Ready for a new one! (#NewYearsResolutions)

Remember 2016? We all thought it was the worst year ever because Prince and Bowie both died, and oh yeah, the election. LOL, remember?

(As an interesting aside, I now know there’s such a thing as Prince Rogers Nelson fanfic. That’s….wild.)

Then came 2017. From Inauguration Day on, that year made a beeline to the top of the Worst Year Ever category. (For some of us, anyway.) So obviously 2018 decided to blow up that category and remake it in its own awful image. I didn’t start last January with a whole lot of hope, but wow, I can barely stand to read the headlines anymore.

I’d say we were living through positive proof that you can’t run the country – or the world – like a reality TV show.

Yet….and yet…here I sit, on the cusp of 2019. While I’m not exactly optimistic, I’m ready to make plans, and blogging a list of resolutions makes them that much more real.

You’ll hold me to them, won’t you?

Some of my resolutions have to do with writing, others with life. About the only thing I can promise is that they’ll be concrete and measurable and not dependent on others. For example, it does me no good to put “end government shut-down” on my list of resolutions, because that’s not something I can do on my own. However, I can call my senators and ask them to end it. See the difference?

So here, in no discernible order, is my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2019. ..

  1. I will write another book for my agent to send out on submission. She currently has L’Ami Mysterieux (m/m romance set in 1920 Paris) out with a few editors and we’re hopeful it’ll get an offer. If it does, that’ll re-jigger my list of goals, but that’s a good thing.
  2. I will continue to write about 20 postcards a week for #postcardstovoters. I started writing postcards a little over a year ago, and had written more than 1000 by the midterm elections. Then I went to a protest and met someone who’d written over 4000….wow…
  3. I will spend 10-15 minutes a day working on my French with Babbel. I started this last January, working with DuoLingo, but I sorta ran out of steam in about October. If I start working on a sequel to L’Ami Mysterieux, it’ll be helpful to have better French skills.
  4. I will write another installment in The Clockwork Monk & Other Stories. Monk has been a free download for a couple years now, and this fall I wrote a holiday novella sequel. Readers like the world and I like the characters, so it’s time for a full-length story – or at least something longer than 20k words.
  5. I will re-write the Creepy Doll story. Creepy Doll is a solo Halloween story set in the Hours of the Night world I write with my friend Irene Preston. We’ve been on something of a hiatus, so in the interest of only setting goals that fall within my control, I’m not making any promises about our other works-in-progress. I’m optimistic the wheels are starting to turn, though, and if/when we get back to work, this whole list gets blown up.
  6. I will keep Senators Murray & Cantwell on speed-dial, and contact them at least monthly. Even if we were to all wake up tomorrow and find our government back on track, with single-payer healthcare and sane immigration policies, I’d still want to be a bee in their bonnets. If there’s anything I’ve learned since November, 2016, it’s not to take our democracy for granted.
  7. I will climb back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon, because chocolate-drizzled popcorn for breakfast shouldn’t be a thing. Promising to lose weight is the biggest New Years Resolution cliche of them all, so all I’m promising is that I’ll show up at a meeting. Making healthier choices is a life-long process, and sometimes it’s good to have a little help.

Seven seems like a pretty good number to start the year off. I like that they’re all manageable, and that they build off things I’ve already accomplished. I don’t do well with uncertainty, so having this list – even though it may change radically over the next few months – makes me feel better. So, yeah. Happy New Year to me!

Do you make New Years Resolutions? What’s on your list?

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More Holiday Reading Fun!

Last year I made a Ten Holiday Reading Recommendations post, and I thought it would be fun to do something similar today. The biggest difference – other than the numbers on the calendar – is that last year’s post appeared in mid-December, so I’d had a couple more weeks to get some holiday reading in.

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve only read three holiday books, so I can’t really do a top-ten list. They’re all wonderful stories, though, so I figure I’ll start with them and see where we end up. I’m also taking part in the Rainbow Advent Calendar giveaway, so I’ll post a link to that near the end. (Because you know you want a free read every day in December, right?!)

Here’s the first of my holiday reads….Mr Frosty Pants by Leta Blake. Oh my goodness! This story! It’s so good! Though it’s not the kind of thing I’d generally think of for a holiday read. It’s a full-length novel, as opposed to a warm&fuzzy little novella, the kind I can knock off in an evening. The story digs deeper, too, demanding both characters fight through real issues to reach their happily ever after. 

Yeah, there’s angst, but the ending got me all choked up, in the best possible way! 

