It’s Not Yours

Yesterday I read this article in which Martin Freeman, who played John Watson in Sherlock, rants a bit about alternate readings of the text. Namely, he insists that there’s nothing gay in Sherlock and Watson’s relationship, it was never played that way.

My initial gut reaction was, “Wow, that’s a really strong and seemingly homophobic reaction.” But what I think really bothered me about it was the suggestion that the however many viewers who read the text differently had somehow done it wrong.

The moment a book or film or television series meets the public, it no longer belongs to the creator(s). Not the writer, not the actors, not the director, etc. It becomes the property of those who engage with the text. They get to read it and interpret it however they want. It may not be what you intended, and some interpretations may be a stretch, but there is no right and wrong.

One of the first things they taught us in Radio-Television-Film courses at uni was “encoding” and “decoding.” This is the fundamental of all communication, from speaking to writing to filming. You say something, or write something, or perform an action, and the listener/reader/viewer takes that information and decodes its meaning. Some messages are fairly simple. There are only so many ways my son can interpret, “Clean your room.” But if I want to be really clear, I might break it down into: “Put all the clothes on the floor in the laundry basket and make your bed.” Otherwise, his idea of “clean” and mine might not be the same.

When dealing with books or film or television, however, the author of the text is not there to explain the work as the reader or viewer engages with it. Nor would we want them to be. There’s nothing worse than watching a movie with someone explaining everything as things happen. Part of the joy of reading and watching shows is extrapolating information for ourselves. Our brains like having to work.

Look at all the fan theories for various shows, the online communities. People love taking things apart, breaking things down. And the choices they make for that process—the lines along which they break things, the metrics they use—are going to be wide ranging and, at the same time, very personal.

What I’m getting at, I suppose, is that a queer reading of Sherlock is par for the course. There is a grand history of queer readings of all kinds of things, and to stomp your foot and say, “No!” is childish and naïve.

When I’ve been asked about—or sometimes told—things that appear in my books and stories, I don’t say, “You’re wrong.” (Well, maybe if they have a detail or fact incorrect.) I say something like, “That’s interesting. I never thought of it that way.” Or, “Well, that’s not what I had in mind at the time, but I see where you might read it that way.” There’s room for everyone and their ideas, after all, and I’m just flattered they’ve taken the time to think that much about it.

Thing is, I know I can’t control how people will receive my work. I know that, once they’re holding that book, it’s no longer mine. It’s theirs, and they will interpret it however they want, in whatever ways work for them. To throw a little tantrum over it would be unprofessional to say the least and smacks of dictatorship at the worst.

The only way to make sure people read your text the way you want them to is to never write or film it at all.

Six Years: A Reflection

Six years ago today we put our six-year-old, our three-year-old, and our two-year-old on a plane and came to California. Although my husband had visited the state for the job interview, I never set foot in it until it became my home.

That was nothing new, actually. I had a history of moving to places sight unseen. I’d taken a train to Boston for graduate school, never having been anywhere on the Eastern seaboard before, and on the first day of class I met the man I eventually married. And while I didn’t love Massachusetts, it seems there was a destined reason for my having gone there.

Still, twelve years later I was more than ready to leave.

California is, in many ways, easier to love. That’s why so many people live here, I suppose. Which is one of the things not to love: the traffic. Massachusetts had that, too, but it’s worse here.

California does have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables all year ’round. And it only has snow if you want it. (Here they “go to the snow,” to which I say, “no thank you.”) Of course, it also has droughts, or at least it has in recent years. And earthquakes.

Ever since I was young, I imagined I would live in California some day. I had the opportunity to go to school here, but I couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition. I was offered an internship that I had to turn down because, again, I couldn’t afford to move and get a car and live on no wages. A producer I worked for asked if I’d like to work in the L.A. office, but I foolishly said I’d rather finish my degree. (Maybe not foolishly; I would not have met my husband if I’d taken that path.)

Still, I had faith I’d get here. That I was meant to be here. Maybe the timing just wasn’t right all those other times. Or maybe every path was different and this is just the one I ended up on. Maybe after twelve years of seasonal depression and panic attacks in the Northeast, I’d finally earned this reward.

Well, I didn’t earn it, my husband did. He works hard, and when I finally broke down, he acted quickly to move me to a place that would be better for me mentally, emotionally, and physically.

