Saturday, December 30, 2006

Daily Goals

Writing goals are trickling in. I think I'll make January 6 the cut-off to get in.

I find it helpful to break a big goal down into daily goals. That helps me stay on track. The obvious, easy way to do this is to divide the amount you want to do by the number of days you have available. Be realistic here -- if there are days you know you won't be able to write, don't count those days (and if you end up managing to work those days, it's bonus!). If you get behind, you know you have to write more on other days, and if you get ahead, you know there can be days when it won't hurt if you get a little behind. If you're not working at a steady pace, or if you're consistently getting ahead or behind, you can recalculate your daily goal every week, or every day if you're really obsessive (that's fun to do if you've done some extra work and you can see your daily targets drop).

A more complicated but perhaps more realistic way is to weight your daily goals. Writing is like using almost any muscle. The more you do it, the easier it is and the stronger you are, and you have to build up some endurance. You have to be able to run a mile before you can expect to complete a marathon. Therefore, your daily totals in the beginning may be a lot lower, but as you keep on, you'll find you can write more each day. You also may get more into your story, have a better sense of your characters, and build a sense of enthusiasm. I find that I often fiddle around for the first half or more of the book, and then write the ending all at once. I may spend two weeks writing the first 100 pages, then write the last 100 pages in two days (yes, I am insane).

I'm sure there's some way to create a mathematical formula to come up with weighted daily goals that get higher gradually but still add up to the overall total, but don't look at me to figure it out. I'm a word person. I find that doing the flat averaging and recalculating each week ends up giving me a sort of weighted progress, but you have to not let yourself be discouraged if you aren't meeting your targets in the early days and if that makes your daily target go up some.

It doesn't really make much difference whether you use words or pages for your goals. I tend to go with pages these days because that's how I pace my books and it's more visible, but I do also keep track of word count along the way.

Once you have your daily goal, it can be fun to create an incentive system. I call this the M&M method. I count out an M&M for each page in my daily goal into a dish that sits beside my computer. When I finish writing a page, I get an M&M. It's a little treat, and it gives me an obvious visual representation of how much more work I have to do to meet my goal. If you also made a New Year's resolution to give up sweets, I guess you could also do something like move paper clips or buttons from one dish to another, but really, a few M&Ms are nothing, and if that's all the sweets you're allowing yourself, that makes it even more of an incentive.

In other news, I updated my web site today with some info and covers for several upcoming books I've contributed to (as well as Damsel). Next month I'll do a more extensive update with some additional behind-the-scenes stuff and maybe another deleted scene. And now I have to go make some chili con queso so I can properly watch Texas in a bowl game.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Setting Goals

The House essay is drafted, so that just needs to sit a while and then I'll take another look at it Monday before turning it in by Tuesday, so yay! Now I want to draft the chapters for my book 5 proposal so I can get that to my agent soon after she returns from the holidays. The cold is still lurking, and I've reached the point where I want to tell it to come on and hit instead of just threatening and being annoying. At least I know I'm not coming down with something really nasty like flu because flu tends to have a more sudden onset instead of lurking for a while before striking. Today should be a good writing day because it's dark and rainy. I declared my new comfy pajamas to be "work at home wear," and they actually look more like a coordinated outfit than most of the stuff I wear around the house. I could probably go to a yoga class in these and fit right in. Now all I need is a pot of tea and I'm set for a big day of writing.

Since I was talking yesterday about my goals for next year, and with our writing month starting next week, I thought I'd share some potentially useful resources for goal-setting and motivation.

A lot of writers swear by The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This one is more about finding your motivation and freeing your creativity. I have to admit that I've tried working through the program several times and never finished and never really got much out of it. I think it's more targeted to people who are finding their creative side or who have been creatively blocked. To me, all the stuff about identifying the "monsters" in your life who kept you from being creative just felt like it was stirring up negativity and encouraging you to feel like a victim. But I do know of a lot of people who got breakthroughs from this book, so it's worth a shot if you're really feeling blocked.

There are some similar exercises in The Success Principles by Jack Canfield, but from more of a perspective of personal responsibility and your responses to situations that might have blocked you in the past. This is a huge book, and not everything in it will necessarily be applicable to finding motivation to write (and there's a lot of stuff in there that sounds like the typical self-help motivational workshop blather about how saying your daily affirmations and envisioning success will make you a millionaire -- think the Greg Kinnear role in Little Miss Sunshine), but the goal-setting parts and the parts on turning your inner critic into an inner coach are great. I checked this one out of the library, and I'll probably buy the paperback because I found it very motivating (I may even put some of the more far-fetched sounding stuff to the test -- you'll know it worked if I become a bestseller this year).

I'm currently reading Getting Things Done by David Allen, which is more about time management. Some of the things he says make sense, but I can already tell that a lot of his methods just aren't the way my brain works. For instance, he says to do away with daily to-do lists and just keep a running list of open project steps. If it's not on my daily to-do list, it just won't get done. I decide what project steps to deal with each day, and that's how I make myself do them. Then again, my project steps tend to be along the lines of "Write a page. Write another page. Write another page. Write a chapter. Write another chapter" and so on.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is good motivational reading about the writing life in general. Julia Cameron has a book called The Right to Write that I have but have never read. I know he's obnoxious on television, but Dr. Phil's Life Strategies and Self Matters books have some good stuff on goal setting and turning your dreams into concrete goals. When I first lost my job and decided to freelance, I read those and put a lot of his tips into action. I'm not sure I can give that direct credit for what I've achieved, but I think that making myself think in those terms really helped as I was making the transition to truly having what amounted to my own business.

The bottom line is that you have to find what works for you. Not everything is going to resonate with everyone, and I'm highly suspicious of anyone who claims they've found the one way to set goals, motivate yourself, discover your creativity or manage your time. Don't feel like you're doing something wrong if you try something like The Artist's Way that you've heard people raving about and it leaves you cold. The trick is to expose yourself to a lot of information, let it filter through your own processes and then absorb what works for you so you can create your own personal system.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Next Year's Goals

I finally finished my House marathon, so I can write my essay today and quit spending my evenings with blood clots, seizures and the like. In addition to the stuff I was watching for to have material for my essay, I noticed a lot of interesting things about the show. For one thing, it has some great characterization (which is a lot of what my essay is about). For another, it gives us the truly great comedy team of Laurie and Spencer. We already knew Hugh Laurie was a great comedian, but Jesse Spencer has to be one of the best straight men working on television today (and I mean that in the comedy sense). He doesn't get much to say, but watch Chase's responses to most of House's lines and antics. Once you start noticing his reactions, you get to where you start watching just for that because it's so hilarious. Seriously, the boy could have had a career in silent film if he'd been born a century earlier.

I would say that I don't know how I'll spend my evenings now that I don't have TV episodes to watch, but I have work to do, so I guess that's what I'll be doing now. I might allow some sofa time this weekend. I think I have a cold coming on that tried to start on Christmas Eve. I fought it back then, but now the sniffling and coughing have started again, and sofa time may be required for full recovery. We'll see. I have potential New Year's Eve plans, but if this continues I may declare it a stay in year.

I've been thinking about what my goals will be next year, and I've realized that there are a lot of things I've kept saying I've always wanted to do that I've never actually done. A few of them are simple enough, so I'm going to force myself to go for it. Others are more complicated or expensive. For instance, there's a summer program at Oxford where you stay in their dorms for a week and take non-credit classes on various topics about England, some of which involve touring and excursions. I don't think I want to continue my formal education to the point of pursuing another degree, but this kind of thing sounds ideal, and I could get at least a taste of the Oxford experience I didn't get when I didn't win a Rhodes Scholarship (which probably turned out for the best because I was totally lying to myself about what I wanted to do with my life at the time, and the subjects I'd said I wanted to study would have made me miserable). During one of the sessions that might actually fit into my calendar this summer, they have a course on English choral music. It doesn't look like there's much actual singing since it doesn't require musical experience (and in very traditional English choral music there's no role for adult female sopranos since they use boy sopranos), but it could still be fun. There are also classes on history and literature. Unfortunately, the program is pretty expensive. I could afford it if I get a good book contract, I guess, but I know I'll have some other big expenses this year, like probably a new car and very likely a new AC/heater unit for my house. I guess if I took one of the literature or creative writing classes I could write the whole thing off my taxes. The deadline to sign up for this year is April 1, so I may set up some goals and use that as a reward.

But now I have to brave Target during the after-Christmas sale -- even though I don't particularly want any after-Christmas stuff. I just need things like fabric softener and contact lens solution. Meanwhile, if you want to read more blatherings by me, I'm the blogger for the day at 2B Read, a group blog of various authors.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Writing Month Rules

I'm now back home, having safely survived Christmas. We had a fairly traditional Christmas at our house, with presents in the morning, a ham for lunch and Firefly/Serenity viewing in the evening. I will point out that it was my dad who put Serenity in the DVD player. I was not pushing viewing choices. I even had plenty of alternatives. We've watched Firefly-related stuff every Christmas or Christmas Eve since 2002, to the point that Jayne seems to be more a part of our family holiday than the Grinch. It just goes to show that genetics do run true and there's a reason I turned out the way I did. :-) I got pretty much what I asked for, giftwise, but my parents still got in a few surprises. I know I'm going to have to schedule a Star Wars marathon someday, as I got the DVDs of the original movies. I'm looking forward to watching with the commentary that includes Carrie Fisher. That's bound to be some quality comedy and snark. I also got some pretty pajamas, some snuggly pajamas and some soft, fuzzy house slippers that aren't obviously slippers so I don't feel like a slacker housewife when I answer the doorbell while wearing house slippers in the middle of the afternoon.

