What I’m Currently Working On: Plotting Mythical Menagerie Series 2

These last few months have both dragged on interminably and flew past faster than you can say “lockdown blues.” Can you believe we’re in July already?

The last time I posted an update I was all excited about a new novella I’d been plotting. I scraped together the courage and flew through the first 3500 words faster than anything I’ve ever done, and then stopped. I hit a difficult part of the story and took a break to think about it, and never went back. I think the Covid-19 lethargy had finally caught up to me by then and I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t think I could do the story justice, and I still don’t, so I’m letting it simmer again for another time.

Also, Myth Hunter, the complete Series 1 of my Mythical Menagerie short story series, was published on Amazon! You can still read it for free on Kindle Unlimited here. I was in a spin getting the book trailer ready and scrounging for pre-release reviews and watching the sales page when the book was finally available. That initial excitement has worn off now, but it reminded me how much I enjoyed writing Ambrose’s story.

Which leads me to where I am now: I’ve started plotting Series 2!

I’m doing it a little differently this time. For Series 1 I had a vague idea where I wanted the story to go, but I plotted each installment separately in some weird plotter-pantser-plantser hybrid manner that meant that I wrote each story before I knew what was going to happen next. Each subsequent installment was nerve-wracking, because I didn’t know if I was just floundering forward or actually writing something worth reading. Some of you might remember that I had to scrap my idea for the final installment and start over again just to make sure that the novel felt like a complete story on its own. I was pretty lucky that it all worked out in the end, to be honest.

So this time I’m sitting down and thinking about the whole thing before I start writing. I know I want to do roughly six stories again. I know (more or less) where I want it to go. I’m still figuring out how I’m going to get there. The first three stories are pretty solid in my mind and I’m showing herculean restraint by not diving in with the writing just yet. From story four onwards, things are still a little blurry at the moment. I’m resisting the temptation to go ahead anyway until I know what needs to happen in those middle installments to get me to the end of book two.

While I’m mulling all this over, I’m doing some more research into mythology and folklore to make sure that my stories stay unusual and interesting. Ambrose will still romp around Europe, but he’s also going to venture a little further away into the Far East, and my knowledge of Asian mythology is sketchy at best. It doesn’t help that I haven’t been to either China or Japan (two of the likely settings in the series), which is probably another reason why those last few stories are still foggy. I need a research trip!

If you have any comments, requests or constructive criticism after reading Myth Hunter, please let me know either in the comments below or via email or on my Facebook page. Some readers want more Daniel, others want less Sarah, some would like to see a specific city featured. If you think there’s anything I can do to improve on Myth Hunter, shout at me – I can take it. I’d love to make the next book even better!

Unsatisfying Happily Ever Afters in The Big Bang Theory

We recently finished watching the final season of The Big Bang Theory (yes, I know, we’re a little behind) and although I love this series so much, I can’t help but feel that the endings some of them got weren’t quite the ones they deserved. Especially so for the girls. Let’s unpack this a little.

Fair warning: spoilers below.

Sheldon is clearly the main protagonist for the final season and the writers therefor focused all their attention on giving him the ending he deserved. Not only did he finally win a Nobel prize, but he’s happily married and has come to the realization that he needs his friends to be happy and successful and fulfilled. He’s come a long way from the selfish guy we met in Season 1.

Leonard completed his main storyline the day Penny said “I do” and since then hasn’t seen much of the limelight. His happily ever after focusses on the fact that he finally realizes his own self-worth and forgives his mother for all the crappy things she’s done to him. As a result, he’s able to move forward in his career, although not in the project he hoped to work on.

Penny’s arc is especially disappointing to me. She’s given up on her dreams of becoming an actress and is now a successful sales rep – a job that suits her but that doesn’t really bring her any joy. She’s married to Leonard, because (as all the characters often reiterates) he’s worn her down until the point where she said yes. When we first met her she was young and naïve and happy, but now she’s disillusioned, sarcastic and really quite mean, especially to Leonard. In the final season their relationship is fragile – Penny is adamant that she doesn’t want children, much to Leonard’s distress. However, in the last episode we learn that Penny is pregnant and she seems really happy about it, too. She’s even nice to Leonard. I can’t help but feel that the writers let us down here by forcing her into a stereotypical role and making us believe that impending motherhood is what she needs to be happy again.

