What’s your favorite Beach Read?

The other night I took part in an author panel for the ConTinual: the Con that Never Ends Facebook page and the topic was beach reads. Since it seems like we’ll actually be able to go to the beach this summer – even those who don’t live near one because travel is opening back up – I thought it would be fun to share ideas about what makes a good beach read and maybe suggest one or two.

When I say “beach read”, what kind of book do you think of?

Tbh, my own definition is fairly broad: books that have words strung together in sentences. (That’d be all books, lol.) Maybe it comes from having attended the University of Hawaii, where it’s possible I lugged nursing textbooks onto the sand to “study”, but I’ll read just about anything on the beach.

Elaine Pagels The Gnostic Gospels? Yup. Read that one on the beach. I’m weird.

Having done this panel, though, I know some of you have higher standards. The general theme of our discussion was that beach reads should be both low angst and escapist. Fluffy, if you will. Or if not fluffy, at least not so demanding that you can’t put it aside when it’s time to take a dip or to order another one of those little umbrella drinks.

Based on the (highly unscientific) panel, I can confidently say that the best Beach Reads fall into a handful of categories. Ymmv, but here’s what I learned, along with a suggestion or two for each one…

Romance!

My first suggestion in the Romance category is Totally Folked by Penny Reid. She’s a fantastic writer and a very cool person, and while I haven’t read all of her books, this one looks like fun. I’m always here for intelligent characters acting naughty and falling in love. (lol!) Totally Forked doesn’t come out until July 20th, which’ll be great timing for a late summer getaway!

For those of you who like historical romances, I can absolutely recommend The Labours of Lord Perry Cavendish by Joanna Chambers. It’s actually the 4th book in her Winterbourne series, but it’s the first featuring a pair of side characters from the earlier books, so it reads like a stand-alone. If you’re intrigued by the idea of a Regency cinnamon roll hero falling for a fussy artist, this is your book!

Urban fantasy!

Urban fantasy series make good beach reads because they definitely take you to an altered version of reality and they’re spooky but not too scary. Tbh I haven’t stumbled on a new UF series in a while, so I’m going to recommend a classic of the genre. The Hollows series by Kim Harrison features the witch Rachel Morgan and a whole host of other paranormal creatures. The worldbuilding for the series is complex and interesting, and I’m still angry about a certain death which tells you how real these characters are to me. Highly recommend!

And while we’re at it, my fellow Scribe Shauna Granger writes urban fantasy-adjacent stories. Check out her Elemental books or her Matilda Kavanaugh series, because girlfriend knows her way around the paranormal and her books are a whole lot of fun!

Mystery!

Are you into podcasts? One of my favorites is Shedunnit, by Caroline Crampton. She’s a huge fan of Golden Age mysteries, books that were written between WW1 and WW2. (Think Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers and other authors of their era, and you’ll be right on.) The podcast slices and dices all angles of those Golden Age books, and I generally end up hitting Amazon or Powells Books after each episode. (lol!)

Somehow I managed to get to a fairly advanced age before reading my first Lord Peter Wimsey book, and I regret not having started before now! Whose Body is thoroughly entertaining, and an excellent introduction to both the character and to the Golden Age sub-genre. I also really liked Patricia Wentworth’s The Black Cabinet, because her language is so good and the characters are so vibrant. Spend your vacation getting busy with the classics!!

Horror!

Okay, so, is there a better time to read a Stephen King novel about a beach then when you’re actually on a beach? I don’t think so. (lol!) I’m too much of a wimp to read Stephen King any time, anywhere, but for those of you who are braver, Duma Key is an excellent choice…especially if you happen to be on a beach in Florida.

(And fwiw, my fear of SKing stems from having read The Shining while living in a big old house with lots of shadows and creaking floors and whatnot, during November when the sun sets before 5pm. This was in 1980. I promised myself I’d never do that again, and I’ve kept that promise!)

So there you have it! Books I’ve read, books I’m going to read, and books I’m terrified of reading. (lol!) I hope you have plans for a vacation this summer, and even if it’s not on the beach, that you’ll have some time for a relaxing read!

Leave me a comment with your favorite beach read. I’m always up for suggestion!!

And fyi, click HERE to check out the ConTinual Facebook page. There are all kinds of panels and discussions about books & reading, and while our beach reads panel isn’t up yet, there are lots of others worth watching.

