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Starting to Write

I said previously that although I’d been making up stories in my head my whole life, it didn’t occur to me to write them down until I was nearly thirteen. But I did start writing before that. The first time I recall writing something and thinking it was fun was in fourth grade. The teacher put a picture on the board and told us to write something about it. I don’t remember much about it, but there were kids sitting around a candle, and something about it really sparked my imagination. When the allotted time for the assignment was over, I had pages of the beginning of a real story. The teacher saw what I was doing and let me finish it at home and turn it in later. I think the idea was to just write a paragraph or two describing the scene, and I ended up writing a mystery or ghost story. I did my usual short story thing of it spiraling out of control, pacing it as though I was writing a novel, until I just ended it abruptly. I remember having to do some handwaving and one of those “and they solved the mystery” endings just so I could turn it in.

I also remember reading a non-fiction book from the library about starting a family newspaper, and I spent some time trying to write the news. I was writing for fun, but it still didn’t occur to me to write down the stories that were in my head. In sixth grade, we had journals we had to keep in class. When we got to class in the morning, we had to pick up our spiral notebook from a box (mine had The Muppet Show on the cover) and write a page from the prompt on the board. I loved this assignment and had a lot of fun with it. I liked writing assignments in school.

I finally had the “I could write my mental stories down and have a book” realization between sixth and seventh grades when a friend and I were playing Star Wars, running around in the woods, and I told her about the original character I’d made up and had been making up stories about all along. Something about telling her flipped a switch and made me realize that I was writing stories, and I could write them down and share them with people.

The problem was that what I had wasn’t actually stories. I had characters, a situation, and a bunch of moments involving my characters. I realized this once I started writing stuff down. I had all the backstory and worldbuilding, but no actual story. I managed to write a first chapter, but had no idea where to go with it next. Mostly, I ended up making a lot of drawings of the clothes the characters would wear and the floor plans for the place where the characters lived.

We moved soon after that, and when we got to the new place we got all the stuff that had been in storage while we were overseas. In that stuff was an old manual typewriter, and I taught myself to type on it. I got good at the letter characters, but I still come to a screeching halt when it comes to numbers and symbols because that was where I stopped with the how-to-type book I used. Once I could type words, I was off and running. I typed out a bunch of first chapters of potential books, from science fiction to spy thrillers, and they all had that same problem: they were a situation and characters, not a story. This was a problem I didn’t solve until I was out of college and got truly serious about writing. I made a few stabs at writing short stories and I did a lot of worldbuilding, but I didn’t have anything that was anywhere near close to complete.

I don’t think this was wasted time, though. I learned a lot about creating characters and worlds in all those spiral notebooks I filled with writing about the stories I wanted to write. I wrote scenes and got good at stringing words together. I worked on the school newspaper in high school and competed in journalism writing contests. I majored in journalism in college, and I was still scribbling story ideas and notes in spiral notebooks. I took courses that I thought would be useful for when I became a writer. But I still didn’t know how to write a book or even a short story. That would come later.

Life vs. Fiction

I think events of the past few years have killed a lot of popular plots for fiction. Maybe they were never actually realistic, but we could at least believe them. Now, I’m not sure they’d work anymore without a lot of adjustments or explanations of what the specific circumstances are that make them work.

First, there’s the “get the message out/publicly reveal the villain’s crimes” plot. In this one, our plucky band of heroes finds out about the villain’s wrongdoing and overcomes all the odds to spread the word far and wide, leading to the villain’s downfall. Or they might step up in a public forum with the key evidence that reveals the villain’s wrongdoing. Or they might trick the villain into saying the quiet part out loud, so that they rant about their evil scheme or say what they really think while on an open microphone, on the air, or in some other way that people can hear it.

Of course, as soon as the people hear this, it brings the villain down. The evil regime is overthrown, the villain loses all status, or the people rise up and make the villain account for his crimes. Good prevails!

