All posts by Maria Lima

Opening doors

door

(Since tomorrow is Turkey Day, and many of you will be offline, I’m publishing my Thursday post early)
I saw this photo online a while back and it made me laugh. 
We go through life with the old “if life shuts a door, open a window” adage – which I get. I understand that it means to look for another solution, another path. And that’s valid.
But this sentiment also resonates. Don’t just accept that the door is closed. Open the damned thing. It’s okay to change the rules!
Is the door locked? Then look for a key or a lockpick.
I want to apply this analogy to writing–specifically, my own career (such as it is.)
Soooo many times, the door got shut in my face as I shopped Matters of the Blood around to various agents. Some read my letter, synopsis and sample chapters and basically Just Said No. Some asked for a full manuscript (and this was in the days of actual paper manuscripts), so after the initial OMG YES! reaction, I had to scramble, print out a copy and snail mail it to said agent. After reading said manuscript, they pretty much all said, thanks, but no thanks (in varying degrees of well, it’s okay, but…)
It was a slog, sure. I’m actually grateful, because the first version of the book that I shopped wasn’t right–at all. It needed tightening, editing, and fleshing out…which I did, and ended up with a better story.
Then I went back to try to reopen that door–which I did. And I set off submitting to agents and directly to publishing houses. 
Still, doors continued to be shut in my face. 
Eventually, discouraged, the door reopened: at least, there was a knock and I answered it.
I’d worked with a particular micropress before, with the Sisters in Crime Chesapeake Chapter anthology. We had great service, books came out in time for a fabulous kickoff signing at Mystery Loves Company in Baltimore, so when the owner showed up and offered to read my manuscript, I gladly sent it to him (electronically, even!). He offered me a contract and I happily signed. It was before urban fantasy was a thing, and most publishers just did not know what to do with this genre, so I figured, what the heck. The contract got signed, I never really got much in the way of editing, but I was new, and didn’t realize this was a red flag. My cover art…well, let’s just say it wasn’t completely awful, but it was close. The book came out, and it got some decent reviews…but then…the door closed.
Only, this door didn’t just shut, it VANISHED. 
Micropress guy overextended himself (as they do), and before my book really got off the ground, he disappeared and stopped responding to emails and phone calls. Yeah, not a new story, sadly. Same thing happened to too many authors. What sucked is that I though I had done my due diligence. I’d had an excellent experience with the anthology, and figured this experience would at least match that. And I wasn’t afraid of self-promotion: it’s not like if I signed with a Big House, that I’d be free of that.
So, I couldn’t reopen that door, not even with a sledgehammer.
This time, I ended up finding another door.
Just when I was thisclose to giving up this damned writing lark, the door opened back up.
This time, a reputable small press was interested in reprinting Matters, and possibly doing more books. At first, I was leery…another small press? But, turns out, this one had been in business for a looong time, and I figured, okay, dooo eeeet.
And I did.
That small door opened MUCH wider when said press made a deal with Pocket Books and my series ended up at a Big Five house after all.
The path: crooked af, but eventually, my determination in re-opening that door paid off.
Now, the door is slightly ajar, as I try to balance my chronic illness/lack of energy with writing, but I’ve not closed and locked it. 

 

The Magic of Reading

from Patreon

When I was a kid, I spent pretty much every penny of my allowance on books–Scholastic Books to be precise. When I was in first grade, and went to my first ever book fair in school, I was overwhelmed. I could BUY books, take them home and KEEP them.

I still remember the two books I bought at that fair. They were the Little Golden Books of Mary Poppins (which I’d seen at the movies – my very first movie!) and Perri (the squirrel), from a Disney special I’d seen.

Those books opened the door to many, many more over the years, from Nancy Drew onwards. I gorged myself on words–escaped to Sleepyside-on-Hudson with Trixie and Honey; learned about Depression era migrant farming and slipped into The Velvet Room with Robin. I took the oil from the magic bottle and grew wings to fly with young Harry Houdini Marco.

Books were, and continue to be, my own personal magic. I can right wrongs, fight the good fight, and be home in time for dinner. My mom still says that sending me to my room as a punishment was pretty much useless, because I just curled up in bed with a book. She was so right.

Now, as a nearly 60 year old adult, I still view books as the ultimate getaway. From frothy humor to disturbing horror, I’ll pretty much read anything–as long as the writing is good and I enjoy the story. I will cringe, cry, sob, laugh out loud and let the words take me away, even if it’s just for a couple of hours.

