Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lessons from Britain

Our home here in Santa Fe is still under renovation, but we've turned one major corner. People who come by to work or drop things off no longer survey the scene and wonder what kind of crazy people would live in our place. We now get constant compliments calling our place "really nice" and "wonderful." One of the things I love about it is how small it is, and I know I didn't get my preference for small spaces from growing up in New Mexico. The American west, when I was a kid, was all about big houses with giant great rooms. Because land was relatively cheap, people would take advantage of the space they could have.

No, my preference for small, cozy spaces definitely comes from my time in Britain. I first lived over there when I was seventeen, attending the United World College of the Atlantic in south Wales. That was the first time I'd ever seen drizzle that didn't let up for weeks. Her in New Mexico, rain visits for a few hours and then is gone, and drizzle is rare. We tend to get pounded with big droplets that saturate everything before the sun comes out to bake it all dry again.

A lot of people find the weather in the UK oppressive, and I did too for a long time. It's difficult to go from a place where you can see mountains 40 miles away out your window to a place where visibility of one mile is extraordinary. It's possible in a situation like that to feel claustrophobic even when hiking outdoors. I wasn't used to dryness being a luxury, but in a climate where your laundry will get wet again between the laundry room and the dorm, and then stay wet because there's nothing like a dryer in the dorm, mold and rot become all too constant companions.

I have good memories from this time too, though. I remember lying in my cot as a second year, when I got to sleep right by the window with my bed up against the radiator. I'd fall asleep to the sound of raindrops hitting the glass, but be secure in my little cocoon of warmth.

When I moved on to Oxford, even though I had my own room, it was a small room and as this was the time when I was battling a yet-undiagnosed sleep disorder, it paid to have a small area to take care of. I soon figured out how much work it took to keep a living space in order. My energy levels were so low, that there were points in my life when I wouldn't even bother to fold the sun-shade in my car because I didn't have the energy. People laughed, but I was quite serious. I shouldn't have been driving either, but at the time I had no diagnosis or test results to show what on earth was going on. It was in the UK that I saw people living in little cottages and cozy spaces. Few could afford the square footage that a western American family was accustomed to, but they were no poorer for all that. Even now, when house hunting, just stepping into a large house made me feel tired. I imagined all the hours it'd take to clean and want to get out immediately.

This last time I lived in the UK, when my husband did his PhD in London, we moved into a space so small that even my British friends thought it was extreme. While it certainly had its downsides, it always felt manageable. My sleep disorder has long since been treated, but we did have a baby in the UK who screamed a lot. A rough night with him meant only getting sleep in 20 minute increments. All during this time, I felt too exhausted to keep the place in perfect order, but I never felt completely overwhelmed by the housework.

Besides that, it was wonderful to be in a small space with my children, because even when I sat at my computer and worked, I got a lot of interaction with them. I knew what they were doing and heard what they said and they needed only to call out to get my full attention. On a visit back to the US, where I stayed with relatives who had typical, American-sized homes, I found it almost impossible to multi-task. I either followed my boys around, or got work done. There was no doing both. Some people value having the space where they can shut the rest of life out for a while. I don't. I like to be in the thick of life and living whenever I'm at home. I like having my boys able to explore and play on their own without ever being entirely on their own. This way I can helicopter, without butting in unless their play gets dangerous.

When we came back to the US, for a year we rented a small home in Los Alamos that was still too big, and was laid out to provide separation and privacy. My children could easily get out of sight and out of earshot, so when we went looking for a home to buy, I told the realtor to show us small places. Our current home was one of the first candidates. It took me all of five minutes to tour and I told her that this was the sort of thing we were looking for. To her credit, she took me at my word.

The more I live here, the more I love it. It's not cramped or confining. It's got all the types of space we need, and only as much as we need. People see that I have two sons and a husband over six feet tall and wonder how it is I could commit to a place that will soon be packed to the gills with people and life, and there may come a time when we upsize, but it's not part of my firm future plans. I'm curious to see of my boys really do outgrow the space, or whether we ever feel like we need more "stuff" and places to put it. For now, though, we're quite happy as we are.

(I know, the title and the timing made it look like I'd talk about Scotland. The truth is, I've been to Scotland all of twice in my adult life. I lived in the UK long enough to appreciate what I don't know, and my degree in politics from a British university only confirms that. The Union was and is a matter for the people who belong to it. I was only ever a visitor.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Plotbreak

Today I met with my writer's group, Critical Mass, fed them lunch at a Peruvian restaurant, and then sat down to break a plot to a new fantasy series. That's the news I alluded to at the end of my post. I'm going to write a fantasy serial back under my original name, Emily Mah, and I'm excited to get started.

