homework

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I was never this tidy when doing homework.  I’m, um, still not this tidy when working…

There’s this thing in indie publishing circles that’s kind of a hot subject, and that is writing to market.  The idea, basically, is to write what readers want to read.  Sounds pretty simple, if you’re an author that wants to buy groceries and pay rent and whatnot.  I mean, it makes sense, right?

Well, it gets a little bit more complicated than that once you start getting deeper into it, and some people start arguing that writing to market is gross commercialism and selling out and all that. And then there are other folks who are pointing at popular authors saying ‘see?  It works! Give people what they want to read!’ and it all often devolves from there, as things are wont to do on the internet.

And then there are those of us that don’t really want to go hardcore either way– I love my readers and want anyone who reads my work to enjoy it, but I started publishing because I couldn’t find quite what I wanted to read.  So… what that means really, is that I want to know what the common themes and tropes are in my genre so I can know which ones are what I’m looking for in a story and which ones make me insane. And that’s kind of the problem.

You might have noticed that I kinda like to read?  >_>

It’s partly because I like finding a good, fun, stress-free place in the world.  (Hint: the news isn’t it.) So, when I read, if it’s a good book, my active mind turns off.  So I’m enjoying the story, not analyzing it like I’m in ninth grade English.

Nothing ruins the fun of a good book quite like high school English classes.

If I have to keep my brain active enough to think ‘this is a plot point,  I should take note of that, and be aware of what the characters are doing and thinking’ then I am kicked fully out of the story.  I might as well be reading the driver’s ed manual, or Hamlet for the five hundredth time (oh, the perils of a theatre degree.) Either way, I’m no longer enjoying a good urban fantasy adventure.

How is that a fun thing to do to a book?

The obvious option is to read it through once for fun, and then if I enjoy it enough, go back through it and find the tropes and beats and analyze the structure.  But… (you know there was a ‘but’) that feels an awful lot like homework again.

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What I did last weekend.  I regret nothing.

I just finished Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews, for example, and it was amazing.  I stayed up way too late over the weekend to finish it and it was worth every sleepy minute I struggled through the next day.  If you haven’t read this, you probably should.

Since I finished it, though, I’ve been playing with the idea of going through it again and taking notes on the major tropes and plot points, and… I can’t bring myself to pick it up again to do that.  Because that would suck all the magic out of it for me.

And sucking the magic out of a story seems like the worst sin of all.

Introductions

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Photo credit: Drew Coffman on VisualHunt / CC BY

I was watching a YouTube talk by a fellow indie author and she said something that kind of stuck with me.  She was talking about marketing stuff and business things, but one of the things she said was that she spent a lot of time talking to people about her favorite character.  She put up a whole slide, with an artist’s image of the character and a whole description of the woman, as if she was running for office and needed an introduction.

Well, I’m not sure I’m going to do anything like that, really, but… I thought maybe I could talk more about my own characters since I spend so much time with them.  I do rather like them, and I don’t know.  Maybe you will, too.  So, I’m starting a new series here on the blog, occasionally introducing my characters and talking a little bit about why I like them, and maybe revealing a bit about them that’s not in the books since it’s not really relevant to the stories.

I thought I’d start with Caroline since she’s the main character in my current series.  I’ll go back and talk a bit about the Los Gatos folks as I go on since I’m feeling less and less done with that universe the longer I go on.  We’ll see.

Anyway!  Introductions!

Caroline portraitThis is Caroline.  She’s a first-year college student at Stonehaven University, studying Criminal Justice in order to work her way up the ranks at the Federal Paranormal Activities Agency.  For now, she’s happy as an intern— mostly because she’s not treated as an intern, just paid like one.

How did she end up there, working for a troll and partnered with a vampire and the world’s only known manticore when most people only knew about the existence of mages and elves?  Well, funny story, that.  Back when she was a senior in high school she cut class and instead of getting detention, she got kidnapped by some not terribly skilled elf supremacists and tossed into a dungeon cell with Darien Webb, FPAA agent and badly injured vampire.

Caroline impressed Darien (and later, Point, the troll who became Section Chief,) by keeping her head and working with him to get them both out of danger.  She managed to keep it together all the way until she got home and closed herself up in her room where she managed to have her complete breakdown in the privacy of her blanket burrito.

She’s good under pressure, but come on.

So, now she works for the FPAA and goes to school and does her best to keep her new friends safe and happy while keeping the secrets of the paranormal world and hunting down bad guys.  And, you know.  Filing paperwork.  She is still an intern, after all.

Avoiding burnout

burnout-burned-out-disease-psychic-pain-bullying-1One of the real downsides to being an indie author, in my opinion, is that while I get to write for my living, I also have to do all the other stuff involved with making a book, too.  I am a one-person publishing company, which means that I have to secure book covers, advertise, write ad copy, and so on and so forth. And that’s just the surface-level list!

