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?

It’s good to be bad, sometimes

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There is a long history behind humanity’s love of criminals.  Sure, there’s plenty of ruthless villains out there to loathe and fear, and rightly so.  Criminals in the real world are not who most folks want to associate with.  But there’s always that romantic idea of but what if… in the back of our mind.  What if he’s really a Robin Hood?  Or a Dexter?  Pirates were many things, many of them very contradictory, but they were still violent murderers and thieves with nary a Jack Sparrow among them.  And then there’s the Sopranos and The Godfather.  Nobody can argue that those stories weren’t entirely about criminals being celebrated, whether or not you think they were acting heroically

I think— and feel free to disagree, it’s totally my own thoughts on the subject— but at least a large part of it is the idea that justice and the law are often wildly different things.  How many times have we heard on the news about some horrible criminal getting away with theft or rape or murder because of some legal technicality?  Now, I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where anyone can just go after someone else for any perceived slight, but boy is it appealing to think that there’s some golden-hearted assassin or cat burglar out there willing to take out the worst trash humanity has to offer, laws be damned.  Batman is a fine example.  Or better yet, Deadpool.

But as for fiction?  My mind springs right to Arsène Lupin and Danny Ocean.  You may have heard of the former as the grandfather of Lupin the Third, but the Maurice Leblanc stories are worth a read.  And, honestly, if you haven’t seen the Ocean’s Eleven remake for an entirely charming take on Danny Ocean and his merry band, where have you been?  The appeal there is the wit and the caper, and the hook is that the criminals often end up having far stricter moral code than the police that chase them, and are often out to right some sort of wrong, or at the very least balance the scales.

And then there are the real-life heroes who broke laws that were entirely unjust and were labeled criminals in their own time.  Rosa Parks springs immediately to mind as an example.  Nelson Mandela, as well.   They broke the law, and the world has been made better for it.

Personally, I’ve been really entertained recently by the adventures of a wildly successful international assassin.  He quickly and brutally murders his way through some of humanity’s worst while trying, with various degrees of success, to retire to a nice house in the country.

It’s nice to imagine someone’s watching over us, even if they are ruthless, hardened criminals.  Who’s your favorite not-so-good-guy?

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Finish one thing

I’m trapped.  It’s terrible.  And it’s not fair to anyone, least of all you.

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Photo credit: theilr on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

See, I’ve got about a million ideas swirling in my brain right now.  Characters, plots, snatches of dialogue or scraps of a scene that doesn’t have enough story behind it to function properly…  All this amazing writing is clogging my brain and scrabbling to get out my fingers into the safety of Scrivener.

But I’ve got to finish editing Spiritkind first.   And I’m honestly not in California anymore, in my mind.  I’m in Virginia, and North Carolina, and Ohio for a hot second.  And the California where the Spirits of Los Gatos live isn’t even n the same dimension as those other places.

And oh man, you guys.  I’m so excited to be working on those stories.  I’ve been reading mysteries and thrillers and I have so many ideas! And I’m kind of falling in love with Caroline and Darien and the gang.  I even met a few folks I didn’t expect to, and they’re not too bad either, even though I’m not sure about them yet, really.  And hoo boy has Greg been telling me stuff that I had no idea about.  AND it turns out that Caroline has a cousin that gets into his own mischief, further up in New England.  My imaginary friends have gotten really chatty and they have such wonderful adventures!

But… I have to finish up with Sarah and Kai and the folks in Los Gatos.  It’s only fair to them what with one thing and another, and I’ve had emails from you lovely readers who want to know more about what’s up with them, and that’s what I need to be working on.  So I’m revising and editing and doing my homework, I promise.

But just you guys wait.  It’s going to be an interesting year.

Inspiring

I get stuck.  Like any author, I get stuck hard sometimes, usually at the halfway point of my book, then again at just before the climax.  It’s a real problem because even if I’ve got a solid idea of what needs to happen, it’s like I can’t see the road between here and there.