First, though, I need to finish the third novel in the Fairytale series, so that's what I'm working on now.

But then it's on to a serial! I'm not approaching this as a serial, though. Today in the plotbreak we sketched out plots for twelve episodes, which will then translate into three four act novels. It's a trilogy, basically, that will be published one act at a time. I'll do paperback versions of the three novels. Hence this won't be an unending, episodic story. There will be a master plot arc and a big finale that ends the story for good once the last episode is out.

Right now I won't share too much, other than that it'll use elements of my Disciple universe (that was a story I had published in The Black Gate). I also look forward to having shorter deadlines for each 20,000-30,000 word installment rather than one whole novel to get done at once.

I will indie publish this one. Even if it doesn't particularly help Emily Mah, it won't hurt her much either. Publishing has evolved quite a bit since the first indie authors stepped out. Books that fail in the market tend to just disappear, rather than hang around and taint the reputation :-)

The covers will be done by the talented cover designer, Rebecca Berto of Berto Designs, and there will be the usual touches to the interior design too that I put in all my books.

This also means, though, that the price of my novels will be going up soon. So if you're on the fence about getting any of my EM Tippetts novels, get them sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, I've still got to think up a name for my fantasy series. I plan to have a lot of fun writing it, and hope it's a fun read too.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Homeless

For the next week, we'll continue to be "homeless". We have a home, and new one in Santa Fe, but we are renovating it and hence are moving around, from my parents' house to a hotel and so forth. We love our new home, but to live there right now would be difficult because it has no kitchen.

Obviously, I can't give too many details about our new home (one of the few writers I know who had a stalker was less famous than I - which is to say, not famous at all), but I love the place we found. Santa Fe has always been one of my favorite places in the world. I grew up just north of it in Los Alamos (something I can now talk about since I don't live there anymore - it's a small town, so talking about it while I was there would have been almost like giving out my home address).

People who know me know I'm a northern New Mexican through and through, even though I've only lived here since I was one. (If you think that's long enough to be a native of the place, you likely aren't New Mexican.) I used to joke with my law clients about how far my heritage doesn't go back in this state, as quite a few of them were Hispanic (yes, that is the term used here, locally, so please no Latino/Chicanos pouncing on me for using it), or Native American.

Once our renovations are done, I'll be posting some before/after pictures of the interior of our new place. It's an old, historic adobe that was somewhat run down when we bought it. We're gutting much of it and redoing the interior. It's a small place - by American standards, I guess. Less than 1,000 square feet, though we might add on a second bathroom and office for me, which would put us just over 1,000. (This is how we're able to afford the renovations - this house was well within our budget to purchase.) People may think we're nuts for cramming a family of four into this space, especially with two boys who are likely to grow up very big and tall, but we'll see how it goes.

Most of all, I'm grateful to raise my kids in the culture (or cultures, more precisely) that I grew up in. If I could pick anywhere in the world for them to call home, it would be Santa Fe.

Also, I'm about to embark on writing and publishing some fantasy and science fiction works, but more on that later!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Guilty Pleasures: Married at First Sight

I don't work every waking hour, just most of them. I have time to watch about one to two hours of television a week, and for the next several weeks, one of the hours will be this reality TV show, Married at First Sight, on FYI. People who know me know that I hate reality TV. I watched The Bachelor one season when a whole bunch of friends were watching it as a group - and even then didn't watch all the episodes, and I watched Survivor when a family friend was on it. As soon as he got voted off, I quit watching. This kind of stuff doesn't hold my interest.

So why am I watching a show with the premise of marrying complete strangers and having them live together for five weeks before deciding if they want to stay married or get divorced? Well, I'm hoping this is a different kind of reality TV. Specifically, I hope this is using the reality format to do something groundbreaking. Here are my thoughts so far:

- The "object" of this show is for everybody to win, and that's a new one for reality TV as far as I know. Four experts (that's what they're referred to as in the show, hence I'll just use that same term) in four areas of specialty went through all the candidates for the show and paired off three couples. At this point in the broadcast schedule, those couples have met, gotten married, and had their receptions. If the show creators wanted to set up a train wreck, then they have very poor memories. Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, with its ridiculous sham marriage and subsequent blow-up did not make for good television and did not earn itself a second season, so if all Married... does is create a disastrous situation, then the network execs should know enough from reality TV history to know that this is going to be a big hurdle for the newly revamped FYI network to clear. Also, this show is based on a show of the same format and premise that aired in Denmark, and two of the three couples did elect to stay married.

