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I developed a weird new addiction while I’ve been unpacking, a YouTube channel that seems to have a lot to do with reviewing theme parks. I saw people I follow online talking about a review this person posted about the now-defunct Star Wars hotel at Disneyland and was curious enough that when it popped up on my “recommended” list, I started watching it. It’s something like 4 hours long, and it made the perfect background noise for unpacking, as it wasn’t something I had to pay much attention to and the visuals beyond the person talking to the camera were only occasional, so I didn’t have to look at the screen often. Then after that one, her review of the now-defunct fantasy theme park in Utah (I’d read an article about it) came up, so I watched that one, too.

The funny thing is, I’m not really a theme park person. I’ve never been to any of the Disney parks and have no particularly strong urge to go. I don’t like crowds or lines. I’ve been to Universal Studios in both Orlando and LA, but for special events (parties — a publisher party during a conference in Orlando, the Serenity premiere party in LA), so I only saw the places where the events were held and didn’t see anything beyond that. The only big amusement park I’ve visited is Six Flags Over Texas, and I haven’t been there in about 30 years. I mostly went there during the time when they were actually going with the Six Flags theme, so there were sections of the park built around each of the entities whose flags have flown over Texas. Now I think they’ve scrapped that idea and are focused more on cartoon and comic book characters. I think this would be considered more an amusement park than a theme park, as there’s now no real attempt at immersion or creating a themed environment (they did sort of do this in the old days, but not to the degree of something like Disney).

I’ve got to say that even as a huge Star Wars fan, that hotel sounds like my worst nightmare. It was an immersive game, so you pretty much stayed in the hotel and did planned activities, aside from a controlled excursion to the Star Wars part of the theme park. I’m claustrophobic enough that no windows other than fake “portals” with space views and not being able to leave the hotel would freak me out. I also don’t like being overly scheduled. I do thrive on routine when I have the opportunity to set the routine and have flexibility not to follow it, but I chafe at tight schedules created by someone else, and it sounds like they had guests tightly scheduled from morning to bedtime, without any free time to just hang around. I’m also not a fan of forced activities. When I was nine and utterly obsessed with Star Wars, I might have enjoyed the chance to play Star Wars like that, but nothing much about it appeals to me right now. It might be fun to stay in a Star Wars-themed hotel for a visit to the theme park and to be able to hang out in a lobby that’s made to look like a star cruiser lounge, but it doesn’t sound like the “game” stuff was very interesting to participate in. We did a better job of playing Star Wars when we rode our bikes around the neighborhood, pretending they were X-Wings and TIE fighters. Considering what they charged for this experience, I’m not surprised it didn’t survive, but I am surprised they folded so quickly without any effort to retool it or reboot it into something that might work.

On the other hand, that fantasy park in Utah kind of intrigues me. I enjoy things like Renaissance festivals, and this seemed along those lines, though with less emphasis on shopping, more emphasis on the characters, and with the inclusion of magic/fantasy elements. Unfortunately, it sounds like this park was rather half-baked, a big idea that wasn’t really executed. They poured a lot of money into elements that made little difference in the experience while not finishing elements they started. When this reviewer went there, they didn’t even manage to open a gift shop (she wanted to buy a t-shirt and couldn’t ever find a way to do so), but they’d decorated the churchyard with authentic antique tombstones. If someone could build something like that and do it right (and if it were in a place I could get to and would want to go), it’s something I could consider going to, especially with the right group of people. It’s like a big game of let’s pretend that grown-ups can enjoy. I don’t really care about participating in an actual game or anything where my choices change the story I experience. I just enjoy the ambience and seeing the world play out around me.

I suppose the park I went to last weekend kind of counts as that sort of experience, only the focus there is on real history. I don’t know if they have the costumed guides and interpreters there all the time or if it’s just for special events or weekends (the way they have it phrased on the website, they’re not there in the winter, so maybe they are there the rest of the year). However, I doubt they’re keen on visitors dressing up in costumes and participating too intently, especially since the emphasis is on history, and you wouldn’t want guests to be confused between who the actual guides are and who are the random people just hanging out.

