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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Book Report! Bless Your Heart

One of the books that made it into the hailstorm of Kindle Unlimited books I blew through in my recent effort to hide from the world was a novel by Kimbra Swain, Bless Your Heart4287681186_9e1b5f1840_b.  I hadn’t read any of her work before, and as hypocritical of me as I know it is, I have a hard time reading books with female leads.  I’ll get to that later, but for now, I have to admit that I mostly enjoyed my time hanging out with Grace Ann Bryant.

Now, as anyone with an ounce of awareness of Southern culture knows, the phrase Bless your heart can be used to mean anything from an expression of pleasure to a barely veiled threat of painful retribution.  Grace uses the phrase very effectively as she navigates her life in a doublewide in Alabama.  She’s there because she was exiled by her own people when she was not quite fully an adult fairy, and her father King Oberon did nothing to stop the punishment.  She’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder from that, you could say, and now she lives among humans even though the ruling has been reversed.  Grace wants nothing to do with her family or the realm in which she’s royalty.  She barely seems to want to have anything to do with her own magic, but she does what she must with a fairly good attitude.

Unfortunately, in order to stay among humans and not be constantly moving, she had to strike a deal with what amounts to the enforcers of the human world: the Sanhedrin.  She’s got a few rules to follow: she can’t get romantically entangled with a human.  She is required to work with law enforcement when they call upon her.  She can’t move too far without permission.  That sort of thing.  Not that Grace seems to mind too much, and she’s even become reasonably friendly with the enforcer that is assigned to Alabama.  So when he brings her a young man and asks her to keep an eye on him while dealing with other things, she does it, grudgingly but without much animosity.

Naturally, that’s when all hell breaks loose.  Two brutally murdered children, a tangled love affair she can’t afford to have, a demon, Oberon putting paternal pressure on her to return home… and honestly, that’s just the easy stuff.  This story is a murder mystery in an urban fantasy setting, so if you like a little sleuthing in your fantasy, then this is a good bet.  I’ve been reading mysteries for most of my life and while I figured a few things out early, I didn’t guess the murderer until almost the official reveal.

Grace herself felt real to me, for the most part.  She did what she could because it was the right thing to do.  She genuinely liked her neighbors and was truly angry at whoever ‘did that to those kids’ and was determined to find the culprit even after she was herself accused of the crime.  The young man she takes under her wing irritated the poop out of me at first, but within a few chapters, I felt like he had relaxed and I actually found I liked him after all.

The only thing I really have to complain about is that by the end of the book Grace, this powerful fairy queen, falls into a habit I find common among female characters: falling all over themselves to make everyone happy, including themselves, regardless of the situation. Because heaven forbid a woman gets justifiably angry, or frustrated, or upset.  It is entirely unreasonable to expect a strong person— male or female— to constantly give up on feeling because it will upset someone else.  Or, as is the case with a female character at least half the time, refuse to be upset with someone because she’s in love with them and that clearly means that she should never get angry or offended or hurt in any way by their object of affection.

The other side of the coin, unfortunately, tends not to be well-rounded female characters who have reasonable reactions to things, they tend to be unlikeable, selfish harpies, but that’s a different rant for a different day.

On the whole— even with the occasional forays into Typical Female Characterdom scattered through the story— this is a great book, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.  It is the beginning of a series, and it seems that there’s lots of fun to be had.  And honestly, I kind of want to know what terrible ideas Cletus and Tater have next.

4.9 rutabegas out of 5 on this one.

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Photo credit: akseabird via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

Vectors

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I am a creature of momentum, and frankly, it makes life really difficult.  I suppose, to a degree, everyone has this problem, and I know I’m not alone in this difficulty.  It’s the reason that kids throw a tantrum when they have to change activities.  It’s why binge-watching has become how people consume television programs.  It’s why gamers will sit down and intend to play for one level or just this one quest, and then get up hours later only thanks to the demands of biology. It’s why knitters lie and say ‘just one more row’ or bookworms claim they’re only reading till the end of the chapter.  Once you’re doing something, it’s so much easier and more satisfying to just keep doing that thing pretty much forever.

Still, most people are capable of getting their butts up at the end of lunch or a break or when they finish the one task they need to complete, in order to move on to the next thing they need to attend do.  Turning off the TV and going to start dinner doesn’t feel like an impossibly difficult thing for most normal folks, and ordinarily, I’m able to manage to force myself to get into the kitchen and feed myself and my family.

It’s just my circumstances right now that are really messing with me.  My sleeping habits are not the greatest, as you’re aware by now.  Added to that, the dark peacefulness of the small hours of the night are the only quiet I really get to myself.  But this translates into not waking up before The Boy does, not that it’d be easy to do that anyway.  Kid’s up at almost 5 am daily and has been since birth.

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Photo credit: Fairy Heart ♥ on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

So, he gets up and plays in his room, often with a Nintendo DS or the Switch, but there’s Legos and robots and other things to amuse him as well.  Then my husband gets up and gets through his morning routine to get ready for work, and then… well, lately I sleep through all of that.  I’ll wake up when my alarm goes off at quarter till nine.  Now, it’s not an alarm I set to get me out of bed.  It’s an alarm I set to remind me to keep a record of something at nearly the same time every day.  It’s a business thing. And for the past month, I’ve managed to almost sleep right through it.

