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.

Holiday anti-hijinks

5PuweTeKQi6oMqQ6cy1Z+AWe’ve had two Monday holidays in a row here in Japan, and it’s thrown me off a bit.  Add in The Boy’s birthday and oof.  I didn’t write any post for today.  But!  Depending on when you’re reading this (like, say, two hours after I’ve posted it…) then I have excellent news!  In The Blood is live!  You can get it on Amazon or a number of other ebook retailers!

So that’s all I’ve got right now, because between forgetting that it’s recycling day (because Monday felt like Sunday…) and the leftover party pizza for lunch, I’m about done in.

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Golden

Well, this past week was Golden Week here in Japan.  What that means is that most offices and schools at least are shut down for the week and many, many people travel. We did our traveling early this year when we went to Oita with family, but we still IMG_1163managed to have some fun around town.  We saw some friends (who must love us- they brought me some Cafe Bustelo!) and found some new places practically right next door.  We did manage to get a tiny bit out of town, though, and went to Odawara Castle, which was pretty awesome.

Today is technically still Golden Week, even though it’s Monday.  This year, instead of being just 5 days off, has an extra day off in honor of the abdication of Emperor Akihito.  Quite literally the end of an era here as Heisei ends and Reiwa begins.  Fun fact: the timing of all this is very deliberate.  The era changed over at the same time as the fiscal year.

So today we’re taking it slow to ease back into regular life.  My husband went to a movie and we’re meeting up for lunch.  The Boy is doing some spelling lessons, but we’re skipping the math and essay writing.  I’m working on some edits and on getting Caroline into some trouble in another book, but I’m not stressing too hard about it.  The weather is warming up and we have the balcony doors open to enjoy the breeze.  On the whole, not a bad end to a spring break.

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!

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?

Book Report: Playing With Fire

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

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

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I think I read all of these…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Care and feeding

man-dark-silhouetteI am, as you have no doubt figured by now, rather more of an introvert than anything.  Finding some peace and quiet to sit with a good book and a cup of coffee is a pretty much a life goal.  My husband, on the other hand, is an extrovert.  As much as he loves hanging out at home, he actually starts getting twitchy if he doesn’t get to marinate in the wildly swirling energy of a group of people.  Needless to say, Tokyo is a good place for him.

The only real trouble is that he’s caught between wanting to do what I need him to do for my own mental health (take our son off for a few hours so I can have some peace and quiet at home, turn the TV down fairly low, that sort of thing,) and honestly not understanding what I need.  To him, going out with a large group and spending hours talking and eating and going to karaoke 7is as necessary as breathing.  To me… well I like a few hours of that, but it’s exhausting beyond words after a while.  I’m pretty classic.  I need alone time to recover from being social, with fairly few exceptions.

So the other night we went out to celebrate two friends’ birthdays.  It was a wonderful day that was half spent just us as a family, wandering around and seeing the sights as we slowly made our way to the restaurant we were meeting everyone at.  Once there, we had a fun, slightly odd meal of almost all pies, and they wrapped up while I wrangled The Boy.  On the train home there was a flurry of texting, then silence, then more texting.  The Boy and I were ready to get home and crawl into bed, but my husband? He wanted to go back, meet everyone for karaoke at another station not far from us.

So, in a park in Tokyo, on a warm autumn evening, I had to call him to task.  It was an entertaining conversation that never quite reached the argument stage, where I told him to go.  Go play with his friends, sing loud songs about giant robots and argue about whose turn it is next.  He wanted to stay with us, go through the whole bath-and-bed routine with our son.  Watch whatever recorded on the DVR that day.  He wanted to take care of us and make sure we weren’t left out, even though he reeeeeally wanted to go out and play with his friends, and I wanted to go home and take a long bath.

I feel for him.  It’s hard, not understanding at such a visceral level what makes someone else tick.  I don’t see the appeal, myself, of karaoke.  Or of loud restaurants and spending hours at an arcade with the flashing lights and overwhelming noise.  But my husband does.  He thrives on it.  And I love him, so I send him off.  And he tries to understand the other side of that coin, to help me get the time I need, but I think that ultimately it’s much easier for an introvert to send someone away than it is for an extrovert to leave someone behind.

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Photo credit: Bennilover via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND