Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"Which do you choose, a hard or soft option?..."

Magic systems in fantasy! They are not all alike, as you know, but here's one of the ways to categorize them: a spectrum between "soft" and "hard" magic. Hard magic systems have defined rules on how they work, and the reader is told what they are—e.g., the four element types of bending in Avatar: the Last Airbender have certain basic limits, which is why the characters are astounded when, say, Toph invents metalbending. Soft magic is more mystical and indefinable—e.g., we don't really know HOW Gandalf does all the magic he does, or even what his limits might be; we just accept that he's a wizard and such things are unknowable to the likes of us.
I tend toward soft magic, though moderately so, in my fantasy books, because I feel like the more you give precise, quasi-scientific explanations for magic, the more it's likely to bug people who actually know science. (Also the closer it comes to being science fiction instead of fantasy.) That said, I do put limits and costs in my magic systems: the fae in The Goblins of Bellwater (and Lava Red Feather Blue), though very soft-magic in terms of having large and undefined amounts of power, must nevertheless adhere to deals they make, because that's just the rule.

I also tend toward preferring soft magic in reading, because I don't REALLY feel I need pages of detailed explanation about which material and which rule loophole and which move is the way to solve things; I'm good with a briefer and more mystical explanation. However, many readers do love the details. Neither side is wrong! It's a matter of preference—and it's also on the shoulders of us writers to be consistent within a given story, whatever slot on the spectrum we're picking.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Which book? How to choose?

I asked myself something yesterday when I was trying to decide which of the many possible story ideas I should commit to working on next. I'll share it with you in case you have some decision to make, to which this line of questioning may apply.
I essentially had three story ideas revolving in my mind as main contenders for The Next Novel; we'll call them A, B, and C. (As with many writers, my problem isn't coming up with ideas, it's choosing which of my many ideas to use at a given time.) Naturally I first tried asking myself, "Which do I want to write most?", but for some reason that didn't give me a clear winner. I could justify why I might like writing each of them, or "should" try writing each of them.
So I turned it around and instead asked, "How would I feel if I learned that someone else just wrote and published this exact story, and therefore I could never write it myself?"
And that was more interesting. Because for stories A and B, it turned out I didn't mind so much. I thought, "Oh well; that might be for the best. Someone else with more expertise on subject A or subject B would probably write it better." But for story C, I felt regret at the idea of giving it up—"Aw! I could've had fun with that. I would have come up with something cool."
Thus we have our answer.
...Although don't hold me to that. I could yet change my mind. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Being a memoirist again, just for tonight

Here’s a story about an alluring guy I met online.
It was the late '90s, in a chat room for fans of The Cure.
He swooped in and defended me against a troll by delivering witty, cutting comments that drove said troll out of the room. I messaged him to say thanks, and we became friends.
He lived on the other side of the country from me, with his folks. We were still in our early 20s, so it wasn’t too unusual that he lived at home. He basically seemed to invest funds rather than work, and was well educated.
Not only did we share tastes in music, but we both enjoyed snarky takedowns of stupid people. Always a thing to bond over in one’s 20s. The friendship continued for the next few years, despite our frustratingly slow dial-up connections.
We confided in each other. I told him about relationship trouble with my boyfriend sometimes, but my online buddy was a gentleman; he never tried to cybersex me or otherwise audition to become my next boyfriend.
He told me about having loved and lost. About a fiancée recently who’d died in an accident. My heart ached for him.
There was sometimes flirtation. Or at least, I read it as such, and I reciprocated. The affection was expressed through rare, shy compliments, songs sent to one another in mp3, and occasional gifts shipped across the country.
We even talked on the phone a couple of times. He was charming, exactly as he was in our message window. Hearing his voice made him so real. Although not quite as real as I wanted.

