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Okay, but…

This is about to be random, but I feel like I need to write about it somewhere, and since this is my blog, here it is.

I’m re-reading The Once and Future King by T. H. White. I first read it when I was 13 or 14 years old because I loved, loved, loved all things Arthurian (and Robin Hood—The Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood are my favorite Disney animated features). Anyway, back then I didn’t really enjoy the book. I think this is because I didn’t understand that it was meant to be funny, and I also didn’t understand that, even though The Sword in the Stone used TOaFK as source material, it wasn’t a direct adaptation. Like, I didn’t really know that the book-to-film process wasn’t a one-to-one kind of thing.

If you’ve read my previous post, you know that my daughter asked to start watching Merlin, and we’re enjoying it for the most part. (We’re only about four episodes into Season 4; that goblin episode was infuriating.) So I decided I’d try TOaFK again as well. I’m not very far in, but Arthur (aka Wart, but I’ve always hated that name) and Kay have… Hang on, because if you haven’t read the book but you want to this might be considered a spoiler, so this is your chance to stop reading… Okay, for those of you still here: Arthur and Kay have just met Robin Hood. And while on the one hand this delights me because, hey, two of my favorites together in one place! On the other hand, I’m like: NO. There’s about 1,000 years difference between the time of Arthur and Robin Hood. (I’m rounding.) There is also quite a distance between them, as one was in Wales/Cornwall and the other was in Nottinghamshire.

I was about to chalk it up to Merlyn (that’s how his name is spelled in White) and his magic and living backwards and whatnot, but Arthur and Kay knew who Robin was, so that wouldn’t make sense. I do suppose Merlyn could have managed the distance in some magical way, though. And, I mean, this is not a serious issue. The book is a bit silly anyway, so who cares if Robin Hood (or Wood) is there, and Marian, and Little John? I should just be able to enjoy it. But it’s a case of a little knowledge being dangerous, or at least in it being detrimental to my pleasure. I usually like knowing things, but sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

Maybe I’m wrong? If so, please set me right! Maybe my understanding of the times and places involved is, er, a misunderstanding. I haven’t studied this kind of history in a very long time, so maybe I’m misremembering something vital.

I used to, as a [lonely only] child choose a topic each summer to research. It was usually history or mythology of some kind (or a combination of the two). I would check out as many books as I could get my hands on at the library, and I would make extensive notes in piles of notebooks all summer long. And then, at the end of the summer, I would compile all of that into a long essay. Yes, that really was my idea of fun. It still is to some extent… But all this is to say that I did Arthurian legends one summer, and tales of Robin Hood some other summer, but that was a long time ago, and while I’ve certainly read a few stories about them since, I don’t have all that information on total recall. I guess that’s what Wikipedia is for, but I prefer to delve, and I still find books the best sources for those kinds of deep dives. Maybe I should hit up the library (ours just recently re-opened) and do a fresh round of research…

Television: Merlin (Seasons 1 & 2)

Very late to this party, but my daughter requested to watch this series. She’d seen an episode of it at a friend’s house once, had immediately pinpointed Merlin and Arthur as a couple, and had been curious ever since. So we started watching it as part of our regular girl time.

For those unfamiliar: Merlin is a BBC television series consisting of five 13-episode seasons that ran from 2008 to 2012. It stars Colin Morgan as the titular Merlin, though rather than being the bearded old man of legend, we see him as a teen (or maybe early 20s?) as he arrives in Camelot to become both an apprentice to the court physician Gaius (Richard Wilson) and, more importantly, manservant to Prince Arthur (Bradley James). Merlin must hide his magical abilities because King Uther Pendragon has outlawed sorcery and has anyone with magic executed. Rounding out the core cast are Katie McGrath as Uther’s ward Morgana and Angel Coulby as Morgana’s handmaiden Gwen.

