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Books: Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Here’s another one that I didn’t realize was part of a series until I read some of the other reviews after the fact. It seems like, though, that the main female character in this book was a minor character in a previous book, so maybe I didn’t miss anything too important.

First, the pros of the prose, so to speak: I like stories where a middle-age woman gets to have a romance. And I’m a sucker for a whirlwind foreign romance, too.

That’s about all I can say that I enjoyed about this book.

The tale in a nutshell (no spoilers): 54-year-old Vivian goes to England over the Christmas holiday with her daughter who has been tapped to help dress an unnamed Duchess. This means they’re staying on the Sandringham estate, in the Duke and Duchess’ “cottage,” no less. Well, okay, I guess I can relax my sense of reality in the name of wish fulfillment. But I won’t say it was easy.

Anyway, Vivian meets Malcolm, the Queen’s private secretary. And they hit it off. And… that’s really the whole story, more or less. There are contrived conflicts, but they never last more than a couple pages because both Vivian and Malcolm are incredibly reasonable people. So there’s no real tension, just a sense of meandering as Malcolm introduces Vivian to first Sandringham and then London. And then they must negotiate their long-distance relationship, and that’s pretty much it.

What I saw in many reviews was that this book was boring, and I’d mostly agree. It’s cute, but it’s far from compelling. Neither Vivian nor Malcolm are a commanding presence on the page. The reader alternates between their POVs, but most of what we’re privy to is repetitive and fairly uninteresting. In fact, the big drawback here is that there is so much telling in this story and so very little showing. We’re told over and over again how attracted each of these characters is to the other, but I never really felt that at all. I was just supposed to believe it because they said so.

Also, a lot of these characters sounded alike. You would think a woman from Oakland, California would sound pretty distinctly different from a man serving in the Queen’s household, but… apparently not! Everyone in this book says or thinks “wow” constantly. And on one page I read “Thank God” no fewer than three times in as many paragraphs. Enough to draw my attention, anyway. Was this book rushed to print? Did it get an edit at all? Did they talk to anyone from England? “Wow” is not something I’ve heard a lot while there (and I’ve spent a fair amount of time in London).

Pffftt. I dunno. This one just didn’t work for me. I so wanted to like it, and from what I’ve heard maybe her other books are better? Or maybe her writing style just isn’t something I can jive with. ::shrug::

Ode to My Youngest Son

Today Facebook reminded me that, 10 years ago today, my youngest son was rushed to the hospital with meningitis. He was less than two months old.

That wasn’t even the first hurdle for him, though, despite his young age. He’d been an emergency C-section because the umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck. He’d also been born during one of the worst heat waves in decades; I remember the hospital staff setting up box fans in my recovery room.

Later on, this darling of mine was diagnosed with benign hypotonia. Basically, low muscle tone. This isn’t something you can fix, really; he’ll always have low muscle tone. But if he stays active enough, it won’t be too bad or so noticeable. He did a lot of physical therapy, and it took him a long time to walk. He never even crawled. Instead he did this weird scooch that I’d never seen a child do before, nor have I seen anything like it since. But that’s my boy—doing things his own, unusual way.

All my kids are pretty smart, but my youngest is almost certainly the smartest. Also the most sensitive. He’s insanely logical, which can make him inflexible sometimes. He sets a lot of store by rules and tends to see things as black or white. We’re working on that. He’s been diagnosed as “on the spectrum,” but very high-functioning. Still, he struggles a bit socially. It doesn’t help that he has a slight speech impediment, which is getting better with therapy, but when he gets going—especially when his mouth is trying to keep up with that rapid brain of his—unless you’ve been around him a lot and are used to the way he talks, he can be difficult to understand.

That fast brain is one reason my son doesn’t like to write. He can’t get his hand to go as fast as his thoughts. Poor kiddo. He’s taught himself to type pretty well, without any formal instruction. I pointed it out the other day: “Hey, you’re fast on the keyboard!” He looked at me point blank and said, “It’s called experience.”

And he has plenty of that. This kid can sit down and work through a video game in less than a week that would take much older kids or even adults months. He figures it out and doesn’t stop til he’s done. He’s got persistence and focus in a way you seldom see anymore.

In short, this son of mine is awesome. Oh, all my kids are, but this one has had a few more roadblocks tossed his way. Yet he continues to go over, under, around… whatever it takes. He’s stronger than me, I think. And a master of puns. I love him dearly.

