It started with a tweet (I think). A tweet that, as of this evening, has 22.5 thousand likes. I couldn’t coax twitter into showing me the number of responses, but quite a few of my friends tweeted their accomplishments, and it’s even filtered over onto Facebook. People are sharing what’s mattered most to them since 2010.
So, uh, I decided to use the tweet as a point of departure for this blog post.
So, without further ado, here’s a brief summary of what I’ve done since 2010.
The husband and I got two kids into and out of high school. They’re both in college now. The house is quiet. I’m beyond proud of them.
We brought Burnsie home about seven years ago. Ed-the-dog joined him about three years later. I discovered I’ve secretly been a dog person all along.
I left the employer I’d been with for 20+ years to go to work for UWMC. They think I’ve been with them ten years; I’m pretty sure it’s only nine. Either way, I still love taking care of babies.
I transitioned from church musician & front person for a cover band to author. I decided I’d sung all the songs I needed to sing – although if you wanna go to karaoke some night, I’m down.
At the risk of turning myself into a stereotype, I have discovered a deep-seated belief in democracy. Unfortunate that it took an existential threat to prompt this discovery. If you need me, I’m writing #postcardstovoters or getting ready for another demonstration.
I always knew I was going to be a writer when I grew up, and while it took me almost 50 years, I published my first novella in January of 2012. Since then, I’ve published six novels, five novellas, and nine or ten short stories. Two of the novels and two of the novellas were co-written with Irene Preston, and I’d count her friendship as another accomplishment all on its own.
I’ve lived in the same house with the same husband for over twenty years now, and we’re ready for many, many more. I’m a lucky girl.
ETA….I also changed hair color rather substantially… (A couple years ago I wrote a post about letting my hair go gray. Here’s a link.)
In the interest of getting back to my NaNoWriMo project, I’m going to end here. I hope you enjoy the last few weeks of 2019, and that the ’20s give you all the reasons to dance!
Back in 2015 – yikes! I’ve been blogging here for along time – I made a post called Ten Good Vampire Books. At some point along the way, that post got caught up in Google’s SEO magic algorithms and it’s had more views in 2019 than it had the year it was published.
At any rate, when I sat down to write this post, I planned to make an updated version of the old post, except almost immediately I ran into a problem. I haven’t been keeping up on the vampire literature.
In part, that’s because I have a vampire of my own. Thaddeus Dupont is 100 years old, and he was a monk before he was turned back in 1925. He and his boyfriend Sarasija Mishra appear in the Hours of the Night series I co-write with Irene Preston. (Jump HERE to learn more about Vespers, book 1 in the series.)
Some of you have seen me post about the Hours of the Night and Thaddeus Dupont before, so maybe this won’t be news, but bear with me for a bit. There were a couple compelling reasons I chose to write a vampire character – above and beyond Irene telling me I needed to write another vampire. (She can be very persistent.)
First off, I’ve always loved stories about vampires. Whether it’s trad vamps like Dracula or naughty vamps like Bill & Eric from the Southern Vampire Mysteries (the books that inspired True Blood), I’m a fan. For a while, I made something of a study of vampire fiction, reading as much as I could get my hands on.
When Irene and I first started working on Vespers, I had a good knowledge of what was out there in the world of vampire literature and some ideas about the kind of character I wanted to create. The popularity of vampire fiction rises and falls, following some unspoken cultural zeitgeist.
Victorian vampires addressed the cultural fear of death. Later in the ’80s and early ’90s, the themes were blood and infection, likely a response to the AIDS crisis. Then in the ’90s to early ’00s, vampires explored our ideas about eternal youth and sexiness.
At the risk of taking myself too seriously, when I write Thaddeus, there’s a similar theme at play. See, I’m the elderScribe, a good 10-20 years older than the rest of the gang who blogs here, and Thaddeus Dupont is my attempt to express my sometimes bewildering experience dealing with the modern world.
Thaddeus was born in 1900 and grew up in the bayou, speaking a patios of English and French, in a time and place before most of the modern accouterments we take for granted. His mildly confused response to his 21st century boyfriend is an echo of my own feelings. I try to keep up, but kids these days….damn….
There’s another, more personal reason for Thaddeus Dupont’s creation, specifically, why I gave him a strong Catholic orientation. I’m a cradle Catholic, and while my relationship to the Church has waxed and waned over the last 50-odd years, it’s currently on indefinite hiatus. The dissonance between Thaddeus’s relationship to the church and the love he has for Sara give me a place to work out my own feelings – in a hopefully-entertaining way.
Irene and I are currently working on Spooked, book 2 in our spin-off Haunts & Hoaxes series. The first book, Haunted, was written for a freebie giveaway, but readers liked the characters so we turned it into a series. I made the first cover (b/c freebie), but we recently unveiled a much-improved version that brands the series.