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Photo credit: Drew Coffman on VisualHunt / CC BY

 

So I was a little stalled out getting the bad guy dealt with in my current work.  I mean, I went through a ton of different ideas: having Caroline sneak into his office and confront him.  Having The Gang go into a massive battle against a troop of minions.  Having a convenient meteor fall on the dude’s head.  Really, I went through a ton of terrible ideas that left me flat and uninspired.

So… I ignored it and hoped that inspiration would magically strike me in a bolt from the heavens because ignoring a problem always makes it go away, right?  I played some video games with The Boy.  I read a ton of stuff from Kindle Unlimited, mostly outside of the UF genre (Although I did read an amusing one about vampires versus mummified zombies.  Good times.) I went out to dinner with some friends.

And that’s what saved me.  I mentioned that I was stuck on the idea of the Stealth Badass (you know, the hero that seems completely harmless but turns out to be 150% more qualified to handle the problem. Think Danny Ocean or Kenshin.) and the reason was because I was trying to figure out how to beat a bad guy.  And my friend Jordan, blessings upon him, started asking questions and just saying stuff with a shrug and a face like he thought he was saying something dumb and obvious.

I had to scramble to get my notebook out and get all the genius down on paper before I forgot it all.  I nearly left dinner early so I could get back to my laptop.

So, now I have the bad guy beaten, my heroine saved the day and learned a lesson or two (maybe) and I’m feeling just a little smug about it all.  Sure, there’s still lots of editing and revising to do on this, but I feel more confident about it than I have in a while.  I really hope you all enjoy it when it’s ready to be released into the wild, because thanks to Jordan, I’m feeling really happy with these people and can’t wait to spend a little more time with them in their world.

And that’s the best possible scenario of all for a writer.

Book Report: Playing With Fire

Really quick before I get to the Good Stuff: The first two books in the Spirits of Los Gatos series are available in paperback, and hopefully by the end of the week Finding Insight will be as well.  Here’s the link to Caroline’s Inheritance.  I’ll let you know more on the FB page when the others finally get processeced.

I’ve been reading lately.  Okay, that sort of goes without saying, but I’ve been on a bit of a bender.  I think I’ve got through fifty or more books since New Year’s.  My husband is thanking any deity he can get the attention of for Kindle Unlimited, and so am I or it would be a real problem.

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I think I read all of these…

A lot of those books weren’t really worth remembering.  Good fillers for my brain at the time, certainly, but not anything I’d tell other folks about.  Others were straight up trashy romance novels of the finest caliber because man.  That guarantee of a happy ending can be vital to my mental health some days.

And some… Well.  Some combine all sorts of elements to be worth telling everyone about. Fair warning though, yes.  It is technically a romance in that the main character enters into a romantic entanglement much to the couples mutual satisfaction.  No, it’s not a romance in that I’ve never read one like it.  Playing With Fire by R.J. Blain.

Bailey Gardener starts the book working in a coffee shop in Manhattan that is licensed to add pixie dust to its drinks.  In this world, it’s a mostly harmless magical hit, but— and there’s always a but— only the lower grades of dust are legal for handling by any old person.  The higher grades are classified as dangerous substances and you need a certification to handle them.  Which Bailey has.

It’s the certification part that gets her into more trouble.  That and her bizarre lack of a filter between brain and mouth.  She’s fairly certain that she has no friends and by the end of what might be the worst 18-hour solo shift at a coffee shop ever (and chapter one,) she gets blown up by a phone bomb laced with yet another extremely dangerous substance— gorgon dust— in her own apartment.  Good thing her one true talent is being immune to all things gorgon.

The local police chief, naturally, arrives on the scene to put her in very special quarantine and things are rolling through a fast-paced few months of dealing with the effects of magical quarantine, an unusual uptick in gorgon-related incidents, jumping through hoops for the freelance cleanup job that her certifications qualify her for, and stumbling through the discovery that she’s got more friends than she thought she did.

