Every Day is National Book Lover’s Day: Share Your Favorites!

Today is National Book Lover’s Day! I’ve been thinking about that a lot today, how books came into my life when I was a sick child, frequently kept home from school, but going on adventures with my elderly dog to Middle Earth or Narnia while still confined to bed.

I was very fortunate to have grown up in a family of readers with a mother who believed in the power of books. Every couple of weeks we went to the library and checked out dozens of books–so many we had to get special permission to bring home more than the standard allotment. We wanted nothing more than to go home and start reading, but our mother made us write down all the titles on sheet of paper kept pinned to the fridge so we’d know how many books we’d checked out and what to collect to take back to the library. We chafed at this onerous task, but as soon as it was done, the books were ours.

I can clearly recall swinging in a hammock, reading a book. Sitting under a tree in the June sunshine doing the same. Reading with a flashlight under the blankets when we should have been asleep. Reading on long car trips while adults marveled at the lack of motion sickness. On buses and waiting in lines at the bank. On trains and airplanes. I can’t imagine going anywhere without something to read.

My early love (and what I still reach for on bad days) were horse and dog books. Misty of Chincoteague and Lad: A Dog. Black Beauty and Big Red. The day that the Scholastic Book Sale came to school was a major day of celebration for me.

I moved on from those early, comforting loves to the grittier books of Jack London. But I read almost anything: the Golden Age of Mystery was meat and drink to me. When I hit high school, I fell hard for sci-fi and fantasy. Oh! And I discovered the racing thrillers of Dick Francis and read them all. I love historicals, romances (especially Regencies), paranormals, and urban fantasy. My idea of the perfect way to spend the afternoon? Take me to a library or bookstore and then sit beside me on the sofa in front of the fire (or under a tree in the summer sun) and read with me. My Amazon wish list is 97% books.

So when I came across this post by The Bloggess, asking people for their favorite reads, I couldn’t help but gush over my favorites. Seriously, check out the post because the suggestions in the comments are pure gold!

I posted this: 

OMG. Where do I start? I adored the Beekeeper’s Apprentice (and the whole Mary Russell series by Lauren R. King) and the Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander (And Only To Deceive not only had me cheering because it was the best book I’d read in years but also weeping because I’d never write anything that good…) And my go-to comfort reads are the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters, and I re-read Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers at LEAST once a year, and have you read the Mary Stewart heroine-in-jeopardy books? I used to read The Moonspinners every summer and now I’m going to have to re-read it again!

The Honor Harrington series by David Webber. The Heris Serrano books (along with the Deed of Pakesenarion) by Elizabeth Moon. Echo Robin McKinley, and L.M. Montgomery–if you haven’t read The Blue Castle YOU MUST! Because how can you resist a story about a downtrodden young woman who decides to say exactly what she’s thinking? 🙂

I’m trying to avoid the tried and true classics I’m sure others will name (like Pride and Prejudice, because seriously, as scary as the world is these days, I love a story where the worst thing that can happen to you is getting cut dead at a party or your sister running off to Gretna Green…)What a great post for National Book Lover’s Day!

But that’s just scratching the surface of my lifelong love affair with books. So what I want from you, dear reader, is to share your favorite books with me as well. Because I suspect when you do, I’ll be all “OMG, I loved that book/series too!!” and then we can share the joy.

Because for a book lover, every day is National Book Lover’s Day

 

The Power of Self-Forgiveness

WARNING: Discussion of self-harm and other destructive behaviors

I’m a tiny bit embarrassed to admit it, but this past weekend, I was tooling around the back roads in my car, listening to my iPod when a song by a favorite artist queued up. Most of the songs on the CD are about standing up for yourself, not letting anything hold you back any longer, and there is an underlying theme of getting out of abusive relationships and situations. It’s a powerful CD by a great artist, Anna Nalick. So when “Scars” began playing, I started singing along–only to be struck like a sledgehammer when I finally realized what the song was about.

It was about cutting.

I was staggered by two things: first, the fact it took me so long to recognize the meaning of a song I’ve listened to several times before. I’ve lived with a cutter. I know the signs. Sadly, knowing the signs doesn’t always mean you understand what compels some people to self-harm. In my defense for not picking up on the meaning of the song, in it, the singer speaks to that part of her that self-harms as though it is another person outside of herself, and the first couple of times, that’s how I heard it: that the singer cared about someone who she wasn’t going to give up on, someone in a dark place that needed help. Once I realized she was speaking about herself–the part of her that was twisted and in pain, I was gobsmacked.

The second revelation followed closely upon the first: there are many more ways to self-harm than cutting. You can practice self-harm by staying in a bad relationship, or eating the wrong foods, drinking too much, using drugs, or simply by hating yourself.

I hit replay on the song I don’t know how many times. All because of one line: Know that I forgive you.

Wow. I can’t tell you the effect that had on me. Here I am, on a lovely Sunday morning, tootling along country roads with a tired puppy in the back, having just gone on a hike in the woods. And this song hit me with something on the level of an epiphany: we have to accept the part of us that is destructive in order to heal. We have to learn to love the whole of us, even the parts we hate, in order to get better. Sure, today we might not be the person we want to be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be that person tomorrow. Aside from habit and exhaustion, two things that make it very hard to change anything about our lives, I think it’s critical we stop denying that part of us that hurts, the part that uses pain and distress as a coping mechanism, that says, this pain (be it the way you feel when you slice skin or the way you feel when you binge and purge or whatever your not-so-great coping mechanism might be) is better than the pain you were feeling before–of being unloved, unwanted, unworthy.