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger recorded his video aimed at the people of Russia about how their government is lying to them about Ukraine, and I allowed myself a moment of fantasizing about the people rising up and removing Putin from power. Then I realized how unlikely that was. The misdeeds of a lot of “villain” type people around the world are pretty well-known, and it doesn’t seem to affect their popularity or power. The realistic response to the heroes getting the message out would be for maybe some people who already didn’t like the villain to get angry and for everyone else to either not believe it or not care because they like some of the things the villain is doing or are getting something out of the villain’s regime. Odds are that all that effort to get the message out would end up coming to nothing.

It might work on a smaller level if the people hearing the message were victims of the villain and this information reveals that he was the one behind it, and if they had the power to actually do something. But on a larger scale, odds are that nothing would come of it.

Which brings me to the other popular plot: The evil overlord has been overthrown or killed, so we’re all free and there’s dancing in the streets.

The problem with this is that an evil overlord doesn’t get to be an evil overlord without having a critical mass of people in critical positions supporting him. I suppose if magic’s involved it might work. If the villain created a magical army or used magic to force his army to fight for him, then if he died the army would either dissipate or wake up and stop fighting. But otherwise, if the evil overlord is killed, likely someone else would step into his place, and there would still be plenty of true believers in positions of power to keep things going. The police force and military would still be out there enforcing the laws, and there would likely be plenty of people who benefited from the rule of the evil overlord who wouldn’t be happy about his death and wouldn’t want things to change. You don’t get into power or stay in power if no one else supports you and unless there’s been a massive war that wiped out all those supporters, those supporters would keep the regime going with a new leader.

I know a lot of Star Wars fans were mad that the sequels seemed to undo everything accomplished in the original trilogy, with yet another Empire-like organization to fight, but that was actually pretty realistic. What was less realistic was the stuff added to the end of Return of the Jedi in the special editions showing all the dancing in the streets. That might have happened in some of the places that were subjugated by the Empire, but in Coruscant, the capital, where people had it good, odds are they wouldn’t have been happy about the end of the Empire. A lot of the rank and file Stormtroopers might have been conscripts by the time of the rebellion, but there were probably still a lot of clones who’d been brainwashed to support the Empire. Then there were all the governors and officers and other elites who benefited from Imperial rule. Killing the Emperor and losing his henchman wouldn’t have changed society that much. There would have been a ton of clean-up work and re-education to do in order to completely rebuild society. And even then, a generation or so later you’d likely have people who didn’t experience the bad parts romanticizing the past and trying to revive it, working alongside the people who remembered it and liked it. That 37-year timeline for the rise of a new Empire-like regime is pretty realistic. Thirty years seems to be about the average between the fall of one totalitarian regime and the rise of the next one.

It seems like there are some interesting stories to be told about the aftermath of taking out the evil overlord, the people who have to go in and dismantle all the stuff surrounding the overlord, deal with the power structure, and convince the people that there was a problem with their leadership, but we seldom get that part of the story. It’s just, kill the Emperor, we’re free, the end.

Winter is Coming

We have the start of a winter event (now apparently even a named winter storm) kicking in. Supposedly, it won’t be like the one last year that had the whole state frozen and without electricity for days. At the very least, it will be below freezing for a much shorter amount of time, so even if the state’s power grid fails, it shouldn’t be too miserable and there should be less worry about frozen pipes and that sort of thing.

The rain is supposedly going to start this afternoon as the temperatures drop (it’s already getting colder, but no rain yet), and by tonight it’s supposed to be below freezing, so we’ll get ice. We so seldom get pretty snow, the kind of thing where you watch the flakes dance in the air as they fall. We get freezing rain and sleet, which aren’t pretty either to watch or when they’re on the ground, where they make travel hazardous. You can learn to drive on snow, but driving on ice, especially sleet on top of ice, is pretty much impossible.

I did the emergency grocery run yesterday. I wouldn’t have had to go out at all, but I’d have run out of milk on Saturday, and the weekend after a storm is usually even worse than a couple of days before the storm, even if the roads are clear by then. So, I’ve stocked up on milk, bread (something else I was running low on), plus picked up some cheese (for a meal that doesn’t require cooking) and a package of cookies (I had a coupon for a free package, and I learned last year not to count on being able to spend the time baking).

