It’s good to be bad, sometimes

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There is a long history behind humanity’s love of criminals.  Sure, there’s plenty of ruthless villains out there to loathe and fear, and rightly so.  Criminals in the real world are not who most folks want to associate with.  But there’s always that romantic idea of but what if… in the back of our mind.  What if he’s really a Robin Hood?  Or a Dexter?  Pirates were many things, many of them very contradictory, but they were still violent murderers and thieves with nary a Jack Sparrow among them.  And then there’s the Sopranos and The Godfather.  Nobody can argue that those stories weren’t entirely about criminals being celebrated, whether or not you think they were acting heroically

I think— and feel free to disagree, it’s totally my own thoughts on the subject— but at least a large part of it is the idea that justice and the law are often wildly different things.  How many times have we heard on the news about some horrible criminal getting away with theft or rape or murder because of some legal technicality?  Now, I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where anyone can just go after someone else for any perceived slight, but boy is it appealing to think that there’s some golden-hearted assassin or cat burglar out there willing to take out the worst trash humanity has to offer, laws be damned.  Batman is a fine example.  Or better yet, Deadpool.

But as for fiction?  My mind springs right to Arsène Lupin and Danny Ocean.  You may have heard of the former as the grandfather of Lupin the Third, but the Maurice Leblanc stories are worth a read.  And, honestly, if you haven’t seen the Ocean’s Eleven remake for an entirely charming take on Danny Ocean and his merry band, where have you been?  The appeal there is the wit and the caper, and the hook is that the criminals often end up having far stricter moral code than the police that chase them, and are often out to right some sort of wrong, or at the very least balance the scales.

And then there are the real-life heroes who broke laws that were entirely unjust and were labeled criminals in their own time.  Rosa Parks springs immediately to mind as an example.  Nelson Mandela, as well.   They broke the law, and the world has been made better for it.

Personally, I’ve been really entertained recently by the adventures of a wildly successful international assassin.  He quickly and brutally murders his way through some of humanity’s worst while trying, with various degrees of success, to retire to a nice house in the country.

It’s nice to imagine someone’s watching over us, even if they are ruthless, hardened criminals.  Who’s your favorite not-so-good-guy?

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Inspiring

I get stuck.  Like any author, I get stuck hard sometimes, usually at the halfway point of my book, then again at just before the climax.  It’s a real problem because even if I’ve got a solid idea of what needs to happen, it’s like I can’t see the road between here and there.

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Photo credit: Drew Coffman on VisualHunt / CC BY

 

So I was a little stalled out getting the bad guy dealt with in my current work.  I mean, I went through a ton of different ideas: having Caroline sneak into his office and confront him.  Having The Gang go into a massive battle against a troop of minions.  Having a convenient meteor fall on the dude’s head.  Really, I went through a ton of terrible ideas that left me flat and uninspired.

So… I ignored it and hoped that inspiration would magically strike me in a bolt from the heavens because ignoring a problem always makes it go away, right?  I played some video games with The Boy.  I read a ton of stuff from Kindle Unlimited, mostly outside of the UF genre (Although I did read an amusing one about vampires versus mummified zombies.  Good times.) I went out to dinner with some friends.

And that’s what saved me.  I mentioned that I was stuck on the idea of the Stealth Badass (you know, the hero that seems completely harmless but turns out to be 150% more qualified to handle the problem. Think Danny Ocean or Kenshin.) and the reason was because I was trying to figure out how to beat a bad guy.  And my friend Jordan, blessings upon him, started asking questions and just saying stuff with a shrug and a face like he thought he was saying something dumb and obvious.

I had to scramble to get my notebook out and get all the genius down on paper before I forgot it all.  I nearly left dinner early so I could get back to my laptop.

So, now I have the bad guy beaten, my heroine saved the day and learned a lesson or two (maybe) and I’m feeling just a little smug about it all.  Sure, there’s still lots of editing and revising to do on this, but I feel more confident about it than I have in a while.  I really hope you all enjoy it when it’s ready to be released into the wild, because thanks to Jordan, I’m feeling really happy with these people and can’t wait to spend a little more time with them in their world.

And that’s the best possible scenario of all for a writer.

Cooling off period

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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?

