Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Report: Past and Present

This will be my “chicken with its head cut off” day of travel preparation. Actually, though, I’m mostly ready. This is more my day to clean my house so if I die in a plane crash, I won’t be embarrassed in the afterlife by people seeing it when they come to clean it out. Also, it’s nice after spending several days in pristine hotel conditions to come home to a reasonably clean house. I like not cringing upon opening the front door.

Otherwise, I have the laundry done, my wardrobe planned, I’m mostly packed, I have my presentations ready, I’ve made sure all the relevant accounts are logged in on my travel devices, and my lists for everything else I need to do and pack are made. The goal is to have all the heavy lifting done by mid-afternoon so I can rest and relax this evening, and in the morning I can get up, eat breakfast, get dressed, throw the last-minute things into the bag, and head for the bus stop.

I’m hoping to do a lot of reading on this trip, with a backlog of books on my Kindle app. I’m annoyingly between books now because I just finished a big one and I don’t want to start a new one that I won’t be taking with me (between all the stuff on the tablet and the giant bag-o-books I’ll be getting at the conference, there’s no reason to bring a paper book with me). This might be a good time to read short stories.

The big book I just finished was The Shadow Land, the latest by Elizabeth Kostova. Like her earlier books, there’s a present storyline and a past storyline. In the present, a young American coming to Bulgaria to teach English helps a family get into a cab outside a hotel, only to discover once she’s in her own cab that one of their bags got mixed up with hers, and that bag contains a crematory urn. With the help of her cab driver, she sets out to track down and find this family so she can return it. This quest turns out to be more complicated than she expected, and it reveals some secrets that go back to the early days of Bulgaria’s Soviet occupation — secrets that someone is willing to kill to keep hidden. Meanwhile, we get the parallel story of what happened during that time.

I’m a total sucker for flashbacks woven into a story, with activities in the present uncovering events in the past, and this is a particularly interesting and painful chapter of history. The characters come to vivid life, and the descriptions of the places they visit make me want to visit Bulgaria. However, I don’t think this one lives up to the promise of her first book, The Historian, but that may just be because I keep expecting that book’s magical realism/fantasy elements. There’s one little possible bit of “woo-woo,” but otherwise it’s a straightforward novel. It might be different if you come to this book without that expectation or if you were someone who didn’t read The Historian as fantasy.

One of the story ideas I’m hoping to play with this summer is a past/present book, and I imagine it’s a lot harder to pull off than it would seem from reading it.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Rewriting History

It’s off to the Nebula conference week, and I have a hefty to-do list. I was supposed to do more of it over the weekend, but I got wild and crazy and decided to have a weekend. Plus, there was this knitting problem I had to fix. But now I have a ton to get done in the next couple of days. Eeep!

Anyway, since I posted about the cancellation of Timeless on Friday, the network changed its mind and there will be a season two. It will be a shorter season and will likely run during the summer. Not this summer, but the next one. They had fun with the way they announced this, framing it like the Time Team had gone back in time to change the network’s mind and rewrite history. There was even a video one of the cast members did in character, in which he acted like they’d just come back from the mission and were reporting their success. There’s been some talk about treating this like a family show (with somewhat educational content). They put the first season on in the late slot, but it’s pretty squeaky clean and involves the characters meeting with interesting historical figures. It’s perfect for an early evening, watch with the whole family thing (Mark Hamill even mentioned that his family has been watching it together in an interview that was in Parade this weekend).

Meanwhile, the season finale of Once Upon a Time falls into the “don’t get me started” category because they set up some potentially cool stuff, and then didn’t use any of it. Red herrings are one thing, but devoting most of an hour to characters going after a goal and then that goal not actually meaning anything is another thing entirely. I think the main problem with these writers is that the only story element they really value is surprise. If you see something coming enough to anticipate it, they think they can’t do that thing because it has to be a surprise. So they go off in another direction with no setup, but then they don’t even come up with a good reason behind what they did set up. And I spend a lot of time yelling at the TV and stress knitting. But I learn a lot about how not to write.

And now I have a busy day of doing laundry, going to the library, writing a presentation, and cleaning house ahead of me.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Network Reading Conspiracy

The network renewals and cancellations are starting to come out, and it looks like the networks want me to have more time to read and write.

I wasn’t so sad about Emerald City being canceled. I liked the concept, and it had beautiful imagery, but by the end of the first/only season, I pretty much loathed most of the characters, had no clue what was going on (in spite of having watched it all), and kind of wanted everyone but the dog to die. The dog could come live with me. Everyone else, I was ready to see go. But I have to admit, that if it had been picked up for another season, I was curious as to where they’d go with it.

But they also killed Timeless, which was my favorite new series last year. It was fun and a bit silly, and I loved all the characters. Even the villain had his sympathetic moments because he wasn’t entirely wrong. He was just going about the entirely wrong way of dealing with things. There were time travel twists and turns and great costumes. So, of course, it had to go because we aren’t allowed to have nice things and probably the world needs more reality shows.