It appears that Amazon has scooped me. They got an electronic version of the semi-final cover for Damsel Under Stress before I did. I say semi-final because there's one thing that I'm still arguing about that I hope I can get changed.

The book is currently available for pre-order from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I'm sure if you have a favorite independent bookseller, they'd be willing to place a pre-order for you (there's no one-stop easy link for that).

Or, if you want an advance copy, you could participate in the Non-Conformists Writing Month in January! Here's how it works: On or around January 1, you can post your goal in the comments or e-mail me at (please put "Writing Goal" in the subject line so I can sort it). Because we're non-conformists, you can set your own goal, but it should be something that's approximately equivalent to writing a 50,000-word novel. You can complete a book you've started, do a major rewrite on a book, write a book from scratch, write something longer than that, write a screenplay, or write something somewhat shorter if it's a project that requires intense research or documentation. Those who reach their goals by February 1 will be entered into a drawing for prizes, including some advance copies of Damsel Under Stress (these are bound galleys, so aren't exactly the final book and don't have the real cover, so you may still want to get the final one when it comes out). There will be other book prizes provided by Ballantine Books, as well. I don't know how many we'll end up giving out. I guess it depends on what they have handy.

You will need to post your progress at the end of the month to be eligible for the prize drawing. Posting updates along the way is optional. It may help to have accountability and support, or you may just want to plug away in private. I'll post some of my hints and tips about writing throughout the month. I think my project for the month will be revisions on book 4, although I'd wanted to take a stab at writing book 5 (maybe I'll start it, depending on how extensive these revisions turn out to be). Spread the word to any writer or aspiring writer friends you know who may be interested. They don't even need to read my books to play. We can all be insane together!

Now I need to get to work, as I need to write a set of radio scripts today, then finish watching my tapes of this season's House so I can write an essay due next Tuesday, and then I have to go over the page proofs on Damsel and finish writing a proposal for book 5. Eeep. And to think, I had this week scheduled as "holiday" time. I guess I'll start next year with comp time already saved up.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone! The parents have already gone to bed, so I'm sitting in the guest room, listening to it rain and keeping my eyes peeled to catch Santa Claus. I took a long nap this afternoon, so it may be ages before I can get to sleep. That means we can enjoy the family Christmas tradition in the morning of my mom dragging me out of bed because she can't wait to open presents (it is true that parents and children develop role reversals in time).

We've had a quiet holiday weekend, mostly just hanging around and eating. Friday night we watched Dr. Who (which may have been a mistake, as "Ex-ter-min-ate" may become part of my dad's vocabulary). Saturday, we baked some cookies and watched A Muppet Christmas Carol. Today, we went to church, napped, then went to Christmas Eve service (which included a trio of kids playing violin -- adorable!) and managed not to cause any serious bodily harm with the candles (in my family, that's a Christmas miracle). Afterward, we watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Tomorrow I imagine there will be more eating, some football watching and some napping. We live life in the fast lane.

I've managed to get almost no work done, other than watching a few episodes of House. That's probably good for me, but it means I'll be trying to catch up later. Just before I left town, I got a printout of the cover for Damsel Under Stress. I'll have to see if I can get it electronically so I can finally post it. It's very cute and quite colorful. I also got page proofs to go over.

I hope this Christmas finds you warm, safe, happy and feeling loved. And maybe there will be just a little sprinkle of magic.

Hmmm, is it suddenly raining harder, or is there something on the roof? I'd better go investigate ...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Holiday Movies

I think I'm starting to feel mildly festive. Last night I interrupted my marathon of bursting blood vessels and creepy brain parasites to watch About a Boy while I wrapped gifts, and this afternoon I hiked up the hill to the theater to see The Holiday. That one is definitely on my must-buy list when it comes out on DVD, and it will go into my holiday movie rotation. It's just the perfect warm, fuzzy, feel-good movie set during the holiday season, and it accomplished the amazing feat of making me even sort of fall for characters played by actors I rather loathe or find annoying. I also want Kate Winslet's character's cottage from that movie.

Since I listed favorite holiday books yesterday, let's go for some of the movies I like. As in books, I'm not really drawn to the "person discovers the real spirit of Christmas" movies (it was done perfectly in A Christmas Carol, and almost everything else is a weak copy) or the "Santa Claus is really real!" movies. I really loathe the standard Hallmark/Lifetime holiday movies in which a bitter single person has his/her heart melted by the adorable moppet child of a single parent of the opposite sex or a struggling single parent moves to a small town (possibly the home town) and finds love again with local single person (possibly bitter single person who needs his/her heart melted by adorable moppet). Blech. And I really, really hate the recent trend of slapstick, mean-spirited holiday movies in which people fall down a lot while trying to hang a lot of Christmas lights. Just Friends was in heavy rotation on HBO when I was traveling so much this fall, and my, but that was awful (though it would be fun to see what they could do with a movie about the Anna Faris character -- she stole the movie and was far more appealing than the leads). I'm more fond of fun/funny, nice movies that use the holiday season as a setting. Above all, the movie has to make me happy.

I do really love A Christmas Carol, but I find that it can be a wee bit melodramatic when done in a straightforward manner. As a result, my favorite version is the Muppet Christmas Carol, which is surprisingly true to the book, aside from the talking pigs and frogs. I think there's more dialogue straight from the book than there is in some of the more serious versions (and I just got this one on DVD). I also love the musical version Scrooge, with Albert Finney. He was a young man then, and they did old-age makeup on him for the part. He now looks eerily like that makeup job did.

Every so often I have to dig out It's a Wonderful Life because I'm madly in love with Jimmy Stewart, but although that's often shown at Christmas time, it doesn't really strike me as a real "holiday" movie.

Another classic is Christmas in Connecticut -- the original, of course. I've always thought there was something to that story that might be fun to play with for a book idea, and this year when I was watching it on TCM, that twist came to me.

Love Actually is one of my favorites for a few tears and some laughs and all kinds of holiday cheer -- but with enough bittersweet mixed in that I don't feel too sad and pathetic for not having much of a love life. That may be tonight's feature in between exploding tumors and unexplained seizures.

About a Boy isn't quite as strongly a holiday-themed movie, but it does have some pivotal scenes set at Christmas. And it makes me feel good.

Then there are my New Year's movies, some of which feature the holiday season in general, but they also have a strong New Year's component, so I usually watch them in the week between Christmas and the New Year (or, if I stay in for New Year's Eve, in one big New Year's Eve marathon with plenty of champagne, some good cheeses and chocolate). There's When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, and Bridget Jones's Diary.

And now after I get a snack, I'm going to try writing the first chapter of book 5. I'll leave you with the last Out of the Blogosphere feature for the year: Shannon McKelden's Venus Envy. This is a paranormal sort of chick lit novel in the same vein as my stuff, so y'all might enjoy it. Rachel Greer has an unusual fairy godmother: Venus, herself. And Venus has to fix a few more love lives to get back her goddess status. She's picked out a hunky firefighter for Rachel, but Rachel isn't all that interested in him, or in getting involved with anyone. For more info and an excerpt, visit Shannon's web site.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Holiday Books

The synopsis is done. Yay! There's a fair amount of hand-waving toward the end, to the effect of "chaos ensues, and then at last the good guys triumph." If I were a newer author, I'd probably have to work it out in more detail, but I hope by now they know that I will pull it off, and that it's also likely to change a few times along the way. For instance, the ending of Damsel Under Stress that's in the final book is not only not what was in the first draft, it's not even what I originally turned in to my editor.

I think I'm going to take a bit of a break from the unrelenting House marathon today because five or so hours of that show a day can do funny things to your brain. I seem to be imagining all kinds of medical woes. For instance, the back of one of my legs was sore last night, and I almost couldn't sleep because my initial thought was some kind of blood clot (which happens in about every other episode). I had a vivid mental image of the graphic animation they use to show the clot forming and breaking off, and then moving up the leg to the lung, and then the patient starts gasping for breath as the doctors scream about getting to an OR. I have been sitting down a lot lately, which increases the risk for clot formation. That kept me awake for quite a while. And then I remembered that the other day I almost fell down the stairs when I was daydreaming about the book and nearly missed a step. I was able to save myself by pulling back up with the leg that was still on the step above and by shifting my center of gravity (thanks to all those years of gymnastics and ballet). But now the muscles in the leg that had to do all the pulling are a bit strained. Plus, even though I spend a lot of time sitting at the computer, I seldom hold a single position for more than five minutes, and I seem to go up and down the stairs at least once an hour, which makes DVT highly unlikely. So I think tonight I'll watch a fluffy holiday romantic comedy while I wrap gifts before I start imagining my head exploding, or something equally medically ghastly.

One thing I like to try to take time to do during the holidays is set aside a good reading day in which I put on some Christmas music, turn on the lighted garland on the loft railing, make some cocoa, and spend an afternoon reading a book with a substantial Christmas component to it. It doesn't have to be a "Christmas" book -- you know, the kind where someone has to discover the true meaning of Christmas and change their life or warm their heart or learn that Santa Claus really is real -- just something that maybe takes place during the holiday season. I love a good romantic comedy type book set at Christmas time. For the last couple of years, I've read and re-read A Promising Man by Elizabeth Young, which has the heroine meeting the hero when she's out Christmas shopping and which includes an impromptu visit to his parents' home for Christmas dinner. If they come out with a paperback edition of Love Walked In in time for the holidays next year, that may be my book then. This year, I have one that mentions Christmas in the description, so we'll see. I'm just not sure that I'll really have time to devote an afternoon to reading this year.

