To thine own self (not the plot) be true

You may have guessed but I read a lot.  It helps me improve my own writing (I hope!) and exposes me to a lot of styles and plot lines and ideas that I would never have thought of on my own.  Honestly, that’s one of the things that has inspired more than a couple of blog posts.  Like this one.

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I was reading a mystery being, in theory, solved by a psychic.  It probably will be, but I had to put it down because the book wasn’t really about the mystery.  Oh, sure.  The description certainly implied it would be.  There are mobsters and murder and parents trying to protect their infant daughter and all that good thriller/mystery sort of thing, and I’m certain that there’s a dramatic climax where someone gets shot and the Bad Guys are brought to justice. But…

But I’m just over a third of the way through the book and the mystery solving is just getting started.  So what have I been reading this whole time?  I’ve been reading a story about a man whose father left him and his mother on their own before the man even learned to walk.  He’s had thirty years to be angry, and the whole first third of the book is dealing with his own new fatherhood and with the complete shock brought by the long-missing father’s reappearance.

So when the man and the psychic decide to effectively drop everything- including these not insignificant emotional reactions- to investigate the case and clear the way for a happy family reunion, I had to stop reading.  That, to me, felt like a betrayal of the characters in favor of the author’s priorities of Solving The Obvious Mystery.

I suspect this may boil down to a pantser vs plotter debate, ultimately.  I think what happened is that the author carefully outlined the book, and put certain beats in certain places, and simply wrote the emotional life of her characters too well so that when she went to get the ball truly rolling on solving the crimes, the characters themselves weren’t actually positioned to do it.  Still, it feels to me like a betrayal.  These characters don’t feel like they are acting in ways that are consistent.  I have no doubt that I’ll go back and read the rest of this book, even though I have a strong suspicion that the man

Quick study

 will readily forgive his long-lost dad, even though I personally feel like the guy can shove right back off to whatever hole he’s lived in for three decades.

What do you think, have you come across books like this?  Or even individual

 characters?

In other news, Quick Study is now live!  If you want to find out more about the crazy girl I’ve been occasionally talking about, you can get your own copy almost anywhere you can buy e-books!

 

Keeping secrets

One of my pet peeves in a story is secrets.  Let me elaborate.

In a story, there is always going to be some kind of tension.  It has to be there or the plot won’t go.  That tension can come from anything: Sauron chasing down the One Ring or Holden trying to keep his life free from phonies, to a guy reluctant to get off the sofa and actually order that pizza. There has to be some sort of tug of war that is what makes the story something people actually want to read.  Sometimes that tension is sustained by one character knowing something and another character being kept in the dark.

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Now, that’s basically the plot of every murder mystery ever written, and more than half of the thrillers out there.  Which makes sense.  A murderer who doesn’t want to get caught keeps facts as far away from the detective (or anyone else) as possible.  Otherwise, they’re locked up and that more than likely defeats their purpose.  However, there are many other thrillers out there— and it feels like about half the romances I’ve come across lately— where a secret is kept ‘for their own good.’

Keeping a safety secret from someone is a great way to get them badly hurt or killed.  No, we can’t tell her that the stalker is out of prison!  She’d be scared and wouldn’t go to the fundraising gala!  And naturally, that’s where she goes, blithely unaware of the stalker waiting to snatch her on the way to the bathroom.

It makes me insane, and honestly, I think it’s incredibly patronizing, not just of the character in question, but of the reader.  It assumes that the reader can’t imagine or believe any other way for the hero to be heroic, or for the victim to get into trouble.

So when I write (or look for a good book) I am looking for reasonable excuses for secrets to be kept: people who haven’t spoken recently enough to share information.  Actually classified documents.  A secret identity!  A promise one character made to keep said secret, with a bonus for inner turmoil caused by wanting to reveal the information but also wanting to keep a promise!

I didn’t tell you for your own good, though?  Not an excuse.   What do you think?

