended amounts of time in other places.


Name That British Actor

I’ve been watching a lot of old Masterpiece Theatre miniseries on Amazon Prime, some for the second time and some I didn’t catch when they were on. It’s turning into a game of “wait, who is that?” because even in the more recent ones, the costumes/hair/hats of the period dramas render actors less recognizable, and then there are the ones that are 20+ years old, so I’m seeing much younger versions of actors I think of as older. There are also some fun correlations with other roles.

So, for example, the 2008 TV version of Sense and Sensibility (from the year Masterpiece went with all Jane Austen) … Dan Stevens plays Edward Ferrars, and the actress who played his Elinor was the same one who played the Enchantress who cursed him in Beauty and the Beast.

Or there’s calculating the show’s Doctor Who or Harry Potter score (as just about anything made in Britain in the past 20 or so years includes at least one actor who was in either a Harry Potter film or a Doctor Who episode). Sense and Sensibility got a double score with Mark Williams, who played Mr. Weasley and Rory’s father. There were at least three other actors with Doctor Who roles in that miniseries.

I just finished watching a production of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall from 1996, which had me rushing to IMDB because some of those actors were nearly unrecognizable. We had “Sister Evangelina” from Call the Midwife as the hero’s mother and “Prudie” from Poldark as the evil husband’s mistress. Rupert Graves is familiar in both young and older modes, since I do still remember him from all those E.M. Forster adaptations from the 80s and early 90s but he’s also still working, so I know what he looks like now. Still, it was a bit of a jolt to see him so young again, and he almost made the evil husband semi-likeable. At least, he was charismatic enough that you could see why she married him.

I’ve also rewatched Bleak House and Under the Greenwood Tree (a rare happy Thomas Hardy story).

I’ve started watching one called Desperate Romantics that I don’t remember being on in the US. It’s about the Pre-Raphaelites and has a great cast, including Aidan Turner from Poldark as Dante Gabriel Rossetti. There’s a fair amount of nudity and sex, so maybe it didn’t make the cut for American broadcast television.

Since all this stuff is either historical or literary, I can almost count my TV watching as educational programming.

writing life

Done! And Moving On …

I finished the book yesterday, and I’m happy enough with it that I’m going to send it to my agent to see if she can find it a good home.

Oddly enough, I also finished the Shawl that Would Not Die on the same day, the one I saw as a metaphor for this book because I kept having to rip out large amounts and start over. I honestly didn’t plan it that way. It just happened.

I think I’m going to use the rest of the week as catch-up time to take care of some business-related stuff, promo work, brainstorming, and planning before I dive back into Book 9 and try to get that finished. I have a list of things I’ve been saying I need to get around to doing, and I think knocking most of them out will feel really good. Having a slight transition between projects is also good for the brain.

I think I am going to compile and edit my writing articles and maybe write a few new pieces and put it together as an e-book. For one thing, it will give me practice for formatting and playing with some of the features of the e-book distributors. For another, it might give me some income and might help promote my other work. It’s like advertising I get paid for. I don’t know when I’ll get it done, so stay tuned for news.

I guess I also need to start thinking about whether I want to do another Christmas book. The last one didn’t make that much money last year, but it may get another bump this year when the season rolls around, and doing another one might raise visibility for both of them. We’ll see if an idea strikes me and if I have time to work on it.

I used to say “so many books, so little time” about my to-be-read pile, but it also applies to my “to-write” list.


Sequels that Do Not Exist

One of the reasons I seldom actually take vacations is that I get most of my pleasure from the planning part, and then I no longer really want to take the trip. I guess it’s like that visualization thing I mentioned earlier from that book I read, where if you visualize something, your brain decides you’ve already done it, so you’re no longer motivated to do it. While researching possibilities, I imagine rather vividly exactly how it would be, and it’s almost as good as going on the actual trip.

And sometimes, all the overpreparing and research pays off in helping me decide what to do and what not to do. As I mentioned earlier, I spent a lot of the weekend researching a possible birthday trip, and one of the factors was that there was a show at the performance hall. Since the tickets were very expensive and it wasn’t something I was familiar with, I checked Amazon Prime Music to see if they had the soundtrack so I could decide if seeing it was worth it.