Take advertising, for example.  It is, of course, The Future now, so advertising is a wildly careening, viral-post-dependent, buzzword soup, the battle octopus of a monster.  Where should I advertise?  Amazon?  Facebook?  Goodreads?  Should I look for newsletters to buy space in?  Should I try to make viral memes?  How much time should I spend on it when I could be writing?  How much money is too much to spend on it?  Not that I have much to spare on advertising anyway, but…. I just.. I don’t… oh, man.  Come on, you guys.  I did not take any business classes in college, which I now realize was foolish, but it seemed rational back then!

Trying to do everything, and do it “right” is one of the reasons I got so burned out last year.  I was trying to go in too many directions all at once, all while writing my books, and doing all that ‘Mom stuff’ that I need to stay on top of.  And laundry.  So.  Much.  Laundry.  You know, normal everyday living stuff.  So this year I’m scaling back.  Seriously.

StockSnap_LTY3TGLE73So I’m sticking with Facebook and IG for social media, and no more than that, because those are the two that I can kind of get my brain around.  I’ll try to post here more often than I did last year— I’m aiming for about twice a month or so— but I’m not going to stress myself out about it.  I am going to really buckle down on getting my books written and some ebook bundles put together.  And, if you’ve been following me on Facebook you’ve heard about my Grand Audiobook Plans…

This year, instead of boring myself out trying to do everything, I’m going to try to get more help from my family and the occasional virtual assistant, and stay focused on the fun part of being an indie author.  The writing.

Back from the dead

sparklers-on-black-backgroundSo… I guess I haven’t been around here in the blog much for a few months.  *blows dust off ‘pst now’ button.*  I don’t really have an excuse to give you other than that I sort of ran out of spoons after Typhoon Hagabis.  I tried to buckle down and focus on my writing and that project didn’t go so well.  It still has my heart, though, so I suspect that the concept will come back around eventually.

It’s a new year, though, and a new decade, and I’m feeling that new year energy.  If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know that I’ve started out finally nailing down the steps I need to take to get some audiobooks out.  My husband is helping me find the right equipment and people to help me out with it, too.  There are a few giant decisions to make before I can take any massive strides on that, but I’ll let you know when I do!

I’ve also decided that I need to revamp this here website at some point soon, and I’m once again rejiggering the Patreon, probably in conjunction with the audiobook thing once I’ve made a few decisions and have things firmed up better.  I’ve been listening to writing podcasts and working on a new book that is going MUCH better than the last one, so all is not lost.

Crowded

I woke up this morning and my brain was full of people.  Not even all my own people, which would make sense since I’m in the middle of writing a theft and a murder.  No, mostly my mind is filled with other people’s people, and it’s feeling a bit crowded.

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There’s the character from a book I read a while back who I really liked but disappointed me badly.  He was a young man who for several reasons had nothing much to do besides hang out and train at his local dojo, and thus grew up to be a very skilled martial artist.  His story in the book was one of trying to find a real place for himself, a path besides just hanging out and now teaching classes in his master’s school.  By the end of the book, while he does find a path that fits nicely with both his skills and his lack of patience with bullies, he winds up meekly following along with whatever his partner decides, flat out saying ‘he tells me what to do and I do it.’  For a character that started out fiery and passionate, it was a serious letdown, and it’s bothering me like it was a close friend in a bad relationship.

Then there are the characters who are abrasive and awful.  I read a book recently that I really, thoroughly enjoyed, and went on to grab another of the author’s books set in the same universe.  Within three pages, however, the main character showed off her violent anger problem and her complete refusal to take responsibility for said issues.  Then over the next chapter or so, it was made clear that her family was aiding and abetting with the excuses. “You’ll find a job that won’t fire you, I’m sure!” and “Just keep trying, someone will see you for the gem you are!” are not appropriate responses to “I got fired again for assaulting a customer.  Again.”  And it’s definitely not a trait that should be rewarded with jobs, adventures, and powerful friends.

And then, of course, lurking in the corners are my own characters.  The clever one that I can’t seem to write out of a hole.  The persistent one who is feeling like giving up.  The annoying, bubbly one who is sliding into seriousness and, well, not despair.  That’s a bit melodramatic, but definitely a melancholic mood..

Sigh.  It’s frustrating that the only people in my head lately are the ones that frustrate, irritate, or disappoint me.  I suppose it’s human nature— the bad sticks so much more easily than the good, after all.  So I’m going to go back and sit down with a few books full of characters I know I like (I strongly recommend The Wood Wife by Terri Windling) and hang out with a cup of coffee and some old friends.