Haunts & Hoaxes is a mash-up of Supernatural + The X Files with naughty bits thrown in, and we’re hoping to release Spooked sometime in early 2020. Keep your eye out for it!
This post turned into kind of a ramble, but in summary, I probably know more about vampires than is good for me, I hadn’t kept up with vampire fiction b/c I don’t want it to color my own vampire, I have several reasons for how Thaddeus Dupont took shape, Irene and I are headed in a slightly different direction but will come back to HotN soon, and this is one of the longest sentences I’ve ever written.
Oh, and…uh… I have a couple gift codes for a free copy of Vespers. Leave me a comment and I’ll hook you up. (In the off chance that I get more comments than I have codes, I’ll draw names or something.)
So…yeah. In the interest of getting back at it, I’m going to close here with the blurb for Lost & Found, along with an excerpt and a link to where you can find it. The preorder price is $2.99 (regular $4.99) so it’s a bit of a bargain right now. Thanks….
A dancer who cannot
dance and a doctor who cannot heal must find in each other the strength to
History books will call it The Great War, but for Benjamin
Holm, that is a misnomer. The war is a disaster, a calamity, and it leaves Benjamin
profoundly wounded, his mind and memory shattered. A year after Armistice,
still struggling to regain his mental faculties, he returns to Paris in search
of his closest friend, Elias.
Benjamin meets Louis Donadieu, a striking and mysterious
dance master. Though Louis is a difficult man to know, he offers to help
Benjamin. Together they search the cabarets, salons, and art exhibits in the
newly revitalized city on the brink of les
années folles (the Crazy
Years). Almost despite himself, Benjamin breaches Louis’s defenses, and the two
men discover an unexpected passion.
As his memory slowly returns, Benjamin will need every ounce of courage he possesses to recover Elias’s story. He and Louis will need even more than that to lay claim to the love – and the future – they deserve.
Excerpt In which our heroes, Benjamin and Louis, make their acquaintance…
The table on the other side of me was
empty, at least until I’d poured myself a second glass of wine. Then, crossing
the room in a familiar halting rhythm, my neighbor, the man from the café on
the Place du Tertre, took a seat.
I raised my glass in a toast of
alcohol-fueled enthusiasm. “It’s nice to see you.”
He blinked as if surprised by my words.
“I’m not sure I know you.”
His gaze suggested otherwise. “A while
ago, you were at L’Oiseau Bleu.” I swirled the wine in my cup. “Are you
“I had a taste for fish.” Hooking his
cane over the edge of his table, he shrugged again. “And I have better things
to do than observe the habits of a drunk American.”
We were interrupted by the arrival of
my dinner. There might have been humor in his tone, but still, the sting of his
words quashed the impulse to invite him to join me.
Turning to the waiter, slick black hair
gleaming, he placed his own order. When the waiter brought his wine, I took the
opportunity to raise my glass a second time. “Cheers.” I deliberately did not
smile. “Comment allez-vous?” How are you, using the formal “vous,” not the more intimate “tu.”
Tu. In all my time in France, I’d never regularly
used the personal form of address. To be honest, if English had an equivalent
construction, I could have said the same about my friends and family at home.
I am well.”
His tone, and the slight tremor of his
fingers on his glass of wine, hinted otherwise. He turned as if to shield
himself from my appraisal. I couldn’t help myself. It was my nature to observe.
Assess. Diagnose. “I’m Benjamin Holm.” The distance between us was too great to
bridge with a handshake.
He raised his glass. “Louis Donadieu.”
I forced my fork through the crisp crust
of fish. Juices ran free, and my mouth watered. I ate, hunger keeping my
attention fixed on the food on my plate. Though it had been almost two years
since I’d last sat at an army canteen, I still attacked each meal as if someone
might steal it away.
At my last bite, I glanced at Louis. He
watched me, a pool of stillness amidst the confusion around us. “Did you even
“Yes.” Swirling my fork through the
drippings on my plate, I fought the urge to smile, unsure of the rules for the
game he played.
He sniffed. “Bien.” Shifting in his seat, he poured himself more wine. As long
as he wasn’t looking, I continued my assessment. He held his right leg
extended, as if he was unable to bend it at the knee, but was otherwise quite
vigorous, virile even.
I finished my peas and potatoes,
bemused by my strange dinner companion. After a week in Paris, I’d had no luck
with my main goal, and this conversation, though tentative, intrigued me.
“Were you injured?” I gestured at his
feet with my wine.
“In the war. Your leg.” His narrowed
gaze suggested I’d transgressed. So, no questions about his health. “Pardon. I did not mean to—”
“No, I was unable to participate in the
He turned his attention away, leaving
me confused. This was less a game than a jousting contest. Rather than bring another
helping of rudeness on my head, I swallowed the rest of my wine and prepared to
“What are you doing?”
