The Magic of Vindication

I had a rare, magical weekend where I was able to make the time to binge read a series of novels. One of things that jumped out at me was the on-going vindication of the main character. Zoe is snarky, sassy, independent, and frankly, kind of annoying a lot of the time.  Yet, she’s really appealing, too. She does what she thinks is right, goes with her gut, and learns every lesson the hard way.

But, she’s almost always vindicated in the end. Her gut is a steady compass, and she gets herself into the worst trouble when she doesn’t listen to her gut. Often, her friends and allies are arguing against her gut, as it’s rarely giving Zoe the safe direction, and certainly not the easy one. But while the heads and hearts of all the characters are often distracted by  fear or safety or logic, Zoe’s gut zeroes in on the core of a situation.

As a reader, I can be impatient with main characters. Some of the novels I haven’t enjoyed as much in the past are the ones where the main character does silly things for silly reasons, and somehow manages to survive or solve the puzzle by chance.  There’s no vindication of their choices, there’s just annoyance at the lack of reality and common sense.

Zoe makes choices. They’re not always good ones, but they are deliberate, and when those choices are based in her instincts? The right things happen.  There are missteps, of course. Stories would be boring if there weren’t set-backs or if solving the puzzles was easy. What would be the point?

As Zoe’s magic grows and she begins to acknowledge who and what she really is–no spoilers for those who haven’t read the series–Zoe begins to realize that her instincts are worthy of trust.  Her personal growth results in increased confidence in her gut, and ultimately, she learns to fight for her choices. As a reader, I’m in love with her growth and the on-going vindication of her choices.

If you’d like to meet Zoe, and you like a little paranormal in your reading, check out the Covenant College series by Amanda M. Lee.

Manic Monday

Do you ever have those days, where you wake up thinking, “I got this.” And then the heavens or fate or some other thing proves you utterly, incredibly, completely wrong? Think Stephanie Plum on any day that ends in why. Yeah.

I’m having that day.

Which is why this blog is late–apparently I don’t know the difference between 7/31 and 8/31 (really, is there a difference?!?). But there’s good news!

Before I share the good news, I’m going to share a little bit more about the team of folks I’m fortunate enough to manage. These folks are smart, committed, funny, and diverse. What we do is complex, and not universally loved or admired, but it is important work. One of the challenges for me as a leader is how to keep supporting, encouraging, lifting in a meaningful way; how do I let these folks know just how much I value what they do, and the way in which they do it? What I’ve realized over the years, is that almost every situation brings with it both challenge and opportunity. It’s easy to see the challenge. The opportunity? That can be tougher to identify or acknowledge. Part of my role, then, has become helping my team see opportunities, instead of just problems.

It’s not easy. Sometimes I have to hunt for those opportunities. Rarely, the only opportunity to be found is one that is such a stretch, I would lose all credibility. But, that’s rare. I’ve found that finding opportunity is skill, and like any skill, it has to be exercised to be strengthened; I have to stretch in order to grow.

Where’s today’s opportunity? Where’s the good news? I have a fantastic scene written in my head, based on today’s real-life events. This will likely be something I write for Rachel, the protag in the novel I’m drafting. She would totally have a day like today, and if I capture this experience right now, I should be able to make the scene vibrant, detailed, an d dreadfully, uncomfortably, completely real. And that’s always my core question when I write–how can I make what I write feel as real to readers as possible? Today, the answer is to experience it.

 

Happy Monday!

My Inspiration Home

When I was in elementary school, I began doing science fairs. This was always a project between my dad and I, and it was one of my favorite parts of every school year. By high school, I was determined to become a scientist, and I took every science class I could cram into my high school schedule. Off I went to college, as  a Marine Biology major.

Except.

No one told me what to expect of college, much less how to choose a college. There’s another essay (or therapy session) here, but suffice to say, but the end of my junior year, I’d had enough of professors who began the semester with, “I’m only here because it pays for my research.” Ugh! So, I quickly looked at my record and realized the only way to graduate on time was to A) become an English major (I’d been filling my schedule with English courses because they were fun) and B) do a summer semester.

Except.

