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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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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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.

Cooling off period

masks showing emotions, anger.

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?

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.