Typhoon

So you may have heard about Typhoon Hagibis.  It hit Tokyo on Saturday, and my family plus a friend who took shelter with us since his place was near a river, hunkered down to ride it out.  We didn’t lose power or the internet, nor were we evacuated unlike thousands of others.  We were fortunate and we know it.

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Photo credit: vhines200 on Visualhunt / CC BY-ND

Tokyo, in general, didn’t suffer from too much flooding.  There was some flooding, mainly near rivers, since the storm came with a massive amount of rain.  But Tokyo has a seriously amazing flood control system under the city, alongside the water mains and subway tunnels and so on.  It’s so impressive that you can actually schedule a tour of it if there’s no rain predicted.

However, the typhoon wasn’t the only exciting natural disaster we got to watch here in Japan!  We had a tornado!  An earthquake!  A volcano erupted!  It was just one of those days where the planet was throwing a temper tantrum.

We were incredibly lucky, and we know it.  Our neighborhood had little damage and even though it was almost deserted in the streets on Saturday, Sunday was really lovely.  I learned a lot about Japan’s disaster response and recovery abilities.  It will take a while for many harder-hit locations to fully clean up and recover.

But thank goodness for rugby teams.  Turns out they’re pretty handy to have around.

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?

Gnome food

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Sensoji Temple is a Buddhist temple and dates back to 645 CE

So last week my son and a friend of ours and I went off to Asakusa to take some photos for my Patreon photo essay and generally hang out, do the hometown tourist thing. The main tourist thing over there is Sensoji Temple (which is certainly impressive and has a pretty cool history, and I think it’s worth braving the crowds.)

There are plenty of smaller shrines and what-have-yous nearby, and we stopped into one such place to get out of the crowd for a moment, and while there I thought I’d be respectful and wash my hands as you do. Well, I dunno if y’all know this, but I’m not actually Japanese, and I don’t instinctively know all the things about Japanese culture. So I started out wrong, and the older woman manning the small building selling charms (or prayer things or… tourist pamphlets or something,) yelled at me. It wasn’t in a super aggressive way, and I’m pretty sure she kept all the nasty epithets in her head, but still. I really only realized she was addressing me because my friend translated for me.  So, I corrected myself and tried to smile and nod to make it clear that it was an inadvertent slight due to lack of information, and everyone moved on. Mostly. 

It was maybe 10 seconds of the day, out of several hours of picture taking, food eating, and awesome tiny coffee shop finding. Still, my brain keeps flashing to that one moment and its. sort of sitting like lead in my gut. I know I should let it go and accept that humans like myself are, you know, only human. But still. I know that my Anxiety Gnomes are going to use the moment as ammunition for years to come. It’s telling my brain that I shouldn’t even bother trying because I won’t get it right.

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I managed to ignore the whole “I don’t belong here” mental whisper long enough to visit another temple with my family over the weekend, but that whisper is still there, making me crazy and keeping me awake at night.  I know it’s bullshit, but… *sigh* Maybe I’ll do better next month. Or next year. Or someday.  How do you cope with this sort of thing?

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!

Politicing

In the last post, I wrote that was an actual post, I mentioned how much I hate finding politics in my fiction. I bet that a fair number of you wondered where I was finding all this political fantasy, and who was writing about wizards and werewolves running for office. (Side note, I have actually read a book about a werewolf running for sheriff.)hand-puppet-snowman-political

But that’s not the kind of politics I mean.  I’m not especially fond of election process badgering, what with having grown up so near Washington D.C., but that’s not what I meant.  I’ve been trying to explain for so long that I had to resort to looking up the definition

politics[pol-i-tiks]

4. political methods or maneuvers:

6.use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university,etc.

Dictionary.com

So when I talk about ‘politics’ in a story I’m really talking about a character trapped by arbitrary rules and traditions that are in place only to prolong the plot.  The characters in these stories ruled by political machinations usually refuse to consider an outside-the-box solution.  “The elders have forbidden us from drinking well water, so I’ll sit here next to the well and die of thirst!  Alas!” “I am a mere apprentice and so touching the Master’s crystal ball means death by law, even though the only way to save the city is to shift it one inch to the left!”

These stories are usually pretty easy to pick out, though.  They often start with a lengthy explanation of how the world society is set up specifically keep the main characters down in one way or another.  Three pages about how the rulers of the magical kingdom wrote the laws to keep apprentices firmly away from any real tools of power because of one guy who did a thing two thousand years ago or some such thing.

I’m sorry.  I simply don’t have the patience for that nonsense.  It’s entirely possible to write a story where the heroes must fight tradition or The Man— frankly just about any lovable rogue is doing exactly that and I do love me a lovable rogue— but when the whole world is crafted around laws and traditions, that’s going to a place I just don’t want to follow.  It grates too hard on what remains of my faith in humanity.

A bit of a note: on Wednesday, April 17, the Spirits of Los Gatos box set–the first three complete books– goes on sale for $0.99.  Go pick it up while it’s on sale!

or not…

I think I wasn’t just being particularly airheaded yesterday.  I seem to actually be coming down with something, and it’s hit my brain particularly hard.  No writing of any sort seems to be happening right now.

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So no blog post this week, folks. I will say, though, that if you still want to pick up Spiritkind at the launch price, you should hop on it quick.  The special discount price ends Thursday.