Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mental Images

I am now done with my major pre-trip shopping, aside from the last-minute Target run to stock up on travel necessities. I already have plenty of airplane snacks, including some "fruity oaty bars" from my LA trip, so there shouldn't be much to get there. I might need some new makeup, but that's something it will actually be more convenient for me to buy in New York. I wear Stila, and the only stores around here that carry it are at inconvenient malls. In New York, it's at places near where I'll be going anyway, and I'll be in town a couple of days before the big meeting.

I checked the long-range forecast at the Weather Channel site, and it looks like it's going to be properly seasonal, with highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s, a mix of rain and snow expected. That means it will probably the the kind of snow that's pretty flakes dancing around without it accumulating on the sidewalks. Perfect. Thanks to seeing that forecast, I changed my mind about needing the knee-length, flippy trumpet skirt (though I still desperately want one) and found a lovely pair of black tuxedo-style slacks at the Liz Claiborne warehouse sale in the nearby outlet mall. I also found at the same mall a silk sweater that's almost exactly the same color and that has almost the same neckline as the tank top I had originally designed into my planned outfit. So, for less than the cost of one Ann Taylor Loft skirt, I managed to get a pair of slacks and three sweaters. So there, Ann. PPbbbttthtthhh. (Yeah, I know, real mature of me. But shopping gloating is fun.) I'm still considering the idea of a sewing machine and a new hobby. I'm good at the hand stitching and detail work that are generally what sets apart "home made" from "hand made couture." A few skirts and a dress would probably pay off the investment. But after I finish this book.

Speaking of which ... the weird thing about writing is that there are generally two versions of your story. There's the one playing out in your head, and there's the one that appears in written form. The written version often feels like a pale imitation of the mental version. Sometimes it's impossible to capture the essence of all that's in your head and translate it into words. What I'm finding this time is that what I write down is turning out very different from what I imagined. There's something about giving it form, structure and shape that fundamentally changes it from the series of mental images. Take that character I was talking about yesterday. When I actually started writing her, she was very different from what I imagined. It's kind of like when you see a movie version of a book, and it's a little disconcerting when the images you see on the screen don't match the mental images you had when reading the book. No matter how perfect the casting is, it's still not exactly what you pictured. I'm not sure yet if these differences are good or bad. I'm not even entirely sure where I'm going with this person now. Guess I'd better figure that out, huh?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Shanna vs. Ann, Round Two

The shopping frustration continues. I'm looking for a couple of pieces to go with a jacket I already have for my meeting with my publisher in New York next week. I have a few skirts that would work, though they're not exactly what I want. But I need a sweater to finish out the outfit because I suspect the tank top with the right color and neckline I already own will be a little light for the climate (and for the indoor climate -- buildings are so overheated in New York that I'll probably have to take my suit jacket off at some point, and then I'd need something more than a tank top on underneath it). I'm looking for a cranberry or wine/plum colored sweater with a scoop or v-neck, designed to fit fairly close to the body. The neckline is important because I have a particular piece of jewelry I want to wear. The jewelry also means I don't want any kind of embellishment, sequins, beading or even fancy cable knitting.

Should that be so hard? I went to five stores yesterday, looking for a suitable sweater and maybe the right kind of skirt. I did find something that would be perfect, at Target, of all places, but while they had stacks of XL sweaters, they had nothing in any other size. The only other thing I found had too much wool in it, so it had me itching just trying it on. I found no skirts in my size. Period. Not just skirts I might like. No skirts at all. (Though I didn't check the sizes on the flounced and tiered velvet and lace skirts. So very not my style.)

Meanwhile, I finally heard back from Ann Taylor Loft. They wanted to know the location of the stores I'd visited where I couldn't find anything in my size. Before I responded, I spent a little time playing with their style finder feature on their web site, looking up random skirts, including those featured in the holiday collection mailer I received yesterday. I looked up at least eight different styles. I found a grand total of one skirt in my size in the entire metropolitan area. The nearest other skirt in my size was more than 200 miles away. The rest were in places like Memphis.

I don't care what size you're talking about, how can you expect to make any money as a clothing retailer with one item in a particular size within a 200-mile radius? And if you had more than that initially but they're all gone except for one item, maybe that could be a sign THAT YOU NEED TO STOCK MORE. Ahem.

Then I looked up items for a Manhattan zip code, just to see what might be waiting for me when I'm there. The results were similarly depressing. Maybe I should just buy a sewing machine. Making my own clothes would probably take less time than having to drive all over creation to find something that fits me.

My wardrobe planning is complicated by the fact that the high temperature for today in New York is higher than the high here. When I think about New York at this time of year, I think about cold, maybe even snow. I've been imagining clothing involving sweaters and hats, possibly boots. Next week may be different, though. I'll have to keep an eye on the forecast. I could do without the snow (I've had my New York blizzard experience, thank you very much), but a little nip in the air wouldn't be bad. I have this hat that I love that I only seem to get to wear when I'm traveling, and I want my chance to wear it this season.

Meanwhile, I'm back sort of on track with the writing. The Internet remains my boon and my bane. It was fabulous being able to quickly find an apt name from Welsh mythology and to get an estimate of the life expectancy of a Labrador retriever. But then there's also that temptation to check e-mail, post to message boards and search clothing web sites by zip code (see above).

Today I get to "meet" a character who's been living off-stage in my head for nearly two years. I have actually written a little of her, in a story I wrote for my own amusement soon after I finished writing Enchanted, Inc. (yes, I was so addicted to my own characters that I caught myself writing fan fiction based on my own work. And no, that one can't be publicly distributed because it gives away some future plot twists. It was something I wrote to work out some ideas and get the perspective of another character.). But this is my first time to officially meet her and see her through my usual narrator's eyes.

But first, I have to do a few errands -- get new contact lenses, go by the dry cleaner, maybe hit one more mall in search of that elusive sweater ...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Holiday Stress

It's not any easier to return to the real world from a long holiday weekend when you work for yourself at home. Now that I'm back home and the leftovers are even almost gone, I'm facing a busy week (make that month) ahead, and now I need to buckle down that much harder.

Next week I'll be in New York to both research the book I'm working on and meet with my editor, agent and in-house marketing/publicity people. That means I need to be far enough along in the book to know what locations I need to research, and I need to have my marketing ideas in place to present. I'll also need my holiday gifts for my editor and the rest of the publishing house staff (I bake cookies for the office in general). I'll mail something to my agent so she doesn't have to transport it (she's not based in New York). I've been trying to come up with a corporate card from Magic, Spells and Illusions, Inc. to use as my holiday card for people who've read at least one of my books, and it would be nice to have pulled that together by then (ha!).

Meanwhile, I've discovered, thanks to the bathroom scale at my parents' house, the fit of clothing not bought recently and the loud complaints of my knees, that I seem to have put on a few pounds. That's a fun way to enter the holiday season. When people ask how I stay relatively slim, I have to say that my main diet secret is having really bad knees. I absolutely can't carry any extra weight without severe pain, and pain is an excellent diet motivator. I guess that means I'm going cold turkey on sweets this week because I can't go to New York with sore knees. That city really isn't handicap friendly, as I learned on my very first visit there a few months after knee surgery.

