Summer Reads: What’s on YOUR list?

We’re having Juneuary, that stretch of time between the end of May and the Fourth of July when the temperature sits in the 50s and 60s (that’s 10-15 degrees C) and it rains and everybody whines about how summer’s never coming. It’s a Seattle thing. We always act like rain in June is a huge surprise.

Every year.

At least I haven’t turned the heater back on. (Yet.)

To remind myself that it is summer – on the calendar, at least – I thought it would be fun to make a list of the books I’m most looking forward to reading once beach weather starts for real. Lately my kindle has been heavy with non-fiction – cool stuff, but not light and fluffy beach reading material.

For example, I’m in the middle of “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World” by Melinda Gates. She uses personal glimpses into the lives of women world-wide to illustrate the appalling way women are treated, and while I have no doubts about her commitment to her foundation’s causes, I wish she’d taken a more academic, less-Hallmark tone. She’s walking the walk when she really doesn’t have to, and I respect that. That said, when I finish, I’m definitely going to be ready for something lighter.

With that in mind, here’s a handful of books I can’t wait to dive into!

Caveate: I’ll have to start a couple of these in the next week or so – before Seattle’s summer meanders in – because the Seattle Public Library has a way of dumping *all* my hold requests on me at once.

Who needs to clean house? Not me…sigh…

First up is “The Affair of the Mysterious Letter” by Alexis Hall. It’s a Sherlock-adjacent fantasy novel, and I cannot wait! Here’s the blurb:

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade.

This book has had such amazing reviews! I’ve never read anything by Casey McQuiston before, but a number of my reading buddies have been singing the praises of “Red, White & Royal Blue”, and I can’t wait to dive in. Here’s the blurb:

What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius―his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

And finally, I’m dying to read Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian. It’s a cozy mystery set in post-war England and it has LIV’S CATNIP written all over it. Here’s the blurb:

A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.

“A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics” by Olivia Waite is another book that’s had great buzz. It just came out this week, and I can’t wait to dive in! Here’s the blurb:

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

So yeah, this is shorter than my usual to-read posts, and it also seems to be very white. Hmm…I need to make diversity more of a goal. Is that something you think about? What’s on your reading list for the summer? If you have any suggestions – diverse or otherwise (as long as it’s not some heavy non-fic tomb) I’d love to hear them.


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Learning to Love…Myself

Today’s post is a little personal and a little vulnerable, so I hope you’ll bear with me. This year has been a bit of a whirlwind for me so far–tight deadlines interspersed with post-debut-year *feelings* punctuated by a few personal crises have made for a bit of a rocky emotional landscape. Now, emotional rollercoasters aren’t something particularly new for me. I’m an empath and a creative and I always feel things pretty strongly.

But something about this year has put me in a bit of a tail-spin. I’ve been stress eating like whoa. When I wasn’t on tight deadline, I binge-watched like 8 seasons of a show I didn’t particularly like just because it let me turn my brain off. More than once, I’ve started off an evening happily having a glass of wine while cooking dinner with hubby, only to drink too much and start crying about nothing. These aren’t normal behaviors for me, but so far they haven’t been problematic enough to raise any crazy red flags.

Until last week, when I walked into the bathroom, looked myself dead in the eye in the mirror, and said out loud: “I hate you.”

Cue record scratch sound.

You’re probably wondering how I got here. Truth is…so am I.

I’ve talked on this blog before about how much of a perfectionist I am. The problem with perfectionism is that it sets up ideals that can never be met, because perfect is impossible. Don’t get me wrong–setting goals is important. It’s a way of marking progress and keeping yourself focused. But when the goals are unattainable…you’re just setting yourself up for failure. And that’s what I do to myself, over and over and over again. I set myself an unattainable goal (whether in my work, my fitness, or my personal relationships), and when I inevitably fail, I punish myself. And then set even stricter goals.

This sets up a spiral of disappointment that leads straight down to self-loathing. And if you tell yourself you hate yourself enough, you start to believe it. And that? That affects every area of your life, not just your mental and physical health.

I think self-love and self-acceptance have been pretty buzzy phrases the past couple of years, especially if you follow more than a handful of so-called influencers on social media. If you’re anything like me, you scroll right past that gorgeous girl in a bikini posing with detox tea while touting self-love–been there, seen that. But the fact is, your relationship with yourself is like any other relationship in your life, in that it takes work.

So, this week I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to mediate my own relationship with myself. Like anything else, I’m a work in progress, and I’m sure these steps won’t change me overnight. But I thought I’d share them in case–like me–you’re struggling with learning to love the most important person in your life: you.

  1. Practice positive self-talk. Since my negative self-talk was the thing that initiated this desire to change my relationship with myself, I’m starting here. Our internal dialogues are more important than we give them credit for. It feels really silly, but sometimes I make myself stand in front of the mirror and, out loud, practice complimenting myself. I practice forgiving myself for my flaws. I practice telling myself I love me. I dare you to try it–it feels weird, but also, very very powerful.
  2. Practice gratitude. As an ambitious person who thrives on external validation, I am constantly moving my own goal-posts. I set a goal (usually an impossible one) and if I miraculously hit it, I immediately shift where the next finish line rests. Sometimes, it’s important to sit down and think about all the things I have, all the things I’m able to do, all the goals I have accomplished already.
  3. Practice mindfulness. I have a hard time sitting still and just being. Oh, I’ve downloaded the meditation apps and the breathing apps, but (shocker) they always make me feel like a failure. So, I’m trying something new. For 5 small minutes each day, I’m just going to sit with myself. No TV, no phone, no music. Just me. I’m going to try to watch my thoughts, feel my emotions, catalog my wants. Not to act on them, but to understand what they are, where they’re coming from, and how I have the capacity to act on them, or not, as I choose.