Amy, much like Sheldon, has also come a long way. Over the course of the series, she’s turned from a socially awkward pariah into the wisest person of the group. She’s (mostly) happily married to Sheldon and is recognized as a successful scientist. In the final season, she has a makeover and changes her dowdy look into something a little more sexy – completely out of character for her (kudos to Sheldon for being upset about it). She’s also responsible for the brainwave that saves their mutual project and ultimately leads to the two of them winning the Nobel prize in physics together. However, she needed to give up her own career in neurobiology to help Sheldon achieve his dream. At the award ceremony, she proclaims that science is a great field for women before stepping aside and letting Sheldon receive most of the glory. Again, I find it disappointing that a woman had to let go of her own aspirations in order to let her man achieve happiness.

Howard is, thankfully, no longer the creepy guy we met in Season 1, but has turned into a committed husband, a good father, and even a national hero (albeit only to his friends). His happily ever after is reconciling his greatest achievement (becoming an astronaut) with the fact that he was scared every second he was up in space. He says goodbye to his wild youth (by letting go of a scooter and not chasing after a girl who used to like him) and embraces his responsibilities (although he does jump at the chance to become famous as the “best friend” of the man who’s about to win the Nobel prize). His life has turned out great and he’s finally content.

Bernadette is another character whose happily ever after is disappointing. Like Penny, she balked at having children and in the final season we can see that they’re wearing her down (even to the point where she needs to hide out in the doll house after work for some quiet time). When she’s away from home and the kids need her, her maternal instincts kick in and she realizes how much she loves them and that her place is to be with them. She’s also achieved success in her career, but at the cost of becoming so mean most of her colleagues (and even Penny) are afraid of her. At least her relationship with Howard is better than ever and, like him, she also jumps at her small claim to fame of being Amy’s “best friend” on TV.

Raj, poor guy. All Raj has ever wanted was someone to love him back. In the final season he’s desperate enough to consider an arranged marriage with a woman who is clearly unsuitable for him. He’s about to move overseas after this woman, when Howard comes for him, just like in the movies, and stops him from boarding the plane. And that’s it. His friendship with Howard is his happily ever after. Why the writers didn’t see fit to just give him a boyfriend (he’s clearly everybody’s gay friend) or, at the very least, a girl that is just as hopelessly romantic as he is, I will never understand.

Having grown middle-aged beside these characters, their (fictional) lives mean a lot to me. They were a new generation of Friends, but this time composed of a group of socially awkward, geeky misfits that I could associate with much more than with the original bunch. To see them find love and happiness, just like the popular pretty people, and even more so, acceptance and success, has been important to me. I’m over the moon for Sheldon, relieved alongside Leonard and impressed by Howard, but seeing the women forced into conventional gender-stereotyped assumptions of happiness was a letdown, one that I’m still trying to get over a few weeks later. And I just feel bad for Raj.

As a storyteller, I can understand the need for creating endings that will please the audience. After all, all the characters are happy at the end of the series, but to me their happiness feels like it has been conditioned. What these characters taught us over the years is that it’s okay to be different, to not conform to the norm.

Unfortunately, their happily ever afters were carefully groomed to fit with social convention.

What do you think? Are you satisfied with the end of all these character arcs? What would you have changed if you could come up with a happily every after for the characters of The Big Bang Theory?

Where Have All The Boys Gone?

I have a four-year old son who believes he’s Elsa.

I’m okay with that, because Elsa is awesome, and because who else is he supposed to look up to and identify with when watching animated movies? And with that, I specifically refer to Disney or Pixar movies, because those are our preference in this house.

Consider the following list of films that we have at home (although my little boy hasn’t watched most of them yet – some of these movies are remarkably scary for stories aimed at kids!) and here I’m focusing specifically on main characters only:

Adult Male Main Character (9)

Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Wreck-It Ralph, Up, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monster’s Inc, Toy Story (x3), Tarzan

Adult Female Main Character (4)

Incredibles 2, Finding Dory, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo

Young Adult Male Main Character (3)

Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Aladdin

Young Adult Female Main Character (6)

Frozen, Tangled, Mulan, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid

Girl Main Character (3)

Moana, Brave, Tinker Bell (x5)

 Boy Main Character (2)

Big Hero 6, The Lion King

Other (2)

WALL-E, Ratatouille

From this list of 29 movies, only two of them have a young boy as the main protagonist – and of those two one is a lion. If we’re willing to look at older characters, then six of them have female leads, with only three who have male leads – and none of those three are exactly relatable to my son. The cards are turned as the characters get older, with a score of four for the women and nine for the men – although in all four cases for female characters they share the stage with the men.