We landed, six years ago, at 9:00 p.m., which was midnight Eastern time. The kids refused to sleep on the plane ride, so they were punchy and cranky as we made our way to the rental car counter. And we were all hungry. It turned out there was an In-N-Out Burger near our temporary housing, so our first official stop in California was the drive thru.

Now, every year on Pi day, we get In-N-Out and then eat pie. It’s a happy tradition, something we all look forward to. And I look forward to many more happy years here, too.

Proust Questionnaire

I came across this Proust questionnaire that Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) answered. He admits on the questionnaire itself that he was “jaded” at the time. So I decided to try answering the questions myself, or at least some updated ones I found on Vanity Fair.

__1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Not having anything I have to do and being free to do only what I want to do.

__2.__What is your greatest fear?

Oddly specific, but it’s being trapped in a car that has gone into the water.

__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?


__4.__What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Similar selfishness. Really it’s the way others don’t take anyone but themselves into account.

__5.__Which living person do you most admire?

. . . ??? I’m not sure I admire anyone.

__6.__What is your greatest extravagance?

Being a writer.

__7.__What is your current state of mind?


__8.__What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Exercising and eating healthy.

__9.__On what occasion do you lie?

To spare feelings. Not lie, exactly, but soften the truth.

__10.__What do you most dislike about your appearance?

My jawline. I think I will want a facelift some day.

__11.__Which living person do you most despise?

Donald Trump.

__12.__What is the quality you most like in a man?


__13.__What is the quality you most like in a woman?

A lack of jealousy.

__14.__Which words or phrases do you most overuse?


__15.__What is your favorite color and flower?

Indigo; daffodil.

__16.__When and where were you happiest?

London. Just wandering the city on my own.

__17.__Which talent would you most like to have?

The ability to draw.

__18.__If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My dependency on others.

__19.__What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Raising good kids. (I hope.) If that fails, at least I’ve written some decent books.

__20.__If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

A cat of some sort.

__21.__Where would you most like to live?


__22.__What is your most treasured possession?

My laptop.

__23.__What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?


__24.__What is your favorite occupation?

Being productive.

__25.__What is your most marked characteristic?


__26.__What do you most value in your friends?

Loyalty. I like people who value me as much as I value them.

__27.__Who are your favorite writers?

Tana French, Kate Morton, Ben Aaronovitch, Shakespeare, Jane Austen

__28.__Who is your hero of fiction?

Peter Stoller. I know I created him, but that makes him my hero.

__29.__Which historical figure do you most identify with?

No idea. Which is impressive since I love history. But at the moment I’m drawing a blank.

__30.__Who are your heroes in real life?

The everyday ones: police, firefighters, etc. People who do real work that matters.

__31.__What are your favorite names?

Alexander, Evangeline, Robert, Elizabeth

__32.__What is it that you most dislike?


__33.__What is your greatest regret?

Missed opportunities. So many times I said “no” when I should have said “yes.”

__34.__How would you like to die?

I wouldn’t. But if I have to, in my sleep, please.

__35.__What is your motto?

I like the line from the Tabitha’s Secret song: “All is nothing in moderation.”

Did I Hear That Right?

There are some words and phrases that, because I was a precocious reader as a child, I understood out of context but didn’t truly comprehend. One that comes to mind is: “bleeding like a stuck pig.”

I don’t know where I first read or heard this phrase, but for the longest time I had a mental image of a piglet that was stuck trying to get under a fence. I didn’t quite understand where the bleeding came in. Was the fence sharp? Maybe it was made of barbed wire? Who puts a barbed-wire fence around a pig sty?

Only years later did I stop and think, Maybe not “stuck” as in, you know, stuck. Maybe “stuck” as in “stabbed”? Stuck with a knife?

Then I wondered for a while why anyone would stab a pig. To butcher it?

And finally: Maybe “pig” in the derogatory sense? Like slang for a police officer?

Well, it made more sense than an actual pig stuck under a fence anyway.

I still don’t know if that’s actually what that phrase is referring to, and maybe it doesn’t matter. I know what it means in use, if not its extrapolation. (And sure, I could look it up, but where’s the fun in that?)

Okay, I have eight paperback copies of The K-Pro to give away. To enter to receive one, simply tell me in the comments about a word or phrase you misunderstood and how you came to learn the truth. Please keep it clean. I don’t mind hearing how you learned about a sexual innuendo so long as you don’t get graphic about it. If more than eight people comment, I’ll use a randomizer to select winners. Entries accepted through 10:00 p.m. PST, Monday 19 February. I look forward to hearing your stories!