I paused in the act of reaching for my
wallet. “I’m finished. I need to be going.” Though I had no real destination
beyond the poor comfort of my solitary rooms. Instead of my wallet, I fished
out the photograph. “Here.” I stood, leaning over his table and offering him
the picture of Elias. “I’m looking for my friend Elias. Have you seen him?”
Always the same words, bringing the
same blank response.
“Maybe he doesn’t want to be found.” He
tapped the white edge of the photograph, and I snatched it away.
“He’s my friend.”
His acid tone burned through my good
humor. Who is this man to follow and then
abuse me? “Have a good evening.”
“Good evening, though if you give up so
easily, you must not really want to find him.”
Surprise kept me planted by his table. “Do
you know where he is?”
He tipped his glass in my direction, the corner of his lips curling in what could not truly be called a smile. Though it wasn’t a scowl either. “No, but if I do see him, I will send him to the heavy-footed American man who lives on the floor above me.”
Tired of being the target of his sport, I straightened, falling into the habitual pose of a military officer. “Again, good evening.” Annoyed beyond what the situation called for, I departed.
I didn’t take many liberties with Michelle’s vocal style. Like, I pretty much copied her note-for-note. Well, maybe not every note but I stayed true to the way she interpreted the songs. Save that thought for later.
The thing that made me sad about remembering Michelle is that when I googled her name, I got her Wikipedia page, a couple hits about a supposed homophobic rant, followed by her apologies for said rant…or denials, or something. Then I went to youtube, and all I could find were really sketchy covers of some of her songs.
Dear god I hope my band sounded better than that.
Which got me thinking about writing. Okay, you’re right. Just about everything gets me thinking about writing, but still. The thought I’ve been chewing on this time has to do with what’s good and what’s not.
It seems to me that the difference between me and the authors that find a place in the broader cultural landscape is larger than the difference between Serena Williams and that seventeen year old kid she played on center court in Arthur Ashe Stadium last night.
Catherine McNally played well – she won the first set, which is not easy to do against Serena – but by the middle of the second set, they could have been playing in different universes.
Catherine is good. Serena is the best, possibly ever.
The thing that hangs me up is figuring out where I fit on the spectrum between “good” and “best”. Do I even reach “good”? I don’t know, and sometimes that uncertainty makes it hard to get any words on the page.
There’s this contradiction between “there’s so much crap out there” and “everyone’s voice is important”. Can both, “you’re a shitty cover band singer” and, “you are uniquely creative and no one else can tell your stories” be true?
And does it matter that my old band’s version of If Love was a Train doesn’t stray far at all from the original?
I don’t need to be Serena, but I’d like to see if I could play on the same court at least once.
I’ve been pondering whether it would be worth my while to get my MFA, maybe at one of the low-residency programs that focus on genre fiction. (I can’t stand to read much literary fiction, so don’t look for me on the lit fic bestseller list, like ever.) They programs I’ve looked at are expensive (!), and while I’m sure I’d learn, I’m not sure I’d learn more than I could teach myself by, you know, reading and writing.
Artists learn to paint by copying the masters. Singers learn to scat by mimicking Ella Fitzgerald. (And yes, I’ve had Mr. Paganini on constant rotation in my brain for the last couple weeks.) I’ve never sat down and said “I’ma write just like _______,” but I do take mental notes while I’m reading.
And I read a lot, hitting just about anything but horror and YA. (And Lit Fic, but we already covered that.) I read, and I write, and I try to push myself.
You may be wondering what brought on this little bout of naval gazing. See, I read an article about the Dunning-Kruger effect. That’s the one that says when you first learn something, your confidence is low because you know you don’t know anything, but once you learn a little, your confidence goes up, higher than your relative skill would warrant.
Once you move toward expert, you know what you don’t know, and your confidence goes down.
I won’t ever play as well as Serena, and I do still tend to sing a lot like Michelle Shocked, but I have too much writing to do to worry about how my work will eventually be judged. So, on that note…
Last October I heard Damon Suede speak at the Emerald City Writers Conference. He’s a terrific speaker who wraps a lifetime of knowledge and experience in an entertaining – like, LOL funny – presentation.
Damon could explain this a lot better than I will, but the basic premise to his master class was this: a reader gets to know a character by the character’s actions. Period. And those actions make it on the page in the form of verbs. So, rather than spend hours developing a detailed character biography, pick a handful of verbs and a few adjectives and make that the template your character grows from.
I recently wrote a holiday novella, the first piece I’d started from scratch since hearing Damon’s presentation. Over the years I’ve done my share of character biography worksheets – the more detailed, the better – but this time I came up with names, chose half a dozen verbs and the same number of adjectives, and wrote simple goal-motivation-conflict statements for each of the two main characters.
