Archive for My Books

My Books

Timelines

I’ve joked that I’m some kind of weird Time Lord because I have a bit of an obsession with time, even though I don’t really feel its passing. I need to wear a watch or have a clock in view to have any idea what time it is, but I’m also obsessively punctual. I hate being late, and I like having at least a general schedule. I like to observe anniversaries of even small things, noting how long ago it was when things happened, but I think that’s mostly so I’ll be aware of the passage of time. If I don’t pay attention to that sort of thing, I can lose years in my head.

I tend to apply this to my writing, as well. I keep calendars so I’ll know what’s happening when within a book, but then timelines can get complicated because it takes a lot longer to write and publish a book than it usually takes for the events in the book to happen, and that means a series will end up taking place further and further into the past, even if it started in the present.

Take the Enchanted, Inc. books. I wrote the first one in the fall of 2003, with the idea that if it sold it was likely to be published in 2005 (and I was right), so I plotted it with that in mind. I wrote book 2 in 2004, and its events immediately followed those of the first book, so it was still set in 2005, but it came out in 2006, so we were starting to fall behind, and it got worse from there. For the most part, it doesn’t make a huge difference when the books were set, since I don’t put in any obvious timestamps, until I got to where I was about 10 years ahead of the books and people started asking why Katie didn’t have a cell phone and why people didn’t just look things up on their iPhones. In 2005, it wouldn’t have been so odd for someone not to have a cell phone. At that time, I just had a tiny flip phone, and I seldom used it. It was mostly for travel, in case I had car trouble. With Katie’s life, I might not have bothered with one. They didn’t introduce iPhones until 2007. You could get some Internet on phones before then, but it wasn’t nearly as common. Cameras on phones were available, but they weren’t very good and most of them didn’t do video. The shift toward readily available digital cameras and video cameras you could put in your pocket did end up becoming part of the plot for the last book, and by that time we were well over a decade past the events of the book.

The only real way to avoid the books getting so far behind reality is to skip the events ahead to when the book is getting published, but that means missing a year or so in the life of the characters, unless you publish a lot of books a year. And then there’s the fact that people don’t necessarily read them when they’re being published. There are still people just discovering the Enchanted, Inc. books, so they’re reading about 2005 in 2021, but since I don’t put any date stamps in the books, it’s not clear that it’s meant to be 2005. The copyright date might be a hint, but that only works for the first book. You’d have to be obsessive enough to try to work out a timeline based on the copyright of the first book and hints given about when events are taking place to know when the books are set.

I started writing the Lucky Lexie books in the fall of 2019, with the idea of them being set in 2020. Then 2020 happened, and setting the books then would have totally changed everything. Since I didn’t want to deal with the pandemic, I decided to keep them in a vague, eternal quasi-present. I’m still treating them like they’re happening around now when it comes to technology levels and gauging what would have been going on for the characters in their backstories. It makes me feel kind of old to realize that most of the main characters in those books would have been in high school with the early Enchanted, Inc. books were first being published. Everything would have been online for them already and cell phones were pretty common, but they probably wouldn’t have had smart phones while they were in high school and would have been in high school in the age of blogs, before social media got big.

Because of the time lag, if I were to look at when the Enchanted, Inc. characters were in high school or college, it would be in the early 90s. Rod is about four years older than Owen, but Owen skipped some grades in school, so they were in college together for a couple of years. The way I’ve calculated it, Rod is in the college class of 1994, and that means he’s not much younger than I am, so his and Owen’s college experience wouldn’t have been too different from mine. Cell phones wouldn’t have been common, and the Internet was still in its infancy. They might have been able to get e-mail on the school network and would have subscribed to mailing lists, maybe been on Usenet, but the Web as we know it wouldn’t have been there. They might have had desktop computers in their dorm rooms, but laptops were still rare and were pretty clunky. Katie’s a few years younger than Owen, so things would have been a bit different for her by the time she got to college.

There was a huge shift around 1995 so that the world before was very different from the world after, and there was another big shift around 2007-2008. As a writer, if you’re writing contemporary (ish) fiction set in the “real” world, you need to keep in mind when your characters came of age and how their lives fit around these shifts, especially if the backstory is part of the plot or if you’re doing a backstory story. A story about Rod and Owen in college wouldn’t take cell phones into consideration. It would be a lot easier to have someone be totally out of touch. I couldn’t do that for a story about Lexie’s friends in high school or college (or for events in those characters’ pasts that affect the current storylines).

That’s what makes secondary world fantasy so much fun to write. There’s less worry about how the passage of time between books affects the story. Readers aren’t going to wonder why your characters don’t have smart phones in a book you wrote in 2003 that they’re reading in 2021.