Even after the New York trip, I'll be busy getting this book finished and ready to go to my agent when she's back in the office after the holidays. I don't know if I'll have quite the same degree of Forced Death March of Fun that I had last year, with an average of three parties per weekend, but my calendar is looking fairly full. I have a party Friday night, then a brunch the next morning. There's another brunch the following Saturday and a party that Sunday evening. I also have a mid-week performance of A Christmas Carol at the Dallas Theater Center, and there are a couple of parties for groups I belong to that haven't been scheduled yet. I don't know when I'm going to do my "office party" where I treat myself. Maybe when I get the first draft of the book done. In a way, I guess my business party will be when I'm in New York. I'm not sure when I'm going to put up my decorations at home. I'll want them to get me in the mood for what I'm writing, but I usually put them up on the 6th of December, and I'll be in New York then. Either I have to put them up ahead of time (and add to my list of to-dos this week) or wait until I get home.

Next year, I think I'm going to try to avoid a situation where I have to do any strenuous work around the holidays. I want to either wrap up anything I'm working on before Thanksgiving or be able to wait to start after the new year.

So now I'd better get started on that to-do list, huh?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Thanksgiving Post

As I sit here in my post-turkey haze, I thought I ought to do some sort of Thanksgiving post. You know, all the stuff I'm grateful for. Let's see ...

I'm grateful we have our whole family together for Thanksgiving for the first time in forever. That's just the immediate family -- Mom, Dad, my brother and me -- because I have no living grandparents to provide a central meeting point, and all my aunts and uncles have their own clans of kids, grandkids and in some cases even great-grandkids. Thanksgiving for us is a low-key, relaxing kind of holiday. Last night, we watched the Firefly marathon on Sci Fi. Today is the Macy's parade, turkey and football.

I'm thankful that I get to make a living doing what I love most. I'm getting to live my dream, which is absolutely incredible. I'm not rich, but I have a lot of freedom, very little stress (unless it's around deadline time) and the most flexible schedule possible for a job.

I'm grateful for the Internet because it has connected me to so many wonderful people. Most of my best friends now were people I first connected with online. Because of friendships started and sustained online, I've been able to do so many interesting things, and I've learned so much. (Mush alert) I love you guys!

I'm thankful for my readers, the people who come here, who write to me or who even just carry a little piece of my characters in their hearts. My characters only really come to life when someone reads about them, and it's so heartwarming and fulfilling to hear about people who enjoyed my book. (Mush alert again) I love you guys, too!

I'm thankful for my family. My parents taught me a love of reading and encouraged me to develop my gift of storytelling. I had an upbringing that exposed me to new places, new people and new ideas. I've always felt safe, secure and loved, and I think that's part of what grounds me to be able to do the kind of work I do.

And I could go on, I'm sure, but I'm afraid it might start to get kind of silly. I had a couple of glasses of wine with lunch, and they're starting to take effect now, so I'd better quit while I can still type coherently.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all! (And happy Thursday to those of you not in the United States. Happy Friday for those Down Under or otherwise in vastly different time zones.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Lara M. Zeises

Before I start frantically getting ready to do the over the river and through the woods thing, I have another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit interview. My guest this time is Lara M. Zeises, author of the young adult novel Anyone But You. It's the story of two teens, Seattle and Critter, during one hot summer in Delaware. Critter has been Sea's best friend and pseudo brother since her father took off six years ago, but things start to change when new people come into their lives, and when Sea's dad returns. The novel takes a fresh, hard look at what it means to be a family – especially when relationships change in surprising and unexpected ways.

What inspired you to write this book?
Well, for one thing, I started writing it during the summer. I hate summer weather - the heat, the humidity - and it was just a miserable summer. I was living in Boston, commuting to a building three miles from my home but, because I was taking public transportation, turned into an hour-long trip each way, and I'd get home at night sticky and tired and disgusted. You can so feel how much I hate the heat, especially in the early chapters.

Describe your creative process.
I'm not a plotter to start out. I always start with a character and then play the What If? game. I do minor tweaks based on feedback from my crit group during the first draft. Then I wait for my editor's feedback, and that's when I dive in hardcore. I will do a bit of plotting on the second draft, and I always do a ton of revision. I think writing is 90% rewriting. I used to hate that part, but I've grown to love it.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
My latest thing is that I write better on my laptop, even if it's plugged in across the room from my home PC. I'm less likely to check e-mail or play games on my laptop. It's like the work computer.

I do maintain iTunes play lists for each book. I use music to help me get into the mood or access a character's feelings.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your main characters?
I always give my characters at least one personal quirk. Bridget, the protag from my first novel, BRINGING UP THE BONES, relates everything to TV (like I do). Lucy, from CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE, has two friends named Kim - the Kims - and I had my own "the Kims" in high school (except they were totally different from my fictional characters). Seattle, from ANYONE BUT YOU, loves to swim like I do, and Critter, also from ANYONE, is a composite of about four different boys who meant something to me at one time or another. But otherwise, they don't call it fiction for nothing!

How do you research teenage life in order to write about the lives of teenagers? Or do you just draw upon your own memories?
My memories, what I read in teen magazines or see on TV or in movies, eavesdropping on the college freshmen I teach at UD, etc. People make it seem like teenagers are these alien creatures that need to be "studied" - but if you listen carefully, they're not that different from their thirtysomething counterparts.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Both, preferably NOT American-made (unless we're talking Wilbur Buds).

What are you working on now?
A book about a girl named Stella whose dad is a reluctantly world famous chef - she gets tired of living in Foodie World and tries to escape with a summer internship at the newspaper, only to find out the food editor is on maternity leave and the only reason they hired her was to fill in.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
This is my first foray into boy voice, and it was very, very difficult for me. But, I'm really proud of this book. I think it shows how far I've come as a writer, and also the deepening of the relationship between my editor and me. We make a great team!

For more information, you can visit Lara's blog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Shanna vs. Ann, Round One

This post will likely have nothing to do with writing. It's about shopping, which I suppose is appropriate for this time of year and totally in character for an author of chick lit, even if it is chick lit with magic in it.

I spent a good part of yesterday shopping. I needed to find a birthday present for my mom, and I was looking for something to wear during my New York trip when I meet with my editor and agent. Yeah, they've both met me, they both know what I look like, but I still would like to maintain a certain image when I enter the hallowed halls of Random House.

I tend to do most of my clothing shopping at Ann Taylor Loft. Their clothes are generally reasonably priced, they usually have good sales, the clothing fits my personal style and it fits me.

Or, it did. They recently seem to have done the size inflation thing, where suddenly you wear a size smaller, without any diet or exercise. That's great. I'm as susceptible to being flattered and excited when the next smaller size fits perfectly as the next woman is. There's just one problem: they don't seem to have adjusted the number of items in each size that they stock accordingly. I wear a size that's a little smaller than average, but with the size inflation thing, I'm now in a size they don't usually stock in all items. They might get in one or two pieces in that size, which one clerk told me are gone as soon as they go on display.