Since last year, I’ve picked up a camping lantern and a tea warmer that uses candles. I’ve got batteries for my flashlights and radio. I’ll need to be sure to charge my phone and tablet. I’ve done laundry, so I’ve got my warm clothes clean. The dishwasher is running now, and I’ve got a loaf of fruit and nut bread (something I can eat for breakfast without needing to toast it) rising to bake this afternoon. I’ll make a pot of tea tonight and put it in a thermos, since doing that last year really helped. It was nice to have something warm to drink on a cold morning when I had no power.

But I’m going to hope we just have a cold, icy day when I can make soup, maybe bake something, and spend the day under the electric blanket as I dream up a new story world and make some characters come to life.

2021 in Review

It’s the new year, and I’m easing myself back into work mode. The work I’m doing now is mostly thinking rather than sitting at the computer and coming up with words, so it’s perfect for this time of year, when I really just want to huddle under the electric blanket on the sofa and doze. I can do that and plan a book.

When I’ve ventured out of my blanket cocoon, I’ve been doing some record keeping and analysis of last year to help me with my business planning for next year. It was a pretty productive year, writing and publishing-wise. I got four books out, wrote two of them entirely during the year and revised/edited one and proofed one. I also wrote a novelette for an upcoming project and did a lot of development work on some things that I hope to write this year. I spent less time writing than I did the year before, but was still pretty productive, so I’m happy with that.

Financially, it was one of my better years in a long time, but most of that came from older projects and traditional publishing. I got some foreign sales and royalties and some other subsidiary rights sales. The new projects were barely a blip. The new mystery series isn’t making that much money. If I only look at those sales and how much time I’ve spent working on those books, I’d have done better if I’d gone to work at the grocery store. However, since that work has been done, as the books continue to sell that hourly “wage” will continue to rise. I’m going to try doing some promo things and see if I can boost those books a bit before I decide where to go with that series. I don’t think the problem is that people don’t like them because the sell-through is pretty good. People who read one book tend to go on to read the rest. The trick is to get people to read the first book.

That’s actually the issue with all my books. Once people read the first book, they tend to read the whole series. I just don’t have that many people reading the first book. The first Enchanted, Inc. book is nearly 17 years old, and people are still just now hearing about it. In a way, that’s good because it means I have a steady stream of income from books I wrote ages ago. But it also means that these books have been flying under the radar. Most of my income still comes from that series rather than from anything new I write.

And that makes it tricky to figure out what to write next. I’m not that interested in writing more Enchanted, Inc. stuff right now. In general, I haven’t been into contemporary-set books for the past year or so. I’ve been almost entirely reading secondary-world fantasy — stories taking place in imaginary worlds. And that’s what I really want to write. That’s what made me fall in love with fantasy fiction and want to be a writer in the first place. It may be a bit of a leap to go from my contemporary fantasy/romantic comedy stuff to imaginary world storybook kind of stuff, but that’s where my brain is right now, and trying to force myself into something else just led to some massive burnout.

And thus the huddling under a blanket and creating an imaginary world. I’ll do some promo to see if I can boost the sales of books I’ve already written while I play with this idea and see where it takes me. That’s my plan for at least the early part of the year. I’ve reached the point where this world is starting to take shape and solidify, and I need to start filling in the specifics. Then I’ll flesh out the characters who have been forming in my head, and from there I can start plotting.

Long Holiday and Holiday Movies

I got an extra-long Thanksgiving holiday. I started early, going to my parents’ house on Tuesday, and then Monday morning I got my COVID booster shot, so I’ve been taking it easy the past couple of days. Actually, though, I’ve probably spent more time than usual doing work-related stuff, since “taking it easy” meant reading some books that are research for a project and watching relevant documentaries. I just haven’t been sitting at my desk. I’m now at the point where my arm is still a bit sore and I get tired easily, but I don’t feel so bad as long as I don’t try to do too much.

