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

 

 

 

The Whole Truth?

In which I look at how much is too much and what to share.

I follow some authors on social media who put their political and social viewpoints out there for the world to see without qualms. I admire them for that. Many of them are popular, successful in their careers, and have continued success after airing controversial opinions. I have strong opinions about politics and society, but I’ve limited my sharing to clicking the “like” button and the occasional link to Snopes to counter sheer stupidity. I’ve never been comfortable sharing information about many aspects of my life or my views. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had security in my chosen career–I can’t afford to offend potential readers. Of course that hasn’t garnered me best-selling status either. Maybe it’s because I don’t do confrontation well. Of course, who does, and that really is a ridiculous excuse. Maybe it’s because I can’t express my thoughts clearly, and one can’t do rebuttals well on social media (comment sections aren’t conducive to civilized debate or discourse). The world is not made of sound bites. Of course, I do enjoy the sound bites and memes that make the rounds and reflect my views.

So I struggle between the what to tell you and what to keep hidden. In person I am very open about what I believe and what is happening in my life. That’s because I once heard a wise woman (Jennifer Crusie) tell a roomful of people at a conference the reason she doesn’t let her workshops be taped: (paraphrasing here) If it isn’t recorded, I can claim you all were high on mushrooms and don’t remember correctly what I said . (She is welcome to deny she ever said this). I’ve used that line more than once in teaching (toned down for my eighth graders to omit the drug reference) and also at our local sci-fi, fantasy conference, Bubonicon. If I say something and you don’t have it recorded, you can’t prove I said it.microphone-626618_640

Which leads me to this blog and social media. Here, I am writing down my words. Here the words are etched in stone (figuratively). Here, I can’t escape what I’ve said, and I have been smacked down more than once for something I’ve written and I don’t have the power or influence to combat negative repercussions. I still want to attract readers; I still want to be “popular”. I mean, they still invite Mel Gibson to the Golden Globes after some of the things he’s said. Brad Pitt is still listed as one of the world’s sexiest men and his social leanings are out there for the world to see.

So I don’t know whether I’m a chicken or if I’m cautious. What do you think?

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Ryria Chronicles by Michael J Sullivan (I mention this one again because it’s spoiled me for other books at the moment. I loved this series. Which is the reason I’m reading …)

Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Azkaban by JK Rowling (rereading an old favorite, albeit in a different language, because I know its good and won’t disappoint me after the above series.)

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

 

 

Little Known Fact About . . .

The Wish List

StevensTheWishListI’m not a huge fan of chocolate, but I love flour based sweets (doughnuts, cake, danishes, etc.) When I make chocolate chip cookies, I leave out the chocolate chips and only add a few, two or three, to each one once they are on the baking sheet, but I always leave half the batch totally naked with no chips whatsoever. My biggest complaint about store bought chocolate chip cookies is that they have too many chips, so I usually make my own.

So when the fairy godmother Rose makes Kristin a treat in The Wish List, she bakes her chocolate chipless cookies. They’re Kristin’s favorite cookie. And mine too.

Lest you think I’m totally without the chocolate gene, I will eat Swiss chocolate (Lindt) with hazelnuts. My chocolate must have lots of stuff in it. But no fruit. That’s just wrong.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton

Part Two: Books that Changed My Life

I told you this would take more than one post. Here is part two.

So continuing with my list of books that changed my life, again in no particular order or preference:

  1. The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett—I know The Secret Garden is on everyone else’s list, but mine was Princess. It was so wonderfully tragic and melodramatic. I read and re-read this book a hundred times when I was a kid. It sparked my Anglophilia despite my Hungarian background.
  1. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell—This book had so many fascinating facts and ideas that spoke to me as truths. The 10,000 hours idea, the way gifted children are tested, the way they play hockey in Canada and Czechoslovakia. I quickly went out an bought his others books, Tipping Point and Blink. Funny thing is that the book belongs to my daughter and when she moved out so did the book. Come to think of it, I need to go to the bookstore. Be right back.Mockingbird
  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—I didn’t read this book until I was an adult, and the first time I “read” it I was listening to it as an audiobook when I had to drive to Denver by myself. I only picked it up because it was one of those classics I had missed in my education. OH MY GOD. I was kicking myself by the time I arrived home. I loved the book. I went out the next day and bought myself a copy and read it (I didn’t feel right writing “re-read it”). I have since taught the book and grown to love it even more, so much so that when my dog chewed up a brand new copy that I was teaching from, I kept it alongside my old falling-part copy.
  1. The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn—This book along with Bewitching (see previous post) is the reason I believe Romance can be sublime. Again, it was the first book in a long time that made me laugh out loud and cry. A wonderful experience all around. I hope someday to put my readers through something like that in the books I write.
  1. The Wizard of Oz and the Oz series by L. Frank Baum—The movie just doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t. And the next books were better. I lived in Oz in elementary school. I remember reading Glenda of Oz on a camping trip with my best friend. We read by flashlight in our tent. It was an adventure to read an adventure. And it helped wake my love of fantasy.
  1. And Then There Were None and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie—I have always read mysteries starting with Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew (Hmmm, they should make the list somewhere), but Dame Agatha is simply the queen. I have read many mysteries since reading her entire collection, but none have ever come close to the brilliance of Poirot, the hidden depths of Miss Marple, the spunk of Tommy and Tuppence, the other-worldiness of Harley Quin, and the ones that star no one in particular. A translation of one of her books was the first complete novel I read in Hungarian, and I have several German translations too. They got me through my year abroad and helped teach me the language at the same time. The Secret Adversary was the first book I downloaded on my Kindle too. Nobody does it better (whoops, wrong franchise).
  1. Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling—Really? Do I need to say anything else? I’m working on reading it in my second language right now. I had as much fun with these as my twins who waited for their Hogwarts letters when they turned eleven.

