What I do wrong. . .

In which I look at bucking the trends and its consequences, especially when it comes to series.

My career took a twist when my agent left me. I took stock of my career, regrouped, and have decided to take the direction I was pointed in. But I still don’t “follow the rules” in a lot of ways. I will be releasing a new book soon (stay tuned–I’m not giving information now because I want to give it a big send off, but here’s a hint: Daylight Saving Time has nothing on this book) and unlike everything they tell you when one self-publishes, it is NOT part of a series. It is a stand-alone novel. A complete story in one book.

I have a lot of stand alone books. It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal of series–I do. I’ve written three trilogies myselfTriSet (although one only has two books in it because the third book was never optioned. Someday I will write that third.) It seems nowadays every book is the starting point for a series. Heck I have a fantasy making the rounds right now that is the start of a series. But it’s a planned three books and it’s done. I suppose I could continue in that world if it takes off, but this story is three books. I was prepared to continue all my series if they took off, but they wouldn’t have been the same characters, just the same world. And I wrote stand-alones too.

Look, a series is great, but frankly after about three books, I’m bored with reading them. I want to get to the end. Harry Potter is an exception. I loved every one of those seven books and couldn’t wait for the next one to come out when they were, shall we say, fresh (although an argument can be made for Order of the Phoenix as being a bridge book). But, and perhaps this is blasphemy to the Potterheads, I’m glad the series is over. I loved every minute of it, but the story is now told. I would happily read (and have) other works by the author, but Harry Potter has an end and I’m glad for it. It’s wonderful for what it is and more would just ruin the experience (for me, but this is my blog). Frankly, I made it through Chronicles of Narnia only once (re-reading is my metric for excellence) because I didn’t care after about book three. The same is true for many of the ongoing romance series. Love the first few, but then I’d had enough. In fact, sometimes I resent having to read several books to finish a series just because I want to know what happens. I usually end up skimming.

When I make a list of my favorite books, many are stand-alone : Ready Player One, To Kill a Mockingbird (look at the controversy its sequel started–I ignore the sequel), And Then There Were None, Dandelion Wine (although there is a sequel, but it’s not as good, so I ignore it as well).  Some are part of a series: Huckleberry Finn (but it is so different from the first book in the series, and nobody reads the Tom Sawyer Detective novels), Bewitching (but the second book didn’t make nearly the impact). I would say the one area where I am willing to read more than three or so books is mystery. Agatha Christie is wonderful, and although she hated Poirot , I enjoyed the character, but each story was its own and there wasn’t a never-ending story arc.

There is a famous fantasy series that I have never started because it’s too long–too many books. I’m sure they’re fun, but really, I want a story to end, and then I want to move on to something new.

But that’s me, and that’s what I write. I complete a story and move on. If I like an author I will try their other books. It’s the voice that draws me in, and the voice will appear throughout the author’s body of work. I don’t need the same story dragged out. And if stand-alone books is the reason I don’t become huge, I can live with that.

I break other rules too–like being almost impossible to market (look at the covers of my last series)–but not writing in one series is the biggie.

–Gabi

What I am reading now:

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Mast Magician by Charlie N Holmberg

 

 

 

Romance Gets a Bad Rep

… In which I ponder why Romance has a bad rep and rant just a little.

In today’s paper I read a book review for a book I will never read. It’s by a male, and I imagine the book is doing/will do fairly well since it’s being reviewed in major papers. It’s described as a “sweeping, romantic novel.” In the brief description of the book describes the main characters, “once married and now divorced, who encounter one another after decades of mutual avoidance. The fight that ensues–and the subsequent fall to their deaths from a rocky ledge–occurs in the novel’s opening pages.” (ABQ Journal, Sunday, June 7, 2015, Book page)

IMG_0614
There’s a storm brewing…

How is that at all romantic? Apparently the story then proceeds in flashback to how this couple became a couple and what happened. The author of the article even calls it an “ill-fated romance.” Yeah, I’d say.