So the day is already off to a poor start.  Instead of getting up and being ready to leave the house with my husband like I’m supposed to, to walk with The Boy to the market and get the day’s groceries (which was working really well for a while!) we’re lucky to leave the house at all.  I’m in pajamas most weekdays, much to the amusement of a couple of delivery guys who’ve been by.

It’s a struggle that I’m trying to break free of, and my body hasn’t been helping with the back-to-back colds I’ve had in the last few weeks.  The bright side of this is, though, that if I can start writing in the morning like I have the past few days, I can bang out a pretty respectable word count by bedtime.  Which means that I’m making headway on short stories, and on a few other projects.  So there is a small glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel.  I just hope I can shift my habits around a bit and get some more positive momentum going.

After all, the holidays are coming, and nothing wreaks more havoc on a routine than December.

Akihabara

I honestly don’t know what to write for this post today.  I spent my weekend mostly just hanging out with family and friends.  We bought The Boy a desk lamp.  He asked to do some school on Saturday morning, so we did that.  We made Science Cookies— simple shortbread cookies that we weighed before and after baking to document any possible changes in mass since his science unit is discussing measuring right now.  Science, for the record, can be super delicious.

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Photo credit: Japón Entre Amigos on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

We did run over to Akihabara to meet up with some friends who are in the business of geekery and were over there for work.  If you don’t know what it is, Akihabara is sort of a destination for all things geeky in a Japanese sort of way: anime, manga, video games, and all the related toys and foods and posters and art books and, well, merchandise that is associated with it is for sale and on display.  There are more girls in costumes selling things then I’ve seen about anywhere outside of an *ahem* more adult sort of district.

I could get into the history and all that of the place— and it is pretty interesting— but if you’re unfamiliar with the place all you need to know is that it is now somewhere across between Times Square and a traveling carnival, with an unrelenting theme of crowds and anime style.  It’s also probably the most tourist-dense place I’ve been so far in Tokyo.

The thing of it is, though, is that it’s only a few blocks long.  It’s not even more than maybe two blocks deep, either.  The crowds thin dramatically once you pass an invisible line in the pavement, and suddenly you’re just in Tokyo, albeit with a bit more emphasis on the entertainment industry.  The temple I mentioned a few weeks back was a fairly easy walk from the main strip, but the people there were a distinctly different sort of crowd: more calm, more polite, less inclined to stopping suddenly and pushing across the stream of traffic to get a better view of something.

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So it’s not much of a shock that on our way from the mobbed JR station to our friend’s hotel a few blocks away, we not only left the mass of humanity but also passed a tiny postage-stamp park with a historical marker in it.  It seems that the river (which I hadn’t even known about before, though I’m not surprised by) that runs past Akihabara also once ran past one of the major roads through Japan, from Kyoto to what was then known as Edo.  My husband told me that in the evenings when it’s not oppressively hot and soupy (and probably even when it is, if I’ve learned anything at all about the longtime locals,) young guys gather there for Tokyo-style rap battles.

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We didn’t see anyone there when we passed on Saturday, but I did get to check out the sign and took some photos of the backs of some found-space shops and cafes that are squirreled away in the arches of the train bridge.  I learned a little more about my newly adopted hometown, and, after a few stops for business, I got to have my first okonomiyaki. The restaurant was on a floor full of restaurants in what seemed to be an otherwise normal office building smack dab in the center of the Otaku Mecca.  A small, hidden-n-plain-sight oasis of quiet.

So I guess what I’m saying, really, is that when you’re traveling, it makes sense to dig a little deeper, even at the tourist sites.  Because you never know what you’ll find just off the beaten path.

Jet lag is not for sissies

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I’m writing this at almost 8 am, and I’ve been up for 4 hours already.  Still, that’s way better than yesterday when I woke up at 2!  If I can sleep in till 6 tomorrow, I’m going to call it a massive win.

So yes, we made it to Tokyo.  It’s hot and muggy and so far we’ve barely ventured out for more than groceries, but I don’t care.  I’m feeling pretty damn good about life! My husband has taken some time off today to take us to the ward office and get our resident cards all done up official-like, and then we’re going to do something about my cell phone situation.

I’ve got a ton of stuff to work out (I started by re-organizing half the kitchen and doing a serious scrub down of it this morning…) but I think I’m starting to get into a minor groove.  It’s going to be a few weeks before I have a really solid handle on our day-to-day rhythms, but I think it’s going to be okay.

Now if I could just convince myself not to try living off nothing but combini pudding…

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Depending on when you read this, a second sample chapter of Brewing Trouble may be up on my Patreon– it’s scheduled to go up mid-morning- and the short story is still available!