Ann had taunted me with the advertising mailer she sent me, showing all the really cute winter clothes. I had my outfit planned. A couple of those pieces were just what I needed to fit in with clothes I already had and update those older pieces. But some of those items weren't actually in stock in either of the two stores I visited, and what they did have wasn't in my size.

So I visited the store's web site. They have a nifty feature where if you find an item you like, it will search to see which store near you has it in stock in your size. It turns out that one of the items I wanted isn't actually being sold in stores. It's only available online. Now, I know that some people are really into online shopping, but I can't do it for clothes. I already have about half a dozen sizes in my closet from the same store, and they all fit me about the same. I wear one size for pants, another size for skirts, depending on the cut. Another size for dresses, another size for a woven top, another size for knit tops that are relatively low-cut. But at least I'd figured out generally what size I'd wear in each kind of thing. Now they've monkeyed around with the sizing, so I'd have no idea what size to order online. To make things even more fun, the sizing guide they have online to help you order has no relationship with reality. Just for fun, I took my measurements. According to their size guide, I should be wearing two to three sizes larger than all of the items in my closet. Yesterday I tried things on that were one to two sizes smaller than the sizes they'd recommended, and the things that were one size smaller than recommended hung off me, while the things two sizes smaller fit pretty well.

In order to find clothes that fit and look good, I generally have to take two or three different sizes into the dressing room. Then I can tell which one fits best, and I can also see how the fabric drapes, whether or not the fabric is itchy (I have problems with some wools), whether the color is good on me. Ordering online, I can only get one size (unless I want to pay for two items and then try to return the one that doesn't fit). If it's something I want to wear to a particular event (like, say, on a trip to New York), I'd have to hope it fit because there wouldn't be time to return it and get another size, unless I started online shopping weeks before the event.

So I'm distressed in multiple ways -- they've changed the sizes around, they aren't adjusting the quantities in stores, they're going more and more to "only available online."

And that's not even getting into the lifestyle envy. They had some seriously cute party clothes (I'm not sure if they had them in my size), for the kinds of parties I won't be attending because nobody throws dressy parties these days (at least, not in my social circle). The only formal office holiday party I've ever been to was a "flashback prom," so I wore a dress from a college formal circa 1988 (there was a lot of chiffon involved). My friends tend to have parties where a sweater and slacks might be overdressing.

But on the bright side, I did find my book reward black dressy boots as I was traveling between malls. The heels weren't as high as I'd originally planned, but they're still a spiky heel and very comfortable. I also saw my book in a used bookstore for the first time. I was tempted to buy it because I'm going to need more copies for contest entries and it was in good condition, plus that takes a used copy out of circulation, but then I remembered the number of authors I've discovered because I found a copy of their book in a used bookstore and then got so hooked I bought everything else they wrote new. That book is an advertising tool for the next book, so I left it there.

Back to the Ann Taylor Loft issue ... I fired off a polite but strongly worded e-mail. We'll see what response I get.

And I really don't think that starting a major crusade against a retail chain is a form of procrastination. Really. I haven't at all spent valuable writing time trying to determine from the web site what clothes they might actually have stocked in any stores anywhere near me.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Drama!!! (Not)

I think I'm having a drama queen phase. You know all that "I'm going to break the rules!" stuff about going back and rewriting even in the middle of a first draft?

It turned out to involve one chapter.

I added two incidents to chapter five. They really improved chapter five, and I think they establish some clues or hints to something that happens later in the book, so it was worthwhile, but it was hardly worth all the accompanying drama.

Now I can pick up where I left off, early in chapter seven, since chapter six is the one that has to be entirely rewritten with location research.

One other thing I often struggle with (aside from the dramatics) is naming characters. I think in a way it must be harder than naming kids because you've got this pre-existing personality and you have to find the perfect name to fit or convey that (or if you're being funny, contradict it), without going too over the top with it, like Dickens sometimes did and JK Rowling sometimes does (though they are writing a bit larger than life, and it may be a British thing that a character with a big belly has to be named Mr. Fatmiddle).

My problem now is that most of my cast of recurring characters already has names. Those names have appeared in a printed book, so I can't decide now that I'm not so sure that's the perfect name for that supporting character whose personality is just now starting to take shape. You may also have noticed that a lot of my supporting cast doesn't have last names. Part of that is because last names can be hard to come up with (for me, at least), and part of it is because I try to work in names in a natural way that flows with the way people talk and think. The characters who have last names generally are those who've been formally introduced to my narrator character, but her best friends don't have last names because, seriously, how often do you think about your best friends' last names (unless you call them by their last names)? You're more likely to think or say, "I'm going shopping with my friend Mary," than "I'm going shopping with my friend Mary Smith."

But now in the third book, I'm having to give some of these people last names, since they are in situations where more formal introductions to other characters might be required. I have a couple of characters who were only mentioned by first names in book two who will now appear in book three, and I needed to give them a last name (they're a married couple). I flipped through my baby name book, looking for first names that are derived from surnames, which is a good source for aristocratic-sounding surnames, and I needed something aristocratic-sounding. I found one where the name description even mentioned it was associated with nobility. Great! I didn't even try to match the first names to the last name to see how it sounded, because in the context I was using it at the time, someone was referring to the couple as a unit by the last name. It was only later, when I had to use that last name with the first names, that it sounded kind of familiar. A quick Internet search revealed that there is a real person with the same name as one of those characters, a minor celebrity associated with a royal scandal. Oops. Now those characters have a different last name. I'd probably better Google the new names, just in case.

In other news, a British newspaper did a list of the Top 20 Geek Novels of All Time. I think I've read about eight of them, thanks to years in a science fiction book group. I say "think" and "about" because I'm not sure if I've read the particular Asimov books in question. I know I read a number of his in the book group, but (potential blasphemy alert ahead) they all tend to blur together for me. There's nothing distinctive about any particular Asimov novel that makes it stand out in my brain. I think it's because he tends to write "idea" books, while it's characters who stand out for me to set books apart. His characters (to me, at least) are kind of bland and exist mostly as mouthpieces to express his ideas.

If you don't hear from me tomorrow, you'll know that the Geek Police have raided my home and sent me for re-education.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Breaking the Rules

A lot of writers and other creative types are rebels. They live to push the envelope and break the rules, to shake things up and make people question their values. I am not one of those writers. I'm afraid I'm the quintessential good girl. I live for the rules and tend to abide by them religiously (I don't even break the speed limit, much), even when it's an arbitrary rule I made for myself whose time has gone. I get all shaky and sick-feeling at the thought of disobeying it.

Way back when I first started playing around at writing when I was in junior high school, I started a bad habit. I'd get an idea for a story, write a chapter of the book, then rewrite it, rewrite it, rewrite it, then get another idea that was more interesting (or that "starred" my newest television star/character crush) and repeat the same process. By the time I graduated from college, still with the idea that I really wanted to be a novelist when I grew up, I had dozens of single chapters, a few "books" that went all the way to two or three chapters, several plot outlines and no completed manuscripts. It was nearly two years after I graduated from college before I wrote an entire book, and I did it because I instituted the Finish The Book rule.

