Most people will only be nice to someone if they can profit from it.
You’ve seen it. You know I’ve seen it too. So have all your friends and all my friends. Christians often say that God’s love is “unconditional” and for years that didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It didn’t sound very appealing because the phrase "unconditional love” implied there was such a thing as conditional love. Theoretically, conditional love shouldn't really exist. For love to be real it has to involve giving to someone else with a motive other than profit. But what people were trying to say is that we CALL a lot of things Love, Affection, or Caring, but it's not the real deal. “So-and-so is my best friend, my bestie best bestie”—until it benefits me to take something from them, bump them out to get a bigger platform on social media, or judge them to increase my own standing. “So-and-so is my spouse and we are unbelievably happy, praising each other all the time”—and they divorce a few years later. “So-and-so is my new favorite author or musician or actor”—until a while later you’ve never heard of them or even actively want them to quit producing material.
The list could go on forever, but I won’t bore you with it. There are so many examples of manipulative behavior that feigns closeness but serves yourself. Best friend, praising someone else, or calling someone a favorite are forms of showing affection. And in this case conditional affection that evaporates in the face of a new opportunity. By contrast, a relationship with God or with anyone who really cares about you is sincere. However, ire, rage, and hostility can also be emotions that are insincere. Most find that hard to believe because they assume if something is negative it must be true! Perhaps it’s the personal threat of negativity. It makes us insecure, certain that the emotions are genuine because our vulnerability is genuine. Well, we might really be vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean that our critics mean what they say. Their criticism and accusations, like their love and friendship, can evaporate in a minute if they suddenly feel it’s expedient to be fond of us. 😉
For instance, it’s common these days to use absurdly intense labels to describe others, like racist, terrorist, or Nazi. People are shocked by literally everything. Almost everything is the next great threat to society and an emergency. But this does not mean that the people saying this really mean it. They are just getting all worked up because it helps them achieve their goals. They have Conditional Negativity, which is just like Conditional Friendship--a thing of the moment. This behavior creates great cynicism about any publicly stated opinions. For example, they might describe Russian president Vladimir Putin and a typical pedestrian on a small-town street corner exactly the same way (namely as a terrible danger to mankind) although Putin invaded another country and the typical pedestrian merely said something they didn't particularly like. As far as they're concerned the pedestrian is just as guilty of killing people as Putin is because they don't care what those words really mean. Frequent exhibitions of overblown, obviously motivated reactions on every topic make us just roll our eyes and feel that we can't believe what anyone says even if it is true. We now assume all the emotions shown are fake. It can be hard to trust people and to believe they have real feelings about you or about anyone else.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but when writing City of the Invaders I felt very far from the issues it explores and that’s something I’m proud of. I wanted to be free of ulterior motives when writing a very charged type of storyline. So I picked a scenario where I was an outside observer, unlike the protagonist Katia who is deeply tied to all the conflicts in the narrative. It’s an urban story, about subcultures within a mega-city and about a rather nasty divide that simmers between two groups that are always at war but have a lot in common. This story is likely to remind people of politics in real life and to create strong feelings. I knew readers believed I was personally invested in it (for instance, the little tidbits about performing on stage came from my real experiences, didn't they?) And if I had been invested, it wouldn't have been a good story at all. But things that tied into something I'd done weren't important memories of mine and the broader-reaching plot was remote from my preoccupations. As I look back on this book, I realize it was really pretty good. When certain situations are very complex, the worst thing you can do is to have too many opinions. A tale about a big city on the brink of war, written by a girl who always lived on a peaceful farm, was about as much creative distance as was humanly possible! 😛
My name is Katia. I’m the one who doesn’t fit in.
It’s 2335 and people on Earth have been fighting in two clans for centuries. We’ve got colonies all over the solar system now—you know, those cities on Mars people have been planning to build like forever? I wish I had been born out there because they have no fighting between two groups that are essentially identical and won’t admit it. True, EC can read and don’t handle technology and for the Invaders it’s the opposite. But that's just a cosmetic difference over two sides who are similar in every other way. If you say that, though, you'll get in big trouble.
I don’t live in one of those outer-space colonies. I live on Earth. And in the portion of Earth where I live, the former imperial regions, everybody is EC or Invader. Except me. Did you notice I haven’t told you which one I belong to? That’s right. Because I belong to both of them. And that means I really belong to neither. I’m the “weird kid.” The outcast. The one who does everything wrong.
I'm not sure if they think getting involved in gangster politics and accidentally wrecking the opening night of a theater production counts as wrong. But that isn't going to keep me from doing it.
