I do live in a fantasy world a lot of the time, so I know what I’m talking about here. Writers mostly do. You may see us grocery shopping or taking our cars for service or dropping the kids off for school, but that reality doesn’t mean we’re not living in our fantasy world, figuring out plotlines, talking to our characters, considering story arcs…
Until reality impinges on fantasy and we have to face it.
Recently I’ve felt more and more that it’s the opposite in my corner of the world, at least. Fantasy is impinging on reality. Because we don’t want to deal with reality, we create fantasy. Covid-19 doesn’t exist. It was made up. It’s not going to kill anyone we love because so many people survive it, it’s just like the flu. There are only 40 or 60 or 100 or 200 cases in my community, and nobody I know has it, so I won’t get it. Masks don’t protect you. It was 5G that caused it.
Reality is scary right now, yes, but not facing it is scarier because you know what I’ve found from living in a fantasy land a lot of the time? Reality will force you to face it eventually. You do have to come out of the clouds and pay the bills or your power gets turned off. You gotta scoop the cat litter or it gets stinky. Right now I’m wearing scratched glasses because going to the eye doctor is too much reality.
And if we don’t face the frightening reality of covid-19 as a community, we’re going to regret it. All of us.
My bookstore has been a lot of things for me from the time I took it over in January. The realization of a lifelong dream. A haven. A happy place for me, and I hoped, the art community and book lovers in my town. One thing I didn’t want it to become was a place of negativity, and I refused from the beginning to allow politics in the door.
COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, but the worst for me so far is that it has taken that from me. In order to preserve a healthy workspace for myself and avoid the potential of taking home something horrible to my family, I asked that my customers wear masks in the store. When it became obvious just the asking wouldn’t work, I began requiring them. If a customer arrived without one, I provided a simple handmade one to them. My customers were very agreeable about this. I began to relax. I began to believe that the people in my town, regardless of personal beliefs, were well bred enough to honor my rule.
Yesterday, that belief was shattered. A customer turned away when I told them masks were required in the store. Another argued with me that masks did no good, using talking points I’ve heard on conservative news outlets. The CDC has an agenda. Cloth masks are useless and will only hold germs against your own face, not protect you. I didn’t tell him that was the point, that I wanted him to keep his germs to himself. I asked him to leave.
And that’s when my store stopped being a refuge. I went home and cried because I’d never intended for this to happen there. I hate that it has happened. I hate that potential customers who might enjoy the otherwise welcoming atmosphere in my little store may now just go to Amazon or Books a Million. I hate it, but I can’t help it.
And so today I mourn the loss of the chance to share my refuge. I will continue to require masks until the danger of COVID-19 is gone. I realize many won’t come into the store if I do. I will miss them.
There’s no such thing as really good timing, I’ve found, but bad timing? Oh yeah.
So go ahead and giggle. Yeah, this is some of the worst timing ever in the history of publishing in general. A romance novel on a cruise ship? I can pretty much guarantee you no one else is putting this out.
As I’m putting the finishing touches on it, I find myself questioning other things, too. Simple things like handshakes and hugs. A kiss on the cheek from a friend. And, well, love in general.
How will Covid-19 affect writing about romance? I have no idea. I haven’t actually tried it. If it’s a transient thing, which we all hope, it won’t, obviously. But if the times change, as I’m scared they will, will I have to take that into account? Will courting be done via Zoom or Facetime? How will anyone fall in love that way? Love has to do with sparks, and I’m not sure the right kind can travel over virtual reality.
I imagine people like me will continue to write about what love and romance once were for a long time. We’ll either become outdated as humans evolve and learn to fall in love in different ways or we’ll serve as a valued reminder of what once was and hopefully one day will be again.
Whatever the future holds, I maintain that the sea is and always will be a source of romance. Whether the big cruise lines ever come back or not, love on the sea will always be a thing. So, in a couple of weeks (15 days to be exact), I’ll welcome Magic at Sea to my Sleight of Hand collection.
I have a new book coming out on May 28. Did I mention that? I scheduled that release date myself. I wrote the book, too. And edited it. And proofread it. Again and again and again… (I’m actually in the last round of proofreading right now.) And hired a book cover guru (Farah Evers Designs). I did all this on my own without consulting anyone (except Farah because she has a skill set I do not). No editors, no agents, no publishers.