The show has the production values one might expect for the time and target audience, but it is still fun to watch. There are definitely moments when I can see how and why viewers might ship Merlin and Arthur (the ship name is, my daughter has told me, “Merthur”), but after two seasons, I have to say the show seems to be actively fighting that interpretation. In particular, the second season—possibly in response to the audience support of Merthur?—works hard to “no homo” the pair by forcing the Arthur/Gwen romance and giving Merlin a girl to crush on pretty strongly in at least one episode. Honestly, there is much better chemistry between Gwen and Lancelot (maybe that’s the point), or even Gwen and Morgana, than there is between Gwen and Arthur.

In short, thus far the show isn’t as gay as I’d like it to be. Even if one takes into account “magic” = “homosexuality” in this world… While the underlying statement that homosexuality is (a) a genetic trait, not something one chooses, and (b) not in and of itself good or evil, there are no actual homosexual relationships on display here. The show goes to great lengths to make that clear. In fact, the only strongly queer-coded characters I can think of (from the episode “Sweet Dreams”) were absolute villains. So there is something of a mixed message there.

That said, there is a lot to like about the show. I wasn’t sold on the first few episodes, but I am glad I stuck with it. As with many shows, it takes the cast (and the writers) a while to find the characters and settle in, but once they do, it’s largely fun and still also manages to have a strong emotional core.

Current Projects

Recently, I finished a fan fiction piece I’d been working on. I enjoyed writing it, but it was something of a relief to be done because I have so many other things going on. Still, I chose to focus on and finish that particular project first because 1. it was close to finished anyway, so it was the fastest way to get at least one thing off my plate, and 2. the readers were encouraging, which kept me motivated. (If you’re curious, it was “Because Hate is a Kind of Passion,” which is a Kuroshitsuji [Black Butler] fic on AO3.)

What else am I working on? Well, I’m still plugging away at “The King’s Consort” (a SnowBaz fic being posted here on my site, though I haven’t seen much traffic for it, which is why I haven’t been focusing on it as much). It’s getting really long, too, and might be nearly novel length by the time it’s done… I’m also writing a new YA novel and a new Regency romance and prepping The Ghosts of Marshley Park for a fall pub date.

So I have plenty of writing projects to keep me occupied, never mind all the day-to-day stuff at home: three kids getting ready to go back to school, which means a new routine; three kids with various activities such as fencing, horseback riding, and Taekwondo; the usual slate of appointments for various family members; a seat on two school committees (one of which I’m president)… My house is very dirty, and I would not want anyone to see it, so I guess it’s just as well that we’re not having visitors these days. I just don’t have time to keep it a decent level of clean. It’s all I can do to make sure we have fresh laundry.

I looked at my planner for the next week and almost wept. After a year of barely going out, suddenly there are multiple things each day. No slow build at all; we’re going from pause to fast forward. I suppose jumping in is one way to get back into the pool…

Not a Failure

I recently decided to move ahead with self-publishing The Ghosts of Marshley Park. And almost immediately was met by two differing responses online: people cheering me on and people who wished me well in a way that absolutely suggested the passive-aggressive tone of, “You weren’t good enough for ‘real’ publishing, eh?”

To be fair, tone is super difficult to discern online. And I could be projecting a bit, too, because it’s not uncommon for writers to feel like they aren’t good enough, no matter how successful they actually are. It’s easy for a writer to walk away from a fruitless round of querying and see self-publishing as the signal of their failure.

But here is what I’ve learned after querying many manuscripts and receiving pretty much variations of the same feedback: 1. I’m a good writer. 2. The stuff I write is not what agents are looking for. Even if it’s well written, if they don’t think they can sell it (usually due to my odd plots and blending of genres), they have no reason to sign me. And I get it. This is a business. Lots of good and great work will not land agents or publishers. Some stuff that isn’t that great will because, despite quality, it will sell anyway. That’s just how it is.

So my options have always been to stuff my stories away or publish them myself. And in order to feel complete—for my own personal satisfaction—I’ve chosen to self-publish.