In Another Life

I had another one of those “this is a thing I like!” experiences with something I was watching last week, so I’ve got a new plot element to add to my list. I’m not sure if I’d call it a trope because it’s pretty specific. I’m calling it “in another life.”

This is a situation in which two characters have known each other and maybe even were in love, but then meet again in different circumstances and one or both doesn’t remember, or else they’re different people, so things have changed. It really only works in a science fiction or fantasy story because you need something that doesn’t generally exist in reality to create the situation — things like time travel, alternate universes, memory spells, clones, etc. The only thing that might make it work in a non-SF story is amnesia, and real-world amnesia doesn’t really work that way.

Some examples:
Farscape had one of the best TV romance stories ever, possibly because they made use of this trope to extend the “will they/won’t they” phase while also still having a relationship. Spoilers ahead. The main relationship started as enemies, then they became reluctant allies, then allies, then friends, and then they spent a long time in what I call “affection” (another reason I think this relationship worked — it was a slow burn, and most of the “Moonlighting syndrome” relationships go from animosity straight to bed without passing through a transitional phase). While they were hanging out and having long talks while snuggled against each other but weren’t yet lovers, some science fictiony thing happened that made a duplicate of him. One version went off to have other adventures while one stayed on the ship, where the relationship continued to progress, and they eventually became lovers. Then he died heroically and tragically, and then the other version returned and it was weird for them because he wasn’t the same person she’d fallen in love with. He was the same up to the point of the duplication, but he hadn’t had the experience of becoming her lover and had gone off and had a lot of other experiences. He was someone she could fall in love with, but it was painful for her to see this person who was just like the man she lost, so it reset their relationship. Eventually, they did end up together.

The series Haven had something like this. We learned later in the series that she kept getting a new personality and memories and getting sent back to this town. Thanks to time travel, he kept getting sent back and meeting her past identities, and they always fell in love. So by the time they met, she’d already fallen in love with him a couple of times in her past, but that was still in his future. She didn’t remember it, but she was drawn to him.

The one that made me realize that I like this sort of thing was a show I won’t name to avoid spoilers (it’s pretty recent). A character found herself in a different timeline where history had gone differently and she was the only one aware of the change. She and a person from that timeline ended up going back in time and had to set things right, stopping another time traveler from trying to change history. They developed feelings during the mission, but they realized that if they were successful, he wouldn’t exist. There would be a version of him, but he would be different because he would be from a different world. After the mission was complete and she was back in her time, which had returned to the timeline she knew, she encountered the version of that person, and of course he didn’t know her and he wasn’t the person she’d fallen for (but maybe he could be …)

I’m less a fan of reincarnation stories, and there usually neither of them is aware of what’s going on, so it’s all on the audience to feel the angst of their past selves, but something like Dead Again also gives some of the same vibe.

I’m trying to figure out why this is a story line that has me going “ooh!” I think part of it is figuring out what aspect of a person makes that person who they are. There’s bound to be some element of their personality that would be the same, no matter what, but then people are also shaped by their experiences. This kind of story with alternate timelines or artificial personalities or memory wipes or duplicates, etc., is like having a control group to study which changes will have which effects and which things remain constant.

But as a fan of slow-burn romances, I think it’s also that it’s fun to have a bit of a reset button. You can have a relationship come to fruition and then send it back to square one to start all over again. It’s a fun way of avoiding that problem in a series of having a relationship work out and then not knowing what to do with it. You can also have a dramatic, tragic death and still have your lovers get together eventually in some form. You get to have both angst and a happy ending, having your cake and eating it, too.

And I think there’s that element of “meant to be” if people keep falling in love with each other in multiple timelines or versions of themselves. You know you’ve got a truly epic romance when these same people fall for each other every time, no matter what’s changed about them.

I haven’t tried using this yet in my work, though I come close in the Rydding Village books. Now I need to see if I can come up with a plot that goes all-out with this.

Between Books

The new book is out! The paperback should now be available on Amazon. It may take time to get out through the extended markets. I was a little late in getting it set up and uploaded because I decided to celebrate getting the book done by going on vacation and I was on the road when I got the paperback cover.