My next holiday read was Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas by Joanna Chambers. This one has a little backstory; a few years ago, blogger Susan Lee put together an anthology that is (sadly) no longer available. The anthology began with Introducing Mr. Winterbourne, and with all due respect to the other authors who contributed, that elegant little story was my favorite in the collection.

(And that’s saying something, because the second story was KJ Charles’ The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, the beginning of her amazing Society of Gentlemen series.)

Anyway, Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas picks up 18 months after the first story ended. I was a bit nervous about whether it would live up to my memories, but no worries there. It’s a wonderful, satisfying follow-up, and I recommend you read them both to get the full effect! 

The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson is just about my ideal for a holiday romance. It’s not long, but the author does a lovely job of giving the characters space to develop. The atmosphere is appropriately Christmassy, and I loved the way the fantasy elements are woven into the story.  Technically this one came out last year, but it’s been sitting on my TBR since then and I’m so happy I finally read it!

There are a few more holiday books on my TBR pile, including The Probability of Mistletoe by EJ Russell, Unwrapping Mr. Roth by Holley Trent, The Winter Spirit by Indra Vaughn (which some friends of mine have really loved), and Crossroads by Garrett Leigh. That should pretty much carry me through till Christmas, and then it’ll be time for Kris Ripper‘s annual New Year’s book.

And if you haven’t read Ripper’s Scientific Method series, you’ve been missing out. Just know that while there are very few sure things in this life, xer New Year’s book is at the top of my list of auto-buys.

Final thoughts for today….December 1st is the start of the Rainbow Advent Calendar Giveaway. Here’s a link to the Facebook Group  – join up so you can get notices when new books are posted. There are a lot of fantastic authors involved, and it’s all FREE! Happy Holidays!

My Advent Calendar contribution will be The Christmas Prince. It’s a sequel to my Steampunk-lite novella The Clockwork Monk, and I had a ton of fun playing in that world again. Monk is still available for FREE – jump here for a copy – and you can keep an eye on my website for more information about The Christmas Prince. Or, you know, join the Advent Calendar Facebook Group. Merry Merry!

How to Fight Through Distractions

I joke that I have the attention span of a gerbil. I rarely finish one thought before another one jumps in. No, I take that back. I rarely finish one thought before I grab my cell phone for another game of Solitaire.

Huh. Actually, the little dude in the gif above might have the right idea.

HIDE MY CELL PHONE!!

I’m surrounded by blank white pages. I finished my Creepy Doll story – or at least have it well enough along for beta readers to have a crack at it – and I’m supposed to have a holiday story ready to go for an Advent Calendar promotion in just over a month.

Not to mention this here blog post…

Not getting much written, but my Solitaire winning percentage is awesome.

Now, the title of this post suggests I’m actually going to present well-reasoned strategies for coping with the danger presented by the cell phone and other electronic distractions. Hello, Facebook!

In fact, I…do not.

I mean, I did a search for, literally, “how to fight through distractions”, and picked up hits like “Ten Ways to Cut Internet Distractions So You Can Focus On What Really Matters“*.  Which had such helpful suggestions as figure out what you need to accomplish, along with several variations on turn off your damned cell phone.

Actually, I’m exaggerating. The authors do suggest turning off the email notifications on your cell phone, so those little pings don’t pull your attention away from what you’re working on. They also advise putting your more troublesome apps in a separate folder, to make them harder to get to.

I’m not sure that’d slow me down all that much, tbh, though I do kinda love their term “timebox”, as in limit your distracting activities to specific periods of time.

Yeah, that’ll work.

Some people find it useful to install one of the “internet blocker” apps, so they can’t kill a spare minute (or, you know, hours) by taking a “quick peek” at Twitter. There are also time-management apps, calendar apps, and focus apps with cute little “gamified” timers that add a layer of structure for those of us who are gerbils at heart.

There’s no telling how much time I could waste trying all these gizmos out!

The only thing that’s ever worked for me is the sprint timer on the MSWL webpage. The sprints are short – 10 – 20 minutes – which gives me time to check back in on Facebook in-between. I used it last year when I won NaNo. (Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Here’s a link to some resources that might help!)

When it comes down to it, what I really need to do is get over myself and get the words on the page. It’s possible I’m working through a teeny case of writer’s block – which I’ve always maintained isn’t a *thing* but here I am faffing about spinning my wheels and not actually writing.

On the other hand, an hour or so ago – and some dozen games of Solitaire – I didn’t have a blog post written, either, yet here we are. I’ve had some fifty-ish years to practice time-management skills, and from my advanced perspective, I can say that the best way to get something done is to do it.

And if that means hiding my cell phone in a box of cereal, so be it.

