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Fall Thoughts

September, and the last few weeks of summer, have flown by. At the beginning of the month, I took a long delayed road trip, and that was followed by two weeks of self-isolation. Did I write while traveling? No. Did I write during self-isolation? Also no.

Not writing doesn’t mean I was not productive – I have three editing projects at different stages, and worked on those. I updated the website for Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, and did some planning for the publishing of Ocean’s Lure. And I did some exploring while travelling, to the extent it can be done while observing COVID-19 restrictions.

Fall in Cape Breton. From a previous road trip, but appropriate for discussing Ocean’s Lure, which takes place in Cape Breton during the fall.

Lately I’ve been telling people Ocean’s Lure will be coming this fall. In August, that seemed a long way off. Now it is fall, and the clock is ticking. However, it’s a self-imposed deadline, which means it is less important than the deadlines for my editing projects. I’m not going to be too hard on myself. I consider that self-care, not laziness.

Beach in Cape Breton.

This is the first year since 2012 that I have not participated in the 3 Day Novel Contest. In recent years, the contest has been poorly run, and the new management that appeared less than two months before the 2020 contest weekend did not inspire confidence. By then, I had decided to support a new contest on that weekend, the 3 Day Novella Contest. I am now one of the judges (and thus also have a story-reading deadline). Thanks to previous years’ entries, I have several romance novel first drafts, and I’d rather finish them than write another draft. And that’s another reason for getting Ocean’s Lure out. Much as I love the story, and working on it, there are other stories I want to tell.

My drafts pile is starting to resemble my to-be-read pile, but that’s okay. I’ve no fear of running out of things to read, or things to write. Life is good.

What’s in a Name?

What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Romeo and Juliet 2.2 .887-891

When I started writing romance novels, I created a female pseudonym. Among other reasons, I write academically, and, at the time, I thought it a good branding strategy to keep my academic writing and my romance writing separate.

Several years passed as I drafted and revised my novels, and with Ocean’s Lure approaching publication, I stopped using the female pseudonym. Most romance writers I met, especially through the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada, accepted a male romance author. Having made progress on various writing fronts, the notion of establishing my romance writing brand as something separate from my other writing seems unimportant. Maybe this is because I’ve grown weary of the concept of personal branding. I’m just me, with many interests, including writing, of many kinds. And I wanted to spend more time writing, and less time promoting myself thorough multiple social media accounts.

When I made the decision to stop using the pseudonym, several well-meaning people recommended I publish romance using my first initial rather than my full name, to keep my gender quiet. It was suggested that some romance readers would not consider anything by a male author. I decided against this, but last week ran a Twitter poll to check that advice:

Twitter Poll. If you read contemporary romance, would you read one by a male author? Never, 0%; Sure, why not, 87.5%; Depends on blurb/reviews, 12.5%; Depends on author bio, 0%.

First, the good news. The vast majority of respondents answered “Sure, why not?” That’s reassuring. However, the bad news is that there were only 8 votes (that’s out of 198 people that saw the tweet, over four days).

I’m not sure this is a meaningful result, as least with regard to whether or not romance readers would read one by a male author. What I do learn from this poll is that I don’t need to worry about losing sales by using my full name. I need to worry about reaching potential readers.

My marketing strategy, such as it is, is to wait until I have three books out, rather than invest a lot of time, effort, and money marketing one book. But I’ll still let people know when the first one is available. If sales are slow (and, being realistic here, they will be), I know not to blame my male name.

The Palm Tree Solution

My forthcoming novel Ocean’s Lure has been read by half-a-dozen beta readers (thanks!), and I am reviewing the comments and making edits. On the whole, the comments were positive. It stood out that regular romance readers were generally more positive than non-regular romance readers, which I found reassuring, and no one suggested I was doing any of the terrible things men do when writing female characters.

He says he loves her, he says he loves her not.