- Arranged marriage doesn't squick me the same way it may squick other people. I'm not sure why. Because I went to an international school and saw a plethora of cultures? Because I'm well aware of the fact that I, and anyone else on this planet, is the product of thousands of arranged marriages down through the ages? Because I agree with the assertion at the beginning of this show that love-match marriages are relatively new, from a historical perspective, and divorce rates have increased since they became commonplace? Now, that isn't to say that love-match marriages are the cause of divorces. Despite statistics that show that arranged marriages have only a 4% divorce rate on average around the world, that does not convey the complete picture. Cultures that still practice arranged marriage tend to be more conservative and more condemning of divorce. In some countries, divorce is very difficult if not almost impossible to obtain. Also, the purpose of marriage in these cultures is often quite different and the individuals have had their expectations of marriage cultivated accordingly over the course of their lives.

- If this idea works, the fact that it was implemented in reality TV will make all the difference. A sitcom or a prime time drama about couples who are put into arranged marriages obviously would not be comparable. Any writer can put together a fictional storyline where it all works out or doesn't. The point of this experiment is to see if it works on real people.

What I'm curious to learn:

- Whether arranged marriage could ever work in modern American culture - where people are raised with the expectation that they choose their own spouse, and where property, social status, and other traditional concerns tied to marriage have been largely left by the wayside. These people in the experiment didn't grow up thinking they would marry complete strangers, so without that lifetime of cultivated expectation, can they switch gears and do this?

My predictions, FWIW:

- Jamie and Doug make it and stay married. Okay, so spoiler alert for anyone who wants to click over and watch the first episodes on FYI. Jamie is not exactly happy on her wedding day. She's horrified because she isn't attracted to her spouse. Why do I think they'll make it? Because all the footage has already been shot. The experiment is over. Hence I assume the show is edited to create compelling narratives (reality TV isn't scripted in the traditional sense, but there's still room for plenty of spin.) The experts say up front that they expect Jamie will not be attracted to Doug. When this proves true, the sociologist says a short piece on how our society believes that attraction needs to be there at first sight or it will never grow, and that she thinks this attitude eliminates opportunities in love unnecessarily.

The weddings were *obviously* edited - Jason and Cortney's vows are backwards, if you pay attention. In the show he makes his second. In the actual ceremony he would have made his first. They switched them around for dramatic timing purposes. For Jamie and Doug, we're shown only awkward moments. Her hesitating at the altar. Him telling her he lives with his parents. Her asking the wedding photographer to not require them to be touchy-feely, etc. One of the only positive moments is when Jamie's nephew goes up to greet "Uncle Doug", which fits into the storyline of a nice guy with a strong sense of family and loyalty winning the heart of a woman who has limited experience on the receiving end of either. If Jamie and Doug made it to a happy marriage, then the show creators/editors/etc. are being clever. The premise has been set down: You can fall in love with someone you wouldn't have looked twice at when you first met. This also emphasizes the point of this show: that we don't always pick the best partners for ourselves. So can strangers with areas of expertise in sociology, sexuality, etc. do better than you would do on your own? My prediction is that they'll sure make it look like they can with the editing of this couple's storyline.

- If anyone doesn't make it, I'd say Vaughn and Monet, not because there's anything wrong with these two, but because they're both presented as very independent, self directed people, and that can be an extra challenge in any relationship. I'd think an arranged marriage might amplify that because they go straight from having their own structured life into having to compromise at every turn. Again, I'm not saying that's how these two people actually are - I've seen 120 minutes of footage of them, so I don't know them. That is how they are presented, though, so it seems plausible to me that this could be the narrative.
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Anyhow, it's been a while since I've blogged, so while figuring out what to blog, I decided to share my interest in this show. I think most reality television is pretty dumb, especially the romantic reality shows. The Bachelor/Bachelorette is, in my opinion, a thoroughly stupid premise. Courtship where a bunch of prospective mates are in direct competition with each other and the one doing the choosing has everyone competing for them, plus the opulent locations and excursions thrown in on the show, make it un-ideal to create lasting romance - to put it mildly. The fact that anyone off this show has gotten married is a testament to human ingenuity and resilience. It looks like the worst possible way to start a relationship. And I'm not a huge fan of watching train wrecks for the sake of entertainment. If a show is supposed to be "reality" then why would I want to watch people "really" get scared, hurt, humiliated, voted off the island, put into orchestrated opposition with one another, etc.? If I take the attitude that the show is mostly fiction - I'd rather watch something that was scripted.

Married at First Sight has six adults who agreed to the premise, willing to give this a try, and we are all invited to cheer them on, learn to care about them, and maybe even gain some insights into how marriages do and don't work. I'm very curious to see how this turns out. (And if it's a train wreck, I will be sorely disappointed.)