And when I sang those lyrics about forgiveness, I felt something inside me shift. Something I hadn’t even realized was bound in chains. Something gave, took a deep breath, and said, “Okay. We’ve got this.”

We. As in all the parts of me. The good and the bad. The parts I like (which admittedly are few) and the parts I dislike (the list of which seems to grow longer each year).

No, I don’t think I’m magically healed. You don’t spend a lifetime running a negative commentary on yourself and erase its effects overnight because of a pop song. I don’t think I’m going to immediately stop doing the things that are counter-productive to the life I want to lead. I suspect I’m going to find myself choosing between the lesser of two evils for a long time to come. But I think I’ve taken a big first step here because I realize now it is a choice. I can choose to keep walking in the direction I want to go or remain stuck in a quagmire of angry thoughts and bad decisions.

I choose to sing.

 

What a Difference 10 Years Makes: Publishing in 2007 vs 2017

I’ve been doing some cleaning up around the house and I recently came across some old journals. I’d gone to a sci-fi convention back in 2007 or so, and had attended all the writer’s panels they held. I scribbled down every bit of advice, every shared experience, every tale of woe shared by the authors on the panel. Believe me, it wasn’t a cheerful or encouraging discussion.

Let’s place this in perspective though: at the time of the convention in question, smartphones had yet to exist. Amazon had just launched its first Kindle (with a $400 price tag) and readers swore up and down it would never catch on. Instead, Amazon sold out of them before the day was out and they were on back-order for months afterward. Google Maps wasn’t yet a thing–and I don’t know about you but I can’t go anywhere without it today! There was also no such thing as ‘the cloud’, if you wanted to save important material, it went on an external hard drive. Heck, I used to back up all my stories to a thumb drive before there was such a thing as dropbox or Google drive!

Youtube was just becoming a thing. No one had heard of a Roomba, much less videotaped their cat riding it to upload it to Youtube. The guy that used the 3D printer to create an arm for his son? Yeah, didn’t happen yet. Virtual reality devices and space travel remained concepts for science fiction. Now my husband has a VR device and space travel is looking more and more possible.

Ten years ago, the main way for someone to get published was through the Big Six (or Big Five now, since the Penguin-Random House merger). Self-publishing back then meant ‘vanity publishing’, and was the mark of someone who couldn’t get published any other way. It’s taken a decade to diminish that stigma, and there are still people out there who refuse to read any self-published work.

One of the YA authors on the writer’s panel spoke of the difficulty in getting published, and why so many authors accepted terrible deals as a result. They wanted so badly to be published that any offer seemed like manna from heaven and was accepted without question. This author explained that she’d submitted a story and had been told by the publisher they loved it so much they wanted it spun out into a ten book series. What unpublished author wouldn’t jump at that kind of offer? But she didn’t really examine the contract details or what the press would require of her. Without fully comprehending what it would entail, she signed a contract agreeing to produce 70 K words every six weeks–and that later books in the series could be written by other people. She was responsible for creating a ‘Bible’ that could be used by other authors to follow the story arc. She told us that she had to write a minimum of 5 K words a day and never had a chance to look over what she’d written–she just submitted it and hoped the editors would catch anything wrong.

This young woman looked exhausted. And you could see in her eyes that the joy of writing had become a drudgery of pounding out words that she scarcely cared about any longer. Her take-home message was about reading contracts and standing up for what you believe in, but when asked if she would do it again, she said yes because she was published. Wow.

The guest of honor had even harsher words for the industry. He spoke of how publishing houses used to be run by people who loved books, and for every mega-seller like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and one moderate best-seller, the firm would carry eight mid-listers. In his opinion, that was all changing. When he began writing, the expectation was that once you had one hit seller, sales from that first book would help produce others in the series. Now, every book had to sell in the stratosphere, and each book you wrote had to outperform the one before. Publishers were getting greedy, and demanding greater production with no care as to the content. Authors could no longer get by on writing one book every year or so. The guest speaker, by the way, was George R. R. Martin.

Another writer agreed with him, saying that she’d known many authors unable to live up to the ‘outsell your last book’ production model who’d been dropped by their publishers and had re-invented themselves under a new pen name with a new press–which meant dividing their original audience even more and having to build from scratch again. And with the number of Big Publishing Houses getting fewer and more interconnected, finding a new publisher wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

I basically came away from the panel thinking I’d never be a published author.

And yet I am.

In 2013, I was one of the authors at a sci-fi convention on a writer’s panel, giving advice to eager wanna-bees in the audience.

What changed?

Remember that list of tech I mentioned? Yeah, the one that has had the biggest impact on publishing is the Kindle–or e-reader in any form–but face it, Amazon has been the largest driving factor here. Amazon put e-readers into the hands of thousands, and then has nearly singlehandedly created the self-publishing industry by making it so darn easy to do. Advances in tech have also made it possible for people to make cover art, format stories, promote newsletters and so on–and if you can’t do these things yourself, the Internet has made it possible for you to find the skilled services you need. (Another reason why we need Net Neutrality, damn it!).

Now I’m not saying Amazon is the Great Hero here. The rise of e-readers has made it possible for me to become published because the rise of small digital presses meant someone would take a chance on a no-name like me. But that same juggernaut has slowly crushed a number of these small presses over the years because many of them can’t compete with the behemoth that is Amazon. I’m just saying that as a company, it revolutionized the way we read–making books more accessible, making self-publishing an option many didn’t have before, and also freeing the industry from standards set by a select few as to ‘what will sell.’ But I also believe that Amazon will grind us all to dust if we let it. That’s why though I use Amazon and KU, I don’t rely on them alone for sales. I distribute to other outlets when that KU wave crests. I support my local B&N (sadly, B&N’s website TANKS compared to Amazon’s–ordering an e-book from them is a huge PIA in comparison) and independent bookstores too. Once Amazon has ALL the publishing market, we’ll discover Amazon isn’t really a publishing company. They sell e-readers. Authors aren’t their priority.

