Archive for My Books

TV, My Books

Time-Traveling Historians

My latest TV obsession is the series of historical farming documentaries from the BBC. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was watching one set in the 1600s (Tales from the Green Valley). I’d already watched the Tudor Monastery Farm series. Then the YouTube algorithm started serving me more. Last week, I watched the Wartime Farm series about World War II. I’m currently watching Victorian Farm.

The basic format of these is that a group of historians and archaeologists spend a year living as though they’re farmers in a particular era, using technology of the time, to see how it all works and whether they could have survived. They go from planting a crop to harvesting the crop and everything in between, eating the food, wearing the clothes, and living the life, in general. They’ll bring in subject matter experts to learn about a particular task or craft of the time. The cast sometimes varies, but there are some regulars who pop up, and that means my brain starts creating narratives about all this.

It started when I watched the Wartime Farm series right after the one set in the 1620s. The historians were talking about how their experience couldn’t replicate exactly what people of the time experienced, since they knew when and how it would end, and that was uncertain for the people of the time. They were going through all this with high expectations, trying to increase food production since most of their imports had been cut off, and they didn’t know when or if they might be invaded. Although the scholars were spending one year, they kept adjusting conditions based on different years of the war to show how things changed, like the availability of some things. They were talking about having to go back to some of the older ways that had been more or less lost because they were having to make do, and since I’d just watched some of these same people living in the 1620s, I thought they had an unfair advantage over actual 1940s farmers because they’d done things like make medicinal preparations out of foraged herbs, had made their own cheese, had thatched a roof, had worked a field using horses instead of a tractor.

And that’s when it struck me: They’re time travelers! These people are bringing knowledge from the past and from the future. I would say it’s a fun story idea, but Connie Willis has already written the books about the time-traveling historians. I guess this is the next best thing to getting a movie or TV series made from those books. One thing I’m enjoying is that while there is a bit of a story line — will they have a successful harvest? — there’s not a lot of drama. There are no villains or antagonists. It’s just people trying to learn things and make things work. That makes for engaging but relaxing viewing.

I’m also getting really curious about the behind-the-scenes stuff, wondering whether they really are living like this or just when the cameras are on. They tend to do a couple of months in a single episode, so it’s just a day or two that gets shown. Are they wearing these clothes and living in these places all the time with the cameras only on them for a day or two every month, on camera all the time but it gets edited down, or just showing up when they’re doing something the camera will record? They did mention for the 1600s one that they wouldn’t actually be living in the farmhouse for health and safety reasons but would be living nearby, which implies they’re living on-site, even if they are living in trailers or something like that. They also mentioned during the Victorian one that they’re not actually sleeping in the cottage but rather elsewhere on the estate. I’ve read the books by one of the historians, and she mentioned trying the Tudor-era hygiene protocol when they were doing that series and that even the camera crew that wasn’t around all the time didn’t notice any body odor, which also implies that they’re living this way all the time. Do these people have families? Do they get weekend visits?

We had a small farm when I was a teenager, but we mostly just raised a few cows, so I didn’t get the full farm experience, and I don’t romanticize it at all, but these are still fun to watch. I started watching these as research for the Rydding Village books, when I was looking up info on how people were cooking and baking, and this was what the search results brought up. Then I connected them to some books I’d read for research when I realized it was the same historian. The shows are great for being able to visualize what she discussed in the books.

Just staying alive before all the modern conveniences was a lot of work, which was why I came up with the house spirit to help the local healer. I’m not sure how a single woman who needed to keep house would have any time left in the day to earn a living. Laundry would take about as long for a single as for a family, and most people wouldn’t have owned enough clothes to go longer between loads of laundry. That may be why so many people made extra money by taking in laundry. It would free a lot of time to hire someone else to do the wash, and adding a few items to the load of a single person or small family wouldn’t require a lot of extra effort, so it would be monetizing something they had to do anyway. A healer-type person who had to maintain a garden for herbs, prepare medicines, and see patients wouldn’t have much time to also cook, keep the house reasonably clean, and do laundry. And so we have Gladys in my books.

