WIP Snippet

Though I’m focusing on Faebourne at the moment, I wanted to share this piece from The Great Divide (the sequel to Manifesting Destiny), given that it’s Pride Month:

Marcus shrugged, giving the impression of someone trying to find comfort in ill-fitting clothes. “Do you remember when we were thirteen? That’s when it changed.”

“That’s when you changed, you mean.” Cee gasped at her own words. She hadn’t meant to say them aloud.

“I never changed, Cee.” Marcus’s tone was dull, resigned, as though he’d had this argument with himself many times before. “It just never mattered until then. Until you decided it mattered. That day at the play.”

Cee opened her mouth to protest but couldn’t. He wasn’t wrong. She snapped her mouth shut and nodded.

They’d gone to see a play at the local theatre—Nitid Ink it had been called—and afterward gone for ice cream. While they ate, Cee gushed about how cute one of the actors had been, and without hesitation Marcus picked up the thread and enthused along with her. It had taken Cee by surprise, and afterward she could not help but notice which way Marcus’s eyes turned whenever they went out. Usually they were on their work, or trained on a book, but Cee couldn’t fail to miss the way those green eyes followed the male tennis team whenever they walked by, or how they lingered on magazine photos of good-looking young men.

After that, Cee had quit mentioning any guys she found attractive.

It only occurred to her as they stood there in the sun how unfair it had been of her to tacitly require Marcus to hide himself. She should have been there for him if it was something he wanted to discuss. Even if all he wanted to talk about were handsome actors, letting him do that—better yet, doing it with him—would have shown him she accepted him.

But she hadn’t accepted him, had she? Not really. She’d refused to accept that Marcus was gay because she wanted so badly for it to be otherwise. She wanted to pretend it wasn’t true.

“Cee?”

Marcus’s voice broke through her epiphany. Cee blinked and discovered her cheeks were wet with tears. “Sorry,” she said, swiping at her face with her fingertips. “This isn’t—it’s not because you’re…” Her throat tried to close over the word but she made herself say it. “Gay. It’s because I’ve been such a bad friend. That day—I was so startled when you agreed with me about that actor I just pretended it never happened. And that wasn’t fair to you.”

Conferences & Conventions

CC0 Public Domain courtesy of Dreamstime

I’ve been to a number of writing events of various kinds, and every year I find myself having to decide which one(s), if any, I want to attend—either return to, or try new. I’m on a number of email lists, and I’m constantly realizing: “Oh, yeah, that one. I want to go to there.” For my own sake, I’ve decided to create a list. Conferences I’ve attended in previous years are in blue.

San Francisco Writers Conference
Writer’s Digest Conference
Digital Book World
Grub Street (The Muse and the Marketplace)
BookExpo/BookCon
DFW Conference
InD’Scribe
Santa Barbara Writers Conference
20Books
Willamette Writers Conference
London Book Fair
San Miguel Writers’ Conference
Historical Romance Retreat
Independent Authors Conference
Austin Film Festival

I also attended the Bay Area Book Fair one year but didn’t find it to my liking. Maybe I’ll try it again some time; at least it’s local and relatively inexpensive. Also local, the biennial Tri-Valley Writers Conference, which I may attend again when it comes back next year.

I’ve been to SFWC three times, but next year they’re changing venue, so I have to admit being pretty curious about that. Still, it’s one of the most expensive conferences, so I may try something new instead. Then again, I’d love to go back to DFW Con, too. Santa Barbara looks amazing, but it’s a week, and I don’t know if I can get away for that long. Maybe if they put me on a panel . . . 😉

I’m sure there are many more wonderful options than just these, but these are the ones that keep appearing in my email inbox. If you know of a great conference or convention, I’d love to hear about it!

The Sorrow of What Remains

Yesterday I went down an Internet rabbit hole. An old friend from way back when posted something on Facebook about her son receiving school awards. Seems harmless enough for starters, doesn’t it? Now, this friend still lives in the town I grew up in, but I didn’t recognize the name of the school. Of course, I knew they’d renamed many schools, and that the town had grown and there were also new schools. So out of curiosity, I went Googling.

I’d walked to elementary school as a child, and my chief question was: What did they rename my old school? When I was young and the town was small, the school names were very simple: Westside, Eastside, Central . . . But friends who were still in the area had told me they’d renamed the schools after people like our old superintendent. Fair enough. I wondered which name my old school had received.

First I looked at the school district website for my old town. None of the schools listed looked familiar based on the pictures, but I reasoned that those old buildings had probably been given facelifts. So, remembering that I used to walk, I instead went to a Google map of the town and traced my old route.

No school.

???

I double checked the area, clicking on various things on the map to see if maybe I’d misremembered something. But no, there was no school anywhere in the vicinity.

Then I made the mistake of going to Street View.

Sometimes I still have dreams set on the street where I grew up. We lived in a cul-de-sac, at the U bend of it, in fact, and behind our house ran a quiet, relatively underutilized road. There was nothing but fields on the other side of that road, and we just called it “the back road.” A skunk had been run over there once, and no one had bothered to clean it up, so there was a spot—my friends and I always looked for it—where you could see its skeleton pressed into the asphalt by the cars that had flattened it into the summer-softened blacktop.

Oh, but that road was no longer a quiet road. The fields were long gone. The land appeared flattened and without shade, the grass all brown around the houses that had sprung up. They hadn’t bothered to save any trees, apparently. It was heart crushing to see.

And my school? It appears to have become a Boys and Girls Club. I guess there could be worse fates.

It’s true that you can never go home again. Because it will never be home again. Even if I moved back, it wouldn’t be the town I grew up in. We’ve all moved on.

There’s something sad about memories. How they only exist in our heads because there is nothing concrete to hold on to. Photographs, maybe, but the truth is: those places are lost to us now and will never exist again.

No to Everything

. . . We’ve decided the above will be the title of my autobiography.

There is a bit of contention about which was my first word: “no” or “hot.” They worked in tandem, so I can understand the uncertainty. You see, in order to keep me from touching things as a child, my parents would say, “No. It’s hot.”

This makes sense when talking about, say, a stove. Less sense when talking about the television set. And being somewhat clever, I figured this out. My dad would be watching the telly, and I would make a move toward it. For whatever reason, turning the dial was very satisfying for me. Probably a tactile/sensory thing. I can actually still remember this—the feel of it and the sound of it burring as it clicked. We didn’t have remote controls in those days. Ours was a wood-paneled thing from Montgomery Ward as I recall. I don’t know the make or model but it looked something like:

The point being that I liked to go turn the dial on the television, and my parents didn’t want me to. So Dad would say, “No. Hot.”

And I would smile and say, “Hot?” But I would draw the word out like, “Hooooooot?”

“Yes, Manda, it’s hot.”

So then I’d reach out and turn the dial, then laugh and run away, yelling, “No! Hot!”

I haven’t stopped saying “no” since, though I don’t say “hot” as often. And televisions don’t have dials anymore.

So I think, if I were ever to write an autobiography or memoir, I’d call it No to Everything. Because I’ve been told I do say no to everything. (I’m not convinced that’s entirely true, but apparently I’m somewhat forbidding.) Also, it’s a less off-putting title than I Hate Everyone.

Changing Behaviors

I’ve written about this topic before, if not here than definitely once on spooklights that I can recall. But it seems worth a revisit.

Yesterday my husband and I were walking over to the school to pick up the kids, and we were talking about how so many of the parents—the ones driving—use what’s known as the “back loop” for pickup, even though every email from the school principal has a reminder that the back loop is NOT open for pickup because it’s for handicap services only. Now, I could hypothesize that a few of those parents who are going against the rules don’t get email? And their kids also don’t bring home the printed notices? But not all of them.

Does it seem to you that more and more people are breaking rules or behaving as though the rules don’t apply to them? (I recommend reading F You Very Much by Danny Wallace, btw.)

I’m going to scale this down a bit and use an example I typically fall back on when discussing this subject, one that I think most of us can identify with: batteries.

We all know we’re not supposed to throw batteries away. There are community events where you bring your batteries and electronics to be disposed of, and there are sites you can bring these things to, and in our town we can even put our batteries in plastic baggies and tape them to the tops of our bins so the garbage collectors take them to dispose of them. How much easier can it get than that?

Or think about recycling in general. For years it was nearly impossible to get people to do it, but then cities began giving people special bins that they could use just like their garbage bins, no need even to separate the types of recycling, and then what? More people recycled!

There are two prongs to changing people’s behaviors, and (spoiler alert) repeated emails telling people not to do something is not one of them.

1. Convenience.

By making recycling as convenient as throwing away your garbage, cities were able to increase the number of people recycling. By putting recycling bins out next to trash bins in public spaces, again, more recycling. By making it possible for us to just tape our batteries to the tops of our trash bins, our town made us a lot less likely to throw batteries out. Because in our busy lives, no one wants to make an extra trip to Wherever to hand off dead batteries.

If and when you want people to do something, you have to make that something relatively easy. The minute you begin asking for extra effort, you’re going to lose a large percentage of potential buy-in.

Since this is a writing blog, I’ll tell it from the point of view of trying to get reviews. Many readers aren’t used to writing reviews, and to do so requires time and effort they’d rather put into reading the next book in their stack. But authors who put a link in the backs of their ebooks tend to get more reviews than authors who don’t. Because just clicking on the link? That’s relatively easy. Write a few words while the reader is still high (or low) on what he or she just read? They’re way more likely to do so at that moment than to come back to it later. And that link makes it convenient.

Going back to the pickup situation at our local school: Why might parents feel the need to break the rules and use the back loop? My guess is it’s because the current system for drop-off and pickup isn’t efficient and doesn’t suit their needs. Well, and they’re impatient and don’t want to wait their turn. There’s a streak of entitlement there—the notion that their needs are greater than anyone else’s.

Which brings us to

2. Consequences.

Another reason these parents have no problem using the back loop when they’re not supposed to? No one stops them. There’s never a police officer waiting there, or even a school official. In short, they do it because they can get away with it. There are no consequences for breaking the rule.

We want to believe people are mostly good, but don’t we all sometimes speed when we’re pretty sure we won’t get caught? “What’s the harm?” we think. Until the day we’re pulled over or, worse, in an accident. I see it every day at the school, people doing well over the 25 mph limit—unless there’s a police car parked nearby.

Why do some people throw batteries in the trash when they know they shouldn’t? Because the benefits (not having to go to any extra effort) outweigh the disadvantages. These people know they won’t get caught, won’t be fined or jailed or anything. So why not do the easy thing rather than the right one? (We as a species are pretty terrible at thinking ahead to greater consequences down the road—Exhibit A: climate change.)

Until the cons outweigh the pros, people will continue to disregard the rules.

How many people do you see driving in the HOV lane when they’re the only ones in the car? Where I live, it’s quite a few. Recently, I read a statistic that only 1 in 40 would be pulled over for it. That’s less than 3%, so the odds are in the favor of those disobeying the law. Clearly a number of people feel it’s worth the risk of (at least here) a very high fine. However, if the numbers were to change—if, say, 60% of people were caught and fined—behaviors would likely change. (My guess is, at 50% these drivers would still play the odds. Hell, even at 60% they might. But if they were statistically more likely to get pulled over and fined than not, they’d probably think twice.)

Why do people in power do things they shouldn’t? Because no one will hold them accountable. There are no consequences. Look at the sexual harassment scandals making waves through Hollywood and beyond. Only now, as people are starting to hold abusers responsible, are behaviors beginning to change.

And change is not instantaneous. It’s slow. To get people to do things, or stop doing them, is like turning a massive cruise ship. It takes time, and some people are going to feel queasy about it.

To summarize: in order to get people to change their behaviors, you must (1) make it easy for them to change, and (2) provide strict and immediate consequences for not changing. We’re creatures of habit, after all. We can be taught, but not easily. We’re like tigers in a circus: crack the whip over us, sure, but also give us treats when we do well. Eventually we’ll be trained.

Fiddling

I’m wandering into the weeds today and exploring some characters who are not my own.

Years ago, I began writing a fanfic that has since been lost to time. Basically it was a Tokyo Babylon / X / Cardcaptor Sakura crossover. Touya had a creature inside him similar to Yue—the opposite of Yue, really, as this alter ego was the power of the New Moon, the byproduct of Clow having created Yue. When you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Unlike the sun, the moon is inconstant [visually; obviously it’s always there regardless of our ability to see it]. Touya’s alter ego was named Xiwan (or Xi-Wan? something like that). I don’t remember where I got this name, but I do remember readers sending me fan art of the character. I still have it . . . somewhere . . .

