I blame 2020. So in a way, I guess I should thank 2020 for being such a miserable year it froze my creative juices in my veins so that the only way I could continue writing at all was to take up a study of haiku and try to figure out why some 5-7-5 poems are better than others.
Until Boku No Hero Academia, that is.
My daughter introduced me to it. More to the point, I found out she’d been watching anime and reacted like any sensible parent would and demanded she watch it with me. I have a bit of a prejudice against anime and manga due to the way it portrays women. I found some of that in BNHA (a.k.a., My Hero Academia, based on the manga by Kohei Horikoshi), but nothing I felt would scar my beautiful, confident, intelligent daughter.
I did think the anime could use a stronger female character or two, preferably on the hero and not the villain side.
I was pretty sure I could create one.
In mid-July I did exactly that. And then I started writing her story. Then I posted it on a fanfiction site. It’s now up to 22 chapters (I’ve been posting one a day, serial-like), has almost 700 hits, 22 kudos, six subscribers, and one reader who comments every single day. I’m kind of proud of that. It might be the most successful thing I’ve ever written.
After I wrote about ten chapters of it, I came clean with my daughter. She was shocked and, I think, happy. She asked if she could read it. I gave her the link because I’ve rated it “Teen and Up” on the site, and I know it’s okay for her.
She said it was really good.
I asked if it was weird that I wrote it.
She pointed out that most fanfiction is written by kids, so my readers are probably kids and probably think I am, too.
That is a little weird.
And still, I know I’m going to finish this story because I can’t not. It’s been pure fun to write. I love the universe, the characters (Kohei Horikoshi’s and mine), and how it’s brought me back to reading the comic books I borrowed from my older brother’s room when I was a kid. He always had the best ones. Richie Rich, Spider-Man, The Micronauts (remember Baron Karza, anyone?), and so many others. I loved those comics.
And I’m not going to apologize for writing a fanfiction based on an anime based on a manga. After all, it’s better than sitting frozen in horror watching our world flame out.
And besides, it inspired my beautiful daughter to draw me this:
I am not going to post a link to my fanfiction because I don’t want to lead any children to my romances. If any of you do find this, my romances are not child friendly. I would refer you to my Shelley Gee account for middle grade children’s books. Possibly my semi-YA Weeds and Flowers. But none of these are set in a universe with heroes and villains and would probably be a disappointment. Sorry? On the other hand, if you know me and want to read the fanfiction to see if it’s really all that, let me know.
Today is, in a very real way, a very big day for me. It’s my 25th wedding anniversary and the day I officially release my 18th book.
It’s hard to celebrate right now, as I have good reason to know. My 50th birthday fell right at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. My son and my daughter also have celebrated birthdays. Today I have no actual plans to celebrate. I once envisioned a busy day full of well wishing friends for both my book and my marriage. I mean, not as many people make it to their silver wedding anniversary as used to, right? And quite a few authors never see 18 books with their name on the front.
But celebrating is hard right now. People are still sick, still dying. I’m working hard to make sure I’m not one of them. I have nightmares that my family is. And life goes on.
And still, I am happy to announce the publication of my 18th book, Magic at Sea, the seventh book of my Sleight of Hand series (and still a standalone, so you can read it even if you haven’t kept up with the series!). And I am happier still to be married to the same wonderful man for twenty-five years. Rain or shine, we’ve had them both.
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.”
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.
Yesterday was April 1, 2020, the first time I’ve ever wished someone would declare the whole year thus far as an April Fool’s joke.
It didn’t happen.
But while I was waiting for it to happen, I did get something done. A little something, anyway. I took a picture. You can see it to the left.
Yes, I published a book of poetry. A couple of those poems go back several years to the first year I wrote a poem a day for National Poetry Month. That’s when I first realized I liked writing poetry. And that I was pretty good at it.
I’ve come a little ways since then. I’m more confident about what I can do and why I do it. I’m pretty sure I’ll write poetry for the rest of my life. I guess that’s why I decided to go ahead and publish a small collection publicly. If you know there’s more coming, why not, right?
Speaking of which, there’s never been a better time for whiling away the time writing poetry than now. A bookstore, the most essential place of business in the best of times, isn’t, exactly, right now. So, in the interests of the public health, I’m staying home. And since it’s National Poetry Month, I’m writing a poem a day. Since I missed yesterday, you get two today. Let me know what you think!
April 1, 2020
April Fool’s, I cry, wishing it applied.
If only the past four years could dissipate
And life go on with no reason to hide.
But go back inside and shut the gate;
No use waiting for a change in the tide.
Store’s closed, theater’s shuttered, all gone.