And there will be more updates.
When I was a little girl, I liked to see things upside down. Just for fun, of course—it was a game I played with a mirror. 😊 All it takes is a mirror to see the world in an entirely new way. For instance, classics like Through the Looking Glass have long ago discovered the efficacy of mirror-travel for exploring a young lady’s relationship to the world. I never saw much of myself in Alice although I had a nice big Alice in Wonderland book. And the small, streaky, quite prosaic utility mirror over our bathroom sink was a very serviceable piece of glass, but it was sensible in the extreme and it was hard to imagine a world behind it even if I had wanted to. Besides, it reflected pale daylight from a nearby window and always made me look bleached out.
But I found that if I took a smallish rectangular mirror with rather sharp edges—no frame—that was lying in my mother’s things, I could hold it to my nose with the mirror facing up and everything up above looked as if I was walking right into it. Upside down, the ceiling of the porch, the now massive sky ringing it, and the puffy white clouds appeared, in an optical illusion, to be something I was about to walk into, to tip off into, in fact. I used to walk all over the porch because it seemed like the porch roof was a balcony and then it suddenly disappeared as I catapulted into sky that I could magically walk on! Then I walked off of it into a fantasy world of things reflected upside down in the mirror. This picture shows what I got out of it emotionally, how beautiful I thought it was--except for the ocean waves. I don't remember any of those in our sky!
Victoria: A Tale of Spain was a book that I got 100% upside down at first. It was inspired by a trip to Europe. After all, how could I not use this wonderful opportunity that I had to see historic places? Many people haven’t had that chance to improve their writing. I HAD TO write a book about it, so I started by writing two separate stories. Gradually I sewed the two parts into one, but no matter what I did with it, Victoria: A Tale of Spain was a left shoe on a right foot. I was getting something wrong. Last year, I again wondered (for the millionth time) how to describe Victoria. It really seemed to offer nothing at all to my publications. Every element I could use to describe it applied to at least one of my other books—historical, drawn from places I’d known, juvenile audience, adventure, female protagonist. What did this book offer that was unique? But I did not have a memoir or a book that actually drew on my family experiences instead of just scenery and images of where I lived. Once I thought—“perhaps this is a disguised memoir, a sort of creative nonfiction. It’s really us dressed up in historical costumes and its characters are modern, rather than this truly being a book about historical times”—the story snapped into focus. And these elements, come to think of it, had been in the book all along. I would have seen that if I hadn't been looking at it from an alternative angle, like I used to look at the sky in that mirror as a child.
The trip itself—the fact I went to live with relatives that I barely knew for three months in foreign countries—WAS the story. I can’t stress enough that I did not know these relatives well at all and then I suddenly spent all my time with them. There was plenty of complexity in all the family relationships which is why other people who are influential to our interactions on the trip are also shown in Victoria. There was no reason to look for made-up historical drama when such a rich supply of it was already available from our real lives. 😊 The action is primarily in Spain since I was there the longest but the other places we toured appear as a mashup of glamorous public buildings at the end of the book. Except for Ireland, unfortunately because this Thursday was St. Patrick's Day, but this week's book passed Ireland like a ship in the night! I guess that brief visit wasn't very meaningful to any of us. It is the only place where I bought no souvenirs. To keep identities a bit private, some of the relationships, such as age or gender of siblings, have been fictionalized, and I have not included an appendix clarifying what character is meant to be who in real life. But I will say that all the characters are based on someone from my life and I based Isabelle and Anne on myself. (For better narrative flow they became distinct characters in the completed book, but in the original set of two separate stories they were one girl, named Mary, who appeared recurringly.) And since these characters are so real, it will be easy for readers to recognize them from their own families and friends. I’m sure you have this mix of people in your lives too. An upside-down mirror is not a broken mirror, after all. All you have to do is turn it around and it will show your own face very accurately.
Have you ever toured a place and wondered what would have happened if you’d actually lived there?
I once visited the country of Spain with my aunt and cousins. While there, I wondered what our lives would have looked like had we lived in historical instead of modern Spain. This story is filled with poetic license and places real people and real places into the Spanish historical setting of the places I toured.
Victoria is a teenage duchess who lives in the Alcazar in Segovia with her parents and many sisters. But their peaceful lives are shattered when it turns out the young King, the son of the haughty and cruel Phillip II, is out to get them. Victoria’s father, the duke, owns something that could threaten the succession.
When she is warned by a hired assassin who has a strange fondness for her sister, Victoria travels incognito with a group of tourists. A visit to the royal court, a midnight escape, and the help of a handsome prince will bring her family back together and restore it to royal favor.