Maybe I should put a timeline for the Enchanted, Inc. books on my website. Some authors revise books to update them when they get the rights back, but I don’t have the rights to those early books since they’re still selling, and I don’t think I want to rewrite them, anyway, since the technological shifts end up tying into the plots. If I give everyone in the early books iPhones, the “everyone has cameras now and can record magic” issue can’t just come up in the last book.

My Books

New Book Tomorrow!

Mystery of the Drowned Driver Book CoverTomorrow is new book day! This month kind of got away from me. I had planned all kinds of promo stuff, and then suddenly Mystery of the Drowned Driver is coming out tomorrow and I haven’t done anything.

At any rate, you can pre-order now and get it first thing tomorrow, and the paperback is available to order from Amazon. It will eventually be available in other places, but it takes a while to propagate through those systems. You can find the various links to order here on the book’s page.

I had a lot of fun writing this one. It includes one of my favorite ghosts, someone I kind of wish I’d used as a character before I killed her and made her a ghost, but then I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been able to kill her. I’m learning that’s one of the tricky things about mysteries. If you make the victims sympathetic and interesting enough for readers to want their murders solved, then you feel sad for having killed them. I still get weepy about the valedictorian who was killed in the backstory of the first book in this series. I’ll actually tear up thinking about her wasted potential, and then I remember that she never existed. I made her up, and she was already dead when I made her up.

I wonder if I really have the temperament to write mysteries. Until these books, I hadn’t killed a character in a novel. I generally don’t even kill villains in my fantasies. They got punished, but they lived. I’d actually planned for Mimi to get eaten by a dragon in No Quest for the Wicked, but when I got there, I couldn’t do it to her. Not so much because I liked her too much to kill her, but because I felt it would change the tone of the book too much. It was funnier for her to come out alive with no idea what had really happened.

I think having victims for murder mysteries is a little different, since their purpose in the story is to be dead. It’s not like killing off an existing character who’s been in multiple books. I don’t think I’ll be drawing upon my ongoing cast of characters to come up with new victims. I might set up future villains that way, and maybe victims for lesser crimes, but I don’t think that any of the gang of regulars is going to get murdered.

And now I really need to come up with a crime for the next book. I’ve got the character story stuff figured out. I just don’t know what the main plot will be.

My Books

New Lucky Lexie Book!

Mystery of the Drowned Driver Book CoverIn case you were wondering what would happen next with Lexie and the gang, the wait is almost over. Mystery of the Drowned Driver, book 3, is coming January 28, and you can pre-order it now. This is the fastest I’ve ever released books, but I doubt the next one will come quite so quickly. I’d already written the first draft of this book before the second book was published, and I don’t yet have a firm plot idea for book 4. The tricky thing is that I know what books 5 and 6 will be about, but going straight to the plot for book 5 would mean skipping a lot more time than I’d like, so I need to figure out something that will come in between.

I’m afraid I’ve been distracted by a number of other story ideas that have popped up and begun demanding attention. Not to mention all the events going on in the world outside my head that have been distressing and upsetting. This is a difficult time to work in a field that requires focus and creativity and that means we have to tap into our emotions to do it well. When your emotions are like “AAAAAGGGHHHHHH!” it’s hard to write, but if you shut the emotions down, you end up with something that reads like a user manual.

I’m in brainstorming mode for all the projects I’ve been working on, just thinking and jotting down ideas as they come to me. Right now, I’m letting myself play with that fantasy journey idea and seeing if it’s something I want to pursue. Next week I may go back to trying to think of mystery plots. I would like to have a new book in that series by May or so, which means I’ll have to get to work on it soon.

I used to have a button that said “so many books, so little time.” It was supposedly about reading, but it’s become true about writing, too. There are so many stories in my head, dying to get out, but I can only write one at a time, and there’s a limited amount of time I can spend writing in a day before my head explodes.

I’m putting order links on my website as I find them, and you can find the scoop on the new book on its page here. I’ll add an excerpt soon.

Books, My Books, movies

Gray Days, Old Houses, and Christmas Reads

We’ve had actual winter-like weather lately, with cold, gray days, so I’ve followed my personal policy of declaring days like that to be reading days. I’ve spent time curled up under a blanket on the sofa, reading Christmassy books. I’m enjoying doing that more than I’ve enjoyed watching Christmas movies. I can lose myself in a book, but I get sidetracked when watching something.