One comment was that my hero makes a verbal declaration of love too soon. It’s a fair point, and I struggled with whether to include it when I wrote the draft. Verbal declarations of love are a delicate subject, and I am much influenced by a 1986 Vicki Hearne essay in the New Yorker, in which she wrote, among other things, “Cats do not declare love much, they enact it” (August 25, 1986). At the same time, I felt a verbal declaration was something my character would do. I should confess that I also felt readers might expect this – much as I do not want to ‘write to market,’ I also know such declarations are common in the genre, and perhaps expected by readers.

Fortunately, I can have my cake and eat it too, by making the question of whether a declaration of love is appropriate the character’s problem, not mine. Making a plot or character problem the character’s problem works for a variety of scenarios. Not sure how to get a character from A to B? That becomes something the character needs to solve. Not sure if a nickname makes sense? Let the character explain it. Timeline confusing? Someone can explain it to another character. Is this just a way to sneak in exposition and cover or acknowledge awkward plot or character points? Yes, but it can be effective. I call this the Palm Tree Solution.

Armandoartist / CC BY-SA

Film director Richard Rush wanted a particular location for his 1980 film The Stunt Man (view trailer). The story concerns the making of a period film, set in northern Europe during World War I. However, the location Rush wanted had palm trees everywhere. As Rush explains in this interview (12:44 to 14:40), he solved his directing problem of the palm trees in his desired location by making it a problem for the director character in the film. Here’s how the scene he mentions appeared in the film (30 seconds at start of clip).

A bit of a cheat, perhaps, but my character will make his declaration of love, he’ll be unsure if that’s the right thing to do, and the heroine will suggest it’s too soon. This is in character for both, and he has the point of view at the time, so his hesitation is easy to add. My hesitation to include the declaration is addressed, those who’d like the hero to make such a declaration are satisfied, those who object are satisfied, and the story is improved. Thank you, beta readers.

In Defence of Social Media

I’ve been on Facebook for over ten years, and I am active on Twitter, Instagram, Library Thing, and GoodReads. I’ve dabbled with YouTube, checked out Tumblr, and even this blog is a form of social media. Time being limited, I have not explored other and newer options for being social online, and I am by no stretch an influencer, but I’m a regular user of some social media.

Now and then, friends, acquaintances, or some celebrity announce their departure from social media, citing concerns with the companies, loss of privacy, advertising, and disturbing material. Facebook is currently in the news for the prevalence of hate speech on the platform, and facing an ad boycott. The concerns about social media are valid, but social media is not without benefits, especially for more introverted persons such as myself.

My parents were immigrants, and our family moved several times. My second dad has roots in one province, but had already moved cross-country when he joined the family, and the family continued moving. Once on my own, I kept moving, for various reasons. I don’t have a home town, I’m not sure where I grew up (assuming I have), and the nine years I have now lived in Halifax (including Dartmouth) is the longest I have lived anywhere. Social media has allowed me to find and stay in touch with friends from previous cities, and helped me meet people in new cities.

Social media also helps me avoid the phone. I rarely feel comfortable phoning someone to ask how they are doing and find out what’s new. Social media lets me learn how they are doing without bothering them. This has been particularly appreciated during the pandemic.

And yes, the likes and other responses to things I post feel good. Maybe that indicates low self-esteem, but maybe that’s because I’m a writer, and I like to know that people are reading what I write. If your sense of purpose is to entertain and instruct with stories, being read confirms you are on track. It’s not just writers that seek validation – so do DJs, when they ask people to phone in, and actors and comics love getting responses from an audience. Positive responses are better than negative ones, but “any stroke is better than no stroke at all.”

Long before social media, I wrote a few stories for fanzines. (I’ve noticed my romance novel drafts play with the same themes I worked with decades ago.) I also contributed to an Amateur Press Association (APA). APAs are basically blogging in paper form, and date back to the 1840s. My “blog” back then (35 years ago, not the 1840s) was called “By Candlelight,” though I cannot remember why. Speaking of ancient history, in the 1980s I started communicating online using bulletin board systems, and joined CompuServe, which was essentially the same as Facebook. Over decades of moves and life events, sharing and communicating online has been important to me.