And, boy, was I glad I did. The show I was considering was Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. I didn’t even get through the entire first act. It was so very not good. The story was even worse when I looked up a plot summary. Basically, it’s your classic rationalizing the choice of the bad boy fan fiction, the kind of thing people write when in the actual story the heroine doesn’t end up with the murderer but the fans think the murderer is so sexy and misunderstood and the good guy the heroine does end up with is boring. In the fan versions, the good guy turns out to actually be terrible, so the heroine ends up with the misunderstood villain.

I was very Team Raoul, since I like the childhood sweethearts finding each other again story, plus the Phantom was a creepy, manipulative stalker and murderer. The sequel reveals that Christine and the Phantom actually slept together while she was in his lair, and so the son she has after she marries Raoul is actually the Phantom’s. Meanwhile, Raoul has drunk and gambled away all their money.

So, yeah, let’s ruin all the characters. And the music wasn’t even good enough to paper over the terrible story.

Which means I will not be factoring this show into my birthday plans. Maybe I’ll do the spa trip to the other hotel, after all. I can do a trip to see something at the performance hall some other time.

And this is going on the list of Sequels That Do Not Exist, like any Alien movie after Aliens.

The Good and Bad of Fandom

There’s been a lot of talk online lately about toxic fandom, spurred mostly by the reaction of some fans to the recent Star Wars movies. They’ve driven some of the actors off social media with their horrible abuse, and now there’s even a group trying to raise money to remake The Last Jedi “the right way,” so that it’s not so much about social justice (I guess they missed the fact that in the original trilogy, the villains were literally Stormtroopers, and the heroes were freedom fighters battling oppression). I think I got the most response to anything I’ve ever tweeted when I responded to someone else’s post about how male fandom, when disappointed by something, tends to react with “You’ve ruined my childhood! Now I will destroy you!” while female fans just go and write fan fiction. I added that female fandom also will tend to get into in-depth analysis of the characterization and plot elements, and out of that discussion will develop lifelong friendships. That got a lot of “likes.”

That’s certainly been my experience. I have a number of good friends I initially met through online or convention fandom and discussions. We don’t always like everything that’s done in the show or movies, but when we don’t like it, there’s fun in the community that forms around figuring out where the problems are. I haven’t done a lot of fan fiction, and when I have, it hasn’t been so much about “fixing” things. When I “fix” things, it tends to spur something entirely new that never really exists as fan fiction. But I really get into analysis.

Not that all female fandom is non-toxic. The “‘shipping,” or advocating for certain romantic relationships, can get really nasty. I’ve seen actors driven off social media by fans who harass and abuse them because the fans perceive the actors as being obstacles to their chosen relationship, either because the actors play characters who get in the way by being involved with one of the parties in their chosen relationship or because the fans perceive the actors as being opposed to or not supportive of their chosen relationship (which can include the actor speaking positively about the relationship the character is actually in on the show). It can go as far as fans trying to spread nasty rumors about actors in an attempt to get them fired.

But for the most part, the fan community can be a positive thing, and that’s a central theme in the book I’ve been working on for ages. It’s largely about what it is to be a fan of something, to love it so much that you wish it was real and you could actually live it, and how that love can form connections between people who otherwise are very different from each other. I haven’t delved into the toxic side of things in the story because I wanted to write something about joy. I think that’s why it took me so long to really find the right story for this book because it’s hard to have both high stakes and that joy. I’m doing my final pass before I send it to my agent, and I think I’ve finally captured what I wanted.

It’s wonderful when you find that shared connection with someone over something both of you love. Star Wars was a great icebreaker when I was a kid. I was a military brat, so we moved around a lot, about every year to year and a half in the years after Star Wars came out. I found that bringing up Star Wars was a good way to find new friends when we moved. It meant we had at least one thing in common, and soon we’d learn other things we had in common. As an adult, I’ve made long-term friends in discussions of The X-Files, Buffy, Firefly, and Doctor Who. These are friendships that have transcended the original topic and continued in other forums, or even in person. Sometimes, I even forget how I originally got to know these people. They’re just friends, not specifically fandom friends.

I really hope this book finds a home, because I think it’s a story people will relate to and I think it’s a good reminder of what it is to share in the joy of loving something.