*I’m teasing about this article. It’s a useful piece, both thoughtful and well-written.

 

 

Ready for NaNo? Ten Great Writing Resources

A quick note: Yes, you’re getting a Spellbound Scribes email on Monday instead of  last Thursday. Life intervened. Sorry for the delay!

Recently a friend of mine tweeted a request for “favorite craft books”, which had me pawing through my kindle, looking for good books on writing. I came up with a couple, but her request made me realize I get as much writing-craft-related information from blogs and classes as I do from books.

*so many sources, so little time*

Since this is coming to you on 10/1/18, exactly one month before NaNoWriMo starts, I thought it might be helpful to make a post listing my favorite resources. Half of them are books, and the rest – with the exception of Margie Lawson’s classes – are blogs, so they’re free!

  1. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – This is sort of my bible, a concise strategy for building a plot. The author is a screenwriter, and the book focuses on developing a 110-page screenplay, but the principals absolutely apply to writing fiction. I love how he pulls from familiar books and movies to illustrate his points.
  2. Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon – I need to re-read this one. And then maybe read it again. On the most basic level, Debra teaches how keep from writing scenes where nothing happens. She also – and this is where I still have trouble – gets into how to ground action in a character’s motivations. (True confessions: I’m forever solving plot problems with the equivalent of “let’s throw in a unicorn!” Yeah, that technique works about as well as you’d think.)
  3. Terrible Minds/ Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative – Here’s a one-two punch from Chuck Wendig. Terrible Minds is his blog where he addresses the issues of the day, along with occasional writing craft posts, all with a heavy helping of eff-bombs. His new book on writing craft, Damn Fine Story, does a great job of teaching how to create characters that readers will care about, along with useful thoughts about how to use story structure to draw the readers in. And without the eff-bombs.
  4. Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes – Gwen is an experienced editor, and in this book she gives an overview of how to put together a romance novel. Now, the idea might make you bristle, because romance gets bashed for being “cookbook”, but I think there can be a lot of freedom in a set structure – jump here for my post on tropes. If you want to write romance, this book is a great starting point.
  5. Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward – This is a timely, thought-provoking set of essays and exercises drawn from a workshop by the same name. (Here’s a link to their website, where you can find a list of current classes.) If your work reflects the real world, either contemporary or historic, you’ll write characters who are “other”, and it’s worthwhile to do some homework before you do.
  6. Marge Lawson Academy – Margie’s a great teacher who focuses on the “micro” end of writing – how to use words, sentences, and paragraphs to keep readers engaged and entertained. Her instructors are all experienced, accomplished writers – I especially love classes by Rhay Christou – and I’ve learned a lot from them. Margie’s Immersion retreats are well worth the money, and a whole lot of fun!
  7. Fiction University –  This blog by Janice Hardy is my go-to for writing craft questions. Seriously, you can search her site for just about any keyword – query, plot, editing, whatever – and you’ll find a bunch of posts on the subject. The posts are meaty, so you don’t waste time with stuff you don’t necessarily need.
  8. Real + Good Writing – This website and blog is a new discovery for me. Created by literary fiction writer Rachel Giesel, the site is full of good information. I especially liked her blog post Three Big Things to Know About Your Characters. I’ve signed up for her mailing list, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else she has to offer.
  9. Writers in the Storm – This blog is run by an accomplished group of authors and it frequently turns up on lists of the top websites for writers. They post daily, sometimes have guests, and they address a range of topics, from craft to promotion to writing life.
  10. The Fussy Librarian – I mostly Fussy Librarian mostly as a site for book promotion, but they also have a weekly email for authors and boy howdy are they awesome. Whoever’s putting the newsletter together scans the web for writing-related posts and groups them by subject: writing, law, grammer, career, marketing, and industry. This has been a fairly recent change – I think – but now they’re near the top of my “most anticipated” lists of weekly emails.

So there you have it! Are you ready for NaNo now? If you don’t see *your* favorite writing resource on the list, feel free to post it in the comments. I’m always up for learning something new…

Do you have a favorite trope?

One of the fundamental truths of any creative endeavor is that no matter how clever the idea, someone has been there before. From Romeo & Juliet to West Side Story (forbidden love), and from Twilight to Fifty Shades (love triangle), it’s not hard to come up with a classic story trope that’s been reworked and given a fresh twist.

Most fiction, especially genre fiction, relies on tropes – those familiar plots or premises that we all recognize. In fact, one of the frequent complaints leveled at the romance genre is that it’s too dependent on standard tropes, that romances are cook-book or boilerplate stories.