This is my book.
Why don’t I get an agent and sell my book to a real publisher? I guess the short answer to that is I have no patience. I used to think that was the only way to publish legitimately. But over and over I kept hearing “You’re a good writer, but it’s not what we’re looking for.” Well, I heard that when I could get any response at all. And that was usually after six months to a year of anguished waiting and checking my email and wishing and hoping and praying…
Self-publishing, though. Wow, that’s freedom. You can finish a book today and put it out tomorrow. Well, almost. It does have to pass a vetting process through Amazon or Smashwords or whatever. Still, it’s really easy comparatively. When I realized this (after my first self-published book, Weeds and Flowers), it didn’t take long or many rejections to decide my next one would be self-published.
It also didn’t take me long to realize the universal truth behind Uncle Ben’s immortal words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I have spent the past decade perfecting my skills, not only in writing, but also book designing, editing, even a little cover design (though I still prefer Farah), and everything else that is involved in creating a beautiful book for my readers. I’ve studied and read articles, trying my best to learn to craft a perfect sentence or just to learn the difference between lie and lay (that one is my kryptonite, but don’t get me started on who and whom).
Am I there yet? Hell, no. Why do you think I’ve been reading and re-reading my book? I have not the slightest doubt there are mistakes in it, but tell me, when was the last time you read a 70,000-word book (whether it was professionally or self published) that didn’t? Most 700-word magazine articles have typos. Hell, CNN makes mistakes routinely in seven-word headlines. So, yeah, in spite of my best efforts, you may find a typo. But you’ll find fewer mistakes in Magic at Sea than you’d probably find in Secrets of the Lotus (my first novel published by Kensington Press).
(It’s worth mentioning, too, that any traditional publisher would probably have put off publishing Magic at Sea indefinitely considering the bad press that the cruise industry has received recently. Is that going to stop me? Oh no. I wrote this book based on a cruise to Alaska that my family and I took that is still one of my favorite vacations ever. I would do it again in a heartbeat.)
I often wonder what I would do if a professional publisher offered to publish my books. Purchase my whole backlist, professionally edit it, and put it out in paperback. It’s no doubt a pipe dream because, as I’ve been told often enough, I don’t write what they want to publish, but what would I do if someone made that offer after the love and care I know I’ve put into every one of my books? Sign or no?
Who am I kidding? I’d sign.
In the meantime, however, here are approximately 700 of my words that I’ve pored over (yes, pored, not poured, I looked that one up a while back) to entice you to buy Magic at Sea. Hopefully with no mistakes!
As they sat to partake of the drinks and snacks he’d arranged, Galen found himself settling into the unintentional role of Frankie’s escort. Yet it felt natural when Connor and Carole sat together with Kate and Alex next to them for Galen to hold a chair for Frankie.
“So you really get to live on this ship?” Kate looked around with appreciation, then back to Frankie. She sighed. “Just imagine the amount of writing I could get done.”
Frankie smiled. “For six months, as long as I behave myself.” She batted her eyelashes at Galen. “I wasn’t everyone’s first choice for onboard entertainment, though.”
Galen felt the full force of the little group’s curious gazes. How could he not adore Frankie? How could he not be certain she would be an asset to the cruise—not just this ship but the entire line? He shook his head inwardly. Though from what he’d gathered Frankie had only met Connor once before, she was already a part of the group. Maybe it was some sort of magicians’ code. More likely it stemmed from her association with their friends. Any friend of mine…
“You don’t approve of escape magic, then?” Connor’s good humor didn’t falter. “I’ve never tried any of it myself, mainly because it’s a whole different skill set that takes years to learn, and if you don’t know what you’re doing…” He shrugged and looked back to Frankie. “But I’m looking forward to seeing your show. Lydia and Tony speak very highly of you.”
“Thank you.” Frankie took a little sip of her champagne and glanced at Galen. Her eyes sparkled. Your turn.
He accepted the unspoken challenge. “Frankie’s show marks a bit of change in our focus as far as entertainment goes. The magic shows have always been more kid-centric.”
“I can do kid magic.” Frankie spoke up.
“Can you?” He shot back.