Adapting As a Writer — Part 2

If you’ve been following along with my posts, you know that I’ve been working on a new book and it’s been kicking my ass a little bit, as books are often want to do. So I started changing how I wrote it–with an outline, without one, adding in new scenes to the early stages of the book–doing whatever I needed to in order to get words done.

I had never written scenes out of order before this book. When I had a new idea for what this book was really about, I knew I couldn’t just keep writing because I was having the characters reference things that hadn’t happened but should have.

So once I had those extra scenes written, I had to re-read the book for the third time to figure out where those scenes fit into the book–often having to rewrite a little bit before and after in order for them to fit seamlessly. It was weird, but it was so satisfying to watch my wordcount jump almost 10k in one day.

Now, because I’m dealing with a whole new animal of a book and I no longer have an outline to work with, I’m writing little by little to get it done. I went back to what worked for me as a new writer: just getting 1,000 words a day, Monday through Friday. It’s helping me gradually figure out what this book is about and where it’s going and what the characters’ motivations are.

That’s a big one: what do the characters want? I’m doing something different with this book than I’ve ever done before: I’m letting the teenagers act like teenagers. So often, YA books have us following the most ethical and morally centered people but really, when you were a teenager were you completely altruistic? Were you the most self-less, self-sacrificing person? Or did you some times fanaticize about what you would do if you had magical powers and maybe those fantasies weren’t for the greater good? Maybe they were petty and self-serving? Yeah, because that’s realistic.

I remember seeing Village of the Dammed with a friend and on our way home, in the backseat of my parents’ car, we talked about who we would use those powers on. Creepy, sure, but you have enemies in school and you think about winning your battles.

So I’m keeping that in mind as I write. And it’s kinda freeing and a little strange. Of course the characters are evolving but it’s nice to let them use their powers how Nancy used hers and not seeing them as the bad guy.

But, because I’m taking it slow, I’m giving myself the time and space I need to think about what’s coming next instead of seeing the whole story arc and that’s been kind of cool. I’ve kept up the practice of writing scenes on new documents and adding them to the book and it’s been a huge help getting my daily word goals.

When you have a document that’s over 80k words, watching your word count slowly creep up can be distracting, but if you have a fresh document open and tell yourself you just need 1,000 words, the word count tracker looks like you’re going much faster. Yesterday I was able to sit and get 1700+ words in one session and that was after a very bad night’s sleep. Which also means that I’m ahead of my weekly goal, so I can either keep going to get extra words, or I can give myself time away from writing to think about what’s coming next.

It’s been really nice taking the pressure off. Minimum word goals sometimes feel like you’re not doing enough but small goals are easier to achieve and eventually a bunch of small goals will add up to the main, major goal: a finished first draft.

So, you all knew me as the prolific writer who could normally do 3-5k words a day once I had a book idea fleshed out, but now I’m back to that 1k words a day, slowly but surely pace. I hope, if you’re like the rest of us comparing your accomplishments and abilities to others, and have felt like you’re not doing enough, knowing that we all have to change and adapt will give you some peace. It certainly has given me some.

Write Something That May Change Your Life

Real Talk: as the mom of a six month old, I haven’t yet found any kind of rhythm when it comes to writing. I promise myself that the second she goes down for a nap, I’m going to jump right on my laptop and pound out a few hundred words. But realistically, there are so many things I feel like I have to do around the house or for basic self-care that writing often falls all the way to the bottom of the priority pile. What I do have time for–between marathon feeding sessions and contact naps–is reading. My Kindle has been getting a real work out lately. But as someone with a back-log of story ideas, it can be frustrating to exclusively read other peoples’ stories when I kind of wish I had time to work on my own.

Then, the idea struck me: what if I peppered some craft books into the mix? Then I would at least feel like I was preparing or honing my skills for when I finally had the time to write. The only question was, which craft books? I’ve already read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell, On Writing by Stephen King, and Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. Fortunately, the answer was dropped into my lap when an author I follow on Instagram mentioned the method she uses to outline–Anatomy of Story, by John Truby.

Now, I usually approach these craft books with a hefty grain of salt. First of all, I’ve been writing for long enough to know that every author’s process is different and what works for someone else is not necessarily going to work for me. No point in trying to fit my square peg into someone else’s round hole. Second of all, a lot of the “beat sheet” methods strike me as underwhelming and a bit unspecific–I struggle with the idea that all stories “must” follow these precise structures to be successful. I want a craft book that will guide me, inspire me, and deepen my process, not boil it down to a generic three acts, seven plot points, and three pinch points.