The Long, Slow Death of a Writing Career

I last put a book out in October. Almost a year ago. Used to be, writers put out a book every 1-2 years, sometimes more, and that was not unusual. Even “fast” writers took a while because the publishing process was a long one: write a draft, send it to your agent, who would send it out to publishers (or, if you had a standing publishing contract, just on to your editor)… Sell the book, rounds of editing, production/design, the marketing team gearing up, advance review copies sent out, and then finally the book would be published. And then the author might do a book tour or something, which took time away from writing the next thing, and so the next thing waited a bit longer to get written, and the cycle started again.

No longer. Particularly with self-publishing, authors are now expected to be content mills. Churn, churn, churn. Never mind quality; quantity is what matters. There are so many more authors now, too. Our names and our work get lost in the neverending pile. If you don’t put something out every 3-6 months, you’re easily forgotten. Even those who claim to be fans won’t wait. It’s a bit like running a marathon and not having anyone to cheer you on. After a while, you’re tired, you’re sore, and you’re wondering why you even bothered. Sure, maybe you like running, or maybe you think of it as healthy, but there are plenty of other things you also enjoy and other ways to be healthy that aren’t as painful or spirit breaking.

I’ve watched my sales slowly decline over the past few months. Part of the reason is that I’ve given up trying to market my work. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, and the results are often disappointing. It was very fortunate that Publisher’s Weekly reviewed Brynnde; it’s become my best-selling book to date, and I can directly draw a line between the PW BookLife exposure and that success. Alas, they declined to review Faebourne, my latest, and that book has struggled. I’m sure I could pay BookLife and other outlets to review it, but paying for reviews feels sketchy to me. And, again, any outlet with significant impact charges a lot of money.

I also downsized my social media recently, which probably contributes to my decrease in sales, but so much of it was too toxic and bad for my mental health. If I have to value something, my personal wellbeing will be a priority every time. I needed to cut out the people who were always asking for help but never supporting me when I needed it. There were an awful lot of them.

Amazon continues to make it more and more difficult to be seen, and their ads can be expensive too. They have authors over the proverbial barrel, and I no longer trust them.

All in all, the collective situation does not motivate me to write. And since we know that authors these days need to churn out content faster than ever before in order to be successful… It just isn’t going to happen. It takes me a long time to write anything even when I’m excited about it. Now that I no longer am, I’ll finish the next book in, oh, never. And a day.

IWSG: September 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Q: If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

A: I really want to go to Japan and am making plans to visit next year. I think I’d love staying there for a few weeks to write. The utter difference in culture would, I think, make an interesting impact on my work. I’d enjoy absorbing the atmosphere and letting it permeate my writing.

Walt Disney World 2019

I’ve been away for a bit, off on vacation at Walt Disney World (and then we tacked on a short Disney cruise as well). But we’re back now, and I’d like to give some overall impressions of WDW. I’ve been a few times, including my honeymoon. We were last there in 2010 for Alexander’s fifth birthday. So of course a lot has changed, but… I wouldn’t necessarily say for the better.

As someone who enjoys Disney (and particularly Disneyland), but not someone who self-identifies as a Disney fan, I still have come to expect a minimum standard from Disney’s parks and resorts. Disney prides itself (or did) on the “magic” it creates. That used to mean spotless theme parks and warm interactions with cast members (Disney’s preferred term for its employees). It meant a seamless experience as visitors moved from resorts to parks and back again.

But not this time.

I chatted about this with my parents, who were with us. They go to WDW every 12-24 months, so they are definitely more well versed than I at what counts as “normal” for these parks and resorts. And they agreed that something was very off about, well, everything.

While we did, as expected, have a number of lovely interactions with cast members, we just as often had, not rude, but stone-faced and indifferent service. And the parks and resorts were not as clean as usual either. I found cigarette butts and gum on the ground, mushrooms growing in green spaces… The un-retouched paint on some of the buildings was shockingly noticeable. Parts of some of the parks simply looked and felt rundown.

My sense is that Disney is so focused on their shiny new stuff that they’ve begun to neglect the older stuff. Disney is all about its Star Wars world (yes, yes, I know it’s actually called Galaxy’s Edge), its Tron coaster, the new Guardians ride that’s being built at Epcot, the new resorts, etc. I suppose the company is banking on these attractions bringing more money (as if they need it)… Meanwhile, the parks are already overcrowded, and Disney does nothing to enforce the rules against line jumping etc. Ticket prices continue to rise, and people keep paying it, which means the patrons behave terribly because they feel entitled, after spending so much money, to do whatever they want.

The buses were especially bad during this trip. Though billed as running every 20 minutes, they were consistently late and overburdened. We used the Minnie Van service quite a lot, which of course costs extra. One suspects Disney wants to nudge people toward that service, though they can’t get rid of their free transportation without causing a riot.