So adult characters aside, in the representation of girls (9) vs boys (5), the boys are in the minority.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad that girls have lots of female characters to watch and relate to, and that they’re no longer mostly concerned with attracting the attention of a marriageable guy. They’re feisty and fierce and clever and brave, and that’s all great. Even the ones that suffer from past stereotypes are still good (I grew up with these movies and I love them unconditionally).

But it’s a little problematic if you’re a little boy looking for a movie with a main character that you can identify with.

I think in the midst of the drive for gender equality the focus has shifted so much towards strong female characters aimed at empowering young girls, that the boys have been left by the wayside. All the arguments that have been made in the past for the inclusion of female role models now seem to apply to boys.

All I want on behalf of my son is a movie with a young human boy as the main character, who goes on a grand adventure and overcomes the odds while learning a few life lessons along the way. Is that too much to ask?

Granted, my sample might be skewed because all the movies we have in our house are the ones I loved as a girl (and still love),  but if I do a quick Internet search, the trend seems to hold strong.

I’m just a little worried than in trying to correct some mistakes of the past, we’re inadvertently making similar mistakes now. I suspect if I look at books for kids I’ll get the same results. This is such a basic discrimination (and let’s not even get started on the gender spectrum or race or religion discussions!) that can easily be rectified.

Creators: write inclusively, and don’t follow the trends of the day just for the sake of them.

Right now a little boy feels left out and confused. And we really don’t need more of that.

Have you noticed this trend too? Can you recommend any good animated movies aimed at little boys?

I Created My Book’s Characters in Sims 4!

Yes, I know, I’m a complete geek.

I had some unexpected free time over the Easter weekend and, instead of using it productively to write my book or something else meaningful, I spent an hour or so quickly creating mock-ups of the characters from Myth Hunter, my upcoming novel, in the Sims 4.

Ambrose and the gang!

How cute is this? If you’ve read Beginner’s Luck already, can you tell who any of these are?

Looking back on this image a few days later, I’m struck by the following thoughts:

  • For a novel with a male protagonist, I really have a lot of supporting female characters. That’s always been my plan, but I didn’t quite realise how outnumbered the boys are. This is something I might have to look into for the next series.
  • Although the majority of my characters are Caucasian, I’ve tried to be a little more diverse in my cast. I also have LGBTQ+ characters. Issues of race and gender are not a focus in my stories, and I find it difficult to write outside my own lived experience, but I do try to be inclusive. Hopefully readers will not be too offended or disappointed by my depiction of someone they may associate with.
  • There are quite a few important characters that I haven’t added to this picture, and one that isn’t important yet but will be in the second series.

I had a lot of fun creating these characters. I even picked out their traits and lifetime wishes! All I want to do now is go and play with them to see how they react to each other in-game! (Fortunately for my own productivity, I don’t particularly enjoy playing Sims 4. Sims 3 on the other hand…)

They say you have to write the book that you want to read. This series was definitely written for me. I think it’s such a fun story, and it includes a romp through Europe and an even greater cast of mythical creatures, adapted to fit my own universe. It appeals to both the traveller and the dreamer sides of my personality.

I hope readers will enjoy it too.

Either way, I can’t wait to start writing the next series! I have BIG plans for Ambrose and the gang.

Would you like to see more character images like this or do you prefer not to taint your own imagination? Interested in a little more in-depth character bio’s?

What Makes You DNF a Book?

This past weekend, for the first time in probably a decade, I gave up on a book. I wanted to throw it across the room and out the window, but since I was reading via the Kindle app on my phone, I held myself in. Instead, I created a new DNF (Did Not Finish) shelf for it on Goodreads, where it now quietly languishes on its own.