So far, Truby’s book is that and more. I feel like I’ve been highlighting every other passage on my Kindle! But one line in particular shook me to my core, and I want to share it with you all in case it helps you as much as it helps me.

Step 1: Write Something That May Change Your Life. This is a very high standard, but it may be the most valuable piece of advice you’ll ever get as a writer. I’ve never seen a writer go wrong following it. Why? Because if a story is that important to you, it may be that important to a lot of people in the audience. And when you’re done writing the story, no matter what else happens, you’ve changed your life.

Anatomy of Story, by John Truby

Superficially, this isn’t the most novel advice in the world. It’s a variation of “Write the book you want to read.” But for me, that last line gave me chills. Because it shifts all of the focus from the external outcome to the internal outcome, which is something I’ve struggled with since the very first query letter I sent out into the world. From the moment I decided to “become an author,” I’ve grappled with what success could and would look like to me. Getting an agent? Getting a book deal? Hitting a best-seller list? Selling a million copies? I found that I could never define what success would look like, and whenever I did manage to hit a milestone, I found my own goal-posts had already moved.

In the past few years I’ve tried to shift that focus back to the internal, but it’s harder than it sounds. Even when I tell myself that I’m just writing something for me, or just writing the book I want to read, or just writing for fun, the fact of the matter is that writing books will never just be a hobby for me again. I’ve sunk years and tears and too much love into this career to never try to publish another novel. So how do I balance those external expectations with those internal motivations?

I think that’s why this advice from Truby resonated with me so much. He’s not telling you to simply write for fun, or for yourself. He’s not even telling you to write the book you want to read. He’s encouraging you to do so much more than that–he’s encouraging you to write the book that may change your life. He’s asking you to dig so deep, work so hard, and aim so high that the end result will literally transform you.

I find this idea daunting, but so inspiring. No one–not a craft book, not a friend, not a mentor, not even myself–has ever asked so much of me. So I’m going to try to follow his advice. The story I write may not sell a million copies. It may not hit any bestseller lists. It may not even get published.

But what does any of that even matter if I’ve changed my own life?

Promo for Authors

A necessary evil, or The Monster That Ate Your Dreams?

I’ll let you decide which one is social media and which is the hapless author…

I got an email this morning from an author who regularly coordinates book promotions and invites all her friends to participate. Today’s email included a link to a Facebook page for authors who are interested in building a supportive LGBTQ Romance community on TikTok.

Oof.

She had me until she got to that last word. I mean, I know TikTok is a thing, and I’ve heard it’s a great way for authors to connect with new readers. I even know a couple of authors who have made the leap and are TikToking away.

So far, I have not joined them.

See, if I draw a line connecting the authors I know who have jumped on the TikTok wagon, I find a couple of common traits. They’re either full-time authors, or they’re younger than me. Or both.

I shared a link to the FB page with my writing partner Irene, and after some discussion, we decided we were both undecided. (Lol!) She recently met The Gang* for happy hour (*a group of her author friends) and one was all excited about the new platform and shared a bunch of popular hashtags.

I feel like we’ve been invited to join an exclusive club with secret codes and everything.

The thing is, though, Irene and I both have fairly demanding day jobs and are trying to fit this writing thing in wherever we can. And honestly, my goals for 2021 included things like “publish 4 novels/novellas” and “study writing craft through books and classes” and “recruit agents & editors for this fall’s Emerald City Writers’ Conference”.

Nowhere on my goal list was there anything about conquering a social media platform that was invented like fifteen minutes ago.

Part of my reluctance stems from the fact that, while TikTok may well connect me with new readers, I wonder if they’ll be my readers. One of the basic lessons in book promotion has to do with knowing your audience and identifying your target reader. While I know readers don’t always conform to a predictable demographic, I’m also pretty sure that the readers I’m trying to reach skew a little bit older than what I imagine for the TikTok crowd.

Of course, I’m basing this on a guess, because my experience of TikTok is the occasional silly clip my kids share or that I stumble over on Twitter. And they do make me laugh. The people who excel at the format are really, really clever.

Hmm. Maybe deep down, I’m worried that nobody will want to see a grey-haired old lady trying to be funny when all she wants to do is finish the damned novella for the August giveaway and get back to work on Benedictus (Hours of the Night book 3).

As usual with one of my writing posts, I start with a title that suggests I know something about a topic and then proceed to rant for five hundred words, leaving you with a heartfelt suggestion. And today’s suggestion?

You’re going to have to figure it out for yourself.