I wasn't allowed to go back and tinker. I had to plow on and write the whole book before I started rewriting parts of it. The idea was that if I did that, then at least I'd have a finished book, which meant I'd have something I could consider submitting. It did work. It more or less cured me of having a lot of incomplete books lying around. But by now I think the rule has outlived its original purpose. I've had six books published, with one more completed and ready for publication. Then there are about four more complete novels I've written that, for various reasons, may not see the light of day in their present form.

But I still get all shaky and feel guilty when I start thinking about breaking this rule. It doesn't help that we're in the middle of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNo), which is another one of those Finish the Book things, designed to encourage people to just write straight through to get a draft done so they can finish the book. I think, though, that it's in the best interest of the current project to break the rule.

That's because my subconscious is channeling my agent and editor. After I write a chapter, my brain starts playing with it as I fall asleep that night, and I start to realize what that chapter needs to take it to the next level and make it really come to life. I've been resisting because of the Finish the Book rule. I should plow on, I tell myself, and fix that in revisions. Finally, logic prevailed. For one thing, I HAVE to finish the book because it's already been sold. I would lose a lot of money if I didn't finish it. For another, all the publisher cares about is if it's turned in on time and is good enough to publish. They don't know or care whether I wrote a draft straight through or if I polished it along the way. It won't even make a big difference in when I finish the book. Either I make these revisions now or I make them later. The big final reason is that I know how much my writing tends to build upon itself. Something I change in an earlier chapter could end up giving me a new idea that spurs something in the book to take off in an entirely different direction.

So, I may not make my arbitrary "finish chapter X by X date" goal, but when I turn this book over to my agent after the holidays, I hope it will be a better book because I broke the rule. That means instead of plunging ahead in chapter seven, I will be working on chapter five because I got a GREAT idea that I can't wait to write.

But first I have to see the new Harry Potter movie (yes, I have my priorities). I'm a little disappointed because my neighborhood movie theater closed (again) last week, and I'd been so looking forward to one of my hike-up-the-hill adventures. For some odd reason, I enjoy something more if I walk to get there. Instead, I'll have to face the mall theater, which is dangerous because that's also where they keep the Ann Taylor Loft. It also means I have to drive, which isn't nearly as much fun as walking.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Chapter From HELL

Welcome to Texas, the home of whiplash weather. I'm used to rapid changes, but this week was ridiculous. I went from one night needing the ceiling fan to sleep comfortably to needing the electric blanket the next night. Monday was short-sleeve weather, and last night I had to wear my heavy winter coat to go out (I might have needed it Tuesday night, but I didn't go out then). I can handle a gentle summer, autumn, winter transition, but going straight from summer to winter can be hard to adjust to. What's funny is I spent yesterday shivering, bundled up and drinking hot tea while writing about a cold winter day in New York, then was chatting with my publicist at Ballantine, and she said it was 70 degrees in New York. Yep, the Texas weather provided me more of the proper atmosphere for writing winter in New York than the real New York weather would have.

Speaking of writing that winter in New York stuff ... I've realized that this chapter six is just going to have to go down in history as the chapter from hell. First there was all that location stuff I won't be able to write until after my trip next month. Then I realized once I started looking at it in order to write my "location stuff goes here" note that I'd forgotten a fairly important scene at the beginning of the chapter that had nothing to do with the location. I got that written, put in my placeholder note, then wrote the end of that chapter and the beginning of the next chapter and felt like I was moving on. But then last night just as I was falling asleep I realized that even the stuff I'd written for that chapter needed to be completely changed because I wanted to take a totally different approach to the way things were going with the characters. I don't want to go and rewrite what I have written, since I already know I'm going to have to completely rewrite it soon anyway. Instead, I'm just going to write a long note to myself about how I want things to go when I know enough about what events I want to have happen in this section. Mom, are you still sure you want to read this draft? It's going to be really, really drafty (as in with holes in it that the wind blows through). I also came up with a fun little comic riff that can go in the rewritten scene, but then had a moment of panic when I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't remember it. Fortunately, it came back to me when I woke up this morning.

Now I have to go to the dentist (fun), but first, we've got another Out of the Blogosphere entry, "White Heat," by Leigh Wyndfield, in the Secrets, Volume 12 anthology. Raine has spent the last few years avenging her murdered team, but the cost has been high. She’s hiding in an icehouse in the middle of nowhere from one of the scariest men in the universe. Walker escapes from a burning prison, staggering to safety. Imagine their surprise when they find out they have the same man to blame for their miseries. For more info, visit Leigh's web site.

Oh, and I got the Dutch copies of my book yesterday. Very cool. Unfortunately, the UPS guy showed up when I was in the middle of a thought, and I couldn't retrieve it once I finished admiring the books. Ah, the woes of the creative life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Terrible, Wonderful Internet

I have come to the conclusion that the Internet is like fire in that it can be either a blessing or a curse. Fire gives us warmth, heats our food and toasts our marshmallows, but it can also be destructive and deadly. The Internet gives us information and communication, but it can also suck us into its seductive depths and eat up all our time.

The way I got so much written Monday was by turning off the DSL modem. I've developed a bad habit of instinctively checking e-mail every time I get the least bit stuck on something I'm writing. Then I have to respond to e-mail, and then while I'm waiting for a response to my response I figure I might as well surf around to a few of the sites I like to keep track of. Next thing you know, half an hour or more has gone by. The pattern becomes: write a paragraph. Ponder what the next paragraph should say. Check e-mail. Respond to e-mail. Check Live Journal Friends list. Check various other sites. Check e-mail. Lather, rinse, repeat. In a surge of guilt, write another paragraph. Repeat entire process. It's amazing how much more I get done when I force myself to just keep going when I feel a little stuck, when I don't have easy access to my e-mail (the Internet gateway drug).

I can't entirely blame the Internet for my somewhat reduced productivity yesterday. I probably didn't get as much written as I should have, but without the Internet I probably would have written next to nothing. I've reached a part in the book where location research becomes important. It's a "Christmastime in New York" sequence, and that's why I'm going to New York in December, to get a feel for it. I know the city well enough to write just about anything else, but I've never been there for Christmas. I know I'll have to rewrite this chapter once I've been there, but I didn't feel I knew even enough to have a rough outline of what might happen, nor did I know enough to plan what I need to research while I'm there. Back in the Dark Ages, that would have meant I probably would have had to drop everything and go to the library, search through the Readers Guide to see if any magazines had articles about Christmas in New York, and then hope the library had those particular issues handy (microfilm might have been involved). Today, a quick Google search brought me a map of the best window displays, lists of events and even some attractions I'd never heard of before.

But, of course, it's easy to get sidetracked. I went from getting a rough feel of some events I might include to planning my own trip. Then there was e-mail checking while I had the modem up, and then the usual surfing. And there went the afternoon.

My other problem is that I'm still not entirely sure what will happen, and I know that being there will spark all sorts of ideas, some of them the kind of thing that's not in any guide or magazine article. Some of these ideas may even affect my story. I know where this sequence is heading, but getting there I was meandering and hating it. Thus the procrastination. I've now decided that there's no point in writing this sequence at all. I should just put in "holiday sequence goes here," then skip to the part I know I need to get to in order to hit my major plot point and move on, adjust my target page/word count expectations accordingly, then write the chapter itself when I get back from New York while I'm doing revisions on the entire book.