At one point she’s sent out to deal with a  drunken gorgon, er, mess, and finds one of the gorgons themselves still there and still over amorous male there who decides that Bailey would be perfect for carrying his whelps.  No court in the country could convict her for her actions.  Gorgons heal fast anyway, right?  There’s napalm-drunk fire breathing unicorns, angels with a fairly twisted sense of humor, more gorgons and crazy exes than should be packed into one book, and a courtroom brawl that honestly I wish I’d been to.  I’d have taken popcorn.

I actually couldn’t put this one down.  In fact, I was too busy wiping tears of laughter from my eyes and accidentally waking my family up with my laughing to even notice it was creeping up towards dawn.  And yet, for all the slapstick funny nonsense, there was a pretty warming story of a woman who didn’t realize how many friends and allies she actually had, even when she was pushing her luck with them.  Bailey manages to be a reliable hero, a professional at handling the dangerous magical substances she works with, and remarkably resilient.  Frankly, she’s the first female lead character in some time that I haven’t wanted to strangle.

Even beyond that, the world building is solid.  Supernatural and magical creatures are an everyday part of society.  There are rules and regulations and bureaucracy all through the book that are exactly the sort of thing that normal society forces us to deal with, and Bailey either waltzes over them or bashes her way straight through, to hilarious effects. I mean, who doesn’t want to see what happens when an incubus, a fire breathing unicorn, and a semi-trailer is involved in a felony pixie dust spill?  Trust me, you want to see it.

Cooling off period

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Photo credit: @lattefarsan on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

I have a rant to post, but it’s… a little ranty, and a wise person once said to me never to post something online when I’m mad or drunk.  So…  Let me get back to y’all.  Maybe tomorrow if I can think a little more rationally.

 

Being a reader is tough when you get blindingly angry at your imaginary friends.  Anyone else have this problem?

Antagonizing

Okay, let me back up slightly and preface this by saying that I am by no means a Cardcaptor Sakura expert.  I’ve seen a number of episodes, some when they first kicked around in the U.S. and now again that my son has discovered it, but I haven’t read the manga, nor have I seen every episode of the show.  So, bearing that in mind…

One of the things that I started thinking hard about after the Cardcaptor Sakura exhibit a few weeks back is the difference between a villain and an antagonist.  See, when I think of conflict in an adventure, I think of a bad guy.  Sauron in Lord of the Rings, and each of his lesser henchdudes.  Harry Potter has Voldemort,  his minions, and all the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers.  Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Sailor Moon all have their respective Evil Queens… Basically, pick an adventure story at about any level of telling and there’s a villain actively taking steps to keep Our Hero down.  It’s one of the things we all look for: the Thanoses and Poison Ivys what have yous to defeat to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Except… villains turn out to be entirely unnecessary.  Sakura ends up having to save the world— well, her part of it at least— every week.  There’s nobody sending monsters against her, no master force behind this week’s problem.  Each card she comes across is simply causing problems thanks to their nature, not because they’ve been sent to eliminate those pesky heroes.  Nope.  They’re just unruly magical sprites causing trouble, and Sakura needs to clean up.

They’re antagonists, not villains.  They provide a challenge to work against, and butt heads on occasion, but without any grander plan or deliberate malice.  Simply conflicting goals. The realization was one where I had to yell at myself for a little while.  Of course, you don’t need to have a grand villain orchestrating everything, every time.

Sometimes, you just need a good puzzle or a magical force that doesn’t understand that they’re wrecking house just by playing tag.  So.  What’s your favorite fictional obstacle?

 

Writer Goals, 2019 edition

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It’s a new year, and that means resolutions!  Right?  Right.  I checked back to last year’s posts and I didn’t do any sort of New Years thing last year.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  Looking back, though, I released 4 of the Village of Los Gatos books.  I wrote and released to Patrons several Village short stories that I plan to release to you all soon.  Basically, I just need a cover now.  I also moved from just outside of Washington D.C. to Tokyo and started homeschooling my son for second grade.

