The tired trope of Strong Women

Every so often I get fed up with Strong Women and I have to blog about it. In fact, I’ve blogged about it several other times.

What filled up my meter this time were comments on a couple of writers groups that I frequent. First off, a writer was asking for help writing a character. This character is the kickass girl who features in much of Urban Fantasy. In fact, the author had made her SO kickass that they couldn’t relate to her at all. They simply could not write this character. She was shallow as a puddle. The thread was full of helpful advice, including “don’t write her, write the people around her”. So … kind of a Rand al’Thor kind of situation.

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A New Friend by Natsuakai

The other one was a poll about “which would you rather read about: shieldmaidens or sorceresses?”

I yawned at both categories. They’re both Strong Women who would be equally interesting as men. There’s nothing to them.

In an earlier blog post, I said:


In books, I enjoy a strong woman as much as anyone. David Balducci seems to write about tough women with handguns who still manage to be vulnerable. And women are tough. Speaking from experience, you have to be tough to raise kids. When the five-year-old stands there and screams, “NO!” you have to have the willpower to punish him and not let him have his way.

And yet women have this streak of Damsel in Distress, and men instinctively find it attractive. It’s the feminine mystique. Men love to care for their women by doing things for them–putting gas in her car, buying her a coveted item, working long hours to keep her clothed and fed.

Sometimes it’s hard for a woman to let her man do these things. Feminism whispers constantly that she should be out winning those things for herself, and not depend on any mere man.

But as soon as a woman swings a sword, she’s just another man. She’s lost the mystique. (And technically, women don’t have the upper-body strength for swords anyway.)

I recently saw another debate that was splitting hairs about misogyny in movies, and they were complaining about how many times Buffy got rescued by her man-friends verses doing the rescuing. It sounded about 50/50 to me, but man, these women were throwing a FIT.

And yet, I’ll bet you these women read romance novels by the cartload. What happens in romance novels? The heroine is charmed off her feet and into bed by a handsome manporn hero. MISOGYNY!

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In this blog post, I listed four characteristics of a strong (female) character. They are Strong Moral Foundation, Gentleness, Listening, and Service. For example, this is what Listening means:


The strong character must be a good listener, empathetic to others. Women are exceptional at empathy, but often this is overlooked in exchange for her leet katana skillz. We want our urban fantasy heroine to dice up demons! We don’t want a Doctor Who character who first seeks to understand the monster. Pff, nobody watches that Doctor Who show anymore, anyway!


(And now with Femme Doctor on the way, I wonder how much of his/her character will be inverted in favor of the Strong Woman trope.)

Elizabeth Elliot talked on her radio show about meeting Betty Greene, one of the founders of Missionary Aviation Fellowship. (You can read more about Betty’s astonishing accomplishments in World War I as a WASP, and how she was the first woman to fly over the Andes, here.) Elizabeth Elliot remarked about how she expected a really rough character, but Betty was soft-spoken and very feminine. She asked Betty how she held on to her femininity in the middle of such a male-dominated field as aviation.

Betty replied that she looked around at all the men she would be working with, and she resolved that she would be as feminine as possible. And she said that the men always treated her respectfully.

So, was Betty Greene a Strong Woman? You bet she was. But she wasn’t a feminist, because the goal of feminism is to become the same as a man. She was, instead, a woman. There’s a reason I’m not writing feminist books.

I want to read more heroines who embrace their femininity. If I want to read about someone acting masculine, I’ll read about men. Heck, most male characters have more vulnerabilities than Strong Woman characters. I complain about that here. (Loki, heyo!)

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New dragon cozy–all the new things

I’ve been super busy the last week or so. Let me show you the list:

I’ve got the paperback of Malicious formatted and almost ready to go. Just waiting on my proof copy to show up. Not quite ready for sale yet, alas!

The whole Puzzle Box trilogy, Malevolent, Malcontent, and Malicious, are available in a single omnibus now. I’m debating turning it into a paperback, because it’s kind of a tome. For sale now on the platform of your choice! Except Smashwords. Smashwords is a pain.

I also got off my tush and finished the edits on the second dragon cozy mystery I’ve been working on. Here it is!


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A fad diet has swept Carefree, Arizona. Tianna, drake shifter, has her hands full trying to invent a type of ice cream that meets the diet’s rigorous standards before the celebrity creator arrives. But when the diet creator turns up dead, Tianna must call upon her drake skills to sniff out the culprit.

A whirlwind of intrigue sweeps her in, from shifty cameramen to secretive publicists, as well as an abandoned chihuahua who knows more than she lets on. Helped (and hindered) by her friends Katie and Bruce, Tianna must find the killer hidden among the tour team before they leave town, letting the killer escape and strike again … or before Tianna gets too close and winds up on ice.

Available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!


 

There you have it, folks. Where I’ve been when I’m not shmoozing around social media … working! Next project is launching this superhero trilogy. Still working through edits on that, as well as building covers for it. Trying to make it look as epic as the story inside truly is. 😀

Book tour: The Electronic Menagerie

Today I’m participating in a blog hop for a fantastic new book called the Electric Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder.

About the Book

The Electrical Menagerie, one-of-a-kind robotic roadshow, is bankrupt.

Sylvester Carthage, illusionist and engineer, has the eccentric imagination the Menagerie needs to succeed creatively — but none of the people skills. Fast-talking Arbrook Huxley, meanwhile, has all the savvy the Menagerie needs to succeed commercially — but none of the scruples.

To save their show, Carthage & Huxley risk everything in a royal talent competition, vying for the chance to perform for the Future Celestial Queen. In this stardust-and-spark-powered empire of floating islands and flying trains, a shot at fame and fortune means weathering the glamorous and cutthroat world of critics, high society, and rival magicians —but with real conspiracy lurking beneath tabloid controversy, there’s more at stake in this contest than the prize.

Behind the glittery haze of flash paper and mirrors, every competitor has something to hide… and it’s the lies Carthage & Huxley tell each other that may cost them everything.

Dazzles from start to finish. In Carthage & Huxley, Sherlock & Watson fans will find another dynamic duo whose ready wit and sizzling banter (and inevitable personality clashes) never fail to delight. You’ll be calling for an encore performance.” Gillian Bronte Adams, author of The Songkeeper Chronicles

“The stuff that fandoms are built on.” Kyle Robert Shultz, author of Beaumont & Beasley

Purchase on Amazon

About the Author

Mollie’s first job was with a major theme park, where she operated a roller coaster, fixed parade floats, and helped Scooby-Doo put on his head. Now, Mollie is a movie producer and the author of character-driven science fiction/fantasy novels for adults who never outgrew imagination. Her favorite things include Jesus, dinosaurs, and telling cinematic stories that blend glitter and grit.

Website — Twitter — Instagram


My review:

I’ve gotten to be kind of world-weary when it comes to reading fantasy. Between epic fantasy that wants to be Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones (or both), or urban fantasy that is one more Dresden send-up with wizard detectives … I’ve been kind of tired of the whole genre. So when the author mentioned the concept of this book, I perked up. Two guys with a train full of steampunky robots giving performances and trying to solve a mystery? Sign me up!
I got behind and haven’t finished the book as of this writing, but I’m hugely enjoying it. For one thing, if you didn’t know better, you’d think you picked up a Historical Fantasy. I adore historical fantasy. This one is set toward the end of the 1800s, I’d say. Top hats, ladies in fancy dresses and parasols, everybody travels by train.
But the worldbuilding is fascinating. In this world, it’s all islands floating in the sky above the ether sea. The trains travel between them on invisible sky rails. The Stars move and occasionally fall and create new islands. There’s some kind of warring political factions I haven’t gotten into yet.
Not to mention the conflicts between Huxley and Carthage, their opposing worldviews and motivations, and the way their backstories are creeping up to bite them. And all the other weird performers in this competition, all doing weird things. Oh yeah, and the Lipizzaner horses actually fly.
So yeah, I think by the time I’m done, this will be a five -star read. It’s different enough to feel fresh, yet it’s a conspiracy plot to murder the performers in this contests, which we’re comfortingly familiar with. Put them together, and you’ve got a smashing good read.

Giveaway Time!

Explore the world of The Electrical Menagerie by entering to win this Celestial Isles prize pack, which includes: “High Victorian” playing cards by luxury playing card company Theory11, handmade galaxy mug by DeVita Designs, Science & Engineering Themed Pocket Notebook Set by CognitiveSurplus, and a tin of Electrical Menagerie themed tea (over a $50 value)! (US only.)