Antagonizing

Okay, let me back up slightly and preface this by saying that I am by no means a Cardcaptor Sakura expert.  I’ve seen a number of episodes, some when they first kicked around in the U.S. and now again that my son has discovered it, but I haven’t read the manga, nor have I seen every episode of the show.  So, bearing that in mind…

One of the things that I started thinking hard about after the Cardcaptor Sakura exhibit a few weeks back is the difference between a villain and an antagonist.  See, when I think of conflict in an adventure, I think of a bad guy.  Sauron in Lord of the Rings, and each of his lesser henchdudes.  Harry Potter has Voldemort,  his minions, and all the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers.  Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Sailor Moon all have their respective Evil Queens… Basically, pick an adventure story at about any level of telling and there’s a villain actively taking steps to keep Our Hero down.  It’s one of the things we all look for: the Thanoses and Poison Ivys what have yous to defeat to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Except… villains turn out to be entirely unnecessary.  Sakura ends up having to save the world— well, her part of it at least— every week.  There’s nobody sending monsters against her, no master force behind this week’s problem.  Each card she comes across is simply causing problems thanks to their nature, not because they’ve been sent to eliminate those pesky heroes.  Nope.  They’re just unruly magical sprites causing trouble, and Sakura needs to clean up.

They’re antagonists, not villains.  They provide a challenge to work against, and butt heads on occasion, but without any grander plan or deliberate malice.  Simply conflicting goals. The realization was one where I had to yell at myself for a little while.  Of course, you don’t need to have a grand villain orchestrating everything, every time.

Sometimes, you just need a good puzzle or a magical force that doesn’t understand that they’re wrecking house just by playing tag.  So.  What’s your favorite fictional obstacle?

 

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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The State of Your Author

 

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Me, until very recently.  Photo credit: quinn.anya on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

I’m not dead, I swear!  I’m sorry for not posting for so long, though.  I hit a point where I needed to let a few things go, for my own sanity, and the blog is one of the things that didn’t make the must-do cut.  (I’d kind of rather I could have blogged and stopped doing the laundry instead, but everyone else disagreed.)

I’m not going to lie to you.  It’s been somewhat tough the past couple of months.  The Boy is essentially homeschooled, which means he’s at home all the time, and as much as I love the kid, he’s pretty high energy and needs a great deal of my attention.  That makes it tough to get any of my own work done, including writing.  I’ve got so much of my mental and emotional energy focused on my son that I don’t have much left over for poor Kai’s little problems.  As a result, I haven’t been sleeping well and I’ve been reluctant to socialize at best and grumpy and snarly at worst.  Not fun.

That said, I have been making headway on Book Five (you’d think by now I’d have thought of a title for it…) and have started going over some stories I banged out last summer.  I’m going to get those whipped into shape for you fine folks, and I’ve got an idea that’s been stuck in my head for a while that actually fits nicely into the new universe as a side-series.  If I can get myself sorted out just a bit better, 2019 is going to be super exciting and full of new books.

Next week I’ll have a review up for one of the books I plowed through in the past month, and keep your eye out for sneak peeks in the next few weeks.  I’ve got a poll up on my Facebook page if you’d like to tell me what to post first.  And, of course, I’ll have to write about our first holiday season in Tokyo.  It’s already proving very strange: our Christmas tree is just about a foot tall and is sitting on top of our PlayStation 4.

At least there will always be cookies.  That will help with pretty much all these problems!

Last preview

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I need more coffee.  Oh, guys.

I know, I know, it’s been a lot of previews up in here lately.  But Brewing Trouble goes live on Thursday, so next week you should have a different sort of post here.  Assuming NaNoWriMo hasn’t completely shut my brain down.

Hah, maybe I’ll write about how it’s difficult to be creative on demand.  Entirely possible, but tough.

At any rate, here’s your last excerpt before launch, I hope you enjoy it!

 

Brewing Trouble ebookA heavy shudder ran over her body and made the old bench creak.Suddenly, the stillness of the night and the soft gurgle of the water seemed ominous, and the soothing peace she’d sought fled for the comfort of the lighted apartments.Sarah wanted nothing more than to follow it.She turned in her seat and started to stand up, and the shadowed figure standing on the path froze her in place.For one panicked second she thought the wights were back and had somehow gotten inside the wards, but then the familiar, friendly, safe greeting reached her.

“Mr. Young!” Sarah gasped.The world around her snapped back into place, the stress and anxiety driven off by the quiet older spirit.Mr. Young smiled and tipped his head at her, his brown eyes soft and comforting.

“Sure, I’d love for you to join me.”Sarah scooted over on the bench to make room for him.He never spoke— at least not that she had ever heard— but he still managed to communicate somehow.Nobody really understood it, but everyone agreed that you just knew, somehow, what it was he wanted to say.

