As we enter the new year, everyone has resolutions for 2021. Losing weight, managing money better, renovating your home, volunteering with youth—all of us have priorities. For myself on the writing front, I plan to finish The Palladia Trilogy this year. That’s a broader goal, thinking more globally. During this month I have just two goals. One is to get back to normal after last month, which was really busy because the holidays intersected with my uncle’s passing away—he died of carbon monoxide poisoning when his furnace malfunctioned and we were told about it on the 26th—and with disastrous plumbing that struck on a chilly New Year’s Eve and left us managing busted pipes and broken faucets for days over the weekend. My sister came on Jan. 2nd for a delayed Christmas party, and while this was nice because I hadn’t seen her in a while, it left me feeling a little bit with a full plate the week after Christmas.
The other is to redo my book descriptions so they sound less like slices of stale bread. I wanted to equalize all of my books last year because some got disproportionately more attention and others had gone unpublished—so I cut down to the basics and did a bare-bones description for each book. All pretty similar and detailing just what’s in the book’s plot components, nothing more. But now I think they are pretty much stabilized, so I’m looking for more of an emotional connection coming out of the blurbs.
A Year with the Harrisons got a makeover last month for market-oriented purposes. It felt complete as a story, but it had always wavered between YA and Women’s fiction--kind of an all-ages sort of thing. The original serial version had Letty as a college girl, but I kicked it down to high-schooler when I published the print in 2018 because the book’s homeschool focus was still big at that time and it made more sense to show a girl who was actually still learning at home. Education turned out not to be an important factor in this book at all, though, and the homeschool component has dwindled to just a couple of mentions here and there. Rather, it’s about an extended family of people who are proudly different from others and can easily get a little full of themselves about it—but isn’t everyone’s family like that? So I moved the book to New Adult, which a writing editorial I subscribe to defined as about women ages 18-30 going through still-youthful life experiences. This held an umbrella over plots with both the protagonists (Letty who is now 18 and Betty who is 28.)
Ryan and Essie also got some definition as I removed the brief mention (unlike in Harrisons it was always very brief) of the Essie character as homeschooled. The idea hadn’t been to explore education, but to polarize the kids even further so they were opposed in every way and couldn't relate to each other at first. But their antagonism isn’t what drives the story. Much more it’s what brings them together as they make moral choices for the first time. Digging into the description to draw out more emotion—since readers who aren’t on my newsletter don’t have the luxury of getting details sent their way twice a month—has been fun since the world of Caricanus has an angle as a creepy kind of place. It’s in ruins, but not abandoned and the followers of Trisagion are quite as questionable as they are austere and tough. So these two kids explore this place with a very deep history and decide what to do about the world, not about each other since they aren’t really a problem.
And there will be more updates.
With more coronavirus cases reported close to home, grocery shelves stripped bare, and stores and public places closing each day, the pandemic of COVID-19 occupies a large part of my thoughts as it does for everyone these days. No one is free or safe from being affected by this situation, or even from contracting a case of this deadly virus themselves. My thoughts go out to each and every one of you, wherever you may live or however the virus is changing your life right now. Pray for your friends and loved ones, respond to your community’s crisis in a sensitive and wise way, care for those more at risk among you, and never forget to wash your hands!
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"How The Test of Devotion Was Saved,” a little play on words from the classic movie “How the West Was Won,” would be appropriate for talking about my only western story. Very much like the West itself, Devotion’s road hasn’t been easy. It didn’t fit with my other work. Like Victoria: A Tale of Spain it used Spanish-speaking culture as a backdrop, but the stories Devotion most resembled were actually City of the Invaders (with its criminal angle) and Bellevere House (with its use of historical Americana.) These stories already utilized those elements in my work. So I often wondered if Devotion was even necessary.
It was a challenging book for me to write. I couldn’t remember Lanmont’s first name. I couldn’t remember the alias he used for the first few chapters until his identity was revealed. In the middle part of the story, where Arabella was rescued, I found my eyes sliding off the page. I couldn’t concentrate. (Not a great mindset to be in when looking to publish a book!) Even this year, when the book pushed forward a notch, I still had more typos than average for my first drafts. Giving it to an editor got rid of that problem. But it sounds like Devotion was a largely merited flop. It was too late to recover it and maligning of the early launch by readers was pretty fair.
But then . . . some stories take time. They grow in the telling. Slowly, Devotion slipped into place. It didn’t jar as much, I found the material much easier to work with. The character relationships started to make sense, the errors disappeared, and I could see Lanmont more clearly. In fact, he’s one of the best characters. (Even if he is kind of a jerk.) And so The Test of Devotion is not what it used to be. It’s become a really good story. Even with its many flaws, bumpy launch, and gritty, abrasive tone, there's something to love in this book. It's a story of unlikely friends overcoming differences to help someone else out and that's one thing the world always needs more of. Because it was published fairly recently, I’ll be talking about its characters in posts a little bit down the road.
And there will be more updates.
This little detail didn’t appear in the book’s manuscript, but the dusty gravel road bending among green trees that the Harrison family lives beside is called “Harrison Lane” after them. It was actually named by the county because they’re almost the only house on that road and when every road had to be named something (to keep things in order) they asked Mr. Harrison “What’s your last name?” He said “Harrison” so they named the little gravel byway after him.
A small point like this can give you an idea of how long the Harrisons have been around, in a fixed way, in one place. A very long time. And they are well-respected within the community—in a way—although people do think they’re kind of odd. People in small towns can be very narrow-minded, you know. There is something quietly lovely about their home and the girls, who’ve always lived this way, don’t know how nice and cozy their lives might look to other people.
Anybody in their right minds would view the Harrisons as people you’d want to know. They have a great home life, a great home, a great religious faith, and a great loyalty to each other. Anyone who tries to bother them (like the polygamists who appeared in an intermediate draft of the book) are very mistaken about what this family represents. That's why this area was originally presented as very amusing, because it never occurred to me anyone could be bothered by it. The concept of such people trying to take advantage of the Harrison girls is categorically funny to anyone who perceives what the story is really about. But after I received feedback from several people that they took it quite seriously, I felt it was being misunderstood and removed it as a distraction. Meanwhile, our protagonists return to being the Harrisons of Harrison Lane, which is what they would have done in any case whether this area was included or not.
You don't run into people like the Harrisons very often. They truly are unusual, but that’s not always a bad thing.
And there will be more updates.
Pleasant Fiction in an Age of Noise
I write stories about human emotions--about the journey of life. Every step of it can be meaningfully great or simply terrible and you can only reach the end after experiencing many kinds of things that make you grow. Emotional travels are the travels of life and the road of living is not one planned out in notebooks or organized in Scrivener. It is felt in love, hope, and fear and developed through an understanding of why humans go through these. And, on top of that, my stories are adventure stories. History, fantasy, and daily modern situations are all adventures as long as you don't know for sure what's going to happen when you wake up each day. Because that would be like repeating the same day over and over again and who wants to do that?
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Bellevere House has been featured on Ezvid Wiki video "10 Wonderfully Inventive Retellings That Interpret Classic Stories in a New Way." Click to see the video.