No more help from those in charge
Than that you give yourself alone.
No superheroes will arrive and barge
In to help you, so change your tone.
Would life be better if other decisions were made?
Oh yes, but we can’t live for yesterday when
Worries about tomorrow still pervade.
Close your eyes and count one to ten.
Then go on with life, there are debts to be paid.
April 2, 2020
How long until we trust a hug again?
How long before we open up to life,
And throw our arms around each other?
I’d like to buy the world a coke—
But that’s tough from six feet away.
They say it will happen eventually.
Slowly, we’ll see this thing go away.
Can a hug happen carefully,
Or is it more of a spontaneous thing?
Can we learn to embrace that way?
I guess it will work out for us, though.
When this is over, we’ll be delicate.
It’s better to be careful when you’re hurt.
And oh, we will be tired and we will ache—
When we get there, don’t squeeze too hard.
It’s a good feeling, right? Finishing something. I recently realized my next book is finished. I mean, yeah, it was written a while back, but even the editing stages are finished. It’s as polished as it’s gonna get, I think. Well, maybe one last run through.
I’m not going to tell you anything about this book except that it’ll be book 7 of my Sleight of Hand series. If you haven’t read any of my Sleight of Hand series, never fear. All of them are stand-alone romances with occasional appearances of characters from previous books. It’s like a romance series that focuses on a family or a particular small town, but the community that these books focus on is actually a little more…magical. The characters are not related except by marriage (well, there’s one set of brothers…). As for being set in one small town, nope. Settings range from the coast of North Carolina to Hollywood, Las Vegas and New York.
It’s kind of fun to think that this all began with Close Up Magic in 2013. I’d always been fascinated by stage magic. I often tell the story of five-year-old me being chosen by a magician to be on a “flying carpet”. I was instructed to keep my eyes closed so the magic would work. My mother told me afterward it certainly appeared that I flew. Ever since, I have loved stage magic. I know there’s a trick and I sometimes try to catch the magician at it. But even if I do figure out how a trick is done, it doesn’t spoil the fun for me. Often it just increases my respect for the magician’s performance.
So why am I not announcing more about my next book in this series? I obviously am very excited about it. It’s the best one yet, I know it. I put a lot of thought into this one, which is why it took so long. The answer is simple. I’m planning to roll out the next book on The Next Chapter Books & Art’s social media first. This bookstore has become so much a part of my life, including my writing life, it just makes sense.
So if you want to be one of the first to see the cover (which is bound to be beautiful due to being designed by the fabulous Farah Evers Designs) and read all about my new book, follow The Next Chapter Books & Art on Facebook and Instagram.
In the meantime, I have a couple of other projects in the works. I’d like to put out another booklet of my poetry, rework my backlist now that I’ve discovered Vellum, and Book 8 is calling me already. Not to mention my alter-ego Shelley Gee wants to get to work on Jessica Gravely as soon as possible.
“I guess I should have expected it,” my husband teased when I said I wanted to take over the local bookstore. “I mean, first you’re a published author, then you start self-publishing, and now you want to own a bookstore.”
I laughed. But really, is he totally wrong?
I want to sell my books.
I told a fellow author who stopped by the store to wish me well that the other day. “I want to sell books. My books, your books, whatever.” And it’s true. That’s what I want to do as a bookstore. Highlight and sell local authors’ books. Because there’s a surprising number of us here in my little town who can spin a pretty good yarn.
My friend, who has several books at the store himself, smiled. “True. But you want to sell your books most. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
And he’s right, too. I do want to sell my books. Most. So I’m owning it. It occurred to me when I heard that the bookstore was going to close if someone didn’t take over that my books wouldn’t have a spot on a bookstore shelf anymore. I’d have to go looking for more stores willing to take them on.
As I don’t like beating the pavement, maybe it was just easier to take on a bookstore and learn to be a small business owner and pay bills and create a marketing plan and write press releases and be a grownup?
Maybe there’s something slippery about that slope, but it does seem to be working, and I can’t deny taking over this bookstore has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I look forward to going in to work every day, I work on bookstore ideas at night, the store is my favorite subject—when I started considering setting a picture of the store as my background on my phone, I had to admit, I might be in love.
Everyday it seems a little stronger,
Everyday it lasts a little longer.
Come what may, do you ever long for
True love from me?
—James Taylor, Everyday
So I guess it’s okay if I’ve taken another step along the road of self-publishing. Yeah, I want my books on the shelf, not just here but in bookstores everywhere, but until that happens and as long as the only reason I’m here is not to sell my books only (just most), I’ll do my damnedest to keep this beautiful store open and selling all the books, including mine.