CDs Save the Day

My car is seven years old, but because I don’t drive very much, it has only 58k miles on it. It’s a great car and will probably last forever at this rate, the one drawback being that, due to OS updates, it can no longer pair with my phone and I can’t use my iPod in it any more.

Satellite radio has its limitations, namely in that it doesn’t play only songs I like and want to hear. It also plays the same handful of songs repeatedly. So while I appreciate the lack of radio advertisements, I still can’t enjoy my satellite radio for any length of time.

BUT. My car is also just old enough to still have a CD player. And I am just old enough to have an album full of CDs that I couldn’t bring myself to part with. Good thing, too! Because I am now enjoying these CDs again and remembering what it was like to listen to a complete album in its intended order.

We have no other CD player, not in another car, not in the house. There’s this idea that everything can exist “in the cloud” or digitally or whatever, but sometimes you actually need physical media. Technology moves so fast that the physical world can’t always keep up. And it doesn’t always need to, either. For me, right now, CDs are fine. In fact, they currently work better for me than the latest, newfangled thing.

Sometimes we race ahead just to see how far we can go. And that’s fair. It’s natural to test our limits. But just because we can go farther doesn’t mean all the stuff we’ve passed by on the way is worthless.

New isn’t always best, or even better. Sometimes new is just new and nothing more.

IWSG: Regrets?

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.

Question of the Month: As you look back on 2017, with all its successes and failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

I recently posted a retrospective of 2017 in terms of my writing, and overall it’s been a really good year. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do some things a little differently! For one, instead of releasing one book in February and another in May, I’d have spread them out more. I had strong sales over the summer, but due to a lack of anything new (except my Moriarty story), things began slumping come October. Well, I attribute at least some of that slump to having no other big release. I know part of it is probably holidays, too. I really should write something seasonal . . .

Writing Where the Heart Is

Image courtesy of
I recently had a conversation with a publisher who was interested in an older property of mine, something I wrote some seven or eight years ago. However, the book would need considerable revisions and reworking to suit them. That’s fine; I know the book isn’t publishable in its current format. (Long story, but the details aren’t important.) Still, the more I think about it, the more the piece of work in question feels like something I once had a passion for but no longer do. In short, while I could rework it, my heart’s not in it.

Whenever someone tells me I should write more Sherlock Holmes or, well, more anything really, I nod. Yes, I should. Readers might like that. Might. That’s key. And yet, if my heart isn’t in it, if my love for that character or subject has migrated, even temporarily, I won’t like it. And I’m pretty sure that will show in the work. Then readers won’t like it either, and what will I have written it for?

Part of this is my own damned easily distracted mind. I get bored and wander off from things. So while conventional wisdom is that an author should sit and write a series so that readers get hooked and keep buying . . . I struggle with that. I’ve written four Sherlock Holmes stories (if you count the Moriarty one, which I do), and while the first flowed, I had a much harder time with the others. I’m fighting my way through Changers 2. I have a strong idea for another K-Pro novel, though I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to it. Maybe, if I find that enthusiasm for it again. I had it once, but I don’t know where it went.

It’s weird because I used to have an obsessive nature. TV shows, movies, books—I would fall in love and fixate. But it seems I’ve outgrown that, or else haven’t found anything recently that calls to me that way. And while my own characters do sometimes bewitch me—I was in love with Peter Stoller for a very long time—they seem to be easily supplanted. A shiny new somebody knocks on my brain and tally-hoo, I’m off in another direction.

I’m probably not disciplined enough to be a writer.

Actually, though, I seem to have found a happy medium. Something that feels fresh enough to keep me excited while still hangs together in a loose way. 1. Regency romances. Because readers of the genre will happily read more, and yet the characters and situations I write can be all new. Which is why I’m having such fun writing Faebourne. 2. My Shakespeare adaptations. Hamlette was a hoot to write, and I’ve outlined two more in the “series.” Yet, again, the stories are all new each time, so I don’t lose interest with the work.

Still, I do promise to finish Changers 2. And I won’t rule out more Sherlock Holmes some day if and when the mood strikes. Or even more Peter Stoller, though I think it will be Simon and/or Jules that I focus on in the next go-round.

All I’m really saying (in very long form) is that I must write where my heart is. Follow my passion—for whichever character(s) have set fire to my blood.