What’s your favorite character?  Who should I meet?

Lack of Perfection

boy-facepalm-child-youth-exasperated-tiredI have a problem and it’s often called perfectionism.  It isn’t really that, but I think that’s a close enough word for it, but Adulting is hard and this seems to be how I deal with it.  You see, I often seem to have two modes: hyper-focused on being super perfect at something, or eh, close enough.  It’s done.  Neither of these modes is exactly conducive to being productive or doing good work, but more than that they’re both a good way to self destruct.

As an example: I’ll have a good idea, like create a weekly list of chores that need doing so I don’t forget any of them as I am somewhat prone to doing.  But… it’s Tuesday.  I missed Monday so I can’t start this list project until NEXT Monday because obviously, I can’t just start something like that in the middle, right?  Then I’ll have this list-idea in my mind for a day or two as I think about what all I’m going to need for it (the right paper or journal, some pens, maybe a few awesome stickers!  Because stickers are always awesome no matter how old you get! Oh, and a ruler because I can’t draw lines to save my life…) and then it gets to the weekend when I can go out to acquire these things, and… I’ve either forgotten it entirely or getting up and going out is too much work.

And then, because I don’t have the supplies I’d thought about, I can’t just grab a piece of paper that I already have and a pen from my cup, because those aren’t perfect materials.

You see my problem?  Anxiety Gome stealth attack.

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It bleeds into my work, too.  I have missed a bunch of blog posts this summer and I’m woman-sitting-at-table-and-working-with-computerbeating myself up over it.  But then I write something and I think ‘I’ll post it next week!’ And then I get to posting time and my laptop sits there while I stare at it morosely thinking ‘but I can’t find the right pictures to put with it, and looking will just take me away from family time and I’ve missed so many posts already…. And yeah.

Often I can manage to get my work done anyway, but for some reason, this summer’s been extra tough.  But it’s sliding into autumn and I don’t know.  The slight change in the weather and the strange allure of the new school year (in the U.S. anyway) which still holds so much power over my brain even after so many years of theoretical adulthood is all adding up to a strengthening resolve.  I make no promises, but I’m starting a new bullet journal style thing and we’ll see how it goes.  How do you all keep track of your Adulting?

Our silverware drawer

The Boy, if I haven’t expressly mentioned it before, is both on the autism spectrum and also ADHD. He has difficulty out in the wider world sometimes, crowds making him anxious even though he loves people. It sometimes makes our life difficult, to put it kindly.
A few weeks back, we were out running errands in Akihabara on a moderately busy boy-facepalm-child-youth-exasperated-tiredSunday. It was lunchtime and we had two options as we emerged from the JR station. Both were family restaurants, both serving what he wanted for lunch: pancakes. The problem? He remembered being to one but not to the other, and even though the second place was pretty much exactly the same as the first, and made more sense in terms of logistics (it was much closer to our next errand,) The Boy dug in his heels and refused flat out to even consider the place.
This is a remarkably common experience for us.
Usually, The Boy just starts melting down at this point and it becomes a huge ordeal and nobody ends up happy. About half the time I give up and take him home and we both stew in our misery for a while. But that day I had, I swear, a moment of being touched by the divine and I crouched down to look the kid in the eye and asked him if he was trying to conserve his spoons.
cutlery-panel-cutlery-knife-forks-spoon-silverwareIt was amazing. His eyes got really big and he actually smiled at me and said, yes. Yes, he was. This led to a long conversation about spoon theory and autism and our own spoons and different kinds of spoons and the whole day was really pretty lovely. Understanding what he was trying to tell us made a thousand percent difference.
This all happened in the middle of a streak of my totally failing to post here on the blog. Over the days that followed that outing, it occurred to me that I was, myself, conserving spoons without even thinking about it much by staying away from my social media more.
See, I’m a fairly introverted person. Unfortunately being an indie author means I have a lot of business stuff to take care of all on my own, and frankly even authors published through one of the big houses have to promote themselves via Twitter and Facebook and all that social media stuff. That can be pretty rough for those of us who just don’t have many Being Social spoons to hand out in the first place. I hadn’t even noticed that I was running low on my ability to be out there in public until my son forced me to think about it.
So now I have thought about it, and I’m trying to come up with a better way to conduct my online life. I’ve started changing up my morning and evening routines, and have started trying to do this meditation thing on something approaching a regular basis.

I’m going to try to keep up with posting again, but you know how it can go. Especially in the summer when the heat and humidity of Tokyo reaches a crushing degree. Hopefully, I can find some nice air-conditioned room to hang out in and work on my social media. Then I can go back to my Introvert Cave and hide out with my Kindle again where it’s safe and quiet.
What do you do when you’re socially overwhelmed?  I’m taking suggestions.

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?

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!