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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.

Books: Menfreya in the Morning by Victoria Holt

I first started reading Victoria Holt books as a pre-teen. I wasn’t allowed to read anything with explicit sex, so I read a lot of historical romances of the chaste type. Regency romances were a favorite, as were gothic novels by the likes of du Maurier and Holt. Even if sex was present, it was off the page, and I likely had no idea what was actually going on.

I still own a number of old paperbacks by Holt, and looking for something quick and not too taxing (given the stress and tensions of the past couple weeks), I grabbed this one. I’ve probably read it before, but it’s been decades, and they all kind of blur together anyway.

This particular novel is about Harriet, daughter of an M.P. She has a limp and, of course, considers herself “plain” and unlovable. Her mother died in childbirth and her father can’t stand the sight of her. Meanwhile, he’s M.P. for a constituency in Cornwall, and Harriet is enthralled with the centuries-old house of Menfreya, ancestral home of the the Menfrey family. Harriet befriends Gwennan Menfrey and develops a crush on Gwennan’s older brother Bevil, though it’s impossible to understand why aside from his good looks. He has no redeeming qualities as far as I can tell, even after reading the entire book.

All of this is fairly typical of Holt’s books. The main character is an average young woman who somehow gets pulled into the orbit of a noble family. There’s a daughter the main character can be friends and go to school with and an older brother for her to swoon over. The main character usually has a “normal” name, while the noble family uses far more decorative monikers. The crush is usually a known playboy, and the main character will doubt that the crush could possibly like or love her. A tragedy or crisis will occur—sometimes several. There will be much suspicion and often an attempted murder. The main character will need rescuing, and the crush will do said rescuing, thus proving his love and loyalty. So go the tropes of such romances.

In the case of Menfreya in the Morning, Harriet loses her father and stepmother in rapid succession, leaving her a considerable heiress. The Menfreys need money, so when Bevil asks Harriet to marry him, there is suspicion that he’s doing it for the dollars (so to speak; they don’t use dollars in Cornwall). Harriet is so besotted with Bevil, she doesn’t seem to care why he wants to marry her anyway. But then a beautiful young woman named Jessica—a woman Bevil once showed considerable interest in—returns, and Harriet begins to suspect an affair. Etc., etc. I won’t ruin the ending, but I will say that this “hero” was far from one. Bevil’s focus is on his own political career, and Harriet practically licks his boots as she strives to gain his approval by learning about politics. She has no apparent interests or hobbies of her own. And at one point marital rape is implied, but Harriet makes excuses for Bevil’s behavior, saying that he was simply showing her that he expected to be obeyed. *gag*

So… Yeah. I couldn’t really like Harriet, and I definitely didn’t care for Bevil. I’m wondering if my tastes have changed over time, or if this is just a weaker book. I have a few others on the shelf I could try, just to compare… But I do really need to get on with A Conjuring of Light, so it may have to wait a bit.

Television: WandaVision

Umm… okay. So that was fun. I guess?

Only the first two episodes of WandaVision are out, and it’s clear that there is more going on than at first meets the eye. Which is a good thing, since I think—fun as this is—it would tire out kind of quickly.

For those not in the know, WandaVision is Disney+’s latest Marvel Universe entry, this one in the form of a television series about Wanda (Scarlet Witch) and Vision. The first two episodes are designed to look and feel like 1950’s television sitcoms (think: Bewitched), complete in black and white… except when a little bit of color (usually red) bleeds through to hint that things aren’t entirely what they seem.

It’s cute, and the kids were bemused, not entirely understanding the context. They’ve seen Mister Ed but haven’t watched more traditional sitcoms from that era like Donna Reed, so their ability to place the references was limited. But they still found it amusing.

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their film roles here, and the two do really have good chemistry. Bettany in particular shows a talent for comedy, and Kathryn Hahn is fun as the nosy neighbor. I mostly enjoyed the show (the second episode more than the first), but for some reason don’t feel 100% sold yet. Maybe it’s the gimmick that I’m tripping over; I grew up loving Nick-at-Nite and this feels so over the top that it walks the line of almost too simplistic, at least on the surface. It’s the knowledge that there’s more going on underneath that keeps it from being too ridiculous to stomach. I suppose my overall feeling will depend on how everything spins out from here.

My Tarot Decks

This is random, but I felt like sharing. I collect tarot decks. And yes, I know how to use them. I have friends who call or text when they want me to pull some cards, or they ask me to come over with my cards sometimes.

Anyway, I keep a catalogue of all the decks I own. I don’t have nearly as many as some people! But I started collecting these because I like the artwork and all the interpretations of what is generally a standardized set of cards. It’s like collecting various versions of playing cards, in a way.