Golden

Well, this past week was Golden Week here in Japan.  What that means is that most offices and schools at least are shut down for the week and many, many people travel. We did our traveling early this year when we went to Oita with family, but we still IMG_1163managed to have some fun around town.  We saw some friends (who must love us- they brought me some Cafe Bustelo!) and found some new places practically right next door.  We did manage to get a tiny bit out of town, though, and went to Odawara Castle, which was pretty awesome.

Today is technically still Golden Week, even though it’s Monday.  This year, instead of being just 5 days off, has an extra day off in honor of the abdication of Emperor Akihito.  Quite literally the end of an era here as Heisei ends and Reiwa begins.  Fun fact: the timing of all this is very deliberate.  The era changed over at the same time as the fiscal year.

So today we’re taking it slow to ease back into regular life.  My husband went to a movie and we’re meeting up for lunch.  The Boy is doing some spelling lessons, but we’re skipping the math and essay writing.  I’m working on some edits and on getting Caroline into some trouble in another book, but I’m not stressing too hard about it.  The weather is warming up and we have the balcony doors open to enjoy the breeze.  On the whole, not a bad end to a spring break.

vacation

My family spent this past weekend in Oita prefecture (which you’ve seen if you follow my Instagram.). The trip was partly to spend time with my husband’s cousins and family, and partly to track down my father-in-law’s birthplace in rural Japan.  It was a whirlwind of kids and busses and hotels and exhaustion, but I think it was rather worth it.

We did, indeed, find where my father-in-law (and uncle, who was with us on this trip) lived for a time.  It’s now an empty field in Matama, across from a temple that Uncle remembered clearly.  My husband and his cousin got to walk where their fathers walked as children, and that’s pretty damn cool if you ask me.  Meanwhile, The Spouses took The Kids to the beach where we ended up helping some people catch razor clams.  The Boy decided that the clams must be sharp, so mostly just poked around finding crabs and jellyfish, but the younger two had no such qualms and snagged the clams as fast as they popped out of their holes.

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Just outside the train station in Beppu.  Welcome to the ‘onsen capitol of Japan!’

Then off to Beppu for a stay at a ryokan.  I found futons to be pleasantly comfortable, but my poor husband doesn’t do well with them.  We saw cats and tengu and steaming hand baths beckoning tourists to visit the onsen behind them for just a few coins.  We bought local bamboo housewares and food made with local citrus to which I am no hopelessly addicted.

The hardest and scariest part for me, personally, is that I was traveling with a group of people who were all multi-lingual to some degree, but the two primary languages of the group were English and Korean.  Only my husband had any real Japanese.  As such he ended up with whatever group needed the most fluent person at the time, leaving me with the others.

I am in no way fit to be an interpreter and was barely comfortable buying coffee and saying thank you to the hotel staff.  Suddenly I’m trying to find out how to navigate a taxi from a tiny town in the countryside and order food at the one postage stamp bar that was willing to serve foreigners.  It was entirely terrifying and well outside of my comfort zone.

I’m fairly sheltered, living in Tokyo.  Either folks have some rudimentary English or it

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This is a historic onsen bathhouse, and that’s literally all I got from this sign…

simply doesn’t matter.  The checkout clerk at the giant grocery store we go to doesn’t care if I can chat with her, and most of the folks we talk to frequently are either native English speakers or are fluent enough to make no difference.  I’m entirely spoiled as an expat and I damn well know it.

So this past weekend worked and stretched my limited Japanese skills.  Saturday morning was almost miserable, but by the time we were heading through the airport I was cheerfully mangling the language as needed.  I regret not being able to read all the signs and learning all the stories from our travels, but there’s always next time.  This trip was amazing.  We made some memories, we found some of our roots, and at least I got a fresh view of where I want to go in the future.

And if anyone wants to send me some kabosu marmalade or candied peels or hot sauce or something, I’d be super okay with that…

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Kabosu. So delicious!

