Sunday, July 28, 2013

Writers of a certain age.

First, a really big THANK YOU to everybody who downloaded Tapped last week and Gravid this week during their free days on Amazon.  I hope y'all enjoy the books! There's one more Pipe Woman Chronicles book that hasn't had a free run yet, but it's coming.  Look for Annealed's free days at the end of next week, August 8-10.  If you already have your copy, may the gods bless you, and please spread the word.

Also, Seized is free at Story Cartel through August 20th, in exchange for a review and a chance at a $10 Amazon gift card.  Thanks again, as always, for your support for my writing.


Is it just me, or does it seem like every third indie author I meet is a woman of a certain age?

I'm not going to get much more specific than that.  But it seems like a lot of us have been around for a few decades.  Life has knocked us around a little -- or, in some cases, a lot -- and we're figuring out that a good way to cope with it, and maybe share some of the lessons we've learned, is to launch a writing career.

For many of us, I suspect, writing was something we always wanted to do, but were prevented for some reason. Either we had kids (and husbands) to raise, or families to support, or both -- and we didn't have the luxury of either time or financial solvency to try to take the time to make a living at our writing.

Maybe our families were unsupportive of frivolous pursuits.  When I was in high school, I was determined to major in music in college.  My mother was okay with me giving it a try, but she always told me to have "something to fall back on" -- another skill that I could make a living with.  On one hand, it's not bad advice to tell somebody to have a Plan B in case her dream career falls through. On the other hand, highly competitive careers almost require a person to be so passionate about succeeding that failure is not an option; if you go into it with a Plan B in the back of your head, you're almost setting yourself up to fail.  And if it's Mom, your biggest cheerleader, telling you to have a Plan B...well, you see where I'm going with this.

Anyway.  The other possibility is that life threw us a curveball, so that we can no longer do the thing we intended to spend our life doing. Health issues, changes in family circumstances -- whatever the reason, we've found ourselves with time to write and a cause to write about.

Still another possibility is that we women of a certain age have been trying to get published for decades, but we got caught by the changes in the publishing business.  And I'm not just talking about the most recent trend to sign celebrities at the expense of midlist authors, either.  In decades past, you could make a name for yourself in publishing circles by getting your short stories published in some of the magazines that published fiction -- and in those days, lots of magazines did.  That market started to dry up sometime in the '80s; today, the short-story market has dwindled to a couple of handfuls of literary magazines.

That was the state of affairs until Smashwords and KDP came along.  Then we women of a certain age found ourselves amidst a perfect storm: we had a lot to say, we had the luxury of time (after kids were grown and careers had perhaps dialed back) to say it in, and we finally had a vehicle for putting it out into the world without someone telling us it wouldn't sell enough copies to make it worth their while to publish.

For all the women of a certain age who have thought about publishing a book someday, or any other creative or personal goal, I refer you to the quote above.  Particularly in publishing, now is the time for you to do it.

And if you think you're too old, well, I refer you to this heartwarming story about a 63-year-old woman who kills it on the drums.  After you've watched the video, then come back and tell me you're too old to be good at something the kids do.

So. You know all those things you always wanted to do?  You should go do them.

This moment of bloggy encouragement is brought to you, as a public service, by .

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Urban fantasy and magic realism: a matter of agency.

I'm participating today (a couple of hours early, my time) in the Magic Realism Blog Hop organized by fellow indie author Zoe Brooks. 

We had a discussion about magic realism here on the blog a couple of months ago; if you missed it, click here and scroll down to the comments.  I won't reiterate that discussion, other than to say that I still think "alternative realism" is a better descriptive name for the genre, mainly because it takes the "taint" of magic out of play.

What I'm hoping to do today is to talk about whether urban fantasy and magic realism could ever find common ground.

First, a couple of quick definitions. Urban fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy.  Unlike, say, The Lord of the Rings and other epic fantasies, urban fantasy is not set in a pre-mechanistic historical period.  Its setting is the present day, give or take a few decades, and so the characters can use cellphones and drive cars. But just as in, say, LotR, magical creatures appear, sometimes as guides to the clueless humans and sometimes as their nemeses.  In many cases, magical creatures are among the main characters. And magical tools (swords, clubs, bespelled books and scrolls) may be wielded by both the heroes and their enemies.  (Feel free to argue amongst yourselves over whether I've forgotten anything and/or painted with too broad a brush.)