Damsel Under Stress is my holiday book, one that I like to imagine others might curl up with as they listen to Christmas music and drink hot cocoa. It takes place in the time frame starting about a week before Christmas to about a week after the New Year, and includes stuff like Christmas shopping, ice skating, Christmas with the folks (whose folks? Hee, hee, hee!), and a big New Year's Eve party. I went to New York in December to research it and got to experience the full New York Christmas, including store windows and snow. Yeah, I know, it's coming out in May. My original plan when I first proposed it was for it to come out for this holiday season as a Christmas book, and then have book 4 be my "summer" book, since the publisher considers me a "summer" author. But they said that wasn't a great idea. A lot of the big bestsellers have books that come out in the late fall, leading up to the holiday season, so my book would be less likely to get good bookstore placement and would have been eclipsed by those other books. Obviously Christmas-themed books do well and do get prominent displays, but then they get totally swept aside after the holiday season and may not even be on the shelves at all. So, it was better to treat it as a book that just happens to be set in late December/early January and release it at a time when books of my general type usually do well. But hey, with book 4 currently scheduled for January release, next holiday season would be a great time to re-read the first three books! (Not to mention the fact that they'd make great gifts.) Meanwhile, book 4 takes place in the late spring, but is (for now) coming out in January. Go figure.

Now I just have to figure out how book 5 (still not even a working title in mind, alas) should start. Usually, I have a pretty vivid opening scene in mind, but nothing has come to me yet. I think I'll put on some Christmas music, turn on the lights and curl up on the chaise lounge on the loft to brainstorm.

For the record, some other books I enjoy at this time of year include The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (though for Christmas reading I may stop before the plague actually hits) and her book of short stories, Miracle; A Christmas Carol (of course); Lucy Talk by Fiona Walker; and Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes. I need to find more good books for the season, I guess. I may also re-read Bridget Jones's Diary at this time of year, but I consider that more of a New Year's book. I sort of associate the Harry Potter books with Christmas, because they're good reading for curling up on a winter day, they usually include some major event happening at Christmas, and it was during the Christmas holidays that I first read and really got into most of the series, so my brain tends to map them to reading with the Christmas lights on.

I swear, next year I really am going to try to manage my life so that I'm not frantically working in December. Less procrastination in October and November would have helped on that front.

And in other news, RIP to my Trained Attack Bougainvillea, which apparently didn't survive the trip indoors when cold weather hit. It promptly dropped all its leaves and now is little more than a thorny stick in a pot of dirt. On the bright side, the Christmas cactus is yet again blooming like crazy. I've had that plant for nearly fifteen years now.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Big Moment

I started writing the synopsis -- the summary of the plot -- for book five of my series yesterday, and I wasn't really prepared for the emotional impact that would have on me. There's a big plot point/revelation that I've hinted at in the rest of the series, and this is when it all comes out. I first came up with the idea in the back of my head when I was still writing the first draft of Enchanted, Inc., but it's something I've mostly kept to myself. I still have a copy of an e-mail I sent to my friend Rosa, the one who had read the book chapter-by-chapter as I wrote it, where I described the whole thing, the backstory, and how I thought it would work into the series itself, but she's the only person I ever told any of it, which means that there isn't anyone now who knows where I've been going with the story. None of my editors know, and my agent doesn't even know. Mom doesn't know. Aside from talking to Rosa about it some about three years ago, it's only been in my head.

And yesterday I had to write it, at least enough to tell how it would come up in the course of the book. It was kind of like saying something out loud, and that making it somehow more "real." I almost couldn't do it. I'd written the synopsis up to that point in about half an hour because I had that part of the book pretty well outlined. Then I got to that part and went into procrastination mode for about an hour. When I finally buckled down to make myself write it, I was literally shaking. If they buy this book, I'll probably need serious therapy to actually write that part of the book, but I think it will be good and very powerful (because sometimes torturing characters is fun!).

I hadn't re-read that e-mail in years, so it was interesting to see how my ideas have changed after writing three more books. I'd planned to deal with all of this in book 4, but went in a different direction with my plans for the series. Once Upon Stilettos was actually a combination of my originally planned books two and three, and most of books three and four were like nothing I'd imagined at the beginning. Book 5 is largely what I'd been planning all along for what I thought would be book 4 (one of the major plot ideas came from a silly conversation with Rosa at a science fiction convention in early 2005), but there are still some differences. There are more nuances with other characters involved now. It means something different to me now because I know the people so much better.

And now that I've passed that point, I have to figure out what happens next. I know the ending, but I'm not entirely sure how to get there. I figured out an idea as I was falling asleep last night, but then when I started thinking about it this morning, it made no sense whatsoever, so either I should have written it down then because I remembered it wrong, or it was the kind of idea that only makes sense when you're half-asleep.

I'm supposed to be getting page proofs on Damsel Under Stress today. Funny, I'd planned to be taking this week mostly off, but I'm working more than usual, since I'm cramming in a marathon of House episodes for an essay I'm working on, writing book proposals and now proofreading a book. I think I'm going to have to delay my trip to the parents' house for the holidays by at least a day so I can get the work done and not spend the weekend and the holiday feeling like I should be working. I do still need to have my own personal "office party," so at some point this week I plan to hike up the hill to the theater and see The Holiday as my little treat. Otherwise, it's work, work, work.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Things That Make Me Paranoid

In the category of "things that make me paranoid," this morning every pen on my desk either disappeared or quit working. The pen I'd been using that worked is nowhere to be found, and every other pen I picked up wrote maybe one letter before trailing off into nothing, no matter how much I scribbled with it. The only thing I found that worked was one from a sort of artsy gift someone gave me, where they'd attached silk flowers to pens so it looked like my pen cup was a vase of flowers. Maybe "they" (whoever "they" are) missed messing with this pen because they didn't know it was a pen. It's a little unwieldy to write with a pen with a big flower sticking off the top of it, but at least it does write.

Something else that makes me paranoid: "meeting" my "characters" in person. My mental image of Rod from my books is loosely based on a local television reporter (no, not the one I have a huge crush on). He's the guy who does the wacky human interest features, and I guess the best way to describe him would be to say he has a very unusual face. It's one of those rubbery comic type faces, and in his work he does a lot of mugging for the camera, so he looks even goofier. Well, Saturday night when I was out for dinner with some friends, this guy was seated at the table next to us, directly across from me, so if I looked straight across my table, I was looking right at him. I discovered that he's even more like Rod than I realized because when he wasn't in "goofball" mode the way he does his hair and dresses on the air, and when he was just being himself, having dinner with his wife instead of playing the wacky reporter guy, he was actually pretty cute. It was very much the way I imagine Rod as himself without the handsome illusion, where he can be someone who on first impression when he's not doing much with himself isn't what you'd call attractive, but if he did something with himself and relaxed and let his personality shine through, he'd be kind of cute. I had a very hard time not staring at this guy because I really wanted to study him and I didn't want him to feel like he was being stalked as a celebrity (and I'm not sure he'd like it better knowing he was being studied as a character in my books).

There's something kind of freaky about actually "meeting" people who live in my head, especially when it turns out that my instincts were right and that they have more in common with my characters than I could have possibly realized from just what I'd seen. I don't actually base most of my characters on real people. When I do have mental casting, it's more to give myself an image for a starting point, and from there the character takes on a life of his own. It's very weird to run into someone I've been using as my mental image and find out that he's got even more in common with my character than just a rough description.

Remember when I was ranting about November as National Novel Writing Month and suggested January? Well, we are going to make a go of that around here. Start setting your goals and preparing yourself to kick off the year by writing a book (or some other writing project) in January. I'll be providing helpful hints and lots of support along the way as I do the same thing (though I'll be stepping out in faith as I haven't actually got anything sold right now). And as a bonus, if you reach your goal, you'll be eligible to win some goodies, courtesy of Ballantine Books -- including some advance copies of Damsel Under Stress. Later in the week I'll post about how, exactly, this will work.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Perfect Book

I'm proud to report that my Christmas shopping is now done, and I even picked up a blanket for the church's blanket drive for the homeless shelter. I feel so accomplished. Why is it that when I'm shopping for myself, nothing I like is available in my size, but when I'm shopping for a gift for someone else, everything I like for them is available in my size but not in the other person's size? Unless, of course, I'm not sure about something like the sizing (whether the sizes run large or small) or where the neckline will come and want to try on one in my size for comparison. Then they might have it in the other person's size and not mine, but I'm afraid to buy it because I'm not sure it will work. And if there's a really good sale and I decide to get something for myself, after all, then nothing I like will be in my size. It's maddening.

The Battlestar Galactica thing last night was very cool. I'll switch the conventional wisdom from yesterday's post and say that one of the great things was that while it was a very tense, dramatic episode, it also had some laugh-out-loud funny stuff that really brought down the house (and that made it fun to watch in a group). No spoilers, but there's this one scene that's a very tense confrontation that's also absolutely hilarious in a dark, dry way because of deadpan snark delivery and brilliant reactions. It's also a HUGE cliffhanger, so if you hate waiting on stuff like that, tape or Tivo the episode and then wait until late January to watch it so you won't be left in suspense. The entire audience screamed in frustration when that "to be continued" came on the screen at the end. Of course, I'm going to watch it again tonight because this was more of a rough cut. It was very grainy, and there were a couple of spots with just a green screen and "insert fx here" placeholders.