This was supposed to be a trip to the mountains to enjoy a real fall, but they got hit with a heat wave, so I’m seeing what summer would be like here, only with glorious fall color.

One thing that’s weird about going on vacation right after finishing a book is that I haven’t started working on another book, so I don’t have anything I’m mulling over in my head. There are a few backburnered projects that I’ll get back to when I get home, but I’m not actively working on anything, and that’s a bit weird. Usually the way I get myself to sleep at night is by imagining the “movie” of the next scene I need to write, but I don’t have anything like that going on now. I’m having to pull up potential scenes from some other projects. It’s probably good for me to take this kind of time off, but it feels like the end of a semester, after finals, when you have this weird, nagging feeling that you should be studying and it’s a bit unsettling not to be studying or doing homework.

I’m staying at a historic inn, so there’s no TV in the room, just really good wi-fi. That means I’ve been reading a bit and catching up on Internet stuff in the evenings when I collapse after a day of intense walking. I logged more than 18,000 steps yesterday, many of them up steep hills. All that exercise is good because the food in this town is amazing and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

So, I’ll be back home and talking about books again next week.

Status Update

I’m in the middle of rewriting the book I wrote earlier this year, and I’ve reached the part that’s going to take some pretty serious rewriting, not just revising. I changed my mind about what should happen in the middle of the book. I think this version is going to be a lot more fun, but it’s going to take work. I’ve been super diligent all week, spending a lot of time on writing work, both on this project and another one (one mostly in the morning, the other in the afternoon). I figure I might as well buckle down now, since it’s super hot outside, so there’s not much else to do. I may as well sit in the air conditioning and write, and then in the fall I can go outdoors and enjoy myself some.

This is another reason I don’t try to do National Novel Writing Month in November. That’s prime outdoors time around here. Our weather will be what other places consider early fall weather.

Meanwhile, my ever-cooperative brain has come up with yet another new story idea. There’s a genre I’ve been wanting to play in, but I didn’t have any ideas for actual stories in it. Then one struck me. I’m doing a little brainstorming every day to work out the characters and plot, so maybe it’ll be ready to write when I get done with the current projects.

That should keep me busy until about November, so it’ll all work out, I guess.

I should have news in the next couple of weeks about one of these projects.

Also, I keep forgetting to post about the Smashwords July sale. My books in the Smashwords store are half off in July. There are also a lot of other deals, in case you already have all my books. You can find the discounted books at

New Computer!

I’m typing to you from my new computer! I’d been needing to get a new one for a while. I bought my old one in 2016, and it’s at about the five-year mark when they tend to get glitchy with the kind of heavy use I give mine. I’d reached a point where I couldn’t update my browsers without updating my operating system, and some of my critical websites wouldn’t work with my browsers. But at the same time, I have some tech that wouldn’t work if I updated my operating system. I was having a lot more crashes, so I wasn’t sure updating the operating system would solve my problems — or even work. Then I found a sale on the kind of computer I wanted and took the plunge to buy a new one.

It took me a while to get around to getting the new one set up and all the files transferred. I put it off because I was dreading it. And then I had another crash and knew I needed to deal with it, so I took care of it last weekend. I still don’t have it exactly the way I want it, and for some weird reason my e-mail files didn’t transfer, so I’m going to have to figure all that out. I’m also going to have to buy the new version of one bit of software and eventually get some external drives. But it’s more or less functional now.

The new one is a lot faster. It gets going faster, it loads things faster, and the keyboard is really nice, so I feel like I’m typing faster. Maybe that means I’ll write books faster. Unfortunately, it doesn’t speed up my brain.

One nice thing is that I’ll finally be able to load music onto my new phone. The new phone the phone company made me take a couple of years ago when they changed their network wasn’t compatible with my old operating system, so I’ve been using my old phone as a music player. I may continue doing that (one reason to keep the old computer the way it is), but I can also put music on the new phone so I can have it either way.

I guess this means I have to write a few books to make this computer pay for itself.