Magic realism can be set in pretty much any time period -- so a present-day setting is conceivable.  And magic of a sort occurs.  The difference, I think, is in who wields the magic and how, and the reactions of the other characters when magic happens.  The magic in magic realism is woven into the fabric of society.  In Like Water for Chocolate, Tita weeps into the batter for the wedding cake she's making for her sister and Pedro, the man whom Tita loves. The cake is thereby transformed: all of the wedding guests who eat it become literally lovesick. Tita's mother beats her for poisoning the cake.  But no magical creature intervened, and Tita used no magic whisk or spoon or recipe; Tita simply cried, and her tears worked the magic of their own accord.

This, I think, is the crucial difference between urban fantasy and magic realism: urban fantasy requires an agent to deliberately effect the magical change.

Another difference is the characters' reactions to the occurrence of magic. Going back to LotR, Frodo and his pals can feel the pull of the One Ring, and they know it's not normal.  But in magic realism, the magic is taken as a matter of course.  Nobody in Like Water for Chocolate doubts for a moment that Tita's tears could have affected them so profoundly.

I should mention one other point. Magic realism is often described as giving a voice to those who have traditionally had no voice: the repressed and the dispossessed.  Tita's controlling mother thwarts her at every turn, so her emotions find an outlet in her cooking. In Toni Morrison's Beloved, the ghost of a runaway slave's dead child literally becomes bigger than anything else in her family.

So could the elements of magic realism be incorporated into urban fantasy? Maybe, but it would be tough going.  Fantasy has certainly given voice to the dispossessed in the past -- think of any coming-of-age story in which a kid grows into his or her birthright.  Magic without agency could conceivably be pulled off; anybody could cry magic tears into cake batter.  But one of the conceits of urban fantasy is that the fantastic is happening right under our noses -- it's just that most of us either aren't equipped to spot it, or are more than willing to explain it away.  The culture of the story would have to be modified so that normal people would accept odd goings-on without batting an eye -- and that strays over the line into parallel-universe territory.

So in the end, I'm doubtful that an urban magic realism fantasy could be pulled off.  If you think otherwise, please leave a comment and let's talk.

Want to read more about magic realism? Scroll down! (Note that the event lasts through Wednesday, so some of these links won't be live 'til then.)

And as a further enticement to blog-hopping, Zoe's arranged a little giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

These moments of bloggy alternative realism are brought to you, as a public service, by .

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A knitting post: one in a highly irregular series.

Hmm, well.  It's Sunday, which means I need to write a blog post.  Let's see...I could talk about how well the Pipe Woman Chronicles freebie weeks are going (and if you're here for the first time after reading one of my books, welcome!).  Or I could talk about how much fun I'm having with the LynneQuisitions I've been doing for Indies Unlimited.  Or I could do a post dissecting the ruling against Apple in the price-fixing case and what that's going to mean for indies. 

Or I could talk about the ideas I'm ruminating on for the new series, and potentially get people hyped up for something that might not end up in the books, after all. That sounds like a great idea, huh?

I know!  Let's talk about knitting!

Shawls are my new big thing to knit.  I'll be honest -- and this will come as a shock to you, I know -- I've never been a frou-frou dresser.  Which was a bit of a problem when I entered the working world in the 1980s. Back then, women who wanted to be taken seriously at work dressed exactly as advised in the book Dress for Success.  It's laughable today, of course, but back then, women were told to wear a version of the men's suit: a blazer and A-line skirt (trousers were still frowned on for professional women).  Skirts should fall just above the knee, tops needed to cover cleavage, and nylons in skin tones were to be paired with sensible pumps.  Women were also advised to develop their ascot-tying skills, as a nod to men's neckties.  Oh, and we were supposed to load ourselves up with jewelry; as I recall, the magic number of pieces (to include bracelets, necklaces, lapel pin, wristwatch, rings, and ONE set of earrings) was ten.

I did okay with the suits, back in the day, and the pumps.  And even the nylons, gods help me (clear nail polish was my friend -- not to paint on my toes, but to paint on my nylons when my toes wore through 'em).  But the jewelry thing was too gaudy for me -- the best I ever did was five or six, I think (two rings, the watch, the lapel pin, and a couple of necklaces in graduated sizes).  And I never got the appeal of scarves.