My Books

Revisiting the Vanishing Visitor

When I wrote Case of the Vanishing Visitor, it was inspired, in part, by the story about Agatha Christie’s disappearance during the 1920s. Her car was found wrecked in a remote place, her suitcase and driver’s license were in it, but she was nowhere to be found. There was a massive search for her, during which it came out that her husband was having an affair and leaving her for another woman. She was later found in a spa hotel about 200 miles away, registered under a different name (using the last name of her husband’s mistress). She claimed that she’d lost her memory, didn’t remember the accident or how she got to the hotel, and for much of the time she was there she didn’t even know who she was.

I was intrigued by this idea and thought it would be particularly fun to do with a sleuth who could see and talk to ghosts. At the time, my snarky theory was that Agatha had set it up to out her husband’s bad behavior and possibly even frame him for murdering her — or at least get public attention focused on his behavior so he’d look shady. Making your cheating soon-to-be ex look bad while having a spa vacation sounds like the perfect revenge.

But last night I watched this documentary about that incident, with new research into what might have happened. (You should be able to watch this video in the United States until around Christmas 2023, but you will likely have to be a PBS member after that. It may be available on the BBC site for those in the UK. And I’m sure there will eventually be a bootleg on YouTube.) Historian Lucy Worsley (my TV BFF — from following her on Facebook and watching her stuff, I bet we’d get along really well) talks to experts in psychiatry and digs into Christie’s books to get clues as to what might have happened. She’s also written a book on Christie, so this information may be included in the book.

Her conclusion is that I was wrong about it being a clever revenge scheme. A psychotherapist said it sounded to him like a fugue state. Christie did apparently see a specialist in London, and Worsley tracks down the specialist it might have been. There’s a description of a character in one of Christie’s books getting hypnotherapy, and the description of the doctor fits this one specialist. There was a lot of trauma in her life around that time, and the news about her husband might have caused her to snap. She did do an interview years later in which she discussed the incident, but it didn’t get nearly the attention the whole search and all the speculation around it did, so what she said about it isn’t as widely known as her disappearance and what people thought was happening at that time.

What I hadn’t been aware of is that Christie wrote non-mysteries under another name. They sound more like what we’d call “women’s fiction” now, dealing with issues in a woman’s life, with maybe a romantic subplot, and no murder. It’s these books that contain a lot of plot elements and characters that can be traced to this particular incident. She seemed to have used this pen name to deal with her issues. My library has some of these, shelved under Agatha Christie’s name, so I’ll have to read some. I’m curious about her writing without murder in it.

But I won’t worry about this info undermining my book because I just used it as inspiration and a jumping-off point, combined with some elements from the movie The Lady Vanishes and all the stuff I’d set up in my series.

I’m planning to take the next couple of weeks as semi-holidays (I may do some writing work, but I’m trying to spend less time on the computer), so I’ll resume blogging in the new year. In the meantime, have a happy holiday season.

Books, My Books


I’ve never been great at being on-trend in my work. I’m usually either ahead of or behind the curve. When I came up with the idea for Enchanted, Inc. and was shopping it around to publishers, I was hitting the point where chick lit was starting to tank but urban fantasy wasn’t yet a big thing, so no one really knew what to do with it. It got published as chick lit, then got caught in the collapse of that genre. I also managed to hit steampunk when it was on the downswing.

But I finally seem to be hitting the market with the right thing at the right time. Cozy fantasy is the current big thing, and I managed to get a book in that genre out at just the right time. Tea and Empathy is even selling pretty well, so thanks to those who’ve bought it and told people about it. It’s also hitting another trend where I fit in well, what they’re calling “romantasy,” or fantasy with strong romantic plots.