But they have made it possible for me to be a published author. Something that never even seemed remotely possible in 2007.

Never Throw Out That Scene

Never throw out a scene you’ve written. I’m not saying don’t cut scenes–sometimes the story needs judicious trimming for the sake of pacing and to keep the pages turning. Sometimes the scene you’ve written just doesn’t belong. Sometimes you realize in retrospect it told you something about the character and it’s very useful to you, but not to the story. Cutting it only makes sense. But don’t throw it away.

Sometimes all you have is a scene. An idea, a thought, a single snapshot, as it were. You have something you want to say but you’re not sure what. You have an inkling of a story but don’t know what the rest of it will be. Be patient. Let it simmer on the back burner of your mind. But don’t throw it away.

Some time ago, I attended a sci-fi convention in which the guest of honor was George R.R. Martin. At the time, I knew of his series A Song of Ice and Firethough I’d only heard of the first book, A Game of Thrones. I knew he’d worked on Beauty and the Beast, a television show I’d enjoyed, so I was interested in hearing what he’d had to say. Mind you, GOT as well know it, the television show everyone is talking about, didn’t exist. Only two or three books in the series had been written at this point. Even so, Martin was well-known in the sci-fi community for his work and it was considered a coup for the convention to have him as a guest speaker.

For a little perspective: at the time of the convention in question, there were no such things as Smartphones. People still used MySpace and Twitter didn’t exist. E-readers where just starting to become available and they cost a bloody fortune. And the only way to self-publish was through a vanity press. Wow. Hard to believe, eh?

Martin had some fascinating and harsh things to say about the publishing industry, which I plan to share in a different post, but the thing that struck me most about his address was when he told us that once he’d written a scene that didn’t belong to anything else he was working on. It wasn’t a complete story–it was just a scene he’d pictured in his mind: a woman and a white wolf. 

After he’d completed the short scene, he didn’t know what to do with it. Shrugging, he tossed it into a drawer, where it sat for the next ten years. One day he ran across it again and somehow, after all that time lying dormant, the seeds within it came to life. Apparently his subconscious never forgot about the scene because now a story sprang up to go with it–and A Game of Thrones was born.

So the next time you write a scene because you just can’t get it out of your head until you do, don’t hit delete when you’re done. Even if you think it’s incomplete and serves no purpose, you never know.

You could hold the next great series, the stories that everyone is talking about, in your hands.

Why Paranormal Romance?

Of all the genres out there, paranormal romance is its own little niche. There are people who won’t touch it–I frequently see open calls for stories (no paranormal) or invitations for group events (no paranormals). I get it. It’s different. It’s not for everyone.

So why do I write it, when obviously the big money is on contemporary romance or even romantic suspense? Heck, historical romances are still going strong, centuries after Jane Austen gave us Pride and Prejudice. And I like these genres too–I won’t say I’d never write a contemporary romance because I probably will some day. But the real draw for me right now is paranormals and urban fantasy.

The why is simple: as someone who has felt like an outside most of her life, I’m drawn to characters who, for one reason or another fall outside the norm. Paranormal romances, and in particular shifter stories, allow me to explore what its like to be ‘other’ in a world that demands normality, while at the same time allowing me free reign to play in my imagination. I’m a huge sci-fi and mystery fan–writing paranormal romances lets me draw on that background while giving me the romance I crave.

Urban fantasy delights my imagination because I love the juxtaposition of the every day with the supernatural. J.K. Rowling gave us the magical world hidden from the world of Muggles. Harry Potter receives a letter on his eleventh birthday and discovers that he’s he’s a wizard in the making–and we go on that journey with him, learning about Hogwarts and Quidditch and Voldemort as he does. It’s brilliant storytelling. Harry is both the outsider (raised in ignorance of his heritage) and the hero–displaying abilities far beyond what would be expected of an eleven-year-old boy. Rowling’s universe is captivating, in part because it could exist side-by-side with ours and we’d never know it. And deep inside each of us is a child who wishes we’d received a letter to Hogwarts. In fact, most of us are convinced it went astray somehow. I know mine did.

Another author who uses this outsider-more-powerful-than-expected theme to great advantage is Margarita Gakis. Her Covencraft series has some of the same elements: in Trial By Fire, Jade, a naive heroine (though much older than Harry), develops the ability to spontaneously start fires with her mind. This brings her to the attention of the local coven–and she is given an ultimatum: join or be forcibly stripped of her powers. Jade is not the sort of person you force to do anything–and she’s more powerful than anyone suspects. Some things come very easily to her–dark spells that most people take a lifetime to master. I adore this series. I read Trial By Fire in a single afternoon, unable to put it down. I love that Jade is an outsider in so many ways, even to herself at times as she battles her inner demons and the very real ones living in her closet. I love too that the author explores some dark themes about control and the right to one’s self and abilities.

In fact, that’s one of the things I love most about the genre. Paranormal stories allow such wonderful scope for exploring important, uncomfortable themes on a metaphorical basis. In my upcoming Redclaw Security series, one of the themes I’ll be developing is the fear ‘normals’ have for shifters, and how even though they are more powerful than humans in many ways, this has lead shifters to hide their true natures. A new President wants to institute shifter registration–possibly even internment camps. The possible storylines this could generate are endless. *rubs hands together with evil glee*

And in my sister series, Bishop and Knight, our ‘normals’ are charged with investigating the sudden onslaught of paranormal activity at the end of WW2. The reader will go on the journey with them as they discover the real reason for the creation of shifters in a world changing faster than anyone ever expected.