I don’t agree with that criticism, and in this fantastic essay from the LA Review of Books The Consolation of Genre: On reading romance novels, Cailey Hall explains why. Ms. Hall is a PhD candidate at UCLA, and I’m going to quote her because I love the example she uses…

I like to think of romance novels as not dissimilar from sonnets. Both are constrained by certain expectations: 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a handful of possible rhyme schemes, on the one hand, and necessary plot points — the protagonists meet, their relationship develops, problems arise and are mostly resolved — on the other. Yet despite — or perhaps because of — these constraints, it is still possible to produce new, exciting, and even brilliant work within them.

The idea that there’s freedom in discipline has always intrigued me, which may be one of the reasons I’m drawn to writing romance. The genre does have certain explicit expectations, so much so that if the story doesn’t have both a central love story and a happy ending, it isn’t a romance, at least according to the RWA (Romance Writers of America).

And to be honest, there are so many tropes in romance that I haven’t yet run out of stuff to play with.

One of the reasons I’ve been pondering the idea of tropes is that my current project is apparently built around one of my least favorite. I say “apparently”, because I had no idea the story was going in that particular direction until I was about 1/3 – maybe 1/2 – of the way through the rough draft. I’m typing along and suddenly realize…

Well shit. This is one of those Sneaky Hero Who’s Operating Under False Pretenses stories.

You know the kind I mean? The kind where the hero goes to a small town to shut down the hospital because it’s been bought by a Giant Evil Conglomerate, and then falls in love with the hospital’s medical director. Or thereabouts.

I hate those. The duplicity drives me nuts.

In my current project, the basic premise involves a missing magical object, one that our hero has been tasked with finding. Our other hero knows nothing about magic, let alone that his father came from a family of witches. Sneaky Hero spells his way into Naive Hero’s house, and shenanigans ensue.

I have no idea how I’m going to handle the big reveal, because I’m already mad at Sneaky, but I’m not ready to change the story, either. Maybe tropes are like kids….you like them better when they’re your own.

The other thing about tropes that makes them fun is that you can combine them endlessly. I’ve written an older woman/younger man story which is also a vacation romance (King Stud), and Irene and I took a spin through Beauty and the Beast as the basic template for Vespers, then added a splash of opposites-attract.

Between the Sheets is a fake-romance-becomes-real and a vacation romance story, and Aqua Follies is a vacation romance with a healthy dose of the-love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name. I actually took a class on how to use tropes to build stories, and it resulted in The Secret of Obedience (twins, college angst).

In case you’re wondering, here’s a list of romance tropes assembled by bestselling author Mindy Klasky. This isn’t a comprehensive list, by any means. If you want more ideas, check out the one put together by Jill Williamson on the GoTeenWriters blog.

So many tropes! Too many ideas!!

Do you have a favorite set of tropes, either as a reader or a writer? Is there a story trope you’d like to see more of? Leave me some inspiration…

 

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The teaser for my current WIP, featuring Sneaky Hero and Naive Hero. There’s also a vampire. Because every book is better if there’s a vampire.

 

 

Summer in the garden…

So it’s 72 degrees at 10 in the morning, and the high temperature today is supposed to approach 90 degrees. (That’s 22 degrees and 32 degrees, for those of you who speak Celcius.) I know that doesn’t compare to a lot of places, but for Seattle, that’s hot in any language.

Which is why I decided for today’s post, I’m going to take it easy. Instead of breaking down the current kerfuffle in m/m romance (because there’s *always* a kerfuffle in m/m romance) or digging through the fall-out of last week’s RWA conference (because OMG MRWAGA cannot be a thing!), I’m going to take you all on a little tour of my garden.

Two things to know before we start.

#1. My ideal garden is neat and tidy and symmetrical, and I appear to be congenitally unable to create such a space. My approach to garden design consists of planting all the things and seeing what lives.

#2. Over the last five years, life prevented me from spending much time gardening, so what started as “pretty fairy hide-out” turned into “the call of the wild”. I did some major (!!!) pruning this spring, and  removed a couple prominent plants that had outgrown their space to the point that taking them out was the only option. Even though I’ve done a lot of work, there’s still more to do. (There’s always more to do!)

With those things in mind, here we go…

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This is my front walkway. Most of the time you can get through without being mugged by a plant.

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This is the stone birdbath, my 10th anniversary gift to my husband.

 

Okay, so now I’ve learned that I can’t write captions when I tile images. Come on, WordPress. Work with me.