To say I was sorely disappointed is an understatement. It’s the third book in a series that started off with such great promise. I gave the first book 4 stars, for crying out loud! The second book wasn’t as good, but I figured it probably suffered from second book syndrome, gave it the benefit of the doubt and a 3-star rating, and eagerly anticipated the last instalment. What makes it even worse is that I sort of know the author (from our mutual Facebook writing group) and expected much better.

Strangely enough, this novel currently has an average rating of 4.59 stars on Goodreads, with  a number of gushing reviews, proclaiming it to be “love, love, love” and “everything you could want”. Apparently it has “all the feels” – and with that statement I’m guessing the reviewer wasn’t referring to the feeling that I had of wanting to rather commit ritual seppuku than read one more paragraph.

What did I hate so much about this book, you may wonder.

I recently shared this article about strong female characters on my Facebook page written by an author who is able to explain the issues I have with this book so much more eloquently than I ever could.

Everything said in this article holds true for me. A female character does not need to suffer endless physical abuse to make her stronger. Sure, if the novel’s theme is about violence and maltreatment and the journey of overcoming or rising above such circumstances, by all means go for it. And I love a girl who can grab a sword and fight right beside the boys, or hone her body into a weapon with which to overthrow the oppressors. But if the violence is gratuitous and just for the sake of showing us she’s a badass, then my teeth start grinding against each other. Throw in a supposed love interest who treats her like shit, but she can’t help falling for his tortured and misunderstood soul, even though she is already involved with another man who, surprise-surprise also doesn’t have the best track record, then I end up writing rant posts like this one.

Maybe I’ve just read one too many frustrating young adult dystopian love triangles in the last few years. And maybe I’m alone in wanting strong female characters who are actually strong because they have grit and determination and a sense of self-worth that isn’t dependent on what the moody man-boy thinks of her.  Maybe enduring torture, rape threats, and forced bonding rituals for no other reason than to make another man jealous make the average reader love a “strong” female character, but I’m holding out for something with a little more nuance and a lot more authenticity.

Maybe this book isn’t as bad as I think it is and redeems itself deeper in, but I DNF’ed it at 35%, so I guess I’ll never know.

What makes you put a book down without finishing it? Can you think of any strong female characters done right? Are there any books you hate as much as I hated this one – and why?

Ambrose’s Scotland

In SPRIGGAN’S QUEST, the very last installment of the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE Series 1, Ambrose has to find three legendary items. His quest takes him to Ireland, Wales and Scotland in a whirlwind race against time.

When I think of Scotland, I think of cold, misty days, tartan, warm comfort food, shaggy cows, and shortbread! It’s a country I’ve visited twice already, and I’m sure I’ll go again. I had a great time reliving those memories in Ambrose’s footsteps, and I hope you will too.

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes of Ambrose’s Cardiff to get your imagination going. Enjoy!

(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Scotland?

What I’m Currently Working On: Something New!

Someone asked in my writer’s group why people are suddenly saying they are so much more productive now that we’re all confined to our houses during coronavirus lockdown. Is it because we’re no longer commuting, or gossiping at watercoolers, or going out for drinks in the evening…?

The answer in my case is energy. I’m an introvert (in fact, my Myers Briggs test revealed that I am 98% introverted), which means that any time I spend in the company of others drains my battery.

Now that I’m at home, locked away in the study with only limited interaction with my immediate family, it’s like I’m the Energizer bunny. I have energy for everything at the end of the workday!

So, what am I doing with all my newfound joie de vivre?

  • I’m busy editing the final version of Spriggan’s Quest – the last installment of Series 1 of the Mythical Menagerie series. I’m still waiting for feedback from some betas, but I expect to be done with these changes within a week or so.
  • I’ve applied for and received ISBN numbers (for e-book, paperback and audio) and will soon contact my designer to make covers for paperback and audio too (have you seen my gorgeous cover yet?).
  • I’ve completed a Udemy course on how to make little videos and am learning the basics of DaVinci Resolve (professional video editing software) so I can make a book trailer.
  • I’ve got two webinar replays lined up that deal with book formatting and book release strategies – I’ll probably watch them in the next week – and then start formatting the book.
  • I’ve been reading more non-fiction, which has sparked all sorts of ideas for flash fiction for my monthly newsletter.
  • I have NOT been blogging consistently (or pretty much at all) this year, because I was focused on getting Ambrose done, but I did add two new posts about Rome and Ireland and plan to do more blogging now that the pressure is off. That includes writing about last year’s trip to Slovenia and Croatia on my travel blog.