I don’t say that just to be snarky. (Okay, maybe a little snarky, but mostly not.) Because another basic rule of book promotion is to be authentic. If you like Twitter (bless your heart), tweet away. (Lol! Joking. I’m on Twitter daily.) If FB is your thing, focus your content efforts there. There are about a bazillion ways to promote your books – promos and giveaways and the like – and while some are expensive (Bookbub) others only cost you the time it takes you to write the book and put it out there.

And if TikTok is your thing, leave a link to your page in the comments. Can’t promise I’ll join you there, but you never know…

And just to prove me n’ Irene can change with the times…do you Radish?

Earlier this month, Irene and I republished Vespers (m/m vampire romance with a 100-year old monk and his college grad demon-fighting assistant) on Radish, the serial reading app that’s optimized for your phone. Vespers is now called Vampire’s Sin, and we fancied up the cover (b/c we had to get rid of the text) and you can download the first six episodes for FREE to see if you like it. Click HERE to see more!

The Trick is to Pay Attention

“The trick is to keep breathing.” – Garbage

Yes. Breathe first. But second, pay attention. (10 points to Ravenclaw for each one of you who knows that song reference – you have excellent taste in music.)

My brain is stuck in the 1990s lately because I’m working on two book proposals that have to do with female characters on TV in the late 90s and early 00s. I mention this because I found the opportunity on a Facebook group for ghostwriters that I’m a part of. If I hadn’t been paying attention to my feed, it would have passed me by. But because I did, I have the opportunity to pitch two books now and have three others in mind, which could do wonders for my career.

My point is that opportunities are everywhere if you pay attention. A friend of mine was on the Today show about a year ago and now she is in Forbes, just because she was able to pitch her story to the right person at the right time. Another of my friends was a finalist for the Penn Faulkner Award in Fiction this year because he dared to enter even though he isn’t well known and his publisher is small. A paper that I gave at a history conference is being turned into an article for a magazine, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t applied to the conference to speak even though I’m not an official historian.

Tips for finding opportunities:

  • Pay attention to the news (and sports, entertainment, whatever your writing fits best with) and keep an eye out for events and other things you can tie into or get involved with.
  • Set up Google alerts for the subjects/keywords of your books so you can monitor what is going on.
  • Join HARO (help a reporter out) and don’t be shy answering queries related to your expertise. I’ve gotten some great press coverage that way.
  • Join writing groups on social media and investigate opportunities that appeal to you.
  • Actively seek out groups that are similar to your subject and/or places your readers hang out. You never know what may catch your eye.
  • Be brave! Don’t ever think you aren’t good enough, well known enough, etc. There is no such thing. You can’t win if you don’t play!
  • Keep an open mind. Once you start looking, you’ll see opportunities everywhere.

In addition, inspiration is everywhere if you pay attention.

I follow a lot of people (writers and otherwise) whose careers I want to imitate. From looking at their websites, analyzing their newsletters and social media activity, I think about what I can model in my own life. There are a lot of things I don’t have the budget/time to do (yet) but sometimes there are scaled back versions I can do right now.

Ideas for finding inspiration:

  • Follow blogs, newsletters, other communications on people and subjects you care about.
  • Join groups on social media that discuss these topics and issues.
  • Become involved (online for now, but in person once COVID is over) in groups of people who are passionate about the same things you are.
  • Read and watch movies/TV widely. It could be one little word or scene that triggers something in your mind.
  • If you are a visual person like me, frequent Instagram and Pinterest for images that inspire you. Save them and look back every so often to see if anything strikes you.
  • Take time to refill your well. Walk in nature. Go to a museum or other place that inspires you. (I personally like New Age stores – they rebalance my energy. Oddly enough, Whole Foods does as well.)
  • Take time to dream. Imagine your perfect life. Sketch out what you can do to get there. Make a vision board. I am a firm believer that when you think about things, they happen.

It’s easy to sleepwalk through life – especially now during the pandemic when we’ve been worn down by so much strangeness – but that isn’t going to benefit you or anyone else. Even if you don’t have the energy to do anything right now (I’ve experienced burnout, so I know what that is like), keep a list of ideas/opportunities to address at a later date. Future you will thank present you.

Do You Re-Read Before Watching?

The big deal in the book world (at the moment) is the Netfilx adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s awesome series, Shadow and Bone.

I was lucky enough to discover this series early on and even got to meet Leigh at the Burbank Library just at the release of the second book in the series. And let me tell you, that author event was NOTHING compared to the release of the third book in the series when the events became actual spectacles like, at The Last Bookstore, where there were passed hors d’oeuvres by waiters dressed in Russian-inspired garb.