Magic bands didn’t entirely work as they should, either. In particular, they didn’t open our hotel room door and we had to hike down to the lobby and have them reprogrammed. We stayed at Coronado Springs, which I think exemplifies what I stated earlier about Disney being more interested in its new things. All focus at this resort was on the brand new Gran Destino tower; meanwhile, those of us out at the older parts of the resort felt a bit abandoned and like second-class citizens.

This isn’t to say we didn’t have fun. We did. But these fissures in the bulwark that is Disney were impossible to ignore. I did not get the experience I expected (and paid highly for). And I don’t feel any pressing need to return to WDW any time soon. Hopefully my next visit to Disneyland will restore my faith in Disney magic.

All I’ll Ever Be

This week the camel’s back finally broke. After years of responding to the call when other authors and friends asked for votes or page clicks or Likes or Follows… and then not getting anything back from them when I ask for the same… I decided my writing “career” (if it ever was that) is over.

I try not to ask for much, and I try not to ask very often. Maybe that’s where I went wrong, but I think it’s more that I’m more loyal and generous than pretty much anyone else out there trying to make it in this world. I give way too much of my time and energy to others. And then get nearly naught in return. It’s happened again and again, but I kept believing someday it would be my turn. That’s not proven to be true. All that’s happened is my good nature being repeatedly taken advantage of.

So this week I quit Twitter and Instagram. (You’ll still see my Twitter up, but I deleted the app.) I cut every author “friend” off my Facebook unless they were someone I had an actual relationship with (though I may yet unfriend more). I left every Facebook writing group I was in. And I changed my employment from “author/screenwriter” to “homemaker.”

Because apparently that’s all I’ll ever be. A mom and a wife. I mean, if I’m going to give my time away anyway… If my life is only ever going to be about me giving and hardly ever receiving… I might as well keep it at home where I can see the benefits of my work. Maybe even participate in some of the good that may come of it.

The books I’ve written will remain available, but I’m no longer actively writing. This site will be become mostly devoted to book and movie reviews from here on out. Maybe the occasional television commentary. I hope you’ll stick around for those things.

About The Bay Chronicles

In the mid-1990s I wrote my first truly epic fan fiction, which collectively came to be known as The Bay Chronicles. This wasn’t particularly good fanfic, mind you. It was unnecessarily convoluted and heaped a ton of characters from various television shows, books, comic books into one bouillabaisse of near indecipherability. But it’s also the piece of work that, I believe, got me into grad school.

In order to explain that thesis, I have to first describe the work a little bit. The Bay Chronicles started with a collection of stories titled Rooms with a View. Those stories were told from Dana Scully’s point of view and detailed her partner Fox Mulder’s harassment by a vampire (Lestat, using a pseudonym). The Rooms with a View stories started out choppy, told in flash fiction snippets meant to convey Dana’s confusion as she pieces together what’s going on. In truth, though, the whole thing was confusing to read, and I’m truly sorry I inflicted it on my friends.

After that collection of stories came others, though the focus shifted away from Dana to Methos [Highlander] and Jarod [The Pretender]. Lestat continued to be obnoxious throughout, but I’d at this point also brought in some original characters and some Sandman comics stuff, just to make things ever more complicated and confusing. At the end of the day, The Bay Chronicles consisted of the following collections and stories:

Rooms with a View

  • “Home by the Sea”
  • “Return to the Home by the Sea”
  • “Second Home by the Sea”
  • “Home by the Bay”
  • “Another Home by the Bay”

Awake and Alive

  • “At Home by the Bay”
  • “Asleep by the Bay”
  • “Death by the Bay”

Promises to Keep

  • “Interlude”
  • “Miles to Go”
  • “Job 1:21”
  • “Round Trip”
  • “Forgive and Forget”

Experto Crede

  • “De Profundis”
  • “Abeunt Studia in Mores”
  • “Hetaera”
  • “Ab Ovo Usque ad Mala”

“Happily Ever After (Now and Then)”*

*which was a self-contained story that ended everything.

Okay, so how did this bizarre collection of works get me into grad school? I worked in a copy shop that also bound books, and so I printed out the entire work and gave a bound copy to one of my mentors, Dr. Douglass Parker. I’ll never know what he made of it all, but he wrote my recommendation letter, and I recall him telling me I had “a unique mind.” He smiled when he said it, so I always took it as a compliment.

In fact, Doc Parker often urged me to turn the original parts of my work into something I could publish. I did use some of it for my graduate thesis, and I continue to try to arrange it into something comprehensible for the wider world, but… It feels insurmountable to me.