Writing in this genre lets me poke fun at tropes, take my fancy on soaring flights of imagination, expand upon political and social themes, all while spinning a tale about two people falling in love.

Who wouldn’t want to write that?

Yes, he’s my Hero, but does he have to be an A*hole?

New Cowboy Boots–freeimage.com

I confess, I’ve been a little worried about the hero in my debut novel (release date hopefully sometime in August). See, the thing is: he isn’t a jerk.

Now, put that way, it sounds kind of odd, like that might be a good thing. And normally, I’d agree. But we’re talking romance novels here, and tropes exist for a reason. Readers have come to depend on their tropes. They love them and don’t want a story that disappoints them in any way.

I get that. I do. But one of the reasons for the longest time I avoided writing stories featuring women is because I grew up reading stories in which the heroines were defined by the tropes of the time. No sex without marriage and every epilogue had a baby on the way. Or if there was sex, it was only because the heroine was a) forced/seduced against her will by pirates/sheikhs/bosses/rival clan chiefs/marriage of convenience husband or other types of men who had complete domination over her or b) she was a widow. In fact, if a historical romance described the heroine as a widow in the blurb, I knew that as code for ‘there will be sex in this book.”

I didn’t recognize myself in any of these heroines.

Codes and tropes are all very well and good because they help readers identify those stories they want to read. Likewise certain genres have certain kinds of book covers, the better to help the reader spot their particular form of catnip and not waste time wading through tons of material they aren’t interested in reading. That may be even more important today, as readers have so many choices. But those older tropes were largely the ones that made me lose interest in most romances growing up, and it is only recently that I’ve come back to the genre.

I’ve been reading a lot of romances lately, in part because I desperately need that HEA, but also because I want to know what the new tropes are and how to use them. Part of that use means knowing when to turn them on their head or not use them at all. But that’s where the concern for my hero comes in.

Because he’s not a jerk. He’s not an “Alpha” male, which has always been sort of synonymous with ‘asshole’ for me. He’s not a Navy Seal, former Special Ops agent, billionaire playboy, cowboy, or arrogant anybody. Okay, so he’s a panther-shifter (that’s cool, right?) and he’s charged with protecting my heroine against unknown assassins, so he’s not a pushover, but just the same, he’s a pretty nice guy.

And I worry that will doom him with my readers.

I love opposites attract as much as the next person. That’s MY catnip: the witty repartee, the snarky banter. Give me snappy dialog and chemistry between the characters and I’ll forgive you plot holes you could drive a Mac Truck through.

One of the reasons the first couple of seasons of Castle worked so well for me was just that: the snark and banter between the lead characters. And even though practically speaking, opposites attract seldom works out as well in reality as it does in fiction, I love it just the same. I recognize it’s a trope, and it’s one I will read and write anyway.

Still, I worry my hero isn’t heroic enough. That readers will think he’s not not manly enough because he’s not a jerk. He doesn’t berate or belittle her. He is cognizant of her feelings and tries to include her in the decision-making when things get dangerously out of hand. He wants what’s best for the heroine–even if that isn’t what is best for him.

I can almost hear the reviews now:

What a wimp! You call that a hero?

I don’t know what she saw in him.

BOR-ING.

They had absolutely no chemistry together at all.

Because somehow, chemistry means slamming doors and broken whiskey bottles. Apparently it means hiding your attraction to someone by being rude and unpleasant. I recently DNF a romance 4% into the novel because both main characters were so unlikable I had absolutely no desire to see them work their differences out.

But here’s the interesting thing… today I saw someone on Twitter say they were incapable of reading any romances with military heroes at the moment because of the behavior of so many real-life military-types on Twitter. And I noted I couldn’t read billionaire romances because while it’s fun to read Cinderella stories where the billionaire saves the broke heroine from her wretched existence (wouldn’t we all like to be rescued like that?), I can’t help but think about how the billionaire became so rich–and what his politics are like. And I hate to break it to you, but I grew up around a lot of cowboys and wanna-be cowboys, and let me tell you, they are the reason I remained single as long as I did.

Does that mean these tropes are wrong or bad or passe? Not at all. It means that I can’t read certain kinds of stories at the moment. That doesn’t mean you should stop reading them (or writing them for that matter). I love marriages of convenience stories, no matter how unrealistic they are, and coming-home-for-the-holiday stories, and stories where two people who are truly different find common ground. I love Regencies, and space opera, and cozy mysteries where everyone is trapped on an island or at a house party in the snow. Sometimes I want my sex on-page, in-your-face, thrust-up-against-the-wall sex, the kind that makes you fan yourself and press a cold beverage to your forehead. Other times I want my sex implied–a saucy closing of the bedroom door or a gentle fade-to-black. My cup of tea might not be yours. That’s okay because these days, with the advent of self-publishing in particular, there are fewer limitations on storytelling. In part because men in publishing houses aren’t making all the decisions about what women can–and should–read.

If anything, it means there may be room for my kind of hero after all.

 

Leopard silhouette.

 

 

Dear Nietzsche: I’m Strong Enough Now, Thanks

I’d originally intended to title this post: Nietzsche Can Bite Me. It would have been catchy and clever, no? It also would have clearly stated how I feel at the moment. Nietzsche, of course, is known for the statement “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

I thought that title, paired with this image, would perfectly highlight what I was about to say.