That one is forcing me to adjust my thinking because for so long, fantasy publishers have been rejecting my books for being “too romancey.” I may be known for writing fantasy, but I’ve never had a book published by a major publisher that was published as fantasy. A Fairy Tale was rejected for being too romancey — even though there’s not even a kiss. There may be some very faint vibes in that first book, but that’s it. I guess they just assumed when a man and a woman met early in the book that there would be romance, and it seems those editors didn’t read enough of the book to know. The same thing happened with Rebel Mechanics. That’s why it was published as young adult. The original version had the main characters a few years older, and it was submitted as adult fantasy. A fantasy editor actually suggested it be submitted to a romance imprint because it was too romancey. This is a book in which the main couple that meets at the beginning of the book doesn’t even kiss during the book. I had to wonder if this editor had ever read a romance. Since the characters were already young and the rebels were all students, I dropped the age of the characters a bit then submitted and sold it as young adult, where they had fewer qualms about romance.

The tables have really turned now, and publishers are looking for romance in their fantasy. One publisher has even launched an entire fantasy romance imprint. I’d been working on a book I was planning to publish myself that fits that fantasy road trip plot I’ve been talking about. To a large extent, it’s It Happened One Night, but in a fantasy world. But now publishers are eager for that sort of thing, so I’ll send it to my agent and see what happens. I’d written a draft that I didn’t like much, so I’m currently rewriting it, and I keep having to stop myself from editing out the romance. I’d gotten in the habit of toning that sort of thing down, in hopes of actually being able to sell a fantasy novel. Now, that’s what they want.

I’m actually not sure I’ll have enough romance for what they want now. I’ve said that although I’m considered a romantic writer when it comes to fantasy, what I write is actually more shipper bait than romance. Nothing much happens on the page. It’s more about making readers want something to happen and sparking their imaginations. In this book, it’s more about longing than about actual romance. If I write a sequel, the romance won’t fully kick in until then. So, I’m not yet sure whether I’m on-trend in this or if it’s going to be a case of me being too romantic for regular fantasy and not romantic enough for romantasy. In which case, I’ll just publish it myself because I’m sure there’s an audience for it.

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Introducing a New Series

Those of you who subscribe to my newsletter have already seen this news, but I’m about to launch a new book that I hope will be the start of a totally new series.

It’s something I’m calling cottagecore cozy romantic fantasy, and it’s a story I wrote largely to amuse myself, as it was the sort of thing I wanted to read, and like Enchanted, Inc. was a mashup of chick lit and fantasy, this book is a mash-up of women’s fiction and fantasy.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been less interested in the old-school chick lit books of the sort I was reading when I first came up with the idea for Enchanted, Inc. Instead, I find myself reading the sort of women’s fiction books in which a woman’s life has fallen apart — she’s lost her job and/or her relationship — and she ends up in some village, where she works in or runs a coffee shop/bakery/candy shop/bookstore. Of course, I want to add magic. But I didn’t want to do it in a more straightforward way, just adding magic to these contemporary books. I wanted to be in a fantasy world. I find that I’m not too interested in the real world these days. I want to escape to a magical world in a simpler time, a place where I don’t have to deal with real-world problems and current events.

Fortunately, this time around I don’t feel like I’m essentially inventing a new subgenre. “Cozy fantasy” has become a huge trend, with books set in traditional fantasy worlds but without the traditional fantasy stakes. Thers are books about the kinds of characters you’d find in a fantasy world, but instead of saving the world from a great evil, they’re opening coffee shops, working in bookstores, or running inns. The stakes are more personal than global. My story idea fits right in with this. I’m actually on-trend, for once!

And so, I present Tea and Empathy, which will be available next week (and is ready for pre-order from a lot of the online booksellers). This is the story of a healer with a magical empathic talent who’s on the run after she lost a patient and was accused of murder. She stumbles into a hidden village, where she takes refuge in a cottage that turned out to once belong to a magical healer. She uses her knowledge of herbs and her gift for reading what people want to open a tea shop. Everything’s going well until she finds a wounded man unconscious in her garden. Although she doesn’t trust herself as a healer, she has no choice but to help him. She doesn’t know who he is or how he got there — but neither does he. He doesn’t remember his past and she’s running from hers.