I started the annual Christmas movie viewing last night, since there was a movie that had been offered as a preview for a paid channel that would be leaving Prime that day, and after watching it, I’m not sure how many of these I’ll manage to watch this year. I’ve realized that most of my viewing the last year or so has been either historical or fantasy-related. In other words, not at all realistic. Not that these movies are truly “realistic,” but they look enough like real life that seeing large groups of people gathering closely without masks made me a bit anxious. Then there was the scene of characters in a restaurant that made me simultaneously wistful and anxious. Maybe I’ll limit myself to the ones with fantasy elements. If they’re repeating the same day over and over again or having wishes come true, I don’t have to worry about it taking place in the real world.

While I unironically enjoy some of these because they’re basically romantic comedies with snow, I’ll admit that I watch to snark for most of them. The one last night was supposed to be more of a drama than a rom-com, since it was a “something bad happened to me once around Christmas, so now I don’t really celebrate Christmas but when I visit a small town for some other reason and get roped into all their local celebrations, I can see how magical Christmas is” story (Hallmark plot #12). This chick just about lost her mind at the town tree lighting event. It wasn’t anything too elaborate. They just turned on the tree while singing Christmas carols, and Santa was there. My neighborhood does something more elaborate than that, so it was hard to buy that she’d never seen anything like it or that this town was so special that it celebrated Christmas in a way that you don’t experience anywhere else.

I once wrote a script for a Christmas movie, which I turned into a book. I’ve been pondering drafting another one this year as a way to stay in the writing habit while I’m doing the development work for a series. I have a few ideas I’ve been playing with in my head, but most of them are kind of spoofs on Hallmark, like merging the Christmas disaster movie the Sci Fi channel used to do with the Hallmark holiday rom-com movie, or finding the town where all those Christmas movies take place and uncovering their dark secret. I may wait a day or two to decide about that. Right now, it sounds exhausting, and typing makes my arm a bit sore. I also need to get my Christmas decorations up to set the proper mood.

Metaphorical Cleaning

My house cleaning and office organization project continues. So far, I’ve got the downstairs except for the kitchen cleaned (the kitchen is going to take extra time, not so much because it’s dirty but because there’s more to do, like wiping down the inside and outside of appliances, cleaning the oven, etc.) and I’ve organized the area under my desk.

My desk is deep and doesn’t have built-in drawers. It’s basically an L-shaped table with a keyboard drawer, and that means there’s room under it for storage. I’ve got a stack of plastic drawers on one end. Under the corner is a unit with a big drawer/bin and a shelf, and then I have the printer cart from a previous desk, from back in the day when you would put your tractor feed printer on top and your paper below, and you’d feed the paper up through a slot to the printer. That cart is now where I keep my printing supplies. I sorted through all that stuff, so now I can easily find the printer paper, writing paper, and all the various kinds of stationery I’ve amassed, including notecards and postcards that can be run through a printer. I also organized and sorted through all the notebooks that go on the shelf of the corner unit. The area looks so nice now that I find myself just gazing at it.

Then I made a big change on the top of my desk. My desk is a bit tall for me. I put my laptop on the keyboard drawer and it’s more or less at the right height if I keep my chair high enough, which means I need a footrest. But I was feeling really hemmed in by the desk and was pondering if I needed to get something different. Then it occurred to me that the problem was really that one of my printers, the inkjet that’s also a scanner and copier, was sitting right in front of me on the desk, making the desk look even higher and blocking part of my view out the window. I’d put it there because when I was using my office previously it was before I got Wi-Fi, so I had to be able to plug the printer directly into the computer. Now it doesn’t matter where the printer is, so I moved it to that cart behind my desk.

And it was amazing the difference it made. It cleared a lot of space on my desk and opens that whole area up. I have a clearer view and feel a lot less “trapped.”