Some will tell you this is a bad idea and means no agent will ever touch you because, unless you self-publish to thousands of sales, you’ve proven yourself unmarketable. I used to worry about this, but now… I’m fine with it. Agents weren’t going to sign me anyway, right? I can “fail” privately or out in the open, but for me to have the closure I really want and need, putting my work out there is necessary for me.

The tipping point came at the most recent PitMad* last week. Though I got no nibbles from agents or publishers (and I’ll admit I wonder whether agents or publishers frequent PitMad and the like as much anymore, but that’s another post for another day), I received so much enthusiasm from potential readers. People telling me they absolutely want to read my book. And I want them to be able to read it! So… I’ll publish it. I’m in the editing process now and have begun the cover design by commissioning original art (SO exciting!).

And I know this is the right decision because, after I made it, I felt so much happier and lighter than before. That tells me querying was a strain on my mental and emotional health.

To sum up, though I know many [snobs] in the industry might see self-publishing as failure (or a “consolation prize” as I heard an author put it the other day), I see it as freeing. I think an author’s expectations have to be different when self-publishing, but the truth is, having worked in publishing myself, I know that many authors who do publish in the “traditional” way often also have misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. Who’s to say one would be any happier or better off one way or the other? Every writer is different, every book is different, there is no one path or journey. I’m entering into this with my eyes open and my heart buoyant, and that feels like a good way to start.

Timeline/Perspective

Years ago, when I was feeling bad about my lack of success as a writer, I made a timeline of my writing history to remind myself of how far I’d come. I don’t know where that timeline is now, or even what software I used to make it, but I do still find looking back at my journey gives me solid perspective on my success. Which is to say, even if I’m not where I want to be, I’ve come a long way down the road.

I’ve been writing for a long time, but my first “success” came as a fan fiction author. This was back when you had to submit stories to fanzines in the mail or (for the more advanced zines/editors) by computer disk. I’m no longer embarrassed to say that my work was popular; I even won a fan award. At the same time, I’m a little sad to think that my fan fiction is probably still my best known and most successful work.

In 2000, I had my first original works (two short stories) published in an anthology put out by my grad school. In 2004, I had a short story published in a magazine and a poem published in a fairly respected literary journal. But it wouldn’t be until 2012 that my writing career really got rolling. That was the year I had a short play produced (twice) and began self-publishing my first works.

From there and then, it’s been up and down. I’ve won a screenwriting award. I’ve had a few stories and books published by online journals and small publishers, and I’ve self-published a few more of my own. My short play was turned into a short film that was shown at a film festival in San Diego. I’ve been a guest author at a conference, and I’ve given a talk on writing at my local library. I try to remind myself that there are writers who wish they could be even this far in their careers. That, to many, I’m “successful.”

Success, after all, is a personal metric. For some, it’s marked by making a certain amount of money. For others, it’s about awards and recognition. For still others, it’s about selling x number of books and/or making it onto a list. The benchmark is different for everyone, and it can change, too. It seems like the goal posts are always moving, and that once we reach one level, we’re never happy with that—we always want more.

And that’s fine. It’s okay not to settle, and it’s okay to want it all, so long as we take a moment to 1. recognize how far we’ve come, and 2. realize we may never have everything we want. Keep writing and pursuing those dreams, but don’t pin all your worth and happiness on achieving them. That’s a sure way to go through life feeling like a failure, and that’s just depressing.

I’m fortunate in that I have kids who are very proud of me and like to announce that their mom “is a published author.” It does help to have a built-in cheering section. Be sure to get the support you need, if not from family, then from friends and fellow writers. And from readers and fans once you have them! They can see you through the down days and remind you of just how far you’ve come and how successful you actually are.

Television: Bridgerton 1-4

So I’m halfway through this series or season or whatever (I feel like the usual ways to describe television no longer have meaning) when I realize this is the book—that is, the first book in this series—I was “warned” about from various sources.