Look, if you like to read stuff like this, more power to you. You’re allowed to read anything you please. And the author is allowed to write anything he pleases. But seriously, don’t call this a romance or romantic. That would be like calling Psycho a romance because Norman has feelings for Marion. I could name the book in question a family saga or relationship drama, but not romance.

I admit I like my endings happy, or at least satisfying (I love a worthwhile tearjerker and am not above killing a few characters myself. I’ve sobbed more than once while writing some of my books.). Give me the endings I can cheer for–in movies: The Avengers, Notting Hill, Shawshank Redemption, Jurassic Park (which I just watched again on Friday–great film, great characters), The Princess Bride; in books: Harry Potter, To Kill A Mockingbird, Bewitching, Ready Player One. Call my tastes plebeian; I don’t care. I’ve read my share of literature and seen most of the highbrow films too. I don’t enjoy them. There is enough horrific stuff in the real world that I don’t have to have it in my entertainment. So help me, if Game of Thrones doesn’t give me that satisfying ending at the conclusion of the series (the books first, and then the TV show), I will be more than angry. Right now I don’t care how many characters have been killed because I trust the author will give me that ending that makes all the suffering worthwhile (Hear that, George?)

It’s called reader expectation. I know what I expect from my fiction. That’s why I avoid books like the one I opened this blog with, or what used to be called Oprah books, or those about which everyone mentions a surprise ending (Those books/movies are the ones I always go to spoiler website to “cheat” because I won’t waste my time on an ending that will piss me off. [Are you listening, George?] And no, it doesn’t spoil the experience for me. I always read the end of a book before I finish it anyway. And there’s a study that says spoilers actually enhance the experience.)

Enough. I know I’ve written about this before, but that book review just set me off. Again. Back to my deep breathing exercises.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy

 

 

The Elephant in the Room

Just because I have written Romance, why would you think I have an opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey?

I know the phenomenon that has hit the big screens this weekend. I remember it when it hit the book shelves a couple of years ago. I can’t give you an opinion on it. Why? Because I have neither read it nor seen it, and I have no plans to change that status any time soon. Usually when a book hit phenomenon stage I will pick it up. I figure that’s my job as a writer. I need to be familiar with the phenomena. That’s why I first picked up Harry Potter (back when there were only two books out there). I became a huge fan. Yes, sometimes the run-ons bothered me, but the book was so much more than that. I became one of those people who lined up at midnight to get the next volume. (Thank God I had children so I could use them as an excuse. I even made them dress up for one.) That’s why I read TheDaVinci Code (loved the concept, hated the execution). I read The Hunger Games for the same reason. And Twilight.  And then came Fifty Shades.

My Harry Potter Shelf--books in German and English
My Harry Potter Shelf–books in German and English

I didn’t read it, and I won’t. And here are the three reasons I won’t:

First, it’s just not my thing. Yes, I read and write romance, but BDSM is not my thing (I have a friend who calls herself the queen of vanilla sex. If she’s the queen, then I’m the empress.). Neither is erotica. I won’t read it. Sorry. I know I’ve excluded a lot of books from my reading list with that pronouncement, but I don’t enjoy it, so why should I subject myself to it? I will fight for your right to read and write anything you want, but in the same way, you shouldn’t force me to read something I don’t want.

Second, I’ve heard, and, mind you, this is not my opinion because I can’t give one, never having have read it, that the writing is terrible. Not just bad. Worse. This from reliable sources, friends, people I respect. My nerves become tied up in knots when I read bad writing, so I don’t want to put myself through that.

Third, I know it started as fan fiction for Twilight, and I’ve read (and seen–talk to me about the things I will do for my youngest daughter) that book. I am a fan of plot. I reached page 295 (or so) of the novel and yelled out, “Finally, something happens.” I know there are people who loved Twilight, but I wasn’t one of them. I like action, movement, not self-reflection or self-awareness. I read far too many books where the characters have so much angst and carry so much baggage I don’t believe in the happy ending. I don’t enjoy books that have so much introspection that I need therapy afterward. Thus if Fifty is basically Twilight with a twist, I don’t need to read it.