Social media interaction does not need to be profound. Some nights when I’ve been too stressed to sleep, I play word games with strangers for hours. That simple anonymous human connection can be intensely valuable.

Facebook may go the way of CompuServe, but if it does, I’m sure something else will take its place. People are social creatures, even if they are introverted, and social media, especially for the introverted, is a way to be social. Yes, large companies with questionable ethics profit from that, but small businesses and independent artists find audiences and make sales too, and yes, there is disturbing material shared, but there is positive and uplifting material shared too.

My self-esteem is strong enough that I probably won’t check the stats for this page, or worry about likes, but if you think I’ve said some interesting, or you agree, I’ll appreciate any likes or comments. Just don’t ask to phone me so we can chat about it.

Studying Romance Novels

During three decades of part-time university studies, I developed an interest in the social, industrial, and technical forces that shape the content and understanding of films. Various aspects of the subject continue to fascinate me, which explains why I still research and write about film classification systems, why I recently bought a Laserdisc player, and other eccentricities. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Although reading and writing romance novels is a pleasure, I can’t help but consider the academic film theory I learned and how it might apply. Since much of the theory in film studies originates in literature studies, this is not a stretch, but rather than re-inventing the wheel, I should look at what has already been done. Step one completed: I ordered Janice Radway’s classic work, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature.

Meanwhile, I’ve just acquired a copy of Genre: The Musical. I obtained this for an essay by Richard Dyer: “Entertainment and Utopia.” To give credit where credit is due, this essay was brought to my attention when Linda Williams used Dyer’s theoretical approaches to musicals in her work studying narrative pornographic films.

Dyer notes that entertainment pleases us by showing utopia – a simple world where people have agency and intense feelings, and there is abundance, honesty, and community.

Richard Dyer’s categories and definitions of utopian aspects in entertainment. “Entertainment and Utopia,” in Genre: The Musical, edited by Rick Altman. Routledge, London, 1981, 175-189. Originally printed in Movie #24, Spring 1977, 2-13.

Sounds good, though he also notes that entertainment typically disregards issues related to race, class, and sexuality. We’ve made little progress, except perhaps on sexuality, since he wrote that in 1977. He adds that since our entertainments take place in a capitalist society, they promote consumption and the notion that capitalism can lead us to utopia.

For people to accept utopia in a story, there needs to be a connection to the present reality – without drawing too much attention to how the present is not utopia. That might make us question capitalism. Dyer proposes three approaches for how musical films attempt to connect reality and utopia without dwelling on the gap:

  • Separated, where the musical numbers present the utopia, and the story takes place in the present. This is typically a “backstage musical,” such as 42nd Street. The musical numbers eventually take over the film. It occurs to me that this is similar to romance stories where an ordinary person meets a billionaire (typically successful in business). Their world is the utopia, seen in isolated scenes before the ordinary person crosses over to it.
  • Integrated, where the musical numbers introduce the problem or the solution to the problem, in an effort to distract, and make both the problem and the solution literally upbeat. Mamma Mia, for example, resolves finding your father through a series of ABBA songs. This is like contemporary romance and especially romantic comedy, where meet cutes and misunderstandings are key parts of the plot. Suspense, faith, or erotica are other distractions, and there’s often a subplot of achieving business success. Like musicals, the lead couple may have several ‘solos,’ the supporting cast may have some numbers, and we end with the lovers duet.
  • Dyer describes the third form as the least common: Dissolved, where the film is somehow distanced from the present day. This is often done by setting the film in a past, which, no matter how grim it seems at first, works with our sense of nostalgia to evoke a glorious utopian era. Oliver! comes to mind as a musical film example. The distance is also a distraction. This category would apply to historical romances, as well as stories involving modern royalty, the paranormal, and even Amish stories, and may be the most popular form of romance novel. Utopia, or a happy ending, is easier to achieve in a more refined, magical, or simpler time.