The last couple of weeks, there’s been a nature documentary series on PBS called Wild Scandinavia, and it’s made me realize what’s missing in the fictional world I’m working on: wildlife.

My characters have horses, but those are the only animals in the story, aside from one kitten, a mention of bees, and I think a mention of hearing birds. I completely forgot to include wildlife. The characters don’t have to swat at flies or mosquitoes. They don’t hear wolves or coyotes. No lizards or snakes cross their paths. I don’t even know what lives in that world.

A green lizard climbs a brick wall
One of the patio lizards.

Which is weird because I tend to pay attention to that sort of thing in real life. Even just sitting on my patio, I take note of the different kinds of bugs and spiders. I have what I call the “patio lizards,” the anoles who live around my patio and the patio fence. They’re so used to me that one’s even learned to ask for water. It waits for me to water the plants and splash water, then comes to drink what I’ve splashed on the ground, and if I haven’t watered the plants at the right time, the lizard will sit and stare at me until I give it some water.


A male and female mallard duck pair stand on top of a fence, the male watching over the female
Ducks at the bird feeder

My neighbors have a bird feeder, and I watch the birds that come to it—including sometimes even ducks. It’s a dish of seeds, not a real bird feeder, which means it also attracts squirrels and rats. I hadn’t noticed any squirrels or signs of rats in a while, and then I heard a hawk and later spotted it, which may explain the lack of rodents. I guess that bird feeder is feeding birds both directly and indirectly.

When I go walking, I notice all the water birds that come to the canals in my neighborhood, like the geese, egrets, herons, ducks, and cormorants. We have a few families of Canada geese who winter here. I know they have a reputation for being nasty, but our guests are rather well-behaved. Then there are the turtles in and around the water. I’ve also seen rabbits and armadillos.

I’m not sure why I’ve left out this aspect of my fictional world. I guess I’ve been focused on the plot and there are no wildlife encounters that affect the plot. But I can at least mention them swatting at flies, seeing birds, and hearing sounds.

When the Real World Intrudes

It’s been a month since I finished the first draft of the book in progress. I’ve re-read it and have done some brainstorming about what I need to fix. I don’t have a lot of major surgery to do. I think the basic structure is good. But what I have is essentially a 125,000-word outline. The scenes and plot points are there, but I think they may not be done in quite the right way. I’m going to have to analyze each scene and figure out how I could do it better.

That analysis is what I’ve been working on this week, though I’ve had some difficulty concentrating. You may have heard about the recent shopping mall shooting. That happened in my area. I don’t live close to that mall. It’s on the other side of the metro area. But I have a lot of friends who live around there, so as soon as I heard the news, I jumped online to see if my friends were safe. I found that one friend’s son was just across the road from that center when it happened, so I narrowly escaped having had two friends who’ve had children gunned down (just one is already too many). I’ve shopped at that mall. In fact, I bought a dress I wore for a lot of my Damsel Under Stress book events there. I got chills when I saw the reports that the shooter had researched the busiest times there because the time I shopped there was during that peak window. It was years ago, but it still felt like a close call. I guess I had a closer call last year when someone was shot on the street behind my house and I heard the gunfire. I’ll never forget that sound.

I’m heartbroken about the lives lost and the lives broken — that poor little boy who lost his whole family, the mother who lost both daughters, the young woman celebrating her birthday, and all the others. It’s hard to believe that someone could have so much hate as to want to indiscriminately wipe people out. Even sadder is when you see the number of people online who try to excuse or justify it. Maybe they’re all just trolls or bots trying to stir things up, but it’s still scary.

So, no wonder it’s been hard to focus. It does help that this is a “secondary world” book, so it’s an escape from here and now. I’ve figured out how I need to fix the first scene. That will be my work for today. It’s a rainy day, so it’s good for writing.

What’s a Mary Sue?

While I was doing my Star Wars rewatch, I was watching some of the YouTube videos about Easter eggs and hidden references, which got more related videos recommended to me, and a lot of these guys (but just the guys) kept saying that Rey in the sequel trilogy is a Mary Sue. It all came up again with the recent announcement of an upcoming additional movie about her and whether this new movie will “redeem” her and make her a character instead of a Mary Sue. But is she a Mary Sue?