I think it also helps that the books are a bit more to my taste. It seems that the Christmas romantic comedy book is a big thing in the UK. The “chick lit” trend never really died there the way it did in the US, so you can still get that kind of book that’s got a romance, but it’s more about the heroine’s life in general, dealing with work, family, friends, etc. And now there are a lot of those set during the Christmas season, not necessarily about Christmas, but against that backdrop and the way the holiday tends to amplify existing issues.

I wonder if the Brits have their own versions of the holiday movies, like the Lifetime and Hallmark movies in the US. Are there movies about the high-strung career woman from London having to spend the holiday in the quaint little village where she grew up so she can help save the family bakery? That might be a fun change of pace.

A lot of the books seem to be about saving the historic family home — the medieval or Tudor manor—which I guess is similar to the American version of saving the family farm. I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for the “saving the crumbling medieval manor” type plot, given that I find the maintenance on my 1984-built house overwhelming. It’s fun to read about, but I imagine wouldn’t be as much fun in real life.

I burned out on the movies I tried to watch because I just couldn’t take the “return to hometown and get together with guy from high school” story yet again. Having to move back to my small hometown is the sort of thing I have nightmares about, and I’ve seen the guys I graduated with. Nope. I was sad in school that no one wanted to date me, but I really dodged a bullet there. I have a couple of old favorites that I know don’t have that plot, so I may give those a shot. When I’m not reading and listening to Christmas music.

In book-related news, I’ve done a paperback version of Spindled, the book I serialized on the blog earlier this year. You might still be able to get delivery by Christmas if you’re a Prime member. It should eventually be available through places other than Amazon, but that will take time to get through the system. You can order it here.

My Books

Done for the Year!

I finished dealing with edits on Lucky Lexie book 3, Mystery of the Drowned Driver, and that means I get to take the rest of the year more or less off. I still have some business stuff to deal with and will be doing research and brainstorming, but I’m letting that book rest before I do formatting and a round of proofreading, so there won’t be any actual writing work unless inspiration strikes me and I suddenly find myself writing a Christmas book.

Today it’s a nice rainy day, so perfect for curling up with a book and drinking tea. Though I’ve already had a whole pot of tea with a leisurely breakfast, so maybe I’ll switch to herbal tea for the afternoon or it will be caffeine overload.

In other news, I finally got my act together and made a paperback version of Spindled, the YA fantasy I posted in installments on the blog earlier this year. If you order now, you should be able to get it delivered in time for it to be a Christmas gift, especially if you’re a Prime member. The paperback will eventually be available at non-Amazon retailers, but it takes time to get through all the systems to be available there. And I make a lot more from each sale when people order from Amazon. I know they’re evil, but they are the bulk of my income. You can order the book here.

I’m really going into Christmas mode tonight with my first real viewing of a Christmas movie. I did watch one that I’d recorded earlier this week, but it was really bad and I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. But tonight the plan is to put on the Christmas lights, make some popcorn, and settle in for a proper viewing. And probably some snarking because so many of these movies are so very bad. I know the budgets are low, but it shouldn’t cost that much more to get decent scripts. A good script could make up for the fake snow and bland acting.

This is why I might end up suddenly writing a Christmas book, in spite of my plans to relax.

My Books

Other Worlds

I’ve got book 3 of the Lucky Lexie series, which I believe I’m going to call Mystery of the Drowned Driver, more or less done. I need to do a good editing pass to make sure I’m using all the right words in the right order, and then there’s proofreading. I’m aiming for a January release date, but that will depend on when I can have a cover done. I guess that’s next on my list. Aside from that editing, I’m done with the bulk of my work for the year, unless I pick up more freelance projects. I don’t yet know how busy they’re going to keep me.

I’ll talk more about this next book as we get closer to release day, but it’s very loosely based on something that actually happened in my city, though the circumstances surrounding the event are very different. The book includes a scene that puts the “fun” in funeral.

Now I get to really dive in to creating that new world for fantasy stories. I’ve always wanted to write a classic-style traditional fantasy — that fairytale type of pre-industrial imaginary world. That was what I fell in love with reading, and my first (very bad) attempts at writing fantasy fell into that genre. But I haven’t published anything like that, aside from the parts of Spindled that take place in the other world.

Now, I’m going to let myself play with creating a world and telling stories within it. The characters for the first book in that series have started coming to life in my mind, and the world is gradually developing. I’ve reached the point where I need to start coming up with specifics and filling in the gaps so that I can create an actual plot.

I’m trying to create for myself the feeling I had when I first started reading fantasy and the main thing I liked was that feeling of desperately wanting to visit those other worlds. I was homesick for places that never existed. If I do this right, I’ll create a world that I’ll want to spend time in and that will give readers that same sense of homesickness for an imaginary place.

So, no pressure at all.