No one had iPhones yet. Few people had digital cameras or scanners. So sharing photos of ourselves was actually a bit tricky. I managed it anyway, getting a few pics scanned somehow or other and sending them.
He kept saying he’d send some of himself, then not getting around to it. I respected that. Not everyone wants to share pics with people they’ve never met IRL, and he was a sensitive type, protective of his privacy.
Or at least, I respected it to a point. It started getting me down, that we knew each other so well but I could never *see* him. We argued sometimes. His snarky takedowns of others did occasionally extend to me, and I gave as good as I got.
He excelled at making me feel bad about arguing. I was letting my emotions take over my logic, as women are prone to, he said. I challenged him on such misogyny; it was beneath him. He tended to back down and send a conciliatory mp3.
Other people in the chat room were awful at times, inexplicably rude to me. I complained to my buddy in private messages, and he commiserated. Told me nasty secrets about them that they’d overshared with him. God, those people were losers.
One year, I decided I should just go visit him for a few days over summer. I proposed to, and he agreed, but told me I shouldn’t buy a plane ticket yet. He knew someone who worked for Delta and would get me a good deal.
I waited to hear from him. He didn’t log on again for weeks. Didn’t get back to me. I finally took a vacation elsewhere, to visit family who did want to see me.
Hurt, I confronted him when he finally showed up online again. He admitted his absence was a breach in manners and he was sorry. By then I had admitted it would obviously just be too “weird” to meet IRL, so we wouldn’t, but it still hurt.
At least I had him to complain to about those nasty other people. They hadn’t let up. Still, he also teased me about basically everything. Made me feel like I didn’t know anything, no matter what subject we discussed.
If I mentioned my boyfriend or our prospect of marrying and having kids, he went silent, even though he’d always denied any jealousy when I had tactfully brought up the possibility in the past and invited us to talk about it.
I started to feel disillusioned. If talking to him only made me feel bad about myself, and if he was going to be secretive about his life and dodge all the important topics, maybe this friendship was a waste of time.
I didn’t actually say so to him. I just quietly pulled back and stopped having those online conversations. I started feeling a lot better about life, without his negativity. Still, I remained confused about what had happened.
One day, one of those other people from the chat room emailed me; a woman with whom I’d exchanged many catty comments in the past. We politely disliked each other, was essentially our mutual feeling. Or so I thought.
But she was sincere and open in her email. She and her husband had succeeded in meeting our buddy in person, and had had a lot of message exchanges with him over the years, same as I had, and she’d begun to have certain suspicions.
What was my experience with him?, she basically wanted to know. I explained all of the above and more, in total honesty, including my feelings of disillusionment and hurt. Her response opened up a stunning exchange.
He’d been telling her horrible things about me. Twisted truths and flat-out lies. He’d also been telling me lies about her. And spreading lies about everyone and everything, to everyone in the chat room. It was seemingly all he did with his time.
We compared the stories he’d told us. None of it matched up. Put together, it made no sense. It was a big house of illusory cards.
He probably had no friend at Delta. No shortage of photos to send. No dead fiancée and probably none of the other traumas he claimed to have suffered, which had softened up my heart as well as this other woman’s.
He’d had an ingenious system: make each of us think we were the only one he liked, then alienate us from everyone else by whispering lies about the others, making us doubt our own worth, our own mental stability. Make us need him.
Those other people in the chat room weren’t losers at all. He had just made me believe they were. While also making THEM believe *I* was a loser. 
I now know this is called gaslighting. We didn’t have that word then, or at least, no one was talking about it the way they do now. It was also more or less catfishing, another word we didn’t yet have.
He was very, very good at it. I’m not a gullible person; I like to think I’m pretty darn skeptical. But he was playing a long game, probably because he was clinically narcissistic and for no other reason, and he convinced me.
I’m lucky, and so is the other woman. We eventually started suspecting something was off and extricated ourselves. Nothing terrible happened to us except a colossal waste of time and affection.
Nonetheless, I do feel stupid and gullible for falling for his act, for such a long span of years. It’s why I haven’t really told this story before—that, and I didn’t particularly want to dwell on it. 
But it gives me sympathy for those who are still being gaslighted by, for example, politicians, or worse, by friends or spouses. I know it can happen even to the intelligent.
We want to give others the benefit of the doubt. 99% of the time or more, that’s a wonderful thing to do. That other sliver of time, though…look out.
See now why I started the post with “a story about an alluring guy”? This way you could see, maybe, how I fell into the trap. If I’d started it with “a story about gaslighting,” you’d wonder how I could ever have been so stupid.
People aren’t necessarily stupid for falling for such folks. They may need years of time to climb out of their delusion (there’s no “snapping” out of it; it’s rarely that fast). But keep your compassion for the victims if you can.
Also, don’t ever, ever believe that because someone is good at snarky takedowns, they’re a great candidate for a friend. Friends have your back, true. But a true friend’s natural state is compassion and trust, not sarcasm and evasion.
And if you’re in a relationship or friendship that resembles what I’ve described above, please get yourself out of it. As soon as you can. Ask others who’ve known that person and have gotten distance from them; talk to someone you can trust.
No one who goes into a friendship with a generous, kindhearted spirit deserves to be gaslighted. Whoever’s reading this, I hope you never are. If you already have been, I’m so sorry. I know what it feels like.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Doing nothing...except WRITING!