I think there’s a metaphor in there. I was feeling trapped by something that had served a purpose at one point in my life. Things had changed so that it no longer needed to be where it was, but I hadn’t realized that or thought about it until I looked at things in a new way. I think we tend to do that in life a lot, let something that doesn’t have to be the way it is anymore keep us feeling trapped because we don’t stop and think about why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them. It’s worthwhile to question things every so often and consider whether a change would work.

Or something profound. I just know that now I can see more of my plants and out the window instead of having a big, black thing right in my face.

Since I have a book releasing next week, my progress on the office is going to have to slow down. But I’m determined to get it done this year, even if I do only a little bit every day.

Break Time

I finished a draft of a book last weekend, and I’ve spent most of this week trying to catch up on the stuff I was supposed to have been doing while I was working on the book, so I’ve decided I need some recovery time. I’m not taking a real vacation, but I’m going to try to be deliberate about taking actual downtime for a long weekend.

Change of pace is rather important for keeping the brain sharp and for being creative, and that’s been hard to come by in the past year or so, which means I’m making an effort to create that effect at home—not always successfully. Mostly it means shaking up my schedule. I may let myself sleep a little later (if I can. My body wakes up early in the summer, like it’s in touch with my inner ancestral farmer and thinks I need to be in the fields by six). I’m going to try to stay away from the computer as much as I can (I have a couple of freelance projects in the works that will require me to check e-mail). I’ve done a library run to stock up on books, and now I’m going to allow myself some time to just sit and think and sit and read. There may be some yoga to work out all the knots that come from sitting over a computer. I’m working on getting my singing voice back after getting really out of shape from more than a year without choir rehearsals and with barely even speaking, so I may do some singing.

Yeah, I really know how to relax.

And then I’ll be ready to dive in to the next draft of the book.

Familiar Things

I’ve found myself pondering the tug of war between the familiar and the new. I’d planned to make an effort this fall to try new things. I couldn’t go anywhere on a vacation, but I could create a change of pace at home by doing different things, like cooking new recipes. But when fall hit, I was so excited to get back to some of my favorite fall recipes that it was hard to fit in new things among the old favorites. I was looking forward to those soups and breads that I know I love and haven’t had since early this year, so I made those instead of the new recipes. I did make a couple of new dishes, but I didn’t like them as much as the favorites. I tried a new scone recipe yesterday, and that one’s going in the regular rotation, so it wasn’t a total failure.

I run into the same problem when it comes to watching movies. I start scrolling through the streaming menu, and the familiar ones jump out at me, so I end up rewatching things instead of watching something new. I haven’t had great luck in trying new ones. They tend to be not what I was expecting, and that’s not good when you’re expecting a romantic comedy and get a depressing drama. Now that Christmas movie season is upon us, there’s the tug between the ones I know I like and the new ones that may or may not be any good. Then there are the ones that are traditional, the specials and movies I watch every year, even though I just about have them memorized. They’re more background noise than something I really watch, but it’s comforting to absorb them in the background.

I’m doing better about reading new books instead of re-reading favorites, though there is a strong temptation to reach for the comfort reads.

There is a known bias toward familiarity. You’re drawn to the familiar. That’s part of the point of advertising, to make something more familiar to you so that when you see it in a store, it jumps out at you and you choose the most familiar thing.

I’ve decided to balance things. I’m making an effort to try new things, whether it’s new recipes or new movies, but when I want something reassuring and comfortable, there’s no harm in going with the familiar.

And maybe this is part of my problem when it comes to book promotion. I’m bad about not wanting to bother people with repeated messages, but it does take repeated exposure to things before they become familiar enough for people to accept them.

Blog Fatigue

I was lamenting on Twitter yesterday that I don’t know if anyone actually reads my blog, and it seems people do, even if they’re not commenting, so I guess I’ll keep up with it. My problem right now is that I have no idea what to write about. I haven’t been watching much TV or movies, so I don’t have anything to discuss there. I’ve been reading from my to-be-read pile, and I’m finding that there are reasons I didn’t read those books for so long, so I haven’t had a lot of books to recommend. Otherwise, my reading is for research for a future project, and I don’t really want to talk about what I’m reading there because the idea is that I’ll throw all that information into the mental blender, and what comes out won’t be recognizable from the source. But if I tell people what the sources are, they’ll be looking for chunks in the smoothie that they can identify, and that may lead to them misinterpreting the book.