I don’t remember much about the fic except that Seishiroh hits Touya with his car. This was the inciting incident, I think? And it was done on purpose as I recall because Sei needed Xiwan, or needed to eliminate Xiwan for some reason. Might have had to do with the Dragons of Heaven.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this here and now except that with the return of Cardcaptor Sakura I find myself thinking more and more about the dynamic between Yukito and Touya. I always want more of their story, really. Mulling it over, I think about how Yuki admits to Sakura that he has feelings for Touya but isn’t sure how Touya feels. How must Yuki have felt, then, when Kaho came back to Tomoeda? When I go back and re-read the scenes in which Yuki gently probes Touya about Kaho’s return, it feels different in light of knowing Yuki loves Touya but is uncertain if that love is reciprocated. Yuki wants Touya to be happy, of course, but part of him must be in knots over wondering whether Touya still has feelings for Kaho, what their relationship was like, etc. And Touya is not particularly forthcoming; he doesn’t do much to ease Yuki’s anxiety.

Not that Yuki ever shows it. He puts a smile on for everything and everyone. It’s easy to read or watch CCS and take Yukito at (no pun intended) face value. But I’m a character person, and I like depth. I like to think that Yuki, sitting home alone night after night, wrestles with these thoughts and feelings. Touya is friendly, yes, but in a somewhat unapproachable way. Even for his best friend.

When you toss Yue into this, Jesus . . . Here is a creature who is as aloof as Touya, but we also know he has deep feelings for his creator Clow Reed. Which means he’s capable of love. Kero gets to be himself all the time, whether in small form or large, but Yue must swap his personality out with this non-person . . . It’s so complicated it makes my head spin. Yue has a sense of duty to Sakura, though his heart appears to remain with Clow. He has very little agency in “life” (if that’s what you call it). He knows Yuki’s thoughts and feelings but doesn’t seem to share them; he’s merely required to carry the burden of them. If he’s lonely, he refuses to admit it. You get the sense he’d prefer to disappear entirely now that Clow is gone. But he feels chained by his loyalty to Clow to continue to care for his new master. All that lies before him is a long trudge without the one person who means the most to him. Think about that for a while.

Love triangles may be cliché but damn does this have the potential to be a fun one. In the fanfic I wrote, Touya is in the hospital and Yuki refuses to leave his bedside. At one point Sakura comes in and discovers Yue there instead. She is alarmed, of course—Yue shouldn’t be seen by anyone, and what if a nurse or doctor or even Mr. Kinomoto were to enter? Yue tells her that he could not bear Yuki’s broken heart and needed to put him out of his misery for a while.

When I look at my book Manifesting Destiny, I realize I probably subconsciously adopted some of the dynamics of the Touya/Yuki/Yue situation when I developed the Cee/Marcus/Diodoric triangle. After all, Diodoric is Marcus’ alter ego. Of course, there is a fourth player in my story: Cee’s alter ego Livian. Not that he’s romantically interested in anyone, but Cee still has to navigate life with him as part of her.

Again, I don’t have a particular reason for bringing this up at the moment. Just something I was thinking about. When, really, I should be worrying about my WIP! So off I go to do some “real” work . . .

An Unreasonable Heart

You guys, I really want a Corgi. Like, really. I’ve reached out to local Corgi rescue and adoption groups, but so far there has been nothing. It’s breaking my heart a little.

I grew up with dogs. In fact, I can’t remember a time as a kid when we didn’t have at least one dog and usually a few cats, too. (I have two cats now. You can see pics and video of them on my Facebook page.) But I haven’t had a dog in my life since leaving for college. And while there are many up sides to not having to care for a dog . . . It’s a head versus heart kind of thing for me. My head says I have plenty enough without one more thing, one more dependent. But my heart says, “CORGI!”

Ugh.

The decision will likely be made for me. I don’t want to pay a breeder, and actual Corgis don’t seem to be in need of rescue or adoption. I see many dogs listed as “Corgi mix” on sites, but . . . Even though I know I shouldn’t fixate, and that these other dogs also need loving homes, as Prince Lir says in The Last Unicorn, “I love whom I love.” Or as Blaise Pascal put it: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

For now I have a Pinterest board filled with Corgi pictures. That’s probably only making things worse though. I should distract myself with, you know, writing and other work. Does the heart ever give up? Maybe mine will exhaust itself like a nagging child and eventually fall asleep.