We all like to joke about how the majority of us lately are at home doing nothing; wearing pajamas, Netflixing, posting photos of our pets, obsessively refreshing news sites. I'm doing all of that for sure. BUT! I'm also writing! And editing. And plan to keep doing a lot more of both.
I asked myself: If I were going to die soon—a possibility that's seemed a lot more real for everyone lately—what would I wish I had done? Since I have to scratch off things like "see Italy" for now, I looked to the other items, most of which are things like:
Finish the story I'm working on
Try writing that play adaptation I was talking about
Think about the next book and decide what I most want to write in all the world, and write that
And, yeah: read delightful books and watch shows and films I've always meant to, and be extra loving with my kids and husband and pets. But not to the exclusion of creating.
Because, you know what, I probably still have a long future ahead, and you probably do too. And when quarantine finally lifts and real life rushes out the gates again, I want to emerge with lots of new finished products in hand, ready to share.
HUGE side benefit: focusing on all of the above makes me much less anxious, and I am naturally a person prone to anxiety. Especially health-related anxiety! So this is a major perk.
Take care out there, and worry less by living more. In your space. At a safe distance.  ❤️

Monday, February 24, 2020

88 Lines About 44 Women Writers

So, I made a thing. I heard that ‘80s song about 44 women, and I decided to write…

88 LINES ABOUT 44 WOMEN WRITERS

Enheduanna was a poet
From four thousand years ago,
Sappho, too, wrote lyric lines
For lovers we may never know

Murasaki’s Tale of Genji
Might be the first novel ever,
Hildegard knew plants and music,
Mystical and wise and clever

Héloïse became a scholar,
Writing reams to Abelard,
Veronica the courtesan
Penned poems earning high regard

Aphra was a spy and playwright,
Boldly blazing cagey trails,
Marie-Catherine charmed the salons
With her retold fairy tales

Mary wrote on rights of women,
Did her gender proud and fine,
And her daughter, also Mary,
Gave the world a Frankenstein

Jane created Mr. Darcy,
Satirized society,
George’s books (or Mary Anne’s)
Show kindness and variety

Elizabeth, she loves thee, let her count the ways,
Her romance soars,
Charlotte gave us Rochester
And Jane Eyre out upon the moors

Emily is famed for Heathcliff,
Turbulent and dark and grim,
Anne wrote with more realism,
Sensible and calm and prim

Christina held a Goblin Market,
Lovely, eerie, and fantastic,
George romanced Chopin and kept her
Gender expression elastic

Harriet, with Uncle Tom,
Helped to encourage abolition,
Emily wrote eighteen hundred
Poems despite her shy condition

Louisa and her little women
Still cause us to rhapsodize,
Edith scored the Pulitzer,
The first woman to win the prize

Virginia urged a room of one’s own
For all women who would write,
Colette captivated France
As actor, novelist, playwright


Lucy Maud, she brought us Anne,
Now we all love Green Gables Farm,
Gertrude’s streams of consciousness
Challenge as they also charm

Agatha’s detectives make her
Outsell all the rest of us
Young Anne writing from an attic
Had faith in the best of us

Simone wrote of politics,
And culture, existentially,
Daphne’s stories (see Rebecca)
Gained fame exponentially

Anaïs’ journals
And erotica are wise and stirring
Flannery has Southern whimsy
With plenty of grace recurring