I couldn’t afford to live on campus over the summer, and I lived two hours from my university. Back in those days, online classes were not a thing. So, like any logical young woman, I applied to the summer semester abroad program. There was financial aid for that! Lucky me, I was accepted, and in July I jetted off to Cambridge University for six weeks of classes.

There are no words to express how much I loved every minute of my time there. We were at Gonville and Caius College,  right in the heart of Cambridge. I took a survey of the works of Thomas Hardy class, and one called History of England through Architecture. For the latter class, we went on one excursion every week, traipsing over the country-side to places tourists rarely visit.

It was heaven. At least once a week, I attended a play, usually Shakespeare (my concentration with 17th and 18th century English literature, with an emphasis on Shakespeare).  We saw casual plays on the various Cambridge campuses, more official performances at The Royal Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon and at the Barbican in London. We visited Canterbury, London, Dover; the estate of Vita Sackville-West, the home (purported) of Shakespeare–we went everywhere. We also took an overnight trip to a college in Wales.

It was much too short of a trip, and I dream of the day when I can take my daughter there. Of course, her interests are very different, so I’m careful to remind myself that she likely won’t love it like I do. But, it will be lovely to share something that’s so very important to me, with her.

I maintain a love for all things English (well, maybe not the food), especially the writers.  From the obvious, such as Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to more contemporary choices, such as Louise Penny.

We recently turned our spare room into a library, and I’ve begun digging out my scrapbooks and the books I collected while in England. I’m working my way to shelving the British authors. Little gets accomplished as I try to unpack those boxes, but oh, what lovely memories I get to re-visit!

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, Part 7

Not wanting to be that foolish fiction female, the one that doesn’t call the cops when they should, I’d called Sinful Sterling as soon as the shock had worn off, which was after I’d dashed into the house, slammed and locked the door behind me, and dropped the note on my kitchen counter as though it carried the plague. Sinful didn’t answer, so a detailed voicemail it was. Okay, maybe not detailed, exactly, as much as it was frantic. Whatever.

Careful not to touch the note again, I pinned it down on the counter with an empty glass, and then paced around the kitchen for a while. Finally, I ran upstairs to grab a quick shower. For some reason, I just felt dirty after the morning’s bizarre events, and I figured the hot water would be soothing. Slipping into a pair of well-worn jeans and a loose-fitting tank top, I was trying to decide whether I should start working on my date-night makeup or call Fred to cancel, when the doorbell rang.

“You changed,” stated Sterling after I opened the door. Suspicion dripped from every word. I stared at him in confusion. He looked rumpled, hot, and smelled vaguely of pipe smoke. Odd, I was pretty sure he didn’t smoke. Wait, what did he say?

“Um, yeah. I’ve got a date tonight, although I’ll probably cancel, and I didn’t really want to go in the first place, but, warm water is soothing, so there’s that, and besides, I just felt…gross after everything that’s happened today.” I was rambling. His expression softened slightly, and he looked sympathetic. Then he closed up, and his eyes got hard. “May I come in?” That was odd. What did I say?

“Yes. Please. I’m a little freaked out.” After he stepped in, I closed the door, locked it, and checked the porch through the peephole. Turning back to Sinful, I caught a glimpse of confusion on his face. “The note is in here.” I gestured toward the kitchen, and he nodded for me to lead the way.

“What the hell, Persephone?” he exclaimed, after running into me. I’d stopped when I realized we had a problem. A big problem. I turned to face him.

“Sterling, it’s gone. It’s gone! He’s been in my house!” Sinful’s grip on my arms was hard, and he shook me slightly.

“Persephone, slow down. Take a breath. Look at me. Look at me, now.” Slowly, I met his gaze, as a tear slid down my cheek. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. I swear, I don’t know. But Sterling, the note was right there.” I pointed to the counter. “The glass was holding it down. You can see the glitter on the counter. It was there when I went upstairs.” Eyes squeezed shut, I whispered, “Someone was in my house. While I showered. He was here.” Freaked out did not even begin to describe my mental state right now. Sterling’s arms came around me, and suddenly I was sobbing into his shoulder. After a few minutes, he managed to ease me onto a kitchen stool, and handed me a paper napkin from the counter. I snuffled into it for a minute. He laid his palm on my cheek, his thumb wiping the wetness from under my eye. Sterling took a deep breath, and I knew I wasn’t going to like what he had to say next.