That makes me feel much, much better. It also means I should get through this chapter pretty quickly (on this draft, at least).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yay, Me!

I was sooooo good yesterday. When I stop slacking, I really stop slacking. I got large portions of my living room tidied. I got my grocery shopping done. I was even ready to write early -- but then as I was making tea in preparation for writing, I realized I couldn't remember putting away certain grocery items I knew I'd bought. I double checked the refrigerator, then went back out to the car to make sure I hadn't left them in there. I ended up putting the tea in a thermos and heading back to the store. Sure enough, the bag with those items was still there. After rewinding the event in my head, I think I know what happened. There was only one lane open, the express lane, so I had grocery guilt for checking out with my reasonably full cart, even though that was the only option. The person in line behind me had something like two items. After the checker finished bagging my groceries, he turned to check out the next person instead of putting my bags in my cart (like they usually do in that store). I put my bags in my cart myself, getting all that were there, then when I turned to make sure I had all my bags, there was one more bag sitting there. I thought it was the next person's bag, since she was already paying. It turns out it was my bag, and the checker must have moved it up from the little bag rack below the counter while I was putting the other bags in my cart. I know he saw me looking at it, so I don't know why he didn't say anything and let me walk out without it. Grrr. It's only a couple of miles to the store, but still, it takes at least fifteen minutes to get there and back.

So, I ended up being later than I planned to get to work, but that didn't matter because I finished chapter four and chapter five. It was more than 6,000 words, about 25 pages. I'm now approximately one-quarter through with the book (though I suspect this one will run slightly longer than my usual 100,000 word target).

But the really good thing (sort of) is that I now know I'm definitely in writing mode with my brain in the book because I can't get to sleep. The moment my eyes close, my brain kicks into gear, revising the parts I've just written (the subconscious is great about coming up with ways to enhance existing scenes) and playing out the parts in the story that come next. It took me about two hours after I got to bed before I was finally able to sleep, and even then I kept waking up and having a hard time getting back to sleep again. That's part of why I tend to write so fast when I'm really into a book. I'm so desperate for a good night's sleep, and the only way to get it is to finish the book.

I don't think I got my thirty minutes of exercise yesterday, though I did do some exercises with wrist weights and some crunches while my spaghetti sauce was simmering (yes, I even cooked!).

Now that I know what happens next and have rehearsed it in my head (repeatedly), I may even get to work right after lunch instead of goofing around until my usual three o'clock start time.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Diligence and Determination

After being the worst kind of slacker last week, I am determined that this week will be different. I have events for the next few chapters outlined, so I don't have the "I don't know what happens next" excuse. I have a schedule set up. I even have a rewards system in place.

And, as usual, when I start getting one part of my life in order, other things also fall into place. I was pretty good about the exercise last week, and I hope to keep that up. Over the weekend, I also started getting on the housekeeping.

My main problem is that I tend to be very all-or-nothing about way too many things. If I'm working on a book, then that's all I do, even if I'm not really doing all that much. I hesitate to start cleaning the house unless I have time to clean the whole house thoroughly. Often, my attempts at cleaning house end up with the house even messier than before because I've taken stuff out to sort through and "organize" and then I lose interest midway through, so in addition to the usual clutter, I have all the stuff I was supposedly organizing. That explains the condition of my office. I'm dealing with the remnants of too many cleaning false-starts.

Now I'm trying to set small goals, just one little corner of the house that I will get in shape before I move on. I figure that five minutes here and there will eventually add up.

As for the writing, I went to bed freakishly early (for me) last night, which meant I got up relatively early (for me) this morning, so I have a bit of a jump start on the day. I've already done my usual goofing off stuff, so now there's nothing more for me to do but write. Well, other than go to the grocery store.

We'll see how long this lasts. Maybe if I'm public about my goals, I can get people to hold me accountable (Mom, this is not directed at you. I've already received that message, loud and clear.).

In other news, we may be getting fall weather later this week! I keep thinking that people are really rushing all the Thanksgiving and Christmas stuff (I got my first Christmas party invitation over the weekend), but then I look at the calendar and see that Thanksgiving is next week. It just doesn't feel like it when it's hot and sunny outside. Even in Texas, I should be wearing sweaters at this time of the year, not shorts and sleeveless tops. That makes it very hard to write a book set around Christmastime.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Wasted Day

I'm proud to report that I seem to have accomplished absolutely nothing yesterday. I managed to completely lose a day. I spent most of the day dreading some errands I needed to run and procrastinating until I finally forced myself out of the house, and then it was time to get ready to go to the Fictionista chick lit event. Fortunately, I've just discovered that the post office is closed for Veterans Day today instead of on Monday like I expected, so that means I don't have to run errands today and I can force myself to sit here and work.

When it comes to going out, I have a bad habit of finding an outfit I like and practically making it a uniform that I wear whenever I go out, as long as it's not to an event with the same people. This year's uniform was inspired by the scarf I bought to wear to the Serenity premiere. I have a royal blue lightweight sweater that I wear with the scarf and my dark long jeans. I do vary the footwear according to the occasion. I've already worn this outfit to two birthday parties (once with neutral "leather-colored" boots, once with black ankle boots) and then again last night with the Infamous Red Stilettos. I may have a couple more constituencies I can wear this outfit around before I have to come up with a new uniform.

It was my first time wearing the Infamous Red Stilettos since the premiere, and it seems that the Very Long Night of the Red Shoes may have made them mold better to my feet, so they were much more comfortable than I remembered. That turned out to be a good thing because I had a little adventure getting to the Hard Rock Cafe (somehow, just about everything I try to do here lately has turned into a minor adventure -- it never goes smooth). Because parking can be problematic in that part of town, my grand plan was to park in the parking garage at the West Village, then take the trolley down to the Hard Rock. Unfortunately, I just missed the trolley heading in the right direction, and the next one was just coming up to make the turnaround and the loop, so it wouldn't be heading in the right direction for another twenty minutes or so. I was already running late, thanks to a traffic jam that doubled my usual travel time. I'd also left slightly later than I'd planned, since I got sidetracked watching a show about great floods on the History Channel (I still don't have that "psyche yourself up for going out" thing figured out). I figured that the Hard Rock wasn't that far away, so I could walk it. It wasn't a bad walk because it was a nice night and a lot of the bars and restaurants had live bands on their sidewalk cafes as I passed. I'd just miscalculated how far away it was by about three blocks (so it's probably a good thing I didn't try to drive directly there -- I'd have never found it). The good thing was, the next trolley didn't pass me by as I was walking. That's my pet peeve, to decide to walk rather than waiting, and then having the bus or trolley that I didn't want to wait for end up passing me by, so that I would have reached my destination sooner if I'd just waited.

