Essays, general essay

Learning How To Write the Future

science fiction, time travel, how to write the future

Last year, as I was writing Time Enough, the sequel to my time travel novel, But World Enough and Time, I was writing along at a great clip. Was even ahead of where I was supposed to be when everything came to a screeching halt. I had hit the section that takes place in the future and was lost. The only way out was to teach myself how to write the future.

Now, that might not sound like that big a deal – and it sort of wasn’t. After all, what I essentially was doing was world building. But I had to build on our world today to make it make sense, and I had to do it in a way that was particularly conscious.

That was a little weird for me. Usually, I’m more of a natural writer. In fact, when I try to impose motivations on my characters or set up themes, it almost never works. If I let my characters do what they need to do, then ask why they did something, I get a much more organic result.

For example, I was working on the first draft of my upcoming spring release, Death of the City Marshal, and I had a scene where the bad guy attacks Maddie Wilcox in the dead of night to warn her off investigating. He’s got her in the dead of night with a knife to her throat. In my head, I realized it didn’t entirely make sense. Why doesn’t he just kill her? And in the asking why, the killer and his motivations became much clearer to me and the character came alive.

It didn’t work that way writing Time Enough. For some reason, not having a clear idea of how the future looked made the plot elements really hard to come together. I knew what I wanted to happen – to a degree. But it wasn’t enough to drive the story.

But how do I come up with a future that makes sense? In a way, being a history buff really helped. The thing with reading about history is that you see how things develop over time. So, if I was going to write a future that made sense, I had to look at where things are now.

I also thought about it and realized that our world tends toward evolution. So while there had to be some cataclysms, because that does happen, the essential problem driving the experiment in bringing a woman from the distant past to the future, had to be one that had evolved. 

What I came up with is far too complicated to go into here. And, yes, I had to tweak a few things in But World Enough and Time, which is why I left it as an ebook and didn’t put out a print version. I suspect that when I get to writing All the Time in the World (the last in the time travel trilogy), I’ll have to re-tweak things in Time Enough.

While I am a strong advocate of trusting your process, there are times when your process needs a metaphorical kick in the pants. And sometimes working against your process is exactly what your story needs.  I won’t necessarily do impose a world on my characters again. In fact, I pretty much abandoned detailed outlining and fussing with motivations for the third section of Time Enough. But learning how to write the future taught me as much about building a story as it did about building a world.

Essays, general essay

I Am #NotLessThan

Why don’t we see boys cheerleading for girls’ sports?

Why don’t guys knit, embroider or sew clothing?

Why is it so funny when a man puts on a dress?

The answer is at the root of sexism in our society and a profound indicator of just how deeply entrenched male dominance is. You don’t see guys doing female stuff because that which is feminine diminishes them. It makes them less male, as if carrying a flower somehow magically sucks a man’s balls away. In short, that which is feminine is Less Than. It’s not as good as being male.

Now, given that I am feminine, I find all this rather insulting, even as I feel a little creepy when I see a guy wearing a man skirt. The reality is, I’m just as socialized into these cultural norms as the next person. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it when I offer to teach a guy to sew and he gets that tight smile and backs away.

It would be far too easy to remind everyone how insulting this is and leave it at that. Taking umbrage seems to be the National Pastime. But there’s a thought – why don’t we start encouraging guys to knit? Put a big floppy flower on a pen and give it to your guy to use. Why not gently remind them that we really don’t find a guy wearing our clothes funny. I’d suggest encouraging guys to wear man skirts, but that might be pushing things a bit far. But, hey, why not? Skirts have got to be more comfortable on the anatomy than pants, for crying out loud.

The bottom line is that when that which is defined as feminine no longer diminishes a man, then we will have achieved something. That which makes me a woman is not less than, and it doesn’t make a man less than. Because I am #NotLessThan.

Essays, general essay

Somebody Out There Gets Mother’s Day Gifts. Finally.

Mother's Day Gifts,

The uKeg from GrowlerWerks

Two years ago, in this space, I wrote about how Mother’s Day Gifts basically suck. Or rather, how the advertising that goes on around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day tends to reinforce unfair gender stereotypes, with many of the gifts touted for moms largely being decorative or insubstantial or rigidly based on tired gender roles at home.