I don’t really have a life outside the house now because I only go out to go grocery shopping. There’s no choir, no children’s choir, no getting together with friends. It’s too hot to go out hiking. Basically, I spend my days writing and researching, listening to classical music, and cooking. I don’t have much to say about the music because the very point of it is that I don’t think about it. I can just listen and let it flow over me, and sometimes that’s the only time when I don’t have words swirling around in my head.

So I’m not sure what to talk about. What do you want to hear? This is your chance to ask questions, and the answers may turn into a blog post. Ask me about the writing process or the publishing business. Do you have questions about how to write a book or get it published? Or ask about my books, where ideas came from, some of my research, etc. (though, to be honest, it’s been so long since I wrote a lot of my books that I might not remember anymore). Anything else?

I may take the rest of August as a kind of holiday to stockpile ideas and have something more substantial to say when I start up again in September. To keep up with me otherwise, follow me on Twitter. I mostly put book info on Facebook. Or there’s my mailing list.


I had a nice, relaxing “vacation” of the sort that actually seems to have boosted my energy, unlike the travel sort that tends to leave me tired. I remember something from back in my medical writing days in which a psychiatrist reminded us that the rood word of “vacation” is “vacate,” and that in order to renew yourself, you needed to empty the things you carry around so you have room to fill up again, and you need to break your routine to really relax.

One thing I realized is that the bad side of being the sort of person who’s never bored is that it may mean you never really relax. If there’s always something you could (or feel you should) be doing, then it’s hard to make yourself just be still. Even though I like sitting and thinking, it’s really hard to let myself do that. I did manage it a few times this weekend, and it’s amazing the difference that makes.

I found a new project when I was going through some sewing stuff and found an abandoned embroidery project my mom started before I was born. It’s a tablecloth that’s just the size I need, and I like the pattern, but the colors are all wrong. I’m going to get some embroidery floss in the right colors and redo it. Since I haven’t done embroidery in decades, I got out some plain muslin, found some online tutorials, and used the floss from this project to practice my stitching. It’s weirdly hypnotic once you get going, almost like meditation.

I was trying not to think about work or business all weekend, and that made me realize how much headspace I devote to that. My brain always seems to be spinning with to-do lists or ideas of things I could be doing, fretting over what’s happening, doing mental calculations, etc. Not only does that hamper my relaxation, and possibly my creativity, but the real problem is that I don’t seem to act on much of the stuff I come up with. It’s wasted fretting. Today’s project is to write down all the stuff that’s in my head and try to organize it into an actionable plan. I’m also going to try to make more of an effort not to think about this stuff after the workday or on weekends. I have a really bad habit of mulling over business-related plans at night before I go to sleep, and that’s not conducive to restful sleep.

So, in general, it was a productive vacation in the sense that I learned a lot about myself and have come up with some ideas for ways to make all this work better for myself going forward. I also think I need to do this sort of thing more often. At one of my old jobs, the boss came up with an incentive program in which we came up with a project/task list at the beginning of the week, got our supervisor to sign off on it, and on Friday when our supervisor signed off that it had all been done, we got to leave early. I may start doing that monthly to give myself a long weekend every so often when I’m caught up on my work. I just hope I’m a better boss to myself than that boss was. I think I managed to leave early once, not because I wasn’t getting my work done, but because once he realized that it was working too well and people were leaving early, he started planning all-hands meetings on Friday afternoons, or he’d arrange for clients to come meet with us on Friday afternoons (which the clients were okay with because they generally got to go straight home after the meeting if they came to our office on a Friday afternoon).

I’m easing back into work by spending the day doing all that planning, getting it out of my head and on paper so I can do something about it instead of just fretting and stewing.