Okay, that was really convoluted, so let me try again. I didn’t realize “Bridgerton” was the name of the series, not the book. The first book in this series is, I believe, The Duke & I. And that book had been flagged [by a few readers whose opinions I respect] for some… questionable content. I haven’t read the book(s), so I can’t speak from personal experience. But I’m curious to see if the show does what I’ve heard the book does. If that makes sense. It hasn’t happened yet, and I understand there are definitely some changes between the source material and the visual adaptation (*ahem* racial commentary *ahem*), so… Maybe some of the other stuff got changed, too?

I don’t hate the series. It’s more like I enjoy it despite my better judgement. And I don’t enjoy all of it, but then again, there are so many characters and plot lines that one can’t really be expected to like them all. More like throwing a ton of stuff at a viewer and hoping some of it grabs their attention. And whether that attention is positive or negative, the show doesn’t care. It only wants eyeballs. Hate watching is still watching, and ratings are ratings.

I’m not going to try to describe the goings on of this show. There’s just too much. If you like Jane Austen but wish that stuff were somehow made more contemporary… I guess…? String quartets at Regency balls playing modern songs, for example. Regency-era clothing but with glitter! (When they wear clothes at all. Lotta naked women is all I’m saying.) Gossip Girl for the Georgette Heyer/Marion Chesney set.

My overall feeling is that it’s mostly soapy rubbish, but it’s entertaining, so where’s the harm? Well… if what I’m told happens in the book also happens in the show, there may be harm… And I’m not really positioned to discuss the racial elements, but I’m sure there are others with insight about that who have blogged and/or vlogged. I’m curious to see what they say, but I’m waiting until I finish watching before I go looking for additional info.

I have such mixed feelings about this series that I’m barely coherent. Let’s just say that: 1. I will finish this season and see what happens, and 2. I won’t read the books. Whether I watch subsequent seasons will depend on how things are handled in this one.

Writers as Competition?

I came late to Twitter’s “Harsh Writing Advice” trend, but apparently someone posted that other writers are your competition, and then got slammed, and then deleted the tweet, but of course (because Internet) it’s still around in various formats.

People piled on this guy for posting this, and… given that he didn’t really explain his logic (if there was any), I understand why. But I can also understand why he might think other writers are his competition.

Let’s assume that there are a limited number of agents who handle your genre. And each of those agents has a limited bandwidth—that is, they can’t rep even as many authors as they’d like. They’ve got their signed clients, they’ve got families and lives, and many of them have second jobs as well since the commissions don’t always pay the bills. If you look at it through that lens, it would be easy to think you’re fighting for limited “slots.” There are more aspiring writers than there are agents able to take them on.

Let’s say, instead, that you’re looking for a small publisher. But each publisher only has the ability to produce a limited number of books each year. Or let’s say you plan to self-publish. Even still, it’s easy to imagine you’re fighting other authors for the same readers. Because, hey, not every reader can read every book, so…

But here’s the thing. Publishing is extremely fluid. Agents come and go, and they’re always looking. With patience, salable, marketable work will eventually find a home. (I’m not going to say “good work always finds a home” because I don’t believe that’s true; I think publishing is more about what can sell than what is “good”—which is, in itself, subjective—but that’s another discussion entirely.) Small publishers will pick up books, even if they have to schedule them a year or two out, which is what big publishers do anyway. And once you publish something, it’s out there for readers to find and pick up whenever they’re ready. Even if a book doesn’t bolt out of the gate, it can find its following over time. It’s easy to worry it will get buried by newer, shinier titles, and that can happen, but this isn’t like the cinema. The book doesn’t get booted after a week or two if it doesn’t sell. Again, it’s about patience.

And the bottom line is, publishing is a field of networks. It’s all about relationships. Agents who know editors, writers who know each other… Those bonds are so important. A lot of writers don’t want to hear that because they’re shy, and they just want their work to speak for itself, and why do they have to, you know, be social or online or any of that? Can’t they just stay under their rock and write? Well, yeah, you can. But as a rule you’ll find more success if you engage with others. Which means not treating them like competition, like someone to squash on the way up. It means being respectful, not just to agents or editors who you think can do something for you, but to your fellow writers. Because humans deserve respect, first of all, and (if that’s not a good enough reason for you) because treating others badly is a story that will get passed around, writer to writer to agent to agent to editor to publisher, until no one wants to work with you.