Hmm, still not done with my list. How about some honorable mentions before one last big winner: Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (I should just write the Song of Fire and Ice series, but more people will recognize GoT); Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the first book in a long time that had me completely engrossed; Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare—while technically a play, it meant so much to me as a teenager; I’m over it now, really, and my favorite Shakespeare is Taming of the Shrew, but R&J were the teenage thing; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; No, David by David Shannon, the first book that my youngest could really enjoy.

I suppose I should stop. There may be a part three in the future, or at leas a list of honorable mentions, but time to move on. But one last book first . . .MatterOfConvenienceLatestSmall

13 (And yes, I like the number thirteen). A Matter of Convenience by Gabriella Anderson—The first book I sold. It started me on this crazy, rollercoaster of a heartbreaking career that I don’t know why I still pursue. That’s a lie. It’s the stories. It’s always about the stories.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Aszkaban by J K Rowling

To the Nay Sayers

In which I look at the denigration of genre fiction.

I met a woman once who asked me why romances could be so popular when they all told the same story. Oh, sure, some elements are the same–a man, a woman and a happy ending (and even that’s not necessarily true any more. The popularity of LGBTQ books is growing and welcome, as are erotica books)–but the journey is different in each. It’s what the characters learn on that journey and how they grow that make every story unique. She scoffed at my explanation and dismissed my notions as uninformed. I listened to her politely with a smile set on my face, then changed the subject. After all there’s no use arguing with someone who clearly had never read romance, had no intention of reading romance, yet has strong opinions on it.

All genre fiction tends to suffer from its reputation (although I would argue romance suffers more than its fair share). Maybe because all genre fiction follows formulae and for some reason people think a formula means no creativity. Heck, Joseph Campbell broke all stories down to one formula (the Hero’s Journey), which then Chirstopher Vogler laid out for writers in his best selling and fascinating book The Writer’s Journey. So it’s easy for pretentious people to dismiss entire genres of books as unoriginal or written by hacks. Those people are wrong. Yes, not all genres will appeal to everyone. I, for example, don’t like to read horror or police procedurals, but that’s a matter of taste, not a reflection of quality. I can look at the trailers for a film and know if I want to see it. A lot of times those are the films that end up winning the awards. I just don’t like that type, but as I said, that’s taste, not quality. I also don’t like red wine, black coffee, brandy, or much chocolate.

The more I think about why genre fiction is popular and why the some or the populace regards it as less than literary, the more I realize it’s about how the books make you feel and the messages they send. Even within genre fiction there is some I don’t like to read. I dislike the heavy, angsty, emotional story. I love a good romp. I love a lighter tone. Even with a high body count, I love a lighter tone (Yes, such books exist. Death and destruction with a light tone. My favorite.). It doesn’t mean that serious events don’t occur in the story; it just means I don’t need to take Xanax when I’ve finished the story. I have read some of what is called literary fiction that has made me want to gauge my eyes out after slitting my wrists. I like the romps, the adventures, the humor, the uplifting endings (doesn’t mean not sad; that means that the human spirit wins at the end. Heck, I cried at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. And Toy Story 3. Sobbed at that one.). It’s about how I felt as I read the story.cute-super-hero-clip-art-superhero-boy

And the message. Stephen King once said that genre fiction was the place where values are tested for society to ponder (Or something like that. I tried to find the real quote with no success.). I agree with him. Genre fiction is where the protagonists face circumstances that test their beliefs. If they choose rightly, they are heroes. If not, they become tragic victims. This idea is pervasive in our modern culture: “You underestimate the power of the Dark Side”; “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”;“The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn’t look like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s going to keep digging, he’s going to keep trying to do right and make up for what’s gone before, just because that’s who he is.”  (That last one is Joss Whedon, in case you didn’t recognize it)

I like heroes. And villains for those heroes to fight against. Because I want to leave a story cheering, even if I’m crying. And in real life I like the heroes who do the right thing daily without fanfare or capes or parades or even fighting.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove

Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Azkaban by JK Rowling

 

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.