>>>Entry-Form<<<

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, June 4th   

Tuesday, June 5th  

 Wednesday, June 6th 

Thursday, June 7th 

 Friday, June 8th 

 Saturday, June 9th

Monday, June 11th 

The misery of E. Coli

I’ve just come out of two solid weeks of toddlers with E. Coli infections. Misery barely beings to describe it.

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Cute plush diseases from ThinkGeek

On Memorial Day, there was a huge party down at our apartment pool. We avoided it. The next day, I thought we were safe, so we went traipsing down to the pool. Turns out there was a more informal party going on with almost as many people.

Against my better judgment, I let the kids swim anyway. We were already there and ready to go, and I hate going back on a promise I’ve made. So they swam in the pool where a lot of other people had been. The kiddy pool, in particular, smelled funny.

A few days later, E. Coli hit.

It nailed my two-year-old first. Fever, going at both ends, stomach cramps, the works. I thought it was a normal stomach bug, which usually only lasts 24 hours. Boy, was I wrong.

One day turned into two, then three, then four. I had a hard time just getting fluids into her, let alone keeping food down. But slowly she pulled out of it, and the stomach cramps subsided.

Then it hit my four-year-old. I found out later that she had actually drank the nasty pool water.

She got hugely, massively sick. Five days of fever and vomiting. Debilitating stomach cramps that left her crying.

By this time I had tumbled to the fact that this was probably E. Coli. I frantically researched what you do for it.

Turns out, there’s nothing you can do. Zero. Zilch. Because of the way it attaches to the intestinal wall, taking antibiotics only kills the good bacterial keeping it from spreading. Which makes the E. Coli spread faster, injecting more toxins and finally shutting down your kidneys. It’s a nasty beast. Mayoclinic’s website advises rest and fluids. That’s it.

But reading about the way E. Coli attaches to the intestinal wall reminded me of things I’d read about probiotics. When they have E. Coli outbreaks in restaurants or from produce, not everybody gets sick. The reason is because in some people, because of diet and other care, the good bacteria in their gut occupies every square millimeter of space. There’s no place for the E. Coli to attach.

So I started researching probiotics as a treatment for E. Coli. Turns out, a few years ago, there was a huge outbreak in Europe. The doctors there desperately researched probiotics, to the point of engineering a certain strain specifically targeted at blocking E. Coli.

There was no way my four-year-old could choke down a probiotic tablet. But she could drink a little kombucha.

Kombucha is a type of fermented tea. The yeasts and bacteria in it are the good kind that your gut needs to digest food. Our grocery store carries a high quality brand. The kind I’ve found most effective in healing a damaged gut is the kind with blue-green algae in it. It looks horrifying, but it tastes pretty good.

So I got two bottles and spent a whole day giving her sips through a straw. She would drink until the cramps started, then she would go to sleep. When she’d wake up, she’d drink a little more and sleep again. Her vomiting slowed down, but the cramps were so bad that if she moved around, they forced her to vomit again.

It was awful. I was exhausted. But the morning after the kombucha day, she woke up with no cramps, asking for food.

So now we’re all recovering, myself included. This has been such a beating. E. Coli is miserable, miserable stuff. But man, probiotics are a miracle. I hope our awful experience is helpful to other sufferers out there.

Overthinking Frozen

When Disney’s Frozen came out, at first people loved it. But as the popularity, ahem, snowballed, the next reaction was to nitpick at it and find reasons to dislike it.

This annoyed me, but I didn’t bother to argue with anybody because that would mean reiterating the same argument every day over and over.

Anyway, I’ve had sick kids all week. That means renting piles of videos off Amazon and watching them as many times as possible. The sick ones alternate between Frozen and Cars. So it’s kind of a split between Pixar and Disney.

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Frozen princess by Artgerm

I’ve had time to think about all those old complaints about Frozen’s plot. And since I’m sitting here just waiting for somebody else to start puking, I figured I might as well rant about it on the ol’ blog.

Since everybody and their dog has seen Frozen by now, I’m going to assume that the following isn’t spoilers. But if you haven’t seen it, spoilers ahead.

The main complaint people make about Frozen is the plot twist with Prince Hans turning evil. “It wasn’t foreshadowed,” they whine. “There was no reason for him to turn evil. It was an arbitrary plot decision.”