The library event was much more intimate, Leigh had more time to talk to those present and even do selfies with those of us brave enough to ask. Let me just say, as nice as Leigh seems online, she is better in person. She really is kind, approachable, and funny. If you get the chance to meet her, do it.

Blurry because my hand was shaking from fangirling when she complimented my jacket after I complimented her pants.

But, back to the series adaptation.

I think most readers are a mixture of excited and nervous when our favorite stories are picked up for screen adaptations. We love getting lost in these books, we love being transported somewhere different, we love imagining joining these characters on their adventures, so getting to see, hear, and experience them in a new medium is great! But what if they get it wrong? What if they edit too heavily? What if they pick an actor that doesn’t fit the character? What if what if what if!

I used to be the kind of reader who was very critical of adaptations when they strayed too far from the source material. After all, if the book was good enough to get optioned and make it to screen, why change it? And I had to really adjust my way of thinking in order to truly enjoy these new interpretations.

Because, that’s really what an adaptation is, an interpretation.

And, if you look at it that way, it makes it easier to let go of your need for something to be perfectly translated. Hunger Games did a great job of following closely to the source material. But as the Harry Potter films went on, they started to deviate and edit, much to the chagrin of longtime fans.

I remember staying up late into the night to finish reading Beautiful Creatures before seeing the movie the next day. The source material was so fresh in my mind that I knew every single detail they changed, both small and huge. It was incredibly frustrating trying to enjoy the movie because I kept focusing on how different it was from the book–and it was incredibly different. I think that was the last time I read something right before watching it.

I told myself, it’s not the book. And they can’t get every omnipresent detail in a movie like they can in the narration of a book. So they have to leave some stuff out and sometimes that means making changes. So it’s not an exact duplicate of a story, but instead, an interpretation.

So, if you’re wondering, no, I haven’t mainlined Shadow and Bone yet. I’ve watched the first episode and then decided to save the rest. My husband and I are getting our second vaccine shots Friday afternoon and have already planned a whole weekend of nothing just to be safe so I decided it was best to save the show as something to keep us on the couch while we deal with possible side-effects.

And no, I haven’t re-read the books. I thought about it, but there’s been enough distance in my mind from when I first read them, that the show will be something totally new for me. I will admit, I am already disappointed by one casting choice–not because I don’t like the actor or think they aren’t a good actor, but because they don’t look like what I had in my mind (no, not Alina) and so it’s already coloring my opinion, the last thing I want is to re-read these books I so enjoyed just to sit and nit-pick at the show. I want to just enjoy the show as a separate part of this universe.

I don’t know if I always wont re-read before something makes it to screen, but I know I have had a much more enjoyable time with shows and movies now that I don’t.

So, do you re-read before you watch an adaptation? Or do you wait and see what it brings to its literary universe?

Best (and Worst) Fantasy Adaptations

The big news in the world of fantasy right now is a little Netflix show by the name of Shadow & Bone, based on Leigh Bardugo’s best-selling novels. I’ve only watched a few episodes so far, but it’s got me thinking a lot about book adaptations, specifically of the fantasy variety.

Everyone knows the book is always better than the movie. But with a recent spate of fantasy novel adaptations hitting both the big and little screens, directors and show-runners are putting that adage to the test. 

It’s always both exciting and nerve-wracking to have your favorite series adapted for the screen. There’s a delicate balance between staying true to the source material and creating something that stands on its own. Who will be cast in the main roles? Will the author of the books be brought on as a consultant to the script? Will the ambience of the books translate to the screen? Sometimes an adaptation works wonderfully, existing as something both complementary to the source material and as its own new and beautiful piece of art. And sometimes…well, not so much. 

Read on for my favorite book-to-screen adaptations (and a few that didn’t quite hit the mark).

Best—Good Omens

This BBC mini-series is based on an irreverent, hilarious take on the Book of Revelations co-written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I was skeptical anyone would be able to capture the tone and particular brand of humor contained in this book, but I was thrilled to be proven wrong. With on-point casting and a bomb script, this series had me laughing, crying, and wondering how soon was too soon to rewatch it.

Best—Witcher

Another Netflix show which released just over a year ago, Witcher is based on the books of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and the video games which were also inspired by the books. Which is like…a Turducken of fantasy adaptations! Following the parallel stories of Geralt of Rivia, Princess Cirilla, and a sorceress named Yennefer, the show offers complex plot lines, tightly-choreographed action scenes, and just enough humor to keep me entertained (in the form of one hapless bard named Jaskier). I binged this in less than a week and couldn’t get the viral hit, “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” out of my head for months.