Harper’s Scout and Atticus
Have earned spots in posterity,
Maya told the truth of life
With starkness and hilarity

Shirley scared the hell out of us
With Hill House and other stories,
Octavia gave us a glimpse
Into the future’s trials and glories

Dorothy’s witty verse could cut you,
Every line a wicked smirk,
Gabriela taught and wrote
And earned the Nobel for her work

Mary wrote beloved poems,
Nature-loving and inspiring,
Isabel crafts magic novels,
Of her whimsy we’re admiring

Judy helped us all get through
Puberty with lessened pain,
Toni’s prose on race and life
Earns her fame; long may she reign

Ursula took us from Earthsea
To new planets far away,
Margaret’s handmaids made us shiver
May her wisdom light our way!


Women referenced:

1. Enheduanna
2. Sappho
3. Murasaki Shikibu
4. Hildegard of Bingen
5. Héloïse d’Argenteuil
6. Veronica Franco
7. Aphra Behn
8. Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d'Aulnoy
9. Mary Wollstonecraft
10. Mary Shelley 
11. Jane Austen
12. Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot)
13. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
14. Charlotte Bronte
15. Emily Bronte
16. Anne Bronte
17. Christina Rossetti
18. George Sand
19. Harriet Beecher Stowe
20. Emily Dickinson 
21. Louisa May Alcott
22. Edith Wharton
23. Virginia Woolf
24. Colette
25. Lucy Maud Montgomery
26. Gertrude Stein 
27. Agatha Christie
28. Anne Frank
29. Simone de Beauvoir 
30. Daphne du Maurier 
31. Anaïs Nin 
32. Flannery O’Connor
33. Harper Lee 
34. Maya Angelou
35. Shirley Jackson
36. Octavia Butler
37. Dorothy Parker
38. Gabriela Mistral
39. Mary Oliver
40. Isabel Allende 
41. Judy Blume
42. Toni Morrison
43. Ursula K. LeGuin
44. Margaret Atwood

Monday, February 10, 2020

Free audiobooks, cheap ebooks, and a New Year's resolution that works

Happy February! Deals seem to be the theme of the month so far. First, thanks to The Wild Rose Press trying a big new promotion, there are LOTS OF FREE CODES for Audible, up for grabs for both UK and US users, for The Ghost Downstairs and Summer Term in their audio editions. Go claim one! And if you are willing to be so kind, a review afterward on Amazon and anywhere else you leave reviews would be much appreciated.

For those who prefer reading on screen, some of my ebooks are also currently going for only 99 cents on Kindle:
These would make great romantic gifts on the cheap for Valentine's Day, for your Kindle-reading loved ones. (The first two would, anyway. Goblins is a good choice for those friends with more twisted tastes.)
Now for my New Year's resolution that has actually been working: What I did was choose more of a theme than a resolution. My theme is a three-part one, interrelated:
Reading, writing, editing.
My resolution is basically: focus on doing one or more of those things for the majority of my day. If I'm doing something else—e.g., scrolling mindlessly through social media—I try to pause and ask myself, "Does this count as the reading, writing, or editing I'd like to be doing?" Generally, no, it does not, so I close that window and do one of my chosen things instead.
The simplicity of the theme has helped me stick to it, especially given these are all activities I want to pursue anyway. I've been reading more, writing more, and am farther ahead on my editing coursework than I thought I'd be at this point in the year, so it's working!
Have you found a resolution, or a similar theme, that's gotten you into a productive groove this year? Let me know! I like hearing what works for others.
Meanwhile, enjoy reading—or listening (which in this case counts as reading).

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Art you can keep vs. art you give away

Yesterday I listened to this podcast interview with Megan Whalen Turner, whose Queen's Thief series I totally adore, and she said something I have thought too:
To paraphrase, she said she's grateful she's a writer, because she can create something and give it away or sell it, yet still have it. People who make ceramics or paintings or other physical crafts have to either part with their creations or live surrounded by a sea of their art.
I am in awe of people who can make physical art like ceramics and jewelry and paintings, and am so glad they are willing to let them go to us in the wider world so we can have them. At the same time, I'm selfishly grateful that writing is my art of choice (or maybe it chose me), because I get to keep all my work and share it at the same time.
Do some art today! (And turn off social media.) 