These categories are not necessarily exclusive. An historical romance with a wealthy duke and comic misunderstandings gives us utopia that is primarily dissolved from our present realities, with elements of separation and integration. It could be argued that not all films, or even all musicals, present utopia. However, romance novels, with happy endings by definition, do give us utopia.

I find it useful, when reading and writing romance, to be aware of the tensions between presenting relatable characters and situations and presenting a happy ending, and ways to address those tensions. I also find it useful to recognize how entertainment utopias may ignore social issues. Modern romance novels are often good at addressing issues of sexuality, but race and class are less frequently addressed. Agency (including sexual), intense feelings, abundance, honesty, and community are common to most happy ever after endings, but there’s room to add more utopian aspects. That would be good for everyone – and might help sales too!

There Must be a Better World Somewhere

A couple of months ago, I justified spending time writing on the grounds that the world needs positive stories (Pondering the Pandemic). Since then, things have gotten worse. We appear to be recovering from the pandemic, but there is still so much we don’t know about COVID-19. There’s no vaccine and treatments remain uncertain. Meanwhile, I’ve learned I have a cancer that probably won’t kill me, but does compromise my immune system. I’m more likely to be a carrier, and more likely have complications if I develop COVID-19.

But the pandemic has become old news, replaced by stories of racist murders, the protests those killings have sparked, the riots that follow some protests, the trampling of protest and press rights, and the escalating authoritarian madness coming from the American president.

With all this going on, I still believe we need positive stories, though in the last few months I have done nothing to contribute to that pool. My first romance, Ocean’s Lure (new title!), was with beta readers (the comments were mostly supportive). I could have been working on another story, but I started a new day job, and my editing sideline saw three projects originally to be done in sequence all come due at the same time. Another few weeks, and Ocean’s Lure will get its last revision before publication, coming late summer or fall.

Happy Reader Mascaron & a Sprinkler Alarm (New York, NY)
Some rights reserved by takomabib No changes made.

When I talk about writing positive stories, since I am writing romance, the key aspect is they demonstrate people finding supportive and healthy relationships. Within the genre, that’s the HEA – happy ever after. That does not necessarily mean the relationships are always a straight white man marrying a straight white woman. And even if that is the primary relationship in the story, I may sneak a less conventional relationship into backstory or subplot, and frame it in a positive manner.

However, there are other things I like to promote in my work. I believe every story is a political statement – it expresses what is good and bad about various power relations, group decisions, use of resources, and so on. So I try and show my characters, or at least my good characters, as respecting the environment, being concerned about poverty, achieving satisfying work, enjoying creative expression, appreciating (and representing) sexual and racial diversity, and so on.

It is easy to say that none of this is realistic. People end up in lousy relationships, with lousy jobs, and racism and sexism persist. Yes, that may be the reality, but stories can tell us what is possible. Writing and reading stories that portray optimistic solutions to social problems is itself an act of optimism, and a first step to resistance and change, leading to a better world.

How to Create a Shorter URL for your WordPress.com Blog Post

When you create a new blog post, WordPress automatically creates the URL slug – the last part of the post’s direct link – based on your post title. This means the link to the post will be your site name plus the date plus the blog post title.

That’s a perfectly functional link, but, particularly if you have a long title, you get a very long link. You may not care. Twitter automatically shortens links, Facebook does not show them, and people who view the posts from your blog page don’t need to see the link.

However, it’s easy to create a shorter link, which looks better when the link is visible, either on a page or in the browser address bar. It’s easier to copy a shorter link, and long links may fail in some applications, including email. And you might want a URL slug that describes the post more accurately than the title of the post.

Follow these steps to create a custom URL slug, when creating or editing your post:

  1. In the right-hand settings column, click the Document tab. If the settings column is not visible, click the gear icon in the upper right.
  2. Scroll down to Permalink, and expand that section. You can see the existing slug and URL.
  3. Type the new slug in the URL Slug box. Use hyphens or underscores instead of spaces and periods.
  4. You’re done!
Default link for this post
Custom link for this post

It’s best to create short URLs when you create the post, before publishing for the first time. You can change the URL slug of a page or post anytime, but, depending on how your site is configured, some internal links may stop working when you change it. Any external links you or someone else has posted will stop working if you change the URL slug.

