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.

cold and flu medications

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.

Pudding brain

I just realized that it’s Monday evening here.  Which means that I didn’t write my blog post in time to post it.  So… Watch this space, be back tomorrow?

 

Oof, one relaxing weekend and my brain goes all to hell.  sigh.

 

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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?

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

masks showing emotions, anger.

Photo credit: @lattefarsan on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

I have a rant to post, but it’s… a little ranty, and a wise person once said to me never to post something online when I’m mad or drunk.  So…  Let me get back to y’all.  Maybe tomorrow if I can think a little more rationally.

 

Being a reader is tough when you get blindingly angry at your imaginary friends.  Anyone else have this problem?

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?