Friday, October 25, 2019

Oh hi, new contract!

Hello all -
Exciting news first: there's a new book on the way! I've just signed a contract with Central Avenue Publishing (my awesome publisher for the past several books as well) for my next novel, currently titled Lava Red Feather Blue. For those who read The Goblins of Bellwater and wanted more fae, I have heard you! This one has loads of fae, including a protagonist who's half-fae, half-human. Meanwhile for those of you who read All the Better Part of Me and wanted another male/male love story, I've heard you too: this one also has that! It's set on a fictional island nation in the north Pacific, and I'll have plenty of time to tell you more about it in the coming year, but for now, you can add it to your Goodreads to-read shelf. And here's a teaser graphic with character-inspiration images.

As for news of books that are already released: I went to the Pacific Northwest Booksellers' Association trade show a couple of weeks ago, where I talked up All the Better Part of Me and signed mountains of copies. 
This is a show that isn't open to the public, only to registered independent bookstore owners/employees and the publishers and authors who are displaying their books. I met so many lovely bookstore folk from all over the Northwest - please do remember your nearby independent brick-and-mortar stores and go buy books from them! They work hard to build a collection their customers will love.
I'll keep the update to just that for today. But please do tell me what you're going to be for Halloween, if you celebrate it and if you feel like sharing. It's one of my favorite holidays, as you might guess from the rather large number of paranormal happenings in the books I write. Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, September 23, 2019

The shame we carry forward from youth, and the empathy of writing


“I’m a novelist, not a memoirist.” It’s what I keep saying, in defense, when people ponder dubiously, sometimes viciously, in online book reviews, whether I (as a 40-something-year-old mostly-straight woman) have the right to write a novel about a 25-year-old bisexual male. Or someone from another country. Or someone with a disability I don’t have. Or any other difference you might name. I still stick to the defense that writing about people different than ourselves is the exact point and the exact job description of being a novelist, and that the empathy gained in the experience is wonderful for all of humanity. Same goes for reading novels. But, today, because it’s been on my mind, I’ll be a memoirist for a bit.

They say, “You don’t have the right to talk about what it’s like to be disparaged for who you are, your identity, your sexuality, because you don’t know.” But how do they know if I don’t know? Granted: right, Molly, how would they know your background when you haven’t told them? I haven’t told them because I didn’t want to talk about it, put it all on display. I didn’t want to be a memoirist; I wanted to be a novelist. Maybe I thought that was safer. Well, it clearly isn’t, in terms of being judged (nay, crucified at times), so I might as well put it out there.

In first grade—I barely remember this; I’m going by what my mom tells me—I had a teacher who was so strict she terrified me. My folks talked to the principal. They collectively decided that, since I could do the work just fine, they’d move me up into second grade. (Was there no room in other first-grade classes? I have no idea why this was the best idea. Personally I think it was a terrible decision.) Nonetheless, I got transferred to a second-grade class, to the surprise of me and the second-graders, and adjusted reasonably well and got on with life. OR DID I?

I have an August birthday, which, as you fellow summer-birthday people know, means I was already among the youngest in my grade. Getting moved up a grade meant I was now at least a year and sometimes almost two years younger than everyone else in my class. I was also physically small; always have been. I’m still only 5’2”, and I didn’t cross the five-foot mark till around ninth grade. My smallness and youth weren’t too huge a deal in elementary school, to my memory, but then came middle school.

Oh, middle school. I don’t have to tell you what it’s like. But I can tell you that it’s worse if you’re tiny, intimidated by all the suddenly-huge 7th and 8th graders around you, intimidated also by the daunting new level of academic work you’re expected to do, and it’s all made worse when you don’t have any close friends at the school. (My closest friends from elementary school went to a different middle school.) Boys who loomed over me and must have weighed twice what I did called me “Smally Molly” (so clever!), and stole my lunch tickets when I was naïve enough to leave them semi-visible in my open binder’s zippered pencil pouch, then they insisted to the teacher with wide-eyed innocence that they hadn’t done it. Popular girls stared at me and my dorky clothes as if I were a slug they’d just stepped on (I have NEVER gotten the hang of dressing fashionably), and whispered to each other and giggled. The one friend I hung out with gave in to peer pressure from a more popular girl and dumped me. I befriended a couple of fellow nerds eventually, and we three hung out at lunch, glumly relating the horrible things people had called each of us that day. Nice boys I developed obsessive crushes on eventually got tired of my leaving them cutesy shy notes and making moony eyes at them, and passed me notes that said “LEAVE ME ALONE! STOP LOOKING AT ME!!”