Worst—City of Bones

The fandom surrounding Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series is massive. And rightly so—her books are famous for witty banter, forbidden romances, and sprawling casts of deeply drawn characters. Unfortunately, the movie adaptation of her first book didn’t really work for me. Despite a stacked cast—including Lily Collins, Lena Headey, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers—this movie felt bizarrely paced. With only two hours of runtime, the characters weren’t fully fleshed out, and many plot points seemed to come from left field. Definitely a case of a book being better than the movie.

Best—Shadowhunters

Bear with me—this TV show (airing on FreeForm) was based on the very same Cassandra Clare series as City of Bones. Although it took a few more liberties with the source material than the movie, this show was far better able to capture the breadth and tone of Clare’s series. With multiple episodes and seasons, both the main characters and side characters were able to have satisfying development arcs. The slow-burn romances were given time to develop, which made for better emotional pay-offs. Plot-points had time to play out. And although the supernatural effects sometimes seemed a little silly, it didn’t matter because I was so invested in the stories. Sometimes, a book adaptation needs longer than two hours to work.

Worst—the Hobbit

…And sometimes, it really doesn’t. Flush with success after the epic Lord of the Rings movies, Peter Jackson inexplicably decided to turn one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s shorter books into three movies, for a total of nine hours runtime! Where the book is a perfect balance of action and exposition, the movies are overstuffed with additional characters and unnecessary plot lines. Sometimes an adaptation feels like a labor of love…and sometimes it feels like a cash-cow. 

Best—Stardust

Another Neil Gaiman adaptation! This movie follows a young man named Tristan who journeys into a strange otherworld in search of a fallen star. However, when he finds the star, he discovers she is in fact a beautiful woman—and he’s not the only one hunting for her. With a star-studded cast—Claire Danes, Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer all have starring roles—and a beautiful, enchanting world, this movie is an absolute delight. While it does have some darker elements, in many ways it manages to capture the light-hearted, swashbuckling romance of classics like A Princess Bride and Ladyhawke. And yes, the chemistry between the two romantic leads is undeniable.

Best—The Magicians

So technically, I haven’t actually read Lev Grossman’s titular book series all the way through. But I love this Syfy show adaptation too much to leave it off the list. It’s like the grown-up, hallucinatory love-child of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia. The story follows Quentin Coldwater after he’s accepted into the magical university of Brakebills, and discovers the magical kingdom of Fillory he read about as a child is not only real, but is home to a murderous, faceless Beast bent on controlling magic. With me so far? Good. Because with a well-drawn and diverse cast of characters, smart and snappy dialogue, fascinating magic systems, and original world-building, this show is everything. It reminds us, as readers and writers of fantasy, that magic is messy, dark, chaotic, and wonderful.

It also has numerous musical episodes. And fickle gods. And creepy faeries. And sentient ships. And bad-ass queens. And pocket timelines. And…okay, I’ll stop now. JUST WATCH IT, OKAY?

What fantasy book adaptations are your favorites? Or least favorites? Share you thoughts in the comment section below!

Can I retire now?

Retirement: that far-off event that’ll change my whole life...

Let’s poke at that subtitle a little.

The change my whole life part is accurate – I mean, I’ll go from spending some 30 hours per week in a NICU to…not. No more NICU. Weird.

Still, it’s the far-off bit where I really need to adjust my thinking. Because honestly, I’m looking at three years before I can reasonably retire.

Three years!

I’ll only be 62, but I started my first retirement account thirty-four years ago, when I was twenty-five. I’ve literally been preparing myself for this most of my life.

Preparing for what, you might ask.

Well, it’s the “what” part that makes me nervous. I’ve always been a fairly goal-directed person. I mean, yeah it took me five years to earn an associates degree (lol!) but it was the ’80s. And I was in Honolulu. There were a lot (!) of distractions.

And I subsequently went on to earn a bachelors and then a masters, so things worked out okay.

Still, I’ve always sorta wondered what people do when they’re retired. I mean, shuffleboard’s not my bag, ya know? I guess I vaguely thought I’d travel some, and work in my garden, and just sorta go from one day to the next.

But golly that sounds pretty aimless. And kinda boring, if I’m honest.

