There’s only ONE MONTH left….

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!

Of Vampires and Other Things

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.

Go me?

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.

Did you know George RR Martin wrote a vampire novel? I couldn’t finish it.

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.

Isn’t it pretty?!

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.

Happy Halloween!

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.)

Competing Demands

When I’m here on the Spellbound Scribes, I try to write about either a craft question that’s been bothering me (see my post on characters-as-verbs) or some quasi-philosophical musings that are rattling around in the ol’ brain.

This month, the only thing on my mind is the upcoming release of my book Lost & Found!

L&F is a gay romance set in 1920 Paris. It’s my first release in over a year, and tbh I feel like I’m one of those jugglers with spinning hats on every stick.

Couldn’t find a gif with spinning plates, but this dude juggling his head is close enough.

There are so many moving pieces to a self-publishing project. Review queries and organizing paid promo and formatting and uploading and updating and blog posts and omg omg omg

I can’t think about it too hard, or my head will pop off. (See gif ^^^)

(If you’d like a taste for how all the pieces of self publishing fit together, check out Nicole’s post from July, where she spells out how she made the USA Today best seller list.)

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….

Blurb

A dancer who cannot dance and a doctor who cannot heal must find in each other the strength to love.

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 following me?”

“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.

Bien. 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 taste it?”

“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.

“What?”

“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 grand conflict.”

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 leave.

“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.”

“So?”

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.

Click HERE to find Lost & Found on Amazon and most every other retailer!

Happy reading!!!

If Love was a Train, I’d write better.

This morning I remembered Michelle Shocked. I hadn’t thought about her in years, but I loved her first couple albums. Here’s a link to a live version of My Little Sister. Such a good song! Back in my cover band days, we used do Little Sister and If Love was a Train.

Good stuff!

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.

Here’s me, down at the bottom of the well.

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…

…if you can’t sing it, you simply have to …. swing it!

Best Reboots

Reboots. Returns. Revivals.

I’ll be honest–these days it sometimes seems like I can’t turn my head without seeing an advertisement for a new reboot or revival of an old franchise. Often, these reboots are of something that played an important role in my childhood or adolescence, and seem cringingly designed to play on my sense of nostalgia. From live-action remakes of Disney movies to newly diverse CW reboots of 90’s television, it can seem like the only new movies and TV shows getting made these days…are old movies and TV shows.

As a writer, this sometimes strikes me as short-sighted. After all, there are so many amazingly talented authors, screenwriters, and playwrights out there writing original, creative, and often groundbreaking content that would be perfect for the big or little screen. But at the same time…sometimes these reboots really nail bringing an old storyline to a new audience. So with no further ado, here are my favorite reboots/revivals/returns from the last few years.

A Star Is Born

I know, I know, me and everyone else in the Academy. For me, though, this was really a high bar as far as comparison goes. I’m a big old movie buff, which means I’ve seen (and enjoyed, in different ways) both the 1937 and 1954 versions by the same name, starring Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland, respectively. (I have not seen the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand). I thought Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s rock-opera reimagining of the familiar story was poignant, inventive, and incredibly well acted.

Queer Eye

Full disclosure, I’ve never actually watched an episode of the original early-naughts version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. However, even without a comparison, I think 2018’s reboot of the franchise is nearly impossible to argue against. The newly minted Fab Five are just about everything this world needs: a group of queer, diverse, empathetic, thoughtful, kind, and playful men who bring joy, change, and self-worth to people’s lives. If anyone who works in TV is reading this…more of this, please!

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mel Gibson, Shmel Gibson. I’d rather partake in this heart-pounding, feminist reimagining of a parched post-apocalyptic world, headed up by a prosthetic-wearing, shaved-head sporting, monster-truck driving Imperator Furiosa (played with aplomb by Charlize Theron). Bonus points: every still this movie looks like it could be a poster.

Roswell, New Mexico

Oh, I had my doubts, not least of all because the original show wasn’t very good (sorry!). But with the 2019 reboot, Liz is a scientist, the daughter of undocumented immigrants, and Max is–well, Max is very attractive. All joking aside, while the reboot is not without flaws, it does a much more thorough job of placing an alien invasion storyline amid the real-world xenophobia of modern America.

Ghostbusters

From the moment they announced an all-female reboot of this beloved classic, I knew I was all in. And I was not disappointed. Featuring some of the funniest ladies in comedy–Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones–and the welcome eye candy of Thor himself (sorry, can’t think of him any other way) this reboot did not disappoint. Ghosts, occultists…I can’t really say more without giving spoilers. Just trust me, hilarity ensues.

And that’s just a few of the reboots/returns/revivals, past and present. What are your faves, or ones you’re looking forward to? Personally, I’m really excited about Disney’s reboot of Mulan, and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV series!

The Tail of Brody and the Fourth of July

When I saw that the Fourth of July fell on a Thursday this year, I knew that we wouldn’t get a lot of blog traffic, but I also didn’t want us to just skip the week in case there were people still surfing the web, looking for some distractions.

But what to post? It didn’t seem like the kind of day to post writing advice and I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump so I don’t have any recommendations but, then, I thought of it. This is a writing-based blog so, how about a story set on the fourth?

The last week of June in 2008 my husband and I had been living in our new home for a little over a month. I’d grown up a cat person, mostly because that’s the best kind of pet to have in apartments. But my husband was always, always a dog person. And he’d been missing having a dog. But now we had a house to rent instead of an apartment and houses can have dogs. It was time to look for a pup.

One morning we decided to go to the shelter, just to look mind you. Just to look.

And there he was. Adorable. Floppy-eared, brown-eyed, sweet-faced. Waiting for us.

We were kind of stunned because it’s not often that you find an actual puppy at the shelter; they’re usually snatched up as soon as they’re available. But we knew, this was our puppy and we had to meet him.