I threw in a lot of tropes I happen to love in a book. I guess you could say this one is both genre Fantasy and personal fantasy. For one thing, there’s the perfect little village. There’s a house that does the housework for itself (I want one of those). Why not have the perfect guy just land in your garden? I’ve always been fascinated by amnesia stories and the idea of figuring out what you’d be if you didn’t know who you were. All of that is in this book.

There is a little peril, but the stakes aren’t really life-or-death. If you’re looking for a page turner with lots of excitement, this isn’t that book, but if you just want to spend time in a fantasy world, soak up the vibes, and have some feelings without being too stressed about it, this may be what you want.

I’m planning for this to be a series, as there are a lot of people in the village who could have their stories told. There’s a mystery behind the village itself, and that will gradually unfold. But more books will depend on sales. My threshold for that is lower than it would be for a traditional publisher, but I can’t afford to spend the time it takes to write a book and only make what amounts to minimum wage. So, if you like this book and want more, please tell people about it, write reviews, post on Goodreads or social media, etc. Every little bit helps. Just ten more readers finding me can make a big difference.

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After a brutal summer and an August and most of July full of 100+-degree days, we finally have a break, with a string of days only in the low 90s, even sometimes in the 80s. It’s the kind of weather they consider “summer” in more civilized climates, but here it’s a taste of fall. We’ve even had a bit of rain, the first in about six weeks. I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can, since we’ll be going back to summer weather, though possibly not more 100-degree days.

My body has gone into “fall” mode, so I’m sure it’ll be disappointed. I’m enjoying sitting on the patio in the mornings for as long as I want, until I feel like I need to get to work, without having to retreat indoors because it’s too hot. I walked to the library yesterday without feeling like I would die from heat stroke. I may even begin cooking again instead of just eating a lot of salads. Last night, I mixed up a batch of refrigerator biscuit/roll dough and made cinnamon rolls with it for breakfast this morning. It’s baking season again. Next up will be soup. I feel like I’m trying to cram all the fall things in this week before it gets hot again, in case this is all we’ll get.

Fall is my favorite time of year, but we don’t get much of it here. We might get a week like this one in September, then summer returns, and then we might get a week or two in October. It doesn’t start really feeling like proper fall until Thanksgiving, maybe. By then, Christmas has taken over.

I’ve found that a lot of the books that are the first in my series seem to take place in September. Some of that may be because I tend to start new projects in August or September, and I write the season I’m in. September is also a good time to travel, since prices tend to drop after Labor Day, and that means my research trips tend to come around that time, so I write the season I researched. That’s why Enchanted, Inc. starts in late September. In a week or so, it will have been 20 years since the trip I took to New York to research the setting before I started writing, and I wrote that time of year because it was what was vivid to me. But I think my tendency to set new series in September also has something to do with the sense of new beginnings that comes around the start of the school year. New school year, new book — it’s pretty much the same in my mind. In a couple of works in progress, the September setting means there’s a ticking clock—they have to deal with things before winter sets in—so it’s actually relevant to the plot.

The book I’m working on now is set in the spring, which is a real mindset shift. I was going with the time of year when someone was likely to be hungry, and spring was a difficult time before hothouses, good food preservation and storage methods, and transportation that allowed food to be brought from other parts of the world. In the spring, not enough new things had grown to provide much food, but the food stored over the winter was running out. I wanted a character to be on the edge of desperation and not able to find much to eat, so spring it was, and it fits with an idea of the character gradually blossoming as the world wakes up. Though I’ll admit that habit keeps trying to kick in, so my brain wants it to be fall. I’m writing a festival scene now, and although they’re decorating with garlands of flowers, my mental image keeps trying to be of fall leaves and corn husks. Another book, brain. We’ll do a fall book in this setting, I’m sure.