Mr. Young stepped over and sat gingerly on the bench, sighing in simple pleasure as he settled his weight and brushed his hand over his plain brown trousers.He settled back onto the bench slowly, with a long, tired sigh.

“Oh, come on, you’re not that old.You’re barely old enough to be my grandfather,” Sarah said, then chuckled and shook her head.“Actually, you’re probably older than I would guess, aren’t you?”

Mr. Young winked at her and reached into the pocket of his cardigan.He pulled out a candy bar and snapped it in half, holding one piece out to her.

“Thanks.” Sarah accepted the gift and turned back to the pond, which was once again just a pleasant spot to spend some time.“I guess you’re only as old as you feel, huh?”

Mr. Young nodded.They sat and listened to the water splashing into the pool while they ate their treat.Finally, after swallowing his last bite, Mr. Young turned to her and tipped his head.

“Nah, I just needed a few minutes, you know?Everything’s been so hard this week, I had to step away for a breath or two.”Sarah shrugged.“This outbreak of shadow pox while Doc’s in the hospital, and then Meg got hurt today—”

Mr. Young frowned.

“She’s okay, mostly.She got shoved by some guy, and it all cascaded until the display case broke.She needed to get stitches for one cut, but otherwise she’s fine,” she said.“But I’m not fine with it.The guy that shoved her?He was sent into the shop on purpose, with a talisman specifically to get through the wards.”

Mr. Young’s frown deepened.

“I know.I’m kind of freaked out.” Sarah slumped back onto the bench and pulled her own jacket tighter around herself.The days were plenty warm, with the summer sun shining, but the evenings could get chilly and tonight definitely qualified.“Doc is being attacked deliberately, it’s not just some weird, random virus she picked up or anything.I’m so worried about her. And we don’t know what to do.Gabe saw a witch casting some sort of big spell, and she seems to be Angela Davila Meg’s so-called coven leader and all around favorite person. “I’m not Doc.I’m not my grandmother.I’m not good enough to do all this.”

She sensed rather than saw him roll his eyes, and got the impression of a snort.A lone wisp of mist drifted past her eyes where she stared at the path that they sat beside.It flowed over the ornamental gravel and collected on the surface of the pond to swirl playfully away to nothing.

“You know I’m not exactly a well trained witch.Sure, I know I have the potential, I’m not going to ignore that, but with the exception of breaking that one curse on Sebastian, I’ve never done anything big on my own.And even that was almost just pure luck, and I’m pretty sure that Kai’s dad was helping guide me.”

Mr. Young nodded.He looked around the pond and pointed at something invisible, just past the wall on the far side of the water that surrounded the whole apartment complex.

“Yeah, I fixed the wards, but I’ve worked with Doc on wards for months.I’ve never seen Shadow pox before. Or Ellie came in the other day with Dryad Flu.And now there’s another witch out there coming after the shop, and Doc, and by extension all of us.And I have to fix everything.”

It was too much for a new witch to handle on her own. Mr. Young shook his head and raised his eyebrow at her.

“Yeah, I know you’re right.Nobody can do everything by themselves.And I’m not on my own here.I’ve got you and Sebastian and Kai and everyone,” Sarah slumped on the bench. “It’s just that this feels like a problem that needs to be solved by a witch, you know?And I’m the only one around now.And I don’t even know where to begin to start.I don’t know if I can do this, and then it’ll be my fault if Doc doesn’t get better.”

Her eyes burned and she squeezed then shut against the tears.A warm hand brushed over her shoulder and she smelled something that made her think of her garden after a cool morning shower passed over it, something refreshing and healing and honest.

Tears filled Sarah’s eyes now for a different reason.Mr. Young patted her shoulder and then held out a packet of tissues.

“Thank you.”She took the tissues and dabbed at her eyes while her companion smiled gently at her.

“Yeah, Doc said I should look for other teachers, too.It seems to be a theme lately,” she said.It was a little scary to know that Mr. Young— a spirit old and powerful enough to be considered a god— had faith in her. A completely average, young, all too human witch.She had to smile at the idea that she now thought that being a witch was average.

He nudged her elbow with his own and grinned.

Sarah laughed out loud now.“Yeah.Sebastian has been after Gabe, and I made the mistake of mentioning the idea to him.Now he’s starting to get after me about it, and it’s been barely a day since the idea came up.”She sobered slightly.“Doc suggested that I study herbalism, but I don’t know.I feel like I’m getting as much hands on practice with that as I need. Maybe I should look at something else to compliment that?What do you think?”