And there you have it. I truly don’t like to give an opinion on something I haven’t judged for myself. I know what you’re thinking: For not having an opinion, I sure can write a lot of words about it. I truly can’t say Fifty Shades is terrible or trite or wrong or abusive or mommy porn or whatever the heck else has been said about it, but I can say I won’t be finding out first hand.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Just about to start How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove. Still have a few more chapters to go in my last RITA book.

Life Philosophy…

How’s that for a scary title. But don’t be afraid. It isn’t that heavy.

Most of you know my youngest daughter has special needs. She’s an adult now, has a job, and is fairly independent, but she doesn’t drive, has real difficulty communicating, and we pretty much know she won’t be living alone for a while , if ever. That’s fine. We love having her around to watch movies with, play games, or just hang out. When she was little, she hit most of her physical milestones at the tail end of normal, but speech never came. Oh a word here or there, but no real talking. When she was four, however, she came up with my life’s philosophy. One day her older sister was crying. The youngest went up to her, put her arms around her and said, “Try happy.”

Try Happy

What beautiful words. The funny thing is they seem to work. I’m not trying to dismiss serious depression here (having been through a bout myself), and it’s never that easy,  but I’ve tried to live my life by those two words. It’s along the lines of “fake it until you make it,” another of my favorite sayings. But “Try Happy” is better. Life is too short to let yourself get distracted by awful things. I’m not saying hide from reality, or don’t get involved, but I always try to balance out unpleasantness with something that makes me smile. Thus my choice in reading and viewing materials. I am fairly political (Not here. I won’t subject you to my opinions here because I consider this blog part of my reading and viewing materials, and thus it conforms to my rules about those matters.) and the last thing I want to do when I’m trying to entertain myself is engross myself in dark, depressing stories. Yes, I watched Breaking Bad ( I live in Albuquerque, after all), and while I could admire the writing, the acting, the sheer brilliance of the show, I can’t say I enjoyed it. Nope. I want to escape in my free time. And “Try Happy” is a philosophy not used in that series. I want stories that celebrate the human spirit.

So, “Try Happy.” I’m thinking of having T-shirts made up or bumper stickers.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

I can’t tell you–I’m judging the RITAs and my reading selections must remain secret.

“I’m Your Biggest Fan”

I don’t care if you think you’re the biggest fan of my favorite book. You’re wrong. And here’s why…

You want to know the magic of books? It’s that every book is yours. Allow me to explain. When an author writes a book (I may just be speaking about myself; if so, just change the generalization to references to me), he or she is trying to give life to a story floating out in the nebula of our brains. I don’t care how much you plot, plan, or plead, the story you write will never achieve the vision you held in your head. So we do our best because we want to share our vision with the reader. And notice how I wrote “the reader,” not “the readers.” Of course authors want many readers; hell, we would all love to hit the lists, but when we speak about those who enjoy our work, we tend to speak in the singular. Yes, we are trying to reach many, but each book can only reach one person at a time.

Some (very few) of my favorite books--the ones that were close enough that I could take this pictures quickly.
Some (very few) of my favorite books–the ones that were close enough that I could take this picture quickly.

What I take from a book is different from what you take. Yes, we can both (all?) love the hero, hate the villain, but when I’m reading it’s just me and the page. When I’m in a book (and I would say I am in a book), every image is mine. Yes, the words create them, but my mind pictures are different from the author’s and different from yours. When I love a book, it doesn’t matter if someone can beat me in a trivia contest over its contents, or can name every fact. The only thing that matters is how I respond to it. Because it’s now mine. The book, its story, the characters, and my experience with them. Mine, mine, mine.

As an author I can tell you it’s hard to let your book go out into the world because part of letting others own the book is that some will not like it. Their experience will be unsatisfactory. They will think the hero stupid, or the heroine weak, or the villain too over the top. Unfortunately, those are valid responses as well. Remember, the book belongs to the reader.