Oh, and no shirtlessness, but there were bare arms that loomed nicely on the big screen, and the blue eyes showed up in spite of the grainy film quality and weird lighting (it may not have been color corrected yet -- it looked like the rough cut of Serenity).

So, following up on yesterday's post, what is it about a book that makes me love it? My favorite thing is when I laugh out loud at least once while reading it, and then cry a little near the end. The crying doesn't have to be from sadness, just strong emotion. A good happy ending when I really care about the characters can make me cry. I prefer a good "point of no return" zone that has me frantically turning pages and unable to put it down until the end. I like a book that has at least one or two lines that I want to read out loud to someone or remember for myself. And then I like it when there's something about the book that lingers in my mind. It may be because it makes me think about my own life and re-evaluate my own choices and decisions. It could be because the characters captivated me so much that I can't help but imagine what's next for them or what came before the book. So, that's basically my perfect book.

Speaking of perfect books, I guess I'd better get to work on one if I ever want to be published again.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

It Made Me Cry!

I'm still thinking about ways I respond to books as a reader. I've noticed a bit of a pattern in my own reactions as well as in the ways I've noticed others reacting. It would seem like, in general, we're more positively inclined toward things that make us cry (this may be a female thing, as I don't know that men react quite the same way -- though it does seem like if something is powerful enough to make a man cry, there's the belief that it has to be really, really good).

I've seen this when people post responses to television episodes or movies. "It made me cry!" or "I got tears in my eyes!" are high praise. I write and enjoy comedy, but I find myself doing the same thing. When I try to encourage people to watch Friday Night Lights, what do I say? "Every episode manages to make me cry. It's so good!" (I also mention that Kyle Chandler is hot, but that's another issue entirely.)

Do we do the same with things that make us laugh? I don't know. If something is billed as a comedy, it's expected. It only gets extra credit if it makes us laugh more than usual. It's not like the morning-after response to an episode of The Office is, "Wow, it made me laugh!" Well, duh. If it didn't, it was a total failure. Yet why are tears high praise for a drama? And no, I'm not ranting about comedy getting no respect. I'm just trying to figure out emotional responses and how they work.

What set me off this time was a book I was reading this week. No title, since I mostly didn't like it and wouldn't recommend it. The story line sounded like something right up my alley -- long-time friends from childhood growing up and eventually falling in love -- and it was told in the format of letters and e-mails, something else I usually love (if it's done well, but that's another rant). This book was a bestseller and I've seen rave reviews for it, but midway through, I was ready to throw it against the wall because I wanted to bash the characters' heads together. It tried to make it seem like the characters were some kind of star-crossed lovers where fate kept getting in the way until the timing was right for them to get together, but to me "fate" boiled down to making really, really stupid choices, not actually talking to each other about major issues, and then getting mad when the other person made a choice without having that major information that might have changed their choice. So, I did what I often do when I'm having a massively different reaction to a book than I get the feeling that I'm supposed to have: I went to Amazon to read reader reviews. The reviews were split down the middle. One half raved, calling the book wonderful and oh so romantic. The other half had a similar reaction to mine. But I noticed that a lot of the raves mentioned that the book brought tears to their eyes and how they needed tissues handy at the end. So, although I was ready to put the book down, I kept reading out of curiosity. Sure enough, there were some tearjerker scenes near the end (in that "point of no return" zone) in which one of the main characters had some deaths in the family, and then the ending was written in such a way that I admit that I cried a little, even though I knew I was being manipulated. As I put the book down, my opinion of it was much higher because I felt somewhat touched. And then I remembered all the things about it that had annoyed me and snapped out of the spell.

There seems to be a similar thing at work with a certain majorly bestselling author. Her books are loved by millions, but her writing style drives me insane, and I can't stand her main characters. I'd tried to read several of her books and kept giving up a few chapters in as the books ended up doing things like propping up fans and doing other useful household chores for me. I only managed to finish her books when I was having to read them to judge them in a contest and I felt obligated, and then I really only managed to get through them by reading them on an airplane when I had no other reading material (and even then there were a few detours to re-read the SkyMall catalog). In addition to trying to judge the books' worth as books, I was trying to figure out why people respond so strongly to them when I'd rather eat ground glass than read them. I discovered that near the very end of the book, she always has some tearjerking scene, so that you still have tears in your eyes when the book ends, and that seems to leave the impression of the book having been truly moving. It actually worked on me for a moment, until I went back and looked at that scene and realized that it had absolutely nothing to do with the main story! It involved secondary characters and a sub-sub-sub plot. Basically, there was a scene with a cute, sad kid thrown in about 30 pages before the end so that you were already crying as the main plot came to a close and you were left with the impression that the book as a whole and the main story had moved you deeply.

It's actually quite a brilliant strategy. I may have to throw a kid in front of a bus or show him worried about not getting anything from Santa Claus this year just before the endings of all my books. Never mind if the kid is barely in the rest of the books.

I'm curious. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Do you automatically rate something higher if it moved you to tears, or do you give equal weight to other emotional responses, like laughter or intense fear?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Point of No Return

In my reading lately, I've noticed a couple of ways that books affect me as a reader, so that will be my topic for the next couple of days.

The first is what I might call The Point of No Return. I guess it's more accurately The Point of Not Being Able to Put the Book Down, but that doesn't sound as catchy. This is the point in a book at which you just have to read on to the ending and can't stop along the way. It doesn't matter if it's mealtime, time to go somewhere or bedtime. You just have to keep reading to the end. In my family, we call this "the last eight pages" because if someone wants you to put a book down to go do something else, it would be unreasonable to make you put it down with only eight more pages to read. The eight pages may be more like eighty, but it just means that there's no stopping point in sight.

Usually this falls at about the 3/4 mark, when things are really starting to get bad for Our Hero, and you know they're only going to get worse. You can't stop reading while the hero is in a dire state. The only thing you can do is keep forging ahead until you get the hero out of the woods and you know that everything is going to be okay. If you're forced to put a book down before things work out, you can't help but imagine all kinds of scenarios.

I still remember the time when I was in high school and reading a mystery novel before bedtime (Never Pick Up Hitchhikers, by Ellis Peters). I had just reached The Point of No Return when I got the lights out order, and the Last Eight Pages argument didn't work. I was at the part where the hero had figured out that the key to the mystery was in a particular building, and he could get into that building through the museum next door. The museum was going to close in a couple of hours, and he figured that would be plenty of time for him to get in, find what he needed, and then get out. Then there was the line: "Famous last words." And that was when Mom made me turn the lights out. I'd have probably had more sleep if I'd just read until the end because it was a restless night full of nightmares about what could have happened next.

Of course, with some books and authors, The Point of No Return is on page one. That's what we all aspire to, to write something that so completely and utterly hooks people that they miss meals, lose sleep and cancel social engagements because they can't bear to put the book down until they find out what happens. I've been known to cackle with glee when someone accuses me of making them lose sleep because they stayed up all night reading my books. It's all part of my evil plan.

This may be a reason why I tend to prefer genre fiction over "literary" fiction. I like that sense of resolution and things working out. If I've stayed up hours too late because I couldn't quit while the hero was in trouble, and then the hero never gets out of trouble and things just stay bad for everyone, then I'm really disappointed. I read one of those this week. It was infuriating. It was this supposedly deep and meaningful thing about how seemingly random actions have consequences, and how an act of kindness by one person ended up destroying the lives of herself and everyone around her. I kept reading to see how it would come full circle and work itself out, but no!

My good "point of no return" book this week was Sex, Murder, and a Double Latte, by Kyra Davis (who was featured recently on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit). It was a funny, but still very suspenseful, mystery that I'd describe as similar in tone to the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich (though set in San Francisco instead of New Jersey, so very different types of characters). It was a mystery that truly stumped me, with perfect red herring suspects, and there really was no putting that book down once the heroine started to realize what really was going on. Now I have to go out and find the next book in the series.

And now I must get to work. I'm still slogging my way through that synopsis. There's a certain instinct to storytelling patterns, but right now, my instinct is mostly good at telling me what doesn't work without coming up with ways to make it work.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Whining Over, Back to Work

Okay, enough whining. Time for some good stuff.

TV Guide and the Sci Fi Channel are doing a "big screen tour," showing the mid-season finale of Battlestar Galactica on the big screen Thursday night in a few select cities. One of those cities is Dallas. And guess who managed to get a pass for the screening. :-) I chose the right day to get up relatively early and check my e-mail so I could respond in time to get the pass (though I don't know if this is like the Serenity screenings where it was sold out within a minute or two).

That theater has DLP projection, so I'm hoping it will be a digital screening. And with digital and the big screen, well, let's just say there'd best be at least one shirtless scene involving Jamie Bamber, and several nice close-ups of the pretty blue eyes.

I guess this means I have to get the essay that's due Friday done before the screening. It's fully drafted, so I mostly need to go back through it for a bit of polish to add any thoughts I forgot and make sure it flows well. After the first draft, it's right in the middle of the word count, so I can delete just about anything I don't love and add just about anything I need to add. I should be getting a potentially helpful reference delivered from B&N tomorrow, and I'll wait to check things against that before I turn it in (mostly so I can justify deducting the potentially helpful reference from my taxes as a business expense). The essay is on one of my absolute favorite topics ever, so I had a lot to say (and a lot of saved posts from Television Without Pity from late 2002/early 2003 to draw upon). (And that's a hint for some of you who've been around for a while and have known me from other venues.)