My Books

Finding Home

Curious Crystals CoverBook two in my mystery series, Case of the Curious Crystals is now available. I’ve drafted book 3 and will start revisions next week, so I’ll figure out then how much work it needs and that will tell me when it’s likely to come out.

One thing I didn’t realize until I’d written drafts of two books is that the series is really about home and community and the threats to that community. At the beginning of the series, Lexie is looking for a home and a community. She’s never really had a hometown, but thanks to her addiction to Hallmark movies, she has an idea in mind of what the ideal hometown would be, and she thinks she’s found it. In book one, the threat is that pesky little murder case that might mean she won’t get the job that allows her to stay there. In book two, the theft ring is shaking up the town and keeping it from being the place she’s come to love. In book three, Lexie’s own place in the community is being threatened.

Oddly enough, it was Disney movies that gave me that realization. I think I was watching one of those Disney sing along at home specials and singing along (as you do), when I remembered the idea of the “I Want” song. I don’t think they were consciously doing it in the Classic era, but in the modern Disney era, they’re very specific about that song at the beginning of the movie in which the main character sings about the thing they want, even before the actual plot has kicked in. So we have Snow White singing about wanting that prince to come, Sleeping Beauty singing about wanting to find someone to love her, Alice wanting a world of her own, Ariel wanting to be where the people are, Belle wanting adventure and someone who gets her, etc. It’s a good writing tip to think about what your character’s “I Want” song would be about if your story got made into a Disney musical.

And I realized that was what I was missing. I didn’t have a strong “I Want” for Lexie, but then when I started re-reading, I figured out that it was already there. I just had to make it stronger in the first book. I had to do a lot of rewriting in the second book because in the original draft, she was waffling about whether or not she wanted to stay in town. That really wasn’t working, and it was when I shifted that perspective that I suddenly had an emotional through-line, where she wanted to stay and she loved the place, but it was being threatened. That gave her an emotional reason to want to solve the case.

It makes plotting each subsequent book easier when I think about how the case could threaten the sense of home she’s found.

My Books

Non-Murder Mysteries

It’s less than a week until the release of Case of the Curious Crystals, book 2 in the Lucky Lexie mysteries. This one is a bit different for a mystery because it’s not about a murder.

Not that a series that involves ghosts and people with uncanny abilities is at all “realistic,” but I didn’t want to strain credibility too much and give this town a murder rate to rival any major city. I want it to remain the kind of town you’d want to live in, not one where you’d be worried about a murder every week or so. So the crime in this book involves burglary, something that is fairly realistic for small towns. The danger is more emotional than physical. I guess this book is closer to the Enchanted, Inc. series in the sense of what’s going on and what the heroine has to do about it.

There are dead bodies in book 3, and it’s based on something that actually happened in my city (though it happens to different kinds of people, in a different way, for a different reason), but there’s another crime woven into it. I have vague ideas for the next few books after that. One is a story I came up with the core of back in the early 90s, and I haven’t found a good place to use it until now. That one’s going to be a lot of fun to write.

In the meantime, fall hit with a vengeance this morning. We had one of those drastic fronts come through. It was about 70 degrees when I got up at around 7 this morning. At the moment (just before 11:30 a.m. as I write this), it’s 58 degrees on my patio, which is probably warmer than it actually is because that thermometer is near my house, and my house is stucco, so it tends to retain and reflect heat. And it’s going to keep dropping throughout the day. I think it’s a day for making soup and baking. I’m on “vacation,” and this is a great day for cozy things.

My Books

Sudden Cold Snaps

I started my post-draft vacation with a trip to visit my parents. One good thing about being buried in a book was that meant I’d been isolating, and that meant it was safe for me to visit them. It’s only about 100 miles away, but on the way home I experienced some quirky Texas weather. It was in the upper 80s and very humid at my parents’ house, but a front had come through and stalled about halfway between my house and my parents’ house, so it was quite chilly at my house. I needed entirely different clothes only 100 miles away.

That goes to show that the kind of weather change in Interview with a Dead Editor isn’t all that uncommon in Texas. That storm is inspired by a few real-life storms I’ve experienced. When I was in college, there was a February day when I left for class in the morning just wearing shirt sleeves. It was in the mid-70s, a comfortable day that felt like spring. I was in classes all day, and when I got to my last class, it was still pretty warm. I never had a need to go back to my dorm to get a jacket. That last class was a journalism lab, so I had the regular class, followed by having to work in the lab until my radio news story was done, which meant recording and editing audio back in the day when that required a razor blade and splicing tape.