“Of course I can. I got my start as a kid, after all. I know the rings and the scarves and the cup and ball routine. Why don’t you let me prove it?” She leaned forward. “If you think the kids will be missing the magic show because you’ve made it the ten o’clock show, let me go to the kids’ clubs.”
“What happens when they want to come to your show that evening?” He raised his eyebrows.
She shrugged. “I’m not ashamed of my show. You’re the one who decided it needed a parental guidance rating.”
“I—” He hesitated. It sounded silly now. He hadn’t even seen the whole show, after all.
Alex looked amused. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, you slap a parental warning on a show, the kids immediately want to get in even more. What’s wrong with the show?”
“It’s…” He couldn’t complete the sentence satisfactorily in spite of the polite silence that stretched uncomfortably.
Frankie appeared to take pity on him. “In his defense, it is a little edgy. And some of the effects might be a bit scary. Tense.”
“Has nothing to do with what you look like, then?” Connor’s voice had taken on an edge of its own now. He leaned forward, his eyes on Galen’s. “Because that wouldn’t exactly be the best standard to base a decision on, would it?”
Carole put a hand over her fiancé’s and he glanced at her, then returned to his original position. She gave Galen a curiously sympathetic look. “Not everyone judges women based on how they look.”
Feeling strangely as if he’d been given a rare compliment he didn’t really deserve, Galen cleared his throat. “At any rate, I did make the decision that Frankie’s show would do best in the ten o’clock slot. But if she’s popular enough, she’ll get an encore show as well.”
“And now I can do the kids’ shows, too.” She smiled happily.
“I didn’t agree to that.”
“I believe you did.” She looked around the table and the others nodded agreement.
He groaned. “Fine. But I need to see what you’re hoping to perform first.” His phone dinged and he realized he must have been there for more than an hour. The first day at sea had a lot of programs to run, and though they mostly ran themselves, he needed to make the rounds. He rose. “Sorry. Duty calls.”
I saw seagulls this morning. Though I live near the coast, I don’t see them often here. I’ve been longing to go to the beach, but it hasn’t happened in quite some time. These gulls reminded of one of the things I love about the beach. The freedom. I actually had my camera, but was so spellbound by their flight, I didn’t take any pictures. I’ll be sure and do that when I go to the beach for a week or two this summer.
Seriously, I’m kind of happy to be done with the poem-a-day challenge. Writing poetry—everyday, anyway—gives you a new respect for Emily Dickinson. Not appreciation. Respect. There is a difference! I’ve always appreciated Dickinson, but the volume of poetry she wrote is something I now respect. It’s hard to write a poem every day.
But on to other things. It’s May Day! Let’s celebrate spring in spite of quarantine. What better way than by anticipating my upcoming new book? This is my new romance novel that takes place, of all places, on a cruise ship. Lol, right? If you can stop laughing long enough, though, take into account that I began writing this novel three years ago after I went on a cruise to Alaska. It was an amazing, truly magical experience, and to me, there is nothing so romantic as the sea. So, if you can clear the tears of laughter from your eyes, here’s the cover and a brief excerpt.
“Do you want me to leave?” He turned his hand over in hers so he could curl his fingers around hers.
“I think it would be best. Yes.”
“I will then.” He dropped his hand from hers, but then he leaned forward and kissed her, very quickly and softly, on the lips. “I’ve got plenty to do and you don’t need me here. I won’t see you again before your show tonight, though, so I want you to think about one thing for me.”
She wasn’t sure she could think about anything else but how his lips felt on hers and how much she wanted to repeat that experience. “What?”
“Have you ever once worried about what would happen if this thing doesn’t work out? Or have you just wondered what will happen if it does?”
His words gave her a jolt as she recognized the truth in them. She hadn’t thought about what it would be like to be stuck working on a ship with a man she’d attempted to date, perhaps to see him start another relationship with someone else. Not even once had that occurred to her. Why wasn’t she worried about that?
Because it won’t happen. I feel it. If we let this thing get started between us, it’s not going to stop. And maybe that’s what I’m scared of.
He stepped away from her, his eyes still locked on hers. He nodded. “Neither have I.”
From Magic at Sea by Michelle Garren Flye
So go celebrate May Day with cake, dancing (even if it’s solitary, dance anyway) and singing. If you have a May Pole, decorate it. Smell some flowers. Enjoy life a little. We all deserve it.