I finally got my Christmas stuff up last night. I kept saying I wanted the living room totally clean (and magazine spread worthy) before I decorated, then realized that isn't going to happen anytime soon and just went for it. I think I may need to shake up my decorating scheme for next year. I've done more or less the same thing ever since I moved into this house eight years ago. I did re-do my Christmas tree decor about five years ago, but I've been decorating the fireplace mantel about the same way ever since I got my first apartment with a fireplace, about fourteen years ago. There's tradition, and then there's "rut" and I think I'm dangerously close to the latter. Some things are obvious. For instance, when you have a loft overlooking the living room, you pretty much have to wrap lighted garland around the railing and on down the staircase railing. I just may want to do something different with the garland, like add bows or ribbons or ornaments, or something. We'll see what mood I'm in next year.

My cleaning/organizing project seems to have slowed somewhat. I've managed to keep the kitchen clean, even with a furious baking frenzy, and the other rooms aren't getting any messier. They're just not getting cleaner. I think that's because the easy stuff is done and what's left is harder stuff involving decisions and finding places to put things, so it feels too overwhelming to deal with when I also have a lot of work to do. I really need to get better at time management so I don't go into this all-or-nothing frame of mind. I should be able to spend half an hour on housework and still work for a few hours out of the day.

I managed to make a good start on a book synopsis yesterday, but now I'm once again feeling like I don't have much of a story. This is going to take work. Ugh. I'm sure I could write the book in such a way that there's fun stuff going on, but it's very hard to just write a synopsis to show that when I haven't written anything at all of the book. I may end up writing a sample chapter, even though I don't have to, just to be sure of things for myself. Maybe someday I can reach the point in my career where they'll give me a contract just to go write a couple of books, with maybe a paragraph or so about what the books will be about, and then I can go and just write them without having to show them in detail what the books will be like (when I know that's not how they're going to turn out, anyway. They never do).

So, that's my to-do list for the day: work on my synopsis, work on my essay, write some radio scripts, watch House (and that counts as work).

Monday, December 11, 2006


I'm afraid I'm going to get introspective here, but I'll try to do it in a funny way.

I've come to the realization that my life seems to be in some kind of transitional mode at the moment, where I'm between a lot of things, not entirely out of one phase but not having yet entirely settled into the next phase. It's nothing major like a change of location, career or marital status. More like a bunch of little things all coming at the same time. Career-wise, I guess I'm sort of in transition, too. I've finished the bulk of the work on books from my last contract but don't yet have a new contract. There's still some revising and editing to do on the last books, and of course all the work that comes once the books are published, but my future is still unsettled. I have a feeling they'll buy more books from me, but nothing is set in stone, and the things I'm working on are proposals to see about getting another contract. Nothing is anywhere near ready to submit yet (it's all still handwritten in spiral notebooks), but I realized last week that there will be no point in submitting anything even to my agent until after the holidays. She's taking off as of the 15th, and I'm not going to send her something right before then and give even the slightest indication that I expect her to work over the holidays. I initially thought I'd rush and hurry to get something to her, but then decided to take my time to make it really, really good. But that also means my status will remain unsettled into the next year.

Meanwhile, I think I'm in a state of social transition, where I'm growing away from one group of friends but haven't yet really found a new group that fits me better. I've lost a lot of my closest friends recently. One permanently lost due to death, and others less permanently lost but still more distant because they moved away. I'm good with the long-distance friend thing, but it's not the same as having someone you can go out to dinner, shopping or movies with whenever the mood strikes you. Finding new "best friends" as an adult can be a challenge because everyone's pretty much settled into their life grooves. Your best bet is finding someone else who's also in transition.

As for the broader circle of friends, I was at a party last night with some people I hadn't seen in a while, and I was feeling bad about having been out of touch while also getting the feeling that I didn't fit so well into the group anymore. I know I'm bad about pulling disappearing acts. It's not something I usually do on purpose. It starts when I miss attending group gatherings or meetings, or posting on message boards or e-mail lists, for a while due to various reasons -- sickness, being out of town, schedule conflicts, deadlines, general life busyness. Then next thing I know, I realize I've been absent for weeks to months, and I feel bad, like I'm a bad friend for not saying or doing anything in all that time. And then I remember that the Internet, phones, snail mail, etc., work in both directions and realize that in all this time, I haven't heard from anyone else, either. I've managed to successfully vanish from people's lives without anyone noticing, saying anything or even checking to see if I'm okay. That tends not to make me overly enthusiastic about getting back into the swing of things with those groups, so I just move on. Yeah, I know, it's very passive-aggressive of me to just let things slide that way instead of doing something about it, but at the same time, am I really and truly "friends" with people who don't notice when I go away? Of course, that kind of approach can get wacky when the other person is also feeling not noticed, and you're both sitting there being silent and resentful and waiting for the other person to say or do something.

There may be something to all those seven-year itch theories, because I tend to go through this kind of thing every seven years or so. It often coincides with changing jobs or changing churches, and for whatever reason, everything else starts to change at the same time. Maybe that's a holdover from my military brat upbringing, where you're forced to change absolutely everything in your life every few years. I don't know if I get restless with stability and subconsciously do something to upset it, or if I never learned the skills for sustaining things for longer than a few years. Physically moving is a real pain, so it's easier to change everything but my house. It's also entirely possible that the others are the ones growing and moving away from me while I'm stagnant. They're the ones with new jobs, new significant others, new children and new homes while I'm in pretty much the same place I've been for a very long time, other than maybe being a little more famous these days (and I do mean "a little").

Not that this is really about being gloomy and feeling sorry for myself. I must admit that while there's a bit of a pang of sadness for what I leave behind, I'm mostly excited about the idea of what might lie ahead. I like meeting new people and getting into new groups. Meanwhile, I'm getting nostalgic for some groups I feel like I let slide unintentionally, mostly out of all that busyness and the fact that the things that brought us together in the first place are less relevant to our lives now. But the distance has allowed me to fully realize the value they brought to my life, and I don't want to let that go. Maybe sometimes a little distance to allow yourself the chance to re-evaluate your relationships every so often is a good thing. You can clear out the things that were just there because of inertia while realizing what you really miss out of the things that mean something to you.

And sorry, that didn't turn out to be funny at all. I think I'm going to go take a walk, since it's relatively warm and sunny today and I think that will help the weird mood. Then I want to get to work. Tonight I may finally get my Christmas decorations up.

You know, this might make for an interesting topic to explore in a novel, if I can figure out how to make it funny and give it a plot. See, this is where ideas come from. Years from now, you may be able to read a book by me and recognize that you saw the very beginnings of me thinking about this issue.

Friday, December 08, 2006

I'm a Real Blogger Now!

I was remiss in my posting duties yesterday, but I had to actually leave the house. There was an event for librarians, a trade show type thing, and my local author group had a booth there so we could meet librarians and pass out books. Then after that I went to lunch with some of the other authors, and then I had to run some errands on the way home. By the time I got home, it was the end of the day and I was exhausted. I'm not sure which was more tiring, the time I spent in my happy, bubbly author persona or the time I spent dealing with the crowds at Target. At any rate, I pretty much collapsed. And now I'm behind on work that simply must be done, so this is going to be a busy work kind of day. Really. Even if it means disconnecting from the Internet and going to hide somewhere else

I seem to have reached some kind of threshold in my notoriety/legitimacy as a blogger. I've had my first approach from a marketing/promotion company asking me to promote something for them. The other day I got an e-mail from a publicist for the film My Super Ex-Girlfriend, asking me to blog about the movie and maybe run a banner for it on my web site in exchange for a free DVD of the movie. They found me through my posts this summer on romantic comedy films and thought that if I was into talking about romantic comedy, I might want to talk about this movie.

Putting on my marketing hat, I would call this an almost, but not quite, good approach. On the plus side, they did correctly target me as someone who occasionally discusses movies and who likes the genre of the film they're promoting. They didn't send me a form e-mail. That puts them ahead of a lot of marketers I've heard about, who send mass form e-mails to bloggers to get them to review books, when their blogs may be about books, but without any actual book reviews.

However, if this had been one of my staff members from my agency days, there would have been some counseling involved because this person didn't do quite a thorough enough job of targeting the pitch (and no, there wouldn't have been yelling. I didn't yell at my people. I was a very nice boss). If they'd actually read the post about romantic comedies and a few entries on either side of it, they'd have seen that the post was set off by a rant on the kind of romantic comedies they're making these days, exemplified by the movie they were trying to promote. I was complaining about the trend of so-called romantic comedies where the woman is the bad guy and the men are infantile. You'd also think that if you were going to get someone to promote your product, you'd find out who they were, like maybe that I'm an author and that my blog is meant for promoting myself, so asking me to blatantly promote something else is a bit much.

I responded with something to that effect. But you know what might have worked to at least get me to give it a shot (because, yeah, I like free stuff)? If they'd sent me a note saying that they'd seen my views on romantic comedies and how I didn't like what was in the theaters now, but if I hadn't seen this one, would I like to give it a shot at making me change my mind? And maybe that they'd like to see a comedy author's take on the movie. I can seldom resist a challenge. They'd have been taking a risk that I wouldn't like the movie, even after seeing it, and might say something negative, but that's the nature of this kind of publicity (you run the same risk when you show a film to critics).

I do get a lot of free books, but none yet specifically because a fair number of people read my blog. Most of the free books I get just because I went to a conference, and everyone who goes to the conference gets books. Some I get from my editor, but more because she thinks I'd like them than because she wants me to promote them. I don't consider myself a book reviewer. I'm just a person who talks about books. Because I'm an author, myself, I consider myself to have at least a perceived conflict of interest. That's why you won't see too many overly negative "book reports." Unless it's a special circumstance, if I don't like a book, I just don't talk about it. I barely have time to talk about the books I do like, and there were a bunch from this fall that I never got around to talking about because I was busy.