Please note – I have nothing against honoring Mothers or Fathers. I just think it’s really unfair that it’s assumed that what I want is a pastel-colored stand mixer just because I’m a woman. And if I admit that, yeah, a new stand mixer would be a nice gift, well, that’s just proving those assumptions right. Uh. No. Not even. Don’t go there.

Well, this year, I got a press release from a company that has finally figured out that moms really like craft beers, which is typically seen as a mostly guy thing. The company is called GrowlerWerks. Not surprisingly, they’re based in Portland, Oregon, and they make pressurized kegs, also known as growlers, that you can take to craft brewers and have them refill your keg with your favorite brew.

What’s really awesome about this, is that they’re targeting moms, at least for this month. They’re even featuring a woman brewer on their home page, and another woman (and mom) in the beer biz on another page. Nor is the keg all prettified or pinked up. Yeah, it’s an attractive keg, but what they’re touting is what the keg does for the beer.

This is advertising that doesn’t assume all women love beer. As it happens, I hate beer. But it’s acknowledging women and their unique contributions as our moms without dumbing us down or making it all about the appearances or about the stereotypes tied to our gender. This is cool. Insanely cool.

I’m happy. Not that I want or need a pressurized keg but it nice to see someone marketing to women as we are. Now, when they start advertising stand mixers to Fathers, I’ll be really excited.

Essays, general essay

Why I Choose to Self-Publish

why i choose to self-publishWhen people ask me why I choose to self-publish, the easy answer is that I got tired of chasing agents and traditional publishers. Okay. It wasn’t quite like that. But one of my friends had recently finished a novel (and a darned good one), and she when she looked at the next few steps, she did not like what she saw.

The hassle of querying agents, then maybe getting on with a small press, then having to do all your own publicity, because even if you’re with a larger publisher, you’re not going to get any help there, my friend looked at all of that and what books are selling for these days and did the math. The return for the amount of money she’d be likely to make was just too small, especially after paying the agent’s commission.

That bothered me because she was absolutely right. You sweat your backside off writing a book, then you only get a small percentage of what that book makes. I know because my co-author and I only got less than 10 percent of the selling price of Howdunit: Book of Poisons. Before splitting the earnings between us. It’s done well and I’m still getting royalties even though the book is only available as an ebook now. But when I think of how much I could have made had we done it ourselves, well, such is life.

The one advantage of traditional publishing is that you get much wider reach and a bigger audience, especially if you’re lucky enough to get on with one of the larger publishers out there. If you’re with a small press, as I was for Tyger, Tyger, you lose even that advantage.

It’s worth trying to publish traditionally for the cachet. But that’s the only reason I would do it now. As of this Friday, I’ll have put out 10 books. It’s been an amazing amount of work. Some of them are better than others. But I get what I want and I keep the larger part of the proceeds.

You do need an editor and a cover designer. Fortunately, I have friends and am able to barter for most of the skills I don’t have. So you can do this on a shoestring. You do need to start building your social platform, but you will need a thriving presence on social media to attract an agent or a publisher these days. And you’ll need friends who will be honest with you regarding your book. It’s not always fun, but it does make a difference.

Self-publishing is a lot of work. You don’t always get a lot of respect because it’s assumed that your book isn’t as good as a traditionally published one (never mind that I’ve read some really dreadful traditionally published books and some insanely good self-published ones). But I think it’s worth it.

A Ring for a Second Chance is Now Available!

I know. You were expecting the next installment of But World Enough and Time. But I can’t help it. Today is the release day for my latest novel, A Ring for a Second Chance.

In this sequel to a beloved fairy tale, an all-too-convenient accident supposedly kills a young king and his family. Steffan and Ella and their children are, however, very much alive, but forced into hiding lest Steffan’s cousin, Queen Lanicia, wipes them out. Claiming to be a merchant fallen from the new queen’s favor, Steffan takes up farming in a small village. He and Ella raise their growing, and expanding, family, keeping their secret while forming friendships and building the support Steffan will need to regain his throne. Fortunately, there is just a bit of magic helping them along. But will it be enough?

I’ve been living with Steffan and Ella since I was 15 when they starred in my first novel. That may never see the light of day – let’s be real, it wasn’t very good. So I’m really excited that this sequel is finally out. I hope you enjoy it. You can check out all the places to buy it here.