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Almost release day!

One more day to the new book! The paperback has been submitted, and there’s a page for it on Amazon, but it’s still not showing as available. I hope it’ll be available on release day.

There’s a tiny bit of a sequel to Enchanted Ever After in this book, with one story that takes place after that book, though it’s from Katie’s Granny’s point of view, so Katie and Owen are secondary characters.

We also get a story with a teenage Owen. He’s a freshman in college, and he skipped a few grades in school, so he’s only about sixteen and hasn’t quite outgrown his nerdy stage.

I guess I was giving Katie a break in writing the new stories. She wasn’t having to narrate or do all the work, for a change. It was fun to write stories from other characters’ perspectives. I don’t think I’ll do the thing I’ve seen some other authors do and rewrite an entire book from the point of view of a different character, but I do enjoy mixing things up and writing in the voice of a different character every so often.

I’ve also written some essays on the history of the series and how the magic works. I polled readers on my Facebook page to see what questions they wanted answered (aside from what happens next), and then wrote essays to answer those questions.

I hope everyone enjoys this book!

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New Book!

That book of short fiction in the Enchanted, Inc. universe is now available for pre-order in e-book. There will be a paperback, but they don’t allow pre-orders on those, so that will be available just before release day (I’ll try to get it up so that it can be received around release day, but it’s hard to judge just how quickly they’ll be able to move).

Tales of Enchantment book cover, showing magical smoke and stars coming out of an open book.

There are three new stories in this book, and they’re all longer than short stories. Two are novelettes (longer than a short story, shorter than a novella, so more than 7,500 words). One of these is about Owen and Rod when they were in college. The other happens after Enchanted Ever After and involves Katie’s Granny dealing with a crisis before Katie’s hometown wedding reception. Then there’s a novella (more than 20,000 words) about Merlin’s return, about a year before Enchanted, Inc.

The book also includes the two previously published short stories.

I’ve also included several essays about where I got the ideas for various things in the series and my view of the magical system. All the stories have new author’s notes about the inspiration behind them and any other details about the creative process. I’ve tried to make this book a treat for the fans.

Pre-orders are now available at most of the major online retailers, and I’ve put the links on the book’s page on the website.

Since my birthday is Monday, buying the book would be a really nice gift to me.

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Seasonal Reading

I think I’m finally going to acknowledge the holiday season. I’m planning to put up my decorations tonight, and this Friday will be my “office party.” Yes, it’s just me, but I’m going to start my holiday week a bit early by spending a day reading and relaxing, with maybe some festive food. I figure if I’m a good boss, I owe myself a party. So this may be my last post until I do a year in review just before the new year.

This year, I planned in advance and have stockpiled some Christmas books. If I started reading something that turned out to be set during the holiday season, I marked it and set it aside. I’ll get out the seasonal music, turn on the Christmas tree lights, and immerse myself.

I’ve written one Christmas novella, Twice Upon a Christmas, which is sort of a “Sliding Doors” scenario of a woman living out two different lives based on a quirk of fate, only she’s conscious of both lives as she lives each day twice and has to choose which life she wants to keep. This story started as a screenplay for one of those TV Christmas movies, then I realized I had no idea what to do with it, so I adapted it into a book. I must have been somewhat on the right track for the movie thing because I keep getting queries from networks and production companies about it, but no one has yet actually optioned it.

Within my other series, there are also some options for holiday reading. There’s the latest book, Mystery of the Secret Santa, in the Lucky Lexie series. The holiday season spans two books in the Enchanted, Inc. series. Once Upon Stilettos leads up to the office holiday party, then Damsel Under Stress covers Christmas itself. The third book in the Fairy Tale series, A Kind of Magic, happens in the lead-up to Christmas, with the heroine, Sophie, dancing in The Nutcracker. And Rebels Rising, the third book in the Rebels series, takes place around Christmas.