But most exciting of all – I’ve plotted out a new story!

I wanted to take a little break from writing Ambrose’s adventures while I focus on getting the novel published, so I thought it would be the ideal time to write a short story that’s been at the back of my head for a while now. The idea for this story started out as a scene I wanted to write as a flash fiction, but I put one sentence down on paper and knew it would have to be something longer. It’s been idling ever since then.

I dusted off Scrivener (which I love, but rarely use, due to the fact that it’s not great for syncing between laptops, but since I’m now permanently at home I’m only working on one laptop anyway) and have plotted the entire story out on the cork board. I wanted to see if I had enough ideas and content to turn this story into a novella (roughly 40k words) as opposed to a short story (under 10k words). Turns out I do!

As a bonus side effect of this technique, I was also able to see all the problems in pacing and conflict with my first plot outline. I used the labelling options to mark some scenes red and others green to indicate if they help my protagonist move towards or away from her goals, and realized that there were lots of green and barely any red. Not enough stumbling blocks! Then I reworked and reshuffled scenes, and added a few new ones, and I’m as happy as I can be with the plot for now.

Now I just have to scrape up the courage to actually start writing… 

How are you keeping busy during this lockdown period? Are you going slowly insane, or are you enjoying the time off from the hustle and bustle?

Ambrose’s Ireland

I’ll admit it – I haven’t been to Ireland yet! Something that I’ll rectify in the very near future, because we’re planning on traveling through the Emerald Isle in June 2020, if the corona virus allows.

But that hasn’t stopped Ambrose from going there in search of luck in SPRIGGAN’S QUEST, the final installment of Series 1 of the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE. Unlike the other stories, he doesn’t spend any time in a city, but immediately goes off into the countryside – a place that is green and verdant and mysterious in my imagination…

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes of Ambrose’s Ireland to get your own imagination going. Enjoy!

(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Ireland?

Ambrose’s Rome

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” ~ Mason Cooley

In this time when people are self-isolating in the hope of avoiding the spread of COVID-19, and travellers have been advised to rather stay home, what better way to still trot the globe than from the comfort of your own armchair? That’s the beauty of reading, and it’s also one of the reasons why I wrote the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE series – to help me revisit all my favourite European cities when I couldn’t do so in person.

In HUNTER’S RESOLVE, the fifth installment of the series, Ambrose Davids finds himself in Rome, on the trail of a trafficker. The Eternal City is a bucket list destination for many and while Italy is currently in quarantine with its borders closed off to the rest of the world, following Ambrose on his adventures might just be the best way to enjoy this beautiful city.

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes of Ambrose’s Rome to get your imagination going. Enjoy!

(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Rome?

Cover Reveal: Myth Hunter

The wait is finally over…

After almost three years, I’m just about ready to publish my first full-length novel! Long-time readers will know that when I started writing the Mythical Menagerie series, I envisioned them as serialised installments, each a short story of their own, that would eventually encompass one large story arc.

Initially I released these individual installments on their own, but since serialisation works best when there’s a new release every week or so and I write glacially slow, that plan never really worked. By the time Part 3 came out, people couldn’t remember what had happened in Part 1 anymore.

So I had to change my plans and I decided to bunch a group of stories together into a Series 1 collection that would be the length of a complete novel. All the stories in Series 1 are complete on their own, but together they form a larger story that can stand on its own, but will eventually just be the start of all the adventures I have in mind for Ambrose Davids, Freelance Procurement Specialist. I hope this will be a better format for my readers and I really hope they’ll hold out until the whole story line is complete!

When I published the first three installments, I had to have covers designed for each of them. Although I really liked these covers (especially the one for Beginner’s Luck), people in the know told me that they didn’t exactly conform to genre expectations. What do you think?

Now that I’m releasing a complete novel, I had the chance to take all of the genre expectations in mind and come up with something much more suitable. And I absolutely love it!

So without further ado… Ta-daaaa!

This cover was designed by the incredibly talented Covers by Tallulah and I think it conveys the spirit of the story I’ve written while looking like it’s urban fantasy, albeit something different from the usual fare.

What do you think?