If someone attempts to view your site with an invalid page or post link, they’ll get a blank page on your site, with the chance to search for what they are looking for, as well as your usual menu options, so all is not lost, but it’s a good idea to always test a link that you post.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like assistance with your WordPress.com site.

Sandcastle Rock Beach – Chapter 12

Completed a style edit, and now working on a grammar edit. Progress is slow, and I’m blaming the pandemic for new distractions. However, making progress. I haven’t done the grammar edit on this chapter yet, but sharing it anyway. This is first part of chapter 12, and takes place the morning after the road to the campground, and Darwin’s tent, were washed away. Comments appreciated.

Darwin woke with the sun warming his face. He opened his eyes, registered that he was in Marianna’s spare bedroom and the sun was shining, and closed his eyes again. This was much more comfortable than the previous night in the truck, and the night before in the tent. The cotton flannel sheets were soft and smelled of salt. The house was quiet, and he could hear the waves through the open window. It was the same sound he had fallen asleep to last night.

Last night he’d kissed Marianna. He still was not sure why. No, he knew why – he was attracted to her. She was smart, hardworking, tough, and beautiful. But she lived 1400 km from Toronto, in the middle of nowhere, and now was not a good time to start a relationship. Especially with someone he planned to steal land from. No, it wasn’t stealing, he reminded himself. It was business. She knew the terms, she’d signed the document. And this was the deal that would secure his future.

He’d grown up in a house where the mice and rats scampered through gaps in the stone basement walls. His sister probably still lived in a house like that. His first apartment in Toronto had mice running from one radiator to the next. It wasn’t the specks of mouse shit on the counters, annoying as it was, or the need to keep all food in rodent-proof containers, that made mice annoying. It was what the poverty they reminded you of. Being too poor to fix your house, or being too tired from working long hours to fix your house, or not owning the property to fix, and knowing that you might spend money on it and be moving out a month later. Money was security.

He thought of his condo, peaceful and rodent free. He could leave a chocolate bar on the counter, half-eaten, and it would be untouched the next day. This was the happiness money bought. Carla had liked the condo, and loved the view of Lake Ontario, visible in a gap between the waterfront towers. He wondered what Marianna would think of that view, compared to her property. He imagined showing his place to her. Would she appreciate the double size shower and the soaker tub? He closed his eyes and imagined her there. Relaxing in a bubble bath. He’d come in, and she’d put down her book. He’d offer to wash her back. She’d sit up, her breasts emerging from the bubbles, and as he stroked her back with the cloth he’d lean down and kiss the top of her breasts…. Damn morning wood, he thought, and threw off the covers. His attempt to cool his feelings with chilly air failed in the warmth of the room. Why was his first kiss with Marianna – his only kiss, not his first – more comfortable and yet more exciting than kissing Carla, even after all their time together? That thought was enough to distract him.

He put on the baggy sweatpants and tight shirt from yesterday, padded to his door, and opened it. He could hear Marianna in the kitchen, calling Cerebus for breakfast. Marianna’s bedroom door was closed. He resisted the temptation to look into her bedroom, and stepped through the landing’s open door to the bathroom. She’d filled the jug of water on the counter for hand washing and toothbrushing, and added another note to the tips and reminders from last night. This one invited him to shave in the kitchen if he wanted hot water. He brushed his teeth, then picked up a towel and cloth. She’d also left out a couple of disposable razors and a bar of shaving soap. Always thoughtful.

As he came down the stairs the temperature increased. In the kitchen, something sweet was cooking on the stove, and cool warm air breezed through an open window. Marianna was setting the table, for two, he noticed, unsure how he felt about that.

“Good morning, Darwin. Did you sleep okay?”

“Yes, thanks. And you?”