Sure, it was a heck of a twist, especially since Hans had appeared to be doing the right thing until then. But I’d like to argue that Hans’s betrayal was foreshadowed. It’s mentioned early on that he has about 13 older brothers. Applying a single brain cell shows that he won’t be king. He’ll be lucky to be a lesser duke or something.

Hans doesn’t even decide to take over until it’s clear that Elsa can’t be stopped and Anna can’t be saved. Then he coldly stages a very quiet coup. Why not? The monarchy of this kingdom is doomed, and his tiny relationship with Anna is enough to give him the political standing he needs to be accepted by the local nobles and be crowned king.

It’s a shock in the movie, but then, it’s also a Pixar standard twist. Watching it, I actually laughed when Hans did his heel-turn.

In Monsters Inc, we’re set up to think that Randal, the lizard-like chameleon monster, is the bad guy. Heel turn! The kindly old CEO of Monsters Inc is the one funding Randal’s evil deeds.

In Toy Story 2, we’re set up to see Al as the antagonist. Heel-turn! It’s actually the kindly old prospector who is in league with Al.

In Toy Story 3, we’re led to believe that Ken is the villain of a ring of toy thugs. Heel-turn! It’s actually the kindly old teddy bear running the show.

Starting to see the pattern?

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I notice some of the heel-turn villains are missing.

Pixar did this particular plot twist so often that audiences were getting bored, so they had to try different formulas in movies like Brave and Up. (Although in Up, the kindly old man explorer who Carl adores is–heel-turn!–the bad guy.)

I think where Frozen got into trouble was that it was Disney, not Pixar. Despite most of the Pixar talent migrating to Disney, people didn’t expect the standard Pixar plot twist in a Disney movie. And Hans was the handsome love-interest spoof, not a kindly old man. We were set up to expect the Duke of Weaseltown to be the bad guy. Whoops, Pixar standard plot twist happened.

So, when people whine about Frozen’s plot twist with Hans being bad, go watch a bunch of Pixar instead. None of those other heel-turns had much foreshadowing, either, unless you knew exactly what to look for. It gets pretty predictable, really.

Well, I’m off to watch Tangled. At least we know from the start that her witchy stepmom is the villain.

The strangely Christian meta narrative of the Destiny games

Hold on to your hats, folks, I’m going all literary analysis on you today.

So I’ve been getting into the games Destiny and Destiny 2. These are multiplayer online shooters where you shoot aliens and collect loot. Pretty straightforward and pretty fun (and often, just downright pretty.)

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Destiny 2 concept art: Nessus

But the game also hints at a deeper backstory that it doesn’t explain super well, unless you’re willing to spend hours piecing together tidbits scattered throughout the games. So I’ve been watching lore videos on YouTube, where other people take all those tidbits and string them together into a cohesive story.

I’ve been increasingly delighted with the meta-narrative of Destiny.

Like most science fiction, the story operates from a humanist worldview: mankind can become gods if we just put aside our differences and work hard enough. But then the metaplot comes into play, and it’s decidedly not humanist. In fact, it swings decidedly Christian. I wonder if the writers at Bungie realize what they hath wrought and its significance.

The big picture story goes like this. There is this alien-machine god-thing called the Traveler that looks like a small white moon. It’s power is called Light. It shows up in our solar system, grants humans the Light, and terraforms the inner planets and the various moons of the gas giants. Humans go live on these planets. Humans also develop longer lives, better tech, etc, and go into a Golden Age.

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Destiny concept art

This doesn’t last, of course. There’s an evil force called the Darkness that chases the Traveler from place to place. Its weapons are four alien races that serve it, but all who crave the Light–or hate it. They stomp humanity, destroy their colonies, and ruin Earth.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Traveler actually battles the Darkness one on one. The game is very vague about this point, and the lore videos have multiple theories about what exactly happened. Point is, the Traveler won, but it was wounded and stopped terraforming and things.

Instead, it sent out these tiny robots made of Light called Ghosts. Each Ghost resurrects a single person, basically a zombie (or revenant, since they have their soul) powered by Light. They became known as Guardians. If one of these guardians is killed, they can be resurrected so long as their Ghost is unharmed. If their Ghost dies, no more resurrections for them, it’s lights out.