No wonder I was exhausted by the holidays!

So for this year, I have a few other goals.  Well, okay, most of them are book goals.  Here’s the list:

-Release (and title!!) the fifth Village of Los Gatos book.

-Finish and release at least 2 Caroline’s Internship books

-Write a side story set in the same world as Caroline. (Don’t want to spoil this one, it’s kind of fun.) (Curtis, Jared: I’m looking at you.)

-work on updating and re-releasing the Riverton novels

In “real life” goals I’ve got a couple.  Mainly improve my Japanese— I want to be able to have a short, rational conversation with the nice Vegetables Shop lady who’s been so patient with my dumb, foreigner self.   I’m also planning to force myself to Go Out more.  We have a few friends here that have time during the week and I plan to try to go see maybe some minor touristy things or grab a cup of coffee somewhere that The Boy won’t be wildly unhappy with.  Those are my main two personal goals, and I’m doing okay with them so far.

So what about you?  Any resolutions or goals for 2019?  Have you already stumbled on them a bit?  (I have…)

I never even noticed

I was going to write about my Writer Goals for this year here, but I have to put it off a week.  You see, I went to a museum exhibit with my family last week, and it gave me a few things to think about that I wasn’t expecting.  Let me back up.

As you are no doubt aware, anime is a big thing.  I’ve been watching anime since before I even knew what it was.  Mostly things about determined warriors trying to save the world or the universe of the princess, or all three at once.  I did watch Sailor Moon, though, I won’t lie.  Basically, there was one thing that threaded them all together for me: the fight of good against evil.

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Sakura, looking at her own poster, from the exhibit.

Well, Cardcaptor Sakura wasn’t one of the shows I watched.  I probably would have if it had been on TV, but I didn’t even encounter it until much later, and honestly never watched it until The Boy saw it on Netflix and decided it was his new favorite.  The basic premise is that Sakura accidentally releases a pack of magical cards, each one capable of wreaking considerable havoc.  In order to clean up her mess she has to go out and find— and capture— all the cards.

Even still, it was just another magical girl adventure to me, though the fact that she was in elementary school was a bit of a new twist to me,  and I didn’t pay much attention to Sakura or her friends as they rounded up errant Clow Cards and solved problems.

Until I went to the exhibit and right at the front of the exhibit— before the fun projection movie we sat through with the cute mascot character, and well before the room full of extremely well made costumes to reflect Sakura’s nearly infinite wardrobe or the original manga artwork— it was pointed out that there was no villain in the show.

I was staggered.  Four years of manga issues, 70 episodes of an animated TV show, and there wasn’t a bad guy to defeat.  Sakura and her friends were fighting battles near constantly it seemed, much like any other show of this sort, but once I started thinking about it I realized that was accurate.  Her job was to collect the stray cards by counteracting their powers.  There are rivals on occasion, and definitely a few life-risking challenges, but mostly there are allies and friends and once I started thinking about the episodes I’ve seen, she’s basically a Disney Princess, making friends with everyone she meets through the power of kindness and positivity.

It’s a reasonably long-running urban fantasy adventure story with no evil force actively working against our hero.  She’s garnered fans around the world, and the amount of merchandise and books sold and art inspired by the characters is just stunning, and I’m humbled and inspired by the whole idea.

And now I have a goal to get my characters their own museum exhibit someday.  So maybe there’s a writer’s goal for you this week after all.

Already?

Welp, it’s New Year’s Eve as I write this, and there is SO MUCH cleaning and getting ready to do. I have a few resolutions, but I think I’ll consider them a bit and write about them next time.  Today, I’ve got my family around me, and a whole new country to experience for this holiday.  Today is for staying close to home and family.  Tomorrow we’re heading to Kamakura to explore a bit and celebrate a whole new year.

So until next week– year– I’ll just say that I hope that you find health, contentment, and lots of great books in 2019.  Happy new year!

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