I have very mixed feelings about Once Upon a Time getting renewed. This show seldom lives up to its potential, and the writing in the past two seasons has been utterly terrible. Like, it comes across like an ugly first draft when you’re just throwing out ideas without giving them any thought or looking back at what you’ve already written for continuity purposes. The characters aren’t allowed to act like any actual people, plot threads are set up but not really resolved or resolved with a handwave, and resolutions come out of nowhere. Right now, they’re setting up for what’s supposed to be the Final Battle between good and evil, but the “evil” side is a character we only just met, and there’s absolutely no motivation for this battle to take place, other than Because Evil. ARRGGGGGHHHH.

The musical episode was cute, with good music and mostly excellent performances, but the writing for it made absolutely no sense. I liked the framework of why these characters were suddenly singing, but most of the musical scenes didn’t actually fit the framework, and I wanted to bang my head against the wall because it was yet another wasted opportunity, given the talent they were working with.

And then the actress playing the main character announced she was leaving after this season. She got her happy ending with a big wedding (with an inexplicable musical number — fortunately, she married a tenor who could pick up a song and go along with it when she started singing during the ceremony for NO REASON WHATSOEVER!), although there’s still the finale with the Final Battle to go, which seemed like a natural ending point, and I was okay with the series being canceled. But now it’s renewed with a drastically reduced cast, but that cast includes a character  who just got married whose wife won’t be on the show anymore. I’m worried we’ve got an Aliens thing going on here, where we spent all this time leading up to an outcome that’s now going to be undone between seasons.

Really, my issue with this show isn’t just the terrible writing. It’s that they keep talking about it being about hope, while it’s actually a non-ending black cloud of doom and gloom. In the past few seasons, our heroine spent a story arc knowing that the villain was trying to turn her dark, then got turned into the Dark One when she took on the free-floating Darkness to save everyone else, then spent half a season being psychologically tortured by having this darkness within her, then her boyfriend got mortally wounded and she used her power to try to save him, turning him into a Dark One, and when he was able to fight that off, she still had to kill him to try to end the Darkness for good, only it didn’t because it got hijacked, so she then spent half a season in the Underworld trying to save her boyfriend, only to fail, and then when he managed to get a second chance at life and they were going to get to be together, she got a prophecy that she was doomed to die. But the writers talk non-stop about how this is a show about hope. I can see why the actress wanted out. She must want to slit her wrists after spending the last few years that way.

So, whether or not I come back with the show will depend on what the concept for the reboot will be. I like one of the confirmed returning characters, loathe the other two. I don’t know who else will be involved.

Otherwise, I’m mostly down to PBS and limited-run series (the half-season series, like The Magicians, Game of Thrones, etc.). I have to say, it’s kind of liberating. I am reading a lot more, which is good for me.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Library Love

I am now totally done with children’s choir for the year! We had our last performance last night. The performance was fine, but in our last run-through before it I think some of the kids were trying to make sure I didn’t miss them too much, and it wasn’t the usual suspects. But then there were a couple who sat next to me during the pizza party afterward, one who seemed to be trying to stick as close as possible after he learned that I won’t be his teacher next year. I won’t get to notice or enjoy the break for a couple of weeks because I’ll be traveling next Wednesday.

I’m still on the fence about how my “do everything but write” Wednesdays are going and whether I need to stick to that. I’m way ahead on how much time I’m spending writing, though that may be more due to consistency than to this way of working. I want to work on the things I’m working on, so there’s less slacking off. I think in some sense, having to make up for taking a day away forces me to feel like I should be more productive on the days I am working. On the other hand, I do feel like I’m getting more non-writing things done by devoting a day to it. I got my taxes done early this year with minimal stress, I’ve managed to do some promotion-related things I’ve been procrastinating for a long time, and my housework is somewhat improved (at times — after a busy weekend and a trip out of town, things are a bit scattered right now). I’ll have to think about how I’ll want to handle it this summer when I don’t have choir on Wednesdays.

In other news, Rebel Mechanics keeps getting the school and library love. It was great when it got named to the Texas Lone Star List, but I suspected that had a lot to do with the fact that I go to church with one of the committee members. Now, though, the book is on Oregon’s Battle of the Books reading list, and I don’t think I have any connections there. Apparently, they do a kind of quiz bowl thing about books, where schools form teams and compete against other schools in contests based on a list of books. So, every middle schooler in Oregon who participates in this contest will have to read my book. I really do have to be grateful to librarians for discovering and loving this book. They’ve done a lot more to promote it than the publisher did.

And now I guess I need to get this new book ready to maybe find a new publisher so I can capitalize on all this recognition. Surely some other YA publisher will see this attention and want to get in on it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Goodbye to the Kids

A week from today I’ll be off to Pittsburgh for the Nebula weekend with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This is more of a professional development/networking conference than a fan convention, but there will be a booksigning that’s open to the public during the event. The signing will be at 8 p.m. on May 19 at the Marriott City Center. Here are the details if you’re in the area and interested.

