Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Thankful for Fiction

One of the things I’m grateful for is that I have a tradition of writing fiction for the end of the year blog posts. Fiction is more fun than straining my brain to come up with mildly entertaining ways to say I can’t think of anything to say. This year, I’m bringing back a few characters who will be familiar to those who have read the Love in Andauk series. My next series will have the subtitle More Love in Andauk, which means this story won’t be the last place these characters appear. Here is part 1 of my Christmasy short story.


    Joseph watched his wife point her right foot and tap her toe on the floor as she counted. The four and five-year-olds she was leading were cute as they tried to follow her. Two of them were on the wrong foot and only one was on the beat.
    Emily wobbled as she switched to point her left foot. She wasn’t the most coordinated person, yet her movements were backed by a confident grace. She smiled and turned the little wobble into an exaggerated wiggle for the kids to copy. They wiggled with so much enthusiasm that one of the girls in the back nearly fell over. Emily had them tapping toes again quickly, though three were now on the wrong foot.
    A contented sigh rippled through Joseph as he took in the whole scene. The class was nearly over and parents were lining the side wall for pickup. One was staring at a phone, but the others were happily watching their kids. Except for the woman he realized was trying to catch his eye. She waved him over as she succeeded. Joseph tried to remember her name as he crossed the gym. He knew she was Sofia’s mom, whose last name was Miller. Mrs. Miller had asked to be called by her first name. Anna? That sounded right.
    “Anna, right?” he confirmed as he reached her.
    She nodded. “First, I have to tell you again how much Sophia loves this class. Emily is amazing. Do you know how long she’s going to take off when the baby comes?”
    “Two weeks for sure. Then she’ll see how she feels,” Joseph said. “She’s already working with Jessica to take over her classes, and she’s encouraging her to take more time. I’ll let them work it out.” He didn’t mention that Emily would be returning the favor a few months later. Jessica was early enough in her pregnancy that she hadn’t told many people yet.
    “Oh, she’ll definitely need more than two weeks,” Anna said.
    “She’ll have the time if she needs it.” Joseph stuck with the noncommittal answer. He’d probably be pushing Emily for a longer rest himself if it was a full-time job. She only taught five one-hour classes each week.
    “Okay, so the other reason I needed to talk to you is this picture.” Anna turned and held her hands up to either side of one of the pictures on the wall.
    The high school art teacher brought a new batch of artwork each month to fill the display space. Since it was December, her students had painted winter scenes, most with wreaths or colorful lights here and there. Anna was pointing to Joseph’s favorite. It depicted a snowman family having a snowball fight with a brightly lit house in the background.
    “That’s a wonderful painting,” he agreed.
    “It’s my daughter’s.” She beamed with pride. “I know it.”
    He glanced at Sophia, even though he knew that couldn’t be the daughter she meant.
    “My oldest, Claire, is in 10th grade. I know it says anonymous, but I’d know her work anywhere. It’s definitely my Claire’s.”
    “Wow. You can tell her it’s the one I like best this month.”
    She nodded and kept talking eagerly. “I want to take it with me today so I can have it framed for her before Christmas.”
    “Oh… Uh…” He didn’t immediately know how to respond. The picture wasn’t really his to give away. “Maybe Natalie has a free period right now. I’ll see what she thinks.” He pulled out his phone to text the art teacher.
    They both turned to watch the class as Emily instructed the kids to start skipping in a circle. She asked them to throw their hands up and yell random words like “aardvark” and “carnation” once or twice each lap. It did look like fun. Joseph’s brain was scrambling for how he’d answer if Natalie didn’t respond. He knew the art was graded before it came to the gym and would be handed back to the students as soon as it was collected. Handing it to one student’s mom might just cut out a middle step. Unless she was wrong about recognizing the artist.
    Emily sent the kids back to their dots on the floor to practice curtsies. That was how she ended each class. And still no response from Natalie.
    “You are sure this is your daughter’s painting?” he asked.
    “Absolutely. And this is the frame I know she’ll love on it.” Anna held up her phone to show the frame she’d been shopping. “I need the painting right now or it won’t be ready by Christmas.”
    This was Sofia’s last class of December. The gym would still be open one more day, but the day after that was Christmas Eve. Anna <i>was</i> running out of time to make it a gift. Joseph checked his messages one more time under the weight of the pleading look he was getting. If she wanted to have it framed, it stood to reason she’d handle it carefully. “All right,” he said. “You’ll bring it back quickly if it’s not hers?”
    She sighed dramatically. “That would be so embarrassing. But I’m absolutely positive it’s hers.”
    Joseph took the snowman painting down gently and handed it to her. “I do hope she loves the frame. Merry Christmas.”
    “Thank you. Thank you.” Anna took it with a squeal. She rushed over to Sophia, who was getting a small candy cane from Emily. There were shouts of Merry Christmas all around as the kids and parents filed out of the gym. Joseph glanced back at the now empty space on the wall. He knew he’d made someone’s day, but he still wished he had confirmation it was the right decision.