Here’s the beginning of my character worksheets for Bo and Jon, the heroes in my holiday novella:
Background: big family, Italian, local Seattle, Midnight Mass at St. James
Jon Cunningham – the artist: Adjectives and Verbs: dark, deep, methodical, dedicated, passionate, reserved, commanding, distancing, consider, create, observe, listen, measure, perform, practice, reflect, teach
Background: Seattle family, missed out on much of high school, studied at Juilliard, Dad had a stroke
Can’t you just picture them? Instead of pages of detail, I had a few lines, yet I felt it took me less time to get a handle on Bo & Jon than just about any of my other characters. I’ll admit things morphed a little during the writing process, particularly in terms of their goals/ motivations/ conflicts, but the characters’ essence, who they were, was pretty solid.
That essence was captured in the verbs and adjectives I chose for them.
Whenever I wasn’t quite sure how a character would respond or what they’d do next, I had my list of verbs and adjectives to guide me. Even though both my heroes changed over the course of the novella – because that’s what the plot is for – still, their core remained constant.
You’ll have a chance to see how well I did, because Dreamspinner offered me a contract for the novella, so A Holiday Homecoming will be released ~ 12/1/19. If you have the change to hear Damon speak, do it. You’ll learn a lot. And the next time you’re stuck with on a character, focus on their verbs and see if it helps.
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.
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.
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.
…or, the virtue of leaving clues that are visible to the average reader but not ham-handed, neon-bright arrows.
I’m going to start with a small qualifier: I have neither read A Game of Thrones/A Song of Fire & Ice, nor have I watched the HBO series. I am, however, a sentient human being with access to the internet, so I know the last episode – in which the Mother of Dragons went postal – created something of a stir. Or a shitstorm. Or therabouts.
I know this in part because Chuck Wendig made a tweet thread in which he argues that character should come before plot – accusing implying that GRRM &/or the series creators may have overlooked this small detail.
You can read his thread HERE, and you should. He knows his stuff. Also, he deconstructs the episode – and the series – HERE. (And if you’re really into it, fashion bloggers Tom & Lorenzo also have a detailed review you can find HERE.)
The big concern with the Game of Thrones episode seemed to be that Daenerys Targaryen behaved in a way that was inconsistent with her character. Maybe or maybe not – I did see at least one tweet prior to the episode suggesting that the Mother of Dragons might end up being the Big Bad, which tells me there must have been at least a couple hints along the way.
Hints that the vast majority of the television-watching public apparently didn’t notice.
Sunday night, while the rest of humanity was glued to HBO, I started a mystery by a new-to-me author. It was a pretty standard trope: Big City Woman is dragged back to her small-town home for Reasons, where she Learns Things, Figures Out Whodunnit, possibly Falls In Love, and then decides to Stay Forevermore.
Sadly, I bailed on it by about 30 pages in, because:
I didn’t connect with the main character. At all.
Which turned on my editing brain, so that every time her eyes wandered around the room, I lost a little more patience. (Her gaze wandered. Her eyes stayed in her head. Thanks.)
As a result of my lack of connection and super-editor, the clues to the character’s arc were glaringly obvious.
The main character was the only one in the family who had the time to take care of the problem in the Small Town, even though it meant leaving her job in the middle of a project and pissing off her boss. Because apparently a woman’s work is never too important to interrupt.
Whoops. That’s another blog post.
Anywhoodle, her stated goal was to return to her uber-exciting life in the Big City, but from just about the moment she arrived, she had Feelings. Right there in her internal dialogue, she noticed a strange connection to the place, one she could not understand. “Why do I feel this way?” she’d ask herself.
Because it says in the blurb that you’re going to have a change of heart, sweetie, and you’ll want to stick around.
Leaving aside the (potentially sexist) set-up, to me these “what an odd emotion” moments were clunky, too-obvious road signs to her character’s development. I think it would have worked better if she’d had a chance to earn that sense of connection rather than just stumbling into it like a slap-happy princess in some insta-love romance.
And honestly, maybe she did. I mean, I did quit at only 30 pages. But hey, I’m over 50 and there are too many books left for me to read to waste time getting annoyed.
Although the stories are very different, I think the essential problem is the same. Daenerys’s behavior took a wild left turn from her established character, and the mystery character’s “odd feelings” didn’t relate to anything intrinsic to her personality. In the one case, the clues were too subtle, and the other, too blatant.
Seems like we should be able to split the difference somehow.
I wish I could say I knew how to avoid either mama bear or papa bear details. I’m researching Victorian London with an eye to writing a mystery, so I’ve done a lot of thinking about how to leave baby-bear style clues – hints that give readers just enough to keep going, but don’t beat them over the head.
The best advice I can come up with is that character trumps plot, and to be ready for a shitty first draft and lots of editing. To that end, I’m brainstorming characters’ goals and motivations and secrets and wounds and all the good stuff that will (hopefully) help me construct a story that’s character driven, and not the other way around.