Both based in fact and entirely fictional, this book is a tribute to an unforgettable summer: to a country that I was privileged to visit: and to the many people who appear in the story's pages in historical disguise.
And there will be more updates.
An Open and Shut Case of Bad Hair
Sooner or later, every writer must face the western.
Now how is that for an opening line? Got your attention didn’t I? And it’s a sure bet you feel like arguing with me right off the bat. Westerns aren’t that important to every writer. They’re a niche subgenre and honestly old-fashioned into the bargain. A cultural reference, not a pinpoint of one’s career. But I have found it to be otherwise. Let me clarify what I mean by the overwhelming importance of this genre for writers.
One of the ways you can tell a good western from a bad one is the hair. Always for the women, less so for the men, but sometimes for them as well. After a long while, it clicked in my mind that I invariably felt westerns were lesser if the characters had bad hair. This is also a really tricky grading system because a frumpy, grubby, rangy, even unkempt look is native to the genre. So how can you say anyone in it has good hair, exactly? All you have to do is watch some of those 80s westerns like The Shadow Riders and you’ll see men who look like teddy bears, they are so scruffy and bearded. But the women have natural hair for the most part--with a few terrible hairstyles sprinkled in there. Most westerns have female leads with tall cake-like wigs of hair in unnatural colors. Or they have dirty, stringy hair without texture, in little pigtails, or in rickety, noodle-like curls. Always, always, a bad western. Yet, untidy or at least not fashionable hair would be what women in the West really had, right? This was a survival setting, after all. It was a harsh place to live. Having perfect hair was not on everyone’s minds.
The fact is that people view the western in a simplistic way. They believe it is all cowboys and action-adventure, a superficial genre. The reactions that authors and their audiences have towards westerns (including expressing negative opinions; showing theoretical positivity but never actually getting involved; writing, reading, or watching westerns; or declining to comment on the whole conversation) say a lot more about them than they might believe when they make these decisions. It’s strange that with so many of the storylines featuring criminals and outlaws, nobody ever suspects westerns of harboring deceptive elements that don't appear on the surface. Of being an insider thing—you either know exactly how the characters should look or you don’t. Just because the characters have guns, horses, and frumpy hair and clothing does not mean it’s the right frumpy hair. There’s correct bad hair and then there’s just . . . BAD hair. When watching a western or reading one, you should never assume that you know what is going on right away. People are also likely to approach the subject with overconfidence.
The Test of Devotion--which is, by the way, a western--revealed a lot about the disconnect I had with readers. For instance, I wrote this book under a belief it was a market-oriented story and was what readers wanted to see. I needed to make more money at my writing, so I tried a conventional western romance genre. What I understood later, to my great amusement, was that people felt the opposite—that this book was a silly oddity written for no apparent reason. Because I didn't handle the material very well, it was easy to think that I had tried to tell a story that was over my head. Trying to write something for market is pretentious only if the idea of having readers is laughable, which it isn't. I have always had readers. 😊 The book was not inherently out of my league if I had really wanted to write it. The problem was that I didn't enjoy writing it, which ironically led to it being less successful than if I had written whatever I wanted to. I was then stuck with a story that had now really become a drifting oddity (although it had not been intended that way), so I rewrote it into a book I WOULD much rather see in print. There is no point in writing something that bores you if it doesn’t please anybody else either. Besides, trying to please people can backfire. I’ve often found that when I’m more of a jerk, things go better. (Yes, I can actually be one, in a We-Still-Like-Her-Anyway-Mostly kind of way. Just ask my family.) 😊
Gunslingers should take notice. There are job openings available.
Persevering Henry Trevalyn is looking for his fiancé, who ran off with somebody else after he was thrown in jail.
Cold-hearted outlaw Hawk seeks a profit from a greedy local politico with an eye to the Governor’s mansion—and the Governor’s daughter.
Grumpy Tony Forsythe wants boarders for his small, run-down Laredo hotel and he’s willing to accept pretty much anyone—even a very suspicious, very glamorous young woman from the East who has no business being out here in no man’s land.
And Viajero isn’t searching for anything. A bored teenager who lives on the wrong side of the law, he embraces his outlaw background until Henry Trevalyn makes him join the Quest for Arabella.
Riding over miles of arid land to look for someone he’s never seen takes Viajero to a certain hotel—and after that, he and the hotel keeper’s pretty daughter must race to foil a murder in this fast-paced western set in Texas.
And there will be more updates.
Young Adult Fiction Writer
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