I know I'm not the kind of person who would deliberately trash a book as an act of revenge or jealousy because I didn't like the author, because I'm in some kind of feud with an author or because I'm jealous that the author got a better book deal and more publicity than I did. I'd like to think that I'm not the kind of person who might even subconsciously put a negative slant on a book discussion because of my personal feelings about things unrelated to the book itself. I suspect that most people who've read my books or who've been reading here for a while would have figured that out. But there is sometimes a perception that the publishing world is more cutthroat than it is and that authors are all in competition with each other, trying to tear each other down. There are also authors who are addicted to Googling themselves and their book titles, and some of these authors have rabid fanbases who take personal offense at any disparagement of their favorite authors and who will then (with or without the author's urging) go out and try to sabotage anyone who says anything negative with bad Amazon reviews, flamewar blog comments and the like. Plus, the publishing world is pretty small, and the author you slam today may be the one you need for a cover blurb later, or may be someone you end up sitting next to at an industry banquet (awkward!). The risk/reward ratio is pretty unfavorable. The risks of posting a negative review far outweigh whatever rewards there might be. I can't even really think of any rewards, other than maybe getting to display my own cleverness at how well I can shred a book or scaring away people from a book I truly don't like. And there are so many good books to talk about that I don't want to waste the time on books I don't like.

The blogging circles (Girlfriends Cyber Circuit and Out of the Blogosphere) I'm part of are a little different. I'm not necessarily endorsing the books I talk about there, but it's all about authors helping each other out by spreading the word. A lot of the time, I haven't yet managed to read the book I'm talking about. Some of the time, I probably never will because it's just not my thing. I think you can generally tell when I've read something and am endorsing it personally and when I'm just putting the word out.

With TV and films, I don't worry so much because I don't know too many TV producers or filmmakers, and I don't think there's much chance of people thinking I'm possibly trashing something for personal reasons unrelated to the quality of the work. Even so, I'd rather talk about stuff I like than stuff I don't like.

Speaking of the whole author feud thing, I don't think I'll ever be rallying the troops to go after someone who dares say anything negative about me. Y'all are welcome to do whatever if you run across something like that and have a personal opinion on the topic, but I won't stir that sort of thing up, myself. The author feuds tend to happen more in the Literary (with a snooty capital L) circles than in genre fiction, but because those are often highly publicized, people seem to think that the rest of us are out to destroy each other, too.

And speaking of Out of the Blogosphere, this week's feature is the story "Come Moonrise" by Lucy Monroe, which is in the book Unleashed (a book of short stories/novellas about werewolves). Ty MacAnlup has seen the tragedy that a mating between a werewolf and a human can bring and he wants no part of it, no matter how much his body and heart ache for a taste of Frankie's softness. Frankie has loved Ty for years and while she doesn't know he's a werewolf, or even that such things exist...she does know that to her, he's always been more than a mere man. Ty's hidden beast wreaks havoc with his determination to stay away from Frankie when they are trapped together in a small cabin in the snow bound wilderness. Check out Lucy's blog. For info on lots more paranormal romancey type stuff, be sure to check out the Out of the Blogosphere blog.

In other news (gee, I miss a day, and I then have to ramble on), we may have finalized the cover for Damsel Under Stress (yay!). I'll post when I'm sure of that. And now I must spend the day doing stuff like writing about Firefly (I love my job) and drafting a synopsis. On the romantic comedy front, I do plan to see The Holiday, but only after I get a certain amount of work done. That may be my office holiday party.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Book Report: That (Allegedly) Plagiarized Book

This is a different kind of Book Report. Usually I'm talking about books I'm encouraging you to run out and read, but today's book is one you probably won't be able to find. This is more of a publishing industry discussion and analysis.

Maybe you recall a big to-do that happened in the publishing world last summer when allegations were made that a much-hyped book by a young author contained content lifted from other books. Kaavya Viswanathan was a high school student applying to Harvard. The admissions coach her parents hired had publishing contacts, and through various people who knew people, Viswanathan got hooked up with a book packager who helped her put together a book proposal that sold for a rumored half a million dollars (and she got into Harvard). There was a movie deal, and there was a lot of publicity about the teenage author. Then just about the time the book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, came out, some journalists noted that there were a number of passages that bore a remarkable resemblance to another book, Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty. Then there were other allegations that came up pointing out bits and pieces of other books seemed to be in there. Amid all the outcry, the book was withdrawn and the film deal cancelled.

Well, my library apparently didn't get the memo because the book was on the "new fiction" shelf on my last visit. I'd read the books that were allegedly plagiarized, so I was curious and wanted to judge for myself.

In case you didn't follow all the discussion in the media and the blogosphere, the book tells the story of the daughter of two Indian doctors who've built her whole life around the goal of going to Harvard. Everything has been structured toward making her the perfect admissions candidate. She's drilled and rehearsed on every possible question she might be asked when she goes for the early decision admissions interview, but then the dean of admissions stumps her when first he asks her about her friends, then asks her what she does for fun. He tells her they're looking for more well-rounded candidates and suggests she try again during the regular admissions process. Her parents jump on this with the same zeal they had for their earlier plan to get her into Harvard, only this time it's all about getting her a life. They watch every teen movie in existence, read tons of magazines and Tivo every episode of The OC, then create a plan to make her popular and get her a boyfriend. She has a massive makeover, gets in with the popular girls, throws a wild party, gets kissed by the guy she likes -- and then the popular kids find out it was all just part of her plan to get into Harvard and shun her. As a social outcast in school, she learns what friends really are and what she really likes to do for fun.

And my verdict? It was a very frustrating book. I can't believe it went through two layers of editors, at the book packager and at the publishing house, because the copied bits stand out like a sore thumb and the book as a whole is a mish-mash of teen story cliches that makes it read in part like the book version of Not Another Teen Movie, except without the conscious satire. But in the middle of all that is a fresh voice and a core story that could have been great if it had been really developed instead of just surrounded by things taken out of other books. I don't recall seeing this in any of the coverage about the scandal, but in addition to all the books named, I think she really owes an apology to Tina Fey because a big part of it maps almost exactly to the plot of Mean Girls. The heroine is a sheltered Indian girl instead of having been home schooled in Africa, and she's a physics nerd instead of a math geek, but otherwise, all the stuff about getting in with the popular set, the way the girls in that group act and dress, their rules, the way the heroine starts ditching the people she used to hang out with, the way she falls out with the popular girls and becomes a social outcast when something secret is made public, and the way that a math/science thing is her big triumph is basically an Asian-flavored Mean Girls.

The reason the copied parts stand out so much is because of voice. To be totally honest, I liked Opal as a narrator more than I liked the heroine of Sloppy Firsts because she's more like someone I can relate to. She's a nice girl and means well, while the heroine of the other book is darker and more bitter -- the kind of "I hate the whole stupid world" teenager I can't relate to (but that a lot of teens apparently do). There's no indication that Opal had any strong opinions one way or another about the popular girls because she'd never paid much attention to them -- but suddenly when she's describing them she drops into this edgy, sarcastic voice that derides them, and that's one of the passages alert readers found to be copied almost word-for-word from the other book. It was almost jolting to hit the copied passages because the voice suddenly got edgier for about a paragraph and then went back to normal.

The other big bit of copying involved the guy who serves as romantic interest. This character is pretty much lifted, complete with description, from the other book, and it serves as a lesson on the differences between common elements and copying. It is pretty much a given that if you've got a book about a straight-A student trying to expand her boundaries, the ideal love interest to shake things up is a slacker guy who's actually a bored genius (he has to be different enough from her to shake up her world view -- thus the slacker part -- but he still has to be someone a smart girl would find appealing -- so he's a genius who just doesn't apply himself), so just the inclusion of that kind of character isn't an obvious sign of a lack of originality. But you need to have a reason for this character to show up, and he needs to drive conflict and have an impact on the heroine.

Sloppy Firsts does this very, very well. The slacker genius in that book is actually a drug user. To make matters worse, he was part of the group of people her best friend's brother was hanging out with when he died of a drug overdose, and that's the reason her best friend's family moved away. She doesn't know why she finds this guy fascinating, but she's drawn to him in spite of resenting him for helping ruin her life. Even after a stint of rehab, when he has turned his life around to some extent, there's conflict because he's not really popular and her friends can't understand her being with him, and she knows her best friend might never speak to her again if she found out she was having anything to do with a guy associated with her friend's brother's death. He's the one person she can really talk to, the one person who "gets" her, but there's a lot about him she's afraid of and that disgusts her.

But in Opal Mehta, the slacker genius is just a slacker genius, the one person the heroine can really talk to, the one person who seems to "get" her, even as she's a bit disturbed by this. But he's not a threat to her popularity because he's considered a real hot commodity at the school. The only bit of conflict associated with him is the fact that one of the other popular girls has called dibs on him, and the plan for being popular and getting a life has identified a different target as her ideal boyfriend. It's like the author took this character from the other book because he seemed like a good idea, but because he wasn't her own character and didn't arise organically from her own story, she didn't know how to use him.