Friday, October 20, 2023

No Title

I’m writing a new book.  It’s not as new as it once was.  In fact, I’m starting to feel as though I’ve been writing the same new book forever.  It’s still just scribbles in a notebook.  There are more scribbles than there were a few months ago so… progress.  I guess that’s good.

But I’m making progress towards that moment when I put down my pen and realize my finished book still needs a title and a cover and a blurb and editing and formatting and… what it needs more than anything is a title.  Of course I know that every book needs those things.  When I say I realize it, I mean I come to the moment I realize I can no longer put off working on the title and the cover and the rest and the title.

And of course I know that moment is coming.  All this talk of realizing things I already know is kind of like poetic license, inasmuch as poetic license is like whining.  I don’t have any idea what to call the book.  While that does bug me, I’ve been in this situation enough times to be confident I’ll think of a title I like in the end.  So I’m not really whining about it.  I’m pretending to whine, which is also sort of like poetic license. 

Maybe because it was another way to continue putting off thinking of a title, I decided to research poetic license to determine if someone who is not and never will be a poet is allowed to claim it.  The [already proven unreliable on several occasions] dictionary I grabbed because it was handy had no entry for the term.  (Later, I will research the definition of research.)  I did notice the nearby entry to poetic gives the definition as imaginative.

This is where everything comes together.  Given that whatever title I eventually choose will be poetic (because it will come from my imagination), I therefore have the license to claim that nothing in this post is actually nonsense after all.  Too bad I was aiming higher than “not nonsense.”  Let me go look up entertaining.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Time Traveling

Some people call it insta-love.  It’s a criticism of books and movies where the audience is expected to believe the main characters are truly in love way too soon, within days if not hours of meeting the beloved.

As a romance fan, I’ve rolled my eyes at many examples of this.  I’ve read that a heroine knew she was madly in love because of a light-headed feeling.  I wanted someone in the book to ask her if she was sure she hadn’t just stood up too fast.  That can happen.  I’ve been told characters were in love when they’d barely had a conversation because of all the things their eyes had communicated.  That is called infatuation.  A gaze across a room doesn’t say if he’ll mock her religious beliefs or if she’ll want him to quit his job to raise donkeys in the desert.

And I can’t say how many times I’ve watched that movie where a young woman has to return home to the family [ranch, B&B, vineyard, farm, flower shop, etc.] for some big event.  (I can’t say partly because I’ve lost count and partly because it’s an embarrassing admission.)  She meets a guy who is either the competition or trying to shut down the business.  No matter what contrived conflicts or ridiculous misunderstandings arise in the two or three days before the event, she is madly in love with him at the end because, well, because she said so. 

Let’s not analyze that any further.  I’m not trying to sharpen my knives here.  These examples are brought up in fun to illustrate something I try to avoid in my work.  Yes, my books are fluffy and light-hearted.  But they still need to hold to the truth that real love takes time to develop.  Superficial relationships aren’t funny.  You need to know someone before you know what makes him laugh and before you know how to push her buttons.

There are two ways to avoid insta-love.  The first is to establish that the main characters knew each other before the story started.  Maybe they’ve been friends for a while, maybe they have shared history.  When there is already some sort of relationship, I can use a short timeline to create a romantic shift.  Pop quiz: Name the books in which I’ve used this strategy.

The other, and in my opinion more difficult, option is to stretch out the timeline.  I can’t do that by simply including a sentence that begins with “six months later.”  Readers will want to know what happened in those six months.  I will want to know what happened in those six months.  The rest of the book is going to be weird when I make references readers don’t understand or have characters who don’t seem to have said or done anything in all that time.

Another terrible way to jump ahead is to pick random days to illustrate.  Here’s what happened on this day, and two weeks later there was this other event.  Then I’ll show you what happened on a day with snow so you’ll know it’s later in the year.  My couple will be getting along great and readers will be happy to see them holding hands.  No one will care that we missed the first time he reached for her or how they resolved that issue that caused an argument on the warmer day.  Right?

Even worse would be a complete summary of events.  I could simply inform readers that she agreed to spend a lot of time with him, that he said some sweet words at some point, and now it’s time to believe they’re headed for happily ever after.  It doesn’t work to say it isn’t insta-love.

So if those are some of the wrong ways to move the timeline ahead, what is a right way?  It’s all of the above.  I mix up the wrong ways – a bit of skipping, a bit of summarizing, and even a bit of randomness – and hopefully end up with a plot that gives the characters enough time to start to love each other without missing any of the highlights.  This is why it’s difficult.  I have to squeeze all these lemon ideas into sweet lemonade.  If I squeeze too hard, I’ll end up with seeds and pulp in the story.  Or I’ll just ruin the metaphor.