At any rate, the two on top are my “garden helpers”. (Ed is on the left, and Burnsie is on the right.) The pink rose of Baby Blanket which has no scent but a lovely bloom, and on the right is a Japanese anemone. If the anemone is flowering, it must be almost August. Also, they’re vigorous (!!) so if you want one, ask someone who’s already got them, because once they’re established, they come up EVERYWHERE.

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This is my front patio, a usually-shady place to hang out.

I have a thing for lace-cap hydrangeas…

And I also have a fair number of herbs. That’s a creeping thyme on the left, and lavender on the right. I’ve also planted sage, oregano, fennel, chives, rosemary, and basil. And strawberries. Did I mention strawberries? I used to have raspberries, but they’re thugs and wouldn’t stay in their bed so I took them out. I’m not much of an urban farmer, but this spring I did plant tomatoes and potatoes, along with an espaliered apple tree (that right now is hiding behind the tomato plants).

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This is my back porch, and below are two closer views of the oak leaf hydrangea on the left.

And…that’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll be back next month with some flaming drama to share with you, but today I’m just going to kick back and water my plants. Hope you’re having a lovely summer! (Or fall, if you’re from Oz!)

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Vote.

On Tuesday our blog-mama Shauna PMed me a reminder that I was on the schedule for this week. I opened WordPress and started a new post and….

….crickets…

For the last couple days I’ve done little more than stare at the blank blog page, wondering what in the hell to write. This doesn’t seem like the time to tell people all about my fluffy new romance….which isn’t happening anyway, because I can’t focus long enough to write the words.

No, my overwhelming response to current events can be summed up in two words:

We’re fucked.

The government is kidnapping children at the border? We’re fucked. (See Lyra’s No Kids in Cages post from last week.) The Supreme Court determined the *president’s (blatantly racist) travel ban fell within his scope of authority? We are fucked.

Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring, giving the *president another opportunity to stack the bench and putting at risk women’s rights and LGBTQIA rights and many of the other things I consider vitally important?

We are so, so fucked.

Then this morning I read a short essay by a guy named Will Stenberg. He’s a musician, and he wrote a compelling argument against the phrase “we’re fucked”. (Here’s a link if you want to read the whole thing.) His premise suggests that, while “we’re fucked” is a fair initial, first-brush, emotional, response to any given situation, making it the only response is tantamount to giving up.

Basically, “we’re fucked” = rolling over and letting the bad guys win.

And that’s not really me.

The big hook in Stenberg’s essay was that it may be old fashioned and not very sexy, but VOTING has never been more important. We must vote in our primaries and in next November’s election. We must vote our hearts, and our dreams, and our future. Yes, we may not all agree on specific issues, but we must show the world that we value tolerance, and equality, and fairness.

All the Russian interference in the world won’t be able to overcome a thunderous voter turn-out.

If November feels painfully far away, or you’re feeling helpless, I thought I’d share a couple things you can do right now to get involved.

First, you can email info@TonyTheDemocrat.org to sign up for Postcards To Voters. I’ve been doing this for the last few months, and am approaching 500 postcards sent to support Democratic candidates from Florida to California and a bunch of states in-between.

Every time I see a news report that pisses me off, I ask for 20 more addresses and get writing.

Postcards To Voters pic

Also, this Saturday 6/30/18 there’ll be a nationwide, coordinated protest called Families Belong Together. MoveOn.org has put together a site where you can enter your zip code and find a list of events in your area. (Link HERE.)

I signed up for a silent meditation that day, but I think my husband and son will be down at the SeaTac Detention Center where some of the asylum seekers (parents, not kids) are being held. If you’re free on Saturday, I hope you’ll look for something in your neighborhood and that you’ll join with others who want to #resist.

Third, you should follow Celeste Pewter. She’s a former political staffer who keeps a close eye on the issues of the day, particularly in regards to how our elected officials are taking action – or not.

Celeste maintains a website – #ICalledMyReps –  where she details bills that are coming up to vote, and she supplies scripts with talking points via twitter and through her website. Our electeds are working for us, right? Calling them, even if it’s just to say “I hope the Senator will support XYZ”, is the best way of informing them of what their constituents want.

The more calls they get, the more likely they are to take action.

So yeah, these are difficult days. Yesterday in particular was a punch to the gut. But…BUT...the fight isn’t over. This country is young enough that we’ve not yet had to live through an authoritarian regime, and this administration is a tremendous challenge to the strength of our institutions.

I believe We The People are up to the test.

Hang in there.

If you’ve got other ideas for how to #resist, please leave them in the comments.

Also, Mom, if you’re reading this, apologies for all the eff-bombs. These are extraordinary times.