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Destiny warlock by TDSpiral

See the metaphor going on, here? It’s super interesting. Almost a Holy Ghost thing.

Now, it’s not a perfect metaphor. In real life, the God is the source of all Light, and He was not only before the Darkness, he already defeated it. The Darkness itself has a name and a face. Once known as the Light Bearer, he has become the Enemy, and his sin was pride. “I will become like the Most High!”

Jesus battled the Darkness and overcame it, being wounded on our behalf. In Destiny terms, the Last City in the shadow of the Traveler might as well be built at the foot of the Cross, because the symbolism is so similar.

Now, it’s really too bad that Destiny clings to its humanist philosophy. In its lore, the Traveler gives Light without making any demands of humanity. No devotion to righteousness, no forsaking sin and Darkness. In real life, there are two sides, and we have to pick one. If that was the case in Destiny, then the battle between Light and Darkness would go beyond meta-narrative and become the personal struggle of every Guardian. The story of the Warlords–guardians who abused their power–would become even more vile.

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If such a choosing of sides was possible, then redemption would also be possible for the four alien races who serve the Darkness, however unwittingly. It would be possible for them to abandon Darkness and serve the Light, too, thus becoming very interesting allies.

But Destiny keeps things very Tao, with Light and Darkness equally matched and no ultimate victory is possible. Mankind doesn’t have to seek righteousness and abandon sin in order to receive power. (Which, the more you think about it, is so strange. Why aren’t Guardians forced to pick sides? There are in-game stories of Guardians who joined the Darkness, so maybe, in a way, that choice is still there, just buried out of sight.)

So, that’s Destiny’s meta-narrative, a lot of Christian ideas underlying a humanist story. And it’s funny, because if you make the game more humanist (the Light is ours because humanity is awesome), then the battle between Light and Darkness falls apart, with no real difference between them. If you make the game more Christian, with the Light actually having conditions and everyone being forced to pick sides, then the story becomes much more profound.

Maybe that’s one reason the story is intentionally left vague, scattered throughout the game in hints and tidbits. Breadcrumbs for those to see who can. I’m continually shocked at the Christian terminology these lore gamers use to describe these concepts.

I think it’s a good lesson for us Christian writers. Tell a good story and don’t be afraid to pull in delicious metaphor about the struggle between good and evil. It rings true for everyone.

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Destiny 2 concept art: shard of the Traveler

 

Products or quality entertainment: what are we creating?

Ah, Dean Wesley Smith, so much food for thought while challenging paradigms.

Anyway, he pointed out in a recent blog post that writers get really fixated on creating a product. We want to crank out books like bottle caps on a conveyor belt. More is better, we’re told. Make it a great product so customers will keep coming back.

Then I read an interesting thread on the Writer’s Cafe on kboards. People were talking about the low quality of these books being cranked out. Particularly the short stories or secret series prologues that are given out as bait for getting people to subscribe to mailing lists. They’re referred to as reader magnets.

One person said:

Most readers don’t want free or cheap books so much as they want entertaining books. Most of these reader magnets are marketing tools that offer little appeal to the reader.

Value is such a nebulous term as to be almost meaningless, but I think the shortest answer is this: the reader magnet should be your absolute best work. What I see, instead, is authors giving readers a blah free story, then wonder why readers don’t come back for more (often accompanied by a proclamation lamenting “freebie hoarders”).

Sturgeon’s law states that 90% of everything is crap (tongue in cheek, of course), but I’d suspect that rate is more like 99% for the reader magnets I see. Your magnet has to be a pro-quality product that you could charge money for, and I don’t see that with most of them. If we are being honest, most of them are written because some person on a forum or book said we needed one, and it was just a little thing to tick off on the massive to do list. This is generally not a recipe for compelling fiction.

Source


Between that little discussion about good quality books, and Dean’s observation about how authors fixate on product over story, it’s given me a lot to think about. Do I want to be an author who cranks out Products? Or do I want to be an author who takes care to craft a really engaging, entertaining story that is a fun, fantastic escape?

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Baby dragons, by Sandara. Quality art from a quality artist.

As a reader, I respect the heck out of my own readers. I want to give them a great experience when they crack one of my books. It’s why I took down the Spacetime books. If I couldn’t stand to read them, what reader would? They weren’t a good experience.