I finished my work and started to head across campus back to my dorm, stepped outside the building, and it was something like 22 degrees and sleeting. Fortunately, one of the RAs on my floor had a handicap permit and a spot right next to the dorm, and he’d issued a blanket offer that if anyone ever needed a ride, to call him (everyone else had to fight for parking, and if you left your parking space, it was lost forever). I went back to the lab and called him, and he came to pick me up, so I didn’t have to walk all the way across campus in the sleet in freezing weather without a jacket. I’m usually pretty good about keeping an eye on the forecast, and I’d spent the morning interning in a TV newsroom, so I don’t think that front was expected or I’d have been better prepared.

Another came in early January about 20 years ago, when my company did its statewide meeting. That front was forecast, so I was prepared, but not everyone was. The people who’d come up from the Houston and Austin offices for the meeting had mostly packed for the warm, muggy weather we were having. The temperature had already started to drop by the time we left the meeting to board the buses to the location for our belated company holiday party. By the time the party ended, it was below freezing. People had looked at me funny when I brought a heavy coat to work that morning when it was warm, but I had the last laugh when they were shivering in their short sleeves. I barely made it home before the precipitation started. The rest of the weekend, everything was iced over.

Then there was the infamous ice storm in early December about six years ago. The temperature drop wasn’t so sudden and drastic, but that was the year we got freezing rain, followed by sleet, and by the time it was all done, we had a four-inch thick layer of ice all over everything. Basically, we got covered in an ice rink. You can’t scrape that away. We just had to wait for it to melt. The whole area was iced in for days. A lot of big trucks got stuck on the highways, so the highways were blocked and motorists were stranded. Churches and businesses along the freeways went out to get people out of the cars and into warm buildings.

That’s what I had in mind when writing that book. I figured it was the best way to get someone stuck in town for a while.

If you’ve already read the first book, did you know that the second book is available for pre-order? Look on the book’s page for links to order.

My Books

Mysteries and Me

A mystery novel may seem to be a big departure for an author who’s been writing fantasy, but it really isn’t for me. I noticed not long after Enchanted, Inc. came out that many of the books listed under the “people who bought this also bought” section on Amazon for that book were mystery novels, and in a lot of ways, the Enchanted, Inc. books work like a cozy mystery series. We have a (mostly) amateur sleuth who gets dragged into solving cases and stopping bad guys, working with the hot guy who’s a kind of official, and the ongoing development of their relationship happens alongside the cases.

I wasn’t thinking in those terms when I was writing the books, but it makes sense, since I’ve been a mystery reader ever since I discovered Nancy Drew when I was in third grade — ironically, when I was looking for books about witches and got a Nancy Drew book with a misleading title. I remember always trying to find the last book in the Nancy Drew series to see if Nancy and Ned ever really got together for good. Little did I know that there really is no end. Around that same time, I also found the Trixie Belden books, the Cherry Ames books, and other mysteries aimed at younger readers.

When I was in junior high, I discovered Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Dick Francis, and Ellis Peters. I love the Cadfael books by Ellis Peters, but when I was a teen, it was her “contemporary” (from the time she was writing them, but they were set in the 60s) books that I really liked. There were several about the twenty-something son of a police inspector who tended to stumble upon crimes when he was traveling with his friends, but the one I really liked was Never Pick up Hitchhikers, which I wished would be a series, but I think it was a standalone. I still remember the nightmares I had when my mom made me turn out the light and go to bed just when I reached the part where the hero was about to go investigate something, thinking he’d surely make it out before that building closed. The last line of the chapter was “famous last words.” My brain kept trying to figure out what happened next, and I got no sleep. I may as well have stayed up to finish it.

These days, I lean heavily toward the cozy side of things, mostly because I can’t take a lot of stress right now. My new series wasn’t begun with the COVID world in mind, but I think it may be the perfect tonic for these times. If you’re looking for edge-of-your-seat suspense, these aren’t the books for you, but if you want to escape to a fun little town, where you can maybe try to solve a puzzle or just go along for the ride, hang out with nice people, and see bad guys get a comeuppance, this may be what you’re looking for. These books are also shorter than my other books. They’re the sort of thing you could easily read in a weekend.

Speaking of the COVID world, I made a conscious decision to ignore the pandemic, even though book 2 would have taken place during the first wave when the state was shut down. I never say in the book exactly what year it’s all taking place, but there is an election mentioned in book 1. I hope people are reading these books for years to come, and because it’s an election for the US House that’s mentioned, that could be two years from now or two years ago, as well. The ice storm that hits in the first book didn’t actually happen in that part of the world this year. And, besides, there are ghosts and people with supernatural powers in this world, so it’s already an alternate reality.