Is it any wonder that I became a writer?

mary-poppins-big-golden-book perri blackandblue velvet

A new beginning…or how I write

from Patreon

Like moviemakers, I do my best work out of order. That means I don’t write chapter 1, followed by chapter 2, etc.I see scenes in my head, work out the dialogue and action and then go to my project and write it down…no matter where it fits in the overall story. I use Scrivener, a blessing of an app that was first launched in 2006. Scrivener works like I do. I can add, remove, move around scenes/chapters without having to scroll down an interminably long Word document. When I’m done, I can compile all the files into a finished product–whether a Word document to submit to publishers or a finished e-book or print manuscript.

Tools like this make it easy for me to think outside the box. I’m not fighting technology when trying to write, and it’s just easy.

So, why am I telling you all this?

Remember the first chapter of the new project I posted a while back? Yeah, well, it’s not the first chapter anymore.

This past Saturday night, going into the loss of DST (yay!), my body decided that 3:30 (now 2:30) was the best time to get up and be AWAKE. I fussed at myself, but then the brain started working on the the story and I couldn’t stop.

Knowing that I would be really angry at myself if I didn’t write this down, I got up and went to my computer. I never went back to bed. I spent the next many hours writing and typing up notes.

By the end of the day, I had slightly more than 5000 net new words, a bit of a new direction and a new first chapter.

Here it is, in all its first draft glory (and with a lot of placeholder text).

Enjoy!

Where wolf? There.

from Patreon

Despite their origins in horror and war, werewolves continue to hold a strong place in fictional supernatural beings (with our favorite bloodsuckers as number one). Okay, so zombies are on the rise (yes, yes, I know…) but if you scan most urban fantasy/paranormal romance novels, you’ll still find vampire and werewolves running neck and neck. (Egads, the puns!)

Seriously, though–why the wolf? What is so fascinating and fabulous about these furry predators that not only do we have centuries of legends about humans becoming them, so many fantasy novels either feature or include these lycanthropes?

It’s not like most U.S. writers have much personal knowledge of actual wolves outside of stories, TV or movies. They’re not easy to find in the lower 48; the grey wolf has been hunted nearly to extinction. The red wolf, once extinct, now have a small officially endangered population in the Southeast.

Perhaps it’s because a full grown wolf is a sexy beast, reminiscent of man’s best friend, yet with a wildness and danger adding a hint of spice–although, in reality, it’s a predator and maybe not so sexy. Could be that our collective unconscious is reminded of the many legends of the hypermasculine warriors, leading long-ago tribes into battle and translating that into a need for an alpha male (or in some cases, female). Or maybe, just maybe, there’s that part of us that knew that there was more to the story of Little Red Riding Hood than was on the surface–we internalized its sexuality, its underlying themes and wanted more.

Whatever the reason, wolves and their fantasy counterparts (whether wer, shapeshifter or skinwalker) definitely add a bit of je ne sais quoito our reading. We love them. We love to hate them if they’re the bad guy or gal. We love to read about them, tell stories, make them part of our fantasy world.

Personally, I love the fascinating family structure in the wolf world. The pack, with its extremely defined and complex make-up, thrills the social/cultural anthropologist in me. I adore watching people and the way they interact. The way a wolf pack works (at least, so far as my non-scientific understanding) is so very easy to translate into fiction; mimicking its strict hierarchies and morphing those into human/wer behavior totally flips my tortilla.

This is where it gets really fun: making my own world, adapting legend, myth, as well as historical, cultural and physiological facts into my version of what reality is. For those of us that write, isn’t that part of what makes it so damned sexy? Making up a fantasy world, especially one set in contemporary times, like my Blood Lines series, gives me the ability to build in my own rules and behaviors, making it work for me and and getting to create challenges for my characters.

For example, in my world, shapeshifters and werewolves are completely different–ahem–animals (pun totally intended). Shapeshifting is a magical ability, inherited by certain members of the supernatural clan my protagonist belongs to. If you’re a shapeshifter, you can choose which animal to emulate, and, once changed–a process that is neither painful nor physically draining–you retain your humanlike qualities, including the ability to reason.

Wers, on the other hand, become the animal (their human sides are there, but suppressed) and are limited to one particular species (wolf, deer, etc.).

In my first three books, I only dealt with shapeshifters, but in book 4 (Blood Heat), I introduced an actual werewolf clan, with troubles and social rules all their own. I very much enjoyed creating their culture, the shape of their family and how they fit into modern society.