So, what do you think? Would you rather read a Product? Or a book that an author had worked very hard to make Quality Entertainment?

Response to DWS: Dangers of not trusting the creative voice

A few days ago, Dean Wesley Smith, a career writer who has written hundreds of books, wrote a blog post about how to be creative while writing. Namely, how it works and how to destroy it.


Outlining… Absolutely the quickest way to make sure the creative voice won’t even show up. Why should it bother? Your critical voice has already figured out what the book will be, so the creative voice just goes off and pouts, leaving you the hard work of writing from critical voice. And having no fun.

Knowing Your Ending… This, to the creative voice, is exactly like you picking up a book, flipping to the last pages, reading the ending, then thinking the book will be interesting to read. This comes from fear, brought on by the critical voice being afraid of “wasting” your time and so on. You know, stuff parents said to you in the real world. If you need to figure out the ending because of fear, you will lose your creative voice almost instantly and the project will lose excitement and mostly just die.

Writing is Hard Work… No creative voice wants to show up with that belief system. That is all a myth and remember, the creative voice is like a two-year-old in nature. It doesn’t want to do anything it is forced to do. So when you keep repeating over and over to make your ego feel better that writing is hard work to be suffered over, your creative voice says screw that and leaves. And then writing from critical voice does become hard work and your books are dull.

….

Solution:

1… Stop caring so much about the final product, just do the best you can.

2… Write one draft, clean with cycling in creative voice, and release with a promise to yourself you won’t touch it again.

3… Have fun. Make writing fun again. Make it play.

Source


 

I know a lot of writers dislike Dean Wesley Smith because he comes off as so opinionated. But you know what? He’s 67 and he’s been at this writer thing for longer than I’ve been alive. For longer than most of my friends, even. Not to mention that he and his wife self publish all their own books and have for years. He’s done things that none of my newbie author friends have ever thought of (like selling signed paperbacks to the voracious book market on eBay.)

There are basically two kinds of writers. Those who outline everything, and those who “write by the seat of their pants”, that is, those who rely exclusively on the “creative voice” DWS mentions above.

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What happens when an artist has fun. Big Bad Wolf by Ninjatic

When I started writing, I always found that outlining killed my inspiration. I’ve since found methods of outlining that kind of work, but they still give rise to stories that are … well, only passable. I mean, they were okay, but they weren’t my best work. I had the idea that the stories could have risen to amazing heights, but … that takes a genius place in my brain, and I can’t hit that genius place while coldly outlining.

This has always quietly baffled me. When I was writing fanfiction, at most, the only outlining I would do was to write a list of “cool stuff I wanted to happen” so I didn’t forget to put it in. And I cranked out some storylines that were pure genius. Even now, years later, people still track me down to tell me how much they loved my old fanfics.

Then I started writing books for publication, which I dutifully outlined. And they just … weren’t as good. The sparkle wasn’t there, somehow. So I went back to fanfics, just writing with no outline, only a brief list of things I wanted to happen. And the genius returned.

So … I don’t know if DWS’s advice up there applies to everyone. But for me, writing with very little outline, just following the conflicts and the characters’ reactions to them, is where the sparkle and the genius lies. I’m going to toss out the outline for my next book and just write into the dark. I know my characters and their arcs, and I know my bad guys and what they’re trying to do. Beyond that, I think I’m capable of setting them loose and watching the feathers fly. If I can do it with fanfics, I can do it with original characters, too.

Book review: Discipl-ish by Mike Duran

I was supposed to review this book at launch, but I was kind of off on my sort-of-terrible vacation at the time.

Discipl-ish by Mike Duran is a memoir of his rocky life, first as an altar boy in a Catholic church, then as a delinquent teen, then as a young man who accepted Christ and had pastorhood thrust upon him way too early.

Over the course of trying to run a church, he made mistakes, fell into bad company, and eventually enabled a whirlwind of spiritual abuse that made me physically ill to read about. I had to keep putting the book down because it upset me so deeply.

Eventually, Mike’s pastorate was stripped from him and the church dissolved. This is where most memoirs of this kind follow the person into a journey away from Christianity and how much “happier” they are with no religion at all. Mike, fortunately, doesn’t do that. He clings to Jesus, works through forgiveness, and lets go of the negative emotions that usually consume people who walk away from the faith.