When we got to meet him, he flopped on his back and gave us his belly and climbed into our laps, desperate to lick our faces, as if to say, “Finally! Finally you found me! I’ve been waiting for you!” Obviously, we were a match.

But Brody—as we would name him later—wasn’t available for adoption yet. We had to leave him, with tiny cracks in our hearts, and come back for him and hope that no one else would show up wanting to adopt him that morning because then we would have to submit to a random drawing and leave it up to The Fates. And they can be a trio of bitches if they want to be.

When the adoption day came there were a few people waiting to get inside to be the first come in first serve and we were more than a little anxious. I started asking around to see what pup people were there for.

“The black one,” a bespectacled girl answered.

“Yeah, the black one, us too,” a man cut in, drawing a glare from the girl. “I think we’re all here for the same dog.” He gestured to the other people waiting.

My heart sank. We were going to have to do a drawing.

When the doors opened I rushed to the counter with Brody’s ID number memorized.

“Anyone else for A773790?” the guy behind the counter called out. My stomach twisted as I waited for the others to say something. But then: nothing!

Turning, I furrowed my brow at the bespectacled girl, wondering why she wasn’t saying anything.

“Oh,” she said, understanding dawning on her. “You’re not here for the pug? The black pug?”

“No,” I said and my husband smiled. No one else was there for Brody.

On June 30, 2008, we took him home.

The thing with puppies though is you can’t take them out until they’ve had all their shots. So when the Fourth of July rolled around we knew we couldn’t take our new puppy out to the parade or the fair downtown*. But we still wanted to go.

We’d decided to crate-train Brody but I still had reservations about leaving him in a crate for any real amount of time when we weren’t home; I only wanted to crate train him so if we needed to put him in the crate for emergencies we could. I never intended to put him in a crate when we weren’t home. That’s what house breaking and training is for. But five days after coming home, he wasn’t house broken, so we couldn’t let him roam.

I decided to put his crate against the doorway leading into the kitchen, with the door facing into the kitchen so he would be able to have the whole kitchen to himself with a bed, pee pad, food and water, and the crate if he chose while we went out for just two hours to enjoy a little bit of the holiday. It was a big crate, too big for him at the time, because we knew he’d be over 50 pounds when he grew up we bought a crate for a 50 pound dog but at least I knew he couldn’t move it and get out of the kitchen.

Brody barked a little when we put him in the kitchen and didn’t stay with him, but he wagged his tail and set to sniffing every nook and cranny once he accepted we weren’t going to move the crate so he could follow us.

Off we went to enjoy the fair downtown.

I don’t even think we made it a full two hours. I was worried about leaving Brody alone for too long in his new home after living at the shelter.

When we got home and opened the door, we heard Brody yapping excitedly from the kitchen and his whip of a tail thumping on the linoleum floor.

But something was amiss.

There were things scattered on the floor in the living room.

A ball of yarn from the back room was unspooled and strewn across the floor. Papers were scattered. A lone shoe had made it out of a bedroom.

Someone had been in our home.

Our front door is mostly glass so we spun to inspect the panes, but they were all intact.

“You had to unlock the door to open it, right?” I asked my husband.

“Yeah,” he answered in a low tone, eyeing the doorway into the hallway. “Wait here.”

I watched as he went to make sure the back of the house was safe before I went to check on Brody—so relieved they hadn’t stolen him.

I could see him sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, goofy puppy smile on his face, and his tail still wagging. His crate was exactly as we’d left it: pressed against the wall and blocking the doorway so he couldn’t get out. It wasn’t shoved so I knew, I knew, Brody hadn’t gotten out. After all, he was still in the kitchen.

“All clear!” John called out to me from the back of the house.

“Okay,” I replied as I scooped up the unspooled yarn. I stared at the tangle of thread, wondering how it had made it from my knitting bag in the back bedroom to the living room floor.

A loud clatter interrupted my thoughts and I spun toward it.

Brody’s front paws were on top of his crate, claws gripping the metal frame as he pulled desperately, his back paws pedaling in the air, looking for something to push against.

“Wha—” My voice died as I watched my three-month-old puppy pull and wiggle and claw himself up and on top of his crate until he was able to sit on it, still smiling but obviously desperate to say hello to me. His tail banged against the metal grate as he waiting for me to recover.

“John,” I said, then, louder, “John get out here you have to see this!”

“What? What?” John ran into the dining room to see me still standing there, holding the yarn, staring. He turned to follow my stare to see Brody sitting proudly on the top of the crate.

Brody got to his feet and picked his way to the edge of the crate before jumping to the floor and raced over to us, so happy that we were home.

John bent to pick him up, holding the bundle of fur against his chest to stare him in the eye before turning to look at me.

“So,” I said, pausing. “He climbed up there, jumped down, then went through the house, having a great time and then…”

“Climbed back over to get back into the kitchen before we came home so he wouldn’t get caught,” John finished.

And that is how we knew, from the very first week, that Brody was too smart for his own good.

Brody is still clever with a big personality and has been immortalized in my Ash & Ruin Trilogy as the inspiration for Blue. I mean, a dog like that could only be fiction, right?

*Fun side note: Turned out the bespectacled girl and her roommate won the drawing for the black pug. How do I know? Because we ran into her on the 5th, at the vet, where they were having their tiny puppy treated for heatstroke because they couldn’t resist taking him to the very same fair we made sure not to take Brody to. Yes, the puppy is fine, but that’s a lesson learned, right?

GRRM and the Three Bears…

…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.

Why?

Because it says in the blurb that you’re going to have a change of heart, sweetie, and you’ll want to stick around.

*ahem*

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.

With a plot Chuck Wendig would love.

Wish me luck!