On the other hand, after thirty-four years in the NICU, I’m ready for something new. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with babies and I take great pride in my work. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can start an IV in just about anyone, any time, anywhere, and for me n’ my superpowered grey hair to be able to calm down a fractious family situation just by showing up.

But.

But…

Last spring my employer merged with another hospital and my group of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners found ourselves responsible for covering another unit. (Which is an extreme simplification, but it gets to the gist.) I ended up working a lot. Like 120 hours in a two-week pay period kind of A LOT. Those hours went on all through the summer and into the fall, so the point where I started joking that I was going to need a whole month off to recover.

And also to bring down my vacation hours so I wouldn’t lose any because I was over the limit.

Apparently I made the Month Off joke often enough that our lead and our scheduler gave me the green light. I’ve been on vacation since 4/2/21 and I don’t work again until the first weekend in May. (Okay, I covered 8 hours last weekend for a no-show but that won’t be repeated.)

Once I saw the official schedule with me officially not on it, I started calling April my Dress Rehearsal for Retirement Month. If I can’t handle a whole month off, what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my damn life?

(This is where the goal-directed piece comes in.)

I didn’t just walk out of the hospital on April 2nd without a plan. I committed to writing the first draft of the sequel to Soulmates, my m/m/m paranormal romance. My word count goal for the month is 80,000, and I’m at about 35k now with a couple thousand more in me today. Not exactly where I meant to be, but not bad, either.

I’ve also had time to sort through a particularly cluttered area of our basement and work in the garden and do yoga and walk the dogs and read for fun. It’s been pretty effing fantastic, to be honest. If this is what the rest of my life’s going to look like, sign me up.

I’ve reached this stage in life through a combination of luck, priviledge, talent, and hard work, and I don’t take one minute for granted. When it’s time for me to leave the NICU for good, I’ll do so with a lifetime of memories and a heart full of gratitude. Babies made me grow up and turned me into the person I am today.

Still, going forward, there’ll be books to write and veggies to grow and dogs to walk.

I’ll be okay.

Do All The Things!

Image from http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/. I think I found my spirit animal.

I had a hard time trying come up with something to write about today, so I’m just going with what is on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether it is better to be a specialist in your writing or a generalist. There are some writers who only write in one or two closely related genres. In the realm of historical fiction, there are many writers who specialize in a certain time period or location.

I don’t do any of those things. While I write primarily in historical fiction (and historical fantasy), I also write non-fiction and contemporary women’s fiction/romance. Within historical, I don’t have just one time period, but will write in any period/location where I find a story of a strong woman that needs to be told.

I’m currently editing my first chapter for an academic book. I’ve recently branched out into poetry and am considering giving essay a whirl as well. I also run several blogs for various interests that I don’t have time to tend to as well as I want.

What is wrong with trying new things, you ask? Nothing. But…okay…did any of you watch the TV show JAG? The captain’s girlfriend/wife (I don’t remember) was one of those people who thought she could do anything and everything, but in reality was terrible at a lot the things she thought she was good at (I specifically recall her thinking she was this great singer and she was actually terrible). That is who I fear becoming.

I have this terrible fear that my poetry sucks and everyone is afraid to tell me. I’m scared that I’ll try to write essays only to find I have nothing to say or that I’m too scared of being attacked if I do take a stand on something.

Yet the same time, I’m curious about so much: different forms of writing, different genres (I have a gothic historical and several contemporary books I want to write, in addition to all the historical and non-fiction ones on my list), all kinds of subjects.

I understand the appeal of sticking to one thing and being an expert in that, but I’m the kind of person who wants to be an expert in whatever story I choose to tell. So, instead of being one on 19th century America or post-Roman Britain, I’m one on Victoria Woodhull, Virginia Minor and modern versions of Guinevere. (I don’t claim expertise back past 1980 with her character, though I have written about it.)

I guess that goes along with an unending desire to learn. I’m one recommendation letter away from finishing my application to get a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies from Loyola University in Chicago (online program). Those credits will carry over when I can move and get my MA in the same program, along with an MA/PhD in American History. When that is done my credentials will be ridiculous alphabet soup: BA, BS, MA (that is today), MA, MA, PhD.

So why does it surprise me that I want to go from novelist and biographer to add on poet and essayist and whatever else comes along in the future?

I guess some people are meant to find their niche and stay there, while others do many things. I do know that strong women will always be a connective tissue in everything I do. That’s my passion, my jam and what I believe I am meant to share with the world, in whatever format the message takes. That’s why it is also my brand.