Politicing

In the last post, I wrote that was an actual post, I mentioned how much I hate finding politics in my fiction. I bet that a fair number of you wondered where I was finding all this political fantasy, and who was writing about wizards and werewolves running for office. (Side note, I have actually read a book about a werewolf running for sheriff.)hand-puppet-snowman-political

But that’s not the kind of politics I mean.  I’m not especially fond of election process badgering, what with having grown up so near Washington D.C., but that’s not what I meant.  I’ve been trying to explain for so long that I had to resort to looking up the definition

politics[pol-i-tiks]

4. political methods or maneuvers:

6.use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university,etc.

Dictionary.com

So when I talk about ‘politics’ in a story I’m really talking about a character trapped by arbitrary rules and traditions that are in place only to prolong the plot.  The characters in these stories ruled by political machinations usually refuse to consider an outside-the-box solution.  “The elders have forbidden us from drinking well water, so I’ll sit here next to the well and die of thirst!  Alas!” “I am a mere apprentice and so touching the Master’s crystal ball means death by law, even though the only way to save the city is to shift it one inch to the left!”

These stories are usually pretty easy to pick out, though.  They often start with a lengthy explanation of how the world society is set up specifically keep the main characters down in one way or another.  Three pages about how the rulers of the magical kingdom wrote the laws to keep apprentices firmly away from any real tools of power because of one guy who did a thing two thousand years ago or some such thing.

I’m sorry.  I simply don’t have the patience for that nonsense.  It’s entirely possible to write a story where the heroes must fight tradition or The Man— frankly just about any lovable rogue is doing exactly that and I do love me a lovable rogue— but when the whole world is crafted around laws and traditions, that’s going to a place I just don’t want to follow.  It grates too hard on what remains of my faith in humanity.

A bit of a note: on Wednesday, April 17, the Spirits of Los Gatos box set–the first three complete books– goes on sale for $0.99.  Go pick it up while it’s on sale!

or not…

I think I wasn’t just being particularly airheaded yesterday.  I seem to actually be coming down with something, and it’s hit my brain particularly hard.  No writing of any sort seems to be happening right now.

cold and flu medications

So no blog post this week, folks. I will say, though, that if you still want to pick up Spiritkind at the launch price, you should hop on it quick.  The special discount price ends Thursday.

Pudding brain

I just realized that it’s Monday evening here.  Which means that I didn’t write my blog post in time to post it.  So… Watch this space, be back tomorrow?

 

Oof, one relaxing weekend and my brain goes all to hell.  sigh.

 

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Political escape

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I have something to confess.  I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately.  Except, not really.

See, I read as an escape.  I grew up inside the Beltway near Washington DC and even the local news was national and international.  My family loves little more than arguing politics and current events and I, being the weird one, can’t stand it.  Then there’s the world around us.  No matter what your stance on something, you have to admit that it’s a pretty volatile place to live these days.

So, I read.  But, (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming,) so much fantasy of all sub-genres these days is about political posturing and the intricate dance of maneuvering through power structures.  It’s exhausting for me to read through how a character is trapped into an action they hate via political blackmail or the threat of a misstep.  It’s way too much like watching the news.

But, there’s an easy way to get around that.  Read a romance novel.  It does take a little looking, but once you find your way down the genre pathways to the paranormal romance or the fantasy romance novels, you’ve struck a rich vein of decent adventures that are often, dare I say usually, written without the angsty political whinging that seems to be so prevalent pretty much everywhere else.

The characters are carefully developed and usually the sort of people I don’t want to hide from.  The situations are often just as tense and exciting as any thriller.  And the world-building is usually done as the story goes along rather than in page after page of lengthy explanation of the political climate and why our hero is so completely trapped by it.  And, more often than not, there’s a happy ending where everyone can rest easy knowing that the Great Evil has been defeated and nobody’s future is miserable and uncertain.  I wish that could be the case in real life, for sure.  (I’ve really enjoyed Playing With Fire and pretty much anything set in the Cold Case Psychic world.)