It turns out those shoes aren't so bad for walking. It's standing where they become a problem. I was more sore from waiting about ten minutes for the trolley to take me back to my car than from walking the whole way, I think (though the walk may have intensified the standing soreness). I popped in at the Uptown Borders, where I had my first booksigning, to see if my book was still there. They do still have autographed copies (first editions!), in case anyone in the Dallas area is looking for one.

I think my shoulder/neck is almost healed, but ... this morning as I reached for something at the back of the laundry hamper, I felt a pop and guess what, the exact same spot on my other side had pulled (see, housework is bad for you!). Do you ever get the feeling that your warranty has expired?

Life lesson of the week: Rub on the Ben-Gay after you've put on your facial moisturizer and eye cream. Even washing your hands doesn't get it all off, and you don't want it all over your face.

And now to buckle down and work.

P.S. Happy Veterans Day to any veterans who are reading this. Thank you for your service.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Back in the Saddle

My progress certainly improved yesterday. I got more than half an hour of exercise, as I walked to and from Walgreen's, which took about 45 minutes. No housework, alas. But I did write more than 2,000 words -- about ten pages worth. Yay, me! That's actually a slowish day for me, but I think it's pretty good for the first time back in the saddle for a while and for not feeling particularly great.

I'd like to report that the subconscious/body conspiracy immediately realized they'd been thwarted and released their evil grip on my shoulder and neck once I proved that I could write in spite of them, but unfortunately I can't. It is, however, much better. I think all that Ben-Gay helped. I still have some pain, but I can move my head. Yay! I'm hoping I'll feel up to driving later this evening because the Fictionista Book Tour is in town at the Hard Rock Cafe, and I know a couple of the authors who will be there. It would be really nice if I could show up without smelling of wintergreen. I doubt I could pass it off as the hottest new perfume. I may pull out the Infamous Red Stilettos for the evening, if I can bear the thought of putting my feet back into them. I think I'm totally recovered from the movie premiere, and I'm sure they'll have a chair or two at this place so I won't be on my feet the whole time.

I learned once again that physical activity is good for creativity. On my way to Walgreen's I came up with a fun comic riff to use in the next scene, and that was what got me back into the book. I'm still iffy on the plot part of the scene because I have this strange feeling that I'm going in circles, but when I'm groggy, tired and sore I seem to come up with good funny stuff. I can fix the plot later, I guess. Maybe I should get beyond chapter four before I start stressing over not making a lot of plot progress.

For those who were with me last fall when I was so frustrated about the Noisy Neighbor, who plays either talk radio or morning television news at very high volumes in the room that connects through the wall to my bedroom, starting at about five in the morning and going until past seven, it seems she's still up to her old tricks. I've been sleeping with ear plugs for a while, and I forgot them last night. Even when I woke up to the noise and put the ear plugs in, I could still hear her radio/TV/whatever, so I guess the ear plugs muffle the sound just enough that it doesn't wake me up. If I'm awake, I can definitely hear it. So it's back to the ear plugs tonight. This woman must be seriously sleep-deprived. I hear signs of life over there when I'm already in bed, and then she gets up at five. Maybe I should leave a nice aromatherapy gift basket on her doorstep so she can get more rest.

And now, once again, we have an Out of the Blogosphere entry, the last in the Bewitched, Bothered and Bevampyred anthology. This week's story is "Night Mares," by MaryJanice Davidson. At a birthday party for the Disdaine Triplets, the little darlings decide they aren’t pleased with the party or the guests and use magic to create their own fun. That night the town and all its residents are visited by the infamous Night Mares who wreak mayhem as only giant ponies prancing through your house can (I think that's my new excuse for the state of my living room). For more info, check out her web site.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pain in the Neck

Well, I did get my half hour of exercise yesterday, but that may have been my only accomplishment. The pain in the neck has gone from being merely "a pain in the neck" to being a real hindrance. I managed to read the parts I've already written of book 3 yesterday, but actual creativity was more of a challenge. I learned last night that it may not be just my bad computer posture that led to the problem. It seems that my favorite sleeping position is also the most painful, so every time I managed to fall asleep, I'd automatically roll into that position and then be immediately awakened by the pain. So maybe I need to train myself out of that sleeping position, if it's what's giving me knots in my neck and shoulder muscles. I think now I shall walk to the drugstore (driving is kind of a problem when you can't turn your head) and pick up some kind of muscle rub stuff.

There's also the possibility that this is somewhat psychosomatic, like my subconscious is afraid of working on this book and is conspiring with my body to keep that from happening. I plan to thwart it, however, by making myself write when I get home from the drugstore, no matter how much I hurt (and no matter how much I smell like menthol). So, there!

In other news, I learned today that Enchanted, Inc. will be published in Korea. And I got my first review on the Dutch edition. Fortunately, the Dutch publisher translated it for me. It was a nice review, mentioning that thing about not being able to stop reading once you start. It's good to learn that is relatively universal, regardless of the language.

Would it be bad if I sit in the Walgreen's parking lot and rub the icy hot stuff on myself right then and there?

This is when I really need that cabana boy/personal assistant/tax accountant/masseuse I keep thinking of adding to my staff.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Back to the Presses!

I'm utterly delighted to announce that I got news this morning that Enchanted, Inc. is going to a second printing. Yay!!!!

You know what that means? Those first editions you own have suddenly become slightly more valuable, and this may be your last chance to go out and get a first edition before they all sell out and are replaced by the second editions. Then again, there will be fewer of the second edition than of the first, so maybe that makes the second edition rarer and more valuable. I'm not sure how all that works as I don't collect much of anything, especially not based on its potential future value.

There may be one small change between editions. The second editions will likely have the author photo included on the "about the author" page (since it was left off from the first editions due to a "production oversight").

Of course, this also means there are that many more books out there I need to get sold. Thanks to all of you who have been so great about buying the book, buying the book as a gift, telling people about the book, harassing booksellers about carrying the book, and all that. So, think we can get a few thousand more sold?

I'm hoping this will be good motivation to spur me to working today. I wasn't nearly as efficient as I hoped I'd be yesterday. I had a deadline on another project, and wouldn't you know, just before I got that done, I had a brainstorm about a better way to approach that project, which required research and rewriting at the last minute, but I did get it done. Unfortunately, that left me somewhat drained and not really up to getting other work done. I managed to develop a kink in the muscles that go from my shoulder to my neck on the right side, probably from very bad posture habits when I'm reading at the computer, and I still can't seem to shake it, in spite of a heating pad, hot shower, yoga and a night of sleep. So I managed to re-read the synopsis of book three last night but couldn't sit at the computer anymore before I could get into reading those first chapters.

I came close to getting my half hour of exercise while trying to work out that kink in my neck, but I did no housework. This afternoon I have a bunch of errands to run, including a big post office excursion. Then maybe I'll actually get some writing done.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I've Come a Long Way

Today, I get to work on Book Three in earnest. I sort of already started, since yesterday I went to the same spot where I brainstormed most of Enchanted, Inc. and re-read all my notes, then did a little more brainstorming. I'm hoping that being back in that place where I came up with so many ideas will trigger more ideas.