And thus the magic. When you pick up a book, you bring yourself to it. Your responses are yours—you don’t have to justify them, or support them, or debate them (although if you can support your arguments in a debate and like that sort of thing, it can be fun). When a reader says he or she is the book’s biggest fan, he or she is right, even if there are thousands that say so. When I’m reading or rereading a favorite novel, it’s my book, and I am the biggest fan. Of course I’m the biggest fan (or biggest detractor), because the story I read/experience is different from anyone else’s; it is mine. It is unique.

And that’s magic.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

Honor’s Price by Alexis Morgan

Contests

In the romance world a writer has ample opportunity to enter contests. I confess I haven’t looked into contests for other genres much. Of course I’ve heard of the big ones–the Hugo, the Nebula, the Edgar, etc–but in the romance world there are contests for published and unpublished authors in every sub-genre you can imagine. I’ve entered several, finaled in most, won a few, so here is my take.

On the plus side:

  • A contest can give you validation. It feels good to win or final in a contest. It lets you know your work is appreciated by others who have nothing at stake in judging you. It ain’t your family telling you you’re good. Sometimes you need that validation. (Let me tell you though, the feeling doesn’t last. Why are we humans so quick to forget the good stuff and obsess on the bad? Or is that just me?)
  • A second perk is getting your work in front of an editor or agent who might be interested in buying your manuscript. While I never received any offers from my contest wins, I do know a couple a of people who sold directly because of winning a contest.
  • If your writing isn’t at the level of winning or publishing yet, a contest can give you valuable feedback on your work from readers who again have nothing at stake in critiquing you. One of the most helpful things a beginner can receive is unbiased feedback. It can hurt, but the learning curve is huge with an honest critique.
  • A contest can help build your thick skin. You need it in this business. Losing a few contests, or being ripped apart, can teach you that you can survive a harsh review in the future.  Lastly, for you already published authors, a contest win can give you bragging rights, something to stick on your covers. You will often see Hugo Award winging author on a cover.

On the minus side:

  • Most contests cost money, and some are very expensive. Sometimes entry fees are out of reach.
  • You might be judged by thoroughly incompetent judges, people who aren’t qualified to judge writing. I’ve always laughed when someone criticized my grammar. Yeah, I rarely make grammar mistakes. If I have often it’s a typo, not a grammar error. (Mind you, if you’re judging my grammar by this blog, just stop. I’m talking about my manuscripts, not the thoughts I randomly post here. This is casual. My writing is anything but, and if dialog or writing is casual in my manuscripts, you can bet I did it on purpose). My favorite judging error was when a judge had no idea what Cartagena was. Really? And there have been several others. I’ve even had judges mark up a manuscript for using passed instead of past, when passed was correct. Anyone who has entered contests can tell you stories about judges’ errors.
  • You might end up with a judge who just doesn’t like your work. No matter how objective a judge tries to be, judging is subjective, and if you write vampires and they abhor vampires, it will reflect in your score.  A contest is often a crap shoot. Your manuscript/book may be incredible, but it won’t get the recognition it rightly deserves. You get judges who hate your voice or plot or theme. Or not finaling may be as simple as getting a judge who doesn’t believe in giving out top scores because nothing is perfect. So, it’s a crapshoot.
  • You can get addicted to contests and winning. I knew of a writer who had three perfect starting chapters and won contest after contest, but never finished the manuscript. The danger of polishing the beginning (usually what is asked for in a contest) is never giving the rest of the manuscript the attention it deserves.
  • If you don’t get the results you hope for and you haven’t developed that thick skin, you might find yourself so discouraged that you quit.

I know I listed more cons than pros, but I personally like contests. I can claim I am an award winning novelist. Almost every one of my novels has been recognized in one way or another. And besides, I’ve always loved competition. (Never play a board game with me unless you play by the rules and play to win. I don’t mind losing as long as it was a worthy battle. But I play to win.)

So vet your contests. Examine why you are entering and what your goal is. Choose wisely. Contests can be fun or helpful or none of the above. Entering is something you have to decide for yourself.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

See previous posts. (Yes, I’m reading slowly now; or I’m blogging too quickly.)