So I Googled Nietzsche to get the exact wording of the quote, only to discover he began suffering from health issues that forced his early retirement, and at the age of 44, suffered an acute collapse that destroyed his mental abilities. He lived in the care of relatives the rest of his life.

Oh dear.

I think Karma was being a serious bitch there.

So I re-titled my post, though my basic feelings haven’t changed. I’d very much like it if the universe could lay off me for a while. But that’s not how it works, is it?

2017 has been an incredibly difficult year for me. I’m not going to bore you with the tally of losses, but suffice to say if I put them all in one story, no one would believe it. It’s the equivalent of living inside a country music song, the kind where the singer prefers the ‘bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy’. Imagine if you will, a heroine who, while trying to outrun a tornado on her way home from her daddy’s funeral, flipped the car, killing a child/spouse/pet. And then she staggered home, bloodied and grief-stricken, only to discover a foreclosure notice on the front door and a wildfire raging toward the house from the back forty. While she is trying to put the fire out, she gets a text message that she’s been laid off and her health insurance has been canceled. And then the doctor’s office calls to tell her she has cancer.

Okay, things aren’t that dire for me here, but it has been bang-bang-bang, one loss after another with more on the way and scarcely any time to recover my breath. And certainly no time to grieve. ‘Take all the time you need’ in reality means ‘you can take Friday afternoon off before the funeral if you must.’ The demands of work are such that even if you do take time off, you end up paying for it before and after your return in terms of additional work.

I tend to be a ‘put it on the back burner’ kind of person. I’m the sort of person of whom people say, ‘She’s really managing quite well, all things considering.’ I don’t cry at funerals or family gatherings. I’m the one who organizes and sees that the appropriate things get done. I’m good at my job and I work hard at it. I walk out of a funeral and right back into the office.

But the stress fractures are starting to show. I’ve become a real weenie when it comes to my entertainment, avoiding anything that might be too sad or violent. Recently, the unexpected turn of events in La-La-Land left me unsuccessfully trying to smother sobs on the couch so no one else would notice–something that wouldn’t have affected me six months ago. I’m losing my temper over things that normally wouldn’t bother me–or at least, not openly. Health issues that had been dormant are becoming active again.

The thing is, even for those of us who set aside grief to be dealt with at some future date, that date always arrives. My problem is I haven’t allowed myself to deal with the first loss before the others began piling up. Now I’m walking on a thin crust of barely cooled lava, hoping it will support my weight as I go about my day, trusting that no one will notice the ominous glow shining through the cracks, the sulfurous odor, or the smoke coming off my shoes.

We’re not a very forgiving society when it comes to grief. Hell, we’re not a forgiving society when it comes to anything at the moment, if the current state of affairs in the US is any indication. Stiff upper lip, and all that. It was the way I was raised and I know no other way of behaving, to be honest. But I strongly suspect this time, this year, it’s not going to be enough.

I’ve been collecting–but not reading–links to articles on grief. I intend to read them. You know, when I get the time. Today, I did click on one–an article about a letter of consolation Seneca wrote to his mother.

One passage in particular struck me: It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it. For if it has withdrawn, being merely beguiled by pleasures and preoccupations, it starts up again and from its very respite gains force to savage us. But the grief that has been conquered by reason is calmed for ever. I am not therefore going to prescribe for you those remedies which I know many people have used, that you divert or cheer yourself by a long or pleasant journey abroad, or spend a lot of time carefully going through your accounts and administering your estate, or constantly be involved in some new activity. All those things help only for a short time; they do not cure grief but hinder it. But I would rather end it than distract it.

It occurs to me that I’m not going to get the kind of time I need to process all my grief right now. Not in one block of time. I certainly won’t be able to package all grieving into a specific time frame, after which I will declare myself done and move on. But if I don’t do something, it will lie beneath the surface like a festering wound, unable to heal and with the potential of becoming truly toxic with time.

The only solutions I can see at the moment are to take little mini-breaks. To say no to things I don’t want to do. Stop filling up every free minute with commitments and promises. Turn off social media. Play more music. Walk outside barefoot. Appreciate what I have, let go of what I’ve lost, and fight for what I want in the future. Honor grief by being quiet enough to listen to it.

But Nietzsche can still bite me.

 

June Recommended Links on Writing

Hah. I need to find a better image for these ‘links’ posts! This is the first of what I hope to be monthly posts where I share useful links to posts on writing, marketing, and any aspect of the business I found useful.

Starting right off the bat, the first article I wanted to share dealt with impostor syndrome. It was written from the viewpoint of a photographer, but everything the author said applied to writing as well. Unfortunately, the link I’d saved no longer works, but I found another one: 5 Tips for When You Feel Inadequate.

If you’re not already following Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com, you should be. He has one of the best blogs out there on writing. This post is a gem: Wrestling with Writer’s Block by Maurice Broaddus.

Thinking about creating an audiobook? This post by Isobel Starling walks you through the process on ACX: Indie Authors: Using ACX to Find a Narrator.

One of the terrific things about indie publishing is the ability to make your own rules. Kristen Ashley shares her success story here: The Secret to This Romance Author’s Success? Breaking All the Rules.

Jane Friedman is another author who posts excellent advice on writing. This one here about How to Spot Toxic Feedback is something we all should read and understand.

The Write Practice also had some words to say on How to Give and Take Better Writing Feedback.

I have a confession to make here: despite the fact I’m a romance writer, I sometimes struggle to write kissing scenes! Face it, when you write a lot of such scenes, you have to find new ways of keeping it fresh! Ride the Pen has a nice little post here about How to Write a Kissing Scene.