“Persephone, I have to ask. Is there any proof that the note existed? All I see is glitter, and that’s a problem.” Closing my eyes, I counted to ten, and then twenty. “Look at me, please.” One deep, shuddering breath later, I met his gaze.

“I know you have to ask Sterling. I also know I don’t have to like it. Yes, there is proof.” I pulled my phone out of my back pocket, and opened the gallery application. “You can scroll through them yourself,” I said, and handed him the device. He kept my hand in his for an extra second as he took the phone, and then he began swiping through the last few photos.

After I’d put the glass on the note, I’d taken a few photos—one of the whole note, and a couple close-ups of the letters. The note would become evidence, and I wanted time to study it. My phone was with me in the bathroom while I showered, because I used it to play music. Who knew those photos would become the only proof of the note’s existence? More important, who was determined to make it disappear?

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies

They found the right shoe first. Which was puzzling, because the grumpy neighbor on the corner hadn’t had a right leg in decades, due to misadventure with some sort of animal trap. (Or so people say; I haven’t verified the story.) Regardless, the whole situation was odd. I’d been taking a rare break from the project I was working on when I noticed the gathering crowd at the end of my street, not to mention the collection of flashing blue and red lights. I’d walked down to get some fresh air and to see what was going on. Apparently, from what the onlookers were twittering, our grumpy neighbor had been found dead this morning. There was a right shoe on the walkway to the porch, a left shoe on the porch, and somewhere out the back was the neighbor.

I leaned over the crime scene tape, trying to catch a snippet of conversation between two police officers. My feet started to slip due to a combination of my extreme leaning and the completely inappropriate shoes I was wearing—strappy, glittery silver sandals with a four inch heel, which I had been wearing inside the house to break them in. A strong hand gripped my upper arm firmly until I was stable again. I glanced over, but wasn’t surprised to see the somewhat annoyed countenance of my favorite police officer, Detective Sterling Spreadbury.

“You know, if you step—or fall—past the crime scene tape, Ms. MacGillivray, I just might arrest you. Nice shoes, by the way. They really make that outfit.” I glanced down. In my distracted state, I’d left the house in a ratty oversized sweatshirt with the neck cut out (Flashdance, circa 1983), black leggings, and the sandals. At least the sparkles on the sweatshirt matched the shoes. I winced. Not my best look, for sure.

“So, why’d you save me, if you’re so anxious to arrest me?” Detective Spreadbury always brought out the worst in me. He was tough, by-the-book, and so sinfully gorgeous he ought to be illegal. It wasn’t fair. As a lifelong klutz with an aptitude for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, well, let’s just say I didn’t need any help embarrassing myself.

“Maybe I don’t feel like arresting anyone today. Unless that someone is a murderer.” He paused. “Murder anyone lately, Persephone?” I stared at him in horror. He didn’t really think I murdered anyone did he? I mean, I was a walking catastrophe sometimes, but certainly wouldn’t murder anyone. The twinkle in his eye and brief flash of dimple interrupted my crazy train of thought. Holy cow! Was Detective Sinful being funny? He used my first name! I glanced up to see if pigs were flying. He looked at me strangely.

“What are you looking at?” he asked. I shrugged, causing my sweatshirt to slip further off my shoulder. Sinful stared at the suddenly exposed skin. Hmm.

“Nothing. Just wondering…” Wondering what? I couldn’t spoil this moment by telling him what I was really thinking. “Um, just wondering what happened to Grumpy.”

“Grumpy? You mean Mr. Fries?” I nodded. “You know I can’t tell you anything.” He stared at me for a moment. “Anything you care to tell me?” My eyes widened.

“Me? How would I know anything?” I spluttered.

“Well, you do always seem to be in the wrong place at the right time, and you live right up the street. See anything you’d like to share?” A dark, raised eyebrow just made Sinful Sterling look even more delicious. I licked my lips nervously as I tried to gather my thoughts. His clear gray eyes focused on the movement, and if I’m not mistaken, those pupils dilated a bit with interest. Fascinating. I realized he was back to meeting my eyes, and I still hadn’t gotten it together.