I did my pre-travel errands today, picking up stuff for the trip and my preparations for the return. I make sure I have a frozen dinner of some sort in the freezer when I’m coming home from a trip so that I can just zap something for dinner instead of having to cook or leave the house again for takeout. I’ll be getting home at dinnertime for this trip, so that’s even more important. Even a frozen pizza would have taken more prep time than I’d have liked.

I tried looking for clothes, at least one new top to wear for this trip, but I had no luck. Usually I find one or two cute things at TJ Maxx, but either ours has gone way downhill, I caught it on a bad day, or the current styles aren’t working for me because there wasn’t a thing that even slightly tempted me. I guess I’ll just stick with what I already have and figure that most of these people won’t have seen the usual suspects.

Tonight is my last activity with this year’s children’s choir. They were very cute if a bit unmanageable when they sang in church on Sunday. Now we’re doing it again for a “sharing program” for family. I just have to run through their song with them and direct them, and then when they go back to their parents I’m done with this group. I’ll have the whole summer off before it starts again in the fall. I will have to restrain my joy when I say my farewells. Actually, even the challenging ones are sweet kids that I’m sure I’ll enjoy even more when I get to see them in passing without having to be responsible for them. I suggested that with these kids, a bottle of wine, vodka, or tequila would be appropriate teacher gifts. I think they thought I was joking. Except when I needed that was while I was working with them, not afterward. Chocolate is also acceptable.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Published "Fan Fiction"

I noticed that my reading in the last couple of weeks had a theme: it’s essentially published fan fiction — stories based on other works. Otherwise, it was two very different books.

The first was A Little in Love by Susan E. Fletcher. This book is basically Les Miserables from Eponine’s point of view. It seems to stick pretty closely to canon, just fleshing out the offstage parts about Eponine’s life. As she lies dying by the barricade, her life flashes before her eyes, and she remembers her childhood when her family took in Cosette, the ups and downs of her family’s fortunes, their move to Paris, meeting Marius, learning that he loved someone else, and then choosing to be at his side anyway during the revolution. It’s an interesting perspective on the familiar story that will probably appeal to all the drama nerd girls to whom “On My Own” is a personal anthem, but I think I was hoping for something more.

Then I continued in Star Wars mode with a tie-in novel I found at the library, The Cestus Deception by Steven Barnes. It’s set during the Clone Wars and centers on a mission led by Obi-Wan Kenobi to uncover how someone is managing to make robots with Jedi-like abilities and try to stop that without destroying a world’s economy and driving that world even further into the arms of the Separatists. Barnes is a noted science fiction author, so this reads more like a science fiction novel than like a Star Wars book. There’s a lot of worldbuilding to explain the culture of this world and its dominant race. Although Obi-Wan is a central character, the protagonist is really one of the clone troopers, and that’s where this book gets really interesting. Barnes creates a culture around the clones, figuring out what kind of social structure and philosophy they might have. When you think about it, it’s kind of a bunch of identical twin brothers fighting together, and that’s the way they come to see themselves, even though they’re also aware that they’re considered to be more or less cannon fodder. There’s some really good stuff in there that I wish had made it into the prequels. The Clone Wars were mostly a letdown in the films (I haven’t watched the cartoon series), and this explores the ethical issues of a clone army, as well as getting into the psychology of the clones themselves. Things get really complicated for our central clone when he meets a woman who was once in love with Jango Fett and who can’t help but have feelings for his clone.

I’d say if you’re reading to get more insight into that era of the Star Wars universe and Obi-Wan, you might be disappointed, but if you like a good space opera with interesting characters, alien races, and cultures, this would be a fun book even if you’re not a Star Wars fan. I’ve found myself actually a bit haunted by the clones’ situation.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Desperately Wanting to Write

I made it through my crazy weekend, and I’m now in my usual post-convention “I never want to be around people ever again” mode, except that a week from Wednesday I’ll be heading to the Nebula Awards conference. That one’s more of a writing conference than a fan conference, so it won’t be quite as draining, but I suspect that after that one I’ll be really glad to not have any more conferences or conventions until September. I’m looking forward to some in-depth writing time. And reading time. My next mostly unscheduled weekend is Memorial Day weekend, and I’m already thinking of how I’m going to spend my cave time.

I was thinking that it would be nice to have this book done by then, but then I looked at the calendar, and I guess not. Time is moving very quickly. I had a list of things I wanted to have done by June 1, and they don’t seem to be happening. On the other hand, I’ve spent more time writing this year than I had by late July of last year, and in that time I completed most of a book and revised it and wrote an entire first draft of another book. That’s basically two books in less than six months, which is nothing to sneeze at. Maybe I shouldn’t be so critical of myself.

But I really do want to get these projects done because I have so many other things I desperately want to write.

In fact, even though I’m in recovery mode from a convention, what I really want to do is work (possibly because it’s either that or housework). It’s going to be a patio writing day.