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?

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!

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?

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?

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.

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