Molly Wetta posts about the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, which is a handy reference guide, as I write both! Urban Fantasy for Paranormal Romance Readers.

Kristen Lamb is another writer with a fantastic blog on writing, marketing, and social media. I’ve said before, I don’t always agree with everything she says, and this post is an example. Her post: Shame, Shame, We Know Your Name. Or Do We? Shame and Fiction had some interesting things to say about shame as a driving force in all great stories. I quibbled a bit with the argument that all great literature had shame as a central impetus for character behavior, but I was hard-pressed to think of stories that did not… 

And last but not least, Lit Hub posted an essay constructed out of quotes from Jamaica Kincaid on How to Love and How to Write. I wasn’t familiar with the author when I read the post, but I found the quotes to be pithy, amusing, and thought-provoking.

I wish I had time to read all the posts I bookmark for future reference! Ah, some day. In the meantime, I’ll share the ones that resonated with me. And I’ll keep searching for a better link image!!

Wonder Woman: Polarizing Fan Division Mirrors US Politics?

There’s been a lot of talk about the new Wonder Woman movie. We went to see it opening weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it for many reasons, not the least of which was watching a superhero movie which featured a female star. You’ll probably find more elegant analyses elsewhere. I wish I’d kept track of some of them because they made me fist pump the air and shout ‘yes!’ when I read them. And there was a truly beautiful piece on Tumblr, which of course, since I didn’t reblog it, I can’t find now, but fans chimed in with the bits that moved them, each building on the other impressions and reactions to the film. I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but it won’t be easy.

My husband asked me as we left the theater if I wanted to run around punching bad guys or go to the gym. I thought about that for a moment.

“Yes.” I nodded. “I feel like I could, at any rate.”

He said he wasn’t surprised. That’s usually how he felt on leaving some testosterone-fueled summer blockbuster. Lord knows, he has a LOT more of those to choose from.

While I enjoyed Wonder Woman very much, will probably see it again at the theater, and have every intention of buying a copy when it comes out on DVD, it wasn’t perfect. It was a superhero movie, which means in places very simplistic, with over-the-top bad guys, and slightly predictable plots. It wasn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen, but thoroughly entertaining, nonetheless. I’d seen Guardians of the Galaxy 2 a few weeks before, and I have to say, I enjoyed Wonder Woman more, even though I’m a huge Marvel fan.

Much has been made of the importance of this movie to women–seeing a female lead in a genre typically given over to men. How many significant female characters are there in most action/superhero movies? If you’re lucky, maybe one, though Marvel did a great job with including more women in GOTG2. Bottom line, women in action movies are usually someone for the hero to rescue, or her death is the motivational trigger for the hero’s journey.

Some people like to point out this isn’t the first time we’ve had female leads in our entertainment. After all, Wonder Woman was a 70s television show.There was the Bionic Woman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watch Supergirl now–and (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the penultimate episode to the season finale) I know some people were taken aback by the fact that Supergirl sent her boyfriend, Mon-el, to safety while staying behind to prevent his mother from successfully invading Earth. And he went. The season finale was remarkable in that all the people in charge and making decisions about the safety of the planet were… women. I didn’t even notice that at first, until my husband mentioned it.

We also had the short-lived Agent Carter, who galvanized nearly every female fan I know with Peggy’s iconic line, “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion of me really doesn’t matter.” Fans have embraced this line as a personal mantra in the forms of bracelets, T-shirts, necklaces, and even tattoos. The kind of demeaning disregard for her abilities that Peggy Carter dealt with at the end of WW2 is recognizable to many of women in the workplace today as something ongoing, that must be battled daily. As too are the negative lessons we’ve learned throughout life: from our parents, from society, from our peers. Being able to recognize we hold inherent value is hugely freeing for many women, as is the moment when Elsa releases her powers in Frozen.

Science fiction is better in general about depicting diversity and equality among the sexes, which is probably why I have been a die-hard fan my entire life. I was fortunate to have grown up in the 70s and 80s, when women’s rights were improving. Believe me, it was a shock when I discovered that as recent as the late 70s, women still had to have the approval of male family member to open a bank account or rent a car. Think about that for a moment.

So the Wonder Woman movie, with a female lead and a female director, did some great things. Gal Gadot pulled off a nearly impossible feat, depicting a Diana both naive in some respects, but confident in her beliefs, unwilling to back down because something might not be safe, walking into a fight against hopeless odds because it was the right thing to do. She was sexy without being sexualized, for which I give the director, Patty Jenkins, full credit. Drawing on real athletes to depict the Amazons was sheer genius, giving the right amount of realism to their scenes. I think there could have been more women of color, especially in roles other than nursemaid to a young, recalcitrant Diana. (I like to think because Diana was so valued in the community, this job was considered both a high honor and a curse) I don’t think we need even casual storylines where powerful, white woman turn the rearing of their children to women of color. I also believe that with so many women turning out to see a female lead, more were hoping to see something of themselves as well.

There were other aspects of the movie they got right, though. Sameer, wanting to fight but being prevented because of his color. Chief, a Native American displaced by Steve’s ancestors, making ends meet any way he can. Charlie, with his PDST that made him nearly useless as a sharpshooter, but they kept him around anyway. I was surprised–and pleased–that there was no neat bow attached to resolving his condition, as I had expected.

And let me say here it was no mean feat for Chris Pine, a fine actor in his own right, and having carried the weight of the Star Trek franchise on his shoulders when he took on the role of Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek movie, to do what he did in Wonder Woman. He did an amazing job of being exactly what he was–a love interest and supporting actor. Bravo, Mr. Pine. Well-done.