“Apart from letting Cerebus out to pee at two in the morning, yes. He didn’t wake you with his barking?”

Darwin shook his head. “You’re sure you don’t mind me shaving at the kitchen sink?”

“As long as you clean up after yourself.” She poured steaming water from a pot on the stove into a bowl, and set it beside the counter. “The first cupboard on the left has a mirror inside.”

Darwin opened the cupboard. “All mod cons.”

“This isn’t my first rodeo.”

Darwin shaved, deciding he did not want to ask what that meant. In the mirror he watched Marianna move about the kitchen, then position herself at the stove.

“Whatever you’re making smells good.”

“Thanks. Just oatmeal. But I’m heating some maple syrup to go with it. Also boiling some eggs for our hike.”

Her hips were swaying as she stirred the pot. Darwin shifted the cupboard door, so the mirror no longer reflected her. “Our hike?”

“I started the generator earlier and was on my radio. The storm was nasty all over the island. Lots of power lines down, and several road washouts. A couple of motels flooded, and the boardwalk is damaged in Sydney. It will be some time before the road out here is repaired – maybe a week.”

“A week? With no power?” Darwin finished his ablutions and came over to the stove. “Are you going to be okay?”

“I’ll be fine. I’ve got the generator, I can run my laptop on solar, I’ll have internet once they get the cell tower fixed, which could be before or after the road, I’ve got the woodstove for heat and cooking, and I’ve got food. I wouldn’t survive winter here if I couldn’t go a week on my own. Put that on the table, please, and take a seat.” She indicated a small pot. “We just need to get you home.”

“Right. I’m stranded here.”

Marianna brought the pot of oatmeal to the table and spooned some into the bowl in front of Darwin.

“Don’t panic, city boy.” He caught her grin.” One of the guys from Bay St. Lawrence can get you out by boat. Say when.”

“That’s good, thanks.” Carla had never cooked breakfast for him, but then he’d never stayed for breakfast. She spooned oatmeal into her bowl, took the pot to the sink, and came back to the table. He waited until she had poured some maple syrup, then poured some on his. “This is superb.” He’d had maple syrup flavoured instant oatmeal, but this, cooked in a pot and with real maple syrup, tasted so much better it was like a different meal.

“Thanks. But no one can come today – tomorrow at the earliest. They’ve got cleanup there too. It’ll be few days before anyone could drive you into Baddeck or Sydney.”

“Can’t I rent a car, or get the bus, from the village?”

“No. Not anywhere around here. Someone might be able to put you up in there, but Mike said you’re better to stay here if I’ve got room.”

She took a spoonful of oatmeal, swallowed, and continued. “Meanwhile, you’ve been here two and half days, two of which have been heavy rain, and had all your stuff washed away in a flood. I hate to see what the online review will look like. It’s a gorgeous day today, and one attraction of this campground is the hike up the mountain behind us. For you, guided, lunch included, just to make it more attractive.”

“Your company is more than sufficiently attractive without food and guiding. But the exercise will help take my mind off other things we could do to pass the time.” He shouldn’t be flirting with her, he thought, but he liked her plan to spend the day together.

Marianna blushed. “Darwin, you are a great kisser. But as I said last night, it was just a kiss. It’s not going to lead to anything. I’m not interested in a relationship, and even if I was, you’ll be heading back to your downtown Toronto office soon enough. Let’s keep things as friends. Okay?” She held out her hand.

Darwin was about to say he’d just been kidding, but he hadn’t and she knew it, and she was right. He shook her hand.

“Agreed Ms… I don’t know you last name. Agreed, Marianna.”

“It’s Beecker.”

“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Beecker.” Darwin offered his hand again.

Marianna swatted it away. “Marianna, please.”

Pondering the Pandemic

So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has had little impact on my daily routine. I’ve worked from home for years, and my day job continues unchanged, as does my work as a freelance editor. I’m preparing a journal article for publication, and the journal contacted me three times in the past two weeks to remind me that the deadline for requested reference formattings had not changed.