“Oh, um. No, I don’t think so. I’ve been working against a deadline, so I’ve been holed up in my office. It’s at the back of my place, so I wouldn’t have seen anything lately. Not that I recall, anyway,” I said, shrugging. “I wish I had something to share. But, I do have another question.” He raised an eyebrow and waited.  Gesturing with my chin, I asked, “What kind of cop shows up to a crime scene in a Maserati?” We both stared at the shiny red car parked as the edge of the crime scene tape, a portable  blue flashing light attached to the roof, still flashing.

“Um, well…” he mumbled, “It’s kind of a long story.”

 

Before the Seed

“Before the seed there comes the thought of bloom.”
–  E. B. White

There are times when I’m perusing news of various book launches, contract awards, or other delightful writerly news shared by friends, acquaintances, or authors I’ve never met. And I dream. I dream of what the cover of my first published novel might look like, of having some sort of major signing, or speaking at a major conference (although that last one comes with a mix of excitement and terror, in equal parts). The dreams can be about a brilliant, ground-breaking plot that has everyone talking for years, or a series that readers simply can’t get enough of. Sometimes they’re realistic, and most of the time they’re not, but that’s okay; dreams should be big, and bold, and sparkly bright.

I think of how my writing ideas can bloom into a reality of exciting events and the sharing of my own delightfully good news. Of course, dreams do not become reality without hard work, a significant investment of time and effort, and a willingness to simply keep trying. Seeds must be planted in the proper soil and location, watered, and so forth. I love digging my hands into rich earth, watering my new plants, and waiting anxiously for them to bloom. Likewise, I love starting a new story and having absolutely no idea what it might turn into–a short story, a novel, or often nothing at all.

But that’s okay, too. When we sink the seeds into the soil, we use more than we will need as plants. As the seeds sprout into seedlings, we thin them out, keeping fewer than sprouted. We might move them into bigger pots or a garden, and more still will be eaten or not get enough sun, and only the heartiest will survive to the point of blooming.

My ideas kind of work the same way. I have lots of them. Sometimes I write a paragraph before I get bored, sometimes a few pages. But then there are the ones that bloom. Big, bold, and there to be enjoyed until it’s time to plant another batch of seeds.

 

 

Cheap Medicine

Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine

George Gordon Byron

This month we talk about laughter, and I’m so excited! I love to laugh. I’m not at all funny, and I can’t tell a joke to save myself, but I adore things that make me laugh, and books within my favorite genres that make me laugh? Those are my FAVORITE favorites.

The Bobbie Faye series by Toni McGee Causey is one such favorite.  While some consider the series a comedy caper, I argue there’s plenty of serious content: relationship angst, crime, heartbreak, and more. The main characters have depth and dimension, the community is diverse, and the stories are deliciously twisty. Sure, the action is over-the-top, but that just makes these stories even more tasty.  However, Causey also weaves in these moments that cause the reader to laugh and connect with the protagonist, Bobbie Faye, as though she’s a friend or favorite cousin. We cheer for Bobbie Faye on every step of her journey because Causey has given us a character with weaknesses, foibles, strengths, and yes, one who makes us laugh. It’s a killer combination that invites the reader to connect on an emotional level with a character.

In a 2005 Psychology Today article, Hara Estroff Marano wrote, “Laughter reduces pain, increases job performance, connects people emotionally, and improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain.” That emotional connection, when achieved between characters and readers, results in a truly special reading experience.

Of course, I’m not always in the mood to laugh; sometimes, I like my reading a bit darker or more serious. But I love knowing that there are amazing writers out there that can write rich, robust characters and stories that do make me laugh, right along with the characters.  Darynda Jones‘ Charlie Davidson series (paranormal mystery), Amanda M. Lee‘s Aisling Grimlock series (paranormal suspense), and Deanna Raybourn‘s Veronica Speedwell Mysteries (historical fiction) are some of my other favorites.  These writers have found that magical sweet-spot where well-rounded characters, twisty-turny stories, and a healthy dash of humorous writing converge into an amazing dessert buffet of books.

We’ve all heard the saying that “laughter is the best medicine.” The website Helpguide.org explains: “Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.”All the more reason to read more books that make us laugh, right?

I wonder if I can get my doctor to prescribe my favorite books as medicine….