In a way it was a fun blast from the past. When I sat in that spot a little more than two years ago, that world was very shapeless. It was a lot of little ideas swirling around. Most of my characters were vague concepts, and few of them had actual names. Now I've written two books about those people, and they're real and alive to me. I was sitting in that spot when I first outlined the kind of person Katie would be. Most of those ideas are still true about her, but I got one thing wrong: my notes from that day mention that she's trying to be a more sophisticated "Kathleen." That never happened. She was always just "Katie" and okay with that. She's only "Kathleen" when she's in trouble. That brainstorming session was where I mentally cast some of the characters. Some of those castings didn't work out (I had to mentally fire Renee Zellweger as Katie because she was totally wrong for the role once we started "shooting"), and some worked out to a scary degree (as in, one of the actors in real life is more like the character he plays in my head than he has been in any role I'd seen him in -- to the point it's almost kind of freaky). This was when I realized that my idea for an executive who was brought to the future from a more medieval setting should actually be Merlin himself, and when I ended up swapping the core personality traits between Rod and Owen, which I think made both characters more interesting. You expect the guy who's really good looking to be charming and the guy who's not so hot but who uses an illusion to be bashful, but the other way around made them both deeper, richer characters, and I think that also had a ripple effect on the way the story shaped up.

I don't know if I had any similar breakthroughs yesterday, but then, I didn't know for sure that those were breakthroughs until much later. I mostly just focused on the emotional journeys for each character in this book, where I want to take them, what they've learned already and what they need to learn. Now I need to come up with events that will trigger those emotional things.

As I plunge into the writing madness, I'm trying to set up a few ground rules for myself. For one thing, I'm going to try to exercise at least half an hour a day. That's good for my health and my creativity. Plus, I'll be visiting my editor in New York around the time I hope to have my first rough draft finished, and I'd like to not look like I've been holed up in a cave for a month. I'm also going to try to devote half an hour a day to housework. I'll be coming out of my book haze at about the time to put up Christmas decorations, and I don't want to have to overhaul the whole house in order to do that. I have some gold stars I'll have to put on my calendar, and then I can think of a suitable reward if I'm good.

In other news, I finally got all my "congratulations, you're now a member" stuff from SFWA. It gave me a real sense of how far I've come. No, it wasn't the membership card (cool! A membership card!) that did the trick. It was the envelope it all came in. The directory, back issues of the magazine and all that came in a big manilla envelope, pretty much exactly the kind of envelope I used to send as SASE with my submissions, and the bulk of it was about the size of a proposal. I'm used to seeing that kind and size of envelope in my mailbox as a likely rejection. The moment I saw it, I had a bit of a panic attack. Then I remembered that I don't have any submissions unaccounted for, I send everything to my agent in e-mail, and when she gets rejections, she just e-mails the rejection letter to me. I can now see a bulky manilla envelope in my mailbox and not assume that it's bad news. That, my friends, is progress in the life of a writer.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Bigger and Better

I finished proofing the galleys of Once Upon Stilettos last night, and I still like this book. I can't wait for everyone to get a chance to read it. I really do think it's better than Enchanted, Inc., which was one of my goals in writing it. If I'm going to do a series, I don't want it to be one that just coasts on the previous books. I want each book to be better than the one that came before it. I think I only changed a couple of things that were my own word choices, so I believe my own writing is cleaner this time around. Otherwise, all my changes had to do with continuing to clean up the wacky copy edit so that everything would be consistent. I did the last half of the book just about straight through last night because I couldn't put it down, so that's a fair warning on this book when it comes out -- if it's getting late, stop before the halfway point or you may end up staying up all night.

Of course, this puts the pressure on for the next book. I have to make it even better.

It appears that the Dutch version of Enchanted, Inc. is now in bookstores because I've received my first e-mail from a Dutch reader. It was in English, fortunately, because Dutch isn't one of my languages. I don't know a word of it. It's supposedly similar to German, but I can't read the signs in the Netherlands, which makes it a disconcerting place for me to travel. I get around well in Germany (I don't speak the language, but I can get by in reading it). I can even cope with basic signage in French and Italian because it's similar enough to Spanish in a lot of cases, plus all that liturgical Latin I've picked up from singing in church choirs. I'm not used to being in places where I can't read the signs, so my last visit to the Netherlands was a little unnerving, considering I was navigating. Fortunately, I remembered a lot from a childhood visit and was able to get around Amsterdam reasonably well, and everyone there speaks pretty good English if you get lost and need help. I suppose I'll have to respond in English, and keep it simple. I've learned from my discussions with the Chinese translator just how much idiom (mostly Southernisms and Texanisms) seeps into my language without me even realizing it.

I'm still trying to put together a "soundtrack" for book three, and it's something of a challenge. I keep finding perfect songs for early in book four, but book three is harder to get a grasp on. That's got me a little worried. I'm sure it will come together as I work on it. I had absolutely zero soundtrack for Enchanted, Inc.. Some of this soundtrack thing is purely a procrastination exercise. I do have music picked out for some of the key scenes.

But first, I have some revisions to do on my Desperate Housewives essay, and I need to go back over my book three proposal. There might be some household repairs to do this weekend (and would you believe, with all the wrenches I have, I don't seem to have an adjustable crescent wrench?). And then I plunge into the book on Monday. I'm scared and excited.

Meanwhile, if you're trying to hang onto the Halloween spirit, this week's Out of the Blogosphere book is for you. The book is His Dark Desires by Jennifer St. Giles.

"You are in danger. Trust no one." The terrifying words from a mysterious letter echo in Juliet Bucheron's mind. Destitute ever since her husband disappeared in the Civil War, Juliet has turned her New Orleans ancestral home into a boarding house -- despite the rumors of ghosts, the whispers of scandal, and the stain of murder. But even more unsettling is Juliet's new tenant, a handsome stranger named Stephen Trevelyan. Wealthy, educated, and seductively compelling, Stephen fills Juliet's heart with uncontrollable longing -- and her head with suspicion. Something, she senses, is lurking beneath the surface. And someone is stalking the hallways after midnight. As the danger draws nearer, Juliet wonders if she can really trust Stephen. But as he pulls her closer, she knows she cannot resist matter what the price.

Spooky! For more info, visit Jennifer's web site here.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Gayle Brandeis

My guest this time around on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit is Gayle Brandeis, author of The Book of Dead Birds, which has been reissued in a trade paperback edition. Some of you may remember my minor freakout when I got a great review from Charles deLint. Gayle can top that. She's had glowing acclaim from people like Toni Morrison and Barbara Kingsolver. In fact, she won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, given by Barbara Kingsolver to advocate serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice, and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.

The book tells the story of Ava Sing Lo, who has been accidentally killing her mother's birds since she was a little girl. As an adult, she heads to the Salton Sea, where she volunteers to help environmental activists save thousands of birds poisoned by agricultural runoff. Along the way, she struggles to come to terms with her mother's terrible past.

Here's the interview:

What inspired you to write this book?
This book started out as a poem about a dead bird I saw when I was six years old (my first direct encounter with death.) The poem ended up spilling out of its edges and eventually turning into a novel (it was a very twisty turn-y path to get there). You can read about the whole journey here.