Not everything I read is romance these days— I’ve currently got Junkyard Druid up next on my Kindle, and I just read Enter The Saint not long ago.  Still, I am leaning right now towards Stories that can help me relax without worrying about how close to an actual news story it’s getting.  Who has a favorite book that’s pure escape?

Preorder prison

boy-facepalm-child-youth-exasperated-tiredSo apparently I was a bad, bad writer.  I guess.  At least this is the case according to Amazon.  When I went to get the preorder for Spiritkind together the other day, I was unceremoniously informed that I am ineligible for creating preorders.  The reason? ‘Past preorder activity.’ I have no idea what that actually means, though, so…

What this means is that I can’t, at the moment, put any of my upcoming books up for preorder, which sucks, since that’s easily my favorite way to handle launches and it makes my life rather more tricky.  It also means that I am letting you guys know now— if you didn’t already know— that Spiritkind launches on Thursday, and I’m going to mention that again next week, so fair warning.

I’m not sure how I’m going to handle my next few books.Spiritkind Ebook  It’s a pretty major inconvenience, to be honest, and it seems pretty random.  I’ve read reports that some people managed to find out why (mostly due to canceled preorder processes and failure to post the final manuscript before the launch date,) and I’ve heard that a very small number of people have gotten through to an actual human at Amazon who is sometimes able to get the prison sentence reversed.

I doubt I’ll be that lucky, so I’m more than likely looking at a year of this nonsense.  I’m not sure what to tell you other than keep your eyes out on Thursday.  I would, however, suggest that you join my newsletter since that’s where announcements go out first and I might just have a few sneaky presents and things planned out for the next few months for newsletter readers.  Just saying.

In a world…

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World building.  It’s a thing that pretty much all creators of fiction have to do, even those of us based in the real world.  I mean, I grant you that my version of the real world requires a bit more building than, say, a contemporary romance author, but still.  If you’re basing your story in fiction at all, you need to make sure that every one of your readers understands the rules of the world they’re visiting.

And man, it’s tricky.  It is so, so, so easy to just info-dump all your world rules all at once.  I’m sure that you’ve come across more than one example of an author who sits there for pages just rolling out detail after tiny detail of historical background for the character, their family, their homeland, and the political situation that tangles them all up just so that the reader is excruciatingly aware of why that character is reacting a certain way.  (*coughTolkiencough*). It is close to impossible to keep up interest for that long. (That said, I loved the LotR books.  I’m just being honest that the guy did not mess around with this stuff.)

I understand that there are people who seriously get off on world-building, and I don’t intend to denigrate those folks at all.  If you love to while away the hours with books like the Silmarillion, then I am in awe of your dedication, to be frank.  I can’t do it.  I need the world to make sense and behave according to its own rules, but I can’t wade through endless lectures about what those rules are.

On the other hand, without any context at all, we’d have no idea why Benji the Broom-headed can’t just go straight to the Council of Mops and tell them that the Scrubbybrushers are planning an invasion.  I mean, dude.  Draft a freaking email and there you go.  No, we need to know that there’s all this history behind the caste system in Cleanlandia, and that poor Benji is right smack at the bottom of it all.

It’s something I know I need to work on, and I think I’m getting better.  But I was reminded of how well it can be done the other day when I read an opening paragraph about the main character walking down a portrait hallway, reflecting on how few portraits represented people like himself and how badly he wanted to have his own portrait join them.  It set up the entire book so that we could understand his interactions with the rest of the cast and with the social structures he runs up against, and I’m willing to bed that most readers didn’t even notice.

The world was built using his own struggle against that world in a very real way.  We can all, these days, understand how representation matters, and in this fantasy world we were given a view of how the society worked without spending pages and pages detailing how oppressed and demeaned an entire segment of the population was.  And it did double duty as character introduction!  All this from a few musing comments on some portraits.

I’m not that slick, but maybe if I keep practicing I’ll get there.  What’s your favorite (or most loathed) example?