It's mostly a sign of an immature writer's first effort. Goodness knows, the stuff I wrote when I was a teenager was probably just as derivative. I was still figuring out how stories worked and how to create my own characters as I scribbled things into spiral notebooks. But all those notebooks were part of the learning process. I needed to go through the process of sticking a character based on myself into the Star Wars universe, then creating new people for her to interact with, and then eventually having it not be about Star Wars at all, in order to learn about how to create characters and situations. When I didn't know how to plot, writing a story with my own characters in my own world and situation that happened to map pretty closely to a plot I knew was good practice. But that stuff needs to stay in spiral notebooks, and the adults in this girl's life did her a disservice by giving her half a million dollars and a film deal for that kind of writing. She was set up for failure. I suspect that if she'd got the kind of deal most first-time novelists get and if this had been just another mass-market paperback that shows up in the racks at the grocery store and on school book orders, nobody would have paid enough attention to raise a huge outcry.

All of this was so frustrating because all the stuff about the crazy plan and the push/pull with her parents where they're the doting, over-achieving Indian parents who then are pushing their daughter into things that they don't get, culturally, in order to achieve the higher goal are hilarious. Her getting a boyfriend is on their plan, but when she has a date set up, her mother goes into "but what do we know about this boy?" mode. Her parents figure out that, according to every teen movie, the key to popularity is to host a wild party at your house when your parents are out of town, so they plan to go out of town -- and then plan the party for Opal to throw. The party's going well, until the parents can't resist not being there to see their daughter's triumph, so they sneak back, just to take a few pictures. The kids think they're getting evidence to give to the police and start trying to escape, and chaos ensues. It's a great scene. I loved all the analysis and planning because it totally sounded like something I'd do (mind you, not that my parents would have done for me, but that I would have done to myself -- in fact, all those spiral notebooks and the diaries I found in a box last week are full of my grand schemes for reaching various goals).

There's a core of a great book here, and it seems like a more experienced writer and a more involved editor could have done something with it. It definitely wouldn't have been worthy of a half-million-dollar book deal, but they went for the quick hype, and it burned them all. I hope she doesn't give up entirely and doesn't get blackballed by the industry. Maybe she should learn what goes into really writing a book, figuring out the structure, learning to create characters and use them in a plot, and finding ways to avoid cliches and then write something else. She may get stuck having to use a pen name because her own is marred (then again, Janet Dailey did worse, for longer, and at an age when she would have been expected to know better, and she's still publishing), but I'd be open as a reader to letting her try again.

Reading the book actually made me a lot more sympathetic toward this girl. I'll admit to having felt some jealousy -- after all, her parents spent more money on a coach to help her prepare her application to Harvard than I spent on my entire college education. I knew schools like Harvard were beyond my reach financially, so I didn't even let myself consider trying. Then there was that huge book deal and all the publicity when I'll probably never see that kind of money as I keep slogging away, gradually working my way up. At the same time, I think it also made me mad at myself. What if I had at least tried to get into schools like Harvard? Did I sell myself short because I was being too practical? And with all the writing I did as a teen, why didn't I have more self discipline to try to finish it, polish it and actually try to sell it? It was my own fault if I hadn't achieved all those things. But if she really went through anything resembling what her heroine did, with that kind of pressure, that kind of sense that if she failed at getting into this one school, everything else in her life was meaningless, then I don't envy her. I also don't envy the kind of scrutiny and pressure that comes with a huge book deal like that. It's a lot to live up to. In fact, on the phone with my agent yesterday she made a joke (at least, I think it was a joke) about getting me a six-figure book deal, and I said I didn't want one, not yet. I'm not ready for that kind of pressure, and I don't think I have the readership for sales to support it unless part of the deal was the publisher also pulling out all the stops to make the book a bestseller. But selling about the way I am and with the level of support I'm getting, a six-figure deal would be the ticket to career doom. Right now, the amount of money and the related expectations are low enough that I've been a pleasant surprise, and I'd rather keep it that way for a while.

So, there you go, a book report for a book you probably can't find. And trust me, it's not worth the prices you'd probably have to pay on eBay to get a copy out of curiosity.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Technical Difficulties

Today totally got away from me. I spent most of the day baking cookies (for holiday care packages), rewriting the back cover copy for Damsel Under Stress and suggesting some changes to the cover. Then I found out that every e-mail my agent tried to send during this discussion bounced, because apparently my server has decided to reject anything from her server. My next mission was to contact my ISP to find out what the deal was, so I used their customer service form to paste in the header info from the last e-mail I got from my agent and let them know that I really needed to be able to receive e-mails from this server -- and then got a response that they were having technical difficulties and I'd have to submit my request again later.

Yep, you heard that right, folks. The place where you go to report technical difficulties was having technical difficulties.

And somehow, that ate up the whole work day. I did get kind of a late start, though. It wasn't super cold this morning, but I still have a hard time dragging myself out of bed on cold mornings. I'm all warm and snug and comfortable. I'm not really oversleeping because I'm not actually sleeping. I'm just lying there, thinking and daydreaming. Next thing I know, the morning's almost gone and I'm still in bed. I may resort to setting an alarm in the morning, but that doesn't mean I won't still lie there for an hour.

Tonight's to-do list includes writing five 60-second radio scripts and watching the movie Serenity. Yes, that is for work. Sometimes I really love my job. And I think I'm falling for Firefly all over again after watching the entire series in a marathon. Curses to Fox for the premature cancellation that robbed us of so many stories. And if you haven't seen it, really, check it out!

I'm supposed to be giving my Christmas wish list to my parents, but I'm drawing a blank. I like giving a big list, not because I want everything on it, but because I want to be surprised by what I get. The list I have right now is so small that odds are I'll get everything on it, and that's no fun. I like surprises and guessing. I was never one of those kids who tried to find where Mom hid the Christmas gifts. I also never shook the boxes or studied them. I wanted to be surprised. With a big list, my parents can pick a few things, and I won't know what they are. So, what should I ask for? Nothing too big or expensive because my birthday gift was the biggie this year.

Tomorrow: a very special book report.

Monday, December 04, 2006

From Idea to Story

I spent most the weekend outlining a book (and doing a Firefly marathon for another project I'm working on -- it's so very, very pretty on the LCD HDTV screen. And, you know, it was a really, really good show), and that made me think about how much work there is between idea and completed book. Heck, there's a lot of work between idea and plot.

Just about every writer has a story about someone who generously offered to share their story ideas with them -- the old "I have a great idea for a book (or had an interesting life that would make a great book). Why don't I give you my idea, and you write it, and we'll split the profits!" approach. I must run into more generous people, because I haven't yet had someone want part of the proceeds. I'm more likely to get the people who think their life stories would make interesting books, and they want to tell me all about their great idea so I can write it if I ever run out of ideas.

Writers laugh about this because ideas are usually the easy part. I know I have more ideas than I could ever write in my lifetime, and yet the more I write, the more new ideas I get. Not all of these ideas are strong enough to actually sustain a whole book, and sometimes you don't figure that out until you really start working on them. It may take two or three ideas put together, or you may have to eventually force yourself to admit that as much as you love an idea, you won't be able to get a book out of it.

There's also a huge gap between the initial concept and a real story line -- a plot that has things like turning points, increasing tension, character growth arcs, and stuff like that. On the book I'm playing with now, I started with just a vague concept that I could describe in a paragraph, but I had no idea how the story would actually come together. Then after some brainstorming, I had what I thought were my main turning points to create a big-picture plot. This one will also be a romantic comedy (with a few twists), so I had plotted out the romantic subplot. I then started making a rough outline to weave the two together and realized that I still didn't really have a story because there wasn't much tension and there was no sense of anything really being at stake. So then I had to come up with what that was and that totally changed the outline. I spent the whole weekend just working on the outline so I could draft enough of a synopsis to actually sell the book. A whole new level of figuring stuff out will come if I do sell the book and have to write it because the synopsis is a pretty high-level view and doesn't encompass how these scenes actually play out. Then there's the fact that once I start the actual writing, I often realize that the synopsis is wrong, and things go off in a totally different direction. Characters usually become different people on the page than I originally imagined them to be, and the story will change after I "meet" them.

I don't want to use this current idea as an example because I'm still working on it, but the way Enchanted, Inc. came together went a lot like that, except it was an idea I'd played with for more than a year before I started writing. The first spark of an idea had to do with me wanting to read something that was kind of like Harry Potter -- contemporary fantasy that had a lot of humor in it and that used magic as a metaphor for things out of everyday life -- but for grownups. The phrase "Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter" stuck in my head, and I knew the story would kick off with the heroine getting a job offer from a magical company. At first, I thought she'd find out that way that she had undiscovered magical powers, but after a few months of thinking about it, off and on, I decided that was boring because it has been done and done and done. More to be obnoxious than anything else, I inverted that and came up with the idea that she has no magic at all, and that this would be the power she discovers. Over the next year or so, I took out the idea and played with it every so often. I came up with a few things that could happen -- stuff like having a boss who literally turned into an ogre -- but still didn't have a story. I did some research into businesses to see what to use as a model for my magical corporation. At first I was going with something involving finance, and I read books about the House of Morgan and stuff like that, but ended up settling on the software industry. As a victim of the boom and bust (I did high-tech PR), I knew enough about that world to make fun of it, and it did seem to apply to magic pretty well. I inverted things there, too, making my villain be the rogue starting a business in his garage (metaphorically speaking) and the good guys be the solid, old corporation -- because it's usually the opposite in those kinds of stories. I did end up using some of that finance research in Damsel Under Stress, so it wasn't wasted effort.

And that was about all I had when I had a rather fateful conversation with an editor at a conference. She kept asking me questions, and I was making it up as I went along. That was when I decided to actually write this book, and I then had to come up with what the story would really be about. I spent about a week figuring out who my characters would be, then did a big-picture outline, then wandered New York for a couple of days, then revised my outline, and then wrote three chapters and a synopsis. That outline didn't change a lot during the initial draft, but when I got an agent and started making revisions with her, large portions of the book changed significantly -- all the stuff with the frogs showed up, for instance.