So IF other writers are your competition it’s in this way: you need to vie FOR their camaraderie. Be gracious. And pay it forward when given the opportunity to help others. Seeing your fellow writers as people you need to fight and win against primes you to behave like a jerk, and no one in the industry wants to work with an asshole.

On the Naming of Characters

This question has come up a lot just recently, so I decided to write a post about it: “How do you name your characters?”

I prefer to have my characters introduce themselves. Sometimes they do that right away, meaning I know their name first thing. Sometimes, though, they’re a bit shy about it, and we play a game of Rumpelstiltskin. I’ll usually know one or two things about the name to get me started. For example, I’ll know the name is one syllable. Or that it begins with a “D.” From there, I have to guess until I get it right.

Sometimes I know the name is similar to a few other names. Not in sound, necessarily; more like in style. So I’ll go to Nymbler and put in the names I know it’s not, but that are the right kind… If that makes any sense. And I’ll see what comes up, narrowing the options down until I have it.

I use Behind the Name on occasion, but mostly when I’m looking for a variant of, or a name related to a name I know is almost, but not quite, right.

When I was a younger writer, I did the thing where each name needed to have a meaning. I searched name books for names that meant “light” or “wolf” or whatever. Now (at the risk of upsetting people who still do this) I see that as an amateur move. Unless whoever named the character (parents, guardians, etc.) gave them a name with a specific meaning for a reason, the author doing so is… heavy handed, IMHO. Still, I’m sure there are times when it’s been done cleverly and has come off as not so over-the-top. I’d simply advise using a light touch with this technique.

Examples from My Work

Peter Stoller’s original name was Stefan (or Stephen). But I wanted to use the title St. Peter in Chains, and it seemed weird that his name wasn’t Peter, so… it was changed.

I’ve used the name Charles a lot, too, in various works (A Game of Hearts, The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, “The Mystery of the Last Line”). It only recently occurred to me that my first [official] boyfriend’s name was Charles, so there may be something going on there…

Guin in Manifesting Destiny got that name because my husband and I nearly gave it to our daughter—but then we fought over the spelling and chose something else entirely. I “won” the fight by using the spelling I prefer.

In “Origami of the Heart,” I used the name Dane because I fell in love with that name as a child after watching The Thorn Birds. I’d kept that name in my pocket, so to speak, waiting for the right character to come along and accept it.

The manuscript I’m currently shopping has a main character named Julian. Originally, he was going to be Jasper, but that sounded too harsh for his gentle nature. He’s reserved, and Jasper sounds more like an adventurer to me. (In fact, Jasper is a name I used in a short story I wrote for a high school English Lit class. Not sure why I remember that…)

If you’ve read any of my books or stories and have questions about the names I’ve used, feel free to ask. And if you’re a writer, let me know how you come up with character names. If you’re a reader, do you have favorite names or naming conventions? Should I do a YouTube video on favorite character names?

The Two-Way Street

A couple years ago, a literary agent was very interested in one of my manuscripts. I, naturally, was excited about this. But then, quite suddenly it seemed, she grew a bit cold in our correspondences. Eventually, I was given a form rejection.

I have a private Twitter list where I keep all the agents I’ve been querying. I add and remove them as I query and rejections come in. When I went to (sadly) remove this agent, I noticed she had tweeted about not wanting to work with people who were “disrespectful” on social media. Could that mean me?

I took a look at my profile and skimmed recent tweets and retweets. I try not to be overtly political or anything since I know that can turn off potential readers or agents. Having grown up in a religious, conservative family, I know all about the differences of opinion and how and when to keep my mouth shut. Or so I thought. Some things, for me, are non-negotiable. Some things are wrong vs. right, truth vs. lies, rather than mere opinion. And when it comes to those things, I sometimes feel the need to speak out.