When I write about someone being rejected, being constantly picked on for who they are, for who they in their awkward cluelessness can’t help being, do I perhaps not understand what I’m talking about?

Then came high school. Things improved! I mean…they improved compared to middle school, but…

My obsessive crushes continued, transferred to now slightly more mature boys. They were even mature enough to start being nice to me—kind of. At the end of my freshman year I started going out with a sophomore, who, because of my extra-youngness, was almost two and a half years older than me. He seemed to view me as a fixer-upper, though one he did honestly love. He’d tell me, with sympathy, that some of the other kids were wondering why I wore the same jeans all the time. And that those scabs on my arms weren’t very attractive (marks from nervously picking at my hair follicles until I gave myself constellations of tiny scabs). And I held my silverware like a little kid; had no one ever taught me better? And also, my writing was okay, but there was no way I could, like, go professional with it. Babe, grow up, he’d say.

But at least someone loved me! It was intoxicating. I still didn’t have any other real friends around—those two fellow nerds from middle school had gone to the other high school in town—so of course I improved myself to please him. Not to mention, HORMONES, hello. We were teens. Kissing and fondling each other were the wildest and most exciting activities we had ever experienced in our lives. I was learning A LOT here.

“What a slut,” another girl said about me, because I kissed my boyfriend frequently in the halls. Never mind that he was the only person on Earth I was kissing or doing anything else with—apparently being amorous at all, as a girl, meant you were a slut. For that matter, my boyfriend himself really, really didn’t like it when I started becoming friends with other guys.  “He wants to get into your pants,” he’d scold, in a drama-filled argument we had over and over for basically every one of said friends. “You shouldn’t hug him.”

I couldn’t control what THEY thought, I defended. “You WANT to be sexy,” he accused. And he was right: deep down, I did want that. I didn’t want to have sex with loads of people, but I did want to be seen as sexy. Which reputable girls weren’t supposed to want. I was filled with guilt and shame, and tearfully denied his accusation.

When I write about someone being sex-shamed, scolded and put down for having sexual interests at all or even for being SUSPECTED of having sexual interests, do I maybe know what I’m talking about?

I broke up with that boyfriend, after way too long, after it had gone much too far into dysfunction. I blundered ahead into college and felt out of place once again, not cool enough to want to drink or smoke or party, too introverted to be social like the “fun” students, yet teased by friends in a rather sex-shamey way when I shacked up with my (new) boyfriend. I married him eventually, I kept writing, we had kids, and here we are.

But those scars—man, they still ache during certain weather. When I write novels, I’m being far more of a memoirist than I would have people believe. Even when I’m undeniably writing about people who are different than me and are undergoing specific hardships I’ve never faced, the emotions underneath are mine. Fear, isolation, grief, heartbreak, rejection, love, lust, shame, anger, confused pride.

I have this paranoid suspicion that people see my smiling author photo and read my whimsical-but-well-educated bio and think, “Yeah, I know her type. Girl who’s always gotten everything, had lots of friends in school, whose idea of a rough day was that time she got a bad perm.” I grant you, that WAS a rough day, but that wasn’t the worst of them by any means. I put all of the above out there to tell you that when I write “one of the quiet, weird kids” in my bio, I really mean WEIRD, and that it hurt, for years on end. And that when someone hates my novels and decides that what I deserve is for them to shred me and my work as if I’m no more worthy than that slug they just stepped on—yep, that does throw me right back to the popular kids slamming into me from behind and knocking me over, then breezing past snickering without pausing to help me up.

Is it worth it to keep writing novels? Absolutely. I love the writing part. The sharing part: goddamn, that’s scary. And it will never not be.