First, as you always should in any debate, we need to define our terms. What is a Mary Sue?

The term comes from the world of Star Trek fan fiction, from the pre-Internet days. There was a story written as a parody of the kind of story in which the author inserts a new character who’s basically an avatar of herself into the existing story world. Ensign Mary Sue joins the crew of the Enterprise. She’s beautiful, has a lovely singing voice, everyone likes her, she’s good at everything, whichever crew member the author has a crush on falls madly in love with her, and she ends up saving the day. “Mary Sue” came to be used as a general term for an obvious author self-insert character in fan fiction. Later, the use got expanded to describe a character in original/professional fiction who had traits of a Mary Sue and seemed like she might be a thinly veiled version of the author. And then it got overused to mean a female (almost always female) character who was at all skilled or liked.

Although there are occasional mentions of a “Gary Stu” or “Marty Stu,” the concept is pretty heavily gendered. One reason is that the vast majority of fan fiction is written by women, so the vast majority of author self-insert characters are female, and that means most of the “Mary Sue” examples are female, which makes it easier to compare female original characters in professional fiction to their fanfic counterparts. The other reason is that until very recently (and often still), female characters in action-oriented fiction didn’t get to do much. They existed to scream and get rescued. The male characters were the ones with mad skills who got to save the day. That meant that a female character who acted like the usual male hero looked more like a Mary Sue than like the kind of female characters we were used to seeing. And it’s entirely possible that this lack of female characters who got to do anything is one reason most fan fiction is written by women — you have to write original characters if you want to have a female character who gets to do anything.

Not that men are immune from the tendency to write wish-fulfillment characters. Take James Bond. While Ian Fleming did work in intelligence during the war, he was an administrator, not a field agent. It’s fairly obvious that Bond was his Gary Stu, getting to do all the dashing spy stuff he thought would have been exciting. He’s highly skilled, has all sorts of cool gizmos, saves the day and gets the girl(s). Or take just about any superhero. How can the wealthy playboy who fights crime with the help of all his high-tech gadgets be anything other than wish fulfillment? Or there’s the noble weakling with asthma who becomes a powerful supersoldier. But people just accept hyper-competent male characters as normal heroic characters. It’s the women who get called Mary Sues. A couple of years ago, I watched all the Marvel movies. I’d heard complaints about Captain Marvel and what a Mary Sue that character was, so I was looking for those traits when I watched her movie — and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between her and any other superhero in the series.

There are two key things I think often get forgotten in any discussion of the Mary Sue concept. One is that the main complaint about the Mary Sue character initially was not so much about her perfection, but because she took over from the regular characters in that story world. Back in that day, pre-Internet, it took work to find fan fiction. You had to know the right people to get your hands on fan-produced fiction magazines, or you had to go to conventions. So imagine you’ve gone to all that effort to find some stories set in your favorite fictional universe about your favorite fictional characters, and instead of getting a story about the characters you love, you get a story about some random chick who takes over the story and leaves the regulars on the sideline. That’s the annoying part. If the author had filed off the serial numbers and presented it as an original story in which that character was supposed to be the main character, readers might even have liked and cheered for that character because the character would just look like any other hero (remember, the original Mary Sue was a parody, exaggerating traits).

And that’s the other thing that gets forgotten: Just about all heroes are Mary/Marty Sues/Stus to some extent. It’s hard to write a character you don’t identify with in some way, since you’re the only person you know from the inside out. Heroes also tend to be better, smarter, stronger, etc., than the average person, even when those heroes are supposed to be the “ordinary Joe” type. I have a little game I play when I’m reading or watching something. I try to imagine myself in that situation and consider how long I’d survive. It’s not long. It would be a pretty boring story if we didn’t let the heroes be at all idealized, if we stuck to what ordinary people really could do. I can walk for hours, but probably not for days or weeks. I can’t run for more than a few minutes (bad knees), and I’m toast if I have to hang from my fingers off the side of a building for more than about 30 seconds.