Only a handful of copies of The Bay Chronicles are out there. Bound, complete copies? A half dozen maybe? Individual stories or parts? Ten to twelve, I’d guess. I still have the disks it was saved on, though I haven’t owned a computer with a disk drive in years. And they were all in Microsoft Works format, which… doesn’t exist anymore as far as I know.

I sometimes consider retyping the series from my hard copy, just so it can exist in Google docs or whatever. But I’m not sure what the point would be. Whenever I re-read any of it, I’m astounded by how awful it is. And grateful Dr. Parker saw past that to something in me worth recommending.

IWSG: May 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Hmm. I don’t recall seeing the monthly email, so I don’t know this month’s question. That alone makes me feel insecure…

We’ve moved into our new house but we’re still unpacking. Plus, there are a number of moderate renovation projects I’ve been helming: fixing the sprinkler system, getting the new kitchen hood, fixing the solar heating on the pool, and eventually also replastering and retiling the pool as well. Between this stack of tasks and managing the kids’ schedules, writing hasn’t been high on my list. And I can’t say I miss it much. I like to think I’m a good writer, but since I can’t seem to succeed at it no matter what I do, I’m now starting to believe maybe I’m not very good after all. Which is a bit of a blow. When you spend your life priding yourself on a skill or talent and (much later in life) discover maybe you don’t have that skill/talent…

I did recently begin tinkering with an old piece. I don’t know where it’s going, if anywhere, whether it will ever amount to anything or be publishable at all. Maybe I’m wasting my time. Maybe all the years I’ve spent writing were a waste of time and energy that I should have been putting elsewhere.

So I’m trying to figure some stuff out. About myself, my writing, my “career” (if it can be called as such). Faebourne is up for a RONE award, and voting begins next week, but given that I’ve never been able to mobilize enough people to support me, I don’t have much hope in that quarter either. Feels like a nail in my coffin.

Letter to Rob: Chip Tooth Smile

Dear Rob,

Been a while. I wanted to listen to the new album on my morning walk, but Spotify was misbehaving by shuffling the songs, and I couldn’t get it to stop. Thing is, I like to first listen to an album straight through because I believe the way it’s put together is just as important as the individual songs. Maybe I’m old fashioned that way. In this day of people picking and choosing songs and not having to purchase whole albums, maybe the order doesn’t matter so much. But I know work goes into that order, too, so I still like to listen to an album in the way it seemingly is meant to be heard, at least the first time.

All that is a long way of saying I’m still working on it. What I’ve heard so far I like, though there’s a certain homogeny to the sound. Perhaps that’s intentional, meant to help it all hang together. I haven’t decided whether I like it, though.

There’s certainly an undercurrent of mortality here, too, something a tad… I don’t want to say “maudlin” because that’s not the correct word for it, but… Despite protestations to the contrary (“Dying Young”), deaths of various kinds haunt what I’ve heard. An attempt to shake them off or something.

“Sentimental” maybe? Here I am, a writer, and I can’t think of the word I want. Sigh.

Between the sound and the lyrics, the whole thing makes you seem stuck on a feeling, like you’re going in circles. And that’s okay because I think that happens to a lot of people, and so this album will speak to them. Each song will reaffirm something in them because they’re feeling that way, too.

I’m probably not even making sense now.

Long letter short (too late), I do like what I’ve heard so far, though I don’t actually like the name of the album at all for some reason. That’s a “me” thing, however, something I’d need to self-delve about. The Spotify animation, too, is distracting, but I’m never really looking at my phone as I listen, so whatever.

Congrats and good luck with it and the tour.

~M

2019 So Far

Can you believe we’re nearly a third of the way through this year already? In some ways, 2019 feels like it started a loooong time ago, but in others it seems to be flying by.

In mid-January I made the executive decision to put our house on the market and sell it. My husband and I had been talking about it for a while, but I finally just decided: new year, new life. On top of selling the house (and buying a new one), I also went under the care of a nutritionist, and while that wasn’t 100% successful, I can say we have:

  • Sold our house
  • Bought a new one
  • Moved

And I’ve lost 15+ pounds since January as well. Still have those pesky final ten to go.

Also still have a lot of unpacking to do, but we’re making progress.

I could say that I “knew” 2019 would be a year of upheaval, but honestly, it’s really been the year I’ve felt majorly motivated to make big changes. The upheaval is all self-made. And I don’t regret any of it. I’d been stagnant and semi-discontented for too long.

As for writing, well… I’ve dabbled, but I’m not pushing it. I have plenty enough to keep up with at the moment, and I’m not burning to sit and spill onto a page (or, more accurately, a computer screen). Anyway, I am reading and rating scripts for a screenwriting competition, so that’s enough to keep my toes in the creative pool.

How is your 2019 going?