Describe your creative process.
I write very much by the seat of my pants. I often have no idea where a story is going, and that can be scary at times, but it can also be incredibly exciting and freeing. I love when my characters surprise me. I tend to write scenes as they come to me, and then later figure out how to piece them together in a coherent way. I like to burn through a first draft fairly quickly, just to keep the energy going, keep the juices flowing. Once I'm done with a draft, I'll hunker down and figure out how to polish it, how to shape it, how to try to make it sing.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
Night time tends to be my most fruitful time, but I've retrained myself to work during the day when the kids are in school (plus I can't seem to stay up as late as I used to). I prefer to write in silence; I love music, but it distracts me when I'm writing, especially if it has lyrics. I don't have any rituals to speak of to get me into writing mode, although I've fallen into the habit of playing a game of Spider Solitaire to mark the end of my time at the computer (and I find that my characters like to talk to me while I'm playing—sometimes they send me right back into Word.)

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
I didn't think I had much in common with Ava as I was writing the book (especially since she's a different ethnicity from myself, and has a very different background), but now, I am able to see a lot of parallels. Both of us tend to question ourselves a lot. Both of us feel most at home in our skin when we're practicing our arts, our passions—for her, drumming and tae kwon do, for me, writing and dance.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
I know this could be construed as heretical, but I'm a white chocolate kind of girl.

(I was ready to burn her at the stake, but then I realized I wouldn't have to share my dark chocolate M&M stash with her, so I think I'll let her live.)

What are you working on now?
I'm working on a new novel, which will be published by Ballantine somewhere down the road (it's the second book of a new two book deal. I should be getting my editor's revision notes for the first novel—Self Storage, which will be published in early 2007—any day now, and I'm eager to jump into the editing process.)

(Hey, a fellow Ballantinian! Welcome to the fold!)

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
This book took me to places, both physical and emotional, that I never expected to go, and I'm very grateful for the ride. I am also very grateful that the book received Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize. Barbara Kingsolver has long been an idol, a model, for me, and to have her blessing is such an amazing honor. I hope I can live up to it as I continue my writing path.

For more info, you can visit Gayle's web site.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Random Updates

A few updates on recently discussed issues ...

I mentioned the photo thing to my agent, who then talked to my editor. It turns out there is supposed to be an author photo on the "about the author" page and it was left out due to a "production oversight," so it was good that I asked about it. There will be a photo in this next book, and my agent thought my paranoia about asking about it was funny.

In the comments with yesterday's post, there was quite a bit of discussion about the movie Office Space, and it turns out that the special edition DVD (with Flair!) of that movie was released yesterday (ooh, cosmic!). I already have the movie on VHS. If someone has bought the special edition (with Flair!), you'll have to let us know if the new extras and bonus stuff are worth getting the DVD. Plus, Ron Livingston from that movie was the guest star on House last night (I wonder if that was planned in conjunction with the DVD release).

And after I discussed yesterday how watching The Office reminds me of my days with an office job, there were a few things in last night's episode that really gave me flashbacks. The main thing was the person waiting for the last second to do something that had to go out in the overnight shipment. Been there, done that, shredded the t-shirt, too many times. The former boss who was part of the inspiration for Mimi was notorious for that kind of thing, except she didn't procrastinate to avoid work. I think she enjoyed the last-minute rush of everyone having to pitch in and get things together as we raced the clock. First, we'd be aiming for the FedEx pickup at our building, and then when that didn't happen, we'd have to shoot for the last FedEx pickup in our area. Things got really bad when she realized I lived by the airport, so the FedEx depot at the airport where you could drop things off just before they loaded the last plane for the night was on my way home. Those kinds of marathons always seemed to happen on Fridays, to make matters worse, and the absolute last moment for getting something to the airport was something like nine or ten. And she acted like this was all so much fun. Grrr.

Then there's the way Michael, the boss on the show, is always talking about the employees as friends and family. That's something he has in common with the former boss who was a lot like him. That boss was bad about trying to be "pals" with us, even while reminding us of how much power he had over us, and worse, he expected all of us to be buddies with each other. There was much enforced socializing. If someone left the company, it was like we were an Amish family and they'd married outside the community. We weren't even to speak their name. There were staff meetings at which we were reminded that we were family, and if someone chose to leave the family, then it was their choice, but they weren't part of the family anymore. He also once said something very similar about how you feel when your best friend sneaks in late or goes to dentist appointments that aren't really appointments, though he didn't talk about them knowing he could beat them up (he did, however, occasionally issue competitive gym challenges, I think).

I also think the actress who plays Pam would make a good Katie, with slightly different hair and makeup. She manages to be the downtrodden office worker while still showing a lot of spark and spunk, and she has that look and coloring that can blend into the crowd or be really cute.

I've spent the last couple of days re-reading Enchanted, Inc. Some of that was difficult because I couldn't turn off the editing part of my brain and I kept seeing little word choices I wanted to change, which is kind of impossible, considering I was reading the final printed form. But eventually I did get into it enough to almost forget I'd written it, and I ended up staying up very late at night finishing it (hmm, maybe there's some truth to those rumors about the book itself being enchanted to make people read it until late into the night). Now I'm about to start proofing the galleys of Once Upon Stilettos. This time, I can change little word choices.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Workplace Comedy

Sometimes it's funny how the weirdest, littlest things can make me ridiculously happy. Today's happiness source: The Office is back on NBC after one week off. Watching this kind of counts as work, since I write workplace comedy, and as I no longer have an actual workplace, I need a refresher. I don't really have a boss, other than maybe my editor, who is in New York and doesn't know whether I'm working diligently or cramming at the last second, as long as I meet my deadlines (and as long as she isn't reading here). I don't have co-workers, unless you count my neighbors' pets. I don't have office mates, other than the hibiscus, who's pretty easy to get along with. That limits office politics (and if I can't beat a houseplant in office politics, then it's a good thing I'm out of the rat race).

So, I have to watch someone else's workplace. I realize the dangers in using fiction as a source, but this show in all its wackiness is true enough to life to remind me of places I used to work. In fact, I used to work in an office with a very similar atmosphere and even practically the same boss (he even had the same first name). Watching the antics of the fictional Michael Scott takes me right back in time to working for the kind of boss who would have bought his own "world's greatest boss" coffee mug and still would have thought it meant something. This guy was a big fan of those cheesy "motivational" posters with things like soaring eagles on them. Oddly enough, with all my past bad bosses who have been somewhat immortalized in the pages of my books (Gregor and Mimi were inspired by real people -- in composite form), I haven't yet used that boss, though there might be bits of him in the head of sales. Hmm, in case I need a new character to torture ...

In all fairness, I should say I haven't always had bad bosses. My fictional good boss, Merlin, actually shares some traits with good bosses I've had. He has his own flaws and quirks (as you'll see in Once Upon Stilettos), but they aren't mean or cruel flaws, and those flaws grow out of an honest desire to make things better.

Tonight I'll be giggling and grinning and so very glad I no longer have to work in a place like that. There are some things I miss from the day job, like the friends I've made, going to lunch and gossiping about the boss, but my current life is a lot less stressful. Well, except for all those scary deadlines I have this week. Back to work!