I’m starting off small. But I hope it’ll help me change in a big way. I’m just a girl, standing in front of herself, asking her to love her. And I think it’ll work out in the end.

Do you ever struggle with self-love? If so, what are your tips for learning to accept yourself? Any advice is appreciated 🙂

Book to Screen is Becoming Easier

Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

There once was a day, not long ago, that the only way to get your book turned into a TV series/movie was to traditionally publish, sell a TON of copies, and pray your publisher’s rights department had really good connections. It was a rarity that anyone, even the bestsellers, got these deals.

But over the last several years this has been changing. I’m not exactly sure when it started–I first noticed it after the success of Twilight, but that doesn’t mean anything other than that’s when I was paying attention–but Hollywood began adapting more and more books. These were usually still traditionally published bestsellers. Enter Netflix, Amazon and Hulu with their constant desire for content to adapt, and TV/movie deals grew even more common.

Then came 50 Shades and The Martian, which showed that a rare few indie books might be worthy of adaptation, you know, if they sold like a million copies. Indie authors with sales numbers like that began to be able to contract with film/rights agents just as if they were traditionally published.

Now it seems everyone is in on the game. Hallmark has had a production arm for their TV channels for ages and now has a publishing arm to feed it. We’re all familiar with Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine. The Obamas and Hillary Clinton have formed their own production companies. Back in February, Wattpadd formed Wattpadd Studios. Just yesterday, Harlequin announced they are starting their own TV/Movie sector.

There is even hope for us indie authors. One of my friends just mentioned that more and more Hollywood people are attending major book conferences to hear pitches. (I think she specifically mentioned the Willamette Writers Conference.) If you write romance, Passionflix (I swear to you it’s not what it sounds like), will take a look at your book. (Although most of the books they’ve adapted to date seem to be traditional bestsellers.)

Then there is Taleflick, a relatively new company (first publicized last August), that aims to bring together Hollywood types (directors, producers, screenwriters, etc.) with books written by indie authors.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I got my movie/TV option for Madame Presidentess through TaleFlick. But I do not work for them, they have not paid me to endorse them or in any other way suggested that I should speak positively about them. I am just a VERY happy customer.

If you want a quick rundown on who they are, I was just quoted in a Publisher’s Weekly article about TaleFlick. I really like that they don’t care about your sales numbers. They are looking for a quality story and a professionally produced book. That’s it.

All of this means more opportunities for authors than ever before. Granted, they still say 99% of books that get optioned never make it to film. Alyson Noel, a YA author whom I consider a bit of a mentor, had her book, Saving Zoe, on option for 10 years before it was ever made into a movie. (Opening in select theatres and streaming online July 12.) She has several others on option that still haven’t been made. Deborah Harkness had A Discovery of Witches optioned several times (I know of at least four, including at least one major Hollywood studio) before finally landing with BadWolf Productions, a new company who made the TV series that aired in the U.S. earlier this year to much critical and fan acclaim. So options still aren’t guarantees, but they are opportunities that are getting more and more within our reach.

Even if my books, or your books, never make it to that point, being able to say they were optioned is worth it, at least in my opinion. It gives you credibility that is SO difficult to come by as an indie author. And you’ll make a little money (and I mean a little) on selling the option. What do you have to lose?

Writing Research

We often hear writers talk about researching something for hours, maybe even days, just so one character can say one, off-hand comment naturally, like an expert. And trust me, that is a true thing. If you’re a writer and haven’t had to do that yet, just wait.

When I was writing the last book in my apocalyptic trilogy, I was lucky enough to be Twitter friendly with a cool scientist chick who I messaged to ask a few science questions and she was kind enough to loop me into a group email with other scientists to were willing to answer my laundry list of Science-For-Dummies questions (and subsequent follow ups because, I was definitely an English major) so I could figure out the cure for the plague in my story.

But that’s what a dedicated writer should do. Whatever it takes to make the non-fiction in the book as correct as possible. Readers who are familiar with subject matters know when a writer screws up and gets something wrong. There’s nothing worse that being absorbed by a book or other media only to have the creators get something obviously wrong to throw you out of the magical fiction trance.

There’s an art to naturally threading references into your narration so the reader becomes familiar with the characters’ vocation, expertise, etc.

For myself, I’m doing something new for a potential character. I have this creature in my head. She’s interesting and intriguing. She has magic and skills. I’m trying to get to know her so I can get her to tell me her story so I can write it down. I see her, walking in her boning and brocade and frock. But I also hear the tap of her cane on the cobbles. And I can see her using that cane for more than support.

I always say the two most impressive things a writer can do well is to write something scary or something funny. But, if I’m honest, another incredibly difficult thing to write well is fight scenes. They can be so boring. Almost like reading a complicated, dry math problem.

Which is why I’ve always, when I could, actually acted out my fight scenes. I’m incredibly lucky that my husband is a weapons expert and self-defense instructor. So I can go to him and ask if something is realistic. If a particular wound would be fatal or not. And for him to let me act out a fight scene on him. That way, when I go to write the scene, I can describe it in more than just fists and blows. I can describe the whirlwind feeling, the false sense of time, the confusion. There’s always more to physicality than you realize.

So I’m going back to that well and I’m going to be taking cane fighting lessons from him. We’ll no doubt add in sword and dagger and some other fun things, but I’m really looking forward to learning this almost-lost art. Even just talking about it unlocked some ideas in my head about this new, possible story.

Writing research, real, dedicated research is so important to creating a rich, detailed world for you and your readers. It’s a another way to refill your well when you think you’ve run out of ideas. I know my well has run dry and I’ve had difficulty thinking of something new and fresh to write, so if you’ve found yourself in the same boat, it may be time to start researching, learning something new–you never know what it may trigger for you.