But the thing that makes this movie different from every other venture before it is that it was financially successful. More than successful, it smashed records. THAT is ultimately what determines whether we get more of the same. It belied the notion that people won’t go to see a movie with a female lead (along with Rey in The Force Awakens, and Jyn of Rogue One–but these were more ensemble pieces than WW). It means that Hollywood might finally recognize women will gladly pay to see more than romcoms and that we make up a bigger part of the audience than they realize. And that a movie with a female lead can appeal to both men and women.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it’s been as a die-hard sci-fi fan to hear producers cancel shows because they aren’t capturing that highly prized demographic: young men ages 18-24. Let me tell you, they don’t make up the majority of the crowd at sci-fi conventions. They weren’t the ones buying calendars, mugs, graphic novels, and photo ops with their favorite stars. Many of them don’t have the discretionary income of the older fan, in particular, the middle-aged woman who loves cosplay. Who can afford to travel, or is an obsessive collector, who in other words, does NOT fit the magic demographic but has money to spend.

In many ways, fan reaction to Wonder Woman has been more interesting to me than my own. Only like with The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and the new Star Trek show, Discovery, a certain kind of fanboy is raising a ruckus, complaining of the invasion into his sacred space, railing against the introduction of women and people of color as more franchises follow these leads. If you’re not familiar with GamerGate or the targeting of the Hugo Awards by the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies factions, I’ll summarize here: there is a subset of fans who want to see sci-fi and fantasy return to the ‘old school’ they grew up with. White, male heroes, standard ‘spaceship battles’, no POC in key roles, women relegated to love interests or victims only. Perhaps I’m overstating my case, but I think not.

Another example of the protest against diversity was the howl of outrage that went up when The Force Awakens didn’t have a white male lead. When Rogue One followed suit, demands for a fan boycott of Star Wars went out. (That went well, by the way. TFA  was the fastest movie to gross one billion–only 12 days. RO did the same in 39 days…)

More recently, some Star Trek fans are wailing about the trailer for the new series, in which the leads appear to be women of color. They called it no less than “white genocide in space.” Their anger over the casting–in particular, the failure to have a white male captain–and subsequent complaints over the ‘terrible direction’ the franchise was going led original cast member George Takei to take them to task over it.

I was both surprised and saddened over this kind of fan reaction. C’mon guys, have you seen Star Trek? It’s like the most diverse show ever! A black woman, an Asian men, and a Russian (during the time of the Cold War)–all bridge officers on a show taking place in the late 60s. Spock was of mixed race. Heck, the Vulcan philosophy was ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.’ It was the first show to depict an interracial kiss (even if it was only because the Aliens Made Them Do It), and they tackled weighty issues such as racism, ageism, and more. Yes, the original series was in some ways as sexist as hell, but it was written at a time when WOMEN COULD NOT RENT A CAR OR OPEN A BANK ACCOUNT WITHOUT MALE PERMISSION. To even have women bridge officers was amazing. To have a black woman in a role as someone other than a maid or cook even more so.

So when the same kind of trolls began complaining about the ‘women only’ screening of Wonder Woman in Austin, TX, I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised some New York lawyer would file a complaint against the theater, however. It’s not like the theater was ONLY going to have women-only showings. There were more opportunities for men to attend than that one (or two) women-only showings. But a guy in New York didn’t like the theater’s ‘uppity’ attitude about it on Facebook, nor the mayor of Austin’s support for the idea, so yeah, complaint filed.

That’s when it occurred to me that this rift in sci-fi and fantasy fandoms is so much more than the old-timers protesting against the new guard. It’s more than some disgruntled geeks saying you can’t possibly be a Marvel fan unless your playpen was lined with old Spiderman comics and you teethed on the entire catalog of the Fantastic Four. It’s more than a protest against girls in the boys-only clubhouse.

It’s our current political climate in microcosm.

It’s a bunch of fans who are angry at having to share with people that aren’t like them. It’s fanboys who’d rather trash the playground than to let ‘the other’ in. When you have privilege, it’s hard to see that letting others be equal doesn’t diminish your privilege in any way. Frankly, I don’t see any difference between those that call themselves ‘real fans’ versus those that call themselves ‘real Americans’. It’s the same sort of destructive mentality that denies the very foundation of the thing they profess to love.

Hey, I get that your fandoms are important–even lifesaving–to you. They’re important to me too. There are days when seeing something fandom related online or knowing I have a show or movie to look forward to seeing is the only thing that gets me through a crappy day. I have scores of fandom friends who share stories, artwork, and squee over our favorite characters and shows. It’s what makes life more than just going to work so you can try to pay the bills.

But women, POC, people with different sexual orientations or of different religions–we’re not the bad guys here. It seems to me that a sci-fi fan would understand that better than almost anyone else, so it hurts when I see fans get up in arms about diversity and equality. It hurts, but it makes me angry, too. We’re all in fandom because we need something from it. We need the strength of our heroes. We need the courage of their convictions, to do the right thing when it may cost us more than we can bear. We’re all pre-serum Steve, before he becomes Captain America, and Peter Parker, before the radioactive spider bite.

We’re that tech guy in the Triskelion who has to decide what to do when ordered to push the button that will launch the Insight codes. The good guy refuses to do it, even though he knows he will probably get killed for refusing to implement it. He’s literally shaking with fear, but he refuses because Captain America told him to stand up for the right thing.

Be the good guy.