What about you? As fellow writers/readers do you think it is wiser to develop a specialty or dabble in whatever you want and see what sticks?

Adapting as a Writer

When I first started writing books I never outlined. I tried to outline my first book and found that, once it was outlined, I couldn’t get into the rhythm of writing the actual narration of the story.

It was incredibly frustrating and I felt like I couldn’t write. My lifelong dream of being a writer, going to college to learn how to be a writer, all my lofty goals would never be achieved because I couldn’t understand how to write.

Then I read a blog post by an author I loved at the time, she was a very prolific writer so I figured she knew what she was doing, and she said she wasn’t an outliner. She explained that she was a “pantser,” or “pantster” if you prefer, which meant she had an idea for the book and then just wrote freely, or “by the seat of her pants.” As she explained it, once she outlined a book it was as if her brain decided she’d already written the story and lost all sense of urgency to get the story down on paper. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Maybe I wasn’t an outliner either. So I tried it her way. I was able to write my first three and half books that way. I wrote so much so fast, it was incredible. It really was like I was flying/writing by the seat of my pants. I’d found a key that fit my writer lock and I was so happy and relieved.

Then my hard drive became corrupted and ate tens of thousands of words from my fourth book. I was devastated to say the least. A magical IT guy recovered some of the lost work but I did have to rewrite a lot of what was lost and I had to try to remember what I’d written (I have multiple redundancies of back ups now–a hard lesson learned) and I started making notes, which turned into a very loose outline. And, thanks to those bullet point notes, I finished that book in record time.

So, when I started book five, I tried to outline again. And I found I was a new kind of writer. I started outlining books, long-form, by hand. But the incredible thing was, I didn’t lose my need to tell the story again. Instead I found it easier to leave off for a couple of days and come back and pick up where I left off. I didn’t need to remember all my cool ideas because they were all written down, waiting for me. And I learned I didn’t have to hold exactly to the outline, I could spin out and come back to it. Like an anchor in a storm.

Then, if you’ve been reading our blogs for a while, you know I burned out and took a break from writing. Then the pandemic happened and my life blew up, and I only started writing again very recently. And this book has been entirely different than all my other books.

I’ve worked with an outline with it and then, when I ran out of outline, I’ve pantsed some of it, and then inspiration struck and I got all these incredible plot twist ideas that made me realize I needed to change the whole book. That last bit meant that I needed to add whole scenes and characters to the book. Personally I’m the kind of writer who starts at the start and moves forward, in one document, until I reach the end, then I’ll go back and add/edit later. I never work backwards. But not with this book. Because I’ve had such a paradigm shift with the story of this book. I knew I needed to work through those missing scenes. I tried to just go forward, telling myself I’d fix the first half of the book later, but as soon as I wrote a line referencing the change in the story I knew I needed the ground work.

So I started opening new docs. As you can see I’ve written a few scenes like this.

It’s kind of strange. I feel a little like I’m making a quilt or puzzle pieces that I’m going to fit together later. I’m not even sure where these scenes will go, but I knew I needed them written so, as I write the second half of the book, I have memories of these scenes to build upon. I don’t even know what to call this style of writing.

I will say, I am not a huge fan of it. I like to watch my word counts jump when I’m done for the day and this makes it feel like I’m not doing as much work. But I am. I know I am. One pro is that I can see I’ve hit my daily count much easier than doing the math . Another pro is that it does fee like I’m hitting small milestones so I can feel al sense of accomplishment that way. And I know, once I’m satisfied I’ve written all the missing scenes to pull the book together, when I got to copy and paste those scenes into the main document I’ll feel a huge amount of gratification when I watch my wordcount jump over 5 figures.

It’s just different.

And this far into the game it’s kinda weird to realize you can change your writing style again. So, if you’re new to writing, or old hat but finding you’re struggling to figure out how to do this thing called writing, maybe you just haven’t found your style yet. Sometimes a book is first person, sometimes it’s better in third. Sometimes you need an in-depth, thorough outline, sometimes you just need to write a scene that’s burst into your mind without knowing where it’s going.

Just like a story can evolve as the characters move through the plot, you as a writer can evolve as you get further into your career. You just have to figure out what is going to work for you at this point in your career and learn to adapt if one way of doing things isn’t working for you. All that matters is figuring out what gets the story written. Outline or pantsing. Morning sessions or nighttime. Small goals every day, or big wordcounts once or twice a week. There is no one way to write a book and you can learn from other writers so you don’t lose hope.