I’m not saying there’s no such thing as an egregious Mary Sue, but I think they’re rarer than critics seem to believe. Not every woman who’s at all competent, or, as one author put it, capable of getting home in the rain without drowning, is a Mary Sue. It’s come to mean “a female character I don’t like.” Or even “a female character in a role that should be a male.” Whether or not a character is a Mary Sue is often in the eye of the beholder. If you identify with that character, you’ll love the character. If you don’t, you’ll call her a Mary Sue.

My personal definition of an original fiction Mary Sue is a character the author has a blind spot about, to the point that the treatment of the character defies story logic. The author treats the character as though she’s a real person she loves and wants the best for rather than like a fictional character in a story. It’s not about whether the character is good at things or well-liked or saves the day — all things you expect of just about any hero. It’s whether there’s a good reason for all those things. If someone’s an expert pilot because she went to flight school and spent years training, she’s not a Mary Sue. If the first time she gets in a fighter she manages to outfly trained and experienced pilots and wins the battle, we’re getting into Mary Sue territory. Someone who’s nice to people and is well-liked just makes sense. Someone who’s mean and snarky and selfish but also the most beloved person in town might be a Mary Sue.

There are variations on the usual Mary Sue tropes, since this is about authors inserting their personal fantasies into stories and those fantasies may vary. It’s not always about being popular and winning. You may get the Victim Sue, which usually boils down to “no one appreciates me.” This is the character who’s not accepted or liked and the story paints this as terribly unfair. This character may still save the day, forcing everyone to acknowledge how great they are, or may turn to evil, with it being the fault of those people who didn’t accept him/her. Still, it comes down to warping story logic because the author has a blind spot.

Often, it all comes down to a clash between showing and telling. Because the author relates so closely to the character, she may forget that not everyone feels the same way and doesn’t have the same info she has, so all the reasons why we should love the character don’t actually make it into the story

Next: But is Rey a Mary Sue?

Rest Day

This week, I not only finished the first draft of my book, but I also finished and filed my taxes (I don’t normally leave it this late, but I didn’t have the spare brainpower while I was finishing the book. I apply any refund to my Q1 estimated taxes, so it’s not as though I’m missing out on anything by not filing early. The bookkeeping was already done so it was just a case of plugging numbers into forms) and took care of a big admin task that’s been on the to-do list for a long time.

So, today I’m taking a day off and trying not to think about work. A new garden center opened nearby, and I’m going to go get my summer herbs and see what they recommend for the bare spot that gets little sun.

I may do a little other shopping and pick up something nice to drink. Then I’m going to plant my new purchases, then sit on the patio and read.

Next week, back to writing and attempting to do some marketing.

The Draft is Done!

On Monday I finally finished The Book That Would Not Die — the first draft of it. It came in at about 123,500 words. I’m not sure what will happen with the next draft. I’m sure there are some things that can be tightened up, and there are a couple of things I set up but ended up not using, so they can be cut, but I also know that I need to flesh some things out and add stuff like description and emotion, so we’ll see what happens in the next round.

But that probably won’t start until next month. It needs to rest a bit while I deal with other things. I have a lot of administrative work to catch up on. I need to take a slight break. I have some short pieces I want to play with.

I’ve been working on this book for so long that if feels weird not to be working on it. At night, after I’ve turned out the lights but before I fall asleep, I generally think about the book, going over what I wrote that day and imagining the next scene. It feels weird to not have a next scene to think of. I’ve caught myself imagining what the characters are doing after the book ends. It’s not scenes that will end up in a sequel, just the immediate next steps. I have some ideas for what could happen in the next book and I know the character arc, but I don’t have a specific plot. I’m sure it’ll come to me once I start working on revisions.

First, though, I need to reboot the brain. I took a little time off on Tuesday, doing my grocery shopping and then going to the park that has a nice field of bluebonnets to take a walk and have a picnic lunch. Today and tomorrow are admin days, and then I’m planning to give myself a long weekend before I dive into some short stories.