Fast-forward thirty years.  Today, my work wardrobe consists of a selection of slacks in basic colors and a slightly larger selection of...oh, let's call them collarless knitted tops, to get around the implication that I wear t-shirts to work.  I have a couple of hand-knitted jackets that I pull out for days when we have clients in the office, but I tend to want to shed them as soon as I can, even though it's verboten. (Men get professional points for taking off their jackets and rolling up their sleeves; women never have.)

But then I started hearing about shawls, and I began to realize the possibilities. A lot of the shawl patterns on Ravelry are exceedingly lacy (here's the one my daughter Amy is working on right now, and more power to her); I don't bother with them because I know I'll never wear them (see "not a frou-frou dresser" above).  But garter-stitch shawls in interesting shapes? Now you're talking my lingo. They're dressy without being fussy, you get to wear fun pins with them, and they don't take nearly as long to knit as a jacket.

So! Here are a few that I've made:

The Wingspan (before I wove in the ends)
The TGV - my Danube cruise project
The Simple Shawl - my Alaska project

The Adirondack (with the Lady Morgana)
The Simple Shawl is folded in quarters in this picture; I had just finished it, but the edges were curling up and I had no way to block it while I was still on vacation.  I've got a picture of it blocked, but the background is prettier in this one....

My current project is called a Dragonwheel.  With any luck, it will end up looking something like this, although my yarn is more red-brown than the fire-engine red here:
I'll keep you posted.  Oh, and if you're on Ravelry and want to friend me there, I'm lynnecm.

This moment of shawl-a-licious blogginess is brought to you, as a public service, by .

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The post-series cleanup.

I cleaned the house last weekend.  I dusted and vacuumed my bedroom, including the bookcases; I scoured the soap scum off the bathroom sink and used window cleaner on the mirror; I even dusted my desk behind my computer, kind of.  I also mended a pair of slacks.  The weekend before that, I got caught up on the bills.  This past week, I blocked two shawls that I’d knitted, finished a third, and made progress on yet another knitting project.

Why is this a big deal, you ask?  Don’t normal people do this stuff all the time? Ah, but you see, I’m not a normal person.  I’m a writer.

It seems like I’ve been on deadline since before the end of 2012.  I’ve been writing and editing like crazy, meeting my self-imposed deadlines for publishing the fifth and final book in my urban fantasy series.  Even after Annealed went live on Amazon in May, I had blog posts for the book launch tour to write, and then I started packing for Alaska.  When I got back from vacation, the tour began.  In short, it’s been one thing after another, and so real-life maintenance kind of slipped.

Okay, it didn’t just “kind of” slip.

He looks like he's suffering, doesn't he?
Recently, in a Facebook writers’ group, we talked about all the things we do to delay when we’re not feeling the writing thing.  Cleaning was pretty high on the list of chores we’d rather tackle than a tough scene.  (I’ve been known to use cleaning the litter box as an avoidance tactic. There – my dirty little secret has been revealed.)  But it seems to me that the opposite is true, as well: if the writing is going well or a deadline is looming, the dishes mount in the sink, the dust bunnies increase exponentially, and the poor kitties suffer with a gross litter box.

Then the deadline passes, the book is done and the launch is history, and gradually we reawaken to real life again.  We realize with a guilty start all the things we’ve been neglecting – cleaning, family, friends.  And so we can whip ourselves into a frenzy in an effort to make up for the time we’ve supposedly lost.  As I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks.

But you know what?  I didn’t really lose anything.  In the space of six months, I wrote two novels and published a third.  It’s not that I didn’t want to clean the house…. Well, okay, maybe I didn’t, but that’s not the reason why it didn’t get done.  It’s because I had different priorities.  I did something most people don’t do: I wrote books.

THIS regal being requires a human with better priorities.
It occurs to me that the mad frenzy of the past few weeks – the cleaning, the mending, and so on – might be a preemptive strike against the next guilt attack.  Because, you see, I’ve started the research for the next series, and I’ve even made some preliminary notes.  If I work it right, I can have the first book out by the holidays. (You heard it here first!)

But I think this time, I might schedule “real-life catch-up” days as well as writing days.  Poor Mr. Wommy and the Lady Morgana deserve a clean litter box, even on days when the writing muse does strike.

Thanks to everybody who downloaded Fissured this weekend, and a special, extremely heartfelt thanks to those who bought the rest of the series at the same time. You're all my new best friends.

And if you've made your way here for the first time -- welcome! I don't usually resort to posting pictures of the cats, but it does happen occasionally.

These moments of industrious blogginess are brought to you, as a public service, by