Tastes and Age

Lately I find myself engrossed in a couple of television shows. I was a firm fan of How I Met Your Mother, but it’s over now. I watch The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, but I’m absolutely hooked on Grimm, Once Upon a Time, and Agents of Shield. I’ve glommed a few series on Netflix: Dr. Who, Eureka, Warehouse 13, Primeval, The Dresden Files, Firefly; and I’ve caught a few episodes of Torchwood and Farscape (not glomming those, though). Most of my friends who are not in the writing world don’t watch any of these. They don’t read the same books as I either. They’ve all seen Breaking Bad, which I am currently watching, but more out of a sense of “need to” rather than “want to.” I recognize the superior story crafting, the superb acting, but it’s just not my thing. I’ve been pleading with them to watch Game of Thrones with little success. We own the discs and the books.

It’s left me wondering about tastes and age. I suppose most people believe that as one ages, one’s tastes become more serious. I’ve found the opposite to be true. I’m gravitating even more toward the paranormal (to use a generic term for sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction). I recently visited my daughter in Boston, and I think I shocked her roommates when I not only understood their references, but added my own insights to their conversations. We watched Pacific Rim together and had a great time.

So am I just more youthful in my tastes? I don’t think so. I believe that all entertainment, whether it’s books, movies or television, is about the characters. It’s the great characters that keep us glued to a show or a book. It’s just the delivery method that changes. A character gives us someone to recognize and cheer for. When they change, we grow. When they hurt, we ache. We feel with them and experience universal truths through them (This ties into Theme, which proves that you can’t isolate one element of a story with any kind of success). Tyrion Lannister is a fair, loyal, and just character with great flaws who happens to be a member of a ruthless family from whom he’s learned some of his behavior. Does that sound like Hamlet to you? (Okay, not exactly, but you get the picture.) And when [SPOILER–skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know even this non-event specific fact] they push him too far, he finally rejects them. He is honorable in his own way. We root for him even more than the outrightly noble character of Ned Stark, because liking Ned is too easy (Not that his death wasn’t heart-breaking, but, really, he was too good.)

Perhaps I like my characters in settings that aren’t of this world because I am so aware of the realities of this world. I’m highly political (which I try to keep from these pages), aware of current events, scientifically minded, and have my own personal demons I battle. In my entertainment, I don’t want to face those realities in a realistic setting. I would argue those same realities are in the paranormal, but in a background where they are easier to handle and comprehend and still be entertained. I would also argue that historical fiction is also not of this world. Must be why I like it too.

So don’t expect me to write or read the next great American novel. Give me magic, fairies, spaceships, and time travel. I’ll take my characters and morality from real fiction instead of reality fiction. Disagree with me? That’s fine. I’m not asking you to change your mind. But don’t judge my tastes either.

Meanwhile I’m waiting for a friend of mine to return from her European trip and bring me the Harry Potter series in German. Can’t wait to re-read them.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin (re-read)

 

 

Favorites

The most interesting thing about having written a collection of short (short) stories is how everyone has a different favorite. Smaller Preternatural High Res FINAL REV copyI like them all but even I have a couple that stand out as my favorites. The people who have previewed the stories all told me they enjoyed the entire collection, but X is their favorite. X has been different for each person. One friend like the first in the collection; my husband liked a totally different one. I find it so interesting that our tastes can vary so much. I also find it wonderful.

Why so wonderful? There are books people rave about that I couldn’t finish. (You know the one I’m talking about, Monique.) There are books I obsess about that I can’t get others to read. What it shows is that there is room for everyone out there in the world of books. You may not like my books, but you’ll rave over someone else’s. Some author might leave you cold, but my books will carry you away to that magic world where you forget yourself. It’s all good.

If we all liked the same thing, we’d all have to read (and eat, and view, and furnish our houses with) the same thing. Yuck. How boring. While I believe there is value in having common experiences in a culture , i.e., certain books, films, etc. that everyone has read or seen, you are still allowed to pick your favorites. And pick your unfavorites. Taste and sharing them or arguing over them makes life interesting.

Have I mentioned I don’t like olives?

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan MacGuire

A Game of Thrones  by George RR Martin (reread)