Writers often talk about being "plotters" -- that is, people who plan out the plot of their books in advance -- and "pantsers" -- the people who just sit down and write and see where the story takes them. I seem to be the worst of both worlds. I have to plot before I can start writing. If I don't have some kind of roadmap, I'll meander all over the place. But at the same time, I also get inspired along the way and come up with entirely different things, and I take the book apart and put it back together again several times. That's how I seem to struggle with writing a couple of books a year, even though I can write a draft in about six weeks. I manage to write fast and slow at the same time. I'm trying to improve my productivity by planning ahead better, but with each book, I seem to make up more of it as I go. My goal this time around is to do the kind of revision thinking I usually do on the second draft with the first draft (in other words, channel my agent and figure out what she'd say before I send it to her). We'll see if it works. If I could shave just a month or two off the process, that would really help.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Magical CDs and Other Madness

Our snow and ice is almost gone now, just a few little patches in shady areas. It's still rather chilly, though. The neighborhood tree lighting party is tonight, but I'm not sure I want to go out walking in the cold. I also feel a bit awkward as about the only person there alone. In this day and age, I worry that parents would wonder about the "loner" there around all the kids. Plus, I'd have to be sure to be able to be home in time for Dr. Who. Priorities! But hey, it was a cliffhanger two-parter! And with Firefly-like music.

Today's big accomplishment was getting more or less caught up on reader e-mail. And then I have to get back to work on that book proposal, since I ended up spending most of yesterday baking. I know I planned to spend the month more or less slacking, but now I realize how much work I have to get done in the next couple of weeks. Eeek.

I now have definitive proof that the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas has magical powers. I was playing music while baking, and the snow had pretty much stopped. Then the moment I put on that CD, the snow started again. It reached its heaviest point the moment the "Skating" cut came on, the one that sounds kind of like snowflakes falling. The snow tapered off after that cut ended, then stopped almost at the time the CD did.

Now I'm almost afraid to play that CD, especially on a day when I need to go out somewhere or do something. However, if we get another near-80-degree day anytime soon, I may give it a shot.

I had my usual Betty Crocker reaction to cold, gray, rainy or snowy weather: I baked like a madwoman. First I made Spritz Christmas tree cookies. I have this strong association of those with snow, probably from the time it snowed on Christmas Eve when I was about seven and my mom made those while I was out playing in the snow. Then I baked some bread so I'd have something to go with the vat of vegetable soup I then made (since I didn't have any crackers).

I guess with all the deadlines I have this month, I'll be rolling over my "vacation" days until next year -- after the Nonconformists Writing Month in January.

Oh, and five more months until Damsel Under Stress! I got the Ballantine catalog today, and it looks like they really are going to publish it. Go figure.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Book Report: Cold Day Reading

In the "Texas Weather: Gotta Love It" department, yesterday the high was 80 degrees. It was hot and muggy. Many of my neighbors had their air conditioners running. Right now, it's about 28 degrees (and dropping), with a mix of sleet and freezing rain. Seriously. It's not climate change or anything (yesterday's high wasn't even a record -- the record from 1927 still stands). It's just this part of the world. I remember when I was a kid in Oklahoma how we could be playing outside in t-shirts one day and playing outside in the snow the next. It makes packing for travel at this time of year challenging. You pretty much have to bring clothing for all seasons, because you never know, and even the forecasts aren't always that accurate. This one, however, was on the nose, so I'm prepared. The temperatures dropped amazingly fast yesterday. I took a load of trash out to the dumpster across the street at 5:30 and it was hot (upper 70s). I took another load out (all that cleaning and organizing) at 6:30 and it was too cold to stay out in shirtsleeves longer than to run across the street. I was shivering by the time I got back inside. The temperature dropped something like 20 degrees in an hour.

It's supposed to change to snow around noon, so I may go with it and put on some Christmas music and start my holiday baking. It's on days like this that I'm glad I no longer have a job that requires driving to work. Then again, I don't really get snow days, either, but none of the places where I've worked ever closed for bad weather. You had to take a sick day if you didn't want to come to work on icy roads.

The weather change means I can re-start a seasonally adjusted regular feature. Instead of the t-shirt of the day, we've got the sweatshirt of the day. Today's sweatshirt is "Oxford University," a souvenir from the Best Vacation Ever. In the fall of 2000, on a bit of a whim, I bought a plane ticket to London. I did a little Internet research and decided Oxford would be where I went. I got some very inexpensive lodgings at a bed-and-breakfast, and from there I could catch a train or bus to just about anywhere I wanted to go. I saw lots of locations from Connie Willis's Oxford novels (I'll have to post a photo essay), wandered the most amazing castle, did some hiking in the Cotswolds and explored London. And I drank gallons of tea (the tea really does taste different/better there -- maybe it's the water?).

A day like today seems good for talking about books, and I recently read a really astounding one, Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky (there are various accents and such in her name and that little curly c-like character in the title, but I don't know how to do those in HTML). The story behind this book is worthy of a book, in and of itself. Irene Nemirovsky was born in Russia, and her family fled during the revolution when she was a teen. They eventually ended up in Paris. She sold her first novel at the age of 26, and the publisher at first thought she had to be a front for some famous novelist who wanted to remain anonymous, the book was so accomplished. By the time the war started, when she was in her late 30s, she was an accomplished, rather well-known novelist, and at least one of her books was made into a film. She and her husband and two young daughters left Paris for the French countryside when the Germans invaded in 1940. One of the things she did to occupy herself during this time was write. She was always scribbling in a notebook. Although she was of Jewish heritage, she and her family had never been practicing Jews, and she and her husband had become Catholic, were practicing Catholics and were raising their daughters as Catholics. They apparently thought this would be enough to keep them safe from the Nazis. But when German declared war on the Soviet Union, she and her Russian-born husband became "enemy alien Jews." She was arrested and deported in 1942, and her husband tried everything to get her freed, sending all kinds of documentation that her novels were proof she was anti-Soviet, that although she was born in Russia, she'd left before it became the Soviet Union. His efforts were no good, however, as she died in Auschwitz. He didn't realize this, though, and kept trying until he, too, was arrested and deported. He also died in the Auschwitz gas chambers.

A family friend was able to get the daughters away before they were captured, and kept them in hiding throughout the rest of the war. Before they escaped, the oldest daughter grabbed her mother's notebook and stuffed it in her suitcase, just so she would have something of her mother's to remember her by. She assumed it was a journal and could never bring herself to read it, even though she kept it throughout her life. A few years ago, she decided she ought to donate it to an archive of war-related records, and she thought she ought to type it up for donation, since it was handwritten in very small lettering (paper was at a premium). Only then did she realize it was a novel -- her mother's final one -- and notes for it. So it was finally published, more than 60 years after it was written.

Suite Francaise was originally intended to be a five-part "cycle" of connected novellas, each about a different aspect of the war. Only the first two parts were completed, with some notes about what she imagined would go on to happen with the major characters. She wasn't sure how to end it because that all depended on how the war went, and in 1942 that was very uncertain. The published book contains those first two parts, as well as her notes about the entire cycle and copies of relevant correspondence to and from the author, her husband, and various people in their lives. "A Storm in June" is about the impending invasion and the flight from Paris as various people tried to escape ahead of the oncoming invaders. This segment introduces most of the major characters for the work as a whole. The second part, "Dolce," is about the occupation in one village, and how the villagers interact with each other and with their German occupiers while the war itself seems rather distant. It does come to a conclusion, so it's not as though it ends on a cliffhanger, but by then I had become so invested in the characters that I really wanted to know more about what happened to them. The notes give a vague sort of framework, and from there it's kind of fun to let your imagination play, knowing what we know now about how the war did end.

Even without its fascinating history, this is a really good book. Nemirovsky had an amazing talent for characterization, with the ability to find the few crucial details that give you a remarkably clear picture of exactly who this person is. This is very much a "homefront" novel. It's about how the war affects ordinary people rather than focusing on pivotal historical figures, decision makers, military leaders or even people with crucial roles. It's about families, housewives whose husbands are prisoners of war, farmers, and other ordinary citizens. Even the German soldiers are mostly just homesick kids who had other plans for their lives. These are all people just trying to cope with events that are beyond their control. It's more about human nature, social conventions and how different people react to difficult times than it is about the war itself or even any big issues related to the war. The war is mostly off-stage.

Reading this book made me want to look up the author's other books. This was essentially a fragment of a rough draft, so I'd love to see what her finished, polished books would be like. I love her voice and writing style. Unfortunately, they're long out of print and my library doesn't have any of them. I hope that the success of this book might lead to her other books being reissued (the US publisher is part of Random House, so I may see if I can try to drop a few hints).

While I'm talking about books, we've got another Out of the Blogosphere Entry (the books with sf/fantasy/horror and romantic elements). Inferno by Vivi Anna continues the story of her near-future heroine, Kat. Kat needs to find a scientist rumored to have created an antidote to a deadly virus, but he's hiding out in the violent underground city of Inferno. Her one-time lover Hades will take Kat where she needs to go, but only if she promises to be his, body and soul. You can read an excerpt at her web site. (Note: This one is for grown-ups only -- in other words, it's on the hot and spicy side.)

You know, this may be a good day to read the new Dick Francis book. The sound of sleet on my tile roof and skylight makes for an excellent mystery backdrop.