Here, then, is my list (as of today, at least):

  1. Botticelli Tarot
  2. Byzantine Tarot
  3. Chinese Tarot
  4. Crow Tarot
  5. Crystal Power Tarot
  6. Ethereal Visions Illuminated Tarot
  7. Fantastical Creatures Tarot
  8. Good Tarot
  9. Guardian Angel Tarot
  10. Harmonious Tarot
  11. Infinite Visions Tarot
  12. Last Unicorn Tarot
  13. Le Tarot Noir
  14. Light Visions Tarot
  15. Lover’s Path Tarot
  16. Manga Tarot
  17. Mermaid Tarot
  18. Minchiate Etruria
  19. Mystic Dreamer Tarot
  20. Mystic Faerie Tarot
  21. Naked Heart Tarot
  22. New Orleans Voodoo Tarot
  23. Old English Tarot
  24. OSHO Zen Tarot
  25. Pamela Coleman Smith (Rider-Waite)
  26. Paulina Tarot
  27. Raven’s Prophecy Tarot
  28. Renaissance Tarot
  29. Romantic Tarot
  30. Shadowscapes Tarot
  31. Sherlock Holmes Tarot
  32. Spiritsong Tarot
  33. Star Spinner Tarot
  34. Steampunk Tarot
  35. Tarot de Marseilles
  36. Tarot Illuminati
  37. Tarot Mucha
  38. Tarot of Delphi
  39. Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
  40. Universal Fantasy Tarot
  41. Victorian Fairy Tarot
  42. Victorian Romance Tarot
  43. Victorian Steampunk Tarot
  44. Weaver Tarot
  45. X/1999 Tarot
  46. Zenacast Tarot

I have Lenormand decks, too, though not nearly as many:

  1. Enchanted Lenormand Oracle
  2. Fairy Tale Lenormand
  3. Lenormand Silhouettes
  4. New York Lenormand
  5. Notebook Lenormand
  6. Postage Stamp Lenormand
  7. Under the Roses Lenormand

And here are the oracle decks:

  1. Ascended Masters Oracle Cards
  2. Archangel Gabriel Oracle Cards
  3. Black Moon Astrology Cards
  4. Burning Serpent Oracle
  5. Chakra Wisdom Oracle Cards
  6. Color Oracle Cards
  7. Druid Animal Oracle Deck
  8. Enchanted Map Oracle Cards
  9. Energy Oracle Cards
  10. Fortune Cookies
  11. Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards
  12. Madame Endora’s Fortune Cards
  13. Moonology Oracle Cards
  14. Numerology Guidance Cards
  15. Past Life Oracle Cards
  16. Romance Angels Oracle Cards
  17. Sacred World Oracle
  18. Vintage Wisdom Oracle

Finally, a miscellaneous category:

  1. Ancient Egyptian Fortunetelling Cards
  2. Ancient Feminine Wisdom of Goddesses & Heroines
  3. Book of Doors Divination Deck
  4. Clow Cards
  5. Fantod Pack
  6. Gong Hee Fot Choy (Jeu de 32 Cartes ancien)
  7. Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Cards
  8. Karma Cards
  9. Runes (2 sets)
  10. Sun/Moon Cards
  11. Tarot Dice
  12. Zenacast Tarot Coins

Do you collect anything? If so, do you track your collection in any way?

Books: Recent Reads

I’ve been meaning to make a YouTube video for this, and I might still do that, but for now it’s faster to just write about the handful of books I’ve read recently.

Meghan and Harry: The Real Story

Overall, I think Lady Colin Campbell is trying to be fair. She mentions numerous times how she wanted to Meghan to succeed, how so many of the royal family members hoped Meghan would find the right fit. Campbell blames Harry in large part for enabling Meghan rather than teaching her the ropes. But in the next breath she also suggests Meghan isn’t all that interested in being taught, either. The net effect leans toward damning the couple, and as I’m no big fan of Meghan, that didn’t bother me. But a lot of this book is repetitive, and there are places where Campbell goes on at length about things when one pass would do. Her sweeping generalizations about America(ns) were also questionable. And the book needed a solid edit and proofread. Overall, I gave it three stars, though it’s really more like 2.5 or 2.75.

The Stephen King Story

This is an old biography (1992) by George Beahm. I found it when unpacking some old boxes and decided to re-read it. Besides being outdated, it’s largely a publishing history of King’s work (through 1991). It does talk about King’s childhood, his time at university, and mentions a couple of his stalkers, but the focus is on publishers, books, various editions of those books, etc. Markedly absent is any mention of King’s drug addiction. I remember really liking this book when I was younger, but I’m sure there are much better and more interesting texts covering [the] King.

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3)

I really liked the movie, which was my introduction to Enola Holmes. But if you’ve read my past posts or watched my YT, you know the first book was… a disappointment. Very different from the film version. The second book was a bit better, and this one… is about as good as the second, I suppose. I have mixed feelings about

SPOILER WARNING

the villain being a deformed crossdresser. I think the author was trying to make a point about beauty and the superficial—Enola disguises herself as a “beautiful” woman and notices how differently she is treated—but that seems undercut by having the antagonist(s) be physically ugly and, in one instance, having deformity be a source of mental illness.

What I’m reading now:

Finally, I’ve picked up A Conjuring of Light, which finishes off the Shades of Magic trilogy. I loved the first book, didn’t enjoy the second, so I’m curious to see where the third leaves the series for me. There’s a thing that sometimes happens… You can tell when an author falls in love with one of his or her characters because suddenly there’s an emphasis on them. And that’s great if the reader is also as in love as the author, but if the reader isn’t, overall affection for the book or series can wane. That happened for me in the second book (I’m not a fan of Lila Bard). I can definitely talk about it in a future YT video if anyone is interested. Actually, I probably will talk about it, even if no one cares…