Essays, general essay

Feedback Frenzy

I’m not sure what it was that set me off. I seem to remember I was on some site I do business with and spent about two seconds checking a billing date or balance. But as soon I as tried to sign out, there it was. The ubiquitous pop up demanding feedback.

I clicked it off without leaving any because there was none to leave. It had to have been the fourth or fifth demand for feedback I’d received that day, and I was beginning to notice that you can’t freaking breathe without some app or website demanding feedback. As if I don’t have other things to do with my life.

Worse yet, the feedback, itself, is getting increasingly meaningless. There’s the problem of fake reviews, which has caused Amazon to dump perfectly legitimate reviews because they determined that the reviewer knows the author. Then there are the feedback forms that don’t allow for comments. The providers probably have so much data they can’t read comments, but that makes the data even more useless since it can only reflect what the provider wants to ask. I’ve stopped giving Kaiser feedback because the last time they demanded it, there was no way to let them know that it wasn’t the immediate provider that had caused the issue I was having, it was something else.

Now, there’s a new wrinkle – providers that don’t accept anything less than perfect scores. Scroll down on this article from HowToGeek.com, and you’ll see why that super high rating doesn’t mean the guy driving your Lyft car is Superman. He’s probably just competent. At the counter of a business I regularly do business with, a sweet young thing constantly told customers that they would be called for feedback on their service and, “Anything less than perfect is a fail.” Alas, the reason customer service is anything but perfect at this branch is not really the fault of the agents. Corporate policy keeps the branch chronically understaffed and understocked. But it’s the agents who are being graded, so I feel obligated to say it’s great so some CEO can feel good about being a jerk.

The irony of all this is that I, too, am dependent on customer feedback to sell books. So I have to be obnoxious and beg people to give me a review every time I turn around. As if my readers don’t have other things to do with their time.

Some feedback is good and making it easy for folks to let you know there’s a problem or something is particularly good is not a bad thing. And I do occasionally look at reviews to help make a buying decision. But not when I’m trying to buy a five-dollar gadget. I don’t need to tell some company about my customer experience when I just went to the site to check my balance. There’s got to be a better way to give companies the information they need without them constantly nagging us to provide bazillia-bytes of information that generally only confirms what they want to believe.

And, please, do not give any of my books a five-star review unless it’s truly transcendent. In fact, don’t feel obligated to give me any feedback at all. I understand. Really.

Essays, general essay

Ta-Dah! It’s the Cover for A Ring for a Second Chance

November 17 is now less than a month away, and that means Release Day for my latest novel, A Ring for a Second Chance. It’s a bit of a departure for me in that it’s a fantasy about a young king who is deposed by his evil cousin, so he and his growing family must hide as poor farmers until he can take his rightful place.

The fun thing about the novel is that it’s actually the sequel to the very first novel I ever wrote, which was an expanded version of a popular fairy tale.

Today, however, is all about the cover. My friend Gingko Lee designed it and did an awesome job!

 

 

You can get a free ebook version (Kindle or epub) if you send me an email from the box to the right. The only catch is that you need to read it and post a review on either Amazon or GoodReads or your favorite retail site before November 17.

Essays, general essay

Looking for Beta Readers!

My latest novel, Death of the Zanjero, is ready for beta readers. Basically, it’s just test-reading the novel to see what needs fixing before it gets released next spring. Why so far in advance? It needs to be ready several months before the May release date to give reviewers time to read it and post their reviews.

The story is set in Los Angeles in 1870, a time when the small town was very violent and impossibly corrupt, with the most corrupt being the Zanjero or water overseer. When Zanjero Bert Rivers’ body floats up out of the irrigation ditch, or zanja, winemaker and healing woman Maddie Wilcox finds herself defending the person accused of killing him – the town’s most notorious madam. To save her, Maddie must find out who killed the despicable Bert Rivers, without revealing how she knows the madam is innocent. It’s a chase that will tax her intellect, her soul and her very belief in humanity before she’s done.

I’m really excited and proud of this novel and hope you’ll like it, too. If you want to read it, there is one small catch – you’ll have to read it in .pdf and send me notes on what you liked and didn’t like. There are limited spots available, so be the first to email me via the contact form to the right or below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and your comments!