I keep saying I need to write another Christmas book, but I learned the hard way this year that writing a Christmas book early in the year makes me want to avoid the holiday season when it actually comes. I initially wrote that screenplay during December when I was between projects (I may have been waiting on edits on a book) and I wanted to keep up the routine of writing regularly, so I did something seasonal just for fun. My brain is too fried this year to write during the holiday week, and I’m in the middle of a book, so it’s not going to happen this year. I have so many ideas, though. If I could figure out how to sell scripts, I could keep Netflix and Prime supplied with movies (but not Hallmark because my ideas don’t fit their current mold).

Have a happy holiday season, and happy reading!

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Small-Town Christmas

We’re now truly into December, right during the time of year when Mystery of the Secret Santa takes place, and I have to confess that I’m still not really into the holiday spirit. I’m pretty much actively avoiding anything Christmassy. I think part of the reason is that we finally got “fall” around Thanksgiving. The leaves started turning brilliant colors the day after Thanksgiving, so it’s one of the more spectacular autumns we’ve had in ages, and then it got warm. It feels like October in Texas and looks like September/October in New England. Since fall is my favorite season, I want to enjoy it before I move on to the Christmas season, so I’m denial about it being December.

I think it also didn’t help that I spent the late summer writing a book set during the holiday season. I didn’t do anything like listen to Christmas music while I wrote or put up holiday decorations in my office to get in the mood, but I still ended up essentially experiencing the season in my head from making up what this town’s festivities would look like and then spending hours a day mentally experiencing it. I may have overdosed on the holiday season during August and September.

But I did have fun creating my ideal small-town Christmas. I based a lot of it on Grapevine, Texas, a town near me that’s had itself proclaimed the Christmas Capital of Texas. This town has an old-timey main street full of little shops and restaurants. The area gets covered in lights, the stores do elaborate window displays, there’s Christmas music piped in that you hear on the street, and there’s a light show synchronized to music in the city park. I like to go there and just walk up and down the street, soaking it all up. I understand it’s even bigger now that they’ve built a new hotel near the train station and there’s a whole new commuter rail line that runs through there. They have an outdoor ice rink and a new plaza where I believe the light show is now. Here are a few pictures of Grapevine at Christmas to help you imagine what I was trying to convey in the book.

A gazebo in a small-town park is lit up with white Christmas lights
The gazebo in the Grapevine downtown park
Downtown Grapevine decorated for Christmas, with a row of old buildings covered in lights and a lighted garland over the street.
Downtown Grapevine decorated for the holidays.
Christmas lights on old buildings on Main Street, with lights also hanging over the street.
Main Street in Grapevine with all the lights.
An old movie theater outlined in Christmas lights.
The old movie theater, dressed for the holidays.

Another town that provided some inspiration is Marshall, in East Texas. They started outlining all the buildings in the old downtown around the courthouse square with lights back in the 80s (when my uncle was mayor there), and it’s exploded from there to be a big deal people travel to see.

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New Book and Holidays

The new book came out yesterday, and you should be able to find it at most places. It may take a while to show up on the various library services, and I just remembered that I haven’t yet put it on Google Play (but I haven’t sold a single book there yet, so that’s low on my priority list right now), but it’s at the big ones, and the paperback is available via Amazon. It should also eventually show up at other places, but it takes time to propagate.

This will be my last release of the year. I don’t yet know what the schedule will be for next year. It depends on a lot of things. I’m frantically writing the start of what I hope will be a new “traditional” fantasy series (secondary world, quasi-medievalish setting with horses and castles and an adorkable wizard because of course).

In the meantime, I’ll be taking next week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, so no blog posts from me. I need to do a little writing in between feasts and travel days, so keeping up with other stuff is more than I want to do when I need to take some time off.

See you after the holiday.