He tipped his head and his salt-and-pepper hair caught the bit of light from the corner.It almost looked like the mist was clinging to him as much as to the pond.Sarah wondered again what sort of spirit he could be.Not that it mattered especially, but…

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

“I guess.”Sarah wasn’t sure that she was ready to take a whole new degree in anything.“I mean, I could look into classes for that sort of thing.Sebastian’s been after me to take classes ever since I mentioned it.You’re right that if I’m going to stick around doing this back-room witch clinic stuff, I should know more about medicine in general.Especially if Doc’s not around as much.”Sarah refused to accept that her mentor might not recover.The Apothecary without Doc was unthinkable.

Mr. Young nudged her elbow again.His grin was sly, and Sarah had to laugh again.

“You’re right.My mother would have a harder time arguing about a medical degree,” she said.“Though I have to say, I’d probably go for something like nursing rather than trying to be a doctor.She’d complain loudly that it wasn’t prestigious enough or something, I’m sure.”

Mr. Young just rolled his eyes slightly, but Sarah didn’t get any impressions of conversation behind the gesture, so it must have been just that.She sat beside him quietly thinking for a moment before turning back to tip her own head.

“Thank you,” she said.“I didn’t realize how much I just needed a friend for a minute.”

Mr. Young patted her arm, and Sarah had the sense— not that he was speaking in any way, but there was just a connection to a feeling— that Mr. Young was looking out for his family in his own way.If family was what you made of it, then she was glad to call Mr. Young her grandfather.And Doc was more maternal than her own mother.

Sarah was going to make them both proud.

Brewing Trouble is in preorder until Thursday when it goes live, and the rest of the series will be on sale to celebrate!

NaNoWriMo ate my brain

woman-sitting-at-table-and-working-with-computer.jpgI forgot it was Monday.  So I didn’t write a blog post and now I’m in bed and have no energy to come up with one, so instead, I’m offering a small piece of Book Five, which I’m trying to complete under the NaNo guidelines.  So here, completely raw, unedited, and totally unrevised, is an excerpt from my work-in-progress.  Let me know what you think!

Kai ended the call a moment later with over polite farewells, then frowned at the phone when it rested back in its cradle.

“Who was that?” Seb asked.

“That was Lloyd Franklin, city inspector.He wants to come inspect,” Kai answered.

“Inspect what, exactly?And why?I thought we’d finished all that.” Sebastian pressed, and Kai had to shrug.

“I have no idea.The roof, I guess.Maybe the clubhouse since that was sort of a last minute thing.We’ll have to make sure that there’s no suspicious informal coffee shop stuff in there, I guess.”Kai frowned at the phone again, then shrugged and returned his attention to Gabe.“Now then, back to your problem.”

“Oh thank god,” Sebastain groaned.“If I had to spend one more hour working with the gloomy yawn machine here, I was going to run away to the Carribean.”

“Oh come on, it’s not like you’ve never showing up here exhausted from not sleeping,” Gabe shot back.“Just because my excuse isn’t as pretty as yours is, doesn’t mean you need to rub your nose in it.”

Sebastian just grinned broadly.“Sarah is pretty, isn’t she?Maybe she’ll come with me to a tropical island and neither of us will have to hear you yawn.”

“Okay, both of you,” Kai cut in.“I swear, it’s like preschool in here some days.Gabe.Let’s go through your grounding ritual real quick and see if that helps drain off some of these unscheduled nightmares.”

“I hope I never want to schedule a nightmare,” Gabe grumbled, but he kicked off his shoes and socks and stood, barefoot, to head to the small manmade spring.

“And then after that, I want you to go with Sebastian to The Apothecary.Doc’ll take one look at you and you’ll be set up with some tea or something that’ll help you get some decent rest.”

“Seriously, Gabe.I don’t want you working around here when you’re exhausted.It’s unsafe,” Sebastian agreed.

“Exactly.And it’ll get the both of you out of my hair for a while so I can get some actual work done instead of having to hold storytime and recess for you children.”Kai started toward the door.

“So you’re sending us off for naptime and a timeout instead?Very clever, Mr. Kai.Can we have art class later?”Sebastian’s voice followed him out the door and as it closed he flicked a ball of foxfire back into the room, laughing at Sebastian’s sudden yelp.

I hope it’s not too terrible.  Also, the preorder for Brewing Trouble is still up until next week!