Essays, general essay

I’m a Font Freak

I love fonts – what we used to call typefaces back in the day when people actually set type. I love going through the bazillions out there, testing first this one, then that. Debating whether I want to go with serifs or without. And I do have some absolute faves.

Now, I am aware that it is not normal to have a favorite font. It’s not normal to have a favorite Shakespeare play, or a favorite character (Puck) from my favorite play (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). And if you really want to see someone’s eyes glaze over in record time, start getting excited about file folders. I’m a strict third cut tab person, by the way. Normal has never been my thing.

So I’m cool with loving fonts. The only thing that makes me sad is that I can’t usually use my favorite fonts on my business cards or as website headers because most people can’t read them. Kind of works at cross purposes, you know?

But you wait. One of these days, I’m going to find a way to use Diploma on something that isn’t a diploma. I will. I will. I will.

Essays, general essay

Preaching in the Streets

Evangelizers on Hollywood Blvd. recently, and, yes, they ignored all the homeless people nearby.

Several months ago, I was waiting for a bus across the street from the L.A. City Hall when I saw a group of about five or six young women, all wearing the same bright green t-shirt, surrounding an old Hispanic woman sitting on the next bunch. One of the green-shirts was seated next to her, talking earnestly at the old woman. You could tell the old woman was nervous – as who wouldn’t be? Another group of green-shirts, guys, was nearby and I saw the small pamphlets on the ground and realized what this group was up to.

They were evangelizing – as in trying to get people to convert to Christianity. It’s bad enough when someone is being kind and sincere about sharing his or her faith. It’s bad enough when I tell these people that I am a Christian, and that, yes, I’ve said the magic prayer, but they still keep at it. What really got me torqued off at this group was that right across the street, the north lawn of City Hall was dotted with homeless people. Were any of the green-shirts over there, handing out sandwiches and clean socks? Maybe sitting and listening to somebody? No. They were all gathered on the side of the street I was on, molesting an old lady.

I got mad and called them on it. One sweet young thing told me they were praying for the homeless people. I made an allusion to the Epistle of St. James, chapter 2, verses 15-17 (you know, what good does it do tell someone naked to dress warmly and be well and walk by him) and got on the bus.

I’ve been trying to find a way to write about the incident with the compassion and love I was really not feeling for these people ever since. See, the thing is, most people out there stumping for Jesus are doing so thanks to their pastors, who are playing the guilt card, big time. They tell their flocks that if they really cared about people, they’d make sure they heard the Gospel, how unkind it is not to evangelize, etc., ad nauseum. And you can’t entirely blame the pastors. Not only are they hearing the same message, they’re looking at their shrinking Sunday collections and either consciously or unconsciously (I suspect the latter) figuring they’d better put the pressure on to bring in some new bodies.

The problem is, that same zeal is exactly why those Sunday collections are shrinking. People simply don’t believe in churches anymore. We can go into the whole Millenials are disaffected routine, and that does play a part. But I strongly suspect another part is the narrow-minded self-righteousness of people like the green-shirts, talking about the love of Jesus, but completely ignoring the hungry people across the street.

This bothers me because I happen to think that this planet would be a great deal better off if Christians (including me) really tried to practice the love of Jesus instead of talking about it. And it is practicing. None of us gets it totally right. Practicing the love of Jesus is about being present to other people, not quintuple-teaming an old lady until she says your prayer. It’s not worrying about the state of other people’s souls, but staying focused on the state of your own. If someone is genuinely searching and wants to hear about your faith, great. Be ready. But Jesus’ final directive of making disciples of all nations may actually mean he wants multi-cultural representation (in which case, we’ve met that goal – there are Christians pretty much everywhere), not that he wants everyone to become a Christian.

I can’t say for sure. All I can do is keep trying to be kind and present and loving to everyone, from my husband at his most annoying to the smelly bum sitting next to me on the bus. And give money to the poor. Maybe remember to buy an extra package of clean socks for the local homeless shelter. Carrying a few extra fruit bars in my backpack to share with anyone who asks. And probably a few other things I should be doing. And I’ll keep praying for the green-shirts, too. Why not?