Bottom line was, this agent had very different politics from me.

Part of me was irritated that she had rejected me just because of that. Like, wasn’t my book still good? How could my worldview suddenly make that untrue?

But at the same time I understood that agents and authors work together and it needs to be a comfortable relationship. One built on mutual respect. So maybe it was just as well she rejected me in the end; she might have saved us some grief.

Not that agents and authors need to discuss politics. They could just dance around that stuff same as my family at holidays, I guess.

Anyway, yesterday this agent was dismissed from the agency she worked for. She posted a tweet that she was fired for being Christian and conservative, but the agency says it’s because she frequented far-right social media platforms like Parler. I don’t know the whole story, but I thought it was interesting that she got loud about being rejected, so to speak, for her politics. Why would you want to work for or around people with such a different mindset? Maybe since they all work remotely, there is less friction, but…

There’s not really a point to this post. It’s more of a reflection. That book never got an agent, but I think I’m happier with that than I would have been working with this woman.

Identities

I don’t know how to begin to explain the whole sex-and-gender thing. To do so means to discuss things about myself that I don’t feel I owe anyone, and it sets me up for backlash from just about all sides: my family, the community, a world that’s ready to both label me and tell me I’m “doing it wrong.”

Here are the bare bones:

I grew up in the 1980s. In Texas. In a conservative and religious family. When I was little, I liked dressing up in girly clothes. But I also liked always being the boy in any games I played with my friends. I was Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, and even David Addison when my school friend and I played Moonlighting.

When I hit puberty, I panicked. I bought big clothes—often men’s clothes—in an attempt to disguise my figure. Oversized shirts. Straight jeans that were sometimes a size too big. Guys’ Timberland boots. I told my parents it was because they fit my wide feet better, which wasn’t entirely untrue. My mom kept buying me cute, stylish clothes like stirrup pants (remember those?) but I had no desire to wear them. She encouraged me to start wearing a little makeup, do my hair like other girls, but I couldn’t be bothered. I told myself it was just because I was lazy and things like hair and makeup take time.

I didn’t think I wanted to be a boy, but I definitely didn’t want to be seen as a girl. And when I would lie in bed at night and let my mind wander before falling asleep, in my imaginings I was always male. (And, for whatever reason, always a gay male. Which explains some of what I write, I guess.)

Growing up sheltered and without things like the Internet, I didn’t know about binding, or gender fluidity, or anything of that sort. I figured my lack of interest in sex was because I was a late bloomer and/or I was supposed to wait until marriage. (Yay! God was saving me by not giving me a libido!) And I didn’t think about being male at all because I was a girl and, as far as I knew, that was that. Even if I played pretend sometimes in my head, well, so? And I did still like dressing up for things like prom. I didn’t, for instance, want to wear a tuxedo instead of a dress. It seemed like if I was going to be a girl, I wanted to be the ultimate girl: dressed up, hair, makeup, nails, etc. But on any typical day, being a boy was easier and better suited me.

And since sex didn’t interest me (another thing that my mom was weirdly invasive about), what did it matter if I was a girl or a boy in my own head? To the world I was “she” and “her”… and still am. It makes the people around me comfortable to think of me that way, and I’m fine with it. I don’t feel like this identity has been forced on me, any more than I felt like my Asperger’s diagnosis solved anything. I’m just me, and I’ve never worried all that much about what others think of it. My desire to figure myself out has always been purely academic. Which is why I tend not to go around saying things like, “I’m asexual,” or, “I’m gender fluid.” Because it invites a level of scrutiny and policing I don’t welcome and that doesn’t ultimately make any difference. I’m not interested in being told how I am, or how I should be, or what I should call myself, or how I should identify, or how vocal I should or shouldn’t be about it. I’m me. Full stop. And I’ve always figured I’m the only one who has to make sense of that.