After he moves on into other jobs and picks up writing, he chronicles helping people far more than he did as a pastor, much more one on one. Throughout the book, he wrestles with questions like, can people from other religions be saved? Can it be possible to hold two opposing theological positions at the same time, like Calvinism and Arminianism? Is it possible to find peace with paradox?

His roots as a horror writer also stem from his religious background, which is fascinating to read, too. I was reminded constantly of Stephen King’s semi-memoir, On Writing, in which some of the same elements appear (drugs, a fascination with the occult, etc.).

The book is a gripping read. It’s like sitting down with a friend over coffee and listening as they tell you a fantastically interesting story. Once they finish, you look down and your coffee is cold because you were listening so intently. I pretty much devoured the whole book in a few days because Mike’s storytelling is so compelling.

I’m not really into memoirs, but this is a good one.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book. My review and thoughts are my own.

It was the best of vacations, it was the worst of vacations

We’d been planning a trip to the beach in San Diego for six months. We meticulously saved up for it, planned everything, and were going to have a great time.

Monday morning, the day of our trip, my husband woke up and said, “I just had the weirdest dream.”

He dreamed that he was in his college dorm, getting ready to go home. But he looked down and realized that the floor was covered in hair trimmings, like from a barber shop. Then he realized the floor was wet, too. Behind his computer, on the floor, was a crack in the wall with water pouring through. So he was trying to save his computer from the water, and things were getting worse and worse. In the dream, he said, “God, make this stop!” And everything went back to normal. No water. No dirty floor.

I said, “Huh, that is a weird dream.”

And we went on our merry way, packing the kids and the luggage into the car and taking off on the six hour drive from Tucson to San Diego.

Just outside of Yuma, our air conditioning condenser died and took the power steering with it.

Words can’t describe the terror at that rest stop. We got in the car, which started just fine. But as soon as Ryan turned the wheel, the car lurched and died. Having worked on cars before, it took him ten seconds to realize that the dead power steering was trying to draw too much power and making the car die. So he revved the engine and we blasted out of the rest stop. Once we got up to speed, the steering handled … all right … but the car was making a funny helicopter noise.

I was all for turning around, going home, and canceling the trip. But Ryan insisted that the car would get us there, so we grimly pressed on.

With no AC.

Through the desert. In May. During a heatwave.

I was unaware that between Yuma and El Centro lies a strange wasteland called the Dunes.

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It’s only a couple of miles long, but in the growing heat inside the car, it might as well have been the Sahara.

We kept the windows down, drank iced water and sodas, and grimly counted the miles until the mountains between the desert and San Diego. We knew that although the desert was 102 degrees, San Diego was 70, so there would eventually be a cooldown if we could just get there.

Long story short, we did get there. The car handled just fine over the mountains, and the higher we climbed, the more beautifully cool the air became. Descending the last pass into the marine air was a wonderful experience.

We checked into our hotel without a hitch, although the car wanted to lurch and die any time we turned into a parking space at low power. We hauled our stuff into our room (which was very nice, and they upgraded us to a nicer room at no charge), and Ryan set about hunting for a mechanic who could fix the car in one day.

After the heat of the desert, San Diego was almost too cold for us. The kids got into their beds, just because they could, and played gameboys. Hey, it was vacation, after all.

Ryan found a mechanic six minutes away, and first thing the next morning, fought the car down there. The air condenser and the power steering are on the same belt in our car, so when one breaks, it has a good chance of taking out the other. They fixed it, and thankfully, the crazy high price tag came with financing.

That took a whole day. The kids and I explored the area around the hotel in the meantime.

There was a very pretty vacant lot nearby that was full of wildflowers. The kids were enthralled.

The next day, we had the car back, and it ran beautifully. So we went to the beach.

You know, we had VACATION like we had planned. It was very pleasant and the kids got soaked, but hey, that’s what you do at the beach.

The drive home was no big deal with air conditioning. Oh, air conditioning, you blessed machine! And it was even hotter outside, with a  high wind. And we passed a fiercely burning fire in Yuma.

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But we made it home unscathed, and very tired of vacation.

So, it was a nice vacation … and it was a horrible vacation, depending on how you look at it. Most weirdly, it followed Ryan’s dream exactly. I think that was the freakiest thing of all.