Space Patrol

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Photo credit: darastar via Visual Hunt / CC BY

The packing continues.  The Boy’s sheets and most of our winter clothes are in a box and in a couple of hours I’ll trek down to the post office to ship it all to Tokyo.  We’re not really taking much, but that still ends up being a ton of stuff.  So much that I’m surprised, actually.   Clothes take up a remarkable amount of space, it turns out.  I’ve been going through all the stuff I don’t wear, or don’t love, and the pile for the charity shop is getting to be fairly substantial.  That doesn’t even count the kid clothes I’m pulling because The Boy is growing like kids do.

It’s a good thing he’s got a fancy whole-apartment-in-one bed from Ikea, or we’d never have anywhere to put The Boy’s things.  In addition to the clothes and the bedding, he’s got an army of stuffed animals that he will die without.  And books (in English and Japanese) that he requires for his continued good health.  And Legos.  I have tried to explain that we won’t have all the space there that we have here in his grandparents’ house, but it’s like shouting at a rock.

And, of course, all his school things are there already as well.  We’re sort-of homeschooling until his Japanese reading and writing catches up a bit to his peers, and the online school we’re going through has sent two boxes of supplies, from books to an inflatable globe to art supplies.  His desk and shelves and dresser will be full to overflowing with his things and it’s going to be an adventure keeping everything tidy.

Meanwhile, I get two shelves in closet and no room for all my books.  I’m heartbroken, my bed doesn’t even have fancy drawers under it!  Kids get the best stuff.    What would you take if you had to live essentailly out of a suitcase?

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But where do I put all my books?!!!      Photo credit: OFTO via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Character building

One of the things I’ve been working on with the short stories I’m writing is trying to improve my character work.  Without characters, after all, a story doesn’t go very well.  Actually, I suppose it can, but that sort of writing is way beyond my skill.  I’m willing to go a pretty long way for a good character, and let’s be honest.  More often than not the character is what catch us for a good adventure.

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Photo credit: Marvin (PA) via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC

I’ve been coming across some fantastic characters recently, both in books and in real life.  While I’m considering how the books I’ve plowed through showed these characters— the craft part of writing— I’ve also been trying to capture the characters I’ve been seeing in real life.  There’s the young man who is always reaching out to touch his friends.  It’s not anything aggressive or needy, but a hand on a shoulder or a laughing hip-check seems to be a constant thing for him, and his friends not only don’t mind, they seem to support this tactile young man by reciprocating.

There’s the grizzled older man in fatigue pants who turned to reveal that his black t-shirt is, in fact, covered in sequins.  The woman with the amazing lilac leather jacket and vinyl rainbow purse.  I see these people and want to know their stories.  I want to hear about the amazing adventures or heartbreaking tragedies they’ve got hidden behind the surface of what I can see while sitting at the cafe table. There are amazing characters everywhere if you’re paying attention, and my goal recently is to be able to do them justice when I put them down on the page.

words words words

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svenstorm on Visualhunt / CC BY-ND

Okay, I’m not a fan of Hamlet (really, don’t start me on it,) but it’s got some good quotes to steal and use as post titles.

I’ve been having a lovely email conversation with a fellow writer, and we got onto the topic of motivation and actually getting that first freaking draft written.  It’s tough, I’m not going to lie, slogging through something that is mostly pretty ephemeral in my head and getting it onto the page in a way that makes sense.  I’ll get stuck, then I’ll mess around on Facebook, or play a video game, or hide in my room and read… but none of that gets a book written.  So, in order to actually make forward progress, I’ll to set myself daily goals because I am a firm believer in momentum. (I can still hear my high school physics teacher chanting momentum is a vector in my head.  It’s a weird memory to have, but was clearly an effective teaching technique.)

I try to hit my word count every day, and I’m not terribly ambitious so it’s not a huge number of words.  NaNoWriMo has a goal of writing 50,000 words in November to finish your novel, and I use that as a basic goal for my books.  That translates into 1667 words a day and I’m not in so much of a hurry, so my personal goal is 1000.  On a good day when I have an idea of where I’m going, I can get that done easily enough, and often sprint past the NaNo goal as well, but on days where I have to be on, or have too much Adulting to do, or even just am not happy with the scene and how I’m getting from A to B within it, I have difficulty dragging even a handful of words out of my brain.

The other end of it, of course, is that I seem to have trouble stretching my books out toStockSnap_XAZG2TR9PW actual novel length.  Granted, the definition of ‘novel length’ itself is pretty unsettled.  NaNoWriMo defines it as a story of 50,000 words or more.  Writer’s Digest seems to advocate for 80,000 words.  Many books in Kindle Unlimited list their word counts and I see 90,000, 100,000, even use to 140,000 on a pretty regular basis.  Makes me feel a bit self-conscious about my short books.

But, I always remind myself that it’s not the word count that’s important.  It’s the story, and if I can serve the story best by using fewer words, then so be it.  I’m not writing epic fantasy.  For one thing, it’s not my strong suit and for another, I’d never make it to the 100,000+ words that those stories tend to take.  NaNoWriMo has set a bar at 50K and that’s been pretty generally accepted, so I aim just slightly higher at 55K.  I might hit that and I might not, and then editing changes everything.

For now, I’ve got about 10K down, 45K left to go on this one.