Though I’ve not gone back to the wolves, it’s definitely something I consider doing. One day…

If you’re looking for some reading choices, here are some of my favorites:

Werewolves:

Mercy Thompson series (Patricia Briggs)

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) (Mrs. Lupescu!!)

Women of the Otherworld series (Kelly Armstrong)

Blood Trail (Tanya Huff)

Mercy Hills Pack series (Ann-Katrin Byrde)

Silver Moon (Catherine Lundoff)

Other recommended reading/watching in general:

Iskryne World series (Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette)

Brotherhood of the Wolf (an obscure but fascinating French film)

The Howling (cheesy, but so tasty)

###

Rant: There are no basements in Texas

from Patreon

I freely admit it. I can be a pedant, a grammar nerd and am ridiculously annoyed by things that other people probably don’t even see. I have a great passion for words and language and how language evolved, so yeah, I probably get a bit wound up.

What gets my goat most, is when professionals commit these heinous acts. I go through the roof. Simple things that should be caught by copyeditors slip through…oh yeah, some major publications actually think copyeditors aren’t useful.

Seen recently in professional publications (both online and print):

Homonym Misuse

Lynchpin – NO, the word is linchpin. It is “a person or thing that holds something together” and has ZERO to do with lynching. Merriam Webster accepts the incorrect spelling as a variant, but honestly? It’s only because people don’t know the real word and use the wrong one that it’s gained in use.

Woah – not a word. It’s whoa, like in “Whoa, horsey.” Again, seen in somany places. It’s related to the other pet peeve:

Reign – I see this as in “loosened the reigns” or “reigned in,” neither of which are correct. Reign involves ruling over, like a king. Reining in, loosening the reins are related to you know, reins, as in the things you use to control a horse.

Geography Gone Wrong

All the characters fly (from another country) into Dallas/Fort Worth to then drive to a ranch in Johnson City.

Uh, no. Johnson City is north of San Antonio and in the Texas Hill Country, just off Highway 281. To get there, you might fly into DFW because it’s a hub airport, but you’ll end up in San Antonio or Austin/Bergstrom, then drive. DFW is 228 miles from Johnson City and a mere 64 miles from SAT or 53 miles from AUS.

As for the title of this rant?

Many years ago, someone I knew wrote a story that set the characters in San Antonio. A major plot point had Character A go down into his mom’s basement. I live in San Antonio and know that basements are not a thing, mostly because our entire city sits on a massive sheet of bedrock limestone that is mere inches below the soil. Building anything below ground requires blasting and costs $$$$$$. Thus, houses do not have basements. I wrote a private note to the writer and mentioned this (the story was not yet published.) Said writer refused to make changes, but whatever. It just irks me to no end when something is factually wrong and it takes less than a minute to look up.

/rant

Reading Recs: Abroad by Liz Jacobs

I posted this on my patreon as a public post, read here or there.

Abroad by Liz Jacobs

It’s the story of an immigrant student, now studying in London who is coming to terms with who he is: as a Russian Jew, as gay and as he figures out where he belongs.
Nick’s story really hit home for me. Although I’m not a Russian Jew, I am an immigrant. Born in Cuba and brought to the U.S. at age almost-3, escaping Fidel Castro’s regime. I can’t tell you how much I identify with Nick’s struggle–as an immigrant, being in a new place and (eventually) coming out of the closet. 
I remember being in first grade (or kinder) crying because I didn’t understand what the teacher wanted, because I didn’t speak English well enough.
I remember being ashamed of my mother’s accent, because kids in school teased me about it. We never spoke Spanish at home, as my parents figured we’d assimilate better if we concentrated on English. There were so many cultural differences that I just didn’t get. 
My father had wanderlust and we moved house pretty much every year until they divorced when I was 16. We never got a chance to settle and become part of a community and I was always the “new kid;” the outsider. This is something that helped me out in later years, as I find it fairly easy to connect with new people now, but as a kid, it was so very tough.
Coming out as not-straight: a tough one. I’m old enough to be a tail-end baby boomer, and my generation did not just come out. I wasn’t sure how to tell people that I was bi/pan. We just did not talk about our sexualities so freely. Friends knew, especially fannish friends, but family? Not so much. Though, once I finally did say something, my mom told me she’d known for a long time – go figure. 
In Abroad, Liz captures the essence of all of these feelings so very well. I’m not a college-age Russian Jewish guy, but I understand Nick deeply and I very much want to get to know him and the other characters better. Can’t wait for the sequel.