Social media is full of suggestions for things I can do at home or online. I’m happy not to have the time to take advantage of these. I’ve had precarious employment often enough to be grateful for good work at any time, and especially now. I spend most of the day in my room, at my computer, as usual. The only thing I miss is almost daily trips to a food court or coffee shop for dedicated creative writing time, but I’d been trying to reduce that anyway (the going out, not the writing).

Photo of typewriter with sheet of paper in it. "Pondering the Pandemic has been typed on the paper."
Testing backup blogging.

Movies about a disease sweeping through the population feature cinematic demises – people stricken and collapsing in the street. Science-fiction stories promise mass chaos and/or orgies. Instead, we have a disease that spreads silently, appears at first not much different than a cold, and results in people dying in hospitals. People are staying at home, largely following public health department guidelines when venturing out, and generally aware that mass activities of any kind are a bad idea. It’s easy to underestimate how serious this is.

It will be weeks or months before we know the full extent of this disease, but preventive steps are necessary now. Hopefully the steps taken and preparations are sufficient that governments are accused of over-reacting, though thousands have already died, and the numbers may be under-reporting. As for the long-term impact, some are predicting a return to business as usual, while others are suggesting we may see permanent changes in how governments and society operate. My guess is that this will be like the oil price hikes in the early 1970s. At first, there will be support for better public and social health, just as there was a interest in reducing energy use in the 1970s. And after a decade, people will have forgotten what they were concerned about, and vote for anyone who promises lowers taxes and fewer regulations.

Meanwhile, since current events have dated my contemporary romance work-in-progress, I may have to give a specific date setting of a few years ago, to make clear it describes life before COVID-19. How can I think of writing at a time like this? It’s not easy, but the world still needs positive stories – and writing gives me something do beside read the news and worry.

The Price of Rice in China

Some years ago, if I made what was considered an irrelevant or pointless remark at the dinner table, the response was “What does that have to do with the price of rice in China?” At the time, I was not acquainted with the butterfly effect, or chaos theory, so I could not make the only appropriate response: Everything.

As I slog through editing my romance novel, I’ve pondered the point of the work. This round of editing is checking grammar – weeding out flaws such as adverbs. There’s an undeniable (and undeniably nerdy) pleasure in finding a specific verb that eliminates an adverb. But it takes a lot of time. And on every re-read, I find new errors. This week I discovered a character’s clothing was inconsistent. She runs out of the house without a coat, and a few chapters later she comes in and hangs up her wet coat. It’s not as simple as fixing the first and last reference. I need to check for mentions of coat or no coat during the time she is out, and later references to the coat being wet or her being without a coat. Sorting this out is satisfying, but again time consuming. Is this editing – indeed, the whole novel writing project – a good use of my time?

There’s a lot of unhappiness in the world, and a lot of good, important causes I could support. I could be fighting to protect the environment, improve equality, or elect more responsible government. Instead, I’m flipping through a thesaurus trying to find a better way to say ‘walked carefully.’ That seems callous. It’s not as if I do nothing else but write. I vote, which should not be noteworthy, but many people do not. I make the occasional donation to various causes. And I have a second job, so the time spent writing is not a big part of my week. Still, is writing a romance novel going to make the world a better place? Will it affect the price of rice in China? Yes.

Photo of rice field terraces.
Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

Fiction takes reality and re-arranges it to show us what is possible. We read stories where the crimes are solved and the couple fall in love because we like to see that it is possible. Stories not only declare it possible, but can show us the way, whether it’s through new ways to identify unknown bodies, or by providing examples of good and bad proposals. We have many stories – do we need more? Yes again.

First, we need to know what is possible now. And second, the population is growing. There are another 83 million people every year, and they all need something to read. Something that shows what is possible. In my writing, I show what is possible. I promote caring for the environment, equality, and responsible government. The reading of this novel might dramatically affect the price of rice. I remind myself of that, and dive in to sort out my character’s coat, and finish the rest of the editing.