When I look back at this old piece of writing the publisher and I discussed, I’m very proud of it. In fact, I think it’s some of my best work, and maybe that’s why I don’t feel compelled to rework it. But I think it’s more that I’m a different person now. That story was a part of me back when, is now an artifact of something past. I could drag it into the present. But do I want to? Or would I rather walk forward unencumbered?

I stop and look behind me, and the view is lovely. I can take a photo. But I can’t take it with me, and I have no desire to walk up the hill and rebuild a replica of what I’ve left behind. I learned a lot building those previous structures. Now I will use those skills to create something new.

WIPjoy #20

20. When your WIP is a movie, what would the credits sequence be like?

I’m going to assume end credits here. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say the book ends on a somber note; it’s based on Hamlet, after all. So there would be a slow fade out, and some deceptively slow, sweet music—or something moody, anyway. But then the rock beat would kick in.

There wouldn’t be outtakes or any of that stuff, but I think we might have a parchment background with some Shakespearean (Elizabethan era) writing? Or the actual names might be in a stylized calligraphy on the parchment? In any case, something that ties back to the source material. Sketches or faux paintings of the main characters in Elizabethan garb that then fades into them in modern clothing or something.

We could also possibly do something where we see Nerissa on the job. (If you read the book if/when it comes out, you’ll see what I mean.) There’s potential for lightheartedness there so that the whole movie doesn’t end on a down note.

Really, though, I don’t see my WIP as film material. Some books are (The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller definitely is), but this one . . . I don’t know. I’m not sold on the idea.

WIPjoy #19

19. Your biggest daydream about this WIP’s future.

I’d like this book to be my break-out hit. The one that gets me noticed, the one featured in Publisher’s Weekly, the one that gets me invited as a guest to more conferences. Of course, I hope that about every new book, so . . . “This is the one!” I think. So far, I’ve yet to be right. But maybe this time?

We’ve Got Another One

The Guardian is batting, uh, maybe not 1.000, but the number is up there this week as they approach the subject of celebrity endorsements on books. Someone (a judge of the Man Booker Prize or something?) said such blurbs “blackmail the reader.” Do they?

What do you think when you see a celebrity quote or blurb on a book? I’m jaded and cynical, so I often think, “They probably didn’t even read it.” Or, “They’re probably just friends with the author and so were cornered into saying something nice about the book.”

The whole thing makes me feel a bit ill, really. A bunch of snobs rubbing shoulders and patting one another on the back. That’s how it comes across to me.

But what about you? Do you feel like you’re missing out if you don’t read the latest, hottest thing? Particularly if a celebrity has blurbed it? Do you trust a celebrity’s review or opinion more than anyone else’s? (And if so . . . WHY? I really want to know.)

I’ve worked with celebrities, so maybe I just don’t have it in me to be swayed by their opinions. I don’t know. I do know I’ve never picked up a book just because someone famous liked it. The blurb may get me to look at the book, but I always decide for myself whether to read it.

So let’s say your favorite actor or singer or writer “recommended” a book. You pick it up and start to read it, and you hate it. Do you, as the Man Booker judge suggests, feel stupid for not liking something a celebrity likes? Do you try to convince yourself to like it? Do you make yourself finish reading the book no matter what?

I just . . . I mean, does anyone really read the quotes to begin with? I usually only notice them after I’ve already bought the book because I, you know, read the back of the book or the dust jacket or whatever and thought it sounded good. Then I might notice the quotes and think, “Oh. Cool.” But most likely I think [see paragraph 2].

But I’m also not one of these celeb culture followers. So maybe for other people it’s different. Maybe some people only read books their favorite celebrities read. Or wouldn’t read at all if those famous faces didn’t encourage it.

I’m NOT judging. I’m just acknowledging that circumstances may be different. Just today I was explaining to a second grader that, yes, he had to learn to read well because life requires that skill. But I told him, “Look, reading for fun may not be your thing. And that’s okay. You have to learn to read, but you don’t have to spend your spare time doing it. It’s not for everyone.” Because, much as I love reading and writing, I’m aware that there are people in the world who don’t.

So, you know, maybe celebrity blurbs are a good thing. If they get people to read.

But I don’t know the statistics on that. I don’t have any data. Just like no one know whether these blurbs “blackmail” people either. It’s an opinion, but what is it based on? Some old guy’s irritation? Seriously, I don’t know, I’m just wondering.

Anyway, let me know if celebrity book blurbs sway your reading choices. They’ve never really impacted mine.