I read somewhere once that every villain sees himself as the hero of his own story. These days, I’m seeing far too many people who think they are Captain America, when they are really Red Skull. Who insist they are Diana Prince, when in reality, they are Dr. Poison.

There is an ugliness to political discourse in this country I don’t think we can ignore. It would be nice to sit here writing my lightweight romance stories and never think twice about politics again. But we’re being forced to fight for our rights and, in some cases, our lives. Even the planet.

I’m not leaving fandom. I’m going to continue to read, write, and play there. I’m also going to vote my conscience, and protest against what I see as being wrong and unfair, and to stand up for anyone I see needing help to the best of my ability.

And yes, dear husband, I’m also going to the gym.

 

Finding Your Creativity in a World That Seems Hopeless

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My creative friends and I are having a hard time being productive these days. I don’t know of a single one who isn’t struggling. Most of my social media timelines have at least one friend noting that trying to write during the current political upheaval in the US is like pretending nothing is going on while the house is burning down. They punctuate this observation with gifs of people seated at a table while bombs explode, shots are fired, and victims run screaming with their coats on fire. You know the ones I mean. You’ve probably posted some yourself.

I feel the same way. I haven’t been nearly as productive as I’d like for longer than I care to admit. First I was devastated by the election results. And yes, they’ve been as bad for our country as I feared. Then I had some personal losses, one after another, so many in such a short period of time that had I put them in a story, readers would have rolled their eyes in disbelief. 

I had a hard time believing that anything I was working on mattered. I was both angry and terrified, while at the same time grieving. I tried to do one of those online meditation things about finding hope in uncertain times but it only pissed me off more. The message was about acceptance–and at the time, it infuriated me. My inner voice kept screaming that there are some things that we should never accept, that should outrage us, that we should resist. I gave up that particular meditation for the time being.

Face it, the insanity of American politics aside, when you read articles like this one, in which Steven Hawking and other scientists believe humans will be extinct in less than 100 years, it’s hard to believe there is any value in writing love stories about paranormal investigators.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the apocalypse. I began reading messages of support and encouragement. They came from my friends at first—reminding me how much pleasure writing gives me, but also how much pleasure my stories give other people. For years now, I’ve said my main goal in telling stories was to make someone’s crappy day a bit better—to provide a few hours entertainment, to let someone lose themselves in another world for a little while—so they could forget the stressful job, or their chronic illness, or the burdens of their daily life. My dear friends reminded me of that, and I deeply thank them for their unwavering support and belief in what we do as creators. What I do as a creator. Now, more than ever, we are going to need relief we get from reading stories that make us happy.

But it’s more than that. A friend of mine, a wonderful writer, penned this statement as a means of encouragement to us all:

“We are the people who create. And I don’t just mean that we’re creative, I mean that in no matter how big or small a way, we bring something good into this world, make it better. We build instead of destroy, make things move forward instead of back. We create friendships and fandom families that stick together. We create positive thoughts and energy that will always spread farther than we think. We create better versions of ourselves, and help others grow that way too. We create stories, crafts, art, discussions, pictures, and so much more, and bring joy to others through what we do. We create love. So many times this place, the fandom, all you people, have saved my day when I have needed it the most. And every time I hear that something I did or created did the same for someone else, I feel a little surprised that I had such power, but also very happy that I could shine some light on a day that might have been anything between mildly grey and near dark.”

Her words came into my darkness like a shining beacon.

Chuck Wendig, an author who posts kick-ass blogs about being a writer, posted a list of constructive things we as creators can do, titled Mourn, Then Get Mad, Then Get Busy. I found this post heartening as well. In particular because it acknowledged my fear and despair, and then gave me practical things I could do about it.

My husband sent me this link, which also inspired me. It’s from the comic, Oatmeal, entitled It’s Going To Be Okay. I confess, I didn’t want to read it at first because I didn’t want someone trying to persuade me things aren’t going to be as bad as I fear, but I was very glad I did. You should read it too.

Last night, long after I should have been asleep, I came across this tweet from George Takei:

The Ministry has fallen. Death Eaters are about. But, my wizards, together we can defeat the dark tides of bigotry and intolerance. #WandsUp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It made me smile in a painful sort of way, but it also reminded me the power of the written word. The magic of stories that makes us not only see similarities between world events and books we grew up loving, but it makes us want to be better people. We want the Ring to get to Mordor. We want to see Voldemort vanquished, the Empire defeated and Palpatine destroyed. We want to believe that one day, ignorance, hatred, and intolerance will give way to the kind of society that creates Starfleet, and that people of all races, genders, nationalities, and species can serve together—as a team—on the greatest starship of all time. Because otherwise, we’ll all be living in Panem and the Hunger Games will begin soon.

I won’t kid you. I’m terrified for the future of my planet, for society as a whole, for my personal health and safety. And I’ve been wondering what one exhausted, frightened, middle-aged woman can do. The answer is, I can continue to write. My stories might not change the world. I probably won’t create the next Harry Potter series, or write something that catches fire like the Hunger Games. I write romances, and heck, I probably won’t even write the next 50 Shades of Gray. But what I can do, in my own quiet way, is tell stories where diversity and acceptance aren’t dirty words, and where love wins in the end.

If I make someone fall in love with a character who is not like them—if I humanize that person for them and make that reader want what is best for them—then I’ve taken steps that might make them stop viewing ‘different’ as ‘other’. And if the only thing I achieve is that I make one other exhausted, frightened person feel a little bit better, a little bit calmer, even for a few hours, then I’ve done a good thing. If I can make one person say, “Whoa, that isn’t right, and we need to change that,” then I have done a great thing.

Let’s all go out there and do great things.